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Germania

Germania Inferior - Germania Superior

From the third century BC onwards the Germanic world was continually affected by migrations that would continue to gain momentum and significance as time advanced. Rome's first major contact with Germanic people came in the late 2nd Century BC when members of the Cimbri and Teutoni tribes wandered en masse into Southern Europe and Gallia.

These migrations were neither simple warrior-raids nor armies on the march, as the Romans were accustomed to, but the complete relocation of entire tribes of people. Displacing Celtic tribes as they moved, the force of these "first-contacts" was a harbinger of what would come over the next several centuries.

In 113 BC, the Cimbri and Teutoni defeated a Roman army under Gnaeus Papirius Carbo in Noricum. They then pushed west of the Rhenus and threatened the territory of the Celtic Allobroges. A request to settle the land was refused by Rome, and in 109 BC they again defeated another Roman army under Marcus Junius Silanus in southern Gaul. They didn't follow up by pressing further and disappeared from Roman influence, but by 105 BC, the Cimbri King Boiorix and the roving Germans returned. They crushed the armies of Mallius and Caepio at Arausio (Orange), killing over 60,000 Roman Legionaries.

Again they turned away from Italia, the Teutoni settling in southern Gallia and the Cimbri moved towards Hispania. Driven from Hispania by the Celtibereans, the two tribes reunited and by 103 BC were again moving against Italia. Fortune had run out for them, and in 102 BC, the Teutoni were defeated by Gaius Marius at Aquae Sextiae, losing over 100,000 men. The Cimbri succeeded in passing the Alps and driving Q. Lutatius Catulus across the Po River, but In 101 Marius overthrew them on the Raudine Plain near Vercellae. Their king Boiorix was killed and the whole army of over 60,000 men was destroyed.

Relative peace between Rome and the Germanic tribes would reign until the campaigns of Caesar some 50 years later in Gaul. During his conquests he was forced to make 3 separate campaigns against the Germans. The Germanic Suebi tribe crossed the Rhenus River and had invaded Celtic lands earlier, before Caesar's arrival. In 58 BC, a Celtic request for help gave Caesar the excuse he needed to begin his campaigns in Gaul. Caesar, with his Germanic allies the Ubii routed the Seubi and sent them back across the River.

In 55 BC the Germanic Tencteri and Usipii tribes arrived along the banks of the Rhenus and overtook the Menapii. Caesar bridged the Rhenus and along with his Legate, Labienus, drive them out by defeating their Prince, Induciomer. Caesar bridged the Rhenus again, in 53 BC, to pursue the Germanic tribes who had aided the Celts in Gallia, but the Germans avoided contact with the Legions and Caesar withdrew empty-handed.


The civil war between Caesar and Pompeius would put an end to any further ideas he may have for campaigns into Germania. Over the next several decades, Germanic incursions into Gallia would continue and Augustus' victory over Antonius, establishing the Imperial system, gave him the power and resources necessary to focus on Germania. He reorganized the provinces and established Germania Inferior in the North, east of Belgica and west of the Rhenus, and Germania Superior bordering southern Gaul and Noricum in the east.


In 12 BC Nero Claudius Drusus "the elder" crossed the Rhenus to establish Roman control. Many of the Germanic tribes were conquered and by 9 BC he had pushed the border of northern Roman Germania to the Albis (Elbe). Drusus died later that year and was replaced by his brother Tiberius. Tiberius fought a number of smaller wars and eventually left Germania in the hands of various legates who had established friendly relations among the Germans.


Augustus, satisfied with the accomplishments of both Drusus and Tiberius, pushed to make Germania Magna (between the Rhenus and Albis) a province of the Roman Empire. The Romans, however, had overestimated their position and found the tribes unwilling to accept the offer of provincial status.


