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Thread: Tacitus - Germania

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    Post Tacitus - Germania

    the characters do not make the genus, but the genus gives the characters -- Linnaeus

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    Post Tacitus on German Women

    Tacitus on German Women

    [The Germans] choose their kings for their noble birth, their commanders for their valor. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. The commanders rely on example rather than on the authority of their rank -- on the admiration they win by showing conspicuous energy and courage and by pressing forward in front of their own troops. Capital punishment, imprisonment, even flogging, are allowed to none but the priests, and are not inflicted merely as punishments or on the commanders' orders, but as it were in obedience to the god whom the Germans believe to be present on the field of battle. They actually carry with them into the fight certain figures and emblems taken from their sacred groves.
    A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.

    It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement -- a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the emperor Vespasian we saw Veleda [a prophetess who helped lead a revolt against Rome] long honored by many Germans as a divinity; and even earlier they showed similar reverence for Aurinia [another prophetess] and a number of others -- a reverence untainted by servile flattery or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.

    * * * * *

    Their marriage code is strict, and no feature of their morality deserves higher praise. They are almost unique among barbarians in being content with one wife apiece -- all of them, that is, except a very few who take more than one wife not to satisfy their desires but because their exalted rank brings them many pressing offers of matrimonial alliance. The dowry is brought by husband to wife, not by wife to husband. Parents and kinsmen attend and approve the gifts -- not gifts chosen to please a woman's fancy or gaily deck a young bride, but oxen, a horse with its bridle, or a shield, spear and sword. In consideration of such gifts a man gets his wife, and she in her turn brings a present of arms to her husband. This interchange of gifts typifies for them the most sacred bond of union, sanctified by mystic rites under the favor of the presiding deities of wedlock. The woman must not think that she is excluded from aspirations to manly virtues or exempt from the hazards of warfare. That is why she is reminded, in the very ceremonies which bless her marriage at the outset, that she enters her husband's home to be the partner of his toils and perils, that both in peace and war she is to share his sufferings and adventures. That is the meaning of the team of oxen, the horse ready for its rider, and the gift of arms. On these terms she must live her life and bear her children. She is receiving something that she must hand over intact and undepreciated to her children, something for her sons' wives to receive in their turn and pass on to her grandchildren.

    ---

    Tacitus, Germania, VII-VIII, XVIII.

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    Senior Member Phill's Avatar
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    Post Re: Tacitus on German Women

    Interesting, and a good read. I like learning more and more about our ancestors.

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    Eiserner Adler
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    Tacitus' 'Germania'

    http://www.geocities.com/aeldricc/tacitus_germania.html

    I am sure that most of us on this board are probably familiar with this work. I thought it would be nice to have a discussion of the pre-christian customs and culture of the German people. It is a pretty comprehensive work with 46 chapters, so I won't try to narrow it down to just one subject. Whatever topic covered that anyone would like to tackle to get the ball rolling is fine. Personally I think the war related sections are of paticular interest.

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    A great insight! It is wonderful to read of how one's ancestors lived. It strengthened my entire mind.

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    "4.

    For myself, I concur in opinion with such as suppose the people of Germany never to have mingled by inter-marriages with other nations, but to have remained a people pure, and independent, and resembling none but themselves. Hence amongst such a mighty multitude of men, the same make and form is found in all, eyes stern and blue, yellow hair, huge bodies, but vigorous only in the first onset. Of pains and labour they are not equally patient, nor can they at all endure thrift and heat. To bear hunger and cold they are hardened by their climate and soil."

    Did the ancient Romans only have contact with the ancestors of the Nordic Germans, or is it the case that the Nordics, being more distinct in appearance, made a more lasting impression on their memories?

    The thing to remember is that even adult Halstatts often have light or medium brown hair. There are lots of adult male Nordics in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden who are not blonde. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that Tacitus' account is completely accurate. Some blonde Germans were seen in battle, and then somehow reports came back that the Germans were all blonde.

