Alamanni, Allemanni, or
Alemanni were originally an alliance of Germanic tribe located around the upper
Main river (Germany).
Area settled by the Alamanni, and
sites of Roman-Alamannic battles, 3rd to 6th century
of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus
assumed by Roman Emperor Caracalla
, who ruled the Roman Empire
from 211–17 and claimed thereby to
be their defeater. The nature of this alliance and their previous
uncertain. The alliance was aggressive in nature, attacking the
Roman province of Germania
whenever it could. Generally it broadly followed the example of
the Franks, the first Germanic tribal
alliance, which had stopped the Romans from penetrating north of
the lower Rhine and
subsequently invaded the Roman province of Germania Inferior.
From the first century, the Rhine had become the border between
and tribal Germania. Germanic
, and tribes of mixed
Celto-Germanic ethnicity were settled in the lands along both
Romans divided these territories into two districts, Germania Inferior and Germania Superior situated along the
lower (north) and upper (south) Rhine
Germania included the region between the upper Rhine and the upper
Danube, (the Black Forest region that was larger than today: see Hercynian Forest).
The Romans called
this the Agri Decumates
(i.e. "Decumates territories"), a name of unknown origin. Some
scholars have translated the expression as "the ten cantons", but
whose cantons of what entity is not known.
The exterior Roman fortified border around the area of Germania
Superior was called the Limes
. The assembled warbands of the Alamanni
frequently crossed the limes
, attacking Germania Superior
and moving into the Agri Decumates. As a confederation, from the fifth
century, they settled the Alsace and expanded
into the Swiss Plateau, as well as
parts of what are now Bavaria and Austria, reaching
the valleys of the Alps by the eighth
According to Historia
the confederates in the third century were still
simply called Germani
an imperial usurper in 280, derived some of his popularity in Gaul
by his battle successes against the Alamanni. The Alamanni,
thereafter became the nation of Alamannia
that was sometimes independent, but more often was ruled by the
. The name of Germany and the German
language, in French, Allemagne, allemand
, in Portuguese
, and in Spanish Alemania,
, are derived from the name of this early Germanic
nation. Persian and Arabic also designate Germans Almaani
and Germany as Almaan
in Persian and Almaania
Arabic. In Turkish, German is 'Alman' and Germany is
The region of the Alamanni was always somewhat sprawling and
comprised a number of different districts, reflecting its mixed
origins. In the Early Middle Ages
its territories were divided between the Diocese of Strassburg
, which dates
from about 614, the territory of Augusta Vindelicorum
) from 736, the
archdiocese from 745, and of Basilia
) from 805. Its distinctive laws
were codified under Charlemagne
Duchy of Alamannia in Swabia. Today the descendants of the Alamanni
are divided between parts of four nations: France (Alsace), Germany
(Swabia and parts of Bavaria), Switzerland and Austria, and the
spoken in those regions has
distinctive regional dialects.
The German spoken today over the range of the former Alemanni is
termed Alemannic German
, and is
recognised among the subgroups of the High German languages
. Alemannic runic
inscriptions such as those on the Pforzen
are among the earliest testimonies of Old High German
.The High German consonant shift
thought to have originated around the fifth century either in
Alemannia or among the Langobards
that the dialect spoken by Alemannic tribes was little different
from that of other West Germanic peoples.
contemporary distribution of Alemannic
lost its distinct jurisdictional identity when
absorbed it into the
Frankish empire, early in the 8th century. Today,
Alemannic is a linguistic term, referring to Alemannic German, encompassing the dialects
of the southern two thirds of Baden-Württemberg (German State), in western Bavaria (German
State), in Vorarlberg (Austrian State), Swiss
German in Switzerland and the Alsatian language of the Alsace
According to Asinius Quadratus
(quoted in the mid-sixth century by Byzantine historian Agathias
) their name means "all men". It indicates
that they were a conglomeration drawn from various tribes. This was
the derivation of Alamanni
used by Edward Gibbon
, in his Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire
and by the anonymous contributor of notes
assembled from the papers of Nicolas
, published in 1753, who noted that it was the name used
by outsiders for those who called themselves Suevi
. This etymology has remained the standard
source derives the Ala- from *al-, "beyond", often in the sense of "other", from
which are also derived Greek allos "other, alien" and Old
High German Elisâzzo " (Elsaz or Alsace): "the land on the other side of the Rhine".
