Roman Empire: Ebb-tide of revolt (Part 26)

This success on the part of the Sequani checked the rising flood. The Gallic communities gradually came to their senses and began to remember their obligations as allies. In this movement the Remi [Round Reims] took the lead. They circulated a notice throughout Gaul, summoning a meeting of delegates to consider whether liberty or peace was the preferable alternative.

At Rome, however, all these disasters were exaggerated, and Mucianus began to feel anxious. He had already appointed Annius Gallus and Petilius Cerialis to the chief command, and distinguished officers as they were, he was afraid the conduct of such a war might be too much for them. Moreover, he could not leave Rome without government, but he was afraid of Domitian’s unbridled passions, while, as we have already seen, he suspected Antonius Primus and Arrius Varus. Varus, as commanding the Guards, still had the chief power and influence in his hands. Mucianus accordingly displaced him, but, as compensation, made him Director of the Corn-supply. As he had also to placate Domitian, who was inclined to support Varus, he appointed to the command of the Guards Arrecinus Clemens, who was connected with Vespasian’s family [His sister was Titus’s first wife] and very friendly with Domitian. He also impressed it upon Domitian that Clemens’ father had filled this command with great distinction under Caligula: that his name and his character would both find favour with the troops, and that, although he was a member of the senate, [Augustus had made it a rule that the “praefectus praetorio” should come from the equestrian order] he was quite able to fill both positions. He then chose his staff, some as being the most eminent men in the country, others as recommended by private influence.

Thus both Domitian and Mucianus made ready to start, but with very different feelings. Domitian was full of the sanguine haste of youth, while Mucianus kept devising delays to check this enthusiasm. He was afraid that if Domitian once seized control of an army, his youthful self-assurance and his bad advisers would lead him into action prejudicial both to peace and war. Three victorious legions, the Eighth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth; [The text is here uncertain, and some historians maintain that the third of these legions was not XIII Gemina but VII Claudia (v. Henderson, “Civil War”, etc., p. 291] the Twenty-first–one of Vitellius’ legions–and the Second, which had been newly enrolled, all started for the front, some by way of the Poenine and Cottian [Great St. Bernard and Mt. Genevre] Alps, others over the Graian Alps.[Little St. Bernard] The Fourteenth was also summoned from Britain, and the Sixth and First from Spain.

The rumour that this force was on its way, combined with the present temper of the Gauls, inclined them to adopt a sober policy. Their delegates now met in the territory of the Remi, where they found the representatives of the Trevirii awaiting them. One of these, Julius Valentinus, who was the keenest instigator of a hostile policy, delivered a set speech, in which he heaped spiteful aspersions on the Roman people, making all the charges which are usually brought against great empires. He was a clever agitator, whose mad rhetoric made him popular with the crowd.

However, Julius Auspex, a chieftain of the Remi, enlarged upon the power of Rome and the blessings of peace. ‘Any coward can begin a war,’ he said, ‘but it is the brave who run the risks of its conduct: and here are the legions already upon us.’ Thus he restrained them, awakening a sense of duty in all the sager breasts, and appealing to the fears of the younger men. So, while applauding Valentinus’ courage, they followed the advice of Auspex. The fact that in Vindex’s rising the Trevirii and Lingones sided with Verginius is known to have told against them in Gaul. Many, too, were held back by tribal jealousy. They wanted to know where the head-quarters of the war would be, to whom were they to look for auspices and orders, and, if all went well, which town would be chosen as the seat of government. Thus dissension preceded victory. They angrily magnified, some their great connexions, others their wealth and strength, others their antiquity, until they grew tired of discussing the future and voted for the existing state of things. Letters were written to the Trevirii in the name of All Gaul, bidding them cease hostilities, suggesting, however, that pardon might be obtained, and that many were ready to plead their cause if they showed repentance. Valentinus opposed this mandate and made his tribesmen offer a deaf ear to it. He was always less anxious to organize a campaign than to make speeches on every possible occasion.

