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I.31‑54

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals

of
Tacitus

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,
please let me know!


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I.72‑81

(Vol. III) Tacitus
Annals

Book I (continued)

p335 55 1 Drusus Caesar and Gaius Norbanus were now consuls, and a triumph was decreed to Germanicus with the war still in progress. He was preparing to prosecute it with his utmost power in the summer; but in early spring he anticipated matters by a sudden raid against the Chatti.1 Hopes had arisen p337that the enemy was becoming divided between Arminius2 and Segestes: both famous names, one for perfidy towards us, the other for good faith. Arminius was the troubler of Germany: Segestes had repeatedly given warning of projected risings, especially at the last great banquet which preceded the appeal to arms; when he urged Varus to arrest Arminius, himself, and the other chieftains, on the ground that, with their leaders out of the way, the mass of the people would venture nothing, while he would have time enough later to discriminate between guilt and innocence. Varus, however, succumbed to his fate and the sword of Arminius;3 Segestes, though forced into the war by the united will of the nation, continued to disapprove, and domestic episodes embittered the feud: for Arminius by carrying off his daughter, who was pledged to another, had made himself the hated son-in‑law of a hostile father, and a relationship which cements the affection of friends now stimulated the fury of enemies.

56 1 Germanicus, then, after handing over to Caecina four legions, with five thousand auxiliaries and a few German bands drawn at summary notice from the west bank of the Rhine, took the field himself with as many legions and double the number of allies. Erecting a fort over the remains of his father's works on Mount Taunus,4 he swept his army at full speed against the Chatti: Lucius Apronius was left behind to construct roads and bridges. For owing to the drought — a rare event under those skies — and the consequent shallowness of the streams, Germanicus had pushed on without a check; and rains and floods were to be apprehended on the p339return journey. Actually, his descent was so complete a surprise to the Chatti that all who suffered from the disabilities of age or sex were immediately taken or slaughtered. The able-bodied males had swum the Eder,5 and, as the Romans began to bridge it, made an effort to force them back. Repelled by the engines and discharges of arrows, they tried, without effect, to negotiate terms of peace: a few then came over to Germanicus, while the rest abandoned their townships and villages, and scattered through the woods. First burning the tribal headquarters at Mattium,6 the Caesar laid waste the open country, and turned back to the Rhine, the enemy not daring to harass the rear of the withdrawing force — their favorite manoeuvre in cases where strategy rather than panic has dictated their retreat. The Cherusci7 had been inclined to throw in their lot with the Chatti, but were deterred by a series of rapid movements on the part of Caecina: the Marsi, who hazarded an engagement, he checked in a successful action.

57 1 It was not long before envoys arrived from Segestes with a petition for aid against the violence of his countrymen, by whom he was besieged, Arminius being now the dominant figure, since he advocated war. For with barbarians the readier a man is to take a risk so much the more is he the man to trust, the leader to prefer when action is afoot. Segestes had included his son Segimundus in the embassy, though conscience gave the youth pause. For in the year when the Germanies revolted, priest though he was, consecrated at the Altar of the Ubians,8 he had torn off his fillets and fled to join the rebels. Once persuaded, however, that he could still hope p341in Roman clemency, he brought his father's message, and, after a kind reception, was sent over with a guard to the Gallic bank. Germanicus thought it worth his while to turn back, engaged the blockading forces, and rescued Segestes with a large company of his relatives and dependants. They included some women of high birth, among them the wife of Arminius, who was at the same time the daughter of Segestes, though there was more of the husband than the father in that temper which sustained her, unconquered to a tear, without a word of entreaty, her hands clasped tightly in the folds of her robe and her gaze fixed on her heavy womb. Trophies even of the Varian disaster were brought in — booty allotted in many cases to the very men now surrendering. Segestes himself was present, a huge figure, dauntless in the recollection of treaties honourably kept.

