This article briefly surveys the racial and cultural history of the early Teutonic
people in a manner paralleling our previous treatment of the Celt. As is well known, the Germans came under the scrutiny
of history rather late. By the time the first pulse of activity can be detected Greece was already in decline and Rome
quite past her apogee. Our study begins not on the threshold of history but well within the door.
As before, we begin with language to show the differences and resemblances of German to
kindred Aryan tongues. German is distinguished by a number of unusual consonant transformations. It converts the
f or ph sound into b. The Latin fero (ferry) and frater (as in fraternal) find
their equivalent in bear (carry) and Bruder (brother). Another shift takes the hard k sound
to h. Contrast Latin canus (dog) and cardiacus (as in cardiac) to Germanic Hund
(hound) and Herz (heart). These phonetic mutations are known as Grimm's laws after their famous discoverer.
The relationship between Germans and other Aryans is evident in
another way. The class name which Germans apply to themselves - Teuton - exists also in Celtic which uses tuath
to signify tribe or folk. The word "German" itself has an interesting etymology. Strabo, the
Greek geographer of the first century A.D., suggested the name meant "of the same parentage" (from Latin
germen: offspring, seed). By this he implied the Germans were racially unmixed.
The people who surrounded the ancient Germans and spoke unfamiliar Aryan dialects were all baptizsed Waelsch (strangers).
The Saxons meeting Celts in England called them "Welsh". The root of this word appears in Flanders as "Walloon"
and in Transylvania as "Walach" or "Vlach". It was applied to Gaulish-colonists, the Volcae
Tectosages, who lived on the right bank of the Rhine. Thus, were we completely ignorant of German migrations, we
could reconstruct some of the movements by marking on a map all the various non Teutonic peoples who received their present
names from German invaders.
Turning now to anthropology, we can say
that whatever the condition of the Germans today, the Classic writers were unhesitating and almost unanimous in describing
them as Nordics. (Editor's note: the white race is generally broken down into three classes, the Nordic,
the Alpine and the Mediterranean). Our best authority for the first century AD is Tacitus, Rome's leading expert
on barbarians. He reported our subjects to be reddish-haired, blue-eyed, and tall. More or less contemporaneous
with him was the poet, Silius Italicus, who described the Teutonic tribe of Batavians as yellow-haired. Another poet,
Lucan, nephew of the famed Seneca, writes of fair-haired Suebians (Swabians). Plutarch, the Greco-Roman biographer,
states the Cimbri and Teutones were tall and grey-eyed. Suetonius implies the Germans were red-haired when he comments
that the Celts had to dye their hair red to resemble Germans.
In the 4th century, Claudian calls the Sygambri "blondes". This Germanic nation was first mentioned by Caesar
Ammianus Marcellinus, who came a little before Claudian, is the only one to raise questions in our minds on this testimony.
He recounts how a Roman cavalry troop surprised a band of Alamanni bathing in a stream and coloring their hair red.
This may mean either that all Germans were not fair or that these particular tribesmen were merely acentuating a blondeness
already theirs. This last possibility was certainly the case for the Nordic Celts, according to Diodorus, who we quoted
in our previous essay. We may likewise assume here that the blonde Germans were improving a bit on nature. Besides
Marcellinus, Tacitus gives us instances of one individual reddening his hair. This was Civilis, the Batavian rebel,
who did so to celebrate victory over the Roman army. The usual source on the customs and locations of the German tribes
is the Germania of Tacitus composed about 98 A.D.. The work suffers from a slight defect in that Tacitus was
a great believer in the "Noble Savage" concept as moral propaganda. He painted an excessively idyllic picture of
the Teutons in the vain hope of stimulating a return to decency on the part of his Roman readers. If his Northern barbarians
appear to be reservoirs of virtue, it is not because they are angels but because they stand in contrast to Romans.
The chief gods of Germany were Wodan, Donnar and Tiu, the equivaltents of Mercury, Hercules
and Mars in the Roman pantheon. They are easily recognized as the Scandinavian Odin, Thor and Tyr respectively.
Certain coastal tribes, ancestral to the Anglo-Saxons, worshipped Nerthus (Mother Earth) in a sacred grove on an island.
This fertility goddess was probably an immigrant from a warmer climate who became popular as agriculture grew in importance.
Legends indicate that Nerthus (Scandinavian Njorth) and her twins Frey and Freya, were treated
with considerable hostility by the older Nordic divinities. Such cult rivalries always occur when a conservative people
encounter a new religion.
Tacitus believed the Germans were untainted
by intermarriage with other nations, and referred to the remarkable uniformity of the Teutons. A later passage accuses
the Peucini (Bastarnae) of mixing with Sarmatians (semi-Mongols) and so acquiring disharmonious features. This tribe,
however, occupied a racial frontier.
