Germanic peoples

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Thor, Germanic thunder god. The hammer is the thunderbolt. Painting by Mårten Eskil Winge, ca. 1872.

The Germanic peoples are a linguistic and ethnic branch of Indo-European peoples, originating in Northern Europe and identified by their use of the Germanic languages that are descended from Proto-Germanic. Migrant Germanic settlers spread throughout Europe, mixing with existing local populations (such as Celts, but also Slavs/Vends and Romans), forming the future basis of diverse nations, to various extents connected by linguistic affinity, as well as a common identity, history, and culture.


[edit] Etymology of Germani

Various etymologies have been formulated. Latin Germani is first used by Julius Caesar, and is thought to be a loan from the Celtic name for the Germanic tribes (see exonym). There is also a Latin adjective germanus (from germen, "seed" or "offshoot"), which has the sense of "related" or "kindred" and whence derives the Portuguese irmão and the Spanish hermano, "brother". If the proper name Germani derives from this word, it may refer to the Roman experience of the Germanic tribes as allies of the Celts. The name may also derive from one of the principal proto-tribes of Central Europe, the Hermunduri.

Another possible derivation is the one proffered by the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (1966), which relates the name to Old Irish gair, "neighbor", which actually means "near". The Welsh is ger.

McBain's An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language relates the word to Irish gearr, "cut, short" (a short distance) and states the Proto-Celtic root to be *gerso-s, further related to ancient Greek chereion, "inferior" and English gash. Here the etymological trail becomes more obscured. English gash leads to the Greek word character, which is an engraving for an identity sign of some sort. There is no clear root for this word. It could be a Proto-Indo-European root, *khar-, *kher-, *ghar-, *gher-, "cut", from which also Hittite kar-, "cut". Or, it could be a pre-Indo-European root, related perhaps to Egyptian kha-, "cut", or the Indo-European root could derive from the pre-Indo-European root.

Apparently, the Germanic tribes did not have a self name that included all Germanic-speaking people but excluded all non-Germanic people, except for generic þiuda- "people", while non-Germanic peoples (primarily Celtic, Roman, Greek, the citizens of the Roman Empire) were called *walha- (this word lives forth in names such as Wales, Welsh, Cornwall, Walloons, Vlachs etc.). The self-designation is continued in many personal names (such as Thiud-reks, and also in the ethnonym of the Swedes (from a cognate of Old English Sweo-ðēod). The adjective *þiudiskaz, referring to the language, continued in German "Deutsch" (meaning German), English "Dutch", Dutch "Duits" and "Dietsch" (the latter referring to Dutch, the former meaning German). Danish "Tysk" (meaning German), was not introduced until the 9th century, originally designating the language of the people in contrast to the Latin language. From ca. 875, Latin writers refer to the German language as teutonicus.

In English, German is first attested in 1520, replacing earlier use of Almain or Dutch. Dutch is now used in the English language to refer to the language and the inhabitants of the Netherlands.

[edit] Classification

The concept of "Germanic" as a distinct ethnic identity was hinted at by the early Greek geographer Strabo [1], who distinguished a barbarian group in northern Europe similar to, but not part of, the Celts. Posidonius, to our knowledge, is the first to have used the name, around 80 BC, in his lost 30th book. Our knowledge of this is based on the 4th book of Athenaeus, who in ca. AD 190 quotes Posidonius as saying that "The Germani at noon serve roast meat with milk, and drink their wine undiluted".

By the 1st century A.D., the writings of Caesar, Tacitus and other Roman era writers indicate a division of Germanic-speaking peoples into tribal groupings centred on:

The Sons of Mannus Istvaeones, Irminones, and Ingvaeones are collectively called West Germanic tribes. In addition, those Germanic people who remained in Scandinavia are referred to as North Germanic. These groups all developed separate dialects, the basis for the differences among Germanic languages down to the present day.

The division of peoples into West Germanic, East Germanic, and North Germanic is a modern linguistic classification. Many Greek scholars only classified Celts and Scyths in the Northwest and Northeast of the Mediterranean and this classification was widely maintained in Greek literature until Late Antiquity. Latin-Greek ethnographers (Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, and Strabo) mentioned in the first two centuries AD the names of peoples they classified as Germanic along the Elbe, the Rhine, and the Danube, the Vistula and on the Baltic Sea. Tacitus mentioned 40, Ptolemy 69 peoples. Classical ethnography applied the name Suebi to many tribes in the first century. It appeared that this native name had all but replaced the foreign name Germanic. After the Marcomannic wars the Gothic name steadily gained importance. Some of the ethnic names mentioned by the ethnographers of the first two centuries AD on the shores of the Oder and the Vistula (Gutones, Vandali) reappear from the 3rd century on in the area of the lower Danube and north of the Carpathian Mountains. For the end of the 5th century the Gothic name can be used - according to the historical sources - for such different peoples like the Goths in Gaul, Iberia and Italy, the Vandals in Africa, the Gepids along the Tisza and the Danube, the Rugians, Sciri and Burgundians, even the Iranian Alans. These peoples were classified as Scyths and often deducted from the ancient Getae (most important: Cassiodor/Jordanes, Getica approx. 550 AD).

