Sunday, January 18, 2009

Runder Berg near Urach

The tribe of the Alemanni formed in the third century A.D. as a union of several Germanic groups from the Elbe region. After A.D. 233 this new tribe participated decisively in the plundering raids into the limes region, the provinces beyond, and Italy. After the fall of the limes in A.D. 259–260, the archaeological evidence reveals a lack of continuity of a provincial Roman population. Roman encampments and settlements, including the villae rusticae (farms), were abandoned and destroyed. The limes region was not resettled until the fourth century, when the Alemanni conquered and occupied it.

Several centers of early Alemannic colonization are ascertainable. These centers include the upper and central Neckar region, the region of Heilbronn, the area around the mouth of the Neckar, the Brenz Valley and the Ostalb, the Breisgau, and the Tauber Valley, which lies outside the former limes region. Especially striking in the Alemannic region are many fortified hilltop settlements. Based on early twenty- first-century knowledge, the building of the hilltop settlements in the Germanic-Alemannic region of southern Germany on the far side of the late Roman Danube-Iller-Rhine limes cannot be linked to older local Germanic traditions. Yet models certainly do exist in the military and civilian hilltop sites that were founded by the late third century in the region of the late Roman Danube-Iller-Rhine limes.

The evidence indicates that Alemannic hilltop settlements were not founded until the fourth century and stopped being occupied by the end of the fifth century. Most of these sites were abandoned around A.D. 500, which can be explained by the defeat of the Alemanni by the Franks. There is no evidence of continuity between the Alemannic hilltop settlements and the late Merovingian-Carolingian castles that occasionally followed. The Runder Berg near Urach is the best researched of these sites.

In the former limes region, Roman villas continued to be occupied. This practice and the use of land cleared by the Romans indicate that there must have been only a short period of time between abandonment and reuse. In southwestern Germany, too, most evidence of Alemannic settlement can be drawn from the form of graves and single, random, or accidental finds. Some larger settlements have been excavated methodically as well. In the settlement of Sontheim, which dates to the first half of the fourth century, excavators identified relatively large post dwellings; smaller economic buildings of post construction, including a round storage building with 7 post holes; and a rectangular area with internal construction (the largest measuring 70 meters) separated from the rest of the settlement by a massive palisade. This is believed to have been the fortified residence of a group having a higher social status. Great quantities of iron slag suggest that ironworking was one of the economic bases for Sontheim.

In the Breisgau, too, large excavations indicate increasing early Alemannic settlement by the fourth century. After the middle of the fifth century, the Alemannic settlement region expanded rapidly. By then it included the Alsace, northern Switzerland, the Swiss Midland, Upper Swabia, the region of Bavarian Swabia up to the Lech, and the Algäu. The Alemanni who carried out this colonization until the seventh century had long been under Frankish rule.

The Alemanni did not enjoy political independence for long. The end of the fifth century was characterized by conflict and defeat of the Alemanni in battle against the Franks. After the defeat of A.D. 496–497 and the suppression of their uprising in A.D. 506, the Alemanni lost their kingdom and their independence. Alemannia became the Duchy of Swabia, a region at times more or less loosely connected to the Frankish empire. Archaeologically this fundamental change is evident in the disappearance of the hilltop settlements of the Alemannic nobility and the end of its cemeteries. At the same time, strategically situated settlements of Frankish warriors and their entourage emerged in the sixth and seventh centuries. Many of their cemeteries are well known. These Frankish officials in Alemannia also included warrior groups of Thuringian origin that became Frankish subjects after the defeat of Thuringia by the Franks in A.D. 531.


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