[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Book IV
Chapter IV

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Book IV
Chapter VI

Book IV: Pater Patriae

 p303  Chapter V

The Shadow in the North

Communi fit vitio naturae ut invisis, latitantibus, atque incognitis rebus confidamus vehementiusque exterreamur.


Out of the North

All ill comes forth.

Northumbrian Proverb.

There was one problem of empire for which Augustus did not find even a provisional solution, the problem of the frontier. We cannot be certain about the policy of Julius. Undoubtedly he intended to conquer Parthia and push the Roman border in the East beyond the Mesopotamian plain. If he had lived and had been ten years younger he might have attempted also to make of Germany a second Gaul. But these would have been conquests, not frontier adjustments. Julius was a great soldier, and a soldier, even when he is a statesman, is always tempted to practice his art.

After Actium Augustus had no wish to increase the Roman territories; he had far too heavy a task before him in administering them within their present confines. His aim was to find a border-line which could be easily and economically defended, and if in the quest for a scientific frontier he was compelled to enlarge their bounds — an enlargement of which he boasts in the Res Gestae — this was by accident and not by design. His problem was that of Britain on the north-west border of India, to create a system, whether by a garrisoned frontier or by buffer states, which would give reasonable protection to the civilized lands under his rule. From the start he regarded the Danube as the natural boundary — perhaps Julius had bequeathed him the precept — for it not only gave him a river line, but, as we have seen, it  p304 safeguarded one of the great strategic overland routes of the empire, that from Aquileia to Byzantium. It is more difficult to see his reasons for the extension on the west, since the Elbe was no easier a river to defend than the Rhine. The simplest explanation is that he desired to shorten the frontier and get rid of an awkward angle. The Elbe and the Danube between them made a logical northern border, which must also include the mountain quadrilateral encircling Bohemia.

It was a policy for which much can be said, but, as Augustus and his successors found, it had no finality. Before A.D. 6 Roman influence had crossed the Danube, and Dacia, the present Transylvania, was a submissive neighbour since the downfall of Burebista. It may be that Augustus's plan had by this time been widened in scope and included the conquest of Dacia, which Trajan later achieved, as well as the control of Bohemia. Such an extension would have given Rome the whole of the Danube basin. But the search for a scientific frontier on this side of the empire was a fruitless business in the absence of either of the great boundary lines of nature, the sea or an unscalable mountain range. If the eagles marched to the Elbe, why not to the Vistula? And the Vistula would have been no abiding line, for it could be turned on the north. Some have argued that the failure to annex and civilize the German plain led to the ultimate downfall of the empire, since that plain was a re‑entrant angle in the imperial defences, a wedge which could be used to split them, a corridor and a place of meeting for the hordes from the North and East. But, even if this geographical fact had been grasped by Augustus, such an enterprise might well have seemed to him beyond the power of Rome, cumbered already with so many duties. And the probability is that it was not grasped, for his information about the plain was sketchy; he thought of it as merely swamp and forest, and he could not have divined the peril which was slowly moving from the Asian steppes.

 p305  I

The Bohemian Campaign In 9 B.C. Drusus had reached the Elbe. From 13 to 9 B.C. first Agrippa and then Tiberius had been engaged in annual campaigns with the Pannonian tribes of Save and the Drave, and had conquered all the valley of the former river between Siscia (Sissak) and Sirmium (Mitrovitza), and advanced the frontier to the Danube. In his last campaign Drusus had attacked the Marcomanni in the Main valley, and one of their princes, Marbod (Maroboduus), fearing encirclement by Rome, persuaded his tribe to move eastward and occupy the hill country of Bohemia. There he speedily acquired power and prestige, and was on the way to found for himself a kingdom which would have endangered Roman interests on the Danube. Hitherto he had been on friendly terms with Rome, but she could not permit a second Pyrrhus to appear on her border, so some time before 2 B.C. L. Domitius Ahenobarbus led an army from the Danube to the Elbe. About the same time another army, marching up the frontier between Bohemia and Dacia, isolated the former country on the east. The result of a series of campaigns, of which the records are scanty, was that in A.D. 6 Rome was in a position to begin the conquest of Marbod and the Bohemian quadrilateral.

