The Germanic peoples (also called Teutonic, Suebian, or Gothic in older literature) are an Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of Northern European origin identified by their use of the Germanic languages. Their history stretches from the 2nd millennium BCE up to the present day.
Proto-Germanic peoples are believed to have emerged during the Nordic Bronze Age, which developed out of the Battle Axe culture in southern Scandinavia. During the Iron Age various Germanic tribes began a southward expansion at the expense of Celtic peoples, which led to centuries of sporadic violent conflict with ancient Rome. It is from Roman authors that the term “Germanic” originated. The decisive victory of Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE is believed to have prevented the eventual Romanization of the Germanic peoples, and has therefore been considered a turning point in world history. Germanic tribes settled the entire Roman frontier along the Rhine and the Danube, and some established close relations with the Romans, often serving as royal tutors and mercenaries, sometimes even rising to the highest offices in the Roman military. Meanwhile, Germanic tribes expanded into Eastern Europe, where the Goths subdued the local Iranian nomads and came to dominate the Pontic Steppe, simultaneously launching sea expeditions into the Balkans and Anatolia as far as Cyprus.
The westward expansion of the Huns into Europe in the late 4th century CE pushed many Germanic tribes into the Western Roman Empire. Their vacated lands were filled by Slavs. Much of these territories were reclaimed in following centuries. Other tribes settled Great Britain and became known as the Anglo-Saxons. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, a series of Germanic kingdoms emerged, of which, Francia gained a dominant position. This kingdom formed the Holy Roman Empire under the leadership of Charlemagne, who was officially recognized by Pope Leo III in 800 CE. Meanwhile, North Germanic seafarers, commonly referred to as Vikings, embarked on a massive expansion which led to the establishment of the Duchy of Normandy, Kievan Rus’ and their settlement of the British Isles and the North Atlantic Ocean as far as North America. With the North Germanic abandonment of their native religion in the 11th century, nearly all Germanic peoples had been converted to Christianity. With the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in the 16th century, many Germanic nations embraced Protestantism. The ensuing religious division resulted in the political fragmentation of much of Germanic Europe.
It is suggested by geneticists that the movements of Germanic peoples has had a strong influence upon the modern distribution of the male lineage represented by the Y-DNA haplogroup I1, which is believed to have originated with one man, who lived approximately 4,000 to 6,000 years ago somewhere in Northern Europe, possibly modern Denmark (see Most Recent Common Ancestor for more information). There is evidence of this man’s descendants settling in all of the areas that Germanic tribes are recorded as having subsequently invaded or migrated to.[ap] Haplogroup I1 is older than Germanic languages, but may have been present among early Germanic speakers. Other male lines likely to have been present during the development and dispersal of Germanic language populations include R1a1a, R1b-P312 and R1b-U106, a genetic combination of the haplogroups found to be strongly-represented among current Germanic speaking peoples. Peaking in northern Europe, the R1b-U106 marker seems particular interesting in distribution and provides some helpful genetic clues regarding the historical trek made by the Germanic people.
Haplogroup I1 accounts for approximately 40% of Icelandic males, 40%–50% of Swedish males, 40% of Norwegian males, and 40% of Danish Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups. Haplogroup I1 peaks in certain areas of Northern Germany and Eastern England at more than 30%.
Contemporary Romantic nationalism in Scandinavia placed more weight on the Viking Age, resulting in the movement known as Scandinavism. The theories of race developed in the same period, which used Darwinian evolutionary ideals and pseudo-scientific methods in the identification of Germanic peoples (members of a Nordic race), as being superior to other ethnicities. Scientific racism flourished in the late 19th century and into the mid-20th century, where it became the basis for specious racial comparisons and justification for eugenic efforts; it also contributed to compulsory sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and was used to sanction immigration restrictions in both Europe and the United States.
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The gilded side of the Trundholm sun chariot in Denmark
Germanic-speaking Europe refers to the area of Europe that today uses a Germanic language. Over 200 million Europeans (some 30%) speak a Germanic language natively. At the same time 515 million speak a Germanic language natively in the whole world (6.87%).
- West Germanic (≈180 million)
- German-speaking Europe (90 million)
- Luxembourgers (0.3 million)
- Dutch (22 million)
- English-speaking Europe (58 million)
- Frisians (0.5 million)
- North Germanic (22 million)
Independent European countries whose population are predominantly native speakers of a Germanic language:
- Belgium (slightly more than 60% majority concentrated in Flanders and the German-speaking Community of Belgium)
- United Kingdom
- Luxembourg (mostly and day-to-day use of Luxembourgish, German and French are also used in some areas of life)
German is the sole official language in Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, and is a co-official language in Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the European Union. Several other countries, including Denmark, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, have German as a national minority language.
English is a West Germanic language originating in England, and the first language for most people in Australia, Canada, the Commonwealth Caribbean, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
One of the consequences of the French influence due to the Norman Conquest in the Middle Ages is that the vocabulary of the English language contains a massive number of non-Germanic words, i.e., Latin-derived words that entered the lexicon after the invasion.
English vocabulary is, to an extent divided between Germanic words (mostly Old English) and “Latinate” words (Latin-derived, directly from Norman French or other Romance languages). For instance, pairs of words such as ask and question (the first verb being Germanic and the second Latinate) show the division between Germanic and Latinate lexemes that compose Modern English vocabulary. The structure of the English language, however, has remained unequivocally Germanic.
In Europe, Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands (≈96%) and Flanders, the northern part of Belgium (≈59%). In French Flanders, in northern France, some of the older generation still speaks the local Dutch dialect. Outside Europe, Dutch is official in Suriname, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. In Indonesia, Dutch is spoken by the Indo people. Afrikaans, the third most spoken language in South Africa, in terms of native speakers (≈13.3%), and the most widely understood in Namibia, evolved from Dutch and was standardised in the early 20th century. Both languages are still largely mutually intelligible.
The Frisian languages are a closely related group of Germanic languages, spoken by about half a million members of Frisian ethnic groups, who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. They are the continental Germanic languages most closely related to English.