The Thervingi, Tervingi, or Teruingi (sometimes pluralised "Tervings" or "Thervings") were a Gothic people of the Danubian plains west of the Dniester River in the 3rd and the 4th centuries. They had close contacts with the Greuthungi, another Gothic people from east of the Dniester, as well as the late Roman Empire or the early Byzantine Empire.
The name Thervingi may mean "forest people". Evidence exists that geographic descriptors were commonly used to distinguish people living north of the Black Sea both before and after Gothic settlement there, and the Thervingi sometimes had forest-related names. History lacks evidence for the name pair Thervingi-Greuthungi earlier than the late 3rd century (Greuthungi may mean "steppe-people"). The name "Thervingi" may have pre-Pontic, Scandinavian, origins.
The Thervingi first appeared in history as a distinct people in the year 268 when they invaded the Roman Empire. This invasion overran the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum and even threatened Italia itself. However, the Thervingi were defeated in battle that summer near the modern Italian-Slovenian border and then routed in the Battle of Naissus that September. Over the next three years they were driven back over the Danube River in a series of campaigns by the emperors Claudius II Gothicus and Aurelian.
The division of the Goths is first attested in 291. The Thervingi are first attested around that same date. Their mention occurs in a eulogy of the emperor Maximian (285–305), delivered in or shortly after 291 (or perhaps delivered at Trier on 20 April 292) and traditionally ascribed to Claudius Mamertinus, which said that the "Thervingi, another division of the Goths" (Tervingi pars alia Gothorum) joined with the Taifali to attack the Vandals and Gepidae. The term "Vandals" may have been erroneous for "Victohali" because around 360 the historian Eutropius reports that Dacia was currently (nunc) inhabited by Taifali, Victohali, and Thervingi.
Gothic War (367–369)
In 367, the Roman Emperor Valens attacked the Thervingi north of the Danube river. However, he was unable to hit them directly, because apparently the bulk of the Goths retreated to the Montes Serrorum (which is probably the south Carpathians). Ammianus Marcellinus says that Valens could not find anyone to fight with (nullum inveniret quem superare poterat vel terrere) and even implies that all of them fled, horror-struck, to the mountains (omnes formidine perciti... montes petivere Serrorum). In the following year, the flooding of the Danube prevented the Romans from crossing the river. In 369, Valens penetrated deep into the Gothic territory, winning a series of skirmishes with Greuthungi (and possibly Thervingi, too). A peace was concluded afterwards.
Gothic War (376–382)
The Thervingi remained in western Scythia (probably modern Moldavia and Wallachia) until 376, when one of their leaders, Fritigern, appealed to the Roman emperor Valens to be allowed to settle with his people on the south bank of the Danube. The vision that there, they hoped to find refuge from the Huns, is today contested by historians. It is more likely that they settled because of peace negotiations following the first Gothic War. Valens permitted this. However, a famine broke out and Rome was unwilling to supply them with the food they were promised nor the land; open revolt ensued leading to 6 years of plundering and destruction throughout the Balkans, the death of a Roman Emperor and the destruction of an entire Roman army. The Battle of Adrianople in 378 was the decisive moment of the war. The Roman forces were slaughtered; the Emperor Valens was killed during the fighting, shocking the Roman world and eventually forcing the Romans to negotiate with and settle the Barbarians on Roman land, a new trend with far reaching consequences for the eventual fall of the Roman Empire.
In time and geographical area, the Thervingi and their neighbors the Greuthungi correspond to the archaeological Sîntana de Mureş-Chernyakhov Culture.
Chernyakhov settlements cluster in open ground in river valleys. The houses include sunken-floored dwellings, surface dwellings, and stall-houses. The largest known settlement (Budesty) is 35 hectares. Most settlements are open and unfortified; some forts are also known.
Sîntana de Mureş cemeteries are better known than Sîntana de Mureş settlements.