Tiberius, on his return from Rhodes in A.D. 4, had to hasten to the Rhine frontier, where Ahenobarbus had been having trouble with the Cherusci. He advanced as far as the Weser and received the submission of all the north-west German tribes, wintering somewhere near the head of the Lippe. Next year he crossed the Weser, defeated the Langobardi, and was joined on the Elbe by his fleet, which had sailed round by Jutland. The way was now prepared for the conquest of Bohemia. His plan was that he should march north from Carnuntum on the Danube, while Sentius Saturninus should move eastward from the Rhine to join him by way of the Main valley. Large forces were available, three legions on the Rhine, two in Rhaetia, five in Illyria and three in Moesia,  p306 and it is possible that the actual expeditionary force was twelve legions, or some sixty thousand men.1

Tiberius and Saturninus had almost reached the meeting-place when ominous news came from the south. The Pannonians had risen; all Illyria was aflame. Tiberius acted like the good soldier he was. He succeeded in getting word to Saturninus bidding him return to the Rhine, for no man knew how the fire would spread. To Marbod he offered peace and recognition as king and friend of Rome, and the leader of the Marcomanni wisely accepted the terms, for he was statesman as well as soldier.

The Pannonian Revolt The primary cause of the insurrection seems to have been the requisitioning of supplies and the enrolment of recruits for the Bohemian war before the Dalmatian and Pannonian peoples had realized the Roman strength. Their conquest was too recent, and they had learned something of Rome's ways without understanding the weight of her hand. The first outbreak was in the south among the Dalmatians, where a certain Bato raised at Serajevoº — ominous name — the standard of revolt, massacred Roman merchants and overpowered the slender garrisons. It soon spread to the Pannonians in the lower Save valley, whose leader was another Bato. They closed in on Sirmium, the principal Roman centre, and the situation became highly critical. In the east there was a chance of the rising setting all Thrace and the Balkans afire. In the west the road was open to Italy, for the rebels had only to cross the Julian Alps to be within a day's march of Aquileia. Moreover they were formidable fighting men, for many had served as auxiliaries, and had acquired the Roman discipline.

Tiberius kept his head. He completed his compact with Marbod, and in the early autumn marched south from the Danube, sending ahead the governor of Illyria, Messalinus.2 The two Batos had revealed the old weakness of barbarians, an incapacity for concerted action. The Dalmatian had wasted time attacking Salonae  p307 (Salona) and raiding as far south as Apollonia. The Pannonian, with a wiser instinct, had hurled himself on Sirmium, but he was too slow, for Caecina Severus, the new governor of the province of Moesia, was able to come up in time to save it. Meanwhile Messalinus had fought his way to Siscia, and five legions guarded the road to Italy. The gate had been closed just in time. The position now was that Tiberius held the keys of the west and north, Siscia and Sirmium, but everything south of the Save was in the enemy's hands. Siscia was secure, but Sirmium was in jeopardy, for the Pannonian Bato held the mountain north of the city. Rhoemetalces, the Thracian king, came to its assistance, but could not dislodge the besiegers, and, when presently Caecina Severus had to return to his own province to ward off Dacian attacks, on the Thracians fell the difficult task of preventing the fall of the city by harassing with a small force a powerful enemy. Tiberius realized that this was an affair not of one great battle, but of a slow wearing down of his opponents by famine and attrition. The pride of power which had conceived the Bohemian expedition had vanished utterly, and far into A.D. 7 the situation was a dangerous stalemate.

