Tacitus on Germanicus


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Tacitus, Annals

Suetonius, Life of Caligula

During the same days almost, and from the same causes, the legions of Germany mutinied, in larger numbers and with proportionate fury; while their hopes ran high that Germanicus Caesar, unable to brook the sovereignty of another, would throw himself into the arms of his legions, whose force could sweep the world.

Meanwhile, as already said, Germanicus was making tax-assessments in Gaul when news reached him that Augustus had died.

He was married to the elder Agrippina, the granddaughter of Augustus, and they had several children. Germanicus was the son of Drusus (who was the brother of Tiberius), and grandson of Livia, Augustus’ wife. He was worried because his uncle and grandmother secretly hated him, which was made worse by the fact that it was unfair. Drusus, Germanicus’ father, was highly regarded by the Roman people and they believed that he would have given back their freedom, if he had become emperor. So they gave the same support to Germanicus hoping he would do the same.

He had a polite and modest personality, a wonderful openness and honesty about him, very different from the proud and hypocritical words and expressions of Tiberius.

The mutual enmities between the women added to this; Livia showed a stepmother’s womanly dislike of Agrippina; Agrippina herself was too easily provoked to anger, which would have been apparent if her love and loyalty to her husband had not given her strong-willed character some worthwhile aim.

[Germanicus goes to the eastern empire, where he angers Tiberius by acting as though he was the Emperor. He clashes with Piso, Governor or Syria. He is poisoned.]

For a short while, the condition of Germanicus Caesar gave some hope of recovery. Then his body weakened. When death was near, he spoke as follows to his friends who were standing around his bed. “If I were dying a natural death, I would be right to hold a grudge against the gods because they had taken me from my parents, children, homeland, with an early death, while I am still young. Now in fact I am separated from you by the wickedness of Piso and Plancina, his wife, and I leave my prayers in your hearts. Describe to my father and brother how I have been tortured with pain, surrounded by plots on my life, how I end my unhappy life with the worst of deaths. Anyone inspired by my hopes, or moved by jealousy of me while I lived, or a close relation, will weep to see a successful survivor of so many wars killed by a woman’s treachery. There will be a time and place to make complaints before the senators, and to use the law. The main duty of friends is not to follow the dead man’s coffin with ineffective grieving but to remember what he wanted and to carry out what he asked. People who did not know Germanicus will grieve over his corpse. You will avenge my death, if you care for me rather than my position. Show to the Roman People the granddaughter of Augustus, Agrippina, my wife; count our six children. The accusers will gain their sympathy; if the killers invent some vicious story, no one will believe them or forgive them.” The friends touched the dying man’s right hand and swore that they would die rather than fail to avenge him.

Then he turned to his wife. He begged her, by her memory of himself and their children, to put aside her anger, and submit to the savagery of misfortune; he told her, when she returned to the city of Rome, not to anger those in stronger positions by competing for power. This is what he said with others present. In private he said other things, where he was believed to have shown that he was afraid of trouble from Tiberius. Not much later he died. There was great grief in province and among the surrounding peoples. Foreign nations and kings mourned: he had shown such great friendliness towards his allies, clemency towards his enemies; in his looks and words, he had been respected equally; while he had kept a greatness and seriousness, suitable to his high position, he had avoided envy and pride.

His funeral lacked the usual images and procession but was notable for the praise and reminders of his qualities. Some compared him and his death to that of Alexander the Great, considering his appearance, the young age and manner of death as well the fact that Germanicus had died not far from the place of Alexander’s death. For both were handsome, both had famous families, both were not much beyond thirty when they died in foreign lands as a result of treachery by their own countrymen. Germanicus had been generous to his friends, sensible in his pleasures, married only once, fathered legitimate children, and no less a soldier, even if he had lacked Alexander’s haste in action. He had defeated the Germans in so many victories and was prevented from finally enslaving them. If he had become emperor, they said, and held of the title of king by right, he would have surpassed Alexander in military success as easily as he did in mercy, moderation and all the other worthwhile qualities.

The body, before being buried, was exposed to view in the forum of Antioch, but whether it exhibited signs of poisoning is uncertain.  For as men were inclined to Germanicus by compassion and suspicion, or towards Piso by friendship, they arrived at different conclusions....  2.75 Agrippina [the Elder] herself, worn out with grief and physically ill, yet intolerant of every obstacle to revenge, went on board the fleet with her children and the ashes of Germanicus; amid universal pity for this woman of sovereign lineage, her wedded glory wont but yesterday to attract the gaze of awed and gratulatory crowds, now carrying in her bosom the relics of the dead, uncertain of her vengeance, apprehensive for herself, cursed in that fruitfulness which had borne but hostages to fortune.

