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THE ROMAN INVASIONS OF GERMANIA MAGNA Trial and Error in Augustus' German Policy

James Mitchell


Tum diu Germania vincitur? —Tac., Germ. 37

Tacitus' exasperated plea for a resolution to the prolonged and apparently interminable conquest of Germania Magna underscores a basic contradiction in the ideology of Augustan imperial strategy. The belief that Augustus planned to limit the expansion of the Roman empire to the territories acquired early in his principate, and that his concept of imperialism was essentially pacific and liberative in nature, was propagated not only by Augustan poets in lofty terms, 1 but affirmed by the Roman historians as well. 2 The same assumption has also informed modern scholarship, starting perhaps with Gibbon, who affirmed that Augustus’ conquests were undertaken only to stabilize the empire’s borders on the best line of defense. 3 But the German policy realized by Augustus and his 1

For example in Virgil’s famous pronouncement on the mission of empire: tu regere imperio populos, Romanae, memento (hae tibi erunt artes), pacis imponere morem, parcere subiectis et debellare superbos. Virg., Aen. vi. 851-3.


Suetonius says that Augustus did battle only out of necessity, and always in the interests of justice (Suet., Aug. 21.2). And Cassius Dio states outright that Augustus’ whole strategy was defensive (Dio, 53.10.4-5). Augustus himself says that he caused peace to be “restored” as far as the Elbe River (Aug., R.G. 26). 3 “He [Augustus Caesar] bequeathed, as a valuable legacy to his successors, the advice of confining the empire within those limits which nature seemed to have placed as its permanent bulwarks and boundaries.” Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,

3 military commanders on the Rhine demonstrates quite a different strategy, namely one of outright conquest, with no regard at all for a pretended liberation of the Germanic tribes, or for the erection of a permanent defense shield for the northern empire. In the past fifty years, a series of archaeological discoveries made east of the Rhine provide evidence that the several invasions into Germania Magna were undertaken to acquire new territory and to integrate it into the Roman administrative structure.4 In this paper we will first examine the progress of the Roman invasions beginning with the first by Gaius Julius Caesar in 55 BCE and culminating with that of Nero Claudius Germanicus in 16 CE, and we will review several material culture discoveries in the lands east of the Rhine River, emphasizing those found most recently at the excavated Roman bases in Haltern on the River Lippe and in Waldgirmes (Hessia). We will show that Augustus’ intentions were anything but defensive in nature, and represented instead an ongoing if somewhat erratic attempt at territorial aggrandizement. 1.

Vol. 1, 1776. David Womersley, ed. [London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1994], 31 . 4 Although the term Germania Magna was not officially introduced until the establishment of the Rhine military zones of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior in the reign of Domitian, we will use it in this paper to designate territories inhabited by Germanic tribespeople between the Rhine and Elbe Rivers.

4 The appearance of Julius Caesar on the Rhine River in 55 BCE suddenly promoted the unfamiliar Germanic peoples far to the north of the Empire as an object of both military and imperial concern. In Books Five and Six of De bello Gallico, Caesar recounts how he traveled three times to the Rhine River, and how in 55 BCE he built a bridge to cross it and again in 53 to engage Germanic tribes that had either crossed into Gaul or looked likely to do so, or had rendered support to rebellious groups there. Caesar also comments on the physical and mental character of the people he calls Germani, and, most importantly, he views the Rhine as a border dividing Germans and Celts. 5 Although this perception has been discounted by modern archaeological study, 6Caesar's observations doubtless helped establish the concept of the Rhine River as a line of fortification against potential invaders to the East, and indeed as a border marking the extent of the Roman Empire in North Europe. 7 This projection, taken together with the obvious importance of the Rhine as an essential avenue of communication,


Caes., B.G. 6.21-28. The origin of the exonym Germani is unknown, although Tacitus insists there was at one time an ancient tribe called by this name: "The name Germania is said to be a new and recent application: it was because the ones who first crossed the Rhine and expelled the Gauls, and are now called Tungri, were called Germani at that time" (Tac., Germ. 2). The Greek historian Posidonios, writing at the beginning of the first century BCE, also speaks of a different tribe known by the same name: Reinhard Wolters, Die Rรถmer in Germanien [Munich: C.H. Beck, 2000], 16. 6 It is quite clear that the Rhine was not an ethnic border; there is much material evidence indicating that Celtic and Germanic tribes lived on both sides of the Rhine, going back into the Late Iron Age. For a full discussion of "the inadequacy of Caesar's simplistic concept" see C. R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994], 73-78. 7 "...Populi Romani imperium Rhenum finire...." Caes., B.G. 4.16.

