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Women of the Teutonic Nations

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Women of England Woman In all ages and all countries. By: James, Bartlett Burleigh. Roman Women Woman In all ages and all countries. By: Brittain, Alfred. By: Effinger, John R. Yet Tacitus seems to represent their military equipment as being of a somewhat primitive type. Swords, helmets and coats of mail, he says, were seldom to be seen; in general they were armed only with huge shields, unwieldy spears and darts.

Here again he appears to be thinking of the western tribes; for elsewhere he states that some of the eastern peoples were armed with short swords and round shields - which probably were of comparatively small size, like those used in later times. This latter type of equipment prevailed also in the North, as may be seen, e. The favourite method of attack was by a wedge formation known later in the North as svinfylking , the point being formed by a chosen band of young warriors.

Certain tribes, such as the Tencteri, were famous for their horsemen, but the Germani in general preferred to fight on foot. Sometimes also we hear of specially trained forces in which the two arms were combined. Naval warfare is seldom mentioned. The art of sailing seems to have been unknown, and it is probable that down to the 3rd century the only peoples which could truly be described as seafaring were those of the Baltic and the Cattegat.

There is no doubt that Roman influence brought about a considerable advance in civilization during the early centuries of our era.

Women Of The Teutonic Nations Woman In all ages and all countries

The cultivation of vegetables and fruit trees seems to have been practically unknown before this period, and almost all their names testify to the source from which they were derived. We may notice also the introduction of the mill in place of the quern which hitherto had been in universal use.

In all such cases the tribes subject to the Romans, in the neighbourhood of the Rhine, were probably the chief channel by which Roman influence made its way, though account must also be taken of the fact that considerable numbers of warriors from remoter districts were attracted to serve in the Roman armies. Great improvements took place likewise in armour and weapons; the equipment of the warriors whose relics have been found in the Schleswig bog-deposits, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, appears to have been vastly superior to that which Tacitus represents as normal among the Germani of his day.

Yet the types, both in armour and dress, remained essentially Teutonic - or rather Celtic-Teutonic. Indeed, when in the course of time uniformity came to prevail over the greater part of Europe, it was the Teutonic rather than the Roman fashions which were generalized. The antiquity of the art of writing among the Teutonic peoples is a question which has been much debated. Tacitus says that certain marks were inscribed on the divining chips, but it cannot be determined with certainty whether these were really letters or not.

Indeed, by this time it was probably known to most of the Teutonic peoples, for several of the inscriptions found in Jutland and the islands of the Belt can hardly be of later date. As to the source from which it was derived opinions still differ, some thinking that it was borrowed from the Romans a century or two before this time, while others place its origin much farther back and trace it to one of the ancient Greek alphabets. It is clear both from literary and linguistic evidence that the character was chiefly used for writing on wood, but the inscriptions which have survived are naturally for the most part on metal objects - in Sweden, Norway and England also on monumental stones.

In Germany very few Runic inscriptions have been found, and there is nothing to show that the alphabet was used after the 8th century. In England also it seems not to have lasted much longer, but inscriptions are far more numerous. On the other hand, in Scandinavian countries it continued in use through the greater part of the middle ages - in Gotland till the 16th century; indeed, the knowledge of it seems never to have wholly died out.

In the course of time, however, it underwent many changes, and the earliest inscriptions must have been unintelligible for over a thousand years until they were deciphered by scholars within the last half century. The Roman alphabet first came into use among the western and northern Teutonic peoples after their adoption of Christianity. Funeral Customs. Throughout the stone age inhumation appears to have been universal, many of the neolithic tombs being chambers of considerable size and constructed with massive blocks of stone. Cremation makes its appearance first in the earlier part of the bronze age, and in the latter part of that age practically displaces the older rite.

In the early iron age there is less uniformity, some districts apparently favouring cremation and others inhumation. The former practice is the one recognized by Tacitus. In the national migration period, however, it fell into disuse among most of the continental Teutonic peoples, even before their conversion, though it seems to have been still practised by the Heruli in the 5th century and by the Old Saxons probably till a much later period.

It came into Britain with the Anglo-Saxon invaders and continued in use in certain districts perhaps until nearly the close of the 6th century. In Scandinavian lands the change noted by Icelandic writers may be dated about the 5th and 6th centuries, though inhumation was certainly not altogether unknown before that time.

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After the 6th century cremation seems not to have been common, if we may trust the sagas, but isolated instances occur as late as the 10th century. It is to be observed that cremation and the use of the barrow are not mutually exclusive, for cremated remains, generally in urns, are often found in barrows. On the other hand inhumation below the surface of the ground, without perceptible trace of a barrow, seems to have been the most usual practice during the national migration period, both in England and on the continent.

