The Germanic peoples (Latin: Germani) were a historical group of people living in Central Europe and Scandinavia. Since the 19th century, they have been traditionally defined by the use of ancient and early medieval Germanic languages and are thus also called Germanic-speaking peoples, although different academic disciplines have their own definitions of what makes someone or something "Germanic". The Romans, in contrast, used a roughly geographical definition and named the area in which Germanic peoples lived Germania, stretching West to East between the Vistula and Rhine rivers and north to south from Southern Scandinavia to the upper Danube. The very concept of "Germanic peoples" has become the subject of controversy among modern scholars, with some calling for its total abandonment.
The earliest material culture that may be confidently ascribed to Germanic-speaking peoples is the Iron Age Jastorf Culture (6th to 1st centuries BCE), located in what is now Denmark and northern Germany; during this period metallurgy technology expanded in several directions. The term "Germanic" originated among Roman authors as a term for tribes near the Rhine and further east, at the time when the Roman Empire established its dominance in that region. The term came to refer to the peoples of the Roman frontier along the Rhine and upper Danube, and beyond, who established close relations with the Romans. They served as royal tutors and mercenaries, sometimes even rising to the highest ranks in the Roman military. A Roman attempt to conquer a large part of Germania ended in failure after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. They served as royal tutors and rose to the highest ranks in the Roman military. In the 3rd century the Germanic-speaking Goths dominated the Pontic Steppe, outside Germania, and launched a series of sea expeditions into the Balkans and Anatolia as far as Cyprus. In the late 4th century CE, often termed the Migration period, many Germanic peoples entered the Roman Empire, where they eventually established their own independent kingdoms.
Archaeological sources suggest that Roman-era sources are not entirely accurate in their depiction of the Germanic way of life, which they portray as more primitive and simpler than it was. Archaeology instead shows a complex society and economy throughout Germania. Germanic-speaking peoples originally shared a common religion, Germanic paganism, which varied widely throughout the territory occupied by Germanic-speaking peoples. Over the course of Late Antiquity, most continental Germanic peoples and the Anglo-Saxons of Britain converted to Christianity, with the Saxons and Scandinavians only converting much later. Traditionally, the Germanic peoples have been seen as possessing a law dominated by the concepts of feuding and blood compensation. The precise details, nature, and origin of what is still normally called "Germanic law" are now controversial. Roman sources say that the Germanic peoples made decisions in a popular assembly (the thing), but also had kings and war-leaders. The ancient Germanic-speaking peoples probably shared a common poetic tradition, alliterative verse, and later Germanic peoples also shared legends originating in the Migration Period.
The publishing of Tacitus's Germania by humanists in the 1400s greatly influenced the emergent idea of "Germanic peoples". Later, scholars of the Romantic period such as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm developed several theories about the nature of the Germanic peoples that were highly influenced by romantic nationalism. For such scholars, the "Germanic" and modern "German" were identical. Ideas about the early Germans were also highly influential among—and influenced and co-opted by—the Nazis, leading in the second half of the 20th century to a backlash against many aspects of earlier scholarship.
The etymology of the Latin word "Germani", from which Latin Germania and English "Germanic" are derived, is unknown, although several different proposals have been made for the origin of the name. Even the language from which it derives is a subject of dispute.[a]
Modern definitions and controversies
The modern definition of Germanic peoples developed in the 19th century, first as a term used to denote the Germanic languages, but then as a term used also in historiography and archaeology. Unlike the Roman definition, which seems to have included some Celtic speaking-people, this definition set as its main criterion the use of a Germanic language, and understood the Germani as a people or nation (Volk) that had a stable group identity. Indications that some groups identified as Germani by Roman authors spoke Celtic languages were taken to exclude them from this ethnic unit. Since that time, individual scholarly disciplines have developed their own definitions of "Germanic", although the term originates in linguistics. Germanic peoples as "speakers of a Germanic language" are sometimes referred to as "Germanic-speaking peoples".
The use of the terms "Germanic" and "Germanic peoples/Germani" has become controversial in modern scholarship. Recent work in archaeology and historiography has questioned the fundamental categories behind this definition, namely the existence of stable "peoples/nations" (Völker) as an important element of history and the connection of archaeological assemblages to ethnicity. This has resulted in different disciplines developing different definitions of "Germanic". Some scholars studying the Early Middle Ages now stress the question of whether the Germanic peoples saw themselves as an ethnic unity, while others point to the existence of Germanic languages as a historical fact that can be used to identify Germanic peoples, regardless of whether they saw themselves as "Germanic".
Reacting to these debates, the editors of Germanische Altertumskunde Online stated in 2013 that the term "Germanic" "remains important for linguistics, but is no longer useful for archaeology or history." Historians of the Toronto school such Walter Goffart and Alexander Callander Murray have argued that there is no indication of any Germanic identity in late antiquity, and that most ideas about Germanic culture are taken from far later epochs and projected backwards to antiquity. For such reasons, Goffart argues that the term Germanic should be avoided entirely in favor of "barbarian" except in the linguistic sense, and historians such as Walter Pohl have also called for the term to be avoided or used with careful explanation.
Some archaeologists have argued in favor of retaining the term "Germanic" due to its broad recognizability. Heiko Steuer has chosen to define his own work on the Germani geographically (covering Germania) rather than ethnically. He nevertheless argues for some sense of shared identity between the Germani, noting that:
- the Germani spoke closely related dialects or languages, and thus could easily communicate with one another;
- they shared a Runic script;
- they shared similar burial practices;
- written sources indicate frequent cooperation between different Germanic peoples;
- archaeology shows a spread of jewelry and ceramics among the Germanic peoples;
- the Germanic peoples appear to have shared artistic forms;
- from the 4th century onward, Germanic peoples produced gold bracteates on the model of imperial Roman medallions;
- even later, gold sheet figures and gullgubber show a spread from northern Norway to the south of the Baltic Sea;
- individual "Germanics" could have developed a common sense of identity when confronted with Rome and with the similarities in their own cultures that lasted until the Viking Age;
- the Romans referred to "Germanics" in their service as Germani and that they could have taken this idea back to their homelands.
Nelson Goering has argued on the basis of the spread of Germanic alliterative verse and Germanic heroic legend that we should find a "middle ground between, on the one hand, the assumption of a clear and distinct Germanic 'national' identity [...] and on the other a perhaps overly strong rejection of any possible validity of the term 'Germanic' when applied to poetic and legendary traditions." Similarly, Erin Sebo has defended the qualified use of Tacitus's notion of Germanic values in the Germania when discussing the ethics of characters in poems such as Beowulf, provided that it is not reduced to a stereotype that ignores all difference.
Around 55 BCE, the first author to describe the Germani as a large category of peoples distinct from the Gauls was Julius Caesar, writing during his governorship of Gaul. Importantly for all future conceptions of what the denomination Germanic means, Caesar broadened the application of this name so that it included not only the Germani near the Rhine, who had been known to the Gauls and Romans for longer under this name, but also with new threats in his time such as the Suebi and Marcomanni, and also generalized it back to peoples who had long been known to the Romans, most notably the Cimbri and Teutones.
The clearest defining factor from Caesar's perspective was that the Germani lived east of the Rhine, opposite Gaul, although in historical digressions he noted Gauls living east of the Rhine, and Germani west of the Rhine. Caesar, Tacitus and other classical writers in the period thus connected the term "Germanic" in a broad way to geography, and did not assert that there was any single language or culture. They did note differences of culture which distinguished the peoples east and west of the Rhine, but modern historians note that many of these were known tropes and can be interpreted as politically motivated attempts to depict the region as uncivilized and threatening, explaining past defeats, and requiring Rome to remain militarily assertive and vigilant in Gaul.
The writers who continued the tradition of Caesar's geographical definition, such as Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, and the geographer Ptolemy (2nd century AD) described the eastern boundary of Germania as stretching to the Vistula river, and part of the southern boundary was the Upper Danube. The boundary between the Upper Danube and Vistula, in the region of the Western Carpathians was left unclearly defined. (According to Tacitus the Germanic peoples were separated from the Dacians and Sarmatians by "mountain ranges, or the fear which each feels for the other".) Tacitus, like Pliny, also noted that more apparent Germanic peoples, such as the Bastarnae, who in his time spoke a language like those in Germania, lived further east, outside Germania. He noted that it was not always clear how to categorize specific peoples in that region. Also within Germania, these authors explicitly included information about what they knew of Jutland (which was referred to as the Cimbrian peninsula) and the supposed island of Scandia which is known understood to be the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula.
Early "Gaulish" Germanic peoples
Before Caesar, the term "Germanic" originally applied only to a smaller group of culturally Celtic peoples who lived along the western side of the Rhine, and who were related to their neighbours east of the Rhine. These various peoples apparently adapted culturally and linguistically into the Roman and Germanic-speaking cultures, during the first centuries of the Roman empire. In contrast to classical and modern writers who associated the term "Germanic" with a large region, for many classical writers, especially those writing in Greek such as Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and Cassius Dio, the Rhine region continued to be the area most associated with the concept of "Germanic peoples", and they were still seen as a type of Celt. By the time of late antiquity, only peoples near the Rhine, especially the Franks, and sometimes the Alemanni, were named as Germani by Latin or Greek writers.
In a much-discussed passage, Tacitus (about 56 – 120 CE) explained in the late 1st century AD that the use of the term Germani to refer to the peoples east of the Rhine was a new invention. It had not been the name of a distinct people (gens) but had been originally the name of "the first tribal group (natio) to cross the Rhine and expel the Gauls". Tacitus believed that the name had been used to instil fear, and that it had then become popular among a wider range of peoples. By his time, these original Germani were called the Tungri instead.[b]
Before Tacitus, Posidonius (about 135 – 51 BCE) and Caesar also described these original Germanic peoples. In a surviving fragment of Posidonius's work he describes these fierce northern Gauls as people who "eat vast amounts of meat, and drink milk and unmixed wine at breakfast".[c] Despite being seen by modern historians as the inventor of the broad geographical definition of Germani, Caesar had also mentioned these "Germani from this side of the Rhine", or Germani Cisrenani, and named some of their tribes as the Paemani, Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Segni. In different passages he called these peoples Gauls, specifically Belgae, but he explicitly emphasized that they were related to their neighbours east of the Rhine, such as the Sicambri and Ubii, and descended from immigrants into Gaul.
On both sides of the Rhine, all the linguistic and archaeological evidence from this period of early Roman contact implies that these Germani were Gaulish, using a Celtic language and an array of technologies known to archaeologists as the La Tène material culture. All the names of the Germani Cisrhenani tribes can be interpreted as Celtic, and some of them have been found to have no credible etymology in other language sub-families. The names of the Eburonian leaders, Catuvolcus and Ambiorix, are also certainly of Celtic origin. According to Günter Neumann, it is possible that their old Germanic endonym came to be abandoned after a tribal reorganization, that they received their names from their Celtic neighbours, or else that they were fully or partially assimilated into Celtic culture at the time of the Roman coming.
Caesar did not describe these tribes as recent immigrants, saying that they had defended themselves some generations earlier from the invading Cimbri and Teutones. He thereby distinguished them from the neighbouring Aduatuci, whom he did not call Germani, but who were said to be descended from those Cimbri and Teutones. It has been claimed by some scholars, including Maurits Gysseling, that the place names of this region show evidence of a presence of Germanic languages as early as the 2nd century BCE.
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One proposed theory for the divisions of the Germanic peoples and their approximate distribution in northern Europe around 1 CE:
By the 1st century CE, the writings of Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus reported a division of Germanic peoples into large groupings. Tacitus, in his Germania, specifically stated that one such division mentioned "in old songs" (carminibus antiquis) derived three such groups (genera) from three sons of Mannus, who was son of an earth-born god called Tuisto. (Inspired by this, these three groups are also sometimes used in older modern linguistic terminology, attempting to describe the divisions of later Germanic languages.) Pliny the Elder, believed to be one of the main sources of Tacitus, named two more races of Germani in his Historia Naturalis, with the same basic three groups as Tacitus, plus two more eastern blocks of Germans, the Vandals, and further east the Bastarnae.
