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German Tribes

The Germanic peoples are a group of peoples, who are identified by their use of the Germanic languages. The early Germanic tribes are assumed to have spoken mutually intelligible dialects.

The Germanic tribes inhabited the area known by the Romans as Germania, which roughly corresponded to modern-day Germany, the Netherlands, parts of Belgium, Poland, and southern Scandinavia. Though on various occassions incursions were made into Gaul, and some even made it as far as Hispania.

Rome first collided with the Germanic tribes by the late 2nd century BC, when Rome incorporated Celtic societies beyond the Alps.


In early Germanic society, the free men of property each ruled their own estate and were subject to the king directly. The main element uniting a Germanic society was kingship. Kingship was originally a sacral institution combining the functions of military leader, high priest, lawmaker and judge. Germanic monarchy was elective. The king was elected by the free men from among eligible candidates of a family.


Free women did not have a political station of their own but inherited the rank of their father if unmarried, or their husband if married.


All freemen had the right to participate in general assemblies or things, where disputes between freemen were addressed according to customary law.


Germanic tribes focused on raids. The purpose of these was generally not to gain territory, but rather to capture resources and secure prestige. These raids were conducted by irregular troops, often formed along family or village lines. Leaders of unusual personal magnetism could gather more soldiers for longer periods, but there was no systematic method of gathering and training men, so the death of a charismatic leader could mean the destruction of an army.

Though often defeated by the Romans, the Germanic tribes were remembered in Roman records as fierce combatants, whose main downfall was that they failed to join together into a collective fighting force under a unified command, which allowed the Roman Empire to employ a divide and conquer strategy against them. On occasions when the Germanic tribes worked together, the results were impressive.



Germanic settlements were typically small, rarely containing much more than ten households, often less, and were usually located at clearings in the wood. Settlements remained of a fairly constant size throughout the period. The buildings in these villages varied in form, but normally consisted of farmhouses surrounded by smaller buildings such as granaries and other storage rooms. The universal building material was timber. Cattle and humans usually lived together in the same house.

Important small-scale industries in settlements were weaving, the manual production of basic pottery, and more rarely the fabrication of iron tools, especially weapons.


The Germans practiced both agriculture and husbandry. The fields were tilled with a light-weight wooden ard, although heavier models also existed in some areas. Husbandry was extremely important both as a source of dairy products and as a basis for wealth and social status. The social status of an individual was measured by the size of his herd.


The diet consisted mainly of the products of farming and husbandry and was supplied by hunting to a very modest extent. Barley and wheat were the most common agricultural products and were used for baking a certain flat type of bread.


Common clothing included woolen garments and brooches for women and trousers and leather caps for men.


Germanic religion was polytheistic and took various forms in different areas of the Germanic world. Many of the Germanic deities appeared under similar names across the Germanic peoples.

The Germanic tribes had no seperate priestly class, though divination and augury was a common practice. However, they did have female seeresses and herbalists.

Across the Germanic world, there was some variation in the places where they worshipped, however, it was common for sites displaying prominent natural features to be used, particularly in sacred woods and groves.