The History of Warrior Cultures: Western Europe
by Katia Novella Miller
Today all around the world most people realize that many current countries such as the United States, Chile, Australia or Bolivia are the outcome of invasions and conquests yet few are aware that Europe also fits into this category.
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If one knows a little about European history and observes what is presently going on with the migrants and refugees, and one is able to put together mentally the present with the past, then one can see clearly the image of nations, peoples and tribes who have obtained their lands through a process of usurpation and occupation – often with violence and plunderage – shouting: this is my land! (click on the title to continue reading)
Undoubtedly dispersions and invasions have accompanied humanity since it appeared on the Earth and Europe is no exception.
Present-day Europe is the result of numerous exoduses and wars to dominate the land of other people (and even the same people) and the term and idea of “indigenous European“ is a fallacy.
The most widely accepted theory is that human beings spread over the Earth through long journeys that originated in Africa, went up through the Middle East, out into Asia, from there to the west and finally to the region of Eurasia we call Europe.
Of the original prehistoric peoples who settled in the western area of Eurasia (modern Europe) we know very little. What we do know is that the oldest European ruins have been found in Apulia (Southern Italy) in the Puglia region and they are 44,000 years old!
People’s History of Europe. The first known peoples to inhabit Europe – classified by their languages – are known as Pre-Indo-Europeans. Pre-Indo-Europeans also spread into Anatolia (current Turkey), the Middle East and Asia. Only a handful of these languages currently survive and in Western Europe only the Euskera or Basque language (in the north east of Spain and south west of France) remains. All the other Pre-Indo-European languages disappeared. Fortunately those peoples left traces of their passage and this is how we know they existed. It is estimated that Pre-Indo-Europeans moved into Europe between 40,000 and 6,000 years ago.
Much more information is available on later movements of the peoples with Indo-European languages (languages that share a common origin): the Germanics, the Latins…
More than a Theory. Plenty of evidence, based on archaeological and Greek written sources, supports the idea that Greece was inhabited before the Hellen invasion of the Aegean (Hellas was the ancient name of Greece). Much of the proto-Greek languages and cultures were assimilated into Greek cultures.
Cultural Differences between Contemporary Western Europeans and the Peoples of Ancient Europe. A fundamental characteristic of ancient peoples of Europe (Pre-Indo-Europeans) was that they were peaceful and did not fortify their settlements. Many lived in rectangular houses in open spaces with quality soil and plenty of water to support their agricultural economy. Copper and later gold were used for ornaments and instruments. A large number worshipped mother goddesses and fertility cults and rites were prevalent. A large percentage had a matriarchal social structure.
The migrations and invasions of the Indo-Europeans peoples (Germanics, Latins, Celts, Slavs, Hellenes…) brought to Europe the bronze era and the production of weapons with this metal. They were pastoral nomadic peoples, had a patrilineal social structure and introduced the concept of fortified settlements in West Eurasia.
Indo-European Peoples. The scholar Marija Gimbuta believes that the Indo-Europeans came from the Southern Steppes of Russia and that they started their extensive journey around the V millennium BCE directly to the Balkans and the Danubian areas. Afterwards, in the second half of the IV millennium, a second migration wave occurred towards the Caucasus, Anatolia (Turkey), Iran and Europe; in the III millennium towards Egypt and Palestine. Indo-Europeans peoples are: the Greeks, the Latins, the Sami, the Slavs, the Germanics and some scholars argue that the Celts also belong to this group. All these peoples arrived in Europe from Asia and into territories that were already inhabited by the Pre-Indo-Europeans, among them the ‘Basques’.
But not all Indo-Europeans arrived at the same time.
The Greeks. Very likely the first group of Indo-Europeans arrived in Ancient Greece where they started agriculture around the VII millennium BCE. An archaic Greek language appeared in the III millennium BCE.
The Sami, known also as Leppons. Probably they were the second group of Indo-Europeans to settle in Western Europe. They arrived in the arctic and subarctic zones known today as Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia at least 5,000 years ago. Centuries later the Sami were overrun by the Germanics.
The Latins were the people who founded Rome. Many scholars think they may have crossed the Alps and invaded the Pre-Indo-European peoples living on the Italian peninsula 3,200 years ago. However, Greco-Roman historiography tells us instead that the Latins arrived on the Italian peninsula in the II millennium BCE from Asia Minor. As all empires in human history, the Roman Empire was the result of onslaughts and subjugation of other peoples and cultures living far away, including the Greeks.
The Celts. In the past intellectuals put the Celts among the firsts Indo-European peoples to migrate to Europe. Currently many experts contest this theory and suggest the Celts were contemporaries of the Romans, the Greeks and the Etruscans and that their highest civilization flourished between the IV and the III centuries CE. The Celts settled in the heart of continental Western Europe (currently Switzerland, Austria, South West Germany and France) and from there they expanded to Northern Italy, Northern Spain, the British Isles, the Danube, the Balkans and Anatolia (today Turkey).
In reality the origin of the Celts remains a very controversial topic. Many scholars believe the Celts were not a nation of peoples with its own characteristics but a mixture of peoples who settled in Europe.
The arrival of the Germanics from the north – beginning in the II century CE – and the pressure from the Romans in the south forced many of them to transfer to the British Isles but the majority did not move and slowly the Celts were assimilated by the Romans and later by the Germanics. Today the Irish and western and northern peoples of Great Britain consider themselves the historical descendants of the Celts; the Belgians consider themselves a mixed breed of Germanics and Celts.