The result was that neither the Trevirii nor the Lingones nor the other rebel tribes behaved as if aware of the serious risks they were undertaking. Even the leaders did not act in concert. Civilis wandered over the wilds of the Belgic country, trying to catch or expel Claudius Labeo. Classicus ordinarily took his ease, apparently enjoying the fruits of empire. Even Tutor seemed in no hurry to garrison the Upper Rhine and block the Alpine passes. In the meantime, the Twenty-first legion made its way down from Vindonissa, while Sextilius Felix advanced through Raetia with some auxiliary cohorts. These were joined by the ‘Picked Horse’, [i.e. not raised in any one locality] a force that had been raised by Vitellius and then deserted to Vespasian. This was commanded by Civilis’ nephew, Julius Briganticus, for uncle and nephew hated each other with all the aggravated bitterness of near relatives. Tutor swelled his force of Treviri with fresh levies from the Vangiones, Triboci, and Caeracates,[ The Triboci were in Lower Alsace; the Vangiones north of them in the district of Worms; the Caeracates probably to the north again, in the district between Mainz and the Nahe (Nava)] and a stiffening of Roman veterans, both horse and foot, who had either been bribed or intimidated. These first cut up an auxiliary cohort sent forward by Sextilius Felix, but on the advance of the Roman army with its generals they loyally deserted to their old flag, and were followed by the Triboci, Vangiones, and Caeracates. Tutor, followed by his Trevirii, avoided Mainz and fell back on Bingium, [Bingen] relying on his position there, as he had broken down the bridge over the river Nava. However, Sextilius’ cohorts followed him up; some traitor showed them a ford; Tutor was routed. This disaster was a crushing blow to the Trevirii. The rank and file dropped their weapons and took to the fields, while some of their chieftains, hoping it might be thought that they had been the first to lay down arms, took refuge among tribes who had never repudiated the Roman alliance. The legions which had been moved, as we saw above, from Novaesium and Bonn to Trier, now administered to themselves the oath of allegiance to Vespasian. This happened in Valentinus’ absence. When he arrived in furious excitement, ready to spread universal ruin and confusion, the legions withdrew into the friendly territory of the Mediomatrici. [Round Metz] Valentinus and Tutor then led the Trevirii forcibly back into the field, but first they killed the two Roman officers, Herennius and Numisius. By diminishing the hope of pardon they tried to cement their bond of crime.

Such was the position when Petilius Cerialis reached Mainz. His arrival roused high hopes. He was himself thirsting for battle, and being always better at despising his enemy than at taking precautions, he fired his men by delivering a spirited harangue, promising that directly there was a chance of getting into touch with the enemy he would engage without delay. He dismissed the Gallic recruits to their homes with a message that the legions were enough for his task: the allies could resume their peaceful occupations; feeling assured that the war was practically ended, now that Roman troops had taken it in hand. This action rendered the Gauls all the more tractable. They made less difficulty about the war-tax, now that they had got their men back again, while his disdain only sharpened their sense of duty. On the other side, when Civilis and Classicus heard of Tutor’s defeat, the destruction of the Treviri, and the universal success of the Roman arms, they fell into a panic, hastily mobilized their own scattered forces, and kept sending messages to Valentinus not to risk a decisive battle. This only hastened Cerialis’ movements. He sent guides to the legions stationed in the country of the Mediomatrici to lead them by the shortest route on the enemy’s rear. Then, assembling all the troops to be found in Mainz [The other detachments of legions IV and XXII] together with his own force, he marched in three days to Rigodulum.[ Riol] Here, on a spot protected by the mountains on one side and the Moselle on the other, Valentinus had already taken his stand with a large force of Trevirii. His camp had been strengthened with trenches and stone barricades, but these fortifications had no terrors for the Roman general. He ordered the infantry to force the position in front, while the cavalry were to ascend the hill. Valentinus’ hurriedly assembled forces filled him with contempt, for he knew that whatever advantages their position might give them, the superior morale of his men would outweigh it. A short delay was necessary while the cavalry climbed the hill, exposed to the enemy’s fire. But when the fight began, the Treviri tumbled headlong down the hill like a house falling. Some of our cavalry, who had ridden round by an easier gradient, captured several Belgic chieftains, including their general, Valentinus.

