Racial Purity and Genetic Theories from Antiquity
Genetic theories reflect an understanding of inherited physical characteristics. In some cases, moral characteristics were also considered heritable. One major strand in genetic thought dealt with the idea of autochthony—the idea that a people were born from the earth and were somehow more “pure” than others. These genetic theories are inextricably bound up with cultural theories since the Greeks and Romans believed the moral qualities of the people would give rise to certain types of political or social arrangement. They also appear in conjunction with Environmental theories (e.g. Airs, Water, Places 14 concerning the Macrocephali).
Athenian Citizenship Law of 451 BCE (from Plutarch Life of Pericles 37.1–5). The Citizenship Law was passed at the height of Athenian power in the Aegean and restricted citizenship to children born of two Athenian citizen parents. This passage is the fullest description of the law and its details. (MLG)
After the community put the remaining generals and leaders on trial for their conduct in the war, there was clearly no one left who had the requisite authority or required dignity for such leadership. They longed for Pericles and called him to the speaker’s platform and to accept the generalship. Pericles at the time was lying depressed at home because of his sorrow, but he was persuaded by Alcibiades and the rest of his friends to come forward. After the people had apologized for their foolish behavior toward him, he once again took up public affairs and was elected general. He then asked that the law about children with only one Athenian parent be repealed. Although he himself had introduced this law, he now did not want his name and family line to be completely wiped out through lack of descendants.  The following circumstances surrounded the law. Many years earlier when Pericles was at the height of his political power and had legitimate children (as was said), he proposed a law that only children born from two Athenian parents were to be Athenian.
It happened that the king of Egypt sent forty thousands measures of grain as a gift and it was necessary to divide it up among the citizens. Many private lawsuits sprang up from this law against illegitimate citizens, who had till then escaped notice or been overlooked. Very many suffered from the prosecuting informers.  As a result of the scrutiny, a little less than five thousand were convicted and sold into slavery; fourteen thousand and forty were judged Athenian citizens and remained in the polity.  And so it was terrible that a law, which had powerfully affected so many, be repealed by the very man who proposed it. However, the present misfortune of Pericles’ family, seeming a sort of penalty for his contempt and arrogance, moved the Athenians to pity. Since they considered that he was suffering retribution and that his request was only human, they allowed him to enroll his illegitimate son in the phratry and give him his name. And it was this son who later won a naval victory against the Peloponnesians at Arginusae and whom the people put to death along with his fellow generals.
Euripides Suppliants 219-225 (5th century BCE). Theseus, king of Athens, condemns Adrastus, king of Argos, for marrying his daughters to foreigners, thus corrupting his city with non-Argive blood. (RFK).
Theseus: You, Adrastus, appear to me to be among this company, a fool. You followed the oracles of Apollo and gave your daughters to foreigners to marry, as if gods, not mortals, decided marriages. But doing so, you have mingled your clear line with a muddy one and sorely wounded your house.
Euripides Ion 57-75, 260-272, 585-594, 1295-1305, 1569-1594 (5th century BCE). Euripides’ Ion tells the story of the reunion of Creusa, princess of Athens and descendant of Erectheus/Erichthonious, the autochthon (born from the earth), with her lost son by Apollo, Ion. The play’s numerous plot twists are enabled by the focus on the Athenians’ autochthonous birth and xenophobia. (RFK)
57–75. Hermes: Creusa, the one who bore him, was married to Xuthus under the following circumstances: a wave of war crashed over Athens and the Chalcidians, who hold sway in Euboea. Xuthus was deemed worthy of being Creusa’s husband through his efforts in the war even though he was foreign born, an Achaean, the son of Zeus’ son Aeolus. Now, although they have planted many a seed in their marriage bed, Xuthus and Creusa have long been childless. For this reason, they have come to the oracle of Apollo, longing for children. Little do they know that Apollo Loxias it was who had driven them to this fate, nor has he been unaware of them, so it seems. For when they enter the oracle, Apollo will give Xuthus this child [Ion], claiming that it is Xuthus’s natural born son. Later, Apollo will arrange for Creusa, the child’s true mother, to recognize that the boy entering her household is, in fact, the child she bore to Loxias. Everyone will win! Loxias’ rape will remain concealed and the boy will receive his proper birthright. Apollo will also ensure that the boy, the founder of Asian lands, will be called Ion throughout Greece.
Creusa and Ion meet in the temple, where Creusa has gone to pray concerning her lost child and where Ion works as an attendant.
260–272. Creusa: Creusa is my name, Erechtheus, my father, the city of Athens, my fatherland.
