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Tacitus: History Book 4 [20]

20. When the Batavians were near the camp at Bonna, they sent on before them delegates, commissioned to deliver to Herennius Gallus a message from the cohorts. It was to this effect: "We have no quarrel with the Romans, for whom we have so often fought. Wearied with a protracted and fruitless service, we long for our native land and for rest. If no one oppose us, our march will be harmless, but if an armed force encounter us, we will make a way with the sword." The soldiers prevailed upon the hesitating legate to risk the chances of a battle. Three thousand legionaries, some raw Belgian cohorts, and with them a mob of rustics and camp-followers, cowardly, but bold of speech before the moment of danger, rushed out of all the gates, thinking to surround the Batavians, who were inferior in number. But the enemy, being veteran troops, formed in columns, presenting on every side a dense array, with front, flanks, and rear secure. Thus they were able to break the thin line of our soldiers. The Belgians giving way, the legion was driven back, retreating in confusion on the entrenchments and the gates. It was there that the greatest slaughter took place. The trenches were heaped up with corpses. Nor was it only from the deadly blows of the enemy that they suffered; many perished in the crush and by their own weapons. The victorious army, who avoided the Colonia Agrippinensis, did not venture on any other hostile act during the remainder of their march, and excused the conflict at Bonna, alleging that they had asked for peace, and that when it was refused they had but looked to their own safety.

20. Batavi cum castris Bonnensibus propinquarent, praemisere qui Herennio Gallo mandata cohortium exponeret. nullum sibi bellum adversus Romanos, pro quibus totiens bellassent: longa atque inrita militia fessis patriae atque otii cupidinem esse. si nemo obsisteret, innoxium iter fore: sin arma occurrant, ferro viam inventuros. cunctantem legatum milites perpulerant fortunam proelii experiretur. tria milia legionariorum et tumultuariae Belgarum cohortes, simul paganorum lixarumque ignava sed procax ante periculum manus omnibus portis prorumpunt ut Batavos numero imparis circumfundant. illi veteres militiae in cuneos congregantur, densi undique et frontem tergaque ac latus tuti; sic tenuem nostrorum aciem perfringunt. cedentibus Belgis pellitur legio, et vallum portasque trepidi petebant. ibi plurimum cladis: cumulatae corporibus fossae, nec caede tantum et vulneribus, sed ruina et suis plerique telis interiere. victores colonia Agrippinensium vitata, nihil cetero in itinere hostile ausi, Bonnense proelium excusabant, tamquam petita pace, postquam negabatur, sibimet ipsi consuluissent.

21. Civilis, who now on the arrival of these veteran cohorts was at the head of a complete army, but who was undecided in his plans, and still reflected on the power of Rome, made all who were with him swear allegiance to Vespasian, and sent envoys to the two legions which after their defeat in the previous engagement had retreated into the Old Camp, advising them to accept the same allegiance. Their reply was: "We do not follow the advice of traitors or enemies. Vitellius is our Emperor; to him we will retain our fealty and devote our swords till our last breath. Then let not a Batavian refugee affect to decide the destinies of Rome; let him rather await the merited penalty of his guilt." When this reply was delivered to Civilis, he was furious with anger, and hurried the whole Batavian nation into open war. The Bructeri and the Tencteri joined him, and messengers summoned all Germany to share in his plunder and his glory.

21. Civilis adventu veteranarum cohortium iusti iam exercitus ductor, sed consilii ambiguus et vim Romanam reputans, cunctos qui aderant in verba Vespasiani adigit mittitque legatos ad duas legiones, quae priore acie pulsae in Vetera castra concesserant, ut idem sacramentum acciperent. redditur responsum: neque proditoris neque hostium se consiliis uti; esse sibi Vitellium principem, pro quo fidem et arma usque ad supremum spiritum retenturos: proinde perfuga Batavus arbitrium rerum Romanarum ne ageret, sed meritas sceleris poenas expectaret. quae ubi relata Civili, incensus ira universam Batavorum gentem in arma rapit; iunguntur Bructeri Tencterique et excita nuntiis Germania ad praedam famamque.

