Every day life:


"That what makes the Germans almost unique amongst barbarians, is that their men are content with one woman."
(Tacitus)


The inside of a Germanic house The average day of a German consisted of getting up early (when it got light outside), eating his meal and going to work, for a man this could either be hunting, fishing, farming, herding, making weapons or tools, etc. women took care of herding, foraging, baking bread, taking care of the children, weaving, and many other things, when the people had time left they gossiped, socialized, created art, made beer, drank beer, repaired things, etc.
Other things they did were celebrating, offering to gods, spirits, or ancestors, performing daily rituals, visiting seers, and telling eachother stories, sometimes expeditions were also undertaken and some of the men would then gear up and leave to plunder or wage war, or they prepared their goods to go trading.
At the end of the day most people went to bed early, unless there was a party of course, because there was nothing that a German liked more than holding parties and drinking till he dropped, Tacitus made an interesting comment about this in his "Germania":
"They satisfy their hunger without any elaborate cuisine or appetizers. But they do not show the same self-control in slaking their thirst. If you indulge their intemperance by plying them with as much drink as they desire, they will be as easily conquered by this besetting weakness as by force of arms."

Physical appearance:
(From Tacitus' "Germania":)
For myself, I concur in opinion with such as suppose the people of Germany never to have mingled by inter-marriages with other nations, but to have remained a people pure, and independent, and resembling none but themselves. Hence amongst such a mighty multitude of men, the same make and form is found in all, eyes stern and blue, yellow hair, huge bodies, but vigorous only in the first onset. Of pains and labour they are not equally patient, nor can they at all endure thrift and heat. To bear hunger and cold they are hardened by their climate and soil.

This is the image we get of the Germans from various historical sources like Tacitus and Ibn Fahdlan, modern antropology confirms most of this image, the Romans feared the Germans for their huge physical appearance and they always tried to avoid man to man combat since the tall Germans had a much bigger chance of winning in those conditions.
Recent studies have indicated that people of Northern European descent are the tallest people in the world (followed by the Masa tribe in Africa), something that can also be seen in the country where I live (the Netherlands) where the average size of humans is 1.80 meters (6 feet) compared to 1.65 meters (5.4 feet) in most other parts of the world, my own lenght for instance is 1.95 meters (6.4 feet).

Hairstyles:
Norse combs The hair styles that the Germans used were variable, there was no such thing as a "common hairstyle", however; it is known that Thralls (slaves) had very short hair and that the average man had his hair a little longer, (shoulder length) many men also carried moustaches and beards but long beards were mostly worn by the more important persons because beards and mustaches were a sign of status among our ancestors.
An exception to this rule was the tribe of the Chattians who grew their hair and beards so long that it covered their entire face, only when they had killed an enemy in battle they had proven themselves worthy of their parents and were allowed to cut off their hair and show their faces again, the hairy warriors were always positioned on the front ranks of the army so that they had a bigger chance of slaying an enemy, the really fanatical warriors also wore an iron ring around their necks (which was considered a dishonourful symbol of servitude) and only took it off again after killing an opponent.
The Suebian knot Another peculiar hair style was the "Suebian knot"; one combed his hair to the right side of the head, twisted it together, and laid a knot in it, especially the Suebians after whom it was named used this hair style.
Germanic warriors in battle sometimes coloured their hair to look more impressive, according to Roman accounts they dyed their hair firery red and wore it loose on their heads so that it would flutter around when they moved, which gave them an extra fierce appearance, it is also believed that they bleached their hair with bleach or lime and then combed it backwards over their heads just like the Celts did.
Women often had long hair that was sometimes braided or intertwined and even decorated with flowers or beautiful hair pins, hair styles were also adapted to the profession someone had; a warrior often chose to keep his hair (and beard) short so that the enemy couldn't grab it to pull his head backwards and slit his throat, the Romans even had a rule in their army; hair should be kept short enough so that it was impossible to get hold of it and pull.
Unlike the modern misconception the Germans were no uncivilized barbarians with dirty hair and unkemped beards; every man carried at least a comb and hygiene was considered very important, even a bloodthirsty warrior needs to look good for the ladies now and then.
Actually combing ones hair was even associated with cultivation and civilization in the Germanic culture, when the Germans claimed a new land they even buried combs in the soil as a sign of their new posession over it.

