The Goths, an East Germanic people best known for being fierce adversaries of the Roman Empire, are mentioned in numerous ancient sources and played an important role in European history during the Migration Period. This article aims to explain their origin, ethnogenesis and tribal movements using newly published archaeogenetic data, archaeology and historical sources.
- What can archaeology and historical sources tell us?
- Who lived in Poland before the Goths?
- The East Germanic Wielbark culture (c. 50-400 AD)
- Chernyakhov: When the Goths met the Sarmatians, Dacians and Slavs
- Viminacium, Mediana, Timacum Minus (Goths in Serbia, c. 200-500 AD)
- Hács and Balatonszemes: Ostrogothic samples from Pannonia (Hungary, 400-500 AD)
- Visigoths: Pla de l’Horta, Girona, Spain (500-600 AD)
- The genetic legacy of the Goths
What can archaeology and historical sources tell us?
If we are to believe the Gothic historian Jordanes, Gothiscandza was the name of the area originally settled by the Goths. He writes in Getica that the Goths originally came from Scandza, and once they arrived in this new land they gave it the name Gothiscandza. The Scandza mentioned in Getica has traditionally been associated with Scandinavia, and Gothiscandza with what is now Poland.
Modern scholars such as Herwig Wolfram, Peter Heather, Anders Kaliff and Wolf Liebeschuetz, among others, have located Gothiscandza in the Iron Age culture known as the Wielbark culture, which existed in Poland during the Iron Age. Wielbark is often used to archaeologically define the early Goths, as well as the Gepids, another East Germanic tribe. Other Germanic tribes such as the Rugii very likely also inhabited the territory of the Wielbark culture.
“Now from this island of Scandza, as from a hive of races or a womb of nations, the Goths are said to have come forth long ago under their king, Berig by name. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set foot on the land, they straightway gave their name to the place. And even to-day it is said to be called Gothiscandza.”– Jordanes
Around 1 AD, the earliest phase of the Wielbark culture begins. This phase is characterized by a change in funeral rites, and the introduction of inhumation, in contrast to cremation that was practiced by most of the the preceding cultures in Poland. Not long after, Germanic longhouses and stone circles of the type found in Iron Age Southern Scandinavia start showing up in the archaeological record. While the earliest Wielbark settlements are found near Gdańsk, the culture expanded heavily towards the south in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, as well as the first half of the 3rd century AD.
In addition, Scandinavian-style boat graves have been discovered at important Gothic archaeological sites in Poland, such as Weklice (Björk 2022). The boat graves have been interpreted as a clear sign of influence from Zealand and Bornholm in Denmark, as well as Scania in Southern Sweden. It is not only the typical Southern Scandinavian stone circles and boat graves that strongly suggests that population movement from Scandinavia was vital to the formation of the Wielbark culture, but also grave goods, in particular jewelry (Kokowski 1999, Andersson 1995, Kaliff 2008).
The archaeologist Birger Nerman interpreted the decrease in the number of burials in Östergötland and Gotland in Sweden during the Early Roman Iron Age (in comparison to the large amount of documented burials from the pre-Roman Iron Age) as a sign of the Goths and Gepids leaving their homeland and settling in Poland. This was something that was supported by most of Nerman’s contemporaneous colleagues, including J. Kostrzewski.
Some archaeologists like Eric Oxenstierna argued that it was in Västra Götaland rather than the eastern parts of Götaland that the Goths had originated, based on material culture. Others, like M. Stenberger, were convinced that the Gothic migrations involved movement of people from both Öland, Gotland and mainland Götaland in Sweden. The more balanced view of Stenberger holds up well in light of genetic evidence, which we will get to soon.
Other archaeologists, like Professor Anders Kaliff at Uppsala University, have taken a more careful approach to the Gothic migrations while still emphasizing the striking resemblance of the material culture in the Wielbark culture to that of Iron Age Scandinavia. A noteworthy excerpt from Kaliff’s work “The Goths and Scandinavia: Contacts between Scandinavia, the southern Baltic coast and the Black Sea area during the early Iron Age and Roman Period” reads as follows:
It is clear that there are strong archaeological ties between Scandinavia and the Goths, giving credence to the origin proposed by Jordanes in Getica. With new archaeogenetic data from the recently published study “Genetic history of East-Central Europe in the first millennium CE” by Stolarek et al., a large number of ancient genomes associated with the East Germanic Wielbark culture have become available to the public. This, of course, makes the task of tracing the origins of the Goths a whole lot easier.
But before we dig into the Wielbark culture samples, let us briefly go through the preceeding cultures in Poland.
Who lived in Poland before the Goths?
The territory that is now Poland was home to the Trzciniec culture, Mierzanowice culture, the Strzyżów culture, the Unetice culture and the Lusatian culture during the Bronze Age. The men of the Trzciniec culture mainly carried Y-DNA haplogroups R1a-Z280>CTS1211 and I2-L1287>L233. Similarly, Mierzanowice and Strzyżów appear to have been rich in Y-DNA R1a-Z280.
