Germanicus meantime, though he had concentrated his army and prepared
vengeance against the mutineers, thought that he ought still to allow
them an interval, in case they might, with the late warning before
them, regard their safety. He sent a despatch to Caecina, which said
that he was on the way with a strong force, and that, unless they
forestalled his arrival by the execution of the guilty, he would resort
to an indiscriminate massacre. Caecina read the letter confidentially
to the eagle and standardbearers, and to all in the camp who were
least tainted by disloyalty, and urged them to save the whole army
from disgrace, and themselves from destruction. “In peace,” he said,
“the merits of a man’s case are carefully weighed; when war bursts
on us, innocent and guilty alike perish.”
Upon this, they sounded those whom they thought best for their purpose,
and when they saw that a majority of their legions remained loyal,
at the commander’s suggestion they fixed a time for falling with the
sword on all the vilest and foremost of the mutineers. Then, at a
mutually given signal, they rushed into the tents, and butchered the
unsuspecting men, none but those in the secret knowing what was the
beginning or what was to be the end of the slaughter.
The scene was a contrast to all civil wars which have ever occurred.
It was not in battle, it was not from opposing camps, it was from
those same dwellings where day saw them at their common meals, night
resting from labour, that they divided themselves into two factions,
and showered on each other their missiles. Uproar, wounds, bloodshed,
were everywhere visible; the cause was a mystery. All else was at
the disposal of chance. Even some loyal men were slain, for, on its
being once understood who were the objects of fury, some of the worst
mutineers too had seized on weapons. Neither commander nor tribune
was present to control them; the men were allowed license and vengeance
to their heart’s content. Soon afterwards Germanicus entered the camp,
and exclaiming with a flood of tears, that this was destruction rather
than remedy, ordered the bodies to be burnt.
Even then their savage spirit was seized with desire to march against
the enemy, as an atonement for their frenzy, and it was felt that
the shades of their fellow-soldiers could be appeased only by exposing
such impious breasts to honourable scars. Caesar followed up the enthusiasm
of the men, and having bridged over the Rhine, he sent across it 12,000
from the legions, with six-and-twenty allied cohorts, and eight squadrons
of cavalry, whose discipline had been without a stain during the mutiny.
There was exultation among the Germans, not far off, as long as we
were detained by the public mourning for the loss of Augustus, and
then by our dissensions. But the Roman general in a forced march,
cut through the Caesian forest and the barrier which had been begun
by Tiberius, and pitched his camp on this barrier, his front and rear
being defended by intrenchments, his flanks by timber barricades.
He then penetrated some forest passes but little known, and, as there
were two routes, he deliberated whether he should pursue the short
and ordinary route, or that which was more difficult unexplored, and
consequently unguarded by the enemy. He chose the longer way, and
hurried on every remaining preparation, for his scouts had brought
word that among the Germans it was a night of festivity, with games,
and one of their grand banquets. Caecina had orders to advance with
some light cohorts, and to clear away any obstructions from the woods.
The legions followed at a moderate interval. They were helped by a
night of bright starlight, reached the villages of the Marsi, and
threw their pickets round the enemy, who even then were stretched
on beds or at their tables, without the least fear, or any sentries
before their camp, so complete was their carelessness and disorder;
and of war indeed there was no apprehension. Peace it certainly was
not- merely the languid and heedless ease of half-intoxicated people.
Caesar, to spread devastation widely, divided his eager legions into
four columns, and ravaged a space of fifty miles with fire and sword.
Neither sex nor age moved his compassion. Everything, sacred or profane,
the temple too of Tamfana, as they called it, the special resort of
all those tribes, was levelled to the ground. There was not a wound
among our soldiers, who cut down a half-asleep, an unarmed, or a straggling
foe. The Bructeri, Tubantes, and Usipetes, were roused by this slaughter,
and they beset the forest passes through which the army had to return.
The general knew this, and he marched, prepared both to advance and
to fight. Part of the cavalry, and some of the auxiliary cohorts led
the van; then came the first legion, and, with the baggage in the
centre, the men of the twenty-first closed up the left, those of the
fifth, the right flank. The twentieth legion secured the rear, and,
next, were the rest of the allies.
The Annals by Tacitus