Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.12.21

Klaus Tausend, Im Inneren Germaniens: Beziehungen zwischen den germanischen Stämmen vom 1. Jh. v. Chr. bis zum 2. Jh. n. Chr. (Mit Beiträgen von Günter Stangl und Sabine K. Tausend). Geographica Historica 25.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009.  Pp. 282.  ISBN 9783515094160.  €47.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Wouter Vanacker, Ghent University (

Table of Contents

This book surveys the development of different types of internal relations among the Germanic tribes between the first century BC and the second century AD. It questions whether regionally differentiated patterns can be distinguished and aims to explore to what extent Roman pressure influenced these internal relations. The challenge the author faces is a large one, since one would expect the predominantly Roman origin of the sources to contain a number of shortcomings and pitfalls and these sources were primarily concerned with internal relations that were affected by or somehow related to Roman imperial policy.

A major consequence of this situation is the fact that about half of the book is devoted to the subject discussed in the first chapter, namely political and military relations. Firstly, fifty-four attestations of friendly and hostile relations are set out in detail. Few of them postdate the first century AD. In the subsequent sub-chapters, Tausend moves beyond the case-specific level and faces the issue of whether foreign affairs were directed for the most part by separate clans or by the tribe as a whole. While the identification of the principal actors is often fairly difficult, the author attributes the greatest importance to the latter. Attestations of alliances between Germanic tribes are most frequent in the west. This situation presumably resulted from the imminent threat of Roman domination. However, internal conflicts within one particular tribe and the organisation of raids are also said to have led to separately concluded alliances between various individual clans and tribes. Tausend then considers whether political structures had an influence on the tribes’ foreign affairs. His conclusion is that the geographical differentiation that marks the political organization of the Germanic tribes (powerful kings in the east contrasted with a competing nobility with a “primus inter pares” in the west) is not reflected by the patterns of political and military external relations. The tribe’s size seems to have been a more important factor. Attention is then paid to the duration and repetitive character of conflicts and coalitions and the ways in which alliances could be extended to other tribes and clans. Finally, Tausend examines the forces that inspired the actors to conclude an alliance or to take up arms against each other: economic gain (booty, especially in the case of clans, and land, mostly in the case of entire tribes), defence (against oppressive Germans or Romans) and political intentions (for instance hegemonic domination). Interests in trade and salt stocks, as well as protection against or participation in migrations, are also mentioned as major motives.

The second chapter of the book is dedicated for the most part to migrations in Germania. It would seem that these were caused by internal social conflicts, expulsion by other Germanic tribes or translocation compelled by Rome. The regularity of such migrations taken into account, Tausend marks the phenomenon as an important determinant of the Germanic political landscape and of Roman policy in the region. If one accepts the author’s view that many migrations were not mentioned or commented upon by the ancient sources for the reason that they did not affect Roman policy in the region, then his statement that migrations were “ein häufiges geradezu ‘normales’ Phänomen der germanischen Welt” seems fairly plausible (p. 98). The author also attempts to reconstruct their trajectories, mainly by seeking similarities with the routes followed by Roman invaders. The next sub-chapter deals with expansion, for which interference in a neighboring tribe’s internal affairs, conquest and the forging of alliances are perceived to be the most important mechanisms. From the first century AD onwards, eastern tribes melted together into great, long-lasting confederations, while Roman influence is said to have prevented this development in the west. The second chapter closes with a treatment of dependency relations among the Germanic tribes, which could take the form of client tribes or clans seeking protection of, respectively, a powerful tribe or noble chief. Most interestingly, Tausend looks for analogies in the history of intertribal relations in Gaul during the first century BC in order to create typologies and comprehend the terminology used in ancient sources on such relations in Germania. This approach leads to the illuminating observation that in reality the so-called socii may often have been client tribes who were voluntarily dependent on the powerful tribe and who provided the latter with military support. Tausend argues that, even so, such tribes could retain considerable political and military independence.

