Visigoth Empire

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Visigoth kings;
Illustration from the Codex Vigilanus (976)

The Visigoths was 418 to 711 (or 725) existing realm of the Visigoths , which takes its initial focus in south-western Gaul , and later on the Iberian Peninsula had.

For the period from 418 to 507 one speaks of the Tolosan Empire or Empire of Toulouse , with the capital Tolosa (today's Toulouse ). After the loss of most of the areas in southern Gaul, including the capital Tolosa, as a result of a defeat by the Franks in the Battle of Vouillé (507), the focus of the Visigothic Empire shifted to the Iberian Peninsula. This marked the beginning of the second phase, which is called the Toledan Empire after the new capital Toledo .

After the defeat of the Visigoths under Roderich against a Muslim invading army under the general Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711, the fall of the Visigothic Empire was sealed. Individual regions offered resistance for a longer period of time (in the north-eastern Tarraconensis until 719, in the southern Gallic part of the empire Septimania until 725). In Asturias , the Visigoth nobleman Pelagius successfully resisted what is often considered the beginning of the Reconquista .

The Visigoth Empire started from a federated warrior association and in many ways forms a bridge between antiquity and the Middle Ages, as on the one hand late antique structures persisted here longer than in many other regions of the Roman West , on the other hand the life and legal forms of the Middle Ages prototypical and in some areas Approaches have been developed.


See Great Migration and Goths

Tolosan Empire 418–507

Political history

Settlement in Gaul and defense against vandals

After a failed attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa , the Gothic warriors' association on the Iberian Peninsula, previously led by Alaric and Athaulf , had to conclude an alliance with the Western Roman government under its rex Wallia in the spring of 416, which obliged the Goths as Federates to fight the 409 Germanic groups invaded Hispania . This campaign lasted until the summer of 418, when the Goths returned to Gaul on Roman instructions and were given an area in Aquitaine by the Romans from which they were to be supplied. This was done largely in cooperation with the Gallo-Roman upper class. The Western Roman Empire expected this to repel the Vandals and other Germanic groups who had invaded Gaul when crossing the Rhine in 406/407 . Evidently, the Roman government in Ravenna found the tolerance of the Visigothic settlement, the circumstances and conditions of which are very controversial in scholarship, to be a lesser evil. In fact, the Visigoths went into battle with the imperial troops in 422 against the Vandals, but most of all they sought access to the Mediterranean. The striving of the federated Visigoths for secure income and room for maneuver vis-à-vis the Western Roman government was to remain formative for decades.

Fight against Aëtius

The changing Roman rulers tried to exploit the powerful Goths for their own purposes, whose position remained threatened in view of the instability of the imperial government. The Visigoths for their part exerted military pressure early and again and again to force the conclusion of cheaper foedera . The Roman army master Aëtius , who came to power in a civil war in 434, was able to repel two Visigoth attacks on Arles . An attack by the Visigoths on Narbonne in 436 led to a multi-year, changeable war with the Romans, who also used Hunnic mercenaries, but ultimately suffered a heavy defeat. The losing battles were finally ended in 439 with a new contract. This foedus granted the Goths considerably more rights. In the following period, the Visigoth rex Theodoric I tried to form an alliance with the Vandals against Aëtius, but this failed because the Vandal Geiseric changed front in 442 and had a daughter of Theodoric mutilated.

Fight against the Huns

In the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields (451) the Visigoths fought on the side of Aëtius against the Huns of Attila and other peoples. They apparently formed the largest and most powerful part of the alliance against the Huns. Apparently Theodoric I had feared that a further advance of the Huns would also endanger his rule; Above all, however, the fact that Attila was allied with his mortal enemy Geiserich seems to have led him, after a long hesitation, to decide to support his former opponent Aëtius. The Visigoths were then instrumental in the victory on the Catalaunian fields, but Theodoric I fell in battle. His son and successor Thorismund was an enemy of Aëtius, whom he did not want to support any further, and withdrew with his troops.

