|Statue of the prophetess Veleda by Bucker (20th century) |
Tactius’ Germania is perhaps one of the most important texts we have concerning the religious practices (inter alia) of the Germanic tribes in the 1st century CE. While we should read Tacitus with caution, because he was not Germanic himself and because we cannot be certain that he ever travelled to the Germanic lands (in which case he would have assembled the work based on the descriptions of others including, perhaps, traders, Roman soldiers who had fought in those lands, or manned German border outposts, and possibly Germanic mercenaries and those serving in the auxilia who had moved to Roman territory), what is exciting about his account is that he was not a Christian, unlike many later writers who were to record aspects of indigenous Germanic religion. His bias was more along the lines of occasionally seeming to idealise the Germanic peoples in such a way as to suggest the comparative decadence of contemporary (Pagan) Romans. He emphasised that these Germanic tribes were almost universally composed of people who were warlike, brave, loyal and hardened by their climate – in short they were formidable enemies for whom Tacitus seems to feel admiration on the one hand and a kind of disgust or horror (at their “barbarism”, eg, because they practiced human sacrifice and had a supposed tendency towards drunkenness and violence) on the other.