Die Germanen * Herwig Wolfram (Beck 2005 * isbn 3406449042)

The German publisher Beck has a long series of small books under the name “Wissen” which means “knowing” or “knowledge”. Recently I bought three of these books, this one, one about Germanic Gods and Cults and one about the Celts. The last two I have yet to read. The books appealed to me when I saw a few of them in a German bookshop. They are small, apparently informative and most importantly, they have a good index so they function well as reference books.

This little book (12×20 cm or so and 125 pages) is written by a professor in medieval history. I can read German quite well, but this Wolfram writes a bit too much like a professor to me sometimes. Also he obviously knows so much that he sometimes forget that his readers do not have all backgroundknowledge (at present). This makes the book a little more difficult than I expected. Also I don’t really see the structure in the book. The writer starts with a subject which developes to something else and later picks up the original subject again.

The writer with telling what made Germans German, because actually this term refers to a wide variety of clans, ‘sibbe’s’ (families so to say), peoples, etc. and not even on a small geographically-indicatable part of the world. Language proves to be the main ground for naming a people German and telling the Germans from eachother. Then Wolfram continues with telling what the ancient Germans looked like and how they lived and the results of this kind of society. The history of ‘the Germans’ is spread all throughout the book. The first Germans (“Kimbern” and “Teutonen”) would have lived around the Mediteranean Sea. Then a very long part is about the Romans and the Germans. Of course most information we have comes from the Romans, but this period is German history is a bit too much highlighted in my opinion.

In part II Wolfram speaks about the origin of the Germans, but this is not really an historical overview that will easily tell you the history of the different tribes and how them grew towards or opposital to eachother. Part III and IV is better in this. This part speaks about how the Germans became one people and obtained a feeling of nationality over ‘own people first’ and then what happens to different German folks halfway the first millenium.

All in all a nice book, but so many names pass that I still don’t know for sure what are (pre)German folks, what enemies or allies and the (of course undocumented) early history remains dark. But, for the better-known tribes such as the East- and Westgoths, the Vandals, the “Burgunder”, the Langobards, the Franks and the Anglosaxons I roughly have what I needed.

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