Cornelius Tacitus

The Histories

Book V: I-XXVI War in Judea, the surrender of Civilis

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

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Book V:I Titus advances to the gates of Jerusalem

At the start of this same year (AD70), Titus Caesar, chosen by his father to complete the subjugation of Judea, and who, while both were still private citizens, had won military fame, enjoyed increasing power and reputation, as provinces and armies vied for him in their enthusiasm. While he, wishing to be thought superior to his fate, showed himself disciplined and energetic in the field. His friendly speech induced devotion, and he often mixed with the rank and file, at work or on the march, without harming his leadership.

In Judea, he was welcomed by three legions of Vespasian’s veteran troops, the Fifth, Tenth and Fifteenth. He added to these the Twelfth from Syria, and men from the Third and Twenty-second transferred from Alexandria; these were accompanied by twenty cohorts of allied infantry and eight cavalry squadrons, as well as the princes Agrippa and Sohaemus, by auxiliaries sent by King Antiochus (of Commagene), and by a strong force of Arabs, hostile to the Jews, with that mutual dislike commonly shown by close neighbours. There were also many Romans whose hopes of gaining favour while the prince was still disengaged had led them to leave Rome, and indeed Italy.

With these forces, Titus entered enemy territory, in strict order, reconnoitring at every step, and ready for battle. He pitched camp not far from Jerusalem.

Book V:II Speculative origins of the Jewish people

Now, as I am about to relate a critical moment in the life of this famous city, it is appropriate to give a view as to its origins.

They say that, at the time when Saturn was deposed and expelled by Jupiter, the Jewish people, exiled from the island of Crete, settled in the furthest regions of Libya. Justification is found in their name, since there is a famous mountain, Ida, in Crete, its inhabitants the Idaei, later lengthened into an alien form, as the Iudaei.

Others claim that in the reign of Isis, the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Iuda, discharged itself on neighbouring lands.

Many more claim them to be of Ethiopian stock, forced to migrate, out of fear and hatred, in the reign of Cepheus.

There are those too who say they were refugees from Assyria, and a people without land who acquired land in Egypt, later inhabiting their own cities in the Hebraic territory and the neighbouring parts of Syria.

Yet others say that the Jewish people were of glorious origin, being the Solymi celebrated in Homer’s epics (Iliad vi 184, Odyssey v 282), who founded a city and called it Hierosolyma after their own name.

Book V:III Moses leads his people out of Egypt

The majority of authors agree that at the onset of a plague in Egypt that disfigured the flesh, the Pharaoh Bocchoris (Bakenranef of the 24th dynasty, early 8th century BC) approached the oracle of Ammon to seek a remedy and was commanded to purge the kingdom and transfer this people, hostile to his gods, to another land.

So being rooted out and brought together and later abandoned in the desert, one of the exiles, Moses by name, while the rest of his brethren wept and did nothing, warned them to expect no help from man or god, being deserted by both, but to accept as a guide from above the one whose aid would first grant them escape from present misery.

They agreed, and set out on their journey, trusting to chance. Nothing was more debilitating than their lack of water, and they lay scattered over the plain near to death, when a herd of wild asses left their pasturage for a rock hidden by a grove of trees. Moses followed, and, as he had supposed from the grassy area, found abundant fresh water.

This relieved their thirst, and after six days, walking without rest, on the seventh drove off the former inhabitants and possessed the land, where they founded a city and dedicated their temple.

Book V:IV Religious practises of the Jewish people

Moses, to establish his position among them for all time, introduced new religious practices differing from those of other peoples. All that is sacred among us they consider profane, accepting on the other hand things we consider sinful. They consecrated, in the inner sanctuary, an effigy of that creature (the ass) whose guidance ended their thirst and their wandering, sacrificing a ram, apparently in derision of Ammon’s ram’s horns: they offer oxen with similar intent, because the Egyptians worship Apis (whose form is a bull). They abstain from the flesh of the pig, having once been afflicted with scabies to which this animal is liable.

