Caius Cornelius Tacitus.

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indignant with Flaccus, on whom they laid the blame of their recent
defeat.[305] It was by his orders, they argued, that they had taken
the field against the Batavians on the understanding that the legions
from Mainz were in pursuit. But no reinforcements had arrived and his
treachery was responsible for their losses. The facts, moreover, were
unknown to the other armies, nor was any report sent to their emperor,
although this treacherous outbreak could have been nipped in the bud
by the combined aid of all the provinces. In answer Flaccus read out
to the army copies of all the letters which he had sent from time to
time all over Gaul and Britain and Spain to ask for assistance, and
introduced the disastrous practice of having all letters delivered to
the standard-bearers of the legions, who read them to the soldiers
before the general had seen them. He then gave orders that one of the
mutineers should be put in irons, more by way of vindicating his
authority than because one man was especially to blame. Leaving Bonn,
the army moved on to Cologne, where they were joined by large numbers
of Gallic auxiliaries, who at first zealously supported the Roman
cause: later, when the Germans prospered, most of the tribes took arms
against us, actuated by hopes of liberty and an ambition to establish
an empire of their own when once they had shaken off the yoke.

Meanwhile the army's indignation steadily increased. The imprisonment
of a single soldier was not enough to terrify them, and, indeed, the
prisoner actually accused the general of complicity in crime, alleging
that he himself had carried messages between Flaccus and Civilis. 'It
is because I can testify to the truth,' he said, 'that Flaccus wants
to get rid of me on a false charge.' Thereupon Vocula, with admirable
self-possession, mounted the tribunal and, in spite of the man's
protestations, ordered him to be seized and led away to prison. This
alarmed the disaffected, while the better sort obeyed him promptly.
The army then unanimously demanded that Vocula should lead them, and
Flaccus accordingly resigned the chief command to him. However, 26
there was much to exasperate their disaffection. They were short both
of pay and of provisions: the Gauls refused either to enlist or to pay
tribute: drought, usually unknown in that climate, made the Rhine
almost too low for navigation, and thus hampered their commissariat:
patrols had to be posted at intervals all along the bank to prevent
the Germans fording the river: and in consequence of all this they had
less food and more mouths to eat it. To the ignorant the lowness of
the river seemed in itself an evil omen, as though the ancient
bulwarks of the empire were now failing them. In peace they would have
called it bad luck or the course of nature: now it was 'fate' and 'the
anger of heaven'.

On entering Novaesium[306] they were joined by the Sixteenth legion.
Herennius Gallus[307] now shared with Vocula the responsibility of
command. As they could not venture out against the enemy, they
encamped ... at a place called Gelduba,[308] where the soldiers were
trained in deploying, in fortification and entrenchment, and in
various other military manoeuvres. To inspire their courage with the
further incentive of plunder, Vocula led out part of the force against
the neighbouring tribe of the Cugerni,[309] who had accepted Civilis'
offers of alliance. The rest of the troops were left behind with 27
Herennius Gallus,[310] and it happened that a corn-ship with a full
cargo, which had run aground close to the camp, was towed over by the
Germans to their own bank. This was more than Gallus could tolerate,
so he sent a cohort to the rescue. The number of the Germans soon
increased: both sides gradually gathered reinforcements and a regular
battle was fought, with the result that the Germans towed off the
ship, inflicting heavy losses. The defeated troops followed what had
now become their regular custom, and threw the blame not on their own
inefficiency but on their commanding-officer's bad faith. They dragged
him from his quarters, tore his uniform and flogged him, bidding him
tell them how much he had got for betraying the army, and who were his
accomplices. Then their indignation recoiled on Hordeonius Flaccus: he
was the real criminal: Gallus was only his tool. At last their threats
so terrified Gallus that he, too, charged Flaccus with treason. He was
put in irons until the arrival of Vocula, who at once set him free,
and on the next day had the ringleaders of the riot executed. The army
showed, indeed, a strange contrast in its equal readiness to mutiny
and to submit to punishment. The common soldiers' loyalty to Vitellius
was beyond question,[311] while the higher ranks inclined towards
Vespasian. Thus we find a succession of outbreaks and penalties; an
alternation of insubordination with obedience to discipline; for the
troops could be punished though not controlled.

