The Bructeri (Greek Βρούκτεροι; but Βουσάκτεροι in Strabo) were a Germanic tribe in Roman imperial times, located in northwestern Germany, in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia. Their territory included both sides of the upper Ems (Latin Amisia) and Lippe (Latin Luppia) rivers. At its greatest extent, their territory apparently stretched between the vicinities of the Rhine in the west and the Teutoburg Forest and Weser river in the east. In late Roman times they moved south to settle upon the east bank of the Rhine facing Cologne, an area later known as the kingdom of the Ripuarian Franks.

Role in history

The Bructeri formed an alliance with the Cherusci, the Marsi, the Chatti, Sicambri, and the Chauci, under the leadership of Arminius, that defeated the Roman General Varus and annihilated his three legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD.

Six years later, one of the generals serving under Germanicus, L. Stertinius defeated the Bructeri near the Ems and devastated their lands. Among the booty captured by Stertinius was the eagle standard of Legio XIX that had been lost at Teutoburg Forest. "The troops were then marched to the furthest frontier of the Bructeri, and all the country between the rivers Amisia and Luppia was ravaged, not far from the forest of Teutoburgium, where the remains of Varus and his legions were said to lie unburied."[1]

The Bructeri in 69-70 participated in the Batavian rebellion. The best known of the Bructeri was their wise virgin Veleda, the spiritual leader of the Batavi rising, regarded as a goddess.[2] She foretold the success of the Germans against the Roman legions during the Batavian revolt. A Roman Munius Lupercus was sent to offer her gifts but was murdered on the road.[3] The inhabitants of Cologne, the Ubii, asked for her as an arbiter, "they were not, however, allowed to approach or address Veleda herself. In order to inspire them with more respect they were prevented from seeing her. She dwelt in a lofty tower, and one of her relatives, chosen for the purpose, conveyed, like the messenger of a divinity, the questions and answers."[4]


The Bructeri were sometimes divided into major and minor divisions. Strabo (64/63 BC – c. 24 AD) describes the Lippe river running through the territory of the lesser Bructeri, about 600 stadia from the Rhine.[5] Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. AD 168) says that lesser Bructeri and the Sicambri occupied the area just to the north of the Rhine. Both authors agree that the greater Bructeri in their time lived between the Ems and the Weser, to the south of a part of the Chauci.[6] Tacitus (56 AD – 117 AD) on the other hand, states that the Bructeri had been forced from their territory, which he describes as having been north of the Tencteri who were on the Rhine at the time, between Cologne and the Chatti. This was done by the Chamavi and Angrivarii, who neighbored the Bructeri upon their north, along with other neighboring tribes. More than sixty thousand fell in this conflict, which the Romans had been able to observe with satisfaction.[7] Pliny the Younger (died 113) mentioned in a letter (2.7) that in his time "a triumphal Statue was decreed by the Senate to Vestricius Spurinna", at the Motion of the Emperor, because he "had brought the King of the Bructeri into his Realm by force of War; and even subdu'd that rugged Nation, by the Sight and Terror of it, the most honourable kind of Victory".

Later history

The Bructeri eventually disappear from historical records, apparently absorbed into the Frankish communities of the early Middle Ages. The final mentions of their name seem to indicate this, and also that they had moved south from their old position north of the Lippe.

In 307-308, after having spent the year before fighting Franks, emperor Constantine fought the Bructeri over the Rhine and built a bridge at Cologne.

In 392 AD, according to a citation by Gregory of Tours, Sulpicius Alexander reported that Arbogast crossed the Rhine to punish the "Franks" for incursions into Gaul. He first devastated the territory of the "Bricteri", near the bank of the Rhine, then the Chamavi, apparently their neighbours. Both tribes did not confront him. The Ampsivarii and the Chatti however were under military leadership of the Frankish princes Marcomer and Sunno and they appeared "on the ridges of distant hills". At this time the Bructeri apparently lived near Cologne. (Note that the Chamavi and the Ampsivarii are the two peoples that Tacitus had long before noted as having conquered the Bructeri from their north.)

In the Peutinger map, the Bructeri also appear as a distinct entity on the opposite side of the Rhine to Cologne and Bonn, the "Burcturi", with Franks to their north, and Suevi to their south. This has been interpreted to mean that the Bructeri had moved into the area previously inhabited by the Tencteri and Usipetes, which had in the time of Caesar been inhabited by the Ubii (who had in turn crossed the Rhine to inhabit Cologne as Roman citizens during imperial times). In the description of Claudius Ptolemy, the Bructeri and Sicambri are apparently close to their old positions, but with Suevi having inserted themselves upon the Rhine and the Tencteri and Usipetes much further south, near the Black Forest. This document is however suspected of resulting from confused use of primary sources.[8]

Sidonius, in his Poems, VII, lists the Bructeri among the allies who crossed the Rhine into Gaul under Attila in 451, leading to the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. (After them are listed the Franks living along the Neckar River.) But it is possible, according for example to E. A. Thompson that Sidonius included names of historical tribes, for effect.

By 690 Bructeri were found in Thuringia, after the Saxons had conquered their homeland; their name is preserved in the names Großbrüchter and Kleinbrüchter, in the municipality Helbedündorf.[9] Under the Carolingians the name of the Bructeri was still being used for a gau in the region near where they had originally lived, the so-called Brukterergau (or Borahtra, Botheresgau, Botheresge, Pagus Boroctra). This was however now south of the Lippe, and north of the Ruhr river, in the area classically inhabited by the Sicambri. This area is today the well-known and heavily populated Ruhr region of Germany.[10]

See also


  • Ralf G. Jahn: Der römisch-germanische Krieg (9-16 n. Chr.). Inaugural-Dissertation, Bonn 2001.
  • Günter Neumann, Harald von Petrikovits, Rafael von Uslar: Brukterer. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Bd. 3, S. 581ff.


  • Legio XIX, www.livius.orgIn 15, the eagle of the nineteenth was recovered by the Roman commander Lucius Stertinius among the Bructeri.
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