Suebi, The: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Germanic Groups

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The people that came to be known as Germans originally came from Scandinavia and were mainly shepherds and hunters, but they comprised a number of distinct groups. Within each group, there were separate tribes, and as their populations grew, the land they occupied in Scandinavia was unable to support them, so they began migrating south, settling outside the borders of the Roman Empire. The Germans were fierce warriors who employed rather crude but effective tactics in battle. Their main approach was one of charging directly at an enemy and fighting hand-to-hand using their long swords and shields. Body armor was unknown, and they wore only animal-skins. Most warriors wore their hair long, dyed red and greased into ponytails.

Friction between Rome and the German tribes can be traced back as far as 113 BCE, and the next 500 years brought full-scale campaigns by the Romans against the various individual tribes, resulting in numerous battles and constant uprisings wherever any part of the land east of the Rhine was occupied for any length of time. The impact of this constant warfare on both sides cannot be underestimated, and all the while, the fighting and other interactions had massive cultural and political influences going in both directions.  

Although Caesar led two secondary campaigns across the Rhine against the Germans, both were unsuccessful. Among the Germans who stymied Caesar’s plans, those who gave the Romans the most problems were the Suebi. Caesar’s account of his Gallic campaign included the first documented account of the Suebi, who were described as fearless warriors, yet wholly uncivilized and barbaric in the eyes of the Romans. The Suebi lived north of the Rhine for hundreds of years, mostly unaffected by Rome’s expansion, and while the Romans and the Suebi did have early contact with each other, those contacts were relatively inconsequential.