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Romans and Aliens

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 02, 2010 at 11:45 PM

While browsing an out-of-print history book "Romans and Aliens" (no, not the kind from outer space) I came across an interesting comment made about the "Germans" (obviously the ancestors of modern day Germans as their were no Germans then): this author wrote that when any German would come south into the Roman Empire and take up a Roman lifestyle, their bodies quickly went "flabby."

The northern Europeans alive at the time of the Roman Empire were not a Paleolithic people as they did drink beer but surely they were not too far removed from the lifestyle of their Paleolithic ancestors. When they adopted a completely foreign Roman diet which consisted of agricultural products their bodies quickly reacted ... badly.

The ancient German was far taller than the ancient Roman but the Romans could outfight any German army. This author also noted that the Germans could not tolerate the sun and dust of the Mediterranean and would be often found lounging in the shade of the nearest tree. No wonder the Romans considered them complete wimps.

Make of this what you will.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on October 04, 2010
at 05:48 PM

@Eva -- you have to understand Caesar's POV. He admires them for their physicality -- but has disdain for their utter lack of culture and education. Caesar, after all, was a highly educated and superb military engineer/leader who spoke 2, if not more, languages and was a native of Rome.

B22e5946e28a1845a6006737e59edfc6

(2437)

on October 03, 2010
at 11:49 PM

You do know that multiple German tribes sacked Rome and the final fall of the Western Roman empire was by a German cheifan right?

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on October 03, 2010
at 06:32 AM

Keep in mind that Ceasar had a (hidden) agenda when he wrote this. If he said some tribe were incredibly fierce and strong, he meant: and we won from those. Ceasar was at that point not (yet) emperor. He once said (in 'De Bello Gallico) that the Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls. I'm a Belgian ;-)

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on October 03, 2010
at 05:28 AM

Weird, first he says they have no discipline and do nothing contrary to their inclination. But then he talks about them attempting to remain chaste (at least some of them) and devoting themselves from childhood to fatigue and hardships and pursuits of the military art. The one does seem to contradict the other. Perhaps Caesar's view of discipline was just different.

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on October 03, 2010
at 12:23 AM

... than the gladiators, I mean.

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on October 03, 2010
at 12:22 AM

Gladiators were - to some extent - slaves where soldiers were not. I'm guessing that the armies that beat up on the Gauls and Germans were probably better fed.

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5 Answers

4
B294438548c32ed878905baf6cd1b332

on October 03, 2010
at 04:14 AM

This reminded me of a quote I had read on Paleohacks a while back. Here's how Caesar summed up the Germans:

The nation of the Suevi is by far the largest and the most warlike nation of all the Germans.... They do not live much on corn, but subsist for the most part on milk and flesh, and are much [engaged] in hunting; which circumstance must, by the nature of their food, and by their daily exercise and the freedom of their life (for having from boyhood been accustomed to no employment, or discipline, they do nothing at all contrary to their inclination), both promote their strength and render them men of vast stature of body. And to such a habit have they brought themselves, that even in the coldest parts they wear no clothing whatever except skins, by reason of the scantiness of which, a great portion of their body is bare, and besides they bathe in open rivers.

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.... They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh.

And, here's a link back to the original: http://paleohacks.com/questions/7009/caesar-on-the-ancient-germans

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on October 03, 2010
at 06:32 AM

Keep in mind that Ceasar had a (hidden) agenda when he wrote this. If he said some tribe were incredibly fierce and strong, he meant: and we won from those. Ceasar was at that point not (yet) emperor. He once said (in 'De Bello Gallico) that the Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls. I'm a Belgian ;-)

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on October 04, 2010
at 05:48 PM

@Eva -- you have to understand Caesar's POV. He admires them for their physicality -- but has disdain for their utter lack of culture and education. Caesar, after all, was a highly educated and superb military engineer/leader who spoke 2, if not more, languages and was a native of Rome.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on October 03, 2010
at 05:28 AM

Weird, first he says they have no discipline and do nothing contrary to their inclination. But then he talks about them attempting to remain chaste (at least some of them) and devoting themselves from childhood to fatigue and hardships and pursuits of the military art. The one does seem to contradict the other. Perhaps Caesar's view of discipline was just different.

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on October 02, 2010
at 11:58 PM

Military success of armies is often based more on training and strategy than on individual prowess and health. The Romans were well organized and well trained. Ironically, a stable permanent economy and agriculture probably is what allowed that to happen in the first place. However, keep in mind that they did eventually fall..

2
C0887358ae041723ba426a6ad4732cfc

on October 02, 2010
at 11:54 PM

Most vacationing Germans are flabby, so I guess his thesis holds up.

1
08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on October 03, 2010
at 12:01 AM

Roman Gladiators subsisted on a diet rich in simple carbohydrates mainly in the form of barley, beans and dried fruits but no meat or animal protein. Guess what, it made them flabby also.

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on October 03, 2010
at 12:23 AM

... than the gladiators, I mean.

5841391284e7af8c495c54bd90d3a795

(2764)

on October 03, 2010
at 12:22 AM

Gladiators were - to some extent - slaves where soldiers were not. I'm guessing that the armies that beat up on the Gauls and Germans were probably better fed.

0
149af6e19a06675614dfbb6838a7d7c0

on October 03, 2010
at 03:45 AM

The Gladiators killed millions of animals in the games not because they were forced to, they were hoping to get a little meat. When the Romans ran out of local game they brought back exotic beasts from as far off as Africa to spice up the contests. But it was bread that did them in. Bread makes you lazy. That's where the word "loaf" or "to loaf"comes from. It's Latin root is "loafacles" which means "eater of wheat not flesh". What about the "Roman Meal" bread connection? Coincidence? I think not!

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