The Alamanni or Alemanni were an ancient and early medieval population group assigned to the West Germanic cultural area.

Alamannic population groups are identified on the basis of both archaeological sources (such as population customs and costumes) and historical sources (written testimonies). Permanent core areas of their early medieval settlement and dominion, the Alamannia (Alemannia), were mainly located in the area of today”s Baden-Württemberg and Alsace, in Bavarian Swabia, German-speaking Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Vorarlberg. They shared these territories mostly with Gallo-Roman and Rhaetian populations.

Between the 6th and 9th centuries, Alemannia was politically and culturally absorbed into the East Frankish Empire, and between the 10th and 13th centuries it was once again politically subsumed by the Hohenstaufen Duchy of Swabia.

Modern dialectology fell back on the Alamanni in its classification of German dialects and called the West Upper German dialects “Alemannic dialects”.

Antiquity and Middle Ages

Traditionally, the first mention of the Alamanni in an ancient source is associated with a short campaign of Emperor Caracalla in the summer of 213 against Germanic tribes in the Danube region. According to Byzantine excerpts from a lost part of Cassius Dio”s work of history, the opponents were in part Alemanni. This identification was generally accepted in older research, which followed Theodor Mommsen in this, but has been frequently disputed since 1984. In Cassius Dio, who otherwise does not know the Alemanni in his work, there had been the term “Albanians” (Albannôn) in the passage in question, which referred to a completely different campaign of Caracalla in Asia, and only the Byzantine editing, which can be reconstructed only incompletely, had replaced it by the term “Alamanni” (Alamannôn) out of ignorance. The hypothesis, according to which the Alamann name was not in Dio”s original text, was put forward in 1984 by Matthias Springer and Lawrence Okamura, who independently reached this conclusion. Also independently of them, Helmut Castritius reached the same conclusion in 1986. This view has been endorsed by a number of other researchers, including Dieter Geuenich. However, the authenticity of the passage in Cassius Dio continues to have proponents; among others, Bruno Bleckmann (2002), Ludwig Rübekeil (2003), and Klaus-Peter Johne (2006) have defended it against criticism, whereupon Springer and Castritius have reiterated their argument. If one excludes the supposed first mention in 213, the mention in a panegyric from the year 289 would have to be addressed as the first evidence of the Alaman name.

The meaning of the name, which appears in its Latin form Alamanni in 289 AD and later also Alemanni, is according to the prevailing Germanic view a composition of Germanic *ala- “all” and *manōn- “man, man”. However, the original meaning of this composition is disputed. It is most likely the naming of a “tribe newly formed in warlike undertakings” which “therefore called itself Alemanni (or was so called) because it broke up the old tribal connections and was open to anyone who wanted to participate.” This interpretation is supported by the interpretation of the Roman historian Asinius Quadratus, who explains the name as “people who ran together and mixed”. The emergence of the Alamanni would thus be seen as a merging of followings, family groups and individuals of different origins. Another interpretation of the name says that “all-people” in the sense of “whole people”, “full people” were meant, the name thus served the self-exaltation in relation to the rest of mankind.

The term “Swabia” (which goes back to the Suebi mentioned in early Roman sources) developed in the early Middle Ages into a synonym for “Alemanni” or “Alemannia”.

Until around 500, Alamanni and Suebi were distinguished, but from the 6th century onwards, the two names are explicitly handed down as synonymous. However, the Suebi name prevailed when the settlement area of the Alamanni, which until then had been titled Alamannia, became the Duchy of Swabia.

Modern times

At the beginning of the 19th century, the historical name was first introduced in the form of the Germanized adjective Allemannisch for the dialects of the High and Upper Rhine. Thus Johann Peter Hebel”s volume published in 1803 and written in the Wiesental dialect bore the name Allemannische Gedichte. Linguists then referred to all southwest Upper German dialects (including Swabian) as Alemannic in reference to the historical Alamanni. Accordingly, regional house construction methods and native customs were also designated as Alemannic, such as the Alemannic carnival. Today, in the tradition of Johann Peter Hebel”s writings, “Alemannic” is also the popularly used proper name of the inhabitants of southern Baden for their dialect, whereas Alsatians and Swiss call their dialect Alsatian and Swiss German, respectively.

