diese Seite deutsch    cette page en français
History of Switzerland: Introduction / Sitemap A Short History of Switzerland History of Switzerland: Detailed Timeline  Early Swiss History
Prehistory: Lake-dwellings in Switzerland Swiss History: Celtic Helvetians Switzerland during the Age of Romans Aventicum, Swiss Capital in the Age of Romans Switzerland during the Middle Ages  Old Swiss History
The Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1515) William Tell (Switzerland's National Hero) The Swiss Reformation (Calvin, Zwingli)  A Modern Constitution
Swiss Revolution and Helvetic Republic (1798) Switzerland's Federal Constitution (1848) History of Switzerland's Flag Switzerland's Political System The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote  Industrialisation
Industrialisation in Switzerland Heidi: A Bestseller about Times of Change  World War II
World War II: General Timeline Switzerland's Role in World War II Spiritual Defense against Nazism Switzerland's Economic Dependence and Rationing Jewish Refugees Looted Assets Switzerland's Neutrality Switzerland's National Public Radio Station Beromünster  Links
Links: History Swiss Museums Links: Switzerland

Switzerland in the Early Middle Ages

Migration of Nations

Germanic Tribes in Western Europe

A widely accepted theory assumes, that most European peoples have a common origin somewhere in Central asia. Their languages (Greek, Latin, Old German/Old English, Slavonian) are quite similar to each other and even to Persian (Iran) and Sanskrit (India!). For reasons we do not know, they decided to move to the regions of the world where they settle now. While southern Europeans arrived in Greece and Italy several thousand years B.C.. Germanic tribes first moved to the north (Poland, Scandinavia) and from there to the west and south (France, Great Britain, Germany). Slavonians came last.

Frequent but smaller incidents between Roman troops and Germanic tribes did not change a balance of power for several centuries until about A.D. 400. But then the Roman Empire was challenged by severe attacks and raids carried forth to the south of the Alps. So the Romans withdrew troops from their territories north of the Alps (including Switzerland). But they could not prevent the decline of their empire.


Part of the western Germanic tribe of the Franks invaded France, and settled near Paris, another part remained in central Germany. The western Franks adopted much of the Roman culture and even their language Latin, which was gradually transformed into what is known today as French.


Much the same was true for the Burgundians: they also came from Germany and finally settled on both sides of the Jura mountain chain in eastern France (Burgundy) and western (today French speaking) Switzerland. The Burgundians also converted to the christian religion that was quite well established in the Roman empire.


A southern Germanic tribe called Alamannen [all men] settled in southern Germany and northern Switzerland. Recent excavations in Switzerland do not support the older theory of a violent conquest, however. It seems much more probable, that the Alamannen were not quite interested in Roman towns, nor Roman culture. They rather infiltrated in small groups, cleared woodland and erected their own small villages. They stuck to their German language as did the northern Germanic tribes settling in Germany and Scandinavia and had only very limited relations with the Galloroman [Celtic and Roman] population.

Languages: German, French, Italian, Rumantsch

Todays border between German and French language in Switzerland is more or less the border between Burgundians and Alamannen. While the original Celtic population kept up at least parts of their culture in some parts of France, Spain, Ireland and Great Britain, the original Celtic population in Switzerland completely melted with the newcomers in the course of the centuries. So there is no area with special Celtic influence nor any significant remains of their language in Switzerland except for a few geographical names.

Italian (spoken in Italy and southern Switzerland) and Rumantsch (spoken in some mountain areas of southeastern Switzerland) have developed from Latin like French, but there was much less Germanic nor Celtic influence. The population of the Italian speaking regions of Switzerland (southern valleys open towards northern Italy) has the same ethnical origin as the population of northern Italy. Rumantsch is spoken by a people that used to live in the mountains already at the Age of the Romans and was called Raetii by the Romans. Their origin is unknown, evidently they adopted Roman language and culture very early.

More about Switzerland's population and languages today

GESCHICHTE-SCHWEIZ.CH © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved