Suebi (or Suevi, Suavi, or Suevians) were a large group of tribes
who lived in
Germania in the time of the Roman Empire. They were first
Julius Caesar in connection with his battles against
Ariovistus in Gaul, around 58 BC. While Caesar treated them as
one Germanic tribe within an alliance, but the largest and most
warlike one, later authors, such as Tacitus,
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder and
Strabo, specified that the Suevi "do not, like the
Chatti or Tencteri,
constitute a single nation. They actually occupy more than half of
Germania, and are divided into a number of distinct tribes under
distinct names, though all generally are called Suebi". At one
time, classical ethnography had applied the name Suevi to so many
Germanic tribes that it appeared as if, in the first centuries AD,
that native name would replace the foreign name "Germans".
Classical authors noted that the Suevic tribes, compared to other
Germanic tribes, were very mobile and not reliant on agriculture.
Various Suevic groups moved from the direction of the
Baltic Sea and
the Elbe, becoming a periodic threat to the
Roman Empire on their
Danube frontiers. Towards the end of the empire, the
Alemanni, also referred to as Suebi, first settled in the Agri
Decumates and then crossed the
Rhine and occupied Alsace. An area in
southwest Germany is still called Swabia, which name derives from the
Suebi. (In a broader sense, their eastern neighbours, the Bavarians
and Thuringii, can be said to have Suebic ancestry.) Other Suebi
Gaul and some moved as far as
Gallaecia (modern Galicia, in
Spain, and Northern Portugal), where they established the Kingdom of
the Suebi, which lasted for 170 years until its integration into the
Visigothic Kingdom. More generally, the Suebian language and culture
is associated with the
Irminones and thought to encompass the "High
German" cultures and dialects of the Thuringii,
Lombards, among others.
Some of the tribes in
Germania during the Roman Empire.
Irminones are in magenta.
2.1 More than one tribe
2.2 Tribes names in classical sources
2.2.1 Northern bank of the Danube
2.2.2 Approaching the Rhine
2.2.3 The Elbe
2.2.4 East of the Elbe
2.2.5 Baltic Sea
3 Cultural characteristics
5 Historical events
Ariovistus and the
Suebi in 58 BC
5.2 Caesar and the
Suebi in 55 BC
Rhine crossing of 29 BC
5.4 The victory of Drusus in 9 BC
5.5 Roman defeat in 9 AD
5.6 Aftermath of 9 AD
5.7 Marcomannic wars
6 Migration period
7 Suevian Kingdom of Gallaecia
7.4 Last years of the kingdom
7.5 Defeat by the Visigoths
7.6.1 Conversion to Arianism
7.6.2 Conversion to Chalcedonianism
8 Norse mythology
9 See also
10 External links
Etymologists trace the name from Proto-Germanic *swēbaz, either based
on the Proto-Germanic root *swē- meaning "one's own" people or on the
third-person reflexive pronoun; or from an earlier
Indo-European root *swe- (Polish swe, swój, swoi, Latin sui, Sanskrit
swa, each meaning "one's own"). German linguist Jacob Grimm
believed that the name
Suebi was of Slavic origin.
The etymological sources list the following ethnic names as being from
the same root: Suiones, Samnites, Sabellians, and Sabines, indicating
the possibility of a prior more extended and common Indo-European
ethnic name, "our own people". Notably, the Semnones, known to
classical authors as one of the largest Suebian groups, also seem to
have a name with this same meaning, but recorded with a different
pronunciation by the Romans.
Alternatively, it may be borrowed from a Celtic word for
More than one tribe
Caesar placed the
Suebi east of the
Ubii apparently near modern Hesse,
in the position where later writers mention the Chatti, and he
distinguished them from their allies the Marcomanni. Some commentators
believe that Caesar's
Suebi were the later
Chatti or possibly the
Hermunduri, or Semnones. Later authors use the term
broadly, "to cover a large number of tribes in central Germany".
Although no classical authors explicitly call the
Chatti Suevic, Pliny
the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD), reported in his Natural History that the
Irminones were a large grouping of related Germanic gentes or "tribes"
including not only the Suebi, but also the Hermunduri,
Cherusci. Whether or not the
Chatti were ever considered Suevi,
Strabo distinguish the two partly because the Chatti
were more settled in one territory, whereas Suevi remained less
Roman bronze statuette representing a Germanic man kneeling, his arms
outstretched and his hair in a "Suebian knot" (50–150 AD)
The definitions of the greater ethnic groupings within
apparently not always consistent and clear, especially in the case of
mobile groups such as the Suevi. Whereas
Tacitus reported three main
kinds of German peoples, Irminones, Istvaeones, and Ingaevones, Pliny
specifically adds two more genera or "kinds", the
Bastarnae and the
Vandili (Vandals). The
Vandals were tribes east of the Elbe, including
the well-known Silingi, Goths, and Burgundians, an area that Tacitus
treated as Suebic. That the
Vandals might be a separate type of
Germanic people, corresponding to the modern concept of East Germanic,
is a possibility that
Tacitus also noted, but for example the Varini
are named as Vandilic by Pliny, and specifically Suebic by Tacitus.
The modern term "
Elbe Germanic" similarly covers a large grouping of
Germanic peoples that at least overlaps with the classical terms
"Suevi" and "Irminones". However, this term was developed mainly as an
attempt to define the ancient peoples who must have spoken the
Germanic dialects that led to modern
Upper German dialects spoken in
Austria, Bavaria, Thuringia, Alsace,
Baden-Württemberg and German
speaking Switzerland. This was proposed by Friedrich Maurer as one of
five major Kulturkreise or "culture-groups" whose dialects developed
in the southern German area from the first century BC through to the
fourth century AD. Apart from his own linguistic work with modern
dialects, he also referred to the archaeological and literary analysis
of Germanic tribes done earlier by Gustaf Kossinna In terms of
these proposed ancient dialects, the Vandals,
Goths and Burgundians
are generally referred to as members of the
Eastern Germanic group,
distinct from the
Tribes names in classical sources
Northern bank of the Danube
In the time of Caesar, southern Germany was Celtic, but coming under
pressure from Germanic groups led by the Suebi. As described later by
Tacitus, what is today southern Germany between the Danube, the Main
river, and the
Rhine had been deserted by the departure of two large
Celtic nations, the
Helvetii in modern
Schwaben and the
east near the Hercynian forest. In addition, also near the
Hercynian forest Caesar believed that the Celtic
Tectosages had once
lived. All of these peoples had for the most part moved by the time of
Cassius Dio wrote that the Suebi, who dwelt
across the Rhine, were called Celts, which could mean that some Celtic
groups were absorbed by larger Germanic tribal confederations.
