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2012 08 01

The Earliest Europeans  

                 Prehistory is a world of archeology in which can be found what skills people had, how they lived and disposed of their dead; but peoples are defined by language, and this archeology cannot unearth.

The Atlas of Languages: the Origin and Development of Language Throughout the World, Quarto 1996

                 from World Prehistory by Grahame Clark, 1961 (third edition 1977):
                 [Northwestern European peoples did not exist during the earliest time of the great Scandinavian Ice Sheet that covered the entire region from the Alps, and from where Paris was to be built, covered the North and Baltic seas, and deep into northern Russia. A new temperate time more than ten thousand years ago opened new teritories, and] the Maglemosian people . . . occupied much of the northern European plain from Britain to south Scandinavia and north-west Russia between c. 8000 and 5600 B.C. . . . Deciduous forest established itself . . . ~ [the] hunters-fishers [adapted].
                 Late Stone Age farmers [emerged in] the sixth millennium B.C. [in] Greece and the south Balkans, [expanded to] coastal zones of the Mediterranean basin [and to] the loess lands of Middle Europe . . . from the Middle Danube to the Rhine, the Vistula and the Dnestr. Finally . . . agriculture was carried over the rest of the temperate zone as far as the northern limit of the deciduous forest. Peasant cultures [developed from Crete and Greece about 6000 B.C., to western Europe 4000 B.C., the north 3000 B.C., and Scandinavia 2500 B.C.].
                 Early metallurgy . . . in Europe grew . . . by the beginning of the fourth millennium. [From copper to bronze, for the] peoples of Europe . . . the iron age . . . dated from the seventh century B.C.

                 Selected passages taken from Caesar and Christ by Will Durant, 1944
and The Age of Faith by Will Durant, 1950
~ as recorded in accounts of the Republic of Rome and the Roman Empire:
                 For seventeen hundred years . . . Rome was the center of the Western world.
                 Remains of an Old Stone Age culture indicate that for at least 30,000 years before Christ the plains were inhabited by man. Between 10,000 and 6,000 B.C. a neolithic culture appeared. . . . About 2,000 B.C. northern Italy was invaded ~ presumably not for the first time ~ by tribes from central Europe. . . . In the valley of the Po the descendants . . . , about 1000 B.C., learned from Germany the use of iron, . . . and, . . . spread their culture . . . far down into Italy. . . . Then, about 800 B.C., a new flood of immigrants arrived, . . . and established between the Tiber and the Alps one of the strangest civilizations in the records of mankind [ ~ the Etruscan].
                 The Etruscans are among the irritating obscurities of history. They ruled Rome for a hundred years or more, . . . but only a few unrevealing words of the language have been deciphered, and scholarship stands in deeper darkness today before the Etruscan mystery. . . . In 618 B.C., . . . an Etruscan adventurer captured the throne of Rome.
                 Perhaps in the eighth century before Christ, . . . a colony of Latins . . . [had] moved some twenty miles to the northwest and founded the most famous of man's habitations. This hazardously hypothetical paragraph contains all that history dares say about the origin of Rome. . . . When the Gauls burned the city in 390 B.C. most historical records were presumably destroyed, [but by Rome itself later] 753 B.C. was given as the date, and events were reckoned anno urbis conditae ~ "in the year from the city's foundation."
                 Livy thought that Romulus had chosen a hundred clan heads of his tribe to help him establish Rome. . . . These men were later called patres . . . and their descendants [patricians] ~ "derived from the fathers," . . . [who] thereafter ruled the Latin plebs, or populace, as a lower caste. . . . In 494 B.C. large masses of the plebs "seceded" . . . and declared that they would neither fight nor work for Rome until their demands had been met. . . . This was the opening of a class war . . . , and a demand for definite, written, and secular laws. [In 451 B.C. ten men were chosen] to formulate a new code [and] . . . transformed the old customary law of Rome into the famous Twelve Tables. . . . It was the first written form of that legal structure which was to be Rome's most signal achievement and her greatest contribution to civilization. . . . [It became a republican constitution for a] complex state, so formed after five centuries of development.

