1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Germanicus Caesar

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GERMANICUS CAESAR (15 B.C.A.D. 19), a Roman general and provincial governor in the reign of Tiberius. The name Germanicus, the only one by which he is known in history, he inherited from his father, Nero Claudius Drusus, the famous general, brother of Tiberius and stepson of Augustus. His mother was the younger Antonia, daughter of Marcus Antonius and niece of Augustus, and he married Agrippina, the granddaughter of the same emperor. It was natural, therefore, that he should be regarded as a candidate for the purple. Augustus, it would seem, long hesitated whether he should name him as his successor, and as a compromise required his uncle Tiberius to adopt him, though Tiberius had a son of his own. Of his early years and education little is known. That he possessed considerable literary abilities, and that these were carefully trained, we gather, both from the speeches which Tacitus puts into his mouth, and from the reputation he left as an orator, as attested by Suetonius and Ovid, and from the extant fragments of his works.

At the age of twenty he served his apprenticeship as a soldier under Tiberius, and was rewarded with the triumphal insignia for his services in crushing the revolt in Dalmatia and Pannonia. In A.D. 11 he accompanied Tiberius in his campaign on the Rhine, undertaken, in consequence of the defeat of Varus, with the object of securing the German frontier. In 12 he was made consul, and increased his popularity by appearing as an advocate in the courts of justice, and by the celebration of brilliant games. Soon afterwards he was appointed by Augustus to the important command of the eight legions on the Rhine. The news of the emperor’s death (14) found Germanicus at Lugdunum (Lyons), where he was superintending the census of Gaul. Close upon this came the report that a mutiny had broken out among his legions on the lower Rhine. Germanicus hurried back to the camp, which was now in open insurrection. The tumult was with difficulty quelled, partly by well-timed concessions, for which the authority of the emperor was forged, but chiefly owing to his personal popularity. Some of the insurgents actually proposed that he should put himself at their head and secure the empire for himself, but their offer was rejected with indignation. In order to calm the excitement Germanicus determined at once on an active campaign. Crossing the Rhine, he attacked and routed the Marsi, and laid waste the valley of the Ems. In the following year he marched against Arminius, the conqueror of Varus, and performed the last rites over the remains of the Roman soldiers that still lay there unburied, erecting a barrow to mark the spot. Arminius, however, favoured by the marshy ground, was able to hold his own, and it required another campaign before he was finally defeated. A masterly combined movement by land and water enabled Germanicus to concentrate his forces against the main body of the Germans encamped on the Weser, and to crush them in two obstinately contested battles. A monument erected on the field proclaimed that the army of Tiberius had conquered every tribe between the Rhine and the Elbe. Great, however, as the success of the Roman arms had been, it was not such as to justify this boastful inscription; we read of renewed attacks from the barbarians, and plans of a fourth campaign for the next summer.

But the success of Germanicus had already stirred the jealousy and fears of Tiberius, and he was reluctantly compelled to return to Rome. On the 26th of May 17 he celebrated a triumph. The enthusiasm with which he was welcomed, not only by the populace, but by the emperor’s own praetorians, was so great that the earliest pretext was seized to remove him from the capital. He was sent to the East with extraordinary powers to settle a disputed succession in Parthia and Armenia. At the same time Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, one of the most violent and ambitious of the old nobility, was sent as governor of Syria to watch his movements. Germanicus proceeded by easy stages to his province, halting on his way in Dalmatia, and visiting the battlefield of Actium, Athens, Ilium, and other places of historic interest. At Rhodes he met his coadjutor Piso, who was seeking everywhere to thwart and malign him. When at last he reached his destination, he found little difficulty in effecting the settlement of the disturbed provinces, notwithstanding Piso’s violent and persistent opposition. At Artaxata Zeno, the popular candidate for the throne, was crowned king of Armenia. To the provinces of Cappadocia and Commagene Roman governors were assigned; Parthia was conciliated by the banishment of the dethroned king Vonones.

After wintering in Syria Germanicus started for a tour in Egypt. The chief motive for his journey was love of travel and antiquarian study, and it seems never to have occurred to him, till he was warned by Tiberius, that he was thereby transgressing an unwritten law which forbade any Roman of rank to set foot in Egypt without express permission. On his return to Syria he found that all his arrangements had been upset by Piso. Violent recriminations followed, the result of which, it would seem, was a promise on the part of Piso to quit the province. But at this juncture Germanicus was suddenly attacked at Epidaphne near Antioch by a violent illness, which he himself and his friends attributed to poison administered by Plancina, the wife of Piso, at the instigation of Tiberius. Whether these suspicions were true is open to question; it seems more probable that his death was due to natural causes. His ashes were brought to Rome in the following year (20) by his wife Agrippina, and deposited in the grave of Augustus. He had nine children, six of whom, three sons and three daughters, survived him, amongst them the future emperor Gaius and the notorious Agrippina, the mother of Nero. The news of his death cast a gloom over the whole empire. Nor was Germanicus unworthy of this passionate devotion. He had wiped out a great national disgrace; he had quelled the most formidable foe of Rome. His private life had been stainless, and he possessed a singularly attractive personality. Yet there were elements of weakness in his character which his short life only half revealed: an impetuosity which made him twice threaten to take his own life; a superstitious vein which impelled him to consult oracles and shrink from bad omens; an amiable dilettantism which led him to travel in Egypt while his enemy was plotting his ruin; a want of nerve and resolution which prevented him from coming to an open rupture with Piso till it was too late.

He possessed considerable literary abilities; his speeches and Greek comedies were highly spoken of by his contemporaries. But the only specimen of his work that has come down to us is the translation in Latin hexameters (generally attributed to him, although some consider Domitian the author), together with scholia, of the Phaenomena of Aratus, which is superior to those of Cicero and Avienus (best edition by A. Breysig, 1867; 1899, without the scholia). A few extant Greek and Latin epigrams also bear the name Germanicus.

In addition to monographs by A. Zingerle (Trent, 1867) and A. Breysig (Erfurt, 1892), there are treatises on the German campaigns by E. von Wietersheim (1850), P. Höfer (1884), F. Knoke (1887, 1889), W. Fricke (1889), A. Taramelli (1891), Dahm (1902).

See Tacitus, Annals, i.-iv. (ed. Furneaux); Suetonius, Augustus, Tiberius; J. C. Tarver, Tiberius (1902); Merivale, Hist. of the Romans under the Empire, chs. 42, 43; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit, i. 1 (1883), pp. 227, 258, 261-266, 270-276; M. Schanz, Geschichte der römischen Litteratur, pt. ii. (2nd ed., 1901), and Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Literature (Eng. tr., 1900), 275.