Book IV: I-XXXI The Batavian uprising led by Civilis
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
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- Book IV:I Rome in chaos
- Book IV:II The execution of Lucius
- Book IV:III Order restored
- Book IV:IV Mucianus and other Flavian leaders honoured
- Book IV:V Helvidius Priscus, his early life
- Book IV:VI Helvidius Priscus, his later actions
- Book IV:VII Helvidius speaks on the choice of delegates
- Book IV:VIII Marcellus responds
- Book IV:IX An empty treasury
- Book IV:X Accusations against Publius Celer
- Book IV:XI Mucianus takes control
- Book IV:XII Batavian unrest
- Book IV:XIII Julius Civilis
- Book IV:XIV Civilis rouses the Batavians
- Book IV:XV The uprising begins
- Book IV:XVI Civilis proceeds by cunning and treachery
- Book IV:XVII Civilis champions freedom from Rome
- Book IV:XVIII The Romans forced to retreat
- Book IV:XIX Hordeonius Flaccus hesitates
- Book IV:XX Roman defeat at Bonn
- Book IV:XXI Civilis is roused to all-out war
- Book IV:XXII The Romans prepare their defences
- Book IV:XXIII The Siege of Vetera commences
- Book IV:XXIV Unrest among Flaccus’ troops
- Book IV:XXV Flaccus yields command to Vocula
- Book IV:XXVI The Romans make camp at Gelduba (Gellep)
- Book IV:XXVII Further mutiny among the troops
- Book IV:XXVIII The Romans under siege
- Book IV:XXIX A night-action
- Book IV:XXX Civilis renews the passive siege
- Book IV:XXXI News of the outcome at Cremona
Book IV:I Rome in chaos
Vitellius’ death was the end of war rather than the start of peace. The victors, armed, pursued the defeated through the city streets with implacable hatred, the thoroughfares choked with corpses, the fora and the temples stained with blood, slaughtering everyone chance placed in their way. As their licence increased, they swiftly dragged out those in hiding; killing any who appeared young and fit, whether soldier or civilian.
Their savagery, sated by blood while their hatred was roused, then turned to avarice. No building was allowed to remain locked and bolted, on the pretext that Vitellians might be hiding there. This led to private houses being entered, with resistance an excuse for murder. And there was no lack of impoverished individuals among the mob, or base slaves, ready to betray their masters, while other victims were revealed by their friends.
There were cries of lamentation everywhere, accompanying the ills of a captured city, so that the people longed for the mere arrogance of Otho’s and Vitellius’s soldiers which they had loathed before. The Flavian leaders who had been eager to fan the flames of civil war, were unable to rein in their success, for in times of violence and discord the worst elements wield most power, it is peace and quiet that demand the practice of virtue.
Book IV:II The execution of Lucius
Domitian accepted the appellation of Caesar and imperial residence with as yet no attention to duty, but played the part of an emperor’s son in debauchery and adultery. The prefecture of the Praetorian guard went to Arrius Varus, the supreme authority being vested in Antonius Primus. He appropriated money and servants from the imperial palace as if they were the spoils of Cremona: the rest who had remained in obscurity during the war through modesty or low birth, thus gained no share of the prize.
The citizens of Rome, in a state of fear and bent on subservience, demanded that Lucius Vitellius, who was returning from Terracina with his troops, be arrested and the last embers of conflict extinguished. The cavalry was therefore sent forward as far as Aricia (modern Ariccia, sixteen miles south-east of Rome on the Appian Way), while the infantry halted before Bovillae (eleven miles south-east, likewise on the Appian Way).
Lucius was not slow to surrender himself and his legions to the victors’ authority, but his troops threw down their fateful weapons as much in anger as fear. A long column of vanquished men, hedged in by armed guards, entered the city; not with the look of suppliants, but with dark and grim faces, unmoved by the shouts and mocking insults of the crowd. A few who dared to break ranks were overwhelmed by the guards, the rest were led away to prison. None uttered an ignoble word, and amidst adversity maintained their reputation for courage.
Lucius was later executed: his brother’s equal in vice: though the more vigilant of the two while the latter was in power, he was less a partner in his prosperity than a victim of his ruin.
Book IV:III Order restored
During this period, Lucilius Bassus was sent with a light cavalry force to calm Campania, where the towns were more in conflict with one another than rebellious towards the emperor. The sight of the military brought calm, and the lesser settlements escaped punishment.
Capua (loyal to Vitellius) had the Third legion quartered there for the winter, and its distinguished families were ruined, though Terracina (which favoured Vespasian) received no benefit, so much readier are we to repay harm than help, gratitude being regarded as a burden, revenge as a gain. It may however have proved a solace to the inhabitants of Terracina that Verginius Capito’s slave who had betrayed them was crucified wearing the very rings of the Equestrian order he had accepted from Vitellius.
