Tacitus – The Annals, Book 2: 16-19 AD

2.1‑26 More war in Germany.

  1. During the consulship of Sisenna Statilius Taurus & Lucius Libo, there were rumblings in the east, starting with the Parthians. They had received a foreigner king from Rome whom they didn’t want. This was despite the fact he was from the Arsacid family. His name was Vonones, who’d been given as a hostage to Augustus by Phraates. Phraates had sent his children to Rome out of friendship rather than out of fear or distrust of his countrymen.

  2. After Phraates died, succeeding kings died in a civil war. The Parthians sent envoys to Rome to bring back Vonones, his eldest son. Caesar thought it was ah honor & gave him loads of money to take back with him. They welcomed him back but were embarrassed at how badly things had gotten that they had to ask outsiders for a king. He’d been raised & trained by the enemy (Rome). Vonones offended them because he had adopted the Roman culture in every manner & disliked Parthian habits: hunting, horses & national festivities. They didn’t like his Greek attendands. But he was mild, open & kind – manners completely foreign to the Parthians.

  3. So they called another Arsacid, Artabanus, who used his forces to take over the country. Vonones left for Armenia. Armenia was exposed to Parthia’s & Rome’s powers without being dominated by them. Armenia at the time was more disposed toward the Parthians because Antonius had conned their king, Artavasdes. Caesar had tried to make it up to them but they couldn’t hang on to a king for very long.

  4. Augustus invited Artavasdes to sit on the throne but that didn’t last. Caius Caesar restored order putting Ariobarzanes, a Mede, as king, which was accepted. He died in an accident but his son wasn’t accepted. They tried letting a woman, Erato, rule which didn’t last either. Finally they received the fugitive king, Vonones. When Artabanus was threatening the newly set up order, it was clear Vonones would need Roman support because the Armenians could not give any. The Syrian governor, Creticus Silanus, kept him under his watch & protection.

  5. Tiberius used this commotion in the east as an excuse to take Germanicus from the legions he knew well to put him in a more dangerous & treacherous environment. Germanicus was in a hurry to solidify his victory against the Germans, after 3 years of mixed results. The Germans were weak on fair ground but helped by the woods, hills & elements. Germanicus’s troops were most affected by the long marches. Gaul was less & less able to supply them with horses & supply lines, being attacked constantly. Using the rivers, streams & lakes provided speed, avoided bad terrain & surprised the enemy.

  6. He sent Vitellius & Caius Antius to collect taxes in Gaul. Silius, Anteius & Caecina were to build the fleet – 1000 vessels were needed. These vessels were made to specification; quick-turning, shallow bottomed, with rudders. They had decks to carry missiles, horses & supplies. Their sails would augment the power of rowing oars. The island of Batavia (in the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta) was to be the rendez-vous point because of its easy landing places & convenience for the army to be received & carried. The Rhine flowed in a single stream until the Batavian island, where it forks into 2 rivers, called by locals, Vahal, later called the Mosa River (Meuse) which empties into the same ocean.

  7. Germanicus, while the boats were being built, ordered Silius to make an inroad on the Chatti. He himself led 6 legions to the fort on the River Lupia (Lippe) which was besieged. Silius could only grab some booty & the wife & daughter of the Chatti’s chief. Hearing Germanicus was coming, the besiegers dispersed but they had destroyed the burial ground of Varus’s legions & Drusus’s altar. He restored the altar & held funeral games. All the country between the Aliso (Haltern am See, Germany) & the Rhine had secured earthworks & barriers.

  8. The fleet had arrived & Germanicus entered Drusus’s fosse, the altar. He prayed for his father to help him with a prosperous voyage to Amisia (Ems River). The fleet remained there. He should had it further up the river. The troops disembarked & marched to the country, wasting several days building bridges. The cavalry & legions cross the tributaries at low tide. The auxiliaries tried to swim across at high tide but fell into disorder, some drowned. Germanicus was setting up camp when he was told of the Angrivarii revolt in the rear. He sent some troops back to punish them.

