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In every home the children go naked and dirty, and develop that strength of limb and tall stature which excite our admiration. Every mother feeds her child at the breast and does not depute the task to maids or nurses. The young master is not distinguished from the slave by any pampering in his upbringing. They live together among the same flocks and on the same earthen floor, until maturity sets apart the free and the spirit of velour claims them as her own.

The young men are slow to mate, and thus they reach manhood with vigour unimpaired. The girls, too, are not hurried into marriage. As old and full-grown as the men, they match their mates in age and strength, and the children inherit the robustness of their parents. The sons of sisters are as highly honoured by their uncles as by their own fathers.


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Some tribes even consider the former tie the closer and more sacred of the two, and in demanding hostages prefer nephews to sons, thinking that this gives them a firmer grip on men's hearts and a wider hold on the family. However, a man's heirs and successors are his own children, and there is no such thing as a will. When there is no issue, the first in order of succession are brothers, and then uncles, first on the father's, then on the mother's side. The more relatives and connections by marriage a man has, the greater authority he commands in old age.

There is nothing to be gained by childlessness in Germany. Heirs are under an obligation to take up both the feuds and the friendships of a father or kinsman. But feuds do not continue for ever unreconciled. Even homicide can be atoned for by a fixed number of cattle or sheep, the compensation being received by the whole family.

This is to the advantage of the community: for private feuds are particularly dangerous where there is such complete liberty.

Mireya’s Third Crossing

No nation indulges more freely in feasting and entertaining than the German. It is accounted a sin to turn any man away from your door. The host welcomes his guest with the best meal that his means allow. When he has finished entertaining him, the host undertakes a fresh role: he accompanies the guest to the nearest house where further hospitality can be had. It makes no difference that they come uninvited; they are welcomed just as warmly. No distinction is ever made between acquaintance and stranger as far as the right to hospitality is concerned.

As the guest takes his leave, it is customary to let him have anything he asks for; and the host, with as little hesitation, will ask for a gift in return.


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  5. They take delight in presents, but they expect no repayment for giving them and feel no obligation in receiving them. As soon as they wake, which is often well after sunrise, they wash, generally with warm water - as one might expect in a country where winter lasts so long. After washing they eat a meal, each man having a separate seat and table.


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    4. Then they go out to attend to any business they have in hand, or, as often as not, to partake in a feast - always with their weapons about them. Drinking-bouts lasting all day and all night are not considered in any way disgraceful.

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      The quarrels that inevitably arise over the cups are seldom settled merely by hard words, but more often by killing and wounding. Nevertheless, they often make a feast an occasion for discussing such affairs as the ending of feuds, the arrangement of marriage alliances, the adoption of chiefs, and even questions of peace or war.

      At no other time, they think, is the heart so open to sincere feelings or so quick to warm to noble sentiments. The Germans are not cunning or sophisticated enough to refrain from blurting out their inmost thoughts in the freedom of festive surroundings, so that every man's soul is laid completely bare. On the following day the subject is reconsidered, and thus due account is taken of both occasions.

      They debate when they are incapable of presence but reserve their decision for a time when they cannot well make a mistake. Their drink is a liquor made from barley or other grain, which is fermented to produce a certain resemblance to wine. Those who dwell nearest the Rhine or the Danube also buy wine. Their food is plain - wild fruit, fresh game, and curdled milk. They satisfy their hunger without any elaborate cuisine or appetizers.

      But they do not show the same self-control in slaking their thirst. If you indulge their intemperance by plying them with as much drink as they desire, they will be as easily conquered by this besetting weakness as by force of arms. They have only one kind of public show, which is performed without variation at every festive gathering. Naked youths, trained to the sport, dance about among swords and spears levelled at them. Practice begets skill, and skill grace; but they are not professionals and do not receive payment.

      Their most daring flings have their only reward in the pleasure they give the spectators. They play at dice - surprisingly enough - when they are sober, making a serious business of it; and they are so reckless in their anxiety to win, however often they lose, that when everything else is gone they will stake their personal liberty on a last decisive throw. A loser willingly dis-charges his debt by becoming a slave: even though he may be the younger and stronger man, he allows himself to be bound and sold by the winner.

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      Such is their stubborn persistence in a vicious practice - though they call it 'honour'. Slaves of this description are disposed of by way of trade, since even their owners want to escape the shame of such a victory. Slaves in general do not have particular duties about the house and estate allotted to them, as our slaves do. Each has control of a holding and home of his own. The master demands from him a stated quantity of grain, live-stock, or cloth, as he would from a tenant.