The Germanics. The Germanic peoples represent the last big invasion. A culture that settled down and developed in the west of the Baltic region and the south of Scandinavia between 1,700 and 500 BCE is recognized as the common ancestral civilization of the Germanics. Like other Indo-European peoples, most likely they came from the steppes of southern Russia.
Much more information exists about the Gemanic migrations as these peoples were the last to arrive in Western Europe and the Greeks and the Romans, who suffered this shocking impact, wrote about them.
Initially the Germanics settled in the south of Scandinavia. The largest advance toward the south started between 800 and 750 BCE. At the end of the VIII century BCE the Germanics were already established on the coast of the Netherlands. Between the V and the I centuries BCE the Germanics started to penetrate further down into the south, into the territories of the Celtic tribes and Rome. History pages are full of battles and lootings.
In 550 BCE the Germanics reached the eastern area of the Rhine River and subjugated the Celts. At the end of the II century BCE the Germanics were living in a vast territory, from the Netherlands to Poland. In 200 CE they overran the Egea region (current Greece), the Danube and Asia Minor. The famous sack of the city of Rome, capital of the empire, happened in 410 CE.
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The Final Invasion. In the V century CE the Germanics – pressured by other peoples coming from Asia – overcame the ‘Limes‘ (the borders of the Roman Empire). Whole nations entered and settled under the powerless gaze of the Romans. They invaded (current) France, Italy, South West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Great Britain and the Balkans. During this big migration wave they also arrived and settled in Turkey and North Africa. The Germanics used their new territory to set up new kingdoms known as the Germanic Kingdoms.
Who were they? The main Germanic tribes that settled in vast zones of the Roman Empire around 1,500 years ago were the Suebi (Portugal, Galicia), the Vandals (Africa), the Goths (Ostrogoth and Visigoths in Italy and Spain), the Franks (because of them the old Roman province of Galia was re-named France; they also settled in northwest Italy), the Turingios, the Alemanni, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes (these last three emigrated mainly to Great Britain), the Herulos, the Rugios, the Lombards (Italy) and the Vikings (Great Britain, Northern France, Sicily).
Despite the vast foundation and territories of the Germanic nations, raids and attacks did not stop. For example the Vikings led a second huge migrational wave into lands already dominated by other Germanic peoples like in Normandy, on the Russian Steppes and in Byzantine lands (Eastern Roman Empire). Since then many other wars have followed until very recently.
At this point it is very interesting to note that some European intellectuals, like Rosa Luxemburg, have suggested that if today‘s Western Europe is not a battlefield, it is because the conflicts have been transferred to other parts of the globe.
Europe Comes to Be : Europe’s Name. In the beginning Europe was a name used by the Romans and the Greeks to indicate vague geographical lands north of Mediterranean areas. Between the VII and the IX centuries CE, after the barbarian invasions, a peace was reached between the Germanics and the Pope. This laid the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne (king of the Germanic tribe called the Franks) and Europe became the name of the ‘continent.’
Contemporary Western European Ethnicities. It is indisputable that Western European nations are the outcome of the miscegenation between the Germanics and the peoples they overcame.
Some Germanic nations merged with a demographically dominant ‘Latin’ society. This happened mainly in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. In other territories the Germanics became the ethnographic foundation or majority like in central and north-western Europe. Sweden and Norway, before the arrival of the Germanics, were inhabited by the Sami. Iceland was occupied by the Inuits (native peoples also of Greenland, Canada and the United States). The Germanic nations officially recognized as such in current continental Europe (but obviously have a Celtic, Latin, etc…, ethnical background) are Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg. France instead is considered a Latin country with a major presence of Germanics.
Languages in Western Europe: German, Italian, Spanish, English… In general, today we can see that Germanic languages became dominant along the Lime, outside the Roman frontiers, in Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, etc, but not in most of the western Roman provinces where the Germanics adopted dialects deriving from Latin which were transforming into the Romance Languages: among them Italian, Castilian (Spanish), Catalan, Portuguese and French.
Presently the most important Germanic language around the globe is unquestionably the English language, followed by German; the most important Romance language is instead Castilian, known as Spanish, followed by French (spoken in France and in many parts of Africa and the Middle East).
Curiosities about Toponyms: Names given to territories by the Germanic Peoples. It is interesting to note that toponyms indicating possession of land are rare with speakers of Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese etc…) but occur frequently with the Germanic language speaking peoples (English, German, Danish etc…). In fact, it seems the Germanics were keen on attaching their name to the lands they conquered. A few examples:
Germany – Deutschland (in German) means the land of the Deutsche (the Germans).
England – the land of the Angles.
Denmark – mark in Danish means an area of land, Den could derive from the name of the Danes (tribes), therefore Denmark could mean the land of the Danes.
Conclusion. This is just a very brief history of Western Europe with no mention of many other peoples and nations who settled in the westernmost part of Eurasia such as the Veneti, the Ligurians, the Iberos and many others and without mentioning invasions carried out by African and Middle Eastern peoples in the course of historical times. The focus is primarily on the peoples that constitute today‘s Western Europe as the goal of this article is to give a clearer idea of who the Europeans of the west are.
As one can see, present-day Europe is a culmination of many tribes, cultures, ideas, migrations and wars. And undoubtedly the Germanics played a major role. The Germanics, the last invaders that still rule Europe and the world.
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