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Ancient tribe Germanic peoples - Ancestry and origin

Who were the Germanic peoples?

The Germanic term is an ethnological classification in ancient tradition for a large group between Celts and Scythians and designates the last of the peoples classified as barbarians by the Mediterranean cultures.
The Germanic peoples did not form a common cultural unit at the time when they inherited the Celts or Gauls in the role of the northern neighbours of the Roman Empire. They retained their independence, although there was also an intensive exchange between Romans and Germanic peoples.
The origin of the name "Teutons" is unclear; ancient sources do not always distinguish between Teutons, Celts and Scythians.
The literary tradition of warlike conflicts and peaceful relations between Rome and the Germanic tribes reports almost exclusively from a Roman-Mediterranean perspective. Moreover, it is shattered, is subject to the specific conditions of Roman historiography and ethnography, aims at the contemporary taste of a Greco-Roman reading public and is heavily dependent on the available, often officially filtered news.
Around 51 B.C. Julius Caesar coined the term Germanic in his work "The Gallic War", in which he declared the Rhine to be the cultural divide between Gauls on the western bank and Germanic tribes east of the river and described all land east of it as Germania. Caesar's divisive cultural definition was probably purely politically motivated; it apparently helped him to establish a claim of Rome to power over all western Rhine territories. However, the Rhine did not represent an actual cultural divide, since both Celtic and Germanic groups settled to the east and west of it, and Caesar was aware of this.
The spread of the Germanic name today is usually attributed to the fact that the Gauls regarded the eastern invaders (Suebi) as strangers, separated themselves from them and used the Germanic name for the invaders. The Romans would then have adopted it from the Gauls.
Around 100 A.D. Tacitus describes Germania in his "Germania", and to some extent also its geography and names various Germanic tribes from the Rhine to the Vistula. He depicts the customs and habits of the Germanic tribes, emphasizing their moral way of life according to him, such as their strictly regulated family life, their loyal and sincere character, their bravery in war and their will for freedom. But he also points out weaknesses such as their laziness, their tendency to play dice and excessive consumption of alcohol. The news, all of which is second-hand, is mixed with topoi and generalisations.
Tacitus regards all Germanic peoples as original, i.e. all have the same origin and are not mixed with other peoples, nor have they immigrated to Germania. Character traits which he attributes in the general part to the whole people he attributes to this common origin.
Several researchers consider the work to be an objective ethnography, despite contrary opinions. These negative and positive opposites to Tacitus' own culture, which in places are highly polarising, thus only served to understand what is different. This is supported by the fact that many of his descriptions have proved to be correct and have been confirmed by modern archaeology.
Germanic research on the Germanic peoples in the 19th century took an enormous upswing due to the need for a determination of national cultural identity, brought important findings, but led to the construction of a historical continuity from the Germanic peoples to the German Empire of the 19th century. Numerous statements and conceptualizations of this older Germanic research are now controversial.
Thus, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Germanic peoples were understood as a "people", and "folklore" was based on the development of language and the shift of sounds. The archaeological concept of the Teutons was also based on the linguistic concept of the Teutons: Because the "spirit of the people" was also expressed in their material creations, archaeological finds were assigned to stable cultural groups when continuous settlement could be proven and this was compatible with the ancient sources. Thus, the archaeological concept of the Teutons presupposed the linguistic one and the latter the one in ancient literature.
At the end of the 20th century, on the other hand, research increasingly emphasizes the instability of ethnic identity, especially in antiquity, and increasingly questions the concept of the Germanic peoples, which originated in the nation-state thinking of the 18th/19th century. "Germanic" is (like "barbarian") only a foreign term that says more about the Greeks and Romans than about the groups and individuals designated by the terms.


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What was the language of the Germanic peoples?

The Germanic languages differ from other Indo-European languages by a characteristic, the "Germanic" consonant shift, which is distinguished in German studies as a "first" from a following "second" sound shift.

The order of divestment and "kinship" of (not only) the West Indo-European language groups Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Celtic and Italian remain controversial. There are proponents and opponents to every closer relationship.

Some researchers suspect that Proto-Germanic with the forerunners of the Baltic and Slavic languages formed a dialect group within the West Indo-European languages. These pre-forms of Germanic might have already taken up an intermediate position between Celtic-Italian in the southwest and Baltoslavic in the southeast in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium B.C. according to their geographical position. Proto-Germanic then broke away from this group, according to which it shows clear interactions with early Finnish languages. The proto-Germanic language (also called "Urgermanic" or "Common Germanic") could be reconstructed to a large extent by linguistic comparisons. This developed preform is said to have remained relatively uniform until about 100 BC, in the so-called common Germanic language period.

The Urgermanic possibly developed in the 2nd millennium BC, at the latest in the 1st millennium roughly around the western Baltic Sea. The speakers of this language level are called Germanic, regardless of ethnological and geographical evidence. Due to the lack of textual evidence, it is not possible to say anything precise about the dating of the Early Germanic language.