Meanwhile the senate in Rome, filled with hope and joy, decreed that all the usual powers be bestowed on Vespasian, since they considered that the civil war, which had begun in Gaul and Spain, roused the German provinces then Illyricum, and subsequently involved Egypt, Judea, Syria, every army and province, as if the whole known world had needed purifying by that bloodletting, had reached its end.
Letters from Vespasian added to their readiness, written as though the war was still in progress, that at least being the first impression, though he already spoke as emperor, modestly of himself, fulsomely of the state. Nor did the senate fail to pay homage, electing him as consul with his son Titus, and granting a praetorship with consular powers to Domitian.
Book IV:IV Mucianus and other Flavian leaders honoured
Mucianus had also sent a letter to the senate that gave cause for comment. ‘If he was a private citizen why the official language?’ they said. He could certainly have waited a few days before uttering his message. His invective against Vitellius too was tardy and lacked initiative, and it was truly an act of pride as regards the state and insolence as regards their new emperor to boast that he had held the empire in his hand and had bestowed it on Vespasian. However, they hid their discontent while openly praising him, granting him triumphal regalia with a host of speeches in his honour, his campaign against the Sarmatians being the pretext, the reality his role in the civil war.
They also granted consular insignia to Antonius Primus, praetorian insignia to Cornelius Fuscus and Arrius Varus. Then they considered the respect due the gods; voting to restore the Capitol. All these measures were proposed by the consul elect, Valerius Asiaticus; the rest gave their assent by looks and gestures, though a few of noble rank or with natural skill in diplomacy gave formal speeches.
When it came to Helvidius Priscus, praetor elect, he offered his thoughts as if in compliment of a fine leader, but without false flattery, being received enthusiastically by the senate. This notable day in his career ushered in a period for him of intense disfavour and great glory.
Book IV:V Helvidius Priscus, his early life
Having again spoken of a man whom I will often need to mention, I am required to say something briefly about his life and interests, and the changes of fortune he experienced. Helvidius Priscus was born in the town of Cluviae (in the Caracina region of ancient Samnium, now modern Casoli in the Abruzzo). His father had been a centurion of the first rank.
In his early youth, Helvidius devoted his outstanding gifts to the higher studies, not as most youths do to hide their idle leisure behind a pretentiousness name, but in order to enter the public arena better equipped against the vicissitudes of fortune. He followed those teachers of philosophy (the Stoics) who hold that moral virtue is the only good, while the bad is simply that which lacks moral virtue, treating as neither good nor bad innate strength, high birth or whatever else is beyond the mind’s control.
After holding the quaestorship only, he was chosen by Paetus Thrasea to be his son-in-law, and from the father-in-law’s character he derived above all his love of liberty. As citizen, senator, husband, son-in-law, and friend he was equal to all of life’s duties, contemptuous of wealth, obstinate in pursuing right, and unmoved by fear.
Book IV:VI Helvidius Priscus, his later actions
There were those who thought him over-eager for fame, since desire for glory is the last thing renounced, even by philosophers. Driven into exile by his father-in-law’s ruin, with Galba as emperor Helvidius returned, bringing charges against Marcellus Eprius, who had informed on Thrasea. Regarding this attempt to exact revenge, in itself highly noble and just, senate support was divided: since if Marcellus fell, a host of guilty men would be ruined.
At first conflict threatened, as witnessed by the eloquent speeches on both sides, but as Galba’s wishes in the matter were evidently uncertain, Priscus gave way to the senators’ many appeals, eliciting various comments according to the speaker’s nature praising his moderation or questioning his strength of purpose.
However at this senate meeting, where Vespasian was voted imperial honours, it was decided that a delegation be sent to the new emperor. This led to a sharp encounter between Helvidius and Eprius: Priscus demanding the delegates be chosen by the magistrates under oath, Marcellus insisting on lots being drawn as the consul designate had proposed.
Book IV:VII Helvidius speaks on the choice of delegates
Now Marcellus’ concern was prompted by self-interest lest if others were selected he would be seen to have been overlooked. Gradually, the two were led by their altercation into lengthy and bitter speeches, Helvidius querying why Marcellus was so fearful of the magistrates’ decision: ‘You have wealth and eloquence, which would place you above others, if you were not burdened by their memory of your crimes. Lots rattled in an urn cannot discern character: the senators’ votes and their assessment were the means devised to judge lives and reputations. It is in the interests of the state, and touches on Vespasian’s honour, that those the senate considers of greatest integrity should meet with him, men who might fill his ears with honest counsel.
Vespasian was a friend to Thrasea, Soranus and Sentius: and even though it is not appropriate to punish their accusers, we should not promote them. By its judgement, the senate is like to warn the emperor whom he should approve of, and whom he should shun. There is no greater instrument of good government than good friends. Be satisfied, Marcellus, in having impelled Nero to kill so many innocents: enjoy the rewards of that, and your immunity, and leave Vespasian to finer men.’
