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Florus on the Germanic wars

Cavalry mask, found at Kalkriese, now in the Kalkriese Museum. Photo Jona Lendering.
Cavalry mask found at
The Roman author Publius Annius Florus published his Epitome of Titus Livy in the second half of the reign of the emperor Hadrian (117-138). This little book contained more than an excerpt from Livy's History of Rome since its foundation: Florus added descriptions of the wars conducted during the Roman empire. It also offered a description of the Germanic wars, which was partly based on Livy, and partly on an unidentified source written between 17 and 40. Section 2.30 is presented here in the translation by E.S. Forster. 

It could be wished that Caesar [1] had not set such store on conquering Germany also. Its loss was a disgrace which far outweighed the glory of its acquisition. But since he was well aware that his father, Gaius [Julius] Caesar, had twice crossed the Rhine by bridging it [2] and sought hostilities against Germania, he had conceived the desire of making it into a province to do him honor. His object would have been achieved if the barbarians could have tolerated our vices as well as they tolerated our rule.

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)
Bust of Drusus. Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel (Belgium). Photo Marco Prins.Drusus. Bust from the Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel
Drusus was sent into the province and conquered the Usipetes first, and then overran the territory of the Tencteri and Chatti. He erected, by way of a trophy, a high mound adorned with the spoils and decorations of the Marcomanni. Next he attacked simultaneously those powerful tribes, the Cherusci, Suebi and Sugambri [3], who had begun hostilities after crucifying twenty of our centurions, an act which served as an oath binding them together, and with such confidence of victory that they made an agreement in anticipation for dividing the spoils. The Cherusci had chosen the horses, the Suebi the gold and silver, the Sugambri the captives. Everything, however, turned out contrariwise; for Drusus, after defeating them, divided up their horses, their herds, their necklets and their own persons as spoil and sold them.

Map of the Roman wars in Germania. Design Jona Lendering.
Map of the Roman wars
in Germania (©**)

Furthermore, to secure the province he posted garrisons and guardposts all along the Meuse, Elbe and Weser. Along the banks of the Rhine he disposed more than five hundred forts.[4] He built bridges at Bonna and Gesoriacum [5], and left fleets to protect them. He opened a way through the Hercynian forest [6], which had never before been visited or traversed. In a word, there was such peace in Germania that the inhabitants seemed changed, the face of the country transformed, and the very climate milder and softer than it used to be. Lastly, when the gallant young general had died there [7], the Senate itself; not from flattery but as an acknowledgment of his merit, did him the unparalleled honor of bestowing upon him a surname derived from the name of province [8].

But it is more difficult to retain than to create provinces; they are won by force, they are secured by justice. Therefore our joy was short-lived; for the Germans had been defeated rather than subdued, and under the rule of Drusus they respected our moral qualities rather than our arms. After his death they began to detest the licentiousness and pride not less than the cruelty of Quinctilius Varus. He had the temerity to hold an assembly and had issued an edict against the Chatti, just as though he could restrain the violence of barbarians by the rod of a lictor and the proclamation of a herald.

But the Germans, who had long been regretting that their swords were rusted and their horses idle, as soon as they saw the toga and experienced laws more cruel than arms, snatched up their weapons under the leadership of Arminius. Meanwhile Varus was so confident of peace that he was quite unperturbed even when the conspiracy was betrayed to him by Segestes, one of the chiefs. And so when he was unprepared and had no fear of any such thing, at a moment when -such was his confidence- he was actually  summoning them to appear before his tribunal, they rose and attacked him from all sides.

Portrait of P. Quinctilius Varus on a coin from Africa. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins. Varus

His camp was seized, and three legions were overwhelmed, Varus met disaster by the same fate and with the same courage as Paulus on the fatal day of Cannae [9]. Never was there slaughter more cruel than took place there in the marshes and woods, never were more intolerable insults inflicted by barbarians, especially those directed against the legal pleaders. They put out the eyes of some of them and cut off the hands of others; they sewed up the mouth of one of them after first cutting out his tongue, which one of the barbarians held in his hand, exclaiming "At last, you viper, you have ceased to hiss."

The body too of the consul [10] himself, which the dutiful affection of the soldiers had buried, was disinterred.

As for the standards and eagles, the barbarians possess two to this day; the third eagle was wrenched from its hole, before it could fall into the hands of the enemy, by the standard-bearer, who, carrying it concealed in the folds round his belt, secreted himself in the blood-stained marsh [11]. The result of this disaster was that the empire, which had not stopped on the shores of the Ocean, was checked on the banks of the Rhine.

Note 1:
The emperor Augustus.

Note 2:
Caesar's bridges across the Rhine, in 55 and 53 BCE, were well-known pieces of engineering (text).

Note 3:
This happened in 12 BCE.

Note 4:
An exaggeration, but several forts along the Rhine seem to date back to the age of Drusus.

Note 5:
The manuscripts give Borma, which makes no sense and must be restored as Bonna (modern Bonn). Gesoriacum is modern Boulogne, and one wonders what kind of bridge is meant, although Mogontiacum (Mainz) is a possible emendation (proposed by Bill Thayer).

Note 6:
The Black Forest.

Note 7:
In 9 BCE.

Note 8:
I.e., Germanicus.

Note 9:
This consul had committed suicide after the battle of Cannae, where Hannibal had defeated the Romans in 216 BCE.

Note 10:
In fact, Varus was a former consul (consularis).

Note 11:
In fact, it was captured by the Germans and kept by the Chauci. It was recovered in 41 by the Roman general Aulus Gabinius Secundus.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 22 January 2007

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