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Tacitus: Germany Book 1 [40]

40. To the Langobardi, on the contrary, their scanty numbers are a distinction. Though surrounded by a host of most powerful tribes, they are safe, not by submitting, but by daring the perils of war. Next come the Reudigni, the Aviones, the Anglii, the Varini, the Eudoses, the Suardones, and Nuithones who are fenced in by rivers or forests. None of these tribes have any noteworthy feature, except their common worship of Ertha, or mother-Earth, and their belief that she interposes in human affairs, and visits the nations in her car. In an island of the ocean there is a sacred grove, and within it a consecrated chariot, covered over with a garment. Only one priest is permitted to touch it. He can perceive the presence of the goddess in this sacred recess, and walks by her side with the utmost reverence as she is drawn along by heifers. It is a season of rejoicing, and festivity reigns wherever she deigns to go and be received. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock; peace and quiet are known and welcomed only at these times, till the goddess, weary of human intercourse, is at length restored by the same priest to her temple. Afterwards the car, the vestments, and, if you like to believe it, the divinity herself, are purified in a secret lake. Slaves perform the rite, who are instantly swallowed up by its waters. Hence arises a mysterious terror and a pious ignorance concerning the nature of that which is seen only by men doomed to die. This branch indeed of the Suevi stretches into the remoter regions of Germany.

40. Contra Langobardos paucitas nobilitat: plurimis ac valentissimis nationibus cincti, non per obsequium, sed proeliis et periclitando tuti sunt. Reudigni deinde et Aviones et Anglii et Varini et Eudoses et Suardones et Nuithones fluminibus aut silvis muniuntur: nec quidquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem colunt, eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur. Est in insula Oceani castum nemus, dicatumque in eo vehiculum, veste contectum attingere uni sacerdoti concessum. Is adesse penetrali deam intelligit, vectamque bubus feminis multa cum veneratione prosequitur. Laeti tunc dies, festa loca, quaecumque adventu hospitioque dignatur. Non bella ineunt, non arma sumunt; clausum omne ferrum: pax et quies tunc tantum nota, tunc tantum amata, donec idem sacerdos satiatam conversatione mortalium deam templo reddat. Mox vehiculum et vestes, et, si credere velis, numen ipsum secreto lacu abluitur. Servi ministrant, quos statim idem lacus haurit; arcanus hinc terror sanctaque ignorantia, quid sit illud, quod tantum perituri vident.

41. Nearer to us is the state of the Hermunduri (I shall follow the course of the Danube as I did before that of the Rhine), a people loyal to Rome. Consequently they, alone of the Germans, trade not merely on the banks of the river, but far inland, and in the most flourishing colony of the province of Rætia. Everywhere they are allowed to pass without a guard; and while to the other tribes we display only our arms and our camps, to them we have thrown open our houses and country-seats, which they do not covet. It is in their lands that the Elbe takes its rise, a famous river known to us in past days; now we only hear of it.

41. Et haec quidem pars Suevorum in secretiora Germaniae porrigitur. Propior, ut quo modo paulo ante Rhenum, sic nunc Danubium sequar, Hermundurorum civitas, fida Romanis, eoque solis Germanorum non in ripa commercium, sed penitus, atque in splendidissima Rhaetiae provinciae colonia. Passim et sine custode transeunt: et, cum ceteris gentibus arma modo castraque nostra ostendamus, his domos villasque patefecimus non concupiscentibus. In Hermunduris Albis oritur, flumen inclitum et notum olim; nunc tantum auditur.

42. The Narisci border on the Hermunduri, and then follow the Marcomanni and Quadi. The Marcomanni stand first in strength and renown, and their very territory, from which the Boii were driven in a former age, was won by valour. Nor are the Narisci and Quadi inferior to them. This I may call the frontier of Germany, so far as it is completed by the Danube. The Marcomanni and Quadi have, up to our time, been ruled by kings of their own nation, descended from the noble stock of Maroboduus and Tudrus. They now submit even to foreigners; but the strength and power of the monarch depend on Roman influence. He is occasionally supported by our arms, more frequently by our money, and his authority is none the less.

