SEDENTARY OR PASTORAL

Although it is difficult to separate the tribes on a cultural basis, it is important to ascertain if the Germanic tribes were predominantly agrarian or pastoral. This is possible through historical and archaeological records and impacts substantially on interpreting climate-human interaction. If the tribes are more pastoral than agrarian, climate changes would affect the tribes differently than if they were mainly agrarian. The reasoning behind this is that only very dry periods are adverse on pastoral groups. However, both very dry and very wet periods are adverse for agrarian groups (Bradley, 2000).

The only documented exception to this division is from Caesar’s Gallic War, who claims all Germans are pastoral, but a contemporary, Hirtius, disputed this claim. The Celtae, as described by Strabo, do not till the soil or even store up goods, but live in small huts. They live off their flocks and pack their belongings into their wagons with their beasts (Strabo, Geography, 7.1.3). Strabo also makes this claim of the Northmen stating: they are wagon dwellers. They live close to the ocean, but the area along the ocean is assumed uninhabitable because of the cold (Strabo, Geography, 7.2.4).

Although Strabo is incorrect in his assumption that the North Sea area is inhabited, it does show an understanding with the Romans that the Celtae are pastoral and the Germanic tribes are agrarian. The one exception to this is the Germans who lived in the lower Rhine River area, which is composed of very sandy soil and is not conducive to agriculture, who maintained a long tradition of cattle farming throughout this period (Wells, 1999) .

The nomenclature used to identify a Germanic tribe or a Celtae or any other tribe was not very strict in Roman documentation. Tacitus identified a tribe as “German” if they lived in settled houses, carried shields, and were fond of foot travel (Tacitus, Germania, IV). Strabo’s only distinction between the Celts and Germans is that the Celts were wilder, taller, and had more yellow hair (Strabo, Geography, 7.1.2). The use of Goth, Gaul, or Germani is used interchangeably throughout the second to fifth century AD. The one consistency is that the Germanic tribes where pastoral.

The Germanic tribes did not live closely together, as Caesar states, “as a nation, they count it the highest praise to have the land on their borders untenanted over as wide a tract as may be. The Suebi have 600 miles before their first neighbor” (Caesar, Gallic War, 4.3). If Caesar was correct even though this is surely an exaggeration, then the Germans would utilize their surrounding areas as a natural buffer from potential enemies. Although this buffer would not be as extensive near the limes or in the Late Empire, it seems to be true as evident in archaeological finds.

This buffer increases the amount of unexploited resources in Germania and reduces the amount of potential farmland. The overall topography of the area is mountainous, and as Tacitus claims, it bristled with forests or festered with swamps (Tacitus, Germania, V). The Germans, he continues, are bound to their territories by either mountain or mutual fear of their neighbors (Tacitus, Germania, I). The Germans do not reside in the forests, but use forests as natural buffers between themselves and their enemies rarely are they used as homes (Strabo, Geography, 7.1.3). The geography of the overall area limits the amount of land available for agriculture use by the Germans.

Tacitus further describes the German as one who is a native of the soil and is little affected by immigration to better climates (Tacitus, Germania, II). This statement indicates two things: the agrarian lifestyle of the Germans and acceptable environmental conditions. There is no implication of equitable climate, for just two chapters later he mentions that the climate has taught them to bear cold and hunger (Tacitus, Germania, IV). These statements, taken together, imply that the environmental conditions of Germania in the first century AD are adverse, but survivable.

This generalization of climate is in comparison to the Mediterranean world because even Tacitus (2nd Century AD) writes that the region is fertile for grain crops (Tacitus, Germania, IV). The livestock that the Germanic tribes possessed where large in numbers but “undersized” compared to the Roman herds (Tacitus, Germania, IV). These herds, although apparently large in number as Tacitus claims, seem to be smaller versions of the cow and sheep that were familiar in the Roman Empire. German herds of sheep, cows, and goats most likely occupied the buffer regions that the communities established around their tribal bases.

Tacitus records that the German tribes maintained their fields with plow or adz (Tacitus, Germania, IV) (Tacitus and Rives, 1999) . Archaeological evidence has been found to support the use of both of these tools (Maenchen-Helfen, 1973, Wells, 1984) . Several studies have suggested that there were large Germanic croplands (Barker, 1985, Wells, 1999) .

The apparent desire for fertile agrarian lands is a common theme in the early history of Germania. Caesar writes of destroying crops to impede communities against whom he was fighting (Wells, 1999) . Caesar moved to the town of Avaricum because it was fortified and in the most fertile area of the district, because he was confident that it would bring the state to its knees (Caesar, Gallic War, 7.13). Even the Tencteri are recorded as attacking the Suebi in order to keep them from tilling their land and hopefully giving the Tencteri an advantage over them (Caesar, Gallic War, 6.1).

Clearly, the majority of the Germanic tribes relied upon agriculture for their principal source of nourishment. They did have livestock, but it was supplementary to their basic needs. The fact that many of the tribes did have livestock probably lessened the severity of these drought periods of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, but even the livestock would be affected in a sustained drought. It is no surprise to find that the Goths in the 3rd and 4th centuries were in constant search for suitable homes and lands (Jordanes, Gothic History, 27).