|Born||February 22, 1934|
|Academic advisors||Robert S. Lopez|
|School or tradition||Toronto School|
|Main interests||Late Antiquity|
Walter André Goffart (born February 22, 1934), is an American historian who specializes in Late Antiquity. He taught for many years in the History Department and Centre for Medieval Studies of the University of Toronto (1960-1999), and is currently a senior research scholar at Yale University. Goffart specializes in the study of Roman fiscal policy and the interpretation of medieval texts, and is well known for his theories on Germanic peoples and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. He is the leader of the Toronto School of History.
Walter Andre Goffart was born in Berlin on February 22, 1934, the son of Francis-Leo Goffart and Andree Steinberg. His father was a Belgian diplomat of Walloon descent, while his mother, born in Cairo, was of French and Romanian descent.
Goffart spent his early years in Belgrade, where his father worked. In 1941, upon the German invasion of Yugoslavia, Goffart and his mother evacuated on the Orient Express. Passing through Turkey, Beirut, Jerusalem and Cairo, they eventually reached New York City, and then Montreal. He became an American citizen in 1959. Several writers have suggested that Goffart's dramatic childhood might have impacted his interpretation of history.
Goffart became a lecturer at the University of Toronto in 1960. He was made an assistant professor in 1963. In 1965-1966 he was a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. He was made an associate professor at the University of Toronto in 1966. In 1967-1968 he was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies. Goffart was an academic secretary of the Centre for Medieval Studies in 1969-1971. He was made a full professor of history at the University of Toronto in 1971. In 1971-1972 he was the acting director of the Centre for Medieval Studies. Goffart was again an academic secretary of the Centre for Medieval Studies in 1972-1973. In 1973-1974 Goffart was a visiting fellow at the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. In 1986-1988, Goffart was coordinator of graduate studies in department of history at the University of Toronto. Goffart retired from the University of Toronto as a professor emeritus in 1999. Since 2000, Goffart has been a senior research scholar and lecturer in history at Yale University. In 2001 he had a study center residency at the Rockefeller Foundation.
Goffart is a member of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, the American Historical Association, the Haskins Society, and the Medieval Academy of America, of which he was a councilor in 1977-78, and became a fellow in 1982.
Goffart was a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies fellow in 1973-74, a Guggenheim fellow in 1979-80, a Connaught research fellow in the humanities at the University of Toronto in 1983-84, and the recipient of a standard research grant at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in 1990-92. In 1991 he received the Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy of America, for his book, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800).
Alexander C. Murray edited a Festschrift for Goffart called After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History (1999).
— Walter Goffart
Goffart specializes in the fiscal and administrative history of the Roman Empire, and the examination of medieval authors and texts. He is especially well known as a primary exponent of a revisionist approach to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, which suggests that the Western Roman Empire did not collapse as such, but merely absorbed invading "barbarians" in a relatively peaceful transition. In this approach, Goffart is heavily influenced by nineteenth century theories, particularly those of Henri Pirenne. Goffart believes that barbarians and ethnicity was irrelevant in Late Antiquity, and has sought to prove Roman continuity after the fall of the Roman Empire.
— Walter Goffart
The circle of scholars associated with Goffart is often referred to as the Toronto School of History. Members of the Toronto School are sometimes referred to as Goffart's "disciples" or "acolytes", and are well known for their loyalty to him. The Toronto School is opposed to the Vienna School of History, which posits that Germanic peoples were multi-ethnic coalitions led by warrior elites carrying on a core-tradition (German: Traditionskern). The Toronto School denies that the Germanic peoples had any core tradition neither as a whole nor as individual tribes, and contend that Germanic culture, if it ever existed at all, was entirely derived from the Roman Empire. According to Goffart, Greco-Roman literature are the only usable sources for resarch on Germanic peoples. Goffart contends that early Germanic peoples, early Germanic culture, early Germanic law, Germanic art and the notion of a Migration Period, are pseudoscientific inventions of German nationalist scholars. He believes that the Germanic peoples never existed in ancient times, and that there was no "Germanic world" until the Carolingian dynasty. Goffart believes that linguistic history "has nothing to do" with human history, and insists that the term "Germanic" should be purged entirely from academia beyond the field of linguistics. He argues that the field of Germanic philology is irredeemably rooted in German nationalism, and that it should therefore be abolished. Goffart also argued that the theories of the Vienna School are indebted to Nazi views of the past. He argues forcefully that the Germanic peoples should not be equated with modern Germans, but this argument has been described as a strawman by Goffart's critics. On the other hand, Goffart does believe that Germanic peoples exist in Europe today.
