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Tacitus: Annals Book 2 [10]

10. Then began a controversy. The one spoke of the greatness of Rome, the resources of Caesar, the dreadful punishment in store for the vanquished, the ready mercy for him who surrenders, and the fact that neither Arminius's wife nor his son were treated as enemies; the other, of the claims of fatherland, of ancestral freedom, of the gods of the homes of Germany, of the mother who shared his prayers, that Flavus might not choose to be the deserter and betrayer rather than the ruler of his kinsfolk and relatives, and indeed of his own people. By degrees they fell to bitter words, and even the river between them would not have hindered them from joining combat, had not Stertinius hurried up and put his hand on Flavus, who in the full tide of his fury was demanding his weapons and his charger. Arminius was seen facing him, full of menaces and challenging him to conflict. Much of what he said was in Roman speech, for he had served in our camp as leader of his fellow-countrymen.

10. Exim diversi ordiantur, hic magnitudinem Romanam, opes Caesaris et victis gravis poenas, in deditionem venienti paratam clementiam; neque coniugem et filium eius hostiliter haberi: ille fas patriae, libertatem avitam, penetralis Germaniae deos, matrem precum sociam; ne propinquorum et adfinium, denique gentis suae desertor et proditor quam imperator esse mallet. paulatim inde ad iurgia prolapsi quo minus pugnam consererent ne flumine quidem interiecto cohibebantur, ni Stertinius adcurrens plenum irae armaque et equum poscentem Flavum attinuisset. cernebatur contra minitabundus Arminius proeliumque denuntians; nam pleraque Latino sermone interiaciebat, ut qui Romanis in castris ductor popularium meruisset.

11. Next day the German army took up its position on the other side of the Visurgis. Caesar, thinking that without bridges and troops to guard them, it would not be good generalship to expose the legions to danger, sent the cavalry across the river by the fords. It was commanded by Stertinius and Aemilius, one of the first rank centurions, who attacked at widely different points so as to distract the enemy. Chariovalda, the Batavian chief, dashed to the charge where the stream is most rapid. The Cherusci, by a pretended flight, drew him into a plain surrounded by forest-passes. Then bursting on him in a sudden attack from all points they thrust aside all who resisted, pressed fiercely on their retreat, driving them before them, when they rallied in compact array, some by close fighting, others by missiles from a distance. Chariovalda, after long sustaining the enemy's fury, cheered on his men to break by a dense formation the onset of their bands, while he himself, plunging into the thickest of the battle, fell amid a shower of darts with his horse pierced under him, and round him many noble chiefs. The rest were rescued from the peril by their own strength, or by the cavalry which came up with Stertinius and Aemilius.

11. Postero die Germanorum acies trans Visurgim stetit. Caesar nisi pontibus praesidiisque inpositis dare in discrimen legiones haud imperatorium ratus, equitem vado tramittit. praefuere Stertinius et e numero primipilarium Aemilius, distantibus locis invecti, ut hostem diducerent. qua celerrimus amnis, Chariovalda dux Batavorum erupit. eum Cherusci fugam simulantes in planitiem saltibus circumiectam traxere: dein coorti et undique effusi trudunt adversos, instant cedentibus collectosque in orbem pars congressi, quidam eminus proturbant. Chariovalda diu sustentata hostium saevitia, hortatus suos ut ingruentis catervas globo perfringerent, atque ipse densissimos inrumpens, congestis telis et suffosso equo labitur, ac multi nobilium circa: ceteros vis sua aut equites cum Stertinio Aemilioque subvenientes periculo exemere.

12. Caesar on crossing the Visurgis learnt by the information of a deserter that Arminius had chosen a battle-field, that other tribes too had assembled in a forest sacred to Hercules, and would venture on a night attack on his camp. He put faith in this intelligence, and, besides, several watchfires were seen. Scouts also, who had crept close up to the enemy, reported that they had heard the neighing of horses and the hum of a huge and tumultuous host. And so as the decisive crisis drew near, that he ought thoroughly to sound the temper of his soldiers, he considered with himself how this was to be accomplished with a genuine result. Tribunes and centurions, he knew, oftener reported what was welcome than what was true; freedmen had slavish spirits, friends a love of flattery. If an assembly were called, there too the lead of a few was followed by the shout of the many. He must probe their inmost thoughts, when they were uttering their hopes and fears at the military mess, among themselves, and unwatched.

