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Have you read Caesar's description of the ancient Germans?

by (3268)
Updated about 10 hours ago
Created July 08, 2010 at 2:31 PM

Has anyone read Caesar's Commentary on the Gallic Wars? His discussions of the (paleo) Germanic tribes is very interesting. Meat? Check. Raw dairy? Check. Cold baths? Check. Plenty of time outdoors? Check. Great physical size, strength, and vigor? Check!

The nation of the Suevi is by far the largest and the most warlike nation of all the Germans.... They do not live much on corn, but subsist for the most part on milk and flesh, and are much [engaged] in hunting; which circumstance must, by the nature of their food, and by their daily exercise and the freedom of their life (for having from boyhood been accustomed to no employment, or discipline, they do nothing at all contrary to their inclination), both promote their strength and render them men of vast stature of body. And to such a habit have they brought themselves, that even in the coldest parts they wear no clothing whatever except skins, by reason of the scantiness of which, a great portion of their body is bare, and besides they bathe in open rivers.

Their whole life is occupied in hunting and in the pursuits of the military art; from childhood they devote themselves to fatigue and hardships. Those who have remained chaste for the longest time, receive the greatest commendation among their people; they think that by this the growth is promoted, by this the physical powers are increased and the sinews are strengthened.... They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh.

There are many modern studies of the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, but who knows about other ancient texts that describe pre-agricultural peoples?

B9cbcb55e622f574368aec33052c0f08
90 · April 20, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Dan Carlin rocks!

D3f3b91d1dd9ce60865654faeb2ec809
565 · January 25, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Right. Clearly that's worth a downvote. How dare I read history?

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c
4258 · January 25, 2012 at 4:25 PM

mm, this makes me even more proud of my Celtic and Germanic roots. I think I was meant to be a caveman.

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c
4258 · January 25, 2012 at 4:23 PM

I do love me some Mongolian barbecue! I've gotten odd looks for the quantity of meat and eggs in my bowl. :-)

5c6d2426000079749240d1a566017369
28 · October 05, 2010 at 4:01 AM

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/218 (If you can read Latin) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10657 (English)

Db56a3a7ef6f208222cb501f29741b64
30 · July 22, 2010 at 9:47 PM

the Germans practiced both agriculture and husbandry, the latter was extremely important both as a source of dairy products and as a basis for wealth and social status, which was measured by the size of an individual's herd. The diet consisted mainly of the products of farming and husbandry and was supplied by hunting to a very modest extent. Barley and wheat were the most common agricultural products and were used for baking a certain flat type of bread as well as brewing beer. The fields were tilled with a light-weight wooden plow, although heavier models also existed in some areas.

48f9bb680fbc1bc1bd0d9cb09ee10273
230 · July 21, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Ah - to be able to go back and live in the good 'ole days!

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 20, 2010 at 8:53 PM

Pfw, That's a fair -- and astute -- point. I would note, however, that other commentators (who were not conquering emperors) made similar observations. The historian Diodorus Siculus, relying on various contemporary sources, describes the Gauls as "very tall in stature, with rippling muscles under clear white skin." While Tacitus, who travelled there extensively, repeatedly remarks in the _Germania_ on their great size and physical prowess.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff
7821 · July 20, 2010 at 6:38 PM

Keep in mind that Casaer wasn't writing as an anthropologist but as an aspiring emperor. Defeating the quivering nomads would have been pretty lame, but defeating the wild, meat eating barbarians would have been pretty awesome. I'm not saying he's a totally unreliable narrator, just that some salt should be taken along with anything he wrote in the Commentaries.

D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423
821 · July 12, 2010 at 11:59 AM

nothing personal. I've given you many up votes!

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397
1165 · July 10, 2010 at 6:53 AM

I meant barely. Sorry was typing on my iphone, the words jumps around as you type on this forum so it lends to mistypes.

424563ee2575f0620ea221badabb40d7
272 · July 10, 2010 at 2:45 AM

Yes, an interesting post of a different kind.

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921
4991 · July 09, 2010 at 7:13 AM

Isn't barley classed as a grain?

