The Invasion of Europe
by the Barbarians
The Germans and Their Wanderings
There are two ways in which the subject may be treated, two points of view from which the sequence of changes which broke up the Roman Empire may be regarded. We may look at the process, in the earliest and most important stage, from the point of view of the Empire which was being dismembered or from that of the barbarians who were dismembering it. We may stand in Rome and watch the strangers sweeping over her provinces; or we may stand east of the Rhine and north of the Danube, amid the forests of Germany, and follow the fortunes of the men who  issued thence, winning new habitations and entering on a new life. Both methods have been followed by modern writers. Gibbon and many others have told the story from the side of the Roman Empire, but all the principal barbarian peoples—not only those who founded permanent states, but even those who formed only transient kingdoms—have had each its special historian. One naturally falls into the habit of contemplating these events from the Roman side because the early part of the story has come down to us in records which were written from the Roman side. We must, however, try to see things from both points of view.
The barbarians who dismembered the Empire were mainly Germans. It is not till the sixth, century that people of another race—the Slavs—appear upon the scene. Those who approach for the first time the study of the beginnings of medieval history will probably find it difficult to group and locate clearly in their minds the multitude of Germanic peoples who surge over the scene in distracting confusion. The apparent confusion vanishes, of course, with familiarity, and the movements fall into a certain order. But at the very outset the study of the period may be simplified by drawing a line of division within the Germanic world. This capital line of division is geographical, but it has its basis in historical facts. It is the distinction of the West Germans from the East Germans. To understand this division we must go back for a moment into the early history of the Germans.
After 1000 B.C. a double movement of expansion began. The Germans between the Oder and the Elbe pressed westward, displacing the Celts. The boundary between the Celts and Germans advanced to the west, and by about 200 B.C. it had been pushed forward to the Rhine, and southward to the Main. Throughout this period the Germans had been also pressing up the Elbe. Soon after 100 B.C. southern Germany had been occupied, and they were attempting to flood Gaul. This inundation was stemmed by Julius Caesar. Now all these peoples who expanded over western Germany from their original seats between Oder and Elbe we will class as the West Germans.
The other movement was a migration from Scandinavia to the opposite coasts of the Baltic, between the Oder and the Vistula, and ultimately beyond the Vistula. This migration seems to have taken place at a later period than the beginning of the expansion of the West Germans. It is placed by a recent authority, Kossinna, in the later bronze period, between 600 and 300 B.C. (1) [Kossinna, Gustaf: Der germanische Goldreichtum in der Bronzezeit (in Mannus Bibliothek, 1910 sq.) and Ursprung und Verbreitung der Germanen in vor- und frühgeschichtlichen Zeit (1926).] By the latter date they seem to have pressed right up to the Vistula to the  neighbourhood of the Carpathians. These comers from Scandinavia formed a group which in dialect and customs may be distinguished from the West Germans, as well as in their geographical position; and we designate them as East Germans. The distinction is convenient because the historical roles of these two divisions of the German race were different. There is also a third division, the North Germans of Scandinavia; but with them we are not concerned.
In the period with which we have to do, the West Germans are comparatively settled geographically, whereas the East Germans are migratory. Now it is not difficult to understand why this is so. All the ancient Germans were shepherds and hunters. They had some agriculture before the time of Julius Caesar, but not much. Central Europe till well into the Middle Ages consisted largely of dense forests and marshlands. There were, however, districts free from wood, and the absence of wood was the circumstance which largely determined the early settlements of the Germans. Geographers are able to fix the position of such tracts of steppe land by means of the remains of steppe plants—plants which cannot live either in the forest or on cultivated soil—and also by the remains of animals which are characteristic of the steppe. Cases of such land, for instance, are the plain of the upper Rhine and the eastern portion of the Harz district.