5 commerce and military transport—and therewith its utility in assisting the suppression of possible revolts in the north of Gaul—seems to have taken hold upon Roman imperial planning, at least as a relevant possibility, as early as Caesar's first entry into Germania Magna. Nothing is known of further military developments along the Rhine after Caesar's return to Rome and during the Civil War period that followed, but in 39 or 38 BCE, Augustus appointed Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa governor of Gaul. 8 After putting down an uprising of Aquitanians, Agrippa moved to the north to fight against the Suebi, becoming the first Roman general to cross the Rhine after Caesar.9 There is a possibility that Agrippa may have relocated the Ubii to the left bank at this time and established there the oppidum Ubiorum, becoming later the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippenensium (Cologne) under Claudius. 10 In any event what little is known of Agrippa's activity on the Rhine tends to confirm its employment as a defensive border on the frontier facing the German tribes, and Agrippa's major contribution may have been the construction of a military road stretching from Lugdunum (Lyon) to Cologne and running parallel to the Rhine Wolters, Römer, 24. Agrippa was summoned by Augustus back to Rome in 37 BCE to assume the consulship. 9 Wolters, Römer, 25. 10 J.D. Creighton and R.J.A. Wilson. "Introduction: Recent Research on Roman Germany," in Roman Germany: Studies in Cultural Interaction, International Roman Archaeology Conference Series, ed. John Creighton, Roger John Anthony Wilson and Dirk Krausse [Portsmouth, R.I.: Journal of Roman Archaeology L.L.C., 1999], 19-34. The long-standing supposition that Agrippa was the founder of Cologne no longer seems tenable; it seems to be based only on Strabo's statement that Agrippa re-settled the Ubii on the west side of the Rhine (see Strabo 4.3.4). 8

6 in its later phases, a clear indication of Rome's desire to supply and fortify the northern defenses of Gaul some years before any invasions were actually launched to the east.11


The arrival of Nero Drusus Claudius (Drusus the Elder, Tiberius' brother) in the Rhineland in 12 BCE marked a major change in Rome's geopolitical strategy on the northern frontier. Appointed by his step-father Augustus the year before to subdue uprisings in Gaul, Drusus advanced to the north and launched what he might have considered a pre-emptive strike against the Sugambri, who had threatened an attack upon Gaul, and he laid waste most of their territory east of the Rhine.12 Immediately thereafter, Drusus assembled a small navy of military ships and advanced with his soldiers northward up the Rhine, secured an alliance with the Frisians whose lands bordered the Rhine estuary, sailed out into the North Sea and invaded the territory of the Chauci, probably from the mouth of the River Ems.13 Here according to Cassius Dio he ran into unexpected

C.M. Wells, The German Policy of Augustus. An Examination of the Archaeological Evidence. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972], 93. The road building project undertaken by Agrippa would eventually not only connect the Alpine region with the North Sea by land, but also the military bases of the along the Rhine with each other. 12 Dio 54.32. 13 Dio 54.32. 11

7 difficulties, since his ships were stranded at low tide and he had to rely upon the Frisians for rescue.14 What is striking about Drusus' North Sea adventures is that they did not serve any observable defensive purpose. After securing the mouth of the Rhine, Drusus set forth with what must have been a sizeable fleet of vessels to explore the sea coast, determine the estuaries of the Ems and Weser Rivers, and engage militarily with the Chauci. More evidence of Rome's intention to control the entrance to the North Sea is provided by the construction of the Fossa Drusiana, a canal built to facilitate the navy's egress into the sea.15 Returning to Rome for the winter, Drusus may have found ample time for further consultation with Augustus about formulating a future German strategy. Subsequent operations after 12 BCE represent a change from what could yet be seen as a policy of fortifying the Rhine defensively to a new plan of action which was to feature large-scale expeditions, massive troop deployment and supply operations, and outright territorial conquest into the heart of Germania Magna. Seen from a broader and more accurate historical perspective, the military operations initiated by Drusus in obvious consultation with Augustus and the retaliatory acts that followed after the Varus defeat might be more properly Dio 54.32. The Fossa Drusiana is reported in Suet., Claud. 1. Its exact whereabouts is unknown, one likely explanation being that it was built to connect the Zuiderzee with the Ijssel River, enabling Roman ships to cut a considerable amount of sailing time to gain the North Sea. For a review of the possibilities involved see B. Makaskel, and G.J. Maasl and D.G. van Smeerdijk, "The Age and Origin of the Gelderse IJssel," Netherlands Journal of Geosciences—Geologie en Mijnbouw 87, no. 4 (September 2008): 326-337. 14 15

