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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapCampsiani (Suevi)

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.

By the first century BC the Campsiani were a relatively small group that was apparently occupying territory around the northern Netherlands, probably being neighboured by the Ampsivarii, Chauci, Frisii, and Landi. Their name is a puzzle. The second part, the '-ani' suffix, suggests that they were 'of the Campsi', but what was the Campsi? Many times a fortified position, such as at the heart of a town, would be built in the bend or loop of a river in order to make use of the natural defence provided by the water. The fort of Ambrosius, Amesbury in Britain (otherwise known as Vespasian's Camp), was built in a bend of the River Avon. In any case, the proto-Celtic word for a bend in a river is *kamb-atsu-, literally meaning 'bend in a river'. It is fairly easy to see 'kambatsu' degenerating into 'kamps-'. So the Campsiani would be the 'people of the bend in the river'. This is certainly a Celtic name, which would also account for the subsequent town in Germania and another in Hispania having the same name.

The Campsiani formed one of the minor constituent tribes of the vast Suevi confederation in the first century AD. Their existence was recorded by Strabo, who described them as being one of the more indigent tribes due to their lack of effort to improve their status. He also includes them amongst tribes living 'near the ocean'. With the other tribes mentioned along with them, especially the Chauci, this would place the Campsiani on the Atlantic coast, either in the northern Netherlands or north-western Germany. Some commentators have confused this Campsiani with a people of the western Black Sea coast known as the Cempsi, but Strabo is very clear about lumping the Campsiani together with the Chauci, Cimbri, and Sugambri.

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.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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 Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.AD 24

Shortly before his death in AD 24, Strabo completes ongoing work on his Geography. It contains a description of the peoples and places known to this Greek writer who latterly lived in Rome. One of the Germanic tribes mentioned are the Campsiani whom he includes amongst the Suevi. They live along the coast, contiguous with the Chauci, and close to the Chattuarii and Landi, which places them on the Atlantic coast of the northern Netherlands.

Windeby body
The Windeby I bog body in Schleswig, within the vast swathe of Suevi confederation territory, is dated to about the second century AD, and contains a male of around fourteen years who appears to have been murdered, perhaps as a punishment or part of a sacrifice

The tribe is not mentioned again, suggesting that the ebb and flow of minor tribes such as this coming into existence and being once again submerged within larger bodies such as the neighbouring Chauci is fairly common. The Chauci themselves continue to provide auxiliaries to the Roman armies through their treaty obligations, but that does not stop them from acting independently or in concert with other Germanic tribes when they oppose the Romans. There are wars in which Chauci are to be found on both sides, with those serving in the Roman forces continuing to obey their orders and carry out their duties normally. The Campsiani are almost certainly involved in this, despite the apparent end of their existence as a separate entity.

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