In the half light of an October dawn, the army started rolling across the Rhine. A bridge of boats had been thrown across the river at Xanten in Holland. History was repeating itself. Xanten had been the jumping-off point for the German campaigns of Germanicus’s father, Drusus Caesar, twenty-five years before. Now Germanicus was keeping his word to his troops: they were on the vengeance trail.
With their cloth standards fluttering, mounted auxiliary units under Germanicus’s deputy commander of cavalry, Colonel Albinovanus Pedo, clattered across the narrow wooden decking of the temporary bridge and then fanned out into Germany to scout the way ahead. Pedo, in his late twenties, was a friend of the famous poet Ovid, and would himself become a noted poet, writing a popular epic poem about Germanicus’s exploits. On the heels of Colonel Pedo’s cavalry advance guard came the twelve thousand men still serving in the four legions of the Army of the Lower Rhine. The first-enlistment men of the 1st Legion had been recalled—as far as Germanicus was concerned, an emergency now existed. And they were happy to oblige, to strike against Hermann’s Germans.
With the four legions marched thirteen thousand auxiliary light infantrymen in twenty-six cohorts. For the sake of mobility, the troops of the task force left their heavy equipment behind. Two millennia later, Germans would devise a term to describe the sort of rapid, devastating operation Germanicus had in mind: Blitzkrieg—lightning war.
The thousand or so men of the 14th G.M.V.’s senior cohorts had marched off to Switzerland along with the retirees of the A.L.R. legions, leaving the youngsters of the junior cohorts in camp at Mainz chafing for action through the fall of A.D. 14, for they knew the Lower Army was in Germany with Germanicus, and they wanted a piece of the action. Their officers had told them that they, too, would cross the Rhine in the new year, that Germanicus’s current operation was just a feeling-out exercise. But the men of the 14th wanted to be the ones feeling out the Germans, with twenty inches of cold Spanish steel.
Once the task force returned, they came to hear all about the operation via couriers from the A.L.R., legion cavalrymen who’d been east of the Rhine with Germanicus. With great animation the couriers would have told crowds of envious A.U.R. men of a dash into Marsi territory. Germanicus had led his troops east through thickly forested territory between the Lippe and Ruhr Rivers—today one of the mostly heavily populated areas on earth. Back then it was mile after mile of towering oak, beech, and spruce. Scouts reported that in villages ahead the unsuspecting Marsi were preparing for the Festival of Tamfana, a major German religious feast. On a clear, moonlit night the A.L.R. legions had moved into position around Marsi villages as tribesmen feasted. Well into the night the Marsi drank beer brewed from barley and sang drinking songs. When the last Germans had staggered off to bed or fallen asleep at tables without posting a single sentry, Germanicus launched his attacks. Not one German survived. Leaving the blood-soaked, corpse-ridden villages ablaze, the legions had withdrawn into the night.
With daylight, Germanicus had split his force into four divisions and sent them advancing across a broad front for a distance of fifty miles, destroying every village and every living thing in their path. In the course of their rampage they found the Germans’ Temple of Tamfana. That, too, went up in flames. By the time the fifty-mile limit had been reached, German refugees were fleeing east ahead of the Roman advance in the tens of thousands, with all the possessions they could carry. As Germanicus turned his army around and marched back toward the Rhine, Germans from three tribes north of the Lippe—the Bructeri, the Tubantes, and the Usipetes—were rushing to cut off the Roman withdrawal. They overtook Germanicus at the Caesian Forest but were beaten off the column’s tail by the 20th V.V. A day later, the column had reached the Rhine and crossed to the western side. It had been a methodical, clinical trial run for the much larger operation Germanicus had in mind for the new year.
News of Germanicus’s successful expedition across the Rhine was greeted with joy and excitement by the people of Rome. For years the Varus disaster had gone unpunished, but now the young hero Germanicus had carved up the Germans and come away without a single casualty. This was what Romans expected of their generals and their legions.
