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Map of the Germanic tribes, circa 15 BC

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Figure 2 - Germanic Tribes Map 15 BCThis is one of the pictures which appears in my book. It is a map of the various tribes which existed in ancient Germania at around the year 15 BC. The picture that’s shown in the book is a little too small, so here’s a larger version for you to look at. Some of the names are abbreviated:

AMP = Ampsivarians
ANG = Angrivarians
CHAS = Chasuarians
DULG = Dulgubini
SIC = Sicambri
USI = Usipetes
VAN = Vangiones

This is probably the most accurate map that you’re going to find for ancient Germanic barbarians during the last years of the 1st Century BC.

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7 Comments

  1. M. Keith says:

    Thank you so much for this excellent map. I agree with you about its quality. I can say this because I just spent 20 minutes searching for maps of Sicambri tribal lands…

    • jrabdale says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I don’t think that I need to explain how much work and research went into making this picture! I take it from your comment that you have a special interest in the Sicambri tribe (also spelled Sigambri or Sugambri). They are a very interesting people. Despite the small geographic area that they controlled, they were one of the most formidable of the western Germanic tribes, and they were a frequent thorn in Rome’s side, beginning by at least 17 BC but possibly earlier. What I think is most noteworthy about them is that they were one of the founding members of the Franks, or at least that’s what I was told.

  2. I had never seen such a map before. Interesting to see some familiar names there. Many seem like they are of Roman origin. rather than what they called themselves. Or is this what they called themselves?

    • jrabdale says:

      Thank you for your interest in ancient tribal history and etymology! As to whether or not these names are Latin or German, I’d have to say that they are Latinized names with a German basis.

      It’s true that a lot of these names definitely have Latin linguistic features. For example, -i is a very common plural suffix in Latin. So too is -ae. The suffix -ii is commonly re-written to the more modern -ians. So for example, the Burgundii would be re-written as Burgundians. Even though many or possibly all of these names have been Latinized for the Romans to better pronounce, they still retain German linguistic roots. For example, the names Jute, Teuton, Chatt, Chasuarian, and Chauci all have their basis in the Proto-Germanic word “teut”, which means “people” or “tribe”. The modern name Deutch is derived from this, and thus Deutchland means “land of the people”.

      Tribal names that may be familiar to those knowledgeable in world history should be the Angles, Danes, Burgundians, Frisians, Lombards, Vandals, and Teutons. Note that some of the later Germanic peoples, such as the Saxons and Bavarians, are not listed on this map. The Bavarians were probably an amalgum of smaller tribes that lived in the area. The same is true of the Alemannic Confederacy, which was composed of a handful of tiny tribes that lived in the area previously populated by the Nemetes (see map), and would grow to become one of the most dominant barbarian powers in central Europe from the 3rd to the 5th centuries AD. As for the Saxons, I’ve heard some say that the name Sax is a reference to the seax knives that they carried, and therefore would have been called “the Knife People”. Another explanation that I’ve heard is that they are named in reference to the Sahs River – however, I have seen no Sahs River on any map of northwestern Germany, but maybe I missed it. The name of the Sahs River itself might be a reference to a knife, as the river “cuts” through the landscape. In fact, the Anglo-Saxon word seax is derived from the early Germanic verb “sah”, meaning “to cut”. The modern English word “saw” comes from this.

      Trying to figure out what ancient tribal people called themselves is always difficult. Unless we have an actual name that the people themselves used, we have to assume that the name recorded by Greco-Roman authors was the name that these people identified themselves as. Thankfully we have a handful of exceptions. The 5th Century BC Greek historian Herodotus wrote in his “Histories” that the Scythian nomads of the Pontic Steppe actually called themselves the Skolotoi – keep in mind that the suffix -oi is a plural suffix in ancient Greek, so even here, he’s Hellenizing their name. Another Greek source, this time from the Byzantine period (I think it was Procopius, but I’m not sure), stated that the Slavs called themselves the Sporians, and that the name “Slav” correctly applied to just one tribe in particular and not to the whole ethnic group.

      We’ll likely never know what the ancient Germans collectively called themselves. Personally, I believe that they actually didn’t have separate names for various ethnic groups as a whole. I don’t think that they comprehended the idea of labelling people in this fashion. They simply called themselves “the people”, “the real people”, “the true people”, etc., and referred to those who were of a different culture as “the other people”. Many tribal societies to this day have a similar identification system – us versus them.

  3. boredonlaptop says:

    Hey, amazing maps.Thanks for that. Just a few questions:

    1. Why are the Jutes only in the northern tip of Jutland? Didn’t they live throughout the entire peninsula?

    2. Where are the Saxons?

    3. Weren’t the Burgundians East Germanics that lived in modern day Poland or something? Why are they restricted to a tiny island in the Baltic Sea?

    4. Are the names “Geat”, “Gothones”, and “Gotini” all interconnected?

    5. On Wikipedia, it says the Helvecones were a Lugii (Vandal) tribe from modern day Polish Silesia. How did they end up all the way in Scandinavia in your map? And how did the Cimbri and Teutons end up so far north? I haven’t seem them so north in any maps.