Tattoos:
Tattoos were common among ancient peoples, especially the Celts, Germans, and Slavs often used body decorations.
Ibn Fahdlan mentions in his "Risala" that many of the Vikings living in Russia had tattoos from their fingers to their necks and in western Russia frozen human bodies have been found that had tattoos of snakes, horses, trees, and swirling patterns.
It is believed that tattoos were made with sharp objects (for scars), fire (for burnmarks), or ink (for detailed drawings), temporary tattoos may have also been used for rituals and there are reports of Vikings decorating their bodies with runes, this kind of temporary tattoos did not have to be permanent so they may have been created with paint that could be washed off again.
After the Christianization of Europe tattoos were condemned as a sign of heathenism and even today tattoos are seen as something that is only used by criminals and proletarians, it can even get you fired in some professions.
I don't have any tattoos myself but I must say that I really wonder why someone who decorates his or her body should be "lesser" than others, I guess our "modern" society has a lot to learn yet.

Clothing:
Men clothing The clothing that was used were mainly tunics for men and dresses or simple aprons for women, the Germans used a wide variety of clothing so it is difficult to be exact about this, they also wore pantaloons and women sometimes wrapped scarfs around their necks, woollen cloaks were also worn around the shoulders that were held together with beautifully decorated pins (called "fibulae" in Latin), this cloak served the same purpose as our modern coats; namely to keep the body warm, I think it is save to assume that this was the most common clothing style used.
The main fabrics that were used were wool and linen (cotton was unknown and silk was extremely expensive), Germanic clothing was woven with very fine threads and a wide variety of colours was used, recent findings of clothing fragments has revealed that that the Germans liked colourful clothing, some of the colours that were used are green, blue, red, white, black, yellow, purple, etc. almost every colour one can imagine, the pigments needed for this colours were taken from plants and other natural sources; the colour yellow for instance was made from egg yolk, weld (Reseda luteola), or safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), the colour blue was taken from woad (Isatis tinctoria) and the colour red was taken from madder (Rubia tinctorum), to make clothes, painted shields, or other dyed objects colourproof it was a good idea to urinate over it, this may sound gross but the acids in the urine made the pigment attach to the object so that it wouldn't come off again.

To the right you can see what a common Germanic man would have looked like.

Below you can see a part of the "Risala" written by Ibn Fahdlan, an Arabian explorer who wrote about the Vikings in Southern Russia:

Risala:
" 80. I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Volga. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy; they wear neither tunics nor caftans, but the men wear a garment which covers one side of the body and leaves a hand free.

81. Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tatooed from finger nails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.

82. Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The women wear neck rings of gold and silver, one for each 10,000 dirhems which her husband is worth; some women have many. Their most prized ornaments are beads of green glass of the same make as ceramic objects one finds on their ships. They trade beads among themselves and they pay an exaggerated price for them, for they buy them for a dirhem apiece. They string them as necklaces for their women."


More about the Risala can be found under "documents" in the navigation menu.

Some good information about various types of Viking clothing can be found here: http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/mensgarb.html

Another good (and older) source about the cloathing styles used by the Germans is Tacitus' "Germania";

"The universal dress in Germany is a cloak fastened with a brooch or, failing that, a thorn. They pass whole days by the fireside wearing no garment but this. It is a mark of great wealth to wear undergarments, which are not loose like those of the Sarmatians and Parthians, but fit tightly and follow the contour of every limb. They also wear the skins of wild animals - the tribes near the river frontiers without any regard to appearance, the more distant tribes with some refinement of taste, since in their part of the country there is no finery to be bought. These latter people select animals with care, and after stripping off the hides decorate them with patches of the skin of creatures that live in the unknown seas of the outer ocean. The dress of the women differs from that of the men in two respects only: women often wear outer garments of linen ornamented with a purple pattern; and as the upper part of these is sleeveless, the whole of their arms, and indeed the parts of their breasts nearest the shoulders, are exposed."

Shoes found in the Netherlands Shoes were mostly made of leather and had much in common with the sandals that the Romans and Celts used, to the right you can see two shoes that have been found in the Netherlands:
  • The left one was found in Wijster in the province of Drenthe, it is fitted to a fake wooden foot to show how it would have looked when worn.
  • The right shoe is from the Iron Age and has been found in the "Weerdingerveen", a peat bog near Emmen in the province of Drenthe, the lace ran along the whole edge of the shoe and was tightened around the foot.

    In later periods the people started to use "turn-shoes"; pieces of leather were sewn together and then turned inside-out so that the seams were on the inside of the shoe, which wasn't as uncomfortable as it sounds, Germanic shoes did not had soles so people walked on nothing more than a piece of leather, not surprisingly shoes were worn out rather quickly and had to be replaced, though in later periods the bottoms of the shoes were made thicker for extra durability.

    Women:
    Women's clothing To the right is a picture to give you an impression of what a Germanic woman looked like, the items you see have been found in a 5th century woman's grave in Zweelo in the Dutch province of Drenthe, the "princess of Zweelo" as she was called by archeologists was probably an important woman from a local Frisian or Saxon tribe, she carries a necklace of amber beads, a smaller necklace of glass beads, a beavertooth in a silver pendant, around her waist she carries a girdle of big glass beads and some bronze keys (that were often trusted to the lady of the house), on her wrist she carries a bronze bracelet and pins made of gilded iron close the linnen cloth on her shoulders.

