Roman Literature:

Tacitus: Germania

Tacitus: Germania Chapter 44 to 46

Chapter 44

Gothones. Beyond the Lygians dwell the Gothones, under the rule of a King; and thence held in subjection somewhat stricter than the other German nations, yet not so strict as to extinguish all their liberty. Immediately adjoining are the Rugians and Lemovians upon the coast of the ocean, and of these several nations the characteristics are a round shield, a short sword and kingly government. Next occur the communities of the Suiones, situated in the ocean itself; and besides their strength in men and arms, very powerful at sea. The form of their vessels varies thus far from ours, that they have prows at each end, so as to be always ready to row to shore without turning nor are they moved by sails, nor on their sides have benches of oars placed, but the rowers ply here and there in all parts of the ship alike, as in some rivers is done, and change their oars from place to place, just as they shift their course hither or thither.

To wealth also, amongst them, great veneration is paid, and thence a single ruler governs them, without all restriction of power, and exacting unlimited obedience. Neither here, as amongst other nations of Germany, are arms used indifferently by all, but shut up and warded under the care of a particular keeper, who in truth too is always a slave: since from all sudden invasions and attacks from their foes, the ocean protects them: besides that armed bands, when they are not employed, grow easily debauched and tumultuous. The truth is, it suits not the interest of an arbitrary Prince, to trust the care and power of arms either with a nobleman or with a freeman, or indeed with any man above the condition of a slave.

Chapter 45

Suebian sea.Beyond the Suiones we find another sea, sluggish and almost stagnant. This sea is believed to be the boundary that girdles the earth because the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on here till dawn, with a brilliance that dims the stars. Popular belief adds that you can hear the sound he makes as he rises from the waves and can see the shape of his horses and the rays on his head. So far and no farther (in this, report speaks truly) does the world extend. Turning, therefore, to the right hand shore of the Suebian sea, we find it washing the country of the Aestii, who have the same customs and fashions as the Suebi, but a language more like the British. They worship the Mother of the Gods, and wear, as an emblem of this cult, the device of a wild boar, which stands them in stead of armor or human protection and gives the worshiper a sense of security even among his enemies. They seldom use weapons of iron, but clubs very often. They cultivate grain and other crops with a perseverance unusual among the indolent Germans. They also ransack the sea. they are the only people who collect 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 made.

For a long time, indeed, it lay unheeded like any other refuse of the sea, until Roman luxury made its reputation. They have no use for it themselves. They gather it crude, pass it on in unworked lumps, 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 through it. Caught in the sticky liquid, they were then imprisoned as it hardened. I imagine that in the islands and continents of the west, just as in the secret chambers of the east, where the trees exude frankincense and balm, there must be woods and groves of unusual productivity. Their gums, drawn out by the rays of their near neighbor the sun, flow in liquid state into the adjacent sea and are finally washed up by violent storms on the shores that lie opposite. If you test the properties of amber by applying fire to it, you will find that it lights like a torch and burns with a smoky, pungent flame, soon becoming a semi-fluid mass like pitch or resin. Bordering on the Suiones are the nations of the Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one - woman is the ruling sex. This is the measure of their decline, I will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.

Chapter 46

Peucini, Venedi, and Fenni. Here Suebia ends. I do not know whether to class the tribes of the Peucini, Venedi, and Fenni with the Germans or with the Sarmatians. The Peucini, however, who are sometimes called Bastarnae, are like Germans in their language, manner of life, and mode of settlement and habitation. Squalor is universal among them and their nobles are indolent. Mixed marriages are giving them something of the repulsive appearance of the Sarmatians. The Venedi have adopted many Sarmatian habits; for their plundering forays take them over all the wooded and mountainous highlands that lie between the Peucini and the Fenni. Nevertheless, they are on the whole to be classed as Germans; for they have settled homes, carry shields, and are fond of traveling - and traveling fast - on foot, differing in all these respects from the Sarmatians, who live in wagons or on horseback. The Fenni are astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor. They have no proper weapons, no horses, no homes. they eat wild herbs, dress in skins, and sleep on the ground.

Their only hope of getting better fare lies in their arrows, which, for lack of iron, they tip with bone. The women support themselves by hunting, exactly like the men; they accompany them everywhere and insist on taking their share in bringing down the game. The only way they have of protecting their infants against wild beasts or bad weather is to hide them under a makeshift covering of interlaced branches. Such is the shelter to which the young folk come back and in which the old must lie. Yet they count their lot happier than that of others who groan over field labor, sweat over house-building, or hazard their own and other men's fortunes in the hope of profit and the fear of loss. Unafraid of anything that man or god can do to them, they have reached a state that few human beings can attain: for these men are so well content that they do not even need to pray for anything. What comes after them is the stuff of fables - Hellusii and Oxiones with the faces and features of men, the bodies and limbs of animals. On such unverifiable stories I shall express no opinion.

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