Renewed federation relationship with Rome

In 453 Theodoric II came to power with the Visigoths through the murder of his brother Thorismund. He renewed the federation relationship with the Romans and the alliance with Aëtius, as he hoped to gain a significant position of power within the Western Roman Empire . When Aëtius was slain in 454 and new turmoil broke out in Italy, Theodoric wanted to use the circumstances to increase his influence. This goal served the elevation of the Gallo-Roman senator Avitus to emperor, which took place at the urging of Theodoric in 455 in Arles. Avitus, once a follower of Aëtius, moved to Italy with Visigoth troops, but could not hold his ground for long in Rome because the Visigoth warriors left Italy again in 456 to fight the regnum of the Suebi in Hispania . Although they remained victorious, Avitus lacked their fighting power, who was therefore eliminated by his inner-Roman enemies. The failure of Avitus was perceived by the Gallo-Roman upper class as a defeat and probably led to an alienation between the Gallo-Romans and the Western Roman government in Ravenna, which favored the Visigoths. Theodoric II wanted to use this location to conquer Arles, but failed because of the army master Aegidius . He beat the Visigoths in 458 on behalf of the new Emperor Majorian before Arles, whereupon the federation relationship was renewed once more. Behind Majorian stood the new master Ricimer , who was related to the Visigothic ruling house. When Aegidius, after the fall of Majorian, who was dropped and killed by Ricimer in 461, rebelled against the new rulers of Rome and fought them from his northern Gaulish sphere of influence, Theodoric II allied himself with Ricimer and the new emperor Libius Severus against him and occupied Narbonne. Once again, the Visigoths had taken advantage of the civil wars of the Romans against each other. In 463 they suffered a heavy defeat at Orléans .

Expansion to the Loire and Hispania

Development of the Visigoth Empire; red-orange: settlement of the Visigoths in Aquitaine from 418; orange and light orange: expansion of the Visigoth Empire until 507; orange: Visigoth Empire (with Septimania) between 507 and 552; green: Suebenreich , which from 585 belonged to the Visigoth Empire.

The death of Aegidius, who died in 464/465, gave the Visigoths the opportunity to expand in the Loire region. 466 Theodoric II was eliminated by his younger brother Eurich (II). After his seizure of power, Eurich, an important ruler, began diplomatic preparations for a major offensive against the Romans. In 468 they suffered a catastrophic defeat against Geiseric, and now Euric took advantage of the weakness of the imperial government and finally dissolved the federation relationship. He extended his sphere of influence to the Loire , into the Auvergne and in the south to far into Hispania. An advance on Rome failed, but in 475 he made peace with Emperor Julius Nepos , who ceded the territories they had conquered to the Visigoths and recognized their independence. After the deposition of the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus in the following year, Eurich's troops also occupied the area around Arles, which had remained Roman to the last. Eurich decided against further expansion into areas east of the Rhône and north of the Loire.

The Visigoths also gradually occupied large parts of the Iberian Peninsula in the second half of the 5th century. They were initially limited to important bases such as Mérida . It was not until the nineties of the 5th century that there were several large waves of settlement. The reason for this was probably the Franconian pressure on the Loire border.

Under Eurich the Visigoth Empire reached the first peak of its power. When he died in 484, it was the most important of the successor states of the Western Roman Empire in terms of size and population. The area was around 750,000 square kilometers and the population is estimated at 10 million.

Loss of territory to the Franks

From the late 5th century onwards, the Franks gained strength. Under the Merovingian Clovis I , who was able to unite several Frankish associations, they destroyed the empire of the Roman ruler Syagrius north of the Loire in 486/487 . Syagrius fled to the Visigoths, who handed him over to Clovis under Frankish pressure. The Loire now formed the Frankish-Visigoth border. In 507 Clovis went on the attack; in the battle of Vouillé he defeated Alaric II , the son and successor of Euric. Alaric fell in battle. The Franks conquered the Visigoth capital Tolosa, where they captured part of the royal treasure. So the Gallic part of the empire was lost except for Septimania , a coastal strip on the Mediterranean around Narbonne . Only the intervention of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric , who took over the government of the Visigothic Empire for a few years from 511, made it possible for the Visigoths to preserve Septimania. This ended the Tolosan Empire.

