The eyes stared back at him coldly and unblinking.¹ The young boy studied the face closely. He recognized in it the features of his father. It was his imago, the mask that had been made of him while he was alive, preserving every line and detail of his handsomevisage.² It was attached to a life-size manequin of the man, dressed in his finest clothes and lying on the funeral bier, which the pallbearers had just placed on the raised speakers’ platform in the Forum Romanum in front of the Senate House.³ The man being honoured was Nero Claudius Drusus (Stemma Drusorum, no. 11,plate 1), war hero and consul of the Romans. His seven-year-old son watched the event intently, as he sat in his little toga on an uncomfortably hard chair. He was in the front row, sitting among the family and important guests assembled below the Rostra.⁴ Beside him, his mother Antonia Minor (plate 2), dressed in a black stola, fought to hold back the tears. Next to her, a teary trail glistened upon the soft skin of his grandmother Livia Drusilla’s cheek. His little sister and other relations were there, too – all except grand-stepfather. Augustus (plate 3) – the inheritor of Iulius Caesar’s name and legacy – was waiting for them in the Campus Martius, a couple of miles away, as ancient custom and statute law forbade him, as the head of state in a time of war, to cross the sacred boundary line (pomerium) and enter the city.⁵
Seated among the mourners on this chilly winter’s day were the imagines of the boy’s Claudian ancestors and those of the Julian stepfamily. They were worn by male actors dressed in the attire their deceased hosts had worn in life.⁶ They had been taken out of the display cabinets (armariae) and brought together on this sad day to welcome Drusus the Elder on his journey to the Elysian Fields, their home in paradise across the Styx.⁷ Some actors used gestures of the arms, seeming to bring the ancestors dramatically back to life. Stretching out beyond them in the Forum Romanum, from one side of the ancient market place to the other, and from every vantage point in the old court-houses and temples, people of each class of Roman society stood, pressed shoulder to shoulder, eager to see. Seeing the bier (lectus) resting on the Rostra, the chattering crowd fell silent. This was a day no one had hoped to see – or, at least, so soon.
Some said the signs had been there all along. Omens had warned Drusus not to go to Germania Magna at the start of that year, which bore his and his co-consul’s names, but in his eagerness for glory he did not heed them.⁸ After a campaign lasting four years, he had finally reached the Elbe River in the summer. Then tragedy struck. While leading his men back to the Rhine River, he had fallen from his horse, his leg having been crushed by his steed when it collapsed on him, and he had died a month later from the ensuingfever.⁹ When he perished, consul Drusus was just 29 years old. His body had been carried upon the shoulders of tribunes and centurions of his legions, from deep inside the forests of Germania Magna to the fortress of Mogontiacum, and then upon those of countlessduoviri and aediles of the cities of Tres Galliae and Italia.¹⁰ At Colonia Copia Munata Felix, the foremost city of the Gauls, which had been Drusus’ headquarters for the last five years, Antonia and the family had joined the solemn march. Leading the cortège had been the boy’s Uncle Tiberius. In an extraordinary display of brotherly devotion (pietas), he had walked every step of the way, from the encampment the soldiers called Castra Scelerata, the ‘accursed camp’, where Drusus had died, to his resting place in Rome.¹¹
Tiberius (Stemma Drusorum, no. 12, plate 4) now mounted the platform and spoke the laudatio fenebris.¹² Young Nero sat quietly, watching and listening to the man who idolized his father. In his practised oratory, Tiberius eulogized his fallen brother, lauding his achievements as a statesman, commander and father, perhaps using similar words to those later written by the poet Ovid:
To Germania did Drusus owe his title and his death:
woe’s me! that all that goodness should be so short-lived!¹³
The crowd applauded his practised declamations and gestures. Many were visibly moved to tears. When Tiberius concluded his speech, he turned and approached the family, embracing each affectionately. It was now time to set off for the concluding part of the ceremony. Following his Uncle Tiberius, the little boy slipped his hand into his mother’s and together they walked past the speaker’s platform to the broad cobbled stones of the Via Sacra. When the ‘ancestors’ had remounted their waiting chariots, the procession left the Forum.¹⁴ Despite the pathos of the occasion, represented by the hired mourners who tore at their hair and wailed melodramatically, there was a carnival atmosphere, with gaudy clowns making ribald remarks about the deceased consul for the crowd’s amusement; men carrying placards bearing phrases and remarks for which Drusus was known; while musicians and dancers displayed their artistic talents.¹⁵
From the base of the Capitolinus Hill the twisting Via Lata became the straight Via Flaminia which ran to the Campus Martius. Crowds lined the way.¹⁶ Some, understanding the historic significance of the day, cried as the hearse passed by, while others applauded as they saw Antonia and her son. Flanking the bier, a detail of twelve lictors – each hand-picked by Drusus and dressed respectfully in black – sloped their fasces, the bundle of axes and rods that was the distinctive badge of the bodyguard of the state’s highest ranking magistrate.¹⁷ In recognition of the death of the consul, their fasces were ceremonially reversed.¹⁸ Stopping at the Circus Flaminius – the largest building outside the pomerium able to hold such a great crowd – Augustus gave a speech in honour of Drusus. It was a very personal eulogy. He spoke in glowing terms of the man who was his stepson. Here was a Roman in the best tradition, he said. Drusus was a bold and fearless warrior. He was a man who had devoted his whole life to the service of the commonwealth. Augustus beseeched the gods ‘to make his Caesars like him, and to grant himself as honourable an exit out of this world as they had given him’.¹⁹ The crowd applauded warmly. Then the procession re-assembled and continued on the Via Flaminiapast the Ara Pacis, which had only been consecrated months before, and where in life Drusus had been a honoured guest.²⁰ Finally, the long line of the colourful courtege arrived at the ustrinum, an enclosure located beside Augustus’ mausoleum. At its centre was a pyre (rogus) built to resemble an altar with panels painted with garlands of oak leaves.²¹ The princeps was waiting there and greeted Livia, Tiberius and Antonia. He embraced each one and exchanged some comforting words. To console young Nero, he bent down and placed his hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder. The family then took their designated places before the pyre. The crowd had already assembled a safe distance away, held back by Augustus’ Praetorian Cohorts dressed resplendently in their parade armour.
Drusus’ decomposing body lay inside a casket on a lower shelf of the bier, and the whole wooden apparatus was now carefully lifted up on the pyre. Antonia said a final, personal farewell. The close members of the family then took turns to throw onto the pyre some of Drusus’ favourite things – items from his youth and adulthood, from his family and military life, which he could take with him to the underworld.²² The family quietly and solemnly stood well back, away from the wooden platform. Presented with a burning torch, Tiberius grasped it firmly with his right hand, lifted it high for all to see, turned about, and thrust it into the pyre. The kindling quickly spat and crackled as flames licked the combustible material. Soon the ustrinum was engulfed by fire and curls of acrid black smoke filled the air, rising high above the mourning crowd, where it was blown away by the cold breeze.
Hours passed. When the embers had cooled, the ashes were gathered up, sprinkled with oil and placed in an urn. In a private ceremony, Augustus turned and led the family inside the double door of the mausoleum, and walked solemnly down the dark, high vaulted corridor, the way ahead lit by the flickering light of oil lamps. Standing among the shifting shadows, young Nero watched as his mother carefully placed the urn in one of the niches that had been prepared for him. Above it was a verse composed by theprinceps himself as a fond tribute to his stepson. The boy’s father had finally reached his resting place. Pater, ave atque vale!
