Copyright
Herodotus.

Voyages and travels; ancient and modern online

. (page 10 of 35)
Online LibraryHerodotusVoyages and travels; ancient and modern → online text (page 10 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and decision of the people, is examined and discussed by
the chiefs. Where no accident or emergency intervenes,
they assemble upon stated days, either, when the moon
changes, or is full : since they believe such seasons to be
the most fortunate for beginning all transactions. Neither
in reckoning of time do they count, like us, the number of
days but that of nights. In this style their ordinances are
framed, in this style their diets appointed; and with them
the night seems to lead and govern the day. From their
extensive liberty this evil and default flows, that they meet
not at once, nor as men commanded and afraid to disobey;
so that often the second day, nay often the third, is con-
sumed through the slowness of the members in assembling.
They sit down as they list, promiscuously, like a crowd, and
all armed. It is by the Priests that silence is enjoined,
and with the power of correction the Priests are then in-
vested. Then the King or Chief is heard, as are others,
each according to his precedence in age, or in nobility, or
in warlike renown, or in eloquence; and the influence of
every speaker proceeds rather from his ability to persuade
than from any authority to command. If the proposition



102 TACITUS

displease, they reject it by an inarticulate murmur: if it
be pleasing, they brandish their javelins. The most
honourable manner of signifying their assent, is to express
their applause by the sound of their arms.

In the assembly it is allowed to present accusations, and
to prosecute capital offences. Punishments vary accord-
ing to the quality of the crime. Traitors and deserters they
hang upon trees. Cowards, and sluggards, and unnatural
prostitutes they smother in mud and bogs under an heap
of hurdles. Such diversity in their executions has this
view, that in punishing of glaring iniquities, it behoves
likewise to display them to sight ; but effeminacy and
pollution must be buried and concealed. In lighter trans-
gressions too the penalty is measured by the fault, and the
delinquents upon conviction are condemned to pay a cer-
tain number of horses or cattle. Part of this mulct accrues
to the King or to the community, part to him whose wrongs
are vindicated, or to his next kindred. In the same as-
semblies are also chosen their chiefs or rulers, such as
administer justice in their villages and boroughs. To each
of these are assigned an hundred persons chosen from
amongst the populace, to accompany and assist him, men
who help him at once with their authority and their counsel.

Without being armed they transact nothing, whether of
public or private concernment. But it is repugnant to their
custom for any man to use arms, before the community has
attested his capacity to wield them. Upon such testimonial,
either one of the rulers, or his father, or some kinsman
dignify the young man in the midst of the assembly, with
a shield and javelin. This amongst them is the manly robe,
this the first degree of honour conferred upon their youth.
Before this they seem no more than part of a private family,
but thenceforward part of the Commonweal. The princely
dignity they confer even upon striplings, whose race is
eminently noble, or whose fathers have done great and
signal services to the State. For about the rest, who are
more vigorous and long since tried, they crowd to attend :
nor is it any shame to be seem amongst the followers of
these. Nay, there are likewise degrees of followers, higher
or lower, just as he whom they follow judges fit. Mighty



GERMANY 103

too is the emulation amongst these followers, of each to
be first in favour with his Prince ; mighty also the emula-
tion of the Princes, to excel in the number and valour of
followers. This is their principal state, this their chief
force, to be at all times surrounded with a huge band of
chosen young men, for ornament and glory in peace, for
security and defence in war. Nor is it amongst his own
people only, but even from the neighbouring communities,
that any of their Princes reaps so much renown and a name
so great, when he surpasses in the number and magna-
nimity of his followers. For such are courted by Em-
bassies, and distinguished with presents, and by the terror
of their fame alone often dissipate wars.

