Germanic Tribes

History of Germany between 250 BC - 486 AD

Germanic Tribes

The Germanic tribes originated in Scandinavia, from which they moved south around 1000 BCE. By 100 BCE they had reached the Rhine area, and about two hundred years later, the Danube Basin, both Roman borders. The western German tribes consisted of the Marcomanni, Alamanni, Franks, Angles, and Saxons, while the Eastern tribes north of the Danube consisted of the Vandals, Gepids, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths. The Alans, Burgundians, and Lombards are less easy to define.

In approximately 222 BCE, the first use of the Latin term "Germani" appears in the Roman inscription which may simply be referring to Gaul or related people. Caesar first observed the Germanic tribes in 51 BCE, and marked them as a possible threat. German tribes were clan-based, with blood-loyalty the basis for all bonds. Living intermittently in settled forest clearings called hamlets, they engaged in mixed subsistence cultivation of crops and animals. Cultivation was rudimentary given the hard clay soil and use of implements more suited to Mediterranean areas. There were no food surpluses, so population remained small, around one million. Without much occupational specialization, they were an iron-age culture emphasizing war.

The Roman historian Tacitus described the Germans again about 100 CE. After Caesar had conquered Gaul up to the Rhine, expansion space was curtailed for the nomadic tribes, causing demographic pressure on the borders. Some Germans began to come into contact with Roman civilization at border garrisons. They greatly admired the material aspects of Roman culture, such as arms, domestic wares, etc. Small numbers were accepted for service with Roman legions, and small scale German-Roman trade relations emerged involving cattle and slaves.

Germans on the move

Trier Porta Nigra BW 1
Porta Nigra in Trier, best preserved
Roman building north of the Alps.

Gradually, changes occurred in the tribes over the first centuries AD: Though kinship remained the primary bond, a new kind of political formation evolved: the Comitatus. Older, successful warrior chieftains took in younger aspirants, who then raided and shared the booty with each other. This arrangement produced a professional, more lethal warrior group, where bonds were now between man and lord, the latter signaling the beginning of a small aristocracy. At the same time, as inter-tribe conflict increased, spurred in part by the desire to partake of Roman material culture, tribes began electing fewer, longer serving war-chiefs. Eastern German tribes, Goths and Vandals, also gradually migrated from North Poland to the Ukraine, pressuring the Danube frontier; they also settled north of the Black Sea, to the West of the Huns.

Around 200, small tribes began to coalesce into supra-tribal groups. Southern Germans came together into the Alamanni, while middle Rhine groups incorporated into the Franks, and the North Germans coalesced as Saxons. By the 300s there was a continual belt of barbarian tribes all along the Roman limes from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Increasing numbers

of Germans began to serve as Roman auxiliary forces just beyond the Roman borders, learning new tactics, acquiring better materials, coming to admire Roman society even more. Some even underwent a process of partial Romanization. Some, the Visigoths in particular, were gradually converted to Christianity from the 340s by Ulfillias, son of a captured slave. Converting to the Arian form of Christianity soon to be branded heresy, the Visigoths slowly communicated it to the Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Burgundians.

By the early 4th century, in the reign of Constantine, an element of stability has been achieved to the benefit both of the Romans and of their more primitive neighbours. But it is about to be upset, from about AD 370, by devastating incursions from the east.

The arrival of the Huns

Invasions of the Roman Empire 1

The Huns, whose name has come to rival the Vandals as an emotive term for destructive violence, arrive in history with an impact as sudden as it is mysterious. They appear from the steppes north of the Black Sea in the late 4th century. In about 370 the Huns defeat the Ostrogoths. Six years later they descend upon the Visigoths, driving them south over the Danube. For a while they bide their time in the territories of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. But they have already set in motion a chain reaction called as Migration Period. It was a period of human migration that occurred roughly between 300 to 700 CE in Europe, marking the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. These movements were catalyzed by profound changes within both the Roman Empire and the so-called 'barbarian frontier'. Migrating peoples during this period included the Huns, Goths, Vandals, Bulgars, Alans, Suebi, Frisians, and Franks, among other Germanic and Slavic tribes.

The first phase, between 300 and 500 CE, put Germanic peoples in control of most areas of the former Western Roman Empire. The first to formally enter Roman territory — as refugees from the Huns — were the Visigoths in 376. Tolerated by the Romans on condition that they defend the Danube frontier, they rebelled, eventually invading Italy and sacking Rome itself in 410 CE, before settling in Iberia and founding a kingdom there that endured 300 years. They were followed into Roman territory by the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric the Great, who settled in Italy itself. In Gaul, the Franks, a fusion of western Germanic tribes whose leaders had been strongly aligned with Rome, entered Roman lands more gradually and peacefully during the 5th century, and were generally accepted as rulers by the Roman-Gaulish population. Fending off challenges from the Allemanni, Burgundians and Visigoths, the Frankish kingdom became the nucleus of the future states of France and Germany. Meanwhile, Roman Britain was more slowly invaded and settled by Angles and Saxons.

References: Wikipedia, ancient.eu, historyworld.net

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Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.