Germanic peoples

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Roman bronze statuette representing a Germanic man with his hair in a Suebian knot

The Germanic peoples were a historical group of people living in Central Europe and Scandinavia. Since the 19th century, they have traditionally been defined by the use of ancient and early medieval Germanic languages and are thus equated at least approximately with Germanic-speaking peoples, although different academic disciplines have their own definitions of what makes someone or something "Germanic".[1] The Romans named the area in which Germanic peoples lived Germania, stretching West to East between the Vistula and Rhine rivers and north to south from Southern Scandinavia to the upper Danube.[2] In discussions of the Roman period, the Germanic peoples are sometimes referred to as Germani or ancient Germans, although many scholars consider the second term problematic, since it suggests identity with modern Germans. The very concept of "Germanic peoples" has become the subject of controversy among modern scholars.[3] Some scholars call for its total abandonment as a modern construct, since lumping "Germanic peoples" together implies a common group identity for which there is little evidence. Others scholars have defended the term's continued use.[3]

The earliest material culture that may be confidently ascribed to Germanic-speaking peoples is the Iron Age Jastorf Culture (6th to 1st centuries BCE), located in what is now Denmark and northeastern Germany; during this period metallurgic technology expanded in several directions. In contrast, Roman authors first described Germanic peoples near the Rhine at the time the Roman Empire established its dominance in that region. Under their influence the term came to cover a broader region stretching to the Elbe and beyond, which developed close relations both internally, and with the Romans. From the beginning of the Roman empire, the Germanic peoples were recruited into the Roman military where they often rose to the highest ranks. Roman efforts to integrate the large area between Rhine and Elbe ended around 16 CE, following the major Roman defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. After their withdrawal from Germania, the Romans built a long fortified border known as the Limes Germanicus to defend against any incursions.[4] Further conflicts with the Germanic peoples include the Marcomannic Wars of Marcus Aurelius (166-180 CE). In the 3rd century the Germanic-speaking Goths dominated the Pontic Steppe, outside Germania, and launched a series of sea expeditions into the Balkans and Anatolia as far as Cyprus.[5][6] In the late 4th century CE, often termed the Migration period, many Germanic peoples entered the Roman Empire, where they eventually established their own independent kingdoms.

Archaeological sources suggest that Roman-era sources are not entirely accurate in their depiction of the Germanic way of life, which they portray as more primitive and simpler than it was. Archaeology instead shows a complex society and economy throughout Germania. Germanic-speaking peoples originally shared a common religion, Germanic paganism, which varied widely throughout the territory occupied by Germanic-speaking peoples. Over the course of Late Antiquity, most continental Germanic peoples and the Anglo-Saxons of Britain converted to Christianity, with the Saxons and Scandinavians only converting much later. Traditionally, the Germanic peoples have been seen as possessing a law dominated by the concepts of feuding and blood compensation. The precise details, nature, and origin of what is still normally called "Germanic law" are now controversial. Roman sources say that the Germanic peoples made decisions in a popular assembly (the thing), but also had kings and war-leaders. The ancient Germanic-speaking peoples probably shared a common poetic tradition, alliterative verse, and later Germanic peoples also shared legends originating in the Migration Period.

The publishing of Tacitus's Germania by humanists in the 1400s greatly influenced the emergent idea of "Germanic peoples". Later, scholars of the Romantic period such as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm developed several theories about the nature of the Germanic peoples that were highly influenced by romantic nationalism. For such scholars, the "Germanic" and modern "German" were identical. Ideas about the early Germans were also highly influential among—and influenced and co-opted by—the Nazis, leading in the second half of the 20th century to a backlash against many aspects of earlier scholarship.



The etymology of the Latin word "Germani", from which Latin Germania and English "Germanic" are derived, is unknown, although several different proposals have been made for the origin of the name. Even the language from which it derives is a subject of dispute, with proposals of Germanic, Celtic, and Latin, and Illyrian origins.[7] Herwig Wolfram, for example, thinks "Germani" must be Gaulish.[8] Historian Wolfgang Pfeifer more or less concurs with Wolfram and surmises that the name Germani is likely of Celtic etymology, related in this case to the Old Irish word gair (neighbors) or could be tied to the Celtic word for their war cries gairm, which simplifies into "the neighbors" or "the screamers".[9] Regardless of its language of origin, the name was transmitted to the Romans via Celtic speakers.[10]

It is unclear that any people group ever referred to themselves as Germani.[11] Among German historians of classical antiquity, it is commonly supposed that Julius Caesar either invented or redefined the term as an ethnographical category.[12] By late antiquity, only peoples near the Rhine, especially the Franks, and sometimes the Alemanni, were called Germani by Latin or Greek writers.[13] By the end of the twentieth century, scholarship had demonstrated that authors in antiquity used the terms Germani, gentes Germani or Germania from ill-defined tradition rather than as a description of actual circumstances, basing them on very limited contemporary knowledge of the peoples described and their actual geographical locations.[14] Germani subsequently ceased to be used as a name for any group of people, and was only revived as such by the humanists in the 16th century.[11] Previously, scholars during the Carolingian period (8th-11th century) had already begun using Germania and Germanicus in a territorial sense to refer to East Francia.[15]

In modern English, the adjective "Germanic" is distinct from "German": while "German" is generally used when referring to modern Germans only, "Germanic" relates to the ancient Germani or the broader Germanic group.[16] In modern German, the ancient Germani are referred to as Germanen and Germania as Germanien, as distinct from modern Germans (Deutsche) and modern Germany (Deutschland). The direct equivalents in English are, however, "Germans" for Germani and "Germany" for Germania,[17] although the Latin "Germania" is also used. To avoid ambiguity, the Germani may instead be called "ancient Germans" or Germani, using the Latin term in English.[18][16]

Modern definitions and controversies[edit]

The modern definition of Germanic peoples developed in the 19th century, when the term "Germanic" was linked to the newly identified Germanic language family, giving a new way of defining the Germanic peoples which came to be used in historiography and archaeology.[19][1] While Roman authors did not consistently exclude Celtic-speaking people, or have a term corresponding to Germanic-speaking peoples, this new definition, by using the Germanic language as the main criterion, understood the Germani as a people or nation (Volk) with a stable group identity linked to language. As a result, some scholars treat the Germani or Germanoi of Roman-era sources as non-Germanic if it seems they spoke non-Germanic languages.[20] For clarity, Germanic peoples, when defined as "speakers of a Germanic language", are sometimes referred to as "Germanic-speaking peoples".[1]

Apart from the designation of a language family (i.e., "Germanic languages"), the application of the terms "Germanic" has become controversial in modern scholarship.[1] Recent work in archaeology and history has questioned the fundamental categories behind the notion, namely the existence of stable "peoples/nations" (Völker) as an important element of history and the connection of archaeological assemblages to ethnicity.[21] This has resulted in different disciplines developing different definitions of "Germanic".[1] Some scholars studying the Early Middle Ages question whether the Germanic peoples saw themselves as an ethnic unity. For others, the speakers of Germanic languages can be identified as Germanic peoples regardless of how they saw themselves.[22]

Reacting to these debates, the editors of Germanische Altertumskunde Online stated in 2013 that the term "Germanic" "remains important for linguistics, but is no longer useful for archaeology or history."[23] Historians of the Toronto school such Walter Goffart and Alexander Callander Murray have argued that there is no indication of any Germanic identity in late antiquity, and that most ideas about Germanic culture are taken from far later epochs and projected backwards to antiquity.[24] For such reasons, Goffart argues that the term Germanic should be avoided entirely in favor of "barbarian" except in the linguistic sense,[25] and historians such as Walter Pohl have also called for the term to be avoided or used with careful explanation.[26] Guy Halsall has argued that it is "fundamentally absurd" to assume that Germanic peoples as geographically distant as the Frisians and Goths all shared a mentality and cultural traits, just as much as it would be to assume this between geographically distant modern Romance-speakers such as the Portuguese and Romanians.[27]

Linguists and philologists have generally reacted skeptically to claims that there was no Germanic identity or cultural unity.[28] Some archaeologists have also argued in favor of retaining the term "Germanic" due to its broad recognizability.[29] Archaeologist Heiko Steuer defines his own work on the Germani in geographical terms (covering Germania) rather than in ethnic terms.[2] He nevertheless argues for some sense of shared identity between the Germani, noting the use of a common language, a common runic script, various common objects of material culture such as bracteates and gullgubber (small gold objects), and the confrontation with Rome as things that could cause a sense of shared "Germanic" culture.[30] While skeptical of the use of "Germanic" to refer to peoples, Sebastian Brather, Wilhelm Heizmann, and Steffen Patzold nevertheless refer to further commonalities such as the worship of deities such as Odin and Thor, and a shared legendary tradition.[31] Another possible sign of a perceived difference between the Germanic-speaking peoples and their neighbors is the use of the terms *walhaz to refer to Romance or Celtic speakers and Wends for Slavic speakers; these terms are, however, absent in Gothic and only appear in regions where Germanic speakers bordered other peoples.[32]

Classical terminology[edit]

The first author to describe the Germani as a large category of peoples distinct from the Gauls and Scythians was Julius Caesar, writing around 55 BCE during his governorship of Gaul.[33] Before this time, only a relatively small group of people along the Rhine seem to have been called Germani,[34] and Caesar's division of the Germani from the Celts was not taken up by most writers in Greek.[35] According to Herbert Schutz, although the peoples to the east of the Rhine included Celts and mixed populations, as a political contrivance Caesar defined a population boundary along the Rhine ignoring cultural lines, invented a people and denominated all of them to the east as Germani, grouping them with the unrelated Cimbri and Teutones and giving their lands the name Germania, as opposed to Gallia (Gaul).[14] When defining the Germani ancient authors did not differentiate consistently between a territorial definition ("those living in Germania") and an ethnic definition ("having Germanic ethnic characteristics"), although the two definitions did not always align.[36]

In Caesar's account, the clearest defining characteristic of the Germani people was that they lived east of the Rhine,[37] opposite Gaul on the west side, an observation he made with historical digressions in his writing. Caesar sought to explain both why his legions stopped at the Rhine and also why the Germani were more dangerous than the Gauls and a constant threat to the empire.[38] He also classified the Cimbri and Teutons, peoples who had previously invaded Italy, as Germani, and examples of this threat to Rome.[39][40] Similarly, Caesar classified his own opponents east of the Rhine, most notably the Suebi, as Germanic.[41] Caesar and, following him, the Roman writer Tacitus in his Germania (c. 98 CE), depicted the Germani as sharing elements of a common culture.[42] A small number of passages by Tacitus and other Roman authors (Caesar, Suetonius) mention Germanic tribes or individuals speaking a language distinct from Gaulish. For Tacitus (Germania 43, 45, 46), language was a characteristic, but not defining feature of the Germanic peoples.[43] Much of this description represented them as typically "barbarian", including the possession of stereotypical vices such as "wildness" and of virtues such as chastity.[44] Tacitus was at times unsure whether a people were Germanic or not, expressing his uncertainty about the Bastarnae, who he says looked like Sarmatians but spoke like the Germani, about the Osi and the Cotini, and about the Aesti, who were like Suebi but spoke a different language.[43]

Caesar and authors following him regarded Germania as stretching east of the Rhine for an indeterminate distance, bounded by the Baltic Sea and the Hercynian Forest.[45] Pliny the Elder and Tacitus placed the eastern border at the Vistula.[46] The Upper Danube served as a southern border. Between there and the Vistula Tacitus described an unclear boundary, describing Germania as separated in the south and east from the Dacians and the Sarmatians by mutual fear or mountains (Latin: Germania omnis... a Sarmatis Dacisque mutuo metu aut montibus separatur).[47] This undefined eastern border is related to a lack of stable frontiers in this area such as were maintained by Roman armies along the Rhine and Danube.[35] The geographer Ptolemy (2nd century CE) applied the name Germania magna ("Greater Germania", Greek: Γερμανία Μεγάλη) to this area, contrasting it with the Roman provinces of Germania Prima and Germania Secunda (on the west bank of the Rhine).[48] In modern scholarship, Germania magna is sometimes also called Germania libera ("free Germania"), a name that became popular among German nationalists in the 19th century.[49]

Although Caesar described the Rhine as the border between Germani and Celts, he also describes a group of people he identifies as Germani who live on the west bank of the Rhine in the northeast of Gall, the Germani cisrhenani.[50] It is unclear if these Germani spoke a Germanic language, and they may have been Celtic speakers instead. Some of their names do not have good Celtic or Germanic etymologies, leading to the hypothesis of a third Indo-European language in the area between the rivers Meuse and Rhine.[51] According to Tacitus, it was among this group, specifically the Tungri, that the name Germani first arose, and was spread to further groups.[52] Tacitus continues to mention Germanic tribes on the west bank of the Rhine in the period of the early Empire, such as the Tungri, Nemetes, Ubii, and the Batavi.[53]

The Romans did not regard the eastern Germanic-speakers such as Goths, Gepids, and Vandals as Germani, but rather connected them with other non-Germanic-speaking peoples such as the Huns, Sarmatians, and Alans.[35] Romans described these peoples, including those who did not speak a Germanic language, as "Gothic people" (gentes Gothicae) and most often classified them as "Scythians".[54] The writer Procopius, describing the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Alans, and Gepids, derived the Gothic peoples from the ancient Getae and described them as sharing similar customs, beliefs, and a common language.[55]