8 designated as an open war between Romans and the Germanic tribes, lasting with occasional interruptions from Drusus' arrival in 12 BCE to Germanicus' recall to Rome in 16 CE.16 Indeed the whole chain of events does not appear to differ from most other imperial attempts at annexation of territory and imposition of rule anytime or anywhere else. The operational bases of Drusus' campaigns against the Germans were at Mainz on the middle Rhine, and at Vetera (Xanten), Neuss and Nijmegen on the lower Rhine.17 Setting forth from Vetera, Drusus' legions could navigate their way eastwards on the Lippe River almost as far as the Weser River, and then march overland to the Elbe. The more southerly route progressed eastwards through the valley of the Lahn River, most likely overland, although the smallish Lahn might have been used to expedite supplies. 18 Together these two routes into Germania Magna, coupled with the sea-routes from the Rhine into the estuaries of the Ems and Weser Rivers on the North Sea explored by Drusus personally in 12 BCE, were the principle routes of invasion and were the same ones used in future campaigns by Quinctilius Varus and Germanicus, attesting to Drusus' 16

As proposed also by Johann-Sebastian Kühlborn, "2000 Jahre Römer in Anreppen, Öffentlicher Festvortrag," in Rom auf dem Weg nach Germanien. Geostrategie, Vormarschstrassen und Logistik: Internationales Kolloquium in Delbrück-Anreppen vom 4. bis 6. November 2004, ed. Johann-Sebastian Kühlborn and Cornelia Halm [Mainz: von Zabern, 2008], 1. Kühlborn suggests that the war in Germania occurred in the following distinct phases: 1) the campaigns of Drusus (12-9 BCE), 2) those of Tiberius and Vinicius (Tiberius’ general), (1-5 BCE), 3) those of Varus (7-9 BCE) and 4) those of Germanicus (14-16 BCE) (ibid., 2). 17 Maureen Carroll, Romans, Celts & Germans: The German Provinces of Rome [Stroud: Tempus, 2001], 34. 18 Carroll, Romans, 34-35.

9 considerable skills at military organization and planning. Indeed it is hard not to view Drusus as the master architect of the Germanic wars, and had he not died on campaign in 9 BCE, perhaps the outcome might have been altogether different for the Romans. In 10 and 9 BCE, Drusus and his legions battled successfully against several tribes, including the Usipeti, Sugambri, Chatti, Suebi, and Cherusci. 19 Dio does not report that Drusus ever lost a single engagement despite much heavy fighting, and he indicates repeatedly that Drusus employed slash-and-burn methods of warfare.20 He crossed the Weser River and advanced as far as the Elbe without interference, clearly as a show of Roman military force, before turning back to the Rhine, but he died en route when he fell from his horse. 21 His body was escorted back to Rome for burial with full military honors by the young future emperor Tiberius, who initiated the next phase in the Germanic wars after Augustus appointed him to succeed Drusus as military commander in the Rhineland.22

3. Dio 54.33, 55.1. Dio 55.1. Slash-and-burn was the customary technique used by the Romans, as consistently mentioned in the accounts of the raids undertaken later by Tiberius, Varus and Germanicus. The Romans were not interested in winning hearts and minds, and the barbarity of their methods would have been understood throughout the land. 21 Suet., Claud. 1. 22 Suet., Claud. 1 and Tib. 7; Dio 55.1,2. 19 20


None of Tiberius' three campaigns in Germania Magna led to a decisive military action, and his activities there are not described in any detail by the Roman historians. The first campaign occurred in 8 BCE and brought nothing more conclusive than a failed attempt to negotiate a peace settlement with the Sugambri, who had settled into lands near the major Roman encampments at Xanten and Neuss and who had begun to trade with the legions stationed there. 23 It seems likely that Tiberius would have undertaken raids against the local populations, but there is no evidence to confirm Velleius' assertion that "after traversing every part of Germany in a victorious campaign, without any loss of the army entrusted to him—for he made this one of his chief concerns—he so subdued the country as to reduce it almost to the status of a tributary province." 24 Velleius emphasizes further that in 6 BC there was left "nothing in Germania that remained to be conquered except the tribe of the Marcomanni." 25 Working together with the Rhine commander Sentius Saturninus, Tiberius accordingly organized an army of twelve legions to march against the Marcomanni, but the

