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Tacitus: Germania

Tacitus, an important Roman historian, wrote the most detailed early description of the Germans at then end of the first century CE. In doing so, be warned, he was commenting on the Rome of his own time, as much as on the German themselves.

Tacitus: Germania Chapter 1 to 3

Chapter 1

Geography of Germany. "The various peoples of Germany are separated from the Gauls by the Rhine, from the Raetians and Pannonians by the Danube, and from the Sarmatians and Dacians by mountains - or, where there are no mountains, by mutual fear. The northern parts of the country are girdles by the sea, flowing round broad peninsulas and vast islands where a campaign of the present century has revealed to us the existence of some nations and kings hitherto unknown.

The Rhine rises in a remote and precipitous height of the Raetian alps and afterwards turns slightly westward to flow into the North Sea. The Danube issues from a gentle slope of moderate height in the Black Forest, and after passing more peoples than the Rhine in its course discharges itself into the Black Sea through six channels - a seventh mouth being lost in the marshlands.

Chapter 2

The Inhabitants. Origins of the Name "Germany. "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 for 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 Ingaevones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istaevones. 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 nine 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.

Chapter 3

The National War-Songs. 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 valor. 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 also, in all those fabled wanderings of his, is supposed by some to have reached the northern sea and visited German lands, and to have founded and named Asciburgium, a town on the Rhine inhabited to this day. They even add that an altar consecrated by Ulysses and inscribed also with the name of his father Laertes was discovered long ago at this same place, and that certain barrows with monuments upon them bearing Greek inscriptions still exist on the borders of Germany and Raetia. I do not intend to argue either for or against these assertions; each man must accept or reject them as he feels inclined.

continue with Chapter 4

Germania Index:

  • Chapter 1 to 3
  • Chapter 4 to 6
  • Chapter 7 to 10
  • Chapter 11 to 14
  • Chapter 15 to 18
  • Chapter 19 to 21
  • Chapter 22 to 25
  • Chapter 26 to 28
  • Chapter 29 to 31
  • Chapter 32 to 36
  • Chapter 37 to 39
  • Chapter 40 to 43
  • Chapter 44 to 46
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    Tacitus - Germania - Related Topic: Horace


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