The country we know under the name of Germany is separated from Gaul, on the one hand, and from Rhaetia and Pannonia, on the other, by the rivers Rhine and Danube, from Sarmatia and Dacia by the barriers of mutual fear or mountain ranges. Its northern coasts, with their broad promontories and vast islands beyond, are lapped by Ocean. It is only in recent times that war has revealed the existence there of nations and kings unknown before. The Rhine rises in a remote and precipitous peak of the Rhaetian Alps and bends gently westward to lose itself in the northern ocean. The Danube flows from a gentle grassy slope of Mount Abnoba and passes more peoples than the Rhine in its course, before it discharges by six channels into the Black Sea. Its seventh mouth is swallowed up in marshes.
The Germans themselves, I am inclined to think, are natives of the soil and extremely little affected by immigration or friendly intercourse with other nations. For, in ancient times, if you wished to change your habitat, you travelled by sea and not by land; and the vast ocean that lies beyond and, so to speak, defies intruders, is seldom visited by ships from our world. Besides – to say nothing of the perils of a wild and unknown sea – who would leave Asia. Africa or Italy to visit Germany, with its unlovely scenery, its bitter climate, its general dreariness to sense and eye, unless it were his home?
In their ancient songs, their only form of recorded history, the Germans celebrate the earth-born god, Tuisto. They assign to him a son, Mannus, the author of their race, and to Mannus three sons their founders, after whom the people nearest Ocean are named Ingaevones, those of the centre Herminones, the remainder Istaevones. The remote past invites guesswork, and so some authorities record more sons of the god and more national names, such as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suebi and Vandilici; and the names are indeed genuine and ancient. As for the name of Germany, it is quite a modern coinage, they say. The first people to cross the Rhine and oust the Gauls are now called Tungri, but were then called Germans. It was the name of this tribe, not that of a nation, that gradually came into general use. And so, in the first place, they were all called Germans after the conquerors because of the terror there inspired, and finally adopted and applied the new name to themselves.
Hercules, among others, is said to have visited them, and they chant his praises before those of other heroes on their way into battle. They have also a different kind of chant. Its recital – barritus, to use their own name – serves to kindle their courage and helps them by its sound to forecast the issue of the coming battle. They inspire or feel terror according to which army roars the loader, and they regard the competition as one of valour rather than voice. What they aim at most is a harsh tone and hoarse murmur, and so they put their shields before their mouths, in order to make the voice swell fuller and deeper as it echoes back. Ulysses, too, in those long and fabled wanderings of his, is thought by some to have reached this ocean, visited the German lands and founded and named Asciburgium, a place still inhabited today on the banks of the Rhine. They even add that an altar, consequented by Uylsses and giving also the name of his father, Laertes, was found long since on the same spot, and that certain monuments on barrows, inscribed with Greek letters, are still to be seen on the borders of Germany and Rhaetia. I am not disposed either to sustain or refute such assertions by evidence; my readers may believe or disbelieve at their own discretion.
For myself I accept the view that the peoples of Germany have never been tainted by intermarriage with other peoples, and stand out as a nation peculiar, pure and unique of its kind. Hence the physical type, if one may generalize at all about so vast a population, is everywhere the same – wild, blue eyes, reddish hair and huge frames that excel only in violent effort. They have no corresponding power to endure hard work and exertion, and have little capacity to bear thirst and heat; but their climate and soil have taught them to bear cold and hunger.
The country in general, while varying somewhat in character, either bristles with woods and festers with swamps. It is wetter where it faces Gaul, windier where it faces Noricum and Pannonia. Though fertile in grain crops, it is unkind to fruit trees. It is rich in flocks, but they are for the most part undersized. Even the cattle lack the splendid brows that are their natural glory. It is numbers that please, numbers that constitute their only, their darling, form of wealth. Heaven has denied them gold and silver – shall I say in mercy or in wrath? But I would not go so far as to assert that Germany has no lodes of silver and gold. Who has ever prospected for them? The Germans take less than then normal pleasure in owning and using them. One may see among them silver vessels, which have been given as presents to their envoys and chiefs, as lightly esteemed as earthenware. The Germans nearest us do, however, value gold and silver for their use in trade, and recognize and prefer certain types of Roman money. The peoples of the interior, truer to the plain old ways, employ barter. They like money that is old and familiar, denarii with the notched edge and the type of the two-horse chariot. Another point is that they try to get silver in preference to gold. They have no predilection for the metal, but find plenty of silver change more serviceable in buying cheap and common goods.
There is not even any great abundance of iron, as may be inferred from the character of their weapons. Only a very few use swords or lances. The spears that they carry –frameae is the native word – have short and narrow heads, but are so sharp and easy to handle, that the same weapons serves as need for close or distant fighting. The horseman asks no more than his shield and spear, but the infantry have also javelins to shower, several per man, and can hurl them to a great distance; for they are either naked or only lightly clad in their cloaks. There is nothing ostentatious in their turn-out. Only the shields are picked out with carefully selected colours. Few have breast-plates; only here and there will you see a helmet of metal or hide. Their horses are not distinguished either for beauty or for speed, nor are they trained in Roman fashion to execute various turns. They ride them straight ahead or with a single swing to the right, keeping the wheeling line so perfect that no one drops behind the rest. On a general survey, their strength is seen to lie rather in their infantry, and that is why they combine the two arms in battle. The men whom they select from the whole force and station in the van are fleet of foot and fit admirably into cavalry action. The number of these select men is exactly fixed. A hundred are drawn from each district, and `the hundred` is the name they bear at home. What began as a mere number ends as a title of distinction. The line is made up of wedge formations. To retreat, provided that you return to the attack, is considered crafty rather than cowardly. They bring in the bodies of the fallen even when the battle hangs in the balance. To throw away one`s shield is the supreme disgrace; the guilty wretch is debarred from sacrifice or council. Men have often survived battle only to end their shame by hanging themselves.
