10 February 2007

The Batavian revolt, part 2

Part 2 of my essay.

The Romans were gone, Claudius Labeo was gone, and Civilis was now the leader of a free people. He had done what Vespasian had asked – kept Vitellius’ army busy – and if the letter isn’t just something that Tacitus made up, Vespasian would recognize their independence as soon as he became emperor. But apparently Civilis didn’t want to wait too long for that to happen. It might be that all his successes had gotten to his head and thought he was strong enough to fight Rome, or he might have felt that his brother hadn’t been avenged properly yet. Either way, in September 69, he attacked the legionary camp Castra Vetera, where the Fifth Alaudae and the Fifteenth Primigenia were stationed. He dyed his hair red and swore that he wouldn’t cut it until he had destroyed the legions. The Bructerian prophetess Veleda prophesised that the legions would be destroyed.

Civilis must have realised that even Vespasian could not let an attack like this go unpunished, but that didn’t stop him. However stupid the attack was, Civilis was well-prepared. Sometime earlier he had sent messengers to the eight Batavian cohorts in Mainz and gained their support. These men were experienced soldiers who had fought in many battles. Flaccus allowed them to leave Mainz, probably because he hoped to keep the war isolated in the north. Then he changed his mind, and sent a message to Herennius Gallus, the commander of the First legion Germanica in Bonn. Gallus should stop the Batavians, and he, Flaccus, would come with another force from the south so that the Batavians could be crushed. Then Flaccus changed his mind again. He sent another message to Gallus, warning him not to attack. However, Gallus’ soldiers thought it would be easy to defeat the Batavians, since they were inferior in numbers. As it turned out, they were wrong, and suffered a heavy defeat. The Batavian cohorts claimed it was self-defence, seeing as the Romans had attacked first, and marched north without any further difficulties.

The arrival of the eight Batavian cohorts meant that Civilis now had a proper army. The timing was perfect as well: The army of the Danube had just sided with Vespasian, which meant that Vitellius would be busier than ever. In addition, the coming winter would soon make the crossing of the Alps difficult. It would take a while before the Romans could retaliate.
As an added precaution, Civilis made his men swear allegiance to Vespasian, and even sent a message to the legions at Castra Vetera, asking them to take the same oath. The Roman reply was something along the lines of “Go to hell” – they still supported Vitellius.

Castra Vetera was a modern camp, with a ditch, rampart, gates and towers, but it was large and heavily undergarrisoned. Despite all this, the Batavians could not take it by force. They stormed the walls and were beaten back, then they tried to build siege equipment, but the Romans destroyed it. In the end, Civilis decided to starve the legions into surrender.

The Romans were already planning a counter-attack. Flaccus ordered the Fourth legion Macedonica to stay in Mainz, which had to be defended at all costs. He also sent messages to Gaul and Spain to ask for help, and posted pickets along the Rhine to keep the Germans out. He himself went to the First legion Germanica in Bonn, where the troops were rather angry at him. They felt he had betrayed them, and the situation would have become dangerous for Flaccus had not Gaius Dillius Vocula, commander of the Twenty-second legion Primigenia, come to his rescue. The trouble-makers were executed, and because the troops wished for Vocula to lead them, Flaccus handed over the command to him.
The First Germanica and the Twenty-second Primigenia continued their march north, and in Neuss they joined forces with the Sixteenth Gallica. At this point news began to arrive from the south – Vitellius’ army had lost an important battle, and it was becoming clear that he would not be emperor for very long. Vocula and Flaccus were probably worried about what would happen if they fought against Civilis. After all, the Batavian claimed to be fighting for Vespasian… They decided that it was time to side with Vespasian. The legionaries swore an oath of allegiance to him – though under pressure – and then they waited. If Civilis was really on Vespasian’s side they were now allies, and there would be no reason to fight.

