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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapTriboci (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.

Normally shown as being a Germanic tribe, by the first century BC the Triboci were a fairly small group that was occupying territory on the west bank of the Rhine. Positioned between that and the River Saar in modern north-western France, they were neighboured by the Nemetes to the north, the Tulingi and Latobrigi to the east, and the Leuci and Mediomatrici to the west.

The Triboci tribal name is something of a nightmare to break down. The tribe itself seems to have been German but the name might be Celtic, suggesting another potential takeover of a German peasantry by a Celtic warrior elite. The most obvious interpretation of the name is that they were the 'three [something]' in Celtic, with *bogle- meaning 'waters' to make then the '[people of the] three waters'. Or 'boc' in Germanic from the word for a beech tree, forming a mangled Celto-German combination of 'three beeches'. The most intriguing option is taken from a proto-Germanic dictionary: *Dribòn, Old Norse 'hring-drifi', meaning 'prince', and Old High German 'uz-tribo', meaning 'exorcist'. This was derived from *drýbanan, which in Goth was 'dreiban', meaning 'to drive', Old Norse 'drífa', Old English 'drýfan', Old Frisian 'drýva', Old Saxon 'drýban', and Old High German 'trýban'. So if the tribe were German they would have been 'the drivers'. Any of those possibilities may or may not be the correct one!

The Triboci emerged into history as part of the Suebic invasion of Gaul in 58 BC. Under the leadership of Ariovistus, it seemed for a time that these tribes would carve out their own kingdom within Gaul. Only Julius Caesar was able to kick them back across the Rhine, but some units remained on the river's west bank. These included the Triboci, seemingly Germans with a Celtic element added, which was common with many tribes along the Gaulish-Germanic border in this period. Strabo subsequently remarks that the Triboci had taken up residence in the land of the Mediomatrici (as did their compatriots, the Nemetes).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato (1942), from Roman History by Cassius Dio, translation by Earnest Cary (1914-1927), 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 Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

58 BC

The Aeduii appeal to Rome for relief from the alleged cruelty of Ariovistus of the Suevi towards them. Julius Caesar, in his role first as consul and then as governor of Gaul (from 58 BC), appears to pursue a diplomatic course that will deliberately end in warfare. Caesar is also informed that a further hundred units of Suevi are about to cross the Rhine under Nasua and Cimberius.

The showdown happens at the Battle of Vosges following an unsuccessful face-to-face parley between the two leaders. The Suevi host lines up in units of tribal groups starting with the Harudes, Marcomanni, Triboci, Vangiones, Nemetes, Sedusii and the core of the Suebi themselves. Superior Roman tactics breaks that line and the Suevi host makes a run for the Rhine. Ariovistus makes it across, but many of his allies now turn on him and the Suevi. It is Caesar who records the existence of the Suevi, differentiating them from the tribe of the Cherusci, but now they avoid the Rhine for generations, concentrating on building a fresh confederation in central Germania.

The Battle of Vosges took part amidst the typically difficult terrain in the region (which is close to the modern German border in France), being as it is part of a mountain range

This is the first mention in history of the Triboci, and they are clearly already in Gaul if only as part of the Suebic invasion. Whether they had carved out a territory beforehand, or do so now, taking land from the Mediomatrici, they become a permanent fixture on the west bank of the Rhine.

10 BC

By around this time the Triboci are known to be centred around the oppidum of Argentorate, Latinised as Argentoratum (which means 'silver fort', modern Strasbourg). The settlement's beginnings lie on an island between two branches of the Rhine's tributary, the Helella. Around the same time, Nero Drusus, stepson of Augustus, apparently establishes a garrison of Roman auxiliaries here during his campaign against the German tribes in 12-9 BC.

10 BC? - AD 16

Soon after the campaigns of Drusus, a fort exists in Argentoratum, forming part of the military command in Roman Germania, and later an important part of the Roman province of Germania Superior (Upper Germany). The fort is occupied by a legion, and later by legionary detachments. These construct the first basalt wall to supplement an earthen bank.

69 - 70

Under the authority of self-proclaimed emperor, the Lingones noble, Julius Sabinus, 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. Although the rebellion ultimately fails, Argentoratum is destroyed by fire during its progress.

The Gaulish and Germanic Batavian revolt of AD 69-70 was a major contributor to the instability experienced in the Roman empire during the 'Year of Four Emperors'

70 - 80

Following the rebellion's conclusion, Argentoratum is rebuilt and resumes its role as a legionary headquarters around AD 80 (shortly before Upper Germany is elevated to the status of a province). Three further destructive phases occur in the city, in AD 97, 235, and 355.

356 - 357

Battles take place at Rheims and Argentoratum respectively in which the Alemanni are defeated by Rome. Following the second defeat, the Alemanni are expelled from the Rhineland and their recognised leader, Chronodemar, is exiled to Rome after having been captured.

4th century

Argentoratum becomes the seat of the bishopric of Strasbourg (although this name is not yet in use). Archaeologists have uncovered the apse of a church under today's Église Saint-Étienne that can be dated to the late fourth century or early fifth century, potentially the earliest-known such building in the Alsace region. This is currently considered to be the seat of the fourth century bishop. The name Argentoratum appears to cease being used in the fifth century, being replaced by 'Stratisburgum', which becomes modern Strasbourg via the Alsatian 'Strossburi'.

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