They testify, by frequent fasting, to that great hunger they once suffered, while the unleavened bread the Jewish people make is witness to the haste with which they had to bake their flour. They say they choose to rest on the seventh day, because that day ended their toils; and were later led by the pleasure of inactivity to give the seventh year over to relaxation also. Others however say it is to honour Saturn (deity of the seventh day, Saturday) whether it is that they received the elements of their religion from the Idaeans, who it is said were exiled with Saturn and founded this people, or whether it is because Saturn holds the farthest orbit among the planets that rule humankind, and is the most powerful; also many of the heavenly bodies follow their paths and courses according to multiples of seven days.

Book V:V Jewish monotheism

These rites, however they originated, have been maintained from antiquity: the rest of their customs, revolting and ill-omened to us, prevail out of perversity. For the most harmful tribes, scorning their ancestral religions, send gifts and tributes to that place, increasing the wealth of the Jewish people; and while resolute in their loyalty among themselves and prompt to show mutual compassion, towards all others they exhibit hostility and dislike.

They sit apart at meals, and sleep apart, and though prone to passion as a people they abstain from intercourse with foreigners; though among themselves nothing is explicitly unlawful. They adopted the practice of circumcision to distinguish themselves from other nations. Those who convert to their ways follow the same rite, and they are first taught to despise their previous gods, disown their native country, and hold the parents, children and brothers they have left behind as of no account.

However they take care to increase their numbers, regarding it as sinful to kill any unwanted child, and believing that the spirits of those killed in battle or by execution are immortal; hence their love of generation and their contempt for death. They bury a corpse rather than cremating it, after the Egyptian custom, with the same care and same belief regarding the underworld, while differing as to the heavens.

The Egyptians venerate many animalistic effigies, while the Jewish people comprehend one god alone, and with the mind only, regarding as impious those who create images of the divine in human likeness, from perishable matter, and the supreme eternal being as incapable of representation or destruction.

Therefore they erect no statues in their cities, still less in their temples; flattery not being paid to their kings, nor honour to our Caesars. Yet because their priests chanted, sounding pipes and cymbals, and wearing ivy garlands, and a golden vine was discovered in their temple, they were thought to be devotees of the worship of Father Liber (Dionysus), conqueror of the East, despite the incongruity of their customs. For Liber established joyous festive rites, while those of the Jewish people are vulgar and unmusical.

Book V:VI The land of the Jewish people

Their land is bordered by Arabia to the east, Egypt to the south, Phoenicia and the sea on the west, while northwards they overlook a wide area of Syria. The people are healthy and resilient. Rain is rare, the soil fertile: its products like ours except they have balsam and the palm. The latter is a fine tall tree, the former a modest shrub. If a branch of balsam swollen with sap is pierced with a knife, the veins close, so a piece of stone or pottery shard is used to open them; the sap is used in medicine.

Mount Lebanon is the highest of the mountains, and wonderful to say in the greatest heat it is shaded by trees and covered with snow; it feeds and supplies the Jordan river. The Jordan does not reach the sea, but its flow passing intact through two lakes (Merom and Gennesareth) is retained by a third (the Dead Sea). The last is an immense lake, like the sea but with a noxious taste, and the neighbourhood is plagued by its offensive odour. Its waters are not disturbed by the wind, and neither fish nor water-birds can tolerate them. Its lifeless waves support whatever is thrown onto them, like solid ground.

At a certain time of year, bitumen rises, which experience has taught the collection of, as it teaches us our other skills. Bitumen (or asphalt) is by nature a dark liquid (or semi-solid form of petroleum) which coagulates when sprinkled with vinegar, and floats on the surface. The tale told by ancient authors is that those who are concerned with it capture a segment with their hands and haul it aboard: then it flows in, without assistance, and weighs the boat down, until the stream is cut off: you cannot cut it with bronze or iron, but it shrinks from menstrual blood, or a cloth stained with it. However those who know the country say that floating masses of bitumen are driven by the wind or drawn by hand to shore, then once dried by the hot vapours from the ground or by the sun they are split with axe and wedge just like wood or stone.

Book V:VII Sodom and Gomorrah

Not far from the lake is a plain which they say was once fertile and the site of great cities but which was scorched by lightning bolts: and that traces remain, the earth itself as if dried up having lost its power to bear fruit. For all plants there, whether seeded from the wild or cultivated by hand, become blackened and sterile, either in leaf or flower or in achieving their mature form.

