In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Visigoths

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Bibliographies
  • General Overviews
  • Institutions
  • Monasticism
  • Music and Liturgy
  • Architecture and Archaeology
  • Urbanism
  • Luxury Arts
  • Education and Culture
  • Paleography and Epigraphy
  • Numismatics and Exhibition Catalogues

Art History Visigoths
José-Luis Senra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0166


The history of the Visigoths constitutes an important period of transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Through a fractured and troublesome process of settlement, political-religious stabilization, and territorial rule, the Visigoths established one of the most influential and developed European kingdoms toward the latter part of their reign. Like the other so-called Barbarian peoples, they oscillated between perpetuation of the omnipresent Roman culture that they had replaced and their own original contributions (Guzmán Armario 2005, cited under General Overviews). Their legislation, form of government, and institutions reached maturity in the 7th century, a point at which they achieved both religious unity and complete territorial rule of the Iberian Peninsula. Numismatic testimony allows us to verify this gradual process of attaining a unique identity. In some cases, they pursued the Roman legacy to an intense degree. We know, for example, that the land-owning aristocracy maintained the latifundium system with the use of slaves or free farmers. From the point of view of the administration of justice, the essential text was the Visigothic Code, or Liber Iudiciorum, which came into effect in the middle of the 7th century and was an adaption of older materials (Pérez-Prendes y Muñoz-Arraco 2004, cited under Institutions) that evolved throughout the second half of the century and constituted a key component in the transformation of medieval Spanish kingdoms. The numerous models issued by the successive councils produced effective social coordination. Because the monarchy was beset by a lack of continuity and problems of succession, during their final days the Visigoths instituted a new procedure for monarchic legitimation: anointment (beginning in at least 672 with Wamba), which became the highest expression of the monarchy, established by the divine grace that crystallized a theocratic power. Its efficacy as a tool of legitimation is evidenced by the fact that it was adopted a century later by the Carolingian monarchy. The continuation of the Roman substrate is also evident in ecclesiastical organization, in which the shelter of an energetic Christianity allowed for a reorganization of spaces in favor of the figure of the bishop (Ripoll and Gurt 2000, cited under Urbanism). The so-called episcopal groups were promoted as visual platforms of the religious and civil power held by the bishops held, who were also promoted as the defenders of urban spaces. Centers for devotion to martyrs were also built outside the cities; these were true centers of social cohesion that actively revitalized suburban areas. The era also witnessed the foundation of important urban centers, some of which stand out for their palatial character: Reccopolis, an initiative of King Leovigild, as a genuine exercise of power emulating the Roman and Byzantine Empires (e.g., Adrianopole, Constantinople, and Nicaea) (Olmo Enciso 2000, cited under Urbanism). Historians traditionally, although not unanimously, have associated Reccopolis with the site of the Cerro de la Oliva (in Zorita de los Canes, Guadalajara, near Madrid). Outside the cities, several rural monastic settlements stand out for their role as nuclei of interaction and cohesion between the important landowners and the Hispano-Roman farming population (Castellanos García 1999, cited under Monasticism). Beyond the phenomenon of the hermitage, which already existed in the 5th century, the period saw the establishment of various monastic rules, yet given our scarce archaeological knowledge, we are far from understanding the ways in which these religious establishments were planned (Campos Ruiz and Roca Meliá 1971, cited under Monasticism). The Visigoths’ revitalization of Roman culture, which took place gradually until the beginning of the 7th century following the Empire’s collapse in the late 5th century, is often ignored; however, on the basis of early writers such as Isidore of Seville, Eugenius of Toledo, Braulio of Zaragoza, Julian of Toledo, and Ildefonsus of Toledo, some authors have begun to talk about a Roman “renaissance” (Díaz y Díaz 1976, cited under Education and Culture). The 7th century in Spain therefore denotes a period of growth that would come to an end with the fall of the kingdom in the early 8th century. Nonetheless, the study of the ecclesiastical architecture that has survived into the current era does not offer any clear conclusions, in part due to the debate surrounding the chronology of many of these structures. Moreover, it has been even more difficult to trace a comprehensive chronology of typologies and, with it, to detect possible liturgical variations based on changing contexts. The standstill in the scholarly debate between “Visigothists” and “Mozarabists” concerning the interpretation of these architectural structures compels us to trust in the progressive results of urban architecture (Ripoll 2012, cited under Architecture and Archaeology). We can conclude by affirming that the Visigothic period signifies a moment of utmost importance, not only for the transfer of a large part of the rich Roman legacy, but also for the subsequent creation of medieval mentalities based on the historical mythification of the period. These would also progressively be drawn into a debate over the national identity of Spain, starting with the beginning of the modern age (Geary 2002, cited under General Overviews), and often at the expense of our knowledge of the rich Andalusi legacy that followed it.

