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The Germanic peoples (Latin: Germani; German: Germanen), or in older publications sometimes Teutonic peoples (Latin: Teutones), are a category of north European ethnic groups, first mentioned by Graeco-Roman authors; and many of them are believed to have spoken similar Germanic languages.[a] Starting with Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), several Roman authors placed their homeland, Germania, roughly between the Lower Rhine and the Vistula, and distinguished them from other broad categories of peoples better known to Rome, especially the Celtic Gauls to their southwest, and "Scythian" Sarmatians to their southeast.[b] Greek writers, in contrast, consistently categorized the Germanic peoples east of the Rhine as Gauls.[c] However, there is no evidence that the Germanic peoples far from the Rhine called themselves or their lands "Germanic", and this use of the terminology also seems to have become rare among later Roman writers, despite its popularity in modern times (see below).[d]
Broad definitions of the "Germanic peoples" include peoples who were not known as Germani or Germanic peoples in their own time, but who have been proposed to be part of the same group of cultures, especially because of their use of Germanic languages, although not all scholars agree that this is a useful approach.[e] Thus, in modern writing "Germanic peoples" is a term which can commonly include the medieval or modern speakers of diverse Germanic languages, for example the Norse-speaking Vikings, who did not appear in written records until long after the Roman era. Making such linguistic classification difficult, all the languages of the Germanic peoples in the Roman era have left only fragmentary evidence if any at all, and the first long texts which have survived are written in languages of new mixed peoples outside Germania: the Gothic languages from the region that is today Ukraine, and Old English in England. Languages in this family are widespread today in Europe, and have dispersed worldwide, the family being represented by major modern languages such as English, Dutch, Nordic languages and German. The Eastern Germanic branch of the language family, once found in what is now Poland and the Ukraine, is extinct.
Apart from language, proposed connections between the diverse Germanic peoples described by classical and medieval sources, archaeology, and linguistics are the subject of on-going debate among scholars:
- On the one hand there is doubt about whether Roman-era Germanic peoples were all unified by any single unique shared culture, collective consciousness, or even language.[f] Even the idea that Germanic-speaking groups maintained any meaningful idea of shared origins or culture has been criticized by scholars such as Walter Goffart, and become the subject of vigorous debate.
- On the other hand, there is a connected debate concerning the extent to which any significant Germanic traditions apart from language, even smaller scale tribal traditions, survived after Roman times, when new mixed peoples formed new political entities in many strongly Roman-influenced parts of Europe. Some of these new entities are seen as precursors of modern European nation states, such as the English and French. Such proposed connections back to medieval and classical barbarian nations were important to many of the Romanticist nationalist movements which developed in Europe in modern times. The most controversial of these has been "Germanicism" which saw especially Germans as direct heirs of a Europe-conquering Germanic race and culture - a popular narrative which helped inspire Nazism.
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 thought by many scholars to be 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 nineteenth-century idea of race, at the basis of the ‘nation state’.
- 1 Definitions of Germanic peoples
- 1.1 Roman ethnographic writing, from Caesar to Tacitus
- 1.2 Before Caesar
- 1.3 Later Roman "Germanic peoples"
- 1.4 Medieval "Teutonic languages" (Deutsch, Dutch etc)
- 1.5 Modern "Germanic" concepts and "Germanism"
- 2 Languages
- 3 Classical subdivisions
- 4 History
- 4.1 Prehistory
- 4.2 4th-3rd centuries BCE: Possible earliest contacts with the classical world
- 4.3 2nd century BCE: Cimbrian War
- 4.4 1st century BCE: Julius Caesar
- 4.5 Early Roman Empire: Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE - 68 CE)
- 4.6 Flavian and Antonine dynasties (70-192 CE)
- 4.7 Third century
- 4.8 The "Migration Period"
- 4.9 Early Middle Ages
- 5 Roman descriptions of Germanic people and culture
- 6 Genetics
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
- 12 Further reading
Definitions of Germanic peoples
Since the first surviving discussion of the topic by Julius Caesar, the definition of what makes any people or peoples "Germanic" has involved several criteria, allowing the possibility of debatable cases.[g] This remains relevant because his writings, and a small number of writings from his time and soon after - Strabo (about 63 BCE - 24 CE), Pliny the Elder (about 23 – 79 CE), and especially Tacitus (about 56 – 120 CE) - are still the basis of most modern scholarly debate concerning the various ways in which Germanic peoples are sometimes proposed to have been connected, such as language, clothing, hairstyles, law, weaponry and religion.[h] Attempts to unite all or some of these peoples more objectively, based strictly upon the latest linguistic and/or archaeological criteria, have created new concepts which overlap with the old ones. However this has not ended debate and uncertainty concerning the origins and backgrounds of either the Roman-era Germanic peoples (such as the Marcomanni), or the post-Roman Germanic peoples (such as the Franks).[i]
Roman ethnographic writing, from Caesar to Tacitus
According to all available evidence, the theoretical concept of the Germanic peoples as a large grouping distinct from the Gauls, whose homeland was east of the Rhine, including areas very far from it, originated with Julius Caesar's published account of his "Gallic Wars", and specifically those parts concerning his battles near the Rhine. Importantly for all future conceptions of what Germanic means, Caesar was apparently the first to categorize distant peoples such as the Cimbri and the large group of Suebian peoples as "Germanic". The Suevians and their languages, which had perhaps never been called Germanic before then, had started expanding their influence in his time, as Caesar experienced personally. Caesar's categorization was in the context of explaining his battle against Ariovistus, who had been a Roman ally, and who led mixed forces which included significant Suebian contingents. Rome had suffered previously from northern wandering peoples, notably the Cimbri, who they had previously categorized as Gauls. Caesar instead categorized the Cimbri together with the peoples allied under Ariovistus as "Germanic", apparently using an ethnic term that was more local to the Rhine region where he fought Ariovistus. (Modern scholars are undecided about whether the Cimbri were Germanic speakers, and even where exactly they lived in northern Europe.) Caesar presented a domino theory whereby these peoples from beyond the Gaulish territories would create a repeat of past invasions into Italy. He proposed that these could be stopped by his conquest of Gaul, and defending the Rhine as a boundary against these Germani.
