Chapter 3

Law and Disorder

Autumn 9–14 CE

The New Normal

By September 9 CE, the campaign season was drawing to a close. Four legions would remain in the region formerly known as Illyricum, to ensure that law and order were maintained.¹ Tiberius, Germanicus, and their deputies, however, began their winter preparations by marching their other units back to their garrison camps along the Danube and Rhine rivers. Personally and professionally, they were looking forward to celebrating their hard-won victory in Illyricum in style, according to the public honours just awarded to them by a grateful Augustus and the Senate. The euphoria, however, was short-lived. Five days later, dispatches arrived from Germania.² ‘Scarcely had these decrees been passed’, writes Dio, ‘when terrible news arrived from the province of Germania that prevented them from holding the festival’.³ The first reports received seemed incredible. All Germania was in revolt. There had been an ambush. Roman allies led by a man named Arminius had been involved in an elaborate deception. Three legions, six cohorts and three alae of cavalry had been annihilated. Varus was dead. There were few survivors. As more reports arrived, the worst was confirmed. Those who had made it out alive, by struggling back to the forts along the Lippe River and finally reaching the safety of the Rhine, gave their personal accounts in harrowing detail. In short, all Germania over the Rhine was lost. Even the priest of the altar of Rome and Augustus at Ara Ubiorum, Segimundus son of Segestes of the Cherusci nation, had raced off to join the rebels, taking with him the sacred garlands.

Being the most senior man closest to the crisis, Tiberius immediately set off to take command and render assistance, taking with him detachments of the units which had just completed operations in the western Balkans. Even at a forced march covering 25 miles a day, it would be weeks before he would reach the great military camps at Mogontiacum (Mainz), Novaesium (Neuss) and Vetera (Xanten). He would have to rely on the most senior man on the spot to use his initiative. Arriving at the virtually unmanned Rhine fortresses, he found L. Asprenas, a nephew of Varus, already assisting the survivors. Fortunately, Varus had not withdrawn his entire five-legion army from the Rhine, but had been wise enough to leave two in reserve, one of which was Legio I. Once on location, Tiberius ordered guard details to be posted at points along the river-bank to intercept the Germanic rebels if they attempted a crossing. With these temporary arrangements in place, and deputizing Germanicus as commander on the Rhine frontier, Tiberius rode off as fast as he could to Rome, to determine with Augustus what to do next.

When news of the catastrophe finally reached Rome, Augustus was mortified. His response was personal, like a father who had lost his own sons. In his despair, he is reported as ripping his clothes and tearing his hair, oftentimes shouting aloud, ‘Quinctilius Varus! Give me back my legions!’His hysterical reaction was ‘not only because of the soldiers who had been lost, but also because of his fear for the German and Gallic provinces, and particularly because he expected that the enemy would march against Italy and against Rome itself’.¹ He had good reason to be fearful. Knowing the immense military resources available to the Marcomanni, and in an attempt to sway him to their side, the leaders of the rebellion had sent the severed head of Varus to King Marboduus. Remarkably, the Germanic king saw that there was nothing to be gained by breaking his new treaty with Rome and, holding to his obligations, he sent the head directly to Augustus and maintained his neutrality.¹¹ As the news spread of the catastrophe – which rapidly acquired the moniker clades Variana, the ‘Varus disaster’ – fear of barbarians gripped the city. In Rome, there was a large community of resident Gauls and Germans, and some were armed, including Augustus’ own personal bodyguard, the Germani Corporis Custodes, and others serving with the Praetorian Cohorts.¹² Wary that they might now turn on their Roman paymasters, Augustus dispatched them ‘to certain islands’ where they could do no harm, and required those not under arms to quit the city.¹³

As head of state, Augustus had to quickly address the new crisis. Having conscripted all men of military age to fight in Dalmatia and Pannonia just three years previously, there were now few available that could be called up to defend the Italian fatherland.¹Nevertheless, this was a state of emergency, so he issued instructions for a new levy requesting all able-bodied volunteers to come forward and do their duty. Remarkably, his call to patriotism met passive resistance, and:

when no men of military age showed a willingness to be enrolled, he made them draw lots, depriving of his property and disfranchising every fifth man of those still under thirty-five and every tenth man among those who had passed that age. Finally, as a great many paid no heed to him even then, he put some to death. He chose by lot as many as he could of those who had already completed their term of service and of the freedmen, and after enrolling them sent them in haste with Tiberius [who had in the meantime arrived in Rome] into the province of Germania.¹

Effectively press-ganging men into the service, however, would come back to haunt the senior leadership.

When Tiberius finally reached Rome, he found the city plunged into gloom. The shortening hours of daylight and the trees shedding their leaves added to the sense of foreboding. It was no longer ‘business as usual’ in the city, as people anticipated the worst, fearing that the Germanic ‘barbarians’ might soon be charging through the streets. In a mark of how grave the public perceived the situation, even the religious festivals were suspended.¹ Aware of the solemn mood, but nevertheless feeling entitled to celebrate his triumph, Tiberius still donned the purple-bordered toga and the victory laurel crown of the triumphator and entered the city.¹ In the Forum Romanum, he ascended a tribunal specially erected next to the Saepta and took his place beside Augustus, between the two consuls, while the members of the Senate stood alongside. From here, Tiberius addressed the assembled crowd. He was then escorted out to pay the required religious observances with visits to the temples, as protocol dictated. It was a carefully managed public display of solidarity – a reminder to the people that, despite a military setback, the Roman state and her protecting gods still prevailed.¹ After a brief sojourn in the city, Tiberius took the unwilling band of men that could be assembled back with him to the Rhine.

The winter came and went. With the passing of the New Year, so too did the immediate crisis. The much-feared Germanic invasion did not transpire.¹ The new Rhine frontier held. Augustus’ ire had waned and he began to try and understand the situation that had befallen him. He reflected that he had failed to read the omens. There had been plenty to see, had he had eyes to see them.² Cassius Dio meticulously records the catalogue of signs and portents. The Temple of Mars in the Campus Martius had been struck by lightning. There was a plague of locusts. There were reports that the Alps exploded like volcanoes. Comets had blazed across the night sky. Yet there had been even clearer signs:

Spears seemed to dart from the north and to fall in the direction of the Roman camps; bees formed their combs about the altars in the camps; a statue of Victory that was in the province of Germania and faced the enemy’s territory turned about to face Italia; and, in one instance, there was a futile battle and conflict of the soldiers over the eagles in the camps, the soldiers believing that the barbarians had fallen upon them.²¹

How could he have been so blind to these signs? In his retrospection, he might have forgotten that it is easy to be wise with hindsight.

Ever cautious but pragmatic, Tiberius decided not to invade Germania, ‘but kept quiet, watching to see that the barbarians did not cross; and they, knowing him to be there, did not venture to cross in their turn’.²¹ There was no need to provoke the Germanic nations, he thought – at least for the time being. Tiberius would bide his time and use it to formulate a new strategy. Yet the stark fact was that the Rhine River was now Rome’s de facto north-western frontier, even if temporarily, and, for the sake of the security of Tres Galliae, Raetia and Italia, it had to be held at all costs. In a cruel twist, the survivors of Teutoburg suffered a second torment. There were numbers of Roman troops still alive, but being held captive by the Germanic tribes, who saw this as an opportunity to raise cash from desperate families. Their relatives willingly paid the ransoms and received back their loved ones, but the Roman authorities intervened and insisted that the returning men were not permitted to return to Italy.²² It was as though they were cursed and would bring bad luck to the Commonwealth if they were allowed to step on the sacred soil of the fatherland.

With the emergency in Germania contained, for the moment, Germanicus’ stint as military commander came to an end. He returned to Rome, where he would stay for the next eighteen months. The mood in Rome was improving and returning to its old extrovert normality. Germanicus, too, quickly resumed his place in society. He was a praetor and with that position came the responsibilities of a senior magistrate. Under Augustus, twelve men were elected annually by the Senate, but, despite the outward show of due process, the praetor’s function increasingly was becoming one of administration rather than jurisprudence.²³ As a high profile magistrate, rather than overseeing civil actions (actiones), Germanicus would have been more likely to be involved in criminal cases (quaestiones perpetuae), in particular the so-called ‘crimes against the public’ (crimina publica). In this role, he could appoint judges to act as jurors, voting for decisions of guilt or innocence, with condemnation in the former and acquittal in the latter case. In criminal cases, a conviction could result in the death penalty, though senators and equites could be exiled or opt to fight in the arena as a means to save face.² To bring a case to a criminal court, in the absence of a district attorney, state prosecution service or public prosecutor, a private citizen acting as the plaintiff would first assemble his case and gather witnesses.² He would inform the defendant of his intention and grounds for pursuing a case (editio actionis) against him. If the defendant refused to accompany him, the plaintiff was permitted some leeway to bring the accused man to court, including reasonable force.² The plaintiff would then petition the praetor.² The two litigants would present themselves before Germanicus, who would then examine the legal basis for the case, a procedure referred to as in iure. They would appear again, this time before a judge (apud iudicem) agreed to by both parties or appointed by the praetor. Then as now, the outcome would rest on the quality of the evidence, witness’ testimony and the performance of the advocates arguing their cases in the courtroom.

