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Tacitus: Annals: Book 1 [40]

The Works of Tacitus

tr. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

[1864-1877]


Tacitus: Annals Book 1 [40]

40. Amid the alarm all condemned Germanicus for not going to the Upper Army, where he might find obedience and help against the rebels. "Enough and more than enough blunders," they said, "had been made by granting discharges and money, indeed, by conciliatory measures. Even if Germanicus held his own life cheap, why should he keep a little son and a pregnant wife among madmen who outraged every human right? Let these, at least, be restored safely to their grandsire and to the State." When his wife spurned the notion, protesting that she was a descendant of the Divine Augustus and could face peril with no degenerate spirit, he at last embraced her and the son of their love with many tears, and after long delay compelled her to depart. Slowly moved along a pitiable procession of women, a general's fugitive wife with a little son in her bosom, her friends' wives weeping round her, as with her they were dragging themselves from the camp. Not less sorrowful were those who remained.

41. There was no appearance of the triumphant general about Germanicus, and he seemed to be in a conquered city rather than in his own camp, while groans and wailings attracted the ears and looks even of the soldiers. They came out of their tents, asking "what was that mournful sound? What meant the sad sight? Here were ladies of rank, not a centurion to escort them, not a soldier, no sign of a prince's wife, none of the usual retinue. Could they be going to the Treveri, to be subjects of the foreigner?" Then they felt shame and pity, and remembered his father Agrippa, her grandfather Augustus, her father-in-law Drusus, her own glory as a mother of children, her noble purity. And there was her little child too, born in the camp, brought up amid the tents of the legions, whom they used to call in soldiers' fashion, Caligula, because he often wore the shoe so called, to win the men's goodwill. But nothing moved them so much as jealousy towards the Treveri. They entreated, stopped the way, that Agrippina might return and remain, some running to meet her, while most of them went back to Germanicus. He, with a grief and anger that were yet fresh, thus began to address the throng around him -

42. "Neither wife nor son are dearer to me than my father and the State. But he will surely have the protection of his own majesty, the empire of Rome that of our other armies. My wife and children whom, were it a question of your glory, I would willingly expose to destruction, I now remove to a distance from your fury, so that whatever wickedness is thereby threatened, may be expiated by my blood only, and that you may not be made more guilty by the slaughter of a great-grandson of Augustus, and the murder of a daughter-in-law of Tiberius. For what have you not dared, what have you not profaned during these days? What name shall I give to this gathering? Am I to call you soldiers, you who have beset with entrenchments and arms your general's son, or citizens, when you have trampled under foot the authority of the Senate? Even the rights of public enemies, the sacred character of the ambassador, and the law of nations have been violated by you. The Divine Julius once quelled an army's mutiny with a single word by calling those who were renouncing their military obedience 'citizens.' The Divine Augustus cowed the legions who had fought at Actium with one look of his face. Though I am not yet what they were, still, descended as I am from them, it would be a strange and unworthy thing should I be spurned by the soldiery of Spain or Syria. First and twentieth legions, you who received your standards from Tiberius, you, men of the twentieth who have shared with me so many battles and have been enriched with so many rewards, is not this a fine gratitude with which you are repaying your general? Are these the tidings which I shall have to carry to my father when he hears only joyful intelligence from our other provinces, that his own recruits, his own veterans are not satisfied with discharge or pay; that here only centurions are murdered, tribunes driven away, envoys imprisoned, camps and rivers stained with blood, while I am myself dragging on a precarious existence amid those who hate me?

43. "Why, on the first day of our meeting, why did you, my friends, wrest from me, in your blindness, the steel which I was preparing to plunge into my breast? Better and more loving was the act of the man who offered me the sword. At any rate I should have perished before I was as yet conscious of all the disgraces of my army, while you would have chosen a general who though he might allow my death to pass unpunished would avenge the death of Varus and his three legions. Never indeed may heaven suffer the Belgae, though they proffer their aid, to have the glory and honour of having rescued the name of Rome and quelled the tribes of Germany. It is thy spirit, Divine Augustus, now received into heaven, thine image, father Drusus, and the remembrance of thee, which, with these same soldiers who are now stimulated by shame and ambition, should wipe out this blot and turn the wrath of civil strife to the destruction of the foe. You too, in whose faces and in whose hearts I perceive a change, if only you restore to the Senate their envoys, to the emperor his due allegiance, to myself my wife and son, do you stand aloof from pollution and separate the mutinous from among you. This will be a pledge of your repentance, a guarantee of your loyalty."

