From Celtic Europe to Charlemagne




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German 2710


Lecture Notes

Prof. Mark Ferguson


From Celtic Europe to Charlemagne


Early Germanic Tribes


Beginning around 1000 B.C. Germanic tribes began to leave their Scandinavian homeland and settle in northern Europe. They first settled between the Weser and Oder rivers in the east, and between the Weser and Rhine rivers in the west.


Around 500 B.C. the Germanic tribes began to move south into central Europe. The Celts, who already inhabited a wide area between present day France to Russia, were forced southward towards Italy and westward towards France. Eventually they were forced off the continent and onto the British Isles. The names of major rivers in Germany and Austria today are of Celtic origin, e.g. the rivers Rhine, Main, Danube, and Inn.


Structure, Values and Ethics


The tribe functioned as the basic political defense unit. Tribes were organized according to clans which consisted on 50-100 families. There was no “state” organization of the tribes; at most a confederation of tribes could be formed.


The population was divided according to freemen and slaves. The Chieftain could call together an Assembly of Freemen (called the “Ding”) where the Chieftan’s followers (known as thanes) could elect a king or duke for the duration of a crisis, e.g. war. The Ding also administered tribal justice.


German warriors valued loyalty, obligation, fidelity, trust and mutual protection. The lived according to a highly personal code of ethics which emphasized mutual personal allegiance and service.


Mythology and Religion


Germanic mythology was associated with the forces of nature. For each natural phenomenon there was a spirit who inspired fear and who had to be appeased. The relationship between humans and deities also mirrored the relationship between the Chieftain and his thanes, i.e. a relationship based on mutual trust, service and loyalty.


Among the many deities were the so-called sky gods who were known by different names throughout northern Europe and Scandinavia.


1. Woden, known in Scandinavia as Odin, was the principle god of Germanic peoples; the god of death and patron of the battlefield. Woden commanded dead warriors to be cremated with all and all their possessions so that they would have everything they needed once they reached their final resting place, Valhalla. Woden was also known for sending Valkyries to earth who would intervene in battle as guardians of life and dispensers of death. When the Romans encountered the Germanic tribes, they believed the Germanic tribes were worshipping the Roman god Mercury. This association is still with us today in the English name for Wednesday (Wodan's Day) and the French name for Wednesday: “mercredi”.


2. Frigg, known in Norway as Frija, was the wife of Woden. As a goddess of fertility, the Romans connected her to Venus, hence “vendredi” in French for Friday (Frija's Day), which in German is “Freitag”.


3. Donar, also known throughout Scandinavia as Thor, was the god of thunder & war, as well as guardian of all. He was known to the Romans as Hercules or Jupiter, hence “jeudi” in French for Thursday (Thor's Day), which in German is “Donnerstag”.


4. Tieu, also known by various other names such as Ziu, Tius, Tiw, or Tyr, he was also a god of war. To the Romans he was associated with Mars; the Greeks associated him with Zeus. His name stems from both Latin “deus” and Sanskritdyaus” - both meaning divinity. The association with Mars can be found in the French name for Tuesday (Tieu's Day) which is “mardi”.


Encounters with the Roman Empire


ca. 200 B.C. Migrating Germanic tribes come in contact with Romans who guarded the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.


120-101 B.C. Cimbrians and Teutons battle the Romans. The Teutons migrated as far as Aix-en-Provence in southern France. The Cimbrians extended their reach into northern Italy.


58 B.C. The Romans stop the southerly advances of the Germanic tribes.

9 A.D. Arminius, or "Hermann," stops the Romans at Teutoburg Forest in northwestern Germany, resulting in a stalemate along the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. A 350 mile buffer zone was built between the Rhine and Danube rivers. This artificial frontiers was know as the limes. Roman garrisons and settlements began to grow along this frontier. The present-day cities of Cologne, Bonn, Xanten, Trier, Mainz, Strassbourg, Worms, Augsburg, Regensburg, and Vienna all owe their names to the Romans.


98 A.D. Germania was written by Tacitus.


179-253 A.D. The task of defending the northern frontier of the Roman Empire is handed over to Germanic tribes.


476 A.D. Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Background: The Roman Empire & Christianity


313 Roman Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity; legal toleration of Christians


330 founding of Constantinople, new capital of Constantine (Called "Byzantium" by ancient Greeks and "New Rome" by Constantine, Constantinople is present-day Istanbul, Turkey). Became the center of Eastern (Greek) branch of Christian Church as opposed to the Western (Latin) branch of Christianity in Rome.


