Alamanni/Alemanni (= Suebi/Suevi, Semnones)

Alamanni/Alemanni (= Suebi/Suevi, Semnones)

The map image is one of 5th century Europe just after the Fall of the Roman Empire (and, importantly, also the Fall of the Hunnish Empire), when the age-old central organization of all the Mediterranean lands even including Britain and Gaul  had collapsed utterly: This was when Germanic tribal confederations moved in and saw their chance to finally claim lands they had strived to find (they had been quite landless and constantly migrating) for several hundred years, fighting their way around the continent. As the map shows, for a while they completely dominated the Old World. Then the Catholic Franks went all missionary positioned and expansive, closely followed up by the Moslem Caliphate, and the map was to change again (and again, and again, and again – like it always has and always will…)

The Alemanni (also Alamanni, Alamani) were a confederation of Suebian/Suevian Germanic tribes located on the upper Rhineriver. The name of Germany and the German language, in French, Allemagne, allemand, in Portuguese Alemanha, alemão, in Spanish Alemania, alemán, and in Welsh (Yr) Almaen, almaeneg are derived from the name of this early Germanic tribal alliance. Arabic also designates Germany Almanya, and the German language as ʾAlmaniyya. In Turkish, Germany is Almanya and German is Alman, and in Persian Germany is Almaan, and German is Almaani.


According to Asinius Quadratus (quoted in the mid-6th century by Byzantine historian Agathias) their name means “all men”. This is probable – even in modern Norwegian “alamanni” sounds like “alle mann” – “all men” – in Old Norse it would have been “allir mennir” pronounced differently in different dialects. The name indicates that they were a conglomeration drawn from various Germanic tribes even before they as one group became a part of the Suebi federation of tribes.


However, other sources indicate that the name “Alamanni” was in fact the name for the Suebi/Suevi and thus identical to them. Walafrid Strabo, a monk of the Abbey of St. Gall writing in the 9th century, remarked, in discussing the people of Switzerland and the surrounding regions, that only foreigners called them the Alemanni, but that they gave themselves the name of Suebi. There are strong indications that the Alemanni were identical with the Suebi/Suevi – a federation of many tribes.



A mutually hostile relationship is perhaps the reason why the Roman writers persisted in calling the Alemanni barbari, “savages”. The archaeology, however, shows that they were largely Romanized, lived in Roman-style houses and used Roman artifacts, the Alemannic women having adopted the Roman fashion of the tunic even earlier than the men.

Tacitus’ Germania (98 AD) tells us (Chapters 38, 39) that the Suevi occupy more than half of Germany and use a distinctive hair style:

“38. We have now to speak of the Suevi; who do not compose a single state, like the Catti or Tencteri, but occupy the greatest part of Germany, and are still distributed into different names and nations, although all hearing the common appellation of Suevi. It is a characteristic of this people to turn their hair sideways, and tie it beneath the poll in a knot.

By this mark the Suevi are distinguished from the rest of the Germans; and the freemen of the Suevi from the slaves. Among other nations, this mode, either on account of some relationship with the Suevi, or from the usual propensity to imitation, is sometimes adopted; but rarely, and only during the period of youth.

The Suevi, even till they are hoary, continue to have their hair growing stiffly backwards, and often it is fastened on the very crown of the head. The chiefs dress it with still greater care: and in this respect they study ornament, though of an undebasing kind. For their design is not to make love, or inspire it; they decorate themselves in this manner as they proceed to war, in order to seem taller and more terrible; and dress for the eyes of their enemies.”




The Christianization of the Alemanni took place during Merovingian times (6th to 8th centuries). We know that in the 6th century, the Alemanni were predominantly pagan, and in the 8th century, they were predominantly Christian. The intervening 7th century was a period of genuine syncretism during which Christian symbolism and doctrine gradually grew in influence.Some scholars have speculated that members of the Alemannic elite such as king Gibuld due to Visigothic influence may have been converted to Arianism (a branch of Christianity condemned as heretic by the Catholic Church) even in the later 5th century.

