We are Marcomanni

In the Marcomannic Wars of the Second Century A.D., the Roman Empire struggled to hold its Danubian frontier against restless German and Sarmatian tribes centered in the Hyrcannian Forest to the north of the river. That the Rome response was listless and ineffective will not surprise those who have read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who was emperor at the time. Although the name Marcomanni is often identified with one particular tribe centered in what is now Bohemia, and more particularly on the city of Budweis (home of Budweiser beer), I follow the authors who take marcomanni as a generic word denoting men of the border or frontiersmen.  It is a compound of the German “mark” (boundary) and “manni” (men). Among the Anglo Saxons the name “mark men” was given to those who dwelt in the border country, or “debatable land,” between England and Scotland. Their leaders were called marcher lords.


We are marcomanni,

Mark men all are we;

Our home is the debated land;

Here sleeps hostility!


The stranger dwells hard by us,

We see him through the trees,

His smoke’s on the horizon,

His drumbeat on the breeze.


The river runs between us,

It marks our fraught frontier;

Mark men move on the far bank,

And mark men also here.


They are marcomanni,

Mark men all are they,

Their home is the debated land

Of skirmish and affray.


The stranger’s crossed the river—

The mark is on the move;

He prowls and howls in shadows—

And what does this behoove?


Our mark lords meet in counsel,

They wring their hands and fret,

They shout and stab and weep and grab,

With blood the ground is wet.


We are marcomanni,

Mark men all are we,

Our home is the debated land–

Here wakes hostility!


Now strangers rule our counsels,

The mark has passed to east:

The howlers are our teachers,

The prowlers are our priests


The river runs with commerce,

The forest trees are cleared,

The shadows bask in sunshine,

Exactly as we feared!


We were marcomanni,

Mark men once were we,

Our home was the debated land–

Now it’s their country!

4 thoughts on “We are Marcomanni

  1. Pingback: We are Marcomanni | Reaction Times

  2. The march is also the market. In The Gift, Marcel Mauss a asserts that when strangers meet, they can do one of two things, either kill one another (Mars) or exchange gifts (Mercury). Mars and Mercury are aspects of the same social phenomenon. When the Greenlanders came to Vinland, to the farthest possible march, the skraelings approached. The Greenlanders, honoring Mercury, offered milk and red-dyed silk for exchange. At first the skraelings were satisfied, and they returned a bounty of pelts, but, goaded by Mars, they envied the iron-founded swords and axes of the Vikings. The skraelings attacked, to take it all for themselves. Thorvald Eriksson died, with an aboriginal arrow in his armpit, but his company drove off the assault. The Vikings withdrew to Greenland, but eventually their progeny came back. Something called wampum (“exchange”) developed. The “misery” of the “victims” ensued — and ensued and ensued. (See Howard Zinn. Yes, yes, yes…) In “Turtle Island” today, however, everyone has a large flat-screen TV. (And possibly opioid addiction.) If we sift the historical, and the presumed prehistorical, record, the exchange must have been more common than the duel, or we would not be here. The march, or rather the market, is always moving. The march, or rather the market, is like a shark. If it ever stopped moving, it would die.


    Mercury is a late god, not attested in the Latinate world until about 400 BC. Mars is older. Mars’s ars, pardoning the expression, appears in the tribal name Arya, in the given names Arjuna and Ares, and in the sovereign names Iran (Persia) and Eire (Ireland). Also in the word ire, today definitive of the post-Trump Left. And presumably in irony. (Never ask the Left what that means.)

    It is impossible to mercuriate — i.e., exchange — with those who repudiate exchange In Ares Priori, but when the Allemans, formerly the “Us-Mans” and the “Them-Mans”, recognize one another, Mercury prevails, and everyone gets what he wants, more or less.

    The market is ultra-trans… It kicks everybody in the ars

    P.S. When I was eighteen years old, I earned pocket-money working as a “box-boy” at a Southern-California grocery franchise called Mar[s]ket Basket. (Known elsewhere as Kroger, whatever that is.)


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