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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapBastarnae / Peucini (Celto-Germanics)

The Germanic tribes seem to have originated in a homeland in southern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway, with the Jutland area of northern Denmark, along with a very narrow strip of Baltic coastline). They had been settled here 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 Bastarnae may have originated in the River Vistula region which now forms part of Poland. They were originally linked by scholars to the Pomeranian culture of Iron Age Eastern Europe, but that theory has fallen out of favour more recently. Strabo identifies three sub-tribes which form the Bastarnae; the Atmoni, Peucini, and Sidoni. The Peucini name at least was probably not used until after the tribe had settled around the Danube delta by the end of the first century BC, as it was coined by writers following their colonisation of the Danubian island of Peuce.

By the third century BC they were far removed from traditional Germanic territory. In fact, they may have had a mixed Celto-Germanic ancestry, possibly being Gaulish (Celtic) speakers in 179 BC thanks to observations made by Livy. Contrary to that, in the first century AD they were definitely Germanic speakers. By the late first century BC they were to be found in the northern Balkans, in territory which later formed parts of Moldavia, including a large part of modern Moldova, and areas of Transylvania and southern Ukraine. They must have occupied this area for some time prior to their crossing of the Haemus in 29 BC as they showed some characteristics of steppe-dwelling Indo-Iranians such as Scythians and Sarmatians.

If the tribe's mentions by historical writers are to believed (and why shouldn't they be?), then at some point the Bastarnae were largely of a Celtic origin. Their name cannot be broken down in proto-Germanic, and there's nothing for them in East Germanic (ie. Gothic), but an examination of proto-Celtic delivers 'basedo-', meaning 'boar'. They were 'the boar peope'. However, by the first century AD they were Germanic, or more probably were commanded by a Germanic warrior elite (a common fate for many Celtic tribes), and therefore had to ape their new masters in order to get on in life. This would have meant dressing more like Germans, using German fighting methods, and most definitely speaking Germanic dialects.

Also important in the discussion about who they were is where they were. They appear to have enjoyed a migratory existence which took them from Pomerania on the southern Baltic coast to the Balkans. In fact, prior to the first century BC, it seems most likely that the Bastarnae controlled the area in which the Vandals, Scirii, and other Germanic tribes are shown on the great barbarian map (see the 'map' link at the top of this section). This can be stated because it appears that the Bastarnae took over most, if not all, of the Venedi territory. The Venedi appear to have been sailors (common with Belgic-type Celts). They seem to have sailed up, conquered and controlled the Vistula and its tributary, the Bug, and then crossed land to the Dniester and parallel rivers. This would account for Ptolemy's description of the Venedi as the farthest eastern tribe, occupying territory from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Later many of these river-based Venedi groups fell under Bastarnae domination when the Bastarnae were as Celtic as the Venedi were, with them taking over their entire river-based territory from north to south. They later lost the Baltic zone due to Germanic encroachment from Sweden, which is what the map shows. Such a view of events easily describes the Bastarnae journey southwards. It wasn't so much a migration, more of a dominance of remaining territory after they lost the north.

Their earliest mentions in history places them in Macedonia and Pontus, but not as a tribe, merely as mercenaries fighting for Greek rulers. They remained in the Balkans, however, ending up on the northern side of the Danube delta, where they eventually vanished from the historical record.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Continuity and Innovation in Religion in the Roman West, R Haeussler, Anthony C King & Phil Andrews, from Liber Prodigiorum, Julius Obsequens, from Periocha, Livy, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Valerius Maximus, Pseudo-Quintilian, and Paulus Orosius, from Epitome of Roman History, Florus, from Historia Romana, from Cassius Dio, from Flavius Eutropius, from Strategemata, Frontinius, from 'Breviary', Sextus Festus, from St Jerome Emiliani (Hieronymus), from Getica, Jordanes, from The Celts in Macedonia and Thrace, G Kazarov, from The Origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron, Antiquity, Vol 61, 1987, A K Bergquist & T Taylor, from The Getae in Southern Dobruja in the Period of the Roman Domination: Archaeological Aspects, S Torbatov, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: Journal of Celtic Studies in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Scordisci Swords From Northwestern Bulgaria, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

179 BC

FeatureIn writing about events at this time, the Roman historian Livy may suggest a Celtic origin for the Bastarnae. They apparently have similar language and customs to the Scordisci of the Balkans, whom Strabo (first century AD) describes as being Celtic. The assumption seems to be that these similarities are due to mingling between the tribes. They may also have followed the same river course southwards towards the Black Sea as have been occupied and explored by the earlier-arriving Venedi groups in the east. Given the shared cultural heritage between the two, they may even cooperate in expanding southwards, with the Bastarnae being more prominent here but still containing Venedi elements.

