Paper Sample: Tacitus Account of the Ancient German People

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1164 Words
Date:  2023-12-13

Tacitus's account of the culture of the ancient Germanic tribes who inhabited northern Europe demonstrates several issues that differ from the West which was founded on the Roman culture. The account sheds light on the various things regarding the northern Germanic tribes' practices, providing more information on Roman culture. The history of the Germans provides a clear picture of things that were exchanged between the two neighbors. Although the two cultures significantly interacted later, Tacitus provides evidence of how they were different. Tacitus' account of the lifestyle of the Germanic people provides views that in ancient times, societies were different and stood out from others based on aspects such as economic, social, and political practices.

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The Germans were a society that strictly adhered to their cultural practices because they did not comprise other tribes that would affect their practices. Therefore, the apparent lack of other cultural strains made them practice similar cultural practices in the entire region. The society was mainly centralized, and comprised of chiefs who ruled over the different clans present in the region. The chiefs were answerable to the king, who ruled over the land. In ancient Germanic society, community members had unique roles, which varied between the priests, rulers, and even down into the society's smallest unit, fathers and mothers had different roles. The German lands were less fertile, characterized by unfavorable climate, which did not favor agricultural activities. However, agriculture remained their main economic activity.

Tacitus's account on the way of life of the German people directly touches on how different they were with Roman culture, but it is clear that he was trying to differentiate the two cultures. Most of the statements made by Tacitus are authoritative, indicating how the two cultures were different. For instance, Tacitus states, "they believe that sex has sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsel or make light of their answers." In the statement, Tacitus provides an account of how the German men respected the advice given to them by women, which was not the case with the Roman culture. Tacitus was Roman, and by providing personal opinions on some of the issues such as religion, he provided an account of the Roman culture compared with that of the Germans. For instance, Tacitus states that Romans contained imported worshiping practices based on the divine images they made. Tacitus provides accounts of the Romans because he looks for aspects of the German culture that is comparable. For instance, he asserts that Germans had no cities, and they did not tolerate the closely contagious dwellings, meaning that was what was there among Romans. Tacitus uses the Germanic people to criticize Roman culture, such as their disrespect for women. It is further evident in how he praises German culture, such as marriage, hospitality, and simplicity.

Germans and the imperial Romans differed in multiple ways, and each side possessed certain aspects that were superior to the others. According to Tacitus, the Germans were superior to the Romans in many aspects, such as their war brevity. It was wrong to surpass the king in valor, which could be why they approached war without fear. Equally, the advice women gave them was highly valued because they were considered holy creatures. However, the Romans were more civilized and advanced in several aspects. Tacitus states that “no use is made of them of stone or tile; they employ timber for all purposes, rude masses without ornament or attractiveness." They built houses using cement instead of Germans who used timber in almost everything, with no decorations such as ornaments used by the Romans.

The Germans were also guided by values such as generosity and respect, especially for women and the gods. In contrast, the Romans mainly respected the rulers, and because they were of different ethnic backgrounds, they lacked values such as respect for the family. Tacitus states that "good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere." However, from Tacitus' account of the Germans, statements that appear reliable are where he implicitly contrasts Roman and German culture. For instance, the Romans were more commercialized and engaged in trading activities such as giving loans, which were expected to be paid with interest. Such activities were not practiced with the Germans, and it, therefore, it reliable for Tacitus to state that the Germans did not exercise it. However, statements that touch on issues such as their general way of life appear unreliable. For instance, where it appears false to state that all the Germans respected vices. It is apparent that some groups are disrespectful in any society; it is unlikely that such general statements are factual.

The Germans could not acquire followers without war, and they were not ready to toil to acquire something they could have through blood. They kept on invading new areas in search of riches by engaging in war. Their discovery of the Roman Empire centuries later might have prompted them to engage in war, and because of their military prowess and brevity, they would have conquered these lands. Also, the Germans lived in a hostile climate, and because they were looking for suitable lands where they could farm might have also pushed them to invade the Roman Empire. Although the Romans were more civilized and perhaps comprised of superior weapons, the Germans' unity and brevity on battlefields might have made them victorious against the Romans.

Tacitus' account of Germans touches on multiple issues that can be compared to the account of Herodotus concerning Greece. One similarity between the two groups is their military prowess and religion. From the two accounts, both the Germans and the Greeks believed in the gods' divine powers and held ceremonies where they offered sacrifices to the gods. However, the Greeks were more advanced because they had cities, and their houses were built with stones and tiles. This characteristic significantly distinguishes the two groups because Germans lived in villages in houses made of timber.


In conclusion, Tacitus' account of the Germanic tribes offers information about how they differed from other groups such as the imperial Romans. The story sheds light on major historical events, such as the fall of the Roman Empire. Germans were a cohesive society comprising closely united clans, displaying unique characteristics such as respect for women and marriage. They also believed in obtaining what they needed through war, which was made to engage other groups in battles. Their bravery in war and the unity of the battalions made them emerge victorious in battles, which suggests that they might have defeated the Romans after invading their lands. Although they were superior to the Romans in their respect for women and military superiority, the Romans were more civilized. Their regions were made up of towns and built houses with tiles and stones.


Hunt, Making of the West, 81.

Tacitus, The Agricola and Germania, A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb, trans., (London: Macmillan, 1877).

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The fall of Rome: and the end of civilization. Oxford University Press, 2006.

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