They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. As for the leaders, it is their example rather than their authority that wins them special admiration – for their energy, their distinction, or their presence in the van of fight. Capital punishment, imprisonment and even flogging are allowed to none but the priests, and are not inflicted merely as punishments or on the leaders` order, but an obedience to the god whom they believe to preside over battle. They also carry into the fray figures and emblems taken from their sacred groves. Not chance or the accident of mustering makes the troop or wedge, but family and friendship, and this is a very powerful incitement to valour. A man`s dearest possessions are at hand; he can hear close to him the laments of his women and wailing of his children. These are the witness that a man reverence most, to them he looks for his highest praise. The men take their wounds to their mothers and wives, and the latter are not afraid of counting and examining the blows, and bring food and encouragement to the fighting men.
It stands on record that armies on the point of collapse have been restored by the women. They have pleaded heroically with their men, thrusting their bosoms before them and forcing them to realize the imminent prospect of their enslavement – a fate which they fear most desperately for their women than for themselves. It is even found that you can secure a surer hold on a state if you demand among the hostages girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the deified Vespasian we saw Veleda long honoured by many Germans as a divinity, whilst even earlier they showed a similar reverence for Aurinia and others, a reverence untouched by flattery or any presence of turning women into goddess.
Above all gods they worship Mercury, and count it no sin to win his favour on certain days by human sacrifices. They appease Hercules and Mars with the beasts normally allowed. Some of the Suebi sacrifice to Isis also. I cannot determine the origin and meaning of this foreign cult, but her emblem. Made in the form of a light war-vessel, proves that her worship came in from abroad. They do not, however, deem it consistent with the divine majesty to imprison their gods within walls or represent them with anything like human figures. Their holy places are the woods and groves, and they call by the name of god that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence.
For auspices and the casting of lots they have the highest possible regard. Their procedure in casting lots is uniform. They break off a branch of a fruit-tree and slice it into strips; they distinguish these by certain runes and throw them, as random chance will have it, on to a white cloth. Then the priest of the State if the consultation is a public one, the father of the family if it is private, after a prayer to the gods and an intent gaze heavenward, picks up three, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the runes scored on them. If the lots forbid an enterprise, there can be no further consultation that day; if they allow it, further confirmation by auspices is required. Their practice of questioning the notes and flights of birds is, of course, known also to us; peculiar to the Germans is the seeking of presentments and warnings from horses. These horses are kept at the public expense in those sacred woods and groves that I have already mentioned; they are pure white and undefiled by work of man. The priest or king or chief of the State yokes them to a sacred chariot and goes along with them, noting their neighing and snorting. No form of auspices inspires greater trust, not only among the commons, but even among the nobles and priests. They themselves are only the servants, the horses are the confidants of the gods. There is yet another kind of auspices used to forecast the issue of serous wars. They somehow or other contrive to secure a captive from the nation with which they are at war and match him against a champion of their own, each armed in native style. The victory of one or the other is taken as a test case.
On matters of minor importance only the chiefs debate, on major affairs the whole community; but, even where the commons have the decision, the case is carefully considered in advance by the chiefs. Except in case of accident or emergency they assemble on fixed days, when the moon is either crescent or nearing her full orb. These, they hold, are the most auspicious times for embarking on any new enterprise. They count, not like us, by days, but by nights. It is by nights that they fix dates or make appointments. Night is regarded as ushering in the day. It is a defect of their freedom that they do not assemble at once or in obedience to orders, but waste two or three days in their seats fully armed. Silence is then demanded by the priests, who on that occasion have also power to enforce obedience. Then such hearing is given to the king or chief as age, rank, military distinction or eloquence can secure; but it is rather their prestige as counsellors than their authority that tells. If a proposal displeases them, the people roar out their dissent; if they approve, they clash their spears. No form of approval can carry more honour than praise expressed by arms.
One can launch an accusation before the Council or bring a capital charge. The punishment varies to suit the crime. The traitor and deserter are hanged on trees, the coward, the shirker and the unnaturally vicious are drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wattled hurdles. The distinction in the punishments implies that deeds of violence should be paid for in the full glare of publicity, but that deeds of shame should be suppressed. Even for lighter offences the punishment varies. The man who is found guilty is fined so and so many horses or cattle. Part of the fines is paid to the King or State, part to the injured man or his relatives. In the same councils are elected the chiefs, who dispense justice through the country districts and villages. Each of them is attended by a hundred companions, drawn from the commons, both to advise him and to add weight to his decisions.