A large amount of samples from Trzciniec and Mierzanowice were recently published in the study “Patrilocality and hunter-gatherer-related ancestry in MBA East-Central Europe” (Chyleński et al. 2023), and the results indicate little Y-DNA diversity and a dominance of R1a and I2 subclades, predominantly with a Baltic-like autosomal profile. The latter is especially true for the Trzciniec culture, whose people had a very substantial hunter-gatherer component on the autosomes.
While samples from the Lusatian culture are very sparse, the two samples that are available (sample I0099 from Haak et al. 2015 and sample WEZ56 from Burger et al. 2020) both carried R1a. Additionally, an abstract for an upcoming study by Michal Golubinski and colleagues with a greater amount of samples from the Lusatian culture indicates that most Lusatians carried R1a, with a minority of I2.
In contrast, the Unetice culture had greater diversity in regards to Y-DNA lineages. Haplogroups R1b-P312 and I2 were the most common, with R1a also being fairly common.The Uneticeans also carried R1b-U106, T1a, H2, and G2a (Rohrlach et al. 2021, Papac et al. 2021).
Preceding the Bronze Age cultures mentioned above was the steppe-derived Corded Ware culture which was dominated by Y-DNA R1a-M417 and before that, the Neolithic Globular Amphora culture. The men of the latter culture carried Y-DNA haplogroup I2-L801, which became rare in Poland after the Neolithic. However, it appears to have later been re-introduced to the region by Iron Age immigrants from the north.
Due to the practice of cremation, the Oksywie and Przeworsk cultures remain unsampled for the time being, leaving a chronological gap in the Polish ancient DNA record.
The East Germanic Wielbark culture (c. 50-400 AD)
If we compare the inhabitants of Neolithic and Bronze Age Poland to the people of the Wielbark culture, very clear signs of discontinuity and immigration are visible. However, it should be kept in mind that the local inhabitants, descendants of the Bronze Age cultures of what is now Poland, continued to practice cremation of their dead while the Gothic newcomers practiced both inhumation and cremation, with inhumation being the dominant funeral practice. It is therefore entirely possible that some of the locals persisted and lived alongside the newcomers, but simply do not show up in the aDNA record due to cremation.
Stolarek et al. (2023) and Antonio et al. (2022) both sequenced genomes from the Wielbark culture Goths. Stolarek et al. includes samples from multiple sites all over the territory of the Wielbark culture, in large numbers. The results are in aligment with archaeological and historical evidence, strongly suggesting that the Wielbark culture formed through migration from Southern Scandinavia. A large majority of the Wielbark culture samples are autosomally Scandinavian-like, and carry predominantly Scandinavian Y-DNA haplogroups.
The most common Y-DNA haplogroup among the Wielbark individuals was Y-DNA haplogroup I1-M253, characteristic of the Nordic Bronze Age in Southern Scandinavia, in which it was found at a very high frequency and from where it first expanded. Among the Wielbark Goths, substantial subclade diversity is seen among the I1 carriers, suggesting that the male founders of the culture descended from clans from a rather widespread area in Scandinavia. In total, almost 40 samples with Y-DNA I1 have now been found in the Wielbark culture. The subclade diversity among the I1-carriers of the Wielbark culture is further elaborated on in the following excerpt from the supplementary information in the study:
While the high frequency of I1 (roughly 41%) in the Wielbark culture is not overly surprising given the origin of the culture, other uniparentals found among the new samples also give us interesting clues. The newly sequenced G2a samples found in these early Goths are mainly located in the Northern European cluster in the PCA found in Fig.2, and generally display a very northern-shifted autosomal profile. The same can be said of the Wielbark culture G2a sample sequenced in Antonio et al. (2022). Sample R11391 from the Gothic archaeological site of Weklice carried haplogroup G-Z1823 and was autosomally Scandinavian-like, just like the I1 samples from the same site. The G-Z1823 subclade is found among present-day Scandinavians and is one of the most common subclades of G2a in Scandinavia.
Founder effects often occur with migration, and the relatively high frequency of G2a (and in particular subclades downstream of G-L497) in Wielbark (11% vs 3-5% among present-day Scandinavians) appears to be a result of just that. The samples with G-Y3098 found at Kowalewko and their autosomal profile indicate that G-Y3098 migrated into the region together with I1-L1237. Additionally, three samples with R1b-U106 were found in the Wielbark culture. Two of them, PCA0531 and PCA0485, carried R1b-Z18, characteristic of ancient and modern Scandinavians downstream of R1b-U106.
