Of spectacles [they have] but a singular kind and at every gathering the same: naked youths, for whom it is a sport, hurl themselves a-leaping, amidst swords and threatening spears. Training procures skill; skill, grace. It is not so much for profit or pay, however much the audacity of the sportsmanship, [rather] the reward is the satisfaction of the spectators.
Genus spectaculorum unum atque in omni coetu idem: nudi juvenes, quibus id ludicrum est, inter gladios se atque infestas frameas saltu iaciunt. exercitatio artem paravit, ars decorem, non in quaestum tamen est aut mercedem: quamvis audacis lasciviae pretium est voluptas spectantium.
Tacitus, On the Origin and Disposition of the Germans, XXIV,1-2.
An Exploration of Trade Along the Romano-German Frontier:
Part I: Introduction and Prehistory.
People who are in despair and unhappiness, carrying out hated tasks in a grudging spirit, do not take the trouble to raise magnificent monuments or make imposing dedications; they have not the heart for it. But a large portion of the Latin Corpus–-apart from the epitaphs–-is filled with the inscriptions of merchants who made votive offerings after successful voyages, gave splendid buildings to their native cities, and set up monuments to the emperor, sometimes as private individuals, sometimes as members of a guild or a corporation.”
M. P. Charlesworth, Trade-Routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire. 2nd Ed., Rev., New York: Cooper Square Publishers. 1970. xiv.
Even before her legions began marching northwards into the forests and fens of supposedly untrammeled Europe, Rome’s merchant men had visited beyond the Alps, perhaps as far as Scandinavia and Britannia. These merchants would play a significant role in exploring, contacting, and reporting on the northern barbarian tribes, their nature, and their lands. Well before the idea of conquest had arisen in the minds of Pompey, Caesar, and other ambitious men of the Roman elite, stalwart equites, corporate concerns, and other business interests, were spreading the currency of empire in the form of coin, wine, and other luxuries. Caesar made good use of these intrepid traders’ logistical skills and geographical knowledge during his invasions of Gaul and Britain, as we shall see. Similarly, Tacitus understood how this soft power could be used to undermine traditional tribal cultures.
But difficult questions remain about the merchants themselves, either unanswered or addressed only obscurely in the literary sources. Who are these merchants, thesemercatores: are they Roman or aboriginal, or else a mixture of the two? What is their social status; how do they capitalize on their activities; and how far and by what means do they travel in order to deal in their wares? Moreover, what was the nature of their trade, and what routes did they take?
German and Celtic trade with foreign merchants, that is, with the so-called civilized world of the Mediterranean basin, surely predated the rise of a Roman power in northwestern Europe. As Roman scholar Olwen Brogan has noted, “The conception of an illimitable forest primeval stretching unbroken from the borders of the empire into the furthest recesses of barbarism is very far from the truth.”  The Celts, and to some extent the more northerly Germans, had been modifying their environment, building tracks and roads, cultivating land, fortifying oppida, and trading, both among themselves and with the outside world, for centuries before the Romans appeared upon the Rhine.
One important demonstration of the trade links that existed between the Classical Mediterranean Cultures and the European interior is provided by the Hochdorf grave site, a Hallstatt culture burial from the Early Iron Age, circa 530 BCE, near modern Eberdingen, part of the Black Forest state of Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. The burial hord, likely that of a local chieftain, consists of, among other grave goods, a large iron-trimmed carriage or cart, likely to have been used in the burial ceremony, several drinking horns, and, tellingly, an oversized–500 liter capacity–Grecian cauldron of bronze. 
Hochdorf’s location, far distant from any Grecian ports, indicates that the connection from Western Greece extended deeply into the interior of the country. The size and the difficulty that transportation must have represented, together with the richness of the other grave goods, shows that there must have been significant wealth and/or political power on the Celtic side of the exchange as well.
The sheen of precious metals, the vibrant colors of the cloth, the magnificence of the wagon and the bronze cauldron speak vibrantly to the power and wealth of the chief who had been buried.”