No business, public or private, is transacted except in arms. But it is the rule that no one shall take up his arms until the State has attested that he is likely to make good. When that time comes, one of the chiefs or the father or a kinsman equips the young warrior with shield and spear in the public council. This with the Germans is the equivalent of our toga – the first public distinction of youth. They cease to rank, merely as members of the household and are now members of the state. Conspicuous ancestry or great services rendered by their fathers can win the rank of chief for boys still in their teens. They are attached to the other chiefs, who are more mature and approved, and no one blushes to be seen thus in the ranks of the companions. This order of companions has even its different grades, as determined by the leader, and there is intense rivalry among the companions for the first by the chief, among the chiefs for the most numerous and enthusiastic companions. Dignity and power alike consist in being continually attended by a corps of chosen youths. This gives you consideration in peace-time and security in war. Nor is it only in a man`s own nation that he can win name and fame by the superior number and quality of his companions, but in neighbouring states as well. Chiefs are courted by embassies and complimented by gifts and they often virtually decide wars by the mere weight of their reputation.
On the field of battle it is a disgrace to the chief to be surpassed in valour by his companions, to the companions not to come up to the valour of their chief. As for leaving a battle alive after your chief has fallen, that means lifelong infamy and shame. To defend and protect him, to put down one`s own acts of heroism to his credit – that is what they really mean by `allegiance`. The chiefs fight for victory, the companions for their chief. Many noble youths, if the land of their birth is stagnating in a protracted peace, deliberately seek out other tribes, where some war is afoot. The Germans have no taste for peace; renown is easier won among perils, and you cannot maintain a large body of companions except by violence and war. The companions are prodigal in their demands on the generosity of their chiefs. It is always `give me that war-horse` or `give me that bloody and victorious spear`. As for meals with their plentiful, if homely, fare, they count simply as pay. Such open-handedness must have war and plunder to feed it. You will find it harder to persuade a German to plough the land and to await its annual produce with patience than to challenge a foe and earn the prize of wounds. He thinks it spiritless and slack to gain by sweat what he can but with blood.
When not engaged in warfare, they spend some little time in hunting, but more in idling, abandoned to sleep and gluttony. All the heroes and grim warriors dawdle their time away, while the care house, hearth and fields is left to the women, old men and weaklings of the family. The warriors themselves lose their edge. They are so strangely inconsistent. They love indolence, but they hate peace. It is usual for states to make voluntary and individual contributions of cattle or agricultural produce to the chiefs. These are accepted as a token of honour, but serve also to relieve essential needs. The chiefs take peculiar pleasure in gifts from neighbouring states, such as are sent not only by individuals, but by the community as well – choice horses, splendid arms, metal discs and collars; the practice of accepting money payments they have now learnt – from us.
It is a well-known fact that the peoples of Germany never lives in cities, and will not even have their houses set close together. They live apart, dotted here and there, where spring, plain or grove has taken their fancy. Their villages are not laid out in Roman style, with buildings adjacent or interlocked. Every man leaves an open space round his house, perhaps as a precaution against the risk of fire, perhaps because they are such inexpert builders. They do not even make any use of little stone blocks or tiles; what serves their every purpose is ugly timber, both unimpressive and unattractive. They smear over some parts of their houses with an earth that is so pure and brilliant that it looks like painting or coloured mosaics. They have also the habit of hollowing out caves underground and heaping masses of refuse on the top. In these they can escape the winter`s cold and store their produce. In such shelters they take the edge off the bitter frosts; and, should an invader come, he ravages the open country, but the secret and buried stores may pass altogether unnoticed or escape detection, simply because they have to be looked for.
The universal dress is the short cloak, fastened with a brooch or, failing that, a thorn. They pass whole days by the hearth fire wearing no garment but this. The richest are not distinguished, like the Persians and Sarmatians, by a long flowing robe, but by a tight one that shows the shape of every limb. They also wear the pelts of wild animals, the tribe near the Rhine without regard to appearance, the more distant peoples with some refinement of taste, for there is no other refinery that they can buy. These latter peoples make careful choice of animal, then strip off the pelt and mottle it with patches of the spotted skins of the beasts that live in the outer ocean and the unknown sea. The dress of the women differs from that of the men in two respects only. The women often wear undergarments of linen, embroidered with purple, and, as the upper part does not extend to sleeves, forearms and upper arms are bare. Even the breast, where it comes nearest the shoulder, is exposed too.
For all that, marriage in Germany is austere, and there is no feature in their morality that deserves higher praise. They are almost unique among barbarians in being satisfied with one wife each. The exceptions, which are exceedingly rare, are of men who receive offers of many wives because of their rank; there is no question of sexual passion. The dowry is brought by the husband to wife, not by wife to husband. Parents and kinsmen attend and approve of the gifts, gifts not chosen to please a woman`s whim or gaily deck a young bride, but oxen, horse with reins, shield, spear and sword. For such gifts a man gets his wife, and she in turn brings some present of arms to her husband. In this interchange of gifts they recognize the supreme bond, the holy mysteries, the presiding deities if marriage. A woman must not imagine herself free to neglect the manly virtues or immune from the hazards of war. That is why she is reminded, in the very ceremonies which bless her marriage at its outset, that she is coming to share a man`s toils and dangers, that she is to be his partner in all his sufferings and adventures, whether in peace or war. That is the meaning of the team of oxen, of the horse ready for its rider, of the gift of arms. On these terms she must live for her and bear her children. She is receiving something that she must hand over unspoilt and treasured to her children, for her son`s wives to receive in their turn and pass on to the grandchildren.