Furthermore, two of the Wielbark culture samples carry Y-DNA haplogroup N-L1026, often referred to as N1c in older nomenclature. More specifically, the two samples are N-L550, a long way downstream of L1026. N-L550 was characteristic of the Iron Age in the East Baltic region, with the oldest samples being from Iron Age Estonia. It is also found in moderate frequencies in the eastern parts of Sweden, both during the Roman Iron Age and in the present. Autosomally, both Wielbark samples carrying N-L550 cluster together with the rest of the Scandinavian-like samples, suggesting that the N-L550 individuals were not locals. Instead, they likely represent the legacy of the Finnic-Germanic contacts that occurred around the Baltic Sea in the early Iron Age, with some N-L550 individuals being assimilated by Germanic groups.
Interestingly, some of the Wielbark Goths carry the L22 subclade of I1 (including the P109 branch), which has a far more north-eastern geographical distribution than the more typically Southern Scandinavian I1 subclades. It is possible that the I1-L22 and N-L550 individuals found among the Wielbark samples may represent migration from further north than the lands of Götaland, Gotland, and Bornholm that have stronger archaeological ties to the Wielbark culture. As such, East-Central Sweden may be a likely location for the origin of the I1-L22 and N-L550 Gothic individuals, although it is entirely possible that they moved further south in Scandinavia at an earlier point in time, before migrating to Poland. In contrast, the subclades I1-L1237 and I1-Z2040 found among the Wielbark samples are more likely to represent migration from more southern parts of Scandinavia.
In regards to the I1-L1237 samples from the Wielbark culture, they are numerous and belong to sublineages that are quite indicative of where they came from, and where they ended up. Sample PCA0046/Kowalewko 46 belonged to I1-Y99000, with a TMRCA of 334 BC. Y99000 is carried by two of FTDNA’s modern testers, both from Sweden. Further down the I1-L1237 tree, we have Wielbark culture samples PCA0035/Kowalewko 35 and PCA0018/Kowalewko 18, who both carried I1-FGC9549. Interestingly, FTDNA’s modern testers with branches downstream of the Kowalewko sample with I1-FGC9549 are from Italy, which makes it very likely that the FGC9549>Y33063 Italians are the direct descendants of Goths on the paternal side.
Y-DNA haplogroup E-V13 was found in a small number of the Wielbark culture samples. The E-V13 samples display Southern European genome-wide ancestry, suggesting they were relatively recent arrivals to that part of Poland. It is possible that they represent Dacian influence in the area, whether it be travellers, traders or permanent settlers. However, it is not yet clear whether the Goths assimilated some E-V13 carriers as early as in the Wielbark culture, or if this happened later on in the Chernyakhov culture or even at a later point in time. We will get back to E-V13 later on in this article.
On the autosomal side of things, Stolarek et al. (2023) features qpAdm models confirming that the Wielbark culture population can not be modelled using Bronze Age populations from Poland. Instead, the researchers emphasize that a migraton from Northern Europe led to the formation of the Wielbark population.
As mentioned before, and as the authors of the study point out, clear signs of migration are also visible when looking at the Y-chromosomal haplogroups. See the excerpt from the study below:
“The patrilineal genetic structure of the IA group members was dominated by I1 Y-hg lineages. Many identified I1 clades are now the most common Y-hg in present-day Nordic populations, reaching a 28–38% frequency [75, 76]. An increased I1 Y-hg frequency was previously reported in the context of Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain [77,78,79]. This further supports the Northern European origin of the Wielbark culture-associated people“
In addition to the Germanic Iron Age cluster, Stolarek et al. (2023) also published ancient samples belonging to a far younger genetic cluster, namely Medieval Slavs in Poland. This cluster is drastically different from the Wielbark cluster, which we will get to soon. On the topic of Y-DNA found in the Wielbark culture, there is also the highly interesting presence of R1a and I2 subclades that likely represent an older layer of pre-Wielbark inhabitants.
In the ADMIXTURE model in Fig.2, the only two samples with 100% Eastern European ancestry carry Y-DNA R1a and I2, respectively. (as opposed to the Northern European autosomal component that made up most of the ancestry of the other Wielbark individuals) At least two of the Iron Age samples carry R1a-M458, which appears to have been rare among the Wielbark men but was the most common Y-DNA haplogroup in the Medieval Slavic cluster in Stolarek et al. (2023).
Given that R1a-M458 was found in the Bronze Age Trzciniec culture (sample poz554 at the site of Brodzica) it is quite likely that the small number of R1a-M458 carriers in the Wielbark culture were assimilated locals and remnants of the Bronze Age in Poland. With that in mind, it is not certain whether the M458 samples from the R1a-rich Medieval Slavic cluster represent a resurgence of an older Balto-Slavic population or newcomers from the east/south-east.
What can be said with certainty is that the Medieval Slavic samples and the Iron Age Gothic samples from Stolarek et al. (2023) do not resemble each other much, neither in terms of uniparental markers nor in terms of autosomal DNA. That should not come as a huge surprise, as the Goths and Gepids had long left Poland by the time the Medieval Slavic samples in the study are dated to. In addition to R1a-M458, the Medieval Slavic samples from Poland also carry haplogroups I2-Y3120 and R1a-Z280 at high frequencies, a clear display of all three major Slavic haplogroups. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the Iron Age Wielbark Goths. The Goths had left Gothiscandza for greener pastures.
