A Brief History of Germany


While Germany has a history that stretches back to antiquity, it 
is important to remember that it was fi rst unifi ed as a nationstate only in 1871, making it in a sense even younger than the United 
States. Located in the heart of Europe, without natural boundaries, 
Germany has experienced centuries of immigration, confrontation, 
and negotiation. Consequently, the arrangement of its constituent parts 
has changed repeatedly, with individual territories joining together 
or breaking apart. Thus, Germany’s boundaries, and what it means to 
be German, have always been unstable and have evolved continually 
throughout the region’s long and troubled history.
Situated along ancient migration routes, the area known today as 
Germany has become home to an endless stream of migrants since 
prehistoric times. In fact, paleontologists have recovered traces of early 
hominid habitation in Germany going back almost 50 million years, as 
distant ancestors of modern humans migrated there from Africa. During 
the last ice age, extinct relatives of humans called Neanderthals, named 
after the German valley where their remains were fi rst discovered, followed these earliest migrants into the region. They were joined around 
40,000 years ago by another group of migrants, early humans known 
as Cro-Magnons, who lived alongside them in the area that comprises 
modern Germany. Remarkably, some of the most important archaeological fi nds relating to these prehistoric peoples have been made in 
Germany within the last few years. These recent discoveries have even 
prompted some archaeologists to think that an area on the Swabian Alb 
in southern Germany may have been where early humans fi rst discovered music, and perhaps even art itself, around 35,000 years ago.
During the Bronze Age, beginning in the third millennium B.C.E., 
Celtic peoples migrated into the area and built their own sprawling 
civilization in central Europe, one that lasted centuries. The actual historical record, however, does not begin in Germany until the so-called 
Migration Period, when Greek and Roman writers fi rst described the 
inhabitants of the region. During this turbulent time, from roughly 300 
to 500 C.E., nomadic peoples speaking Germanic languages— including 
the tongues that would one day develop into modern German and