    The position of women in Germanic society was in most places equal to men, though this depended on the time and the local morals.
    The man was mostly the dominant person in the family while women were more important in spiritual matters, the Germans believed that women posessed magical powers because they were able to get pregnant and "create" new lives.
    Because of this belief women played a dominant role in religion and some of them became a seer (Spkona) or a priestess (Gyja), magic was also mainly performed by women and men often asked their women for advice.
    When the man was not at home because he had to hunt, fight, travel, etc. it was the woman who stayed behind to look after the children and maintain the household, another interesting thing Tacitus mentions in his work is that Germanic women often supported their men during battles; they hurled insults at the enemy, sang battle songs, and promised their husbands sexual favours if they would win, Germanic warriors sometimes won a battle purely because of their women's support.

    From Tacitus "Germania":
    "8. In history we find, that some armies already yielding and ready to fly, have been by the women restored, through their inflexible importunity and entreaty, presenting their breasts, and showing their impending captivity; an evil to the Germans then by far most dreadful when it befalls their women. So that the spirit of such cities as amongst their hostages are enjoined to send their damsels of quality, is always engaged more effectually than that of others. They even believe them endowed with something celestial and the spirit of prophecy. Neither do they disdain to consult them, nor neglect the responses which they return."

    It appears that in the early Germanic culture men and women were equal and that there were even women who became warriors; in West Heslerton (England) an early Saxon settlement and burial place has been discovered where the body of a female warrior was found who was buried with two spears and a man who was buried with broches and beads.
    After the Christianization of Europe the role of women in society became less important, in the Middle Ages women were seen as unfaithful liars whose only task was giving birth to children, taking care of them, and making sure that there was dinner on the table when the husband came back home.
    Fortunately there has been some secularisation in the Christian church for the last couple of centuries that allowed some equalizing and emancipation.
    Nowadays the position of women in this world has improved the most in the Germanic countries, so it can be said that the intolerance towards women was never truly accepted there.

    Morals:
  • The family; family was very important in Germanic society, old people were cared for until the day they died and it was considered natural to look after eachothers children.
    An average woman got 6 to 7 children in her life, though not every child survived the harsh living conditions of that time because it was not exceptional that over half of the children died during famines, wars, and cold winters so people often chose to have as many children as they could support, another reason for having many children was that those children could care for their parents after they had grown up.
    Although the mortality rate was quite high in that time Germanic families still raised more children than the amount of people that died, this often caused overpopulation which on its turn triggered migrations.

  • Pregnancy; when a woman got pregnant she chose to keep the child most of the times, even when she became pregnant "by accident"; early motherhood was not a sin that had to be hidden away like in many "modern" Christian societies, in Germanic society motherhood was seen as something holy and good mothers were treated with respect.
    Despite this, abortions were not seen as murder, they were sometimes performed but because that time lacked the medical means to perform an abortion in a safe way most women chose to abandon an unwanted child and expose it to the elements, sometimes the child was also left on a place where other people would surely find it, in that way it had a chance of being found and adopted by somebody, for instance a couple who could not have children themselves.
    Most children were abandoned because the parents were too poor to take care of them, other reasons to abandon a child were when it was the result of a rape or when it was severely handicapped; this sounds very cruel to our modern ears but we must not forget that life was very hard in those times and that a family could not afford to raise a child that could never give a positive contribution to its family and society.
    When a woman gave birth to a child it was partially supported by the father's family, and partially by that of the mother, a child of whom the father was unknown was entirely supported by the mother's family.
    During the Viking Age the Norse sometimes placed their children in a foster family, the parents did not do this because they did not like their children but because it created new friendships, extended bloodlines, and often created political alliances; giving a person the care over your child was a sign of great trust and it also strengthened the bonds between your family and that of the foster parents.
    The ability of a woman to have children was seen as something special and in ancient times many people did not know how that could happen so there were many theories about this; women were considered to posess magical powers, children grew in cauliflower, or they were brought by a stork who took them from a children-tree; this kind of fables have continued to this day and many prudish parents still tell this theories to their children, although this beliefs are of a very old origin I highly doubt that most Germans were unaware of the real way to make babies; although they lacked the exact scientifical explanation we have today they must have been aware of the fact that having sex resulted in some kind of fertilization and that the result was a lovely little new human.