42. Juxta Hermunduros Narisci, ac deinde Marcomanni et Quadi agunt. Praecipua Marcomannorum gloria viresque, atque ipsa etiam sedes, pulsis olim Boiis, virtute parta. Nec Narisci Quadive degenerant. Eaque Germaniae velut frons est, quatenus Danubio peragitur. Marcomannis Quadisque usque ad nostram memoriam reges manserunt ex gente ipsorum, nobile Marobodui et Tudri genus: jam et externos patiuntur. Sed vis et potentia regibus ex auctoritate Romana: raro armis nostris, saepius pecunia juvantur, nec minus valent.

43. Behind them the Marsigni, Gotini, Osi, and Buri, close in the rear of the Marcomanni and Quadi. Of these, the Marsigni and Buri, in their language and manner of life, resemble the Suevi. The Gotini and Osi are proved by their respective Gallic and Pannonian tongues, as well as by the fact of their enduring tribute, not to be Germans. Tribute is imposed on them as aliens, partly by the Sarmatæ, partly by the Quadi. The Gotini, to complete their degradation, actually work iron mines. All these nations occupy but little of the plain country, dwelling in forests and on mountain-tops. For Suevia is divided and cut in half by a continuous mountain-range, beyond which live a multitude of tribes. The name of Ligii, spread as it is among many states, is the most widely extended. It will be enough to mention the most powerful, which are the Harii, the Helvecones, the Manimi, the Helisii and the Nahanarvali. Among these last is shown a grove of immemorial sanctity. A priest in female attire has the charge of it. But the deities are described in Roman language as Castor and Pollux. Such, indeed, are the attributes of the divinity, the name being Alcis. They have no images, or, indeed, any vestige of foreign superstition, but it is as brothers and as youths that the deities are worshipped. The Harii, besides being superior in strength to the tribes just enumerated, savage as they are, make the most of their natural ferocity by the help of art and opportunity. Their shields are black, their bodies dyed. They choose dark nights for battle, and, by the dread and gloomy aspect of their death-like host, strike terror into the foe, who can never confront their strange and almost infernal appearance. For in all battles it is the eye which is first vanquished.

43. Retro Marsigni, Gothini, Osi, Burii, terga Marcomannorum Quadorumque claudunt: e quibus Marsigni et Burii sermone cultuque Suevos referunt Gothinos Gallica, Osos Pannonica lingua coarguit non esse Germanos, et quod tributa patiuntur. Partem tributorum Sarmatae, partem Quadi, ut alienigenis, imponunt. Gothini, quo magis pudeat, et ferrum effodiunt. Omnesque hi populi pauca campestrium, ceterum saltus et vertices montium jugumque insederunt. Dirimit enim scinditque Sueviam continuum montium jugum, ultra quod plurimae gentes agunt: ex quibus latissime patet Lygiorum nomen in plures civitates diffusum. Valentissimas nominasse sufficiet, Arios, Helveconas, Manimos, Elysios, Naharvalos. Apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur. Praesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatu: sed deos, interpretatione Romana, Castorem Pollucemque memorant: ea vis numini; nomen Alcis. Nulla simulacra, nullum peregrinae superstitionis vestigium: ut fratres tamen, ut juvenes, venerantur. Ceterum Arii super vires, quibus enumeratos paulo ante populos antecedunt, truces, insitae feritati arte ac tempore lenocinantur. Nigra scuta, tincta corpora: atras ad proelia noctes legunt: ipsaque formidine atque umbra feralis exercitus terrorem inferant, nullo hostium sustinente novum ac velut infernum aspectum: nam primi in omnibus proeliis oculi vincuntur.

44. Beyond the Ligii are the Gothones, who are ruled by kings, a little more strictly than the other German tribes, but not as yet inconsistently with freedom. Immediately adjoining them, further from the coast, are the Rugii and Lemovii, the badge of all these tribes being the round shield, the short sword, and servile submission to their kings.

