History Files

European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapVangiones / Vagiones / Vargiones (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.

The Vangiones were located in the first century BC on the west bank of the Rhine, while the Vargiones seem to have been located by Ptolemy on the east bank of the Rhine (it is sometimes hard to be precise when faced with some of his references), in virtually the same immediate region. Despite the name difference, it seems likely that this is either the same tribe or a split had recently formed, creating two lesser tribes. They would have been surrounded by similar tribes which included the Nemetes and Triboci, and probably the Sedusii too.

Despite their probable shared ancestry, the two variations or versions of the tribal name produce very different meanings. JRR Tolkien may have taken his 'wain riders' of the Lord of the Rings series from the Vangiones name (not to be confused with an earlier Sarmatian tribe of the same name). It appears to mean a wagon, with the modern word coming from sixteenth century Middle Dutch 'wagen' or 'waghen'. This itself comes from proto-Germanic *wagnaz (which also appears in Old English as 'wægn', Modern English as 'wain', Old Saxon and Old High German as 'wagan', Old Norse as 'vagn', Old Frisian as 'wein', and German as 'wagen'). The proto-Germanic stems from an early proto-Indo-European word, *woghnos, from *wegh- meaning 'to carry' and 'to move'. The tribe were probably 'the wagons', with 'wagoners' being implied. Fascinatingly, what little is known of the earliest Indo-Europeans is that their expansion was enabled by their nomadic use of four-wheeled wagons.

The Vargiones are mentioned in Germania. Removing the two plural suffixes, -ion and -es, leaves 'warg' (the Roman 'v' is pronounced as a 'w'). Warg (which is familiar to many from its use in the Lord of the Rings series) means wolf, apparently borrowed from Indo-Iranian. This tribe were 'the wolves', familiar in Old Norse as 'wargr' and Anglo-Saxon as 'wearg'. Could the name of one or both of the tribes have been noted incorrectly, producing two entirely different meanings?

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Geography, Ptolemy, 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, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus: The Oxford Translation, Revised With Notes, Cornelius Tacitus.)

60? BC

Ariovistus is a leader of the Suevi and other allied Germanic peoples in the second quarter of the first century BC, and at least up to 58 BC. Displaying the interconnected nature of Germanics and Celts at this time, he is a fluent speaker of Gaulish, and one of his two wives is the daughter of Vocion of the Norican kingdom.

As recorded by Julius Caesar, and perhaps also by Cicero (who writes in 60 BC of a defeat for the Aeduii), Ariovistus and his followers take part in a war in Gaul, assisting the Gallic Arverni and Sequani to defeat their rivals, the Aeduii. The reasons for the war are unknown, but they could be related to the Sequani hold over a vital trading corridor in the Doubs river valley which links to the Rhine. The Battle of Magetobriga results in a victory for the allies, thanks to the Suevi troops, and the Aeduii become vassals of the Sequani.

While the entry of the Suevi into Gaul proved to be comparatively easy around 60 BC, the subsequent Battle of Vosges in 58 BC took part amidst the typically difficult terrain in the region (which is close to the modern German border in France), and against Roman troops and Rome's most brilliant general

Ariovistus seizes one-third of the Aeduii territory in the Alsace region, settling about 120,000 Germans there. However, with the Sequani now at his back, between him and Germania, he decides to clear them out of their Doubs valley homeland. More German settlers are introduced there, and a further third of Gaulish territory is demanded for his allies, the Harudes.

58 BC

The Aeduii appeal to Rome for relief from Ariovistus' alleged cruelty 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 Suebi. 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 Vangiones remain near the Rhine, concluding their own peace with the Romans. They are allowed to settle amongst the Mediomatrici, in the valley of the Moselle. Over the next half a century they gradually assume dominance in the settlement of Burbetomagus (modern Worms), making it their own capital.

14 - 13 BC

Prior to the start of the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and the beginning of the conquest of Germania, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, builds two forts in Vangiones territory. In 14 BC, the first of them is erected at Burbetomagus, while in 13 BC the second is Castrum Moguntiacum (modern Mainz). Warriors of the Vangiones are recruited into the Roman army (and at least one unit of them ends up on garrison duty on Hadrian's Wall in Britannia in the second century).

River Main
The River Main area of Western Germany became the homeland of the Mattiaci following their migration from the Baltic Sea region, while the nearby Vangiones supplied troops to the Roman army and hosted two of its forts

mid-4th century

The Alemanni conquer the regions around the former limes which they had devastated in their raids of 258-260. It is this region that forms their permanent home, with them absorbing local tribes such as the Vangiones while other Germanic tribes are starting to found permanent kingdoms elsewhere in Western Europe. It is also this region, which has long been settled by the neighbouring Suevi, that later emerges as the duchy of Swabia.

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