Subdivisions in classical sources[edit]

One proposed theory for the divisions of the Germanic peoples and their approximate distribution in northern Europe around 1 CE:
  North Sea Germanic (Ingvaeonic)
  Weser-Rhine Germanic, (Istvaeonic)
  Elbe Germanic (Irminonic)

Several ancient sources list subdivisions of the Germanic tribes. Writing in the first century CE, Pliny the Elder lists five Germanic subgroups: the Vandili, the Inguaeones, the Istuaeones (living near the Rhine), the Hermiones (in the Germanic interrior), and the Peucini Basternae (living on the lower Danube near the Dacians).[56] In chapter 2 of the Germania, written about a half-century later, Tacitus lists only three subgroups: the Ingvaeones (near the sea), the Hermiones (in the interior of Germania), and the Istvaeones (the remainder of the tribes).[57] Tacitus says the three groups claimed descent from the three sons of a god named Mannus as recorded in their "ancient songs" (carminibus antiquis).[58] Tacitus also mentions a second tradition that Mannus had four sons from whom the tribes of the Marsi, Gambrivi, Suebi, and Vandili claim descent.[59] Ludwig Rübekeil argues that Pliny's version appears to be a synthesis of the two subgroups mentioned by Tacitus.[56]

There are a number of inconsistencies in the listing of Germanic subgroups by Tacitus and Pliny. While both Tacitus and Pliny mention some Scandinavian tribes, they are not integrated into the subdivisions.[56] While Pliny lists the Suebi as part of the Hermiones, Tacitus treats them as a separate group.[60] Additionally, Tacitus's description of a group of tribes as united by the cult of Nerthus (Germania 40) as well as the cult of the Alcis controlled by the Nahanarvali (Germania 43) and the Tacitus's account of the origin myth of the Semnones (Germania 39) all suggest different subdivisions than the three mentioned in Germania chapter 2.[61] Some other writers mention different subgroups or relationships between the tribes than Pliny and Tacitus, but these are often obviously fictitious and inconsistent.[62] The Hermiones are also mentioned by Pomponius Mela, but otherwise these divisions do not appear in other ancient works on the Germani.[59]

The division of the Germanic tribes into three or five subgroups found in Pliny and Tacitus have been very influential for scholarship on Germanic history and language up until recent times.[56] However, these subgroups are not visible linguistically or archaeologically, nor are the classifications of Pliny and Tacitus internally consistent nor do they agree with one another.[60] Nevertheless, various aspects such as the alliteration of many of the tribal names and the name of Mannus himself suggest that the descent from Mannus was an authentic Germanic tradition.[63]



All Germanic languages derive from the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), which is generally reckoned to have been spoken between 4500 and 2500 BCE.[64] The ancestor of Germanic languages is referred to as Proto- or Common Germanic,[65] and likely represented a group of mutually intelligible dialects.[66] They share distinctive characteristics which set them apart from other Indo-European sub-families of languages, such as Grimm's and Verner's law, the conservation of the PIE ablaut system in the Germanic verb system (notably in strong verbs), or the merger of the vowels a and o qualities (ə, a, o > a; ā, ō > ō).[67] During the Pre-Germanic linguistic period (2500–500 BCE), the proto-language has almost certainly been influenced by linguistic substrates still noticeable in the Germanic phonology and lexicon.[68][a] Shared grammatical innovations suggest also very early contacts between Germanic and the Indo-European Baltic languages.[71] The leading theory, suggested by archaeological and genetic evidence,[72] postulates a diffusion of Indo-European languages from the Pontic–Caspian steppe towards Northern Europe during the third millennium BCE, via linguistic contacts and migrations from the Corded Ware culture towards modern-day Denmark, resulting in cultural mixing with the indigenous Funnelbeaker culture.[73][b]

Between around 500 BCE and the beginning of the Common Era, archeological and linguistic evidence suggest that the Urheimat ('original homeland') of the Proto-Germanic language, the ancestral idiom of all attested Germanic dialects, was primarily situated in the southern Jutland peninsula, from which Proto-Germanic speakers migrated towards bordering parts of Germany and along the sea-shores of the Baltic and the North Sea, an area corresponding to the extent of the late Jastorf culture.[74][c] One piece of evidence is the presence of early Germanic loanwords in the Finnic and Sámi languages (e.g. Finnic kuningas, from Proto-Germanic *kuningaz 'king'; rengas, from *hringaz 'ring'; etc.),[75] with the older loan layers possibly dating back to an earlier period of intense contacts between pre-Germanic and Finno-Permic (i.e. Finno-Samic) speakers.[76] There is also a great deal of influence in vocabulary from the Celtic languages, but most of this appears to be much later,[77] with most loanwords occurring either before or during the sound shift described by Grimm's Law.[78] Germanic also shows some similarities in vocabulary to the Italic languages, similarities which are often shared with Celtic.[71] An archeological continuity can also be demonstrated between the Jastof culture and populations defined as Germanic by Roman sources.[79]

Although Proto-Germanic is reconstructed without dialects via the comparative method, it is almost certain that it never was a uniform proto-language.[80] The late Jastorf culture occupied so much territory that it is unlikely that Germanic populations spoke a single dialect, and traces of early linguistic varieties have been highlighted by scholars.[81] Sister dialects of Proto-Germanic itself certainly existed, as evidenced by the absence of the First Germanic Sound Shift (Grimm's law) in some "Para-Germanic" recorded proper names, and the reconstructed Proto-Germanic language was only one among several dialects spoken at that time by peoples identified as "Germanic" by Roman sources or archeological data.[79] Although Roman sources name various Germanic tribes such as Suevi, Alemanni, Bauivari, etc., it is unlikely that the members of these tribes all spoke the same dialect.[82]

Early attestations[edit]

Definite and comprehensive evidence of Germanic lexical units only occurred after Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the 1st century BCE, after which contacts with Proto-Germanic speakers began to intensify. The Alcis, a pair of brother gods worshipped by the Nahanarvali, are given by Tacitus as a Latinized form of *alhiz (a kind of 'stag'), and the word sapo ('hair dye') is certainly borrowed from Proto-Germanic *saipwōn- (English soap), as evidenced by the parallel Finnish loanword saipio.[83] The name of the framea, described by Tacitus as a short spear carried by Germanic warriors, most likely derives from the compound *fram-ij-an- ('forward-going one'), as suggested by comparable semantical structures found in early runes (e.g., raun-ij-az 'tester', on a lancehead) and linguistic cognates attested in the later Old Norse, Old Saxon and Old High German languages: fremja, fremmian and fremmen all mean 'to carry out'.[84]

The inscription on the Negau helmet B, carved in the Etruscan alphabet during the 3rd–2nd c. BCE, is generally regarded as Proto-Germanic.[85]

In the absence of evidence earlier than the 2nd century CE, it must be assumed that Proto-Germanic speakers living in Germania were members of preliterate societies.[86] The only pre-Roman inscriptions that could be interpreted as Proto-Germanic, written in the Etruscan alphabet, have not been found in Germania but rather in the Venetic region. The inscription harikastiteiva\\\ip, engraved on the Negau helmet in the 3rd–2nd centuries BCE, possibly by a Germanic-speaking warrior involved in combat in northern Italy, has been interpreted by some scholars as Harigasti Teiwǣ (*harja-gastiz 'army-guest' + *teiwaz 'god, deity'), which could be an invocation to a war-god or a mark of ownership engraved by its possessor.[85] The inscription Fariarix (*farjōn- 'ferry' + *rīk- 'ruler') carved on tetradrachms found in Bratislava (mid-1st c. BCE) may indicate the Germanic name of a Celtic ruler.[87]

The earliest attested runic inscriptions (Vimose comb, Øvre Stabu spearhead), initially concentrated in modern Denmark and written with the Elder Futhark system, are dated to the second half of the 2nd century CE.[88] Their language, named Primitive Norse, Proto-Norse, or similar terms, and still very close to Proto-Germanic, has been interpreted as a northern variant of the Northwest Germanic dialects and the ancestor of the Old Norse language of the Viking Age (8th–11th c. CE).[89] Based upon its dialect-free character and shared features with West Germanic languages, some scholars have contended that it served as a kind of koiné language in (parts of) the Northwest Germanic area.[90] However, the merging of unstressed Proto-Germanic vowels, attested in runic inscriptions from the 4th and 5th centuries CE, also suggests that Primitive Norse could not have been a direct predecessor of West Germanic dialects.[91]

Longer texts in Germanic languages post-date the Proto-Germanic period. They begin with the Gothic Bible, written in the Gothic alphabet in the 6th century, and then with texts in the Latin alphabet beginning in the 8th century in modern England and shortly thereafter in modern Germany.[92]

Linguistic disintegration[edit]

By the time Germanic speakers entered written history, their linguistic territory had stretched farther south, since a Germanic dialect continuum (where neighbouring language varieties diverged only slightly between each other, but remote dialects were not necessarily mutually intelligible due to accumulated differences over the distance) covered a region roughly located between the Rhine, the Vistula, the Danube, and southern Scandinavia during the first two centuries of the Common Era.[93] East Germanic speakers dwelled on the Baltic sea coasts and islands, while speakers of the Northwestern dialects occupied territories in present-day Denmark and bordering parts of Germany at the earliest date when they can be identified.[94]

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, migrations of East Germanic gentes from the Baltic Sea coast southeastwards into the hinterland led to their separation from the dialect continuum.[95] By the late 3rd century CE, linguistic divergences like the West Germanic loss of the final consonant -z had already occurred within the "residual" Northwest dialect continuum.[91] The latter definitely ended after the 5th- and 6th-century migrations of Angles, Jutes and part of the Saxon tribes towards modern-day England.[96] In view of the later linguistic situation of modern-day Denmark, populated by North Germanic-speakers, it is assumed that the original dialects of Jutland were assimilated by speakers of a more northerly dialect (Danes) after the Anglo-Saxon migrations, breaking the continuum between Scandinavia and the more southerly Germanic-speaking regions; however, this cannot be shown in the archaeological or historical record.[97][98]


Replica of an altar for the Matrons of Vacallina (Matronae Vacallinehae) from Mechernich-Weyer, Germany

Although they have certainly influenced academic views on ancient Germanic languages up until the 20th century, the traditional groupings given by contemporary authors like Pliny and Tacitus are no longer regarded as reliable by modern linguists, who base their reasoning on the attested sound changes and shared mutations which occurred in geographically distant groups of dialects.[56] The Germanic languages are traditionally divided between East, North and West Germanic branches.[99] The modern prevailing view is that North and West Germanic were also encompassed in a larger subgroup called Northwest Germanic.[100]

Further internal classifications are still debated among scholars, as it is unclear whether the internal features shared by several branches are due to early common innovations or to the later diffusion of local dialectal innovations.[111][d] The West Germanic group remains somewhat problematic linguistically, and appears more diverse in the early period than North or East Germanic.[112] Seebold Elmar proposes the existence of an English, Frisian, and Continental group within West Germanic.[113] According to Ludwig Rübekeil, if Old English and Old Frisian certainly share distinctive characteristics such as the Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law, attested by the 6th century in inscriptions on both sides of the North Sea, and the use of the fuþorc system with additional runes to convey innovative and shared sound changes, it is unclear whether those common features are really inherited or have rather emerged by connections over the North Sea.[114]

The linguist Friedrich Maurer rejected the traditional three-way division of the Germanic languages by breaking up West Germanic and proposed a five-way division, partially following then current archaeological finds, and partially following divisions among the ancient Germanic peoples found in Tacitus. Thus Maurer proposed the existence of Rhine-Weser Germanic (Tacitus's Istvaeones), North Sea Germanic (Tacitus's Ingvaeones), Elbe Germanic (Tacitus's Irminones), Oder-Vistula Germanic (East Germanic), and North Germanic. Although influential, Maurer's thesis failed to replace the older model.[115] Aside from "North Sea Germanic", Maurer's groupings within West Germanic ("Rhine-Weser" "Elbe Germanic") do not hold up to linguistic scrutiny.[116]


The pre-Roman Iron Age Jastorf culture (sixth to first centuries BCE), which was located on the North German Plain and in Jutland is associated with Germanic-speaking peoples.[117] Assuming that the Jastorf Culture is the origin of the Germanic peoples, then the Scandinavian peninsula would have become Germanic either via migration or assimilation over the course of the same period.[118] Alternatively, Hermann Ament has stressed that two other archaeological groups must have belonged to the people called Germani by Caesar, one on either side of the Lower Rhine and reaching to the Weser, and another in Jutland and southern Scandinavia. These groups would thus show a "polycentric origin" for the Germanic peoples.[119] The neighboring Przeworsk culture in modern Poland is also taken to be Germanic, while the La Tène culture, found in southern Germany and the modern Czech Republic, is taken to be Celtic.[120] The identification of the Jastorf culture with the Germani has been criticized by Sebastian Brather, who notes that it seems to be missing areas such as southern Scandinavia and the Rhine-Weser area, which linguists argue to have been Germanic, while also not according with the Roman era definition of Germani, which included Celtic-speaking peoples further south and west.[121]