Several Roman writers followed Caesar's tradition, partly defining the Germanic peoples of their time geographically, by their presumed homeland. This "Germania magna", or Greater Germania, was seen as a large wild country roughly east of the Rhine, and north of the Danube, but not everyone from within the bounds of those rivers was ever described by Roman authors as Germanic, and not all Germani lived there. The opening of the Germania of Tacitus gave a rough definition only:
- Germania is separated from the Gauls, the Rhaetians, and Pannonii, by the rivers Rhine and Danube. Mountain ranges, or the fear which each feels for the other, divide it from the Sarmatians and Dacians.[j]
It is the northern part of Greater Germania, including the North European Plain, Scandinavia, and the Baltic coast that was presumed to be the original Germanic homeland by early Roman authors such as Caesar and Tacitus. Modern scholars also see this as the area from which Germanic languages dispersed. In the east, Germania magna's boundaries were unclear according to Tacitus, although geographers such as Ptolemy and Pomponius Mela took it to be the Vistula. For Tacitus it stretched somewhat further: to somewhere east of the Baltic sea in the north, and its people blended with the "Scythian" (or Sarmatian) steppe peoples in the Ukraine region in the south. In the north, greater Germania stretched all the way to the relatively unknown Arctic Ocean. In contrast, in the south of Greater Germania nearer the Danube, the Germanic peoples were seen by these Roman writers as immigrants or conquerors, living with other peoples who they had come to dominate. More specifically, Tacitus noted various Suebian Germanic-speaking peoples from the Elbe river in the north, such as the Marcomanni and Quadi, pushing into the Hercynian forest regions where the Gaulish Volcae, Helvetii and Boii had lived.
Roman writers who added to Caesar's theoretical description, especially Tacitus, also at least partly defined the Germani by non-geographic criteria such as their economy, religion, clothing and language. Caesar had for example previously noted that the Germani had no druids, and were less interested in farming than Gauls, and also that Gaulish (lingua gallica) was a language the Germanic King Ariovistus had to learn. Tacitus mentioned Germanic language at least three times, all concerning eastern peoples whose ethnicity was uncertain, and such remarks are seen by some modern authors as evidence of a unifying Germanic language.[k] His comments are not detailed, but they indicate that there were Suebian languages (plural) within the category of Germanic languages, and that customs varied between different Germanic peoples. For example:
- The Marsigni and Buri, near today's southern Silesia, were Suebian in speech and culture and therefore among the Germani in a region where he says non-Germanic people also lived.[l]
- The peoples (gentes) of the Aesti, on the eastern shores of the Baltic sea, had the same customs and attire as the Germanic Suebians although "their language more resembles that of Britain".[m] (They are seen today as speakers of Baltic languages, a language group in the same Indoeuropean language family as Germanic and Celtic.)
- Already mentioned above, the Peucini called by some Bastarnæ, are like Germani in their speech, cultivation, and settlements.[n] (However, Livy says that their language was like that of the Scordisci, a Celtic group.)
Unfortunately, Tacitus says nothing about the languages of the Germani living near the Rhine.
Origin of the "Germanic" terminology
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. Even the language from which it derives is a subject of disagreement.[o]
Whatever it meant, the name probably originally applied only to a smaller group of people, the so-called "Germani cisrhenani", whose Latin scholarly name simply indicates that these were Germani living on the western side of the Rhine (see below). Tacitus reported that these Germanic peoples in Gaul, ancestors of the Tungri in his time, were the first people to be called Germani. According to Tacitus, their name had transferred to peoples such as those within the alliance of Ariovistus, as a name which scared potential enemies. Ironically however, while Caesar and Tacitus saw this smaller people as Germanic in the broader sense also, they do not fit easily with the much broader definitions of "Germanic" used by them or modern scholars. These original Germani are therefore a significant complication for all attempts to define the Germanic peoples using either the Rhine, or their probable language.
Caesar described how the country of these Germani cisrhenani stretched well west of the Lower Rhine, into modern Belgium, and it had done so long before the Romans came into close contact. Neither Caesar nor Tacitus saw this as clashing with their broader definitions, because they believed these Germani had moved from east of the Rhine, where the other Germani lived. But this was not recent: Caesar reported that they were already on the west side during the Cimbrian War (113–101 BCE), generations earlier. The early Germani on both sides of the Lower Rhine were however distinguished from the Suebian Germani, by Caesar, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, and Strabo. Strabo even said that the Germani near the Rhine differed little from the Celts. Pliny the Elder and Tacitus reported a tradition that the Lower Rhine Germani could be distinguished as "the Istaevones" from the "Ingaevones" on the North Sea coast, and the "Herminones", who included the Suebian peoples, living inland of these groups (see below). Modern historical linguists and archaeologists have also come to doubt that these western Germani spoke a Germanic language as defined today, or shared the same material culture, at least at the time of their first contact with Caesar and the Romans.[p] Caesar himself refers to them also as Gauls.[q]
In fact, the older concept of the Germani being local to the Rhine remained common among Graeco-Roman writers, longer than the more theoretical and general concept of Caesar. At least two well-read 6th century Byzantine writers, Agathias and Procopius, understood the Franks on the Rhine to effectively be the old Germani under a new name, since, as Agathias wrote, they inhabit the banks of the Rhine and the surrounding territory.
Written evidence before Caesar
Unfortunately, all surviving written evidence implying any clear "Germanic" concept, broad or narrow, from before Julius Caesar is doubtful and unclear. There are two or three cases to consider.[r]
- One is the use of the word Germani in a report of lost writings by Posidonius (about 135 – 51 BCE), by the much later writer Athenaios (around 190 CE), however this word may have been added by the later writer, and if not, probably referred to the Germani cisrhenani. (It only says that the Germani eat roasted meat in separate joints, and drink milk and unmixed wine.)
- A commemoration in Rome of a triumph in 222 BCE by Marcus Claudius Marcellus, over Galleis Insubribus et Germ[an(eis)]. This victory in the Alpine region at the Battle of Clastidium over the Insubres is known from other sources to have involved a large force of Gaesatae. It is believed by many scholars that the inscription should originally have referred to these Gaesatae.