The least likely derivation of the Alamanni is Alan-Manni, the
reason being that Alamanni, as far as can be determined from
initial contacts, was not a self-imposed name. The Alans
, moreover, were never in the region, did not
originally speak Germanic and had no influence over any Germanic
folk west of the Vistula
, nor did they
acquire any influence under Attila
bypassed the region, nor from the Ostrogoths
after Attila. Walafrid
Strabo, a monk of Abbey of St. Gall writing in the ninth century remarked, in
discussing the people of Switzerland and surrounding regions that
only foreigners called them Alamanni, but that they gave themselves
the name of Suevi.
If true of the ninth
century, this observation may not necessarily equally apply to the
fourth. In short we do not know who applied the name and exactly
when. It was, however, well established among a variety of
historians and geographers.
An interesting fact of the word Allemanni is that the French name
for Germany is "Allemagne", most likely derived from the Allemanni
tribe of "All Men", also based on the Federation of Tribes that
formed in the 3rd Century and attacked the Roman Empire.
First explicit mention
The Alamanni were first mentioned by Cassius
describing the campaign of Caracalla
in 213. At that time they apparently dwelt in the
basin of the Main, to the
south of the Chatti.
) portrays the Alamanni as victims of
this treacherous emperor. They had asked for his help, says Dio,
but instead he colonized their country, changed their place names
and executed their warriors under a pretext of coming to their aid.
When he became ill, the Alamanni claimed to have put a hex on him
(78.15.2). Caracalla, it was claimed, tried to counter this
influence by invoking his ancestral spirits.
In retribution Caracalla then led the Legio II Traiana Fortis
against the Alamanni, who lost and were pacified for a time. The
legion was as a result honored with the name Germanica
The Historia Augusta
, Life of
, relates ( 10.5
) that Caracalla then assumed the name
, at which Helvius Pertinax jested that he
should really be called Geticus Maximus
, because in the
year before he had murdered his stepbrother, Geta
. Not on good terms with
Caracalla, Geta had been invited to a family reconciliation, at
which time he was ambushed by centurions in Caracalla's army and
slain in his mother Julia's arms. True or not, Caracalla, pursued
by devils of his own, left Rome never to return.
Caracalla left for the frontier, where for the rest of his short
reign he was known for his unpredictable and arbitrary operations
launched by surprise after a pretext of peace negotiations. If he
had any reasons of state for such actions they remained unknown to
his contemporaries. Whether or not the Alamanni had been previously
neutral, they were certainly further influenced by Caracalla to
become thereafter notoriously implacable enemies of Rome.
This mutually antagonistic relationship is perhaps the reason why
the Roman writers persisted in calling the Alamanni
, "savages". The archaeology, however, shows that
they were largely Romanized, lived in Roman-style houses and used
Roman artifacts, the Alemannic women having adopted the Roman
fashion of the tunic
than the men.
Most of them probably were in fact resident in or close to the
borders of Germania Superior. Although Dio is the earliest writer
to mention them, Ammianus
used the name to refer to Germans on the Limes Germanicus
in the time of Trajan
's governorship of the province shortly after
it was formed, circa 98/99. At that time the entire frontier was
being fortified for the first time. Trees from the earliest
fortifications found in Germania
are dated by dendrochronology
to 99/100. Shortly
afterwards Trajan was chosen by Nerva
his successor, adopted with public fanfare in absentia by the old
man shortly before his death. By 100 Trajan was back in Rome as
Emperor instead of merely being a Consul.
Ammianus relates ( xvii.1.11
) that much later the Emperor Julian
undertook a punitive expedition
Alamanni, who by then were in Alsace, and crossed the Main (Latin
), entering the forest, where the trails were blocked
by felled trees. As winter was upon them, they reoccupied a
- "munimentum quod in Alamannorum solo conditum Traianus suo
nomine voluit appellari"
- "A fortification which was founded on the soil of the Alamanni
that Trajan wished to be called with his own name"
In this context the use of Alamanni is possibly an anachronism but
it reveals that Ammianus believed they were the same people, which
is consistent with the location of the Alamanni of Caracalla's
Alemanni and Hermunduri
The early detailed source, the Germania
has sometimes been interpreted in such a way as to provide yet
other historical problems. In Chapter 42 we read of the Hermunduri, a tribe certainly located in the
region that later became Thuringia.
Tacitus stated that they traded with
, which in Ptolemy is located across
the Danube from Germania Superior
A logical conclusion to draw is that the Hermunduri extended over
and therefore the Alamanni
originally derived from the Hermunduri.
