View Full Version : Germanic Settlement in Iberia (Visigoths vs Swabians)

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007, 10:43 PM
In the early fifth century the weakening Roman Empire relinquished power in Iberia to the migrating Germanic peoples who entered the peninsula, not with the intent of replacing Roman power, but in a search for lands upon which to settle. (1) Nevertheless, absolute power was ultimately theirs. Partly it fell into their laps from the debile hands of the Romans; partly, it came as a result of their changed attitude after Roman weakness became obvious. Ultimately the assumption of complete authority was a clearly indicated, easy step for them to take.


To say that the Germans (2) took power should not imply that the exercise of it was everywhere the same, for these migrants [122] from Central Europe were not homogeneous in culture. One must he wary of the term "German" in such a context, for the Germans, in fact, differed greatly among themselves. It is helpful in understanding the most fundamental of the differences to distinguish between eastern and western Germans. The Visigoths and Vandals were eastern Germans, whereas the Swabians came from the west. Another tribe, not German at all but ultimately derived from the region of the Caucasus, was that of the Alans, (3) who accompanied the Germans in their migration into Iberia. After battles in which they were decimated by Visigoths, their remnants finally merged with the Vandals and they left Iberia at the same time as the Vandals.

An important distinction is to be made between western and eastern Germans in terms of their attitudes toward the land. Although both were at once agriculturists and herders, the easterners were predominantly pastoralists, (4) whereas the westerners paid greater attention to farming. For example, the Visigoths were primarily dependent upon herding, although they were never ignorant of agriculture. This, presumably, was the result of their migration from northern Europe southeastward to the area near the Black Sea, several centuries before their move into Iberia. It was on the grazing lands near the Black Sea that they developed the complex of herding and agriculture which, blended with the attitudes and techniques that they had acquired through propinquity to the Roman Empire, gave them their character. At the time of their entry into the Iberian peninsula they were known to be the most Romanized of the barbarians. It was for this reason that the Romans selected them to protect Roman interests against the other Germans.

The Swabians were western Germans and very different in their attitudes from the eastern Visigoths. They had long occupied Saxony and Thuringia and had early gone south, where they had come in contact with the Helvetians (Celts) near the Main River. So in the centuries just prior to the Christian era, [123] the ways of Germans and Celts were blended and the two groups shared a common culture. (5)

Although Tacitus said that the Swabians thought it more honorable to fight than to harvest, and that they left the farm work to the women and the old men, (6) he is also our authority for the fact that they had a cult of "mother earth." (7) Reminiscent of the early Celts in Iberia, the Swabians were both farmers and fighters. There was a division of labor, so that women accomplished most of the farming, while the major attention of the men was focused upon care of the animals and fighting. Notwithstanding their taste for fighting and raiding, they were rooted in the soil. For Tacitus and others to call attention to Swabian truculence and taste for war is natural in a writer, but it distorts the facts, nevertheless. One must be wary of writers when they deal with simple peoples and humble pursuits. As long as the account of human activities has been written, the concern has been almost exclusively with dramatic events, while the undramatic but abiding bases of culture are apt to be overlooked. Warfare, weapons, and cities call attention to themselves, whereas peace, agriculture, and the simple ways of the countryside often escape notice. The great contribution that the Swabians made to Portugal was in the use of the land.

The effect of this has been durable. It was they who introduced the Central European quadrangular plow into northwest Iberia.(8) These Central Europeans had a preference for the north and northwest of Iberia with its mild summers and with rainfall throughout all or most of the year. The climate was suitable to their crops, as was the natural vegetation to their animals. They found here a more propitious type of the same kind of environment which they had known previously in Central Europe. They brought to the area techniques and attitudes similar to those of its previous exploiters and well suited to its [124] further development. Much of the basis of living in present Galicia and North Portugal is a direct inheritance from the Swabian period of dominance. It differed sharply from attitudes and customs dominant in the meseta, (9) and toponymy illustrates the contrast. As Castilian is rich in martial terms, Galician is rich in agricultural words and the number of local terms associated with agriculture is greater in Galicia than in any other part of Spain. The evidence for this has been collected only for Galicia, the northern part of the former Swabian kingdom, but one can reasonably infer that this judgment made by a Galician concerning Galicia can also be applied to the southern part of the kingdom, present North Portugal. (10)


