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The Germanic peoples (Latin : Germani, sometimes referred to imprecisely as "Germans"), were a category of ethnic groups of continental Northern European origin, identified by Roman-era authors as distinct from neighbouring Celtic peoples. [ failed verification ] They are also called Teutonic, Suebian, or Gothic peoples in older literature, though the latter two terms are now mainly used to refer to specific groups of Germanic peoples.
The Germanic peoples are strongly associated with "Germanic languages" as they are defined in modern linguistics. In recent times the idea that the early Germanic peoples originally shared any single core culture or language before their contact with Romans is denied by some[ which? ] historians. On the other hand, during the Roman era the migrating Suebian-related "Elbe Germans", became increasingly dominant among the continental western Germani, as did their Germanic language. [ failed verification ] There has been a tendency therefore in recent times, to refer to Germanic-speakers in other periods and regions as Germanic peoples, such as the later Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, or the southeastern European Goths, even using the Roman era term Germani. Contemporary authors called the Goths a Scythian people. [ failed verification ]
The decisive victory of Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE was a major factor in stopping Roman imperial expansion, and has therefore been considered a turning point in world history.Germanic tribes did however settle the entire Roman frontier along the Rhine and the Danube, and some established close relations with the Romans, often serving as royal tutors and soldiers, sometimes even rising to the highest offices in the Roman military.
In Eastern Europe, the Germanic-speaking Goths came to dominate the area which is today the Ukraine, eventually launching sea expeditions into the Balkans, Anatolia, and as far as Cyprus.Goths began to become a major presence in the military of the Eastern Roman Empire, leading to resentment and eventual conflict. The goth Alaric I was a Roman general in the east, who was eventually forced to move his army and its people to the Western Roman Empire, becoming king of a mobile Gothic army in Italy.
The westward expansion of the Huns into the territory of today's Ukraine and the Danubian area in the late 4th century CE pushed, involved many Germanic tribes and led to large population changes, throughout Europe, both inside and outside the empire. This occurred at a moment when the Western Roman Empire was in its last phase, and many of the standing military forces it had were already Germanic, and settled within the empire. Like Alaric's Visigoths, these Romanized armies, who identified themselves under various ethnic designations, took over the rule of many parts of the empire. The Visigoths were granted control of southwestern Gaul and later ruled Iberia. The Anglo-Saxons are first found ruling in southern England, Franks in northern France, and Burgundians in southeastern France.
Of the Germanic kingdoms which emerged, Francia gained a dominant position in Western Europe, eventually incorporating the less Romanized continental Germanic speaking groups outside the empire such as the Saxons, Frisians and Bavarians. This kingdom formed the Holy Roman Empire under the leadership of Charlemagne, who was officially recognized by Pope Leo III in 800 CE. As the new medieval institutions began to reunify continental western Europe, North Germanic seafarers, commonly referred to as Vikings, embarked on a last massive expansion which led to the establishment of the Duchy of Normandy, Kievan Rus' and settlements in the British Isles and North Atlantic Ocean as far as North America.
The term Germani was applied by the Romans too all inhabitants of the region they alled Germania, including Celts, Finnic peoples, Balts and the Germanic peoples themselves.Certain Germanic peoples living outside of Germania, such as the Goths, were not considered Germani by the Romans.
The term Germani was possibly taken over by the Romans from the Gauls; the etymology and original meaning of the word is however uncertain.
In about 222 BCE, the first use of the Latin term "Germani" is said to have been in the Fasti Capitolini inscription de Galleis Insvbribvs et Germ(aneis), but the record is difficult to interpret and may even be falsified. This may simply be referring to Gaul or related people; but this may be an inaccurate date, since the inscription was erected in about 18 BCE despite referencing an earlier date. The term Germani shows up again, allegedly written by Poseidonios (from 80 BCE), but is merely a quotation inserted by the author Athenaios who wrote much later (around 190 CE).
The first surviving detailed discussions of Germani are those of Julius Caesar, whose memoirs are based on first-hand experience, but were also intended as a political document to explain his expensive and dangerous actions in far-away countries. His usage of the term Germani, which influenced all later writing, is the topic of much debate. Although, he associated the term with peoples east of the Rhine, the relevance of this was that he saw it as a defensible boundary. In contrast, he also made it clear that the Rhine boundary had not been the historical boundary between Gauls and Germani, with the Celtic Gauls including the Rauraci, Boii and Tectosages having living east of the southern Rhine in his time, and several Germani tribes living west of the northern Rhine among the Belgae, who he confusing also referred to as Gauls.Some generations later Tacitus even stated that Caesar's Germani Cisrhenani , had really been the first Germani, but the name "gradually acquired a wider usage", meaning that the first Germani were actually a tribe living west of the Rhine, in Gaul. It is not clear whether these original Germani were Germanic speakers in Caesar's time, nor even that their neighbours across the Rhine were. It has been claimed, for example by Maurits Gysseling, that the place names of this region show evidence of an early presence of Germanic languages, as early as the 2nd century BCE. The Celtic culture and language were however clearly influential also, as can be seen in the tribal name of the Eburones, their kings' names, Ambiorix and Cativolcus, and also the material culture of the region.
Later classical authors nevertheless came to use the term Germania as an vaguely defined, large geographical and cultural region, extending far into eastern Europe. Tacitus and others noted differences of culture which could be found on the east of the Rhine. But the abstract theme they continued to follow was that of Caesar: this was a forested region, less civilized than Gaul, and a place that required additional military vigilance.
It appears that the Germanic tribes did not have a single word to describe themselves, although the word Suebi , used by Caesar to broadly classify a major block of Germanic language speakers, may have had such a connotation. [ better source needed ]In the middle ages, the continental speakers of Western Germanic languages in these areas came to use the term theodiscus to refer to their language, and the term walhaz to describe local speakers of other languages (mainly Celts, Romans and Greeks).
In modern times, the term Germani has been applied to certain peoples speaking Germanic languages.However, the modern concept of Germanic does not equate to the classical concept of Germani.
Scholars of the what Liebeschuetz refers to as the "post-Wenskus generation", deny that early Germanic peoples spoke related languages.Andrew Gillett has emerged as a leading figure among these scholars, whom Liebeschuetz considers revisionists. According to Liebeschuetz, the theories of the so-called post-Wenskus generation are "very strongly ideological" and "flawed because they depend on a dogmatic and selective use of the evidence."
Latin scholars of the 10th century used the adjective teutonicus (a derivative of Teutones) when referencing East Francia, which in their vernacular was connoted "Regnum Teutonicum", for that area and all of its subsequent inhabitants. Historically, the Teutones were only one specific tribe, and may not even have spoken a Germanic language. For example, some scholars postulate that the original Teutonic language may have been a form of Celtic.Teuton was the byword the Romans applied to the barbarians from the north and which they used to describe subsequent Germanic peoples. Under the leadership of Gaius Marius, who built his career on barbarian antagonists (like many who followed), the Teutones became one of the archetypal enemies of the Roman Republic.
By the 1st century CE, the writings of Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus indicate a division of Germanic peoples into large groupings who shared ancestry and culture. (This division was also appropriated into a modern terminology attempting to describe the divisions of later Germanic languages. See Ingvaeones, Herminones, Istvaeones.)
