Can you hear what the Greek and Roman writers are telling us? From the 3rd century AD onwards, the Germanic people had been invading the Roman provinces and the Roman heartlands. The Romans called all these Barbarians from North of the Alps Germani, although they didn’t represent one single tribe. Indeed we don’t know how these tribes referred to themselves. The term ‘Germani’ was simply a construct – but what did it lead to?
These incursions by Germanic tribes were the precursors of the Age of Migrations, which started when the Huns began moving West from Asia in 375 AD. This led to huge movements of tribes over large areas throughout Europe. In 476 AD a Germanic officer in the Roman Army called Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor in the West. In 568 AD, the Lombards invaded Italy.
The Romans tried to counter the threat that the Germanic tribes presented by forming alliances. They settled Germanic people in areas close to the borders and drafted Germanic mercenaries into the Roman army. Thus Roman coins and imported goods reached Germania. Germanic people of high standing now aspired to the more elegant Roman lifestyle. It was about this time that new funerary customs were introduced in the area around the rivers Saale and Spree. The dead were now no longer being cremated; they were buried intact. These graves contain Roman luxury goods. You can see a few of these grave goods in the right hand showcase; they are attributed to the Niemberger Group.
The display cases further back contain rich grave goods from the Merovingian period in Saxony. They date from the mid 5th century to the end of the 6th century; the men had weapons and the women had jewellery and household items. The graves of both men and women were also furnished with ceramic vessels for their journey to the other world. Animal burials, that were mainly horses, were also possible. Merovingian period cemeteries with graves aligned in rows are rare in Saxony, because the Saxon area was sparsely settled at that time. The grave goods point to the fact that this area – today’s Saxony – formed part of the Thuringian kingdom, of the Frankish Merovingians.