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Germanic tribes

Who were the »Germanic tribes«?

The Germanic people appeared for the first time in history in the 2nd Century BC. They were described by their Celtic neighbours as tribes coming from the north and the east. Even Caesar’s knowledge at the time of the »Gallic War« is partly based on information provided by a Celtic Druid.

The name, which is a component of a Germanic tribe’s name, was apparently taken up and generalised by the Gauls and later by the Romans. However, the Germanic people themselves only used the names of the particular ethnic groups and did not see themselves as a unit. Their history was always the history of their own individual tribe.  
In the time of the conquest of Gaul by Caesar in the 1st century BC the Romans repeatedly came in touch with the Germanic tribes. They attacked several times towards the south and proved themselves to be serious opponents. Repeatedly, Caesar was able to force them to retreat. Hereby the river Rhine turned out to be not only a geographical border, but also an increasingly important political one.  
Smaller Germanic groups existed in the area west of the river Rhine. They were called the »germani cisrhenani«. The largest group was the Eburones. The main Germanic settlements however were situated along  the area east of the Rhine up to the North Sea, to Scandinavia, to the Baltic Sea and finally to Bohemia and Moravia. The tribes living here can be divided into larger cultural groups, based on their cultural heritage. These are, for example, the North-Sea-Germanic people, the Rhine-Weser-Germanic people or the Elbe-Germanic people. Within the Germanic tribes warlike conflicts often arose. There were no signs of collective, political cooperation or target-oriented approaches against non-Germanic people. However, they caused diffuse anxiety in the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC and AD because attacks from the northern tribes had resulted in numerous defeats.

Former inhabitants from Kalkriese

The area around Kalkriese was already inhabited by wandering hunters and later by farming settlers since the Stone Age, at the end of the third millennium BC.  This is proven by finds from the hunters’ campgrounds and especially from graves. The indications are rather sparse and it is not known if the area was permanently inhabited.
However, traces of residential buildings dating back to the Pre-Roman Iron Age and the Early Roman Imperial Era were found here. The remains of the Germanic settlements were situated on the hillside. There, the sandy ground was dry enough to build houses. Little brooks and wells in the nearby lowland provided the necessary water supply. There was enough fertile farmland. The remnants of houses were in an oval and later in a rectangular shape. They had a double-span interior. It was mainly the dark traces of the support logs in the light, sandy soil which remained. Similar houses existed at that time in today’s Westphalia and the Netherlands. Small rectangular structures of pillars indicate that there might have been storehouses which belonged to the residential houses.

At the time of the Varus Battle, at the beginning of the 1st century AD, the Germanic tribes lived in the region between the rivers Elbe and Weser in loose village-like settlements. These consisted of dispersed, single farmsteads. They were a lot different to today’s densely built-up villages.

A Germanic farmstead was composed of a rectangular residential house, as mentioned above, where humans and animals lived in separated areas. In addition to this, there were various storehouses and adjoining buildings. The arable farm land, the areas used for animal litter and wintertime forage, and the woodland used both as a close and night-time pasture were situated nearby. During the day, the cattle would graze further away at the edge of the forest.

There are not many finds which could provide information about the Later Roman Imperial Era, the Migration Period and the Early Middle Ages. Obviously, only a few people settled in and around Kalkriese during that time. The area might even have been temporarily unpopulated. An increased number of finds indicate that further settlements have existed in the High Middle Ages. They are also mentioned in source material and characterise the settlement on the northern slopes of the Wiehen Mountains down to the present day.