Determining the social structure of the Goths during the first centuries in which they come into history is particularly difficult because few sources have any direct knowledge of the Goths -- and those that do, unfortunately, do not treat the topic directly or in any depth. The majority of sources in the fourth century discuss the Tervingi, Goths located in the area of the Danube, to the west of the Greuthungi. An important source, albeit an indirect one, is the translation of Wulfila: the Bible offers a wealth of social and political institutions of Jewish society of a few centuries earlier, and their interaction with Roman political institutions. Comparing our understanding of these institutions with how Wulfila chose to translate the Greek text offers a window into the societal structure of the audience of Wulfila's translation.
Etymology offers a picture of the long-term survival and development of cultural institutions as preserved in a language; but this picture is generally coarse-grained because of the timespan over which regular and specifiable linguistic changes occur. In addition, the vagaries of cultural change and idiomatic language habits imply that at any given moment a term may be applied to a thing or circumstance which is not predictable as the accumulation of the linguistic history of the word up to that point: for example, English broadcast, though a sensible compound for the intended purpose, is not predictable in its current use for 'radio or television program' as a result of the combination of meanings 'wide' and 'throw (a net)'. This unpredictability may occur for no other reason than that the required apparati, the radio and television, did not exist in any prior period: references to new technology may make novel use of old vocabulary.
Specifying through solely etymological methods precisely how a word was used at any specific point in its history generally requires knowing both its history before and after the period in question, so that a sort of triangulation method may be applied to refine possiblities for the meaning of the word in any given intermediate period. Such methods are limited when attempting to discover how the Gothic language, as found in Wulfila's translation, is applied by its speakers to their current social institutions for the simple reason that Wulfila's translation is the terminus of our information about the Gothic language.
To complement the results of etymological investigation, scholars may thus turn to methods of textual comparison. Specifically, they may focus on how Wulfila translated elements of Biblical culture, and estimate how these would be understood by Wulfila himself, and how these are mapped onto Gothic social structure. Combining this with the history of the terms involved provides another method of triangulation in order to pinpoint Gothic social institutions concurrent with Wulfila's translation. This may be further compared with other socio-cultural depictions found in contemporary literature.
The following are estimates of the meaning of various Gothic terms at the time of the Biblical translation, based on the above method of textual comparison, coupled with crossreferencing from contemporary sources. These are necessarily imperfect and tentative. To limit their inaccuracies further, it must be said that this only necessarily applies to the Tervingi, and extension to the social structures of other Goths such as the Greuthungi, for whom there is scant cultural information, is precarious at best.
Collective units, in rough order of importance, are as follows:
Individual offices and titles, in rough order of importance, were as follows:
Structures and their environs, in rough order of importance, were as follows:
The following passage is Mark 4:1-12, the parable of the Sower and the Seed. Looking at Mark 4.1, we find swaswē ina galeiþandan in skip gasitan in marein 'so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea'. The construction is actually an infinitival result clause, at its most basic swaswē... ina... gasitan 'so as... (for) him... to sit'. The participle galeiþandan is a masculine accusative modifying ina, '(for) him going'.
The verse Mark 4.5 is interesting for its peculiar uses of the genitive. In the first instance, there is the phrase in þizei 'on account of which, on account of this that'. The occurence of the genitive itself in a phrase with this meaning is not surprising: the genitive is often used to denote cause in Germanic languages, a feature of its adoption of the role of the ablative case found in other Indo-European languages. What is striking is its use with a strictly locative (hence dative in Germanic) or accusative preposition in, which rarely if ever occurs in other Germanic languages. Mark 4.5 also contains the phrase ni habáida diupáizōs aírþōs, literally 'it did not have of deep earth'. As encountered in a previous reading, the genitive often serves to replace a predicate nominative or accusative in negated clauses. Gothic shares this feature with Old Church Slavonic.
Mark 4.9 provides examples of the Gothic use of the subjunctive: saei habái áusōna háusjandōna, gaháusjái, literally 'he who has hearing ears, let him hear'. The latter verb, gaháusjái, shows the subjunctive in a hortatory function. But note also the use of the present subjunctive habái in a clause giving a general characteristic, rather than the indicative of Modern English.
