I claudius c 1, p.18

I, Claudius c-1, page 18

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series


I, Claudius c-1

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  The most valuable volume was the introductory one dealing with primitive ritual at Rome. Here I found myself in difficulties, because Augustus' ritualistic reforms were based on the findings of a religious commission which had not done its work properly. There had apparently been no antiquarian expert among the commissioners, so that a number of gross misunderstandings of ancient religious formulas had been embodied in the new official liturgies.

  Nobody who has not made a study of the Etruscan and Sabine languages is capable of correctly interpreting the more ancient of our religious incantations; and I devoted a great deal of my time to mastering the rudiments of both.

  At this time there were a few countrymen who still talked nothing but Sabine in the home and I persuaded two of them to come to Rome and provide Pallas, who was now acting as my secretary, with material for a short Sabine dictionary. I paid them well for this. Gallon, the best of my other secretaries, I sent to Capua to collect material for a similar dictionary of the Etruscan language from Aruns, the priest who had given me the information about Lars Porsena which had so pleased Pollio and so disgusted Livy.

  These two dictionaries, which later I enlarged and published, enabled me to clear up, to my own satisfaction, a number of outstanding problems of ancient religious worships; but I had learned to be careful and nothing that I wrote reflected on Augustus' scholarship or judgment.

  I will not spend any time on an account of the Balkan War, beyond saying that in spite of the wise generalship of my uncle Tiberius, the able assistance given him by my father-in-law Silvanus, and the dashing exploits of Germanicus, it dragged on for three years. In the end the whole country was reduced, and practically made into a desert, because these tribes, men and women, fought with extraordinary desperation and only acknowledged defeat when fire, famine and plague had more than halved the population. When the rebel leaders came to Tiberius to treat for peace he questioned them closely. He wanted to know why they had taken it into their heads to revolt in the first instance and then to offer so desperate a resistance. The chief rebel, a man called Bato, answered: "You yourselves are to blame. You send as guardians of your flocks neither shepherds nor watch-dogs, but wolves."

  This was not exactly true. Augustus chose the governors of his frontier provinces himself and paid them a substantial salary and saw to it that they did not divert any of the Imperial revenues into their own pockets. Taxes were paid directly to them, no longer farmed out to unprincipled tax-collecting companies.

  Augustus' governors were never wolves, as had been most of the republican governors, whose only interest in their provinces was how much they could squeeze out of them. Many of them were good watch-dogs and some were even honest shepherds. But it often happened that Augustus would unintentionally put the tax at too high a rate, discounting the distress caused by a bad harvest or a cattle plague or an earthquake; and rather than complain to him that the assessment was too high the governors would collect it to the last penny, even at the risk of revolt. Few of them took any personal interest in the people they were supposed to govern. A governor would settle in the Romanized capital town, where there were fine houses and theatres and temples and public baths and markets, and never think of visiting the outlying districts of his province. The real governing was done by deputies and by deputies of deputies and there must have been a great deal of petty jack-in-office oppression by the smaller men: perhaps it was these whom Bato called wolves, though "fleas" would have been a better word.

  There can be no doubt that under Augustus the provinces were infinitely more prosperous than under the Republic, and further that the home-provinces, which were governed by nominees of the Senate, were not nearly so well off as the frontier-provinces governed by Augustus' nominees.

  This comparison provided one of the few plausible arguments that I ever heard advanced against republican government; though based on the untenable hypothesis that the standard of personal morality among the leading men of an average republic is likely to be lower than the personal morality of an average absolute monarch and his chosen subordinates; and on the fallacy that the question of how the provinces are governed is more important than the question of what happens in the City. To recommend a monarchy on account of the prosperity it gives the provinces seems to me like recommending that a man should have liberty to treat his children as slaves, if at the same time he treats his slaves with reasonable consideration.

  For this costly and wasteful war a great triumph was decreed by the Senate for Augustus and Tiberius. It will be recalled that now only Augustus himself or members of his family were to be permitted a proper triumph, other [153] generals being awarded what were called "triumphal ornaments". Germanicus, though a Cassar, was granted only these ornaments, on technical [A.D. 9 grounds. Augustus might have stretched the point but was so grateful to Tiberius for his successful conduct of the war that he did not wish to antagonise him by giving Germanicus equal honours with him. Germanicus was also raised a degree in magisterial rank, and allowed to become Consul several years before the customary age.

  Castor, though he had taken no part in the war, was granted the privilege of attending meetings of the Senate before becoming a member of it, and was also advanced a degree in magisterial rank.

  At Rome the populace was looking forward with excitement to the triumph, which would mean largesse in corn and money and all sorts of good things: but a great disappointment was in store for them. A month before the date fixed for the triumph a terrible omen was observed--in Mars Field the temple of the War God was struck by lightning and nearly destroyed--and a few days later news came through from Germany of the heaviest military reverse suffered by Roman arms since Can-has, I might even say since The Allia, not quite four hundred years before. Three regiments had been massacred and all conquests east of the Rhine had been lost at a stroke; it seemed that there was nothing to prevent the Germans crossing the river and laying waste the three settled and prosperous provinces of France.