Primary Sources

The available written sources for the Visigothic era are numerous and cover a vast spectrum. The beginning, marked by the first historians to document the invasion, Paulus Orosius and Hydatius, along with chronicles such as those by John of Biclaro and Isidore of Seville, mark two principle veins of knowledge. Additionally, it is worth noting several works from the hagiographic genre (such as the Vitas Sanctorum Patrum Emeretensium, Vita Fructuosi, and Vita Emiliani), based on the rich indirect data that can be deduced, as well as the genre of apologetic profiles based on the illustrious lives of Isidore and Ildefonsus. The encyclopedic dimension of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae and its immersion into Greco-Roman culture in no way prevents us from extracting information about the thought and customs of its time. Finally, the inscribed slates allow us to delve further into various aspects of rural Visigothic society, including trade, disputes, administration of territories, property inventories, and liturgical texts (Velázquez Soriano 2000).

  • Braulio of Zaragoza. Sancti Braulionis Caesaraugustani episcopi Vita Sancti Aemiliani. Edited by J. Oroz. Salamanca, Spain: Perficit, 1978.

    Bilingual (Latin-Spanish) edition of the biography of Emiliano, a hermit from the Visigothic era whose work took place in the western region of the Ebro River, the territory under the bishopric of Zaragoza, in the episcopal see of Braulio. The important persistence of his memory is due in part to the identity of the author, who captured his life in writing, as well as to the creation, and presumed hermitage, of one of the most important monasteries in medieval Spain, San Millán de la Cogolla (in La Rioja).

  • Braulio of Zaragoza. Epístolas. Edited by R. Miguel Franco. Madrid: Editorial Akal, 2015.

    A collection of thirty-two letters from one of the foremost Visigothic intellectuals of the 7th century. Braulio occupied the episcopal see in Zaragoza, and his letters were addressed to several high-profile recipients, including Kings Chindaswinth and Recceswinth and the clergymen Eugenius of Toledo, Fructuosus of Braga, and Isidore of Seville. Following Isidore’s death, it was Braulio who acted as editor and gave the famous Etymologiae its current form.

  • Campos, Julio. Juan de Bíclaro, obispo de Gerona: Su vida y su obra. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1960.

    John of Biclaro (Iohannes Biclarensis) was Bishop of Girona and one of the most prominent figures of the second half of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th in Visigothic Spain. He attended some of the most important councils of his time. With an extensive education from his early years in Constantinople, he wrote a chronicle that became a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the era, and which is published in this text.

  • Cardelle de Hartmann, Carmen, and Roger Collins, eds. Victoris Tunnunensis Chronicon cum reliquiis ex Consularibus Caesaraugustanis et Iohannis Biclarensis Chronicon. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2001.

    Critical edition of a fundamental source for studies on the Visigothic reign up to the 6th century, the Cronicón by John of Biclaro (Iohannes Biclarensis).

  • Codoñer, Carmen, ed. La Hispania visigótica y mozárabe: Dos épocas en su literatura. Salamanca, Spain: Universidad de Salamanca, 2010.

    Encyclopedic work that encompasses the principal Hispanic writers and diverse topics (monastic rules, hagiographies, liturgical hymns, inscriptions in verse, and councils) belonging to the period spanning the 5th through 9th centuries. The best editions available are provided.

  • Díaz y Díaz, Manuel C., ed. La vida de san Fructuoso de Braga. Braga, Portugal: Diario de Minho, 1974.

    Publication of the anonymous hagiography by Fructuosus of Braga, one of the most important figures in Visigothic monasticism. Hermit and founder of monastic establishments from Gallaecia to Baetica, he rose to rule the distinguished episcopal see of Braga.

  • Gil, Juan, ed. Miscellanea Wisigothica. Seville, Spain: Universidad de Sevilla, 1991.

