The Roman name for the territory bounded on the west by the
river Rhenus (Rhine); on the east by the river Vistula and the Carpates (Carpathian)
Mountains; on the south by the river Hister or Danubius (Danube); Germania. (Kiepert.)
and on the north by the German Ocean. The northern and northeastern parts of Gallia
Belgica were also called Germania Prima and Germania Secunda under the Empire,
in contrast to which Germany Proper was styled Germania Magna, Germania Barbara,
and Germania Transrhenana.
The Roman writers describe it as a dreary waste, covered for the most part with dense forests and morasses, and subject to heavy frosts and almost continuous cold, so that it is probable that the clearing of the soil and the draining of the swamps have, since the days of the Roman Empire, considerably modified the climate of the country. The wooded mountains of Southern Germany were usually called Silvae by the Romans, the most famous being the Hercynia Silva or Hercynius Saltus, including the modern Schwarzwald or Black Forest, the Odenwald, the Thuringerwald, the Erzgebirge, the Harz, and the Riesengebirge. The chief rivers of Germany were the Rhenus, Danubius, Vistula, Amisia (Ems), Visurgis (Weser), Albis (Elbe), and Viadus (Oder).
The people whom the Romans called Germani were a branch of the Teutonic race, and are first mentioned in history in the fourth century B.C. The name is of uncertain etymology, being by some derived from a Keltic root, meaning "the shouters" (i. e. boen agathoi), by others from a second Keltic root meaning "neighbours," and by others from the German ger, gwer--i. e. Heer, ="the warriors." Tacitus says (Germania, 2) that the name Germani was applied to the Tungri, the first German people to cross the Rhine, and appears to have been extended in its use by the Gauls to the whole race. The name Teutones was not the generic name for them in the time of the Romans, but is the base of the modern appellation Deutsch; the same with the Gothic Thiuda, "the people." The modern French name for the Germans, Allemands, is derived from the name of the tribes, who formed a league on the upper Rhine under the appellation Alemanni or Alamanni (alle Manner). The Germans, though having no common name, regarded themselves as having a common descent from Mannus, the first man, son of the god Tuisco. Mannus was fabled to have had three sons, from whom sprang the three great German peoples-- the Istaevones, Ingaevones, and the Herminones. The first of these are the people with whom the Romans were oftenest brought into contact, since they held both banks of the Rhine. Subdivisions of this race were the Ubii (near Cologne); the Usipetes, Tencteri, Sicambri, and Bructeri (from the Lippe to the Ruhr); the Chatti or Catti (Hesse), and the Batavi. Famous groups of the Ingaevones were the Frisii, the Chauci, and the Cherusci, along the North Sea and the banks of the Weser and the Ems. The most numerous of the three great divisions were the Herminones in Central Germany, extending to the east as far as the Vistula and the Carpathians. They included the powerful Suevi (to whom belonged the Marcomanni of Bohemia and the Semnones of Brandenburg), the Hermunduri of the Thuringerwald, the Lombardi or Langobardi at the mouth of the Elbe, the Vandali along the upper banks of the same river, the Heruli west of the Vistula, and the Quadi in what is now Moravia.
The Germani were a stalwart, vigorous, and warlike race, with long, blond hair, fresh complexions, and blue eyes, living in wooden huts, which they often shared with their cattle, and engaging in the chase and in the fierce joys of warfare. Though violent and often cruel, they were not given to treachery, but were, as a rule, kindly and hospitable. Chastity was highly esteemed in women and was rarely lacking among them. The wife was wholly subject to the husband, but was treated with great consideration by him and consulted in the important affairs of life. The children were bred up to be hardy and enduring, the boys being taught at an early age the use of weapons. The majority of the people were free (ingenui), though there was a second class, described by Tacitus as liberti (leti, A. S. laet), who had no political rights, and a third class composed of slaves (servi) who were either prisoners taken in war or those persons who had been sold for debt. Some tribes had kings, and there was a small body of nobles (nobiles). All freemen, however, were equal in respect to their political equality, the only difference between them being in the amount of the blood-money (A. S. wergild) imposed as a fine for the killing of a king, a noble, or an ordinary ingenuus. The special privilege of the famous warriors of the tribe was to gather around them bands of young men emulous of the fame of their chieftains (principes). Such bands are called by Tacitus comitatus, and contain the germ of the later feudal system. The central governing body was the general assembly of the freemen in arms, they constituting the civitas or nation. The king was elected from the nobles, and did not succeed by inheritance. The divisions of the people were hardly territorial, but corresponded to the divisions of the armed host. The pagus and vicus, of which the Roman historians speak, were in reality divisions of the people. At the time when Caesar wrote, the Germans were in a state of transition, passing from the nomadic to an agricultural, settled condition. In Tacitus, they have entirely ceased to be nomadic, but have become attached to a definite territory.
