The origins of the Germanic peoples are obscure. Both the ethnic and geographic origins of the people speaking Teutonic languages are not known to history with any precission. The origins of these Grermanic people is still srouded in pre-history. The Germans certainly entered Europe well before the Roman era, but the Germanic people left no written language and because they were semi-nomadic, the archeological remains are sparse. The Germanic people were probably formed from a mixture of races in the coastal region of northern Europe, perhaps especially around the Baltic Sea. They appear to have settled in the north-central plains of Europe sometime around the end of the 6th century B.C. All that is known with any prescision is that the Germanic tribes first appear in southern Scandinavia and along the North Sea and Baltic coasts south into modern Poland. These Germanic tribes then moved southward and east. The Germanic tribes pushing south encountered the Romans at a period in their history that they were expanding north of the alps, setting in motion one of the titanic confrontations in history and one which was not completely resolved until World War II. The Germanic Tribes moved into the central and southern area of modern Germany (100 BC). This brought them into contact with the Roman Empire moving north and east. At the time the Germans came in contact with the Romans they were still tribal, divided into three major groups. The western Germanic tribes are the ones who first contacted the Romans and their territory in the west and south became a province of the Roman Empire. The western Germans had settled in area from the North Sea east to the Elbe, Rhine, and Main rivers. The Rhine became an boundary between the Germanic tibes and Roman territory when Julius Caesar defeated the Suevian tribe (about 70 BC) and took possession of Gaul for Rome. Caesar conquered Gaul (1st century BC), but was assasinated before he could expand Rome east accross the Rhine in force. Rome under Augustus continued its expansionary policy moving east and had begun to establish a substantial presence east of the Rhine. Then a force of almost three entire Legions under the provincial governor Varus was destroyed by Germany's first great national leader, Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). This staggering defeat of epic proportions stoped the Roman drive east. It also helped make the Rhine River a landmark of almost mystic proportions to the Germans. The Romans used Germanic tribesmen in their army. Armenius had grown up in Rome and served in the Roman army. He was very familiar with Roman tactics and capabilities. As result of the battle, the Romans were driven west of the Rhine. The Romans built a 300-mile defensive line roughly along the Rhine during the 1st century AD. Thus Germany east and west of the Rhine developed differently. This cultural divided lasted until World War II. The Germanic Tribes overwealmed the Western Empire (5th century). Only in Britain, however, did they displace the local population.
The term Teutonic is commonly used in describing the Germanic tribes. The terms Teutonic and Germanic are synonamous, both referring to a language group. The word Teutonic, related to the title Thiud, is often used instead of the word Germanic. One of the most important ancient Germanic Gods was Ziu = Tiuw = Teiwaz =Tyr. They are thought to be equivalents of Thiud. These words may, today, still be found back in such words as Dirk, Derk, Diederik, Theodoric, Dietrich, Dieter, Teeuwis, Toews, Dutch, Doesburg, Deutsch, Duisburg, Doetinchem and others. [Westera]
The origins of the Germans are obscure. Both the ethnic and geographic origins of the people speaking Teutonic languages are not known to history with any precission. The subject was of course subject to intensive academic consideration during the Third Reich, but the results were more tailored to express the ideological desires of the NAZIs than actual history. The origins of these Grermanic people is still srouded in pre-history. The Germans certainly entered Europe well before the Roman era, but the ancient Germans left no written language and because they were semi-nomadic, the archeological remains are sparse. The Germanic people were probably formed from a mixture of races in the coastal region of northern Europe, perhaps especially around the Baltic Sea. They appear to have settled in the north-central plains of Europe sometime around the end of the 6th century B.C. All that is known with any prescision is that the Germanic tribes first appear in southern Scandinavia and along the North Sea and Baltic coasts south into modern Poland. These Germanic tribes then moved southward into modern Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland, assimilating or driving the Celtic west. The migration from Scandinavia was often along rivers, the Germans from South Skandinavia pushed south along the Weser, Oder, Ostee and North Harz to the Rhine, the Channel, Weichsel and Danube. Other Germanic tribes pushed north and west to the British Isles, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands north of Scotland. The Germanic tribes pushing south encountered the Romans at a period in their history that they were expanding north of the alps, setting in motion one of the titanic confrontations in history and one which was not completely resolved until World War II.
