Germanicus was born in 15 BC. Of course, they didn’t call it 15 BC. I mean, how could they know Christ would be born in 15 years. Well, he was a commander in the Roman Empire under the rule of the Emperor Tiberius. This was the first transfer of power for the Empire. From Augustus to Tiberius. Germanicus was married to Agrippina who was the granddaughter of Augustus. That was Augustus doing. It was a political marriage. They had a bunch of kids. I’m not sure how he had time for that what with running around the Roman Empire and all, but he did. His family became the most popular family in Rome. They were The Waltons of Rome. Or the Brady Bunch with Roman names. Anyway, he was up for next emperor after Tiberius. He was still young and had plenty of time for that later.
So his real name was Julius Caesar. Not THE Julius Caesar; he was dead. His mother was Antonia, who was the daughter of Mark Antony. Maybe they were sorry about killing Julius Caesar and named him that. Mark Anthony was dead, too. So they called him Germanicus because calling him Julius Caesar was too confusing for everybody .
You might wonder how he was in line for the throne being not directly related. In 4 BC, Augustus adopted his stepson Tiberius. His real sons died somehow, both of them. Yeah, you could adopt a new son and have him rule after you. Then he has Tiberius adopt Germanicus to secure the succession.
Germanicus’ career advanced faster than Barak Obama on a waterslide. He became quaestor at the age of 20. Sounds good, huh? That was nothing. He then proceeded directly to the consulship. His children were public relations gold. They were everywhere. Traveling around with Germanicus and Agripinna. Whenever Augustus had a chance to display them, he did.
Germanicus was in Germany under Tiberius for few years in the single digits AD. I’m not sure what they called the first decade. It was like 2000 to 2010. What do you call it? There is no catchy name. Well, there was plenty to do and Germanicus and Tiberius were doing it. This kept them out of Augustus hair and prepared them for taking over the empire. Germanicus was touring the countryside one minute and back in Rome to do consul stuff the next. He was next in line after Tiberius, you know. Well, Aggripa was in charge of the area. But he had goofed something up and got himself banished. So he were cleaning up his mess or something.
So, Augustus up and dies in 14 AD. The Roman Empire was up in the air now with Tiberius trying to take over while refusing publicly to do so for some reason. Mutinies broke out on the Danube and German frontiers where Germanicus was governor. He was able to end these rebellions. The Roman legions just loved him.
Some rebellious leaders thought maybe Germanicus should be emperor. He knew them. They knew him. They might get some great jobs with Germanicus in power. Soon, they get a bunch of legionnaires chanting Germanicus, Germanicus, Germanicus. He wants none of this and tries to quiet these shouts of allegiance to him by threatening suicide. This does not work at all because several guys who were for Tiberius actually offered their swords for him to use to stab himself.
He comes up with a rather stupid idea. He says, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you guys something. Tiberius sent me a letter that says they are going to give you all the back pay they keep promising.” The reason it was stupid is because Tiberius’ envoys show up without the money and don’t know anything about all this. The soldiers do not like this at all and drag Germanicus out of bed and threatened his wife and son Caligula who were with him. They took the pay issue very serious, those legionnaires.
Germanicus appealed to his men to let him send away his wife and young son. I will stay and work this out with Tiberius to your satisfaction. Well, they liked Agrippina and Caligula a lot. And seeing them so sad had a big effect on the troops. They weren’t even listening to Germanicus, anyway.
Look, Germanicus says, who is really at fault here? It’s the guys that wanted to dump Tiberius. The soldiers agreed that was the start of the trouble. They turned on those who had egged them on and executed some of the rebel leaders on the spot. The soldiers seemed very emotional about things. Germanicus left the whole thing up to them. He did not give any direct orders to kill them. This was genius. He avoided resentment towards himself for killing a favorite commander. Behind the scenes, he did order killing any rebel leaders left over from the revolt while they slept. But best of all, Germanicus made good on the promised back pay from his own pocket. A rather large pocket as prince of the Empire. And this brightened everybody up.
He decided the troops had too much time on their hands. That was why they went for the revolt against Tiberius. So he organizes a move to go and pay back the Chatti who had killed Varus when he tried to squelch their rebellion. Let’s go avenge Varus, he says. He leads 12,000 Roman legionaries plus everybody that hung around with them over the Rhine and surprises the Chatti. This turned into a wild success. Not only did they kick Chatti butt all over the place but they discover Segestes holed up in a castle under siege by Arminius, their leader. He can’t believe what is happening. The whole Roman army is here! I don’t think anyone ever heard from the Chatti after that. This went over big in Rome who didn’t take the Varus failure lightly.
Back in Rome, Tiberius realized that Germanicus was really helping him, and decreed honors upon him. As long as Germanicus wasn’t in Rome taking bows, Tiberius was all for his military triumphs. He says to the people, “My best pal, Germanicus, has brought honor back to Rome. We are going to have the biggest party in history when gets back.”
