56. What Kind of People the Early Germans Were. When the Teutons, or Germans, dwelt in the forests of northern Europe they were a simple, barbarous people. Perhaps they knew hardly more than the best tribes of American Indians. Unlike the dark-skinned inhabitants of Italy and Gaul, the Germans were tall and fair. When, clad in the skins of beasts and waving their spears and two-edged swords, they rushed to the attack with their fierce blue eyes gleaming through their long yellow or red hair, it is no wonder that they often seemed like giants to the Roman soldiers who opposed them.

The ancient Germans were divided into tribes such as the Angles, the Franks, and the Saxons, some of which have given their names to important countries or districts of modern Europe like England (Angle-land), France, and Saxony. Since most of all the Teutons delighted in war, they were continually engaged in savage conflicts among themselves. They loved daring deeds and adventures, and often went upon distant expeditions in quest of plunder and excitement. Peace these barbarians thought stupid. So they spent their days idling and gambling.

Unlike the people of the Roman Empire, who bowed 4own before Caesar, these tall warriors felt that every mart should be free to do as he pleased. Some of the tribes had kings, but when anything of importance was to be decided all the freemen came together in a meeting called a "folk-moot." Here, with their weapons in their hands, they listened to what the chiefs proposed and shouted out their approval or dissent. If the king died, or was slain in battle, the warriors chose another, raising him on a shield with loud cries and the clashing of weapons.

Every tribe, every district, even every viilage had its meeting, and if all the warriors could not come together, it was the custom for the villages to send picked men to speak for them as representatives. Yet even when some question had been decided, each warrior was free to do as he pleased. If he did not wish to take part in an expedition, no one could compel him to go. It was deemed cowardly, however, to refrain from war.

The Germans knew nothing of cities or towns, but dwelt far apart in villages in the wilderness. When later they saw the Roman cities, they despised and often destroyed them. At first they lived by hunting and fishing, but in time learned how to till the soil in rude ways. The land around each village was thought, however, to belong equally to all the people living in it, and each year the fields were divided anew by lot. So one warrior did not often become much richer than the rest.

These rough old Teutons bad some fine ideas. They held women in great respect, and women often had much influence among them. Frequently they went with the warriors to the battlefield, and by cry and gesture urged them on to brave deeds. Here, too, the women cared for the wounded, and in time of dire need they even mingled in the fray.

Like most early peoples, the Teutons worshiped the forces of nature, to which they gave names as gods and goddesses. Their chief god, the sky, was called Odin or Woden, and another fierce old god was Thor, who made the thunder with his huge war hammer. Even yet we call some of the days of the week by names taken from those of the old German gods, as Wednesday (Wodensday) and Thursday (Thorsday).

The gods, thought the Teutons, loved brave men, and all who met death fighting courageously were taken to Woden's great hail, Valhalla. When a battle was raging the daughters of Woden, called the Valkyries, hovered over the slaughter and picked out the best and bravest warriors to grace their father's board. The chosen men fell; but the.Valkyries, mounted on magic steeds, at once carried them through the sky to Woden's palace. Here they would forever feast, and drink from the skulls of their enemies.

Among the hero stories of the early Teutons the most famous are those set forth in a long poem called the Song of the Nibelungs. Though this was not written down until after the life of the German tribes had been greatly changed, its incidents, filled with fighting and adventurous deeds, show that it must have been composed at a very early time.

The Song of the Nibelungs tells of the life and death of a strong hero named Siegfried. Armed with a magic sword and provided with a magic cap by which he could become invisible, Siegfried slew a terrible dragon and won a great treasure. But unhappily this treasure brought a curse to whomsoever owned it. Urged on by the fierce Brunhild, a woman whom Siegfried had once loved, a cruel warrior named Hagen stabbed the hero from behind and slew him. But Siegfried's wife thirsted for revenge, and in the end brought all his enemies to miserable slaughter.

Such. stories could only come from a race which delighted in red conflict and the clash of arms.

Like most barbarous people, the ancient Teutons had other bad faults besides fondness for battle. Perhaps the worst was their love for strong drink. But though they were a rough folk, with crude notions on many things, they became great because they had the ability to learn.

To Americans they must always seem important, for most of us have more or less of their blood in our veins.

57. Conquests of the German Tribes. At first the Teutons often made raids into the Roman Empire merely for plunder. But in course of time many Germans were allowed to enter peacefully. Many enlisted in the Roman armies and learned to become good Roman soldiers. Others were put upon the land to take the place of peasants who had died or been slain. But though great numbers thus came into Roman territory, there were always more behind. Finally whole tribes of Germans left their native wilds and wandered into southern Europe, seeking new homes. With each band of fairhaired warriors came a long line of lumbering carts, in which they brought their wives, their children. and their rude household goods.

When the Roman legions could no longer drive them back, terrible destruction was often wrought by these people. Rich cities were plundered and ruined, and whole districts of the country made almost deserts. Rome itself, so long the proud capital of the world, was finally taken by the Goths under their chief Alaric, and for three days given over to sack and plunder. (410 A.D.)

But though the Teutonic tribes were barbarous they were by no means savages. When they had overthrown the Roman governors and pillaged to their hearts' content, they finally settled down in different parts of the Roman territory, establishing kingdoms of their own under the rule of their strong war chiefs. Thus the West Goths settled in Spain, the Franks in France, and the Lombards in northern Italy.

The invaders took possession of' much of the land for their own use, but by no means all the Roman inhabitants were slain. They remained in subjection to their new German masters, and, as centuries rolled by, gradually intermarried with them and thus formed new peoples. So from the union of the conquering Teutons and the conquered Romans came the French, the Spaniards, and the Italians of our day. Since in southern Europe the Roman people were far more numerous than their conquerors, the Italians and Spaniards have much more Roman than Teutonic blood. In northern Europe, the blue eyes and fair hair of the people show that they are descended mainly from the old German warriors.

