The Ostrogoths, or East Goths, are a branch of the people known as Goths. By the fourth century A.D., the Goths had become two distinct groups—the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths (West Goths). Both groups originated in Scandinavia and migrated south through Russia to the Black Sea.
The Goths first raided the Roman empire in the A.D. 200s. They invaded Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome’s provinces* along the Danube River. Under the military leadership of the emperors Gallienus, Claudius II, and Aurelian, the Romans stopped these raids before the Goths could penetrate too deeply into the empire. At about this time, the distinction between the Ostrogoths and Visigoths was beginning to be made. The Ostrogoths settled between the Dnieper and Don rivers in eastern Europe.
Around A.D. 370, the Huns, a tribe from central Asia, overran the Ostrogoths and drove the Visigoths across the Danube River into the Roman empire. Under the leadership of Alaric, the Visigoths invaded Italy and sacked* Rome. Eventually, the Visigoths established a kingdom in Gaul (present-day France) that extended into Spain.
In the late A.D. 400s, the Ostrogoths united under the leadership of Theodoric, invaded Italy, and established a kingdom there. Theodoric upheld the principles of Roman law, making them binding on Ostrogoths as well as on Romans. Under his rule, Italy experienced a period of peace and prosperity that it had not known for many years. Theodoric united all Goths into one kingdom, but this unified state fell apart soon after his death.
During the A.D. 500s, the Byzantine* emperor Justinian waged war against the Ostrogoths in Sicily and Italy. After 20 years of intense fighting, the Byzantines virtually wiped out the Ostrogoths and destroyed their kingdom. (See also Barbarians; Migrations, Late Roman; Rome, History of.)
* province overseas area controlled by Rome
* sack to rob a captured city
* Byzantine referring to the Eastern Christian Empire that was based in Constantinople