You are on page 1of 4

Archeology and the Bavarian Genesis

When the Merovingian Frankish forces expanded Eastward, an atypical direction of

movement during these relocations of peoples, to incorporate all of the Alps in the
Merovingian realm, from where they intervened in the Ostrogothic war with the Byzantines,
they had already incorporated on their Northern flank, in Raetia II and in Noricum, a new
people, the Bayuvarians. These Bavarians were not an old people but an ethnic
conglomerate of Germanic tribal splinter groups, which from mid-fifth century, around 476,
onward, had coalesced between the Danube and the Alps from the rivers Lech/Iller in the
West to the river Enns in the East. Their presence is indicated in the military structures and
fortifications of the Roman limes auxiliaries and is supported in the mixed Roman and
Germanic equipment inventories of the adjoining cemeteries throughout this area. These
inventories of personal ornaments and ceramics date into the fifth century and reveal that
the troops stationed in the frontier fortifications belonged to Elbian and Bohemian tribes as
well as to those originating further East, interspersed with an occasional Frank. The
inventories also reflect the presence of some nobles and of women. These inventories,
however, are not reflected further inland. The archeological evidence indicates further, that
since the third century a nameless Elbian Germanic group had moved into Bohemia
characterized by a particular pottery style, named after the type station Prestovice, as well
as by cremation burials, and that a century later the pottery identifying this group was
established along the Northern bank of the Danube from the river Lech to Soviodurum/
Straubing, where the cemetery Friedenhain serves as type station for the pottery, and also
North of the Raetian limes. During the fifth century the Bohemian cemeteries containing the
Elbian pottery had broken off, indicating that the population using the cemeteries had left
the area for a new location to the West. From this new area warriors were recruited for the
Roman auxiliaries. In Roman service they gave up cremation in favor of inhumation, a
switch which was characteristic for all Germanic forces entering Roman service. The finds
are evidence that the Roman frontier was still effective during the fifth century, though, in a
process which had begun centuries earlier, the defenders, semi-free laeti, resembled para-
military forces whose duties combined military and agricultural service, probably in a
federated arrangement, out of which evolved a military peasantry. In time, as the garrisons
decreased in size, the civilians moved into the forts, abandoning all lands but the villages
and fields and pastures which supported the fort, were guarded by it and provided its
modest supplies. In some instances, as at Soviodurum/Straubing, their ceremonies show
continuous use into the seventh century. South of Straubing such a cemetery developed
into the largest Bajuvarian row-grave field.

The composition of the grave inventories showed that the objects and ornaments of the
deceased men and women reflected a multicultural stylistic assembly. The great number of
burials in these grave fields, at Altenerding near Munich more than 2,000, and the
continuity of the occupation over two centuries, beginning in the last decades of the fifth
century, indicates that these areas were not devoid of inhabitants, that these varied
Germanic populations had become sedentary in the provinces and that a population
synthesis was taking place. That Roman and Germanic populations shared the land is
indicated by the continuity of Roman pottery traditions into the seventh century. The
superiority of Roman wheel thrown pottery slowly displaced the Elbian hand made,
technically inferior, Friedenhain/Prestovice pottery of the Germanic troops and farmers.
Towards the end of the Roman period Thuringian and Alamanic populations were allowed to
cross into these provinces as well. A cemetery at Straubing/Sorviodurum with over 800
graves shows inventories of ornaments deriving from the Frankish-Alamanic West, the
Thuringian and central German North and the Eastern Danubian, Ostrogothic and Italic
South. It points to the wealth and farflung connections of this population. Ten artificially
deformed female skulls belong to the earliest period. The grave field was used from c.500 to
c.700 and emphasizes the continuity of the population and the gradual transition of the
material culture from Roman to Bavarian times. The evolution of the Bavarians took place
along the Danube frontier.

Quite evidently a popular “arrival theory” of an ethnically cohesive people cannot be

maintained. In time, Alamans, Juthungians, Elbians, Marcomans, Danubian Suebians,
Skirians, Rugians, Thuringians especially after 555/56, Langobards and fragments of other
Germanic peoples, including Goths, other Easterners and Romans participated in this
ethnogensis around a core of people from Bohemia, the “men from Baias”, who also
provided the name ‘Bai-waren.’