Note also Mark 4.11: izwis atgiban ist kunnan rūna þiudangardjōs gudis, literally 'it is for you to know the rune of the kingdom of God'. Here we find an instance of the Gothic reflex of the word for 'rune'. The word rūna, along with its cognates, is eventually charged with deep significance in Germanic languages, and seemingly appropriate for the power of the Biblical statement made here. The meaning of its cognates in Germanic ranges anywhere from 'counsel, advice' to 'secret counsel' to 'secret' to 'mystery', or from 'secret counsel' to 'secret writings' to 'sacred writings' to 'writings' to 'runes'. Compare the Old Norse phrase rúnuom inom reginkunnom 'runes of divine origin' in verse 80 of the Hávamál. This sentiment is also present in the runic inscription in the Noleby Stone, c. 450 AD: runo fahi raginakudo tojeka 'I prepare the suitable divine rune...'.
Of course runes as a writing system seem to have been in origin solely utilitarian, likely lacking any particularly divine overtones. But over time in the North and West Germanic traditions, as the above references illustrate, they came to develop a sort of mystique, if for no other reason than that they were associated with the inspirational step that led to the initiation of writing in general. It is difficult to say to what degree such mystique should be read into the Gothic term, since Wulfila's translation actually predates both the Hávamál and the Noleby Stone by quite a span of time. If we must then have recourse to a translation of rūna devoid of mystical import, it is nevertheless a powerful term if understood as the 'privy counsel' due a noble from his advisors.
4:1 - Jah aftra dugann laisjan at marein, jah galesun sik du imma manageins filu, swaswe ina galeiþandan in skip gasitan in marein; jah alla so managei wiþra marein ana staþa was.
2 - jah laisida ins in gajukom manag jah qaþ im in laiseinai seinai:
3 - hauseiþ! sai, urrann sa saiands du saian fraiwa seinamma.
4 - jah warþ, miþþanei saiso, sum raihtis gadraus faur wig, jah qemun fuglos jah fretun þata.
5 - anþaruþ-þan gadraus ana stainahamma, þarei ni habaida airþa managa, jah suns urrann, in þizei ni habaida diupaizos airþos;
6 - at sunnin þan urrinnandin ufbrann, jah unte ni habaida waurtins, gaþaursnoda.
7 - jah sum gadraus in þaurnuns; jah ufarstigun þai þaurnjus jah afƕapidedun þata, jah akran ni gaf.
8 - jah sum gadraus in airþa goda jah gaf akran urrinnando jah wahsjando, jah bar ain ·l· jah ain ·j· jah ain ·r·
9 - jah qaþ: saei habai ausona hausjandona, gahausjai.
10 - iþ biþe warþ sundro, frehun ina þai bi ina miþ þaim twalibim þizos gajukons.
11 - jah qaþ im: izwis atgiban ist kunnan runa þiudangardjos gudis, iþ jainaim þaim uta in gajukom allata wairþiþ,
12 - ei saiƕandans saiƕaina jah ni gaumjaina, jah hausjandans hausjaina jah ni fraþjaina, ibai ƕan gawandjaina sik jah afletaindau im frawaurhteis.
4:1 Jah aftra dugann laisjan at marein, jah galesun sik du imma manageins filu, swaswe ina galeiþandan in skip gasitan in marein; jah alla so managei wiþra marein ana staþa was. 2 jah laisida ins in gajukom manag jah qaþ im in laiseinai seinai:
3 hauseiþ! sai, urrann sa saiands du saian fraiwa seinamma. 4 jah warþ, miþþanei saiso, sum raihtis gadraus faur wig, jah qemun fuglos jah fretun þata. 5 anþaruþ-þan gadraus ana stainahamma, þarei ni habaida airþa managa, jah suns urrann, in þizei ni habaida diupaizos airþos; 6 at sunnin þan urrinnandin ufbrann, jah unte ni habaida waurtins, gaþaursnoda. 7 jah sum gadraus in þaurnuns; jah ufarstigun þai þaurnjus jah afƕapidedun þata, jah akran ni gaf. 8 jah sum gadraus in airþa goda jah gaf akran urrinnando jah wahsjando, jah bar ain ·l· jah ain ·j· jah ain ·r· 9 jah qaþ: saei habai ausona hausjandona, gahausjai.
10 iþ biþe warþ sundro, frehun ina þai bi ina miþ þaim twalibim þizos gajukons. 11 jah qaþ im: izwis atgiban ist kunnan runa þiudangardjos gudis, iþ jainaim þaim uta in gajukom allata wairþiþ, 12 ei saiƕandans saiƕaina jah ni gaumjaina, jah hausjandans hausjaina jah ni fraþjaina, ibai ƕan gawandjaina sik jah afletaindau im frawaurhteis.
