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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Athanaric refused to cross the river


the time of their first encounter with the Romans, in Dacia, during the third century, the Goths appear to have made rapid advances in their political organization and the arts of civilized life. They were the first of the Germanic nations who accepted Christianity. On one of their piratical expeditions to the shores of Asia Minor, they brought away as captive a Christian boy. They named him Ulfila, and by that name he is still known to the world. He devoted his life to the overthrow of their pagan faith, and succeeded. He translated the Bible into their language, and, it is supposed, even invented a Gothic alphabet, since it is doubtful whether they already possessed one. A part of Ulfila's translation of the New Testament escaped destruction, and is now preserved in the library at Upsala, in Sweden. It is the only specimen, in existence of the Gothic language at that early day. From it we learn how rich and refined was that language, and how many of the elements of the German and English tongues it contained. The following are the opening words of the Lord's Prayer, as Ulfila wrote them between the years 350 and 370 of our era:

GOTHIC. _Atta unsara, thu in himinam, veihnai namo thein._ ENGLISH. Father our, thou in heaven, be hallowed name thine. GERMAN. Vater unser, du im Himmel, geweiht werde Name dein.

GOTHIC. _quimai Thiudinassus Theins, vairthai vilja theins,_

ENGLISH. come Kingdom thine, be done will thine, GERMAN. komme Herrschaft dein, werde Wille dein,

GOTHIC. _sve in himina, jah ana airthai._ ENGLISH. as in heaven, also on earth. GERMAN. wie im Himmel, auch auf Erden.

[Sidenote: 350.]

Ulfila was born in 318, became a bishop of the Christian Church, spent his whole life in teaching the Goths, and died in Constantinople, in the year 378. There is no evidence that he, or any other of the Christian missionaries of his time, were persecuted, or even seriously hindered in the good work, by the Goths: the latter seem to have adopted the new faith readily, and the Arian creed which Ulfila taught, although rejected by the Church of Rome, was stubbornly held by their descendants for a period of nearly five hundred years.

Somewhere between 360 and 370, the long peace between the Romans and the Goths was disturbed; but the Emperor Valens and the Gothic king, Athanaric, had a conference on board a vessel on the Danube, and came to an understanding. Athanaric refused to cross the river, on account of a vow made on some former occasion. The Goths, it appears, were by this time learning the art of statesmanship, and they might have continued on good terms with the Romans, but for the sudden appearance on the scene of an entirely new race, coming, as they themselves had come so many centuries before, from the unknown regions of Central Asia.

[Sidenote: 375. COMING OF THE HUNS.]

In 375, the year of Valentinian's death, a race of people up to that time unknown, and whose name--the Huns--had never before been heard, crossed the Volga and invaded the territory of the Ostrogoths. Later researches render it probable that they came from the steppes of Mongolia, and that they belonged to the Tartar family; but, in the course of their wanderings, before reaching Europe, they had not only lost all the traditions of their former history, but even their religious faith. Their very appearance struck terror into the Goths, who were so much further advanced in civilization. They were short, clumsy figures, with broad and hideously ugly faces, flat noses, oblique eyes and long black hair, and were clothed in skins which they wore until they dropped in rags from their bodies. But they were marvellous horsemen, and very skilful in using the bow and lance. The men were on their horses' backs from morning till night, while the women and children followed their march in rude carts. They came in such immense numbers, and showed so much savage daring and bravery, that several smaller tribes, allied with the Ostrogoths, or subject to them, went over immediately to the Huns.

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