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The Migration EraEdit
The area now known as Germany had originally been settled by Celtic tribes. However, between 1000BCE and 100BCE. Scandinavian tribes around the Baltic gradually spread throughout Europe. We still don't exactly know the reason for this mass migration, but excavations in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Northern Europe, as well as a re-appraisal of ancient Germanic mythology imply that climate change and the inability of Scandinavian soils to support large populations could have sparked the migration of the Germans southwards.
In the process, they conquered the Celts and pushed them further west and into the Roman Empire. These Scandinavian tribes were called Germans by the Romans even though during this period they did not all share a common culture, political units or even a common language. One group, known as the Cimbri, even raided its way into Rome itself before it was exterminted following the battle of Vercellae in 101BCE.
However, the Cimbri weren't fated to be the last of the Germanic tribes, nor the most renowned if not notorious: the Suebi (or "Sweboz" as they may have called themselves) were the largest and the most warlike. It is thought that the German region of Swabia (Schwaben) derived its name from the Suebi (or at least one of its factions) which settled the region during the early half of the first millenium CE.
Warriors amongst Warriors ()Edit
The earliest accounts on the Suebi and their deeds come from none other than Julius Caesar, who fought with them on the eastern frontiers of Gaul (now roughly present-day France and the Low Countries). Caesar blamed the Suebi for perpetuating war on their northern borders, because in expanding, the Suebi drove many tribes to encroach on Roman territory, especially in Gaul. By Caesar's time, the Suebi were active on the eastern banks of the Rhine, and had pushed many German tribes, notably the Ubii and Tencterii, to clash with the local Celtic tribes, who in turn began to move southwards to flee from them. Although the Suebi then tried to settle in the mountainous region of what is known as modern Alsace, Caesar managed to meet them in battle and drive them back across the Rhine.
Other writers (Romans again!) who touched on the Suebi (and possibly their allies) included Cassius Dio and Tactius, the latter's Germania providing ethnographic information on the Suebi. The most distinguishing mark of the Suebi, according to Tacitus, was their hairstyle — freedmen and nobles wore their hair in elaborate topknots to distinguish themselves from slaves and outsiders. The Suebi may have practised human scacrifice, and remnants of their victims recovered from northen European bogs have corroborated this evidence. It is thought that the activities of the Suebi and their other counterparts set off a migration of tribes west and south, clashing with the Greeks and the Romans and eventually culminating in the so-called "Dark Ages" with the fall of Rome's western frontiers in the 5th century CE. Little evidence regarding the Suebi themselves has reached our hands; most of what modern scholars know about the Suebi come from the accounts of their enemies, the Romans, who fought with them. As of archaeological evidence, few artefacts of the ancient Suebi have survived to reach us; most artefacts attributed to them were manufactured during an era when they had managed to overrun Roman lands and managed to settle therein.
Combat in the forested German lands necessitated development of a versatile semi-heavy infantry, able to launch javelins and fight both with swords, axes (both one-handed and two-handed versions) and clubs, as well as more primitive weapons. As with their Celtic foes, courage in battle was the most important value of all, and tactic and discipline, standardisation or modern equiments were quite unknown. A few warriors had helmets and mail-shirts, but most of them could only arm themselves with wooden shields and wild animal pelts. However there is nonetheless a substantial number of artefacts excavated throughout Northern Germany over the past two centuries imply that despite being mostly nomadic, they were still capable of acquiring iron weapons for their use. Nevertheless, Germanic warriors had a frightening reputation, coming from their primitive customs, savage and merciless way of fightning, their physical strenght (compared to the average Roman) and most of all, their ferocious elite warriors, whose tactics and military culture foreshadowed the emergence of the Nordic "Berserker".
As Roman authority weakened and new arrivals from Europe — most notably the Huns — arrived from the east, there was greater pressure on the Suebi and other Germanic tribal confederations, which eventually resulted in greater migratory pressures on the Germanic peoples to move further down.