      To this extent the slave is under an obligation of service; but all other duties, including household work, are carried out by the housewife and her children. To flog a slave, or to punish him by imprisonment and hard labour, is very unusual; yet to kill one outright is quite common. But they do this, not as a strict enforcement of discipline, but in a fit of passion, as they might kill an enemy - except that they do not have to pay for it.

      Freedmen rank little higher than slaves: they seldom have any influence in a household, never in the state, except among the tribes that are ruled by kings. There they rise above free men and even above noblemen. Elsewhere, the inferior status of freedmen is a proof of genuine liberty. There is no ostentation about their funerals. The only special observance is that the bodies of famous men are burned with particular kinds of wood.

      When they have heaped up the pyre they do not throw garments or spices on it; only the dead man's arms, and sometimes his horse too, are cast into the flames. Weeping and wailing are soon abandoned, sorrow and mourning not so soon.

      In the Crosshairs

      A woman may decently express her grief; a man should nurse his in his heart. Such is the general account that we find given of the origin and customs of the Germans as a whole. I shall now point out how far the individual tribes differ from one another in their institutions and practices, and which of them have migrated from Germany into Gaul. The most conspicuously brave of all the German tribes in Gaul, the Batavi, hold little of the river- bank, but do hold the Rhine island.

      They were once a section of the Chatti, and on the occasion of a civil war they migrated to their present home - destined there to become a part of the Roman empire. But they still retain an honourable privilege in token of their ancient alliance with us. They are not subjected to the indignity of tribute or ground down by the tax-gatherer.

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      Free from imposts and special levies, and reserved for employment in battle, they are like weapons and armour - 'only to be used in war'. We exercise the same suzerainty over the Mattiaci; for the greatness of Rome has spread the awe of her empire even beyond the Rhine and the old frontiers. In geographical position they are on the German side, in heart and soul they are with us.

      They resemble the Batavi in every way, except that their country and climate give an even keener edge to their spirit. I am not inclined to reckon among the peoples of Germany the cultivators of the agri decumates, although they have established themselves between the Rhine and the Danube. All the most disreputable characters in Gaul, all the penniless adventurers, seized on a territory that was a kind of no man's land. It was only later, when the frontier line of defence was drawn and the garrisons moved forward, that they came to be regarded as an outlying corner of the empire and a part of a province.

      Beyond them dwell the Chatti, whose country starts from the Hercynian forest; it is less open and less marshy than the other states that stretch across the wide plains of Germany. For the hills run on and only thin out gradually; and the Hercynian forest, like a nurse with her infant cares, escorts its Chatti throughout and finally sets them down at the edge of the plains. This nation is distinguished by hardy bodies, well-knit limbs, fierce countenances, and unusual mental vigour. They have plenty of judgement and discernment, measured by German standards.

      They appoint picked men to lead them, and then obey them. They know how to keep rank, and how to recognize an opportunity - or else postpone their attack. They can map out the duties of the day and make sure the defences of the night.

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      They know that fortune is not to be relied on, but only velour; and - the rarest thing of all, which the gods have vouchsafed only to a military discipline like the Roman - they place more confidence in their general than in their troops. All their strength lies in their infantry, which, in addition to its arms, is burdened with entrenching-tools and provisions. Other tribes may be seen going forth to battle; the Chatti come out for a campaign. They seldom engage in swift rushes or in casual fighting - tactics which properly belong to cavalry, with its quick successes and quick retreats.

      Speed suggests something very like fear, whereas deliberate movement rather indicates a steady courage. There is one custom - sometimes practiced by other German tribes, though rarely, and only as an exhibition of individual daring - that has become a general rule among the Chatti. As soon as they reach manhood they let their hair and beard grow as they will. This fashion of covering the face is assumed in accordance with a vow pledging them to the service of Valour; and only when they have slain an enemy do they lay it aside.

      Standing over the bloody corpse they have despoiled, they reveal their faces to the world once more, and proclaim that they have at last repaid the debt they owe for being brought into the world and have proved themselves worthy oftheir native land and parents. The coward who will not fight must stay unshorn. The bravest also wear an iron ring - which in their country is a great indignity - as a mark of servitude, until they release themselves by killing a man.

      But many of the Chatti like these fashions, and even graybeards can be seen thus distinguished, for foe and fellow-countryman alike to point at. Every battle is begun by these men. They are always in the front rank, where they present a startling sight: for even in peace-time they will not soften the ferocity of their expression.