Some thoughts on the Early History of the Germans

Disclaimer: I’m not German nor an expert in German history.

The word “German” can obviously be defined three different ways:

  1. A citizen of the country of Germany
  2. Someone who speaks the German language
  3. A member of the German people

No one is really interested in #1, because this is a legal definition rather than a truly meaningful one. A wealthy enough person can easily gain citizenship in almost any country they want to, but this does not make them an actual member of that society.

About 95 million people speak German as their first language, plus about 15 million who’ve learned it as a second or third language. The wider Germanic language family has about a billion speakers, mostly because a lot of people in India have learned English.

Pre-Roman Iron Age in Northern Europe showing culture(s) associated with Proto-Germanic, c. 500 BC. The red shows the area of the preceding Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia; the magenta-colored area towards the south represents the later Jastorf culture of the North German Plain.

The oddest thing about the Germanic languages is their origin–according to Wikipedia, proto-Germanic spread southward from southern Scandinavia/Denmark (modern name for the region, obviously not the 500-BC name) into central Europe. Have a map:

Red: Settlements before 750 BC
Orange: New settlements 750–500 BC
Yellow: NS 500–250 BC
Green: NS 250 BC – AD 1
Some sources give a date of 750 BC for the earliest expansion out of southern Scandinavia along the North Sea coast towards the mouth of the Rhine. (from Wikipedia)

And another map.

Okay, fine, but note that Scandinavia is a peninsula, and the area just north of the Nordic part is inhabited by people (the Sami/Lapps) who don’t even speak an Indo-European language. Neither do the nearby Finns. Assuming those folks were already there when the proto-German speakers arrived, how did they get from the Indo-European urheimat, just north of the Caucasus mountains, to southern Norway and Sweden, without significantly occupying either northern/eastern Finnoscandia nor central/eastern Europe?

Further, once they arrived in southern Scandinavia, what prompted them to head southward again?

During the initial years of Germanic expansion, the heart of central and western Europe was occupied by Celtic peoples, notably the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures (yes I have another map!)

Yellow: Hallstatt territory, 6th cen BC
Teal: Celtic expansion by 275 BC
Light Grey: Lusitanian area of Iberia where Celtic presence is uncertain
Green: Areas where Celtic languages remain widely spoken today

While the modern Celtic languages are nearly forgotten outside of Ireland and Wales, the pre-Roman Celtic range was quite impressive. Around 390 BC, the Celts sacked Rome; around 280 BC, they defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae, attacked Delphi, and eventually made their way to Turkey (well, Anatolia), where they established the Kingdom of Galatia. The Galatians earned themselves enduring fame by receiving a letter from St. Paul, which is now the ninth book of the New Testament.

So around 500 BC, the Celts were clearly a force to be reckoned with throughout much of Europe. Then came the Germanics from the north (perhaps they felt pressure from the Sami?) and the Italics from the south.The Germanics spread principally to the east, through modern Poland (which I hear is very flat and thus easy to move through,) and into the core Hallstatt areas of Austria and Switzerland, while the Romans conquered the Celtic areas of France, Spain, and England. (Modern names, obviously.)

As the Roman empire crumbled, the Germans invaded (YES ANOTHER MAP!) and basically conquered everything in their path.

Simplified map of the German migrations of the 2nd through 5th centuries

And then, of course, the Norse went and invaded a whole bunch of places, too, so that England effectively got invaded twice by different Germanic tribes–first the Angles/Saxons/Jutes, and second the Normans.

I’m going to skip the map of the Viking expansion, but you’re probably already well aware of their most far-flung settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland (North America.) They looted north Africa, settled in southern Italy, and apparently created the first Russian kingdoms, the Kievan Rus and the Volga Bulgars.

Obviously not all of the places the Germanics conquered ended up speaking Germanic languages–I haven’t heard of much Norwegian being spoken in Sicily lately. Nor did all of the places which today speak Germanic languages end up with many Germanic people in them–a small band of conquerors can impose their language on a much larger subject population, and then a small band of warriors from that population can turn around and go conquer someone else and impose the language on them in turn, resulting in a language being spoken by people with very no genetic relationship at all to the original speakers.