In the day of battle, it is scandalous to the Prince to
be surpassed in feats of bravery, scandalous to his followers
to fail in matching the bravery of the Prince. But it is
infamy during life, and indelible reproach, to return alive
from a battle where their Prince was slain. To preserve
their Prince, to defend him, and to ascribe to his glory all
their own valorous deeds, is the sum and most sacred part of
their oath. The Princes fight for victory; for the Prince
his followers fight. Many of the young nobility, when their
own community comes to languish in its vigour by long
peace and inactivity, betake themselves through impatience
to other States which then prove to be in war. For, besides
that this people cannot brook repose, besides that by perilous
adventures they more quickly blazon their fame, they can-
not otherwise than by violence and war support their huge
train of retainers. For from the liberality of their Prince,
they demand and enjoy that war-horse of theirs, with that
victorious javelin dyed in the blood of their enemies. In
the place of pay, they are supplied with a daily table and
repasts ; though grossly prepared, yet very profuse. For
maintaining such liberality and munificence, a fund is fur-
nished by continual wars and plunder. Nor could you so
easily persuade them to cultivate the ground, or to await
the return of the seasons and produce of the year, as to
provoke the foe and to risk wounds and death : since stupid
and spiritless they account it, to acquire by their sweat what
they can gain by their blood.



104 TACITUS

Upon any recess from war, they do not much attend the
chase. Much more of their time they pass in indolence,
resigned to sleep and repasts. 4 All the most brave, all
the most warlike, apply to nothing at all ; but to their wives,
to the ancient men, and to every the most impotent domestic,
trust all the care of their house, and of their lands and pos-
sessions. They themselves loiter. 6 Such is the amazing
diversity of their nature, that in the same men is found so
much delight in sloth, with so much enmity to tranquillity
and repose. The communities are wont, of their own
accord and man by man, to bestow upon their Princes a
certain number of beasts, or a certain portion of grain;
a contribution which passes indeed for a mark of reverence
and honour, but serves also to supply their necessities.
They chiefly rejoice in the gifts which come from the
bordering countries, such as are sent not only by particulars
but in the name of the State; curious horses, splendid
armour, rich harness, with collars of silver and gold. Now
too they have learnt, what we have taught them, to receive
money.

That none of the several people in Germany live together
in cities, is abundantly known ; nay, that amongst them
none of their dwellings are suffered to be contiguous. They
inhabit apart and distinct, just as a fountain, or a field, or
a wood happened to invite them to settle. They raise their
villages in opposite rows, but not in our manner with the
houses joined one to another. Every man has a vacant
space quite round his own, whether for security against
accidents from fire, or that they want the art of building.
With them in truth, is unknown even the use of mortar
and of tiles. In all their structures they employ materials
quite gross and unhewn, void of fashion and comeliness.
Some parts they besmear with an earth so pure and re-
splendent, that it resembles painting and colours. They
are likewise wont to scoop caves deep in the ground, and
over them to lay great heaps of dung. Thither they retire
for shelter in the winter, and thither convey their grain :
for by such close places they mollify the rigorous and ex-

*" Dediti somno, ciboque: " handed over to sloth and gluttony.
6 Are rude and lazy.



GERMANY 105

cessive cold. Besides when at any time their enemy in-
vades them, he can only ravage the open country, but
either knows not such recesses as are invisible and sub-
terraneous; or must suffer them to escape him, on this
very account that he is uncertain where to find them.

For their covering a mantle is what they all wear,
fastened with a clasp or, for want of it, with a thorn. As
far as this reaches not they are naked, and lie whole days
before the fire. The most wealthy are distinguished with
a vest, not one large and flowing like those of Sarmatians
and Parthians, but girt close about them and expressing the
proportion of every limb. They likewise wear the skins
of savage beasts, a dress which those bordering upon the
Rhine use without any fondness or delicacy, but about
which such who live further in the country are more
curious, as void of all apparel introduced by commerce.
They choose certain wild beasts, and, having flayed them,
diversify their hides with many spots, as also with the
skins of monsters from the deep, such as are engendered
in the distant ocean and in seas unknown. Neither does the
dress of the women differ from that of the men, save that
the women are orderly attired in linen embroidered with
purple, and use no sleeves, so that all their arms are bare.
The upper part of their breast is withal exposed.

Yet the laws of matrimony are severely observed there;
nor in the whole of their manners is aught more praise-
worthy than this : for they are almost the only Barbarians
contented with one wife, excepting a very few amongst
them ; men of dignity who marry divers wives, from no
wantonness or lubricity, but courted for the lustre of their
family into many alliances.

