The Cause For The Great Migrations
The cause for the “Great Migrations” was to plunder new lands and settle. Germanic tribes had for centuries challenged the Roman frontiers because their primitive, unproductive economies forced them to search constantly for new lands to plunder or settle. The Germans were attracted by the wealth and splendor of the Roman world, and the Romans admitted them into the Empire, even while resisting their armies. The barbarians came initially as slaves or prisoners of war, then as free peasants to settle on deserted lands, and finally as mercenary soldiers and officers. In the fourth century the barbarian penetration of the Roman Empire was made more violent because the barbarians themselves were being invaded and forced southwestward by nomadic hordes from central Asia.
The migration, with the nomadic hordes, was turning into a course of destruction. These nomads who sowed tumult in the barbarian world were the Huns. It is believed that it was because of reaction to climate changes that desiccated their pastures, the Huns swept out of their Asiatic homeland and terrorized Western Europe. The course the Huns took was that of many raids. Their great chief Attila established his horde on the plain of the Danube and from there he led the Huns on raids into both Gaul and Italy. With Attila’s death in 453, the Hunnic empire disintegrated, but the Huns had already given impetus to the great movement of peoples that marks the beginning of the middle ages. The beginning of the Middle Ages would be the final outcome from the “Great Migrations.” There would be many small kingdoms that would become known as medieval kingdoms.
The Visigoths were the first of the Germanic tribes that the Huns dislodged. Fleeing before the Huns, the Visigoths asked the Byzantine emperor to settle them in a depopulated area south of the Danube. In 376 the emperor Valens admitted them into the Empire. The Visigoths wanted to settle peacefully but the Byzantine officials treated them miserably, raping their women and forcing their children into slavery. The Goths rebelled against Valens. Valens led an expedition against them and at the battle of Adrianople in 378 the Visigoths cavalry won over the Roman foot soldier. Visigoths continued moving westward sacking Rome in 410.They took gold and silver treasure, slaves, and moveable property. In 418 the Visigoths established the first autonomous kingdom on Roman soil. At its height the Visigoths extended from Gibraltar to the Loire River. Another Germanic people, the Franks, conquered the Visigothic kingdom in Gaul in the sixth century and confined the Visigoths to Spain.
Next were the Vandals and Burgundies, they were yet another Germanic group that the Huns forced out of their territory. They broke across the Rhine River into Gaul. They continued south through the Iberian Peninsula and crossed to North Africa, where they established a permanent kingdom in 429.They were Arians and persecuted orthodox Christians. They became very powerful in the Mediterranean Sea that in 455 they plundered Rome. This act, the cruelty in involved in their religious persecutions, and their piracy in the Mediterranean earned the Vandals a reputation for senseless violence. Justinian, a Byzantine emperor, destroyed the Vandal Empire in the 6th century.
The Burgundies, another Germanic tribe from eastern Europe, followed the Vandals into Gaul, probably around 411.They established their own kingdom in the valleys of the upper Rhone and Saone rivers in 443, which gave the region its permanent name, Burgundy.
The ease with which all these Germanic peoples invaded the Roman frontier shows that the Empire had lost virtually all authority in the West by the middle of the fifth century. Valentinian III was the last Roman to exercise any real power in the West. A series of emperors were raised to the throne and then were murdered by German officials, who were effective rulers. Odovacar, who was a German ruler, deposed the last emperor in 476. This marks the final power from Roman to German hands in the West.
The migrations continued with the Ostrogoths, eastern Goths, who moved into territory vacated by the Visigoths. There were also Germanic tribes in Gaul. In the third and fourth centuries the Germanic tribes were living just beyond the Roman frontier in the Rhine valley coalesced into two large federations, the alemanni in the upper valley and the Franks in the lower valley. There were also the invasions of Germans into Britain. The Romans had withdrawn their legions from Britain in 407 to defend Rome against the Visigoths, leaving the island open to invasion.
The Slavic tribes living to the east of the Germans embarked on their own migrations. In the 5th and 6th centuries some Slavic tribes pushed their settlements as Far West as the Elbe River and as far north as the Baltic Sea. They are the ancestors of the Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks. During the same year other Slavic tribes penetrated into the Balkan Peninsula and Greece. Their Descendents are the modern South Slavs-the Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, and Macedonians.
There were important social, legal and cultural aspects of the German tribes. The social structure was composed of chiefs, who were distinguished by success in battle, free warriors and their families, and some slaves. The Germanic free warrior owned land and individual ownership allowed some families to become richer than others. Germanic society was not egalitarian. Families with a common ancestry were linked together into kindreds. The kindred fought, migrated, settled, and held certain forms of property in common.
Germanic laws were not written down until the sixth century, and reliance on oral tradition explains several peculiarities of Germanic institutions. To recall the ancient laws, the Germans consulted old, respected men of the community, who would remember past customs. This tribal government relied on large councils or assemblies. The chief or king had only limited power and never made decisions alone; he always acted in an assembly or council of free warriors who aided him in making his judgement. To confirm the making of contracts within the community, Germans relied heavily on symbolic gestures publicly performed. The Germans would also determine truth or falsehood, guilt or innocence, in disputes by investigating the character of the litigants or by appealing to magic. In a practice called Compurgation, twelve good men would swear to the honest reputation and presumed innocence of the accused. Sometimes the accused would undergo an ordeal- judgement- such as stepping barefoot over hot irons or immersing a hand in boiling water; if the feet or hands showed no severe burns, the accused was declared innocent. All these practices influenced the development of medieval law and government.
Culturally the Germans had little use of writing their literature was preserved by oral transmission. They favored poetry and the earliest surviving examples of poetry wasn’t written down until the ninth century, but they still provide an authentic reflection of German culture, testifying to a violent age. Germanic religion displayed an abiding sense of pessimism. The Germans saw nature as a hostile force controlled by two sets of gods. Through incantations, spells, or charms, people tried to influence the actions of these spirits. The Germans changed their homes so frequently they never developed any monumental art- no temples, palaces, or large statues-before settling within the Empire. Their finest art was jewelry.