Wolters, RĂśmer, 36-37. A peace settlement was proposed by the Sugambri but rejected by the Romans after lengthy negotiation. 24 Vell. 2.97.4. Cassius Dio reports that Tiberius was again in the Rhineland in 7 and 6 BC, but he does not mention any engagements (Dio 55.6,8). 25 Vell. 2.108.1. 23

11 plan failed when Tiberius and the legions were diverted to Pannonia, where they were occupied for three years putting down a local uprising.26 The apparent lack of full-scale offensive operations under Tiberius during the period between the death of Drusus in 9 BCE and the defeat of Varus in 9 CE could be interpreted as evidence that the Romans may have by this time indeed regarded themselves as masters of Germania Magna, and felt it ready now for provincialization. Perhaps it is at this point that Augustus was ready to make his pronouncement that Germaniam pacavi,27 and there is nothing to contradict Velleius' suggestion that the country had been subdued to the level of a tributary province. Due to their distant location to the southeast, the Marcomanni posed no immediate threat to the Rhine armies, and they would not emerge as enemies until the 170's in Pannonia, where they were eventually subdued by Marcus Aurelius' forces.28 To the north, in the area between the Weser and the Elbe Rivers, no source mentions that the Cherusci were perceived as a threat to Roman security, so that in the ten years prefacing the clades Variana, despite the absence of signed peace treaties with individual tribes, there was perhaps little reason for the Romans to think that provincialization might not effectively proceed as normal.

Wolters, Rรถmer, 39. Aug., R.G. 26. 28 The Marcomannic wars are recounted in Dio 72. 26


12 Such apparently was the intention of Quinctilius Varus, who left Vetera in the spring of 9 CE, moved three legions and perhaps 2000 camp followers up the the Lippe river to a summer camp located on the Weser River, in the heart of the Cheruscan homeland.29 It is clear that Varus was not interested in annexing new territory, since otherwise he would have pushed eastward or northward instead of staying in one place for several weeks in the summer. Varus' activities prompt the conclusion that Augustus viewed Germania Magna as freshly conquered territory ready for the institution of Roman rule. Cassius Dio says that Varus, taking seriously his duties as provincial governor, immediately began to "handle the affairs" of the regional inhabitants and began to "give orders," and also that he "levied money from them as if they were subject nations." 30 Velleius reports further that Varus "came to look upon himself as a city praetor administering justice in the forum."31 Although Varus' activities in the summer of 9 CE do not necessarily demonstrate an official shift in Roman policy since there is no designation of the territory as a new provincia Germania, or as a "tributary province" in the words of Velleius Paterculus quoted above, it is nonetheless Dio 56.18.5. Dio 56.18.3. Dio adds, “Besides issuing orders to them as if they were actually slaves of the Romans, he exacted money as he would from subject nations.� 31 Vell. 2.118.1. At 117.4, Velleius says that Varus "entered the heart of Germany as though he were going among a people enjoying the blessings of peace, and sitting on his tribunal he wasted the time of a summer campaign in holding court and observing the proper details of legal procedure. " Florus also states that Varus acted as a tribunal, "...just as though he could restrain the violence of barbarians by the rod of a lictor and the proclamation of a herald." (Flor., Epi. 2.30.31). 29 30

13 clear that Varus regarded it as his job to administer it as such, functioning as a magistrate and ordering the collection of taxes. His blindness to the effects of his own policies upon the Cheruscans, and to the conspiracy that was being plotted behind his back, brought destruction upon himself and his entire army upon their return march to the Rhine. On July 9th in 9 CE an unknown number of Cheruscan warriors commanded by Arminius led Varus' forces into a deadly ambush in a forest near the Weser River, and three Roman legions were struck down.32 The defeat was not only one of the worst in Roman military history, but also marked the turning point for imperial ambitions in Germania Magna.