  9. The waters of the Visurgis (Weser River) flooded between the Romans & Cherusci. Arminius & other chiefs stood on the banks asking if Germanicus would let him speak with his brother, Flavus, who was in the Roman army. He was known to be very loyal to the Roman cause. The meeting was permitted. Arminius asked where Flavus had gotten the scar on his face. Flavus told him he’d got it in battle & received increased pay, a necklace, a crown & other gifts. Arminius said it was a small price for slavery.

  10. Flavus spoke of Rome’s greatness, Germanicus’s resources & the dreadful punishment in store for the vanquished, but mercy would be shown to those who surrendered. Neither Arminius’s wife nor sons were treated as enemies. Arminius spoke of ancestral freedom, the fatherland & German gods. He saw Flavus as a traitor to him, his family & his people.

  11. The next day, the German army took its position on the river. Germanicus was thinking that since there were no bridges, it wouldn’t be good for him to leave the legions exposed to attack, so he sent the cavalry across to attack & distract the enemy. A Batavian chief jumped out in the middle only to be attack by Roman cavalry. Having defended himself, he urged other Germans to break formation & was shot down.

  12. Germanicus learned that Arminius had chosen a battlefield in a forest sacred to Hercules & he was going to attack the Roman camp at night. Scouts confirmed hearing horses & an army marching in the woods. He wondered how he could bolster his men’s spirits to be ready to be attacked.

  13. He walked around in secret to hear his men talking. He mostly heard good things about himself. Suddenly a Latin-speaking German came up to camp on horseback, promising money to any Romans who deserted. The Romans fired insults back at the man. At midday, there was light skirmishing outside the camp but nothing major.

  14. That night, Germanicus had a good dream. He made a sacrifice & his robe was sprinkled with sacred blood. Inspired by this, he called an assembly. He explained: “We could fight in the woods if we used good sense. The Germans can’t use unwieldy shields & lances in the woods with all the trees around. They will use the points of their swords jabbing. If the first German line has spears, the rest will only have swords or knives.  But the because the Germans have no significant armor, they cannot sustain wounds. They often flee the battle, disobeying orders. They don’t do well under pressure. This battle is closer to the Elbe River than the Rhine, which means we can conquer the Germans with a win today”.

  15. The soldiers were charged up by his speech. Arminius made his men ready with a speech of his own: “The Romans out there are even bigger cowards than Varus’s men were. Half of them are covered in wounds from battle with us. They’ve had to use ships to move around because they’re too scared to fight us on our own ground. Once they join us in battle, those ships will be useless. Remember, they are greedy & proud. There is nothing for us to fight for except our freedom. Let’s not live as slaves to the Romans anymore”.

  16. Both sides were ready for battle & went down to a plain called Idistaviso. It was between the Visurgis & a range of hills. The trees were large with branches well above everyone’s head & had space between the trunks. The barbarians stood on the edge of the woods. The Cherusci were on the hill to be ready to rush down on the Romans. For the Romans, auxiliary Gauls & Germans were in the front along with foot-archers, 4 legions, Germanicus 2 praetorian cohorts & some cavalry behind them. Other legions, light-armed troops, horsebowmen & cohorts of allies were behind them. They were lined up for battle.

  17. When Germanicus saw the Cherusci rushing to attack impetuously, he ordered a flank attack from his cavalry. They were to attack & head back to the rear. Then, suddenly Germanicus saw 8 eagles fly overhead. He old his men to follow the birds. The infantry & cavalry charged. The enemy’s 2 columns fled in opposite directions. Those in the woods went to the plain & those on the plain went to the woods. With the Cherusci dislodged from the hills, Arminius kept up the fight himself. He had attacked the archers & rode around with blood smeared on his face so he wouldn’t be recognized. Inguiomerus had escaped the previous battle with the same move. The rest of his men were cut down, or drowned in the river. Some climbed up the trees only to be shot down like birds sitting in the trees.