381 Western Roman Emperor Theodosius declares Christianity the official state religion


Christianization of the Germanic peoples


In the East

Ulifas, a Visigoth who was kidnapped by the Romans and later became an ambassador to the Roman emperor Constantine, was named bishop of Dacia (Romania) and charged with the Christianization of the Goths in 341. The Goths were not converted to Catholicism, however, but rather to Arianism, which was popular in the eastern edges of the empire and which maintained that God was unknowable and that Christ was not part of the Holy Trinity, but rather a second divinity altogether. Ulifas translated the New Testament from Greek into Gothic (the Gothic Bible). By the fourth century Arianism was considered heresy.


In the West

In 486, Clovis became ruler of a Frankish kingdom which marked the beginning of the Merovingian Dynasty. He was baptized in 496 and became an ally of Rome in the fight against Arianism. During the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), Roman Benedictine missionaries were sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons, and their disciples then set out to convert the Germanic people on the continent, e.g. Bonafice, the Apostle of the Germans, who became bishop of the Frankish-German Church in 722. In 752 Bonafice anointed Pepin king of the Franks, which marked the beginning of the Carolingian Dynasty. Pepin came to the aid of the Pope on several occasions to defeat the Lombards who were invading Italy and threatening the papacy. Finally, in 800, Charles the Great (Charlemagne) was proclaimed “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo III, thereby solidifying the relationship between the Church and State into one common mission.


Migrations of the Goths and the Franks


North: the Norse, Danes, and Swedes

East: the Goths, Burgundians, Vandals, and Lombards

West: the Franks


1. Some migrated southeast and settled in present-day Italy. They would become known to historians as the Ostrogoths (East Goths).


2. Some migrated southeast, occupied present-day Italy for a while, only to be forced to move on to present-day Spain. They would become known to historians as the Visigoths (the West Goths).


3. Other tribes, such as the Burgundians (who appear as the Nibelungen tribe in the Song of the Nibelungen, written ca. 1200), Vandals, and Lombards would first migrate south towards present-day Italy as well, and then eventually westward towards the Rhine and beyond.


Migrations of the Goths


The Visigoths (the West Goths)


The Visigoths were the first Germanic tribe to invade the Roman Empire. Forced to move south by invading Huns, in 375 A.D. they asked the Romans for refuge. They settled in present-day Austria, as well as in lands between Greece and Turkey. 40,000 Visigoths entered the Roman army.


The Visigoths were the first Germanic tribe to accept Christianity. Humiliated by the Romans, they attacked Rome three times. In 476 A.D. their king, Odovacar, deposed the Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus, thereby ending the Western Roman Empire.


The Ostrogoths (the East Goths)


The Ostrogoths were also threatened by the Huns in 375 A.D. After Attila the Hun’s death in 453 A.D., the Ostrogoths, under their king Theodoric the Great, defeated the remaining Huns and moved on to conquer present-day Italy.


The Ostrogoths then defeated the Odovacar (the Visigoth king) and set up court of their own kingdom at Ravenna which had been the seat of the Roman Emperors of the West since 402. (Theodoric appears as "Dietrich von Bern" in the epic Song of the Nibelungen.) The defeated Visigoths got permission to leave and headed towards southwest Gaul (present-day France), eventually reaching Spain by 711. By 526, the Ostrogothic kingdom began to collapse under pressure from attacks by Justinian the Great, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (based in Constantinople).

The Migrations & Conquests of North Germanic Peoples


By 450 A.D. small bands of Angles (from Schleswig) and Saxons (from Northern Germany) begin invading England, eventually pushing the Celts to Scotland, Wales and Ireland.


Migrations & Conquests of the Franks


The Franks were a confederated tribe (mid-Rhine area). By the late 3rd century, two groups emerged: 1. the Salian Franks (located in Holland & Belgium), and 2. the Ripuarian Franks (located in the Cologne, Bonn, and Koblenz riverine area). The Franks claimed to descend from the mythological figure Merovech. Their leader, Clovis (or Chlodwig) defeated all rival tribes, converted to Christianity, and consolidated Frankish groups into the Merovingian Kingdom (481-768) of Gaul. This set the course for the development of France (in German “Frankenreich” or “Empire of the Franks”). With the establishment of the Frankish Merovingian kingdom, the political and cultural alliance between the Church and Frankish monarchy begins.