And now begin the states of the Suiones, situated on the Ocean itself, and these, besides men and arms, are powerful in ships. The form of their vessels is peculiar in this respect, that a prow at either extremity acts as a forepart, always ready for running into shore. They are not worked by sails, nor have they a row of oars attached to their sides; but, as on some rivers, the apparatus of rowing is unfixed, and shifted from side to side as circumstances require. And they likewise honour wealth, and so a single ruler holds sway with no restrictions, and with no uncertain claim to obedience. Arms are not with them, as with the other Germans, at the general disposal, but are in the charge of a keeper, who is actually a slave; for the ocean forbids the sudden inroad of enemies, and, besides, an idle multitude of armed men is easily demoralized. And indeed it is by no means the policy of a monarch to place either a nobleman, a freeborn citizen, or even a freedman, at the head of an armed force.

44. Trans Lygios Gothones regnantur, paulo jam adductius, quam ceterae Germanorum gentes, nondum tamen supra libertatem. Protinus deinde ab Oceano Rugii et Lemovii omniumque harum gentium insigne, rotunda scuta, breves gladii, et erga reges obsequium.

Suionum hinc civitates, ipso in Oceano, praeter viros armaque classibus valent: forma navium eo differt, quod utrimque prora paratam semper appulsui frontem agit: nec velis ministrantur, nec remos in ordinem lateribus adjungunt. Solutum, ut in quibusdam fluminum, et mutabile, ut res poscit, hinc vel illinc remigium. Est apud illos et opibus honos; eoque unus imperitat, nullis jam exceptionibus, non precario jure parendi. Nec arma, ut apud ceteros Germanos, in promiscuo, sed clausa sub custode et quidem servo: quia subitos hostium incursus prohibet Oceanus, otiosa porro armatorum manus facile lasciviunt: enimvero neque nobilem neque ingenuum ne libertinum quidem, armis praeponere regia utilitas est.

45. Beyond the Suiones is another sea, sluggish and almost motionless, which, we may certainly infer, girdles and surrounds the world, from the fact that the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on till sunrise, with a brightness sufficient to dim the light of the stars. Even the very sound of his rising, as popular belief adds, may be heard, and the forms of gods and the glory round his head may be seen. Only thus far (and here rumour seems truth) does the world extend.

At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber (which they call "glesum"), in the shallows, and also on the shore itself. Barbarians as they are they have not investigated or discovered what natural cause or process produces it. Nay, it even lay amid the sea's other refuse, till our luxury gave it a name. To them it is utterly useless; they gather it in its raw state, bring it to us in shapeless lumps, and marvel at the price which they receive. It is however a juice from trees, as you may infer from the fact that there are often seen shining through it, reptiles, and even winged insects, which, having become entangled in the fluid, are gradually enclosed in the substance as it hardens. I am therefore inclined to think that the islands and countries of the West, like the remote recesses of the East, where frankincense and balsam exude, contain fruitful woods and groves; that these productions, acted on by the near rays of the sun, glide in a liquid state into the adjacent sea, and are thrown up by the force of storms on the opposite shores. If you test the composition of amber by applying fire, it burns like pinewood, and sends forth a rich and fragrant flame; it is soon softened into something like pitch or resin.

Closely bordering on the Suiones are the tribes of the Sitones, which, resembling them in all else, differ only in being ruled by a woman. So low have they fallen, not merely from freedom, but even from slavery itself. Here Suevia ends.

