Migration Period
between Odra and Vistula

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Germanic Tribes

Germanic Tribes, a group of peoples evolved in the region on the Elbe River presumably around 500 BC (the territory of archaeological Jastorf Culture), first reference in Posidonius of Apameia (c. 135 – c. 50 BC); it is possible that the name “Germans” was “created” by Julius Caesar (in his Commentarii de bello Gallico). The fullest, ethnographic description of the Germanic peoples by a classical author is in Germania of Tacitus (De origine et situ Germanorum). In the days of the Roman Empire Germ. tr. occupied much of western Europe (as far as the Rhine), the north (Scandinavia, recognized by the ancients as their original homeland) and central Europe (as far as the Danube). Various Germ. tr. waged wars on Rome; of these the most significant was the invasion of the Cimbri who ravaged the Celtic and Roman lands around 120-101 BC (ethnic affiliation of the Cimbri is still a subject of controversy), destruction of three Roman legions by Germanic Cherusci led by Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD), the death of Emperor Decius at the hands of the Goths in the Battle of Abritus (251 AD) and the defeat of the Romans (death of Emperor Valens) at Adrianople (378 AD) at the hands of the →Visigoths . The city of Rome was taken and razed twice, also by Germ. tr.: the →Visigoths  (410) and the →Vandals  (455 AD). Ancient Germ. established their tribal entities outside the Roman limes; during the Early Empire a number of Germ. kingdoms were client states of Rome (the state of the Marcomanni and of the Quadi); after the Marcomannic Wars (166/7-180) the earlier tribal structure disintegrated and tribal federations came into being formed by the Alemanni, the →Franks  and the Saxons. During the 3rd century Germ. attacks on the Roman territory intensified; steadily losing its power the Empire agreed to have the Germ. tribes settle in the provinces, in exchange for their defence (where they were given the status of foederati or of laeti). The increasingly powerful Germ. tr. ultimately contributed to the fall of the Western Roman Empire (in 476 the Scirian leader Odoacer killed the last emperor) and established their own kingdoms over its ruins, most of them short-lived, owing to the numerous migrations. The main archaeological cultures of the Roman Period and the →Migration Period  identified with Germanic peoples are the following: Rhine-Weser, Elbian, Marcomannic-Quadi, →Przeworsk Culture , →Wielbark Culture , Cherniakhiv-Sântana de Mureş, cultures of the northern European →Barbaricum  (Scandinavia). Late →Migration Period  archaeological formations of western Europe identified with Germ. tr. are e.g., the Merovingian cultures (corresponding to the Frankish states and territories under their political or cultural influence), in Britain - the culture of the Anglo-Saxons (the result of the superposition of the seaborne migrations of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe over the relics of post-Roman and Celtic settlement); in the Carpathian Basin there is the culture of the →Gepids, in Pannonia, and later, in north Italy – that of the →Langobards; archaeological evidence on the presence of Goths is recorded in Crimea. The main Germ. tr. of the →Migration Period  are the →Franks , →Visigoths , →Ostrogoths , →Gepids, →Langobards, Alemanni, →Vandals , →Thuringi, Saxons, Angles, →Burgundians, Bavarii, →Heruli .

During the →Migration Period some Germ. peoples were pagan while others adopted Christianity, mostly in the Arian creed (the result of the activity of Bishop →Ulfilas in the 4th century among the →Goths ). The first Germ. tr. to embrace Christianity in the Roman Catholic rite were the →Franks (496).


Literature: R. Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterlichen Gentes, Köln-Graz 1961; H. Wolfram, Germanie, Kraków 1996; H. Beck, H. Steuer, D. Timpe (ed.), Die Germanen. Studienausgabe, Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Berlin-New York 1998; P. Cornelius Tacitus, Germania (Publiusz Korneliusz Tacyt, Germania), J. Kolendo (ed.), T. Płóciennik (Transl.), Fontes Historiae Antiquae X, Poznań 2008; P. Heather, Imperia i barbarzyńscy. Migracje i narodziny Europy, Poznań 2010; M. Mączyńska, Światło z popiołu. Wędrwówki ludów w Europie w IV i V w., Warszawa 2013, p. 20-35.