In Germanicus’ lifetime, the practice of law by the politician, such as Cato or Cicero, looking to build his reputation as he rose through the cursus honorum, was changing to a more consistent professional footing. This was the age that saw the rise of the fee-charging legal assistant (iuris consultis) and the court advocate (orator).² The iuris consultis would proffer advice to his client, based on an understanding of the statute law, and suggest the best strategy.² The orator would perform in the courtroom for his client, using his knowledge of the law, his finely crafted skill of eloquent speaking, the practised gestures of the hand, and a lifetime of insights into human psychology, to question the witnesses and to sway the judge or jury to his argument. The element of theatricality in criminal cases, as much as the salacious detail of the evidence, often brought large crowds of bystanders.³

Despite his position as praetor, Germanicus was quite prepared to offer his services as an orator. By now, he had developed a talent for public speaking, a ‘surpassing ability in the oratory and learning of Greece and Rome’, notes Suetonius.³¹ As a nobleman, Germanicus served the public in the long tradition of offering free defence to the less well-off. Already, his name brought credibility to a case of a capital crime. In the one recorded instance that has come down to us, Germanicus took a brief to defend a certainquaestor on a charge of murder.³² Learning that the grandson of theprinceps was going to represent the defendant, and fearing his celebrity would sway the presiding judge:

his accuser became alarmed lest he should, in consequence of this, lose his suit before the judges who regularly heard such cases, and wished to have it tried before Augustus.³³

The plaintiff’s request to be tried in another court was denied. In the event, Germanicus presented the stronger argument and the accuser ‘did not win the suit’.³

Along with a gift for advocacy, Germanicus was winning public approval for his even-handedness in taking on cases, irrespective of the status of the person he represented and regardless of which judge presided over the trial:

Germanicus was becoming endeared to the populace for many reasons, but particularly because he acted as advocate for various persons, and this quite as much before Augustus himself as before the other judges.³

The princeps took his own legal responsibilities very seriously, often staying to judge cases until the onset of night.³ If he was feeling unwell, rather then miss them, he would arrange for his litter to carry him down to the Forum Romanum and hold the cases at the open-air judicial tribunal. Tiberius had, himself, presented before Augustus in his early judicial career. In that role, he successfully defended Archelaus, a Jewish king, in a case held in private and presided over by the princeps, and on other occasions he had also advocated on behalf of the citizens of Thessaly and Tralles.³ Whether Germanicus found advocating before Augustus a pleasant or nerve-wracking experience is not recorded.

Consul Germanicus

At home, the family of Germanicus and his wife steadily grew. Agrippina the Elder was ‘characterized by her outstanding fertility’, wrote Tacitus.³ While her husband had been away in action in Illyricum, Agrippina had given birth to a healthy baby boy and named him Drusus, after either his celebrated grandfather or his uncle.³ He was already 3 years old. With the return of Germanicus, the couple tried for another child. In the late summer of 10 CE, Agrippina gave birth to a boy, but the poor little mite did not survive theyear.⁴⁰ While Suetonius does not disclose the name of the child, an inscription found on a sepulchral monument located on the Via Flaminia near the Mausoleum of Augustus, in which the ashes of the dead child were buried, clearly identifies his name as Ti. Caesar, after his adopted grandfather.¹ Infant mortality rates in first century Rome, as for all ancient societies, were relatively high by modern standards. Though the mean life expectancy at birth was 25 years or less, those individuals who survived the first several years could live to quite respectable old age.² Unperturbed, the couple tried again and, in 11 CE, she produced another son at Tibur (Tivoli).³ Named Caius, sadly, he also did not live to see his first birthday.⁴⁴ He may be the ‘charming child’ of ‘lovable disposition’ to whom Suetonius refers, who captured the hearts and minds of grandparents Augustus and Livia.⁴⁵ Livia dedicated a statue of him as Cupid in the Temple of Venus Capitolinus, and Augustus had another statuette made that he kept by his bed and used to kiss fondly every time he entered the room.⁴⁶

Germanicus’ young family provided the princeps with a model of domestic bliss within his own household. Keen to promote marriage as a cornerstone of Roman society, Augustus brought in laws that imposed fines upon eligible bachelors for failure to marry and raise families. Finding the new requirements intolerable, men of the wealthy equestrian order protested for repeal of the marriage laws during a performance at the theatre Augustus was himself attending:

whereupon he sent for the children of Germanicus and showed them, partly sitting upon his own lap, and partly on their father’s, intimating, by his looks and gestures, that they ought not to think it a grievance to follow the example of that young man.⁴⁷

Many men managed to elude the law by marrying under-age girls, and by divorcing and remarrying several times. Augustus moderated his policy, requiring marriages to be consummated within a set time period and imposing restrictions on divorce.

Tiberius deemed that it was time for the Romans to flex their armour-covered muscles. Germanicus was recalled to take part in the military manoeuvres. In 11 CE, ‘Tiberius and Germanicus (acting as proconsul) invaded Germania and overran portions of it’.⁴⁸Significantly, Dio reports that ‘they did not win any battle, however, since no one came to close quarters with them, nor did they reduce any tribe’.⁴⁹ If the Germanic tribes were shying away from a fight, it was matched by the ever-cautious approach of Tiberius, ‘for in their fear of falling victims to a fresh disaster they did not advance very far beyond the Rhine’.⁵⁰ The aim of this seemingly pointless mission was to demonstrate (as much to the audience at home as to the Germans) that the Romans could still enter the region and march about at will – and that they would be back to reclaim it. It also served a practical function. In place of constant drills on the parade ground and building practice camps in friendly country, this expedition took the army into hostile territory, built up unit cohesion, and kept the men in combat-ready mode. It was not intended to be a reoccupation, for:

after remaining in that region until late autumn and celebrating the birthday of Augustus [23 August], on which they held a horse-race under the direction of the centurions, they returned.¹

Roman honour had been satisfied.² The Romans went home. Germanicus himself did not spend the winter in Tres Galliae. He had been called to Rome to attend to important state business.

On 1 January 12 CE, Germanicus was sworn in as consul ordinarius. Remarkable was the speed with which he had attained it.³ At just 27 years of age, he had been elected to the position two years before his father Drusus had, and one year earlier than Tiberius. Indeed, he was among the youngest ever to receive the honour. There were always two men in the office at any one time, and his coconsul was C. Fonteius Capito.⁵⁴ Little is known about him. He is likely to have been the son of the man of the same name, thelegatus M. Fonteius in Gaul.⁵⁵ In the quaint but cumbersome Roman calender, the year 12 CE would forever be known as ‘the Year of the Consuls Germanicus Caesar, son of Tiberius Caesar, and C. Fonteius Capito, son of Caius’.⁵⁶

The consulship by this time was not what it had once been. When Cicero had been elected to the highest position in the heyday of the res publica in 63 BCE, the consules were elected to carry out three responsibilities: to command Rome’s armies, to preside over meetings of the Senate, and to ensure its decisions were implemented.⁵⁷ Then, there was a mandated two-year interval between the candidate’s praetorship and permitting him to stand for the consulship.⁵⁸ Under the settlement with Augustus of 27 BCE, the ancientcomitia centuriata, which had elected the consuls for hundreds of years, lost their powers, and the Senate chose two men from among its ranks themselves – no doubt with strong guidance from the princeps or those who knew his mind.⁵⁹ Augustus all the while controlled the army. Without military power, the consulship thereafter became largely honorary.⁶⁰

In his assessment of Germanicus’ achievements for the year, Dio notes that at least he held the post for the full term of office.¹ It was becoming increasingly common for a consul to resign from the role after only a few months, and a replacement (or consul suffectus) to be appointed.² This created a larger pool of ex-consuls, who could be assigned positions as provincial governors – proconsuls and propraetores – or legates of legions. Capito did precisely this, and was replaced during his term by C. Visellius Varro.³Dio writes, somewhat dismissively:

Germanicus himself did nothing memorable, except that at this time, too, he acted as advocate in law-suits, since his colleague, C. Capito, counted as a mere figurehead.⁶⁴

His legal and administrative training had prepared Germanicus for this work. Governing the Roman Empire was not only about winning glory through wars of conquest, but as much about the hard graft of enforcing the law and interceding in the more humdrum details of disputes between its citizens and its resident aliens. Nevertheless, Augustus recognized and appreciated his contributions, and wrote a letter to the Senate stating so.⁶⁵ The letter was read aloud in the curia, not by the princeps, whose voice had apparently grown weaker in old age, for he was now 73, but by Germanicus himself.

On the calender of events for the year was a special festival hosted by the city’s guilds of actors and horsebreeders; and the Ludi Martiales, gladiatorial games held in honour of Mars.⁶⁶ As the Tiber had once again flooded parts of the city, including the valley between the Aventinus and Palatinus hills and, with it, Rome’s largest sports stadium, the Circus Maximus, these religious games had to be held in the Forum of Augustus, opened in 2 BCE.⁶⁷ The games were repeated a second time – as was the custom – with Germanicus as the sponsor and, this time, in the Circus.⁶⁸Unlike the munera that Germanicus had co-sponsored with his brother in 6 CE to commemorate his deceased father, these ludi were deeply religious in significance. During the days preceding the games, members of the political priesthood (quindecemviri sacris faciundis) provided sulphur, tar and torches for the public to carry out private purification rites in their homes.⁶⁹ The day of the games combined the pomp and ceremony of a religious rite with the glitz and glamour of a rock concert. A purification ceremony (lustratio) took place in which a pig, a sheep and a goat were sacrificed. As the throat of each animal was cut and its lifeblood gushed out, the priest intoned the words Mars pater, te piaculo – ‘Father Mars, to thee I make atonement’.⁷⁰ The ritual took place to the accompaniment of musicians – horns, flutes and even hydraulically-powered organs.¹ The religious formalities attended to, it was showtime.

Germanicus laid on a rich and varied programme of entertainments. In planning his spectacula, which would showcase combats between gladiators and exotic wild beasts, he had to work within restrictions imposed by law. In 22 BCE, to mitigate abuses by politically-minded sponsors, Augustus had transferred responsibility for organizing the official ludi from the aediles to the praetors, placing a strict cap on public spending and limiting the number of gladiators to 120 individuals, unless express permission was granted for more by the Senate.² The high point of Germanicus’ show was a display of the skills of the bestiarii or venatores. A bestiarius had a helmet, a shield and a sword, and fought the wild beasts like a gladiator, while the venator was armed with a spear and a dagger, and hunted his prey as he would in the wild.³ The bigger and more exotic the animal, the more likely it was to be killed in a public demonstration of Rome’s power over Nature – both in terms of its ability to acquire the beast from the remotest parts of the world and, once captive, of its decision over whether it lived or died.⁷⁴ Some 200 lions are recorded as having been killed during the performance.⁷⁵ It may have been during these very games, at the noonday show while the gladiators fought, that the spectators witnessed – awestruck – a fiery meteor (fax caelestis) streaking with ‘a long train of light’ across the sky.⁷⁶ From this heavenly spectacle, all present would have deduced that Mars approved of Germanicus’ games.

