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A History of Germany from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Bayard Taylor Characters: 17256

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

(70 B. C.-9 A. D.)

Roman Conquest of Gaul.

-The German Chief, Ariovistus.

-His Answer to C?sar.

-C?sar's March to the Rhine.

-Defeat of Ariovistus.

-C?sar's Victory near Cologne.

-His Bridge.

-His Second Expedition.

-He subjugates the Gauls.

-He enlists a German Legion.

-The Romans advance to the Danube, under Augustus.

-First Expedition of Drusus.

-The Rhine fortified.

-Death of Drusus.

-Conquests of Tiberius.

-The War of the Marcomanni.

-The Cherusci.

-Tyranny of Varus.

-Resistance of the Germans.

70 B. C.

After the destruction of the Teutons and Cimbrians by Marius, more than forty years elapsed before the Romans again came in contact with any German tribe. During this time the Roman dominion over the greater part of Gaul was firmly established by Julius C?sar, and in losing their independence, the Celts began to lose, also, their original habits and character. They and the Germans had never been very peaceable neighbors, and the possession of the western bank of the Rhine seems to have been, even at that early day, a subject of contention between them.

About the year 70 B. C. two Gallic tribes, the ?dui in Burgundy and the Arverni in Central France, began a struggle for the supremacy in that part of Gaul. The allies of the latter, the Sequani, called to their assistance a chief of the German Suevi, whose name, as we have it through C?sar, was Ariovistus. With a force of 15,000 men, he joined the Arverni and the Sequani, and defeated the ?dui in several battles. After the complete overthrow of the latter, he haughtily demanded as a recompense one-third of the territory of the Sequani. His strength had meanwhile been increased by new accessions from the German side of the Rhine, and the Sequani were obliged to yield. His followers settled in the new territory: in the course of about fourteen years, they amounted to 120,000, and Ariovistus felt himself strong enough to demand another third of the lands of the Sequani.



Southern France was then a Roman province, governed by Julius C?sar. In the year 57 B. C. ambassadors from the principal tribes of Eastern Gaul appeared before him and implored his assistance against the inroads of the Suevi. It was an opportunity which he immediately seized, in order to bring the remaining Gallic tribes under the sway of Rome. He first sent a summons to Ariovistus to appear before him, but the haughty German chief answered: "When I need C?sar, I shall come to C?sar. If C?sar needs me, let him seek me. What business has he in my Gaul, which I have acquired in war?"

On receiving this answer, C?sar marched immediately with his legions into the land of the Sequani, and succeeded in reaching their capitol, Vesontio (the modern Besan?on), before the enemy. It was then a fortified place, and its possession gave C?sar an important advantage at the start. While his legions were resting there for a few days, before beginning the march against the Suevi, the Gallic and Roman merchants and traders circulated the most frightful accounts of the strength and fierceness of the latter through the Roman camp. They reported that the German barbarians were men of giant size and more than human strength, whose faces were so terrible that the glances of their eyes could not be endured. Very soon numbers of the Roman officers demanded leave of absence, and even the few who were ashamed to take this step lost all courage. The soldiers became so demoralized that many of them declared openly that they would refuse to fight, if commanded to do so.

In this emergency, C?sar showed his genius as a leader of men. He called a large number of soldiers and officers of all grades together, and addressed them in strong words, pointing out their superior military discipline, ridiculing the terrible stories in circulation, and sharply censuring them for their insubordination. He concluded by declaring that if the army should refuse to march, he would start the next morning with only the tenth legion, upon the courage and obedience of which he could rely. This speech produced an immediate effect. The tenth legion solemnly thanked C?sar for his confidence in its men and officers, the other legions, one after the other, declared their readiness to follow, and the whole army left Vesontio the very next morning. After a rapid march of seven days, C?sar found himself within a short distance of the fortified camp of Ariovistus.


The German chief now agreed to an interview, and the two leaders met, half-way between the two armies, on the plain of the Rhine. The place is supposed to have been a little to the northward of Basel. Neither C?sar nor Ariovistus would yield to the demands of the other, and as the cavalry of their armies began skirmishing, the interview was broken off. For several days in succession the Romans offered battle, but the Suevi refused to leave their strong position. This hesitation seemed remarkable, until it was explained by some prisoners, captured in a skirmish, who stated that the German priestesses had prophesied misfortune to Ariovistus, if he should fight before the new moon.

C?sar, thereupon, determined to attack the German camp without delay. The meeting of the two armies was fierce, and the soldiers were soon fighting hand to hand. On each side one wing gave way, but the greater quickness and superior military skill of the Romans enabled them to recover sooner than the enemy. The day ended with the entire defeat of the Suevi, and the flight of the few who escaped across the Rhine. They did not attempt to reconquer their lost territory, and the three small German tribes, who had long been settled between the Rhine and the Vosges (in what is now Alsatia), became subject to Roman rule.