It was not until the Romans ventured north of the Alps that there was contact between the two peoples. The first written account of the Germans is a Roman account describing a military defeat at the hands of the the Cimbri (a Celtic tribe) and Teutones described as the Volcae Tectosages in what is now Austria (113 BC). The written records of the early Germans are all Roman and thus are not very faltering. The first major European group to come into contact with the Germans were of course the Celts, but as the Celts also left no written language, the relationship between the two peoples is largely lost to history. The first known author to despribe the Germanic tribes in any detail was the Roman historian tTacitus. He described the customs, character, and geography (98 AD). The Roman people were curious about the Germanic tribes. They had blocked the expansion of the Empire east, but were not yet a military challenge to the security of the Empire. Taciitus described the virtues of these people and the potential danger to the Empire. [Ozment]
The Greeks called the Celts living to the north of them the Keltoi, but the origin of the term is unknown. It does appear to be origin of the modern term Celt. The geographical and ethnic origins of the Celtic people of Europe are largely unknown. They are believed to have appeared in Europe during the 2nd millenium BC. Most historians believe that they were one of the more war-like Caucasian tribes. The original Celts appeared to a have conquuered and merged with existing non-Indon European tribes. The Celts became the dominate force in north-cental Europe. Celtic language , customs, religion, and traditions were gradually adopted by sujecated peoples. There are thought to have been about 150 distinct Celtic tribes, among which the Britons and Gauls are today the best known. Toward the end of the 2nd millenium, the Gauls became increasingly dominante in north-central Europe. The Gauls from the 5th-2nd century BC expanded their area of influence, moving south of the Alps into Italy, even sacking Rome (390 BC). They also moved into Spain, Greece, and Turkey. At the end of the 2nd century BC, these wide spread deployments had weakened their power in central Europe. The Gauls wee less able to resist presure from Germanic tribes east of the Rhine. The Roman Gaius Marius defeated the Gauls south of the Alps. Ceaser defeated the Gauls, especially the Belgae north of the Alps (58-50 BC). Within the Empire, slowly Latin replaced the Celtic language. The Celts unlike Roman men wore trousers and the word breaches, the first form of trousers worn by European men.
The Germanic Tribes moved into the central and southern area of modern Germany (100 BC). This brought them into contact with the Celts, displacing them by assimilation or driving them west. The exact nature of the relationshipm between the Celts and Germans is not known as neither had a written language to record history. The Celts were a culturally more advanced people. The Germans acquired iron working technology from the Celts. The Celts began referring to the Teuton (a tribe located in Jutland). The Romans adopted this as term referring to the Germanic tribes in general. It was adopted from a Celtic term for the Germani living east of the Rhine. Roman sources in the 1st century BC referred to thec area of Celtica beyond the Rhine as Germania. Here the situation is confused. There were Celts easy of the Rhine. There also appoear to have been some Germanic tribes dominated by Celtic people. The Germani encountered by Ceasar may have been such a group. The Germanic tribes at the time had no collective self image, recognizing only thdeir tribal groupings. The Germanic tribes in the 1st century BC were still largely semi-nomadic compared to the sedentary Celtic farmers. The Celts buiklt fortified settlements, some of which posed serious obstacles to Ceasr. Despite the cultural differences, there was considerable intermingling among the two peoples. As mentioned above, there appears to have been a Celtic aristicracy in som areas of Germania. The mixing of peoples is stringly suggested by the linguistic situation. Some Germanic tribes spokr Celtic and some Celtic tribes German,. There are also many Celtic loan words in German (but few in English), the most obvious being "reich". Other governmrnt terms further suggest a Celtic dominance among somde tribes. Classical historians usually provide the same physical desription for Celts and Germans, suggesting considerable intermingling. [Duffy, pp. 127-128.]