                 About 1200 B.C. a branch of Celts crossed over from Gaul and settled in England. They found there a mingled polulation of dark-haired people, possibly Iberian, and light-haired Scandinavians. They conquered these nations, married them, and spread through England and Wales. About 100 B.C. . . . another branch of Celts came from the Continent and dispossessed their kinsmen of southern and eastern Britain. When [Julius] Caesar came . . . he gave to all the population the name Britanni. . . . [In] A.D. 43 Claudius crossed the Channel with 40,000 men whose discipline, armament, and skill proved too much for the natives; Britain in her turn became a Roman province.
                 The Irish believe . . . that their island . . . was first peopled by Greeks and Scythians a thousand or more years before Christ. . . . Perhaps in the fifth century B.C. some Celtic adventurers from Gaul or Britain or both crossed into Ireland, and conquered the natives, of whom we know nothing.
                 Celtic Gaul reached its zenith in the fourth century B.C. Population expanded with the productivity of the La Tene techniques, and the result was a series of wars for land. About 400 B.C. the Celts, who already held most of central Europe as well as Gaul, conquered Britain, Spain, and north Italy. . . . [But] a century later their vigor began to wane, . . . the Celtic front was pushed back everywhere except in Ireland; the Carthaginians subdued the Celts in Spain, the Romans drove them out of Italy, the Cimbri and Teutones overran them in Germany and southern Gaul. . . . The Rhine was the frontier between classic and primitive civilization. Gaul could not defend that frontier; Rome did; and that fact determined the history of Europe to this day.
                 [By the fourth century A.D.] Celtic tribes from Gaul and Germany had filtered down through the Alps and settled in Italy as far south as the Po. Ancient historians called the invaders Keltai or Celtae, Galatae or Galli, indifferently. Nothing is known of their origin; we may only describe them as that branch of the Indo-European stock which peopled western Germany, Gaul, central Spain, Belgium, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and formed the pre-Roman languages there.

