History Files

European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapCalucones (Germanic)

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 Calucones were a minor group whose exact location seems open to some doubt thanks to ancient authors. In his Geography, Ptolemy places them (probably correctly) on either side of the Elbe, calling them the Kaloukones. They were neighboured to the north by the Silingae (Vandals), to the south by the Boii and then their replacements, the Marcomanni, and to the west by the Chatti, while the Marsigni lived very nearby. They should not be confused with the Calucones of the Raeti.

Working out the meaning of the Calucones tribal name means removing the plural suffixes of '-on' and '-es' to leave a core of 'caluc'. An Old High German word list contains 'lug; luk' (sf), meaning 'lie, untruth', and 'lugin' (sm.), meaning 'liar'. Remarkably, this provides the origin for the name of the god Loki, who is universally depicted as a trickster and liar, although it doesn't seem to help with the Calucones. Taking a sideways step provides the tentative possibility that the initial 'c' was originally a 'g', making it the multiple person action prefix, 'ge-'. This could provide 'ge-lucan, lucan, gelucan', meaning 'to lock, to close' in Anglo-Saxon. This may be in the sense of 'they who closed the way'. Were they a tribe who blocked a passageway? It's possible, but equally possible is the tribe being Celtic rather than Germanic. Proto-Celtic contains *kallukko- (?), meaning 'stallion', which would make the tribe 'the stallions' - a much more realistic and likely outcome. To back up this hypothesis, the first part of the name, 'kal', appears to be a word for male genitals: 'kalgā'- (?), meaning 'penis', and 'kalljo-' (?), meaning 'testicle', and in combination 'kaljāko-', meaning 'cockerel', and 'kaljāko-geidā-' (?), meaning 'gander', with 'kallukko-' (?), meaning 'stallion' (ie. male horse, the equine equivalent of the poultry-based cock) as one of several potential combinations. Overall, the likelihood is that the Calucones were originally Celts - probably Belgae - who had become dominated either by a Germanic elite or by neighbouring Germanic tribes.

Pliny the Elder located the Calucones in the Alpine region, linking them to the defeat of the Alpine Celtic tribes by Emperor Augustus between 25-15 BC. This cannot possibly refer to the German tribe of that name as it is far too far south for German tribes at that period, although some clearly Celtic tribes in the Alps, including the Raurici and Seduni, do in fact exhibit some signs of Germanic influence that is puzzling. Possibly there was a short-lived branch or cousin of one of these tribes that bore a name similar to that of the Germanic Calucones. As the name seems to be Celtic anyway, this is entirely possible. Ptolemy's location of them in northern Germany would most likely make them Belgae who had failed to migrate with the bulk of their kin, either to the east to become Veneti or to the west to settle the southern Netherlands, Belgium, northern Gaul and southern Britain. Increasing German superiority would have witnessed the decline of their Celtic culture and language until they eventually disappeared into the German collective.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Germania, Tacitus, from Agricola, from The Harleian Miscellany: A Collection of Scarce, Curious and Entertaining Tracts Volume 4, William Oldys & Thomas Park, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself). Following this, the history of the Alpine region's population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

Pliny the Elder includes the Calucones in this conquest, although it can hardly be the Germanic tribe of that name. Instead it must be an otherwise unknown minor Gaulish tribe or a sub-group of an existing Alpine tribe - or Augustus is claiming to have conquered all the peoples between the Alps and the Baltic Sea, a typically expansive boast used by barbarians and Romans alike.

River Elbe
Although the Calucones were located nowhere near the mouth of the Albis (the modern Elbe), the river's entire length was a major feature in Germania, one that would have aided the migration of German tribes from the north to the south, taking over Celtic tribes as they went

AD 77

In his Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder mentions the Calucones tribe in relation to Augustus' conquest of the Alpine tribes in 25-15 BC. This would seem to place the tribe in entirely the wrong location except that the monument to which he refers also includes the Rugii who are most definitely located on the German Baltic coastline. It seems that Augustus is boasting of conquering all of the tribes between the Mediterranean and the Baltic, a highly improbably claim at best.


Ptolemy, who writes in the mid-second century, places the Calucones to the south of the Silingae (Vandals) ('below the...' which is the term that he also uses to locate the Silingae in relation to the Semnones. The position of these two tribes is known with a good deal of certainty). It is this entry that seems much more likely to be correct than that of Pliny the Elder, unless they are referring to two entirely different groups. Even so, the tribe remains insignificant, and is not mentioned again in history. Its likely fate is that it is subsumed by the Siling Vandals, or the wandering Langobards, or even the Marcomanni to the south.

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