It was in this same year that the Cherusci asked Rome for a king.
They had lost all their nobles in their civil wars, and there was
left but one scion of the royal house, Italicus by name, who lived
at Rome. On the father’s side he was descended from Flavus, the brother
of Arminius; his mother was a daughter of Catumerus, chief of the
Chatti. The youth himself was of distinguished beauty, a skilful horseman
and swordsman both after our fashion and that of his country. So the
emperor made him a present of money, furnished him with an escort,
and bade him enter with a good heart on the honours of his house.
“Never before,” he said, “had a native of Rome, no hostage but a citizen,
gone to mount a foreign throne.” At first his arrival was welcome
to the Germans, and they crowded to pay him court, for he was untainted
by any spirit of faction, and showed the same hearty goodwill to all,
practising sometimes the courtesy and temperance which can never offend,
but oftener those excesses of wine and lust in which barbarians delight.
He was winning fame among his neighbours and even far beyond them,
when some who had found their fortune in party feuds, jealous of his
power, fled to the tribes on the border, protesting that Germany was
being robbed of her ancient freedom, and that the might of Rome was
on the rise. “Is there really,” they said, “no native of this country
to fill the place of king without raising the son of the spy Flavus
above all his fellows? It is idle to put forward the name of Arminius.
Had even the son of Arminius come to the throne after growing to manhood
on a hostile soil, he might well be dreaded, corrupted as he would
be by the bread of dependence, by slavery, by luxury, by all foreign
habits. But if Italicus had his father’s spirit, no man, be it remembered,
had ever waged war against his country and his home more savagely
than that father.” By these and like appeals they collected a large
force. No less numerous were the partisans of Italicus. “He was no
intruder,” they said, “on an unwilling people; he had obeyed a call.
Superior as he was to all others in noble birth, should they not put
his valour to the test, and see whether he showed himself worthy of
his uncle Arminius and his grandfather Catumerus? He need not blush
because his father had never relinquished the loyalty which, with
the consent of the Germans, he had promised to Rome. The name of liberty
was a lying pretext in the mouths of men who, base in private, dangerous
in public life, had nothing to hope except from civil discord.”
The people enthusiastically applauded him. After a fierce conflict
among the barbarians, the king was victorious. Subsequently, in his
good fortune, he fell into a despot’s pride, was dethroned, was restored
by the help of the Langobardi, and still, in prosperity or adversity,
did mischief to the interests of the Cheruscan nation.
It was during the same period that the Chauci, free, as it happened,
from dissension at home and emboldened by the death of Sanquinius,
made, while Corbulo was on his way, an inroad into Lower Germany,
under the leadership of Gannascus. This man was of the tribe of the
Canninefates, had served long as our auxiliary, had then deserted,
and, getting some light vessels, had made piratical descents specially
on the coast of Gaul, inhabited, he knew, by a wealthy and unwarlike
population. Corbulo meanwhile entered the province with careful preparation
and soon winning a renown of which that campaign was the beginning,
he brought his triremes up the channel of the Rhine and the rest of
his vessels up the estuaries and canals to which they were adapted.
Having sunk the enemy’s flotilla, driven out Gannascus, and brought
everything into good order, he restored the discipline of former days
among legions which had forgotten the labours and toils of the soldier
and delighted only in plunder. No one was to fall out of the line;
no one was to fight without orders. At the outposts, on guard, in
the duties of day and of night, they were always to be under arms.
One soldier, it was said, had suffered death for working at the trenches
without his sword, another for wearing nothing as he dug, but his
poniard. These extreme and possibly false stories at least had their
origin in the general’s real severity. We may be sure that he was
strict and implacable to serious offences, when such sternness in
regard to trifles could be believed of him.
The fear thus inspired variously affected his own troops and the enemy.
Our men gained fresh valour; the barbarians felt their pride broken.
The Frisians, who had been hostile or disloyal since the revolt which
had been begun by the defeat of Lucius Apronius, gave hostages and
settled down on territories marked out by Corbulo, who, at the same
time, gave them a senate, magistrates, and a constitution. That they
might not throw off their obedience, he built a fort among them, while
he sent envoys to invite the Greater Chauci to submission and to destroy
Gannascus by stratagem. This stealthy attempt on the life of a deserter
and a traitor was not unsuccessful, nor was it anything ignoble. Yet
the Chauci were violently roused by the man’s death, and Corbulo was
now sowing the seeds of another revolt, thus getting a reputation
which many liked, but of which many thought ill. “Why,” men asked,
“was he irritating the foe? His disasters will fall on the State.
If he is successful, so famous a hero will be a danger to peace, and
a formidable subject for a timid emperor.” Claudius accordingly forbade
fresh attacks on Germany, so emphatically as to order the garrisons
to be withdrawn to the left bank of the Rhine.
Corbulo was actually preparing to encamp on hostile soil when the
despatch reached him. Surprised, as he was, and many as were the thoughts
which crowded on him, thoughts of peril from the emperor, of scorn
from the barbarians, of ridicule from the allies, he said nothing
but this, “Happy the Roman generals of old,” and gave the signal for
retreat. To keep his soldiers free from sloth, he dug a canal of twenty-three
miles in length between the Rhine and the Meuse, as a means of avoiding
the uncertain perils of the ocean. The emperor, though he had forbidden
war, yet granted him triumphal distinctions.
The Annals by Tacitus