Cultural and social history

Legal system

In its ninety-year history, the Tolosan Empire became a model for other regna of Gaul and Hispania in various areas . In the legal system, the Codex Euricianus , introduced around 475 , a code of law named after its author, King Eurich, was the first legal codification of a post-Roman ruler. By usurping the right to legislate actually only available to the emperor, Eurich demonstrated his independence. The Codex became the basis for the later legislation of Visigothic rulers and also a model for foreign popular rights such as Alemannic and Bavarian law.

The Codex Euricianus contained the personal law of the Visigoths, while the law of the Romansh population was codified in the Lex Romana Visigothorum . The Lex Romana Visigothorum was put into effect by Alaric II in 506; therefore it is also called Breviarium Alaricianum . It is a revision of the Codex Theodosianus , a late antique Roman collection of laws, according to which the Roman population of the Visigoth Empire before 506 had orientated itself. The Lex Romana Visigothorum formed an important basis for the early medieval reception of Roman law in Western Europe . The Codex Euricianus and the Lex Romana Visigothorum regulated legal acts such as purchase and donation, wills, loans and deeds. The regulations of the Codex Euricianus were applied to trials between Goths and Romans . It contained a strikingly high proportion of provisions that came from Roman law; apparently it was created with the considerable help of Romance lawyers. The fact that a work so strongly influenced by Roman and written in Latin was already authoritative for legal disputes between the Goths in the 5th century is an important indication of the early, far-reaching assimilation of the Visigoth warriors to their surroundings and for the attempt to defeat the late Roman Continue administration.


The settlement of the Visigoths could have been associated with the forced cession of land by Roman landowners, but this question has been the subject of controversial research for decades. In any case, there was by no means a comprehensive and systematic expropriation; rather, there were rich Roman landowners in the Tolosan Empire, who let themselves be protected by armed men and fortified their country estates. The social stratification was very pronounced. A striking number of provisions of the Codex Euricianus deal with unfree people , the number of whom was evidently considerable. The followers consisted partly of free, partly of unfree. Free followers were allowed to change followers. Simple free people evidently often got into severe social hardship; this is borne out by the provisions of the Codex Euricianus , which deal with the sale of clients themselves and the sale of clients as slaves against their will. A provision prohibiting the sale of children of free parents shows that this also occurred.

Position of the Romans in the Empire

All in all, it can be said that the Gothic warriors, as the successors to the imperial army, were responsible for the defense of the empire, while the Romanized majority population had to provide for their livelihood. Overall, the position of the Romans and Romans in the Tolosan Empire was therefore advantageous. In contrast to the Visigoths, they did not have to do military service, but could voluntarily serve in the Visigoth army and even assume high command posts there. 507 aristocrats of senatorial origin fought with the Visigoths against the Franks Clovis I. The Romans also had access to top positions in administration. In contrast to the Gothic warriors, they had to pay taxes, but their tax burden was apparently much lower than in the late ancient Roman Empire. Military and civil administration were no longer separate. Both were directed by duces who could be Gothic or Roman; they acted as military leaders during the war and took over administrative tasks in their districts during peacetime, which probably also included judicial functions. The tradition of the Roman provincial administration continued. The city ( civitas ) formed an important administrative unit , at the top of which was a comes civitatis (literally "city count"), to which the local judicial system was also subordinate.