In Rome the anxiety was intense. She had become accustomed to easy conquests and had regarded all the land south of the Danube as securely under her rule. Now not only were Dalmatia and Pannonia in revolt, but the Dacians were marching, Thrace was not too safe, and at any moment the smouldering embers in Germany might burst into flame. She suddenly discovered that she was trying to hold a great empire with inadequate forces. There were no reserve legions which could be spared from the West, and the most that could be done was to recall veterans to the standards and to raise volunteer companies, chiefly among liberated slaves. Something could be got from the East, but that would take time, and meanwhile there was the vital point of Sirmium in peril, and the army of Moesia, busy with its own urgent tasks, unable to relieve it. To add to his anxieties Augustus had a famine on his hands, and so straitened were Rome's finances that he was compelled  p308 to impose new taxes, to suspend official banquets, and cut down the public games.

During A.D. 7 Tiberius at Siscia continued his Fabian policy. Sirmium was the key, but Sirmium could not be relieved until Caecina and the army of Moesia were reinforced. Bitter words were spoken of him in Rome; it was rumoured that he was spinning out the war so that he might be hailed as a saviour: but he refused to alter his plans. He divided his army into contingents, to occupy strategic points and clear special districts, thereby keeping the Dalmatian rebels from cultivating the soil and replenishing their commissariat. He would not think of a pitched battle until he was ready for it. Before the end of the year the Moesian army, reinforced from the East, could muster five legions as well as auxiliary troops, under Caecina and Plautius Silvanus. The two Batos had now joined hands, and, while still holding the high ground north of Sirmium, endeavoured to stop the western march of the Romans up the Save. At a neck of firm ground, where the road crossed the Volcaean Marshes, there was fought at last a field action, which narrowly missed being a Roman disaster. With a better intelligence service, and with troops trained to the difficult country, the two Batos all but succeeded in surprising the Romans while in the act of forming camp. The Thracian cavalry broke, and many of the auxiliaries were routed, but the legions held their ground and beat off the enemy. Caecina and Silvanus were free to join Tiberius at Siscia, where there was now a huge concentration. Germanicus, the young son of Drusus, a quaestor for that year, had arrived with reinforcements, and Augustus himself was at Ariminum to watch the campaign; he knew the country, for forty years before he had captured Siscia. Tiberius now disposed of a force consisting of ten legions, eighty regiments of auxiliaries, the Thracian cavalry, and an unknown number of volunteers and veterans from Rome. He controlled the valley of the Save and was able to deploy these armies on a wide front; he himself at Siscia, Silvanus at Sirmium, and Caecina guarding the Moesian border.

Final Operations The long campaign was nearing its end. Next year,  p309 A.D. 8, the Pannonian Bato despaired of his cause and went over to Rome; but he was captured and slain by the Dalmatian Bato, who fomented a fresh Pannonian revolt. He in turn was defeated by Silvanus and retired southward into the Dalmatian hills. Next year came the final rounding up. Tiberius was able to visit Rome and consult with Augustus, while Germanicus succeeded in capturing three important Dalmatian fortresses. On his return to the field, the commander-in‑chief organized the final operations. The consular Aemilius Lepidus entered the country from the north-west and Silvanus from the north-east, while Tiberius and Germanicus followed Bato and ran him to earth in a rock fortress near Salonae. The Dalmatian leader surrendered on terms, and was imprisoned at Ravenna. The three years' war was over.

It was the most serious military problem which Augustus had to face, for it touched the empire at a vital point. The loss of Illyria would have made a dangerous fissure between East and West. Moreover, the Dalmatian and Pannonian revolts revealed a certain mismanagement in provincial administration which must have given the Princeps food for thought, for it was in defiance of the spirit of his rule. "You Romans," Bato told Tiberius, "have yourself to thank for it, since to protect your sheep you send not dogs or shepherds, but wolves." As it was, Illyria became an integral part of the empire and formed a secure base for the development of the Danubian provinces. Three centuries later it produced great emperors and the best of the legions. The campaign is the chief title of Tiberius to military fame. He made no mistake, but, eschewing melodramatic short-cuts, in spite of the clamour from Rome, he broke the enemy by the only methods possible — starvation, attrition, and a slow, deadly scientific envelopment. He kept, too, his motley forces in good discipline and good temper, for he treated his men humanely, fed them well, and took exemplary care of the sick and wounded. The rebellion, which may be described as the Batonian war,3  p310 put an end to all grandiose schemes of expansion to the north. Augustus was well content that the frontier should be the Danube.


