Bread and Circuses
The famine of 5 CE continued well into the New Year. Austerity measures were introduced to reduce the number of mouths requiring to be fed. The courts were shuttered, because trials brought in crowds of litigants, who were now a drain on the city’s diminishing food resources. Anyone of means was encouraged to leave Rome and take his retinue with him.¹ Recognizing that many senators had left town, the normal quorum required for passing legislation in the curia was suspended, and a bill was passed allowing decisions taken by the house during this period to be declared valid.² Even the slave and gladiator markets in the city were closed and their traders required to move a distance of at least 100 miles away.³ Augustus tried to mitigate the suffering of the poor by digging into his own reserves, and even suspended the public banquets normally celebrated on 24 September, his birthday.⁴ Witnessing first-hand the suffering caused by famine to the most vulnerable people in society was a lesson Germanicus would take with him through the rest of his life.⁵
Panem et circenses — ‘bread and circuses’ – the poet Juvenal would write, a century later, but it applied equally well to Germanicus’ time.⁶ Blood spectacles kept the people amused yet peaceful in the amphitheatres, but empty stomachs could lead to riots and bloodshed in the streets. To keep the unemployed poor docile and dependent, Roman authorities handed out daily measures of grain (annona) with which to make bread or gruel. At this time, some 150,000 – about half of the urban plebs – of a population estimated at 1 million received a distribution of free grain.⁷ The modius, a dry measure equivalent to eight quarts – a quarter of one bushel equal to 8.8 litres (537.6 cubic inches) – was the regulation issue of grain. To make his daily meal, a Roman consumed around 60 modiiannually.⁸ To provide it, as far as possible without interruption, there existed a long but well-run supply chain. Vast estates in northern Africa (supplying 40,000 modii) and Egypt (20,000 modii) provided a total of 5,095,000 hectolitres (14,009,291.5 bushels) of wheat for Rome every year.⁹ Deep-hulled merchant ships ferried the vital commodity under sail across the unpredictable Mediterranean Sea to the safety of the port at Ostia. Unloaded onto barges, the cargo was brought to the great warehouses lining the right bank of the Tiber River in the floodplain below the Aventinus Hill. Distributing it to the people was exacting work. The mensores frumentarii, professional corn measurers, used a special scraping tool called a rutellum to precisely divide up the measures.¹⁰ But it was too early this year for more grain to be shipped in. The grain transports would not cross the sea for months. Even if there were caches to be bought, the shipping lanes were closed for the winter. This year, as supplies continued to dwindle in Rome, the workload of themensores grew lighter. Yet, as their trade suffered, others gained. Where demand exceeded supply, unscrupulous traders could profit from a black market in the scarce goods. Alert to the problem, Augustus appointed a board of ex-consuls to oversee the fair distribution of the declining supplies of grain and to ensure that profiteering did not take place.¹¹ These were increasingly desperate times. In case of trouble, the board members were given a bodyguard of lictors.¹²
Exacerbating the situation during the same year, a fire broke out destroying swathes of the city.¹³ Many of the city’s residential buildings were multi-storey tenements – poorly built, overcrowded and prone to collapse. Made of timber, and wattle and daub, with rubble infill, they were also inherent fire hazards. Fires were frequent occurrences in Rome.¹⁴ After this particularly destructive event, however, Augustus set up Rome’s first companies of fire-fighters by recruiting freedmen (liberti) and organizing them into seven cohorts under the command of an equestrian Praefectus Vigilum.¹⁵ Wearing military issue helmets, they were equipped with axes, buckets, grappling hooks, ropes and water siphons. Though intended to be a temporary solution, the vigiles proved popular with the public and continued to operate for centuries after, with barracks located in Rome and salaries paid directly out of the treasury.
The domestic lot of the average unemployed pleb in Rome was not a happy one. Cramped, often insanitary conditions forced tenement dwellers to live their daily lives outdoors in the streets. Distractions were to be found in the thermo-polia, the fast-food restaurants serving hot meals and drinks by the measure; or the fora, the public marketplaces, where the stall-holders hawked their wares while barristers harangued the jury in the adjoining courthouses. Much of this busy exterior life was shut down with the famine and fire. Hungry, and in many cases homeless too, among some of the people there was open talk of rebellion.¹⁶ Fingers of accusation pointed to one P. Rufus – whom Dio emphatically denies was responsible – but the mob now had a scapegoat.¹⁷ To placate the angry public, a board of investigation was set up.¹⁸ Rewards were offered for information, with the predictable result that many came forward with information, both legitimate and bogus. The city began sliding into an unruly commotion, which only ended when the grain supply was finally restored and the thousands of hungry stomachs were sated.¹⁹
Perhaps hoping to raise the public’s morale, Germanicus and his younger brother, Ti. Claudius Nero (plate 10), sponsored funeral games (munera) to commemorate their father Drusus the Elder on the fifteenth anniversary of his passing.²⁰ It was normal practice to honour one’s deceased father in this way.²¹ Indeed, Drusus and Tiberius had commemorated their father exactly this way, years before.²² The games were public events, originally intended as religious rites by offering blood-sacrifice offerings to the gods, but the privately-funded munera served to raise the profile of the sponsor by providing entertainment for the people.²³ Organizing them was a major undertaking involving the planning of a programme of events and ceremonies, managing a budget, contracting with owners of gladiator troupes (familiae) and distributing admission tickets (tesserae). The games had become a big business and politically-minded magistrates could exploit them for votes. After the famine and fire, the games would be anticipated with great excitement. Paid for by Germanicus and Claudius as sponsors (editores), they would be looking for the best show their money could buy. Hard-nosed negotiating, calling in favours, a certain amount of back-scratching and appealing to good citizenship, all played a part in staging the grand spectacula.
The chosen venue was the Circus Maximus.²⁴ Situated in the plain between the Aventinus and Palatinus hills, the Circus was normally the venue for chariot races. Its enormous 540m (1,772ft) long by 80m (263ft) wide arena provided the single largest enclosed, purpose-built space in which to display all kinds of public sporting events.²⁵ The great banks that rose up around the sand-covered track could seat up to a quarter of the city’s population. Under the lex Iulia theatralis, senators and equestrians were assured of seating in the front rows, but the lower social orders, who sat in the higher tiers, received their tickets from their patrons, so the distribution of tesserae – the coin-like disks or tokens that permitted entry to the events – was a means to reward political favours and curryothers.²⁶
The Claudian brothers’ games were anticipated with great excitement by all classes of Roman society. As sponsors, Germanicus and his brother took their seats in the VIPs’ box. The programme included a varied fare of executions of criminals, wild beast hunts and fights between pairs of gladiators. Novelty and variety of combat techniques fascinated the Roman spectators. They delighted in pitching gladiators against each other where trade-offs were made in the advantages and disadvantages of different equipment and fighting styles.²⁷ A combatant called a Samnite (samnis) equipped with wide brimmed helmet and crest, pectoral plate armour (pectorale), a greave on the left leg, a short sword (gladius) and large shield (scutum), might duel against a Thracian (thraex) armed with a heavy helmet featuring a visor with many eye holes and a large crest, arm guard (manica), a distinctive curved sword (sica or falx) and a small rectangular shield (parmula) complemented by high greaves. The gladiators fought until one man fell or raised his hand for clemency. The referee (lanista) appealed for a decision to the sponsor, who generally looked to the spectators for guidance. Gladiators were expensive assets and the owner of a troupe had every incentive to keep as many of them alive as he could. A gladiator had a remarkable nine-to-one chance of surviving a single bout, though, if he lost, the odds worsened dramatically to four-to-one.²⁸Nevertheless, men did die on the sand of the arena, with most of them being under 25 years of age. The Romans admired how gladiators faced death. Some fifty years earlier, an awestruck Cicero wrote:
What wounds will the gladiators bear, who are either barbarians, or the very dregs of mankind! How do they, who are trained to it, prefer being wounded to basely avoiding it! How often do they prove that they consider nothing but giving satisfaction to their masters or to the people! For when covered with wounds, they send to their masters to learn their pleasure: if it is their will, they are ready to lie down and die. What gladiator, of even moderate reputation, ever gave a sigh? who ever turned pale? who ever disgraced himself either in the actual combat, or even when about to die? who that had been defeated ever drew in his neck to avoid the stroke of death? So great is the force of practice, deliberation, and custom! Shall this, then, be done by a Samnite rascal, worthy of his trade; and shall a man born to glory have so soft a part in his soul as not to be able to fortify it by reason and reflection? The sight of the gladiators’ combats is by some looked on as cruel and inhuman, and I do not know, as it is at present managed, but it may be so; but when the guilty fought, we might receive by our ears perhaps (but certainly by our eyes we could not) better training to harden us against pain and death.²⁹
Without having been near a battlefield, at just 21 years of age, Germanicus had already witnessed the gory spectacle of death through combat and been hardened to the sight of the spilling of blood of men his own age.³⁰ Bringing the killing fields into the city was an essential feature of Roman culture and part of a Roman citizen’s socialization.
