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Geatas (but also often Goths[1], Gautar in Old Norse, Götar in Swedish) is the Old English spelling of the name of the Geats, a North Germanic tribe which were the inhabitants Götaland ("land of the Geats") in modern Sweden. The name of the Geats lives on in the Swedish counties of Västergötland and Östergötland, the Western and Eastern lands of the Geats, as well as in many toponyms. The city Göteborg, known in English as Gothenburg, was named after the Geats (Geatsburg or fortress of the Geats), when it was founded in 1621.


The earliest mention of the Geats may appear in Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.), where they are referred to as Goutai. In the 6th century, they were referred to as Gautigoths and Ostrogoths (the Ostrogoths of Scandza) by Jordanes and as Gautoi by Procopius. In the Norse Sagas they are referred to as Gautar, and in Beowulf and Widsith as Geatas.

Before the consolidation of Sweden, the Geats were politically independent of the Swedes, whose old name was Svear (Sweon or Sweonas in OE). When written sources emerge (approximately at the end of the 10th century), the Geatish lands are perceived as associated with the (still very shaky) Swedish kingdom. Traditional accounts of this process have hypothesized a forceful incorporation by the Swedes. However, there is no textual or archaeological evidence for this supposed invasion, and it should be considered semi-mythical at best. It should also be noted that the Geatish lands, especially Westrogothia, exhibit considerable Danish influence in the 10th century.

The semi-mythical Swedish invasion of Geatish lands was explained with their involvement in the Gothic wars in southern Europe, which brought a great deal of Roman gold to Götaland, but also naturally depleted their numbers (see Nordisk familjebok). Hervarar saga is believed to contain such traditions handed down from the 4th century. It relates that when the Hunnish Horde invaded the land of the Goths and the Gothic king Angantyr desperately tried to marshal the defenses, it was the Geatish king Gizur who answered his call.

Beowulf and the Norse sagas name several Geatish kings, but only Hygelac finds confirmation in Liber Monstrorum where he is referred to as Rex Getarum and in a copy of Historiae Francorum where he is called Rege Gotorum. These sources concern a Viking raid into Frisia, ca 516, which is also described in Beowulf. Some decades after the events related in this epic, Jordanes described the Geats as a nation which was bold and quick to engage in war.

In the Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson writes about several battles between Norwegians and Geats. He wrote that in the 9th century, there were battles between the Geats and the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, a battle the Geats had to fight without assistance of the Swedish king Erik Emundsson. He also wrote about Haakon I of Norway's expedition into Götaland and Harold I of Denmark's battle against Jarl Ottar of Östergötland, and about Olaf the Holy's battles with the Geats during his war with Olof Skötkonung.

In the 11th century, the Swedish House of Munsö was extinct with Emund the Old. Stenkil, a Geat, was elected king of Sweden, and the Geats would be influential in the shaping of Sweden as a Christian kingdom. However, this election also ushered in a long period of civil unrest between Christians and pagans and between Geats and Swedes.

The Geats were not treated as equals with the Swedes. In the Westrogothic law, bishop Brynolf Algotsson (1279-1290) of Skara reminded the Geats that they had to accept the election of the Swedes at the Stone of Mora, by adding the following line on the top of the first page: Sveær egho konung at taka ok sva vrækæ meaning It is the Swedes who have the right of choosing and deposing the king.

One of these Swedish kings was Ragnvald Knaphövde, who in 1125 was riding with his retinue in order to be accepted as king by the Geats of Westrogothia. As he despised the Geats, he decided not to demand hostages from their prominent clans. He was slain near Falköping.

The distinction between Swedes and Geats lasted during the Middle Ages, but the Geats became increasingly important for Swedish national claims of greatness due to Geats' old connection with the Goths. They argued that since the Goths and the Geats were the same nation, and the Geats were part of the kingdom of Sweden, this meant that the Swedes had defeated the Roman empire. The earliest attestation of this claim comes from the Council of Basel, 1434, during which the Swedish delegation argued with the Spanish about who among them were the true Goths. The Spaniards argued that it was better to be descended from the heroic Visigoths than from stay-at-homers. This cultural movement, which was not restricted to Sweden went by the name Gothicismus or in Swedish Göticism, i.e. Geaticism, as Geat and Goth were considered synonymous back then.