For myself, though I might concede that famous cities were once destroyed by fire from the heavens, I think that the lake’s vapours contaminate the ground, and poison the air above, such that crops and fruits putrefy, both soil and atmosphere being noxious.

Also, the Belus river (the Na’aman) empties into the sea of Judea (the Bay of Haifa, near Acre), and around its mouth sand is collected which mixed with soda is fused to form glass. The beach is of limited size but provides an endless supply.

Book V:VIII Judea before the Roman occupation

A large part of Judea is covered with scattered villages, but there are towns, with Jerusalem as the nation’s capital. The Temple there held vast riches, and the fortifications enclosed first the city, then the palace, and the innermost ones the Temple. Only members of the Jewish people might approach its doors, and entry was forbidden except to the priests.

While the East was dominated by the Assyrians, Medes and Persians, they were the most despised of subjects; after the Macedonians gained supremacy, King Antiochus (II, reigned 261-246BC) tried to abolish the Jewish religion and introduce Greek ways, but war with the Parthians prevented his alteration of that most reviled of nations for the better; now this was the period of Arsaces’ revolt (he seized power in Persia c250BC).

Later, the Jewish people selected their own kings (the Hasmoneans), Macedonian power having waned, the Parthians not yet being strong enough, and the Romans far distant. These kings, expelled by the fickle populace, regained their thrones by force of arms, banished citizens, razed towns, killed brothers, wives, and parents, and dared every crime common to royalty, but encouraged the national religion, since they had assumed the honours of the priesthood to strengthen their power.

Book V:IX Advent of the Romans

Pompey was the first Roman to subdue the Jewish people and enter their Temple by right of conquest (63BC): thereafter it was common knowledge that there were no divine images within, the place was empty and the inner sanctuary void. The walls of Jerusalem were razed, the shrine remained.

Later, during our civil wars when those provinces were under the sway of Mark Antony, Pacorus, prince of Parthia, held Judea, but was killed by Publius Ventidius, the Parthians being driven back beyond the Euphrates: Gaius Sosius subdued the Jewish people.

Antony granted the kingdom to Herod the Great, a victorious Augustus extending it. After Herod’s death, Simon of Peraea, without waiting for Augustus’ blessing, assumed the title to the kingdom (4BC). He was executed by Quintilius Varus, the governor of Syria, the people repressed, and tripartite rule granted to Herod’s sons.

All was peaceful under Tiberius. Then, when ordered by Caligula to erect his statue in the Temple, they chose to take up arms, their rebellion ending on that emperor’s death. Claudius made Judea a province, the princes being dead or reduced to insignificance, and he entrusted it to Roman knights or freedmen. One of the latter, Antonius Felix (procurator: 52-60AD), indulged in every kind of cruelty and lust, exercising the authority of a king with the mind of a slave. He had married Drusilla, the grand-daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, and so Felix was Antony’s grandson-in-law, while Claudius was Antony’s grandson.

Book V:X Vespasian sent to tackle the Jewish rebellion

The Jewish people remained compliant until Gessius Florus became procurator (64-66AD): under him the insurrection began. And when Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, tried to suppress it, various battles more often adverse than otherwise ensued.

On his death, Nero, whether by destiny or out of frustration, sent Vespasian there, and with his reputation, good fortune, and notable officers, within two summers his victorious army held the plains and all the cities except Jerusalem. The following year was concerned with the civil war, and was passed in inactivity as regards the Jewish rebellion. With peace throughout Italy, foreign concerns returned to the fore: and the fact that the Jewish militants alone had not ceased fighting increased our resentment; at the same time it seemed expedient for Titus to take over our forces there, given the vagaries and risks of a new regime.

Book V:XI Titus prepares to assault Jerusalem

Thus, as I have said, Titus pitched camp before the walls of Jerusalem and displayed his legions in battle formation. The Jewish defenders formed line directly below the walls, so as to advance further if successful, but with refuge at hand if they were driven back. Some cavalry and light-infantry were sent against them but the engagement was indecisive. Later the defenders withdrew, and over the following days engaged in constant skirmishing before the gates until repeated defeats drove them within the walls.