In the mid-6th century, the Byzantine historian Agathias of Myrina records, in the context of the wars of the Goths and Franks against Byzantium, that the Alemanni fighting among the troops of Frankish king Theudebald were like the Franks in all respects except religion, since “they worship certain trees, the waters of rivers, hills and mountain valleys, in whose honour they sacrifice horses, cattle and countless other animals by beheading them, and imagine that they are performing an act of piety thereby.”

He also spoke of the particular ruthlessness of the Alemanni in destroying Christian sanctuaries and plundering churches while the genuine Franks were respectful towards those sanctuaries. Agathias expresses his hope that the Alemanni would assume better manners through prolonged contact with the Franks, which is by all appearances, in a manner of speaking, what eventually happened.

Tacitus, in his Germania (98 AD), described the religion of the Suevi confederation, believed to be identical to the Alemanni. The most important chief tribe in this Alemanni/Suevian federation were the Semnones, who held a particular position as being the direct lineage of divine ancestors:


“39. The Semnones assert themselves to be the most ancient and noble of the Suevi; and their pretensions are confirmed by religion. At a stated time, all the people of the same lineage assemble by their delegates in a wood, consecrated by the auguries of their forefathers and ancient terror, and there by the public slaughter of a human victim celebrate the horrid origin of their barbarous rites. Another kind of reverence is paid to the grove. No person enters it without being bound with a chain, as an acknowledgment of his inferior nature, and the power of the deity residing there. If he accidentally fall, it is not lawful for him to be lifted or to rise up; they roll themselves out along the ground. The whole of their superstition has this import: that from this spot the nation derives its origin; that here is the residence of the Deity, the Governor of all, and that everything else is subject and subordinate to him. These opinions receive additional authority from the power of the Semnones, who inhabit a hundred cantons, and, from the great body they compose, consider themselves as the head of the Suevi.”

Apart from this description of the Semnones belief in an ancestral divine grove, he also mentions (chapter 9) that “Some of the Suevi also perform sacred rites to Isis.” The ancient, Egyptian goddess Isis had become a goddess of Initiation Mysteries and Resurrection/Salvation in death in the Hellenic and Roman Empires. Her Mystery cult may have spread into German territories, but there is no evidence for this in the archaeological record. The explanation may be that or Tacitus was really describing the cult of a native goddess that was similar to that of Isis – in the same manner that he gives Roman names to German gods – Mars for Tiwaz/Týr, Hercules for Thor, Mercury for Wodan/Óðinn, Ceres for Frigg, Neptun for Njordr, or else Romanized/Latinized names such as “Nerthus” for a goddess who may have been called Njerdr, Njorunn or Nehalennia. He mentions, for example, that the German “Isis” is symbolized with a ship prow, just like the Roman version of this old African goddess, and this is why he believes that Isis was worshipped. However, in the archaeological record, this symbol is associated with the Germanic goddess Nehalennia. A temple to Nehalennia with 28 votive altars and inscriptions to this goddess, sometimes together with Roman names for male gods such as Neptune, Mercury and Hercules (Njordr, Óðinn and Thor), the male gods then standing at the sides of her altar, and some 12 more votive altars dedicated solely to other gods and goddesses, was excavated at Domburg on the island of Walcheren in 1647. The goddess often stands at a prow or has ship symbols. In the Isis cult, the ship was a symbol of the soul´s journey, especially after death. Like Isis, the goddess Nehallennia was associated with symbols for death and resurrection – in the German symbolic world that would be the dog and the basket of fruits that the goddess Nehalennia keeps on either side of herself. The island temple was covered by the rising ocean after the fourth century AD and did not resurface until the 17th century, when water levels lowered again.


