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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


Ancient Period

The Germanic tribes, which probably originated from a mixture of races in the coastal region of the Baltic Sea, inhabited the greater northern part of the European continent by about 500 B.C. By 100 B.C. they had advanced into the central and southern area of present-day Germany. At this time, there were three major groups: the eastern Germanic peoples living along the Oder and Vistula rivers; the northern Germanic peoples inhabiting the southern part of present-day Scandinavia; and the western Germanic peoples inhabiting the extreme south of Jutland and the area between the North Sea and the Elbe, Rhine, and Main rivers. The Rhine was the temporary boundary line between Germanic and Roman territory after the defeat of the Suevian tribe by Julius Caesar about 70 B.C. The threatening presence of the warlike tribes caused the Romans to pursue a campaign of expansion into Germanic territory. However, the defeat of the provincial governor Varus by Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (A.D. 9) halted Roman colonial policy; Arminius had learned the enemy's strategies during his military training in the Roman armies. This battle brought about the liberation of the greater part of Germany from Roman domination. The Rhine River was once again the boundary line, until the Romans reoccupied territory on its eastern bank and built the limes, a 300-mile fortification, in the first century A.D.

The migration of Germanic peoples (Völkerwanderung) from the second through the sixth century A.D. was a violent period of change and destruction in which eastern and western tribes left their native lands and settled in newly acquired territories. This period of Germanic history, which later supplied material for heroic epics, contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire and resulted in a considerable expansion of habitable area for the Germanic peoples. However, with the exception of those established by the Franks and the AngloSaxons , the Germanic kingdoms founded during these centuries of migration were of relatively short duration because of their assimilation by the native Roman populations. The final conquest of Roman Gaul by the Frankish tribes in the sixth century became a milestone of European history; it was the Franks who were to become the founders of a civilized German state.

Data as of July 1987