- This article is about the country "Germania" and its people. For a list of German characters, see Germans (category list).
A people inhabiting the lands far to the north, Roman historians (such as Livy) described the Germanic peoples as tall, with long, powerful limbs. The Germans were divided into tribes of hundreds of thousands of people who sought to migrate to the temperate and fertile lands to the south and the west.
Some time in the late 2nd century B.C., three Germanic tribes, the Teutones, Cimbri, and Ambrones, began a migration southward from the Germanic homeland around the Baltic Sea. By 113 B.C. they had reached the Danube valley and entered land occupied by the Taurisci, a Gallic tribe allied to Rome. The Taurisci appealed to Rome for aid, and an army under the command of the consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo was dispatched. The Teutones, Cimbri, and Ambrones apparently initially agreed to leave the land of the Taurisci, but Carbo attempted to ambush and destroy them nonetheless. Alerted to the planned Roman attack, the Germanic tribes turned the tables on Carbo, destroying his army in the Battle of Noreia in 112 B.C.
The victorious Germanic tribes then entered into Gaul, defeating the local tribes and two consular armies attempting to aid allied Gallic tribes, one under Marcus Junius Silanus in 109 B.C., and the other under Lucius Cassius Longinus in 107 B.C. In 105 B.C., consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus led two Roman armies totaling approximately 80,000 men against the Germanic tribes and was utterly defeated. With large numbers of Roman soldiers still in Numidia chasing Jugurtha, Rome found itself without an army between Rome and the hundreds of thousands of German tribesmen on the other side of the Alps.
In this emergency, Gaius Marius was re-elected consul in absentia, despite laws forbidding any man from standing for consul twice in ten years, and recalled from Africa to build an army to face the Germans. Given carte blanche, Marius finalized the reforms to the Roman army he had commenced against Jugurtha, and rebuilt the Roman legion as a professional, disciplined force uniformly equipped and drilled and completely loyal to itslegate. These reforms proved successful against the Germans, but fatally destabilized the Republic by divorcing the loyalty of the legions from either the Senate or people of Rome. The foundation of the First Civil War between the adherents of Marius and Sulla thus lay in the Roman wars against the German tribes.
In the face of the crisis, Marius was then re-elected consul in each of the next four years, holding the office from 104 through 100 B.C. in order to prosecute the war. Marius defeated the Teutones and Ambrones at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 B.C., and the Cimbri at the Battle of Vercellae in 101 B.C. Marius saved Rome from the Germanic tribes, but the constitutional restraints on the powers of the consul were in tatters. The Germanic survivors either fled back towards the Rhineland, where Julius Caesar claimed to have encountered their descendants in his later campaigns, or were enslaved by the Romans.
The Cimbri War alerted the Romans to the menace of the Germanic tribes, but no further direct action against them was attempted prior to the campaigns of Julius Caesar in Gaul after the Third Servile War, since Gallic tribes served as a buffer, and the Germans themselves were too poor to make conquest attractive.
Having defeated the Teutones and Cimbri under Marius, Romans generally had disdain for the Germans, whom they considered filthy and barbaric, but some Romans remembered the ferocity of their attacks and viewed the Germans as "noble savages" embodying a primitive valor and morality similar to that which the Romans attributed to their own ancestors. These latter Romans viewed the Germans as lacking the moral corruption and degeneracy of the late Roman Republic. They reminded their readers that the Romans had been a similarly militant people who had eschewed the luxuries of the effeminate Greeks and Asians before the Romans had conquered and plundered the wealth of the Mediterranean world.
The Germanic and Gaulic peoples shared a mutal enmity for each other, as the German tribes would trespass and invade Gallic territory. In season 2, one of Spartacus' greatest challenges is to convince the Gauls (led by Crixus) and the Germans (led by Agron) that they are on the same side as slaves fighting against Roman cruelty.
The German people operated in a separate clan based system (called a "Sibbe" in the reconstructed Proto-Germanic language) and had some form of pagan polytheistic religion, featuring deities such as Wotan (a cognate of the Norse Odin), Donar (Thor), Zié (Týr), Frea (Freyja) Frijjō (Frigg), Volla (Fulla), Frö (Freyr), Wulþuz (Ullr), Mâne (Máni), Sunna (Sun), Wurdis (Urd), Haljō (Hel), Nehalennia and Nerthuz.
Tribal confederations, such as the Suebi, the Cherusci and the Marcomanni, were led by powerful warrior-kings known as Druhtinaz, which is derived from Druhti, a term for a large warrior-band. Such historical figures as the Suebi Ariovistus (died after the Battle of Vosges in 58 BCE), the Cherusci Arminius (the victor of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE) and the Marcomanni king Maroboduus (died in 37 CE) may have held that title.. A war-like people, who often engage in sport of grappling, as well as a certain "sword-dance" similar to the kind practiced by Scottish Highlanders centuries later, for friendly competition among kinsmen. One of the most prominent cultural animals found among the German culture is the Black Wolf (Fenrir), which represents a servant of death (the gods Wotan & Haljō).
Tacitus says that the Germans are mainly content with one wife, except for a few political marriages, and specifically and explicitly compares this practice favorably to other barbarian cultures, perhaps since monogamy was a shared value between Roman and Germanic cultures.
Germania was inhabited by different tribes, the vast majority Germanic but also including some Celtic, Baltic, Scythian, and proto-Slavic peoples. The tribal and ethnic makeup changed over the centuries as a result of assimilation and, most importantly, migrations. The Germanic people spoke several different dialects.
Classical records show little about the people who inhabited the north of Europe before the 2nd century BC. In the 5th century BC, the Greeks were aware of a group they called Celts (Keltoi). Herodotus also mentioned the Scythians but no other tribes. At around 320 BC, Pytheas of Massalia sailed around Britain and along the northern coast of Europe, and what he found on his journeys was so strange that later writers refused to believe him. He may have been the first Mediterranean to distinguish the Germanic people from the Celts. Contact between German tribes and the Roman Empire did take place and was not always hostile. Recent excavations of the Waldgirmes Forum show signs that a civilian Roman town was established there, which has been interpreted to mean that Romans and Germanic tribesmen were living in peace, at least for a while.
Caesar described the cultural differences between the Germanic tribesmen, the Romans, and the Gauls. He said that the Gauls, although warlike, could be civilized, but the Germanic tribesmen were far more savage and were a threat to Roman Gaul and so had to be conquered. His accounts of barbaric northern tribes could be described as an expression of the superiority of Rome, including Roman Gaul. Caesar's accounts portray the Roman fear of the Germanic tribes and the threat they posed. The perceived menace of the Germanic tribesmen proved accurate. The most complete account of Germania that has been preserved from Roman times is Tacitus' Germania.
The occupied Lesser Germania was divided into two provinces: Germania Inferior (Lower Germania) (approximately corresponding to the southern part of the present-day Low Countries) and Germania Superior (Upper Germania) (approximately corresponding to present-day Switzerland and Alsace).
The Romans under Augustus began to conquer and defeat the peoples of Germania Magna in 12 BC, having the Legati (generals) Germanicus and Tiberius leading the Legions. By AD 6, all of Germania up to the River Elbe was temporarily pacified by the Romans as well as being occupied by them. The Roman plan to complete the conquest and incorporate all of Magna Germania into the Roman Empire was frustrated when Rome was defeated by the German tribesmen in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Augustus then ordered Roman withdrawal from Magna Germania (completed by AD 16) and established the boundary of the Roman Empire as being the Rhine and the Danube.