Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Early Germanic Society - Sacrifice

Human and animal sacrifice was practiced, with mostly domesticated livestock serving as the ritualistic object, though dogs and wild animals also were used. The animals were eaten in sacrificial meals, with the remains often deposited in bogs. As Malcolm Todd wrote in his Northern Barbarians:

The prominence of the horse in the animal sacrifices deserves special notice. Commonly only the skull, tail and feet are represented….This rite of burying the skull and extremities of the skeleton links the Germanic world with the Baltic regions and the Steppes.

The dog appears to have been the most sacrificed animal in many regions, though there is no evidence that any portion of the dog was eaten in a ritualistic meal. Their sacrifice was probably linked to a fertility cult, although it could also have served as a substitute for a man as skeletons of both often occur in the same archeological digs.

Evidence of human sacrifice exists, mostly among prisoners that were sacrificed to war gods, though there were other rituals that seemed to require human sacrifice to different gods. According to Todd, the corpses found in the bogs of northern Europe have provided much evidence in this area. (Todd also hypothesizes that, much like the ancient Egyptians who buried their cats with them, perhaps the Germans buried their dogs for companionship in the afterlife.)

A.D. 1-100
Found near Osterby, Germany in 1948
Only his decapitated head was found, wrapped in a deerskin cape. He was likely killed by a blow to his left temple before he was decapitated. His hair, reddened by chemicals in the peat, is tied in an elaborate hairstyle called a Swabian knot. The Roman historian Tacitus, who lived in Osterby Man's era, describes the hairstyle as typical of the Suebi tribe of Germany.

Windeby Girl
A.D. 1-200
Found near Windeby, Germany in 1952
It's unclear exactly how she died, but given that she was merely 13 to 14 years old and that she was buried in a bog with a woolen band covering her eyes, it was likely from unnatural causes. Only five yards from her body the corpse of a man lay buried, and some experts suggest that the two were punished for an adulterous affair.... Windeby Girl had part of her hair cut off at the time of her death.

100 B.C.-A.D. 100
Found near Kiel, Germany in 1871

UP NEXT: Early Germanic Society - Women and Marriage


Malcolm Todd, Northern Barbarians
NOVA, "The Perfect Corpse"

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