Two years afterwards, C?sar, who was engaged in subjugating the Belg?, in Northern Gaul, learned that two other German tribes, the Usipetes and Tencteres, who had been driven from their homes by the Suevi, had crossed the Rhine below where Cologne now stands. They numbered 400,000, and the Northern Gauls, instead of regarding them as invaders, were inclined to welcome them as allies against Rome, the common enemy. C?sar knew that if they remained, a revolt of the Gauls against his rule would be the consequence. He therefore hastened to meet them, got possession of their principal chiefs by treachery, and then attacked their camp between the Meuse and the Rhine. The Germans were defeated, and nearly all their foot-soldiers slaughtered, but the cavalry succeeded in crossing the river, where they were welcomed by the Sicambrians.

Then it was that C?sar built his famous wooden bridge across the Rhine, not far from the site of Cologne, although the precise point can not now be ascertained. He crossed with his army into Westphalia, but the tribes he sought retreated into the great forests to the eastward, where he was unable to pursue them. He contented himself with burning their houses and gathering their ripened harvests for eighteen days, when he returned to the other side and destroyed the bridge behind him. From this time, Rome claimed the sovereignty of the western bank of the Rhine to its mouth.

53 B. C.

While C?sar was in Britain, in the year 53 B. C., the newly subjugated Celtic and German tribes which inhabited Belgium rose in open revolt against the Roman rule. The rapidity of C?sar's return arrested their temporary success, but some of the German tribes to the eastward of the Rhine had already promised to aid them. In order to secure his conquests, the Roman general determined to cross the Rhine again, and intimidate, if not subdue, his dangerous neighbors. He built a second bridge, near the place where the first had been, and crossed with his army. But, as before, the Suevi and Sicambrians drew back among the forest-covered hills along the Weser river, and only the small and peaceful tribe of the Ubii remained in their homes. The latter offered their submission to C?sar, and agreed to furnish him with news of the movements of their warlike countrymen, in return for his protection.

When another revolt of the Celtic Gauls took place, the following year, German mercenaries, enlisted among the Ubii, fought on the Roman side and took an important part in the decisive battle which gave Vercingetorix, the last chief of the Gauls, into C?sar's hands. He was beheaded, and from that time the Gauls made no further effort to throw off the Roman yoke. They accepted the civil and military

organization, the dress and habits, and finally the language and religion of their conquerors. The small German tribes in Alsatia and Belgium shared the same fate: their territory was divided into two provinces, called Upper and Lower Germania by the Romans. The vast region inhabited by the independent tribes, lying between the Rhine, the Vistula, the North Sea and the Danube, was thenceforth named Germania Magna, or "Great Germany."

C?sar's renown among the Germans, and probably also his skill in dealing with them, was so great, that when he left Gaul to return to Rome, he took with him a German legion of 6,000 men, which afterwards fought on his side against Pompey, on the battle-field of Pharsalia. The Roman agents penetrated into the interior of the country, and enlisted a great many of the free Germans who were tempted by the prospect of good pay and booty. Even the younger sons of the chiefs entered the Roman army, for the sake of a better military education.


No movement of any consequence took place for more than twenty years after C?sar's last departure from the banks of the Rhine. The Romans, having secured their possession of Gaul, now turned their attention to the subjugation of the Celtic tribes inhabiting the Alps and the lowlands south of the Danube, from the Lake of Constance to Vienna. This work had also been begun by C?sar: it was continued by the Emperor Augustus, whose step-sons, Tiberius and Drusus, finally overcame the desperate resistance of the native tribes. In the year 15 B. C. the Danube became the boundary between Rome and Germany on the south, as the Rhine already was on the west. The Roman provinces of Rh?tia, Noricum and Pannonia were formed out of the conquered territory.

Augustus now sent Drusus, with a large army, to the Rhine, instructing him to undertake a campaign against the independent German tribes. It does not appear that the latter had given any recent occasion for this hostile movement: the Emperor's design was probably to extend the dominions of Rome to the North Sea and the Baltic. Drusus built a large fleet on the Rhine, descended that river nearly to its mouth, cut a canal for his vessels to a lake which is now the Zuyder Zee, and thus entered the North Sea. It was a bold undertaking, but did not succeed. He reached the mouth of the river Ems with his fleet, when the weather became so tempestuous that he was obliged to return.

