Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2020
The original Goths were a Germanic people who played a crucial role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of medieval Europe. In 410, a Gothic army led by Alaric sacked the imperial city of Rome, and at the end of the fifth century kingdoms ruled by Visigoths and Ostrogoths dominated much of the post-Roman West. The last Gothic kingdom disappeared more than a thousand years ago, when Visigothic Spain fell to the Muslim Arabs in 711, yet the Gothic legacy endured. The Renaissance depiction of the Goths as destructive barbarians was balanced by the Reformation’s respect for Gothic vigour and freedom, which gathered momentum in Germany and England and inspired the cultural revival from which the modern Gothic emerged. This chapter provides an introduction to the Goths of history, from their legendary origins to the downfall of Visigothic Spain, for only against that historical background, it claims, can we understand the attraction of the Gothic from the seventeenth century to the present day.
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