From Caesar to Tacitus: changes in early Germanic governance circa 50 BC-50 AD

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Julius Caesar and Cornelius Tacitus provide characterizations of early Germanic (barbarian) society around, respectively, 50 BC and 50 AD. The earlier date corresponds to expansion of Rome to the Rhine and Danube. During the subsequent century Germanic governance institutions changed in a number of ways. In particular, (1) temporary military commanders elected from the nobility gave way to standing retinues under the leadership of professional commanders, (2) public assemblies met more frequently and regularly, (3) councils made up of nobility gained agenda control in the assemblies, and (4) these councils relinquished their control over the allocations of land. I account for these constitutional exchanges in light of Rome’s encroachment. This encroachment brought new sources of wealth as well as constraints on the expansion of Germans into new lands. Incentives favored a reallocation of resources away from pastoralism and towards both sedentary farming and raids across the frontier.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-378
Number of pages22
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 9 2015


  • Constitutional exchange
  • Early Germanic peoples
  • Economics of clubs
  • Political economy
  • Self-governance
  • The Roman Empire


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