THERE was still a savage feeling among the troops – and a desire to make up for their lunacy by attacking the enemy. Honourable wounds, they felt, on their guilty breasts, were the only means of appeasing the ghosts of their fellow-soldiers. Germanicus encouraged these ambitions, and built a bridge across the Rhine.
Across it he transported twelve thousand regular troops, twenty-six auxiliary battalions, and eight cavalry regiments, of which the loyalty had not been affected during the rising. While we were immobilized, first by the mourning for Augustus and then by the mutinies, the Germans were in high spirits – and not far off. But a rapid march through the Caesian forest brought the Roman army across the line begun by Tiberius. Germanicus pitched camp on the line with earthworks to his front and rear, and palisades on his flanks. Ahead were dark forests and two paths – one the short, usual route, and the other so hard and unfamiliar that the enemy left it unwatched. After a conference the Romans chose the longer way. Their advance was rapid, since according to intelligence reports there was a German festival that night with ceremonial banquets and performances. Caecina was instructed to go on ahead with light-armed auxiliary battalions to clear a passage through the forests, the regular brigades to follow not far behind. A starry night helped. Each village they came to in the country of the Marsi found itself surrounded by a ring of Roman pickets. The Germans were lying in bed or beside their tables, unafraid, with no sentries posted. There was careless disorganization everywhere. Of war there was not a thought. Their condition was one of peace – in this case, an uncontrolled, drunken prostration.
To increase the scope of the raid, Germanicus divided his enthusiastic troops into four columns. These ravaged and burnt the country for fifty miles around. No pity was shown to age or sex. Religious as well as secular centres were utterly destroyed – among them the temple of Tanfana, the most revered holy place of those tribes. There were no Roman casualties, since their victims were scattered, unarmed and half-asleep. But neighbouring tribes, the Bructeri, Tubantes, and Usipetes, disturbed by the massacre, occupied the woods on their way back. Germanicus discovered this and took the road in readiness either to march or fight. A cavalry force and auxiliary battalions went ahead, followed by the first brigade in the centre, the twenty-first and the fifth on the left and right flanks respectively, and the twentieth in the rear. Behind came the remaining auxiliaries.
The enemy did not budge until the whole column was strung out in the wood. Then, feinting against the vanguard and flanks, they directed their full force against the rear. The massed German attacks disorganized the light-armed auxiliary battalions. Germanicus rode up to the twenty-first brigade and shouted that now was the time to wipe out the mutiny – by one rapid stroke, their disgrace could be turned into glory. Then the brigade by a single, passionate attack broke through the German army and drove it with heavy losses into open country. Simultaneously the vanguard emerged from the woods and established a fortified camp. From then on, the journey was without incident. The troops settled into winter quarters, their morale improved and the past forgotten.
Tiberius’ reaction to German developments included worry as well as relief. He was glad the mutiny had been put down. But he was not pleased that Germanicus had courted the army’s goodwill by money payments and accelerated discharges – not to speak of his military success. Tiberius reported the achievements of Germanicus to the senate. But what he said, though complimentary, was so ostentatiously elaborate that it did not ring true. The few words with which he praised Drusus for ending the mutiny in Illyricum sounded more heartfelt and sincere; and he extended to the regular troops in Pannonia the concessions which Germanicus had granted to those on the Rhine.
This was the year when Julia (III) died. Her father Augustus had imprisoned her – for immorality – first on the island of Pandateria and then in the town of Rhegium on the straits opposite Sicily. While Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar were still alive, she had been married to Tiberius, but had looked down on him as an inferior. That had been the fundamental reason for his retirement to Rhodes. When he became emperor, he eliminated her last hope by the removal of Agrippa Postumus. Then he let her waste away to death, exiled and disgraced, by slow starvation. He calculated that she had been banished for so long that her death would pass unnoticed.
There were similar motives behind his harsh treatment of Sempronius Gracchus. This shrewd, misguidedly eloquent aristocrat had seduced Julia while she was Marcus Agrippa’s wife. Nor was that the end of the affair, for when she was transferred to Tiberius this persistent adulterer made her defiant and unfriendly to her new husband. A letter abusing Tiberius, which Julia wrote to her father Augustus, was believed to have been Gracchus’ work. So he had been dismissed to the African island of Cercina, where he endured fourteen years of exile. Now soldiers were sent to kill him. They found him standing on a promontory, fearing the worst. When they landed, he asked for a few moments so that he could write his wife Alliaria certain last requests. Then he offered his neck to the assassins. His life had fallen short of the prestige of the Sempronii. His brave death, however, was worthy of them. According to another account the soldiers did not come from Rome, but were sent by the governor of Africa, Lucius Nonius Asprenas. This version, however, originated from Tiberius – who hoped (unsuccessfully) to blame the murder on the governor.
In the same year, there was a religious innovation: a new Brotherhood of Augustus was created, on the analogy of the ancient Titian Brotherhood founded by King Titus Tatius for the maintenance of Sabine ritual. Twenty-one members were appointed by lot from the leading men of the State; and Tiberius, Drusus, Claudius, and Germanicus were added. The annual Games established in honour of Augustus were also begun. But their inauguration was troubled by disorders due to rivalry between ballet-dancers. Augustus had tolerated such performances out of indulgence to Maecenas, who was passionately fond of a contemporary star, Bathyllus. Besides, Augustus himself liked this sort of entertainment, and thought it looked democratic to join in the people’s amusements. Tiberius’ character took a different course. But he did not yet venture to introduce the long-pampered Romans to austerity.
In the next year, when the consuls were Drusus and Gaius Norbanus, a Triumph was decreed to Germanicus. The war, however, was not over. Its next stage was a sudden raid on the Chatti in early spring. But he was planning a large-scale summer campaign against the major enemy, the Cherusci. It was hoped that their allegiance was split between Arminius and Segestes. These two leaders stood respectively for treachery and goodwill to Rome. Arminius was Germany’s troublemaker. Segestes had often warned Publius Quinctilius Varus that rebellion was planned. At the feast which immediately preceded the rising Segestes had advised Varus to arrest Arminius and the other chiefs, and also himself, on the grounds that their removal would immobilize their accomplices and Varus could then take his time in sorting out the guilty from the innocent. However, Varus was destined to fall to Arminius. Segestes had been forced into the war by the unanimous feeling of the Cherusci. But relations between the two Germans were still bad. Domestic ill-feeling contributed because Segestes’ daughter, engaged to another man, was stolen by Arminius. The girl’s father and husband detested each other. The marriage relationship, which brings friends closer, increased the bitterness of these two enemies.
For the operation against the Chatti, Germanicus transferred to Aulus Caecina Severus four brigades with 5,000 auxiliaries, also some German emergency levies from this side of the Rhine. He himself retained the same number of brigades with twice as many auxiliary troops. He built a fort on Mount Taunus – on the remains of a construction of his father’s – and proceeded with rapid, lightly equipped forces against the Chatti. He left a force under Lucius Apronius to put roads and bridges in order, since rain and floods were feared on the return journey; but now a drought, rare in those parts, had emptied the rivers, and gave him an uninterrupted advance.