From the King James version:
4:1 And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. 2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. 9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
The third strong conjugation comprises verbs whose present system generally shows the vowel i followed by a resonant (l,r,m,n) and one other consonant. The historical evolution of these verbs is shown in the chart below.
|Class III||Root Shape||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
|*bindu (EG *binda)||*band||*bundum||*bundan||'tie'|
|(K)VLC||e/i||a||u (EG u/o)||o (EG u/o)|
|*werpu (EG *werpa)||*warp||*wurpum (EG *worpum)||*worpan||'throw'|
|aí [e]||a||aú [o]||aú [o]|
In the above, R stands for any resonant l,r,m,n. N stands only for the nasals of this set m,n, while L stands for the non-nasals l,r. The resulting ablaut pattern characterizing the third strong conjugation in Gothic thus falls into two groups.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.|
|IIIb||aí [e]||a||aú [o]||aú [o]|
The difference in ablaut patterns is conditioned by the consonant following the vowel. In the present, the e generally changes to i, except when followed by a non-nasal resonant. Likewise in the past plural and past participle, u generally appears, except when replaced by aú [o] before a non-nasal resonant.
The verb binda 'bind', with prinicpal parts binda -- band -- bundum -- bundans, serves to illustrate the forms of the third conjugation. The forms are as follows.
For consonant changes before the second person singular past indicative ending, see Section 6.3.
The fourth strong conjugation comprises verbs whose root ends in a single resonant l,r,m,n. The historical evolution of these verbs is shown in the chart below.
|Class IV||Root Shape||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.||Meaning|
|PGmc||(K)VR||e/i||a||ē||o (EG o/u)|
|*beru (EG *bera)||*bar||*bērum||*boran||'carry'|
|Goth.||i / aí [e]||a||ē||u / aú [o]|
In the above, R stands for any resonant l,r,m,n. The resulting ablaut pattern characterizing the third strong conjugation in Gothic thus becomes the following.
|Class||Present||Past Sg.||Past Pl.||Past Part.|
|IVb||aí [e]||a||ē||aú [o]|
The difference between Classes IVa and IVb lies in the vowels of the present system and of the past participle stems.
The verbs brikan 'break' and trudan 'tread' follow the ablaut pattern of the fourth class though their roots do not end in a resonant.
The verb baíran 'bear, carry', with prinicpal parts baíra -- bar -- bērum -- baúrans, serves to illustrate the forms of the fourth conjugation. The forms are as follows.
The nominative case is the case of the subject of a finite verb. If the verb is such that its meaning equates predicate to subject -- e.g. be, become, seem, appear -- then the predicate also takes the nominative case. For example, ik im sō usstass jah libáins 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11.25); jah was drus is mikils 'and the fall of it was great' (Matthew 8.27); ni ei weis gakusanái þugkáima 'not that we should appear approved' (II Corinthians 13.7). Similarly, if a passive verb is such that it equates predicate to subject -- e.g. be named, be called, be considered, be deemed, be made -- then the predicate takes the nominative case. For example, ni þatei... ju garaíhts gadōmiþs sijáu 'not as though... I were already deemed right' (Philippians 3.12); gasatiþs im ik mērjans 'I am ordained a preacher' (I Timothy 2.7).
With verbs meaning name or call, Gothic often employs the nominative where one might otherwise expect the accusative or another oblique case. For example, jah gasatida Seimōna namō Paítrus 'And Simon he surnamed Peter' (Mark 3.16), where the Greek employs the accusative; fram þizái namnidōn bimáit in leika handuwaúrht 'by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hands' (Ephesians 2.11), where þizái namnidōn is a dative expression modifying the nominative bimáit... handuwaúrht, though in the Greek noun and modifiers are all in the same case. The verbs wisan 'be' and waírþan 'become' often employ the preposition du with the dative in place of a predicate nominative.
The nominative case is used in one, possibly two, instances for an absolute construction. In these constructions, a noun is paired with a past participle and forms a unit grammatically distinct (absolute) from the remaining constructions of the sentence. Such absolute constructions are generally in the dative, and sometimes in the accusative, case in Gothic. However in some instances such pairings occur in the nominative, though the noun so modified is not the apparent subject of the finite verb of the main clause. The clearest example is jah waúrþans dags gatils, þan Herodis mela gabaúrþáis seináizōs nahtamat waúrhta 'And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper...', more literally 'and a convenient day having come,...' (Mark 6.21). Another possible instance is urrann sa dáuþa gabundans handuns jah fotuns faskjam jah wlits is auralja bibundans 'And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin', literally 'and his face bound about...' (John 11.44). This last phrase, however, translates a Greek finite verb form peridédeto, and may therefore be an instance of an omitted copula.