(Price, Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, Oxford: OUP: 2013. 311).
The Hallstatt period was followed by the La Téne culture of the Late Iron Age of Europe, a culture that is also considered Celtic, though it was present in many areas that would later be dominated by tribes speaking Germanic languages. This period is distinguished for its large scale cooperative organizational skills, talents that were brought to bear in the habitual construction of fortified towns known as oppida, which characterize the gradual urbanization experienced during this period. These oppida are, characteristically, large defensive settlements built on hilltops, defended by ditches and timber walls, and containing zones for manufacture of tools, weapons, and pottery. These fortress villages were also used to dominate and control the junctions of trade routes, river fords, and mountain passes.  Such oppida ranged in size from as little as 25 to as much as 1,500 acres. 
While there are few visible remains of such settlements, they were numerous throughout western Europe during the pre-Imperial Roman period. Photographs from San Cibrao de Las, a second century BC oppidum located in modern Spain, may give some indication of their scale.
The introduction of Roman trade goods into these economies has been credited with expanding the pace of iron production among these settlements from as early as the 2nd century BCE.  Trade with the La Téne provided Mediterranean cultures with access to “salt, tin and copper, amber, wool, leather, furs, and gold.” 
The long distance trade network necessary to provide amber as a luxury item to the Classical world was remarked upon even in antiquity. Pliny the elder notes the product’s origin–called ‘glaesum’ by the Germans–as having been located in the islands of the Northern Ocean: “It is conveyed by the Germans mostly into the province of Pannonia. From there it was first brought into prominence by the Veneti, known to the Greeks as the Enetoi, who are close neighbours of the Pannonians and live around the Adriatic.” 
In his On the Origin and Disposition of the Germans, Tacitus notes popular tradition that the Germans had been visited by Hercules in the distant past. Hercules being an inveterate traveler of the ancient world, it would be surprising if he had not visited Germany in myth. Another tradition he relates includes Odysseus as a former visitor. This time, however, Tacitus references a material artifact to bolster the claim, an altar to Laertes, father of the quick-witted sailor. Tacitus also remarks that German lands are said to possess “monuments and funerary barrows with inscriptions in Greek lettering.” 
Tacitus has been much criticised, it often being asserted that he never visited the homelands of the people he wrote about in his Germania, and that his ethnographic work was primarily a cribbed synthesis of a now lost ethnography belonging to the hand of Pliny. The archaeology must give one pause, however, before dismissing the possibility of an ancient Greco-German connection, whatever Tacitus’ failings as an ethnographer. Archaeology shows us that during the Iron Age, before the rise of the Roman Empire, and even back into the mythic period of the Roman Kings and beyond, German lands were in contact with the southern reaches of Western Europe. The Celtic and proto-Germanic cultures that thrived there were not isolated and primitive forest dwellers as it might be believed, but were capable of mobilizing resources and populations in a coordinated manner, constructing massive fortifications, and maintaining long-distance trade networks.
 Olwen Brogan. “Trade between the Roman Empire and the Free Germans,” The Journal of Roman Studies, col. 26. pt. 2. 1936: 195  T. Douglas Price, Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, Oxford: OUP: 2013. 307-311  Price, Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, Oxford: OUP: 2013.  Bruce Bower. “Iron and Industry: Ancient Links.” Science News135, no. 11 (1989): 170-71. 170. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3973238.  ibid.  Price, Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, Oxford: OUP: 2013. 290.  Pliny, Natural History, XXXVII, 42-43.  Tac. Germ. 3
In the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the king of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon, is notoriously killed by a boar during a royal trophy hunt. While Game of Thrones clearly draws on medieval imagery, myths, and histories to build its world, there are also many ideas and tropoi drawn from the ancient lore of the classical era. The idea of a deadly boar hunt with dreadful consequences was, in fact, a set piece in ancient literature dating all the way back to the time of Homer. The subject of ancient hunting is one that still fascinates and plays upon our imaginations. The idea of men, armed with little more than spears, their wits, and superior organization, confronting raw nature, armed of tooth and claw, is one that engages our sense of drama and fair play, even if such notions exaggerate the danger and rawness represented by the reality of these situations.
