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History Lecture – “The Great Illyrian Revolt” at the Queens Public Library – January 26, 2021

Greetings everyone! On January 26, 2021, I conducted my first ever public lecture as a historian when I delivered a talk for the Queens Public Library via WEBEX concerning the Great Illyrian Revolt, a massive uprising which took place against the Roman Empire from 6 to 9 AD. The lecture was recorded on the host’s personal computer, and she sent me the link to the video, but I didn’t know how to download this video file onto my own computer until a few hours ago. After some very frantic computer work, here it is! The video lasts for a just a tad longer than an hour and twelve minutes. I hope you enjoy it.

If you like this lecture please purchase a copy of my book The Great Illyrian Revolt: Rome’s Forgotten War in the Balkans, AD 6-9, published by Pen & Sword Books in 2019.

An Announcement: I’ll be giving a public lecture on ancient Roman history!

Greetings all! I am happy to report that I will be delivering my first-ever public lecture as a historian. I will be giving a talk about the Great Illyrian Revolt of 6-9 AD, one of the biggest, most consequential, and least-studied military conflicts in ancient Roman history.

The lecture will be hosted by the Queens Public Library and will be held virtually on WEBEX on Tuesday January 26 from 4:00-5:00 PM eastern time. It’s free, and you don’t need a library card or a library account to attend – you just need access to a computer. I have included the official Queens Public Library advertising announcement below. You can also click on the website link here: https://www.queenslibrary.org/calendar/fyi-the-great-illyrian-revolt-with-jason-r-abdale/002113-1220.

January 16, 7 BC – The Day that Germany Surrendered to Rome

The date of January 16, 7 BC is important for both Roman and German history.

Ten years earlier in the year 17 BC, three German tribes crossed the Rhine and raided Gaul, which was controlled by the Roman Empire. It wasn’t long before the barbarians ran into a Roman cavalry unit and forced them to retreat. Pursuing them, the Germans stumbled upon the commander of the 5th Legion, Marcus Lollius, and in the skirmish, the Germans captured the 5th Legion’s eagle. This event would provide the pretext for a Roman invasion of Germania (1).

A map of the Germanic tribes, circa 15 BC. Illustration by Jason R. Abdale, 2013.

In 13 BC, Caesar Augustus dispatched his 25-year-old stepson Drusus Claudius Nero to lead a military campaign against the Germanic tribes. An experienced commander who had won some fame in the conquests of Rhaetia and Vindelicia, the invasion of Germania would be a prestigious commission. He arrived on the Rhine River that same year and surveyed the situation, collecting as much information as possible. Throughout the following year, he built a series of forts along the Gallic side of the Rhine to serve as staging posts, he stockpiled supplies, and he accumulated a mass of intelligence from his scouts and recon forces. After he felt that he had enough men and enough info, he was ready (2).

In 11 BC, Drusus Claudius Nero designated Fort Vetera (modern-day Xanten) as his operation headquarters. Rome’s campaign to conquer western Germania began that year when Drusus’ men intercepted another Germanic raiding party that had crossed into Gaul, and beat them so hard that the Germans were forced to run. Afterwards, Drusus and his soldiers crossed the Rhine – the first time that a Roman army had crossed the Rhine since the days of Julius Caesar – and proceeded to lay waste to the land. In a single campaign season, he defeated four German tribes (3).

In the Spring of 10 BC, Drusus’ men once again attacked the border tribes, and then advanced inland. His troops pushed as far east as the Weser River, but they had to stop because they had run out of supplies. As the Roman army marched back to their winter quarters, they were ambushed by a large force of Germanic warriors. The Germans inflicted heavy casualties upon Drusus’ army and came very close to completely destroying it. However, the barbarians were cocky and believed that this would be an easy victory, but Drusus rallied his forces and they fought their way out of the ambush. Drusus led the survivors back to safety, but the Germans pursued them and harassed them the whole way. Despite this loss, the overall campaign was a success. Drusus returned to the city of Rome during Winter to give an account of his actions. Impressed with what he had accomplished so far, it was decided that a triumphal arch was to be erected in his honor. (4).

In the spring of 9 BC, Drusus was once again in action against the Germans. He spent the whole of that campaign season fighting against one tribe, the powerful Chatti tribe that occupied a large piece of southwestern Germania, and who may have been the third-strongest of all of the Germanic tribes. By the end of the campaign season, they were still not yet subdued (5).