  • Social interaction and alcohol; Germanic society was very liberal, women were often considered equal to men and sex was natural and nothing to be ashamed of, lying without a good reason was considered dishonourful and the Germans were very outspoken to eachother; if they hated a person they just told him that and if they liked someone they simply expressed that without shame, they also had a very rude sense of humour and made nasty jokes about eachother without really meaning it in most cases, in most northern European countries the people still have this kind of humour which sometimes even causes a culture-shock in interactions with people from other countries.
    The Germans were also very hospitable to eachother and guests were treated like kings.
    Drinking alcohol was no problem as long as one didn't drank too much, which is also mentioned in the Havamal text below.
    However, there are many sources that give a contradictory image of the alcohol consumption amongst our ancestors; Tacitus mentions that they often drank more than was good for them while Caesar mentions that the Suebians drank no wine at all because they believed it made men weak.

    "Viking funeral" by F Dicksee 1893 Hvaml:

    11. Byri betri
    berrat mar brautu at
    en s mannvit mikit;
    vegnest verra
    vegr a hann velli at
    en s ofdrykkja ls.

    12. Er a sv gtt
    sem gtt kvea
    l alda sonum,
    v at fra veit
    er fleira drekkr
    sns til ges gumi.

    11. A worse provision
    on the way he cannot carry
    than too much beer-bibbing;
    so good is not,
    as it is said,
    beer for the sons of men.

    12. A worse provision
    no man can take from table
    than too much beer-bibbing:
    for the more he drinks
    the less control he has
    of his own mind.


  • Sexuality; adultery without the partner's approval was seen as something very inappropriate; Tacitus describes in his "Germania" how a man shaved his adulterous womans' hair off and kicked her out of the house naked, he then chased her through the village while hitting her with twigs, the chance that such a woman would ever remarry was very small, even if she was beautiful or rich she would never find a husband again because she could not be trusted.
    During the early Middle Ages the Saxons and Bavarians even punished adulterers by giving them a piece of rope and forcing them to hang themselves with it, after the body had been cremated the lover was hung above the pile of ash of the adulterer, however; having sex with someone else than your partner was sometimes allowed as long as one's husband or wife approved of it, which they sometimes did since love and sex were seen as separate things.
    Having sex before marriage was no problem and people were not ashamed of nudity; both are later Christian influences, in heathen society sex was seen as something pleasant that also ensured the continuity of the group.
    A good example from a later period is the Franconian emperor Charlemagne who takes a bath in a river together with his retinue, an emperor being naked in front of his people would have been unheared of in later times, men and women could also bathe together though this was mostly avoided because this often resulted in something else than bathing...
    Having sex with someone who was under 18 was not considered a crime as long as that person was sexually and mentally mature and the differences in age weren't too big, this was common in most ancient cultures and I estimate that the average age to start with sex was between 13 and 16 years old.
    Pedophilia was not accepted and childmolestors were killed in dumped into a bog, homosexuality was not seen as something evil though most people found it a bit odd and probably did not wish to be confronted with it in public, though this depended on the period because I have also heard some examples of extreme intolerance towards homosexual people.

    From Julius Caesar's "Commentarii de bello Gallico": book VI, 21:
    "Their whole life is occupied in hunting and in the pursuits of the military art; from childhood they devote themselves to fatigue and hardships. Those who have remained chaste for the longest time, receive the greatest commendation among their people; they think that by this the growth is promoted, by this the physical powers are increased and the sinews are strengthened. And to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year they reckon among the most disgraceful acts; of which matter there is no concealment, because they bathe promiscuously in the rivers and only use skins or small cloaks of deers hides, a large portion of the body being in consequence naked."

  • Personal hygiene; Bathing was not done often and in those days it was very uncommon to bathe more then once a month, though it is known that in later periods Viking men were very popular among British women because they bathed at least once a week, something that was considered very tidy in that time.
    Despite their indifference about bathing the Germans offered much attention to the other aspects of their personal hygiene; many perfume bottles have been found in Germanic graves and most of them also carried a small case on their belt that contained a comb, tools to clean ones ears and nose, and a razor blade, for most Germans this case belonged to their standard equipment.

  • Racism and tolerance; the Germans referred to non-Germans (like Celts and Romans) with the word "walha", which means "stranger", "slave", or "foreigner" ("walahaz" in Proto-Germanic), the modern name for Wales has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon version of this word ("wealas") which the Anglo-Saxons used to refer to the Welsh Celts, the names Walloon, Wallis, and Wallachia are also derived from Walha.
    One of the reasons why the Germans differed between their own folk and others may have been the belief that the Germanic peoples descend from three tribes that were fathered by the gods, a belief that can be found back in Tacitus' work as well as in later legends.
    Unfortunately there are many misconceptions about racism and tolerance amongst our Germanic ancestors;on one side there is the nazi-propaganda that claims the ideas of our ancestors were just like theirs and on the other hand there is the modern "political correctness" that exaggerates the tolerance of the Germans to fit them into their own ideas, I have even heard people claim that the Roman occupation of Germanic borderlands was a multicultural society instead of a Germanic population being controlled by a Roman occupation force and a handfull of Celtic bureaucrats in Roman service.
    It is true that some tribes (like the Goths and the Anglo-Saxons) had laws that prohibited marriages with non-Germanic partners but there were also tribes who had not, which probably depended on who was in charge. Just like the people today the Germans also knew many different opinions and levels of tolerance that differed in each person, therefor it's impossible to claim that they were all of one opinion.