For the moment Tiberius enjoyed in Rome a mild popularity. His victory was duly acclaimed by Senate and People; he was given the title of Imperator and awarded a triumph, while the young Germanicus was granted the triumphal insignia and the right to be consul before the legal age. That was in the early autumn. But while the man in the street was discussing the latest details of the Illyrian campaign and the secretaries of Augustus were estimating its cost, news came from Germany which turned the modest satisfaction of the capital into terror and shame. Roman arms had met a second Carrhae.4

Rome's eyes had always looked anxiously to the North. Gaul, before the conquests of Julius, had been largely an unknown land, and being unknown it was feared. At any moment out of those northern wilds might come a new torrent which no second Marius could stem. Now Gaul was a docile and familiar country, and its place as a terra incognita had been taken by Germany. Pytheas, the Greek from Marseilles, had journeyed to Britain in the fourth century B.C., and had given the world the names of "Thule," which perhaps was northern Norway, and "Teutones." Polybius knew of a German people near the Danube estuary, and Posidonius, who continued his history, first distinguished the Germans from the Celts and the Scythians. But in the age of Augustus there was little detailed knowledge, and the writers of the first century A.D., like Pomponius Mela, the elder Pliny and even Tacitus, while they realized the distinctive character of the German races, had no real understanding of the land or the people. A certain number of denationalized Germans lived west of the Rhine, but for the country to the east of the river there was only  p311 the news brought back by Drusus's soldiers and by bold merchants who had penetrated its recesses. As a consequence a bleak picture had been constructed in the Roman imagination. The German ForestsGermany was one vast domain of swamp and forest, a nine days' march from north to south, and of incalculable extent from west to east. Rains and mist blew over it at all seasons, and there were no easy avenues of approach, like the open downs and the wide shallow vales of Gaul. Rome had heard of the forest-dwellers in the Taunus, the Harz and the Teutoburger Wald, the forerunners of the Franks and the Thuringians; she had heard, too, of wild races who inhabited the sandy plains south of the Baltic, and of wilder folk in the frozen lands beyond that sea. So she thought of the country as a nightmare, and of its peoples as the uttermost barbarians in habit and creed.

Some of her picture was true. Throughout the Middle Ages the Taunus and the Harz had about them an aura of the uncanny as the last haunt of the primeval gods. The Romans, accustomed to open country and long prospects, feared the great forests, so vast that a man might march all day without seeing the sun, and so dense that a squirrel could travel for leagues without having to touch the ground. Moreover, the trees there were not the kind they knew. In the western parts there were oak and ash and elm, but the further one went the blacker the woods grew, until there was nothing but the inky darkness of pines.

The people were like their dwelling-place. They did not live in compact towns, but in villages such as can be seen to‑day in Scandinavia, where the cottages straggled over a wide extent of country, and all around lay the shaggy mat of the forest. In the nearer woods they herded their droves of swine, and further afield they hunted deer and bear and bison. The hunters lived by themselves in clearings: they were the Men of the Mark, the chief warriors, a foreshadowing of the feudal squires. There were no temples for their dark divinities, only sacred groves, such as that described by Adam of Bremen, and sacred trees — maypoles for festivals, but also dule-trees, where swung outlaws and captives of war.  p312 Such trees were dedicated to Wodin, their chief god. Their theology was what we should expect from men living among the glooms and broken lights of the primeval forest, hearing strange noises in the tree-tops when the thunder crashed, and awful voices in the wind. Wodin had a special sanctuary, somewhere between the Elbe and the Oder, and to him alone were human sacrifices offered. No man, as Tacitus tells us, might enter that sanctuary without a chain about his neck to show his submission to the god. There was a second holy place on the island of Rügen, where Nerthus, the Earth-goddess, was worshipped; once a year she was brought in procession to the mainland in a car which, like the Ark of the Covenant, none but the priests might approach.5 There were other divinities: the Thunder‑god, Thor, the deity of the plain man; Tyr the Warrior; and Balder, the young Apollo of the North. But the real divinity was the forest itself, for it was out of the forest trees, the ash and the elm, that the old gods had fashioned the first pair of human beings. Their Olympus was a bright country in the sunset, Asgard, from which the rainbow made a bridge to earth, and to which, after death, went the spirits of the good and brave. There was dark cruelty in the faith, but there was also profundity and beauty, and centuries later, in the Elder Edda, it was to blossom into high imaginings.