In this year Bastarnae warriors serve as mercenaries for Macedonia (their first mention in history). It seems the tribe must have migrated south-eastwards by this period, one of the first Germanic peoples to leave Northern Europe at a time when their Teutonic cousins are mainly hugging the North Sea and Baltic Sea coastlines. They are now to be found to the north of the Danube.

Philip V of Macedonia
If the Bastarnae were ever paid in coin for their efforts in Macedonia then they would have received coins like this, bearing the head of Philip V of Macedonia

Philip V of Macedonia invites in a massive contingent of warriors from the tribe of the Bastarnae led by Clondicus. Apparently they are long-time allies of his and are needed to help him defeat the aggressive Dardanii, raiding Thraco-Illyrians who are located along his northern border and whom his diminished army is unable to defeat alone. However, the aged king dies before his allies can arrive.

Now unsupported and without supplies, the Bastarnae pillage the land, although they are checked by Thracians who are on the defensive. About half their number return home while the rest press on for Macedonia where they are quartered by Perseus, who uses them in an attack on the Dardani. The Bastarnae are ultimately defeated and return homewards. While crossing the frozen Danube on foot, the ice gives way and most of their number are drowned.

c.121 - 88 BC

Mithradates of Pontus proves to be a resourceful and powerful regional authority. Over the course of the first thirty years of his reign, he methodically captures and adds neighbouring kingdoms to his own realm, including Crimea, Paphlagonia, and Cappadocia, and makes Armenia an ally. He also employs Germanic mercenaries to ensure his victories which include warriors from the Bastarnae tribe. Unfortunately, their involvement leads Rome to begin campaigning along the western coast of the Black Sea over the course of the rest of the first century BC.

The involvement of the Maedi tribe in the second attack on Macedonia in 119 BC also marks the beginning of a new, more widespread involvement in the frequent campaigns between Romans and barbarians. While the Celts in Thrace and the lower Balkans continue to offer the biggest threat to Roman expansion, the native Balkan tribes frequently support them, especially the Bastarnae, Dardanii, and the free Thracian tribes (the Bessoi, Denteletes, Maedi, and Triballi). It takes this Macedonian raid to make Rome fully aware of the severity of the threat to its security in the region.

88 - 85 BC

On the even of the First Mithridatic War, the Roman Senate restores Ariobarzanes to the Cappadocian throne in 89 BC. The war ignites the following year. Staunch enemies of Rome since the massacres of Vulso in 189 BC, the Galatians are now a powerful regional force. They have been resisting Rome's expansion in Asia Minor, siding with Mithradates of Pontus in his matching endeavours, along with the Bastarnae and Scordisci. Defeat for the combined forces at the Battle of Chaeornea in 86 BC against Sulla causes Mithradates to begin to suspect his allies of treachery. This increasing paranoia culminates in a bloody pogrom in which Galatian leaders are massacred at a banquet. Sulla himself has to make a hasty peace deal before rushing back to Rome to handle political problems.

Tetradrachm of Pontus
A tetradrachm issued by Mithradates VI of Pontus and Bithynia around 86-85 BC, towards the end of his dominance in Anatolia and the beginning of true Roman dominance

61 BC

A varying mixture of Bastarnae, Dardanii, Scordisci, and Thracians have met each Roman campaign with a stubborn resistance. Following one particularly successful encounter for the Balkan tribes in this year, that unity is broken by the Thracian tribe of the Getae, who are known to Rome as the Dacians based upon their general geographical position. In 61 BC the Getae are part of a force that is led by the Bastarnae. Together they inflict a humiliating defeat upon the Roman army of the inept Gaius Antonius Hybrida (uncle to Mark Antony) outside a Greek colony at the mouths of the Danube, at the Battle of Histria. The entire Roman force is massacred, abruptly terminating Roman control of the region.

60 - 59 BC

Following the success at Histria, relations between the Getae and their neighbours undergoes a notable deterioration. Suddenly, under the leadership of Burebista, who is apparently guided by a wizard called Deceneus, the Getae launch a succession of brutal attacks on their former allies. The Celts seem to be first on the list, although the Eravisci escape unscathed. The territory of the Boii and Taurisci are laid waste, with the Boii especially being almost genocidally exterminated by Burebista's brutal onslaught. The Scordisci in Thrace follow, their previously unassailable heartland laid open. Next to face Burebista's onslaught are the Bastarnae in Dobruja, who are apparently 'conquered', and then the largely defenceless western Greek Pontic cities.