Sponsors of these grotesque sports always hoped to provide novelty with their entertainments, so that they might be remembered and talked about long after they had ended, and, in this, Germanicus and Claudius succeeded. Gladiators and wild beasts were displayed and:
in the course of them, an elephant vanquished a rhinoceros, and a citizen from the equestrian order, distinguished for his wealth, fought in the arena as a gladiator.³¹
The presence of such exotic wild beasts, imported from Africa, was a certain crowd-pleaser. The twelve elephants – six males and six females, dressed as men and women – were trained to perform tricks. As Pliny the Elder records:
In the show of gladiators that Germanicus Caesar exhibited, the elephants were seen to show some disorderly movements, after a manner of dancing. It was a common thing to fling weapons through the air, so that the winds had no power against them; to flourish and meet together in fight like gladiators, and to make sport in a Pyrrhic Dance; and afterwards to go on ropes; to carry (four together) one of them laid at ease in a litter, resembling the manner of women newly brought to bed; and some of them would enter a dining-place where the tables were full of guests, and pass among them with their footsteps so equally ordered that they would not touch any of the company as they were drinking.³²
These games would not be quickly forgotten and the memorial games had the intended effect. The public still remembered Drusus the Elder with affection and respect, and transferred these positive feelings to his sons, especially Germanicus. Dio writes, ‘this mark of honour to the memory of Drusus comforted the people’.³³ Having the love of the people was a tremendous asset to the up-and-coming politician and built up a great reservoir of political capital. Tiberius drew on the good reputation of his brother too. On one of his frequent visits to the city from the front in Illyricum, Germanicus’ adoptive father, Tiberius, found time to dedicate the Temple of Castor and Pollux in both his brother’s and his own name, using the form Claudianus for his clan, recognizing that he had been adopted by Augustus.³⁴
That year, Germanicus took up his first official religious posts. He was appointed to the ancient and prestigious college of augurs. The role of this body of fifteen priests was to find signs in nature which confirmed that the decisions of the Roman state met with the approval of the gods.³⁵Specifically, augurs studied the flights of birds, but did not predict the future.³⁶ Civil, political and military actions were blessed by the augurs. Consequently, it was a highly influential appointment. ‘Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices (auspicia)’, said elder statesman Appius Claudius, in words attributed to him by Livy, ‘that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?’³⁷ The presiding magistrate at an augural rite had powers vested in the right of augury (ius augurii). Before the ceremony began, certain explicit signs called auspicia imperativa would be requested of the god to provide confirmation. Standing within a purified square space or a temple forecourt, with his head covered by a fold of his white toga, he asked Jupiter a question in the ritual formula, ‘send me such and such a sign’. While clutching his ritual crooked staff (lituus) in his right hand, he then studied the birds as they passed by. Germanicus had to master a complex code of signs, covering the course and elevation of bird flight, carefully noting the region of the sky they were in, as well as the direction and pitch of their song.³⁸ Only certain species of birds were considered messengers of the gods, the aves augurales, among them eagles, owls, ravens and woodpeckers.³⁹ As he identified the required signs, he called them out. Unexpected signs – auspicia oblativa – might be interpreted as being spontaneously offered by the god, and it was Germanicus’ right as the prevailing augur to announce and interpret them. It was a skill which would come to play a decisive role later in his life.
He also joined the Fratres Arvales, a religious college of twelve members elected for life. The order’s duty was to offer an annual sacrifice for the fertility of the fields – particularly important in the wake of the recent famine.⁴⁰ Among the distinguished members of the collegium for 5 CE were Augustus, Tiberius, L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, L. Calpurnius Piso, and L. Aemilius Paullus.⁴¹ If they appeared all to be from an exclusive ‘club’, it was because they were – they were all hand-picked friends (amici) of the princeps. Augustus had revived the institution of the Arval Brothers, after it had fallen largely into obscurity, as part of his ‘restoration’ of the traditions of the old Republic. The appointment formalized the network of connections Germanicus probably already enjoyed informally, but established the young man as having the approval of Augustus, who was almost certainly the magister, or president, of the fellowship and whose choice it was to co-opt new members. Germanicus was probably an ordinary member on his initiation, but he could look forward to promotion to priestly flamen or praetor, as positions were elected annually, or as they became vacant through the death of a member. Germanicus would have been intricately involved in organizing the annual three-day festival of the archaic earth goddess Dea Dia in May.⁴² The rite usually took place in Augustus’ house, as magister.⁴³ As his badge of office, Germanicus wore a chaplet of ears of corn fastened to his head by a white band.⁴⁴ When the sun rose on the morning of the first day, fruits and incense were offered with prayers to the goddess. A banquet followed, after which the guests were handed gifts and garlands. On the second day, four boys – all sons of senators – each wearing a wreath of corn upon his head, a white fillet and the toga praetexta, formed a chorus, who sang the song of the Fratres Arvales. The lyrics of this hymn were in a dialect of Latin so ancient that even the Romans of Germanicus’ time struggled to understand them.⁴⁵ There was a ritual dance in the temple of the Dea Dia, while, in her grove, located about 5 miles south of the city, a purification rite took place. There were elections for the officers of the collegium for the next year, followed by races and a banquet. On the third and final day, ritual prayers were offered and solemn oaths were made to the goddess.
With his appointments as augur, and as one of the Arval Brothers and a sponsor of memorial games for his popular father, Germanicus’ public life had truly begun. In his private life, too, there had been important developments. Within a year after the wedding, Germanicus’ first child was born. He was a healthy boy given the name Nero Iulius Caesar (plate 11).⁴⁶ Nero had always been a popular name among the Claudians. It was a good name for a boy descended from a family of such distinguished ancestors. In the Sabine language – once commonly spoken in the region around Rome – the word nero meant ‘strong’ or ‘valiant’.⁴⁷ As head of the household (paterfamilias), Germanicus may have particularly chosen it in honour of his father.
A Gift for Words
Subsumed in the hubbub of the city, Germanicus could enjoy Rome’s extensive cultural life. He lived in what modern historians refer to as the ‘Golden Age of Latin Literature’, that period which spans the years 83 BCE-14 CE. Among the poets and writers of narrative history living during his lifetime were Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus), Hyginus (C. Iulius Hyginus), Livy (T. Livius), Manilius (M. Manilius), and Ovid (P. Ovidius Naso). Educated under the previous generation of great literary men and orators, who lived during the last years of the Republic, Germanicus’ contemporary creative writers were mindful of Augustus’ personal tastes and sensibilities.⁴⁸ It was possibly for his transgression of these same mores, with the publication of his poem Ars Amatoria — ‘The Art of Love’, a lusty celebration of seduction and romantic intrigue – that Ovid found himself banished from Rome on the direct orders of Augustus in 8 CE.⁴⁹
In his spare time, Germanicus turned his own pen to creative writing. ‘Among other fruits of his studies’, writes Suetonius, ‘he left some Greek comedies’.⁵⁰ The choice of genre – comedy rather than tragedy – is revealing. Comedic performance greatly appealed to the Romans. Roman audiences first saw comedic shows through the reinterpretation of Greek originals by Plautus (T. Maccius Plautus), who wrote no fewer than fifty-two plays at the turn of the second century BCE. A few decades later, Terence (P. Terentius Afer) adapted – or, in many cases, simply translated – six earlier Greek comedies. The tales of twins separated at birth, of chance encounters, gross misunderstandings, the foibles of the Olympian gods, and the antics of eccentric characters, such as the swaggering soldier, the lusty old man and the desperate parasite, provided the material for all manner of convoluted plots. To write a successful comedy, Germanicus would have had to master the art of creating dialogue rich in verbal humour, from distortions of meaning to puns, and from plays on words to riddles and jokes. Unfortunately, none of the comedies written by Germanicus survives for us to determine how well the young author had perfected his craft.
