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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


IndexMapTubantes / Tubatti (Germanic)

In general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. The Gauls were divided from the Belgae to the north by the Marne and the Seine, and from the Aquitani to the south by the River Garonne. They also extended eastwards, into the region that was becoming known as Germania. The Celts had ruled much of this in their heyday, but by the middle of the first century BC they were fragmented, and were either in the process of being expelled by the increasingly powerful Germanic tribes who were migrating southwards from Scandinavia and the Baltic coast, or they were being defeated and integrated into Germanic or other tribes. The Tubantes were one such West Germanic tribe, and by the first century BC the eastern bank of the Rhine was their home. They were neighboured to the north by the Tencteri and beyond them the Chatti.

FeatureIt has been suggested (by Rübekeil) that the Tencteri name could be Germanic or Celtic, but while Julius Caesar calls them Germans, simply because they came from the eastern side of the Rhine. It seems that both the Usipetes and Tencteri (and by extension the very similar Tubantes) belonged culturally to the La Tène, making them Celts, or possibly Celts with a Germanic warrior elite in control of them. Controversy exists as to whether particular tribes were German or Gaulish (Celtic), and it seems that all three of these tribes could straddle both definitions. The subject is discussed in greater detail in the accompanying feature.

The Tubantes tribal name is also shown as Tubattii, Tuihanti, the eighth century AD Tuianti, and also Tueanti. Roman writing of names has trouble with a 'v' sound. The Roman 'v' is pronounced as a 'w'. The strong suspicion is that the tribal name is pronounced Tuvant, plus the Roman suffix, '-es'. As for what it means, the word *þùbòn ~ *þùbaz (sb.f./m.) descended into Old Norse as 'þúfa', meaning 'mound', and Old English '∂úf', meaning 'tuft'. It is also related to the Latvian 'tùber', meaning 'hump, swelling'. In normalised spelling the tribe should be the Thubon or Thuvon, probably coastal people living on earthen mounds in semi-flooded surroundings before they migrated towards the Rhine, just like their earlier brothers, the Cimbri. They were 'the mound people'.

The Tubantes tribe first appeared as transitory settlers along the northern side of the Lower Rhine, beyond the Roman military border. They possibly followed the earlier-arriving Chamavi into the region and were themselves joined by the Usipetes. Never really settling, they later migrated south with the Usipetes to find a more promising home. There they initially posed a threat to Roman ambitions in the region, but eventually fell under Roman domination for a time, before becoming part of the new confederation of Ripaurian Franks.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Diachrone Studien zur Kontaktzone zwischen Kelten und Germanen, Ludwig Rübekeil, 2002, from Our Forefathers, Volume 2, Gudmund Schutte, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

113 - 109 BC

The Cimbri and Teutones migrate en masse from their homeland in what later becomes central and northern Denmark. Along the way they pick up Celto-Germanic Helvetii peoples (in territory that later becomes Franconia), but also drop off fragments such as the Atuatuci. Their passage sparks a partial tribal movement by elements of the Boii who invade the Norican region south of the Danube, and it is either the Cimbri or the Boii who attack the Scordisci Celts in the Balkans.

Could this migration involve a far larger number of Germanic tribes than has previously been suspected? Certainly the general Germanic migration towards the lands of the Celts picks up pace in the first century BC, but tribal names such as the Tubantes suggest similar origins to those of the Cimbri and Teutones.

AD 9 - 21

Arminius declares the independence of the Cherusci from Rome, decimating three legions in the Teutoberger Forest. He achieves this momentous victory in an alliance with the Bructeri, Chatti, Chauci, Marsi, and Sicambri. It is highly likely that the Dulgubnii, Tencteri, and Usipetes are also involved. The Bructeri, Tubantes and Usipetes certainly team up to harass the troops of Germanicus AD 14, and they are later included in his triumph. In AD 15, Germanicus invades northern Germany and, following two Cherusci defeats in AD 16 (Idistaviso and the Battle of the Angrivarian Walls), Arminius is murdered in AD 21.

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

58 - 60?

Having been centred on the Weser and Elbe until now, the Chauci expand westwards as far as the River Ems, probably driven by the need to find new land for their flourishing population. To achieve this expansion they expel the neighbouring Ampsivarii, driving them away from the Ems. The tribe appeals to the Bructeri, Tencteri, Tubantes and Usipetes for help, but Rome acts immediately, sending troops into the territory of the Tencteri and threatening them with annihilation. All four tribes withdraw from the alliance and the Romans withdraw from their territory, leaving the Ampsivarii utterly friendless. The Usipetes themselves may be dislodged by the Chauci, as they appear to move southwards between this event and the revolt of AD 69, presumably taking the Tubantes with them.

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. In AD 70 the Chatti, Mattiaci, and Usipetes join in (presumably leading the Tubantes along with them), 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. During the revolt, the Roman fortress ceases to be used (for obvious reasons) and the Oppidum Batavorum is razed. Quintus Petilius Cerialis soon gains the post of Governor of Britain in reward for his triumph.

83 - 84

Following their share in the defeat of AD 70, the Tubantes and Usipetes appear to fall under Roman domination. Now inhabiting territory further to the south, close to the Chatti, the tribes provide auxiliaries to the Roman army and in the sixth year of the governorship of Gnaeus Julius Agricola in Britain (generally agreed to be AD 84), Usipetes troops are to be found serving as a cohort in that province.

3rd century

The Germanic Franks are first documented during this century (the Period of Migration), 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, Salian Franks, 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, although the Tubantes still supply mercenaries to the Romans, where some can be found about AD 400.

Hückelhoven on the Rhine
The Rhine was and is a powerful symbol of the border between Germania and Gaul (Germany and France), and its crossing marked an entry into Roman-dominated lands that were rich and fertile


MapThe 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 are now 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, while the Bructeri, along with the Tencteri, Tubantes, and Usipetes, do not migrate at all. Instead they remain in their traditional tribal lands and gradually coalesce into the more minor Ripaurian Franks who remain on the east bank of the Rhine.

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