A few days later – and quite unprompted – the Senate decreed civic honours for Nero Claudius Drusus.²³ An arch of marble was to be erected, which would straddle the Via Appia, and statues were to be erected in public places. His peers also voted him a uniqueagnomen, a battle honour which encapsulated his military achievements in a single word that would forever after be a key part of his name: Germanicus. It meant simply ‘The German’, but it conveyed the powerful and emotive image of the great Roman military commander as victor over savage warriors in the wild and untamed land of rivers, swamps and forests of far away Germania Magna. Significantly, the Senate voted that his surviving sons should be able to inherit the unique agnomen.
* * *
The boy who would become known through history simply as Germanicus was born nine days before the Kalends of June, on 24 May 16 BCE, probably in Rome (fig. 1).²⁴ On the ninth day after birth, a cleansing ritual (lustratio) was carried out to offer thanks to the gods for his good health, and he was given his father’s name, Nero Claudius Drusus. At the time, his father was a junior magistrate and, being based in the city, was able to spend time with his newborn son during the early months of his life. The first of many separations, however, occurred towards the end of the first year, when Drusus the Elder was called to Colonia Copia Munatia Felix Lugdunum to meet his stepfather Augustus and brother Tiberius to discuss a military campaign.²⁵ Up to that time, he had not yet served as a soldier, and this campaign would provide him with the opportunity to gain the military experience required for his higher political career. The following spring, Drusus led an expeditionary force through the Alps, squashed the Raeti, who had harassed Roman settlements and traders in northern Italy for years, and, with the assistance of his brother, subjugated the Vindelici and annexed the Kingdom of Noricum, in a whirlwind campaign that was celebrated by the court poet Horace.²⁶ Drusus was rewarded for his skilful leadership by Augustus with a praetorship and the position of legatus Augusti pro praetore in charge of the Tres Provinciae Galliae (‘Three Gallic Provinces’).²⁷ Soon after, Antonia relocated from Rome to the provincial capital with young Nero Drusus. There, they took up residence in the praetorium, a modestly appointed, palatial-sized building designed by Augustus’ friend and a former governor of Gaul, M. Vipsanius Agrippa, as a home away from Rome.²⁸ Already installed there were his grandparents, Augustus and Livia.
Drusus the Elder proved to be an able administrator, but it was his newly-minted military skills that were now pressed into action. Augustus had ambitions for conquering Germania Magna, the great sweep of land across the Rhine that was home to a myriad of warrior nations who often casually raided Roman territory for rich pickings. The most daring of these invasions had occurred in 17 BCE, when an alliance of three tribes led by Maelo of the Sugambri swept deep into Gallia Belgica and overwhelmed Legio VAlaudae, taking its prized aquila standard in the ensuing conflict.²⁹ It was the catalyst for a complete re-evaluation of Rome’s strategy for the north-western frontier and was the reason for Augustus’ and Tiberius’ visit to Gaul. Between 14 and 13 BCE, Drusus the Elder oversaw the largest build-out of military infrastructure of the period, including the establishment of five substantial legionary fortresses along the Rhine, with several smaller auxiliary forts, and a canal system linking the river to Lacus Flevo (formerly theZuiderzee).³⁰ Commencing in 12 BCE, Drusus led a series of annual campaigns by sea and land that systematically annexed Germania Magna eastwards from the shores of the North Sea.
Figure 1. Young Germanicus as imagined for Wedgwood’s Catalogue of Cameos, Intaglios, Medals, Bas-Reliefs, Busts and Small Statues of 1787.
As campaigning seasons began in the spring and ended in late summer, Drusus was able to return to the Gallic provincial capital and spend several months there with his wife and son. Drusus generally sojourned in Rome during the winter, and the family almost certainly travelled with him. Drusus was in the city in 11 BCE, where he gave the eulogy at the funeral of his aunt Octavia, Augustus’ sister.³¹
Two years later, while in Rome on a cold 30 January 9 BCE – Livia’s birthday – young Nero took part in the consecration of the Ara Pacis Augustae, a great altar erected to honour the personification of the Pax Augusta, the world peace made possible byAugustus.³² It had been commissioned by the Senate on 4 July 13 BCE and had taken three and a half years to build.³³ Erected outside the pomerium of the ancient city, in the Campus Martius west of the Via Flaminia, it stood on the floodplain of the Tiber River.³⁴Carved from gleaming white marble, measuring 11.6m (38ft) by 10.6m (35ft), the altar is considered to be one of the architectural masterpieces of the Augustan age.³⁵ The altar proper stands on a raised podium within a sacred enclosure in the style of a templum. A single opening measuring 3.6m (12ft) wide, approached by ten steps on the west side, allows access to the altar.³⁶ On the exterior wall of the enclosure, above a lower panel decorated with volutes of acanthus, a procession is depicted in half-relief. The good and the great of Rome are shown here: the Vestal Virgins, the Pontifex Maximus, members of the priestly colleges and their retinue of religious attendants, the consuls accompanied by lictores with their ceremonial bundles of axes and rods, and many other state officials. Following them are men, women and children who are Augustus’ friends and family.³⁷ The procession is shown on both sides of the external north and south walls flanking the entrance, and forms a single line seen from opposite sides, so that the participants move towards the steps at the front of the altar. The figures are life-size and appear to be the individual likenesses of the actual participants in the event. The frieze is a snapshot, a virtual newsreel, of members of the imperial family celebrating a religious rite on the First Lady’s birthday. Among the group at the front of the line is Augustus, shown as Pontifex Maximus. Further down stands his close friend and son-in-law, M. Vipsanius Agrippa, clutching a scroll in his right hand. His head is respectfully covered with his toga, perhaps recognizing the fact of his death, which occurred while the frieze was being carved. Behind him is Augustus’ wife, Livia Drusilla, whose hand rests upon the head of a young girl.³⁸ Following her is Tiberius, with a stern look on his face, wearing a toga and the ankle-length closed boots of a high-status Roman. After him, Antonia Minor pauses to listen to her husband, Drusus the Elder, who stands at ease behind her. He wears the paludamentum, the cloak of a commanding officer, over his left shoulder, and caligae, the sturdy boots worn by soldiers, clearly identifying him as a military man. Antonia herself holds the right hand of a very young, well-behaved boy (plate 7), who wears child-size national Roman costume of tunica and toga.³⁹ He looks comfortable on this public occasion and is quite unfazed by the gathering of so many major celebrities. He stands facing the viewer full on, but his head is turned slightly to the right, staring out and slightly up. He seems to be concentrating on something in the distance. Around his neck he wears a distinctive bulla, the small, round, golden amulet worn by every Roman boy until manhood. This is probably young Nero Claudius Drusus – the future Germanicus – in the earliest depiction of him from life.
What kind of father Drusus was, the ancient sources do not explicitly say, but they consistently describe him as an amiable, respectful and popular man.⁴⁰ The evidence indicates that he was sexually faithful to his wife, and keen to establish a family in the best Roman tradition.⁴¹ Nero was very likely not their first child, however. As was common in the ancient world, the infant mortality rate was high. Drusus and Antonia Minor, who married in 18 BCE, may already have tried several times to have children, and some of their issue are recorded as not surviving.⁴²
Impatient for progress on the Germanic front, in 9 BCE Drusus set off for Mogontiacum on the Rhine, apparently leaving his family behind. It proved to be a break-through year, with the Roman army finally reaching the Elbe River, which had been an elusive objective for the past four campaigning seasons; but that victory was won at terrible cost. The moment his father died, the young boy called Nero assumed a heady legacy: his father’s reputation as a valiant commander (imperator), as a fearless challenger for his opponent’s rich spoils (spolia opima), as a champion of traditional Roman values (mores maiorum) and as an upholder of the commonwealth (res publica). It was a lot for the diminutive shoulders of a boy of just seven years old to take on. Yet take it on he did. Drusus’ son, perhaps at his own request, now changed his praenomen from Nero to the honorary agnomen Germanicus. Young and small he might have been, but he clearly wanted to publicly celebrate the memory of his illustrious father by taking the name for his own. From that moment on, he would be known as Germanicus Claudius Drusus.