On the next day Cerialis entered Trier. The troops clamoured greedily for its destruction. ‘It was the native town of Classicus and of Tutor: these were the men who had wickedly entrapped and slaughtered the legions. Its guilt was far worse than that of Cremona, which had been wiped off the face of Italy for causing the victors a single night’s delay. Was the chief seat of the rebellion to be left standing untouched on the German frontier, glorying in the spoil of Roman armies and the blood of Roman generals? [Hordeonius Flaccus, Vocula, Herennius, and Numisius] The plunder could go to the Imperial Treasury. It would be enough for them to see the rebel town in smoking ruins; that would be some compensation for the destruction of so many camps.’ Cerialis was afraid of soiling his reputation if it was said that he gave his men a taste for cruelty and riot, so he suppressed their indignation. They obeyed him, too, for now that civil war was done with, there was less insubordination on Foreign Service. Their thoughts were now distracted by the pitiful plight of the legions who had been summoned from the country of the Mediomatrici. [Legions I and XVI] Miserably conscious of their guilt, they stood with eyes rooted to the ground. When the armies met, they raised no cheer: they had no answer for those who offered comfort and encouragement: they skulked in their tents, shunning the light of day. It was not fear of punishment so much as the shame of their disgrace which thus overwhelmed them. Even the victorious army showed their bewilderment: hardly venturing to make an audible petition, they craved pardon for them with silent tears. At length Cerialis soothed their alarm. He insisted that all disasters due to dissension between officers and men, or to the enemy’s guile, were to be regarded as ‘acts of destiny’. They were to count this as their first day of service and sworn allegiance. [They had, as a matter of fact, changed their allegiance no less than six times since the outbreak of the civil war] Neither he nor the emperor would remember past misdeeds. He then gave them quarters in his own camp, and sent round orders that no one in the heat of any quarrel should taunt a fellow soldier with mutiny or defeat.

Cerialis next summoned the Treviri and Lingones, and addressed them as follows: ‘Unpractised as I am in public speaking, for it is only on the field that I have asserted the superiority of Rome, yet since words have so much weight with you, and since you distinguish good and bad not by the light of facts but by what agitators tell you, I have decided to make a few remarks, which, as the war is practically over, are likely to be more profitable to the audience than to ourselves. Roman generals and officers originally set foot in your country and the rest of Gaul from no motives of ambition, but at the call of your ancestors, who were worn almost to ruin by dissension. The Germans whom one party summoned to their aid had forced the yoke of slavery on allies and enemies alike. You know how often we fought against the Cimbri and the Teutons, with what infinite pains and with what striking success our armies have undertaken German wars. All that is notorious and today it is not to protect Italy that we have occupied the Rhine, but to prevent some second Ariovistus making himself master of All Gaul.[436] Do you imagine that Civilis and his Batavi and the other tribes across the Rhine care any more about you than their ancestors cared about your fathers and grandfathers? The Germans have always had the same motives for trespassing into Gaul–their greed for gain and their desire to change homes with you. They wanted to leave their marshes and deserts, and to make themselves masters of this magnificently fertile soil and of you who live on it. Of course they use specious pretexts and talk about liberty. No one has ever wanted to enslave others and play the tyrant without making use of the very same phrases.[Ariovistus, king of the Suebi, summoned to aid one Gallic confederacy against another, formed the ambition of conquering Gaul, but was defeated by Julius Caesar near Besancon (Vesontio) in 58 B.C.E.]

