ECHO Molise
  Emigration and Cultural Heritage of the Molise

Goths in the Samnium 2


Traditionally, Goth men would assemble at each new moon to make and administer laws. This assembly was called a “thing.” The thing would also choose a king’s replacement upon his death, usually from an elite family (Bradley 123).  

Elite families included the Ostrogoth Amalings--Theodoric’s family--and the Visigoth Balthings (Bradley 123).

Both Odoacer and Theodoric [links to Into Italy article] maintained the Roman administration in place when they came to rule but controlled the administrators themselves. The Samnites peacefully submitted to the Goth rule, as the administration of the South remained unchanged (Crawford v.ii 2-3; Colabella 48). Centuries into the Middle Ages, Goths from Italy, Catalonia and Southern France would profess their own law (Wolfram 16).

Gothic law for the conquerors; Roman law for the conquered (Crawford v. ii 2); cases between Goths and Romans presided by Gothic judge (Ward-Perkins 838)

Under Roman rule, the Samnium had been united with the Campania province until the beginning of the 4th century, when the earthquake of 346 AD upset the territory. At that time, the Samnium and Campania were administratively separated for political reasons.  The first provincial governor of the new Samnium was Flavius Uranius, 346 – 351 (Colabella 48).

Theodoric portrait, J Chapman 1807

As ruler of Italy, Theodoric implemented a program of fusion between his subjects, providing equality for all and reviving art, civic life and agricultural prosperity. “Within the Samnium, [his] imprints, ultimately, would have been left in the style of buildings, churches, houses—except they are not now tangible due to the earthquakes [links to article on earthquakes] since the 9th century—not one saved in the Molise territory” (Masciotta 123, 126).

Theodoric ruled from his capital in Ravenna, where he did his own gardening and issued edicts to protect ancient monuments. He ruled for 33 years, from Sicily to the Danube, from Belgrade to the Atlantic. He helped Latin literature flourish without suppressing Gothic as a religious and academic language (Jones 306). According to 6th century Ostrogothic propaganda, “The glory of the Goths is to protect civil life” (Ward-Perkins 796).

Hodgkin cites a Roman bishop claiming that if anyone left gold or silver on his land in Theodoric’s realm, it would be as safe as in a walled city; and that Theodoric never had gates made for any city; and cities with gates could safely leave them open (Hodgkin 1628).

There is ample evidence the Gothic kings intended to treat the Samnites fairly, including letters from the Visigoth [links to Into Italy article] Athalaric reprimanding Gothic officials for having over-collected taxes (Crawford v. ii 4-5). In another letter, Theodoric wrote to “all the Goths in Picenum and Samnium” to be present [in Ravenna] on June 6 to receive their “donatives”. He warned the Goths to not commit outrages or lay waste to the crops of the Italian landowners along the way (Thompson 93).

Back to Index


The Gothic army attracted peoples from the native lower classes in the regions they conquered. By the 3rd century, the Roman economic situation was so bad, Roman peasants were willing to “become Goth.” However, in Italy and in Spain, these peasants were needed more in the fields than in the military. That is why, under Theodoric’s program to stabilize the Italian peninsula, peasants could not join the Gothic army. Afterwards, however, Totila [links to Into Italy article, Gothic War] enticed peasants and slaves into the army by promising land and freemanship (Wolfram 6-8).

5c Visigoth fibulae, cloisson�

Since the 1st century, barbarians served as auxiliaries in the Roman army, and over time their numbers increased as provincializaton made army service less attractive to Roman citizens (Kukikowski 35). Ultimately, the Roman army “was composed almost exclusively of barbarians, and the country cultivated only by slaves” (Abbott 420). Among the benefits to the barbarians, service in the Roman army offered good pay, citizenship after honorable discharge and a substantial discharge bonus. Although many Goths became acclimated to Roman life, living out their lives within the Empire and dying as citizens (Kukikowski 36), there would always be fundamental cultural differences between Goth and Roman soldiers.