Ion: You amaze me, lady. You live in a famous city and are born from noble ancestry.
Creusa: I am fortunate in this regard, stranger, but in nothing more.
Ion: By the gods, tell me truly, as the story is told among mortals…
Creusa: What is it, stranger, that you want to learn? Ask it.
Ion: Did your ancestors really sprout from the earth?
Creusa: Erichthonius did, yes; not that my race benefits me at all.
Ion: And did Athena really take him up from the earth?
Creusa: Yes and right into her virgin hands; she didn’t give birth to him.
Ion: And then she gave him, as paintings usually show…
Creusa: …to the daughters of Kekrops to keep safe and hidden.
289–296. Ion: Who of the Athenians married you, lady?
Creusa: He isn’t a citizen, but an import from another land.
Ion: Who is he? He must be of noble race.
Creusa: Xuthus, born of Aeolus and descended from Zeus.
Ion: And how did this foreigner get to marry someone as well-born as you?
Creusa: There is a city in Euboea, which is near Athens…
Ion: Separated by only a watery boundary, they say.
Creusa: Well, he attacked this city as an ally of the Cecropidae.
Ion: He came as a mercenary and was then married to you?
Creusa: Yes. He took me as a war-won dowry and a spear-prize.
Xuthus is told by the oracles that Ion is his son and announces to Ion that he will return to Athens and become his heir.
585–594. Ion (to Xuthus): Matters don’t look the same from far off as they do seen close up. I welcome the fate that led me to find out you’re my father. But, father, listen to what’s on my mind. It’s said that the famous Athenians are autochthonous, born from the earth, not an immigrant race. Thus I’ll be showing up there with two black marks against me. First, my father is a foreigner. Second, I’m a bastard by birth.
When she learns that Xuthus intends to bring Ion (whom she believes is Xuthus’ son by a foreign woman) home, Creusa tries to murder Ion to prevent him from inheriting the Athenian kingship.
1295–1305. Creusa: You were intending to live in my house, taking it from me by force.
Ion: So you were trying to kill me in fear of what I intended?
Creusa: Why wouldn’t I kill you unless this wasn’t your intent?
Ion: Are you jealous because you are childless and my father found me?
Creusa: Are you trying to steal the house of those without children?
Ion: Look, my father is giving me his land.
Creusa: How does the race of Aeolus have a share with the race of Pallas?
Ion: He earned your house by arms, not words.
Creusa: The mercenary is nothing but an inhabitant, a colonist, of the land.
Ion: And there is no share in my father’s land for me?
Creusa: His spear and shield—that’s the full extent of your share of this land.
After Ion attempts to murder Creusa in turn and the situation has reached an absurd peak, Ion and Creusa recognize their relationship through tokens left with him when she abandoned him at birth. Athena descends to further put things right.
1569–1594. Athena: But now listen to what I have to say, so that I may bring this business to an end and fulfill the god’s oracles, which is why I harnessed my chariot. Creusa, you are to take this child with you to Cecrops’ land and establish him on the royal throne. As a descendant of Erechtheus, he has a right to rule over my land, and his fame will spread throughout Greece. His sons—four from the one root—will give their names to the land and to the native tribes of the land, the inhabitants of my cliff. The first-born will be Geleon, then the second <…> the Hopletes and the Argades, and the Aegicores, named after my aegis, will constitute a single tribe. Then in due course of time the children of these four will found communities on the islands of the Cyclades and the coastal mainland, whose might will support my land. They will also colonize opposite sides of the straits on the two continents, Asia and Europe. They will be named Ionians, after your son here, and they will win great renown. You and Xuthus will have children together: Dorus, whose descendants, the Dorians, will be celebrated throughout the land of Pelops. The second son, Achaeus, will be king of the coastland near Rhion; and a people named after him will be marked with his name.
Plato Timaeus 18d–19a (4th century BCE). Socrates and Timaeus discuss the creation of the universe beginning from the nature of the ideal city and how people in such a city would be allotted to particular roles according to their “nature.” (RFK)
18d. Socrates: “What about the issue of child-rearing? Or is this easy to remember on account of the novelty of our conclusions? We concluded that everything pertaining to marriage and children should be established as communal, shared by all, thus ensuring that no parent would recognize their own particular offspring at any point. The reason for this would be so that everyone would consider everyone as family—those of similar age with a person would become sisters and brothers, those older would be parents or grandparents according to age, and those younger would be as children or grandchildren.”
