Nowadays, A.D. – the general consensus is that

Nowadays, the word barbarian
implies an uncivilised person, perhaps referring to someone who rebels
against the norm, or who is rude and uneducated. However, this term actually
originates from the Greeks, who used it to describe those who did not speak the
language; it was then used by the Romans to indicate those who did not live
within a Christian civilisation or within the Roman Empire – in other words,

Many of these so-called barbarians lived on the outskirts of
the Roman Empire – these groups were made up of the Mongolians, the Germans,
and the Arabs. The groups which were settled closer to the borders were
influenced by the more civilised culture of the Romans, meaning they were
perhaps more sophisticated by social standards.

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Over the course of three centuries, these people managed to
change the entire course of western European history. Beginning in the fifth
century A.D., a continuation of invasions occurred throughout the Roman Empire,
the most serious of which were conducted by the Germanic people – these are
known as the barbarian invasions.

There is not much research as to where the Germans
originated from, but archaeological research suggests that they came from Scandinavia.
It is thought that the Germans began their migration in about 1000 B.C.,
reaching the Danube basin on the outskirts of the Roman Empire in the first
century A.D. – the general consensus is that they decided to leave due to food
shortages, and wars between tribes. As they began to cross the Rhine, Julius
Caesar and the Roman legions started to fight them back, and after a tedious
and hard battle, the Germans were pushed back over the border. This meant that
the Romans could colonise south Gaul and prevent further crossings of the

By the second century A.D., the Danube basin was heavily
populated by the Germans. These people were led by the Goths, who were split
into two groups: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The early Germanic politics
and society are a source of great interest for many historians, as they later
influenced many of the Medieval customs. Now, the Germanic people were affected
by the Roman Empire in different ways; those who lived closer to the frontier
lived almost as the Romans did, with similar religious, agricultural and
trading habits, although many were converted to Arian-Christianity rather than
Roman-Catholicism. In contrast, the Roman Empire societal norms barely affected
those who inhabited land further away were, the majority of the Germanic people,
meaning that they remained as ‘barbaric’ as their Scandinavian ancestors.

The state of German social and political side went through
many changes over the course of time between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. At first,
their culture was preserved according to blood-ties, but this kinship was soon
weakened, and was overtaken by the bond of loyalty – between friends, between
servant and master, between common people and leaders of the community. This
change occurred alongside shifting political organisation, which led to many of
the fighters rebelling against the primeval standards everyone was expected to
live by. The leaders that emerged from this time had no political obligation to
public as a whole; they could form alliances with their soldiers so long as
they were provided for. Any of these chiefs who led successfully for a long
enough period could become royalty, although the throne would not be passed on
to their descendants after death – the heir was chosen by the people, who
always opted for the best fighter. This election by the people became a
tradition which was passed down for centuries. This caused an uproar,
conflicting with the dynastic civilisations of the time. It was perhaps due to
this way of doing things that the Germans found favour with the church.

Nevertheless, it is said that Germanic politics were also
crude and unsophisticated; the people held no respect for public authority and
had only personal loyalty. The Germans did not care for justice, but rather
preventing fights. Thus, they used questionable procedures to avoid them. The
first way was wergeld (man money);
this was a payment to the family of a killed or maimed person, so as to try and
avoid the said family wanting to get vengeance. A certain amount was to be
paid, depending on the crime – a certain amount for the death of a lord, an
amount for the death of a commoner, an amount for a leg, and so on. However,
the aggrieved family was not obliged to accept this compensation, which meant
that it was the plaintiff’s job to persuade them to do so. Blood feuds were
extremely common in this time, and fights ending in manslaughter were frequent.

Crimes were also dealt with by something known as proof by ordeal; these were various ways
by which to determine whether the accused was guilty or innocent. The first
method was to have the suspect wrap their hand around a red-hot iron – if their
hand was on its way to being healed within three days, then this ‘proved’ their
innocence. If it was still severely burned after this time period, then they
would be stated guilty. The second method is rather similar to the first,
except that it involves the accused to lift a stone from the bottom of a vat of
boiling hot water. The third way consisted of tying the accused up, hand and
foot, and throwing them into a body of water – if they sank, they were thought
to be innocent, and if they floated to the top, guilty.

The most common ……. – trial by

Initially, the church did not support these dubious
measures. However, they soon realised that if they were to have any control
over legal matters, they would have to accept these methods. The church placed
a religious sanction over them, and it was soon tradition for the accused to
place their hand on the bible and swear an oath before going to the ordeal. To
be convicted of a crime meant that you were hanged.

One of the Mongolian tribes, known as the Huns, invaded the
Roman Empire in 370 A.D., after attempting and failing to overthrow India, then
travelling north of the Caspian and Black seas and down through southern Russia
to the Balkans. By the middle of the fourth century, they had broken into the
Danube basin and conquered the Ostrogoths. The Huns are said to be terrifyingly
strong; they fought on horseback, which was unfortunate for the Germans as they
did not have a cavalry. Medieval reports state that they did not even dismount
to eat, but rather kept raw meat under their saddles which they ate whilst

The Huns left the Visigoths scared for their lives, begging
the Emperor to let them cross into the Roman Empire. The request was granted;
this was the first peaceful German immigration.

The tribe was given Greek land to colonize – as one of the
largest tribes, they consisted of around 100,000 people, making up roughly ten
percent of the Mediterranean world. Their arrangement with the Empire worked
for a while, but the Visigoths began to claim that they were being cheated by
the Roman governors. They carried on with these statements for around two years
until they decided to revolt against the Emperor. This led to the Battle of
Adrianople (A.D. 378), the official beginning of the Roman invasions. The
Emperor became overconfident that he could beat the Visigoths – this was a
mistake, as he therefore did not employ enough soldiers to fight, and so lost
the war.

The Visigoths were pacified by Theodosius the First soon
after, with no major physical damage done – however, they had managed to
demonstrate that the Roman army could be beaten by the Germans.

Theodosius died in A.D. 395, leaving the Visigoths agitated.
He had been succeeded by his less-than-bright son, whom the tribe did not
trust. Their elected their own king – known as Alaric the Bold, he was
aggressive yet competent. Alaric was a good ruler, and simply requested good
lands for his people – a homestead act – from the current Emperor. The Emperor
denied the king’s request, and so sparked a huge war. Although Alaric wanted no
violence, and respected the Emperor, he had no choice but to fight back. The Emperor
fled, which led a German-Roman general, by the name of Stilicho, to withdraw
his troops from the Rhine frontier in order to go into combat with the


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