The Ancient Germans And Their Country

(330 B. C.--70 B. C.)

The Aryan Race and its Migrations. --Earliest Inhabitants of Europe.

--Lake Dwellings. --Celtic and Germanic Migrations. --Europe in the

Fourth Century B. C. --The Name "German." --Voyage of Pytheas.

--Invasions of the Cimbrians and Teutons, B. C. 113. --Victories of

Marius. --Boundary between the Gauls and the Germans.

--Geographical Location of the various Germa
ic Tribes. --Their

Mode of Life, Vices, Virtues, Laws, and Religion.

The Germans form one of the most important branches of the Indo-Germanic

or Aryan race--a division of the human family which also includes the

Hindoos, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and the Slavonic tribes. The

near relationship of all these, which have become so separated in their

habits of life, forms of government and religious faith, in the course

of many centuries, has been established by the evidence of common

tradition, language, and physiological structure. The original home of

the Aryan race appears to have been somewhere among the mountains and

lofty table-lands of Central Asia. The word "Arya," meaning the high

or the excellent, indicates their superiority over the neighboring

races long before the beginning of history.

When and under what circumstances the Aryans left their home, can never

be ascertained. Most scholars suppose that there were different

migrations, and that each movement westward was accomplished slowly,

centuries intervening between their departure from Central Asia and

their permanent settlement in Europe. The earliest migration was

probably that of the tribes who took possession of Greece and Italy;

who first acquired, and for more than a thousand years maintained, their

ascendency over all other branches of their common family; who, in fact,

laid the basis for the civilization of the world.

[Sidenote: 330 B. C.]

Before this migration took place, Europe was inhabited by a race of

primitive savages, who were not greatly superior to the wild beasts in

the vast forests which then covered the continent. They were

exterminated at so early a period that all traditions of their existence

were lost. Within the last fifty years, however, various relics of this

race have been brought to light. Fragments of skulls and skeletons, with

knives and arrow-heads of flint, have been found, at a considerable

depth, in the gravel-beds of Northern France, or in caves in Germany,

together with the bones of animals now extinct, upon which they fed. In

the lakes of Switzerland, they built dwellings upon piles, at a little

distance from the shore, in order to be more secure against the attacks

of wild beasts or hostile tribes. Many remains of these lake-dwellings,

with flint implements and fragments of pottery, have recently been

discovered. The skulls of the race indicate that they were savages of

the lowest type, and different in character from any which now exist on

the earth.

The second migration of the Aryan race is supposed to have been that of

the Celtic tribes, who took a more northerly course, by way of the

steppes of the Volga and the Don, and gradually obtained possession of

all Central and Western Europe, including the British Isles. Their

advance was only stopped by the ocean, and the tribe which first appears

in history, the Gauls, was at that time beginning to move eastward

again, in search of new fields of plunder. It is impossible to ascertain

whether the German tribes immediately followed the Celts, and took

possession of the territory which they vacated in pushing westward, or

whether they formed a third migration, at a later date. We only know the

order in which they were settled when our first historical knowledge of

them begins.

In the fourth century before the Christian Era, all Europe west of the

Rhine, and as far south as the Po, was Celtic; between the Rhine and the

Vistula, including Denmark and southern Sweden, the tribes were

Germanic; while the Slavonic branch seems to have already made its

appearance in what is now Southern Russia. Each of these three branches

of the Aryan race was divided into many smaller tribes, some of which,

left behind in the march from Asia, or separated by internal wars,

formed little communities, like islands, in the midst of territory

belonging to other branches of the race. The boundaries, also, were

never very distinctly drawn: the tribes were restless and nomadic, not

yet attached to the soil, and many of them moved through or across each

other, so that some were constantly disappearing, and others forming

under new names.