Nehalennia shrine


Nehalennia is possibly identical with Tacitus “Nerthus” as well as being similar to Isis (perhaps the object of a Norse-German version of a Mystery cult, as I have explored in my books). In chapter 40 of “Germania”, Tacitus explains that the many tribes of the Suevi worship Nerthus on an island in the ocean:

“…Nothing remarkable occurs in any of these; except that they unite in the worship of Hertha, [215] or Mother Earth; and suppose her to interfere in the affairs of men, and to visit the different nations. In an island [216] of the ocean stands a sacred and unviolated grove, in which is a consecrated chariot, covered with a veil, which the priest alone is permitted to touch. He becomes conscious of the entrance of the goddess into this secret recess; and with profound veneration attends the vehicle, which is drawn by yoked cows. At this season, [217] all is joy; and every place which the goddess deigns to visit is a scene of festivity. No wars are undertaken; arms are untouched; and every hostile weapon is shut up. Peace abroad and at home are then only known; then only loved; till at length the same priest reconducts the goddess, satiated with mortal intercourse, to her temple. [218] The chariot, with its curtain, and, if we may believe it, the goddess herself, then undergo ablution in a secret lake. This office is performed by slaves, whom the same lake instantly swallows up. Hence proceeds a mysterious horror; and a holy ignorance of what that can be, which is beheld only by those who are about to perish. This part of the Suevian nation extends to the most remote recesses of Germany.”


 Apart from these few (known) particularities we may assume that they worshipped similar powers in similar ways as all the other tribes.



The German spoken today over the range of the former Alemanni is termed Alemannic German, and is recognised among the subgroups of the High German languages. Alemannic runic inscriptions such as those on the Pforzen buckle (a buckle found in a 6th century warrior grave) are among the earliest testimonies of Old High German. The buckle bears a runic inscription on its front, incised after its manufacture:

aigil andi aïlrun [ornament or bind-rune]
ltahu (or elahu) gasokun [ornamental braid]

The High German consonant shift is thought to have originated around the 5th century either in Alemannia or among the Lombards; before that the dialect spoken by Alemannic tribes was little different from that of other West Germanic peoples. Alemannia lost its distinct jurisdictional identity when Charles Martel absorbed it into the Frankish empire, early in the 8th century.


First mentioned by the Romans in 213, the Alemanni captured the Agri Decumates in 260, and later expanded into present-day Alsace, and northern Switzerland, establishing the German language in those regions. In 496, the Alemanni were conquered by Frankish leader Clovis and incorporated into his dominions. The legacy of the Alemanni survives in the names of Germany in several languages.


The Suebi or Suevi were a large group of Germanic peoples who were first mentioned by Julius Caesar in connection with Ariovistus‘ campaign in Gaul, c. 58 BC. While Caesar treated them as one Germanic tribe, though the largest and most warlike, later authors such as Tacitus, Pliny and Strabo specified that the Suevi “do not, like the Chatti or Tencteri, constitute a single nation. They actually occupy more than half of Germany, and are divided into a number of distinct tribes under distinct names, though all generally are called Suebi”.”At one time, classical ethnography had applied the name “Suebi” to so many Germanic tribes that it appeared as though in the first centuries C.E. this native name would replace the foreign name “Germans”.”


The name is believed to come from Proto-Germanic *swēbaz, either based on the Proto-Germanic root *swē- meaning “one’s own” people, the third person reflexive pronoun from an Indo-European root *swe-, The etymological sources list these ethnic names as also being from the same root: Suiones, Semnones, Samnites, Sabelli, Sabini, indicating the possibility of a prior Indo-European ethnic name, “our own people.” Alternatively, it may be borrowed from a Celtic word for “vagabond”.


Classical authors noted that the Suebic tribes were very mobile, and not reliant upon agriculture. Various Suebic groups moved from the direction of the Baltic sea and river Elbe, becoming a periodic threat to the Roman empire on their Rhine and Danube frontiers. Toward the end of the empire, the Alamanni, also referred to as Suebi, first settled in the Agri Decumates and then crossed the Rhine and occupied Alsace. A pocket remained in the region now still called Swabia, an area in southwest Germany whose modern name derives from the Suebi. Others moved as far as Gallaecia (modern Galicia, in Spain, and Northern Portugal) and established a Suebic Kingdom of Galicia there which lasted for 170 years until its integration into the Visigothic Kingdom.