Timaeus: “Yes, as you say, that is easy to recall.”
18e. Socrates: “Well, then, do you not also recall what we said concerning the rulers, male and female alike, how they would be brought to their fullest natural potential? To the best of our ability, it was considered necessary to contrive secretly through some sort of mating lottery that inferior people and noble people mated separately from each other, like with like, but they must believe that it was chance, not contrivance, that allotted them in this way lest some enmity arise between the groups over the mating issue.”
Timaeus: “Yes, we recall all this.”
19a. Socrates: “And further we said that the offspring of noble people were to be reared while those of inferior people were to be assigned secretly to another polis. As these children grew up, those charged with keeping constant watch over them would need to bring back to the city those deemed worthy while taking back to that other land in exchange those deemed by them unworthy.”
Plato Republic 414d–415c, 459a–e (4th century BCE). In the first selection, Socrates is being asked to relate what “Phoenician tale” he would tell to the people in his ideal city-state in order to convince them that the hierarchical social structure they lived under was rooted in their very natures and should be followed. The second selection is a conversation with Glaucon on the proposed proper marriage practices for the ideal city. (RFK)
414d–415c. Socrates: “Indeed, I’ll tell you--I don’t really know, though, what sort of daring or what sort of words I’ll use. First, I will try to persuade the rulers and generals, then the rest of the polis, that everything we raised them to and taught them, everything they experienced or that happened to them, was nothing more than a dream. During that time, they were actually encased below the earth and were being shaped and nourished there while they, their weapons, and the rest of their necessities were being created. When they were altogether brought to perfection, the earth, their mother, gave birth to them and now if anyone should attack her, it is necessary that they take council and defend the land as if their homeland were their mother and their nursemaid. They consider the rest of the citizens to be their brothers and children.”
Glaucon: “Well, its not without reason, Socrates, that you were ashamed not too long ago to tell us this lie.”
Socrates: “Of course I was! Nevertheless, listen to the rest of the story. For while all are brothers in the city, as we will tell it in our tale, the god, when he created those fit to rule, mixed gold into their generation. Thus they are the most honored. Those who help them are mixed with silver. Iron and bronze make up the farmers and craftsmen. Although everyone is related by birth and you only breed with those like yourself, there is a chance that a silver child may be born from gold and from a silver father comes the occasional gold, and so on and so forth from the rest. And so, the god, first and foremost commands that the rulers keep a vigilant eye upon the offspring in case there is an intermixing among the groups in their souls. And if their children are ever born tainted with bronze or iron, they are to show no manner of pity and cast the children out and assign them to the place appropriate to their status among the farmers and craftsmen. And if the opposite happens and a child of gold or silver is born to a bronze or iron parent, honor the child and raise it up among either the guardians or the helpers. Tell the people that there is an oracle that explains that should an iron or bronze guard ever serve as guardian, the city would be destroyed. Do you see any way to persuade the people to believe this story?”
Glaucon and Socrates discuss marriage.
459a–e Socrates: “How then will they be most useful? Tell me this, Glaucon: I see that you have in your house a great many hunting dogs and pedigreed cocks. Do you give much thought to how they couple and breed?”
Glaucon: “Sure I do.” Socrates: “Ok. Firstly, among your animals, though all pedigreed, don’t certain ones produce the best offspring?”
Glaucon: “They do!” Socrates: “Well, then, do you breed them equally? Or are you especially intent on breeding from the best stock?”
Glaucon: “From the best, of course.” Socrates: “And how about the youngest or the oldest? Or do you prefer to use those in their prime?”
Glaucon: “Those in their prime.” Socrates: “And if they aren’t bred this way, do you suppose your dogs and cocks would be the worse for it? The stock pedigree diminished?”
Glaucon: “They would, yes.”
Socrates: “What about horses, and other animals? Does the same go for them?” Glaucon: “It would be odd if it didn’t.”
Socrates: “Well, then, let me tell you, dear friend. Obviously it is of the utmost importance that our chief leaders also take care of breeding if the principle holds the same with humans.” Glaucon: “It does apply. What of it?”
Socrates: “It means that it is necessary for them to use many remedies, I said. We decided before that a less qualified doctor was sufficient for treating a body not in need of medicine, but wanting only diet and exercise. But whenever prescribing medications is needed, we know that a more exceptional doctor is necessary.”
Glaucon: “This is true. But what’s your point?”
Socrates: “My point is this: our leaders will need to use many and altogether convincing lies for the sake of the ruled. We said, I believe, that in the case of medicines, all such tricks were useful.” Glaucon: “So right.”
