Roman historian Tacitus wrote Germania in the first century A.D. as a study of the strengths and weaknesses of Germany’s tribes. He observed men who failed to lead their families and nations, but also strong marriage bonds that kept the people united.
Strict Marriage Code
Tacitus was most impressed with Germanian marriage customs. He noted that women remained devoted wives and mothers due to this arrangement, and that “every mother suckles her own offspring,” leading to healthy childhood development. Dowry gifts were a crucial part of the religious marriage ceremony.
While women today look forward to the wedding and put little thought into the actual marriage, the German wedding served as a life-long reminder of their duties.
“Their marriage code, however, is strict, and indeed no part of their manners is more praiseworthy. Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife, except a very few among them, and these not from sensuality, but because their noble birth…
The parents and relatives are present, and pass judgment on the marriage-gifts, gifts not meant to suit a woman’s taste, nor such as a bride would deck herself with, but oxen, a caparisoned steed, a shield, a lance, and a sword. With these presents the wife is espoused, and she herself in her turn brings her husband a gift of arms. This they count their strongest bond of union, these their sacred mysteries, these their gods of marriage.
Lest the woman should think herself to stand apart from aspirations after noble deeds and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that she is her husband’s partner in toil and danger, destined to suffer and to dare with him alike both in in war…
She must live and die with the feeling that she is receiving what she must hand down to her children neither tarnished nor depreciated, what future daughters-in-law may receive, and may be so passed on to her grandchildren.
Thus with their virtue protected they live uncorrupted by the allurements of public shows or the stimulant of feastings. Clandestine correspondence is equally unknown to men and women. Very rare for so numerous a population is adultery, the punishment for which is prompt, and in the husband’s power. Having cut off the hair of the adulteress and stripped her naked, he expels her from the house in the presence of her kinsfolk, and then flogs her through the whole village.
The loss of chastity meets with no indulgence; neither beauty, youth, nor wealth will procure the culprit a husband. No one in Germany laughs at vice, nor do they call it the fashion to corrupt and to be corrupted. Still better is the condition of those states in which only maidens are given in marriage, and where the hopes and expectations of a bride are then finally terminated.
They receive one husband, as having one body and one life, that they may have no thoughts beyond, no further-reaching desires, that they may love not so much the husband as the married state. To limit the number of children or to destroy any of their subsequent offspring is accounted infamous, and good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.”
Women Led Battles
Women were venerated as symbols of freedom, and they were respected to such a degree that women stood before soldiers and made passionate speeches to urge them forward. This caused massive slaughter as men mindlessly charged forward against an obviously stronger foe. The women were in turn raped and subjugated. Tacitus wrote:
“Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a state can be bound is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth.
They even believe that the sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women…”
It is certainly commendable to fight as a soldier for one’s family, however such worship of women is not positive. Unfortunately, today we see the same nonsensical ideas that women have special prescience or nobility.
Women’s involvement in war matters breeds extremism, as evidenced by the female jihadists involved in the Paris and San Berandino attacks. David Chelsey’s daffy defense of Farook’s wife just goes to show how irrational this extremism still broods today.
Need For Patriarchy
“Whenever they are not fighting, they pass much of their time in the chase, and still more in idleness, giving themselves up to sleep and to feasting, the bravest and the most warlike doing nothing, and surrendering the management of the household, of the home, and of the land, to the women, the old men, and all the weakest members of the family. They themselves lie buried in sloth, a strange combination in their nature that the same men should be so fond of idleness, so averse to peace.”
It seems that the main issue here is that men surrendered of leadership to women and the elderly. This brought weakness to families and the community. Patriarchal leadership has been established from the beginning of time, and patriarchy is important in modern advanced urban societies as well as ancient migratory communities. It is no coincidence that matriarchal societies and religions have always toppled, one by one.
Less Distinction Between Sexes
Tacitus seemed unimpressed with the way women dressed. They looked too much like men. Still, at least they had different roles for men and women, and never even considered “gender equality” like our culture does today.
“The women have the same dress as the men except that they generally wrap themselves in linen garments, which they embroider with purple, and do not lengthen out the upper part of their clothing into sleeves. The upper and lower arm is thus bare, and the nearest part of the bosom is also exposed.”
Tacitus was shocked that barbarians willingly became slaves through gambling. Slavery was not very serious, though. It was only temporary until a debt was repaid, somewhat similar to accumulating credit card debt today. His warning is therefore applicable to many of us today.
“Strangely enough they make games of hazard a serious occupation even when sober, and so venturesome are they about gaining or losing, that, when every other resource has failed, on the last and final throw they stake the freedom of their own persons. The loser goes into voluntary slavery; though the younger and stronger, he suffers himself to be bound and sold. Such is their stubborn persistency in a bad practice; they themselves call it honour. Slaves of this kind the owners part with in the way of commerce…
The other slaves are not employed after our manner with distinct domestic duties assigned to them, but each one has the management of a house and home of his own. The master requires from the slave a certain quantity of grain, of cattle, and of clothing, as he would from a tenant, and this is the limit of subjection. All other household functions are discharged by the wife and children.
To strike a slave or to punish him with bonds or with hard labour is a rare occurrence. They often kill them, not in enforcing strict discipline, but on the impulse of passion, as they would an enemy, only it is done with impunity.”
Tacitus presented barbarian hero Arminius as a pillar of masculinity. In the first century A.D., the Roman empire swept across Europe until one man stood up to them. Due to his intimate knowledge of Rome’s military, Arminius subverted the empire and ended their conquest.
Defeated tribal chiefs were forced to give up their firstborn sons to Rome as hostages in case their tribe attempted a rebellion. At a very young age, Arminius was given up by his father Segimer of the Cheruscans, and subsequently transported to Rome, where he received a classic education and military training to fight for Rome.
This story causes me to reflect. Do we not see a similar characteristic of today’s education system? Traditional parents are forced to put their children in public schools, where they are indoctrinated by social justice proponents to hate their parents and fight for a revolution. Is Rome’s strategy for conquest much different today?
When he witnessed the brutality of Rome’s governor Quintilius Varus, Arminius rejected his pro-Roman indoctrination and turned to the people of his birth. He gained the trust of the barbarians, united the tribes in a ruthless subversion of Rome’s military, and kept their plans secret until his sneak-attack at Teutoburg Forest. His small force led a sustained campaign, which took advantage of his home terrain and knowledge of Roman military tactics.
All this came at great cost to Arminius, however. His wife’s pro-Roman father handed his wife over to Rome, where she and her son eventually died in captivity. Arminius was “driven frantic by the seizure of his wife and the subjugation to slavery of her unborn child.” But Tacitus notes that her devotion to Arminius remained steady, as she stood “unconquered to a tear, without a word of entreaty, her hands clasped tightly in the folds of her robe and her gaze fixed on her heavy womb.”
Arminius serves as a model of a man who thinks beyond the propaganda of his education, who unites and leads, and who sacrifices for his nation.