As to the religion of the Germans, the notices that have reached us are scanty. The chief deity was Wotan, the same as the Scandinavian Odin, the god of the sky and the air, delighting in warfare and the chase, and represented as riding upon a white horse. Donar, the Scandinavian Thor, the god of thunder, was identified by the Romans with Hercules and afterwards with Iupiter. A third deity was Tyr or Ziu, the god of war, regarded by Tacitus as Mars. A goddess, Nerthus, was worshipped by the tribes along the Baltic, presiding over marriage, the household, the children, and the realm of the dead. She is the same as the Saxon Fria or Frigg, and the Frankish Holda. There were also three fatal sisters--two fair and beneficent, one dark and malign; besides giants, elves, and dwarfs. After death, the brave were believed to enter Walhalla. The priests were very influential among the Germans, offering sacrifices, and predicting the future from the neighing of horses and the flight of birds.
History.--The Germans first appear in history in the campaigns of the Cimbri and Teutones (B.C. 113), the latter of whom were undoubtedly a Germanic people. About fifty years afterwards, Ariovistus, a German chief, crossed the Rhine with a vast host of Germans and subdued a great part of Gaul; but he was defeated by Caesar with great slaughter in B.C. 58 and driven beyond the Rhine. Caesar twice crossed this river (in 55 and 53), but made no permanent conquest on the eastern bank. In the reign of Augustus, his step-son Drusus carried on war in Germany with great success for four years (B.C. 12-9), and penetrated as far as the Elbe. In the course of his operations he cut a canal between the Yssel and the Rhine, and built no less than fifty forts along the latter river. On his death (B.C. 9), his brother Tiberius succeeded to the command; and under him the country between the Rhine and the Visurgis (Weser) was entirely subjugated, and seemed likely to become a Roman province. But in A.D. 9, the impolitic and tyrannical conduct of the Roman governor Quinctilius Varus provoked a general insurrection of the various German tribes, headed by Arminius, the Cheruscan, who had himself been a soldier of Rome, and for his bravery had been made a knight. Varus and his legions were enticed into the Teutoburg Forest, where, in the narrow defiles, the Germans fell upon them with impetuous fury, so that they were defeated and destroyed, and the Romans lost all their conquests east of the Rhine. The defeat of Varus was avenged by the successful campaigns of Germanicus, who would probably have recovered the Roman dominions east of the river, had not the jealousy of Tiberius recalled him to Rome in A.D. 16. From this time the Romans abandoned all further attempts to conquer Germany; but in consequence of the civil dissensions which broke out there soon after the departure of Tiberius, they were enabled to obtain peaceable possession of a large portion of Southwestern Germany between the Rhine and the Danube, to which they gave the name of the Agri Decumates. On the death of Nero, several of the tribes in Western Germany joined the Batavi in their insurrection against the Romans (A.D. 69- 71). Domitian and Trajan were forced to repel the attacks of various German clans; but in the reign of Antoninus Pius, the Marcomanni, joined by other tribes, made a more formidable attack upon the Roman dominions, and even threatened the Empire with destruction. For thirteen years Marcus Aurelius with difficulty held in check the vast hordes of barbarians, who were striving to overwhelm the Roman lines of defence, which comprised powerful fortresses and a great wall, remains of which are still to be seen in Southern Germany. Around these forts sprang up towns, such as Vindobona (Vienna) and Iuvavum (Salzburg) in the east, and Moguntiacum (Mayence), Colonia Agrippina (Cologne), Argentoratum (Strassburg) and Bonna (Bonn) in the west. From this time the Romans were often called upon to defend the left bank of the Rhine against their dangerous neighbours, especially against the two powerful confederacies of the Alemanni and Franci; and in the fourth and fifth centuries the Germans obtained possession of some of the fairest provinces of the Empire.
The influence of the Germans upon the Romans was great and continued to increase as time went on. Large numbers of the northern warriors enlisted in the legions even as early as the time of Iulius and Augustus Caesar, and gradually the whole army became permeated with German customs. Brunner even regards the history of the later Empire as the history of a continual conflict between the Germans and the Western Iberian elements; and has massed a great number of curious and striking facts to support his view.
The Goths founded a great Germanic kingdom in the fourth century; the Burgundians conquered the whole of the valley of the Rhone; and the Vandals swept over Spain. The West Goths crossed the Danube, penetrated into Italy, and under Alaric captured Rome itself. In the fifth century they conquered Southern Gaul and nearly the whole of Spain. In the invasion of the Huns under Attila, the Goths fought against him with the Romans, routing him at Chalons (A.D. 451), and soon after, Odoacer, chief of the Heruli, became master of Italy in 476.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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