Tiberius had by this time overcome his hesitancy. Learning that Germanicus was waging war east of the Rhine, he had finally taken the helm at Rome. Now, with the news of the success against the Marsi, he delivered a speech in the Senate full of praise for his adopted son. But in reality he was annoyed that Germanicus had pulled off the German strike, and even more annoyed when the Senate voted Germanicus a Triumph for his success. Little did Tiberius or the Senate realize that Germanicus had only just begun.
All through the winter of A.D. 14-15, Germanicus’s chief of staff, General Tubero, and his team of staff and commissariat officers of the armies of both the Upper and Lower Rhine made feverish preparations for a major trans-Rhine invasion. This time Germanicus would go into Germany with all eight of his legions. It would be the single largest Roman army to go into the field since Tiberius led twelve legions into Germany a decade before. Germanicus’s staff officers told him that the logistics of such a massive operation would mean that the army would not be ready to move until the summer. But an impatient Germanicus wanted to catch the Germans napping a second time. Keeping his cards close to his chest, he waited for the weather to improve, and for spies to bring back information from the far side of the Rhine on the temperament and disposition of the Germans.
During this time, too, a senior officer arrived on the Rhine, sent by Tiberius to “assist” Germanicus. Lieutenant General Lucius Apronius had been a consul in A.D. 8, and was on intimate terms with the new emperor. Germanicus knew that Apronius was Tiberius’s man, and treated him accordingly. With all the lieutenant generals he needed, he attached Apronius to his staff. At least there he could keep an eye on him. He would have known that General Tubero also was close to the emperor. Now, he would have to watch his back from two directions.
As the spring of A.D. 15 approached and preparations continued for the major summer offensive, an earlier operation was made all the more urgent when spies brought Germanicus news that Hermann had once more fallen out with his father-in-law, Segestes, who had resumed control of the Chatti after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The opportunity to split the German confederation was too great to miss as far as Germanicus was concerned. Before the winter had ended, and as soon as the weather permitted, the young field marshal launched two simultaneous surprise attacks, planning to get in and out of Germany quickly before the spring rains made the rivers impassable.
This time it was the 14th G.M.V.’s turn. Germanicus personally led elements from all four legions of the Army of the Upper Rhine commanded by his close and trusted friend Lieutenant General Gaius Silius. Like General Caecina, Silius had been a consul the previous year, with Silius the senior of the two.
Since the retirement of the men of the 14th’s second enlistment the previous fall, the legion now numbered fewer than four thousand men. Apart from their senior centurions, none of the 14th’s troops had seen any action before now. Four years of training were about to be put to the test. From Mainz, Germanicus led the four A.U.R. legions and their auxiliary support across the river, again on a bridge of boats, and then quickly marched north into the territory of the Chatti tribe. At the same time, in a coordinated move, Lieutenant General Caecina led his four legions of the Army of the Lower Rhine in another crossing of the Rhine, at Xanten, via the customary temporary bridge. Heading east, Caecina’s force traced the course of the raid of the previous fall.
Reaching the foot of the Taunus Mountains, Germanicus found entrenchments created by his father when he came this way many years before. There, Germanicus had the 14th G.M.V. and his other legions build a fort. It’s probable that this fort was strengthened eighty years later during the reign of the emperor Domitian, as part of his Rhine defenses. If it’s the same fort, it still stands today, added to over the centuries and called the Saalburg. Germanicus put Lieutenant General Apronius in charge of the Saalburg, with a small force of auxiliaries and orders to prepare roads and bridges in the vicinity for the army’s return. Apronius would have fumed at being left behind—he would see or hear precious little from the rear, and be of no service to the emperor as a secret agent.