- A third author sometimes thought to have written about the Germani is Pytheas of Marseille, who wrote about northern Europe, however his works have not survived. Later reports of his writings show that he wrote about the areas and tribes later called Germanic but do not necessarily show that he called them Germanic. (For example Pliny the elder says he described the Baltic sea and mentioned a large country of "Guiones", often interpreted as the Gutones, described by Tacitus. Their land included an estuary that is one day's sail from an island where amber was collected, which in turn neighbours the Teutones.)
After Caesar, Roman authors such as Tacitus followed his example in using the Germanic terminology to refer retroactively to peoples known to the Romans or Greeks before Caesar. As already noted, the Cimbri had previously been described as Celtic or Cimmerian, and Greek writers continued to do so, while in contrast Caesar described them as Germanic. Tacitus and Strabo both proposed with some uncertainty that the Bastarnae, a large people known to the Graeco-Roman world before Caesar, from the region of what is now Ukrainian Galicia and Moldava, might also have had mixed Germanic ancestry, and according to Tacitus, even a Germanic language. Pliny the Elder categorized them as a separate major division of the Germani like Istvaeones, Ingvaeones, and Irminones, but also separate from an eastern group which contained the Vandals and Gutones both in what is now Poland. (As already mentioned however, Livy said they spoke a language like the Scordisci.)
Archaeologists divide up the area of Roman-era Germania into several Iron age "material cultures". At the time of Caesar, all had been historically strongly influenced by the La Tène culture which was still dominate not only in France, but also in the south and west of Germania, from southern Poland to southern Germany, and from Switzerland to the Lower Rhine, and associated with Celtic-speaking Gauls. These peoples, who included the Germani cisrhenani, are in general considered unlikely to have spoken Germanic languages as defined today, though some may have spoken unknown related languages or Celtic dialects. To the north of these zones, in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, a distinct archaeological zone had started to develop during the Iron Age.
Concerning Germanic-speakers and Suevi within these regions, the relatively well-defined Jastorf culture, matches well with the areas described by Tacitus, Pliny the elder and Strabo as Suevian homelands near the lower River Elbe, and stretching east on the Baltic coast to the Oder river. It also neighboured related cultures in Scandinavia, Poland, and northern Germany, but there is no consensus about whether these were also part of a Germanic (or proto-Germanic) speaking community. To the west of the Elbe for example, on what is now the German North Sea coast, was the so-called Harpstedt-Nienburger Group placed between the Jastorf culture and the La Tène influenced cultures of the Lower Rhine. To the west in what is now Poland was the Oksywie culture, in the area where the later Wielbark culture developed, thought to represent early East Germanic speakers.
The Jastorf culture came into direct contact with La Tène cultures on the upper Elbe and Oder rivers, believed to correspond to the Celtic speaking groups such as the Boii and Volcae described in this area by Roman sources.
Later Roman "Germanic peoples"
The theoretical examinations of Germanic peoples by Tacitus, which have been very influential in modern times, may never have been commonly read or used in the Roman-era. It is clear in any case that in later Roman times the Rhine frontier (or Limes Germanicus), the area where Caesar had first come in contact with Suevians and Germani cisrhenani, was the normal "Germanic" area mentioned in writing. Walter Goffart has written that "the one incontrovertible Germanic thing" in the Roman era was "the two Roman provinces of 'Germania,' on the middle and lower course of the Rhine river" and: "Whatever 'Germania' had meant to Tacitus, it had narrowed by the time of St Jerome to an archaic or poetic term for the land normally called Francia". Edward James, similarly wrote:
- It seems clear that in the fourth century 'German' was no longer a term which included all western barbarians. [...] Ammianus Marcellinus, in the later fourth century, only uses Germania when he is referring to the Roman provinces of Upper Germany and Lower Germany; east of Germania are Alamannia and Francia.
Far from the Rhine, the Gothic peoples in what is today Ukraine, and the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles, were not directly called Germanic in any surviving text, but in at least a few cases, erudite writers sometimes linked them to the old Germanic peoples named by Tacitus and Ptolemy as part of their imaginative myths. Very notably for the history of the concept "Germanic", Jordanes wrote the earliest surviving account of Gothic origins, which specifically connected them to the Gutones of Tacitus. This continues to cause debate among scholars, because while his account is an impossible fantasy story combining ideas from many old histories, the connecting of the Goths to earlier Germania, is consistent with linguistic and archaeological evidence.[s] However, Walter Goffart in particular has criticized the methodology of many modern scholars for using Jordanes and other origins stories such as found in Paul the Deacon as independent sources, but only when it matches their beliefs arrived at in other ways.
As an exceptional case, the poet Sidonius Apollinaris, living in what is now southern France, described the Burgundians of his time as speaking a "Germanic" tongue and being "Germani". Wolfram has proposed that this word was chosen not because of a comparison of languages, but because the Burgundians had come from the Rhine region, and even argued that the use of this word by Sidonius might be seen as be seen as evidence against Burgundians being speakers of East Germanic, given that the East Germanic speaking Goths, also present in southern France at this time, were never described this way.[t]
Medieval "Teutonic languages" (Deutsch, Dutch etc)
Medieval writers used Caesar's old geographical concept of Germania, which, like the new Frankish and clerical jurisdictions of their time, used the Rhine as a frontier marker. However they did not commonly refer to any contemporary Germani. For example Louis the German (Ludovicus Germanicus) was named this way because he ruled east of the Rhine.
Writers using Latin in West Germanic-speaking areas did recognize that those languages were related (Dutch, English, Lombardic, and German). To describe this they referred to "Teutonic" words and languages, seeing this as a Latin translation of Theodiscus, a word they also used, which was taken more directly from Germanic. This was a concept that West Germanic speakers used to refer to themselves, and the source of the modern words Dutch and Deutsch. Romance language speakers and others such as the Welsh were contrasted using words based on an older word Walhaz (the source of "Welsh", Wallach, Welsch, Walloon, etc), itself coming from the name of the Volcae, a Celtic tribe. A small number of writers were influenced by Tacitus, whose work was known at Fulda Abbey, and used terminology such as lingua Germanica instead of theudiscus sermo.