The final phase of military operations in the Germanic wars began immediately after the defeat of Varus and concluded with three major campaigns See Dio 56.19-22, which gives the best account of the battle, the site of which has now been conclusively established at Kalkriese in North-Rhine Westphalia thanks to recent archaeological discoveries. But the question how many Cheruscans participated remains a subject of much debate, as does the actual course of the battle. Some military scholars argue that 5000 warriors might have been sufficient to defeat the Romans; others think that 20,000 would have been necessary, as for example Thomas Volling, ̈ Germanien an der Zeitenwende: Studien zum Kulturwandel beim Übergang von der vorrömischen Eisenzeit zur a ̈lteren römischen Kaiserzeit in der Germania Magna. BAR International Series, 1360. [Oxford, England: Archaeopress, 2005], 248. Velleius says that Varus' soldiers were "slaughtered like cattle," (Vell. 2.119.2), and archaeological evidence tends to confirm this. Strabo says that the Germans "carried on a guerilla warfare in swamps, in pathless forests, and in deserts; and they made the ignorant Romans believe to be far away what was really near at hand, and kept them in ignorance of the roads..." (Strabo 1.1.18), but it is not clear if he is referring specifically to the confrontation between the Cheruscans and Varus. 32

14 led by Nero Claudius Germanicus before his withdrawal and return to Rome in 16 CE. In 10 CE Tiberius took command of the Rhine legions, which he next augmented with two more legions in addition to the three lost by Varus, making a total of eight, which he then divided into two commands, protecting the lower and upper Rhine.33 In the following year Tiberius conducted a series of raids in the lands immediately across the Rhine, devastating and laying waste to the countryside without engaging the enemy directly. 34 After one minor battle with the Bructerii in 12 CE, Tiberius returned to Rome, having accomplished little more than beefing up the Rhine defenses and carrying out brutal punitive actions against a defenseless farming population. 35 It appears that he had decided to end all further attempts at conquest, having determined that it would be preferable for Rome to abandon Germania Magna and leave the tribes to resolve their internal disputes by fighting with each other. 36 The decision thus taken was of course defensive in nature: the Rhine was again to become de facto the boundary of the Empire, and the several Roman camps and fortifications to the east, which we will discuss in more detail below, were abandoned in short order. Wolters, Rรถmer, 56. "They did not win any pitched battles, since no German forced engaged them, neither did they subdue any tribe" (Dio 56.25.2). Dio says in the same passage that Germanicus was fighting together with Tiberius at this time. 35 Velleius puts a rather more positive spin on Tiberius' rapacity: "He thus made aggressive war upon the enemy when his father and his country would have been content to let him hold them in check; he penetrated into the heart of the country, opened up military roads, devastated fields, burned houses, routed those who came against him, and, without loss to the troops with which he had crossed, he returned, covered with glory, to winter quarters" (Vell. 2.120.2). 36 Dio 56.24.5. 33 34

15 Augustus then named Germanicus to succeed Tiberius—honoring him in advance as "Imperator," a title which did not signify that his mission was likely to prove defensive in nature. 37 Germanicus arrived at the Rhine by 13 CE and was much involved the year following with putting down a rebellion among the Rhine legions which broke out immediately after the death of Augustus. 38 Germanicus did lead a major campaign in 14 CE, bridging the Rhine and leading 12,000 legionaries eastwards who cut new roads through the forests and followed orders to lay waste the fields and wipe out the farming population within a radius of fifty miles.39 After a series of skirmishes with local tribes who had been taken quite by surprise, the legions returned to the Rhine for the winter.40 Dio 56.17.1. Perhaps Augustus approved one last attempt at conquest, or, as Tacitus asserts, perhaps the Romans "fought to erase the disgrace of the loss of the army under Quinctilius Varus rather than from a desire to advance the bounds of empire or win some worthwhile prize" (Tac., Ann. 1.3). Tiberius may have been more inclined than Augustus to end the Germanic wars, based on his own personal experience and therefore perhaps his more realistic assessment regarding the advantages of annexing the territory into the Empire, which in turn may have led to his subsequent recall of Germanicus in 16 CE. 38 Wolters, Römer, 56-57. Tacitus describes the campaigns of Germanicus in considerable detail in Tac. Ann. 5-29. 39 Carroll, Romans, 60. 40 Carroll, Romans, 60. It is clear that Germanicus' initial efforts were meant to mirror those employed earlier by Tiberius: to intimidate the population by force and to avoid major confrontations. Reports of the brutality of Germanicus' raids can hardly be ignored. Tacitus writes that he "spread devastation over an area of fifty miles with fire and the sword. Neither sex nor age aroused pity. Places secular and sacred were razed to the ground.... The soldiers cut down men half-asleep, unarmed, or wandering aimlessly about, without receiving a wound" (Tac., Ann., 1.51). The traumatic effects on the Germanic population is contemplated by Lothar Wierschowski, "Non sexus, non aetas miserationem attulit (Tac., Ann. 1.51.1)—´Nicht Alter, nicht Geschlecht brachten Erbarmen´— Zur Kriegsführung der Römer in Germanien 14-16 n. Chr.," in Rom, Germanien und das Reich Festschrift zu Ehren von Rainer Wiegels anlasslich ̈ seines 65. Geburtstages, Band 18, ed. Wolfgang Spickermann and Rainer Wiegels [Sankt Katharinen: ScriptaMercaturae-Verlag, 2005], 210-223. 37