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc
15976 · July 08, 2010 at 11:00 PM

zing! my bad zohar:)

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · July 08, 2010 at 8:09 PM

This is my all-time favorite PaleoHacks question.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · July 08, 2010 at 7:04 PM

Isn't the English language fun :)

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · July 08, 2010 at 7:01 PM

Corn in this case means wheat or barley. In Britain wheat is often refered to as corn, while we call corn "sweet corn" if its fresh or "maize" if it is for animals food. In the past "Corn" used to be a word for small grains.

40afb250cd453dc2c3374f3d5aa122b3
30 · July 08, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Corn is a generic term for grain. What we call corn is more properly called maize and only took its modern name recently.

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397
1165 · July 08, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Have you seen the Bizarre Foods episode when they went to Mongolia? They still eat this way. They eat a TON of fat, then meat and fermented dairy with barley any vegetables and no grain that I could see of. I remember watching the show and thinking "wow, this is the most Paleo country in the world." Some of the food is hardcore though, like the cheese that is made fermenting in the corpse of a dead animal.

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 6:16 PM

Oh, and he didn't just "encounter their warriors." The book is a detailed sociological treatise on the religion, politics, economies, domestic arrangements, etc. of the Celts, Gauls, Germans, and others.

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Perhaps I should not have used the word "pre-agricultural," but I think you are nit-picking. Caeser distinctly says, twice(!) that they did not depend much on agriculture and subsisted mainly on meat and dairy (in stark contrast to the Romans, who ate a lot of bread). Do have any citations that provide evidence to the contrary?

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e
10294 · July 08, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Glenss, that is really nice. Could you add it to the thread here: http://paleohacks.com/questions/2440/paleo-or-paleo-friendly-qoutes-or-stories-from-non-paleo-sources? thanks

B485f0cf678c0b420941e883adfea28d
304 · July 08, 2010 at 3:57 PM

Good find, that's really freakin cool

D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423
821 · July 08, 2010 at 3:20 PM

This is a comment, not an answer

D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423
821 · July 08, 2010 at 3:13 PM

Fascinating. It wouldn't surprise me if you'd find something in Herodotus. This is one for the classical scholars

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 3:01 PM

Ben, Here you go! http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html

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9 Answers

1a641bbff1a7b0a70f08410376bbdf6b
10
1587 · July 08, 2010 at 6:50 PM

Another interesting Quote:

Compared to the Jurched [Chinese] soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and they fought men who lived on ... gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones.

In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004) by Jack Weatherford, (p. 87)

xD

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c
4258 · January 25, 2012 at 4:23 PM

I do love me some Mongolian barbecue! I've gotten odd looks for the quantity of meat and eggs in my bowl. :-)

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397
1165 · July 10, 2010 at 6:53 AM

I meant barely. Sorry was typing on my iphone, the words jumps around as you type on this forum so it lends to mistypes.

4e184df9c1ed38f61febc5d6cf031921
4991 · July 09, 2010 at 7:13 AM

Isn't barley classed as a grain?

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397
1165 · July 08, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Have you seen the Bizarre Foods episode when they went to Mongolia? They still eat this way. They eat a TON of fat, then meat and fermented dairy with barley any vegetables and no grain that I could see of. I remember watching the show and thinking "wow, this is the most Paleo country in the world." Some of the food is hardcore though, like the cheese that is made fermenting in the corpse of a dead animal.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
5
20787 · July 20, 2010 at 5:48 PM

I would guess that any migratory people would be eating a healthier diet simply because they would not have time to farm the land. Domestical animals can be herded along so meat and milk would at least be mobile. They would not have to worry as much about depleting local game and grazing area as long as they kept moving. However, if those same people were to then settle down in one place and their population was large, they would simply by necesity probably need to change their eating patterns to a more agricultural one. I would not be surprised if we were to find a healthy paleo oriented diet amongst most if not all migratory populations. -Eva

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1
3
22913 · September 28, 2010 at 5:27 PM

Largely vegetarian Bantu tribes such as the Kikuyu and Wakamba were agriculturists. Their diet consisted of sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas, millet and Kafir corn or sorghum. They were less robust than their meat-eating neighbors, and tended to be dominated by them.

-Dr Weston Price

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1
28 · October 04, 2010 at 5:53 AM

Looks familiar! I remember I had to translate this (or a similar text) from Latin to German when I was in "Gymnasium" (High School).

