Travian History: How do we know what we know?
The tribes we are playing with in Travian actually existed alongside each other for many centuries. But how do we know what we do about these people? Let’s take a look at the different kinds of historical sources tribe by tribe.
From the founding of their city in 753 BC, the Romans developed from a small community into an advanced civilization. The city state became an empire, with provinces on three continents and a total of about 50 million inhabitants. Until its division in 395 AD, the empire had lasted for 1,100 years. If you only count the downfall of western Rome as the end of the empire, it even lasted almost 1,250 years. During this time, the Romans erected countless monuments on three continents, all bearing witness to the power and technical ability of this advanced civilization.
According to the foundation legend, Rome was founded by Trojan refugees, who fled west following the destruction of their city. Historical examinations indicate that Greek emigrants were the first settlers of the city. This allowed the Romans to build on many of the achievements already developed by the Greeks: Their religion and architecture are very similar and the Romans are familiar with Greek language, since it was taught and spoken among the upper classes. That allowed the Romans to also benefit from the Greeks’ scientific advances.
Our knowledge of the Romans stems mainly from countless written sources, as the Romans have produced many written sources about their own history. While most of them have been lost, some transcripts have survived in libraries in Europe and the Middle East. Moreover, many later writings quote earlier documents, allowing us to know about the existence of such written sources.
Other textual sources are recordings of everyday life, files and inventory lists of enterprises, tombstone inscriptions and memorial plaques on public buildings, as well as folk memory. Added to that are illustrations like mosaics, paintings and statues in public places and on buildings.
In comparison, hardly any written documents are available about the Gauls. According to their culture, this group of tribes that settled in what is today France, is classed as Celtic. They built similar pottery, constructed their homes in the same way and most likely also spoke the same language as their neighbors on the British Isles in the north and those in the regions north of the Alps and along the Danube river to the east.
They got their name from the Greeks, who called these cultures “Keltoi”. Today it is assumed that they initially formed around 800 BC, at the start of the Iron Age, in mid and western Europe and then became prevalent in all of western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and the British Isles. Following the conquest of Gaul by Caesar around 40 BC, Celtic cultures were only to be found on the edges of Europe and on the British Isles, as the other territories increasingly adopted Roman culture.
What we know about Celtic culture before it came into contact with Romans, is largely down to the interpretation of excavation finds. Here all items that can be clearly linked to that time and culture are of interest. Graveyard plots provide us with information about the religious beliefs of those people, as well as social stratification and material wealth. The remains of settlements, such as wooden stakes and clay walls tell us about the lifestyle and middens, through their bones, broken fragments of containers and broken furniture, tell us about everyday life.
In order to collect and interpret such archaeological sources, they are examined, dated and compared to other finds. Even more so than with written sources, interpretation is key: It is not only important what a find looks like, what state it is in and which purpose it served. Especially important is where it was found, if there are similar items and who made it. If for example many similar items, like fibulae, which are coat brooches, are found in household waste, one will rightly assume, that many people used such an item.
If an item is found in a burial mound however, and if it is made of a rarely used material such as gold and shows no tear and wear, it is likely that this item was created specifically for the burial ceremony. Burial mounds in particular are very insightful places, since in many cultures the important dead were given items that were to make it easier for them in the next world. They therefore also reveal information about the religious beliefs and cultural values of those people.
Written sources about the Celts and also the Teutons are in short supply, however. While both cultures used runes in their writing, we have to assume that these didn’t have a prominent role in everyday life, since only a few inscriptions on stones and religious items have been preserved.
The Teutons only appeared a considerable amount of time after the Celts. They settled in northern and mid-Europe and shared many cultural characteristics of the Celts. While they also used runes for specific purposes, the use and production of iron only became prevalent much later.
It has to be added that archaeological finds only tell us about the circumstances at the time near the respective locations they have been found at. If for example in one place a burial mound is found, it may well be the case that a neighboring tribe used a completely different burial ceremony. Even the same tribe may have laid their dead to rest in the ground at one point and then, two generations later, burned them instead. Hence it is very difficult to derive general conclusions from just single finds.
Research with detours
When researching the tribes of the Gauls and Teutons, we therefore have to rely on the documents of their enemies: The Romans. A great share of our knowledge about Gauls and Teutons stems from Caesar’s scripture “De Bello Gallico” (On the Gallic War). It is only since that book, that the Teutons were closer recognized in the Roman writing of history. Before, they were only seen as barbarians from the north. We also draw a lot of information about the Teutonic tribes from the little book “Germania” by the Roman author Tacitus.
Of course we also need to pay attention to the circumstances in which a source came into being. Caesar didn’t write his book to provide posterity with a detailed description of the Gauls, but rather to promote his own political goals in his home city of Rome. Numerical data, such as inhabitant figures (and hence the number of enemies) have to be viewed critically, since they aim to justify the campaign and shed a positive light on Caesar’s own achievements.
Furthermore, it is often not clear where information comes from. With great certainty, Tacitus had never been to Germania; a lot of information is third and fourth hand and some details about customs have been proven incorrect by archaeological findings.
This explains why most depictions of Celts and Teutons include linguistic question marks and limitations. Many statements are covered by the comparison of archaeological findings and discussions within the expert community. Yet each “probably”, “likely” and “it is assumed” reminds us of the uncertainty, which for most assumptions about the Gauls and Teutons will never be fully confirmed.
EXCURSION: ADVANCED CIVILIZATION
What is an advanced civilization?
In historical science a society is classed as an advanced civilization if the following applies to it:
– Planned agriculture, with for example irrigation and storage systems and crop rotation.
– Settlements in the form of cities, serving as trading platforms, offering military protection and with communal institutions.
– Political organization including an administration, justice system and military.
– Division of labor in the economy and the establishment of different classes within society.
– Development and extensive use of writing.
– Artistic achievements, for example through the creation of a writing culture, music, architecture or graphic art.
– Use of a calendar system.