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Coming soon: The wilds of Germania June 30, 2011

Posted by Jenny in ancient Rome, history.
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Tacitus

Followers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed that in recent weeks I’ve departed from my scheme of alternating posts about personal experiences (usually hiking) with posts on topics of history, art, philosophy, poetry, and other subjects. You have been getting an extra-heavy dose of hiking! But fear not, non-hikers, you will soon see a new series of posts on the subject of Germania, a mysterious region of ancient times east of the Rhine known to the Greeks and the Romans.

I will be using two writings of the Roman historian Tacitus as my touchstones: The Annals of Imperial Rome and Germania. Tacitus was a man of genius, meticulous in his collection of historical details, unblinking in his observations of moral hypocrisy, and supremely gifted in the balance, the heft, and the sharpness of his prose.

Here is a passage from the opening pages of Germania.

The Germans, I am apt to believe, derive their original from no other people; and are nowise mixed with different nations arriving amongst them: since anciently those who went in search of new buildings, traveled not by land, but were carried in fleets; and into that mighty ocean so boundless, and, as I may call it, so repugnant and forbidding, ships from our world rarely enter. Moreover, besides the dangers from a sea tempestuous, horrid and unknown, who would relinquish Asia, or Africa, or Italy, to repair to Germany, a region hideous and rude, under a rigorous climate, dismal to behold or to cultivate, unless the same were his native country?

Translated by Thomas Gordon, 1910.

Germania as of 116 A.D., with tribes described by Tacitus

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Comments»

1. Amanda Beal - June 30, 2011

Oh, I am looking forward to this! Have you ever seen the HBO series Rome? In the beginning Caesar’s army is just about to overthrow Vercingetorix of Gaul, and in a later episode shows Caesar parading the Gallic leader through the streets of Rome to his execution. I’d never read much about Gaul until I saw this series and found it rather fascinating. Germania seems like another one of those strange and wild lands. Looks like Tacitus came along a little later, but it’s close to the same time period.

“…the dangers from a sea tempestuous …” I love this line – reminds me of Mt. Winnesoka. đŸ™‚

Jenny - June 30, 2011

I’m glad you are interested! I enjoy the profound change of perspective that comes when you look at Europe in those days rather than as it has developed more recently. The differences from, say, 100 A.D. to 1000 A.D. to 2000 A.D. are simply fascinating.

2. Thomas Stazyk - July 1, 2011

I’m looking forward to this too! My knowledge in this area is limited to remembering my high school Latin and Vercingetorix!


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