The direct object of a transitive verb, finite or non-finite, is placed in the accusative case. For example, aþþan ik in watin izwis dáupja 'I indeed baptize you with water' (Matthew 3.11); jabái áuk frijōþ þans frijōndans izwis áinans, ƕō mizdōnō habáiþ? 'For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?', more literally 'For if ye love those loving you alone, what of rewards have ye?' (Matthew 5.46). Note in the last example that þans frijōndans is the accusative object of the finite form frijōþ, while izwis áinans is the accusative object of the participle frijōndans.
Certain impersonal verbal constructions take the accusative. The verbs grēdōn 'be greedy, hungry', huggrjan 'hunger', þaúrsjan 'thirst' take the accusative of the person affected. For example, jabái grēdō fijand þeinana, mat gif imma 'if thine enemy hunger, give him food', literally 'if it hunger thine enemy' (Romans 12.20); þana gaggandan du mis ni huggreiþ, jah þana galáubjandan du mis ni þaúrseiþ ƕanhun 'he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst', more literally 'it shall never hunger one coming to me; and it shall never thirst one believing in me' (John 6.35). The phrase kar' ist or kara 'it concerns' takes the accusative of the person and genitive of the thing. For example, jah ni kar' ist ina þizē lambē 'and careth not for the sheep', literally 'it concerns him not of the sheep' (John 10.13). The phrase skula wisan 'be guilty, be debtor' takes an accusative of the thing owed: aflēt uns þatei skulans sijáima 'forgive us our debts', literally 'forgive us that which we owe' (Matthew 6.12).
Occasionally either transitive or intransitive verbs may take an internal or cognate accusative. An internal accusative is any direct object reiterating or specifying the basic meaning of the verb; a cognate accusative futher stipulates that the noun in the accusative be cognate with the verb itself. Consider the following examples: ei waúrkjáima waúrstwa guþs 'that we might work the works of God' (John 6.28); háifst þō gōdōn háifstida 'I have fought a good fight' (II Timothy 4.7); jah ōhtēdun sis agis mikil 'and they feared exceedingly', literally 'and they feared a great fear' (Mark 4.41); náiteinōs, swa managōs swaswē wajamērjand 'and blasphemes wherewith soever they shall blaspheme', literally 'and blasphemes, as many as they shall blaspheme' (Mark 3.28).
Some verbs in Gothic take a double accusative. The following are some situations in which this occurs:
(1) Personal Object + Predicate: Examples are sō sunja frijans izwis briggiþ 'the truth shall make you free' (John 8.32); þanzei jah apaústuluns namnida 'whom also he named apostles' (Luke 6.13); motarjōs garaíhtana domidēdun guþ 'the publicans justified God', literally 'the publicans deemed God right' (Luke 7.29).
(2) Personal Object + Internal Accusative: Examples are ƕa áuk bōteiþ mannan 'for what shall it profit a man' (Mark 8.36); láisida ins in gajukōm manag 'he taught them many things by parables' (Mark 4.2). There are other examples that may be considered as belonging to the category discussed next.
(3) Personal + Material Object: Some examples overlap with the category above. Examples are sa izwis láiseiþ allata 'he shall teach you all (things)' (John 14.26); wileima ei þatei þuk bidjōs táujáis uggkis 'we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire', literally '...whatsoever we shall ask thee' (Mark 10.35).
Viewed more generally, the accusative denotes extent in time or space, usually leading to some eventual endpoint or terminus. A few examples are alla naht þaírharbáidjandans 'having toiled all night' (Luke 5.5); jah qinō wisandei in runa blōþis jēra twalif 'And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years' (Luke 8.43); manag áuk mēl frawalw ina 'for many a time it had caught him' (Luke 8.29); qēmun dagis wig 'they went a day's journey' (Luke 2.44); jah jabái ƕaw þuk ananáuþjái rasta áina, gaggáis miþ imma twōs 'and if anyone compel thee (to go) one mile, go with him two' (Matthew 5.41).
Related to the above notion of extent is the so-called accusative of specification, or in the terminology of the classical languages, the accusative or respect. The accusative may be used to limit the scope of the surrounding semantic environment. Consider the following examples: jah urrann sa dáuþa gabundans handuns jah fotuns faskjam 'and the dead man came forth, bound hands and feet with bandages' (John 11.44); standáiþ nu uf gaúrdanái hupins izwarans sunjái 'stand therefore, girt (about) your loins with truth' (Ephesians 6.14).
