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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Manners and Customs of the Germans
By Tacitus (56–c. 120 A.D.)
 
From the ‘Germania’: Translation of Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

Government.  Influence of Women

THEY choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority. If they are energetic, if they are conspicuous, if they fight in the front, they lead because they are admired. But to reprimand, to imprison, even to flog, is permitted to the priests alone; and that not as a punishment, or at the general’s bidding, but as it were, by the mandate of the god whom they believe to inspire the warrior. They also carry with them into battle certain figures and images taken from their sacred groves. And what most stimulates their courage is that their squadrons or battalions, instead of being formed by chance or by a fortuitous gathering, are composed of families and clans. Close by them too are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery—they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them, and who administer both food and encouragement to the combatant.  1
  Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women, who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity; which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a State can be bound is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth. They even believe that the sex has a certain sanctity and prescience; and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times too they venerated Aurinia, and many other women; but not with servile flatteries or with sham deification.  2
 
Deities

  MERCURY is the deity whom they chiefly worship; and on certain days they deem it right to sacrifice to him even with human victims. Hercules and Mars they appease with more lawful offerings. Some of the Suevi also sacrifice to Isis. Of the occasion and origin of this foreign rite I have discovered nothing but that the image, which is fashioned like a light galley, indicates an imported worship. The Germans, however, do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance. They consecrate woods and groves; and they apply the names of deities to the abstraction which they see only in spiritual worship.
  3
 
Auguries and Method of Divination

  AUGURY and divination by lot no people practice more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular State, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods; and with his eyes towards heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavorable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required. For they are also familiar with the practice of consulting the notes and the flight of birds. It is peculiar to this people to seek omens and monitions from horses. Kept at the public expense, in these same woods and groves are white horses, pure from the taint of earthly labor; these are yoked to a sacred car, and accompanied by the priest and the king, or chief of the tribe, who note their neighings and snortings. No species of augury is more trusted, not only by the people and by the nobility, but also by the priests; who regard themselves as the ministers of the gods, and the horses as acquainted with their will. They have also another method of observing auspices, by which they seek to learn the result of an important war. Having taken, by whatever means, a prisoner from the tribe with whom they are at war, they pit him against a picked man of their own tribe, each combatant using the weapons of their country. The victory of the one or the other is accepted as an indication of the issue.
  4
 
Councils

  ABOUT minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights; and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day. Their freedom has this disadvantage,—that they do not meet simultaneously or as they are bidden, but two or three days are wasted in the delays of assembling. When the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief—according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence—is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears. The most complimentary form of assent is to express approbation with their weapons.
  5
 
Punishments.  Administration of Justice

  IN their councils an accusation may be preferred, or a capital crime prosecuted. Penalties are distinguished according to the offense. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the coward, the unwarlike, the man stained with abominable vices, is plunged into the mire of the morass, with a hurdle put over him. This distinction in punishment means that crime, they think, ought in being punished to be exposed, while infamy ought to be buried out of sight. Lighter offenses, too, have penalties proportioned to them: he who is convicted is fined in a certain number of horses or of cattle. Half of the fine is paid to the king or to the State, half to the person whose wrongs are avenged and to his relatives. In these same councils they also elect the chief magistrates, who administer law in the cantons and the towns. Each of these has a hundred associates chosen from the people, who support him with their advice and influence.
  6
 
Training of the Youth

  THEY transact no public or private business without being armed. It is not, however, usual for any one to wear arms till the State has recognized his power to use them. Then in the presence of the council one of the chiefs, or the young man’s father, or some kinsman, equips him with a shield and a spear. These arms are what the “toga” is with us,—the first honor with which youth is invested. Up to this time he is regarded as a member of a household, afterwards as a member of the commonwealth. Very noble birth or great services rendered by the father secure for lads the rank of a chief; such lads attach themselves to men of mature strength and of long-approved valor. It is no shame to be seen among a chief’s followers. Even in his escort there are gradations of rank, dependent on the choice of the man to whom they are attached. These followers vie keenly with each other as to who shall rank first with his chief; the chiefs as to who shall have the most numerous and the bravest followers. It is an honor as well as a source of strength to be thus always surrounded by a large body of picked youths: it is an ornament in peace and a defense in war. And not only in his own tribe but also in the neighboring States it is the renown and glory of a chief to be distinguished for the number and valor of his followers; for such a man is courted by embassies, is honored with presents, and the very prestige of his name often settles a war.
  7
 