Meanwhile the whole of Germany was ready to worship Civilis, 28
sending him vast reinforcements and ratifying the alliance with
hostages from their noblest families. He gave orders that the country
of the Ubii and Treviri was to be laid waste by their nearest
neighbours, and sent another party across the Maas to harass the
Menapii and Morini[312] and other frontier tribes of Gaul. In both
quarters they plundered freely, and were especially savage towards the
Ubii, because they were a tribe of German origin who had renounced
their fatherland and adopted the name of Agrippinenses.[313] A Ubian
cohort was cut to pieces at the village of Marcodurum,[314] where they
were off their guard, trusting to their distance from the Rhine. The
Ubii did not take this quietly, nor hesitate to seek reprisals from
the Germans, which they did at first with impunity. In the end,
however, the Germans proved too much for them, and throughout the war
the Ubii were always more conspicuous for good faith than good
fortune. Their collapse strengthened Civilis' position, and emboldened
by success, he now vigorously pressed on the blockade of the legions
at Vetera, and redoubled his vigilance to prevent any message creeping
through from the relieving army. The Batavians were told off to look
after the engines and siege-works: the Germans, who clamoured for
battle, were sent to demolish the rampart and renew the fight directly
they were beaten off. There were so many of them that their losses
mattered little.

Nightfall did not see the end of their task. They built huge fires 29
of wood all round the ramparts and sat drinking by them; then, as the
wine warmed their hearts, one by one they dashed into the fight with
blind courage. In the darkness their missiles were ineffective, but
the barbarian troops were clearly visible to the Romans, and any one
whose daring or bright ornaments made him conspicuous at once became a
mark for their aim. At last Civilis saw their mistake, and gave orders
to extinguish the fires and plunge the whole scene into a confusion of
darkness and the din of arms. Discordant shouts now arose: everything
was vague and uncertain: no one could see to strike or to parry.
Wherever a shout was heard, they would wheel round and lunge in that
direction. Valour was useless: chance and chaos ruled supreme: and the
bravest soldier often fell under a coward's bolt. The Germans fought
with blind fury. The Roman troops were more familiar with danger; they
hurled down iron-clamped stakes and heavy stones with sure effect.
Wherever the sound of some one climbing or the clang of a
scaling-ladder betrayed the presence of the enemy, they thrust them
back with their shields and followed them with a shower of javelins.
Many appeared on top of the walls, and these they stabbed with their
short swords. And so the night wore on. Day dawned upon new 30
methods of attack. The Batavians had built a wooden tower of two
stories and moved it up to the Head-quarters Gate,[315] which was the
most accessible spot. However, our soldiers, by using strong poles and
hurling wooden beams, soon battered it to pieces, with great loss of
life to those who were standing on it. While they were still dismayed
at this, we made a sudden and successful sally. Meanwhile the
legionaries, with remarkable skill and ingenuity, invented still
further contrivances. The one which caused most terror was a crane
with a movable arm suspended over their assailants' heads: this arm
was suddenly lowered, snatched up one or more of the enemy into the
air before his fellows' eyes, and, as the heavy end was swung round,
tossed him into the middle of the camp. Civilis now gave up hope of
storming the camp and renewed a leisurely blockade, trying all the
time by messages and offers of reward to undermine the loyalty of the


[299] Chap. 18.

[300] The Bructeri lived between the Lippe and the Upper Ems,
the Tencteri along the eastern bank of the Rhine, between its
tributaries the Ruhr and the Sieg, i.e. opposite Cologne.

[301] i.e. about 12,000 men. The bulk of the Fifth and a
detachment of the Fifteenth had gone to Italy.

[302] i.e. Frisii, Bructeri, Tencteri, &c.

[303] At Mainz.

[304] His other legion was IV Macedonica.

[305] Cp. chap. 20.

[306] Neuss.

[307] He commanded the First legion, which had joined the main
column at Bonn.

[308] Gellep. Some words are lost, perhaps giving the distance
from Novaesium.

[309] See note 282.

[310] At Gelduba.

[311] Cp. iii. 61.

[312] The Menapii lived between the Maas and the Scheldt; the
Morini on the coast in the neighbourhood of Boulogne. They
were a proverb for 'the back of beyond'.