Taking the legions with him, Germanicus powered on east. His rapid advance took him as far as the Eder River. He moved so quickly that the tribes didn’t have the chance to organize resistance. Many tribespeople tried to escape by flinging themselves into the Eder. Villages were burned and their occupants fled ahead of the men of the 14th G.M.V. and their A.U.R. companions as they marched up the southern bank of the Eder to where it joins the Fulda. Germanicus came to Mattium, the Chatti capital, site of General Varus’s last banquet with the Germans. It had been abandoned by the Chatti. Germanicus allowed his troops to loot the town, then ordered its destruction. The men of the 14th G.M.V. would have watched approvingly as Mattium burned. Here, at last, they were beginning to repay the Germans for the slaughter of their comrades of the 17th, 18th, and 19th. After razing the town, Germanicus swung around and made tracks for the Rhine. General Caecina and his army covered his withdrawal, colliding with bands of Germans from both the Cherusci and Marsi tribes hurrying down from the north in support of the Chatti. These German warriors were so surprised to find a second Roman army on their doorstep and suffered so badly at the hands of Caecina’s legionaries that they hung back after the initial conflict and didn’t even harry the rear guard.
Now there was a surprise for the Romans, a pleasant one. As Germanicus was moving back toward the Rhine, Segimundus, son of King Segestes of the Chatti, rode up to the column. He carried, he said, a message from his father. Back in the fall of A.D. 9, Segimundus had just taken up his role as a priest at the temple of the Ubii in Cologne when the expected news of the battle in the Teutoburg reached him. He’d gladly ripped apart the sacred garland of flowers worn on the head as a crown of office and thrown off his priest’s white robe, then slipped out of Cologne. He would have had a boatman take him across the river, after which he’d rejoined his people.
The men of the 14th G.M.V. and their colleagues watched with curiosity as the dejected young Chattian prince was made to dismount and disarm. He was then led to Germanicus. The message that Segimundus reluctantly brought the Roman field marshal, who was only a year or two his senior, was to the effect that old Segestes had long been an ally of Rome but had been forced to follow the will of the majority when the German tribes voted to go to war with Rome six years before. Now Segestes wanted to return to the Roman fold. And he had a prize to offer Germanicus Caesar: his daughter Thusnelda, Hermann’s wife, who was in Segestes’ “protective custody.” What’s more, Segimundus advised, Thusnelda was expecting Hermann’s child. But there also was a small problem: having kidnapped his own daughter, Segestes was now surrounded and besieged by Hermann’s Cheruscans at a stronghold in the hills. Not surprisingly, the Cheruscans were determined to secure the release of their leader’s wife. Segestes begged Germanicus to come to his aid before it was too late.
In case this was a trap, Germanicus sent the king’s son under escort to the western side of the Rhine. Then he swung the four legions of the Army of the Upper Rhine around and marched on Segestes’ stronghold. When he reached it, he found the situation just as the young man had painted it, with the wooden palisades of Segestes’ fortress besieged by his fellow Germans. The attackers turned as the legions appeared, initially putting up a brave fight. But vastly outnumbered, they soon withdrew.
The gates of the stronghold opened and Germanicus strode in. At the king’s residence, Germanicus was warmly welcomed by Segestes, who vowed allegiance to Rome and to Tiberius. At Segestes’ command, his people brought in armor, weapons, and personal effects and piled them before the emperor’s son. These, Segestes said, had belonged to General Varus and his officers, had been spoils of the Germans’ bloody victory in the Teutoburg Forest six years before, brought back by Segimerus and his men as trophies. As Germanicus inspected the sad souvenirs, Segestes’ pregnant daughter was brought in. Thusnelda, the young wife of thirty-two-year-old Hermann, was fiercely loyal to her husband and was equally defiant of Rome and her father. She glared at Germanicus as she stood proud and haughty in front of him with her hands tightly clasped over her bosom. She didn’t cry, she didn’t beg for her life.
Her father hurried to speak on behalf of both his children. “Please forgive my son, Segimundus,” he said, “for the youthful error of his ways. As for my daughter, I admit she’s been brought here against her will and that she has no love for Rome. It’s for you, Caesar, to determine which fact weighs more importantly with you when you decide her fate—that she bears Hermann’s child, or that she is my flesh and blood.”
