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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes




Index of Germanic TribesMapNuitones (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.

By the first century BC the Nuitones were a relatively small group that was thought to be occupying territory in the area around that of the Langobards, in the southern Cimbric Peninsula and along the east bank of the lower Albis (the modern Elbe). They were neighboured by the Langobards, Reudigni, Saxons, Eudoses, and others, but exact locations are unknown thanks to a paucity of information.

In the nineteenth century, Karl Müllenhoff suggested that the Nuitones name had suffered at the hands of scribes, since 'ui' is not a Germanic diphthong. Kemp Malone puts forward Hevatones as a more realistic alternative, which may have been copied down as Hvitones. The 'h' could easily have been mis-transcribed as an 'n', a not-infrequent occurrence in manuscripts of Tacitus' Germania. In fact, this could be taken a little further with some plausibility, with Heutones seemingly equating to Eotan, the Old English form of Jutes. However, the Jutes are already included by Tacitus as the Eudoses, making it less likely that they are one and the same tribe.

However, the above explanation may contain too many 'ifs' and 'buts'. A more straightforward explanation, if a more controversial one, refuses the idea that the tribe's name was originally German. Regardless of the spoken language or ancestry of the tribe, the name has come down to us as a Celtic deity name, Nuada, also known as Nodens. The tribe's name follows the same shift experienced by the Jutes, from 'd' to 't', from Eudoses to Eoten. This implies (but does not prove) that the people spoke Germanic. It may very well be a fact that the German tribe also honoured this deity, borrowing it from the Celts the same way they borrowed Thor. So, with the '-on' and '-es' suffixes removed, the base name is 'Nuit', probably with a soft vowel, 'a' or 'eh', after it. That gives us Nuita, which is almost Nuada. Now this may not seem especially close to the Germanic deity, Nerthus, or 'Mother Earth', but it is perfectly possible for this tribe to have been Germanised Celts with a Celtic name who honouring a Germanic deity with a slightly different name. There is no conflict in this explanation, and if the excuse of a transcription error could be used in the original name breakdown then it can also be used here.

The Nuitones formed one of the minor constituent tribes of the vast Suevi confederation. This came into existence by the first century AD, and perhaps earlier. Its 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.

The Nuitones were only mentioned by Tacitus in Germania, as were a number of other Suebic tribes. He added that there was nothing noteworthy about these tribes individually, but that they shared a common worship of Nerthus. Via Gudmund Schütte and Karl Müllenhoff, the Espada-Walker site also suggests that there may be a corruption here, that 'Nuitones' should be 'Teutones' or 'Uitones' (yet another form of 'Jutes'), citing the lack of a mention anywhere else as a reason. This may be true, but many tribes were mentioned only once, by various of the main Roman and Greek authors. Few of the tribes in the group that contains the Nuitones can be located with any accuracy as it seems that Tacitus was merely given a list of names, possibly in order of descent, without any further details. Given that the location of the Angles is largely certain, the approximate positions of the others around them can be guessed, and a focus on the western part of the Baltic Sea seems to have been universal amongst them.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, from The Literary History of Hamlet, Volume 1, Kemp Malone, and from External Links: Espadana-Walker.com (dead link), and A Theory of Civilisation, Philip Atkinson.)


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 seven tribes of Jutland and Holstein', which include the Angles, Aviones, Eudoses, Nuitones, Reudigni, Suardones, and Warini, are all part of the Suebic confederation.

Mandø Island
The islands between modern Denmark and Sweden were part of a little-known habitat for the early Suebic tribes of the Western Baltic Sea, including Mandø seen here, one of the islands in the Danish Wadden Sea off the south-west coast of Jutland

Of this group, Tacitus says: 'They believe that she [Mother Earth] interests herself in human affairs and rides through their peoples. In an island of Ocean [the islands of eastern Denmark] stands a sacred grove, and in the grove stands a car [carriage] draped with a cloth which none but the priest may touch. The priest can feel the presence of the goddess in this holy of holies, and attends her, in deepest reverence, as her car is drawn by kine. Then follow days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place that she honours with her advent and stay. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every object of iron is locked away [ie. weapons]; then, and then only, are peace and quiet known and prized, until the goddess is again restored to her temple by the priest, when she has had her fill of the society of men. After that, the car, the cloth and, believe it if you will, the goddess herself are washed clean in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what that sight can be which is allowed only to dying eyes.'


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 (who have virtually ceased to exist as a recognisable independent people), 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.

c.500 - 600

Widsith seems not to mention the Nuitones, but if they are in fact the Jutes or another tribe that has originally been mislabelled, then their fate is probably very similar to that of their neighbours. If they remain located in this region while the Jutes and Angles migrate to Britain, then they are eventually subsumed by the growing power and dominance of the Danes.