The Holy Roman EmpireEdit
The story of the Holy Roman Empire begins when the Franks, a Germanic tribe, settled in Gaul (France) and conquered the other tribes in Northwestern Europe, establishing the Merovingian Dynasty from 500 to 751. It is during this time that the Germans adopted Christianity. By the end of the 5th century, a new wave of Germanic tribes including the Vandals, Visigoths, Alamani, Burgundians and the Franks wrested control of Gaul and Germany from the Romans. One of the Frankish tribes, the Merovingians, however managed to unify the Franks and eventually conquered Gaul along with most of present-day Germany. This established what is now known as the Merovingian dynasty. After the adoption of Christianity, the Frankish Empire reached its zenith under the rule of Charlemagne (768</span>–814). He established the Carolingian dynasty and formed what was called the Holy Roman Empire, after wars with the Saxons to the East, Saracens to the south across the sea, and the Moors in southern Spain.
After Charlemagne's death the Empire broke up into three parts: the West Franks, which became France; the East Franks, which became Germany; and the Middle Kingdom which was the territory between the two. However, pressures from invading Vikings and Magyars caused the Eastern Frankish Kingdom to break up into a number of small kingdoms and city-states. These polities were loosely affiliated and elected a King, Conrad I (911-918) from the Duchy of Saxony. He established the Saxon dynasty and his grandson Otto I the Great managed to halt the Magyars westward expansion and even absorbed the Middle Kingdom.
He then took the title Holy Roman Emperor. However this move also caused the German Kings, who were still elected by the nobility, to spend too much involved with Italian politics and to neglect the governing of Germany itself. The Saxon dynasty ended in 1024 and power passed to a Frankish tribe, who established the Salian dynasty (1024-1125) This period saw the various duchies grow in power and a breakdown in relationship between the King and the Church, which further weakened an already ineffectual monarchy.
Unfortunately, Charlemagne's strong and wise rule, which saw the invention of lower-case letters to increase literacy, and the beginning of a jury system and responsible government did not last. His feuding descendants eventually broke the Empire apart, and so by the middle of the 9th century the Holy Roman Empire was divided into several kingdoms; most notable were that of Western Francia and the various German Duchies of Eastern Francia. It was this division that marked the birth of both France and Germany as independent nation-states.
The Kingdom of GermanyEdit
Following the Treaty of Verdun, the Holy Roman Empire was divided into three sections — the west would be given to Charles the Bald, the middle section would be given to Lothar (and was renamed "Lotharingia") and the eastern parts of the empire was given to Louis the German, who then took the title Holy Roman Emperor. However this move also caused the German Kings, who were still elected by the nobility, to spend too much involved with Italian politics and to neglect the governing of Germany itself. The Saxon dynasty ended in 1024 and power passed to a Frankish tribe, who established the Salian dynasty (1024-1125) This period saw the various duchies grow in power and a breakdown in relationship between the King and the Church, which further weakened an already ineffectual monarchy.
It then fell to the Duchy of Swabia to reunite the Germans under the Hohenstaufen dynasty in 1138. One of its Kings, Frederick Redbeard (or in Italian, Barbarossa) attempted to reassert imperial power, but sparked a war against the Papacy and its allied states. Despite winning many battles, Barbarossa's efforts came to naught and in fact his years at war in Italy allowed other German princes to become even stronger and impinge on Slavic territory. The Order of the Teutonic Knights was also formed at this time, being the most notable in the effort to the eastward colonisation. The various German principalities eventually became more and more fragmented as inheritance split each polity into ever-smaller parts. This period was called the Great Interregnum (1256-1273).
The Habsburgs and the Rise of Austria ()Edit
The anarchy of the Great Interregnum ended when Rudolf of Habsburg (in Austria) was elected King-Emperor. The Habsburgs with only a few interruptions continued to rule Germany until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806CE. It was by no means a fast recovery nor did it mean the Emperor had any real power, in fact the Habsburgs were more concerned with enriching their family holdings then governing Germany. Some principalities degenerated to no more then robber barons that would rob travelers in their territory in order to sustain their holdings.
One of the reasons why Austria managed to survive so long as a major power in Europe was due to the skills of its diplomats who, incompetent kings notwithstanding, knew how to bend along with the wind. Through shrewdly brokered alliances, the state of Austria grew by leaps and bounds over the accumulation of three hundred years of war and peace. By the onset of the Early Modern Era, Austria's domains included the Netherlands, several north Italian states, Hungary, Bohemia, and a dose of smaller German principalities — at one time Spain was under Austrian rule (via a Habsburg monarch). During this time Maximillian of Austria created the Landsknecht in order to protect his holding in the Netherlands against France. These troops became the most sought after mercenaries by the European powers because of their excellent training and reputation.