Thus it is that the German women live in a chastity that is impregnable, uncorrupted by the temptation of public shows or the excitements of banquets. Clandestine love-letters are unknown to men and women alike. Adultery in that populous nation is rare in the extreme, and punishment is summary and left to the husband. He shaves off his wife`s hair, strips her in the presence of kinsmen, thrusts her from his house and flogs her through the whole village. They have, in fact, no mercy on a woman who prostitutes her chastity. Neither beauty, youth nor wealth can find the sinner a husband. No one in Germany finds vice amusing, or calls it `up-to-date` to debauch and be debauched. It is still better with whose states in which only virgins marry, and the hopes and prayers of a wife are settled once and for all. They take one husband, like the one body or life that they possess. No thought or desire must stray beyond him. They must not love the husband so much as the married state. To restrict the number of children or to put to death any born after the heir is considered criminal. Good morality is more effective in Germany than good laws in some places that we know.
The children grow up in every home, naked and dirty, to that strength of limb and size of body which excite our admiration. Every mother feeds her child at the breast and does not dispute the task to maids and nurses. The master is not to be distinguished from the slave by any pampering in his upbringing. They grow up together among the same flocks and on the same ground, until maturity sets apart the free and the spirit of valour claims them as her own. The young men are slow to mate, and their powers, therefore, are never exhausted. The girls, too, are not hurried into marriage. As old and full-grown as the men, they match their mates in age and strength, and the children reproduce the might of their parents. The sons of sisters are as highly honoured by their uncles as by their own fathers. Some even go so far as to regard this tie of blood as peculiarly close and sacred, and, in taking hostages, insist on having them of this class; they think that this gives them a firmer grip on men`s hearts and a wider hold on the family. However, a man`s heirs and successors are his own children, and there is no such thing as a will; where there is no children, the next to succeed are, first, brothers, and then uncles, first on the father`s, then on the mother side. The larger a man`s kin and the greater the number of his relations by marriage, the stronger is his influence when he is old. Childnessness in Germany is not a paying profession.
A man is bound to take up the feuds as well as the friendships of father or kinsman. But feuds do not continue unreconciled. Even homicide can be atoned for by a fixed number of cattle or sheep, and the satisfaction is received by the whole family. This is much to the advantage of the community, for private feuds are peculiarly dangerous side by side with liberty.
No nation abandons itself more completely to banqueting and entertainment than the German. It is accounted a sin to turn any man away from your door. The host welcomes his guest with the best meal that his means allow. When supplies run out, the host takes on a fresh role; he directs and escorts his guest to a new hostelry. The two go on, uninvited, to the nearest house. It makes no difference; they are welcomed just as warmly. No distinctions is ever made between acquaintance and stranger as far as the right to hospitality is concerned. As the guest takes his leave, it is usual to let him have anything he asks for; the host, too, is no more shy in asking. They take delight in presents, but ask no credit for giving them and admit no obligation in receiving them. There is a pleasant courtesy in the relations between host and guest.
As soon as they rise from their sleep, which is often protracted well into the day, they wash in water that is usually warm; can one wonder, where winter holds such sway? After washing, they breakfast; each has his special place and his special table. Then they sally forth in arms to business or, as often as not, to banquets. Drinking bouts, lasting a day and night, are not considered in any way disgraceful. Such quarrels as inevitably arise over the cups are seldom settled by mere hard words, more often by blows and wounds. None the less, they often make banquets an occasion for discussing such serious affairs as the reconciliation of enemies, the forming of marriage alliances, the adoption of new chiefs, and even the choice of peace or war. At no other time, they feel, is the heart so open to frank suggestions or so quick to warm to a great appeal. The Germans are neither canny nor cunning, and take advantage of the occasion to unbosom themselves of their most secret thoughts; every soul is naked and exposed. The next day, comes reconsideration, and so due account is taken of both occasions. They debate at a time which cuts out pretence, they decide at a time that precludes mistake.
For drink they extract a juice from barley or grain, which is fermented to make something not unlike wine. The Germans who live nearest the Rhine can actually get wine in the market. Their food is plain – wild fruit, fresh game or curdled milk. They satisfy their hunger without any elaborate service or appetizers. But they show no corresponding self-control in drinking. You have only to indulge their intemperance by supplying all that they crave, and you will gain an easy victory through their vices as through your own arms.
They have only one form of public show, which is the same wherever they foregather. Naked youths, trained to the sport, dance among swords and spears that are levelled at them. Practice begets skill, and skill grace, but they are not professionals or paid. However adventurous the play, their only reward is the pleasure they give the spectators. But they go in for dicing, if you can believe it, in all seriousness and in their sober hours, and are so recklessly keen about winning or losing that, when everything else is gone, they stake their personal liberty on the last decisive throw. The loser goes into slavery without complaint; younger or stronger he may be, but he suffers himself to be bound. Such is their perverse persistence, or, to use their own word, their honour. Slaves of this sort are sold and passed on, so that the winner may be clear of the shame that even he feels in his victory.