At the time the Germans came in contact with the Romans they were still tribal, and the number of different tribes is very large. They varied greatly in size and in culture. Some had been significantly influenced by contacts with the Romans. They werre Christianized ove a long period. The western tribes became Christian at an early time while others. Another western tribe, however, did not accept Christianity until the medieval era. The relationship between the tribes is not well known. There was extensive warfare between tribes so they obviously was no kinship felt between the different tribes. The primary relationship appears to be linguistic which in the years before DNA was one of the most useful means of assessinging pre-historic relationships. Historians tend to divide the Germanic tribes into three major groups divided along geographic grounds, east, north, and west. It was of course the western tribles that wre best known to the Romans and for which as a result there are the most detailed contemprary accounts. While despariaged by the Romans as Barbarians, these tribes played a major role in laying the foundation for the modern states of Western Europe. Here the role varied from tribe to tribe. Some founded major European states. Others are largely lost to history.
Very little is know about the clothing and culturfe of the early Germans before the Iron age and their migration into central and nirthern Europe during the Iron Age. One interesting apect of German clothing is that it appears to have been very similar to other peoples in northern and central Europe at the time, meaning the Irish, British, British, and Celts (Gauls). Here climate and technology were factors which made for similar styles and garment types. Until relatively recently, most of our information came ffom Roman and to a lesser extent Greeks. The Germans and Celts were pre-literate people which left us no information on their clothing. The Romans left us a few sculptures depicting German clothing. And the subject was addressed by Roman and Greek authors. It ws thought that no actual German clothing survived the centuries. Textiles can survive millenia in the arid conditions of Egypt and the Middle East. This is not the case in norther Europe. This changed when corses were discovered in Denmark. The corpses were found in marshes, the chemistry of the water abd the anaerobic marsh conditions not only natusrally mummified bodies, but miraculously prsered textiles. The most important find came from Thorsberg in Schleswig-Holstein. A amazingly complete and well preserved set of clothing was discovered in what is now a peat bog (1860s). Unlike modern times, fashion changed very slowly in ancient times. The corpse and clothing is considered to be German and has been dated to about the 3rd century AD. As it does not show Roman influences, the clothing worn can be taken as a good representative of Iron Age German clothing. The Germans wove their clothing, mostly using wool. Plants were available that could be used for fabrics, such as flax (linnen) and nettles, but available evidence suggests that the Germand relied almost entirely on wool. Men's garments included: leather caps, tunics, trousers, tunics, cloaks, and capes. The trousers suggest Central Asian origins. Along with woolen garments have been found metal broaches. There were no dedicated children's clothing. Boys wore scaled cdown versions of what their fathers wore.
Clashed between Roman armies and the Germanic tribes escalted in the 1st century BC as the Romans pushed further north well beyond the Alps. Cdeasar launched the conquest of Celtic Gaul (58 BC). during his protracted campaigns, Ceasar encountered the Germani, a termed the Celts used meaning "the shouters" to describe the Germanic peoples. (The terms used to describe the Germanic peopless are a history in themselves. As the Romans were the ones keeping written records, the term German is the word used in English, a term never used by the Germans themselves. Many other countries adopted the term Alenania from a Germanic tribe. Modern Germans use the term Deutsche, but I do not yet know the derivation of this term and when it was first used. Other less flatering terms have been used to describe the Germans on the reputation of Germanic and non-Germanic tribes like the Vandals and Huns. Churchill in particular liked to refer to the Germans as Huns.) The Germani Ceasar encountered had seized areas of Gaul east of the Vosges Mountains. In a 3-year campaign he drove them out of Gaul and across the Rhine. Caesar defeated the Suevian tribe under Ariovist. Ceasar defeated the Celtic/Gallic tribes, especially the Belgae, in one of the most famous military campaigns in history and took possession of Gaul for Rome, this meant much greater contact with the Germanic peopless (58-50 BC). Rome then directly faced the Germnic tribes along a long ill defined boundary, in part because the Germanic tribes were still semi-nomadic. The principal boundary because of its geographic importance became the Rhine River. Ceasar pursued Germanic tribess across the Rhine, descruibing with some pride in his Commentaries a bridge he built. Throughout most of the reign of Augustus, Roman armies achieved some success east of the Rgine and large areas were in the process of being Romanized.