                 [After centuries, Roman] wealth mounted, but it did not spread; in 104 B.C. a moderate democrat reckoned that only 2000 Roman citizens owned property, . . . and the defense of the Republic sank to its lowest ebb. Consequently it was soon attacked . . . on north and south. . . . In 113 B.C. two Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutones . . . rolled down through Germany in a frightening avalanche of covered wagons ~ 30,000 fighting men, with their wives, children, and animals. . . . They met a Roman army . . . and destroyed it. They crossed the Rhine and defeated another Roman army; they poured west into southern Gaul and overcame a third, fourth, and fifth Roman army; at Arausio (Orange) 80,000 legionnaires and 40,000 camp followers were left dead on the field.
                 [During the last century before Christ] 120,000 Germans crossed the Rhine [and] settled in Flanders. At the same time the Helvetii . . . began migrating westward, 368,000 strong. Caesar . . . marched northward, and met the Helvetian avalanche in a bloody battle at Bibracte. . . . Caesar's legions won, but by a narrow margin. . . . He met the Germans near Ostheim, and slew or captured nearly all of them. . . . [Then] Caesar returned to the task of persuading the Gauls that peace is sweeter than freedom. . . . On the Rhine below Cologne, two German tribes had crossed into Belgic Gaul. . . . Caesar met the invaders near Xanten (55 B.C.), drove them back to the Rhine, and slew such of them ~ women and children as well as men ~ as were not drowned in the river. His engineers then built in ten days a bridge over the great stream, there 1400 feet wide; Caesar's legions crossed, and fought long enough on German soil to establish the Rhine as a secure frontier. After two weeks he retraced his steps into Gaul. We do not know why he now invaded Britain.
                 [52 B.C.] was the lowest ebb of Caesar's fortunes, and for a time he considered himself lost. He staked everything upon a siege of Alesia where Vercingetorix had gathered 30,000 troops. Caesar had hardly distributed a like number of soldiers around the city when word came that 250,000 Gauls were marching down upon him from the north. He ordered his men to raise two concentric walls of earth around the city, one before them, the other behind them. Against these walls and the desperate Romans the armies of Vercingetorix and his allies threw themselves in repeated vain attacks. After a week the army of relief broke up in disorder for lack of discipline and supplies, and melted into ineffectual bands at the very moment when the Romans had reached the end of their stores.
                 . . . The siege of Alesia decided the fate of Gaul and the character of French civilization. . . . For three hundred years Gaul remained a Roman province, prospered under the Roman peace, learned and transformed the Latin language, and became the channel through which the culture of classic antiquity passed into northern Europe.
                 Provoked by German invasions of Gaul [about the time of Christ, Roman troops] cross[ed] the Rhine, and . . . fought [their] way to the Elbe. . . . In two campaigns [Tiberius] forced the submission of the tribes between the Elbe and the Rhine. [With a] threatened . . . inva[sion] of Italy, Tiberius quickly made peace with the German tribes, but [three years later] . . . (A.D. 9) . . . a revolt in Germany . . . lured the three legions of . . . the Roman governor into a trap and killed every man of them. Tiberius hastened to Germany, reorganized the army there, stood off the Germans, and, by Augustus' orders, withdrew the Roman boundary to the Rhine. . . . Germany was surrendered to "barbarism" ~ i.e., to a nonclassic culture. . . . The Pax Romana had begun.
                 We call them Germans, but they themselves have never used this name, end no one knows when it came. They were in classic times a medley of independent tribes occupying Europe between the Rhine and the Vistula, between the Danube and the North and Baltic Seas. . . . The Rhineland was probably as thickly settled and affluent in Roman days as at any time before the nineteenth century.
                 [South and east of the Roman Empire of A.D. 300, nations] waited in fierce patience for the crumbling of imperial defenses or morale. Spain seemed safely Roman behind its forbidding mountains and protecting seas; none surmised that it would become in this fourth century German, and in the eighth Mohammedan. Gaul now surpassed Italy in Roman pride, in order and wealth, in Latin poetry and prose; but in every generation it had to defend itself against Teutons whose women were more fertile than their fields. Only a small im­perial garrison could be spared to protect Roman Britain from Scots and Picts on the west and north and from Norse or Saxon pirates on the east or south. Norway's shores were a chain of pirate dens; its people found war less toilsome than tillage, and counted the raiding of alien coasts a noble occupation for hungry stomachs or leisure days. In southern Sweden and its isles the Goths claimed to have had their early home; possibly they were indige­nous to the region of the Vistula; in any case they spread as Visigoths southward to the Danube, and as Ostrogoths they settled between the Dniester and the Don. In the heart of Europe ~ bounded by the Vistula, the Danube, and the Rhine ~ moved the restless tribes that were to remake the map, and rename the nations, of Europe: Thuringians, Burgundians, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, Gepidae, Quadi, Vandals, Alemanni, Suevi, Lombards, Franks. Against these ethnic tides the Empire had no protective wall except in Britain, but merely an occasional fort and garrison along the roads or rivers that marked the frontier limit (limes) of the Roman realm. The higher birth rate outside the Empire, and the higher standard of living within it, made immigration or invasion a manifest destiny for the Roman Empire then as for North America today.
                 Perhaps we should modify the tradition that speaks of these German tribes as barbarians. It is true that in calling them barbari the Greeks and Romans meant no compliment. The word was probably brother to the Sanskrit vara which meant a rough and letterless churl; it appears again in Berber. But is was not for nothing that for five centuries the Germans had touched Roman civilization in trade and war. By the fourth century they had long since adopted writing and a government of stable laws. If we except the Merovingian Franks, their sexual morals were superior to those of the Romans and the Greeks. Though they lacked the civility and graces of a cultured people, they often shamed the Romans by their courage, hospitalty, and honesty. They were cruel, but hardly more so than the Romans; they were probably shocked to find that Roman law permitted the torturing of freemen to extort confessions or testimony. They were individualistic to the point of chaos, while the Romans had now been tamed to sociability and peace. In their higher ranks they showed some appreciation of literature and art; Scilicho, Ricimer, and other Germans entered fully into the cultural life of Rome, and wrote a Latin that Symmachus professed to enjoy. In general the invaders ~ above all, the Goths ~ were civilized enough to admire Roman civilization as higher than their own, and to aim rather at acquiring it than at destroying it; for two centuries they asked little more than admission to the Empire and its unused lands; and they shared actively in its defense. If we continue to refer to the German tribes of the fourth and fifth centuries as barbarians, it will be in surrender to the convenience of custom, and with these reservations and apologies.