The government of the
Teutons was exercised by hereditary kings or war leaders who were picked for valor. On major affairs the entire community
assembled for debate. Land was held by the freemen in common, and redistributed frequently to prevent warriors from
becoming peasants. Hunting and banqueting made the infrequent intervals of peace endurable. Monogamy was universal
though chiefs took extra wives as a means of cementing diplomatic ties. Women did farming, slaves were kept but not
in households, and were treated more like serfs who paid their masters a fixed portion of their crops. Incorruptible
chastity marked the young of both sexes. Vice was not held to be sophisticated and good morality was found more effective
than good laws. Aryan cremation was practiced. Swamps and forests made the home territory almost impenetrable
to invaders, as more than one Roman general learned to his regret.
level of the Teuton was perceptibly beneath that of the Celt. Gaulish soldiers were equipped 400 B.C. with huge two-handed
swords for their Roman expeditions. Five hundred years later, Tacitus was able to say that the Germans made sparing
use of metal helmets and body armour and had no abundance of iron.
Of the many tribes pin-pointed in Germania, we can devote space to only a few. The powerful Chatti were along
the Rhine and stretched back to the Weser. They centered perhaps near Kassel. One of their hordes were the Batavi
on the mouth of the Rhine near present-day Rotterdam. The Frisii held the North Sea coast to the outlet of the Ems.
East of the Ems were the Chauci who reached as far as the Elbe. To the south between the Chatti and the Chauci were
the Cherusci in the region of Hanover. On the Danish coast we have the Cimbri. South of them, but east of the
Elbe begins the Suebic confederacy which made up half of Germany. Swabia gets its name from these people.
Most important of the Suebi were the Semmones who can be located around Berlin and who perhaps extend to the Oder. Nearby
were the Langobards (Long-Beards) whose migration into Italy gave the province of Lombardy its name and much Nordic blood.
Going east again, but this time along the Danube, we come to the Hermunduri, then the Marcomanni
("Men of the Marches" or "Frontier Men") who expelled the Celts from Bohemia. Alongside them, in
Moravia, were the Quadi. North of the Carpathians lived the Lugii and still further north the Gothones (Goths). On
the Baltic were the Rugii and Lemovii. Suebia ends and Tacitus hesitates to classify the remaining occupants of West
Poland. The Venedi, Fenni and Aestii have names suggesting Slavic or Uralian affinities. The Sarmatians were also
non-Teutonic and will have to be considered in another essay.
Germany was a vast forest but apparently it was not roomy enough for the rapidly multiplying Teutons. The history of
the German is something like an oceanographer's almanac -- recording an endless tide of people washing up with
an irresistible violence on the breakwaters of civilization. From the mouth of the Rhine to the mountains of Caucasia
came wave after wave of a human flood which eroded away an empire and left in its wake the German as the active principle
of history. It is not an unwelcome change when a senile civilization gives way to a newer and healthier society.
Still, it is hard to remain unmoved watching the last tortured days of an empire which outlived its majesty.
Our summary can touch only a few episodes occurring in the bleak interregnum between Latin rule
and German rule, yet these will illustrate adequately, we hope, that Teutonic dynamism which was responsible for the racial
transformation of Europe.
The tale begins in the year of 113 B.C..
Out of the Cimbric (Danish) penninsula flowed two nations seeking plunder and new homes -- the Cimbri and Teutones.
For ten years they wandered over the face of Europe. From Spain to Serbia, from Belgium to the Alps, ravaged fields
and devastated communities marked their passage. The only challenge to German conquests were the occasional consular
armies encountered in Roman protectorates. After routing several such armies, the barbarians conceived a plan of invading
Rome was in panic. The rumors of Germanic strength
were not exaggerated. The invaders could claim 300,000 effective fighting men, a number doubtless reached by recruiting
the young men of defeated nations. But Rome also had her resources. Caius Marius, a brilliant leader fresh from
African triumphs, rushed north to intercept the danger. The Cimbri and Teutones were too numberous to forage the land
together so they separated and approached the Alps from different locations. The Roman armies were also divided, the
strongest contingent hastening up the Rhone to meet the Teutones as Aix. It was near this area the battle was fought.
Marius wisely deferred the engagement until his men had grown accustomed to the sight and numbers of the enemy. He first
destroyed the Ambrones (Ambarii), a crack corps probably composed of Celtic shock troops. Then came the defeat of the
Teutones, over 100,000 men being taken prisoner or slain. The German women also fought, cutting down their countrymen
who fled the field and exposing themselves to wounds to escape hated slavery.