Book IV:VIII Marcellus responds
Marcellus replied that the proposal under attack was not his but that of the consul designate, and was in accord with the former precedent that delegates should be chosen by lot, to avoid the scope for ambition or enmity. Nothing had given cause for abandoning ancient custom, or transmuting an honour due to the emperor into an insult to any man; compliance with it satisfied everyone. Rather they should avoid the unbiased mind of their new emperor being provoked by a wilful few, while he yet takes note of every word and glance.’
Marcellus then recalled the times in which he was born, and the form of government his forefathers had established; he admired the past, he said, but adhered to the present; he prayed for good governance, but tolerated whatever came. Thrasea had not been ruined by his orations any more than by the senate’s judgement; Nero’s cruelty took delight in such games, and friendship with him caused him no less anxiety than exile did others.
Let them by all means equate Helvidius’ courage and fortitude to that of Cato and Brutus: he himself was only one senator among many who would all serve alike. He would also suggest that Priscus not set himself above the emperor, nor try to influence Vespasian, a mature man in his triumph and with sons independent of their father. Those leaders may be the worst who desire limitless power, but even the best must set a bound to liberty.
These contentions, tossed back and forth with great vehemence, were received variously. But the group favouring selection of the envoys by lot prevailed, the less prominent senators being eager to follow precedent, while even the most prominent inclined to that course, fearing to arouse envy if they themselves were chosen.
Book IV:IX An empty treasury
Another argument ensued. The praetors of the treasury (at a time when it was still handled by praetors) proclaimed the state’s indigence, asking that expenses be curtailed. The consul designate wished to refer this matter to the emperor given the magnitude of the problem and the difficulty of remedy: Helvidius maintained that the decision lay with the senate. As the consuls sought to ask the senators their views, Vulcacius Tertullinus, tribune of the people, resisted any decision being taken in the emperor’s absence regarding so important an issue.
Helvidius proposed that the Capitol be restored at public expense, with Vespasian merely assisting. This proposal the more cautious senators condemned to silence, and then oblivion: there were others however who committed this incident to memory.
Book IV:X Accusations against Publius Celer
Then Musonius Rufus launched an attack on Publius Celer, charging him with ruining Barea Soranus through false testimony. The case appeared to renew hatred of such accusations by informers, but it was impossible to defend so vile and guilty an accused since the memory of Soranus was revered. Celer, having been his tutor in philosophy, then testifying against him, had betrayed and profaned the very idea of friendship which he preached.
The earliest possible day was appointed for the hearing; with minds set on vengeance, it was less the speeches by Musonius Rufus and Publius Celer which were eagerly awaited than those of Priscus, Marcellus and others.
Book IV:XI Mucianus takes control
In this state of affairs, with discord among the senators, anger among the defeated, no authority among the victors, and neither law nor governance in public affairs, Mucianus entered Rome and at once took everything upon himself.
The power of Primus Antonius and Varus Arrius was dissolved, Mucianus concealing his fury against them though, hiding it in his glances. The citizens, quick to realise their rulers’ offences, turned to Mucianus, transferring their affection: he alone was honoured and courted. Nor did he fail, surrounded by an armed retinue, to embrace the power of an emperor, acquiring fresh dwellings and gardens, enjoying the pomp, processions and bodyguards, while sacrificing only the title.
Maximum fear was instilled by the execution of Calpurnius Galerianus, the son of Gaius Piso. He was in no way venturesome, yet his famous name and his own handsome appearance made him the subject of public gossip, and there were those among the citizens who, still restless and happy to murmur of revolution, were ready to surround him with idle talk of the principate. Mucianus ordered him arrested by the militia, and fearing his execution within the city itself would attract too much attention, had him put to death beside the Appian Way, at the fortieth milestone, where his veins were opened.
Julius Priscus, who had been prefect of the praetorian guards under Vitellius, committed suicide, more from shame than necessity. Alfenus Varus survived his cowardice and infamy. Asiaticus paid for his baneful influence with a slave’s punishment (being only a freedman, in fact).
Book IV:XII Batavian unrest
At this very time, the citizens heard growing rumours from Germany of disaster, yet without their causing gloom; men spoke as though the slaughter of armies, the capture of the legions’ winter quarters, and the revolt of the Gallic provinces were not defeats. As to the conflict there, I will treat of its origins in some depth, and the extent to which foreign or allied tribes were involved in the conflagration.
The Batavians, while they lived beyond the Rhine, formed a section of the Chatti, but expelled after an internal uprising they now inhabited the furthest boundary of the uncultivated region of the Gallic provinces, and occupied an islanded area nearby, fronting the ocean while washed by the Rhine on the remaining sides. They provided the empire only with men and arms, and without their wealth being exhausted (a thing rare when allied to a stronger people).