The wars of the German Reformation, however, left Austria a land-locked nation. While Spain was off conquering the New World and amassing a fortune through the trade in precious minerals from her new colonial empire, Austria was forced to seek out domains in central and eastern Europe, namely Italy and the Balkans.
Beyond the ambit of Austria and her possessions in East Europe, Germany was mostly divided into several smaller politically independent entities for most of the Early Modern Era, dominated by a triumvirate of larger kingdoms. Of these, the most important were the kingdoms of Saxony, Bavaria, and Prussia.
Following the Great Famine of the 13th century CE and the Black Death of 1347–49CE Intellectual growth in Germany followed economic empowerment. Several universities were founded during this time, as well as the invention of movable type by Gutenberg in 1450. However, these developments would destroy what little unity remained of the Empire. The increased intellectualism in Europe soon resulted in dissension with Church practices, and soon enough, outright rebellion and war would break out again. The intellectual climate and the changing socio-economic conditions of Europe eventually led a disgruntled professor of theology at Wittenberg University in Saxony to publish a series of 95 damning theses, which denounced the inefficiency and corruption of the Roman see.
This professor was Martin Luther, who having translated the Bible into his particular dialect of German, contributed to creating a national language for all of Germany. His attempts to spearhead the Reformation, however, divided the German peoples into old-school Catholics and those who disagreed with them, who were called "Protestants". Various principalities clung to Catholicism, while others promoted the Protestant cause. This attempt to reform the church would soon result in war in Germany and soon would have violent repercussions for Europe and the rest of the world well to the present day. By the end of the 16th century, the Holy Roman Empire was a mere shadow of what it originally used to be, but its Habsburg masters would with only a few interruptions continue to retain hegemony over Catholic Central Europe until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
The Electorate of SaxonyEdit
It was within Electoral Saxony, in Wittenberg, that Martin Luther first challenged the precepts of Roman Catholicism, and it was the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise (1486–1525CE) who protected Luther from the wrath of Emperor Charles V and the Catholic Church after he had been condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms in 1521CE. The nature of the Electoral office held by its rulers throughout this period meant that Saxony played an important role in German and European politics. In many ways, its story is one of shifting allegiances and gradual political and territorial decline, especially after the attention of its rulers was distracted by Poland in the eighteenth century. Culturally, however, it was a true trendsetter, being the residence of some of Europe's finest literary and musical figures. Its capital Dresden was seen by many as the "Florence of the Elbe", with its wonderful baroque and Romanesque architecture. Indeed, it was regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world right until it was more or less destroyed by the British Air Force in early 1945CE. Elector Frederick Augustus I initiated the production of porcelain at Meissen, and another Saxon city, Leipzig, was a centre of music, literature and scholarship. The mathematician Leibnitz lived there, as did the authors Gottsched, Gellert and Schiller (even the young Goethe studied at the university there in 1765CE). The great German-born composers, such as Handel and the Bachs, were all born in Saxony.
The Kingdom of BavariaEdit
To the southeast, close to the Austrian border, lay the kingdom of Bavaria, also another politically significant entity in the Holy Roman Empire. Although it was isolated and curtailed in growth during the Middle Ages, Bavaria began to become a political player of global influence during the Reformation. With Catholic Austria (and her Spanish and Burgundian domains) fighting to secure Catholicism, the Wittelsbach family decided to broker a strategic alliance with the Habsburgs, and received many benefits as a result.
Modernisation and reform in Bavaria began with its duke, Maximillian I, who consolidated ducal rule and worked on urban development for his cities, which prior to his rule were little more than rustic backwaters in the mountains. His successor, Ferdinand Maria, worked hard to repair the damage of the Thirty Years' War, and encouraged industry and agriculture. Bavaria lapsed, however, under the rule of Maximilian II Emmanuel, whose ill-advised policies led him to war with Austria during the War of the Spanish Succession, and nearly cost him his ducal throne. Although Maximillian III Joseph would, through sheer hard work, renew the fortunes of his duchy, later developments would guarantee the slow but steady domination of Bavaria by Austrian influence, much resented by the local inhabitants and the nobility alike. It is thus unsurprising that throughout the Napoleonic Wars, Bavaria would be allied with Napoleon against the larger and more dangerous Austrians and Prussians.