He also turned his talent to weightier subject matter. Germanicus’ education was based in part on the study of the great epic poems of Greece and Rome. Ovid, in fact, regarded Germanicus as a poet in his own right.⁵¹ Pliny the Elder notes, ‘the divine Augustus also formed a tomb for his horse, concerning which there is a poem by Germanicus Caesar which still exists’.⁵² This commemorative equine opus has not come down to us, either. However, ascribed to Germanicus is the work called Aratus: Phaenomena, which does survive in large part. At face value, it is a Latin translation of the original Greek didactic poem by Aratos of Alexandria (c. 315/310–240 BCE), written in the 270s or 260s BCE, possibly based on two earlier prose works by Eudoxus of Cnidus (Eudoxos of Knidos) of a century earlier. On closer examination, it appears to be an amalgam of lines by Aratos – 731 verses of the Phaenomena (‘Appearences’) joined to 422 lines from fragments of Diosemeia (‘Weather Signs’) – reworked in places by Hipparchus(Ipparchos).⁵³ Ipparchos (c.190-c.120 BCE) was a Nicean-born scientist, specializing in astrology, astronomy, geography, and mathematics, who wrote a highly critical commentary on the work by Aratos and Eudoxos. The poem itself describes the constellations and celestial phenomena in turn, and their mythological and zodiacal associations. The Latin translator frequently paraphrases the original Greek, rather than offering a faithful, literal translation.⁵⁴ A strong case can be made for the Latin translation having been done by Germanicus, between 4 and 7 CE.⁵⁵ He certainly wrote poetry and spoke and wrote Greek fluently.⁵⁶ The Roman writers Lactantius (L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius) and St Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) both cite him as the translator.⁵⁷ The surviving – but incomplete – title in one extant copy mentions Claudii Caesaris; another, however, mentions T. Claudii Caesaris (T. but not Ti.). While Germanicus Iulius Caesar was born with the nomen gentileClaudius, so was his uncle Ti. Claudius Nero, now Tiberius Iulius Caesar.⁵⁸ Yet this raises the possibility that Tiberius, in fact, may have been the translator of the poem. During his lifetime, Tiberius also used the name Germanicus from the exploits of his adopted son.⁵⁹ It is also known that he was devoted to studying the literature of both cultures, and he spoke Greek fluently, though he preferred to use a Latin word over the Greek equivalent whenever possible when speaking or writing Latin.⁶⁰ During his self-imposed exile on Rhodes, he would have had the opportunity to meet other Alexandrian poets such as Euphorion and Rhianus, as well as having the time to study astronomy and astrology aided by his favourite, Thrasyllus, and to indulge his interest in mythology.⁶¹ A few lines in the Latin version of the poem are sufficiently ambiguous that either candidate could have written the work. In these opening lines, Iupiter is invoked as the inspiration for the poem.⁶² Much later in the poem, the death and apotheosis of Augustus are cited.⁶³ One view is that Germanicus could have written the work and dedicated it to the living Tiberius. Alternatively, Tiberius could have written the body of the poem while in exile, and inserted the deification lines after Augustus’ death, in what became a revised version – but then Germanicus could equally have done so.⁶⁴ All that can be safely said is that the evidence is inconclusive as to the authorship of the so-called ‘Aratus Ascribed to Germanicus’, and that Germanicus is a potential candidate for its creation.⁶⁵
Professionally, as a member of Augustus’ extended family, Germanicus was expected to work his way steadily up through the political career ladder, the cursus honorum, atop which were the two much-coveted offices of consul. On the way up, the aspiring politician served the Commonweath in different elected public service positions, with proper respect shown for the qualifying ages and intervals between officers. While Germanicus’ relationship with Augustus meant that some of the rules were relaxed, however, the young man was nevertheless expected to perform his duties responsibly and well. En route to the consulship, as had been permitted with Marcellus, Tiberius, and his own father before him, Germanicus started in the first of these official positions five years before the legal age.⁶⁶ Normally, Germanicus would have started his career in one of the twenty entry-level judicial or administrative posts – advocating in one of the lower courts, overseeing the minting of coins, or supervising the maintenance of highways inside and outside the city.⁶⁷ However, Germanicus started at the next level up, in the post of quaestor in 7 CE. Though dating back to the epoch when kings ruled Rome, by Augustus’ time the quaestorship had become an elected magisterial position, responsible for managing public finances and auditing financial records. More usually based in Italy, the posting might involve service overseas as a financial assistant to the governor of a province.⁶⁸ One of the aims of the formal career ladder was to expose the up-and-coming generation of senators to a wide variety of real world issues. Germanicus’ uncle, for instance, had started his position as quaestor supervising a department dealing with the problems of the corn supply, and later serving as an investigator into allegations of malpractice in the houses of correction across Italy.⁶⁹ A candidate for the office would normally have been expected to serve with the army before taking the office, which Tiberius had done as a tribune in Hispania, yet there is no evidence that Germanicus served in the military before his twentieth birthday. Was a concession made for the eldest son of Drusus the Elder? In the days immediately after Drusus’ funeral, the Senate granted his mother Livia certain privileges under the ius trium liberorum passed by Augustus.⁷⁰ This legislation granted the father or mother of three legitimate Roman children permission for their sons to stand for public office before the stipulated age or without the requirement to observe the interludes between holding offices. This directly benefited Drusus the Elder’s two surviving sons in ‘fast tracking’ their political careers.
No records survive to tell us how he felt as he arrived on his first day at the office. For Germanicus, who had experienced his entire life as a somewhat sheltered high-status citizen, working with people of all levels of Roman society would be an opportunity to learn first-hand about life in the real world. Eighty years later, when Pliny the Younger was about the same age as Germanicus, he had, as one of his first official jobs, the task of auditing the records of an auxiliary cavalry and infantry unit.⁷¹ Being a conscientious fellow, he applied himself to his new job with admirable dedication and thoroughness. He found that most accounts were maintained with scrupulous care, but he was surprised to uncover evidence of deliberate falsification of others. Understanding how the machinery of government worked – and often did not – would stand Germanicus in good stead for when he became a senior official later in life.
Revolts in Illyricum
As Germanicus was beginning his career in domestic politics in Rome, there was unfinished foreign policy business in Germania Magna. Over the thirteen or so years since his brother’s death, Tiberius had largely succeeded in pacifying the Rhineland Germanic nations. The process of turning the scattering of farming and warrior communities into urban settlements with centralized administrations – what modern historians call ‘romanization’ – had begun in earnest. Being erected for the first time on German soil, now considered peaceful, were Roman trading posts, such as at Waldgirmes, founded in 4 BCE in the Lahn Valley, while military installations, such as the watch-tower manned by beneficiarii at Billig in Euskirchen, began to take on the role of ensuring security, rather than as installations for making war.⁷² Deeper into barbaricum, Rome’s control was weaker, however. Pushing the limits of Roman influence ever north-eastward, Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus finally achieved what Germanicus’ father had not by crossing the Elbe River with his army in 1 CE. He pursued the Hermunduri tribe, which lived there, and signed a non-aggression pact with them, settling them in the lands above the Main River vacated by the Marcomanni, and was awarded triumphal insignia for his victory.⁷³ To better manage the province of Germania, he established his civilian and military administration at Oppidum Ubiorum, moving it from the Vetera garrison, where it had been since Drusus founded it.⁷⁴
In 4 CE, Tiberius led a military operation into the still un-annexed regions of Germania Magna. In the far north, the Chauci, with whom Drusus the Elder had signed a peace treaty, were restless. In the east, the fierce Suebi continued to remain outside direct Roman control and represented a threat to the region already under it. New offensives began using the navigable rivers to carry supplies and matériel to strike deep into the heart of Germania as far as the Weser (Visurgis) River.⁷⁵ Tiberius stayed in the militarized zone until December, to oversee his expeditionary force digging defensible positions, then left the region in the care of C. Sentius Saturninus and headed back to Rome.⁷⁶ He returned to lead a spring offensive in 5 CE, which saw the launch of a mission to engage the Suebi. Following his deceased brother’s own model campaign of 12 BCE, an amphibious expedition set off under oar from Batavodurum (Nijmegen) into the Lacus Flevo (Zuiderzee, now the Ijsselmeer). He was able to use the series of hydrological engineering works – comprising a canal and ramparts constructed by his brother and still bearing his name – which connected the Rhine to the freshwater lake beyond.⁷⁷ The ‘short cut’ offered by the Fossa Drusiana enabled the fleet to avoid the treacherous North Sea (Mare Germanicum) and to take the relatively calmer Wadden Sea route along the Dutch coast.⁷⁸ The fleet sailed to the opening of the Elbe (Albis) River, which brought the army straight to the homeland of the Lesser and Greater Chauci nations.⁷⁹ Velleius Paterculus writes:
The tribes of the Chauci were reduced to submission; all their youth, infinite in number, gigantic in size, strongly guarded by the nature of the country, delivered up their weapons, and, with their leaders, surrounded by troops of our soldiers glittering in arms, prostrated themselves before the tribunal of the imperator.⁸⁰
Sailing up-river, the fleet met up with the land army, where they moved forward together to engage the Langobardi, one of the larger warrior tribes making up the confederation of Suebi.⁸¹ Of the ensuing encounter, Paterculus writes: ‘the Langobardi, a nation exceeding even the Germans in fierceness, were crushed’.⁸² In an example of social engineering, the Romans ejected the Langobardi from the left bank of the Elbe and drove them back to the other side.⁸³ The army was declared victorious and Tiberius returned to Rome, where, on 27 January 6 CE, he dedicated the Temple of Castor and Pollux in his own and his dead brother’s name.⁸⁴
The complete subjugation of Germania Magna now seemed a real possibility to high-ranking Romans. Paterculus writes effusively that ‘the whole extent of Germania was traversed by our army; nations were conquered that were almost unknown to us even inname’.⁸⁵ The key strategic issue remaining before ‘mission accomplished’ could be declared was to take a V-shaped wedge of land called Bohaemium between the Rhine and Danube rivers.⁸⁶ It was occupied by the Marcomanni, a nation of Germanic origin having allegiance to the Suebi. In 10 BCE, Marboduus (or Maroboduus), who was educated at Rome, returned to his people – or perhaps was taken there under Roman escort – and became their king.⁸⁷ He had enjoyed the patronage of Augustus, possibly as a praefectus of an auxiliary cohort in the Roman army, and took back with him ideas about how the Marcomanni might benefit from adopting Roman-style law, government and military science. In the years he spent among them, he had come to understand what motivated the Romans. Rather than challenge Rome or be conquered by her legions, Marboduus convinced his tribe to relocate far from Roman temptation. On the migration to a new homeland in Bohemia (Bohaemium), the Marcomanni were joined by the Lugii, Zumi, Butones (or Gutones), Mugilones and Sibini nations – a combined force of some 70,000 men on foot and 4,000 horse. While he had sworn not to take up arms against Rome unless provoked by them to defend himself, the view on the Palatinus Hill and in the curia was that Marboduus and his Marcomanni represented a continuing and present threat that could launch attacks on neighbouring Roman interests at will.⁸⁸ A pre-emptive strike was called for.