On the other hand among the many different origins myths of the new peoples, for example that the Franks came from Troy, or that the Goths descended from Amazons, there were authors after Jordanes (see above) who connected some of the new peoples to Scandinavia. Frechulf of Lisieux, for example, was aware of the story published by Jordanes, and noted that some believed that the Goths might belong to the "nationes Theotistae", like the Franks, and that both the Franks and the Goths might have come from Scandinavia. It is in this period, the 9th century Carolingian era, that scholars are first recorded speculating about relations between Gothic and West Germanic. Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel believed the Goths spoke a teodisca lingua like the Franks, and Walafrid Strabo, calling it a theotiscus sermo and was aware of their bible translation. However, though the similarities were noticed, Gothic would not have been intelligible to a West Germanic speaker.
Modern "Germanic" concepts and "Germanism"
With the Renaissance, there was a renewal of interest in Tacitus and other classical authors in the 15th century all around Europe, but this had "spectacular results" in Germany. Tacitus continues to be an important influence in Germanic studies, and often read together with Jordanes' Getica, which was written much later, but which declared connections between the Goths, and the Germanic peoples near the Baltic sea, described by Tacitus.
- Tacitus's ethnography won the attention it had formerly been denied because there now was a Germany, the "German nation" that had come into existence since the Carolingians, which Tacitus could now equip with a heaven-sent ancient dignity and pedigree.
In this context, in the 19th century, the famous folklorist and linguist Jacob Grimm helped popularize the concept of Germanic languages as well as Indoeuropean languages. Apart from the well-known Grimm's Fairy Tales, made with his brother Wilhelm, he published, for example, Deutsche Mythologie attempting to reconstruct Germanic mythology, and a German dictionary Deutsches Wörterbuch with detailed etymological proposals attempting to reconstruct the oldest Germanic language. He also popularized the speculative story of these Germanic speakers, especially those in Germany, clinging valiantly to their supposed Germanic civilization over the centuries.[u]
The subsequently popular modern assertion of strong cultural continuity between Roman-era Germani and medieval or modern Germanic speakers, especially Germans, assumed a strong connection between the family trees of language categories, and both cultural and racial heritages.
This romanticist, nationalist approach has been rejected in its simplest forms since approximately World War 2. For example, the once common habit of referring to Roman-era Germanic peoples as "Germans" (and Deutsche as opposed to Germanen) is discouraged by modern historians, and modern Germans are no longer presented as straightforward successors of the Roman-era Germanic peoples. However, it is not only ideas associated with Nazism, but also other romanticized ideas about the Germanic peoples which are criticized now. For example: Guy Halsall has written that the "view of the peoples of Germania as, essentially, proto-democratic communes of freemen". And Peter Heather has pointed out also that the Marxist theory "that some of Europe's barbarians were ultimately responsible for moving Europe onwards to the feudal modern of production has also lost much of its force".
Going further, some historians now question whether there was any unifying Germanic culture even in Roman times, and secondly whether there was any significant continuity at all apart from language, connecting the Roman era Germanic Peoples with the mixed new ethnic groups who formed in late antiquity. Skeptics of such connections include Walter Goffart, and others associated with him and Toronto University. On the other hand, the possibility of a small but significant "core of tradition" (Traditionskern) surviving from Roman Germanic peoples into new medieval Germanic speaking peoples such as the Franks, Alamanni, Anglo-Saxons, and Goths, continues to be defended by other historians. This Traditionskern concept is associated for example with the Vienna School of History. Others have argued that the shared use of Germanic languages demonstrates a link which some Anglo-Saxons and Goths must have had to Germania, which on its own implies more links than language.
It is believed that most of the early Germanic peoples used Germanic languages.[v] This language family, named in modern times after the Roman era peoples, and defined by the "First Germanic Sound Shift" also known as Grimm's law, is a branch of the wider Indo-European language family. Modern scholars, such as historians, archaeologists, philologists and religious scholars, often define Germanic peoples simply as speakers of Germanic languages.[w] While the Germanic tribes of the Lower Rhine, including the first tribes to be called Germani, probably did not initially speak Germanic languages, and were culturally Gaulish in the time of Caesar, Germanic-languages became dominant in many areas including the Rhine. Moreover it is often proposed, partly on the basis of authors such as Caesar and Tacitus, that shared traits other than language also spread, such as religion, customs, costumes, weapons and law.
The urheimat of the Germanic languages is thought to have been in southern Scandinavia or northeastern Germany. Although both earlier and more recent scenarios have been proposed, including a larger "polycentric" origin area, Proto-Germanic is believed to have emerged as a separate branch of Indo-European in either the Nordic Bronze Age or later in the Iron age Jastorf culture in East Germany between the lower Elbe and lower Oder, which was the southernmost regional culture to develop from it.[x] (Indo-European languages ancestral to Germanic and Celtic are believed to have been brought to this area thousands of years earlier by the Corded Ware culture around 2,800 BC, which developed a local variant known as the Battle Axe culture, which preceded the Nordic Bronze Age.)
Germanic contains many distinctive features compared to Indo-European languages, which have been explained by the Germanic substrate hypothesis. By 250 BC, it is believed that Germanic was dividing into distinct dialects. In modern scholarship, the Germanic languages are divided as follows:
- West Germanic, which can be divided in various way, for example:
- Anglo-Frisian, a group which shares some significant innovations and is sometimes described as North Sea Germanic or even "Ingvaeonic", based on speculated connections to ancient groupings (see below).
- Continental West Germanic including Dutch, Low German, and High German. (The "Frankish" dialects are sometimes claimed to show evidence of a Weser-Rhine Germanic, which is referred to occasionally as "Istvaeonic" in older texts. (See below.)
- North Germanic, all modern languages being derived from Old Norse.
- The East Germanic languages, of which only Gothic is known in any detail, were probably spoken in various forms by the Vandals, Gepids, Burgundians and related groups, but all these languages are extinct.