West of the Electorate of Saxony lay the small duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, later made an Electorate by order of Leopold I of Austria in 1692. Although the Electorate, dominated by its capital of Hanover (whose name eventually applied to the duchy as a whole), controlled a crossroads into the Rhine, Ruhr and Saar valleys, its main claim to fame was its links to the British throne - its Elector, Georg Ludwig was elected king of the United Kingdom in 1714, following the passing of Queen Anne. From that point on, both England and Hanover would be united together in personal union for well over a hundred years, before the electorate declared itself a separate kingdom in 1837 and elected its own monarch.
In 1701 A.D. Brandenburg became known as Prussia when its ruler, the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, crowned himself Frederick I of Prussia. His descendents were all capable rulers and proceeded to make many military and governmental reforms, transforming what was a small petty kingdom (whose monarch was referred to as the "King in Prussia") into one of the great powers of Europe. Frederick II, also known as Friedrich der Grosse (the Great, and in later years, "Alte Fritz" by an appreciative population) in 1740 A.D. seized coal-rich Silesia from Austria, and again in 1772 A.D. took part in the first Partition of Poland, linking previously separated Prussian territories. Friedrich, although a brilliant tactician and aided by generals of exceptional quality, however, did not like warfare that much, and was also known for being a patron of the arts and culture. His palace of Sans Souci (which is also now his final resting place) is the best expression of this gentler side to the Prussian warrior-king, who successsfully held his own against attacks from French, Austrian and Russian armies.
However neither Prussia nor Austria were able to take over one another nor wrest total control of Germany completely, given French intervention which divided Austria and Prussia by manipulating the smaller German states and by intermittent military incursions. To make matters worse, after Friedrich's death, the Prussian state began to stagnate, in no small way due to the fact that he left no capable heirs. In 1792, the War of the First Coalition broke out between the First French Republic and the other states of Europe (the so-called "First Coalition"). German armies, led by Prussia and Austria, invaded northeastern France in an attempt to extinguish the fledgling republic, but were halted with the Battle of Valmy on 20 September. The French counterattacked, and by 1797 controlled Northern Italy, the Swiss Alps and the Low Countries. Shaken, Prussia pulled back from further anti-French expeditions, but even neutrality was not enough to save it from the new French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte and in 1806, the Prussians were prostrated in battle at Jena.
Sturm und Drang: the Spirit of '48Edit
By 1794, the Rhineland was under French control, and would remain so well until the War of the 6th Coalition, while the decrepit feudal states of Germany continued to be battered by the French, despite the generous help of the British and the stalwart support of the Russians. Austria also continued to suffer defeats at the hands of the French, and by 1811, the components of Charlemagne's empire were reunited together under Napoleon after almost a thousand years.
Things would probably have remained intact, but the size of Napoleon's empire and his inability to solve the ancient Russo-Turkish conflict would eventually force the Russian Tsar, Aleksandr, back into war with Napoleon. A pre-emptive strike at Russia in the summer of 1812 resulted in defeat for the French, and the Germans rebelled, re-igniting conflict with France and starting the War of the Sixth Coalition, which resulted in the expulsion of all French forces from Germany with the battle of Leipzig in 1813.
The experiences of the hithertho backward German states and the sociopolitical reforms introduced by the French finally demonstrated to the German peoples the inevitability and preferability of unification. At first, a Deutscher Bund or "German Confederation" of all the German monarchies was first created, but political infighting between Prussia and Austria hamstrung whatever good it could do. Economic crises and climate change culminated in the 1848 revolutions, with insurgents storming German cities as the middle class and the burgeoning lower class clamoured for reform.
