Quite a few years ago, I watched a documentary about Germanic tribes which claimed that for some tribes, "plundering was more honorable than working", or something to that extent.

Is this true? Especially, has this been recorded by any Roman or Greek historian?

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    If memory serves, this video (or this one) from Yales' Open Course on Early Medieval History (itself based on Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome) puts a few similar ideas forward. Not "plundering is more honorable than working" exactly (that I can remember of), but certainly things like plundering being common and kind of what you'd do as a matter of course to keep troops and their leaders happy. Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 17:49
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    FWIW: I can dig up a quote from one of the Penguin Atlases making this claim (about the Norsemen at least).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 17:50
  • @DenisdeBernardy Thanks for the link! If I remember correctly, the documentary explained they would look down on people who worked to make a living (like cultivating the land), and would see themselves as superior because they could crush them militarily.
    – nayriz
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 17:59
  • @T.E.D. : sure, I'd love to have that reference too!
    – nayriz
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 18:00
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    @T.E.D. Many cultures look up to those who die valiantly in battle, but it's usually against people of equal strength, not helpless peasants... "To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory". And only societies stratified along classes would look down on "work" if you see what I mean. But please do provide the reference if you can find it.
    – nayriz
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


Tacitus's Germania XIV says this:

In the place of pay, they are supplied with a daily table and repasts; though grossly prepared, yet very profuse. For maintaining such liberality and munificence, a fund is furnished by continual wars and plunder. Nor could you so easily persuade them to cultivate the ground, or to await the return of the seasons and produce of the year, as to provoke the foe and to risk wounds and death: since stupid and spiritless they account it, to acquire by their sweat what they can gain by their blood.

Another translation:

Feasts and entertainments, which, though inelegant, are plentifully furnished, are their only pay. The means of this bounty come from war and rapine. Nor are they as easily persuaded to plough the earth and to wait for the year's produce as to challenge an enemy and earn the honour of wounds. Nay, they actually think it tame and stupid to acquire by the sweat of toil what they might win by their blood.

  • That's exactly it.
    – nayriz
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:44

Depends on the Germanic group and what is meant by "plunder".

The Vikings, for example, originally came to plunder and burn Christian churches in Britain and the mainland as revenge for Charlemagne's abuse of pagan polytheists. They of course deemed fighting for their faith more honourable than" working " ie plowing fields.

However, this is quite a broad question considering the Germanic peoples are a wide and diverse conglomeration.

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    I disagree with the revenge argument. Charlemagne's treatment of (a.o.) the Saxons or Frisians were of very little interest to the Vikings.
    – Jos
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 23:35
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    A source might be nice.
    – user22111
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 23:45
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    @Charlie My question concerns Germanic tribes in antiquity, so Viking raids don't really qualify, but please do point to a source if you have one. By plunder is meant something along the lines of attacking a village or settlement and massacring its inhabitant to steal their goods.
    – nayriz
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 0:49

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