The forests were also the home of magic. There was a race of wise women, like the Norse Vôlvas, gigantic beings who appeared to men in dreams. Drusus had met one of them who foretold his death. There were also the maids of Wodin, the Valkyries, who rode through the night skies to choose the slain in battle. The peasant, returning home in the twilight, heard the wild swans whistling overhead and felt himself in the presence of the unseen. It was a land where portents crowded in on everyday life, and Rome, hearing the rumour of them, knew that the North was very near the brink of things. For there, as Tacitus believed, the noise of the dawn could be heard, and the light of the sun's setting lingered  p313 on till its rising, so that there were no stars. "Illic usque tantum Natura." In such a domain of magic the legions were not fighting with man only, but with the princes and powers of the air.

Varus During the Pannonian revolt there had been an ominous quiet on the German frontier. The commander of the Roman army there was P. Quintilius Varus, who had been governor of Syria in 6 B.C. Varus seems to have been more of the courtier than the soldier, though the disaster which he suffered may have led the Roman historians to describe him unfairly; in Syria he feathered his nest so successfully that in two years he raised himself from poverty to opulence; his steady preferment may have been due to the fact that he married a great-niece of Augustus.6 He was unaccustomed to administrative work in a wild country, and had assumed from the easy success of Tiberius before his arrival that Germany could be treated like any other Roman province. Accordingly he levied taxes on the Syrian model, was tactless in his handling of the tribes, and refused to heed the warnings of those of his officers who had some knowledge of the land. He had under him five legions and a mass of auxiliary infantry and cavalry. Three of the legions he led in person and two were in charge of an experienced soldier, his nephew, Lucius Asprenas. Of the discontent among the tribes, especially the Cherusci, he seems to have had no inkling.

Germany east of the Rhine was held by isolated Roman posts, and by one strongly entrenched garrison at Aliso on the Lippe. In September A.D. 9 Varus was at his summer camp on the west bank of the Weser (near the modern Blomberg) in the territory of the Cherusci, and was about to start back for his winter quarters, Vetera Castra near Xanten on the Rhine. ArminiusThe Cheruscan chief, Sigimerus, had a son Arminius, who had served in the Roman army and won Roman citizenship.7 To him  p314 there came the dream of freeing his countrymen from the Roman yoke. His father, also a Roman citizen, refused to join in the project, and sent a warning to Varus. But Arminius, who had brought the neighbouring tribes into the plot, had the ear of the Roman general, and at dinner the night before his departure told him of trouble among the Chauci and the Bructeri which he would do well to suppress on his way to the Rhine. This meant a circuitous route to the north-west in difficult country, where Arminius had prepared an ambush. Some of the loyal Germans warned Varus that the tale was false, but they were not believed. Arminius and his fellow-conspirators were actually entrusted with certain detachments from the legions, which they declared they needed for the escort of the supply trains they had undertaken to furnish.