Civilis knew what was going on, and here it finally becomes clear that he was not fighting for Vespasian, but for freedom or power of some kind. He knew he had to destroy Vocula’s army before it could come to the relief of the besieged legions. Vocula’s army consisted of three legions (though not at full strength) and various auxiliaries. It was too large to face in regular battle, so Civilis tried a surprise attack. The date suggested for this attack is the moonless night of 1/2 December 69. According to Tacitus the Romans were taken completely by surprise, but Vocula and Flaccus must have realised that Civilis would try to attack at an unexpected moment and been on their guard. At first it looked as though the Batavians would win – they drove the auxiliaries and legionaries back and managed to capture many standards. The Romans were saved by the timely arrival of some Basque auxiliary units, which had marched north when Flaccus had sent out his request for help. The Batavians thought a huge army was attacking and panicked; the Romans thought the same and charged with double strength. The Romans won, though their losses were severe. But it was nothing compared to the Batavian losses: their eight auxiliary cohorts had been destroyed, while the Roman losses “consisted of poorer fighters” (Tacitus, Histories 4.33).

After this the Vocula marched quickly to Castra Vetera to lift the siege. The camp’s walls were strengthened, the ditches deepened and supplies brought in, and the whole revolt could’ve ended here. However, Vocula was forced to return south before he could invade the Island of the Batavians and put an end to the rebellion. Tribes from across the Rhine – the Chatti, Mattiaci and Usipi – had crossed the river and were now threatening Mainz. Vocula took another 1000 soldiers from Castra Vetera and went south in a hurry. Civilis immediately renewed the siege and also attacked Vocula’s retreating army, but again the Batavians were defeated.

The Romans reached Neuss, and here Flaccus distributed money to celebrate the accession of Vespasian. The legionaries had been loyal to Vitellius, and this is probably the reason why the celebrations got a bit out of hand. They remembered how Flaccus had let the First legion Germanica deal with the Batavian cohorts on their own, how he had forced them to swear allegiance to Vespasian… In “a wild riot of pleasure, feasting and seditious gatherings in the night” they murdered Flaccus. Vocula, dressed as a slave, got away just in time.

And now comes the fun part. The Gallic tribes had seen that the Roman legions in the area were too weak to crush the rebellion, and this made the Treviri and Lingones decide to revolt too.

In the meantime, Vocula had gotten back to his legions. They swore allegiance to Vespasian once more and continued to Mainz. The besiegers had already gotten away, though not unharmed: they had encountered Roman troops on their way.
When he had the situation in Mainz under control, Vocula left the Twenty-second Primigenia there with the Fourth Macedonica, and hurried north once more with the First Germanica and the Sixteenth Gallica to lift the siege of Castra Vetera. He was becoming suspicious of his men, and with good reason.
Civilis exchanged messages and held secret meetings with the Treviran and Lingon leaders. The most important of these were Julius Classicus, Julius Tutor and Julius Sabinus (the first two were Treviri, while Sabinus was a Lingon. Notice how they’re all called ‘Julius’). Classicus was the commander of the Treviri cavalry regiment, Tutor had been placed by Vitellius in command of the west bank of the Rhine, and Sabinus was, according to Tacitus, a conceited man who believed that his great-grandmother had been Julius Caesar’s mistress. A call of arms was issued through the Gallic provinces, though the conspirators themselves still pretended to be loyal to Rome. This didn’t work out too well, because, like I said, Vocula was getting suspicious. However, he had to continue northward in hope to lift the siege. In Köln he met Claudius Labeo, who had escaped from his exile by bribing his guards. Labeo offered to go to the Batavians and persuade them to return to their allegiance with Rome. He got a small force of infantry and cavalry as a bodyguard, which he used to carry out a series of raids against the Cananefates and Marsaci.

Vocula was drawing near to Castra Vetera when the Gauls broke away from the legions and built their own fortress. Vocula did his best to get them back on his side, but to no avail. He eventually saw no other option than to return to Neuss. The Gauls set up their camp at some distance from the Romans’. Soldiers began to pass to and fro between the camps, and eventually some sort of agreement was reached. Classicus sent a deserter of the First Legion Germanica (Aemilius Longinus) to murder Vocula. Herennius Gallus and Numisius Rufus (commanders of the First Germanica and Sixteenth Gallica, respectively) were confined.
Then Classicus appeared at the camp, dressed up as a Roman general. He made the men swear allegiance to the Gallic Empire. Tutor in the meantime surrounded Köln with a strong force to make its inhabitants and all the troops in Upper Germany swear the same oath. In Mainz the tribunes and the camp commandant refused to swear. The tribunes were executed, the camp commandant was expelled.

