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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes

 

Victohali (Celto-Germanics)

In the first century AD, vast areas of central, northern, and Eastern Europe were dark and unknown lands full of savage Germanic barbarians - at least according to the Romans. Little detail is known about many of those savage Germanic barbarians, but brief windows are opened onto their lives and organisation at various points during the existence of the Roman empire, while other Germanic groups went on to play major roles in the extinction of that empire.

FeatureThe Indo-European 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 Early Baltics and then enter southern Scandinavia (see feature link, right, for more detail).

MapBy the time in which the early Germanic tribes were becoming key players in Western European politics in the last two centuries BC, the previously dominant Celts were on the verge of being conquered and dominated by Rome (see map link for general locations). Strabo says that the Romans introduced the name 'Germani' for these 'new' barbarians because their tribes were the 'authentic Celts', seeming to mean that they were what the Celts used to be - strong, aggressive, and bold.

Once they had begun to migrate southwards out of Scandinavia, Germanic tribes carved out homelands between the Rhine and the Pripet Marshes (modern Belarus). They slowly consolidated their positions (although migrations still occurred) until they had formed tribal kingdoms which eventually threatened the Roman empire itself. This became bloody reality when they were forced west and south by later incursions of Hunnic tribes into their lands which caused tribal fractures and a degree of scattered relocation.

At first glimpse, the Victohali appear to be one result of this Hunnic intrusion and the splintering of existing Germanic groups. Variously recorded as the Victabali, Victoali, Victovali, Victuali, and Victufali (or the Greek Biktoa or Biktoloi), in the late Roman period they occupied territory on the northern side of the Danube, amongst long-established tribes such as the Sarmatian Iazyges and Roxolani. Their status as Germanics is uncertain, but it has been suggested (by Doležal) that they could have been a division of the Vandali. This seems less likely when they were included in the list of tribes which took part in a fresh Marcomanni attack in AD 166.

Stanislav Doležal asks in his own work about the identity of these Victohali. Apart from Ammianus, only Eutropius and Historia Augusta mention this tribe, but only as a name in a list of peoples. Eutropius dryly remarked that Trajan 'conquered Dacia, once he had defeated Decebalus, and a province beyond the Danube was created in that territory, which now belongs to the Taifali, Victoali, and Tervingi'. Given the multiplicity of name variations for them, however, it could be assumed that they had a much longer existence than is often suspected, even though much of that existence may have been unrecorded.

The true nature of their origins only becomes clear when a name breakdown is attempted. They may well have been Germanic in terms of their ethnic background, but they were not in terms of name. The first element, 'vict-', is a descendant of the proto-Indo-European 'u̯eik', and its descendants are found in many languages. The Germanic tongues, though, retain the original sequence of sounds without adding a '-t' to it. That '-t' is added often (although not always) in Italo-Celtic tongues such as Latin and Gaulish, and is still present as a 'th' sound in Cymric (Welsh) as 'gwyth'. The proto-Celtic word list gives this proposed form: 'wixta'. Again the 't' or 'th' is present.

The second element is less obvious and less certain. Since the first element is Italo-Celtic, then the second should be assumed to be the same. The 'h' in '-hal' would previously have been a 'kh' sound, and the simplest form in proto-Celtic is 'kali', meaning 'spear'. If the tribe was indeed ethnically Germanic with a German language but the tribe's name was indeed Gaulish then this would certainly account for the spelling. The Victohali would have been 'vict', meaning 'victory, victors', and 'hal', meaning 'spears', plus the '-i' Latin plural. They were the 'winning spears' or perhaps 'victory spears'. Possibly they were a later division of the Bastarnae or Buri, two relatively local tribal bodies which also exhibited a Celto-Germanic mix.

Germanic tribes defeat the Romans in AD 9

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, from Power and Status in the Roman Empire, AD 193-284, Inge Mennen, from Germania, Tacitus, from Agricola, from The Harleian Miscellany: A Collection of Scarce, Curious and Entertaining Tracts Volume 4, William Oldys & Thomas Park, 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 Atlas historique mondial, Georges Duby (Larousse, 1978), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: Polybius, Histories, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Constantine's military operations against the Goths and the Sarmatians in 332 and 334, Stanislav Doležal (Eirene, Studia Graeca et Latina, LV, 2019, available for download via Academia.edu).)

AD 166 - 169

A new Marcomanni confederation is formed which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Sarmatians, Suebi, and Victohali. Together they cross the Danube and invade Dacia, penetrating as far as Italy and forcing the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem. The resistance which is put up by the Romans surprises the tribes, so some seek individual peace treaties with Rome.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

As recorded by Cassius Dio, both the Iazyges and the Buri seek peace, and some concessions are granted to them, but neither are willing to join the Roman side until they receive pledges that the emperor will 'without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors'.

As for the Victohali, they apparently migrate eastwards along the Danube at some point between this war and the early fourth century AD to end up in or very near Dacia.

334

Records covering the Iazyges and Roxolani have become increasingly sparse and unreliable. By the mid-fourth century mentions of them have largely ceased, being replaced by two Sarmatian peoples by the names of the Argaragantes and Limigantes who occupy opposite sides of the Tisza.

In this year the Limigantes revolt against the Argaragantes following conflict with the Goths. The Argaragantes are kicked out, being forced to seek refuge with the Victohali on the south bank of the Danube and becoming vassals. According to Ammianus, Emperor Constantine confirms the protection of the Argaragantes amongst the Victohali, and sets up one of their number as their new king.

River Tisia in Hungary
The Rivia Tiszia or Tisia flows through today's Hungary, but in the first four centuries AD it played an important role in terms of the territory of the Iazyges

357

The Argaragantes rebel, but are swiftly defeated by the forces of Emperor Constantius II, and some of their lands are confiscated by Rome in punishment. The Victohali are not mentioned in this encounter so presumably they are not part of the rebellion.

In fact, the Victohali are not mentioned again. The population in central and Eastern Europe is gradually being absorbed by larger bodies - especially the Ostrogoths - while more easterly steppe elements are soon being absorbed into the Hunnic empire.

 
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