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    As what is so often the case in this ancient tradition of ethnography, Tacitus didn't actually visit the North himself, but based his discriptions upon previous litterature at his disposal and what he had heard from others - who might have heard it from others who might have had heard it from others again...! I believe to remember that he himself in his travelling doing the "field research" went as far North as the river Elben, but no further. Though I must admit that it's a long time ago I studied the ancient classics, so I don't remember everything completely, and unfortunately probably not entirely correct either... :-/
    Besides, in relation to the physical appearances of Nordics one probably has to take into account those couple of long periods of the socalled great migrations which followed several hundred years after Tacitus wrote his work, though I'm not sure exactly of the impact and consequences thereof...

    To me the works of Tacitus is more romance than it is history. But none-the-less; even romance is seldom completely without any kind of attachments to the real world and the life that takes place within it... And I must admit that I personally don't find it very difficult to relate to and identify with the Germanics that Tacitus describe.

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    What Jonas says is very correct. Also, the aspects of Germanic culture which are most likely true in the retelling are those which we can find links to in other literature (even in certain cases later on with the Sagas of the Scandinavians in concerns to the Scandinavians) such as the Sagas or various Histories, as twisted as they became. In some respects Tacitus is attempting to show the Romans their own sloth by comparing them to the seemingly more moral Germanics. That is in some occasions, in others he does not try to downplay the savage stereotype. He does really give them this simplistic air though. That they are "two stupid" to mine to create coinage and that the Romans must introduce it to them. Though he truly is trying to make this people appeal more to the Romans. Especially with his references to Greek heroes having visited Germanic lands.

    And on a side note. The quote given their mentions "blond hair" which is not exactly true to any of the translations I have read. The direct translation (and most accepted theory) is red hair due to the fact that it was common for Germanic warriors to dye their hair red, as the Celts did with lime to make their hair blond, most likely to appear more fierce in battle. I have no doubt these Germans were predominantly blond, but the translation does not say so.

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    Excerpts from Tacitus' Germania

    Excerpts from a classic...

    ---

    [The Germans] choose their kings for their noble birth, their commanders for their valor. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. The commanders rely on example rather than on the authority of their rank -- on the admiration they win by showing conspicuous energy and courage and by pressing forward in front of their own troops. Capital punishment, imprisonment, even flogging, are allowed to none but the priests, and are not inflicted merely as punishments or on the commanders' orders, but as it were in obedience to the god whom the Germans believe to be present on the field of battle. They actually carry with them into the fight certain figures and emblems taken from their sacred groves.

    A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.

    It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement -- a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the emperor Vespasian we saw Veleda [a seeress who helped lead a revolt against Rome] long honored by many Germans as a divinity; and even earlier they showed similar reverence for Aurinia [another seeress] and a number of others -- a reverence untainted by servile flattery or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.

    [...]

    Their marriage code is strict, and no feature of their morality deserves higher praise. They are almost unique among barbarians in being content with one wife apiece -- all of them, that is, except a very few who take more than one wife not to satisfy their desires but because their exalted rank brings them many pressing offers of matrimonial alliance. The dowry is brought by husband to wife, not by wife to husband. Parents and kinsmen attend and approve the gifts -- not gifts chosen to please a woman's fancy or gaily deck a young bride, but oxen, a horse with its bridle, or a shield, spear and sword. In consideration of such gifts a man gets his wife, and she in her turn brings a present of arms to her husband. This interchange of gifts typifies for them the most sacred bond of union, sanctified by mystic rites under the favor of the presiding deities of wedlock. The woman must not think that she is excluded from aspirations to manly virtues or exempt from the hazards of warfare. That is why she is reminded, in the very ceremonies which bless her marriage at the outset, that she enters her husband's home to be the partner of his toils and perils, that both in peace and war she is to share his sufferings and adventures. That is the meaning of the team of oxen, the horse ready for its rider, and the gift of arms. On these terms she must live her life and bear her children. She is receiving something that she must hand over intact and undepreciated to her children, something for her sons' wives to receive in their turn and pass on to her grandchildren.


    [ Germania, VII-VIII, XVIII ]

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    Thank you Siegfried.

    I have recently checked out from the local college library a copy of Germania. This particular version was translated by J.B. Rives of the University of Toronto. Throughout the book he provides commentary and apparently, this is the first English language translation and commentary (1999) of Germania since the late 1930s....

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