Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Tacitus.

On nearing the camp at Bonn, the Batavians sent forward a 20 messenger to explain their intentions to Herennius Gallus.  Against the Romans, for whom they had fought so often, they had no wish to make war:  but they were worn out after a long and unprofitable term of service and wanted to go home and rest.  If no one opposed them they would march peaceably by; but if hostility was offered they would find a passage at the point of the sword.  Gallus hesitated, but his men induced him to risk an engagement.  Three thousand legionaries, some hastily recruited Belgic auxiliaries, and a mob of peasants and camp-followers, who were as cowardly in action as they were boastful before it, came pouring out simultaneously from all the gates, hoping with their superior numbers to surround the Batavians.  But these were experienced veterans.  They formed up into columns[298] in deep formation that defied assault on front, flank, or rear.  They thus pierced our thinner line.  The Belgae giving way, the legion was driven back and ran in terror to reach the trench and the gates of the camp.  It was there that we suffered the heaviest losses.  The trenches were filled with dead, who were not all killed by the blows of the enemy, for many were stifled in the press or perished on each other’s swords.  The victorious cohorts avoided Cologne and marched on without attempting any further hostilities.  For the battle at Bonn they continued to excuse themselves.  They had asked for peace, they said, and when peace was persistently refused, had merely acted in self-defence.


    [288] V Alaudae and XV Primigenia, both depleted.

    [289] At Vetera.

    [290] Waal.

    [291] They lived round their chief town, known since A.D. 50
          as Colonia Agrippinensis, now Cologne (cp. i. 56, note 106).

    [292] See chap. 16.

    [293] This was a German custom.  We read in the Germania that
          in battle ’they keep their dearest close at hand, where the
          women’s cries and the wailing of their babies can be heard’.

    [294] This means, of course, simply The Old Camp, but, as
          Tacitus treats Vetera as a proper name, it has been kept in
          the translation.  It was probably on the Rhine near Xanten and
          Fuerstenberg, some sixty-six miles north of Cologne.

    [295] Cp. i. 59; ii. 97; iv. 15.

    [296] Who got better pay for lighter service.

    [297] i.e. at Mainz, Bonn, Novaesium and Vetera.

    [298] See note 283.


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Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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