previous next


GERMA´NIA ( Γερμανία: Eth. Germanus, Γερμανός: Adj. Germanicus, Ι᾿ερμανικός: Germany; French, Allemagne; Ital. Alemagna; Germ. Deutschland or Teutschland), one of the great divisions of continental Europe, acts no very prominent part in the history of antiquity until the period of the Roman empire; but during the last period of the Western empire it attracted the attention of the civilised countries of Southern Europe, by sending forth hosts of barbarians, who, in the end, overthrew the empire, established new dynasties in the conquered countries, and infused a better blood into the effete inhabitants of the south-west of Europe.

I. Name.

Tacitus (Germ. 2) states: “Germaniae vocabulum recens et nuper additum, quoniam qui primum Rhenum transgressi Gallos expulerint, et nune Tungri tune Germani vocati sint. Ita nationis nomen, non gentis, evaluisse paulatim, ut omnes primum a victore ob metum, mox a se ipsis, invento nomine Germani vocarentur.” According to this passage, the name Germania had been recently given to the whole country; the name itself had been known long before his time (Cic. in Pis. 33, Phil. 11.6; Veil. Pat. 2.67), though we are, perhaps, not quite warranted in assuming that it occurred in the Capitoline Fasti as early as the year B.C. 220. (Niebuhr, Lect. on Rom. Hist. vol. ii. p. 65, note 16.) Tacitus further regards Germani as a proper name of the tribe afterwards called Tungri, and not as an appellative, and intimates that from this one tribe it was afterwards transferred to the whole nation. But others among the ancients (Strab. vii. p.290, iv. p. 195; Vell. Pat. l.c.; Eustath. ad Dionys. Per. 285) believed that Germani was the wellknown Latin appellative which was given to the Germans to describe them as “brothers” of the Gauls or Celts. This latter view, which has been adopted by some eminent Germans of modern times, was probably the reason which often led the ancients to confound Germans and Celts, whence Virgil calls the Arar a river of Germany (Eclog. 1.63); and the Germans on the east of the Rhine are sometimes called Celts. (D. C. 53.12, 71.3; Diod. 5.31.) The French and Italian names (Allemagne and Alemagna) are derived from the German tribes of the Eth. Alemannus, Eth. Alamanus, or Eth. Alamannus, who, as their name indicates (Alle Männer), formed a confederation of several tribes on the upper Rhine and Danube, and [p. 1.993]from whom the Gauls transferred the name to the whole German nation; for these Alemanni made frequent inroads into the Roman dominion in Gaul. They are first mentioned by Dio Cassius (27.14: Ἀλαμβαννοί on the occasion of a war which Caracalla had to carry on against them. Some modern inquirers derive the name Germani from the Persian, referring to the Persian tribe called Germani (Hdt. 1.125), and to the Persian Kerman (Caramania), that is, hospitality; their view is supported by the resemblance existing between the manners and customs of the ancient Germans and those of the Persians. But if it were true that the Germans brought the name with them from Asia,it would have been indigenous among them; but down to the present day, neither any German tribe, nor the whole nation, ever called itself German,but always Deutsch or Teutsch (Gothic Thiudiskô, old High German Diutisc, and Anglo-Saxon Theodisc). The same remark applies to the derivation of the name from the German Ger, Gwer, Heer, or Wehr, which has been proposed by some. Surely the Romans would not have called the nation by a name derived from a German root that was unknown to them, seeing that the Germans themselves did not use that name. The probability is that the name Germani is of Celtic origin, and that it had come into general use among the Celts in Gaul before the time of Caesar, who there heard it applied to the whole nation dwelling on the east of the Rhine. In Haupt's Zeitschrift fùr Deutsche Alterthümer (vol. v. p. 514), H. Leo has proposed a very probable etymology from the Celtic, laying great stress upon Tacitus's expression, ob metum. He derives the name from the Gaelic goir or gair (to cry out), and gaire, gairm, gairmean (a cry); so that Germanus would signify something like the Homeric Βοὴν ἀψαθός, a fierce, terrible warrior. Thus much, then, is certain, that Germani was the name given to the people by their neighbours, and for a time the Germans themselves may have used it in their intercourse with Celts and Romans; but it never was adopted by the Germans so as to supersede their own name. Teutones, the name of the German hosts invading the south of Europe in the time of Marius, contains indeed the same root as Deutsch or Teutsch, but it does not follow that this was originally the common name for the whole German nation; it is, on the contrary, almost certain that, in the earliest times, the Germans had no name comprising all their different tribes. Our view of the Celtic origin of the name Germani is confirmed by the fact that the Belgae (Celts) applied it even to the inhabitants of Mt. Arduenna, and that the Celtiberians in Spain designated by it the Oretani in Spain (Caes. Gal. 2.3, 4, 6; Plin. Nat. 3.4), neither of which belonged to the German stock.