Tiberius, who had shown great care in planning the previous year’s campaign, conceived a three-pronged attack on the Marcomanni to be launched in 6 CE.⁸⁹ On the western flank, Sentius Saturninus, the new governor of Germania, would lead his army from the Rhine and cut through the Hercynian Forest. In the centre, a second army group would thrust north-east from Raetia under an unknown commander.⁹⁰ Tiberius would launch his offensive from his Danubian base camp at Carnuntum on the eastern flank.⁹¹ This co-ordinated pincer movement was designed to envelop and reduce the Marcomanni with overwhelming force. No fewer than twelve legions, each of 5,600 heavily-armed troops, and an unspecified number of auxiliary cohorts, each of between 500 and 1,000 infantry or cavalry, were involved in what was the largest expeditionary force ever mustered by Rome against a single foe, though this number may actually be the sum of units in Germania, Raetia and Illyricum at this point in time, rather than the force committed to thewar.⁹² Joining Tiberius at Carnuntum was M. Valerius Messalla Messalinus, the governor of Illyricum.⁹³ The administration and security of the province of Germania, meanwhile, was delegated to P. Quinctilius Varus. He was one-time commander of Legio XIX in the wars to subjugate the Vindelici in 15 BCE, had been co-consul with Tiberius in 13 BCE and subsequently served terms as governor in Syria and Africa, and had married the great niece of Augustus, Claudia Pulchra.⁹⁴ He was a very trusted pair of hands. Meantime, to bring the units of the expeditionary force up to full strength, levies were raised in the neighbouring provinces. Among the regions supplying men for the war were the Balkans. Yet, as Paterculus reflects philosophically, ‘Fortune sometimes frustrates, sometimes retards, the purposes of men’.⁹⁵ Even as the massed forces of the Roman army were preparing to cross the Danube and Rhine rivers and move towards their assigned military targets, the planned invasion had to be abruptly aborted when news arrived of a rebellion to the south in the Balkans.
At this time, the western Balkans were referred to as Illyricum.⁹⁶ Dalmatian Illyricum ran along the Adriatic coast, stretching from the Drilon River in the south (in modern Albania) to Istria in the west (in modern Croatia) and to the Sava River in the north (in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina).⁹⁷ Landlocked Pannonian Illyricum was bounded by the Sava River to the south, and stretched to ‘the crags of the Alps’ in Noricum (in modern Austria) in the west, the province of Moesia (in modern Hungary) in the east, and as far north as the banks of the Danube River.⁹⁸Appian noted that
Pannonia is a wooded country extending from the Iapodes to the Dardani. The inhabitants do not live in cities, but are scattered through the country or in villages according to relationship. They have no common council and no rulers over the whole nation.⁹⁹
Like so much of Europe before subjugation by Rome, Illyricum was a patchwork of independent native and immigrant communities living side by side. There were no ‘Illyrians’ or ‘Pannonians’ before the Romans coined the names for them. There was no coherent group of people, no sense of common identity among them, that could be described as either the Illyrian or Pannonian nation.¹⁰⁰ The region was home to many different independent nations and confederations of tribes with different cultures, languages and politico-economic systems. In the north-west, in the foothills of the eastern Alps, near the Isonzo and the source of the Sava rivers, lived a cluster of tribes who spoke a language called Venetic. Tribes speaking Celtic tongues occupied a broad sweep of the Balkans along the Sava and Drava rivers and their tributaries as far as the Morava. In the hills and valleys down towards the Adriatic coast, Illyrian peoples lived alongside communities who had been heavily influenced by colonies of Greek settlers.¹⁰¹ Thus, before the Romans arrived, the region did not exist as a single geo-political entity.¹⁰² Pannonian Illyricum did not fully enter Rome’s sphere of influence until neighbouring Noricum was annexed in 15 BCE by Germanicus’ father, although it had been the object of actual conquest by Octavianus twenty years earlier.¹⁰³ Illyricum and Pannonia were Roman inventions for the convenience of its own government and foreign policy.¹⁰⁴Through pacification and assimilation, the invaders from Italy attempted to re-invent the patchwork of smaller tribal communities as provinces with coherent identities for assimilation into the Roman commonwealth of nations. The Romans almost certainly used established local tribal aristocracies to administer the provinces, while gradually introducing Roman policies andpractices.¹⁰⁵
The Romans had worked remarkably hard to annex the region, only to squander it all through maladministration. They made ‘first contact’ in 229 BCE after crossing the Adriatic Sea, but it only came under the direct rule of Rome after it had been subjugated by military means in 167 BCE. The following year, it became a protectorate. Iulius Caesar was assigned to govern Illyricum in 59 BCE. Octavianus himself led an expedition to the region in 35–34 BCE, occupying Siscia on the Sava River for a time, the result of which, from 33 BCE, was that it officially became a province administered by a senatorial proconsul.¹⁰⁶ Rebellions were common in the region and Rome responded punitively; but, once the military operations had been concluded, the army normally withdrew, leaving the defeated people to scheme and plot new rebellions the following year.¹⁰⁷ On account of the need for constant military suppression, from 11 BCE it was made an imperial province with a legatus Augusti pro praetore and assigned a permanent contingent of legionary troops.¹⁰⁸ M. Agrippa was dispatched to the Balkans in 13 BCE to lead an offensive that became known as the Bellum Pannonicum – the Pannonian War – and which, after his death, Tiberius continued until 9 BCE.¹⁰⁹ At the end of this first year’s campaigning in 12 BCE against the Pannonii, Tiberius had all their young men – the potential next generation of rebel fighters – rounded up, deported, and sold in the slave markets of the empire.¹¹⁰ It was not a strategy designed to endear the local people to their Roman overlords.
The Romans were drawn to the region because of its coastal seaports, its wealth of natural resources, and the need to connect their Achaean, Macedonian and Asian conquests directly to Italy by a secure highway. The short distance by sea from Brundisium to Apollonia saved time compared to going overland via Veneto and down the length of the western Balkan peninsula.¹¹¹ Strabo notes:
Now the whole Illyrian seaboard is exceedingly well-supplied with harbours, not only on the continuous coast itself, but also in the neighbouring islands, although the reverse is the case with that part of the Italian seaboard which lies opposite, since it is harbourless. But both seaboards in like manner are sunny and good for fruits, for the olive and the vine flourish there, except, perhaps, in places here or there that are utterly rugged. But although the Illyrian seaboard is such, people in earlier times made but small account of it – perhaps in part owing to their ignorance of its fertility, though mostly because of the wildness of the inhabitants and their piratical habits. But the whole of the country situated above this is mountainous, cold, and subject to snows, especially the northerly part, so that there is a scarcity of the vine, not only on the heights but also on the levels. These latter are the mountainplains occupied by the Pannonians.¹¹²
As in other parts of the burgeoning empire, this region’s natural resources, largely unexploited by its native peoples, could be turned into a profit by the application of Roman organization and technology. The ability to leverage scale in this way was one of the secrets of Rome’s success.