The Germanic tribes spread increasingly from their original language area to the south and west of Central Europe until the 1st century BC. In doing so they displaced the Celts and their language as far as the rivers Rhine and Danube, which now formed the border streams to Celtic Gaul and also to Celtic Rhaetia.

Since about the 2nd century AD, the Germanic tribes have used their own characters, the runes. The so-called older Futhark, an early form of the runic alphabet, which was in use until about 750 AD, was created. The handed down Gothic Bible of the 4th century has its own script, namely the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Wulfila.



What was the ethnogenesis of the Germanic peoples?

Since at least the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C., the development of Germanic populations went its own way. The migrations of Indo-Germanic people from the region between the Don and the Volga brought spokesmen of proto-Indo-Germanic to Central Europe and beyond to the West. During the middle of the 1st millennium B.C., the Germanic tribes settled in a heartland that stretched across Denmark, southern Norway and southern Sweden and extended along the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas from Flanders in the west to the Vistula in the east. In the west the Teutons pushed away Celtic tribes. In the Baltic Sea area they were in contact with Baltic fins for centuries.

The non-Indo-Germanic populations were not simply suppressed, but maintained close relations with the Germanic peoples. A lively barter trade took place; in addition, settlement communities developed over the long term and, as a result, ethnically mixed connections. The elementary vocabulary of the Germanic languages contains up to 28% words of non-Indo-European origin.

By the 1st millennium BC at the latest, the common Germanic linguistic continuum was divided into three main groups, East, North and West Germanic. At first, North Germanic was limited to Norway and Sweden, while speakers of West Germanic settled in Denmark. Not until the 2nd half of the 1st millennium AD, North Germanic speakers populated the region. The Oder was roughly the dividing line between West and East Germanic.



What are the results of archaeological research on the Germanic tribes?

At the centre of the discussion about the archaeological roots of the Germanic tribes is the Jastorf culture, which in the second half of the last millennium B.C. covered the wide area from the west of the Elbe to the Oder and from the edge of the low mountain ranges to Jutland.

Since such a group of forms is at best only created as a result of ethnogenesis, the formation of the ethnic complex "Teutons" must have occurred noticeably earlier. After long Bronze Age or even Stone Age cultural groups, mainly from the north, were considered to be already Germanic, the beginning of the Iron Age around the middle of the last millennium B.C. is now mainly considered to be the period of Germanic ethnogenesis.

Namely the so-called Jastorf culture in the Elbe region, in Northern Germany and Jutland is considered the oldest Germanic culture. Since, however, historical Germanicity cannot be completely derived from the Jastorf culture, there are also isolated cases of the view that Germanic ethnogenesis took place relatively shortly before the first written evidence and before the formation of a separate archaeological form at the end of the 1st millennium BC, with the participation of both bearers of the Jastorf culture and other Iron Age cultural groups outside of it and Celtic residual groups in Central Europe. For centuries, the Jastorf culture had manifold commercial contacts with the Celtic world of southern Central Europe, as numerous finds prove. Towards the end of the 2nd and the 1st century B.C. there were southern movements of larger groups (Cimbrians and Teutons, Suebi of Ariovist etc.), which are also reflected in the first historical news, which for the first time mention the term "Germanic". Further advances remain unmentioned, but they find their archaeological expression for the last century BC in southern Bavaria, Bohemia or in the Wetterau.

The activities emerging in the advances bring, among other things, a spread of the Jastorf culture and at the same time lead to a further differentiation of the archaeological groups around the birth of Christ. West of the Elbe Germanic tribes, the North Sea Germanic tribes and the Rhine-Weser Germanic tribes can be summarised archaeologically, while the Oder, Oder estuary and Vistula Germanic tribes are to the east. To what extent these groupings can be reconciled with further differentiations of historically named tribes is judged differently.

The period from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D. is characterized to varying degrees by the constant proximity to the Roman Empire. Around the birth of Christ, Roman offensives against Germania took place, which ultimately led to the founding of the provinces of Lower and Upper Germania and the construction of the Limes; however, there was only minor intervention in the actual Germanic territory.

The Germanic world of forms clearly contrasts with the civilization of the Roman provinces, so that the encounter and penetration of both worlds in the mutual border zone can be made clear in detail. Regarding the chronological structure, the find material shows a clear division into two parts; the age of the Marcomannic Wars in the 2nd half of the 3rd century AD separates the older from the younger imperial period.

The beginning of the Migration Period at the end of the 4th century brought with it a complete reorganisation or dissolution of the Imperial Germanic cultural complex.

In the 3rd century A.D. the archaeological evidence shows the formation of larger cultural units. In the 3rd /4th century, peoples such as the Alemanni, Franks, Goths, Saxons etc. appeared for the first time - also archaeologically comprehensible.



How do you classify the Germanic peoples?