There was good news on the family front, too. On 31 August at Antium (Anzio) or Tibur, Agrippina gave birth to a baby boy.⁷⁷ He lived beyond the first eight days and, perhaps hoping for better luck, the parents chose the same name for the boy as the one who had died the previous year, who had captivated Augustus and Livia.⁷⁸ C. Iulius Caesar (plate 12) was doted on by his family. Germanicus was now the proud father of three boys – Nero, Drusus and Caius.⁷⁹ The older boys were, meanwhile, being taught by the eminent poet Carus, who was known to Ovid.⁸⁰

One of the high points of the year 12 CE was Tiberius’ Pannonian triumph.¹ Originally awarded in 9, it had been foreshadowed by the terrible events at saltus Teutoburgiensis.² Germanicus and the other legati who had seen service in the Balkans and had also been awarded triumphal ornaments also took part, including Velleius Paterculus and his brother.³ On 23 October, Rome turned out in force to cheer the 53-year old commander during his celebratory military parade.⁸⁴ The last time he had been honoured in this public way was on a cold New Year’s day in 7 BCE, as a reward for his victories in Germania.⁸⁵ The seemingy interminable season of rain broke that day and the sky was clear, blue and serene.⁸⁶ A Roman triumph was the ancient equivalent of the military ticker-tape procession, combined with the spectacle of a Fourth-of-July parade on an epic scale complete with a cast of thousands. He entered the city on a chariot pulled by four horses, and wore the embroidered robe of a triumphator, his head bearing the victor’s laurelcrown.⁸⁷ Germanicus and the other generals whose achievements were also being celebrated probably rode on horseback behind Tiberius. Tiberius mounted a tribunal erected in the Saepta Iulia and sat with Augustus between the two consuls, while the senators stood out of respect, and saluted the people. One of the star attractions of the triumphal procession was the captive Pannonian warchief (dux) Bato of the Daesidiates.⁸⁸ Not for him a long-term incarceration at the Tullianum jail, or the humiliating death by strangulation that had been the grim end of Vercingetorix at Iulius Caesar’s triumph in 46 BCE.⁸⁹ Bato’s life had been spared on account of his noble decision to allow the Roman troops to escape when cornered (perhaps at Andetrium), and of his honourablesurrender.⁹⁰ After the public celebration of Tiberius’ victory, Bato retired to Ravenna, to live a very comfortable, all-expenses-paid life in exile.¹

The triumphator’s chariot (currus triumphalis) followed the route of the ancient Via Sacra through the Forum Romanum, along which the city’s crowds were packed, everyone eager to see the man who had ‘reduced to complete subjection all Illyricum lying between Italy and the kingdom of Noricum, Thrace, Macedonia, the Danube River and the Adriatic Sea’.² The road turned beside the Temple of Saturn and ascended the Capitolinus Hill where Tiberius stepped down from his chariot and knelt at Augustus’ feet in homage and fealty.³ It may be this moment to which the Gemma Augustea (plate 22) – an exquisite cameo believed to have been engraved by master craftsman Dioskurides or one of his pupils – refers.⁹⁴ The engraver created two tiers of parallel allegorical scenes from double-layered Arabian onyx. In the upper tier, Augustus appears as Iupiter, seated on a curule chair and holding a long staff. The gem might commemorate Tiberius’ victory, but it was won under the auspices of Augustus.⁹⁵ He is being crowned with a corona civica of oak leaves – for saving Roman lives – by Ecumene (Oikumene) while Oceanus or Neptunus and Gaia sit beside her.⁹⁶ To Augustus’ right sits Roma, wearing a helmet and clasping a spear, but she is lightly touching a sword, as if to indicate that Rome is always ready to defend herself. To her right stands a man wearing the armour and distinctive paludamentum of a commanding officer. Most scholars identify this youthful figure as Germanicus Caesar. To his right, Tiberius descends from a chariot, clutching a staff in one hand, while a winged victory stands behind him. In the lower tier, soldiers heave as they hoist up a trophaea, while bound barbarian captives look on dejectedly.

Tiberius’ triumph was well-deserved. He had been a loyal servant of Augustus, from the first days he had entered the army in Hispania at the age of 16, and had been fighting his wars in a great many of the years since. A measure of the confidence Augustus had in him is demonstrated in the fact that, the following year, he made Tiberius’ imperium maius equal to his own and renewed his tribunician power for another five years.⁹⁷ Although the act of kneeling before the princeps suggested a subservient relationship, in all but name Tiberius was now co-regent of the Roman commonwealth. The exiled poet Ovid speculated on Germanicus’ own future as a military commander, and prophesied that he would one day celebrate a triumph of his own.⁹⁸

After the sacrifices and prayers of thanks had been offered, a public feast was laid out on a thousand tables, and Tiberius gave each man a donative of 30 sestertii. On this day, he also dedicated, in his and his deceased brother’s names, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, which had been paid for by the spoils of the Pannonian War.⁹⁹

Germanicus the Governor

Having successfully completed his term as consul, Germanicus was now legally qualified to take up his first official provincial management position. Germanicus was appointed Augustus’ deputy and governor (legatus Augusti pro praetore) for the Tres Galliae, the ‘Three Gallic Provinces’, and Germania, at least what was left of it, and crucially the eight legions stationed on the Rhine.¹⁰⁰ It was an important step on the career ladder bringing with it great prestige. A quarter of a century earlier, his natural father had assumed the very same governorship, which he had held until his death. The word provincia originally meant ‘appointment’ or ‘task’, and, outside of Rome, it was applied to the ‘sphere of action’ of elected magistrates.¹¹ As Augustus’ deputy, he was invested with the princeps’ powers of imperium and had complete jurisdiction over the Tres Galliae and the allies still loyal to Rome in Germania, and he could make decisions and lawfully carry them out in his name.¹² Just as Drusus the Elder had assumed the governorship of the provinces from Tiberius, now so too did Germanicus. It was as though the region was the testing ground for the sons of Augustus. In early 13 CE, accompanied by his escort of lictors as his bodyguard, he travelled the 1,000km (621 miles) journey by road to Colonia Copia Munatia Felix (Lyon) located on the confluence of the Rhône (Rhodanus) and Saône (Arar) rivers. While it was nominally the provincial capital, Germanicus would spend most of his time elsewhere in the region. Indeed, it seems that, shortly after arriving there, he departed for Ara Ubiorum (Cologne) on the Rhine.¹³

As governor, Germanicus had several explicit duties to perform. First of these was nation-building. The local Gallic aristocracies were to be encouraged to build self-sustaining urban communities.¹⁰⁴ Augustus had adopted a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to driving regional economic and political development in the Tres Galliae, which Drusus the Elder had continued.¹⁰⁵ They had actively promoted certain regional capitals, lavishing largesse on them, awarding them privileges and Roman citizenship, and even lending them the prestige of his own name, such as the marketplaces of the Aedui at Augustodunum Aedorum (Autun), the Rauraci at Augusta Raurica (Augst), and the Treveri at Augusta Treverorum (Trier). Others singled out for recognition included Augustomagus (Senlis), Augustonemetum (Clermont-Ferrand), Augustobona (Troyes), and Augustoritum (Limoges).¹⁰⁶ These centres were the means of encouraging adoption of the Roman way among the élites of the native peoples through civic rivalry, and competition for prestige and the attention of the imperial family.¹⁰⁷ Competition for recognition among Rome’s élites had been the ever-present catalyst that had driven it from a small village on seven hills to an expansive empire on three continents. By Germanicus’ time, two generations had passed since the Gallic aristocracies had fought Iulius Caesar. Their great-grandsons were now the leaders of their communities. In the most developed form, such community governments were miniature versions of the political system in Rome, with junior magistracies such as quaestors and aediles supervised by two senior magistrates (duoviri) who ran the administration and the courts and were advised by a town council or senate (ordo).¹⁰⁸ The ordo was made up of local worthies (honesti), whose membership of the body was qualified by wealth and property limits, since they were expected to pay for certain expenses out of their own purses as a responsibilty of holding office. In some communities, the traditional Gallic magistracies continued, such as the vergobret among the Lexovii and Santones, a position which may have been the equivalent of a Roman praetor.¹⁰⁹

Many of the leading men (primores) enjoyed wealth or power by mediating between the Roman authorities and the mass of tribal commoners.¹¹ Writing of the Gauls’ British cousins some forty years after the conquest of their island, Tacitus noted how quickly they had adopted the Latin language and were keen to wear the toga.¹¹¹ They were oblivious, he said, to the fact that they had been seduced by the comforts of the bath and the dining room, which they called ‘culture’ (humanitas), whereas, in truth, ‘it was but a part of their servitude’.¹¹² It was this life of comfort and indulgence that Tacitus blamed for the Gallic people becoming passive.¹¹³ To build a peaceful commonwealth of nations, Augustus had to create a complaisant population. Tacitus’s observations of the behaviour of the Gauls in the first century CE was actually a measure of how successfully theprinceps and his provincial governors had implemented the policy.

Secondly, there was the task of ensuring internal security. Germanicus was responsible for ensuring the stability of the region and maintaining its borders. To enjoy Roman protection, the local population was expected to pay for it through taxation. The three Gallic provinces were imperial territories under the direct control of Augustus, and Germanicus had very significant military resources under his care to enforce Roman power.¹¹ There were eight legions on the Rhine – fully a third of the empire’s legionary manpower – comprising I Germanica, II Augusta, V Alaudae, XIIIGemina, XIV Gemina, XVI Gallica, XX Valeria Victrix, and XXI Rapax, and an unknown number of auxiliary cohorts.¹¹ It was a responsibility that called for a loyal and sober temperament, since an ambitious man could be tempted to use the forces at his command to challenge the government in Rome.¹¹ Each legion had its own legate, personally chosen by Augustus from men who had served in the Senate, but Germanicus was their commander-in-chief within the region. The fact that he was just 28 years old was not an issue. He had personal credibility (virtus) from having served successfully in action during the Pannonian War; he had prestige (gravitas) as a former consul; and he had authority (auctoritas) as Augustus’ personal deputy imbued with imperium and the right to make war.