The Romans now prepared an assault, for they thought it beneath their dignity to wait for the enemy to starve to death, and demanded action, some out of bravery, but many driven by pride and the desire for spoils. Titus had the vision of Rome, its wealth and pleasures, before his eyes, and if Jerusalem did not fall swiftly, his enjoyment of them would be delayed.

However the city stands on the heights, and was defended by outworks and fortifications which would have been adequate on far flatter ground, here two tall hills being included within walls built with skill, projecting or curving inwards so as to place a flank attack under fire. The rocks ended in sheer cliffs, and the defensive turrets rose sixty feet above the hills, a hundred and twenty feet from the valleys, a wonderful sight, and such that they seemed of equal height from a distance.

An inner wall surrounded the palace, while on a conspicuous height (to the north-west) stands the Antonia Tower, named by Herod the Great in honour of Mark Antony.

Book V:XII Disposition of the Jewish forces

The Temple was like a citadel, with protective walls of its own built before the rest, and with greater care and effort; the colonnades themselves, surrounding the Temple, were a fine defence. There is an ever-flowing spring, the hills are tunnelled below ground and pools and cisterns hold rainwater. The city’s founders foresaw many wars due to the uniqueness of their customs and way of life, therefore they built the whole in anticipation of long siege, and during Pompey’s assault on the city, anxiety and experience taught them a great deal. Then too, Roman greed in Claudius’ day, had bought them the right to fortifications, walls built in peace as if for war.

  At this time, there was a large influx of dissidents from other defeated cities, since the most obstinate rebels had taken refuge here, and sedition was rife. There were three leaders, and three resistance forces: the outermost and widest of the walls was defended by Simon (bar Giora), the centre of the city by John (of Giscala, Yohanan ben Levi), and the Temple by Eleazar (ben Simon). John and Simon benefited from men and equipment, Eleazar from defensive positioning. But there was conflict, treachery and arson among the three forces, and a large store of grain was ruined.

John gained possession of the Temple by sending men as if to offer sacrifice there, but rather to kill Eleazar and his followers. Thus the citizens split into two factions, until at the approach of the Romans war against the foreign forces brought reconciliation.

Book V:XIII Omens and prophecies

Portents had occurred, but the people consider it wrong to try and avert them, being prone to superstition but averse to propitiatory rites. Contending armies were seen in the heavens, weapons flashed, and the Temple was suddenly lit by fire from the clouds. Its doors flew open, and a superhuman voice cried out that the old gods were departing, accompanied by the mighty stir of their going.

Few reacted in fear, the majority were persuaded that this was the time mentioned in their ancient religious writings when the East would gain strength, and power over human affairs would spread from Judea. This enigmatic prophecy foretold the rise of Vespasian and Titus, but the masses, though human vanity, interpreted these great portents as tokens of their own destiny, and not even adversity could reconcile them to the truth.

We hear that the total number of the besieged, of every age and sex, was six hundred thousand: there were weapons enough for all who could fight, and more possessed of courage than their number suggested. Both men and women were equally stubborn; and if they were to be transported from their homes, they feared survival more than death. Such was the city and nation Titus advanced against.

Since the site prevented a sudden military assault, he decided on trenches with protective roofing, dividing the effort among the legions: there was a pause in the fighting, until everything ancient or modern ingenuity had devised for taking a city was in readiness.

Book V:XIV Civilis at Vetera

Meanwhile, in Germany, Civilis, after his ill-fated fight among the Treviri, rebuilt his army and camped at Vetera, a defensible site, and where the memories of previous success there would rouse the courage of his barbarians. Cerialis followed him there, his forces doubled in strength by the advent of the Second, Sixth and Fourteenth legions; while the auxiliary cavalry and infantry he had summoned long before hastened to join him after his victory.

Neither general liked delay, but they were separated by a wide, and naturally marshy, plain, while Civilis had built a barrier obliquely across the Rhine, so that its waters, deflected from their course, flooded the neighbouring fields. Such was the nature of the ground, treacherous because of the shifting riverbed, and therefore dangerous to our men: since the Roman soldier is weighed down by armour and weapons and fearful of swimming, while the Germans are used to the rivers, lightly armed, and supported by their great stature.