In the spring of 8 BC, defying bad omens for the coming year, Drusus resumed his fight against the Chatti and pushed further eastwards towards the Elbe River. Once he reached this point, he and his men turned back, but disaster struck when Drusus was thrown off of his horse and broke his leg. The injury quickly became infected. After languishing for thirty days, Drusus Claudius Nero died of gangrene at the height of his glory. His body was brought back to Rome for a hero’s funeral, while his loyal soldiers erected a monument to him in Mainz, which can still be seen today. It was also decided to posthumously award him the honorific agnomen “Germanicus”, a name that would be borne by all of his male descendants (6).

The Drusus Monument, located in Mainz, Germany. Photograph by Carole Raddato (September 5, 2013). Creative Commons Attribute Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Drusus’ untimely death did not put a halt to Rome’s military operations in western Germania. With Drusus dead, his older brother Tiberius took command. At first, he was more interested in consolidating and controlling the territories that Drusus’ men had taken the previous year. Tiberius and his troops went up and down the country during that winter, subduing the tribes and suffering minimal or no losses (7).

Members of Legio V Macedonica, an ancient Roman re-enactment group based in Russia, march through the snow. Image courtesy of Legio V Macedonica, used with permission.

Finally, the Germanic tribes decided that they had enough. The Roman poet Ovid states in his Fasti that, after many years of war, the western Germanic tribes surrendered to Tiberius Claudius Nero on January 16, 7 BC. To commemorate the peace treaty, Tiberius ordered the construction of a shrine to the goddess Concordia, the goddess of peace, harmony, and friendship. Cassius Dio relates that for the rest of 7 BC, all of Germania was quiet. In the year 6 BC, confident that everything in Germania had been taken care of, Tiberius retired to the island of Rhodes (8).

Bust of Tiberius Claudius Nero. Museo Archaeologico Regionale, Palermo, Sicily. From Wikimedia Commons, public domain image.

Unfortunately, the German barbarians’ surrender to Rome on that winter day did not create a lasting peace. In the year 1 AD, the Germanic tribes revolted against the Roman military occupation of their land, a revolt that would take three years to suppress (9).

In the year 10 AD, the year following the disaster at the Battle of Teutoburg, the old temple to Concordia which lay within the city of Rome, and which had been built many years earlier and had fallen into disrepair, was restored and re-dedicated. This effort was funded using the spoils of war that had been taken in battle against the Germans and the Illyrians. Tiberius Claudius Nero was the one who performed the dedication ceremony, and the names of both he and his dead bother Drusus were inscribed upon it (10).

This temple that’s mentioned in the writings of Suetonius and Cassius Dio might be the same as the “shrine” to Concordia that Ovid is referring to, but I doubt it. Ovid specifically states that Tiberius built a shrine to Concordia specifically in response to the surrender of the German tribes on January 16, 7 BC, which brought peace to that region of the world. I find it a bit off-putting for Tiberius to have dedicated a shrine in direct response to establishing peace with the Germans the year after the Germans massacred three Roman legions in the region of Teutoburg; some people might find such an action to be exceptionally tactless. Therefore, I believe that the shrine and the temple are two separate structures: one established immediately after the peace treaty was made in 7 BC, and another that was restored and dedicated in 10 AD.

 

Source citations:

  1. Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 54, chapter 20; Gaius Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, book 2, chapter 97.
  2. Adrian Murdoch, Rome’s Greatest Defeat. Sutton Publishing Limited, 2006. Pages 31-33.
  3. Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 54, chapter 32.
  4. Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 54, chapter 33.
  5. Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 54, chapter 36.
  6. Ovid, The Heroïdes, or Epistles of the Heroines; The Amours; Art of Love; Remedy of Love; and, Minor Works of Ovid. G. Bell, 1893. Page 503; The Germanic Tribes, episode 1 – “Barbarians against Rome”; Livy, Periochae, from book 142; Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 55, chapters 1-2; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, book 3, chapter 7; book 5, chapter 1.
  7. Gaius Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, book 2, chapter 97.
  8. Ovid, Fasti, book 1, January 16; Cassius Dio, The Roman History, Book 55, chapters 6, 9.
  9. Cassius Dio, The Roman History, book 53, chapter 26; Gaius Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, book 2, chapters 104-106.
  10. Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 56, chapter 25; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, book 3, chapter 20.

