Germania, written by Roman author Tacitus around the turn of the 1st century A.D. is an interesting work on the tribes that made up the nation of Germany at the time of the writing. Thomas Gordon, in the introductory note of his translation of Germania, says that Tacitus “stands in the front rank of the historians of antiquity for the accuracy of his learning, the fairness of his judgments”. In terms of the accuracy of his writing, I will admit, Germania is an incredibly detailed piece of work for one so old and I have no doubt that it is an invaluable source of historical information; however, in terms of the fairness of his judgements, I have a hard time believing that Tacitus is completely objective here. The strange thing about this essay is that he is not describing the Germans completely negatively, but rather comparing them as sometimes living a simpler, more pure lifestyle than his more excessive modern Roman contemporaries. That said, Tacitus does portray Germans as fairly barbaric and seems to focus on their warlike tendencies. This essay will briefly examine how Tacitus frames the positive and negative aspects of the Germans and how he uses their portrayal to comment on Rome of the time.
Tacitus’, for describing a foreign people that he seems to be describing as barbarians, imbues them with surprisingly positive qualities. One of the things that Tacitus seems most impressed with is the German men’s relationship with women. He says that women who commit adultery are severely punished, being exiled from their camp, unable to regain their good standing regardless of their youth or beauty. Marriage is held in the highest regard, with men almost only ever taking one wife. He also says that the fear of men’s wives or children being captured in battle is their greatest motivation for achieving victory. Tacitus also views the Germans’ system of government and economic structure as being fairly noble and determined by one’s deeds and personal merit. He...
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