Germanicus Julius Caesar (24 May 16 BC or 15 BC–October 10, 19). Born in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyon), was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of the early Roman Empire. At birth he was named either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or (less likely) Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle, and received the agnomen Germanicus, by which he is principally known, in 9 BC, when it was awarded to his father in honour of his victories in Germania. He was the father of the Roman emperor Caligula, brother of the emperor Claudius, and grandfather of the emperor Nero.
Early lifeGermanicus' parents were general Nero Claudius Drusus (son of Empress Livia Drusilla, third wife of Emperor Augustus) and Antonia Minor (daughter of triumvir Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, sister of Augustus). Livilla and Emperor Claudius were his siblings. Germanicus married Agrippina the Elder, a granddaughter of Augustus, who gave him nine children. Two died whilst very young, another Gaius Julius Caesar died in early childhood. The other six survived to grown age:
Germanicus became immensely popular among the citizens of Rome, who enthusiastically celebrated all his victories. He was also a favourite with Augustus, his great-uncle and his wife's grandfather, who, for some time, considered him as heir to the Empire. In 4, at the persuasion of Livia (Augustus' wife), Augustus decided in favour of Tiberius, a stepson from Livia's first marriage. Augustus compelled Tiberius to adopt Germanicus as a son and name him as his heir (Tacitus, Annals IV.57). Upon his adoption by Tiberius his name was changed to Germanicus Julius Caesar.
Germanicus assumed several military commands leading the army in the campaigns in Pannonia and Dalmatia. He is recorded to have been an excellent soldier and inspired leader, loved by the legions. In AD 12 he was appointed consul after five mandates as quaestor.
Commander of GermaniaAfter the death of Augustus in 14, the Senate appointed Germanicus commander of the forces in Germania. A short time after, the legions rioted on the news that their recruitments would not be marked back down to 16 years from the now standard 20. Refusing to accept this, the rebel soldiers cried for Germanicus as emperor. Germanicus put down this rebellion himself, wishing to be an honorable Caesar and to protect his cousin's right to the throne of Rome. In a bid to secure the loyalty of his troops and his own popularity with them and with the Roman people, he led them on a spectacular but brutal raid against the Marsi, a German tribe on the upper Ruhr river, in which he massacred much of the tribe.
During each of the next two years, he led his 8-legion army into Germany against the coalition of tribes led by Arminius, which had successfully overthrown Roman rule in a rebellion in 9. His major success was the capture of Arminius' wife in May AD 15.He let Arminius' wife sleep in his quarters during the whole of the time she was a prisoner. He said, "They are women and they must be respected, for they will be citizens of Rome soon". He was able to devastate large areas and eliminate any form of active resistance, but the majority of the Germans fled at the sight of the Roman army into remote forests. The raids were considered a success since the major goal of destroying any rebel alliance networks was completed.
After visiting the site of the disastrous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where 20,000 Romans had been killed in 9, and burying their remains, he launched a massive assault on the heartland of Arminius' tribe, the Cheruscans. Arminius initially lured Germanicus' cavalry into a trap and inflicted minor casualties, until successful fighting by the Roman infantry caused the Germans to break and flee into the forest. This victory, combined with the fact that winter was fast approaching, meant Germanicus's next step was to lead his army back to its winter quarters on the Rhine.
In spite of doubts on the part of his uncle, Emperor Tiberius, Germanicus managed to raise another huge army and invaded Germany again the next year, in 16. He forced a crossing of the Weser near modern Minden, suffering heavy losses, and then met Arminius' army at Idistoviso, further up the Weser, near modern Rinteln, in an engagement often called the Battle of the Weser River. Germanicus's leadership and command qualities were shown in full at the battle as his superior tactics and better trained and equipped legions inflicted huge casualties on the German army with only minor losses. One final battle was fought at the Angivarian Wall west of modern Hanover, repeating the pattern of high German fatalities forcing them to flee. With his main objectives reached and with winter approaching Germanicus ordered his army back to their winter camps, with the fleet occasioning some damage by a storm in the North Sea. Although only a small number of soldiers died it was still a bad ending for a brilliantly fought campaign. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of two of the three legion's eagles lost in 9, Germanicus was recalled to Rome and informed by Tiberius that he would be given a triumph and reassigned to a different command.
Despite the successes enjoyed by his troops, Germanicus' German campaign was in reaction to the mutinous intentions of his troops, and lacked any strategic value. In addition he engaged the very German leader (Arminius) who had destroyed three Roman legions in AD 9, and exposed his troops to the remains of those dead Romans. Furthermore, in leading his troops across the Rhine, without recourse to Tiberius, he contradicted the advice of Augustus to keep that river as the boundary of the empire, and opened himself to doubts about his motives in such independent action. These errors in strategic and political judgement gave Tiberius reason enough to recall his nephew. Germanicus was a fool in the eyes of Tiberius and the senate which feared the Germans undescribably. But in the eyes of the citizens of Rome, the soldiers of Rome, and the commanders under and above Germanicus he was a brilliant strategist. By contradicting the bureaucrats and invading Germania, Germanicus Ceasar was the only commander of Rome to ever pass the Rhine and come back successful.
Time Spent in Asia and Eventual DeathGermanicus was then sent to Asia, where in 18 he defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene, turning them into Roman provinces. During a sightseeing trip to Egypt (not a regular province, but the personal property of the Emperor) he seems to have unwittingly usurped several imperial prerogatives. The following year he found that the governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had cancelled the provincial arrangements that he had made. Germanicus in turn ordered Piso's recall to Rome, although this action was probably beyond his authority. In the midst of this feud Germanicus died suddenly in Antioch of a poison delivered in his drink through Piso on orders from Tiberius to kill the loyal cousin and general. His death aroused much speculation, with several sources finding out he was poisoned by Piso, under orders from Emperor Tiberius. This was never proven, and Piso later committed suicide while facing trial, because he feared the people of Rome knew of the conspiracy against Germanicus, but Tiberius' jealousy and fear of his cousin's popularity and increasing power was the true motive.
The death of Germanicus in what can only be described as dubious circumstances greatly affected Tiberius' popularity in Rome, leading to the creation of a climate of fear in Rome itself. Also suspected of connivance in his death was Tiberius' chief advisor, Sejanus, who would then turn the empire into a frightful tyranny throughout the 20s, before himself being removed and executed by Tiberius in a bloody purge in 31.
Literary ActivityGermanicus made a Latin version, which survives, of Aratus's Phainomena, for which reason he is ranked among Roman writers on astrology.
- (Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Umbria) "The Bronze Statue of Germanicus" of Amelia (Terni). Circumstances of the chance discovery in 1963 and restoration of this extremely fine heroic portrait bronze.
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