Roman or barbarian? Ethnicity in Ostrogothic Italy

  • Jip Barreveld Leiden University


After the fall of the Roman Empire, a ‘barbarian’ group called the Goths take control of Italy (489-554 A.D.). In order to gain insight into the relations between the Roman and the Gothic population groups within this new kingdom, this study uses theoretical frameworks and concepts from anthropology and sociology. The contemporary primary sources are analysed, specifically the Gothic War by the Byzantine historian Procopius, and the chancellery documents of Cassiodorus’ Variae. By acknowledging the fluidity, situationality and multiple-layered character of identity, it is possible to do justice to the ancient sources and find a middle-way in the modern debate.


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2. John Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy (Oxford 1992) 17-19, 35-43, 48; Mark J. Johnson, ‘Toward a History of Theoderic’s Building Program’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 42 (1988) 73-96; Jonathan J. Arnold, Theoderic, the Goths, and the Restoration of the Roman Empire (dissertation; Michigan 2008) 175-204.

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32; Steven Grosby, ‘The Verdict of History: the Inexpungeable Tie of Primordiality – a Response to Eller and Coughlan’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 17.1 (1994) 164-171.

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7. Banks, Anthropological Constructions, 186-190; Fenton, Ethnicity, 2-8, 13, 23, 51-53, 109.

8. Michael Maas, ‘Barbarians: Problems and Approaches’, in: Scott Fitzgerald Johnson ed., The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (Oxford 2012) 60-91: 74-77.

9. C.R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study (London 1994).

10. Amory, People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554 (Cambridge 1997); Peter Heather, ‘Merely an ideology? – Gothic identity in Ostrogothic Italy’, in: Samuel Barnish and Federico Marazzi ed., The Ostrogoths from the Migration Period to the Sixth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (Woodbridge 2007) 31-80.

11. Guy Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge 2002) 35-55, 89-133.

12. CIL 3.3576; Kent J. Rigsby, ‘Two Danubian Epigraphs’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 126 (1999) 175-176.

13. Cassiodorus, Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, Theodor Mommsen and Ludwig Traube ed. (Berlin 1894) 12.5.4, 8.3; Amory, People and Identity, 18-21, 43-59.

14. Amory, People and Identity, 10, 135-138; Averil Cameron, Procopius and the Sixth Century (London 1985) ix, 3-9, 135, 136; Anthony Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia 2004) 7-15, 17-45, 220, 221.

15. Procopius, History of the Wars, Volume III: Books 5-6.15 (Gothic War), H.B. Dewing ed. (Cambridge, M.A., 1916) 5.2-5.5; Amory, People and Identity, 93, 96, 152, 153-158.

16. Procopius, Wars, 5.8; Amory, People and Identity, 173; Maria Kouroumali, ‘The Justinianic Reconquest of Italy: Imperial Campaigns and Local Responses’, in: Alexander Sarantis and Neil Christie ed., War and Warfare in Late Antiquity (Leiden 2013) 969-1008: 979-980.

17. Cassiodorus, Variae, 10.31

18. Jonathan J. Arnold, ‘Theoderic’s Invincible Moustache’, Journal of Late Antiquity 6.1 (2013) 152-183.
How to Cite
BARREVELD, Jip. Roman or barbarian? Ethnicity in Ostrogothic Italy. Student Undergraduate Research E-journal!, [S.l.], v. 1, nov. 2015. ISSN 2468-0443. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 26 mar. 2019.