II. Boundaries, Extent, and Divisions.

The ancients are pretty well agreed in fixing the boundairies of Germany. In the west, it was bounded by the Rhine; in the north-east, by the Vistula (Welchsel) and the Sarmatian mountains, or the Carpathians; in the south, by the river Danubius; and in the north, by the ocean (Mare Germanicum, Oceanus Septentrionalis) and the Baltic (Mare Suevicum). Tacitus (Germ. 1 ) and others are of opinion that the eastern frontier towards Sarmatia and Dacia cannot be accurately fixed. In the north, ancient Germany extended much farther than at present, as it comprised the countries now called Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. In the south, the frontier was not the same at all times; for, according to Pliny (3.23; comp. Plin. Paneg. 14), Germania extended as far as the foot of the Alps, which separated it from Italy; but it is well known that in Caesar's time the country from the Alps to the Danube, and even further north, was still inhabited by Celts, who must afterwards have been subdued or expelled by the Germans. On the west, the Rhine is distinctly said by Caesar to form the boundary between Gaul and Germany; but from his own account, it is clear that this is only a very loose statement. The Belgae in the north of Gaul (Belgium and Holland) were a mixed race of Cymri (not Gauls, as Caesar states) and Germans; but the frontier between the Belgae and Germans is extremely uncertain, and in regard to some tribes, such as the Menapii, it is even doubtful as to whether they were Germans or Cymri. The Treviri, moreover, were ambitious to be regarded as Germans, and modern Alsatia was occupied by Germans. Hence we are probably justified in assuming that, about the time of Augustus, the western bank of the Rhine was as much occupied by Germans as it is at present. This view is also confirmed by the fact that the Romans applied the name Germania to the western banks of the Rhine, calling the southern part Germania Superior, and the northern Germania Inferior. Hence Tacitus divides Gaul into six provinces, two of which are formed by the two Germaniae just mentioned. [GALLIA, p. 967.] This part of Germany, which was conquered by the Romans during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, was distinguished from Germany on the east of the Rhine, which bore the name of Germania Magna (Γερμανία μεψάλη, Ptol. 2.11.6), and Germania Transrhenana, or Barbara (Caes. Gal. 4.16, 5.11; Tac. Hist. 2.76; Capitol. Maximin. 12; Eutrop. 7.5; Vopisc. Prob. 13; Am. Marc. 18.4). Regarding the extent and magnitude of ancient Germany, we have the following statements, which, however, greatly differ from one another, and cannot be accepted without caution. According to Strabo (iv. p.193), the breadth of the country along the Rhine amounted to 3000 stadia; according to Agrippa (ap. Plin. Nat. 4.25), the distance from the Danube to the coast of the ocean was 1200 Roman miles; while, according to another statement in Pliny (37.11), the distance from Carnuntum on the Danube to the seacoast amounted only to 600 Roman miles; and the length along the southern frontier (including Rhaetia and Noricum) was computed at 696 miles (Plin. Nat. 4.28). Along the northern frontier, the distance from Asciburgium to the mouth of the Vistula was estimated at 1350 stadia (Marcian. Heracl. p. 99); while, according to the same authority, the coast from the mouth of the Rhine to that of the Vistula amounted to from 10,000 to 13,000 stadia. Ptolemy, the principal authority on the topography of Germany, places the country between 280 and 44° of longitude, and between 47° and 59° of northern latitude, and enumerates within this extent 68 tribes, 94 towns, 7 chains of mountains, and 14 livers.

