Germanic Warriors

Either in response to population pressures and being prevented by the Romans from ranging freely in nomadic fashion, or out of simple cultural predisposition, Germanic culture has been focused on a warrior elite. Warriors followed a war-leader (sometimes called a drihten) who rewarded them with gifts from the spoils of conquest. We see this described in Anglo-Saxon poetry, with Hróţgar loading Béowulf down with gifts and the aged Béowulf referring to the gifts he has given his feckless followers; we see it on Swedish rune-stones naming the leader the deceased followed on viking raids and who rewarded them from the tribute exacted. This is in contrast to feudalism, in which every person owes service to his lord and in exchange receives land (not goods) by lease (not gift).

The Roman term for the war-band was comitatus and while fighting against the Germanic tribes, the Romans also made increasing use of Germanic warriors as mercenaries, or "auxiliaries." Particularly from the late 4th century, entire comitati were hired to fight either within a legion or as fœderati - allied tribes. As in the beginning of the Empire, they were rewarded with land to settle on. Germanic tribes that received Roman sponsorship in exchange for military service as fœderati included the Attacotti, Franks, Vandals, Alans, and Visigoths.

 


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