[edit] Culture

Gravegoods from various North French and Rhineland sites, up to the 6th century (British Museum, London)

See Germanic mythology, Germanic paganism, Migration Period art

The Germanic tribes were each politically independent, under a hereditary king (see Germanic king). The kings appear to have claimed descendancy from mythical founders of the tribes, the name of some of which is preserved:

[edit] History

[edit] Origin

Regarding the question of ethnic origins, evidence developed by archaeologists and linguists suggests that a people or group of peoples sharing a common material culture dwelt in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia during the late European Bronze Age (1000 BC-500 BC). This culture group is called the Nordic Bronze Age and spread from southern Scandinavia into northern Germany. The long presence of Germanic tribes in southern Scandinavia - an Indo-European language had probably arrived by 2000 BC - is also evidenced by the fact that no pre-Germanic place names have been found in this area.

Linguists, working backwards from historically-known Germanic languages, suggest that this group spoke proto-Germanic, a distinct branch of the Indo-European language family. Cultural features at that time included small, independent settlements, and an economy strongly based on the keeping of livestock.

The southward movement was probably influenced by a deteriorating climate in Scandinavia c. 850 BC-760 BC and a later and more rapid one c. 650 BC. The warm and dry climate of southern Scandinavia (2-3 degrees warmer than today) deteriorated considerably, which not only dramatically changed the flora, but forced people to change their way of living and to leave their settlements.

Image:Pre-roman iron age (map).PNG
Map of the Pre-Roman Iron Age culture(s) associated with Proto-Germanic, ca 500 BC-60 BC. The area south of Scandinavia is the Jastorf culture

Archaeological evidence suggests that before their language differentiation (into the individual Germanic branches), the Germanic peoples existed in southern Scandinavia and along the coast from the Netherlands in the west to Vistula in the east around 750 BCE. <ref> "Germanic languages". The New Encyclopædia Britannica. (1993). Chicago, IL, United States: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. ISBN 0-85229-571-5.</ref>

At around this time, this culture discovered how to extract bog iron from the ore in peat bogs. Their technology for gaining iron ore from local sources may have helped them expand into new territories.

The Germanic culture grew to the southwest and southeast, without sudden breaks, and it can be distinguished from the culture of the Celts inhabiting the more southerly Danube and Alpine regions during the same period.

The details of the expansion are known only generally, but it is clear that the forebears of the Goths were settled on the southern Baltic shore by 100 AD. According to some scholars, along the lower and middle Rhine, previous local inhabitants (see Nordwestblock) seem to have come under the leadership of Germanic figures from outside.

The early Germanic tribes spoke mutually intelligible dialects, and shared a common culture and mythology (see Germanic mythology), as is indicated by Beowulf and the Volsunga saga. One example of their shared identity is their common Germanic name for non-Germanic peoples, *walhaz (plural of *walhoz), from which the local names Welsh, Wallis, etc. were derived. A second example of a recognized ethnic unity is the fact that the Romans knew them as one and gave them a common name, Germani, although it was well known for the Romans to give geographical rather than cultural names to peoples. This is the source of our German and Germanic (see Etymology above).

In the absence of large-scale political unification, such as that imposed forcibly by the Romans upon the peoples of Italy, the various tribes remained free, led by their own hereditary or chosen leaders.

[edit] Collision with Rome

By the late 2nd century, B.C., Roman authors recount Gaul, Italy, and Iberia and Lusitania were invaded by migrating Germanic tribes, culminating in military conflict with the armies of the Roman Empire. Six decades later, Julius Caesar invoked the threat of such attacks as one justification for his annexation of Gaul to Rome.

Image:Pre Migration Age Germanic.png
Map showing the pre-Migration Age distribution of the Germanic tribes in Proto-Germanic times, and stages of their expansion up to 50 BC, AD 100 and AD 300. The extent of the Roman Empire in 68 BC and AD 117 is also shown.

As Rome expanded to the Rhine and Danube rivers, it incorporated many Celtic societies into the Empire. The tribal homelands to the north and east emerged collectively in the records as Germania. The peoples of this area were sometimes at war with Rome, but also engaged in complex and long-term trade relations, military alliances, and cultural exchanges with Rome as well.