In summary, archaeological, historical and archaeogenetic evidence has proven beyond reasonable doubt that substantial migration from Southern Scandinavia led to the formation of the Wielbark culture. The immigrants brought with them new burial rites, cultural practices, and the Gothic language.
Chernyakhov: When the Goths met the Sarmatians, Dacians and Slavs
Jordanes wrote about how the Goths left Gothiscandza and migrated to what he called Oium, often assumed by historians to be Scythia, or in other words parts of what is now Ukraine. By then, the Goths were ruled by king Filimer, son of Gadaric. Filimer was five generations of kings removed from the legendary king Beric who had first led his northern kinsmen from Scandza/Scandinavia to Gothiscandza/Wielbark. It is at this point in time that the Chernyakhov culture enters the picture.
“Soon they moved from here to the abodes of the Ulmerugi, who then dwelt on the shores of Ocean, where they pitched camp, joined battle with them and drove them from their homes. Then they subdued their neighbors, the Vandals, and thus added to their victories. But when the number of the people increased greatly and Filimer, son of Gadaric, reigned as king–about the fifth since Berig–he decided that the army of the Goths with their families should move from that region.”
Chernyakhov is generally believed to have been a multi-ethnic culture. Archaeologically, elements associated with Sarmatians, Dacians, Slavs and Goths are all visible. Some historians like Peter Heather have suggested that the Goths came to be the dominant force in the Chernyakhov culture and that the Wielbark-related archaeological influences in the Chernyakhov culture reflects the Gothic dominion of the Chernyakhov horizon. This includes typical Germanic pottery and jewelry as well as burial rites. The depopulation and decrease in settlement in the Gothic and Gepidic core of Wielbark is in alignment with Jordanes’ account of the population movement from Poland to what is now Ukraine, Moldova and Romania under king Filimer. In other words, a migration to the Chernyakhov culture.
While ancient DNA from the Chernyakhov culture is very sparse, and we currently have no sequenced Y-DNA haplogroups from Chernyakhov samples, a high genetic diversity can almost certainly be expected. It is entirely possible that the Goths picked up some Sarmatian and Dacian-related Y-DNA and mtDNA lineages in Chernyakhov, with some of their Wielbark-associated autosomal ancestry being reduced in the process. While some academics such as John Mathews have proposed that the various ethnolinguistic groups inhabiting the Chernyakhov culture kept a sense of ethnic distinction, it is highly likely that we will see at least some admixture taking place between the different groups in future samples from the Chernyakhov culture.
The arrival of the nomadic Huns in the 5th century AD marked an abrupt end to the Gothic dominance in the Chernyakhov culture, and was followed by a migration towards the west and south by the Goths. It has been suggested that some of the pre-Gothic, autochthonous inhabitants of the regions covered by the Chernyakhov culture saw a resurgence after the Goths left, which may have been tied to the Slavs rising to prominence in the region.
Viminacium, Mediana, Timacum Minus (Goths in Serbia, c. 200-500 AD)
Olalde et al. (2021) sequenced a large number of ancient genomes from Viminacium, which was a Roman city and military encampment located where the Danube River meets the Mllava River. The study also featured samples from sites near Viminacium. The samples from Viminacium display significant diversity, and include Roman immigrants from the Eastern Empire, Celts, people with local Balkan-related ancestry, an outlier (likely a Roman soldier) with East African ancestry, and people from the Iron Age Steppe. In addition to that, a small number of East Germanic individuals were sequenced in the study. The East Germanic samples from Olalde et al. (2021) are the oldest individuals carrying Y-DNA haplogroup I1 found in the Balkans thus far, and date to 250-500 AD.
The study contains various genetic clusters, including a Balkans Iron Age cluster, a Steppe cluster, a cluster for the African outlier, a Near Eastern cluster and a Central/Northern European cluster, among others. The Central/Northern European (CNE) cluster is attributed by the authors of the study to Germanic immigrants.
Interestingly, the genomes of at least two Gothic individuals were sequenced in the study, and they both fall within the CNE cluster. Both Goths carried Y-DNA haplogroup I1-Z141, which was also found in sample PCA0498 from the Wielbark culture.
“Y-chromosome lineages also provide evidence for gene-flow, as 5 of 7 males in the Central/Northern European and Steppe cluster belonged to two lineages not found in the Balkans earlier: haplogroup I1 with a strong Northern European distribution and haplogroup R1a-Z645, common in the Steppe during the Iron Age and early 1st millennium CE 26–28.”
