Some of the tribes in Germania during the Roman Empire. Suebi and Irminones are in magenta.

The Suebi (or Suevi, Suavi, or Suevians) were a large group of related Germanic tribes, which included the Marcomanni, Quadi, Hermunduri, Semnones, Lombards and others, sometimes including sub-groups simply referred to as Suebi.[1][2]

In the broadest sense, the Suebi are associated with the early Germanic tribal group Irminones, also mentioned by classical authors. Beginning in the 1st century BC, various Suebian tribes moved south-westwards from the Baltic Sea and the Elbe and came into conflict with Ancient Rome. They are first mentioned by Julius Caesar in connection with the invasion of Gaul by the Suebian chieftain Ariovistus during the Gallic Wars. During the reign of Augustus, the Suebi expanded southwards at the expense of Gallic tribes, establishing a Germanic presence in the immediate areas north of the Danube. During this time, Maroboduus of the Marcomanni established the first confederation of Germanic tribes in Bohemia.[3] Under the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century AD, the Marcomanni, under pressure from East Germanic tribes, invaded Italy.[4] By the Crisis of the Third Century, new Suebian groups had emerged, and Italy was invaded again by the Juthungi, while the Alamanni ravaged Gaul and settled the Agri Decumates.[5] The Alamanni continued exerting pressure on Gaul, while the Alamannic chieftain Chrocus played an important role in elevating Constantine the Great to Roman Emperor. By the late 4th century AD, many Suebi were migrating westwards under Hunnic pressure, and in 406 AD, Suebian tribes led by Hermeric crossed the Rhine and briefly overran Hispania, where they eventually established the Kingdom of the Suebi.[6][7] During the last years of the decline of the Western Roman Empire, the Suebian general Ricimer was its de facto ruler.[8] The Lombards later settled Italy and established the Kingdom of the Lombards.

The Alamanni, Bavarii and Thuringii who remained in Germania gave their name to the German regions of Swabia, Bavaria and Thuringia respectively.[9] The Suebi are thought to encompass the High German cultures and dialects predominant in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria.[10]


Mušov Cauldron, a Roman bronze cauldron found in 1988 in a Germanic chieftain's grave in Mušov, Czech Republic, dating to the 2nd century A.D. The cauldron is decorated by four cast heads of Germanic men wearing a Suebian knot hairstyle

Etymologists trace the name from Proto-Germanic *swēbaz, either based on the Proto-Germanic root *swē- meaning "one's own" people or on the third-person reflexive pronoun;[11] or from an earlier Indo-European root *swe- (Polish swe, swój, swoi, Latin sui, Sanskrit swa, each meaning "one's own").[12]

The etymological sources list the following ethnic names as being from the same root: Suiones, Samnites, Sabellians, and Sabines, indicating the possibility of a prior more extended and common Indo-European ethnic name, "our own people". Notably, the Semnones, known to classical authors as one of the largest Suebian groups, also seem to have a name with this same meaning, but recorded with a different pronunciation by the Romans.

Alternatively, it may be borrowed from a Celtic word for "vagabond".[13]