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Ermanaric (Gothic: *Aírmanareiks; Latin: Ermanaricus; Old English: Eormanrīc [ˈeormɑnriːtʃ]; Old Norse: Jǫrmunrekr [ˈjɔrmunrekr]; died 376) was a Greuthungian Gothic King who before the Hunnic invasion evidently ruled a sizable portion of Oium, the part of Scythia inhabited by the Goths at the time. He is mentioned in two Roman sources; the contemporary writings of Ammianus Marcellinus and in Getica by the 6th-century historian Jordanes. Modern historians disagree on the size of Ermanaric's realm. Herwig Wolfram postulates that he at one point ruled a realm stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea as far eastwards as the Ural Mountains.[1] Peter Heather is skeptical of the claim that Ermanaric ruled all Goths except the Tervingi, and furthermore points to the fact that such an enormous empire would have been larger than any known Gothic political unit, that it would have left bigger traces in the sources and that the sources on which the claim is based are not nearly reliable enough to be taken at face value.[2]

King of the Goths
HouseAmali dynasty


The first element of the name Ermanaric appears to be based on the Proto-Germanic root *ermena-, meaning universal.[3] The second element is from the element *-rik, Gothic reiks, meaning ruler; this is found frequently in Gothic royal names.[4]

In Roman sourcesEdit

According to Ammianus, Ermanaric was "a most warlike king" who eventually committed suicide, faced with the aggression of the Alani and of the Huns, who invaded his territories in the 370s. Ammianus says he "ruled over extensively wide and fertile regions".[5][6] Ammianus also says that after Ermanaric's death, a certain Vithimiris was elected as the new king.

According to Jordanes' Getica, Ermanaric ruled the realm of Oium. He describes him as a "Gothic Alexander" who "ruled all the nations of Scythia and Germania as they were his own". Jordanes also states that the king put to death a young woman named Sunilda with the use of horses, because of her infidelity. Thereupon her two brothers, Sarus and Ammius, severely wounded Ermanaric leaving him unfit to defend his kingdom from Hunnic incursions. Variations of this legend had a profound effect on medieval Germanic literature, including that of England and Scandinavia (see Jonakr's sons). Jordanes claims that he successfully ruled the Goths until his death at the age of 110.

Gibbon gives the version of Ammianus and Jordanes as historical, reporting that Ermanaric successively conquered, during a reign of about 30 years from 337 to 367 A.D., the west-goths, the Heruli, the Venedi and the Aestii, establishing a kingdom which ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea;[7] and died at the age of 110 of a wound inflicted by the brothers of a woman whom he had cruelly executed for her husband's revolt, being succeeded by his brother Vithimiris.[8]

In Germanic legendEdit

Ermanaric also appears in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian legend. In the former, the tradition focused on the image of "Eormenric's wiles and hatred";[9] remembered him as a powerful but perilous king: "We have heard of the wolfish mind of Eormanric: far and wide he ruled the people of the realm of the Goths: he was a cruel king".[10]

In the Norse Thidreks Saga, Ermanaric is ill-advised by his treacherous counsellor Bicke, Bikka, Sifka, or Seveke (who wants revenge for the rape of his wife by Ermanaric),[11] with the result that the king puts his own wife to death for supposed adultery with his son:[12] he is thereafter crippled by his brothers-in-law in revenge.[13]

In the Middle High German poems Dietrichs Flucht, the Rabenschlacht, and Alpharts Tod about Dietrich of Bern, Ermanaric (Ermenrich) is Dietrich's uncle who has driven his nephew into exile.[14] The early modern Low German poem Ermenrichs Tod recounts a garbled version of Ermanaric's death reminiscent of the scene told in Jordanes and Scandinavian legend.[15]


Ermanaric's Gothic name is reconstructed as Airmanareiks. It is recorded in the various Latinized forms:

  • in Jordanes' Getica, he is called Ermanaricus or Hermanaricus, but some of the manuscripts even have Armanaricus, Hermericus, Hermanericus etc.
  • in Ammianus' Res gestae, he is Ermenrichus (his name occurs only once).

In medieval Germanic epics, the name appears as:

Since the name Heiðrekr may have been confused with Ermanaric[citation needed] through folk etymology he is possibly identical to Heiðrekr Ulfhamr of the Hervarar saga.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Wolfram, Herwig (1997). The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. University of California Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-520-08511-6. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  2. ^ Heather, Peter (1991). Goths and Romans 332-489. Oxford University Press. pp. 86–89. ISBN 0-19-820234-2.
  3. ^ Gillespie 1973, p. 39.
  4. ^ Gillespie 1973, p. 30.
  5. ^ Michael Kulikowski (2007), Rome's Gothic Wars, pp. 111, 112, ISBN 9780521846332
  6. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Thayer (ed.), Res Gestae XXXI 3
  7. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), chap. XXV., pp. 890, 891
  8. ^ Gibbon, Ibid. chap. XXVI., pp. 920, 921
  9. ^ Seamus Heaney trans., Beowulf (London 2000) p. 40
  10. ^ Deor, quoted in J R R Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (London 2009) p. 323
  11. ^ Gillespie 1973, 117
  12. ^ J R Tanner ed., The Cambridge Medieval History Vol VI (Cambridge 1929) p. 839
  13. ^ Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (London 1992) p. 16
  14. ^ Heinzle 1999, pp. 4-7
  15. ^ Millet 2008, p. 475