For a division of the Teutons into the three cult unions of the Ingwaonians, Istvones and Hermiones does not help, but a natural divorce in West Teutons (Alemanni, Suebi, Marcomans, Franks), East Germanic (Vandals, Goths, Heruls, Warns, Rugians, Burgundians, Gepids, Lombards), Elbe, North Sea and North Germanic (for Tacitus 40, for Ptolemy a total of 69 names) as working hypothesis usable. The development in Eastern Europe presents itself as a constant mixing, acculturation and absorption of foreign elements (Dacians, Carpathians, Sarmatians, Alans, Slavs).

Here, as well as in the small-scale West, the early tribes, tribal and cult associations disappeared in the course of movements such as land grabbing, agglomeration, integration, disintegration, new political formations and their disintegration, and existing social structures also changed, although in the past continuity was emphasized.

Recent research emphasizes the importance of name-giving tradition cores for ethnic genesis and continuity.

Although it is not possible to establish a regular relationship between archaeological form groups and historical ethnos, the differences in the material culture of Germania reflect something of the diversity of the ethnic groups in this area. In individual cases, for example, expansion processes can be shown, such as the extension of the Elbe-Germanic settlement area via Bohemia to the middle Danube by the tribes of the Marcomanni and Quades in the Older Empire or the occupation of the Decumatian land by the Alemanni in the Younger Empire. Also the reverse process, the emptying of certain areas by emigration, can in favourable cases be proven by the archaeological finds (migration of the Angles to Britain).



What is the history of the Germanic peoples?

In the pre-Roman phase, Germanic tribes crossed the rivers Rhine and Danube, which were later regarded as borders, partly by force and partly with the approval of the Celtic population. Contacts between Romans, Celts and Teutons then led to acculturation processes, especially in the border zones. Since Augustus, Germanic tribes or tribal groups were repeatedly settled on Roman territory. With the advancement of the border over the Rhine and Danube and the construction of the Limes, further Germanic tribes came into the immediate Roman territory, although it is difficult to identify them in the material culture of the early and high imperial period. Since the time of Caesar, Germanic tribes had been in Roman service as auxiliary troops.

Notwithstanding real experiences and deepened knowledge due to manifold contacts, the "furor Teutonicus" became an ideological commonplace among the Romans, and this also became conspicuous in the Germanic representations. The Teutons were the enemy of Rome! The ancient tradition depicts the Teutons essentially according to the scheme of their barbarian image.

The history of the Teutons is first and foremost a history of the individual peoples under their respective historical conditions. Accordingly, generalizing statements about the economic, social and political structure of "the" Germanic peoples are necessarily undifferentiated and hardly appropriate to the historically complex reality. In general, the Germanic excursus at Caesar and the "Germania" of Tacitus are used to establish Germanic commonalities in an inadmissible simplification, but both reports are time-related and can only be interpreted in connection with the respective intentions of their authors. In detail, therefore, literary tradition and archaeological research must first be analysed from their own premises before they can be related to each other. In this context, research is endeavouring to develop an interdisciplinary concept of the Teutons.

This is because the Germanic terms peculiar to the various disciplines (archaeology, historical research, linguistics) are no longer congruent. If, on the one hand, the find types cannot be assigned to peoples, the historical Teutons do not form a language family, and those who spoke Germanic languages are not necessarily Teutons, then the individual sciences are no longer dealing with an identical object "Teutons". The concept of the Teutons prevailing in one scientific field is therefore not necessarily valid in another. The Scandinavians are Germanic only in the field of Germanic philology, the representatives of the Jastorf culture only among prehistorians. Thus, the concept of the Teutons was transferred to periods of time in which a Germanic sense of identity did not exist.



What happened during the migration of peoples?

As a result of population growth and climate deterioration, there was increased migration and land seizure, including by tribes from Scandinavia, and the formation of tribal associations in the eastern central European region that were difficult to distinguish from one another. A southeast drift (Goths, Heruls) brought, after Bastarnen and Skiren as forerunners, Germanic tribes to the Black Sea in the 3rd and 4th century, after the northern border areas of the Roman Empire had already been affected for the first time by a continuous wave of invasions under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Marcomanni, Quades). Continued and intensified invasions in the 3rd century were a decisive catastrophe for Rome (Alemanni, Franks).

The destruction of the Visigothic and Visigothic state structures in south-eastern Europe after 375 by the Huns led to a spreading new migratory movement which, with a new intensive mixing in the following century, brought the western half of the Roman Empire into Germanic hands and in particular the majority of the Ostrogoths to Gaul or Spain (Burgundians, Visigoths, Suebi) and Africa (Vandals), into whose territories new Germanic immigrants (Heruls, Rugians, Lombards) or foreigners (Bulgarians, Slavs, Avars) flowed. At the same time as the Frankish land grab in Gaul, which was completed at the beginning of the 6th century, a process of Germanization began with a North Germanic invasion (Saxons, Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Saxons) into England. The Germanic tribal movements ended with the Longobard land grab in Italy from 568 onwards.

Clearly, Germanic tribal units (Goths, Franks) were settled as federated combat units within the Roman Empire in the course of the development beginning in 375. This, as well as then the connection of finally established Teutons with existing related (Bavaria) or romanized substrates (Leges) led to the state development of the Middle Ages.



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