The Saga of Ermanaric

The Saga of Ermanaric

Ermanaric was a brother of Vultwuf. The genealogical chart in appendix 3 of Herwig Wolfram's
"History of the Goths"
shows the relationship of these two branches of the Amali

p.34)"The Scandanavian heroic saga sings of the deed of Hamdir and Sorli, who took revenge on a tyrannical King Jormunrek-Ermanaric for the cruel death of their sister Swanhild-Sunilda. This motif was already available to Cassiodorus, and it may have been the reason why he struck Ermanaric from Amalansuitha's ancestral line.

In the "Origio Gothica" the author of course takes the side of the Amali. The "unfaithful race of the Rosomoni" takes advantage of the danger to the Ostrogothic kingdom and becomes guilty of criminal acts against its King Ermanaric. The unnamed husband of a Swanhild-Sunilda commits treason, whereupon Ermanaric has the woman drawn and quartered. Her brothers Ammius and Sarus then inflict the mortal wound on the king, and he dies in the face of the Hunnic invasion like a biblical patriarch."

(pp.86-89) Section titled "Ermanaric's Greutungian Kingdom and its Dissolution":

The first Amal king of the Goths in southern Russia was Ostrogotha. Beset by foreign peoples and by the ethnically related Gepids, the "royal Scyths" probably reemerged as the Greutungi or Ostrogoths. Both designations are names for the same tribe: The Greutungi are "the steppe dwellers"; the Ostrogoths are the "shining" or the "splendid" Goths. To be sure, Ermanaric is the first who is attested as King of the Greutungi and King of the Ostrogoths. This "warlike king" ruled a "warlike people" in the "wide and fertile lands of Scythia," Ammianus Marcellinus reports, and was "feared by the neighboring peoples on account of his many and varied deeds of valor." And Cassiodorus adds: Ermanaric is the "noblest of the Amali," and "some forefathers have justly compared him to Alexander the Great." Ermanaric came close to the great model of all ancient conquerors because his armored Lancers penetrated far into the Russian and Baltic areas and created a great barbarian kingdom that held a good many polyethnic communities in a more or less loose state of dependence. Among the peoples mentioned are the most diverse "northern peoples," the Maeotic Heruli at the mouth of the Don, the Antes, and Sclaveni, and finally perhaps even the Aesti along the Baltic Sea. A summary of the "numerous and very fierce northern peoples" whom Ermanaric forced to live"according to his laws" can be found in a "memory list" that probably follows the itinerary of traders and merchants.

The catalog in the version of the ‘Origo Gothica’ reads as follows:

Golthescytha, Thitrdos, Inatlnxis, Vasinabroncas, Merens, Mordens, Imniscaris, Rogas, Tadzans, Athatrl, Navego, Bubegenas, Coldas.

Golthethiudos would be the "gold peoples" of the Urals, while scytha should be understood as the interlinear gloss of a copyist. The Inatrnxis cannot be identified, but they can be located in the vicinity of the "gold peoples" since the catalog lists the peoples according to geographical proximity. The Wasinabrokans are the inhabitants of a "flat country with rich pastures, plentiful irrigation, and some swamplands." Merens and Mordens have always been identified as the Volga Finnish peoples, the Meriens and Mordwines. To that same ethnic group belong the Imniscaris, the "beekeepers," who are called Mescera in Old Russian. The Rogas and Tadzans should be seen as the Roastadians, meaning those people who live on the bank of the Volga. In the case of Athaul, Navego, Bubegenas, and Coldas, even the best lnterpretative effort has to capitulate.

The dwelling places of these northern peoples lead us into areas that are separated from the Greutungian heartland in southern Russia by twelve hundred miles and more: "This implies for Ermanaric's realm geographical dimensions that seem entirely implausible."' Nevertheless, there are good reasons why the Greutungi should have ventured to undertake such a vast expansion. Because of "valuable metals, honey, wax, and superior furs," the area that stretches from the upper Volga to the gold-rich mountains of the Ural had always been the goal of traders. The control and exploitation of this trade could well have been the purpose of Greutungian expeditions and they could in fact have achieved their aim. At any rate, the peoples of the Cherniakhov culture certainly had the military and logistical capability to enforce their authority in the vast expanses of Russia. In any case it is impossible to judge Ermanaric's "greater state" by modern criteria; we should speak rather of Gothic protectorates. Behind the enumeration of the peoples subjected by Ermanaric one has quite rightly suspected a relative chronology of events. After the northern peoples had been reduced to a state of dependence, there followed the conquest of the Herulian kingdom of the lower Don. This time the ‘Origo Gothica’ describes in detail the bitter battles Ermanaric had to wage against the Herulian king Alaric.

The movements of the Goths, who first swung far into the northeast and then turned back to defeat the Heruli close to the Gothic homeland, may have been prompted by the need to destroy the economic base of the Heruli by depriving them of the long-distance trade with the Volga peoples) before they could be brought to their knees. Thus the Greutungi would have succeeded in gaining control of the entire trade route from the Volga bend downstream as far as the Don and the Black Sea.

