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Marcomannic Wars


Image ID: 830044 - Scenes from the Column of Marcus Aurelius

From the Column of Marcus Aurelius. "Scenes from the war against the Quadi & Marcomanni, during the war of 171-175. Fig. 2, the March (Morava) River. Relief from the Column of Marcus Aurelius, Rome. Engr. by P. S. Bartoli, [published] early 18th cent."

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Rome fought wars with the west Germanic or Suebian tribe of the Marcomanni under the Flavian emperor Domitian and under his successor, Nerva, but the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome during the great Marcomannic Wars of 166/7-73 and 177-80.

About the Marcomanni and Quadi:

In "Relations between Rome and the German 'Kings' on the Middle Danube in the First to Fourth Centuries A.D.," Lynn F. Pitts says that during the Roman Imperial period, two large German or Suebian tribes, the Marcomanni and Quadi, and smaller tribes, like the Osi and Cotini, living under them, occupied the area of eastern Europe now covered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia [when Pitts wrote, it was still Czechoslovakia], and lower Austria north of the Danube River. Oto Luthar says that during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-166), Germanic and Sarmatian tribes in the area had been asking unsuccessfully for inclusion of their kingdoms in the Roman Empire in order to provide them with protection against barbarians invading from their north.

The Romans considered the stretch of the Danube frontier the tribes occupied important enough to establish fortresses in the area, at Vindobonna, Carnuntum, and Brigetio. Marcus Aurelius added two new legions at Noricum and Raetia, according to Luthar. Pitts says that the ethnic composition of the area was relatively stable for all 4 centuries that the Romans were stationed along the middle Danube and that with interruptions, like the Marcomannic Wars, relations between the Germanic tribes and Rome were mostly friendly, with the Latin terms amicitia, fides, and obsequium, but not clientela or foedus applied to the relationship.

What Were the Marcomannic Wars?:

Starting in A.D. 167, during the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Romans fought the Germanic tribes of the Marcomanni, Quadi, and tribes that allied themselves to them, living along the east bank of the Danube River. While the Romans had been dealing with the Persian front, the Germanic tribes moved across the Middle Danube through Pannonia [see Pannonia in this Map of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire] and Noricum and into Italy to Aquileia. Aurelius raised an army, recruiting even slaves and gladiators, and fortified the area. Throughout his reign Aurelius kept revisiting the Danube to play the tribes off against each other. Aurelius fought them for 3 years at Carnuntum in Pannonia. Romans suffered defeat in 170 and victory in 171-2. Although it was after this that Aurelius took the title "Germanicus", the Quadi were subdued later. Aurelius planned to create provinces of Sarmatia and Marcomannia, but he died in 180 and the project was abandoned. Instead, Marcus Aurelius' son and successor, Commodus, against the suggestions of advisors, made a treaty of peace with the Quadi and Marcomanni in 180. Mommsen (A History of Rome Under the Emperors, by Theodor Mommsen), who says the 19-year old Commodus just wanted to get back to the capital, calls this an example of the problem of hereditary succession.


  • "Relations between Rome and the German 'Kings' on the Middle Danube in the First to Fourth Centuries A.D."
    Lynn F. Pitts
    The Journal of Roman Studies
    Vol. 79, (1989), pp. 45-58
  • The Land Between: A History of Slovenia, by Oto Luthar (2008).
  • Franz A. W. Schehl , John Frederick Drinkwater "Marcoman(n)i" The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

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