However, no Hermunduri appear in Ptolemy, though after the time of
Ptolemy the Hermunduri joined with the Marcomanni
in the wars of 166–180 against the
empire. A careful reading of Tacitus provides one solution.
that the source of the Elbe is among the
Hermunduri, somewhat to the east of the upper Main.
them also between the Naristi (Varisti),
whose location at the very edge of the ancient Black Forest is well known, and the Marcomanni and Quadi.
Moreover, the Hermunduri were broken in the Marcomannic Wars
and made a separate peace
with Rome. The Alamanni thus were probably not primarily the
Hermunduri, although some elements of them may have been present in
the mix of peoples at that time that became Alamannian.
Before the mention of Alamanni
in the time of Caracalla,
one would search in vain for Alamanni in the moderately detailed
geography of southern Germany in Claudius Ptolemy
, written in Greek in the mid-second century;
it is likely that at that time, the people who later used that name
were known by other designations.
Nevertheless some conclusions can be drawn from Ptolemy. Germania
Superior is easily identified. Following up the Rhine one comes to a town,
Mattiacum, which must be at the border of the Roman Germany
(vicinity of Wiesbaden). Upstream from it and between the Rhine and
Abnoba (in the Black Forest) are the Ingriones,
Intuergi, Vangiones, Caritni and
Vispi, some of whom were there since the days
of the early empire or before. On the other side of
the northern Black Forest were the Chatti
about where Hesse is today, on
the lower Main.
Swabia was eventually replaced by today's
Baden-Württemberg, but it had been the most significant territory of
mediaeval Alamannia, comprising all
Germania Superior and territory east to Bavaria.
did not include the upper Main, but that is where Caracalla
campaigned. Moreover, the territory of Germania Superior was not
originally included among the Alemanni's possessions.
if we look for the peoples in the region from the upper Main in the
north, south to the Danube and east to the Czech
Republic where the
Quadi and Marcomanni
were located, Ptolemy does not give any tribes.
just south of the Chatti
and at the other end of what was then the
Black Forest, the Varisti
, whose location is
known. One possible reason for this distribution is that the
population preferred not to live in the forest except in troubled
times. The region between the forest and the Danube
on the other hand included about a dozen
settlements, or "cantons".
Ptolemy's view of Germans in the region indicates that the tribal
structure had lost its grip in the Black Forest region and was
replaced by a canton structure. The tribes stayed in the Roman
province, perhaps because the Romans offered stability. Also,
Caracalla perhaps felt more comfortable about campaigning in the
upper Main because he was not declaring war on any specific
historic tribe, such as the Chatti or Cherusci
, against whom Rome had suffered grievous
losses. By Caracalla's time the name Alamanni
used by cantons themselves banding together for purposes of
supporting a citizen army (the "war bands").
Concentration of Germanic peoples under Ariovistus
The term Suebi has a double meaning in the sources. On the one hand
tells us ( Chapters 38, 39)
that they occupy more than half of
Germany, use a distinctive hair style, and are spiritually centered
on the Semnones
. On the other hand the
Suebi of the upper Danube are described as though they were a
solution to the puzzle as well as explaining the historical
circumstances leading to the choice of the Agri Decumates as a
defensive point and the concentration of Germans there are probably
to be found in the German attack on the Gallic fortified town of
Vesontio in 58 BC.
The upper Rhine and Danube appear
to form a funnel pointing straight at Vesontio.
in Gallic Wars
tells us ( 1.51
) that Ariovistus
had gathered an army from a wide region of Germany, but especially
. The Suebi were being invited to
join. They lived in 100 cantons ( 4.1
) from which 1000 young men per year were
chosen for military service, a citizen-army by our standards and by
comparison with the Roman professional army.
Ariovistus had become involved in an invasion of Gaul
, which the German wished to settle. Intending to
take the strategic town of Vesontio, he concentrated his forces on
the Rhine near Lake Constance, and when the Suebi arrived, he
crossed. The Gauls had called to Rome for military aid. Caesar
occupied the town first and defeated the Germans before its walls,
slaughtering most of the German army as it tried to flee across the
river (1.36ff). He did not pursue the retreating remnants, leaving
what was left of the German army and their dependents intact on the
other side of the Rhine.
