PART 5    Ch.XXXIII.22

The Pelasgians or proto – Latins (Arimii)

(The Pelasgians from the northern parts of the Danube and the Black Sea)





XXXIII. 22. The ancient Latin tribes of Germany and Gallia.


On the territory of great Germany, and also in the eastern and northern parts of Gallia, two big branches of the Pelasgian family appear to have lived since very remote times. They were the so-called Arimanii (Herminones, Alamanni), who had in the beginning the political supremacy, and various Latin tribes, less numerous, which appear under the general name of Laeti and Leti with the Roman and Greek authors.

The political and social condition of the Arimanii and Letii from the territory of Germany and Gallia began to change, little by little, with the advent of the great invasion of the Celts and the Teutons.

Until the 6th century of the Christian era, the Letii of Germany and Gallia had still preserved their ethnic individuality. They were considered as a people with particular traditions and customs. These Letii dwelt in more or less compact masses in certain regions and each tribe formed a different society in itself.


Eumenius, in the panegyric in honor of Constantius, around 297ad, mentions that following his orders, the dispossessed Letii from the territory of the Nervii and the Trevirii, had received back their ancestral estates (Panegyricus Constantio Caesari dictus, c. 21). These Letii of Belgian Gallia were neighbors with the Remii and the Romandii or Viromandui.

The law of Honorius from 400ad mentions the Laeti Alamanni (Codex Theodos. Lib. IV. tit. 20. 12. Ed. I. Gothofredi, Tom. II, 1665, p. 434), who performed voluntary military service to the Roman Empire. In the 4th century ad, significant groups of Letii were settled on both sides of the middle and lower Rhine.

Ammianus calls the Letii from the territory of Germany, Laeti barbari (lib. XVI. 11), and those from the western bank of the Rhine, Laeti barbarorum progenies (lib. XX. 8).

We find an important note about the Letii of Gallia with the Greek historian Zosimus, who tells us that the emperor Magnentius (350-353) was barbarian of origin, and that he had received a Latin education from the Letii, who were a people in Gallia (Hist. II. c. 54). So, according to Zosimus, the Letii of Gallia constituted a barbarian population of Latin origin.

Notitia Dignitatum utriusque imperii mentions in Gallia: a Praefectus Laetorum Teutonicianorum, a Praefectus Laeatorum Batavorum, a Praefectus Laetorum Francorum, a Praefectus Laetorum Lingonensium, a Praefectus Laetorum Nerviorum, a Praefectus Laetorum Lagensium, etc (Bocking, Not. Dign. II. p. 119 seqq).

In the north-east parts of France still exist today some localities with names like Latainville, Ledingshem, Lethuin, Letang-la –ville, Letanne, Littenheim (Janin, Dict. d. comm.. de France, Paris, 1852).

The Roman general Aetius, born at Dorostena (Silistria) in Mesia Inferior, making ready in Gallia to repulse the dreadful hordes of Attila, had also gathered along the Roman troupes, as Jornandis writes (De reb. Get. c. 36), an auxiliary army composed of Francs, Sarmati, Armoritiani and Litiani, meaning Leti.

A city of Belgian Gallia, situated close to Bellovaci, appears in the Itinerary of Antoninus under the name Litanobriga, meaning the citadel of the Litanii. Armorica, the region from the north-western part of Gallia, today Bretagne, also had the name Letavia in the Middle Ages (from the life of St. Gilda, Acta SS. Jan. 2. 961; Du Cange, Gloss. Med. lat. see Leti; Gluck, Die Keltischen Namen, Munchen, p. 121).

The Letii (Litianii, Litanii) from the territory of Germany and Gallia had extended in the course of time also to great Britannia. Ravennas mentions there the localities called Litana, Ledone and Litinomago (Cosm. p. 435-6).

Du Cange, who lived in the 17th century, considered the Letii or Laetii as populi septentrionales, as northern peoples, and believed that the Letii, together with the Francs and other barbarian nations, arriving on the territory of Germany and of Gallia, had later received lands from the Roman emperors, for settling and cultivation, but with the obligation of military service. This latter opinion of Du Cange though, is from the point of view of chronology and history, mistaken.