For example, even though everyone in England speaks English, very little (only 30%) of the modern English DNA comes from the Angles (or any Germanic tribe)–most of it hails from the pre-Germanic, presumably Celtic population. The English, in turn, conquered large swathes of the globe, and today English is spoken (often as a second language) by folks with zero Germanic ancestry in far-flung places like India, South Africa, and Japan (conquered by the US.)

So our next post, we’ll turn our attention to the Germanic peoples. Where are they now, and how distinct are they from their neighbors?

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19 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Early History of the Germans

  1. Do one on Yakuts sometime.

    Basically, a hybrid of Turkic mounted warriors and native Siberian people, speaking a Turkic language, living in the coldest place in the Northern Hemisphere (all permafrost.)

    The male ancestors moved north from Mongolia, conquered the locals and imposed their language, but obviously not all their customs.

    They have arctic-adapted ponies and camels, which thrive in permafrost!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Intra-White Diversity is the most interesting, especially when the psychological aspecs of the sundry White ethnicities are accounted for. Keep up the good work!

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  3. >how did they get from the Indo-European urheimat, just north of the Caucasus mountains, to southern Norway and Sweden, without significantly occupying either northern/eastern Finnoscandia nor central/eastern Europe?

    While all the surviving Germanic languages seem to have spread south out of Sweden after the Nordic Bronze Age, many of the languages they were replacing were probably also closely related. There would have been a whole mess of pre-proto-Germanic sister languages spreading out from some point in the eastern range of the Corded Ware culture (likely from the Middle Dnieper). Then of those languages, the one that happened to produce all the surviving daughter languages from that branch gets to be called “proto-Germanic”. It just so happened that the most prolific group was at the furthest edge of the pre-proto-Germanic expansion zone.

    (Which may not be all that coincidental. In Europe, the peripheral Germanic conquest in Britain then became the most prolific colonizer, and its maritime colonies have now pulled off the same stunt. It may be that the most difficult places to invade are least exposed to additional waves of Indo-European invasion, and potentially more natural resources per capita.)

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  4. >And then, of course, the Norse went and invaded a whole bunch of places, too, so that England effectively got invaded twice by different Germanic tribes–first the Angles/Saxons/Jutes, and second the Normans.

    Are you combining the Danelaw era and the Normans? Those were far enough apart (9th century vs. 11th) that I’d think you’d want to treat them separately. I mean, the Danelaw was established by the Great Heathen Army, while the Normans were Christians and spoke French…?

    (Could you pull my comment on the Schedule Change thread out of moderation?)

    BTW, I’ve been re-reading “The Song of Roland” (I prefer the Sayers translation). It was written in the 11th century in a Romance language about their 8th century ancestors with Germanic names; and the king’s seat is Aix-la-Chapelle, now known as Aachen. I hope one of your Germanic topics will be how that Germanic group, the Franks, merged with the Romanized Gauls and became Francia. ;)

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  5. An OT Wednesday comment on memory-holing:

    SlateStarScott doesn’t seem to be making a distinction between “controversial” and “offensive.”

    Hey, remember when American popular culture held that “controversial” was a *good* thing?

    “Controversial” traditionally meant “makes you think,” and also, “challenges some people’s worldviews in a way they might not like, but that is a sign that it might actually be right or else they wouldn’t be so upset; so if we are looking for truth, we should start by looking for controversial.” Upsetting people was not the point; “the fact that it upsets people is a sign it might be true” was.

    And here I thought Scott was old enough to remember that too. Is he not? Is he from some weird subculture that grew up unaware of the larger culture’s attitude? Or has he just somehow…memory-holed it?

