Law and organisation Main element of Germanic societies was Kingship; military leader, high priest, lawmaker and judge encompassed by king. Germanic monarchy was elective; the king was elected by the freemen from among eligible candidates of a family tracing their ancestry to the tribe's divine or semi-divine founder. Freemen could own estates but were answerable to the king. They could be referred to as the early nobles. Weregild – was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property. If property was stolen or someone was killed, the guilty person had to pay Weregild. Women did not have a political station. All freemen had the right to participate in general assemblies where disputes between freemen were addressed accordingly to customary law. King was bound by ancestral law, but could enact new laws.
Warfare Three Roman legions were ambushed and destroyed by an alliance of Germanic tribes headed by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, the Roman Empire made no further concentrated attempts at conquering Germania beyond the Rhine. The purpose of Germanic warfare was to capture resources and secure prestige. These raids were conducted by irregular troops, often formed along family or village lines, in groups of 10 to about 1,000. A typical Germanic force might consist of 100 men with the sole goal of raiding a nearby Germanic or foreign village. When the Germanic Tribes did fight pitched battles, the infantry often adopted wedge formations, each wedge being led by a clan head.
Economy Germanic settlements were typically small, rarely containing much more than ten households, often less, and were usually located at clearings in the wood. The Germans practiced both agriculture and husbandry, the latter was extremely important both as a source of dairy products and as a basis for wealth and social status, which was measured by the size of an individual's herd. Barley and wheat were the most common agricultural products and were used for baking a certain flat type of bread as well as brewing beer.
Religion Prior to the Middle Ages, Germanic peoples followed what is now referred to as Germanic paganism Many of the deities found in Germanic paganism appeared under similar names across the Germanic peoples, most notably the god known to the Germans as Wodan or Wotan, to the Anglo-Saxons as Woden, and to the Norse as Odin, as well as the god Thor While the Germanic peoples were slowly converted to Christianity by varying means, many elements of the pre-Christian culture and indigenous beliefs remained firmly in place after the conversion process, particularly in the more rural and distant regions.
Germanic kingdoms From the 5th century onwards, the Germans founded several kingdoms in Roman territories. The most important ones were the Frankish, Visigothic, Burgundian, Anglo-Saxon, Suevi and Vandal kingdoms. The Economy: The population in the cities decreased, commercial activity started to slow down and currency almost disappeared. The King: The King held the power in Germanic kingdoms. At first, he was chosen by the noblemen (freemen). However, in the course of time, royalty became hereditary. As a consequence, many kings were overthrown and even killed by members of their own families. The Council advised the king on government issues and helped him to carry out justice. The Dukes had the military power in certain territories and leadership in some subjugated areas.
Germanic Identity Germans were the minority within the population. Initially, the Romans and Germans maintained their own laws, customs and religion. But over time, both societies started to blend and the Germans adopted Roman institutions and laws, Latin and even the Christian religion. Notwithstanding, the Germanic people also contributed to such blending. In the least Romanised areas, the German heritage had more influence. For example, modern languages such as English and German have a Germanic origin. Few artistic manifestations from the Germanic peoples have been preserved. In architecture, some small Visigothic churches remain, built with a sculpted block of large stones. Their most important contribution was the art of gold and silver smithery.
Religious conversion The early monasteries were founded during Germanic times. These were buildings where a community of monks lived. Daily life was organised according to a rule, a set of obligations. One of the main rules was the one adopted by Saint Benedict in 530. Monasteries were places of prayer, but they were also cultural centres because they had a school and a scriptorium, the place where manuscripts were copied.
Review questions Were the Germanic tribes barbaric? Explain your answer. What were some of the complex systems that the Germanic kingdoms began? Why did Germanic kingdoms convert to Christianity? Why do we make assumptions about the barbaric nature of Germanic tribes?