A confederation of Germanic tribes or warrior bands, which may have included the Bucinobantes, Juthungi, Lentienses, and Suevi. The Alemanni first appeared in the third century in a conflict with the Roman Empire. Their name, which they may not have used, means "all men" or "all of mankind" and indicates that they were composed of many different peoples. It was also understood in a pejorative sense by their enemies to mean "half-breeds" or "newcomers." They were distinguished by their long heads, which they created by artificially deforming the skull of newborns with bandages around the head. They were often in conflict with the Roman Empire in the third century and sought to carve out settlements in imperial territory in the fourth. In the fifth century they were able to exploit imperial weakness and enter the empire, but they faced a greater challenge as the century went on from the Franks and their Merovingian dynasty. The Alemanni were ultimately absorbed by their Merovingian rivals, and despite a short period of independence, were subject also to the Carolingian dynasty.
   The Alemanni first appeared, according to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, in a conflict with the Roman emperor Caracalla (r. 211-217) in 213. The Alemanni were able to take advantage of the empire during its period of crisis from 234 to 284. They were most likely part of the group of barbarians who crossed the Rhine River and other parts of the imperial frontier in the mid-third century. They were among the first groups of barbarians to take control of Roman territory and settle in parts of the empire. Throughout the mid-third century, even after some settled in the empire, the Alemanni continued to make plundering raids on imperial territory, often reaching Italy. Despite occasional success against them, the Romans were unable to stop the raids of the Alamanni because of their loose organization. They had no central king, but various warlords who led raids of plunder and pillage with loyal war bands. By the late third century, however, the Romans restored order to the empire, and the Alamanni became more settled, acting as more traditional opponents of Rome or as servants of the empire.
   In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Alemanni continued their efforts to secure Roman territory. They fought actively along the Rhine and Danube frontiers of the empire, and, on occasion, enjoyed some success. But several emperors during the fourth century inflicted stunning defeats on the Alemanni, including Constantine, Julian the Apostate, and Valentinian I. In fact, Valentinian drove deep into Alemanni territory in 368 to turn back Alemanni advances into the empire. Although the emperors enjoyed victories over the Alemanni in the fourth century, they suffered defeats by their rivals in the fifth century. In 406, a large body of barbarians crossed the Rhine River during a winter freeze, and it is most likely that the Alemanni were part of that group. Their success was limited, however, by the Franks, another Germanic people, which later produced the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, and by imperial diplomacy. But with the movement of the Huns under Attila, the Rhine defenses were sufficiently undermined to allow the further incursion of the Alemanni.
   The westward movement of the Alemanni into imperial territory was not without negative consequences for these tribes. Although they managed to settle on Roman territory, the Alemanni once again came into contact with the rising power of northern Europe, the Merovingian Franks. The conflict between these two peoples led to the eventual subjugation of the Alemanni by the Merovingians and to the conversion to Christianity of the Merovingians. According to the historian Gregory of Tours, the Alemanni fought a great battle against the Frankish Merovingian king Clovis at Tolbiac (modern Zülpich, Switzerland), which is traditionally dated 495. Gregory informs us that Clovis was losing the battle and promised to convert to Christianity if the Christian God allowed him to win the battle. Clovis won the battle and then converted to Catholic Christianity. Although the date of the battle remains controversial and the entire story of Clovis's conversion is problematic, it is certain that he incorporated the Alemanni into his ever growing kingdom. From the time of Clovis, therefore, the Alemanni were subject to the Franks.
   During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Alemanni remained part of the Merovingian kingdom. The exact course of their history, however, remains uncertain because of the lack of written records about them and because of the unclear archeological record. It is likely that they participated in Merovingian military activities, including campaigns in northern Italy. The Alemanni also continued to be ruled by dukes rather than kings, and although loosely organized, codified their laws. They were able to expand their territories of settlement into southern Germany and parts of Switzerland during this period. They also, finally and only gradually, converted to Christianity. This conversion was the result of the missionary activities of St. Columban and his disciples in the later sixth century.
   In the later seventh and early eighth centuries, the Alemanni regained their independence from the Merovingians. The Alemanni were able to throw off the Merovingian rule because of the turmoil in the Merovingian kingdom brought on by the decline of Merovingian power and the rise of Carolingian power. Although the Carolingian mayors of the palace Pippin of Herstal and Charles Martel were able to restore Frankish authority over the Alemanni for short periods, the Alemanni remained independent for most of the first half of the eighth century. It was only during the reign of Pippin the Short that the Alemanni were forced once again to submit, permanently this time, to Frankish power. Pippin defeated the Alemanni in two great battles in 744 and 748 and thereby reincorporated them into the kingdom. They remained subjects of the Carolingians thereafter.
   See also
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 Vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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