History of and Sources on the Alemanni:


Cassius Dio (“Roman History” 78.13.4-78.15.2): The Alemanni were first mentioned by Cassius Dio describing the campaign of emperor Caracalla in 213. At that time they apparently dwelt in the basin of the Main, to the south of the Chatti. Cassius Dio portrays the Alemanni as victims of the treacherous Roman emperor (Caracalla). They had asked for his help, says Dio, but instead he colonized their country, changed their place names and executed their warriors under a pretext of coming to their aid. When he became ill, the Alemanni claimed to have put a hex on him. Caracalla, it was claimed, tried to counter this influence by invoking his ancestral spirits.In retribution Caracalla then led the Legio II Traiana Fortis against the Alemanni, who lost and were pacified for a time. The legion was as a result honored with the name Germanica.


The 4th-century fictional Historia Augusta, Life of Antoninus Caracalla, relates (10.5) that Caracalla then assumed the name Alemannicus, at which Helvius Pertinax jested that he should really be called Geticus Maximus, because in the year before he had murdered his brother, Geta. Not on good terms with Caracalla, Geta had been invited to a family reconciliation, at which time he was ambushed by centurions in Caracalla’s army and slain in his mother Julia’s arms. True or not, Caracalla, pursued by devils of his own, left Rome never to return.Caracalla left for the frontier, where for the rest of his short reign he was known for his unpredictable and arbitrary operations launched by surprise after a pretext of peace negotiations. If he had any reasons of state for such actions they remained unknown to his contemporaries. Whether or not the Alemanni had been previously neutral, they were certainly further influenced by Caracalla to become thereafter notoriously implacable enemies of Rome.


Most of the Alemanni were probably at the time in fact resident in or close to the borders of Germania Superior. Although Dio is the earliest writer to mention them, Ammianus Marcellinus used the name to refer to Germans on the Limes Germanicus in the time of Trajan‘s governorship of the province shortly after it was formed, c. 98/99. At that time the entire frontier was being fortified for the first time. Trees from the earliest fortifications found in Germania Inferior are dated by dendrochronology to 99/100. Shortly afterwards Trajan was chosen by Nerva to be his successor, adopted with public fanfare in absentia by the old man shortly before his death. By 100 Trajan was back in Rome as Emperor instead of merely being a Consul.

Ammianus relates (xvii.1.11) that much later the Emperor Julian undertook a punitive expedition against the Alemanni, who by then were in Alsace, and crossed the Main (Latin Menus), entering the forest, where the trails were blocked by felled trees. As winter was upon them, they reoccupied a “fortification which was founded on the soil of the Alemanni that Trajan wished to be called with his own name”.

In this context the use of Alemanni is possibly an anachronism but it reveals that Ammianus believed they were the same people, which is consistent with the location of the Alemanni of Caracalla’s campaigns.

The “Germania” of Tacitus, Chapter 42, we read of the Hermunduri, a tribe certainly located in the region that later became Thuringia. Tacitus stated that they traded with Rhaetia, which in Ptolemy is located across the Danube from Germania Superior. A logical conclusion to draw is that the Hermunduri extended over later Swabia and therefore the Alemanni originally derived from the Hermunduri. However, no Hermunduri appear in Ptolemy, though after the time of Ptolemy, the Hermunduri joined with the Marcomanniin the wars of 166–180 against the empire. A careful reading of Tacitus provides one solution. He says that the source of the Elbe is among the Hermunduri, somewhat to the east of the upper Main. He places them also between the Naristi (Varisti), whose location at the very edge of the ancient Black Forest is well known, and the Marcomanni and Quadi. Moreover, the Hermunduri were broken in the Marcomannic Wars and made a separate peace with Rome. The Alemanni thus were probably not primarily the Hermunduri, although some elements of them may have been present in the mix of peoples at that time that became Alemannian.

Ptolemy’s view of Germans in the region indicates that the tribal structure had lost its grip in the Black Forest region and was replaced by a canton structure. The tribes stayed in the Roman province, perhaps because the Romans offered stability. Also, Caracalla perhaps felt more comfortable about campaigning in the upper Main because he was not declaring war on any specific historic tribe, such as the Chatti or Cherusci, against whom Rome had suffered grievous losses. By Caracalla’s time the name Alemanni was being used by cantons themselves banding together for purposes of supporting a citizen army (the “war bands”).

