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The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of west Germanic tribes located around the upper Main, a river that is one of the largest tributaries of the Rhine, on land that is today part of Germany. One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211-217 and claimed thereby to be their defeater. The nature of this alliance and their previous tribal affiliations remain uncertain. The alliance was aggressive in nature, attacking the Roman province of Germania Superior whenever it could. Generally it broadly followed the example of the Franks, the first Germanic tribal alliance, which had stopped the Romans from penetrating north of the lower Rhine and subsequently invaded the Roman province of Germania Inferior.
From the first century, the Rhine had become the border between Roman Gaul and tribal Germania. Germanic peoples, Celts, and tribes of mixed Celto-Germanic ethnicity were settled in its lands. The Romans divided these territories into two districts, Germania Inferior and Germania Superior situated along the lower and upper Rhine respectively.
Upper Germania included the region between the upper Rhine and the upper Danube, (the Black Forest region that was somewhat larger than today: see Hercynian Forest). The Romans called this the Agri Decumates, (i.e. "Decumates fields"), a name of unknown origin. Some have translated the expression as "the ten cantons", but whose cantons of what entity is not known. The exterior Roman fortified border around the area of Germania Superior was called the Limes Germanicus.
The assembled warbands of the Alamanni frequently crossed the limes, attacking Germania Superior and moving into the Agri Decumates. As a confederation, from the 5th century, they settled the Alsace and expanded into the Swiss Plateau, as well as parts of what are now Bavaria and Austria, reaching the valleys of the Alps by the 8th century.
According to Historia Augusta the confederates in the third century were still simply called Germani. Proculus, an imperial usurper in 280, derived some of his popularity in Gaul by his guerilla successes against the Alamanni. The Alamanni, thereafter became the nation of Alamannia, that was sometimes independent, but more often was ruled by the Franks. The name of Germany and the German language, in French, Allemagne, allemand, in Portuguese Alemanha, alemão, and in Spanish Alemania, alemán, are derived from the name of this early Germanic nation. Persian also designates Germans Almaani and Germany as Almaan.
The region of the Alamanni was always somewhat sprawling and comprised a number of different districts, reflecting its mixed origins. In the Early Middle Ages its territories were divided between the Diocese of Strassburg, which dates from about 614, the territory of Augsburg from 736, the Mainz archdiocese from 745, and of Basel, from 805. Its distinctive laws were codified under Charlemagne as the Duchy of Alamannia in Swabia. Today the descendants of the Alamanni are divided between parts of four nations: France (Alsace), Germany (Swabia and parts of Bavaria), Switzerland and Austria, and the German spoken in those regions has distinctive regional dialects.