The Gauls were ambivalent in their policies toward the Romans. In
53 BC the Treveri
broke their alliance and
attempted to break free of Rome. Caesar foresaw that they would now
attempt to ally themselves with the Germans. He crossed the Rhine
to forestall that event, a successful strategy. Remembering their
expensive defeat at the Battle of Vesontio, the Germans withdrew to
the Black Forest, concentrating there a mixed population dominated
by Suebi. As they had left their tribal homes behind, they probably
took over all the former Celtic cantons along the Danube.
The Alamanni established a series of territorially defined
(cantons) on the east bank of the Rhine. The exact
number and extent of these pagi
is unclear and probably
changed over time.
, usually pairs of pagi
) which, it is generally believed, were
permanent and hereditary. Ammianus describes Alamanni rulers with
various terms: reges excelsiores ante alios
kings"), reges proximi
("petty kings") and regales
This may be a formal hierarchy, or they may be vague, overlapping
terms, or a combination of both. In 357, there appear to have been
two paramount kings (Chnodomar and Westralp) who probably acted as
presidents of the confederation and seven other kings
). Their territories were small and mostly strung
along the Rhine (although a few were in the hinterland). It is
possible that the reguli
were the rulers of the two
in each kingdom. Underneath the royal class were the
nobles (called optimates
by the Romans) and warriors
by the Romans). The warriors consisted of
professional warbands and levies of free men. Each nobleman could
raise an average of ca. 50 warriors.
Conflicts with the Roman Empire
The Alamanni were continually engaged in conflicts with the
. They launched a major
invasion of Gaul and northern Italy in 268, when
the Romans were forced to denude much of their German frontier of
troops in response to a massive invasion of the Goths from the east.
Their raids throughout the
three parts of Gaul were traumatic: Gregory of Tours
(died ca 594) mentions
their destructive force at the time of Valerian
(253–260), when the Alemanni assembled under their "king", whom he
, who "by the advice, it is
said, of his wicked mother, and overran the whole of the Gauls, and
destroyed from their foundations all the temples which had been
built in ancient times. And coming to Clermont he set on fire, overthrew and destroyed that shrine
which they call Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue,"
martyring many Christians ( Historia Francorum Book
Thus 6th century Gallo-Romans of Gregory's
class, surrounded by the ruins of Roman
and public buildings, attributed the destruction they
saw to the plundering raids of the Alemanni.
In the early summer of 268, the Emperor Gallienus
halted their advance into Italy, but then had to deal with the
Goths. When the Gothic campaign ended in Roman
victory at the Battle of
Naissus in September, Gallienus' successor Claudius II Gothicus turned north to deal with
the Alamanni, who were swarming over all Italy north of the
After efforts to secure a peaceful withdrawal failed, Claudius
forced the Alamanni to battle at the Battle of Lake Benacus
The Alamanni were routed, forced back into Germany, and did not
threaten Roman territory for many years afterwards.
most famous battle against Rome took place in Argentoratum (Strasbourg), in 357, where they were defeated by Julian, later Emperor of Rome, and their
king Chnodomarius was taken prisoner to
January 2 366 the Alamanni yet again crossed the
frozen Rhine in large
numbers, to invade the Gallic provinces, this time being defeated
by Valentinian (see Battle of
great mixed invasion of 406, the Alamanni appear to have crossed
river a final time, conquering and then settling what is
today Alsace and a large
part of the Swiss Plateau.
's Chronicle gives the account.
Alba Augusta (Alba-la-Romaine) the devastation was so complete, that the
Christian bishop retired to Viviers, but in
Gregory's account at Mende in Lozère,
also deep in the heart of Gaul, bishop Privatus was forced to
sacrifice to idols in the very cave where he was later
It is thought this detail may be a generic
literary ploy to epitomize the horrors of barbarian violence.
List of battles between Romans and Alamanni
Alamanni and Franks
kingdom of Alamannia between Strasbourg
and Augsburg lasted until 496, when the Alamanni were conquered by
Clovis I at the Battle of
Alemannia (yellow) and Upper Burgundy
(green) around 1000.
The war of Clovis with the Alamanni forms
the setting for the conversion of Clovis, briefly treated by
Gregory of Tours
( Book II.31
) Subsequently the Alamanni formed
part of the Frankish
dominions and were
governed by a Frankish duke.
In 746, Carloman
ended an uprising by summarily executing all Alemannic nobility at
the blood court at
, and for the following century, Alamannia was ruled
by Frankish dukes. Following the treaty
of 843, Alamannia became a province of the eastern
kingdom of Louis the German
precursor of the Holy Roman
. The duchy persisted until 1268.