Many such stories can also be difficult for modern readers to access. The social dynamics that underlie such hunts are often invisible, poorly documented, and difficult to relate to, whereas the natural environment in terms of flora, fauna, its ruggedness in general, has been radically transformed by the modern industrial age and uncounted generations of urban living. Such dramatic changes in lifestyle and environment can make understanding the conventions that rule the ancient hunting narrative seem alien and exotic. Add to these obscurations a few thick layers of mythological allusion and technical jargon, and the result is a specialist literature, existing within an already specialized field, that few casual readers will find easy to parse.
Few sports or activities carried the same weight and reputation for nobility as hunting did for the antique mind. Xenophon, in his essay on hunting, the Cynegetica, charges the gods Apollo and Artemis with the invention of the art of hunting as well as with the use of hounds. He goes on to describe how these arts passed from them to the pedagogic centaur, Cheiron, whom he credits with having taught the art of coursing to many numerous and well-named heroes and demigods. In the end, he concludes that hunting is a noble activity worthy of the aristocratic curriculum of noble youths: “Therefore I charge the young not to despise hunting or any other schooling. For these are the means by which men become good in war and in all things out of which must come excellence in thought and deed” (Xenophon, “On Hunting,” Scripta Minora. E. C. Marchant, trans.: I, passim, & 18. ).
Though there is no doubt about the popularity and enthusiasm with which the ancients greeted Olympic games, arena combats, and displays of horsemanship, hunting myths and stories seem to occupy their own special register within the antique canon. Such pastimes are ones to which, perhaps, the lower classes need not have paid much heed. Certainly, the need for the acquisition of specialized equipment like expensive and labor-intensive nets, leather gear, spears and weapons of all sorts, as well as specialized hunting animals such as hounds and even horses, would have put thes grand chases beyond the reach of the typical peasantry, or even the middle-classes of well-heeled land-owners. The kinds of hunting described in Xenophon and Homer was the special province of old-money, the newly rich, and their favored hangers-on.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that the impoverished hoi polloi of antiquity never hunted, only that their game and means of acquiring it were more modest than those detailed in the grand tales of kings, heroes, and their retinues. The more mundane stories didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. Ancient writers and bards knew where their bread was buttered. There was proportionally more at stake for the nobility, as well, at least from the aristocrat’s own point of view. Honor in deeds was clearly far more important in the grand scheme of things than any such vague and unlikely circumstance as starvation.
Glory, timé, was the quarry sought by ancient hunters, not base sustenance. Thus, if some wild animal could be cast as a ferocious monster gleefully frightening children, threatening livestock, and rooting around destructively in precious acreage, then, all the better. Such natural or prodigious disasters constituted a need for action and engendered the necessary endeavor, the hunt—fortuitously a means, as well, to proudly display one’s excellence, one’s areté, in defense of the thankful populace.
The famous episode of the Calydonian Boar hunt is the epitome of just such noblesse obligé in action. Featured in not just one but two of the great epic poems of antiquity, Homer’s Iliad and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the tale relates just such an expedition of the aristocracy defending the land from a monsterous quarry.According to the blind poet, Artemis had sent down an evil upon the city in the form of a “fierce wild boar with the shining teeth, who after the way of his kind did much evil to the orchards of Oineus. For he ripped up whole tall trees from the ground and scattered them headlong roots and all, even to the very flowers of the orchard …” (Homer, Iliad. 9, 539-542. Lattimore trans.). Ovid’s description of the beast is even more dramatic:
… And the goddess Loosed over Calydon a great avenger, A boar as big as a bull, with blood-shot eyes, A high stiff neck, and the bristles rising from it Like spears along a wall, and hot foam flecking The shoulders, dripping from the jaws that opened With terrible grunting sounds; his tusks were long As an Indian elephant’s, and lightning flashed Out of his mouth, and his breath would burn the grasses.”
