Sebastian Brather

title.none: Drinkwater, Alamanni (Sebastian Brather)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.004 07.11.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sebastian Brather, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Drinkwater, John F. The Alamanni and Rome, 213-496, Caracalla to Clovis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xi, 408. $110.00 (hb) 978-0-19-929568-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.04

Drinkwater, John F. The Alamanni and Rome, 213-496, Caracalla to Clovis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xi, 408. $110.00 (hb) 978-0-19-929568-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Sebastian Brather
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Drinkwater's detailed book is another "Roman frontier study" which does not look for the collapse of the antique civilisation under Germanic attacks but for the complex developments in late antiquity. The well-known Lyon medallion (365, fig. 27) may show this complexity: it can be seen as representing a) the settlement of Germanic war-captives, b) fleeing Alamannic groups or c) the happy return of Roman troops. The main achievement of such a perspective is that it does not follow a separated view but integrates both sides--Romans and barbarians--into the analysis, here from the first information on the Alamanni until their integration into the Frankish kingdom.

Drinkwater's study on the Alamanni has nine chapters. A prelude describes the first three centuries AD. It underlines a major argument of the book: that the Germanic groups were subordinate to Rome at all times. There was no Germanic threat, which was instead an "invention" of the Roman administration. This does not mean, as some readers may think, that the groups did not exist and did not act, but they were more an object of Roman authorities than a historical subject in their own right and a unified people. From this perspective it becomes obvious that every name of a "tribe" was "a generic, not an ethnic" description (45).

The next three chapters, dealing with "arrival," "settlement" and "society", have a successful arrangement of both written and archaeological sources. A good idea seems to be the description of an "Elbgermanic triangle" (47, fig. 5), which makes clear that the wider cultural area the Alamanni belonged to ranged from northern Germany to Bohemia. It makes clear that "the Alamanni" came from nowhere, because they became Alamanni in Alamannia (Drinkwater calls this "ethnogenesis sur place"). Drinkwater comes--after some doubts in recent years, formulated by L. Okamura and M. Springer--back to the earliest mention of the name "Alamanni" in 213 AD, grounded on B. Bleckmann's argument. [1] The picture drawn by the Romans saw them in a pejorative and regional perspective.

Rome's intent was to tolerate a population in the Agri decumates--to buoy the situation by paying subsidies. It is true that there are not many archaeological finds of Alamannic settlements. "Normal" settlements are rarely found, even today. Only "hill stations" of differing functions (from military meeting points to residential sites) are known in growing number, which Drinkwater groups into four areas (97, fig. 11); these groups reflect geographical reasoning more than historical reality because hill sites were spread throughout the whole of Germania. Settlements in the central plains are still missing, as Drinkwater points out, but we lack any archaeological evidence as of yet. Seen in a wider context Drinkwater sees them as totally different from parallel hill settlements in the Roman world but this seems not to be the case. [2]

With respect to society the "reges" of the sources were better called chieftains. One cannot derive more than a hierarchy of chieftains, noblemen and ordinary people from the texts. The four "Teilstämme" as Drinkwater calls them, referring to German studies, mentioned in different sources of different times, probably were Roman regional terms. Until the Frankish dukedom there was no "unified" population or centralised power among the Alamans. To Drinkwater as to many other historians and archaeologists it seems unlikely that during the second half of the third century the whole "Roman" population had left the area between the Rhine and the Danube. The archaeological evidence is probably misleading, but itself dangerously dated by historical events. Roman bronze coins are disputed in their relevance and interpretation. Following K. Stribrny [3] Drinkwater sees them as an indication of ongoing Roman presence--not as wide-spread settlement, but as a reflection of traffic or patrols along still used roads and villas at certain points (these would have been the villas mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus as "Alamannic villas" built in a Roman manner, in Drinkwater's view essentially Roman villas). It seems quite obvious that the Alamanni were characterised by "warrior societies," of which again and again military groups came out.

