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The Batavian revolt

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Batavian cavalryman on a monument from Nijmegen. Museum Valkhof, Nijmegen (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Horsemen (Valkhof Museum,
Nijmegen)
Batavian revolt: the rebellion of the Batavians against the Romans in 69-70. After initial successes by their commander Julius Civilis, the Batavians were ultimately defeated by the Roman general Quintus Petillius Cerialis. This is the first of nine articles.
 

The year of the four emperors

A century had passed since the emperor Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) had changed the Roman republic into a monarchy, and the inhabitants of the empire had grown accustomed to one-man rule. As long as the emperor was a capable man, like Augustus, Tiberius, or Claudius, the new system of government worked reasonably well. However, problems would arise when a less talented man would be in charge of the empire.
The year of the four emperors
The conspiracy
Causes of the rebellion
Into the vortex
The siege of Xanten
The Roman counter-attack
The Gallic empire
The fall of Xanten
The empire strikes back

Chronology

Bust of Nero. Glyptothek München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Nero (Glyptothek, Munich)

During the reign of Nero (54-68), the provinces were peaceful and prosperous, but when the emperor started to behave like a despot, the senators, who were as governors responsible for the provinces, suffered heavily. One of them was Gaius Julius Vindex, an Aquitanian prince who had entered the Senate and was now governor of Gallia Lugdunensis. In the winter of 67/68, he decided to put an end to the oppression. Being a senator, he tried to do this constitutionally, so he first searched for a worthy successor to the throne. In April 68 he found his man: the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, Servius Sulpicius Galba. Now, he started an insurrection.

Vindex' revolt was a disaster. The commander of the Roman legions in the province Germania Superior, Lucius Verginius Rufus, fearing a native rising in Gaul, ordered his men to march from the Rhine to Besançon, where the rebels had their headquarters. Vindex was unable to explain his motives, and having lost the propaganda battle, he lost the real battle and his life (more).
 
Bust of Galba. Musei Vaticani, Rome (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Galba (Musei Vaticani, Rome)

Meanwhile, Nero had panicked and made himself impossible. In June, the Senate had recognized Galba as the new ruler of the empire, and Nero had committed suicide. Among those who did not share the almost universal rejoicing, were the soldiers of the armies of the Rhine in Germania Inferior and Superior. They thought they had done a good job by suppressing the revolt of Vindex, but now discovered that their courageous deeds were explained as an attempt to obstruct the accession of Galba. The fact that Verginius Rufus was imediately replaced (by Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus) did little to ease the discontent.

The native population made more or less the same discovery. They had prudently sided with the legions of the Rhine, but were now suspected by the emperor. For example, Galba dismissed the Batavian cavalry that guarded the emperor's life. This dishonorable discharge did little to improve the situation in the Rhineland.

 
Bust, believed to represent Vitellius. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bust, believed to represent Vitellius (Louvre, Paris)

In January 69, matters came to a head, when the soldiers of the army of Germania Inferior proclaimed their commander Aulus Vitellius emperor. Like Nero, Galba was unable to cope with a rival. He panicked, offended important senators, and incurred the wrath of the soldiers of the Praetorian guard, who lynched him on the Forum. He was succeeded by a rich senator named Marcus Salvius Otho, who inherited the war against Vitellius.

He did not long enjoy his position. Negotiations between the two emperors failed, and Otho's army was no match for the experienced soldiers of Vitellius, who had -moreover- received support from the legions of Germania Superior and Britannia. In April, Otho was defeated on the plains of the river Po, and committed suicide (more).

 
Bust of Vespasian from Narona. Archaeological museum of Vid (Croatia). Photo Marco Prins.Bust of Vespasian from Narona (Archaeological museum of Vid)
Vitellius was now sole ruler in the Roman world. However, he had taken a large army with him to Italy, and had left behind only a quarter of the legionaries. The Rhine was virtually unguarded. Almost immediately after he had occupied Rome, Vitellius sent back military units.

Among these were eight auxiliary units of Batavian infantry which had fought bravely on the Po plains. They had already reached Mogontiacum (modern Mainz) when they received orders to return to Italy. Again, they had to assist Vitellius, this time in his struggle against a new pretender, the commander of the Roman forces in Judaea, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, better known as Vespasian. After Galba, Vitellius, and Otho, he was the fourth emperor of the long but single year 69.
 Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier.
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier (order; review)




to part two




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