To the husband, the wife tenders no dowry; but the
husband, to the wife. The parents and relations attend
and declare their approbation of the presents, not presents
adapted to feminine pomp and delicacy, nor such as serve
to deck the new married woman ; but oxen and horse ac-
coutred, and a shield, with a javelin and sword. By virtue
of these gifts, she is espoused. She too on her part brings
her husband some arms. This they esteem the highest tie,
these the holy mysteries, and matrimonial Gods. That the



106 TACITUS

woman may not suppose herself free from the considera-
tions of fortitude and fighting, or exempt from the
casualties of war, the very first solemnities of her wedding
serve to warn her, that she comes to her husband as a
partner in his hazards and fatigues, that she is to suffer
alike with him, to adventure alike, during peace or during
war. This the oxen joined in the same yoke plainly indi-
cate, this the horse ready equipped, this the present of
arms. 'Tis thus she must be content to live, thus to resign
life. The arms which she then receives she must preserve
inviolate, and to her sons restore the same, as presents
worthy of them, such as their wives may again receive, and
still resign to her grandchildren.

They therefore live in a state of chastity well secured;
corrupted by no seducing shows and public diversions, by
no irritations from banqueting. Of learning and of any
secret intercourse by letters, they are all equally ignorant,
men and women. Amongst a people so numerous, adultery
is exceeding rare; a crime instantly punished, and the
punishment left to be inflicted by the husband. He, having
cut off her hair, expells her from his house naked, in
presence of her kindred, and pursues her with stripes
throughout the village. For, to a woman who has pros-
tituted her person, no pardon is ever granted. However
beautiful she be, however young, however abounding in
wealth, a husband she can never find. In truth, nobody
turns vices into mirth there, nor is the practice of corrupt-
ing and of yielding to corruption, called the custom of the
Age. Better still do those communities, in which none but
virgins marry, and where to a single marriage all their
views and inclinations are at once confined. Thus, as they
have but one body and one life, they take but one husband,
that beyond him they may have no thought, no further
wishes, nor love him only as their husband but as their
marriage. 8 To restrain generation and the increase of
children, is esteemed an abominable sin, as also to kill
infants newly born. And more powerful with them are
good manners, than with other people are good laws.

In all their houses the children are reared naked and

8 " Sed tamquam matrimonium ament."



GERMANY 107

nasty; and thus grow into those limbs, into that bulk,
which with marvel we behold. They are all nourished with
the milk of their own mothers, and never surrendered to
handmaids and nurses. The lord you cannot discern from
the slave, by any superior delicacy in rearing. Amongst
the same cattle they promiscuously live, upon the same
ground they without distinction lie, till at a proper age the
free-born are parted from the rest, and their bravery recom-
mend them to notice. Slow and late do the young men
come to the use of women, and thus very long preserve the
vigour of youth. Neither are the virgins hastened to wed.
They must both have the same sprightly youth, the like
stature, and marry when equal and able-bodied. Thus the
robustness of the parents is inherited by the children.
Children are holden in the same estimation with their
mother's brother, as with their father. Some hold this
tie of blood to be most inviolable and binding, and in re-
ceiving of hostages, such pledges are most considered and
claimed, as they who at once possess affections the most
unalienable, and the most diffuse interest in their family.
To every man, however, his own children are heirs and suc-
cessors: wills they make none: for want of children his
next akin inherits; his own brothers, those of his father,
or those of his mother. To ancient men, the more they
abound in descendants, in relations and affinities, so much
the more favour and reverence accrues. From being child-
less, no advantage nor estimation is derived.

All the enmities of your house, whether of your father
or of your kindred, you must necessarily adopt; as well as
all their friendships. Neither are such enmities unap-
peasable and permanent: since even for so great a crime
as homicide, compensation is made by a fixed number of
sheep and cattle, and by it the whole family is pacified to
content. A temper this, wholesome to the State ; because
to a free nation, animosities and faction are always more
menacing and perilous. In social feasts, and deeds of
hospitality, no nation upon earth was ever more liberal and
abounding. To refuse admitting under your roof any
man whatsoever, is held wicked and inhuman. Every man
receives every comer, and treats him with repasts as largf



108 TACITUS

as his ability can possibly furnish. When the whole stock
is consumed, he who had treated so hospitably guides and
accompanies his guest to a new scene of hospitality; and
both proceed to the next house, though neither of them
invited. Nor avails it, that they were not: they are there
received, with the same frankness and humanity. Be-
tween a stranger and an acquaintance, in dispensing the
rules and benefits of hospitality, no difference is made.
Upon your departure, if you ask anything, it is the custom
to grant it ; and with the same facility, they ask of you.
In gifts they delight, but neither claim merit from what
they give, nor own any obligation for what they receive.
Their manner of entertaining their guests is familiar and
kind.