  I have already told of the crushing effect that this news had on Augustus.

  He felt it so strongly because he was not only officially responsible for the disaster, as the man charged by the Roman Senate and people with the security of all frontiers, but morally responsible as well. The disaster had been due to his imprudence in trying to force civilization on the barbarians too rapidly. The Germans conquered by my father had been gradually adapting themselves to Roman ways, learning the use of coinage, holding regular markets, building and furnishing houses in civilised style, and even meeting in assemblies that did not end, as their former assemblies had always ended, in armed battles. They were allies in name and if they had been allowed to forget their old barbarous ways gradually and to rely on the Roman garrison to protect them from their still uncivilised neighbours while they enjoyed the luxuries of provincial peace, they would no doubt in a couple of generations or less have grown as peaceful and docile as the French of Provence. But Varus, a connection of mine, whom Augustus appointed Governor of Germany Across the Rhine, began treating them not as allies but as a subject race: he was a vicious man and showed little regard for the extraordinarily strong feelings that Germans have about the chastity of their women-folk. Then Augustus needed money for the military treasury which the Balkan War had emptied. He imposed a number of new taxes from which the Across-Rhine Germans were not exempted.

  Varus advised him as to the paying capacity of the province and in his zeal assessed it too high.

  There were in Varus' camp two German chieftains, Hermann and Siegmyrgth, who spoke Latin fluently and appeared to be completely Romanized.

  Hermann had commanded German auxiliaries in a previous war and his loyalty was unquestioned. He had spent some time in Rome and had actually been enrolled among the noble knights. These two often ate at Varus' table and were on terms of the most intimate friendship with him. They encouraged him to suppose that their compatriots were no less loyal and grateful to Rome for the benefits of civilization than they themselves
were. But they were in constant secret communication with malcontent fellow-chieftains whom they persuaded for the time being to make no armed resistance to the Roman power and to pay their taxes with the greatest possible show of willingness. Soon they would be given the signal for a mass-revolt. Hermann, whose name means "warrior", and Siegmyrgth-

  -or let us call him Segimerus--whose name means "joyful victory", were too clever for Varus. Members of his staff were constantly warning him that the Germans were unnaturally well-behaved of recent months and that they were trying to disarm his suspicions before making a sudden rising; but he laughed at the suggestion. He said that the Germans were a very stupid race and incapable either of thinking out any such plan or of executing it without giving the secret away long [»55] before the time was ripe. Their docility was mere cowardice. The harder you hit a German the more he respected you; he was arrogant in prosperity and independence but once defeated came crawling to your feet like a dog and kept to heel ever afterwards. He refused even to heed warnings given him by another German chieftain who had a grudge against Hermann and saw far into his designs. Instead of keeping his forces concentrated, as he should have done in an only partially subdued country, he broke them up.

  On the secret instructions of Hermann and Segimerus, outlying communities sent Varus requests for military protection against bandits and for escorts to convoys of merchandise from France. Next came an armed uprising at the Eastern extremity of the province. A tax-collector and his staff were murdered.

  When Varus gathered his available forces for a punitive expedition, Hermann and Segimerus escorted him for part of his journey and then excused themselves from further attendance, promising to assemble their auxiliary forces and come to his help, if needed, as soon as he sent for them. These auxiliaries were already under arms and in ambush a few days' journey ahead of Varus on his line of march. The two chieftains now sent word to the outlying communities to fall upon the Roman detachment sent for their protection and not to let a man escape.

  No news came to Varus about this massacre because there were no survivors, and he was, in any case, out of touch with his headquarters. The road he was following was a mere forest track. But he did not take the precaution of putting out an advance-guard of skirmishers or flank-guards, but let the whole force--which contained a large number of non-combatants--string out in a disorderly column with as little precaution as if he had been within fifty miles of Rome. The march was very slow because he had constantly to be felling trees and bridging streams to enable the commissariat carts to get across; and this gave time for huge numbers of tribesmen to join the ambushing forces. The weather suddenly broke, a downpour of rain lasting for twenty-four hours or more soaked the men's leather shields, making them too heavy for fighting, and putting the archers' bows out of commission. The clay track became so slippery that it was difficult to keep one's footing and the carts were constantly getting stuck. The distance between the head and tail of the column increased. Then a smoke signal went up from a neighbouring hill and the Germans suddenly attacked from front, rear and both flanks.

  The Germans were no match for the Romans in fair fight and Varus had not much exaggerated their cowardice. At first they only dared to attack stragglers and transport drivers, avoiding hand-to-hand fighting but flinging volleys of assegais and darts from behind cover, and running back into the forest if a Roman so much as shook a sword and shouted. But they caused many casualties by these tactics.