Thirdly, there was the matter of promoting of Roman interests – which, in most cases, meant economic interests. The three Gallic provinces had many natural resources that Roman entrepreneurs were quick to exploit. These resident Roman citizens fully expected that their rights and privileges enshrined in law would be promoted and supported in the provinces. Already in the early first century CE, Roman businessmen ran a very broad range of profit-making operations in the Tres Galliae, from importing wine from Italy by sea to running great estates producing wheat, and from operating mines and quarries to manufacturing fine red tableware. Many enjoyed contracts to provide the army with foodstuffs, animals and raw materials, which it consumed in vast quantities. Germanicus’ army of eight legions, representing a total of some 40,000 men, excluding non-combatants, would have consumed an estimated 60 tonnes (132,277lbs) of corn and 240 amphorae of olive oil and wine, each and every day.¹¹ The same army would require 4,000 horses and 3,500 pack animals. Horses were required for the cavalry, and mules were used to carry the leathercontubernium tents and other heavy items on the march.¹¹ While all animals could feed off the land to some extent, quantities of fodder nevertheless had to be carried whenever the army went on campaign. One estimate is that a single cavalry ala with 560 horses required between 560kg (1,235lbs) and 1,680kg (3,704lbs) of barley, and 5,600kg (12,346lbs) of hay each year.¹¹ As a consumer of resources, such a large army presence acted as a dynamo to the local economy. If the body of the Roman Empire was its cities and institutions, its bloodstream was the flow of goods and money that coursed along its network of roads.

Germanicus had an additional responsibilty that was not typical of a provincial governor: ensuring the security and uninterrupted operation of the mint (moneta) in Colonia Copia, which struck coins almost from the moment of its establishment in 15 BCE.¹² It had quickly become the only location in the western empire to produce the aureus or ‘golden denarius’, and Augustus may have actually intended the mint in Tres Galliae to prevent the Senate from meddling in the production of high-value coins.¹²¹ The mint also produced the silver denarius and small change in copper (aes) and bright yellow brass (orichalcum), which facilitated the burgeoning markets in traded goods across the region.¹²² Every coin was made by hand, by placing a flan of metal in a two-part die and striking it with a hammer. It was a slow and labour-intensive process. Significantly, the mint was located between the mines in the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul, which produced the precious metals, and the troops stationed there and across Tres Galliae, Raetia and Noricum, who needed regular payment.¹²³ Since coins had to be physically transported to the army in its winter camps three times a year, the location of the mint at Colonia Copia solved the logistical challenges of safely moving great quantities of gold and silver pieces from Rome, by taking the centre of production closer to the points of distribution. Ensuring that the mint was secure and that the die kept striking was now Germanicus’ responsibility.

The relatively long period of peace in the region had enabled the Gallic communities to grow economically, but a key component was the concilium Galliarum, which promoted its political welfare.¹² It was created by Drusus the Elder during the period 14–12 BCE to bring together the élites of the cities (primores), to give them a larger platform from which to express themselves, and to reinforce their status and control in their own communities. Through it, they could bring grievances to the notice of assembly members and the presiding propraetor, and proffer advice on measures intended to apply to the entire province. The assembly was also responsible for overseeing the imperial cult of Roma and Augustus at the spectacular cult sanctuary (fanum) at Condate, across the valley from Lugdunum, where its chief priest (sacerdos) conducted religious ceremonies and instigated gladiatorial games annually on 1 August.

Even with the loss of the territory in Germania Magna, there was still a sizeable Gallo-Germanic community on the Roman side (Gallia Cisrhenana) of the River Rhine. M. Agrippa, or one of his deputies, had founded the marketplaces of the Treveri at Augusta Treverorum (Trier) and the Ubii at Oppidum Ubiorum (Cologne).¹² Tiberius had relocated the Sugambri at Vetera. In an attempt to build an identity for these people, Ahenobarbus replicated the successful model set up by Drusus the Elder, by building an altar to the imperial cult in Oppidum Ubiorum and renaming the city Ara Ubiorum.¹² A council was founded with members drawn from the confederation of Germanic tribes. Segimerus of the Cherusci was elected as its first flamen.¹²

One of the first tasks Germanicus is recorded as having undertaken as provincial governor was the census. During Caesar’s war of conquest and the years of the civil wars, the Gallic nations had been asked to provide men and horses to bolster the ranks of the Roman army. In the era of peace ushered in by Augustus, it was supplemented by the need for cold, hard cash.¹² Augustus needed funds for his Rhine army. Some communities responded to his beneficence and paid Augustus handsomely.¹² Nevertheless, accurate assessments of the assets of the population were needed to calculate the tax basis, and a nationwide census was undertaken every five years (a period of time called a lustrum). Augustus had, himself, overseen a census of the three Gallic provinces in 27 BCE, while holding assizes in Narbonensis, and Drusus the Elder had done so in 14/13.¹³ It was a major undertaking that required careful planning and diligence in its execution. By law, Roman citizens living in Italia were exempt from direct taxes – an entitlement called the ‘Italian Right’ – but those resident outside were not. Outside Rome, the census was supervised by a team ofcensitores and their assistants (censuales) who compiled a complete register of Roman citizens and their property. The governor might assign his deputies to do so, but it appears that Germanicus oversaw the duties himself in 14 CE.¹³¹ Many of the requirements of the census are known from theDigest of the jurist Domitius Ulpianus, who lived in the second century CE.¹³² He records that the person registering was required to make estimates, himself, of all his estates – acreages of arable, pasture and woodland, numbers of trees, olive trees and vines, ponds, harbours and saltpans – and detail his slaves by number, age, nationality, function and skills. Concessions were made for landslides that took land out of production and for withered vines or dead trees that reduced the total taxable output. It was a heavily labour-intensive procedure. Each registrant had to be interviewed in person and notes were recorded by hand. The entire operation was controlled from Colonia Copia, but registrants may have been required to go to a designated town where the censitor had set up his information-gathering operations.¹³³ The grand scale of the retinue such an official brought with him survives on the tombstone of Musicus Scurranus, who served as an imperial dispensator ad fiscum Gallicum provinciae Lugdunensis under Tiberius and died when he returned to Rome. The inscription reveals that accompanying Scurranus was a crew of freedmen and slaves, including a business agent and an accountant, three assistants, a physician, two slaves responsible for silver and one for the wardrobe, two chamberlains, two footmen, two cooks, and a woman of unspecified role and responsibility.¹³

Agrippina joined her husband on the Rhine frontier at Ara Ubiorum sometime in 13 or 14 CE, taking her oldest children with her on the long journey, but leaving her youngest son in the care of Augustus and Livia. She was expecting again. On the journey, at a village called Ambitarvium near Augusta Treverorum, she bore Germanicus a daughter.¹³ The baby girl died not long after and was not given a name, as children were only named on the eighth or ninth day of life.¹³ The child’s memory was, nevertheless, honoured. An altar was erected close by to mark the occasion, with the inscription ‘FOR THE DELIVERY OF AGRIPPINA’.¹³ Alarmingly for the family, in the spring of 14, little Caius fell ill. Worried by the development, his grandfather wrote to Agrippina on 13 May, informing her that he had immediately dispatched the boy to her, in the care of a physician (medicus).¹³ Presumably, he felt that the boy would recover more quickly with his mother, rather than his grandparents. Augustus advised her that he had written separately to Germanicus and apprised him of the situation, with the offer that he could keep the doctor, who was a slave, if he wanted.

While Gaul itself appears to have been calm, there is tantalizing evidence that Germans were crossing from the right bank of the Rhine in 13 CE. A surviving document, called by modern scholars the Tabula Siarensis (see Appendix), preserves the mention that, following campaigns in which he expelled the Germans from the region, he ‘set Gallia in order’.¹³ As governor, it was Germanicus’ job to expel the invaders and restore order. How serious a threat this Germanic invasion was is not explained in the other documentary sources, but the gravity of the matter clearly merited mention in the senatorial record posted in Rome. Paterculus mentions earlier ‘dissensions which had broken out among the Viennenses’, put down by Tiberius.¹⁴⁰ The poet Krinagoras also cheers a great victory in which Germanicus struck down masses of enemy he identifies as κελτοί living between the Alps and Pyrenees.¹¹ It may have been after this encounter that Germanicus was acclaimed by his soldiers as imperator – a title meaning simply ‘commander’, but normally granted by the soldiery for acts of valour or for bringing them victory after battle – though the evidence for it is inconclusive.¹² Germanicus, however, had a bigger mission. Velleius Paterculus observes that Caesar Augustus sent his grandson ‘to finish the remainder of the war in Germania’.¹³ In this, he was following in the footsteps of both Drusus the Elder and Tiberius. Tiberius himself was also due to begin military manoeuvres. In the late summer of 14 CE, he set off for the Dalmatian coast of Illyricum, accompanying Augustus on the journey as far as Beneventum.¹⁴⁴ Augustus continued on his way to Nola in Campania, but contracted a sickness en route; a shooting star was seen in the sky, which some took to be a portent.¹⁴⁵

The World Turned Upside Down

Late in the summer of 14 CE a rider of the cursus publicus, the imperial courier service, approached Germanicus, dripping with sweat.¹⁴⁶ He had ridden fast and furiously, carrying a letter intended for the propraetor’s eyes only. Saluting the senior officer, the messenger handed over the tightly-rolled scroll of papyrus. Germanicus recognized the seal. It was a profile of Augustus’s head, exquisitely carved by the master craftsman Dioskurides: it was the princeps’ own personal seal.¹⁴⁷ Yet there was something distinctly odd. The handwriting was Tiberius’.¹⁴⁸ Germanicus broke the seal, unrolled the letter, and read the contents. The news it contained was devastating. On 19 August, C. Iulius Caesar Augustus, First Man of the Roman world, had breathed his last breath in Nola. In his last living moments, Tiberius had been chosen by him as his successor, to carry on the great work of leading the Commonwealth.¹⁵⁰ Germanicus’ adoptive father now wore the ring that had once graced the finger of the revered leader, and, by dint of it, was the most powerful man in the Roman world. Respecting Germanicus’ status, Tiberius dispatched envoys ‘to express sympathy with his grief at the death of Augustus’.¹¹

