Tacitus – The Annals, Book 4: 23-28 AD – 4.46‑56 War in Thrace. Plots set in motion against Agrippina.

  1. In the consulship of Lentulus Gaetulius & Caius Calvinius, triumph was decreed for Poppaeus Sabinus who’d crushed a Thracian uprising. The rebellion originated in their resentment of levies supplying Rome with soldiers. Thracians barely obeyed their own rulers & if they sent help, it was only to fight their neighbors. A rumor said they’d be taken away to far off lands. Before anything started, they sent envoys promising friendship & loyalty so long as new levies weren’t taken. But if slavery was on the cards, they wouldn’t go down without a fight. They spoke pointing to their fortresses, parents & wives whom they promised to defend.

  2. Sabinus concentrated his troops & gave gentle answers. But when a legion arrived from Moesia & Rhoemetacles provided reinforcements, Sabinus made an advance on the enemy who were hiding in the woods. The Romans easily fought off those who dared appear on the hills & established a position & camp there with troops stretching across the ridge to the the next fortress, garrisoned by more soldiers. He sent picked archers to fire on the enemy. They advanced only to have the enemy make a sortie causing them to rout, with a Sugambrian cohort to back them up & carry on the fight.

  3. Sabinus moved the camp near the enemy, leaving loyal Thracians in the trenches. They had permission to go nuts on the rebellious Thracians & their camps & cities during the day but were to remain in camp at night. They obeyed strictly at first but then the plunder was too fun to stay at home & at night they spent eating & drinking heavily. The enemy saw this & made 2 detachments: one to attack the plunderers & the other to attack the Romans, not to win but to muffle the sounds of the other attack. They chose night to increase the panic. But those who stormed the entrenchment were easily repulsed. The Thracian auxiliaries were surprised & those not in the trenches were killed.

  4. The next day, Sabinus brought his troops on the plain in case the barbarians were amped up from the success of the night before. They saw that they hadn’t left their fortress & so he ordered a siege, drawing a fosse & stocked enclosing it for 4 miles around & brought his troops in closer. He built a rampart to throw stones at the enemy. Thirst was a problem for the barbarians & their cattle had no food. They were surrounded by dead bodies causing the place to stink very bad. Furthermore they began to fight amongst themselves & weren’t following a single plan.

  5. One of the chiefs, Dinis, knew how the Romans operated from experience & told them the only way for them to survive was to surrender. The young who wanted to fight on were divided between Tarsa & Turesis. Tarsa urged others to accept their fate & kill themselves by providing an example of a suicidal attack. Some followed. Turesis & his group waited for night, not without Sabinus’s knowledge. The sentries were beefed up. That night the barbarians would roar & then go silent, confusing the Romans. Sabinus reminded his men not to be spooked & not to attack based on false alarms.

  6. The barbarians rushed with their bands hurling stones at the entrenchments filling the fosses with bushes, hurdles & dead bodies, while that distraction provided the opportunity for others to tear down ladders & bridges. The Romans fought back repelling missiles with their shields & threw javelins & stones back. The Romans were encouraged by previous success & the possible disgrace of failure. The enemy’s courage mounted by this last attempt & the cries of their families. Darkness also made the attack more deadly as there was some friendly fire & chaos. Only a few of the enemy had any success against the Romans. They ran back to the fortress by dawn but finally they were forced to surrendered. The early winter saved the rest of the population of further assault or blockade.

  7. At Rome, Agrippina’s destruction moved along its course. Her cousin, Claudia Pulchra, was prosecuted by Domitius Afer, formerly a moderate praetor but now eager for any kind of fame. He accused her of unchastity with her paramour, Furnius & of attempts to poison Tiberius, as well as sorcery. Agrippina flew into a frenzy, going straight to Tiberius while he was making a sacrifice to his father. This provoked an indignant outburst from Agrippina: “It’s not right for someone to slay victims to Divine Augustus & persecute his posterity. The celestial spirit is not in the statue. There is a problem with Pulchra being prosecuted & it has nothing to do with morality. She’s chosen me as a friend & is systematically being ruined just like Sosia.” This provoked a reaction from Tiberius rarely ever seen/ He yelled at her in Greek, telling her she was not being wronged because she was not a queen. Pulchra & Furnius were condemned & Afer was given all kinds of praise for oration that Tiberius referred to as a natural genius. He was, form that point forward, known as a greater speaker than virtuous man.

  8. In her stubborn rage, Agrippina wept long & silently, & then went between reproach of Tiberius & supplication to him. She begged to be relieved of her loneliness & wanted him to provide her with a husband. She was still young enough & the public wouldn’t begrudge her for remarrying. Tiberius saw the political aims of her request but didn’t want to rile her up more & left her without an answer. No other historian had ever recorded this incident. I only found it in the memoirs of her daughter, Agrippina the younger, mother of the emperor Nero.

  9. Sejanus alarmed the sorrowful & unsuspecting Agrippina by send his agents under the guise of friendship, warning her that a poison was being prepared for her & she ought to avoid dining with Tiberius. She wasn’t skilled in hiding her emotions. She sat by Tiberius at the table, not touching a single touch until he finally noticed her behavior. He tested her by saying the fruit there was good & passed her some. She got very suspicious & gave it to the slaves to test. Tiberius said nothing to her but asked his mother if she thought Sgrippina suspected him of poison. There was a rumor going around that a plan was laid to destroy her & Tiberius didn’t want to be open about it.

  10. To divert talk, Tiberius continued going to the Senate & gave audience to envoys from Asia, about where a temple was to be erected. 11 cities were trying for the honor. They all dwelt on race & loyalty to Rome throughout all of its wars. Some were turned down for being too insignificant. Halicarnassus claimed it was impervious to earthquakes. Pergamos had already been given a temple to August recently. Ephesus & Miletus were already too devoted to Apollo & Diana to warrant another temple. So it was down to Sardis & Smyrna. Envoys from Sardis claimed they had a great history, was growing & had the resources.

  11. The envoys from Smyrna claimed its origins from Tantalus, son of either Jupiter or Theseus, & had always helped Rome when it needed it with naval armaments in wars abroad & in Italy. They said they were one of the first cities to honor with a temple during the consulship of Marcus Porcius Cato in its early days. They appealed to the fact that Lucius Sulla’s army was suffering & Smyrna saved them. The Senate ended up choosing to give it to Smyrna. Vibius Marsus called on Marcus Lepidus to supervise construction. Lepidius declined so Valerius Naso, ex-praetor was chosen.

 

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