Germanicus turns to the eastern part of the empire. He got a great fleet of a thousand ships to navigate their way to the Zuyderzee without mishap. This was new for Romans. They stayed in the ground and marched. Unfortunately, the return journey was not quite so good. Violent storms wrecked some ships. Germanicus was able to turn this disaster around by sending out boats to rescue all survivors.
Finally, Tiberius wanted him to return to Rome for all those honors he had been giving him. Germanicus returned to Rome as the man of the hour. The Triumph of Germanicus took place in the beautiful month of May in 17 AD with his children riding with him in the parade. It may have been the biggest party in history up to that point. It looked like a long and stable future for the Roman Empire.
Tiberius decides to go further. Seeing he can trust Germanicus not to overthrow him, in 18 AD, he makes Germanicus nearly equal with himself. He gives him a big chunk of the Empire to rule. Tiberius gave him “maius imperium”, a supreme authority over all territory east of the Adriatic. This supersedes all the governors. TIberia had give him something to do that fit his status as the intended heir. And it got him out of Rome as well. Germanicus was just too popular to keep around.
Germanicus started for Antioch, Syria as his new headquarters. But first, a grand tour of the eastern Mediterranean, stopping at Actium, Athens and Troy, although Troy had been destroyed by the Romans and was ruins. No problem, says Germanicus, these are ruins of the Greeks when we beat them and took over.
Once ensconced in Syria, Germanicus came into conflict with Piso, the local governor. He did not like this upstart taking over. Worse yet, Germanicus, on Tiberius orders, went to Armenia where he crowned Artaxias as the first Roman governor of the new province of Cappadoccia. Piso was really pissed. Nobody could even remember his name anymore.
Germanicus decided to go to Egypt because he heard there was a famine in the area. But he still had time to do sightseeing tour of its renowned ancient sites. Germanicus was warmly received and he made himself even more popular with the natives by lowering the price of grain and opening the doors of the grain storehouses himself. Unfortunately, Tiberius thought he had gone too far in this. These were imperial regulations he had altered on the fly. I mean Egypt was the granary of the Empire and now he had upstaged Tiberius.
Before Tiberius can reprimand him, Germanicus returns to Syria and finds Piso had undone all the arrangements which he had made before he left. Germanicus renounced his amicitia (friendship) with Piso and banished him from his company. He did not take away his job away. He just said I don’t want you and me to ever be in the same city, Piso. Well, Piso claimed that Germanicus kicked him out and banished him and called him a lot of bad names. He goes off to some island to lick his wounds and wait for an opportunity to make a comeback.
Sadly, for everyone except Piso, Germanicus got sick, really sick. Some said Piso had cursed him using black magic. Others suspected poison. With all these rumors swirling, Germanicus dies in Antioch in October, 19 AD. Eulogies are prepared. Some compare him to Alexander the Great, who had died at the same age, and before he could benefit from his conquests. His aides in Syria appoint Saturninus as the new governor to fill the post that had been abandoned by Piso, who is nowhere to be found.
Piso tried to make his comeback by claiming that Germanicus had illegally forced him out of the province because he was the only one strong enough to stop Germanicus from attempting a coup against Tiberius. He shows up with his own army! This was not what anyone wanted. They all kept saying “Piso Who?” He ended up in a castle with his own men ready to kill him. Romans showed up and took him to Rome to stand trial for treason.
Dead, perhaps even martyred, Germanicus had a remarkable influence in Roman politics. For next fifty years, everyone kept thinking about how great he had been. It was like John Kennedy or maybe Robert Kennedy. What might have been? No one could forget him. His son ended up becoming emperor (Caligula), and another relative after that (Claudius). And Nero was his grandson. The empire was not going well with Nero and fell into civil war after that. The leaders had so much power and wealth, they turned Rome into one big Party Town. People went from one thing to the next. There were no limits. And everyone harked back to the good old days when Germanicus was holding it all together and Tiberius was in charge. “Let’s drink another toast to Tiberius!” “Don’t forget Germanicus!” “I wouldn’t dream of it. Another round to remember Germanicus!” The wine flowed in the streets and entertainment was constant. Except the outlying places were getting restless and civil war became all too real. Guys kept showing up and claiming to be the new emperor. But the Romans didn’t even care until the fighting came to the city itself. Yes, the Empire was falling apart.
Story Contains Excerpts from Martini Fisher
from 15 BC – 19 AD
Life of Roman general Germanicus.
Germanicus is made quaestor.
Germanicus is made consul.
Germanicus leads 12,000 men across the Rhine to attack the Chatti. He gains military victories against rebellious provinces of Rome.
Tiberius grants Germanicus a Triumph for his military victories.
Germanicus appears in Rome with military honors and then goes on a tour of the Empire with his wife Agrippina.
Germanicus is given part of the Empire by Tiberius. Germanicus sets up in Antioch and eventually runs afoul of local governor, Piso.
Germanicus goes to Egypt
On his return, he falls sick and dies tragically at Antioch, age 30.