Rome under Augustus continued its expansionary policy moving east and had begun to esrablish a substantial presence east of the Rhine. Then a force of almost three entire Legions under the provincial governor Varus was destroyed by Germany's first great national leader, Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). Armenius was a chieftan of the Cherusci. This staggering defeat of epic proportions stoped the Roman drive east. It also helped maje the Rhine River abecome a landmark of almost mystic proportions to the Germans. The Romans used Germanic peoples in their army. Armenius had grown up in Rome and served in the Roman army. He was very familiar with Roman tactics and capabilities. As result of the battle, the Romans were driven west of the Rhine. Germanicus Ceasar led a retalitory campaign accross the Rhine, but from 9 AD, Roman policy toward the Germanic tribes along the Rhine was basically one of continment.
The Romans built a 300-mile defensive line roughly along the Rhine River during the 1st century AD. The Roman line didn’t precisely follow the Rhine. It was built miles inland. Frankfurt on the Main, for example, was east of the Rhine but still Roman). A strongly defended frontier and genrerally peaceful relations with the Germanic tribes continued in the 2nd century AD.
Notable changes began to take place in what the Gauls called Germania, Europe east of the Rhine. Several important towns appeared in Geramania (Augsburg, Bonn, Cologne, and Trier). For the first time during this period. Also the Germanic tribes began to become more sedentary and colaese into larger groupings which were in fact nascent nations. Previously the Germanic tribes were small semi-nomadic bands, as likely to fight each others as the Romans. Some of the more impotant tribal groups which began to federate were the Alamanni (the tribal name by which the Germanic tribes are most noted), Burgundians, Franks (who proved to ne the most important), Frisii, Goths, Lombards, Saxons, Suevi (which played a roll in modern Switzerland), and Vandals.
The situation on the frontier began to deteriorate in the 3rd century. The Western emperors as the power of their armies and frontier defenses wained, began toaccept some of these Germanic tribes as allies and permitted them, as they could not bestopped, to settle within the Empitre. The Germanic tribes as early as 260 AD overun the Roman defensive line and the East and West Germanic tribes penetrated into Gaul and eventually the Italian Peninsula. The Germanic tribes were in part pushed west by the predatory Huns from central Asia.
Many historic accounts focus on the Goths abnd other Germanuc tribes over running the Wesern Empire. A more limited, but historicsally important Germanic invasion took place in the north, the invasion of Roman Britain. The invasions took place after the last Roman garison withdrew from Britain (407 AD) abd was largely accomplished by the time St Augustine arrived (end of the 6th century). The Germaniv invasions significantly changed the democraphic and ethnic pattern of Britain, especially what we now call England. The make up of the population, language, political structure, and other institutions were fundamentally changed. The Germanic invaders replaced the Romanized Celts who might be called the British. Historians have differed over the interactions between Germanic invaders and British. The disappearance of Latin and Celtic suggested that the Germanic invaders did not absorbe the Celts, but rather conducted a war of extinction. Modern DNA studies tends to confirm this. Not only did Germanic dialects (which evolved into Old English) replace Latin and Celtic, but loose knit and often feuding hereditary kingships replaced the more centrally governed system of provinces left by the Romans. [Myres] Urban life desintegrated and the Roman cities were largely abandoned. The problem for historians is that the victors were the Germanic tribes or Anglo-Saxons who were not literate at the time and thus there are no surviving contemprary written accounts. The earliest accounts of the conquest come several centuries later. Available sources suggest that the British (Roman-Celtic) authorities after the departure of the Legions had increasing duifficulty resisting the depredations of the northern tribes. They apparently hired a Germanic warlord and his men as mercenaries (mid-15th century). Relations soon desintegrated andthe Germans not only revolted, but invited kinsmen to join them. The Germanic tribes soon controlled much of low-land Britain. The stuggle of the Romanized Celts and Germanic tribes appears to to be the genesis of the Arthurian legend. While the Britons apprarentlt held out for some time, they were eventually driven into the mountaneous western areas and survived as the Welsh people. At the time Saint Augustine arrived, the Anglo Saxons controlled most of southern Engkland and were expanding north and west (late 6th century). It is not all together clear who the Germanic invaders were. The Britons tended to call them Saxons. The name England of course comes from the Anglii, another Germanic tribe. And to further confuse the issue, the Germanic dialect most cloesly related to Old English appears to be Frissian.
