1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Suebi

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SUEBI, or Suevi, a collective term applied to a number of peoples in central Germany, the chief of whom appear to have been the Marcomanni, Quadi, Hermunduri, Semnones and Langobardi. From the earliest times these tribes, inhabited the basin of the Elbe. The Langobardic territories seem to have lain about the lower reaches of the river, while the Semnones lay south. The Marcomanni occupied the basin of the Saale, but under their king, Maroboduus, they moved into Bohemia during the early part of Augustus's reign, while the Quadi, who are first mentioned in the time of Tiberius, lay farther east towards the sources of the Elbe. The former home of the Marcomanni was occupied by the Hermunduri a few years before the Christian era. Some kind of political union seems to have existed among all these tribes. The Semnones and Langobardi were at one time subject to the dominion of the Marcomannic king Maroboduus, and at a much later period we hear of Langobardic troops taking part against the Romans in the Marcomannic War. The Semnones claimed to be the chief of the Suebic peoples, and Tacitus describes a great religious festival held in their tribal sanctuary, at which legations were present from all the other tribes.

Tacitus uses the 'name Suebi in a far wider sense than that defined above. With him it includes not only the tribes of the basin of the Elbe, but also all the tribes north and east of that river, including even the Swedes (Suiones). This usage, which is not found in other ancient writers, is probably due to a confusion of the Suebi with the agglomeration of peoples under their supremacy, which as we know from Strabo extended to some at least of the eastern tribes.

In early Latin writers the term Suebi is occasionally applied to any of the above tribes. From the 2nd to the 4th century, however, it is seldom used except with reference to events in the neighbourhood of the Pannonian frontier, and here probably means the Quadi. From the middle of the 4th century onward it appears most frequently in the regions south of the Main, and soon the names Alamanni and Suabi are used synonymously The Alamanni (q.v.) seem to have been, in part at least, the descendants of the ancient Hermunduri, but it is likely that they had been joined by one or more other Suebic peoples, from the Danubian region, or more probably from the middle Elbe, the land of the ancient Semnones. It is probably from the Alamannic region that those Suebi came who joined the Vandals in their invasion of Gaul, and eventually founded a kingdom in north-west Spain. After the 1st century the term Suebi seems never to be applied to the Langobardi and seldom to the Baiouarii (Bavarians), the descendants of the ancient Marcomanni. But besides the Alamannic Suebi we hear also of a people called Suebi, who shortly after the middle of the 6th century settled north of the Unstrut. There is evidence also for a people called Suebi in the district above the mouth of the Scheldt. It is likely that both these settlements were colonies from the Suebi of whom we hear in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith as neighbours of the Angli, and whose name may possibly be preserved in Schwabstedt on the Treene. The question has recently been raised whether these Suebi should be identified with the people whom the Romans called Heruli. After the 7th century the name Suebi is practically only applied to the Alamannic Suebi (Schwaben), with whom it remains a territorial designation in Württemberg and Bavaria until the present day.

See Caesar, De bello gallico, i. 37, 51 sqq., iv. I sqq., vi. 9 sqq.; Strabo, p. 290 seq.; Tacitus, Germania, 38 sqq.; K. Zeuss, Die Deutscher: und die Nachbarstämme, pp. 55 sqq., 315 sqq.; C. Bremer in Paul's Grundriss (2nd ed.), iii. 915-950; H. M. Chadwick, Origin of the English Nation, 216 sqq. (Cambridge, 1907).  (F. G. M. B.)