Period IV

The division of Switzerland in Roman provinces, second century. Fondation Gianadda, Martigny. Photo: TES.

The Languages of Switzerland

Celts, Romans, Alemanni: the names are familiar to the territory of Switzerland. The exhibition  ’Archaeology in Switzerland’ gives a view of their archaeological remains, accomplishments and social systems. The items on display show the journey from the first unknown settlers to the arrival of the Celtic tribes around 1000 BC.

The Celtic tribes did not form a political unity, but spoke the same language and shared the same (religious) culture. The Romans brought unity in language, law, culture, political system and economy, a process that is called romanisation nowadays. This unity was rather fragile, however, and collapsed after the departure of the Romans in the fifth century. Frankish rulers united the territory again and introduced Christianity, abbeys, bishoprics and a central administrative system. Charlemagne was their most effective ruler.

One development could not be turned back, however: the linguistic variety of Switzerland, the result of the Roman heritage, the French-speaking kingdom of Burgundy in the west, the Frankish rule, the arrival of the German-speaking Alemanni in the centre, north and east of the country, the migration of the German-speaking Walser in romanised areas in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the Italian languages in the south of the country. (further information: (