12. Caesar transgressus Visurgim indicio perfugae cognoscit delectum ab Arminio locum pugnae; convenisse et alias nationes in silvam Herculi sacram ausurosque nocturnam castrorum oppugnationem. habita indici fides et cernebantur ignes, suggressique propius speculatores audiri fremitum equorum inmensique et inconditi agminis murmur attulere. igitur propinquo summae rei discrimine explorandos militum animos ratus, quonam id modo incorruptum foret secum agitabat. tribunos et centuriones laeta saepius quam comperta nuntiare, libertorum servilia ingenia, amicis inesse adulationem; si contio vocetur, illic quoque quae pauci incipiant reliquos adstrepere. penitus noscendas mentes, cum secreti et incustoditi inter militaris cibos spem aut metum proferrent.

13. At nightfall, leaving his tent of augury by a secret exit, unknown to the sentries, with one companion, his shoulders covered with a wild beast's skin, he visited the camp streets, stood by the tents, and enjoyed the men's talk about himself, as one extolled his noble rank, another, his handsome person, nearly all of them, his endurance, his gracious manner and the evenness of his temper, whether he was jesting or was serious, while they acknowledged that they ought to repay him with their gratitude in battle, and at the same time sacrifice to a glorious vengeance the perfidious violators of peace. Meanwhile one of the enemy, acquainted with the Roman tongue, spurred his horse up to the entrenchments, and in a loud voice promised in the name of Arminius to all deserters wives and lands with daily pay of a hundred sesterces as long as war lasted. The insult fired the wrath of the legions. "Let daylight come," they said, "let battle be given. The soldiers will possess themselves of the lands of the Germans and will carry off their wives. We hail the omen; we mean the women and riches of the enemy to be our spoil." About midday there was a skirmishing attack on our camp, without any discharge of missiles, when they saw the cohorts in close array before the lines and no sign of carelessness.

13. Nocte coepta egressus augurali per occulta et vigilibus ignara, comite uno, contectus umeros ferina pelle, adit castrorum vias, adsistit tabernaculis fruiturque fama sui, cum hic nobilitatem ducis, decorem alius, plurimi patientiam, comitatem, per seria per iocos eundem animum laudibus ferrent reddendamque gratiam in acie faterentur, simul perfidos et ruptores pacis ultioni et gloriae mactandos. inter quae unus hostium, Latinae linguae sciens, acto ad vallum equo voce magna coniuges et agros et stipendii in dies, donec bellaretur, sestertios centenos, si quis transfugisset, Arminii nomine pollicetur. intendit ea contumelia legionum iras: veniret dies, daretur pugna; sumpturum militem Germanorum agros, tracturum coniuges; accipere omen et matrimonia ac pecunias hostium praedae destinare. tertia ferme vigilia adsultatum est castris sine coniectu teli, postquam crebras pro munimentis cohortes et nihil remissum sensere.

14. The same night brought with it a cheering dream to Germanicus. He saw himself engaged in sacrifice, and his robe being sprinkled with the sacred blood, another more beautiful was given him by the hands of his grandmother Augusta. Encouraged by the omen and finding the auspices favourable, he called an assembly, and explained the precautions which wisdom suggested as suitable for the impending battle. "It is not," he said, "plains only which are good for the fighting of Roman soldiers, but woods and forest passes, if science be used. For the huge shields and unwieldly lances of the barbarians cannot, amid trunks of trees and brushwood that springs from the ground, be so well managed as our javelins and swords and closefitting armour. Shower your blows thickly; strike at the face with your swords' points. The German has neither cuirass nor helmet; even his shield is not strengthened with leather or steel, but is of osiers woven together or of thin and painted board. If their first line is armed with spears, the rest have only weapons hardened by fire or very short. Again, though their frames are terrible to the eye and formidable in a brief onset, they have no capacity of enduring wounds; without, any shame at the disgrace, without any regard to their leaders, they quit the field and flee; they quail under disaster, just as in success they forget alike divine and human laws. If in your weariness of land and sea you desire an end of service, this battle prepares the way to it. The Elbe is now nearer than the Rhine, and there is no war beyond, provided only you enable me, keeping close as I do to my father's and my uncle's footsteps, to stand a conqueror on the same spot."