16 Whatever motivating factors served to effect two full-scale invasions into Cheruscan territory in 15 and 16 CE, defensive operations were obviously not among them, and it seems rather that Germanicus intended no less than the creation of an imperial frontier on the Elbe River. 41 Since the established routes of invasion along the Lippe River and across the Lahn Valley to the south had been shut down by Tiberius, Germanicus relied upon the expansion of the Rhine fleet —the classis Germanica— to transport his armies down the Ems and Weser rivers after sailing into the North Sea from the Rhine. After an overland expedition in early 15 BC to attack and divide the Chatti and Bructeri, during which the Romans "were once again able to indulge in a massacre of old men, women and children,"42 the legions marched across the north of the country and almost lost a major battle on the banks of the Weser to the Cherusci, again led by Arminius. The legions retreated again to the Rhine, some by land and others by ship; both returning contingents were severely afflicted by early winter coastal storms. 43 The campaign of 16 CE, no less ambitious but hardly more productive than the year before, marked the conclusion of the Germanic wars. Having learned from the tactical and logistical difficulties he had encountered previously,

Carroll, Romans, 61. Carroll, Romans, 62. 43 The ships embarked probably from the Ems River. It seems likely that Germanicus divided his forces because he did not have enough ships available for everyone, see Tac., Ann. 1.69-70. 41 42

17 Germanicus assembled his fleet and moved it again to the Ems, 44 and the legions then marched from there to the Weser where they confronted Arminius and the Chreusci for a second time on a plain called Idiovisto. 45 The ensuing battle was won by the Romans, but Arminius escaped, and the Roman advance was brought to a halt by subsequent Cheruscan counterattacks and Germanicus' decision not to be caught again by bad weather. 46 But as in the year previous, the forces returned to the Rhine by land and by sea, and again the ships were caught in a violent storm on the North Sea and many were lost. 47 Next, Germanicus was recalled to Rome by Tiberius, who had apparently by this time determined that a successful military conquest of Germania Magna was not to be achieved by winning annual victories over an enemy which returned to the battlefield each year to resume fighting when the winter intermission was over. Despite Tacitus' frequent reports of hostility or mistrust existing between Tiberius and Germanicus,48 the decision taken was militarily sound, since there existed little reason to believe that another summer of warfare would have ended hostilities, and every reason to believe that a final victory could be only be realized by a Tacitus says that 1000 ships were required for this invastion, and that Germanicus had six legions at his disposa1 (Tac., Ann. 2.6, 2.7). 45 A few kilometers east of Minden. The site of the battle at Idiovisto has not yet been located. A full account of Germanicus’ campaigns is given in Wilm Brepohl, Arminius gegen Germanicus: Der Germanicus-Feldzug im Jahre 16 n. Chr. und seine Hintergründe [Münster: Aschendorff, 2008]. 46 Tac., Ann. 2.19, 2.23. 47 Tac., Ann. 2.24. 48 Discussed at length by D.C.A. Shotter, "Tacitus, Tiberius and Germanicus," Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 17, no. 2 (1968): 194-214. 44

18 much greater outlay of money and manpower that Rome was then willing to expend, and by a permanent occupation of the entire region instead of prosecuting intermittent campaigns.49


Thus far we have reviewed only the military actions undertaken in Germania Magna during the Augustan period, emphasizing their offensive and defensive capabilities and aspects. Our knowledge of these events is derived almost exclusively from the records left to us by the Roman historians. And yet there is a body of material evidence which can also be used to analyze the strategic intentions of the Romans, based on archaeological analysis of the different fortifications and bases and camps constructed not only along the Rhine River but also to the east of it. Included in this research is the recent discovery (1993) of a nascent Roman city, which existed in the Lahn valley until the time of Varus' defeat in 9 CE. It has been shown that the Roman military bases in Augustan Germany have a special significance in that none have been discovered from the same


Carroll, Romans, 73.