They were well-trained in our German wars, and later added to their glory in Britain, to which various cohorts were transferred, led by their noblemen in accord with ancient custom. They also had a select cavalry force back home, excellent in river crossings, such that they could transit the Rhine, men and horses, while keeping their formation intact.
Book IV:XIII Julius Civilis
Julius Civilis and Julius Paulus, both of royal stock, had at one time shared the leadership. Paulus however had been executed by Fonteius Capito on a trumped-up charge of rebellion. Civilis was sent to Nero in chains, and though acquitted by Galba, was once more at risk under Vitellius, the army clamouring for his punishment. This was the root of his anger against us, and his hopes rose with our disasters.
Now Civilis, who bore himself like a Hannibal or a Sertorius, disfigured like them also by the loss of an eye, was cleverer than barbarians usually are, and feigned to be friendly towards Vespasian and a follower of his faction in order to avoid attack by a Roman army if he had been seen to rebel openly. Indeed Primus Antonius had sent despatches to him, in which he was commanded to divert the auxiliaries raised by Vitellius and maintain the legions in situ, on the pretext of tackling any disturbances arising in Germany. Hordeonius Flaccus (the Governor of Upper Germany) who was on the spot, had offered the same advice, favouring Vespasian and anxious for the state whose ruin was certain if war were renewed and many thousands of armed men poured into Italy.
Book IV:XIV Civilis rouses the Batavians
Civilis, while determined to rebel, therefore hid his deeper purpose in the interim, ready to decide his tactics based on events, and began to stir trouble as follows. A levy of Batavian youth was being raised on Vitellius’s orders, and this burden naturally heavy was made more onerous by the greed and licence of those in charge, who searched out the old and inadequate in order to release them for a price: dragging away the young and handsome (and the Batavian children are generally well-formed beyond their years) to satisfy their lust.
At this, resentment arose and the leaders, determined on sedition, persuaded the people to resist the levy. On the pretext of holding a banquet, Civilis summoned the tribal leaders and the boldest of the people to the sacred grove, and once he had seen their spirits fired by night and revelry, after extolling the honour and glory of the tribe he enumerated the wrongs done to them, through extortion and the other evils of oppression.
‘We are not, as we once were, treated as allies, but as slaves. When are we blessed with a legate with full powers, arrogant and burdensome though such a one might prove? Instead, we are condemned to prefects or centurions, and when one such crew are sated with executions and plunder, they are moved on, and new purses are then to be filled and new depredations enacted. Now comes a levy, to divide parent and child, brother from brother, as if forever.
The Roman state has never been more vulnerable than now, with only old men and plunder left behind in their winter camps. Lift your sights a little, have no fear of the empty title of legion. We have strong troops and cavalry on our side: the Germans who share our blood, the Gallic provinces who share our aims. Nor will our fight be unwelcome even to the Romans should uncertain fortune favour Vespasian: in victory no one is asked to render an account.’
Book IV:XV The uprising begins
His words won a mighty assent, and he bound them all by barbarous rites and their oaths as a tribe. Men were also sent to the Canninefates, to gain their support for the plan, they being a tribe inhabiting part of that island sharing the same origins and language, and with the same bravery, as the Batavians, though inferior in numbers. Employing envoys in secret, he soon won over the British auxiliaries also, and the Batavian cohorts who had been sent into Germany as I mentioned above, then stationed at Mainz (Mogontiacum).
Now among the Canninefates was the madly courageous Brinno, of noted and illustrious descent; his father had, with impunity, dared many attacks on the Romans during Caligula’s foolish campaigns. Thus the very name of this family of rebels delighted them, and setting him on a shield and raising him on their shoulders according to tribal custom, they chose him as leader.
He immediately brought in the Frisians (a tribe from across the Rhine) and launched a seaborne attack on the nearby winter camp of the two cohorts. The Romans had not anticipated an assault, and had they done so still had insufficient strength to ward off the enemy: thus the camp was captured and plundered.
He then attacked the Roman traders and camp-followers, who were wandering a country supposedly at peace. Simultaneously he threatened to destroy the Roman forts, which the cohort prefects were forced to burn being unable to defend them.
The troops, with their Roman banners and standards, gathered in the upper part of the island, with Aquilius, a centurion of the first rank as their leader; but of a force with the name rather than strength of an army: for Vitellius after withdrawing the most powerful cohorts had armed an indifferent crew of Nervii and Germans from the nearest cantons with their burden of weapons.
Book IV:XVI Civilis proceeds by cunning and treachery
Deciding to proceed cunningly, Civilis rebuked the prefects for abandoning the forts, declaring that he would suppress the Canninefates’ revolt with the force he commanded, while they were to return to their respective winter quarters. Treachery underlay his advice, with the cohorts more easily destroyed once dispersed, nor evidently was Brinno the real leader in this war but Civilis. Indications of all this gradually appeared, since the Germans, a people who delight in conflict, could not conceal it for long.