The moment they rise from sleep, which they generally
prolong till late in the day, they bathe, most frequently in
warm water; as in a country where the winter is very
long and severe. From bathing, they sit down to meat;
every man apart, upon a particular seat, and at a separate
table. They then proceed to their affairs, all in arms;
as in arms, they no less frequently go to banquet. To con-
tinue drinking night and day without intermission, is a
reproach to no man. Frequent then are their broils, as
usual amongst men intoxicated with liquor; and such broils
rarely terminate in angry words, but for the most part in
maimings and slaughter. Moreover in these their feasts,
they generally deliberate about reconciling parties at
enmity, about forming affinities, choosing of Princes, and
finally about peace and war. For they judge, that at no
season is the soul more open to thoughts that are artless
and upright, or more fired with such as are great and bold.
This people, of themselves nowise subtile or politic, from
the freedom of the place and occasion acquire still more
frankness to disclose the most secret motions and purposes
of their hearts. When therefore the minds of all have been
once laid open and declared, on the day following the several
sentiments are revised and canvassed; and to both con-
jectures of time, due regard is had. They consult, when
they know not how to dissemble; they determine, when they
cannot mistake.



GERMANY 109

For their drink, they draw a liquor from barley or other
grain ; and ferment the same, so as to make it resemble wine.
Nay, they who dwell upon the bank of the Rhine deal in
wine. Their food is very simple; wild fruit, fresh venison,
or coagulated milk. They banish hunger without formality,
without curious dressing and curious fare. In extinguishing
thirst, they use not equal temperance. If you will but hu-
mour their excess in drinking, and supply them with as much
as they covet, it will be no less easy to vanquish them by
vices than by arms.

Of public diversions they have but one sort, and in all
their meetings the same is still exhibited. Young men, such
as make it their pastime, fling themselves naked and dance
amongst sharp swords and the deadly points of javelins.
From habit they acquire their skill, and from their skill a
graceful manner; yet from hence draw no gain or hire:
though this adventurous gaiety has its reward, namely, that
of pleasing the spectators. What is marvellous, playing at
dice is one of their most serious employments; and even
sober, they are gamesters: nay, so desperately do they ven-
ture upon the chance of winning or losing, that when their
whole substance is played away, they stake their liberty and
their persons upon one and the last throw. The loser goes
calmly into voluntary bondage. However younger he be,
however stronger, he tamely suffers himself to be bound and
sold by the winner. Such is their perseverance in an evil
course : they themselves call it honour.

Slaves of this class, they exchange away in commerce, to
free themselves too from the shame of such a victory. Of
their other slaves they make not such use as we do of ours,
by distributing amongst them the several offices and employ-
ments of the family. Each of them has a dwelling of his
own, each a household to govern. His lord uses him like a
tenant, and obliges him to pay a quantity of grain, or of
cattle, or of cloth. Thus far only the subserviency of the
slave extends. All the other duties in a family, not the
slaves, but the wives and children discharge. To inflict
stripes upon a slave, or to put him in chains, or to doom
him to severe labour, are things rarely seen. To kill them
they sometimes are wont, not through correction or govern-



110 TACITUS

ment, but in heat and rage, as they would an enemy, save
that no vengeance or penalty follows. The freedmen very
little surpass the slaves, rarely are of moment in the house;
in the community never, excepting only such nations where
arbitrary dominion prevails. For there they bear higher
sway than the free-born, nay, higher than the nobles. In
other countries the inferior condition of freedmen is a proof
of public liberty.