In the western Balkans, Rome’s treatment of the local peoples was clumsy and unnecessarily punitive, thereby sowing the seeds of discontent and destruction. The Roman appetite for taxation and tribute reached new extremes in the region closest to theDanube.¹¹³ What was clearly lacking – and what the Romans at that time apparently failed to see a need for – was a fair and even-handed treatment of their subjects. Dio sums up the feeling of seething anger in a comment reportedly spoken by one of the rebel leaders. ‘You are responsible for this’, he said, ‘for you send us, as guardians of your flocks, not dogs or shepherds, but wolves’.¹¹⁴ Conscription levies were a particularly sore point.¹¹⁵ For their invasion of Bohaemium, the Romans recruited local men for the auxiliaries to fight alongside their regular legionaries, and the governor of Illyricum (praepositus Illyrico), M. Valerius Messalla Messallinus, demanded his quota of conscripts. Dio notes that, when the non-Roman auxiliaries assembled together and realised just how many they were in number and how strong in arms, one among their ranks, a man named Bato of the Daesidiatesi, took the lead to openly incite rebellion.¹¹⁶ Interpreting the choice as between putting their lives on the line in a war for the benefit of the Romans that they did not themselves want, or fighting the Romans to liberate their own homeland, many decided to join him. The rebellion can be interpreted as an emotional response to an imposed burden, not a premeditated military campaign.¹¹⁷ With remarkable alacrity, Bato’s rebel force succeeded in defeating the first Roman troops sent against them, and, witnessing their victory, many of the other Dalmatian nations then rallied to the cause. Meanwhile, in Pannonian Illyricum, the chief of the Breuci – also named Bato – and his people took up arms and marched against the Roman town of Sirmium.¹¹⁸ They failed to capture the place, but it was a painful lesson to the Roman authorities that the rebels could disrupt the peace of everyday life at will. From neighbouring Moesia, the propraetorA. Caecina Severus led a counter-insurgency attack, engaging the rebels at the Drava River. The Pannonii suffered great losses and retreated, but not without first inflicting casualties on the Romans, and rallying yet more men to join their cause.¹¹⁹
In total, the rebel force now numbered some 90,000–100,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry.¹²⁰ Not much is known about their organization or mode of fighting. Concerning one about which something is known, the Iapodes tribe who lived on the far south-eastern end of the Alps, Strabo writes only ‘they are indeed a war-mad people’, noting ‘their armour is Celtic, and they are tattooed like the rest of the Illyrians and the Thracians’.¹²¹ Related to the Iron Age Celts of central Europe, the Pannonii were a diverse population of individual tribes, each one being a highly-structured society. A king or clan chief (ri or rigon) ruled in conjunction with a warrior class of nobles, and was advised by bards, diviners and and druids.¹²² Below them was the great number of common people, often disenfranchised and existing as bondsmen who could be called upon to fight at any moment. A warrior protected himself with a large, oblong or hexagonal shield, made of wooden planks butted together and covered with leather; used in tandem with other fighters, it could form a shield-wall. Many wore bronze or iron helmets, and an inscription showing Iapodean warriors from Bosnia depicts men with tall crested ‘bowler hat’-style headgear.¹²³ Shirts of chain-mail were worn by the élite, while the commoners often fought without body armour. The most common offensive weapon was the long, heavy spear (lancea, sibyna) with a flat, leaf-shaped bronze or iron blade at the tip. The Pannonian warriors who could afford them wielded iron swords measuring 0.55–0.57m (1.80–1.87ft) in length, with a pointed end best suited for cutting not thrusting. In contrast, the Illyrian warriors used arms and armour derived from Greek models, preferring the curved, single-bladed machaira or the sica, a short, curved sword that Romans associated withassassins.¹²⁴ Knives, battle-axes, and bows and arrows were also part of the Illyrian war fighter’s armoury.¹²⁵ As noted horsemen, many Pannonian and Illyrian nations could field cavalry, which often rode into battle, dismounted and continued to fight on foot. According to Appian, ‘they do not assemble in one body, because they have no common government’.¹²⁶ Small-scale ambuscades and surprise attacks on troops on the march were common tactics. These hit-and-run tactics were well-suited to attacking heavily-armoured Roman troops, who were most vulnerable while marching in forests, through valleys and over mountainous terrain, but less effective in large set-piece battles, where superior equipment and discipline tipped the advantage to the Romans.
Having joined with the Delmatae, Bato of the Daesidiates led his own men and marched on Salona, in the hope of taking the base from which the Romans administered the province (map 2). The ruins of the ancient city (plate 19), in what is today the town of Solin, lie 6km (4 miles) north of Split on the Dalmatian coast. Several advantages favoured its development in ancient times. Its geographic position in the central part of the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, lying at the bottom of the crystal-clear Kastelanski Bay, provided shelter to shipping; its proximity to the delta of the Salon river (now called the Jadro River) offered a freshwater supply; and its access to the road network linked the city to the hinterland. All contributed to the accelerated development of the town. Under its founders, Salona had been the coastal stronghold and the port of the Delmatae nation, in the immediate vicinity of the neighbouring Greek colonies of Tragurion and Epetion. Supplementing the native Illyrian population and the descendants of Greek immigrants, Salona was at this time home to a large Italic community. Their arrival followed the civil war between Caesar and Pompeius Magnus in 48 BCE, when demobbed troops were encouraged to adopt Salona as their home, which was then granted the legal status of a Roman colony. The grandly-named Colonia Martia Iulia Salona became the administrative and political capital of the Roman province of Illyricum. From here, roads radiated out south, south-east and north, carrying officials of law and order as well as tax-farmers to the inland regions of the Province.¹²⁷ The trapezium-shaped old town was fortified with stout walls and towers, some constructed in the second century BCE.¹²⁸ To the rebels, Salona represented the very heart of their nemesis. Taking it would cripple Roman control of the entire region. Attacking it, however, was a declaration of war on the Roman state and would bring its wrath down upon them.
Map 2. Military operations in Illyricum, 6 CE.
The particulars of the Illyrian attack on the city of Salona are lost. It probably consisted of one or more attempts to directly storm the city-gates and breach the circuit wall with extemporized battering-rams and scaling ladders. Critically, the rebels lacked artillery. The Romans were experienced at siege warfare as attackers, but even with the tables turned, they put up a fierce resistance as defenders. In the ensuing battle, Bato himself was wounded when struck by a stone, perhaps from a Roman sling.¹²⁹ Its leader withdrawing from the field to recover, the rebel siege quickly collapsed. The retreating insurgents fanned out along the Dalmatian coast, wreaking havoc on the unprotected communities and settlements as far south as Apollonia. There they engaged the Romans again, initially seeming to suffer defeat before snatching an unexpected victory.¹³⁰
With the Roman army pinned down in Salona and being defeated elsewhere on the battlefields across the region, it looked as though the rebellion could turn into the disaster Augustus feared, after all. The contemporary historian Velleius Paterculus captures the urgency of the Roman response to the news:
Troops were accordingly levied: all the veterans were everywhere called out; and not only men, but women were compelled to provide freedmen for soldiers, in proportion to their income. The princeps was heard to say in the Senate that, unless they were on their guard, the enemy might in ten days come within sight of the city of Rome. The services of Roman senators and equites were required, according to their promises, in support of the war.¹³¹
But who should lead the mission? The cream of Roman society well knew the answer. ‘The res publica, therefore, requested of Augustus to give command in that war to Tiberius, as their best defender’.¹³² Separately, news reached Tiberius in Germania of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Balkans. He knew the region only too well and understood the toughness of its fighters and their mode of warfare from bitter first-hand experience. There was no time to lose. He sent ahead of him his deputy Messallinus, who was in Carnuntum on the Danube River preparing for the invasion of Bohaemium, with a small detachment from Legio XX, and followed up himself with the main army group.¹³³ The Bellum Delmaticum had begun in earnest. Also known by its other moniker,Bellum Batonianum, the ‘War of the Batos’, it was later considered the gravest since Rome’s war with Carthage.¹³⁴ In this first year of war, eight legions, equivalent to 40,000 men at full strength, plus auxiliary cohorts, were committed.¹³⁵
Bato of the Breuci either anticipated or learned of the Romans’ advance and, despite still recovering from his injury, he personally led his force to intercept Messallinus. The men of the Breuci gained the upper hand in open battle, but lost the advantage when later ambushed by the Romans.¹³⁶Realising the only way to beat the Romans was to have numerical superiority, Bato of the Breuci set off to parley with Bato of the Daesidiates.¹³⁷ Remarkably, the two men reached an accord to co-operate with each other. They combined their forces and assembled north of the city of Sirmium, on a mountain called Mons Alma (Fruska Gora), hoping to exploit the advantage of terrain. Meanwhile, the army of Severus set off from Moesia to attack them, but, knowing his march would take several days, the Roman commander had taken the precaution of sending ahead a request for assistance from Rome’s ally in neighbouring Thrace. Thrace was not a province of Rome but a pro-Roman client kingdom ruled by Roimetalkes (Rhoemetalces). Quick to respond, the lightly-armed, tough Thracian units were the first to arrive on the scene. Later, Severus arrived. The rebels fiercely resisted the Romans, but finally buckled under the added onslaught from Roimetalkes” army.¹³⁸ The sweet taste of victory was fleeting. Word then reached Severus that, while the Roman governor had withdrawn his army, the Dacians and Sarmatians had invaded Moesia and he now had to return there to regain control of his province.¹³⁹
Tiberius and Messallinus set off for Siscia to relieve the garrison commander, Manius Ennius.¹⁴⁰ The former cavalry commander and quaestor-designate for 7 CE, Velleius Paterculus, set off from Rome to take part in the operations.¹⁴¹ He passed up the opportunity of a provincial governorship and, instead, seeking adventure and glory, he assumed the post of legate assigned to Tiberius and duly arrived in Siscia with reinforcements.¹⁴² Despite the setbacks, there were Roman successes. Messalinus, leading only half of Legio XX – presumably the other half being on campaign elsewhere in Germania or Illyricum – engaged an opponent several times its size.¹⁴³ His army found itself surrounded, but Roman discipline held and the Illyrici were routed, with 20,000 fleeing thefield.¹⁴⁴ When news of his victory reached Rome, Messalinus was accorded the honour of triumphal ornaments.¹⁴⁵
Elsewhere, the rebels had overrun the region, daily recruiting more tribes to their cause who saw that they had been able to successfully take on the Romans and beat them. Paterculus places a positive spin on the course of the war, but, at the time, it seemed a very real possibility that the province would be entirely lost.¹⁴⁶ By now, the rebels had learned not to engage the Romans in open battle, but, instead, to use their knowledge of the terrain and light arms to wage a guerilla war and exploit terror tactics, which greatly disadvantaged the heavily-armed legionaries.¹⁴⁷ In this way, they stretched the fight out into the winter – when the legions normally retired to camp – and even invaded the Roman province of Macedonia, causing damage wherever they went.¹⁴⁸ Once again, Roimetalkes and his Thracian soldiers, assisted this time by his brother Riskuporis (Rhescuporis), blocked and tackled the Illyrians’ advance southwards and eastwards.¹⁴⁹ As the weather worsened, the other rebel nations retreated to the hilltops, from where they launched hit-and-run raids upon the Romans at will.