    6. By Ligians, do you mean Lugii? Aren’t they the same people as the Vandals?

    7. Where are the Franks/Salians?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • jrabdale says:

      Hi, and thank you for your interest in both this map and the history behind it. Before I go into the particulars, I have to state that the tribes that lived within the area known to the Romans as “Germania” changed throughout the years. This map is meant to depict the Germanic tribes as they were around the year 15 BC, just before Caesar Augustus ordered his legions, under the command of his stepson Drusus Claudius nero, to attack and conquer western Germania. Some of the tribes that you mention don’t appear until well afterwards.

      Anyway, to answer your questions:
      1) The Jutes were originally one of several tribes that inhabited the Danish or Jutland Peninsula. In fact, in ancient times, this was known as the Cimbric Peninsula, in reference to the Cimbri tribe. Based upon the writings of Roman authors, notably tacitus, it appears that the Jutes originally inhabited the uppermost part of the peninsula. By the 3rd Century AD, the Jutes had pretty much taken control of all of the northern part of Denmark. The Reudigni (sorry, on the map it’s mis-spelled as “Reudingi”), Cimbri, and Teutons disappear from the record after around 150 AD, and the Jutes have appeared to have increased in prominence during the 200s onwards, so it’s safe to say that the Jutes had taken over northern Denmark by that point.

      2) The Saxons don’t appear in the records until around the middle of the 1st century AD. The most common meaning of their name is “the Knife People”, in reference to the seax knives that they were known for. other explanations include them being named after the Sahs River, which I have not been able to find on any modern map, or after the Latin word “saxa”, meaning “stone”. They are first mentioned, possibly, by Claudius Ptolemy when he talks about a tribe called the Axones. Some people have claimed that the Axones are an evolution of the Aviones that existed in southwestern Denmark. Another idea is that they are directly descended from the Chauci.

      3) According to the late Roman historian Paulus Orosius, the Burgundians originally came from Sweden. At some point, they settled on the island of Bornholm. In the past, this island was referred to as Burgundaholmr, literally “the island of the Burgundians”. Pliny the Elder mentions the Burgundians in his Natural History, published in 79 AD, and describes them as living among the Vandals and other eastern German tribes. It seems that the Burgundians, sometime in the 1st Century AD, had populations both on the island and on the mainland, but archaeology suggests that they completely abandoned the island by 250 AD, and had the whole of their population settled in what’s now northern Poland. The Gothic historian Jordanes states that in 260 AD, the Burgundians were attacked by the Gepids, and received such a severe pounding that they had to seek shelter amongst the Goths. By the late 200s AD, the Burgundians had moved westward and had claimed land on the German side of the Rhine River.

      4) Some people have said that the Geats, Goths, Gothones, and Gotini are all the same people, or at least they are all descended from the same people. The Gotini, also written as Cotini, were a Celtic tribe, not Germanic, and are described by Tacitus as speaking a Gallic language. The Goths and the Gothones might indeed be the same people. In 1837, a gold torc necklace was found in Pietroassa, Romania, dated to 250-400 AD (a rather large time bracket), bearing a runic inscription. The inscription has been picked apart by academics ever since it was found, but among the words written there is “gutani”. To many, this is a clear reference to the Goths. It’s thought that “Gothones” is a Latinized version of “gutani”. However, most academics believed that the Goths landed in mainland Europe only after 100 AD, which would imply that the “Gothones” written in tacitus’ book and the Goths are separate people. As for the Geats, they might be related to the Goths, but Scandinavian sources clearly differenciate the Geats and Goths as being separate peoples.

      5) The Helvecones are mentioned as being one of the Ligian or Lugii tribes (either spelling will do). It is also thought that they might be the same people as the Hilleviones, which were mentioned by Pliny the Elder as living in Scandinavia. Although this idea made sense to me at the time that I made this map back in late 2009, I don’t think that this is the case now.

      6) The names Ligian and Lugii are interchangeable. They were a collection of small tribes that were known by that name as a sort of umbrella term. They may have been culturally similar to the Vandals, but the Vandals were not one of them.

      7) The Franks don’t appear in the records until the early 3rd Century AD in central germany, the area that is still today called “Franconia”. The Franks were composed of numerous small tribes that united together to save themselves from being conquered by the Romans or their agressive Germanic neighbors, notably the Alemannic Confederacy. The called themselves “Franci”, “the Free People”. Even to this day, to be “frank” or to speak “frankly” means to be unrestrained. There is no record of there being Frankish chiefs during this early stage in their history, so I must assume that the individual tribes had chiefs but there was no leader of the confederacy as a whole. Then, sometime in the middle 200s AD, the Franks split in half. Some went north and became the Salian Franks or “Saltwater Franks”, while others stayed along the Rhine River and were known as the Ripuarian Franks “the Riverbank Franks”. This division also marks a change in Frankish politics. The individual tribal distinctions had disappeared, and they thought of themselves as Frankish. Separate lines of chiefs ruled over both the Salians and Ripuarians until the middle of the 5th Century AD, when both Frankish tribes united to defend themselves against the hordes of Attila.

      I hope that you find all of this info helpful.

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