THE CIMBRI TREK WAS A WARNING TO ROME AROUND 100 BC

Introduction

The migration of the Cimbri from Jutland (the Cimbrian Peninsula) was a foreboding of the period of Great Migration in Europe. There is some controversy over the original home (German: Stammsitz) of the Cimbri but most Scandinavian researchers believe the Cimbrian people came from the province of Himmerland in northern Jutland (Denmark).

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his work Germania on the Cimbri (Tacitus, Germania, London 1930):

“37. This same “sleeve” or peninsula of Germany is the home of the Cimbri (note: remnants in the northern end of Jutland of the great tribe whose westwards movements c 120 onwards with the Teutones and the Ambrones caused dire trouble to the Romans in 113 – 101 BC. The Romans did not the know they were Germanic. Their lands were found by Tiberius´ fleet in 5 AD when they sought friendship with Rome. Tacitus does not mention their former powerful allies the Teutones of Jutland). who dwell nearest the ocean – a small state today, but rich in memories. Broad traces of their ancient fame is still extant – spacious encampments (note:These forts (Ringwaelle) were later found to be Celtic not Cimbrian) on each bank (of the Rhine), by the circuit of which you can even today measure the multitudes and manual strength of the tribes and the evidences of that mighty “trek”.

Our city (Rome, note) was in its six hundred and fortieth year when the Cimbrian armies were first heard of…”.

The main proof of the fact that the Cimbri originated in ancient Denmark is the well known language rule that the Nordic “h” in Latin becomes “c” and that this “c” is pronounced “k”. Greek historians named the people “kimbroi” or “kimmerioi”. Around AD 700 Denmark was divided into counties (“herred” or “syssel”). According to Danish researchers the name of the county Himbersyssel is a change from “kimbrer” over “chimber” to “Himber”.

On the migration trek southward the Cimbri were joined by the Teutones and the Ambrones. These peoples will not be treated here in more detail but there is also controversy over their origin but it is believed that the Teutones originated in the Danish county of Thy (Thiuth, Thyuth, Thyth) and the Latin word Teutones comes from the name of the county which is on the Danish North Sea coast on Jutland northwest of Himbersyssel.

The Ambrones also fought with the Cimbri and are believed to originate from the island of Amrum off the southwestern coast of Jutland on the Danish-German border. Also the island of Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea between Denmark and Germany (the island is in present day Germany) is mentioned as possible original home. In Old Danish the island´s name was “Ymbrae” and a people called “ymbrer” was said to have lived there.

What Caused the Migration ?

Some sources claim that the reason for the migration was a flooding of the original home in Himmerland (Himmersyssel). Other causes may have been the cold and chill as a result of the change in climate that occured during the beginning of the Iron Age in Northern Europe. (note: see for instance Jens Braaten, Kimbrerne – historie, teorier og myter om Himmerlands kimbrere (The Cimbri – history, theories and myths on the Cimbri of Himmerland), Aars, Denmark 1989, Allan A. Lund, Nordens barbarer (The Barbarians of the North), 1979, Jul. Wulf, Kimbrertoget (The Cimbrian Trek), 1909, and Bengt Melin´s essay “Die Heimat der Kimbern” in the Uppsala University Yearbook, 1960:5. A recent theory was that the lack of arable land caused the Cimbri to look for new land to the south. Other theories (note: for further reading on these see above) claim that a cattle disease spread in the area.

Danish scientists have estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Cimbri migrated, among them
10,000 should have been warriors. During the march south the number grew by addition from other tribes so that the number of warriors when the Cimbri entered Gaul could well have been 60,000.

The Cimbri marched from fall to spring and used the summer to rest and gain strength. 5,000 ox drawn carts carrying 1,000 pounds of provision each was the probable size of the baggage-train.

