Marriage and Women

Marriage was a central element of Germanic social order. Men and women pair-bonded for life, in committed, monogamous relationships. Some of our existing assumptions about the function and form of marriage in ancient times may be challenged by what we see here.

Marriage Laws

Yet the laws of matrimony are severely observed there; for in the whole of their manners is aught more praiseworthy than this: for they are almost the only Barbarians contented with one wife, excepting a very few amongst them; men of dignity who marry divers wives, from no wantonness or lubricity, but courted for the lustre of their family into many alliances.

Thanks to the spread of Christianity, the concept of marriage and matrimonial bonds was reimagined as a sort of divine reflection of the believer's relationship with their messiah. This doctrine has been used in more modern times to put forth the thesis that without Christianity's forces at play, marriage might not exist at all.

We can see this is untrue, from the simple fact that the Germanics took monogamy and commitment - the cornerstones of marriage - very seriously. The commentary on the monogamous nature of their pair-bonding is also important here: some academics and historians hold that polygamy was once common among all tribes of people, and this may be considered evidence to the contrary.

In Germania, polygamy was not typical. Chieftains might take multiple wives in the interest of forming alliances with neighboring tribes, but the practice was more political treaty than everyday tradition.

The Role of Women

To the husband, the wife tenders no dowry; but the husband, to the wife. The parents and relations attend and declare their approbation of the presents, not presents adapted to feminine pomp and delicacy, nor such as serve to deck the new married woman; but oxen and horse accoutred, and a shield, with a javelin and sword. By virtue of these gifts, she is espoused. She too on her part brings her husband some arms. This they esteem the highest tie, these the holy mysteries, and matrimonial Gods.

The details about Germanic marriage tradition illustrate the importance of the man and woman coming together as partners, rather than the Christian tradition of a woman submissively passing from the authority of her father to the authority of her husband. The husband was expected to bring animals, weapons, and tools of defense for his wife, and she was expected to bring him weapons in turn.

The final paragraph of this section expounds on the purpose of these marriage gifts.

That the woman may not suppose herself free from the considerations of fortitude and fighting, or exempt from the casualties of war, the very first solemnities of her wedding serve to warn her, that she comes to her husband as a partner in his hazards and fatigues, that she is to suffer alike with him, to adventure alike, during peace or during war. This the oxen joined in the same yoke plainly indicate, this the horse ready equipped, this the present of arms. 'Tis thus she must be content to live, thus to resign life. The arms which she then receives she must preserve inviolate, and to her sons restore the same, as presents worthy of them, such as their wives may again receive, and still resign to her grandchildren.

A Germanic wife was partner to her husband, not subordinate to his implicit authority. She was expected to fight right alongside her husband in defense of life, land, and liberty, and she was expected to be part of his life. The gifts of marriage are symbolic, and are intended to be passed from generation to generation, as a symbol of this partnership bond, and the lifelong commitment that springs from it.

But wait…there's more!

Marriage Age and Preparedness

Slow and late do the young men come to the use of women, and thus very long preserve the vigour of youth. Neither are the virgins hastened to wed. They must both have the same sprightly youth, the like stature, and marry when equal and able-bodied. Thus the robustness of the parents is inherited by the children.

In an era when it feels like every part of society has been inverted, discourse on the subject of proper marrying age has become more common. There are those from all political persuasions who believe that, at some point in the distant past, our children were married off at a young age, preferably only a few years after puberty.

It seems the Germanics did not agree with this ideal, and preferred their children to grow up, mature, and prove themselves before finding a mate. Not only did this ensure the adult child was fully prepared for the lifetime commitment of matrimony, it also ensured they found a mate equally well-prepared.

“When equal” is important here, too. Unlike the Christian patriarchal model, which sees women as subordinate (and thus inferior) to men, Germanics were egalitarian. “Equality” is a concept that has become a dirty word for many in the alt-right, because it has been moralized on a global scale, decreeing that everyone on Earth should be “equal.” It's important to not restrict words to their worst interpretation when reading a text like Germania, which is full of terms that have become politically and ideologically overloaded in modern parlance.

The Germanics did view women as equal to men - not equal in function or form, but equal in essence. Women were viewed as whole individual adults, just like men, and both entered marriage on equal footing.


The Germanics held marriage vows in the highest esteem. A man is made complete by taking a wife and building a family. Because such things require maturity and a sense of responsibility, the Germanics found their children's marriages fared better when they didn't rush into marriage. This can be presumed from the given details of their marriage habits.

Marriage is a serious commitment. It can be the most fulfilling, lasting bond in your life, provided you choose a good partner. What we can learn from the Germanics is that being ready for marriage is an important key to longevity and success. While it doesn't serve the interests of family-building to avoid marriage until your late 20s (or into your 30s), the same can be said for marrying too soon.

When the kids wait until they're in their 20s to get married, the parents have a bigger role, too, in making sure their adult children are well-prepared to find a partner and marry for life. Germanic life wasn't about a strict hierarchy and authority structure imposed on the marriage relationship; it was about survival, longevity, and self-sufficiency. Parents were expected to raise strong, self-sufficient children of both sexes, and this model certainly contributed to the stability of their partner bonds.