But after the coming of the Teutons what had been the Roman Empire was much changed. These rough people knew little of civilized life, and of course could not give up their warlike ways at once. Even after they had begun to settle amid the conquered Romans they continued to carry on fierce wars with each other. One German king continually attacked another, and when a ruler died his sons were almost sure to contend in bloody contest for his power. Bloodshed and massacre now took the place of that peace which the Roman Empire had once secured with its strong hand.

No more cities were built, no more roads were constructed, no more books were written. Civilization was indeed at low ebb. The time called the "Middle Ages" had begun for Europe. It was a period of darkness and cruelty.

58. Britain Conquered by the Angles and Saxons (449 A.D.). For three hundred and fifty years the Romans bad ruled Britain, the land once visited by the legions of Julius Caesar. In their day a traveler could have seen fair cities like York, Lincoln, and London adorned with temples and baths. Here and there through the country appeared the splendid villas of great Romans, and hard white roads ran through the land like threads of a spider web. The native Britons, too,, who had once seemed to Caesar merely tattooed savages, were rapidly learning Roman ways, and when Christianity became the religion of Rome, Britain also shared its benefits.

It is true that in the rugged hills of the north, in what is now Scotland, there still lived clans of sturdy fighters whom the Romans could not subdue. But to prevent these Picts and Scots, as they were called, from plundering the civilized Britons, the Romans set up a great wall, with forts and towers, which ran entirely across the island. With this protection; and guarded by Roman legions, Britain seemed safe.

But when the Teutonic tribes began to carry fire and sword into Italy itself, Rome could no longer spare her soldiers to guard this distant island. To the dismay of the Britons, the Roman legions marched away and took ship for home.

Upon this unfortunate people trouble soon came. In fierce plundering raids the Picts and Scots broke through the wall. The Britons, once so bold, knew no longer how to repel them. Whither should they turn for aid?

In those days might have been seen from the heady lands of Britain the long boatS of certain German tribes who lived across the North Sea, just where Denmark and Germany now come together. These piratical people were the Angles, baxons, and other tribes whom we usually speak of together as the Anglo-Saxons. They were much like other Teutonic tribes, but instead of invading the Roman Empire by land it was their custom to put to sea in their long ships and prowl about the coasts in quest of booty and adventure. What easy prey they would now find in Britain!

In their trouble the foolish Britons, it is said, made the mistake of inviting a band of these fierce warriors, led by two tall chiefs called Hengist and Horsa, to land and help them against the Picts. For the Anglo-Saxons it was a pleasant task. They came on shore, drove back the Picts, and then, since they saw how green and fertile the land was, decided to stay. When the Britons objected they fell upon them and overthrew them with great slaughter.

Soon other parties of Anglo-Saxons came, landing here and there upon the coast, and seizing the land. The Britons saw themselves despoiled of their country.

But the Britons were naturally a brave people and soon plucked up courage. For one hundred and fifty years they struggled foot by foot and inch by inch with the Angles, who kept coming in ever increasing numbers. Sometimes the Britons were victorious, especially under the lead of a great prince whom in their stories they called King Arthur. But in the long run they could not resist the strong and sturdy Anglo-Saxons. So in the end the whole country became Angle-Land, or, as we say, England. The tall, blue-eyed Teutonic invaders were the forefathers of the modem English and, therefore, of many of us Americans.

But how England was now changed! The splendid Roman cities were ruined; villas and baths were gone. The Anglo-Saxons knew only how to live as they had done in their native German forests. No one could then foresee that these fierce people, in the course of centuries, were to become one of the leading civilized races of Europe.

As for the Britons, those who were not slain or made slaves took refuge in the rough mountains along the west coast. Here their descendants still live. Since they could not understand their speech the Angles had called them Welsh, or "strangers," and we still name their country Wales. The Welsh have never entirely adopted English ways, nor have they ever quite forgotten the time when all Britain was theirs.


The Leading Facts. 1. The ancient Teutons were tall, fairhaired barbarians. 2. They loved freedom so much that they would submit only to chiefs whom they themselves chose. 3. All important matters among them were decided by popular meetings. 4. They held women in great respect. 5. Among the gods whom they worshiped, Woden and Thor were the most important. 6. When the Teutons first came into the Roman Empire they wrought great destruction. 7. Later they settled down and intermarried with the people whom they conquered. 8. Their coming nearly destroyed civilization, and brought the dark period called the Middle Ages. p. One of the most important of the Teutonic peoples were the Anglo-Saxons, who occupied England.

Study Questions. 1. What kind of people were the early Teutons? 2. Name some of the Teutonic tribes. 3. How did the Teutons show their love for freedom? 4. Why did they dislike the Roman way of living? 5. Describe the religion of the early ans. 6. How was it like that of the Greeks and Romans? 7. What did the Teutons do when they first came into Roman territory? 8. How did their conduct afterward change? 9. Where did the Goths settle? the Franks? the Lombards? io. Why did not the Teutons carry on the Roman civilization? 11. What was the character of the Middie Ages? 12. How did the island of Britain appear when it was ruled by the Romans? 13. Why did the Rornans leave Britain? 14. What troubles came upon the Britons after the Romans went? 15. Who were the Anglo-Saxons? 16. Why did they decide to stay in Britain? 17. Tell how Britain became England. 18. What became of the Britons?

Suggested Readings. Tappan, European Hero Stories, 1-30, 54-60 and England's Story, 1-17; Harding, The Story of the Middle Ages; Haaren and Poland, Famous Men of the Middle Ages; Dutton, Little Stories of Germany; Blaisdell, Stories from English History, 1-21; Yonge, Young Folks' History of England.

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman