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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals


published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1931

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,
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(Vol. III) Tacitus

Book I (continued)

 p273  16 1 So much for the state of affairs in the capital: now came an outbreak of mutiny among the Pannonian legions. There were no fresh grievances; only the change of sovereigns had excited a vision of licensed anarchy and a hope of the emoluments  p275 of civil war. Three legions were stationed together in summer-quarters under the command of Junius Blaesus. News had come of the end of Augustus and the accession of Tiberius; and Blaesus, to allow the proper interval for mourning or festivity, had suspended the normal round of duty. With this the mischief began. The ranks grew insubordinate and quarrelsome — gave a hearing to any glib agitator — became eager, in short, for luxury and ease, disdainful of discipline and work. In the camp there was a man by the name of Percennius, in his early days the leader of a claque at the theatres, then a private soldier with an abusive tongue, whose experience of stage rivalries had taught him the art of inflaming an audience. Step by step, by conversations at night or in the gathering twilight, he began to play on those simple minds, now troubled by a doubt how the passing of Augustus would affect the conditions of service, and to collect about him the off-scourings of the army when the better elements had dispersed.

17 1 At last, when they were ripe for action — some had now become his coadjutors in sedition — he put his question in something like a set speech:— "Why should they obey like slaves a few centurions and fewer tribunes? When would they dare to claim redress, if they shrank from carrying their petitions, or their swords, to the still unstable throne of a new prince? Mistakes enough had been made in all the years of inaction, when white-haired men, many of whom had lost a limb by wounds, were making their thirtieth or fortieth campaign. Even after discharge their warfare was not accomplished: still under canvas by the colours they endured the  p277 old drudgeries under an altered name.1 And suppose that a man survived this multitude of hazards: he was dragged once more to the ends of the earth to receive under the name of a 'farm' some swampy morass or barren mountain-side. In fact, the whole trade of war was comfortless and profitless: ten asses a day was the assessment of body and soul: with that they had to buy clothes, weapons and tents, bribe the bullying centurion and purchase a respite from duty!2 But whip-cut and sword-cut, stern winter and harassed summer, red war or barren peace, — these, God knew, were always with them. Alleviation there would be none, till enlistment took place under a definite contract — the payment to be a denarius a day,3 the sixteenth year to end the term of service, no further period with the reserve to be required, but the gratuity to be paid in money in their old camp. Or did the praetorian cohorts, who had received two denarii a day — who were restored to hearth and home on the expiry of sixteen years — risk more danger? They did not disparage sentinel duty at Rome; still, their own lot was cast among savage clans, with the enemy visible from their very tents."

18 1 The crowd shouted approval, as one point or the other told. Some angrily displayed the marks of the lash, some their grey hairs, most their threadbare  p279 garments and naked bodies. At last they came to such a pitch of frenzy that they proposed to amalgamate the three legions into one. Baffled in the attempt by military jealousies, since each man claimed the privilege of survival for his own legion, they fell back on the expedient of planting the three eagles and the standards of the cohorts4 side by side. At the same time, to make the site more conspicuous, they began to collect turf and erect a platform. They were working busily when Blaesus arrived. He broke into reproaches, and in some cases dragged the men back by force. "Dye your hands in my blood," he exclaimed; "it will be a slighter crime to kill your general than it is to revolt from your emperor. Alive, I will keep my legions loyal, or, murdered, hasten their repentance."

19 1 None the less, the turf kept mounting, and had risen fully breast-high before his pertinacity carried the day and they abandoned the attempt. Blaesus then addressed them with great skill:— "Mutiny and riot," he observed, "were not the best ways of conveying a soldier's aspirations to his sovereign. No such revolutionary proposals had been submitted either by their predecessors to the captains of an earlier day or by themselves to Augustus of happy memory; and it was an ill-timed proceeding to aggravate the embarrassments which confronted a prince on his accession. But if they were resolved to hazard during peace claims unasserted even by the victors of civil wars, why insult the principles of discipline and the habit of obedience by an appeal to violence? They should name deputies and give them instructions in his presence." The answer came in a shout, that Blaesus' son — a tribune — should  p281 undertake the mission and ask for the discharge of all soldiers of sixteen years' service and upwards: they would give him their other instructions when the first had borne fruit. The young man's departure brought comparative quiet. The troops, however, were elated, as the sight of their general's son pleading the common cause showed plainly enough that force had extracted what would never have been yielded to orderly methods.

