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date: 05 December 2022



  • John Frederick Drinkwater


Alamanni (Alemanni), a loose concentration of *Germanic communities, under various petty kings, located on former Roman territory west of the Rhine and north of the Danube in the 3rd and later cents. ce. Though not securely attested in our sources until 289, Alamanni of a kind were probably first encountered by *Caracalla on the middle Main in 213. ‘Alamanni’—‘All Men’—is Germanic, but its precise derivation and meaning are highly contentious. It may have been the nickname of a small band of warriors, picked up by Rome and applied to the wider grouping for administrative convenience. Ethnically diverse (including former Romans and their descendants), their cultural heartland lay on the Elbe, like *Tacitus’ *Suebi. But Alamanni were not the product of some great Suebian ‘folk-migration’. Raiders from the Elbe had been probing the Main and its tributaries from the late 2nd cent., with some choosing to settle in the area. By the mid-4th cent. this had created an ‘Elbe-Germanic triangle’, with its base on the Elbe and its apex at the Rhine-knee. Within this triangle there was continued circulation of population. Romans may therefore have applied the term ‘Alamanni’ to Elbe-Germani resident in the top third of this triangle (roughly the old *Agri Decumates and northern *Raetia): ‘Alamannia’.


  • Late Antiquity

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