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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

Passages from Tacitus' Germania
compiled by Alex Watts-Tobin

Edge of the World

  •  “Environment Theory”:
    • 4: 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.
  •  Ocean:
    • 45: 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 the stars. 
  • Monstrous humans:
    • 46: 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.

 Military Way of Life

  •  Public business:
    • 13: They transact no business, public or private, without being armed.
  •  In the Assembly:
    • 11: 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.
  •  Mark of citizenship:
    • 13: 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.
  •  Dowry
    • 18: 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.
  •  Rite of Passage:
    • 31 [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.

 Role of women

  • Rallying troops & liberty
    • 8:  … 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 themselves.
  •  Prophecy & advice:
    • 8: 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.
  •  Approbation:
    • 7: 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.
  •  Contribution to military society
    • 18: The woman must not think that she is excluded from aspirations to manly virtues or exempt from the hazards of warfare.
  •  Adultery punishments:
    • 19: 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.
  • Female rule:
    • 45: [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.

 The Noble Savage: “Hard Primitivism”

  •  Lack of Roman Corruption
    •  No precious metals
      • 5: Silver and gold have been denied them whether as a sign of divine favour or of divine wrath, I cannot say.
    • No moneylending
      • 26: 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.
    • No religion, no fear:
      • 46 [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.
    • Morality:
      • 19:  No one in Germany finds vice amusing, or calls it 'up-to-date' to seduce and be seduced. …
      • 19: Good morality is more effective in Germany than good laws are elsewhere.
    •  Contentment:
      • 35: Untouched by greed or lawless ambition, they dwell in quiet seclusion, never provoking a war, never robbing or plundering their neighbours.
  •  Ancient Roman Virtues 
    • Poverty & Strength:
      • 20: In every home the children go naked and dirty, and develop that strength of limb and tall stature which excite our admiration.
    • Woman = Univira
      • 19: 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.
  •  Lack of civilization

     Use of “Barbarian”

    •  Polygamous:
      • 18: 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.
    •  Strange rituals:
      • 39: [Semnones]: The sacrifice of a human victim in the name of all marks the grisly opening of their savage ritual.
    •  Uninquisitive:
      • 45 [Aestii]:  Like true barbarians, they have never asked or discovered what [amber] is or how it is produced.

    Lack of Sophistication

    • Cavalry warfare
      • 6: 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.
    • Infantry fighting
      • 6: To give ground, provided that you return to the attack, is considered good tactics rather than cowardice.
    • Lack of Organization:
      • 11: 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 their unpunctuality.
    • No Agriculture:
      • 14: 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 blood.
    • No cities:
      • 16: 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...
    • Appetite:
      • 21: No nation indulges more freely in feasting and entertaining than the German.
    • Outspokenness:
      • 22: 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.
    • Gaming:
      • 24: 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.
    • Laziness:
      • 26: 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.
    • Appreciating Silver and Gold:
      • 5: 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.
    • Appreciating Amber
      • 45 [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 astounded

web-edited by Dr. Janice Siegel

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

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