Next morning Varus set out in stormy autumn weather, accompanied by women and children and great quantities of baggage, for his journey was not a punitive expedition but a mere shifting of quarters. Arminius and the conspirators accompanied him for some way until he was well into a land of thick forests. There they left him, in order, as they said, to assemble the tribes to help in quelling the alleged revolt. Varus found himself in a pathless country where his troops had to hew their way through a mass of undergrowth, and in many places to build causeways for the waggons to move. He found another thing. As if by the touch of unseen hands, great trees would topple down to his left and right and behind him. They had been already cut in half through in the German fashion, and before the Romans knew it they had an abattis on every side of them. Suddenly from behind the tangle came flights of arrows and javelins, and they realized that the enemy was upon them, and that this enemy was Arminius himself.

Varus was doomed from the start, for he had sent out no scouts and had made no provision for supports, as Julius had done when he had a like experience in his war with the Nervii.8 He swung round and tried to make  p315 for the fort of Aliso, burned his waggons, and that night struggled out to more open ground. But next day he was again forced into the forest, and in a deluge of rain the doomed column wrestled through swamps and undergrowth, blinded by the storm, crippled by falling trees, and all the while exposed to the enemy's sharp-shooters. On the third day the end came.9 A cavalry regiment tried to cut its way to the Rhine, but failed. Varus and many members of his staff took their lives. A few legionaries escaped, some died fighting, but most surrendered and were crucified or beheaded as offerings to the gods. It was a repetition on a greater scale of what had befallen Sabinus and Aurunculeius Cotta in the Gallic revolt sixty-three years before, but there was now no Julius to snatch victory from disaster. Arminius had meanwhile slaughtered the legionary detachments which he had borrowed, and now every Roman post east of the Rhine fell to him, except Aliso. There a good soldier was in charge, one Lucius Caedicius, who first beat off the enemy attack, and then on a dark night cut his way out, and led troops, women and children safely to Xanten. For a moment it seemed as if the conqueror might sweep into Gaul, but Lucius Asprenas hurried down from Mainz with the two legions that remained of the army in Germany, and the Rhine was secure.10

The affair of the Teutoburger Wald was a heavy blow, not only to Roman pride, but to the whole new frontier policy. It had been due not to cowardice, for the legions died bravely, but to rashness and ignorance. Rome had misunderstood the nature of Germany, and the uncertain tenure which mere military demonstrations in force gave her over a proud people. The chief blame rested not on Varus but on Augustus and Tiberius. Arminius was a tribal, not a national, leader, for the Germans were even less than the Gauls a nation, and Tacitus, in his desire  p316 to exalt the repute of Germanicus, has made of him a more grandiose figure than is warranted by the facts. But he was beyond doubt a brilliant guerilla commander, though he does not rise to the heights of Vercingetorix, the great opponent of Julius. The rest of his story is soon told. After the death of Augustus the young Germanicus was given the German command, crossed the Rhine, and while Caecina Severus moved up from the south in support, dealt with the Chauci and Cherusci. He won various small successes, but he did not subjugate the land, and, in spite of his eight legions, he did not conquer Arminius. But he avenged in Roman eyes Varus's disgrace, and buried the Roman skulls which he found fixed to the trees in the sacred groves. The stand of Arminius against Germanicus was a finer performance than his conquest of Varus. His fate was that which seems to dog all tribal leaders, for in A.D. 19, when he attempted to make himself king of the Cherusci, he perished by the jealousy of his kinsmen. Similar was the destiny of Marbod, who has been rightly called the first statesman in the history of the German race. He had shown his wisdom by making peace with Tiberius at the outset of the Pannonian revolt, and by refusing an alliance with Arminius when the latter sent him the head of Varus. Presently he found himself in the field against Arminius, and, though he held his own, his kingdom began to crumble. Rome refused him help, being not averse to see the fall of one who had given her much anxiety. His end was exile at Ravenna for eighteen melancholy years.