The Early Years
In the absence of his father, Germanicus was raised by his mother. Antonia Minor (Antonia the Younger, Stemma Antoniorum, no. 17) was the daughter of Augustus’ former friend turned foe. She was born in Athens on 31 January 36 BCE, the child of M. Antonius and Octavia, the sister of Augustus.⁴³ When Antonius divorced Octavia in 32 BCE, the 4-year-old girl went with her mother and was brought up with the support of her uncle and aunt, Augustus and Livia. She married Drusus the Elder when she was 18 years old, which was later than many of her peers, who were married off in their early teens; but, by then, she had amassed considerable wealth through inheritances, owning property in Egypt, Greece and Italy. Like her mother before her, by reputation, she was a woman of moral virtue and great charm, and portrait busts of the period identified as her attest to her delicate feminine beauty.⁴⁴ As a mother, she took an active interest in her children’s upbringing. Germanicus’ early learning occurred through supervised play, probably in the care of slaves or freedmen and their children. A well-to-do Roman boy had many toys to play with: bricks, with which to build toy houses or forts, a hobby-horse, a hoop and top, and a wooden sword. He also played games with marbles, nuts and counters, or tossed coins, shouting ‘Heads’ or ‘Ships’ – a reference to the early images on the obverse and reverse of Rome’s early bronze coinage.⁴⁵
While in Rome, Augustus also took an active interest in the education of the young man. As effective head of state, he strove to set an example as a family man. When he dined with his family, he insisted that his adopted sons and grandsons recline beside him on his couch, and when they travelled with him, they rode in the carriage in front or on either side of his.⁴⁶ He actively taught all his grandsons how to read and write, showing them how to copy his handwriting, and drilled into them a liking for health and fitness by teaching them to swim.⁴⁷ From the age of six or seven, alitterator (typically an educated slave or freedman or Greek) was employed for the more tedious parts of a high-status boy’s formative training. Learning by rote was the norm for Roman students. They mastered reading and writing by copying passages from the great poets – for example, Ennius in Latin or Homer in Greek – and the rudiments of arithmetic, using the cumbersome Roman number system and the abacus.
Germanicus’ education also involved learning about his ancestors, and how each had lived his life in accordance with the several virtues that defined the Roman character. This code of personal ethics underpinned a citizen’s ability to fully participate in Roman society. Chief among these wasvirtus, the expectation that a man should display courage, or manliness, in difficult times and when facing tough decisions – it is the origin of the English word ‘virtue’. Other valued behaviours were clementia, the ability to show mercy; dignitas, the virtue of taking pride in oneself; firmitas, tenacity or strength of mind; frugalitas, living the simple life without being miserly; gravitas, the sense of seriousness and responsibility with which a man approached an issue; honestas, the projection of a respectable image in society; industria, the value of working hard; pietas, the respect for the natural order of things, including loyalty to one’s country; prudentia, the foresight and wisdom gained from personal experience or that of others; salubritas, the belief in wholesomeness and cleanliness; severitas, the ability to maintain self-control; and veritas, the belief in the value of truth over falsehood. Roman citizens were also expected to live up to a set of publicly shared virtues, among which were aequitas, the belief that it was morally right to act fairly within government and with the people; fides, that in all dealings a man should act in good faith; iustitia, that citizens should expect justice and fair treatment before the law; libertas, the belief in freedom for all citizens; and nobilitas, the expectation that a Roman should strive for excellence in all he did.
Germanicus inherited the traditions of two historic Roman clans – the Claudian on his father’s side, and the Antonian on his mother’s. The gens Claudia figured prominently in Rome’s history, and its semi-legendary founder was App. Claudius Sabinus Inregillensis. He was born Attius Clausus in Regillus in the Sabine (Sabinium) territories of Latium, and he sought peace with his Roman neighbour after they had overthrown their king and founded a republic.⁴⁸ It was not a popular position among the Sabines, but he left his hometown around the year 504 BCE and was joined by others equally dissatisfied with the turn of events. Claudius was received warmly on his arrival in neighbouring Rome. He was made a senator and his followers became Roman citizens. Nine years later, he was elected consul. His enforcement of the debt laws forced a secession of the plebians in 494–493 BCE. Despite his tough autocratic leanings, he established one of the most important and respected Roman dynasties.
Many of Claudius Sabinus’ successors held high state office as consuls and censors, defending the commonwealth in times of political crisis and leading armies in wars against the increasing number of Rome’s enemies. The family tree of the Claudians was a study in leadership, both good and bad. In the five centuries following App. Claudius Sabinus, ‘it was honoured with twenty-eight consulships, five dictatorships, seven censorships, six triumphs, and two ovations’, writes Suetonius.⁴⁹ The men of gens Claudia were principled, bold, and, oftentimes, bloody-minded and stubborn individuals who had virtus in abundance. Many were prepared to take on the vested interests in the name of aequitas and libertas, and more often than not left Rome a better place than they entered atbirth.⁵⁰ One such was App. Claudius Caecus, his cognomen meaning ‘the blind’ (c.340–273 BCE). As censor in 312 BCE, he sought to enfranchise the sons of freedmen and the rural tribes who had no land. He commissioned the building of the Via Appia that connected Rome to Capua, and the aqueduct that brought abundant fresh running water to the fountains and baths of the City. For the first time in Roman history, he published a list of legal procedures and the legal calendar, knowledge of which, until that time, had been the exclusive preserve of the pontifices. Twice elected consul and appointed dictator for one term, he was remembered for a speech he gave against Cineas, an envoy of Pyrrhus of Epirus, in which he declared that Rome would never surrender.⁵¹
Claudians played a prominent role in the wars against Rome’s sworn enemy, Carthage. In 265 BCE, App. Claudius Caudex, whose cognomen means ‘blockhead’, was the first to cross the Straits of Misenum with a fleet of ships to come to the aid of the Mamertines, and succeeded in driving out the Carthaginians from Sicily. In liberating the Mamertines, however, he triggered the First Punic War (264–241 BCE).⁵² Caudex’s nephew P. Claudius demonstrated that he had less humility than he had humour. He was also the first of the Claudii to receive the cognomen Pulcher, meaning ‘beautiful’, though it was intended not as a compliment but as a cruelly sarcastic joke of the sort the Romans enjoyed, since he was far from handsome. In 249 BCE,
when, off the coast of Sicilia, the pullets used for taking augury would not eat, in contempt of the omen, he threw them overboard, as if they should drink at least, if they would not eat. After his defeat, when he was ordered by the senate to name a dictator, making a sort of jest of the public disaster, he named Glycias, his apparitor.⁵³
Back in Rome, he was tried for incompetence and impiety, and fined. He died shortly thereafter, probably by suicide.
It was one of the four sons of App. Claudius Caecus who founded the branch of the family known as the Claudii Nerones. In 214 BCE, C. Claudius Nero (a relative of Claudius Caecus) was sent to crush Hasdrubal Barca, on his arrival from Hispania with a vast army, before he could unite with his brother Hannibal. Either he lost his way on the journey, or he did not have enough time to arrive in time, but the engagement between the Carthaginian and the consul M. Claudius Marcellus took place without him. Seven years later, as consul, Claudius Nero redeemed himself when he scored a pivotal victory for the Romans in the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE) at the Battle of Metaurus.⁵⁴ He cut off Hasdrubal’s head and lobbed it provocatively into the camp of the great Hannibal.
Germanicus’ own paternal grandfather, Ti. Claudius Nero (a descendent of C. Claudius Nero) had a colourful life story, too. He was married to his cousin, Livia Drusilla (Stemma Drusorum, no. 9), from the Claudii Drusi branch of the family founded by M. Livius Drusus, but agreed to divorce her at Octavius’ (Iulius Caesar’s nephew) request and apparently without contest.⁵⁵ M. Tullius Cicero, the statesman and orator, described Nero as the sort of man who was effusive and overeager to show gratitude in return for a favour. The result was that his life was a chronicle of poor judgements. In 54 BCE, he beat M. Antonius’ brother to be the prosecutor at the impeachment trial of A. Gabinius, the governor of Syria who was alleged to have overseen an incompetent and corrupt provincial administration – and he lost the case. He sought the hand of Cicero’s daughter Tullia in marriage, but the orator dithered, his wife made the decision for him, and Nero lost her to another.⁵⁶ Nero threw his weight behind the rising star in Roman politics, C. Iulius Caesar. He was rewarded by Caesar with the appointment of quaestor and commanded the fleet at Alexandria, and for his services he was assigned a senior priesthood in place of P. Cornelius Scipio. Caesar authorized him to establish colonies in Gallia Narbonensis in 46 BCE, and Arelate (Arles) and Narbo (Narbonne) owed their foundation to him. When Caesar was assassinated, however, Nero made a succession of bad decisions. He switched to the side of the assassins and even proposed special honours for them. When the self-styled liberators’ fortunes began to wane, he switched sides again, this time backing M. Antonius of the new triumvirate – the legal cartel of three men that officially ruled the Roman state, comprising M. Antonius, M. Aemilius Lepidus and Octavius, now Iulius Caesar’s heir and using the inheritor of the great man’s name.
Nero was elected praetor in 42 BCE, but when a dispute broke out among the members of the triumvirate, he refused to step down at the end of his term and, by doing so, broke the law. Two years later, after the assassins were defeated at the Battle of Philippi, Iulius Caesar’s heir began confiscating lands in Italy to reward his retiring veteran legionaries. Antonius’ brother and sister became champions for the dispossessed Italians and tried to foment rebellion against Caesar’s adopted son. Nero chose to support their cause, and moved his wife Livia and their young son to Perusia, where the main opposition was gathering. Perusia fell, however, and Tiberius and his family managed to escape just in time, first to Praeneste, before arriving at Neapolis, where a slave revolt was being planned. That, too, collapsed in the face of the forces of Caesar’s heir, and Nero pulled off yet another daring escape. In Sicily, he hoped to be welcomed by Sex. Pompeius, the brother-in-law of M. Libo, but he was disappointed. Nero and his family were dismissed and headed east, hoping to find refuge with M. Antonius. On the way to Athens, they found temporary sanctuary with one of Livia’s distant family members, L. Scribonius Libo. They had hardly reached the Greek city when Antonius, who wanted nothing to do with Nero, quickly sent him on his way to Sparta, where the Claudii still had supporters. They enjoyed the locals’ hospitality for a time but, for reasons that have not come down to us, had to escape from there too.
In 39 BCE, Antonius and Caesar’s adopted son reached an accord, signing the Peace Treaty of Brundisium and, a short while later, the Treaty of Misenum with Sex. Pompeius, in which amnesty was granted to those who had sided with him. Finally, Nero and his young family could return to Rome. As a result of the Treaty of Misenum, they may have found that their house on the Palatinus Hill had been confiscated, because, rather than fleeing Italy for their safety, they were proscribed or marked down as opponents.⁵⁷ Nero played no further role in public life and probably spent his time with his two boys, since under Roman law the children of a divorced mother were returned to their natural father. There is nothing in the Roman literature to suggest what kind of father he was, but Tiberius and Drusus the Elder at least appear to have respected him. Their time together was short, however. In 33 BCE, Nero unexpectedly died, leaving the five-year old Drusus and his older brother fatherless. Nine-year-old Tiberius was left to deliver the funeral oration at the Rostra in the Forum.⁵⁸ The boys were subsequently brought up in the household of Augustus and Livia. Germanicus’ father was never adopted by Augustus and remained a stepson.
The gens Antonia had an equally exotic past. Several Antonii reached senior positions in the Roman political system, including tribunus plebis, magister equitum (a personal aid to a dictator), praetor, censor and consul.⁵⁹ There were two branches of the Antonii, the patrician and plebian, which were apparently unconnected by ties of blood.
The earliest recorded member of the patrician branch of the clan is T. Antonius Merenda, whose cognomen meant ‘lunch’.⁶⁰ He was elected decemvir, one of a board of ten magistrates, which helped draft what later became known as the Twelve Tables of Roman Law in 450 BCE. Merenda was defeated by the Aequi on Mount Algidus.⁶¹ Thereafter, the patrician Antonii achieved little of public significance.
The plebian – non-aristocratic – side of the clan, who bore no cognomina, came to prominence with the oratorical skills of M. Antonius Orator (Stemma Antoniorum, no. 2), son of C. Antonius (Stemma Antoniorum, no. 1).⁶² He was elected praetor in 104 BCE, consul in 99 and censor in 97, but was executed during the bloody purges of C. Marius and L. Cornelius Cinna in 87–6. The most celebrated member of the plebian Antonians, however, was Germanicus’ own maternal grandfather, M. Antonius the triumvir (Stemma Antoniorum, no. 8), and Germanicus was proud to call himself a descendant of his.⁶³ He was the eldest son of M. Antonius Creticus (Stemma Antoniorum, no. 3), who was praetor in 75, and grandson of the great M. Antonius Orator.⁶⁴ He was probably born in thewinter of 86 or 83 BCE.⁶⁵ Young Marcus was influenced by his uncle, C. Antonius, also known by the cognomen Hybrida (Stemma Antoniorum, no. 4).⁶⁶ He was consul at the time of the conspiracy of Catalina in 63 BCE – the year Cicero famously claimed he had saved the Republic – and in which he was heavily involved.⁶⁷ Very much taking after his uncle, in his early life Marcus indulged his passions for sex and gambling and, by the age of only 20, he had amassed a debt of 250 talents – an immense sum for the times.⁶⁸To escape his creditors, he fled to Greece and, once there, he studied rhetoric at Athens, during which he developed his trademark Asiatic style of public speaking, which was described as full of florid language.⁶⁹ When summoned by the proconsul of Syria to take part in campaigns against Aristobulus II in Iudaea, he then discovered his abilities as a cavalry commander.⁷⁰
In 54 BCE, Antonius became a member of the staff of Iulius Caesar’s armies in Gallia Comata and proved to be a competent military leader, showing courage, boldness and chivalry to his enemies, but his personality and temperament often led to upsets.⁷¹Antonius and Caesar were said to be the best of friends and, despite falling out in 46 BCE over a financial matter, they were later reconciled.⁷² He remained a devoted friend and faithful adjutant to Caesar for the rest of his life. After Caesar’s assassination, Antonius gave the eulogy in the Forum Romanum and succeeded in turning the populace against the conspirators.⁷³ As a member of the triumvirate, he hunted down the murderers, finally defeating M. Iunius Brutus and C. Cassius Longinus at Philippi on 23 October 42BCE.⁷⁴ He allied with Kleopatra the following year and became her lover, but nevertheless married the sister of Caesar’s heir in 41 BCE.⁷⁵ The next ten years were filled with personal animosity and political uncertainty, finally ending in the naval battle at Actium in 31 BCE, in which Antonius was roundly defeated.⁷⁶ When the younger Caesar invaded Egypt, thinking Kleopatra had already killed herself and seeing all was lost, Antonius committed suicide.⁷⁷ The victor spared his surviving daughters and son, Iullus Antonius, by Octavia, as well as his children by Kleopatra, but he coldly executed her son by Iulius Caesar.⁷⁸
From the blended genetic code of the Antonian and Claudian bloodlines, which had produced statesmen, soldiers and orators in some considerable numbers over the generations, Germanicus inherited innate abilities, which he would hone in adulthood and define him as a man.