Germanicus completely surprised the Chatti. Helpless women, children, and old people were at once slaughtered or captured. The younger men swam across the river Eder and tried to prevent the Romans from building a bridge. But they were driven back by missiles and arrows. An unsuccessful attempt was made by the tribesmen to come to terms. Then there were some desertions to the Roman side. But the majority evacuated their towns and villages, dispersed and took to the woods. Germanicus burnt their capital, Mattium, and, ravaging the open country, started back for the Rhine. The enemy did not dare to harass the rearguard, as they are fond of doing when they have retreated for strategic purposes rather than in a panic.
The Cherusci had been inclined to help the Chatti; but a series of swift manoeuvres by Caecina deterred them. He also defeated the Marsi who had ventured to engage him. Soon afterwards a deputation arrived appealing for the rescue of Segestes, besieged by his hostile compatriots. Arminius was in power. He was leader of the war-party – in disturbed times uncivilized communities trust and prefer leaders who take risks. Segestes had included his own son Segimundus in the deputation. The latter, reflecting on his record, had hesitated. For in the year of the German rebellion he had taken off the insignia of his Roman priesthood at the Ubian altar, and had run away to the rebels. However, he was persuaded to hope for Roman indulgence, and served as his father’s envoy. He was well received, and escorted across to the left bank of the river.
Germanicus thought it worth his while to wheel round, engage the besieging force, and rescue Segestes and many of his relations and dependants. These included women of high rank, among whom was Segestes’ daughter, the wife of Arminius. She was temperamentally closer to her husband than to her father. From her came no appeals, no submissive tears; she stood still, her hands clasped inside her robe, staring down at her pregnant body. The party brought with them trophies from Varus’ disaster, many of them distributed on that occasion as loot to those who were now surrendering.
And then there was Segestes himself, a huge figure, fearlessly aware he had been a good ally. ‘This is not the first day I have been a true friend to Rome,’ he cried. ‘Ever since the divine Augustus made me a Roman citizen, my choice of friends and enemies has been guided by your advantage. My motive has not been hatred of my people – for traitors are distasteful even to the side they join – but the belief that Roman and German interests are the same, and that peace is better than war. That is why I denounced to your former commander Varus the man who broke the treaty with you – Arminius, the robber of my daughter!
‘But Varus indolently put me off. I lost faith in due processes of law, and begged him to arrest Arminius, and his partisans – and myself. May that night confirm my story – I wish I had not survived it! What followed is matter for mourning rather than excuses. But I did imprison Arminius; and his supporters have imprisoned me. And now, at my first meeting with you, I tell you I favour the old not the new – peace, not trouble. I am not after rewards; I want to clear myself of double-dealing. And if the Germans prefer remorse to suicide, I am a fitting agent. For my son’s youthful misdeeds I ask pardon. My daughter, I admit, was brought here by force. It is for you to say which shall count the more, the son she is bearing to Arminius, or the fact that I am her father.’
Germanicus answered kindly, promising safety to Segestes’ children and relations, and a home in Gaul for himself. Then Germanicus withdrew his forces, allowing himself to be hailed as victor on Tiberius’ initiative. A son was bom to Arminius’ wife; he was brought up at Ravenna. I shall write elsewhere of the ironical fate in store for him.
The news of Segestes’ submission and good reception pleased those who did not want fighting, distressed those who did. Arminius’ violent nature was maddened by his wife’s abduction and the prospect of servitude for their unborn child. He made a rapid tour of the Cherusci, demanding war against Segestes and Germanicus. These were some of his savage taunts: ‘What a fine father! What a glorious commander of a valiant army, whose united strength has kidnapped one helpless woman! I, on the other hand, have annihilated three divisions and their commanders. My fighting has been open, not treacherous – and it has been against armed men and not pregnant women. The groves of Germany still display the Roman Eagles and standards which I hung there in honour of the gods of our fathers.
‘Let Segestes live on the conquered bank, and make his son a Roman priest again. With this warning before them Germany will never tolerate Roman rods, axes, and robes between Rhine and Elbe. Other countries, unacquainted with Roman rule, have not known its impositions or its punishments. We have known them – and got rid of them! Augustus, now deified, and his “chosen” Tiberius have gone away frustrated. There is nothing to fear in an inexperienced youth and a mutinous army. If you prefer your country, your parents, and the old ways to settlement under tyrants abroad, then do not follow Segestes to shameful slavery – follow Arminius to glory and freedom!’
Besides the Cherusci, the tribes around responded to his call. It also won over Arminius’ uncle, Inguiomerus, long respected by the Romans. This increased Germanicus’ alarm. To create a diversion, and break the force of the expected blow, he sent Caecina with forty regular battalions through the territory of the Bructeri to the river Ems, while cavalry under Pedo Albinovanus crossed the Frisian borderland. Germanicus himself sailed with four brigades across the lakes. Then infantry, horse, and fleet effected a junction on the Ems, and a contingent offered by the Chauci was incorporated. A flying column under Lucius Stertinius, sent by Germanicus against the Bructeri when they started burning their possessions, went killing and looting, and found the Eagle of the nineteenth brigade, lost with Varus. Then the army ravaged all the country between the Ems and the Lippe, marching to the extremity of Bructeran territory.
Now they were near the Teutoburgian Wood, in which the remains of Varus and his three divisions were said to be lying unburied. Germanicus conceived a desire to pay his last respects to these men and their general. Every soldier with him was overcome with pity when he thought of his relations and friends and reflected on the hazards of war and of human life. Caecina was sent ahead to reconnoitre the dark woods and build bridges and causeways on the treacherous surface of the sodden marshland. Then the army made its way over the tragic sites. The scene lived up to its horrible associations. Varus’ extensive first camp, with its broad extent and headquarters marked out, testified to the whole army’s labours. Then a half-ruined breastwork and shallow ditch showed where the last pathetic remnant had gathered. On the open ground were whitening bones, scattered where men had fled, heaped up where they had stood and fought back. Fragments of spears and of horses’ limbs lay there – also human heads, fastened to tree-trunks. In groves nearby were the outlandish altars at which the Germans had massacred the Roman colonels and senior company-commanders.
Survivors of the catastrophe, who had escaped from the battle or from captivity, pointed out where the generals had fallen, and where the Eagles were captured. They showed where Varus received his first wound, and where he died by his own unhappy hand. And they told of the platform from which Arminius had spoken, and of his arrogant insults to the Eagles and standards – and of all the gibbets and pits for the prisoners.
So, six years after the slaughter, a living Roman army had come to bury the dead men’s bones of three whole divisions. No one knew if the remains he was burying belonged to a stranger or a comrade. But in their bitter distress, and rising fury against the enemy, they looked on them all as friends and blood-brothers. Germanicus shared in the general grief, and laid the first turf of the funeral-mound as a heartfelt tribute to the dead. Thereby he earned Tiberius’ disapproval. Perhaps this was because the emperor interpreted every action of Germanicus unfavourably. Or he may have felt that the sight of the unburied dead would make the army too respectful of its enemies, and reluctant to fight – nor should a commander belonging to the antique priesthood of the Augurs have handled objects belonging to the dead.
