The Teutonic Emigration Saga Found In Tacitus

: Teutonic Mythology

The migration sagas which I have now examined are the only ones

preserved to our time on Teutonic ground. They have come down to us from

the traditions of various tribes. They embrace the East Goths, West

Goths, Longobardians, Gepidae, Burgundians, Herulians, Franks, Saxons,

Swabians, and Alamannians. And if we add to these the evidence of

Hrabanus Maurus, then all the German tribes are embraced in the

traditions. All
he evidences are unanimous in pointing to the North as

the Teutonic cradle. To these testimonies we must, finally, add the

oldest of all--the testimony of the sources of Tacitus from the time of

the birth of Christ and the first century of our era.

Thor was reputed to be the son of Odin, surnamed the All-father, and

Jorth, the earth. He was the source of wisdom, patron of culture and of

heroes, friend of mankind and slayer of giants. He always carried a

heavy hammer, called The Crusher, with which he fought, assisted by

thunder and lightning. From Thor is derived the middle English words

Thursday (Thorsday) and Thunder.]

The statements made by Tacitus in his masterly work concerning the

various tribes of Germany and their religion, traditions, laws, customs,

and character, are gathered from men who, in Germany itself, had seen

and heard what they reported. Of this every page of the work bears

evidence, and it also proves its author to have been a man of keen

observation, veracity, and wide knowledge. The knowledge of his

reporters extends to the myths and heroic songs of the Teutons. The

latter is the characteristic means with which a gifted people, still

leading their primitive life, makes compensation for their lack of

written history in regard to the events and exploits of the past. We

find that the man he interviewed had informed himself in regard to the

contents of the songs which described the first beginning and the most

ancient adventures of the race, and he had done this with sufficient

accuracy to discover a certain disagreement in the genealogies found in

these songs of the patriarchs and tribe heroes of the Teutons--a

disagreement which we shall consider later on. But the man who had done

this had heard nothing which could bring him, and after him Tacitus, to

believe that the Teutons had immigrated from some remote part of the

world to that country which they occupied immediately before the birth

of Christ--to that Germany which Tacitus describes, and in which he

embraces that large island in the North Sea where the seafaring and

warlike Sviones dwelt. Quite the contrary. In his sources of information

Tacitus found nothing to hinder him from assuming as probable the view

he expresses--that the Teutons were aborigines, autochthones, fostered

on the soil which was their fatherland. He expresses his surprise at the

typical similarity prevailing among all the tribes of this populous

people, and at the dissimilarity existing between them on the one hand,

and the non-Teutonic peoples on the other; and he draws the conclusion

that they are entirely unmixed with other races, which, again,

presupposes that the Teutons from the most ancient times have possessed

their country for themselves, and that no foreign element has been able

to get a foothold there. He remarks that there could scarcely have been

any immigrations from that part of Asia which was known to him, or from

Africa or Italy, since the nature of Germany was not suited to invite

people from richer and more beautiful regions. But while Tacitus thus

doubts that non-Teutonic races ever settled in Germany, still he has

heard that people who desired to exchange their old homes for new ones

have come there to live. But these settlements did not, in his opinion,

result in a mixing of the race. Those early immigrants did not come by

land, but in fleets over the sea; and as this sea was the boundless

ocean which lies beyond the Teutonic continent and was seldom visited by

people living in the countries embraced in the Roman empire, those

immigrants must themselves have been Teutons. The words of Tacitus are

(Germ., 2): Germanos indigenas crediderim minimeque aliarum

gentium adventibus et hospitiis mixtos, quia nec terra olim sed

classibus advehebantur qui mutare sedes quaerebant, et immensus ultra

atque ut sic dixerim adversus Oceanus raris ab orbe nostro navibus

aditur. "I should think that the Teutons themselves are aborigines (and

not at all mixed through immigrations or connection with non-Teutonic

tribes). For those desiring to change homes did not in early times come

by land, but in ships across the boundless and, so to speak, hostile

ocean--a sea seldom visited by ships from the Roman world." This passage

is to be compared with, and is interpreted by, what Tacitus tells when

he, for the second time, speaks of this same ocean in chapter 44, where

he relates that in the very midst of this ocean lies a land inhabited by

Teutonic tribes, rich not only in men and arms, but also in fleets

(praeter viros armaque classibus valent), and having a stronger and

better organization than the other Teutons. These people formed several

communities (civitates). He calls them the Sviones, and describes

their ships. The conclusion to be drawn from his words is, in short,

that those immigrants were Northmen belonging to the same race as the

continental Teutons. Thus traditions concerning immigrations from the

North to Germany have been current among the continental Teutons already

in the first century after Christ.