‘Tyranny and warfare were always rife throughout the length and breadth of Gaul, until you accepted Roman government. Often as we have been provoked, we have never imposed upon you any burden by right of conquest, except what was necessary to maintain peace. Tribes cannot be kept quiet without troops. You cannot have troops without pay; and you cannot raise pay without taxation. In every other respect you are treated as our equals. You frequently command our legions yourselves: you govern this and other provinces yourselves. We have no exclusive privileges. Though you live so far away, you enjoy the blessings of a good emperor no less than we do, whereas the tyrant only oppresses his nearest neighbours. You must put up with luxury and greed in your masters, just as you put up with bad crops or excessive rain, or any other natural disaster. Vice will last as long as mankind. But these evils are not continual. There are intervals of good government, which make up for them. You cannot surely hope that the tyranny of Tutor and Classicus would mean milder government, or that they will need less taxation for the armies they will have to raise to keep the Germans and Britons at bay. For if the Romans were driven out–which Heaven forbid–what could ensue save a universal state of intertribal warfare? During eight hundred years, by good fortune and good organization, the structure of empire has been consolidated. It cannot be pulled down without destroying those who do it. And it is you who would run the greatest risk of all, since you have gold and rich resources, which are the prime causes of war. You must learn, then, to love and foster peace and the city of Rome in which you, the vanquished, have the same rights as your conquerors. You have tried both conditions. Take warning, then, that submission and safety are better than rebellion and ruin.’ By such words as these he quieted and reassured his audience, who had been afraid of more rigorous measures.

While the victors were occupying Trier, Civilis and Classicus sent a letter to Cerialis, the gist of which was that Vespasian was dead, though the news was being suppressed: Rome and Italy were exhausted by civil war: Mucianus and Domitian were mere names with no power behind them: if Cerialis desired to be emperor of All Gaul, they would be satisfied with their own territory: but if he should prefer battle, that, too, they would not deny him. Cerialis made no answer to Civilis and Classicus, but sent the letter and its bearer to Domitian.

The enemy now approached Trier from every quarter in detached bands, and Cerialis was much criticized for allowing them to unite, when he might have cut them off one by one. The Roman army now threw a trench and rampart round their camp, for they had rashly settled in it without seeing to the fortifications.

In the German camp different opinions were being keenly debated. Civilis contended that they should wait for the tribes from across the Rhine, whose arrival would spread a panic sufficient to crush the enfeebled forces of the Romans. The Gaul’s, he urged, were simply a prey for the winning side and, as it was, the Belgae, who were their sole strength, had declared for him or were at least sympathetic. Tutor maintained that delay only strengthened the Roman force, since their armies were converging from every quarter. ‘They have brought one legion across from Britain, others have been summoned from Spain, or are on their way from Italy. Nor are they raw recruits, but experienced veterans, while the Germans, on whose aid we rely, are subject to no discipline or control, but do whatever they like. You can only bribe them with presents of money, and the Romans have the advantage of us there: besides, however keen to fight, a man always prefers peace to danger, so long as the pay is the same. But if we engage them at once, Cerialis has nothing but the remnants of the German army, [Tutor errored. Cerialis had also the Twenty-first from Vindonissa, Felix’s auxiliary cohorts, and the troops he had found at Mainz] who have sworn allegiance to the Gallic Empire. The very fact that they have just won an unexpected victory over Valentinus’ undisciplined bands [He suppresses his own defeat at Bingen] serves to confirm them and their general in imprudence. They will venture out again and will fall, not into the hands of an inexperienced boy, who knows more about making speeches than war, but into the hands of Civilis and Classicus, at the sight of whom they will recall their fears and their flights and their famine, and remember how often they have had to beg their lives from their captors. Nor, again, is it any liking for the Romans that keeps back the Trevirii and Lingones: they will fly to arms again, when once their fears are dispelled.’ Classicus finally settled the difference of opinion by declaring for Tutor’s policy, and they promptly proceeded to carry it out.