The Letii, Litianii or Litavii appear settled on the territory of barbarian Gallia even before the times of Caesar. One of the leaders of the Gallii of Aquitania is called Litavicus (Caesar, B. G. lib. VII. 37. 38; Dio Cassius, lib. XL. 37). On some Gallic coins, predating Roman domination, appears the name LITA and LITAV (Duchalais, Descr. d. med. gaul. p. 115, 354-357).

Finally, a population from near the Rhine is called by Caesar Latobrigi, more correctly though, Latovici (B. G. I. 5. 28; Gluck, Kelt. Namen, p. 112).


The name Laetus or Letus, which, as we saw, had in the beginning only a simple ethnographic character with the meaning of Latinus, became during the course of the Middle Ages, under the forms letus, litus, ledus, lidus, a feudal term with the meaning of colon, land tenant, half-free man. (In the Salic law from 798ad, lidus, ledus, litus, letus, laetus, and Latinus in the Latin translation of the codex Speculum Saxonum).

The Letii became a subjugated social class, dispossessed and tributary; a sort of imperfect citizens from the point of view of their civil rights. They had to pay to the Francs, Frisians and Saxons the third part of their harvest.

A certain part of the Latin tribes, which dwelt in the regions of Germany near the Elba, still spoke a sort of Latin folk language until the times of Augustus. The Polish historian Dlugos also states that the national idiom of the Litvanii from the eastern parts of Vistula was in the 15th century still a sort of sermo latinus.

Suetonius relates to us the following case, regarding the Latin language spoken in north Germany (T.Claudius, c.1): “Drusus ….the commander of the Roman troupes in the war with the Germans, had been the first general to navigate in the northern Ocean …. Then, crossing the Rhine, he had many times beaten and repelled the enemy to the end of the deserted lands, and had not stopped giving chase until the moment when a barbarian woman of an extraordinary size had appeared before him, and addressing him in the Latin language, had stopped this valiant commander from advancing”.

Dio Cassius relates (lib. LV. 1) the same event in the following way: Drusus, wanting to extend the power of the Romans in north Germany even farther, traversed it to the Elba. But when he wished to pass with his army to the other side of the river, a woman of an extraordinary size appeared in his way and told him: “Where are you going, heedless, unsatisfied Drusus? Your fate does not allow you to see this entire country. Turn back, because you have reached the end of your deeds and your life”. Drusus turned back, but got sick and died even before reaching the Rhine” [1].


[1. The river Elba (Albis) springs in the mountains called Riesengebirge (Sudeti), which separate Bohemia from Silezia; flows through Bohemia, Prussian Saxony, Hanovra, and into the North Sea.

In the regions of Bohemia the Latin element seems to have once been very extensive, as results from the following names of localities (Spe.-Orts-Repertorium, see Bohmen): Ladung, Latschen, Latschnau, Lattenbausel, Ledenitz, Ledec, Ledetz, Ledska, Letin, Letiny, Letnan, Letnik, Letow, Letowy, Lettendorf, Letti, Lety, Liten, Litensky Mlyn, Litenmuhle].


The following words of Seneca deserve attention in this regard: “Livia”, writes he (in Consolatio ad Marcianam, c. 3), “has lost her son Drusus, who showed great promise of being a great prince in the future, and who had already managed to be a great commander. He had gone to the ends of Germany, and had planted the Roman insignia in places where it had almost been forgotten that some sort of Romans still lived”.

Finally, here is another example: In 16ad Germanicus traversed with the Roman legions the territory of the Cheruscii, to Veser, and built there his forts. Overnight, writes Tacitus, one of the enemy, who knew the Latin language (unus hostium, latinae linguae sciens), rushed his horse close to the Roman fortifications, and started to shout, that Ariminius promises to give each Roman soldier who will come to his side, women, land to cultivate, and 100 sesterts each day, for the length of the war (Ann. Lib. II. c. 13).