Cæsar says that the Germans did not attach them­sel­ves to agri­culture ; that most of them lived on milk, cheese, and flesh ; that no one had any land or limits that were his own ; that the prin­ces and magis­tra­tes of each nation gave to indi­vi­duals the por­tion of land they wished, and in the place they wished, and obli­ged them the year fol­lo­wing to go elsew­here.1 Tacitus says that each prince had a band of men who atta­ched them­sel­ves to him and fol­lo­wed him.2 This wri­ter, who in his lan­guage gives them a name rela­ted to their state, calls them com­pa­nions.3 There was among them a sin­gu­lar emu­la­tion for obtai­ning some dis­tinc­tion with the prince, and the same emu­la­tion among the prin­ces over the num­ber and bra­very of their com­pa­nions. Tacitus adds :

It is the dignity, the autho­rity of being always sur­roun­ded by a crowd of youths whom you have cho­sen ; it is an orna­ment in peace, it is a ram­part in war. You become famous in your nation and among the neigh­bo­ring peo­ples if you sur­pass the others in the num­ber and cou­rage of your com­pa­nions ; you receive pre­sents ; embas­sies come from all over. Often repu­ta­tion deci­des the war. In com­bat, it is sha­me­ful for the prince to be infe­rior in cou­rage ; it is sha­me­ful to the troop not to equal the prince in valor ; it is an eter­nal dis­grace to have sur­vi­ved him. The most sacred enga­ge­ment is to defend him. If a city-state is at peace, the prin­ces go to the ones that are at war ; that is how they keep a large num­ber of friends. They receive from them the warhorse and the ter­ri­fying jave­lin. Crude but plen­ti­ful repasts are a sort of pay for them. The prince sup­ports his libe­ra­li­ties only by wars and rapine. You would be less likely to per­suade them to till the soil and wait out the year than to chal­lenge the enemy and receive wounds ; they will not acquire with sweat what they can obtain with blood4

Thus, among the Germans there were vas­sals and not fiefs : there were no fiefs, because the prin­ces had no lands to dis­tri­bute ; or rather the fiefs were war hor­ses, wea­pons, and meals. There were vas­sals, because there were loyal men who were bound by their word, who were enga­ged for war, and who ren­de­red about the same ser­vice as was later ren­de­red for fiefs.

Book VI of Gallic Wars. Tacitus adds : Nulli domus, aut ager, aut aliqua cura ; prout ad quem[que] venere aluntur (De moribus Germanorum [ch. xxxi]).

De moribus Germanorum [ch. xiii].


De moribus Germanorum [ch. xiii–xiv.].