Germania (book)

Germania (book)

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The Germania written by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 around 98, is an ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 work on the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

.

Contents


The Germania begins with a description of the lands, laws, and customs of the Germanic people (Chapters 1–27); it then segues into descriptions of individual tribes, beginning with those dwelling closest to Roman lands and ending on the uttermost shores of the Baltic, among the amber-gathering Aesti
Aesti
The Aesti were a people described by the Roman historian Tacitus in his treatise Germania . According to this account, the Aestii lived on the shore of the Suebian Sea , eastward of the Suiones and westward of the Sitones. They were a population of Suebia...

, the primitive and savage Fenni
Fenni
The Fenni were an ancient people of northeastern Europe first described by Cornelius Tacitus in Germania in AD 98.- Ancient accounts :The Fenni are first mentioned by Cornelius Tacitus in Germania in 98 A.D...

, and the unknown tribes beyond them.

Tacitus says (Ch. 2) that physically, the Germans appeared to be a distinct nation, not an admixture of their neighbors, as nobody would desire to migrate to a climate as horrid as Germany's. They are divided into three large branches, the Ingaevones
Ingaevones
The Ingaevones or, as Pliny has it, apparently more accurately, Ingvaeones , as described in Tacitus's Germania, written c. 98 AD, were a West Germanic cultural group living along the North Sea coast in the areas of Jutland, Holstein, Frisia and the Danish islands, where they had by the 1st...

, the Herminones and the Istaevones, deriving their ancestry from three sons of Mannus
Mannus
Mannus is a Germanic mythological figure attested by the 1st century AD Roman historian Tacitus in his work Germania. According to Tacitus, Mannus is the son of Tuisto and the progenitor of the three Germanic tribes Ingaevones, Herminones and Istvaeones.-Tacitus' account:Tacitus explicitly...

, son of Tuisto, their common forefather.
In Chapter 4, he mentions that they all have common physical characteristics, blue eyes (truces et caerulei oculi = "sky-coloured, azure, dark blue, dark green), reddish hair ( rutilae comae = "red, golden-red, reddish yellow") and large bodies, vigorous at the first onset but not tolerant of exhausting labour, tolerant of hunger and cold but not of heat.

In Chapter 7, Tacitus describes their government and leadership as somewhat merit-based and egalitarian, with leadership by example rather than authority and that punishments are carried out by the priests. He mentions (Ch. 8) that the opinions of women are given respect. In Chapter 9, Tacitus describes a form of folk assembly rather similar to the public Things
Thing (assembly)
A thing was the governing assembly in Germanic and introduced into some Celtic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers, meeting in a place called a thingstead...

 recorded in later Germanic sources: in these public deliberations, the final decision rests with the men of the tribe as a whole.

Tacitus further discusses the role of women in Chapters 7 and 8, mentioning that they often accompany the men to battle and offer encouragement. He says that the men are often motivated to fight for the women because of an extreme fear of their being taken captive. Tacitus says (Ch. 18) that the Germans are mainly content with one wife, except for a few political marriages, and specifically and explicitly compares this practice favorably to other barbarian cultures, perhaps since monogamy was a shared value between Roman and Germanic cultures. He also records (Ch. 19) that adultery is very rare, and that an adulterous woman is shunned afterward by the community regardless of her beauty.

The latter chapters of the books describe the various Germanic tribes, their relative locations and some of their characteristics. Many of the tribes named correspond with other (and later) historical records and traditions, while the fate of others is less clear.

His description of the Germanic
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 goddess Nerthus
Nerthus
In Germanic paganism, Nerthus is a goddess associated with fertility. Nerthus is attested by Tacitus, the first century AD Roman historian, in his Germania. Various theories exist regarding the goddess and her potential later traces amongst the Germanic tribes...

 has led to a substantial amount of speculation among researchers of Norse mythology
Norse mythology
Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...

 and older Germanic
Germanic mythology
Germanic mythology is a comprehensive term for myths associated with historical Germanic paganism, including Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon mythology, Continental Germanic mythology, and other versions of the mythologies of the Germanic peoples...

 and Indo-European mythology, as it is the only written source of Scandinavian mythology before the Eddas a thousand years later, and because it only poorly resembles the religion described there.

Purpose and sources


Ethnography had a long and distinguished heritage in classical literature, and the Germania fits squarely within the tradition established by authors from Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 to Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

. Tacitus himself had already written a similar—albeit shorter—essay on the lands and tribes of Britannia
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 in his Agricola
Agricola (book)
The Agricola is a book by the Roman historian Tacitus, written c 98, which recounts the life of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, an eminent Roman general. It also covers, briefly, the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain...