For later periods, archaeologists, following a terminology developed by the philologist and linguist Friedrich Maurer, divide the Germanic area roughly following Tacitus's divisions of the Germanic peoples, into Rhine-Weser Germanic, North Sea Germanic, Elbe Germanic, and East Germanic. This division does not, however, accurately represent the archaeology of the Germanic area.[122] The distributions of distinct material cultures discovered by archaeologists working in Germania do not correspond to the locations of Germanic tribes as given by Tacitus.[123] New archaeological finds have tended to show that the boundaries between these groups were very permeable, and scholars now assume that migration and the collapse and formation of cultural units were constant occurrences within Germania.[124]

According to Heiko Steuer, archaeology shows that, contrary to the assertion of Roman authors, only about thirty percent of Central Europe was covered with thick forest in Antiquity, about the same percentage as today. Villages were not distant from each other but often within sight, revealing a fairly high population density.[125] Germanic wooden construction was not "primitive", but rather adapted to the local conditions. Although Roman authors claimed that the Germani had no fortresses or temple structures, archaeology has revealed the existence of both. Archaeology also shows that from at least the turn of the 3rd century CE larger regional settlements existed that were not exclusively involved in an agrarian economy, and that the main settlements of the Germani were connected by paved roads. The entirety of Germania was within a system of long-distance trade.[126] Nor was the Germanic economy too primitive to be worth conquering by the Romans; every village seems to have produced its own iron, which sometimes was even exported to Rome, and frequently produced its own salt and lead as well.[125] Steuer argues that Rome failed to conquer Germania after Tiberius not because of the uselessness of such a conquest, but rather because the population was too large and could assemble too many warriors, either as opponents or as foreign auxiliaries for the Roman army.[127]


The Germanic cultural area appears to have become established in the first millennium BCE with the crystallization of the archaeological Jastorf culture and the Germanic consonantal shift.[128] Generally, scholars agree that it is possible to speak of Germanic-speaking peoples after 500 BCE, although the first attestation of the name "Germani" is not until much later.[129]

Earliest attestations[edit]

Possible earliest contacts with the classical world (4th–3rd centuries BCE)[edit]

Before Julius Caesar, Romans and Greeks had very little contact with northern Europe itself. Pytheas, who travelled to Northern Europe some time in the late 4th century BCE, was one of the few sources of information for later historians.[e] The Romans and Greeks however had contact with northerners who came south, but for the cultured Greco-Romans, these "barbarians" were conceived in archetypal terms as being poor, brutish, uncivilized, and ignorant of higher civilization, albeit physically hardened by their rugged lives.[130]

The Bastarnae or Peucini are mentioned in historical sources going back as far as the 3rd century BCE through the 4th century CE.[131] These Bastarnae were described by Greek and Roman authors as living in the territory east of the Carpathian Mountains, and north of the Danube's delta at the Black Sea. They were variously described as Celtic or Scythian, but much later Tacitus, in disagreement with Livy, said they were similar to the Germani in language. According to some authors then, the Bastarnae and Sciri were the first Germani to reach the Greco-Roman world and the Black Sea area.[132]

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.[133] 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.[133] King Perseus enlisted the service of the Bastarnae in 171–168 BCE to fight the Third Macedonian War. By 29 BCE, they had been subdued by the Romans and those that remained presumably merged into various groups of Goths into the 2nd century CE.[133]

Another eastern people known from about 200 BCE, and sometimes believed to be Germanic-speaking, are the Sciri (Greek: Skiroi), because they appear in the text of a decree of Olbia, a city on the Black Sea, which records the names of the barbarians who threatened the city, including the Galatians, Sciri, and Scythians (Galatai, Skiroi, and Skythia), among others.[134] There is a theory that the name of the Sciri, perhaps meaning pure, was intended to contrast with that of the Bastarnae, perhaps meaning mixed, or "bastards".[135] Much later, Pliny the Elder placed them to the north near the Vistula together with an otherwise unknown people called the Hirrii.[136] The Hirrii are sometimes equated with the Harii mentioned by Tacitus in this region, whom he considered to be Germanic Lugians. These names have also been compared to that of the Heruli, another eastern Germanic people.[137]

Cimbrian War (2nd century BCE)[edit]

Migrations of the Cimbri and the Teutons (late 2nd century BCE) and their war with Rome (113–101 BCE)

Late in the 2nd century BCE, Roman and Greek sources recount the migrations of the far northern "Gauls", i.e., the Cimbri, Teutones and Ambrones whom Caesar later classified as Germanic. They first appeared in eastern Europe where some researchers propose they may have been in contact with the Bastarnae and Scordisci. In 113 BCE, they defeated the Boii at the Battle of Noreia in Noricum.[138]

The movements of these groups through parts of Gaul, Italy and Hispania resulted in the Cimbrian War, led primarily by its Consul, Gaius Marius.[139]

In Gaul, a combined force of Cimbri and Teutoni and others defeated the Romans in the Battle of Burdigala (107 BCE) at Bordeaux, in the Battle of Arausio (105) at Orange in France, and in the Battle of Tridentum (102) at Trento in Italy.[140] Their further incursions into Roman Italy were repelled by the Romans at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) in 102 BCE, and the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BCE (in Vercelli in Piedmont).[141]

One classical source, Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, mentions the northern Gauls somewhat later, associating them with eastern Europe, saying that both the Bastarnae and the Cimbri were allies of Mithridates VI.[142]

Germano-Roman contacts[edit]

Julius Caesar (1st century BCE)[edit]

Caesar campaigned in Gaul (what is now France) from 58 to 50 BCE, in the period of the late Roman Republic.[143] His recording of his exploits during this campaign introduced the term "Germanic" to refer to peoples such as the Cimbri and Suevi.[144]

  • 63 BCE Ariovistus, described by Caesar as a Germanic king,[145] 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. In 59 BCE, Ariovistus was identified as an ally by the Roman senate.[146][f]
  • 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,[148] and had 100 clans of Suevi coming into Gaul. Caesar defeated Ariovistus at the Battle of Vosges (58 BC).[149] Caesar listed those peoples who fought for Ariovistus as the Harudes, Marcomanni, Tribocci, Vangiones, Nemetes, Eudosi, and Suebi.[150][151][g]
  • 55–53 BCE. 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.[152] In the winter of 54/53 the Eburones—the largest group of Germani cisrhenani—accompanied the Treveri leader, Indutiomarus in a revolt against the Romans during which an entire Roman garrison was slaughtered.[153]

Upon inquiring about the Germanic people during his campaigns, Caesar also learned of more groups, such as the Belgae; while they allegedly had expelled the people of Gaul, he was informed that they were "the ones who kept the Teutoni and Cimbri from invading their territory".[154] Caesar listed some of the aforementioned Germani cisrhenani as follows: the Eburones, Condrusi, Caeraesi, and Paemani.[155]

As the Romans attempted to impose their political will upon the Germanic peoples throughout Gaul, hatred for the Roman invaders continued to spread .[156] Despite cooperative efforts led by Vercingetorix, Caesar was able to overcome these groups; thereafter employing a mixture of punishment and favours to keep the Germanic chieftains subdued and friendly. Within a decade of the time hostilities began, Caesar had effectively pacified these regions.[157]

Still in the 1st century BCE the term Germani was used by Strabo (see above) and Cicero in ways clearly influenced by Caesar.[158]

Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE – 68 CE) and the Year of Four Emperors (69 CE)[edit]

The Roman province of Germania, in existence from 7 BCE to 9 CE. The dotted line represents the Limes Germanicus, the fortified border constructed following the final withdrawal of Roman forces from Germania.
Roman sculpture of a young man sometimes identified as Arminius

Before the official emergence of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, consul of Transalpine Gaul, became the second Roman to lead forces over the Rhine in 38 BCE.[159] In 31 BCE Gaius Carrinas repulsed an attack by Suevi from east of the Rhine.[160] Then in 25 BCE, just two years after Augustus assumed the throne, Marcus Vinicius took vengeance on some Germani in Germania, who had killed Roman traders.[161][162]

Throughout the reign of Augustus—from 27 BCE until 14 CE—the Roman empire expanded into Gaul, with the Rhine[h] as a border. From 12 to 9 BCE, the Roman Empire dominated the region between the Rhine and the Weser, and possibly also the region between the Weser and Elbe, creating the short-lived Roman province in Germania.[164] Following the Roman defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE, Rome gave up on the possibility of fully integrating this region into the empire.[165] In the reign of his successor, Tiberius, it became state policy to expand the empire no further than the frontier based roughly upon the Rhine and Danube, recommendations that were specified in the will of Augustus and read aloud by Tiberius himself.[166] Members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the extended family of Augustus, paid close personal attention to management of this Germanic frontier, establishing a tradition followed by many future emperors. Major campaigns were led from the Rhine personally by Nero Claudius Drusus, step-son of Augustus, then by his brother the future emperor Tiberius; next by the son of Drusus, Germanicus (father of the future emperor Caligula and grandfather of Nero).[167]

Starting in 13 BCE, there were Roman campaigns across the Rhine for a 28-year period.[168] 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).[169] 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.[170]

Once Tiberius subdued the Germanic people between the Rhine and the Elbe, the region was made a province and provided soldiers to the Roman army; some of whom were so valued that the emperor's personal bodyguard consisted of Germanic tribesmen.[171] However, within this period two Germanic kings formed large anti-Roman alliances. Both of them had spent some of their youth in Rome; the first of them was Maroboduus of the Marcomanni,[i] who had led his people away from the Roman activities into Bohemia, which was defended by forests and mountains, and had formed alliances with other peoples. In 6 CE, Rome planned an attack against him but the campaign was cut short when forces were needed for the Illyrian revolt in the Balkans.[171][173]

Just three years later (9 CE), the second of these Germanic figures, Arminius of the Cherusci—initially an ally of Rome—drew a large unsuspecting Roman force into a trap in northern Germany, and defeated Publius Quinctilius Varus and his 3 legions (20,000 men) at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Varus committed suicide when defeat appeared imminent, and a number of higher officers died during the fighting.[174]

Despite repeated Roman campaign victories between 14 and 16 CE under Tiberius and Germanicus, there was such strong resistance from Arminius—who was allied with neighboring Germanic peoples—that emperor Augustus ended the efforts and the subjugation of Germania was abandoned; its benefits seemed disproportionate to the efforts required.[175]

Strabo, writing in Greek during this period, mentioned that apart from the area near the Rhine itself, the areas to the east were now inhabited by the Suevi, "who are also named Germans, but are superior both in power and number to the others, whom they drove out, and who have now taken refuge on this side the Rhine". Various peoples had fallen "prey to the flames of war".[176]

Emperors from the Julio-Claudian dynasty also recruited northern Germanic warriors, particularly men of the Batavi, as personal bodyguards, forming the so-called Numerus Batavorum.[177] After the end of the dynasty in 68 CE with the suicide of the emperor Nero, the Germanic bodyguard (custodes corporis) were dissolved by Galba in the same year[178] because he suspected they were loyal to the old dynasty.[179] The decision caused deep offense to the Batavi, and contributed to the outbreak of the Revolt of the Batavi in the following year which united Germani and Gauls, all connected to Rome but living both within the empire and outside it, over the Rhine.[180] 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".[181] Gaius Julius Civilis, a Roman military officer of Batavian origin, orchestrated the Revolt. The revolt lasted nearly a year and was ultimately unsuccessful.[182]

Flavian and Antonine dynasties (70–192 CE)[edit]

The Emperor Domitian of the Flavian dynasty faced attacks from the Chatti in Germania superior, with its capital at Mainz, a large group which had not been in the alliance of Arminius or Maroboduus. The Romans claimed victory by 84 CE, and Domitian also improved the frontier defenses of Roman Germania, consolidating control of the Agri Decumates, and converting Germania Inferior and Germania Superior into normal Roman provinces. In 89 CE the Chatti were allies of Lucius Antonius Saturninus in his failed revolt.[183][184] Domitian, and his eventual successor Trajan, also faced increasing concerns about an alliance on the Danube of the Suevian Marcomanni and Quadi, with the neighbouring Sarmatian Iazyges; it was in this area that dramatic events unfolded over the next few generations. Trajan himself expanded the empire in this region, taking over Dacia. Between 162 and 163, the Chatti once again attacked the Roman provinces of Raetia (with its capital at Augsburg) and Germania Superior.[185]

Distribution of Germanic, Venedi (Slavic), and Sarmatian (Iranian) groups on the frontier of the Roman Empire, 125 AD

Up until their confrontation, the Marcomanni and Quadi lived in amicitia (friendship/alliance) with the Empire.[186] However, Emperor Domitian attacked them as punishment for not aiding him against the Dacians. Then, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a dispute arose between Rome and the Quadi concerning the installation of a new king and by 166, the tensions became a conflict when a group of allied Langobardi and Orbii invaded Pannonia.[186] Thus began the Marcomannic Wars, which were prosecuted by Aurelius; a series of conflicts with a related chronology that is "difficult to reconstruct" according to historian Walter Pohl, even when one takes into consideration the treasures found, the related legends, inscriptions, and the reliefs of the Marcus Column.[187] By 168 (during the Antonine plague), barbarian hosts consisting of Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatian Iazyges, attacked and pushed their way to Italy.[188] They advanced as far as Upper Italy, destroyed Opitergium/Oderzo and besieged Aquileia. Eventually, the Roman armies were able to push the barbarians back, but it was not until 178/179 that the Emperor succeeded in forcing the Marcomanni and Quadi north of the Danube and got the situation under control.[187]