Starting South in 120 BC

According to Plutarch the Cimbrian cavalrymen carried helmets adorned with the mouths of terrible beasts of prey and had many other strange objects. On the helmets were high feathers in the form of winged birds (see underneath). The women were accompanied by priestesses in white dresses. On a special waggon the Cimbrian bull (note:there is a large monument of the Cimbrian bull in the city centre of Aalborg, largest city of Himmerland and northern Jutland). Not far from the city of Aars in Himmerland are the remains of what is believed to be a Cimbrian fortress at Borremose A sacred object probably made of copper, was transported along during the trek.

Final Cimbri Defeat after Years of Battle Victories – The Battle of Vercellae 101 BC

Vercellae was not far from present day Milan in northern Italy. Plutarch has also in detail described this final victory of the Romans under Marius (note: ibid, pp. 529 – 537).
which led to his reelection as Roman consul in 100 BC for having averted the Germanic threat. And the Ambrones, the Cimbri and the Teutones vanish from history the
prisoners probably assimilated. According to Plutarch 120,000 Cimbri fell and 60,000 were taken prisoner. But of course these
numbers can well be exaggerated.

“…the Cimbri,…once more advanced against Marius, who kept quiet and carefully guarded his camp. And it is said that in preparation for this battle Marius introduced an innovation in the structure of the javelin. Up to this time, it seems, that part of the shaft which was let into the iron head was fastened there by two iron nails; but now, leaving one of these as it was, Marius removed the other, and put in its place a wooden pin that could easily be broken. His design was that the javelin, after striking the enemy´s shield, should not stand straight out, but that the wooden peg should break, thus allowing the shaft to bend in the iron head and trail along the ground, being held fast by the twist at the point of the weapon.

And now Boeorix the king of the Cimbri, with a small retinue, rode up towards the camp and challenged Marius to set a day and a place and come out and fight for the ownership of the country. Marius replied that the Romans never allowed their enemies to give them advice about fighting, but that he would nevertheless gratify the Cimbri in this matter. Accordingly, they decided that the day should be the third following, and the place the plain of Vercellae, which was suitable for the operations of the Roman cavalry, and would give the Cimbri room to deploy their numbers.

When, therefore, the appointed time had come the Romans drew up their forces for battle. Catulus had twenty thousand three hundred soldiers, while those of Marius amounted to thirty-two thousand, which were divided between both wings and had Catulus between them in the center…Marius hoped that the two lines would engage at their extremities chiefly and on the wings in order that his soldiers might have the whole credit for the victory and that Catulus might not participate in the struggle nor even engage the enemy (since the centre, as is usual in battle-fronts of great extent, would be folded back); and therefore arranged the forces in this manner…

As for the Cimbri, their foot-soldiers advanced slowly from their defences, with a depth equal to their front, for each side of their formation had an extent of thirty furlongs; and their horsemen, fifteen thousand strong, rode out in splendid style, with helmets made to resemble the maws of frightful wild beasts or the heads of strange animals, which, with their towering crests of feathers, made their wearers appear taller than they really were; they were also equipped with breastplates of iron, and carried gleaming white shields. For hurling, each man had two lances; and at close quarters they used large, heavy swords.

XXVI. At this time, however, they did not charge directly upon the Romans, but swerwed to the right and tried to draw them along gradually, until they got them between themselves and their infantry, which was drawn up on their left. The Roman commanders perceived the crafty design, but did not succeeed in holding their soldiers back; for one of them shouted that the enemy was taking to flight, and then all set out to pursue them. Meanwhile the infantry of the Barbarians came on to the attack like a vast sea in motion…