Arminius retreated into pathless country. Germanicus followed. When opportunity arose, he instructed the cavalry to move forward and rush the flat ground where the enemy were stationed. Arminius first ordered his men to fall back on the woods in close order. Then he suddenly wheeled them round, and a force he had secretly posted in the forest was given the signal to charge. The Roman cavalry were disorganized by this new front. Reserve battalions were sent up. But, battered by the retreating mass, they only added to the panic, and were almost forced on to marshy ground, well known to their victorious opponents but perilous for strangers. Then, however, Germanicus brought up his regular brigades in battle formation. This intimidated the enemy, and gave the Romans heart. The battle was broken off without a decision.
Germanicus now withdrew his forces to the Ems. The regular troops which had come by ship returned by the same means. Part of the cavalry were instructed to return to the Rhine along the sea-coast. Caecina took back his own force. His route was familiar, but he was told to proceed as quickly as possible across the Long Bridges. This was the name of a narrow causeway built some years back through a vast swamp by Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (I). All round was slimy, treacherous bog, clinging mud intersected by streams. Beyond lay gently sloping woods. These were now occupied by Arminius, who by forced marches, using short-cuts, had outstripped the baggage-laden, heavily armed Roman column. Caecina was not sure how he could repair the old, broken causeway and at the same time keep the enemy off. So that repairs and fighting could proceed simultaneously, he decided to pitch his camp on the spot.
The Germans, by fierce pressure on front and flanks, tried to break through the outposts and attack the working party. Workers and combatants combined made a terrible din. Everything was against the Romans. The waterlogged ground was too soft for a firm stand and too slippery for movement. Besides, they wore heavy armour and could not throw their javelins standing in the water. The Cherusci, on the other hand, were used to fighting in marshes. They were big men, too, whose thrusts with their great lances had a formidable range. The Roman brigades were wavering when night rescued them from defeat.
Made tireless by success, the Germans did not rest even now. They started to divert towards the low ground streams rising in the surrounding hills. Floods overwhelmed what work the Romans had done, and the soldiers’ task was doubled. However, Caecina remained unperturbed. In his forty years of service as soldier and commander, he had known crisis as well as success. Looking ahead he could see nothing for it but to keep the enemy in the woods until his wounded and the heavier part of his force had passed on. Between the hills and the swamp there was enough flat ground for a slender line of battle. The fifth brigade was chosen for the right flank and the twenty-first for the left; the first was to be vanguard, and the twentieth to hold off pursuers.
The night brought no rest. And there was a contrast between the echoes resounding in the low-lying valleys and the forests, as the natives feasted with their savage shouting and triumphant songs, and the occasional murmuring of the Romans round their smouldering fires, as they lay here and there by the breastwork or wandered around the tents, dazed but sleepless. The general had a horrible dream – Varus, covered with blood, seemed to rise out of the morass, and call him: but he would not obey; and when Varus held out his hand he pushed it back. When dawn came, the Roman brigades on the flanks, frightened or disobedient, withdrew from their positions, hastily occupying a level space beyond the swampy ground. This gave Arminius a clear approach. At first he did not attack, until he saw the Romans’ heavy equipment stuck in the mud and the ditches. The men round it became disorganized. Units overlapped, and as usual in such circumstances everyone was hurrying about his own interests, deaf to orders.
Then Arminius ordered the Germans to attack. At the head of a picked force, crying that here was another Varus and his army caught in the same trap again, he broke through the Roman column. His chief targets were the horses, which slipped in their own blood and the slimy bog and threw their riders, scattering everyone in their way and trampling on those who had fallen. The Eagles caused particular difficulty, as the rain of missiles held the colour-sergeants back, and they could not plant them in the mud. While Caecina was struggling to maintain the line, his horse was killed under him. As he fell he was nearly surrounded; but the first brigade rescued him. Fortunately, the greedy Germans stopped killing and went after loot. So towards evening the Romans forced their way out on to firm, open ground. But their hardships were not yet ended. Earthworks had to be constructed, and their material collected; and most of the equipment for moving soil and cutting turf had been lost.
Units had no tents, the wounded no dressings. As the muddy, bloodstained rations were handed round, men spoke miserably of the deathly darkness, and the end which tomorrow would bring to thousands. A horse broke loose and cantered around, frightened of the shouting. It struggled when men tried to stop it, and caused a panic-stricken belief that the Germans had broken in. There was a stampede for the gates, especially the main gate – farthest from the enemy and so best for escape. Caecina discovered that there was no cause for fear. But his authority and appeals, and even force, did not suffice to hold the men back. Then he blocked the gate by throwing himself down across it. The men were not hard-hearted enough to go over the general’s body. Then colonels and company-commanders explained that it was a false alarm.
Caecina collected the men at his headquarters, and called for silence. He described the critical situation. The only way out was to fight, he said. But the fighting must be planned. They must stay inside the defences until the enemy approached to storm them. Then the entire force must break out – and so to the Rhine! Running away would only mean more forests, worse swamps, savage attacks; but success would be glorious. Caecina spoke of their dear ones at home, of their victorious battles. Of setbacks nothing was said. Then, without respect of persons, he distributed the horses of the generals and colonels–starting with his own – to the best fighters in the army. They were to charge first, the infantry to follow.
On the German side, too, there were commotions – because of clashes of opinion among the greedy, optimistic chiefs. Arminius’ plan was to let the Romans come out, and then trap them again on difficult swampy ground. Inguiomerus was for the more sensational measures which natives enjoy – surround the camp, he said, and you can easily storm it; that is the way to win more prisoners, and collect loot undamaged. Following his advice, at daybreak they filled in the ditches, constructed bridges, and poured across them.
When they grasped the top of the parapet they saw only a few Roman soldiers, apparently paralysed with fright. But as they went clambering over, the battalions received their signals, and the horns and bugles sounded. Shouting, the Romans fell upon the German rear. ‘Here there are no woods or swamps,’ they jeered. ‘It’s a fair field, and a fair chance!’ The enemy had been imagining the easy slaughter of a few badly armed men. The blare of trumpets, the glitter of weapons, was all the more effective because it was totally unexpected. The Germans went down – as defenceless in defeat as success had made them impetuous. Arminius got away unhurt, Inguiomerus badly wounded. The massacre of rank and file went on as long as fury and daylight lasted. Finally, at night-fall, the Romans re-entered their camp. They were as hungry as ever, and their wounds were worse. But they had their cure, nourishment, restorative, everything in one – victory.