Off to War
Augustus watched the ‘War of the Batos’ from afar with increasing frustration and growing anxiety.¹⁵⁰ Dio records that Augustus thought the campaign should have been over quickly, and suspected Tiberius of deliberately impeding progress, in order to have an army under his direct control.¹⁵¹Augustus knew both the terrain and the enemy from personal experience, but probably underestimated the scale of the present threat. Nevertheless, he sent letters of encouragement to Tiberius, in which he extolled him as a consumate general, praised his prudence, and emphasized that the fate of the Roman Empire depended on his continuing good health and safety.¹⁵² This might have been the opportunity for his adopted son Postumus Agrippa to prove his mettle. Instead, he idled his time fishing, drinking, arguing violently and generally acting in ways others interpreted as depraved or mad.¹⁵³ When his bad-mouthing of Livia and constant arguing that he had been denied his father’s inheritance finally pushed Augustus beyond his breaking point, the princeps abdicated him, stripped him of his name and banished him to the small island of Surrentum in the autumn of 6 CE.¹⁵⁴ Any chance that he might succeed Augustus was now extinguished.
The princeps turned to the only person left in his family that he could trust. He ordered Germanicus, still at that time holding only the junior rank of quaestor, to assemble an army and set off for the front in the western Balkans.¹⁵⁵ This was the 21-year-old’s first chance to gain military experience and to prove himself up to the task. From the outset, he faced two major challenges. He had no training as a military man, not to mention as a commanding officer; and he had to build his army from scratch himself.
Debate continues as to what training Roman officers received on taking up their commissions. There does not appear to have been an Officer Training School that Germanicus could have attended. The aspiring military leader was, to all intents and purposes, an ‘armchair general’ who learned about strategy and tactics from reading histories or actual campaign commentaries.¹⁵⁶ A surviving example of a military handbook from the early Empire is the one authored by Sex. Iulius Frontinus, a general who lived eighty years after Germanicus. He compiled his own file of best practices culled from Roman history and published them under the title of Strategemata, a Latinization of the Greek word meaning ‘to be a general’.¹⁵⁷ He arranged summaries of narrative examples under headings such as ‘on discipline’, ‘on ambushes’, ‘on creating panic in the enemy’s ranks’, and the usefully-titled last resort, ‘on escaping from difficult situations’.¹⁵⁸ Better than book-learning was to meet with real soldiers. Based in Rome was a small military force of three Praetorian Cohorts, representing up to 1,500 men-at-arms.¹⁵⁹ The cohorts provided Augustus and the members of his family with an escort when on tour, and a guard-detail while at home. In order not to intimidate the city folk, the guardsmen did not wear armour, but instead wore the civilian white toga, possibly concealing their sheathed swords beneath the folds of its voluminous cloth, though the military-style hobnailed boots would betray their status as military.¹⁶⁰ Germanicus would probably have been able to consult officers of the three cohorts, not least the two praefecti drawn from among senior equites and under whom the units had recently been placed.¹⁶¹ He would nevertheless have to be a quick study.
Germanicus also needed to recruit men and train them fast. Distinguishing his special unit would be its unique composition. It was not composed exclusively of Roman citizen volunteers (volones), like the legions; nor was it made up of aliens (socii), like an auxiliary unit. Instead, it was created by a conscript levy (dilectus) of the population, its ranks of free-born Romans supplemented by freedmen – manumitted or former slaves – and slaves whose freedom had been bought expressly for military service.¹⁶² This was highly irregular and a last resort in times of extreme national emergency. That Augustus resorted to conscription confirms the very real unease he felt at the worsening situation in the Balkans. Indeed, he is described by Velleius Paterculus as visibly ‘shaken withfear’.¹⁶³ Yet, ever mindful of the delicate state of public finances, to pay for Germanicus’ conscript unit, he levied a two per cent tax on the sale of slaves, and redirected funds from the scheduled gladiatorial games.¹⁶⁴ Furthermore, he suspended the annual review of the equestrians in the Forum Romanum.¹⁶⁵ Everyone had to share in the discomfort. Nothing is recorded of the organization of the unit under Germanicus’ command, though it is reasonable to surmise that it was one or more cohorts of 1,000 men, comprising centuries of 80 men like the regular legions or non-Roman auxiliaries, each led by a centurion or decurion. For protection (plate 13), they would probably have been issued with a large, oval shield (scutum) and a helmet of bronze or iron (galea, cassis) and possibly a chain-mail shirt (lorica hamata). A short, double-edged, bayonet-like sword (gladius) and a spear (hasta) were the weapons most likely provided. Thus equipped, the men would need to learn how to function as a military unit and to use their weaponry.
While the Praetorian Cohorts could have played a role in training Germanicus’ ‘band of brothers’, there is another intriguing possibility. The official suspension of the games was bad news for the owner-managers (lanistae) of the gladiatorial schools (ludi). There were several of these schools in Rome, and in them could be found all the skills and equipment a commander needed to train novices in basic swordsmanship, defence and attack techniques. There was a precedent. The first to do so was the consul P. Rutilius Rufus, during the emergency of the northern wars of the Cimbri and Teutones, in 105 BCE.¹⁶⁶ In arranging the memorial games for his father, Germanicus had established relationships with the owners of the gladiatorial schools. Though there is no direct evidence for collaboration between Germanicus and the lanistae, this was a public emergency and, being a pragmatic people, the Romans would use all resources at their disposal to address it.
With his army trained, Germanicus prepared to leave Rome. For him personally, the timing was unfortunate: Agrippina was pregnant with her second child. However, he had his marching orders. Either by traversing the 700km (435 miles) from Rome to the border of northern Illyricum, or taking the shorter route by crossing the Adriatic Sea from Brundisium (modern Brindisi) to land at Dyrrhacium (Durrës), by the start of the campaign season of 7 CE Germanicus’ ‘barmy army’ had reached the theatre ofoperations.¹⁶⁷ Roman forces were now deployed in many locations, using the valleys and plains of the Drava and Sava Rivers to advance south-east (map 3). Five legions had meantime arrived from the East under the command of A. Caecina Severus and M. Plautius Silvanus, bringing the total under Tiberius’ supreme command to ‘ten legions, more than seventy auxiliary cohorts, ten alae of cavalry and 10,000 veterans and, in addition, a large number of volunteers and numerous cavalry of the king’ – a combined force of some 145,000 men.¹⁶⁸ ‘Never’, writes Velleius Paterculus, without exaggeration, ‘had a greater army been assembled in one place since the civil wars’.¹⁶⁹ Always the cautious commander, however, Tiberius used a strategy of ‘advance, hold and defend’.
Yet, large numbers by themselves did not guarantee an easy victory – or victory at all. The weaknesses in the quality of some of Augustus’ ‘armchair commanders’ began to reveal themselves remarkably quickly. Further, they were not helped by their junior officers, who, it appears, could not always be counted on to be of the highest calibre. Writing of his father-in-law Cn. Iulius Agricola’s military apprenticeship stationed in Britannia from 58 to 62 CE, Tacitus comments:
Agricola did not utilize his rank of tribunus and his lack of experience either to indulge in vice, like the young men who find military service an opportunity for debauchery, or to idle away his time in pleasures and in being absent on leave.¹⁷⁰
The discipline and fighting capabilities of the lower ranks of the legions could be squandered by the amateur leadership of their generals and by inexperienced next-tier commissioned officers – which is precisely what happened next in Illyricum. The five legions from the army group brought by Severus and Silvanus, joined by Roimetalkes and his Thracian infantry and cavalry, found themselves suddenly surrounded by the Illyrian rebels. In the ensuing battle, the Thracian cavalry were routed, the auxiliary infantry and cavalry were driven off, and even among the regular legionaries (plates 14 and 15) ‘some confusion took place’.¹⁷¹ The Romans paid a heavy price for their carelessness. A tribunus militum, apraefectus castrorum, several praefecti of auxiliary cohorts, a primuspilus, and other centurions were killed in the ambush.¹⁷² ‘But the courage of the Roman soldiers’, writes Paterculus in defence of the ordinary men:
on that occasion, gained them more honour than they left to their officers, who, widely differing from the practice of the commander-in-chief [Tiberius], found themselves in the midst of the enemy, before they had ascertained from their scouts in which direction they lay.¹⁷³
Map 3. Military operations in Illyricum, 7 CE.