Goffart's theories on Germanic peoples have been described by some fellow scholars as "cranky", "anti-German" and "simply not true". Bryan Ward-Perkins of the University of Oxford has charged Goffart with waging an "obsessive" campaign to "play down the role of the Germanic peoples in European history". Stefan Brink has accused Goffart of introducing a form of factionalism and utilizing a form of good and evil rhetoric which he believes has had an unfortunate effect on scholarship.
In the 1990s, Goffart's theories were greatly boosted by the European Science Foundation project Transformation of the Roman World. Certain observers - for example Bryan Ward-Perkins and Wolf Liebeschuetz - describe the project as strongly ideologically influenced by multicultural and relativist values, and suggests that Goffart's theories were supported as a way to accelerate European integration. In the early 2000s, Goffart's theories have been scrutinized by a younger generation of historians associated with the University of Oxford, such as Peter Heather and Ward-Perkins. Heather has described Goffart's theories as "deeply mistaken". Goffart has in turn compared Heather to "an instructor jogging awake a roomful of fifteen to twenty-five-year-old males".
By the early 2000s, Germanic theories opposed by Goffart were increasingly gaining ground among medieval historians, and Goffart published Barbarian Tides (2006) as a response. In Barbarian Tides Goffarts laments that although he has insisted upon his views on Germanic peoples since the early 1970s, his theories have had little influence in wider scholarship. He claims that Nazi-influenced beliefs in the existence a Germanic culture has strengthened since World War II, and that these beliefs in recent times have emerged stronger than ever.
- "Byzantine Policy in the West under Tiberius II and Maurice: The Pretenders Hermenegild and Gundovald (579-585)", in: Traditio 13 (1957), pp. 73–118
- "The Fredegar Problem reconsidered", in: Speculum. A Journal of Medieval Studies 38:2 (1963), pp. 206-241.
- The Le Mans Forgeries (1966)
- "Le Mans, St. Scholastica, and the Literary Tradition of the Translation of St. Benedict," Revue Bénédictine 77 (1967), pp. 107–41.
- Caput and Colonate (1974)
- Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation (1980)
- "Hetware and Hugas: Datable Anachronisms in Beowulf" in: The Dating of Beowulf, ed. Colin Chase (1981), pp. 83–100.
- "Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarian", in: American Historical Review 86:2 (1981), pp. 275–306.
- The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (1988)
- Rome's Fall and After (1989) (collected studies)
- "The Historia Ecclesiastica: Bede's Agenda and Ours", in: Haskins Society Journal 2 (1990), pp. 29–45.
- "The Theme of 'The Barbarian Invasions' in Late Antique and Modern Historiography", in: W. Goffart (ed.), Rome's Fall and After, London 1989, pp. 111–132.
- "Breaking the Ortelian Pattern: Historical Atlases with A New Program, 1747-1830," in Editing Early and Historical Atlases, ed. Joan Winearls (1995), 49-81.
- "The barbarians in late antiquity and how they were accommodated in the West", in: B. H. Rosenwein and L. K. Little (ed.), Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and readings, Malden, Mass. 1998, pp. 25–44.
- Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years (2003).
- "Conspicuously absent: Martial Heroism in the Histories of Gregory of Tours and its likes", in: K. Mitchell and I. N. Wood (ed.), The World of Gregory of Tours, vol. 8 (Cultures, Beliefs, and Traditions 8), Leiden 2002, pp. 365–393.