A special form of funeral rite peculiar to the North was that of cremation on a ship.


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Generally the ship was drawn up on land; but occasionally we hear, in legendary sagas, of the burning ship being sent out to sea. Large ships containing human remains have sometimes been found in barrows of the viking age. Arms and ornaments are frequently met with, sometimes also horses and human remains which may be those of slaves, the belief being that the dead would have all that was buried with him at his service in the life beyond.

Usage, however, seems to have varied a good deal in this respect at different times and in different districts. The first to accept the new religion seem to have been the Goths, beginning about the middle of the 4th century, and the Vandals must have followed their example very quickly. In the course of the 5th century it spread to several other nations, including the Gepidae, Burgundians, Rugii and Langobardi.

In all these cases the Arian form of Christianity was the one first adopted. The first conversion to the Catholic form was that of the Franks at the end of the 5th century. The extension of Frankish supremacy over the neighbouring Teutonic peoples brought about the adoption of Christianity by them also, partly under compulsion, the last to be converted being the Old Saxons, in the latter half of the 8th century. The conversion of England began in S97 and was complete in less than a century. In the north, after several attempts during the 9th century which met with only temporary success, Christianity was established in Denmark under Harold Bluetooth, about 94 0 -9 60, and in Norway and Sweden before the end of the century, while in Iceland it obtained public recognition in the year Many districts in Norway, however, remained heathen until the reign of St Olaf , and in Sweden for half a century later.

The subsequent religious history of the various Teutonic peoples will be found elsewhere. Here we are concerned only with the beliefs and forms of worship which prevailed before the adoption of Christianity. For our knowledge of this subject we are indebted chiefly to Icelandic literary men of the 12th and 13th centuries, who gave accounts of many legends which had come down to them by oral tradition, besides committing to writing a number of ancient poems. Unfortunately Icelandic history is quite unique in this respect.


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In the literatures of other Teutonic countries we have only occasional references to the religious rites of heathen times, and these are generally in no way comparable to the detailed accounts given in Icelandic writings. Hence it is often difficult to decide whether a given rite or legend which is mentioned only in Icelandic literature was really peculiar to that country alone or to the North generally, or whether it was once the common property of all Teutonic peoples.

A number of gods were certainly known both in England and among many, if not all, the Teutonic peoples of the continent, as well as in the North. Some scholars have thought that Balder, the son of Odin, was once known in Germany, but the evidence is at least doubtful. Heimdallr, the watchman of the gods and Ullr, the stepson of Thor, as well as Hoenir, Bragi and most of the other less prominent gods.

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Some of these deities may originally have been quite local. Indeed, such may very well have been the case with Frey, the chief god of the North after Thor and Odin. Tradition at all events uniformly points to Upsala as the original home of his cult. But it is probable that both he and his sister Freyia were really specialized forms of a divinity which had once been more widely known. Their father, Niiir6r, the god of wealth, who is a somewhat less important figure, corresponds in name to the goddess Nerthus Hertha , who in ancient times was worshipped by a number of tribes, including the Angli, round the coasts of the southern Baltic.

Tacitus describes her as " Mother Earth," and the account which he gives of her cult bears a somewhat remarkable resemblance to the ceremonies associated in later times with Frey. This family of deities were collectively known as Vanir, and are said to have once been hostile to the Aesir, to whom Odin belonged. Their worship was generally connected with peace and plenty, just as that of Odin was chiefly bound up with war.

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Gefion was another goddess who may represent a later form of Nerthus. In her case tradition points distinctly to a connexion with Denmark Sjaelland. On the other hand, the portraiture of Ska61, the wife of Nior6r, seems to point to a Finnish or Lappish origin. The rest of the northern goddesses are comparatively unimportant, and only one of them, Fulla, the handmaid of Frigg, seems to have been known on the continent.

Some of the deities known to us from German and English sources seem also to have been of a local or tribal character. Such doubtless was Fosite, to whom Heligoland was sacred. Saxnot Seaxneat , from whom the kings of Essex claimed descent, was probably a god of the Saxons. Holda, who is known only from the folklore of later times, appears to have been a German counterpart of Nerthus. Ing, who is connected with Denmark in Anglo-Saxon tradition, was in all probability the eponymous ancestor of the Inguaeones see above.

His name connects him, too, with the god Frey, who was also called Yngvifreyr and Ingunarfreyr, and he must at one time have been closely associated with Nerthus. The relationship of Ing to the Inguaeones is paralleled by that of Irmin to the Hermiones see above.

