Germans - Ethnicity


The German ethnicity is linked to the Germanic tribes of antiquity in central Europe. The early Germans originated on the North German Plain as well as southern Scandinavia. By the 2nd century BC, the number of Germans was significantly increasing and they began expanding into eastern Europe and southward into Celtic territory. During antiquity these Germanic tribes remained separate from each other and did not have writing systems at this time. By 55 BC, the Germans had reached the Danube river and had either assimilated or otherwise driven out the Celts who had lived there, and had spread west into what is now Belgium and France.

Conflict between the Germanic tribes and the forces of Rome under Julius Caesar forced major Germanic tribes to retreat to the east bank of the Rhine. Roman emperor Augustus in 12 BC ordered the conquest of the Germans, but the catastrophic Roman defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest resulted in the Roman Empire abandoning its plans to completely conquer Germany. Germanic peoples in Roman territory were culturally Romanized, and although much of Germany remained free of direct Roman rule, Rome deeply influenced the development of German society, especially the adoption of Christianity by the Germans who obtained it from the Romans. In Roman-held territories with Germanic populations, the Germanic and Roman peoples intermarried, and Roman, Germanic, and Christian traditions intermingled. The adoption of Christianity would later become a major influence in the development of a common German identity. The first major public figure to speak of a German people in general, was the Roman figure Tacitus in his work Germania around 100 AD. However an actual united German identity and ethnicity did not exist then, and it would take centuries of development of German culture until the concept of a German ethnicity began to become a popular identity.

The arrival of the Huns in Europe resulted in Hun conquest of large parts of Eastern Europe, the Huns initially were allies of the Roman Empire who fought against Germanic tribes, but later the Huns cooperated with the Germanic tribe of the Ostrogoths, and large numbers of Germans lived within the lands of the Hunnic Empire of Attila. Attila had both Hunnic and Germanic families and prominent Germanic chiefs amongst his close entourage in Europe. The Huns living in Germanic territories in Eastern Europe adopted an East Germanic language as their lingua franca. A major part of Attila's army were Germans, during the Huns' campaign against the Roman Empire. After Attila's unexpected death the Hunnic Empire collapsed with the Huns disappearing as a people in Europe - who either escaped into Asia, or otherwise blended in amongst Europeans.

During the wars waged in the Baltic by the Catholic German Teutonic Knights; the lands inhabited by the ethnic group of the Old Prussians (the current reference to the people known then simply as the "Prussians"), were conquered by the Germans. The Old Prussians were an ethnic group related to the Latvian and Lithuanian Baltic peoples. The former German state of Prussia took its name from the Baltic Prussians, although it was led by Germans who had assimilated the Old Prussians; the old Prussian language was extinct by the 17th or early 18th century. The Slavic people of the Teutonic-controlled Baltic were assimilated into German culture and eventually there were many intermarriages of Slavic and German families, including amongst the Prussia's aristocracy known as the Junkers. Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz is a famous German whose surname is of Slavic origin.

By the Middle Ages, large numbers of Jews lived in the Holy Roman Empire and had assimilated into German culture, including many Jews who had previously assimilated into French culture and had spoken a mixed Judeo-French language. Upon assimilating into German culture, the Jewish German peoples incorporated major parts of the German language and elements of other European languages into a mixed language known as Yiddish. However tolerance and assimilation of Jews in German society suddenly ended during the Crusades with many Jews being forcefully expelled from Germany and Western Yiddish disappeared as a language in Germany over the centuries, with German Jewish people fully adopting the German language. By the 1820s, large numbers of Jewish German women had intermarried with Christian German men and had converted to Christianity. Jewish German Eduard Lasker was a prominent German nationalist figure who promoted the unification of Germany in the mid-19th century.

The event of the Protestant Reformation and the politics that ensued has been cited as the origins of German identity that arose in response to the spread of a common German language and literature. Early German national culture was developed through literary and religious figures including Martin Luther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. The concept of a German nation was developed by German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder.. The popularity of German identity arose in the aftermath of the French Revolution

Persons who speak German as their first language, look German and whose families have lived in Germany for generations are considered "most German", followed by categories of diminishing Germanness such as Aussiedler (people of German ancestry whose families have lived in Eastern Europe but who have returned to Germany), Restdeutsche (people living in lands that have historically belonged to Germany but which is currently outside of Germany), Auswanderer (people whose families have emigrated from Germany and who still speak German), German speakers in German speaking nations such as Austrians, and finally people of German emigrant background who no longer speak German.

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