Europe At The End Of The Migration Of The Races
Extension of the German Races in A. D. 570. --The Longobards. --The
Franks. --The Visigoths. --The Saxons in Britain. --The Tribes on
German Soil. --The Eastern Empire. --Relation of the Conquerors to
the Conquered Races. --Influence of Roman Civilization. --The
Priesthood. --Obliteration of German Origin. --Religion. --The
Monarchical Element in Government. --The Nobility. --Th
--Slavery. --Laws in regard to Crime. --Privileges of the Church.
--The Transition Period.
[Sidenote: 570. SPREAD OF THE GERMAN RACES.]
Thus far, we have been following the history of the Germanic races, in
their conflict with Rome, until their complete and final triumph at the
end of six hundred years after they first met Julius Caesar. Within the
limits of Germany itself, there was, as we have seen, no united
nationality. Even the consolidation of the smaller tribes under the
names of Goths, Franks, Saxons and Alemanni, during the third century,
was only the beginning of a new political development which was not
continued upon German soil. With the exception of Denmark, Sweden,
Russia, Ireland, Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and the Byzantine
territory in Turkey, Greece and Italy, all Europe was under Germanic
rule at the end of the Migration of the Races, in the year 570.
The Longobards, after the death of Alboin and his successor, Kleph,
prospered greatly under the wise rule of Queen Theodolind, daughter of
king Garibald of Bavaria, and wife of Kleph's son, Authari. She
persuaded them to become Christians; and they then gave up their nomadic
habits, scattered themselves over the country, learned agriculture and
the mechanic arts, and gradually became amalgamated with the native
Romans. Their descendants form a large portion of the population of
Northern Italy at this day.
[Sidenote: 570. LOCATION OF THE TRIBES.]
The Franks, at this time, were firmly established in Gaul, under the
dynasty founded by Chlodwig. They owned nearly all the territory west of
the Rhine, part of Western Switzerland and the valley of the Rhone, to
the Mediterranean. Only a small strip of territory on the east, between
the Pyrenees and the upper waters of the Garonne, still belonged to the
Visigoths. The kingdom of Burgundy, after an existence of 125 years,
became absorbed in that of the Franks, in 534.
After the death of Theodoric, the connection of the Visigoths with the
other German races ceased. They conquered the Suevi, driving them into
the mountains of Galicia, subdued the Alans in Portugal, and during a
reign of two centuries more impressed their traces indelibly upon the
Spanish people. Their history, from this time on, belongs to Spain.
Their near relations, the Vandals, as we have already seen, had ceased
to exist. Like the Ostrogoths, they were never named again as a separate
The Saxons had made themselves such thorough masters of England and the
lowlands of Scotland, that the native Celto-Roman population was driven
into Wales and Cornwall. The latter had become Christians under the
Empire, and they looked with horror upon the paganism of the Saxons.
During the early part of the sixth century, they made a bold but brief
effort to expel the invaders, under the lead of the half-fabulous king
Arthur (of the Round Table), who is supposed to have died about the year
537. The Angles and Saxons, however, not only triumphed, but planted
their language, laws and character so firmly upon English soil, that the
England of the later centuries grew from the basis they laid, and the
name of Anglo-Saxon has become the designation of the English race all
over the world.
Along the northern coast of Germany, the Frisii and the Saxons who
remained behind, had formed two kingdoms and asserted a fierce
independence. The territory of the latter extended to the Hartz
Mountains, where it met that of the Thuringians, who still held Central
Germany southward to the Danube. Beyond that river, the new nation of
the Bavarians was permanently settled, and had already risen to such
importance that Theodolind, the daughter of its king, Garibald, was
selected for his queen by the Longobard king, Authari.
East of the Elbe, through Prussia, nearly the whole country was
occupied by various Slavonic tribes. One of these, the Czechs, had taken
possession of Bohemia, where they soon afterwards established an
independent kingdom. Beyond them, the Avars occupied Hungary, now and
then making invasions into German territory, or even to the borders of
Italy; Denmark and Sweden, owing to their remoteness from the great
theatre of action, were scarcely affected by the political changes we
Finally, the Alemanni, though defeated and held back by the Franks,
maintained their independence in the south-western part of Germany and
in Eastern Switzerland, where their descendants are living at this day.