When a people settled down in such a district they could live, as a rule peaceably and contentedly, on their flocks and herds, until their number began to increase considerably. Then their pasture land, limited by the surrounding forests, became insufficient, and presently the food question grew pressing. There  were three solutions open: they might take to agriculture, which would enable them to support a far larger population in the same area; they might extend their pasturage by clearing the forest; or they might reduce their superfluity of population by emigrating. The third resource was that which they regularly adopted; the other two were opposed to their nature and instincts. A portion would emigrate and seize a new habitation elsewhere. This, of course, meant war and conquest. This process went on at the expense of the Celts until Central Europe became entirely Germanised. They would then have naturally advanced westward or southward, but the Roman power hindered them. Thus the Western Germans, having no further room for expansion, shut in on the east by their own kinsfolk who were tightly packed, on the west and south by the Roman Empire, were forced to find another solution for the food question. Perforce they took to tilling the land. We have direct evidence for this important change in their habits. Caesar describes the Germans as mainly a pastoral people: they did practise agriculture, but it was little. About one hundred and fifty years later Tacitus describes them as practising agriculture. This transformation, then, from a preeminently pastoral state to an agricultural state came about during the century after their geographical expansion was arrested by the power of Rome. That period was a critical stage in their development. Now remember that all this applies to the West Germans: it is the West Germans to whom the descriptions of Caesar and Tacitus relate. The East Germans beyond the Elbe were by no means in the same position. They were not hemmed in in the same way. Their neighbours to the east and south  were barbarians—Slavs and others—who did not hinder their freedom of movement, and so there was no motive to give up their pastoral and migratory habits.
You can now understand how in the second century A.D. the East and West Germans are distinguished not only by geographical position but also by the different stages of civilisation which they have reached. The West Germans are agricultural and have attained those relatively settled habits which agriculture induces. The East Germans are chiefly pastoral and represent a stage from which the West Germans began to emerge a couple of centuries before.
I may illustrate this further by referring to a different interpretation of the evidence which was put forward by Dr. Felix Dahn, who devoted his life and numerous works to early German history (1) [Dahn, F.: Die Könige der Germanen (1861-1907) and Urgeschichte der germanischen und romanischen Völker (1881-89)]. He starts from the great change from the unsettled life of the Germans in the time of Caesar, when they depended chiefly on pasture and the chase, to the relatively settled life, in which agriculture predominated, corresponding to the description of Tacitus. Using this fact as a minor premise, he lays down as a general rule that when such a change takes place from an unsettled to a settled life increase in population is a natural consequence. And from these two premises he argues that Germany increased largely in population. Such an increase, he says, would only begin to tell four or five generations after a people had adopted settled habits; that means 120 or 150 years. If we take about A.D. 20-30 as the middle point of the period of change—between Caesar and Tacitus—then  four or five generations bring us down to the period A.D. 140-180, just the time in which the East German migratory movement began. He concludes that increase of population, due to the change from pastoral to agricultural habits, was the cause of the migrations and the expansive movements which began in the second century A.D.
You will readily perceive the fallacy which underlies this interesting argument. Dr. Dahn applies to the Germans as a whole, and to the East Germans in particular, the evidence of Tacitus, which is true only of the West Germans, who came under Roman observation. The picture of Tacitus is taken entirely from the West Germans; of the German peoples beyond the Elbe the Romans knew little more than the names and geographical positions of some of them. Thus Dr. Dahn does not take us any further. Increase of population, which means the food question, was the driving force in the whole process of German expansion from prehistoric times onward, and it was the main cause, no doubt, of the movement which began in the second century A.D.; but the new agricultural habits of the West Germans had nothing to do with it.
