Within the forests of Germania, ﬁerce tribes lived, comprising men and women who would never be broken by invaders. Throughout the life of the Roman Republic and on into Empire, Germania was never fully tamed and its warriors soon became greatly respected by the legions. The lands to the east of the Rhine were lethal for any legionary daring to venture into this dark wilderness.
The name Germania was mostly used to describe the region east of the Rhine and north of the Danube rivers. In Rome, it was called Magna Germania (Greater Germania), while the tribes who dwelt there often referred to it as Germania Libera (Free Germania). While the territory west of the Rhine was technically Germania (or Lesser Germania, at least) as well, it was more populated by Gauls and fell under Roman rule.
Society & Law
Julius Caesar himself said that while there were similarities between the Gauls and the Germanic tribesmen, the Gauls could be civilised given the appropriate attention. No such words were used to describe the Germans, who were thought to be savage in the extreme and the greatest threat posed to Roman-dominated Gaul. It is said that Pytheas of Massalia’s account of his exploration, in which it is possible he ﬁrst encountered Germanians, was later rejected by writers who refused to believe his stories. Roman legionaries came to fear the Germanic tribes and rued any orders to invade their territory and bring them to heel. The Roman leader Tacitus did, however, make many derisive comparisons between the sturdy Germanic warriors and what he considered to be the indulgent, eﬀeminate Romans.
Within the tribes, free Germanic warriors voted for the kings that led them, rather than tolerate a hereditary monarchy of any sort. Ruling by the consensus of the free men below him, a tribal king was more likely to inspire bravery in battle than a tyrant, which accounted for at least part of the Germanic tribes’ success in war.