The Swabians, Vandals, and Alans crossed the Pyrenees in 408 or 409 A.D. (11) Within two years, parts of them had spread to the western edge of the peninsula and lands had been apportioned to each tribe. If difficulties were made either by the local inhabitants or by the local Roman administration, there is no record of it. In the statement of an early document, the areas originally apportioned to these tribes were assigned by lot. (12) This may have been the fact, and it may have been fortuitous circumstance that placed the Swabians, by 411 A.D., in lands that were eminently to their taste, but it seems a little hard to believe. It is more likely that the Swabians, who later clung to these lands with determination, chose them. In fact, there is [125] some reason to believe that they did so, and later, compelled by the more powerful Vandals, had to relinquish a portion of them. (13) The Alans, at that time the strongest of the tribes, took a large area in the center and south, approximately the area of Roman Lusitania. The Silingian Vandals settled to the southeast of the Alans, and the Asdingian Vandals were in interior Galicia next to the Swabians. (14)

In 415, when the Visigoths entered, at the behest of Rome, (15) the peninsula was at peace. (16) By this time the Swabians had been in the northwest for six years, as had been the Alans and Vandals in their allotted areas. They had settled among the local Luso-Romans, who may have welcomed them and who at least offered no effective opposition to their settlement. The Luso-Romans apparently preferred "barbarian" control to the onerous pecuniary demands of the central Roman government.(17) There was no major opposition to the Swabians until the advent of the Visigoths who, allied with Rome, entered the peninsula, supposedly to re-establish Roman authority.

The Visigoths met and decisively defeated an army of Alans and Silingian Vandals in 416. After that, neither of these tribes was to be reckoned with in peninsular affairs. (18) Their remnants were ultimately absorbed by the Asdingian Vandals who, like the Swabians, were settled in a remote corner of the peninsula. Presumably the fact of their geographical position saved these two tribes from the fate of their quondam companions, but it did not keep them at peace, for warfare broke out almost immediately [127] between them. In 419 the Swabians were driven into the northern mountains by the Vandals and only Roman intervention saved them from extermination. (19) It is apparent that Rome did not think of all German tribes as being of the same stamp.

Not long after this event, the Asdingian Vandals, presumably dissatisfied with their environment in the northwest and under pressure by Romans and Visigoths, moved southward to join the remnants of the Silingians and the Alans. From there they went to Africa. Whether they went there by their own inspiration, or by the invitation of the Roman governor, is a disputed question. Boniface, the governor, was in difficulties with Rome at the time and there is reason to believe that he may have induced these fighters to aid him by the promise of territory. (20) On the other hand, Africa was an area of famed productivity (21) and was country far more to the taste of the Vandals than the rainy northwest of Iberia. Nor was this the first time that east Germans had evinced an interest in Africa. When in Italy, the Goths had planned to go there; again later, when they reached Cádiz, they went so far as to build a fleet to transport themselves thither and were diverted only by the destruction of their ships in a storm. (22) With the departure of the Vandals and the remnants of the Alans for Africa in 429, the most important Germans left in Iberia were the Swabians and the Visigoths. (23)


The Visigoths showed their taste for grazing country and settled by choice in the meseta, allowing the formerly prosperous [129] peripheries to languish. Coastal cities declined in importance, while a few meseta cities grew. Cartago Nova was relinquished as the capital in favor of Toledo. Cádiz faded almost completely as Mediterranean commerce declined. (24) The bleak central land, unattractive even to Romans, was good pasture land and attractive to Visigoths. Even less than the Mediterranean fringes did the humid lands under the grey skies of North Portugal and Galicia appeal to them. Only a few individual Visigoths ever stayed to settle there. (25)

How different were the attitudes of the Swabians. They chose to settle in the rainy, green Minho of North Portugal and in Galicia, and clung to it. They had come from an area in Germany very similar to it in climate, vegetation, and opportunities for farming and grazing. The Swabians had had contact with Celts to their south in Central Europe and with the Romans throughout centuries of time. Many Swabians had served in Roman armies. (26) They had absorbed techniques and ways of life from both peoples. It was this combined culture that they brought with them into northwest Iberia. It fitted neatly into the patterns of use and wont of the area, which had been submitted earlier to both Celtic and Roman -- and probably some German -- influences. The effect of this is brought out by the fact that in the sixth century, A. D., toward the end of the period of the Swabian kingdom in the northwest, after nearly two centuries of Swabian tenure, the Minho was the best organized and developed of all of the parts of northwest Iberia. (27)

