Visigoths and Romans: Integration and Ethnicity

Visigoths and Romans: Integration and Ethnicity

By Jennifer Neal

Honors BA Thesis, Pacific University, 2011

Introduction: Outside of Inginius’ fine home in Narbo, the January weather was far from pleasant. Inside the main apartments of the house, a woman and man sat beside each other enacting a Christian marriage ceremony. Emblems lay heavy against the woman’s body, indicating her imperial rank. Poised and proper as ever, she glanced again at the man who sat beside her wearing the garb of a Roman general and looking pleased. The audience gazed at her, exclaiming quietly at her beauty and the simple gown that draped from her shoulders. She smiled and turned her attention to the youths standing before her. Fifty young men, all dressed in different colors of silk, held platters that overflowed with gold and jewels so precious they nearly took her breath away. The irony almost drew a laugh from her lips. All of the wealth on those platters might be gifts meant to impress her, but they had been stolen from the coffers of her fellow Roman nobles during the Sack of Rome.

That woman was Galla Placidia. The year was 414 and Galla Placidia, Roman princess and half-sister of Honorius, emperor of the Western Empire, sat next to Athaulf, barbarian king of the Visigoths. Willing as she was to marry Athaulf, there was no disguising the fact that he and his army of barbarians had pillaged her home and the surrounding areas to gain the treasure he now presented to her. Yet for all his Roman trappings, Athaulf was no Roman. He was a Visigoth, a member of a confederation of tribes in constant conflict with the Roman people since before the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Athaulf hoped that in marrying the princess, he would become a general in the Roman army at the very least. Everything about the wedding was Roman, yet Athaulf, wearing the uniform of a general, was not accepted by the Romans as a high ranking member of the military or as a citizen. He was seen more as a rebel leader because he had declared himself king of the Visigoths. The marriage was more a political ploy than a love story, but any marriage Galla Placidia might have looked forward to would have been similar. If Athaulf had his own plans to use his marriage to benefit his people and himself politically, Galla Placidia certainly did as well. She put much effort into making Athaulf’s political stance pro-Roman.

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