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Editor’s Note37

This same peninsula of Germany is occupied, nearest to the Ocean, by the Cimbri, now a small state, although their renown is enormous. Widespread traces of their ancient fame survive, vast encampments on both sides of the river-boundary [of the Rhine], by the size of which one can still gauge the strength and numbers of the people and the truth of that great exodus.

Our city was in her 640th year when the alarm of the Cimbrian arms was first heard, the consuls being Caecilius Metellus and Papirius Carbo [113 bc]. If we reckon from that year to the second consulship of the emperor Trajan [ad 98], the total is about two hundred and ten years. For all this time have we been conquering Germany. During this long period there have been great losses on each side. Neither the Samnites nor the Carthaginians nor Spain nor Gaul nor even the Parthians have taught us more frequent lessons. The freedom of the Germans does indeed show more aggression than the despotism of the Arsacids. After all, what else can the East taunt us with except the slaughter of Crassus, the East which itself lost Pacorus and was cast down beneath the feet of Ventidius? But the Germans routed or captured Carbo and Cassius and Scaurus Aurelius and Servilius Caepio and Maximus Mallius and robbed the Roman people at a stroke of five consular armies—and Caesar [Augustus] himself of Varus and three legions with him. Nor was it without loss that Gaius Marius smote them in Italy, the Deified Julius in Gaul, Drusus and Nero [Tiberius] and Germanicus in their own country. Later, the grandiloquent threats of Gaius Caesar [Caligula] made him a laughing-stock. Peace then prevailed until, taking advantage of our dissensions and the Civil Wars, they stormed the legions' winter quarters and even aspired to win over the Gallic provinces before being once more driven back.