Tacitus, in his Germania , wrote that:
Tacitus also specifies that the Suebi are a very large grouping, with many tribes within it, with their own names. The largest, he says, is the Semnones, who he says, "claim that they are the oldest and the noblest of the Suebi."He goes on to remark that the Langobardi are fewer, but despite being "surrounded by many mighty peoples" they managed to defend themselves "not by submissiveness but by battle and boldness; and in remoter and better defended areas live the Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, the Suardones, and Nuithones.
Pliny the Elder, on the other hand, names five races of Germans in his Historia Naturalis , not three, by distinguishing the two more easterly blocks of Germans, the Vandals and further east the Bastarnae, who were the first to reach the Black Sea and come into contact with Greek civilization. He is also slightly more specific about the position of the Istvaeones, though he also does not name any examples of them:
These accounts and others from the period often emphasize that the Suebi and their Hermione kin formed an especially large and mobile nation, which at the time were living mainly near the Elbe, both east and west of it, but they were also moving westwards into the lands near the Roman frontier. Pomponius Mela in his slightly earlier Description of the World, places "the farthest people of Germania, the Hermiones" somewhere to the east of the Cimbri and the Teutones, and further from Rome, apparently on the Baltic.Strabo however describes the Suebi as going through a period where they were pushed back east by the Romans, in the direction from which they had come:
the nation of the Suevi is the most considerable, as it extends from the Rhine as far as the Elbe, and even a part of them, as the Hermonduri and the Langobardi, inhabit the country beyond the Elbe; but at the present time these tribes, having been defeated, have retired entirely beyond the Elbe.
By the end of the 5th century the term "Gothic" was used more generally in the historical sources for Pliny's "Vandals" to the east of the Elbe, including not only the Goths and Vandals, but also "the Gepids along the Tisza and the Danube, the Rugians, Sciri and Burgundians, even the Iranian Alans." [ better source needed ]
The Proto-Germanic-speaking population is believed to have emerged during the Nordic Bronze Age, which developed out of the Battle Axe culture in southern Scandinavia.During the Iron Age various Germanic tribes began a southward expansion. In western Europe, where this is best attested, this was at the expense of Celtic peoples, and led to centuries of sporadic violent conflict with ancient Rome.
The earliest sites at which Germanic-speaking peoples per se have been documented are in Northern Europe, in what now constitutes the plains of Denmark and southern Sweden. However, in even this region, the population had been, according to Waldman & Mason, "remarkably stable" – as far back as Neolithic times, when humans first began controlling their environment through the use of agriculture and the domestication of animals. [ citation needed ]Given this stability, the population of the region necessarily preceded the arrival in Europe of the precursors of the Germanic languages – which most likely began with the Corded Ware culture.
Archaeological and linguistic evidence from a period known as the Nordic Bronze Age indicates that a common material culture existed between the Germanic tribes that inherited the southern regions of Scandinavia, along with the Schleswig-Holstein area and the area of what is now Hamburg, Germany. [ citation needed ]During the 2nd millennium BCE, the Nordic Bronze Age expanded eastward into the adjacent regions between the estuaries of the Elbe and Oder rivers. Additional archaeological remnants from the Iron Age society that once existed in nearby Wessenstedt also show traces of this culture. Exactly how these cultures interacted remains a mystery but the migrations of early proto-Germanic peoples are discernible from the remaining evidence of prehistoric cultures in Hügelgräber, Urnfield, and La Tene.
Climatic change between 850 BCE and 760 BCE in Scandinavia and "a later and more rapid one around 650 BCE might have triggered migrations to the coast of eastern Germany and further toward the Vistula. [ better source needed ]
The cultural phase of the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age in Europe (c. 1200–600 BCE in temperate continental areas), known in contemporary terms as the Hallstatt culture expanded from the south into this area and brought the early Germanic peoples under the influence of early Celtic (or pre Celtic) culture between 1200 BCE and 600 BCE, whereupon they began extracting bog iron from the available ore in peat bogs. This ushered in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. [ better source needed ] Stretching from central France all the way to western Hungary and then from the Alps to central Poland, the Hallstatt culture also constructed sophisticated structures and the archaeological remains across parts of France, Germany and Hungary suggest their trade networks along the North Atlantic, Baltic Sea and up and down central Europe's river valleys were fairly elaborate as well.
As early as 750 BCE, archeological evidence gives the impression that the proto-Germanic population was becoming more uniform in its culture. [ better source needed ] The Germanic peoples at the time inhabited southern Scandinavia and the Northern Sea and Baltic coasts from modern-day Netherlands to the Vistula. As this population grew, it migrated south-west, into coastal floodplains due to the exhaustion of the soil in its original settlements.
Archaeological evidence in some of the regions creates an ethnographic problem in clearly delineating the indigenous people based strictly on Roman classification. Nonetheless, there are scholars who assert that there was an eventual linguistic "Germanization" that occurred during the 1st century BCE through something they call the "elite-dominance" model.Archaeologists are unable to make definitive judgments which accord the observations of the Roman writer Tacitus. Enough cultural absorption between the various Germanic people occurred that geographically defining the extent of pre-Roman Germanic territory is nearly impossible from a classification standpoint.
Germanic tribes are hard to distinguish from the Celts on many accounts simply based on archaeological records.Some recognizable trends in the archaeological records exist, as it is known that, generally, West Germanic people while still migratory, were more geographically settled, whereas the East Germanic peoples remained transitory for a longer period.
South. In the period leading up to the first substantial Roman impact on the Germanic peoples, most or all of the south of the future Germania is thought to have been culturally Celtic, and inhabited by peoples referred to as Gaulish by Graeco-Roman authors, who they contrasted with Germani. In terms of archaeologically relevant material cultures these peoples are categorized as part of the La Tène material culture which is associated with Celtic peoples as far away as Iberia, the British Isles and Italy.In fact, the southern German region is probably part of the original area from which not only the La Tène culture, but also its precursor the Halstatt material culture (approximately 1200-450 BCE) dispersed around much of Europe. The Halstatt culture in turn is thought to have developed from a local variant of the widespread Urnfield culture which dispersed around Europe during the Bronze age, probably bringing the first European Indo European languages from the east, precursors to both Germanic and Celtic languages.
Northeast. Although they eventually became more widespread, the original area from which Germanic languages dispersed is thought to have been originally in the northeast of Germania, on the Baltic sea, and distant from both the Rhine and Danube rivers which came to be seen as boundaries of the Germanic region. They are associated with the Jastorf material culture which spread into the Elbe region where Roman authors later report Suebian peoples. At the time of Caesar's wars against the Germani near the Rhine, Suebian peoples were still seen as intrusive, and their presence near the Rhine and Danube was new. Later Roman authors such as Tacitus, Pliny and Strabo continued to associate those peoples with the region of the Elbe river. While the Jastorf and La Tène material cultures are distinct, the limited evidence found so far has given only limited help in going beyond the classical written record.
Northwest. The linguistic situation in the northwest of Germania near the lower Rhine is unclear today, because evidence is limited. The Romans referred to several of the peoples living in that region, even west of the Rhine, as Germani. However, the Romans did not necessarily intend this as a linguistic category. It has furthermore been proposed that some of the peoples in this area had originally used Indo-European dialects distinct from both Germanic and Celtic. They had clearly come under the influence of both Celtic Gauls, and Germanic speaking Suebian peoples by the Roman era, at which point the area also came to be heavily influenced by Roman culture.
