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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Germanic Tribes: Politics, Economics, and Society


When the Germanic people migrated into the Roman Empire there was an immediate struggle for power which directly affected the military, causing endless failures in war. The Germanic Kingdoms started to establish new political, social, and economic foundations which, for lack of the better sense, caused great friction in ruling classes.


Political Aspects of Germanic Tribes

The military commanders controlled the government and dominated the imperial court. Stilicho and Ricimer were both German officers, while Aetius was a Roman. All three cooperated with the Germans to maintain their power however there was constant infighting in the center of the empire which caused instability of imperial rule. Although many believe that imperial rule ended with the death of Romulus, the Germanic Kingdom was able to keep to the political traditions of the Late Roman Empire. For example, the Ostrogoths were governed by their customs and own officials but the Ostrogoths still controlled the army.


Social Aspects of Germanic Tribes

Socially there was fusion between German and Roman upper classes. Upper class Gallo-Romans intermarried with Frankish nobles to produce a new ruling class. Franks constructed Roman style villas and Gallo Romans adopted Frankish weapons. The crucial bond among these Germanic people was family, especially the extended family. They all worked land together, while the extended family provided protection.


Economic Aspects of Germanic Tribes

The German economy consisted of herding, farming, and trading with people along the Northern Frontier of the Roman Empire. They were also quite efficient in exploiting the Roman coins, rather than bartering for goods. Furthermore, when Alaric and his soldiers moved through the Balkans and then into Italy, seeking food and demanding cash payments from Roman officials, it caused the senate of Rome to be forced to pay Alaric for his withdrawal, thereby directly affecting the Roman Empire economically.

The Germanic Kingdom, although it had many strong points, still lacked the system of rule or rather the foundation to implement a successful empire. When a man was guilty in Rome of a crime, his crime was heard by court which arrived at a decision. In contrast, Germans took things personally, and often their blood feuds led to savage acts of revenge. Civility was hardly present in the Germanic Kingdom, and as many will agree, throughout history it was still lacking.

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