The death of Augustus was a major landmark event in the history of Rome. He had lived 75 years, 10 months and 26 days, and been the leading man of the Senate (princeps senatus) for almost 41 of them.¹² In Augustus’ will, which was read out in the curiabefore the assembled Senate by an imperial freedman named Polybius, Tiberius and Livia were declared his principal heirs.¹³ As heirs ‘in the second degree’, Drusus the Younger received one third of the estate, while Germanicus and his three male children received the rest.¹⁵⁴ Germanicus’ children were now and henceforth permitted the use of the name Caesar.¹⁵⁵ Largesse was to be distributed among the Praetorian Cohorts, the troops of the legions, and the citizens of Rome, according to rank and status.¹⁵⁶Everything had been planned in advance. The arrangements for the funeral; instructions for how the mausoleum was to be furnished, including the attachment of his account of his lifetime’s work (Res Gestae) on bronze plaques by the entrance; the standing of the army and details about the nation’s budget and public spending; as well as personal wisdom and guidance on good government – including the recommendation not to expand the frontiers of the empire – were read out by Drusus the Younger.¹⁵⁷ The succession of Tiberius was a major turning point in the history of Rome. Augustus had cleverly avoided accusations of establishing a dynasty, by not appointing a direct successor – not even in his last will and testament.¹⁵⁸ While Augustus bequeathed to Tiberius the use of his name, as well as his estate, he did not pass on his constitutional powers. He did not need to. The legally-minded Romans recognized that Tiberius had already acquired powers equal to those of Augustus, by virtue of having received the tribunicia potestas – renewed in 13 CE – which meant he could convene the Senate; and through the imperium maius – also granted the year before – Tiberius had direct control over the imperial provinces and the army (exercitus) and their chief executives.¹⁵⁹ Indeed, Tiberius’ first official acts were to issue orders to the Praetorian Cohorts, the legions, and the auxiliaries, and to convene the Senate, leaving no doubt in people’s minds who was in charge.¹⁶⁰

The rule of a powerful First Man with the consent of the Senate and Roman people was affirmed. There would be no going back to the unpredictable and unstable democracy of the Republic. Most people in Rome and the provinces accepted the situation without protest, but many intellectuals, traditionalists, and even ordinary citizens had hoped for a restoration of the supremacy of the consuls, the Senate and the popular assembly, but they would continue to be frustrated.¹¹ One of these would have been Tiberius’ brother – Germanicus’ own natural father – Drusus the Elder.¹² While alive, he had hoped that Augustus could be persuaded to step down and restore the old way of governing the country.¹³ If Tiberius was once sympathetic to this view, now that he had the opportunity to do something about it, he did not relinquish the powers he had gradually assumed from theprinceps. Ensuring the ‘Peace of Augustus’ – characterized by the ending of almost a century of civil war, military successes over Rome’s enemies, and greater security along the borders – and the rei publicae causa were probably paramount in his mind.¹⁶⁴ The price of this was continuing the constitutional autocracy, the form of government founded, shaped and nurtured by the heir of Iulius Caesar.¹⁶⁵ ‘The condition of holding empire’, he allegedly said, ‘is that an account cannot be balanced unless it be rendered to one person’.¹⁶⁶ Yet his decision was not universally welcomed or liked.¹⁶⁷

Tiberius gave the eulogy at the funeral in the Forum Romanum, and is reported as having said, ‘if one wished to enumerate all his qualities mainly one by one, one would require many days’.¹⁶⁸ After summarizing Augustus’ lifetime achievements, Tiberius concluded:

It was for all this, therefore, that you, with good reason, made him your leader and a father of the people, that you honoured him with many marks of esteem and with ever so many consulships, and that you finally made him a demigod and declared him to be immortal. Hence, it is fitting also that we should not mourn for him, but that, while we now at last give his body back to Nature, we should glorify his spirit, as that of a god, forever.¹⁶⁹

In death, the one they called ‘the revered one’ was deified.¹⁷⁰ The man who was once ‘first among equals’ was now a god above men, Divus Augustus. Mortals would now swear oaths in his name, make offerings at his temples, and celebrate his feast day. A new religious college, the sodales Augustales, was founded in 14 CE to oversee the rites and rituals accorded to the god.¹¹ Twenty-one members were chosen by lot from ‘the chief men of the state’.¹² Tiberius, Germanicus along with his brother Claudius, Drusus the Younger, Cn. Calpurnius Piso, and L. Volusius Saturninus Favonius were added to the number.¹³ On 3 or 5 October, games were opened in the Circus in honour of Augustus and ran until the twelfth day of the month, the occasion of his official birthday.¹⁷⁴Originally inaugurated by the princeps during his lifetime and held every five years as theAugustalia to mark the Battle of Actium, in death this event now became an annual fixture in the official calender (Fasti) under the management of the tribunes of theplebs.¹⁷⁵ They remained popular and continued to be held even in Cassius Dio’s day, and not just in Rome, but in Herculaneum, Neapolis (Naples) and other cities across the Empire, too.¹⁷⁶ They were not displays of blood sports, but instead consisted of a horse race, and gymnastic and musical contests.¹⁷⁷ Augustus had enjoyed the format himself and happily mingled with the audience during and after performances, but Tiberius was not such an outgoing personality and, to add to the sombre occasion, the contests of 14 CE ‘were disturbed by quarrels arising out of rivalry between the actors’, apparently over stipended pay.¹⁷⁸ As the new princeps, Tiberius turned a blind eye to their dramatic protestations, but the tribunes urgently convened the Senate and won their plea to spend more than the amount allowed by law, to settle the performers’ dispute.¹⁷⁹

Tiberius sought to consolidate his power base. Publicly, he stated that ‘my position is that of master of the slaves, imperator of the soldiers, and first citizen among the rest’.¹⁸⁰ The Senate quickly kow-towed to its new boss. That year’s consules ordinarii, Sex. Pompeius and Sex. Apuleius, were the first men to swear allegiance, and senior senators followed them by fawning obsequiously at Tiberius’ feet.¹¹ Around this time, Postumus Agrippa, who was still in exile on the remote island of Planasia, died, allegedly at the hand of a tribunus militum, either on the orders of Tiberius, though he denied any connection with the matter, or his mother Livia.¹² Some now doubt whether it was an assassination, and the rumour was confused with reports that Agrippa’s personal slave Clemens, meantime, had gathered a band of men to avenge his master, but was outwitted by a clever stratagem, taken into custody, and never heard of again.¹³ The whole affair was quickly forgotten. As for the other exile, Tiberius decided not to recall his wife Iulia from Rhegium, in the toe of the Italian peninsula: indeed, during that same year, she unexpectedly died – presumably of natural causes – aged 53.¹⁸⁴ In accordance with Augustus’ wishes, her ashes were not placed in his mausoleum.¹⁸⁵

The death of Agrippa Postumus now made Germanicus the next heir to the throne. The relationship between the two men underwent a change – at least according to Tacitus. He suggests that Tiberius now feared that Germanicus might oppose him by force and take the throne for himself, ‘who had at his disposal so many legions, such vast auxiliary forces of the allies, and such wonderful popularity, might prefer the possession to the expectation of empire’.¹⁸⁶ Consequently, he surrounded himself with armed guards wherever he went.¹⁸⁷ Yet Tiberius’ alleged paranoia was not directed solely at his adopted son. Two years after he had assumed the leading role in the state, at a private meeting with a prominent member of the Senate who had been suspected of plotting a coup, quite reasonably, Tiberius insisted on his son Drusus being present.¹⁸⁸ However, Tiberius may have been less inclined to be the autocrat and actually more willing to accept a sharing of governance of the empire than Tacitus implies. At the outset of his reign, Tiberius approached the Senate, humbly suggesting that he would take on whatever administrative duties they might assign him, ‘since no man could be sufficient for the whole, without one or more to assist him’.¹⁸⁹ In that, Germanicus could be useful. His young blood relative was eminently qualified to take on some part of that responsibility. Indeed, at the request of Tiberius in the Senate, on 17 September 14 CE, Germanicus was granted the imperium proconsulare, whereas he did not ask the same for his son Drusus.¹⁹⁰ It was entirely appropriate to do so. As the regional commander of two consulargrade legates, each in charge of four legions, Germanicus needed a superior title and the authority to match.¹¹

If Tiberius really did fear his adopted son, taking power away from his father was very far from Germanicus’ mind, and, through his actions, he proved his unswerving loyalty to the new princeps.¹² He remained in place as governor of the Tres Galliae and Germania. In the provinces, life continued as normal. The census was not yet complete, however, and Germanicus continued with the project. It was while he was away in Gallia Belgica, overseeing the gathering of tax information, that news arrived of trouble on the Rhine.¹³ For once, it was not the Germanic nations causing problems. This time, it was much more worrying. The Roman army of the Rhine had mutinied.¹⁹⁴ As the senior commander, Germanicus decided without equivocation to go to the source of the trouble, and, to ensure that his rear was secure, he made the Belgic nations and Sequani swear their obedience in his presence.¹⁹⁵ Then he immediately set off to deal with mutiny. Unbeknownst to Germanicus at the time, mutiny had already broken out in the army of Pannonia and Dalmatia.¹⁹⁶ The men of one of the legions on the Danube had even tried to murder their legate, Iunius Blaesus, and arrested and tortured his slaves.¹⁹⁷ Drusus the Younger was still trying to regain control of the situation on the Danube and restore discipline among the troops. With a larger army, however, Germanicus had by far the greater problem in finding a quick resolution.¹⁹⁸

While Velleius Paterculus mentions the mutiny, our main source reporting on the events on the Rhine is Tacitus in Book 1 of his Annals. He was not, himself, a witness to the events, and he drew on other sources. One of these was Pliny the Elder, whom he explicitly mentions by name in the text. Pliny wrote the Bella Germaniae, an account in twenty books ‘of all the encounters in Germania’.¹⁹⁹ Unfortunately, this work is now entirely lost. Pliny served three tours of duty in Germania (41–53 CE) and probably based his account on written reports he found in the archives of the legionary camps, and may have spoken with veterans or sons of veterans to get first-hand accounts. Germanicus would have written up his version of events for his report to the Senate. His deputies, too, may have filed their own reports, in turn. Thus, Tacitus could have drawn on a broad range of source material. The problem for the modern historian is knowing where facts end and dramatic licence or embellishment begins. Unlike a modern historian, Tacitus does not chronicle the events giving exact dates, times and places. He quotes Germanicus’ and the other partipants’ speeches, but we have no way of knowing if the words are the ones actually spoken – most were certainly not. They may be Tacitus’ reinterpretation of recollection from memory of the events by men or their descendants who were there; or they may be pure inventions of the Roman historian, to dramatize the events described – an approach that was entirely consistent with how narrative histories were written in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Overlaying the content and style aspects of the reporting, Tacitus is generally considered to have an editorial bias against Tiberius. This means that he may have understated Tiberius’ role, focusing instead on Germanicus, in order to emphasize the failings of the tyrant. Cassius Dio may have drawn on Tacitus’ work in writing Book 57 of his own history, but he adds several interesting details and nuances not recorded by the earlier historian. Combining the two accounts produces a remarkably detailed story of the turbulent events of 14 CE.