Slaves in general are not allotted, as we allot them, to special duties in the establishment. Each has control of his own house and home. The master imposes a fixed charge of grain, cattle or clothing, as he would on a tenant, and up to this point the slave will obey; but domestic tasks, as a whole, are performed by a man`s wife and children. It is seldom that they flog a slave or punish him with imprisonment or forced labour; but they often put one to death, in no spirit of stern discipline, but in a fit of passion, as they might an enemy – only they have not to pay for it. Freedmen rank little higher than slaves; they have seldom any serious influence in the household, never in the state, excepting only in nations under the rule of kings. There they mount high above free men and nobles, with the rest the inferiority of freedmen is the hall-mark of liberty.
The practice of usury and compound interest is simply unknown. Ignorance here is a surer defence than any ban. Lands are taken into occupation, turn and turn about, by while villages in proportion to the number of cultivators, and are then allotted in order of rank. The distribution is made easy by the vast extent of open land. They change their plough-lands yearly, and still there is ground to spare. The fact is their soil is fertile and plentiful, but they refuse to give it the labour it deserves. They plant no orchards, fence off no meadows, water no gardens; the only levy on the earth is the corn crop. Hence it comes that they divide the year into fewer seasons than we do. Winter, spring and summer are familiar to them both as ideas and as names, but autumn is as unknown to them, as are the girls she has to bring.
There is no pomp about their funerals. The one rule observed is that the bodies of famous men are burned with special kinds of wood. When they have heaped up the fire they do not throw robes or spices on the top; but only a man`s arms, and sometimes his horse, too, are cast into the flames. The tomb is a raised mound of turf. They disdain to show honour by laboriously rearing high monuments of stone; they would only lie heavy on the dead. Weeping and wailing are soon abandoned – sorrow and mourning not so soon. A woman may decently express her grief in public; a man should nurse his in his heart.
Such is the general account that we find given of the origin and customs of the Germans as a whole. I know now set forth the institutions and practices of the nations severally, so far as they are distinctive, and notes the tribes that migrated into Gaul.
That the power of Gaul once exceeded that of Germany is recorded by the greatest of authorities, the deified Julius; and, in view of that, we may well believe that the Gauls in their time crossed into Germany. There was only a stream between, and how paltry an obstacle was that to stop any nation that grew strong enough from seizing and continuing to seize ever fresh lands, when they were no man`s property and not yet partitioned between powerful kings! Thus, between the Hercynian forest and the rivers Rhine and Main, we find the Helvetti settled; beyond them, the Boii, both peoples of Gaul. The name of Bohemia still clings to the land and indicates its ancient history, even after its change of inhabitants. Whether the Aravisci came as immigrants to Pannonia from the German tribe of the Osi, or the Osi from the Aravisci into Germany, cannot be determined. Both speak the same language and have the same customs and character.
Further, of old, when both banks of the Rhine were equally poor and equally free, they offered identical advantages and disadvantages. The Treviri and Nervii even go out of their way to claim German descent. Such a glorious origin, they feel, should clear them of any resemblance to the nerveless Gauls. The actual bank of the Rhine is held by peoples of undoubted German origin – the Vangiones, the Triboci and the Nemetes. Even the Ubii, for all that they have earned the rank of Roman colony and prefer to be called Agrippinenses, after Agrippina, their foundress, are not ashamed of their origin. They crossed the Rhine many years ago and, now that their loyalty to us is proved, they are stationed right on the river-bank, not to be under surveilliance, but to keep the gate against intruders.
The most conspicuously courageous of all these peoples, the Batavi, hold little of the bank, but do hold the Rhine island. They were once a people of the Chatti, and on occasion of civil war migrated to their present homes – destined there to become a part of the Roman Empire. But the honour and distinction of their old alliance remain. They are not insulted by tribute or ground down by the tax-gatherer. Free from imposts and special levies, and reserved for battle, they are like weapons and armour, `only to be used in war`. No less dutiful is the nation of the Mattiaci, across the Rhine; for the greatness of Rome has spread the awe of her Empire even beyond the Rhine and the ancient frontiers. In geographical position they are on the German side, in heart and soul they are with us. They are similar to the Batavians in every way – except that soil and climate give a keener edge to their spirit.
I am inclined not to reckon among the people of Germany the cultivators of the `Agri decumates`, settled though they may be between Rhine and Danube. All the wastrels of Gaul, all the penniless adventurers seized on what was still no man`s land. it was only later, when the frontier line of defence was drawn and the garrisons were moved forward, that they have become a sort of projection of the empire and a part of a province.
Beyond them dwell the Chatti, from the Hercynian forest onwards, in a country less wide and marshy than the other states, which Germany stretches out to form. For the hills run on, and only thin out gradually, and the Hercynian forest, like a nurse with her infant cares, shows the Chatti on their way, and finally sets then down in the plain. This nation is distinguished by great physical hardiness, tautness of limb, savagery of expression and unusual mental vigour. They have plenty of judgement and acumen, as measured by the German standard. They pick the men to lead them, and proceed to obey them. They know how to keep their ranks, seize a chance, or delay an attack. They can map out the duties of the day or make sure the defences of the night. They reckon fortune a chance, but valour a certainty. They can also rise to an unusual achievement, usually reserved for Roman discipline: they place more dependence on the general than on the army. Their strength lies in their infantry, which, over and above its arms, has to bear the burden of entrenching tools and provisions. Other Germans may be seen going to battle, only the Chatti to war. It is but seldom that they engage in sallies or in broken fighting, such as really belong to cavalry, with its quick retreats. With infantry, speed is next door to cowardice, deliberate action approximates to courage.