- Ingvaeones or Ingævones, nearest to the Ocean according to Tacitus, and including the Cimbri, Teutoni, and Chauci according to Pliny.
- Herminones or Hermiones in the interior, included the Suevi, the Hermunduri, the Chatti, the Cherusci according to Pliny. They had been mentioned in one earlier source, Pomponius Mela, in his slightly earlier source, but in a different more remote location: "the farthest people of Germania, the Hermiones" somewhere to the east of the Cimbri and the Teutones, apparently on the Baltic.
- Istvaeones, the remainder, "join up to the Rhine" according to Pliny, and included the Cimbri - which appears to be an error because they were already listed as Ingvaeones.
- The Vandili, mentioned only by Pliny in this list, are believed to be predecessors of the later Vandals, and their group included the Burgundiones, the Varini, Carini, and Gutones. (The Varini were listed by Tacitus as being Suebic, and the Gutones are described by him as a remote Germanic group.)
- The Peucini, who are also the Basternæ, adjoining the Daci.
On the other hand, Tacitus wrote in the same passage that some believe that there are other groups which are just as old as these three, including "the Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilii". Of these, Tacitus discussed only the Suebi in detail, specifying that they were a very large grouping covering the greater part of Germania, but they were not a single people (gens) but rather many tribes (nationes) with their own names. The largest, he said, was the Semnones near the Elbe, who "claim that they are the oldest and the noblest of the Suebi."
Strabo, who focused mainly on Germani between the Elbe and Rhine, and does not mention the sons of Mannus, also set apart the names of Germani who are not Suevian, in two other groups, similarly implying three main divisions: "smaller German tribes, as the Cherusci, Chatti, Gamabrivi, Chattuarii, and next the ocean the Sicambri, Chaubi, Bructeri, Cimbri, Cauci, Caulci, Campsiani".
These accounts and others from the period emphasize that the Suebi formed an especially large and powerful group. Tacitus speaks also of a geographical "Suebia" with two halves either side of the Sudetes.
All Germanic languages derive from the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), which is generally estimated to have been spoken between 4500 and 2500 BCE. The ancestor of Germanic languages is referred to as Proto- or Common Germanic, and likely represented a group of mutually intelligible dialects. They share distinctive characteristics which set them apart from other Indo-European sub-families of languages, such as Grimm's and Verner's law, the conservation of the PIE ablaut system in the Germanic verb system (notably in strong verbs), or the merger of the vowels a and o qualities (ə, a, o > a; ā, ō > ō). During the Pre-Germanic linguistic period (2500–500 BCE), the proto-language has almost certainly been influenced by linguistic substrates still noticeable in the Germanic phonology and lexicon.[d] Shared grammatical innovations suggest also very early contacts between Germanic and the Indo-European Baltic languages. The leading theory, suggested by archaeological and genetic evidence, postulates a diffusion of Indo-European languages from the Pontic–Caspian steppe towards Northern Europe during the third millennium BCE, via linguistic contacts and migrations from the Corded Ware culture towards modern-day Denmark, resulting in cultural mixing with the indigenous Funnelbeaker culture.[e]
Between around 500 BCE and the beginning of the Common Era, archeological and linguistic evidence suggest that the Urheimat ('original homeland') of the Proto-Germanic language, the ancestral idiom of all attested Germanic dialects, was primarily situated in the southern Jutland peninsula, from which Proto-Germanic speakers migrated towards bordering parts of Germany and along the sea-shores of the Baltic and the North Sea, an area corresponding to the extent of the late Jastorf culture.[f] One piece of evidence is the presence of early Germanic loanwords in the Finnic and Sámi languages (e.g. Finnic kuningas, from Proto-Germanic *kuningaz 'king'; rengas, from *hringaz 'ring'; etc.), with the older loan layers possibly dating back to an earlier period of intense contacts between pre-Germanic and Finno-Permic (i.e. Finno-Samic) speakers. Additionally, there is also a great deal of influence in vocabulary from the Celtic languages, but most of this appears to be much later, with most loanwords occurring either before or during Grimm's law. Germanic also shows some similarities in vocabulary to the Italic languages, which are often shared with Celtic. An archeological continuity can also be demonstrated between the Jastof culture and populations defined as Germanic by Roman sources.
Although Proto-Germanic is reconstructed dialect-free via the comparative method, it is almost certain that it never was a uniform proto-language. The late Jastorf culture occupied so much territory that is it unlikely that Germanic populations spoke a single dialect, and traces of early linguistic varieties have been highlighted by scholars. Sister dialects of Proto-Germanic itself certainly existed, as evidenced by the absence of Grimm's law in some "Para-Germanic" recorded proper names, and the reconstructed Proto-Germanic language was only one among several dialects spoken at that time by peoples identified as "Germanic" by Roman sources or archeological data. Although Roman sources name various Germanic tribes such as Suebi, Alemanni, Bauivari, etc., it is unlikely that the members of these tribes all spoke the same dialect.
Definite and comprehensive evidence of Germanic lexical units only occurred after Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the 1st century BCE, after which contacts with Proto-Germanic speakers began to intensify. The Alcis, a pair of brother gods worshipped by the Nahanarvali, are given by Tacitus as a Latinized form of *alhiz (a kind of 'stag'), and the word sapo ('hair dye') is certainly borrowed from Proto-Germanic *saipwōn- (English soap), as evidenced by the parallel Finnish loanword saipio. The name of the framea, described by Tacitus as a short spear carried by Germanic warriors, most likely derives from the compound *fram-ij-an- ('forward-going one'), as suggested by comparable semantical structures found in early runes (e.g., raun-ij-az 'tester', on a lancehead) and linguistic cognates attested in the later Old Norse, Old Saxon and Old High German languages: fremja, fremmian and fremmen all meant 'to carry out'.
Although it has been noted that they bear a more formal resemblance to North Italic alphabets (especially the Camunic alphabet; 1st mill. BCE) than to Latin letters, the origin of the Germanic runes remains controversial. They are not attested before the beginning of the Common Era in southern Scandinavia, and the connection between the two alphabets is therefore uncertain. In the absence of earlier evidence, it must be assumed that Proto-Germanic speakers living in Germania were members of preliterate societies. The only pre-Roman inscriptions that could be interpreted as Proto-Germanic, written in the Etruscan alphabet, has not been found in Germania but rather in the Venetic region. The inscription harikastiteiva\\\ip, engraved on the Negau helmet in the 3rd–2nd centuries BCE, possibly by a Germanic-speaking warrior involved in combat in northern Italy, has been interpreted by some scholars as Harigasti Teiwǣ (*harja-gastiz 'army-guest' + *teiwaz 'god, deity'), which could be an invocation to a war-god or a mark of ownership engraved by its possessor. The inscription Fariarix (*farjōn- 'ferry' + *rīk- 'ruler') carved on tetradrachms found in Bratislava (mid-1st c. BCE) may indicate the Germanic name of a Celtic ruler.
The earliest attested runic inscriptions (Vimose comb, Øvre Stabu spearhead), initially concentrated in modern Denmark and written with the Elder Futhark system, are dated to the second half of the 2nd century CE. Their language, named Primitive Norse, Proto-Norse, or similar terms, and still very close to Proto-Germanic, has been interpreted as a northern variant of the Northwest Germanic dialects and the ancestor of the Old Norse language of the Viking Age (8th–11th c. CE). Based upon its dialect-free character and shared features with West Germanic languages, some scholars have contended that it served as a kind of koiné language in (parts of) the Northwest Germanic area. However, the merging of unstressed Proto-Germanic vowels, attested in runic inscriptions from the 4th and 5th centuries CE, also suggests that Primitive Norse could not have been a direct predecessor of West Germanic dialects.
Longer texts in Germanic languages post-date the Proto-Germanic period. They begin with the Gothic Bible, written in the Gothic alphabet in the 6th century, and then with texts in the Latin alphabet beginning in the 8th century in modern England and shortly thereafter in modern Germany.
By the time Germanic speakers entered written history, their linguistic territory had stretched farther south, since a Germanic dialect continuum (where neighbouring language varieties diverged only slightly between each other, but remote dialects were not necessarily mutually intelligible due to accumulated differences over the distance) covered a region roughly located between the Rhine, the Vistula, the Danube, and southern Scandinavia during the first two centuries of the Common Era. East Germanic speakers dwelled on the Baltic sea coasts and islands, while speakers of the Northwestern dialects occupied territories in present-day Denmark and bordering parts of Germany at the earliest date when they can be identified.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, migrations of East Germanic gentes from the Baltic Sea coast southeastwards into the hinterland led to their separation from the dialect continuum. By the late 3rd century CE, linguistic divergences like the West Germanic loss of the final consonant -z had already occurred within the "residual" Northwest dialect continuum. The latter definitely ended after the 5th- and 6th-century migrations of Angles, Jutes and part of the Saxon tribes towards modern-day England. In view of the later linguistic situation of modern-day Denmark, populated by North Germanic-speakers, it is assumed that the original dialects of Jutland were assimilated by speakers of a more northerly dialect (Danes) after the Anglo-Saxon migrations, breaking the continuum between Scandinavia and the more southerly Germanic-speaking regions; however, this cannot be shown in the archaeological or historical record.
Although they have certainly influenced academic views on ancient Germanic languages up until the 20th century, the traditional groupings given by contemporary authors like Pliny and Tacitus are no longer regarded as reliable by modern linguists, who base their reasoning on the attested sound changes and shared mutations which occurred in geographically distant groups of dialects. The Germanic languages are traditionally divided between East, North and West Germanic branches. The modern prevailing view is that North and West Germanic were also encompassed in a larger subgroup called Northwest Germanic.
- Northwest Germanic: mainly characterized by the i-umlaut, and the shift of the long vowel *ē towards a long *ā in accented syllables; it remained a dialect continuum following the migration of East Germanic speakers in the 2nd–3rd century CE;
- North Germanic or Primitive Norse: initially characterized by the monophthongization of the sound ai to ā (attested from ca. 400 BCE); a uniform northern dialect or koiné attested in runic inscriptions from the 2nd century CE onward, it remained practically unchanged until a transitional period that started in the late 5th century; and Old Norse, a language attested by runic inscriptions written in the Younger Fuþark from the beginning of the Viking Age (8th–9th centuries CE);
- West Germanic: including Old Saxon (attested from the 5th c. CE), Old English (late 5th c.), Old Frisian (6th c.), Frankish (6th c.), Old High German (6th c.), and possibly Langobardic (6th c.), which is only scarcely attested; they are mainly characterized by the loss of the final consonant -z (attested from the late 3rd century), and by the j-consonant gemination (attested from ca. 400 BCE); early inscriptions from the West Germanic areas found on altars where votive offerings were made to the Matronae Vacallinehae (Matrons of Vacallina) in the Rhineland dated to ca. 160−260 CE; West Germanic remained a "residual" dialect continuum until the Anglo-Saxon migrations in the 5th–6th centuries CE;
- East Germanic, of which only Gothic is attested by both runic inscriptions (from the 3rd c. CE) and textual evidence (principally Wulfila's Bible; ca. 350−380). It became extinct after the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom in the early 8th century. The inclusion of the Burgundian and Vandalic languages within the East Germanic group, while plausible, is still uncertain due to their scarce attestation. The latest attested East Germanic language, Crimean Gothic, has been partially recorded in the 16th century.
Further internal classifications are still debated among scholars, as it is unclear whether the internal features shared by several branches are due to early common innovations or to the later diffusion of local dialectal innovations.[g] The West Germanic group remains somewhat problematic linguistically, and appears more diverse in the early period than North or East Germanic. Seebold Elmar proposes the existence of an English, Frisian, and Continental group within West Germanic. According to Ludwig Rübekeil, however, if Old English and Old Frisian certainly share distinctive characteristics such as the Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law, attested by the 6th century in inscriptions on both sides of the North Sea, and the use of the fuþorc system with additional runes to convey innovative and shared sound changes, it is unclear whether those common features are really inherited or have rather emerged by connections over the North Sea.