 (chapters 10–13).
The work can appear moralizing at points, perhaps implicitly comparing the values of Germanic tribes and those of his Roman contemporaries, although any direct comparison between Rome and Germania is not explicitly presented in the text. In writing the work, Tacitus might have wanted to stress the dangers that the Germanic tribes posed to the Empire.

Tacitus' descriptions of the Germanic character
Moral character
Moral character or character is an evaluation of a particular individual's durable moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits...

 are at times favorable in contrast to the opinions of the Romans of his day. He holds the strict monogamy
Monogamy
Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

 and chastity
Chastity
Chastity refers to the sexual behavior of a man or woman acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of a culture, civilization, or religion....

 of Germanic marriage
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

 customs worthy of the highest praise, in contrast to what he saw as the vice and immorality rampant in Roman society of his day (ch. 18), and he admires their open hospitality, their simplicity, and their bravery in battle. All of these traits were highlighted perhaps because of their similarity to idealized Roman virtues. One should not, however, think that Tacitus' portrayal of Germanic customs is entirely favorable; he notes a tendency in the Germanic people for what he saw as their habitual drunkenness, laziness, and barbarism, among other traits.

The ethnonym Germanii as used by Tacitus does not necessarily coincide with the modern linguistic definition of Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 as any people speaking a Germanic language, and the details of the classification Germanii have been debated in scholarship, e.g.
the possibility that the Batavians
Batavians
The Batavi were an ancient Germanic tribe, originally part of the Chatti, reported by Tacitus to have lived around the Rhine delta, in the area that is currently the Netherlands, "an uninhabited district on the extremity of the coast of Gaul, and also of a neighbouring island, surrounded by the...

 may therefore have been Celtic-speaking.
Tacitus nevertheless shows no lack of precision in stating that the Nervii are not actually Germanic as they claim to be. (Ch. 28)
He also notes in Chapter 43 that a certain tribe called the Cotini
Cotini
Cotini was a Celtic tribe most probably living in today's Slovakia, and in Moravia and southern Poland. They were probably identical or constituted a significant part of the archaeological Púchov culture, with the center in Havránok.The tribe was first time mentioned in 10 BC in the Elogium of...

 actually speaks a Gallic tongue, and likewise the Osi speak a Pannonia
Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

n dialect.

Tacitus himself had never travelled in the Germanic lands
Germania
Germania was the Greek and Roman geographical term for the geographical regions inhabited by mainly by peoples considered to be Germani. It was most often used to refer especially to the east of the Rhine and north of the Danube...

; all his information is second-hand at best. Ronald Syme
Ronald Syme
Sir Ronald Syme, OM, FBA was a New Zealand-born historian and classicist. Long associated with Oxford University, he is widely regarded as the 20th century's greatest historian of ancient Rome...

 supposed that Tacitus closely copied the lost Bella Germaniae of Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, since the Germania is in some places outdated: in its description of the Danubian tribes, says Syme, "they are loyal clients of the Empire. . . . Which is peculiar. The defection of these peoples in the year 89 during Domitian's war against the Dacians
Dacians
The Dacians were an Indo-European people, very close or part of the Thracians. Dacians were the ancient inhabitants of Dacia...

 modified the whole frontier policy of the Empire." (p. 128). While Pliny may have been the primary source, scholars have identified others; among them are Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

's Gallic Wars
Gallic Wars
The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman proconsul Julius Caesar against several Gallic tribes. They lasted from 58 BC to 51 BC. The Gallic Wars culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the...

, Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

, Posidonius
Posidonius
Posidonius "of Apameia" or "of Rhodes" , was a Greek Stoic philosopher, politician, astronomer, geographer, historian and teacher native to Apamea, Syria. He was acclaimed as the greatest polymath of his age...

, Aufidius Bassus
Aufidius Bassus
Aufidius Bassus was a Roman historian who lived in the reign of Tiberius.His work, which probably began with the civil wars or the death of Caesar, was continued by the elder Pliny. The elder Pliny carried it down at least as far as the end of Nero's reign...

, and numerous non-literary sources: presumably based on interviews with traders and soldiers who had ventured beyond the Rhine and Danube borders, and Germanic mercenaries
Auxiliaries (Roman military)
Auxiliaries formed the standing non-citizen corps of the Roman army of the Principate , alongside the citizen legions...

 in Rome.