58 1 His words were to the following effect:— "This is not my first day of loyalty and constancy to the people of Rome. From the moment when the deified Augustus made me a Roman citizen I have chosen my friends and my enemies with a view to your interests: not from hatred of my own country (for the traitor is loathsome even to the party of his choice), but because I took the advantage of Rome and Germany to be one, and peace a better thing than war. For that reason I accused Arminius — to me the abductor of a daughter, to you the violator of a treaty — in presence of Varus, then at the head of your army. Foiled by the general's delay, and knowing how frail were the protections of the law, I begged him to lay in irons Arminius, his accomplices, and myself. That night is my witness, which I would to God had been my last! What followed may p343be deplored more easily than defended. Still, I have thrown my chains on Arminius: I have felt his partisans throw theirs on me. And now, at my first meeting with you, I prefer old things to new, calm to storm — not that I seek a reward, but I wish to free myself from the charge of broken trust, and to be at the same time a meet intercessor for the people of Germany, should it prefer repentance to destruction. For my son and the errors of his youth I ask a pardon. My daughter, I own, is here only by force. It is for you to settle which shall count the more — that she had conceived by Arminius, or that she was begotten by me."

The Caesar's reply was generous: to his relatives and children he promised indemnity: to himself, a residence in the old province.9 Then he returned with his army, and at the instance of Tiberius took the title of Imperator. Arminius' wife gave birth to a male child, who was brought up at Ravenna: the humiliation which he had to suffer later I reserve for the proper place.10

59 1 The report of Segestes' surrender and his gracious reception, once it became generally known, was heard with hope or sorrow by the advocates or opponents of war. Arminius, violent enough by nature, was driven frantic by the seizure of his wife and the subjugation to slavery of her unborn child. He flew through the Cherusci, demanding war against Segestes, war against the Caesar. There was no sparing of invectives:— "A peerless father! a great commander! a courageous army! whose united powers had carried off one wretched woman. Before his own sword three legions, three generals, had fallen. For he practised war, not by the help of p345treason nor against pregnant women, but in open day and against men who carried arms. In the groves of Germany were still to be seen the Roman standards which he had hung aloft to the gods of their fathers. Let Segestes inhabit the conquered bank, and make his son once more a priest — to mortal deities:11 one fact the Germans could never sufficiently condone, that their eyes had seen the Rods, the Axes, and the Toga between the Elbe and the Rhine. Other nations, unacquainted with the dominion of Rome, had neither felt her punishments nor known her exactions: seeing that they had rid themselves of both, and that the great Augustus, hallowed as deity, and his chosen Tiberius had departed foiled, let them never quail before a callow youth,12 before a disaffected army! If they loved their country, their parents, their ancient ways, better than despots and new colonies, then let them follow Arminius to glory and freedom rather than Segestes to shame and slavery!"

60 1 His appeal roused, not the Cherusci only, but the bordering tribes as well; and it drew into the confederacy his uncle Inguiomerus, whose prestige had long stood high with the Romans. This deepened the alarm of Germanicus, and, to prevent the onslaught from breaking in one great wave, he despatched Caecina with forty Roman cohorts13 through the Bructeri to the Ems, so as to divide the enemy, while the prefect Pedo14 led the cavalry along the Frisian frontier.

He himself, with four legions on board, sailed through the lakes; and foot, horse, and fleet met p347simultaneously on the river mentioned.15 The Chauci promised a contingent, and were given a place in the ranks. The Bructeri began to fire their belongings, but were routed by Lucius Stertinius, who had been sent out by Germanicus with a detachment of light-armed troops; and while the killing and looting were in progress, he discovered the eagle of the nineteenth legion, which had been lost with Varus. Thence the column16 moved on to the extremity of the Bructeran possessions, wasting the whole stretch of country between the Ems and the Lippe. They were now not far from the Teutoburgian Forest,17 where, it was said, the remains of Varus and his legions lay unburied.

61 1 There came upon the Caesar, therefore, a passionate desire to pay the last tribute to the fallen and their leader, while the whole army present with him were stirred to pity at thought of their kindred, of their friends, ay! and of the chances of battle and of the lot of mankind. Sending Caecina forward to explore the secret forest passes and to throw bridges and causeways over the flooded marshes and treacherous levels, they pursued their march over the dismal tract, hideous to sight and memory. Varus' first camp, with its broad sweep and measured spaces for officers and eagles, advertised the labours of three legions: then a half-ruined wall and shallow ditch showed that there the now broken remnant had taken cover. In the plain between were bleaching bones, scattered or in little heaps, as the men had fallen, fleeing or standing fast. Hard by lay splintered spears and limbs of horses, while human skulls were p349nailed prominently on the tree-trunks. In the neighbouring groves stood the savage altars at which they had slaughtered the tribunes and chief centurions. Survivors of the disaster, who had escaped the battle or their chains, told how here the legates fell, there the eagles were taken, where the first wound was dealt upon Varus, and where he found death by the suicidal stroke of his own unhappy hand. They spoke of the tribunal from which Arminius made his harangue, all the gibbets and torture-pits for the prisoners, and the arrogance with which he insulted the standards and eagles.

62 1 And so, six years after the fatal field, a Roman army, present on the ground, buried the bones of the three legions; and no man knew whether he consigned to earth the remains of a stranger or a kinsman, but all thought of all as friends and members of one family, and, with anger rising against the enemy, mourned at once and hated.

At the erection of the funeral-mound the Caesar laid the first sod, paying a dear tribute to the departed, and associating himself with the grief of those around him. But Tiberius disapproved, possibly because he put an invidious construction on all acts of Germanicus, possibly because he held that the sight of the unburied dead must have given the army less alacrity for battle and more respect for the enemy, while a commander, invested with the augurate and administering the most venerable rites of religion, ought to have avoided all contact with a funeral ceremony.18

63 1 Germanicus, however, followed Arminius as he fell back on the wilds, and at the earliest opportunity ordered the cavalry to ride out and clear the p351level ground in the occupation of the enemy. Arminius, who had directed his men to close up and retire on the woods, suddenly wheeled them round; then gave the signal for his ambush in the glades to break cover. The change of tactics threw our horse into confusion. Reserve cohorts were sent up; but, broken by the impact of the fugitive columns, they had only increased the panic, and the whole mass was being pushed towards swampy ground, familiar to the conquerors but fatal to strangers, when the Caesar came forward with the legions and drew them up in line of battle. This demonstration overawed the enemy and emboldened the troops, and they parted with the balance even.

Shortly afterwards, the prince led his army back to the Ems, and withdrew the legions as he had brought them, on shipboard:19 a section of the cavalry was ordered to make for the Rhine along the coast of the Northern Ocean. Caecina, who led his own force, was returning by a well-known route, but was none the less warned to cross the Long Bridges as rapidly as possible.20 These were simply a narrow causeway, running through a wilderness of marshes and thrown up, years before, by Lucius Domitius;21 the rest was a slough — foul, clinging mud intersected by a maze of rivulets. Round about, the woods sloped gently from the plain; but now they were occupied by Arminius, whose forced march along the shorter roads had been too quick for the Roman soldier, weighted with his baggage and accoutrements. Caecina, none too certain how to relay the old, broken-down bridges and at the same time hold off the enemy, decided to p353mark out a camp where he stood, so that part of the men could begin work while the others accepted battle.

64 1 Skirmishing, enveloping, charging, the barbarians struggled to break the line of outposts and force their way to the working parties. Labourers and combatants mingled their cries. Everything alike was to the disadvantage of the Romans — the ground, deep in slime and ooze, too unstable for standing fast and too slippery for advancing — the weight of armour on their backs — their inability amid the water to balance the pilum for a throw. The Cherusci, on the other hand, were habituated to marsh-fighting, long of limb, and armed with huge lances to wound from a distance. In fact, the legions were already wavering when night at last released them from the unequal struggle.

