Around the end of the first century CE, a Roman historian, Tactius, recorded his detailed observations of the early German society. Germans at the time were not considered to be as civilized as the Romans, referred to mainly as barbarians. But Tactius’ writings about these “barbarians” show some discrepancy to such a description. In fact, a hint of jealousy and/or admiration can be seen throughout Tactius’ accounts.
These ancient peoples of Germania held far different physical characteristics than the Romans, or most peoples of the era for that matter. With large body frames, light skin, blue eyes, and red hair, they were much unlike the black-haired, brown-eyed, darker skinned Romans. He described them as an “unmixed race”, of which no other was like. Here, you can see a bit of envy, because Romans at the time were becoming less and less pure, with a race mixed population increasing each day.
Another great difference Tactius records in this account is the German tactics of warfare. Generals were appointed by merit, not bloodline, and they led their troops by admirable example. They did not lead their troops as soldiers, but as kin. And that is because they were kin. Each battalion was formed of family and clan members, not just of random people solely by coincidence. And an even greater dissimilarity was the fact that the Germans brought their women and children with them into battle (not in battle, but close by at the camps). What man cannot give his whole heart in battle while hearing his wife and children scream in the background?
Tactius also speaks of the German justice system. Crime was publicly punished, for example being hanged on a tree, whereas infamy was privately buried so it was not imitated. And not as sever offenses were punished proportionately to the crime and half of the reparations were paid to the victim of the crime. Marriage laws were also extremely varied to that of the Romans, and even other barbaric cultures of the time-period. Each man was allowed only one wife, and the husband did not “propose” to her, she “proposed” to him. By “propose”, it is meant that the wife would bring offerings of dower to the man and his family, to be accepted or not, as was the woman.
This is far different than Romans did at the time. The Germans showed more respect and equality to women than the Romans could even famish. Also in courtship relations, adultery was almost never committed. Adulteresses were condemned horribly and publicly humiliated. And chastity was important to. Women who lost their virginity before marriage were shunned and destined to never find a legitimate husband. These decent sexual practices are nothing like the Hedonistic Romans of the time. Here also is a hint of jealousy in Tactius.
Overall, the Germans of this era were much unlike any other culture, especially the Romans. And I believe that Tactius was both intrigued and confused by the German practices. Some he saw absurd, while others exemplary. The Germans were in the category of barbarians, but I feel they were far from it. Many of their morals are practiced today in our time.