A Teacher Workshop held at Temple
University, Ambler Campus
March 24, 2001
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Romans in Germany
A Workshop/Seminar held at Temple
University, Ambler Campus
March 24, 2001
from Tacitus' Germania
compiled by Alex Watts-Tobin
of the World
They are less able to endure toil or fatiguing tasks and
cannot bear thirst or heat, though their climate has inured
them to cold spells and the poverty of their soil to hunger.
Beyond the Suiones we find another sea, sluggish and almost
stagnant. This sea is believed to be the boundary that
girdles the earth because the last radiance of the setting
sun lingers on here till dawn, with a brilliance that dims
What comes after them is the stuff of fables - Hellusii and
Oxiones with the faces and features of men, the bodies and
limbs of animals. On such unverifiable stories I shall
express no opinion.
Way of Life
They transact no business, public or private, without being
If a proposal displeases them, the people shout their
dissent; if they approve, they clash their spears. To
express approbation with their weapons is their most
complimentary way of showing agreement.
Then, in the presence of the Assembly, either one of the
chiefs or the young man's father or some other relative
presents him with a shield and a spear. These, among the
Germans, are the equivalent of the man's toga with us.
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.
[Chatti]: As soon as they reach manhood they let their hair
and beard grow as they will. This fashion of covering the
face is assumed in accordance with a vow pledging them to
the service of Valour; and only when they have slain an
enemy do they lay it aside.
troops & liberty
… 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, …
the imminent prospect of enslavement - a fate which the
Germans fear more desperately for their women than for
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.
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.
to military society
The woman must not think that she is excluded from
aspirations to manly virtues or exempt from the hazards of
Adultery is extremely rare, considering the size of the
population. A guilty wife is summarily punished by her
husband. He cuts off her hair, strips her naked, and in the
presence of kinsmen turns her out of his house and flogs her
all through the village.
[Sitones]: Bordering on the Suiones are the nations of the
Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one - woman
is the ruling sex. That is the measure of their decline, I
will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.
Noble Savage: “Hard Primitivism”
of Roman Corruption
Silver and gold have been denied them whether as a sign
of divine favour or of divine wrath, I cannot say.
The employment of capital in order to increase it by
usury is unknown in Germany; and ignorance is here a
surer defence than any prohibition.
religion, no fear:
[Fenni]: Unafraid of anything that man or god can do to
them, they have reached a state that few human beings
can attain: for these men are so well content that they
do not even need to pray for anything.
No one in Germany finds vice amusing, or calls it
'up-to-date' to seduce and be seduced. …
Good morality is more effective in Germany than good
laws are elsewhere.
Untouched by greed or lawless ambition, they dwell in
quiet seclusion, never provoking a war, never robbing or
plundering their neighbours.
In every home the children go naked and dirty, and
develop that strength of limb and tall stature which
excite our admiration.
Even better is the practice of those states in which
only virgins may marry, so that a woman who has once
been a bride has finished with all such hopes and
aspirations. She takes one husband, just as she has one
body and one life.
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 alliances.
[Semnones]: The sacrifice of a human victim in the name
of all marks the grisly opening of their savage ritual.
true barbarians, they have never asked or discovered
what [amber] is or how it is produced.
Their horses are not remarkable for either beauty or
speed, and are not trained to execute various evolutions
as ours are; they ride them straight ahead, or with just
a single wheel to the right, keeping their line so well
that not a man falls behind the rest.
To give ground, provided that you return to the attack,
is considered good tactics rather than cowardice.
It is a drawback of their independent spirit that they
do not take a summons as a command: instead of coming to
a meeting all together, they waste two or three days by
A German is not so easily prevailed upon to plough the
land and wait patiently for harvest as to challenge a
foe and earn wounds for his reward. He thinks it tame
and spiritless to accumulate slowly by the sweat of his
brow what can be got quickly by the loss of a little
They dwell apart, dotted about here and there, wherever
a spring, plain, or grove takes their fancy. Their
villages are not laid out in the Roman style...
No nation indulges more freely in feasting and
entertaining than the German.
The Germans are not cunning or sophisticated enough to
refrain from blurting out their inmost thoughts in the
freedom of festive surroundings, so that every man's
soul is laid completely bare.
They play at dice - surprisingly enough - when they are
sober, making a serious business of it; and they are so
reckless in their anxiety to win, however often they
lose, that when everything else is gone they will stake
their personal liberty on a last decisive throw.
The fact is that although their land is fertile and
extensive, they fail to take full advantage of it
because they do not work sufficiently hard.
Silver and Gold:
The natives take less pleasure than most people do in
possessing and handling these metals; indeed, one can
see in their houses silver vessels, which have been
presented to chieftains or to ambassadors travelling
abroad, put to the same everyday uses as earthenware.
[Aestii]: For a long time, indeed, it lay unheeded like
any other refuse of the sea, until Roman luxury made its
reputation. They have no use for it themselves. They
gather it crude, pass it on in unworked lumps, and are
by Dr. Janice Siegel
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