The linguist Friedrich Maurer rejected the traditional three-way division of the Germanic languages by breaking up West Germanic and proposed a five-way division, partially following then current archaeological finds, and partially following divisions among the ancient Germanic peoples found in Tacitus. Thus Maurer proposed the existence of Rhine-Weser Germanic (Tacitus's Istvaeones), North Sea Germanic (Tacitus's Ingvaeones), Elbe Germanic (Tacitus's Irminones), Oder-Vistula Germanic (East Germanic), and North Germanic. Although influential, Maurer's thesis failed to replace the older model. Aside from "North Sea Germanic", Maurer's groups within West Germanic ("Rhine-Weser" "Elbe Germanic") do not hold up to linguistic scrutiny.
The pre-Roman Iron Age Jastorf culture (sixth to first centuries BCE),which was located on the North German Plain and in Jutland is associated with Germanic-speaking peoples. Assuming that the Jastorf Culture is the origin of the Germanic peoples, then the Scandinavian peninsula would have become Germanic either via migration or assimilation over the course of the same period. The neighboring Przeworsk culture in modern Poland is also taken to be Germanic, while the la Tene culture, found in southern Germany and the modern Czech Republic, is taken to be Celtic. The identification of the Jastorf culture with the Germani has been criticized by Sebastian Brather, who notes that it seems to be missing areas such as southern Scandinavia and the Rhine-Weser area, which linguists argue to have been Germanic, while also not according with the Roman era definition of Germani, which included Celtic-speaking peoples further south and west.
For latter periods, archaeologists, following a terminology developed by the philologist and linguist Friedrich Maurer, divide the Germanic area roughly following Tacitus's divisions of the Germanic peoples, into Rhine-Weser Germanic, North Sea Germanic, Elbe Germanic, and East Germanic. This division does not, however, accurately represent the archaeology of the Germanic area. The distributions of distinct material cultures discovered by archaeologists working in Germania do not correspond to the locations of Germanic tribes as given by Tacitus. New archaeological finds have tended to show that the boundaries between these groups were very permeable, and scholars now assume that migration and the collapse and formation of cultural units were constant occurrences within Germania.
According to Heiko Steuer, archaeology shows that, contrary to the assertion of Roman authors, only about 30% of Central Europe was covered with thick forest in Antiquity, about the same percentage as today. Villages were not distant from each other but often within sight, revealing a fairly high population density. Germanic wooden construction was not "primitive", but rather adapted to the local conditions. Although Roman authors claimed that the Germani had no fortresses or temple structures, archaeology has revealed the existence of both. Archaeology also shows that from at least the turn of the 3rd century CE larger regional settlements existed that were not purely involved in an agrarian economy, and that the main settlements of the Germani were connected by paved roads. The entirety of Germania was within a system of long-distance trade. Nor was the Germanic economy too primitive to be worth conquering by the Romans; every village seems to have had its own production of iron, which was even exported to Rome, as well as frequently of salt and lead. Steuer argues that Rome failed to conquer Germania after Tiberius not because of the uselessness of such a conquest, but rather because the population was too large and could assemble too many warriors, either as opponents or as foreign auxiliaries for the Roman army.
The Germanic cultural area appears to have become established in the first millenium BCE with the archaeological Jastorf culture and the Germanic consonantal shift. Generally, scholars agree that it's possible to speak of Germanic-speaking peoples after 500 BCE, although the first attestation of the name "Germani" is not until much later.
Possible earliest contacts with the classical world (4th–3rd centuries BCE)
Before Julius Caesar, Romans and Greeks had very little contact with northern Europe itself. Pytheas, who travelled to Northern Europe some time in the late 4th century BCE, was one of the few sources of information for later historians.[h] The Romans and Greeks however had contact with northerners who came south, but for the cultured Greco-Romans, these "barbarians" were conceived in archetypal terms; they were poor, brutish, uncivilized, ignorant of higher civilization, albeit physically hardened by their rugged lives.
The Bastarnae or Peucini are mentioned in historical sources going back as far as the 3rd century BCE through the 4th century CE. These Bastarnae were described by Greek and Roman authors as living in the territory east of the Carpathian Mountains, and north of the Danube's delta at the Black Sea. They were variously described as Celtic or Scythian, but much later Tacitus, in disagreement with Livy, said they were similar to the Germani in language. According to some authors then, the Bastarnae and Scirii were the first Germani to reach the Greco-Roman world and the Black Sea area.
In 201–202 BCE, the Macedonians, under the leadership of King Philip V, conscripted the Bastarnae as soldiers to fight against the Roman Republic in the Second Macedonian War. They remained a presence in that area until late in the Roman Empire. The Peucini were a part of this people who lived on Peuce Island, at the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea. King Perseus enlisted the service of the Bastarnae in 171–168 BCE to fight the Third Macedonian War. By 29 BCE, they had been subdued by the Romans and those that remained presumably merged into various groups of Goths into the 2nd century CE.
Another eastern people known from about 200 BCE, and sometimes believed to be Germanic-speaking, are the Scirii (Greek: Skiroi), because they appear in the text of a decree of Olbia, a city on the Black Sea, which records the names of the barbarians who threatened the city, including the Galatians, Sciri, and Scythians (Galatai, Skiroi, and Skythia), among others. There is a theory that the name of the Scirii, perhaps meaning pure, was intended to contrast with the Bastarnae, perhaps meaning mixed, or "bastards". Much later, Pliny the Elder placed them to the north near the Vistula together with an otherwise unknown people called the Hirrii. The Hirrii are sometimes equated with the Harii mentioned by Tacitus in this region, whom he considered to be Germanic Lugians. These names have also been compared to that of the Heruli, another eastern Germanic people.
Cimbrian War (2nd century BCE)
Late in the 2nd century BCE, Roman and Greek sources recount the migrations of the far northern "Gauls", the Cimbri, Teutones and Ambrones. Caesar later classified them as Germanic. They first appeared in eastern Europe where some researchers propose they may have been in contact with the Bastarnae and Scordisci. In 113 BCE, they defeated the Boii at the Battle of Noreia in Noricum.
The movements of these groups through parts of Gaul, Italy and Hispania resulted in the Cimbrian War, led primarily by its Consul, Gaius Marius.
In Gaul, a combined force of Cimbri and Teutoni and others defeated the Romans in the Battle of Burdigala (107 BCE) at Bordeaux, in the Battle of Arausio (105) at Orange in France, and in the Battle of Tridentum (102) at Trento in Italy. Their further incursions into Roman Italy were repelled by the Romans at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) in 102 BCE, and the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BCE (in Vercelli in Piedmont).
One classical source, Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, mentions the northern Gauls somewhat later, associating them with eastern Europe, saying that both the Bastarae and the Cimbri were allies of Mithridates VI.
Julius Caesar (1st century BCE)
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Caesar campaigned in Gaul (what is now France) from 58 to 50 BCE, in the period of the late Roman Republic. He recorded his exploits during this campaign in a way which introduced the term "Germanic" to refer to peoples such as the Cimbri and Suevi.
- 63 BCE Ariovistus, described by Caesar as Germanic, led mixed forces over the Rhine into Gaul as an ally of the Sequani and Averni in their battle against the Aedui, who they defeated at the Battle of Magetobriga. He stayed there on the west of the Rhine. He was also accepted as an ally by the Roman senate.
- 58 BCE. Caesar, as governor of Gaul, took the side of the Aedui against Ariovistus and his allies. He reported that Ariovistus had already settled 120,000 of his people, was demanding land for 24,000 Harudes who subsequently defeated the Aedui, and had 100 clans of Suevi coming into Gaul. Caesar defeated Ariovistus at the Battle of Vosges (58 BC).
- Caesar listed those peoples who fought for Ariovistus as the Harudes, Marcomanni, Tribocci, Vangiones, Nemetes, Eudosi, and Suebi.[i]
- 55-53 BCE. Controversially, Caesar moved his attention to Northern Gaul. In 55 BCE he made a show of strength on the Lower Rhine, crossing it with a quickly made bridge, and then massacring a large migrating group of Tencteri and Usipetes who crossed the Rhine from the east. In the winter of 54/53 the Eburones, the largest group of Germani cisrhenani, revolted against the Romans and then dispersed into forests and swamps.
- Caesar listed some Germani cisrhenani peoples: the Eburones, Condrusi, Caeraesi, Paemani and Segni. He believed they were related to peoples on the east bank such as the Sigambri and Ubii. He further believed the Suevi were pressing such groups over the Rhine from further east.
Still in the 1st century BCE the term Germani was used by Strabo (see above) and Cicero in ways clearly influenced by Caesar. Of the peoples encountered by Caesar, the Tribocci, Vangiones, Nemetes and Ubii were all to be found later, on the east of the Rhine, along the new frontier of the Roman empire.
Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE – 68 CE) and the Year of Four Emperors (69 CE)
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Roman sculpture of a young man sometimes identified as Arminius
During the reign of Augustus from 27 BCE until 14 CE, the Roman empire became established in Gaul, with the Rhine as a border. This empire made costly campaigns to pacify and control the large region between the Rhine and Elbe. In the reign of his successor Tiberius it became state policy to set the border at the Rhine, and expand the empire no further in that direction. The Julio-Claudian dynasty, the extended family of Augustus, paid close personal attention to management of this Germanic frontier, establishing a tradition followed by many future emperors. Major campaigns were led from the Rhine personally by Nero Claudius Drusus, step-son of Augustus, then by his brother the future emperor Tiberius; next by the son of Drusus, Germanicus (father of the future emperor Caligula and grandfather of Nero).
In 38 BCE, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, consul of Transalpine Gaul, became the second Roman to lead forces over the Rhine. In 31 BCE Gaius Carrinas repulsed an attack by Suevi from east of the Rhine. In 25 BCE Marcus Vinicius took vengeance on some Germani in Germania, who had killed Roman traders. In 17/16 BCE at the Battle of Bibracte the Sugambri, Usipetes, and Tencteri crossed the Rhine and defeated the 5th legion under Marcus Lollius, capturing the legion's eagle.
From 13 BCE until 17 CE there were major Roman campaigns across the Rhine nearly every year, often led by members of the family of Augustus. First came the pacification of the Usipetes, Sicambri, and Frisians near the Rhine, then attacks increased further from the Rhine, on the Chauci, Cherusci, Chatti and Suevi (including the Marcomanni). These campaigns eventually reached and even crossed the Elbe, and in 5 CE Tiberius was able to show strength by having a Roman fleet enter the Elbe and meet the legions in the heart of Germania. However, within this period two Germanic kings formed large anti-Roman alliances. Both of them had spent some of their youth in Rome:
- After 9 BCE, Maroboduus of the Marcomanni had led his people away from the Roman activities into the Bohemian area, which was defended by forests and mountains, and formed alliances with other peoples. Tacitus referred to him as king of the Suevians. In 6 CE Rome planned an attack but forces were needed for the Illyrian revolt in the Balkans, until 9 CE, at which time another problem arose in the north...
- In 9 CE, Arminius of the Cherusci, initially an ally of Rome, drew the a large unsuspecting Roman force into a trap in northern Germany, and defeated Publius Quinctilius Varus at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Tiberius and Germanicus spent the next few years recovering their dominance of northern Germany. They made Maroboduus an ally, and he did not assist Arminius.
- 17-18 CE, war broke out between Arminius and Maroboduus, with indecisive results.
- 19 CE, Maroboduus was deposed by a rival claimant, perhaps supported by the Romans, and fled to Italy. He died in 37 CE. Germanicus also died, in Antioch.
- 21 CE. Arminius died, murdered by opponents within his own group.