A custom that in other German peoples is uncommon and depends on the enterprise of the individual has among the Chatti becomes a general rule – the letting the hair and beard grow long as soon as one has come of age, and only clearing the face of this covering, which has been vowed and pledged to valour, when one has slain an enemy. Over the bloodstained spoils they unbare the brow. `Now at last,` they cry, `we have paid the price of birth and shown ourselves worthy of country and parents.` The coward and the shirker remain still unkempt. The bravest also all wear an iron ring – which to the Chatti implies disgrace – as a bond from which only the killing of an enemy can free them. Very many of the Chatti like this fashion and still signalize themselves by it even till their hair turns white – a mark for friend and foe alike. With such old warriors it always rests to begin the battle. They are always in the van and present a startling sight; even in peace they decline to soften the savagery of their expression. Nome of them has home, land or business of his town. To whatever host they choose to go, they get their keep from him, wasting the goods of others while despising hteir own, until old gar drains their blood and incapacitates them for so exacting a form of heroism.
Next to the Chatti, along a Rhine that has now defined its channel and can serve as a boundary, live the Usipi and Tencteri. The Tencteri, while sharing in the general military glory, excel in skilful horsemanship. The infantry of the Chatti are not common than the cavalry of the Tencteri. That is their inherited tradition, which later ages continue to honour. The games of the children, the competitions of the young men, all take this same direction; even the old persist in it. Horses are handed down as part of the household with its protecting gods and the rights of the succession. They are inherited by a son, not necessarily, like the rest of the property, by the eldest, but by the one who is the keenest and ablest soldier.
Next to the Tencteri once came the Bructeri, but now the Chamavi and Angrivarii are said to have taken their place. The Bructeri were ousted and almost annihilated by a league of neighbouring tribes. Perhaps they were hated for their pride, or it may have been the lure of booty, or else the gods were kind to Roe. We were even gratified with the spectacle of a battle. Over 60,000 Germans fell, and not by Roman swords or javelins, but, more splendid still, to gladden Roman eyes. Long, I pray, may the Germans persist, if not in loving us, at least in hating one another; for the imperial destiny drives hard, and fortune has no longer any better gift for us than the disunion of our foes.
The Angrivarii and Chamavi are shut in from behind by the Dulgubnii, Chasuarii and other peoples of no special note, whilst in the West they are succeeded by the Frisii. The Frisii are called the `greater and the `lesser`, in accordance with the actual strength of the two peoples. Both tribes have the Rhine as their border right down to Ocean, and their settlements also extend round vast lakes, which have been sailed by Roman fleets. We have even felt our way into Ocean by this route, and rumour has it that there are pillars of Hercules beyond. Did Hercules really go there, or is it only our habit of assigning any conspicuous achievement anywhere to that famous name? Drusus Germanicus was not deficient in the courage of the explorer, but Ocean forbade further research into its own secrets or those of Hercules. Since then no one has tried to explore. It has been judged more pious and reverent to believe in what the gods have done than to investigate it.
This is as far as the Germany we know extends to the westward. To the north it comes back in huge sweep. The very first nation here is that of the Chauci. They begin after the Frisii and hold a section of the coast, but they also lie along the flanks of all those nations that I have been describing, and finally curve back to meet the Chatti. This huge stretch of country is not merely occupied, but filed to overflowing by the Chauci. They are one of the noblest peoples of Germany, and one that actually prefers to maintain its greatness by righteous dealing. Unvexed by greed or lawless ambition, they dwell in quiet seclusion, never provoking a war, never robbing or plundering their neighbours. It is conspicuous proof of their valour and strength that their acknowledged superiority does not rest on aggression. Yet every man has arms ready to his hand, and, if occasion demands it, they have vast reserves of men and horse. So, even when they are vat peace, their reputation does not fall.
On the flank of the Chauci and Chatti the Cherusci have been left free to enjoy a peace, too deep and over-ripe – a pleasant but perilous indulgence among powerful aggressors, where there is no true peace. When the strong hand decides, reasonableness and integrity have no meaning except as applied to the conqueror; and so the Cherusci, once the good and true, now hear themselves called the slovenly and slack. The luck of the victorious Chatti has come to rank as deep policy. In the fall of the Cherusci was involved the neighbouring tribe of the Fosi. They played second string to them in prosperity, but get an equal share of their adversity.
In the same bend of Germany, next to Ocean, dwell the Cimbri, a mighty name in history, though now but a tiny State. The traces of their ancient fame may still be seen far and wide, in vast encampments on both sides of the Rhine, which, by their huge girth, still supply a gauge of the mass and man-power of the nation and the historical truth of that great exodus. Rome was in her six hundred and fortieth year when the alarm of the Cimbrian arms was first heard, in the consulship of Caecilius Metellus and Papirius Carbo. Reckoning from that year to the second consulship of our Emperor Trajan, we get a total of just about two hundred and ten years. That is the time it is taking to conquer Germany. In the course of that long period much punishment has been given and taken by us. Neither from the Samnites nor from the Carthaginians, neither from Spain nor Gaul nor from the Parthians even, have we had more painful lessons. The freedom of Germany is a deadlier enemy than the despotism of Arsaces. After all, with what has the East to taunt us except the slaughter of Crassus? And after that it soon lost its own Pacorus and was humbled at the feet of Ventidus. But the Germans routed or captured Carbo, Cassius, Aurelius Scaurus, Servilius Caepio and Mallius Maximus, and robbed the Roman people, almost at one stroke, of five consular armies. From Caesar they stole Varus and his three legions. It was not without painful loss that C. Marius smote the Germans in Italy, that the defied Julius smote them in Gaul, that Drusus, Nero and Germanicus smote them in their own homes. Then the vast threats of Gaius Caesar ended in farce. After that ensued a peace, until the Germans took advantage of our dissensions and civil wars to storm the quarters of the legions and claim possession of Gaul. Driven back from these pretentions, they have in recent times supplied us with more triumphs than victories.
