History Files



European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes




Index of Germanic TribesMapBuri (Suevi)

The Germanic tribes seem to have originated in a homeland in southern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway, and probably northern Denmark too), where they had been settled for over two thousand years following the Indo-European migrations. The Germanic ethnic group began as a division of the western edge of late proto-Indo-European dialects around 3300 BC, splitting away from a general westwards migration to head towards the southern coastline of the Baltic Sea. By the time the Germanic tribes were becoming key players in the politics of Western Europe in the last two centuries BC, the previously dominant Celts were on the verge of being conquered and dominated by Rome. They had already been pushed out of northern and central Europe by a mass of Germanic tribes which were steadily carving out a new homeland.

The Buri (or sometimes, Burians) formed one of the minor constituent tribes of the vast Suevi confederation. The territory they occupied in the first century AD lay in the northern foothills of the Carpathians, at the source of the Vistula and Oder, covering Wista in the far south of modern Poland, and the northern parts of Bohemia and Moravia. They were neighboured to the south by the larger Quadi tribe, to the west by the Marcomanni, to the north by tribes such as the Harii, Naharvali, Osi, and Vandali, to the east by Finno-Ugric tribes, and to the south-east by the Celtic Cotini.

The Suevi were a confederation of Germanic peoples that came into existence by the first century AD, and perhaps earlier. Their number included the tribes of the Alemanni, Angles, Hermunduri, Langobards, Marcomanni, Quadi, Semnones, and Warini, and perhaps also the Heruli too. None of these tribes were what could be considered 'front line' tribes, living along the border with the Roman empire. Instead they were arrayed behind a large number of other tribes which were better known and better attested by Roman writers. The Suebic tribes remained a little more obscure, at least until they came into direct contact with the empire, and many of the more minor tribes that made up the confederation were almost entirely unchronicled.

FeatureThe Buri, along with the Marsigni, resembled the core Suebi most in terms of their speech and customs, perhaps hinting at a common tribal origin prior to their settlement in Germania. The tribe should not be confused with the Dacian tribe called the Burs, Buredeense, or Buri. Some sources claim the tribe gained their name from Buri, the first Nordic god, who begat Bor and Wodan (Odin, Oden). Modern Russians claim this Buri tribe migrated from Siberia, originating around Lake Baikal and the Buryan tribe (or Buryats). Russian diplomats toast the God Burjan when they visit this region, although it seems to be a simple confusion between similar-sounding names. More realistically, the Buri were probably one of several hybrid tribes of a mixed Celto-Germanic population. Their name may be Celtic, perhaps from proto-Celtic 'bou-rigo', which emerged as Gaulish in 'bo-rix' with the 'x' dropped; which means 'cow' plus 'king' or, in other words, the cattle kings. The expectation is that in prehistory a group of German elite warriors took over a Celtic tribe.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, Lisa Cerrato, 1942, from Roman History by Cassius Dio, translation by Earnest Cary 1914-1927, and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition). Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe ' section of the Sources page.)


Writing around this time, the Roman writer Tacitus mentions the Suevi, listing their constituent tribes which cover the larger part of Germania. Noted for their custom of twisting their hair and binding it up in a knot, the Buri live close to the Marsigni, eastwards of three tribes along the Danube, the Marcomanni, Naristi, and Quadi.


Ptolemy breaks the Lugii down into Lugi Buri, Lugi Diduni, and Lugi Omani, perhaps including the Buri as members of the Lugii confederation due to their proximity to the Harii, another Lugii constituent member. Ptolemy's linking of the Buri to the Lugii is a new idea, as Tacitus had linked them closely to the Suebi. The implication appears to be caused by the eastwards movement of the Buri and the closely-related Quadi from the Marcomanni settlements of which they both seem to have been a part to the Carpathians in which they had settled in the first century, and their subsequent contacts with their new neighbours, the Lugii.

The Carpathians start in modern Czechia, Slovakia, and Poland, and extend eastwards into Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, and provided a fertile area in which tribes could settle

166 - 169

A new Marcomanni confederation is formed which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Sarmatians, and Suebi. Together they cross the Danube and invade Dacia, penetrating as far as Italy and forcing the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem. The resistance put up by the Romans surprises the tribes, and some of the latter seek individual peace treaties with Rome. As recorded by Cassius Dio, both the Iazyges and the Buri seek peace, and some concessions are granted to them, but neither are willing to join the Roman side until they receive pledges that the emperor will "without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors". Ultimately, the Buri are well-rewarded for absenting themselves from the war, but have to face the hostility of their former allies.

c.181 - 182

Following the death of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and further Germanic unrest, the Buri petition Emperor Commodus for peace. At this point they are destitute, having spent their resources on war. Fortunately, they now meet the empire's qualifications for financial aid, in that they are destitute and potentially dangerous, so they receive the help they need. The Marcomanni are enjoined from seeking retaliation. As they are also now destitute and seeking terms, they comply. The Buri largely disappear from the historical record following this event.

3rd century

By this time, the Suevi have formed a wide-ranging confederation of tribes that are all known individually but which are counted as being Suevi. The vast number of tribes included in the confederation include the Aestii, Angles, Aviones, Buri, Cotini, Eudoses, Gutones, Hermunduri, Langobards, Lugii (a name applied to several tribes: the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali), Marcomanni, Marsigni, Naristi, Nuitones, Osi, Quadi, Reudigni, Semnones, Sitones, Suardones, Suiones (Swedes), and the Warini.

406 - 409

Disrupted by the Hunnic invasion, the bulk of the Suevi cross the Rhine at Mainz in 406 in association with the Vandali and Alans. They are accompanied by a small group of Buri, while the rest remain in their northern Danubian lands. After spending two years on the west bank of the Rhine, all three tribes settle in Roman Spain by 409. The Suevi Kingdom is formed in the north-western region of Galicia, with the Buri settling the region between the rivers Cávado and Homem, in the area now known as Terras de Bouro ('Lands of the Buri').

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
The Celtic tribes in Silesia and surrounding regions were either forced out, or were submerged within later-arriving Germanic tribes

The Buri who remain behind share the ultimate fate of the disrupted northern Danubian tribes, either merging with other tribes in Silesia or attaching themselves to larger tribes in their migrations. Elements may also remain in the region to form part of the later Bavarii confederation.