German Barbarians

987 Words4 Pages
Just outside the boundaries of the Roman empire of the first and second centuries, beyond the Rhine River, and occupying the area of Central Europe of what is today Germany, lived the tribes of the Germanic people. In Germania, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus gave an account of the lifestyles and organization of these peculiar barbarians. These descendants of modern Germans proved peculiar in that they adopted many qualities typical of barbaric cultures, yet they simultaneously practiced virtues more befitting of advanced civilizations, values more ethical than even the Roman empire of the time. The German warriors had a rigid code that defined how to live honorable lives and shameful acts to avoid committing, and the warriors also adhered to strict tradition in their relationship with their king or chief. The climate of Germany suited the warriors well. The combination of “wild scenery and harsh climate” (Tacitus, Germania) had given the barbarians an inherent endurance towards cold and hunger over time. To cope with their surroundings, the warriors had developed powerful physiques, yet their abundant resources of strength and stamina proved not to be a source of pleasure for them, for the warriors had “no fondness for feats of endurance or for hard work” (Tacitus, Germania). In earthly matters, Germany’s apparent lack of precious metals made the warriors quite utilitarian in regards to physical possession. They preferred silver to gold, as silver could be more easily fashioned into useful objects. Only the tribes of warriors on the borders of the Roman empire recognized gold and silver as trading commodities, while the ‘backwoods’ tribes traded through the simple practice of barter, yielding one item in exchange for another (Tacitus, Germania). The Germanic tribes were by no means idle people. Not content with the quietness characteristic of daily lives built on routine, “for rest is unwelcome to the race” (Tacitus, Germania), the tribes warred with their neighbors. In most cases, the tribes did not engage in voluntarily combat to gain or defend land or to right some alleged wrong against them; they mostly fought for two reasons. They first believed that it was easier to distinguish one’s self in the uncertainty of war, rather than in the predictability of routine. So war became a way for the barbarians to prove their honor, or sometimes expose their shame, as the abandonment of the shield during combat was “the height of disgrace” (Tacitus, Germania).
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