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  What Germans Fought at Kalefeld?

A commenter on my latest Kalefeld post wondered if Maximinus Thrax fought Alamanni, as the sources state, when the campaign led him so far north. My first reaction was to assume it would have been Saxons - like the Alamanni, a larger group of Germans that assimilated smaller tribes. The Romans might not have known the difference, or cared much about it (big, bad Germans are big, bad Germans). But it turns out things are more complicated.

Saxons are indeed mentioned at the time in question, but only as a coast-dwelling tribe that already then enjoyed its favourite pastime: piracy and visiting England.

What makes matters complicated is the fact that sometimes German tribes kept their name despite changing location and/or combination of its members, while in other cases tribes that didn't change in itself yet changed their name (1) The Alamanni later would become one of the major Germanic tribes. (like the Franks, Saxons and others) with its settlements in southern Germany, but at the time of the so-called Alamannic wars they were still a more loose and flexible conglomeration of Germanic people - the 'all men', men from everywhere.

Tribes fought each other, or formed alliances, and sometimes groups of young men broke off from a tribe and looked for more booty and riches with another chieftain. It was a shfiting and slow process until the larger groups were fully formed.

The Cherusci who settled in the Harz/Leine/Weser area during Arminius' time had decreased in size and importance and at some point been swallowed by another tribe, the Chauci; while the Chatti who settled south of them remained a large and important tribe.

According to Prof. G.A. Lehmann, Göttingen (2), it is well possible, that tribes from the Harz/Leine area participated in the attacks on the Limes of 213 and again 233 AD, and thus would have been part of the foederatio of the Alamanni. When Maximinus Thrax led his punitive campaign assumedly as far as the Leine valley and the foothills of the Harz, he fought Alamanni, 'all men', indeed.

Though we don't know what the northern people called himself at that point. - did they continue to see themselves as part of a larger group upon return home, or did they retake their old tribal indentiy (as perhaps Chauci), I wonder?

(1) Bruno Bleckmann, Die Germanen, München 2009
(2) I had a nice chat with him after a lecture.
Agreed! The Alemanni caused considerable damage in Germania Superior and (especially) Raetia in 233 A.D. and thus would have mandated that a major offensive in retribution be mounted against them. Alexander Severus' reluctance to engage them in battle led directly to his assasination, and it seems clear that Maximinus Thrax's first priority would have been to carry out a major punitive campaign.
Interesting photos of Osterbrucken fort. It would seem possible to piece together some of what happened in 233 A.D. via an examination of Pfunz fort, namely that the Alemanni attacked in strength and were primarily cavalry based. Pfunz fort, unlike most of the others, was not situated directly on the stone wall that marked the definitive delineation of the Raetian Limes; rather, it was some miles to the rear. Coin hoards were found hastily buried and evidence was found indicating that the guards stationed outside the fort were killed before they even had time to arm themselves. Clearly, the scope and speed of the Alamannic onslaught seems to have precluded the ability of the forts that constituted the first line of defence from lighting warning flares/bonfires to warn neighboring forts that an attack was in progress. Hopefully, Kalefeld will be excavated (and reveal) as much as the digs carried out in the 1930's illustrated about the Persian siege of Dura-Europa in the late 350 A.D.'s
Good post! I know just enough about the Alamanni to agree that they're a plausible answer. Any more than that... I'll just have to sit quietly and listen. :)
Yes, the soldiers certainly felt like, let's show those Germans who is boss, and not like peace negotiations. It seems Severus Alexander and his mom didn't have a good connection to the soldiers and their feelings, and that's not a good thing for an emperor. ;) Maximinus promptly made use of that.

The 233 attacks must have been pretty massive. It now seems that some northern tribes joined and went south-west to have some fun. I'd like to figure out why they didn't attack the northern forts along the Rhine like Castra Vetera (Xanten); those would have been closer. I can only guess that the tribes in between the Chauci and the Rhine/Ems didn't feel like attacking Rome.

There was no fort at Kalefeld. It would have been too far into inimical territory, easily be cut off the supply lines and such. I also think a line of forts along the Leine valley would have been mentioned in the sources and left some more traces. Hedemünden, which does lie along that route, was most probably out of use since the Varus battle, there is no archaeological sign of it having been re-used later.

But the battlefield should prove interesting enough. :)

I hope there will be more about the Romans in Germany this summer. I've started studying archaeology - besides being fun, it should get me in contact with the right people more easily.
Alexander Severus pulled units off of both the Rhine and Danube frontiers for his war with the Persians under Ardashir. This is what gave the impetus for the Germans to attack in 233 A.D. In 231 A.D. legio I Minervia was given specific instructions to hold off the Franks along the Rhine, who by now were starting to become more than a mere nuisance. It seems likely that the Alemanni turned south rather than west for several reasons: 1) The Frankish threat would have entailed fewer troops being detached from Germania Inferior. 2) Richer pickings might have been expected from Germania Superior, Noricum, and Raetia as opposed to Germania Inferior and Belgica. 3) Permission from the Franks to transition through their territory would have been required, and such assent might not have been granted. 4) The terrain in Northern Germany is, as a whole, more heavily forested and waterlogged than in the south; which would have meant difficulty in finding the fodder necessary to maintain a large cavalry based force. For this reason, the Franks and Saxons were always infantry based hosts, whereas others like the Goths,Sarmatians, and Vandals featured fair numbers of horsemen.
I don't think the terrain in northern Germany prevented the use of horses. The Cherusci and Bructeri served as cavalry in Augustean time, and the Batavians who sat in roughly what is today the Netherlands provided horse auxiliaries for centuries. The Franks and Saxons both had mounted armies at later times as well - it's the Saxons in England who didn't, for whatever reason. On the other hand, the Chatti, living in the middle of Germany, always were foot soldiers.

The Goths may have had larger units because of their structure as migrating tribes, and the Sarmatians were nomads. So yes, they would have made for fine cavalry troops with a different fighting technique. Some of the Batavian and Cheruscian alae have been equitata - mixed horse and foot which makes for a different fighting technique probably better suited for difficult terrain - there's a reason the Batavians got stationed at the Hadrian's Wall and in Vindolanda.
Another possible explanation for the attacks southward lies in the probability that the Alamanni were primarily based in baden-wurtemmburg and were simply chased that far north, retreating in the face of a superior army until they finally felt compelled to give battle.
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.