[313] See i. 56, note 106.

[314] Düren.

[315] i.e. the gate on to the street leading to Head-quarters.


Such was the course of events in Germany up to the date of the 31
battle of Cremona.[316] News of this arrived by letter from Antonius
Primus, who enclosed a copy of Caecina's edict,[317] and Alpinius
Montanus,[318] who commanded one of the defeated auxiliary cohorts,
came in person to confess that his party had been beaten. The troops
were variously affected by the news. The Gallic auxiliaries, who had
no feelings of affection or dislike to either party and served without
sentiment, promptly took the advice of their officers and deserted
Vitellius. The veterans hesitated; under pressure from Flaccus and
their officers they eventually took the oath of allegiance, but it was
clear from their faces that their hearts were not in it, and while
repeating the rest of the formula they boggled at the name of
Vespasian, either muttering it under their breath or more often
omitting it altogether. Their suspicions were further inflamed 32
when Antonius' letter to Civilis was read out before the meeting; it
seemed to address Civilis as a member of the Flavian party, and to
argue hostility to the German army. The news was next brought to the
camp at Gelduba, where it gave rise to the same comments and the same
scenes. Montanus was sent to carry instructions to Civilis that he was
to cease from hostilities and not to make war on Rome under a false
pretext; if it was to help Vespasian that he had taken arms, he had
now achieved his object. Civilis at first replied in guarded terms.
Then, as he saw that Montanus was an impetuous person who would
welcome a revolution, he began to complain of all the dangers he had
endured in the service of Rome for the last twenty-five years. 'A fine
reward I have received,' he cried, 'for all my labours - my brother's
execution,[319] my own imprisonment,[319] and the bloodthirsty
clamours of this army, from which I claim satisfaction by natural
right since they have sought my destruction. As for you Trevirans and
all the rest that have the souls of slaves, what reward do you hope
to gain for shedding your blood so often in the cause of Rome, except
the thankless task of military service, endless taxation, and the rods
and axes of these capricious tyrants? Look at me! I have only a single
cohort under my command, and yet with the Canninefates and Batavi, a
mere fraction of the Gallic peoples, I am engaged in destroying their
great useless camp and besieging them with famine and the sword. In
short, our venture will either end in freedom or, if we are beaten, we
shall be no worse off than before.' Having thus inflamed Montanus he
told him to take back a milder answer and dismissed him. On his return
Montanus pretended that his errand had been fruitless, and said
nothing about the rest of the interview: but it soon came to light.

Retaining a portion of his force, Civilis sent the veteran cohorts 33
with the most efficient of the German troops against Vocula and his
army.[320] He gave the command to Julius Maximus and his nephew
Claudius Victor. After rushing the winter-quarters of a cavalry
regiment at Asciburgium[321] on their way, they fell upon the Roman
camp and so completely surprised it that Vocula had no time to address
his army or to form it for battle. The only precaution he could take
in the general panic was to mass the legionaries in the centre with
the auxiliaries scattered on either flank. Our cavalry charged, but
found the enemy in good order ready to receive them, and came flying
back on to their own infantry. What followed was more of a massacre
than a battle. The Nervian cohorts, either from panic or treachery,
left our flanks exposed; thus the legions had to bear the brunt. They
had already lost their standards and were being cut down in the
trenches, when a fresh reinforcement suddenly changed the fortune of
the fight. Some Basque auxiliaries,[322] originally levied by Galba,
who had now been summoned to the rescue, on nearing the camp heard the
sound of fighting, and while the enemy were occupied, came charging in
on their rear. This caused more consternation than their numbers
warranted, the enemy taking them for the whole Roman force, either
from Novaesium or from Mainz. This mistake encouraged the Roman
troops: their confidence in others brought confidence in themselves.
The best of the Batavians, at least of their infantry, fell. The
cavalry made off with the standards and prisoners taken in the earlier
stage of the battle. Though our losses that day were numerically
larger, they were unimportant, whereas the Germans lost their best

On both sides the generals deserved defeat, and failed to make 34
good use of their success. Their fault was the same. Had Civilis
furnished the attacking column with more troops, they could never have
been surrounded by such a small force, and having stormed the camp
would have destroyed it. Vocula, on the other hand, had not even set
scouts to warn him of the enemy's approach, and consequently no sooner
sallied out than he was beaten. Then, when he had won the victory, he
showed great lack of confidence, and wasted day after day before
moving against the enemy. If he had made haste to follow up his
success and struck at the enemy at once, he might have raised the
siege of Vetera at one blow.