 

Bibliography:

 

October 13 – The Fontanalia: The Blessing of the Fountains

By the reign of Caesar Augustus, the city of Rome had a population of a million people. With so many crammed into such a small area, disease was a big problem. Having fresh clean drinking water would greatly contribute to one’s health. The problem was that most Romans did not have personal access to running water in their homes. Instead, the vast majority of the Roman public got their drinking supply from public water fountains. Appeasing the divine entities that watched over Rome’s water supply was crucial to its very survival (1).

In ancient Rome, October 13 was the date of the Fontanalia, “the Festival of the Fountains”. This was a feast day dedicated to showing appreciation and thanks to the divine being which watched over springs, fountains, and water wells. Our only ancient source for this feast day is Marcus Terentius Varro. On October 13, he says, the people decorate the fountains with garlands of flowers, and throw flowers into the springs and wells (2). There was a god named Fons or Fontus (literally the Latin word for “spring”) who presided such places. There was an Ara Fontis, an altar to the fountain god, erected atop the Janiculum Hill. There was also a Porta Fontinalis, a gate or a doorway, constructed within the Campus Martius (3). However, for a culture that was as dependent upon fresh water as the Romans were, it is remarkable that Fons did not occupy a more prominent role within their pantheon.

Many ancient cultures ascribed divine attributes to water springs, notably the Celts. The Germans, too, even after adopting Christianity, continued to make pilgrimages and offer sacrifices at the site of springs to the spirits who dwelt within these places. Water bubbling up out of the ground was a remarkable and mysterious thing, and there surely must be some divine reason behind such a sight. Springs served as the sources for rivers and lakes, but they also served as the starting points for many of aqueducts which supplied the city of Rome with fresh water. At Rome’s height, nine aqueducts supplied the city with 46 million gallons of water…every day. If Rome was to survive, the water needed to keep flowing, so it was important to please the water god Fons as much as possible. (4)

Public water fountains did more than just provide a free supply of drinking water to the Roman masses. Central Italy was, and still is, a hot place. Nowadays, the large water fountains with their elaborate sculptures and spouts shooting water out in all directions and even straight up in the air may appear to be nothing more than ostentatious decoration. But in the sweltering summer, these fountains were vital to making the area a little bit more livable by helping to keep the surrounding air cool. As the fountains spray out their water, part of it is evaporated and part of the spray droplets are carried by the breeze – both actions cool the air. Thus, these fountains functioned like a natural air conditioner (5).

The Fontanalia festival is sometimes mistakenly recorded as the “Faunalia” in 19th Century books about Roman history and culture. This has led to some misconceptions that this was a festival dedicated to Faun or Pan, the half-man half-goat who embodied the spirit of the countryside and the wilderness, and who was perpetually trying to get his leg over. There actually was a festival dedicated to him, but it didn’t take place until December 5.

 

Source Citations

  1. Peter S Wells, The Battle that Stopped Rome. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003. Page 57; What the Ancient Knew – “The Romans”.
  2. Marcus Terentius Varro, On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 22. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938. Page 195.
  3. William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1899. Page 240.
  4. The Celts. Episode 3 – “A Pagan Trinity”; “The Water Supplies of Cities in Ancient Times”, by Walter Atlee (October 27, 1883). Engineering News and American Contract Journal, Volume X (January to December 1883). New York: Engineering New Publishing Co., 1883. Pages 507-508; What the Ancient Knew – “The Romans”.
  5. What the Ancient Knew – “The Romans”.

 

Bibliography

Books

  • Fowler, William Warde. The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1899.
  • Varro, Marcus Terentius. On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 22. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938.
  • Wells, Peter S. The Battle that Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.

Articles

  • “The Water Supplies of Cities in Ancient Times”, by Walter Atlee (October 27, 1883). Engineering News and American Contract Journal, Volume X (January to December 1883). New York: Engineering New Publishing Co., 1883. Pages 507-509.

Videos

  • The Celts. Episode 3 – “A Pagan Trinity”. Hosted by Frank De Laney. BBC, 1987.
  • What the Ancient Knew – “The Romans”. Hosted by Jack Turner. The Science Channel, 2005.

