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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Young men acknowledged as freemen and warriors



At this early period, the Germans had no cities, or even villages. Their places of worship, which were either groves of venerable oak-trees or the tops of mountains, were often fortified; and when attacked in the open country, they made a temporary defence of their wagons. They lived in log-houses, which were surrounded by stockades spacious enough to contain the cattle and horses belonging to the family. A few fields of rye and barley furnished each homestead with bread and beer, but hunting and fishing were their chief dependence. The women cultivated flax, from which they made a coarse, strong linen: the men clothed themselves with furs or leather. They were acquainted with the smelting and working of iron, but valued gold and silver only for the sake of ornament. They were fond of bright colors, of poetry and song, and were in the highest degree hospitable.

The three principal vices of the Germans were indolence, drunkenness and love of gaming. Although always ready for the toils and dangers of war, they disliked to work at home. When the men assembled at night, and the great ox-horns, filled with mead or beer, were passed from one to the other, they rarely ceased drinking until all were intoxicated; and when the passion for gaming came upon them, they would often stake their dearest possessions, even their own freedom, on a throw of the dice. The women were never present on these

occasions: they ruled and regulated their households with undisputed sway. They were considered the equals of the men, and exhibited no less energy and courage. They were supposed to possess the gift of prophecy, and always accompanied the men to battle, where they took care of the wounded, and stimulated the warriors by their shouts and songs.

They honored the institution of marriage to an extent beyond that exhibited by any other people of the ancient world. The ceremony consisted in the man giving a horse, or a yoke of oxen, to the woman, who gave him arms or armor in return. Those who proved unfaithful to the marriage vow were punished with death. The children of freemen and slaves grew up together until the former were old enough to carry arms, when they were separated. The slaves were divided into two classes: those who lived under the protection of a freeman and were obliged to perform for him a certain amount of labor, and those who were wholly "chattels," bought and sold at will.

Each family had its own strictly regulated laws, which were sufficient for the government of its free members, its retainers and slaves. A number of these families formed "a district," which was generally laid out according to natural boundaries, such as streams or hills. In some tribes, however, the families were united in "hundreds," instead of districts. Each of these managed its own affairs, as a little republic, wherein each freeman had an equal voice; yet to each belonged a leader, who was called "count" or "duke." All the districts of a tribe met together in a "General Assembly of the People," which was always held at the time of new or full moon. The chief priest of the tribe presided, and each man present had the right to vote. Here questions of peace or war, violations of right or disputes between the districts were decided, criminals were tried, young men acknowledged as freemen and warriors, and, in case of approaching war, a leader chosen by the people. Alliances between the tribes, for the sake of mutual defence or invasion, were not common, at first; but the necessity of them was soon forced upon the Germans by the encroachments of Rome.

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