Friday, June 25th, 2010
“The Germanic peoples (also called Teutonic in older literature) are a historical ethno-linguistic group, originating in Northern Europe and identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages, which diversified out of Common Germanic in the course of the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The descendants of these peoples became, and in many areas contributed to, the ethnic groups of North Western Europe: the Germans, English, Dutch, Norwegians, Flemish, Swedish, Danish, Faroese, Icelanders, Frisians, Luxembourgers, Swedish-Finns, Estonian Swedes, Austrians, Liechtensteiners, and Swiss Germans.
Migrating Germanic peoples spread throughout Europe in Late Antiquity (300-600) and the Early Middle Ages. Germanic languages became dominant along the Roman borders (Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and England), but in the rest of the (western) Roman provinces, the Germanic immigrants adopted Latin (Romance) dialects. Furthermore, all Germanic peoples were eventually Christianized to varying extents. The Germanic people played a large role in transforming the Roman Empire into Medieval Europe.
Various etymologies for Latin Germani are possible. As an adjective, germani is simply the plural of the adjective germanus (from germen, “seed” or “offshoot”), which has the sense of “related” or “kindred” or “authentic”. According to Strabo, the Romans introduced the name Germani, because the Germanic tribes were the authentic Celts (γνησίους Γαλάτας; gnēsíous Galátas). Alternatively, it may refer from this use based on Roman experience of the Germanic tribes as allies of the Celts.
The ethnonym seems to be attested in the Fasti Capitolini inscription for the year 222, DE GALLEIS INSVBRIBVS ET GERM(aneis), where it may simply refer to “related” peoples, namely related to the Gauls. Furthermore, since the inscriptions were erected only in 17 to 18 BCE, the word may be a later addition to the text. Another early mentioning of the name, this time by Poseidonios (writing around 80 BCE), is also dubious, as it only survives in a quotation by Athenaios (writing around 190 CE); the mention of Germani in this context was more likely inserted by Athenaios rather than by Poseidonios himself. The writer who apparently introduced the name “Germani” into the corpus of classical literature is Julius Caesar. He uses Germani in two slightly differing ways: one to describe any non-gaulic peoples of Germania, and one to denote the Germani Cisrhenani, a somewhat diffuse group of peoples in north-eastern Gaul, who cannot clearly be identified as either Celtic or Germanic.”