The first Germans to win repute as fearsome adversaries in combat were members of the various tribes who fought the encroachment of Roman legions upon their territories. The Roman historian Tacitus praised the leadership and military acumen of Arminiu
s, a chief of the Cherusci who commanded the German forces in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9. The tribal warriors led by Arminius annihilated three Roman legions, effectively preventing Roman expansion beyond the Danube and Rhine rivers. By
the fifth century, German tribes had entered the Italian peninsula and brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west.
The empire created by Charlemagne (r. 768-814) in west-central Europe split up soon after his death, the eastern portion occupying much of the territory of modern Germany. These German lands gradually evolved into the Holy Roman Empire, with extensive
territories in Italy (see Medieval Germany, ch. 1). Many of the German kingdoms, principalities, and cities that were components of the empire were noted for the emphasis their leaders placed on military might. However, no imperial army or law held sway
over the local princes and free cities. The absence of a strong central power, plus the emergence of Protestantism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, resulted in a near-permanent state of civil conflict, wars of succession, and religious strife (
see The Protestant Reformation, ch. 1). The Thirty Years' War (1618-48), a series of conflicts between Protestant and Catholic forces, decimated Germany's population (see The Thirty Years' War, ch. 1).
Data as of August 1995