When he reached the age of nine or ten, Germanicus began his higher education. He was instructed by a teacher called a grammaticus who was a specialist in literature.⁷⁹ Under his direction, Germanicus was expected to learn passages by heart, prepare spoken and written explanations of them, frame arguments, and declaim them with appropriate flourishes and gestures. Romans read not silently but aloud. In reciting the words, Germanicus learned to enunciate and pronounce them correctly, and to read with conviction and emotion. Greek and Latin epic poems were studied, not only for their intrinsic beauty of language and metre, but because, through them, a Roman student learned about the order of things – about astronomy, geography, social history, natural history, mythologyand religion. It must have been an enjoyable period for him, because Germanicus formed a lifelong love of drama, history, philosophy and poetry.
Entering Public Life
On reaching puberty, a Roman boy officially came of age. His Uncle Tiberius was fifteen when he celebrated his own coming of age, which would place Germanicus’ rite of passage in 1 BCE. This milestone event was a cause for great celebration. It normally occurred on 17 March, on the day of the Festival of Liber and Libera, at the transition between winter and spring. In the morning, Germanicus took off the bulla for the last time and placed it in the shrine of the family gods (lararium).⁸⁰ He then donned his best white tunic and, for the first time, wore the all-white toga purainstead of the toga praetexta with its striped edge, which he had worn as a boy. Leading a procession of his family and friends called the deductio in forum, on arrival at the Tabularium, the office of public records located under the Capitolinus Hill, he was registered as a full Roman citizen (civis) and his name was entered on the roll of his tribe. His special day ended with a coming-of-age party, and congratulations and gifts from the invited guests.⁸¹
Germanicus continued his education until his late teens. For male members of Augustus’ family who were expected to fully participate in government, proficiency in the art of eloquent speaking was a particularly important skill to master.⁸² Germanicus enjoyed the services of Salanus, a rhetor, who specialized in the art of oratory. His name has come down to us in a poem composed by P. Ovidius Naso (Ovid), who held his friend of ‘moderate association’ in high esteem, and whose nature he described as ‘noble’, a quality he found to be in diminishing supply in his day.⁸³ In one of his poetic letters, Ovid praises the teacher for nurturing Germanicus’ skill in the art of public speaking:
You have been for long his companion, you have been in union with him from his earliest years, finding favour with him by virtue of a talent that equals your character. Under your guidance, as a speaker he forthwith attains fiery eloquence, in you he has one to lure forth his words by your own.⁸⁴
Not much else is known about Salanus. Remarkably, such men often came from quite humble backgrounds.⁸⁵ One such was M. Antonius Gnipho, a Gaul rescued from exposure at birth, sold into slavery, and acquired by one of the triumvir’s relatives in Rome, who later gave him his freedom. His was said to have been a great genius ‘of singular memory, well-read in Greek as well as Latin’.⁸⁶ His talent was recognized and he was employed to tutor the young Iulius Caesar, and even Cicero attended classes he taught on rhetoric. Augustus’ own teacher of declamation was Apollodorus of Pergamon.⁸⁷ Under Salanus’ guidance, Germanicus further studied the Greek and Latin authors, and went to the courthouses to listen to advocates for their plaintiffs or defendants, and displaying their practised oratorical skills.⁸⁸ In Germanicus, the teacher found a keen pupil. Public speaking would be a skill he constantly drew upon throughout his career.
Germanicus’ academic studies did not exist in isolation. As a member of Augustus’ family, he would have been learning about real world current affairs, the inner workings of government, and military strategy, directly from his relatives and the visitors and dinner guests at Augustus’ house on the Palatinus Hill.⁸⁹ The public rooms of his modest property bustled every day during the salutatio with a continuous stream of friends, senators, military men, ambassadors, kings, princes, and other clients, seeking to meet theprinceps, to update him on developments or to present petitions or to seek favours.
Following his settlement with the Senate in 27 BCE, Augustus had gradually taken a less active role in war-fighting, leaving it to his appointed deputies (legati) to carry out in his name.⁹⁰ Principal among them was M. Vipsanius Agrippa, who became his son-in-law when he married Iulia the Elder; but his unexpected death in 12 BCE thrust his two stepsons to the fore.⁹¹ Following the untimely death of his younger brother Drusus, Tiberius became Augustus’ principal man for executing his military policy.⁹² The year following Drusus the Elder’s death, he attempted to tie up the loose ends left by his brother in Germania Magna. In this task, he succeeded, retaining the good will of the allies and negotiating peace treaties with the principal Germanic nations living along the Rhine, Lippe, Lahn and Main rivers.⁹³ One of the terms of the settlement was the relocation of the Sugambri nation to the Roman side of the Rhine in the vicinity of the military base at Vetera (Xanten), and the surrender of its warlord, Maelo, who had led the invasion and defeated M. Lollius in 17 BCE.⁹⁴ For the first time in decades, it looked like there might be a lasting peace in the northern region. Further south, a great wedding-cake-like trophy, sculpted in marble to celebrate the subjugation of the sixty tribes living across the great sweep of the Alps, was inaugurated at La Turbie, as if to stamp a period on a project that had lasted over a century.⁹⁵ On his return to Rome, Tiberius was rewarded with an ovation and a second term as consul, to serve jointly with Cn. Calpurnius Piso in 7BCE.⁹⁶ An indicator of the trust Augustus continued to place in him was the grant of tribunicia potestas – the legal power which gave the imperial family control over the Senate – for five years.⁹⁷ Furthermore, he assigned him Armenia in the east, where relations between the client king and Rome were deteriorating since rival claimants to the incumbent Tigranes’ throne had come forward to challenge him.⁹⁸ Tiberius was far from a happy man, however. Something snapped in Germanicus’ dour and intense uncle. For reasons that remain unclear, he suddenly announced that he was quitting public life and retiring to the island of Rhodos (Rhodes).⁹⁹ This dramatic turn of events unexpectedly left the princeps without his most experienced right-hand man.¹⁰⁰
Had Germanicus’ father been alive, it would probably have turned out very differently. Augustus greatly admired his youngest stepson and had even declared before the Senate that Drusus was joint-heir with his adopted sons, come the time of his own death.¹⁰¹At the funeral, Augustus had stated publicly that Drusus was an exemplum, a role model, for his sons. Despite their unwavering loyalty to him, and their successful military exploits for which the princeps claimed all credit, Augustus had adopted neither Drusus nor Tiberius. Perhaps because they were the sons of his wife, Livia, he felt no need to formally adopt them; but the fact that Augustus saw his adopted Julian sons as his natural successors over the Claudians may have galled Tiberius, and, having lost his brother and best friend in the forests of Germania while serving his stepfather, he felt underappreciated and had simply had enough. Adding to the pressure on him, his marriage to Iulia the Elder had also broken down. They had become estranged; so much so that, when he departed for Rhodes, he left her in Rome.¹⁰² Having been abandoned by Tiberius, her lifestyle became increasingly wild, dominated by drinking and partying, which ended in a scandal that saw her accused of adultery and treason. Her punishment was severe. Augustus exiled her to Pandateria (Ventotene), banning her forever from Rome, and even barring her from drinking wine anywhere on her tiny island.¹⁰³ For a man promoting wholesome family values, it was an acute embarrassment.