Assimilation to Romance culture

Demographic conditions form the background to understanding assimilation. The estimates of the number of Visigoths living in the Tolosan Empire vary between around 70,000 and 200,000, which corresponds to a share of about one to two percent of the total population (at the time of the greatest expansion of the empire). Research on place names shows that the Visigoth settlement was concentrated in the Toulouse area; in most of the empire there are no Gothic place names. The disappearance of Gothic customs testifies to assimilation. In the course of time - more precise indications for dating are missing - the Gothic costume disappeared. The Gothic language , which from the beginning was only spoken by a few tens of thousands of people, was slowly pushed back; until the end of the Tolosan Empire it was still widespread. The rulers had a good knowledge of Latin at the very latest since Theodoric II, whose teacher the later Emperor Avitus was; at Eurich's court there was an interest in Latin poetry.

Despite the progressive Romanization of the Goths, there was also an intense contempt for the Germanic “barbarians” among the educated Romanesque upper class. An example of this is the famous poet and bishop Sidonius Apollinaris , whose writings are an important source of the cultural history of the Tolosan Empire. He made no secret of the fact that he did not believe in the Goths. Mixed marriages between Goths and Romans remained forbidden until the end of the 6th century.


The Romans were mostly Catholics , the Goths Arians . This religious contrast created a feeling of alienation between the ethnic groups. The resulting tensions fluctuated strongly depending on the changeable religious policy of the Visigoth kings. Theodoric I cultivated a good relationship with the Catholics, so that even Catholic bishops acted as ambassadors for him. Theodoric II seems to have been relatively uninterested in religious questions. This policy of tolerance or indifference changed radically under Eurich, who did not allow the Catholics to fill vacant dioceses. As a result, he was able to largely paralyze the church life of Catholics without having to resort to violent measures. Since the largely Catholic sources do not report that he attempted conversion, it can be assumed that his anti-Catholic attitude was more politically than religiously motivated; he saw in the Catholics and above all their bishops potential allies of the likewise Catholic Western Roman emperor. Alaric II again took a course that was friendly to Catholics. In his Lex Romana Visigothorum he took over provisions of Roman law, which regulated the legal position of the Catholic Church, but not a law of Emperor Valentinian III. which the Gallic Church subordinated to the Pope. So he wanted to push back the influence of Rome and presumably create an independent Catholic regional church. In 506 he allowed the meeting of the Synod of Agde, a Catholic imperial synod led by Metropolitan Caesarius of Arles . Alaric's goal was evidently to defuse the religious antagonism and to win the Catholic novels over to the Visigothic state.

Toledan Empire 507-725

Political history

Crisis, rule of Ostrogothic kings

After 507 the Visigothic Empire plunged into a crisis. Its focus shifted to Hispania after the loss of most of the Gallic territories. The military intervention of the Ostrogoths on the Visigothic side against the attacking Franks and the Burgundians allied with them saved Septimania (the rest of the Visigothic territory north of the Pyrenees), but the Visigoths initially lost their independence. The Ostrogoths expelled Gesalech , the illegitimate son and successor of King Alaric II, who had fallen in 507, and the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great took control of the Visigoth Empire, where he ruled for a decade and a half until his death (526). He left the administration to his agents. Theodoric was the father-in-law of Alaric II and the grandfather of his son Amalaric , but did not rule as the guardian of Amalaric, who was initially underage, but in his own name. Apparently, he intended a permanent merger of the two realms. After his death, however, the Visigoths under Amalaric made themselves independent again. Amalaric's troops suffered a defeat at Narbonne in 531 against the Frankish king Theuderic I , which led to new territorial losses of the Visigoths. Soon after, Amalaric was murdered. After a few months without a ruler, the Visigoths made Theudis , an Ostrogoth, their new king. He continued the protracted military conflict with the Franks.

