The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton

Lecture 3

Page 1

ON DR. LATHAM'S 'GERMANIA.'

If I have followed in these lectures the better known and more widely received etymology of the name Goth, I have done so out of no disrespect to Dr. Latham; butsimply because his theory seems to me adhuc sub judice. It is this, as far as I understand it. That 'Goth' was not the aboriginal name of the race. That they were probably not so called till they came into the land of the Getæ, about the mouths of the Danube. That the Teutonic name for the Ostrogoths was Grutungs, and that of the Visigoths (which he does not consider to mean West-Goths) Thervings, Thüringer. That on reaching the land of the Getæ they took their name; 'just as the Kentings of Anglo-Saxon England took name from the Keltic country of Kent;' and that the names Goth, Gothones, Gothini were originally given to Lithuanians by their Sclavonic neighbours. I merely state the theory, and leave it for the judgment of others.

The principal points which Dr. Latham considers himself to have established, are---

 That the area and population of the Teutonic tribes have been, on the authority of Tacitus, much overrated; many tribes hitherto supposed to be Teutonic being really Sclavonic, &c.

This need not shock our pride, if proved---as it seems to me to be. The nations who have influenced the world's destiny have not been great, in the modern American sense of 'big;' but great in heart, as our forefathers were. The Greeks were but a handful at Salamis; so were the Romans of the Republic; so were the Spaniards of Amercica; so, probably, were the Aztecs and Incas whom they overthrew; and surely our own conquerors and re-conquerers of Hindostan have shewn enough that it is not numbers, but soul, which gives a race the power to rule.

Neither need we object to Dr. Latham's opinion, that more than one of the tribes which took part in the destruction of the Empire were not aboriginal Germans, but Sclavonians Germanized, and under German leaders. It may be so. The custom of enslaving captives would render pure Teutonic blood among the lower classes of a tribe the exception and not the rule; while the custom of chiefs choosing the 'thegns,' 'gesitha,' or 'comites,' who lived and died as their companions-in-arms, from among the most valiant of the unfree, would tend to produce a mixed blood in the upper classes also, and gradually assimilate the whole mass to the manners and laws of their Teutonic lords. Only by some such actual superiority of the upper classes to the lower can I explain the deep respect for rank and blood, which distinguishes, and will perhaps always distinguish, the Teutonic people. Had there even been anything like a primæval equality among our race, a hereditary aristocracy could never have arisen, or if arising for a while, never could have remained as a fact which all believed in, from the lowest to the highest. Just, or unjust the institution represented, I verily believe, an ethnological fact. The golden-haired hero said to his brown-haired bondsman, 'I am a gentleman, who has a "gens," a stamm, a pedigree, and know from whom I am sprung. I am a Garding, an Amalung, a Scylding, an Osing, or what not. I am a son of the gods. The blood of the Asas is in my veins. Do you not see it? Am I not wiser, stronger, more virtuous, more beautiful than you? You must obey me, and be myman, and follow me to the death. Then, if you prove a worthy thane, I will give you horse, weapons, bracelets, lands; and marry you, it may be, to my daughter or my niece. And if not, you must remain a son of the earth, grubbing in the dust of which you were made.' And the bondsman believed him; and became his lord's man, and followed him to the death; and was thereby not degraded, but raised out of selfish savagery and brute independence into loyalty, usefulness, and self-respect. As a fact, that is the method by which the thing was done: done;---very ill indeed, as most human things are done; but a method inevitable---and possibly right; til (as in England now) the lower classes became ethnologically identical with the upper, and equality became possible in law, simply because it existed in fact.

But the part of Dr. Latham's 'Germania' to which I am bound to call most attention, because I have not followed it, is that interesting part of the Prolegomena, in which he combats the generally received theory, that, between the time of Tacitus and that of Charlemagne, vast masses of Germans had migrated southward from between the Elbe and the Vistula; and that they had been replaced by the Sclavonians who certainly were there in Charlemagne's day.

 Dr. Latham argues against this theory with a great variety of facts and reasons. But has he not overstated his case on some points?