19 period anywhere else in the entire Roman Empire. 50 Those along the Rhine River are the oldest and most highly developed, having in some cases over time enlarged into full-scale towns and cities (Cologne, Xanten, Neuss, Bonn). But the dates when these legionary bases were first established remains obscure, and although it is convenient to conceive of them as an element of Agrippa's Rhine defense policies, it is not until the start of Drusus' campaigns in 12 BCE that we begin to find concrete evidence about the dates of their origin. 51 Six legionary bases in the Augustan period are known from archaeological evidence to have been built on the Middle and Lower Rhine: four of these (Vechten, Vetera, Neuss and Mainz) date from the period of Drusus' campaigns or shortly thereafter; Nijmegen is probably late Augustan, while Cologne was apparently established at some unknown point before 9 BCE.52 In addition, Drusus ordered many bases and camps to the east. These may be best understood in terms of his three-pronged strategy for the invasion of Germania Magna, which indeed became the basis for all subsequent military incursions after his death. Two of these were naval routes, requiring a fleet of attack ships, each vessel carrying up to fifty legionaries, and a sizeable number of


Siegmar von Schnurbein, "The Organization of the Fortresses in Augustan Germany," in Roman Fortresses and Their Legions, ed. Richard J. Brewer and George C. Boon, [London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 2000], 29. Schnurbein also mentions that the fortresses were built on hills, usually adjacent to German rivers. 51 C.M. Wells, The German Policy of Augustus, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976], 93.. 52 Wells, Policy, 95.

20 supply boats following behind. 53 As we have seen, the successful construction of a North Sea naval fleet by Drusus, who was also the first Roman commander to explore the northern estuaries of the German rivers, prompted similar attacks into German territory by Tiberius and Germanicus. Given the distances and the logistics involved, it is of course impossible to think of these operations as defensive in nature. Equally attractive for Roman commanders was the second invasion route, which involved sending troop ships from the Rhine base at Vetera eastwards up the Lippe River almost as far as the Weser, from which point the soldiers could march forward to engage with the Cheruscans and Chatti. Again it was Drusus who initiated this route of invasion, and who also built a series of smaller fortified camps along the Lippe from 11 BCE,54 before a very large, permanent base sufficient to sustain an entire legion was built in successive phases after 7 BCE on the Lippe at Haltern. Located fifty-seven kilometers east of the Rhine, it was most certainly intended as a major operational base for campaigns along the Lippe to the Weser—constructed to serve an occupying army, not marching forces.55 It contained a praetorium, tribune's hall, and a barrowed Roman Archaeological discoveries, and analysis of fecal remains from military burials, confirm that land supply routes for the legions in Germany extended as far south as the Mediterranean. For a description of Roman naval operations on the Rhine see Heinrich Konen, Classis Germanica. Die rÜmische Rheinflotte im 1.-3. Jahrhundert n. Chr. [Sankt Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae Verlag. 2001]. 54 Carroll, Romans, 34. 55 Carroll, Romans, 36. 53

21 graveyard, and it exhibits evidence of vicus formation underway around its perimeters.56 It also featured a boatyard where recent excavations have shown that military attack ships—not supply ships—were housed in boatsheds along the riverfront.57 The establishment of a permanent, large-scale military base this far up the Lippe could not have served any constructive defensive purpose, since invading forces could have easily avoided it by marching around it to get to the Roman bases on the Rhine.58 The third route of invasion planned by Drusus was located farther to the south, originating at base on the Middle Rhine base at Mainz, opposite the Main River and extending east through the valley of the Lahn River, from which a geographically unproblematic path could be pursued overland as far as the Elbe. At a place on the Lahn called Waldgirmes, about 80 km from the Rhine, a Roman city was built, whose construction dates from 4 BCE and which was shut down in 9 CE.59 Lacking military architecture of any kind, the city is the only site in

