Germani is the name Romans gave to the people in the land north of the western Roman Empire. They spoke Proto-Germanic, a language that later became German, Dutch, English and so on.
Their land of Germania had “unlovely scenery”, a “bitter climate”, and was “dreary to inhabit and even to behold”. There were no cities. It was a land of woods and marshes that stretched all the way north to a land of twilight, near where the world of nature ends.
The Germani had “wild blue eyes, reddish hair and huge frames that excel only in violent effort.” They could bear cold and hunger, but not hard work, thirst or heat.
They lived in houses built not of brick or stone, but of “unworked wood, both unimpressive and unattractive.” They left space between houses, either because they were not able to build houses right next to each other like the Romans or because they were afraid of fires spreading.
Their clothes were tight-fitting, not loose and flowing.
They had fields of grain and herds of livestock. Livestock was their main form of wealth. Only those who lived near the Roman Empire grew to have a taste for silver and gold. They did not know about charging interest on money.
They chose their kings from among the nobles, their war leaders from among the brave.
When a Germani boy came of age he was given a spear and a shield. Few had swords or lances. Courage in battle was highly prized. To throw away one’s shield was the deepest disgrace.
Drinking: When not fighting, Germani men pigged out, drank beer and slept, leaving the work to women, old men and those unfit for war. Drinking away the day was not considered a disgrace. They had no self-control in drinking. It often led to violent fights.
Gambling: They loved dice games, which they took so seriously that sometimes they bet away their freedom, becoming slaves.
Marriage: Unlike most barbarians, they had only one wife. They did not see sex outside of marriage as “up-to-date”. Wives loved not so much their husbands as the married state.
Children were dirty and naked, but grew up to be big and strong.
Slaves were rarely punished. They were more like tenant farmers.
Religion: Germani worshipped Mercury, Hercules and Mars (most likely Tacitus means Woden, Thor and Tiw). They did not make images of their gods or build temples. Instead they worshipped in sacred woods. Human sacrifice was not unheard of.
The English (Anglii) were “nothing noteworthy” except that they worshipped Nerthus, Mother Earth.
The Swedes (Suiones) were “strong not only in arms and men but also in fleets.” Their ships had a prow at both ends. They held wealth in high honour and lived on an island in the Ocean at the end of the world.