Unspoken Comparison in Tacitus's Germania Essay

Unspoken Comparison in Tacitus's Germania Essay

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Unspoken Comparison in Tacitus's Germania


Tacitus's Germania is a thoroughly itemized ethnographic text detailing the geography, climate and social structure of Germany and its people.  Unlike his Histories and Annales Tacitus doesn't offer a story line to be followed, but instead, he nudges forth an unspoken comparison to be made between two cultures.

            Each of the Germania's 46 passages deals with a particular area of German civilization among which Tacitus develops a two-tiered theme.  The two points he tries to make generally clear are the following:

 A) The Germans are barbaric, savage and stupid…but…

 B) The Germans are quaint, noble and have some redeeming qualities that make them a formidable enemy worthy of fighting.  


 However, these two points don't manifest themselves during the Germania's first passage on physical location.

 Tacitus lets us know right off the start where Germany is positioned in terms of its bordering territories and informs us among several other geographical details that the rivers Rhine and Danube separate Germany from the Galli, Rhaeti and Pannonii.

 The name "Germany" according to Tacitus originates from the name of a tribe that drove the Gauls out of what would ultimately become German territory. Ever since those times, the name "Germany" was believed to inspire terror when heard.

 Tacitus makes mention of the fact that within sections of their mythological and religious structure, Hercules and Ulysses carry significant influence and this contributes to his theory (along with their distinctive looks) that the Germans developed their particula...

... middle of paper ...

...bject of divination.  The horse to the Germans is the most trusted species of augury and at public expense they have white horses kept in sacred groves for the taking of auspices which is conducted by noting the horse's various snorts and neighs.


 Tacitus claims that business was not tended to without being armed and for the younger men, a sword and shield would be bestowed upon them at a certain age which he describes as a seeming equivalent to the Roman toga of manhood.  To be surrounded by a large group of picked young armed men was a prestigious and honorable thing, or as Tacitus would put it, "an ornament in peace and defense in war". 

 The Germans according to Tacitus found their nobility through war and felt that it was better to receive from blood and wounds than to receive from hard work and sweat tilling a field. 

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