That the creature was destructive of the orchard was a fitting punishment for Oineus’ failure to appease the goddess huntress with a proper offering of his and its first fruits. Appropriately, too, Artemis would send discord to the whole polis, using the spectacle of the hunt itself, her special provenance, as its vector.
Meleager, Oineus’s son and prince of Calydon, is credited with dispatching the beast, but only after setting forth with a hunting party mustered on a military scale. Ovid provides a whole catalog of heroes invited along on the expedition. Homer warns us that the Calydonian boar had killed already: “so huge was he, and had put many men on the sad fire for burning.” (Homer, Iliad. 9, 546). The fire was a funeral pyre.
Even heroes, it seems, are subject to the stab and thrust of ivory tusks. In Ovid’s account of the battle Eupalamus and Pelagaon are knocked down and must be rescued by their companions, Enaesimus suffers worse, being hamstrung by the beast, and Hippasus is gored in the thigh. Ancaeus, ‘a man from Arcas’ is fully gored in the abdomen,”… and the ground was soaked in blood, Smeared with his entrails.”(Ovid, Metamorphoses. 8, 328ff. Rolf Humphries, trans., 192-3).
A wild boar could. in fact, be dangerous, even if the epics exaggerated the risks. Boars have long fierce tusks, and will turn and fight if threatened, more so to defend their young. All the better a vehicle, then, for the pursuit of much desired glory, and a good reason, too, for vaunting and boasting about one’s martial prowess, assuming one has, indeed, brought home the bacon. It was a dispute over honors, over who deserved the hide and head as trophy from the gigantic swine, that led to the war in Calydon, at least this is how the poets spin it. Even though Meleager had killed the beast, the recipient of the prince’s favor in the form of the hide, would be endowed with great renown. Thus, the means to the end of the creature, an assembly of “many hunting men out of numerous cities with their hounds,” also become the source of discord that completed the design of Artemis’ cruel punishment (Homer, Iliad. 9,454-45).
Homer assumed that his readers already knew the story. He reveals few details about why the Aitolians and the Kouretes have taken to “slaughtering one another about the city of Kalydon,” only that the Kouretes are laying siege to the city (cleverly mirroring the Achaean siege of Troy) and that they are warring “over the head of the boar and the bristling boar’s hide…” (Homer, Iliad. 9,530; 548). Ovid gives us more. Meleager, the prince of Calydon, having killed the beast, has given the trophies, head and hide, to the woman huntress, runner, and archer, Atalanta; her having drawn first blood. That such prizes, the very essence of timé, should have been offered to a woman, was more offence than the proud and arrogant Kouretes could bear. The result was a protracted siege lain against the prince and his people.
That a quarrel over a big game trophy could be accused of starting a full fledged war reveals the importance attached to hunting and its prizes among the ancient nobility. As a means of establishing social credibility as leaders, as a demonstration of protection provided and worthy of the allegiance of the people, as a mark for establishing social status among their peers, the hunts provided tangible evidence. Rank was everything, shame unendurable, in the aristocratic world of antiquity. These aristocratic engagements were, as time would show, remarkably stable in function, descending down from ancient times into the middle ages and beyond. In many ways these events became the forbears to the fully ritualized bloodletting of the aristocratic fox hunts, only recently banned in the United Kingdom. It is no surprise then that a boar hunt could turn the world on its head, given the stakes for which it was undertaken – it represented the very rights to rule, authority, and power. And that, readers, is no tame or dim unwary beast.
No other race is so profusely kind in feasts and entertainments. To deny a mortal shelter is considered a sin among them, and each, according to his fortune, welcomes guests with the provision of sumptuous dishes.
Convictibus et hospitiis non alia gens effusius indulget. quemcumque mortalium arcere tecto nefas habetur; pro fortuna quisque apparatis epulis excipit.
Tacitus, On the Origin and Disposition of the Germans, XXI,2.
