The Visigoths edited by Peter Heather
Book Review by Ian Hughes
First published in 1999, this is one of a series of books published by the San Marino Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress (CIROSS). It is the result of a three day conference in which eleven papers were presented. The papers cover topics from before the foundation of the ‘Visigoths’ until virtually the end of the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.
The layout of the book follows a chronological sequence, comprising the following chapters:
1 "Linguistic Evidence for the Early Migration of the Goths", (D H Green)
2 "The Creation of the Visigoths", (P Heather)
3 "Settlement of the Visigoths in the Fifth Century" (A M Jiménez Garnica)
4 "Kinship and Marriage among the Visigoths" (G Ausenda)
5 "Social Relations in the Visigothic Kingdom from the Fifth to the Seventh Century: The Example of Mérida" (I Wood)
6 "Jural Relations as an Indicator of Syncretism from the Law of Inheritance to the Dum Inlicita of Chindaswinth" (I Velázquez)
7 "As Coins go Home: Towns, Merchants, Bishops and Kings in Visigothic Hispania" (F Retamero)
8 "Visigothic Political Institutions" (P C Díaz)
9 "Adding Insult to Injury: Julian of Toledo and his Historia Wambae" (M de Jong)
10 "Symbolic Life and Signs of Identity in Visigothic Times" (G Ripoll López)
11 "Cult and Religion among the Tervingi and the Visigoths and their Conversion to Christianity" (A Schwarcz) and
12 "Current Issues and Future Directions in the Study of the Visigoths".
(The final Chapter was not a paper but a general discussion amongst the participants.)
As can be expected from a collection of scholarly papers on ethnography, the tone throughout the book is extremely academic, ranging from the minutiae of linguistics to the study of ancient sources. It is by no means an introduction to the story of the Visigoths, so the potential reader should first acquaint themselves with the history of the Visigoths from their starting point in the Baltic area to their collapse under assault from the Muslim invaders of Spain before reading this book as a whole. Obviously, anyone with an interest in only a single aspect of the history will not necessarily need to do this background research, although it is still recommended that the whole book be read simply for the quality of the analysis. Once the context has been secured by reading some of the general histories of the period, the book comes into its own.
The chapters give a detailed insight into the difficulties of studying the Visigoths, whether this is due to; a lack of Visigothic sources, confusion over the existing non-Visigothic sources, or a lack of specific archaeological evidence. Yet despite these difficulties reading the papers is rewarding. They inform the reader of the in-depth nature of research into specific topics. What the papers do not usually do, however, is to give alternative points of view. Several times when reading the papers I was becoming concerned since I did not agree with the opinion being given.
At this point the book is raised from simply a collection of papers which are invaluable in their own right to an indispensable research tool. Within each chapter, and following on from the academic paper, is a large section devoted to the discussions which took place between the participants after each of the papers was given. These discussions are of approximately the same length as the submitted papers. Since each of the participants is an expert in their field, these discussions are wide-ranging and focus upon issues where different opinions are possible. The result is that not only do the authors of the papers have their hypotheses aired, but for the reader these opinions are challenged and alternative theories introduced. Furthermore, it is possible to follow the lines of reasoning for the different viewpoints, giving the reader greater access to the thought-processes behind the various points being disputed. As a further point, the inclusion of these discussions makes the reader realize what they are missing due to the omission of such discussions from most books presenting papers from academic conferences.
There is one other factor apart from the inclusion of the discussions which raises this book above the majority of other collections of academic papers. At the time of writing the book was available for as little as £18.50/$25.65, bringing it within reach of the general reader. It is to be hoped that other publishers follow the pricing lead set by Boydell Press for this book.
- ...more Book Reviews!
- The Early Germans by M. Todd
- Goths in 4th Century by P. Heather
- Failure of Empire by N. Lenski
In conclusion, the book gives insights into the origins and the travels of the pre-migration period Goths, and on the formation specifically of the Visigoths, as well as analysing some aspects of their later sojourn in Spain. The wide temporal scope means that the book will be useful for a wide range of researchers. For anybody with a background knowledge who wishes to delve further into the history of the Visigoths the book is essential reading and is very highly recommended.