The Cimbri had meanwhile crossed the Brenner Pass. They showed their contempt for the Romans by going naked over the
Alpine snows. An army waiting for them in Piedmont was scattered in one sharp encounter. Marius now joined to
his forces these disorganized units and confronted the Cimbri at Vercellae. Though the Germans were tied to each other
by chains to keep from breaking ranks, the Roman impact pierced their lines and 120,000 men were slain. Half that number
were taken prisoner. The women left in the wagon camp slew their children and committed suicide. This, then, was
the opening chapter of German history, a national disaster which extinguished two nations on the points of fifty thousand
The above account, largely drawn from Plutarch (Caius
Marius), has for us the significant information that the king of the Cimbri was Boiirix (Boiirex). This name translates
to "King of the Boii" -- a Celtic nation. We are obviously dealing here with a Celtic prince.
Nor is this an isolated instance. According to the annonymous Saxon Chronicle of the 9th century, the West Saxon monarchy
in England was established by a landing of troops under Cerdic in 495 A.D.. Cerdic, of course, is a purely Celtic name.
We must remember that the long-standing antipathy between Celt and Teuton has no racial basis and in the past never stood
in the way of a candidate for military honors. Geman soldiers, as our examples attest, freely elected non-Teutons to
the supreme positions of responsibility. It would profit modern Europe to recall this ancient bond of trust.
Half a century after the Teuto-Cimbric debacle we come to Julius Caesar's excursions
into Gaul. The task calling him from Rome was the attempt of a Suebian king to annex a large part of Celtica to his
dominions. Caesar eliminated this threat and in the process brought to our attention an additional German nation,
the Belgae, situated north of the Seine and Marne. These people claimed German descent. They were the fiercest
soldiers in Gaul and were the only ones who successfully resisted the Teuto-Cimbri menace. Caesar attributed their martial
vigor to the great distance which separated them from the enervating luxuries to the south. They were a sober people
who drove Roman wine merchants from their villages.
nephew of the great Julius, launched a determined expedition into Germany to permanently pacify the region. This led
to the complete defeat at Teutoberg Wald. The Cherusci under Aminius (Herman) ambushed three legions in the swamps
and forests of Germany and earned undying glory as the saviors of Teutonic independence. Three centuries after this event
a new confederation was formed by the tribes inhabiting the lower Rhine, Westphalia, Hesse and Brunswick.
They called themselves Franks (Freemen). One component of the confederacy were the descendants of the heroic
Cherusci. This made the naming of the Franks (Frank=Freemen) appropriate indeed!
The major problem of Rome, so far as the Danube frontier was concerned, were the Goths.
We have their history from Jordanes, a Gothic cleric and copyist, who in approximately 550 A.D. abstracted much valuable material
from a lost Gothic history by Cassiodorus. The Goths, so their tradition runs, departed from Scandinavia in three vessels
and settled in East Prussia.
This is where Tacitus put them in the 1st
century. The men on the third ship, because they were slowest to land, were called the Gepids (The Loiterers).
A gradual migration, following the rivers of Poland, carried the Goths into South Russia. About 250 A.D., they crossed
into Roman Moesia (Bulgaria) where Emperor Decius slaughtered huge numbers of them until in the final combat he perished himself.
The next two decades were spent in expeditions along the Black Sea coast of Turkey and against the Greek mainland. Though
Rome was torn by internal dissensions and her armies wer in constant state of mutiny, she was fortunate to successively elevate
to the throne two strong emperors, Claudius II and Marus Aurelius, both of barbarian stock. Suffering repeated defeats
from these men, the Goths were pleased to accept a generous truce which ceded to them Dacia (Hungary, Transylvania, Rumania),
a trans-Danubian province which a declining Rome could no longer hope to hold.
This peace lasted one hundred years. When next we hear of the Goths they were Christian converts with a Bible of their
own. Bishop Ulfilas, of Anatolian extraction, being descended from slaves taken during one of the Goth's naval sorties,
composed the first book written in a Germanic language.
was a curiously censored work in that it omitted the more blood-thirsty chapters of the Old Testament. Ulfilas considered
his people already much too fond of war to give them a literary stimulus in that direction. The gradual Romanisation
of the Goths ended with the eruption of the Huns (c. 375). This Tartar horde, according to German legend, originated as a
result of exiled Gothic witches mating with unclean spirits in the barren wastes of Scythia. The strange nationalities
of Asia were like frightful demons to the superstitious Germans. When the Huns overran the Ostrogothic armies, Hermanric,
their king, committed suicide. As a consequence of Hunnish victories, the Ostrogoths and many other Teutonic tribes
were subjects of Asiatic conquerors for eighty years.
a portion of the Ostrogoths petitioned Valens, Emperor of the East, to grant them sanctuary on Roman soil. This
arrangement did not work out well since the German refugees were exposed to petty officials who exploited their official position.