Strabo, writing in this period in Greek, mentioned that apart from the area near the Rhine itself, the areas to the east were now inhabited by the Suevi, "who are also named Germans, but are superior both in power and number to the others, whom they drove out, and who have now taken refuge on this side the Rhine". Various peoples had fallen "prey to the flames of war".
The Julio-Claudian dynasty also recruited northern Germanic warriors, particularly men of the Batavi, as personal bodyguards to the Roman emperor, forming the so-called Numerus Batavorum. After the end of the dynasty, in 69 AD, the Batavian bodyguard were dissolved by Galba in 68 because of its loyalty to the old dynasty. The decision caused deep offense to the Batavi, and contributed to the outbreak of the Revolt of the Batavi in the following year which united Germani and Gauls, all connected to Rome but living both within the empire and outside it, over the Rhine. Their indirect successors were the Equites singulares Augusti which were, likewise, mainly recruited from the Germani. They were apparently so similar to the Julio-Claudians' earlier German Bodyguard that they were given the same nickname, the "Batavi". Gaius Julius Civilis, a Roman military officer of Batavian origin, orchestrated the Revolt. The revolt lasted nearly a year and was ultimately unsuccessful.
Flavian and Antonine dynasties (70–192 CE)
The Emperor Domitian of the Flavian dynasty faced attacks from the Chatti in Germania superior, with its capital at Mainz, a large group which had not been in the alliance of Arminius or Maroboduus. The Romans claimed victory by 84 CE, and Domitian also improved the frontier defenses of Roman Germania, consolidating control of the Agri Decumates, and converting Germania Inferior and Germania Superior into normal Roman provinces. In 89 CE the Chatti were allies of Lucius Antonius Saturninus in his failed revolt. Domitian, and his eventual successor Trajan, also faced increasing concerns about an alliance on the Danube of the Suevian Marcomanni and Quadi, with the neighbouring Sarmatian Iazyges; it was in this area that dramatic events unfolded over the next few generations. Trajan himself expanded the empire in this region, taking over Dacia. Between 162 and 163, the Chatti once again attacked the Roman provinces of Raetia (with its capital at Augsburg) and Germania Superior.
Up until their confrontation, the Marcomanni and Quadi lived in amicitia (friendship/alliance) with the Empire. However, Emperor Domitian attacked them as punishment for not aiding him against the Dacians. Then, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a dispute arose between Rome and the Quadi concerning the installation of a new king and by 166, the tensions became a conflict when a group of allied Langobardi and Orbii invaded Pannonia. Thus began the Marcomannic Wars, which were prosecuted by Aurelius; a series of conflicts with a related chronology that is "difficult to reconstruct" according to historian Walter Pohl, even when one takes into consideration the treasures found, the related legends, inscriptions, and the reliefs of the Marcus Column. By 168 (during the Antonine plague), barbarian hosts consisting of Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatian Iazyges, attacked and pushed their way to Italy. They advanced as far as Upper Italy, destroyed Opitergium/Oderzo and besieged Aquileia. Eventually, the Roman armies were able to push the barbarians back, but it was not until 178/179 that the Emperor succeeded in forcing the Marcomanni and Quadi north of the Danube and got the situation under control.
By 180 CE, the Marcommanic Wars were finally brought to a conclusion. Dio Cassius called it the war against the Germani, noting that Germani was the term used for people who dwell up in those parts (in the north).[j] A large number of peoples from north of the Danube were involved, not all Germanic-speaking, and there is much speculation about what events or plans led to this situation. Many scholars believe causative pressure was being created by aggressive movements of peoples further north, for example with the apparent expansion of the Wielbark culture of the Vistula, probably representing Gothic peoples who may have pressured Vandal peoples towards the Danube.
Other peoples, perhaps not all of them Germanic, were involved in various actions—these included the Costoboci, the Hasdingi and Lacringi Vandals, the Varisci (or Naristi) and the Cotini (who Tacitus claimed spoke Gallic, which "proves that they are not Germans"), and possibly also the Buri.
After these Marcomannic wars, the Middle Danube began to change, and in the next century the peoples living there generally tended to be referred to as Gothic by the Romans, rather than Germanic, at least for those living north of the Black Sea.
New names on the frontiers (170–370)
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By the early 3rd century AD, large new groupings of Germanic people appeared near the Roman frontier, though they were not strongly unified. The first of these conglomerations mentioned in the historical sources were the Alamanni (a term meaning "all men") who appear in Roman texts sometime in the 3rd century CE. These are believed to have been a mixture of mainly Suevian peoples, who coalesced in the Agri Decumates. Emperor Severus Alexander was killed by his own soldiers in 235 CE for paying for peace with the Alamanni, following which the anti-aristocratic general Maximinus Thrax was elected to be emperor by the Pannonian army. According to the notoriously unreliable Augustan History (Historia Augusta), he was born in Thrace or Moesia to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother,
Secondly, soon after the appearance of the Alamanni on the Upper Rhine, the Franks began to be mentioned as occupying the land at the bend of the lower Rhine. In this case, the collective name was new, but the original peoples who composed the group were largely local, and their old names were still mentioned occasionally. The Franks were still sometimes called Germani as well.
Thirdly, the Goths and other "Gothic peoples" from the area of today's Poland and Ukraine, many of whom were Germanic-speaking peoples, began to appear in records of this period.
- In 238, Goths crossed the Danube and invaded Histria. The Romans made an agreement with them, giving them payment and receiving prisoners in exchange. The Dacian Carpi, who had been paid off by the Romans before then, complained to the Romans that they were more powerful than the Goths.
- After his victory in 244, Persian ruler Shapur I recorded his defeat of the Germanic and Gothic soldiers who were fighting for emperor Gordian III. Possibly this recruitment resulted from the agreements made after Histria.
- After attacks by the Carpi into imperial territory in 246 and 248, Philip the Arab defeated them and then cut off payments to the Goths. In 250 CE a Gothic king Cniva led Goths with Bastarnae, Carpi, Vandals, and Taifali into the empire, laying siege to Philippopolis. He followed his victory there with another on the marshy terrain at Abrittus, a battle which cost the life of Roman emperor Decius.
- In 253/254, further attacks occurred reaching Thessalonica and possibly Thrace.
- In approximately 255-257 there were several raids from the Black sea coast by "Scythian" peoples, apparently first led by the Boranes, who were probably a Sarmatian people. These were followed by bigger raids led by the Herules in 267/268, and a mixed group of Goths and Herules in 269/270.
In 260 CE, as the Roman Imperial Crisis of the Third Century reached its climax, Postumus, a Germanic soldier in Roman service, established the Gallic Empire, which claimed suzerainty over Germania, Gaul, Hispania and Britannia. Postumus was eventually assassinated by his own followers, after which the Gallic Empire quickly disintegrated. The traditional types of border battles with Germani, Sarmatians and Goths continued on the Rhine and Danube frontiers after this.
- In the 270s the emperor Probus fought several Germanic peoples who breached territory on both the Rhine and the Danube, and tried to maintain Roman control over the Agri Decumates. He fought not only the Franks and Alamanni, but also Vandal and Burgundian groups now apparently near the Danube.
- In the 280s, Carus fought Quadi and Sarmatians.
- In 291, the 11th panegyric praising emperor Maximian was given in Trier; this marked the first time the Gepids, Tervingi and Taifali were mentioned. The passage described a battle outside the empire where the Gepids were fighting on the side of the Vandals, who had been attacked by Taifali and a "part" of the Goths. The other part of the Goths had defeated the Burgundians who were supported by Tervingi and Alemanni.
In the 350s Julian campaigned against the Alamanni and Franks on the Rhine. One result was that Julian accepted that the Salian Franks could live within the empire, north of Tongeren.
By 369, the Romans appear to have ceded their large province of Dacia to the Tervingi, Taifals and Victohali.
Migration Period (ca. 375–568)
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Since its very beginning, the Roman empire had proactively kept the northern peoples and the potential danger they represented under control, just as Caesar had proposed. However, the ability to handle the barbarians in the old way broke down in the late 4th century and the western part of the empire itself broke down. In addition to the Franks on the Rhine frontier, and Suevian peoples such as the Alamanni, a sudden movement of eastern Germanic-speaking "Gothic peoples" now played an increasing role both inside and outside imperial territory.
Gothic entry into the empire
The Gothic wars of the late 4th century saw a rapid series of major events: the entry of a large number of Goths in 376; the defeat of a major Roman army and killing of emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianopolis in 378; and a subsequent major settlement treaty for the Goths which seems to have allowed them significant concessions compared to traditional treaties with barbarian peoples. While the eastern empire eventually recovered, the subsequent long-reigning western emperor Honorius (reigned 393–423) was unable to impose imperial authority over much of the empire for most of his reign. In contrast to the eastern empire, in the west the "attempts of its ruling class to use the Roman-barbarian kings to preserve the res publica failed".
The Gothic wars were affected indirectly by the arrival of the nomadic Huns from Central Asia in the Ukrainian region. Some Gothic peoples, such as the Gepids and the Greuthungi (sometimes seen as predecessors of the later Ostrogoths), joined the newly forming Hunnish faction, and played a prominent role in the Hunnic Empire, where Gothic became a lingua franca. Based on the description of Socrates Scholasticus, Guy Halsall has argued that the Hunnish hegemony developed after a major campaign by Valens against the Goths, which had caused great damage, but failed to achieve a decisive victory. Peter Heather has argued that Socrates should be rejected on this point, as inconsistent with the testimony of Ammianus.
The Gothic Thervingi, under the leadership of Athanaric, had in any case borne the impact of the campaign of Valens, and were also losers against the Huns, but clients of Rome. A new faction under leadership of Fritigern, a Christian, were given asylum inside the Roman Empire in 376 CE. They crossed the Danube and became foederati. With the emperor occupied in the Middle East, the Tervingi were treated badly and becoming desperate; significant numbers of mounted Greuthungi, Alans and others were able to cross the river and support a Tervingian uprising leading to the massive Roman defeat at Adrianople.
Around 382, the Romans and the Goths now within the empire came to agreements about the terms under which the Goths should live. There is debate over the exact nature of such agreements, and for example whether they allowed the continuous semi-independent existence of pre-existing peoples; however the Goths do appear to have been allowed more privileges than in traditional settlements with such outside groups. One result of the comprehensive settlement was that the imperial army now had a larger number of Goths, including Gothic generals.
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By 383 a new emperor, Theodosius I, was seen as victorious over the Goths and having brought the situation back under control. Goths were a prominent but resented part of the eastern military. The Greutungi and Alans had been settled in Pannonia by the western co-emperor Gratian (assassinated in 383) who was himself a Pannonian. Theodosius died 395, and was succeeded by his sons: Arcadius in the east, and Honorius, who was still a minor, in the west. The Western empire had however become destabilized since 383, with several young emperors including Gratian having previously been murdered. Court factions and military leaders in the east and west attempted to control the situation.
Alaric was a Roman military commander of Gothic background, who first appears in the record in the time of Theodosius. After the death of Theodosius, he became one of the various Roman competitors for influence and power in the difficult situation. The forces he led were described as mixed barbarian forces, and clearly included many other people of Gothic background, a phenomenon which had become common in the Balkans. In an important turning point for Roman history, during the factional turmoil, his army came to act increasingly as an independent political entity within the Roman empire, and at some point he came to be referred to as their king, probably around 401 CE, when he lost his official Roman title. This is the origin of the Visigoths, whom the empire later allowed to settle in what is now southwestern France. While military units had often had their own ethnic history and symbolism, this is the first time that such a group established a new kingdom. There is disagreement about whether Alaric or his family had a royal background, but there is no doubt that this kingdom was a new entity, very different from any previous Gothic kingdoms.
Invasions of 401–411
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In the aftermath of the large-scale Gothic entries into the empire, the Germanic Rhine peoples, the Franks and Alemanni, became more secure in their positions in 395, when Stilicho made agreements with them; these treaties allowed him to withdraw the imperial forces from the Rhine frontier in order to use them in his conflicts with Alaric and the Eastern empire.