Roman remnant Populations

The unsettled conditions along the Danube frontier had thinned out the population either
through destruction, abduction, or through migration. A prolonged exodus had been in
progress for many years. St. Severin, formerly a high ranking civil servant from Italy, was a
witness to these developments and the Vita Sancti Severini composed in 511 by Eugrippus,
who makes him out to be a saint, not only shows Severin's active religious and political life
but comments extensively on the confusing and disorderly events which surrounded him
from c.456 to the year of his death in 482. Among the many peoples mentioned in the Vita,
the name of the Bavarians is missing. St. Severin had bought the freedom of many Romans,
among whom were Celtic Raeti and Vindelici, organizing the import and the distribution of
food and clothing among the poor, and helped evacuate people to safer places along the
Austrian Danube. In 488 the Roman populations living in the provinces of Raetia and
Noricum received final orders from the central authority to leave their homes and estates.
The order actually came from Odoaker, who in 476 had stopped paying the border garrisons
and in 487 had made war on the Rugians, taking the Royal family captive and executing
them, then in 488 he sent his brother Hunwulf to destroy the Rugians on the Danube. After
476 the Rugians had assumed the administration of the Romans who as protectors of
supplies sought their own protection from the miltiary Rugians against other Germanic,
mainly Alamanic and Thuringian raiders. In part to deprive the Rugians of their provisions
Hunwulf ordered the Romans to vacate the provinces and to return to Italy. Theoderic and
his Ostrogoths were approaching Italy and a faction of the Rugians was allied to him.
Theoderic used the kinship with the Rugian Royal family to kill Odoakar personally.

Who were these "Romans"? Some of them had originated in Italy. Others were members of
the Romanized native, Celtic population. And still others were members of the Germanic
border defence forces who at the end of their enlistment had not returned to their areas
North of the limes, because they had become alienated from their Germanic heritage and
had become Romanized, had founded families, acquired property, practiced a trade and
become Christians. These Romans must have learned to deal with the unstable conditions
for, and as is so often the case in similar situations, not all the Romans followed the order to
withdraw to Italy. This is demonstrated by the continuity of the name of the city of
Regensburg/Castra Regina, as well as the uninterrupted use of the Roman cemetary into
the early Middle Ages. That poorer sections of the population would stay behind seems
natural, but that a small upper stratum of Romans also seems to have stayed behind - the
continued use of the villae rusticae - is more suprising but, as in Gaul, is represented,
though only thinly, in the military, the Church and the administration and in the larger
towns. The transmission of toponyms, terminology for tools and the names of fruit and
vegetables over the centuries indicates that communities and populations survived in some
In general, for a certain period the remnant populations of Romans under Bavarian,
Alamanic and even Frankish rule were not on the same full-free footing as their conquerers,
but belong to that group of the lesser-free who were subjected to judicial and economic
discrimination. Though tributary to the Duke, the upper social strata soon found themselves
in his entourage. In the sources the Romans begin to be referred to as Latini. During the
seventh and eighth centuries there are references to two sub-groups of Romans: Romani
tributales and Roman exercitales, Latini who have to pay taxes and those who have to
render military service. Especially around Salzburg, the former were personally free but
economically dependent land owners located on ducal lands for which they had to pay
tribute. They were eventually absorbed by the free peasantry. The latter, also at Salzburg,
began as the miltiary and administrative garrison. This membership preserved them from
social discrimination and eventually allowed their social rise. Their language will have
continued for centuries as the vernacular in many of the Alpine valleys which harbored
Latini and had come under the protection and rule of the Bavarian Dukes. These Roman
remnants were never represented by large numbers, so that a comparison with their role in
Gaul would not really be fruitful.

