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Tacitus: Germany Book 1 [1]

1. Germany is separated from the Galli, the Rhæti, and Pannonii, by the rivers Rhine and Danube; mountain ranges, or the fear which each feels for the other, divide it from the Sarmatæ and Daci. Elsewhere ocean girds it, embracing broad peninsulas and islands of unexplored extent, where certain tribes and kingdoms are newly known to us, revealed by war. The Rhine springs from a precipitous and inaccessible height of the Rhætian Alps, bends slightly westward, and mingles with the Northern Ocean. The Danube pours down from the gradual and gently rising slope of Mount Abnoba, and visits many nations, to force its way at last through six channels into the Pontus; a seventh mouth is lost in marshes.

1. Germania omnis a Gallis Rhaetisque et Pannoniis Rheno et Danubio fluminibus, a Sarmatis Dacisque mutuo metu aut montibus separatur: cetera Oceanus ambit, latos sinus et insularum immensa spatia complectens, nuper cognitis quibusdam gentibus ac regibus, quos bellum aperuit. Rhenus, Rhaeticarum Alpium inaccesso ac praecipiti vertice ortus, modico flexu in occidentem versus, septentrionali Oceano miscetur. Danubius, molli et clementer edito montis Abnobae jugo effusus, plures populos adit, donec in Ponticum mare sex meatibus erumpat: septimum os paludibus hauritur.

2. The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse. For, in former times, it was not by land but on shipboard that those who sought to emigrate would arrive; and the boundless and, so to speak, hostile ocean beyond us, is seldom entered by a sail from our world. And, beside the perils of rough and unknown seas, who would leave Asia, or Africa, or Italy for Germany, with its wild country, its inclement skies, its sullen manners and aspect, unless indeed it were his home? In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past, they celebrate an earth-born god, Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingævones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istævones. Some, with the freedom of conjecture permitted by antiquity, assert that the god had several descendants, and the nation several appellations, as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilii, and that these are genuine old names. The name Germany, on the other hand, they say, is modern and newly introduced, from the fact that the tribes which first crossed the Rhine and drove out the Gauls, and are now called Tungrians, were then called Germans. Thus what was the name of a tribe, and not of a race, gradually prevailed, till all called themselves by this self-invented name of Germans, which the conquerors had first employed to inspire terror.

2. Ipsos Germanos indigenas crediderim, minimeque aliarum gentium adventibus et hospitiis mixtos; quia nec terra olim, sed classibus advehebantur, qui mutare sedes quaerebant, et immensus ultra, utque sic dixerim, adversus Oceanus raris ab orbe nostro navibus aditur. Quis porro, praeter periculum horridi et ignoti maris, Asia aut Africa aut Italia relicta, Germaniam peteret, informem terris, asperam coelo, tristem cultu aspectuque, nisi si patria sit? Celebrant carminibus antiquis (quod unum apud illos memoriae et annalium genus est) Tuisconem deum terra editum, et filium Mannum, originem gentis conditoresque. Manno tres filios assignant, e quorum nominibus proximi Oceano Ingaevones, medii Hermiones, ceteri Istaevones vocentur. Quidam autem, ut in licentia vetustatis, plures deo ortos pluresque gentis appellationes, Marsos, Gambrivios, Suevos, Vandalios, affirmant; eaque vera et antiqua nomina. Ceterum Germaniae vocabulum recens et nuper additum; quoniam, qui primi Rhenum transgressi Gallos expulerint, ac nunc Tungri, tunc Germani vocati sint: ita nationis nomen, non gentis evaluisse paulatim, ut omnes primum a victore ob metum, mox a seipsis invento nomine Germani vocarentur.

3. They say that Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sing of him first of all heroes. They have also those songs of theirs, by the recital of which ("baritus," they call it), they rouse their courage, while from the note they augur the result of the approaching conflict. For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. It is not so much an articulate sound, as a general cry of valour. They aim chiefly at a harsh note and a confused roar, putting their shields to their mouth, so that, by reverberation, it may swell into a fuller and deeper sound. Ulysses, too, is believed by some, in his long legendary wanderings, to have found his way into this ocean, and, having visited German soil, to have founded and named the town of Asciburgium, which stands on the bank of the Rhine, and is to this day inhabited. They even say that an altar dedicated to Ulysses, with the addition of the name of his father, Laertes, was formerly discovered on this same spot, and that certain monuments and tombs, with Greek inscriptions, still exist on the borders of Germany and Rhætia. These statements I have no intention of sustaining by proofs, or of refuting; every one may believe or disbelieve them as he feels inclined.