20 1 Meanwhile there were the companies dispatched to Nauportus5 before the beginning of the mutiny. They had been detailed for the repair of roads and bridges, and on other service, but the moment news came of the disturbance in camp, they tore down their ensigns and looted both the neighbouring villages and Nauportus itself, which was large enough to claim the standing of a town. The centurions resisted, only to be assailed with jeers and insults, and finally blows; the chief object of anger being the camp-marshal, Aufidienus Rufus; who, dragged from his car, loaded with baggage, and driven at the head of the column, was plied with sarcastic inquiries whether he found it pleasant to support these huge burdens, these weary marches. For Rufus, long a private, then a centurion, and latterly a camp-marshal,6 was seeking to reintroduce the iron discipline of the past, habituated as he was to work and toil, and all the more pitiless because he had endured.

21 1 The arrival of this horde gave the mutiny a fresh lease of life, and the outlying districts began to be overrun by wandering marauders. To cow the rest — for the general was still obeyed by the centurions and the respectable members of the rank  p283 and file — Blaesus ordered a few who were especially heavy-laden with booty to be lashed and thrown into the cells. As the escort dragged them away, they began to struggle, to catch at the knees of the bystanders, to call on the names of individual friends, their particular century, their cohort, their legion, clamouring that a similar fate was imminent for all. At the same time they heaped reproaches on the general and invoked high heaven, — anything and everything that could arouse odium or sympathy, alarm or indignation. The crowd flew to the rescue, forced the guard-room, unchained the prisoners, and now took into fellowship deserters and criminals condemned for capital offences.

22 1 After this the flames burned higher; sedition found fresh leaders. A common soldier, Vibulenus by name, was hoisted on the shoulders of the bystanders in front of Blaesus' tribunal, and there addressed the turbulent and curious crowd:— "You, I grant," he said, "have restored light and breath to these innocent and much wronged men; but who restores the life to my brother — who my brother to me? He was sent to you by the army of Germany to debate our common interest — and yesterday night he did him to death by the hands of those gladiators whom he keeps and arms for the extermination of his soldiers.7 Answer me, Blaesus: — Whither have you flung the body? The enemy himself does not grudge a grave! Then, when I have sated my sorrow with kisses, and drowned it with tears, bid them butcher me as well: only, let our comrades here lay us in earth — for we died, not for crime, but because we sought to serve the legions."

23 1 He added to the inflammatory effect of  p285 his speech by weeping and striking his face and breast: then, dashing aside the friends on whose shoulders he was supported, he threw himself headlong and fawned at the feet of man after man, until he excited such consternation and hatred that one party flung into irons the gladiators in Blaesus' service; another, the rest of his household; while the others poured out in search of the corpse. In fact, if it had not come to light very shortly that no body was discoverable, that the slaves under torture denied the murder, and that Vibulenus had never owned a brother, they were within measurable distance of making away with the general. As it was, they ejected the tribunes and camp-marshal and plundered the fugitives' baggage. The centurion Lucilius also met his end. Camp humorists had surnamed him "Fetch-Another," from his habit, as one cane8 broke over a private's back, of calling at the top of his voice for a second, and ultimately a third. His colleagues found safety in hiding: Julius Clemens alone was kept, as the mutineers considered that his quick wits might be of service in presenting their claims. The eighth and fifteenth legions, it should be added, were on the point of turning their swords against each other upon the question of a centurion named Sirpicus, — demanded for execution by the eighth and protected by the fifteenth, — had not the men of the ninth intervened with entreaties and, in the event of their rejection, with threats.

24 1 In spite of his secretiveness, always deepest when the news was blackest, Tiberius was driven by the reports from Pannonia to send out his son Drusus, with a staff of nobles and two praetorian  p287 cohorts. He had no instructions that could be called definite: he was to suit his measures to the emergency. Drafts of picked men raised the cohorts to abnormal strength. In addition, a large part of the praetorian horse was included, as well as the flower of the German troops, who at that time formed the imperial bodyguard. The commandant of the household troops, Aelius Sejanus, who held the office jointly with his father Strabo and exercised a remarkable influence over Tiberius, went in attendance, to act as monitor to the young prince and to keep before the eyes of the rest the prospects of peril or reward. As Drusus approached, the legions met him, ostensibly to mark their loyalty; but the usual demonstrations of joy and glitter of decorations9 had given place to repulsive squalor and to looks that aimed at sadness and came nearer to insolence.

