At once the foot charged, and the cavalry sent forward attacked their flank and rear, and, strange to relate, the two divisions of their army fled opposite ways; that in the wood ran to the plain, that in the plain rushed into the wood.
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
Germanicus had the same night a cheering dream: he thought he sacrificed, and, in place of his own robe besmeared with the blood of the victim, received one fairer from the hands of his grandmother Augusta. Elated by the omen, and the auspices being favorable, he called an assembly, and laid before them what in his judgment seemed likely to be advantageous and suitable for the impending battle. He said “that to the Roman soldiers not only plains, but, with due circumspection, even woods and forests were convenient. The huge targets, the enormous spears of the barbarians, could never be wielded among trunks of trees and thickets of underwood shooting up from the ground like Roman swords and javelins, and armor fitting the body; that they should reiterate their blows, and aim at the face with their swords. The Germans had neither helmet nor coat of mail; their bucklers were not even strengthened with leather or iron, but mere contextures of twigs, and boards of no substance flourished over with paint; their first rank was armed with pikes, in some sort, the rest had only stakes burned at the end, or short darts. And now to come to their persons, as they were terrific to sight, and vigorous enough for a brief effort, so they were utterly impatient of wounds; unaffected with shame for misconduct, and destitute of respect for their generals. They would quit their posts or run away before the enemy; cowards in adversity, in prosperity despisers of all divine, of all human laws; if weary of marches and sea voyages, they wished an end of these things, by this battle it was presented to them. The Elbe was now nearer than the Rhine; there was nothing to subdue beyond this; they had only to place him, crowned with victory, in the same country which had witnessed the triumphs of his father and uncle, in whose footsteps he was treading.” The ardor of the soldiers was kindled by this speech of the general, and the signal for the onset was given.
Neither did Arminius or the other chiefs neglect solemnly to assure their several bands that “these were Romans; the most desperate fugitives of the Varian army, who, to avoid the hardships of war, had put on the character of rebels; who, without any hope of success, were again braving the angry gods, and exposing to their exasperated foes, some of them backs burdened with wounds, others limbs enfeebled with the effects of storms and tempests. Their motive for having recourse to a fleet and the pathless regions of the ocean was that no one might oppose them as they approached or pursue them when repulsed; but when they engaged hand-to-hand, vain would be the help of winds and oars after a defeat. The Germans needed only remember their rapine, cruelty, and pride; was any other course left them than to maintain their liberty, and, if they could not do that, to die before they took a yoke upon them?”
The enemy thus inflamed, and calling for battle, were led into a plain called Idistavisus. It lies between the Visurgis and the hills, and winds irregularly along, as it is encroached upon by the projecting bases of the mountains or enlarged by the receding banks of the river. At their rear rose a majestic forest, the branches of the trees shooting up into the air, but the ground clear between their trunks. The army of barbarians occupied the plain and the entrances of the forest; the Cheruscans alone sat in ambush upon the mountain, in order to pour down from thence upon the Romans when engaged in the fight. Our army marched thus: the auxiliary Gauls and Germans in front, after them the foot archers, next four legions, and then Germanicus with two praetorian cohorts and the choice of the cavalry; then four legions more, and the light foot with the mounted archers, and the other cohorts of the allies; the men were on the alert and in readiness, so that the order of march might form the order of battle when they halted.
As the bands of Cheruscans who had impatiently rushed forward were now perceived, Germanicus commanded the most efficient of his horse to charge them in the flank, and Stertinius with the rest to wheel round to attack them in the rear, and promised to be ready to assist them at the proper moment. Meanwhile an omen of happiest import appeared; eight eagles, seen to fly toward the wood and to enter it, caught the eye of the general. “Advance!” he cried, “follow the Roman birds; follow the tutelar deities of the legions!”
At once the foot charged, and the cavalry sent forward attacked their flank and rear, and, strange to relate, the two divisions of their army fled opposite ways; that in the wood ran to the plain, that in the plain rushed into the wood. The Cheruscans between both were driven from the hills; among them Arminius formed a conspicuous object, while with his hand, his voice, and the exhibition of his wounds he strove to sustain the fight. He had vigorously assaulted the archers, and would have broken through them had not the cohorts of the Rhætians, the Vindelicians, and the Gauls advanced to oppose him. However, by his own personal effort and the impetus of his horse he made good his passage, his face besmeared with his own blood to avoid being known. Some have related that the Chaucians, who were among the Roman auxiliaries, knew him and let him go; the same bravery or stratagem procured Inguiomer his escape; the rest were slain on all hands; great numbers attempting to swim the Visurgis perished either by the darts showered after them or the violence of the current, or, if they escaped these, they were overwhelmed by the weight of the rushing crowd and the banks which fell upon them. Some, seeking an ignominious refuge, climbed to the tops of trees, and, concealing themselves among the branches, were shot in sport by the archers, who were brought up for the purpose; others were dashed against the ground as the trees were felled. This was a great victory, and withal achieved without loss on our side.
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