Socrates: “Well, in marriage and childbearing, it would seem that there is no small need for this kind of ‘right’ action.” Glaucon: “How so?”
Socrates: “Given this fact, it is necessary, that the best breed with the best as often as possible and the worst breed with the worst as infrequently as possible. It is also necessary that the children of the best be raised and those of the worst not be. Additionally, if our flock is to be at its peak, everything we have done to make it so needs to remain hidden from everyone except the rulers themselves. This is so especially if the herd of guardians is to be as free from unrest as possible.”
Plato Menexenus 237e–238b, 238e–239a (4th century BCE). Plato’s version of an Athenian funeral oration emphasizes the Athenian focus on their unusual origin. The theory of autochthony expands to include not only the descendants of Erichthonious, but also any Athenian. Plato explicitly links Athenian autochthony to Athenian customs/culture. (MLG)
237b–238b. I begin with their excellence of birth: The origin of their ancestors was not foreign. That origin revealed that their descendants were not immigrants come into this land from elsewhere, but were born from the soil and were living and dwelling truly in their fatherland. They were not nursed by a stepmother like other peoples, but by their mother, that is, the land where they live. They now lie dead in the very native lands that bore then, nourished them, and received them. It is most just to praise this mother first. In this way the men’s excellence of birth also happens to be praised.
It is appropriate that the land be praised not only by us, but also by all mankind. This is the case for many reasons, but first and foremost because this land is dear to the gods. This fact is confirmed in the stories of how the gods contended for the land and how they judge her. How could a land praised by the gods not justly be praised by absolutely all mankind? A further praise for this land would be the following: At that time when the rest of the world was producing animals both wild and tame, this land of ours did not produce nor was it inhabited by wild beasts. Instead she chose from among all living creatures to give birth to man, an animal that surpasses the rest in intelligence and alone esteems justice and the gods.
A powerful proof can be found in the following story: The land herself gave birth to our ancestors and the ancestors of those buried here. This is because every child receives suitable nourishment from whoever gave birth to it, and by this fact a woman can be proved a true mother or not. If a mother has no fount of nourishment for the child, then she may have only pretended the child is hers. In this very way our land and mother provides sufficient proof that she has given birth to humans. She alone at that time was the first to produce nourishment for humans in the form of wheat and barley. It is through these fruits that humans are best nourished because, in fact, the earth herself bore this human animal. Proofs of this sort should be more acceptable in the case of a land even than of a woman because the land does not imitate a woman in conception and birth, rather the woman imitates the land. Nor was the land stingy with this fruit, but distributed it to the rest of humanity. After this, she brought forth for her descendants the olive, a help for toils. After rearing and caring for her children up to the time of their youthful prime, she supplied gods to be leaders and teachers for them. The names of the gods we must pass over in this speech - we know them in any case. They ordered our lives not only with regards to our daily routines (they first taught us arts and skills), but they also taught us the procurement and use of weapons for the defense of the land.
238e–239a. The cause of our form of government lies in our equality of birth. Other communities are composed of an irregular and diverse people. As a result, their governments are irregular, both tyrannies and oligarchies. Thus, the inhabitants consider some slaves and some masters. But we in our community are all brothers from a single mother and think it is unworthy to be slaves and masters to one another. Instead, our natural equality of birth compels us to seek equality in law and to give way to no one except in reputation for excellence and intelligence.
Plato Laws Book 3.692e-693a (4th century BCE). Plato’s Athenian connects mixed descent with slavery and unhappiness. (CSR)
Athenian: Should someone say that Greece defended itself during the Persian Wars, they would be speaking incorrectly. For if the intention of the Athenians and the Spartans in common had not been to ward off the oncoming slavery, then indeed all the races of the Greeks would be mixed up with each other now. And barbarians would have mingled with Greeks and Greeks with barbarians, just as the Persians rule over people now who are dispersed or gathered together and live unhappily.
Aristotle, Politics 5.2.10-11 (1303a25-40) (4th century BCE). Aristotle discusses the nature of civil strife and how it has a tendency to appear in cities where colonists do not share the same tribal or kinship descent, though harmony can emerge when differences of tribe are set aside. (RFK)
Civil strife also results from a lack of shared tribal descent until a state of agreement or harmony is achieved. For, just as a city does not emerge from a random group of people, it also does not emerge at a random time. In the past, most cities have admitted either new colonists from their home city or even additional colonists from another Greek city and factions then formed. For example, the Achaeans colonized Sybaris with the Troezians but then later on, having increased in numbers, ejected the Troezians from the city. The result was a curse on the Sybarites. At Thurii, the Sybarites caused problems by claiming a larger portion of the land as their own and were expelled. At Byzantium, the colonists who had been admitted, but who were not from the same home city as the others, plotted against the other citizens and had to be expelled by force. The people of Antissa opened up their city to Chian exiles, who later had to be expelled by force. The Messinians were themselves expelled from their own city after they admitted Samian colonists. And the Apollonians who live on the Euxine fell into a state of faction after allowing colonist from outside their kinship circle.