- "The front matter of J. G. Hagelgans's 1718 Atlas historicus at Princeton University Library and the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, Jerusalem," in Princeton University Library Chronicle LXIV, 1 (Autumn 2002), pp. 141–162.
- The narrators of barbarian history (A.D. 550-800). Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon, Notre Dame 2005.
- "Jordanes's Getica and the Disputed Authenticity of Gothic Origins from Scandinavia", in: Speculum 80 (2005), pp. 379–98.
- "Bede's uera lex historiae explained", in: Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2005), pp 111–116.
- Barbarian Tides: the Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (2006)
- "The Name 'Merovingian' and the Dating of Beowulf", Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), pp 93–101
- "Frankish military duty and the fate of Roman taxation", in: Early Medieval Europe 16:2 (2008), pp. 166–190.
- Barbarians, Maps, and Historiography. Studies on the Early Medieval West (2009) (Collected Studies)
- "The Technique of Barbarian Settlement in the Fifth Century: A Personal, Streamlined Account with Ten Additional Comments", in: Journal of Late Antiquity 3:1 (2010), pp. 65–98.
- "The Frankish Pretender Gundovald, 582–585. A Crisis of Merovingian Blood", in: Francia: Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte 39 (2012), pp. 1–27.
- "Le début (et la fin) des sortes Vandalorum", in: Expropriations et confiscations dans les royaumes barbares. Une approche régionale, ed. Pierfrancesco Porena, Yann Rivière, Roma 2012, pp. 115–128.
- "»Defensio patriae« as a Carolingian Military Obligation" in: Francia: Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte 43 (2016) pp. 21–39.
- "The Recruitment of Freemen into the Carolingian Army, or How Far May One Argue from Silence?" in: "Journal of Medieval Military History" 16 (2018), pp. 17–34.
- Contemporary Authors.
- Murray 1998, pp. 3-4.
- Wood 2013, p. 314.
- Goffart 1980, p. 35.
- Noble 2006, p. x.
- Rutenburg & Eckstein 2007, p. 110. "One of the primary exponents of this relatively sunny view of the fifth-century 'transformation' has been Walter Goffart... Goffart sets out how the fragmented foreign peoples once living on the edges of the Empire participated with the Romans in the larger stirrings of late antiquity.' Rome did not fall, it experienced 'stirrings'; barbarians did not invade and conquer, foreign peoples 'participated' with the Romans in the 'stirrings'. This is the essence of the revisionist 'trans-formation and accommodation' view of the fall of Rome. This revisionist approach got a great boost from the European Science Foundation's ongoing project on The Transformation of the Roman World which, since 1995, has sponsored conferences and workshops, and published papers in a monograph series (The Transformation of the Roman World) that has now reached fourteen volumes. This project has turned the transformation-of-Rome theory into a scholarly industry. It tends to reflect the political climate of the contemporary European Union, with values such as multiculturalism, relativism, and a distaste for judgements..."
- Wood 2013, p. viii.
- Pohl 2014, p. 569. "From the mid-1990s onward, Walter Goffart and his school (Gillett 2002b; Goffart 2006) have directed their critique not against any current views, but against the old Wenskus “kernel of tradition” model: according to them, it was only a more sophisticated way to maintain German nationalist claims of ethnic continuity. The only way out of nationalist myths was to show that ethnicity was irrelevant in the migration age, as were the barbarians altogether. Therefore, Goffart’s approach is a vigorous attempt to prove Roman continuity after the “fall of Rome,” and to deny any barbarian impact on the end of the Western empire."
- Goffart 2006, pp. x, 4, 20, 25, 55, 221. "Strange as it may seem to hear it said, there were no Germanic peoples in late antiquity... I would be content if "German" and its derivatives were banished from all but linguistic discourse on this subject... The prehistoric Germans never existed... [T]hey are an illusion of misguided scholars. The nonexistence of ancient Germans is perhaps the most important thing one can say about the barbarians of late antiquity... Germanic collectivity exists in linguistics but never existed anywhere else... [A]n "early Germanic world"... had no existence anywhere... There was no Germanic world before the Carolingian age... The history of a language as known to philologists has nothing to do with that of human beings... No discernible benefit comes from our being reminded again and again in modern writings that many of these barbarians at each other's throats probably spoke dialects of the same language. The G-word can be dispensed with..."
