Germanic Tribes in Political Practice
From a passage in the Germania, Tacitus, has described the physical might of the German warriors, giving an explanation that it was because of their purity as a race. He however maintains that most German tribes were “untainted by intermarriage with other races, a peculiar people and pure like no one but themselves”. Nevertheless, by observing what is today known as the intermingling and contact among the Celts and the German people, and the allegiances in tribes among the Germans nowadays, his portrayal of the Germans as a pure race is thus in doubt.
He seemingly appears reliable in giving the description of the formidable might experienced among the German tribes and the cohesion they portrayed in the field of battle. As Tacitus describes it, the tribes of German chose their warriors according to merit as leaders of the military and their might in the battle field. But the warriors never exercised utmost authority but only ruled only when their people were winning. He is quoted as saying that the kings were taken on the “ground of birth” and generals based on courage. He further said that the kings had no limitation in their authority and they did more via examples that by giving commands. In addition, if they were energetic, they were conspicuous, and they fought in the front and led because they were admired.
According to Tacitus, the secret of the formidability in the German tribes military was the cohesion they had in their tribal society. He however maintained that unlike the roman rule, the German military comprised of families and clans, and the warriors used to fight besides their kinsmen to earn respect. In such kind of a set up, most individuals, sought esteem from their peers via displaying valor with a desire to outdo the other in turns of bravery.
The young warriors used to search respect of their next of kin and all they needed is recognition of the chief, who gave gifts of the captured plunder to the brave warriors. In accordance to Tacitus, the German tribesmen often brought to the battle field their women and their children. As a result, the German tribesmen, gained strength from exhortations they earned from their women and also ferocity from knowing that they defended their families from slavery and slaughter. Tacitus is quoted as saying that, the strongest gift to courage, was that neither chance nor casual grouping, made a squadron or a wedge, but family and kinship. And close to them were those dear to them, that they could hear the cries of their women and children.
As he continues to examine the tribal wars, Tacitus discussed the unrestricted nature of the political life in the German tribes, in contrast to tyrannical domination he had endured under the Romans. He further illustrates that most German tribes assembled periodically to discuss over matters of importance. Even as the chieftains first spoke, every warrior had a right to address before reaching the decisions, the whole assembly via mutual assent. Cohesion in the Germans war could also have been maintained via drunken feasts and lavish behavior, as tribesmen the plunder and the generosity of the chieftain. Even as Tacitus explains the treatment of the German tribes in their religious rites, he shed more light on the beliefs they had basing his arguments on their marriage customs as he praised their morality. He said that their marriage tie was strict, and you won’t find anything in their character to give more praise. For him, the praise given to the fidelity of marriage of the Germans stood in great contrast what he perceived in the imperial Rome households. And in accordance with him, the German tribes practiced monogamy, and harshly punished adultery. Even the shared dowry by the couples, reflected the spirit in marriage that Tacitus clearly brought out.