or Eth. Σουῆβοι
), is the designation for a very large portion of the population of ancient Germany, and comprised a great number of separate tribes with distinctive names of their own, such as the Semmones. German authors generally connect the name Suevi with Swiban,
i. e. to sway, move unsteadily, and take it as a designation of the unsteady and migatory habits of the people to distinguish them from the Ingaevones, who dwelt in villages or fixed habitations (Zeuss, Die Deutschen,
p. 55, foll.); others, however, and apparently with good reason, regard the name as of Celtic or even Slavonian origin; for the Romans no doubt employed the name, not because indigenous in Germang, but because they heard it from the Celts in Gaul. We must, however, from the first distinguish between the Suevi of Caesar (Caes. Gal. 1.37
, &c.) and those of Tacitus (Germ.
38, &c.): the Suevi in Caesar occupied the eastern banks of the Rhine, in and about the country now called Baden,
while Tacitus describes them as occupying the country to the north and east of the Suevi of Caesar, so that the two writers assign to them quite a different area of country. Strabo (vii. p.290
) again states that in his time the Suevi extended from the Rhenus to the Albis, and that some of them, such as the Hermunduri and Longobardi, had advanced even to the north of the Albis. Whether the nations called Suevi by Caesar and Tacitus are the same, and if so, what causes induced them in later times to migrate to the north and east, are questions to which history furnishes no answers.
It is possible, however, that those whom Caesar encountered were only a branch of the great body, perhaps Chatti and Longobardi.
That these latter were pure Germans cannot be doubted; but the Suevi of Tacitus, extending from the Baltic to the Danube, and occupying the greater part of Germany, no doubt contained many Celtic and still more Slavonic elements.
It has in fact been conjectured, with great probability, that the name Suevi was applied to those tribes which were not pure Germans, but more or less mixed with Slavonians; for thus we can understand how it happened that in their habits and mode of life they differed so widely from the other Germans, as we see from Tacitus; and it would also account for the fact that in later times we find Slavonians peaceably established in countries previously occupied by Suevi. (Comp. Plin. Nat. 4.28
; Ptol. 2.11.15
; Oros. 1.2
It deserves to be noticed that Tacitus (Germ.
2, 45) calls all the country inhabited by Suevian tribes by the name Suevia.
The name Suevi appears to have been known to the Romans as early as B.C. 123 (Sisenna, ap. Non. s. v. lancea), and they were at all times regarded as a powerful and warlike people. Their country was covered by mighty forests, but towns (oppida) also are spoken of. (Caes. Gal. 4.19
.) As Germnany became better known to the Romans, the generic name Suevi fell more and more into disuse, and the separate tribes were called by their own names, although Ptolemy still applies the name of Suevi to the Semnones, Longobardi, and Angli.
In the second half of the third century we again find the name Suevi limited to the country to which it had been applied by Caesar. (Amm. Marc. 16.10
; Jornand. Get.
55; Tab. Peut.
) These Suevi, from whom the modern Suabia
and the Suabians
derive their names, seem to have been a body of adventurers from various German tribes, who assumed the ancient and illustrious name, which was as applicable to them as it was to the Suevi of old.
These later Suevi appear in alliance with the Alemannians and Burgundians, and in possession of the German side of Gaul, and Switzerland, and even in Italy and Spain, where they joined the Visigoths. Ricimer, who acts so prominent a part in the history of the Roman empire, was a Suevian. (Comp. Zeuss, l.c.;
p. 101, &c.; Grimm, Deutsche Gram.
i. pp. 8, 60. ii. p. 25, Gesch. der Deutschen Spr.
i. p. 494; Latham, on Tacit. Germ. Epileg.