The Goths, 376 – 800 AD
There were actually two types of Goths back in the Roman imperial days: Visigoths and Ostrogoths. As far as archaeology can tell us, neither had a particular penchant for piercing, dark hair, or black clothing. In fact, the Germanic people are typically described as tall, light-skinned, with blonde hair, and blue eyes. But they were an anti-establishment force, ultimately doing more to bring down the Roman empire more than any other Barbarian tribe.
After severe mistreatment from their Roman leaders, the Goths rose up in revolt. They were granted Roman citizenship, as well as the use of their own weaponry and military structures rather than conscription into the Roman legions.
But the peace did not last long: the ruler Honorius later inflicted a catastrophic pogrom on the Goths, who retaliated in force. As Christians, the Visigoths spared many of Rome’s holiest places, but stripped centuries of treasure from the city. News of the sack sent a shockwave around the civilized world.
In the late Middle Ages, “Gothic” came to describe a style of architecture characterized by large, imposing structures. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it evolved to describe a genre of dark literature typified by blood, horror, and gruesome death, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. These literary works later joined other references like Celtic mythology, Paganism, Punk, and New Wave to inform the Goth subculture that emerged in Britain in the 1980s.