Reception



All copies of Germania were lost during the Middle Ages and the work was forgotten until a single manuscript as found in Hersfeld Abbey
Hersfeld Abbey
Hersfeld Abbey was an important Benedictine imperial abbey in the town of Bad Hersfeld in Hesse , Germany, at the confluence of the rivers Geisa, Haune and Fulda.-History:...

, in present-day Germany, in 1455. It was then brought to Italy, where Enea Silvio Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II, born Enea Silvio Piccolomini was Pope from August 19, 1458 until his death in 1464. Pius II was born at Corsignano in the Sienese territory of a noble but decayed family...

, first examined and analyzed the book. This sparked interest among German humanists
Humanism in Germany
Renaissance Humanism came much later to Germany and Northern Europe in general than to Italy, and when it did, it encountered some resistance from the scholastic theology which reigned at the universities.-Origins:...

, including Conrad Celtes
Conrad Celtes
Conrad Celtes , also Konrad Celtis and Latin Conradus Celtis , was a German Renaissance humanist scholar and Neo-Latin poet.-Life:...

, Johannes Aventinus
Johannes Aventinus
Johannes Aventinus was a Bavarian historian and philologist. He wrote Annals of Bavaria, a valuable record of the early history of Germany...

, and Ulrich von Hutten
Ulrich von Hutten
Ulrich von Hutten was a German scholar, poet and reformer. He was an outspoken critic of the Roman Catholic Church and a bridge between the humanists and the Lutheran Reformation...

.

In medieval Germany (the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

), a self-designation of "Germanii" was virtually never used. The name was only revived in 1471, inspired by the rediscovered text of Germania, to invoke the warlike qualities of the ancient Germans in a crusade against the Turks
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

.
Ever since its discovery, treatment of the text regarding the culture of the early Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 in ancient Germany remains strong especially in German history, philology, and ethnology
Ethnology
Ethnology is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity.-Scientific discipline:Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct...

 studies, and to a lesser degree in Scandinavian countries as well.
Beginning in 16th-century German humanism, German interest in Germanic antiquity remained acute throughout the period of Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 and nationalism
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

. A scientific angle was introduced with the development of Germanic philology
Germanic philology
Germanic philology is the philological study of the Germanic languages particularly from a comparative or historical perspective.The beginnings of research into the Germanic languages began in the 16th century, with the discovery of literary texts in the earlier phases of the languages. Early...

 by Jacob Grimm
Jacob Grimm
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was a German philologist, jurist and mythologist. He is best known as the discoverer of Grimm's Law, the author of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm, as the editor of Grimm's Fairy...

 in the 19th century.

Because of its influence on the ideologies of Pan-Germanism
Pan-Germanism
Pan-Germanism is a pan-nationalist political idea. Pan-Germanists originally sought to unify the German-speaking populations of Europe in a single nation-state known as Großdeutschland , where "German-speaking" was taken to include the Low German, Frisian and Dutch-speaking populations of the Low...

 and Nordicism, Italian historian Arnaldo Momigliano
Arnaldo Momigliano
Arnaldo Dante Momigliano KBE was an Italian historian known for his work in historiography, characterized by Donald Kagan as the "world’s leading student of the writing of history in the ancient world." He became Professor of Roman history at the University of Turin in 1936, but as a Jew soon lost...

 in 1956 described Germania as "among the most dangerous books ever written".

See also

  • Ancient Germanic peoples
  • Germanic paganism
    Germanic paganism
    Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

  • Germanic peoples
    Germanic peoples
    The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

  • Noble savage
    Noble savage
    The term noble savage , expresses the concept an idealized indigene, outsider , and refers to the literary stock character of the same...

  • Regnator omnium deus
    Regnator omnium deus
    In Tacitus' work Germania from the year 98, regnator omnium deus was a deity worshipped by the Semnones tribe in a sacred grove...


Editions and translations

  • Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (trans.), 1876.
  • Henry Furneaux (ed.), 1900.
  • Thomas Gordon (trans.), 1910.
  • Ronald Syme, Tacitus, vol. 1 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1958)
  • Alf Önnerfors (ed.): De origine et situ Germanorum liber. Teubner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-519-01838-1 (P. Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt, T. 2,2)
  • J. B. Rives (trans.): Tacitus: Germania. Oxford 1999

Further reading

  • Rodney Potter Robinson, 1935. The Germania of Tacitus (Middletown, Connecticut; American Philological Association) (textual and manuscript analysis)
  • Kenneth C. Schellhase, 1976. Tacitus in Renaissance Political Thought (Chicago)
  • Christopher B. Krebs, 2011. A Most Dangerous Book (New York), ISBN 978-0393062656

External links