Migration Period
between Odra and Vistula

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Cassiodorus, formal name, Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, ca. 485-580. Public servant, statesman and intellectual of Late Antiquity, C. came from a well off family, politically active during the 5th century. Like his father, a high ranking official at the court of Theodoric the Ostrogoth king →Ostrogoths , C. accepted Gothic rule →Goths  in Italy. From 506/7, as quaestor sacri palatii he was responsible for editing state papers, from 523 until 527 he served as magister officiorum, and in 533-537 as praefectus pretorio and patricius. The death of Theodoric (526), the new offensive policy of Justinian I, which precipitated the outbreak of a Byzantine-Gothic war (535), meant that the political conceptions of C. which envisioned a comfortable coexistence of the two groups (barbarians →Barbaricum and Romans) in Italy came to nothing. In 538 C. resigned from public functions, moved from Rome to Ravenna; in 555, near Scyllaceum (now Squillace) in Calabria, he founded the monastery at Vivarium (Monasterium Vivariense). Its library became one of the major intellectual centres of Italy of the time for C. greatly valued classical education and intellectual activity of the monastics.

The impressive legacy of C. includes political-historical, encyclopaedic (such as Institutiones divinarum et humanarum lectionum) and theological works (e.g., De anima). His Chronica written in 519 definitely belongs in the first category, but even more so, his Gothic History (Historia Gothorum) in 12 volumes, written at the request of King Theodoric, in the period 519-522, or possibly, around 533 (it is possible that C. made later additions to his work). Gothic History did not survive and is known to us only from Getica (De origine actibusque Getarum) written around mid-6th century by →Jordanes . With only this abbreviated version of Historia Gothorum it is hard for us to fully grasp the intentions of C. It seems obvious nevertheless that by linking the →Goths  with the ancient Getae he tried to tie the history of the barbarian →Barbaricum ancestors of Theodoric to the world of the ancient Mediterranean civilizations and by lending glory to the history of the Goths he tried to justify the coexistence of the Goths and Romans in Italy of Late Antiquity, The work of C./Jordanes contains a range of information related to the →Migration Period  (see →Jordanes ), it is important also as a model for later, medieval historiography, also in Slav countries: “„Cassiodorus’s incorporation of Gothic history into the ecumenical historia Romana created the model for the medieval origines gentium […]. Such works, most written in classicistic Latin, elevated the prehistory of a Germanic-Celtic-Slavic gens to the providential history of the populus, the historia Romana.  (H. Wolfram, History of the Goths, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 1988, p. 4).

Another relevant work by Cassiodorus is Variae (Variae epistulae), published around 538 and containing the correspondence of Ostrogoth kings →Ostrogoths , Theodoric the Great through to Witiges (536-540) that Cassiodorus had been responsible for editing. The aim of Variae was literary, Cassiodorus left out the opening and closing fragments of the letters, what mattered was the elegance of the exposition, his wish was  that the voices of ancestors would resound in the published edicts (...) Literary merits of this work decided its popularity in medieval Europe. Variae are invaluable for the study of the Migration Period in Central Europe because this collection includes a letter from Theodoric to the Haestii (Aestii), dwellers by the Baltic, dated to 514/517, in which is a reference to amber and its source – the Baltic Sea (Variae V.2).


Editions: Iordanis de origine actibusque Getarum, F. Giunta, A. Grillone (eds.), Roma 1991; Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, T. Mommsen (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, t. XII, Berlin 1894 (letter to the Aestii: V.2, p. 143).

Analyses: A. Guryn, Kultura duchowa, [in:] E. and S. Tabaczyńscy (eds.), Italia, Wrocław –Warszawa-Kraków-Gdańsk 1980, p. 275-345, esp. p. 315-317; W. A. Goffart, Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418–584. The Techniques of Accommodation, Princeton 1980; W. A. Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800). Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon, Princeton 1988; P. Riché, Edukacja i kultura w Europie Zachodniej (VI-VIII w.), Warszawa 1995, esp. p. 172-180 (Vivarium); A. S. Christensen, Cassiodorus, Jordanes and the History of the Goths. Studies in a Migration Myth, Kopenhagen 2002.