Strabo (64/63 BC – c. 24 AD), in Book IV (6.9) of his Geography also
Suebi with the
Hercynian Forest and the south of
Germania north of the Danube. He describes a chain of mountains north
Danube that is like a lower extension of the Alps, possibly the
Swabian Alps, and further east the Gabreta forest, possibly the modern
Bohemian forest. In Book VII (1.3)
Strabo specifically mentions as
Suevic peoples the Marcomanni, who under King
Marobodus had moved into
Hercynian forest as the
Coldui (possibly the Quadi), taking
over an area called "Boihaemum". This king "took the rulership and
acquired, in addition to the peoples aforementioned, the
large tribe), the Zumi, the Butones, the Mugilones, the Sibini, and
also the Semnones, a large tribe of the Suevi themselves". Some of
these tribes were "inside the forest" and some "outside of it".
Tacitus confirms the name "Boiemum", saying it was a survival marking
the old traditional population of the place, the Celtic Boii, though
the population had changed.
Tacitus describes a series of very powerful Suebian states in his own
time, running along the north of the
Danube which was the frontier
with Rome, and stretching into the lands where the
Elbe originates in
the modern day Czech Republic. Going from west to east the first were
the Hermunduri, living near the sources of the
Elbe and stretching
Danube into Roman Rhaetia. Next came the Naristi, the
Marcomanni, and then the Quadi. The
Quadi are on the edge of greater
Suebia, having the
Sarmatians to the southeast.
Claudius Ptolemy the geographer did not always state which tribes were
Suebi, but along the northern bank of the Danube, from west to east
and starting at the "desert" formerly occupied by the Helvetii, he
names the Parmaecampi, then the Adrabaecampi, and then a "large
people" known as the
Baemoi (whose name appears to recall the Boii
again), and then the Racatriae. North of the Baemoi, is the Luna
forest which has iron mines, and which is south of the Quadi. North of
the Adrabaecampi, are the Sudini and then the
Marcomanni living in the
Gambreta forest. North of them, but south of the
(which are not likely to be the same as the modern ones of that name)
are the Varisti, who are probably the same as Tacitus' "Naristi"
Jordanes writes that in the early 4th century the
Vandals had moved to
the north of the Danube, but with the
Marcomanni still to their west,
Hermunduri still to their north. A possible sign of confusion
in this comment is that he equates the area in question to later
Gepidia, which was further south, in Pannonia, modern Hungary, and
east of the Danube. In general, as discussed below, the Danubian
Suebi, along with the neighbours such as the Vandals, apparently moved
southwards into Roman territories, both south and east of the Danube,
during this period.
Approaching the Rhine
Caesar describes the
Suebi as pressing the German tribes of the Rhine,
such as the Tencteri,
Usipetes and Ubii, from the east, forcing them
from their homes. While emphasizing their warlike nature he writes as
if they had a settled homeland somewhere between the
Cherusci and the
Ubii, and separated from the
Cherusci by a deep forest called the
Silva Bacenis. He also describes the
Marcomanni as a tribe distinct
from the Suebi, and also active within the same alliance. But he does
not describe where they were living.
Strabo wrote that the
Suebi "excel all the others in power and
numbers." He describes Suebic peoples (Greek ethnē) as having
come to dominate Germany between the
Rhine and Elbe, with the
exception of the
Rhine valley, on the frontier with the Roman empire,
and the "coastal" regions north of the Rhine.
Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. AD 168), in a fairly
extensive account of Greater Germany, makes several unusual
Suebi between the
Rhine and the Elbe. He describes their
position as stretching out in a band from the Elbe, all the way to the
northern Rhine, near the Sugambri. The "Suevi Langobardi" are the
Suevi located closest to the Rhine, far to the east of where most
sources report them. To the east of the Langobardi, are the "Suevi
Angili", extending as far north as the middle Elbe, also to the east
of the position reported in other sources. It has been speculated that
Ptolemy may have been confused by his sources, or else that this
position of the
Langobardi represented a particular moment in
As discussed below, in the third century a large group of Suebi, also
referred to as the
Allemanni moved up to the
Rhine bank in modern
Schwaben, which had previously been controlled by the Romans. (They
competed in this region with
Burgundians who had arrived from further
Strabo does not say much about the
Suebi east of the Elbe, saying that
this region was still unknown to Romans, but mentions that a part
Suebi live there, naming only specifically the
the Langobardi. But he mentions these are there because of recent
defeats at Roman hands which had forced them over the river. (Tacitus,
mentions that the
Hermunduri were later welcomed on to the Roman
border at the Danube.) In any case he says that the area near the Elbe
itself is held by the Suebi.
Ptolemy we can derive more details:
The Semnones, are described by
Tacitus as "the oldest and noblest of
the Suebi", and like the
Suebi described by Caesar they have 100
Tacitus says that "the vastness of their community makes them
regard themselves as the head of the Suevic race". According to
Ptolemy the "Suevi Semnones" live upon the
Elbe and stretch as far
east as a river apparently named after them, the Suevus, probably the
Oder. South of them he places the Silingi, and then, again upon the
Elbe, the Calucones. To the southeast further up the upper
places not the
Hermunduri mentioned by other authors (who had possibly
moved westwards and become Ptolemy's "Teuriochaemai", and the later
Thuringii), but the
Baenochaemae (whose name appears to be somehow
related to the modern name Bohemia, and somehow derived from the older
placename mentioned by
Tacitus as the capital of King
Marobodus after he settled his
Marcomanni in the Hercynian forest). A
monument confirms that the Juthungi, who fought the Romans in the 3rd
century, and were associated with the Alamanni, were Semnones.
