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INTRODUCTION TO THE GERMANIA.'
'GERMANIA’ was a comprehensive term in ancient geography. It embraced certain territories on the western bank of the Rhine, as well as the vast and imperfectly known tract of country stretching from the east of that river to the confines of Sarmatia and Dacia. The first had been formed into two Roman provinces in the time of Augustus. These were called the two Germanies, or Germania Superior and Germania Inferior; and they extended from the northern sea along the Rhine to a point a little to the south of Basle. The latter, which is the subject of the present work, was sometimes described as Germania Magna, sometimes as Germania Transrhenana or Barbara. It was, as we should expect, a loosely-defined area. The Rhine, Danube, and Vistula were its western, southern, and eastern boundaries; the name, however, of the last river does not occur in Tacitus, whose account of the eastern frontier is given in exceedingly vague terms. It is mentioned by Ptolemy as one of the great rivers of Germany, and as separating it from Sarmatia. Of the northern limits of the country no ancient writer or geographer had a distinct notion. All that was known was that there were vast peninsulas and islands in the Ocean, which presented itself to the imagination of antiquity as the ultimate boun
dary of earth and nature. These unexplored regions, about which and their inhabitants strange rumours were current, to which there are brief allusions in this work, were all included in the name Germania.'
It is to Tacitus that we are mainly indebted for whatever knowledge we possess of ancient Germany, and of the character of its various peoples. There are indeed other writers from whom something is to be learnt in the way of comparison and illustration. The geographical treatises of Strabo, Pomponius Mela, and Ptolemy, the two first of which were written in the first and the last in the second century, contain information not always to be found in Tacitus, and may be frequently consulted with advantage by commentators on this work. From Cæsar, too, whose wars in Gaul brought him from time to time into collision with German tribes, and from Velleius Paterculus, who served under Tiberius in Germany, we get occasional hints about the country and its inhabitants. The elder Pliny's great work in twenty books on the Roman wars in Germany has unfortunately not come down to us, but there are scattered throughout his 'Historia Naturalis' passages of interest which touch on German Geography, climate, and productions. Dion Cassius and Suetonius were often led by the subject of their works to allude to Germany and its tribes, but we gain from them no important accession to our knowledge. Tacitus, in fact, though it is as well to supplement his work with what can be gathered from the above-mentioned sources, is the only writer who gives us a picture of the life of the ancient Germans. He naturally falls from time to time into the errors incident to imperfect information ; bis description of the localities of the various tribes is often obscure and
inaccurate, and he now and then seems to attribute to the whole German population the peculiarities of a single people. On the whole, however, there can be little doubt but that his work may be accepted as that of a sagacious thinker and painstaking inquirer. He has contrived to compress into a small compass much really valuable matter, and has enabled us to perceive in their earliest workings the germs of certain medi eval and modern institutions. It would be too much to suppose that he was guided to this result by a deliberate and conscious foresight, or that he ever so dimly anticipated from what most impressed him with admiration in the character of these tribes, the establishment of a new world on the ruins of the Roman empire. Tacitus, we believe, was far too deeply imbued with Roman ideas to admit such a notion into his mind. He was no doubt struck with the contrast presented by the domestic virtues of the Germans to the corruption and profligacy of his countrymen, and he continually avails himself of it to point the satire of which he was so great a master. He felt, too, as is evident from the ominous language at the close of ch. 33, that there was danger to the empire from the side of Germany. But neither was his admiration of the Germans by any means unqualified, as is clearly shown by his exposure of their vices, nor is there anything to imply that he feared the worst for his country. On the contrary, the auspicious opening of Nerva's reign, and the increasing strength and prosperity of the empire under Trajan, seem to have inspired him with new faith in the destinies of Rome.
We gather from this work that the Germans were not for the most part an utterly barbarous people. Of
art and literature indeed they knew next to nothing, and to the civilization of Greek and Italian cities they were entire strangers, They had however a regular social organization on an aristocratic basis, and a religion not without noble and awe-inspiring elements. Society ranged itself into four classes, a hereditary landed aristocracy, free-born men also landowners, freedmen, and slaves. They were governed by chieftains or kings whose power was commonly limited. Fixed habitations, separate and apart from each other, answering to our "homesteads,' were the rule among them. They had no distinct order of priests, as that of the Druids among the Gauls; no temples, no images of the gods. Every thing implied a love of severe simplicity and a determined spirit of independence. To one brought up amidst the elegant luxuries and refinement of Rome the German life and character must have seemed as ungenial as the climate which so strikingly contrasted with the sunny skies of Italy. Tacitus however singles out one feature in German manners for special commendation. It is their reverence for the marriage-tie and the chastity of their
He connects this virtue with their simple life, which knew nothing of the various artificial excitements of Roman civilization.
Nowhere in the course of this work does the writer announce any special purpose which he had in view in its composition. It has no preface or introduction, as his other works have. Editors have accordingly tasked their ingenuity to the utmost with the object of supplying this defect. Ritter concludes from the absence of any introductory matter, (by means of which, he observes, in the case of the Annals, Histories and Life of Agricola, the author's aim and
purpose are clearly explained,) that the Germania' was intended to be an appendix to the Histories, the readers of which would perpetually feel themselves in need of a fuller and more detailed acquaintance with the country than could be conveniently given in the course of the work. This is at least a more probable hypothesis than many which have been suggested, and which can be described only as groundless conjectures. If we are to have a theory on the subject, we incline to think that ch. 38 which enumerates the Roman losses in Germany and dwells on the fierce independence of the people, more terrible even than Samnite, Carthaginian, Gaul or Parthian, hints at the motive which led to the composition of this work. A country so formidable, from which alone, as Tacitus might well think, serious danger was to be apprehended by Rome, would at least be worth a description as full and as accurate as his opportunities enabled him to give.
It cannot, we think, be inferred with any thing like certainty from the contents and general character of this work that Tacitus had ever visited Germany and passed some time in the country. Kritz indeed labours to show in an elaborate discussion that here and there matters are described with a precision and particularity which clearly betoken an eye-witness, and he lays considerable stress on the occasional introduction of native words which he argues would hardly have been known to one who had not actually resided in the country. His arguments, though ingenious, do not seem conclusive. It is certainly by no means improbable that Tacitus may have been in Germany, but the various opportunities which he must have had of gaining a knowledge of the country are amply