2) The Development of Central Europe from the First to the Early Ninth Century


The Roman Legacy

About half of Germany had once been a part of the Roman Empire, meaning cities and states were formed during this period. The northern frontier of the empire was an important zone for economic activity with the soldiers stationed there having a profound influence on the economy. Vast quantities of coin were transported here to pay the soldiers, so the area received a lot of money from the mediterranean region. A lot of soldiers' food and clothing were purchased locally, including from the barbarian zone. Trade with the empire seems to have promoted small tribes amalgamating so that in the 4th century, there were much larger political units

There seems to have been 3 zones of economic activity developed from trade with the Romans. These was the warrior burial zone, the rich burial zone, and the market zone (close to the frontier where Roman goods have been found in significant quantities). Grave goods in the market zone had no coins but did include Roman goods, unlike the other zones where coins were rarer and so were seen as being more of a treasure.

The establishment of the walls and fortifications provided a lasting economic stimulus for the development of the regions close to the Rhine and Danube. Military camps were the first real urban centres, and it was on the frontier that towns first emerged. Most survived the fall of Rome, but with a reduced prosperity. Some places did have settlements before the Romans, like Regensburg. These towns were given a headstart by the Romans and became the strongest barbarian kingdoms, e.g. Cologne, Trier and Mainz.

1 of 5

Examples of the Roman Legacy

Traiectum (Utrecht), Vetera (Xanten), Colonia (Cologne), Bonna (Bonn,) Confluentes (Koblenz), Augusta Treverorum (Trier), Magontiacum (Mainz), Castra regina (Regensburg), and Augusta Vindelicum (Augsburg) were all Roman settlements that later became towns.

Trier became an imperial capital when the Roman empire split into the tetrarchy and remained a capital for another century after it was abandoned. During this period it became remarkably built up and became a significant town.

Cologne, Trier and Mainz became central to the Eastern Frankish kingdom. In the late 5th and the early 6th centuries, Regensburg and Augsburg became centres for the Bavarians. The rulers of the Bavarians had their main centres and core areas of their very important duchy in Regensburg.

2 of 5

The Physical Geography of Central Europe

Agricultural production was much less sophisticated in the north and the west compared to others in the Middle Ages. It was very forrested, and the far-North was undrained making it unproductive land.

At the end of the Ice Age, glaciers ground up rocks into quartz and sands which were blown around and trapped in soil making it very fertile. The most fertile soils were concentrated in the upper-Rhine valley, allowing Saxony to potentially be the most prosperous territory in medieval times.

Territories close to Denmark were baron and thus has no agricultural economy. But these areas were mainly near the coast allowing them to have a maritime economy instead. This allowed them prosperity and to live outside the laws, to some extent. But, there is not much evidence to piece together life in these coastal regions.

3 of 5

The Ethnic Legacy of the Earlier Middle Ages

There were 6 dominant groups by the 5th century, the Frisians, Franks, Alamans/Swabians, Bavarians, Thuringains and the Saxons. They all had very similar languages, but very dissimilar dialects making it difficult to converse with each other. This meant there were linguistic barriers between the groups, and there was no common identity.

The Franks were the most successful of the groups and this is perhaps because they had a policy of ethnic inclusion, allowing people from all backgrounds to join as long as they became Franks. They conquered much of Gaul with many moving here (and later becoming western Frankia) and others moving elsewhere in their empire. Those who remained kept most of their Germanic culture, but those living elsewhere lost this and started speaking a vulgar form of Latin, which later became French.

Between 718 and 724, a Frankish civil war broke out. The Carolingians organised a coup and successfully became the leaders of the Frankish empire. But this deeply divided the Franks as the Carolingians were deeply hated, and this fragmented the state. The new Carolingian kings could not force the aristocracy to go to the courts, and so they all just stayed at home, not allowing the Carolingians to do very much.

4 of 5

The Legacy of the Carolingians

The Carolingians waged war on the Franks for about 80 years and presented them as 'defectors'. Once they successfully crushed them, they moved onto other ethnicities, eventually crushing all independent states, except for the Bavarians who arranged a deal with them emerging relatively unscathed.

Alamany and Saxony were defeated with the Alamans being defeated in a single catastrophic battle. The Franks moved on to take all of their land. The Saxons suffered a prolonged war involving lots of vicious propaganda making the Saxons look like the enemies of everyone. But Saxony had small units that were led by aristocratic families, not just one leader. In military crises they drew lots for one family to rule all the units until the war was over. They were very opposed to monarchy. Eventually, their sacred ash tree which was seen as a god was burnt down and they lost. They underwent forced conversions and then any form of Paganism was banned. The nobles were seduced by promises of more power if they became Franks, but this didn't happen. There were then mass deportations of Saxony's people into the core of the empire where they were mainly sold as slaves. The Franks tried to surpress the separate identities of the different peoples, but they never really succeeded. The Alamanic identity re-emerged, and the Saxon identity never really disappeared.

The duchies across Germany were all incorporated into the Carolingian empire by the late 8th century.

5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Making of Germany resources »