Three settlement patterns and solutions come to the fore, the first of which is the establishment of an agricultural base in a region which allowed them to support larger populations; second, the Germanic peoples periodically cleared forests to extend the range of their pasturage; thirdly (and the most frequent occurrence), they often emigrated to other areas as they exhausted the immediately available resources.
West Germanic peoples eventually settled in central Europe and became more accustomed to agriculture and it is those people that are described by Caesar and Tacitus. Meanwhile, the East Germanic people continued their migratory habits.
One of the earliest known written records of the Germanic world in classical times was in the lost work of Pytheas.
Pytheas traveled to Northern Europe, some time in the late 4th century BCE, and his observations about the geographical environment, traditions and culture of the northern European populations became a central source of information for later historians – often the only source. 6th century BCE), his became the first substantial surviving description of these populations.[ citation needed ]Authors such as Strabo, Pliny and Diodorus cite Pytheas in disbelief, although Pytheas' observations appear to have been accurate. Though Pytheas was not the first Mediterranean to explore those lands (note for example Himilco (5th century BCE), and possibly Phoenicians and Tartessians (c.
Much of the Germanic peoples' early history enters into view through Pytheas, particularly since he was also possibly the first to distinguish the Germanoi people of northern and central Europe as distinct from the Keltoi people further west.Along with the records of a couple of other classical writers (namely Polybius (2nd century BCE) and Posidonius (c. 135 BCE – c. 51 BCE), the work of Pytheas on the Celts and early Germans influenced scores of future geographers, historians and ethnographers.
In Eastern Europe, the Roman-era peoples known as the Bastarnae and Peucini were described by Roman authors as living in the territory east of the Carpathian Mountains north of the Danube's mouth in the Black Sea. They were variously described as Celtic or Scythian, but Tacitus said they were similar to the Germani in language. According to some authors then, they were the first Germani to reach the Greco-Roman world, and the Black Sea area.The Bastarnae are mentioned in historical sources going back as far as the 3rd century BCE all the way through the 4th century CE.
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 while some settled on Peuce Island at the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea which is why the name Peucini is also associated with the Bastarnae. King Perseus enlisted the service of the Bastarnae in 171–168 BCE to fight the Third Macedonian War. By 29 BCE, they were subdued by the Romans and those that remained began merging with various tribes of Goths into the second century CE.
Historian Thomas Burns references the Bastarnae but only as an aside from the Latin poet Claudian, claiming that they were among "the oldest of the various Scythian people".Burns further elaborates in stating that there are no "specific references" to the Bastarnae and that remarks about them by Claudian and later third century writers "must give us pause" for the mention of such people might merely have been a "convenient poetic device." Historian Peter Heather disagrees with this position and identifies the Bastarnae as one of the Germanic tribes and asserts that they once "dominated substantial tracts of territory at the mouth of the Danube." Along similar lines, the late classical scholar, Theodor Mommsen, recognized the Bastarnae and placed them in the geographic regions of Moldavia and Bessarabia during the reign of Tiberius. This is the same region where Tacitus placed them. Another historian of antiquity, J. B. Bury, counted the Bastarnae along with the Goths, Vandals, Gepids, Burgundians, Lombards, Rugians, Heruls and Scirii among the East Germanic peoples.
Late in the 2nd century BCE, Roman sources recount the migrations of the Cimbri, Teutones and Ambrones into Gaul, Italy and Hispania. This cultural confrontation resulted in the Cimbrian War between the Roman Republic and the Germanic tribes; particularly those of the Roman Consul under Gaius Marius. [ better source needed ]
The Cimbri crossed into Noricum (Austria) in 113 BCE looking for food and usable land when they confronted and defeated a Roman army at the Battle of Noreia. A combined force of Cimbriand Teutoni squared off against additional armies from Rome in 107 (Battle of Burdigala, 105 (Battle of Arausio) and 102 BCE (Battle of Tridentum), vanquishing them in the process. Their further incursions into Roman Italy were thrust back by the Romans at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 BCE, and the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BCE.
Earlier Germanic invasions were written up by Caesar and others as presaging of a danger for the Roman Republic, a danger that should be controlled.
Julius Caesar describes the Germani and their customs in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico , though in certain cases it is still a matter of debate if he refers to Northern Celtic tribes or clearly identified Germanic tribes. Caesar notes that the Gauls had earlier dominated and sent colonies into the lands of the Germans, but that the Gauls had since degenerated under the influence of Roman civilization, and now considered themselves inferior in military prowess.
[The Germani] have neither Druids to preside over sacred offices, nor do they pay great regard to sacrifices. They rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon; they have not heard of the other deities even by report. Their whole life is occupied in hunting and in the pursuits of the military art; from childhood they devote themselves to fatigue and hardships. Those who have remained chaste for the longest time, receive the greatest commendation among their people; they think that by this the growth is promoted, by this the physical powers are increased and the sinews are strengthened. And to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year they reckon among the most disgraceful acts; of which matter there is no concealment, because they bathe promiscuously in the rivers and [only] use skins or small cloaks of deer's hides, a large portion of the body being in consequence naked.
[ citation needed ]
They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh; nor has any one a fixed quantity of land or his own individual limits; but the magistrates and the leading men each year apportion to the tribes and families, who have united together, as much land as, and in the place in which, they think proper, and the year after compel them to remove elsewhere. For this enactment they advance many reasons-lest seduced by long-continued custom, they may exchange their ardor in the waging of war for agriculture; lest they may be anxious to acquire extensive estates, and the more powerful drive the weaker from their possessions; lest they construct their houses with too great a desire to avoid cold and heat; lest the desire of wealth spring up, from which cause divisions and discords arise; and that they may keep the common people in a contented state of mind, when each sees his own means placed on an equality with [those of] the most powerful.
Caesar was wary of these barbaric people of Germania and invoked the threat of expansions such as that by Ariovistus' Suebi as justification for his brutal campaigns to annex Gaul to Rome in 58–51 BCE.
An intense Roman militarization, greater than ever before, was begun under Caesar to deal with the barbarian tribes along the frontier — particularly since he feared that the Celtic Gauls between Rome and the Germanic people would not be able to defend themselves.
One major Celtic people who were forced from their homeland in modern southwest Germany and Bohemia were the Boii, a migration which had major impacts on Rome and many other peoples. Later, Caesar's attention in 58 BCE was drawn to the movements of the Boii's old neighbours the Helvetii, another population group forced into Gaul from the direction of modern southwest Germany and western Switzerland.When the Gaulish Arverni and Sequani elicited assistance from the Germanic Suebi (who came to them from east of the Rhine into Gaul) against their Aedui enemies in 71 BCE, the Suebi essentially remained in situ and were able to expand further into the territory along the periphery of the Roman frontier. Meanwhile, Celtic culture and influence in Gaul began to wane during the first century BCE as a result.
It was Caesar's wars against the Germanic people that helped establish and solidify the use of the term Germania. The initial purpose of the Roman military campaigns was to protect Trans-Alpine Gaul from further incursions of the Germanic tribes by controlling the area between the Rhine and the Elbe.