pg 57In recent times, certainly, they have been the objects of triumphs rather than victories.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
37 the Cimbri, now a small state, although their renown is enormous: Tacitus is unable or unwilling to give any more details about this people, based in the Jutland peninsula, the first Germans with whom Rome had come into conflict. Nor does he mention their main allies in this invasion, the Teutoni or Teutones, who also inhabited Jutland (Mela 3. 32). The remains of the Cimbri were discovered by Tiberius' fleet in ad 5, and petitioned for Rome's and the emperor's friendship, as Augustus proudly registered in his Res Gestae, 26. 4, where he also names the Charydes (Harudes) and Semnones (on the latter cf. n. on ch. 39 below).
Editor’s Note
vast encampments … by the size of which one can still gauge: 'still' suggests a recent eyewitness. Tacitus might have seen them himself, but probably relied on the Elder Pliny. Presumably the Celtic hill-forts in the Rhineland and adjacent areas, some extremely large, e.g. the Glauberg on the edge of the Wetterau, seat of a La Tène prince in the fifth century bc, and half a kilometre (550 yards) long, were attributed to the Cimbri.
Editor’s Note
Our city was in her 640th year: 113 bc, reckoned from what became the 'canonical' date, 21 April 753 bc, for the foundation by Romulus.
Editor’s Note
the second consulship of the emperor Trajan: i.e. ad 98. Trajan, already Caesar and adopted son of Nerva, opened the year as consul with him. When Nerva died on 27 January, Trajan became emperor, officially the next day.
Editor’s Note
For all this time have we been conquering Germany: 'conquering' is clearly intended in a sarcastic sense, with particular reference to Domitian's claims. Neither the Samnites nor the Carthaginians nor Spain nor Gaul nor even the Parthians have taught us more frequent lessons: the Samnites of the southern Apennines fought three wars against Rome in the fourth and third centuries bc, inflicting many defeats, notably at the Caudine Forks (321). Of the three 'Punic Wars' between Rome and Carthage, 264–241, 218–202, and 149–146 bc, which ended in Carthage's destruction, the second, Hannibalic war was particularly damaging. Rome took two hundred years to subdue the Iberian peninsula (218–19 bc), with severe losses in the 'Fiery War' (154–133), including the disaster of Numantia, 137. (Tacitus actually writes 'the Spains' and 'the Gauls', plural—both referring to the lands rather than the people, i.e. 'Galliae' not 'Galli'—because both countries were divided into several provinces.) The best-known disaster inflicted by the Gauls was the sack of Rome itself c.386 bc by Brennus. Rome fought several wars against the Parthians after the disaster incurred by Crassus: cf. below on him, also on Pacorus, and Ventidius.
Editor’s Note
The freedom of the Germans does indeed show more aggression than the despotism of the Arsacids: Although some German peoples had kings, these were less despotic than eastern monarchs (cf. n. on Their kings in ch. 7 above, and on the Gotones in ch. 44 below). This was a prophetic comment: the Arsacids were the reigning dynasty of Parthia, which indeed was to last only until ad 226, whereas the 'free Germans' went on to overthrow the Roman empire in the west. Tacitus' point is the contrast between freedom and slavery: the subjects of the Parthian king are in effect slaves, hence docile, the Germans, by contrast, being free men (cf. e.g. on an aspect of this 'freedom' ch. 11 above) are more aggressive (for this meaning, Lund, 208).
Editor’s Note
Crassus: Marcus Licinius Crassus, consul 70 and 55 bc, ally and rival of Pompey and Caesar, set out to conquer Parthia but was killed at Carrhae in 53, losing several legionary standards in one of Rome's worst reverses. The Parthians invaded Roman territory in 41–40 bc, led by the renegade Roman Quintus Labienus.
Editor’s Note
Pacorus: the favourite son of the Parthian king, who controlled part of the Roman east for two years with Labienus (see n. immediately above), but was defeated and killed in 39 bc.
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Ventidius: the humbly born general Publius Ventidius had served in Gaul with Caesar, was made consul in 43 bc by the Triumvirs, and then given command against the Parthians, whom he crushed in 38 at Mount Gindarus. He celebrated a triumph over the Parthians, the only Roman to have done so at the time Tacitus was writing. Tacitus implies that to have been defeated by a man of Ventidius' origins was humiliating for the Parthians. Augustus regained the lost standards by diplomacy in 20 bc. The long war under Nero, led by Corbulo, resulted in a compromise settlement, which lasted until Trajan's attempted conquest, ad 114–17, initially successful but ultimately a disastrous failure.
Editor’s Note
Carbo: Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, consul 113 bc, defeated by the Cimbri at Noreia (in modern Carinthia).
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Cassius: Lucius Cassius Longinus, consul 107 bc, defeated and killed by the Tigurini, allies of the Cimbri, at Tolosa (Toulouse).
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Scaurus Aurelius: Marcus Aurelius Scaurus. Tacitus has inverted his two main names, an archaizing fashion, as with Mallius, below, for variation. Scaurus had been consul in 108 and in 105 bc served as legate under one of the consuls of that year, Mallius, and alongside the proconsul Caepio.
Editor’s Note
Servilius Caepio: Quintus Servilius Caepio had been consul in 106 bc. As proconsul he failed to co-operate with the consul Mallius.
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Maximus Mallius: his normal style was Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, cf. above on Scaurus Aurelius. The quarrel between Caepio and Mallius contributed to the disaster of 105 bc at the battle of Arausio (Orange) against the Cimbri, at which the legate Scaurus (above) was killed. Caepio was later convicted and sent into exile for stealing the Gallic treasure from Tolosa (Toulouse) the previous year.
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five consular armies: although the five generals had all been consul, only three were consuls commanding consular armies when they were defeated; Caepio was proconsul, Scaurus only a legate.
Editor’s Note
Varus: consul in 13 bc and son-in-law of Agrippa, Publius Quinctilius Varus had governed Africa and Syria before commanding in Germany. In ad 9 he and his army were trapped by the Cheruscan Arminius (cf. n. on the Cherusci, ch. 36 above), long a trusted commander of native troops, who suddenly switched loyalty. The Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth legions were destroyed in marshy land near Osnabrück: the battlefield has at last been identified through extensive finds of Roman equipment and coins at Kalkriese, Germania, 70 (1992), 307 ff. Varus, who committed suicide, was made the scapegoat for this disaster, which resulted in Rome's abandonment of Germany between Rhine and Elbe, cf. Agr. 15—the rebellious Britons know that the Gemans had liberated themselves—and ch. 41 below, Tacitus' comment on 'the Elbe, a river that was famous …' with accompanying note.
Editor’s Note
37 Gaius Marius: consul each year 104–100 bc; defeated the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) in Gaul in 102 bc and the Cimbri at Vercellae (near Rovigo) in northern Italy the next year. No Germans invaded the Italian peninsula again until c. ad 170 (the Marcomannic Wars).
Editor’s Note
the Deified Julius in Gaul: this refers particularly to his victory over the Suebian Germans under Ariovistus in 58 bc, Caesar, BG 1. 30 ff.
Editor’s Note
Drusus and Nero [Tiberius] and Germanicus in their own country: Drusus, younger stepson of Augustus, campaigned beyond the Rhine for four years, 12–9 bc, reaching the Elbe, but died in the latter year after a fall from his horse. He was posthumously given the name Germanicus, 'conqueror of the Germans', assumed by his sons and descendants. Cf. also n. on Drusus Germanicus, ch. 34 above. Drusus' elder brother Tiberius, by his full names Tiberius Claudius Nero, was often called 'Nero', as here, before his adoption by Augustus (ad 4), when he became Tiberius Julius Caesar. Tiberius was transferred from his command in the Balkans to take over Drusus' role in Germany. He campaigned there in 8–7 bc, again in ad 4–6, and finally, to restore Roman credit after the Varian disaster, from 10 to 13: Syme, RP iii. (1984), 1200 ff. Germanicus, Drusus' elder son, served under Tiberius in ad 13, and took command from 14 until recalled in 16. Tacitus has full details on ad 14–16 in Ann. 1 and 2.
Editor’s Note
the grandiloquent threats of Gaius Caesar: cf. n. on Gaius Caesar in Agr. 13, on Caligula's apparent plan to invade Britain as well, on his northern expedition, begun in ad 39 but suddenly aborted the following spring.
Editor’s Note
our dissensions and the Civil Wars: the downfall of Nero in ad 68, which began with an uprising in Gaul, and the confused events that followed, and the Civil Wars of 69, the 'Year of the Four Emperors'. The Batavians and other peoples in the Rhineland and close by launched a major uprising in 69, at first ostensibly against Vitellius, not suppressed until late in 70. Cf. Introduction (pp. xv f.) and n. on ch. 28, Even the Ubii …, and on ch. 29, Batavians.
Editor’s Note
In recent times, certainly, they have been the objects of triumphs rather than victories: a sarcastic reference to Domitian's two triumphs over the Germans, of ad 83—on which Agr. 39 has an even fuller and more hostile comment (and cf. Ger. 30 with n. on Beyond them … the territory of the Chatti begins)—and of ad 89.
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