The Sicambri (var. Sicambers, Sicambres, Sugambri or Sicambrians) were a Germanic people living on the right bank of the Rhine river, near where it passes out of Germany and enters what is now called the Netherlands at the turn of the first millennium. Originating in the Germanic-Celtic contact zone (cf. Nordwestblock), the region they lived in had become Frankish by the 3rd century, associated with the Low Franconian Salians.
The Sicambri appear in history around 55 BC, during the time of conquests of Gaul by Julius Caesar and his expansion of the Roman Empire. Caesar wrote in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico that at the confluence of the Rhine and Meuse River a battle took place in the land of the Menapii with Tencteri and Usipetes. When these two peoples were routed by him their cavalry escaped and found asylum north of the river with the Sicambri. Caesar then built a bridge across the river to punish the Sicambri. In 53 BC, Caesar confronted a raiding army of Sicambri who had crossed the Rhine to take advantage of the Roman war with the Eburones.
When Caesar defeated the Eburones, he invited all of the peoples that were interested to destroy the remainder. The Sicambri responded to Caesar's call. They took large amounts of cattle, slaves and plunder. Caesar commented that "these men are born for war and raids", "No swamp or marsh will stop them". After the raid on Eburones they moved on against the Romans. They destroyed some of Caesars units, in revenge of his campaign against them and when the remains of the legion withdrew into the city Atuatuca the Sicambri went back across the Rhine.
Claudius Ptolemy located the Sicambri, together with the Bructeri Minores, at the most northern part of the Rhine and south of the Frisii who inhabit the coast north of the river. Strabo located the Sicambri next to the Menapii, “who dwell on both sides of the river Rhine near its mouth, in marshes and woods. It is opposite to these Menapii that the Sicambri are situated". This information places the Sicambri near the lower Rhine in or near what is now called the Netherlands.
In 16 BC their leader Melo, brother of Baetorix, organised a raid and defeated a Roman army under the command of Marcus Lollius, which sparked a reaction from the Roman Empire and helped start the series of Germanic Wars. Later the Sicambri under Deudorix, son of Baetorix, joined the rebellion of Arminius and subsequently annihilated the 3 Roman legions of Publius Quinctilius Varus.
In 11 BC, the tribe was living to the south of Lippe river, with the Usipetes to the north, but at least a part was forced by Nero Claudius Drusus to move to the south side of the lower Rhine, where they evidently formed a component of the Tungri before becoming Franks. The main part of the Sicambri "migrated deep into the country anticipating the Romans" according to Strabo.
Martial, in his Liber De Spectaculis, a series of epigrams written to celebrate the games in the Colosseum under Titus or Domitian, noted the attendance of numerous peoples, including the Sicambri: "With locks twisted into a knot, are come the Sicambrians..."
Like the Cimbri, and like their neighbours across the Rhine, the Eburones, many names of Sicambrian leaders end in typical Belgicized (or Celticized) suffixes like -rix (Baetorix, Deudorix, etc.), it could also indicate intense contacts with Belgian neighbours like the Menapi, and different from other Germanic tribes.
Sicambri as poetic name for Salian Franks 
In Roman and Merovingian times, it was a custom to declare panegyrics. These poetic declarations were held for fun or propaganda to entertain guests and please rulers. Those panegyrics played an important role in the transmission of culture. One of the ritual customs of these poetic declarations is the use of archaic names for contemporary things. Romans were often called Trojans, and Salian Franks were called Sicambri. An example of this custom is remembered by the 6th century historian Gregory of Tours (II, 31), who states that the Merovingian Frankish leader Clovis I, on the occasion of his baptism into the Catholic faith, was addressed as a Sicamber by Saint Remigius, the officiating bishop of Rheims. At the crucial moment of Clovis' baptism, Remigius declared, "Now you must bend down your head, you proud Sicamber. Honour what you have burnt. Burn what you have honoured." It is likely that this recalled a link between the Sicambri and the Salian Franks, who were Clovis' people.
More examples of Salians being called Sicamber can be found in the Panegyrici Latini, Life of King Sigismund, Life of King Dagobert and other sources.
Sicambri in Frankish mythology 
An anonymous work of 727 called Liber Historiae Francorum states that following the fall of Troy, 12,000 Trojans led by chiefs Priam and Antenor moved to the Tanais (Don) river, settled in Pannonia near the Sea of Azov and founded a city called Sicambria. In just 2 generations from the fall of Troy (by modern scholars dated in the late Bronze Age) they arrive in the late 4th century AD at the Rhine. A variation of this story can also be read in Fredegar, and similar tales continue to crop up repeatedly throughout obscure, mediaeval-era European literature.
These stories have obvious difficulties. Historians, including eyewitnesses like Caesar, have given us accounts that place the Sicambri firmly at the delta of the Rhine, and archaeologists have confirmed ongoing settlement of peoples. Furthermore the myth does not come from the Sicambri themselves, but from later Franks, and includes an incorrect geography. But most of all these stories are a "farrago nonsense" (Wood), for a man does not live that long. For these reasons, and since the Sicambri were known to have been Germanic, and not Scythian as the story claims, modern scholars reject it as an unhistorical legend. For example J.M. Wallace-Hadrill states that "this legend is quite without historical substance". Ian Wood says that "these tales are obviously no more than legend" and "nonsensical", "in fact there is no reason to believe that the Franks were involved in any long-distance migration".
- Johannes Heinrich: Sugambrer. In: Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (Hrsg.), Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. Bd. 30. de Gruyter, Berlin – New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-018385-4.
- Bruno Krüger (Hrsg.), Die Germanen – Geschichte und Kultur der germanischen Stämme in Mitteleuropa. Ein Handbuch in zwei Bänden. Bd. 1, 4. Auflage, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1983 (Publications of the Central Institute for Ancient History and Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR, Bd. 4).
- Alexander Sitzmann, Friedrich E. Grünzweig, Hermann Reichert (Hrsg.): Die altgermanischen Ethnonyme. Fassbaender, Wien 2008, ISBN 978-3-902575-07-4.
- Reinhard Wolters, Die Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald. Arminius, Varus und das römische Germanien. Beck, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57674-4.
See also 
- Julius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Gallico, particularly Book 6, Chapter 35
- Martial - Liber De Spectaculis, 3
- Tacitus - Annals
- Strabo - Geography
- Ptolemy - The Geography
- Fredegar - The 4th book of the chronicle of Fredegar with its continuations, translated by J. M. Wallace-Hadrill. Books on Demand, reprint 2005.
- Ian Wood - The Merovingian Kingdoms. Pearson Education, 1994.
- Tacitus, The Annals 4.47