- Brink 2008, p. 89.
- Wood 2008, p. 79.
- Ward-Perkins 2009. "At one end of the spectrum stands Walter Goffart who, fearful of modern German nationalism, has for decades fought a dogged campaign against any “Germanic” influence in early European history, including any significant role for barbarian invasion in the fifth century. His latest book is entirely true to form. For Goffart, the “Germanic invasions” of the Western empire never really happened, and the barbarian peoples who did settle in Roman territory during the fifth century were largely there at the invitation of the Romans, and then very rapidly adopted Roman ways. Important changes happened, but Germanic settlers played little part in bringing these about — and anyway we should never call these peoples “Germanic”, lest this gives modern Germans dangerous ideas about their importance in history. In the early 21st century, this blanket fear of Germanism is perhaps a little obsessive, and more appropriate for an immediately post-war audience — though Goffart has a large and very loyal following among scholars and students in the US and Canada (where he has taught for many years). But whatever one thinks of his conclusions (and I am not a fan), Goffart’s ideas are certainly radical: the defeat of Rome and the Germanic invasions do not need to be explained, because they never really happened."
- Liebeschuetz 2015, p. 85-100.
- Cusack 2003, p. 227.
- Noble 2006, pp. 11-12.
- Pohl, Gantner & Payne 2016.
- Classen 2010, p. 420. "Goffart simply summarizes the positions of his opponents, without providing us with direct quotes; instead he regularly paraphrases and generically comments, giving no room for alternative opinion... The author emphasizes over and over again that we really need to differentiate among the various Germanic peoples instead of talking about an attack by the Germanic barbarians as a national movement against the Romans. It seems incomprehensible to assume that any serious historian (Goffart attacks primarily German-language scholars) would hold such a position today. No one assumes that there was anything like a German nation attacking the Roman empire. This is simply in the head of the author who fights a straw puppet."
- Goffart 2010. "Heather is writing political history; his subject is the rise of the "Germani," Slavs, and Scandinavians... [and] the extension of the Germanic and Slavic peoples into the space they occupy today."
- Wright 2008, p. 223. "After some cranky words about the fashionability of 'ethnogenesis', Goffart's introduction lays out the anti-German thematics of the book ..."
- Curta 2007, p. 706.
- Ward-Perkins 2006, p. 174. "When Goffart launched his theory of peaceful 'accommodation' in it therefore fell on fertile ground. Goffart himself seems to have intended his book to play down the role of the Germanic peoples in European history... The European Union needs to forge a spirit of cooperation between the once warring nations of the Continent, and it is no coincidence that the European Science Foundation's research project into this period was entitled 'The Transformation of the Roman World'—implying a seamless and peaceful transition from Roman times to the 'Middle Ages' and beyond."
- Liebeschuetz 2015, p. 100. "To demolish the view that the Dark Age tribes had an identity based on ethnic core-traditions, the authors of the Gillett volume devote a great deal of energy to disqualifying the scholarship of earlier generations as distorted by mainly nationalist ideology. Yet they show no awareness that their own positions are very strongly ideological, deriving from the rejection of nationalism and the acceptance of multiculturalism, that are conspicuous features of current western values, and which find practical expression, among other things, in the downgrading of national patriotism in the interest of the European ideal."
- Rutenburg & Eckstein 2007, p. 110.
- Northover 2015, pp. 14-15.
- Goffart 2010.
- Gillett 2008, pp. 990-991.
- Goffart 2006, pp. 40, 51-52. "[M]any scholars of today in Europe and the United States still cherish the existence of a "Germanic world" long antedating medieval and modern Germany... The myth of the Germans before Germany is hard to suppress... The faith in Germanic continuity has prevailed for many centuries, damaging everything it has touched..."
