Tacitus, Roman author, was one of the people to write about the Germanic society in great detail. Tacitus, being a Roman, has lopsided ways of writing about Germania, the enemies of Rome. This text informs us about the many ways of life in Germania. It introduces us to a somewhat full looks of Germany that, at the time was unavailable. This text is very useful because, in 97-8 AD when this was written, not much was known about Germania. This can be observed from his way of writing, the usefulness of his work amongst many historians.
In his text, Tacitus discussed many defining elements of the Germania society, and from that it can be inferred how it reflected the Roman world within these elements, and his contribution to history. According to Tacitus, Germania was a land surrounded by rivers and different lakes; where nobody would move voluntarily. Neither the weather, nor their ways of living was comfortable, or appealing. They did not do much to civilize their country, besides making the bare minimum to survive.
Tacitus: “…no corresponding power to ensure hard work and exertion, and little capacity to bear thirst and heat, but their climate and soil have taught them to bear cold and hunger. ” People of Germania even though they have much of similar features with each other, they were unlike any other race; they were not mixed with any other race, for reasons stated above. Tacitus: “…Germania has never been tainted by intermarriage with other nations, and stands out as a race distinctive, pure and unique of its kind. ” As described above Germania had many important essentials of family, political, and social life.
One of the many important parts of Germania’s life style was their way of leading a family life. Tacitus described their family orientation as, abnormal. Their women were treated with much more dignity and value than anywhere else, for their time (98-7 AD). When men got injured during a war, they would go to their mothers or wives, as they are their encouragers and helpers. In a marriage, the husband and wife were seen as partners, which began before they get married, when both bring gifts to the table. These gifts would symbolize of this partnership.
Tacitus: “… she is coming to share a man’s toils and dangers, that in peace and war alike she is to be his partner in all his suffering and achievement. ” The men bring war materials like horse, swords, shields etc … to show that women are not exempt from wars, while the women brings “presents of arms” as well. Tacitus: “… gifts not chosen to please a women’s whim or gaily deck a young bride, but oxen, a horse with reins, a shield with spear and sword. For such gift a man gives his wife, and she in her turn brings some presents of arms to her husband … these the deities of marriage. As for their children, they grow up in flocks until they are mature. Before a young man or woman gets married they have to become ready for it. When they are ready for marriage, it was mostly arranged for them by their parents and family members. Besides family life, Germania had a unique standard of political ruling. Tacitus describes their political system, as strange. Their kings and ruler were placed by family tree (by birth) or by fame, not on a high scale of leadership or authority. These selected leaders had less power than priests.
Most authoritative decisions were ruled by religious leaders; they believed that obeying their god was more prestigious rather than following rules. Tacitus: “They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour… no one is allowed to punish, to fetter or even to flog except the priests, and not as punishments or on the leader’s orders, but as though in obedience to god who they believe presides over battle. ” Tacitus claimed that Germania’s military trainings lacked many of the strength seen in Britain. One other unique characteristic Tacitus included in his book was Germania’s social aspects.
Their calendars were set by night unlike Britain which is by day; they have their gatherings by night. Entertainment and enjoyment by far were the most important in their society. The militants after getting back home would not do much besides relaxing and doing less valued work. It was out of the norm how they lived; while it is common for men to provide for their family in other places, in Germania, when the soldiers were not in war they rest, sleep and spent such little time hunting; doing close to nothing. They leave all the work for the women, old men and children.
Tacitus compiled many more of Germania’s life style, family orientations and political status in great detail in his book. Many of the elements included in Tacitus’s book were comparing the ways of Germania with Rome, through a Romanian’s eye. The first recognized comparison was marriage. Tacitus identified marriage in Germania society as his greatest comparison to Rome. Germania’s values on marriage were stronger than Romans as Tacitus pointed it out. Tacitus: “… marriage there is strict, and no feature of their culture deserves higher praise.
They are almost unique among barbarians in being satisfied with one wife each. ” Second major comparison was their military base. Rome had a well standing military standard that developed through time. Germania had a weak and easy defense force that lacked training unlike Britannia. Britannia had a well standing training that prepared soldiers appropriately for the necessary defense Romans might need. Third major comparison between Rome and Germania was their use of money. Tacitus described Germania’s use of money as old fashioned.
Germania used old money, and did not have much value for gold and silver; not as much as Rome. Tacitus seems to think that it was gods doing, either punishing them or giving them mercy by not letting them have gold or silver in their land. Tacitus: “… gods have denied them gold and silver… one may see among them vessels, given as presents to their envoys and leading men, as lightly esteemed as earthenware … they like money that is old and familiar. ” The comparison goes on to distinguish many similarities and differences between Germania and Rome.
As the enemies of Germania, Rome would certainly have a lot to say against Germany. Tacitus, as a Roman, had biased views that were clearly stated in his book. In many parts of the book, it is easily distinguishable how Tacitus uses words of disgrace against Germania. Even though this book might seem biased, it was one of the most significant contributions to history. Countless historians based studies on his book. Overall, as important as his books were, detailed and informative, the sources Tacitus used were unreliable by any means.
He used letters, stories people have told, mostly second and third hand information, which loosens the reliability of his books. Unless there were books written around the same time about Germania, it becomes difficult to distinguish the evidence based writing with the fiction. Besides the sources being unreliable, its lopsidedness sets his views and his approach to guide his audiences to follow these views is transparent. Throughout the book Tacitus referred to the Germanys as lazy, cold, unfriendly, old styled, undeveloped, and mocked their ways of construction on several pages.
Besides their marriage, which he admired most, he compared Germania to Roman’s way of life in a negative way. Overall, the work of Tacitus was very important to history and very useful among historians. He provided a significant document on Germania that contributed to the world in many ways. In this text, many defining elements of the Germania society were discussed and also how it reflected the Roman world within these elements. Family life, social and political standings were more over discussed throughout this book as well.