    Compilation of diverse documents belonging to the Visigothic era that are fundamental for the understanding of legislation, sociopolitical relationships, and even gender.

  • Hydatius. The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana: Two Contemporary Accounts of the Final Years of the Roman Empire. Edited by R. W. Burgess. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    Hydatius, Hispano-Roman bishop of Aquasflavias (in Gallaecia), was witness to the definitive break in Roman borders as a result of pressure from Barbarian peoples upon the arrival of the Suebi to their territory. His work constitutes a fundamental testimony of the period of the Roman Empire’s definitive decline.

  • Ildefonsus of Toledo. De uiris ilustribus: Estudio y edición crítica. Edited by C. Codoñer. Salamanca, Spain: Universidad de Salamanca, 1972.

    Intended to continue the encyclopedic work initiated by Isidore of Seville, this work is equally important for our understanding of authors as well as for our understanding of the way they were depicted by a high-ranking 7th-century ecclesiastical intellectual, the archbishop of Toledo.

  • Isidore of Seville. Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX. 2 vols. Edited by W. M. Lindsay. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

    Original Latin version of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae.

  • Isidore of Seville. De viris illustribus. Edited by C. Codoñer. Salamanca, Spain: Universidad de Salamanca, 1964.

    Important treatise following the thematic line of the work of the same name by Jerome on the knowledge of Visigothic-era authors in their fight against heterodoxy as well as on their exemplary lives.

  • Isidore of Seville. History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi. Edited by G. Donini and G. F. Ford. Leiden: Brill, 1967.

    A history of the Germanic peoples who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula, written by the most prominent intellectual of the Visigothic period. A fundamental text due to both the historical framework in which it was written and the ideological context from which it derives, as well as its importance as a documentary source of events. Moreover, it compiles a brief history of Visigothic legislation.

  • Isidore of Seville. The Etymologies. Edited by S. A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and O. Berghof. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    The Etymologies (Etymologiae) by Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) was a bestseller in medieval bookstores. They are a compilation of Greco-Roman knowledge spanning a wide expanse of subjects.

  • Isidore of Seville. De Ecclesiasticis Officiis. Edited by T. Knoebel. Ancient Christian Writers 61. New York: Newman Press, 2008.

    Edition of a seminal work for our understanding of Visigothic liturgy during its peak. De Ecclesiasticis Officiis was an essential work in the survival of Visigothic rites after the kingdom’s collapse following the Muslim invasion in 711.

  • Nock, Frances Clare, ed. Vita Sancti Fructuosi. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1946.

    Edition of the hagiography of one of the most influential members of the Visigothic church, known for his active monastic life (as a founder of monasteries) and for the time he spent in power as archbishop of the important see of Braga.

  • Orosius, Paulus. Seven Books of History against the Pagans. Edited by A. T. Fear. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2010.

    The first large universal Roman-Christian chronicle, from a providential beginning and an optimistic vision of historical evolution, echoing the Barbarian invasions that took place during Alaric I’s Sack of Rome.

  • Valerio of Bierzo. Autobiografía. Edited by R. Frighetto. A Coruña, Spain: Toxoutos, 2006.

    Critical bilingual (Latin-Spanish) edition of an indispensable work for the understanding of the monastic and social universe of the Visigothic Kingdom, beginning with a first-person testimony from the second half of the 7th century.

  • Velázquez Soriano, Isabel. Las pizarras visigodas: Edición crítica y estudio. Antigüedad y Cristianismo. Monografías históricas sobre la Antigüedad Tardía 6. Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 1989.

    Critical edition of the corpus of writings inscribed on slate instead of the traditional parchment from the 6th to 8th centuries. The study derived from the author’s doctoral dissertation.

  • Velázquez Soriano, Isabel. Documentos de época visigoda escritos en pizarra (siglos V–VIII). 2 vols. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000.

    Expanded critical edition of the author’s doctoral dissertation, from the corpus of written resources on slate. Fundamental work for our understanding of these unique documentary sources.

  • Velázquez, I. Vidas de los santos Padres de Mérida. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2007.

    Collection of hagiographic accounts of Spanish figures from the 6th and 7th centuries, including the prominent martyr Eulalia of Mérida. The portrayal of several bishops from the important Hispano-Visigothic urban center complements an indispensable text, both from a literary point of view and due to its important role in the history and archaeology of what was once the most important city in Baetica.

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