Walter Goffart

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Date: June 18, 2010
Document Type: Biography
Length: 883 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1160L

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About this Person
Born: February 22, 1934 in Berlin, Germany
Nationality: American
Occupation: Historian
Other Names: Goffart, Walter Andre; Goffart, Walter A.
Updated:June 18, 2010

Born February 22, 1934, in Berlin, Germany; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1959; son of Francis-Leo (a Belgian diplomat) and Andree Goffart; married Roberta Frank (a university professor), December 31, 1977; children: (first marriage) Vivian, Andrea Judith. Education: Harvard University, A.B. (magna cum laude), 1955, A.M., 1956, Ph.D., 1961; attended Ecole Normale Superieure and Ecole des Hautes Etudes (Paris, France), 1957-58. Memberships: International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, American Historical Association, Medieval Academy of America (councilor, 1977-78; fellow, 1982--), Haskins Society. Addresses: Office: Department of History, Yale University, P.O. Box 208324, New Haven, CT 06520-8324. E-mail:


Historian, educator, and writer. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, lecturer, 1960-63, assistant professor, 1963-66, associate professor, 1966-71, professor of history, 1971- 99, emeritus professor of history, 1999--, coordinator of graduate studies in department of history, 1986-88, Centre for Medieval Studies, academic secretary, 1969-71, 1972-73, acting director, 1971-72; Yale University, senior research scholar and lecturer in history, 2000--. University of California, Berkeley, visiting assistant professor of history, 1965-66; visiting fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies, 1967-68, and Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1973-74; Rockefeller Foundation study center residency, 2001.


American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1973-74; Guggenheim fellow, 1979-80; Connaught research fellow in the humanities, University of Toronto, 1983-84; standard research grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 1990-92; Haskins Medal, Medieval Academy of America, 1991, for The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800).



  • The Le Mans Forgeries: A Chapter from the History of Church Property in the 9th Century, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1966.
  • Caput and Colonate: Towards a History of Late Roman Taxation, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974.
  • (Translator, with Marshall Baldwin) Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1978.
  • Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1980.
  • The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1988.
  • Rome's Fall and After (collected studies), Hambledon Press (Ronceverte, WV), 1990.
  • Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2003.
  • Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Dating of "Beowulf," edited by Colin Chase, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981; and Das Reich und die Barbaren, by E.K. Chrysos and A. Schwartz, Boehlau, 1989. Contributor to professional journals.



Walter Goffart's Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation "is an important discussion of one of the most basic aspects of the transition from late antiquity to the Middle Ages, written by a scholar who has investigated problems of Visigothic, Burgundian, Frankish, and Lombard history since the inception of his academic career," wrote Walter Emil Kaegi, Jr., in American Historical Review. In his book, Goffart investigates the fifth-century Roman institution of hospitalas whereby Goths and Burgundians lodged on Roman soil with governmental and civilian cooperation in exchange for protecting the landowners from peasant uprisings. The author argues that, in this instance, the barbarians were not accorded large percentages of land held by Roman civilians, as is commonly believed, but instead were given tax revenues normally paid to the government on those land portions, rather than having the government pay the mercenaries. Therefore, Goffart claims that this policy of hospitalas was not the origin of later land-sharing arrangements.

E.A. Thompson described the work in the Times Literary Supplement as "stimulating," adding, "It is very detailed. It forces us to look at old problems in a new way, and it has a lot to teach us incidentally. But its main theses are very much open to question." John Beeler commented in Historian that "the evidence, admittedly, is scanty," adding: "But Goffart's arguments are convincing, and while they are certain to provoke controversy, they go far to explain the absence of any popular outcry over the barbarian settlement."

In Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870, Goffart recounts the history of these unique maps created to commemorate or illustrate a particular historical moment or scene. The volume includes copious notes and indexes for maps and atlases and a section on secondary literature related to the author's notes. "'Maps for history' was a confining concept of long standing, and Goffart convinces us that generations of mapmakers, by their artistry, were central participants in the progress of societies, empires, historiography and publishing," wrote Thomas F. McIlwaith in the Canadian Geographer. McIlwaith added: "Geographers will find that this book ... gives them plenty to think about." Geographical Review contributor Henry J. Steward noted: "This is one of those books so often approvingly described as a 'contribution,' a term generally meant to convey some amalgam of intellectual insight and commentary, outstanding scholarly labor, and the filling of a 'gap in the literature.' Walter Goffart's Historical Atlases can make some claim to be deserving of such a title." Richard J.A. Talbert, writing in History Today, referred to Historical Atlases as "remarkable" and noted: "The learning distilled into his chapter endnotes and the concluding hundred-page catalogue of maps and atlases is prodigious." Talbert went on to write: "Goffart's book leaves me with a deeper respect than ever for the herculean collaborative achievement that this historical atlas, and others before it, represent."




  • American Historical Review, April, 1982; October, 1990.
  • Canadian Geographer, summer, 2005, Thomas F. McIlwaith, review of Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870, p. 228.
  • Catholic Historical Review, October, 1990.
  • Geographical Review, January, 2004, Henry J. Steward, review of Historical Atlases, p. 115.
  • Historian, May, 1982, John Beeler, review of Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation.
  • History: Review of New Books, fall, 2003, Jeremy Black, review of Historical Atlases, p. 21.
  • History Today, December, 2003, Richard J.A. Talbert, review of Historical Atlases, p. 58.
  • Speculum, October, 1990.
  • Times Literary Supplement, April 10, 1981; May 5, 1989, p. 492.


  • Yale University Department of History Page, (November 12, 2006), faculty profile of author.*


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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000037440