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Famous Barbarian Names


 

Alaric, King of the Visigoths

Alaric

One of the most famous barbarians, Alaric the Goth (allegedly born on the coast of the Black Sea, at the mouth of the Danube River on the isle of Peuce, on December 18, 371 C.E.), was the first barbarian to successfully capture the city Rome in 410 C.E.  Although his troops spared most of the residents and the architecture (Alaric was a known lover of beauty and literature) they pretty well looted the place.  Interestingly enough, a vision of his some 15 years before had predicted that he would successfully capture Rome.  After the capture, he traveled south with the intention of crossing over into Africa, but was hindered by the storms along the Mediterranean coast.   Allegedly he took ill suddenly and died during this expedition, and is supposedly buried near the river Busento.  However, legends and some historical evidence also claims that he "faked" his death to save his people from capture from the Romans and Vandals, and went "underground" so to speak, where he continued to "rule" the later Visigothic kingdoms for several decades, dying of old age finally in the year 470 C.E.  (he would have been 98 years old!). His descendants, the Visigoths, migrated to the Iberian peninsula, and eventually became the Spaniards; an indication of their heritage lies in the fair hair and blue eyes of the Northern Spaniards.   See also Stilicho below.

Attila (Atli)

One of the most feared and notorious barbarians of all time, Attila, was not a Germanic or Celtic barbarian, but Hunnish.  Believed to be of distant Mongol stock, he ravaged much of the European continent during the 5th century C.E.  Apparently Attila was as great a menace to the Teutonic tribespeople as he was to the Romans; he and his forces were finally defeated by both Germans and Romans working together (!) in 451 C.E.   Attila supposedly died soon after.  The rumors of his cannibalistic practices are not unfounded; he is supposed to have eaten two of his sons, even.  He actually does make a cameo appearance in the Volsung saga, as Gutrune's second husband after Sigurd's death.

An excellent Attila site: Diether Etzel's Attila the Hun and Barbarians page. This site also has some great information on the Swabian barbarians.

There is also a discorse on Priscus at the Court of Attila.

Boadicea (Boudicca)

Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni (Statue in London)

Not all of the famous barbarians were male. The warrior queen of the Celts, Boadicea, who reigned the tuath Iceni in what is now England during the 1st century C.E., was one such female barbarian.   In 61 C.E., she led a revolt against the Roman invaion of Britain in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Roman soldiers (under order from their superiors.)   Her army of Celts was victorious at first and pushed the Romans back to London, which Boadicea and her forces sacked and burned to the ground, killing almost all of the Roman citizens therein.   Her luck held until the battle of Mancetter, where she and her army was defeated by the Roman general Suetonius Paulinus.  She allegedly died by taking poison administered by one of her faithful druids, rather than suffer the ignominy of capture by her hated enemies.

Other Boadicea Links:  Boudica, Queen of the Iceni

Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne)

CharlemagneThe grandson of Charles Martel (see below), Charles I of France (April 2, 742-814 C.E.), the last of the Frankish Barbarian kings, conquered much of Continental Europe, including the areas of France, Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, some of the Balkan states, and parts of Italy.  He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 C.E. by Pope Leo III, and was supposedly surprised at the Coronation; Pope Leo having devised it on the sly.  He never learned to read or write, although was very learned by listening to visiting scholars and monks read to him from the ancient works.  Although the Carolingian dynasty lasted only one generation after Charlemagne, the Empire lasted 1,118 years until the year 1918 C.E., when the last Holy Roman (Hapsburg) Emperor, Karl, was defeated at the end of World War I.  Among other cultural reforms, Charlemagne was the first to establish the idea of the Divine Right of succession, in which the King was considered to be an avatar of the Christian God, as was his heir apparent.  Most of the constitutional traditions of continental European kingdoms were derived from the reign of Charlemagne.

Charles Martel

A Frankish barbarian of the eastern Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, Charles Martel (688 - 741 C.E.) was most famous for the Battle of Tours (732 C.E.), near Poitiers, in which he successfully defeated the Saracen Moors in their invasion of France, thus preserving Christian Europe from the encroachment of Islam.  He held the title of Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, but in actuality wielded the power of a king.  His byname, "Martel," meant "hammer" and was used to describe the way he indefatigably drove back the Moorish invasion.