After Ermanaric had attached many peoples of Finnish-Caucasian stock to his Gothic kingdom, the Baltic Aesti apparently also fell under his sway. The ‘Origo Gothica’ reports that the king ruled over "all peoples of Scythia and Germania as if they were his own." But since these two ancient regions were separated by the Vistula, Ostrogothic influence must have extended westward across this river. It is possible that the Ostrogoths came upon kindred groups to the northwest of Scythia. Thus Cassiodorus, who in general took a scientific interest in the Aesti, places the Gothic-Gepidic Baltic ethnogenesis of the Vidivarii in the immediate vicinity of these groups.

The Vidivarii are said to have formed through the "converging of peoples" at the mouth of the Vistula after the retreat of Fastida's Gepids. Even in the sixth century their settlement area was known as the island of the Gepids (Gepedoios). Of course the expansion of Ermanaric's realm as it appears in the sources cannot be supported by archaeological finds. The northern line of the Cherniakhov culture moved at this time neither in the direction of the Baltic nor toward the Urals. But just as the Origo Gothica differentiates between "his own peoples"--the Ostrogoths of Ermanaric—and the peoples of Scythia and Germania subjected by him, there was a difference between the actual Ostrogothic-Greutungian settlement areas—the culture of Cherniakhov- and the area controlled by Ermanaric.

But the Origo Gothica described in Ermanaric certain personal traits and behavior that in the heroic saga developed into the theme of the king as a demonic tyrant and destroyer of his own race. Cassiodorus was still able to let the controversial Gothic prince die with biblical quotations on his lips, thus concealing obvious contradictions. Yet it was not possible to suppress the embarrassing story of Sunilda, who had been drawn and quartered, and the king's suicide, which was probably the reason why Ermanaric was not included in Amalasuintha's genealogy. Sunilda, her unnamed husband, and her brothers Ammius and Sarus belonged to the "faithless" gens of the Rosomoni. They all had Germanic names, and their reception into the heroic legend shows that they were considered to be of Germanic stock, which is undoubtedly true. As for The historical interpretation of the name Rosomoni causes some difficulty. Among recent explanations two seem most plausible, all the more so because they are not mutually exclusive. The meaning of gens is flexible: it can refer to peoples, war bands, and great clans. It therefore seems rather unimportant whether we describe the Rosomoni as a people or a clan that "Ermanaric had, among others, in his following." Accordingly, the Rosomoni--whose name, like that of the Heruli, could mean "the fast," "the impetuous"--would be identical with the Heruli or their stirps regia subjected by Ermanaric.

The Don river marked the extent of Rosomoni territory in the east. It is therefore entirely conceivable that they sought to escape from the power of Ermanaric at the very moment when the Huns attacked and crossed the Don. The other plausible etymology sees in the Rosomoni "the reds." This designation could be derived from the custom of dyeing the hair red, which is known to us especially from war bands who pledged themselves to a divine ancestor as their warlord. In this case, too, such a group could be linked to the Heruli, who perhaps wanted to offer, at the time of the Hunnish threat, an alternative to the Amaii, an action similar to that of the Rugian Eraric when he seized the Gothic kingship after the murder of Hildebad in 541."The affair involving the Rosomoni cost Ermanaric his life.

The king had Sunilda drawn and quartered because her husband had deserted him and had escaped his reach. Thereupon Ammius and Sarus revenged their sister, wounding the king. From this injury and out of grief over his defeat by the Huns, Ermanaric was said to have died at the biblical age of 110. Yet Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary of Ermanaric's, discovered and recorded the following details. After subjecting the Alans at the Don, the Huns together with the Alans invaded the "wide and rich territories" of the Greutungian king. For some time Ermanaric resisted, but the sudden and no doubt overestimated threat from the Huns drove him to such despair that he committed suicide to "escape his fear of making crucial decisions."

There is much to support the notion that the Greutungian king sacrificed himself at the moment of defeat. After the death of Ermanaric in 375AD, the tribe and the royal clan split. The majority submitted to the Huns, the rest resisted. It took about a year before the free Ostrogoths had either been subjugated or had moved away.

Most of the Gothic lines of descent to the present are by way of Athanagild and his daughters, who married Kings of the Merovingian Franks. Many older sources have descents from the Merovingians (and thus in turn from the Goths). Modern research, however has found them all to be seriously flawed. NO documented descent to modern times from the Merovingians is now acknowledged by the majority of scholars. If someone confirms such a descent, he will make large waves in the genealogical community! This is tantalizingly and frustrating, for as one well respected researcher has put it, "We are all probably descendants of the Merovingians". It's just that not a single generation by generation line has been able to be constructed and withstand critical investigation.

In my database I show some "traditional" lines of descent from the Merovingians that have been discredited.

I have seen discussions regarding the time period in which the early medieval Iberian kingdoms replaced the kingdom of the Visigoths in what is modern Spain. Here a similar situation exists. It is almost a certainty that some of the Visigothic nobility intermarried with the ancestors of the medieval Iberian kingdoms, but, again, no actual generation by generation lines have stood the test of scholarly criticism.

I highly recommend Wolfram's book to you. It should be available at larger libraries.

– from Jim Stevens [email protected]- or visit - - 31Dec1997

Last Update: 2Apr98 Email: D.L.Emrick

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