The military service of the Alamanni is reflected in Roman officers and troops. The first were a Romanised and successful elite with ongoing contacts "home"; they acted as other groups within the Roman military and society. Their eventual disappearance was a normal development, an "accelerated evolution." The troops consisted of six different groups as Drinkwater shows: I. allies for specific purposes, II. incorporated auxiliary troops, III. single soldiers, IV. groups of captured soldiers (dediticii and laeti), V. hired regional contingents (as in the Notitia dignitatum), and VI. Alamanni in Roman garrisons of the fifth century. Their names are not tribal names but military descriptions. The three chapters on 110 years of history of Roman-Alamannic conflicts from 285 to 394 are based on written evidence (with helpful maps). Despite the fact that only a few Roman campaigns can be understood in detail, Drinkwater is convinced that the texts did not lack any major development during this period. The main source is of course Ammian. la longue the Alamanni were not a major threat for Rome, as Drinkwater underlines (despite some bigger clashes as at Strasbourg 357). There were minor attacks which provoked Roman reaction, but they were not any major challenge for the army. Some of the raids may have been answers to Roman provocation (as Julian challenged Alamanni to have an opportunity to demonstrate his victorious charisma), or they just tried to take advantage of Roman weakness caused by civil war or major threats elsewhere. The Alamanni, as other "tribes," had three major implications for Imperial propaganda: 1. they could, if defeated, enhance the military's reputation, 2. they could justify a standing army, and 3. they could be an argument for the stasis or the movement of the emperor or his troops (359). Following Drinkwater, even Valentinian's fortifications along the Rhine should be seen in this light: little hostility, much propaganda. It is apparent that coins and triumphal titles reflected this propaganda much more than real and specific historical events.

Rome promoted Alamannic settlement east of the Upper Rhine, because it was interested in a strengthening of the situation to prevent invasions from Germanic groups beyond. Roman ships controlled the Rhine, and probably there was a claim on the right bank of the river (a potential Alamannic province). There were several supplies from the Alamannia to Rome: grain, timber, stone, iron, and salt.

The last chapter about the fifth century relies on archaeology because of the lack of written evidence. And in this part Drinkwater follows more traditional archaeological interpretations. The "eastern types" of material culture are not only due to "invading" East Germanic groups, but also to cultural contacts along the Upper Danube, for instance. The earlier argument for East Germanic graves with swords (112-113) is weak, too, because weapons are very seldom seen in burials, so that one cannot draw any conclusion from that. "Germanic" weapon types also do not necessarily indicate Germanic soldiers. The archaeological argumentum e silentio is valid in all cases. The vast terraces at the Zähringer Burgberg near present-day Freiburg are not so well dated that they could be seen as a strong argument for "positive" relations with Rome in the fifth century. Drinkwater describes the Alamanni as "Mischzivilisation", a mixed civilisation, which is historically and archaeologically unconvincing. It may be true analytically, but in the view of contemporaries it was irrelevant. The future belonged to the Franks because of Childeric's and Clovis' successful politics, founded on an intense "Romanisation." But even within Alamannia Roman roots went further: the fifth to seventh century row grave cemeteries (Reihengräberfelder) all lay inside the former limes which had gone more than two hundred years before (Drinkwater ends his study with AD 496, but shows a map of these cemeteries at p. 342, fig. 26).

Drinkwater's stimulating book lacks a summary. Together with the sparse use of section headings this makes it difficult to read for the superficies reader. It is a fundamental and detailed analysis of three hundred years of Romano-Alamannic connections in present-day southwest Germany, modern in its shape and successful in integrating the written and the archaeological record. Even all-important studies written in German are taken into consideration; some recent works came of course too late to have been cited. [4] The book will promote further research not only on the Alamanni, which in some respects have been a very special case outside the late antique empire, but on late antique societies at the periphery in general.

[1] B. Bleckmann, "Die Alamannen im 3. Jahrhundert. Althistorische Bemerkungen zur Ersterwähnung und zur Ethnogenese," Museum Helveticum 59, 2002, 145171.

[2] K.-J. Gilles, Spätrömische Höhensiedlungen in Eifel und Hunsrück, Trier 1985.

[3] K. Stribrny, "Römer rechts des Rheins nach 260 n. Chr. Kartierung, Strukturanalyse und Synopse spätrömischer Münzreihen zwischen Koblenz und Regensburg," Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission 70, 1989 (1990) 351505.

[4] Imperium Romanum. Römer, Christen, Alamannen. Die Spätantike am Oberrhein, Stuttgart 2005. C. Theune, Germanen und Romanen in der Alamannia. Strukturveränderungen aufgrund der archäologischen Quellen vom 3. bis zum 7. Jahrhundert, Berlin, New York 2004.