Germania is a Latin name used during the Roman era to describe a geographical area that stretched from the Rhine River to a vaguely-defined eastern frontier with the forest and steppe regions of modern Russia and Ukraine. Various tribes (mostly Germanic, but also including Celtic, Scythian, and Baltic) inhabited this region. It's believed that these early Germans spoke a dead language called Proto-Germanic. Other languages such as Dutch, Yiddish, German, English, Afrikaans, Norwegian, Old Norse, Swedish, Icelandic, and Danish also grew from it.
Very little is known about the mysterious Germanic people because very few written records exist. However, most scholars believe the early Germanic people originated from the area of southern Scandinavia and the Balkans. In general, the Germanic people were a group of several tribes united in both language and custom. They formed a sort of loose confederation; united, yet fiercely divided. The majority of what we do know about this mysterious land can be drawn from historical accounts written by two Roman authors: De Bello Gallico (On the Gallic War, probably 51 or 50 BC) by Julius Caesar and Germania (ad98) by Cornelius Tacitus.
Germania is probably most famous for its repeated clashes with the Romans. The first clash between these two people was in the 2nd century BC, when the Cimbri and Teutons invaded Gaul and were defeated in present-day Provence, France. In the early 1st century BC, the Romans attempted to conquer the area east of the Rhine river, or Germania Inferior. The Romans were defeated by the Cherusci chief Arminius (Hermann) in an ambush that resulted in the extinction of three entire Roman Legions in 9 AD. The brutal attack on the Romans by the Germans became known as the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. As time progressed and it became the mid 2nd century AD, Germanic pressures on the Roman borders intensified. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius waged successful warfare against many of the Germanic tribes such as the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Iazyges during this time. By this period, German mercenaries were beginning to be used by the Roman armies.
It was long believed that the Germanic people had a dominant role in the fall of Rome. However, since 1950, that idea has changed. The Germanic peoples are no longer seen as invading a decaying empire but as being co-opted into helping defend territory the central government could no longer adequately administer. Later the government of the Empire began to recruit whole tribal groups under their native leaders as officers. Assisting with defense eventually shifted into administration and then outright rule, as Roman traditions of government passed into the hands of Germanic leaders.
Migrations in the 3rd century AD lead to crisis within the empire, as Goths, Franks, and Alamanni penetrated the German borders. The migrations temporarily stopped during the rule of the emporers Dioceltian and Constantine the Great but resumed in the 4th century under pressure from the non-Germanic Huns, who came out of central Asia. During the 5th century, the Germans occupied the whole Western Roman Empire. Over the next few hundred years, the Germanic people adopted Christianity and laid the foundation for medieval Europe. The modern day countries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, and the English-speaking countries still speak Germanic languages.
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