The ordinary account of the Limigantes is as follows. In A.D. 334--337, the Sarmatians, in alliance with the Vandals under Visumar, provoke the indignation of Constantine by their inroads on the Empire.
He leaves them to the sword of Geberic the Gothic king. Reduced and humbled by him, they resort to the expedient of arming their slaves.
These rebel against their masters, whom they either reduce or expel. Of those that leave their country, some take arms under the Gothic king, others retreat to the parts beyond the Carpathians; a third portion seeks the service of Rome, and is established, to the number of 300,000, in different parts of Pannonia,. Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy (Gibbon, c. xviii. with note).
Zeuss (Die Deutschen, &c., s. v. Sarmatae
) holds that others were transplanted to the Rhine, believing that a passage in Ausonius applies to them. (Ad Mosell
This may or may not be the case.
The more important elements of the account are, that the slaves
who were thus armed and thus rebelled, are called Limigantes
--this being the name they take in Gibbon. Their scene of action was the parts about the present town of Peterwaradein, on the north bank of the Danube, nearly opposite the Servian
frontier, and in the district between the Theiss and the great bend of the Danube. Here lay the tract of the Sarmatae, and Jazyges Metanastae, a tract which never was Roman, a tract which lay as a March or Boundary,
with Pannonia on one side and Dacia on the other, but belonging to neither. Observe the words in Italics.
In his note, Gibbon draws special attention to “the broken and imperfect manner” in which the “Gothic and Sarmatian wars are related.” Should this remark stimulate the inquiries of the historian, he may observe that the name Limigantes is
not found in the authority nearest the time, and of the most importance in the way of evidence, viz. Ammianus Marcellinus. Ammianus speaks only of servi
ad discretionem servornum
rebellium appellati (29.6. 15).”
On the other hand, it is only in a work of such inferior authority (at least, for an event A.D. 337) as the Chronicle of Jerome (Chronicon Hieronymi
) that the name Limigans
is found; the same work stating that the masters were called Arcaragantes.
To say nothing about the extent to which the story has a suspicious similarity to more than one older account of the expulsion of the masters by the slaves of the same sort, the utter absence of either name in any other writer is remarkable. So is their semi-Latin form.
Can the whole account of the slave insurrection be problematical--based upon a confusion of names which will be shown to be highly probable? Let us bear in mind the locality of these Limigantes,
and the language of those parts in contact with it which belonged to Rome.
The locality itself was a Limes
(eminently so), and the contiguous tongue was a Lingua Rustica
in which such a form as Limigantes
would be evolved.
It is believed to be the Latin name of the Sarmatae and Jazyges of what may be called the Daco-Pannonian March.
The account of the Servile War is susceptible of a similar explanation. Ammianus is nearly the last of the authors who uses the name Sarmatae,
which will, ere long, be replaced, to a great extent, by the name Serv
). Early and late, this name has always suggested the idea of the Latin Servus,
--just as its partial equivalent Slav
does of the English Slave.
It is submitted that these Servi
of Ammianus (Limigantes
of the Chronicle) are the Servians
) of the March
), now beginning to be called by the name by which they designated themselves rather than by the name by which they were designated by their neighbours.