1043 BARBARIAN ASCENDENCY-TRIBES OF THE NORTH.
villages, and their days were spent in the vicissitudes of the chase and war. In their
personal habits they were coarse, heavy, gluttonous. They filled their capacious stomachs
with meat and cheese. They heated themselves with strong drinks. When excitement
failed, they would lie for whole days in half-stupor in the ashes of their hearth-stones, unkempt, and indifferent to all surroundings.
Very different, however, was their mood when
aroused by the summons of war. In battle
their onset was terrible. They fought both
on foot and on horseback-the footman running by the side of the cavalryman and supporting himself by the horse's mane. If the horseman fell in the fight, the footman bore
away his body and took his place in the next
onset. The intrepidity of these barbarian
warriors was such as to challenge the admiration as well as excite the terror of their enemies.
The government of the German tribes was
a kind of military monarchy; but the chieftain was elected by the warriors of his nation,
whose custom it was to raise their leader on
their shields and thus proclaim him king.
Between the various tribes there was a strong
bond of sympathy, and frequent alliances
were made, embracing many peoples and kindreds in different parts of Germany. Such
leagues, however, were generally formed for
a specific purpose, and when this end had
once been attained the confederation ceased,
and the tribes resumed their independence.
The nations of the North had their own
superstitions and systems of religion. The
great gods of the race were Odin and Thor-the
former being the supreme deity of the Teutonic pantheon, and the latter having some of
the attributes of Hercules and others of Jove.
The goddess Freya, or Frigga, was also worshipped as a favorite divinity, as the mistress
of nature and the guardian of the dead. The
superstitions of the race were peculiarly dark
and doleful, but the Germanic mythology was
far more rational than that of the Celts. In
general, the Teutons rejected the notion of
sacrifice. They refused to recognize as gods
any beings whom they could not see. Only the
obvious was worshipped. A deity by whose assistance they were not manifestly benefited
they rejected as worse than useless. They
adored the sun, the moon, and fire; but the
unseen deities of the Greeks and Romans they
regarded as inane abstractions, unworthy of
adoration. With the infinitely inflected mythological systems of the South the Germans
were unacquainted, even by common report.
Among the Teutonic nations the family tie
was especially strong and abiding. That which
the modern world defines as virtue appears to
have been an inherent quality of the German
nature. A common sentiment or instinct, rather than positive enactments of law upheld
the monogamic relation, and insured a chastity
which, if not universal, was the prevailing
rule of conduct. The German youth of both
sexes were reared in the utmost freedom; but
such was the force of public opinion among
the tribes that lapses from the established
standard of morality were almost unknown.
No young man might marry until he had
passed his twentieth year, and the preservation of continence to a still later period of life
was regarded as highly honorable. "For,"
says Caesar, "it is held among the Germans
that by this reservation of the bodily powers