The consternation in Rome made his Pannonian triumph impossible for Tiberius and sent him post-haste to the Rhine. He did not yet know the extent of the German revolt, but he realized that, but for the waste of time over the siege of Aliso, Arminius might have been across the Rhine and ravaging the fields of Gaul. It was not the only time in history that an enemy's entanglement with a fortress has saved the situation. But on his arrival he found things less bad than he had feared. He refused to attempt the recovery of the lost ground, and  p317 contented himself with strengthening the Rhine garrisons. The three lost legions — XVII, XVIII and XIX — were not replaced, but remained a gap in the army list; and the lost eagles were not recovered, so Arminius could boast that Roman standards remained hung up in the German groves.11 Extemporized corps of veterans and volunteers were hurried to the Rhine to join the forces of Asprenas, and presently other legions were added from Spain and Illyria, so that that frontier was held by no less than eight12 — a precaution which was the measure of the Roman fears. In A.D. 11 Tiberius had a summer camp a little east of the river, but, neither then nor in the following year, did he attempt any reprisals. Late in A.D. 12 he returned to Rome to celebrate his delayed Pannonian triumph, leaving to Germanicus the wardenship of the marches.

End of Frontier Expansion With Varus perished the policy of frontier expansion into which Augustus had drifted. He now realized that to extend Roman territory to regions which it required an army to hold, was a burden which the empire could not support. It would involve the employment of auxiliary troops on a dangerous scale, and an expenditure which would disorganize his whole scheme of finance. Moreover, there was the risk that Rome, by such an advance, might weld what were still separate tribes into a nation. So with the cordial assent of Tiberius he fell back upon his old frontier conservatism. It was the one great check which he had met in his career, and it cut him to the heart. For a time he let his hair and beard grow in token of mourning; for the few remaining years of his life he fasted on the anniversary of the calamity; and he was often heard to cry, as if the words were unconsciously wrung from him, "Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!"13 The legend of Rome's invincibility had been shattered.

Yet Rome had had many defeats in her record, and  p318 there must have been a special reason for the profound impression made by the German disaster. The explanation is that she was now faced with something which she did not understand, which she could not assess, and which she therefore feared and magnified. An enemy like Parthia was a formidable but intelligible thing, which could be beaten if it were worth her while to take the necessary trouble. But this menace from the North was intangible and evasive, with a mystery about it which unnerved the clear Roman mind. In the later campaign of Germanicus, Caecina saw the ghost of the dead Varus beckoning to him out of the marshes, and the tale is a parable of the Roman mood. Upon a civilization, essentially urban and of the South, fell the awe of those wild things of the North which in the end destroyed it.

[image ALT: A schematic map of the Mediterranean and the areas bordering it, as they were during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus.]

The Empire under Augustus

[A much larger version, fully readable, opens here (1.9 MB).]

The Author's Notes:

1 See, however, Syme in J. R. S. (1932), XXII.25.

2 A son of Messalla Corvinus.

3 This name is actually found in an inscription. Dessau, 2673. The narrative given above is a reconstruction from most imperfect authorities — Dio LV.29‑34, LVI.11‑17; Vell. II.110 sqq. Suet. Tib. 16.

4 On the exact date of the German disaster see Rice Holmes, II.174‑6.

5 Tac. Germ. 40.

6 Claudia Pulchra, granddaughter of Octavia and niece of the young Marcellus.

7 According to von Rohden (Pauly-Wissowa, II.1190) the German name Hermann has no connection with Arminius.

8 de bell. Gall. II.1722.

9 The actual site of the disaster was probably in the Teutoburger Wald somewhere between Osnabrück and Detmold; but no topic has given rise to more speculation among scholars from Melanchthon to Mommsen and E. Meyer. The different views (and also the question of the site of Aliso) have been examined by Rice Holmes, II.164‑74.

10 The authorities for the disaster of Varus are Vell. II.117 sqq.; Tac. Ann. I.58 sqq.; Germ. 37; Dio LVI.18 sqq.

11 Tac. Ann. I.59.

12 These seem to have been I, V, XX and XXI in lower Germany, and II, III, XIV and XVI in upper Germany. See Syme, J. R. S. (1932), XXII.29.

13 Suet. Div. Aug. 23.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 23 Aug 17