We must come now to speak of the Suebi, who do not, like the Chatti or Tencteri, constitute a single nation. They actually occupy more than half Germany, and are divided into a number of distinct tribes under distinct names, though all generically are called Suebi. It is the special characteristic of this nation to comb the hair side-ways and fasten it below with a knot. This distinguishes the Suebi from the rest of the Germans; this, among the Suebi, distinguishes the freemen from the slave. In other nations that are either related in some degree to the Suebi or indulge in the common habit of imitation the practice does exist, but is uncommon and confined to early manhood. But with the Suebi the bristling hair, even till it turns white, is twisted back and often knotted on the very crown of the head. The chiefs use an even more elaborate style. Such attention do they pay to their personal – and yet in all innocence; it is not to make love or inspire it that they build their hair to such a terrifying height; all this elaborate make-up is to impress the foe they will meet in battle.
The oldest and noblest of the Suebi, so it is said, are the Semnones, and the justice of this claim is confirmed by a religious rite. At a set time all the peoples of this blood gather, in their embassies, in a wood hallowed by the auguries of their ancestors and the awe of ages. The sacrifice in public of a human victim marks the grisly opening of their savage ritual. In another way, too, reverence is paid to the grove. No one may enter it unless he is bound with a cor. By this he acknowledges his own inferiority and the power of the deity. Should he chance to fall, he must not get up on his feet again. He must roll out over the ground. All this complex of superstition reflects the belief that in that grove the nation had its birth, and that there dwells the god who rules over all, while the rest of the world is subject to his sway. Weight is lent to this belief by the prosperity of the Semnones. They dwell in a hundred country districts and, in virtue of their magnitude, count themselves chief of all the Suebi.
The Langobardi, by contrast, are distinguished by the fewness of their numbers. Ringed round as they are by many mighty peoples, they find safety, not in obsequiousness but in battle and its perils. After them come the Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarini and Nuitones behind their ramparts of rivers and woods. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about these people in detail, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, or Mother Earth. They believe that she interests herself in human affairs and rides through their peoples. In an island of Ocean stands a sacred grove, and in the grove stands a car draped with a cloth which none but the priest may touch. The priest can feel the presence of the goddess in this holy of holies, and attends her, in deepest reverence, as her car is drawn by kine. Then follow days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place that she honours with her advent and stay. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every object of iron is locked away; then, and then only, are peace and quiet known and prized, until the goddess is again restored to her temple by the priest, when she has had her fill of the society of men. After that, the car, the cloth and, believe it if you will, the goddess herself are washed clean in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what that sight can be which is allowed only to dying eyes.
This section of Suebian territory that I have been describing juts out into the inner recesses of Germany. Nearer to us, if we now follow the course of the Danube, as we have been following that of the Rhine, come the Hermunduri, our faithful allies. It is because they are our allies that they are the only Germans who trade with us, not only on the river-bank, but deep inside our lines, in the brilliant colony that is the capital of Rhaetia. They come over where they will, and without a guar. To other nations we only show off our arms and our camps; to them we expose our palaces and our country mansions – and they do not cover them. In the territory of the Hermunduri rises the river Elbe, once world-famous, now a mere name.
Next to the Hermunduri dwell the Naristi, followed by the Marcomanni and Quadi. The Marcomanni are conspicuous in renown and power; they won the very land they now hold by their bravery, when they drove out the Boii. Nor do the Naristi and Quadi fall below their high standard. These people form the front, so to speak, presented to us by Germany, where it is girt by the Danube. The Marcomanni and Quadi down to our own times retained kings of their own race, the noble line of Marcoboduus and Tudrus, but now they submit to foreigners too. The might and power of the kings depend upon the authority of Rome. These kings occasionally receive our armed assistance, more often our financial, and it is equally effective.