Roman expansion along the Rhine and Danube rivers resulted in the incorporation of many indigenous Celtic societies into the Roman Empire. Lands to the north and east of the Rhine emerge in the Roman records under the name Germania . Population groups from this area had a complex relationship with Rome; sometimes the peoples of Germania were at war with Rome, but at times they established trade relations, symbiotic military alliances, and cultural exchanges with one another.
Romans made concerted efforts to divide the Germanic tribes when the opportunity presented itself, encouraging intertribal rivalry so as to diminish the threat of an otherwise formidable enemy.Over the following centuries, the Romans sometimes intervened, but often took advantage as their neighbors slaughtered one another using Roman-influenced techniques of war. More instances of Germani fighting Germani appear in the works of Tacitus than between Romans and Germani.
In the Augustean period there was—as a result of Roman activity as far as the Elbe River—a first definition of the "Germania magna" from the Rhine and Danube rivers in the West and South to the Vistula and the Baltic Sea in the East and North.[ citation needed ] In 9 CE, a revolt of their Germanic subjects headed by Arminius resulted in a decisive defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varus and the destruction of three Roman legions in a surprise attack at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest), which caused withdrawal of the Roman frontier to the Rhine. Occupying Germany had proven costly and Arminius' attack helped bring about the end of 28 years of Roman campaigning across the North European plains. Both Arminius and another contemporary Germanic warrior king named Maroboduus, attempted to rule these warrior-based peoples in autocratic fashion but were deposed or outright killed through the treachery of other warrior-nobles, who strove for their own glory.
During the reign of Augustus, Germanic warriors, particularly men of the Batavi, were recruited as personal bodyguards to the Roman emperor, forming the so-called Numerus Batavorum. In 69 AD, the turbulent Year of the Four Emperors, Gaius Julius Civilis, a Roman military officer of Batavian origin, orchestrated the Revolt of the Batavi. [ citation needed ]The revolt lasted nearly a year and while it was ultimately unsuccessful, Civilis managed to evade Roman capture.
"Let Syria, Asia Minor, and the East, habituated as it is to despotism, submit to slavery... Freedom is a gift bestowed by nature even on the dumb animals. Courage is the peculiar excellence of man, and the Gods help the braver side."- Gaius Julius Civilis
At the end of the 1st century, two provinces west of the Rhine called Germania inferior and Germania superior were established by the Emperor Domitian, having previously been military districts, "so as to separate this more militarized zone from the civilian populations farther west and south".Important medieval cities like Aachen, Cologne, Trier, Mainz, Worms and Speyer were part of these two "militarized" Roman provinces.
"Neither the Samnites nor the Carthaginians nor Spain nor Gaul nor even the Parthians have taught us more frequent lessons. The freedom of the Germans does indeed show more aggression than the despotism of the Arsacids."- Tacitus
The Germania by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, an ethnographic work on the diverse group of Germanic tribes outside of the Roman Empire, is our most important source on the Germanic peoples of the 1st century.[ citation needed ]
Germanic expansions during early Roman times are known only generally, but it is clear that the forebears of the Goths were settled on the southern Baltic shore by 100 CE.[ citation needed ]
According to historian Thomas Burns, major hostilities between the external Germanic peoples of the north and Rome did not commence in "earnest" until the reign of Trajan (CE 98—117), who used the "full weight of Roman might" to attack the Dacians.
In the absence of large-scale political unification, such as that imposed forcibly by the Romans upon the peoples of Italy, the various tribes remained free, led by their own hereditary or chosen leaders. Once Rome faced significant threats on its borders, some of the Germanic tribes who once guarded its periphery chose solace within the Roman empire itself, implying that enough assimilation and cross-cultural pollination had occurred for their societies not only to cooperate, but to live together in some cases.[ citation needed ]
The 4th century Gothic Thervingi are most famous among scholars of classical Rome and pre-modern Europe because the majority of them sought asylum inside the heart of the Roman Empire in 376 CE.
By the middle to late second century CE, migrating Germanic tribes like the Marcomanni and Quadi pushed their way to the Roman frontier along the Danube corridor, movements of people which resulted in conflicts known as the Marcomannic Wars; these conflicts ended in approximately CE 180.
By the early 3rd century AD, larger confederations of Germanic people appeared, groups led by tribal leaders acting as would-be kings. 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. [ citation needed ]This change indicated that the tribalism of the Germanic people was being abandoned for consolidated rule.
While the Germanic tribes were consolidating and expanding, Rome adapted itself due to the arrival of the Germanic tribes. Emperor Severus Alexander was killed by his own soldiers in CE 235 for example (for negotiating peace with the tribes of Germania through diplomacy and bribery against the wishes of his men) and the general Maximin elected in his place.[ citation needed ] Maximin was himself not Roman but was ethnically the child of a Germanic Alan and a Goth. Military expediency trumped aristocratic privilege when it came to securing the Empire and a series of professional military emperors followed as a result.
The first recorded great migration of a Germanic tribe occurred sometime at the end of the 2nd century when the Goths left the lower Vistula for the shores of the Black Sea. [ citation needed ] Sometime in CE 250, the Gothic king Kniva employed the assistance of the Bastarnae, Carpi, various Goths, and the Taifali when he eventually laid siege to Philippopolis; he followed this victory up with another on the marshy terrain at Abrittus, a battle which cost the life of Roman emperor Decius and inaugurated a series of consecutive barbarian invasions of the northern Balkans and Asia Minor.For the next couple hundred years, the restless Goths were a menace to the Roman Empire. Between the 2nd and 4th centuries the Goths slowly filtered deeper into the south and eastwards, making their way to what is now Kiev in Ukraine and pressuring Rome in the process. Around CE 238, the Goths make their first clear impact on Roman history, having moved from the Baltic sea to the area of the modern Ukraine.
Close to the same time that the Goths were fighting the Romans in the Balkans, there is also the first mention of the Franks around CE 250.Perennial internal conflicts among several successive emperors of both the eastern and western Empire during the 4th century CE resulted in civil wars and damaged the overall quality of the Roman army; the fighting also depleted the elite from within their officer corps. To compensate for their losses the Romans recruited inferior untried Roman civilians and sought replacements from across the frontier region by militarily proficient barbarian troops, a development which further strengthened the position of the Germanic peoples.
Attempting to control the periphery of the Roman empire meant finding innovative ways of dealing with the Germanic people, so the Romans enlisted them as foederati (federates) and by the late fourth century, the majority of the Roman military was made up of Germanic warriors.[ citation needed ] Federating whole tribes of Germanic people into the Empire marked a whole new phase of encroachment and facilitated the fragmentation of Rome from within its own borders.
In 260 AD, as the 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.
