T In 30 B.C., at a stroke, the 14th Legion became the Legio XIIII Gemina Martia—the 14th Gemina Martia Legion. (The legion number was written as XIIII, not XIV.) Octavian’s legion reforms of 31-30 B.C. saw him reduce the legions that had marched for Antony and himself from fifty-nine to twenty-eight. It was Octavian’s intent that never again would Italians have to serve in the ranks of Rome’s legions. That role would be filled by men from the provinces. From now on, only troops for the elite Praetorian Guard and Rome’s City Guard would be recruited south of the Po.
To end up with twenty-eight legions, Octavian abolished a number of units and combined several others. Those that were combined were called Gemina or “twin” legions. In this way, the four thousand men of the 38 B.C. enlistment of the 14th Legion were combined with the thousand or so remaining men of the Martia Legion.
All the legions of Octavian’s new professional Roman army comprised one double-strength 1st Cohort—5 double-strength centuries of 160 men each, with a total of 800 men led by 6 “first-rank” centurions—and 9 cohorts each of 6 centurions and 474 men. Every legion also now had its own cavalry squadron of 124 mounted legionaries and NCOs led by 4 decurions, or lieutenants, for scouting, screening, and communications.
The legion command structure also changed. Of the legion’s six tribunes, five would now be young eighteen- to nineteen-year-old members of the Equestrian Order, who served for six months as officer cadets of lieutenant colonel rank on the legion’s headquarters staff. They then moved on to appointments as prefects in charge of auxiliary infantry and cavalry units. The sixth tribune with each legion was now a senior tribune, or full colonel, who was the legion’s second in command. By the reign of the emperor Claudius seventy years later, the promotional ladder was formalized so that a young officer first had to serve with auxiliary infantry units after his cadetship, then move up to command auxiliary cavalry before becoming eligible for appointment as a “broad stripe” tribune and deputy commander of a legion.
Each legion now had a dedicated commander of brigadier general rank—normally a new senator of thirty or so—who initially served for two years. In later decades this period would increase, with four-year postings not uncommon. We don’t know the identity of the 14th Gemina Martia’s first commander, but he would have been a young senator with extensive experience as a colonel during the war with Antony.
Each legion now had a number of auxiliary units permanently attached to it. In most cases, details of the auxiliary units in support of individual legions are sketchy, but in the case of the 14th Gemina Martia we know that by the next century its permanent auxiliary light infantry companions were eight cohorts from the Batavi tribe in present-day Holland, plus two alae, or wings, of cavalry, each of 480 Batavian auxiliary troopers.
Auxiliaries were noncitizens, they were paid less than legionaries, they served five years longer, and they weren’t considered in the same class as legionaries because they lacked citizenship rights. There also were auxiliary units that served independently of legions, and they were generally assigned to garrison duty in peaceful provinces.
So that legions couldn’t influence politics at Rome, Octavian required that from this point on, no legion be based in Italy south of the Po. That role was reserved for the Praetorian Guard, which was based in Rome and answered directly to Octavian. Legions were allocated permanent provincial stations, where they were required to conduct military campaigns in the warmer months and to go into local base camps over winter. Octavian stipulated that a maximum of two legions could occupy any winter camp. And no legion could be stationed in the province where it was recruited, to ensure it stood aloof from local politics.
To keep the army busy, to secure and expand the empire’s borders and commerce, and to generate income from the sale of booty and prisoners, Octavian invariably had at least one field army conducting offensive operations in some part of the world. Within a year of the conquest of Egypt, which now became a Roman province under the command of a prefect, Octavian sent General Marcus Crassus with several legions on a successful campaign against tribes in northern Greece and along the Danube in present-day Bulgaria. He also sent the prefect of Egypt on an abortive and costly 24 B.C. expedition with three legions onto the Arabian Peninsula. Legions also were involved in police operations in the Swiss Alps and to counter unrest among the mountain tribes of northern Spain.
In 27 B.C., the Senate offered Octavian the title of Augustus, meaning “revered.” It was as Augustus Caesar that he was known for the rest of his long life and after it. By 23 B.C. he was granted the powers that made him king of Rome in all but name. Like Julius Caesar, he steered away from the title of king, but unlike Julius Caesar, he was a firm but benevolent pseudo-king. Neither Augustus nor his immediate successors were called emperor in their own day, but it’s by this title that history came to identify him.
