Arminius proposed “To let them march out, and to beset them again in their way when they got into marshes and difficult passes.”
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
It happened that a horse which had broken his fastenings and, as he strayed about, become frightened by a noise, had run over some that were in his way. This raised such a consternation in the camp–from a persuasion that the Germans had forced an entrance — that all rushed to the gates, especially to the postern,[*] as the farthest from the foe and safer for flight. Caecina having ascertained that there was no cause for alarm, but unable to stop them or hold them back, either by his authority or prayers or even by force, prostrated himself on the threshold of the gate; and thus at length by appealing to their humanity — for if they proceeded it must be over the body of the general — he blocked the passage, and the tribunes and centurions satisfied them the while that it was a false alarm.
[* There were four gates to a Roman camp. Livy says so in express terms: “Ad quatuor portas exercitum instruxit, ut, signo dato, ex omnibus portubus eruptionem facerent.” The several gates were the prætorian; the gate opposite to it, at the extremity of the camp, called the decuman; and two others, called the right and left principals, because they stood on the right and left sides of the camp, fronting the street called Principia.]
Then assembling them in the court, and desiring them to hear him with silence, he warned them of their difficulties, and their duty under them: “That their sole hope of safety was in their valor, but that must be guided by counsel; that they must keep close within their camp till the enemy, in hopes of taking it by storm, came up nearer to them; then make a sudden sally on every side, that by this sally they might make good their way to the Rhine; but if they fled, more forests, deeper marshes, and the fierce attack of the foe still remained to them; but that if they conquered, honor and renown awaited them.” He reminded them of all that was dear to them at home, and the rewards to be obtained in the camp, but suppressed all mention of defeat. He next distributed horses, first his own, then those of the tribunes and leaders of the legions, to all the bravest warriors, without any flattery, that these first, and afterward the infantry, might charge the enemy.
The Germans were in no less agitation from hope, eagerness, and the opposite counsels of their leaders. Arminius proposed “To let them march out, and to beset them again in their way when they got into marshes and difficult passes.” Inguiomer advised measures more resolute and acceptable to barbarians — “To invest the camp; it would be quickly captured; there would be more captives, and the plunder uninjured.” As soon therefore as it was light, they level the ditch, cast hurdles into it, attempt to scale the palisade, there being but few men on the rampart, and those who were, standing as if paralyzed by fear. But when they were hampered in the fortifications, the signal was given to the cohorts; the cornets and trumpets sounded at once, and instantly, shouting and charging, they poured down upon their rear, telling them tauntingly “that there were no thickets, no marshes, but equal chances in a fair field.” The enemy, expecting an easy conquest, and that the Romans were few and half-armed, were overpowered with the sounds of trumpets and glitter of arms, which were then magnified in proportion as they were unexpected; and they fell like men who, as they are void of moderation in prosperity, are also destitute of conduct in distress. Arminius fled from the fight unhurt, Inguiomer severely wounded. The men were slaughtered as long as day and rage lasted. At length, at night, the legions returned, and though distressed by the same want of provisions and more wounds, yet in victory they found all things — health, vigor, and abundance.
Meanwhile a report had spread that an army was cut off, and a body of Germans on full march to invade Gaul; so that, under the terror of this news, there were those whose cowardice would have emboldened them to demolish the bridge upon the Rhine, had not Agrippina forbidden the infamous attempt. This high-minded woman took upon herself all the duties of a general, and distributed to the soldiers, gratuitously, medicines and clothes, according as anyone was in want or wounded. Caius Plinius, the writer of the German wars, relates that she stood at the head of the bridge as the legions returned, and bestowed on them thanks and praises; a behavior which sunk deep into the heart of Tiberius, for these attentions he thought were not disinterested; nor was it against foreigners she sought to win the army; for nothing was now left the generals to do, when a woman paid her visits of inspection to the companies, attended the standards, and presumed to distribute largesses; as if before she had shown but small tokens of ambitious designs in carrying her child (the son of the general) in a soldier’s uniform about the camp and desiring that he be styled Cæsar Caligula. Already Agrippina was in greater credit with the army than the lieutenants-general, or even the generals–a woman had suppressed a sedition which the authority of the Emperor was not able to restrain. These jealousies were inflamed and ministered to by Sejanus, who was well acquainted with the temper of Tiberius, and supplied him with materials for hatred, prospectively, that he might treasure them up in his heart and draw them out augmented in bitterness.
Germanicus handed over the Second and Fourteenth of the legions, which he had brought in ships, to Publius Vitellius to conduct them by land, that his fleet, thus lightened, might sail on the shoally sea, or run aground with safety when the tide ebbed. Vitellius at first marched without interruption while the ground was dry or the tide flowed within bounds. Presently the ocean beginning to swell by the action of the northwest wind upon it, and also by the influence of the equinoxial constellation — at which season the sea swells most–the troops were miserably harassed and driven about. The lands were completely inundated; the sea, the shore, the fields, had one uniform face: no distinction of depths from shallows, of firm from treacherous footing; they were overturned by billows, absorbed by the eddies; beasts of burden, baggage, and dead bodies floated among them and came in contact with them. The several companies were mixed at random, wading now breast high, now up to their chin; sometimes, the ground failing them, they fell, some never more to rise. Their cries and mutual encouragements availed them nothing; the noise of the water drowning them; no difference between the coward and the brave, the wise and the foolish; none between circumspection and hap-hazard, but all were involved in the sweeping torrent. Vitellius at length, having by great exertion gained the higher ground, withdrew the legions thither, where they passed the night without fire and without food, many of them naked or lamed, not less miserable than men enclosed by an enemy — for even such had the resource of an honorable death, while these must perish ingloriously. Daylight restored the land, and they marched to the river Unsingis, whither Germanicus had gone with the fleet. The legions were then embarked, while rumor reported that they were sunk; nor was their escape believed until Germanicus and the army were seen to return.
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