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Barbarian Europe

Karol Modzelewski

European culture has been greatly influenced by the Christian Church and Greek and Roman culture. However, the peoples of Europe’s remote past, whom the Greeks, Romans, and their medieval heirs called the «barbarians», also left their mark. Closely examining ancient and medieval narratives and the codifications of laws, this thoughtfully conducted comparative study sheds light on the illiterate societies of the early Germanic and Slavic peoples. The picture that emerges is one of communities built on kinship, neighborly, and tribal relations, where decision making, judgement, and punishment were carried out collectively, and the distinction between the sacred and profane was unknown.
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Chapter III. An Individual in the Realm of a Kinship Community


1. Revenge and Wergild

According to Tacitus, for the Germanic peoples, “To take on the enmities and friendships of one’s father or kinsman is a firm obligation. But these do not endure without chance of resolution, for by a fixed number of cattle and sheep they can make amends even for manslaughter, and the entire family receives satisfaction: to public advantage, since feuds waged freely are more fraught with danger” (Suscipere tam inimicitas seu patris seu propinqui quam amicitias necesse est; nec implacabiles durant; luitur enim et homicidium certo armentorum ac pecorum numero recipitque satisfactionem universa domus, utiliter in publico, quia periculosiores sunt inimicitiae iuxta libertatem).159

The interpretation of this passage of Germania has long been uncontested, despite the ornamental stylistics obfuscating the sense of the argument. The Latin sources of the early Middle Ages routinely used the word inimicita as a synonym of the Germanic term faida (feud). We can infer from the context that the word inimicita had this meaning also in chapter 21 of Germania and possibly already in the lost History of the Germanic Wars by Pliny the Elder, from where Tacitus drew the most valuable information. Tacitus himself relished antitheses so he added to the word inimicita its opposite (amicitia), although he continued to talk only of the feud and not of friendship.

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