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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapMattiaci (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.

By the first century BC the Mattiaci were a relatively small group which was occupying territory on the east bank of the Rhine, above the mouth of the River Meno tributary (the modern Main), roughly midway between Mainz and Frankfurt. They were neighboured by the Usipetes to the north, the Chatti and Quadi to the east, the Marcomanni to the south and, across the Rhine, by the Vangiones and Treveri.

There is no clear definition of what the tribe's name meant. Instead, at least three possibilities exist. The first part of the name, 'mat', is the older form of 'meat', involving meat or any soft food in general. The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography suggests that the name is derived from a combination of 'matte', meaning 'a meadow', and 'ach' (pronounced with the 'ch' as in 'loch'), signifying water or a bath. Finally, Schutte suggests that the tribe derived its name from the name of the Chatti capital of Mattiacum. This is certainly possible as the Mattiaci may have been a branch of the Chatti, who had remained a little farther back from the Rhine.

The Mattiaci seem to have settled territory that later formed the heart of the duchy of Nassau, between the rivers Lahn, Main, and the Rhine, and with a main settlement at Mattiacum. Tacitus does not clearly indicate their homeland, but a comparison between his work and those by Pliny and Ammianus Marcellinus pins them down to Nassau. Their first mention in history comes during the campaigns of Drusus in the last years of the first century BC. Rome conducted its first major campaign across the Rhine, defeating and subjugating many of the smaller tribes near the river. According to the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, the country of the Mattiaci was and still is (in the late nineteenth century) very remarkable for its many hot springs, and the Aquae Mattiacae, modern Wiesbaden, are repeatedly referred to by the Romans (notably Pliny and Ammianus Marcellinus again).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from The History of the Germans: The Barbaric Period, Thomas Greenwood, from Our Forefathers (Volume 2), Gudmund Schutte, 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, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, and from External Links: Espadana-Walker.com (dead link), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), 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.

Drusus is killed in a fall from his horse during his fourth campaign, and his death deprives Rome of one its best generals. However, it also ends the campaign against the Germanic tribes, and may even be responsible for creating the circumstances in which one Maroboduus becomes king of the Marcomanni.

River Main
The River Main area of Western Germany became the homeland of the Mattiaci following their migration from the Baltic Sea region, but they later seem to have been subsumed by the Alemanni

AD 69 - 70

Gaius Julius Civilis leads a Batavian insurrection against a Rome which is distracted by the events of the Year of the Four Emperors. He is supported by the Bructeri, Canninefates, Chauci, Cugerni, and Tencteri, while the Sinuci are also mentioned as a people who live in the region (although their involvement in the revolt is uncertain). The tribes send reinforcements and Civilis is initially successful. Castra Vetera is captured and two Roman legions are lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels. In AD 70 the Chatti, Mattiaci, and Usipetes join in, besieging the legionary fortress at Mogontiacum (modern Mainz).

Eventual Roman pressure, with aid from the Mediomatrici, Sequani, and Tungri, forces Civilis to retreat to the Batavian island where he agrees peace terms with General Quintus Petilius Cerialis. His subsequent fate is unknown, but the Batavi are treated with great consideration by Emperor Vespasian. The Mattiaci homeland becomes part of the Roman frontier and the tribe are gradually Romanised.


FeatureThe formal partition of the Roman empire into the Eastern and Western sections is undertaken by Honorius and Arcadian. An official register of all the offices, other than municipal, which exist in the Roman empire at this time is compiled in the Notitia Dignitatum. Two formations of Mattiaci are mentioned as the seniores and juniores units of the sixty-five Palatine auxiliaries. This appears to be the last mention of the tribe in history. Their ultimate fate is unknown, but it seems likely that they are subsumed by the Alemanni, who are known to occupy their territory by the next century.

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