Dear Reader Derek asks,
Perhaps you can help me out here. For years I’ve been confused as to whether “Goths”, “Geats”, and “Jutes” are the same people with different spellings, related people with different spellings, or different people with coincidentally-similar names. Also, where “derek” (or “dietrich”, or “teodric”) comes from. Is it goth, or hun, or something else?
It’s really easy to get confused here, because we’re dealing both with historical reality and with historical fiction written a long time ago.
- Goths: a Germanic-speaking ethnic group that took a major part in Migration Period politics in southern Europe. Their migrations can be traced back to a starting point in northern Poland in the 1st century. According to legends written down in the 6th century, the Goths believed that they had come from Scandinavia prior to that. But so did almost every other roving tribe at the time. Safest bet: the Goths came from Poland. (But in Scandinavia there were groups with similar names — in the 6th century.)
“Goths” and “Gothic” have since acquired a number of secondary meanings, originally because historians of art chose to call the architectural style of the High Middle Ages with pointy arches “Gothic”. Then anything having to do with old romantic ruins came to be called Gothic, then anything horrific, then anything having to do with an 80s musical subculture. First and Last and Always is actually a pretty good album.
- Geats: these are a semi-fictional group of the past spoken about by a few Anglo-Saxon writers in the later 1st Millennium, notably the Beowulf poet. What we’re dealing with is most likely the Anglo-Saxons’ poorly conceived idea of the GÃ¶tar in current Sweden. The Beowulf poet clearly knew nothing whatsoever about Sweden.
- Jutes: inhabitants of Jutland in Denmark. Anglo-Saxon writers in the later 1st Millennium believed that Jutes were among the Germanic-speakers who took power in the Isles after the Roman withdrawal in AD 409/410. Linguistic and X-chromosomal evidence suggests rather that the new lords came from Frisia.
- Derek = Dietrich = Theodoric: a Gothic name meaning “people-king”, most famously worn by an Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great (454-526), who ruled Italy from his capital at Ravenna. In High Medieval historical fiction, he is dimly remembered as Dietrich von Bern.
Collecting links for all these things in Wikipedia, I find that much of what the encyclopedia says is woefully outdated, being based on old scholarship with poor standards of source-criticism, where old historical fiction tended to be used as sources of historical facts.