The accusative, like the more typical dative and very rarely the nominative, is used in absolute constructions. In this, a noun or pronoun together with a particple form a phrase grammatically distinct from the main clause, but are together taken as nearly equivalent in sense to a clause with a finite verb. Consider the following: iþ þuk táujandan armaiōn ni witi hleidumei þeina, ƕa táujiþtaíhswo þeina 'But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth', more literally 'you doing alms, let not...' (Matthew 6.3). This accusative construction translates a genitive absolute in the Greek text, as does the accusative construction in the next example: jah atgaggandein inn daúhtar Herodiadins jah plinsjandein jah galeikandein Heroda jah þáim miþanakumbjandam, qaþ þiudans du þizái máujái 'And when the daughter of the (said) Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel', literally 'the daughter... coming in, and dancing, and pleasing..., the king said...' (Mark 6.22).
The infinitive may appear as subject of a clause. In such circumstances the infinitive may stand alone, be accompanied by the preposition du, or be modified by the article þata. Consider the following examples: ƕáiwa aglu ist þáim hugjandam afar faíháu in þiudangardja guþs galeiþan 'how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God' (Mark 10.24); iþ þata du sitan af taíhswō meinái aíþþáu af hleidumein nist mein du giban 'But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give' (Mark 10.40); ƕa ist þata us dáuþáim usstandan 'what the rising from the dead is' (Mark 9.10).
The infinitive may appear as object of another verb. The infinitive is often complementary to the governing verb, taking the same subject. For example, jah sōkidēdun ina undgreipan 'And they sought to lay hold on him' (Mark 12.12); untē ni magt áin tagl ƕeit aíþþáu swart gatáujan 'because thou canst not make one hair white or black' (Matthew 5.36); jah gahaíháitun imma faíhu giban 'and promised to give him money' (Mark 14.11).
A complementary infinitive may also occur with adjectives or nouns. For example, manwus im qiman at izwis 'I am ready to come to you' (II Corinthians 12.14); lustu habands andlētnan jah miþ Xristáu wisan 'having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ' (Philippians 1.23).
The infinitive may be used to express purpose. This often occurs in conjunction with verbs of motion. The infinitive may stand alone, or it may follow the preposition du. Consider the following examples: jah gagga káusjan þans 'and I go to prove them' (Luke 14.19); ni qam gataíran ak usfulljan 'I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil' (Matthew 5.17); sái urrann sa saiands du saian fráiwa seinamma 'Behold, there went out a sower to sow his seed' (Mark 4.3).
The infinitive may be used with the conjunctions swaswē and swaei to express result. The subject of such an infinitive generally takes the accusative case. For example, jah sái wēgs mikils warþ in marein, swaswē þata skip gahuliþ waírþan fram wēgim 'And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves', literally '... so as for the ship to become covered...' (Matthew 8.24); jah galēsun sik du imma manageins filu, swaswē ina galeiþandan in skip gasitan in marein 'and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea', literally '... so as for him entering ... to sit...' (Mark 4.1); ganah þamma swaleikamma andabeit þata fram managizam, swaei þata andaneiþō izwis máis fragiban jah gaþláihan 'Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him', literally '... so as for you... to forgive... and to comfort...' (II Corinthians 2.6-7).
The subject of an infinitive generally takes the accusative case. The accusative with infinitive is often equivalent to a clause with finite verb in Modern English. Such a construction may stand as object of a verb, as in the following examples: in þizei háusidēduþ ina siukan 'because that ye had heard that he had been sick', literally '... had heard him to be sick' (Philippians 2.26); ƕana qiþand mik mans wisan 'Whom do men say that I am', literally 'Whom do men say me to be' (Mark 8.27). An accusative and infinitive construction may also stand as the subject of a verb: jah warþ afsláuþnan allans 'and it happened that they were all amazed', literally 'and (for) them to be amazed happened' (Luke 4.36); iþ azētizō ist himin jah aírþa hindarleiþan þáu witōdis áinana writ gadriusan 'And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail' (Luke 16.17).
The subject of an infinitive may also take the dative case. This generally occurs when the infinitive is itself the subject of the clause. For example, gōþ þus ist hamfamma in libáin galeiþan, þáu twos handuns habandin galeiþan 'it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell' (Mark 9.43); jah warþ þaírhgaggan imma sabbatō daga þaírh atisk 'And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day', literally 'and it happened for him to go...' (Mark 2.23). Note also ƕáiwa aglu ist þáim hugjandam afar faíháu in þiudangardja guþs galeiþan 'how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God' (Mark 10.24), quoted in the previous section.