History from the Annals of Cornelius Tacitus

A man of strong prepossessions and prejudices, Tacitus allowed them to colour his narratives; but he cannot be charged with dishonesty. His portraits are singularly powerful; his narrative is picturesque, vivid, dramatic; but the condensed character of his style and the pregnancy of his phrases make his work occasionally obscure. His Germania is a valuable record of the early institutions of the Teutonic peoples. His Histories of the Empire from Galba to Domitian are valuable as dealing with events of which he was an eye-witness. His Annals, covering practically the reigns from Tiberius to Nero, open only some forty years before his own birth.


Tiberius, adopted son and actual stepson of Augustus, was summoned from Illyria by his mother Livia to the bedside of the dying emperor at Nola. Augustus left a granddaughter, Agrippina, who was married to Germanicus, the nephew of Tiberius; and a grandson, Agrippa Postumus, a youth of evil reputation. The succession of Tiberius was not in doubt; but his first act was to have Agrippa Postumus put to death--according to his own statement, by the order of Augustus.

At Rome, consuls, senators and knights hurried to embrace their servitude. The nobler the name that each man bore, the more zealous was he in his hypocrisy. The grave pretence of Tiberius that he laid no claim to imperial honours was met by the grave pretence that the needs of the state forbade his refusal of them. His mother, Livia Augusta, was the object of a like sycophancy. But the world was not deceived by the solemn farce.

The death of Augustus, however, was the signal for mutinous outbreaks among the legions on the European frontiers of the empire. In Pannonia the ostensible motive was jealousy of the higher pay and easier terms of service of the Praetorian guard. So violent were the men, and so completely did the officers lose control, that Drusus, the son of Tiberius, was sent to make terms with the mutineers, and only owed his success to the reaction caused by the superstitious alarm of the soldiery at an eclipse of the moon. Germanicus, who was in command in Germany, was absent in Gaul. Here the mutiny of the Lower Army, under Caecina, was very serious, because it was clearly organized, the men working systematically and not haphazard.

News of the outbreak brought their popular general, Germanicus, to the spot. The mutineers at once offered to make him emperor, a proposal which he indignantly repudiated. The position, in a hostile country, made some concession necessary; but fresh disturbances broke out when it was suspected that the arrival of a commission from the senate meant that the concessions would be cancelled. Here the reaction which broke down the mutiny was caused by the shame of the soldiers themselves when Germanicus sent his wife and child away from a camp where their lives were in danger. Of their own accord, the best of the soldiers turned on their former ringleaders and slew them. And the legions under Caecina took similar steps to recover their lost credit. Germanicus, however, saw that the true remedy for the disaffection would be found in an active campaign. The desired effect was attained by an expedition against the Marsi, conducted with a success which Tiberius, at Rome, regarded with mixed feelings.

The German tribe named the Cherusci favoured Arminius, the determined enemy of Rome, in preference to Segestes, who was conspicuous for 'loyalty' to Rome. Germanicus advanced to support the latter, and Arminius was enraged by the news that his wife, the daughter of Segestes, was a prisoner. His call to arms, his declamations in the name of liberty, roused the Cherusci, the people who had annihilated the legions of Varus a few years before. A column commanded by Caecina was enticed by Arminius into a swampy position, where it was in extreme danger, and a severe engagement took place. The scheme of Arminius was to attack the Romans on the march; fortunately, the rasher counsels of his uncle, Inguiomerus, prevailed; an attempt was made to storm the camp and the Romans were thus enabled to inflict a decisive defeat on the foe.

IT was at this time that the disastrous practice was instituted of informers bringing charges of treason against prominent citizens on grounds which Tiberius himself condemned as frivolous. The emperor began to make a practice of attending trials, which indeed prevented corrupt awards, but ruined freedom.

Now arose disturbances in the east. The Parthians expelled their king, Vonones, a former favourite of Augustus. Armenia became involved, and these things were the source of serious complications later. Tiberius was already meditating the transfer of Germanicus to these regions. That general, however, was planning a fresh German campaign from the North Sea coast. A great fleet carried the army to the mouth of the Ems; thence Germanicus marched to the Weser and crossed it. Germanicus was gratified to find that his troops were eager for the impending fray. A tremendous defeat was inflicted on the Cherusci, with little loss to the Romans. Arminius, who had headed a charge which all but broke the Roman line, escaped only with the utmost difficulty.

Nevertheless, the Germans rallied their forces and a second furious engagement took place, in which the foe fought again with desperate valour, and were routed mainly through the superiority of the Roman armour and discipline. The triumph was marred only by a disaster which befel the legions which were withdrawn by sea. A terrific storm wrecked almost the entire fleet, and it was with great difficulty that the few survivors were rescued. The consequent revival of German hopes made it necessary for two large armies to advance against the Marsi and the Catti respectively, complete success again attending the Roman arms.

Jealousy of his nephew's popularity and success now caused Tiberius to insist on his recall. At this time informers charged with treason a young man of distinguished family, Libo Drusus, mainly on the ground of his foolish consultation of astrologers, with the result that Drusus committed suicide. This story will serve as one among many which exemplify the prevalent demoralisation. In the same year occurred the audacious insurrection of a slave who impersonated the dead Agrippa Postumus; and also the deposition of the king of Cappadocia whose kingdom was annexed as a province of the empire.

A contest took place between the Suevi and the Cherusci, in which Rome declined to intervene. Maroboduus, of the Suevi, was disliked because he took the title of king, which was alien to the German ideas, being in this respect contrasted with Arminius. The Cherusci had the better of the encounter.

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