44. Thereupon, as suppliants confessing that his reproaches were true, they implored him to punish the guilty, pardon those who had erred, and lead them against the enemy. And he was to recall his wife, to let the nursling of the legions return and not be handed over as a hostage to the Gauls. As to Agrippina's return, he made the excuse of her approaching confinement and of winter. His son, he said, would come, and the rest they might settle themselves. Away they hurried hither and thither, altered men, and dragged the chief mutineers in chains to Caius Caetronius commander of the first legion, who tried and punished them one by one in the following fashion. In front of the throng stood the legions with drawn swords. Each accused man was on a raised platform and was pointed out by a tribune. If they shouted out that he was guilty, he was thrown headlong and cut to pieces. The soldiers gloated over the bloodshed as though it gave them absolution. Nor did Caesar check them, seeing that without any order from himself the same men were responsible for all the cruelty and all the odium of the deed. The example was followed by the veterans, who were soon afterwards sent into Raetia, nominally to defend the province against a threatened invasion of the Suevi but really that they might tear themselves from a camp stamped with the horror of a dreadful remedy no less than with the memory of guilt. Then the general revised the list of centurions. Each, at his summons, stated his name, his rank, his birthplace, the number of his campaigns, what brave deeds he had done in battle, his military rewards, if any. If the tribunes and the legion commended his energy and good behaviour, he retained his rank; where they unanimously charged him with rapacity or cruelty, he was dismissed the service.

45. Quiet being thus restored for the present, a no less formidable difficulty remained through the turbulence of the fifth and twenty-first legions, who were in winter quarters sixty miles away at Old Camp, as the place was called. These, in fact, had been the first to begin the mutiny, and the most atrocious deeds had been committed by their hands. Unawed by the punishment of their comrades, and unmoved by their contrition, they still retained their resentment. Caesar accordingly proposed to send an armed fleet with some of our allies down the Rhine, resolved to make war on them should they reject his authority.

46. At Rome, meanwhile, when the result of affairs in Illyrium was not yet known, and men had heard of the commotion among the German legions, the citizens in alarm reproached Tiberius for the hypocritical irresolution with which he was befooling the senate and the people, feeble and disarmed as they were, while the soldiery were all the time in revolt, and could not be quelled by the yet imperfectly-matured authority of two striplings. "He ought to have gone himself and confronted with his imperial majesty those who would have soon yielded, when they once saw a sovereign of long experience, who was the supreme dispenser of rigour or of bounty. Could Augustus, with the feebleness of age on him, so often visit Germany, and is Tiberius, in the vigour of life, to sit in the Senate and criticise its members' words? He had taken good care that there should be slavery at Rome; he should now apply some soothing medicine to the spirit of soldiers, that they might be willing to endure peace."

47. Notwithstanding these remonstrances, it was the inflexible purpose of Tiberius not to quit the head-quarters of empire or to imperil himself and the State. Indeed, many conflicting thoughts troubled him. The army in Germany was the stronger; that in Pannonia the nearer; the first was supported by all the strength of Gaul; the latter menaced Italy. Which was he to prefer, without the fear that those whom he slighted would be infuriated by the affront? But his sons might alike visit both, and not compromise the imperial dignity, which inspired the greatest awe at a distance. There was also an excuse for mere youths referring some matters to their father, with the possibility that he could conciliate or crush those who resisted Germanicus or Drusus. What resource remained, if they despised the emperor? However, as if on the eve of departure, he selected his attendants, provided his camp-equipage, and prepared a fleet; then winter and matters of business were the various pretexts with which he amused, first, sensible men, then the populace, last, and longest of all, the provinces.

48. Germanicus meantime, though he had concentrated his army and prepared vengeance against the mutineers, thought that he ought still to allow them an interval, in case they might, with the late warning before them, regard their safety. He sent a despatch to Caecina, which said that he was on the way with a strong force, and that, unless they forestalled his arrival by the execution of the guilty, he would resort to an indiscriminate massacre. Caecina read the letter confidentially to the eagle and standardbearers, and to all in the camp who were least tainted by disloyalty, and urged them to save the whole army from disgrace, and themselves from destruction. "In peace," he said, "the merits of a man's case are carefully weighed; when war bursts on us, innocent and guilty alike perish." Upon this, they sounded those whom they thought best for their purpose, and when they saw that a majority of their legions remained loyal, at the commander's suggestion they fixed a time for falling with the sword on all the vilest and foremost of the mutineers. Then, at a mutually given signal, they rushed into the tents, and butchered the unsuspecting men, none but those in the secret knowing what was the beginning or what was to be the end of the slaughter.

49. The scene was a contrast to all civil wars which have ever occurred. It was not in battle, it was not from opposing camps, it was from those same dwellings where day saw them at their common meals, night resting from labour, that they divided themselves into two factions, and showered on each other their missiles. Uproar, wounds, bloodshed, were everywhere visible; the cause was a mystery. All else was at the disposal of chance. Even some loyal men were slain, for, on its being once understood who were the objects of fury, some of the worst mutineers too had seized on weapons. Neither commander nor tribune was present to control them; the men were allowed license and vengeance to their heart's content. Soon afterwards Germanicus entered the camp, and exclaiming with a flood of tears, that this was destruction rather than remedy, ordered the bodies to be burnt. Even then their savage spirit was seized with desire to march against the enemy, as an atonement for their frenzy, and it was felt that the shades of their fellow-soldiers could be appeased only by exposing such impious breasts to honourable scars. Caesar followed up the enthusiasm of the men, and having bridged over the Rhine, he sent across it 12,000 from the legions, with six-and-twenty allied cohorts, and eight squadrons of cavalry, whose discipline had been without a stain during the mutiny.


Next: Book 1 [50]

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