Langobardi live a bit further from Rome's borders, in "scanty
numbers" but "surrounded by a host of most powerful tribes" and kept
safe "by daring the perils of war" according to Tacitus.
Tacitus names seven tribes who live "next" after the Langobardi,
"fenced in by rivers or forests" stretching "into the remoter regions
of Germany". These all worshiped Nertha, or Mother Earth, whose sacred
grove was on an island in the Ocean (presumably the Baltic Sea):
Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses,
Suarini and Nuitones.
At the mouth of the
Elbe (and in the Danish peninsula), the classical
authors do not place any Suevi, but rather the
Chauci to the west of
the Elbe, and the
Saxons to the east, and in the "neck" of peninsula.
Note that while various errors and confusions are possible, Ptolemy
Langobardi west of the Elbe, where they may
indeed have been present at some points in time, given that the Suebi
were often mobile.
East of the Elbe
It is already mentioned above that stretching between the
Elbe and the
Oder, the classical authors place the Suebic Semnones.
Silingi to their south in the stretch between these rivers. These
Silingi appear in later history as a branch of the Vandals, and were
therefore likely to be speakers of
East Germanic dialects. Their name
is associated with medieval Silesia. Further south on the
Elbe are the
Baenochaemae and between them and the
Askibourgian mountains Ptolemy
names a tribe called the Batini (Βατεινοὶ), apparently north
and/or east of the Elbe.
According to Tacitus, around the north of the Danubian
Quadi, "dwelling in forests and on mountain-tops", live the Marsigni,
and Buri, who "in their language and manner of life, resemble the
Suevi". (Living partly subject to the
Quadi are the
Tacitus says speak respectively
Gaulish and Pannonian, and
are therefore not Germans.)
Ptolemy also places the "Lugi Buri" in
mountains, along with a tribe called the Corconti. These mountains,
stretching from near the upper
Elbe to the headwaters of the Vistula,
he calls the
Askibourgian mountains. Between these mountains and the
Quadi he adds several tribes, from north to south these are the
Cotini (possibly Tacitus' Gotini) and the Visburgi. There is
then the Orcynian (Hercyian) forest, which
Ptolemy defines with
relatively restricted boundaries, and then the Quadi.
Beyond this mountain range (probably the modern Sudetes) where the
Marsigni and Buri lived, in the area of modern southwest Poland,
Tacitus reported a multitude of tribes, the most widespread name of
which was the Lugii. These included the Harii, Helveconae, Manimi,
Helisii and Naharvali. (
Tacitus does not mention the language of
the Lugii.) As mentioned above,
Ptolemy categorizes the Buri amongst
the Lugii, and concerning the
Lugii north of the mountains, he named
two large groups, the Lougoi Omanoi and the Lougoi Didounoi, who live
between the "Suevus" river (probably the
Saale (Sorb Soława) or Oder
river) and the Vistula, south of the Burgundi.
Burgundians who according to
Ptolemy lived between the Baltic
sea Germans and the Lugii, stretching between the Suevus and Vistula
rivers, were described by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (as opposed to Tacitus) as
being not Suevic but Vandili, amongst whom he also included the Goths,
and the Varini, both being people living north of them near the Baltic
coast. Pliny's "Vandili" are generally thought to be speakers of what
modern linguists refer to as Eastern Germanic. Between the coastal
Saxons and inland Suebi,
Ptolemy names the Teutonari and the "Viruni"
Varini of Tacitus), and further east, between the
coastal Farodini and the
Suebi are the
Teutones and then the Avarni.
Further east again, between the
Burgundians and the coastal Rugiclei
were the "Aelvaeones" (presumably the
Helveconae of Tacitus).
Tacitus called the Baltic sea the Suebian sea. (
Pomponius Mela wrote
in his Description of the World (III.3.31) beyond the Danish isles are
"the farthest people of Germania, the Hermiones".)
North of the Lugii, near the
Tacitus places the Gothones
(Goths), Rugii, and Lemovii. These three Germanic tribes share a
tradition of having kings, and also similar arms - round shields and
Ptolemy says that east of the Saxons, from the
"Chalusus" river to the "Suevian" river are the Farodini, then the
Sidini up to the "Viadua" river, and after these the "Rugiclei" up to
Vistula river (probably the "Rugii" of Tacitus). He does not
specify if these are Suevi.
In the sea, the states of the Suiones, "powerful in ships" are
Tacitus Germans with the Suevic (Baltic) sea on one side
and an "almost motionless" sea on the other more remote side. Modern
commentators believe this refers to Scandinavia. Closely bordering
Suiones and closely resembling them, are the tribes of the
Scandinavia as being inhabited by
Chaedini in the west,
Firaesi in the east, Finni in the
north, Gautae and
Dauciones in the south, and Levoni in the middle. He
does not describe them as Suebi.
Tacitus describes the non-Germanic
Aestii on the eastern shore of the
"Suevic Sea" (Baltic), "whose rites and fashions and style of dress
are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the
British" After giving this account,
Tacitus says: "Here Suebia
ends." Therefore, for
Tacitus geographic "Suebia" comprises the
entire periphery of the Baltic Sea, including within it tribes not
Suebi or even Germanic. On the other hand,
clearly consider there to be not only a Suebian region, but also
Suebian languages, and Suebian customs, which all contribute to making
a specific tribe more or less "Suebian".
Caesar noted that rather than grain crops, they spent time on
husbandry and hunting. They wore animal skins, bathed in rivers,
consumed milk and meat products, and prohibited wine, allowing trade
only to dispose of their booty and otherwise they had no goods to
export. They had no private ownership of land and were not permitted
to stay resident in one place for more than one year. They were
divided into 100 cantons, each of which had to provide and support
1000 armed men for the constant pursuit of war.