Braga, situated in a fertile valley in the central Minho, had [131] been the Roman provincial capital and the ecclesiastical metropolis. Roads led into it from the south, north, and east. Its tradition of authority, its communications and, above all, its storehouse quality, recommended it to the Swabians, who made it their capital at the outset. They never relinquished it as their center, even at the time of their one great expansionist burst which carried them across the width of the peninsula and into southern France. (28) It not only had the virtues that had served the Romans but for the Swabians it was central to the core of their kingdom, which extended from the Bay of Biscay on the north, to the Douro River on the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean on the west to the Sierra de Rañadoiro, in present Asturias on the east, that is, approximately the present Portuguese province of the Minho plus the present Spanish province of Galicia. If the Swabians made thrusts farther east into Asturias they did not remain to control it. (29)


The area to the south of the Douro River is transitional physically. Through most of recorded time this fact has been reflected in the culture, for it has exhibited an intermingling of northern and southern culture types. Perhaps the transitional nature of the area is well indicated by the fact that the four dioceses of Lamego, Coimbra, Viseu, and Idanha, during the centuries of Germanic kingdoms in Iberia, did not clearly belong to either the north or the south. The fact that control shifted back and forth between the Metropolitans of Mérida and Braga points to the lack of clear orientation. (30) Swabian control and influence came into the area, but not completely or even dominantly. At times, their control speared through this [133] central region to the Tejo River(31) and perhaps even beyond, but this was temporary and the effects were not lasting.


Where the Swabians were dominant, the record of their presence remains even today in the types of land holdings. Tacitus, speaking of German settlements, said that they were unlike the Roman, which had contiguous structures, whereas the Swabians built houses with an "empty space" about each one. (32) That is to say, the Swabians were accustomed to small holdings. The idea of dispersed, small, privately owned farms probably was their contribution to the northwest of Iberia, which had previously known the collectivism of the castros and the large, private estates of the Romans. Today the area of their early kingdom, the Minho of Portugal and Galicia of Spain, is a land of small proprietors, whereas the country south of the Douro, where their influence was attenuated, shows a reflection of this fact in present land holdings. The region south of the Tejo, where the Swabian influence was virtually absent, is the area of greatest concentration of large estates.

The Swabians, however, were not less than human. In the areas under their control, favored individuals took over Roman villas and even established new villas of their own. So there were large estates for a few individuals, even though the area, then as now, was predominantly that of small owners.


During the period of Swabian dominance the Roman administrative structure was not eliminated, nor were other important institutions, such as the church. Even during the periods of [135] their paganism or heretical inclinations, they showed consideration for the ecclesiastical authorities, allowing them to function with freedom. For example, Idatius, the Bishop of Aquae Flaviae (Chaves) protested bitterly against what he thought to be Swabian perfidy. He went to Gaul to complain about it, and returned to this Swabian territory to protest loudly and bitterly -- all with impunity. (33) The conversion of the Swabian Rechianus, subsequently king, to Catholicism (probably in 447 A. D.), over fifty years prior to that of Clovis, must also indicate that there was great freedom of action for the church and sympathetic support by the Swabian authorities. (34)

If the northwest was tolerant of orthodox Catholicism, it was also willing to listen to other doctrines; it was a stronghold of Manichaean heresy. (35) It was probably the birthplace of Priscillian, and certainly the great center of Priscillian heresy, which actually was less heresy than merely asceticism. Whatever it was, the idea swept through the peninsula in the fourth century. By the year 400, all of the Galician bishops except two were Priscillianists and Braga was the headquarters of the dissent, but by 563 it had virtually disappeared as a publicly held creed, almost two centuries after Priscillian himself had been burned alive at Tréves (in 385 or 386) for his heresy. (36)

Orthodox Catholicism became official under the rule of Rechiarius. Seventeen years later the superficiality of the conversion was demonstrated by Swabian acceptance of the Arian creed as part of an international marriage agreement arranged by Theodoric, the Visigothic king, and Remismund, the king of the Swabians. (37) Arianism, too, was dropped after the middle of the century, when the orthodox belief was accepted again, this [136] time permanently, about thirty years earlier than the decision of the Visigoths to accept Catholicism. (38)

The Minho Province of North Portugal appears immediately as distinct from all other provinces of Portugal. It resembles only one other part of the peninsula, Galicia, which, with the present Minho, formed the great bulk of the Swabian kingdom. Certainly the landscapes of the formerly Swabian lands have a personality immediately apparent. More than this, their personality is felt to be even more impressive when one lives in the area and observes the quality of life that in so many ways is to be credited to the Germanic folk.
Notes for Chapter 9