Germanicus didn’t hesitate to spare Segestes and his family members, including Thusnelda, promising them safety in Roman territory on the far side of the Rhine. As the 14th G.M.V. and the other legions turned about and resumed the withdrawal, Germanicus took the members of the Chatti royal family and their retainers with him.
Both Germanicus’s battle group and Caecina’s screening force were able to pull out of Germany without incident, recrossing the Rhine to the Roman bank before the rains came and without any harassment from the disorganized German tribes. The 14th Gemina Martia Victrix returned from the operation without a scratch, and with a king, a prince, and the wife of Rome’s public enemy number one. Not a bad week’s work.
In the north, when Hermann heard that the Romans had captured his pregnant wife, he exploded with anger. Whipping up his own people into a frenzy for war, he sent envoys to neighboring tribes, calling on them to once more march with him against the invading Romans. Fearing that Germanicus would return, numerous German tribes answered the call. Men who had stood back from the uprising six years earlier now committed to war, among them Hermann’s uncle, Inguiomerus, who had previously been well respected by Rome and had kept out of the politics of the Varus era. Now, as Inguiomerus became Hermann’s deputy, the Cherusci, the Chatti, and their neighbors prepared for a renewed struggle against the Romans.
Meanwhile, as old Segestes and his family made a new home among the Ubii, with Segimundus resuming his priestly duties in Cologne, Hermann’s wife, Thusnelda, was sent to Italy under tight security. She was confined at Ravenna, the Roman naval base on the Adriatic coast that housed numerous dissidents over the years, including Bato, the surrendered Dalmatian rebel. Thusnelda’s sister-in-law, Flavus’s Chattian wife, also lived at Ravenna with her son Italicus, but she and Thusnelda supported opposite sides in the war between Rome and Germany.
Even as the Roman people were marveling at Germanicus’s pluck at snatching Hermann’s wife and unborn child from under German noses, the Roman general was launching his full-scale summer offensive. This was in the form of a three-pronged attack. The first stage involved an amphibious operation launched from the lower Rhine town of Utrecht, Roman Traiectum, in Holland. Again the 14th marched with Germanicus, as he took the four legions of General Silius’s Army of the Upper Rhine and part of the auxiliary infantry and cavalry by convoy from Utrecht across the Zuider Zee—Lake Flevo, as the Romans called it—into the North Sea. He then sailed along the Frisian coast before turning up the Ems River, the Roman Amisia, into the heart of Germany. Both Germanicus’s father and Tiberius had followed precisely this same route when they invaded Germany in 12 B.C. and A.D. 5, respectively, so he couldn’t be criticized back at Rome for going into uncharted territory and taking unnecessary risks—Germanicus would have been acutely conscious of limiting Tiberius’s opportunities for criticism.
While Germanicus was slipping up the Ems, Colonel Pedo led a diversionary cavalry operation in the Frisian area of Holland and northwestern Germany. At the same time, the third prong was initiated by General Caecina. He crossed the Rhine from Xanten yet again, but now he marched his four A.L.R. legions northeast, heading for the Ems. Colonel Pedo then suddenly turned southeast and brought the cavalry overland, also aiming for a prearranged convergence at the Ems. With exquisite timing, all three forces linked up beside the river, deep inside German territory. Germanicus had brought together forty thousand legionaries, thirty thousand auxiliary infantry, and eight thousand cavalry on the bank of the Ems.
From here, Germanicus sent his cavalry commander, General Lucius Stertinius, with his entire mounted force as a flying column against Germans south of the Ems. The Roman cavalry army swept down through the homeland of the Bructeri, routing every German band that stood in their path. They moved so quickly that they caught the Germans trying to burn their own possessions before fleeing. In one village, General Stertinius’s troopers discovered the sacred golden eagle of the 19th Legion taken by the Bructeri during the Teutoburg massacre. To Romans, this was a prize beyond value.