Strabo describes the
Suebi and people from their part of the world as
highly mobile and nomadic, unlike more settled and agricultural tribes
such as the
Chatti and Cherusci:
...they do not till the soil or even store up food, but live in small
huts that are merely temporary structures; and they live for the most
part off their flocks, as the Nomads do, so that, in imitation of the
Nomads, they load their household belongings on their wagons and with
their beasts turn whithersoever they think best.
Notable in classical sources, the
Suebi can be identified by their
hair style called the "Suebian knot", which "distinguishes the freeman
from the slave"; or in other words served as a badge of social
rank. The same passage points out that chiefs "use an even more
Tacitus mentions the sacrifice of humans practiced by the
a sacred grove and the murder of slaves used in the rites of
Nerthus practiced by the tribes of Schleswig-Holstein. The chief
priest of the
Naharvali dresses as a woman and that tribe also
worships in groves. The
Harii fight at night dyed black. The Suiones
own fleets of rowing vessels with prows at both ends.
Proposed theory on the distribution of the primary Germanic dialect
groups in Europe in around AD 1:
North Sea Germanic, or Ingvaeonic
Rhine Germanic, or Istvaeonic
Elbe Germanic, or Irminonic
While there is debate possible about whether all tribes identified by
Romans as Germanic spoke a Germanic language, the
Suebi are generally
agreed to have spoken one, and classical sources refer to a Suebian
language. In particular, the
Suebi are associated with the concept of
Elbe Germanic" group of early dialects spoken by the Irminones,
entering Germany from the east, and originating on the Baltic. In late
classical times, these dialects, by now situated to the south of the
Elbe, and stretching across the
Danube into the Roman empire,
High German consonant shift
High German consonant shift that defines modern High
German languages, and in its most extreme form, Upper German.
Modern Swabian German, and
Alemannic German more broadly, are
therefore "assumed to have evolved at least in part" from Suebian.
However, Bavarian, the Thuringian dialect, the Lombardic language
spoken by the
Lombards of Italy, and standard "High German" itself,
are also at least partly derived from the dialects spoken by the
Suebi. (The only non-Suebian name among the major groups of Upper
Germanic dialects is High Franconian German, but this is on the
transitional frontier with Central German, as is neighboring
Ariovistus and the
Suebi in 58 BC
Marble bust of Julius Caesar, first century C.E.; recent discovery on
the Island of Pantelleri.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Commentaries on the Gallic War/Book 4
Julius Caesar lived 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC. The
Suebi he describes
in his firsthand account, De Bello Gallico were the "largest and
the most warlike nation of all the Germans".
Caesar confronted a large army led by a Suevic King named Ariovistus
in 58 BC who had been settled for some time in
Gaul already, at the
invitation of the
Sequani as part of their war
against the Aedui. He had already been recognized as a king by the
Ariovistus forbade the Romans from entering into Gaul.
Caesar on the other hand saw himself and Rome as an ally and defender
of the Aedui.
The forces Caesar faced in battle were composed of "Harudes,
Marcomanni, Tribocci, Vangiones, Nemetes, Sedusii, and Suevi". While
Caesar was preparing for conflict, a new force of
Suebi was led to the
Rhine by two brothers, Nasuas and Cimberius, forcing Caesar to rush in
order to try to avoid the joining of forces.
Ariovistus in battle, forcing him to escape across the
Rhine. When news of this spread, the fresh Suebian forces turned back
in some panic, which led to local tribes living near the
Rhine to take
advantage of the situation, attacking them.
Caesar and the
Suebi in 55 BC
Also reported within Caesar's accounts of the Gallic wars, the Suebi
posed another threat in 55 BC. The Germanic Ubii, who had worked
out an alliance with Caesar, were complaining of being harassed by the
Suebi, and the
Tencteri and Usipetes, already forced from their homes,
tried to cross the
Rhine and enter
Gaul by force. Caesar bridged the
Rhine, the first known to do so, with a pile bridge, which though
considered a marvel, was dismantled after only eighteen days. The
Suebi abandoned their towns closest to the Romans, retreated to the
forest and assembled an army. Caesar moved back across the bridge and
broke it down, stating that he had achieved his objective of warning
the Suebi. They in turn supposedly stopped harassing the Ubii. (The
Ubii were later resettled on the west bank of the Rhine, in Roman
Rhine crossing of 29 BC
Cassius Dio, wrote the history of Rome for a Greek audience, and lived
approximately AD 150 – 235. He reported that shortly before 29 BC
Suebi crossed the Rhine, only to be defeated by Gaius Carrinas who
along with the young
Octavian Caesar celebrated a triumph in 29
BC. Shortly after they turn up fighting a group of Dacians in a
gladiatorial display at Rome celebrating the consecration of the
The victory of Drusus in 9 BC
Suetonius (c. 69 AD – after 122 AD), gives the
Suebi brief mention
in connection with their defeat against
Nero Claudius Drusus
Nero Claudius Drusus in 9 BC.
He says that the
Sugambri "submitted to him and were taken
Gaul and settled in lands near the Rhine" while the other Germani
were pushed "to the farther side of the river Albis" (Elbe). He
must have meant the temporary military success of Drusus, as it is
Rhine was cleared of Germans. Elsewhere he identifies the
settlers as 40,000 prisoners of war, only a fraction of the yearly
draft of militia.
Florus (c. 74 AD – c. 130 AD), gives a more detailed view of the
operations of 9 BC. He reports that the Cherusci,
Suebi and Sicambri
formed an alliance by crucifying twenty Roman centurions, but that
Drusus defeated them, confiscated their plunder and sold them into
slavery. Presumably only the war party was sold, as the Suebi
continue to appear in the ancient sources.
Florus's report of the peace brought to Germany by Drusus is glowing
but premature. He built "more than five hundred forts" and two bridges
guarded by fleets. "He opened a way through the Hercynian Forest",
which implies but still does not overtly state that he had subdued the
Suebi. "In a word, there was such peace in Germany that the
inhabitants seemed changed ... and the very climate milder and softer
than it used to be."
