"...the recovery of the Varian Eagles, under the conduct of Germanicus, under the auspices of Tiberius." - Germanicus Julius Caesar, his life and times.
“And what thoughts or memories, would you guess, were passing through my mind on this extraordinary occasion? Was I thinking of the Sibyl's prophecy, of the omen of the wolf-cub, of Pollio's advice, or of Briseis's dream? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my three Imperial predecessors, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, their lives and deaths? Of the great danger I was still in from the conspirators, and from the Senate, and from the Gaurds battalions at the Camp? Of Messalina and our unborn child? Of my grandmother Livia and my promise to deify her if I ever became Emperor? Of Postumus and Germanicus? Of Agrippina and Nero? Of Camilla? No, you would never guess what was passing through my mind.“ (Robert Graves, “I, Claudius“)
A basalt bust of Germanicus, between 14 and 20 CE,
now at the British Museum
|The early Julio-Claudian brood on Augustus’ Ara Pacis. Germanicus is the mid-sized boy who grabbed Augustus’ coat in the centre|
|Benjamin West’s (1738 – 1820) idea of Germanicus’ wife Agrippina arriving with her husband’s ashes in Brindisi, c. 1768|
Germanicus’ triumph in Rome in May 17 CE was a major propaganda show that belied the fact that Rome had achieved virtually nothing during the campaign beyond the Rhine. Tiberius wisely decided to let the Germanics fight out their tribal wars among themselves and deal with what was left. The iron curtain went down on the left bank of the Rhine and Germanicus was ordered to the Near East. Tiberius, however, viewed the popularity his nephew enjoyed, with at least some mistrust. Germanicus was indeed celebrated as the best thing that happened to Rome’s military might since Julius Caesar himself, justifiably so or not and whatever Tiberius’ own plans were, a latter day Alexander the Great, epitomised by his nephew and nominated successor, did not exactly fit into it. Meanwhile, having arrived in Egypt and Syria, Germanicus already acted the big shot and finally overstepped his authorities as military officer when he overruled local arrangements made by the Roman governor of Syria, one Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. And then the hero lay down and died in Antioch, Syria’s provincial capital, at the age of 34. The cause and circumstances were never cleared up, Germanicus might have been poisoned by agents of a jealous Tiberius, by an offended Piso or maybe the Syrian governor acted on orders of the emperor. In the nest of serpents that was the Julio-Claudian dynasty, everything seems at least possible. Even the idea that his own son Gaius, the later emperor Caligula, then seven years old, put a curse on him in a Freudian moment of a parricide wish à la “I, Claudius”.
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