Migration Period
between Odra and Vistula

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Jordanes, historian of Late Antiquity (6th c. AD). By his own account Jordanes was of Gothic stock (Getica, 316) nevertheless, some questions remain open. It is understood that his family lived in the province of Moesia Inferior where his grandfather, Paria, was secretary to Candac, leader of the Alani. Before his conversion (ante conversionem; see Getica 266) Jordanes held a similar post with the Gothic Gunthigis, also called Baza, of the royal house of the Amali. By his “conversion” Jordanes probably means leaving the laity and becoming a member of the clergy, possibly, a monk, although some researchers claim that Jordanes was a layman. It is no longer widely accepted that he was a bishop; presumably, Jordanes was a Catholic rather than a follower of →Arianism  (see Getica, 132-133).

Jordanes wrote two works (551), known in short as the Romana and the Getica (full titles respectively, De summa temporum vel origine actibusque gentis Romanorum and De origine actibusque Getarum.) Romana gives an account of world history, from Adam to the reign of Justinian (551 AD). This is not a vital work as it is a compilation of otherwise known sources.

The Getica was written – as Jordanes asserts – without prior plans, in response to a request from his friend Castalius (Getica, 1). Its point of departure was Historia Gothorum – the history of the →Goths  written by →Cassiodorus. By his own account Jordanes had three days to read the 12 volumes of this opus (Getica, 2), what he gleaned from it he supplemented with matters from some Greek and Latin histories. The Gothic History was lost which makes the Getica our primary source on the history of the →Goths  and their migration from Scandinavia to East Europe (Getica, 25-27). Their kingdom prospered in the reign King Ermanaric (Getica, 116-130). The invasion of the →Huns , flight to Moesia under the leadership of Fritigern and the Battle of Adrianople (Getica, 131-140) are a prelude to the →Migration Period  during which time the Goths were major players. The Getica gives an account of the history of the →Ostrogoths  and the Visigoths until mid-6th century, reporting also on the key episodes of the Migration Period such as the details of the funeral of →Attila  (Getica, 254-258), the Battle of Nedao (Getica, 261) and the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields (Getica, 192-221).

The Getica also furnishes important evidence on peoples living on the territory of today’s Poland during the →Migration Period , most notably, on the →Vidivarii  (Getica, 36, 96), on the abodes of the Slavs which, he says, extended to the sources of the Vistula (Getica, 34-35), and on the Antes and their king, Boz, defeated by the Gothic Vinitharius (Getica, 247).

A crucial point in need of resolution is the extent to which the Getica is Jordanes’ own work and to what extent, only a digest of the work of →Cassiodorus. T. Mommsen (1817-1903), and most researchers in his wake, claim that the role of Jordanes in the making of De origine actibusque Getarum was marginal, but others, including W. Goffart and J. Weissensteiner, assume that the actual author of the history of the →Goths  is none other but Jordanes.

A separate issue is that of the vernacular – Germanic – sources →Germanic Tribes  used by Jordanes, or rather, by →Cassiodorus, for the earliest history of the Goths. One of these sources would be an otherwise obscure Ablabius, “famous chronicler of the Gothic race” (Getica, 29), another, the early songs of the →Goths  themselves – their tribal sagas (prisca carmina) that Jordanes mentions when describing their most ancient history (Getica, 28).


Editions: Iordanis de origine actibusque Getarum, F. Giunta, A. Grillone (ed.), Roma 1991.

Literature: W. A. Goffart, Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584. The Techniques of Accommodation, Princeton 1980; J. Kolendo, Opisy wschodnich Bałkanów w Getica Jordanesa i ich źródło – Historia gocka Kasjodora, Balcanica Posnaniensia, 1, 1984, p. 125-132; J. Kolendo, Prisca carmina et la valeur de la tradition sur la migration des Goths dans l’ouvrage de Jordanes, Archeologia Baltica, 7, 1986, [Peregrinatio gothica], p. 9-16; B. Croke, Cassiodorus and the Getica of Jordanes, Classical Philology, 82:2, 1987, p. 117-134; W. A. Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800). Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon, Princeton 1988; M. Salamon, Jordanes w środowisku Konstantynopola połowy VI wieku. Uwagi wstępne, Balcanica Posnaniensia, 5, 1990, p. 405-415; J. Weissensteiner, Cassiodor/Jordanes als Geschichtsschreiber, [in:] A. Scharer, G. Scheibelreiter (ed.), Historiographie im frühen Mittelalter, Wien-München 1994, p. 308-325; W. A. S. Christensen, Cassiodorus, Jordanes and the History of the Goths. Studies in a Migration Myth, Kopenhagen 2002; J. Kolendo, Ziemie u południowo-wschodnich wybrzeży Bałtyku w źródłach antycznych, Pruthenia, 4, 2009, p. 11-41; W. Liebeschuetz, Why did Jordanes write the Getica ?, Antiquité Tardive, 19, 2011, p. 295-302; R. Kasperski, Teodoryk Wielki i Kasjodor. Studia nad tworzeniem ‘tradycji dynastycznej Amalów’, Kraków 2013.