When treachery proved insufficient, Civilis thus turned to force, drawing up the Canninefates, Frisians and Batavians each in their own formation. The Roman lines were immediately opposite, not far from the Rhine, where their vessels which had been drawn up after the forts were burnt, now faced the enemy.
The battle was not long begun when a cohort of Tingri transferred its allegiance to Civilis, and the Romans, unnerved by their betrayal, were slaughtered by allies and enemy alike. There was a similar act of treachery in the fleet: a group of Batavian oarsmen by seeming awkwardness in navigation impeded both crew and combatants, then quickly reversed direction to line up by the stern along the enemy shore, finally killing the helmsmen and centurions who opposed their actions, until the whole set of twenty-four vessels passed to the enemy or were captured.
Book IV:XVII Civilis champions freedom from Rome
Their victory was glorious at the time, and of great benefit thereafter, since they gained boats and weapons they lacked, and were greatly celebrated as champions of freedom throughout Germany and the Gallic provinces. The Germans at once sent envoys to offer help: while Civilis sought to win over the Gallic provinces by bribery and cunning, sending the captured prefects back to their own states, while granting the soldiers composing their cohorts permission to go or stay as they preferred.
Those who stayed were offered honourable military service, those who left plunder taken from the Romans: at the same time Civilis reminded them in private of the ills they had suffered for so many years, in mistaking a wretched servitude for peace. ‘The Batavians,’ he said, ‘though free from paying tribute, have nevertheless taken arms against our mutual oppressors; these Romans were defeated and routed in the first encounter.
If the Gallic provinces were to throw off the yoke, what strength remains to Italy? The provinces are ever won with provincial blood. Lest any think of Vindex’s rebellion: the Aedui and Averni were crushed by Batavian cavalry. There were Belgians among Virginius’ auxiliaries and, if considered truly, Gaul fell to its own forces.
Now we are all on the same side. Added to which, is the vigour gained by military training in the Roman camps. The veteran cohorts are with me, to which Otho’s legions recently succumbed. Syria, Asia and an Orient ruled by kings may play the slave, but many are still alive in Gaul born before tribute was paid. Indeed, not long since, Germany rid itself of servitude with the defeat of Quintilius Varus, and the challenge there was not to some Vitellius but to Augustus Caesar himself.
Nature has granted even dumb animals freedom, courage is man’s proper virtue; the gods favour those who show the greater bravery: let the free seize upon the burdened, the fresh the weary. While some favour Vitellius, others Vespasian, action against both is open to us.’
Book IV:XVIII The Romans forced to retreat
Thus, intent on Germany and the Gallic provinces, Civilis was preparing, if his plans bore fruit, to rule the strongest and wealthiest tribes. At first Hordeonius Flaccus furthered this enterprise through ignoring it: but when anxious messengers brought news of the taking of camps, the destruction of cohorts, and the expulsion of the Roman presence from the Batavians’ island, he ordered Munius Lupercus (who commanded the two legions in winter quarters) to march against the enemy.
Lupercus swiftly transferred his legionaries, the Ubii nearby, and the Treviran cavalry who were not far off, to the island, adding a squadron of Batavian cavalry who pretended loyalty though already contemplating treachery, so that they might win a greater prize by betraying the Romans on the very field of battle.
Civilis surrounded himself with the standards of the defeated cohorts, so that his own men might have the signs of recent glory before their eyes while tokens of that disaster would unnerve the enemy. And he ordered his mother and sisters, and similarly the wives and young children of his warriors, to stand firm behind them to encourage the troops to conquer, or shame them if they were driven back.
While their ranks resounded to the chanting of men and the cries of the women, the clamour of our legions and cohorts in response was far from equal. Our left flank was laid bare by the immediate desertion of the Batavian cavalry. However the legionaries grasped their weapons and maintained formation, despite their anxiety. But the auxiliary forces of the Ubii and Treveri fled shamefully and were scattered over the plain: these the Germans attacked fiercely, allowing the legionaries to escape to the camp at Vetera (Birten).
Claudius Labeo, commander of the Batavian cavalry, who had been a rival of Civilis in local matters, was sent off to the Frisii lest if he remained he might sow the seeds of discord, while if he were done away with the act would cause resentment among his tribesmen.
Book IV:XIX Hordeonius Flaccus hesitates
At about this time, a messenger sent by Civilis overtook those cohorts of Batavians and Canninefates marching to Rome on Vitellius’ orders. Immediately, full of pride and insolence, they demanded recompense for completing the march, a doubling of their pay, and more promotions to the cavalry, things promised indeed by Vitellius, though their demands were not genuine but a pretext for rebellion. And in granting them Flaccus achieved nothing but to increase their insistence on whatever they knew he must refuse. Treating him with scorn, they headed for Lower Germany to join Civilis.