Among the Romans, the Germanic presence in the military was so extensive for example, that the word barbarus became a synonym for "soldier" and the imperial budget of the military was known as the ficus barbarus. [ citation needed ] Suebian king Ariovistus and the Frisian kings Malorix and Verritus are recorded by Roman historians boasting of supposed Germanic military superiority. An example of Germanic prominence in the Roman army shows in the fact that in CE 350 the Frankish general Claudius Silvanus was the high military commander of Gaul. Warriors and leaders among the Germanic peoples had an advantage over their Roman counterparts as they knew and could dexterously traverse both worlds, whereas the Romans despised barbarian culture and customs and were unable to secure trust amid the Germanic soldiers on their payrolls. In this way, the ethnic and regional ties within the evolving bureaucratic Roman-Germanic world began to favor the barbarians.Barbarians (Germanics) composed the mobile army of emperor Constantine with many of them, particularly the more organized ones like the Franks and Alamanni, reaching levels of high command. Constantine credited the military victories which enabled his rise to power to his Germanic troops, and is said to have recruited 40,000 Goths alone, who were tasked with guarding Constantinople. By this time, conventional Roman troops where rapidly losing military value. Despite Germanic peoples in many cases being enemies of the Romans, Germanic warriors in Roman service enabled the Roman Empire to survive longer than it would under other circumstances. Earlier accounts from Julius Caesar and Tacitus suggest ancient Germanic warriors considered themselves superior to the Romans.
Roman Britannia was contemporaneously under constant threat during the 3rd and 4th centuries CE by northern Picts as well as the Germanic Saxons who sailed from north of Gaul to the eastern coast of the British Isles. Late in CE 367, the Roman garrisons in Britannia collapsed as the Germanic barbarians poured into the region from all directions.Attempting to permanently reestablish control on Britannia, the emperor Valentinian I sent an experienced Roman commander who was able to beat the invaders back after a year-long war and gain control of Londonium, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, for the Germanic invaders had burned down standing settlements, ravaged cities on the isles, interrupted trade and annihilated entire Roman garrisons. By the middle of the 5th century, the Picts, Scots and Anglo-Saxons began to dominate the once Roman Britannia.
During the fourth and fifth centuries CE Roman emperors did their best to stave off the advance of the Germanic tribes. While the rulers in the Eastern Empire were able to endure the frequent clashes without serious consequences to their territorial dominion, this was not the case in the Western Roman Empire.[ citation needed ]
For upwards of two centuries, the Roman emperors fought and confined the Germanic tribes to Rhine-Danube frontier and in far-away Britain, but all that changed in CE 378 when the Visigoths destroyed as much as two-thirds of the Roman army of the East under emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople. [ citation needed ] Subsequent historians like Sir Edward Gibbon (among others) ascribe a similar significance to this event and call the Battle of Adrianople a watershed moment between the ancient world and the medieval one that followed; for not only did this battle reveal Rome's weakness to the Germanic tribes and inspire them accordingly, never again were they to leave Roman soil. Evidence of the trauma suffered at the hands of the ransacking Visigoths shows up in the writings of the former bishop of Milan, Ambrose, who wrote about melting down golden church plates early in his episcopate so as to help the victims of the calamity at Adrianople.Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus referred to the damage inflicted by the Germanic tribes at Adrianople as an "irreparable disaster" and ended his account of Roman history with this battle.
The arrival of the nomadic Huns along the Black Sea corridor in CE 375 further caused a Germanic exodus across the Roman border. [ citation needed ]Germanic people from the northern coasts of Europe had been making their way into Britain for several centuries before the larger-scale incursions took place. Some Germanic tribes, in particular the Gepids and the Ostrogoths, joined the Huns, and played a prominent role in the Hunnic Empire, where Gothic became the lingua franca. These Germanic tribes fought with Attila against the Western Roman Empire and other Germanic tribes at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, in which Attila was defeated. After the death of Attila soon afterwards, a coalition of Germanic tribes led by the Gepid king Ardaric broke loose from Hunnic control at the Battle of Nedao.
Faced with the Hunnic onslaught, several Germanic tribes migrated westwards, taking them to Great Britain and far south through present day Continental Europe to the Mediterranean and northern Africa.[ citation needed ] Over time, this wandering meant intrusions into other tribal territories, and the ensuing wars for land escalated with the dwindling amount of unoccupied territory. Roaming tribes of Germanic people then began staking out permanent homes as a means of protection. Much of this resulted in fixed settlements from which many, under a powerful leader, expanded outwards. Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Lombards made their way into Italy; Vandals, Burgundians, Franks, and Visigoths conquered much of Gaul; Vandals and Visigoths also pushed into Spain; Vandals additionally made it into North Africa; the Alamanni established a strong presence in the middle Rhine and Alps. In Denmark the Jutes merged with the Danes, in Sweden the Geats and Gutes merged with the Swedes. In England, the Angles merged with the Saxons and other groups (notably the Jutes), as well as absorbing some natives, to form the Anglo-Saxons (later known as the English). Essentially Roman civilization was overrun by these variants of Germanic peoples during the 5th century.
A direct result of the Roman retreat was the disappearance of imported products like ceramics and coins, and a return to virtually unchanged local Iron Age production methods.[ citation needed ] According to recent views this has caused confusion for decades, and theories assuming the total abandonment of the coastal regions to account for an archaeological time gap that never existed have been renounced.[ citation needed ] Instead, it has been confirmed that the Frisian graves had been used without interruption between the 4th and 9th centuries and that inhabited areas show continuity with the Roman period in revealing coins, jewellery and ceramics of the 5th century. Also, people continued to live in the same three-aisled farmhouse, while to the east completely new types of buildings arose. More to the south in Belgium, archaeological evidence from this period indicates immigration from the north.
Some of the Germanic tribes are frequently credited in popular depictions of the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Many historians and archaeologists have since the 1950s shifted their interpretations in such a way that the Germanic peoples are no longer seen as invading a decaying empire but as being co-opted into helping defend territory the central government could no longer adequately administer.
When the Roman Empire refused to allow the Visigoths to settle in Noricum for instance, they responded by sacking Rome in CE 410 under the leadership of Alaric I.Oddly enough, Alaric I did not see his imposition in Rome as an attack against the Roman Empire per se but as an attempt to gain a favorable position within its borders, particularly since the Visigoths held the Empire in high regard. Alaric certainly had no intentions to destroy the great city which was symbolic of Roman power, but he needed to pay his army and the spoils of the city not only afforded the ability to do that, its wealth made him "the richest general in the empire." For the next year, Alaric extracted vast sums from the city; this included 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 5,000 pounds of oriental pepper, gilded statues from the Forum, and even the one-ton solid silver dome which Constantine once placed over the baptismal basin next to the Lateran basilica. Not only was Alaric able to bleed Rome, he also established a Gothic confederation consisting of Theruingian and Greuthungic peoples, and he played the eastern and western Roman Empires off against one another for his benefit.
While Germanic tribes overran the once western Roman provinces, they also continued to strive for regional ascendancy closer to Rome's center; meanwhile the threat along the periphery from the Huns created additional difficulties for the Empire.Sometime during the 4th or 5th century CE, the Bastarnae were defeated by the Huns, ending their regional domination.