    Commenter Deiseach mentions that history without going out of her way to emphasize it and rub it in–and another commenter replies in confusion, having utterly missed all those references. Commenter Tibor similarly references the traditional phrase “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” Who these days is either too young to be aware of that past or has memory-holed it? How young must you be for it to be the former and not the latter?

    I hate this memory-holing.

    I have no particular desire to upset anyone. But I have a nostalgic bent and a good memory. I’m interested in history. And so I remember things.

    This was a dead accurate parody in 1983–my grandparents to a T. Even my parents somewhat (though they are in the generation of Unitarians that opened it to refugees from other religions, unintentionally destroying it as a religion. Uh, IMHO).

    Though the parodists were aiming at British Protestants and my folks are American, both groups shared a specific Protestant subculture. These days that subculture seems to be totally gone, at least from America. Nowadays when Americans think of Protestants they think of Quiverfull, Mary Pride types.

    I remember when, if you asked a Protestant what denomination they were or an event was and they said “nondenominational” or, “oh, none in particular,” that meant they were granola/hippie/liberal types. Now “Christian” with no modifiers is taken to mean evangelical/fundamentalist/conservative. To such an extent that we see things like…a TV ad for a show about, and I quote, “A Jewish woman, a Christian mom, a progressive minister, and a Muslim woman.”

    And things like… A while back a horrible misunderstanding arose on a discussion group I participate in: A teenager joined who had learned that the *definition* of “Christian” was “evangelical Protestant.” So to them, “Catholics” weren’t “Christians” *by definition*–to them, “Catholics aren’t Christians” just meant “Catholics aren’t evangelical Protestants.” This only became evident when the newbie tried to start a “getting to know each other” poll which asked what people’s religion was…and had “Christian” and “Catholic” as separate possible answers. Of course, Catholics, and those non-Catholics who especially oppose offending others about religion ;) became angry…the poor kid was banned before anyone even figured out the miscommunication.

    It’s like this guy’s memory:

    The left that I grew up in opposed institutional gay marriage as a conservative erasure/disempowerment that would strip the community of its status as different from (i.e., a standing challenge to) prevailing norms/nature/whatever….

    That left was so quickly and thoroughly crushed that I find it difficult to convince anyone that it ever existed.

    I remember that left too. I even remembered and unearthed this shred of evidence from the midst of its passing: Comic by a young Alison Bechdel, 1992.

    Just like I remember those old Protestants. Just like I remember those hippie nondenominationalists. Just like I remember when TERFs like me were mainstream.

    What else has been memory-holed?

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    • I liked your comment.

      However, you seem to be unaware of the fact that the meaning of words change over time.

      Evangelical Christians believe in conversion. Unless a Catholic has been “saved” he is not a “Christian.”

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    • Liberalism as we knew it is dead, eaten from within by this SJW-monstrosity.
      Of course, given enough years of conservative control of government, old-style liberalism may re-emerge.

      I think Scott misunderstands the point of inviting Murray, etc., to Harvard. If the students just wanted to invite the most offensive person possible, they could invite a pedophile advocate, have someone come poop on stage, interview an unrepentant serial killer, etc. Heck, I once saw Larry Flynt speak. He gives speeches on the importance of Free Speech; heck, he took a bullet to the spine and ended up in a wheelchair for life for publishing inter-racial porn.

      Murray is not a random offensive person; he’s an actual academic with a large body of academic work. To use Scott’s analogy, Murray *is* an attractive case.

      I don’t think the Civil Rights case and Free Speech are good analogies for each other, though. In the case of Civil Rights, blacks wanted to be treated positively and accepted as equals by society. There is no subtext of “black people are offensive but you have to accept them anyway!” Whereas the whole point of Free Speech is to protect speech that some people don’t like or find deeply offensive or controversial. You can argue that segregation is unjust because it hurts innocent, upstanding people like Mrs. Parks, but the same argument doesn’t work for Free Speech, because people will always say that they aren’t trying to restrict the speech of innocent, upstanding people, they’re only trying to restrict the speech of offensive people.