Roman soldiers fought on salary, and their generals displayed their position by exercising life-and-death power over their troops. By contrast, Gothic chiefs displayed position by generosity at feasts and entertainments for their troops. In return, Gothic warriors were all about loyalty to their chief. “The Chief fights for victory; his vassals fight for their chief” (Jones 86).

Back to Index

By Goth standards, it was considered unmanly to use armor on their horses during battle (Jones 86).

Belisarius’ army  [links to Into Italy article, Gothic War]  that defeated the Ostrogoths in Ravenna included a large Hun force. “When the Gothic women [of Ravenna] saw the little dark men filing past them…they spat in the faces of their husbands and said: ‘Are you men, to allow yourselves to be beaten by such manikins as these?’” (Hodgkin 4107).

In exchange for the land grants, Theodoric’s soldiers owed feudal service and agreed to act as “ready reserve”. In this way, Theodoric could call up 200,000 reserve troops within an hour (Abbott 420).


Within Italy, Theodoric’s 33-year reign of relative peace and security provided a break from the otherwise constant invasions and devastations, and allowed modest production and trade recovery within the Samnium. However, following Theodoric’s death, a 20-year war between the Goths and the Byzantines [links to Into Italy article, Gothic War] was characterized by looting, pestilence and famine (Colabella 49).

Archeological evidence supports that the Goths previously enjoyed a wide trade network in their eastern European lands. Finds from the Moldova site 3-4 c ADGoths acquired olive oil, wine, glass, fine ceramics and higher-valued goods through trade with the Roman Empire and more distant regions. Coins, including gold medallions, were plentiful. A Goth archeological site in Moldova 300 miles from the Roman frontier border, exposed luxurious buildings with colonnades, Roman-style tile roofs and glass windows (Kukikowski 91-93).

As the Empire began its decline, the Western Empire’s economy suffered. It became so bad by 413 AD, a time when the empire needed to raise more money to fight off invaders, it was forced to implement tax relief. Specifically, it suspended 80 percent of the tax burden, to all provinces, for 5 years. In 418, when the tax was to be reinstated, the Empire again had to reduce taxes or grant extensions to many Italian provinces (Ward-Perkins 167, 170)

Romans continued their interest in furnishing food to the city of Rome. For example, in 452, the Guild of Swine Collectors was reestablished and collected tax of 5400 soldi from the Samnium. In addition, the Samnium, together with Lucania and Campania, were required to furnish 100,000 pounds of pork and 3,629,000 pounds of meat to the city of Rome for 150 days each year (Christie, From Constantine 412).

A soldi was a Byzantine coin equal to 4.5 grams of gold. 5400 soldi would be over $1.3 million US or Canadian and about 1 million Euro, today.

Bronze weight standard 5th c
Theodoric’s 33-year reign did much to improve the economy. He updated Italy’s agricultural systems, imported well-drilling experts from Africa and drained malaria swamps (Jones 306). He encouraged opening gold mines in southern Italy, developed shipbuilding and the fishing industry, repaired highways and aqueducts, and implemented a standard system of weights and measures (Bradley 1570). During his reign, Italy went from a grain-importing to a grain-exporting country (Hodgkin 1752).

Unfortunately, after Theodoric’s long peace, Italy was subjected to decades years of war and “reduced to complete ruin” (Jones 308). Coupled with recurring Bubonic plagues and natural disasters, the consequences lasted centuries. Archeological evidence shows a steady decline in the standard of living during the 5th to 7th centuries, for poor and wealthy alike (Ward-Perkins 1460, 1468, 991)

In 536-7, severe weather conditions, possibly from an asteroid strike or volcanic eruption, devastated agricultural production. A dense fog covered Europe and obscured the sun for a year, causing summer snow in some areas (Wikipedia, Extreme).