By the 1st century CE, the writings of Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus reported a division of Germanic peoples into large groupings who had a mythical ancestral connection from three brothers, grandsons of a god. These terms are also sometimes used in older modern linguistic terminology, attempting to describe the divisions of later Germanic languages. Tacitus, in his Germania, wrote that:
- In the ancient songs...they celebrate Tuisto, an earth-born god. To him they attribute a son, Mannus, the forefather and founder of their people, and to Mannus three sons, after whom were named the Ingvaeones, nearest to the Ocean, the Herminones in the interior, and the remainder Istvaeones.
On the other hand, he says in the same passage, some believe other groups are equally old, including "the Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilii". Tacitus 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 near the Elbe, who "claim that they are the oldest and the noblest of the Suebi."
Pliny the Elder, somewhat similarly, names five races of Germani in his Historia Naturalis, with the same basic three groups, plus two more easterly blocks of Germans, the Vandals and further east the Bastarnae. He clarifies that the Istvaeones, are near the Rhine, though he only gives one problematic example, the Cimbri. He also clarifies that the Suevi, though big, are actually in one of the three Mannus groups. His list:
- The Vandili, include the Burgundiones, the Varini, the Carini, and the Gutones
- The Ingævones include the Cimbri, the Teutoni, and the tribes of the Chauci.
- The Istævones, who join up to the Rhine, and including the Cimbri [sic, repeated]
- The Hermiones, forming a fourth, dwell in the interior, and include the Suevi, the Hermunduri, the Chatti, the Cherusci,
- The Peucini, who are also the Basternæ, adjoining the Daci.
(The two accounts do not match perfectly. The remote Varini are listed by Tacitus as being in the Suebic group, above, but by Pliny in the eastern Vandalic group.)
These accounts and others from the period emphasize that the Suebi formed an especially large and powerful group. The larger group they were part of according to Pliny is mentioned in one other source: 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, apparently on the Baltic.
Strabo, who focused mainly on Germani between the Elbe and Rhine, and does not mention the sons of Mannus, also separates out the names of Germani who are not Suevian, in two groups: "smaller German tribes, as the Cherusci, Chatti, Gamabrivi, Chattuarii, and next the ocean the Sicambri, Chaubi, Bructeri, Cimbri, Cauci, Caulci, Campsiani".
From the perspective of modern linguistic reconstructions, the classical ethnographers were not helpful in distinguishing two large groups that spoke types of Germanic very different from the Suebians and their neighbours, whose languages are the source of modern West Germanic.
- The Germanic peoples of the far north, in Scandinavia, were treated as Suebians by Tacitus, though their Germanic dialects would evolve into Proto Norse, and later Old Norse, as spoken by the Vikings, and then the North Germanic language family of today.
- The "Gothic peoples" who later formed great nations in the Ukraine centuries later, were not known to Tacitus, Pliny or Strabo, but their East Germanic languages are presumed to derive from languages spoken by Pliny's Vandal group (corresponding in part to the group made up of Gothones, Lemovii and Rugii described by Tacitus), and possibly also the Bastarnae.
Germanic tribes are hard to distinguish from the Celts on many accounts simply based on archaeological records, because the cultures influenced each other. Archaeologists are unable to make definitive judgments which accord the observations of Tacitus.
Some recognizable trends in the archaeological records exist, as it is known that, generally, West Germanic people became more settled and agricultural, whereas the East Germanic peoples remained transitory for a longer period.
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 migrated to other areas as they exhausted the immediately available resources.
4th-3rd centuries BCE: Possible earliest contacts with the classical world
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 only sources of information for later historians.[y] The Romans and Greeks however had contact with northerners who came south.
The Bastarnae or Peucini are mentioned in historical sources going back as far as the 3rd century BCE all the way through the 4th century CE. These Bastarnae were described by Greek and Roman authors as living in the territory east of the Carpathian Mountains 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, they 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 were subdued by the Romans and those that remained presumably merged into various tribes of Goths into the second century CE.
2nd century BCE: Cimbrian War
Late in the 2nd century BCE, Roman and Greek sources recount the migrations of the far northern "Gauls", the Cimbri, Teutones and Ambrones. Later, Caesar 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 Noricum, in 113 BCE, they defeated the Boii at the Battle of Noreia.
In Gaul, a combined force of Cimbri and Teutoni and others defeated the Romans in 107 in the Battle of Burdigala (Bordeaux), in 105 in the Battle of Arausio (Orange, France), and in 102 BCE Battle of Tridentum. 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.
1st century BCE: Julius Caesar
The campaigns of Caesar in what is now France ran from 58-50 BCE, in the period of the late Roman Republic. As mentioned above, Caesar had this written up in a way which introduced the term "Germanic" to refer to peoples such as the Cimbri and Suebi.
- 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 Suebi coming into Gaul. Caesar defeated Ariovistus at the Battle of Vosges (58 BC).
- 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.
Early Roman Empire: Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE - 68 CE)
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 a policy to leave the border at the Rhine, and expand the empire no further in that direction. The Julio-Claudian dynasty, the extended family of Augustus, played close personal attention to management of this Germanic frontier. 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).
From 13 BCE until 17 CE there were major Roman campaigns across the Rhine nearly every year. 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, ironically, 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, defended by forests and mountains, and formed alliances with other peoples. 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, Marobduus 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 tribe.
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. 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 tribe 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, and it was in this area that dramatic events unfolded over the next few generations.
The Marcomannic Wars during the time of Marcus Aurelius ended in approximately CE 180. A large number of peoples from north of the Danube were involved, and there is much speculation about what events or plans led to this situation. Many scholars believe a pressure was being created by aggressive movements of peoples further north.
- In 162 the Chatti once again attacked the Roman provinces of Raetia (with capital at Augsburg) and Germania Superior to their south. During the main war in 973 they were repulsed from the Rhine frontier to their west, along with their neighbours the Suevian Hermunduri.
- In 167, during the Antonine plague the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Iazyges attacked and pushed their way to Italy where they besieged Aquileia, triggering the main series of wars. Soon after, according to Cassius Dio, a smaller group of Lombards also breached the border together with a group called the Obii, and they were defeated.
By the early 3rd century AD, new confederations of Germanic people appeared near the Roman frontier. 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 Suebian peoples, who coalesced in the Agri Decumates. Emperor Severus Alexander was killed by his own soldiers in CE 235 for paying for peace with the Alamanni and 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,
The Gothic peoples of the Ukraine, many of whom were Germanic speaking peoples, also begin to appear in records of this period, starting in 238. 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.
