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.

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.

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.

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.”

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?

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
The Annals by Tacitus