While it may seem obvious to many in the contemporary world that human history is a story of progressive and cumulative change, moving civilization and its citizens towards ever greater material, technological, and social advancement, such ideas are rather uncommon in the history of history. To modern social theorists, growth is everything. Technocrats and economists continually refine their measurements of per capita GDP and capital stockpiles in order to verify that we are, in fact, still growing materially. Such growth, according to theory, will result in the increased well being of individuals and the improvement of quality of life for each. Though scholars and academics often decry the so-called myth of progress, in practical terms it seems to have embedded itself in the socio-political matrix of the current age.
Traditionally, however, such linear and progressive views of history were unusual or even aberrant. Ancient myths often saw human history in terms of a decline through successively more brutal and decadent stages. What had once been a Golden Age of gods and god-like-men, was now, for the ancients, a corrupted Age of Iron and bloody warfare. Christian and Hebrew histories, too, saw civilization in terms of a fall, both material and spiritual. And, while Plato, in his Republic, envisioned a Utopia ruled by a philosopher king, even this perfected city-state was subject to decline and a reversion to anarchic type. The moral arc of history was unreliable at best, at worst perverse, and it appeared to bend in the wrong direction.
In the Early Modern Period (c.1500–c.1800), theorists such as Giambattista Vico, writing in his 1725 study of political philosophy, the New Science, could still see, in the rise and fall of civilizations, a cyclical and recursive process. Even more recently, public figures such as Steve Bannon have notably adhered to theories of cyclical history, such as the so called 4th Turning, which hypothesizes regularly predictable crises appearing in world history.
In light of this background, then, perhaps 19th and 20th century positivism may itself seem the deviation rather than the rule. But if it is the exception, then it is one that has ensconced itself within the societal control room, and Oz-like, has had its hand upon all the levers of politics and commerce for many decades.
The 18th century… saw the greatest flowering of belief in progress, with belief that a benevolent providence had secured for us perfectibility of knowledge and reason. In the 19th century belief in progress continued to flourish, with Comte and Marx equally enamoured of it.”
Simon Blackburn. “Progress,” Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.
In its progressive and political modes, positivism envisions society, properly managed, as susceptible to impelled growth by interventionist policy. Such theories have been linked with paternalistic colonialism, classical liberalism, racism, and unrestrained capitalism by their critics. They have also provided a concrete framework and systematic approach to governmental concerns by modern technocrats and economists since such positions began to move away from the control of political patrons and into the domain of professional careerists. But the base assumption is that the movement of history is in a positive direction; that happiness, if not goodness, increases; and that things are better, or at least grander, than they once were.
History came to be seen as a single linear progression encompassing every region of the globe. The future came to stand for improvement, rather than degeneration from a previous golden age or simply a product of inevitable cycles of rise and fall.
Lynn Hunt. History: Why It Matters. Polity Press: 2018. 93.
As far as we know, Thucydides is the first historian to take an analytical approach to history, and in the Archaeology in particular, he attempts to provide a progressive account of Greek history. Thucydides purpose is not merely to describe what happened or relate popular stories about events, but to understand the causal reason behind events. Thucydides knew what had happened, he wanted to know why.
The Archaeology is normally considered to be comprised of the next twenty chapters following the first—by some accounts twenty-two—of the first book of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In the Jones and Powell’s Oxford critical edition, the standard scholarly version of this work, the Archaeology consists of fewer than 150 lines of Greek text. The text is so named, not because it deals with archaeology in the modern sense of the word, but rather because it is an account, a logia, of ‘the earliest events’ (archaia) (Hornblower, A Commentary On Thucydides, 1991:3).
The purpose of the Archaeology is to defend Thucydides’ initial supposition that the war was the greatest (megista) of any such events up until that time, and that it was necessarily greater due to the relative weakness of the Hellenes and their states in prior eras.
Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it…. Indeed this was the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Hellenes, but of a large part of the barbarian world—I had almost said mankind. Thucydides: I.1.1-2
Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides. Robert Strassler editor. Free Press: 2008. 3.
In order to demonstrate this, Thucydides provides the reader with a broad overview of the development of Greek power from the earliest times known to him: through the Minoan period, the Trojan war as related by Homer, and finally down to his own present, the 5th Century BC.
