I claudius c 1, p.27

I, Claudius c-1, page 27

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series


I, Claudius c-1

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  FLAVIUS: You mean when you walk behind Germanicus' car in the triumph and the crowd pelts you with rotten eggs? How I'll laugh!

  HERMANN: You had better do all your laughing in advance, because if you still have any throat left to laugh through in three days from now my name's not Hermann.

  But enough of this. I have a message to you from your mother.



  serious and fetching a deep sigh]: Ah, my dear, dear

  mother! What message does my mother send me? Have I her sacred blessing still, brother?

  HERMANN: Brother, you have wounded our wise and noble and prolific mother to the soul. She says that she will turn her blessing into a curse if you continue to be a traitor to your family and tribe and race, and do not instantly come over to us again and act as joint-General with me.

  FIAVIUS [in German, bursting into tears of rage]: Oh, she never said that, Hermann. She couldn't have said that. It's a lie you made up yourself just to make me unhappy. Confess it's a lie, Hermann!

  HERMANN: She gave you two days to make up your mind.

  FLAVIUS [to his groom}: Hi, you ugly-faced pig, give me my horse and arms! I'm going over the stream to fight my brother. Hermann, you foul thing, I'm coming to fight you!

  HERMANN: Come on then, you one-eyed bean-eating slave, you!

  Flavius jumped on his horse and was about to swim it across the river when a Roman colonel caught at his leg and pulled him off the saddle: he knew German and he knew the absurd veneration that Germans have for their wives and mothers.

  Suppose Flavius really meant to desert?

  So he told him not to bother about Hermann or believe his lies. But Flavius couldn't resist having the last word. He dried his eyes and shouted across: "I saw your father-in-law last week. He'd got a nice place near Lyons. He told me that Thrusnelda came to him because she couldn't bear the disgrace of being married to a man who broke his solemn oath as an ally of Rome and betrayed a friend at whose table he had eaten. She said that the only way you can ever win back her esteem is by not using the arms which she gave you on your wedding-day against your sworn friends. She has not been unfaithful to you yet, but that won't last long if you don't instantly come to your senses."

  Then it was Hermann's turn to weep and storm and accuse Flavius of telling lies. Germanicus privately detailed a captain to watch Flavius very carefully during the next battle and at the least sign of treachery to run him through.

  Germanicus wrote seldom but when he did they were long letters and he put into them, he said, all the interesting and amusing things that did not seem quite suitable for his official dispatches to Tiberius: I lived for those letters.

  I was never anxious about Germanicus' safety when he was fighting the Germans: he had the same sort of confidence with them as an experienced bee-keeper has with bees, who can go boldly to a hive and remove the honey, and the bees somehow never sting him as they would you [231] or me if we tried to do the same thing. Two days after fording the Weser he fought a decisive battle with Hermann. I have always been interested in speeches made before a battle: there is nothing that throws such light on the character of a general. Germanicus neither harangued his men in an oratorical way nor joked obscenely with them like Julius Caesar. He was always very serious, very precise and very practical. His speech on this occasion was about what he really thought of the Germans. He said that they were not soldiers. They had a certain bravado and fought well in a mob, as wild cattle fight, and they had a certain animal cunning too which made it unwise to neglect ordinary precautions in fighting them. But they soon tired after their first furious charge and they had no discipline in any true military sense, only a spirit of mutual rivalry. Their chiefs could never count on them to do what was wanted: either they did too much or not enough. "The Germans," he said, "are the most insolent and boastful nation in the world when things go well with them, but once they are defeated they are the most cowardly and abject. Never trust a German out of your sight, but never be afraid of him when you have him face to face. And that's all that need be said except this: most of the fighting tomorrow will be in among those woods, where from all accounts the enemy will be so tightly packed that they will have no room for manoeuvre. Go straight at them, never mind their assegais, and get to close quarters at once. Stab at their faces: that is what they hate most."