Confrontation with the Eastern Roman Empire

At the same time, after the destruction of the North African Vandal Empire by a force of Emperor Justinian, there was a threat of an Eastern Roman attack on Hispania. During the first battles between the Visigoths and the Eastern Romans for the city of Ceuta on the Strait of Gibraltar , the imperial troops prevailed. In 548, Theudis was murdered like his predecessor. He was one of the numerous Visigoth kings who met a violent death. The reasons for the assassinations of the kings were partly political and partly private. Attacks, rebellions and coups d'état were so frequent in the period that followed that the Franconian chronicler Pseudo- Fredegar coined the term "Gothic disease" ( morbus Gothicus ) for them. One of the uprisings gave the Eastern Romans an excuse to intervene; In 552 they landed as an ally of a Visigoth rebel on the south coast of Hispania and under the aged patricius Liberius occupied a coastal area that reached at least from Carthago Nova ( Cartagena ) to Málaga and included the important cities of Córdoba and Medina Sidonia . This area, which essentially corresponded to the old province of Baetica , was reorganized as Spania by Justinian , remained Eastern Roman for almost 80 years and was subject to its own magister militum . During these 80 years Eastern Romans and Visigoths fought each other with varying degrees of success.

Power development under Leovigild

Under the energetic King Leovigild (568 / 9–586) the Visigothic empire experienced a significant boom. Leovigild's goal was to bring the entire Pyrenees peninsula under his rule. His expansionist efforts were directed against the Eastern Romans, against the Kingdom of the Suebi in present-day Galicia and Northern Portugal , against the Cantabrians and Basques, and against smaller centers of power that were in the hands of local kings or local nobility. In a series of successful campaigns, Leovigild was able to push back the Eastern Romans, subjugate the Suebi and incorporate extensive areas that had previously been ruled by regional and local rulers into the Visigoth Empire. A Frankish attack on Septimania was repulsed, the rebellion put down by Leovigild's son Hermenegild . In the religious field, however, Leovigild's attempt to resolve tensions between Arians and Catholics failed . An important concern of Leovigild was the “imperialization” of the kingdom by imitating the Eastern Roman Empire. This was expressed, for example, in his clothing, court rulership and coinage: Leovigild was the first Visigoth king to openly pose as a sovereign ruler. He stopped putting the image of the Roman (Byzantine) emperor on his gold coins, thereby signaling that he no longer recognized the formal sovereignty of Constantinople. He was also the first Visigoth to wear a crown and purple, and in the style of the Roman emperors, he founded a new city, which he named after his son Rekkared Reccopolis .

Transition to Catholic Christianity, campaigns against the Basques

Leovigild's son and successor Rekkared I (586-601) was able to victoriously end the war against the Franks. He eliminated the religious discord in the empire by converting from Arianism to Catholicism in 589, which resulted in the end of Arianism in the Visigothic Empire. Rekkared also fought against the East Romans and the Basques, but without resounding success. Up to the end of the Visigoth Empire, the kings repeatedly undertook campaigns against the Basques; the successes achieved thereby remained temporary each time, since the subjugated Basques rose again and again. The repetition of the campaigns shows their failure; a lasting pacification of the Basque areas did not succeed.

Internal power struggles in the 7th century

Rekkared's young son and successor Liuva II was ousted in 603 after only one and a half years of government; a conspiracy of nobles brought his successor Witterich to power. This ended the dynasty founded by Leovigild. In the period that followed, the principle of elective monarchy prevailed again (although in some cases it is unclear whether an election took place or whether the mere success of a coup or an uprising was enough to legitimize the new king). Individual kings ( Sisebut , Suinthila , Chintila ) tried in vain to establish a permanent dynasty by raising a son to co-regent; if an heir to the throne came to power, he was removed after a short reign. Nobility conspiracies and rebellions with the aim of overthrowing the ruling king and replacing him with a usurper reveal the political instability and weakness of the kingship. Around 625 King Suinthila succeeded in recapturing the last Eastern Roman-Byzantine bases in Hispania.

A reaction of the kingship to the overwhelming power and unreliability of the nobility came under Chindaswinth (642–653). Chindaswinth himself came to power through a coup d'état and then proceeded systematically with extraordinary severity against groups of the nobility whom he suspected of lacking loyalty. Hundreds of nobles fell victim to his regime of terror. Chindaswinth's goal was to largely replace the ruling class, to replace the previous independent nobility with reliable followers of the king. He succeeded in securing the successor to his son Rekkeswinth , whom he made co-regent.

