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Germanic peoples

The Germanic Peoples or Germanic Tribes

The term applied to the ancient Germanic peoples is not to be confused with the country Germany formed 2,000 years later. The idea of a single German people, or Volk, is a relatively recent development, largely invented by 19th and 20th centuries writers and politicians. In ancient times, the many barbarian tribes were given the broad label as Germanic tribes (Latin Germanicus) by the Romans. It is doubtful that most of these groups viewed themselves as connected in any cultural, linguistic, or political sense.

They did, however, have a name for non-germanic peoples - Walha, from which we have Welsh, Walloon, and Wallachia. They also spoke mutually intelligible dialects and shared a common mythology and story telling as testified by Beowulf and Saga of the Volsungs.

These tribes wandered for centuries in far and diverse directions taking them to England and Scandinavia at the northern tip of Europe and as far south through present day continental Europe to Mediterranean Africa. Over time, the wandering meant intrusions into other tribal territories and the ensuing wars for land claims escalated with the dwindling amount of unoccupied territory. Nomadic tribes then began the staking out of permanent homes as a means of protection. Much of this resulted in fixed settlements from which many, under a powerful leader, expanded outwards. A defeat meant either scattering or merging with the dominant tribe and this continued to be how nations were formed. In England, for example, we now most often refer to the Anglo-Saxons rather than the two separate tribes.

Germanic tribes:

Some of the Germanic tribes are frequently blamed in popular conceptions for the "Fall" of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century. Professional historians and archaeologists have since the 1950s shifted their interpretations in such a way that the Germanic peoples are no longer seen as invading a decaying empire but as being co-opted into helping defend territory the central government could no longer adequately administer.

The presence of successor states controlled by a nobility from one of the Germanic tribes is evident in the 6th century. Perhaps more important in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st has been the debate about exactly what "tribe" or "people" meant to these groups, whose fluidity and willingness to sometimes blend is seen while at the same time forced mergers as a result of war were taking place and the tribe as it has been known vanished. The late classical sources are especially clear in the matter of the blended nature of the Alamanni.

Individuals and small groups from Germanic tribes had long been recruited from the limes or border regions of the Roman world and had risen high in the command structure of the army -- Odoacer, who deposed Romulus Augustulus is an example. In the later empire the government began to recruit whole tribal groups under their native leaders as officers.

The Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals were converted to Christianity while they were still outside the bounds of the Empire; however, they were converted to the Arian heresy rather than to orthodox Catholicism. The one great written remnant of the Gothic language is a translation of portions of the Bible made by Ulfilas, the missionary who converted them. The Lombards were not converted until after their entrance into the Empire, but received Christianity from Arian Germanic groups.

The Franks were converted directly from paganism to Catholicism without an intervening time as Arians.

Batavii -- Bavarii -- Burgundians -- Frisians -- Saxons

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