Each of all these new nationalities included remnants of the smaller
original tribes, which had lost their independence in the general
struggle, and which soon became more or less mixed (except in England)
with the former inhabitants of the conquered soil.
The Eastern Empire was now too weak and corrupt to venture another
conflict with these stronger Germanic races, whose civilization was no
longer very far behind its own. Moreover, within sixty years after the
Migration came to an end, a new foe arose in the East. The successors of
Mahomet began that struggle which tore Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor from
Christian hands, and which only ceased when, in 1453, the crescent
floated from the towers of Constantinople.
Nearly all Europe was thus portioned among men of German blood, very few
of whom ever again migrated from the soil whereon they were now settled.
It was their custom to demand one-third--in some few instances, two
thirds--of the conquered territory for their own people. In this manner,
Frank and Gaul, Longobard and Roman, Visigoth and Spaniard, found
themselves side by side, and reciprocally influenced each other's speech
and habits of life. It must not be supposed, however, that the new
nations lost their former character, and took on that of the Germanic
conquerors. Almost the reverse of this took place. It must be remembered
that the Gauls, for instance, far outnumbered the Franks; that each
conquest was achieved by a few hundred thousand men, all of them
warriors, while each of the original Roman provinces had several
millions of inhabitants. There must have been at least ten of the ruled,
to one of the ruling race.
[Sidenote: 570. SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY.]
The latter, moreover, were greatly inferior to the former in all the
arts of civilization. In the homes, the dress and ornaments, the social
intercourse, and all the minor features of life, they found their new
neighbors above them, and they were quick to learn the use of
unaccustomed comforts or luxuries. All the cities and small towns were
Roman in their architecture, in their municipal organization, and in the
character of their trade and intercourse; and the conquerors found it
easier to accept this old-established order than to change it.
Another circumstance contributed to Latinize the German races outside of
Germany. After the invention of a Gothic alphabet by Bishop Ulfila, and
his translation of the Bible, we hear no more of a written German
language until the eighth century. There was at least none which was
accessible to the people, and the Latin continued to be the language of
government and religion. The priests were nearly all Romans, and their
interest was to prevent the use of written Germanic tongues. Such
learning as remained to the world was of course only to be acquired
through a knowledge of Latin and Greek.
All the influences which surrounded the conquering races tended,
therefore, to eradicate or change their original German characteristics.
After a few centuries, their descendants, in almost every instance, lost
sight of their origin, and even looked with contempt upon rival people
of the same blood. The Franks and Burgundians of the present day speak
of themselves as "the Latin race": the blonde and blue-eyed Lombards of
Northern Italy, not long since, hated "the Germans" as the Christian of
the Middle Ages hated the Jew; and the full-blooded English or American
Saxon often considers the German as a foreigner with whom he has nothing
By the year 570, all the races outside of Germany, except the Saxons and
Angles in Britain, had accepted Christianity. Within Germany, although
the Christian missionaries were at work among the Alemanni, the
Bavarians, and along the Rhine, the great body of the people still held
to their old pagan worship. The influence of the true faith was no doubt
weakened by the bitter enmity which still existed between the Athanasian
and Arian sects, although the latter ceased to be powerful after the
downfall of the Ostrogoths. But the Christianity which prevailed among
the Franks, Burgundians and Longobards was not pure or intelligent
enough to save them from the vices which the Roman Empire left behind
it. Many of their kings and nobles were polygamists, and the early
history of their dynasties is a chronicle of falsehood, cruelty and
In each of the races, the primitive habit of electing chiefs by the
people had long since given way to an hereditary monarchy, but in other
respects their political organization remained much the same. The Franks
introduced into Gaul the old German division of the land into provinces,
hundreds and communities, but the king now claimed the right of
appointing a Count for the first, a Centenarius, or centurion, for the
second, and an elder, or head-man, for the third. The people still held
their public assemblies, and settled their local matters; they were all
equal before the law, and the free men paid no taxes. The right of
declaring war, making peace, and other questions of national importance,
were decided by a general assembly of the people, at which the king
presided. The political system was therefore more republican than
monarchical, but it gradually lost the former character as the power of
the kings increased.