By 180 CE, the Marcommanic Wars were finally brought to a conclusion.[189] Dio Cassius called it the war against the Germani, noting that Germani was the term used for people who dwell up in those parts (in the north).[j] A large number of peoples from north of the Danube were involved, not all Germanic-speaking, and there is much speculation about what events or plans led to this situation. Many scholars believe causative pressure was being created by aggressive movements of peoples further north, for example with the apparent expansion of the Wielbark culture of the Vistula, probably representing Gothic peoples who may have pressured Vandal peoples towards the Danube.[190]

Other peoples, perhaps not all of them Germanic, were involved in various actions—these included the Costoboci, the Hasdingi and Lacringi Vandals, the Varisci (or Naristi) and the Cotini (who Tacitus claimed spoke Gallic, which "proves that they are not Germans"),[191] and possibly also the Buri.[192]

After these Marcomannic wars, the Middle Danube began to change, and in the next century the peoples living there generally tended to be referred to as Gothic by the Romans, rather than Germanic, at least for those living north of the Black Sea.[193]

New names on the frontiers (170–370)[edit]

By the early 3rd century AD, large new groupings of Germanic people appeared near the Roman frontier, though they were not strongly unified. The first of these conglomerations mentioned in the historical sources were the Alamanni (a term meaning "all men") who appear in Roman texts sometime in the 3rd century CE.[194] These are believed to have been a mixture of mainly Suevian peoples, who coalesced in the Agri Decumates. Emperor Severus Alexander was killed by his own soldiers in 235 CE for paying for peace with the Alamanni, following which the anti-aristocratic general Maximinus Thrax was elected to be emperor by the Pannonian army.[195] According to the notoriously unreliable Augustan History (Historia Augusta), he was born in Thrace or Moesia to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother,[196]

Secondly, soon after the appearance of the Alamanni on the Upper Rhine, the Franks began to be mentioned as occupying the land at the bend of the lower Rhine. In this case, the collective name was new, but the original peoples who composed the group were largely local, and their old names were still mentioned occasionally. The Franks were still sometimes called Germani as well.

Gothic invasions of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century

Thirdly, the Goths and other "Gothic peoples" from the area of today's Poland and Ukraine, many of whom were Germanic-speaking peoples, began to appear in records of this period.

  • In 238, Goths crossed the Danube and invaded Histria. The Romans made an agreement with them, giving them payment and receiving prisoners in exchange.[197] The Dacian Carpi, who had been paid off by the Romans before then, complained to the Romans that they were more powerful than the Goths.[198][199]
  • After his victory in 244, Persian ruler Shapur I recorded his defeat of the Germanic and Gothic soldiers who were fighting for emperor Gordian III. Possibly this recruitment resulted from the agreements made after Histria.[197]
  • After attacks by the Carpi into imperial territory in 246 and 248, Philip the Arab defeated them and then cut off payments to the Goths.[199] In 250 CE a Gothic king Cniva led Goths with Bastarnae, Carpi, Vandals, and Taifali into the empire, laying siege to Philippopolis. He followed his victory there with another on the marshy terrain at Abrittus, a battle which cost the life of Roman emperor Decius.[197]
  • In 253/254, further attacks occurred reaching Thessalonica and possibly Thrace.[200]
  • In approximately 255-257 there were several raids from the Black sea coast by "Scythian" peoples, apparently first led by the Boranes, who were probably a Sarmatian people.[201] These were followed by bigger raids led by the Herules in 267/268, and a mixed group of Goths and Herules in 269/270.

In 260 CE, as the Roman Imperial Crisis of the Third Century reached its climax, Postumus, a Germanic soldier in Roman service, established the Gallic Empire, which claimed suzerainty over Germania, Gaul, Hispania and Britannia. Postumus was eventually assassinated by his own followers, after which the Gallic Empire quickly disintegrated.[202] The traditional types of border battles with Germani, Sarmatians and Goths continued on the Rhine and Danube frontiers after this.

  • In the 270s the emperor Probus fought several Germanic peoples who breached territory on both the Rhine and the Danube, and tried to maintain Roman control over the Agri Decumates. He fought not only the Franks and Alamanni, but also Vandal and Burgundian groups now apparently near the Danube.
  • In the 280s, Carus fought Quadi and Sarmatians.
  • In 291, the 11th panegyric praising emperor Maximian was given in Trier; this marked the first time the Gepids, Tervingi and Taifali were mentioned. The passage described a battle outside the empire where the Gepids were fighting on the side of the Vandals, who had been attacked by Taifali and a "part" of the Goths. The other part of the Goths had defeated the Burgundians who were supported by Tervingi and Alemanni.[203]

In the 350s Julian campaigned against the Alamanni and Franks on the Rhine. One result was that Julian accepted that the Salian Franks could live within the empire, north of Tongeren.

By 369, the Romans appear to have ceded their large province of Dacia to the Tervingi, Taifals and Victohali.[200]

Migration Period (ca. 375–568)[edit]

Since its very beginning, the Roman empire had proactively kept the northern peoples and the potential danger they represented under control, just as Caesar had proposed. However, the ability to handle the barbarians in the old way broke down in the late 4th century and the western part of the empire itself broke down. In addition to the Franks on the Rhine frontier, and Suevian peoples such as the Alamanni, a sudden movement of eastern Germanic-speaking "Gothic peoples" now played an increasing role both inside and outside imperial territory.

Gothic entry into the empire[edit]

The Gothic wars of the late 4th century saw a rapid series of major events: the entry of a large number of Goths in 376; the defeat of a major Roman army and killing of emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianopolis in 378; and a subsequent major settlement treaty for the Goths which seems to have allowed them significant concessions compared to traditional treaties with barbarian peoples. While the eastern empire eventually recovered, the subsequent long-reigning western emperor Honorius (reigned 393–423) was unable to impose imperial authority over much of the empire for most of his reign.[204] In contrast to the eastern empire, in the west the "attempts of its ruling class to use the Roman-barbarian kings to preserve the res publica failed".[205]

The Gothic wars were affected indirectly by the arrival of the nomadic Huns from Central Asia in the Ukrainian region. Some Gothic peoples, such as the Gepids and the Greuthungi (sometimes seen as predecessors of the later Ostrogoths), joined the newly forming Hunnish faction, and played a prominent role in the Hunnic Empire, where Gothic became a lingua franca.[206] Based on the description of Socrates Scholasticus, Guy Halsall has argued that the Hunnish hegemony developed after a major campaign by Valens against the Goths, which had caused great damage, but failed to achieve a decisive victory.[207] Peter Heather has argued that Socrates should be rejected on this point, as inconsistent with the testimony of Ammianus.[208]

The Gothic Thervingi, under the leadership of Athanaric, had in any case borne the impact of the campaign of Valens, and were also losers against the Huns, but clients of Rome. A new faction under leadership of Fritigern, a Christian, were given asylum inside the Roman Empire in 376 CE. They crossed the Danube and became foederati.[209] With the emperor occupied in the Middle East, the Tervingi were treated badly and becoming desperate; significant numbers of mounted Greuthungi, Alans and others were able to cross the river and support a Tervingian uprising leading to the massive Roman defeat at Adrianople.[210]

Around 382, the Romans and the Goths now within the empire came to agreements about the terms under which the Goths should live. There is debate over the exact nature of such agreements, and for example whether they allowed the continuous semi-independent existence of pre-existing peoples; however the Goths do appear to have been allowed more privileges than in traditional settlements with such outside groups.[211] One result of the comprehensive settlement was that the imperial army now had a larger number of Goths, including Gothic generals.[212]

Imperial turmoil[edit]

By 383 a new emperor, Theodosius I, was seen as victorious over the Goths and having brought the situation back under control. Goths were a prominent but resented part of the eastern military. The Greutungi and Alans had been settled in Pannonia by the western co-emperor Gratian (assassinated in 383) who was himself a Pannonian. Theodosius died 395, and was succeeded by his sons: Arcadius in the east, and Honorius, who was still a minor, in the west. The Western empire had however become destabilized since 383, with several young emperors including Gratian having previously been murdered. Court factions and military leaders in the east and west attempted to control the situation.

Alaric was a Roman military commander of Gothic background, who first appears in the record in the time of Theodosius. After the death of Theodosius, he became one of the various Roman competitors for influence and power in the difficult situation. The forces he led were described as mixed barbarian forces, and clearly included many other people of Gothic background, a phenomenon which had become common in the Balkans. In an important turning point for Roman history, during the factional turmoil, his army came to act increasingly as an independent political entity within the Roman empire, and at some point he came to be referred to as their king, probably around 401 CE, when he lost his official Roman title.[213] This is the origin of the Visigoths, whom the empire later allowed to settle in what is now southwestern France. While military units had often had their own ethnic history and symbolism, this is the first time that such a group established a new kingdom. There is disagreement about whether Alaric or his family had a royal background, but there is no doubt that this kingdom was a new entity, very different from any previous Gothic kingdoms.

Invasions of 401–411[edit]

In the aftermath of the large-scale Gothic entries into the empire, the Germanic Rhine peoples, the Franks and Alemanni, became more secure in their positions in 395, when Stilicho made agreements with them; these treaties allowed him to withdraw the imperial forces from the Rhine frontier in order to use them in his conflicts with Alaric and the Eastern empire.[214]

The reasons that these invasions apparently all dispersed from the same area, the Middle Danube, are uncertain. It is most often argued that the Huns must have already started moving west, and consequently pressuring the Middle Danube. Peter Heather for example writes that around 400, "a highly explosive situation was building up in the Middle Danube, as Goths, Vandals, Alans and other refugees from the Huns moved west of the Carpathians" into the area of modern Hungary on the Roman frontier.[215]

Whatever the chain of events, the Middle Danube later became the centre of Attila's loose empire containing many East Germanic people from the east, who remained there after the death of Attila. The makeup of peoples in that area, previously the home of the Germanic Marcomanni, Quadi and non-Germanic Iazyges, changed completely in ways which had a significant impact on the Roman empire and its European neighbours. Thereafter, though the new peoples ruling this area still included Germanic-speakers, as discussed above, they were not described by Romans as Germani, but rather "Gothic peoples".

  • In 401, Claudian mentions a Roman victory over a large force including Vandals, in the province of Raëtia. It is possible that this group was involved in the later crossing of the Rhine.[216]
  • In 405–406, Radagaisus, who was probably Gothic, entered the empire on the Middle Danube with a very large force of unclearly defined, but apparently Gothic, composition, and invaded Italy.[217] He was captured and killed in 406 near Florence and 12000 of his men recruited into Roman forces.
  • A more successful invasion, apparently also originating from the Middle Danube, reached the Rhine a few months later. As described by Halsall: "On 31 December 405 a huge body from the interior of Germania crossed the Rhine: Siling and Hasding Vandals, Sueves and Alans. [...] The Franks in the area fought back furiously and even killed the Vandal king. Significantly no source mentions any defense by Roman troops."[218] The composition of this group of barbarians, who were not all Germanic-speaking, indicates that they had traveled from the area north of the Middle Danube. (The Suevians involved may well have included remnants of the once powerful Marcomanni and Quadi.) The non-Germanic Alans were the largest group, and one part of them under King Goar settled with Roman acquiescence in Gaul, while the rest of these peoples entered Roman Iberia in 409 and established kingdoms there, with some travelling further to establish the Vandal kingdom of North Africa.
  • In 411 a Burgundian group established themselves in northern Germania Superior on the Rhine, between Frankish and Alamanni groups, holding the cities of Worms, Speyer, and Strassburg. They and a group of Alans helped establish yet another short-lived claimant to the throne, Jovinus, who was eventually defeated by the Visigoths cooperating with Honorius.

Motivated by the ensuing chaos in Gaul, in 406 the Roman army in Britain elected Constantine "III" as emperor and they took control there.

In 408, the eastern emperor Arcadius died, leaving a child as successor, and the west Roman military leader Stilicho was killed. Alaric, wanting a formal Roman command but unable to negotiate one, invaded Rome itself, twice, in 401 and 408.

Constantius III, who became Magister militum by 411, restored order step-by-step, eventually allowing the Visigoths to settle within the empire in southwest Gaul. He also committed to retaking control of Iberia, from the Rhine-crossing groups. When Constantius died in 421, having been co-emperor himself for one year, Honorius was the only emperor in the West. However, Honorius died in 423 without an heir. After this, the Western Roman empire steadily lost control of its provinces.

From Western Roman Empire to medieval kingdoms (420–568)[edit]

Germanic kingdoms and peoples after the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE
Coin of Odoacer, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a "barbarian" moustache.
Germanic kingdoms in 526 CE
2nd century to 6th century simplified migrations

The Western Roman Empire declined gradually in the 5th and 6th centuries, and the eastern emperors had only limited control over events in Italy and the western empire. Germanic speakers, who by now dominated the Roman military in Europe, and lived both inside and outside the empire, played many roles in this complex dynamic. Notably, as the old territory of the western empire came to be ruled on a regional basis, the barbarian military forces, ruled now by kings, took over administration with differing levels of success. With some exceptions, such as the Alans and Bretons, most of these new political entities identified themselves with a Germanic-speaking heritage.

