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The Greuthungs, Greuthungi, or Greutungi were a Gothic people of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the 3rd and the 4th centuries. They had close contacts with the Thervingi, another Gothic people, from west of the Dniester River. They may be the same people as the later Ostrogoths.


Greuthungi may mean "steppe dwellers" or "people of the pebbly coasts".[1] The root greut- is probably related to the Old English greot, meaning "gravel, grit, earth".[2] This is supported by evidence that geographic descriptors were commonly used to distinguish people living north of the Black Sea both before and after Gothic settlement there and by the lack of evidence for an earlier date for the name pair Tervingi-Greuthungi than the late third century.[3] It is also possible that the name Greuthungi has pre-Pontic Scandinavian origins.[3] It may mean "rock people", to distinguish the Ostrogoths from the Gauts (in what is today Sweden).[3] Jordanes does refer to an Evagreotingi (Greuthung island) in Scandza, but this may be legend. It has also been suggested that it may be related to certain place names in Poland, but this has met with little support.[3]


Jordanes in his Getica (written c. 551) equates the Greuthungi of the 4th century with the Ostrogothi of the 5th and 6th centuries. Jordanes describes a large Greuthung kingdom in the late 4th-century, but Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the late 4th-century, does not record this, suggesting that the reference is to one or several minor tribal kingdoms.[4][5]

The Greuthungi were defeated by the invading Huns in the early 370s. The displacement of the Goths into the Balkans peninsula led to the Gothic War of 376–382 during which the Greuthungi were allied with the Tervingi. Greuthungi cavalry contributed to the decisive Gothic victory at the Battle of Adrianople of 9 August 378. In 380, the Greuthungi appear to have separated from the main force of the Tervingi, invading the Diocese of Pannonia. The outcome of this invasion is unclear, it is possible that they were defeated and dispersed by Gratian, or that they reached a peace agreement and settled in Pannonia.[6]


In time and geographical area, the Greutungi and their neighbours, the Thervingi, correspond to the archaeological Chernyakhov culture.

Settlement patternEdit

Chernyakhov settlements cluster in open ground in river valleys. The houses include sunken-floored dwellings, surface dwellings, and stall-houses. The largest known settlement (Budesty) is 35 hectares.[7]

Burial practicesEdit

Chernyakhov cemeteries include both cremation and inhumation burials in which the head is to the north. Some graves were left empty. Grave goods often include pottery, bone combs, and iron tools but almost never any weapons.[8]

Relationship with OstrogothsEdit

The division of the Goths is first attested in 291.[9] The Greuthungi are first named by Ammianus Marcellinus, writing no earlier than 392 and perhaps later than 395 and basing his account of the words of a Tervingian chieftain attested as early as 376.[9] The Ostrogoths are first named in a document dated September 392 from Milan.[9] Claudian mentions that they and the Gruthungi inhabit Phrygia.[10] According to Herwig Wolfram, the primary sources either use the terminology of Tervingi/Greuthungi or Vesi/Ostrogothi and never mix the pairs.[9] All four names were used together, but the pairing was always preserved, as in Gruthungi, Austrogothi, Tervingi, Visi.[1]

Both Herwig Wolfram and Thomas Burns conclude that the term Greuthungi was a geographical identifier used by the Tervingi to describe a people that described itself as the Ostrogoths.[1][11] The terminology dropped out of use after the Goths were displaced by the Hunnic invasions. In support of this, Wolfram cites Zosimus as referring to a group of "Scythians" north of the Danube who were called "Greuthungi" by the barbarians north of the Ister.[12] Wolfram concludes that it was the Tervingi who had remained behind after the Hunnic conquest.[12] On this understanding, the Greuthungi and Ostrogothi were more or less the same people.[11]

That the Greuthungi were the Ostrogothi is also supported by Jordanes.[13] He identified the Ostrogothic kings from Theodoric the Great to Theodahad as the heirs of the Greuthungian king Ermanaric. That interpretation is very common among scholars today, is not universal. The nomenclature of Greuthungi and Tervingi fell out of use shortly after 400.[9] In general, the terminology of a divided Gothic people disappeared gradually after it entered the Roman Empire.[1]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths, trans. T. J. Dunlop (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988), p. 25.
  2. ^ Thomas S. Burns, A History of the Ostrogoths (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 30.
  3. ^ a b c d Wolfram387–388 n58.
  4. ^ Heather, Peter, 1998, The Goths, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 53-55.
  5. ^ Kulikowski, Michael, 2007, Rome's Gothic Wars, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 54-56, 111-112.
  6. ^ Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire. A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (2005), 183–185.
  7. ^ Heather, Peter and Matthews, John, 1991, The Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, pp. 52-54.
  8. ^ Heather, Peter and Matthews, John, 1991, Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, pp. 54-56.
  9. ^ a b c d e Wolfram, 24.
  10. ^ Wolfram, 387 n52.
  11. ^ a b Burns, 44.
  12. ^ a b Wolfram, 387 n57.
  13. ^ Heather, 52–57, 300–301.