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

by (3112) Updated April 20, 2012 at 8:17 PM 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?

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9 Replies

1577 · 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)


20469 · 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

22684 · 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

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).

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/

1435 · 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.

15831 · 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

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"


565 · January 25, 2012 at 3:46 AM

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

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