After Rekkeswinth's death (672) there was again a real election of a king; the already aged nobleman Wamba was made the new king. He is the first early medieval ruler for whom an anointing as a ruler ordination based on the Old Testament model is expressly attested in the sources. Wamba proved to be a capable, energetic ruler; He was able to suppress an uprising in Septimania, but after eight years of rule he was ousted by court intrigue and forced to abdicate.

In the years 693/694 and again in the first years of the 8th century severe epidemics broke out, which weakened the empire; there was also famine. These factors resulted in a significant population decline. Power struggles between royalty and rebellious aristocratic groups continued.

Fall of the Visigoth Empire

In the course of the Islamic expansion , in the spring of 711 a relatively small force consisting of Arabs and - predominantly - Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and began the invasion of the Visigoth Empire. King Roderich , who had only ruled the previous year and was busy fighting against the insurgent Basques, hurried to meet them. In July 711, the Muslims won the battle of the Río Guadalete , in which Roderich fell. In the following years they conquered the Iberian Peninsula and finally Septimania. In the northeastern region of Tarraconensis , Visigoth troops offered resistance until 719, in Septimania in southern Gaul until 725.

However, it is not true that one of the rival aristocratic parties called on the Muslims to help and thus initiated or at least promoted the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. The alleged treason is a later heavily embellished legend that - as modern research has shown - contradicts historical reality and is due to the need to explain the catastrophic defeat and to assign blame.

The cities of Nîmes and Carcassonne fell last . There are also indications that individual gothic nests of resistance in eastern Septimania were not taken by the Arabs, but later fell directly to the Frankish Empire. This is reported for the year 756 in the chronicle of the city of Uzès ( Histoire d'Uzès ). Some Goths also seem to have withdrawn to the Pyrenees, where they successfully resisted together with the locals under the leadership of Pelagius .

Cultural, constitutional and social history

The votive crown of the Visigoth king Rekkeswinth (653–672), from the Guarrazar treasure

Identifying factors

In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Visigoth Empire was still closely linked to the Mediterranean region of late antiquity. What is striking then is the cultural isolation of the Visigoth Empire in the 7th century. Occurrences outside the own imperial borders received little attention in Visigoth sources; conversely, events in the Visigoths were rarely recorded in sources from areas outside the Iberian Peninsula.

With the other East Germanic states, the Visigothic Empire shared the basic political conflict between the small stratum of Germanic conquerors and the Romanized subjects. Four factors contributed to its overcoming: Since the end of the 5th century there was the common military service of (mounted) Goths and (mostly on foot) Romanians. Under Leovigild, the ban on mixed marriages was lifted and the Roman law of inheritance of daughters was also introduced among the Teutons. Rekkared's conversion to Catholicism, which led to the extinction of Arianism, made it possible to complete the amalgamation of the Visigoths and the provincial Romans into a now religiously united people of the empire. In 654, under Rekkeswinth , the coexistence of Visigothic popular law and Roman provincial law was abolished. No other Germanic state was founded in such a way as to bring the cultures of the rulers and the ruled to the same level, even though this took place through the absorption of the conquerors into the late Roman-Byzantine cultural milieu.

The Visigothic empire experienced a cultural heyday from the turn of the 6th to the 7th century, which was shaped by Maximus of Saragossa , Isidore of Seville and Ildefons of Toledo , among others . For Isidore, the Romani (Byzantines) were already foreigners against whom one had to defend oneself; the loyalty of the Spanish provincials to the Byzantine Empire was extinguished.

Pressure on the Jewish population

The Jews who were not involved in this process remained the only non-Catholic population group. Therefore, the Visigoth kings and the Catholic Church took energetic measures with the aim of forcing the Jews to convert to the Catholic faith and thus assimilating them. Numerous sharp council resolutions and laws served the purpose of making life more difficult for Jews who kept their faith and, above all, of robbing them of their sources of income through commercial activity. From 694 onwards, the Jews were in a de facto lawless position, their property was confiscated and their children were taken away from them and given to Christian families.