  Hermann had chosen his battle-ground carefully: a narrowing plain lying between the Weser and a range of wooded hills. He would fight at the narrow end of this plain with a big oak and birch forest at his back, the river on his right and the hills on his left. The Germans were in three detachments. The first of these, young assegai-men of local tribes, were to advance into the plain against the leading Roman regiments, who would probably be French auxiliaries, and drive them back. Then when the Roman supports came up they were to break off the fight and pretend to fly in panic. The Romans would press on towards the wood and at this point the second detachment, consisting of Hermann's own tribe, would charge down from an ambush on the hill and take them in the flank. This would cause great confusion and the first detachment would then return, closely supported by the third--the experienced elder men of the local tribes--and drive the Romans into the river. The German cavalry by this time would have come round from behind the hill and taken the Romans in the rear.

  It would have been a good plan if Hermann had been in command of disciplined troops. But it went ludicrously wrong. Germanicus' order of battle was as follows: first, two regiments of French heavy infantry on the river flank, and two of the auxiliary Germans on the mountain flank, then the foot archers, then four regular regiments, then Germanicus with two Guards battalions and the regular cavalry, then four more regular regiments, then the French mounted archers, then the French light infantry. As the German auxiliaries advanced along the spurs of the mountain, Hermann, who was watching events from the top of a pine tree, called out excitedly to his nephew who was standing by for orders below: "There goes my traitor brother! He must never leave this battle alive." The stupid nephew sprang forward shouting, "Hermann's orders are to charge at once!"

  He rushed down into the plain with about half the tribe. Hermann with difficulty managed to restrain the rest. Germanicus sent the regular cavalry out at once to charge the fools in the flank before they could reach Flavius' men, and the French mounted archers to cut off their retreat.

  The German skirmishing detachment had meanwhile advanced from the wood, but the Roman cavalry charge sent the men under Hermann's nephew rushing back on top of them and they caught the panic and ran back too.

  The German third detachment, the main body, then came out of the wood, expecting the skirmishers to halt and turn back with them as arranged. But the skirmishers' only thought was to get away from the cavalry: they ran back through the main body. At this moment there came a most cheering omen for the Romans--eight eagles, who had been frightened from the hill by the sortie and were wheeling about the plain, uttering loud shrieks, now flew all together towards the wood. Germanicus called out: "Follow ['33] the Eagles! Follow the Roman Eagle!" The whole army took up the cry: "Follow the Eagles!" Meanwhile Hermann had charged with the rest of his men and taken the foot-archers by surprise, killing a number of them; but the rear regiment of French heavy infantry wheeled round to the archers' assistance. Hermann's force, which consisted of some fifteen thousand men, might still have saved the battle by crushing the French infantry and thus driving a formidable wedge between the Roman advance guard and the main body. But the sun flashed in their faces from the weapons and breast-plates and shields and helmets of the long ranks of advancing regular infantry, and the Germans lost courage. Most of them rushed back to the hill.

  Hermann rallied a thousand or two, but not enough, and by this time two squadrons of regular cavalry had come charging back among the fugitives, and cut off his retreat to the hill. How he got away is a mystery, but it is generally believed that he spurred his horse towards the wood and overtook the
German auxiliaries who were advancing to attack it. Then he shouted: "Make way, cattle! I'm Hermann!"

  Nobody dared to kill him because he was Flavius' brother and Flavius would feel bound in family honour to avenge his death.

  It was no longer a battle but a slaughter. The German main-body was outflanked and forced towards the river, which many managed to swim, but not all. Germanicus pushed his second line of regular infantry into the wood and routed the skirmishers who were waiting there in the vague hope of the battle suddenly turning in their favour.

  [The archers had good sport shooting down Germans who had climbed trees and were hiding in the foliage at the top.] All resistance was now over. From nine o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock in the evening, when it began to get dark, the killing went on. For ten miles beyond the battle-field the woods and plains were scattered with German corpses. Among the captives was the mother of Hermann and Flavius. She begged for life, saying that she had always tried to persuade Hermann to abandon his futile resistance to the Roman conquerors. So Flavius' loyalty was now assured.