In the Annales of Tacitus, it is mentioned that after the defeat of 9
Augustus divided the Germans by making a separate peace with the
Suebi under their king Maroboduus. This is the first
mention of any permanent king of the Suebi. However, Maroboduus'
people was in most sources referred to as the king of the Marcomanni,
a tribal name that had already been distinct from the
Caesar's time. (As discussed above, it is not sure which
Suebi of Caesar, but at least they were distinguished from the
Marcomanni.) However, Maroboduus was also described as Suebian, and
his association with the
Marcomanni more specifically comes after the
Semnones were specifically said to have left his
kingdom, having previously been under his rule. At some point in this
Marcomanni had come to be settled in the forested regions
once inhabited by the Boii, in and around Bohemia, under his rule.
Augustus planned in 6 AD to destroy the kingdom of Maroboduus, which
he considered to be too dangerous for the Romans. The later Emperor
Tiberius commanded twelve legions to attack the Marcomanni. But the
outbreak of a revolt in Illyria, and the need for troops there, forced
Tiberius to conclude a treaty with Maroboduus and to recognize him as
Roman defeat in 9 AD
Main article: Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
After the death of Drusus, the
Cherusci annihilated three legions at
Battle of Teutoburg Forest
Battle of Teutoburg Forest and thereafter "... the empire ... was
checked on the banks of the Rhine." While elements of the Suevi may
have been involved, this was an alliance mainly made up of non-Suebic
tribes from northwestern Germany, the Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti,
Bructeri, Chauci, and Sicambri. The kingdom of the
their allies stayed out of the conflict and when Maroboduus was sent
the head of the defeated Roman leader Varus, he sent it on to Rome for
burial. Within his own alliance were various Suebic peoples,
Hermunduri, Quadi, Semnones, Lugii, Zumi, Butones, Mugilones, Sibini
Aftermath of 9 AD
Roman limes and modern boundaries.
Augustus placed Germanicus, the son of Drusus, in charge
of the forces of the
Rhine and he after dealing with a mutiny of the
troops proceeded against the
Cherusci and their allies, breaking their
power finally at the battle of Idistavisus, a plain on the Weser. All
eight legions and supporting units of Gauls were required to do
that. Germanicus' zeal led finally to his being replaced (17 AD)
by his cousin Drusus, Tiberius' son, as
Tiberius thought it best to
follow his predecessor's policy of limiting the empire. Germanicus
certainly would have involved the Suebi, with unpredictable
Arminius, leader of the
Cherusci and allies, now had a free hand. He
accused Maroboduus of hiding in the
Hercynian Forest while the other
Germans fought for freedom, and accused Maroboduus of being the only
king among the Germans. The two groups "turned their arms against each
other." The Suebic
Langobardi rebelled against their king
and went over to the Cherusci. Left with only the
Herminius' uncle, who had defected, Maroboduus appealed to Drusus, now
governor of Illyricum, and was given only a pretext of aid.
The resulting battle was indecisive but Maroboduus withdrew to Bohemia
and sent for assistance to Tiberius. He was refused on the grounds
that he had not moved to help Varus. Drusus encouraged the Germans to
finish him off. A force of
Goths under Catualda, a Marcomannian exile,
bought off the nobles and seized the palace. Maroboduus escaped to
Noricum and the Romans offered him refuge in
Ravenna where he remained
the rest of his life. He died in 37 AD. After his expulsion the
leadership of the
Marcomanni was contested by their Suebic neighbours
and allies, the
Hermunduri and Quadi.
Main article: Marcomannic Wars
In the 2nd century AD, the
Marcomanni entered into a confederation
with other peoples including the Quadi, Vandals, and Sarmatians,
against the Roman Empire. The war began in 166, when the Marcomanni
overwhelmed the defences between
Vindobona and Carnuntum, penetrated
along the border between the provinces of
Pannonia and Noricum, laid
waste to Flavia Solva, and could be stopped only shortly before
Aquileia on the
Adriatic sea. The war lasted until Marcus
Aurelius' death in 180.
In the third century
Jordanes claims that the
Marcomanni paid tribute
to the Goths, and that the princes of the
Quadi were enslaved. The
Vandals, who had moved south towards Pannonia, were apparently still
sometimes able to defend themselves.
Alemanni expansion and Roman-Alemannic battle sites, 3rd to 5th
In 259/60, one or more groups of
Suebi appear to have been the main
element in the formation of a new tribal alliance known as the
Alemanni who came to occupy the Roman frontier region known as the
Agri Decumates, east of the
Rhine and south of the Main. The Alamanni
were sometimes simply referred to as
Suebi by contemporaries, and the
region came to be known as
Swabia - a name which survives to this day.
People in this region of Germany are still called Schwaben, a name
derived from the Suebi. One specific group in the region in the 3rd
century, sometimes distinguished from the Alamanni, were the Juthungi,
which a monument found in Augsburg refers to as Semnones.
Suebi for the most part stayed on the right bank of the Rhine
until 31 December 406, when much of the tribe joined the
Alans in breaching the Roman frontier by crossing the Rhine, perhaps
at Mainz, thus launching an invasion of northern Gaul. It is thought
that this group probably contained a significant amount of Quadi,
moving out of their homeland under pressure from Radagaisus.
Suebi apparently remained in or near to the original homeland
areas near the
Elbe and the modern Czech Republic, occasionally still
being referred to by this term. They expanded eventually into Roman
areas such as Switzerland, Austria, and Bavaria, possibly pushed by
groups arriving from the east.
Further south, a group of
Suebi settled in parts of Pannonia, after
Huns were defeated in 454 in the Battle of Nedao. Later, the
Suebian king Hunimund fought against the
Ostrogoths in the battle of
Bolia in 469. The Suebian coalition lost the battle, and parts of the
Suebi therefore migrated to southern Germany. Probably the
Marcomanni made up one significant part of these Suebi, who probably
lived in at least two distinct areas. Later, the Lombards, a
Suebic group long known on the Elbe, came to dominate the Pannonian
region and before successfully invading Italy.