5c6d2426000079749240d1a566017369
28 · October 05, 2010 at 4:01 AM

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/218 (If you can read Latin) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10657 (English)

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397
1
1165 · July 08, 2010 at 6:22 PM

Yes I have read this before but your translation is curious as it mentions corn which is a New World food. But it is a great read.

Also as another poster pointed out the Germans did have animal husbandry. If you are interested in huge ancient people I think that the Tocharians are really interesting. They were a migrating band of Celtic people who settled the deserts of Western China 3,000 years ago, before even Chinese people had made it there. They buried their dead as mummies and some that have been dug up recently were as tall as 6'6. They were also buried with bags of what we now call "medicinal medicine."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocharians.... http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28034925/

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · July 08, 2010 at 7:04 PM

Isn't the English language fun :)

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · July 08, 2010 at 7:01 PM

Corn in this case means wheat or barley. In Britain wheat is often refered to as corn, while we call corn "sweet corn" if its fresh or "maize" if it is for animals food. In the past "Corn" used to be a word for small grains.

40afb250cd453dc2c3374f3d5aa122b3
30 · July 08, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Corn is a generic term for grain. What we call corn is more properly called maize and only took its modern name recently.

9d741bcbe702044635f2ce3078043054
1
1485 · July 08, 2010 at 5:54 PM

The Germanic tribes may have engaged in hunting, but they were definitely not pre-agricultural. They farmed and had domesticated animals. They and their ancestors had been farming in Europe for thousands of years by the time of Caesar.

Caesar encountered their warriors, who certainly would have engaged in hunting, as did warriors in Europe for the next thousand years.

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c
4258 · January 25, 2012 at 4:25 PM

mm, this makes me even more proud of my Celtic and Germanic roots. I think I was meant to be a caveman.

Db56a3a7ef6f208222cb501f29741b64
30 · July 22, 2010 at 9:47 PM

the Germans practiced both agriculture and husbandry, the latter was extremely important both as a source of dairy products and as a basis for wealth and social status, which was measured by the size of an individual's herd. The diet consisted mainly of the products of farming and husbandry and was supplied by hunting to a very modest extent. Barley and wheat were the most common agricultural products and were used for baking a certain flat type of bread as well as brewing beer. The fields were tilled with a light-weight wooden plow, although heavier models also existed in some areas.

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 6:16 PM

Oh, and he didn't just "encounter their warriors." The book is a detailed sociological treatise on the religion, politics, economies, domestic arrangements, etc. of the Celts, Gauls, Germans, and others.

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Perhaps I should not have used the word "pre-agricultural," but I think you are nit-picking. Caeser distinctly says, twice(!) that they did not depend much on agriculture and subsisted mainly on meat and dairy (in stark contrast to the Romans, who ate a lot of bread). Do have any citations that provide evidence to the contrary?

0a14995ac154eae8242b67115c9cc6c3
0
158 · April 20, 2012 at 8:17 PM

Dan Carlin goes over this extensively in his podcast "Hardcore History"

The episode is "thor's angels"

http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hharchive/Show-41---Thor*s-Angels/Dark%20ages-medieval-antiquity

B9cbcb55e622f574368aec33052c0f08
90 · April 20, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Dan Carlin rocks!

D3f3b91d1dd9ce60865654faeb2ec809
-1
565 · January 25, 2012 at 3:46 AM

Of course I have. Not just some english rendition- I translated it myself =)

D3f3b91d1dd9ce60865654faeb2ec809
565 · January 25, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Right. Clearly that's worth a downvote. How dare I read history?

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc
-1
15976 · July 08, 2010 at 2:52 PM

this is rad. Where'd you find it? Online somewhere im guessing - i'd love to be able to read the copy in full. Cheers

D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423
821 · July 12, 2010 at 11:59 AM

nothing personal. I've given you many up votes!

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc
15976 · July 08, 2010 at 11:00 PM

zing! my bad zohar:)

D339c39d94d65460e28128174845f423
821 · July 08, 2010 at 3:20 PM

This is a comment, not an answer

03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98
3268 · July 08, 2010 at 3:01 PM

Ben, Here you go! http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html

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