  A month later another battle was fought, in thick forestland on the banks of the Elbe. Hermann had chosen an ambush and made dispositions which might have been most effective if Germanicus had not heard all about them a few hours beforehand from deserters. As it was, instead of the Romans being driven into the river, the Germans were forced back through the wood, in which they were packed too closely for their usual strike-and-run tactics--back into a quaking bog which surrounded it, where thousands slowly sank out of sight, yelling with rage and despair. Hermann, who had been disabled by an arrow wound in the previous battle, was not much to the fore this time.

  But he carried on the fight in the wood as stubbornly as he could and, meeting by chance with his brother Flavius, thrust him through with an assegai.

  He escaped across the bog, jumping from tussock to tussock with extraordinary nimbleness and good luck.

  Germanicus raised a huge trophy-heap of German weapons and put on it the following inscription: "The Forces of Tiberius Caesar having subdued the tribes between Rhine and Elbe consecrate these memorials of their victory to Mars, to Jove and to Augustus." No mention of himself.

  His total casualties in these two battles were not above twenty-five hundred men killed and seriously wounded.

  The Germans must have lost at least twenty-five thousand.

  Germanicus considered that he had done enough this year and sent some of his men back to the Rhine by land and embarked the rest on transports. But then came misfortune: a sudden storm from the south-west caught the fleet soon after it weighed anchor and scattered it in all directions. Many vessels went to the bottom and only Germanicus' own ship managed to reach the mouth of the Weser, where he reproached himself as a second Varus with the loss of a whole Roman army. He was with difficulty prevented by his friends from leaping into the sea to join the dead. However, a few days later the wind veered round to the north and one by one the scattered ships came back, almost all oarless and some with cloaks spread instead of sails, the less disabled taking turns to tow the ones that could barely keep afloat.




  to work repairing the damaged hulls and sent off

  as many of the fit vessels as he could to [255] search the desolate neighbouring islands for survivors.

  Many were found there, but in a half-starved state, kept alive only by shell-fish and the carcasses of horses thrown up on the beach. Many more came in from points further up the coast; they had been respectfully treated by the inhabitants, who had lately been forced to swear alliance with Rome. About twenty ship-loads returned from as far away as Britain, which had been paying a nominal tribute since its conquest seventy years before by Julius Ceesar, sent back by the petty kings of Kent and Sussex. In the end not more than a quarter of the lost men were unaccounted for, and nearly two hundred of these were found, years later, in South-Western Britain. They were rescued from the tin mines, where they had been put to forced labour.

  The inland Germans, when they first heard of this disaster, thought that their gods had avenged them. They overthrew the battle-field trophy and even began talking of a march to the Rhine. But Germanicus suddenly struck again, sending an expedition of sixty infantry battalions and a hundred cavalry squadrons against the tribes of the upper Weser, while he himself marched with eighty more infantry battalions and another hundred cavalry squadrons against the tribes between the lower Rhine and the Ems. Both expeditions were completely successful and, what was better than the killing of many thousand Germans, the Eagle of the Twenty-Sixth Regiment was found in an underground temple in a wood and triumphantly borne away.

  Only the Eagle of the Twenty-Fifth now remained unredeemed, and Germanicus promised his men that next year, if he was still in command, they would rescue that too. Meanwhile he marched them back to winter-quarters.

  Then Tiberius wrote pressing him to come home for the triumph which had been decreed him, for he had surely done enough. Germanicus wrote back that he would not be content until he had altogether broken the power of the Germans, for which not many more battles were now needed, and recovered the third Eagle.

  Tiberius wrote again that Rome could not afford such high casualties even at the reward of such splendid victories: he was not criticizing Germanicus' skill as a general, for his battles had been most economical in men, but between battle casualties and the sea-disaster he had lost the equivalent of two whole regiments, which was more than Rome could afford.