III. Physical Aspect of the Country.

Although at a very early time Phoenician merchants sailed through the German ocean into the Baltic for the purpose of obtaining amber, still no information about the country was communicated to the inhabitants of Southern Europe, all the useful geographical discoveries made by the Phoenicians being kept secret, from commercial jealousy. The voyage of Pytheas of Marseilles (about B.C. 330), who likewise visited the Baltic, yielded little information [p. 1.994]about Germany; and it was not till the time of Caesar, when the Romans commenced their military operations against the Germans, that the nature of their country became better known. The Romans describe Germany as a wild and inhospitable country, covered with forests and marshes, and of a melancholy aspect (Tac. Germ. 2; Mela, 3.3); cold winds are said to blow constantly, and the barren soil to be covered during the greater part of the year with snow and ice (Senec. de Prov. 4; Herodian, 6.7). The country was reported to produce little corn and luxuriant grass (Plin. Nat. 17.3), but no fruit-trees. The immense forests were the abodes of a great variety of wild beasts, some of which appear to have since become extinct. (Caes. Gal. 6.25.) There can be no doubt that these statements contain much that is true; but it seems equally certain that they are in many points a little exaggerated, the Romans being anxious to account in some honourable way for their repeated failures in attempting to make themselves masters of the country. At present, the draining of marshes, the clearing away of extensive forests, and the improved cultivation of the land, have produced changes in the climate which have led some modern writers unjustly to charge the ancients with monstrous exaggeration. The north of Germany, as Tacitus correctly remarks, is flat and marshy, and mountains exist only in the south. (Germ. 5, 30.) Almost all the mountains are called by the name Silvae, showing that they must have been thickly wooded. The most celebrated of these mountains, which are discussed in separate articles, are the HERCYNIA SILVA, ABNOBA, ALPII MONTES, BACENIS SILVA, MELIBOCUS MONS, GABRETA SILVA, ASCIBURGIUS MONS, TAUNUS, SEVO, LOCUS BADUHENNAE, NAHARVALORUM SILVA, SEMNONUM SILVA. The principal rivers of Germany are the RHENUS, DANUBIUS (Ister), VISTULA, AMISIA, VISURGIS, ALBIS, VIADUS. Among the lakes, the most remarkable is the BRIGANTINUS LACUS; besides which, many lakes are mentioned near the mouth of the Rhine, between this river and the Amisia, and several extensive marshes are noticed by Pomponius Mela (3.3).

IV. Productions.

Among the wild beasts inhabiting the forests, none appeared so formidable to the Romans as the alces and uri; but besides them, we hear of bears, wolves, lynxes, wild cats, wild boars, stags, and deers: the oxen were of small size, and had small horns, but the cows, especially in the south, yielded great quantities of milk. The horses also were small, and not handsome, but strong, and capable of undergoing great hardships. The dogs, especially those of the Sigambri, were thought well suited for the chase. Pigs were bred in great quantities, and hams formed a considerable article of commerce for exportation. (Strab. iv. p.301.) Sheep and goats were bred for food and clothing. The most common of the feathered tribes were eagles and geese; bees and fishes abounded in the forests and rivers. The extensive forests furnished plenty of wood, especially oak and beach-wood; but notwithstanding this, the inhabitants also used peat as fuel. Many of the trees were of gigantic size; fruit-trees existed, indeed, but had not yet been improved by cultivation, which seems to be the meaning of poma agrestia in Tacitus (Germ. 23; comp. with 10). Although the country is described as, on the whole, not fertile, still we are informed that it produced wheat, barley, oats, flax, turnips, large radishes, asparagus, and beans Oatmeal, prepared, as in Scotland, into a sort of porridge, was an article of food very extensively used; and Tacitus (Germ. 23) informs us that a beverage (beer) was prepared from wheat and barley. Among the metals, we hear of silver, iron, copper, and calamine; crystals, onyxes, turquoises, opals, and even diamonds, were found in the mountains of Germany. The north coast was rich in salt; but none of the products of the north was so celebrated in antiquity as the amber (electrum), and it was this substance which first drew the attention of the Greeks and Romans to the coasts of the Baltic. The cultivation of the vine is said to have been introduced into Germany by the Franks during the 6th century of our era; but on the left bank of the Rhine, on the Moselle, and in Rhaetia, the vine had been cultivated at a much earlier period. (Vopisc. Prob. 18; Aur. Vict. Caes. 37; Suet. Aug. 77; Strab. iv. p.206.)