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He may be the deity whom Tacitus called " Hercules. But the line of division between the human and the divine is not very definite. The royal family of Norway claimed descent from Frey, and many royal families, both English and Northern, from Woden Odin. Indeed, several legendary kings are described as sons of the latter. Sometimes, again, the relationship is of a conjugal character. Skioldr, though hardly a god himself, is the husband of the goddess Gefion. So we find Freyia's priest described as her husband and Frey's priestess as his wife, and there is no reason for regarding such cases as exceptional.

If it is not always easy to distinguish between gods and heroes, there is still greater difficulty in drawing a line between the former and other classes of supernatural beings, such as the " giants " O. Here again we have intermarriage. Ska61, the wife of Nior6r, and Ger6r, the wife of Frey, were the daughters of the giants Thiazi and Gymir respectively, though SkaNi is always reckoned as a goddess.

Loki also was of giant birth; but he is always reckoned among the gods, and we find him constantly in their company, in spite of his malevolent disposition. In general it may be said that the giants were regarded as hostile to both gods and men. Often they are represented as living a primitive life in caves and desolate places, and their character is usually ferocious. But there are exceptions even among the male giants, such as Aegir, whom we find on friendly terms with the gods.

It is worth noting also that some of the leading families of Norway are said to have claimed descent from giants, especially from Thrymr, the chief opponent of Thor. In such cases there may be some connexion between the giants and the semi-civilized Finnish or Lappish communities of the mountainous districts. According to one story she was the daughter of HOlgi, the eponymous king of Halogaland northern Norway ; according to another she was the wife of HOlgi and daughter of Gusi, king of the Fins. She ought perhaps to be regarded rather as a goddess than as a giantess, but she is never associated with the other.

Another class of supernatural beings was that of the dwarfs. They were distinguished chiefly for their cunning and for skill in working metals. More important than these from a religious point of view were the elves O. They are almost always spoken of collectively and generally represented as beneficent. In some respects, e. In other cases, however, they are hardly to be distinguished from spirits the Icel.

In addition to the above there were yet other classes of supernatural beings see Norns and Valkyries. Mention, however, must be made here of the fylgiur and hamingiur of Northern belief. These are of two kinds, though the names seem not always to be clearly distinguished. Sometimes the fylgia is represented as a kind of attendant spirit, belonging to each individual person. It may be seen, generally in animal form, in visions or by persons of second sight, but to see one's own fylgia is a sign of impending death.

In other cases the fylgiur or perhaps more correctly the hamingiur apparently belong to the whole family. These generally appear in the form of maidens. Human beings, especially kings and other distinguished persons, were not infrequently honoured with worship after death. In Sweden during the 9th century we have trustworthy record of the formal deification of a dead king and of the erection of a temple in his honour.

In general the dead were believed to retain their faculties to a certain extent in or near the place where they were buried, and stories are told of the resistance offered by them to tomb-robbers.

see It would seem, moreover, that they were credited with the power of helping their friends and likewise of injuring other people very much in the same way as they had done in life. Hence the possession of the remains of a chief who had been both popular and prosperous was regarded as highly desirable. The blessings which kings were expected to bestow upon their subjects, in life as well as after death, were partly of a supernatural character. Chief among them was that of securing the fertility of the crops. The prevalence of famine among the Swedes was attributed to the king's remissness in performing sacrificial functions; and on more than one occasion kings are said to have been put to death for this reason.

Under similar circumstances Burgundian kings were deposed. In connexion with this attribution of superhuman powers, we may mention also the widespread belief that certain persons had the faculty of " changing shape," and especially of assuming the forms of animals. Besides the various classes of beings to the worship of which we have already referred, we hear occasionally also of sacred animals. Tacitus tells of horses consecrated to the service of the gods, and of omens drawn from them, and we meet again with such horses in Norway nearly a thousand years later.

In the same country we find the legend of a king who worshipped a cow. Besides the anthropomorphic " giants, " mentioned above, Northern mythology speaks also of theriomorphic demons, the chief of which were Midgar6sormr, the " worldserpent," and Fenrisulfr, a monster wolf, the enemies of Thor and Odin respectively. These beings are doubtless due in part to poetic imagination, but underlying this there may be a substratum of primitive religious belief. In contrast with later Scandinavian usage Tacitus states that the ancient Germans had no images of the gods.

But he does speak of certain sacred symbols which he defines elsewhere as figures of wild beasts. One of the chief objects of veneration among the Cimbri is said to have been a brazen bull.