Before dealing with this movement, which is a movement of East Germans, I have a word more to say about the West Germans. The old names of the West German peoples between the Rhine and Elbe are preserved by Tacitus and in other records of early imperial history. But in the later times with which we have to do now, these names have almost entirely disappeared. We have no longer to do with the Tencteri, the Cherusci, the Chatti, etc.; we have to do with the Alamanni, the Franks, the Saxons, the  Thuringians. The reason of this change is that from the end of the second century western Germany had been re-formed by a process of federation and blending of groups of smaller peoples in large unities. Thus the Alamanni were a composite nation formed from the Suevian tribes, and others, on the upper Rhine. In the same way the peoples on the lower Rhine had formed a loose conglomerate under the name of Franks. This name Frank or ('free' seems to have been given as a distinction from the neighbouring peoples who were subject to Rome in the province of Lower Germany. Between the Weser and Elbe, and inland to the Harz mountains, another group of people was collected under the name of Saxons. The tribes who gave the name to the whole confederation had come from beyond the mouth of the Elbe, near the neck of the Cimbric peninsula; for our purpose they are West Germans. But among the West Germans they were exceptional in the length of their migrations. The Saxons were parted from the Franks by the intervening Frisians; and south of the Saxons were the Thuringians who mainly represented the ancient Hermunduri.
It has been sometimes questioned whether these groups were really confederates, bound by a definite league. The fact seems proved by a text of Ammianus Marcellinus who, in speaking of the Alamanni, refers to a pactum vicissitudinis reddendae. They were bound to render mutual aid. Can we discover any cause for these approximations, these centripetal movements? Agriculture, in all probability, proved an insufficient solution of the population question, especially if in settled conditions the numbers increased more rapidly. It became necessary therefore for a people to enlarge
the area of its habitation by reclaiming the surrounding forestland. You must picture Germany as consisting of small territories each of which was surrounded by a dense impenetrable ring of primeval forest. They were thus divided from and protected against each other by the forest-hedge which formed their hunting-grounds. In the middle of the territory were the separate agricultural allotments of the freemen, all round this was the common pasture land, and beyond this again was the ring of forest. Now what naturally happened as the population increased? More land was required for the separate allotments, and it became necessary to encroach upon the pasture land. But the pasture could not be curtailed with an increasing population, and so it became necessary to encroach upon the forest. The result was that the dense rings of forest, which isolated each state from its neighbours more effectually than the sea severs islands, were reduced to narrow limits with the expansion of the population, and the states were brought into a close proximity which facilitated and promoted political unions, whether intimate or loose. This process of grouping was perhaps favourable to the institution of royalty.
Now it may be that the growth of these centripetal tendencies, the process of group formation, of which I have spoken, was favourable to the institution of royalty. In the time of Tacitus, states, such as the Saxon, which had a king were exceptional. The motives of this general change of feeling in favour of kingship were no doubt various, and perhaps we cannot determine them with any certainty; but I may point out one consideration. If several states formed a political union and required a head for their common actions, e.g. for a war, a king may have seemed the easiest solution. They may have  found it easier to agree on giving precedence to the royal family of a particular state than to join together to elect a president. I may observe that within these federal unions each civitas had often its own king; this was the case with the Alamanni, and partly with the Franks.
The earliest great recorded migration of an East German people was that of the Goths, about the end of the second century. They moved from their homes on the lower Vistula to the shores of the Black Sea, where we find them in A.D. 214 in the reign of Caracalla. Before this migration the Goths had formed one people, consisting, like all German peoples, of a number of separate units or gaus. I do not think there can be much doubt that it was after their settlement there that they broke up into two great divisions, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths, and that the motive of the division was geographical. It is easy to imagine how this could have happened, as there can be little doubt that they did not migrate all at once but rather in successive bands. The earlier comers, we might suppose, settled nearer the Danubian lands, in the neighbourhood of the Dniester, and they, in consequence of years of separation, felt themselves in a certain measure distinct when the later comers  arrived; and the result was the formation of two groups, distinguished as East and West. After the whole Gothic nation had been reunited on the shores of the Euxine, the ancient Greek cities of Olbia and Tyras seem to have soon fallen into their hands. We may infer this from the fact that the coinage of those cities comes to an end in the reign of Alexander Severus, who died in A.D. 235. Soon afterwards the Gothic attacks upon the Roman Empire began.
[The Roman Empire and the Germans]
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