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Walter Goffart (born February 22, 1934) is an American historian who specializes in Late Antiquity and the European Middle Ages. 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. He is the author of monographs on a ninth-century forgery (Le Mans Forgeries), late Roman taxation (Caput and Colonate), four "barbarian" historians, and historical atlases. The most controversial of his research concerns the techniques for settling barbarians in the West Roman Empire (Barbarians and Romans and the sixth chapter of Barbarian Tides).
Walter Goffart was born in Berlin on February 22, 1934, the son of Francis-Leo Goffart and Andree Steinberg. His father was a Belgian diplomat, while his mother, born in Cairo, had French and Romanian-Jewish parents.
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).
Theories on Barbarians and the Fall of Rome
What we call the Fall of the Western Roman Empire was an imaginative experiment that got a little out of hand.
-- Walter Goffart
Goffart is known as an 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 absorbed invading "barbarians" in a relatively peaceful transition.. He has stressed Roman continuity after the fall of the Roman Empire, arguing that the "Germans" are first found in the Carolingian age, when the idea of a pan-Germanic world became possible.
Strange as it may seem to hear it said, there were no Germanic peoples in late antiquity... 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... 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...
-- Walter Goffart
By the early 2000s, Germanic theories opposed by Goffart were increasingly gaining ground among medieval historians, and he published Barbarian Tides (2006) as a partial response. In Barbarian Tides Goffart worries that older trends concerning early "Germans" have strengthened since World War II.
Goffart has two children from his first marriage. He has been married to the medievalist Roberta Frank since 1977.
"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.
"The Industrialist and the Diva: Alexander Smith Cochran, Founder of Yale's Elizabethan Club, and Madame Ganna Walska", Yale 2020.
^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..."