                 South of the Danube and the Alps the swelling tribes had already entered the Empire by peaceable immigration, even by royal invitation. Augustus had begun the policy of settling barbarians within the frontier, to replenish vacant areas and legions that the infertile and unmartial Romans no longer filled; and Aurelius, Aurelian, and Probus had adoped the plan. By the end of the fourth century the Balkans and eastern Gaul were predominantly German; so was the Roman army; many high offices, political as well as military, were in Teutonic hands. Once the Empire had Romanized such elements; now the immigrants barbarized the Romans. Romans began to wear fur coats in barbarian style, and to let their hair flow long; some even took to trousers, evoking outraged imperial decrees (397,416).
                 The cue for the great invasion came from far-off Mongolian plains. The . . . Hiung-nu, or Huns, . . . occupied in our third century the region north of Lake Balkash and the Aral Sea. . . . War was their industry, pasturing cattle was their recreation. "Their country, said a proverb, "is the back of a horse." . . . They advanced into Russia about 355, . . . crossed the Volga (372?), and attacked almost civilized Ostrogoths in the Ukraine [which] . . . fought bravely, [and] was defeated. . . . A Visigothic army met the advancing Huns at the Dniester, and was overwhelmed. . . . [Having] begged permission of the Roman authorities on the Danube to cross the river and settle in Moesia and Thrace, . . . [they] were shamelessly pludered by imperial officials and troops. Desperate Goths [were roused] to war. They pillaged, burned, and killed until almost all Thrace was laid waste by their hunger and their rage. [The Emperor] Valens . . . met the Goths on the plains of Hadrianople (378) [in] "the most disastrous defeat encountered by the Romans since Cannae" 594 years before. . . . Two thirds of the Roman army perished. . . . The Emperor . . . died. . . . The Visigoths, joined by Ostrogoths and Huns who crossed the unprotected Danube, ravaged the Balkans at will from the Black Sea to the borders of Italy.
                 [Goths] marched over the Alps, pillaged Aquileia and Cremona, won to [their] side 30,000 mercenaries . . . , and swept down . . . to the very walls of Rome (408). No one resisted. . . . An incalculable number of barbarian slaves, escaping from their Roman masters, entered the service of [the Goths]. . . . A slave opened the gate; the Goths poured in, and for the first time in 800 years the great city was taken by an enemy (410). For three days Rome was subjected to . . . pillage. . . . The Goths marched [their] army out of Italy, and founded the Visigothic kingdom of Gaul . . . with its capital at Toulouise (414).
                 Even in Tacitus' days the Vandals were a numerous and powerful nation, possessing the central and eastern portions of modern Prussia. By the time of Constantine they had moved southward into Hungary. Their armies having suffered an overwhelming defeat at the hands of the Visigoths, the remaining Vandals asked permission to cross the Danube and enter the Empire. . . . For seventy years they increased and multiplied in Pannonia. . . . The withdrawal of legions from beyond the Alps to defend Italy left the rich West invitingly open; and in 406 great masses of Vandals, Alani, and Suevi poured over the Rhine and ravaged Gaul. . . . Gaul had seldom known so thorough a devastation. In 409 they entered Spain, 100,000 strong. . . . Into this apparently secure peninsula the Vandals, Suevi, and Alani descended; for two years they plundered, . . . and extended their conquest even to the African coast.
                 The Vandals crossed over into Africa (429). . . . 80.000 Vandal and Alani warriors, women, and children were joined by the savage Moors, . . . and overwhelmingly defeated [the small regular army of the Roman governor who] retreated to Hippo. . . . For fourteen months the city stood siege (430-1); [the Vandals] then withdrew to meet another Roman force, and so overwhelmed it that [the Romans] signed a truce recognizing the Vandal conquest of Africa. [They] observed the truce until the Romans were off their guard; then . . . pounced upon rich Carthage and took it without a blow (439).
                 Three quarters of a century had passed since the Huns had precipitated the barbarian invasions by crossing the Volga. Their further movement westward had been a slow migration. . . . Gradually they had settled down in and near Hungary and had brought under their rule many of the German tribes. By about 444 Attila (i.e., in Gothic, "Little Father") ruled divers tribes north of the Danuba from the Don to the Rhine. . . . He was now the most powerful man in Europe. . . . Able to put into the field an army of 500,000 men, . . . he marched in 451 to the Rhine, sacked and burned [cities] and massacred their inhabitants. All Gaul was terrified. . . . Visigoths came to the rescue of the Empire; joined the Romans . . . , and the enormous armies met on the Catalaunian Fields, near Troyes, in one of the bloodiest battles of History: 162,000 men are said to have died there. . . . The victory of the West was indecisive; Attila retreated in good order, and the victors were too exhausted, or too divided in policy, to pursue him. In the following year he invaded Italy.
                 [Razing Aquileia], the Huns destroyed it so completely that it never rose again, [they swept past other cities for tribute until] the road to Rome was . . . open to Attila . . . but [he] tarried at the Po. Thence [were] sent a delegation composed of Pope Leo I and two senators. No one knows what happened at the ensuing conference. . . . History only records that Attila now retreated . . . [He] marched his horde back over the Alps to his Hungarian capital [where] he celebrated [his] wedding [to Ildico ~ a woman found with varying names in the sagas and legends of the Germans]. On the morrow he was found dead in bed beside his young wife. . . . His realm was divided . . . [and] the empire that had threatened to subdue the Greeks and the Romans, the Germans and the Gauls, and to put the stamp of Asia upon the face and soul of Europe, had broken to pieces and melted away.
                 A new conglomeration of barbarians swept down into Italy ~ Heruli, Sciri, Rugii, and other tribes that had once acknowledged the rule of Attila, . . . slew [the emperor] and replaced [him] with their general (476]. . . . No one appears to have seen in this event the "fall of Rome". . . . The Germanification of the Italian army, government, and peasantry, and the natural multiplication of the Germans in Italy, had proceeded so long that the political consequences seemed to be negligible shifts on the surface of the national scene. Actually, however, [the general] ruled Italy as a king. . . . In effect the Germans had conquered Italy as [the Vandals] had conquered Africa, as the Visigoths had conquered Spain, as the Angles and Saxons were conquering Britain, as the Franks were conquering Gaul. In the West the great Empire was no more. A new beginning was now possible: . . . the states of modern Europe were born.
                 [Britain] in the fourth and fifth century . . . was threatened on every front: on the north by the Picts of Caledonia; on the east and south by Norse and Saxon raiders; on the west by unsubdued Celts of Wales and the adventurous Gaels and "Scots" of Ireland. . . . Uninvited German hordes landed on Britain's shores; they were resisted with more courage than skill; they alternately advanced and retired through a century of guerrilla war; finally the Teutons defeated the British at Deorham (577), and made themselves masters of what would later be called Angle-land. . . . The cities . . . were ruined; . . . transport was disrupted; industry decayed; law and order languished; art hibernated; and the incipient Christianity of the island was overwhelmed by the pagan gods and customs of Germany. Britain and its language became Teutonic.

