The Visigoths' Peasant Economy

The areas bearing archaeological traces of the Tervingi Goths' settlement do not fully justify the appellation 'forest dwellers' — thus the Mezőség, Udvarhelyszék, the Barcaság, the Háromszék Basin, Wallachia, and the undulating plains in the valleys of the Szeret, Prut, and Dniester rivers. Over the century of Gothic rule, forests spread freely in the center of Gutthiuda, and in fact the population 'settled around' the forests. To the north and the west, the forests provided the Goths with a protective barrier. The settlements that have been discovered confirm the assertion in contemporary written sources that the Visigoths — unlike their ethnic cousins, the Ostrogoths — were predominantly farmers. In this regard, Vulfila's translation of the Bible into 4th century Visigothic is of immense value, for it reflects the contemporary Visigothic culture. This unique document reveals in detail the life of a people who would soon come to play a historic role in the Great Migrations.

Various types of fields (akrs, thaurp) were ploughed (arjan) with ploughs (hoha) drawn by oxen (auhsa) who were linked with a yoke (jukuzi). The Visigoths sowed grain (kaurn) — wheat (hwaiteis), barley (barizein), rye (kaurno) — as well as flax (saian) to make linen (lein). The result of this work were the green crops (atisk). The harvest (asans) began in the summer, reaping was done {1-158.} with sickles (giltha), crops were transported on carts (gajut) to the threshing yard (gathrask) where they were threshed (thriskan), and the grain was stored in barns (bansts). They ground (malan) the grain with a circular hand mill (quairnus), then baked raised dough (daigs) and a flat bread (hlaifs). However, Visigothic agriculture was inefficient, and yields were low. According to a declaration addressed to Emperor Valens in 366[3]3. Themistios, Oratio X, 135 D, p. 161,21. the Tervingi Goths were driven to rely on Roman grain. Judging from the sparse data on horticulture (aurtigard), the Goths possessed little skill at gardening (aurtja).

Food remnants in graves confirm the Gothic Bible's reference to the animals raised by the Visigoths: cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats, as well as horses and donkeys for draught. The commonly found traces of poultry bones (hens, roosters) and eggs in graves indicate the intensive character of this ancillary animal husbandry. Indeed, only a few traces remain of ruminants and mammals in Transylvanian Gothic graves: a whole lamb, a pig's head, and a ham at Marosszentanna, cattle bones at Palatka, a lamb at Csombord, and a pig's shoulder blade at Rugonfalva. It is unlikely that the Visigoths had large herds or flocks, for otherwise they would have left traces of settlement in the area of fine pastures on mountainsides and in the narrower valleys. Indeed, Vulfila's Bible alludes to an intensive form of animal husbandry.

The herds (hairda) and flocks (wrethus) driven in from the pasture (winja) were kept near the village in cow-sheds (garda) and sheep-pens (awistr) enclosed by a wattle fence (fatha). To feed the cattle and horses tethered in the manger (uzeta), the Visigoths reaped (sneitharn) grass to make hay (hawi). It is recorded that the poor people's daily drink was milk (miluks), and that their clothes were made from the wool (wulla) of their sheep.

According to the Gothic Bible, villages had blacksmiths (smitha/aizasmitha) who forged (gasmithon) weapons and tools from iron (eisarn), carpenters (timrja) who worked with hand-axes {1-159.} (aqizi), butchers (skilja), fullers and clothiers (wullareis) who processed wool, fishermen (nuta, fiskja) who used various methods and devices, physicians-healers (lekeis), and potters (kasja) — thus all trades that are essential to a peasant society.

The Gothic potters were as skilled at fashioning (digan) smaller vessels (kas) and larger pots (katils) as they were at making the native lamps (skeimam) that replicated or substituted for Roman lamps (lucarn). However, the Latin origin (lucerna) of the latter word and archaeological finds of late-Roman earthenware and bronze lamps (several of which are decorated, according to the fashion of the time, with Old Christian patterns) indicate that the Goths preferred to use lamps of varying price mass-produced in the Roman provinces. The making of adobe (thaho) was a common skill, but bricks and tiles (skalja) required an expertise similar to that of potters. With regard to pottery, an even cursory comparison of Marosszentanna products and the remarkably similar pottery discovered at Cherniakhov, near Kiev, will confirm the Gothic Bible's account of the high-level craftsmanship of the Gothic artisans. There is no indication that the vessels found in Gothic graves in Transylvania owed in any way to the legacy of Dacia's earlier inhabitants. The Gothic pottery kilns discovered in Transylvania (Sepsiszentgyörgy-Eprestető, Bögöz-Vízlok) undoubtedly date from the 4th century; they belong to the Late Iron Age ('La Tène') type, which was prevalent throughout the area of Marosszentanna-Cherniakhov culture as well in the proximate Barbaricum.

Judging from the archaeological finds, comb production was a flourishing craft. Some of the blacksmiths must have been able to work more precious metals, and they employed well-proven techniques to mass-produce iron and bronze fibulae for fastening clothes as well as buckles. The raw material for silver objects most probably came from Roman silver coins (silubreins), for the Goths were most aggrieved whenever Rome suspended a treaty with the foederati and withheld the promised money (gild). The gold (gulth) {1-160.} received from Rome (in the form of officially-authenticated bars) was reserved for the king and others of high rank.

When peace treaties were negotiated, the Goths' most important demand was always for free trade relations with Rome. Wine (wein) and cooking-oil (alewja), imported in amphoras, were regarded as necessities by the wealthier Goths. The grave goods testify that glass goblets, cups and tumblers, metallic vessels, and ornamental earthenware were part and parcel of the Goths' everyday life; and so were feminine adornments such as silver and bronze jewellery and beads of all sorts. The Goths also imported valued commodities, such as cotton fabric and other luxury cloths, of which no trace remains in the graves. By the 360s, their economy had come to depend so heavily on the empire that in times of war, the interruption of trade caused severe shortages of essential goods ('quod conmerciis vetitis ultima necessariorum inopia barbari stringebantur'[4]4. Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum gestarum, 27,5.). The one means of repayment about which information has survived were slaves. People for whom the Goths had no use in Gutthiuda were sooner or later sold on the Danubian slave markets. To preserve Dacia's population from this awful fate, Aurelianus evacuated the province.