Meanwhile behind the Rhine a rumour had spread that the army was cut off and a German force was on the way to invade Gaul. Some, in panic, envisaged the disgraceful idea of demolishing the bridge.1 But Agrippina put a stop to it. In those days this great-hearted woman acted as commander. She herself dispensed clothes to needy soldiers, and dressed the wounded. Pliny the elder, the historian of the German campaigns,2 writes that she stood at the bridge-head to thank and congratulate the returning column. This made a profound impression on Tiberius. There was something behind these careful attentions to the army, he felt; they were not simply because of the foreign enemy. ‘The commanding officer’s job’, he reflected, ‘is a sinecure when a woman inspects units and exhibits herself before the standards with plans for money-distributions.’ As though it were not pretentious enough to parade the commander’s son around in private soldier’s uniform and propose to have him called ‘little Boots’ Caesar! Agrippina’s position in the army already seemed to outshine generals and commanding officers; and she, a woman, had suppressed a mutiny which the emperor’s own signature had failed to check. Lucius Aelius Sejanus aggravated and intensified his suspicions. He knew how Tiberius’ mind worked. Inside it, for the eventual future, he sowed hatreds. They would lie low, but one day bear fruit abundantly.
Meanwhile Germanicus handed over the second and fourteenth brigades, which he had brought by ship, to Publius Vitellius, who was to take them back by land. This was designed to lighten the fleet, in case of shallow water and grounding at low tide. At first Vitellius had an easy journey. The ground was dry or only slightly waterlogged. But then at the autumnal equinox, when the North Sea is always at its roughest, his column was harassed and confused by a northerly gale. The country was deluged. Sea, land, and shore all looked the same. There was no way to distinguish solid from treacherous ground, shallow water from deep. Men were knocked down by waves and dragged under. Pack-animals, baggage, dead bodies floated about and struck against each other. Units lost their identity. Men stood up to the chest or even the neck in water. Then they lost their footing, and were carried away or went under. Their shouts to encourage one another were unavailing against the floods. Brave men or cowards, good sense or bad, planning or the lack of it, were all one, in the grip of the raging elements.
Finally Publius Vitellius and his column struggled out on to higher ground. They spent the night without fire or other necessities. Many men were naked or hurt – as badly off as a besieged army, indeed worse, since for such an army death is at least glorious, not squalid as it was here. With daybreak land reappeared, and they got through to a river, where they found Germanicus’ fleet and embarked. Reports that they had been drowned persisted until Germanicus and his army were back and on view.
By now Segestes’ brother Segimerus, whose submission Lucius Stertinius had been sent ahead to accept, had been escorted back to the Ubian capital with his son. Both were amnestied. Segimerus’ case was simple, but his son caused more hesitation since he was alleged to have treated Varus’ corpse insultingly.
The Gallic and Spanish provinces and Italy competed to make good the army’s losses, offering weapons, horses, or gold, as their resources permitted. Germanicus commended their public spirit, but only accepted arms and horses for the war. He assisted his men from his private means, and tried to distract them from thoughts of their past hardships by personal kindness – inspecting the wounded and their injuries, praising individual feats, playing on their pride or ambition. By these attentions and conversations all round, he intensified their fighting spirit and their loyalty to himself.
In this year honorary Triumphs were awarded to Aulus Caecina Severus, Lucius Apronius, and Gains Silius (I) for their service with Germanicus.
In spite of repeated popular pressure, Tiberius refused the title ‘Father of his Country’. He also declined the senate’s proposal that obedience should be sworn to his enactments. All human affairs were uncertain, he protested, and the higher his position the more slippery it was.
Nevertheless, he did not convince people of his Republicanism. For he revived the treason law. The ancients had employed the same name, but had applied it to other offences – to official misconduct damaging the Roman State, such as betrayal of an army or incitement to sedition. Action had been taken against deeds, words went unpunished. The first who employed this law to investigate written libel was Augustus, provoked by Cassius Severas, an immoderate slanderer of eminent men and women. Then Tiberius, asked by a praetor, Quintus Pompeius Macer, whether cases under the treason law were to receive attention, replied: the laws must take their course. Like Augustus he had been annoyed by anonymous verses. These had criticized his cruelty, arrogance, and bad relations with his mother.
The tentative charges against Falanius and Rubrius, members of the order of knights, are worth recording. For they illustrate the beginnings of this disastrous institution – which Tiberius so cunningly insinuated, first under control, then bursting into an all-engulfing blaze. Falanius was charged, first, with admitting among the worshippers of Augustus, in the cult maintained by households on the analogy of priestly orders, an actor in musical comedies named Cassius who was a male prostitute, and, secondly, with disposing of a statue of Augustus when selling some garden property. Rubrius was charged with perjury by the divinity of Augustus.
When Tiberius heard of these accusations, he wrote to the consuls saying that Augustus had not been voted divine honours in order to ruin Roman citizens. The actor, he observed, together with others, had regularly taken part in the Games which his mother the Augusta had instituted in Augustus’ honour – and to include the latter’s statues (like those of other gods) in sales of houses or gardens was not sacrilegious. As regards the perjury, it was parallel to a false oath in Jupiter’s name: the gods must see to their own wrongs.
Shortly afterwards Marcus Granius Marcellus, governor of Bithynia, was accused of treason by his own assistant, Aulus Caepio Crispinus. But it was the latter’s partner Romanius Hispo who created a career which was to be made notorious by the villainous products of subsequent gloomy years. Needy, obscure, and restless, he wormed his way by secret reports into the grim emperor’s confidence. Then everyone of any eminence was in danger from him. Over one man he enjoyed an ascendancy; all others loathed him. His was the precedent which enabled imitators to exchange beggary for wealth, to inspire dread instead of contempt, to destroy their fellow-citizens – and finally themselves.
He alleged that Marcus Granius Marcellus had told scandalous stories about Tiberius. The charge was damning. The descriptions the accuser imputed to him recounted the most repulsive features in the emperor’s character. Since these were not fictitious it seemed plausible that Marcellus should have described them. Hispo added that Marcellus had placed his own effigy above those of the Caesars, and that on one statue he had cut off the head of Augustus and replaced it by Tiberius.
The emperor lost his temper and, voluble for once, exclaimed that he personally would vote, openly and on oath. This would have compelled other senators to do the same. But, since there still remained some traces of declining freedom, Cnaeus Calpurnius Piso asked a question; ‘Caesar, will you vote first or last? If first, I shall have your lead to follow; if last, I am afraid of inadvertently voting against you.’ This struck home, and Tiberius, regretting his impetuous outburst. meekly voted for acquittal on the treason counts. Charges of embezzlement were referred to the proper court.
However, investigations in the senate were not enough for Tiberius. He also began to sit in the law courts – at the side of the platform, so as not to oust the praetor from his official chair. His presence successfully induced many verdicts disregarding influential pressure and intrigue. Nevertheless, it also infringed on the independence of judges.