Tiberius’ retirement to the eastern end of the Mediterranean meant that Augustus now had to accelerate the promotion of his two adopted sons. They would have to learn fast how to play their part in politics and take over military duties from Tiberius.¹⁰⁴ In 17 BCE, with an eye firmly on his succession, Augustus had adopted the two sons of Iulia the Elder and M. Vipsanius Agrippa privately in a symbolic sale.¹⁰⁵ The older of the brothers was born between 14 August and 13 or 23 September 20 BCE, and named C. Vipsanius Agrippa. On his adoption, he took the name C. Iulius Caesar. His younger brother, Lucius, was born sometime between 14 June and 15 July 17 BCE. Augustus doted over the two boys, lavishing great attention on them and writing to them when he or either of them was travelling.¹⁰⁶ He named a new colonnade and basilica after them in 12 BCE and gave gladiatorial games in their honour.¹⁰⁷ They were promoted as the young Caesars, and appeared together on the most-minted coin of Augustus’ reign, shown standing proudly in their togas on either side of two large, round, golden shields and gold-tipped spears – which indicated that they had reached the age at which they could serve in the army – accompanied by various items associated with religious ritual.¹⁰⁸
Following popular demand for him to be made consul, Caius was given a priesthood and permitted to take a seat in the curia, where the Senate met, and was made consul designatus, acknowledging that he would assume the high office, but only when he reached the age of 20.¹⁰⁹ Meantime, Augustus permitted him to host gladiatorial games and banquets.¹¹⁰ When Caius came of age in 5 BCE, he was appointed princeps iuventutis, ‘prince of the youth’, which granted him command of a unit of cavalry.¹¹¹ A year later, Lucius was given the same honour.¹¹² This fawning attention by their father, their public popularity, and the flattery of strangers intent on seeking favours, was having an unintended effect on the boys, however. Augustus became increasingly disconsolate when he found the little princes growing up to behave more like spoilt brats than potential heads of state, a situation he tried to change.¹¹³ In 1 BCE, Caius, now old enough to join the army, was assigned command of a legion stationed on the Danube River (Danuvius, Ister); but, rather than learning the arts of war first-hand, he preferred to stay out of harm’s way by putting others in it.¹¹⁴ Lucius saw service in the west.¹¹⁵
Map 1. The World, according to M. Agrippa, c. 12 BCE.
On the eastern edge of the empire, Armenia (map 1) finally broke out in revolt in 1 BCE.¹¹⁶ It had always been a tricky region of the world to rule, existing in both Rome’s and Parthia’s sphere of influence. Augustus was keen to keep it under Roman control, and needed someone to quickly restore order in the region and to secure the frontier with Parthia. This posed a terrible dilemma for the princeps: he was too old and infirm, at 62 years of age, to take command in the field in person; his trusty warhorse Tiberius was skulking in Rhodes; and neither Caius nor Lucius had the military or diplomatic experience necessary to handle the situation.¹¹⁷ The remarkable fact, if Dio’s report is accurate, is that there were no other men the princeps believed he could trust to carry out thetask.¹¹⁸ Out of necessity, he chose C. Caesar. The 19-year old was given his first official state duty as the grandly named Orienti praepositus, ‘commander of the East’.¹¹⁹ To bolster his position, Caius was delegated imperium maius, the legal power to carry out orders in Augustus’ name, which had been forfeited by Tiberius. Shortly before leaving Rome, there was one last item to attend to. He would not depart Rome a bachelor, but was married off to Germanicus’ sister, Livilla, making them brothers-in-law.¹²⁰
Perhaps aware of Caius’ reticence to fully engage himself in military affairs, and to compensate for his diplomatic inexperience, Augustus assigned him the services of M. Lollius as official ‘companion and guide’.¹²¹ That this was the same man who had been responsible for the disaster in Gaul in 17 BCE shows how forgiving Augustus was of his friends’ failings and how trusting he was of their abilities. Despite his apparent maturity in years, Lollius was an odd if unwise choice, having a reputation for avarice, deceit and spite.¹²² He also harboured a great dislike of Tiberius, stemming back to 16 BCE when he had been replaced by him as governor in Gaul and then watched from the sidelines as he went on to win victories in Raetia and Noricum. Yet Lollius was still favoured by Augustus.
While island-hopping his way to Asia Minor, Caius received an unscheduled private visit from Tiberius at Chios or Samos.¹²³ He wanted to pay his respects to Caius and to clear up any suspicion the young man might have had of him.¹²⁴ Tiberius received an unexpectedly frosty welcome. Lollius had had plenty of time to poison the mind of his young charge. Caius had been influenced by his advisor’s slanders, among which were allegations that Tiberius was inciting revolution.¹²⁵ Tiberius’ deference did not win over the man, and all he succeeded in doing was to humiliate himself. Caius left soon after and went on to spend time in Syria, Iudaea and Egypt.¹²⁶
The highlight of Caius’ two-year tour of duty was the peace treaty he agreed with Phratakes V (Frahâtak) of Parthia, which was signed on an island in the Euphrates River.¹²⁷ He was the son of King Phrates (Frahâta) from whom, eighteen years earlier, Tiberius had received back the signa lost by Crassus to the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 BCE. The Parthians agreed to renounce their claim on Armenia, but required that the Mede Ariobarzanes be installed to rule over them.¹²⁸ Shortly after, a new coin was minted showing the young commander riding a horse galloping past a clutch of army signa.¹²⁹ News of the agreement contained in Caius’ letter was read out to the Senate, probably by his own brother Lucius, who enjoyed reading all his dispatches when he was in Rome.¹³⁰ Meantime, Frahâtak revealed that Lollius had been taking bribes, and the Roman deputy was recalled to face charges.¹³¹ He was immediately replaced by P. Sulpicius Quirinius, who had taken care to visit Tiberius in exile.¹³²
Through Caius’ diplomacy, a war with Parthia over Armenia had been avoided. However, the Armenians resented the choice of regent and now declared war on the Romans.¹³³ The conflict was not settled until the following year, when Ariobarzanes’ position was confirmed, but it was a shortlived solution: he unexpectedly died and was replaced by his son, Artabazus.¹³⁴ Caius had shown some promise as a military commander in the East, but he was wounded while campaigning in Syria.¹³⁵ In 1 CE, at the age of 21, he was finally elected consul in absentia with L. Aemilius Paulus as his co-consul. In one version of the story, an upstart by the name of Addon (or Adduus) now took hold of the town of Artagira.¹³⁶ On the pretence that he would reveal the Parthian king’s secrets, Addon tricked Caius into coming up close to the city’s walls and succeeded in seriously wounding the Roman commander.¹³⁷ In another version, while reading documents delivered by Dones, the king’s governor of Artagerae, Caius was attacked.¹³⁸ The Roman army promptly laid siege to the stronghold, which held out for a while, before finally falling to the Romans. However, the wound caused Caius to fall sick.¹³⁹ Dio says that Caius’ health was not known for being robust, and the ensuing fever befuddled the clarity of his thinking.¹⁴⁰ He wrote to Augustus pleading to be relieved of duty and to retire as a private citizen, which his father reluctantly agreed to, though with the proviso that he should immediately come back to Italy. Taking a merchant ship bound for Lycia, however, Caius died on reaching Limyra on 21 or 22 February 4 CE, aged just 24.¹⁴¹ A cenotaph was erected on the Limyrus River to commemorate his brief life.¹⁴² He left no children.