22. To meet the threatened dangers of the gathering war, the legates of the legions, Munius Lupercus and Numisius Rufus, strengthened their entrenchments and walls. The buildings, which during a long period of peace had grown up like a town near the camp, were destroyed, lest they might be useful to the enemy. Little care, however, was taken about the conveyance of supplies into the camp. These the generals allowed to be plundered; and so, what might long have sufficed for their necessities, was wantonly wasted in a few days. Civilis, who occupied the centre of the army with the elite of the Batavian troops, wishing to add a new terror to his demonstration, covered both banks of the Rhine with columns of his German allies, while his cavalry galloped about the plains. At the same time the fleet was moved up the stream. Here were the standards of the veteran cohorts; there the images of wild beasts, brought out of the woods and sacred groves, under the various forms which each tribe is used to follow into battle, and these mingled emblems of civil and of foreign warfare utterly confounded the besieged. The extent of the entrenchment raised the hopes of the besiegers. Constructed for two legions, it was now held by not more than five thousand Roman soldiers. But there was with them a great number of camp-followers, who had assembled there on the disturbance of peace, and who could be employed in the contest.

22. Adversus has concurrentis belli minas legati legionum Munius Lupercus et Numisius Rufus vallum murosque firmabant. subversa longae pacis opera, haud procul castris in modum municipii extructa, ne hostibus usui forent. sed parum provisum ut copiae in castra conveherentur; rapi permisere: ita paucis diebus per licentiam absumpta sunt quae adversus necessitates in longum suffecissent. Civilis medium agmen cum robore Batavorum obtinens utramque Rheni ripam, quo truculentior visu foret, Germanorum catervis complet, adsultante per campos equite; simul naves in adversum amnem agebantur. hinc veteranarum cohortium signa, inde depromptae silvis lucisque ferarum imagines, ut cuique genti inire proelium mos est, mixta belli civilis externique facie obstupefecerant obsessos. et spem obpugnantium augebat amplitudo valli, quod duabus legionibus situm vix quinque milia armatorum Romanorum tuebantur; sed lixarum multitudo turbata pace illuc congregata et bello ministra aderat.

23. Part of the camp occupied the gentle slope of a hill; to part was a level approach. By this encampment Augustus had thought the German tribes might be watched and checked; never had he contemplated such a pitch of disaster, as that these tribes should themselves advance to attack our legions. Hence no labour was bestowed on the ground or on the defences. Our valour and our arms seemed defence enough. The Batavians and the Transrhenane tribes took up their position, each tribe by itself, to distinguish and so the better to display the valour of each; first annoying us by a distant volley; then, as they found that very many of their missiles fixed themselves harmlessly in the turrets and battlements of the walls, and they themselves suffered from the stones showered down on them, they fell on the entrenchment with a shout and furious rush, many placing their scaling-ladders against the ramparts, and others mounting on a testudo formed by their comrades. Some were in the act of climbing over when they were thrust down by the swords of the enemy, and fell overwhelmed by a storm of javelins and stakes. Always very daring at first and excessively elated by success, they now in their eagerness for plunder bore up against reverse. They also ventured to use what to them was a novelty, engines of war; they had themselves no skill in handling them, but the prisoners and deserters taught them to pile up timber in the shape of a bridge, under which they put wheels, and so propelled it, some standing on the top, and fighting as they would from an earth-work, others concealing themselves within and undermining the walls. But the stones thrown by the catapults prostrated the ill-constructed fabric, and when they set themselves to prepare hurdles and mantlets, burning spears were thrown on them by the engines, fire being thus actually used against the assailants. At last, despairing of success by force, they changed their plans, and resolved to wait, for they were well aware that only a few days' provisions were in the camp, and that there was a great crowd on non-combatants; and they counted at the same time on the treachery that might follow on scarcity, on the wavering fidelity of the slaves, and on the chances of war.