At about this time also, a junior senator named Aurelius Pius protested that his house had been undermined by the government’s construction of a road and aqueduct. He appealed to the senate. The praetors in charge of the Treasury resisted the claim, but Tiberius came to his help and paid him the value of his house. For the emperor was prepared to spend in a good cause, and kept this good quality long after his others were gone. When an ex-praetor, Propertius Celer, asked to resign from the senate on grounds of poverty, Tiberius, finding that his lack of means was inherited, presented him with one million sesterces. Others then applied. But he requested them to prove their case to the senate. Even when he acted fairly his austerity made a harsh impression; and the applicants preferred silent impoverishment to publicized subsidy.
In the same year the Tiber, swollen by persistent rain, flooded low-lying parts of the city. When it receded, much loss of life and buildings was apparent. Gaius Asinius Gallus proposed consultation of the Sibylline Books. Tiberius, with his preference for secrecy – in heavenly as in earthly matters – demurred. Instead, Gaius Ateius Capito and Lucius Arruntius were instructed to control the water-level. Achaea and Macedonia begged for relief from their tax burdens, and it was decided, for the present, to transfer them from senatorial to imperial government.
A gladiator-show was given in the names of Germanicus and Drusus. The latter was abnormally fond of bloodshed. Admittedly it was worthless blood, but the public were shocked and his father was reported to have reprimanded him. Tiberius himself kept away. Various reasons were given – his dislike of crowds, or his natural glumness, or unwillingness to be compared with Augustus, who had cheerfully attended. It was also suggested, though I would scarcely believe it, that he deliberately gave his son a chance to show his forbidding character – and win unpopularity.
Disorders connected with the stage had started in the previous year, and now their violence increased. There were civilian casualties. Soldiers, too, and a company-commander were killed, and a colonel of the Guard injured, in keeping order and protecting officials from disrespect. The senate discussed the disturbance, and it was moved that the praetors should be empowered to have ballet-dancers flogged. when the tribune Decimus Haterius Agrippa vetoed the proposal, he was attacked by Gaius Asinius Gallus. Tiberius, who allowed the senate such pretences of freedom, did not speak. But the veto stood, for the divine Augustus had once ruled that these people were exempt from corporal punishment – and to Tiberius his decisions were sacred. However, numerous measures were passed to limit the salaries of this profession and check the violence of their partisans. In particular, senators were debarred from entering the houses of ballet-dancers, and knights from escorting them when they appeared in public. Moreover, performances outside the theatre were forbidden. The praetors were also empowered to exile spectators who misbehaved.
A Spanish application to build a Temple of Augustus at the settlement of Tarraco was granted, thus providing a precedent for every province. There was public discontent with the 1 per cent auction tax instituted after the Civil Wars. But Tiberius pointed out that the Military Treasury needed these funds, and added that the national resources, were still insufficient unless the troops served for a full twenty years. So the misguided concession of a sixteen-year term, extorted in the recent mutinies, was cancelled. The next question discussed was whether the Tiber floods should be checked by diverting the streams and lakes which nourished it. The discussion was led by Lucius Arruntius and Gaius Ateius Capito. Deputations from the country towns were heard. The Florentines begged that the river Chiana should not be moved from its natural bed into the Arno, with disastrous effect on themselves. Interamna’s case was similar: acceptance of the plan to spread the waters of the Nera far and wide in small channels would ruin the best land in Italy. The people of Reate protested equally vigorously against the damming of the Veline Lake (atitsoutlet into the Nera), since it would burst its banks into the surrounding country. Nature, they said, had done best for humanity by allotting to each river its appropriate mouth, course, and limits too; and respect must be paid to the religious susceptibilities of the inhabitants, who had honoured the rivers by their homes with rites, and groves, and altars – and indeed Tiber himself would scarcely be glad to flow less majestically, deprived of his associate tributaries. Because of the pleas from towns, or superstitious scruples, or engineering difficulties, the senate carried a proposal by Cnaeus Calpurnius Piso that nothing should be changed.
In his imperial governorship of Moesia, with which Achaia and Macedonia were merged, Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus was kept on. It was one of Tiberius’ customs to prolong the tenures of these posts; both military and other governors were often left unchanged until their dying day. Different explanations of this practice have been offered. According to one account Tiberius found recurrent problems tedious, and preferred making a single permanent decision. Others attribute his policy to a jealous desire that not too many people should benefit. An alternative suggestion is that his natural subtlety placed him in a dilemma: he disliked bad characters, but did not search out exceptional ability. Misconduct he deplored, as likely to cause public scandal – but outstanding merits would be a threat to himself. In the end his indecisiveness became so pronounced that he gave governorships to men whom he was never going to allow outside Rome.
About the elections to consulships, from this first year of Tiberius until his death, I hardly venture to make any definite statement. The evidence in historical accounts, and indeed in his own speeches, is conflicting. Sometimes he suppressed candidates’ names, but described their social positions, antecedents, and service records – in terms revealing their identity. On other occasions he suppressed even these clues, but merely warned candidates not to invalidate the elections by bribery – promising his own assistance to the same end. He usually stated that those whose names he had passed to the consuls were the only applicants for nomination. But others, he would say, were still entitled to apply, if their popularity or record encouraged them to do so. Such pronouncements sounded plausible. Yet in relation to the facts they were meaningless, if not disingenuous. The impressiveness of the Republican faÆade only meant that the slave-state, which was to grow out of them, would be all the more loathsome.
Next year the consuls were Sisenna Statilius Taurus and Lucius Scribonius Libo. Trouble broke out among the dependent kingdoms and provinces of the East. The Parthians were the originators. They had requested and received a king from Rome; and though he was a member of their Arsacid royal house, they despised him as a foreigner. This was Vonones I. He had been given to Augustus as a hostage by King Phraates IV, who, for all his expulsions of Roman armies and generals, had shown the emperor conspicuous respect. As a bond of friendship he had sent Augustus several of his children – not so much from fear of Rome as from doubts of his own people’s loyalty.
When domestic disputes removed Phraates and his successors, a deputation from the Parthian leaders had visited Rome to invite Vonones, his eldest child, to the throne. Augustus regarded this as a compliment and presented Vonones with valuable gifts on his departure. The Parthians gave him the good reception that they habitually give new kings. But this was soon replaced by an ashamed feeling of national humiliation at having accepted, from another world, a king tainted with enemy customs. A monarch was being imposed on the Parthian throne, they told themselves. It was being allocated like a Roman province. If their ruler was to be a man who for years had been Augustus’ slave, then the glory of Crassus’ slayers1 and Antony’s conquerors was dead.
Their scorn was intensified because their national habits were alien to Vonones. He rarely hunted and had little interest in horses. When passing through a city he rode in a litter. The traditional banquets disgusted him. Moreover, he was laughed at because his entourage was Greek, and because he kept even ordinary household objects locked up. The Parthians, unfamiliar with his good qualities – accessibility and affable manners – took them for unusual vices. His good and bad points alike were alien and hateful.
