The Annals by Tacitus Book IIThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 16-19

In the consulship of Sisenna Statilius Taurus and Lucius Libo there
was a commotion in the kingdoms and Roman provinces of the East. It
had its origin among the Parthians, who disdained as a foreigner a
king whom they had sought and received from Rome, though he was of
the family of the Arsacids. This was Vonones, who had been given as
an hostage to Augustus by Phraates. For although he had driven before
him armies and generals from Rome, Phraates had shown to Augustus
every token of reverence and had sent him some of his children, to
cement the friendship, not so much from dread of us as from distrust
of the loyalty of his countrymen.

After the death of Phraates and the succeeding kings in the bloodshed
of civil wars, there came to Rome envoys from the chief men of Parthia,
in quest of Vonones, his eldest son. Caesar thought this a great honour
to himself, and loaded Vonones with wealth. The barbarians, too, welcomed
him with rejoicing, as is usual with new rulers. Soon they felt shame
at Parthians having become degenerate, at their having sought a king
from another world, one too infected with the training of the enemy,
at the throne of the Arsacids now being possessed and given away among
the provinces of Rome. “Where,” they asked, “was the glory of the
men who slew Crassus, who drove out Antonius, if Caesar’s drudge,
after an endurance of so many years’ slavery, were to rule over Parthians.”

Vonones himself too further provoked their disdain, by his contrast
with their ancestral manners, by his rare indulgence in the chase,
by his feeble interest in horses, by the litter in which he was carried
whenever he made a progress through their cities, and by his contemptuous
dislike of their national festivities. They also ridiculed his Greek
attendants and his keeping under seal the commonest household articles.
But he was easy of approach; his courtesy was open to all, and he
had thus virtues with which the Parthians were unfamiliar, and vices
new to them. And as his ways were quite alien from theirs they hated
alike what was bad and what was good in him.

Accordingly they summoned Artabanus, an Arsacid by blood, who had
grown to manhood among the Dahae, and who, though routed in the first
encounter, rallied his forces and possessed himself of the kingdom.
The conquered Vonones found a refuge in Armenia, then a free country,
and exposed to the power of Parthia and Rome, without being trusted
by either, in consequence of the crime of Antonius, who, under the
guise of friendship, had inveigled Artavasdes, king of the Armenians,
then loaded him with chains, and finally murdered him. His son, Artaxias,
our bitter foe because of his father’s memory, found defence for himself
and his kingdom in the might of the Arsacids. When he was slain by
the treachery of kinsmen, Caesar gave Tigranes to the Armenians, and
he was put in possession of the kingdom under the escort of Tiberius
Nero. But neither Tigranes nor his children reigned long, though,
in foreign fashion, they were united in marriage and in royal power.

Next, at the bidding of Augustus, Artavasdes was set on the throne,
nor was he deposed without disaster to ourselves. Caius Caesar was
then appointed to restore order in Armenia. He put over the Armenians
Ariobarzanes, a Mede by birth, whom they willingly accepted, because
of his singularly handsome person and noble spirit. On the death of
Ariobarzanes through a fatal accident, they would not endure his son.
Having tried the government of a woman named Erato and having soon
afterwards driven her from them, bewildered and disorganised, rather
indeed without a ruler than enjoying freedom, they received for their
king the fugitive Vonones. When, however, Artabanus began to threaten,
and but feeble support could be given by the Armenians, or war with
Parthia would have to be undertaken, if Vonones was to be upheld by
our arms, the governor of Syria, Creticus Silanus, sent for him and
kept him under surveillance, letting him retain his royal pomp and
title. How Vonones meditated an escape from this mockery, I will relate
in the proper place.

Meanwhile the commotion in the East was rather pleasing to Tiberius,
as it was a pretext for withdrawing Germanicus from the legions which
knew him well, and placing him over new provinces where he would be
exposed both to treachery and to disasters. Germanicus, however, in
proportion to the strength of the soldiers’ attachment and to his
uncle’s dislike, was eager to hasten his victory, and he pondered
on plans of battle, and on the reverses or successes which during
more than three years of war had fallen to his lot. The Germans, he
knew, were beaten in the field and on fair ground; they were helped
by woods, swamps, short summers, and early winters. His own troops
were affected not so much by wounds as by long marches and damage
to their arms. Gaul had been exhausted by supplying horses; a long
baggage-train presented facilities for ambuscades, and was embarrassing
to its defenders. But by embarking on the sea, invasion would be easy
for them, and a surprise to the enemy, while a campaign too would
be more quickly begun, the legions and supplies would be brought up
simultaneously, and the cavalry with their horses would arrive, in
good condition, by the rivermouths and channels, at the heart of Germany.
The Annals by Tacitus