The excerpts above are highly relevant, as the study’s findings strongly suggests that the Goths did in fact pick up Sarmatian-related ancestry in the Chernyakhov culture. The researchers appear to agree, as they explain that their observations are consistent with the hypothesis that Germanic tribes interacted with Steppe-related nomadic populations reaching the Eastern European plateau, and incorporated their ancestry into their gene pool before moving into the Balkans. The R1a-Z645 (likely further downstream at R1a-Z93) represents the Sarmatian contribution to the CNE cluster,whereas the I1 lineages represent the Gothic contribution.
If we download the supplementary information of Olalde et al. (2021) and go to page 8, some very interesting information about the Gothic sample from Mediana in the study can be found:
“Both skeletons laid in their graves in an outstretched position, with their hands alongside their bodies. They had an east-west orientation, with their heads on the west. The archaeological and historical context indicates these individuals belonged to the Gothic cultural circle. In connection with this, both individuals present artificially deformed skulls which were characteristic of Germanic tribes during the Great Migration period. This cultural practice was could have been adopted from the Huns. Furthermore, the skull bandaging method observed for these two individuals corresponds with other examples of cranial deformation previously observed in Germanic necropolises at Viminacium. There are 4 bandaging zones observed form a lateral projection: frontal above the measuring point glabella (G), parietal behind the bregma (B), parietal above the inion (I), as well as occipital below the measuring point inion. Thus, in a reconstructive sense, it is obvious that the bandage tape bent around the cerebral part of the skull in three directions: fronto-parietal, fronto-occipital and parieto-occipital.”
The individual G-34/(sample I15549) was one of the Goths with an artificially deformed, elongated skull and Y-DNA I1. G-34 was dated to 259-409 AD. What we can observe by looking at samples like G-34/I15549 is a neat example of how Germanic tribesmen adopted cultural practices from the Huns and other Iron Age steppe nomads they interacted with.
Interestingly, two Hunnic samples from Kecskemét in Hungary published in Gnecchi-Ruscone et al. (2022) also carried I1-Z141, just like the Goths from Mediana and Timacum Minus. Although they were found in a Hunnic archaeological context, we can say with a high degree of certainty that they were of Gothic or Gepidic paternal descent, something that is further strengthened by their autosomal profile. Another Hunnic sample, Fonyód 5, carried R1b-Z18. Z18 is a typically Scandinavian subclade of R1b-U106. As such, Fonyód 5 is further proof of admixture between East Germanic tribes and Huns.
Another sample with a Gothic background from Olalde et al. (2021) is G-25/I15545 from Timacum Minus. He also carried Y-DNA I1-Z141 and belonged to the CNE autosomal cluster. It is evident, judging by the Gothic samples from Olalde et al. (2021), that the Goths in the Balkans still had substantial amounts of Northern European ancestry and carried Y-DNA lineages from the Wielbark culture.
Hács and Balatonszemes: Ostrogothic samples from Pannonia (Hungary, 400-500 AD)
A recent study by Vyas et al. (2023) provided new ancient DNA from 5th–6th century Pannonia. While the individuals at the sampled sites are heterogeneous, clear signs of an influx of Northern European ancestry was detected by the researchers. It should be kept in mind that many individuals with Southern European ancestry were found at the site, as well as individuals of mixed southern and northern ancestry. Therefore, the context of all the samples is not entirely clear in some cases.
Fascinatingly, individuals belonging to a Gothic archaeological context can be found at multiple sites in the study. These Pannonian samples make it clear that some local Pannonians with mainly Southern European-related ancestry likely adopted a Gothic identity and were brought into the Gothic fold, which is not particularly surprising. However, they also indicate that there were people with relatively unmixed Wielbark-related ancestry among the Goths even at a very late stage, just prior to the Goths entering Italy.
“The range of genetic diversity in all four of these local burial communities is extensive and wider ranging than penecontemporaneous Europeans sequenced to date. Despite many commonalities in burial customs and demography, we find that there were substantial differences in genetic ancestry between the sites. We detect evidence of northern European gene flow into the Lake Balaton region. Additionally, we observe a statistically significant association between dress artifacts and genetic ancestry among 5th century genetically female burials. Our analysis shows that the formation of early Medieval communities was a multifarious process even at a local level, consisting of genetically heterogeneous groups.”
From the archaeological site of Balatonszemes, some of the samples display almost unmixed Wielbark-like ancestry. Their autosomal ancestry is Scandinavian-like and samples like Bal_146 not only had an older Gothic autosomal profile, but also Wielbark-related Y-DNA. In the case of Bal_146, he carried a subclade of G-L497 related to those found in the Wielbark culture. Similarly, Bal_149 was also autosomally Scandinavian-like, and carried Y-DNA haplogroup G2a. More specifically, the two men belonged to G-BY154551. One sample at Balatonszemes, Bal_143, carried haplogroup J2a. Autosomally, Bal_143 was similar to modern West Mediterranean people.
