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A History of Germany from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Bayard Taylor Characters: 20487

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

(21-300 A. D.)

Truce between the Germans and Romans.

-The Cherusci cease to exist.

-Incursions of the Chauci and Chatti.

-Insurrection of the Gauls.

-Conquests of Cerealis.

-The Roman Boundary.

-German Legions under Rome.

-The Agri Decumates.

-Influence of Roman Civilization.


-Changes among the Germans.

-War against Marcus Aurelius.

-Decline of the Roman Power.

-Union of the Germans in Separate Nationalities.

-The Alemanni.

-The Franks.

-The Saxons.

-The Goths.

-The Thuringians.

-The Burgundians.

-Wars with Rome in the Third Century.

-The Emperor Probus and his Policy.


-Relative Position of the two Races.


After the campaigns of Germanicus and the death of Hermann, a long time elapsed during which the relation of Germany to the Roman Empire might be called a truce. No serious attempt was made by the unworthy successors of Augustus to extend their sway beyond the banks of the Rhine and the Danube; and, as Tiberius had predicted, the German tribes were so weakened by their own civil wars that they were unable to cope with such a power as Rome. Even the Cherusci, Hermann's own people, became so diminished in numbers that, before the end of the first century, they ceased to exist as a separate tribe: their fragments were divided and incorporated with their neighbors on either side. Another tribe, the Ampsivarii, was destroyed in a war with the Chauci, and even the power of the fierce Chatti was broken by a great victory of the Hermunduri over them, in a quarrel concerning the possession of a sacred salt-spring.

About the middle of the first century, however, an event is mentioned which shows that the Germans were beginning to appreciate and imitate the superior civilization of Rome. The Chauci, dwelling on the shores of the North Sea, built a fleet and sailed along the coast to the mouth of the Rhine, which they entered in the hope of exciting the Batavi and Frisii to rebellion. A few years afterwards the Chatti, probably for the sake of plunder, crossed the Rhine and invaded part of Gaul. Both attempts failed entirely; and the only serious movement of the Germans against Rome, during the century, took place while Vitellius and Vespasian were contending for the possession of the imperial throne. A German prophetess, of the name of Velleda, whose influence seems to have extended over all the tribes, promised them victory: they united, organized their forces, crossed the Rhine, and even laid siege to Mayence, the principal Roman city.


The success of Vespasian over his rival left him free to meet this new danger. But in the meantime the Batavi, under their chief, Claudius Civilis, who had been previously fighting on the new Emperor's side, joined the Gauls in a general insurrection. This was so successful that all northern Gaul, from the Atlantic to the Rhine, threw off the Roman yoke. A convention of the chiefs was held at Rheims, in order to found a Gallic kingdom; but instead of adopting measures of defence, they quarrelled about the selection of a ruling family, the future capital of the kingdom, and other matters of small comparative importance.

The approach of Cerealis, the Roman general sent by Vespasian with a powerful army in the year 70, put an end to the Gallic insurrection. Most of the Gallic tribes submitted without resistance: the Treviri, on the Moselle, were defeated in battle, the cities and fortresses on the western bank of the Rhine were retaken, and the Roman frontier was re-established. Nevertheless, the German tribes which had been allied with the Gauls-among them the Batavi-refused to submit, and they were strong enough to fight two bloody battles, in which Cerealis was only saved from defeat by what the Romans considered to be the direct interposition of the gods. The Batavi, although finally subdued in their home in Holland, succeeded in getting possession of the Roman admiral's vessel, by a night attack on his fleet on the Rhine. This trophy they sent by way of the river Lippe, an eastern branch of the Rhine, as a present to the great prophetess, Velleda.

The defeat of the German tribes by Cerealis was not followed by a new Roman invasion of their territory. The Rhine remained the boundary, although the Romans crossed the river at various points and built fortresses upon the eastern bank. They appear, in like manner, to have crossed the Danube, and they also gradually acquired possession of the south-western corner of Germany, lying between the head-waters of that river and the Rhine. This region (now occupied by Baden and part of Würtemberg) had been deserted by the Marcomanni when they marched to Bohemia, and it does not appear that any other German tribe attempted to take permanent possession of it. Its first occupants, the Helvetians, were now settled in Switzerland.