V. Population and Inhabitants.

Although Germany was covered with extensive marshes and forests, still there is good evidence that the country was thickly peopled; though, owing to the constant wars and migrations, the population was in many parts very fluctuating. The tribe of the Suevi sent every year into the field an army of 100,000 men (Caes. Gal. 1.37, 4.1), and Ariovistus, their king, crossed the Rhine with an army of 120,000 men (Caes. Gal. 4.2). The Usipetes and Tencteri together amounted to 430,000. (Ib. 4.15,) Maroboduus kept an army of 74,000 men (Vell. 1.109); in their war with the Sigambri, the Romans. carried off 40,000 men (Suet. Tib. 9); and in the war of the Chamavi and Angrivarii against the Bructeri, 60,000 men are said to have been slain. (Tac. Germ. 39.) But all these facts do not enable us to form even an approximate idea of the exact population of Germany in ancient times. It would seem, however, that in consequence of the mountains and forests in the south, the population of that part was less numerous than in the north and east.

The Germans considered themselves as autochthones, that is, as the offspring of the land they inhabited (Tac. Germ. 2, 4); but there can be no doubt that they, like all the nations of Europe, had immigrated from Asia, though neither history nor the, national legends of the Germans contain the slightest allusion to such an immigration. But what history conceals from us is revealed in the language of the people, which bears the strongest organic resemblance to the languages spoken in India and Persia. The German language belongs to what is now generally termed the Indo-European family of languages. Hence we must infer that at some remote and unknown period the Germans issued from a country of Upper Asia, and passed by Mount Caucasus, and through the countries in the north of the Euxine and the Caspian sea, into Europe. They accordingly belonged to the same great stock of nations as the Greeks, Romans, and Celts, to the last of which they. are said to have borne a very marked resemblance in stature, character, and manners. (Strab. iv. p.290.) The Germans are universally described as very tall and handsome men, of a white complexion, with blue eyes, and fair or red hair, which they took great care of, and the colour of which they rendered still more bright by a peculiar kind of soap. The red hair of the Germans formed a considerable article of commerce with the Romans during the imperial period, for it was a fashion with the Roman ladies to wear peruques or curls of red hair. Men as well as women wore long hair; but they shaved their beards, though [p. 1.995]some let their moustaches grow. The blue eyes peculiar to the Germans, which generally have a soft expression, are nevertheless described as full of defiance. The women were almost equal to the men, both in strength and in size; a fact which is confirmed by skeletons found in tombs of ancient Germans. As regards the classification of the inhabitants of Germany, even the ancients divided them into several groups. Tacitus (Germ. 2) mentions three great groups, viz., the Ingaevones, on the ocean; the Hermiones, in the interior; and the Istaevones, in the east and south of Germany. These three names are said to have been derived from the three sons of Mannus, the ancestor of all the Germans. Pliny (4.28) indeed mentions five groups of German tribes, adding to those just mentioned the Vindili as the fourth, and the Peucini and Bastarnae as the fifth; but this classification seems to have arisen from a mistake: for Zeuss, in his work to be referred to hereafter, has shown that the Vindili belonged to the Hermiones, and that Peucini and Basternae are only names of individual tribes, and not of groups of tribes. But how the numerous tribes of Germany are to be arranged under these three groups is a question which it is impossible ever to answer with any degree of certainty: and Tacitus himself appears to have felt the difficulty; for, in his account of the several tribes, he omits to mention to which group they belonged. As the Scandinavian peninsula is regarded as a part of Germany, its inhabitants, bearing the general name of Hilleviones, and again divided into Suiones and Sitones, must be added as a fourth group.

VI. Mode of Life and Character of the People.

The physical constitution of the Germans was, no doubt, in a great measure the result of their way of living. Their commerce was inconsiderable, and they depended chiefly on the breeding of cattle, the chase, and war, pursuits which created in the people an unquenchable love of freedom, and made them impatient of foreign sway. Tacitus (Germ. 14) speaks of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the Germans; but other statements lead to a somewhat opposite opinion, and we are probably not far wrong in assuming that the ancient Germans, like all other barbarians, had a considerable degree of honesty, combined with cunning and falsehood.

