The Germans form one of the most important branches of the Indo-Germanic or Aryan race—a division of the human family which also includes the Hindoos, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and the Slavonic tribes. The near relationship of all these, which have become so separated in their habits of life, forms of government and religious faith, in the course of many centuries, has been established by the evidence of common tradition, language, and physiological structure. The original home of the Aryan race appears to have been somewhere among the mountains and lofty table-lands of Central Asia. The word "Arya," meaning the high or the excellent, indicates their superiority over the neighboring races long before the beginning of history.
When and under what circumstances the Aryans left their home, can never be ascertained. Most scholars suppose that there were different migrations, and that each movement westward was accomplished slowly, centuries intervening between their departure from Central Asia and their permanent settlement in Europe. The earliest migration was probably that of the tribes who took possession of Greece and Italy; who first acquired, and for more than a thousand years maintained, their ascendency over all other branches of their common family; who, in fact, laid the basis for the civilization of the world.
Before this migration took place, Europe was inhabited by a race of primitive savages, who were not greatly superior to the wild beasts in the vast forests which then covered the continent. They were exterminated at so early a period that all traditions of their existence were lost. Within the last fifty years, however, various relics of this race have been brought to light. Fragments of skulls and skeletons, with knives and arrow-heads of flint, have been found, at a considerable depth, in the gravel-beds of Northern France, or in caves in Germany, together with the bones of animals now extinct, upon which they fed. In the lakes of Switzerland, they built dwellings upon piles, at a little distance from the shore, in order to be more secure against the attacks of wild beasts or hostile tribes. Many remains of these lake-dwellings, with flint implements and fragments of pottery, have recently been discovered. The skulls of the race indicate that they were savages of the lowest type, and different in character from any which now exist on the earth.
The second migration of the Aryan race is supposed to have been that of the Celtic tribes, who took a more northerly course, by way of the steppes of the Volga and the Don, and gradually obtained possession of all Central and Western Europe, including the British Isles. Their advance was only stopped by the ocean, and the tribe which first appears in history, the Gauls, was at that time beginning to move eastward again, in search of new fields of plunder. It is impossible to ascertain whether the German tribes immediately followed the Celts, and took possession of the territory which they vacated in pushing westward, or whether they formed a third migration, at a later date. We only know the order in which they were settled when our first historical knowledge of them begins.
In the fourth century before the Christian Era, all Europe west of the Rhine, and as far south as the Po, was Celtic; between the Rhine and the Vistula, including Denmark and southern Sweden, the tribes were Germanic; while the Slavonic branch seems to have already made its appearance in what is now Southern Russia. Each of these three branches of the Aryan race was divided into many smaller tribes, some of which, left behind in the march from Asia, or separated by internal wars, formed little communities, like islands, in the midst of territory belonging to other branches of the race. The boundaries, also, were never very distinctly drawn: the tribes were restless and nomadic, not yet attached to the soil, and many of them moved through or across each other, so that some were constantly disappearing, and others forming under new names.