The Roman army of the Rhine frontier was sub-divided into two commands. Germania Inferior, or ‘Lower Germany’, so-named because it bordered the Rhine River as it flowed downstream from about midway along its length to its mouth at the Mare Germanicum (North Sea), was under the leadership of A. Caecina Severus – now transferred from Moesia – based either at Vetera or Ara Ubiorum.²⁰⁰ The legions answerable to him mutinied first. The legions of Germania Superior, ‘Upper Germany’, which bordered the Rhine River from its source in the Alps cascading down to southwestern Germany, were under the command of C. Silius – son of P. Silius Nerva, and consul in 13 CE – based at Mogontiacum (Mainz).²¹ The men in his units were closely watching their neighbouring brothers-in-arms, but, at the time of Germanicus’ intercession, they were still undecided whether or not to join the mutineers and, for the time being, stayed obedient to their commanding officers. Tacitus’ narrative suggests that the mutiny occurred during the summer, and the attempts to address it lasted well into the autumn. The legions are described as being in their marching camps or ‘summer camps’ (in aestivis) when the mutiny broke out, and only later being located back in their ‘winter camps’ (in hiberna, hibernantium).²²

After several days’ ride, he arrived at the combined camp of Legiones I and XX. Germanicus found the military base in disarray.²³ The troops came out to greet him, but did not form an honour guard or salute him. It was a remarkable display of disrespect to a deputy of Caesar Augustus and their regional commander-in-chief. Germanicus found the men in a gloomy mood with their heads bowed. He passed through one of the gateways and the murmurs became audible chatter, as the men began to recognize who their unannounced visitor was. As Germanicus walked past, some reached out to kiss his hand but, instead, pulled it up to their mouths to reveal toothless gums. He eventually reached the tribunal in the centre of the camp and climbed its wooden steps to take centre stage. The tribunal, like the Rostra in the Forum Romanum, was the place around which citizens assembled to hear their politicians and leaders present motions (contiones). Just as in Rome, far away on the Rhine, the soldiers gathered round this wooden stage.

Germanicus called upon them to line up in their centuries and cohorts, so that he could see the signa, which identified the units.²⁰⁴ The men shouted back insolently that they could hear him well enough from where they stood, but begrudgingly brought out the standards. He had managed to restore some semblance of order, but it was a potentially dangerous situation. These two legions had, to a man, enthusiastically embraced mutiny, and they were in no mood to be trifled with. Germanicus wasted no time and addressed the soldiers as their commander. He evidently believed that, by speaking to them as reasonable men, and using his skill as an orator, honed as a prosecutor and defender at court, they would respond to an appeal for reason.²⁰⁵ As recounted by Tacitus, he began his speech with a patriotic evocation of Augustus and the triumphs of their imperator Tiberius, who, together with the legions of Germania, had achieved great victories in the recent past.²⁰⁶ He spoke of the unity of the Italian homeland, of the loyalty of the Tres Galliae, and the peace that currently existed in the Roman Empire. The men listened in respectful silence. Then he asked what had happened to the discipline and obedience of the soldiers, and where they had put their officers? These rhetorical questions were met with an instant and very emotional response by the soldiers. They erupted into a babble of unintelligible words as they slipped off their army tunics to reveal bruises, scars and welts from frequent beatings with the vitis and whippings with the lash.²⁰⁷ It was a pitiful sight. Many centurions had run rackets, taking bribes before allowing men to take time off or work on less arduous duties, and administered casual corporal punishment for the most minor of misdemeanours. When the mutiny broke out, it was the centurions who were the first subjects of the men’s fury. Many a miles gregarius bore a deep resentment towards his centurion – no doubt borne of deep welts and bruises on their bodies – who was the strict enforcer of military discipline. Venting their fury during the initial uproar, the men of one legion turned on their centurions and beat them up, throwing their bodies – some by now lifeless corpses – over the parapet into the V-shaped ditch or even into the rushing flow of the Rhine River.²⁰⁸ One centurio named Septimius had pleaded for his life at Caecina’s feet; but, fearing for his own life, the legate yielded to the legionaries’ demand for him to be handed over and, once in their hands, the mutineers slew the officer. Incensed by what he witnessed, a young Cassius Chaerea would not stand for the indiscipline and forced his way through the armed and dangerous mob to safety.²⁰⁹ Meanwhile, the praefectus castrorum and the military tribunes of the mutinous legions had been placed under house arrest in their quarters and were unable to restore discipline.²¹

As Germanicus surveyed the men from the tribunal (fig. 2), he heard their complaints – especially the veterans’ – loudly and clearly:

they spoke bitterly of the prices of exemptions, of their scanty pay, of the severity of their tasks, with special mention of the entrenchment, the fosse, the conveyance of fodder, building-timber, fire-wood, and whatever else had to be procured from necessity, or as a check on idleness in the camp. The fiercest clamour arose from the veteran soldiers, who, as they counted their thirty campaigns or more, implored him to relieve worn-out men, and not let them die under the same hardships, but have an end of such harassing service, and repose without beggary.²¹¹

Figure 2. Germanicus addressing the troops during the mutiny in an engraving from Lucretia Wilhelmina van Merkel’s epic poem Germanicus.

It quickly became evident that the mutiny was not a challenge to the authority of the Roman Commonwealth. These were proud and loyal citizens, but extremely frustrated soldiers. In fact, this was a labour dispute over basic pay and conditions.²¹² Specifically:

Their demands were, in brief, that their term of service should be limited to sixteen years, that they should be paid a denarius per day, and that they should receive their prizes then and there in the camp; and they threatened, in case they did not obtain these demands, to cause the province to revolt and then to march upon Rome.²¹³

Without a complaints or arbitration process, the aggrieved men’s patience had reached breaking-point. They vented their fury in the only way open to them: by taking over the camp and hoping someone with influence would come and hear their grievances.

One of the primary causes of the problem of the rank and file was the impact of a series of reforms instituted by Augustus just a few years before.²¹ Curtailing his ambitions for new conquests, he first had to wage war on the defence budget. As he was wont to do, he tried to balance public income and expenditure, and in doing so found the finances of the army were in a precarious state.²¹ Following Actium, Augustus had demobbed some 120,000 troops and settled many of them in coloniae throughout the empire by 29 BCE, decommissioning several legions in the process.²¹ In 6 CE, he finally put the finances of the army on a firm footing by setting up a military fund, the aerarium militare, which received money through a variety of taxes, including a one per cent duty upon every item sold at auctions (centesima rerum venalium) and a 5 per cent estate tax on inheritances and legacies (vicesima hereditatum et legatorum).²¹ Into it, over his remaining lifetime, he put 170 million sestertii of his own money, in both his and Tiberius’names.²¹ The fund, managed by two praetors, ensured there were henceforth sufficient monies available to cover the retirement costs of men leaving the army.²¹ A lump sum in cash was to be paid to every serviceman on his honourable discharge (honesta missio), having completed the required years of service. It replaced the antiquated and outmoded system of land grants. There had been numerous grievances over the years from retirees who were given tracts of barren or unworkable land. Cash was fairer to all and simpler to administer. However, Augustus also amended the terms of service:

It was therefore voted that 20,000 sestertii should be given to members of the Praetorian Cohorts when they had served sixteen years, and 12,000 to the other soldiers when they had served twenty years.²²

Men of the legions would be expected to be available to serve as reservists (evocati).²²¹ ‘They constitute, even now, a special corps’, wrote Dio in the third century CE, ‘and carry rods, like the centurions’.²²² While sound in theory, in practice there were severe administrative failings. The service records, typically handwritten notes on slithers of wood, could be problematical for the task of identifying when men were due for their honourable discharge. Thus, the veterans among the men shouted to Germanicus that they had already served thirty years – a full decade beyond the reformed set term – and they were desperate to be retired and allowed to enjoy what years they had left, in some semblance of good health and comfort (fig. 2).²²³

Yet why should the men choose this moment to mutiny? Tacitus states that it began when news of Augustus’ death reached the army and:

a rabble of city slaves, who had been enlisted under a recent levy at Rome, habituated to laxity and impatient of hardship, filled the ignorant minds of the other soldiers with notions that the time had come when the veteran might demand a timely discharge, the young, more liberal pay, and all, an end of their miseries and vengeance on the cruelty of centurions.²²

The men of Legiones V and XXI, already smouldering with a growing sense of injustice, were particularly receptive to these incendiary views, and then quickly convinced their brothers in I and XX to join them.²² The mutiny was facilitated by the fact that they were all sharing a summer camp together in the territory of the Ubii and, having only light duties, seem to have had too much time on their hands and not enough distractions.²² Remarkably, the legate did not stand up to the mutineers but, by his inaction, enabled the indiscipline to take over the camp.²² Soon after, the soldiers were determining their own rosters for guard duties and patrols. The protest had unanimous support and there were apparently no dissenters. ‘The Roman world’, the men of the legions of Germania Inferior confidently asserted, ‘was in their hand; their victories aggrandized the State; it was from them that emperors received their titles’.²²