Need the migrations necessary for this theory have been of 'unparalleled completeness' on which he lays much stress, from the fact that no remnants of Teutonic population are found in the countries evacuated:

It is the fact that 'history only tells us of German armies having advanced south'? Do we not find four famous cases---the irruption of the Cimbri and Teutons into Italy; the passage of the Danube by the Visigoths; and the invasion of Italy first by the Ostrogoths, then by the Lombards---in which the nations came with men, women, and children, horses, cattle, and dogs, bag and baggage? May not this have been the custom of the race, with its strong feeling for the family tie; and may not this account for no traces of them being left behind?

Does not Dr. Latham's theory proceed too much on an assumption that the Sclavonians dispossest the Teutons by force? And is not this assumption his ground for objecting that the movement was effected improbably 'by that division of the European population (the Sclavonic and Lithuanian) which has, within the historic period, receded before the Germanic'?

 Are these migrations, though 'unrepresented in any history' (i.e. contemporaneous), really 'unrepresented in any tradition'? Do not the traditions of Jornandes and Paulus Diaconus, that the Goths and the Lombards came from Scandinavia, represent this very fact?---and are they to be set aside as naught? Surely not. Mythos of this kind generally embody a nucleus of truth, and must be regarded with respect; for they often, after all arguments about them are spent, are found to contain the very pith of the matter.

Are the 'phenomena of replacement and substitution' so very strange---I will not say upon the popular theory, but at least on one halfway between it and Dr. Latham's? Namely---

 That the Teutonic races came originally, as some of them say they did, from Scandinavia, Denmark, the South Baltic, &c.

 That they forced their way down, wave after wave, on what would have been the line of least resistance---the Marches between the Gauls, Romanized or otherwise, and the Sclavonians. And that the Alps and the solid front of the Roman Empire turned them to the East, till their vanguard found itself on the Danube.

This would agree with Dr. Latham's most valuable hint, that Markmen, 'Men of the Marches,' was perhaps the name of many German tribes successively.

That they fought, as they went, with the Sclavonian and other tribes (as their traditions seem to report), and rolled them back to the eastward; and that as each Teutonic tribe past down the line, the Sclavonians rolled back again, till the last column was past.

That the Teutons also carried down with them, as slaves or allies, a portion of this old Sclavonic population (to which Dr. Latham will perhaps agree); and that this fact caused a hiatus, which was gradually filled by tribes who after all were little better than nomad hunters, and would occupy (quite nominally) a very large tract with a small population.

 Would not this theory agree at once tolerably with the old traditions and with Dr. Latham's new facts?

The question still remains---which is the question of all. What put these Germanic peoples on going South? Were there no causes sufficient to excite so desperate a resolve?

[1] Did they all go? Is not Paulus Diaconus' story that one-third of the Lombards was to emigrate by lot, and two-thirds remain at home, a rough type of what generally happened---what happens now in our modern emigrations? Was not the surplus population driven off by famine twoard warmer and more hopeful climates?

[2] Are not the Teutonic populations of England, North Germany, and the Baltic, the descendants, much intermixed, and with dialects much changed, of the portions which were left behind? This is the opinion, I believe, of several great ethnologists? Is it not true? If philological objections are raised to this, I ask (but in all humility), Did not these southward migrations commence long before the time of Tacitus? If so, may they not have commenced before the different Teutonic dialects were as distinct as they were in the historic period? And are we to suppose that the dialects did not alter during the long journeyings through many nations? Is it possible that the Thervings and Grutungs could have retained the same tongue on the Danube, as their forefathers spoke in their native land? Would not the Mœso-Gothic of Ulfilas have been all but unintelligible to the Goth who, upon the old theory, remained in Gothland of Sweden?

[3] But were there not more causes than mere want, which sent them south? Had the peculiar restlessness of the race nothing to do with it? A restlessness not nomadic, but migratory: arising not from carelessness of land and home, but from the longing to found a home in a new land, like the restlessness of us, their children? As soon as we meet them in historic times, they are always moving, migrating, invading. Were they not doing the same in pre-historic times, by fits and starts, no doubt with periods of excitement, periods of collapse and rest? When we recollect the invasion of the Normans; the wholesale eastward migration of the Crusaders, men, women, and children; and the later colonization by Teutonic peoples, of every quarter of the globe, is there anything wonderful in the belief that similar migratory manias may have seized the old tribes; that the spirit of Woden, 'the mover,' may have moved them, and forced them to go ahead, as now? Doubtless the theory is strange. But the Teutons were and are a strange people; so strange, that they have conquered---one may almost say that they are---all nations which are alive upon the globe; and we may therefore expect them to have done strange things even in their infancy.

