Today’s installment concludes Germanicus in Germany,
our selection from Annals by Tacitus published in 117 AD. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of eight thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Germanicus in Germany.
Time: 16 AD
Horses, beasts of burden, baggage, even arms, were thrown overboard to lighten the holds of the vessels, which took in water at their sides and from the waves running over them. Around them were either shores inhabited by enemies or a sea so vast and unfathomable as to be supposed to be the limit of the world and unbounded by any land. Part of the fleet was swallowed up; many ships were driven upon remote islands where, without a trace of civilized humanity, the men perished through famine, or were kept alive by the carcasses of horses that were dashed upon the same shore. The galley of Germanicus alone reached the coast of the Chaucians where, during the whole period of his stay, both day and night, amid the rocks and prominences of the shore, he reproached himself as being the author of such overwhelming destruction, and was hardly restrained by his friends from destroying himself in the sea. At last, with the returning tide and favoring gale, the shattered ships returned–almost all destitute of oars, or with garments spread for sails, and some towed by those which were less disabled. He repaired them hastily, and dispatched them to search the islands. By this diligence the greater part were recovered; many were by the Angrivarians (our new subjects) redeemed from their more inland neighbors and restored; and some, driven into Great Britain, were sent back by the petty kings. Each according to the remoteness of the region he had returned from recounted the wonders he had witnessed: “the impetuosity of whirlwinds; strange birds; sea monsters of ambiguous form between man and beast” — things either seen or fancied from the effects of fear.
[1 The mouth of the Visurgis, or the Weser. – ed]
Intelligence of this wreck animated the Germans with hopes of renewing the war, which Germanicus, perceiving, resolved to check. He commanded Caius Silius, with thirty thousand foot and three thousand horse, to march into the country of the Cattians; he himself, with a greater force, invaded the Marsians, where he learned from Malovendus, their general — lately taken into our subjection — that the eagle of one of Varus’ legions was hidden underground in a neighboring grove kept by a slender guard. Instantly two parties were dispatched: one to face the enemy and draw him from his position, the other to march around upon the rear and open the ground. Success attended both. Hence Germanicus, advancing toward the interior with greater alacrity, laid waste the country and destroyed the effects of the late disaster. The foe, wherever they engaged, were instantly defeated; nor (as was learned from the prisoners) were they ever more dismayed. “The Romans,” they exclaimed, “are invincible; no calamities can subdue them; they have wrecked their fleet, their arms are lost, our shores are covered with the bodies of their horses and men; and yet they have invaded us with their usual spirit, with the same firmness, and as if their numbers were increased.”
The army was thence led back into winter quarters, full of joy to have balanced, by this prosperous expedition, their misfortunes at sea; and by the bounty of Germanicus their happiness was increased; since to each sufferer he paid as much as he declared he had lost; neither was it doubted but that the enemy was tottering and concerting measures for obtaining peace, and that the next summer would terminate the war. Tiberius, by frequent letters, pressed him “to come home to the triumph decreed him.” He urged also that he had experienced enough of events and casualties; he had indeed fought great and successful battles, but he must likewise remember his losses and calamities, which (however, owing to wind and waves, and no fault of the general) were yet great and grievous. He himself had been sent nine times into Germany by Augustus, and effected much more by policy than arms. It was thus he had brought the Sygambrians into subjection, thus the Suevians, thus King Maroboduus had been obliged to submit to terms. The Cheruscans, too, and the other hostile nations — now the Roman honor was vindicated–might be left to pursue their own intestine feuds. Germanicus besought one year to accomplish his conquest, but Tiberius assailed his modesty with fresh importunity, by offering him another consulship, the duties of which would require his presence; he added “that if the war were still to be prosecuted, he should leave materials for the fame of his brother, Drusus, who, as there then remained no other enemy, could acquire the title of Imperator, and earn the privilege of presenting the laurel in Germany alone.” Germanicus persisted no longer; though he knew that this was all hypocrisy, and that through envy he was torn away from a ripened harvest of glory.
[2 In the time of the republic, the title of Imperator was given by the soldiers in the field of battle to the commander-in-chief. The custom ceased under Augustus, who annexed the title to the imperial dignity, the prince being then generalissimo of all the armies of the empire. The name of Imperator, it is true, was afterward given to the general who gained a victory; but that was not done without the special permission of the prince. The same rule was observed under the following emperors; and accordingly we find that Tiberius was saluted Imperator; but the soldiers did not presume to do that honor to Germanicus. – ed]
This ends our series of passages on Germanicus in Germany by Tacitus from his book Annals published in 117 AD. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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