For almost two centuries, until 585 A.D., the Swabians maintained their kingdom in the northwest, while the Visigoths controlled the remainder of the peninsula. The Swabian area was remote, obscure country, as it has been throughout virtually all of its history, and the Visigoths had little interest in it. This is perhaps fittingly expressed by the letter of Braulius of Saragossa to St. Fructuosus of Braga: "Do not think yourself worthy of scorn because you are relegated to the extremity of the west in an ignorant country, as you say, where naught is heard but the sound of tempests,..." (1) Near the end of the sixth century the Visigoths, hard-pressed by rebellious Swabians, removed that thorn in their sides by putting an end to Swabian independence. The little kingdom, which had occupied but a small part of the Iberian peninsula, was absorbed by the Visigothic state. Actually, the ways of life in the northwest were little altered by this fact except for whatever involvement it caused in the devious and violent politics of Toledo. For the most part, insofar [138] as there is a record of the matter, the remote west was not greatly involved in the bloody, feudal struggle, always near the surface in Visigothic affairs.

By the year 711, the condition of affairs within the Iberian Peninsula was such that the success of almost any well-organized body of men bent upon conquest was a foregone conclusion. It should be a surprise to no one that it occurred, but perhaps one might wonder why it had not occurred some time earlier. The incredibly easy Moslem conquest of the whole peninsula, except for small areas in the northwest undesirable to Africans, can be explained only in part by their fervor and organization. The Visigothic kingdom had been dreadfully pauperized, materially and in spirit, by the continuous internal conflict between king and nobles or between Catholicism, Arianism, and the Jews. (2) Added to this confusion was a general restiveness, due to the gradual disappearance of small properties. Such change and its accompanying economic maladjustment had been brought about by the necessary grouping around feudal strongholds in times of persistent warfare. (3)

The immediate cause of Moslem entry into Iberia and its original success was due to the bitterness engendered when the Visigothic nobles rejected the claims of the family of King Vitiza to hereditary rights. Rebelling against the decision of the nobles, the Vitiza party -- probably by the intervention of Archbishop Oppa, brother of Vitiza -- invited Tarik, the leader of the Moslem forces, to land on the Iberian shore to fight in their cause. Rodrigo, the Visigothic king, not realizing the facts of the situation, entrusted two wings of his army to Oppa and to Oppa's brother, Sisbert. Sanguine because of the numerical superiority of his forces, Rodrigo confidently entered the battle, only to be betrayed by Oppa and Sisbert. (4)


Thursday, September 20th, 2007, 12:45 AM
Map showing the size of the Suevi and Visigothic occupations


Thursday, March 12th, 2009, 02:47 PM
Map showing the size of the Suevi and Visigothic occupations

http://i116.photobucket.com/albums/o21/Kadu_album/iberia1qh6.jpg wonder how many galicians can trace their lineage to the suebians? I read they where approx 30 000 in AD 409 when they entered, dont know how many the celtoroman populus was at that time..

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009, 04:05 PM
I'd love to see a list of these Germanic place-names, or just a description of their nature and types. Anyone have anything on this?

I would imagine that it's mostly personal names, no?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009, 03:00 PM
I'd love to see a list of these Germanic place-names, or just a description of their nature and types. Anyone have anything on this?

I would imagine that it's mostly personal names, no? if im not totally out far out the city of Orense originally was called Oren-see meaning goldlake.. but om not 100% sure

Ragnar Lodbrok
Monday, March 23rd, 2009, 04:39 PM
The Visigothic kingdom sounded glorious and like such a nice rural place to live, its too bad it had to be brought down by disagreeing kings and nobles and warring Catholics, Arians and Jews.

Monday, March 23rd, 2009, 06:36 PM
if im not totally out far out the city of Orense originally was called Oren-see meaning goldlake.. but Am not 100% sure

I am Sachsen and Asturiano.

One of the ways in which North West Spain retained vestiges of a Germanic past was through first names. I meet people online and have relatives with the first names:

Irma - Germanic "Source of all light" a female name
Bertha (No longer used in the last 5o years as far as I can tell)

There are many more, mostly they are *male* names. These names as far as I am aware are not common in the south of Spain.

I am doing research on this stuff when times permit, and it seems that the legend of "The Santina of Cavadongas" is a Germanic legend transposed to Christianity. I won't write about it until I learn more.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009, 10:02 PM
Forgot uncle Oscar and aunt Idelisa .... (Now both gone)

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010, 02:06 PM
Garcia is a spanish name with Germanic origin, it was originally Garwin but the goths latinized it into Garcia , Gar means spear and i think win means thrower , so it means spear thrower

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011, 09:46 PM
The Visigoth blood is still floating around. The sad thing is...This forum wouldn't let my bf join who has Visigoth background. Last I checked..That was Germanic tribe.
I most likely have Visigoth floating around some where in my blood as well.

