1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > History of Germany - Conferation of Tribes

(Part 20)


Conferation of Tribes

The experience of the Germans in contending with the Romans taught them the necessity of some measure of union; and from the third century we hear no longer of the individual tribes which had before been famous, but of groups or confederations, each forming, for purposes of attack and defence, a single state. The Goths were one of the most important of these groups. They included many of the tribes in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Germany, such as the Vandals, the Burgundians, and the Heruli. Next to them, in the order in which they appear in history, were the Alemanni, a confederation made up of several Suevic tribes. They held the Rhine country in the neighbourhood of the Main, and were continually pushing southwards and eastwards in the hope of securing Roman lands and towns. To the north of them, on both banks of the Rhine as far as the sea, were the Franks; and to the east of the Franks, the Frisians and Saxons. The Thuringians, descendants of the Hermunduri, inhabited the Thuringian Forest and the surrounding country.

The Goths were the first of these confederations to found a great kingdom; in the 4th century their lands stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. This vast state was broken up by the Huns, who poured in immense hordes from the Asiatic stepped into Europe. Urged forward by so tremendous a force, the Burgundians, the Vandals, and many of the Suevi wandered westwards early in the 5th century in search of new homes; and the Burgundians soon conquered from the Romans the whole of the valley of the Rhone, in which they thenceforth settled. The Vandals and the Suevi went on to Spain, the latter remaining there, but the former crossing over the Africa, where they maintained an independent kingdom for upwards of a century. Meanwhile, in a portion of Rhaetia a new confederation had been forming itself, the Bavarians, who were probably in part descendants of the Marcomanni and also included some of the bands which had been driven westwards by the Huns. When the latter had settled themselves in the Gothic lands, the East Goths continued subject to them; but the West Goths crossed the Danube into Roman territory, and afterwards, under their bold chief Alaric, penetrated into Italy and seized Rome itself. In the 5th century they conquered the souther part of Gaul, and nearly the whole of Spain, shutting up the Suevi, who had preceded them, in the small part of the peninsula which now forms Portugal. In the great battle with Attila, in which the destinies of civilization were decided, they fought by the side of the Romans; and it was chiefly owing to their valour that he was forced to retreat. After his fall and the consequent disruption of his kingdom, Odoacer, the chief of the Heruli, became lord of Italy, and his authority was recognized beyond the Alps as far as Bavareia. Theodoric, the East Goth, displaced him; and to Theodoric, too, the Bavarians yielded some kind of submission. None of the German kings who planted themselves on Roman soil displayed higher statesmanship than this great sovereign; but his kingdom was built on too narrow foundations, and after his death soon gave way. The Lombards, who succeeded the East Goths in Italy, were not so brilliantly successful, but their power was more enduring.

While these migrations were going on, great changes took place in the mother country. The Slavs, the last of the Aryan family to enter Europe, and at that time a listless and indolent race, having been stirred up by the terrific onslaughts of the Huns, had followed the general impulse towards the west. Finding many German lands vacant, they took possession of them; and so numerous were their incursions that in the 5th century the Elbe and the Saale became the eastern boundaries of Germany. Within Germany itself the confederations had greatly extended their lands. The Alemanni held both banks of the Rhine at the points where it is joined by the Moselle and the Main, and reached far into what is now Switzerland. The Thuiringians had pushed down as far as the Danube, and penetrated northwards and westwards along the Elbe and towards the Weser. The basins of the Elbe and the Weser were in the hands of the Saxons, and the Bavarians steadily advanced in and around the valley of the Inn.

More important than any of these groups were the Franks, whose destiny it was to found the German and the French kingdom. They were remarkable for the comparatively friendly terms on which they lived with the Romans, in whose armies many of them served, and by whose side they fought the Alemanni, the West Goths, and the Burgundians. This alliance did not however, prevent them from enriching themselves, whenever they had an opportunity, at the expense of the Romans, who were repeatedly compelled to turn against them and drive them back. The Franks who lived to the east and the west of the Rhine were called Ripuarian s; those at the mouth of the Rhine and along the western shores of the North Sea were known as Salians,—both of them names whose origin is still uncertain. One consequence of the relation of the Franks to the Romans was that the kingly authority soon became higher among them than among other Germans. The Salic code, which probably belongs to the middle of the 5th century, shows us the Salian king as in all respects the centre of his state. He was not then elected, but inherited his rights; and the only nobility which existed was that belonging to his officers and followers. The state was divided into "gaus," presided over by grafs or counts, whose duty was to administer the laws emanating form him, and to execute the sentences of his tribunal. There were still, however, popular assemblies, without whose sanction the king could not undertake any national enterprise.

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