14. Nox eadem laetam Germanico quietem tulit, viditque se operatum et sanguine sacri respersa praetexta pulchriorem aliam manibus aviae Augustae accepisse. auctus omine, addicentibus auspiciis, vocat contionem et quae sapientia provisa aptaque inminenti pugnae disserit. non campos modo militi Romano ad proelium bonos, sed si ratio adsit, silvas et saltus; nec enim inmensa barbarorum scuta, enormis hastas inter truncos arborum et enata humo virgulta perinde haberi quam pila et gladios et haerentia corpori tegmina. denserent ictus, ora mucronibus quaererent: non loricam Germano, non galeam, ne scuta quidem ferro nervove firmata, sed viminum textus vel tenuis et fucatas colore tabulas; primam utcumque aciem hastatam, ceteris praeusta aut brevia tela. iam corpus ut visu torvom et ad brevem impetum validum, sic nulla vulnerum patientia: sine pudore flagitii, sine cura ducum abire, fugere, pavidos adversis, inter secunda non divini, non humani iuris memores. si taedio viarum ac maris finem cupiant, hac acie parari: propiorem iam Albim quam Rhenum neque bellum ultra, modo se patris patruique vestigia prementem isdem in terris victorem sisterent.

15. The general's speech was followed by enthusiasm in the soldiers, and the signal for battle was given. Nor were Arminius and the other German chiefs slow to call their respective clansmen to witness that "these Romans were the most cowardly fugitives out of Varus's army, men who rather than endure war had taken to mutiny. Half of them have their backs covered with wounds; half are once again exposing limbs battered by waves and storms to a foe full of fury, and to hostile deities, with no hope of advantage. They have, in fact, had recourse to a fleet and to a trackless ocean, that their coming might be unopposed, their flight unpursued. But when once they have joined conflict with us, the help of winds or oars will be unavailing to the vanquished. Remember only their greed, their cruelty, their pride. Is anything left for us but to retain our freedom or to die before we are enslaved?

15. Orationem ducis secutus militum ardor, signumque s pugnae datum. nec Arminius aut ceteri Germanorum proceres omittebant suos quisque testari, hos esse Romanos Variani exercitus fugacissimos qui ne bellum tolerarent, seditionem induerint; quorum pars onustavulneribus terga, pars fluctibus et procellis fractos artus infensis rursum hostibus, adversis dis obiciant, nulla boni spe. classem quippe et avia Oceani quaesita ne quis venientibus occurreret, ne pulsos premeret: sed ubi miscuerint manus, inane victis ventumm remorumve subsidium. meminissent modo avaritiae, crudelitatis, superbiae: aliod sibi reliquum quam tenere libertatem aut mori ante servitium?

16. When they were thus roused and were demanding battle, their chiefs led them down into a plain named Idistavisus. It winds between the Visurgis and a hill range, its breadth varying as the river banks recede or the spurs of the hills project on it. In their rear rose a forest, with the branches rising to a great height, while there were clear spaces between the trunks. The barbarian army occupied the plain and the outskirts of the wood. The Cherusci were posted by themselves on the high ground, so as to rush down on the Romans during the battle. Our army advanced in the following order. The auxiliary Gauls and Germans were in the van, then the foot-archers, after them, four legions and Caesar himself with two praetorian cohorts and some picked cavalry. Next came as many other legions, and light-armed troops with horse-bowmen, and the remaining cohorts of the allies. The men were quite ready and prepared to form in line of battle according to their marching order.

16. Sic accensos et proelium poscentis in campum, cui Idistaviso nomen, deducunt. is medius inter Visurgim et collis, ut ripae fluminis cedunt aut prominentia montium resistunt, inaequaliter sinuatur. pone tergum insurgebat silva editis in altum ramis et pura humo inter arborum truncos. campum et prima silvarum barbara acies tenuit: soli Cherusci iuga insedere ut proeliantibus Romanis desuper incurrerent. noster exercitus sic incessit: auxiliares Galli Germanique in fronte, post quos pedites sagittatii; dein quattuor legiones et cum duabus praetoriis cohortibus ac delecto equite Caesar; exim totidem aliae legiones et levis armatura cum equite sagittario ceteraeque sociorum cohortes. intentus paratusque miles ut ordo agminis in aciem adsisteret.

