Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Germanic Society - Women and Marriage

Women were considered valuable contributors to Germanic society. According to Suzanne Fonay Wemple they “provided a network of kinship ties” and “gave inspirational support and were nurturers and providers.” They were responsible for housework and at least some helped to plow fields. According to Tacitus, the wives of the barbarians went to battle with their husbands to tend wood, bring food and offer general encouragement. The historian Ammianus claimed that some of these wives also fought. Tacitus also said that the Germans “conceive that in woman is a certain uncanny and prophetic sense: and so they neither scorn to consult them nor slight their answers” and that they revered many women ancestors.

Wemple also explains that German marriage was not a “legal relationship” but “an arrangement, accepted as social fact, whereby a man cohabitated with a woman for the purposes of copulation, procreation, and the division of labor.” Gender was the main determinant of labor: men were warriors while women raised the children, worked the fields and took care of the home. In Germanic society, it was considered a mother’s duty to provide the primary example and instruction in religious and moral matters. As a result, it was the Germanic women, be they mothers, grandmothers, or aunts, who played a key role in the upbringing of Germanic males when they were most impressionable.

UP NEXT: Early Germanic Society - Social Groups

Suzanne Fonay Wemple, Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister 500 to 900, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981).
Tacitus, Germania.
Ammianus Marcellinus, The Surviving Books of the History, trans. John C. Rolfe, Ammianus Marcellinus, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939).

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