Flaccus, summoning the tribunes and centurions, consulted with them whether to coerce the recalcitrant troops by force; but through innate cowardice and the anxiety of his officers, troubled by the auxiliaries’ fickle mood and the excessive haste with which the levy had been raised to fill the legions’ ranks, he initially decided to keep the soldiers in camp: then repenting of his decision and influenced by the very men who had persuaded him to it, he wrote to Herennius Gallus, commander of the First legion stationed at Bonn, indicating that he would follow the despatch close behind, ordering him to stop the Batavians from passing, while he and his troops would soon be at the enemy’s back.
And if Flaccus behind and Gallus in front had indeed both advanced and caught the Batavians between them, the rebels would have been crushed. But Flaccus abandoned the move, and in a further despatch advised Gallus not to threaten the Batavians as they departed. This created the suspicion among his men that rebellion was being incited by the Roman commanders, and that all that happened or was feared was not due to their inertia or the enemy’s strength, but treachery on the part of their leaders.
Book IV:XX Roman defeat at Bonn
Approaching the camp at Bonn, the Batavians sent a messenger on to Herennius Gallus, setting out the cohorts’ demands. They were not at war with the Romans, they said, for whom they had often fought, but were weary of their long and unrewarding service and longed for home and quiet. If no one obstructed them, they would pass by harmlessly: if however weapons were raised, they would forge a path with their swords.
When Gallus hesitated, his soldiers urged him to try the fortune of war. There burst from the gates together three thousand legionaries, the hastily levied Belgian cohorts, and a band of villagers and camp-followers unwarlike but brave in the face of danger, to surround a lesser number of Batavians. But the latter being veteran soldiers in tight formation, closing ranks on all sides and therefore well-defended to front, sides and rear, broke through our sparse lines.
As the Belgians gave way, the legion was driven back, and ran in fear for the gates and rampart. There was the greatest slaughter: the ditch heaped high with corpses, the men dying not only by sword-thrusts but by falling onto their own side’s weapons.
The victorious Batavians avoided Cologne (Agrippinensium) and any hostile move during their remaining march, excusing the action at Bonn on the grounds that they had sought peace, and when this was refused had consulted their own interests.
Book IV:XXI Civilis is roused to all-out war
With the arrival of these veteran cohorts, Civilis was in command of a real army, but uncertain of his course and aware of the Romans’ strength, he had all his warriors swear allegiance to Vespasian, and sent envoys to the two legions who had retreated to Vetera after their recent defeat, asking them to take the same oath.
They replied: ‘We do not follow the path of treachery or that of our enemies; Vitellius is our emperor, for whom we will maintain our loyalty and our weapons to the last breath. No Batavian deserter shall determine Rome’s affairs: let him instead anticipate the punishment his crime deserves!’
On receiving this, Civilis, aflame with anger, drove the whole Batavian tribe to war; and was joined by the Bructeri, and the Tencteri, and those Germans summoned by messenger to share the glory and the plunder.
Book IV:XXII The Romans prepare their defences
To meet this combined threat of war, the commanders of the two legions, Munius Lupercus and Numisius Rufus, began to strengthen the ramparts and palisade. They tore down the work of the long peace, a whole township which had grown up not far from the camp, lest it serve the enemy. But they made insufficient effort to provision the camp, permitting plunder, so that a few days licence exhausted what would have served their needs for some time.
Civilis took up position in the centre of his line with the pick of the Batavians, and in order to appear more threatening filled both banks of the Rhine with German units, while his cavalry roamed the plains, and his vessels were shifted upstream.
Over there, were the standards of the veteran cohorts, and there, images of the beasts of the woods and groves, which it is the custom of each tribe to carry into battle, emblems of both internal and external conflict to terrify the besieged Romans. And the hopes of the attackers were raised by the length of the Roman ramparts, built for two full legions but with barely five thousand Romans capable of defending them; though a crowd of camp-followers had gathered there at the first threat to peace and were now involved in war.
Book IV:XXIII The Siege of Vetera commences
One section of the camp lay on a gentle slope, the other could be approached on level ground. Since the emperor Augustus had considered these winter quarters sufficient to defend and control the German provinces, not imagining that the disaster of an attack on our legions might arise, no further effort had been spent on the site and its fortifications: strength of arms was considered enough.
The Batavians and their allies from across the Rhine took up position tribe by tribe, to display their individual skills, opening fire from a distance. Since however their missiles merely dotted the towers and battlements in vain, and they suffered wounds from the stones hurled down on them, they attacked the ramparts in full cry, many raising scaling-ladders, others climbing onto the raised shields of their comrades. Those who succeeded in clambering up, over-bold at first and bolder still with success, were struck down by shields and weapons, and buried under a shower of javelins and stakes.