      I’ve never really understood the brand of Evangelical Protestant that clams that Catholics aren’t Christians. A few seem confused because they, too, have seen polls like the one you mention, and so just grew up thinking these were two different things. Others seem perfectly well aware that this is not how the word is generally used and that they are actually saying something offensive to Catholics and do it anyway because they don’t like Catholics.

      But don’t get me started on “people who insist on using words in their own way while claiming that 90% of people are using them wrong and refuse to acknowledge that this is not how everyone else in society uses them.”

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      • Liberalism as we knew it is dead, eaten from within by this SJW-monstrosity.

        Yes, unfortunately you are correct. Of course, the original SJWs created liberalism. I think hbd Chick called it runaway individualism. It happened, it was a good thing early on, but then it crashed and (will burn).

        “Murray is not a random offensive person; he’s an actual academic with a large body of academic work.”

        Yes, the fact that he cannot speak confirms, as we used to say, “It’s all over but the shouting.”

        Whereas the whole point of Free Speech is to protect speech that some people don’t like or find deeply offensive or controversial.

        Everyone is in favor of their own speech. Free speech is for the other people. I am not sure what % of people understands this, maybe 10%.

        I’ve never really understood the brand of Evangelical Protestant that clams that Catholics aren’t Christians.

        Do you actually mean you can’t understand, or do you mean that you do not approve of this POV?

        It’s not complicated. They believe that “Christians” have to be “born again” and have a personal relationship with God, no intermediaries allowed. If they say “Christian” they mean born again Christians, not generic ones.

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      • >Do you actually mean you can’t understand, or do you mean that you do not approve of this POV?
        What I really mean is that all communication is possible because people use mutually agreed-upon definitions for words. If you use funny definitions or make up your own, people won’t understand you.
        It’s perfectly fine to use an unusual definition if you just make it clear upfront that you’re doing so–scientists and lay people use “theory” differently, but this isn’t generally a problem. It’s also fine for words to change over time–we don’t need to talk in Olde English, and everyone fully understands that “gay” now means “homosexual” instead of “happy.” I have no difficulty communicating with people using these words.

        But it’s annoying when people purposefully use a non-standard or non-agreed-upon definition of a word without acknowledging this and while denying the legitimacy of the more common, standard definition. SJWs do this with “racism,” which they try to re-define in the middle of conversation to mean something other than what the other person was talking about in the first place.

        “Christianity” has a definition, a way people typically use it, and that includes Catholics whether we think they’re doctrinally correct or not. It offends Catholics to tell them they’re not Christians, and clearly both they and the dictionary use “Christian” in a way that includes Catholics.

        I totally understand saying, “I think my version of Christianity is the correct version,” but all of the branches are part of the same theologic tree. It’d be simpler to say “born again Christians” to mean born agains than to confuse people. Plus, if we deny Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodox) as part of Christianity, then there effectively wasn’t any Christianity for over a thousand years between Christ’s death and Martin Luther, which doesn’t make any sense.

        But see, I understand SJWs’ motivations when they pull a bait and switch with the definition of “racist,” whereas I don’t really understand what’s going on w/people who do this with “Christian.” Like, did they just grow up in a really Protestant area and so never realize that Catholics are also Christians? Did they read this definition in a book somewhere and thought it was the one everyone was using? Are they intentionally trying to be rude to Catholics? Do they just not realize that this behavior is annoying to others? etc.

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      • “I totally understand saying, “I think my version of Christianity is the correct version,”

        I think that this explains most of it.

        They would say born again Christian to distinguish themselves from other people who claim to be Christians, but since they don’t really acknowledge that the other Christians are “real” Christians it is redundant.

        Whichever group “owns” a word is greatly advantaged.

        Your SJWs set the gold standard which is why they have more or less won and are just hunting down and shooting the stragglers at this point.

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      • >You can argue that segregation is unjust because it hurts innocent, upstanding people like Mrs. Parks, but the same argument doesn’t work for Free Speech, because people will always say that they aren’t trying to restrict the speech of innocent, upstanding people, they’re only trying to restrict the speech of offensive people.