Aristotle, Politics 1.1.5 (1252b), 1.2.7, 12-14, 18-19 (1254a–1255a excerpted) (4th century BCE). Aristotle elaborates upon his theory of natural slavery, a theory that critics in ancient Greece and Rome countered with theories of custom. Like Plato’s Menexenus, Aristotle here attributes culture and custom to innate characteristics of a people. (RFK)
1.1.5. Among barbarians, the female and the slave have the same rank. The reason for this is that the barbarians do not have a concept of natural hierarchy, but marriage is between a female slave and a male slave. Thus the poet says, “It is fitting that the Greek rules over the barbarian,” which suggests that the barbarian and the slave are the same.
1.2.7. From what we have said before, then, it is clear what a slave’s nature is and what its capabilities are. For any human who does not belong to itself by nature, but to another, is a slave by nature. One qualifies as a human being belonging to another if he or she is the possession of another. By “possession” I mean someone used, a tool separable from the owner. We need to consider, however, whether such a person exists by nature or not, and whether there is justice or advantage to being a slave or if, on the contrary, all slavery is unnatural.
1.2.12-14. Again, in humans and animals it is the same—tamed animals are better by nature than wild ones and for all such creatures it is better to be ruled by mankind since there is a benefit from being secure. Additionally, between man and woman, man is the stronger while woman is the weaker, thus men rule and women are ruled. The same must hold true among all humans. Men who differ from their fellow humans in the same way as a human soul is different from a human body or a man differs from a beast are slaves by nature. Those who fall into this category are those whose function is to provide physical labor and that is the best they can do. For these people, being ruled over by an authority is better, just as it is for tame animals, and they engage with reason only to the extent that they understand it but do not actually possess it. Other animals do not understand reason, but are slaves to their emotions.
1.2.18-19. Generally speaking, some people cling as much as possible to some principle of justice (for custom is an aspect of justice) wherein enslaving prisoners of war is just. However, at the same time they deny this possibility since it is possible that the origin of a war is unjust and so those enslaved in an unjust war would not rightly be a slave. Otherwise, it might happen that those of the noblest blood become slaves or the descendants of slaves when they are captured in war and then sold. For this reason, they do not mean to say that Greeks are slaves, but only barbarians. And yet, whenever they say this, they are, in fact, seeking nothing other than the idea of natural slavery about which we spoke earlier. For they are forced to say that some people are entirely slavish while others never are. The same principle applies to the well-born noble. They consider themselves noble not only at home but also when abroad and away from their own people, while they consider barbarian nobles only noble when they are at home among their own kind. The implication is that there is an absolute type of nobility and freedom [for Greeks] and a relative type of each [for barbarians]…
Tacitus Germania 1-9, 15-22 (2nd century CE). Tacitus’ account of Germany and German customs. (CSR)
1. All Germany is separated from the Gauls, Rhaetians, and Pannonians by the Rhine and Danube and from the Sarmatians and Dacians by mutual fear or mountains. The ocean surrounds the rest of Germany, embracing wide bays and huge expanses of islands. Certain peoples and kings, who have been introduced to us by war, are only recently known.  The Rhine, rising from an inaccessible and steep ridge of the Rhaetian Alps, turns slightly towards the west and mixes with the northern Ocean. The Danube flows from the moderate gently sloping ridge of Mount Abnoba and passes many people until it breaks out into the Pontic Sea in six channels; the seventh channel is swallowed up by swamps.