25 1 The moment he passed the outworks, they held the gates with sentries,10 and ordered bodies of armed men to be ready at fixed positions within the camp: the rest, in one great mass, flocked round the tribunal. Drusus stood, beckoning with his hand for silence. One moment, the mutineers would glance back at their thousands, and a roar of truculent voices followed; the next, they saw the Caesar and trembled: vague murmurings, savage yells and sudden stillnesses marked a conflict of passions which left them alternately terrified and terrible. At last, during a lull in the storm, Drusus read over his father's letter, in which it was written that "he had personally a special regard for the heroic legions in whose company he had borne so many campaigns;11 that as soon as his thoughts found a rest from grief, he would state their case to the Conscript Fathers;  p289 meantime he had sent his son to grant without delay any reforms that could be conceded on the spot; the others must be reserved for the senate, a body which they would do well to reflect, could be both generous and severe."

26 1 The assembly replied that Clemens, the centurion, was empowered to present their demands. He began to speak of discharge at the end of sixteen years, gratuities for service completed, payment on the scale of a denarius a day, no retention of time-expired men with the colours. Drusus attempted to plead the jurisdiction of the senate and his father. He was interrupted with a shout:— "Why had he come, if he was neither to raise the pay of the troops nor to ease their burdens — if, in short, he had no leave to do a kindness? Yet death and the lash, Heaven was their witness, were within the competence of anyone! It had been a habit of Tiberius before him to parry the requests of the legions by references to Augustus, and now Drusus had reproduced the old trick. Were they never to be visited by any but these young persons with a father? It was remarkable indeed that the emperor should refer the good of his troops, and nothing else, to the senate. If so, he ought to consult the same senate when executions or battles were the order of the day. Or were rewards to depend on masters, punishments to be without control?"

27 1 At last they left the tribunal, shaking their fists at any guardsman, or member of the Caesar's staff, who crossed their road, in order to supply a ground of quarrel and initiate a resort to arms. They were bitterest against Gnaeus Lentulus, whose superior age and military fame12 led them to  p291 believe that he was hardening Drusus' heart and was the foremost opponent of this degradation of the service. Before long they caught him leaving with the prince: he had foreseen the danger and was making for the winter-camp. Surrounding him, they demanded whither he was going? To the emperor? — or to his Conscript Fathers, there also to work against the good of the legions? Simultaneously they closed in and began to stone him. He was bleeding already from a cut with a missile and had made up his mind that the end was come, when he was saved by the advent of Drusus' numerous escort.

28 1 It was a night of menace and foreboded a day of blood, when chance turned peace-maker: for suddenly the moon was seen to be losing light in a clear sky.13 The soldiers, who had no inkling of the reason, took it as an omen of the present state of affairs: the labouring planet was an emblem of their own struggles, and their road would lead them to a happy goal, if her brilliance and purity could be restored to the goddess! Accordingly, the silence was broken by a boom of brazen gongs and the blended notes of trumpet and horn.14 The watchers rejoiced or mourned15 as their deity brightened or faded, until rising clouds curtained off the view and she set, as they believed, in darkness. Then — so pliable to superstition are minds once unbalanced — they began to bewail the eternal hardships thus foreshadowed and their crimes from which the face of heaven was averted. This turn of the scale, the Caesar reflected, must be put to use: wisdom should  p293 reap where chance had sown. He ordered a round of the tents to be made. Clemens, the centurion, was sent for, along with any other officer whose qualities had made him popular with the ranks. These insinuated themselves everywhere, among the watches, the patrols, the sentries at the gates, suggesting hope and emphasizing fear. "How long must we besiege the son of our emperor? What is to be the end of our factions? Are we to swear fealty to Percennius and Vibulenus? Will Percennius and Vibulenus give the soldier his pay — his grant of land at his discharge? Are they, in fine, to dispossess the stock of Nero and Drusus and take over the sovereignty of the Roman People? Why, rather, as we were the last to offend, are we not the first to repent? Reforms demanded collectively are slow in coming: private favour is quickly earned and as quickly paid." The leaven worked; and under the influence of their mutual suspicions they separated once more recruit from veteran, legion from legion. Then, gradually the instinct of obedience returned; they abandoned the gates and restored to their proper places the ensigns which they had grouped together at the beginning of the mutiny.