Clovis

The Frankish barbarian Clovis (466-511 C.E.), son of the drighten Childeric, started out as hot-headed and violent in his nature.  Vengeful to a fault, it is rumored that he slayed a fellow soldier for breaking the famed Vase of Soissons a year after the incident occurred (Clovis very much wanted the vase for himself to present to the Bishop of Reims).  His leadership prowess was outstanding, however; using his abilities as a warlord and leader, he established a kingdom stretching from the west bank of the Rhine river to the Atlantic Ocean, uniting the Salian and Ripuarian Franks into a single dominion.  He married a Christian girl, Clothilde, who eventually persuaded him to convert to Christianity in 496 C.E.  After his conversion, the bishops in his realm helped him to unite all Christian people under one banner.  He completely conquered the Alamanni in 506 C.E., and defeated Alaric II, the last king of the Visigoths, in Poitiers in 507 C.E.  Clovis is known as the father of the Frankish empire; and therefore, also of France.   He was the first ruler of the Merovingian Dynasty.  After his death, the Frankish kingdom was divided among his four sons.

Genseric (Gaiseric)

The Vandal king, Genseric, or Gaiseric as he was also known, was one of the more notorious Barbarians, and is probably largely the cause of the word "Vandal" becoming a derogatory term in modern language.  He was harsh and cruel, both toward his subjects and towards the Romans, and was a rabid Christian of a radical sect, violently opposed to any other expression of Christianity or Paganism.  Allegedly born on December 11, 390 C.E. in Gaul, Genseric was proclaimed king of the Vandals in 428, deposing (and disposing of) his brother.  In 439, he and his troops seized the Roman city of Carthage on the North African coast, and established a barbarian stronghold there, becoming an independent ruler of North Africa in 442.  He established treaties with the Romans, which he later breached, and in 455, succeeded in sacking and looting Rome itself.  From 455 to his death (of old age!) in 477, the Vandals, under Genseric's leadership, were the rulers of the Mediterranean sea; providing one of the first examples of Barbarian maritime warpower.

Many of Genseric's people remained in southern Spain as well, along with the Visigoths (who actually ran many of the Vandals out of Hispania and into North Africa).   The region was known as "Vandalus" until the invasion of the Islamic Moors in 711 C.E., when they overran the region and renamed it "Al-Andalus."  Today, the Spanish region "Andalusia" bears the name and ancient culture derived from both of these civilizations.  (Many thanks to Jesús Balsinde for providing me with this information!)

Gundahar (Gunthur)

The Burgundian king Gundahar actually existed, although his legendary account is more famous, thanks to Wagner.  He reigned in the court of Worms in what is now southwestern Germany, along the Rhine.  In the legends of the Volsung saga and the Nibelungenleid, he is the brother of Gudrun, wife of Sigurd (Sigifried) the Dragon-slayer; and husband of Brunhildde.  Because of the treachery in which he and his half-brother Hagan slayed Sigurd, he was doomed to defeat at the hands of Attila in 436.  Whether or not the legend is fully true, King Gundahar did die at the hands of Attila and his forces, along with 20,000 of his Burgundian warriors.  His descendents became part of the French nation; Bourgogne is one of the main divisions of France to this day.

Hermann/Arminius

A drighten of the Cherusci, Hermann served under General Varus during the Roman campaign to conquer Germany.  Known as Arminius to the Romans, he secretly plotted against them with his tribesmen and led the Roman armies into a deadly trap in the Teutoberg Forest in the year 9 C.E.  His armies could not withstand the Roman legion formation, but in the thick, dense Teutoberg Forest, the Romans were forced to abandon their military formations and march single file, in which guise they were easy prey for the furious Cheruscans.  So many of the Roman soldiers were killed or captured that Varus, in shame, committed suicide by falling on his sword.  Rome withdrew its forces back across the Rhine, and did not attempt any further invasions of the Teutonic territories.



Statue of Hermann at the Battleground of Teutoberg Vald

Odoacer

The Herulian Odoacer is credited with being the barbarian who brought about the end of the Roman Empire.  In 476 C.E., he forced the last of the Western emperors to abdicate.  Odoacer was a rash and arrogant fellow, though, with little concern for others.  It was no one's grief when he was slain by Theoderic in 489 C.E., although the manner of his death was fairly grisly; Theoderic clove him from the shoulder down to the groin with his sword.

