Thursday, July 11, 2024

A More Perfect Union? Using the Gender Roles of Other Nations to Critique Your Own, Tacitus, Germania 18

Often, authors will use depictions of other nations as a mirror for their own society. Here Tacitus is glamorizing his depiction of Germanic marriages to criticize Roman women and marriages.

Name:   Tacitus [Publius Cornelius Tacitus]

Date:    56 – 117 CE

Region:   [modern Italy]  

Citation:  Germania 18

[Germanic tribes] treat marriage very seriously, and it’s the best part of their value system. Of all the other barbaric tribes out there, the Germans are the only ones who practice monogamy. Of course, there are a handful of exceptions, but the noblemen who have multiple wives do so out of political gain, and definitely not out of lust. The wife doesn’t provide a dowry to her husband; instead, the husband gives a dowry to his wife. Their parents and kin evaluate what he has to offer in the relationship—and these aren’t trifles that women nag for, or other things that new brides have. No, these are a yoke of bulls, a bridled horse, and a shield, spear, and sword. The wife accepts these gifts, and in turn, gives the same to her husband. This is seen as the highest bond, the holy rite of marriage that their religion dictates. To keep the woman from thinking that she is immune from hard work or military valor, she is warned at the start of the marriage that she is entering the relationship as a partner to her husband’s exploits and dangers, in both war and peace. This is what the team of bulls, the bridled horse, and the set of armor represents. They live together as one, and they die together as one. She is to accept this union, which she will in turn pass down untouched and pure to her children, her daughters-in-law, and her descendants.

Quamquam severa illic matrimonia, nec ullam morum partem magis laudaveris. Nam prope soli barbarorum singulis uxoribus contenti sunt, exceptis admodum paucis, qui non libidine, sed ob nobilitatem plurimis nuptiis ambiuntur. Dotem non uxor marito, sed uxori maritus offert. Intersunt parentes et propinqui ac munera probant, munera non ad delicias muliebres quaesita nec quibus nova nupta comatur, sed boves et frenatum equum et scutum cum framea gladioque. In haec munera uxor accipitur, atque in vicem ipsa armorum aliquid viro adfert: hoc maximum vinculum, haec arcana sacra, hos coniugales deos arbitrantur. Ne se mulier extra virtutum cogitationes extraque bellorum casus putet, ipsis incipientis matrimonii auspiciis admonetur venire se laborum periculorumque sociam, idem in pace, idem in proelio passuram ausuramque. Hoc iuncti boves, hoc paratus equus, hoc data arma denuntiant. Sic vivendum, sic pereundum: accipere se, quae liberis inviolata ac digna reddat, quae nurus accipiant, rursusque ad nepotes referantur.

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