The dress of the Germans, in early times, was extremely simple, and almost the same for both sexes; children up to the time of maturity are said to have worn no dress at all, not even in winter. The chief article of dress of men was a cloak, sometimes made of woollen cloth, and sometimes consisting of the skin of an animal. The women wore close-fitting garments of linen, which they spun and wove themselves, and which were sometimes adorned with purple stripes; the arms and part of the bosom were generally uncovered. In later times, men also, especially nobles, wore similar close-fitting garments, cloaks adorned with gold, shoes, and a kind of coat reaching down to the knee. But the German attached much more importance to his arms, which he even took with him into the grave. The defensive armour was at first very simple and defective, for few only had helmets and breast-plates; the place of the former was often supplied by the skin of the head of some animal, on which the horns were left standing: most men had no other defensive armour but a long shield, made of wood or wicker-work, covered with leather. The most ancient weapon of attack was a kind of hammer or axe made of stone; for which, at a later period, brass was substituted. Next in importance to the axe were the spear (framea,), club, sword, slings, and bows and arrows. The habitations of the Germans were equally simple, forming shapeless masses, probably of clay, covered with straw or turf; caverns covered with dunghills served as store-houses, and also as places of refuge in winter. Such houses generally stood isolated in the fields and forests, near a spring or brook, and were very rarely united into villages or hamlets, Some tribes, which led a half nomadic life, appear to have had no regular houses at all.

The principal article of food consisted of flesh which was cooked or roasted, but often prepared only by being beaten or kneaded, or dried and smoked; besides this, the Germans lived on milk, butter, cheese, eggs, fishes, and especially porridge made of oatmeal, and beer. Generally speaking, the Germans were moderate in their diet, but they were particularly fond of social meals, and no other nation ever was more hospitable to strangers; but it is at the same time well attested that they were given to excessive drinking, and no festival of a public or private character passed without great excesses in drinking (generally beer, rarely wine), which very often led to quarrelling, fighting, and even murder. For this reason, the women seem to have withdrawn as soon as the drinking commenced. The ancient Germans were as fond of singing as their modern descendants; for we are told that they sang at weddings and funerals, as well as on going out to battle. They were also much given to gambling, in which they would sometimes go so far as to stake their personal freedom, when all their property was lost; in such a case, the loser became the slave of the winner, Marriages were not contracted till a very mature age, and required the sanction not only of the parents, but of all the kinsmen, and, instead of receiving a dowry, the bridegroom had to present one to his bride. Women were probably nowhere so much honoured as among the Germanic nations; and it is owing to the influence exercised by the Germans upon all the nations of Europe, combined with that of Christianity, that women, during the middle ages, enjoyed the respect and esteem with which they are still regarded by all truly civilised nations. The ancient Germans entertained the greatest reverence for women, for they believed them to possess a certain divine and prophetic power; the women not only conducted all the domestic affairs, but also accompanied the armies on their military expeditions, attended to the wounded, cheered on the wavering to fresh deeds of valour, and sometimes even took an active part in the battles. The children grew up without much care on the part of their parents, and thus became accustomed to endure all kinds of hardship from their very infancy. Young men at the age of 20 received their armour from their father or some kinsman in the public assembly, and from that moment they enjoyed all the rights of a citizen.

In times of peace the Germans generally indulged in ease and laziness, leaving the care of domestic concerns and of their fields to the women, old men, and slaves. All the cultivated land was regarded as public property, and was annually distributed anew by the magistrates among the families, or was let out to farm. In regard to other occupations, the Germans were distinguished for their potteries, and also worked as carpenters,, masons, and smiths, while the women were engaged in spinning and weaving. In the interior of the country commerce was insignificant; but on the Rhine and the Danube it was [p. 1.996]rather active, the more important articles for exportation being amber, goose-quills, furs, hides, hams, red hair, soap for dyeing the hair, and slaves. In return for these they received wine, trinkets, and probably also arms. The Germans had no coinage of their own; but a vast quantity of Roman silver coins was in circulation among them. Navigation was carried on by sea as well as on the lakes and rivers, and their vessels consisted of simple canoes, or boats covered with leather, or regular ships. But of all the occupations none was in greater favour with the Germans than war, in which all men capable of bearing arms took part. A regular system of tactics was unknown; but their battle order was generally formed by the men arranging themselves according to their tribes, families, or clans. Their cavalry was not numerous. The first attack upon an enemy was generally very ferocious; but when a war was protracted, the men generally lacked perseverance, and became desponding. The booty made in,war, and sometimes the prisoners also, were sacrificed to the gods. No kind of death was considered more desirable than that on the field of battle; to die on a sick bed was so much dreaded, that, among some tribes, sick persons and old men caused themselves to be killed rather than wait for their natural dissolution.

