In the period before and during the Roman empire,
there was no concept of nation among the barbarian peoples to their
Allegiance was given to an individual leader of
one's extended family (ie. tribe). A tribe was indeed regarded as a
family. This is indicated both in Celtic and Germanic cultures by
their words. In Common Celtic the word for tribe is from the same
root as the word for family: teuta-/touta- (this word appears to
have been borrowed into the German language from Celtic and forms
the basis of their word for themselves, Deutsch). And in English /
German the word for a relative (kin / kunni in Old High German)
forms the basis of the word for a ruler (king / konig) with the
addition of an -ing / -ig suffix.
So a group in both cultures was formed around
kinship; and the group was led or commanded by a relative. A
different tribe calling themselves by a different name might be
regarded as relatives, or they might not if no narrative existed
telling people that they were once a single tribe.
Tribes could ally themselves to other tribes and
fight battles alongside them, but they would tend to be led by their
own kings. Even late in the tribal period we see the brothers,
Aethelfrith and Theodbald of Northumbria, in battle with the Scots
of Dalriata, but each commanded their own band of warriors.
Alliances made with another tribe which allowed that
tribe's leader to be in command would be tantamount to submission,
and this would therefore be repugnant in a warrior society. Even
between brothers as in the Northumbrian example, Theodbald would
have been shamed if he had allowed his brother to lead his warriors.
He stood with them and they with him, and that entire wing of the
Northumbrian army was destroyed as a separate unit.
The same is true of tribal alliances. Tribes could
and did ally themselves to one another, but they took to the field
as distinct units during the barbarian period.
In order to get around this problem of submission
it seems likely that, among the tribes that were located farthest
from Mediterranean civilisation, alliances were formed around a god
or goddess, or around an ancestor. Sometimes this was the same thing
(more on that later).
The Lugii would be formed of an alliance that had
been created in the name of Lug (Lugh). The Brigantes of Britain and
Ireland appear to be similarly formed around the goddess Brigit (Brigant?).
The Goths (gods) are another possible such group. And certainly the
three major groupings of the German tribes were formed around the
semi-mythical ancestors Yngvi (the Invaeones), Hermin (the Irminones)
and Ystaev (the Istaevones).
These Belgic Celts typify the warrior appearance of a people
that once occupied much of eastern and central Europe before
they were pushed out or absorbed by later arrivals