Soon after the appearance of the Alamanni, on the Upper Rhine, the Franks begin to be mentioned on the bend of the lower Rhine. In this case, the collective name was new, but the original tribes who composed the group were largely local, and their old names sometimes still mentioned at first.
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.
The "Migration Period"
Since its very beginning, the Roman empire had successfully kept migrating northern tribes at arms length, just as Caesar had proposed. However, the ability to handle the barbarians in the old way broke down in the late 4th century as the western part of the empire itself broke down.
The Gothic entry into the empire
The Gothic War (376–382), which in some ways was similar to past border conflicts, saw the defeat of a major Roman army and killing of emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianopolis (378). While the eastern empire eventually recovered, the western central power was ineffective while Honorius was emperor from 393-423, and despite periods of stabilization, it continued to be beset with factionalism.
The Gothic wars were affected indirectly by the arrival of the nomadic Huns from Central Asia into 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.[z] As pointed out by Guy Halsall, 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.
In contrast, the Gothic Thervingi had borne the impact of the campaign of Valens, under the leadership of Athanaric, and were losers against the Huns, but allies 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.[aa] With the emperor occupied in the Middle East, the situation on the Danube went badly. The Tervingi were treated badly, and the Greuthungi and Alans were able to cross the river and support a Tervingian uprising leading to the Roman defeat at Adrianople.
By 383 a new emperor, Theodosius I, was seen as victorious over the Goths and having the situation back under control. The Tervingi became 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 apparently 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. 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, which had become common in the eastern empire. 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 he eventually 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, who the empire later settled in what is now southwestern France. While military units had often had their own ethnic symbolism, this is the first time that such a group became a kingdom.
In this situation, the border and the handling of foreign tribes ceased to function.
The invasions of 405
In 405-406, Radagaisus who was probably Gothic, entered the empire on the lower Danube with a very large force of unclear composition, and succeeded to invade Italy. He was captured and killed in 406 near Florence and 12000 of his men recruited into Roman forces.
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, indicates that they had traveled from the area north of the Middle Danube. (The Suebians involved may well have included remnants of the once powerful Marcomanni and Quadi.) Some of the Alans remained in Gaul, while the rest of these peoples entered Roman Iberia in 409 and established kingdoms there, and some traveled further to establish the Vandal kingdom of North Africa.
Motivated by the chaos there, in 406 the Roman army in Britain elected Constantine "III" as emperor and they took control of Gaul. 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 411 a Burgundian group established themselves in northern Germania Superior on the Rhine, between Franks and Alamanni, 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.
Constantius III, who became Magister militum by 411, restored order step-by-step, eventually granting the Visigoths their kingdom within the empire, and committed to taking control of Iberia. When Constantius died in 1422, having been co-emperor himself for one year, Honorius was the only emperor in the West. However, Honorius died in 423 without heir. After this, the Western Roman empire steadily lost control of is provinces.
5th century. The western empire divided into kingdoms
In the 420s, Flavius Aëtius was a general who successfully used Hunnish forces on several occasions, fighting Roman factions, and various barbarians such as Goths, Franks. In 429 he was elevated to the rank of magister militum in the western empire and became the new leader of efforts to keep the order. 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 can now be called, under Attila and his brother Bleda began a series of attacks over the Danube into the eastern empire, and 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 disease.
- In 453, Aëtius and Attila both died.
- In 454, the Hunnish alliance divided and fought the Battle of Nedao. The original of the peoples in the alliance appear again and several of them were allowed to become federates of the eastern empire in the Balkans.
In the subsequent decades, the Franks and Alamanni tended to remain in small kingdoms but these began to extend deeper into the empire. 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, who they defeated at the Battle of Zülpich in 496. According to Guy Halsall, a similar process to Northern Gaul may have occurred in Southern Britain, which was similarly isolated, though Romanized, and left to defend look after itself. The lowland fertile areas which would become England was also inhabited by a mixture of Romanized people and military forces, including many from northern Germany, who retained an ethnic distinctiveness, which was typical within Roman units. Unlike Northern Gaul it is often assumed that many small English kingdoms which subsequently formed which only gradually merged into larger units. However, as pointed out by Halsall, this "FA Cup Model", is only an hypothesis, and not evidence-based.
In 476 Odoacer, a Roman soldier who came from the tribes of the Middle Danube in the aftermath of Nedao, became King of Italy, removing the last emperors from power, and the empire effectively came to an end. He was replaced in 493 by Theoderic the Great, described as King of the Ostrogoths, a people of the old Hun alliance, and raised up and supported by the eastern emperors. The Ostrogothic kingdom was ended only in 542 when the eastern emperor Justinian made a last great effort to reconquer some of the western empire. The empire was unable to hold Italy for long, and in 568 the Lombard king Alboin, a Suebian people who had entered the Middle Danubian region from the north, 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 over-simplified, and only describes 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 tribe, including approximately 15,000-20,000 warriors. They constituted a tiny minority of the population in the lands over which they seized control.[ab]
Apart from the common history many of them had in the Roman military, a longer-term unifying factor for the new kingdoms which had formed was that by 500, the start of the Middle Ages, most of the old Western empire had converted to the same Rome-based Catholic form of Christianity.
Early Middle Ages
In the early Middle Ages, much of continental catholic Europe became part of a greater Francia under the Merovingian and then the Carolingian dynasty. The coronation of Charlemagne as emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day, CE 800 consolidated a shift in the power structure from the south to the north, and was also a strong symbolic link to Rome and the Roman Christianity. The core of the new empire included what is now France, Germany and the Benelux countries. The empire laid the foundations for the medieval and early modern ancien regime, finally destroyed only by the French Revolution. The Frankish-Catholic way of doing politics and war and religion also had a strong effect upon all neighbouring regions, including what became England, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Bohemia. The effect of old Germanic culture on this new Latin-using empire is a topic of dispute, but in any case faded away. While old law codes were preserved for the Germanic-speaking populations in the earliest Middle Ages, these were already heavily Roman influenced, and under strong church influence all law was increasingly standardized to accord with Christian philosophy, and old Roman law.
