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Contact between German tribes and the Roman Empire

Contact between German tribes and the Roman Empire

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The contact between Germanic tribes and Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 can be divided into four aspects; the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 aspect, the trade
Trade
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

 aspect, the gift
Gift
A gift or a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. In many human societies, the act of mutually exchanging money, goods, etc. may contribute to...

 aspect and the plunder aspect. All these aspects give probable answers as to how and why Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 objects got into Germanic hands, and why a vast amount of Roman objects still can be found as far north as Norway. It is noteworthy to understand how Roman objects brought elements of Roman culture with them, and how they to some extent shaped Germanic culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 and identity
National identity
National identity is the person's identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation, a feeling one shares with a group of people, regardless of one's citizenship status....

.

Brief historical introduction


The first contacts happened by the late 2nd century BCE, when Roman authors recount that Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and Hispania
Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 were invaded by migrating Germanic tribes. This culminated in military conflict with the armies of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, in particular those of the Roman Consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

 Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

. Six decades later, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 invoked the threat of such attacks as one justification for his annexation of Gaul to Rome.

As Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 expanded to the Rhine and Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 rivers, it incorporated many societies into the Empire. The tribal homelands to the north and east emerged collectively in the records as Germania
Germania
Germania was the Greek and Roman geographical term for the geographical regions inhabited by mainly by peoples considered to be Germani. It was most often used to refer especially to the east of the Rhine and north of the Danube...

. 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 Cimbri
Cimbri
The Cimbri were a tribe from Northern Europe, who, together with the Teutones and the Ambrones threatened the Roman Republic in the late 2nd century BC. The Cimbri were probably Germanic, though some believe them to be of Celtic origin...

 and Teutoni incursions into Roman Italy were thrust back in 101 BCE. These invasions were written up by Caesar and others as presaging of a Northern danger for the Roman Republic, 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 ("germani" means brothers in latin language). The initial purpose of the Roman campaigns was to protect Transalpine Gaul by controlling the area between the Rhine and the Elbe. In 9 CE a revolt of their Germanic subjects headed by the supposed Roman ally, Arminius
Arminius
Arminius , also known as Armin or Hermann was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest...

, (along with his decisive defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varus
Publius Quinctilius Varus
Publius Quinctilius Varus was a Roman politician and general under Emperor Augustus, mainly remembered for having lost three Roman legions and his own life when attacked by Germanic leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.-Life:His paternal grandfather was senator Sextus Quinctilius...

 and the destruction of 3 Roman legions in the surprise attack on the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest took place in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed and decisively destroyed three Roman legions, along with their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.Despite numerous successful campaigns and raids by the...

) 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
Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior was a Roman province located on the left bank of the Rhine, in today's Luxembourg, southern Netherlands, parts of Belgium, and North Rhine-Westphalia left of the Rhine....

 and Germania superior
Germania Superior
Germania Superior , so called for the reason that it lay upstream of Germania Inferior, was a province of the Roman Empire. It comprised an area of western Switzerland, the French Jura and Alsace regions, and southwestern Germany...

 were established. Important medieval cities like Aachen
Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

, Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, Trier
Trier
Trier, historically called in English Treves is a city in Germany on the banks of the Moselle. It is the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC....

, Mainz
Mainz
Mainz under the Holy Roman Empire, and previously was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire...

, Worms
Worms, Germany
Worms is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, on the Rhine River. At the end of 2004, it had 85,829 inhabitants.Established by the Celts, who called it Borbetomagus, Worms today remains embattled with the cities Trier and Cologne over the title of "Oldest City in Germany." Worms is the only...

 and Speyer
Speyer
Speyer is a city of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany with approximately 50,000 inhabitants. Located beside the river Rhine, Speyer is 25 km south of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. Founded by the Romans, it is one of Germany's oldest cities...

 were part of these Roman provinces.

North of actual Germany, only trade contacts there were between Romans and Scandinavia, mainly with Jutes
Jutes
The Jutes, Iuti, or Iutæ were a Germanic people who, according to Bede, were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples of their time, the other two being the Saxons and the Angles...

 of Danemark. Indded, the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 maintained trade-routes and relations with Danish or proto-Danish peoples, as attested by finds of Roman coins. Depletion of cultivated land in the last century BC seems to have contributed to increasing migrations in northern Europe and increasing conflict between Teutonic tribes and Roman settlements in Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

: Roman artifacts are especially common in finds from the 1st century in Jutland. It seems clear that some part of the Danish warrior-aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 served in the Roman army
Roman army
The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

.

