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Legio I Germanica


Bust of Julius Caesar. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julius Caesar
(Musei Vaticani, Rome)
Legio I Germanica: one of the Roman legions. It owes its name to the fact that it served in the Germanic wars.

This legion was probably founded in 48 BCE by Julius Caesar, who needed it in his war against his fellow-triumvir and rival Pompey. It saw its first action at Dyrrhachium (Spring 48).

After 41, it was in the army of Octavian (the later emperor Augustus) and was active in the war against Sextus Pompeius. Between 30 and c.16 BCE, it served in Hispania Tarraconensis, where it took part in Augustus' campaigns against the Cantabrians, which lasted from 25-13 BCE. This was a very large war: among the other troops involved were II Augusta, IIII Macedonica, V Alaudae, VI Victrix, VIIII Hispana, X Gemina, XX Valeria Victrix, and another legion, perhaps VIII Augusta. In these years, the First legion and II Augustus were involved in the building of the colonia Acci in Spain. Veterans were settled in Barcelona and Cartenna (in Mauretania).

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Standards of I Germanica and II Augusta.
Standards of I Germanica and II Augusta (romancoins.info; *)

Later, it was moved to the Rhine frontier, where it may have played a role in Tiberius' war against Vindelicia, a Celtic kindom on the Upper Danube. (According to Tacitus, the legion was given its standard and surname by Tiberius; Annals, 1.42). It is possible that the legion received its surname after a battle near Lake Constanz. Later, I Germanica was employed during the campaigns of Augustus' stepson Drusus in Germania. The presence of soldiers at Nijmegen can be deduced from one single graffito.

In the summer of 6 CE, Tiberius was to lead at least eight legions (VIII Augusta from Pannonia, XIII Gemina, XIV Gemina, XV Apollinaris and XX Valeria Victrix from Illyricum, XXI Rapax from Raetia, and XVI Gallica from Germania Superior and an unknown unit) against king Maroboduus of the Marcomanni in Czechia; at the same time, I Germanica, V Alaudae, XVII, XVIII and XIX were to move against Czechia as well, attacking it along the Mainz and the Elbe. It was to be the most grandiose operation that was ever conducted by a Roman army, but a rebellion in Pannonia obstructed its execution.


Tombstone of Marcus Mallius, buried at Carvium. Museum Valkhof, Nijmegen (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Tombstone of M. Mallius, buried at Carvium (Valkhof, Nijmegen)

After the battle in the Teutoburg Forest (September 9), its commander Lucius Nonius Asprenas used the First legion Germanica and the Fifth legion Alaudae to occupy the fortresses of Germania Inferior and prevent a Germanic raid on Belgica. After this, I Germanica was stationed in Cologne, the capital of Germania Inferior. It is possible that the legion was called Augusta but deprived of this title in 19. Before 28, it was moved to Bonn. The unit operated kilns at Domagen.

In 21, a mixed subunit of XX Valeria Victrix and XXI Rapax, commanded by an officer from I Germanica, was sent out to suppress the rebellion of the Turoni in Gaul, who had revolted against the heavy Roman taxation under a nobleman named Julius Sacrovir and Julius Florus.


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

In 67, the position of the emperor Nero became untenable: many senators were discontent and several governors discussed his removal. Among these were Lucius Clodius Macer of Africa (who recruited the I Macriana Liberatrix) and Gaius Julius Vindex of one of the provinces in Gaul, who supported the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, Servius Sulpicius Galba, when he proclaimed that he wanted to dethrone Nero.

This was treason, and the army of Germania Inferior (I Germanica, V Alaudae, XV Primigenia and XVI Gallica) knew what it had to do: it marched to the south and defeated Gaius Julius Vindex. The soldiers expected to be rewarded, but were disappointed: Galba and a newly recruited Seventh legion marched on Rome, the Senate recognized him, and Nero committed suicide (June 68). What had been examplary behavior, was now explained as an attempt to obstruct the accession of the new emperor.



Tomb of Publius Clodius of the First legion. Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Tomb of Publius Clodius of the First legion. (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)

Therefore, the army of Germania Inferior acclaimed their own commander, Vitellius, as emperor, and marched on Rome (January 69). The commander of I Germanica, Fabius Valens, played an important role. They were successful, and Vitellius started his reign. However, in the east, general Vespasian had also decided to make a bid for power; the two armies clashed near Cremona in northern Italy, and the Rhine army turned out to be no match for the soldiers of Vespasian.

Meanwhile, in Germania Inferior, a disaster was in the making. The Batavians felt offeneded because Galba had dismissed his Batavian bodyguard, and revolted. A Roman expeditionary force, consisting of the remains of V Alaudae and XV Primigenia, was defeated near Nijmegen, and not much later, these two legions found themselves besieged at Xanten. Although I Germanica (commanded by Herennius Gallus), XVI Gallica and a legion from Germania Superior, XXII Primigenia, tried to rescue them, the two legions at Xanten were forced to surrender in March 70. Not much later, I Germanica and XVI Gallica surrendered as well.

It took several months before the new emperor Vespasian could send a strong Roman army to recover the Rhineland and suppress the Batavian revolt, commanded by his relative Quintus Petillius Cerialis. The legions V Alaudae and XV Primigenia were never reconstituted; XVI Gallica and IIII Macedonica, which had guarded Mainz, were renamed (XVI Flavia Firma andIIII Flavia Felix); the remains of I Germanica were added with Galba's seventh and became known as VII Gemina ('the twin legion').

The emblem of the first legion is not known, but since it was a Caesarian unit, the badge may have been a bull.





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