Book V:XV Battle in the shallows

So, although the bravest of our men engaged the Batavian attack, there was soon panic as men and horses were swallowed in the marshy depths. The Germans, knowing the shallows, leapt through the water, and many of them left the attack to surround our flanks and rear, There was no close fighting as in the usual infantry battle, it was more like a naval conflict, with men struggling in the water, or if they made firm ground holding on grimly, the wounded and the whole, those who could swim and those who could not, locked together in mutual destruction.

Yet our losses were less than the confusion suggested, since the Germans, not daring to leave the safety of the marshes, returned to their camp. The outcome of this fight encouraged both leaders to hasten the final struggle, but from differing motives. Civilis wanted to follow up his good fortune, Cerialis to erase his disgrace: the Germans were emboldened by success, the Romans stirred by shame. While the barbarians spent the night singing and shouting, our men were enraged and threatening vengeance.

Book V:XVI Disposition of the opposing troops

The following morning Cerialis stationed his cavalry and auxiliaries in the front line, placing his legions in the second, retaining picked troops under his command for emergencies. Civilis drew up his men in column rather than in extended line, with the Batavi and Cugerni on his right, and the left, nearer the river, held by tribes from across the Rhine.

The leaders, rather than exhorting their troops by way of a public assembly of their forces, spoke to each section as they rode along the lines. Cerialis recalled the glory of old associated with the name of Rome, victories of ancient times and of their own, urging them to annihilate forever this treacherous and cowardly enemy, whom they had conquered, it being a question of vengeance rather than war. They had fought superior numbers not long past, yet routed those Germans, who had appeared in strength: the cowed survivors fleeing, with wounds at their backs.

Cerialis then found the right means to spur them on, calling the Fourteenth the conquerors of Britain, the Sixth the men whose authority made Galba emperor, and the Second those troops who would that day in battle consecrate their new standards and new eagle. Then he rode towards the returnees of the army of Germany, and stretching out his arms begged them to recover their own bank of the Rhine, and their camp (at Vetera), with the blood of their enemies. All shouted eagerly, some wanting battle after long peace; others longing for peace and weary of war; all hoping for reward and rest thereafter.

Book V:XVII Civilis rouses his warriors

Civilis also, in forming his lines, broke silence, calling on that field of battle to witness his soldiers’ courage: both Germans and Batavians stood on glorious ground, the bones and ashes of Roman legions under their feet. ‘Wherever the Romans gaze,’ he cried, ‘dire omens of captivity and defeat, confront them. Fear no uncertain outcome as in the fight with the Treviri: there, victory hampered the Germans, who threw away their weapons and filled their arms with the spoils: since then all had gone well for us and badly for the Romans.

The provisions for battle a skilful general ought to make, have been made, the fields are flooded that we know so well, the marshes fatal to the enemy. The Rhine and the gods of Germany are present, under whose auspices this battle will be fought: remember your wives, your parents, your homeland: this day we will rival our ancestors’ glories, or fill posterity with deepest shame!’

Once they had approved his words with clashing weapons and ritual dance (as is their custom) they opened fire with stones, lead shot, and other missiles, our men trying to steer clear of the marshes, the Germans taunting them, drawing them in.

Book V:XVIII A German rout

The missiles being spent, the fight grew hotter, as the enemy charged fiercely: their great stature and long spears enabled them to wound our infantry, slipping and floundering in the water, from a distance; while at the same time a column of Bructeri swam across from the dam they had driven, as I said, into the Rhine. There was confusion as a result, and our line of allied infantry was being repelled, when the legions took up the fight, checked the ferocious enemy advance and levelled the contest.

Meanwhile a Batavian deserter had approached Cerialis, promising that cavalry sent along the margins of the marshland could attack the enemy rear: that ground was solid, and the Cugerni who guarded it, inattentive. Two troops of horse, sent with the deserter, outflanked the incautious enemy. When this was known from the clamour, the legions charged in front, and the Germans, routed, fled towards the Rhine.

The war would have ended that day, if the Roman vessels had hastened to pursue them: not even the cavalry pressed on, since rain fell suddenly and night was near.