The Ubii and Lingones were placed in the center, the Batavian cohorts on the right, and on the left the Bructeri and Tencteri. Advancing, some by the hills and some by the path between the road and the river,[The town lay on the right bank of the Moselle; the Roman camp on the left bank between the river and the hills. There was only one bridge] they took us completely by surprise. So sudden was their onslaught that Cerialis, who had not spent the night in camp, was still in bed when he heard almost simultaneously that the fighting had begun and that the day was lost. He cursed the messengers for their cowardice until he saw the whole extent of the disaster with his own eyes. The camp had been forced, the cavalry routed, and the bridge over the Moselle, leading to the outskirts of the town, which lay between him and his army, was held by the enemy. But confusion had no terrors for Cerialis. Seizing hold on fugitives, flinging himself without any armour into the thick of the fire, he succeeded by his inspired imprudence and the assistance of the braver men in retaking the bridge. Leaving a picked band to hold it, he hurried back to the camp, where he found that the companies of the legions which had surrendered at Bonn and Novaesium [The Sixteenth had its permanent camp at Novaesium, the First at Bonn. Both surrendered at Novaesium] were all broken up, few men were left at their posts, and the eagles were all but surrounded by the enemy. He turned on them in blazing anger, ‘It is not Flaccus or Vocula that you are deserting. There is no “treason” about me. I have done nothing to be ashamed of, except that I was rash enough to believe that you had forgotten your Gallic ties and awakened to the memory of your Roman allegiance. Am I to be numbered with Numisius and Herennius? Then you can say that all your generals have fallen either by your hands or the enemy’s. Go and tell the news to Vespasian, or rather, to Civilis and Classicus–they are nearer at hand–that you have deserted your general on the field of battle. There will yet come legions that will not leave me unavenged or you unpunished.’

All he said was true, and the other officers heaped the same reproaches on their heads. The men were drawn up in cohorts and companies, since it was impossible to deploy with the enemy swarming round them, and, the fight being inside the rampart, the tents and baggage were a serious encumbrance. Tutor and Classicus and Civilis, each at his post, were busy rallying their forces, appealing to the Gauls to fight for freedom, the Batavians for glory, and the Germans for plunder. Everything, indeed, went well for the enemy until the Twenty-first legion, which had rallied in a clearer space than any of the others, first sustained their charge and then repulsed them. Then, by divine providence, on the very point of victory the enemy suddenly lost their nerve and turned tail. They themselves attributed their panic to the appearance of the Roman auxiliaries, who, after being scattered by the first charge, formed again on the hill-tops and were taken for fresh reinforcements. However, what really cost the Gauls their victory was that they let their enemy alone and indulged in ignoble squabbles over the spoil. Thus after Cerialis’ carelessness had almost caused disaster, his pluck now saved the day, and he followed up his success by capturing the enemy’s camp and destroying it before nightfall.

Cerialis’ troops were allowed short respite. Cologne was clamouring for help and offering to surrender Civilis’ wife and sister and Classicus’ daughter, who had been left behind there as pledges of the alliance. In the meantime the inhabitants had massacred all the stray Germans to be found in the town. They were now alarmed at this, and had good reason to implore aid before the enemy should recover their strength and bethink themselves of victory, or at any rate of revenge. Indeed, Civilis already had designs on Cologne, and he was still formidable, for the most warlike of his cohorts, composed of Chauci and Frisii, [The Frisii occupied part of Friesland; the Chauci lay east of them, between the Ems and Weser] was still in full force at Tolbiacum,[Zuelpich] within the territory of Cologne. However, he changed his plans on receiving the bitter news that this force had been entrapped and destroyed by the inhabitants of Cologne. They had entertained them at a lavish banquet, drugged them with wine, shut the doors upon them and burned the place to the ground. At the same moment Cerialis came by forced marches to the relief of Cologne. A further anxiety haunted Civilis. He was afraid that the Fourteenth legion, in conjunction with the fleet from Britain, [A small flotilla on guard in the Channel. It probably now transported the Fourteenth and landed them at Boulogne] might harry the Batavian coast. However, Fabius Priscus, who was in command, led his troops inland into the country of the Nervii and Tungri, who surrendered to him. The Canninefates made an unprovoked attack upon the fleet and sank or captured the greater number of the ships. They also defeated a band of Nervian volunteers who had been recruited in the Roman interest. Classicus secured a further success against an advance-guard of cavalry which Cerialis had sent forward to Novaesium. These repeated checks, though unimportant in themselves, served to dim the lustre of the recent Roman victory.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 4) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus: Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick


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