  • Freedom; our ancestors valued their freedom above everything else, it was the most important value in their life and without it life meant nothing to them.
    Caesar's "Commentarii de bello Gallico" mentions that the Suebians were not used to obligation and discipline and that they never did anything against their will.
    After losing a battle the people often fled their lands to avoid being enslaved by the conquerors (like the Visigoths during the Hunnic invasion) and Germanic warriors often fought to the death and sometimes even commited suicide after a lost battle.
    Roman sources give us an even more extreme example; after losing a major battle against the Romans the entire tribe of the Cimbrians committed suicide to avoid being enslaved; the women killed their children, the men killed their women, and then they killed eachother, the last man threw himself into his sword...

  • Honour; another important aspect of Germanic culture was honour, if the honour of a man and/or his family was harmed that person had the right to restore it, even by force; every living being had to be respected including yourself.
    An honourful person had to be prepared to take responsibility for his or her actions because those influenced the surrounding world, if one did evil he would meet evil and he who did good would meet good, the Germans believed that every person would be treated in the same way that he or she treated others and in their personal contacts they took the same approach.
    The duty of a strong person like a warrior was to protect the weak and the innocent and a man was not allowed to hit a woman unless his life was at stake; a man who harmed women or people who were weak, sick, old, or innocent was considered to be a coward and got the same as what he did to others.
    Harming an animal without a good reason was not accepted in Germanic society either, although lifestock was seen as a possession they were still living beings who deserved respect, so for instance a man who was unnecessarily cruel towards a dog risked a beating from the people who saw it, in later times such a person had to pay a fine to the owner of the animal.
    Killing an animal was only allowed to obtain food, hides, or other necessary products or because it posed a danger to humans or livestock, some of the holy animals like for instance the raven (who was associated with the god Wodan) were not to be harmed at all.
    In heathen society there was a whole different relationship between humans and animals, people saw themselves as a part of nature and did not see animals as lesser beings like we do now.
    Animals were often admired for their strength or hunting skills and during festivals and religious ceremonies people often dressed up as animals to symbolically receive their powers, for this purpose many items were also decorated with animal motives.

    Trade:
    Caesar mentions that the Suebians hardly imported any goods but most Germanic tribes were intensive traders.
    Besides the trading that occurred between villages and tribes the Germans also conducted much trade with neighbouring peoples and they even aquired goods from far away areas like Greece, northern Africa, and the Middle East, though this kind of trade was in most cases performed in an indirect way via a link of merchants, in Helg near Stockholm archeologists have even found an idol of Buddha from the 5th or 6th century that was imported all the way from India.
    Depending on a tribes' location they traded and used goods that were available to them in that area, in Scandinavia for instance there was a rich bronze and iron industry and the tribes at the North- and Eastsea coast traded hides and amber, in the areas north and east of the Alps (modern day Bavaria and Bohemia) there was a lot of trade in iron, gold, tin, and copper.
    Especially the northern Germans in Scandinavia had an extensive trading network; they had the advantage of living on a crosspoint of water routes and they had good ships and well trained sailors available to them, they traded with the British isles, Greenland, France, Spain, the Mediterranian, the Germanic tribes in mainland Europe, Finland, Russia, and they even accessed the Ukraine and other areas aroud the Black Sea via the rivers Don and Wolga.
    In the early Middle Ages many powerful trading cities in Scandinavia, northern Germany, the Netherlands, and the Baltic states formed a trading alliance known as the Hanseatic league, "Hanze" (Dutch) or "Hansa" (German) means "group" or "community", this trading alliance grew very rich and powerful.
    In Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands there are also remains of the so called "Hessenwegen" (Hessian-roads), this roads were named after the Hessian merchants that often used them during the Middle Ages but their origins are much older.
    A Hessenweg was an old dirtroad that did not connect cities and villages but was mainly used for trading, archeologists believe that the remnants of this roads were once part of a trading network between various Germanic tribes.
    In the Dutch provinces of Limburg, Noord-Brabant, and Gelderland there is an old custom to place a "hagelkruis" (hailcross) on crossing points of roads as a defence against hail and protection of the harvest, nowadays this are mainly Christian crosses and images of Jesus, Maria, or a saint; a similar custom exists in southern Germany and Austria.
    I have noticed that this custom mainly exists in Catholic areas though I would not be surprised if it would be of a heathen origin.

