Two worlds become one: A 'counter-intuitive' view of the Roman Empire and 'Germanic' migration

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The Roman Empire and barbaricum were inextricably linked throughout the Roman Iron Age. By late antiquity, Germanic-speaking trans-Rhenan areas were inundated with imperial influence. Migration was two-way and in various forms, all of which, including large-scale ‘folk movement’, were normal: part and parcel of the imperial frontier’s dynamics. The counter-intuitive conclusion is drawn from this that the relationship between the existence of a formal frontier and significant migration is quite the opposite of the one we have grown used to imagining. The collapse of the frontier took with it the mechanisms for migration. Therefore I have to modify my 2007 epigram that ‘the end of the Roman Empire produced the Barbarian Invasions and not vice versa’. The end of the Roman Empire put an end to the barbarian migrations. This conclusion helps us contribute more responsibly to modern debate on migration. It also contributes to a discussion of the formation of Germany. The end of migration changed the political dynamics of the regions between Rhine and Baltic. The latter became more inward-facing and from these, eventually, emerged ‘Germany’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-532
Number of pages18
JournalGerman History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Migration
  • Barbarians
  • Roman Empire
  • Frontiers
  • Historiography

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