To the practice of usury and of increasing money by in-
terest, they are strangers; and hence is found a better guard
against it, than if it were forbidden. They shift from land
to land; and, still appropriating a portion suitable to the
number of hands for manuring, anon parcel out the whole
amongst particulars according to the condition and quality
of each. As the plains are very spacious, the allotments are
easily assigned. Every year they change, and cultivate a
fresh soil ; yet still there is ground to spare. For they strive
not to bestow labour proportionable to the fertility and com-
pass of their lands, by planting orchards, by enclosing mead-
ows, by watering gardens. From the earth, corn only is
exacted. Hence they quarter not the year into so many
seasons. Winter, Spring, and Summer, they understand;
and for each have proper appellations. Of the name and
blessings of Autumn, they are equally ignorant.

In performing their funerals, they show no state or vain-
glory. This only is carefully observed, that with the corpses
of their signal men certain woods be burned. Upon the
funeral pile they accumulate neither apparel nor perfumes.
Into the fire, are always thrown the arms of the dead, and
sometimes his horse. With sods of earth only the sepulchre
is raised. The pomp of tedious and elaborate monuments
they contemn, as things grievous to the deceased. Tears and
wailings they soon dismiss : their affliction and woe they
long retain. In women, it is reckoned becoming to bewail
their loss ; in men, to remember it. This is what in general
we have learned, in the original and customs of the whole
people of Germany. I shall now deduce the institutions and
usages of the several people, as far as they vary one from
another; as also an account of what nations from thence
removed, to settle themselves in Gaul.



GERMANY 111

That the Gauls were in times past more puissant and for-
midable, is related by the Prince of authors, the deified
Julius ; T and hence it is probable that they too have passed
into Germany. For what a small obstacle must be a river,
to restrain any nation, as each grew more potent, from seiz-
ing or changing habitations ; when as yet all habitations
were common, and not parted or appropriated by the found-
ing and terror of Monarchies? The region therefore be-
tween the Hercynian Forest and the rivers Moenus 8 and
Rhine, was occupied by the Helvetians; as was that beyond
it by the Boians, both nations of Gaul. There still remains
a place called Boiemum, which denotes the primitive name
and antiquity of the country, although the inhabitants have
been changed. But whether the Araviscans are derived
from the Osians, a nation of Germans passing into Pan-
nonia, or the Osians from the Araviscans removing from
thence into Germany, is a matter undecided ; since they both
still use the language, the same customs and the same laws.
For, as of old they lived alike poor and alike free, equal
proved the evils and advantages on each side the river, and
common to both people. The Treverians and Nervians as-
pire passionately to the reputation of being descended from
the Germans; since by the glory of this original, they would
escape all imputation of resembling the Gauls in person and
effeminacy. Such as dwell upon the bank of the Rhine, the
Vangiones, the Tribocians, and the Nemetes, are without
doubt all Germans. The Ubians are ashamed of their orig-
inal ; though they have a particular honour to boast, that of
having merited an establishment as a Roman Colony, and still
delight to be called Agrippinensians, after the name of their
founder: they indeed formerly came from beyond the Rhine,
and, for the many proofs of their fidelity, were settled upon
the very bank of the river; not to be there confined or
guarded themselves, but to guard and defend that boundary
against the rest of the Germans.

Of all these nations, the Batavians are the most signal in
bravery. They inhabit not much territory upon the Rhine,
but possess an island in it. They were formerly part of the
Cattans, and by means of feuds at home removed to these

7 Julius Ca:sar. 8 Main.



112 TACITUS

dwellings; whence they might become a portion of the
Roman Empire. With them this honour still remains, as
also the memorials of their ancient association with us: for
they are not under the contempt of paying tribute, nor sub-
ject to be squeezed by the farmers of the revenue. Free
from all impositions and payments, and only set apart for the
purposes of fighting, they are reserved wholly for the wars,
in the same manner as a magazine of weapons and armour.
Under the same degree of homage are the nation of the Mat-
tiacians. For such is the might and greatness of the Roman
People, as to have carried the awe and esteem of their
Empire beyond the Rhine and the ancient boundaries. Thus



Online LibraryHerodotusVoyages and travels; ancient and modern → online text (page 10 of 35)