    Food and drinking:
    The Germans mostly ate fish, meat, fruit, nuts, and vegetables, also water, milk, mead, and beer were greatly appreciated, they baked bread, made butter, cheese, obtained food via trade, etc. most of the food and drink they consumed did not differ from what we have nowadays, only then it was a bit healthier and more natural.
    According to Tacitus they satisfied their hunger without any elaborate cuisine or appetizers, Caesar mentions that the Suebians mainly consumed milk, meat, and game.
    In Medieval Scandinavia it was forbidden to eat raw meat, I'm not sure about the exact reason for this but the the people probably did this because they noticed that a person could get sick from eating it.
    The average German ate two big meals a day; one in the morning and one in the evening, though that probably differed in each family.
    In the Middle Ages milk was seen as "unhealthy" and people immediately washed their mouths after drinking it because they believed that it would make their teeth rotten, milk contains lots of calcium so it's actually very healthy for your teeth but unfortunately they didn't knew that back then, I'm not sure whether this belief is of ancient origin though, personally I think that it dates from a later period.
    Wine was imported by the tribes near the rivers Rhine and Danube, though substitute wine was also brewed from barley (in most other Germanic languages known as gerst, gerste, byg, or bygg) or other types of grain.

    Thrall, Karl, and Jarl:
    Germanic society was based on the "stairs" principle; some people stood on a higher step than others.
    This is very striking considering the equality, tolerance, and liberal conceptions of the ancient Germans, we must however keep in mind that slavery was common in that time and that almost every people knew that system.
    According to the Eddan poem Rigsula the god Heimdall divided the Germanic society into three groups; Thralls (Slaves), Karls (Average persons), and Jarls (Nobles):

  • the Jarls were the nobles, sometimes great warriors, skalds, and goi's were also considered Jarls.
    A Jarl had more rights than the average person and they were often the ones who were elected as leaders.
  • the Karls were the average people, the farmers, the warriors, the fishermen, etc. they had voting rights and a normal amount of freedom that can almost be compared to that of many modern European societies.
  • the Thralls were the slaves; most of them were foreign peoples who were captured during wars but Tacitus also mentions people becoming someones slave voluntarily to pay off their debts with a person.
    Thralls were considered the property of their master, a crime committed to the Thrall was a crime committed to the master's property, the Thralls had no voting rights in the ing (folk assembly) and had to do what their master asked of them.
    The Thralls did have some rights though, he was the property of the master but he was also considered a human being, some masters eventually freed their slaves after some years of service, and even became friends with the Thrall.

    A good example can be found in the Gylfaginning, a story from the Prose Edda in which the god Thor visited a farmer and was so grateful for his hospitality that he slaughtered his two billy-goats Tanngnost and Tanngrisnir and offered the meat to the farmer and his children, Thor asked the farmer not to break the bones because he was going to bring his billy-goats back to life the day after.
    However, the farmers' son Thialfi broke one of the bones to suck the marrow out of it and when Thor restored life to his goats the next day using his magical hammer Mjllnir he noticed that one of the goats was cripple.
    Thor became very angry and he threatened to destroy the farm, he demanded retribution for his goat and the farmer then offered his son (Thialfi) and daughter (Roskva) as servants to Thor.
    Thialfi and Roskva became Thors' most loyal servants and they are sometimes mentioned in the sagas like for instance in the story about the running match against the Frost Giants, in those texts Thor treats his servants well.

    Most people who get confronted with the term "slavery" immediately think of the massive slave trade in the period between 1600AD and 1700AD and the inhumane treatment of Negroe slaves who were abducted from their villages and transported to the New World, (in which my people the Dutch unfortunately also played a big role) however; in Germanic society a slave lived in his master's house and was treated like a family member, they did have less rights but they were treated fairly and their situation cannot be compared to the more "modern" types of slavery.
    Slavery was so common back then that in 950AD over 30% of the population of Iceland consisted of slaves, mainly from Scotland and Ireland.
    The slaves in Iceland also had to change their name into an Icelandic one, a practice that has continued to this day; modern Iceland still has a law that obliges people who move there to choose an Icelandic name.