To this day, the Swedish kings still formally call themselves svears och götars konung (king of Swedes and Geats, or Rex Sweorum et Gothorum). The full title of the kings of Denmark(-Norway) also referred to the Geats until 1972.

On Geats and Goths

Main article: Goths

The green area is the traditional extent of Götaland and the dark pink area is the island of Gotland. The red area is the extent of the Wielbark Culture in the early 3rd century, and the orange area is the Chernyakhov Culture, in the early 4th century. The dark blue area is the Roman Empire

Geatas was originally Proto-Germanic *Gautoz and Goths and Gutar were *Gutaniz. *Gautoz and *Gutaniz are two ablaut grades of a Proto-Germanic word *geutan with the meaning "to pour" (modern Swedish gjuta, modern German giessen) designating the tribes as "pourers of semen" or "men".[citation needed] They were consequently two derivations from the same proto-Germanic ethnonym, cf. Serbs and Sorbs, Polans and Poles, Slovenes and Slovaks in Slavic languages.

It is a long-standing controversy whether the Goths were Geats. Jordanes claimed that the Goths came from the island of Scandza. He also claimed that on this island there were three tribes called the Gautigoths (cf. Geat/Gaut), the Ostrogoths (cf. the Swedish province of Östergötland) and Vagoths (Gotlanders?).

Scandinavian burial customs, such as the stone circles (domarringar), which are most common in Götaland and Gotland, and stelae (bautastenar) appeared in northern Poland in the 1st century AD, suggesting an influx of Scandinavians during the formation of the Gothic Wielbark culture [1][2]. Moreover, in Ostrogothia, in Sweden, there is a sudden disappearance of villages during this period.

On Gautar and Geatas

The generally accepted identification between the Götar and Gautar as the Geatas of Beowulf is mainly based on the observation that the Ö monophthong of modern Swedish and the AU diphthong of Old Norse correspond to the EA diphthong of Old English. Likewise, the Raumar are called Reamas in Beowulf.


Swedish Old Norse Old English



read (red)
neat (head of cattle)
ceap (purchase)
eage (eye)
heah (high)
ead (wealth)


Thus, Geatas is the Old English form of Old Norse Gautar and modern Swedish Götar.

This correspondence seems to tip the balance for most scholars. It is also based on the fact that in Beowulf, the Geatas live east of the Dene (across the sea) and in close contact with the Sweon, which fits the historical position of the Gautar between the Daner and the Svear.

Moreover, the story of Beowulf, who leaves Geatland and arrives at the Danish court after a naval voyage, where he kills a beast, finds a parallel in Hrólf Kraki's saga. In this saga, Bödvar Bjarki leaves Gautland and arrives at the Danish court after a naval voyage and kills a beast that has been terrorizing the Danes for two years (see also Origins for Beowulf and Hrólf Kraki).

Since the 19th century, several other nations have been suggested to correspond to the Geats, such as the Danes (Curt Weibull), the Jutes (Pontus Fahlbeck 1884), the Goths and the Gotlanders, (See e.g. the OED which identifies the Geats through Eotas, Iótas, Iútan and Geátas) with the Jutes referred to in the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. '

These hypotheses have been suggested even though, in both Beowulf and Widsith, the Geats are clearly distinguished from both Jutes Eótenas (or Ytum) and Danes. Thus any identification between the Geatas and these two nations is refuted by the two source texts themselves.

In addition, the reconstructed root for both Geat and Gaut is *Gaut-, whereas the reconstructed root of Goth and Got(-land) is *Gut-. The root of Jute is usually regarded as unknown.

Even if the identification made in this article is generally accepted, the matter is not dead and it will continue to raise harsh feelings even in the future—especially in Sweden, where the debate about Sweden's history prior to the 11th century is affected.


  1. E.g. Microsoft Encarta (on Swedish history), translations from Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon or Latin and the Primary Chronicle and modern scholarly works on Germanic tribes.

See also

fi:Göötit sv:Götar

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