To show that this war was the greatest conflict ever engaged, Thucydides needed to illustrate how an expansion of power and organization could build up a civilization out of the rough building blocks of brigandage and raw subsistence. Thucydides invents the idea of progress in order to justify his history. What Thucydides constructs with this new model of thinking is the history of a Greece, and especially an Athens, that possesses an ever widening circle of influence and power. From this it must follow that only in his own time were the Greek powers able to undertake such an all-encompassing endeavor as the Peloponnesian war, since in prior ages they lacked both the political unity and the resources to do so.
So powerful is Thucydides’ belief in his thesis that he is willing to directly challenge received tradition, even when that tradition is the semi-sacred Homeric account of the Trojan War. Thucydides represents the powers of Mycenaean antiquity in their invasion of Illium, not as a massive overweening power gone abroad to project its power, but as a pathetic ragtag force of would be pirates, barely able to sustain itself in the field.
So that if we strike the average of the largest and smallest ships, the number of those who sailed will appear inconsiderable, representing as they did, the whole force of Hellas. And this was due not so much to scarcity of men as of money. Difficulty of subsistence made the invaders reduce the numbers of the army to a point at which it might live on the country during the prosecution of the war. Even on the victory they obtained on their arrival… there is no indication of their whole force having been employed; on the contrary, they seem to have turned to cultivation of the Cheronese [a nearby peninsula] and to piracy for want of supplies. Thucydides: I.1.10,5 ff.
Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides. Robert Strassler editor. Free Press: 2008. 9.
This great new modern power of Athens, now active as an empire in Thucydides’ own time, is shown to be possible because of three factors: economic growth leading to surplus resources, the spread of Greek culture and language across the Aegean and onto the Ionian shores of Asia Minor, and the political unification of diverse island and coastal populations under the umbrella of the Delian League.
While Sparta, though a land power, leads the Peloponnesian League, all of Athens’ power lies in her ability to project force and the threat of force through her navy, and the revenue which that produces. What the Archaeology’s analysis attempts to demonstrate is that all of this power and growth has been due primarily to sea power, and as such directly favors the Athenian camp. The Archaeology is not merely a statement of historical fact, but rather, since it attributes expansion as belonging to a particular kind of power, namely naval, it is also a kind of political manifesto.
That Athens was eventually defeated does nothing to lessen the impact of Thucydides’ hypothesis, since defeat only happened after Spartan forces themselves had acquired a sophisticated modern navy and could challenge the Athenian empire both on land as well as at sea. For Thucydides, naval power must ultimately be triumphant, since it was the best and swiftest vehicle for the spread of commerce and culture. It was his view that whosoever controlled shipping controlled the ancient Aegean, and who every controlled that controlled the world in which he lived. It was this insight, that the progression from rude exchange and clumsy piracy into expansive trade networks and sophisticated armadas, could be driven by the adoption of new technologies, openness to commerce, and the willingness to risk failure for the sake of expansion, that changed forever how power was viewed by history, historians, and the rulers who read them.
Greece in the 4th century is less well known and was, in many ways, less glamorous than the age of Perikles, opening as it did with the death of Socrates, colored by the fall of Athenian hegemony in the Aegean, and marred by political strife and violence in Athens in the wake of defeat in the Peloponnesian War of the previous century. Moreover, historical sources on the 4th Century Hellenes do not rise to the same level of excellence as that achieved by Thucydides, and the period is noted for a decline in both quantity and quality of literary output, though that same sort of qualitative judgement in antiquity may have in itself lead to the paucity of surviving texts.
For all of that, however, the 4th century features numerous characters and historical turns of great interest: the renewal of Athenian democracy under Thrasybulus; the crushing defeat of the Spartans by the Theban Epaminondas at Leuctra; and of course the legendary campaigns of Alexander the Great in Persia and beyond. Despite its general obscurity, the 4th century offers much of interest to the student or reader in history.
To the curious, some of the following secondary sources may be worth checking out:
Buck, Robert J., Boiotia and the Boiotian League: 423-371 B. C. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. 1994.
