The Cimbrian war, was a war that shook Rome to its very foundation,and in its course, dealt Rome one of their heaviest ever defeats. So terrifying was the threat from the North that the phrase “terror cimbricus” was born. A Phrase that would be used for centuries to come, whenever Rome was in a state of panic.
The war took place from around 114BC to 101BC, pitting the armies ofthe late Roman republic, against the enigmatic Cimbri and their allies.
The war also played a large part in the introduction of the Marian laws. These laws drastically changed the way the Roman army operated.The old Civilian model was replaced with a fully professional army,that, for the first time in Romes history could draw upon the lower classes of society. This change would have a profound effect upon the future of Rome, eventually leading to the fall of the republic and Birth of the Roman empire.
Despite the impact the Cimbrian war had upon the reshaping of Rome,and the devastation it wrought on its way, it is one of the lesser known wars in Roman history.
In this short video series, I would like to change that, and on our journey also see what can be learned of the elusive Cimbri, on their march to immortality.
The first question, to be asked of any war, is why? Why did the Cimbrian war start?
Well, to understand this, we need to forget about Rome, for now at least, and travel to the edge of the known Roman world, and look at the folk from whom the war took its name, the Cimbri
The Cimbri are one of the most enigmatic tribes of ancient Europe.Speculation and debate rages even to this day, about who they were and what events caused them to meet head on the might of Rome.
The question of “who they were?” is the most controversial, and as such I will save it for a later video series.
But what is commonly agreed upon is where they were. Many ancient historians and cartographers place them in the Jutland peninsula, in modern day Denmark. The exact location is somewhat obscure, but Himmerland is a prime candidate for at least making up part of their ancient territory.
The name Himmerland itself, is believed by many etymologists to originate from Cimberland meaning “land of the Cimbri”. This is due to the switch of sounds in the Celtic and Germanic languages. A Celtic K, can often change to a H, when Germanic peoples settle anarea. Much like the river Humber in England, that before theAnglo-Saxons arrived was most likely called the River Cymber. Finds in Himmerland, like the famous Gundestrup Cauldron, also support this idea To the Romans, thiswas almost worlds end, Plutarch even speculates that the land in which the Cimbri come from, is where “a day and a night divide the year into two equal parts”.
So what drove these untamed North men from their lands and on a collision course with the mightiest nation Europe had ever seen?
Here again there is much speculation, even among historians of antiquity.From the Writings of Strabo, it is clear that many believe it was mother nature herself,in the form of tidal floods,that caused their upheaval.Strabo states of Poseidonius,a contemporary of the war,
“And Poseidonius also conjectures that migration of the Cimbrians and their kinsfolk from their native country occurred as the result of an inundation of the sea that came on all of a sudden.”
Earlier in Strabos Geography he also doubts previous historians, like Ephorus, who states
“the Celti, a sa training in the virtue of fearlessness, meekly abide the destruction of their homes by the tides and then rebuild them, and that they suffer a greater loss of life as the result of water than of war,”
Despite Strabo’s doubts, it is clear from his own work that many historians before him believed such flooding was common place in the north.Given this, and the fact that Denmark’s coastline even to this day is shaped by the sea, both from erosion and the laying of silt flats,there is at least some truth in the speculation of these ancient historians.
such disastor would certainly account for the numbers said to be migrating.Plutarch claims that 300 thousand warriors, plus their families were descending on Italy. Although this number is probably exaggerated, itis not totally without merit. The devastation they caused Rome, means they were not merely a Northern raiding party looking for wealth and fame.
There is another factor though that needs consideration, that of overpopulation.
large migrations are well recorded in the ancient world. The Gauls are noted for such expansions in earlier times. Large parts of eastern Europe and even parts of Italy itself were at one time settled by Northern tribes
In modern times there is even evidence of much earlier migrations. A Genetic study focusing on the ancient Minoan peoples, found they were in large part descended from Neolithic tribes from the very Northwestern edge of Europe.
In other writings we also have reason and method, as to how and why such a mass exodus was organised. Like the example in the Gutsaga, that states that when the Island of Gotland could no longer support its population, the Gotlnaders drew lots to see who would go out and seek new lands.the text also relates that one third of the entire population was selected in this way. Interestingly these peoples are also said to of Migrated south east, into mainland Greece.
In any instance, if it be disator, over population, or a mixture of both,there can be no doubt that land was what the Cimbri wanted. In every instance of them meeting Roman forces, the offer was made, “give us land, for alliance, or meet our blades”
So out of necessity the Cimbri Horde marched, the uncompromising and free folk of the north descended upon what scholars claim to be the civilised world.
“TerrorCimbricus”, was coming.