Another group of Suebi, the so-called "northern Suebi" were mentioned
in 569 under Frankish king
Sigebert I in areas of today's
Saxony-Anhalt which were known as
Schwabengau or Svebengau at least
until the 12th century. In connection to the Svebi,
Lombards, returning from the
Italian Peninsula in 573, are also
Suevian Kingdom of Gallaecia
Main article: Kingdom of the Suebi
Suebic migrations across Europe.
Suebi under their king Hermeric, probably coming from the Alemanni, or
maybe from the
Quadi (or both), worked their way into the south of
France, eventually crossing the
Pyrenees and entering the Iberian
Peninsula which was out of Imperial rule since the rebellion of
Gerontius and Maximus in 409.
Passing through the Basque country, they settled in the Roman province
of Gallaecia, in north-western
Hispania (modern Galicia, Asturias, and
northern Portugal), swore fealty to the Emperor Honorius and were
accepted as foederati and permitted to settle, under their own
autonomous governance. Contemporaneously with the self-governing
province of Britannia, the kingdom of the
the first of the sub-Roman kingdoms to be formed in the disintegrating
territory of the Western Roman Empire. Suebic
Gallaecia was the first
kingdom separated from the
Roman Empire to mint coins.
The Suebic kingdom in
Gallaecia and northern
Lusitania was established
at 410 and lasted until 584. Smaller than the Ostrogothic kingdom of
Italy or the Visigothic kingdom in Hispania, it reached a relative
stability and prosperity—and even expanded military
southwards—despite the occasional quarrels with the neighbouring
Road sign at the village of Suevos, Ames (Galicia).
The Germanic invaders and immigrants settled mainly in rural areas, as
Idacius clearly stated: "The Hispanic, spred over cities and
oppida..." and the "Barbarians, govern over the provinces". According
to Dan Stanislawski, the Portuguese way of living in Northern regions
is mostly inherited from the Suebi, in which small farms prevail,
distinct from the large properties of Southern Portugal. Bracara
Augusta, the modern city of
Braga and former capital of Roman
Gallaecia, became the capital of the Suebi. Orosius, at that time
resident in Hispania, shows a rather pacific initial settlement, the
newcomers working their lands or serving as bodyguards of the
locals. Another Germanic group that accompanied the
Gallaecia were the Buri. They settled in the region between
the rivers Cávado and Homem, in the area known as Terras de Bouro
(Lands of the Buri).
Suebi quickly adopted the local language, few traces were left
of their Germanic tongue, but for some words and for their personal
and land names, adopted by most of the Galicians. In Galicia four
parishes and six villages are named Suevos or Suegos, i.e. Sueves,
after old Suebic settlements.
Visigoths were sent in 416 by the Emperor to fight the Germanic
invaders in Hispania, but they soon re-established themselves as
foederati in Aquitania after completely defeating the
Alans and the
Silingi Vandals. The absence of competition permitted, first the
Vandals and later the Suebi, to expand South and East. At its
Gallaecia extended as far south as Mérida and Seville,
capitals of the Roman provinces of
Lusitania and Betica, while their
Zaragoza and Lleida.
Hermeric ratified the peace with the Gallaeci, the local and
just partially romanized rural population, and sick and weary of
fighting abdicated in favour of his son Rechila, who proved to be a
notable general, defeating first Andevotus, Romanae militiae dux,
and later Vitus magister utriusque militiae. In 448,
leaving the crown to his son
Rechiar who had converted to Roman
Catholicism circa 447. Soon, he married a daughter of the Gothic king
Theodoric I, and began a wave of attacks on the Tarraconense, still a
Roman province. By 456 the campaigns of
Rechiar clashed with the
interests of the Visigoths, and a large army of Roman federates
Visigoths under the command of Theodoric II,
Burgundians directed by
Gundioc and Chilperic) crossed the
Pyrenees into Hispania, and
Suebi near modern-day Astorga.
Rechiar was executed after
being captured by his brother-in-law, the Visigothic king Theodoric
II. In 459, Roman Emperor
Majorian defeated the Suebi, briefly
restoring Roman rule in northern Hispania. Nevertheless, the Suebi
became free of Roman control forever after
Majorian was assassinated
two years later. The Suebic kingdom then became cornered in the
Gallaecia and northern Lusitania, where political
division and civil war arose among several pretenders to the royal
throne. After years of turmoil,
Remismund was recognized as the sole
king of the Suebi, bringing forth a politic of friendship with the
Visigoths, and favoring the conversion of his people to Arianism.
Last years of the kingdom
The Suebic kingdom of
Gallaecia (green), c. 550, (with borders of the
former Roman provinces of Hispania)
In 561 king
Ariamir called the catholic First Council of Braga, which
dealt with the old problem of the
Priscillianism heresy. Eight years
after, in 569, king Theodemir called the First Council of Lugo, in
order to increase the number of dioceses within his kingdom. Its acts
have been preserved through a medieval resume known as Parrochiale
Suevorum or Divisio Theodemiri.
Defeat by the Visigoths
In 570 the Arian king of the Visigoths, Leovigild, made his first
attack on the Suebi. Between 572 and 574,
Leovigild invaded the valley
of the Douro, pushing the
Suebi west and northwards. In 575 the Suebic
king, Miro, made a peace treaty with
Leovigild in what seemed to be
the beginning of a new period of stability. Yet, in 583 Miro supported
the rebellion of the Catholic Gothic prince Hermenegild, engaging in
military action against king Leovigild, although Miro was defeated in
Seville when trying to break on through the blockade on the Catholic
prince. As a result, he was forced to recognize
Leovigild as friend
and protector, for him and for his successors, dying back home just
some months later. His son, king Eboric, confirmed the friendship with
Leovigild, but he was deposed just a year later by his brother-in-law
Leovigild an excuse to attack the kingdom. In 585 AD,
first Audeca and later Malaric, were defeated and the Suebic kingdom
was incorporated into the Visigothic one as its sixth province. The
Suebi were respected in their properties and freedom, and continued to
dwell in Gallaecia, finally merging with the rest of the local
population during the early Middle Ages.