For the northeastern part of the Alamannic dialect area, the dialect and proper name Swabian has remained common, which is why the population there usually calls itself Swabians. The population around the High and Upper Rhine, and even more so in Alsace, Switzerland and Vorarlberg do not consider themselves Swabians, or have not done so for a long time. In Baden-Württemberg, for example, the inhabitants of the former state of Baden often distinguish themselves as Alemanni from the Swabians from Württemberg; the situation is similar among German-speaking Swiss, in central Swabia and in the Allgäu, cf. Swabia

The use of the terms “Alamanni” and “Alemanni” in the scientific study of antiquity depends on methods and sources. Ancient historians write Alamanni and medievalists Alemanni.

“Alemannia” as a designation for “Germany

Towards the end of the 13th century, the term regnum Alamanniae became common in the Holy Roman Empire instead of regnum Theutonicum for the narrower area of the “German” kingdom. This reflected the shift of the political center of gravity of the empire to the German south. Before this time, the term was rarely used. Thus, the use of Alamannia as an old or alternative name for the Duchy of Swabia and the previous titulature rex Romanorum of the German king gradually disappeared. This change in titulature also had political reasons and coincided with the interregnum or kingship of Rudolf of Habsburg. Therefore, in contrast to the name of the country, the change in the titulature to rex Alamanniae could not prevail. The newly emerging mendicant orders at this time use Alamannia accordingly for their German-speaking provinces of the order. Also in England, France and Italy this titulature is adopted as rei de Alemange, rois d”Allmaigne, rey d”Alamaigne.

In the empire itself, from the 14th century onwards, the designation German lands began to prevail and the use of Alamannia was lost for Germany and was only handed down outside the country. Thus allemand or Allemagne remained the designation for German or Germany in French. Adopted from there are los alemanes in Spanish, els alemanys in Catalan, os alemães in Portuguese, Almanlar (popularly Alamanlar) in Turkish, and elman or alman in Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian (see also: German in Other Languages).

Alamanni tribes

A unified tribal leadership of the early Alamanni cannot be proven. Instead, Roman sources of the 3rd to 5th century occasionally mention Alamannic sub-tribes, which in turn had their own kings. Known Alamanni tribes are the Juthungen, who were settled north of the Danube and Altmühl, the Bucinobantes (Latin Bucinobantes) in the Main estuary near Mainz, the Brisgavi, who, as the name already suggests, were settled in the Breisgau, the Rätovarians in the area of the Nördlinger Ries and the Lentienser, who are assumed to be in the area of the Linzgau north of Lake Constance.

The Alemannia

Under the Alemannia (or Alamannia, Alemannia, Alamannia) are hidden various ideas. Under it can be understood:

These three territorial concepts are by no means congruent, but probably overlapped to a large extent throughout history.

The Alamanni probably developed in the course of the 3rd century AD from various Elbe-Germanic, among them probably Suebian tribes, army clusters and followings in the area between the Rhine, Main and Lech rivers.

Germanic tribes at the Limes – until around 260 A.D.

Already since the times of the Suebian king Ariovist in the 1st century B.C. Suebian units migrated from the Elb-

The earlier often expressed assumption that the Alamanni had formed in the interior of Germania is now considered outdated. There is no certain knowledge about this, since only archaeological finds and no written sources are available. However, the origin of the new settlers can be determined on the basis of the archaeological material culture they brought with them, which can best be compared with the Elbe-Germanic area between eastern Lower Saxony and Bohemia, especially between the northern Harz, the Thuringian Forest and southwestern Mecklenburg.