So another royalty, Artabanus III, was produced. He had been brought up among the Dahae. Now, after an initial defeat he rallied and seized the throne. The defeated Vonones took refuge in Armenia. This buffer-state between the Roman and Parthian empires was at the time without a ruler. Armenia was no friend of ours because Antony, pretending friendship, had treacherously trapped its king Artavasdes I, only to arrest and kill him. The latter’s son Artaxias II, remembering his father, hated us, and called in the Parthian monarchy to protect himself and his throne. When Artaxias II fell by the treachery of his own relations, Augustus made Tigranes II king of Armenia and Tiberius settled him on the throne. But his reign was brief and so was that of his two children, though according to foreign custom they were husband and wife as well as joint rulers. Next Artavasdes II had been made king, by imperial order. His deposition, which followed, was a setback to us; and Gaius Caesar was appointed by Augustus to solve the Armenian problem. Gaius’ nominee Ariobarzanes, a Mede by origin, had a fine character and splendid appearance which endeared him to the Armenians. But when he died a natural death they would not have his child. Instead they tried feminine government, under Erato. However, she was soon deposed. Drifting into chaos, anarchic rather than free, its people accepted the fugitive Vonones as king. But they could do little against Artabanus’ threats, and if Rome gave them armed support it would mean war with Parthia. So the imperial governor of Syria, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus Silanus, extricated him, allowing him royal state and rank, but keeping him under guard. Vonones’ effort to escape from this undignified situation will be described at the appropriate place.
Tiberius was not sorry that the Eastern situation was disturbed. For this provided a pretext for separating Germanicus from his familiar army and subjecting him to the intrigues and hazards of a new provincial command. Germanicus, however, as his troops (in contrast to the emperor) became increasingly enthusiastic about him, grew all the more ambitious for a quick victory in Germany. Reflecting on invasion routes in the light of his successes and failures during the past two campaigns, he saw that, though in open battle and fair country the Germans were beaten, their forests, swamps, short summers, and early winters favoured them. His own men had suffered less from wounds than from protracted marches and shortages of arms. The supply of horses from Gaul was exhausted. Besides, long baggage-trains were vulnerable to surprise, with the odds against their defenders.
The sea, he felt, provided a better route. It was easily controlled – and inaccessible to enemy intelligence. Besides, arrival by sea would mean an earlier start to the campaign and simultaneous transportation of Roman infantry and supplies; while cavalry, horses, and men alike could be taken up-river from the coast and landed intact in mid-Germany. So Germanicus decided accordingly. Two generals, Publius Vitellius and Gaius Antius, were sent to assess Gaul for taxation; Gaius Silius (I), Anteius, and Aulus Caecina Severus were entrusted with the building of a fleet. A thousand ships were calculated to be enough. They were constructed quickly. Some were short and broad – with little prow or stern – to stand a rough sea. Some were flat-bottomed, so as to run aground undamaged. Others, more numerous, had rudders at each end, so that the oarsmen could suddenly reverse direction and land them on either side of a river. Many had decks for catapults and also served to carry horses and supplies. The fleet was well adapted for rapid sailing or rowing. It was formidable and impressive, the more so because of the soldiers’ high morale. The rendezvous decided upon was the Batavian island. Its good landing places made it well-suited for receiving troops and carrying the war into Germany. The Rhine, which has until this point flowed in a single channel – broken only by unimportant islands – divides into two main streams at the Batavian frontier. The branch bordering Germany keeps its name: it goes on flowing swiftly down to the sea. The broader, slower stream on the Gallic side is called the Waal in this region, and then, lower down, the Meuse; it discharges into the same sea, in the great estuary of the latter river.
While the fleet was assembling, Gaius Silius was instructed to take a light force and raid the Chatti, but owing to sudden rains achieved nothing except a little loot and the capture of the wife and daughter of Arpus their chief. Germanicus himself heard that a fort upon the river Lippe was besieged, and proceeded towards it with six divisions. But the besieging force gave him no opportunity at all for a battle since it melted away at news of his approach. First, however, it destroyed the funeral mound recently raised to commemorate Varus’ army, and an earlier altar in honour of Nero Drusus. Germanicus reconstructed the altar and himself headed a procession of his force in honour of his father. It was decided not to erect the mound again. The whole region between Fort Aliso and the Rhine was heavily fortified by new highways and embankments.
The fleet had now collected. Supplies were sent ahead, and the regular brigades and auxiliaries allotted their ships. Germanicus himself, entering the channel1 called Drusiana after his father, called on the memory and example of his words and deeds to give generous and auspicious aid to this enterprise modelled on his achievements. Then, setting sail through lakes2 and sea, he reached the Ems without incident. The troops disembarked in the more easterly arm of the Ems. But a mistake was made in not transporting the troops upstream or landing them farther south, nearer to their destination. As it was, days were wasted in bridge-building. The cavalry and regular infantry made a well-disciplined crossing of the first tidal marshes, before the tide rose. But then the auxiliaries in the rear, including Batavians, jumped into the water – to show off their swimming – and there was confusion and loss of life. While Germanicus was laying out his camp, it was reported that a tribe, the Angrivarii, had revolted in his rear, and auxiliary cavalry and light infantry were at once sent under Lucius Stertinius to burn and kill in revenge for this treachery.
Now the Weser separated the Romans from the Cherusci. On its bank stood Arminius and the other chieftains. He inquired whether Germanicus had come, and, hearing that he had, asked to be allowed to speak to his brother Flavus in the Roman army. Flavus was very loyal; he had lost an eye some years earlier, fighting under Tiberius. Permission was granted, and Flavus came forward to the river-bank. Arminius greeted him and, dismissing his own attendants, asked that the bowmen stationed along our bank should likewise withdraw. When they had gone he asked his brother to explain his face-wound. The place and the battle were told him. Then he asked what reward Flavus had got. Flavus mentioned his higher pay, chain, and wreath of honour and other military decorations. ‘The wages of slavery are low,’ sneered Arminius.
Then they argued their opposing cases. Flavus spoke of Rome’s greatness, the emperor’s wealth, the terrible punishment attending defeat, the mercy earned by submission – even Arminius’ own wife and son were not treated like enemies. His brother dwelt on patriotism, long-established freedom, the national gods of Germany – and their mother, who joined him in imploring that Flavus should not choose to be the deserter and betrayer, rather than the liberator, of his relatives and his country. The discussion soon became abusive: blows would have followed – in spite of the river barrier – if Lucius Stertinius had not hastened up and restrained Flavus, who was angrily calling for his horse and weapons. Across the river Arminius was to be seen, shouting threats and challenges to fight – a good many of them in Latin, since he had formerly commanded a Cheruscan force in the Roman army.
On the next day, the German army drew up beyond the Weser. Germanicus believed it would be bad strategy to risk the regular infantry without properly guarded bridges. So he first sent over the cavalry under Lucius Stertinius with a senior staff officer, Aemilius. They crossed by fords at different points so as to divide the enemy. The Batavians under their leader Chariovalda plunged through where the current was strongest. The Cherusci pretended to give way and drew them on to a level space with wooded hills around. There they made an enveloping attack, and drove in the Batavians’ front. The latter, falling back hard-pressed, formed a circle, but suffered severe casualties both at close quarters and from missiles. Chariovalda resisted this savage assault steadfastly. Finally, commanding his men to force a way through the attackers in mass formation, he plunged into the thick of the battle and fell beneath a rain of javelins, with his horse killed under him. Many of his chieftains fell with him. The rest of the force was preserved partly by its own exertions and partly by the arrival of the cavalry to relieve them.
