Germany and the Roman Empire

The Romans gave us the word Germanic: Germania for the Roman provice east of the Rhine, Germani for the peoples. There are various theories as to its origin, including the Germanic tribal name Hermanduri, but perhaps the most plausible is that it derives from a Celtic word for "neighbor." The Germanic tribes pushing into central Europe were impeded by Celtic peoples beginning in the fifth century BCE, and were only able to move fast in the east, so that first contact with the peoples of the Mediterranean world was made by the Bastarnć and Skirians: allied with the Celtic Galatians (Gauls), they swept into the territory of the Greek settlers on the lower Danube from the eastern Carpathians, around 230 BCE.

The Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambroni left Jutland, crossed Central Europe, fought with the Celtic Boii in Bohemia, and in 113 BCE arrived at the Roman fort of Noreia in Carinthia. They defeated four consuls and then wandered through Bavaria, eastern Gaul, the Rhône Valley, and Catalonia. Marius slaughtered the Teutones at Aix-en-Provence in fall 102 BCE, and the Cimbri at Vercelli in Piedmont in summer 101 BCE.

Between 58 and 51 BCE Julius Cćsar conquered Gaul for the Romans, leaving the Rhine as the effective western border of Germanic expansion. There were also Celts still on the Germanic side, but their strength had been declining, presumably from over-extension; in 58 BCE Ariovistus led a campaign to overcome them.

By the time of Augustus (who died in 14 CE), Germanic tribes were settled as far south as the Danube as far as the Pannonian Basin.

The Romans eventually decided to change strategy with the Germanic tribes, from conquest to containment, and between 83 and 260 built and maintained limites, "barriers," to contain them. Hadrian's Wall, defending Britannia from the Celtic Picts in Scotland, may be seen as the last of them, but for most of their extent they were lines of forts rather than walls. Against the Germanic tribes on the continent, they built a Lower (i.e. Northern) Germanic limes from Katwijk on the North Sea along the Rhine; an Upper Germanic limes (commonly referred to simply as "the Limes") from the Rhine at Rheinbrohl across the Taunus Mountains to the River Main east of Hanau, along the river to Miltenberg, and from Osterburken in an almost straight line south to Lorch; and a Rhćtian limes east from Lorch to Eining on the Danube. Thus the frontier provinces were protected against Germanic incursions from the northern outlet of the Rhine to near Regensburg.

Map of positioning of Germanic tribes as they and the Romans expanded:

Map created by Putzger, Historischer Atlas (1954), p. 24, Wikimedia Commons

Map of Roman provinces and independent Germania:

Map created by Jani Niemenmaa modified by D. Bachmann Wikimedia Commons

Another map of the Roman Empire, 125 CE, with tribes indicated by language group:

Map created by Andrei nacu, Wikimedia Commons

[1. Pre-Migration Age image from

2. Imperial Rome and Germania image from

3. Roman Empire 125 CE image from]


© 2008 Völuspá.org | © 2008 Articles, Analysis and Artwork to their respective creators
Eddas, Sagas and Folklore Public Domain