Round about are woods which rise gently from the plain, which at that time were filled with soldiers by Arminius, who, by short cuts and quick marching, had arrived there before our men, who were loaded with arms and baggage.
Continuing Germanicus in Germany,
our selection from Annals by Tacitus published in 117 AD. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Germanicus in Germany.
Time: 15 AD
Arminius, retiring into pathless places, was pursued by Germanicus, who, as soon as he reached him, commanded the horse to advance and dislodge the enemy from the post he had possessed. Arminius, having directed his men to keep close together and draw near to the wood, wheeled suddenly about, and to those whom he had hid in the forest gave the signal to rush out. Then the Roman horse were thrown into disorder by the assault of a new army, and the cohorts sent out to support them, broken in upon by the body of troops that fled, had augmented the consternation, and were now being pushed into the morass–a place well known to the pursuers, but dangerous to those unacquainted with it–had not Germanicus drawn out the legions in order of battle. Hence the enemy became terrified, our men reanimated, and both retired without advantage on either side. Germanicus, soon after, returning with the army to the Amisia, reconducted the legions, as he had brought them, in the fleet; part of the horse were ordered to march along the sea-shore to the Rhine. Caecina, who led his own men, was warned that, though he was to return through well-known roads, yet he should with all speed pass the causeway called the Long Bridges. It is a narrow causeway, between vast marshes, and formerly raised by Lucius Domitius. The rest of the country is of a moist nature, either tough and sticky from a heavy kind of clay or dangerous from the streams which intersect it. Round about are woods which rise gently from the plain, which at that time were filled with soldiers by Arminius, who, by short cuts and quick marching, had arrived there before our men, who were loaded with arms and baggage. Caecina, who was perplexed how at once to repair the causeway decayed by time and to repulse the foe, resolved to encamp in the place, that while some were employed in the work, others might begin the fight.
The barbarians, having made a vigorous effort to break through the outposts and fall upon those employed in the works, harass the troops, march round them, and throw themselves in their way. A mingled shout arose from the workmen and the combatants; all things equally combined to distress the Romans–the place deep with ooze, sinking under those who stood, slippery to such as advanced; their bodies were encumbered with their coats of mail, nor could they hurl their javelins in the midst of water. The Cheruscans, on the contrary, were inured to encounters in the bogs: their persons tall; their spears long, so as to wound at a distance. At last the legions, already giving way, were saved from defeat by the approach of night; the Germans not feeling fatigue on account of their success, without refreshing themselves with sleep, even then diverted all the courses of the springs which rise in the neighboring mountains into the plains; thus the ground being flooded, and the work, as far as they had carried it, overturned, the soldiers had all to do over again. Caecina, who had served forty years, either under others or in command, was experienced in the vicissitudes of war, prosperous or disastrous, and thence undaunted. Weighing, therefore, all probabilities, he could devise no other expedient than that of restraining the enemy to the wood until he had sent forward all the wounded and baggage; for between the mountains and the marshes there stretched a plain large enough to admit a small army. To this purpose the legions selected were: The Fifth, for the right wing, and Twenty-first, for the left; the soldiers of the First legion to lead the van of the Twentieth to oppose the pursuers.
It was a restless night to both armies, but from different causes. The barbarians, with festive carousals, songs of triumph, or horrid cries, filled the vales below and echoing wood. Among the Romans were feeble fires, low broken murmurs; they leaned, drooping here and there, against the pales, or wandered about the tents, more like men wanting sleep than quite awake. The general, too, was alarmed by direful visions during his sleep; he thought he heard, and saw, Quintilius Varus, rising out of the marsh, all besmeared with blood, stretching forth his hand and calling upon him, but that he rejected the call, and pushed back his hand as he held it toward him. At break of day the legions, posted on the wings, whether from perverseness or fear, deserted their post and took sudden possession of a field beyond the bogs; neither did Arminius fall straight upon them, though they lay open to assault; but when the baggage was set fast in the mire and ditches, the soldiers about it in disorder, the order of the standards confounded, and–as usual at such a time–each man acting hastily for himself, when the ears are slow to catch the word of command, he then commanded his Germans to charge, exclaiming vehemently, “Behold! Varus and his legions again subdued by the same fate!” Thus he cried, and instantly, with a select body, broke through the mass, and chiefly against the horse directed his weapons. Floundering in their own blood and the slippery soil of the marsh, they threw their riders, overturned all they met, and trampled on those that were on the ground. The greatest distress was around the eagles, which could neither be carried against a shower of darts nor be planted in the slimy ground. Caecina, while he sustained the fight, had his horse shot and, having fallen, would have been overpowered had not the First legion come up to succor him. Our relief came from the greediness of the enemy, who ceased slaying, to seize the spoil. And the legions, as the day closed in, by great exertion got into the open and firm ground. Nor was this the end of their miseries; a palisade was to be raised, an entrenchment digged; their instruments, too, for throwing up and carrying earth, and their tools for cutting turf, were almost all lost. No tents for the soldiers; no remedies for the wounded. While dividing among them their food, defiled with mire or blood, they lamented that mournful night; they lamented the approaching day, to so many thousand men the last.
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