In the 420s, Flavius Aëtius was a general who successfully used Hunnish forces on several occasions, fighting Roman factions and various barbarians including Goths and Franks.[219][220] In 429 he was elevated to the rank of magister militum in the western empire, which eventually allowed him to gain control of much of its policy by 433.[221] 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.[222][223]

  • 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.[224]
  • In 439 the Vandals and their allies captured Carthage. The Romans made a new agreement recognizing the Visigothic kingdom.
  • In 440, the Hunnish "empire" as it could now be called, under Attila and his brother Bleda began a series of attacks over the Danube into the eastern empire, and the Danubian part of the western empire. They received enormous payments from the eastern empire and then focused their attentions to the west, where they were already familiar with the situation, and in friendly contact with the African Vandals.
  • In 442 Aëtius seems to have granted the Alans who had remained in Gaul a kingdom, apparently including Orléans, possibly to counter local independent Roman groups (so called Bagaudae, who also competed for power in Iberia).
  • In 443 Aëtius settled the Burgundians from the Rhine deeper in the empire, in Savoy in Gaul.
  • In 451, the large mixed force of Attila crossed the Rhine but was defeated by Aetius with forces from the settled barbarians in Gaul: Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians and Alans.
  • In 452 Attila attacked Italy, but had to retreat to the Middle Danube because of an outbreak of disease.
  • In 453, Aëtius and Attila both died.
  • In 454, the Hunnish alliance divided and the Huns fought the Battle of Nedao against their former Germanic vassals. The names of the peoples who had made up the empire appear in records again. Several of them were allowed to become federates of the eastern empire in the Balkans, and others created kingdoms in the Middle Danube.

In the subsequent decades, the Franks and Alamanni tended to remain in small kingdoms but these began to extend deeper into the empire. In northern Gaul, a Roman military "King of Franks" also seems to have existed, Childeric I, whose successor Clovis I established dominance of the smaller kingdoms of the Franks and Alamanni, whom they defeated at the Battle of Zülpich in 496.

Compared to Gaul, what happened in Roman Britain, which was similarly both isolated from Italy and heavily Romanized, is less clearly recorded. However the result was similar, with a Germanic-speaking military class, the Anglo-Saxons, taking over administration of what remained of Roman society, and conflict between an unknown number of regional powers. While major parts of Gaul and Britain redefined themselves ethnically on the basis of their new rulers, as Francia and England, in England the main population also became Germanic-speaking. The exact reasons for the difference are uncertain, but significant levels of migration played a role.[225][226]

In 476 Odoacer, a Roman soldier who came from the peoples of the Middle Danube in the aftermath of the Battle of Nedao, became King of Italy, removing the last of the western emperors from power. He was murdered and replaced in 493 by Theoderic the Great, described as King of the Ostrogoths, one of the most powerful Middle Danube peoples of the old Hun alliance. Theoderic had been raised up and supported by the eastern emperors, and his administration continued a sophisticated Roman administration, in cooperation with the traditional Roman senatorial class.[227] Similarly, culturally Roman lifestyles continued in North Africa under the Vandals, in Savoy under the Burgundians, and within the Visigothic realm.

The Ostrogothic kingdom ended in 542 when the eastern emperor Justinian made a last great effort to reconquer the Western Mediterranean. The conflicts destroyed the Italian senatorial class,[228] and the eastern empire was also unable to hold Italy for long. In 568 the Lombard king Alboin, a Suevian people who had entered the Middle Danubian region from the north conquering and partly absorbing the frontier peoples there, entered Italy and created the Italian Kingdom of the Lombards there. These Lombards now included Suevi, Heruli, Gepids, Bavarians, Bulgars, Avars, Saxons, Goths, and Thuringians. As Peter Heather has written these "peoples" were no longer peoples in any traditional sense.[229]

Older accounts which describe a long period of massive movements of peoples and military invasions are oversimplified, and describe only specific incidents. According to Herwig Wolfram, the Germanic peoples did not and could not "conquer the more advanced Roman world" nor were they able to "restore it as a political and economic entity"; instead, he asserts that the empire's "universalism" was replaced by "tribal particularism" which gave way to "regional patriotism".[230] The Germanic peoples who overran the Western Roman Empire probably numbered less than 100,000 people per group, including approximately 15,000-20,000 warriors. They constituted a tiny minority of the population in the lands over which they seized control.[231]

Apart from the common history many of them had in the Roman military, and on Roman frontiers, a new and longer-term unifying factor for the new kingdoms was that by 500, the start of the Middle Ages, most of the old Western empire had converted to the same Rome-centred Catholic form of Christianity. A key turning point was the conversion of Clovis I in 508. Before this point, many of the Germanic kingdoms, such as those of the Goths and Burgundians, now adhered to Arian Christianity, a form of Christianity which they perhaps took up in the time of the Arian emperor Valens, but which was now considered a heresy.

Early Middle Ages[edit]

Frankish expansion from the early kingdom of Clovis I (481) to the divisions of Charlemagne's Empire (843/870)

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.[232] 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.[233] 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.[234]

Anglo-Saxon and British kingdoms c. 800

In continental Europe, this Germanic evolution saw the rise of Francia in the Merovingian period under the rule of Clovis I who had deposed the last emperor of Gaul, eclipsing lesser kingdoms such as Alemannia.[235] 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.[236] 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.[237] Evidence also exists that they may have even had suzerainty over south-east England.[238] 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.[239][k] Against Germanic tradition, each of the four sons of Clovis attempted to secure power in different cities but their inability to prove themselves on the battlefield and intrigue against one another led the Visigoths back to electing their leadership.[240]

When Merovingian rule eventually weakened, they were supplanted by another powerful Frankish family, the Carolingians, a dynastic order which produced Charles Martel, and Charlemagne.[241] 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.[242] 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.[243]

In England, the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tribes reigned over the south of Great Britain from approximately 519 to the 10th century until the Wessex hegemony became the nucleus for the unification of England.[244][245]

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.[246][247][248] 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.[249] 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.[250]

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.[251] Eventually they carved out their own unique historical paths.


Germanic paganism[edit]

Germanic paganism refers to the traditional, culturally significant religion of the Germanic-speaking peoples.[252] It did not form a uniform religious system across Germanic-speaking Europe, but varied from place to place, people to people, and time to time. In many contact areas (e.g. Rhineland and eastern and northern Scandinavia), it was similar to neighboring religions such as those of the Slavs, Celts, or Finnic peoples.[253] The term is sometimes applied as early as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, or the earlier Iron Age, but is more generally restricted to the time period after the Germanic languages had become distinct from other Indo-European languages. From the first reports in Roman sources to the final conversion to Christianity, Germanic paganism thus covers a period of around one thousand years.[254]

Like their neighbors and other historically related peoples, the ancient Germanic peoples venerated numerous indigenous deities. These deities are attested throughout literature authored by or written about Germanic-speaking peoples, including runic inscriptions, contemporary written accounts, and in folklore after Christianization. As an example, the second of the two Merseburg charms (two Old High German examples of alliterative verse from a manuscript dated to the ninth century) mentions six deities: Woden, Balder, Sinthgunt, Sunna, Frija, and Volla.[255]

With the exception of Sinthgunt, cognates to these deities occur in other Germanic languages, such as Old English and Old Norse. By way of the comparative method, philologists are then able to reconstruct and propose early Germanic forms of these names from early Germanic mythology. Compare the following table:

Old High German Old Norse Old English Proto-Germanic reconstruction Notes
Wuotan[256] Óðinn[256] Wōden[256] *Wōđanaz[256] A deity similarly associated with healing magic in the Old English Nine Herbs Charm and particular forms of magic throughout the Old Norse record. This deity is strongly associated with extensions of *Frijjō (see below).
Balder[257] Baldr[257] Bældæg[257] *Balđraz[257] In Old Norse texts, where the only description of the deity occurs, Baldr is a son of the god Odin and is associated with beauty and light.
Sunne[258] Sól[258] Sigel[258] *Sowelō ~ *Sōel[259][260] A theonym identical to the proper noun 'Sun'. A goddess and the personified Sun.
Volla[261] Fulla[261] Unattested *Fullōn[261] A goddess associated with extensions of the goddess *Frijjō (see below). The Old Norse record refers to Fulla as a servant of the goddess Frigg, while the second Merseburg Charm refers to Volla as Friia's sister.
Friia[262] Frigg[262] Frīg[262] *Frijjō[262] Associated with the goddess Volla/Fulla in both the Old High German and Old Norse records, this goddess is also strongly associated with the god Odin (see above) in both the Old Norse and Langobardic records.

The structure of the magic formula in this charm has a long history prior to this attestation: it is first known to have occurred in Vedic India, where it occurs in the Atharvaveda, dated to around 500 BCE.[263] Numerous other beings common to various groups of ancient Germanic peoples receive mention throughout the ancient Germanic record. One such type of entity, a variety of supernatural women, is also mentioned in the first of the two Merseburg Charms:

Old High German Old Norse Old English Proto-Germanic reconstruction Notes
itis[264] dís[264] ides[264] *đīsō[264] A type of goddess-like supernatural entity. The West Germanic forms present some linguistic difficulties but the North Germanic and West Germanic forms are used explicitly as cognates (compare Old English ides Scildinga and Old Norse dís Skjǫldunga).[265]

Other widely attested entities from the North and West Germanic folklore include elves, dwarfs, and the mare. (For more discussion on these entities, see Proto-Germanic folklore.)

The great majority of material describing Germanic mythology stems from the North Germanic record. The body of myths among the North Germanic-speaking peoples is known today as Norse mythology and is attested in numerous works, the most expansive of which are the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. While these texts were composed in the 13th century, they frequently quote genres of traditional alliterative verse known today as eddic poetry and skaldic poetry dating to the pre-Christian period.[266]

West Germanic mythology (that of speakers of, e.g., Old English and Old High German) is comparatively poorly attested. Notable texts include the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow and the Old English Nine Herbs Charm. While most extant references are simply to deity names, some narratives do survive into the present, such as the Lombard origin myth, which details a tradition among the Lombards that features the deities Frea (cognate with Old Norse Frigg) and Godan (cognate with Old Norse Óðinn). Attested in the 7th-century Origo Gentis Langobardorum and the 8th-century Historia Langobardorum from the Italian Peninsula, the narrative strongly corresponds in numerous ways with the prose introduction to the eddic poem Grímnismál, recorded in 13th-century Iceland.[266][267]

Very few texts make up the corpus of Gothic and other East Germanic languages, and East Germanic paganism and its associated mythic body is especially poorly attested. Notable topics that provide insight into the matter of East Germanic paganism include the Ring of Pietroassa, which appears to be a cult object (see also Gothic runic inscriptions), and the mention of the Gothic Anses (cognate with Old Norse Æsir '(pagan) gods') by Jordanes.[268]

Practices associated with the religion of the ancient Germanic peoples see fewer attestations. However, elements of religious practices are discernable throughout the textual record associated with the ancient Germanic peoples, including a focus on sacred groves and trees, the presence of seeresses, and numerous vocabulary items. The archaeological record has yielded a variety of depictions of deities, a number of them associated with depictions of the ancient Germanic peoples (see Anthropomorphic wooden cult figurines of Central and Northern Europe). Notable from the Roman period are the Matres and Matronae, goddess, some having Germanic names, to whom devotional altars were set up in in regions of Germania, Eastern Gaul, and Northern Italy (with a small distribution elsewhere) that were occupied by the Roman army from the first to the fifth century.[269]

Germanic mythology and religious practice is of particular interest to Indo-Europeanists, scholars who seek to identify aspects of ancient Germanic culture—both in terms of linguistic correspondence and by way of motifs—stemming from Proto-Indo-European culture, including Proto-Indo-European mythology. The primordial being Ymir, attested solely in Old Norse sources, makes for a commonly cited example. In Old Norse texts, the death of this entity results in creation of the cosmos, a complex of motifs that finds strong correspondence elsewhere in the Indo-European sphere, notably in Vedic mythology.[270]

Conversion to Christianity[edit]

Page from the Codex Argenteus containing the Gothic Bible translated by Wulfila.