Yet now, in their greed for plunder, the enemy were ready to suffer reverses also, even resorting to siege engines which they rarely employed, having no skill in their use, deserters and prisoners having taught them how to build a kind of timber pontoon, propelled forward by wheels fitted beneath, so that men on its platform could fight as they would from a hillock, while others hidden below undermined the rampart. However ballistae stones shattered the primitive structure. When they began to assemble screens and roofing for their artillery, the Romans sent down blazing arrows threatening the engineers themselves with fire, until the enemy, despairing of force, turned to delaying tactics. They were well aware that the camp contained only a few days provisions, and a crowd of non-combatants; they counted also on treachery as a result of starvation, the wavering loyalty of those who served, and the accidents of war.
Book IV:XXIV Unrest among Flaccus’ troops
Meanwhile, Flaccus, hearing that the Vetera camp was under siege sent men to raise auxiliaries from the Gallic provinces. He also ordered Dillius Vocula, commander of the Twenty-second legion, to lead picked troops from their two legions (stationed at his headquarters at Mainz) to march swiftly along the bank of the Rhine, while he himself, being in poor health, and unpopular with the men, travelled by boat.
The troops indeed complained, in no uncertain terms, that he had allowed the Batavians to leave Mainz, concealed what he knew of Civilis, and was forging an alliance with the Germans. ‘Not Primus or Mucianus have added more to Vespasian’s strength than Flaccus,’ they cried, ‘open enmity and naked weapons can be repelled: but treachery and deceit are hidden and insidious. Civilis is there at the front, positioning his battle-line, while Flaccus Hordeonius issues orders, from his dining room or even his bedroom, that help the enemy. So many of the bravest of armed men at the mercy of one weak and senile old man: let us rather kill the traitor and purge our fortune and our virtues of this ill omen!’
Having stirred one another with such exhortations, they were now inflamed further by a letter from Vespasian, which Flaccus was obliged to read aloud to the assembled men being unable to conceal it. However he sent those who had brought it to Vitellius in chains.
Book IV:XXV Flaccus yields command to Vocula
Thus the soldiers’ mood was calmed, and they reached Bonn, the winter quarters of the First legion. There the men became more menacing, placing the blame for the disaster at Vetera on Flaccus. They claimed they had given battle to the Batavians, on his orders, on a promise that the legions from Mainz were close behind; that their comrades’ slaughter was due to his treachery, since no reinforcements had arrived; that all this was unknown to the rest of the army and had not been reported to the emperor, when fresh betrayal might have been thwarted by swift action on the part of all the provinces.
Flaccus, in turn, read aloud to them copies of all his despatches, asking for aid, sent to the Gallic provinces, Britain and the Spanish provinces, and established the worst of precedents by handing all new despatches to the legions’ standard-bearers to read to the men before they were seen by their commanders. He then ordered a single leader of the mutiny arrested, more to exercise his authority than because one single individual was responsible.
The army now marched from Bonn to Cologne, as Gallic auxiliaries poured in, giving a strong boost initially to the Roman cause. Later, as German strength increased, many tribes took arms against us, in hope of freedom, and the desire, once liberated, for an empire of their own.
The legions’ angry mood worsened, unmoved by fear at that single soldier’s arrest, he indeed arguing that their general was in the know and that, having been a messenger between Flaccus and Civilis, as a witness to it all, he was now being hounded on a false charge. Vocula, showing admirable resilience, mounted the tribunal, and ordered the soldier seized and led away, despite his cries, for punishment.
While the ill-intentioned were cowed, the most loyal obeyed his order. Then, with a universal demand for Vocula to lead, Flaccus yielded command to him.
Book IV:XXVI The Romans make camp at Gelduba (Gellep)
But many things aggravated the soldiers’ rebellious mood: pay and supplies were lacking, and the Gallic provinces at the same time scorned to supply the levy and the tribute: the Rhine could barely be navigated owing to a drought rare to that climate; lines of communication were restricted, and detachments posted all along the river to prevent the Germans crossing; and for the same reason, there was less grain collected and more men consuming that which was. Among the ignorant, even the lack of water was regarded as a prodigy, as if the rivers themselves, our empire’s former defences, were failing us: and what in peacetime they would have attributed to chance or nature, they now attributed to fate and the anger of the gods.
Entering Novaesium (Neuss), they were joined by the Sixteenth legion. Vocula now had Herennius Gallus to share command; not daring to move against the enemy they pitched camp, the name of the place being Gelduba (Gellep). There they strengthened morale by drilling the troops, erecting a palisade and defences, and by other military exercises. In order to fire their bravery, Vocula led a raiding force into the nearest cantons of the Cugerni, allies of Civilis, while the rest of the men remained with Herennius Gallus.
