Thursday, 30 June 2011

German Fighting Man: Ancient Times

As promised a while ago, and inspired by an article in TSC by A.J.Mergenthaler, I plan to assemble a number of posts which together will provide an overview of the evolutionary history of the Germanic warrior and the development of what is generally acknowledged to be a very militaristic society

I intend to take the aforementioned article as my starting point and then expand on it somewhat in a series of chronologically organised blogs, so in this, the first of them, I will be writing about the ancient origins of the Germanic peoples and what is known of their early conflicts with neighbouring tribes

As Mergenthaler points out, the precise origins of the Germanic peoples are somewhat obscure, but they certainly have a long history which stretches right back to the Bronze Age, many hundreds of years BC. They first inhabited an area of the European continent now known as Denmark, Southern Sweden and an area of Northern Germany between the Ems river in the west, the Oder river in the east and the Harz mountains to the south. Over the course of many centuries they gradually migrated further and further south, west and east as shown in the following maps

Map of the Nordic Bronze Age Culture, circa 1200 BCE

Map showing the regions of Europe occupied by Germanic tribes

   Settlements before 750 BC
   New settlements after 750 BC until 1 AD
   New settlements until 100 AD
   New settlements after 100 AD

At this time the Germanic tribes had no written language so what we know of their very early military history is necessarily limited and based on a combination of archaeological finds and the writings of Roman historians and military commanders like Tacitus and Julius Caesar. Conflicts between the early Germans, Celts and other tribal peoples remain largely mysterious since neither side recorded any of the events. Wars against the Romans, on the other hand, are fairly well documented, from the Roman perspective at least!

Gaps in the historical record notwithstanding, it is generally acknowledged that the Germanic peoples often had a fraught relationship with their neighbours resulting in long periods of military conflict over a variety of territorial, religious, ideological and economic concerns

An informative timeline of the Germanic peoples can be found at the website of The Cherusci Tribe, a US reenactment and living history group seeking to recreate the lifestyle of the early Germans

Once again, however, it doesn't go into detail about the conflicts between the early Germans and other peoples but does refer to their invasion of Gaul and their first significant contact with the Romans in around 112 BC

112 BC  Proto-Germanic tribes from the middle Baltic Sea area, the Cimbri and Teutones invade Gaul; during the extensive raid they attract the Ambrones another Celtic tribe to their ranks, and destroy five Roman armies sent against them before turning towards Italy.  The beginning of relations between the Romans and the Germanic tribes.  

So, the first really detailed accounts of the military exploits of the early Germans date back to Roman times and are in the main a record of the wars fought between themselves and the Germanic tribes. The manufacturers of wargames figures and toy soldiers likewise tend to focus their attention on this period of time since it is relatively well documented when compared with the pre-Roman era

I leave you then, at the end of this necessarily brief initial post, with some pictures of 15mm early Germans, painted and based to be used with the Wargames Research Group's DBA [De Bellis Antiquitatis] fast play rule set

The Early German army list covers a period of several hundred years, from about 115 BC to 250 AD, and allows you to organise the army in a number of different ways to reflect the different 'tribes' in existence during this period

An entire army consisting of 12 bases, or elements, plus makeshift camp!

The heart of the army. The tribal warband

More early Germans from a different player's army

In my next post on this subject I will be taking a look at the first contacts between the Germanic tribes and the mighty Roman Empire. Until next time

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