…an immense cloud of dust was raised, as was to be expected, and the two armies were hidden from one another by it, so that Marius, when he first led his forces to the attack, missed the enemy, passed by their lines of battle, and moved aimlessly up and down the plain for some time. Meanwhile, as chance would have it, the Barbarians engaged fiercely with Catulus, and he and his soldiers..bore the brunt of the struggle. The Romans were favored in the struggle…by the heat, and by the sun, which shone in the faces of the Cimbri. For the Barbarians were well able to endure cold, and had been brought up in shady and chilly regions…They were therefore undone by the heat; they sweated profusely, breathed with difficulty, and were forced to hold their shields before their faces. For the battle was fought after the summer solstice…Moreover, the dust, by hiding the enemy, helped to encourage the Romans. For they could not see from afar the great numbers of the foe, but each one of them fell at a run upon the man just over against him, and fought him hand to hand, without having been terrified by the sight of the rest of the host. And their bodies were so inured to toil and so thoroughly trained that not a Roman was observed to sweat or pant, in spite of the great heat and the run which they came to the encounter…

XXVII. The greatest number and the best fighters of the enemy were cut to pieces on the spot; for to prevent their ranks from being broken, those who fought in the front were bound fast to one another with long chains which were passed through their belts. The fugitives, however, were driven back to their entrenchments, where the Romans beheld a most tragic spectacle. The women in black garments, stood at the waggons and slew the fugitives – their husbands or brothers or fathers, then strangled their little children and cast them beneath the wheels of the waggons or the feet of the cattle, and then cut their own throats. It is said that one woman hung dangling from the tip of a waggon-pole, with her children tied to either ankle; while the men, for lack of trees, fastened themselves by the neck to the horns of the cattle, or to their legs, then plied the goad, and were dragged away. Nevertheless, in spite of such self-destruction, more than sixty thousand were taken prisoner; and those who fell were said to have been twice that number.”

The Roman Army

Marius was a “new man” (a first generation senator). He professionalized the Roman army. Also he exchanged the old 3-line organisation in favour of ten cohorts, each about 480 man strong.

They were uniformely armed with helmet, mail shirt, shield, sword and two javelins (one light and one heavy). The main tactical unit was the century and the centurions commanding them became the backbone of the Roman army. Every soldier was also expected to carry his own equipment which earned him the nickname “Marius´ mule”. The new army was toughened through marches and camp construction and Marius would not allow it to fight until properly trained. One of the reasons for the final victory over the Germanic peoples (in this first large confrontation) was probably the improved training introduced by Marius.

The Cimbrian Army

There is no detailed description in the Roman sources of the Cimbrian warriors and their army except for the information in Plutarchs battle descriptions. Thus it is only possible to use the more general description of Germanic warriors in Tacitus´ Germania (note: 10) Tacitus, Germania, London 1930, pp. 138 – 141):

“6. Even iron is not plentiful among them, as may be gathered from the style of their weapons. Few use swords or the longer kind of lance: they carry short spears, in their language “frameae”, with a narrow and small iron head, but so sharp and handy in use that they fight with the same weapon, as circumstances demand, both at close quarters and at a distance. Even the mounted man is content with a shield and framea: the infantry launch showers of missiles in addition, each man a volley, and hurl these to great distances, for they wear no outer clothing, or at most a light cloak.

There is no bravery or adornment among them: their shields only are picked out with choice colours. Few have breastplates: scarcely one or two at most have metal or hide helmets. The horses are conspicuous neither for beauty nor speed; but neither are they trained likeour horses to run in a variety of directions: they ride them forwards only or to the right, with but one turn from the straight, dressing the line so closely as they wheel that no one is left behind. On a broad view there is more strength in their infantry, and accordingly cavalry and infantry fight in one body, the swift-footed infantryman, whom they pick out of the whole body of warriors and place in front of the line, being well adapted and suitable for cavalry battles. The number of these men is fixed – one hundred from each canton: and among their own folk this, “the Hundred”, is the precise name they use: what was once a number only has become a title and a distinction. The battle-line itself is arranged in wedges: to retire, provided you press on again, they treat as a question of tactics, not of cowardice: they carry off their dead and wounded even in battles of doubtful issue. To have abandoned one´s shield is the height of disgrace; the man so shamed cannot be present at religious rites, nor attend a council.”

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