Rome, the once mighty empire, has one of the most well-known collapses in history. It is written about by historians then and now and is studied by many disciplines. Though there are many factors in this decline, including civil wars and the depletion of the army and taxes, it is certain that the Germanic tribes that surrounded the empire had a part in the fall of the western portion. It could be argued that their role was both critical and that Rome itself brought on its own downfall.
In order to understand the behavior of people, one must first understand the culture. Archaeological evidence portrays a violent people who engaged in warfare regularly. Graves have been excavated containing swords, axes, spears, and other fighting material, and the bones of the dead have shown evidence of a violent lifestyle. In the Bronze Age violence was contained to tribal wars, small scale and local. But with the Iron Age came a large scale tribal migration, for reasons yet unknown. It is possible that the tribes were seeking more land for farming, or had heard of great opportunities for raiding and plundering along the Roman border. When such a large population of people moves to new lands, they will clash with either indigenous people already living there or with each other in a battle for resources. The high possibility of violence meant that everyone who could fight did. Early on in life youth learned how to wield weapons from their elders and tribes would band together for regular raiding expeditions. Though it would be a long time before warriors could be mustered in a large, unified force, there was now a population of people who could all wage war in a moment’s notice. These people were fierce and individual tribes could become individual units in a larger army, a strategy that Rome trained their soldiers to do. This came naturally to the Germanic people, and it resulted in a higher loyalty to their leader. [Owen 1960]
Written records from Roman and Greek historians painted a picture of a savage people with bad hygiene, blue eyes and golden hair. They were rough and uncultured, and their language was garbage. Other record-keepers include Caesar, who kept detailed records of these people that he fought against, and from whom we learn of some of the battle tactics of the Germanic people. Their weapons were meant for close contact and freedom of movement while fighting. Before attacking the Germanic army would hold up their shields while shouting, an effect similar to that of an animal making itself appear larger and more formidable. [Owen 1960]
Figure 1: Recreation of Germanic spearheads. (Project Germani)
Another cultural practice was that when the Germanic people went on a raid or a conquest, they lived off the land. This resulted in high mobility and a destructive legacy. When they traveled they ravished the countryside and left nothing behind. After battles were fought they would gather their own dead for burial, but had a practice for leaving the...