    The mythological explanation of the caste system can be found in the Rigsula, a book from the Edda in which the god Heimdallr travels to Midgard (the human world) disguised as a travelling man named Rigr ("Ruler"), after a long day of travelling Rigr knocks on the door of i and Edda (great grandfather and great grandmother) and asks if he can spend the night there.
    He is invited in and he gets a simple meal, at night he may sleep between the two old people in their bed.
    The next morning great grandmother gives birth to an ugly child with black hair and a bended back, but when he grew up he became a strong man who worked hard.
    He was called Thrall (Slave) and he married Thr (Female Slave), together they begot 12 sons and 9 daughters.
    Rigr then travels on to the next house; he is invited in by Afi and Amma (grandfather and grandmother) and he enjoys a good meal and gets his own bed.
    The next morning grandmother gives birth to a child, it was healthy and when he grew up he became a hard worker at the farm.
    He was called Karl (Guy) and he married Snoer (Daughter-in-law), they got 12 sons and 10 daughters.
    Rigr then leaves and goes to the next house, he is invited in by Fair and Moir, (father and mother), he gets a terrific meal and a warm bed.
    The next morning Moir gives birth to a child, it was healthy and blonde, and when he grew up he turned out to be a good hunter and fighter and he won every battle, Rigr accepted him as his son and learned him the secrets of the runes.
    He was called Jarl (Earl or Nobleman) and he married a blonde and intelligent woman named Erna (Resolute), they got 12 sons.
    The youngest son of Jarl was Konr who married a woman named Dana, together they got a child that they named Danur, and they became rich and powerful.
    Their followers were called Danen (Danes) and from them the Danish people was believed to originate, according to the legends the Danish royal family descended from Skjld, who was a son of Odin, therefor the royal family was also called "Skjldungen".

    There are many historians who believe that the caste system has been added later by Medieval kings and that the Germanic culture originally did not knew such a system.

    Golden bracelet found in Beilen, the Netherlands Wedding and divorce:
    Weddings were often arranged by the father or the oldest brother of a woman, though the personal wishes of the woman were almost always respected in this decision, if two people loved eachother and decided they wanted to get married they could also ask their parents for approval, something that was mostly given unless there was a big difference in the social positions of both partners; since Germanic society was based on a "clan" system (sibbe) the family preferred a partner from a powerful and influential group over one of a "lower" stance.
    If a wedding was not possible because of social differences it often occurred that the two partners chose to live together without marrying, something that was often quietly accepted by most people.
    A wedding was also arranged to be sure about who the father was when the woman became pregnant, so that the father's family would support the child too.
    As I have said earlier; extramarital sex could still be performed by both husband and wife as long as the other partner approved of it, though if a woman was known for her many "adventures" and she became pregnant from a man other then her husband it was considered inappropriate to ask the father for support, there were no real laws or regulations for it but there was a high level of social control so it were often the other villagers and family members who decided what should be done in certain cases.
    Men who had sex with other women than their wives (without her permission) were considered dishonourful cheaters and lost their credibility and respect among the other people in the community, after the Christianization the penalties for adultery became less equal; men only had to pay a fine while women were sometimes banned from the village or even boiled alive in a pot of oil.
    In Germanic society men sometimes owned a female slave to have sex with; those women were of a lower social class and were not considered a threat by the man's wife, especially the Vikings (who often took nice women with them on raids) seem to have had this custom.
    Despite their liberal sexuality the Germans were a very monogamous people when it came to love alone and a man was only allowed to marry one woman, though a man with a high rank in the community could sometimes have more than one wife because stategically chosen marriages were sometimes needed to strengthen the bonds with other powerful families and sibben, but this depended on the period and the situation because I've also heard of cases where a king was not allowed to marry multiple women and was forced to make a choice.
    Tacitus said the following about the Germans; "That what makes the Germans almost unique amongst barbarians, is that their men are content with one woman."

    In most cases a marriage was held on a Friday because this day was dedicated to Freya, the godess of love, fertility, sexuality, and marriage (these days Friday is still the day on which traditionally the most people marry), another popular day for a wedding was Thursday, the day that was dedicated to Thunar, who also played an important role in marriage.
    A heathen wedding ceremony was often held near a tree, well, or other holy place, just like Christians prefer to marry in a church.
    There is an old Dutch proverb (which is no longer used these days) that referred to couples who lived together without being officially married for church or law; "Over de put getrouwd zijn" (being married over the well), this may have referred to the old heathen custom of marrying over a well or other holy place. (source: J.Schuyf, "Heidens Nederland")