The reasons that these invasions apparently all dispersed from the same area, the Middle Danube, are uncertain. It is most often argued that the Huns must have already started moving west, and consequently pressuring the Middle Danube. Peter Heather for example writes that around 400, "a highly explosive situation was building up in the Middle Danube, as Goths, Vandals, Alans and other refugees from the Huns moved west of the Carpathians" into the area of modern Hungary on the Roman frontier.
Whatever the chain of events, the Middle Danube later became the centre of Attila's loose empire containing many East Germanic people from the east, who remained there after the death of Attila. The makeup of peoples in that area, previously the home of the Germanic Marcomanni, Quadi and non-Germanic Iazyges, changed completely in ways which had a significant impact on the Roman empire and its European neighbours. Thereafter, though the new peoples ruling this area still included Germanic-speakers, as discussed above, they were not described by Romans as Germani, but rather "Gothic peoples".
- In 401, Claudian mentions a Roman victory over a large force including Vandals, in the province of Raëtia. It is possible that this group was involved in the later crossing of the Rhine.
- In 405–406, Radagaisus, who was probably Gothic, entered the empire on the Middle Danube with a very large force of unclearly defined, but apparently Gothic, composition, and invaded Italy. He was captured and killed in 406 near Florence and 12000 of his men recruited into Roman forces.
- A more successful invasion, apparently also originating from the Middle Danube, reached the Rhine a few months later. As described by Halsall: "On 31 December 405 a huge body from the interior of Germania crossed the Rhine: Siling and Hasding Vandals, Sueves and Alans. [...] The Franks in the area fought back furiously and even killed the Vandal king. Significantly no source mentions any defense by Roman troops." The composition of this group of barbarians, who were not all Germanic-speaking, indicates that they had traveled from the area north of the Middle Danube. (The Suevians involved may well have included remnants of the once powerful Marcomanni and Quadi.) The non-Germanic Alans were the largest group, and one part of them under King Goar settled with Roman acquiescence in Gaul, while the rest of these peoples entered Roman Iberia in 409 and established kingdoms there, with some travelling further to establish the Vandal kingdom of North Africa.
- In 411 a Burgundian group established themselves in northern Germania Superior on the Rhine, between Frankish and Alamanni groups, holding the cities of Worms, Speyer, and Strassburg. They and a group of Alans helped establish yet another short-lived claimant to the throne, Jovinus, who was eventually defeated by the Visigoths cooperating with Honorius.
Motivated by the ensuing chaos in Gaul, in 406 the Roman army in Britain elected Constantine "III" as emperor and they took control there.
In 408, the eastern emperor Arcadius died, leaving a child as successor, and the west Roman military leader Stilicho was killed. Alaric, wanting a formal Roman command but unable to negotiate one, invaded Rome itself, twice, in 401 and 408.
Constantius III, who became Magister militum by 411, restored order step-by-step, eventually allowing the Visigoths to settle within the empire in southwest Gaul. He also committed to retaking control of Iberia, from the Rhine-crossing groups. When Constantius died in 421, having been co-emperor himself for one year, Honorius was the only emperor in the West. However, Honorius died in 423 without an heir. After this, the Western Roman empire steadily lost control of its provinces.
From Western Roman Empire to medieval kingdoms (420–568)
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Coin of Odoacer
, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a "barbarian" moustache
Germanic kingdoms in 526 CE
2nd century to 6th century simplified migrations
The Western Roman Empire declined gradually in the 5th and 6th centuries, and the eastern emperors had only limited control over events in Italy and the western empire. Germanic speakers, who by now dominated the Roman military in Europe, and lived both inside and outside the empire, played many roles in this complex dynamic. Notably, as the old territory of the western empire came to be ruled on a regional basis, the barbarian military forces, ruled now by kings, took over administration with differing levels of success. With some exceptions, such as the Alans and Bretons, most of these new political entities identified themselves with a Germanic-speaking heritage.
In the 420s, Flavius Aëtius was a general who successfully used Hunnish forces on several occasions, fighting Roman factions and various barbarians including Goths and Franks. In 429 he was elevated to the rank of magister militum in the western empire, which eventually allowed him to gain control of much of its policy by 433. One of his first conflicts was with Boniface, a rebellious governor of the province of Africa in modern Tunisia and Libya. Both sides sought an alliance with the Vandals based in southern Spain who had acquired a fleet there. In this context, the Vandal and Alan kingdom of North Africa and the western Mediterranean would come into being.
- In 433 Aëtius was in exile and spent time in the Hunnish domain.
- In 434, the Vandals were granted the control of some parts of northwest Africa, but Aëtius defeated Boniface using Hunnish forces.
- In 436 Aëtius defeated the Burgundians on the Rhine with the help of Hunnish forces.
- In 439 the Vandals and their allies captured Carthage. The Romans made a new agreement recognizing the Visigothic kingdom.
- In 440, the Hunnish "empire" as it could now be called, under Attila and his brother Bleda began a series of attacks over the Danube into the eastern empire, and the Danubian part of the western empire. They received enormous payments from the eastern empire and then focused their attentions to the west, where they were already familiar with the situation, and in friendly contact with the African Vandals.
- In 442 Aëtius seems to have granted the Alans who had remained in Gaul a kingdom, apparently including Orléans, possibly to counter local independent Roman groups (so called Bagaudae, who also competed for power in Iberia).
- In 443 Aëtius settled the Burgundians from the Rhine deeper in the empire, in Savoy in Gaul.
- In 451, the large mixed force of Attila crossed the Rhine but was defeated by Aetius with forces from the settled barbarians in Gaul: Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians and Alans.
- In 452 Attila attacked Italy, but had to retreat to the Middle Danube because of an outbreak of disease.
- In 453, Aëtius and Attila both died.
- In 454, the Hunnish alliance divided and the Huns fought the Battle of Nedao against their former Germanic vassals. The names of the peoples who had made up the empire appear in records again. Several of them were allowed to become federates of the eastern empire in the Balkans, and others created kingdoms in the Middle Danube.
In the subsequent decades, the Franks and Alamanni tended to remain in small kingdoms but these began to extend deeper into the empire. In northern Gaul, a Roman military "King of Franks" also seems to have existed, Childeric I, whose successor Clovis I established dominance of the smaller kingdoms of the Franks and Alamanni, whom they defeated at the Battle of Zülpich in 496.
Compared to Gaul, what happened in Roman Britain, which was similarly both isolated from Italy and heavily Romanized, is less clearly recorded. However the result was similar, with a Germanic-speaking military class, the Anglo-Saxons, taking over administration of what remained of Roman society, and conflict between an unknown number of regional powers. While major parts of Gaul and Britain redefined themselves ethnically on the basis of their new rulers, as Francia and England, in England the main population also became Germanic-speaking. The exact reasons for the difference are uncertain, but significant levels of migration played a role.
In 476 Odoacer, a Roman soldier who came from the peoples of the Middle Danube in the aftermath of the Battle of Nedao, became King of Italy, removing the last of the western emperors from power. He was murdered and replaced in 493 by Theoderic the Great, described as King of the Ostrogoths, one of the most powerful Middle Danube peoples of the old Hun alliance. Theoderic had been raised up and supported by the eastern emperors, and his administration continued a sophisticated Roman administration, in cooperation with the traditional Roman senatorial class. Similarly, culturally Roman lifestyles continued in North Africa under the Vandals, in Savoy under the Burgundians, and within the Visigothic realm.
The Ostrogothic kingdom ended in 542 when the eastern emperor Justinian made a last great effort to reconquer the Western Mediterranean. The conflicts destroyed the Italian senatorial class, and the eastern empire was also unable to hold Italy for long. In 568 the Lombard king Alboin, a Suevian people who had entered the Middle Danubian region from the north conquering and partly absorbing the frontier peoples there, entered Italy and created the Italian Kingdom of the Lombards there. These Lombards now included Suevi, Heruli, Gepids, Bavarians, Bulgars, Avars, Saxons, Goths, and Thuringians. As Peter Heather has written these "peoples" were no longer peoples in any traditional sense.
Older accounts which describe a long period of massive movements of peoples and military invasions are oversimplified, and describe only specific incidents. According to Herwig Wolfram, the Germanic peoples did not and could not "conquer the more advanced Roman world" nor were they able to "restore it as a political and economic entity"; instead, he asserts that the empire's "universalism" was replaced by "tribal particularism" which gave way to "regional patriotism". The Germanic peoples who overran the Western Roman Empire probably numbered less than 100,000 people per group, including approximately 15,000-20,000 warriors. They constituted a tiny minority of the population in the lands over which they seized control.
Apart from the common history many of them had in the Roman military, and on Roman frontiers, a new and longer-term unifying factor for the new kingdoms was that by 500, the start of the Middle Ages, most of the old Western empire had converted to the same Rome-centred Catholic form of Christianity. A key turning point was the conversion of Clovis I in 508. Before this point, many of the Germanic kingdoms, such as those of the Goths and Burgundians, now adhered to Arian Christianity, a form of Christianity which they perhaps took up in the time of the Arian emperor Valens, but which was now considered a heresy.
Early Middle Ages
The transition of the Migration period to the Middle Ages proper took place over the course of the second half of the 1st millennium. It was marked by the Christianization of the Germanic peoples and the formation of stable kingdoms replacing the mostly tribal structures of the Migration period. Some of this stability is discernible in the fact that the Pope recognized Theodoric's reign when the Germanic conqueror entered Rome in CE 500, despite that Theodoric was a known practitioner of Arianism, a faith which the First Council of Nicaea condemned in CE 325. Theodoric's Germanic subjects and administrators from the Roman Catholic Church cooperated in serving him, helping establish a codified system of laws and ordinances which facilitated the integration of the Gothic peoples into a burgeoning empire, solidifying their place as they appropriated a Roman identity of sorts. The foundations laid by the Empire enabled the successor Germanic kingdoms to maintain a familiar structure and their success can be seen as part of the lasting triumph of Rome.
Anglo-Saxon and British kingdoms c. 800
In continental Europe, this Germanic evolution saw the rise of Francia in the Merovingian period under the rule of Clovis I who had deposed the last emperor of Gaul, eclipsing lesser kingdoms such as Alemannia. The Merovingians controlled most of Gaul under Clovis, who, through conversion to Christianity, allied himself with the Gallo-Romans. While the Merovingians were checked by the armies of the Ostrogoth Theodoric, they remained the most powerful kingdom in Western Europe and the intermixing of their people with the Romans through marriage rendered the Frankish people less a Germanic tribe and more a "European people" in a manner of speaking. Most of Gaul was under Merovingian control as was part of Italy and their overlordship extended into Germany where they reigned over the Thuringians, Alamans, and Bavarians. Evidence also exists that they may have even had suzerainty over south-east England. Frankish historian Gregory of Tours relates that Clovis converted to Christianity partly as a result of his wife's urging and even more so due to having won a desperate battle after calling out to Christ. According to Gregory, this conversion was sincere but it also proved politically expedient as Clovis used his new faith as a means to consolidate his political power by Christianizing his army.[k] Against Germanic tradition, each of the four sons of Clovis attempted to secure power in different cities but their inability to prove themselves on the battlefield and intrigue against one another led the Visigoths back to electing their leadership.
When Merovingian rule eventually weakened, they were supplanted by another powerful Frankish family, the Carolingians, a dynastic order which produced Charles Martel, and Charlemagne. The coronation of Charlemagne as emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day, CE 800 represented a shift in the power structure from the south to the north. Frankish power ultimately laid the foundations for the modern nations of Germany and France. For historians, Charlemagne's appearance in the historical chronicle of Europe also marks a transition where the voice of the north appears in its own vernacular thanks to the spread of Christianity, after which the northerners began writing in Latin, Germanic, and Celtic; whereas before, the Germanic people were only known through Roman or Greek sources.