The enlisting of Germans to serve as soldiers in the Roman army, begun by Julius C?sar, was continued by the Emperors. The proofs of their heroism, which the Germans had given in resisting Germanicus, made them desirable as troops; and, since they were accustomed to fight with their neighbors at home, they had no scruples in fighting them under the banner of Rome. Thus one German legion after another was formed, taken to Rome, Spain, Greece or the East, and its veterans, if they returned home when disabled by age or wounds, carried with them stories of the civilized world, of cities, palaces and temples, of agriculture and the arts, of a civil and political system far wiser and stronger than their own.

The series of good Emperors, from Vespasian to Marcus Aurelius (A. D. 70 to 181) formed military colonies of their veteran soldiers, whether German, Gallic or Roman, in the region originally inhabited by the Marcomanni. They were governed by Roman laws, and they paid a tithe, or tenth part, of their revenues to the Empire, whence this district was called the Agri Decumates, or Tithe-Lands. As it had no definite boundary towards the north and north-east, the settlements gradually extended to the Main, and at last included a triangular strip of territory extending from that river to the Rhine at Cologne. By this time the Romans had built, in their provinces of Rh?tia, Noricum and Pannonia, south of the Danube, the cities of Augusta Vindelicorum, now Augsburg, and Vindobona, now Vienna, with another on the north bank of the Danube, where Ratisbon stands at present.

From the last-named point to the Rhine at Cologne they built a stockade, protected by a deep ditch, to keep off the independent German tribes, even as they had built a wall across the north of England, to keep off the Picts and Scots. Traces of this line of defence are still to be seen. Another and shorter line, connecting the head-waters of the Main with the Lake of Constance, protected the territory on the east. Their frontier remained thus clearly defined for nearly two hundred years. On their side of the line they built fortresses and cities, which they connected by good highways, they introduced a better system of agriculture, established commercial intercourse, not only between their own provinces but also with the independent tribes, and thus extended the influence of their civilization. For the first time, fruit-trees were planted on German soil: the rich cloths and ornaments of Italy and the East, the arms and armor, the gold and silver, and the wines of the South, soon found a market within the German territory; while the horses and cattle, furs and down, smoked beef and honey of the Germans, the fish of their streams, and the radishes and asparagus raised on the Rhine, were sent to Rome in exchange for those luxuries. Wherever the Romans discovered a healing spring, as at Baden-Baden, Aix-la-Chapelle and Spa, they built splendid baths; where they found ores or marble in the mountains, they established mines or hewed columns for their temples, and the native tribes were thus taught the unsuspected riches of their own land.


For nearly a hundred years after Vespasian's accession to the throne, there was no serious interruption to the peaceful intercourse of the two races. During this time, we must take it for granted that a gradual change must have been growing up in the habits and ideas of the Germans. It is probable that they then began to collect in villages; to use stone as well as wood in building their houses and fortresses; to depend more on agriculture and less on hunting and fishing for their subsistence; and to desire the mechanical skill, the arts of civilization, which the Romans possessed. The extinction of many smaller tribes, also, taught them the necessity of learning to subdue their internal feuds, and assist instead of destroying each other. On the north of them was the sea; on the east the Sarmatians and other Slavonic tribes, much more savage than themselves: in every other direction they were confronted by Rome. The complete subjugation of their Celtic neighbors in Gaul was always before their eyes. In Hermann's day, they were still too ignorant to understand the necessity of his plan of union; but now that tens of thousands of their people had learned the extent and power of the Roman Empire, and the commercial intercourse of a hundred years had shown them their own deficiencies, they reached the point where a new development in their history became possible.


Such a development came to disturb the reign of the noble Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in the latter half of the second century. About the year 166, all the German tribes, from the Danube to the Baltic, united in a grand movement against the Roman Empire. The Marcomanni, who still inhabited Bohemia, appear as their leaders, and the Roman writers attach their name to the long and desperate war which ensued. We have no knowledge of the cause of this struggle, the manner in which the union of the Germans was effected, or even the names of their leaders: we only know that their invasion of the Roman territory was several times driven back and several times recommenced; that Marcus Aurelius died in Vienna, in 181, without ha

ving seen the end; and that his son and successor, Commodus, bought a peace instead of winning it by the sword. At one time, during the war, the Chatti forced their way through the Tithe-Lands and Switzerland, and crossed the Alps: at another, the Marcomanni and Quadi besieged the city of Aquileia, on the northern shore of the Adriatic.

