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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapWarini (Varini / Werns) (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.

The Werns were known by an unusually large collection of name variants, including the Wærne, Wærnas, Wernas, Warini, Warnii, Werne, Varini, Varinnae, and Varni. They were a minor tribe that was relatively unknown outside of the Old English poem Widsith. They probably originated in the region of Värend in southern Sweden and migrated into Denmark to settle briefly alongside the Charudes and Eudoses. By the first century AD they could be found in the region of Mecklenburg, to the east of the Jutes and Angles, in what is now north-eastern Germany. Unlike many of their fellow Germanics, they remained where they were, apparently not feeling the urge to migrate or join a wandering tribal confederation. By the fourth or fifth century they had probably become a client tribe of the dominant Saxons. In 595 they were crushed by the Franks and apparently assimilated by subsequent Slav settlers in the region who themselves were called the Varnes.

Describing a Europe of about AD 500, Widsith mentions several Germanic peoples, not all of whom can be properly identified. The Widsith list of rulers in the poem covers a span of up to a century, and was probably cobbled together from all the famous warriors known to the poem's composer, while Widsith himself may have made his trip to the court of the Ostrogothic King Ermanaric around 375, just before the latter's death. The tribe's name means 'to protect' or 'the defenders', and survives today as the Germano-Dutch first name, Werner.

The Warini appear to have become confused with the Warings, although both tribes are often ascribed the same settlement area. The Warings later wandered far and wide, becoming the Scandinavian Varangians of the Rus and the Byzantine Varangian Guard of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. These Warings receive their last mention in their homeland in 1030, long after the Warini had been destroyed by the Franks and their remnant subjugated by the Slavs.

(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 Link: The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

AD 60s - 70s

Pliny the Elder is the earliest author to mention the Warini. He writes his twenty-volume History of the German Wars after serving in Germania, although the date of the work's completion is unknown and the work itself appears to have been lost by the fifth century. However, it does serve as the only main source for the first six books of the later work by Tacitus. Pliny mentions the 'Varinnae' as one of the five nations of Germania.


Writing at this time, Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Germania Magna. Included are the Varinians (Warini) which are part of the Suevi confederation. The relatively small Warini tribe has already settled in Mecklenburg, to the east of the Jutes and Angles, after migrating probably from the region of Värend in southern Sweden. They appear to live quietly and unobtrusively, linked closely throughout their history to the Angles, and avoiding any significant historical mention until the start of the sixth century.

Modern Mecklenburg, the homeland of the Warini between the first and sixth centuries AD, is today a land of castles and idyllic coastal scenery


Ptolemy shows the Warini on his great map of tribes, locating them in the area of later Mecklenburg, in the north-east of modern Germany, close to the Baltic Sea.

3rd century

By this time the Warini are counted as one of a vast number of tribes that go into forming the wide-ranging confederation of the Suevi in central and northern Germany. They are still closely linked to the Angles, but while the Angles are undoubtedly Germanic, the Warini seem to possess a mixture of Germanic and Celtic cultural or linguistic features.

406 - 409

The bulk of the Suevi cross the Rhine at Mainz in 406 in association with the Vandali and Alani. Some of the tribes of the Suevi confederation elect to remain behind in Germany, and the Warini are one of these. After this point they probably come to be dominated by a relatively new confederation that fills the vacuum left by the departure of the Suevi. The Saxons become the new dominant tribal power in northern Germany.

fl c.500


King of the Werns in the Widsith list.


The use of Billing as a name suggests a link with the tribe of the same name, who occupied and apparently dominate the region of Mecklenburg to such an extent that in the early medieval period, the Germans know the region as the Mark of Mecklenburg-Billing. Could the use of Billing as a king of the Warini be a mistake, or a suggestion of Billing overlordship or intermarriage? Another possibility is that Billing may derive his name from the god Belinus (Belin can be equated with Billing).

fl c.500


King of the Werns in the Widsith list.

fl c.540

Hermegisl / Ermengist

King of the Werns in the Widsith list.


'Herman' and German are the same words arrived at by different routes. 'Ger' means 'spear'. 'Here' means 'army', but derives from 'Ger', with a pronunciation shift of 'g' to 'k' to 'kh' to 'h'. The '-gisl' ending should perhaps more correctly be shown as '-ist', a Latin suffix that is apparently later imported into Old French. If this is the case, or if a cognate is in use in the German of the period (perhaps imported earlier from Gaulish), this would mean that Hermangist/Hermangisl would be a follower or devotee of Herman, which strongly suggests the heroic warrior, Arminius of the Cherusci who inflicted serious defeat upon the Legions.

fl c.550s?

Radigis / Radiger


Writing in the middle of the sixth century, the Eastern Roman historian Procopius mentions the 'Varini' in their homeland near the Baltic Sea, as they are passed by the Heruli who are migrating back to Scandinavia. He also mentions a separate settlement that exists on the banks of the Rhine, suggesting a migration of part of the tribe at some point, probably in the last century or so.

Also according to Procopius, Radigis had been betrothed to the sister or daughter of an Anglian king of Britain. He abandons this match in favour of an alliance with the powerful Frankish confederation. The abandoned Anglian princess collects four hundred ships and leads an expedition in person against the Varini. Radigis is captured and forced to abide by his original promise of marriage.

Mecklenburg on the Baltic Sea
The Warini were already settled on the Mecklenburg coast of the Baltic Sea in the first century AD, and there they stayed until crushed by the Franks and largely absorbed by the Slavs (External Link: Creative Commons Licence CC0)


The Warini are crushed by the Franks. The survivors are apparently assimilated by subsequent Slav settlers in the region who appropriate their name, calling themselves the Varnes. The Warini settlement on the Rhine receives no further mention and can be assumed to become merged within the Frankish collective.

According to a possibly speculative sequence of development, some Baltic Warini survive the Slavic takeover of their tribal homeland, perhaps migrating eastwards along the southern Baltic shore or returning to Scandinavia. They thrive in the eleventh to twelfth centuries, wandering far and wide to become the Scandinavian Varangians of Rus and the Eastern Roman Varangian Guard.

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