 

The Battle of Teutoburg: A Problem with Dating

September 9 to 11 of the year 9 AD is often attributed in modern sources as the date for the legendary Battle of Teutoburg, more commonly known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – except the battle lasted for four days, not three, and it was fought in a forest only on the first two days of the engagement. But how accurate is this date? Very rarely do the primary sources provide precise dates for historical events. In fact, if you take the pains to read through all of the ancient documents that mention and describe this important battle, you will be struck by something puzzling and shocking – no ancient source mentions when exactly the battle took place.

So, if that is the case, then why is it commonly perpetuated that the Battle of Teutoburg was fought specifically from September 9 to 11?

The oldest reference to the Battle of Teutoburg taking place on September 9th to the 11th is dated to the 19th Century. Found within an issue of Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art is an article entitled “Decisive Battles of History”, dated to January 7, 1871. Within this article, the un-named author provides a list of battles of historical importance, with some being provided longer descriptions than others. The Battle of Teutoburg is placed upon that list, and of it, the article mentions the following: “The battle of Teutoburg, on the 9th, 10th and 11th of September, 9 B. C., between the Germans, led by Hermann, and the Romans, under Varus” (“Decisive Battles of History”. Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 5, Issue 93 (January 7, 1871). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871. Page 20). Where the author of this article managed to obtain these dates is unknown, since, as mentioned before, no primary source gives exact dates for the battle.

These dates were repeated in A Popular History of Germany, Volume 1, written by Wilhelm Zimmerman and published in 1878. In a chapter devoted exclusively to this battle, Zimmermann writes “The battle took place on the 9th, 10th, and 11th days of September” (William Zimmermann, A Popular History of Germany, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Volume 1. Translated by Hugh Craig. New York, Henry J. Johnson, 1878. Page 57). Again, Zimmermann provides no sources for this information.

These dates seem to have been forgotten until the 1990s, when the battlefield was discovered and a thorough archaeological survey could be made of the site. Among the items found was the skeleton of a mule and around its neck was a bell that had been stuffed with straw…straw that had presumably been collected from nearby, in order to keep the bell from ringing. It was this find that enabled forensic analysts to give an approximate date of the battle.

In my own book about this battle Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, I state the following…

“It is common knowledge among ancient and military historians that the battle took place in the year 9 AD, but during what time of year? At the excavation of the site, the skeleton of a mule was found with a bell around its neck. The bell had been stuffed with straw, presumably to keep it from making noise. Forensic analysis of the straw showed that it had been cut in late summer or early fall, placing the battle in late September (Peter S. Wells, The Battle that Stopped Rome (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003), 55). So, not only did the battle’s date have a year, but also a month – September of 9 AD. The battle is popularly conceived as being begun on September 9, 9 AD, but this is a date that seems to be chosen at random. Forensic evidence places the battle at late summer/early fall, which would make it fall somewhere in late September, not early September” (Jason R. Abdale, Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, Second Edition. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2016. Page 128.

 

Bibliography

  • “Decisive Battles of History”. Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 5, Issue 93 (January 7, 1871). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871.
  • Abdale, Jason R. Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, Second Edition. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2016.
  • Wells, Peter S. The Battle that Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.
  • Zimmermann, William. A Popular History of Germany, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Volume 1. Translated by Hugh Craig. New York, Henry J. Johnson, 1878.

 

Get your Roman history book for the holidays!

Do you or someone that you know love ancient history, Roman history, or military history? Then you should buy a copy of The Great Illyrian Revolt and Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg. These two histories are just the thing to satisfy your ancient warfare addiction! Both books have received numerous positive reviews on Amazon and elsewhere and have been praised by professional historians. Both books are also on sale just in time for the holiday season, so order your copies today before they run out! You can find these books on Amazon, Barnes, and Noble, Pen & Sword Books, and numerous other book retailer websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My book “The Great Illyrian Revolt” is on sale – order today

Hello everybody. I am happy to report that I have received hundreds of congratulations messages from people all over the world regarding the publication of my latest history book The Great Illyrian Revolt: Rome’s Forgotten War in the Balkans, AD 6-9. This book is available at many major retailers, and to further encourage purchases, the book is on sale! I highly encourage you to take advantage of these offers while you can because I don’t think that they will last for long.

 

March 1 – The Month of Mars

March is the month dedicated to the ancient Roman war god Mars. By now, the weather is warming up, the snows have melted, and you can once again get your armies on the move. March is the month where you, literally, march off to war.

