For the first time, the Germanic tribes will
be the focus of a large-scale archaeological exhibition. In collaboration with
the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is showing
the special exhibition The Germanic Tribes: Archaeological Perspectives on
Berlin’s Museumsinsel. The Neues Museum will present the shifting history of
research into the Germanic tribes and its reception, while in the
James-Simon-Galerie – which is reopening its doors to host the exhibition –
more than 700 exhibits will be on display, including numerous new finds and
outstanding loans from across Germany, Denmark, Poland and Romania.
Broken up into seven chapters, the exhibition
at the James-Simon-Galerie will offer insights into the archaeology of the
communities who populated the area east of the Rhine and north of the Danube
between the 1st and 4th century AD, for whom Caesar coined the term Germani to
refer to various linguistic and ethnic groups living in this region.
Spectacular finds and simple everyday objects paint a picture of an agrarian
society with an upper class that was connected across regions, identified
primarily through their opulent graves adorned with precious metals and Roman
Their metalworking was highly developed and
produced objects of superb skill and beauty. A highlight of the exhibition is
without doubt the intricately adorned shield boss from the famous princely
grave of Gommern, which was produced by skilled Germanic metalworkers from a
solid Roman silver receptacle and adorned with silver-gilt pressed tin, gilding
and glass inlays.
Conflict Only With
Everybody knows about the wars between the Germanic tribes and the
Romans, although only from the Roman point of view. However, we also know of
archaeological evidence of violent conflicts between different tribal groups.
Extensive examples of objects looted on the battlefield that were then sacrificed
by being sunk in bogs in northern Germany and Scandinavia convey an impression
of the size of the Germanic armies, their weaponry and organisation, which were
modelled on their Roman contemporaries. One of the most valuable finds from the
Thorsberger bog near Schleswig is an ornamental panel of metal made of gilt
sheet silver and bronze with a sculpturally wrought animal frieze and dense
rows of human heads, which was sacrificed as a sign of gratitude to the gods
for a victory on the battlefield.
Written Sources from
The inscriptions on a number of exhibits provide a glimpse of the
few examples of written material from Germania. The oldest Germanic inscription
from the 1st century AD on the fibula from Meldorf can be read from right to left
as IDIN (Ida) in Latin letters and from left to right in runes as HIWI (the
domestic one), thus connecting the runic alphabet with the Latin one from which
Research on the Germanic tribes has always been significantly
shaped by the tensions between the Roman Empire and Germania, with the Roman
perspective usually occupying the foreground. This exhibition places the focus
on the region of Germania, but also addresses Rome’s relationship with the
Germanic Tribes in Research: Now and Then
The second part of the exhibition, titled “The
Germanic Tribes: 200 Years of Myth, Ideology and Scholarship”, sheds light on
perceptions of Germanic culture, particularly in the Berlin museums in the 19th
and 20th centuries. This topic is presented in the “Vaterländicher Saal” of the
Neues Museum at a historical location: in the mid-19th century, the spectacular
murals on “Norse Mythology” conveyed to the public for the first time an
impression of Norse cosmology, although their interpretations were only based
on Medieval sources. The detailed interpretation of this frieze, which traces
back to the stories of the Edda, forms the initial focus of this section of the
Against the backdrop of 200 years of research
into the Germanic tribes, the exhibition also highlights how the Berlin museums
responded to the various historical scholarly discourses on the questions of
the origins, expansion and dating of the Germanic tribes in the form of
shifting museum conceptions. In the early 19th century, for example, the
perception of the Germanic tribes was determined by their mentions in texts by
authors from classical antiquity. At the end of the 19th century, the classical
conception of the people of Germania began to be connected with archaeological
findings. In the early 20th century, a dispute developed over whether
archaeological cultures from the Bronze Age or the Neolithic Age could be
designated as “Germanic”. This produced a dangerous proximity to the Nazi’s racial ideology.
Since 1950, references to the people of Germania have become less common, with
scholars preferring to refer to people of various archaeological cultures from
the pre-Roman Iron Age (ca. 700 BC to the beginning of the Common Era) or from
the subsequent era of the Roman Empire (until 370–80 AD).
A special exhibition by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte –
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn.
The exhibition is supported by the Kuratorium Preußischer
GEO is the media partner for this exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by the
publication of a catalogue through wbg Thiess, Darmstadt. Hardcover, 640 pages,
ca. 300 colour illustrations, ISBN: 978-3-8062-4261-4, retail price: €50,
reduced museum price: €39 (german only).