Julius Caesar in Gallic Wars tells us (1.51) that Ariovistus had gathered an army from a wide region of Germany, but especially the Harudes, Marcomanni, Triboci, Vangiones, Nemetes and Sedusii. The Suebi were being invited to join. They lived in 100 cantons (4.1) from which 1000 young men per year were chosen for military service, a citizen-army by our standards and by comparison with the Roman professional army.

Ariovistus had become involved in an invasion of Gaul, which the German wished to settle. Intending to take the strategic town of Vesontio, he concentrated his forces on the Rhine near Lake Constance, and when the Suebi arrived, he crossed. The Gauls had called to Rome for military aid. Caesar occupied the town first and defeated the Germans before its walls, slaughtering most of the German army as it tried to flee across the river (1.36ff). He did not pursue the retreating remnants, leaving what was left of the German army and their dependents intact on the other side of the Rhine.

The Gauls were ambivalent in their policies toward the Romans. In 53 BC the Treveri broke their alliance and attempted to break free of Rome. Caesar foresaw that they would now attempt to ally themselves with the Germans. He crossed the Rhine to forestall that event, a successful strategy. Remembering their expensive defeat at the Battle of Vesontio, the Germans withdrew to the Black Forest, concentrating there a mixed population dominated by Suebi. As they had left their tribal homes behind, they probably took over all the former Celtic cantons along the Danube.

The Alemanni were continually engaged in conflicts with the Roman Empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries. They launched a major invasion of Gaul and northern Italy in 268, when the Romans were forced to denude much of their German frontier of troops in response to a massive invasion of the Goths from the east. Their raids throughout the three parts of Gaul were traumatic: Gregory of Tours (died ca 594) mentions their destructive force at the time of Valerian and Gallienus (253–260), when the Alemanni assembled under their “king”, whom he calls Chrocus, who “by the advice, it is said, of his wicked mother, and overran the whole of the Gauls, and destroyed from their foundations all the temples which had been built in ancient times. And coming to Clermont he set on fire, overthrew and destroyed that shrine which they call Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue,” martyring many Christians (Historia Francorum Book I.32–34). Thus 6th-century Gallo-Romans of Gregory’s class, surrounded by the ruins of Roman temples and public buildings, attributed the destruction they saw to the plundering raids of the Alemanni.

In the early summer of 268, the Emperor Gallienus halted their advance into Italy, but then had to deal with the Goths. When the Gothic campaign ended in Roman victory at the Battle of Naissus in September, Gallienus’ successor Claudius II Gothicus turned north to deal with the Alemanni, who were swarming over all Italy north of the Po River.

After efforts to secure a peaceful withdrawal failed, Claudius forced the Alemanni to battle at the Battle of Lake Benacus in November. The Alemanni were routed, forced back into Germany, and did not threaten Roman territory for many years afterwards.

Their most famous battle against Rome took place in Argentoratum (Strasbourg), in 357, where they were defeated by Julian, later Emperor of Rome, and their king Chnodomarius was taken prisoner to Rome.

On January 2, 366, the Alemanni yet again crossed the frozen Rhine in large numbers, to invade the Gallic provinces, this time being defeated by Valentinian (see Battle of Solicinium). In the great mixed invasion of 406, the Alemanni appear to have crossed the Rhine river a final time, conquering and then settling what is today Alsace and a large part of the Swiss Plateau. The crossing is described in Wallace Breem‘s historical novel “Eagle in the Snow.” Fredegar‘s Chronicle gives the account. At Alba Augusta (Alba-la-Romaine) the devastation was so complete, that the Christian bishop retired to Viviers, but in Gregory’s account at Mende in Lozère, also deep in the heart of Gaul, bishop Privatus was forced to sacrifice to idols in the very cave where he was later venerated[citation needed]. It is thought[citation needed] this detail may be a generic literary ploy to epitomize the horrors of barbarian violence.


The kingdom of Alamannia between Strasbourg and Augsburg lasted until 496, when the Alemanni were conquered by Clovis I at the Battle of Tolbiac. The war of Clovis with the Alemanni forms the setting for the conversion of Clovis, briefly treated by Gregory of Tours (Book II.31) Subsequently the Alemanni formed part of the Frankish dominions and were governed by a Frankish duke.