With amazing bad luck, just nineteen months earlier, tragedy had struck when Lucius was taken ill while on his military service in Tres Galliae and Germania, and he died at Massilia (Marseille) on 20 August 2 CE.¹⁴³ He was only 19 years old and also left no heirs. The bodies of the two young men were brought separately under military escort back to Rome and met en route by the magistrates of the cities they passed through. The Senate voted honours for the young Caesars, and agreed that the golden shields and spears they had received on achieving the age of military service were to be hung in the senate house.¹⁴⁴ The caskets containing their ashes were lodged in the Mausoleum of Augustus (fig. 9), where they joined those of their birth father M. Agrippa, and Augustus’ sister Octavia, his nephew Marcellus, and stepson Drusus the Elder.
This remarkable series of misfortunes, which Augustus appeared to treat with more resignation than heartbreak, caused him to completely rethink the succession plan he had carefully crafted over a quarter-century.¹⁴⁵ He cast his eye over the remaining live branches of his family tree. Three names stood out: his grandson Postumus Agrippa, his stepson Tiberius, and his step-grandson Germanicus. Postumus (plate 5), the only remaining son of his daughter Iulia the Elder and M. Agrippa, was an angry young man, but, as direct kin of his best friend, Augustus gave him the benefit of the doubt.¹⁴⁶ Augustus’ relations with the now-humbled Tiberius had begun to mend – with some direct intervention from Livia – when his stepson returned from self-imposed retirement in 2 CE.¹⁴⁷However, he wrestled with Germanicus. The young man was still unproven, having as yet no experience of civil government or the military. Yet he clearly had potential. ‘He was so deeply respected and loved by all his acquaintances,’ writes Suetonius, ‘that Augustus (to say nothing of the rest of his relatives) wondered for a long time whether to make him his successor’.¹⁴⁸ But his doubts persisted, allegedly encouraged by his wife.¹⁴⁹
The decision Augustus made would change the course of Roman history. By a bill passed in the curia on 27 or 28 June 4 CE, he formally adopted Tiberius (whose name changed to Ti. Iulius Caesar).¹⁵⁰ While the adoption was a private affair, it was reported that the arrangement was made for ‘the good of the commonwealth’.¹⁵¹ Tiberius’ public career had ended and he was now a private citizen with neither imperium nor tribunicia potestas. The adoption by Augustus opened the way for him to be rehabilitated and once more to assume the tribunician power.¹⁵² Tiberius expressed his reluctance, publicly, to re-assuming the power, but he relented and accepted it for the good of the state.¹⁵³ Seemingly as a precaution against anything happening to – or in his relations with – Tiberius, he also adopted his grandson Postumus Agrippa who adopted the name Agrippa Iulius Caesar.¹⁵⁴ The surprise, however, was that he made Tiberius adopt Germanicus, in turn, as his son.¹⁵⁵ It might seem that Augustus was laying out not one, but two generations of his successors in what one scholar has dubbed a Doppelprinzipat, in the manner of a dynast.¹⁵⁶ An alternative view is that, by having Tiberius adopt Germanicus, he was reducing the risk of frictions and the rise of factions in the imperial household.¹⁵⁷ It might have also been intended as a way of eliminating the prospect of the younger man as a rival. The son of Drusus the Elder changed his name for the third – and final – time to Germanicus Iulius Caesar. The 19-year-old now found himself thrust very prominently onto the public stage, with a real chance of being the successor to the imperial throne.¹⁵⁸
All in the Family
Germanicus was growing up to be an attractive young man, both physically (plate 6) and personally. Statues and later representations of him on coins show Germanicus to have been clean-shaven with a pleasantly inverted triangularshaped face, supported by the muscular neck that was characteristic of the Claudians; a mop of thick hair in a fashionably feathered cut, falling over a broad forehead and worn rather long at the back of the neck; somewhat large ears; and a prominent nose, but small lips. That he was conscious of his physical appearance is revealed in the way he overcame what he felt was a disfigurement. ‘His legs were too slender for the rest of his figure’, writes Suetonius, ‘but he gradually brought them to proper proportions by constant horseback riding after meals’.¹⁵⁹This dogged determination to overcome a shortcoming reveals great depth of character. Like his father, Germanicus was also blessed with a charismatic personality and empathetic temperament. Tacitus describes him as ‘a young man of unaspiring temper and of wonderful kindliness’.¹⁶⁰ Suetonius went further, writing in gushing terms that:
It is the general opinion that Germanicus possessed all the highest qualities of body and mind, to a degree never equalled by anyone; a handsome person, an unequalled valour … and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men’s regard and inspiring theiraffection.¹⁶¹
These gifts would prove definitive and of immense value as he entered public life, preparing him well for a high-profile career, in both politics and the army. Privately, he harboured a specific phobia: an irrational and intense fear of chickens. Plutarch records that ‘Germanicus could not abide the sound or sight of a cock’, a condition nowadays referred to as alektorophobia.¹⁶² The cause of most phobias is believed to be a traumatic event experienced during childhood, but the exact nature of the incident responsible for it in Germanicus’ case, if recorded at all, has not come down to us.