When the order for the official withdrawal of Roman forces and civilians came, it was not
unexpected and merely underscored the fading of the political and economic strengths of
the official administration of the provinces by Rome. Around Regensburg and the Raetian
limes, it did not create a deep rupture. In 451 Attila's forces, just as the earlier East-West
migration of Quadi/Suebi, Vandals and Alans, must have reached Gaul by a more northernly
route. Nor was there a vacuum - the border army seems to have integrated with the
population - as life in and around the forts continued and gradually assimilated the new
Germanic arrivals. In the area along the Austrian Danube an insular situation had come
about as the Roman population has resisted the Germanic arrivals and their own
Germanization more forcefully. Upon their withdrawal to Italy in greater numbers, the
remaining Roman influence was correspondingly weaker, so that the abrupt changeover was
noticeable. The lack of continuity of place names illustrates the weakening of population
continuity. However, there are such key indicators as church construction, finds of base
metal coins, of late everday Roman objects and pottery which demonstrate that a modfied
form of "Roman" life continued for decades.

Around 500, the population fragments to be known as Bavarians were a part of Theoderic's
Ostrogothic and mainly defensive Prefecture of Italy and were carried on a list of peoples
prepared c.520. They may well have been located by Theoderic along the the Danube as his
foederati with their center at Castra Regina/Regensburg, and have consolidated under
Theoderic's supervision, for the blending seems to have taken place smoothly in territorial
parameters determined by the Northern river frontiers of an Ostrogothic crucible and the
tribal dispositions. The prevailing and recent argument is that in accordance with late
Roman practices in the Transalpine provinces duces had the miltiary command and that
Theoderic, by appointing such a dux, established the Dukedom and named its first Duke. To
the North the Thuringian Kingdom provided a vague border. Theoderic's extensive political
and familial relationships with the Thuringians to the North do not seem to have suffered
from Bavarian interfernece. To the East Theoderic had been named King of the Herulians,
Radolf, his son-in-arms and thereby extended his defensive system of alliances to include
this people. In 508 the Langobards to their East had put an end to this defensive alliance
when they defeated the Herulians and incorporated their lands in Bohemia, Northern
Noricum and Pannonia. For Theoderic, the loss of his Herulian allies not only weakened the
protective system of alliance but removed the obstacle to Langobardic Westward expansion.
Theoderic's own overextended military forces could not provide an adequate defence, so
that it would have been in Theoderic's political interests to secure the area between the Alps
and the Danube and to convert the power vacuum into a dependable political and economic
entity, strong enough to defelct any Langobardic ambitions. The construction during this
time of new villages in Bavaria, not based on Roman antecedants, by different ethnic groups
- Ostrogoths, Alamans, Thuringians and Langobards - suggests a stabalization and
revitalization of the seriously weakened economic and social conditions. The archeological
evidence further indicates extensive cultural contacts with the Ostrogoths. Their typical
fibulas and belt buckles are found as far North as the Danube throughout Raetia.
Ostrogothic skull deformations among the skeletal remains suggest that these were
descendants of Ostrogoths who had been associated with the Huns as a tribute people
during Attila's reign. The Roman communities in Augusta Vindelicum/Augsburg, Castra
Regina/Regensburg, Batavis/Passau, and Lauriacum/Lorch, were not affected by this
formation of a new people. From Regensburg the Bavarians incorporated the Northern lands
drained by the rivers Naab, Regen, and Altmuhl and bordered by the Bohemian mountains
in the East and the Frankonian Jura in the West. The interesting question has been raised,
why in view an extensive archeological homogeneity, and in view of their varied ethnic
composition these people had not also become Alamans. One reason will derive from the
Ostrogothic delimitation within which the Bavarians came into being. The great number of
Ostrogothic fibulas would demonstrate the cultural force which the Goths exerted in this
area. Cassiodorus may have been the first to mention the Baiuvarii in his history of the
Goths, the Origo Gothica, written between c.526 and c.533, because Jordanes does so in his
version of that history, the De origine actibusque Getarum of 511. Jordanes, however,
applied the knowlege of his own time to a description of tribal locations eighty years earlier.
Once again the final name of a people was given to them by others.

Herbert Schutz, The Germanic Realms of Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400-750 (Oxford,
2000), pp.281-292