Roman historian Tacitus (56-101 AD) composed the Germania (98 AD), an ethnographical and historical description of the German peoples. The surviving, comprehensive study of the society was one of the earliest and most complete works of its kind. While it may seem an unlikely source to contain insights into the complexities of the Roman aristocracy, Tacitus was aware of the specific Roman senatorial audience to whom this work would be presented. Therefore, the Germania contains moralizing allegories in which he uses the “primitive” but virtuous German tribe to comment on what he believed to be the moral deterioration of Rome.
The famed Augustus made morality a primary interest and during his reign he passed strict laws aimed directly at women. Rather than working to control their “licentiousness,” moralists like Tacitus suspected the legislation’s effect on Romans was quite the opposite. This presentation will focus on Chapter XIX of the Germania: by analyzing Tacitus’ conventional view of the “ideal” female through his glorification of German women, a better understanding of gender role expectations in Rome will be exposed. He purposefully juxtaposes the simplicity of Germans with the lavish banquets of Rome in order to connect immorality with the sensually humorous world of elegiac poetry. Using the comical stereotypes present in Ovid, Propertius, and Tibullus, Tacitus twists them around to comment seriously on society.
Erin Daly, ’12
Majors: Art and Art History, Classical Studies
Sponsor: Philip Venticinque