The new 14th Gemina Martia Legion was posted to the Rhine after the civil wars, under the overall control of Lieutenant General Marcus Vinicius, whose command was based in Gaul. All was quiet for several years, but in 25 B.C. they saw action. Germanic tribes of the northwestern Alps in present-day Switzerland had kidnapped and then murdered Roman merchants who had come to do business with them. In an undocumented operation, General Vinicius led several legions on a punitive raid against these Germans, which was bloodily successful in teaching the Germans a lesson.
As for Augustus himself, he had his sights set elsewhere. From the Rhine the men of the 14th heard that by early in that same year, 25 B.C., Augustus was involved in a major offensive against tribes in northern Spain, arriving there with cohorts of the Praetorian Guard to take personal command. That spring he launched a campaign involving the Praetorians and seven legions. It’s likely that four legions operated directly under Augustus’s command—the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th—with the other three marching under his deputy, Lieutenant General Gaius Antistius, for all four of these legions were to come out of this period honored with the title of Augusta, meaning “Augustus’s,” a title bestowed on them by Augustus personally for their valor under his leadership.
Augustus’s early efforts against the Asture and Cantabri tribes in Spain’s Cantabrian Mountains went badly. Accustomed to the set-piece battles of the Civil War, he was frustrated by the guerrilla tactics of the mountain tribesmen, who avoided close-quarters fighting and instead conducted hit-and-run raids. Taking seriously ill, Augustus was forced to withdraw to Tarragona, on Spain’s northeastern coast. According to Suetonius, he was diagnosed with “abscesses on the liver.” Too unwell for the rigors and anxieties of the continuing campaign against the guerrillas, he handed task force command over to General Antistius.
Later that same year, 25 B.C., General Antistius spread his Roman legions across northwestern Spain. Operating from three forward bases, Antistius was able to lure the Spaniards into pitched battles. He and his deputy, General Titus Carisius, then followed on the heels of retreating tribesmen and took a number of their mountain fortresses, including Lancia, the Asturian capital. By the end of fall, peace treaties had been negotiated with the tribes. Augustus, still at Tarragona, celebrated a victory. As he returned to Rome at year’s end he left his sixteen-year-old stepson Tiberius behind to organize spectacles in the legion camps for the entertainment of the troops.
On his return, the Senate voted Augustus a Triumph, for the success his generals had brought him in northern Spain and for the successful German campaign of General Vinicius and his legions—for which Augustus also was hailed as imperator. Augustus accepted the honors and trappings that went with the Triumph but didn’t bother with the street parade, creating a precedent that would often be followed in future years when many generals were granted triumphal decorations but not the Triumph’s public parade.
All this celebration proved a little premature. Before long the Cantabrian War flared again, and this time it would last for years. It began when the tribes sent messages that they wanted to present the Romans with grain and other gifts. A detachment of troops sent to collect the goods was massacred. The war was on again, off again for years until by 19 B.C. the conflict seemed at an end. Year by year, Roman commanders had captured numbers of Cantabrians, selling them into slavery for twenty years. But by 19 B.C. many of these prisoners had escaped back to the mountains. They stirred the nine Cantabrian tribes into rising once more, so that when Augustus’s deputy, Marcus Agrippa, arrived in Spain on an inspection tour he had to lead a grueling counteroffensive. Angered by the cowardice of the 1st Augusta Legion in the initial stage, Agrippa stripped it of its Augusta title and transferred it to Gaul.
Agrippa’s troops suffered numerous reverses before they eventually succeeded in overrunning the Cantabrian fortresses and wrapping up the war. Agrippa, determined to prevent any future uprising, had his legions execute most male prisoners capable of bearing arms. They then marched the remaining men and their women and children down onto the plain. The nine tribes of the Cantabri were reduced to seven and compelled to live on the plain, never again to return to the mountains.
The focus of Roman military operations now turned to Germany beyond the Rhine River. Between 12 and 9 B.C., Rome’s offensive operations against increasingly hostile German tribes east of the Rhine were led by Drusus Caesar. Drusus was Augustus’s nephew and adopted son and, ironically, Mark Antony’s son-in-law, having married Octavia’s daughter Antonia. His children would include two boys, the handsome Germanicus, named for his father’s exploits in Germany, and the younger, slower Claudius, a boy with a clubfoot whom many considered mentally retarded.
Still only in his twenties, the dashing Drusus, vested by Augustus with the authority of a modern field marshal or five-star general, established two Rhine bases for his operations. One, Vetera, on the lower Rhine, became the present-day town of Xanten in Holland. The other, on the upper Rhine, was at a Celtic settlement at the mouth of the Main River, where a shrine to the Celtic god Mogo stood. Drusus named it Moguntiacum, after Mogo. It would become the present-day city of Mainz, capital of the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz. It was at Mainz that the 14th Gemina Martia Legion joined Drusus’s army for the German offensives.