In 746, Carloman ended an uprising by summarily executing all Alemannic nobility at the blood court at Cannstatt, and for the following century, Alemannia was ruled by Frankish dukes. Following the treaty of Verdun of 843, Alemannia became a province of the eastern kingdom of Louis the German, the precursor of the Holy Roman Empire. The duchy persisted until 1268.

8 Responses to Alamanni/Alemanni (= Suebi/Suevi, Semnones)

  1. chatline says:

    Fantastic site. Lots of helpful information here. I’m sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks for your effort!

  2. Maria says:

    I wanted to Thank you for this fantastic site. I grew up in the swabian albs and left when I was 21 and have been living in North America for the past 28 years and have been searching and researching the history of my families and the place I come from. So highly highly interesting….Many many thanks again for such detailed work… It is very much appreciated….and highly educational. It always feels good to be able to put some pieces of the puzzle together and learn the history..
    Maria Loeffler

  3. Adri Moelijker says:

    I am trying to prove that the Suevi also moved to the South-west of the Netherlands. The name of the inhabitants is Zeeuw. (a v in north-Germanic is a w in West-Germanic).And on Google-earth I discovered that the placename Swawa olso occurs in North-Africa, which could lead to the theory that the Sueves moved with the Vandals as far as that. But when I was googling with swaba I found many Svavas in Norway and some in Sweden and Denmark, which could mean that the Suevi had also lived there. Is there anything known about this in your countries?

  4. Adri Moelijker says:

    Is Scandinavian Svava the equivalent of West-Germanic Suevi? And if so, are there any indications that the Suevi invaded Europe like the Vikings later on?

  5. The Alemanni are the Elishah of the Almanim or Dardani Helenic tribe settled between the Alps and the Balkans [Shibathmo] and in the Mountains of Greece and came back into Greece as the Dorians “Spearmen and destroyed the Mycenae Kittim and the then Spartan Dodanim for Attacking their Elishah [Ilos] Trojan Brethren. that is why the Swiss still call god Ziu for God as in Zeus.

    the Suebi are the Shibashni of Meshech can with the Tirus Rushash and conquered the Celtic-Germans as in the Ashkenaz. the Ashkenaz are the West Saxons and the Suebi became the East Saxons that is why the Franks a related tribes of the West Saxons destroyed then in the time of Charlemagne and resettled the regions with the West Saxons and Franks.
    Alemannerne er Elishah av Almanim eller Dardani Helenic stammen avgjort mellom Alpene og Balkan [Shibathmo] og i fjellene i Hellas og kom tilbake i Hellas som dorerne “Spearmen og ødela Mykene Kittim og deretter spartanske Dodanim for å angripe deres Elishah [Ilos] Trojan brødre. Det er derfor sveitsiske fremdeles kaller Gud Ziu for Gud som Zeus.

    sueviene er Shibashni av Meshech med Tirus Rushash og erobret Celtic-tyskerne som Ashkenaz. Ashkenaz er West sakserne sueviene ble Øst sakserne derfor frankerne en relaterte stammene vest saksernes ødelagt deretter i tiden av Karl og flyttet regionene med West sakserne og frankerne.
    Alemannerna är Elishah av Almanim eller Dardani Helenic stam avgöras mellan Alperna och Balkan [Shibathmo] och i bergen Grekland och kom tillbaka till Grekland som dorerna “Spearmen och förstörde Mykene Kittim och den sedan spartanska Dodanim för att attackera deras Elishah [Ilos] Trojan bröder. Det är därför schweiziskt fortfarande kallar Gud Tyr för Gud som Zeus.

    Suebi är Shibashni av Meshek kan med Tirus Rushash och erövrade Celtic-tyskarna som i Ashkenaz. Ashkenaz västsaxarna och Suebi blev östra saxarna det är därför frankerna en relaterad stammarna av västsaxarna förstördes sedan i tiden av Karl den store och resettled regionerna med västsaxarna och frankerna.

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  8. Robert Sherman Nix III says:

    All this type is wonderful to know but tragic these old tribes ended their individual cultures. There is little way to transcend the breakup of these people for organising civilization and the least organized civilization can do is to be co-vilization of these people’s, the “all-manm”

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