Germanic peoples, Early Iron Age

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Summary

The Germanic peoples (also called Teutonic, Suebian or Gothic in older literature) are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic starting during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

Details

Archeological evidence suggests a relatively uniform Germanic people were located at about 750 BCE from the Netherlands to the Vistula and Southern Scandinavia. In the west the coastal floodplains were populated for the first time, since in adjacent higher grounds the population had increased and the soil became exhausted. At about 250 BCE, some expansion to the south had occurred and five general groups can be distinguished: North Germanic in southern Scandinavia, excluding Jutland; North Sea Germanic, along the North Sea and in Jutland; Rhine-Weser Germanic, along the middle Rhine and Weser; Elbe Germanic, along the middle Elbe; and East Germanic, between the middle Oder and the Vistula. This concurs with linguistic evidence pointing at the development of five linguistic groups, mutually linked into sets of two to four groups that shared linguistic innovations.

This period witnessed the advent of Celtic culture of Hallstatt and La Tene signature in previous Northern Bronze Age territory, especially to the western extends. However, some proposals suggest this Celtic superstrate was weak, while the general view in the Netherlands holds that this Celtic influence did not involve intrusions at all and assume fashion and a local development from Bronze Age culture. It is generally accepted that such a Celtic superstratum was virtually absent to the East, featuring the Germanic Wessenstedt and Jastorf cultures. The Celtic influence and contacts between Gaulish and early Germanic culture along the Rhine is assumed as the source of a number of Celtic loanwords in Proto-Germanic.

Frankenstein and Rowlands (1978), and Wells (1980) have suggested late Hallstatt trade contact to be a direct catalyst for the development of an elite class that came into existence around northeastern France, the Middle Rhine region, and adjacent Alpine regions (Collis 1984:41), culminating to new cultural developments and the advent of the classical Gaulish La Tene Culture The development of La Tene culture extended to the north around 200 to 150 BCE, including the North German Plain, Denmark and Southern Scandinavia:

In certain cremation graves, situated at some distance from other graves, Celtic metalwork appears: brooches and swords, together with wagons, Roman cauldrons and drinking vessels. The area of these rich graves is the same as the places where later (the 1st century CE) princely graves are found. A ruling class seems to have emerged, distinguished by the possession of large farms and rich gravegifts such as weapons for the men and silver objects for the women, imported earthenware and Celtic items.

The first Germani in Roman ethnography cannot be clearly identified as either Germanic or Celtic in the modern ethno-linguistic sense, and it has been generally held the traditional clear cut division along the Rhine between both ethnic groups was primarily motivated by Roman politics. Caesar described the Eburones as a Germanic tribe on the Gallic side of the Rhine, and held other tribes in the neighbourhood as merely calling themselves of Germanic stock. Even though names like Eburones and Ambiorix were Celtic and, archeologically, this area shows strong Celtic influences, the problem is difficult. Some 20th-century writers consider the possibility of a separate "Nordwestblock" identity of the tribes settled along the Rhine at the time, assuming the arrival of a Germanic superstrate from the 1st century BCE and a subsequent "Germanization" or language replacement through the "elite-dominance" model. However, immigration of Germanic Batavians from Hessen in the northern extent of this same tribal region is, archeologically speaking, hardly noticeable and certainly did not populate an exterminated country, very unlike Tacitus suggested. Here, probably due to the local indigenous pastoral way of life, the acceptance of Roman culture turned out to be particularly slow and, contrary to expected, the indigenous culture of the previous Eburones rather seems to have absorbed the intruding (Batavian) element, thus making it very hard to define the real extents of the pre-Roman Germanic indigenous territories.

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