The Turcilingi (also spelled Torcilingi or Thorcilingi) were an obscure barbarian people who first appear in historial sources as living in Gaul in the mid-fifth century and last appeared in Italy during the reign of Romulus Augustulus (475–76). Their only known leader was Odovacar.
The Turcilingi are mentioned in only two independent sources: three times in the Getica of Jordanes and once in the Historia Miscella of Landulf Sagax. They are also mentioned once in the Historia Langobardorum of Paul the Deacon in a passage that is a derivative of Jordanes. Johann Kaspar Zeuss, followed by Karl V. Müllenhoff, believed that the 'Ρουτίχλειοι mentioned in the Geographia of Ptolemy (II.11.7) were the Turcilingi, but this thesis requires a complex etymology. Landulf Sagax lists them together with the Scirii among the nations which participated on the side of Attila and the Huns at the Battle of Châlons. Landulf is the unique source for this information; though he is a very late source (tenth century), it is probable that he had access to now lost sources and there is nothing inherently improbable about the Turcilingi being present at Châlons along with the Scirii as Hunnic allies.
Jordanes introduces us to the Turcilingi, though he makes no mention of them at Châlons. The Turcilingi were joined with several other barbarian tribes, like the Scirii, Rugii, and Heruli, under Odovacar as foederati of the Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus, who was a puppet of his father, Flavius Orestes. The barbarians demanded from Orestes in return for their military service some Italian land on which to settle. They were denied. According to Jordanes:
Now when Augustulus had been appointed Emperor by his father Orestes in Ravenna, it was not long before Odoacer, king of the Torcilingi (rex Torcilingorum), invaded Italy, as leader of the Scirii, the Heruli and allies of various races. He put Orestes to death . . . (XLVI.242)
When Theodoric the Great was looking for a pretext to invade Italy in 493, he petitioned the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno by reminding him of the "tyranny" (unlawful rule) of the city of Rome by Turcilingi and Rugii. According to Jordanes, Theodoric gave the following justification:
The western country, long ago governed by the rule of your ancestors and predecessors, and that city which was the head and mistress of the world—wherefore is it now shaken by the tyranny of the Torcilingi and the Rugi (sub regis Thorcilingorum Rogorumque tyrannide)? (LVII.291)
Theodoric's charge against the Turcilingi had resonance. As late as the seventeenth century, Lancelot Andrewes found use for citing the "inhumanity" and barbarity of the Turcilingi in his Gunpowder Plot Sermon.
Paul the Deacon, in his opening chapter (I.1), names several peoples (Vandals, Rugii, Heruli, Turcilingi) who have come, he says, from Germania to Italy. He goes on to name the Lombards as latecomers from the same region. This passage is clearly based on Jordanes, but its reference to Germany is unique. Nonetheless, Paul does not say that the Turcilingi are Germans, but only that they came from: "The Goths indeed, and the Wandals, the Rugii, Heroli, and Turcilingi, and also other fierce and barbarous nations have come from Germany." The Turcilingi appear to have originated in Germany, perhaps near the Baltic Sea, and thence moved with the Huns into Gaul and finally to the Danube, possibly Noricum, before entering Italy with Odovacar.
From the sources it is not possible to infer the origin of Turcilingi. It was generally assumed that they were an Eastern Germanic people related to the Scirii, or at least connected to the Scirii by special affinity. They were identified with the Thuringii by Helmut Castritius and Walter Pohl. Odovacar's father is said to have been a Thuringian in some sources. If this is true, it is possible that he ruled those people, and that Turcilingi is merely a scribal error for Thuringii.
Nineteenth-century German scholarship supposed that the Turcilingi were neighbours of (or the same people as) the Scirii in the first century, or that they were the royal clan of the Scirii or the Huns. The more enthusiastic invented a homeland for them straddling the Oder, with the Scirii to the east, the Vandals to the west, and the Rugii to the north. These scholars placed them in the Gothic mouvance.
Herwig Wolfram considers them royal clan of the Scirii. Goffart suggests that the Turcilingi could have been identical with the Alans. The Scirii have also been called an Alan population, which R. G. Latham considered of Turkic stock. It is stated that the Scirii and Turcilingi may have been the first sizable Turkic populations in Europe.
The problem of identification is related to the problem of etymology. Both are related to the question whether the Turcilingi were Germanic or not. The -ling suffix is Germanic, denoting members of a line, usually one descended from a common ancestor. The root Turci- is neither Germanic nor Slavic, but is probably Altaic, that is, Turkic. The Turkish connection is supported by the fact that the historical Turcilingi were always seen with the Scirii.
Completely Turkic etymologies for the name "Turcilingi" have been proposed. Türk-lük or "Turkdom" is a plausible starting point, suggested by Edouard Blochet. The Turkic given names Ṭoghril, Ṭoghrul, or Ṭogrul could form the basis of a Germanicised tribal name. The Pecheneg name Turak is an alternative suggestion. The Gothic form *Taurkiliggos has been hypothesised as a root meaning "descendants of the *Taurkeis," that is, Turks.
- Goffart, Walter A. (1980). Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418–584: The Techniques of Accommodation. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-10231-7.
- Jordanes. The Origins and Deeds of the Goths. Charles C. Mierow, trans. Last modified 22 April 1997.
- Mcbain, Bruce (1983). "Odovacer the Hun?" Classical Philology, 78:4 (Oct.), pp. 323–327.
- MacGeorge, Penny (2002). Late Roman Warlords. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925244-0.
- Paul the Deacon (1907). Historia LangobardorumIV.xlii William Dudley Foulke, trans.
- Reynolds, Robert L. and Robert S. Lopez (1946). "Odoacer: German or Hun?" The American Historical Review, 52:1 (Oct.), pp. 36–53.
- Thompson, E. A. (1982). Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-08700-X.
- This is where Zeuss places them, with the Rugii.
- Johann Kaspar Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstamme. Munchen: Lentner, 1837
- Herwig Wolfram: The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples, University of California Press, 1997, p.183
- Jordanes: Romana (p.344) and Getica (p.242), In: Goffart, 68.: Torcilingi [=Alans?], Scirii, Heruli).
- Robert Gordon Latham: The Germania of Tacitus: with ethnological dissertations and notes, Taylor, Walton, and Maberly, 1851, pp. xcviii, c.
- Robert Gordon Latham: The Germania of Tacitus: with ethnological dissertations and notes, Taylor, Walton, and Maberly, 1851, pp. xcix.
- Gothic Culture, History and Language: Re: Terwingi and Tyringi/Turingi.