The concept of Germany as a distinct region can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul (France), which he had conquered. This was a geographic expression, as the area included both Germanic tribes and Celts. The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest (AD 9) prevented annexation by the Roman Empire. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Franks subdued the other West Germanic tribes. When the Frankish Empire was divided among Charlemagne's heirs in 843, the eastern part (now Western Germany) became East Francia, ruled by Louis the German. Henry the Fowler became the first king of Germany in 919. In 962, Henry's son Otto I became the first emperor of what historians refer to as the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.
In the High Middle Ages, the dukes and princes of the empire gained power at the expense of the emperors, who were elected by the princes and crowned by the pope. The northern states became Protestant in the early 16th century, while the southern states remained Catholic. Protestants and Catholics clashed in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which left vast areas depopulated. The Peace of Westphalia, which ended the war, is considered the effective end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of the modern nation-state system. Although the Habsburg family continued to use the title "emperor", from this point on their authority was limited to Austria.
After the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), Germany was reorganized and the number of states reduced to 39. These states were enrolled in an Austrian-led German Confederation. Nationalist sentiment led to the unsuccessful 1848 March Revolution. A German Empire was created in 1871 under the leadership of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Reichstag, or elected parliament, had only a limited role in the imperial government. Unification was followed by an industrial revolution. By 1900, Germany's economy was by far the largest in Europe (and second only to the U.S. in the world). Defeated in the First World War (1914–1918), Germany faced territorial losses and war reparations. Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated and democracy was introduced under the Weimar Republic.
The Great Depression, which began in 1929, led to a polarization of German politics and to an upsurge in support for the Communist and Nazi parties. In 1933, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler were elected. The Nazis imposed a totalitarian regime and followed an expansionist foreign policy that led to World War II. After Nazi Germany's defeat, the country was divided into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany. In 1990, East Germany was reunited with West Germany. In recent years, Germany has become increasingly integrated into the European Union, notably with the "Europe 1992" effort to create a unified market and adoption of the euro, a Europe-wide currency, in 2002.
The earliest hominid fossils found in what is now Germany are Homo heidelbergensis (500,000 years old) and the Steinheim Skull (300,000 years old). The Neanderthals, named for Neander Valley, flourished around 100,000 years ago. The region was glaciated from 30,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago. The Nebra sky disk, dated 1600 BC, is the oldest known astronomical instrument found anywhere. Northern Germany experienced the Nordic Bronze Age from 1700BC to 450BC and thereafter the Pre-Roman Iron Age. Differences between artifacts from northern Germany and those from southern Germany suggest the beginning of differentiation between the Germanic and Celtic peoples. In the first century BC, the Germanic tribes began expanding south, east, and west.
Early history (56 BC to 260 AD)
Germany entered recorded history in June 56 BC, when Roman commander Julius Caesar crossed the Rhine. His army built a huge wooden bridge in only ten days. He retreated back to Gaul upon learning that the Suevi tribe was gathering to oppose him. The English word "Germany" is derived from the Latin Germania, a word first recorded in Caesar's writings.
Under Augustus, the Roman General Publius Quinctilius Varus began to invade Germania (a term used by the Romans running roughly from the Rhine to the Ural Mountains), and it was in this period that the Germanic tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare while maintaining their tribal identity. In AD 9, three Roman legions led by Varus were defeated by the Cheruscan leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Arminius later suffered a defeat at the hands of the Roman general Germanicus at the Battle of the Weser River or Idistaviso in AD 16, but the Roman victory was not followed up after the Roman Emperor Tiberius recalled Germanicus to Rome in AD 17. Tiberius wished that the Roman frontier with Germania be maintained along the Rhine. Modern Germany, as far as the Rhine and the Danube, thus remained outside the Roman Empire. By AD 100, the time of Tacitus' Germania, Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany. The third century saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes: Alamanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisians, Sicambri, and Thuringii. Around 260, the Germanic peoples broke through the Limes and the Danube frontier into Roman-controlled lands.
See also: List of meanings of countries' names