Some maps..


Tuesday, June 28th, 2011, 07:17 PM
In college I took a Spanish class and the professor was a Spanish woman from Galicia. She was an excellent teacher, one of my favorite things about her was the way that she would always correct a student if he used a Mexican inflection as opposed to Spanish.

Anyway, she taught a big section about Spanish history, particularly about her home region. That was when I first learned about the Celtiberians and the "Alemanes" who settled in the region. She also showed a number of slides showing scenery and people from Galicia. I was shocked how many blondes there were in her pictures. The landscape is absolutely beautiful as well. Ever since then I have always been very interested in the Swabian kingdom in Galicia.

The Spanish word for Germans is "Alemanes". The Swabians were closely related to the Alemanni, who ended up settling in Switzerland around the same time the Swabians settled in Galicia. Most sources I have read agree that the Alemanni were actually an offshoot of the older Swabian confederation. In any regard, the region of Spain the Swabians settled in, was apparently sparsely populated at the time, and what population was in the region was almost entirely Gallic.

The name of the region, Galicia, is derived from the native Gallaeci people, who were of clear celtic origin. In prehistory some groups of celtic people from Galicia are believed to have migrated north into Britain and Ireland. Many have theorized that the Silures tribe in ancient Britain were actually the descendants of one of these migrating groups from Galicia.

In any event, when the Swabians arrived in Galicia it is said that they got along quite well with the native population, owing to many cultural similarities, not the least of which was paganism. Although the territory was nominally christianized under the Roman domination it seems as though most of the native Gallaeci people were still pagan when the Swebians arrived. Very quickly after their arrival the the differences between Gallaeci and Suebi people faded, leading to the systematic use of terms like Galliciense Regnum (Galician Kingdom), Regem Galliciae (King of Galicia), Rege Suevorum (King of Suebi), and Galleciae totius provinciae rex (king of all Galician provinces).

Eventually, of course, the Swabian kingdom was assimilated into the larger Visigothic kingdom. However, later on, when the Moors invaded Spain the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, including Galicia, was the only territory that was not conquered by the Muslims. In fact, the Reconquista actually began in that region under the leadership of the Austurian Visigothic King Pelagius (Pelayo in spanish).

Monday, September 5th, 2011, 06:14 PM
The Visigoth blood is still floating around. The sad thing is...This forum wouldn't let my bf join who has Visigoth background. Last I checked..That was Germanic tribe.
I most likely have Visigoth floating around some where in my blood as well.

Some maps..


Some other interesting maps.








Friday, September 16th, 2011, 04:13 AM
Some Spaniards you can clearly see they are Germanic.
I feel Skadi forum should see the Spanish people as Germanic people. From the fact that they are. I dislike how they just kick them out and block them.
A lot of Spanish sir names even have Germanic origins as well!

So what if their language is Latin based?? That came from the strong Roman influence. When the Roman empire ruled over all of Iberia.
It's silly to outcast our own people!
Even the Portuguese people have Germanic blood!! :thumbup

http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Spain/Army/military_woman_spain_army_000005.jpg_530 .jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Spain/Army/military_woman_spain_army_000011.jpg_530 .jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/Spain/Army/military_woman_spain_army_000004.jpg.htm l?p=*full-image
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Spain/Army/military_woman_spain_army_000033.jpg_530 .jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Spain/Army/military_woman_spain_army_000026.jpg_530 .jpg

http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Portugal/Army/military_woman_portugal_army_000006.jpg_ 530.jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Portugal/Army/military_woman_portugal_army_000002.jpg_ 530.jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Portugal/Army/military_woman_portugal_army_000004.jpg_ 530.jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Portugal/Army/military_woman_portugal_army_000010.jpg_ 530.jpg
http://www.miliwoman.com/cache/Portugal/Police/military_woman_portugal_police_000001.jp g_530.jpg

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011, 07:34 AM



If anyone still thinks this blood doesn't live on in the blood of modern day Spaniards...Then you are just flat out mad!

And for the British folk on here:

"Scientists have discovered the British are descended from a tribe of Spanish fishermen. DNA analysis has found the Celts — Britain's indigenous population — have an almost identical genetic "fingerprint" to a tribe of Iberians from the coastal regions of Spain who crossed the Bay of Biscay almost 6,000 years ago."

"A team led by Professor Sykes — who is soon to publish the first DNA map of the British Isles — spent five years taking DNA samples from 10,000 volunteers in Britain and Ireland, in an effort to produce a map of our genetic roots."