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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
to the map of Germania
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.