Warlike Ardor of the People

  WHEN they go into battle, it is a disgrace for the chief to be surpassed in valor, a disgrace for his followers not to equal the valor of the chief. And it is an infamy and a reproach for life to have survived the chief, and returned from the field. To defend, to protect him, to ascribe one’s own brave deeds to his renown, is the height of loyalty. The chief fights for victory; his vassals fight for their chief. If their native State sinks into the sloth of prolonged peace and repose, many of its noble youths voluntarily seek those tribes which are waging some war: both because inaction is odious to their race, and because they win renown more readily in the midst of peril, and cannot maintain a numerous following except by violence and war. Indeed, men look to the liberality of their chief for their war-horse and their blood-stained and victorious lance. Feasts and entertainments—which, though inelegant, are plentifully furnished—are their only pay. The means of this bounty come from war and rapine. Nor are they as easily persuaded to plow the earth and to wait for the year’s produce, as to challenge an enemy and earn the honor of wounds. Nay, they actually think it tame and stupid to acquire by the sweat of toil what they might win by their blood.
  8
 
Habits in Time of Peace

  WHENEVER they are not fighting, they pass much of their time in the chase, and still more in idleness, giving themselves up to sleep and to feasting; the bravest and the most warlike doing nothing, and surrendering the management of the household, of the home, and of the land, to the women, the old men, and all the weakest members of the family. They themselves lie buried in sloth: a strange combination in their nature, that the same men should be so fond of idleness, so averse to peace. It is the custom of the States to bestow by voluntary and individual contribution on the chiefs a present of cattle or of grain, which, while accepted as a compliment, supplies their wants. They are particularly delighted by gifts from neighboring tribes; which are sent not only by individuals but also by the State, such as choice steeds, heavy armor, trappings, and neck-chains. We have now taught them to accept money also.
  9
 
Arrangement of their Towns.  Subterranean Dwellings

  IT is well known that the nations of Germany have no cities, and that they do not even tolerate closely contiguous dwellings. They live scattered and apart, just as a spring, a meadow, or a wood has attracted them. Their villages they do not arrange in our fashion,—with the buildings connected and joined together,—but every person surrounds his dwelling with an open space, either as a precaution against the disasters of fire, or because they do not know how to build. No use is made by them of stone or tile: they employ timber for all purposes, rude masses without ornament or attractiveness. Some parts of their buildings they stain more carefully, with a clay so clear and bright that it resembles painting, or a colored design. They are wont also to dig out subterranean caves, and pile on them great heaps of dung, as a shelter from winter, and as a receptacle for the year’s produce; for by such places they mitigate the rigor of the cold. And should an enemy approach, he lays waste the open country, while what is hidden and buried is either not known to exist, or else escapes him from the very fact that it has to be searched for.
  10
 
Marriage Laws

  THEIR marriage code is strict, and indeed no part of their manners is more praiseworthy. Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife; except a very few among them, and these not from sensuality, but because their noble birth procures for them many offers of alliance. The wife does not bring a dower to the husband, but the husband to the wife. The parents and relatives are present, and pass judgment on the marriage gifts, gifts not meant to suit a woman’s taste, nor such as a bride would deck herself with, but oxen, a caparisoned steed, a shield, a lance, and a sword. With these presents the wife is espoused, and she herself in her turn brings her husband a gift of arms. This they count their strongest bond of union, these their sacred mysteries, these their gods of marriage. Lest the woman should think herself to stand apart from aspirations after noble deeds and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that she is her husband’s partner in toil and danger, destined to suffer and to dare with him alike both in peace and in war. The yoked oxen, the harnessed steed, the gift of arms, proclaim this fact. She must live and die with the feeling that she is receiving what she must hand down to her children neither tarnished nor depreciated, what future daughters-in-law may receive, and may be so passed on to her grandchildren.
  11
  Thus with their virtue protected they live uncorrupted by the allurements of public shows or the stimulant of feastings. Clandestine correspondence is equally unknown to men and women…. The loss of chastity meets with no indulgence: neither beauty, youth, nor wealth will procure the culprit a husband. No one in Germany laughs at vice, nor do they call it the fashion to corrupt or to be corrupted. Still better is the condition of those States in which only maidens are given in marriage, and where the hopes and expectations of a bride are then finally terminated. They receive one husband, as having one body and one life, that they may have no thoughts beyond, no further-reaching desires, that they may love not so much the husband as the married state. To limit the number of their children or to destroy any of their subsequent offspring is accounted infamous; and good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.  12
 
 
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