The residents included Roman civilians, women and children: cf. Wolters, Römer, 47. See also Wells, Policy, 191-192. 57 The large number of officers' quarters at Haltern suggests that it might have been planned as a military administrative headquarters for annexed Germanic territory: see Carroll, Romans, 36. Carroll believes that the presence of civilian settlements suggests that the Romans considered the region to have been sufficiently pacified and safe enough to allow this kind of settlement, which was certainly uncharacteristic of all other transrhenan forts. 58 There were several smaller camps and bases leading up the Lippe from the Rhine, showing that the advance to the east occurred in successive stages: 59 Armin Becker and Gabriele Rasbach, “’Stadte in Germanien,’ Der Fundplatz Waldgirmes,“ in Die Varusschlacht: Wendepunkt der Geschichte?, ed. Rainer Wiegels, [Stuttgart: Theiss Verlag, 2007], 102-116. The dating of Waldgirmes is confirmed by the carbon dating of wood construction elements, and by the discovery of Roman coinage from no later than 9 CE. 56

22 Germania Magna surrounded by a stone wall, and the array of public buildings included a forum with two basilica halls. 60 The forum was serviced by lead water pipes and a well.61 Large numbers of artifacts have been recovered from the site, including parts of a gold-gilt equestrian statue, and fragments of Germanic ceramics indicate trade with the neighboring population. 62 Despite its relatively brief history as a city, the archaeological discoveries at Waldgirmes provide almost irrefutable evidence that the Romans in the period before Varus’ defeat had considered Germania Magna as sufficiently “pacified” to embark on the path of provincialization. Conclusions

For almost thirty years, from 12 BCE to 16 CE, the Romans attempted to subject Germania Magna and incorporate it into their empire as a province. The wars were fought in three distinct phases, the first being the initial invasions and the establishment of military bases east of the Rhine undertaken by Drusus in 12– 60

Becker, Städte, 105. The absence of militaria and weapons found on the site is seen as further indication that Waldgirmes was not planned as a military base. A full list of all the artifacts recovered at the site with descriptions is available in G. Rasbach, "Die Spätaugusteische Siedlung in Lahnau-Waldgirmes—Zusammenfassende Bemerkungen zum Stand der Fundauswertung." BAR International Series (Supplementary) 1084 (1999): 433-440. 61 Becker, Städte, 103. 62 Heinz Günter Horn, "Was ist wahr an Varus? Eine Frage ohne klare Antworten," in Von Anfang an: Archäologie in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Begleitbuch zur Germanisches Landesausstellung: Von Anfang an—Archäologie in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Köln, Römisch- Museum 13. März bis 28. August 2005, Herne, Westfälisches Museum für Archäologie, Landesmuseum 22. September 2005 bis 5. Februar 2006, Schriften zur Boden-Denkmalpflege in Nordrhein-Westfalen, ed. Heinz Günter Horn, [Mainz: von Zabern, 2005], 115.

23 9 BCE. A period of stabilization and the first steps toward provincialization ensued under the command of Tiberius: these came to an abrupt halt with the disastrous defeat of Varus’ three legions in 9 CE by the Cheruscans led by Arminius. A third phase followed in which Tiberius ordered the deconstruction of Roman settlements east of the Rhine, following which his nephew Germanicus enacted a final denouement to the wars by successfully but inconclusively attacking the Cheruscans and their allies near the Weser River in 15 and 16 CE. This in summary is the record left to us by the Roman historians, which demonstrates that regardless of frontier strategies enacted elsewhere in the Empire, Augustus intended nothing less than the annexation of Germania Magna into the empire followed by its eventual provincialization, an obvious contradiction to the oft-repeated assertion that his grand imperial design opposed the aggrandizement of new territory into the Roman Empire. A series of material culture discoveries, many of them very recent, also confirm the offensive nature of the Roman invasions into Germania Magna. These discoveries include the excavation of Roman camps along the Lippe River, revealing a permanent military garrison at Haltern which harbored attack ships; the discovery of the Varus battlefield at Kalkriese; and the excavation of a Roman town or city at Waldgirmes, showing that the Romans did indeed set forth to provincialize the transrhenan lands. In 16 CE, the dreams of imperial conquest

24 had passed, but interest in tracking the course and the sites of the Roman campaigns remains undiminished. It now seems likely that a new series of archaeological revelations will emerge from the search for Varus’ summer camp along the Weser, and for the sites of the battles between the armies of Arminius and Germanicus at Idiovisto.



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Trial and Error in Augustus' German Policy


Trial and Error in Augustus' German Policy