23. Pars castrorum in collem leniter exurgens, pars aequo adibatur. quippe illis hibernis obsideri premique Germanias Augustus crediderat, neque umquam id malorum ut obpugnatum ultro legiones nostras venirent; inde non loco neque munimentis labor additus: vis et arma satis placebant. Batavi Transrhenanique, quo discreta virtus manifestius spectaretur, sibi quaeque gens consistunt, eminus lacessentes. post ubi pleraque telorum turribus pinnisque moenium inrita haerebant et desuper saxis vulnerabantur, clamore atque impetu invasere vallum, adpositis plerique scalis, alii per testudinem suorum; scandebantque iam quidam, cum gladiis et armorum incussu praecipitati sudibus et pilis obruuntur, praeferoces initio et rebus secundis nimii. sed tum praedae cupidine adversa quoque tolerabant; machinas etiam, insolitum sibi, ausi. nec ulla ipsis sollertia: perfugae captivique docebant struere materias in modum pontis, mox subiectis rotis propellere, ut alii superstantes tamquam ex aggere proeliarentur, pars intus occulti muros subruerent. sed excussa ballistis saxa stravere informe opus. et cratis vineasque parantibus adactae tormentis ardentes hastae, ultroque ipsi obpugnatores ignibus petebantur, donec desperata vi verterent consilium ad moras, haud ignari paucorum dierum inesse alimenta et multum imbellis turbae; simul ex inopia proditio et fluxa servitiorum fides ac fortuita belli sperabantur.

24. Meanwhile Flaccus, who had heard of the siege of the camp, and had sent into all parts of Gaul to collect auxiliaries, put under command of Dillius Vocula, legate of the 18th legion, some troops picked from the legions with orders to hasten by forced marches along the banks of the Rhine. Flaccus himself, who was weak in health and disliked by his troops, travelled with the fleet. The troops indeed complained in unmistakable language that their general had despatched the Batavian cohorts from Mogontiacum, had feigned ignorance of the plans of Civilis, and was inviting the German tribes to join the league. "This," they said, "has strengthened Vespasian no less than the exertions of Primus Antonius and Mucianus. Declared enmity and hostility may be openly repulsed, but treachery and fraud work in darkness, and so cannot be avoided. Civilis stands in arms against us, and arranges the order of his battle; Hordeonius from his chamber or his litter gives such orders as may best serve the enemy. The swords of thousands of brave men are directed by one old man's sick caprice. How much better by slaying the traitor, to set free our valour and our fortune from these evil auspices!" The passions already kindled by the language which they thus held among themselves were yet more inflamed by a despatch from Vespasian, which Flaccus, finding that it could not be concealed, read before an assembly of the troops, sending the persons who had brought it in chains to Vitellius.

24. Flaccus interim cognito castrorum obsidio et missis per Gallias qui auxilia concirent, lectos e legionibus Dillio Voculae duoetvicensimae legionis legato tradit, ut quam maximis per ripam itineribus celeraret, ipse navibus <invadit> invalidus corpore, invisus militibus. neque enim ambigue fremebant: emissas a Mogontiaco Batavorum cohortis, dissimulatos Civilis conatus, adsciri in societatem Germanos. non Primi Antonii neque Muciani ope Vespasianum magis adolevisse. aperta odia armaque palam depelli: fraudem et dolum obscura eoque inevitabilia. Civilem stare contra, struere aciem: Hordeonium e cubiculo et lectulo iubere quidquid hosti conducat. tot armatas fortissimorum virorum manus unius senis valetudine regi: quin potius interfecto traditore fortunam virtutemque suam malo omine exolverent. his inter se vocibus instinctos flammavere insuper adlatae a Vespasiano litterae, quas Flaccus, quia occultari nequibant, pro contione recitavit, vinctosque qui attulerant ad Vitellium misit.