VII. Religion.

On this subject the Greeks and Romans have left us no connected information, and what they do state is not always trustworthy: for sometimes they only give the name of a German divinity, and endeavour to identify the same with some one of their own gods; or they call the German divinities at once by names of their own gods, without mentioning the names they bore among the Germans. The ancients, however, are agreed in stating that the Germans worshipped several divinities, among whom they mention the sun, the moon, the stars, Tuisco the ancestor of their whole race, and his son Mannus. Besides these, we hear of Mercury (probably Wodan or Odin), who is said to have been the most revered among all their divinities; of Isis (probably Freia, the wife of Wodan); Mars (no doubt the German Tyr or Zio); Nerthus, the mother of the gods; and the two Alces (compared with Castor and Pollux). Jupiter (i. e. Thunar, Thor, the god of thunder) is not mentioned by any earlier writer than Gregory of Tours (2.29). Besides these principal divinities, which, however, do not appear to have been equally worshipped among all the tribes of Germany, they believed in a variety of secondary and inferior deities, partly of a kind and partly of a malignant nature, and almost every tribe had its own peculiar divinities of this sort. The form of worship was very simple; and both Caesar and Tacitus assert that the Germans had neither statues nor temples. But this statement is opposed to facts which come out at the conversion of the Germans to Christianity, when the destruction of pagan idols is frequently spoken of. In regard to temples also, the statement must not be taken in too strict a sense; for Tacitus himself (Ann. 1.51) expressly mentions a temple of a goddess Tanfana among the Marsians, and the Christian missionaries of a later period called upon the Germans to change their heathen temples into Christian churches. But it is nevertheless true that many of their gods were worshipped in the open air, in groves and forests, on mountains and rocks. Priests are indeed mentioned among the Germans; but a father was always entitled in the circle of his family to assume the functions of a priest. The priests were at the same time the highest civil functionaries next to the king: they ascertained the pleasure of the deity in all public undertakings, and executed the sentence of death upon all persons guilty of high treason; they moreover presided at the popular assemblies, and kept the national standards. There also existed prophetic priestesses, who foretold the future from the intestines of victims, from the blood of the slain prisoners of war, from the murmuring of the waves, and the like. The sacrifices offered to the gods were often extremely splendid, but we likewise hear of human sacrifices. Respecting their religious festivals little is known, and the little that is known belongs to a period beyond the limits of this work.

VIII. Political Institutions.

The various tribes inhabiting Germany were free and independent of one another, and the territory inhabited by each was divided, apparently for military purposes, into districts or pagi. Each separate tribe was governed by a king, who was elected from among the nobles in an assembly of all the free people: this king, however, was in the earliest period only the highest magistrate in times of peace; for, in case of war, special commanders were chosen, to whom the supreme civil power was likewise entrusted. The kingly power was altogether very much limited by the nobles and the popular assembly, the latter having the power even of deposing the king. Each pagus had its own magistrate (princeps), who at the same time administered justice, in which he was assisted by a college of 100 men. There were also tribes which had no kings or central government at all, but in which the pagi were governed by the principes alone.

The whole body of the German nations was generally divided into four classes or ranks. 1. The nobles (nobiles, proceres, optimates), probably consisting of families whose ancestors had particularly distinguished themselves by their valour, or had acquired great influence from their possession of extensive estates. The kings, and probably also the principes of the pagi, were chosen from these nobles exclusively. Clients of the nobles are also mentioned. 2. The freemen (ingenui) formed the real strength of the nation; freemen and nobles alone had the right to possess hereditary landed property, and to change their place of residence according to their own pleasure; they were obliged to attend the popular assembly, and serve in the national armies. 3. The freedmen (liberti or libertini) formed a kind of middle class between the freemen and the slaves: they might, however, purchase their freedom, and were obliged to perform military service, but were not allowed to take part in the popular assemblies; they had no landed property, but tilled the lands of others as farmers. 4. The slaves (servi) had no rights at all, but were mere tools in the hands of their masters, without whose consent they could not even marry, and who might even put them to death without fear, of punishment. It would appear, however, that the slaves were, on the whole, treated very mildly, and lived under far more advantageous circumstances than the slaves of the Romans. (Tac. Germ. 25.) They had their hair cut short, were not allowed to bear arms or to serve in the armies, but were employed as domestic servants, field-la-bourers, or herdsmen. All slaves were either born in the house of their master, or were prisoners of war, or they had been degraded to their position by judicial verdict, or, lastly, they had been purchased. [p. 1.997]