2. I believe that the Germans themselves are indigenous and the arrival and friendship of other races have resulted in very little mixing, because people who were seeking to change their homes came not by land, but by ships. The Ocean beyond them is immense, as I would say, on the opposite side and is rarely approached by ships from our world. Moreover, not even considering the danger or the rough and unknown sea, who would leave Asia or Africa or Italy behind and seek Germany, which is wild in lands, harsh in climate, and unpleasant in habitation and in aspect, except if it was your homeland?  With ancient songs, which are the only kind of tradition or history they have, they celebrate as the origin and founders of their race the god Tuisto, born from the earth, and his son Mannus. They claim that Mannus had three sons; from their names those closest to the Ocean are called the Ingaevones, those in the middle the Hermiones, and the rest the Istaevones. Certain people, using the license granted by antiquity, claim more were born from the god and provide the names of more races -- the Marsi, Gambrivii, Suebi, and the Vandilii -- and say that these are true and ancient names.  Moreover, the word Germany is new, since those who first crossed the Rhine and expelled the Gauls are now called Tungri, but used to be called Germans; thus the name of the nation, not of the race, grew little by little so that all were called by the made-up name “Germans”—first by the conquered out of fear and soon by themselves also.
3. They say that Hercules lived among them and in battle the natives sing about him first of all brave men. They also have these songs, which they call “baritus,” that they recite and in so doing ignite their spirits and foresee through the song itself the outcome of the upcoming fight; for they cause fear or they tremble based on how it sounds in the battle line. It seems to be not so much a coming together of voices, but a coming together of courage. A harshness of sound and a broken murmur is brought about by holding their shields in front of their mouths so that their voices might swell more fully and heavily by the resonance.  In addition, some think that Ulysses, in his long and fabled wandering, was carried into the Ocean and approached the lands of Germany. Asciburgium, which is situated on the banks of the Rhine and is inhabited today, was established and named by him. They also say that an altar dedicated by Ulysses, with the name of his father Laertes added, was once found in the same place and they say that monuments and certain tumuli inscribed with Greek letters still exist on the boundaries of Germany and Rhaetia.  It is not my intention to either confirm this argument or refute it; each individual may withdraw or contribute to their belief according to his own opinion.
4. I myself accept the opinion of those who think that the people of Germany have been infected by no marriages with other nations and exist as an individual and pure race which is similar only to itself. It is because of this that the build of their bodies is the same in all the people, even though the population is so large. They have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge bodies, and they are strong only on impulse. At the same time they have no patience for labor or great works. They do not tolerate heat and thirst at all; rather, they are accustomed to cold and hunger because of their climate and soil.
5. The land varies somewhat in appearance; on the whole, however, it is bristling with forests or unhealthy with swamps. It is more humid near Gaul and windier near Noricum or Pannonium. It is fertile in grains, but unable to bear fruit trees; it is good for herds, but they are mostly undersized.  There is no grace in their cows nor are there glorious horns on their foreheads. They rejoice in their number, for these are their only and most valued form of wealth.  I do not know whether the gods deny them silver and gold because they are pleased or angry. I would not assert that no vein in Germany bears silver or gold, for who has searched carefully for them?  They are not at all affected by the possession or use of them. One can see silver vases among them, given to their legates and leaders as gifts, but they do not use them differently from how they use earthenware. Those nearest to us have gold and silver in monetary form for commercial use and recognize and choose out certain forms of our money. The groups in the interior practice barter more simply and in the ancient manner.  They approve of old money that has been known for a long time -- coins notched on the edges and with chariots on it. They seek out silver more than gold, not because of a predilection for silver, but because the value of silver is easier for use for those who buy common and cheap materials.
6. Not even iron is in abundance there, as we can gather from the type of weapons they use. There are a few who use swords or larger lances, but for the most part they carry short spears or frameae (to use their own word) that have a short and narrow piece of iron attached, but one that is so sharp and handy to use that they can fight with the same weapon close at hand and at a distance as the situation demands. Horsemen too are content with shield and framea, and foot soldiers also throw javelins. Each man, nude or lightly covered with a cloak, has many weapons that they throw over immense spaces. There is no boasting about apparel. They make their shields stand out with the choicest colors. There are breastplates for a few; scarcely one or two have metal or hide helmets.  The horses stand out neither in beauty or in speed. They are not taught to swerve in circles as is our custom; rather, they drive them straight or bending to the right in a circle joined so tightly that no one falls behind another.  On the whole you would say that the infantry has more strength. The infantry fights mixed up with their cavalry and the speed of the infantry, whom they choose from all the youths and place in front of the battle line, is adapted to the cavalry and works in congruence with it. Their number is defined -- one hundred from each district -- and they are called “the hundred” among themselves. What was at first a number, is now a name and an honor.  Their battle line is organized in wedges. To cede a place, as long as you step up again, is thought to show good planning rather than fear. They carry back their dead even in battles with uncertain outcomes. The worst disgrace is to leave behind your shield; it is not right for one who has acted so ignominiously to approach sacrifices or to go into council meetings. Many survivors of battles end their infamy with a noose.
