By Sidney Painter
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Extra info for A History of the Middle Ages 284–1500
While this description of a German farming community is based on material of much later date than the fourth century, it seems probable that it represents the earlier way of life with fair acC"uracy. The fourth century German turned easily to warfare as a means of making his living. It was far easier for a strong tribe to plunder the crops of a weak one than to grow food for themselves. A plundering raid over the Roman frontier was both enjoyable and profitable. Perhaps most pleasant of all was to be hired by the Romans as soldiers.
Under weak emperors who neglected the business of state, it tended to grow corrupt, but the strong emperors carried out vigorous reforms. At the head of the government stood the emperor or, at times, emperors. During this first period of Byzantine history the imperial dignity was in theory elective. One became emperor by being proclaimed by the Senate, the people, or the army, or by any combination of these groups. Actually the son of the late emperor usually succeeded, but if he proved weak and incompetent he was likely to be overthrown and replaced by the leader of the revolt.
In the fourth century the most striking differences were not between individual Germanic peoples, but rather between the western and eastern Germans. The Saxons, Suevi, Franks, and Alemans had simply moved south from their homeland into regions of essentially the same general nature, remaining in close touch with such peoples as the Angles and Jutes, who had not migrated. But the Lombards, Vandals, and Goths had moved into regions far different from northwestern Europe. The Hungarian plain THE GERMANIC INVASIONS and the steppes north of the Black Sea were essentially pastoral regions.