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The Baiuvarii represent the most recent Germanic tribe of the Migration period that played an important part in the development of present-day Germany. The first historical record comes from Roman authors of the early sixth century a.d.: Jordanes mentions the tribe in his history of the Goths (551), perhaps reflecting an earlier reference (520) in Cassiodorus. Later the tribe is mentioned by the Gallic Latin poet Venantius Fortunatus (565). The main settlement area of the Baiuvarii included parts of the old Roman provinces of Raetia and Noricum, a territory whose modern appellation, Bavaria, derives from their name. The name "Baiuvarii" probably means "men from the land of Baia," or Bohemia, the old Boiohaemum of the ancient geographers. Identifying the date when these Baiuvarii arrived and the inhabitants they encountered in the Roman territories of Raetia and Noricum was long a subject of constant debate; however, developments in archaeological research in the late twentieth century have yielded new insights, and the understanding of the ethnogenesis of the Baiuvarii has changed radically over the years.

By the 1960s a majority of researchers had observed a distinct gap between late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. They assumed that the Alpine foothills remained largely unoccupied after the Romans withdrew in 400 until the Baiuvarii, as a fully developed tribe, migrated from Bohemia into the area in the early sixth century. Indeed, for a long time, the archaeological sources remained almost completely silent regarding the fifth century. Since the 1960s, however, archaeological finds have confirmed the account of the Latin scholar Eugippius, who records in his sixth-century Vita Sancti Severini that in Raetia, too, Roman rule and border defense ended only around 476 as a direct result of the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Baiuvarian cemeteries have now been discovered that were used as early as the second half of the fifth century and remained in use around 700; examples include the graveyards at Barbing–Irlmauth (Regensburg), Klettham–Altenerding (Erding), Bittenbrunn (in the Neuburg–Schrobenhausen district), Straubing–Bajuwarenstrasse (near Regensburg), and Munich Aubing. Two cases, namely the late Roman forts at Neuburg and Straubing and the early Baiuvarian cemeteries of Bittenbrunn and Straubing–Bajuwarenstrasse, reveal a direct connection between the Germanic allies, who abandoned the forts around 476 and the core of the new settlers who founded the oldest Baiuvarian farming villages. These early cemeteries have one thing in common—the grave goods do not indicate a uniform "early Baiuvarian" culture that would also show close links to Bohemia. The burial offerings rather contain a wide variety of antique objects of Roman, Bohemian, Ostrogothic, Alemannic, and Langobardic origin that strongly suggest that Baiuvarian ethnogenesis is polyethnic in character.

The eponymic core of this process is evident in the archaeologically defined Friedenhain-Prestovice group, which goes back to the Teutons in southern Bohemia. In the fifth century a.d. this group migrated by way of the valley between Cham and Fürth through the Bavarian Forest and into the eastern Bavarian approaches to the Roman limes between Neuburg and Passau. They soon provided the majority of the Roman frontier troops, a situation that lasted until the end of Roman rule around the middle of the fifth century. Historically, this group is to be identified as the "Baiuvarii," the "men from Bohemia," who lent their name to this polyethnic tribal structure and represented the nucleus of Bavarian ethnogenesis.

Only in the late sixth century do the grave goods begin to suggest a uniform Baiuvarian cemetery culture, which because of strong Frankish-Lombard influence cannot be distinguished in all respects from neighboring tribes, such as the Alemanni. A difference in the settlement of the land is evident between the north and the south. In the Danube area settlement was continuous from the time of the Romans; in contrast, the Alpine foothills to the south were resettled somewhat later, except for the Roman settlement region around Salzburg.

From the meager historical sources and the insights offered by archaeological research as of the early 2000s, the following model emerges for the Bavarian tribal genesis: when Roman rule came to an end on the Danube around the middle of the fifth century, a polyethnic tribe comprising Roman and immigrant Germanic groups (including Alemanni, Ostrogoths, Langobards, and Thuringians) formed at the turn of the fifth to the sixth century a.d. around Germanic allies who had migrated into the area from Bohemia (the "Baiuvarii"). Particularly important is the fact that the massive and therefore practically indestructible fortress of Regensburg remained in the possession of the allies of Bohemian origin. Based on written records starting in the Early Middle Ages, this was the royal capital of the early medieval stem duchy of the Agilolfing dynasty.

This Baiuvarian ethnogenesis should not be imagined in a power vacuum or seen as a conscious decision of those involved. It is more likely to have occurred as a result of external influences, namely through the intervention of the Ostrogoths. Under their king Theoderic, the Ostrogoths had conquered Italy from Eastern Rome in 493. The territory they acquired included Raetia up to the Danube, an area that formed part of the diocese of Italy. Ostrogothic rule over the region between the Alps and the Danube ended only in 536. In that year, the Ostrogothic king, Witigis, who was forced to defend Italy against the troops of the Eastern Roman emperor, Justinian, ceded the region north of the Alps to the Franks under their king Theudebert from the Merovingian dynasty. The tribe of the Baiuvarii between the Lech, the Danube, the Enns, and the Alps continued to enjoy substantial independence under the rule of the Agilolfingian dukes, who had many connections with the Langobard dynasty. In the sixth and seventh centuries, settlement expanded rapidly and in northern Bavaria eventually spread across the Danube towards the north. In addition to archaeological finds, historical place-names increasingly testify to these settlement processes in the seventh century. Toward the end of its independence, the stem duchy of Bavaria included the region up to the Enns River and the Bavarian Forest in the east but failed to reach the Main River in the north. The western boundary was formed by a line extending from the Rednitz and Lech Rivers to the upper Inn Valley. In the region of the Alps, the southern area included the upper Etsch Valley and the upper Pustertal Valley.

Regensburg is mentioned as the capital (metropolis) of the stem duchy of Bavaria for the first time in 770. Many ducal palaces and large ducal estates are known to have existed in the eighth century. The earliest known diocesan towns are Eichstätt, Regensburg, Freising, Passau, Salzburg, and Säben. Many monasteries and cloisters, including Mondsee, Mattsee, Chiemsee, and Benediktbeuern, date back to the Agilolfingians. Under Charlemagne a split occurred with the last Agilolfing, Tassilo III, who was deposed in 788. After that, Frankish officeholders ruled in Bavaria.

See alsoOstrogoths (vol. 2, part 7); Southern Germany (vol. 2, part 7).


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Thomas Fischer (Translated by Gina Broderick)