They Crossed the Frozen Rhine – It Happened Today, January 2, 2017
January 2nd was not a great day for the Roman Empire back in 366 AD. For on that date a Germanic tribe called the Alemanni crossed the frozen Rhine river. It wasn’t the first time they invaded the Empire nor the last. But it was part of an ominous movement of barbarians from east to west that overwhelmed the overstretched defences and led to the sack and "fall" of Rome.
In fact the Alemanni had been trouble for the Romans for centuries, manageable much of the time as barbarian ferment on the borders generally was. And to be fair the Romans had behaved badly toward the Alemanni on occasion as well as the reverse. But what strikes me as interesting here is the way this tribe rocketed across the stage of history and fell into the orchestra pit but somehow kept their name on the program.
You see, the Alemanni were given a pretty bad beating by the Franks under Clovis I in 496 AD in the squabbling over the ruins of Rome. And after exactly 250 years of Frankish rule they launched an uprising that didn’t work out well at all, with all their nobles executed. Which was pretty much the end of them except to linguists, who still talk about Alemanic dialects of High German in, for instance, Baden-Württemberg (which unless you’re German you had to Google it too). And, speaking of language, in the French word Allemagne which means, of course, Germany.
Now it is no secret that relations between the French and the Germans have not always been smooth. Indeed the common nickname "Boche" is a French word for "rascal" or perhaps something a bit stronger (and semi-literally means "cabbage head"). And then there’s "Hun" and so on. But the French to this day use the moniker of a violent and disruptive tribe for the entire nation of Germany.
Odd, really, given that "France" and "French" come from the Franks who were, uh, this Germanic tribe who came west and… Oh well. There was a lot of that going on at the time. And in fact the Franks were on the side of the Romans more often than not and in a very real sense could and did claim to be the heirs of the Roman Empire rather than its conquerors, including founding the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne.
So the Franks did better overall than the Alemanni even if the European country they named got rather the worse of recent contests with the latter despite getting Alsace back after World War I which includes part of by now very historic Alemannia. But I suppose the Alemanni might be happy to know that although crushed and dispersed, they are not entirely forgotten and their name is still spoken with a mixture of apprehension and grudging respect almost 1,300 years after that unfortunate uprising and nearly 750 years since even the duchy of Alemannia went away.