25. With feelings somewhat appeased, they arrived at Bonna, the winter-camp of the first legion. The troops there were even more enraged against Hordeonius, and laid on him the blame of the late disaster. They said that it was by his orders that they had offered battle to the Batavians, supposing that the legions from Mogontiacum were following them; that it was through his treachery that they had been slaughtered, no reinforcements coming up; that all these events were unknown to the other legions, and were not told to their Emperor, though the sudden outburst of treason might have been crushed by the prompt action of so many provinces. Hordeonius read to the army copies of all the letters which he had sent about Gaul, begging for reinforcements, and established as a precedent a most disgraceful practice, namely, the handing over the despatches to the standard-bearers of the legions, through whose means they were read by the soldiers sooner than by the generals. He then ordered one of the mutineers to be put in irons, more for the sake of asserting his authority than because any one man was in fault. The army was then moved from Bonna to the Colonia Agrippinensis, while auxiliaries from Gaul continued to flow in; for at first that nation zealously supported the cause of Rome. Soon indeed as the Germans increased in power, many of the states took up arms against us, moved by the hope of freedom and, could they once shake off the yoke, even by the lust of empire. The irritation of the legions still increased, nor had the imprisonment of a single soldier struck them with terror. This fellow indeed actually charged the general with complicity; he had, he said, acted as a messenger between Civilis and Flaccus, and because he might tell the truth he was now being crushed under a false charge. With wonderful firmness Vocula ascended the tribunal, and ordered the man, who had been seized by the lictors, and was loudly remonstrating, to be led off to execution. All the best men acquiesced in the order, while the ill-affected were struck with terror. Then, as all with common consent demanded that Vocula should be their general, Hordeonius handed over to him the supreme command.

25. Sic mitigatis animis Bonnam, hiberna primae legionis, ventum. infensior illic miles culpam cladis in Hordeonium vertebat: eius iussu derectam adversus Batavos aciem, tamquam a Mogontiaco legiones sequerentur; eiusdem proditione caesos, nullis supervenientibus auxiliis: ignota haec ceteris exercitibus neque imperatori suo nuntiari, cum adcursu tot provinciarum extingui repens perfidia potuerit. Hordeonius exemplaris omnium litterarum, quibus per Gallias Britanniamque et Hispanias auxilia orabat, exercitui recitavit instituitque pessimum facinus, ut epistulae aquiliferis legionum traderentur, a quis ante militi quam ducibus legebantur. tum e seditiosis unum vinciri iubet, magis usurpandi iuris, quam quia unius culpa foret. motusque Bonna exercitus in coloniam Agrippinensem, adfluentibus auxiliis Gallorum, qui primo rem Romanam enixe iuvabant: mox valescentibus Germanis pleraeque civitates adversum nos arma <sumpsere> spe libertatis et, si exuissent servitium, cupidine imperitandi. gliscebat iracundia legionum, nec terrorem unius militis vincula indiderant: quin idem ille arguebat ultro conscientiam ducis, tamquam nuntius inter Civilem Flaccumque falso crimine testis veri opprimeretur. conscendit tribunal Vocula mira constantia, prensumque militem ac vociferantem duci ad supplicium iussit: et dum mali pavent, optimus quisque iussis paruere. exim consensu ducem Voculam poscentibus, Flaccus summam rerum ei permisit.

26. But there were many things to exasperate the already divided feelings of the soldiery. Pay and provisions were scanty, Gaul was rebelling against conscription and taxes, while the Rhine, owing to a drought unexampled in that climate, would hardly admit of navigation, and thus supplies were straitened at the same time that outposts had to be established along the entire bank to keep the Germans from fording the stream; the self-same cause thus bringing about a smaller supply of grain and a greater number of consumers. Among ignorant persons the very failure of the stream was regarded as a prodigy, as if the very rivers, the old defences of the Empire, were deserting us. What, in peace, would have seemed chance or nature, was now spoken of as destiny and the anger of heaven. As the army entered Novesium the sixteenth legion joined it; Herennius Gallus, its legate, was associated with Vocula in the responsibilities of command. As they did not venture to advance upon the enemy, they constructed a camp at a place called Gelduba. Here the generals sought to give steadiness to the troops by such exercises as forming in order of battle, constructing fortifications, making entrenchments, and whatever else might train them for war. In the hope that they might be fired to courage by the delights of plunder, Vocula led the army against the nearest villages of the Gugerni, who had accepted the alliance of Civilis. Some of the troops remained permanently with Herennius Gallus.