Political unification of these still numerous states would only be achieved until the chancellorship of Otto Von Bismarck. To restore order, he did his best to carry out the reforms demanded by the revolutionaries, and laid the foundation stone by seceding, with a serious of other smaller German kingdoms, to form the Northern Confederation, which covered present-day northern Germany, and Prussia (now part of Poland). Next were wars with Austria and Denmark to annex more territory into the new nation. However, Bismarck decided to impose an accommodating peace on Austria, realising that they may be useful as an ally in the future while dealing harshly with the other German states that resisted Prussian annexation. In order to incorporate the remaining independent states, Bismarck engineered another patriotic war, but this time against the French in 1870 to retake territory previously lost to France in the 17th century. This culminated with the establishment of the Second Reich, the First Reich being the Empire established back in Charlemagne's time. The president of the Northern Confederation, the Prussian king Wilhelm I, was crowned as the German kaiser or "caesar", with Bismarck controlling the German ship of state.
Brave New WorldEdit
Bismarck's plan was to have Germany peacefully co-exist with the British empire which was the largest naval power and economy in the world. However, in 1888, the Kaiser, Friedrich Wilhelm III, passed on leaving the throne to his son Wilhelm II. He proved to be a loose cannon with a confrontational streak. Envious of England's naval power Wilhelm decided to increase armament production and force Bismarck to step down. By giving in to the more militaristic factions which Bismarck had tried to sideline, Wilhelm had set Germany upon the road towards war. When war broke out between Austria and Russia in summer 1914, Wilhelm seized his chance and join the war with Austria, by making war on Russia's ally France. Dividends were won in the east and resulted in the collapse of the Russian Empire, but the war took a toll on the German Empire and he was soon forced to abdicate in 1919 following massive military mutinies.
In the wake of the abolition of the monarchy, the victorious Entente (consisting of Britain, France and the United States of America) moved in and tried to impose harsh demands on Germany, which by now became a republic but wasbeset with political impotence, and the country was shackled with debt, while Communists and right-wing militias called Freikörper were now locked in street battles and political bloodshed throughout German cities.
While German cities were burning, the world however had moved on to a more destructive phase in history. The collapse of the global economy in the late 1920s resulted in much individual and national angst, which led to the rise of a new political movement in Italy called Fascism, which sought to destroy communism and "correct" the perceived weaknesses of liberal capitalism through the centralisation of public power in an authoritarian government.
It was in this environment that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi's came to power on a platform that blamed the peace treaty, foreign powers, communists, the republican style of government and in particular Jews as responsible for all of Germany's problems. The republic was transformed into a dictatorship and Germany set out on a path of rapid arms build up. Hitler consolidated his power by terror. He also instituted a campaign of racial purification, sending millions of Jews amongst others whom he found undesirable to be exterminated or as slave labor in concentration camps. Hitler achieved diplomatic successes abroad in regaining territory lost in the First World War and won over much the German population but his ambitions were far greater. The Germans developed a new form of warfare called Blitzkrieg or Lightning War, which centered on massive concentrated use of air power and armored fighting vehicles to win a fast and decisive war. They had some initial successes by defeating Poland and France quickly, and in North Africa under the leadership of brilliant Generals like Erwin Rommel.
The Second World War came into full swing when England entered the war, and Hitler invaded Russia. Hitler made inroads against England and Russia initially but eventually began to get bogged down. Culminating in a major defeat at Stalingrad. Certain elements of the German high command began to doubt the wisdom of Hitler's war and attempted to assassinate him but were unsuccessful. America entered the war on the side of England and eventually the allies defeated Germany in 1945 A.D. ending six years of war.
Before and during the war German scientists had made many advances in science. Some of them left Germany before the war, most notable was Albert Einstein, being Jewish fled to America. His Theory of Relativity ushered in the Atomic age. Others such as Werner Von Braun who developed the V2 rocket, surrendered to the Americans after the war, and became later instrumental in the American Space race. Germany's defeat in World War Two resulted in the country being divided between the two sides that would develop between the allies. Russia's communist regime opposing the western allies, each gaining a part of Germany under its sphere of influence in what became known as the Cold War. The city of Berlin was literally divided by a wall that went up in 1961 A.D. and remained a symbol of a divided Germany until 1989 A.D. with the collapse of Communism and the end to the Cold War. During the years after the Second World War, the democratic and capitalist side of Germany grew to economic prominence in Europe and an important ally for western democracies. After reunification Germany continues to be economically vibrant and an important partner in the European community.