Around 600, civil war broke out among the Franks. Real power was held by the Palace Mayors, the most important were Charles Martel (714-741), and his two sons, Carloman and Pepin. From 754-56, in exchange for receiving authorization from the Pope to be elected king, Pepin helps the Pope defeat the Lombards who were invading northern Italy. The liberated lands were then given to the Pope (a gesture known as the "Donation of Pepin") and became the basis for the Papal States.


The Carolingian Dynasty (754-918)


Pepin's son, Charlemagne (768-814)


Known to the French as Charlemagne; known to the Germans as Charles the Great (Karl der Große). 772-804 Charlemagne conquered the Saxons and forced them to convert to Christianity. In 800 he was crowned "Emperor of the Romans" by Pope Leo III in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day. Charlemagne desired to emulate the glory of Rome at his court in Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle).


Carolingian Renaissance


1. School of the Palace (promoted the Seven Liberal Arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy)


2. Court Academy (classical learning)

3. Painting: Caroline Minuscule (Miniature) Painting


4. Architecture: combination of Byzantine and Roman influence. Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel (796-804) was built in the style of San Vitale at Ravenna, a church which itself was a replica of Justinian's Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.


Monks and Monasticism


The words “monk” and “monasticism” are derived from the Greek “monachos,” meaning “one alone.” Monks were motivated into a life of solitude by their search for a purer life. They withdrew from human contact to gain mastery over their material bodies (flesh and desire).


Early monks St. Anthony of Alexandria (251?-356? A.D.), the founder of Christian monasticism, fasted and lived in solitude in the desert. St. Jerome (340?-420 A.D.) translated the Bible into Latin from Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) in the 4th century. His translation, known as the Vulgate, became the authorized version of the Roman Catholic Church.


Medieval Monasticism

In 529 A.D. Benedict of Nursia founded a new monastic order in Montecassino (the Benedictine Order). Benedictine monks strictly observed the Benedictine Rules (of particular significance: chastity, poverty & obedience). The monasteries and cathedral schools of the Middle Ages were centers of literacy, education and culture.


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 A.D.), the pope became the de facto ruler of Rome, especially under Gregory the Great, a Benedictine monk who became pope. During the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604 A.D.), prayers were organized and assigned to certain days of the year. The Church developed fixed prayers to be used in conjunction with Church rites, i.e. certain chants were to be used for specific prayers throughout the Church calendar (in effect until Vatican II, 1956). The Gregorian Chant is the earliest body of song preserved in notated form. Pope Gregory organized about 3000 melodies within the context of the Roman Catholic worship at churches and monasteries, e.g. certain chants during Mass, certain chants which remained the same week after week, certain chants which varied according to the Church calendar (Easter, Christmas, etc.), and certain chants to be used during canonical hours, i.e. sung eight times a day. The chants were sung in Latin, with tones set according to the syllables of each word. A system of note value did not yet exist at the time. The chants were sung by a male choir, since women could not be priests, and sung “a capella” (unaccompanied by instruments) & in unison, i.e. without harmony.


For the following several hundred years, however, the Church faced a number of problems with its clergy. There existed clergy who lived according to strict religious rules (regular clergy) and those who lived in the world, so to speak, (secular clergy). The behavior of the secular clergy was perceived as particularly troublesome. They often married, had concubines, were accused of immorality, or of passing on their ecclesiastical offices to their sons.


Two of these practices were of grave concern:

1) simony, the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices (derived from the story of Simon Magnus in the New Testament, Book of Acts, Chapter 8)


2) the issue of investiture; In an effort to build up a loyal power base, Frankish kings often simply chose bishops and give them land to administer, i.e. they would invest bishops with secular power symbolized by the ring, and with religious power symbolized by the pastoral staff. Thus these bishops held dual allegiance as both bishop (who was supposed to obey the pope) and vassal (as someone who was indebted to the king who gave him both land and secular power). This practice was an important stage in the development of feudalism, but it created much conflict between the state and church in the 11th century (see below).

In response to the growing perception that the Church had become corrupt and in a state of decay, a new monastic reform movement emerged with the founding of the monastery of Cluny in 910 A.D. This monastery was organized according to the Benedictine Rules and grew to include almost 2000 monastic houses by the 12th century. Monasteries created by the cluniac reform movement required that their abbots were to be subject to no authority other than that of Rome, and that they would not accept donations of land from secular rulers which might compromise their obedience to the Papacy in Rome. The construction of the Abbey at Cluny stimulated a boom in church building in the early middle ages and set the tone for the introduction of the Romanesque style of architecture.


910 Monastery of Cluny founded


1054 bishop of Rome excommunicates the patriarch of Constantinople, and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicates the bishop of Rome (final schism between Greek and Roman Church)

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