History of Switzerland : the roots of freedoom (400-1516)
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Around 400, Rome withdrew its legions from the area of Switzerland, and Germanic tribes moved in to take control. In the western regions, the originally Germanic Burgundians settled and adopted both the Christianity and the Latin language of the local Gallo-Roman tribes. On the south side of the mountains, and in the closed Alpine valleys of Rhaetia, Lombardic and Romansh peoples retained close cultural links with their former Roman overlords, the latter adapting Vulgar Latin into their own unique language. Elsewhere, Aleman tribes slowly trickled down from the north into the less hospitable thick forests of the central and northeastern parts of Helvetia to build new villages and agricultural settlements, generally doing so without displacing previous inhabitants and halting their advances at points where the land was already populated by Burgundians. Unlike their Latin-speaking neighbours, the Germanic Alemans had had little contact with Rome and Christianity, and so continued to use their own native language and follow their own customs. In this way, a border of language and culture slowly developed along a line running roughly north–south through the area, marking the easternmost limit of Latinate Burgundian territory and the westernmost limit of Alemanic territory. This language border survives today as the frontier between French- and German-speaking Switzerland.

Around 600, both the Alemans and the Burgundians were conquered by the Franks, who absorbed them into their empire under first Merovingian and then Carolingian kings. The Frankish Empire greatly expanded Latin Christianity throughout Switzerland – and especially into the pagan Alemanic areas – with a network of monasteries spreading into the countryside. Ecclesiastical complexes which have survived from this time still flourish at Romainmôtier, Einsiedeln, Engelberg and St Gallen. Feudalism also spread, and the once-great Roman towns fell into decline as local warrior nobles took control over an agrarian society of lords, vassals and a vast, impoverished peasantry. In 870, Charlemagne’s empire was split, with the dividing line running right through the middle of modern Switzerland. Chaos and conflict erupted, and it wasn’t until around 1050 that peace and order returned to the region, nominally under the control of the Holy Roman Empire.

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