Outside of the Roman zone, Germanic-speaking 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', ventured deep into Russia, where they founded the state of Kievan Rus'. They defeated 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 also secured a foothold on Frankish soil along the Lower Seine River valley in what became known as Normandy. On the other hand, the Scandinavian countries were, starting with Denmark, under the influence of Germany to their south, and also the lands where they had colonies. Bit by bit they became Christian, and organized themselves into Frankish style kingdoms.
Roman descriptions of Germanic people and culture
Tacitus famously described the Germanic people as ethnically "unmixed", which had an influence on pre-1945 German racist nationalism:
- For my own part, I agree with those who think that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of inter-marriages with foreign nations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. Hence, too, the same physical peculiarities throughout so vast a population. All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for a sudden exertion. They are less able to bear laborious work. Heat and thirst they cannot in the least endure; to cold and hunger their climate and their soil inure them.
Modern scholars point out that one way of interpreting such remarks is that it is consistent with other comments by Tacitus indicating that the Germanic people lived very remotely, in unattractive countries, for example the following paragraph:
- Their country, though somewhat various in appearance, yet generally either bristles with forests or reeks with swamps; it is more rainy on the side of Gaul, bleaker on that of Noricum and Pannonia. It is productive of grain, but unfavourable to fruit-bearing trees; it is rich in flocks and herds, but these are for the most part undersized, and even the cattle have not their usual beauty or noble head. 
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.[ad]
Before Tacitus, Julius Caesar described 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.[ae][af]
- [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.
- 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.
In a 2013 book which reviewed studies 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-106". 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."
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- List of Germanic peoples
- Early Germanic culture
- Nordic race
- Italic peoples
- Goffart (2006, p. 5); Müller (1998, p. 14-15); Goffart (1989, p. 112-113). Older more unusual terms include "Gothonic" used by the Danish writer Gudmund Schütte, before World War 2, and "Early Germans" was for example used in for a book title by Malcolm Todd, (Todd 2004). For criticism of such terminology see for example Wolfram (1988, p. 10-13), Halsall (2014).
- Wolfram (1997, p. 5-6): "Caesar saw from personal experience that a third group of peoples existed as a separate ethnic entity between the Celts and the Sarmatian-Scythian steppe peoples." Müller (1998, p. 14): "Der Germ.-Begriff ist eine ethnologische Ordnungskategorie in ant. Tradition und Denkweise zur Bezeichnung einer Grossgrupper zw. Kelten und 'Skythen', eine klassifikatorische Sammelbezeichnung wechselnden Umfangs."
- Strabo even believed that the Romans called them germani as a way of calling them the "genuine" Gauls. (Pohl (2004, p. 51); Strabo, Geography, 7.1.2).
- Todd (2004, p. 8-9): "There is no evidence that they called themselves 'Germani' or their land 'Germania'"; Müller (1998, p. 14): "Es is weder wahrscheinlich noch zu erweisen, dass ihm eine Selbstbenennung und ein Bewusstsein einer gesamtgerm. Identität entsprechen (es sei denn in gewissen Grade sekundär unter röm. Einfluss)."
- Halsall (2014, p. 520), using the Gothic peoples as an example: "Linguistically, we can justify a grouping on the basis that all these peoples spoke a related form of Indo-European language, whether East, West or North Germanic. Such a modern definition, however, does not equate with the classical idea of the Germani." Goffart (2006, p. 222): "No discernible benefit comes from out being reminded again and again in modern writings that many of these barbarians at each other's throats probably spoke dialects of the same language. The G-word can be dispensed with."
- See footnotes above, and detailed discussions by for example Müller (1998, p. 14-15). Liebeschuetz (2015, p. 97) argues against such doubts that if they shared a language they must have shared some common culture, such as legal traditions, but writes: "We cannot of course know whether or not these people felt any sense of Germanic solidarity, or to use modern jargon, a sense of Germanic identity. But the fact that the Latin Germani does not appear to have had a Germanic equivalent, strongly suggests that there was no generally shared sense of Germanic identity."
- Pohl (2004, p. 52-53): "Caesars Definition was freilich unscharf. Er ging zwar davon aus dass de Rhein Gallien von Germanen trennte [...] doch musste er anderseits zur Kenntnis nehmen, dass auch in Nordostgallien [...] Germanen wohnten. [...] Keiner der antiken Autoren differenziert freilich zwischen der territorialen und der ethnischen Auslegung des Germanennamens." Pohl (2006, p. 100): "What matters here is the way in which Tacitus employed his criteria. Obviously, they do not add up to any transparent method of logical order."
- Goffart (2006, p. 49-50): "the unearthed Germania [of Tacitus] gave birth to the modern discipline of "Germanic antiquity," called germanische (or deutsche) Altertumskunde. [...] "The collapse of the Third German Reich in 1945 did not ruin deutsche Altertumskunde but dealt it a blow." [...] More limited positions, however, are still very firmly anchored."
- Pohl (2006, p. 103): "what modern philology has accustomed us to see as one family of languages or even a single language was, with all its variants, not an instrument by which all its native speakers could easily comprehend each other." Pohl (2004, p. 9-10): "Die Sprachwissenschaft kann weiterhin nach bestimmten Kriterien, etwa de 1. Lautverscheibung, die Entstehung der germanischen Sprache(n) definieren und grob zeitlich und räumlch einordnen. Selbst wo sich dabei beachtliche Überschneidungen mit dem Verbreitungsgebiet einer archäologischen Kultur ergeben können (wie der eisenzeitlichen, vorrömischen Jastorf-Kultur mit Zentrum an der Unterelbe), kann diese Bevölkerung archäologisch nicht ohne weiteres als 'Germanen' definiert werden."
- Tacitus, Germania, 1: "Germania omnis a Gallis Raetisque et Pannoniis Rheno et Danubio fluminibus, a Sarmatis Dacisque mutuo metu aut montibus separatur".
- Liebeschuetz (2015, p.95 n.4; p.97) for example argues that Tacitus described the Germani as united by language.
