Tacitus – The Annals, Book 1: 14-15 AD – 1.16‑30 Drusus and the mutiny of the Pannonian legions

1.16‑30 Drusus and the mutiny of the Pannonian legions

  1. At this point, a mutiny broke out in Pannonia (a region near the Danube River). The legion under Junius Blaesus had been allowed time to mourn Augustus’s death. The men began to be demoralized, quarreled, & craved luxury & idleness. A common soldier, Percennius, had a “saucy tongue” & spoke to his fellow soldiers, stirring up feelings.

  2. He spoke to them as a demagogue: “When else will you ask for some relief other than during the changing of a ruler? We have a career of 30-40 campaigns until we are old & wounded. Even after dismissal, we’re quartered under another title. We’re sent to remote areas – swamps or mountains – only to be paid 10 ases a day – that we have to use to buy our own clothing, arms, tents & exemptions from duty. After the floggings & wounds, hard winters & sweltering summers, wars & non-existent peacetime, we need relief. That can only come from matching what the Praetorian guards get paid – 2 denarii a day (10 ases in 1 denarius), twice as much & retire us after 16 years of service. No offense to the Praetorian guards but they don’t have nearly as dangerous a job & sleep at home every night. We live among barbarians in tents.”

  3. The crowd applauded. Some thought of their lash marks or grey hair but most thought of their ragged clothes & naked limbs. Many proposed combining the 3 legions into 1. At this point, they got distracted with jealousy or pride in their own legion. They built a bigger meeting place, where Blaesus, their commander chewed them out: “It’s better to slay your commander than to revolt from your emperor. Either I will preserve the legions’ loyalty or die trying.”

  4. The mutineers gave up. Blaesus warned the soldiers that they shouldn’t communicate their desires to Caesar through mutiny. The emperor had enough on his plate as it was & if they were to achieve anything, why behave contrary to obedience & discipline? They should send an envoy to explain their case. Blaesus’s son was chosen to ask for a reduction of service to 16 years. The soldiers felt that since it was their commander’s son arguing their case, they had won through compulsion rather than through good behavior.

  5. Meanwhile, soldiers, who just before the mutiny had been sent to the town of Nauportus to build bridges & roads, heard of the uprising. They tore up the standards, plundered towns & villages, as well as taunted & abused centurions. They were mainly angry with Aufidienus Rufus, the camp prefect. They dragged him from a loaded wagon, asking him if he enjoyed long marches with burdens. Rufus had been an old school disciplinarian with his underlings who resented him.

  6. When these troops showed up, the mutiny refreshed & they plundered the area. Blaesus ordered a few of them whipped & imprisoned to scare the others. The centurions & good soldiers obeyed him. As the men were dragged off, they called out to their fellow soldiers & heaped abuse on the commander & invoked heaven & the gods – anything to provoke their fellow soldiers. They all rushed in, broke open the guardhouse, untied the prisoners & fraternized with deserters & men convicted on capital charges.

  7. There was a worse outbreak with more leaders. Vibulenus address the crowd: “You’ve restored light & air to these innocent & unhappy men. But who will return my brother’s life or even his body to me? He was butchered by the German army’s gladiators. But they sent the body back. Come on, Blaesus, where’s the body? Even enemies allow burials. You’re ordering us to be destroyed when we’ve committed no crime but merely consulted with our fellow soldiers.

  8. He made things worse by weeping. Soldiers put fetters on the gladiators among Blaesus’s slaves & his whole household. Others went looking for the corpse. If they hadn’t learned early on that there was no corpse & no murder, & the man didn’t even have a brother, they would have destroyed the general. They threw out the tribunes & camp prefect, plundered the fugitives’ baggage & killed a centurion, Lucilius. The rest ran off to hide, leaving only one solider to be detained. 2 legions started fighting & the 3rd tried to break it up.

  9. Tiberius wanted this to be hushed up & sent his son, Drusus, without definite instructions. His troops were beefed up with the Praetorian cavalry, AKA the emperor’s guard. Aelius Sejanus, the cavalry commander, whose family had long been associated with Tiberius, also went. Drusus approached the men who spoke to him with defiance.

  10. He entered the camp & secured the gates. The crowd gathered around the general’s tribunal. Drusus’s presence caused silence but eventually panic began to set in. Drusus read Tiberius’s letter which said he had a fondness for the legions & would bring the matter up with the Senate. Drusus’s job was to promise what he could to get them to stop & then leave the rest up to the Senate.

  11. The crowd had given their demands to a centurion, Clemens. He told of the soldiers’ discharge after 16 years, 10 ases of pay a day & veterans not being detained under a standard. Drusus said he’d leave it up to the Senate. The crowd was angry because he’d come & didn’t answer any of the demands. This was an old trick used by Augustus’s men – make a big show, highlight unity & honor but never actually do anything about the present situation. But now the Senate was involved. But it was a sign that perhaps Tiberius wasn’t really the one in charge.

  12. The mob left the tribunal & began to threaten any praetorian soldier or friend of Caesar, especially Cneius Lentulus, who was leaving with Drusus. He was surrounded & pounded with questions of where he was going & what he would do. They began throw stones & was saved by Drusus’s men.

  13. That night the glow of the moon faded & the soldiers saw this as an omen. They banged on bronze instruments & played trumpets & horns, mostly lamenting the continuation of their hardships. Drusus chose to take advantage of this change in the men. He went around speaking with popular men, asking them how long this would last & if men like Percennius & Vibulenus should be running things instead of the emperor. He reminded them demands made in common are often granted slowly. Troops were re-divided& obedience returned.

  14. At dawn, Drusus called an assembly & reprimanded the men for their behavior. He wasn’t going to give in to threats. Blaeusu & others were sent back to Tiberius. Some men in the camp disagreed on when & how to use measures to fulfill their desires. This annoyed Drusus & he ordered Vibulenus & Percennius to be put to death.

  15. A search was made for the main mutineers. Storms rages – an omen of divine wrath against impious army. They saw the only way to stop it was to purge themselves of their guilt. 2 legions caved but the 3rd wanted to wait for the return of word from Rome. They were only delaying the inevitable.


Author: knowit68

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