In England, the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tribes reigned over the south of Great Britain from approximately 519 to the 10th century until the Wessex hegemony became the nucleus for the unification of England.
Scandinavia was in the Vendel period and eventually entered the Viking Age, with expansion to Britain, Ireland and Iceland in the west and as far as Russia and Greece in the east. Swedish Vikings, known locally as the Rus', had ventured deep into Russia, where they founded the state of Kievan Rus'. In cooperation with Crimean Goths, the Rus' destroyed the Khazar Khaganate and became the dominant power in Eastern Europe. They were eventually assimilated by the local East Slavic population. By CE 900 the Vikings secured for themselves a foothold on Frankish soil along the Lower Seine River valley in what is now France that became known as Normandy. Hence they became the Normans. They established the Duchy of Normandy, a territorial acquisition which provided them the opportunity to expand beyond Normandy into Anglo-Saxon England. The subsequent Norman Conquest which followed in CE 1066 wrought immense changes to life in England as their new Scandinavian masters altered their government, lordship, public holdings, culture and DNA pool permanently.
The various Germanic tribal cultures began their transformation into the larger nations of later history, English, Norse and German, and in the case of Burgundy, Lombardy and Normandy blending into a Romano-Germanic culture. Many of these later nation states started originally as "client buffer states" for the Roman Empire so as to protect it from its enemies further away. Eventually they carved out their own unique historical paths.
Germanic paganism refers to the traditional, culturally significant religion of the Germanic-speaking peoples. It did not form a uniform religious system across Germanic-speaking Europe, but varied from place to place, people to people, and time to time. In many contact areas (e.g. Rhineland and eastern and northern Scandinavia), it was similar to neighboring religions such as those of the Slavs, Celts, or Finnic peoples. The term is sometimes applied as early as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, or the earlier Iron Age, but is more generally restricted to the time period after the Germanic languages had become distinct from other Indo-European languages. From the first reports in Roman sources to the final conversion to Christianity, Germanic paganism thus covers a period of around one thousand years.
Early forms of Germanic religion are known exclusively from archaeological remains and can therefore only be interpreted on the basis of comparative studies with other religions or through the evaluation of Scandinavian literature, who, as the last converts among the practitioners of Germanic religion, maintained a written account of their religion into the Middle Ages. In addition to the rich archaeological finds, like the evidence of a widespread veneration of a fire god, there is also linguistic evidence attesting to Germanic religious practices. Description of the oldest forms of the Germanic religion are based on uncertain reconstructions, which in turn are based on comparisons with other material.[l] Archaeological findings suggest that the Germanic peoples practiced some of the same 'spiritual' rituals as the Celts, including sacrifice, divination, and the belief in a spiritual connection with the natural environment around them.
Roman sources on Germanic religion begin with Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. A later and much more detailed description of the Germanic religion was written by Tacitus around 100 AD. His ethnographic descriptions in Germania remain highly valued. According to this, the Germanic peoples sacrificed both humans and other animals to their gods, which he identified with Hercules and Mars. He also tells that the largest group, the Suebi, also sacrificed Roman prisoners of war to a goddess whom he identified with Isis. Another deity, whom he calls Nerthus, was cultivated as a goddess by a number of groups in the northwestern region.According to Tacitus, the Germans perceived temple buildings as inappropriate homes for the gods, nor did they depict them in human form, in the same way that the Romans did. Instead, they cultivated them in sacred forests or groves. Tacitus' reliability as a source can be characterized by his rhetorical tendencies, since one of the purposes of Germania was to present his own compatriots with an example of the virtues he believed they were missing.
The Scandinavian religion in the early Middle Ages is far better documented than the former Germanic religions, thanks especially to the texts written down in Iceland between 1150 and 1400.
Conversion to Christianity
Germanic peoples began entering the Roman Empire in large numbers at the same time that Christianity was spreading there. The connection of Christianity to the Roman Empire was both a factor in encouraging conversion as well as, at times, a motive for persecuting Christians, such as by the Visigothic king Athanaric in 363-372. The East Germanic peoples, the Langobards, and the Suebi in Spain converted to Arian Christianity, a form of Christianity that rejected the divinity of Christ. The first Germanic people to convert to Arianism were the Visigoths, at the latest in 376 when they entered the Roman Empire. This followed a longer period of missionary work by both Orthodox Christians and Arians, such as the Arian Wulfila, who was made missionary bishop of the Goths in 341 and translated the Bible into Gothic. The Vandals appear to have converted following their entry into the Empire in 405; for other east Germanic peoples it is possible that Visigothic missionaries played a role in their conversion, although this is unclear. Each Germanic people in the Arian faith had their own ecclesiastical organization that was controlled by the king, while the liturgy was performed in the Germanic vernacular and a vernacular bible (probably Wulfila's) was used. The Arian Germanic peoples all eventually converted to Nicene Christianity, which had become the dominant form of Christianity within the Roman Empire; the last to convert were the Visigoths in Spain under their king Reccared in 587.
There is little evidence for any Roman missionary activity in Germania prior to the conversion of the Franks. The areas of the Roman Empire conquered by the Franks, Alemanni, and Baiuvarii were mostly Christian already, and while some bishoprics continued to operate, others were abandoned, showing a reduction in the influence of Christianity in these areas. In 496, the Frankish king Clovis I converted to Nicene Christianity. This began a period of missionizing within Frankish territory and the reestablishment of church provinces that had been abandoned within former Roman territory. The Anglo-Saxons gradually converted following a mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 595. In the 7th century, the Hiberno-Scottish mission resulted in the establishment of many monasteries in Frankish territory. At the same time, Frankish-supported missionary activity spread across the Rhine, led by figures of the Anglo-Saxon mission such as Saint Boniface. This affected peoples such as the Thuringians, Alemanni, Bavarians, Frisians, and Saxons. The Saxons rejected Christianization, likely in part because doing so would have involved giving up their independence and becoming part of the Frankish realm. They were eventually forcibly converted by Charlemagne as a result of their conquest in the Saxon Wars in 776/777: Charlemagne thereby combined religious conversion with political loyalty to his empire. Continued resistance to conversion seems to have played a role in Saxon rebellions in 782-785, 792-804 and the Stellinga rebellion (844).
Attempts to Christianize Scandinavia were first systematically undertaken by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious. In 831, he made the missionary Ansgar archbishop of the newly created Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen to undertake a mission to Scandinavia, which, however, mostly failed. Missionary activity resumed under the Ottonian dynasty. The Danish king Harald Bluetooth was baptized in the late 900s, but most Danes appear to have remained pagan and converted later under English influence during the reign of Canute the Great. Norway was converted mostly by the activity of its kings. Despite resistance such as the rule of the pagan Haakon Sigurdsson, Christianization was largely achieved by Olaf II (died 1030), who had converted in England. The settlement of Iceland included some Christians, but full conversion there did not occur until a decision of the Allthing in 1000. The last Germanic people to convert were the Swedes, although the Geats had converted earlier. The pagan Temple at Uppsala seems to have continued to exist into the early 1100s.
Society and culture
Germanic bracteate from Funen, Denmark
Until the middle of the 20th century, the majority of scholars assumed the existence of a distinct Germanic legal culture and law. This law was seen as an essential element in the formation of modern European law and identity, alongside the Roman law and Canon Law. This law was reconstructed on the basis of antique (Caesar and Tacitus), early medieval (mainly the so-called Leges Barbarorum, laws written by various continental Germanic peoples from the 5th to 8th centuries), and late medieval sources (mostly Scandinavian). It pictured a society ruled by assemblies of free farmers (the things), policing themselves in clan groups (sibbs), engaging in the blood feud outside of clan groups, which could be ended by the payment of compensation (wergild). This legal system also excluded certain criminals by outlawry, and had a form of sacral kingship; retinues formed around the kings bound by oaths of loyalty.
Early ideas about Germanic law have come under intense scholarly scrutiny since the 1950s, and specific aspects of it such as the legal importance of sibb, retinues, and loyalty, and the concept of outlawry can no longer be justified. Besides the assumption a common Germanic legal tradition and the use of sources of different types from different places and time periods, there are no native sources for early Germanic law. Caesar and Tacitus do mention some aspects of Germanic legal culture that reappear in later sources, however these are not objective reports of facts and there are no other antique sources to corroborate whether these are common Germanic institutions. Reinhard Wenskus has shown that one important "Germanic" element, the use of popular assemblies, displays marked similarities to developments among the Gauls and Romans, and was therefore likely the result of external influence rather than specifically Germanic. Even the Leges Barbarorum all having been written under Roman and Christian influence and often with the help of Roman jurists. Additionally, the Leges contain large amounts of "Vulgar Latin law", an unofficial legal system that functioned in the Roman provinces, so that it is difficult to determine whether commonalities between them derive from a common Germanic legal conception or not.
Although Germanic law never appears to have been a competing system to Roman law, it is possible that Germanic "modes of thought" (Denkformen) still existed, with important elements being an emphasis on orality, gesture, formulaic language, legal symbolism, and ritual. Gerhard Dilcher defends the notion of Germanic law by noting that the Germanic peoples clearly had law-like rules that they, under the influence of Rome, began to write down and used to define aspects of their identity. The process was nevertheless the result of a cultural synthesis. Daniela Fruscione similarly argues that early medieval law shows many features that might be called "new archaic", and can conveniently be called Germanic, even though other peoples may have contributed aspects of them. Some aspects of the "Leges", such as the use of vernacular words, may reveal aspects of originally Germanic, or at least non-Roman, law. Legal historian Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand writes that this vernacular, often in the form of Latinized words, belongs to "the oldest layers of a Germanic legal language" and shows some similarities to Gothic.
The Leges Barbarorum do not contain any requirement for monogamy. Women had fewer rights in a marriage than men, and while women had to keep sexual fidelity to their spouses, the same was not true for men. The precise rights that a man might have over his wife varied by legal code.
Until the latter 20th century, legal historians, using the Leges and later Norse narrative and legal sources, divided Germanic marriages into three types:
- Muntehe, characterized by a marriage treaty, the granting of a bride gift or morning gift to the bride, and the acquisition of munt (Latin: mundium, "protection", originally "hand"), or legal power, of the husband over the wife;
- Friedelehe, (from Old High German: friudila, Old Norse: friðla, frilla "beloved"), a form of marriage lacking a bride or morning gift and in which the husband did not have munt over his wife (this remained with her family);
- Kebsehe (concubinage), the marriage of a free man to an unfree woman.
According to this theory, in the course of the early Middle Ages, the Friedelehe, Kebsehe, and polygamy were abolished in favor of the Muntehe through the attacks of the Church.
Most modern scholarship no longer posits a common Germanic marriage practice, with none of the three forms of marriage posited by older scholarship appearing as such in medieval sources. Work in the 1990s and 2000s has rejected the notion of Friedelehe as a construct for which no evidence is found in the sources, while Kebsehe has been explained as not being a form of marriage at all.
Poetry and literature
Originally, the Germanic-speaking peoples shared a metrical and poetic form, alliterative verse, which is attested in very similar forms in Old Saxon, Old High German and Old English, and in a modified form in Old Norse. Alliterative verse is not attested in Gothic, and Rafael Pascual has suggested that it may not have been metrically possible in that language, in which case alliterative verse would be a wholly North-West Germanic phenomenon. Nelson Goering, however, has argued that alliterative verse is in fact linguistically possible as early as Proto-Germanic, and therefore it is possible if not provable that it existed in Gothic as well. The poetic forms diverge among the different languages from the 9th century onward. Thus, the Old High German line shows a higher number of unstressed syllables than is typical for Old English or Old Saxon alliterative verse.