Individuals and small groups from Germanic tribes had long been recruited from the territories beyond the limes (i.e., the regions just outside the Roman Empire), and some of them had risen high in the command structure of the army.[ citation needed ] The Rhine and Danube provided the bulk of geographic separation for the Roman limes. On one side of the limes stood 'Latin' Europe, law, Roman order, prosperous trading markets, towns and everything that constituted modern civilization for that era; while on the other side stood barbarism, technical backwardness, illiteracy and a tribal society of fierce warriors. Then the Empire recruited entire tribal groups under their native leaders as military officers. Historian Evangelos Chrysos argues the implications concerning the recruitment of the barbarians into the Roman army during the migration period were enormous and relates that:
it offered them experience of how the imperial army was organized, how the government arranged the military and functional logistics of their involvement as soldiers or officers and how it administered their practical life, how the professional expertise and the social values of the individual soldier were cultivated in the camp and on the battlefield, how the ideas about the state and its objectives were to be implemented by men in uniform, how the Empire was composed and how it functioned at an administrative level. This knowledge of and experience with the Romans opened to individual members of the gentes a path which, once taken, would lead them to more or less substantial affiliation or even solidarity with the Roman world. To take an example from the economic sphere: The service in the Roman army introduced the individual or corporate members into the monetary system of the Empire since quite a substantial part of their salary was paid to them in cash. With money in their hands the "guests" were by necessity exposed to the possibility of taking part in the economic system, of becoming accustomed to the rules of the wide market, of absorbing the messages of or reacting to the imperial propaganda passed to the citizens through the legends on the coins. In addition the goods offered in the markets influenced and transformed the newcomers' food and aesthetic tastes and their cultural horizon. Furthermore Roman civilitas was an attractive goal for every individual wishing to succeed in his social advancement.
Assisting with defense eventually shifted into administration and then outright rule, as Roman government passed into the hands of Germanic leaders. Odoacer (who commanded the German mercenaries in Italy)deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of the West in CE 476. Odoacer ruled from Rome and Ravenna, restored the Colosseum and assigned seats to senatorial dignitaries as part of the process of consolidating his rule.
The presence of successor states controlled by a nobility from one of the Germanic tribes is evident in the 6th century – even in Italy, the former heart of the Empire, where Odoacer was followed by Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, who was regarded by Roman citizens and Gothic settlers alike as legitimate successor to the rule of Rome and Italy.Theodoric ruled from CE 493–526, twice as long as his predecessor, and his rule is evidenced by an abundance of documents. Under the Ostrogoths a considerable degree of Roman and Germanic cultural and political fusion was achieved. Germanic kings worked in-tandem with Roman administrators to the extent possible to help ensure a smooth transition and to facilitate the profitable administration of once Roman lands. Slowly but surely, the distinction between Germanic rulers and Roman subjects faded, followed by varying degrees of "cultural assimilation" which included the adoption of the Gothic language by some of the indigenous people of the former Roman Empire but this was certainly not ubiquitous as Gothic identity still remained distinctive. Theodoric may have tried too hard to accommodate the various people under his dominion; indulging "Romans and Goths, Catholics and Arians, Latin and barbarian culture" resulted in the eventual failure of the Ostrogothic reign and the subsequent "end of Italy as the heartland of late antiquity."
According to noted historian 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 tribe, including approximately 15,000-20,000 warriors. They constituted a tiny minority of the population in the lands over which they seized control.Among these tribes, the Ostrogoths in Italy and the Visigoths in Spain are recorded to have enacted laws against intermarriage in order to preserve their identity.
The entry of the Germanic tribes deep into the heart of Europe and the subsequent collapse of the western Roman Empire resulted in a "massive disruption" to long established communication networks, a system that had in many ways "bound much of the continent together for centuries."Trade networks and routes shifted accordingly, Germanic kingdoms and peoples established boundaries and it was not until the appearance of the Arabs in Iberia and into Anatolia that Europeans began reestablishing their networks to deal with a new threat.
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.
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. 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 tenth 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.
The interactions of the migrating Germanic peoples and the deteriorating Roman empire formed the basis of the history and society of most of Western Europe from the Early Middle Ages and up to the present day.
The Goths and Vandals were linguistically assimilated to their Latin (Romance) substrate populations. Evidence exists that for 2nd- and 3rd-century Goths as well as for 4th- and 5th-century Lombards that significant population displacement throughout Roman-occupied Europe occurred.[ citation needed ] This quite likely contributed to their linguistic assimilation. An exception to this pattern was the Crimean Goths, who preserved their dialect into the 18th century). Burgundians and Lombards were assimilated into both Latin (French and Italian) and Germanic (German-speaking Swiss) populations.[ citation needed ]
Early Medieval Germanic peoples were often assimilated into the walha substrate cultures of their subject populations. Thus, the Burgundians of Burgundy, the Vandals of Northern Africa, and the Visigoths of France and Iberia, lost some Germanic identity and became part of Romano-Germanic Europe.[ citation needed ] For the Germanic Visigoths in particular, they had intimate contact with Rome for two centuries before their domination of the Iberian Peninsula and were accordingly permeated by Roman culture. Likewise, the Franks of Western Francia form part of the ancestry of the French people.[ citation needed ]
The Viking Age Norse people split into an Old East Norse and an Old West Norse group, which further separated into Icelanders, Faroese and Norwegians on one hand and Swedes and Danes on the other. In Scandinavia, there is a long history of assimilation of and by the Sami people and Finnic peoples, namely Finns and Karelians. In today's usage, the term "Nordic peoples" refers to the ethnic groups in all of the Nordic countries.[ citation needed ]
In Great Britain, Germanic people coalesced into the Anglo-Saxon (or English) people between the 8th and 10th centuries.[ citation needed ]
The Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain resulted in Anglo-Saxon (or English) displacement and cultural assimilation of the indigenous culture, the Brythonic-speaking British culture, causing the foundation of a new kingdom, England.[ citation needed ] As in what became England, indigenous Brythonic Celtic culture in some of the south-eastern parts of what became Scotland (approximately the Lothian and Borders region) and areas of what became the Northwest of England (the kingdoms of Rheged, Elmet, etc.) succumbed to Germanic influence c.600—800, due to the extension of overlordship and settlement from the Anglo-Saxon areas to the south.[ citation needed ] Cultural and linguistic assimilation occurred less frequently between the Germanic Anglo-Saxons and the indigenous people who resided in the Roman dominated areas of England, particularly in the regions that remained previously unconquered. Anglo-Saxons occupied Somerset, the Severn valley, and Lancaster by c. 700 where they remained dominant. Over time, the Anglo-Saxons, with their distinct culture and language, displaced much of the extant Roman influence of old.
On the European continent, East Francia developed into the Kingdom of Germany, which became the most important part of the Holy Roman Empire proclaimed by Otto I in 962 AD.
Philologist Francis Owen estimates that there were around 4,000,000 Germanic people at the dawn of the Migration Period.
Tacitus described the Germanic people as ethnically uniform or "unmixed" with "a distinct character" and he even generalized them by claiming that "a family likeness pervades the whole." He also reported that the peoples of Germany have fierce blue eyes, red hair, and large bodies" that rendered them capable of "violent" outbursts, unable to tolerate heat or thirst but well accustomed to the cold.
Tacitus writes in Germania that the early Germanic peoples looked universally the same, having "fierce blue eyes, red hair and large frames." He repeats this description in the Agricola, stating that the inhabitants of Caledonia were big and red haired, suggesting a Germanic origin. On account of this, Tacitus suggested that the Germanic peoples were an "indigenous people, very little affected by admixture with other races through immigration or intercourse". Philologist Francis Owen notes that when Tacitus refers to the Germanic peoples having "red hair", this also includes blond hair.