Visigothic imperial idea

King Rekkeswinth issued a uniform code of law for Goths and Romans ( Liber iudiciorum or Liber iudicum ) in 654 . In this way, the territorial principle prevailed in the legal system over the earlier principle of personal law (tied to nationality). The idea of ​​such a uniform imperial law represented a pioneering achievement by the Visigoths, because in the other Germanic empires the ethnic principle still prevailed. Thus showing in the Visigoth a development from persons member State to territorial territorial state. Such thinking and the associated emergence of a transpersonal state idea also corresponded to the fact that a division of the empire among the sons of a deceased ruler, as was common among the Franks and Burgundians, was not an option for the Visigoths. Co-rulers were given their own domains, but it was never intended to be divided into independent states. Prominent metropolitans such as Isidore of Seville and Julian of Toledo - one of them Romanesque, the other of Jewish origin - identified themselves as historians with Visigoth rule and became propagandists of the Visigothic imperial idea. The inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula developed a feeling of togetherness, with the Romans now also seeing themselves as "Goths". This Hispanic-Visigoth “nationalism” expressed itself in a glorification of one's own nationality and in sharp polemics against the foreign enemies (Eastern Romans and “Gauls” or Franks). The term “fatherland” ( patria ), to which loyalty was owed , often appeared in legal sources .

Relationship between worldly and spiritual power

The councils of Toledo showed the mutual interpenetration of secular and spiritual power in the Visigoth realm; the kings interfered massively in church affairs and the bishops in politics. As members of the council, bishops passed resolutions on the procedure for electing a king. They also took on ex officio tasks in secular justice and tax collection; the church was treated as a branch of state administration.


In the late phase of the Visigoth Empire there was increasing feudalization. The court nobility came to the fore; From 653 onwards, only court nobles ( maiores palatii ) and bishops were allowed to take part in the election of a king , whereas previously all nobles had the right to vote. After the election, the new king and his constituents swore oaths to each other, which were also put in writing and signed by 672 at the latest. The oaths of allegiance came from the mindset of allegiance. Not only the court nobles, but all free imperial residents were sworn in to the king. The king's followers ( fideles regis ) were bound to him by a special oath. The king lent them lands, but reserved the right to revoke these loans at any time. This land loan, which was an important instrument of royal politics to secure the loyalty of the allegiance, can be seen as a preliminary stage of the enfeoffment within the framework of the medieval feudal system , which also went hand in hand with the depopulation of the big cities. In contrast to the Franconian institution of vassalage, the loyalty and service relationship remained private law; it did not replace the role of civil administration. The extent to which one can speak of “protofeudalism” or prefeudalismo (an expression coined by the historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz ) for the later phase of the Visigoth Empire is controversial. In any case, the court nobility became more and more powerful. King Rekkeswinth referred to the court nobles in 653 as his "companions in government" ( in regimine socios ). The 13th Council of Toledo (683) decreed that no court nobleman could be convicted without a trial; A registry court made up of bishops and court nobles was responsible for such proceedings. This “Visigoth Habeas corpus law”, which was supposed to protect the court aristocracy from royal arbitrariness, was disregarded later, but its existence testifies to the power of the court aristocracy, which at least at times even prevailed over the king to whom it owed its existence could.

Problems in the army

Visigoth bow brooch of the 6th century from Castiltierra ( province of Segovia , Spain)

The Visigothic army began to decline in the course of the 7th century. The fact that numerous conscripts withdrew from military service played an important role, which reduced the proportion of free members in the army. The largest part of the army consisted of unfree men who entered the army with their masters. The nobles equipped only a small part of their unfree people and led him into the field. Laws of King Wambas and his successor Erwig illustrate these unsatisfactory conditions; Wamba threatened the defaulters with drastic financial penalties and imprisonment if they failed to fulfill their military duties. These military laws play an important role in the research debate about Visigoth "protofeudalism".