Later Germanic peoples shared a common legendary tradition. These heroic legends mostly involve historical personages who lived during the migration period (4th-6th centuries AD), placing them in highly ahistorical and mythologized settings; they originate and develop as part of an oral tradition. Tacitus (c. 56-120) makes two comments that have been taken as attesting early heroic poetry among the Germanic peoples. The first is a remark in Germania:
In the traditional songs which form their only record of the past the Germans celebrate an earth-born god called Tuisto. His son Mannus is supposed to be the fountain-head of their race and himself to have begotten three sons who gave their names to three groups of tribes. (Germania, chapter 2)
The other is a remark in the Annals that the Cheruscian leader Arminius was celebrated in song after his death. This older poetry has not survived, probably because it was heavily connected to Germanic paganism. Some early Gothic heroic legends are already found in Jordanes' Getica (c. 551).
Shami Ghosh remarks that Germanic heroic legend is unique in that it is not preserved among the peoples who originated it (mainly Burgundians and Goths) but among other peoples; he cautions that we cannot assume that it functioned to create any sort of "Germanic" identity among its audience, and notes that the Burgundians, for instance, who are some of the main figures in the legends, became fairly romanized at an early date. Millet likewise remarks that defining these heroic legends as "Germanic" does not postulate a common Germanic legendary inheritance, but rather that the legends were easily transmitted between peoples speaking related languages. The close link between Germanic heroic legend and Germanic language and possibly poetic devices is shown by the fact that the Germanic speakers in Frankia who adopted a Romance language do not preserve Germanic legends, but rather developed their own heroic legends.
Historical records of the Germanic tribes in Germania east of the Rhine and west of the Danube do not begin until quite late in the ancient period, so only the period after 100 BCE can be examined by historiographers. What is clear is that the Germanic idea of warfare was quite different from the pitched battles fought by Rome and Greece. Instead, the Germanic tribes focused on raids. Warfare of varying scale however was a distinctive feature of barbarian culture.
The purpose of these raids was generally not to gain territory, but rather to capture resources and secure prestige. They were conducted by irregular troops, often formed along family or village lines, in groups of 10 to about 1,000. Leaders of unusual personal magnetism could gather more soldiers for longer periods, but there was no systematic method of gathering and training men, so the death of a charismatic leader could mean the destruction of an army. Armies were also often more than half noncombatants, as displaced people would travel with large groups of soldiers, the elderly, women, and children. War leaders who were able to secure ample booty for their retainers were able to grow in influence accordingly by attracting warrior bands from nearby villages.
The deployment of large bodies of troops, while figuring prominently in the history books, was the exception rather than the rule of ancient warfare. Thus a typical Germanic force might consist of 100 men with the sole object of raiding a nearby Germanic or foreign village; consequently, most warfare was waged with their barbarian neighbors. According to Roman sources, when the Germanic Tribes did fight pitched battles, the infantry often adopted wedge formations, each wedge being led by a clan head. Legitimacy for leaders among the Germans resided in their ability to successfully lead armies to victory. Defeat on the battlefield at the hands of the Romans or other barbarians often meant the end of a ruler and in some cases, a people being absorbed by "another, victorious confederation."
Though often defeated by the Romans, the Germanic tribes were remembered in Roman records as fierce combatants, whose main downfall was that they failed to join into a collective fighting force under a unified command, which allowed the Roman Empire to employ a "divide and conquer" strategy against them. On occasions when the Germanic tribes worked together, the results were impressive. Three Roman legions were ambushed and destroyed by an alliance of Germanic tribes headed by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE; the Roman Empire made no further concentrated attempts at conquering Germania beyond the Rhine.
During the 4th and 5th centuries CE, Visigoths and Vandals militarily organized themselves to sufficiently challenge and sack Rome in CE 410 and again in 455. Then in 476, Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor, was deposed by a German military leader, Odoacer, an event which effectively ended Roman predominance in western Europe.
For an analysis of Germanic tactics versus the Roman empire, see Roman infantry versus Gallic and the Germanic tribes.
Weapons used by the Germanic tribes varied. Some of them used axes, throwing javelins, spears, bows and arrows along with swords. Most of the swords used by the Germanic warriors were those captured from Roman soldiers until the 4th century when German blacksmiths began making the best steel in Europe. Body armor was rarely worn and when it was, it was light by comparison to what the Romans employed; only war leaders wore helmets on the battlefield. Commandeering of Roman weaponry was widespread and the acquisition of the superior Roman armaments allowed the Germanic leaders to exert their power in ways not previously available. It also meant fierce inter-Germanic rivalry which constituted the larger power blocks of the Germanic world. Much like their predecessors, the Vikings too used axes, swords, long knives, spears, oblong shields, leather or metal helmets and mail or leather coats for protection; the latter being luxuries most could not afford.
To the greatest extent, Germanic fighting units consisted of infantry who would emerge from cover and attack, but they also utilized skilled cavalrymen at times, something the Visigoths used decisively to aid in their victory at Adrianople. Cavalry warfare was limited in northern Europe due to the lack of suitably large horses for mounted troops. Caesar provided his Germanic armies with Roman mounts to enable them greater mobility and to enhance their fighting efficiency. Unlike their western Celtic neighbors, the use of chariots was not picked up by the early Germans. Notwithstanding the use of an occasional fortified position, the Germanic warriors preferred to fight in the open and normally assumed the offensive rather than fight defensively. Emboldening themselves for fierce attacks, the Germanic warriors would rouse themselves to a high-pitched level of excitement and charge headlong against their enemies, which while effective for ambush operations, was lacking in terms of the organizational skill needed for prolonged siege warfare. The berserker mentality employed by the Germanic tribes against Rome was still in effect during the Viking era of the 8th and 9th centuries, as they too believed that by summoning their gods and working themselves up, they would possess superhuman strength and be protected during battle. Such resolution led them to believe that dying in such a manner was heroic and would transport the fallen fighter straight into Valhalla where they would be embraced by the warrior maidens known as the Valkyries.[m] The later military development of armored knights and fortified castles was a response in part to the relentless plundering and raiding by the Vikings, which meant that the Germanic tribes who had settled mainland Europe and the British Isles had to adapt themselves to combating another Germanic tribe of interlopers.
Although the Germans practiced both agriculture and husbandry, the latter was extremely important both as a source of dairy products and as a basis for wealth and social status, which was measured by the size of an individual's herd. The diet consisted mainly of the products of farming and husbandry and was supplied by hunting to a very modest extent. Barley and wheat were the most common agricultural products and were used for baking a certain flat type of bread as well as brewing beer. Evidence from a Saxon village known as Feddersen Wierde near Cuxhaven, Germany (which existed between BCE 50 to CE 450) shows that the Germanic people cultivated oats and rye, used manure as fertilizer, and that they practiced crop rotation.
The fields were tilled with a light-weight wooden ard, although heavier models also existed in some areas. Common clothing styles are known from the remarkably well-preserved corpses that have been found in former marshes at several locations in Denmark, and included woolen garments and brooches for women and trousers and leather caps for men. Other important small-scale industries were weaving, the manual production of basic pottery and, more rarely, the fabrication of iron tools, especially weapons.
Widening trade between the Germanic tribes and Rome started later following the Empire's wars of conquest when they looked to the Germanic peoples to supply them with slaves, leather and quality iron. One of the reasons the Romans may have drawn borders along the Rhine, besides the sizable population of Germanic warriors on one side of it, was that the Germanic peoples' economy was not robust enough for them to extract much booty nor were they convinced they could acquire sufficient tax revenue from any additional efforts of conquest. Drawing a distinctive line between themselves and the Germanic peoples also incentivized alliances and trade as these tribes sought a share of the Roman imperial wealth. Roman coinage was coveted by the Germanic peoples, who preferred silver to gold coins; this was most likely an indication that a market economy was developing. Tacitus does mention the presence of a bartering system being observable among the Germanic peoples, but this was not exclusive, as he also writes of their use of "gold and silver for the purpose of commerce", adding in his text, that they preferred silver for buying cheap everyday goods. Such observations from Tacitus aside, fine metalwork, iron and glassware was soon being traded by the Germanic peoples along the coast of the North Sea of Denmark and the Netherlands.
The writings of Tacitus allude to the Germanic peoples being aware of a shared ethnicity, in that they either knew or believed they shared a common biological ancestor with one another. Just how pervasive this awareness may have been is debatable, but other factors such as language, clothing, ornamentation, hair styles, weapon types, religious practices and shared oral history were probably just as significant in tribal identity for the Germanic peoples. Members of a Germanic tribe told tales about the exploits of heroic founding figures who were more or less mythologized. Village life consisted of free men assembled under a chieftain, all of whom shared common cultural and political traditions. Status among the early Germanic tribes was often gauged by the size of a man's cattle herd or by his martial prowess.
The most important family relationships among the early Germanic peoples were within the individual household, a fact based on the archaeological evidence from their settlements where the longhouses appeared to be central to their existence. Within the household unit, an individual was equally bound to both the mother's and the father's side of the family. Fathers were the main authority figures, but wives also played an important and respected role. Some Germanic tribes even believed that women possessed magical powers and they were feared accordingly. Roman commentators observed that women and children were sometimes seen near the battles lines, and Tacitus describes how, during battles, Germanic warriors were encouraged and cared for by their wives and mothers. He also notes that during times of peace, women did most of the work of managing the household. Along with the children, they apparently did most of the household chores as well. Children were valued, and according to Tacitus, limiting or destroying one's offspring was considered shameful. Mothers apparently breast-fed their own children rather than using nurses. Besides parents and children, a household might include slaves, but slavery was uncommon, and according to Tacitus, slaves normally had households of their own. Slaves (usually prisoners of war) were most often employed as domestic servants. Polygamy and concubinage were rare but existed, at least among the upper classes.[n] When a certain number of families resided on the same territory, this constituted a village (Dorf in German). The overall territory occupied by people from the same tribe was designated in the writings of Tacitus as a civitas, with each of the individual civitas divided into pagi (or cantons), which were made up of several vici. In cases where the tribes were grouped into larger confederations or a group of kingdoms, the term pagus was applied (Gau in German). Extensive contact with Rome altered the egalitarian structure of tribal Germanic society. As individuals rose to prominence, a distinction between commoner and nobility developed and with it the previous constructs of folkright shared equally across the tribe was replaced in some cases by privilege. As a result, Germanic society became more stratified. Elites within the Germanic tribes who learned the Roman system and emulated the way they established dominion were able to gain advantages and exploit them accordingly.
Important changes began taking place by the 4th century CE as Germanic peoples, while still cognizant of their unique clan identities, started forming larger confederations of a similar culture. Gathering around the dominant tribes among them and hearkening to the most charismatic leaders brought the various barbarians tribes closer together. On the surface this change appeared to the Romans as welcome since they preferred to deal with a few strong chiefs to control the populations that they feared across the Rhine and Danube, but it eventually made these Germanic rulers of confederated peoples more and more powerful. While strong, they were still not federated to one another since they possessed no sense of "pan-Germanic solidarity", but this started to change noticeably by the 5th century CE at Rome's expense.
In the 21st century, genetic studies have begun to look more systematically at questions of ancestry, using both modern and ancient DNA. However, the connection between modern Germanic languages, ethnicity and genetic heritage is considered by many scholars as unlikely to ever be simple or uncontroversial. Guy Halsall for example writes: "The danger, barely addressed (at best dismissed as a purely 'ideological' objection), is of reducing ethnicity to biology and thus to something close to the 19th-century idea of race, at the basis of the 'nation state'."
In a 2013 book which reviewed studies made up until then, it was remarked that: "If and when scientists find ancient Y-DNA from men whom we can guess spoke Proto-Germanic, it is most likely to be a mixture of haplogroup I1, R1a1a, R1b-P312 and R1b-U106". This was based purely upon those being the Y-DNA groups judged to be most commonly shared by speakers of Germanic languages today. However, as remarked in that book: "All of these are far older than Germanic languages and some are common among speakers of other languages too."