Success had made the Germans indefatigable. Even now they took no rest, but proceeded to divert all streams, springing from the surrounding hills, into the plain below, flooding the ground, submerging the little work accomplished, and doubling the task of the soldiery. Still, it was Caecina's fortieth year of active service as commander or commanded, and he knew success and danger too well to be easily perturbed. On balancing the possibilities, he could see no other course than to hold the enemy to the woods until his wounded and the more heavily laden part of the column passed on: for extended between mountain and morass was a level patch which would just allow an attenuated line of battle. The fifth legion was selected for the right flank, the twenty-first for the left; the first was to lead the van, the twentieth to stem the inevitable pursuit.

p355 65 1 It was a night of unrest, though in contrasted fashions. The barbarians, in high carousal, filled the low-lying valleys and echoing woods with chants of triumph or fierce vociferations: among the Romans were languid fires, broken challenges, and groups of men stretched beside the parapet or staying amid the tents, unasleep but something less than awake. The general's night was disturbed by a sinister and alarming dream: for he imagined that he saw Quintilius Varus risen, blood-bedraggled, from the marsh, and heard him calling, though he refused to obey and pushed him back when he extended his hand. Day broke, and the legions sent to the wings, either through fear or wilfulness, abandoned their post, hurriedly occupying a level piece of ground beyond the morass. Arminius, however, though the way was clear the attack, did not immediately deliver his onslaught. But when he saw the baggage-train caught in the mire and trenches; the troops around it in confusion; the order of the standards broken, and (as may be expected in a crisis) every man quick to obey his impulse and slow to hear the word of command, he ordered the Germans to break in. "Varus and the legions," he cried, "enchained once more in the old doom!" And, with the word, he cut through the column at the head of a picked band, their blows being directed primarily at the horses. Slipping in their own blood and the marsh-slime, the beasts threw their riders, scattered all they met, and trampled the fallen underfoot. The eagles caused the greatest difficulty of all, as it was impossible either to advance them against the storm of spears or to plant them in the water-logged soil. Caecina, while attempting to keep the front intact, fell with p357his horse stabbed under him, and was being rapidly surrounded when the first legion interposed. A point in our favour was the rapacity of the enemy, who left the carnage to pursue the spoils; and towards evening the legions struggled out on to open and solid ground. Nor was this the end of their miseries. A rampart had to be raised and material sought for the earthwork; and most of the tools for excavating soil or cutting turf had been lost. There were no tents for the companies, no dressings for the wounded, and as they divided their rations, foul with dirt or blood, they bewailed the deathlike gloom and that for so many thousands of men but a single day now remained.

66 1 As chance would have it, a stray horse which had broken its tethering and taken fright at the shouting, threw into confusion a number of men who ran to stop it. So great was the consequent panic (men believed the Germans had broken in) that there was a general rush to the gates, the principal objective being the decuman, which faced away from the enemy and opened the better prospects of escape. Caecina, who had satisfied himself that the fear was groundless, but found command, entreaty, and even physical force, alike powerless to arrest or detain the men, threw himself flat in the gateway; and pity in the last resort barred a road which led over the general's body. At the same time, the tribunes and centurions explained that it was a false alarm.

67 1 He now collected the troops in front of his quarters, and, first ordering them to listen in silence, warned them of the crisis and its urgency:— "Their one safety lay in the sword; but their resort p359to it should be tempered with discretion, and they must remain within the rampart till the enemy approached in the hope of carrying it by assault. Then, a sally from all sides — and so to the Rhine! If they fled, they might expect more forests, deeper swamps, and a savage enemy: win the day, and glory and honour were assured." He reminded them of all they loved at home, all the honour they had gained in camp: of disaster, not a word. Then, with complete impartiality, he distributed the horses of the commanding officers and tribunes — he had begun with his own — to men of conspicuous gallantry; the recipients to charge first, while the infantry followed.

68 1 Hope, cupidity, and the divided counsels of the chieftains kept the Germans in equal agitation. Arminius proposed to allow the Romans to march out, and, when they had done so, to entrap them once more in wet and broken country; Inguiomarus advocated the more drastic measures dear to the barbarian:— "Let them encircle the rampart in arms. Storming would be easy, captives more plentiful, the booty intact!" So, at break of day, they began demolishing the fosses, threw in hurdles, and struggled to grasp the top of the rampart; on which were ranged a handful of soldiers apparently petrified with terror. But as they swarmed up the fortifications, the signal sounded to the cohorts, and cornets and trumpets sang to arms. Then, with a shout and a rush, the Romans poured down on the German rear. "Here were no trees," they jeered, "no swamps, but a fair field and an impartial Heaven." Upon the enemy, whose thoughts were of a quick despatch and a few half-armed p361defenders, the blare of trumpets and the flash of weapons burst with an effect proportioned to the surprise, and they fell — as improvident in failure as they had been headstrong in success. Arminius and Inguiomerus abandoned the fray, the former unhurt, the latter after a serious wound; the rabble was slaughtered till passion and the daylight waned. It was dusk when the legions returned, weary enough — for wounds were in greater plenty than ever, and provisions in equal scarcity — but finding in victory strength, health, supplies, everything.

