Germany History: Early Middle Ages


Between the century IV and VI the German territories were the scene of a gigantic wave of migrations of peoples. According to, the East Germans, settled between southern Russia and the Balkan Peninsula (on the Black Sea they had constituted a vast kingdom), perhaps driven by a worsening of the climate and by the pressure of eastern peoples, such as the Huns, poured towards the West, no longer in sporadic raids of looting, but in search of land and new settlements. For some of these peoples, such as the Vandals, the Suebi and many tribes of Goths, the territories between Elbe and the Rhine were no more than a place of rapid transit, a stop on a longer journey, and in the wave that swept towards the West (which swept the borders of the Empire, forced the Romans to abandon their provinces and almost completely erased the traces of the ancient colonization) pushed or dragged the other Germanic populations they encountered on their path; other peoples stopped there for short periods, such as the Burgundians, who in the first decades of the century. V founded their own kingdom on the Main; still others merged with the tribes of the West Germans, settled there for centuries, giving rise to new ethnic groups, whose settlement stabilized as the phenomenon of great migrations diminished: the Thuringians on the Fränkische Saale river, Saxons on the North Sea (only a part of them moved in the 5th century to occupy Britain), the Alamannion the upper course of the Danube, the Bavarians further east. On all these populations it was outlined, already starting from the century. VI, the supremacy of the Franks, a Germanic lineage that from the lower Rhine (where it was settled towards the end of the III century) had first turned towards today’s France, occupying a large part of it and constituting a strong kingdom; later it had extended its hegemony also over the territories as far as the Elbe and the Danube. Only the Saxons managed to remain independent for a long time and could only be subdued with a series of bloody wars that lasted for decades (772-804: the Lex Saxonum dates from 802, which welcomed the ancient customs). Simultaneously with the conquest, the Franks promoted the evangelization of the German populations, which had already been initiated by individual missionaries, such as Colombano and Bonifacio: entire peoples, and in particular the nobles, were baptized en masse and in a very short time numerous bishops were established (in Saxon territory, for example, in 787 that of Bremen, in 804 those of Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn, Minden; in 815 those of Verden and Hildesheim; in 831-834 that of Hamburg) and the first great monastic centers were founded, which for centuries remained centers of religious life and culture. The German territories thus became part of the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne (800).


The political-religious contrasts in the atmosphere of the Counter-Reformation were accentuated between Catholic and Protestant classes resulting in their split in the Diet, the formation of a Protestant union under the leadership of the Palatine elector and a Catholic under that of the Duke of Bavaria (1608-09). The genesis and course of the Thirty Years ‘ War (1618-48) took place against the background of this intertwining of political-religious demands and the institutional demands of the classes; from time to time confessional conflicts were in the foreground, tensions on a European level for the hegemonic projects of the Habsburgs (hence the intervention of Gustavo Adolfo and Richelieu ‘s France), but no less the opposing aims of the classes and the emperor about the constitution of the Reich.of Denmark had intervened primarily as prince of the Empire, as Duke of Holstein and as head of the district of Lower Saxony. The Restitution Edict (1629) did not respond only to counter-reformist requests, but also to Ferdinand II ‘s intent to re-establish imperial power over the classes. The French intervention was directed more against the Habsburgs of Spain than in favor of the Protestant classes, although in conclusion it constituted an external contribution to the particular structure of the Reich, confirmed in the Peace of Westphalia. (1648), with large territorial redistributions also in favor of France (Alsace) and Sweden (Pomerania). The princes had secured a position of independence in the face of Empire and emperor. From then on, the “modern history” of the Reich began: it took place in the individual territorial states, which implemented within them the absolutist directives of the modern state by enlarging and centralizing the administrative structure, inserting them widely (in the Protestant states, but in good measure also in Catholic ones) ecclesiastical institutions. In the economic field, the principles applied the mercantilist system according to the French model, valuing the new bourgeoisie that was being formed. The Thirty Years’ War with its disorders had accelerated the decline of the German economy and, in it, also the end of the Hansa, not only as an economic power, but also as a league of cities against the strengthening of territorial lordships. The First Northern War (1655-60) meant the rise of Brandenburg as a predominant power in Northern Germany and its recognition by Sweden, Denmark, Poland. The Habsburgs retained a function in the Reich, both in the struggle against the Turks, together with Poland and Venice, and in constituting a barrier to French expansion into large coalitions that also saw German states allied to Louis XIV.

Germany History - Early Middle Ages