Germanicus was prepared to hear the men’s grievances, but not what followed. Someone in the throng shouted out that Germanicus should be the successor to Augustus – not Tiberius – and that, should he announce his intention to claim the title, they would support him.²² Some in the ranks unashamedly abused the name of Tiberius.²³ Indeed, Tacitus ascribes, as a key motive of the mutineers, ‘the confident hope that Germanicus Caesar would not be able to endure another’s supremacy and would offer himself to the legions, whose strength would carry everything before it’.²³¹Germanicus jumped down from the tribunal. In his mind, this was tantamount to treason. As he tried to push his way through the crowd, the men drew their swords, insisting that he return to the tribunal. He adamantly refused, saying that he would rather take his own life than be disloyal to Tiberius, and theatrically drew his own gladius from its scabbard and gestured as if to thrust it into his chest.²³² It was precisely the kind of trick an orator would use in the law court, but with the troops on the front line, the melodrama fell flat. The men nearest him grabbed his sword-hand, so that he could not carry out his threat. Men in another part of the crowd, however, urged him to see the task through, whereupon one soldier by the name of Calusidius, who was standing closest to Germanicus, proposed that he take his army-issue gladius, saying it was certain to be sharper than the commander’s own.²³³ The situation was getting ugly. ‘Germanicus, accordingly, seeing to what lengths the matter had gone, did not venture to kill himself’, writes Dio insightfully, ‘particularly as he did not believe they would stop their disturbance, in any case’.²³ The officers, now worried for Germanicus’ personal safety, ushered him away.²³

Germanicus and his leadership team met urgently to discuss what could be done to solve the matters now revealed to them. Even as they were considering ideas, they received word that the mutineers were planning to send a delegation to the legions of Germania Superior, to win them over to their cause.²³ There was also talk of a raid to destroy and plunder the nearby civilian town of Ara Ubiorum, and then a move south to pillage Gallia Belgica.²³ Baser instincts were now taking over the mob. Potentially exacerbating the dangerous situation was the realization that the Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Rhine were becoming aware of the mutiny, and, if the north-western frontier were left undefended, they could cross the river and wreak untold damage. One option would be to use the auxiliary cohorts to face down the legions. Thus far, they had remained loyal to Rome, but to deploy them in this way could provoke a civil war. Germanicus had few options and he needed to come up with a solution fast.

Someone in Germanicus’ team conceived a clever ruse. They would produce a letter, he said:

written in the princep’s name, to the effect that full discharge was granted to those who had served in twenty campaigns; that there was a conditional release for those who had served sixteen; that they were to be retained under a standard with immunity from everything except actually keeping off the enemy; and that the legacies which they had asked, were to be paid and doubled.²³

It would have been better left to one of Germanicus’ comedies. The soldiers were not fools and saw right through it.²³ They continued to press their demands more emphatically. Facing a situation that could quickly get out of hand, Germanicus backed down and agreed to their demands.²⁴⁰ The military tribunes were ordered to see to the honourable discharges of those qualified for retirement, and the rest were promised what was owed to them on their return to barracks. The men of Legiones V and XXI adamantly refused the proposed settlement, however, and demanded to be paid there and then. ‘Most of them’, explains Dio, in his account, ‘belonged to the city troops that Augustus had enrolled as an extra force after the disaster to Varus’.²¹ To them, it seemed fair recompense for the years they had unwillingly served in the army. Out of options, Germanicus pooled the funds he had brought to cover his own and his entourage’s travel expenses, and borrowed from those of his fellow officers. The hurriedly cobbled-together settlement worked. The mutiny was over. The disconsolate men of Legiones V and XXI packed up their kit and headed for their winter camp at Vetera, 103km (64 miles) north-west of Ara Ubiorum.²² Tacitus pointedly notes that the men of Legiones I and XX marched back to their winter camp at Ara Ubiorum in disgrace, their treasure being carried as part of the detail guarding the aquila and signa, with a humiliated Caecina at the head of the column.²³

Only now did Germanicus go to Germania Superior. Once there, he secured the allegiance of Legiones II Augusta, XIII Gemina, XIV Gemina and XVI Gallica.²⁴⁴ The men of Legiones II, XIII and XVI duly confirmed their loyalty to Germanicus, but those ofLegio XIV apparently hesitated before accepting the offer of pay and discharges for eligible veterans.²⁴⁵ While this was going on on the left bank of the Rhine, veterans of an unspecified legion stationed among the Chauci nation, who lived between the lower Ems and Weser rivers, now broke into a mutiny of their own.²⁴⁶The praefectus castrorum M’. Ennius sought to restore order by summarily executing two of the ringleaders. This only served to inflame the mutineers. Ennius fled and hid, but it was not long before he was located and dragged out. The terrified praefectus, in fear of his life, argued that it was not he who had issued the order, but Germanicus and Tiberius. During a struggle, he managed to break free of his captors, seized the unit standard and, holding it aloft, cried that anyone who did not follow him to the riverbank would be deemed a deserter. Realizing the consequences if they were ever captured, his men followed his orders with resignation, cowed by the experience.²⁴⁷

By this time, Germanicus was in Ara Ubiorum, playing host to a consular deputation from Rome sent directly from the princeps.²⁴⁸ Dio explains that Tiberius:

had secretly communicated only so much as he wished Germanicus to know; for he well understood that they would surely tell Germanicus all his own plans, and he did not wish that either they or that leader should busy themselves about anything beyond the instructions given, which were supposed to comprise everything.²⁴⁹

On this cloak-and-dagger mission, Germanicus would only be told what he needed to know, while creating the illusion that Tiberius was in complete control the whole time. However, word quickly spread of the arrival of the very important visitors. The men ofLegiones I and XX in their winter camp panicked, thinking the proconsul Munatius Plancus and his associates had arrived to nullify the accord and bring the ringleaders to account for the mutiny.²⁵⁰ A mob of angry soldiers gathered around the ex-consul and reproached him as the author of the Senate’s decree. At the midnight hour, they stormed into Germanicus’ accommodations, kicking down the door, and dragged the legatus Augusti from his bed, demanding to have the legionary standard.²¹ On threat of death, Germanicus let them take it and the rebels raced out into the street. In Dio’s account of the same event, the troops seized his wife – who was pregnant again – and the boy, ‘both of whom had been sent away by him to some place of refuge’.²² They only released his wife ‘at Germanicus’ request’, but kept little Caius. The boy was now widely known by his nickname Caligula, ‘Little Boot’, after the diminutive, hobnailed, army-style shoes (caligae) he wore.²³ Both Dio and Tacitus agree that the angry soldiers bumped into the envoys from Rome – who had been alarmed by the commotion and who were on their way to Germanicus to seek sanctuary – and almost killed them.²⁵⁴ The visitors were subjected to a barrage of insults, but managed to escape to the relative safety of the camp ofLegio I. Plancus fled to the strong room in the principia, where the legion’s venerated standards, the aquila and signa, were kept under guard.²⁵⁵ The mob, however, tracked him down there, finding him clinging to the staffs of the sacred emblems. The quick thinking of the aquilifer Calpurnius saved both the man’s skin and the legion the shame of spilling a consul’s blood in a Roman military camp at the hands of his own countrymen.

By the time dawn broke the next morning, sanity had returned. Germanicus entered the camp and ascended the tribunal to hold another contio.²⁵⁶ He invited Plancus to join him. The commander addressed the troops directly, berating them for their reprehensible treatment of the envoys and for second-guessing the purpose of their mission. The men of Legio XX in particular, he said, had disgraced themselves. He lectured them on the merits of pity, and then sent the envoys on their way with a cavalry escort – a unit of auxiliaries, deliberately not the customary ala of a legion of Roman citizens.²⁵⁷ There could be no mistake about how he felt.

In Rome and elsewhere, Germanicus was later criticized for not having gone to Germania Superior first and used the loyal legions there to end the mutiny in the lower province.²⁵⁸ They charged, his imperium notwithstanding, that he had overstepped his authority in granting the mutineers concessions in payments and discharges. Moreover, they asked: how could he, a family man, keep an expectant wife and small child in the midst of such mortal danger? Hearing of the charge, Agrippina later retorted that she was the grand-daughter of Augustus and could face any peril. Germanicus had complete confidence in his wife, but not all army officers felt the same about theirs. While military commanders were permitted to live with their wives in camp, there were detractors who expressed concerns about the presence of civilian women among the rankers, who were not permitted to have wives.²⁵⁹ One, in fact, was Germanicus’ own deputy, Caecina Severus. He later spoke before the Senate and said unequivocally that:

no magistrate, who had been allotted a province, should be accompanied by his wife. He explained beforehand at some length that ‘he had a consort after his own heart, who had borne him six children: yet he had conformed in private to the rule he was proposing for the public; and, although he had served his forty campaigns in one province or another, she had always been kept within the boundaries of Italy. There was point in the old regulation which prohibited the dragging of women to the provinces or foreign countries: in a retinue of ladies, there were elements apt, by luxury or timidity, to retard the business of peace or war and to transmute a Roman march into something resembling an Eastern procession. Weakness and a lack of endurance were not the only failings of the sex: give them scope, and they turned hard, intriguing, ambitious. They paraded among the soldiers; they had the centurions at beck and call.²⁶⁰

Agrippina had not remained at home and did accompany her husband on his assignment. Thus, in the camp together and threatened by their own soldiers, Germanicus and his wife embraced each other and little Caius, and broke down in tears.²¹ In Suetonius’ account, the mere sight of Caligula was enough to quell the troops.²² Eventually, Agrippina was persuaded to leave the camp and head for the safety of Augusta Treverorum (Trier).²³ The legion was treated to the distressing spectacle of a respectable Roman woman – the wife, no less, of their commander – and his young son, being forced to leave the camp, to the wailing of the other officers’ wives.²⁶⁴ Particularly galling to the Roman soldiers was the idea that their commander’s wife felt safer in the company of the Treveri nation than amongst her own people, which says something of their own distrust of newly Romanized populations. Hearing the crying, soldiers emerged confounded from their barracks.²⁶⁵ Many were bewildered by what they witnessed. Suetonius adds that, as the carriage departed through the camp, some soldiers tried to restrain and stop it from going any further.²⁶⁶

Still addressing the troops, Germanicus turned the poignant moment to his advantage. Emotional at the sight of his wife departing, he appealled to the reasonable and the patriotic men among the soldiery.²⁶⁷ As related by Tactus, using all his oratorical skill, he evoked the names and achievements of Iulius Caesar, Augustus, and Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus; and spoke of duty, obedience, and of directing their wrath at the enemy. It had the desired effect. Either during the speech or shortly after, the men were moved to action. Responding to his words, the men felt repentant and, hoping to redeem themselves, sought out and handed over the ringleaders of the mutiny.²⁶⁸ Now that the mood had changed, Germanicus acted quickly. The men charged with mutiny appeared before their legionary legates. As presiding military judge, the legate of Legio I, C. Caetronius, summarily tried the offenders in his unit, but did so cunningly, with the active involvement of the soldiery.²⁶⁹ Each of the accused was made to stand upon a raised platform. Beside him, a military tribune stood ready, while the men of the legion waited around below with their swords drawn. The tribune asked if the man was guilty as charged. If the men shouted back affirmatively, the accused was thrown off the platform and stabbed to death by his former comrades.²⁷⁰ It was a gruesome and bloody end to what had been a sorry episode in Rome’s history. Nobody emerged from the affair without some degree of shame or embarrassment, and the army’s reputation for loyalty and discipline had been damaged.