Germanic peoples began entering the Roman Empire in large numbers at the same time that Christianity was spreading there.[271] The connection of Christianity to the Roman Empire was both a factor in encouraging conversion as well as, at times, a motive for persecuting Christians, such as by the Visigothic king Athanaric in 363–372.[272] The East Germanic peoples, the Langobards, and the Suevi in Spain converted to Arian Christianity,[273] a form of Christianity that rejected the divinity of Christ.[274] The first Germanic people to convert to Arianism were the Visigoths, at the latest in 376 when they entered the Roman Empire. This followed a longer period of missionary work by both Orthodox Christians and Arians, such as the Arian Wulfila, who was made missionary bishop of the Goths in 341 and translated the Bible into Gothic.[275] The Vandals appear to have converted following their entry into the Empire in 405; for other east Germanic peoples it is possible that Visigothic missionaries played a role in their conversion, although this is unclear.[276] Each Germanic people in the Arian faith had their own ecclesiastical organization that was controlled by the king, while the liturgy was performed in the Germanic vernacular and a vernacular bible (probably Wulfila's) was used.[274] The Arian Germanic peoples all eventually converted to Nicene Christianity, which had become the dominant form of Christianity within the Roman Empire; the last to convert were the Visigoths in Spain under their king Reccared in 587.[277]

There is little evidence for any Roman missionary activity in Germania prior to the conversion of the Franks.[278] The areas of the Roman Empire conquered by the Franks, Alemanni, and Baiuvarii were mostly Christian already, and while some bishoprics continued to operate, others were abandoned, showing a reduction in the influence of Christianity in these areas.[279] In 496, the Frankish king Clovis I converted to Nicene Christianity. This began a period of missionizing within Frankish territory and the reestablishment of church provinces that had been abandoned within former Roman territory.[280] The Anglo-Saxons gradually converted following a mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 595.[281] In the 7th century, the Hiberno-Scottish mission resulted in the establishment of many monasteries in Frankish territory. At the same time, Frankish-supported missionary activity spread across the Rhine, led by figures of the Anglo-Saxon mission such as Saint Boniface. This affected peoples such as the Thuringians, Alemanni, Bavarians, Frisians, and Saxons.[282] The Saxons rejected Christianization, likely in part because doing so would have involved giving up their independence and becoming part of the Frankish realm.[283] They were eventually forcibly converted by Charlemagne as a result of their conquest in the Saxon Wars in 776/777: Charlemagne thereby combined religious conversion with political loyalty to his empire.[284] Continued resistance to conversion seems to have played a role in Saxon rebellions between 782 and 785, then again from 792 to 804, and during the Stellinga rebellion in (844).[285]

Attempts to Christianize Scandinavia were first systematically undertaken by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious. In 831, he made the missionary Ansgar archbishop of the newly created Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen to undertake a mission to Scandinavia, which, however, mostly failed. Missionary activity resumed under the Ottonian dynasty. The Danish king Harald Bluetooth was baptized in the late 900s, but most Danes appear to have remained pagan and converted later under English influence during the reign of Canute the Great.[286] Norway was converted mostly by the activity of its kings. Despite resistance such as the rule of the pagan Haakon Sigurdsson, Christianization was largely achieved by Olaf II (died 1030), who had converted in England.[286] The settlement of Iceland included some Christians, but full conversion there did not occur until a decision of the Allthing in 1000.[287] The last Germanic people to convert were the Swedes, although the Geats had converted earlier. The pagan Temple at Uppsala seems to have continued to exist into the early 1100s.[288]

Society and culture[edit]

Germanic law[edit]

Germanic bracteate from Funen, Denmark

Until the middle of the 20th century, the majority of scholars assumed the existence of a distinct Germanic legal culture and law. This law was seen as an essential element in the formation of modern European law and identity, alongside the Roman law and Canon Law.[289] Scholars reconstructed Germanic law on the basis of antique (Caesar and Tacitus), early medieval (mainly the so-called Leges Barbarorum, laws written by various continental Germanic peoples from the 5th to 8th centuries),[290] and late medieval sources (mostly Scandinavian).[291] According to these scholars, Germanic law was based on a society ruled by assemblies of free farmers (the things), policing themselves in clan groups (sibbs), and engaging in the blood feud outside of clan groups, which could be ended by the payment of compensation (wergild). This reconstructed legal system also excluded certain criminals by outlawry, and had a form of sacral kingship; retinues formed around the kings bound by oaths of loyalty.[292]

Early ideas about Germanic law have come under intense scholarly scrutiny since the 1950s, and specific aspects of it such as the legal importance of sibb, retinues, and loyalty, and the concept of outlawry can no longer be justified.[293][294] Besides the assumption of a common Germanic legal tradition and the use of sources of different types from different places and time periods,[293] there are no native sources for early Germanic law. Caesar and Tacitus do mention some aspects of Germanic legal culture that reappear in later sources, however their texts are not objective reports of facts and there are no other antique sources to corroborate whether these are common Germanic institutions.[295][296] Reinhard Wenskus has shown that one important "Germanic" element, the use of popular assemblies, displays marked similarities to developments among the Gauls and Romans, and was therefore likely the result of external influence rather than specifically Germanic.[297] Even the Leges Barbarorum were all written under Roman and Christian influence and often with the help of Roman jurists.[298] Additionally, the Leges contain large amounts of "Vulgar Latin law", an unofficial legal system that functioned in the Roman provinces, so that it is difficult to determine whether commonalities between them derive from a common Germanic legal conception or not.[299]

Although Germanic law never appears to have been a competing system to Roman law, it is possible that Germanic "modes of thought" (Denkformen) still existed, with important elements being an emphasis on orality, gesture, formulaic language, legal symbolism, and ritual.[300] Gerhard Dilcher defends the notion of Germanic law by noting that the Germanic peoples clearly had law-like rules that they, under the influence of Rome, began to write down and used to define aspects of their identity. The process was nevertheless the result of a cultural synthesis.[301] Daniela Fruscione similarly argues that early medieval law shows many features that might be called "new archaic", and can conveniently be called Germanic, even though other peoples may have contributed aspects of them.[302] Some items in the "Leges", such as the use of vernacular words, may reveal aspects of originally Germanic, or at least non-Roman, law. Legal historian Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand writes that this vernacular, often in the form of Latinized words, belongs to "the oldest layers of a Germanic legal language" and shows some similarities to Gothic.[303][304]


Modern scholarship no longer posits a common Germanic marriage practice,[305] and there is no common Germanic term for "marriage".[306] Until the latter 20th century, legal historians, using the Leges and later Norse narrative and legal sources, divided Germanic marriages into three types:

  1. Muntehe, characterized by a marriage treaty, the granting of a bride gift or morning gift to the bride, and the acquisition of munt (Latin: mundium, "protection", originally "hand"),[307] or legal power, of the husband over the wife;[308]
  2. Friedelehe, (from Old High German: friudila, Old Norse: friðla, frilla "beloved"), a form of marriage lacking a bride or morning gift and in which the husband did not have munt over his wife (this remained with her family);[309]
  3. Kebsehe (concubinage), the marriage of a free man to an unfree woman.[309]

According to this theory, in the course of the early Middle Ages, the Friedelehe, Kebsehe, and polygamy were abolished in favor of the Muntehe through the attacks of the Church.[310][311]

None of the three forms of marriage posited by older scholarship appear as such in medieval sources.[312] Academic works in the 1990s and 2000s rejected the notion of Friedelehe as a construct for which no evidence is found in the sources,[313] while Kebsehe has been explained as not being a form of marriage at all.[314]

Poetry and legend[edit]

The ancient Germanic-speaking peoples were a largely oral culture. Although runes existed as a writing system, they were not used to record poetry or literature and literacy was probably limited. Written literature in Germanic languages is not recorded until the 6th century (Gothic Bible) or the 8th century in modern England and Germany.[315] The philologist Andreas Heusler proposed the existence of various genres of literature in the "Old Germanic" period, which were largely based on genres found in high medieval Old Norse poetry. These include ritual poetry, epigrammatic poetry (Spruchdichtung), memorial verses (Merkdichtung), lyric, narrative poetry, and praise poetry.[316] Heinrich Beck suggests that, on the basis of Latin mentions in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the following genres can be adduced: origo gentis (the origin of a people or their rulers), the fall of heroes (casus heroici), praise poetry, and laments for the dead.[317]

Some stylistic aspects of later Germanic poetry appear to have origins in the Indo-European period, as shown by comparison with ancient Greek and Sanskrit poetry.[318] Originally, the Germanic-speaking peoples shared a metrical and poetic form, alliterative verse, which is attested in very similar forms in Old Saxon, Old High German and Old English, and in a modified form in Old Norse.[319] Alliterative verse is not attested in Gothic, and Rafael Pascual has suggested that it may not have been metrically possible in that language, in which case alliterative verse would be a wholly North-West Germanic phenomenon.[320] Nelson Goering, however, has argued that alliterative verse is in fact linguistically possible as early as Proto-Germanic, and therefore it is possible if not provable that it existed in Gothic as well.[321] The poetic forms diverge among the different languages from the 9th century onward.[322]

Later Germanic peoples shared a common legendary tradition. These heroic legends mostly involve historical personages who lived during the migration period (4th-6th centuries AD), placing them in highly ahistorical and mythologized settings;[323] they originate and develop as part of an oral tradition.[324][325] Tacitus (c. 56-120) makes two comments that have been taken as attesting early heroic poetry among the Germanic peoples. The first is a remark in Germania:[326]

In the traditional songs which form their only record of the past the Germans celebrate an earth-born god called Tuisto. His son Mannus is supposed to be the fountain-head of their race and himself to have begotten three sons who gave their names to three groups of tribes. (Germania, chapter 2)[57]

The other is a remark in the Annals that the Cheruscian leader Arminius was celebrated in song after his death.[327] This older poetry has not survived, probably because it was heavily connected to Germanic paganism.[328] Some early Gothic heroic legends are already found in Jordanes' Getica (c. 551).[329]

Shami Ghosh remarks that Germanic heroic legend is unique in that it is not preserved among the peoples who originated it (mainly Burgundians and Goths) but among other peoples; he cautions that we cannot assume that it functioned to create any sort of "Germanic" identity among its audience, and notes that the Burgundians, for instance, who are some of the main figures in the legends, became fairly romanized at an early date.[330] Millet likewise remarks that defining these heroic legends as "Germanic" does not postulate a common Germanic legendary inheritance, but rather that the legends were easily transmitted between peoples speaking related languages.[331] The close link between Germanic heroic legend and Germanic language and possibly poetic devices is shown by the fact that the Germanic speakers in Francia who adopted a Romance language, do not preserve Germanic legends but rather developed their own heroic folklore—excepting the figure of Walter of Aquitaine.[332]


The Vimose Comb, the oldest extant runic inscription from c. 160 CE. The inscription is harja, a name from hari ("army")[333].

The earliest writing system used by the Germanic-speaking peoples were the runes, an alphabet of unclear origins that is based on a Mediterranean alphabet.[334] Although it has been noted that they bear a more formal resemblance to North Italic alphabets (especially the Camunic alphabet; 1st mill. BCE) than to Latin letters, they are not attested before the beginning of the Common Era in southern Scandinavia, and the connection between the two alphabets is therefore uncertain.[335] The precise date that the runic alphabet was adopted is unknown, with estimates varying from 100 BCE to 100 CE.[336] Inscriptions in the oldest attested from, called the elder futhark, date from 200-700 CE.[337] The word "rune" is attested in multiple Germanic languages, coming from Proto-Germanic *rūna and having a primary meaning of secret,[334] but also other meanings such as "whisper", "mystery", "closed deliberation", and "council".[338] Evidence such as the 6th-century CE Noleby stone claims that the runes came from the gods, a widespread ancient belief about writing.[334] Runes appear not to have been used for everyday communication and knowledge of them was probably limited to a small group,[336] for whom the term erilaR is attested from the sixth century onward.[339]

The letters of the elder futhark are arranged in an order that is called the futhark after its first six characters. The order of the letters is attested on nine inscriptions from the 5th or 6th centuries CE. The runes are further divided into three lines of eight groups on bracteates.[340] The alphabet is supposed to have been extremely phonetic and each letter could also represent a word or concept, so that, for instance, the f-rune also stood for *fehu (cattle, property).[341] The order of the runes, which deviates from that of other alphabets, could have mystical significance.[342]

Runic inscriptions are found on organic materials such as wood, bone, horn, ivory, and animal hides, as well as on stone and metal.[343] Finds from the earliest period come from bogs, graves, migration-period bracteates, runestones, as well as individual finds such as spearheads or the Golden horns of Gallehus.[344] Inscriptions tend to be short,[336] and are difficult to interpret as profane or magical. They include names, inscriptions by the maker of an object, memorials to the dead, as well as inscriptions that religious or magical in nature. Inscriptions are typically written without spaces between words.[345]

Economy and material culture[edit]


Unlikely agriculture in the Roman provinces, which was organized around the large farms known as villae rusticae, Germanic agriculture was organized around villages. When Germanic peoples expanded into Northern Gaul in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, they brought this village-based agriculture with them, which increased the agricultural productivity of the land; Heiko Steuer suggests this means that Germania was more agriculturally productive than is generally assumed.[346] Based on pollen samples and the finds of seeds and plant remains, the chief grains cultivated in Germania were barley, oats, and wheat (both Einkorn and emmer), while the most common vegetables were beans and peas. Flax was also grown.[347] Agriculture in Germania relied heavily on animal husbandry, primarily the raising of cattle, which were smaller than their Roman counterparts[348] Both cultivation and animal husbandry methods improved with time, with examples being the introduction of rye, which grew better in Germania, and the introduction of the three-field system.[349]

Crafts and artwork[edit]

A 5th-century CE gold collar from Ålleborg, Sweden. It displays Germanic filigree work.[350]

It is unclear if there was a special class of craftsmen in Germania, however archaeological finds of tools are frequent.[351]

