The Break-up of Mediterranean Unity
Germanic peoples

Where did the Germanic peoples come from?

Where did they create kingdoms in Europe?

The Germanic peoples

During the 5th and the 6th centuries, successive Germanic invasions put an end to the political unity of the Roman Empire. As a result, different kingdoms were created.

The Germanic peoples carne from the coasts of the Baltic Sea, from the forests in southern Scandinavia to the marshy areas in northern Germany and present-day Denmark. These peoples moved southwards, attracted by the splendour of Rome, in search of fertile lands and a better climate.

The German peoples were organised in tribes. The maximum authority was heid by the assembly of warriors and freemen. The assembly chose the chief, who made the final decisions about peace and war.

These peoples lived in big wooden houses; they were engage to stock breeding and itinerant agriculture, therefore, were forced to move constantly. They were called barbarians (foreigners) by the Romans, who thought that their customs and way of life were inferior to their own.

The Germanic kingdoms

From the 5th century onwards, the Germans founded several kingdoms in Roman territories. The most important ones were the Frankish, Visigothic, Burgundian, Anglo-Saxon, Suevi and Vandal kingdoms.

Main Germanic Kingdoms

The King held the power in Germanic kingdoms. At first, he was chosen by the noblemen. However, in the course of time, royalty became hereditary. As a consequence, many kings were overthrown and even killed by members of their own families. The Council advised the king on government issues and helped him to carry out justice. The Dukes had the military power in certain territories and leadership in some subjugated areas.

How were Germanic societies organised?

An agrarian economy

Germans were rural peoples. Most of the population consisted of peasants, engaged in animal grazing and working the land.

Most of the land was in the hands of the main Roman and Germanic families. There were also small land-owners. Monasteries owned vast territories because they received donations in exchange for prayers said by the monks.

The population in the cities decreased, commercial activity started to slow down and currency almost disappeared.

The new society: relationships between the Germans and the Romans

Germans were the minority within the population. In the beginning, the Romans and Germans maintained their own laws, customs and religion. But in the course of time, both societies started to blend and the Germans adopted Roman institutions and laws, Latin and even the Christian religion.

Notwithstanding, the Germanic people also contributed to such blending. In the least romanised areas, the German heritage had more influence. For example, modern languages such as English and German have a Germanic origin.

Art and culture in the Germanic Kingdoms

Few artistic manifestations from the Germanic peoples have been preserved. In architecture, some small Visigothic churches remain, built with a sculpted block of large stones. Their most important contribution was the art of gold and silver smithery.

The early monasteries were founded during Germanic times. These were buildings where a community of monks lived. Daily life was organised according to a rule, a set of obligations. One of the main rules was the one adopted by Saint Benedict in 530. Monasteries were places of prayer, but they were also cultural centres because they had a school and a scriptorium, the place where manuscripts were copied.

Middle Ages and Byzantium                                          
  Slavs and Visigoths