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The Great Migration

The period of the Great Migration covers the 4th — 8th centuries. Migrations of entire peoples occurred time and again in connection with changes which took place at the dawn of history when high civilizations emerged and ‘primitive’ tribes came into conflict with more advanced peoples. The Mediterranean area in particular, with its fertile lands and its subtropical and seemingly paradisal climate, was the objective of such migrations but at the same time it was also a melting pot in which the migratory peoples intermarried with those already settled there. Many elements of this mingling — and not just the linguistic and cultural ones — endured for centuries. For the Great Migration discussed here, this naturally applies on a much greater scale than for the previous movements of tribes and peoples. The lasting effect of the Great Migration can be explained by the magnitude of the human groupings involved in this process, by the long duration of this cycle of migration and by the size of the territories affected.

From the end of the 4th century Germanic tribes had been invading the territory of the Western Roman Empire all the time. Weakened by the uprisings of slaves and colonies, the Roman Empire was unable to withstand the onslaught of the “barbarians”.

In the 5th century the Germanic tribes had overrun all the Empire and settled in different parts of it: the Vandals in the north of Africa, the Visigoths in Southern Gaul and Spain, the Angles and Saxons in Britain, the Franks in Gaul, the Ostrogoths in Italy, etc.

During the Germanic invasion of the Western Roman Empire, almost all the cities were razed to the ground or burnt down. Crafts fell into complete decay. Trade came to a standstill, and ports and roads were deserted. The cities lay in ruins for a long time, but agriculture got gradually restored. Before their resettlement, the Germans used to go on cultivating their plots of land until the soil was exhausted. Then they abandoned the old plot and cleared a new one for cultivation. After the conquest the Germans adopted the Roman system of two-field crop rotation. They divided the arable land into two fields using each in turn. With the introduction of this system harvest yields went up.

Besides grain crops, the Germans began to grow fruit, vegetables and grapes. They also continued their old occupations of cattle-breeding, hunting and fishing.

We know that in the first centuries AD Germanic tribes consisted of clan communities. Each clan had its fields where all the members of the clan worked and the harvest belonged to the clan in common. But when the Germans learned to use the Roman implements of labour, every family was able to gather a harvest sufficient for its needs. Therefore arable land came to be used by separate families.

Germanic nobility was in existence before the conquest. The elders, military leaders, and their warriors had more land and cattle than the other members of the tribe.

During the campaigns against the Roman Empire the inequality among the Germans became even more pronounced. The chiefs and their warriors seized the estates of wealthy Romans and became very rich. They took possession of large pieces of land and became big landowners.


Unit 7

Date: 2014-12-22; view: 1469

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