The ancient boundary between the Roman Empire and Germany was restored, but at a cost which the former could not pay a second time. For a hundred and fifty years longer the Emperors preserved their territory: Rome still ruled, in name, from Spain to the Tigris, from Scotland to the Desert of Sahara, but her power was like a vast, hollow shell. Luxury, vice, taxation and continual war had eaten out the heart of the Empire; Italy had grown weak and was slowly losing its population, and the same causes were gradually ruining Spain, Gaul and Britain. During this period the German tribes, notwithstanding their terrible losses in war, had preserved their vigor by the simplicity, activity and morality of their habits: they had considerably increased in numbers, and from the time of Marcus Aurelius on, they felt themselves secure against any further invasion of their territory.

Then commenced a series of internal changes, concerning which, unfortunately, we have no history. We can only guess that their origin dates from the union of all the principal tribes under the lead of the Marcomanni; but whether they were brought about with or without internal wars; whether wise and far-seeing chiefs or the sentiment of the people themselves, contributed most to their consummation; finally, when these changes began and when they were completed-are questions which can never be accurately settled.


When the Germans again appear in history, in the third century of our era, we are surprised to find that the names of nearly all the tribes with which we are familiar have disappeared, and new names, of much wider significance, have taken their places. Instead of twenty or thirty small divisions, we now find the race consolidated into four chief nationalities, with two other inferior though independent branches. We also find that the geographical situation of the latter is no longer the same as that of the smaller tribes out of which they grew. Migrations must have taken place, large tracts of territory must have changed hands, many reigning families must have been overthrown, and new ones arisen. In short, the change in the organization of the Germans is so complete that it can hardly have been accomplished by peaceable means. Each of the new nationalities has an important part to play in the history of the following centuries, and we will therefore describe them separately:

1. The Alemanni.-The name of this division (Allemannen,[A] signifying "all men") shows that it was composed of fragments of many tribes. The Alemanni first made their appearance along the Main, and gradually pushed southward over the Tithe-Lands, where the military veterans of Rome had settled, until they occupied the greater part of South-western Germany, and Eastern Switzerland, to the Alps. Their descendants inhabit the same territory, to this day.

[A] Allemagne remains the French name for Germany.

2. The Franks.-It is not known whence this name was derived, nor what is its meaning. The Franks are believed to have been formed out of the Sicambrians in Westphalia, together with a portion of the Chatti and the Batavi in Holland, and other tribes. We first hear of them on the lower Rhine, but they soon extended their territory over a great part of Belgium and Westphalia. Their chiefs were already called kings, and their authority was hereditary.

3. The Saxons.-This was one of the small original tribes, settled in Holstein: the name is derived from their peculiar weapon, a short sword, called sahs. We find them now occupying nearly all the territory between the Hartz Mountains and the North Sea, from the Elbe westward to the Rhine. The Cherusci, the Chauci, and other tribes named by Tacitus, were evidently incorporated with the Saxons, who exhibit the same characteristics. There appears to have been a natural enmity-no doubt bequeathed from the earlier tribes out of which both grew-between them and the Franks.


4. The Goths.-The traditions of the Goths state that they were settled in Sweden before they were found by the Greek navigators on the southern shore of the Baltic, in 330 B. C. It is probable that only a portion of the tribe migrated, and that the present Scandinavian race is descended from the remainder. As the Baltic Goths increased in numbers, they gradually ascended the Vistula, pressed eastward along the base of the Carpathians and reached the Black Sea, in the course of the second century after Christ. They thus possessed a broad belt of territory, separating the rest of Europe from the wilder Slavonic races who occupied Central Russia. The Vandals and Alans, with the Heruli, Rugii and other smaller tribes, all Germanic, as well as a portion of the Slavonic Sarmatians, were incorporated with them; and it was probably the great extent of territory they controlled which occasioned their separation into Ostrogoths (East-Goths) and Visigoths (West-Goths). They first came in contact with the Romans, beyond the mouth of the Danube, about the beginning of the third century.