In 9 AD under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus the Romans were caught in a surprise attack while marching through the Teutoburg Forest. The Cherusci tribe, under Arminius (Hermann) destroyed 3 full Legions, the XVII, XVIII, and XIX, resulting in the death of 20,000 Legionaries. Between 14 and 16 AD, Germanicus took command in Germania. During his campaigns, he recovered 2 of the lost standards, but was able to accomplish little of real importance, aside from moral victories, against the scattered Germanic tribes and Arminius. Arminius himself fell victim to the treachery of his own tribe and was killed in 19 AD.


The Rhenus would eventually become the permanent eastern border of the 2 Germania provinces. Over the next 2 centuries, fighting between Germanic tribes was as relentless as their incursions into Gallia. The Romans built a considerable series of fortifications across both the Rhenus and Danubius rivers, called Limes, and were generally resigned to defending the rivers as their farthest northern frontiers.

The Germania provinces were among the most active for the Roman Legions. Defending the fortifications along the Rhenus and Danuvius Rivers was full time duty. Migrating Germanic tribes often pushed one tribe or another towards the Roman borders to find new settlements, and war-like local tribes often looked for opportunities to raid the wealthy Romans. Between 166 and 180 AD Marcus Aurelius led a number of massive campaigns against the Marcomanni and Quadi tribes along the Danube, essentially pacifying the border region for the next century and a half. However, the great Germanic migrations beginning in the fourth century would devour Roman Germania first.

Germania Inferior was the permanent garrison of Legio I Minervia and Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix. Germania Superior was garrisoned by Legio VIII Augusta and Legio XXII Primigenia. Both provinces were also supplemented by many necessary auxiliaries. These legions were either destroyed or completely reconstituted by the early 5th century AD.

Economy of Germania:

The German agricultural system was vital to the economy in Germany. Most of the Germans were farmers but a large portion of the population were herders. The main crops that they cultivated were cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Around the North Sea area there was an emphasis on cattle herding.


Once the frontiers had stabilized, cultural and commercial contacts were inevitable and influential, and as important as armed conflict. Although the frontier was heavily fortified, it was not a hindrance to the passage of trade or people. Rome exported fine pottery, glass, and metalwork across the Rhine. In return, raw materials such as amber, leather, and slaves went back across the frontier.


The price of amber in Caesar's Rome was high, and only the wealthy Romans could afford it. A small single piece of amber was worth more than a healthy slave. According to Pliny, amber worn around the neck warded off tonsillitis and goiter. Roman women wore amber beads to protect themselves from thyroid disease. Amber was used to treat illnesses with the symptom of fever, as a medicine to eliminate it. In addition, according to Pliny, amber amulets had a beneficial effect on babies in a broad way, and protected people of all ages from " attacks of wild distraction".


Roman women played with amber, holding it in their hands and stroking it. This frequent contact with amber was most likely assumed to guarantee a youthful look. Famous for her beauty, Empress Poppaea, the wife of Nero made amber so popular that women dyed their hair to match its color.

Tribes of Roman Germania

The Roman historian,Tacitus, provided some one of the greatest surviving resources on the ancient Germanic tribes. The text of his "Germania" is public domain, for personal and educational use, and is available here. Germania was home to an incredible number of tribes, a short list follows, and reading of Tacitus' "Germania" is recommended for further detail.


Within the northern province of Germania Inferior, the Menapii, Batavi, Condrusi, Atuataci and Eburones resided. Across the river and the Roman fortifications, several other tribes were in close proximity to Roman authority. The Frisii, Chaucii, Istavones, Sicambrii, Marsii, Cattii, and Ubii all dwelled on the eastern side of the Rhenus. The Ubii were considered friends of the Romans, helped protect the borders and provided a great many Germanic cavalry to the Roman Legions.


In the south of Germania Superior dwelled the Triboci, Rauraci, Nemetes, Caracates, Sequani amd Helvetti. Across the Rhenus and farther east along the Danube was the home of the Marvingii, Nariscii, Burgundiones, Hermundurii, Seubii and the Cheruscii.

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