    I shall now describe some Scandinavian wedding rituals that date from the early Middle Ages because most of this rituals were probably identical to those held in Northern Europe in earlier times.
    The bride was given new cloths and was bathed by her mother, other married women, and sometimes a Gyja (heathen priestess).
    Women did not wear a white dress like they do nowadays but a blue cloak and a wedding-crown decorated with flowers, silver, silk, and other materials, she also wore a bridal bouqet; both the wedding-crown and the bouquet are still used today and their original meaning was to ward off evil spirits and/or grant fertility to the marriage.
    For the wedding ceremony the groom had to obtain a sword from one of his ancestors, this could be done by digging one up from an ancestor's grave but most of the time a special sword was kept for this occasion.
    The groom was then bathed and clothed by his father, other married men, and sometimes a Goi (heathen priest), he did not wear a black suit with a tie like grooms do now, but just his normal clothing, though preferably a new and clean outfit that looked a bit tidy.
    During the ceremony the groom carried his ancestral sword and also a hammer, which was the symbol of the god Thor, to make sure that the marriage would have his blessing.
    At the beginning of the ceremony dowries were exchanged before the watching eye of witnesses, in later Scandinavian society it was custom that the couple gave eachother a dowry but in earlier Germanic culture only the groom gave his bride a dowry; in earlier times the bride did give her husband some gifts however, most of the times this were weapons or something similar, only then it wasn't considered to be a dowry.
    The dowry always consisted of practical and valuable items, the traditional dowry was a pair of oxen, a horse with bridle, a spear, a sword, and a shield, though the poorer people probably had less expensive dowries.
    These gifts had a symbolical meaning; the pair of oxen symbolized the unity of husband and wife; they were now bound together and had to endure both the positive and negative sides of life as a pair, the horse with bridle probably symbolized the new marriage that would carry the pair through life, and the weapons may have reminded the pair to the struggle that was still a part of their life, the bride also had to keep those weapons so that her children could later use them in their wedding ceremony too, when the parents and family of the bride approved the dowry (which they almost always did) it was time to continue.
    The ceremony was held outside, preferably near a temple, grove, holy tree, or other special place, the bride was escorted to the ceremony by young family members (bridesmaids originate from that custom) who carried a sword that would be presented to the groom as a gift, then the religious part of the ceremony began; gods were invoked and offerings (bltar) were made.
    The godess Freya was asked to bless the couple with fertility and also Thor and Frey were important in the marriage ceremony, a hammer was placed between the legs of the bride to bless the marriage and grant her fertility, an animal was slaughtered and the blood was dripped into a bowl, the flesh was later eaten by the guests.
    The bowl with the blood was placed on a hrg (altar) and then a bundle of twigs was dipped into the blood, the couple and their guests were then sprinkled with the blood to call the blessing of the gods over them. (maybe that's why they didn't use a white dress ;)
    The groom then gave the sword of his ancestors to his bride, (this ancestral sword was kept by the bride who would later give it to her son) and the bride then gave her husband the other sword she was holding, this exchange of swords had a symbolical meaning; the ancestral sword of the groom represented the traditions of the family and the continuation of the blood line, the sword of the bride symbolized the protective power over her that was transferred from her father to her new husband.
    After the exchange of the swords the couple exchanged rings just like we do today, only then the rings were presented on the hilts of the swords the partners were carrying, they then held their ring upon their hand and their other hand both on the same sword.
    The ring-exchanging custom was not used in earlier Germanic culture, this custom was adopted in later times and is originally of Roman origin.
    After the ceremony it was time for the "bride-ride"; this was a race that was held between the family of the bride and that of the groom, the family that had lost the race had to serve beer and ale to the other family during the feast, this race did not had many rules and there are stories about Norse families bringing their horses to a wedding ceremony to make sure that they would win.
    The dividing of the bridal cake was done by the bride because it was believed that it would bring over the blessing and fertility of the bride to the other guests, the custom of throwing a shoe after the departing couple is possibly a repulsion against evil spirits; by offering something that has been carried and has thus become a part of the owner the person buys off the evil spirits or fools them into harming the shoe instead of the person who wore it.
    The modern custom of throwing rice at the couple was originally done to bring fertility to the newlyweds, in older times the people probably used grain for this because rice was originally unknown in Europe.
    When the bride went home her new husband was waiting for her and blocked the door entry to the house with his sword so that she could not enter without his company, he then lead her over the doorstep into the house; the step over the doorstep had a symbolic meaning; it was the transmission from maidenhood to marriage, (during wedding ceremonies today it is still a custom to carry the bride inside) if the bride tripped over the doorstep it was considered a very bad omen.
    Once inside, the husband plunged his sword into a supporting pillar of the house; the deeper the crack, the deeper the love between him and his bride would be.
    It was then time for the wedding night in which the two partners would spend their first night as husband and wife, on the day thereafter the groom gave his bride a "morning gift"; this was often a small present to show his appreciation of her.
    After the marriage a big party was held that continued for approximately a week.

    Divorce: when the relationship between husband and wife deteriorated and tensions became too high between the two families the couple could decide to divorce.
    The couple expressed their wishes in front of witnesses and then called an assembly of the people in the village (ing), they then formally declared their divorce to the people, the next step was arranging how their belongings would be divided.
    Custody over their children was also arranged and each party had to pay an amount of support for them.