The Huns, who had set in motion this vast movement of peoples, moved westward from the center they had established on the plains of Hungary . Both Romans and Germans were terrified of these savage warriors whose only interest was plunder and bloodshed. Joining momentarily together in 451, the Romans and Visigoths defeated the Hun leader, Attila, at the battle of Chalons; and within a couple of years the Huns had withdrawn from Europe . Their disappearance, however, only facilitated the entry into the empire of several more Germanic tribes: the Ostrogoths, the Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons.
The purpose of the great defense walls of the Roman Empire , the limes that ran across central Germany , Hadrian’s Wall in England , and the fortifications along the Danube , and also of most campaigns fought in Europe from the time of Augustus had been to protect the area of “civilization” within the empire from the “barbarians” outside. InScotland and Ireland , the barbarians were Celtic, an artistic, warlike, and highly emotional people, who for several centuries had been withdrawing ever further northwards to the coastal fringes of northwestern Europe from the lands they had once held, in France and Germany . On the continent between the Rhine-Danube frontier,Scandinavia , and the Black Sea , lived the Germanic tribes. In spite of the danger they represented to the empire, these tall fair-haired warriors, dressed in skins and draped in gold armbands and chains, fascinated the urbanized Romans. Tacitus claimed to see in them a noble simplicity and vigor that had been lost by the effete Roman of his own day. The way of life of all the Germanic tribes, at least before the influence of Rome affected those closest to the empire, was fairly similar. They had begun to give up a nomadic life and to settle in small village communities separated from each other by the forest. Their political institutions were primitive but important for the future. Law was administered through a tribal court, called a moot, in which all the warriors of the community judged complaints brought by one member of the tribe against another. The court usually settled the matter either by allowing the defendant to take an oath of innocence provided he was supported by friends who swore to his reliability, or by putting the defendant to ordeal. In this case, he might be made to walk through fire. If he were innocent, his wounds would begin to heal in a few days. The chief was chosen by the warriors for his fitness to lead them in war. The warriors in turn swore personal allegiance to the chief, and became members of his comitatus, or group of warrior companions. Elective monarchy was thus ac- companied by the principle of personal loyalty to one’s lord, which became one of the primary social bonds in medieval European society. Beyond these facts, little is known about the German tribes before they began to press again on the weakening Roman Empire in the late fourth century.Share on Facebook