On the verge of turning 20, it was decided that the time had come for him to marry. With his connections to the first family, he was an eligible bachelor, but, in Augustus’ extended family, few married for love. Marriage served a political end, either rewarding Augustus’ new allies or reinforcing long-standing connections. There were several eligible brides available in Rome, but the young woman chosen for Germanicus was Augustus’ own grand-daughter.¹⁶³ Born in 14 BCE, Vipsania Agrippina Maior (Agrippina the Elder, plate 8) was the child of Iulia the Elder and M. Vipsanius Agrippa, which made her Germanicus’ second maternal cousin.¹⁶⁴ She was just two years old when her father died. However, Iulia the Elder was not a widow for long, and the very next year was married, at her father’s request, to his stepson, Tiberius. Though Augustus had a reputation for being a womanizer in his younger days, as princeps he sought to enforce a return to wholesome family values, especially among his womenfolk. The control Augustus exerted over his family was considerable.¹⁶⁵ As a result, Agrippina had a closeted rather than a cosseted upbringing in the family home on the Palatinus Hill. Just as he had done with his own daughter, so too he insisted that his grand-daughter learn the two traditional domestic handicrafts of Roman women: spinning and weaving.¹⁶⁶ His own tunics were made of homespun cloth woven by the hand of his wife Livia, or daughter or grand-daughters.¹⁶⁷ The portraits identified as Agrippina the Elder show her to have had a pleasant, well-proportioned face, bright eyes, and a full nose, with hair fashionably parted in the middle and made into ringlets on either side. Yet she was expected neither to be seen nor heard, whether in private or public. Her overprotective grandfather insisted that she record her daily movements in the family daybook, and tightly controlled the access guests and strangers had to her. In one recorded instance, Augustus reprimanded L. Vinicius, apparently a perfectly upright young man, whose only transgression had been to travel to the seaside resort of Baiae and presume to meet her.¹⁶⁸
Augustus enjoyed a close and warm personal relationship with his granddaughter. Agrippina grew up to be a quick-tempered, strong-willed, but fiercely loyal woman, standing somewhat in dramatic contrast to Germanicus’ cultured, sociable and well-mannerednature.¹⁶⁹ Advising a Roman husband how to cope with his wife’s faults, the recently deceased scholar and prodigious writer M. Terentius Varro had said ‘put up or shut up’, since, in the former case, it made him a better man, while, in the latter, it made her more attractive to him.¹⁷⁰ In Germanicus’ case, he did not need to worry. Despite their apparent mismatch, the marriage of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder would prove to be one of the most remarkable husband-and-wife partnerships in Roman history. Agrippina was two years younger than her husband-to-be. As a member of Augustus’ extended household, she would certainly have known Germanicus, probably from an early age, and they may even have been close friends from childhood. The betrothal ceremony was a simple affair, in which the consent of the fathers was normally secured before relatives and friends; but, since Augustus was both step-grandfather of Germanicus and grandfather of Agrippina, it was a formality. Germanicus offered his fiancée a number of gifts and, most importantly, an engagement ring (either a circle of iron set in gold or a circle of gold), which she immediately put on.¹⁷¹
The actual date of the wedding in 5 CE is not known. In keeping with tradition, the collegium pontificum was consulted to find an auspicious day. The Kalends, Ides and Nones were considered bad days for weddings. May (the month of the Lemuria) was considered particularly ill-omened, while the first half of June was deemed the most propitious – that was until the Temple of Vesta had been scoured on the fifteenth day.¹⁷² Coming from the patrician class, Germanicus and his bride married according to the sacred rite of confarreatio.¹⁷³ The ceremony was named after the cake of spelt wheat (libum farreum) that the couple shared during the formal proceedings. The event was a blend of solemn ritual and ribald spectacle. To invoke the good will of the gods, the front door and doorposts of the house in which the ceremony took place were decorated with branches of myrtle and laurel and wreaths of flowers tied with coloured ribbons, while fine carpets were laid at the entrance. Family members – alive and dead – were all part of the festive occasion. To that end, the doors of the armoires containing the wax imagines of the ancestors spanning generations were opened so that their spirits could watch the happy event.
The day before the wedding was the time for Agrippina to dedicate her childhood toys to the household gods, the Lares and Penates. It marked the end of her childhood and the beginning of her womanhood. Just before going to bed in the evening, she put on her wedding dress, a plain white tunic without a hem reaching to her feet (tunica recta) tied at the waist by a girdle of wool in a double knot (nodus Herculeus).¹⁷⁴ Rising early next morning, her maidservants attended her to dress and fuss over her appearance, to make her perfect for Germanicus. She draped a saffron-coloured cloak (palla) over her tunica and put sandals of the same shade on her feet. Her hair was dressed into six plaits (sex crines) using the point of a special spear (hasta caelibaris) and tied with ribbons (vittae). Over this, she donned an orange veil (flammeum) that covered the upper part of her face. A wreath of sweet marjoram and verbena was placed upon this head-dress. When she was satisfied with her appearance, she went out to meet and mingle with the invited guests in the high-ceilinged atrium of the house. There she welcomed the bridegroom, resplendent in his crisp white tunic and toga pura, and his family.
The marriage ceremony commenced with the sacrifice of a pig, or sometimes a ewe.¹⁷⁵ The auspex inspected the entrails and, having found them propitious, declared that the marriage ceremony proper could begin. Germanicus and his bride signed a formal marriage contract (tabulae nuptiales) before ten witnesses, who affixed their seals to it by pressing their engraved rings into blobs of hot wax. A matron (pronuba), who was required to have been married only once, accompanied Agrippina throughout the ceremony. The pronuba then took the bride’s and groom’s right hands and placed them in each other’s. This was the high point of the ceremony (dextrarum junctio), in which the young couple silently exchanged vows to live together, and Agrippina uttered the words ‘ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia P This concluded the wedding ceremony. The guests burst into applause, shouting ‘feliciter!’ to express their warm congratulations, as Germanicus tenderly kissed the nova nupta, probably for the first time in public.
The banquet that followed the wedding (cena nuptialis) lasted until the onset of night. The finest foods and wines were served to the guests, and, in keeping with the party atmosphere, ribald remarks were exchanged in the spirit of fun and to raise the libido of the new couple. Normally, in a tradition echoing the Rape of the Sabines, Germanicus would then attempt to snatch away his bride from the protective arms of her mother, while she feigned terror and resisted him. Though she had been moved to Rhegium (Reggio di Calabria) on the mainland, Iulia the Elder was still under virtual house arrest, and her banishment meant she was certainly absent from the wedding.¹⁷⁶ Perhaps Livia substituted for her on this occasion.
Having overcome this play-acted resistance, Germanicus took his bride by the arm and walked her to their new home. The couple did not have far to go. Germanicus’ house was one of the many buildings that adjoined Augustus’ main residence on the Palatinus Hill, or it may have been a wing within it.¹⁷⁷ The music of flute-players accompanied the newly-weds as they were led in a procession (deductio) to their bedroom followed by five torchbearers. The guests followed, singing cheerful and bawdy songs. Three boys, whose parents were required to be still alive, accompanied the bride. One of them carried a firebrand of tightly twisted hawthorn twigs (spina alba), the charred remains of which were given to the guests as lucky keepsakes. The other two boys – named patrimi andmatrimi – led Agrippina by the hands. The doorway of the room had been decorated with strips of wool and anointed with pig’s fat and oil. Once the procession arrived at the door, Germanicus swept her up and carried her through into the bedroom, treading upon a fine white cloth, strewn with green leaves and petals. Three bridesmaids carried her distaff and spindle – symbols of her virtue and motherhood – into the room. In exchange, Germanicus offered her water and fire. The pronuba led Agrippina to the marriage bed (lectus genialis), where her new husband invited his bride to recline facing the door. Prayers were offered to the Lares and Penates of the couple’s home, and then the wedding guests were shooed from the room. When the door closed behind them, the couple were finally left to enjoy the privacy of their own company for the first time. His heart racing, Germanicus lifted off her flammeum and removed her palla. He carefully untied the nodus Herculeus and slipped off the tunica recta to share the first of many nights of intimacy with the grand-daughter of Augustus. That night, the couple tried for their first child.
Having woken up together next morning, Agrippina made an offering to the household Lares and Penates and received wedding gifts from Germanicus. Shortly thereafter, the couple joined Augustus and Livia for a private banquet (repotia). Livia was reported to be particularly pleased with the choice of partners because, for the first time:
the union of Agrippina and Germanicus created a blood connection between herself and Augustus, so that her great-grandchildren were shared with the princeps.¹⁷⁸
The joy of the first family, secreted away on the Palatinus Hill, was in stark contrast with the joyless life of the common families in the streets below. Rome’s citizens were beset with one natural disaster after another. An earthquake had recently struck, damaging some buildings, and the Tiber had broken its banks, taking with it one of the bridges and flooding several districts of the city.¹⁷⁹ The flooding probably inundated the emporium and warehouses located along the Tiber River in district XIII below the Aventinus Hill, and spoiled the stores of grain contained in them.¹⁸⁰Diminishing supplies of the staple of the Roman diet meant that people were going hungry – a problem that, if left unresolved, would lead to urban unrest.