  He reminded Germanicus that he had himself been sent nine times into Germany by Augustus and so was not talking without experience. His opinion was that it was not worth the life of a single Roman to kill even as many as ten Germans. Germany was like a Hydra: the more heads you lopped off the more it grew. The best way of managing Germans was to play on their inter-tribal jealousies and foment war between neighbouring chieftains: encouraging them to kill each other without outside help. Germanicus wrote back begging for one year more in which to round off his work of subjugation. But Tiberius told him that he was wanted at Rome as Consul again, and touched him on his most tender spot by saying that he should remember his brother Castor. Germany was the only country now where any important war was being fought and if he insisted on finishing it himself. Castor would have no opportunity of winning a triumph or the title of field-marshal.

  Germanicus persisted no longer but said that Tiberius' wishes were his law and that he would return as soon as relieved.

  He came back in the early spring and celebrated his triumph. The whole population of Rome streamed [A.D. 17] out to welcome him twenty miles from the City.

  A great arch to commemorate the recovery of the Eagles was dedicated near the temple of Saturn. The triumphal procession passed under it. There were cars heaped with the spoil of German temples, and with enemy shields and weapons; others carried tableaux representing battles or German river-gods and mountain-gods dominated by Roman soldiers, Thrusnelda and her child were on one car, with halters about their necks, followed by an enormous train of manacled German prisoners. Germanicus rode, crowned, in his chariot with Agrippina seated beside him and his five children--Nero, Drusus, Caligula, Agrippinilla and Drusilla--seated behind. He won more applause than any other triumphant general had won since Augustus' triumph after Actium.

  But I was not there. Of all places in the world I was in Carthage! Only a month before Germanicus' return I had [237] been sent a note by Livia instructing me to prepare for a journey to Africa. A representative of the Imperial family was needed to dedicate a new temple to Augustus at Carthage, and I was the only one who could be spared for the task. I would be given ample advice on how to conduct myself and how to perform the ceremony, and it was to be hoped I would not once more make a fool of myself, even before African provincials. I guessed at once why I was being sent. There was no reason for anyone to go yet, because the temple would not be completed for at least another three
months. I was being got out of the way. While Germanicus was in the City I would not be allowed to return, and all my letters home would be opened. So I never had an opportunity of telling Germanicus what I had been saving up for him so long. On the other hand, Germanicus had his talk with Tiberius. He told him that he knew that Postumus'

  banishment had been due to a cruel plot on Livia's part--he had positive proof of it.

  Livia certainly ought to be removed from public affairs. Her actions could not be justified by any subsequent misbehaviour of Postumus'. It was only natural for him to try to escape from undeserved confinement. Tiberius professed to be shocked by Germanicus' revelations; but said that he could not create a public scandal by suddenly dishonouring his mother: he would charge her privately with the crime and gradually take away her powers.

  What he really did was to go to Livia and tell her exactly what Germanicus had said to him, adding that Germanicus was a credulous fool, but seemed to be in earnest and was so popular at Rome and in the Army that perhaps it would be advisable for Livia to convince him that she was not guilty of what he charged her, unless she thought this beneath her dignity. He added that he would send Germanicus away somewhere as soon as possible, probably to the East, and would raise the question again in the Senate of her being called Mother of the Country, a title which she had well deserved. He had taken exactly the right line with her. She was pleased that he still feared her sufficiently to tell her so much, and called him a dutiful son. She swore that she had not arranged false charges against Postumus: this story was probably invented by Agrippina, whom Germanicus followed blindly and who was trying to persuade him to usurp the monarchy. Agrippina's plan, she said, was no doubt to make trouble between Tiberius and his loving mother. Tiberius, embracing her, said that though little disagreements might occasionally occur nothing could break the ties that bound them. Livia then sighed, she was getting to be an old woman now--she was well on in her seventies-


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