History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

The Huns and Goths

For long years the Rhine remained the boundary of the Germans. But although the Romans made no further attempt to conquer the Germans there was no lasting peace with Rome, for the world was rarely at peace in those far-off days.

But as the years went on the Romans began to grow few and weak, the Emperors were either slothful or wicked, and to the once mighty Empire there remained but a shadow of its former greatness. The Germans, on the other hand, grew to be many and strong. Then the order of things was changed. It was no longer the Romans who crossed the Rhine or the Danube in order to conquer the Germans. It was the Germans who now crossed these rivers in order to conquer the Romans.

At this time, too, began what is known as the Wandering of the Nations. From their northern lands whole tribes of Germans began to move southwards, seeking new lands and new conquests. The warriors and the mighty men of battle did not come alone. They brought with them their wives and their children and all their goods. For they did not mean to return homeward. They meant to settle and found new homes in the southern lands.

These German tribes left their homes in search of new ones partly because their old lands had become too small to hold them, partly because they themselves had been driven out by the terrible Huns, who came upon them from the wilds of Asia.

These Huns were a wandering shepherd people. They had neither houses nor towns, but lived in tents. They spent their lives wandering from place to place, seeking fresh pasturage for their horses and cattle. They always rode on horseback, so their legs were feeble and bent, their bodies were short and broad, their arms very long and of great strength.

These misshapen barbarians, with their dark ugly faces, flat noses, and wicked eyes, struck terror into the hearts of the Germans. They seemed to them something less than human, they thought they must be the children of witches and of demons. So they fled before them in fear.

But even before these terrible Huns appeared the Wandering of the Nations had begun. It was the Goths who led the way. They came from the very north of Europe, and to this day part of Sweden is called Gotaland or Gothland.

The Goths were divided into two, the East or Ostrogoths and the West or Visigoths, and throughout their many wanderings they kept these names. It was before the might of the Goths that Rome at last fell.

But the story of how in 410 Alaric the Goth took and sacked Rome belongs rather to Roman than to German story. So too does the story of how, in 476, a German soldier deposed the last Roman Emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, and ruled in Italy as King.

But even before Rome fell the Roman Empire had been torn to pieces by these barbarians, and province after province had fallen under Germanic sway. That Germany, as far as the Elbe, should be a Roman province was for what the Romans had fought. And now, after six centuries of war, the end of the long struggle had come. Rome had fallen. Instead of Germany being a Roman province, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Africa had all been conquered by wandering German tribes. In Spain the Suevi and the Vandals had settled; in Gaul the Franks, Burgundians, and Goths; in Britain the Anglo-Saxons; in Africa the Vandals.

But of all these newly-founded Germanic kingdoms it is with Gaul alone that we have to do. For of all the German peoples the Franks alone founded a lasting kingdom on the continent of Europe, and out of that kingdom grew the new Empire of the West. And for some centuries the history of the Franks is also the history of Germany.