While the cavalry was laying waste to Bructerian territory, Germanicus marched the infantry from the river to the nearby Teutoburg Forest. This was a pilgrimage that Germanicus had been determined to make, to find the place where Varus and his legions had fallen and there pay his respects. There were a handful of men in his task force who’d escaped from the Varus massacre or from German captivity later and who were now serving with his legions. They guided the general to the place where Varus and his men had fought their last battle. The men of the 14th G.M.V. and their comrades found the well-preserved remains of a marching camp large enough to house three legions. Here Varus had dug in on the first, wet day of the battle. Climbing up onto the ridges, following the path taken by Varus’s army as it struggled west under attack, they came to a large clearing in the thick forest where Varus had made his last stand. Here the hurriedly built walls of the last camp had partially collapsed. The ditch around the outside was not deep. It was clear that only a depleted force under extreme pressure had built this inadequate defense.
Germanicus and his silent, reverent troops trod the grass of the battleground as the wind washed through the trees and birds called agitatedly from the greenery. It would have been an eerie place, a place to send shivers down the spine. In the open at the center of this last camp lay the whitening bones of thousands of Roman legionaries, some piled in heaps, others strewn around. Tearful survivors pointed out where this had happened and that had happened. Skulls were found nailed to tree trunks. The troops located the pits where prisoners had been held temporarily, and, in adjacent groves, altars where the tribunes and first-rank centurions had been burned alive as offerings to German gods.
The 20th V.V. and 19th Legions had been recruited in the same part of northern Italy. And as they collected the bones for burial on Germanicus’s orders, the men of the 14th could only guess that they might be handling the remains of a relative or neighbor of 20th V.V. men, or of friends of their own. Sad, angry, reflective—in other circumstances this might have been their fate and these their bones—they interred the remains. The name of just one victim of the Varus disaster has come down to us—fiftythree-year-old centurion Marcus Caelius of the 18th Legion; his brother would build a memorial to him at Xanten.
Germanicus himself turned the first sod of the mound raised over the mass grave. Once the burial was complete, he conducted gladiatorial games, traditionally and originally a funeral rite. The legionary contestants’ weapons were wooden, and contests ended when one competitor yielded to another.
As the men of the 14th G.M.V. marched away from the Teutoburg, it would have been with a determination not to suffer a similar fate at the hands of the Germans. As they marched, too, to link up with General Stertinius and the cavalry, they drove uncoordinated German bands ahead of them. Germanicus had one last task to perform. He built a fort in Marsi territory on the southern bank of the Lippe and garrisoned it with a detachment of auxiliaries, naming it Fort Aliso. Now he could say that Rome had extended its reach east of the Rhine once more.
As the 14th G.M.V. and their fellow upper Rhine legions boarded the waiting fleet at the Ems, Colonel Pedo’s cavalry set off to retrace their path via the Frisian coast, and General Caecina turned for the Rhine with the 1st, 5th, 20th V.V., and 21st Rapax Legions. Caecina was to follow a route called Long Bridges. This elevated roadway had been built through a marshy valley by Lieutenant General Lucius Domitius during his campaigns a decade earlier. It provided the shortest route to the Rhine, but Germanicus knew that this road was narrow and flanked by muddy quagmires, making it an ideal place for an ambush. So in sending Caecina this way, he urged him to make all speed.
Hermann knew all about Long Bridges, too. When his scouts saw the route that Caecina’s four legions were taking, he hurried his Cheruscans ahead of the Romans, whose progress was limited to the speed of their fully laden baggage train. The Germans then moved into position in the hills around Long Bridges.
