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Benjamin Fortson

The East Germanic language of the Goths, attested primarily in the lengthy fragments of a translation of the Greek Bible by the 4th-century Arian bishop Wulfila or Ulfilas (literally, “little wolf”). In Europe the language had died out probably by the 9th century, but a variation of it was still spoken in the 18th century in Crimea. Gothic is the first Germanic language to be attested in anything other than very short runic inscriptions.Wulfila used a modified Greek alphabet, supplemented with a couple of letters from the Latin and runic alphabets. Wulfila’s translation sticks very close to the word order and idiom of the original Greek, which makes studying the language’s syntax quite complicated. Gothic is the only Germanic language to preserve a passive conjugation and dual personal endings in verbs and shows none of the umlaut or rhotacism that so changed the soundscape of the West and North Germanic languages. An archaic syntactic feature of the language is the use of clitic conjunctions and pronouns (such as -(u)h “and,” related to Latin -que and Greek τε) that appear in second position in the clause, even separating preverbs from verbs.



Peter Heather

Ulfila, “little wolf,” Gothic bishop (see goths), fl. c. 340–382 ce, was born in Gothia of the stock of Roman prisoners from Cappadocia. Famous for translating the Gothic Bible, of which the surviving Gospels closely reflect his work. Closely involved in Gotho-Roman diplomatic relations, he worked in Gothia for only seven years before being expelled (c. 348); his precise role in the formal conversion of the Goths as they crossed the Danube in 376 is unclear. He also played a major role in eastern Church affairs as a leader of the anti-Nicene coalition dominant in the mid-4th century.


Cassiodorus was a prominent participant in the political, intellectual, and religious life of 6th-century ce Italy, and a learned scholar of the classical and Christian traditions. As a member of the administration of the Gothic government under Theoderic and his successors, he advanced through what may be considered the late-Roman cursus honorum. He was also witness to the dramatic political and religious debates of the day, including volatile interactions between the royal court at Ravenna, the Senate at Rome, and the emperor in Constantinople. Justinian’s Gothic War in Italy effectively ended his political career, after which he first became an exile in Constantinople, and then the founder of a school for Christian learning (Vivarium) on his ancestral estates in southern Italy. The literary works that he produced span the spectrum of his personal experiences and attest to the intellectual and cultural range of people living during the 6th century: panegyrics, a chronicle, ethnography, letters, treatises on reading, grammars, Christian exegesis, and ecclesiastical history.