Buckler, John. The Theban Hegemony, 371-362 B.C. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1980.
Hanson, Victor Davis. The Soul of Battle. New York: the Free Press. 1999.
Tritle, Lawrence A. ed. The Greek World in the Fourth Century. New York: Routledge. 1997.
For those wanting primary sources, the foremost for following up and completing Thucydides is Xenophon. For Alexander and his campaigns see Arrian as well as Plutarch. While for the bird’s eye view Diodorus Siculus may prove useful and informative, though beware of dating issues.
Arrian, The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, New York: Anchor Books. 2012.
Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica. English & Greek. Vol. 7. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1933.
Plutarch. “Alexander.” The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Vols. 1 & 2. New York: The Modern Library. 1992.
Plutarch. ” Pelopidas .” The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Vols. 1 & 2. New York: The Modern Library. 1992.
Xenophon. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika. New York: Anchor Books. 2010.
This has just been added to my ‘must read’ list as an examination of the historical reception of Tacitus’ Germania.
When the Roman historian Tacitus wrote the Germania, a none-too-flattering little book about the ancient Germans, he could not have foreseen that centuries later the Nazis would extol it as “a bible” and vow to resurrect Germany on its grounds. But the Germania inspired—and polarized—readers long before the rise of the Third Reich. In this captivating history, Christopher B. Krebs traces the wide-ranging influence of the Germania, revealing how an ancient text rose to take its place among the most dangerous books in the world.
On The Gods and Their Rites as Practiced Among the Germans, part II.
Concerning the rest, they would never think to confine the gods by temple walls, nor to counterfeit into any limited human form the magnitude of the celestials: sacred groves and woods they consecrate, and designate as godly that mystery which they view with solitary reverence.
Ceterum nec cohibere parietibus deos neque in ullam humani oris speciem adsimulare ex magnitudine caelestium arbitrantur: lucos ac nemora consecrant deorumque nominibus appellant secretum illud, quod sola reverentia vident.
Tacitus, On the Origin and Disposition of the Germans, IX,3.
Despite Tacitus’s ethnocentrism and belief in the superiority of Roman culture, he also begrudgingly admires the German subjects of his ethnography as pure and untainted by the corruption of luxury that has, in his mind, weakened the empire. One purpose of his book may have been as a challenge and exhortation to the Roman elite to find a way to return to the rough virtue and stoic strength of the old Republican mores, especially to the new emperor Trajan (r. 98–17) whom he served as a former consul, a senator, and possibly as a proconsular provincial governor.
On The Gods and Their Rites as Practiced Among the Germans, part I
Of the gods, they cherish Mercury the most, to whom on certain days they are accustomed by divine decree to offer sacrifices, human and otherwise. Hercules and Mars they lawfully appease with animals. And part of the Suebi make sacrifices to Isis: by what cause and source this foreign rite I have learned little, except that its own sigil, in style the form of a ship, proves it a religion brought hence from afar.
Deorum maxime Mercurium colunt, cui certis diebus humanis quo que hostiis litare fas habent. Herculem ac Martem concessis animalibus placant. pars Sueborum et Isidi sacrificat: unde cause et origo peregrino sacro parum comperi nisi quod signum ipsum in modum liburnae figuratum docet advectam religionem.
Tacitus, On the Origin and Disposition of the Germans, IX,1-2.
One aspect of ancient ethnographies is that they rarely fail to note occurrences of human sacrifice among their subjects. A second feature, at lest among Roman commentators, was the supposition that all the gods of foreign peoples were actually just different aspects of gods that the Romans already knew. But, from other details in Tacitus’ descriptions, it does not seem that Germanic cultic practice was much at all like that of the Romans. Rather, the Germans seem to have believed in worshiping their gods in the natural environment not in constructed temples or sanctuaries, sanctifying groves and copses of trees for ritual purpose. This aspect of German religion is one of the key points that Tacitus makes in his study, and appears in later sections of this same chapter.