The Romans first heard the name "Germans" from the Celtic Gauls, in

whose language it meant simply neighbors. The first notice of a

Germanic tribe was given to the world by the Greek navigator Pytheas,

who made a voyage to the Baltic in the year 330 B. C. Beyond the

amber-coast, eastward of the mouth of the Vistula, he found the Goths,

of whom we hear nothing more until they appear, several centuries later,

on the northern shore of the Black Sea. For more than two hundred years

there is no further mention of the Germanic races; then, most

unexpectedly, the Romans were called upon to make their personal


In the year 113 B. C. a tremendous horde of strangers forced its way

through the Tyrolese Alps and invaded the Roman territory. They numbered

several hundred thousand, and brought with them their wives, children

and all their movable property. They were composed of two great tribes,

the Cimbrians and Teutons, accompanied by some minor allies, Celtic as

well as Germanic. Their statement was that they were driven from their

homes on the northern ocean by the inroads of the waves, and they

demanded territory for settlement, or, at least, the right to pass the

Roman frontier. The Consul, Papirius Carbo, collected an army and

endeavored to resist their advance; but he was defeated by them in a

battle fought near Noreia, between the Adriatic and the Alps.

The terror occasioned by this defeat reached even Rome. The

"barbarians," as they were called, were men of large stature, of

astonishing bodily strength, with yellow hair and fierce blue eyes. They

wore breastplates of iron and helmets crowned with the heads of wild

beasts, and carried white shields which shone in the sunshine. They

first hurled double-headed spears in battle, but at close quarters

fought with short and heavy swords. The women encouraged them with cries

and war-songs, and seemed no less fierce and courageous than the men.

They had also priestesses, clad in white linen, who delivered prophecies

and slaughtered human victims upon the altars of their gods.

[Sidenote: 102 B. C.]

Instead of moving towards Rome, the Cimbrians and Teutons marched

westward along the foot of the Alps, crossed into Gaul, devastated the

country between the Rhone and the Pyrenees, and even obtained temporary

possession of part of Spain. Having thus plundered at will for ten

years, they retraced their steps and prepared to invade Italy a second

time. The celebrated Consul, Marius, who was sent against them, found

their forces divided, in order to cross the Alps by two different roads.

He first attacked the Teutons, two hundred thousand in number, at Aix,

in southern France, and almost exterminated them in the year 102 B. C.

Transferring his army across the Alps, in the following year he met the

Cimbrians at Vercelli, in Piedmont (not far from the field of Magenta).

They were drawn up in a square, the sides of which were nearly three

miles long: in the centre their wagons, collected together, formed a

fortress for the women and children. But the Roman legions broke the

Cimbrian square, and obtained a complete victory. The women, seeing that

all was lost, slew their children, and then themselves; but a few

thousand prisoners were made--among them Teutoboch, the prince of the

Teutons, who had escaped from the slaughter at Aix,--to figure in the

triumph accorded to Marius by the Roman Senate. This was the only

appearance of the German tribes in Italy, until the decline of the

Empire, five hundred years later.

The Roman conquests, which now began to extend northwards into the heart

of Europe, soon brought the two races into collision again, but upon

German or Celtic soil. From the earliest reports, as well as the later

movements of the tribes, we are able to ascertain the probable order of

their settlement, though not the exact boundaries of each. The territory

which they occupied was almost the same as that which now belongs to the

German States. The Rhine divided them from the Gauls, except towards its

mouth, where the Germanic tribes occupied part of Belgium. A line drawn

from the Vistula southward to the Danube nearly represents their eastern

boundary, while, up to this time, they do not appear to have crossed the

Danube on the south. The district between that river and the Alps, now

Bavaria and Styria, was occupied by Celtic tribes. Northwards they had

made some advance into Sweden, and probably also into Norway. They thus

occupied nearly all of Central Europe, north of the Alpine chain.

[Sidenote: 100 B. C. THE GERMAN TRIBES.]

At the time of their first contact with the Romans, these Germanic

tribes had lost even the tradition of their Asiatic origin. They

supposed themselves to have originated upon the soil where they dwelt,

sprung either from the earth, or descended from their gods. According to

the most popular legend, the war-god Tuisko, or Tiu, had a son, Mannus

(whence the word man is derived), who was the first human parent of

the German race. Many centuries must have elapsed since their first

settlement in Europe, or they could not have so completely changed the

forms of their religion and their traditional history.