Some towns resist him, including Histros, Mesambria, and Olbia. These are destroyed. Burebista subsequently declares himself 'King of all Thrace'. The Dionysopolis decree confirms this, having been dated to 48 BC. The start of this decade coincides with the end of local coin production by the Celts and Bastarnae, showing that the cultural and economic status quo has been fatally disrupted.

Archaeological finds from the modern southern Dobruja region also indicates the nature of Burebista's 'Dacian' expansion. During the previous centuries of the Iron Age in the Balkans, around seventy settlements have existed in modern north-eastern Bulgaria, but only twenty-nine of these survive into the Roman period, and continuous habitation even in these is by no means certain. Balkan unity has been destroyed and the Getae now dominate - but for less than twenty years.

49 - 46 BC

Civil war erupts between Julius Caesar and Pompey as the former crosses the Rubicon. Rome's various allies and subject peoples take sides, including the Getae who side with Pompey. Caesar wins the civil war at the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BC, and is appointed dictator of Rome for ten years. The Getae become one of his targets for retribution, but the tide has already begun to turn against Burebista. Having recovered somewhat from the slaughter inflicted upon them a generation previously, the Bastarnae prove especially determined to even the score. They attack the Getae repeatedly, panicking them.

44 BC

Burebista is murdered by his own people for losing his 'luck' in leadership. After picking the wrong side in the Roman civil war, he seems to be unable to defend his people against attacks by their neighbours. The Getic empire fragments into several weaker divisions which are engaged in frequent internecine warfare, and the Getae themselves seek help from their only possible ally in the region - Rome.

30s BC

The Bastarnae seem already to have split into two main groups, the lesser of which is known by Greco-Roman writers as the Peucini thanks to their colonisation of the Danube delta and the Danubian island of Peuce. One of the groups (probably the Peucini) has recently subjugated the Triballi, who occupy territory to the south of the Danube between the rivers Ciabrus and Utus.

? - 29 BC


King of the Peucini group of Bastarnae. Killed.

29 BC

The Bastarnae cross the Haemus in support of the Scordisci in modern north-western Bulgaria. They attack a Thracian tribe known as the Dentheletae who are allies of Rome. General Marcus Licinius Crassus goes to assist the Dentheletae and the Bastarnae withdraw. Crassus follows them and eventually engages them in battle. Caught unawares, the Bastarnae are routed and their king is killed in combat with Crassus. According to Roman writers, thousands of Bastarnae perish in the ensuing slaughter and the Peucini, and Moesia itself, are subjugated. In general the tribe remains docile under imperial control until the late third century AD, but thereafter proves to be an enthusiastic participant in every major attack on Roman Dacia and Thrace.

Mount Haemus
The Haemus mountain range (the modern Balkana, or Stara Planina) is relatively easy to approach from the north, which is the way the Bastarnae travelled, but it presents a formidable barrier on its southern side

c.25 BC

Livy describes the Bastarnae at this time, mentioning a king of theirs who has a name that appears to be Celtic in origin. He also theorises over the tribe's origin, relating to the events of 179 BC.

c.25 BC


King of the Bastarnae named by Livy. The name may be Celtic.

AD 77

The Roman geographer Pliny the Elder briefly mentions the 'Bastarnae and other Germans'. They may (now) be a sedentary tribe, but their increasingly close affiliation with the neighbouring Sarmatians implies an increasingly semi-nomadic way of life - or at least a return to one after a period of settlement. Clearly the Bastarnae are now thought of as being Germanic, so the proposed takeover by a Germanic warrior elite has taken place, and may account for the tribe's lack of activity for an extended period. By this stage Germanic groups are following the same Venedi route south by following the Vistula, and one group must have made it here ahead of the others, establishing themselves amongst the Bastarnae.


Writing at this time, Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Germania Magna which include the Peucini 'who are sometimes called Bastarnae'. He describes them as being iron ore miners who may be vassals of the powerful Quadi and that they are like Germans in their language, the way they live, and the dwellings they build, although he is not complimentary about their standard of living. It appears that mixed marriage between them and the Sarmatians is not uncommon, altering their appearance as a people to some extent.

Culturally the Germanic warrior tradition is so strong that submission as slaves or vassals mining iron is pretty much out of the question. That alone implies that culturally the Bastarnae are not Germans. The fact that they speak the German language merely shows they are subjugated and have submitted, which also means they are not German. Germans in the tribal era typically pretend to submit while they wait for the chance to fight, so labelling the Bastarnae as a Gaulish (Celtic) tribe who are dominated by Germans is probably the most accurate description of them.