69 1 In the meantime a rumour had spread that the army had been trapped and the German columns were on the march for Gaul; and had not Agrippina prevented the demolition of the Rhine bridge,22 there were those who in their panic would have braved that infamy. But it was a great-hearted woman who assumed the duties of a general throughout those days; who, if a soldier was in need, clothed him, and, if he was wounded, gave him dressings. Pliny, the historian of the German Wars,23 asserts that she stood at the head of the bridge, offering her praises and her thanks to the returning legions. The action sank deep into the soul of Tiberius. "There was something behind this officiousness; nor was it the foreigner against whom her courtship of the army was directed. Commanding officers had a sinecure nowadays, when a woman visited the maniples, approached the standards and took in hand to bestow largesses — as though it were not enough to curry favour by parading the general's son in the habit of a common soldier, with the request that he should be called Caesar Caligula!24 Already p363Agrippina counted for more with the armies than any general or generalissimo, and a woman had suppressed a mutiny which the imperial name had failed to check." Sejanus inflamed and exacerbated his jealousies; and, with his expert knowledge of the character of Tiberius, kept sowing the seed of future hatreds — grievances for the emperor to store away and produce some day with increase.

70 1 Meanwhile Germanicus,25 in order to lighten the fleet in case it should have to navigate shallow water or should find itself grounded at ebb-tide, transferred two of the legions he had brought on shipboard — the second and fourteenth — to Publius Vitellius,26 who was to march them back by the land route. At first Vitellius had an uneventful journey over dry ground or through gently running tides. Before long, however, a northerly gale, aggravated by the equinox, during which the Ocean is always at its wildest, began to play havoc with the column. Then the whole land became a flood: sea, shore, and plain wore a single aspect; and it was impossible to distinguish solid from fluid, deep from shallow. Men were dashed over by the billows or drawn under by the eddies: packhorses — their loads — lifeless bodies — came floating through, or colliding with, the ranks. The companies became intermingled, the men standing one moment up to the breast, another up to the chin, in water; then the ground would fail beneath them, and they were scattered or submerged. Words and mutual encouragement availed nothing against the deluge: there was no difference between bravery and cowardice, between wisdom and folly, circumspection or chance; everything was involved in the same fury of the elements. At last p365Vitellius struggled out on to rising ground and led his columns after him. They spent the night without necessities, without fire, many of them naked or badly maimed, — every whit as wretched as their comrades in the invested camp.27 For those at least had the resource of an honourable death; here was destruction without the glory. Day brought back the land, and they pushed on to the river28 to which Germanicus had preceded them with the fleet. The legions then embarked. Current report proclaimed them drowned, and the doubts of their safety were soon dispelled by the sight of the Caesar returning with his army.

71 1 By this time, Stertinius, who had been sent forward to receive the submission of Segestes' brother Segimerus, had brought him and his son through to the Ubian capital. Both were pardoned; Segimerus without any demur, his son with more hesitation, as he was said to have insulted the corpse of Quintilius Varus. For the rest, the two Gauls, the Spains, and Italy vied in making good the losses of the army with offers of weapons, horses, or gold, according to the special capacity of each province. Germanicus applauded their zeal, but took only arms and horses for the campaign: the soldiers he assisted from his private means. To soften by kindness also their recollections of the late havoc, he made a round of the wounded, praised their individual exploits; and, while inspecting their injuries, confirmed their enthusiasm for himself and battle, here by the stimulus of hope, there by that of glory, and everywhere by his consolations and solicitude.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 On the right bank of the Rhine in the Hesse-Nassau district. The tribe, hostile to Rome, was equally so to Arminius and the Cherusci.

2 A latinized form of Hermann. Most of the ascertainable facts with regard to his career may be gleaned from the first two books of the Annals: see the remarkable tribute in II.88.