- Goffart 2006, pp. IX, 227-228. "As long ago as 1972, I expressed a wish that someone should write a history of the Migration Age detached from German nationalism... Nothing has happened since then to fill this desideratum. On the contrary, the front of the stage has been occupied by talk of "ethnogenesis" and of the importance of ethnicity in late antiquity. Philology, archaeology, comparative religion, etymology, and whatever else have been exploited in the tried and true fashion of deutsche Altertumskunde in efforts to render the "tribes" more tribal than ever. As little thought as possible has been given to making them less resolutely German... This model... found regaining strength after World War II in the Gottingen historian Reinhard Wenskus, in the Cambridge classicist A. H. M. Jones, and in hundreds of scholars outside as well as inside Germany, all agreed in seeing an existing "Germanic world" getting the better of a "Roman world." That vision of outsiders intruding successfully where they were not wanted is an illusion fostered however innocently and festering ever since the sixteenth century."
- Brink, Stefan (2008). "People and Land in Early Scandinavia". In Garipzanov, Ildar H.; Geary, Patrick J.; Urbańczyk, Przemysław (eds.). Franks, Northmen, and Slavs. Cursor Mundi. 5. ISD. pp. 87–112. ISBN 9782503526157.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Classen, Albrecht (2010). "Walter Goffart, Barbarian Tides. The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire". Mediaevistik. 23: 418–420. JSTOR 42587825.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Curta, Florin (2007). "Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire. Walter Goffart". Speculum. 82 (3): 705–707. doi:10.1017/S0038713400010460.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Cusack, Carole M. (January 1, 2003). "On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages". Parergon. 20 (1): 227–229. doi:10.1353/pgn.2003.0013. JSTOR 40109893.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Gillett, Andrew (2008). "Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire". The English Historical Review. Oxford University Press. CXXIII (503): 990–992. doi:10.1093/ehr/cen212.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goffart, Walter (1980). Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691102313.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goffart, Walter (2006). Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812200287.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goffart, Walter (October 8, 2010). "OHeather, Empires and Barbarians". The Medieval Review. Indiana University.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Kulikowski, Michael (2002). "Nation versus Army: A Necessary Contrast". In Gillett, Andrew (ed.). On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. ISD. pp. 69–85. ISBN 9782503511689.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Liebeschuetz, Wolf (2015). East and West in Late Antiquity: Invasion, Settlement, Ethnogenesis and Conflicts of Religion. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-28952-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Murray, Alexander Callander (1998). After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History: Essays Presented to Walter Goffart. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802007797.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Noble, Thomas F. X. (2006). From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Routledge. ISBN 9781134337651.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Northover, Alice (2015). The OUPblog Tenth Anniversary Book. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190461881.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Pohl, Walter; Gantner, Clemens; Payne, Richard (2016). Visions of Community in the Post-Roman World: The West, Byzantium and the Islamic World, 300–1100. Routledge. ISBN 9781317001355.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Pohl, Walter (2014). "Goths and Huns". A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 555–568. ISBN 1118834380.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Rutenburg, Jeanine; Eckstein, Arthur M. (March 2007). "Review: The Return of the Fall of Rome". The International History Review. Routledge. 29 (1): 109–122. doi:10.1080/07075332.2007.9641121. JSTOR 40109893.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Ward-Perkins, Bryan (2006). The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191622366.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Ward-Perkins, Bryan (24 August 2009). "The Decline and Fall Industry". Standpoint. Retrieved September 11, 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Wood, Ian N. (2008). "Barbarians, Historians, and the Construction of National Identities". Journal of Late Antiquity. Johns Hopkins University Press. 20 (1): 61–81. doi:10.1353/jla.0.0007.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Wood, Ian (2013). The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191654770.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Wright, Glenn (November 1, 2008). "Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (review)". Parergon. 25 (1): 223–227. doi:10.1353/pgn.0.0021.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- "Walter Goffart". Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors. Gale. June 18, 2010. Retrieved February 1, 2020.
- "Walter A. Goffart". Dictionary of American Scholars. Gale. 2002. Retrieved February 1, 2020.
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