Deposits of gold are not found naturally within Germania and had to either be imported[352] or could be found having naturally washed down rivers.[353] The earliest known gold objects made by Germanic craftsmen are mostly small ornaments dating from the later 1st century CE.[352] Silver working likewise dates from the first century CE, and silver often served as a decorative element with other metals.[354] From the 2nd century onward, increasingly complex gold jewelry was made, often inlaid with precious stones and in a polychrome style.[355] Inspired by Roman metalwork, Germanic craftsmen also began working with gold and silver-gilt foils on belt buckles, jewelry, and weapons.[350] Pure gold objects produced in the late Roman period included torcs with snakeheads, often displaying filigree and cloisonné work, techniques that dominated throughout Germanic Europe.[356]


The Minerva Bowl, part of the Hildesheim Treasure, likely a Roman diplomatic gift.[357] The treasure may date from the reign of Nero (37-68 CE) or the early Flavian dynasty (69-96 CE).[358]

Roman trade with Germania is poorly documented.[359] Roman merchants crossing the Alps for Germania are recorded already by Caesar in the 1st century BCE.[357] During the imperial period, most trade probably took place in trading posts in Germania or at major Roman bases.[360] The most well-known Germanic export to the Roman Empire was amber, with a trade centered on the Baltic coast.[361] Economically, however, amber is likely to have been fairly unimportant.[362] The use of Germanic loanwords in surviving Latin texts suggests that besides amber (glaesum), the Romans also imported Germanic geese (ganta) and hair-dye (sapo). Germanic slaves were also a major commodity.[363]

Products imported from Rome are found archaeologically throughout the Germanic sphere and include vessels of bronze and silver, glassware, pottery, brooches; other products such as textiles and foodstuffs may have been just as important.[364] Tacitus mentions in Germania chapter 23 that the Germani living along the Rhine bought wine, and Roman wine has been found in Denmark and northern Poland.[357] Find of Roman silver coinage and weapons might have been war booty or the result of trade, while high quality silver items may have been diplomatic gifts.[365] Roman coinage may have acted as a form of currency as well.[366]

One particularly rich archaeological site for trade goods, particularly glass, is at Gudme on the Danish island of Fyn, suggesting that it may have been a major trading emporium.[367] Migration-period seaborne trade is suggested by Gudme and other harbors on the Baltic.[368]


Warfare seems to have been a constant in Germanic society, and archaeology indicates this was the case prior to the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century BCE.[369] Wars were frequent between and within the individual Germanic peoples.[370] The early Germanic languages preserve various words for "war", and they did not necessarily clearly differentiate between warfare and other forms of violent interaction.[371] The Romans note that for the Germans, robbery in warfare was not shameful, and most Germanic warfare both against Rome and against other Germanic peoples was motivated by the potential to acquire booty.[372][373] Historical descriptions of the warfare of the Germanic peoples depend entirely on Greco-Roman sources, and this is the aspect of Germanic society that Greco-Roman sources discuss the most.[374] Besides Julius Caesar's Bellum Gallicum (1st century BCE), there are two accounts that might apply to the Germanic peoples in general: chapter 6 of Tacitus's Germania (c. 100 CE) and book 11 of the Strategikon of Maurice (6th century CE).[375] However, the accuracy of these depictions has been questioned, and it is impossible to show archaeologically how the Germani fought.[373]

Armies and retinues[edit]

A bog body, the Osterby Man, displaying the Suebian knot, a hairstyle which, according to Tacitus, was common among Germanic warriors.[376]

The core of the army is imagined as having been formed by the comitatus (retinue) of a chief, a term used in ancient sources that has many possible meanings.[377] Tacitus describes it as a group of warriors (comites) who follow a leader (princeps).[378] Heiko Steuer argues that a comitatus might refer to any group of warriors held together by mutual agreement and desire for booty, and that these were political, rather than ethnic or tribal groups.[379] As retinues grew larger, their names could become associated with entire peoples. Many retinues functioned as auxilia (mercenary units in the Roman army).[380]

Germanic armies were probably not large, with numbers such as an army of 100,000 Suevi claimed by Caesar being literary and propagandistic exaggerations.[381] Scholars can extrapolate numbers from 500-600 to 1600 per war band from later sources.[382] Older scholarship sometimes supposed that all the men in a "tribe" formed the army, but this would have been logistically impossible in a premodern society.[383] Steuer, while noting Germanic victories against large Roman forces, estimates the typical war band to have been no larger than 3000 men, while estimating that only as many of 1,800 may have participated in a campaign.[384] In later times, as the population of Germania grew, the armies grew larger.[385] Most warriors were probably unmarried men. Tacitus and Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century CE) indicate that armies included both young men and older, more experienced warriors.[383] By the early Middle Ages, armies were mostly composed of a distinct warrior class that relied on peasants for support.[386]

Tactics and organization[edit]

Image of Romans fighting the Marcomanni on the Column of Marcus Aurelius (193 CE).

Roman sources stress, perhaps partially as a literary topos, that the Germanic peoples fought without discipline, with Tacitus in particular stating that Germanic war-leaders achieved more by example than by command.[387][388] Tacitus claims that Germanic armies were not divided into units like Roman ones, while Maurice emphasizes that informal units were formed in the army based on kinship.[389] Steuer, however, notes that many Germani served in the Roman army or as imperial bodyguards and thus would have been familiar with the organization of the Roman military. He argues that Germanic armies may have been organized in a manner not dissimilar to Roman armies.[390]

In antiquity, Germanic warriors fought mostly on foot.[391] Germanic infantry fought in tight formations in close combat, in a style that Steuer compares to the Greek phalanx.[392] Tacitus mentions a single formation as used by the Germani, the wedge (Latin: cuneus).[389] Men probably practiced the use of weapons beginning in their youth. When fighting the Roman legions, Germanic warriors seem to have preferred to attack from ambush, which would require organization and training. [373]

In the Roman period, mounted horsemen were usually limited to chiefs and their immediate retinues,[391] who may have dismounted to fight.[393] Some Roman sources such as Ammianus indicate a Germanic distrust of cavalry before the 6th century.[374] However, Tacitus mentions Germani fighting both on foot and on horseback, Caesar is known to have maintained a group of Germanic cavalry, and other sources speak of the excellent horsemanship of groups such as the Alemanni.[381] East Germanic peoples such as the Goths developed cavalry forces armed with lances due to contact with various nomadic peoples, so that the armies of Theodoric the Great were primarily horsemen.[394]

Siege and fortification[edit]

Roman sources mention that the Germanic peoples generally avoided walled towns and fortresses during their campaigns on Roman soil. Ammianus reports that they regarded cities as "tombs surrounded by nets".[357] This was most likely because the Germani did not have proper siege equipment; with the exception of the Vandals in North Africa, Germanic sieges seem to have been generally unsuccessful, with the unsuccessful besieging of the Emperor Julian in Sens in 356 breaking off after only thirty days.[395]

Older scholarship often said that the Germani possessed no fortresses of their own, however the existence of fortifications have been shown archaeologically, as well as larger earthworks meant to protect entire stretches of territory.[396] Tacitus, in his Annales, portrays the Cheruscan leader Segestes as besieged by Arminius in 15 CE (Annales I.57). Steuer believes that the siege was likely at a fortified farmstead of some kind, a type of fortification well-attested in Germania.[397] Larger fortified towns (Latin: oppida), found as far north as modern central Germany, are often identified as "Celtic" by archaeologists, although this cannot be clearly established.[398] However, fortified settlements are also found in northern Germany at Wittorf, near Osnabrück, in Jutland, and on Bornholm.[399] Hilltop fortifications, which Steuer calls "castles", are also attested from the pre-Roman Iron Age (5th/4th–1st century BCE) onward.[400]


The Spearhead of Kovel, a migration period spearhead with a runic inscription in Gothic.

Archaeological finds, mostly in the form of grave goods, indicate that a sort of standardized Germanic warrior's kit had developed by the pre-Roman Iron Age, with warriors armed with spear, shield, and increasingly with swords.[392] Higher status individuals were often buried with spurs for riding.[393] Tacitus likewise reports that most Germanic warriors used the sword or the spear, and he gives the native word Old High German: framea for the latter.[401] Tacitus says that the sword was not frequently used.[402] Archaeological finds show spearheads and swords with one cutting edge were generally produced natively in Germania, while swords with two cutting edges were more frequently of Roman manufacture.[403] Axes become more common in warrior graves from the 3rd century CE onward, as well as bows and arrows.[404]

Tacitus claims that many Germanic warriors went into battle naked or scantily clad, and that for many the only defensive equipment was a shield, something also shown on Roman depictions of Germanic warriors.[402] The Germanic word for breastplate, Old High German: brunna, is of Celtic origin, indicating that it was borrowed prior to the Roman period.[405] The only archaeological evidence for helmets and chain mail shows them to be of Roman manufacture.[406] "Normal" warriors seem to have acquired their own kit, while members of a comitatus appear to have been armed by their leaders from centralized workshops.[407]


In the 21st century, genetic studies have begun to look more systematically at questions of ancestry, using both modern and ancient DNA. However, the connection between modern Germanic languages, ethnicity and genetic heritage is considered by many scholars as unlikely to ever be simple or uncontroversial. Guy Halsall for example writes: "The danger, barely addressed (at best dismissed as a purely 'ideological' objection), is of reducing ethnicity to biology and thus to something close to the 19th-century idea of race, at the basis of the 'nation state'."[408] Sebastian Brather, Wilhelm Heizmann, and Steffen Patzold write that genetics studies are of great use for demographic history, but cannot give us any information about cultural history.[409]

In a 2013 book which reviewed studies made up until then, it was remarked that: "If and when scientists find ancient Y-DNA from men whom we can guess spoke Proto-Germanic, it is most likely to be a mixture of haplogroup I1, R1a1a, R1b-P312 and R1b-U106". This was based purely upon those being the Y-DNA groups judged to be most commonly shared by speakers of Germanic languages today. However, as remarked in that book: "All of these are far older than Germanic languages and some are common among speakers of other languages too."[410]

Modern reception[edit]

Tacitus's Germania was rediscovered by German humanists in the 1450s and first printed in 1473; its publication allowed German scholars to claim a glorious classical past for their own nation that could compete with that of Greece and Rome,[411] and to equate the "Germanic" with the "German".[412] Initially, their notion of Germanic was, however, very vague, and might include peoples such as the Huns and Picts.[413] Later, reading Tacitus's claim that the ancient Germans were a people indigenous to Germania and unmixed with other nations, this reading narrowed and was used by the humanists to support a notion of German(ic) superiority to other peoples.[414] Equally important was Jordanes's Getica, rediscovered by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini in the mid-15th century and first printed in 1515 by Konrad Peutinger, which depicted Scandinavia as the "womb of nations" (Latin: vagina nationum) from which all the historical northeastern European barbarians migrated in the distant past.[415] While treated with suspicion by German scholars, who preferred the indigenous origin given by Tacitus, this motif became very popular in contemporary Swedish Gothicism, as it supported Sweden's imperial ambitions.[416] Peutinger printed the Getica together with Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards, so that the Germania, the Getica, and the History of the Lombards formed the basis for the study of the Germanic past.[417] The Viking revival of 18th century Romanticism created a fascination with anything "Nordic" in disposition.[418] Scholars did not clearly differentiate between the Germanic peoples, Celtic peoples, and the "Scythian peoples" until the late 18th century with the discovery of Indo-European and the establishment of language as the primary criterion for nationality. Before that time, German scholars considered the Celtic peoples especially to be part of the Germanic group.[419]

The beginning of Germanic philology proper begins around the turn of the 19th century, with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm being the two most significant founding figures. Their oeuvre included various monumental works on linguistics, culture, and literature.[420] The development of Germanic studies as an academic discipline in the 19th century ran parallel to the rise of nationalism in Europe after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the search by the developing nascent nation states for their own national histories.[421] Jacob Grimm offered many arguments identifying the Germans as the "most Germanic" of the Germanic-speaking peoples, many of which were taken up later by others who sought to equate "Germanicness" (German: Germanentum) with "Germanness" (German: Deutschtum).[422] Grimm also argued that the Scandinavian sources were, while much later, more "pure" attestations of "Germanness" than those from the south, an opinion that remains common today.[423] A "Germanic" national ethnicity offered an intellectual rationale for the unification of Germany, contrasting the emerging German Empire with its neighboring rivals of differing ancestry.[424] The nascent belief in a German ethnicity was subsequently founded upon national myths of Germanic antiquity.[425] These tendencies culminated in a later Pan-Germanism Alldeutsche Bewegung movement, which had as its aim the political unity of all of German-speaking Europe (all Volksdeutsche) into a German nation state.[426][427]