Book V:XIX Civilis retreats

On the next day, the Tenth legion, from Spain, replaced the Fourteenth legion, which was sent from Cerialis’ army to Gallius Annius in the upper province.

Civilis was reinforced by auxiliaries from the Chauci. However he hesitated to defend the Batavian capital, seizing everything portable, burning the rest, and retreating to the island, knowing that Cerialis lacked vessels to build a bridge, there being no other way for the Roman forces to cross. Furthermore, he destroyed the dike started by Drusus the Elder (in 9BC), so demolishing the barrier that constrained the Rhine’s flow, allowing it to pour into Gaul unchecked. Thus, with the Rhine free, the channel between the island and Germany was left virtually dry.

Tutor and Classicus also crossed the Rhine, with a hundred and thirteen Treviran senators, among them Alpinius Montanus, who as we said earlier, had been sent into Gaul by Primus Antonius. His brother, Decimus Alpinius, went with him: meanwhile, others raised reinforcements among those tribes open to involvement in risk, by gifts and appeals for sympathy.

Book V:XX Minor engagements between the armies

The fighting was still so active that, in a single day, Civilis attacked the permanent camps of the legions and of the auxiliary cavalry and infantry, at four separate locations; that of the Tenth legion at Arenacum, the Second at Batavadorum, and those of the auxiliary cavalry and infantry at Grinnes and Vada. His troops were allocated between himself, his nephew Verax, Classicus and Tutor, such that each led his own force. They were not confident of success everywhere, but of succeeding somewhere if they were bold enough: thinking that Cerialis was insufficiently cautious, and might be intercepted in transit, as he rushed to and fro responding to various reports of action.

The enemy warriors attacking the camp of the Tenth, found it hard work storming a legion, but routed the troops who had left the defences to fell timber, killing the prefect of the camp, five leading centurions, and a few of their men: the rest barricaded themselves inside the fort.

Meanwhile, at Batavadorum, German forces tried to destroy the bridge that had been started there, nightfall ending the indecisive conflict.

Book V:XXI Cerialis defeats the Germans

The danger was greater at Grinnes and Vada. Civilis attacked Vada, Classicus assaulted Grinnes, and could not be halted, our best men having been killed, including Briganticus, the cavalry prefect, who as we have said was loyal to the Romans and opposed his uncle Civilis.

But when Cerialis arrived with a select cavalry squadron, fortune changed and the Germans were driven headlong into the river. Civilis, who was recognised as he tried to rally the fugitives and became a target for our missiles, abandoned his horse and swam the flood; Verax escaped likewise; Tutor and Classicus crossed in boats beached for that purpose.

Yet again the Roman vessels were missing from the battle line, despite orders to the contrary, due to caution and the dispersal of oarsmen for other military duties. In fact, Cerialis often granted insufficient time for the execution of his orders, being over-hasty in devising his plans but fortunate in their outcome: success was achieved, even when preparation was lacking: such that he and his men paid scant attention to sound military practice.

And a few days later, Cerialis narrowly escaped capture, though he could not evade the accompanying embarrassment.

Book V:XXII Cerialis escapes capture

He had been to inspect the camps being erected as winter quarters for the legions, at Neuss and Bonn, and was returning with the fleet. His escort were scattered, and his guard careless. The Germans realised this, and planned an ambush. They chose a dark cloudy night and slipping downstream entered the camp unopposed.

Cunning aided their attempt at first: cutting the tent-ropes they killed the men who were buried under their own canvas. A separate force assaulted the boats, hurling grappling irons and dragging the vessels away; deceiving initially by silence, once the slaughter began they added to the panic with their clamour.

Roused by the onslaught, the Romans sought their weapons, running through the camp, few fully equipped to fight, most with their clothing draped round their bodies and their swords drawn.  Their leader, half-asleep and virtually naked, was saved by the enemy’s error; since they dragged away his flagship, marked out by its banner, thinking he was aboard. But Cerialis had spent the night elsewhere, as many believe, on account of his affair with a Ubian woman, Claudia Sacrata.

The sentries used his behaviour to excuse their own dereliction of duty, saying they were ordered to be silent in order not to disturb him, and thus the trumpet-calls and challenges had been omitted and they had fallen asleep themselves.