Alamanni took place during Merovingian
times (6th to 8th centuries). Sources are sparse, but in the
mid-6th century, the Byzantine historian Agathias of Myrina
records, in the
context of the wars of the Goths and Franks against Byzantium, that
the Alamanni fighting among the troops of Frankish king Theudebald
were like the Franks in all respects
except religion, since they
- "they worship certain trees, the waters of rivers, hills and
mountain valleys, in whose honour they sacrifice horses, cattle and
countless other animals by beheading them, and imagine that they
are performing an act of piety thereby."
He also spoke of the particular ruthlessness of the Alamani in
destroying Christian sanctuaries and plundering churches while the
genuine Franks were respectful towards those sanctuaries. Agathias
expresses his hope that the Alamanni would assume better manners
through prolongued contact with the Franks, which is by all
appearances what eventually happened.
Apostles of the Alamanni were Saint
and his disciple Saint
. Jonas of
Bobbio records that Columbanus was active in Bregenz, where he disrupted a beer sacrifice to Wodan.
Despite these activities, for some time,
the Alamanni seem to have continued their pagan cult activities,
with only superficial or syncretistic
Christian elements. In particular, there is no change in burial
practice, and tumulus warrior graves continued to be erected
throughout Merovingian times. Syncretism of traditional Germanic
animal-style with Christian symbolism is also present in artwork,
but Christian symbolism becomes more and more prevalent during the
7th century. Unlike the later Christianization of the Saxon and of
the Slavs, the Alamanni seem to have adopted Christianity
gradually, and voluntarily, spread in emulation of the Merovingian
From ca. the 520s to the 620s, there was a surge of Alamannic
inscriptions. About 80
specimens have survived, roughly half of them on fibulae
, others on belt buckles (see Pforzen buckle
, Bülach fibula
) and other jewelry and
weapon parts. Use of runes subsides with the advance of
establishment of the bishopric of Konstanz cannot be dated exactly and was possibly undertaken
by Columbanus himself (before 612).
In any case, it existed
by 635, when Gunzo
appointed John of Grab
bishop. Constance was a
missionary bishopric in newly converted lands, and did not look
back on late Roman church history (unlike the Raetian bishopric of
Chur, established 451) and Basel, which was
an episcopal seat from 740, and which continued the line of Bishops
Raurica, see Bishop of
The establishment of the church as an institution
recognized by worldly rulers is also visible in legal history. In
the early 7th century Pactus
hardly ever mentions the special privileges of
the church, while Lantfrid
's Lex Alamannorum
of 720 has an entire
chapter reserved for ecclesial matters alone.
List of Alamannic rulers
Dukes under Frankish suzerainty
- Johann Jacob Hofmann, Lexicon Universale, Leiden 1698,
- Roman decem, "ten".
- "He was, nevertheless, of some benefit to the Gauls, for he
crushed the Alamanni—who then were still called Germans—and not
without illustrious glory, though he never fought save in
- Chapter 10
- Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Inscriptions et
Belles-Lettres, avec les Mémoires de Littérature tirés des
Registres de cette Académie, depuis l'année MDCCXLIV jusques et
compris l'année MDCCXLVI, vol. XVIII, (Paris 1753) pp.49–71.
Excerpts are on-line at ELIOHS.
- It is cited in most etymological dictionaries, such as the
Dictionary (large edition) under the root, *man-.
- Ptolemy's description has some limitations. Upper Germany and
Lower Germany are mentioned by name, but only as specific districts
of Gallia Belgica (2.8), the border between them was an
unidentified river, the Obruncus. The region is repeated again
under Germany, but this time he does not list Roman boundaries.
Germania Superior, the Agri Decumates and the limes are not to be
found there, even though they certainly existed at the time.
"Germania Magna" is found within the Rhine, Danube, Vistula and
shores of the "Oceanus Germanicus". Most of the tribes are missing
or listed without name. The Main is not there, nor Lake Constance.
The Danube runs from the Alps. The Rhine does not bend to the south
next to Swabia. Ptolemy's Germania is like a surreal image of
itself, accurate only if you follow certain known lines, but the
overall shape is greatly distorted.
- Drinkwater (2007) 118, 120
- Drinkwater (2007) 223 (map)
- Speidel (2004)
- Drinkwater (2007) 120
- trans. Joseph D. Frendo (1975)
- R. Keydell, Agathiae Myrinaei historiarum libri
quinque Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae. Series
Berolinensis 2. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1967, p. 18f.