Meanwhile Civilis had been playing upon the feelings of the besieged
by pretending that the Romans had been defeated and success had
favoured his arms. The captured standards and colours were carried
round the walls and the prisoners also displayed. One of these did a
famous deed of heroism. Shouting at the top of his voice, he revealed
the truth. The Germans at once struck him dead, which only served to
confirm his information. Soon, too, the besieged saw signs of harried
fields and the smoke of burning farms, and began to realize that a
victorious army was approaching. When he was in sight of the camp
Vocula ordered his men to plant the standards and construct a trench
and rampart round them: they were to deposit all their baggage there
and fight unencumbered. This made them shout at the general to give
them the signal; and they had learnt to use threats too. Without even
taking time to form their line they started the battle, all tired as
they were, and in disorder. Civilis was ready waiting for them,
trusting quite as much to their mistakes as to the merits of his own
men. The Romans fought with varying fortune. All the most mutinous
proved cowards: some, however, remembered their recent victory and
stuck to their places, cutting down the enemy, and encouraging
themselves and their neighbours. When the battle was thus renewed,
they waved their hands and signalled to the besieged not to lose their
opportunity. These were watching all that happened from the walls, and
now came bursting out at every gate. It chanced that at this point
Civilis' horse fell and threw him; both armies believed the rumour
that he had been wounded and killed. This caused immense consternation
to his army and immense encouragement to ours. However, Vocula failed
to pursue them when they fled, and merely set about strengthening the
rampart and turrets, apparently in fear of another blockade. His
frequent failure to make use of his victory gives colour to the
suspicion that he preferred war.[323]

What chiefly distressed our troops was the lack of supplies. The 35
baggage-train of the legions was sent to Novaesium with a crowd of
non-combatants to fetch provisions thence by land, the enemy being now
masters of the river. The first convoy got through safely, while
Civilis was recovering from his fall. But when he heard that a second
foraging-party had been sent to Novaesium under guard of several
cohorts, and that they were proceeding on their way with their arms
piled in the wagons as if it was a time of perfect peace, few keeping
to the standards and all wandering at will, he sent some men forward
to hold the bridges and any places where the road was narrow, and then
formed up and attacked. The battle was fought on a long straggling
line, and the issue was still doubtful when nightfall broke it off.
The cohorts made their way through to Gelduba, where the camp remained
as it was,[324] garrisoned by the soldiers who had been left behind
there. It was obvious what dangers the convoy would have to face on
the return journey; they would be heavily laden and had already lost
their nerve. Vocula[325] accordingly added to his force a thousand
picked men from the Fifth and Fifteenth legions who had been at Vetera
during the siege, all tough soldiers with a grievance against their
generals. Against his orders, more than the thousand started with him,
openly complaining on the march that they would not put up with famine
and the treachery of their generals any longer. On the other hand,
those who stayed behind grumbled that they were left to their fate now
that part of the garrison had been removed. Thus there was a double
mutiny, one party calling Vocula back, the others refusing to return
to camp.

Meanwhile Civilis laid siege to Vetera. Vocula retired to Gelduba, 36
and thence to Novaesium, shortly afterwards winning a cavalry skirmish
just outside Novaesium. The Roman soldiers, however, alike in success
and in failure, were as eager as ever to make an end of their
generals. Now that their numbers were swelled by the arrival of the
detachments from the Fifth and the Fifteenth[326] they demanded their
donative, having learnt that money had arrived from Vitellius. Without
further delay Flaccus gave it to them in Vespasian's name, and this
did more than anything else to promote mutiny. They indulged in wild
dissipation and met every night in drinking-parties, at which they
revived their old grudge against Hordeonius Flaccus. None of the
officers ventured to interfere with them - the darkness somehow
obscured their sense of duty - and at last they dragged Flaccus out of
bed and murdered him. They were preparing to do the same with Vocula,
but he narrowly escaped in the darkness, disguised as a slave.
When the excitement subsided, their fears returned, and they sent 37
letters round by centurions to all the Gallic communities, asking for
reinforcements and money for the soldiers' pay.

