Germans: Philo of Alexandria on fighting the tides (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Germans: Philo of Alexandria on fighting the tides (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 13, 2022,

Author: Philo of Alexandria, On Dreams 121-122 (link)

Comments: Philo was a Judean who was thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy, particularly of the Stoic variety. Here he reflects a widely circulating ethnographic legend that the German peoples were so inclined to war and violence that they would even engage flooding waters in battle. Philo’s Stoic tendencies are hinted at with the critique of those who lack control of their emotions or passions. For a refutation of this commonly repeated ethnographic idea, see Strabo, Geography 7.2.1, who refers to a writer who attributes this notion to the Kimbrians specifically.

Source of the translation: Translation by Harland.


We are told that the Germans of the most populated area, where the sea ebbs and flows, try eagerly to repel the floods when they occur, holding up their bare swords and running like a group of warriors to meet the oncoming waves. They deserve to be hated because, in their godlessness, they dared to bring weapons against the uncontrollable parts of nature. They deserve to be made fun of because they attempt the impossible as though it were possible, and think that water like a living creature can be speared, wounded, killed, or again can feel pain and fear, or that water will run away in terror at the attack, and in fact that water could feel all the emotions of the living soul, both pleasurable and painful.

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