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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapMarsi (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.

Not to be confused with the Italian Marsi, this was a small Germanic tribe that was located along the east bank of the Rhine. The tribe was neighboured to the south by the Usipetes and Sicambri, and to the north by the Bructeri close to the River Lippe, with the Cherusci and Hermunduri to be found fairly distant from their eastern flank, and the Roman city of Novaesium (modern Neuss in North Rhine Westphalia, in Germany) to the immediate south-west, across the Rhine.

The Marsi name does not sound Germanic but Gaulish (Celtic). Add to this the name of their one known leader, Mallovendus, which again looks Gaulish (mallo plus vend). Lastly, their goddess is reported as being Tanfana, but 'fana' is Latin for 'temple', making it more likely that Tanafana means 'temple of Tana'. In a large number of ways, Gaulish is so similar to Latin that the two could be considered dialects of each other. This would make Marsi a possible tribal name after the god Mars. As for Tana, this would be Dana, another deity (like Thor) worshipped by both Germanic and Celtic tribes (notably remembered in the Tribe of Dana, or Tuatha de Danann, of Ireland). All this points toward a tribe of 'Germans' with a partial ethnic Gaulish origin.

The entry by the Marsi onto the historical record was a brief one. They were heavily involved in the massacre of three legions of Roman troops under the leadership of Publius Quinctilius Varus in AD 9, apparently even capturing one of the legionary eagles that was reported missing. By AD 15 they had effectively been exterminated as a tribe during the start of the Roman retaliatory campaign. Their only legacy of note was to live at least three towns that bore their name and which still exist today.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, 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: Espadana-Walker.com (dead link), and A Theory of Civilisation, Philip Atkinson, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

12 - 9 BC

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, is appointed governor of the Rhine region of Gaul. He launches the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and begins the conquest of Germania. He starts with a successful campaign that subjugates the Sicambri. Later in the same year he leads a naval expedition along the North Sea coast, conquering the Batavi and the Frisii, and defeating the Chauci near the mouth of the Weser. In 11 BC, he conquers the Bructeri, Usipetes and Marsi, extending Roman control into the Upper Weser. In 10 BC, he launches a campaign against the Chatti and the resurgent Sicambri, subjugating both. The following year he conquers the Mattiaci, while also defeating the Marcomanni and Cherusci, the latter being taken care of near the Elbe. He is killed in a fall from his horse during his fourth campaign, and his death deprives Rome of one its best generals.

AD 9

The Marsi are first recorded when they join the confederation of tribes that inflicts upon Rome one of its most shocking defeats. Arminius of the Cherusci declares his independence from Rome with his decimation of three legions under Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. He achieves this momentous victory in an alliance with the Bructeri, Chatti, Chauci, Marsi, and Sicambri. The Dulgubnii, Tencteri, and Usipetes are also very likely to be involved. Unfortunately, the act leads to open division within the Cherusci.

Teutoberger wald
The decimation of three legions in the Teutoberger wald was a massive humiliation for the Roman empire and caused the abandonment of plans to conquer Germania Magna


Roman General Germanicus begins his invasion of northern Germany with Segestes of the Cherusci as an ally. He enters Marsi territory with 12,000 legionaries, along with eight squadrons of cavalry and twenty-six cohorts of auxiliaries. The Bructeri, Tubantes and Usipetes team up to harass the Roman troops, and they are later included in Germanicus' triumph.

? - 15


Mentioned by Tacitus.


The Marsi role in resisting the Romans is short-lived. They are celebrating the feast of their goddess Tan (or Tanfana, see the introduction for a discussion of this name), and are in no condition to give battle. As a result they are massacred and Tanfana's temple is destroyed. Tacitus later records that an area of fifty Roman miles of Marsi territory is laid waste. It also seems that the Marsi had been the possessors of one of the legionary eagles from the massacre of Varus and his troops in AD 9, and this is now recovered. Germanicus subsequently continues his campaign against the Bructeri and the Cherusci.


Writing at this time, Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Germania Magna, including the Marsi. He ties them closely to the wars of Germanicus against the confederation of Germanic tribes led by the Cherusci at the start of the century. However, the massacre of the Marsi in AD 14-15 destroys the tribe. Whatever survivors there might be, they disappear into other tribes and lose their own identity. Much of their land is later absorbed by the Hessians. Despite the tribe's early disappearance in the various wars against Rome, several towns owe their names to the Marsi, including Volkmarsen in what is now northern Hesse, and Marsberg and Obermarsberg in the east of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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