Germany Forms of Settlement Part I

Now we have seen how differences in the way of building the rural house corresponded quite well to the dialectal differences. We must pay no less attention to the way in which the houses are grouped to form the centers.

In this respect, we must distinguish: isolated residences, villages and hamlets, cities. They all originated in very different times, with which the outward forms varied. For this reason, clearly distinct areas cannot always be found in the distribution of types. In some parts of Germany, individual rural courts are isolated. That is, there are regions where there are no villages, and farmers live in separate houses, on the land they cultivate.

Some believe that this is a way of life conforming to the habits of the ancient Germans, and possible in a sparsely inhabited territory, where each one always plowed new plots, but others, especially the Meitzen, noted that such dwellings in Germany are found especially in the region first inhabited by the Celts, and precisely in Germany west of the Weser. These houses are called Einzelhöfe. Isolated dwellings are also frequent in southern Bavaria and Swabia and also in the Black Forest and Odenwald and would depend on the migratory movements of the Germanic populations, or even on environmental conditions.

As for the villages, if one compares the topographic maps to the 25,000 representing them, one observes that their planimetry, that is, the mutual arrangement of houses and streets, can be reduced to some schemes or types. Some villages have a plan that depends on a pre-established design, other villages instead arose spontaneously, and this spontaneity reflects in the topographical details. The comparison must also be made out of regard to the physiognomy of the headquarters, which depends on the general appearance of the houses and their arrangement with respect to the streets. But a satisfactory explanation of the shapes of the seats could not be given except by completing the observation data with the historical investigation.

According to Computerminus, the inhabited centers are historical formations; it is therefore necessary to establish how and in what time they were formed. The age of the individual sites (the time of foundation) can more easily be established for the cities on documents or testimonies, but for the villages it is less frequent that they are found. However, for some it was possible. But one way to establish the epoch of foundation, at least approximately, is given by glottology, precisely by toponymy, because the names, in the form in which they have come down to us, give sure clues to the epoch of foundation. Arnold, studying the villages with this method, established that the periods of formation of the various villages can be traced back to an earlier time than the barbarian invasions. Great interest arouses the fact that, Germany being then largely covered with forests and swamps, while the uncovered and habitable areas were limited by the former, in these the archaeological layers prove the succession and overlap of different populations who always had to take advantage of the same available land. Tacitus (Germany, 16) speaks of the seats of the Germans known to him, other news we have from Caesar: the isolated dwelling and the village were even then the two fundamental types of seats. Germany, which had fallen into the power of the Romans, had thriving cities, which was unknown to the independent Germans of the time. In winter they lived in underground holes, which were protected against the cold with a cover of polymer clay, as Tacitus tells us. Instead in Roman Germany the encampments of the legions stationed along the Rhine line became cities. Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Trier, Cologne, and in southern Germany, Augsburg and Regensburg, arose in the Roman era. But of the Roman cities very little remained after the arrival of the barbarian invasions. This is a historical fact of capital importance, also for the history of the offices; and precisely the Arnold’s first period goes from the exodus of the Celts from the Germanic territory to 400 AD. C., that is to the “barbaric invasions” of our historians, or “transmigration of peoples”, as the Germans more aptly say, with respect to Germany. The oldest villages usually have the compound name with the radicals affaahalarlohmartar: some denominations refer to natural topographical peculiarities, however they are names that are very difficult to interpret, because they refer to words that have long since disappeared. The villages that arose up to the migrations of the peoples all have radicals of this kind. Some other names are of Celtic origin. On the other hand, in the second period of the foundation of centers, which closes with the 19th century, that is with the introduction of Christianity, other centers were formed, whose names are more easily interpreted, and have these endings: – ingen, – ungen, – hai, – ithi, – au, – bach, – born, – berg, – brück, – furt, – stadt o- stedt, – büren, – hof, – dorf, – hein, – hausen. This in Germany to the west of the Elbe, where the appropriation taken after the invasions has been maintained by the various Germanic populations. To the east of the Elbe and the Saale and partly also to the west of these rivers, the Slavs had instead settled: those next to the river were called Polabi (i.e. residing near the Elbe; from po and Labe, Slavic name of the Elba), the other Lekites or Poloni (Poles) from polje “countryside”; several names of villages and cities today German are of Slavic origin.

Germany Forms of Settlement 1