  18. It was a great victory without bloodshed for the Romans. From 9 AM till nightfall, the enemy was continuously slaughtered, with 10 miles of dead bodies around. The soldiers hailed Tiberius as Imperator & raised a mound in the form of a trophy with the names of the conquered tribes written on it.

  19. This caused more grief & rage among the remaining Germans than the wounds, mourning those lost or anything else. Those preparing to leave for the other side of the Elbe longed for battle & flew to arms. Common people, chiefs, the young & old, all rushed to the Roman army & caused chaos. They chose to run off to a place closed in by a river & forests. They concealed the area as much as possible.

  20. Germanicus was aware of their plans & positions, & prepared to use all those to his advantage. He sent Seius Tubero with the cavalry to the plain. He brought the infantry to level ground in the forest to be able to climb the earthworks there. Those who had to climb it like a wall & were attacked. Germanicus ordered slingers & archers to provide relief for those scaling the earthworks. They were returned with spears. Eventually Germanicus & men chased them into the woods & fought them there. The enemy had swamps behind them & the Romans had a river or hills boxing them in. Both sides were in a desperate position.

  21. The Germans were brave but due to their confines & inferior weapons, they were beaten. The Romans held up their shields & swung their swords, cutting them down. Arminius was less likely, either due to injury or was constantly fighting. Inguiomerus was fighting all over the place but was unlucky. Germanicus took off his helmet & urged his men to fight & not to take prisoners. It would be the only way to win the war. He took one legion to dig a trench while the rest killed off Germans.

  22. Germanicus raised a pile of arms with the inscription of “Army of Tiberius Caesar conquered the tribes between the Rhine & Elbe, & dedicates this monument to Mars, Jupiter & Augustus. He made no mention of himself. He sent Stertinius to make war on the Angrivarii who surrendered immediately. As suppliants, they were pardoned.

  23. At mid-summer, some legions were sent back to their winter quarters by land & the rest were brought by boat down the Amisia River. At first, the trip was quiet but storms rolled in effectively neutralizing any efforts. Then freezing blasts of wind from the North stormed in, tossing the ships around, either into the ocean, to islands with steep cliffs or hidden shoals. They barely escaped but horses, beasts of burden & baggage were thrown overboard to lighten the weakened hulls.

  24. The seas in Germany are more dangerous than any other the Romans knew. Many ships are often damaged, wrecked or even swallowed whole. Those who were shipwrecked were close to starving to death or had to eat strange animals to survive. Only Germanicus’s trireme arrived in the region of the Chauci. He often blamed himself for all the accidents that occurred to the army. But he had his army put its head down & repair the damage, & search for the lost legions. They recovered many. The Angrivarii helped return the lost soldiers to the army. Some had wrecked in Britain & were sent back by locals. Every soldier had stories of wonders, storms, unknown animals & sea monsters.

  25. The rumors of the lost Roman fleet inspired Germans to attack, as it did Germanicus to hold the Germans down. Germanicus ordered Caius Silius to march with 30000 infantry & 3000 cavalry against the Chatti. Germanicus had a larger army invaded the Maris & made their leader Mallovendus surrender & guide the army around. Germanicus laid the countryside to waste & ruined the enemy who didn’t dare show their faces on the battlefield. They felt the Romans were invincible. They could recover lost fleets, survive on practically no food & win battles against armies that outnumbered them by far.

  26. The soldiers were sent back to the winter quarters knowing all they had overcome to be victorious. Germanicus’s bounty helped the men too. He provided it in a win or in a loss, & made sure that the Romans could always negotiate with the enemy from a position of strength. Tiberius wrote to Germanicus to remind him of his successes & disasters. Tiberius pointed out that he had been sent 9 times by to fight the Germans & never suffered defeat. Germanicus asked for a year to wrap things up but Tiberius gave him the consulship & left the loose ends to be tied up by Drusus.


Leave a Reply