The word Gothic can describe an East Germanic tribe, a type of literature, a style of art and architecture or a subculture of young people who wear black.
Historically, the Goths were an East Germanic people who waged war against the Roman Empire and ultimately played a part in causing its downfall. They were fierce fighters, even the women took part. Their enemies considered them barbaric, as enemies are inclined to do, yet they were instrumental in maintaining western civilisation after the Roman Empire had lost power. If they hadn’t done so, Europe would very likely have fallen into brutal barbarianism and wouldn’t have the advanced culture it has today.
Gothic architecture was not invented or even practised by the Goths, but came about many years after the Goth tribes were dispersed. During the Renaissance period, former building features became fashionable again, especially the classical Roman style. When this was superseded by a new Northern French Romantic style, 16thC art critic Giorgio Vasari likened the new move, which replaced his beloved Roman style, to the ‘barbarian Goths’ who had helped to destroy Rome, and labelled it ‘Gothic’ as an insult, but the name stuck. However, many of the most beautiful cathedrals and castles in Europe are built in Gothic style, typically with pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses. Spouts designed to convey water from the roof and away from the side of a building were often made in the form of a gargoyle, or ugly beast which spouted water from its mouth.
This architectural style led to the naming of a new type of story-telling called Gothic literature – a genre of fiction that combines romance and dark elements to produce mystery, suspense, terror, horror and the supernatural. The typical setting of these tales was the dramatic Gothic scenes, such as castle ruins, gloomy churchyards, claustrophobic monasteries, and lonely mountain roads. Typical characters are the courageous victor and the helpless heroine, as well as demons, vampires, ghosts, and monsters. English author Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle Of Otranto was the first Gothic novel.
The goth subculture began in England during the early 1980s in the gothic rock scene. Known as goth after the style of Gothic literature involving vampires and churchyards etc, it also harks back to the Victorian cult of mourning. So, although a line can be traced in name from the Gothic tribes, to the architectural style, to the literary style, to the goth subculture, there’s no real connection between the ancient Germanic people and the modern subculture.