1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Heruli

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HERULI, a Teutonic tribe which figures prominently in the history of the migration period. The name does not occur in writings of the first two centuries A.D. Where the original home of the Heruli was situated is never clearly stated. Jordanes says that they had been expelled from their territories by the Danes, from which it may be inferred that they belonged either to what is now the kingdom of Denmark, or the southern portion of the Jutish peninsula. They are mentioned first in the reign of Gallienus (260–268), when we find them together with the Goths ravaging the coasts of the Black Sea and the Aegean. Shortly afterwards, in A.D. 289, they appear in the region about the mouth of the Rhine. During the 4th century they frequently served together with the Batavi in the Roman armies. In the 5th century we again hear of piratical incursions by the Heruli in the western seas. At the same time they had a kingdom in central Europe, apparently in or round the basin of the Elbe. Together with the Thuringi and Warni they were called upon by Theodoric the Ostrogoth about the beginning of the 6th century to form an alliance with him against the Frankish king Clovis, but very shortly afterwards they were completely overthrown in war by the Langobardi. A portion of them migrated to Sweden, where they settled among the Götar, while others crossed the Danube and entered the Roman service, where they are frequently mentioned later in connexion with the Gothic wars. After the middle of the 6th century, however, their name completely disappears. It is curious that in English, Frankish and Scandinavian works they are never mentioned, and there can be little doubt that they were known, especially among the western Teutonic peoples, by some other name. Probably they are identical either with the North Suabi or with the Iuti. The name Heruli itself is identified by many with the A.S. eorlas (nobles), O.S. erlos (men), the singular of which (erilaz) frequently occurs in the earliest Northern inscriptions, apparently as a title of honour. The Heruli remained heathen until the overthrow of their kingdom, and retained many striking primitive customs. When threatened with death by disease or old age, they were required to call in an executioner, who stabbed them on the pyre. Suttee was also customary. They were entirely devoted to warfare and served not only in the Roman armies, but also in those of all the surrounding nations. They disdained the use of helmets and coats of mail, and protected themselves only with shields.

See Georgius Syncellus; Mamertinus Paneg. Maximi; Ammianus Marcellinus; Zosimus i. 39; Idatius, Chronica; Jordanes, De origine Getarum; Procopius, esp. Bellum Goticum, ii. 14 f.; Bellum Persicum, ii. 25; Paulus Diaconus, Hist. Langobardorum, i. 20; K. Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstämme, pp. 476 ff. (Munich, 1837).  (F. G. M. B.)