Behind the enemy was the morass, behind the Romans the mountains or the river; no room for either to retreat, no hope but in valor, no safety but in victory.
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
This slaughter of the foe, from the fifth hour[*] of the day until night, filled the country for ten miles with carcasses and arms. Among the spoils, chains were found, which, sure of conquering, they had brought to bind the Roman captives. The soldiers saluted Tiberius as “Imperator” upon the field of battle, and, raising a mount, placed upon it, after the manner of trophies, the German arms, with the names of all the vanquished nations inscribed below.
[* It appears that the battle was fought in July or the beginning of August, adulta jam æstate. If so, the “fifth” hour nearly agrees with our nine in the morning.]
This sight filled the Germans with more anguish and rage than all their wounds, afflictions, and overthrows. They, who were just now prepared to abandon their dwellings and retire beyond the Elbe, meditate war and grasp their arms; people, nobles, youth, aged, all rush suddenly upon the Roman army in its march and disorder it. Lastly, they chose a position shut in by a river and a forest, the inner space being a confined and humid plain; the forest, too, surrounded with a deep marsh, except that the Angrivarii had elevated one side by erecting a broad mound to part them and the Cheruscans. Here their foot were posted; their horse were concealed among the neighboring groves, that they might be on the rear of the legions when they had entered the wood.
Nothing of all this was a secret to Germanicus. He knew their counsels, their stations, their overt movements and their concealed measures; and turned their subtlety to the destruction of themselves. To Seius Tubero, his lieutenant, he committed the horse and the plain; the infantry he so formed that part might pass the level approaches into the wood, and the rest force their way up the rampart; whatever was arduous he reserved to himself, the rest he committed to his lieutenants. Those who had the even ground to traverse easily forced an entrance; but they who were to storm the rampart were battered from above, as if they had been assaulting a wall. The general perceived the inequality of this close encounter, and, drawing off the legions a small distance, ordered the slingers and engineers to discharge their missiles and dislodge the enemy. Immediately darts were poured from the engines, and the defenders of the barrier, the more conspicuous they were, with the more wounds were beaten down. Germanicus, having taken the rampart, first forced his way at the head of the praetorian cohorts into the wood, and there fought, foot-to-foot. Behind the enemy was the morass, behind the Romans the mountains or the river; no room for either to retreat, no hope but in valor, no safety but in victory.
The Germans were not inferior in courage, but in their method of fighting and the nature of their arms; as their vast numbers, hampered in narrow places, could not push forward, nor recover their immense spears, nor practice their usual assaults and rapid motions, being compelled by their crowded condition to adopt a stationary manner of fighting. On the contrary, our soldiers, with shields fitted to their breasts, and their hands firmly grasping their sword hilts, could gash the brawny limbs and naked faces of the barbarians, and open themselves a way with havoc to the enemy. Besides, the activity of Arminius now failed him, being either exhausted by a succession of disasters or disabled by his recent wound. Nay, Inguiomer, too, who flew from place to place throughout the battle, was abandoned by fortune rather than courage. Germanicus, to be the easier known, pulled off his helmet, and exhorted his men “to prosecute the slaughter; they wanted no captives,” he said; “the extermination of the people alone would put an end to the war!” It was now late in the day and he drew off a legion to pitch a camp; the rest glutted themselves till night with the blood of the foe; the horse fought with doubtful success.
Germanicus, having in a public harangue praised his victorious troops, raised a pile of arms with this proud inscription: “That the army of Tiberius Caesar, having subdued the nations between the Rhine and the Elbe, had consecrated these memorials to Mars, to Jupiter, and to Augustus.” Of himself he made no mention; either fearful of provoking envy or that he felt satisfied with the consciousness of his own merit. He next charged Stertinius with the war among the Angrivarians, and he would have proceeded had they not made haste to submit; approaching as supplicants, and making a full confession of their guilt, they received pardon without reserve.
The summer being now far advanced, some of the legions were sent back into winter quarters by land; the greater part Caesar put on board the fleet and conveyed them along the Amisia to the ocean. The sea, at first serene, resounded only with the oars of a thousand ships or their impulse when under sail; but presently a shower of hail poured down from a black mass of clouds; at the same time storms raging on all sides in every variety, the billows rolling now here, now there, obstructed the view and made it impossible to manage the ships. The soldiers, too, unaccustomed to the perils of the sea, in their alarm embarrassed the mariners, or, helping them awkwardly, rendered unavailing the services of the skillful. After this, the whole expanse of air and sea was swept by a southwest wind, which, deriving strength from the mountainous regions of Germany, its deep rivers, and boundless tract of clouded atmosphere, and rendered still harsher by the rigor of the neighboring north, tore away the ships, scattered and drove them into the open ocean, or upon islands, dangerous from precipitous rocks or the hidden sand-banks which beset them. Having got a little clear of these (but with great difficulty), the tide turned, and, flowing in the same direction as that in which the wind blew, they were unable to ride at anchor or bale out the water that broke in upon them.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history