The popular assembly, consisting of the nobles and freemen, deliberated upon all the more important national affairs; in it the kings and other magistrates were elected, capital offences were tried, &c. The meetings were either regular and stated, especially at the seasons of the new moon and full moon, or they were extraordinary meetings convened for certain emergencies. A considerable time often elapsed before all the men arrived at the place of meeting, which was generally near some sacred grove, or on a mountain. The men appeared in full armour, and a priest conducted the business; such a meeting seldom separated without a symposium. Justice also was administered in the open air, both on stated and on extraordinary occasions. All trials were carried on publicly and vivâ voce: the judges tried the cases; but the verdict was given by juries. In doubtful cases a question was sometimes decided by lot, or by a judicial single combat. Priests were generally present at all the trials, which commonly ended with a drinking bout. In the earlier times the Germans had no written laws; and it was not till after the migration of nations, when all relations had become changed, that various codes of laws, such as the Salian, Ripuarian, Thuringian, Burgundian, and others, were drawn up. The punishments inflicted were intended as a compensation to the injured party, and consisted of money, horses, cattle, and other fines, even in case of murder; it was only in cases where the condemned was unable to pay or make amends that he was put to death. No freeman could be subjected to corporal punishment, except when it was inflicted by a priest in the name of the deity. Persons guilty of high treason against their country, however, cowards, and such as were guilty of unnatural lust, were hanged or drowned in marshes. Exile and captivity are mentioned only as punishments for political offences. The right of a family to take bloody vengeance, if one of its members had been murdered, is clear from Tacitus (Germ. 21).

IX. Language and Literature.

It has already been remarked that the language of the Germans belongs to the Indo-European family, and accordingly is a sister of the Greek, Latin, and Celtic. Its sound to the ear of the Romans was, harsh and terrible: it was of course little cultivated; and the art of writing can scarcely have been known to the Germans at the time of Augustus, except, perhaps, among the tribes occupying the left bank of the Rhine. The laws, legends, and history were propagated only as traditions from mouth to mouth. National songs in praise of Tuisco, Mannus, and of the glorious deeds of ancient heroes, are expressly mentioned; and the last were termed barritus or barditus, and were generally sung before the commencement of a battle. Writing, as was said before, was little practised by the Germans. Tacitus (Germ. 3) indeed speaks of German monuments with inscriptions in Greek characters on the frontiers of Rhaetia; but as Rhaetia was inhabited by Celts, the inscriptions were in all probability Celtic. Certain it is that the Germans had no alphabet of their own; when they began to write at all, they unquestionably adopted the Celtic characters, and especially the secret symbols of the Druids, called runic. At a later period they adopted the Latin alphabet, ornamented in the Gothic fashion, which may still be seen in the old English black letter, and in the modern German alphabet. [Comp. GOTHI]