Contemporary Romantic nationalism in Scandinavia placed more weight on the Viking Age, resulting in the movement known as Scandinavism.[428] The theories of race were developed in the same period, using Darwinian evolutionary ideals and pseudo-scientific methods in the identification of Germanic peoples (members of a Nordic race) as being superior to other ethnicities.[429] 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 social policies; it also contributed to compulsory sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and was used to sanction immigration restrictions in both Europe and the United States.[l] The Nazi Party made use of notions of Germanic "purity" reaching back into the earliest prehistoric times.[7] It also used the "Germanic" nature of peoples such as the Franks and Goths to justify territorial annexations in northern France, Ukraine, and the Crimea.[430] This led to a scholarly backlash and re-examining of Germanic origins after 1945.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The reconstruction of such loanwords remains a difficult task, since no descendant language of substrate dialects is attested, and plausible etymological explanations have been found for many Germanic lexemes previously regarded as of non-Indo-European origin. The English term sword, long regarded as "without etymology", was found to be cognate with the Ancient Greek áor, the sword hung to the shoulder with valuable rings, both descending from the PIE root *swerd-, denoting the 'suspended sword'. Similarly, the word hand could descend from a PGer. form *handu- 'pike' (< *handuga- 'having a pike'), possibly related to Greek kenteîn 'to stab, poke' and kéntron 'stinging agent, pricker'.[69] However, there is still a set of words of Proto-Germanic origin, attested in Old High German since the 8th c., which have found so far no competing Indo-European etymologies, however unlikely: e.g., Adel 'aristocratic lineage'; Asch 'barge'; Beute 'board'; Loch 'lock'; Säule 'pillar'; etc.[70]
  2. ^ Iversen & Kroonen (2017), p. 521: "In the more than 250 years (ca. 2850–2600 B.C.E.) when late Funnel Beaker farmers coexisted with the new Single Grave culture communities within a relatively small area of present-day Denmark, processes of cultural and linguistic exchange were almost inevitable—if not widespread."
  3. ^ Ringe (2006), p. 85: "Early Jastorf, at the end of the 7th century BCE, is almost certainly too early for the last common ancestor of the attested languages; but later Jastorf culture and its successors occupy so much territory that their populations are most unlikely to have spoken a single dialect, even granting that the expansion of the culture was relatively rapid. It follows that our reconstructed PGmc was only one of the dialects spoken by peoples identified archeologically, or by the Romans, as 'Germans'; the remaining Germanic peoples spoke sister dialects of PGmc." Polomé (1992), p. 51: "...if the Jastorf culture and, probably, the neighboring Harpstedt culture to the west constitute the Germanic homeland (Mallory 1989: 87), a spread of Proto-Germanic northwards and eastwards would have to be assumed, which might explain both the archaisms and the innovative features of North Germanic and East Germanic, and would fit nicely with recent views locating the homeland of the Goths in Poland."
  4. ^ Rübekeil (2017), pp. 996–997: West Germanic: "There seems to be a principal distinction between the northern and the southern part of this group; the demarcation between both parts, however, is a matter of controversy. The northern part, North Sea Gmc or Ingvaeonic, is the larger one, but it is a moot point whether Old Saxon and Old Low Franconian really belong to it, and if yes, to what extent they participate in all its characteristic developments. (...) As a whole, there are arguments for a close relationship between Anglo-Frisian on the one hand and Old Saxon and Old Low Franconian on the other; there are, however, counter-arguments as well. The question as to whether the common features are old and inherited or have emerged by connections over the North Sea is still controversial."
  5. ^ Ancient authors we know by name who saw Pytheas' text were Dicaearchus, Timaeus, Eratosthenes, Crates of Mallus, Hipparchus, Polybius, Artemidorus and Posidonius, as Lionel Pearson remarked in reviewing Hans Joachim Mette's Pytheas von Massalia (Berlin: Gruyter) 1952, in Classical Philology 49.3 (July 1954), pp. 212–214.
  6. ^ Caesar may have even presided over the meeting of the consul that "favoured" Ariovistus in this manner.[147]
  7. ^ Also see:
  8. ^ These boundaries were not entirely firm and in 17/16 BCE at the Battle of Bibracte the Sugambri, Usipetes, and Tencteri crossed the Rhine and defeated the 5th legion under Marcus Lollius, capturing the legion's eagle.[163]
  9. ^ Tacitus referred to him as king of the Suevians.[172]
  10. ^ Dio Cassius, Book 72 at:*.html
  11. ^ For a period of upwards of 1,300 years since the Frankish king Clovis was converted to Christianity (he ruled Gaul in what eventually became modern France), eighteen monarchs of France have been Christened with a French derivation of his Latin name Ludovicus or "Louis" in modern French. See: Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Penguin, 2011), p. 324.
  12. ^ For more on the history of European anti-Semitism and how scientific racism contributed to the Holocaust, see: Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.


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  193. ^ Steinacher 2020, pp. 46–47.
  194. ^ Geary 1999, p. 109.
  195. ^ Southern 2001, p. 63.
  196. ^ Historia Augusta, "Life of Maximinus", 1.5.
  197. ^ a b c Todd (1999), p. 140
  198. ^ Heather 2009, pp. 127–228.
  199. ^ a b Wolfram 1988, p. 44.
  200. ^ a b Heather 2009, p. 112.
  201. ^ Wolfram 1988, p. 48.
  202. ^ Wolfram 1997, pp. 46–49.
  203. ^ Pohl 1998, p. 131; Wolfram 1988, pp. 57–59; Nixon & Rodgers 1994, pp. 100–101; Christensen 2002, pp. 207–209.
  204. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 234–237.
  205. ^ Wolfram 1997, p. 103.
  206. ^ Wolfram 1997, p. 142.
  207. ^ Halsall 2007, p. 173.
  208. ^ Heather 2009, p. 160.
  209. ^ Heather 2009, p. 594.
  210. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 176–178; Wolfram 1997, pp. 79–87.
  211. ^ Contrast Halsall (2007), pp. 180–185 and Heather (2009), pp. 189–196.
  212. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 183–185; Heather 2009, p. 194; Wolfram 1997, p. 110.
  213. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 206, 217.
  214. ^ Halsall 2007, p. 199.
  215. ^ Heather 2009, pp. 182–183, 197.
  216. ^ Goffart 2006, pp. 88–89.
  217. ^ Heather 2009, p. 182.
  218. ^ Halsall 2007, p. 211.
  219. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 236–238.
  220. ^ Heather 2009, p. 214.
  221. ^ Heather 2006, pp. 261–262, 461.
  222. ^ Halsall 2007, pp. 240–242.
  223. ^ Heather 2006, pp. 262–272.
  224. ^ Halsall 2007, p. 244.
  225. ^ Halsall 2013, pp. 357–368.
  226. ^ Heather 2009, pp. 266–332.
  227. ^ Schwartzwald 2015, p. 4.
  228. ^ Geary 2002, p. 113.
  229. ^ Heather 2009, p. 240, citing Paul the Deacon.
  230. ^ Wolfram 1997, p. 308.
  231. ^ Wolfram 1997, p. 7.
  232. ^ Heather 2014, pp. 58–59.
  233. ^ Heather 2014, pp. 61–68.
  234. ^ Pohl 1998, p. 33.
  235. ^ Kitchen 1996, pp. 19–20.
  236. ^ Kitchen 1996, p. 20.
  237. ^ Bauer 2010, p. 172.
  238. ^ James 1995, pp. 66–67.
  239. ^ Bauer 2010, p. 173.
  240. ^ Bauer 2010, pp. 178–179.
  241. ^ Kitchen 1996, pp. 24–28.
  242. ^ Riché 1993, pp. 350–359.
  243. ^ James 1995, p. 60.
  244. ^ Morgan 2001, pp. 61–65.
  245. ^ Roberts 1996, pp. 121–123.
  246. ^ Derry 2012, pp. 16–35.
  247. ^ Clements 2005, pp. 214–229.
  248. ^ Waldman & Mason 2006, p. 310.
  249. ^ Vasiliev 1936, pp. 117–135.
  250. ^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 310–311.
  251. ^ Geary 1999, p. 110.
  252. ^ Hultgård 2010, p. 863.
  253. ^ Hultgård 2010, pp. 865–866.
  254. ^ Hultgård 2010, pp. 866–867.
  255. ^ For general discussion regarding the Merseburg Charms, see for example Lindow 2001: 227-28 and Simek 2007 [1993]: 84 & 278-279.
  256. ^ a b c d Orel 2003, p. 469.
  257. ^ a b c d Orel 2003, p. 33.
  258. ^ a b c Orel 2003, pp. 361, 385, 387.
  259. ^ Orel 2003, p. 385.
  260. ^ Magnússon 1989, pp. 463–464.
  261. ^ a b c Orel 2003, p. 118.
  262. ^ a b c d Orel 2003, p. 114.
  263. ^ The Atharveda charm is specifically charm 12 of book four of the Atharveda. See discussion in for example Storms 1948: 107-112.
  264. ^ a b c d Orel 2003, p. 72.
  265. ^ Kroonen 2013, pp. 96, 114–115.
  266. ^ a b For a concise overview of sources on Germanic mythology, see Simek 2007 [1993]: 298-300.
  267. ^ On the correspondences between the prose introduction to Grímnismál and the Langobardic origin myth, see for example Lindow 2002: 129.
  268. ^ Regarding the Ring of Pietroassa, see for example discussion in MacLeod & Mees 2006: 173-174. On Gothic Anses, see for example Orel 2003: 21.
  269. ^ Simek 1993, pp. 204–205.
  270. ^ See discussion in for example Puhvel 1989 [1987]: 189-221 and Witzel 2017: 365-369.
  271. ^ Cusack 1998, p. 35.
  272. ^ Düwel 2010a, p. 356.
  273. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, p. 350.
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  276. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 353–356.
  277. ^ Cusack 1998, pp. 50–51.
  278. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 359–360.
  279. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 360–362.
  280. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 362–364.
  281. ^ Stenton 1971, pp. 104–128.
  282. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 364–371.
  283. ^ Padberg 2010, p. 588.
  284. ^ Padberg 2010, pp. 588–589.
  285. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, p. 372.
  286. ^ a b Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 389–391.
  287. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 397–399.
  288. ^ Schäferdiek & Gschwantler 2010, pp. 401–404.
  289. ^ Dilcher 2011, pp. 241–242.
  290. ^ Schmidt-Wiegand 2010, p. 389.
  291. ^ Lück 2010, p. 423.
  292. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 790–791.
  293. ^ a b Timpe & Scardigli 2010, p. 811.
  294. ^ Dilcher 2011, p. 245.
  295. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 798–799.
  296. ^ Dilcher 2011, p. 243.
  297. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 811–812.
  298. ^ Lück 2010, pp. 423–424.
  299. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 800–801.
  300. ^ Dilcher 2011, pp. 246–247.
  301. ^ Dilcher 2011, p. 251.
  302. ^ Fruscione 2010.
  303. ^ Schmidt-Wiegand 2010, p. 396.
  304. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, p. 801.
  305. ^ Karras 2006, pp. 124.
  306. ^ Schulze 2010, p. 480.
  307. ^ Karras 2006, p. 128.
  308. ^ Schulze 2010, p. 483.
  309. ^ a b Schulze 2010, p. 488.
  310. ^ Buchholz 2008, p. 1193.
  311. ^ Schulze 2010, p. 481.
  312. ^ Karras 2006, pp. 124, 127–130, 139–140.
  313. ^ Schumann 2008a, pp. 1807–1809.
  314. ^ Schumann 2008b, pp. 1695–1696.
  315. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, p. 609.
  316. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 614–615.
  317. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, p. 616.
  318. ^ Timpe & Scardigli 2010, pp. 609–611.
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  320. ^ Goering 2020, p. 242.
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  323. ^ Millet 2008, pp. 4–7.
  324. ^ Millet 2008, pp. 11–13.
  325. ^ Tiefenbach, Reichert & Beck 1999, pp. 267–268.
  326. ^ Haymes & Samples 1996, p. 10.
  327. ^ Tiefenbach, Reichert & Beck 1999, p. 268.
  328. ^ Reichert 2011, pp. 1816–1817.
  329. ^ Haubrichs 2004, p. 519.
  330. ^ Ghosh 2007, p. 248.
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  332. ^ Ghosh 2007, p. 249.
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  334. ^ a b c Düwel 2004, p. 121.
  335. ^ Nedoma 2017, p. 876.
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  338. ^ Green 1998, p. 255.
  339. ^ Düwel 2004, p. 132.
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  341. ^ Düwel 2004, p. 123.
  342. ^ Düwel 2004, p. 124.
  343. ^ Düwel 2010b, pp. 999–1006.
  344. ^ Düwel 2004, pp. 126–127.
  345. ^ Düwel 2004, pp. 131–132.
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  347. ^ Todd 1999, p. 79.
  348. ^ Todd 1999, pp. 76–77.
  349. ^ Steuer 2021, p. 410.
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  351. ^ Steuer 2021, pp. 427–428.
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Old references[edit]

  • Bauer, Susan Wise (2010). The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-05975-5.
  • Jansen, Christian (2011). "The Formation of German Nationalism, 1740–1850". In Helmut Walser Smith (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923739-5.
  • Mjöberg, Johan (1980). "Romanticism and Revival". In David Wilson (ed.). The Northern World. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28430-8.
  • Mosse, George (1964). The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. ASIN B000W259Y8.
  • Roberts, J. M. (1996). A History of Europe. New York: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-9658431-9-5.
  • Smith, Woodruff D. (1989). The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504741-7.
  • Ward, Allen; Heichelheim, Fritz; Yeo, Cedric (2016). A History of the Roman People. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-205-84679-5.
  • Weikart, Richard (2006). From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6502-8.


  • Caesar, Julius (2019). The War for Gaul: A New Translation. Translated by James O'Donnell. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-69117-492-1.
  • Tacitus, Cornelius (2009). Agricola and Germany. Translated by Anthony R. Birley. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19953-926-0.

External links[edit]

Classical and medieval sources