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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapChattuarii / Chasuarii? / Hetwara (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 Chattuarii were a minor Germanic tribe of the first to sixth centuries AD. They appear to be named in both in the Old English poems, Beowulf and Widsith, as the Hætwerum (Hetwaras), and were involved under that name when they fought the Geats. Describing a Europe of about AD 500, the Widsith list mentions several Germanic peoples, not all of whom can be properly identified. It covers a span of up to a century, and was probably cobbled together from all the famous warriors known to the poem's composer.

A division of the Franks by the late fifth century, the Chattuarii (or Chattwari, or even Attoarii) could be found occupying territory to the east of the Lower Rhine, bordered on their eastern flank by the Chatti and to the south of the Bructeri, where they were known by Rome. To the east were the Angrivarii. The main body of Chattuarii probably remained east of the Rhine until the mid-fifth century, when they crossed with the bulk of the Franks and settled between the Meuse and the west bank of the Rhine. They were eventually entirely absorbed by the Franks.

The basic tribal name is 'chat' or 'het' or 'haet'. The '-uarii' suffix is a Romanisation of '-waras', which in turn is itself a plural (plural forms include '-waras', '-were', and '-weren' (the last of which may have been mangled as '-werum'), supplying the standard '-en' or 's' plural ending). The word is itself Gaulish in origin, from 'uiros' or 'wiros', meaning 'a man'. So, simply put, the tribe would be called the Hate-men. But they used the Gaulish word for men instead of the Germanic word, which is suggestive in itself of heavy Gaulish contact in the Iron Age. There is even a case for making the entire Chattuarii name to be one of Gaulish origin (a more detailed examination of this possibility is made for the Angrivarii). The 'chat' or 'het' part could come from the proto-Celtic *katu-, meaning 'fight' or 'battle' (the hard 'k' became softened in Germanic). The name would mean 'fighting men'. Additionally, it may possibly be an indication that they are a branch of the Chatti.

The Chasuarii were mentioned by Tacitus around AD 98, when he described them as dwelling beyond the Chamavi and Angrivarii. This has led scholars to place them around the modern region of Hannover, while Ptolemy mentions the Kasouarioi who lived eastwards of the Abnoba Mountains, placing them around Hesse. The general spread of territory ascribed to them suggests that they were in fact the Chattuarii. The Widsith list names them as the Hætwerum (Hetwaras), which is exactly the same as Chattuarii but with an alternate spelling thanks to varying authors writing things down in varying ways.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Hetware and Hugas: Datable Anachronisms in Beowulf, Walter Goffart, from Geography, Ptolemy, from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, from Germania, Tacitus, 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

Strabo mentions the little-known Chattuarii as neighbours of the Chatti, Campsiani, and Landi, placing them immediately to the east of the lower Rhine for the subsequent four centuries. The tribe's origins are unknown, and they seem not to be particularly migratory.

3rd century

Elements of the Chattuarii are hired as laeti by Rome in the third century to be settled in the pagus attuariorum in Gaul (Atuyer in modern France). By this time the Germanic Franks have first been documented when they are to be found occupying territory on the Lower Rhine valley (on the east bank, in what is now northern Belgium and the southern Netherlands). They are one of several West Germanic federations, and are formed of elements of the Ampsivarii, Batavi, Bructeri, Chamavi, Chatti, Chattuarii, Cherusci, Salii, Sicambri, Tencteri, Tubantes, and Usipetes. Most of these peoples live along the Rhine's northern borders in what is becoming known as Francia. The fortunes of all of these tribes are now tied to the greater Frankish collective.


The main body of Chattuarii have probably remained to the east of the Rhine until this period. They are still neighboured to the east by the Chatti and to the south of the Bructeri. At this point they cross with the bulk of the Franks and settle between the Meuse and the west bank of the Rhine.

Citadel of Namur
The Meuse valley, shown here at the citadel of Namur, formed the western border for the Chattuarii following their crossing of the Rhine, taking territory from the fading Roman administration


By this time the Merovingian king, Clovis, counts himself master of all the Salian Franks, and a single kingdom has clearly emerged in north-eastern Gaul. Along the way he has probably disposed of many more minor leaders of tribes that are now considered to be Frankish, and any prominent leader of the Chattuarii may be included in this number, although this particular task may be left to his successor, Clothar.

fl c.525


King of the Chattuarii. One of the tribes that make up the Franks.


The Chattuarii appear both in Beowulf and the Widsith list as the Hætwerum (Hetwaras), which is a more Germanic form of their otherwise Romanised tribal name. They form a coalition with the Frisians and the Hugas (perhaps the Chauci) to fight a Geatish raiding party led by Hygelac. The king of the Geats is killed, his party heavily defeated, and only Beowulf escapes. This is the final mention of the Chattuarii. They are subsequently absorbed entirely by the Merovingian Franks, possibly as a division of the more minor Ripuarian Franks.


A province of East Francia, known as a 'gau' is first mentioned in the Treaty of Meerssen in this year. Known as Hattuarian Gau, it is on the west bank of the Rhine. This may well be a surviving relic of the Chattuarii.

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