While he also wrote Romana about the history of Rome, his best-known work is his Getica, written in Constantinople 3 about AD 551.4 It is the only extant ancient work dealing with the early history of the Goths.
Jordanes was asked by a friend to write this book as a summary of a multi-volume history of the Goths (now lost) by the statesman Cassiodorus. He was selected for his known interest in history (he was working on Rome's), his ability to write succinctly, and because of his own Gothic background. He had been a high-level notarius, or secretary, of a small client state on the Roman frontier in Moesia, modern northern Bulgaria.5
Other writers, e.g. Procopius, wrote works which are extant on the later history of the Goths. As the only surviving work on Gothic origins, the Getica has been the object of much critical review. Jordanes wrote in Late Latin rather than the classical Ciceronian Latin. According to his own introduction, he had only three days to review what Cassiodorus had written, meaning that he must also have relied on his own knowledge. Some of his statements are laconic.
- The Sciri, moreover, and the Sadagarii and certain of the Alani with their leader, Candac by name, received Scythia Minor and Lower Moesia. Paria, the father of my father Alanoviiamuth (that is to say, my grandfather), was secretary to this Candac as long as he lived. To his sister's son Gunthigis, also called Baza, the Master of the Soldiery, who was the son of Andag the son of Andela, who was descended from the stock of the Amali, I also, Jordanes, although an unlearned man before my conversion, was secretary.
Already in the Mommsen text edition of 1882 it was suggested that the very long name of Jordanes' father should be split into two parts: Alanovii Amuthis, both genitive forms. Jordanes' father's name would then be Amuth. The preceding word should then belong to Candac, signifying that he was an Alan. Mommsen, however, dismissed suggestions to emend a corrupt text.8
Paria was Jordanes' paternal grandfather. Jordanes writes that he was secretary to Candac, dux Alanorum, an otherwise unknown leader of the Alans.
This was ante conversionem meam ("before my conversion"). The nature and details of the conversion remain obscure. The Goths had been converted with the assistance of Ulfilas (a Goth), made bishop on that account. However, the Goths had adopted Arianism. Jordanes' conversion may have been a conversion to the trinitarian Nicene creed, which may be expressed in anti-Arianism in certain passages in Getica.9 In the letter to Vigilius he mentions that he was awakened vestris interrogationibus - "by your questioning".
Alternatively, Jordanes' conversio may mean that he had become a monk, or a religiosus, or a member of the clergy. Some manuscripts say that he was a bishop, some even say bishop of Ravenna, but the name Jordanes is not known in the lists of bishops of Ravenna.
Jordanes wrote his Romana at the behest of a certain Vigilius. Although some scholars have identified this person with pope Vigilius, there is nothing else to support the identification besides the name. The form of address that Jordanes uses and his admonition that Vigilius "turn to God" would seem to rule out this identification.810
In the preface to his Getica, Jordanes writes that he is interrupting his work on the Romana at the behest of a brother Castalius, who apparently knew that Jordanes had had the twelve volumes of the History of the Goths by Cassiodorus at home. Castalius would like a short book about the subject, and Jordanes obliges with an excerpt based on memory, possibly supplemented with other material he had access to. The Getica sets off with a geography/ethnography of the North, especially of Scandza (16-24). He lets the history of the Goths commence with the emigration of Berig with three ships from Scandza to Gothiscandza (25, 94), in a distant past. In the pen of Jordanes, Herodotus' Getian demi-god Zalmoxis becomes a king of the Goths (39). Jordanes tells how the Goths sacked "Troy and Ilium" just after they had recovered somewhat from the war with Agamemnon (108). They are also said to have encountered the Egyptian pharaoh Vesosis (47). The less fictional part of Jordanes' work begins when the Goths encounter Roman military forces in the third century AD. The work concludes with the defeat of the Goths by the Byzantine general Belisarius. Jordanes concludes the work by stating that he writes to honour those who were victorious over the Goths after a history of 2030 years.
- According to Schanz-Hosius (Geschichte der Römischen Literatur, 4, vol. 2 (1920), p. 115, 118) the best MSS of his work present his name as Jordanes, as does the 'Geographus Ravennas'. Jordanis is a 'vulgar' form that is also used, while Jornandes only appears in lesser MSS. The form Jornandes, however, was often used in older publications.
- "If Jordanes was a bishop (as is frequently assumed) and if he lived in Italy (also frequently assumed), those elements of his background have left no trace in his two histories" (Brian Croke (1987), "Cassiodorus and the Getica of Jordanes", Classical Philology 82: 119 (117–134).
- "Constantinople is "our city" (Getica 38).
- He mentions the great plague of 542 as having occurred "nine years ago" (Getica 104). Still, there are some modern scholars who opt for a later date, see Peter Heather, Goths and Romans 332-489, Oxford 1991, pp. 47-49 (year 552), Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History, Princeton 1988, p. 98 (year 554).
- Croke 1987.
- Jordanes, Mierow, ed., Getica 266
- Jordanes, De origine actibusque Getarum L
- Arne Søby Christensen (2002), Cassiodorus, Jordanes, and the History of the Goths. Studies in a Migration Myth, ISBN 978-87-7289-710-3
- Getica 132, 133, 138, noted by Croke 1987:125
- James J. O'Donnell (1982), "The Aims of Jordanes", Historia 31: 223–240dead link
- Mierow, Charles Christopher, The Gothic History of Jordanes: In English with an Introduction and a Commentary, 1915. Reprinted 2006. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-77-0. 
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Jordanis (Jornandes)". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- (Italian) Carlo Troya (1842). Storia d'Italia del medio-evo. Tip. del Tasso stamp. reale. pp. 1331–. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
- Kulikowski, Michael, Rome’s Gothic Wars, p. 130.
- Arne Søby Christensen, Cassiodorus, Jordanes, and the History of the Goths. Studies in a Migration Myth, 2002, ISBN 978-87-7289-710-3
- Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, translated by Charles C. Mierow. alternative.
- Works by Jordanes at Project Gutenberg
- James J. O'Donell (1982), "The Aims of Jordanes", Historia 31: 223–240dead link
- The Origins and Deeds of the Goths