Conversion to Arianism
Suebi remained mostly pagan, and their subjects Priscillianist
until an Arian missionary named Ajax, sent by the Visigothic king
Theodoric II at the request of the Suebic unifier Remismund, in 466
converted them and established a lasting Arian church which dominated
the people until the conversion to Chalcedonianism in the 560s.
Conversion to Chalcedonianism
Christian Chi-Rho on a 5th-century marble table, Quiroga, Galicia.
Mutually incompatible accounts of the conversion of the
Chalcedonian Christianity are presented in the primary records:
The minutes of the First Council of
Braga — which met on 1 May 561
— state explicitly that the synod was held at the orders of a king
named Ariamir. Of the eight assistant bishops, just one bears a Suebic
name: Hildemir. While the Catholicism of
Ariamir is not in doubt, that
he was the first Chalcedonian monarch of the
been contested on the grounds that his Catholicism is not explicitly
stated.[clarification needed] He was, however, the first Suebic
monarch to hold a Catholic synod, and when the Second Council of Braga
was held at the request of king Miro, a Catholic himself, in 572,
of the twelve assistant bishops five bears Suebic names: Remisol of
Viseu, Adoric of Idanha, Wittimer of Ourense, Nitigis of
Anila of Tui.
Historia Suevorum of Isidore of
Seville states that a king named
Theodemar brought about the conversion of his people from Arianism
with the help of the missionary Martin of Dumio.
According to the Frankish historian
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours on the other
hand, an otherwise unknown sovereign named Chararic, having heard of
Martin of Tours, promised to accept the beliefs of the saint if only
his son would be cured of leprosy. Through the relics and intercession
of Saint Martin the son was healed; Chararic and the entire royal
household converted to the Nicene faith.
By 589, when the
Third Council of Toledo was held, and the Visigoth
Kingdom of Toledo converses officially from
Arianism to Catholicism,
Reccared I stated in its minutes that also "an infinite number of
Suebi have converted", together with the Goths, which implies that the
earlier conversion were either superficial or partial. In the same
council 4 bishops from
Gallaecia abjured of their Arianism. And so,
the Suebic conversion is ascribed, not to a Suebe, but to a Visigoth
by John of Biclarum, who puts their conversion alongside that of the
Goths, occurring under
Reccared I in 587–589.
Most scholars have attempted to meld these stories. It has been
alleged that Chararic and Theodemir must have been successors of
Ariamir was the first Suebic monarch to lift the ban on
Catholic synods; Isidore therefore gets the chronology wrong.
Reinhart suggested that Chararic was converted first through the
relics of Saint Martin and that Theodemir was converted later through
the preaching of Martin of Dumio. Dahn equated Chararic with
Theodemir, even saying that the latter was the name he took upon
baptism. It has also been suggested that Theodemir and Ariamir
were the same person and the son of Chararic. In the opinion of
some historians, Chararic is nothing more than an error on the part of
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours and never existed. If, as Gregory relates, Martin
of Dumio died about the year 580 and had been bishop for about thirty
years, then the conversion of Chararic must have occurred around 550
at the latest. Finally, Ferreiro believes the conversion of the
Suebi was progressive and stepwise and that Chararic's public
conversion was only followed by the lifting of a ban on Catholic
synods in the reign of his successor, which would have been Ariamir;
Thoedemir was responsible for beginning a persecution of the Arians in
his kingdom to root out their heresy.
The name of the
Suebi also appears in
Norse mythology and in early
Scandinavian sources. The earliest attestation is the
Swabaharjaz ("Suebian warrior") on the
Rö runestone and in the place
name Svogerslev. Sváfa, whose name means "Suebian", was a
Valkyrie who appears in the eddic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar.
The kingdom Sváfaland also appears in this poem and in the
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Suebi.
Ancient Germanic culture portal
Swabia family tree
Germanic personal names in Galicia
^ Menzel, Wolfgang (MDCCCXCIX). Germany from the Earliest Period:
Volume I. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier. p. 89. Check
date values in: date= (help)
Germania Section 8, translation by H. Mattingly.
^ "Germanic Tribes". Late Antiquity. Harvard University Press. 1999.
p. 467. ISBN 9780674511736.
^ "Caes. Gal. 4.1". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
^ a b Peterson, Lena. "Swābaharjaz" (PDF). Lexikon över urnordiska
personnamn. Institutet för språk och folkminnen, Sweden. p. 16.
Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-18. Retrieved
2007-10-11. (Text in Swedish); for an alternative meaning, as
"free, independent" see Room, Adrian (2006). "Placenames of the World:
Origins and Meanings of the Names for 6,600 Countries, Cities,
Territories, Natural Features and Historic Sites: Second Edition".
Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc.,
Publishers: 363, 364. ISBN 0786422483. contribution=
ignored (help); compare Suiones
^ Pokorny, Julius. "Root/Lemma se-". Indogermanisches Etymologisches
Wörterbuch. Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (IEED), Department
of Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, Leiden University.
pp. 882–884. Archived from the original on 2011-08-09.
German language text); locate by searching the page number.Köbler,
Gerhard (2000). "*se-" (PDF). Indogermanisches Wörterbuch: 3.
Auflage. p. 188. Archived from the original (PDF) on
German language text); the etymology in English is
in Watkins, Calvert (2000). "s(w)e-". Appendix I: Indo-European Roots.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth
Edition. Some related English words are sibling, sister, swain,
^ Jaccob Grim (1853) Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, Volume 1 p. 226
^ Schrijver, Peter (2003). "The etymology of Welsh chwith and the
semantics and morphology of PIE *k(w)sweibh-". In Russell, Paul. Yr
Hen Iaith: Studies in Early Welsh. Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies
Publications. ISBN 978-1-891271-10-6.
^ Peck (1898). "Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities"
^ Chambers, R. W. (1912). Widseth: a Study in Old English Heroic
Legend. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 194, note on line 22 of
Widsith. Republished in 2006 by Kissinger Publishing as
^ "Book IV section XIV". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved
^ "Strab. 7.1". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ Maurer, Friedrich (1952) . Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien
zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes - und
Volkskunde. Bern, München: A. Franke Verlag, Leo Lehnen Verlag.
