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Tacitus Germania Summary

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    Tacitus was a Roman historian who is author of this source. It is his own personal account on the Germanic peoples everyday lives. Based on Tacitus’ account, he criticizes Roman customs by contrasting them with those of the Germans, also referred to as barbarians. The account is organized into different categories that tell specifically about certain areas of these barbarians’ lives.

    First, Tacitus naturally talks about the origins of the Germans. He says that the German race is not mixed at all with other races either through intercourse or immigration. He most likely sees this in admiration because everyone in their society appears as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. He sees the tribes of Germany are free from all taint. The National War songs are shouts that inspire them. They sing them right before battles, where they also sing to Hercules who they claim visited them. Their cattle are very valuable to them, because they are the only riches of the people. They care little for gold and silver, but Tacitus states that he wouldn’t be surprised if they did have some in the rich soil, being that they never check. They are into simpler commodities, which he must find very respectable.

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    When in war, they carry simple spears whether in close or far combat. Their line of battle is drawn up effectively, and the entire country chooses their line up of men. They choose their kings by birth, not having unlimited power. Those who are energetic and conspicuous lead the pack, because they are the most admired. They carry into battle images and figures of their sacred groves, which give them courage. The dearest ones to them stand close by. For example the shrieks of them women make them brave and give them inspiration during war. They seriously worship their deities, and offer up sacrifices for them. Tacitus claims that no other people practice Augury and divination more diligently. All final decisions made between councils rest on the people.

    When going into battle the chief and his followers are all looked upon as equal. The chief fights for victory, and the vassals fight for their chief. When not fighting they give themselves up to sleeping and feasting. Tacitus states how their homes are different from that of Romans. They are not tightly together but spaces far apart. Every person has a lot of land and open space. The way they dress is simple as well. They wrap themselves in a cloak or even go naked. When it comes to marriage, all the barbarians are content with one wife and see adultery as an intense punishment. He also admires the way the children are brought up. No one is brought up with a greater delicacy. He states how no nation indulges more profusely in entertainments and hospitality. They drink a lot. They may even go to quarrels intoxicated.

    Their food is of a very simple kind. Their sports consist of dancing with swords and lances that could kill them, but this gives them the skill they need. The salves don’t have mandatory duties only to manage the house or home in which they reside. The Germans land is abundant. They till fresh fields every year and still have so much left over land. Finally, in accordance to death they do not have the elaborate splendor funerals most others do. As you can tell from Tacitus’ accounts the Germanic peoples must have lived a very different life then the Romans did. He seemed to greatly admire their simplistic and different ways. In the intro, it states that these accounts may not have been as much about telling others of the Germans, then it was for criticizing Roman customs. This is why he makes such distinct contrasting points.

    This is why I do think this source is a reliable account of Germanic society. He tells in such detail about their society, that it seems he really does know what he’s talking about. Also, relating back to the into again, it states that his account is based on the writings of previous geographers and historians. It says that he also gets his information from interviews with people who had first-hand experience with the Germanic peoples.

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