Then their thoughts turned once more to Castra Vetera, where the Fifth Alaudae and the Fifteenth Primigenia were still besieged. Despite the fact that it was heavily undergarrisoned, Civilis and his Batavians were unable to take it by force. However, the besieged could not hold out for much longer, for they were beginning to run out of food. Classicus sent some of the capitulated soldiers to Castra Vetera to offer quarter to the besieged and make them surrender. Munius Lupercus (the commander of the beleaguered soldiers) still hesitated. It was clear that there was little hope of rescue, but “the besieged were torn between heroism and degradation by the conflicting claims of loyalty and hunger.” (Tacitus: The Histories, 4.60). In the end hunger drove them to plead for their lives. There was no food left in the camp; they had eaten the mules and horses, and in the end they lived off shrubs and grass that grew between the stones.
The Romans had to leave all their possessions behind and take an oath of allegiance to the Gallic Empire. In return they would be allowed to leave the camp alive. However, they were not even five miles from Castra Vetera when they were suddenly ambushed. Many died in the fight that broke out, or while they fled back to Castra Vetera. The fort was thoroughly plundered and then set fire to. Those who survived the battle died in the fire.

According to Tacitus, Civilis loudly blamed his German allies for this “criminal breach of faith”, but even Tacitus is uncertain “whether this was mere hypocrisy or whether Civilis was really incapable of restraining his ferocious allies.” (Tacitus: The Histories, 4.60)

Whether Civilis ordered the men to be slaughtered or not, he had at least fulfilled his oath: He could finally cut his hair, which he had sworn to let grow until the legions were destroyed. A few had been taken alive as prisoners though, of these Munius Lupercus was one. He was sent as a present to Veleda (the prophetess of the Bructeri who had prophesised the destruction of the legions), however, he was put to death before he reached her. According to Tacitus Civilis even gave some prisoners to his young son, to serve as a target for his spears and arrows. However, Civilis did not swear allegiance to the Gallic confederacy. He relied instead on the strength of the Germanic tribes and the reputation the success at Castra Vetera had earned him.

Civilis and his Gallic allies were becoming more and more powerful. They ordered that the winter quarters of the legions, cohorts and cavalry regiments along the Rhine were to be dismantled and burned. Only those at Mainz and Windisch were spared.
Civilis and Classicus then turned their thoughts to Köln. Because the local authorities there had once kept Civilis’ son in honourable custody after he had been arrested, the city was not plundered. Instead the Ubii of Köln joined in the rebellion. Civilis’ wife and sister, and Classicus’ daughter were kept there as hostages to secure the alliance.
With Köln as his HQ, Civilis busied himself with persuading other tribes to join him. He got the Sunuci on his side, but then he encountered Claudius Labeo, who was still busy fighting his little guerrilla war. He had occupied a bridge over the river Maas with his fighting force – consisting of Tungri, Baetasii and Nervii. There was a battle, but none of the armies had the advantage until Civilis and his Batavians swam across the river to attack Labeo in the rear. Then Civilis rode up to the Tungri lines and held another nice speech, about how he wished for an alliance with them. The Tungri soldiers were so impressed by this that they sheathed their swords, and two of their nobles (Campanus and Juvenalis) offered the surrender of the tribe as a whole. The Baetasii and Nervii were added to Civilis’ army. Claudius Labeo himself got away just in time.

In the meantime, the Lingon Julius Sabinus (the conceited one) had claimed the title Caesar. One of the first things he did as emperor of the Gallic Empire was attack the Sequani, a tribe which was still loyal to Rome. Apparently he did not trust the First Germanica and the Sixteenth Gallica, the legions that had surrendered, for they were sent away to Trier.
Instead, Sabinus “led a large and ill-disciplined mob of his countrymen against the Sequani” (Tacitus: The Histories, 4.67). He lost the war, panicked, and decided to fake his own death. He set fire to a farmhouse where he had taken refuge, so people would believe he had committed suicide there.

To be concluded... *insert dramatic music here*

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