In Christian symbolism the number three plays an important role, I am thinking for example of the Three Kings or the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

That is why it is usually assumed that the proverb “Three are all good things” has Christian roots or can be traced back in some way to the Christian religion.

But in truth, the root of this saying lies somewhere else.


In order to understand this, I must take a step back and talk briefly about Europe at the end of antiquity.

It was the time of the Germanic tribes, who in those days settled large parts of northern Europe and who, unlike the Roman Empire, did not have a strict organization under an absolute ruler.

Their tribes were rather loose associations of free men who, although they gathered under a prince or king, never granted them the right of absolute rule.

Rather, it was customary to hold meetings for all important matters, from political decisions to the administration of justice, to which all men of a region were invited and to which they voted on the tribe’s affairs on an equal footing.


These meetings, called Thing (Thing is the older name, later, especially in the south of today’s Germany, they were called Ding) were strictly formalized.

They always took place in the open air (often under specially selected trees), usually on a ridge and always in daylight. According to various sources a Thing should always last three days (again the meaning of the number three).


The roman historian Tacitus writes in his book “De origine et situ Germanorum” about the course of a Thing.

According to this, on the first day there was a lot of drinking, so that important political and military matters could be discussed as freely as possible under the influence of alcohol.

Decisions, however, were only made on the following two days, when the men were sober again.


As already mentioned, justice was also pronounced at these meetings.

In order to defend himself, a defendant was given the opportunity three times to appear at the thing and defend himself before the judges.

If he did not appear at the trial the third time either, he was found guilty in his absence.


Which meant that the plaintiff had automatically won the case.

From which, in the course of time, the saying “All good things come in threes” developed. At least for the victorious prosecutor.


Translated with (free version)