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Where Did the Roman Empire First Meet the Cimbri and Teutones?

Military History

Where Did the Roman Empire First Meet the Cimbri and Teutones?

In 113, BC the Cimbri and Teutones marched into the limelight of recorded history when they first appeared to the Roman Empire along the Balkan frontier.

In 113, BC the Cimbri and Teutones marched into the limelight of recorded history when they first appeared to the Roman Empire along the Balkan frontier.

by Ludwig Heinrich Dyck

In 113 BC the Cimbri and Teutones marched into the limelight of recorded history when they appeared on the Roman Balkan frontier. Clad in primitive hides and furs and rumored to be eaters of raw flesh, the tall, blond, and blue-eyed people appeared to the Roman Empire as a race of savage giants. In lumbering wagons, literally huts on wheels, they traveled with their entire families alongside herds of livestock.
The Cimbri and Teutones’ origin mystified the Roman Empire, for in those days the Romans knew little of the realms and peoples of northern Gaul and Germany. Most claimed that they were Germans; some thought they were Celts. Others pondered if they were Galloscythians, a mix of the Gauls and the Scythian peoples of the eastern steppes, or the Cimmerians of Greek legend who lived in eternal darkness at the world’s edge.

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Were They Really Germans?

Modern scholars generally believe that the Cimbri and Teutones were Germans. This Germanic argument is based on the location of the Cimbri and Teutones’ homelands in northern Denmark, which were within the Germanic and outside of the Celtic domains. Nevertheless, the names of their chieftains are Celtic, which leads some modern historians to maintain that the Cimbri and Teutones were Celts.

However, classical historians might have transmitted German names to us in Celticized form because they were more familiar with the Celtic language. Whether they were Germans or Celts, the incredible saga of the Cimbri and Teutones began during the late 2nd century BC when a rise in the ocean level inundated large tracts of the Danish coast. A scattering of tribes were forced to seek homelands elsewhere; they were led by the Teutones and Cimbri. Classical historians hopelessly exaggerated their numbers, either to justify Roman Empire defeats at the barbarians’ hands or to magnify the scale of the final Roman victories. Plutarch claimed that there were 300,000 warriors. The precise number of Cimbri and Teutones will never be known, but it is likely that together the two tribes numbered less than 150,000 men, women, and children, a figure on par with the larger German tribes of the 5th to 7th centuries AD.

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