Military aspect


Members of different Germanic tribes and communities served in the Roman legions, and fought with the Romans
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. It's probable that for instance Germanic Chieftains who fought with the Romans, tried to adapt to, and adopt, Roman culture, and that they tried to identify with the Roman nobility. In exchange for military service
Military service
Military service, in its simplest sense, is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job or as a result of an involuntary draft . Some nations require a specific amount of military service from every citizen...

, the Germanics got Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 objects, although not Roman weapons, as there were Roman laws against exporting arms to the Germanic tribes. Germanic tribes who fought against the Romans got war spoils, and they often used captured Roman swords and armor.

The Romans probably influenced Germanic military tactics
Ancient warfare
Ancient warfare is war as conducted from the beginnings of recorded history to the end of the ancient period. In Europe and the Near East, the end of antiquity is often equated with the fall of Rome in 476, and the wars of the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium in its South Western Asian and North...

 and organisation as well. As can be told from the huge Illerup Ådal
Illerup Ådal
Illerup Ådal is an archeological site located near Skanderborg, Denmark.The first findings at the river valley Illerup Ådal were revealed in 1950, during the drainage works. The area was excavated from 1950 till 1956 and again in 1975-1985. During the excavations more than 15,000 items, mainly Iron...

 excavation in Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, in which huge amounts of Roman and Roman inspired arms and equipment were found. A lot of these were probably produced in Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

, and a lot had Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 "factory seals", after a Roman model. This not only tells us that the Germans
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 did indeed use Roman arms, but it also tells us that they had the required knowledge and social organisation to support large armies, and produce standarised arms and equipment. .

Finds of Roman inspired helmets, of the type Spangenhelm
Spangenhelm
The Spangenhelm was a popular European war combat helmet design of the Early Middle Ages. The name is of German origin. Spangen refers to the metal strips that form the framework for the helmet and could be translated as clips, and -helm simply means helmet. The strips connect three to six steel or...

 in Germanic chieftain graves, also tell us that the Germanics were in awe of Roman culture (generally speaking). We know that the Romans used these kind of helmets, amongst other sources from the Column of Trajan in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, on which Roman legionaries are depicted, wearing helmets . Stephen V. granscay writes:

We do know that the Spangenhelm shows barbarian contact with another civilization […]. We also know that it was an important object of personal adornment as well as protective value […]. The man who wore such a headpiece was no longer a skin-clad barbarian….

Grancsay's text may be outdated, but it's still interesting, because Grancsay points directly at concrete examples of how Roman culture helped shape Germanic identity, by ways of objects. He also suggests that these Roman objects embody the factors that made the basis of the Germanic warrior aristocracy that developed alongside and following the Roman Empire, such as the notable Himlingøje Dynasty, in the ways which the Romans may have supported Germanic tribes due to military regards, and equipped these tribes. And there may have been Germanics of a high class who participated in fights with or against the Romans, and thus acquiring Roman objects and Roman ways of thinking in military terms (strategies, organisation, etc...).

It has been suggested that the Romans supported and equipped Germanic tribes in the part of Germania
Germania
Germania was the Greek and Roman geographical term for the geographical regions inhabited by mainly by peoples considered to be Germani. It was most often used to refer especially to the east of the Rhine and north of the Danube...

 which is today's Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

. Although it cannot be known for certain because of the lack of written sources except parts of a travel account written by Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 in 5 AD which may refer to Jutland
Jutland
Jutland , historically also called Cimbria, is the name of the peninsula that juts out in Northern Europe toward the rest of Scandinavia, forming the mainland part of Denmark. It has the North Sea to its west, Kattegat and Skagerrak to its north, the Baltic Sea to its east, and the Danish–German...

, archaeological sources do tell us that huge amounts of Roman equipment and arms did indeed find its way as far north as Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

. Danish archaeologists: Lars Jørgensen, Birger Storgaard and Ulla Lund Hansen have suggested Germano-Roman alliances, in which Romans supported a Germanic power in today's Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

. According to Jørgensen, this was either to destabilize Scandinavia, or to create a Roman friendly power which could help ensure peace and stability in the border areas.