Under these high-pressure conditions, the centurions (plate 17) – the backbone of the Roman army – kept cool heads and ruthlessly applied the basic combat doctrine. ‘The legions, encouraging one another, made a charge upon the enemy’, Paterculus writes, ‘and, not content with standing their ground against them, broke their line, and gained an unexpected victory’.¹⁷⁴
Returning from Moesia to the region, Severus marched along the Bosut River, a tributary of the Sava in eastern Croatia, and right into a trap. He was set upon by the combined forces of the two Batos at his marching camp near the Volcaean Marshes in the area of later Cibalae (Vinkovici).¹⁷⁵Dio describes how the rebels ‘frightened the pickets outside the ramparts and drove them back inside’.¹⁷⁶ Once behind the turf rampart surmounted by its hedge of sharpened stakes (sudes), however, the Romans rallied, stood their ground, and gradually overwhelmed their besiegers. Learning from this, the Romans changed their tactics, dividing into their cohorts and centuries, so that ‘they might overrun many parts of the country at once’.¹⁷⁷ The tactical change, however, proved largely ineffectual. Tiberius, meanwhile, finally broke out from his fortified position in Siscia and began his advance moving east. He trapped many rebels between the Drava and Sava rivers at Mons Claudius (Papuk Hills).¹⁷⁸ It was an important morale booster in what had been a difficult year with little progress to show, thus far.¹⁷⁹
Germanicus’ army, meanwhile, was dispatched to the centre of the conflict zone, with orders to engage any opposition when he encountered it. Soon he met the Mazaei nation.¹⁸⁰ The Mazaei, listed as Pannonii among the tribes by Strabo, was a Celtic tribe who lived along the meandering Vrbas River (plate 20) with its magnificent limestone gorges, as far as the Una to the north and the Bosna to the south, and centred on the transitional plain now occupied by Banja Luka in modern Bosnia-Herzegovina.¹⁸¹ The region was then, as now, mostly grassy woodland, criss-crossed by the tributary rivers Suturlija, Crkvena, and Vrbanja that flow into the Vrbas, which finds its source on the slopes of the Vranica. The region is hilly and the three highest mountains – Manjača (1,214m, 3,983ft), Čemernica (1,338m, 4,389ft) and Tisovac (1,172m, 3,845ft) – are part of the Dinaric range, which now separates Bosnia from Dalmatia. With his irregular unit, Germanicus was enjoying greater success than his professional peers. The enemy he faced was largely made up of lightly-armed farmer-warriors. Their tactical advantage was their knowledge of the terrain and the fire in their bellies, from fighting for the homeland. Yet the enthusiasm of the young Roman commander and the effectiveness of his soldiers’ training made the critical difference. Germanicus ‘conquered in battle and harassed the Mazaei’, writes Dio, cryptically.¹⁸² It was a promising start for the novice commander and his army, and both were rapidly gaining and improving with experience. A smart man assuming a new military command took the time to get to know the men reporting to him and to familiarize himself with their capabilities. Tacitus’ description of Cn. Iulius Agricola could equally apply to Germanicus Iulius Caesar. ‘He made it his business’, he writes:
to become known to the army, to learn from the best officers, never to thrust himself forward for display, never to hang back from timidity, and at the same time to combine caution with dash.¹⁸³
But it was just one small victory and the war was not yet won. Germanicus’ army probably remained in the country of the Mazaei, in sight of the Dinaric Alps, for the duration of the winter. Whether Germanicus stayed with his men or returned to brief Augustus is not disclosed in the extant records. It is known that, in his eagerness for news of progress in the war, meanwhile, Augustus had relocated to Ariminium (Rimini).¹⁸⁴ It is highly probable that Germanicus resided there with the princeps and his father Tiberius, until the new campaign season commenced.
The war to squash the rebels dragged on into 8 CE. During the year, the Romans secured the lowlands (map 4). Germanicus and his troops now moved southwards, up into the mountains. Their target was Splanaum – or Splonum to the Romans – on the Dalmatian side of the Dinaric Alps.¹⁸⁵This was the centre of Illyrian mining, producing ores for the precious metal industry.¹⁸⁶ The Dinaric Alps – or Dinarides (plate 21) – compare well in importance with the Caucasus Mountains and the Alps, and are considered the fifth most rugged in Europe. They extend for 645km (401 miles) along the Adriatic coast, and rise to their highest point of 2,692m (8,832ft) at the majestic Prokletje. Many rivers have their source in this long mountain range. The crystal-clear waters cascade down brooks and streams, tumbling over karsts such as the Kravice, and combine to become roaring torrents at the lower levels. From their present position, Germanicus and his troops could follow the course of the 235km (146 miles) Vrbas River, which took them along a meandering and increasingly narrow route up the Vranica mountain. If not by this route, he may have approached the target via the 271km (168 miles) Bosna (Bosona) River to Mount Igman.¹⁸⁷ The journey presented a formidable obstacle to the invading Romans. Precipitous cliffs and narrow, tree-covered ledges, beneath steep rock faces, often bare of vegetation and glaring white, made their ascent difficult – particularly for the carts, with their iron-rimmed wheels, carrying the heavy baggage and supplies.
Splonum’s remote location, strong fortifications and ‘vast number of defenders’ posed a considerable challenge to Germanicus.¹⁸⁸ The normal options open to a commander in this situation were to blockade the defenders, in the hope of starving them out, or to assault the stronghold directly and take the place by force. As time was not on Germanicus’ side, and being equipped with siege weapons, he attempted a direct assault. On this occasion, tension and torsion technologies did not give the Romans the decisive edge they needed. Dio reports that ‘he had been unable to make any headway, either with engines or by assaults’.¹⁸⁹ Isolated from the main army, and relying on provisions they had carried with them – since foraging was not an option at this height – the Roman attackers were quickly running out of options. Out of sheer frustration at the stalemate:
Pusio, a Germanic horseman, hurled a stone against the wall and so shook the parapet that it immediately fell and dragged down with it a man who was leaning against it. At this, the rest became alarmed and, in their fear, abandoned that part of the wall and ran up to the citadel; and, later, they surrendered both the citadel and themselves.¹⁹⁰
Map 4. Military operations in Illyricum, 8 CE.
The defenders panicked and retreated to the fortified acropolis. Shortly after they surrendered the citadel and themselves.¹⁹¹ Buoyed by his successes, Germanicus marched on, capturing other rebel strongholds on the way to Raetinum.¹⁹² On arriving there, his luck – or his judgement – changed. His inexperience in assessing high-risk situations now became evident. The tale of the fall of Raetinum is a harrowing one, recorded in gruesome detail by Cassius Dio:
The enemy, overwhelmed by their numbers and unable to withstand them, set fire, of their own accord, to the encircling wall and to the houses adjoining it, contriving, however, to keep it so far as possible from blazing up at once and to make it go unnoticed for some time; after doing this, they retired to the citadel. The Romans, ignorant of what they had done, rushed in after them, expecting to sack the whole place without striking a blow; thus, they got inside the circle of fire, and, with their minds intent upon the enemy, saw nothing of it until they were surrounded by it on all sides. Then, they found themselves in the direst peril, being pelted by the men from above and injured by the fire from without. They could neither remain where they were safely nor force their way out anywhere without danger. For if they stood out of range of the missiles, they were scorched by the fire, or, if they leaped back from the flames, they were destroyed by the missiles; and some who got caught in a tight place perished from both causes at once, being wounded on one side and burned on the other. The majority of those who had rushed into the town met this fate; but some few escaped by casting corpses into the flames and making a passage for themselves by using the bodies as a bridge. The fire gained such headway that even those on the citadel could not remain there, but abandoned it in the night, and hid themselves in subterranean chambers.¹⁹³
Raetinum, now a smouldering ruin, fell to the Romans.
His adoptive father Tiberius, a man imbued with a talent for military affairs honed by years of operations in theatre, suffered setbacks, too. In this the third year of the war, ten legions were committed to campaigning in the Balkans.¹⁹⁴ The troops themselves were becoming restless and growing daily more impatient as the war dragged on, seemingly without end. Experience taught Tiberius to listen to the mood of the men. Facing the real prospect of mutiny, he resorted to a radical realignment of the expeditionary army to refocus their energies. He ‘made three divisions of them: one he assigned to Silvanus and one to Marcus Lepidus, and with the rest he marched with Germanicus against Bato’.¹⁹⁵ This was a major promotion for Germanicus, who now led his own army group, comprising legions and auxiliaries, as well as his own irregular unit, against one of the two leaders of the rebellion.
