Germanicus, having passed the Visurgis, learned from a deserter that Arminius had marked out the place of battle; that more tribes also had joined him at a wood sacred to Hercules, and would attempt to storm our camp by night.
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
Stertinius, who had been sent before to receive the submission of Sigimer, the brother of Segestes, had now brought him and his son to the city of the Ubians; both were pardoned, the father promptly, the son with more hesitation, because he was said to have insulted the corpse of Varus. For the rest, Spain, Italy, and the Gauls vied in supplying the losses of the army, offering arms, horses, money, whatever each had at hand. Germanicus, applauding their zeal, accepted only the horses and arms for the war; with his own money he assisted the soldiers; and, to soften by kindness also the memory of the late disaster, he visited the wounded, extolled the exploits of individuals, and, looking at their wounds, with hopes encouraged some, with a sense of glory animated others, and by affability and attention confirmed them all in devotion to himself and to his service. Between the Romans and the Cheruscans flowed the river Visurgis. On its bank stood Arminius, with the other chiefs, inquiring whether Germanicus was come; and being answered that he was there, he prayed leave to speak with his brother. This brother of his was in the army, his name Flavius, remarkable for his fidelity, and for the loss of an eye under Tiberius. Permission was then granted. Flavius, advancing, was saluted by Arminius, who having removed his own attendants, requested that the archers ranged upon our bank might retire. When they were gone — “How came you,” he asked his brother, “by that deformity in your face?” The brother having informed him where and in what fight, he desired to know “what reward he had received”? Flavius answered, “Increase of pay, the chain, the crown, and other military gifts”; which Arminius treated with derision, as the vile wages of servitude.
After that they began in different strains. Flavius urged “the Roman greatness, the power of Caesar, the severe punishment inflicted on the vanquished; and the clemency vouchsafed to those who submitted; that neither the wife nor son of Arminius was treated as a captive.” Arminius to this opposed “the claims of country, their hereditary liberty, the domestic gods of Germany; their mother, who joined in his prayer that he would not prefer the character of a deserter, and a betrayer of his kinsmen and connections, in short, of his race, to that of their general.” From this they gradually proceeded to invectives; nor would the interposition of the river have restrained them from an encounter, had not Stertinius, running to him, held back Flavius, full of rage and calling for his arms and his horse. On the opposite side was seen Arminius, menacing furiously and proclaiming battle. For most of what he said in this dialogue was in Latin, having, as the general of his countrymen, served in the Roman camp.
Next day the German army stood in order of battle beyond the Visurgis. Germanicus, who thought it became not a general to endanger the legions in the passage without bridges and guards, made the horse ford over. They were led by Stertinius and Aemilius, one of the principal centurions, who entered the river at distant places to divide the attention of the foe. Cariovalda, captain of the Batavians, dashed through where the stream was most rapid, and was by the Cheruscans — who feigned flight — drawn into a plain surrounded by woods. Then starting up at once, and pouring upon him on every side, they overthrew those who resisted, and pressed after those who gave way, who at length, forming themselves into a circle, were assailed by some hand-to-hand, by others were annoyed by missiles. Cariovalda, having long sustained the fury of the enemy, exhorted his men to break through the assailing bands in a solid body; he himself charged into the thickest, and fell under a shower of darts–his horse also being killed–and many nobles fell around him. The rest were saved by their own bravery, or by the cavalry under Stertinius and Aemilius, which came up to their assistance.
Germanicus, having passed the Visurgis, learned from a deserter that Arminius had marked out the place of battle; that more tribes also had joined him at a wood sacred to Hercules, and would attempt to storm our camp by night. The deserter was believed, the enemy’s fires were in view, and the scouts, having advanced toward them, reported that they heard the neighing of horses and the murmur of a mighty and tumultuous host. Being thus upon the eve of a decisive battle, Germanicus thought it behooved him to learn the sentiments of the soldiers, and deliberated with himself how to get at the truth; “the reports of the tribunes and centurions were oftener agreeable than true; the freedmen had servile spirits; friends were apt to flatter; if an assembly were called, there, too, the counsel proposed by a few was carried by the clamorous plaudits of the rest. The minds of soldiers could, then, only be thoroughly known when, by themselves, free from all restraint, and over their mess, they gave unreserved utterance to their hopes and fears.”
At nightfall, taking the path leading by the place of divination, he went out with a single attendant, a deerskin covering his shoulders, and proceeding by a secret way where there were no sentinels, entered the avenues of the camp, stationed himself near the tents, and eagerly listened to what was said of himself, while one magnified the imperial birth of his general, another his graceful person, very many his firmness, condescension, and the evenness of his temper, whether seriously occupied or in moments of relaxation; and they confessed that their sense of his merits should be shown in battle, protesting at the same time that those traitors and violators of peace should be made a sacrifice to vengeance and to fame. In the meantime one of the enemy who understood Latin rode up to the palisades, and with a loud voice offered, in the name of Arminius, to every deserter a wife and land, and, as long as the war lasted, a hundred sesterces a day. This affront kindled the wrath of the legions. “Let day come,” they cried, “battle should be given, the soldiers would themselves take the lands of the Germans, lead away wives by right of conquest; they, however, welcomed the omen, and considered the wealth and women of the enemy their destined prey.” About the third watch an attempt was made upon the camp, but not a dart was discharged, as they found the cohorts planted thick upon the works, and nothing neglected that was necessary for a vigorous defense.
[1 In the camp a place was set apart for taking the auspices, on the right of the general’s tent.]
[2 He assumed this disguise in order to appear like a German soldier.]
[3 The Romans divided the night into four watches. Each watch was on duty three hours, and then relieved by the next in turn. The third watch began about the modern twelve at night.]
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