The next year, 11 B. C., he made an expedition into the land of the Sicambrians, during which his situation was often hazardous; but he succeeded in penetrating rather more than a hundred miles to the eastward of the Rhine, and establishing-not far from where the city of Paderborn now stands-a fortress called Aliso, which became a base for later operations against the German tribes. He next set about building a series of fortresses, fifty in number, along the western bank of the Rhine. Around the most important of these, towns immediately sprang up, and thus were laid the foundations of the cities of Strasburg, Mayence, Coblenz, Cologne, and many smaller places.

9 B. C.

In the year 9 B. C. Drusus marched again into Germany. He defeated the Chatti in several bloody battles, crossed the passes of the Thuringian Forest, and forced his way through the land of the Cherusci (the Hartz region) to the Elbe. The legend says that he there encountered a German prophetess, who threatened him with coming evil, whereupon he turned about and retraced his way towards the Rhine. He died, however, during the march, and his dejected army had great difficulty in reaching the safe line of their fortresses.

Tiberius succeeded to the command left vacant by the death of his brother Drusus. Less daring, but of a more cautious and scheming nature, he began by taking possession of the land of the Sicambrians and colonizing a part of the tribe on the west bank of the Rhine. He then gradually extended his power, and in the course of two years brought nearly the whole country between the Rhine and Weser under the rule of Rome. His successor, Domitius ?nobarbus, built military roads through Westphalia and the low, marshy plains towards the sea. These roads, which were called "long bridges," were probably made of logs, like the "corduroy" roads of our Western States, but they were of great service during the later Roman campaigns.

After the lapse of ten years, however, the subjugated tribes between the Rhine and the Weser rose in revolt. The struggle lasted for three years more, without being decided; and then Augustus sent Tiberius a second time to Germany. The latter was as successful as at first: he crushed some of the rebellious tribes, accepted the submission of others, and, supported by a fleet which reached the Elbe and ascended that river to meet him, secured, as he supposed, the sway of Rome over nearly the whole of Germania Magna. This was in the fifth year of the Christian Era. Of the German tribes who still remained independent, there were the Semnones, Saxons and Angles, east of the Elbe, and the Burgundians, Vandals and Goths along the shore of the Baltic, together with one powerful tribe in Bohemia. The latter, the Marcomanni, who seem to have left their original home in Baden and Würtemberg on account of the approach of the Romans, now felt that their independence was a second time seriously threatened. Their first measure of defence, therefore, was to strengthen themselves by alliances with kindred tribes.


The chief of the Marcomanni, named Marbod, was a man of unusual capacity and energy. It seems that he was educated as a Roman, but under what circumstances is not stated. This rendered him a more dangerous enemy, though it also made him an object of suspicion, and perhaps jealousy, to the other German chieftains. Nevertheless, he succeeded in uniting nearly all the independent tribes east of the Elbe under his command, and in organizing a standing army of 70,000 foot and 4,000 horse, which, disciplined like the Roman legions, might be considered a match for an equal number. His success created so much anxiety in Rome, that in the next year after Tiberius returned from his successes in Germany, Augustus determined to send a force of twelve legions against Marbod. Precisely at this time, a great insurrection broke out in Dalmatia and Pannonia, and when it was suppressed, after a struggle of three years, the Romans found it prudent to offer peace to Marbod, and he to accept it.

By this time, the territory between the Rhine and the Weser had been fifteen years, and that between the Weser and the Elbe four years, under Roman government. The tribes inhabiting the first of these two regions had been much weakened, both by the part some of them had taken in the Gallic insurrections, and by the revolt of all against Rome, during the first three or four years of the Christian Era. But those who inhabited the region between the Weser and the Elbe, the chief of whom were the Cherusci, were still powerful, and unsubdued in spirit.

While Augustus was occupied in putting down the insurrection in Dalmatia and Pannonia, with a prospect, as it seemed, of having to fight the Marcomanni afterwards, his representative in Germany was Quinctilius Varus, a man of despotic and relentless character. Tiberius, in spite of his later vices as Emperor, was prudent and conciliatory in his conquests; but Varus soon turned the respect of the Germans for the Roman power into the fiercest hate. He applied, in a more brutal form, the same measures which had been forced upon the Gauls. He overturned, at one blow, all the native forms of law, introduced heavy taxes, which were collected by force, punished with shameful death crimes which the people considered trivial, and decided all matters in Roman courts and in a language which was not yet understood.

8 B. C.

This violent and reckless policy, which Varus enforced with a hand of iron, produced an effect the reverse of what he anticipated. The German tribes with hardly an exception, determined to make another effort to regain their independence; but they had been taught wisdom by seventy years of conflict with the Roman power. Up to this time, each tribe had acted for itself, without concert with its neighbors. They saw, now, that no single tribe could cope successfully with Rome: it was necessary that all should be united as one people: and they only waited until such a union could be secretly established, before rising to throw off the unendurable yoke which Varus had laid upon them.

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