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Germanic marriages according to Tacitus

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Germanic marriages according to Tacitus
Germanic marriages according to Tacitus

Germania, one of the smaller works of Tacitus, probably written between 98-99 CE contains a lot of detailed information about the appearance, everyday life, customs and religion of the Germans. Particularly interesting seems to be the description of marriages that Tacitus sets as a model for his contemporaries, spoiled by luxury, citizens of the Roman Empire.

Germanic women got married late, and so did young men. Until then, they lived clean. The dowry was brought by the husband to his wife – these are not valuables, but oxen, a tamed steed and equipment: a shield, framea (a kind of spear) and a sword. Such gifts were to remind the woman that she would share all hardships with her husband – even wars; Tacitus recalls the tradition according to which women often brought to order the broken order of their husbands by putting their breasts on them. During the battle, they were also the closest surroundings of the warrior – they treated his wounds and encouraged him to fight.

Men had only one wife, while women, in some tribes, even after the death of their spouse, could not remarry. Adultery does not happen often there – it was punishable by cruel punishments. The Germans regarded it as a crime to limit the number of children or abandon unwanted ones (it happened very often in Rome). The descendants were breastfed by their mothers (in Rome they were taken care of by special nurses), which made them robust.

The description of the (idealized) marriages of the Germans is one of the many fragments of Tacitus’ works, clearly indicating the great historian’s desire for rebirth in Roman society at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. principles of morality from the time of the Republic, described, inter alia, by Livy.

Nobody laughs at these vices there,
Or calls corruption a sign of the times

Tacitus, Germania, XIX

Author: Aleksander Krasowski (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Sources
  • Ignacy Lewandowski, Historiografia rzymska
  • Tacitus, Germania

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