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Sunday, September 26, 2021

East Germanic Tribe – The Gepids

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The Gepids was an ancient Germanic tribe, akin to the Goths. According to the Geography of Ptolemy, Gepids lived among the Baltic tribes, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The word “Gepids” came from the Gothic or Gepid word “gepanta”, meaning “lazy”. The ethnic name “Gepids” was once again explained in the widely known “Etymologies” or “Origins” of Isidore of Seville. Isidore, who collected and partly invented a number of “Etymologies” that were popular in the Middle Ages, artificially linked the name Gepid with the Latin word “pedes” (legs). Both explanations, being an example of a typical medieval “etymology,” cannot be taken seriously; they testify that some writers, although coming from the thick of the Germanic world, barbaric Latin education did not recognize this ethnic term. To Isidore Sevilsky, a resident of Spain, Gepids are unfamiliar: in the 60s of the 6th century, Gepids, exhausted by the long struggle with the Lombards, were conquered by the Avars, and were assimilated by the Lombards.

First Mentions

Procopius, speaking of the “Gothic tribes”, places Gepids among them. Presumably, in the 2nd century, the Gepids moved from Scandinavia to the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, from where they displaced the Burgundians. Then, after the Goths, they began to move to the southeast and in 210, settled in Dacia. The movement of the Gepids from the lower Vistula to the south was led by King Fastida. He fought through the region of the Burgundians and probably met resistance during the advancement from the numerous tribes of the union of the Lugis, who lived south.

The first clash of the Gepids with Roman troops occurred in the famous battle in 269, under Nais, when Emperor Claudius II defeated a large group of Germanic tribes (Goths, Gerula, Pekvyn, Gepids), ruining Lower Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. After a clash with Emperor Probus’ troops, some of the Gepids, according to the biographer of the mentioned emperor, moved along with the vandals to the territory of the empire, to the south of the Danube. The campaigns of Gepids from northern Dakia were associated with their desire to move further south. Because of an unsuccessful battle with the Goths near the city of Galta in Upper Olta, around 290, the Gepids had to stay in their original location.

Gepidia

As the writer Jordan has repeatedly and quite clearly reported, the region of Gepids did not appear in Pannonia, except for the lower reaches of the Sava (the city of Sirmium). Gepids are the only tribe among the Germanic, less advanced, in the west. Jordan cites data on the territory occupied by the Gepids in his time. The territory, which Jordan speaks about, was taken by the Gepids, thanks to the efforts of their King Ardarich.

The boundaries of the region inhabited by the Gepids are delineated by Jordan three separate times: in describing the whole of Scythia, especially ancient Dacia, in determining the places briefly occupied by vandals (in the same Roman Dacia). According to Jordan, the Gepids within Scythia were the first tribe, counting from the west. The places occupied by them, he denotes by rivers. From the north and from the northwest of their land skirting the Tissa, in the east, crossing the Olt, from the south serves the Danube. Dacia is enclosed in the grid of these rivers, protected by the steep mountains of the Carpathian.

Procopius repeatedly indicates which territory was occupied by the Gepids in his time. After the withdrawal, the Gepids took Dacia, and later they succeeded in seizing the area around Sirmium and Singidunum. Seizing these cities, the Gepids were already on the right bank of the Danube, as evidenced by the words literally meaning “inside and outside the Istra River”.

Sometimes Jordan is reproached that he, speaking of lands occupied with Gepids, used old maps and thus, reflected a position that was not appropriate to his time. This criticism is hardly fair. Gepids actually for a number of centuries (since the III century) were associated with the territory of Dacia; they continued to own it and under Jordan, although they advanced to the southwest, capturing Singidunum and Sirmium. Procopius clearly states that the Gepids “took the city of Sirmium and almost all of Dacia” and that Sirmium lies near the borders of Dacia, the area around this city merging with the south-western part of Dacia. The regions of Sirmium and Singidunum were the most important section of the defense of the empire against the Trans-Danubian barbarians, at the same time the subject of contention between themselves (that is, between the Gepids and Goths). Here, on the Danube, was the main crossing of the river, and the Gepids, occupying these locations, allowed transition of the enemies of the empire to the right bank of the Danube.

Political History

Gepid King Ardarikh was the closest ally and, moreover, advisor to Attila. But after the death of the Hun leader (in 453), Ardarikh did not want to obey his sons. He raised his tribe and a number of other tribes against the Huns and in the victorious battle on the Nedao River (454), won for the Gepids the Hunnic lands on the left bank of the Danube, mainly on Tissa.

To the west of them, in Pannonia, were located Ostrogoths. By the beginning of the 6th century, in addition to eastern Hungary and western Romania, they owned the lands of modern Serbia. Gepids became confederates of the empire and remained so until the middle of the 6th century. In 567, the Gepids, assisted by Byzantium, were defeated by the Lombards in alliance with the Avars. The state of Gepid was destroyed.

Sources:

  • Müllenhoff K. V. “Deutsche Altertumskunde”
  • Procopius of Caesarea . War with the Persians. War with the Vandals. Secret history
  • Konstantin Porphyrogenitus, “On the Management of the Empire”
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