Germanicus was sailing back to Holland with the Army of the Upper Rhine. But as his convoy came down the Ems and reached the North Sea, his naval commanders warned that storms in these parts that accompanied the impending equinoctial change could wreck his ships if they were overloaded. So to be on the safe side, he put two of his four legions ashore on the coast: the 14th G.M.V. and the 2nd Augusta. These two units had been partners on the Rhine for years, sharing the same Mainz winter quarters and marching together each summer since A.D. 10. They weren’t from the same region—the men of the 2nd Augusta were now recruited in the southeast of France. But the 14th’s northern Italians and the 2nd’s Provençals worked well together. The name of the 14th’s commanding general at this time is unknown, but Brigadier General Publius Vitellius led the 2nd Augusta. The senior of the two legion commanders and a friend of Germanicus, Vitellius was put in charge for this leg of the journey.
Germanicus instructed General Vitellius to march overland to the Weser River, where he would meet him and pick up his legions. The lightened fleet then headed out to sea, and the 2nd Augusta and 14th Gemina Martia Victrix Legions began their march along the coast, following the shoreline so they wouldn’t become lost. At first, Vitellius and his force made good progress across the lowlands, following the seashore. But in the afternoon the weather changed dramatically. The sea rose, as it usually did at this time of year, and a strong north wind drove it onto the low-lying coastal strip. Fields for miles around were quickly inundated with water, and the legionaries found themselves waist deep, even neck deep in places. They struggled on, cursing, crying out to comrades for a hand, grabbing friends who stumbled. The men of the 14th G.M.V. and 2nd Augusta lost all their baggage animals in the swirling waters. With them went their food, their firemaking material, and their tents. As the heavily laden legionaries splashed on, some men were drowned, being sucked under by unseen quicksand or losing their footing and being washed away.
Toward the end of the day Vitellius managed to pilot the force to high ground, and there the two legions spent a miserable night, cold, wet, and hungry. The next day, from their elevated position, they could see dry land on their route ahead. As they pushed on, the weather improved, and faces lit up when legionaries saw their fleet at anchor in a cove ahead, waiting for them as Germanicus had promised.
West of the Rhine, with General Caecina’s legions now several days overdue, concern began to rise in Roman quarters. A rumor flew that his army had been defeated and that a massive German horde was about to cross the Rhine. Preparations were made to destroy the Xanten bridge to prevent the Germans from crossing. Now, Germanicus’s wife, Agrippina, who had been waiting at Xanten since her husband’s departure, stepped in and refused to allow the bridge’s destruction, certain that the legions weren’t far away. Anxious for news, Agrippina crossed the bridge with her two-year-old son and personal servants, joining auxiliaries on sentry duty on the far bank. There, at the German end of the bridge, holding little Caligula by the hand, she stood looking anxiously east for signs of the returning army.
Finally, a week overdue, General Caecina appeared from the east leading his four legions. They came minus most of their baggage animals and carrying severely wounded men on hastily improvised litters. They were all bloodied, filthy, hungry, and tired. And they told of a desperate battle at Long Bridges when Hermann’s Germans attacked them as they struggled along causeways and over broken bridges. Of being cut off and besieged in their camp. Of a brilliant scheme by General Caecina that enticed Hermann and his men into their camp and into a trap. A trap from which Hermann and his wounded uncle, Inguiomerus, only just escaped but that cost the lives of thousands of German and paved the way for the legions’ escape.
Agrippina greeted Caecina’s exhausted troops on her husband’s behalf, with her little son at her side clad in his soldier’s outfit. Aided by her women servants, she handed out clothing and medicine. She personally praised and thanked the soldiers as they trudged past, and she distributed coins among them. The tough legionaries grinned at the sight of mother and son—Caligula Caesar, as they called him—and blushed when their general’s wife told them they were Roman heroes.
Within days, the seasick 14th G.M.V. arrived back from Germany. Germanicus’s fleet brought all four legions of the Army of the Upper Rhine back into Utrecht, where he offloaded them and sent them to their winter quarters. Good news awaited Germanicus at Cologne. General Stertinius, his cavalry commander, had brought in Segimerus, new king of the Chatti, who’d surrendered along with his impetuous son, the youth who had insulted the body of General Varus. They were taken before Germanicus, who readily pardoned the father. But he had heard of the son’s act in the Teutoburg, and hesitated at first. Before long Segimerus’s offspring, too, would be spared, after being made to sweat on his fate for a time.
