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People on the move
     The lull before the storm
     New dispensations
     Three slices of Francia

Rival faiths
Middle Ages
16th - 17th century
18th century
20th century
To be completed

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Germans on the move: from the 2nd century BC

In the 2nd century BC, Germanic tribes move south and east from Scandinavia. The Goths and the Vandals drive the Balts east along the coast of the Baltic. Other Germans press south along the Rhine as far as the Danube, forcing the Helvetii - a Celtic tribe - to take refuge among the Swiss mountains.

Two German tribes, the Teutones and the Cimbri, even strike so far south as to threaten Roman armies in southern France and northern Italy. They are finally defeated and pressed back in 101 BC. But from the Roman point of view a long-term threat has been identified - that of the German barbarians whose territory is now the region beyond the Rhine and the Danube.


The lull before the storm: 3rd century AD

By the 3rd century AD various German tribal confederations, all of whom will leave a lasting mark on European history, are ranged along the natural borders of the Roman empire. They have settled in the territories east of the Rhine and north of the Danube and Black Sea. From here, in the great upheavals of the 4th and 5th century (known as the Völkerwanderung, 'migration of the peoples'), they will move throughout western Europe.

In the northwest, beyond the lower reaches of the Rhine, are the Franks. Further south, around the Main valley, are the Burgundians. East of the Alps, near the Tisza river, are the Vandals. Beyond them, occupying a far greater range of territory than the others, are the Goths.


New dispensations: 6th century

By the year 500 the map of Europe has settled into a new pattern. The centre of the Roman empire is now unmistakably in the east, at Constantinople. The only parts of the empire to have survived with any degree of continuity are southeast Europe (the Balkans and Greece) and western Asia (on round the Mediterranean to Egypt). The rest is in new hands.

Italy, the old centre of gravity, is now ruled by Ostrogoths. The Visigoths are in Spain and southwest France. The Burgundians are in southeast France and the Franks are in the north. In Britain a struggle is beginning between the Celtic inhabitants and invading Angles and Saxons.


The change from the heyday of the Roman empire could hardly seem greater, yet time will reveal strong hidden continuities. For a millennium, from 500 BC, there have been two influential cultures in Europe - Greece in the east and Rome in the west. In a different guise, for another 1000 years, the same two influences prevail. For each has its own primacy in relation to Christianity, the religion which now shapes Europe.

Constantinople is founded in330 as the great Christian imperial city. But Rome, the earlier imperial city, has its own different and prior claim - as the place where St Peter is believed to have been martyred, and the seat of his successors as pope.


Constantinople never falters as the centre of eastern Christianity. Rome has its ups and downs, but it gradually imposes on the barbarians its own idea of the Christian religion and, with it, the authority of the pope. Latin and Greek were the political and cultural languages of the classical centuries. Now they become the cult languages of the Christian era. The old European pattern, disturbed though it is by the barbarian incursions, reasserts itself.

The most profound difference after the 5th century is that Germanic peoples from the north begin to play a major role in western Europe, while new communities of Slavs establish themselves in the east.


The Franks in western Europe: 6th - 10th century

The Franks are the first of the Germanic peoples to develop a large and stable kingdom in northwest Europe. Clovis, pressing south from the modern region of Belgium, extends his rule in the early 6th century to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean.

Three hundred years later the Frankish empire of Charlemagne reaches east over the Rhine, up to the Baltic in the north, as far as Austria in the east, and beyond the river Po in Italy. Europe has a new Christian empire as extensive in the west as the original Roman example - but one which will prove more short-lived.


The region united by Charlemagne includes, in modern terms, northeast Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, much of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and north Italy. In 840, on the death of Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious, war breaks out between his three sons over their shares of this inheritance.

A division between the brothers is finally agreed, in 843, in a treaty signed at Verdun. The dividing lines drawn on this occasion prove of lasting and dark significance in the history of Europe.


Three slices of Francia: 843

Two facts of European geography (the Atlantic coast and the Rhine) dictate a vertical division of the Frankish empire, known in Latin as Francia. The three available sections are the west, the middle and the east - Francia Occidentalis, Francia Media and Francia Orientalis.

It is clear that Francia Occidentalis will include much of modern France, and that Francia Orientalis will approximate to the German-speaking areas east of the Rhine. Francia Media, an ambiguous region between them, is the richest strip of territory. Allotted to Charlemagne's eldest son, Lothair I, it stretches from the Netherlands and Belgium down both sides of the Rhine to Switzerland and Italy.


This central Frankish kingdom is in subsequent centuries, including our own, one of the great fault lines of Europe. The northern section becomes known as Lotharingia (the territory of Lothair) and thus, in French, Lorraine; between it and Switzerland is Alsace.

As power grows or decreases to the west or the east, in the great regions emerging slowly as France and Germany, these Rhineland provinces frequently change hands. So, for many centuries, do the Low Countries, Burgundy and northern Italy.


The Slavs in eastern Europe: from the 6th century

The Slavs are first referred to by this name in518 when they press into the Roman empire across the Danube, though they have been settled for more than a millennium in the region to the north (between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers).

After the collapse of the empire of the Huns, in the 5th century, the Slavs begin to expand their territory. They move west into what are now the Czech republic and Slovakia and south towards the Adriatic and Aegean - where their separate regional and religious development as Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians later makes the peninsula of the Balkans one of the most politically complex regions on the face of the earth.


Magyars: 9th - 10th century

The lower Danube, before the river enters the Black Sea, has been Europe's doorway to tribal groups arriving from the north and east. Here the Visigoths and Ostrogoths and Slavs have first presented themselves to the Roman empire, requesting or demanding admission. And here there arrives, in889, another group.

They differ from their predecessors in that they are not Indo-Europeans. They speak a Finno-Ugric language. They call themselves Magyars, but their federation of tribes is known as On-Ogur, meaning 'Ten Arrows'. The pronunciation of On-Ogur by their new Slav neighbours leads, eventually, to the name by which the Magyars are later known - Hungarians.


The Magyars have been living for several centuries near the mouth of the Don, as vassals of the Khazars. From 889 they spend a few years in the Balkans in the service of the Byzantine emperor, but soon they move on to the northwest, through the Carpathian mountains.

Since 890 their leader has been Arpad, elected prince by the chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes. His people number no more than 25,000, but together they subdue (within the space of a few years) the scattered population of the region now known as Hungary. So Arpad becomes the founder of a nation which somehow - in all the upheavals of central Europe - retains its identity and its language down through the centuries.


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