- Tacitus, Germania, 43:"Marsigni et Buri sermone cultuque Suebos referunt: Cotinos Gallica, Osos Pannonica lingua coarguit non esse Germanos, et quod tributa patiuntur." For the position of the Buri, there is also reference in Ptolemy's Geography of Germany.
- Tacitus, Germania, 45: "Aestiorum gentes [...], quibus ritus habitusque Sueborum", lingua Britannicae propior".
- Tacitus, Germania, 46 "Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas vocant, sermone cultu sede ac domiciliis ut Germani agunt".
- See for example Todd (2004, p. 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. But there is no consensus.
- Roymans (2014, p. 29): "The archaeology of the Late Iron Age argues for a north-south articulation of the northwest European continent, in which the Rhine does not function as a cultural boundary. On the contrary, groups in the southern Netherlands and northern Belgium as well as in Hessen and southern Westphalia were strongly influenced by the La Tène culture, as is shown by the presence of central places, sanctuaries, specialist glass and metalworking, and the adoption of coinage."
- Caesar, Gallic War, 6.34, for example, refers to the main tribe of these Germani, the Eburones as Gauls.
- See for example Müller (1998, p. 2-4) which goes through all of these.
- Concerning the archaeological evidence, for the Gothic peoples see Heather (2012, p. 120). For the Anglo-Saxons see Halsall (2007, p. 198).
- Wolfram (1997, p. 259) cites his letter 5, to his friend Syagrius. In contrast, the use of this word by Sidonius is apparently seen differently for example by Liebeschuetz (2015, p. 157), citing Sidonius Apollinaris, Carm. 12.4.
- Goffart (2006, p. 48) says sarcastically: "A whole library of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship can be evoked to show that a "Germanic antiquity" existed in parallel to its Greco-Roman counterpart."
- Heather (2007, p. 49) "Germanic-speaking groups dominated most of central and northern Europe beyond Rome's riverine frontiers. The Germani, as the Romans called them, spread all the way from the Rhine in the west (which, before the Roman conquest, had marked an approximate boundary between Europe's Germanic and Celtic speakers) to beyond the River Vistula in the east, and from the Danube in the south to the North and Baltic Seas... While the territory of ancient Germania was clearly dominated in a political sense by Germanic-speaking groups, it has emerged that the population of this vast territory was far from entirely Germanic. The more one moved south and east through the region during the Roman period, the more likely it is that Germanic-speakers constituted a politically dominant force in very mixed societies."
- Rosenwein (2018, p. 21): "The Romans called all these peoples “barbarians,” though, borrowing a term from the Gauls, they designated those beyond the Rhine as “Germani”—Germans. Historians today tend to differentiate these peoples linguistically: “Germanic peoples” are those who spoke Germanic languages." Hachmann (1971, p. 49): "[T]he Germani [are] defined by modern scholars as a population group in central and northern Europe speaking Germanic languages or dialects."
- Polomé, Fee & Leeming (2006); Ringe (2006, p. 85); Lippi-Green (1992, p. 47); Koivulehto (2002, p. 591); Schmidt (1991, pp. 129-133); Wofagiewicz (1997).
- 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, Pytheas von Massalia (Berlin: Gruyter) 1952, in Classical Philology 49.3 (July 1954), pp. 212–214.
- "In the polylingual camp of Attila, Gothic had the rank of a lingua franca...."Wolfram (1997, p. 142)
- The texts of the chronicler Marcellinus demonstrate that, at the very least, military cooperation between the Germanic tribes and the Romans took place at times since he makes reference to a "pactum vicissitudinus reddendae".Bury (2000, p. 10)
- Wolfram (1997, p. 7): "[T]hese tribes were surprisingly small: fifteen to twenty thousand warriors—which means a total of about one hundred thousand people in a tribe—was the maximum number a large people could raise... These people are likewise presented as conquerors of the Roman Empire, even though they constituted a vanishing minority within it."
- "The rigorous ethics of early Germanic society, based on trust, loyalty, and courage, and the perhaps somewhat idealized picture of the moral code given by Tacitus, had a divine sanction..."Germanic religion and mythology, Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- "Some smiths were able to rework iron into high-quality steel and make sword blades with a core of softer steel for flexibility and harder steel on the exterior to keep a sharp edge, far finer weapons than those used in the Roman army at the time."Waldman & Mason (2006, pp. 324) "Furthermore, the skills of Germanic smiths and other craftsmen were as good as, or better than those found inside the Roman empire."MacDowall (2000, p. 16)
- "Proximity to our provinces and familiarity with seaborne imports bring the Gauls many things to use and keep, so they gradually grew accustomed to defeat, losing many battles and not even claiming to be the Germans' equals in courage now."Caesar (2019, pp. 156, 6.24)
- "[O]ur men inquired and heard Gauls and merchants describing the Germans' huge bodies, their incredible strength, and their experience in arms. They had often encountered them and could not stand the sight of them or endure their gaze. Great fear suddenly seized our whole army..."Caesar (2019, pp. 29, 1.39)
- Todd 2004, p. 11.
- See for example Wolfram (1988, p. 10-13), Halsall (2014).
- Halsall 2014, p. 518.
- Müller 1998, p.6 col.2.
- Pohl (2006, p. 11); Kaul & Martens (1995); Goffart (2006, p. 282)
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- Ptolemy, Geography, 3.5 and 2.10. Pomponius Mela, Description of the World, 31.
- Caesar, Gallic Wars 6.24; Tacitus, Germania 28; Heather (2012, p.6,p.53).
- Wolfram (1997, p. 6); Caesar, Gallic Wars, 1.47, 6.21.
- Müller (1998, p. 4-5); Petrikovits (1999)
- Tacitus Germania, 2).
- Caesar, 2.4.
- Strabo, Geography, 7.1.2.
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- Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, Book 4.
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- Pliny the elder, Natural History, 4.27(/"13") and 37.11(/"7").
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- Livy, History of Rome, 40.57.
- See map at Müller (1998, p. 145).
- Martens (2014).
- Goffart 2006, p. 49.
- Goffart (2006, p. 187) and Goffart (1989, p. 112-113).
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- Wolfram 1997, Introduction.
- Halsall 2014, p. 516.
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