5. The Thuringians.-This branch had only a short national existence. It was composed of the Hermunduri, with fragments of other tribes, united under one king, and occupied all of Central Germany, from the Hartz southward to the Danube.

6. The Burgundians.-Leaving their original home in Prussia, between the Oder and the Vistula, the Burgundians crossed the greater part of Germany in a south-western direction, and first settled in a portion of what is now Franconia, between the Thuringians and the Alemanni. Not long afterwards, however, they passed through the latter, and took possession of the country on the west bank of the Rhine, between Strasburg and Mayence.


Caracalla came into collision with the Alemanni in the year 213, and the Emperor Maximin, who was a Goth on his father's side, laid waste their territory, in 236. About the latter period, the Franks began to make predatory incursions into Gaul, and the Goths became troublesome to the Romans, on the lower Danube. In 251 the Emperor Decius found his death among the marshes of Dacia, while trying to stay the Gothic invasion, and his successor, Gallus, only obtained a temporary peace by agreeing to pay an annual sum of money, thus really making Rome a tributary power. But the Empire had become impoverished, and the payment soon ceased. Thereupon the Goths built fleets, and made voyages of plunder, first to Trebizond and the other towns on the Asiatic shore of the Black Sea; then they passed the Hellespont, took and plundered the great city of Nicomedia, Ephesus with its famous temple, the Grecian isles, and even Corinth, Argos and Athens. In the meantime the Alemanni had resumed the offensive: they came through Rh?ti?, and descended to the Garda lake, in Northern Italy.

The Emperor, Claudius II., turned back this double invasion. He defeated and drove back the Alemanni, and then, in the year 270, won a great victory over the Goths, in the neighborhood of Thessalonica. His successor, Aurelian, followed up the advantage, and in the following year made a treaty with the Goths, by which the Danube became the frontier between them and the Romans. The latter gave up to them the province of Dacia, lying north of the river, and withdrew their colonists and military garrisons to the southern side.

Both the Franks and Saxons profited by these events. They let their mutual hostility rest for awhile, built fleets, and sailed forth in the West on voyages of plunder, like their relatives, the Goths, in the East. The Saxons descended on the coasts of Britain and Gaul; the Franks sailed to Spain, and are said to have even entered the Mediterranean. When Probus became Emperor, in the year 276, he found a great part of Gaul overrun and ravaged by them and by the Alemanni, on the Upper Rhine. He succeeded, after a hard struggle, in driving back the German invaders, restored the line of stockade from the Rhine to the Danube, and built new fortresses along the frontier. On the other hand, he introduced into Germany the cultivation of the vine, which the previous Emperors had not permitted, and thus laid the foundation of the famous vineyards of the Rhine and the Moselle.


Probus endeavored to weaken the power of the Germans, by separating and colonizing them, wherever it was possible. One of his experiments, however, had a very different result from what he expected. He transported a large number of Frank captives to the shore of the Black Sea; but, instead of quietly settling there, they got possession of some vessels, soon formed a large fleet, sailed into the Mediterranean, plundered the coasts of Asia Minor, Greece and Sicily, where they even captured the city of Syracuse, and at last, after many losses and marvellous adventures, made their way by sea to their homes on the Lower Rhine.

Towards the close of the third century, Constantine, during the reign of his father, Constantius, suppressed an insurrection of the Franks, and even for a time drove them from their islands on the coast of Holland. He afterward crossed the Rhine, but found it expedient not to attempt an expedition into the interior. He appears to have had no war with the Alemanni, but he founded the city of Constance, on the lake of the same name, for the purpose of keeping them in check.

The boundaries between Germany and Rome still remained the Rhine and the Danube, but on the east they were extended to the Black Sea, and in place of the invasions of C?sar, Drusus and Germanicus, the Empire was obliged to be content when it succeeded in repelling the invasions made upon its own soil. Three hundred years of very slow, but healthy growth on the one side, and of luxury, corruption and despotism on the other, had thus changed the relative position of the two races.

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