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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapMarsigni (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.

An East Germanic tribe, by the first century BC the Marsigni were a relatively small group that was thought to be occupying territory in the area of northern Bohemia, around the upper Elbe. They were neighboured to the north by the Semnones, to the east by the Naharvali, to the south by the great expanse of the Boii - soon to be replaced by the Marcomanni - and to the west by the equally minor group called the Calucones.

The Marsigni name is an odd one, like a series of contractions or dropped sounds. A best guess is that it is the Celtic word 'maro-',  meaning 'great', as seen in the name of the Marcomanni leader, Marobodus. In its proper noun form it is 'maros', plus the German suffixes, '-ing', meaning 'from, belonging, to', and '-on' (a plural suffix). Then Tacitus tacked the Latin '-i' plural suffix onto the end. Its original form would have been 'marosingon'. Tacitus mentions them as living in forests and on mountain tops, which suggests strongly that they were a tribe of Celts who retreated into marginal areas and then were Germanised by a conquering prince with the high status Celtic name of Maros, and his band of fighters. Maros himself was probably either a Celtic leader or a German leader with a Celtic name (the latter being a frequent occurrence), showing again the complexity involved in the crossovers between Celts and Germans.

The tribe formed one of the minor constituent tribes of the vast Suevi confederation. This came into existence by the first century AD, and perhaps earlier. Its 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.

The Marsigni, along with the Buri, resembled the core Suebi the most in terms of their language and manner of living, perhaps hinting at a common tribal origin prior to their settlement in Germania. While their location is generally accepted as being around the upper waters of the Elbe, the district around Warsaw has also been put forward as their homeland.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato (1942), from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from the Germanische Stammeskunde, E Schwarz (1956), from Germania, Tacitus G Perl (Ed), as part of Griechische und lateinische Quellen zur Frühgeschichte Mitteleuropas bis zur Mitte des 1. Jahrtausends unserer Zeitrechnung, Part 2, J Herrmann (Ed, 1990), and from Tacitus: Germania, Agricola, and First Book of the Annals, Cornelius Tacitus.)

AD 98

Writing around this time, the Roman writer Tacitus mentions the Suevi, listing their constituent tribes which cover the larger part of Germania. Noted for their custom of twisting their hair and binding it up in a knot, the Buri live close to the Marsigni, eastwards of three tribes along the Danube, the Marcomanni, Naristi, and Quadi.

This is the only mention of the Marsigni by a Roman writer, suggesting a short-lived existence as a splinter tribe, or perhaps as the aforementioned group of Celts which has been taken over by a German prince and his warband.

Western Slovakia
The landscape of western Slovakia, lying a little way to the east of the Marsigni, but perhaps not that far, offers a dramatic contrast in landscape, making the region protectable, but also very verdant and productive


By this time, the Suevi have formed a wide-ranging confederation of tribes which are all known individually but which are counted as being Suevi.

The vast number of tribes included in the confederation include the Aestii, Angles, Aviones, Buri, Cotini, Eudoses, Gutones, Hermunduri (who have virtually ceased to exist as a recognisable independent people), Langobards, Lugii (a name applied to several tribes: the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali), Marcomanni, Marsigni, Naristi, Nuitones, Osi, Quadi, Reudigni, Semnones, Sitones, Suardones, Suiones (Swedes), and the Warini.

406 - 409

The bulk of the Suevi cross the Rhine at Mainz in 406 in association with the Vandali and Alani. After spending two years on the west bank of the Rhine, all three tribes settle in Roman Iberia by 409. The Suevi Kingdom is formed in the north-western region of Galicia.

Crossing the Rhine
The main bodies of the Vandali, Alani, and Suevi tribes crossed the Rhine at the end of 406, resulting in panic and chaos within the Roman empire

Whether the Marsigni are amongst their number is entirely unknown. Following their single mention by Tacitus they have disappeared into the general Suebian collective.

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