The Celtic Cimbri and Germanic Teutoni incursions into Roman Italy were thrust back in 101 BC. These invasions were written up by Caesar and others as presaging of a Northern danger for the Empire, a danger that should be controlled. In the Augustean period there was — as a result of Roman activity as far as the Elbe River — a first definition of the "Germania magna": from Rhine and Danube in the West and South to the Vistula and the Baltic Sea in the East and North.

Caesar's wars helped establish the term Germania. The initial purpose of the Roman campaigns was to protect Transalpine Gaul by controlling the area between the Rhine and the Elbe. In 9 AD a revolt of their subject Germanics headed by the suposed Roman ally, Arminius, (along with his decisive defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varus in the surprise attack on unprepared Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest) ended in the withdrawal of the Roman frontier to the Rhine. At the end of the 1st century two provinces west of the Rhine called Germania inferior and Germania superior were established. Important medieval cities like Aachen, Cologne, Trier, Mainz, Worms and Speyer were part of these Roman provinces.

The Germania by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, an ethnographic work on the diverse group of Germanic tribes outside of the Roman Empire, is our most important source on the Germanic peoples of the 1st century.

[edit] Migration Period

Main article: Migration Period
Image:Karte völkerwanderung.jpg
2nd to 5th century migrations.

During the 5th century, as the Western Roman Empire lost military strength and political cohesion, numerous Germanic tribes, under pressure from invading Asian peoples and/or population growth and climate change, began migrating en masse in far and diverse directions, taking them to England and as far south through present day Continental Europe to the Mediterranean and northern Africa. Over time, this wandering meant intrusions into other tribal territories, and the ensuing wars for land escalated with the dwindling amount of unoccupied territory. Wandering tribes then began staking out 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 Denmark the Jutes merged with the Danes, in Sweden the Geats merged with the Swedes. In England, the Angles merged with the Saxons and other groups as well as a large number of natives to form the Anglo-Saxons.

[edit] Role in the Fall of Rome

Some of the Germanic tribes are frequently blamed in popular depictions of the fall of the Western 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. Individuals and small groups from Germanic tribes had long been recruited from the territories beyond the limes (i.e., the regions just outside the Roman Empire), and some of them had risen high in the command structure of the army. Then the Empire recruited entire tribal groups under their native leaders as officers. Assisting with defense eventually shifted into administration and then outright rule, as Roman of government passed into the hands of Germanic leaders. Odoacer, who deposed Romulus Augustulus, is the ultimate example.

The presence of successor states controlled by a nobility from one of the Germanic tribes is evident in the 6th century - even in Italy, the former heart of the Empire, where Odoacer was followed by Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, who was regarded by Roman citizens and Gothic settlers alike as legitimate successor to the rule of Rome and Italy.

[edit] Conversion to Christianity

Main article: Germanic Christianity

The Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals were Christianized while they were still outside the bounds of the Empire; however, they converted to Arianism rather than to orthodox Catholicism, and were soon regarded as heretics. 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. Several centuries later, Anglo-Saxon and Frankish missionaries and warriors undertook the conversion of their Saxon neighbours. A key event was the felling of Thor's Oak near Fritzlar by Boniface, apostle of the Germans, in 723. Eventually, the conversion was forced by armed force, successfully completed by Karl der Große (Charlemagne), in a series of campaigns (the Saxon Wars), that also brought Saxon lands into the Frankish empire.

[edit] Assimilation

"Germanic" as understood today is a linguistic term. Modern ethnicities speaking Germanic languages are usually not referred to as Germanic peoples, a term of historic scope. All present-day countries speaking a Germanic language have mixed ethnic roots not restricted to the earliest Germanic peoples.

Germanic peoples were often quick to assimilate into foreign cultures. Established examples include the Romanized Norsemen in Normandy, and the societal elite in medieval Russia among whom many were the descendants of Slavified Norsemen (a theory, however, contested by some Slavic scholars in the former Soviet Union, who name it the Normanist theory).

England is similarly considered an example of assimilation, where elements of the culture of the migrating Angles, Saxons and Jutes merged with that of the indigenous Celtic speaking Britons, resulting in an English identity for the inhabitants of that land. The later (mid-11th century) arriving French-speaking Norsemen similarly altered what was known as Anglo-Saxon England and set the English language on the path from Old English to Middle English.