3. Fuisse apud eos et Herculem memorant, primumque omnium virorum fortium ituri in proelia canunt. Sunt illis haec quoque carmina, quorum relatu, quem baritum vocant, accendunt animos, futuraeque pugnae fortunam ipso cantu augurantur: terrent enim trepidantve, prout sonuit acies. Nec tam voces illae, quam virtutis concentus videntur. Affectatur praecipue asperitas soni et fractum murmur, objectis ad os scutis, quo plenior et gravior vox repercussu intumescat. Ceterum et Ulixem quidam opinantur longo illo et fabuloso errore in hunc Occanum delatum, adisse Germaniae terras, Asciburgiumque, quod in ripa Rheni situm hodieque incolitur, ab illo constitutum nominatumque. Aram quin etiam Ulixi consecratam, adjecto Laertae patris nomine, eodem loco olim repertam, monumentaque et tumulos quosdam Graecis litteris inscriptos in confinio Germaniae Rhaetiaeque adhuc exstare: quae neque confirmare argumentis, neque refellere in animo est: ex ingenio suo quisque demat, vel addat fidem.

4. For my own part, I agree with those who think that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of intermarriages with foreign nations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. Hence, too, the same physical peculiarities throughout so vast a population. All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for a sudden exertion. They are less able to bear laborious work. Heat and thirst they cannot in the least endure; to cold and hunger their climate and their soil inure them.

4. Ipse eorum opinionibus accedo, qui Germaniae populos nullis aliis aliarum nationum connubiis infectos propriam et sinceram et tantum sui similem gentem exstitisse arbitrantur: unde habitus quoque corporum, quanquam in tanto hominum numero, idem omnibus; truces et cacrulei oculi, rutilae comae, magna corpora et tantum ad impetum valida; laboris atque operum non eadem patientia: minimeque sitim aestumque tolerare, frigora atque inediam coelo solove assueverunt.

5. Their country, though somewhat various in appearance yet generally either bristles with forests or reeks with swamps; it is more rainy on the side of Gaul, bleaker on that of Noricum and Pannonia. It is productive of grain, but unfavourable to fruit-bearing trees; it is rich in flocks and herds, but these are for the most part undersized, and even the cattle have not their usual beauty or noble head. It is number that is chiefly valued; they are in fact the most highly prized, indeed the only riches of the people. Silver and gold the gods have refused to them, whether in kindness or in anger I cannot say. I would not, however, affirm that no vein of German soil produces gold or silver, for who has ever made a search? They care but little to possess or use them. You may see among them vessels of silver, which have been presented to their envoys and chieftains, held as cheap as those of clay. The border population, however, value gold and silver for their commercial utility, and are familiar with, and show preference for, some of our coins. The tribes of the interior use the simpler and more ancient practice of the barter of commodities. They like the old and well-known money, coins milled, or showing a two-horse chariot. They likewise prefer silver to gold, not from any special liking, but because a large number of silver pieces is more convenient for use among dealers in cheap and common articles.

5. Terra, etsi aliquanto specie differt, in universum tamen aut silvis horrida aut paludibus foeda: humidior, qua Gallias; ventosior, qua Noricum ac Pannoniam aspicit: satis ferax; frugiferarum arborum impatiens: pecorum fecunda, sed plerumque improcera; ne armentis quidem suus honor, aut gloria frontis: numero gaudent; eaeque solae et gratissimae opes sunt. Argentum et aurum propitii an irati dii aegaverint, dubito. Nec tamen affirmaverim, nullam Germaniae venam argentum aurumve gignere: quis enim scrutatus est? possessione et usu haud perinde afficiuntur. Est videre apud illos argentea vasa, legatis et principibus eorum muneri data, non in alia vilitate, quam quae humo finguntur quanquam proximi, ob usum commerciorum, aurum et argentum in pretio habent, formasque quasdam nostrae pecuniae agnoscunt atque eligunt: interiores simplicius et antiquius permutatione mercium utuntur. Pecuniam probant veterem et diu notam, serratos bigatosque. Argentum quoque, magis quam aurum sequuntur, nulla affectione animi, sed quia numerus argenteorum facilior usui est promiscua ac vilia mercantibus.