3 See p248, n.

4 The Höhe — though the ancient name has been restored — between the Rhine and the Nidda.

5 A stream falling into the Fulda (the tributary of the Weser on which Cassel stands).

6 North of the Eder, but unidentified.

7 North-east of the Chatti, between the Weser and the Elbe.

8 See p306, n. 1.

9 On the left — "Gallic" — bank. The German territory lost after the Varian disaster is regarded as being still in theory, though no longer in fact, a province.

10 The account is lost, and in XI.16 the plain implication is that the boy was already dead.

11 The sarcasm is evidently directed at the cult of Augustus.

12 Actually Arminius was only a trifle the senior: compare II.73 with II.88.

13 A curious expression for his own four legions of the Lower Army (chap. 31).

14 Presumed to be Ovid's friend Pedo Albinovanus (ex Ponto, IV.10), author of a poem on the campaigns of Germanicus (Sen. suas. I.14). The Frisii occupied the coastal district between the Zuydersee and the Ems (Friesland).

15 The four legions are those of the Upper Army: the "Lakes" are now one with the Zuydersee. The object of Germanicus' vast detour, and, indeed, the course of the whole campaign, are obscure in the extreme: for a discussion, see Furneaux' Excursus.

16 The whole army, not simply the advanced party under Stertinius.

17 The problem of its position has been endlessly debated, but appears not to be certainly soluble.

18 For other Roman instances of the familiar prejudice against all contact, even ocular, between the consecrated and the dead, compare Sen. Cons. ad Marc. 15 (Tiberius delivering the funeral panegyric on his son interiecto tantummodo velamento quod pontificis oculos a funere arceret) and D. Cass. LX.13 (the statue of Augustus removed by Claudius, τοῦ δὴ μήτε ἐφορᾶν αὐτὸν τοὺς φόνους νομίζεσθαι μήτε ἀεὶ κατακαλύπτεσθαι). For the Mosaic law, see Levit. xxi.10‑11; and for the primitive taboo on mourners, Sir J. G. Frazer in the Golden Bough.

19 The statement is suspiciously inaccurate. There is not much weight in the argument that Caecina's four legions would naturally be included in exercitu; but, of Germanicus' own force, half travels by land, and the opening of chap. 70 seems to indicate that the subject has not been touched before. Doederlein's exercitu, <II> legiones is only a palliative: Nipperdey excised legiones . . . reportat as the note of a reader.

20 The inevitable conjectures as to the site are idle, since the point where Caecina separated from Germanicus is unknown and unknowable.

21 L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, grandfather of the emperor Nero (ob. 25 A.D.): see the notice of him in IV.44.

22 At Vetera (Xanten).

23 The elder Pliny — Gaius Plinius Secundus (23‑79 A.D.). His account of the German wars (inchoavit cum in Germania militaret, says his nephew, Epp. III.5), now lost, though once believed to have been seen by Conrad Gesner at Augsburg, comprised twenty books and was in all probability a main source for the Germania of Tacitus.

24 See p314, n. 2.

25 See above, chap. 63, with the note.

26 Legate of Germanicus and uncle of the future emperor. For other references to him see II.674; for his part in the trial of Piso, III.10 sqq.; for his death, V.8.

27 The force under Caecina.

28 As they were returning from the Ems to the Rhine, the Visurgin (Weser) of the Mediceus is an absurdity. If Vitellius took only two days and a night for his march, the river in question was presumably the Hunse.

Thayer's Note: I find on a bulletin board that since no river by the name of Hunse exists, this must be some kind of mistake. Hunse is the reading in the Loeb edition, and the spelling was common thru the nineteenth century and into the twentieth for the little river at Groningen whose name is now usually spelled Hunze.

More to the point, the Latin underlying Hunse (or Hunze) is Unsingis, which is an emendation to repair Visurgin. C. O. Brink, in "Tacitus and the Visurgis. A Gloss in the First Book of the Annals" (JRS, 39‑42) characterizes Unsingis as "made up" by Alting, and throws out the named river entirely. as due not to Tacitus but to a later gloss of unknown date.


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