26. Sed discordis animos multa efferabant: inopia stipendii frumentique et simul dilectum tributaque Galliae aspernantes, Rhenus incognita illi caelo siccitate vix navium patiens, arti commeatus, dispositae per omnem ripam stationes quae Germanos vado arcerent, eademque de causa minus frugum et plures qui consumerent. apud imperitos prodigii loco accipiebatur ipsa aquarum penuria, tamquam nos amnes quoque et vetera imperii munimenta desererent: quod in pace fors seu natura, tunc fatum et ira dei vocabatur. Ingressis Novaesium sexta decima legio coniungitur. additus Voculae in partem curarum Herennius Gallus legatus; nec ausi ad hostem pergere * * (loco Gelduba nomen est) castra fecere. ibi struenda acie, muniendo vallandoque et ceteris belli meditamentis militem firmabant. utque praeda ad virtutem accenderetur, in proximos Cugernorum pagos, qui societatem Civilis acceperant, ductus a Vocula exercitus; pars cum Herennio Gallo permansit.

27. One day it happened that at no great distance from the camp the Germans were endeavouring to drag off to their own bank a vessel laden with corn, which had run aground in the shallows. Gallus could not endure this, and sent a cohort to help. The numbers of the Germans also increased; as fresh troops continued to join both sides, a regular battle ensued. The Germans, besides inflicting great loss on our men, carried off the vessel. The vanquished troops, following what had become a regular practice, laid the blame not on their own cowardice, but on supposed treachery in the legate. Dragged out of his tent, his garments torn, and his person severely beaten, he was commanded to declare for what bribe and with what accomplices he had betrayed the army. Their old hatred of Hordeonius reappeared. He, they declared, was the instigator of the crime, Gallus his tool. At last, utterly terrified by their threats of instant death, the legate himself charged Hordeonius with treachery. He was then put in irons, and only released on the arrival of Vocula, who the next day inflicted capital punishment on the ringleaders of the mutiny; such wide extremes of license and of subordination were to be found in that army. The common soldiers were undoubtedly loyal to Vitellius, but all the most distinguished men were in favour of Vespasian. The result was an alternation of outbreaks and executions, and a strange mixture of obedience and frenzy, which made it impossible to restrain the men whom it was yet possible to punish.

27. Forte navem haud procul castris, frumento gravem, cum per vada haesisset, Germani in suam ripam trahebant. non tulit Gallus misitque subsidio cohortem: auctus et Germanorum numerus, paulatimque adgregantibus se auxiliis acie certatum. Germani multa cum strage nostrorum navem abripiunt. victi, quod tum in morem verterat, non suam ignaviam, sed perfidiam legati culpabant. protractum e tentorio, scissa veste, verberato corpore, quo pretio, quibus consciis prodidisset exercitum, dicere iubent. redit in Hordeonium invidia: illum auctorem sceleris, hunc ministrum vocant, donec exitium minitantibus exterritus proditionem et ipse Hordeonio obiecit; vinctusque adventu demum Voculae exolvitur. is postera die auctores seditionis morte adfecit: tanta illi exercitui diversitas inerat licentiae patientiaeque. haud dubie gregarius miles Vitellio fidus, splendidissimus quisque in Vespasianum proni: inde scelerum ac suppliciorum vices et mixtus obsequio furor, ut contineri non possent qui puniri poterant.