6. Even iron is not plentiful with them, as we infer from the character of their weapons. But few use swords or long lances. They carry a spear (framea is their name for it), with a narrow and short head, but so sharp and easy to wield that the same weapon serves, according to circumstances, for close or distant conflict. As for the horse-soldier, he is satisfied with a shield and spear; the foot-soldiers also scatter showers of missiles, each man having several and hurling them to an immense distance, and being naked or lightly clad with a little cloak. There is no display about their equipment: their shields alone are marked with very choice colours. A few only have corslets, and just one or two here and there a metal or leathern helmet. Their horses are remarkable neither for beauty nor for fleetness. Nor are they taught various evolutions after our fashion, but are driven straight forward, or so as to make one wheel to the right in such a compact body that none is left behind another. On the whole, one would say that their chief strength is in their infantry, which fights along with the cavalry; admirably adapted to the action of the latter is the swiftness of certain foot-soldiers, who are picked from the entire youth of their country, and stationed in front of the line. Their number is fixed,--a hundred from each canton; and from this they take their name among their countrymen, so that what was originally a mere number has now become a title of distinction. Their line of battle is drawn up in a wedge-like formation. To give ground, provided you return to the attack, is considered prudence rather than cowardice. The bodies of their slain they carry off even in indecisive engagements. To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes; nor may a man thus disgraced be present at the sacred rites, or enter their council; many, indeed, after escaping from battle, have ended their infamy with the halter.

6. Ne ferrum quidem superest, sicut ex genere telorum colligitur. Rari gladiis aut majoribus lanceis utuntur: hastas, vel ipsorum vocabulo frameas gerunt, angusto et brevi ferro sed ita acri et ad usum habili, ut eodem telo, prout ratio poscit, vel cominus vel eminus pugnent: et eques quidem scuto frameaque contentus est: pedites et missilia spargunt, plura singuli, atque in immensum vibrant, nudi aut sagulo leves. Nulla cultus jactatio; scuta tantum lectissimis coloribus distinguunt: paucis loricae: vix uni alterive cassis aut galea. Equi non forma, non velocitate conspicui: sed nec variare gyros in morem nostrum docentur. In rectum, aut uno flexu dextros agunt ita conjuncto orbe, ut nemo posterior sit. In universum aestimanti, plus penes peditem roboris: eoque mixti proeliantur, apta et congruente ad equestrem pugnam velocitate peditum, quos ex omni juventute delectos ante aciem locant. Definitur et numerus: centeni ex singulis pagis sunt: idque ipsum inter suos vocantur; et quod primo numerus fuit, jam nomen et honor est. Acies per cuneos componitur. Cedere loco, dummodo rursus instes, consilii quam formidinis arbitrantur. Corpora suorum etiam in dubiis proeliis referunt. Scutum reliquisse, praecipuum flagitium; nec aut sacris adesse, aut concilium inire, ignominioso fas; multique superstites bellorum infamiam laqueo finierunt.

7. 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 combatants.

7. Reges ex nobilitate, duces ex virtute sumunt. Nec regibus infinita aut libera potestas: et duces exemplo potius, quam imperio, si prompti, si conspicui, si ante aciem agant, admiratione praesunt. Ceterum neque animadvertere neque vincire, ne verberare quidem, nisi sacerdotibus permissum; non quasi in poenam, nec ducis jussu, sed velut deo imperante, quem adesse bellantibus credunt: effigiesque et signa quaedam, detracta lucis, in proelium ferunt. Quodque praecipuum fortitudinis incitamentum est, non casus nec fortuita conglobatio turmam aut cuneum facit, sed familiae et propinquitates, et in proximo pignora, unde feminarum ululatus audiri, unde vagitus infantium: hi cuique sanctissimi testes, hi maximi laudatores. Ad matres, ad conjuges vulnera ferunt; nec illae numerare, aut exigere plagas pavent; cibosque et hortamina pugnantibus gestant.

8. 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.

8. Memoriae proditur, quasdam acies, inclinatas jam et labantes, a feminis restitutas, constantia precum et objectu pectorum et monstrata cominus captivitate, quam longe impatientius feminarum suarum nomine timent: adeo ut efficacius obligentur animi civitatum, quibus inter obsides puellae quoque nobiles imperantur. Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant: nec aut consilia earum aspernantur, aut responsa negligunt. Vidimus sub divo Vespasiano Veledam diu apud plerosque numinis loco habitam. Sed et olim Auriniam et complures alias venerati sunt non adulatione, nec tanquam facerent deas.

9. 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.

9. Deorum maxime Mercurium colunt, cui certis diebus humanis quoque hostiis litare fas habent. Herculem ac Martem concessis animalibus placant: pars Suevorum et Isidi sacrificat. Unde causa et origo peregrino sacro parum comperi, nisi quod signum ipsum, in modum liburnae figuratum, docet advectam religionem. Ceterum nec cohibere parietibus deos, neque in ullam humani oris speciem assimulare, ex magnitudine coelestium arbitrantur: lucos ac nemora consecrant, deorumque nominibus appellant secretum illud, quod sola reverentia vident.

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