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The earliest descriptions of the Germans, the ancient tribes that spoke Germanic languages

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The history is known from the writings of Greek and Roman authors. The earliest paper is written by Pytheas. He lived in the second half of the 4th century B.C. Pytheas sailed much. The description of his journeys is not preserved. But something was quoted in the papers of old historians as in Titus Livy and Polybius in the second century B.C. They provided extracts from a paper of Pytheas. It was also mentioned that Old Germanic tribes raided the Hellenic countries of south-eastern Europe, Italy and Gall. In the beginning of our era the Greek historian Strabo wrote about Germans nomads. They moved from forest to forest, built houses, and were engaged in cattle bringing. The great writer Plutarch described Germans as wild nomadic tribes who had constantly been in war. They were not interested in agriculture or in cattle bringing, but only in war. The Roman general Julius Caesar devoted several chapters to the militant Germanic tribes in his “Commentaries on the war in Gall” (1044 B.C.). Caesar fought with them on the Rhine. He took two expeditions against the Germanic tribes who wanted to get hauled on some territories. The Romans defeated the Germans in both expeditions. Caesar wrote about their military tactics, described how they prepared their attacks and so on. Caesar wrote that Germans lived in tribal unions. He also gave a detailed description of the structure of their society and peculiarities of their life.

The next great historian Pliny spent many years in the Roman provinces of Low and High Germany. He was a prominent encyclopedias. He wrote a book called “Natural History”. He was the first who enumerated and classified the military tribes. It was proved by many scientists. According to Pliny there were several Germanic tribes:

  • The Vindili. They lived in the eastern part of the territory inhabited by the Germanic tribes. They consisted of the Goths,  the Burgundians and the Vandals. The Vandals first inhabited the territory between the Oder and the Vistula. Later they moved to Northern Africa through Spain. The word vandalism originated from Vandal (means Barbary).
  • The Burgundians came to the continent from the island of Bornholm. It was in the Baltic Sea. Later they moved to the west and settled in south-eastern part of France in the area called Burgundia.
  • The Goths first inhabited the lower coast of the river Vistula. Later they moved to the south and formed powerful tribal unions of Ostrogoths and Visigoths.
  • The Ingvaenoes. They lived in the north-western part of the Germanic territory. They inhabited the Jutland peninsula and the coast of the North Sea. The tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians were formed later of this group.
  • The Istaevones. They lived on the Rhine. Later they formed a very powerful tribal union of Franconians. In the early Middle Ages they were powerful group of West Germans.
  • The Herminones lived in the centre of Germany and later the German nation was formed of these tribes.
  • The Hilleviones were isolated from other Germanic tribes. They inhabited Scandinavia. Modern Scandinavian nations are the descendants of these tribes.

The Vindili spoke eastern Germanic; the Hilleviones spoke northern Germanic, the Ingvaones, Istaevones and Herminones – West Germanic.

The Roman historian Tacitus made a detailed description of the life and customs of ancient Germans. Tacitus was a prominent Roman historian. He himself had never been to Germany. Being a Roman senator he got information from military travelers, actions, etc. he also used papers written about the Germans before him. In the time of Tacitus there were constant arm conflicts between the Germans and Romans. Numerous attempts of the Roman generals to conquer the Germanic tribes failed. In the second half of the second century after a short period without wars they began their attacks again. The ancient Germans had a tribal society. In the head of each tribe there was a chief who was called ‘kuning’. Some modern place-names testify to this social structure of the Germans. The whole tribe had the name of the Chief.

 

The History of the English Language


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