29 1 At break of day Drusus called a meeting. He was no orator, but blamed their past and commended their present attitude with native dignity. He was not to be cowed, he said, by intimidation and threats; but if he saw them returning to their duty, if he heard them speaking the language of suppliants, he would write to his father and advise him to lend an indulgent ear to the prayers of the legions. They begged him to do so, and as their deputies to Tiberius sent the younger Blaesus as before, together with  p295 Lucius Aponius, a Roman knight on Drusus' staff, and Justus Catonius, a centurion of the first order. There was now a conflict of opinions, some proposing to wait for the return of the deputies and humour the troops in the meantime by a show of leniency, while others were for sterner remedies:— "A crowd was nothing if not extreme; it must either bluster or cringe; once terrified, it could be ignored with impunity; now that it was depressed by superstition was the moment for the general to inspire fresh terror by removing the authors of the mutiny." Drusus had a natural bias toward severity: Vibulenus and Percennius were summoned and their execution was ordered. Most authorities state that they were buried inside the general's pavilion: according to others, the bodies were thrown outside the lines and left on view.

30 1 There followed a hue and cry after every ringleader of note. Some made blindly from the camp and were cut down by the centurions or by members of the praetorian cohorts: others were handed over by the companies themselves as a certificate of their loyalty. The troubles of the soldiers had been increased by an early winter with incessant and pitiless rains. It was impossible to stir from the tents or to meet in common, barely possible to save the standards from being carried away by hurricane and flood. In addition their dread of the divine anger still persisted: not for nothing, it whispered, was their impiety visited by fading planets and rushing storms; there was no relief from their miseries but to leave this luckless, infected camp, and, absolved from guilt, return every man to his winter-quarters. First the eighth legion, then  p297 the fifteenth, departed. The men of the ninth had insisted loudly on waiting for Tiberius' letter: soon, isolated by the defection of the rest, they too made a virtue of what threatened to become a necessity. Drusus himself, since affairs were settled enough at present, went back to Rome without staying for the return of the deputies.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 In 16 B.C., Augustus, the creator to standing army, fixed the period of service at sixteen consecutive years for the legionaries and twelve for the guards. Two decades later, the terms were prolonged to twenty and sixteen years respectively, at the end of which the time-expired man was entitled to a monetary bounty in lieu of the grant of land which had been the rule for the past half-century. Veterans choosing, after discharge, to remain in the service were kept, not with the standard (signum), but under colours of their own (vexillum); whence the aliud vocabulum, as Percennius puts it, of vexillarii. Theoretically, at least, they were exempt from the routine work of the legionaries, and formed a species of corps d'élite of seasoned fighting men.

2 For a commentary on this sentence see the Histories I.46.

3 In the Second Punic War the value of the as sank from a tenth of a sixteenth of the denarius. As the troops still received the same fraction (a third) of the denarius, their pay was now 5⅓ asses a day, the amount was doubled by Julius Caesar, and stood thenceforward at 10 asses, the fraction being neglected. Percennius now demands the full denarius (a day-labourer's wage) of 16 asses.

4 i.e. the standards of the three maniples in each cohort — thirty in each legion.

5 Ober-Laybach, some ten miles to the south-west of Laybach (the Jugoslav Ljubljana).

6 A new class of officers, rendered necessary by the creation of the standing army with its permanent camps for the legions. Found only in the first two centuries after Christ, and recruited largely from centuries of long service, their disciplinary powers did not, in strictness, extend to capital punishment (see below, chap. 38).

7 Actually, in order to give exhibitions in the province: a custom afterwards prohibited by Nero (XIII.31).

8 The vine-rod, the familiar emblem of the centurionship.

9 That the Dona militaria, worn on full-dress occasions, are meant seems to be shown by Hist. II.89, ceteri iuxta suam quisque centuriam, armis donisque fulgentes.

10 In order to exclude the main body of Drusus' escort.

11 Once in 12‑9 B.C., when he pushed forward the frontier to the Upper Danube; and again in 6‑9 A.D., in the extremely grave crisis occasioned by the revolt of Pannonia and Dalmatia.

12 If he was thirty-five years of age at the time of his consulate (18 B.C.), he would be now in his sixty-seventh year; his "military fame" rested on his campaign on the Danube against the southern Daci (Getae). See the short and Roman epitaph in IV.44 init.

13 September 26, at 3 A.M.

14 Procul auxiliantia gentes Aera crepant (Stat. Theb. VI.686). References to this method of aiding the moon in her struggle with witchcraft, sickness, or the jaws of malignant monsters, are common enough: the custom, in fact, is (or has been) world-wide. See, for example, the interesting account in the first volume of Tylor's Primitive Culture (pp330‑34), and, for the views of a more sophisticated soldier, Amm. Marc. XX.3.

15 "In our own times, a writer on French folklore was surprised during a lunar eclipse to hear sighs and exclamations, 'Mon Dieu, qu'elle est souffrante.' " — Tylor, l.c.

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