Additionally, samples Bal_269 and Bal_150 also display very nothern-shifted, Scandinavian-like autosomal profiles. Fascinatingly, Y-DNA haplogroup I1-L22 was found among one of the samples from Balatonszemes, further reinforcing the evidence of a Gothic presence at the site. As was previously mentioned, I1-L22 was also found among the Goths of the Wielbark culture.
At Hács, two intriguing samples are Hacs21 and Hacs22. Both men carried Y-DNA haplogroup E-V13. Their autosomal profiles were Southern European, and rich in Anatolian farmer-related ancestry. It is therefore difficult to determine whether their paternal lines hailed from the E-V13 that was found in the Wielbark culture, or if they were Pannonian locals who encountered the Goths. Alternatively, they could have hailed from even further south in Europe.
In any case, the E-V13 samples may prove relevant to the E-V13 later found at a Visigothic site in Spain, which we will soon get to. Some samples at Hács also display a more Western European autosomal profile, suggesting that there may have been Elbe-Germanic tribesmen among them. One male sample at Hács belonged to Y-DNA haplogroup R-S1141, a relatively rare subclade of R1b with upstream branches found in ancient DNA from Etruscans, Iron Age Celts in Bohemia, as well as one sample from the Tollense battlefield.
To summarize the findings of Vyas et al. (2023), the data from the study tells us that the Pannonian Goths had gained a more heterogeneous genetic profile at that time, with samples ranging from Scandinavian-like to West Mediterranean-like.
Visigoths: Pla de l’Horta, Girona, Spain (500-600 AD)
Finally, we arrive at the last Gothic archaeological site with samples in the archaeogenetic record. This time, we are dealing with what was very likely Visigoths from Girona in Spain. The genomes of these Visigothic individuals were sequenced in Olalde et al. (2019). Excerpts from the supplemetary information in the study:
“The Pla de l’Horta villa is located in Sarrià de Ter, around four kilometers from the city of Girona, and therefore it should be considered a fundus that belonged to the suburbium of Gerunda (80). It was constructed in the middle of the 1st century BCE. The residential part underwent substantial alterations in the Flavian and Severan periods, on both occasions with notable use of mosaic floors. In the industrial district of this serttlement we can identify the area of the wine presses, especially from the 4th century CE, which is the last phase for which there is evidence on the villa. However, due to the villa’s considerable size, we can deduce that it probably had a large industrial area that has not yet been excavated to the north of the structures that have been discovered.“
“Immediately to the north of this area, a necropolis associated with the villa has been found, with a funerary building and a series of tombs. This site clearly belongs to the villa, which would subsequently be extended in the Visigoth period. The samples that have been analyzed correspond to this Visigothic phase. Several types of burials can be seen, from a simple grave to a cist. The number of burials identified (58), as well as the results of the analysis, demonstrate the persistence and importance of the habitat, even though it has not yet been identified archaeologically. The grave goods and the typology
of the tombs point to a Visigothic origin of the individuals.”
From this site, five of the 9 samples were males. Out of the male samples, all had low coverage, with one of them being of such low quality that it did not yield any reliable predictions of the Y-DNA haplogroup. This leaves us with the Y-DNA of four Visigoths.
One of them, sample I12033 carried Y-DNA haplogroup I1-M253. Another, sample I12031, belonged to haplogroup E-V13. More specifically, he carried subclade E-BY28635. The paternal haplogroups of these two individuals are very clearly not local to the area, and strongly suggests that Visigoths in Spain still carried characteristic “Gothic” haplogroups. In the case of I12033 with I1, we can observe a continuity of sorts, stretching back from the I1-rich early Goths of the Wielbark culture all the way to their final destination. When it comes to the sample with E-V13, it is not possible to say with certainty at what point in time the lineage was assimilated by the Goths. However, what can be said with confidence is that by the time of the Visigothic arrival in Iberia, it came as a Gothic marker and is very unlikely to have been associated with the local inhabitants.
The two remaining male samples at the site carried R1b-L23 and J2a, respectively. The R1b sample is of very low coverage, and it is therefore not possible to determine a subclade further downstream of L23 for the sample. Because of that, it is also difficult to determine whether his paternal lineage was native to Iberia, or had arrived there with the Goths. The same applies to the sample with J2a.
On the autosomes, Northern European ancestry was still present among the Visigothic samples from Pla de l’Horta, as the researchers point out. Autosomally, they are significantly more northern-shifted than the samples from L’Esquerda in the same study.
When it comes to the Visigothic samples from Spain, a pattern resembling that of the Pannonian Gothic samples emerges. However, the most striking difference between the two is that all of the Visigothic samples from Pla de l’Horta have local admixture. This is not the case for the East Germanic samples from Pannonia.
