Tacitus, a first century C.E. Roman historian, is renowned among contemporary historians for his extensive writings. Tacitus is credited with writing some of the oldest recorded descriptions of the Germanic peoples of antiquity. Tacitus’ Germania incorporates his understanding of the Germanic peoples with anecdotes from people who he encountered during his time there. Germania is undeniably a primary source for its historical period. It comprises descriptions of various peculiarities of the Germanic people and their culture, ranging from reports of government and authority to the high regard of women amongst the tribes to physical descriptions of the Germans.
The account sometimes compares Roman values with that of the Germanic tribes. Tacitus’ praises the Germanic tribes for their warrior courage, plain lifestyle, and monogamy in marriage while equally disfavouring their strong tendency for idleness, drunkenness, and other barbarisms. The detailed description of the aggressive nature of the tribes in Germania suggests that Tacitus wanted to highlight the threat they presented to the Roman Empire’s frontier.
The topic of marriage and relationships is particularly interesting because Tacitus seems to suggest that this aspect serves as an example of proper moral behavior for his fellow Romans. Tacitus appears to be implying that the Germanic traditions concerning marriage and the matrimonial law could provide a standard of ideal ethical conduct for his fellow Romans.
The text is an excellent primary source and describes a people who were contemporaries to Tacitus’ Rome. Additionally, Germania offers a comprehensive perspective on the Germanic peoples, covering many features of their culture.