Two or three small tribes are represented, in the earliest Roman

accounts, as having crossed the Rhine and settled between the Vosges and

that river, from Strasburg to Mayence. From the latter point to Cologne

none are mentioned, whence it is conjectured that the western bank of

the Rhine was here a debatable ground, possessed sometimes by the Celts

and sometimes by the Germans. The greater part of Belgium was occupied

by the Eburones and Condrusii, Germanic tribes, to whom were afterwards

added the Aduatuci, formed out of the fragments of the Cimbrians and

Teutons who escaped the slaughters of Marius. At the mouth of the Rhine

dwelt the Batavi, the forefathers of the Dutch, and, like them, reported

to be strong, phlegmatic and stubborn, in the time of Caesar. A little

eastward, on the shore of the North Sea, dwelt the Frisii, where they

still dwell, in the province of Friesland; and beyond them, about the

mouth of the Weser, the Chauci, a kindred tribe.

What is now Westphalia was inhabited by the Sicambrians, a brave and

warlike people: the Marsi and Ampsivarii were beyond them, towards the

Hartz, and south of the latter the Ubii, once a powerful tribe, but in

Caesar's time weak and submissive. From the Weser to the Elbe, in the

north, was the land of the Cherusci; south of them the equally fierce

and indomitable Chatti, the ancestors of the modern Hessians; and still

further south, along the head-waters of the river Main, the Marcomanni.

A part of what is now Saxony was in the possession of the Hermunduri,

who together with their kindred, the Chatti, were called Suevi by the

Romans. Northward, towards the mouth of the Elbe, dwelt the Longobardi

(Lombards); beyond them, in Holstein, the Saxons; and north of the

latter, in Schleswig, the Angles.

East of the Elbe were the Semnones, who were guardians of a certain holy

place,--a grove of the Druids--where various related tribes came for

their religious festivals. North of the Semnones dwelt the Vandals, and

along the Baltic coast the Rugii, who have left their name in the island

of Ruegen. Between these and the Vistula were the Burgundiones, with a

few smaller tribes. In the extreme north-east, between the Vistula and

the point where the city of Koenigsberg now stands, was the home of the

Goths, south of whom were settled the Slavonic Sarmatians,--the same who

founded, long afterwards, the kingdom of Poland.

Bohemia was first settled by the Celtic tribe of the Boii, whence its

name--Boiheim, the home of the Boii--is derived. In Caesar's day,

however, this tribe had been driven out by the Germanic Marcomanni,

whose neighbors, the Quadi, on the Danube, were also German. Beyond the

Danube all was Celtic; the defeated Boii occupied Austria; the

Vindelici, Bavaria; while the Noric and Rhaetian Celts took possession of

the Tyrolese Alps. Switzerland was inhabited by the Helvetii, a Celtic

tribe which had been driven out of Germany; but the mountainous district

between the Rhine, the Lake of Constance and the Danube, now called the

Black Forest, seems to have had no permanent owners.

The greater part of Germany was thus in possession of Germanic tribes,

bound to each other by blood, by their common religion and their habits

of life. At this early period, their virtues and their vices were

strongly marked. They were not savages, for they knew the first

necessary arts of civilized life, and they had a fixed social and

political organization. The greater part of the territory which they

inhabited was still a wilderness. The mountain chain which extends

through Central Germany from the Main to the Elbe was called by the

Romans the Hercynian Forest. It was then a wild, savage region, the home

of the aurox (a race of wild cattle), the bear and the elk. The lower

lands to the northward of this forest were also thickly wooded and

marshy, with open pastures here and there, where the tribes settled in

small communities, kept their cattle, and cultivated the soil only

enough to supply the needs of life. They made rough roads of

communication, which could be traversed by their wagons, and the

frontiers of each tribe were usually marked by guard-houses, where all

strangers were detained until they received permission to enter the



At this early period, the Germans had no cities, or even villages. Their

places of worship, which were either groves of venerable oak-trees or

the tops of mountains, were often fortified; and when attacked in the

open country, they made a temporary defence of their wagons. They lived

in log-houses, which were surrounded by stockades spacious enough to

contain the cattle and horses belonging to the family. A few fields of

rye and barley furnished each homestead with bread and beer, but hunting

and fishing were their chief dependence. The women cultivated flax, from

which they made a coarse, strong linen: the men clothed themselves with

furs or leather. They were acquainted with the smelting and working of

iron, but valued gold and silver only for the sake of ornament. They

were fond of bright colors, of poetry and song, and were in the highest

degree hospitable.

