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They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority. If they are energetic, if they are conspicuous, if they fight in the front, they lead because they are admired. . . . They also carry with them into battle certain figures and images taken from their sacred groves. And what most stimulates their courage is that their squadrons or battalions, instead of being formed by chance or by a fortuitous gathering, are composed of families and clans.2 Close by them, too, are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery — they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them, and who administer both food and encouragement to the combatants. . . .

About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. . . . When the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears. The most complimentary form of assent is to express approbation with their weapons. . . .

Penalties are distinguished according to the offense. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees, the coward, the unwarlike, the man stained with abominable vices, is plunged into the mire of the morass, with a hurdle put over him.1 This distinction in punishment means that crime, they think, ought to be publicly exposed, while infamy ought to be buried out of sight. Lighter offenses, too, have penalties proportioned to them; he who is convicted is fined a certain number of horses or of cattle. Half of the fine is paid to the king or to the state, half to the man whose wrongs are avenged and to his relatives. . . .

1 Tacitus, , 7, 11–12.

2 Groups of related families.

1 The hurdle, filled with stones to cause it to sink, was placed over the head of the offender.


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Chicago: "Government," Germany in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 264. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . "Government." Germany, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, page 264. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Government' in Germany. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.264. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from