Tacitus's Germania was rediscovered by German humanists in the 1450s and first printed in 1473: its publication allowed German scholars to claim a glorious classical past for their own nation that could compete with that of Greece and Rome: the "Germanic" was equated with the "German". Initially, their notion of Germanic was, however, very vague, and might include peoples such as the Huns and Picts. Later, reading Tacitus's claim that the ancient Germans were a people indigenous to Germania and unmixed with other nations, this reading narrowed and was used by the humanists to support a notion of German(ic) superiority to other peoples. Equally important was Jordanes's Getica, rediscovered by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini in the mid-15th century and first printed in 1515, which depicted Scandinavia as the "Vagina of nations" (vagina nationum) from which all the historical northeastern European barbarians migrated in the distant past. While treated with suspicion by German scholars, who preferred the indigenous origin given by Tacitus, this motif became very popular in contemporary Swedish Gothicism, as it supported Sweden's imperial ambitions. The Viking revival of 18th century Romanticism created a fascination with anything "Nordic" in disposition. Scholars did not clearly differentiate between the Germanic peoples, Celtic peoples, and the "Scythian peoples" until the late 18th century with the discovery of Indo-European and the establishment of language as the primary criterion for nationality. Before that time, German scholars considered especially the Celtic peoples to be part of the Germanic group.
The beginning of Germanic philology proper begins in the early 19th century, with Rasmus Rask editing the 1814 edition of Björn Halldórsson's Icelandic Lexicon , and was in full bloom by the 1830s, with the Brothers Grimm composing a dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch) of Germanic etymology, and Jacob Grimm giving an extensive account of reconstructed Germanic mythology in his Deutsche Mythologie. The development of Germanic studies as an academic discipline in the 19th century ran parallel to the rise of nationalism in Europe after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the search by the developing nascent nation states for their own national histories. Jacob Grimm offered many arguments identifying the Germans as the "most Germanic" of the Germanic-speaking peoples, many of which were taken up by others later who sought to equate "Germanicness" (German: Germanentum) with "Germanness" (German: Deutschtum). A "Germanic" national ethnicity offered itself for the unification of Germany, contrasting the emerging German Empire with its neighboring rivals of differing ancestry. The nascent belief in a German ethnicity was subsequently founded upon national myths of Germanic antiquity. These tendencies culminated in a later Pan-Germanism, Alldeutsche Bewegung, which had as its aim the political unity of all of German-speaking Europe (all Volksdeutsche) into a German nation state.
Contemporary Romantic nationalism in Scandinavia placed more weight on the Viking Age, resulting in the movement known as Scandinavism. The theories of race developed in the same period, which used Darwinian evolutionary ideals and pseudo-scientific methods in the identification of Germanic peoples (members of a Nordic race), as being superior to other ethnicities. Scientific racism flourished in the late 19th century and into the mid-20th century, where it became the basis for specious racial comparisons and justification for eugenic efforts; it also contributed to compulsory sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and was used to sanction immigration restrictions in both Europe and the United States.[o]
- ^ See for example Todd 1999, pp. 8–9 and Müller 1998, p. 80. The latter gives a detailed summary of some of the many proposals. Wolfram 1988, p. 5, for example, thinks "Germani" must be Gaulish. Historian Wolfgang Pfeifer more or less concurs with Wolfram and surmises that the name Germani is likely of Celtic etymology, related in this case to the Old Irish word gair (neighbors) or could be tied to the Celtic word for their war cries gairm, which simplifies into "the neighbors" or "the screamers". But there is no consensus.
- ^ Scholars typically give it a German name, der Namensatz (the name passage), and some aspects of its interpretation, such as the best way to translate gens and natio into modern concepts, have been subject to centuries of debate. The summary above sticks to what is most clear. Tacitus 2009, p. 38 [Ch. 2]Steinacher 2020, p. 35
- ^ Steinacher 2020, p. 35. Posidonius fragment: Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, Book 4.
- ^ The reconstruction of such loanwords remains a difficult task, since no descendant language of substrate dialects is attested, and plausible etymological explanations have been found for many Germanic lexemes previously regarded as of non-Indo-European origin. The English term sword, long regarded as "without etymology", was found to be cognate with the Ancient Greek áor, the sword hung to the shoulder with valuable rings, both descending from the PIE root *swerd-, denoting the 'suspended sword'. Similarly, the word hand could descend from a PGer. form *handu- 'pike' (< *handuga- 'having a pike'), possibly related to Greek kenteîn 'to stab, poke' and kéntron 'stinging agent, pricker'. However, there is still a set of words of Proto-Germanic origin, attested in Old High German since the 8th c., which have found so far no competing Indo-European etymologies, however unlikely: e.g., Adel 'aristocratic lineage'; Asch 'barge'; Beute 'board'; Loch 'lock'; Säule 'pillar'; etc.
- ^ Iversen & Kroonen (2017), p. 521: "In the more than 250 years (ca. 2850–2600 B.C.E.) when late Funnel Beaker farmers coexisted with the new Single Grave culture communities within a relatively small area of present-day Denmark, processes of cultural and linguistic exchange were almost inevitable—if not widespread."
- ^ Ringe (2006), p. 85: "Early Jastorf, at the end of the 7th century BCE, is almost certainly too early for the last common ancestor of the attested languages; but later Jastorf culture and its successors occupy so much territory that their populations are most unlikely to have spoken a single dialect, even granting that the expansion of the culture was relatively rapid. It follows that our reconstructed PGmc was only one of the dialects spoken by peoples identified archeologically, or by the Romans, as 'Germans'; the remaining Germanic peoples spoke sister dialects of PGmc."
Polomé (1992), p. 51: "...if the Jastorf culture and, probably, the neighboring Harpstedt culture to the west constitute the Germanic homeland (Mallory 1989: 87), a spread of Proto-Germanic northwards and eastwards would have to be assumed, which might explain both the archaisms and the innovative features of North Germanic and East Germanic, and would fit nicely with recent views locating the homeland of the Goths in Poland."
- ^ Rübekeil (2017), pp. 996–997: West Germanic: "There seems to be a principal distinction between the northern and the southern part of this group; the demarcation between both parts, however, is a matter of controversy. The northern part, North Sea Gmc or Ingvaeonic, is the larger one, but it is a moot point whether Old Saxon and Old Low Franconian really belong to it, and if yes, to what extent they participate in all its characteristic developments. (...) As a whole, there are arguments for a close relationship between Anglo-Frisian on the one hand and Old Saxon and Old Low Franconian on the other; there are, however, counter-arguments as well. The question as to whether the common features are old and inherited or have emerged by connections over the North Sea is still controversial."
- ^ Ancient authors we know by name who saw Pytheas' text were Dicaearchus, Timaeus, Eratosthenes, Crates of Mallus, Hipparchus, Polybius, Artemidorus and Posidonius, as Lionel Pearson remarked in reviewing Hans Joachim Mette's Pytheas von Massalia (Berlin: Gruyter) 1952, in Classical Philology 49.3 (July 1954), pp. 212–214.
- ^ Also see: http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:latinLit:phi0448.phi001.perseus-eng1:1.51
- ^ Dio Cassius, Book 72 at: https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/72*.html
- ^ For a period of upwards of 1,300 years since the Frankish king Clovis was converted to Christianity (he ruled Gaul in what eventually became modern France), eighteen monarchs of France have been Christened with a French derivation of his Latin name Ludovicus or "Louis" in modern French. See: Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Penguin, 2011), p. 324.
- ^ See the following work for more on this: D. H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
- ^ Warriors were physically adept and owed much of their esprit de corps to the loyalty existing between themselves and their tribal chieftains. After forming a shield wall, they would then hurl a single spear in unison as a sacrifice to Odin. Fighting thereafter normally devolved into a gang raid and individual combat. See: Waldman & Mason 2006, p. 837.
- ^ See: Young, Bruce W. (2008). Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare. Greenwood Press, pp. 16–17.
- ^ For more on the history of European anti-Semitism and how scientific racism contributed to the Holocaust, see: Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
- ^ Harland & Friedrich 2020, p. 5.
- ^ Harland & Friedrich 2020, p. 6.
- ^ Steinacher 2020, pp. 35–39. Müller 1998, pp. 2–4
- ^ Heather 2012, pp. 5–8; Steinacher 2020, p. 37.
- ^ Tacitus, Germania, 1.
- ^ Müller 1998, pp. 4–5; Petrikovits 1999.
- ^ Plin. Nat. 4.28
- ^ Pomponius Mela, Description of the World, trans. F.E. Romer, 3.31–3.32
- ^ Strabo, Geography, 7.1.3
- ^ Ringe 2006, p. 84; Anthony 2007, pp. 57–58; Iversen & Kroonen 2017, p. 519
- ^ Stiles 2017, p. 889; Rübekeil 2017, p. 989
- ^ Schrijver 2014, p. 197; Seebold 2017, p. 978; Iversen & Kroonen 2017, p. 518
- ^ Anthony 2007, p. 360; Seebold 2017, p. 978; Heyd 2017, pp. 348–349; Kristiansen et al. 2017, p. 340; Reich 2018, pp. 110–111
- ^ Anthony 2007, pp. 360, 367–368; Seebold 2017, p. 978; Kristiansen et al. 2017, p. 340; Iversen & Kroonen 2017, pp. 512–513
- ^ Polomé 1992, p. 51; Fortson 2004, p. 338; Ringe 2006, p. 85
- ^ Fortson 2004, p. 338; Kroonen 2013, p. 247, 311; Nedoma 2017, p. 876
- ^ Schrijver 2014, p. 197; Nedoma 2017, p. 876
- ^ Ringe 2006, p. 85; Nedoma 2017, p. 875; Seebold 2017, p. 975; Rübekeil 2017, p. 989
- ^ Ringe 2006, p. 85; Rübekeil 2017, p. 989
- ^ Kroonen 2013, p. 422; Rübekeil 2017, p. 990
- ^ a b Todd 1999, p. 13; Green 1998, p. 108; Ringe 2006, p. 152; Sanders 2010, p. 27; Nedoma 2017, p. 875.
- ^ Green 1998, p. 13; Nedoma 2017, p. 876
- ^ Nedoma 2017, p. 876; Rübekeil 2017, p. 991
- ^ Schrijver 2014, p. 183; Rübekeil 2017, p. 992
- ^ Fortson 2004, pp. 338–339; Nedoma 2017, p. 876
- ^ Ringe 2006, p. 85; Nedoma 2017, p. 879
- ^ Fortson 2004, p. 339; Rübekeil 2017, p. 993
- ^ Fortson 2004, p. 339; Seebold 2017, p. 976
- ^ Nedoma 2017, pp. 879, 881; Rübekeil 2017, p. 995
- ^ Schrijver 2014, p. 185; Rübekeil 2017, p. 992
- ^ Rübekeil 2017, pp. 987, 991, 997; Nedoma 2017, pp. 881—883
- ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 4.27(/39).
- ^ Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 14.9.3.
- ^ Cassius Dio, 48.49.
- ^ Cassius Dio, 51.21.
- ^ Cassius Dio, 53.26.
- ^ Tacitus, Annales, 2.26.
- ^ Strabo, Geography, 4.3.4.
- ^ Suetonius, Galba 12.
- ^ Tacitus, The History, 2.5.[re-check]
- ^ Historia Augusta, "Life of Maximinus", 1.5.
- ^ a b c Todd (1999), p. 140
- ^ Pohl 1998, p. 131; Wolfram 1988, pp. 57–59; Nixon & Rodgers 1994, pp. 100–101; Christensen 2002, pp. 207–209.
- ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 176–178; Wolfram 1997, pp. 79–87.
- ^ Contrast Halsall (2007), pp. 180-185 and Heather (2009), pp. 189-196.
- ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 183–185; Heather 2009, p. 194; Wolfram 1997, p. 110.
- ^ Heather 2009, p. 240, citing Paul the Deacon.
- ^ Schmidt-Wiegand 2010, p. 389.
- ^ Schmidt-Wiegand 2010, p. 396.
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