17. Caesar, as soon as he saw the Cheruscan bands which in their impetuous spirit had rushed to the attack, ordered the finest of his cavalry to charge them in flank, Stertinius with the other squadrons to make a detour and fall on their rear, promising himself to come up in good time. Meanwhile there was a most encouraging augury. Eight eagles, seen to fly towards the woods and to enter them, caught the general's eye. "Go," he exclaimed, "follow the Roman birds, the true deities of our legions." At the same moment the infantry charged, and the cavalry which had been sent on in advance dashed on the rear and the flanks. And, strange to relate, two columns of the enemy fled in opposite directions, that, which had occupied the wood, rushing into the open, those who had been drawn up on the plains, into the wood. The Cherusci, who were between them, were dislodged from the hills, while Arminius, conspicuous among them by gesture, voice, and a wound he had received, kept up the fight. He had thrown himself on our archers and was on the point of breaking through them, when the cohorts of the Raeti, Vendelici, and Gauls faced his attack. By a strong bodily effort, however, and a furious rush of his horse, he made his way through them, having smeared his face with his blood, that he might not be known. Some have said that he was recognised by Chauci serving among the Roman auxiliaries, who let him go. Inguiomerus owed his escape to similar courage or treachery. The rest were cut down in every direction. Many in attempting to swim across the Visurgis were overwhelmed under a storm of missiles or by the force of the current, lastly, by the rush of fugitives and the falling in of the banks. Some in their ignominious flight climbed the tops of trees, and as they were hiding themselves in the boughs, archers were brought up and they were shot for sport. Others were dashed to the ground by the felling of the trees.

17. Visis Cheruscorum catervis, quae per ferociam proruperant, validissimos equitum ineurrere latus, Stertinium cum ceteris turmis circumgredi tergaque invadere iubet, ipse in tempore adfuturus. interea pulcherrimum augurium, octo aquilae petere silvas et intrare visae imperatorem advertere. exclamat irent, sequerentur Romanas avis, propria legionum numina. simul pedestris acies infertur et praemissus eques postremos ac latera impulit. mirumque dictu, duo hostium agmina diversa fuga, qui silvam tenuerant, in aperta, qui campis adstiterant, in silvam ruebant. medii inter hos Cherusci collibus detrudebantur, inter quos insignis Arminius manu voce vulnere sustentabat pugnam. incubueratque sagittariis, illa rupturus, ni Raetorum Vindelicorumque et Gallicae cohortes signa obiecissent. nisu tamen corporis et impetu equi pervasit, oblitus faciem suo curore ne nosceretur. quidam adgnitum a Chaucis inter auxilia Romana agentibus emissumque tradiderunt. virtus seu fraus eadem Inguiomero effugium dedit: ceteri passim trucidati. et plerosque tranare Visurgim conantis iniecta tela aut vis fluminis, postremo moles ruentium et incidentes ripae operuere. quidam turpi fuga in summa arborum nisi ramisque se occultantes admotis sagittariis per ludibrium figebantur, alios prorutae arbores adflixere.

18. It was a great victory and without bloodshed to us. From nine in the morning to nightfall the enemy were slaughtered, and ten miles were covered with arms and dead bodies, while there were found amid the plunder the chains which the Germans had brought with them for the Romans, as though the issue were certain. The soldiers on the battle field hailed Tiberius as Imperator, and raised a mound on which arms were piled in the style of a trophy, with the names of the conquered tribes inscribed beneath them.

18. Magna ea victoria neque cruenta nobis fuit. quinta ab hora diei ad noctem caesi hostes decem milia passuum cadaveribus atque armis opplevere, repertis inter spolia eorum catenis quas in Romanos ut non dubio eventu portaverant. miles in loco proelii Tiberium imperatorem salutavit struxitque aggerem et in modum tropaeorum arma subscriptis victarum gentium nominibus imposuit.

19. That sight caused keener grief and rage among the Germans than their wounds, their mourning, and their losses. Those who but now were preparing to quit their settlements and to retreat to the further side of the Elbe, longed for battle and flew to arms. Common people and chiefs, young and old, rushed on the Roman army, and spread disorder. At last they chose a spot closed in by a river and by forests, within which was a narrow swampy plain. The woods too were surrounded by a bottomless morass, only on one side of it the Angrivarii had raised a broad earthwork, as a boundary between themselves and the Cherusci. Here their infantry was ranged. Their cavalry they concealed in neighbouring woods, so as to be on the legions' rear, as soon as they entered the forest.

19. Haut perinde Germanos vulnera, luctus, excidia quam ea species dolore et ira adfecit. qui modo abire sedibus, trans Albim concedere parabant, pugnam volunt, arma rapiunt; plebes primores, inventus senes agmen Romanum repente incursant, turbant. postremo deligunt locum flumine et silvis clausum, arta intus planitie et umida: silvas quoque profunda palus ambibat nisi quod latus unum Angrivarii lato aggere extulerant quo a Cheruscis dirimerentur. hic pedes adstitit: equitem propinquis lucis texere ut ingressis silvam legionibus a tergo foret.

Next: Book 2 [20]