Property and Poverty

The nobility were distinguished by their factual power; The Visigoth nobles, however, did not form their own separate class in the legal sense. The class of the simple free, on the other hand, was dwindling, although the kings tried to strengthen it with their legislation. The freed slaves were ranked among the free. They were not equated with free people, but remained dependent on their previous masters.

In the 7th century, the social differences in the Visigoths worsened. A very rich upper class, whose fortune consisted mainly of land ownership, faced a growing number of unfree (slaves) and freed people. Episcopal churches, monasteries and parish churches had numerous slaves. Bishops had their church slaves mutilated as punishment; this happened so often that councils felt compelled to forbid it through special regulations. Often slaves escaped from their masters and then lived in great poverty on the run. This created a labor shortage. It is likely that the fugitive slaves often joined robbers who made traveling and the work of messengers dangerous. A strict ban on infanticide by a law by King Chindaswinth illustrates the extreme economic hardship of many families that formed the motive for such desperate acts.


In Asturias , a few years after the defeat against the Arabs, rebellious Christians founded the Kingdom of Asturias (see Pelayo ). Its rulers viewed themselves as successors to the Visigoth kings and thus legitimized their rule (so-called neo-Gothic).

In many ways, the Visigoth Empire formed a bridge between antiquity and the Middle Ages, as late antique structures continued to exist here longer than in many other regions of the Roman West , and on the other hand, forms of life and legal forms of the Middle Ages were developed prototypically and in some areas. An example of this is, among others, Theodulf von Orleans , who was born in 750 as the son of Visigoth noble parents in Septimania and later became Bishop of Orleans and one of the most important advisers of Charlemagne .

The city foundations Re (c) copolis and Victoriacum by King Leovigild are documented; in other cases it seems to have been less a question of cities than of extended fortifications.

See also



  • Alberto Ferreiro: The Visigoths in Gaul and Spain AD 418-711: A Bibliography . Brill, Leiden 1988, ISBN 90-04-08793-1 (useful, comprehensive bibliography)


Web links

Commons : Visigoths  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Henning Börm: Westrom . Stuttgart 2013, p. 99ff.
  2. ^ Karl F. Stroheker: Eurich , Stuttgart 1937, p. 88; Dietrich Claude: History of the Visigoths , Stuttgart 1970, p. 33f .; Klaus Herbers: History of Spain in the Middle Ages , Stuttgart 2006, p. 35.
  3. Eurich's pioneering role is emphasized by Isidore of Seville , Historia Gothorum 35. Whether Eurich's predecessors were already legislative or whether only customary law applied before Eurich is debatable.
  4. See Guy Halsall: Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West. Cambridge 2007, p. 422 ff.
  5. ^ Dietrich Claude: History of the Visigoths , Stuttgart 1970, p. 37f. with discussion of older research.
  6. ^ Dietrich Claude: History of the Visigoths , Stuttgart 1970, p. 52f.
  7. For background and details see Dietrich Claude : Investigations on the Fall of the Visigoth Empire (711–725) . In: Historisches Jahrbuch , Vol. 108, 1988, pp. 329–358, here: 336–352.
  8. See Dietrich Claude: Investigations on the fall of the Visigoth Empire (711-725). In: Historisches Jahrbuch 108, 1988, pp. 329–358, here: 343–351.
  9. ^ David Nicolle: Poitiers AD 732. Charles Martel turns the Islamic tide , Oxford 2008, p. 88.
  10. ^ Franz Georg Maier : The transformation of the Mediterranean world. (Fischer Weltgeschichte Volume 9.) Frankfurt 1968, p. 302 f.
  11. ^ Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: En torno a los orígenes del feudalismo . Universidad Nacional de Cuyo , Mendoza (Argentina) 1942.
  12. ^ Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz: El "Stipendium" hispano-godo y los orígenes del beneficio prefeudal . Buenos Aires 1947.
  13. Dietrich Claude, History of the Visigoths , Stuttgart 1970, p. 112.