“Come Mars, God of War, lay aside your shield and spear. A moment, from your helmet, free your shining hair. What has a poet to do with Mars, you might ask? The month I sing of takes its name from you” (Ovid, Fasti, book 3, introduction).

Here’s something that you might find interesting: did you know that the woodpecker was a bird sacred to Mars, and Romans were banned by religious law from eating them? Ovid makes mention of the woodpecker as “bird of Mars” as well as alluding to a legend that a woodpecker brought the infantry Romulus and Remus food to eat (Ovid, Fasti, book 3, introduction), and Plutarch explains why the Romans held woodpeckers in such high regard: “It is a courageous and spirited bird and has a beak so strong that it can overturn oaks by pecking them until it has reached the inmost part of the tree” (Plutarch, Roman Questions, #21). Perhaps this is the reason why Roman officers wore those red crests on their helmets!

Many people think of the year beginning on January 1, but this wasn’t always the case. In ancient Rome, the calendar originally began on March 1. However, this was changed in the late Republican period due to problems with mobilizing the army. The Roman Army was not commanded by career military officers, but politicians who performed military service as part of their duties to the State. Elected politicians took their offices on March 1, the beginning of the year, but this gave them precious little time to get the army ready for mobilization when the Spring thaw came. Therefore, the Roman calendar was changed so that it started on January 1, known as “the Calends”, and this gave Rome’s consuls two months to prepare for the Spring offensive. One of the reasons for this shift in the calendar was the trouble that the Romans were having in conducting military operations in Spain, but that’s a story for another day (Rome and the Barbarians, lecture 7 – “Romans and Carthaginians in Spain”; Rome and the Barbarians, lecture 8 – “The Roman Conquest of Spain”).

In many Germanic societies, especially during the Dark Ages, March 1 was the day where the militia had to enroll for another season of military service. This was known as the Marchfeld, or “Mars Field” (this is likely a copy of the ancient Roman Campus Martius “the Field of Mars”, where Roman soldiers trained and were assembled for another year’s military service), and is well-attested in our records of the Frankish kingdom beginning in the 6th Century AD. The Lombards, another Germanic people, appear to have adopted this custom, since we have records dating to the 8th Century of a similar mustering ceremony occurring on March 1 in their kingdom. The Ostrogoths also conducted an annual mustering of warriors (Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900. London: Routledge, 2003. Pages 43 and 82).

Ovid also explains that March 1 marked one of several feast days dedicated to Mars. During Rome’s war against the Sabines, a peace was formed between the two warring sides on this day, due in large part to the pleas and prayers of the women. For this reason, Ovid explains, March 1 was a day in which women honored Mars. Also, marriages were not allowed to take place on this day – it was considered bad luck for a woman to marry on a day dedicated to war, possibly out of the belief that her husband would be killed in battle. As Ovid says, “Girl, if you’d marry, delay, however eager both are. A little delay, at this time, is of great advantage. Weapons excite to war, war’s bad for those married. The omens will be better when weapons are put away” (Ovid, Fasti, book 1, “March 1”).

Sources:

My second book has been published!

Good news. I have received word from my publisher that my second history book The Great Illyrian Revolt has been officially released to the public. Those who reserved orders for it will be receiving their copies in the mail soon. Furthermore, I also see that the book is on sale 20% off. If you want a copy and you want to take advantage of this offer, you can order it directly from the publisher Pen & Sword or you could order it from Amazon. A quick scan through the internet has shown that other book companies are selling it too. If you are into ancient Roman history or military history, or if you know somebody who’s into this, then order a copy right away while the sale offer is still available.

My book “Four Days in September”, 2nd Edition, has been released!

Two years ago, the first edition of my history book Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg was published by Trafford Publishing. Since then, my book has been taken on by a well-known military history publisher based in Britain called Pen & Sword Books. Now, the book’s second edition, which is much more accurate and full of new information that wasn’t available two years ago, has been released. I just received my complimentary author’s copies of the books in the mail today, and I’m happy.

If you or somebody that you know likes ancient Roman history, German history, or military history in general, then order a copy of Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, 2nd Edition today! Available on Amazon!

http://www.amazon.com/Four-Days-September-Battle-Teutoberg/dp/1473860857