Who Were the Visigoths? - History, Culture & Facts

Instructor: Margaret Moran
Who were the Visigoths? This simple question will be explained in this article. The history of these people, their culture and even a few of the facts of these people will be described.


The term goth is one that brings an image of a style of rock music, people in eye liner and black clothes. But the original Goth was a member of a Germanic people that invaded the Roman Empire from the east between 3rd and 5th centuries. These people, the Goth, divided into 2 different sects. One was termed Ostrogoth, who founded a kingdom in Italy. While the other group, the Visigoths, went and found a kingdom in what would later be known as Spain.

Emperor Valens and the Visigoths

Due to pressure from the invading Huns, the Visigoth appealed to the Roman Empire and Emperor Valens offered them sanctuary. Emperor Valens allowed the settlement in an area near the Danube but mistreatment by the local Roman governors soon led to large scale discontent among the Visigoths. By 376 AD, open rebellion had broken out and the Visigoths plundered the neighboring towns, growing in power and wealth along the way.

Emperor Valens took to the field against the Visigoths and attempted to contain them in 376 AD. But, sadly, this would not work out well for the Roman Empire. These series of battles between 376-382 AD were referred to as The Gothic Wars, and at the battle of Adrianople in 378 AD the Visigoths won a decisive victory against Emperor Valens. Many historians also believe this the turning point of the Roman Empire, and also began its decline in power.

Emperor Theodosius I

Emperor Theodosius I became the new Emperor and tried to halt the Visigoth expansion as they swept into Thrace. In 382 AD, the Romans signed a peace treaty between Athanaric of the Visigoths and Rome. This was achieved by instituting regional Visigoth governors and also by working at uniting the Visigoths with the Romans through Christianity. This was made difficult since the Visigoth practiced Arian Christianity while the Romans followed the Nicene Creed instituted by Constantine the Great. This peace lasted until Theodosius I death in 395 AD.

Alaric I and Alaric II

With the Emperor's passing, the Visigoths in service to Rome rejected its rule and proclaimed Alaric I their king. Alaric is best known as a warrior and in 396 AD, he pillaged through the Balkans down into Greece. He then turned his forces back to Italy and with the faltering Roman forces, sacked Rome itself in 410 AD.

Painting depicting the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths

In the following years, little changed but the ruler of the Visigoth. They expanded their influence, and in 485 AD Alaric II became king. The leader of the Franks, Clovis, accepted the Nicene Christianity, the modern day Catholicism, and he attempted to drive the Arian Visigoth from the region. In 507 AD, Alaric II was defeated and killed by Clovis and the Visigoth kingdom became Frankish.

In 732 AD, the Battle of Poitiers, also known as the Battle of Tours, the Frankish King Charles Martel, defeated an expansion force of Muslim faith under Rahman. This battle halted the Muslim incursions into Europe, and once driven out of Galicia in 739, the new government recognized the Catholic Church as the new state religion. The German Visigoths and the Italian Romans had finally become united as the people of Spain.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account