The day on which the remains of Germanicus were carried into the Mausoleum of Augustus was characterised either by a deep silence or loud cries of grief. The route through the city was full of people; torches lit up the Campus Martius. The soldiers in armour, the magistrates without badges of office, the people arranged in the tribes were shouting continually that state was destroyed, and that no hope was left; they shouted so readily and openly that you might believe they had not remembered who ruled them. But nothing affected Tiberius more than the enthusiasm for Agrippina [the Elder]; they called her the honour of the country, the only blood-relative of Augustus, the one surviving model of the old values; as they turned to the sky and the gods, they prayed that her children might be unharmed and survive their enemies.

Germanicus, father of Gaius Caesar, son of Drusus and the younger Antonia, after being adopted by his paternal uncle Tiberius, held the quaestorship five years before the legal age and passed directly to the consulship. When the death of Augustus was announced, he was sent to the army in Germany, where it is hard to say whether his filial piety or his courage was more conspicuous; for although all the legions obstinately refused to accept Tiberius as emperor, and offered him the rule of the state, he held them to their allegiance. And later he won a victory over the enemy and celebrated a triumph. 2 Then chosen consul for a second time, before he entered on his term he was hurried off to restore order in the Orient, and after vanquishing the king of Armenia and reducing Cappadocia to the form of a province, died of a lingering illness at Antioch, in the thirty-fourth year of his age. There was some suspicion that he was poisoned; for besides the dark spots which appeared all over his body and the froth which flowed from his mouth, after he had been reduced to ashes his heart was found entire among his bones; and it is supposed to be a characteristic of that organ that when steeped in poison it cannot be destroyed by fire.

Now the belief was that he met his death through the wiles of Tiberius, aided and abetted by Gnaeus Piso. This man had been made governor of Syria at about that time, and realising that he must give offence either to the father or the son, as if there were no alternative, he never ceased to show the bitterest enmity towards Germanicus in word and deed, even after the latter fell ill. In consequence Piso narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the people on his return to Rome, and was condemned to death by the senate.

It is the general opinion that Germanicus possessed all the highest qualities of body and mind, to a degree never equalled by anyone; a handsome person,a unequalled valour, surpassing ability in the oratory and learning of Greece and Rome, unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men's regard and inspiring their affection. His legs were too slender for the rest of his figure, but he gradually brought them to proper proportions by constant horseback riding after meals. 2 He often slew a foeman in hand-to‑hand combat. He pleaded causes even after receiving the triumphal regalia; and among other fruits of his studies he left some Greek comedies. Unassuming at home and abroad, he always entered the free and federate towns without lictors. Wherever he came upon the tombs of distinguished men, he always offered sacrifice to their shades. Planning to bury in one mound the old and scattered relics of those who fell in the overthrow of Varus, he was the first to attempt to collect and assemble them with his own hand. 3 Even towards his detractors, whosoever they were and whatever their motives, he was so mild and lenient, that when Piso was annulling his decrees and maltreating his dependents, he could not make up his mind to break with him, until he found himself assailed also by potions and spells. Even then he went no further than formally to renounce Piso's friendship in the old-time fashion, and to bid his household avenge him, in case anything should befall him.

He reaped plentiful fruit from these virtues, for he was so respected and beloved by his kindred that Augustus (to say nothing of the rest of his relatives) after hesitating for a long time whether to appoint him his successor, had him adopted by Tiberius. He was so popular with the masses, that, according to many writers, whenever he came to any place or left one, he was sometimes in danger of his life from the crowds that met him or saw him off; in fact, when he returned from Germany after quelling the outbreak, all the cohorts of the praetorian guard went forth to meet him, although orders had been given that only two should go, and the whole populace, regardless of age, sex, or rank, poured out of Rome as far as the twentieth milestone.

Yet far greater and stronger tokens of regard were shown at the time of his death and immediately afterwards. On the day when he passed away the temples were stoned and the altars of the gods thrown down, while some flung their household gods into the street and cast out their newly born children... 6.2 When it was at last made known that he was no more, the public grief could be checked neither by any consolation nor edict, and it continued even during the festal days of the month of December. The fame of the deceased and regret for his loss were increased by the horror of the times which followed, since all believed, and with good reason, that the cruelty of Tiberius, which soon burst forth, had been held in check through his respect and awe for Germanicus.