The end of the Limes

Larger attacks are 213 and 233

As a result of the fall of the Limes, Germanic groups were able to settle in the unprotected area, which was subsequently called Alamannia by the Romans all the way to the Main River. After that, the Roman reports about the Alamanni as a name for the Germanic associations in the above-mentioned area also increased. Today, the majority of ancient historical and archaeological research is of the opinion that the tribe or tribal group of the Alamanni was slowly formed from various Germanic groups of settlers only after the settlement of the Dekumatland. In recent times, the thesis is also discussed that the invasion of the Germanic tribes was carried out with the consent of Rome, which had transferred the apron security to the newcomers and bound them to itself through foedera. In addition, it must be considered that, strictly speaking, it is not possible to speak of the Alamanni, since the numerous small groups lacked a unified leadership for a long time.

On April 21, 289 AD, Mamertinus delivered a eulogy to Emperor Maximianus in Augusta Treverorum (Trier), mentioning the Alamanni. This is the first contemporary mention of the Alamanni. From this year on, the name Alamannia can also be proven for the area north of the Rhine. A first mention of the Alamanni in the year 213, when according to the report of the Roman historian Cassius Dio (around 230) Emperor M. Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla is supposed to have taken the epithet Alamannicus after a victory over the Alamanni, is, as already mentioned at the beginning, meanwhile very controversial in its reliability.

Around the year 260 AD, the Limes was reduced to a new line, the Danube-Iller-Rhine Limes, which protected only the eastern and southern parts of the Roman province of Raetia (roughly today”s Allgäu, Upper Bavaria and Switzerland). This was strongly fortified at the beginning of the 4th century. The new border line with the Alamanni was able to defend the Roman border until 401 AD (withdrawal of the Roman legions) or 430 AD (withdrawal of the Burgundians, who took over the border protection as foederatii). Invasions of the Alamanni (more precisely Juthungen) in the years 356 and 383 could still be repelled, or in the years 430 and 457 only in Italy.


The early Alamannic settlements often developed near the ruins of Roman forts and villas, but not in their buildings. The stone buildings of the Romans were only rarely continued to be used for a while (e.g. by wooden installations in a bath building of the villa near Wurmlingen). Mostly the early Alamanni erected traditional post buildings with mud plastered wattle and daub walls. However, the find situation concerning the early Alamanni is thin. Settlement finds like from Sontheim in the Stubental are the exception. Even grave finds like a woman”s grave near Lauffen am Neckar or the child”s grave of Gundelsheim are relatively rare. Presumably the area was only slowly settled by seeping Germanic groups. Only in certain areas, for example in the Breisgau, are early concentrations of settlements to be found, which may be connected with targeted settlement by the Romans to protect the Rhine border. Already in the 4th century there were Alamannic hilltop castles such as on the Glauberg and Runden Berg near Bad Urach.

The population of southwestern Germany in Roman times probably consisted mainly of Romanized Celts, in the northwest also Romanized Germanic peoples (e.g. the Neckarsueben) and immigrants from other parts of the empire. To what extent parts of this population remained in the country after the Roman administration left is not exactly known. The continuity of some river, place and field names, however, suggests that provincial Roman populations were also absorbed into the Alamanni. Thus, in the central Black Forest, the persistence of a Romance language island possibly dates back to the 9th century.

Late antiquity

The historical sources about the early Alamanni are as sparse as the archaeological ones. The reports of Ammianus Marcellinus illuminate parts of the 4th century somewhat better. Especially for the subdivision into sub-tribes and for conclusions about the political structure he is the most important source.