        You can point out that some things we now accept as true used to be considered horribly offensive, and therefore we don’t know what truths we might be suppressing by restricting all offensive statements. One major purpose of free speech is to avoid suppressing the discovery of such truths.

        >But don’t get me started on “people who insist on using words in their own way while claiming that 90% of people are using them wrong and refuse to acknowledge that this is not how everyone else in society uses them.”

        In general that’s just one of many possible proselytizing or political advocacy techniques. “We Are All Already Decided, so get with the program or be seen as gauche/declasse.” As iffen said.

        One reason I think we’ve gotten much more of this lately has been the public nature of the internet, leading to the…”this is not a 101 space”…problem. Like, if that’s someone’s theological position, fine–and they should have somewhere to discuss their theology without constantly interrupting themselves to issue a reminder for anyone who might happen by that they’re using certain words in a specialized way. But when just socializing in a diverse group of people, one should use the vernacular meanings.

        That distinction worked before the internet encouraged small blogs that felt like, and most of the time were, tiny and specialized groups…but that were readable by anyone, so that non-specialists *did* happen by and started “treating them as 101 spaces” and misinterpreting and then getting offended by specialized terminology. Some people reacted to this situation by insisting they were going to use specialized terminology everywhere and stop apologizing for it.

        >But see, I understand SJWs’ motivations when they pull a bait and switch with the definition of “racist,” whereas I don’t really understand what’s going on w/people who do this with “Christian.”

        IMX the group that most readily comes to mind as doing this changes over time, while the behavior remains…so I think the motivation is the same no matter what the topic.

        In addition to the above (proselytizing, defensiveness), I think also, a few just grow up in, or first encounter real discussion of the concept through, the specialized environment and don’t even realize the more common definition. That was me when I was young WRT “racism”; that was the kid on the discussion board WRT “Christian.”

        And for a few others it’s just a geeky fastidiousness or purity motivation. Look at The Saker (who now blogs at Unz), who is Russian Orthodox and English is not his first language: he spent years insisting on calling Catholics “Papists” because his reading had convinced him that this was theologically appropriate. It took *years* of many of his readers telling him that in English the word “Papist” has a pejorative connotation before he really took that on board. He wasn’t trying to insult Catholics, he just didn’t understand. He even went so far as to suspect Catholics just “secretly knew he was right” (see the 2014 post linked below)–all because he just…could not grasp that what people were telling him about the word’s connotation was real. (2011; 2014. Ctrl-F bigot in the latter if you want to see his moment of realization. I want to make it clear here that AFAIC he has nothing to be ashamed of–this was just a cross-cultural miscommunication, and it’s to his credit that he eventually did realize it.)

        Communication *is* hard.

        (SJWs expect communication to happen much more quickly and easily than it ever can. In analogous situations, they expect the “Sakers” to understand instantly, the very first time they’re told.)

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      • >You can point out that some things we now accept as true used to be considered horribly offensive, and therefore we don’t know what truths we might be suppressing by restricting all offensive statements. One major purpose of free speech is to avoid suppressing the discovery of such truths.

        I agree, but people have a marvelous ability to think that *they* believe all the right things and that none of these offensive things will turn out to be true. I suspect there’s a fair amount of overlap between people who are anti-free speech today and people who think the Catholic Church was totally wrong for oppressing Galileo, after all.

        > Some people reacted to this situation by insisting they were going to use specialized terminology everywhere and stop apologizing for it.

        I think it goes beyond that, though, because scientists don’t generally go around insisting that everyone should use “theory” and “hypothesis” their way. In the SJW case, I think it’s a very purposeful decision to change the definitions in order to accomplish a political goal.

        My favorite foreign language mis-translation: calling piglets “little porks.”

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  6. ” (perhaps they felt pressure from the Sami?)”

    I think they used to stampede their reindeer through the cabbage patches so the Germans just moved on.

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