The remergence of inhumation during the Migration period has enabled researchers to examine the physical type of the Germanic peoples at this time time. Archaeological research has lent support to the observations of Tacitus with regards to the physical appearance of early Germanic peoples. The observations of Tacitus are substantiated by other Roman writers and by depictions of Germanic warriors on Roman columns.
There is little evidence of any large-scale migration into Scandinavia since the arrival of the Corded Ware culture, and the physical type of the Germanic people since then has therefore remained largely the same.
Early Germanic culture is though to represent a fusion of Indo-European and indigenous Northern European elements. This fusion appears to have been facilitated by the expansion of the Corded Ware culture into Northern Europe during the 3rd millennium BC, and to have been completed by the emergence of the Nordic Bronze Age in the 2nd millennium BC. It is from the Nordic Bronze Age from which early Germanic culture largely derived.
Germanic peoples are primarily characterized as speakers of Germanic languages. Their historical literature revolved around the lives of their gods and ancestors, and was historically transmitted orally by professional poets. Some of this literature was written down in the Middle Ages.In the early centuries AD, Germanic peoples devised a Runic script, which was eventually replaced with the Latin alphabet.
Early Germanic peoples practiced Germanic paganism, a polytheistic ethnic religion primarily derived from Proto-Indo-European religion. Odin eventually emerged as the leading deity of the Germanic pantheon. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Germanic peoples had all been converted to Christianity, although elements of Germanic paganism has survived in Germanic folklore.
Early Germanic culture was characterized by a rigorous code of ethics which emphasised independence, individuality, honesty and loyalty.Society was hierarchical, being divided into warriors, independent farmers and slaves respectively, with warriors being in the position of power. Society was organized along tribal lines, and the membership of the individual in an extended family, the Sippe, played a major role in determining the position of the individual in society. Germanic peoples had various forms of kingship, although the power of the king could be curtailed by the freemen in the tribal assembly, known as the thing. In Germanic law, guilt was often determined through a trial by ordeal or trial by combat, and capital punishment was meted out for certain crimes against the community.
Archaeological research has revealed that the early Germanic peoples were primarily agricultural, although husbandry and fishing were important sources of livelihood depending on the nature of the environment.They carried out extensive trade with their neighbours, notably exporting amber, slaves, mercenaries and animal hides, and importing weapons, metals, glassware and coins in return. They eventually came to excel at craftsmanship, particularly metalworking. In many cases in fact, ancient Germanic smiths and other craftsmen produced products of higher quality than the Romans.
Germanic villages were typically small and often composed of individual households. An important centre in the village was the mead hall, in which the chieftain arranged lavish feasts for his followers. During times of trouble certain Germanic tribes would embark on mass-migrations and temporarily embrace a semi-nomadic way of life.
Early Germanic peoples had a diverse diet composed of cereal products, cheese, milk and meat. They consumed a number of fermented drinks, such as ale, mead, beer and wine, which played an important role in Germanic social life. Certain warlike Germanic tribes are recorded as being teetotalers.
Early Germanic society was patriarchal, although women played a more significant role in their community than in other contemporary societies. The early Germanic peoples were mostly monogamous, and married relatively late. Wives handled the daily management of the household, which was composed of the immediate family and slaves.Slaves in early Germanic culture were treated much more humanely than in other contemporary societies.
Although their societies appear to have been remarkably peaceful in the Bronze Age, the introduction of iron radically changed Germanic society, which thereafter became heavily characterized by war. Germanic warfare initially emphazised offensive infantry warfare, although they would eventually also excel at horse-powered-warfare and naval warfare as well. In a series of Germanic Wars, Germanic peoples would eventually overwhelm the Western Roman Empire and establish themselves as a dominant minority in its place.
With the Christianization of the Germanic peoples in the Middle Ages and the submergence of the various tribes into centralized states, Germanic culture lost most of its unique character. Germanic languages continues to be spoken however, and traces of Germanic culture can still be found in Germanic folklore.
It is suggested by geneticists that the movements of Germanic peoples has had a strong influence upon the modern distribution of the male lineage represented by the Y-DNA haplogroup I1, which is believed to have originated with one man, who lived approximately 4,000 to 6,000 years ago somewhere in Northern Europe, possibly modern Denmark (see Most Recent Common Ancestor for more information). There is evidence of this man's descendants settling in all of the areas that Germanic tribes are recorded as having subsequently invaded or migrated to.
Haplogroup I1 is older than Germanic languages, but may have been present among early Germanic speakers. Other male lines likely to have been present during the development and dispersal of Germanic language populations include R1a (R1a1a-Z284), R1b (R1b-P312; R1b-U106), a genetic combination of the haplogroups found to be strongly-represented among current Germanic speaking peoples.Peaking in northern Europe, the R1b-U106 marker seems particular interesting in distribution and provides some helpful genetic clues regarding the historical trek made by the Germanic people.
Haplogroup I1 accounts for approximately 40% of Icelandic males, 40%–50% of Swedish males, 40% of Norwegian males, and 40% of Danish Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups. Haplogroup I1 peaks in certain areas of Northern Germany and Eastern England at more than 30%.
The Renaissance revived interest in pre-Christian Classical Antiquity and only in a second phase in pre-Christian Northern Europe.The Germanic peoples of the Roman era are often lumped with the other agents of the barbarian invasions, the Alans and the Huns, as opposed to the civilized "Roman" identity of the Holy Roman Empire.
Early modern publications dealing with Old Norse culture appeared in the 16th century, e.g. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (Olaus Magnus, 1555) and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum (Saxo Grammaticus), in 1514.Authors of the German Renaissance such as Johannes Aventinus discovered the Germanii of Tacitus as the "Old Germans", whose virtue and unspoiled manhood, as it appears in the Roman accounts of noble savagery, they contrast with the decadence of their own day.
The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665). The Viking revival of 18th century Romanticism created a fascination with anything "Nordic" in disposition.The beginning of Germanic philology proper begins in the early 19th century, with Rasmus Rask's Icelandic Lexicon of 1814, and was in full bloom by the 1830s, with Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie giving an extensive account of reconstructed Germanic mythology and composing a German dictionary ( Deutsches Wörterbuch ) of Germanic etymology. Jacob Grimm also coauthored with his brother Wilhelm, the famous Grimm's Fairy Tales. Apart from linguistic studies, the subject of what became of the Roman era Germanic tribes, and how they influenced the Middle Ages and the development of modern Western culture was a subject discussed during the Enlightenment by such as writers as Montesquieu and Giambattista Vico.
Later still, the development of Germanic studies as an academic discipline in the 19th century ran parallel to the rise of nationalism in Europe and the search for national histories for the nascent nation states developing after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.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 Teutonic 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. Following World War II, as a response to political influences of the past, government support for the study of ancient Germanic history and culture was significantly reduced both in Germany and Scandinavia.
Historical Germanic paganism, the indigenous religion of the Germanic peoples, ended with Christianization in the 11th century.Elements of Germanic paganism survived into post-Christianization folklore, and today new religious movements exist which see themselves as modern revivals of Germanic Heathenry.
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The Bastarnae were an ancient people who between 200 BC and 300 AD inhabited the region between the Carpathian Mountains and the river Dnieper, to the north and east of ancient Dacia. The Peucini, described as a branch of the Bastarnae by Greco-Roman writers, occupied the region north of the Danube Delta.