Very little is known about the origins of the Huns until they come in contact with Rome in the late 4th century. The Huns were the first mounted Asian warriors to move east and threaten Europe. They appeared on war horses out of the trackless Asian steppes. Their first European victim were the Alans (a people living between the Volga and the Don) and then moved further West. The Huns were a major force in driving the Germanic tribes west into the saftey of the Roman Empire, butv in the process destroying the Western Empire. The Huns moved east north of the Black Sea and conquered the Ostrogoths. Then they also drove the Visigoths across the Danube into the Roman Empire. This led defeat of the Roman army under the Emperor Valens at Adrianople (378 AD). The Huns settled along the Danube, particularly in the Hungarian Plain. For nearly 50 years they both served the Romans as allies as well as wared with them. The Eastern Emperor, beginning in the 420s, paid an annual tribute to them. When the more ambitious Attila succeded as as King of the Huns he adopted a more aggressive policy. He soon became known as the "Scourge of God." The havoc and devastation he wrought in Gaul before the Battle of Châlons (451 AD) was passed down in Medieval folklore. The slaughter and wanton killing the Huns left in their wake would indeed be hard to exagerate. The Huns not only slaughtered their enemies, but forced the ones allowed to live to serve in their armies. As a result after pillaging the European domains of the Eastern Empire and extracting an increased subsidy, Attila turned west, in p;art because of the powerful defensive walls of Constantinople. In his army were strogoths and other Germanic warriors (including Burgundians and Alans) who had lived on the Germanic side of the frontier with Gaul. The Franks were split between pro- and anti-Roman factions. The Western Empire in the mod-5th century was largely a fiction. It was ominally ruled by the Emperor Valentinian III, in fact effective control lay with the warlord general, Aëtius. Thusbit was Aëtius who assembled a confederacy to confront the huge Hunnic army. Aëtius' army was composed of Franks, Visigoths and his own Romano-Germanic army. Atilla had ravaged large areas of Gaul when the two armies met on the Catalaunian Fields, near Châlons-sur-Marne. It was one of the rare occassions when Atilla sufferec defeat. Aëtius emerged victorious, but did not destroy Attila and his army, apparently thinking that his his Visigothic allies would desert his coalition and seize control of Gaul if the Hunnic threat was destroyed. Attila led his hordes across the Alps into Italy. He drove south to Rome. Christian legend has it that Pope Leo and the force of the Cross persuaded Attila to spare the city. This is unlikely. More plausibly was that Attila turned back to deal with a threat from military forces of the eastern Empire. Then while moving toward Constantinople to destroy the Eastern Empire, Attila apparently drowned in his own blood from a nose bleed (453 AD). After Attila's death the opower of the Huns wained. This was in part because the size of their cavalry force was declining and they were becoming more of a typical barbarian army. There were also interscine squables between heirs. The remnants of Attila's Huns eventually regrouped in the Balkans wherecthey ruled the Slavic population. These people known as the Bulgars became a continuing threat to rge Eastern Empire.
