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The Visigoths

We continue our History of Portugal with The Visigoths.iberia_map

In the early 5th century, Germanic tribes invaded the peninsula, namely the Suevi, the Vandals and their allies, the Alans. They occupied the area shown on the map in green.

The Germanic tribe of the Buri also accompanied the Suevi in their invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and colonization of Gallaecia (modern northern Portugal and Spanish Galicia). The Buri settled in the region between the rivers Cávado and Homem (now Braga).

After the arrival of another wave of Germanic invaders, (the Visigoths) only the kingdom of the Suevi remained. The Visigoths conquered all of the Iberian Peninsula and expelled or partially integrated the Vandals and the Alans.

The Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Goths, an East Germanic tribe. They were among the first barbarians who disturbed the late Roman Empire during the Migration Period. The Romanized Visigoths first emerged as a distinct people during the 4th century, initially in the Balkans, where they participated in several wars with Rome. A Visigothic army under Alaric I eventually moved into Italy and sacked Rome in 410.

The Visigoths eventually conquered the Suevi kingdom and its capital city Bracara (Braga) in 584–585.  Slowly the Visigoths extended their authority into Hispania, displacing other tribes which had taken over from the Romans.

In or around 589, the Visigoths, under Reccared I, converted to the Nicene faith as the ethnic distinction between the increasingly Romanized Visigoths and their Hispano-Roman subjects gradually disappeared.

Under new laws (completed in 654) all the subjects of the kingdom would stop being Romani or Gothi and become Hispani, and they would be rulled by the same laws. The century that followed was dominated by the laws issued by the City of Toledo, which was their capital. Historical sources for the 7th century are relatively scarce but by the end of the 7th century the Visigoths controlled all of Spain and Portugal, although it is estimated that they comprised little more than 5% of the population.

The Visigoths built a few temples, some of which have been restored over the centuries. Examples include the São Gião Church near São Martinho do Porto, the São Pedro de Balsemão Chapel in Lamego, the Santa Amaro Church (also serving as part of the Visigothic Museum) in Beja, and the Byzantine-style chapel of São Frutuoso near Braga. The Visigoths also rebuilt the Roman town of Idanha-a-Velha near Castelo Branco and parts of its cathedral date from this time. Also, many of the 92 villages of the Montesinho Natural Park in the Tras-Os-Montes province still bear distinctly Germanic names such as Fresulfe or Sernande; memorials to the Visigoths who founded them.

In 711 or 712 the Visigoths, including their king and many of their leading men, were killed in the Battle of Guadalete near the River Guadalete on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Roderic, the recently appointed Visigoth King had been fighting the Basques in the North and went to fight the invading Moors who numbered 7-10 thousand. It is believed that his army was 10 times the size of the Muslim (Moorish) army but, fatigued by the long march, they were defeated. The battle was significant as it defined the beginning of the Moorish conquest of Hispania.

Unhindered, the Muslim forces drove northward, establishing garrisons and cities and, within a few years, virtually the entire peninsula came under Muslim rule so ending the Kingdom of the Visigoths.

Gothic identity survived the fall of the kingdom and many Gothic churches and buildings still stand in Portugal and Spain to this day. There are still some remains of the Alans, namely in Alenquer, whose name may be Germanic for the Temple of the Alans, from “Alen Ker”, and the Alaunt (a type of dog known as a mastiff), which is still represented in the Alenquer coat of arms. There is further evidence of the Alans, in the construction of the castles of Torres Vedras and Almourol, and in the city walls of Lisbon, where evidence of their presence may be found under the foundations of the Church of Santa Luzia.

The Roman Occupation of Portugal

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