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Friday, September 22, 2023

The Great Migration Period

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The great migration is a conditional name for the ethnic change in Europe in the 4th-7th century, mainly from the periphery of the Roman Empire, initiated by the invasion of the Huns from the east in the middle of the 4th century. The Great Migration is considered an integral part of global migration processes, covering seven to eight centuries.  A characteristic feature of the resettlement was the nucleus of the Western Roman Empire, where ultimately, the mass of German settlers headed, was already densely populated by the Romans and Romanized Celtic peoples by the beginning of the fifth century.

Therefore, the great migration was accompanied by cultural, linguistic, and later religious, conflicts between the Germanic tribes and the Romanized population. Great resettlements laid the foundation for the formation and development of new states on the European continent during the Middle Ages.


Most researchers believe the search for more attractive land a major reason for the great migration. One of the main reasons was the general cooling of the climate, and therefore the population of territories with a continental climate rushed to areas with a milder climate. The peak of migration occurred during the period of a sharp cooling around 535-536 AD. Frequent crop failures, growing morbidity, child and senile mortality contributed.

During the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, a demographic decline occurred. The population of Southern Europe decreased from 37 to 10 million people. In the 7th century, the population of the regions that previously belonged to the Western Roman Empire, had greatly decreased. Along with wars, the causes of population decline were crop failures and epidemics. Many villages, mostly to the north of the Alps, were abandoned.

One of the main reasons for the Great Migration was the weakening of the Roman Empire, caused by a whole complex of ethnic, geographical, climatic and economic factors. In political life, despotism and the struggle for power and throne among prominent military leaders dominated.

The vital foundations and values of the Romans have changed. The late Roman Empire was a typical Mediterranean state, with a weak army and the shift of the center of public life from foreign policy (war, trade, expansion) to festivals, feasts; that is, enjoyment of life.

Within the empire, there was a gradual shift of the center of influence from Italy and Spain toward more economically active Gaul. In turn, the German peoples living near the border were increasingly involved in the economic and political life of the Empire.

Estimation of Population

The number of Germanic tribes in the era of antiquity is estimated at 3 million people: at the beginning of the great migration, the number of francs was estimated at 80 thousand people, Burgundians at 100 thousand people, vandals 20 thousand people (and at the time of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar they already had 80 thousand people).

On the other hand, the total population of the Roman Empire and the Roman army far exceeded the number of barbarians. An English historian defined the population of the Roman Empire in the third century at around 120 million people: Roman citizens 20 million, the inhabitants of the provinces 40 million, and slaves 60 million.

Demographic Aspect

The growth of prosperity due to increased self-organization and trade with the Mediterranean and the Northern Black Sea Coast led to a demographic explosion among the peoples inhabiting Scythia and Sarmatia. Northern Eurasia, with its cold climate and poorly developed lands, could not support the growing population. The exodus to the south, to poorly populated areas near the boundaries of the Roman Empire {primarily the basin of the Rhine, Switzerland (Roman Rezia), Pannonia and the Balkans} was inevitable and was only a matter of time. The rulers of Rome further accelerated this process, attracting mercenaries (Alans, Goths, Huns) to the Roman army and giving their families allotments on the outskirts of the empire. On these territories, neighboring nations offered a gentler climate, an abundance of agricultural products, as well as the gradual weakening of the government apparatus of the empire and its greater dependence on active and freedom-loving descendants from Scythia and Germany.

The intensified household contacts between the Romans and the outgoing population had finally strengthened the stereotypes that persist in Europe of our day about the representations of these two groups of peoples about each other. The Roman state, which was in crisis, made attempts to revive the inner life of the empire by attracting northern and eastern mercenaries. However, the relationship between the Roman and the “barbaric” nobility was not friendly. But the process was started long before our era when Rome was created by the influence of immigrants from different countries and peoples. An important support of the regime was the servicemen settling throughout Italy in the colonies, withdrawn to the lands obtained from confiscation.


The resettlement contributed to the formation of a single Latin language (the so-called “vulgar Latin”), on the basis of which many languages of Western Europe were formed. The results of this process cannot be regarded unambiguously. On the one hand, during the wars, many peoples and tribes were destroyed. But on the other hand, thanks to the great migration of peoples, some of them became the precursors of modern European states, new cultures developed. After mixing, the tribes borrowed a lot of knowledge and skills from each other. However, this resettlement caused significant damage to the nascent culture of the northern tribes and nomadic peoples. So, many tribes of the indigenous peoples of Northern Europe were slowly destroyed.


  • Gumilevik. Hypotheses, theories, worldview
  • Man D. Attila
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