Next, the author studies attestations of large, cross-tribal cults (such as those of Nerthus and Tamfana) and their connection with particularly long-lasting political coalitions. Much attention is paid to the origins and developments of various “Kultgemeinschaften” (particularly of the Lugii and the Vandals).

The history of Germanic seeresses is discussed next by one of the co-authors, S. Tausend. The connection with the general research intentions of the book remains rather unclear as the focus is primarily on creating typologies, based upon the seeresses’ activities, status and appearance. However, the author pays some attention to the role these women may have played in the formation of alliances. Her choice to enrich her analysis by seeking analogies, not merely in other ancient contexts (such as Gaul and Britain) but also in medieval sagas and runes, has provided insights that are often innovative yet highly speculative.

Tausend then focuses on interfamilial contacts among Germanic tribes and their political implications. While direct attestations of political marriages are scarce, indirect sources (such as onomastics and foreign intervention in internal affairs) may furnish additional evidence. The author observes that the frequently attested intermarriages between the Chatti and the Cherusci were hardly motivated by political decision-making towards Rome. It seems that such marriages were merely motivated by a striving for power on both internal and external political levels of Germanic politics. Most remarkably, the author perceives a large number of similarities with patterns of intermarriage attested in later Germanic history.

The book’s next section deals with economic relations. Here, the reader is presented for the first time with a summary of current results, since the author seems to depend on existing studies more extensively here than in other chapters. This is also the first chapter where archaeological studies receive notable attention. Tausend identifies only Roman objects of trade as appropriate indicators of intertribal trade. The diffusion throughout Germania from the trade centers on the limes (Castra Vetera, Fectio, Carnuntum, and Mogontiacum) and in the interior, as well as the specific trajectories of both Roman and Germanic traders, are examined. The author emphasizes the fact that political relations profoundly influenced the direction of trade in Germania. Attention is also paid to the so-called “Reichtumszentern”, which, in all probability, were centers of redistribution of imported goods among the kings’ dependants. By combining the information provided by archaeological studies and literary sources, Tausend is able to identify the centers of inner Germanic trade as those regions where strong central power was exercised and important cult centers were located.

Tausend concludes this part of the book with two remarkable observations. The author firstly points to a remarkable separation of the western Germanic tribes (which dwelled in the Rhine and Weser basins) and their eastern counterparts. This view differs from ancient and modern perceptions of Germania. The division of two Germanic sub-regions, however, is not marked by distinct patterns of internal and external political and economic relations, or a result of different cultures or ethnic identities. Tausend argues that the region’s topography created the separation, since it provided far too few opportunities to allow regular contacts between western and eastern tribes. Topography is also said to be able to explain why the contacts between Celts and “Rhein-Weser-Germanen” were particularly intense. The second observation emphasizes the notable parallels with later Germanic intertribal relations. With respect to the development of retinues and powerful leaders, of migration patterns and of large political entities, Tausend boldly believes that after the second century AD Germania was not subject to as much change as one might assume.

After Tausend’s conclusion there follows a contribution on the population size and military potential of ancient Germanic tribes by G. Stangl. By interpreting both archaeological and literary sources, the author achieves plausible estimates, which in some cases allow for a critical reinterpretation of the numbers provided by literary sources.

The maps are frequent in number and highly informative, but it is often unclear on which secondary sources they are based (for instance, p. 189). Considering the authors’ language choice and complex writing styles, one fears that the work may be destined to receive the attention it deserves only “im Inneren Germaniens”.

However, this book should be welcomed as a valuable contribution to our understanding of Germanic history. While the lack of abundant evidence forces the authors to rely too heavily on hypotheses, they nevertheless manage to reach notable conclusions on the character and development of Germanic intertribal relations. Their viewpoints may not merely be of major interest to scholars of (early and later) Germanic history, but also to those researchers who study intertribal relations in other parts of the empire, on either side of the limes. On many occasions, the authors of this work show how fruitful such kinds of comparative approaches may be.

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