The rear of the Marcomanni and Quadi is shut in by the Marsigni, Cotini, Osi and Buri. Of these, the Marsigni and Buri, in language and mode of life, recall the Suebi. The Cotini and Osi are not Germans; that is proved by their languages, Gallic in the one case, Pannonian in the other, and also by the fact that they submit to paying tribute. Part of the tribute is levied by the Sarmatians, part of the Quadi, who regard them as men of foreign blood; the Cotini, more to their shame, have iron to mine. All these people are settled in country with little plain, but plenty of uplands, mountain peaks and high ground. Suebi, in fact, is parted down the middle by a range of mountains, and beyond that live a multitude of peoples, among whom the name of the Lugii is the widest spread, covering, as it does, a multitude of States. I need only give the names of the most powerful – the Harii, Helvecones, Manimi, Helisii and Naharvali. In the territory of the Naharvali one is shown a grove, hallowed from ancient times. The presiding priest dresses like a woman; the gods, translated into Latin, are Castor and Pollux. That expresses the character of the gods, but their name is Alci. There are no images, there is no trace of foreign cult, but they are certainly worshipped as young men and as brothers. As for the Harii, they are superior in strength to the other peoples I have just mentioned, and they pander to their savage instincts by choice of trickery and time. They black their shields and dye their bodies black and choose pitch dark nights for their battles. The terrifying shadow of such a fiendish army inspires a moral panic, for no enemy can stand so strange and devilish asight. Defeat in battles begins with the eyes.
Passing the Lugii, we find the Gothones under the rule of kings. It is a slightly stricter rule than in the rest of the German peoples, but yet does not pass the bounds of freedom. Then, immediately bordering on the ocean, are the Rugii and Lemovii. All these peoples are distinguished by round shields, short swords and submission to regal authority.
The states of the Suiones that follow along the shore of Ocean are strong not only in arms and men but also in their fleets. The shape of their ships differs from the normal in having a prow at both ends, which is already to be put in to shore. They do not rig sails or fasten their oars in banks at the sides. Their oarage is loose, as one finds it on some rivers, and can be shifted, as need requires, from side to side. Wealth, too, is held in high honour, and that is why they obey one ruler, with no restrictions on his authority and with no mere casual claim to obedience. Arms are not, as in the rest of Germany, allowed to all and sundry, but are kept under custody, and the custodian is a slave. There are two reasons for this: the ocean makes any sudden invasion impossible, and men with arms in their hands easily get into mischief, if not fighting. As for putting no noble or freeman, or even freedman, in charge of the arms – that is part of royal policy.
Passing the Suiones, we find yet another sea that is sluggish and almost stagnant. The reason why this sea is believed to be the boundary that girds the earth is because the last radiance of the setting sun lasts here till dawn, with a brilliance that dims the stars. Rumour adds that you can hear the sound he makes as he leaves the waves and can see the shape of his horses and the rays on his head. At this point our real knowledge of the world ends. However, turning to the right shore of the Suebian sea, we find it washing the territories of the Aestii, who have the religion and general customs of the Suebi, but a language approximating to the British. They worship the mother of the gods. They wear, as emblem of this cult, the masks of boars, which stand them in stead of armour or human protection and ensure the safety of the worshipper even among his enemies. They seldom use weapons of iron, but cudgels often. They cultivate grain and other crops with a patience quite unusual among lazy Germans. Nor do they omit to ransack the sea; they are the only people to collect the amber – glaesum is their own word for it – in the shallows or even on the beach. Like true barbarians, they have never asked or discovered what it is or how it is produced. For a long time, indeed, it lay unheeded like any other jetsam, until Roman luxury made its reputation. They have no use for it themselves. They gather it crude, pass it on unworked and are astounded at the price it fetches. Amber, however, is certainly a gum of trees, as you may see from the fact that creeping and even winged creatures are often seen shining in it. They got caught in the sticky liquid, and were imprisoned as it hardened. I imagine that in the islands and lands of the West, just as in the secret chambers of the East, where the trees sweat frankincense and balm, there must be woods and groves of unusual fertility. Their gums, drawn out by the rays of their near neighbour, the sun, flow in liquid state into the sea and are finally washed by violent storms on to the shores opposite. If you care to test the properties of amber by applying fire to it, you will find that it lights like a torch and gives off a thick and heavenly scented flame; it then cools into s sticky solid like pitch or resin.
Continuous with the Suiones are the nations of the Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one – woman is the ruling sex. That is the measure of their decline, I will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.
Here Suebi ends. I cannot make up my mind whether to assign the tribes of the Peucini, Venedi and Fenni to Germany or Sarmatia. The Peucini, however, who are sometimes called the Bastarnae, in language, social habits, mode of settlements and dwellings are like Germans. They are a squalid and slovenly people; the features of their nobles get something of the Sarmatian ugliness from inter-marriage. The Venedi have borrowed largely from Sarmatian ways; their plundering forays take them over all that wooded and mountainous country that rises between the Peucini and the Fenni. Nevertheless they are to be classed as Germans, for they have settled houses, carry shields, and are fond of travelling – and travelling fast – on foot, in all these respects differing from the Sarmatians, who live in wagons or on horseback. The Fenni are astonishingly wild and horribly poor. They have no arms, no horses, no homes. They eat grass, dress in skins, and sleep on the ground. Their only hope is in their arrows, which, for lack of iron, they tip with bone. The same hunt provides food for men and women alike; for the women go everywhere with the men and claim a share in securing the prey. The only way they can protect their babies against wild beasts or foul weather is to hide them under a makeshift network of branches. This is the hovel to which the young men come back, this is where the old must lie. Yet they count their lot happier than that of others who groan over field labour, sweat over house-building, or hazard their own or other men`s fortunes in the wild lottery of hope and fear. They care for nobody, man or god, and have gained the ultimate release: they have nothing to pray for. What comes after them is the stuff of fables – Hellusii and Oxiones with the faces and features of men, but the bodies and limbs of animals. On such unverifiable stories I will express no opinion.