Page 1 of 1

Of Germanic habits

PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2006 5:23 pm
by Curio Agelastus
Salvete omnes,

A quick question. I've recently come across an extract from Caesar's Gallic Wars that surprised me. Caesar says of the Germans, "Those who remain longest in chastity win greatest praise among their kindred."

Is this one of Caesar's exaggerations, or does this have some truth? Does anyone have more information on this?

Many thanks,

PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2006 9:25 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
Sorry I can't help you, but I checked my book which I have about the Germanic people but couldn't find anything there. Do you know the exact place in "De Bello Gallico" where your quote comes from? I could check then in my volume which has some annotations and maybe that leads me to the answer to your question.

PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2006 10:42 pm
by Gnaeus Dionysius Draco
Salve Curio,

Whom does "those" refer to: men or women?


PostPosted: Thu Jul 13, 2006 12:55 am
by Curio Agelastus

Yes, I suppose some further detail would be useful...

I saw it quoted in another book, but I believe it came from Book VI, 22-23.

Draco, I'm not sure; perhaps society in general. To put it in a wider context: "Their whole life is composed of hunting expeditions and military pursuits; from early boyhood they are zealous for toil and hardship. Those who remain longest in chastity win greatest praise among their kindred... For agriculture they have no zeal, and the greater part of their food consists of milk, cheese and flesh..."

Thus the previous passage might imply only the men, but the following passage speaks of Germanic society as a whole.

Not having a copy of Caesar's writings, I'm afraid I can't look it up in any more detail than that extract.

Bene valete,

PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2006 9:10 pm
by P. Scribonius Martialis
Draco, I'm not sure; perhaps society in general. To put it in a wider context: "Their whole life is composed of hunting expeditions and military pursuits; from early boyhood they are zealous for toil and hardship. Those who remain longest in chastity win greatest praise among their kindred... For agriculture they have no zeal, and the greater part of their food consists of milk, cheese and flesh..."

We don't, AFAIK, have any German sources, so the question may never be answered definitively.

If I recall, some cultures believe that ejaculation results in a diminution of one's manly essence. Perhaps that is what is involved here (if Caesar's words are true).

IIRC, The Romans themselves, at least in the early Republic, seemed to have thought that keeping company with women was somewhat enervating, and that being a ladies' man was a sign of great manliness. Do other sodales recall anything in the our sources which might back my suspicion up?

PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2006 9:21 pm
by P. Scribonius Martialis
It's book VI, 21.

Vita omnis in venationibus atque in studiis rei militaris consistit: ab parvulis labori ac duritiae student. Qui diutissime impuberes permanserunt, maximam inter suos ferunt laudem: hoc ali staturam, ali vires nervosque confirmari putant. Intra annum vero vicesimum feminae notitiam habuisse in turpissimis habent rebus; cuius rei nulla est occultatio, quod et promiscue in fluminibus perluuntur et pellibus aut parvis renonum tegimentis utuntur magna corporis parte nuda

Apparently, they refrain from sex because they feel that stature and strength are decreased by sex. Also, it was considered shameful to lose one's virginity before one's twentieth year.

PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2006 9:36 pm
by P. Scribonius Martialis
From Tacitus, Germania

In all their houses the children are reared naked and nasty; and thus grow into those limbs, into that bulk, which with marvel we behold. They are all nourished with the milk of their own mothers, and never surrendered to handmaids and nurses. The lord you cannot discern from the slave, by any superior delicacy in rearing. Amongst the same cattle they promiscuously live, upon the same ground they without distinction lie, till at a proper age the free-born are parted from the rest, and their bravery recommend them to notice. Slow and late do the young men come to the use of women, and thus very long preserve the vigour of youth. Neither are the virgins hastened to wed. They must both have the same sprightly youth, the like stature, and marry when equal and able-bodied. Thus the robustness of the parents is inherited by the children. Children are holden in the same estimation with their mother's brother, as with their father. Some hold this tie of blood to be most inviolable and binding, and in receiving of hostages, such pledges are most considered and claimed, as they who at once possess affections the most unalienable, and the most diffuse interest in their family. To every man, however, his own children are heirs and successors: wills they make none: for want of children his next akin inherits; his own brothers, those of his father, or those of his mother. To ancient men, the more they abound in descendants, in relations and affinities, so much the more favour and reverence accrues. From being childless, no advantage nor estimation is derived.