                 History picks up the Franks in 240, when [a Roman] Emperor . . . defeated them near Mainz. The Ripuarian Franks ~ "of the banks" ~ settled early in the fifth century on the west slopes of the Rhine; they captured Cologne (463), made it their capital, and extended their power in the Rhine valley from Aachen to Metz. Some Frank tribes remained on the east side of the river, and gave their name to Franconia. The Salic Franks may have taken their distinguishing name from the river Sala (now IJssel) in the Netherlands. Thence they moved south and west, and about 356 occupied the region be­tween the Meuse, the ocean, and the Somme. For the most part their spread was by peaceful migration, sometimes by Roman invitation to settle sparsely occupied lands; by these diverse ways northern Gaul had become half Frank by 430. They brought their Germanic language and pagan faith with them; so that during the fifth century Latin ceased to be the speech, and Christianity the religion, of the peoples along the lower Rhine.
                 The Salic Franks . . . considered themselves . . . self-liberated freemen; Frank meant free, enfranchised. . . . Their laws show them engaged in agriculture and handicrafts, making northeastern Gaul a prosperous and usually peaceful rural socIety. [Their kings longed for sons but had too many and] divided [the] kingdom among them. . . . With barbarian energy they continued the policy of unification by conquest. They took Thuringia in 530, Burgundy in 534, Provence in 536, Bavaria an Swabia in 555; and . . . governed a Gaul vaster than any later France. . . . Nobles [were] rewarded . . . with estates on which . . . began the feudalism that would fight the French monarchy for a thousand years.