The enemy sailed away in broad daylight with the captured vessels, taking the flagship up the river Lippe as a gift for Veleda.

Book V:XXIII A naval skirmish

Civilis was possessed by the desire to exhibit the strength of his navy: he therefore manned his biremes as well as his vessels driven by a single bank of oars, adding a large number of boats carrying thirty or forty men and the armaments common to Liburnian frigates; at the same time the vessels he had captured were tricked out finely with sails of multi-coloured weave.

The place chosen for the spectacle was the stretch of water where the mouth of the River Meuse discharges the flow of the Rhine into the sea. His reason for marshalling this fleet, above and beyond the vanity natural to his people, was to terrorise the supply convoys from Gaul. Cerialis more surprised than unnerved by this, assembled his fleet, which though lesser in numbers employed more skilful oarsmen, more knowledgeable pilots and larger vessels.

His fleet was assisted by the currents, his opponent’s by the wind, thus they sailed past each other, exchanging light fire, and separated. Civilis, not daring to go further, withdrew over the Rhine. Cerealis, employing the usual military strategy, while relentlessly devastating the island of the Batavians left their leader Civilis’ own villas and farms untouched.

Meanwhile, the progress of autumn with its heavy equinoctial rains filled the river to overflowing and turned the low-lying marshy island into a swamp. Neither fleet nor supplies were at hand and the Roman camp, on level ground, was eroded by the force of the river.

Book V:XXIV Cerealis offers peace

It was afterwards claimed by Civilis that the legions could have been crushed, and that the Germans longed to do so, but he had cunningly dissuaded them; and that might not be far from the truth, since he surrendered a few days later. While Cerialis, in secret missives, was offering the Batavians peace and Civilis pardon, he also advised Veleda and those close to her to alter the outcome of a war so adverse to them, and involving such frequent disasters, by rendering timely service to the Roman people.

He reminded them that the Treviri had been slaughtered, the Ubii had returned to the fold, and the Batavians had lost their homeland; they had won nothing by their friendship towards Civilis but harm, banishment and grief. A homeless exile, he would be a burden to those who received him, while they had already sinned enough by crossing the Rhine so often. If they committed further wrongs, the responsibility and the guilt would lie with them, vengeance and the gods’ favour with the Romans.

Book V:XXV The Batavians debate the peace offer

Promise was mingled with threat: and once the allegiance of the tribes beyond the Rhine had been shaken, debate commenced among the Batavians themselves: ‘We must not further our own ruin, no one nation can prevent the subjugation of a whole world. What have we won by destroying legions with fire and sword, except to bring more and stronger legions against us? If we waged war on behalf of Vespasian, well he is now master of all: if we are challenging the Roman people in arms, how large a part of the human race do we Batavians represent?

Look at the Raetians and the Noricans, and the burdens other allies carry: we pay no tribute, but only furnish brave men. This is the next best thing to freedom, and if we are to choose our rulers, we can more honourably endure Roman emperors than German women.’ So said the mass of folk, the chiefs spoke more strongly: ‘We have been drawn to war through Civilis’ madness; he averting misfortune to himself by the ruin of his country. The gods turned against the Batavi when we besieged the legions, slew their legates, began a war vital to but one man, yet fatal to ourselves. Nothing remains but to come to our senses, and show our penitence by punishing that guilty one.’

Book V:XXVI Civilis anticipates the Batavian surrender

Not unaware of their feelings, he decided to anticipate them, being not only weary of misfortune but hopeful of survival, a hope that often tames the greatest of spirits. Seeking a conference, the bridge at Nabalia was severed, the two leaders advanced to the shattered ends, and Civilis began thus: ‘If I were to defend myself before Vespasian’s general, my acts would merit no forgiveness, my words no credence; we are inimical to each other; hostilities begun by him, I have pursued: my respect towards Vespasian however is of long standing; and when he was merely a private citizen, we were known to be friends.

Primus Antonius was aware of that when I was called upon, by letter, to maintain the legions in Germany and prevent the warriors of Gaul crossing the Alps. What Antonius advised in his letter, Hortensius urged in person: I have furthered the same war in Germany, as Mucianus in Syria, Aponius in Moesia, Flavianus in Pannonia….

End of the extant text of the Histories