101 - 106

Emperor Trajan fights two Dacian Wars (the area of the Balkans up to Transylvania) in 101-102 and 105-106 as the Dacians are proving to be an obstacle to Roman expansion in that area. It is possible that some neighbouring tribes, such as the Bastarnae, are also involved, despite having been at peace with Rome for some time.

The Iazyges certainly are, assisting Rome in the first war and subjugated the Dacians in the second. The complete defeat of the Dacians results in the formation of the Roman province of Dacia, which brings the empire right up to the very door of Roxolani territory. Emperor Hadrian subsequently fortifies the border against their threat.


Around this period, the Bastarnae can be found living in two main groups located close to the mouth of the Danube, on the western shore of the Black Sea. The main group occupies territory between the River Hypanis and the upper River Porata immediately north of Dacia and the Danube, while the lesser group, the Peucini, occupies the coastal strip between the Danube and the lower River Tyras (the modern Dniester). They are perhaps divided by the tribe of the Carpi.


The Peucini are part of an invasion of Roman territory along with Dacians and Sarmatians, principally under the leadership of the Marcomanni. Emperor Marcus Aurelius dies while conducting what would have been a final campaign against the alliance. As it is, he dies before the problem can be fully resolved, and Rome's attention turns elsewhere.


The Greek historian Cassius Dio claims the Bastarnae are Scythians, perhaps misunderstanding their mixed Germanic-Sarmatian heritage of at least a century and-a-half. By this time the Goths have migrated into Moldavia and western Ukraine and form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost certainly including the Bastarnae.

The Danube delta homeland of the Peucini Bastarnae was just north of the former Greek port of Histria, which may have been conquered when the tribe temporarily held power to the south of the delta region


Roman Emperor Gaius Messius Quintus Decius fights the Goths and Sarmatians at the Battle of Abrittus (otherwise known as the Battle of Forum Terebronii). Both he and his son are killed, making him the first emperor to suffer this fate in a battle against non-Roman enemies. Given the Goths' relationship with the tribes of Dacia and Moesia, it seems likely that the Bastarnae are involved, although few specific tribes are named in written records.

267/268 - 269

The Peucini Bastarnae are specifically mentioned in the invasion across the Roman frontier. Part of the barbarian coalition which includes Goths and Heruli, they use their knowledge of boat building from several centuries of living on the Black Sea coast and in the Danube estuary to help build a fleet in the estuary of the River Tyras (now the Dniester). The force of which they are part sails along the coast to Tomis in Moesia Inferior. They attack the town but are unable to take it. Sailing on, they are frustrated twice more, at Marcianopolis (Devnya in modern Bulgaria) and Thessalonica in Macedonia. Finally, they move into Thrace where they are crushed by Emperor Claudius II at Naissus in 269.

270 - 274

Beginning with Emperor Aurelian, a series of remarkable soldier emperors commences the process of reunifying and restoring the Roman empire. Aurelian defeats the Germanic barbarians who had crossed the Danube, including Goths, Sarmatians, and probably Bastarnae, and kills the leader of the Goths. This act begins a shift of power amongst the barbarian tribes.

276 - 282

The Bastarnae are defeated by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus between these dates (in events related by the sixth century historian Zosimus, who also calls them Scythians. However, he tends to lump all the tribes in the region under that term). They are subsequently resettled as laeti on the south bank of the Danube, in Moesia, where they are granted land in the plague-ravaged territory in return for extended military service.

299 - 300

Despite remaining loyal to their oath of allegiance during a subsequent revolt by the other settled tribes in Moesia, the Peucini Bastarnae unite with the Carpi in 299. They lose a battle with Roman emperors Diocletian and Galerius and are forcibly transferred, perhaps in numbers which amount to the entire tribe. This is the last mention of the Peucini in history. They are probably absorbed by the Ostrogoths.


The final mention of the Bastarnae is of uncertain reliability. They are included by Gallic nobleman Sidonius Apollinaris in a list of peoples who are following the Huns across Europe. Taking part in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, they no doubt fall back with Attila's Huns and remain allied until 453, when he dies. Thereafter, the Hunnic empire swiftly breaks up and the Bastarnae disappear into history, possibly resettling to the north of the Danube estuary.

If this mention is correct, it would involve the northern Bastarnae, those to the north of the Danube in what is now Ukraine. They may earlier have been partially absorbed by the Ostrogoths or the neighbouring Sarmatians and then subjugated by the Huns. Any remnant is probably later subsumed within the seventh century kingdom of Bulgaria.

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