It seems that Tacitus agrees that coming 'slow and late to the use of women' preserves the 'vigour of youth'.


PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2006 7:20 pm
by Tiberius Dionysius Draco
Salve Scriboni,

Seems to me like they contradicted themselves.

They waited to marry and get children and having sex decreased their stature and strength.

However, the other part you quoted stated that people with a lot of descendants were in high regard and having none earned no benefits.

Another thing that surprised me was that they wait untill they're 20 to have sex. I'd assume the life expectancy was rather low back then, so it struck me as rather late.

Are there any other sources confirming this? Interesting read nonetheless.

Vale bene,

PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 12:31 am
by Curio Agelastus
My fellow Scribonian,

Many thanks for researching this; I find it an interesting insight into the culture of a few of the Germanic peoples with whom the Romans came into contact, even though there are some difficulties involved, as Tiberius Draco has noted.

Bene vale,

PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2006 5:54 pm
by P. Scribonius Martialis
I wonder what Tacitus means when he says they married late. Obviously that they married late by Roman standards. But when did the Romans marry?

PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 10:39 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
The legal minimum age for Roman girl to marry was 12, and some of them got married already between 12-14 which was before their first menstruation. The majority therefore got married between 14-18. Boy/young men might have been older when they married.

PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 3:39 am
by Anonymous
I am interested in the notion that the people of northwestern Europe ate mostly dairy and meat and little grain.

I am wondering how much truth there is to this, and also if anyone's system could handle such a diet.

Particularly as the Romans also wrote of the Gauls' superior method of getting bread to rise.

PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2006 2:54 pm
One thing about such descriptions Caesar's as well, and even more so, Tacitus is that they wrote for their fellow Romans. Ancient writers no matter if historian or other scientific subject didn't write with the goal to present everything how it really WAS but to teach their readers and show them good examples of how a person should behave.

So if Caesar writes this he thinks it's important for Romans "don't mess with the girls but become a brave man". Same thing can be found in his description of Gallia in the beginning of his work when he says that the strongest and bravest tribes are those which haven't been spoiled by Roman customs.

Tacitus "Germania" shows the same. He describes Germanic customs but at the same time tries to incorporate Roman values. Something like "Look, you all know how people fear the Germans. Everyone knows they are the bravest warriors and they are tall and strong...that's because they don't sleep with everyone, train from their earliest youth, think it's important to obey the family, don't use perfumes,..."

So it's sometimes hard to tell which is a Germanic fashion and which of these was how important for the Germanics themselves and which things were exaggerated, stressed out, included to teach the Roman youth on what is good.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:57 pm
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
It makes sense to me, I mean people from Germanic backgrounds have a habit of considering Mediterranean's hot blooded.

As a virile, fertile, roman man I take it as a compliment.

Stereotypical Me

PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 9:59 pm
by Aldus Marius
Salve, Gai Iuli!

> people from Germanic backgrounds have a habit of considering Mediterraneans hot blooded.

As a psych patient of some pedigree (five generations and counting...), I've run into a bit of this myself. I keep reminding myself that the rules for psychiatry were invented by Germans and Austrians. Ergo, what we would call "Mediterranean temperament" is considered by the head-shrinking industry to be a personality disorder. That adjustment being made, nothing else they say really bothers me much...

Resident Madman:

Ave Aldus Marius

PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 10:44 pm
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
Charmed to make you acquaintance, I myself am enjoying my stay on the brink of insanity.

Hey the world is crazy; ergo if I am different from the world, I must be sane.

Or perhaps insanity is truly sanity, and as a person who is insane I am sane.

Either way I quite comfortable with my passionate yet stoic lifestyle.

I draw vast distinctions between enjoying life’s pleasures and allowing myself to become subservient to them, the former I embrace the latter I avoid.