The lessons were not lost on Germanicus, however. He had already addressed the pay and retirement issues. He then removed the older men, who had been quick to side with the mutineers and still had time to serve before they could retire. They were promptly dispatched to Raetia on the pretence that the Suebi were planning a raid.²¹ An attempt was also made to get to the root cause of the soldiers’ grievances. He purged the centurionate to rid it of the worst offending officers, the very men who had demoralized so many of the troops. Each centurion was required to reinterview for his job. Giving his full name and listing his combat history, brave deeds and military awards, he was judged by a panel of tribunes and picked men of the legion. Those judged worthy of commendation were retained. Those judged unanimously to be cruel or rapacious were summarily dismissed (missio ignominiosa).

Restoring the morale of the younger men in the ranks was now of paramount importance to Germanicus. The men of Legiones V and XXI were still resentful, unmoved by the punishments meted out elsewhere or the repentance shown by their brothers-in-arms, and they could yet riot again. He was careful to have a contingency plan. In case they challenged his authority, he considered sending a fleet down-river with men of the legions and the allies, to break them once and for all.²² Enforcing discipline was critical to avoid another mutiny. He allowed an interval of time to pass and then sent a message with a dispatch rider to Caecina.²³ He advised his deputy that he was on his way with a guard, and that he expected him to execute anyone who showed disloyalty, or he would see to it himself. Caecina shared the contents of the letter with the eagle- and unit standard-bearers and the most trusted of the troops. They formulated a plan and determined who was loyal among the soldiers, and who was not to be trusted. When the agreed signal was given, the loyal men, on instructions from Caecina, fell upon the ‘vilest and foremost of the mutineers’ and slaughtered them.²⁷⁴ What followed can only be described as sheer butchery as the absent legate and tribunes gave their men free rein to administer the roughest kind of justice. Yet it soon spiralled out of control. In the confusion, even some of the most loyal men were killed, as the men who were the targets of the attacks now took up arms to defend themselves. When Germanicus finally arrived at the camp, he was appalled by the harrowing scene he encountered. ‘Exclaiming, with a flood of tears, that this was damage rather than remedy’, he ordered the bodies of the dead to be cremated.²⁷⁵ He had not meant it to end with this extent of bloodshed, but nevertheless he was in large part to blame for it, because his written instructions had been open to interpretation by his deputy and those he had consulted.

The soldiers’ demands for their share of Augustus’ legacy were met.²⁷⁶ The men of the other legions were keen to re-establish their good name in the eyes of their commander, and sought to appease the souls of those Romans recently slain by religious means through sacrificing impious beasts.²⁷⁷ What better way was there to satisfy both needs than to focus their energies and pick a fight with a common enemy?²⁷⁸ Issuing orders for the legions to assemble:

Caesar followed up the enthusiasm of the men, and, having bridged over the Rhine, he sent across it 12,000 from the legions, with 26 allied cohortes and 8 cohortes equitata, whose discipline had been without a stain during the mutiny’.²⁷⁹

The Germanic nations of the Rhineland, meanwhile, were celebrating the prolonged absence of the Romans from their territory during the period of mourning for Augustus and the military insurrection. They were not expecting the Roman army to appear on their side of the river any time soon. By forced march, Germanicus’ expeditionary force cut through the Caesian Forest (Caesia silva), which lay between the IJssel and Lippe rivers (map 6).²⁸⁰ They marched on until they reached ‘the barrier which had been begun by Tiberius’ and upon which Germanicus’ men quickly established a camp, with ‘his front and rear being defended by entrenchments, his flanks by timber barricades’.²¹ Then, to leverage the tactical advantage of surprise, the army took a long and circuitous route that was known to be unguarded by the Germans, since they were, according to Roman scouts, drunk from celebrating a feast.²² Caecina had express orders to take his lightly-armed cohorts and clear a way through the woods. Under a clear sky illuminated by the light of the moon, the men made quick work of it and, shortly after, the legions arrived in force. They reached a village of the Marsi nation and surrounded it. They encountered no resistance, but, in the words of Tacitus, ‘peace it certainly was not – merely the languid and heedless ease of halfintoxicated people’.²³ Germanicus now revealed a ruthless side to his nature. He gave orders for his legions to form four columns and to devastate with fire and sword the region for 50 miles around:

Neither sex nor age moved his compassion. Everything, sacred or profane, the temple, too, of Tamfana, as they called it, the special resort of all those tribes, was levelled to the ground. There was not a wound among our soldiers, who cut down a half-asleep, an unarmed, or a straggling foe.²⁸⁴

Map 6. Military operations in Germania Magna, 14–16 CE. (Carlos de la Rocha)

It could hardly be described as a glorious victory, but the point of the exercise was to provide a means for his troops to redeem themselves and, in the process, to rebuild unit cohesion after the divisive events of the previous weeks. In that he succeeded.

The neighbouring Germanic tribes – the Bructeri, Tubantes and Usipetes – soon learned of the general slaughter visited upon the Marsi, and prepared to attack the Romans on their return to the Rhine. Germanicus had, however, also anticipated this risk and:

he marched, prepared both to advance and to fight. Part of the cavalry and some of the auxiliary cohorts led the van; then came the Legio I, and, with the baggage in the centre, the men of XXI closed up the left, those of V, the right flank. Legio XX secured the rear, and, next, were the rest of the allies.²⁸⁵

As the Romans marched home, the Germans tracked them from a distance, coming closer only when they entered forests and were able to use the trees as cover. They pressed the column lightly on the vanguard and flanks, but attacked in force at the rear, where the Romans were most vulnerable, causing confusion in their line. Germanicus showed courage and audacity by riding up to the men of Legio XX who were under attack at the rear and shouting ‘advance, and hasten to turn your guilt into glory!’²⁸⁶ Seeing their commander among them, and roused by his words, the men broke through the dense enemy lines and pushed them back into open country. Meantime, the vanguard had emerged out of the other side of the forest, and began digging a camp for the night in which the expeditionary force then took refuge. The legions returned by daylight to their respective camps for the winter with their honour restored.

At the end of that stressful year, Germanicus returned to Rome.²⁸⁷ Word of his exploits in squashing the mutiny and invading Germania had raced ahead of him. Even as he was still several miles away from the city:

all the Praetorian Cohorts marched out to meet him, notwithstanding the order that only two should go; and all the people of Rome, both men and women of every age, sex, and rank, flocked as far as the twentieth milestone to attend his entrance.²⁸⁸

This outpouring of popular adulation for Germanicus contrasted with the public criticism of Tiberius for his personal handling of the affair in Germania.²⁸⁹ Fortunately for him, they were still unaware of the mutiny still in the process of being quelled by Drusus the Younger in Pannonia, which would have only worsened his standing.²⁹⁰ They accused him of not having been forthcoming with the facts, implying that all was well with the army, while, in fact, it was very far from being so. Further, people remembered that Augustus, even in his advanced years, travelled up to Aquileia and Ticinum to be closer to the front during wartime, whereas Tiberius, in the prime of health, preferred to sit and nit-pick the words of the Senate.²¹ In fact, though he made preparations to travel on several occasions, in the event, he spent the first two years of his principate in Rome.²² On balance, the criticism was probably undeserved. After all, he had given his trusted deputies – his own sons – complete freedom to address the situation as they saw fit, precisely in the manner that Augustus had delegated missions to him before.²³ Indeed, he said publicly, ‘in a free state, both the tongue and the mind ought to be free’.²⁹⁴

Public censure of this kind gnawed at the conscience of a man widely seen as introspective, complex and increasingly paranoid. For Tacitus, it would come to gradually undermine his relationships with those closest to him and Germanicus in particular.²⁹⁵Tiberius faced a difficult balancing act, being both the father and mentor of two boys. Indeed, while Germanicus lived, he maintained an impartial attitude towards the two princes.²⁹⁶ Nevertheless, Tiberius often showed magnanimity to Germanicus.²⁹⁷ He wrote to him and to Agrippina, thanking him for his loyalty, and he praised his greatness (virtus) in glowing terms before the Senate for having crushed the mutiny – in fact, he gave a longer accolade to Germanicus than he did to Drusus the Younger.²⁹⁸ In the face of temptation to take power for himself, Germanicus had unquestioningly shown Tiberius unswerving loyalty. ‘It is difficult to say’, writes Suetonius, ‘whether his regard to filial duty or the firmness of his resolve was most conspicuous’.²⁹⁹ Though privately Tiberius admonished him for having acceded to the wishes of the soldiers, yet he granted the same salary to the legions serving on the Danube as Germanicus had agreed to those on the Rhine.³⁰⁰ Tiberius would not negotiate, however, on the sixteen-year term of service. When his son Drusus (plate 9) failed to bring before the Senate the soldiers’ demand for a restoration of the former service contract, the princeps himself issued an edict ignoring the soldiers’ request, and reconfirmed the new twenty-year term.³¹ In this matter his word was final.

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