The genetic legacy of the Goths
While some conquering tribes during the Migration Period such as the Slavs had an enormous impact on the genetic profile of the people in regions which they settled in or conquered, other tribes did not. Some such examples include the Magyars who conquered what is now Hungary and gave the Hungarians as we know them their language. The original Magyars were a conquering elite with substantial Asian autosomal ancestry and Y-DNA haplogroups N-L1034 and N-M2058. Despite their important linguistic and cultural contribution, the original Magyar Y-DNA haplogroups are carried by less than 3% of present-day Hungarians, and their autosomal contribution to modern Hungarians was also slim. This is not particularly strange by any means, as the population size of the conquering warrior elite was small in comparison to that of the more sedentary locals, who had a large population.
Similarly, the Huns played an important part in European history during the Migration Period, but left very little behind them in terms of genetic impact. As for the Goths, their genetic contribution in the places they conquered or passed through can be placed somewhere in the middle of the examples mentioned above, the Slavs and the Hungarian conquerors. While they did not contribute substantially to the genetic profile of any modern population, genetic traces of the Goths are easy to spot for those who know what to look for.
To begin with, it can be said with certainty that the genetic legacy of the Goths was not substantial in Iberia. Spain alone had an estimated population of 6 million when the Visigoths took control, and thus, the Goths were but a small minority among the massive local Iberian-Roman population. The demographics of the “core” group of Goths would also have been negatively affected by the military defeats and the eventual fall of the Visigothic Kingdom at the hands of the Umayyad Caliphate. As such, an already small Gothic elite was decimated even further.
The genetic legacy of the Ostrogoths in Italy can be described in a similar way as that of the Visigoths in Spain. Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, had settled along with his people in what is now Italy, where they made up a minority and were greatly outnumbered by the local population. After the Gothic War ended in 554 AD, the Ostrogoths in Italy had suffered massive losses. A series of crushing military defeats led to the demise of the Ostrogothic Kingdom.
While both modern Iberians and Italians have moderate amounts of Northern European ancestry today, it does not make up a significant amount of their ancestry. There are also multiple sources of more northern-shifted ancestry in both Iberians and Italians, including Langobards, Cisalpine Gauls, Suebi, Celtiberians, Normans, and of course Goths. Approximately 5% of Spanish men carry Y-DNA I1, with the majority of them being under the Z63 branch typical of the Wielbark culture. Similarly, much of the E-V13 found among modern Iberians is likely to have arrived with the Visigoths.
A fascinating study by Boattini et al. (2014) examined the Y-chromosomal landscape of Partecipanza in San Giovanni in Persiceto (Northern Italy). Interestingly, their data indicates that in this particular region of Italy, Germanic Y-DNA contribution was relatively high. They compare the results from PAR (Partecipanza) with neighbouring towns. One of the most striking differences between the two is the fairly high frequency of I1-L22 (roughly 16%) in the PAR population. The researchers attribute the L22 in the PAR population to Lombards more so than the Goths, but it is worth keeping in mind that ancient DNA has shown that I1-L22 was more common among the Goths than it was among the Lombards, even though it has been found among both tribes. Excerpt from the study:
“From the other side, PAR differentiates itself from SGP primarily because of the high frequency of hg I1-L22 (15.91%), which in turn is completely absent in SGP (Fisher test: P=0.0004).”
“Interestingly, the upper bound coincides with the Migration Period, and in particular with the settling of Ostrogoths and Lombards in Italy (493 AD and 568 AD, respectively). The lower bound might instead correspond to the devastating ‘Black Death’ epidemic of the fourteenth century (∼1350 AD), a strong bottleneck that may have affected our population. It is worth noting that the geographic distribution of hg I1-L22 and its alleged place of origin are consistent with the alleged route followed by some Germanic peoples—Lombards and Goths in particular—from the Baltic shores to Italy.”
“These results, together with a peculiar Y-chromosomal composition and historical evidence, suggest that Germanic populations (Lombards in particular) settled in the area during the Migration Period (400–800 AD, approximately) and may have had an important role in the foundation of this community.”
While L22 is not the only subclade of I1 present in the PAR population, or in Italy for that matter, it is quite remarkable to see a Y-DNA haplogroup with a geographic distribution that is otherwise so shifted towards Central and Northern Scandinavia and Finland to be present in significant numbers in Southern Europe. It is quite likely that the I1-L22 in Italy owes its presence to the Goths to some extent, although we would require an analysis further downstream of just L22 in order to accurately separate the Gothic L22 from that brought by Lombards, Normans, and others.
Boattini et al. (2014) does not go into detail about the subclades of G2a found among modern North Italians. However, Italian men with subclades downstream of G-Z1823 are likely to trace their paternal lines back to the Ostrogoths. G-Z1823 is also found as a rare lineage among modern Spanish and Portugese men, increasing the percentage of modern Iberian men whose patrilineages ultimately descend from the East Germanic Wielbark culture.
