1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > History of Germany - Roman Period

(Part 19)


Roman Period

The Cimbri and the Teutones, who appear to have wandered from the northern coasts of Germant, were the first German tribes with whom the Romans came into contact. In rather less than half a century after their final defeat by Marius, Ariovistus, a bold and powerful Suevic chief, crossed into Gaul with his followers to aid the Sequani against the Aedui. The latter were defeated, and, in reward for his services, he received from the Sequani a third of their best lands. It soon became obvious that his friendship was dangerous, and in 58 B.C. his terrified allies appealed for aid to the new proconsul, Julius Caesar, who has just inflicted a crushing defeat on the Helvetii. When Caesar sent to him proposing a personal interview, the barbarian haughtily answered that he himself had better come, which Caesar quickly did. And the issue was that the army of Ariovistus was utterly beaten, and that he escaped with difficulty, severely wounded, across the Rhine, and soon afterwards died. Caesar crossed the Rhine twice, but left no permanent mark of his invasions. He thoroughly subdued the Germans on the left bank, and from his time the whole people began to be powerfully affected by their mighty neighbours, many of them taking service in the Roman army.

The first serious attempt to conquer Germany was made by Augustus, who, after he rose to supreme power, wanted occupation for his legions. He began by conquering Rhaetia and Noricum, Celtic counties along the southern borders of Germany, extending northwards through what is now German Austria and Bavaria to the Danube. Drusus, who, with Tiberius, executed this conquest in the summer of 15 B.C., was then entrusted with the task of subduing Germany. Deciding to reach the interior of the country by means of the sea and the northern rivers, he cut a canal between the Yssel and the Rhine; and for the protection of Gaul he built no fewer than fifty forts along the latter river. Many of the tribes were at enmity with one another, and in his first expedition in 12 B.C. he was able to form an alliance with the Frisii against the Chauci and the Bructeri. In three different expenditions in the immediately following years he found other native allies, and with their help mastered so many positions that the conquest of the whole country must have seemed quite certain. After the death of Drusus in 9 B.C., Tiberius conquered the Tencteri and Usipetes; and at a later time he not only subdued the Sicambri, but settled 40,000 of them at the mouth of Rhine, where they lived under Roman rule. A good many of the Istaevones were now overcome, while others entered into a more or less compulsory alliance with Rome; and it is probable that, if great generals had represented the empire, Germany would soon have shared the fate of Gaul. Quinctilius Varus, who, in 6 A.D., was placed at the head of the Roman troops in Germany, lost all the advantages gained by his predecessors. He had held office in Syria, where he had ruled with great harshness; and fancying that he might act in the same way towards the fierce tribes of the north, he roused among them a bitter hatred of the Romans. They found in Arminius, a son of the chief of the Cherusci, a leader of extraordinary bravery and resource. He had been a Roman soldier, and has so distinguished himself—perhaps in wars against his countrymen—that he was made a citizen and knight. He formed the design of freeing his people, and soon came to a secret understanding with influential Cheruscan and other chiefs. In the year 9, in the month of September, Varus, who had been told that a northern tribe was in revolt, was led at the head of his legions into the Teutoburg Forest. Here the Germans were lying in wait for him; and everything was in their favour, the narrow defiles having caused disorder among the troops, and the ground having been made muddy by heavy rains. The battle which ensued lasted three days, during which the Roman were altogether destroyed, and Varus, in despair, killed himself by failing upon his sword.

The despairing cry of Augustus—"Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!"—testifies to the consternation, which this defect caused at Rome, where it was expected that the barbarians would take a terrible revenge for the wrongs they supposed themselves to have suffered. The Germans, however, were too much occupied with internal disputes to think of any enterprise beyond their own country; and in the year 14 after Tiberius had become emperor, Rome again assumed the offensive. Germanicus, the son of Drusus, crossed the Rhine, and defeated the Marsi. He returned in the year 15, when he was joined by the Chauci and other tribes, who fought for him as zealously as his own soldiers. Thusnelda, the wife of Arminius, fell into the hands of Germanicus, and was sent as a prisoner to Rome. This intensified the hostility of the young chief, who now exerted to the utmost his vast influence to stir up against the invaders his tribe and its allies. The Teutoburg Forest was again selected as the scene of an attack; and although Arminius was not victorious, he so far injured his enemy that Germanicus was forced to retreat. The struggle was resumed in the year 16, when Germanicus gained two victories. He gained the, however, at so great a cost that he and his army had to take refuge in their ships, the greater number of which were lost in a storm.

No sooner had the Romans been driven off than Arminius had to protect his people against an internal danger. Maroboduus, the chief of the Marcomanni, a man of great ambition, had by treachery or by open fighting made himself master of several neighbouring tribes. Arminius began to fear his designs, and after the defeat of Varus warned him of his peril by sending him the Roman general’s head. When Germanicus finally left the country, Arminius declared war against Maroboduus, broke up his kingdom, and drove him from Germany. It is possible that Arminius himself may afterwards have wished to found a great state. At any rate, a number of chiefs combined against him, and in the year 21, at the age of thirty-seven, he was killed.

Although the Romans did not again attempt on a large scale the conquest of Germany, they acquired great influence throughout the country, and they gradually obtained considerable possessions to the east of the Rhine and to the south of the Main. Among the tribes whom they forced to become their allies were the Frisians and the Batavians; and in the year 69 a formidable conspiracy against them was headed by a Batavian chief, Claudius Civilis, who, like Arminius, had been a Roman soldier. Having been embittered by ill-usage from the emperor Nero, he stirred up his countrymen, and he fund a large number of allies on both banks of the Rhine. He struggled valiantly for a time, supported by the mysterious utterances of Velleda, a prophetess who lived in a tower in the land of the Bructeri, and excited popular enthusiasm on behalf of the enemy of Rome. At last he was overcome by the Roman general Cerealis, and the Batavians were thenceforth compelled to send recruits to the Roman army.

About a hundred years after this time the relations of the Romans and the Germans began to be reversed, the latter being the aggressors. In the Marcomannic war Marcus Aurelius opposed for thirteen years a vast host of Germans who sought to push southward into Roman territory. Meanwhile the Romans had profoundly influenced large parts of the country. They built many fortresses along their frontier, and some of these were connected by a great wall, of which there are still remnants in southern Germany. Around the fortresses grew up towns, which became the centres of civilization over pretty wide districts. In Rhaetia, which reached from the Lake of Constance along the Danube as far as the Inn, there were important settlements at Augsburg and Regensburg (Ratisbon); Noricum, which stretched far to the east of Rhaetia, possessed, among other towns, Vienna, Salzburg, and Wels. Germania Superior and Germania Inferior, on the left bank of the Rhine, included Strasburg, Mainz (Mayence), Worms, Cologne, and Bonn. In the province of Belgium, which was at least partly German, was the great city of Treves, one of the most splendid in the Roman empire, and often the residence of the emperors.

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