Book IV:XXVII Further mutiny among the troops
It so happened that, not far from the camp, a group of Germans began hauling a vessel loaded with grain, grounded in the shallows, to their side of the river. Gallus could not endure this and sent a cohort to the rescue: the Germans too added to their numbers, and as the reinforcements gradually accumulated a battle began. The Germans dragged the boat away with severe losses to our forces. The defeated, as was now their wont, blamed the loss not on their own cowardice but on their leader’s treachery.
Dragging him from his tent, they beat him and tore his clothing, demanding to know what bribe Gallus had taken, and who his accomplices were in betraying his men. Their anger towards Flaccus was renewed: they called him the instigator and Gallus his instrument, until Gallus, cowed by their threats of execution, charged Flaccus himself with treachery; Flaccus was clapped in chains and only released on Vocula’s arrival.
On the following day, Vocula had the ringleaders in the mutiny put to death: such were the wild swings in this army between licence and obedience. Indeed, the lower ranks were loyal to Vitellius, while the officers leaned towards Vespasian, and that led to cycles of crime and punishment, anger and submission, whereby the men could not be controlled, only punished.
Book IV:XXVIII The Romans under siege
Yet Civilis was buoyed by extensive reinforcements from the whole of Germany, alliances guaranteed by hostages from the highest nobility. He ordered those who were nearest those tribes to ravage the Ubii and Treviri, and another force he sent across the Meuse to threaten the Menapii and Morini and the borders of the Gallic provinces. Plunder was seized from the tribes, but most aggressively from the Ubii, because though Germanic by origin they had forsworn their native land and adopted the Roman name of Agrippinenses.
Some of their cohorts had been slaughtered in the region of Marcodurum (Duren) while acting incautiously far from the banks of the Rhine. For the Ubii were no less restrained in seeking to raid Germany, at first with impunity, though they were later circumvented, their loyalty to us being greater than their good fortune throughout the entire conflict.
With the Ubii crushed, Civilis, strengthened and emboldened by success, pressed on with his siege of the legions, keeping strict watch that no secret messenger might carry news of approaching aid. He delegated the building of siege-engines and digging of earthworks to the Batavi: while the forces from across the Rhine, who demanded battle, were sent to tear down the Roman defences, and on being repulsed were ordered to renew the conflict, their numbers being great and the losses tolerable.
Book IV:XXIX A night-action
Nor did night restrict their efforts: piles of wood were set alight all around, and while the besiegers feasted, as men became fired with wine, they rushed to battle, though with vain abandon since their missiles hurled in the dark had no effect, while the Romans aimed at the barbarian lines which were clearly visible, and in particular at any man notable for his insignia or his bravado.
Civilis, realising this, ordered his men to douse the fires and shroud the battlefield in darkness. Then indeed all was discordant shouting, uncertain of outcome, without light by which to strike or defend. Wherever the cry was raised, the enemy turned and lunged; courage was useless, chance ruled all, and often the bravest fell to the blow of a coward. Thus the Germans were driven by blind fury, but the Romans, experienced in adversity, aimed their iron-tipped pikes and hurled heavy stones with precision.
When the sound of men raising ladders and climbing the walls delivered their enemy into their hands, they beat them back with their shields, and followed through with their spears; many who scaled the walls they stabbed with their daggers.
And when the night was done, the day revealed fresh conflict.
Book IV:XXX Civilis renews the passive siege
The Batavi had constructed a two-storied tower, which they propelled close to the praetorian gate (the ground being flattest there), and which was repelled by thrusts from strong poles, and shattered by repeated blows from beams, with heavy losses to those mounted on it. With their attackers in chaos, the Romans rushed upon them suddenly and with success.
Simultaneously the legionaries who were superior in the arts and craft of warfare deployed further means. Predominant in instilling fear was a balance-arm poised above the enemy, which on being suddenly lowered caught up one or more men before their comrades’ eyes and by application of a counterweight plucked them inside the defences.
Civilis abandoned hope of storming the camp, and returned to a passive siege, while trying to shake the loyalty of the legionaries through messages filled with promises.
Book IV:XXXI News of the outcome at Cremona
All this occurred in Germany before the battle of Cremona (end-October 69AD), the outcome of which was learned from a letter written by Primus Antonius, with an edict of Caecina’s added; and from the personal testimony of Alpinius Montanus, a prefect of cohort on the losing side, who acknowledged the defeat of his party.
Diverse feelings were aroused: the Gallic auxiliaries, possessing neither factional attachment nor hatred, serving without enthusiasm but at the exhortation of their officers, immediately abandoned Vitellius: while the veteran soldiers hesitated.
However, at the command of Hordeonius Flaccus, and on the urging of their tribunes, they took an oath, though confirmed neither by look nor desire, uttering the words in their prescribed form but with a hesitation at Vespasian’s name, it either being murmured faintly or for the most part passed over in silence.
End of the Histories Book IV:I-XXXI