From the former Dekumatland, Alamanni repeatedly undertook raids into the neighboring provinces of the Roman Empire Raetia and Maxima Sequanorum, but also far into Gaul. They suffered repeated defeats against Roman armies, for example by Emperor Constantius in 298 at Langres and at Vindonissa (Windisch). After the battle of Mursa in 351 between the Gaulish usurper Magnentius and Emperor Constantius II, the Franks and the Alamanni broke through the Rhine border together. The Alamanni occupied the Palatinate, Alsace and northeastern Switzerland. Only the victory of Caesar (sub-emperor) Julian in the battle of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) in 357 against the united Alamanni under Chnodomar secured the Rhine border again. The Alamannic petty kings had to bind themselves (again?) to Rome by treaty. During the reign of Emperor Valentinian I, Alamanni groups succeeded twice, in 365 and 368, in penetrating the imperial territory and plundering, among others, Mogontiacum (Mainz). After a retaliatory campaign, which earned Valentinian I the epithet Alamannicus in 369, he had the Rhine border secured by a new series of forts, for example at Altrip, Breisach am Rhein and opposite Basel. The border on the High Rhine was reinforced with a chain of watchtowers (burgi). In 374, Alamanni under their partial king Makrian concluded a lasting peace with Valentinian I. Nevertheless, his successor, Emperor Gratian, had to lead another campaign against Alamanni in 378, which is considered the last advance of Roman troops across the Rhine border. After that, the Alamanni were in a foederate relationship with the Roman Empire for a long time.

Battles between Alamanni and Romans:

The usurpation by Magnus Maximus in Britain and the war with the Franks allowed the Alamanni to break into Raetia in 383, which Emperor Valentinian II was only able to secure again with the support of the Alans and the Huns. Further internal Roman power struggles under Emperor Theodosius I weakened the Roman position on the Rhine. Although the army commander Stilicho succeeded in 396

Expansion and subjugation

From 455 on, a west and east expansion of Alamanni into Gaul and Noricum began, about which only uncertain information is available. Archaeologically, the mentioned expansions can hardly be traced. In material culture and burial customs, within the row grave culture, for example, only fluent transitions to the Franks can be identified, but hardly clear cultural borders. There are even fewer differences to the neighboring Germanic tribes to the east, the later Bavarians. Statements about them are mainly derived from written sources. Settlement by Alamannic population groups or even only temporary Alamannic suzerainty reaches north to the area around Mainz and Würzburg, south to the foothills of the Alps, east to the Lech or along the Danube almost to Regensburg, west to the eastern edge of the Vosges, beyond the Burgundian Gate to Dijon and southwest in the Swiss Mittelland to the Aare.

According to Gregory of Tours, a conflict with the neighboring Franks led to decisive defeats of the Alamanni against the Frankish king Clovis I of the Merovingian dynasty sometime between 496 and 507. The latter is said to have accepted the Christian (Catholic) faith in connection with the victory after a decisive battle. The decisive battles were possibly the Battle of Zülpich and the Battle of Strasbourg (506). The northern Alamannic territories thus came under Frankish rule. The Ostrogothic king Theoderich initially put a stop to Frankish expansion by placing the southern parts of Alamannia under Ostrogothic protectorate and taking refugees of the defeated Alamanni under his protection. But already in 536

With the subjugation of the Alamanni by the Franks, their sovereignty ended and dukes were irregularly appointed by the Frankish kings for the Alamanni territory. However, it is not possible to draw up a complete linear list due to the sources. It is assumed that Frankish nobles were settled in strategically important places in order to secure the control of the country. This is confirmed by grave finds with foreign forms of jewelry and weapons, which come from the West Frankish area or the Rhineland. Members of other peoples of the Frankish Empire were also settled in the Alamannic area, which is still reflected in place names such as Türkheim (Thuringian), Sachsenheim or Frankenthal. Only after incorporation into the Frankish Empire was further settlement or Germanization of the neighboring Roman areas to the south possible. According to the findings of recent archaeological research, Alamannic settlement activity in what is now German-speaking Switzerland did not begin before the end of the 6th century.

Alamannia under the Merovingians and Carolingians

Alamannia was consolidated by its autonomous status in the Frankish Empire as a duchy in an area that probably largely coincided with the later Duchy of Swabia. Alsace, however, was mostly run as a separate duchy and was not actually part of Alamannia. The center of gravity of the Frankish duchy of Alamannia was in the area south of the High Rhine and in the Lake Constance area. The dukes were sometimes still descended from noble Alamannic families and were not always in competition with Frankish nobles. For example, an Alamannic duke founded the monastery of Reichenau together with the Frankish house-meier. The relatively autonomous dukes of the Frankish Empire often tried to break away from their dependence on the Frankish king. Thus, the king had to repeatedly fight against rebellious Alamannic dukes. In the so-called blood court at Cannstatt in 746, the resistance was finally broken: The Duchy of Alamannia was abolished and ruled directly by the Franks. Thus the Alamannic ducal title disappeared for a long time. However, Emperor Louis the Pious tried to create a kingdom of Alemannia for his son Charles II between 829 and 838.