28. Meanwhile all Germany was raising the power of Civilis by vast additions of strength, and the alliance was secured by hostages of the noblest rank. He directed that the territories of the Ubii and the Treveri should be ravaged by the several tribes on which they bordered, and that another detachment should cross the river Mosa, to threaten the Menapii and the Morini and the frontiers of Gaul. In both quarters plunder was collected; with peculiar hostility in the case of the Ubii, because, this nation, being of German origin, had forsworn its native country, and assumed the Roman name of the Agrippinenses. Their cohorts were cut up at the village of Marcodurum, where they lay in careless security, presuming on their distance from the river-bank. The Ubii did not remain quiet, but made predatory excursions into Germany, escaping at first with impunity, though they were afterwards cut off. Throughout the whole of this war, they were more loyal than fortunate. Civilis, grown more formidable now that the Ubii had been crushed, and elated by the success of his operations, pressed on the siege of the legions, keeping a strict watch to prevent any secret intelligence of advancing succours from reaching them. He entrusted to the Batavians the care of the machines and the vast siege-works, and when the Transrhenane tribes clamoured for battle, he bade them go and cut through the ramparts, and, if repulsed, renew the struggle; their numbers were superfluously large, and their loss was not felt. Even darkness did not terminate the struggle.

28. At Civilem immensis auctibus universa Germania extollebat, societate nobilissimis obsidum firmata. ille, ut cuique proximum, vastari Vbios Trevirosque, et aliam manum Mosam amnem transire iubet, ut Menapios et Morinos et extrema Galliarum quateret. actae utrobique praedae, infestius in Vbiis, quod gens Germanicae originis eiurata patria [Romanorum nomen] Agrippinenses vocarentur. caesae cohortes eorum in vico Marcoduro incuriosius agentes, quia procul ripa aberant. nec quievere Vbii quo minus praedas e Germania peterent, primo impune, dein circumventi sunt, per omne id bellum meliore usi fide quam fortuna. contusis Vbiis gravior et successu rerum ferocior Civilis obsidium legionum urgebat, intentis custodiis ne quis occultus nuntius venientis auxilii penetraret. machinas molemque operum Batavis delegat: Transrhenanos proelium poscentis ad scindendum vallum ire detrusosque redintegrare certamen iubet, superante multitudine et facili damno.

29. Piling up logs of wood round the walls and lighting them, they sat feasting, and rushed to the conflict, as each grew heated with wine, with a useless daring. Their missiles were discharged without effect in the darkness, but to the Romans the ranks of the barbarians were plainly discernible, and they singled out with deliberate aim anyone whose boldness or whose decorations made him conspicuous. Civilis saw this, and, extinguishing the fires, threw the confusion of darkness over the attack. Then ensued a scene of discordant clamour, of accident, and uncertainty, where no one could see how to aim or to avoid a blow. Wherever a shout was heard, they wheeled round and strained hand and foot. Valour was of no avail, accident disturbed every plan, and the bravest frequently were struck down by the missiles of the coward. The Germans fought with inconsiderate fury; our men, more alive to the danger, threw, but not at random, stakes shod with iron and heavy stones. Where the noise of the assailants was heard, or where the ladders placed against the walls brought the enemy within reach of their hands, they pushed them back with their shields, and followed them with their javelins. Many, who had struggled on to the walls, they stabbed with their short swords. After a night thus spent, day revealed a new method of attack.

29. Nec finem labori nox attulit: congestis circum lignis accensisque, simul epulantes, ut quisque vino incaluerat, ad pugnam temeritate inani ferebantur. quippe ipsorum tela per tenebras vana: Romani conspicuam barbarorum aciem, et si quis audacia aut insignibus effulgens, ad ictum destinabant. intellectum id Civili et restincto igne misceri cuncta tenebris et armis iubet. tum vero strepitus dissoni, casus incerti, neque feriendi neque declinandi providentia: unde clamor acciderat, circumagere corpora, tendere artus; nihil prodesse virtus, fors cuncta turbare et ignavorum saepe telis fortissimi cadere. apud Germanos inconsulta ira: Romanus miles periculorum gnarus ferratas sudis, gravia saxa non forte iaciebat. ubi sonus molientium aut adpositae scalae hostem in manus dederant, propellere umbone, pilo sequi; multos in moenia egressos pugionibus fodere. sic exhausta nocte novam aciem dies aperuit.

Next: Book 4 [30]