Ulla Lund Hansen and Birger Storgaard have suggested that Roman interests in Scandinavia were strong, and that there was direct contact. There are no ways to definitively prove this, but Storgaard has pointed to a text written in accordance with an expedition led by Tiberius in year 5 A.D., in which Tiberius describes what has been interpreted by Storgaard to be Jutland, in Denmark . The only problem is that the text doesn't actually say it's Jutland, and to complicate things further, we only know a medieval copy as the original is lost.

Jørgensen points to the Gudme-Lundeborg complex in Denmark. Archaeologists have found Roman coins and scrapmetal at Lundeborg, a trading place in relation to this complex . Hansen, Jørgensen and Storgaard interprets from these archaeological finds that Lundeborg may have functioned as a Roman port .

Trade aspect


The Roman Empire depended on trade in different ways, for instance the import of grain. This was especially the case in the early periods of the Roman Empire. Lynn F. Pitts write: ”…At all periods Rome needed to have some kind of relationship, friendly or otherwise, with her neighbours…”. It's thus very likely that a lot of the Roman objects found in for instance Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 have arrived via trade and trade networks.

This trade may have been carried out via already existing trade networks, from the Mediterranean, via Germanic Chieftains to Scandinavia. These trade networks may have been established prior to the Roman Empire, and suggest a complex and advanced social structure and organisation among the Germanic tribes and societies. Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

 has been found at Mycene, in Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 . This brings the term "tribe
Tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

" into question, many archaeologists have abandoned this term because it provides a faulty image of the Germanics, it provides an image of the Germanics as primitive people.

Gift aspect


The third aspect is the gift aspect. A lot of artefacts
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

 may have found its way to the Germanics in ways of gift exchange. For instance by diplomacy
Diplomacy
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states...

. Gifts were given to enhance and strengthen alliances, bonds and the likes . Archaeologist Lynn F. Pitts writes about the Roman relationship to the Marcomanni
Marcomanni
The Marcomanni were a Germanic tribe, probably related to the Buri, Suebi or Suevi.-Origin:Scholars believe their name derives possibly from Proto-Germanic forms of "march" and "men"....

 and the Quadi
Quadi
The Quadi were a smaller Germanic tribe, about which little is definitively known. We only know the Germanic tribe the Romans called the 'Quadi' through reports of the Romans themselves...

 that:

Rome was perhaps concerned to cultivate these Germanic tribes in order to counterbalance […] their neighbours. Diplomacy rather than military strength kept the peace along […] the frontier .

This is an important point. The Roman empire became increasingly vulnerable as they expanded, thus stretching their military capacity. Pitts go on to write that the Marcomans were a very strong military power, with a standing army of 7000 infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 and 4000 cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 . It's obvious that the Romans wanted to maintain peaceful relations with certain Germanic tribes. Especially towards the end of the Roman Empire, when it became ever increasingly weak. Pitts points out that ”…it is apparent [sic?] that, apart from short periods of hostilities, relations between Rome and the Marcomanni and Quadi were friendly…”.

It became more and more common, as the Roman Empire neared its end, that the Romans paid tribute to Germanic armies who threatened to invade Rome. This takes us to the plunder aspect.

Plunder aspect


As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, plunder became more and more common. The Germanics pierced further and further into the Roman Empire and the Roman mainland, plunders were made. Thus a lot of Roman objects got spread all over Germania. Probably via the already existing trade networks, all the way to Scandinavia . This also happened to war spoils, and might help to explain the high number of Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 arms in Germanic hands, despite the Roman arms embargo . Two silver cups found in a grave in Hoby, in Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, are likely to be war spoils from the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest took place in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed and decisively destroyed three Roman legions, along with their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.Despite numerous successful campaigns and raids by the...

 in 9 A.D. .

See also

  • Roman Empire
    Roman Empire
    The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

  • History of Germany
    History of Germany
    The concept of Germany as a distinct region in central Europe can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul , which he had conquered. The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the...

  • Romans in the Netherlands
    Romans in the Netherlands
    For around 450 years, from around 55 BC to around 410 AD, the southern part of the Netherlands was integrated into the Roman Empire. During this time the Romans in the Netherlands had an enormous influence on the lives and culture of the people who lived in the Netherlands at the time and on the...