In the 7th century, parts of the upper class began to bury their dead not in the row grave fields, but at the manor. In this period, stone boxes often distinguish the graves. Due to the Christianization at the beginning of the 8th century the row grave fields were completely abandoned and the cemeteries were laid out around the church in the future. Thus, the most important source for the archaeology of the Alamanni is no longer available.

In the 10th century, the East Franconian

Disputed territories were still Alsace and Aargau, which were claimed by the neighboring Duchy of Lorraine and the Kingdom of Burgundy, respectively. The name Alemannia fell into disuse and over time was used only as a learned historicizing term.

The Alamanni continued to worship the ancient Germanic deities until the 7th century; Wodan, to whom beer offerings were made, and Donar are attested. The gold bracteate from Daxlanden also shows a man in bird metamorphosis, probably Wodan, and two other bracteates show a goddess who can be identified with the mother of the gods, i.e. Frîja. In contrast, the worship of Zîu can only be proven according to philological evidence. Creatures of the lower mythology are shown by the sword of Gutenstein with the image of a werewolf or the equestrian disc of Pliezhausen. The Vita of St. Gallus mentions two naked water women who threw stones at the saint”s companion. When he banished them, they fled to Himilinberc, where demons dwelt, reminiscent of the Norse seat of the gods, Himinbjörg.

The Roman writer Agathias reports of the Alamanni, who invaded Italy in 553, that they worshipped certain trees, the waves of the rivers, hills and ravines, and sacrificed horses, cattle and other animals to them by cutting off their heads. Moreover, he mentions Alamannic seers. Archaeology has uncovered several sacrificial findings. Thus, in the 4th century, weapon points were deposited in the Rautwiesen spring bog near Münchhöf (Gm. Eigeltingen, Hegau) and the above-mentioned gold bracteate from Daxlanden was buried together with a horse skull and iron axe.

The burial also testifies to the old religion. Thus the prince of Schretzheim had himself buried together with his horse including groom and cupbearer. Gold-leaf crosses and other Christian objects show that although the Alamanni came into early contact with Christianity, there are several written and archaeological testimonies of syncretism. In the middle of the 5th century, a new form of burial prevailed among the Alamanni – as it did among other neighboring West Germanic peoples. Until then, cremations in small grave groups or even isolated graves were common in the Elbe-Germanic tradition. Archaeologically, such graves are difficult to record and, because of the cremation, also difficult to evaluate. Even in early times there was an increasing number of inhumations. With the change to the row burial custom, as for example in the cemetery of Stuttgart-Feuerbach, the source situation changes dramatically for archaeology. Now large cemeteries are established in which the dead are buried unburned in rows close together in an east-west direction. From this time on (until around 800 the row cemeteries are again abandoned in favor of burial around the church) more detailed statements about material culture, crafts, population structure, diseases, battle injuries and social structure become possible.

After the conquest by the Franks, the missionization of the Alamanni began, especially by the Irish missionaries Fridolin and Columban and his followers. After Säckingen, they founded the monasteries of St. Gall (614), St. Trudpert and Reichenau (724). In Alamannia, bishoprics still existed from Roman times in Basel (formerly in Augusta Raurica near Basel), Constance, Strasbourg and Augsburg. Ecclesiastical relations were first laid down in the 7th century in the Lex Alamannorum, an early codification of Alamannic law. There was probably an uninterrupted existence of Christians in the old Roman territories south and west of the Rhine, at least in the cities and in the Alpine valleys. Perished in Alamannia since Roman times was only the episcopal see in Vindonissa (Windisch).


  1. Alamannen
  2. Alemanni
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