With the revolt proving harder to win than envisaged, squabbling broke out among the rebels and, with it, acts of treachery. Bato of the Breuci had betrayed a certain Pinnes with the connivance of members of the tribe and, as his reward, he now ruled alone over the nation, unchallenged. Meanwhile, the two Batos had become estranged and were suspicious of each other. After a struggle, the Breucian was handed over to Bato of the Daesidiates by his own people and summarily executed.¹⁹⁶ Seeing what the Illyrian war-chief had done to their own leader, many Pannonians felt betrayed and rose against their erstwhile allies. This schism was the opportunity the Romans had waited for. Silvanus launched an offensive against them and succeeded in defeating the Breuci and their allies ‘without a battle’ – a measure of how war-weary many of the rebels had become.¹⁹⁷Seeing that all hope was lost, the Pannonians sued for peace terms from Silvanus, hoping to save their lives. On 3 August 8 CE, the Pannonians surrendered at a place on the Bathinus (Bosna?) River.¹⁹⁸ Bato of the Daesidiates was not so easily overcome, however. Retreating to the passes leading to central Illyricum, the men still loyal to him ravaged the surrounding lands. They continued to resist Roman attempts to reduce them for several months more.¹⁹⁹
Gradually, over the course of the following year (9 CE), the war turned in the Romans’ favour. Strongholds that had held out against Tiberius and his deputies’ armies fell one by one, such as the city of Seretium, which had resisted from the beginning (map 5). Silvanus and Lepidus rapidly overwhelmed the opposition they encountered. However, the going for Germanicus and Tiberius was to prove much harder. Bato of the Daesidiates had moved his base of operations to a fort called Andetrium (Muč) on a rocky escarpment not far from Salona.²⁰⁰ It was a well-chosen location to build a fort, and all attempts by Tiberius to besiege it failed. Bato had carefully stocked provisions there, so he could afford to wait it out for some considerable time – time that Tiberius did nothave.²⁰¹ As they attempted to scale or undermine the walls, his men were pelted with rocks and projectiles, and the rebels launched hit-and-run raids on his provision trains. ‘Hence, Tiberius’, writes Dio, ‘though supposed to be besieging them, was himself placed in the position of a besieged force’.²⁰²
In one key respect, the Romans had clear superiority over the rebels. During the winter months, the Romans’ supply lines had replenished the stocks of food and matériel of their combat units, though the supply of corn remained an ongoing issue.²⁰³ In stark contrast, years of war had taken its toll on the rebels. Beyond the special arrangements Bato had made at Fort Andetrium, the rest of the rebel army, lacking food and the means to treat wounds, went hungry and many succumbed to disease.²⁰⁴ They might have sued for terms, but the voices of those whom the Romans were least likely to spare if they surrendered (the deserters from the auxiliary units of the Roman army) drowned out those – such as one Scenobardus – who were eager to lay down their arms.²⁰⁵
Map 5. Military operations in Illyricum, 9 CE.
On the plain beneath the walls of Fort Andetrium, Tiberius was at a loss what to do. Incensed at the indecision, his own troops broke out into a riot, shouting wildly, the noise of which reached the enemy, who, fearing an attack, retreated into their fort forsafety.²⁰⁶ Tiberius addressed his men, rebuking some and giving others a dressing down, but staying cool-headed during the address.²⁰⁷ Watching from his vantage point on his parapet, Bato began to panic. What was his opponent planning? Thinking the worst, he dispatched a herald with a message asking for terms.²⁰⁸ Tiberius was in no mood for negotiating with a rebel and, instead, rallied his men for an attack on the fort.²⁰⁹ Forming a quadratum, a dense square, his men advanced at a walking pace, then raced at speed towards the foe, breaking ranks when they reached the rocky ascent. The rebels deployed outside the walls of the fort, standing higher up the slopes than the approaching soldiers, rained down missiles – Cassius Dio lists rocks, slingshot, wagon-wheels, wagons, circular chests loaded with rocks – upon the advancing Romans.²¹⁰ Bato’s men clashed with the attacking soldiers, taking full advantage of the rocky upland terrain. For a while, it seemed the rebels were winning, and the men watching the battle from the parapet above cheered their side. The Romans took losses and might have yet lost the battle had not Tiberius brought up last-minute reinforcements.²¹¹ At some point in the chaos of battle, the gates of the fort were closed shut, so that the rebels still fighting outside discovered they could not retreat behind the safety of its stone walls.²¹² The rebels tried to escape up the mountainside, throwing down their cumbersome arms, but they were hunted down, many being found in the surrounding forests, and were slain like animals onsight.²¹³ Witnessing the fate of their brothers, the men inside the walls of Andetrium surrendered. Greater numbers and superior training on the Romans’ side finally brought them victory. Tiberius spent the following days in ‘arranging the affairs of the enemies who had surrendered’.²¹⁴
To Germanicus fell the prosecution of the war against the remaining rebels.²¹⁵ It was to be a gruelling fight. Germanicus marched and laid siege to a stronghold called Arduba. During the course of the war, the rebels had learned much about fortifying their camps. At Arduba, Germanicus faced robust, man-made defences, almost entirely surrounded by a fast-flowing river.²¹⁶ His numbers, which were greater than the besieged, did not give him any tactical advantage, faced with this natural obstacle. It was the besieged inside the enemy camp, however, who unexpectedly came to his aid. Many now wanted to surrender. Their anguished pleas were refused by womenfolk who preferred liberty and death over surrender and ignominy. They attempted to leave the place, but were prevented from doing so, and fighting broke out. Many made it to the Roman lines and offered surrender, but those still inside took their own lives, throwing themselves into the flames of bonfires or hurling themselves into the river to be swept away by the fast current.²¹⁷Other rebel strongholds in the vicinity, on learning the fate of Arduba, promptly offered their own surrender. Leaving one Postumius in charge of mopping-up operations, Germanicus left to rejoin the commander-in-chief.²¹⁸
Tiberius, meanwhile, was negotiating the terms of his capitulation with Bato of the Daesidiates.²¹⁹ Bato sent his son Sceuas with an offer of surrender in exchange for a pardon. Remarkably, Tiberius agreed.²²⁰ It seems he had learned the lessons of the aftermath of failed Roman policy following the Bellum Pannonicum.²²¹ On a late summer night, Bato went to the Roman camp and, next morning, was led under armed escort before Tiberius, watched by the assembled Roman troops.²²² The rebel leader now showed precisely the kind of courage and dignity the Romans respected in a defeated enemy. He kneeled before the Roman commander, who was seated upon a tribunal, and formally laid down his arms at his feet, and spoke in defence of his fellow rebels, but asked no special conditions for himself.²²³ He then bowed his head, baring his neck for the coup de grâce. This show of humility saved his life. Germanicus announced victory for the Romans, and the troops acclaimed their leader Tiberius by shouting the word Imperator!(‘commander’) for his achievement. The brutal ‘War of the Batos’ was finally over. In Rome, senators eager to coin a new accolade in recognition of Tiberius’ achievement – among which were ‘Conqueror of Pannonia’, ‘Invincible’ and ‘Pious’ – were overruled byAugustus.²²⁴
The war had been won at high cost in blood and treasure.²²⁵ The customary benefits in kind accruing to the troops after battle were few, as ‘very little booty was taken’.²²⁶ The towns and the economy of Illyricum were shattered, the people were beaten and exhausted, and it would take time, money and a defter touch to restore civility, peace and prosperity to the region. Crucially, the war to rid the threat posed by Marboduus had not taken place. Instead, Tiberius was forced to make a hasty treaty with the king of the Marcomanni, and the potential for conflict along the Rhine-Danube frontier remained.²²⁷ Yet, at the end of the four-year-long war, Augustus could boast publicly that he had conquered ‘the nations of the Pannonians, which before my principate no Roman army had ever approached’.²²⁸ Augustus normally added the imperator battle honour to his roster, but graciously permitted Tiberius to use the name for the first time, and granted him a full triumph, also.²²⁹ Two triumphal arches were erected to celebrate the victory inIllyricum.²³⁰ After the rebellion, the Romans rethought their administrative policy framework for Illyricum, and sub-divided it into two smaller provinces: Dalmatia, along the coast, and landlocked Pannonia.²³¹ A comprehensive road-building programme began under the legatus P. Cornelius Dolabella, connecting the provinces to their neighbours, and towns populated by veterans were established.²³² In the years that followed, the region became a major recruiting ground for the Roman army. Recognizing their technical skill and bravery in warfare, the Roman army accepted Breuci as recruits, creating eight new cohortes of auxilia.²³³ The Romans had clearly learned that the earlier policy of rounding up and deporting young men did not work.²³⁴ No more rebellions are recorded in the region after 9 CE.²³⁵
Germanicus had played a significant role in the victory and his contribution was also fully recognized. Velleius Paterculus acknowledged that, in the Dalmatian War, Germanicus had ‘been sent into various places of difficulty and danger’ and had ‘exhibited great proofs of courage’.²³⁶ For this:
Germanicus received the ornamenta triumphalia, a distinction which fell likewise to the other commanders, and also the rank of a praetor, as well as the privilege of giving his vote immediately after the ex-consuls and of holding the consulship earlier than customallowed.²³⁷
In just three years, he had come a very long way. Before the conflict, he was a young, naïve civil magistrate, with a talent for creative writing. Now, he was a battle-tested soldier and a commander with honours. He had done well under exceptional circumstances: raised an army, led it into battle, and beaten his foes. Germanicus had front-line leadership experience, and earned a solid reputation forged on the anvil of war. Velleius Paterculus writes:
In the Dalmatian War, Germanicus, who had been dispatched in advance of the commander to regions both wild and difficult, gave great proof of his valour.²³⁸
His father (who had earned the honorary war-title his son now bore) and his grandfather (who had served Iulius Caesar and once rivalled Augustus for power) would have undoubtedly been proud.