An important Germanic tribe, first mentioned by Dio Cassius as fighting a battle with Caracalla near Mainz in 213. According to Asinius Quadratus, they belonged to the confederacy of the Suevi. They came from the northeast, where the Semnones held the territory between the Oder and the Elbe. They had varying success in their struggle against the Romans, but about 260-268 they occupied the Tithe Lands, north of the Danube, and advanced south as far as Ravenna and east into what is now Austria. They fought with Maximian in 290, and obtained permanent possession of the territory extending to the Alb and the Neckar about 300. By 405 or 406 they had conquered the southern plains of Upper Swabia and the neighboring lands of northern and eastern Switzerland, as far as the Vosges. In the fifth century the region from the Iller to the Vosges and from the lower Main to the St. Gothard bore the name of Alemannia. They were a fierce and stubborn race, hostile to Roman civilization, and possessing a religion closely connected with the power of nature. In the Tithe Lands they must have met with at least weak Christian congregations which fell with the Roman power.
Conversion to Christianity.
The numerous captives who were led away from Christian Gaul had little influence after they were deprived of Christian nurture. The Alemanni, however learned Christian views. Their prince, Gibuld, was an Arian, probably converted by Goths. The Augsburg bishopric was maintained; but the Alemanni in general continued heathen till they were overcome at Strasburg in 496 by Clovis, king of the Franks. He took their northern territory and established royal residences there. A part of the people went into the country of the Ostrogoth Theodoric, probably the present German Switzerland, where the bishoprics of Windisch and Augst (Basel) existed and the Roman population was Christian. In 538 Vitiges ceded this territory to the Frankish king Theodebert. Effective missionary work was carried on by the newly converted Franks from St. Martin's Church at Tours as a center; and churches dedicated to Saints Martin, Remigius, Brictius, Medard, Lupus, Antholianus, Clement, Felix, and Adauctus indicate the Frankish influence. In the courts the Frankish priest ruled beside the royal administrator. As early as 575 the Greek Agathias hoped for a speedy victory of Christianity among the Alemanni, because the "more intelligent" of them had been won by the Franks. Duke Uncilen (583-605) was probably, and his successor Cunzo was certainly, a Christian. The oldest law of the Alemanni, the so-called pactus of c. 590-600 recognizes the Church as the protector of slaves. The episcopal see of Windisch was transferred to Constance, nearer Ueberlingen, the ducal seat; and the Augsburg bishopric was separated from Aquileia, that of Strasburg coming again into prominence.
But heathenism was still powerful. Many of the new converts still sacrificed to the gods. The Frankish Church was not influential enough to permeate the popular life of the Alemanni. But efficient help came from the Celtic missionaries of Ireland. In 610 Columban (q.v.), on the suggestion of King Theodebert, ascended the Rhine with monks from Luxeuil and settled at Bregenz, but had to leave after two years. His pupil Gallus, however, the founder of the monastery of St. Gall (q.v.), remained, and in connection with the native priests labored for the cause of Christ. From Poitiers came the Celt Fridolin (q.v.), founder of the monastery of Säckingen. Trudpert built a cell in the Breisgau. As the Merovingians sank lower and lower the desire of the Alemanni for independence grew, and they found need of the support of the Church in their struggle for liberty. Unwilling to see themselves surpassed in devotion by the despised Franks, they made rich donations to St. Gall. The Lex Aitmannorum, drawn up probably at a great assembly under Duke Lantfried in 719, gave the Church and its bishops a position of dignity and power, though the life of the people was still far from being thoroughly influenced by its moral teaching. The effort for independence was crushed by the strong arm of the mayor of the palace. To balance St. Gall, which had favored it, Charles Martel, with the help of Pirmin (q.v.), founded the monastery of Reichenau in 724. Pirmin was expelled in 727, and his pupil and successor Heddo a few years later. The entire people were then baptized, but they had no clear knowledge of the Christian faith and were still influenced by heathen customs. The organizing work of Boniface was at first opposed in Alemannia, but by 798 the people had begun to make pilgrimages to Rome. Several small monasteries were established, and, besides St. Gall and Reichenau, the royal monasteries of Weissenburg, Lorsch, and Fulda received rich gifts. The distinguished Alemanni who filled bishoprics under the Carolingians, and Hildegard, the queen of Charlemagne, with her brother, Gerold, evidence the ultimate triumph of Christianity.