When Germanicus crossed the Weser, a deserter gave him information. Arminius had chosen his battle-ground. Other tribes too had collected, in a wood sacred to Hercules. And a night attack on the camp was planned. The informant was believed. Indeed, German fires were visible and a reconnaissance party which went near reported the neighing of horses and the noise of a vast, undisciplined advance. So now the critical moment was at hand.
Germanicus decided he must test his troops’ morale. He considered how this could be done authentically – reflecting that the reports of colonels and company-commanders are cheerful rather than reliable, ex-slaves remain slaves at heart, friends are flatterers. If he called a meeting, initiative would be shown by a handful, the majority would applaud them. Mess-time, he decided, was the time to discover what they really thought, as the men talked intimately, unsupervised, of their hopes and fears. So after dark, dressed in an animal-skin, he left the general’s tent by an exit unknown to the sentries, with one attendant. As he walked the camp lines and stood near the tents, he basked in his own popularity, as he heard admiring remarks about his great origins and splendid looks. There was general praise of his endurance, his friendliness, his equability in serious and relaxed moments alike. All agreed that they must show their gratitude by fighting well: the treacherous treaty-breakers must be offered up to vengeance and glory.
An enemy who knew Latin now rode up to the stockade. In Arminius’ name he called out, promising every deserter a wife, some land, and a hundred sesterces a day for the rest of the war. This insulting suggestion infuriated the Roman soldiers. ‘Wait until tomorrow and the battle’ they shouted. ‘We will help ourselves to German lands and wives. This is a good omen! Their women and their wealth are going to come to us as loot.’
At about midnight an attempt was made on the Roman camp. But not a spear was thrown. The attackers found vigilance everywhere, the fortifications lined with men. During the same night, Germanicus had a pleasant dream. He dreamt that he was sacrificing, and, as his robe was spattered with the victim’s blood, his grandmother the Augusta handed him another, finer robe. The omen encouraged him. The auspices, too, proved favourable. So, parading his army, he announced the steps his experience had dictated together with such remarks as seemed called for on the eve of battle.
‘Open ground is not the only battle-field favourable to a Roman,’ he said. ‘Woods, wooded hills, are good too, if he acts sensibly. The natives’ great shields and huge spears are not so manageable among tree-trunks and scrub as Roman swords and javelins and tight-fitting armour. You must strike repeatedly, and aim your points at their faces. The Germans wear no breastplates or helmets. Even their shields are not reinforced with iron or leather, but are merely plaited wicker-work or flimsy painted boards. Spears, of a sort, are limited to their front rank. The rest only have clubs burnt at the end, or with short metal points. Physically, they look formidable and are good for a short rush. But they cannot stand being hurt. They quit and run unashamedly, regardless of their commanders. In victory they respect no law, human or divine; in defeat they panic. If you are tired of marching and sailing,’ went on Germanicus, ‘this is the battle to relieve you of them! Already we are nearer the Elbe than the Rhine. Once you give me victory where my father and uncle have trodden before me, the fighting will be over!’ The speech was enthusiastically received; and the signal for battle rang out.
Arminius and the other German chiefs also each addressed their men, reminding them that these Romans were Varus’ runaways – men who had mutinied to escape battle. Some had backs covered with wounds, others were crippled by storm and sea; and now, hopeless, deserted by the gods, they were again pitted against a relentless enemy. They had taken to ships and remotest waters to evade attack – and escape pursuit after disaster. ‘But once battle comes’, cried Arminius, ‘winds and oars cannot prevent their defeat!’ He urged his troops to remember how greedy, arrogant, and brutal Rome was. The only alternatives, he insisted, were continued freedom or – in preference to slavery – death.
Excited by this appeal, the Germans clamoured to fight. They were marched to a level area called Idistaviso, which curves irregularly between the Weser and the hills; at one point an outward bend of the river gives it breadth, at another it is narrowed by projecting high ground. Behind rose the forest, with lofty branches but clear ground between the tree-trunks. The Germans occupied the plain and the outskirts of the forest. The Cherusci alone occupied the heights, waiting to charge down when the battle started. The Roman army moved forward in the following order: first, Gallic and German auxiliaries followed by unmounted bowmen; next, four Roman brigades, and Germanicus with two battalions of the Guard and picked cavalry; then four more brigades, each brought by light infantry and mounted bowmen to divisional strength; and the remaining auxiliary battalions. The troops were alert and ready to deploy from column of march into battle order.
Units of the Cherusci charged impetuously. Seeing this, Germanicus ordered his best cavalry to attack their flank, while the rest of the cavalry, under Lucius Stertinius, was to ride round and attack them in the rear: and he himself would be there at the right moment. He saw a splendid omen – eight eagles flying towards and into the forest. ‘Forward,’ he cried, ‘follow the birds of Rome, the Roman army’s protecting spirits!’ The infantry attacked, and the cavalry, which had been sent ahead, charged the enemy’s flanks and rear. It was a strange sight. Two enemy forces were fleeing in opposite directions, those from the woods into the open, those from the open into the woods.
The Cherusci between began to be dislodged from the slopes: among them Arminius, striking, shouting, wounded, trying to keep the battle going. His full force was thrown against the bowmen, and it would have broken through if the standards of the Raetian, Vindelician, and Gallic auxiliary battalions had not barred the way. Even so, by sheer physical strength aided by the impetus of his horse, he got through. To avoid recognition he had smeared his face with his own blood. One story is that Chauci among the Roman auxiliaries recognized him and let him go. Inguiomerus was likewise saved, by his own bravery or by treachery. The rest were massacred. Many tried to swim the Weser. They were battered by javelins, or carried away by the current, or finally overwhelmed by the mass of fugitives and collapse of the river banks. Some ignominiously tried to escape by climbing trees. As they cowered among the branches, bowmen amused themselves by shooting them down. Others were brought to the ground by felling the trees.
It was a great victory, and it cost us little. The slaughter of the enemy continued from midday until dusk. Their bodies and weapons were scattered for ten miles round. Among the spoils were found chains which they had brought for the Romans in confident expectation of the result. The troops hailed Tiberius as victor1 on the battle-field, and erected a mound on which, like a trophy, they set arms with the names of the defeated tribes. The sight of this upset and enraged the Germans more than all their wounds and losses and destruction. Men who had just been planning emigration across the Elbe now wanted to fight instead, and rushed to arms.