7. They choose kings by their nobility, war leaders by their courage. The kings do not have infinite or free power, and their leaders lead by example rather than by force. If they are energetic, if they stand out, if they lead the front of the battle line, then they are preeminent because of the people’s admiration for them. Nothing beyond this is permitted to them – not to rebuke nor enchain, not even to beat men. This is permitted to the priests, and not as if in punishment or by the war leader’s order, but as if a god, whom they believe is present among the warriors, had ordered it.  They carry into battle effigies and certain standards brought out of sacred groves. The strongest incitement to bravery is this: neither chance nor a fortuitous grouping makes the company or the battle wedge, but rather families and kin. An additional guarantee is nearby, for they keep their families close so that they can hear the shouts of women and the wailing of infants. These are the witnesses dearest to each man; these are the source of their greatest praise. They bring their wounds to their mothers and wives and these women do not hesitate to count the wounds or examine them. They also provide the fighters with food and encouragement.
8. According to tradition, some wavering or uncertain battles were restored by women through the constancy of their prayers, the baring of their breasts, and the demonstration of the approach of slavery. Slavery in respect to their women is such an unendurable source of dread for them that states are most effectively bound when noble girls are also among the hostages.  They think that there is something holy and providential within women, and they do not look down on their advice or neglect their answers. Under the divine Vespasian we saw Velaeda, long believed among many to be a goddess. Also, long ago, they venerated Aurinia and many others more, but not with flattery nor as false goddesses.
9. They worship Mercury especially. On certain days they consider it right to sacrifice even human victims to him. They placate Hercules and Mars with approved animals. Some of the Suebi also sacrifice to Isis – I have not found out the cause and the origin of this foreign rite, except that the cult sign is fashioned like a Liburnian ship, which shows that the religion was introduced, not native.  Furthermore, they do not think it right to confine the gods within walls or to assimilate them into any aspect of human appearance because of the greatness of these heavenly beings. They consecrate woods and groves and name that secret thing which they see only in worship with the names of the gods.
Tacitus details on the political habits of the Germans. Each tribe, he states, has an assembly and a chief who keeps a group of sworn followers near him.
15. When they are not entering into wars, they pass much of their time in hunting, but even more in leisure, dedicating themselves to sleep and food. The bravest and the most warlike do nothing; the house and the care of the hearths and field are handed over to women and old men and the weakest from the family. They themselves are dull because of a strange dissonance in their nature: they love laziness and hate quiet at the same time.  It is the custom for the citizens to give either flocks or fruits to their leaders, which are accepted as an honor, but they are also necessities. They especially delight in gifts from neighboring races – which are sent not only by each individual but also by the general public – such as select horses, great arms, military decorations and torques. We have now taught them to accept money.
16. It is well enough known that the German people do not live in cities; they do not even allow their houses to be attached to each other. They live separately and are spread out, wherever a fountain, a plain, or a grove pleases them. They do not situate their villages in our manner, with connected and attached buildings. Each man surrounds his home with open space, either as a measure against the chance of fire or because they are ignorant about architecture.  They do not even use uncut stones or tiles; they use unshaped timber for all things without thinking about appearance or attraction. Certain places are carefully smeared with earth so pure and shining that it seems like a painting or bright splotches of color.  They often open subterraneous pits and pile a lot of dung over them. This serves as a shelter from winter and as storage for produce, because places like this soften the harshness of the frosts. If an enemy ever comes, he ravages the things out in the open but he either ignores or is deceived by what is hidden and buried because they have to be searched out.
17. Everyone wears cloaks attached with brooches or, if they do not have a brooch, thorns. When they are not wearing them, they spend the whole day uncovered near the hearth and fire. The richest are marked out by their clothes, which are not flowing like the ones the Sarmatians and Parthians wear, but are drawn tight and are tight fitting. They also wear skins of wild beasts: the tribes near the river as casual clothes, the tribes further away as more formal wear, since nothing nice is available for them in trade. They hunt wild animals and then they decorate the skins they’ve taken with the spotted skins of beasts, which the furthest Ocean and the unknown sea bring forth.  Women’s dress is not different from men’s, except that more often women are cloaked in linens, which they decorate with purple dye. Also, they do not have sleeves on the upper part of their clothes. Their shoulders and arms are bare and the area next to the arms is exposed.
