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Germanicus

(15 bc — 19 ad)


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(before adoption Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus), elder son of Drusus and Antonia, was born 24 May 15 or 16 bc and adopted in ad 4 by his uncle Tiberius. As Tiberius was immediately adopted by Augustus, Germanicus became a member of the Julian gens (family) in the direct line of succession; and his career was accelerated by special dispensations. He served under Tiberius in Pannonia (7–9), and Germany (11). In 12 he was consul, and in 13, as commander-in-chief in Gaul and Germany, he won his first salutation as imperator (EJ 368: ‘general’, an honorific title) in a campaign against the Germans, clearing them out of Gaul and re-establishing order there. By now he was a popular figure, held like his father to entertain ‘republican’ sentiments, and his affability contrasted with Tiberius' dour reserve. But, though by no means incapable, he was over-emotional, and his judgement was unsteady. When, on the death of Augustus, the lower Rhine legions mutinied, his loyalty was proof against the (perhaps malicious) suggestion that he should supplant Tiberius, but his handling of the situation lacked firmness: he resorted to theatrical appeals and committed the emperor to accepting the mutineers' demands. On dynastic matters the two were at one, but their political style was different, and there was soon a marked difference of view as to how Germany should be handled, Tiberius adhering to the precept of the dying Augustus that rejected immediate territorial advance.

In the autumn of 14 Germanicus led the repentant legions briefly against the Marsi. But he was eager to emulate his father and reconquer parts of Germany lost after the defeat of Quinctilius Varus. He campaigned in the spring of 15 against the Chatti, Cherusci, and Marsi, and rescued the pro-Roman Cheruscan Segestes from Arminius. In the summer he attacked the Bructeri, reached the saltus Teutoburgiensis (district near mod. Kalkriese in Germany where Varus had been defeated), paid the last honours to Varus, and recovered legionary standards: after an indecisive battle with the Cherusci under Arminius, his forces suffered heavy losses on their way back. For the main campaign of 16 a great fleet was prepared and the troops were transported via his father's canal and the lakes of Holland to the Ems, whence they proceeded to the Weser and defeated Arminius in two battles at Idistaviso (near Minden) and somewhat to the north; the fleet suffered considerable damage from a storm on its homeward journey.

Although Germanicus claimed that one more campaign would bring the Germans to their knees, Tiberius judged that results did not justify the drain on Roman resources, and recalled him to a triumph (victory-procession, 26 May 17) and a command to reorder the ‘overseas’ provinces as proconsul with maius imperium (supreme military and civil authority, but subordinate to that of Tiberius). Germanicus entered on his second consulship (18) at Nicopolis in Epirus, crowned Zeno, son of Polemon, king of Armenia (so winning an ovatio—a lesser honour than a triumph), and reduced Cappadocia and Commagene to provincial status. In 19 he offended Tiberius by entering Egypt, which Augustus had barred to senators without permission, and by the informal dress he wore there; his reception was tumultuous (EJ 320(b), 379; Smallwood, Docs. … Gaius 370, lines 24–7). On his return to Syria the enmity between him and Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, whom Tiberius had appointed governor as a check on Germanicus, led to his ordering Piso to leave the province. He fell mysteriously ill, and on 10 October died near Antioch, convinced that Piso had poisoned him. His death—compared by some with that of Alexander the Great—provoked widespread demonstrations of grief and in Rome suspicion and resentment; many honours were paid to his memory; his ashes were deposited in the mausoleum of Augustus at Rome. His reputation remained as an overwhelming political advantage to his brother and descendants.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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