War broke out almost immediately, which led to the battle of Hadrianopolis (378 A.D.). The impetuous Valens was crushed, losing
his life and two-thirds of his army.
The victory led to nothing since
the Goths were ignorant of siege warfare and could not capture cities. Terms were made, but Roman history from this
point on deteriorated into a contest between various Teutonic factions, some seeking to destroy Rome, others protecting it
in the capacity of mercenaries. Alaric, a Visigothic chieftain, belonged to the first group.
While in the employ of the Byzantine army, he had the opportunity to campaign in the West
and witness for himself the lamentable weakness of Rome, and he developed a passion to conquer the world captial perhaps to
live up to his name (Alaric: All-reik, King of all). Frustrating his ambitions was Stilicho, a Vandal prince in command
of the Roman defences. Alaric was kept at bay until the Roman Court ordered the assassination of their brilliant commander.
With him died Rome's last hope, for Alaric immediately marched south again to blockade the city. Gothic soldiers entered
the capital in 410 A.D., the first hostile troops to do so in eight centuries. The early history of the Teuton ends
here, for with the falll of Rome, the fulcrum of European power shifted to the Germanic nations. Our modern era now
This summary would not be complete without mention of the
Anglo-Saxons. A generation after Alaric's death, some nondescript tribes known centuries ago to Tacitus as the Eudoses
(Jutes), the Anglii, and the Frisii, evacuated their North Sea homelands and established themselves in England. The
Saxons, a new confederacy, also took part in this enterprise. Legend tells us the two leaders of one of the early expedtions
were Hengist and Horsa who came to Britain to aid a native king against marauding Picts. I has been supposed by some
that this story is fictional because their names translate to Stallion and Mare. It may be that the scholars in
question (like Lord Raglan) are too skeptical, for we must remember that Teutonic warriors often bore animal names (Wulf,
Hind, Baer, Loewe, Hirsch). In any case, even if the names of the captains were in doubt, the names of the tribes are
not. "England" and "East Anglia" preserve for us the memory of the Anglii, while the counties of
Sussex and Essex call to mind the Saxons (South and East Saxons).
We have made it a practice to end these essays with an appreciation of the people under discussion. This has been easy
for the Greek, Roman and the Celt. With the Teuton our task is more difficult. The Germans started on the road
of civilization too late to contribute very much to its early building.
Later ages were to know the genius of this people in the sciences and arts but we cannot carry our history that far.
Yet the early Teuton was not without his gifts. The love of liberty and the unregimented mind are peculiarly Teutonic traits.
The great Constitutional Monarchies and the moving force of Protestantism were born in the North and received their highest
developments in that region. Teutonic lands have known Tyranny, of course, since folly is universal, but the feeling
is alwys there, and largely justified by history, that the Germanic peoples are more impatient of cruel despotism than other
The Teuton has been responsible for another aspect of European
life -- the stern morality that characterized so many different periods. The Roman annalists never wearied of praising
the puritan ideals of the Germans. Saint Augustine wrote that the Carthage of his time roared with the furnaces of unholy
love. After the Vandal army of Genseric occupied Carthage all that came to an end. However much the people might
bewail their subjugation, they at least could be thankful for the cleansing of the soul. The Vandals firmly routed out
the depraved vices of the Africans.
St. Salvian of Marseilles, born
about the year Rome fell, believed that spiritual degeneracy was the cause of the Empire's disintegration. He admired
the Teutons for the opposite trait, for the all too rare moral strength and social decency which is the true foundation of
civilization. He wrote (The Government of God): "The Barbarians, meanwhile, heathens and heretics though
they be, and however fierce towards us, are just and fair in their own dealings with one another. The men of the same
clan, follow the same king, love one another with true affection. The impurities of the theatre are unknown amongst
them. Many of their tribes are free from the taint of drunkenness, and among all, except the Alans and Huns, chasity
if the rule." (We may add that the Alans and the Huns were not Teutonic nations!).
The words of this good Saint strike an appropriate tone on which to conclude our article.
Let the people of North Europe remember their ancient affection and the future of Europe is assured.
Editor's Final Word: The practice of dying one's hair red
may have originated as a tribute to Thor/Donnar who was said to have red hair. The old pagan religions all were
basically a form of ancestor worship, or more accurately, hero worship. The Gods and Goddesses were in reality heroes
and heroines that became deified over time, their exploits and heroics exaggerated by the retelling of their deeds.