18. Marriage is strict there, and you could not praise any other of their customs more. For they, almost alone out of all barbarians, are content with one wife each with a few exceptions, who are bound in multiple marriages not out of lust but because of their nobility.  The wife does not bring a dowry the husband, but the husband to the wife. The parents and relatives are present and approve the gifts. Gifts are not given to satisfy womanly pleasures or to adorn the new bride. They include cows and a bridled horse and a shield with framea and sword. The wife accepts these gifts and, in turn, she herself brings some kind of weapon to her husband. They think that this is the greatest bond: these gifts represent the sacred arcana, the conjugal deities.  In case the wife thinks that she is beyond the considerations of courage and the fortunes of war, she is warned by these signs at the beginning of the marriage that she comes as an ally to her husband in both labor and danger. She is reminded that she will suffer and dare the same in peace as in war. This is what the gifts of yoked cows, the equipped horse, and arms announce. Thus she must live; thus she must die. What she accepts, she hands down inviolate and still valuable to her children; her daughters-in-law will take them and hand them down to her grandchildren.
19. Because of these customs, they live with their chastity well protected; they are corrupted by no enticements like spectacles and by no desires for banquets. Men and women are equally ignorant of secrets in letters. There are very few cases of adultery for so numerous a race, the punishment of which is immediate and granted to the husband. In front of her relatives, the husband drives his wife, naked and with her hair cut off, from their home and beats her as they go through the whole village. There is no pardon after a public revelation of a lack of chastity: her beauty, age, or her wealth will not find her a new husband. No one laughs at vice there, nor is corrupting or being corrupted chalked up to “the times.”  Even better still are those states in which only virgins may marry and so only once is she fixed by the hope and promises of being a wife. Thus they accept one husband just as they accept having one body and one life, so that there are no more stray thoughts, no drawn out desire, so that they love not so much the husband himself but rather their marriage. The Germans consider it an outrage to limit the number of children or to kill any of their children. The good customs here are much stronger than good laws elsewhere.
20. In every house, naked and dirty children grow into those long limbs and bodies that we admire. A mother nurses her own child from her breasts; they do not pass them on to slave-women or wet-nurses. You cannot distinguish master and slave by any charms of education; they spend their time among the same herds, on the same land, until maturity separates out the native freeborn and courage recognizes them.  The charm of youth lasts a long time and puberty is not wasted. The maidens are not hastened; they wait until the couple is the same age and has come to a similar level of maturity. They marry as equals in age and strength, and the children reflect the strength of their parents.  The son of a sister has the same honor before his uncle as before his father. Certain people think that this bond of blood is more sacred and tighter and they demand hostages bound in this way more often, as though they would hold their enemy’s attention more firmly and his family more widely. A man’s own children are his heirs and successors and there is no will. If there are no children, brothers, paternal uncles, and maternal uncles are the nearest degree in succession. The more relatives and thus the larger number of connections make an old man that much more popular; there is no value in childlessness.
21. It is considered as necessary to take up the enemies of one’s father or relative as it is to adopt their friendships; these hostilities, however, do not endure without end. Even homicide can be payed off by a set number of cattle or sheep and the whole household receives satisfaction. This is useful in public matters, because hostilities are more dangerous when mixed with freedom.  No other race indulges more effusively in parties or hospitality. It is held to be wrong to keep anyone from entering your house; each man gets well-prepared meals according to his fortune. If the host runs out of food, he becomes the guide and companion for more hospitality elsewhere: they go to the next house uninvited, but it does not matter, for they are received with equal generosity. No one distinguishes between known and unknown guests as far as the right to hospitality goes. It is customary to give the one departing anything he has demanded and the host feels comfortable asking for something in return. They rejoice in gifts, but they do not make an account of what is given nor are they bound by what is received.
22. Immediately after sleeping—an event that drags out into the day—they wash, more often in hot water, as you would expect among those who have such a long winter. After bathing they grab a meal: a separate seat and separate table for each man. Then, armed, they proceed to business no less often than they go to a feast. No one finds it disgraceful to drink continuously day and night. As among drinkers, frequent fights happen - seldom with abusive language, more often with death and wounds.  On the other hand, at these banquets they also make decisions about reconciliation with their enemies, about forming alliances, about appointing leaders, and finally about peace and war, as if at no other time is the mind so open to simple thoughts or more inspired to great ones.  Since they are a race neither astute nor shrewd, they open up the secrets of their hearts because of the freedom at their banquets. Therefore, everyone’s minds are uncovered and made plain. The next day ideas are reconsidered, and they remember the outcome of each discussion. They deliberate, when they do not know how to fix things; they decide, when they cannot make mistakes.