Stilicho

The Vandal Stilicho was the arch-enemy of Alaric the Goth (see above.)  The barbarian governor of the northern Roman province, he and Alaric would cross forces 4 times between 392 and 402 C.E.  No one understands why, in three different instances, that Stilicho did not crush Alaric when he so easily could have.  Historians have speculated counter-treaties and "back-stabbing" against Rome, but no concrete evidence was ever found to support any of these theories.  It seems that Stilicho only wanted to keep Alaric at bay, not to destroy him.  Perhaps he hoped to team up with him at a later time when he felt that Rome was weak.  Stilicho's most heinous attack against Alaric came on Good Friday, April 4, 402, when the Christian Goths were celebrating their mass.  The "Good Friday" massacre very nearly wiped out the Goths, but through negotiations, Alaric was able to maintain his forces.  Again, Stilicho could have wiped him out, but didn't.  Stilicho was executed by the Romans on August 22, 408, for suspected treason against Rome, along with thousands of barbarians who were living peacefully in Rome.  It was this last crime against the barbarian people, it is believed, that gave Alaric his needed "in" for being able to sack the city of Rome in 410.

Theoderic (Dietrich)

Theoderic the Great, ruler of the Ostrogoths, was one of the last barbarians at the fall of the Roman Empire.  After Rome was utterly defeated, he established treaties with all of the other Germanic tribes, and ruled over sort of a "pax gothica" until his death during the 6th century C.E.  After his death the Goths fell into squabbles and inter-tribal battles, and were eventually defeated by the Byzantine empire under Narses around 555 C.E.  No more is heard about the Goths after that time; supposedly they intermingled with the resident cultures.

This site maintains a text of Theodoric's (Theoderic's) Letters.  They show him to be a man of wisdom and fair dealing with others.

Vercingetorix

During Julius Caesar's occupation of Gaul (now much of which is France) in the first century B.C.E., things were going fairly smoothly for the Romans until an upstart Swabian Barbarian named Ariovistus came moseying across the Rhine to see what was going on.   In fury, Julius Caesar chased him and his troops back across into Germany (58 B.C.E) and proceeded to pursue the occupation of Gaul much more aggressively than before.  In anger, many of the Gallic barbarian tribes, such as the Averni, rose up in revolt against the harsh Roman treatment.  A feisty young barbarian named Vercingetorix (pronounced Ver-sin-JEH-toh-ricks) was adamant that Caesar and the Romans would be driven out of Gaul.  His people raised him to kingship in 52 B.C.E. Under his leadership, the Gallic tribes were very largely successful in quashing the Roman occupation, until the fateful batttle of Alesia, where Vercingetorix and his troops were forced to yield to Julius Caesar.  Vercingetorix was captured as a prisoner of war, taken back to Rome by the victorius Julius Caesar, imprisoned there, and later executed by strangulation in 45 B.C.E.  Of course, Caesar himself was assassinated the next year by his own people, so "what goes around, comes around."

Vortigern

    Vortigern was a warlord in Britain during the 5th century C.E.  By all accounts, Vortigern appeared to be a usurper and a pretender to the rule of Britain, and was shown to be a man of low character and inclinations.  He achieved his position through assassination and treachery, killing even the young king, Constans, to whom he was an advisor.  Constans' baby brother, Uther, was unknown to Vortigern and so escaped his treachery.  Vortigern ruled Britain with the aid of Saxon mercenaries who kept him in power until he, too, dealt with them harshly.  The Saxons eventually turned on him and Vortigern met his death in a blazing castle tower in Wales at the hands of Geoffrey of Monmouth, although some sources claim that the tower was mysteriously struck by lightning, catching it on fire.  (Later, when the Tarot decks of the middle ages and renaissance were designed, this imagery became the inspiration behind the card "The Tower".  Vortigern is the figure in the foreground plummeting headfirst from the lightning-blasted tower.) After Geoffrey's rule of Britain, Constans' brother, Uther Pendragon, became ruler of Britain, and Uther Pendragon was the father of the legendary King Arthur.  (Representation of "The Tower" from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck).
 
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