But Tacitus' contribution to the Teutonic migration saga is not limited

to this. In regard to the origin of a city then already ancient and

situated on the Rhine, Asciburgium (Germ., 3), his reporter had heard

that it was founded by an ancient hero who had come with his ships from

the German Ocean, and had sailed up the Rhine a great distance beyond

the Delta, and had then disembarked and laid the foundations of

Asciburgium. His reporter had also heard such stories about this ancient

Teutonic hero that persons acquainted with the Greek-Roman traditions

(the Romans or the Gallic neighbours of Asciburgium) had formed the

opinion that the hero in question could be none else than the Greek

Ulysses, who, in his extensive wanderings, had drifted into the German

Ocean and thence sailed up the Rhine. In weighing this account of

Tacitus we must put aside the Roman-Gallic conjecture concerning

Ulysses' visit to the Rhine, and confine our attention to the fact on

which this conjecture is based. The fact is that around Asciburgium a

tradition was current concerning an ancient hero who was said to have

come across the northern ocean with a host of immigrants and founded the

above-named city on the Rhine, and that the songs or traditions in

regard to this ancient hero were of such a character that they who knew

the adventures of Ulysses thought they had good reason for regarding him

as identical with the latter. Now, the fact is that the Teutonic

mythology has a hero who to quote the words of an ancient Teutonic

document, "was the greatest of all travellers," and who on his journeys

met with adventures which in some respects remind us of Ulysses'. Both

descended to Hades; both travelled far and wide to find their beloved.

Of this mythic hero and his adventures see Nos. 96-107, and No. 107

about Asciburgium in particular.

It lies outside the limits of the present work to investigate whether

these traditions contain any historical facts. There is need of caution

in this respect, since facts of history are, as a rule, short-lived

among a people that do not keep written annals. The historical songs and

traditions of the past which the Scandinavians recorded in the twelfth

century do not go further back in time than to the middle of the ninth

century, and the oldest were already mixed with stories of the

imagination. The Hellenic historical records from a pre-literary time

were no older; nor were those of the Romans. The question how far

historically important emigrations from the Scandinavian peninsula and

Denmark to Germany have taken place should in my opinion be considered

entirely independent of the old migration traditions if it is to be

based on a solid foundation. If it can be answered in the affirmative,

then those immigrations must have been partial returns of an Aryan race

which, prior to all records, have spread from the South to the

Scandinavian countries. But the migration traditions themselves clearly

have their firmest root in myths, and not in historical memories; and at

all events are so closely united with the myths, and have been so

transformed by song and fancy, that they have become useless for

historical purposes. The fact that the sagas preserved to our time make

nearly all the most important and most numerous Teutonic tribes which

played a part in the destiny of Southern Europe during the Empire

emigrants from Scandinavia is calculated to awaken suspicion.

The wide diffusion this belief has had among the Teutons is sufficiently

explained by their common mythology--particularly by the myth

concerning the earliest age of man or of the Teutonic race. As this work

of mine advances, I shall find opportunity of presenting the results of

my investigations in regard to this myth. The fragments of it must, so

to speak, be exhumed from various mounds, and the proofs that these

fragments belong together, and once formed a unit, can only be presented

as the investigation progresses. In the division "The Myth concerning

the Earliest Period and the Emigrations from the North," I give the

preparatory explanation and the general resume (Nos. 20-43). For the

points which cannot there be demonstrated without too long digressions

the proofs will be presented in the division "The Myth concerning the

Race of Ivalde" (Nos. 96-123).