In fact, the trade economy and standard of living after the fall of Rome declined to pre-Roman, almost pre-historic, levels—and did not return until the 14th century. During these 800 years, there was “little movement of goods,  poor housing, and only the most basic manufactured items” (Ward-Perkins 1009, 1514)

Roman pottery vessel, 4th c
During the Roman heyday, trade was sophisticated to the point that “a north-Italian peasant…might eat off tableware from the area near Naples, store liquids in an amphora from North Africa, and sleep under a tiled roof.” Archeological digs commonly uncover high quality Roman pottery in the most humble and isolated farmsteads from the Roman era. However, during the 6th and 7th centuries, even in Rome, such pottery and amphoral ware became luxury items, available only to the wealthy (Ward-Perkins 997, 1045, 1201)

Roman housing, even the remote and humble structures, including storage and animal stalls, had Roman-style tiled roofs and floors. For example, a small farmstead in a remote Apennine settlement near Campobasso from the 2nd century BC sported a tiled roof. Roman roof tilesConsidering the logistics of kiln, clay and transport, this exemplifies the extensive production and trade network available during Roman times. However, domestic housing in post-Roman Italy was almost always made of wood and other perishable materials. Flooring became limited to simple beaten earth
(Ward-Perkins 1078, 1090, 1220, 1233).

Stone and second-hand durable materials were reserved for church construction, reshaped for new purposes (Ward-Perkins 1224-1226).

Lead and copper pollution, produced by smelting and thus a measure of manufacturing activity, was very high during the Roman period. However, it fell back to almost pre-historic levels in post-Roman times, and did not return to Roman era levels until the 16th and 17th centuries (Ward-Perkins 1068).

Italy’s Ostrogothic rulers produced copper coins, low in value but common used. However, coinage almost disappeared from daily use in the post-Roman economy (Ward-Perkins 1259, 1245)

Ward-Perkins estimates post-Roman food production dropped to 25-50 percent of the Roman production levels, leading to a drop in population--not movement to cities, but an overall decline in population numbers. Interestingly, even the weight and size of cattle and domestic animals dropped back to pre-historic sizes in the post-Roman era (Ward-Perkins 1529, 1524, 1577).

Back to Index 


Abbott, John S.C.
Italy. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, 1882.

Barker, Graeme. A Mediterranean Valley. Landscape Archaeology and Annales History in the Biferno Valley. London and New York: Leicester University Press, 2005.

Bradley, Henry. The Story of the Goth from the Earliest Times to the End of the Gothic Dominion in Spain. New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1888. E-book.

Christie, Neil. From Constantine to Charlemagne: An Archaeology of Italy, AD 300-800. London: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2006.

—. Landscapes of Change: Rural Evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. London: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2004.

Colabella, Michele. Binifero, Una Storia Millenaria. Milano: Nuova polistylegraf, 1999.

Crawford, Francis Marion. Southern Italy and Sicily, and The Rulers of the South. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1907.

Heather, Peter. Empires and Barbarians. The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Herlihy, David. Medieval Households. Harvard University Press, 1985.

Hodges, Richard and David Whitehorse. Mohammed, Charlemagne & the Origins of Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Hodgkin, Thomas. Theodoric the Goth. The Barbarian Champion of Civilisation. London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1897. E-Book.

Jones, Terry and Alan Ereira. Terry Jones' Barbarians. Oxford: BBC Books, 2007. E-Book.

Kukikowski, Michael. Rome's Gothic Wars. From the Third Century to Alaric. Cambridge University Press, 2007. E-Book.

Masciotta, Giambattista. Il Molise dalle origini ai nostri giorni. Vol. I. Napoli: Luigi Pierro e Figlio, 1914.

Thompson, E. A,. Romans and Barbarians: Decline of the Western Empire. University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Oxford University Press, 2005. E-Book.

Wikipedia. "Arianism." 16 Jan 2013. Wikipedia. 17 Jan 2013.

—. "Eostre." 11 Dec 2012. Wikipedia. 18 Jan 2013.

—. "Extreme weather events of 535-536." 23 Dec 2012. Wikipedia. 18 Jan 2013.

—. "Mausoleum of Theodoric." 3 Oct 2012. Wikipedia. 18 Jan 2013.

Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.

Back to Index


Web Hosting Companies