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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapUbii (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.

A West Germanic tribe, by the first century BC the Ubii were a relatively small group that was occupying territory along the east bank of the Rhine in Germania (in the modern Nordrhein-Westfalen region). Neighbouring them to the north were the Bructeri, while to the east and south were the Sicambri, and across the Rhine were the Cugerni and Tungri.

The Ubii tribal name is an easy one to break down. Without the '-i' plural suffix, the proto-Germanic forms of the word are 'uba' and 'ubaraz', meaning 'up, over, above'. This was retained in Old High German as 'oba', meaning 'up, over'. The tribe seemingly were above everyone. As this wasn't meant in a geographical sense by the middle of the first century BC, it was either meant as an expression of superiority or it related to their original homeland, perhaps at the top of the Jutland peninsula. Given the German habit of using place names for tribal names, this would make sense geographically.

Allies of Julius Caesar from the start, they were welcoming and friendly in their pursuit of protection against the militarily dominant Suevi. The tribe appear to have survived as Roman foederati into the fourth century AD, often supplying men to the Roman army and with their territory forming part of the empire's frontier. The Romans regularly referred to them as Ubians (and the habit continues in modern productions, such as the acclaimed Rome tv series). Their territory lay between two major tributaries of the Rhine, the Ruhr to the south and the Lippe to the north (which itself formed the southern border to the medieval territory of Lippe). Their chief settlement was Oppidum Ubiorum which was developed by the Romans to become the basis of modern Cologne.

(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 Germania, Tacitus, 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 Ancient Worlds.)

58 BC

The showdown between the Suevi and Rome happens at the Battle of Vosges following an unsuccessful face-to-face parley between the two leaders. The Suevi host is broken by superior Roman tactics and it makes a run for the Rhine. Its leader, Ariovistus, makes it across, but many of his allies now turn on him and the Suebi. The Ubii, having learned of the battle, are the first to attack their main enemy, the returning Suebi.

Vosges Mountains
The Vosges Mountains probably lay on the southern borders of Leuci territory, which would explain their building of a hillfort there and which was also the scene of the battle of 58 BC

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. This probably places them on the middle Rhine. They force their way into the lands of the Belgic Menapii, also attacking the Condrusi and Eburones tribes. Feigning a withdrawal to lure out the Menapii, the Tencteri and Usipetes defeat them, capture their ships and occupy many of their villages for the winter.

Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul that he has already conquered, takes a force into the region. After much diplomatic effort and some delays, he attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania with heavy losses. Both tribes follow the east bank of the Rhine upstream and find refuge with the Sicambri. They remain settled in these lands for much of the remainder of their existence. Caesar crosses the Rhine to follow them and to show the Germans that Romans are not afraid to stage a counter-invasion. Another reason is that a portion of the cavalry of the Usipetes and Tencteri had not been present at the recent battle. Instead they had proceeded to the territories of the Sicambri to join this tribe, remaining defiant, while uniquely amongst the peoples across the Rhine, the Ubii petition Caesar for help against the oppressive Suevi who until recently have been ruled by the powerful Ariovistus.

Several other tribes submit to Caesar, but the Sicambri withdraw from their territories on the advice of the Usipetes and Tencteri. Caesar remains in their lands for a few days before burning down their villages and taking their corn. He moves his forces into Ubii territory to show solidarity with them against the Suevi threat before returning to Gaul.

53 BC

Having left a strong guard with the Treveri following the conclusion of their revolt, Caesar again crosses the Rhine to deal with their German supporters. The Ubii reaffirm their loyalty to him while Caesar discovers that the auxiliaries that had joined the Treveri had been sent by the Suevi. They are drawing together units of infantry and cavalry from all across their vast domain and, having learned of Caesar's approach, they withdraw to the vast wood called Bacenis (a thick forest of beech trees which has been equated with the Harz), which separates the Suevi from the Cherusci. Unwilling to follow them, Caesar fortifies the bridge that connects to the Ubii and stations twelve cohorts there.

38 BC

The Ubii apparently begin construction of a more formalised chief town under Roman administration and support. It is called Oppidum Ubiorum, and the site already bears traces of settlement dating back to the Neolithic period.

19 BC

A Roman colony is founded at Oppidum Ubiorum by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Nearby is a camp for two legions, I and XX and, until AD 9, probably the XIX and XVII legions as well. In its later guise as the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (from AD 50) the city's name survives as Cologne. It also serves as the headquarters of the Roman province of Germania Inferior.

Roman Cologne
The Oppidum Ubiorum was founded in the first century BC, on a site that had seen occupation since the Neolithic period, but it was Rome that turned it into a city - Cologne

c.AD 160

According to Cassius Dio, just before the Marcomannic Wars that begin in 166, a host of 6,000 Langobards and Ubii cross the Danube and invade Pannonia. The two tribes are defeated by Rome and halt their attacks. They send Ballomar, king of the Marcomanni, as their ambassador to Aelius Bassus, the governor of Pannonia. The two agree peace terms and the Langobards and Ubii are allowed to cross back over the Danube.

260 - 274

Crisis strikes the weakened Roman empire, with two major splinter states forming in the same year. The Rhine frontier collapses completely at around the same time. Highly relevant to Germania Inferior, the first of these is created by Postumus, lieutenant on the Rhine to Emperor Gallienus. He murders the praetorian prefect, Silvanus, and Gallienus' own son Saloninus at Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne) and declares himself emperor. The Roman provinces in Germany, Gaul, Iberia, and Britain and their armies support him.

For the next thirteen years the whole of the north-western part of the empire is run as an independent but fully Roman state with its own series of emperors, and is called the 'Empire of the Gallic Provinces' (Imperium Galliarum / the Gallic Empire). It establishes a capital at Cologne, the headquarters of Germania Inferior and chief town of the Ubii. The Imperium Galliarum finally collapses when Emperor Aurelian defeats its military power in battle at Châlons, the capital of the Catalauni Gauls. Its commander, Tetricus, surrenders and is permitted to pursue a useful and distinguished career in Roman life.


The Ripaurian Franks, less cohesive than their cousins on the west bank of the Rhine, capture the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium and make it their capital. The Ubii who have occupied the region for around five hundred years are subsumed by the Ripuarian Franks.

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