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The area now known as Germany had originally been settled by Celtic tribes. However, between 1000BCE and 100BCE. Scandinavian tribes around the Baltic gradually spread throughout Europe. In the process, they conquered the Celts and pushed them further west and into the Roman Empire. These Scandinavian tribes were called Germans by the Romans even though during this period they did not all share a common culture, political units or even a common language. Amongst these new arrivals, the Suebi (or "Sweböz" as they may have called themselves) were the largest and the most warlike. It is thought that the German region of Swabia (Schwaben) derived its name from the Suebi (or at least one of its factions) which settled the region during the early half of the first millenium CE.
The Migration EraEdit
The Suebi are generally believed to have been a nomadic tribe moving further south and west, and were dependent on hunting and herding. As of politics, Roman accounts on the Suebi and their system of government are still unclear. Some mention the Suebi living under a king, while others mention a confederation of tribes, or that there was not one single Suebi tribe, but several tribes of their own — which may have implied that they lived in a confederacy like the early modern Lakota or Iroquois in North America. Mass graves excavated arround Tollensee in Germany throughout 2009-2016 however indicate that these confederacies could sometimes form large and sophisticated social structures that were at least ideal for warfare on a mass scale.
Whatever the truth, the Suebi appeared to be expansionist and tried to destroy or absorb other tribes, driving many others to migrate to avoid them. It was thought that the emergence of the Germanic Cimbri in Italy (whose arrival sparked off the aptly named "Cimbrian" War) almost a generation before Caesar's own was due to the growth of Suebi hegemony in present-day Germany.
Warriors amongst WarriorsEdit
It is thought that the activities of the Suebi and their other counterparts set off a migration of tribes west and south, clashing with the Greeks and the Romans and eventually culminating in the so-called "Dark Ages" with the fall of Rome's western frontiers in the 5th century CE. Little evidence regarding the Suebi themselves has reached our hands; most of what modern scholars know about the Suebi come from the accounts of their enemies, the Romans, who fought with them.
Like their cousins in the northern and western regions of Europe, Suebic armies were almost entirely composed of infantry, a few archers, slingers or skirmishers, and in early history fielded a handful of (if any at all) cavalry units — these were normally light scout units or some mounted nobles. Combat in the forested German lands necessitated development of a versatile semi-heavy infantry, able to launch javelins and fight both with swords, axes (both one-handed and two-handed versions) and clubs, as well as more primitive weapons. As with their Celtic foes, courage in battle was the most important value of all, and tactic and discipline, uniformity or modern equipment were quite unknown. A few warriors has helmets and mail-shirts, but most of them could only arm themselves with wooden shields and wild animal pelts. Nevertheless, Germanic warriors had a frightening reputation, coming from their primitive customs, savage and merciless way of fighting, their physical strength (compared to the average Roman) and most of all, their ferocious elite warriors, whose tactics and military culture foreshadowed the emergence of the Nordic "Berserker".
The earliest accounts on the Suebi and their deeds come from none other than Julius Caesar, who fought with them on the eastern frontiers of Gaul (now roughly present-day France and the Low Countries). Caesar blamed the Suebi for perpetuating war on their northern borders, because in expanding, the Suebi drove many tribes to encroach on Roman territory, especially in Gaul. By Caesar's time, the Suebi were active on the eastern banks of the Rhine, and had pushed many German tribes, notably the Ubii and Tencterii, to clash with the local Celtic tribes, who in turn began to move southwards to flee from them. Although the Suebi then tried to settle in the mountainous region of what is known as modern Alsace, Caesar managed to meet them in battle and drive them back across the Rhine.
Other writers (Romans again!) who touched on the Suebi (and possibly their allies) included Cassius Dio and Tactius, the latter's Germania providing ethnographic information on the Suebi. The most distinguishing mark of the Suebi, according to Tacitus, was their hairstyle — freedmen and nobles wore their hair in elaborate topknots to distinguish themselves from slaves and outsiders. The Suebi may have practised human sacrifice, and remnants of their victims recovered from northern European bogs have corroborated this evidence.
Clash with the RomansEdit
The Romans managed to conquer up to area of the Rhine River and recruited various Germanic tribes into their armies — it was said that two Suebi chieftains joined on behalf of Flavian forces during the Year of the Four Emperors, when Rome was plunged into civil war following the death of the emperor Nero. Equally, however, they would be betrayed by the same Germans - some of the Suebi may have collaborated with the notorious German chieftain Arminius in the battle of Teutoburg Forest.
As for those which proved resistant to their entreaties, the Romans demarcated their territory just east of the Rhine River with 300 kilometers of fortifications to protect themselves from these untamable barbarians, but eventually this was not enough. As the empire broke down after the 3rd century CE, new tribes from the north began pushing the Suebi themselves further down into Europe. The disintegration of Imperial authority meant that the various Suebic tribes had free reign and many of them would fight for Rome as much as they themselves would invade.
While most would settle in former Roman Germany, others would boil over over the Alps and the Rhine to form new kingdoms in Italy and Iberia. Perhaps the most long-lived and most successful of these new Suebic kingdoms was the so-called Lombard "Kingdoms" (founded by descendants of the Suebi), the northern "Langobardia Majora" centred around present-day Pavia and forming the region of present-day Lombardy, and "Langobardia Minora" based around the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. Langobardia Majora was eventually assimilated into the Frankish "Kingdom of Italy" of the 8th century, but the southern kingdoms would hold out well until the Middle Ages.
- Ancient Armies: "Ancient armies of the suebi"
- Science Magazine, "Slaughter at the bridge: Uncovering a colossal Bronze Age battle"