The three principal vices of the Germans were indolence, drunkenness and

love of gaming. Although always ready for the toils and dangers of war,

they disliked to work at home. When the men assembled at night, and the

great ox-horns, filled with mead or beer, were passed from one to the

other, they rarely ceased drinking until all were intoxicated; and when

the passion for gaming came upon them, they would often stake their

dearest possessions, even their own freedom, on a throw of the dice. The

women were never present on these occasions: they ruled and regulated

their households with undisputed sway. They were considered the equals

of the men, and exhibited no less energy and courage. They were supposed

to possess the gift of prophecy, and always accompanied the men to

battle, where they took care of the wounded, and stimulated the warriors

by their shouts and songs.

They honored the institution of marriage to an extent beyond that

exhibited by any other people of the ancient world. The ceremony

consisted in the man giving a horse, or a yoke of oxen, to the woman,

who gave him arms or armor in return. Those who proved unfaithful to the

marriage vow were punished with death. The children of freemen and

slaves grew up together until the former were old enough to carry arms,

when they were separated. The slaves were divided into two classes:

those who lived under the protection of a freeman and were obliged to

perform for him a certain amount of labor, and those who were wholly

"chattels," bought and sold at will.

Each family had its own strictly regulated laws, which were sufficient

for the government of its free members, its retainers and slaves. A

number of these families formed "a district," which was generally laid

out according to natural boundaries, such as streams or hills. In some

tribes, however, the families were united in "hundreds," instead of

districts. Each of these managed its own affairs, as a little republic,

wherein each freeman had an equal voice; yet to each belonged a leader,

who was called "count" or "duke." All the districts of a tribe met

together in a "General Assembly of the People," which was always held at

the time of new or full moon. The chief priest of the tribe presided,

and each man present had the right to vote. Here questions of peace or

war, violations of right or disputes between the districts were decided,

criminals were tried, young men acknowledged as freemen and warriors,

and, in case of approaching war, a leader chosen by the people.

Alliances between the tribes, for the sake of mutual defence or

invasion, were not common, at first; but the necessity of them was soon

forced upon the Germans by the encroachments of Rome.

The gods which they worshipped represented the powers of Nature. Their

mythology was the same originally which the Scandinavians preserved, in

a slightly different form, until the tenth century of our era. The chief

deity was named Wodan, or Odin, the god of the sky, whose worship was

really that of the sun. His son, Donar, or Thunder, with his fiery beard

and huge hammer, is the Thor of the Scandinavians. The god of war, Tiu

or Tyr, was supposed to have been born from the Earth, and thus became

the ancestor of the Germanic tribes. There was also a goddess of the

earth, Hertha, who was worshipped with secret and mysterious rites. The

people had their religious festivals, at stated seasons, when

sacrifices, sometimes of human beings, were laid upon the altars of the

gods, in the sacred groves. Even after they became Christians, in the

eighth century, they retained their habit of celebrating some of these

festivals, but changed them into the Christian anniversaries of

Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide.


Thus, from all we can learn respecting them, we may say that the

Germans, during the first century before Christ, were fully prepared, by

their habits, laws, and their moral development, for a higher

civilization. They were still restless, after so many centuries of

wandering; they were fierce and fond of war, as a natural consequence of

their struggles with the neighboring races; but they had already

acquired a love for the wild land where they dwelt, they had begun to

cultivate the soil, they had purified and hallowed the family relation,

which is the basis of all good government, and finally, although slavery

existed among them, they had established equal rights for free men.

If the object of Rome had been civilization, instead of conquest and

plunder, the development of the Germans might have commenced much

earlier and produced very different results.