The Romans saw them conquer the empire; and said, the good men among them, that it was on account of their superior virtue. But beside the virtue which made them succeed, there must have been the adventurousness which made them attempt. They were a people fond of 'avanturen,' like their descendants; and they went out to seek them; and found enough and to spare.

[4] But more, had they never heard of Rome? Surely they had, and at a very early period of the empire. We are apt to forget, that for every discovery of the Germans by the Romans, there was a similar discovery of the Romans by the Germans, and one which would tell powerfully on their childish imagination. Did not one single Kemper or Teuton return from Marius' slaughter, to spread among the tribes (niddering though he may have been called for coming back alive) the fair land which they had found, fit for the gods of Valhalla; the land of sunshine, fruits and wine, wherein his brothers' and sisters' bones were bleaching unavenged? Did no gay Gaul of the Legion of the Lark, boast in a frontier winehouse to a German trapper, who came in to sell his peltry, how he himself was a gentleman now, and a civilized man, and a Roman; and how he had followed Julius Cæsar, the king of men, over the Rubicon, and on to a city of the like of which man never dreamed, wherein was room for all the gods of heaven? Did no captive tribune of Varus' legions, led with horrid shouts round Thor's altar in the Teutoburger Wald, ere his corpse was hung among the horses and goats on the primæval oaks, turn to bay like a Roman, and tell his wild captors of the Eternal City, and of the might of that Cæsar who would avenge every hair upon his head with a German life; and receive for answer a shout of laughter, and the cry---'You have come to us: and some day we will go to you?' Did no commissary, bargaining with a German for cattle to be sent over the frontier by such a day of the week, and teaching him to mistranslate into those names of Thor, Woden, Freya, and so forth, which they now carry, the Jewish-Assyrian-Roman days of the se'nnight, amuse the simple forester by telling him how the streets of Rome were paved with gold, and no one had anything to do there but to eat and bathe at the public expense, and to go to the theatre, and see 20,000 gladiators fight at once? Did no German 'Regulus,' alderman, or king, enter Rome on an embassy, and come back with uplifted eyes and hands, declaring that he had seen things unspeakable---a 'very fine plunder,' as Blucher said of London; and that if it were not for the walls, they might get it all; for not only the ladies, but the noblemen, went about in litters of silver and gold, and wore gauze dresses, the shameless wretches, through which you might see every limb, so that as for killing them, there was no more fear of them than of a flock of sheep: but that he did not see as well as he could have wished how to enter the great city, for he was more or less the worse for liquor the whole time, with wondrous stuff which they called wine? Or did no captive, escaped by miracle from the butcheries of the amphitheatre, return to tell his countrymen how all the rest had died like German men; and call on them to rise and avenge their brothers' blood? Yes, surely the Teutons knew well, even in the time of Tacitus, of the 'micklegard,' the great city and all its glory. Every fresh tribe who passed along the frontier of Gaul or Noricum would hear more and more of it, see more and more men who had actually been there. If the glory of the city exercised on its own inhabitants an intoxicating influence, as of a place omnipotent, superhuman, divine---it would exercise (exaggerated as it would be) a still stronger influence on the barbarians outside: and what wonder if they pressed southwards at first in the hopes of taking the mighty city; and afterwards, as her real strength became more known, of at least seizing some of those colonial cities, which were as superhuman in their eyes as Rome itself would have been? In the crusades, the children, whenever they came to a great town, asked their parents if that was not Jerusalem. And so, it may be, many a gallant young Teuton, on entering for the first time such a city as Cologne, Lyons, or Vienna, whispered half trembling to his lord---'Surely this must be Rome.'

Some such arguments as these might surely be brought in favour of a greater migration than Dr. Latham is inclined to allow: but I must leave the question for men of deeper research and wider learning, than I possess.

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page