  Parties led by Hermann, Segimerus and other chieftains made blocks on the road by wheeling captured carts together, breaking their wheels and felling trees across the wreckage. They made several of these blocks and left tribesmen behind them to harass the soldiers when they tried to clear them away. This so delayed the men at the tail of the column that, afraid of losing touch, they abandoned all the carts which were still in their possession and hurried forward, hoping ftiat the Germans would be so busy plundering that they would not return to the attack for some time.

  The leading regiment had reached a hill where there were not many trees because of a recent forest fire and here they formed up in safety and waited for the other two. They still had their transport and had only lost a few hundred men.

  The other two regiments were suffering much more heavily.

  Men got separated from their companies, and new units were formed of from fifty to two hundred men apiece, each with a rear-guard, an advance-guard and flank-guards. The flank-guards could only go forward very slowly because of the denseness and marshiness of the forest and frequently lost touch with their little units; the advance-guards lost heavily at the barricades and the rear-guards were constantly being assegaied from behind. When the roll was called that night Varus found that nearly a third of his force was killed or missing. The next day he fought his way into open country, but he had been obliged to abandon the remainder of his transport. Food was scarce and on the third day he [•57] had to plunge into the forest again. The casualties on the second day had not been severe, for a large number of the enemy were occupied plundering the wagons and carrying the loot away with them, but when the roll was called on the evening of the third day only a quarter of the original force were present to answer their names. On the fourth day Varus was still advancing, for he was too wrong-headed to admit defeat and abandon his original objective, but the weather, which had improved somewhat, now became worse than ever, and the Germans, who were accustomed to heavy rain, grew bolder and bolder as they saw resistance weakening. They came to closer quarters.

  About noon Varus saw that all was over and killed himself rather than fall alive into the hands of the enemy. Most of the senior officers surviving followed his example, and many of the men. Only one officer kept his head--the same Cassius Cbaerea who fought that day in the amphitheatre.

  He was commanding the rear-guard, composed of mountaineers from Savoy, who were more at home in a forest than most; and when news came by a fugitive that Varus was dead, the Eagles captured and not three hundred men of the main body left on their feet. He determined to save what he could from the slaughter. He turned his force about and broke through the enemy with a sudden charge.

  Cassius' great courage, something of which he managed to convey to his men, awed the Germans. They left this small resolute body of men alone and ran forward to make easier conquests. It stands as perhaps the finest soldiering feat of modern times that of the hundred and twenty men whom Cassius had with him when he turned about he managed after eight days' march through hostile country to bring eighty safely back, under the company banner, to the fortress from which he had set out twenty days previously.

  It is difficult to convey an impression of the panic that reigned at Rome when the rumours of the disaster were confirmed. People started packing up their belongings and loading them on carts as if the Germans were already at the City gates. And indeed there was good reason for anxiety. The losses in the Balkan War had been so heavy that nearly all the available reserves of fighting men in Italy had been used up. Augustus was at his wits' end to find an army to send out under Tiberius to secure the Rhine bridgeheads, which apparently the Germans had not yet seized. Of Roman citizens who were liable for service few came forward willingly on the publication of the order calling them up; to march against the Germans seemed like going to certain death. Augustus then issued a second order that of those who did not offer themselves within three days every fifth man would be disenfranchised and deprived of all his property. Many hung back even after this, so he executed a few as an example and forced the remainder into the ranks, where some of them, as a matter of fact, made quite good soldiers. He also called up a class of men over thirty-five years of age and re-enlisted a number of veterans who had completed their sixteen years with the colours.

  With these and a regiment or two composed of freedmen, who were not normally liable for service [though Germanicus' reinforcements in the Balkan War had consisted largely of such], he built up quite an imposing force and sent each company off N
orth on its own as soon as it was armed and equipped.

  It was the greatest shame and grief to me that in this hour of Rome's supreme need I was incapable of serving as a soldier in her defence. I went to Augustus and begged to be sent out in some capacity where my bodily weakness would not be a disability: I suggested going as intelligence officer to Tiberius and undertaking such useful tasks as collecting and collating reports of enemy movements, questioning prisoners, making maps, and giving special instructions to spies. Failing this appointment [for which I considered myself qualified because I had made a close study of the campaigns in Germany and had learned to think in an orderly way and to direct clerks] I volunteered to act as Tiberius'

  Quartermaster-General: I would indent to Rome for necessary military supplies, and check and distribute them on their arrival at the base. Augustus seemed pleased that I had come forward so willingly and said that he would speak to Tiberius about my offer. But nothing came of it.

  Perhaps Tiberius believed me incapable of any useful service; perhaps he was merely annoyed at my coming forward with this request when his son Castor had hung back and had persuaded Augustus to send him to raise and train [^59]

  troops in the South of Italy. However, Germanicus was in the same case as myself, which was some comfort. He had volunteered for service in Germany, but Augustus needed him at Rome, where he was very popular, to help him quell the civil disturbances which he feared might break out as soon as the troops had left the City.


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