1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Drusus, Nero Claudius

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8173501911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — Drusus, Nero Claudius

DRUSUS, NERO [1] CLAUDIUS (38–9 B.C.) Roman general, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla, stepson of Augustus and younger brother of the emperor Tiberius. Having held the office of quaestor and acted as praetor for his brother during the latter’s absence in Gaul, he began (in 15 B.C.) the military career which has made his name famous. In conjunction with Tiberius, he carried on a successful campaign against the Raeti and Vindelici, who, although repulsed from Italy, continued to threaten the frontiers of Gaul. The credit of the decisive victory, however, must be assigned to Tiberius. Two of the Odes of Horace (iv. 4 and 14) were written to glorify the exploits of the brothers. In 13 Drusus was sent as governor to the newly organized province of the three Gauls, where considerable discontent had been aroused by the exactions of the Roman governor Licinius. Drusus made a fresh assessment for taxation purposes, and summoned the Gallic representatives to a meeting at Lugdunum to discuss their grievances. It was of great importance to pacify the Gauls, in order to have his hands free to deal with the German tribes, one of which, the Sugambri, on the right bank of the Rhine, had seized the opportunity, during the absence of Augustus, to cross the river (12). Drusus drove them back and pursued them through the island of the Batavi and the land of the Usipetes (Usipes, Usipii) to their own territory, which he devastated. Sailing down the Rhine, he subdued the Frisii and, in order to facilitate operations against the Chauci, dug a canal (Fossa Drusiana) leading from the Rhenus (Rhine) to the Isala (Yssel)[2] into the lacus Flevus (Zuidersee) and the German Ocean. Making his way along the Frisian coast, he conquered the island of Burchanis (Borkum), defeated the Bructeri in a naval engagement on the Amisia (Ems), and went on to the mouth of the Visurgis (Weser) to attack the Chauci. On the way back his vessels grounded on the shallows, and were only got off with the assistance of the Frisii. Winter being close at hand, the campaign was abandoned till the following spring, and Drusus returned to Rome with the honour of having been the first Roman general to reach the German Ocean.

In his second campaign (11), Drusus defeated the Usipetes, threw a bridge over the Luppia (Lippe), attacked the Sugambri, and advanced through their territory and that of the Tencteri and Chatti as far as the Weser, where he gained a victory over the Cherusci. Lack of provisions, the approach of winter, and an inauspicious portent prevented him from crossing the Weser. While making his way back to the Rhine he fell into an ambuscade, but the carelessness of the enemy enabled him to inflict a crushing defeat upon them. In view of future operations, he built two castles, one at the junction of the Luppia and Aliso (Alme), the other in the territory of the Chatti on the Taunus, near Moguntiacum (Mainz).

The third campaign (10) was of little importance. The Chatti had joined the Sugambri in revolt; and, after some insignificant successes, Drusus returned with Augustus and Tiberius to Rome, and was elected consul for the following year. In spite of unfavourable portents at Rome, he determined to enter upon his fourth and last campaign (9) without delay. He attacked and defeated the Chatti, Suebi, Marcomanni and Cherusci, crossed the Weser and penetrated as far as the Albis (Elbe). Here trophies were set up to mark the farthest point ever reached by a Roman army. Various measures were taken to secure the possession of the conquered territory: fortresses were erected along the Elbe, Weser and Maas (Meuse, Mosa); a flotilla was placed upon the Rhine and a dam built upon the right arm of its estuary to increase the flow of water into the canal mentioned above. Drusus was said to have been deterred from crossing the Elbe by the sudden appearance of a woman of supernatural size, who predicted his approaching end. On his return, probably between the Elbe and the Saale (Sala), his horse stumbled and threw him. His leg was fractured and he died thirty days after the accident, on the 14th of September. Suetonius mentions an absurd rumour that he had been poisoned by order of Augustus, because he had refused to obey the order for his recall. The body was carried to the winter quarters of the army, whence it was escorted by Tiberius to Rome, the procession being joined by Augustus at Ticinum (Pavia). Tiberius delivered an oration over the remains in the Forum, whence they were conveyed to the Campus Martius and cremated, and ashes being deposited in the mausoleum of Augustus.

Drusus was one of the most distinguished men of his time. His agreeable manners, handsome person and brilliant military talents gained him the affection of the troops, while his sympathy with republican principles, endeared him to the people. It is not too much to say that, had he and his son lived long enough, they might have brought about the abolition of the monarchy. Although the successes of Drusus, resulting in the subjection of the German tribes from the Rhine to the Elbe, were too rapid to be lasting, they brought home the fact of the existence of the Romans to many who had never heard their name. For his victories he received the title of Germanicus. He married Antonia, the daughter of Marcus Antonius the triumvir, by whom he had three children: Germanicus, adopted by Tiberius; Claudius, afterwards emperor; and a daughter Livilla.

The chief ancient authorities for the life of Drusus are Dio Cassius, the epitomes of Livy, Suetonius (Claudius), Tacitus (portions of the Annals), Florus (whose chief source is Livy), Velleius Paterculus, and the Consolatio ad Liviam. The German campaigns were described in the last books of Livy and the lost Bella Germaniae of the elder Pliny. As would naturally be expected, they have produced an extensive literature in Germany, J. Asbach’s “Die Feldzüge des Nero Claudius Drusus” (Rhein. Jahrb. lxxxv. 14-30) being especially recommended; see also Mommsen’s History of the Roman Provinces, i.; Merivale, History of the Romans under the Empire, ch. 36; A. Stein in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie (1899), where other authorities are given; J. C. Tarver, Tiberius the Tyrant (1902).

  1. Originally Decimus.
  2. The district extending from Westervoort to Doesborgh.