                 Only a few hundred miles north of Constantinople [the East capital of a still surviving Empire] . . . the Hun tide had hardly ebbed when a new people of kindred blood, the Avars, moved from Turkestan through southern Russia (588), enslaved masses of Slavs, raided Germany to the Elbe (562), drove the Lombards into Italy (568), and so ravaged the Balkans that the Latin-speaking population there was almost wiped out. For a time the power of the Avars reached from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 626 they besieged and almost captured Constantinople; their failure began their decline; in 805 they were conquered by Charlemagne; and gradually they were absorbed by the Bulgars and Slavs.
                 [The] harassed Empire . . . received a visit (934-42) from a new barbarian horde. The Magyars, like the Bulgars, were probablu derived from those tribes, loosely named Ugri . . . , who wandered on the western confines of China; they too had . . . a strong infusion of Hun and Turkish blood; they spoke a tongue closely related to those of the Finns and the Samoyeds. In the ninth century they migrated from the Ural-Caspian steppes to the lands adjoining the Don, the Dnieper, and the Black Sea. . . . After some sixty years in the Ukraine they again moved westward. . . . In 889 the Magyars overran Bessarabia and Moldavia; in 895 . . . they began their permanent conquest of Hungary; in 899 they poured over the Alps into Italy. . . . They conquered Pannonia, raided Bavaria (900-7), devastated Carintha (901), took Moravia (906), plundered Saxony, Thuringia, Swabia (913), southern Germany and Alsace (917), and overwhelmed the Germans on the Lech . . . (924). . . . But in 933 the Magyars were defeated at Gotha, and their advance was stayed. In 943 they again invaded Italy; in 955 they pillaged Burgundy. At last in that year the united armies of Germany . . . won a decisive victory on the Lechfeld . . . ; and Europe, having in one terrible century (841-955) fought the Normans in the north, the Moslems in the south, and the Magyars in the east, could breathe among its ruins.

                 The earliest known home of the Slavs was a marshy region of Russia. . . . They were of Indo-European stock, and spoke languages related to German and Persian. . . . Frequently divided by migration and fraternal war, the Slavs developed a variety of Slavonic languages: Polish, Wendish, Czech, and Slovak in the west; Slovene, Serbo-Croat, and Bulgarian in the south; Great Russian, White Russian, and Little Russian . . . in the east. As the German tribes moved south and west in their migrations into Italy and Gaul, an area of low population pressure was left behind them in north and central Germany; drawn into this vacuum, and prodded by the invading Huns, the Slavs expanded westward across the Vistula even to the Elbe. . . . When, at the end of the eighth century, this amazing migration of the Slavs was complete, all central Europe, the Balkans, and Russia were a Slavic sea beating upon the borders of Constantinople, Greece, and Germany.


Will Durant Foundation


see also:
['In the Beginning'] ~ a more extensive legendary-history of the Teutons
'de ontwikkeling van [Europa] in kaart' (in the Dutch language)
de geschiedenis van de [Frisii] (also in Dutch)