Sîntana de Mureş cemeteries show the same basic characteristics as other Chernyakhov cemeteries. These include both cremation and inhumation burials; among the latter the head is to the north. Some graves were left empty. Grave goods often include pottery, bone combs, and iron tools, but almost never any weapons.
The original religion of the Thervingi is unknown, though Saba or Sava's martyrology and Wulfila's bible translation may provide clues. Some months and days were holy,and cult observance and ceremonies were compulsory with their piety. Roman prisoners brought Christianity to the Thervingi. This spread fast enough that several Therving kings and their supporters persecuted the Christian Thervingi, as attested by the story of Wereka and Batwin, and many of whom fled to Moesia in the Roman Empire. Wulfila translated the Bible into Gothic during this exile.
Settled in Dacia, the Thervingi adopted Arianism, at the time in power in the Eastern Empire, a branch of Christianity that believed that Jesus was not an aspect of God in the Trinity, but a demigod. This belief was in opposition to the tenets of Catholicism, which achieved a religious monopoly in the late 4th and 5th century.
Relationship with the Visigoths
According to Herwig Wolfram, in the Notitia Dignitatum the Vesi (later known as the Visigoths) are equated with the Thervingi in a reference to 388-391; that is not clear in the Notitia itself. There is a good deal of scholarly debate on the identification of the Vesi with the Thervingi and the Greuthungi with the Ostrogothi. According to Herwig Wolfram, the primary sources either use the terminology of Thervingi/Greuthungi or Vesi/Ostrogothi and never mix the pairs. That the Thervingi were the Vesi/Visigothi and the Greuthungi the Ostrogothi is also supported by Jordanes. He identified the Visigothic kings from Alaric I to Alaric II as the heirs of the 4th-century Thervingian king Athanaric and the Ostrogothic kings from Theodoric the Great to Theodahad as the heirs of the Greuthungian king Ermanaric. That interpretation is very common among scholars today, but it is not universal.
Wolfram concludes that the terms Thervingi and Greuthungi were geographical identifiers used by each tribe to describe the other. The terminology therefore dropped out of use after the Goths were displaced by the Hunnic invasions. Wolfram cites Zosimus as referring to a group of "Scythians" north of the Danube who were called "Greuthungi" by the barbarians north of the Ister. Wolfram concludes that it was the Thervingi who had remained behind after the Hunnic conquest. He further believes that the terms "Vesi" and "Ostrogothi" were used by the peoples to boastfully describe themselves. Thus, the Thervingi would have called themselves Vesi.
- Fritigern (c. 376–c. 380)
- Wolfram, History of the Goths, trans. T. J. Dunlop (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988), p. 25.
- Wolfram387–388 n58.
- Also Eutropio (in Breviarium ab urbe condita, 9, 8) cites 320.000 armed;
- Santo Mazzarino. L'impero romano. (in Italian) Bari, 1973, page 560. ISBN 88-420-2377-9 and ISBN 88-420-2401-5
- Zosimus, Historia Nova, I, 42.1
- Wolfram, 24.
- Guizot, I, 357.
- Genethl. Max. 17, 1.
- Vékony, 156, citing Eutropius, Brev., 8, 2, 2.
- Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae book 27, chapter 5; Further reading for this episode: Heather, Peter, 1996, The Goths, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 62; Heather, Peter, 1991, Goths and Romans 332-489, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 86; Heather, Peter & Matthews, John, 1991, Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, pp. 17–26.
- Pieter Hoppenbrouwers and Wim Blockmans, Introduction to Medieval Europe 8th version, (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2016): 43.
- Heather, Peter & Matthews, John, 1991, The Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, pp. 52-54.
- Heather, Peter & Matthews, John, 1991, Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, p. 54.
- Heather, Peter & Matthews, John, 1991, Goths in the Fourth Century, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, pp. 54-56.
- Philostorgius, Church History, book 2, chapter 5.
- Heather, pp. 52-57, 300-301.
- Wolfram, 387 n57.
- Passion of St. Saba