The nobles had no fixed place and no special rights during the
migrations of the tribes. Among the Franks they were partly formed out
of the civil officers, and soon included both Romans and Gauls among
their number. In Germany their hereditary succession was already
secured, and they maintained their ascendancy over the common people by
keeping pace with the knowledge and the arts of those times, while the
latter remained, for the most part, in a state of ignorance.
The cities, inhabited by Romans and Romanized Gauls, retained their old
system of government, but paid a tax or tribute. Those portions of the
other Germanic races which had become subject to the Franks were also
allowed to keep their own peculiar laws and forms of local government,
which were now, for the first time, recorded in the Latin language. They
were obliged to furnish a certain number of men capable of bearing arms,
but it does not appear that they paid any tribute to the Franks.
Slavery still existed, and in the two forms of it which we find among
the ancient Germans,--chattels who were bought and sold, and dependents
who were bound to give labor or tribute in return for the protection of
a freeman. The Romans in Gaul were placed upon the latter footing by the
Franks. The children born of marriages between them and the free took
the lower and not the higher position,--that is, they were dependents.
[Sidenote: 570. PENALTIES FOR CRIME.]
The laws in regard to crime were very rigid and severe, but not bloody.
The body of the free man, like his life, was considered inviolate, so
there was no corporeal punishment, and death was only inflicted in a few
extreme cases. The worst crimes could be atoned for by the sacrifice of
money or property. For murder the penalty was two hundred shillings (at
that time the value of 100 oxen), two-thirds of which were given to the
family of the murdered person, while one-third was divided between the
judge and the State. This penalty was increased threefold for the murder
of a Count or a soldier in the field, and more than fourfold for that of
a Bishop. In some of the codes the payment was fixed even for the murder
of a Duke or King. The slaying of a dependent or a Roman only cost half
as much as that of a free Frank, while a slave was only valued at
thirty-five shillings, or seventeen and a half oxen: the theft of a
falcon trained for hunting, or a stallion, cost ten shillings more.
Slander, insult and false-witness were punished in the same way. If any
one falsely accused another of murder he was condemned to pay the
injured person the penalty fixed for the crime of murder, and the same
rule was applied to all minor accusations. The charge of witchcraft, if
not proved according to the superstitious ideas of the people, was
followed by the penalty of one hundred and eighty shillings. Whoever
called another a hare, was fined six shillings; but if he called him a
fox, the fine was only three shillings.
As the Germanic races became Christian, the power and privileges of the
priesthood were manifested in the changes made in these laws. Not only
was it enacted that the theft of property belonging to the Church must
be paid back ninefold, but the slaves of the priests were valued at
double the amount fixed for the slaves of laymen. The Churches became
sacred, and no criminal could be seized at the foot of the altar. Those
who neglected to attend worship on the Sabbath three times in
succession, were punished by the loss of one-third of their property. If
this neglect was repeated a second time, they were made slaves, and
could be sold as such by the Church.
The laws of the still pagan Thuringians and Saxons, in Germany, did not
differ materially from those of the Christian Franks. Justice was
administered in assemblies of the people, and, in order to secure the
largest expression of the public will, a heavy fine was imposed for the
failure to attend. The latter feature is still retained, in some of the
old Cantons of Switzerland. In Thuringia and Saxony, however, the nobles
had become a privileged class, recognized by the laws, and thus was laid
the foundation for the feudal system of the Middle Ages.
The transition was now complete. Although the art, taste and refinement
of the Roman Empire were lost, its civilizing influence in law and civil
organization survived, and slowly subdued the Germanic races which
inherited its territory. But many characteristics of their early
barbarism still clung to the latter, and a long period elapsed before we
can properly call them a civilized people.