Without a leader a mob is always rash, timorous, and inactive. On the
approach of Civilis they hurriedly snatched up their arms, and then
immediately dropped them and took to flight. Misfortune now bred
disunion, and the army of the Upper Rhine[327] dissociated itself
from the rest. However, they set up the statues of Vitellius again in
the camp and in the neighbouring Belgic villages, although by now
Vitellius was dead.[328] Soon the soldiers of the First, Fourth, and
Twenty-second repented of their folly and rejoined Vocula. He made
them take a second oath of allegiance to Vespasian and led them off to
raise the siege of Mainz. The besieging army, a combined force of
Chatti,[329] Usipi, and Mattiaci,[330] had already retired, having got
sufficient loot and suffered some loss. Our troops surprised them
while they were scattered along the road, and immediately attacked.
Moreover, the Treviri had built a rampart and breastwork all along
their frontier and fought the Germans again and again with heavy loss
to both sides. Before long, however, they rebelled, and thus sullied
their great services to the Roman people.


[316] The end of October, A.D. 69 (see iii. 30-34).

[317] Caecina, as consul, had probably while at Cremona issued
a manifesto in favour of joining the Flavian party.

[318] Cp. iii. 35.

[319] See chap. 13.

[320] At Gelduba (chap. 26).

[321] Asberg.

[322] From the north-east frontier of the Tarragona division
of Spain, of which Galba had been governor. Hordeonius
explained (chap. 25) that he had summoned aid from Spain.

[323] Mr. Henderson calls this sentence 'a veritable
masterpiece of improbability', and finds it 'hard to speak
calmly of such a judgement'. He has to confess that a military
motive for Vocula's inaction is hard to find. Tacitus, feeling
the same, offers a merely human motive. Soldiers of fortune
often prefer war to final victory, and in these days the
dangers of peace were only equalled by its ennui. Besides,
Tacitus' explanation lends itself to an epigram which he would
doubtless not have exchanged for the tedium of tactical truth.

[324] Cp. chap. 26.

[325] Having strengthened the defences of Vetera, he was now
going back to Gelduba.

[326] From the Vetera garrison.

[327] i.e. the troops which Flaccus at Mainz had put under
Vocula for the relief of Vetera (chap. 24).

[328] It was therefore later than December 21.

[329] Cp. chap. 12.

[330] The Usipi lived on the east bank of the Rhine between
the Sieg and the Lahn; the Mattiaci between the Lahn and the
Main, round Wiesbaden.


During these events Vespasian took up his second consulship and 38
Titus his first, both in absence.[331] Rome was depressed and beset by
manifold anxieties. Apart from the real miseries of the moment, it
was plunged into a groundless panic on the rumour of a rebellion in
Africa, where Lucius Piso was supposed to be plotting a revolution.
Piso, who was governor of the province, was far from being a
firebrand. But the severity of the winter delayed the corn-ships, and
the common people, accustomed to buy their bread day by day, whose
interest in politics was confined to the corn-supply, soon began to
believe their fears that the coast of Africa was being blockaded and
supplies withheld. The Vitellians, who were still under the sway of
party spirit, fostered this rumour, and even the victorious party were
not entirely displeased at it, for none of their victories in the
civil war had satisfied their greed, and even foreign wars fell far
short of their ambition.

On the first of January the senate was convened by the Urban 39
Praetor,[332] Julius Frontinus, and passed votes of thanks and
congratulation to the generals, armies, and foreign princes.[333]
Tettius Julianus,[334] who had left his legion when it went over to
Vespasian, was deprived of his praetorship, which was conferred upon
Plotius Grypus.[335] Hormus[336] was raised to equestrian rank.
Frontinus then resigned his praetorship and Caesar Domitian succeeded
him. His name now stood at the head of all dispatches and edicts, but
the real authority lay with Mucianus, although Domitian, following

Online LibraryCaius Cornelius TacitusTacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II → online text (page 22 of 29)