The Goths were an early Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe.
The Ostrogoths were the eastern branch of the older Goths. The Ostrogoths traced their origins to the Greutungi – a branch of the Goths who had migrated southward from the Baltic Sea and established a kingdom north of the Black Sea, during the 3rd and 4th centuries. By some accounts, their empire stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic. The Ostrogoths were probably literate in the 3rd century, and their trade with the Romans was highly developed. Their Danubian kingdom reached its zenith under King Ermanaric, who is said to have committed suicide at an old age when the Huns attacked his people and subjugated them in about 370.
The Visigoths were the western branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples referred to collectively as the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread throughout the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or what is known as the Migration Period. The Visigoths emerged from earlier Gothic groups who had invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Relations between the Romans and the Visigoths were variable, alternately warring with one another and making treaties when convenient. The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in Hispania, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD.
The Migration Period was a period that lasted from AD 375 to 568, during which there were widespread invasions of peoples within or into Europe, during and after the decline of the Western Roman Empire, mostly into Roman territory, notably the Germanic tribes and the Huns. This period has also been termed in English by the German loanword Völkerwanderung and—from the Roman and Greek perspective—the Barbarian Invasions. Many of the migrations were movements of Germanic, Hunnic, Slavic and other peoples into the territory of the then declining Roman Empire, with or without accompanying invasions or war.
Germania was the Roman term for the historical region in north-central Europe. Its peoples were mostly Germanic, and were referred to by the Romans as Germani.
The Ampsivarii, sometimes referenced by modern writers as Ampsivari, were a Germanic tribe mentioned by ancient authors.
The Belgae were a large confederation of tribes living in northern Gaul, between the English Channel, the west bank of the Rhine, and northern bank of the river Seine, from at least the third century BC. They were discussed in depth by Julius Caesar in his account of his wars in Gaul. Some peoples in Britain were also called Belgae and O'Rahilly equated them with the Fir Bolg in Ireland. The Belgae gave their name to the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and, much later, to the modern country of Belgium; today "Belgae" is also Latin for "Belgians".
The Istvaeones were a Germanic group of tribes living near the banks of the Rhine during the Roman empire which reportedly shared a common culture and origin. The Istaevones were contrasted to neighbouring groups, the Ingaevones on the North Sea coast, and the Herminones, living inland of these groups.
The Tungri were a tribe, or group of tribes, who lived in the Belgic part of Gaul, during the times of the Roman empire. Within the Roman empire, their territory was the Civitas Tungrorum. They were described by Tacitus as being the same people who were first called "Germani" (Germanic), meaning that all other tribes who were later referred to this way, including those in Germania east of the Rhine river were named after them. More specifically, Tacitus was thereby equating the Tungri with the "Germani Cisrhenani" described generations earlier by Julius Caesar. Their name is the source of several place names in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including Tongeren, and several places called Tongerloo, and Tongelre.
The Treveri or Treviri were a Belgic tribe who inhabited the lower valley of the Moselle from around 150 BCE, if not earlier, until their displacement by the Franks. Their domain lay within the southern fringes of the Silva Arduenna, a part of the vast Silva Carbonaria, in what are now Luxembourg, southeastern Belgium and western Germany; its centre was the city of Trier, to which the Treveri give their name. Celtic in language, according to Tacitus they claimed Germanic descent. Modern historians consider the Treveri to have been a mixed Gallic-Germanic tribe.
The Eburones, were a Gallic-Germanic tribe who lived in the northeast of Gaul, in what is now the southern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, and the German Rhineland, in the period immediately before this region was conquered by Rome. Though living in Gaul, they were also described as being both Belgae, and Germani.
Germanic paganism refers to the ethnic religion practiced by the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. It was an essential element of early Germanic culture. From both archaeological remains and literary sources, it is possible to trace a number of common or closely related beliefs amid the Germanic peoples into the Middle Ages, when the last pagan areas in Scandinavia were Christianized. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, the paganism practiced amid the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the Old English-speaking peoples. Germanic religion is best documented in several texts from the 10th and 11th centuries, where they have been best preserved in Scandinavia and Iceland.
The Vangiones appear first in history as an ancient Germanic tribe of unknown provenance. They threw in their lot with Ariovistus in his bid of 58 BC to invade Gaul through the Doubs river valley and lost to Julius Caesar in a battle probably near Belfort. After some Celts evacuated the region in fear of the Suebi, the Vangiones, who had made a Roman peace, were allowed to settle among the Mediomatrici in northern Alsace.. They gradually assumed control of the Celtic city of Burbetomagus, later Worms.
The Condrusi were a Germanic tribe of ancient Belgium, which takes its name from the political and ethnic group known to the Romans as the Belgae. The Condrusi were probably located in the region now known as Condroz, named after them, between Liège and Namur. The terrain is wooded hills on the northeastern edge of the Ardennes.
Germani was an exonym used by the ancient Romans for a diverse group of peoples living in the areas north of the Danube and east of the Rhine in classical antiquity. The Latin singular form of the name is Germanus.
The Batavi was an auxilia palatina (infantry) unit of the Late Roman army, active between the 4th and the 5th century. It was composed by 500 soldiers and was the heir of those ethnic groups that were initially used as auxiliary units of the Roman army and later integrated in the Roman Empire after the Constitutio Antoniniana. Their name was derived from the people of the Batavi.
The Sunuci was the name of a tribal grouping with a particular territory within the Roman province of Germania Inferior, which later became Germania Secunda. Within this province, they were in the Civitas Agrippinenses, with its capital at Cologne. They are thought to have been a Germanic tribe, speaking a Germanic language, although they may also have had a mixed ancestry. They lived between the Meuse and Rur rivers in Roman imperial times. In modern terms this was probably in the part of Germany near Aachen, Jülich, Eschweiler and Düren, and the neighbouring areas in the southern Netherlands, around Valkenburg, and eastern Belgium, in part of the old Duchy of Limburg. There is a town just over the Belgian border from Aachen called Sinnich, in Voeren, which may owe its name to them. In other words, they lived just north of the modern northern limits of Romance languages derived from Latin.
The Betasii was the name Germanic tribal grouping within the Roman province of Germania Inferior, which later became Germania Secunda. Their exact location is still unknown, although two proposals are, first, that it might be the source of the name of the Belgian village of Geetbets, and second, that it might be further east, nearer to the Sunuci with whom they interacted in the Batavian revolt, and to the Cugerni who lived at Xanten. The area of Gennep, Goch and Geldern has been proposed for example.
The Germani cisrhenani, were a group of tribes who lived west of the Lower Rhine at the time of the Gallic Wars . The name is first mentioned by Julius Caesar, who was writing specifically about tribes near the Meuse river, who had settled among the Belgae before Roman intrusion into the area. Tribes who were certainly considered to be among the original Germani cisrhenani include the Eburones, the Condrusi, the Caeraesi, the Segni and the Paemani, who collectively form a group which apparently later came to be referred to as Tungri, in order to avoid confusion with other "Germani" once, by the time of Tacitus, the term had been extended to include, or more strongly associated with, the vast area of Germania magna beyond the limits of the Roman Empire.