As the men of the 14th G.M.V. and 2nd Augusta settled into their winter quarters at Mainz, they were surprised to receive a visit from Germanicus himself. The commander in chief went around to the legions’ wounded in their beds, talking to each legionary individually, asking him how he came by his wound, thanking him for his courage, applauding his feats. He encouraged every man he met, joking with them, revitalizing their fighting spirit, leaving them smiling. No general the men of the 14th knew of had ever done that before. By the time Germanicus had finished, there wasn’t a man in his legions who wouldn’t have followed him to Hades and back.
That wasn’t all. Germanicus instructed the legions’ centurions to compile a list of the equipment and personal possessions the men had lost on the last German campaign. He said he would personally reimburse every man for what he had lost. When the provinces vied with one another to compensate Germanicus for his losses, he took their horses and weapons, but he paid the men’s compensation claims from his own purse.
Reverently Germanicus sent the regained eagle of the 19th Legion to Rome along with his campaign report. But still Tiberius managed to find fault—Germanicus shouldn’t have buried the remains of Varus’s troops, he complained. That would only dispirit his soldiers, he said, and Germanicus, who held a priesthood, had polluted himself with funeral rites—Roman priests weren’t permitted to look at, let alone touch the dead. As for Agrippina’s actions at the Rhine bridge, Tiberius was beside himself. For one thing, women and the army didn’t mix. And Tiberius saw only a political motive in Agrippina’s presence at the bridge as the men came out of Germany; he was convinced she was trying to win the legions’ devotion to her husband and family. The more Germanicus tried to prove his loyalty by winning Tiberius and Rome glory in Germany, the more Sejanus, and then Tiberius, put a suspicious slant on everything the young general did.
Tiberius now asked the Senate to award Triumphal Decorations to three generals on Germanicus’s staff. Two of those honored were Lieutenant Generals Silius and Caecina. The third was Lieutenant General Lucius Apronius—Apronius the spy. This was a deliberate signal to Germanicus from Tiberius, a literal finger in the air. For, while Tiberius could say he was rewarding all the lieutenant generals involved in the campaign, Apronius didn’t have the accomplishments to merit the award—he had done no more than sit in a fort in Germanicus’s rear. And everyone knew it.
Then Tiberius moved to reduce Germanicus’s popularity with the army. He had received a petition from the businessmen of Rome asking for the 1 percent sales tax on all goods to be axed. Tiberius agreed, but on the basis that the state could afford it only if the period of legionary service was again extended to twenty years. After less than a year, the concessions granted by Germanicus to his legions and extended to other legions were removed by the emperor. But if Tiberius hoped that this would reflect badly on Germanicus, he was to be disappointed. The troops on the Rhine accepted the change without dissent.
The expectation at Rome was that Germanicus would launch a new campaign into Germany in the spring, and Tiberius didn’t have a good enough reason to forbid him. Not that he ever forbade anything in the early part of his reign. Tiberius took care to frame his letters to his subordinates in the form of advice rather than instructions. The clever ones took the advice. And there was no reason to advise a cessation of operations in Germany, especially as the expectation around Rome would have been that in his next campaign Germanicus would bring back Varus’s two remaining lost eagles. Instead, Tiberius apparently took up a suggestion of Sejanus. That winter, two Praetorian Guard cohorts were ordered to prepare to march from Rome to join Germanicus on the Rhine.
Traditionally, the Praetorian Guard stayed in Italy. Only if the emperor personally led a campaigning army did the Praetorians become involved in military operations in the field. So while officially the Praetorians were being sent to the Rhine to support Germanicus, there can be no doubt that the two broad stripe tribunes in command of the detachment had orders from Praetorian Prefect Sejanus to kill Germanicus should he attempt to lead his legions on Rome to take the throne for himself.