Finally the Western Empire fell. Descimated by both Germanic and Hunnic armies. After the power of the Huns wained. The Germanic tribes which had been battered by the Huns, found themselves in possession of much of the Western Empire. With the fall of Rome in the 5th century, Germanic tribes set up kingdoms throughout Western Europe. These tribes included the Vandals, Ostergoths and Visagoths, Burgundians, Langobards and most notably the Franks. Except for the Franks, these kingdoms were short lived. The Germanic tribes in much of Roman Europe merged with the local population. It was the Germanic tribes and their Nordic offshot the Vikings that provided the political organization of Western Europe. The Merovingian, Carolingian, and Hohenstaufen dysnasties were at the center of European history. [Ozment] Many of the modern nationalities of Europe emerged in the Medieval era out of these kingdoms. The Franks under the rule of Clovis were masters not only of Gaul, but large streaches east of the Rhine. Clovis' kingdom would develop into a vast domain under the great Frankish leader Charlemagne would had himself crowned emperor (800).
The Medieval history of Germany is difficult to syynthesize because Germany lacked a clear geographic focus. The Germanic tribes, probably originated from the peoples living along the Baltic Sea, dominatd much of northern Europe (500 BC). The German Tribes were part of a larger group of people the Celts. The history of the Germanic tribes beginning in the 2nd century AD through the 6th century is one of extended migration (Völkerwanderung) out of their native lands west. There were many reasons for this migration. They were attracted by the fruits of civilization developed in the Roman Empire. The dynastic history of Medieval Europe in many ways begins with Clovis and the Merovingian dynasty, but even more with Charlemagne and his successors. Charlemagne founded the first empire after Rome. His grandson Louis II became the first King of Germany. The Saxon King Otto I founded the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire is a misnomer. It was not Holy, although the pope crowned the emperor, nor was it Roman. It was essentially a Germanic empire encompassing much of Western Europe and later was named by historians the First German Reich. he Salian Dynasty under Henry II became involved in thre The Empire was rocked by the Investiture Controversy in the 10th century and the struggle between Emperor Henry II and Pope Gregory VII. Although the Emperor established the principle of civil power, regional leaders used the controversy to significantly weaken the authority of the emperor within Germany and was a major reason that no centralized German state emerged as was
the case in many other countries (England, France, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden) during the Medieval era. Several different dynasties ruled Germany during the Medieval Era. The first was the Merovingian dynasty founded by Clovis. It was the Hapsburgs that would lead Germany out of the Medieval Era and dominate Germany until after the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century. During the Roman imperial era the Germans pushed west. After the fall of Rome and the migrations west of the 6th century and 7th centuries, the Germans as begun by the Carolingians became increasingly concerned with the East. Germans played major roles in the 11th-13th centuries Crusades to free the Holyland from Islamic rule.
The Germanic peoples lived in large families which were related as tribes. They were divided into Gaue and Hundertschaften. The Gaufürsten elected a Herzog in times of war. There were also Freie, Halbfreie (Hörige) and Unfreie (Knechte). The single person had rights only as a member of family. The Freie made up the Thing, a place were oral law was spoken. (Tolkien in Lord of the Rings let the Ents hold a Thing.)
The language of the Germanic tribes originally formed together with Greek, Italian, and Celtic the branch of Kentum/Centum languages. This is the Western sungroup of Indo-European languages. (The linguistic origins and the Indo-European laguages are discussed in more detail on the Origins of the Germanic peoples page. The language of the Germanic tribes changes as they move west and merged biolgically and culturally with the local populations. None of the original languages survive. Linguists can, however, reconstruct it by comparing languages and looking at rune inscriptions. There appear to have been two major language grouops: East Germanic (Gotic Wulfila translation of the Bible) and North Germanic (later Elder Northic). A HBC reader has provided us sime information on the language used in the Wulfila translation. On the continent there existed around the birth of Christ, Northsea German (later English and Niederdeutsch), Weser Rhine German (Mainly Franks), Elb German (Suebes). These formed later the German language and its dialects from which the Dutch separated in th Middle Ages.
We do not yet have any information on ancient German clothing. We note some drawings in a 19th century publication Braun & Schneider
Duffy, Kevin. Who Were the Celts (Barnes and Nobel, 1996).
Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People (HarperCollins: 2004), 400p.
Westera, Hendrik. E-mail message, April 8, 2004"
Myres, J.N.L. The English Settlements, The Oxford History of England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).
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