As in England, Scotland's indigenous Brythonic Celtic culture in the southeast succumbed to Germanic influence due to Teutonic invasion; while the Scottish Highlands and Galloway retained a Gaelic heritage due to the recent immigration from Ireland which planted the Gaelic culture there and the southwest remained predominently Briton until adopting Gaelic under Alba and later almost the entire Scottish Lowlands became Scots speaking as a result of the reforms of the 11th and twelfth centuries. The Scots language is the resulting Germanic language now spoken in Scotland and similar to the regional variation of English in the north of England, Geordie (or Northumbrian). The Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, though a part of Scotland, were historically Scandinavian in culture, though they no longer speak their native language Norn as an influx of Scots speaking Scots resulted in its displacement.

France saw a great deal of Germanic settlement, and even its namesake the Franks were a Germanic people. Entire regions of France (such as Alsace, Burgundy and Normandy) were settled heavily by Germanic peoples, contributing to their unique regional cultures and dialects. But most of the languages spoken in France today are Romance languages, while the people have a heavy Gallic substratum that predates Latin and Germanic settlement.

Portugal and Spain also had a great measure of Germanic settlement, due to the Visigoths and the Suevi (Quadi and Marcomanni), who settled permanently. The Vandals (Silingi and Hasdingi) were also present, before moving on to North Africa, where they were absorbed into the local population. Many Spanish words of Germanic origin entered into the Spanish language at this time and many more entered through other avenues (often French) in the ensuing centuries.

Italy, especially the area north of the city of Rome, has also had a history of heavy Germanic settlement. Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths, Vandals, and Ostrogoths had successfully invaded and sparsely settled Italy in the 5th century AD. Most notably, in the 6th century AD, the Germanic tribe known as the Lombards entered and settled primarily in the area known today as Lombardy. The Normans, a partially Germanic people, also conquered and ruled Sicily and parts of southern Italy for a time.

Germany itself assimilated Slavic and Baltic peoples to the east in medieval and modern times (Ostsiedlung); after World War II their descendants spread to other parts of Germany as Vertriebene. Going further back, most of the current territory of Germany was occupied by Celtic and Nordwestblock tribes who were eventually linguistically assimilated into the Germanic peoples, as well as speakers of Romance languages in the south and west of the country and in Austria and Switzerland

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • Beck, Heinrich and Heiko Steuer and Dieter Timpe, eds. Die Germanen. Studienausgabe. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter 1998. Xi + 258 pp. ISBN 3-11-016383-7.
  • Collins, Roger. Early medieval Europe. 300-1000. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan 1999. XXV + 533 pp. ISBN 0-333-65807-8.
  • Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany. The creation and transformation of the Merovingian world. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1988. Xii + 259 pp. ISBN 0-19-504458-4.
  • Geary, Patrick J. The Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press 2002. X + 199 pp. ISBN 0-691-11481-1.
  • Herrmann, Joachim. Griechische und lateinische Quellen zur Frühgeschichte Mitteleuropas bis zur Mitte des 1. Jahrtausends unserer Zeitrechnung. I. Von Homer bis Plutarch. 8. Jh. v. u. Z. bis 1. Jh. v. u. Z. II. Tacitus-Germania. III. Von Tacitus bis Ausonius. 2. bis 4. Jh. u. Z. IV. Von Ammianus Marcellinus bis Zosimos. 4. und 5. Jh. u. Z. Berlin: Akademie Verlag 1988 -1992. I: 657 pp. ISBN 3-05-000348-0. II: 291 pp. ISBN 3-05-000349-9. III: 723 pp. ISBN 3-05-000571-8. IV: 656 pp. ISBN 3-05-000591-2.
  • Pohl, Walter. Die Germanen. Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 57. München: Oldenbourg 2004. X + 156 pp. ISBN 3-486-56755-1.
  • Pohl, Walter. Die Völkerwanderung. Eroberung und Integration. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2002. 266 pp. ISBN 3-17-015566-0. Monograph, German.
  • Todd, Malcolm. The Early Germans. Oxford: Blackwell 2004. Xii + 266 pp. ISBN 0-631-16397-2.
  • Jürgen Udolph. Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem. DeGruyter, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-11-014138-8
  • Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Berkeley: University of California Press 1988. Xii + 613 pp. ISBN 0-520-6983-8.
  • Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and its Germanic peoples. Berkeley: University of California Press 1997. XX + 361 pp. ISBN 0-520-08511-6.

[edit] External links

bg:Германи ca:Germànic cs:Germáni da:Germaner de:Germanen et:Germaanlased es:Pueblo germano eo:Ĝermanoj fr:Peuples germaniques ko:게르만족 hr:Germani it:Germani he:שבטים גרמאנים lv:Ģermāņi lt:Germanai nl:Germanen ja:ゲルマン人 pl:Germanie pt:Germanos ru:Германцы sl:Germani fi:Germaanit sv:Germaner zh:日爾曼人

Germanic peoples

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