^ Kossinna, Gustaf (1911). Die Herkunft der Germanen. Leipzig:
^ a b "Tac. Ger. 28". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ Dio, Cassius (19 September 2014). Delphi Complete Works of Cassius
Dio (Illustrated). Delphi Classics.
^ "Strab. 7.1". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ "Section 41". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ "Section 42". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ "Chapt 22". Romansonline.com. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
Strabo (approximately 20 AD). Geographica. Book IV Chapter 3 Section
4. Check date values in: date= (help)
^ "''Geography'', Book II, chapter X". Penelope.uchicago.edu.
^ Schütte, Ptolemy's Maps of Northern Europe
^ "''Geography'' 7.2". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ "''Geography'' 7.3". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ a b
Germania Section 39.
^ a b c
Germania Section 40.
^ a b c "Section 43". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ Section 44.
^ a b
Germania Section 45
^ Section 46.
^ Tacitus' modern editor Arthur J. Pomeroy concludes "it is clear that
there is no monolithic 'Suebic' group, but a series of tribes who may
share some customs (for instance, warrior burials) but also vary
considerably." Pomeroy, Arthur J. (1994). "Tacitus' Germania". The
Classical Review: New Series. 44 (1): 58–59.
doi:10.1017/S0009840X00290446. A review in English of Neumann,
Gunter; Henning Seemann. Beitrage zum Verstandnis der
Tacitus, Teil II: Bericht uber die Kolloquien der Kommission fur die
Altertumskunde Nord- und Mitteleuropas im Jahre 1986 und 1987. A
^ Section 38.
^ a b Robinson, Orrin (1992), Old English and its Closest
Relatives pages 194-5.
^ Waldman & Mason, 2006, Encyclopedia of European Peoples, p. 784.
^ Book IV, sections 1-3, and 19; Book VI, section 10.
^ Book IV sections 4-19.
^ Dio, Lucius Claudius Cassius. "Dio's Rome". Project Gutenberg.
Translated by Herbert Baldwin Foster. pp. Book 51 sections 21,
^ Tranquillus, Gaius Suetonius. "The Life of Augustus". The Lives of
the Twelve Caesars. Bill Thayer in LacusCurtius. pp. section
^ Tranquillus, Gaius Suetonius. "The Life of Tiberius". The Lives of
the Twelve Caesars. Bill Thayer in LacusCurtius. pp. section
^ Florus, Lucius Annaeus. Epitome of Roman History. Book II section
^ a b Book II section 26.
^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History 2, 109, 5; Cassius
Dio, Roman History 55, 28, 6-7
^ Book II section 16.
^ Book II sections 44-46.
^ Book II sections 62-63.
^ "chapt 16". Romansonline.com. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
^ Geschichte der Goten. Entwurf einer historischen Ethnographie, C.H.
Beck, 1. Aufl. (München 1979), 2. Aufl. (1980), unter dem Titel: Die
Goten. Von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des sechsten Jahrhunderts. 4.
^ See Friedrich Lotter on the "Donausueben".
^ "the barbarians, detesting their swords, turn them into ploughs",
Historiarum Adversum Paganos, VII, 41, 6.
^ "anyone wanting to leave or to depart, uses these barbarians as
mercenaries, servers or defenders", Historiarum Adversum Paganos, VII,
^ Domingos Maria da Silva, Os Búrios, Terras de Bouro, Câmara
Municipal de Terras de Bouro, 2006. (in Portuguese)
^ Medieval Galician records show more than 1500 different Germanic
names in use for over 70% of the local population. Also, in Galicia
and northern Portugal, there are more than 5.000 toponyms (villages
and towns) based on personal Germanic names (
Mondariz < *villa
*Mundarici; Baltar < *villa *Baldarii;
Gomesende < *villa
*Gumesenþi; Gondomar < *villa *Gunþumari...); and several
toponyms not based on personal names, mainly in Galicia (Malburgo,
Samos < Samanos "Congregated", near a hundred Saa/Sá < *Sala
"house, palace"...); and some lexical influence on the Galician
language and Portuguese language, such as:
laverca "lark" < protogermanic *laiwarikō "lark"
brasa "torch; ember" < protogermanic *blasōn "torch"
britar "to break" < protogermanic *breutan "to break"
lobio "vine gallery" < protogermanic *laubjōn "leaves"
ouva "elf" < protogermanic *albaz "elf"
trigar "to urge" < protogermanic *þreunhan "to urge"
maga "guts (of fish)" < protogermanic *magōn "stomach"
^ Isidorus Hispalensis, Historia de regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et
^ Ferreiro, 199 n11.
^ a b c d Thompson, 86.
^ St. Martin on
Braga wrote in his Formula Vitae Honestae
Gloriosissimo ac tranquillissimo et insigni catholicae fidei praedito
pietate Mironi regi
^ Ferreiro, 198 n8.
^ a b Thompson, 83.
^ Thompson, 87.
^ Ferreiro, 199.
^ Thompson, 88.
^ Ferreiro, 207.
^ Peterson, Lena. (2002). Nordiskt runnamnslexikon, at Institutet för
språk och folkminnen, Sweden. Archived October 14, 2013, at the
Ferreiro, Alberto. "
Braga and Tours: Some Observations on Gregory's De
virtutibus sancti Martini." Journal of Early Christian Studies. 3
(1995), p. 195–210.
Thompson, E. A.. "The Conversion of the Spanish Suevi to Catholicism."
Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. ed. Edward James. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-19-822543-1.
Reynolds, Robert L., 'Reconsideration of the history of the Suevi',
Revue belge de pholologie et d'histoire, 35 (1957), p. 19–45.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Suebi.
The Chronicle of Hydatius is the main source for the history of the
Suebi in Galicia and
Portugal up to 468.
Identity and Interaction: the Suevi and the Hispano-Romans, University
of Virginia, 2007
Medieval Galician anthroponomy
Minutes of the Councils of
Braga and Toledo, in the Collectio Hispana
Orosius' Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII
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