The majority of Serbs with I1 belong to an intriguing branch of I1-L22, namely P109>FGC22045. P109 is a very northern subclade of I1, found at very high frequencies among ancient Norse samples. However, it is both possible and plausible that FGC22045 was brought into the Balkans from an East Germanic source, given the presence of I1-P109 in the Wielbark culture. The demographic impact of East Germanic tribes in the Balkans was far greater than that of the Normans, although both groups remain viable source populations of I1 among the Serbs. Around 8% of Serbs carry Y-DNA I1. I1 ranges from a frequency of 7-14% in Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary and Montenegro, with the majority of that being under subclades that were likely brought by East Germanic tribes, as opposed to West Germanic or North Germanic tribes that have also had a historical presence in the Balkans.
Interestingly, the Scandinavian R1a-Z284 is also found in small but noteworthy frequencies in the Balkans. This includes samples from as far south as Albania, with Rrënjët, the Albanian DNA project, presenting the results of an Albanian man with R1a-Z284. R1b-U106 is found at a frequency of around 1-2% in most populations in the Balkans, which could be a legacy of both West Germanic tribes and East Germanics. Furthermore, I1-L1237 downstream of Z63 can be found among modern Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Bosnians, Serbs, Northern Italians and Swedes. L1237 was very common in the Wielbark culture, and it is likely that when the Goths left Poland, some Goths carrying L1237 remained there. They would later have been assimilated by the Slavs, which likely explains the modern distribution.
Unsurprisingly, the autosomal impact of the Goths in the areas they passed through and settled in is minor, especially in comparison to the Y-DNA they left behind, with the latter being relatively small as well.
The Goths were an East Germanic people with roots in the Wielbark culture of Iron Age Poland, and ultimately with an origin in Southern Scandinavia. As they migrated across Europe over the course of many centuries, they mixed with other tribes, assimilated various local peoples, and formed alliances with populations quite different from them. The late Ostrogoths and Visigoths, despite being separated from the Wielbark culture chronologically and geographically, still carried Wielbark-related Y-DNA haplogroups and autosomal ancestry, as well as genetic substrates from people they had assimilated on the way.
Stolarek et al. (2023): Genetic history of East-Central Europe in the first millennium CE https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-023-03013-9
Björk, Tony (2022): How to Bury the Dead: A study on regional variations in the southern Baltic area during Late Pre-Roman and Early Roman Iron Age https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1625856&dswid=8542
Kaliff, Anders (2008): The Goths and Scandinavia: Contacts between Scandinavia, the southern Baltic coast and the Black Sea area during the early Iron Age and Roman Period https://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A48109&dswid=500
Jordanes (551 AD): Getica: The Origin and Deeds of the Goths.
Peter Heater, John Mathews (1991): The Goths in the Fourth Century https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/book/10.3828/9780853234265
Rohrlach et al. (2021): Using Y-chromosome capture enrichment to resolve haplogroup H2 shows new evidence for a two-path Neolithic expansion to Western Europe https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-94491-z
Olalde et al. (2021): Cosmopolitanism at the Roman Danubian Frontier, Slavic Migrations, and the Genomic Formation of Modern Balkan Peoples https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.30.458211v1
Zenczak et al. (2017): Y-chromosome haplogroup assignment through next generation sequencing of enriched ancient DNA libraries https://www.academia.edu/33791135
Nerman, Birger (1923): The ancient home of the Goths https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1226675/FULLTEXT01.pdf
Gnecchi-Ruscone et al. (2022): Ancient genomes reveal origin and rapid trans-Eurasian migration of 7th century Avar elites https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867422002677
Price, Douglas (2015): Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings
Boattini et al. (2014): Traces of medieval migrations in a socially stratified population from Northern Italy. Evidence from uniparental markers and deep-rooted pedigrees https://www.nature.com/articles/hdy201477
H. Wolfram (1990): History of the Goths
Ginguta et al. (2022): Maternal Lineages of Gepids from Transylvania https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359437255_Maternal_Lineages_of_Gepids_from_Transylvania
Piotr Łuczkiewicz et al. (2021), Cambridge University Press: The Goths, the Wielbark Culture and over 100 years of research on the eponymous site https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/goths-the-wielbark-culture-and-over-100-years-of-research-on-the-eponymous-site/92E85F41D42501F1E961DA148AECEE8F
Vyas et al. (2023): Fine-scale sampling uncovers the complexity of migrations in 5th–6th century Pannonia https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(23)01035-7.pdf
Olalde et al. (2019): The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aav4040
Chyleński et al. (2023): Patrilocality and hunter-gatherer-related ancestry of populations in East-Central Europe during the Middle Bronze Age https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-40072-9
Kokowski, Andrzej (1999): Archäologie der Goten. Goten im Hrubieszów-Becken
Papac et al. (2021): Dynamic changes in genomic and social structures in third millennium BCE central Europe https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abi6941
Antonio et al. (2022): Stable population structure in Europe since the Iron Age, despite high mobility https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.05.15.491973v2
© Genomic Atlas 2023