Leading as many as ten legions, including the 14th, Drusus used both amphibious and land operations to push deep into Germany year after year and subdue German tribes including the Frisii on the North Sea coast, and the Chauci, Cherusci, and Chatti east of the Rhine. Then, at the height of his success, the twenty-nine-year-old field marshal fell from his horse and broke his leg. Gangrene, it seems, set in. Drusus lingered, in agony, for a month, long enough for his devoted thirty-three-year-old elder brother Tiberius to ride four hundred miles from Pavia in Italy to the Rhine to be with him when he died.
Though devastated by his brother’s death, Tiberius accepted the emperor Augustus’s commission to take up where Drusus had left off. He would lead the 14th Gemina Martia and eleven other legions on nine campaigns into Germany, year upon year.
In 6 B.C. the 14th Gemina Martia Legion underwent its latest discharge and reenlistment. New recruits from northern Italy marched up to Germany to replace the retiring men. It was now regular practice for some legionaries to sign on for a second enlistment, and they moved up into the legion’s senior cohorts, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, while the recruits filled the junior cohorts. Traditionally, the most senior officer at each post presented his legions’ new cohorts with their standards. As the men of retiring cohorts marched away they took their old standards with them, to march behind them when recalled to serve in the Evocati Corps militia, as their discharge conditions required. Only a legion’s eagle, now gold, as opposed to the silver eagle of republican times, never left the legion.
The legion’s new cohort and maniple standards of 6 B.C. were seven to eight feet tall and topped by the emblem of an open right hand, symbol of power. Below that, a horizontal bar was inscribed with the legion’s number and name, and the cohort number, and under that, the symbol of a goat, representing Capricorn, the 14th Gemina’s birth sign. Next came a round ceramic imago of the emperor Augustus, and another of Julia Augusta, his wife. Farther down the wooden shaft were metal roundels and symbols celebrating bravery awards received by men of each maniple, and last of all a tuft of hay, representing the hay that had been twirled around the earliest Roman standards. Standards were sacred objects, purified by priests with perfumes and oils every spring in the Lustration Exercise prior to campaigning, and standard-bearers were expected to defend them with their lives.
The highest-ranking officer at Mainz in 6 B.C. was Rhine Army commander in chief Tiberius Caesar, and Tacitus indicates he duly presented the 14th with its new standards that year. He would have used time-honored words as he passed the standards to their proud bearers at assembly: “Under this standard you shall conquer.”
In A.D. 4, the 14th Gemina Martia completed its latest campaign in Germany, a campaign led by Tiberius, who’d recently returned to his command after a lengthy reclusive sojourn on the island of Rhodes. It was a campaign that brought the complete submission of the Cherusci and Bructeri Germans. Under the treaty that terminated hostilities, the king of the Cherusci agreed to permit Roman traders to cross the Rhine each year to set up for business in the tribe’s main market towns; to permit Roman legions free and unmolested passage through his cantons, or districts; to pay taxes to Rome; and to supply numbers of his finest, fittest young men to serve as auxiliary light infantry in the Roman army.
In return, Rome offered the Cherusci peace and commerce. Rome promised to protect the tribe from its enemies with Roman force of arms, and young nobles of the tribe were taken into the Roman army to command the Cherusci’s own auxiliaries; given the rank of prefect, or colonel; and admitted into the Equestrian Order of Roman knights.
In compliance with treaty conditions, the king of the Cherusci’s two sons crossed the Rhine to take up posts as colonels of auxiliaries in the Roman army. One son, Flavus, older than his sibling by several years, was posted with his Cheruscan cohort to the Army of the Upper Rhine at Mainz, where the 14th Legion was stationed.
The other son was twenty-two years old in A.D. 4. Many auxiliaries didn’t begin their enlistments with the Roman army until age twenty-five, so the younger son of the king of the Cherusci may not have taken up his colonelcy until three years later. When he did so, he was stationed with the Army of the Lower Rhine, now based at the capital of the Ubii Germans at a settlement that became over time the city of Cologne. That son, who displayed great skill with a variety of arms, took a Roman name, Arminius. The name by which German history was to celebrate him, as Germany’s first national hero, was his Cheruscan name: Hermann.
Within just a few short years, Arminius, a.k.a. Hermann the German, would give Rome and her emperor the shock of their lives.