Germans of every rank and age launched sudden and damaging attacks against the Romans on the march. Finally they selected a narrow swampy open space enclosed between a river and the forest – which in its turn was surrounded by a deep morass (except on one side where a wide earthwork had been constructed by the Angrivarii to mark the Cheruscan frontier). Here the Germans stationed their infantry. The cavalry took cover in the woods nearby, so as to take the Romans in the rear when they came into the forest. Germanicus was aware of all this. He knew their plans, positions, their secret as well as their visible arrangements; and he planned to use their strategy for their own ruin. His cavalry, under the command of Lucius Seius Tubero, was allotted the open ground. The infantry were divided. Part were to proceed along the level ground to the wood, the rest were to scale the earthwork. He undertook this more difficult project himself, leaving the remaining tasks to his generals.
Those allocated the level ground broke into the wood easily. But the men scaling the earthwork were virtually climbing a wall, and received severe damage from above. Seeing that fighting conditions were unfavourable at close quarters, Germanicus withdrew his brigades a short way, and ordered his slingers into action to drive off the enemy. Simultaneously, spears were launched from machines. Exposure cost the defenders heavy casualties; they were beaten back, the earthwork was captured, and Germanicus personally led the Guard battalions in a charge into the woods. There, hand-to-hand fighting began. The enemy were hemmed in by the marsh behind them, the Romans by the river or hills. Both sides had to fight it out on the spot. Bravery was their only hope, victory their only way out.
The Germans were as brave as our men, but their tactics and weapons proved their downfall. With their vast numbers crammed into a narrow space they could neither thrust nor pull back their great pikes. They were compelled to fight as they stood, unable to exploit their natural speed by charging. The Romans on the other hand, with shields close to their chests and sword-hilts firmly grasped, rained blows on the enemy’s huge forms and exposed faces, and forced a murderous passage.
Either Arminius had been through too many crises, or his recent wound was troubling him: he did not show his usual vigour. Inguiomerus, however, was in every part of the battle at once. His courage did not fail him – but he had bad luck. Germanicus, who had torn off his helmet so as to be recognized, ordered his men to kill and kill. No prisoners were wanted. Only the total destruction of the tribe would end the war. Finally, late in the day, he withdrew one brigade from the battle to make a camp. Apart from the cavalry, whose battle was indecisive, the rest sated themselves with enemy blood until nightfall.
Germanicus congratulated the victorious troops and piled up a heap of arms with this proud inscription: DEDICATED TO MARS AND THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS BY THE ARMY OF TIBERIUS CAESAR AFTER ITS CONQUEST OF THE NATIONS BETWEEN THE RHINE AND THE ELBE. Of himself he said nothing. He may have feared jealousy; or perhaps he felt that the knowledge of what he had done was enough. Shortly afterwards he sent Lucius Stertinius to fight the Angrivarii unless they rapidly surrendered. They begged for mercy unconditionally and received an unqualified pardon. Next, summer being already at its height, part of the army were sent back to winter quarters overland, while the majority embarked on the Ems and sailed with Germanicus down to the sea.
At first only the sound of a thousand ships’ sails, and the motion of their oars, disturbed the calm. But then, from dense black clouds, descended a hailstorm. Squalls blew up from every side, and the rising waves destroyed visibility and upset steering. The troops, terrified and unfamiliar with the perils of the sea, impeded the professional sailors by getting in the way and offering unwanted help. Soon sea and sky were swept by a southerly gale – nourished by waterlogged Germany and its deep rivers and mighty clouds, and aggravated by the savage North Sea just beyond. The gale caught the ships and scattered them over the open sea or on to islands with sharp cliffs and treacherous sunken shoals. Scarcely had these hazards been avoided when the tide turned and ran in the same direction as the gale.
Now the anchors held no longer, and no bailing could keep the torrential waters out. Horses, baggage, animals, even arms were jettisoned to lighten the ships as they leaked at the joints and were deluged by waves. The North Sea is the roughest in the world, and the German climate the worst. The disaster was proportionately terrible – indeed it was unprecedented. On one side were enemy coasts, on the other a sea so huge and deep that it is held to be the uttermost, with no land beyond. Some ships went down. Others, more numerous, were cast on to remote islands, where the men were obliged to eat the horses washed up with them or starve to death. Germanicus’ warship landed alone in the realm of the Chauci. He spent days and nights on the rocky headlands – cursing himself for the catastrophe. His friends could scarcely prevent him from drowning himself in the same sea.
At last, when the tide turned and a favourable wind blew, the crippled ships came back with most of their oars lost, or with clothes for sails, or towed by less damaged craft. Rapidly repaired, they were sent by Germanicus to search the islands, and in this way many men were recovered. Many more were ransomed from remoter tribes. The Angrivarii, who had recently submitted, acted as intermediaries. Others had been carried to Britain, and were sent back by its chieftains. Men coming from these remote regions told strange stories – of hurricanes, unknown birds, sea-monsters, and shapes half-human and half-animal, which they had seen or in their terror had imagined.
Rumours that the fleet was lost raised the Germans’ military hopes and led Germanicus to take repressive measures. Gaius Silius (I) was ordered to attack the Chatti with a force of 30,000 infantry and 3,000 horse. Germanicus himself, with the larger of the two forces, proceeded against the Marsi, whose chief, Mallovendus, had recently submitted and now reported that the Eagle of one of Varus’ brigades lay buried in a neighbouring grove, protected by only a small guard. A detachment was at once sent to provide a frontal diversion, while another went round behind and dug. Both achieved success. This encouraged Germanicus to penetrate further into the interior, plundering and exterminating an enemy who either did not dare to encounter him or was routed wherever he attempted a stand. Prisoners reported unprecedented demoralization. The Romans were said to be invincible and proof against every misfortune – their fleet and their arms were lost, the shores heaped with bodies of men and horses, and yet they had returned to the attack with undiminished courage and ferocity, apparently more numerous than ever.
Then the army returned to its winter-camps, gratified to have compensated the disasters at sea by this successful expedition. Germanicus treated them generously, satisfying every claim for losses. It was felt certain that the enemy were collapsing and about to sue for peace – one more summer’s campaign would end the war. But repeated letters from Tiberius instructed Germanicus to return for the Triumph that had been voted to him. ‘There have been enough successes,’ wrote the emperor, ‘and enough misfortunes. You have won great victories. But you must also remember the terrible, crippling losses inflicted by wind and wave – through no fault of the commander. I was sent into Germany nine times by the divine Augustus, and I achieved less by force than by diplomacy; thereby the Sugambri were forced to submit, and the Suebi and their King Maroboduus compelled to keep the peace. Similarly the Cherusci and other rebellious tribes, now that we have duly punished them, can be left to their own internal disturbances.’
When Germanicus asked for another year to complete the job, Tiberius subjected his unpretentious adoptive son to even stronger pressure by offering him the prize of a second consulship – to be occupied personally at Rome. The emperor added that, if the war must continue, Germanicus should leave his brother, Drusus, some chance of distinction; for, in the absence of enemies elsewhere, Germany was the only place in which Drusus could earn a salutation as victor and the triumphal laurels. Germanicus knew that this was hypocritical, and that jealousy was the reason why Tiberius denied him a victory that was already won. But he acquiesced without further delay.