• GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • FRANKISH KINGDOM
  • JOHANNES REUCHLIN
  • THE WEIMAR CONSTITUTION
  • W
  • INFLATION, REPARATIONS, AND
  • THE STRESEMANN ERA, 19231929
  • STABILIZATION AND LOCARNO,
  • CULTURE AND SOCIETY
  • ROAD TO DICTATORSHIP,
  • T
  • CONSOLIDATION OF POWER
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  • THE HOLOCAUST
  • A
  • ALLIED PLANS AND CONFERENCES
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  • T
  • ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM
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  • THE KOHL ERA, 19821998
  • T
  • UPRISING OF JUNE 17, 1953
  • ECONOMIC SYSTEM
  • SOCIETY, EDUCATION, AND
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  • R
  • CONSEQUENCES AND PROBLEMS OF
  • ECONOMIC UNIFICATION,
  • P
  • RENAISSANCE ART
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  • FOREIGN POLICY
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  • A
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  • LITERATURE
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  • EBERT MAKES A DEAL WITH THE
  • THE SPARTACISTS
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  • A VENGEFUL PEACE
  • V
  • THE GOALS OF THE PEACEMAKERS
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  • DENUNCIATION AND RELUCTANT
  • GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND

    CULTURE

    The German tribes naturally expanded through mergers and population

    growth. The basic social unit of the clan usually grew into a tribe, migrated, and

    fought for new territory in which to settle. As the tribes expanded they threatened

    the fortified Roman borders. Although the Alemanni and Swabians

    threatened the borders along the Rhine, the most serious threats to the Roman

    Empire came from the great migrations. The formerly peaceful coexistence

    between the Romans and the German tribes ended when the Visigoths, who

    were fierce warriors, were pushed by the even fiercer Huns from northern

    China westward, where they met with the Burgundians, Vandals, and Langobards.

    The Goths were divided into two tribal groups, the Visigoths (western)

    and the Ostrogoths (eastern). Initially, the Visigoths were supposed to be allies

    (foederati) and defend the eastern frontier. Treated badly by the Romans the

    Visigoths soon rebelled, defeating the Roman legions under Valens at the great

    Battle of Adrianople in 378. After Adrianople the Romans permitted more settlements

    of barbarians within the Western Empire. The Vandals crossed the

    Rhine in 406, and within three decades gained control of Northwest Africa. The

    Burgundians ended up settling in Provence in Gaul. The Angles and Saxons settled

    in England. The most important tribes were the Franks, who settled in

    northern and central Gaul, the Salian Franks along the seacoast, and the

    Ripuarian Franks along the Rhine, Seine, and Loire Rivers. The Visigoths sacked

    Rome under the leadership of Alaric and his brother-in-law, Ataulf, and eventually

    settled in southern Gaul and Spain. Later, the Ostrogoths established a

    kingdom in Italy under Theodoric the Great (454526). An interesting aspect

    of all these battles and victories is that more often than not, as in Theodorics

    case, the Germanic leaders respected Roman greatness and tried to imitate it.

    4 Germany

    Even the ruthless Vandals under Geiseric sacked but did not destroy Rome. By

    the end of the fifth century the barbarians had completely overrun the Western

    Empire.

    The German peoples lived in a tribal culture in contrast to the civilization

    of the Romans. The civilizations that had existed around the Mediterranean

    were based on urban life and a territorial state. The Germans had lived in northern

    and central Europe in heavily forested areas with swamps and steppes.

    Their basic social unit was the clan; the population was divided into two classes,

    freemen and slaves. The most prominent freemen were noblemen (athelings),

    whose lifestyle was migratory. They built no temples, cities, or states. The only

    structures of some importance were their walled fortifications. They hunted

    and did some stock farming for food but had no economic system. The land was

    communally owned, and each year the work was divided among families. Their

    cultural life was centered on feuds and plunder, massacring their enemies, and

    even offering up human sacrifices. Victory in battle was the most important

    value for men. They believed in the magic of blood, and so the descendants of

    great warriors were elevated above those of the ordinary freeman. Customs and

    tradition were important in the decisions of the assembly of freemen called the

    Ding, which also acted as a court of justice. The assembly also elected the king

    or duke (Herzog). There was no written criminal or civil law in the modern

    sense. Finally, in Germanic religion the gods were conceived as personal beings,

    beyond good and evil. The individual tribal members relation to his gods was

    much like his relationship to his chiefs, involving mutual service, trust, and loyalty.

    Good and evil existed in the same god. Among the well-known gods was

    Wodan-Odin, who represented the mysterious and demonic elements in Germanic

    religion as well as the majestic god of wisdom, death, storm, and the battlefield.

    Wodan was extremely irrational and unreliable. Another was Thor,

    who was the guardian of pasture and protector of married life, but also, in contrast,

    the god of war.

    It took centuries to make the transition from their tribal migratory customs to

    those of a settled agricultural civilization. Roman cities had declined to practical

    nonexistence and survived only as small administrative or ecclesiastical centers.

    Trade was practically nonexistent until its revival in the 11th and 12th centuries.

    The assimilation by Germanic peoples of Roman customs and state traditions was

    a process that lasted certainly until the High Middle Ages. As far as the German

    language was concerned the word deutsch was first used to identify the language

    spoken in the eastern territories, while Romance dialects also were incorporated

    into Charlemagnes empire. Later, the word used to identify the German language

    was applied to the territory they inhabited, hence Deutschland.

    Some German terms became significant later. The supreme commander was

    called the Herzog or Fürst and was elected from those families ennobled by blood,

    and the whole family was elevated with the leader. Although the Romans called

    a first man a king (rex), a more accurate Roman term for such an official

    would have been praetor or princeps. The German term König meant descendant

    of a noble family and was used by the Romans as an equivalent for the

    Latin word rex. There was a hereditary aspect to Germanic leadership as they

    were elected from families supposedly endowed with supranatural gifts. This

    Tribal Origins and the Middle Ages 5

    paradoxical combination of election and heredity helps explain why medieval

    German kings found it difficult to establish lasting dynasties. Another paradox

    related to this was the German desire for independence, which, however, was

    combined with a strong need to submit to sanctified authority. Another combination

    of cultural traits gave rise to medieval feudalism. It was found in the Germanic

    institution of Gefolgschaft, by which followers would promise personal

    fidelity to the leader. Personal loyalty (Treue) took precedence over bonds of kinship

    and the tribe. This strong Germanic custom merged with the Roman practice

    of dependency in the late Empire. Later the Germanic feudal empire had at

    its core a whole hierarchy of bonds and relationships, with mutual obligations

    and loyalties that created the relationship between feudal lords and vassals.

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