45. Trans Suionas aliud mare, pigrum ac prope immotum, quo cingi cludique terrarum orbem hinc fides, quod extremus cadentis jam solis fulgor in ortus edurat adeo clarus, ut sidera hebetet; sonum insuper audiri, formasque deorum et radios capitis aspici persuasio adjicit. Illuc usque, et fama vera, tantum natura. Ergo jam dextro Suevici maris littore Aestyorum gentes alluuntur: quibus ritus habitusque Suevorum; lingua Britannicae propior. Matrem deum venerantur: insigne superstitionis, formas aprorum gestant; id pro armis omnique tutela: securum deae cultorem etiam inter hostes praestat. Rarus ferri, frequens fustium usus. Frumenta ceterosque fructus patientius, quam pro solita Germanorum inertia, laborant. Sed et mare scrutantur, ac soli omnium succinum, quod ipsi glesum vocant inter vada atque in ipso littore legunt. Nec, quae natura quaeve ratio gignat, ut barbaris, quaesitum compertumve. Diu quin etiam inter cetera ejectamenta maris jacebat, donec luxuria nostra dedit nomen: ipsis in nullo usu: rude legitur, informe perfertur, pretiumque mirantes accipiunt. Succum tamen arborum esse intelligas, quia terrena quaedam atque etiam volucria animalia plerumque interlucent, quae implicata humore, mox, durescente materia, cluduntur. Fecundiora igitur nemora lucosque, sicut Orientis secretis, ubi thura balsamaque sudantur, ita Occidentis insulis terrisque inesse, crediderim; quae vicini solis radiis expressa atque liquentia in proximum mare labuntur, ac vi tempestatum in adversa littora exundant. Si naturam succini admoto igne tentes, in modum taedae accenditur, alitque flammam pinguem et olentem: mox ut in picem resinamve lentescit. Suionibus Sitonum gentes continuantur. Cetera similes, uno differunt, quod femina dominatur: in tantum non modo a libertate, sed etiam a servitute degenerant. Hic Sueviae finis.

46. As to the tribes of the Peucini, Veneti, and Fenni, I am in doubt whether I should class them with the Germans or the Sarmatæ, although indeed the Peucini called by some Bastarnæ, are like Germans in their language, mode of life, and in the permanence of their settlements. They all live in filth and sloth, and by the intermarriages of the chiefs they are becoming in some degree debased into a resemblance to the Sarmatæ. The Veneti have borrowed largely from the Sarmatian character; in their plundering expeditions they roam over the whole extent of forest and mountain between the Peucini and Fenni. They are however to be rather referred to the German race, for they have fixed habitations, carry shields, and delight in strength and fleetness of foot, thus presenting a complete contrast to the Sarmatæ, who live in waggons and on horseback. The Fenni are strangely beastlike and squalidly poor; neither arms nor homes have they; their food is herbs, their clothing skins, their bed the earth. They trust wholly to their arrows, which, for want of iron, are pointed with bone. The men and the women are alike supplied by the chase; for the latter are always present, and demand a share of the prey. The little children have no shelter from wild beasts and storms but a covering of interlaced boughs. Such are the homes of the young, such the resting place of the old. Yet they count this greater happiness than groaning over field-labour, toiling at building, and poising the fortunes of themselves and others between hope and fear. Heedless of men, heedless of gods, they have attained that hardest of results, the not needing so much as a wish. All else is fabulous, as that the Hellusii and Oxiones have the faces and expressions of men, with the bodies and limbs of wild beasts. All this is unauthenticated, and I shall leave it open. 46. Peucinorum Vene dorumque et Fennorum nationes Germanis an Sarmatis ascribam, dubito: quanquam Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas vocant, sermone, cultu, sede ac domiciliis, ut Germani, agunt. Sordes omnium ac torpor procerum: connubiis mixtis, nonnihil in Sarmatarum habitum foedantur. Venedi multum ex moribus traxerunt. Nam quidquid inter Peucinos Fennosque silvarum ac montium erigitur, latrociniis pererrant. Hi tamen inter Germanos potius referuntur, quia et domos figunt et scuta gestant et pedum usu ac pernicitate gaudent; quae omnia diversa Sarmatis sunt, in plaustro equoque viventibus. Fennis mira feritas, foeda paupertas: non arma, non equi, non penates: victui herba, vestitui pelles, cubile humus: sola in sagittis spes, quas, inopia ferri, ossibus asperant. Idemque venatus viros pariter ac feminas alit. Passim enim comitantur, partemque praedae petunt. Nec aliud infantibus ferarum imbriumque suffugium, quam ut in aliquo ramorum nexu contegantur: huc redeunt juvenes, hoc senum receptaculum. Sed beatius arbitrantur, quam ingemere agris, illaborare domibus, suas alienasque fortunas spe metuque versare. Securi adversus homines, securi adversus deos, rem difficillimam assecuti sunt, ut illis ne vote quidem opus esset.

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