X. History.

If we set aside the doubtful reading of the Capitoline Fasti for the year B.C. 220, the first authentic record of events connected with German tribes is met with in the accounts of the war against the Cimbri and Teutones or Teutoni, for the latter were as decidedly Germans as the Cimbri were Celts or Cymri. But we have no connected history of the German nations until the time of Julius Caesar, from whom we learn that in B.C. 72 the aid of king Ariovistus was called in by the Arverni and Sequani against the Aedui in Gaul. On that occasion Ariovistus crossed the Rhine with an army of 120,000 Germans, and subdued the greater part of Eastern Gaul. But he was defeated by Caesar in the country of the Sequani, and driven back across the Rhine. Caesar himself crossed the same river twice, in B.C. 55 and 54, by means of bridges but he was not able to maintain himself in Germany In B.C. 37, Agrippa transplanted the Ubii, who were hard pressed by the Suevi, to the western bank of the Rhine, that they might serve there as a bulwark against the attacks of the other Germans upon Gaul: this plan, however, was not always successful; whence Nero Claudius Drusus, the step-son of Augustus, in B.C. 12, commenced his expeditions against the Germans from the insula Batavorum. During these undertakings Drusus advanced as far as the river Albis (Elbe); but he was killed by a fall from his horse in B.C. 9. The command of his forces was then undertaken by his brother Tiberius (afterwards emperor), who, as well as Domitius Ahenobarbus, was on the whole more successful than Drusus; for he actually compelled the part of Germany between the Rhenus and the Visurgis for a time to submit to the dominion of Rome, until after some years, A.D. 9, Arminius, prince of the Cherusci, who had lived at Rome and was acquainted with the Roman mode of warfare, defeated the Romans in the Teutoburg forest, and put an end to the Roman dominion in that part of Germany. About the same time Maroboduus, the Marcomannian, held out manfully against the Romans, until disturbances in the south obliged them to conclude peace. Germanicus, the son of Drusus, who was then sent out to wipe off the disgrace of the Roman arms, succeeded in gaining some advantages over the barbarians, but he was unable to regain the ascendancy in Western Germany. Scarcely, however, had the wars with the Romans terminated, than a violent commotion broke out among the Germans themselves, in which they lost their ablest chiefs, and which caused several German tribes to be transplanted into the Roman dominion. The consequence of these things was, that the Romans now established themselves in the south-western parts of Germany. During this period, from A.D. 16 to 68, the AGRI DECUMATES were formed on the east of the Upper Rhine, and on the north of the Upper Danube. This Roman part of Germany was then separated from and protected against the rest of the country in the north by a wall and a ditch running from the Rhine near Cologne to Mount Taunus and the Odenwald, and from Lorch to Ratisbon. The great revolt of the Batavi in A.D. 70 and 71, in which the Western Germans also took part, was followed by repeated wars with several German tribes, until at last, in the reign of M. Antoninus the philosopher, the great Marcomannian war broke out on the Danube; many other German tribes joined the Marcomanni, and the enemy even advanced into Italy, where they laid siege to Aquileia. M. Antoninus had to carry on the war until the end of his reign, and his successor [p. 1.998]Commodus, in A.D. 180, purchased a peace of the Germans, and gave up the forts which had been built along the Danube. Soon afterwards it was found that the Roman dominion on the western bank of the Rhine also was not safe; for several German tribes, especially the Alemanni and Franks, harassed Gaul by frequent invasions, until in the end Germany poured forth its hosts across the Rhine, the Danube, and the Alps, conquering Gaul, Italy, Spain, and even crossing over into Africa, and establishing a new kingdom on the ruins of ancient Carthage. This happened towards the end of the 5th century; while somewhat earlier other tribes, such as the Angli, Saxons, and Frisians, had crossed over into Britain, and, partly subduing and partly expelling the Celtic population, established in this island a new order of things, which lasted for upwards of five centuries. Nearly the whole of the west of Europe was thus governed by German tribes.

Our chief authorities among the ancients concerning the ethnography and geography of Germany are Tacitus, especially in his Germania, and Ptolemy. Pliny, too, who himself served in Germany (16.1), furnishes much valuable information, although his great work in 20 books on the wars of the Romans with the Germans is lost. Besides these, Strabo, Pytheas, Eratosthenes, Dio Cassius, Velleius Paterculus, Suetonius, and others must be consulted. The works of moderns, especially Germans, are almost countless; but the principal ones are Cluverius, Germania Antiqua, Lugd. Bat. 1616, fol.; A. B. Wilhelm, Germanien u. seine Bewohner, &c. Naumburg, 1823; Von Wersebe, Uber die Völker u. Völkerbündnisse des alten Deutschlands, Hanover, 1825; Zeuss, Die Deutschen u. die Nachbarstämmne; Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie; Latham's Prolegomena and Epilegomena, in his edition of Tacitus's Germania. An able statement of the results at which these and other inquirers have arrived is contained in the 3rd vol. of Forbiger's Handbuch der alten Geographie, Leipzig, 1848. [L.S]

hide References (22 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (22):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.125
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 1.37
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 2.3
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 2.6
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 4.1
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 4.2
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 5.11
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 2.4
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 4.16
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 6.25
    • Cicero, Against Piso, 33
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 9
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.76
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 77
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.3
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.11
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.28
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.23
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.25
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.31
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.11
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: