The Germans: Latin influences

The first and most ancient contacts between Latins and Germans date back roughly to the period from the first to the fourth century. a. C., that is, during the time of Caesar and Augustus.

They began at first as a result of trade contacts between the two peoples and then spread to many aspects of civilization.

Like any cultural and language exchange, the meeting between Latins and Germans led to a remarkable enrichment: the Germans were amazed and curious about the novelties and habits of the Romans, so they learned a lot from them.

Trade in goods began at the borders, from where the Germans then spread them to the North, leading to a gradual intensification of relations.

These exchanges are known thanks to the archaeological findings, which reveal the presence of Roman make items dating back to the first century. a. C. such as glass and ceramic vases, statuettes and weapons, not only in the country currently known as Germany but also in Poland, Sweden and Norway.

Place names

Another important evidence, as always, is provided by the place names: the names of German cities and rivers clearly go back to Latin. Here are some examples:

  • Coblenz < Lat. Confluentes (confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers)

  • Köln < Lat. Colony

  • Aachen < Lat. Aquae

Some suffixes are of Latin origin:

  • weiter < Lat. Uillarum <uilla (villa)

  • weik / weig: Mod. Engl. – wich (e.g. Norwich) < Lat. Uīcus (village)

  • chester < Lat. Castra (camp)

Trade Terms

Based on what already said, the Germans inherited from Latin several terms related to business and trade.

Here are some examples of the Gothic, Old Norse, Old English, and Modern English, Old and Modern German:

  • Lat. Cauponāri (to trade)

  • Gothic Kaupōn

  • Norse Kaupa

  • Old Engl. Cēapian

  • Old High Germ. Koufōn Mod. Germ. Kaufen (to buy)

  • Lat. Mangō (slave trader)

  • Norse Mangare

  • Old Engl. Mangere

  • Old High Germ. Mangare (merchant), Maugon (to trade)

  • Lat. Pondus

  • Gothic, Norse, Old Engl. and Mod. Engl. Pound

  • Old High Germ. Pfunt Mod. Germ. Pfund

  • Lat. Moneta

  • Norse Mynt

  • Old Engl. Mynet Mod. Engl. Money (mint)

  • Old High Germ. Muniza Mod. Germ. Münze

  • Lat. Cista

  • Norse Kista

  • Old Engl. Cest, Ciste Mod. Engl. Chest

  • Old High Germ. Kista Mod. Germ. Kiste

  • Lat. Asinus

  • Gothic Asilus

  • Old Engl. Eosol Mod. Engl. Ass

  • Old High Germ. Hexyl Mod. Germ. Esel

  • Lat. Mulus

  • Old Engl. Mum Mod. Engl. Mule

  • Old High Germ. Mūl Mod. Germ. Maul

Names of Mediterranean products

Of course, thanks to the trade with the Romans, the Germans got to know a number of products previously unknown, mainly related to the containers used for such products. Let us briefly recall them:

  • Lat. Uīnum

  • Gothic Wein

  • Norse Uīn

  • Old Engl. Win Mod. Engl. Wine

  • Old High Germ. Wīn Mod. Germ. Wein

  • Lat. Acētum

  • Gothic Aketi

  • Old Engl. Aeced 

  • Lat. Calix – calicis

  • Old Engl. Celc

  • Old High Germ. Kelich Mod. Germ. Kelch

  • Lat. Cellārium (cellar)

  • Old High Germ. Kellari Mod. Germ. Keller

  • Lat. Piper

  • Norse Pippar

  • Old Engl. Pipor Mod. Engl. Pepper

  • Old High Germ. Pfeffar Mod. Germ. Pfeffer

As already mentioned, many are also the names of containers and household equipment that the Germanic peoples imported from Latin:

  • Lat. Catīnus

  • Gothic Katils

  • Norse Ketell

  • Old Engl. Cytel Mod. Engl. Kettle

  • Old High Germ. Kezzil Mod. Germ. Kessel

  • Lat. Patina

  • Norse Panna

  • Old Engl. Ponne Mod. Engl. Pan

  • Old High Germ. Pfanna Mod. Germ. Pfanne

The Germanic peoples lived a simple life, their houses were equipped with the bare minimum and even their kitchens had limited furnishings. As to their diet, it was based mainly on wild meat, milk, fruits, no toppings. No wonder, then, that they were fascinated by the Roman lifestyle. Also with regard to food, then, the Germanic languages were enriched a lot from Latin:

  • Lat. Coquus

  • Old Engl. Cōc Mod. Engl. Cook

  • Old High Germ. and Mod. Germ. Koch

  • Lat. Coquere

  • Old High Germ. Kochōn Mod. Germ. Kochen

Same goes for clothing, hairstyles, and architecture. The Germans were accustomed to dress in simple clothes, mostly made of animal skins; as Tacitus reminds us:

tacito“(…) Tegumen omnibus Sagun fibula aut, is Indesit, plug consertum ceterum intecti toto dies iuxta atque focum ignis agunt (…) Gerunt et Feram pellis (…)”Germania, 17

Here are some of the imported terms:

  • Lat. Capillus

  • Gothic Kapillōn (to cut hair)

  • Lat. Solea

  • Gothic Sulja

  • Lat. Balsamus

  • Gothic Balsan

  • Norse Balsamr

  • Old Engl. Balsam


The Romans are known to be great architects, just think of the aqueducts and paved roads that they built anywhere in the empire.

The brick houses were for the Germans a real novelty:

  • Lat. Mūrus

  • Norse Múrr

  • Old Engl. Mūr

  • Old High Germ. Mūra Mod. Germ. Mauer

  • Lat. Camīnus

  • Old High Germ. Kamin Mod. Germ. Kamin

  • Lat. Fenestra

  • Old High Germ. Venstar Mod. Germ. Fenster

  • Lat. Uia

  • Old Engl. Straet Mod. Engl. Street

  • Old High Germ. Strāzza Mod. Germ. Strasse

Military terms

From the second half of the second century. a. C., more and more Germans began to join the ranks of mercenaries Roman armies, and this constituted a further opportunity for contact between the two peoples.

  • Lat. Annōna

  • Gothic Annō (pay for soldiers)

  • Lat. Speculator (sentry)

  • Gothic Spaikulator

  • Lat. Campus (Martius) (battlefield)

  • Norse Kapp (dispute)

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