Marbod, afterwards king of the Marcomanni, or men of the Mark (maerc) or border, or, according to another etymology, the Marsh land, was by birth a Suevian.
He was born about B. C. 18, of a noble family in his tribe, and was sent in his boyhood with other hostages to Rome, where he attracted the notice of Augustus, and received a liberal education. Maroboduus seems early to have discerned the relative position of his countrymen and the Romans. The Germans were brave, numerous and enterprising, but weakened by internal feuds, and impatient of government and discipline.
Before they could effectually resist or assail the Roman empire they needed the restraints of laws and of fixed property in land.
At what time Maroboduus returned to his own country is uncertain, but probably soon after he attained manhood, since he died at the age of 53, the last eighteen years of his life were spent in exile, and his kingdom, when it awakened the jealousy of Rome, was the work of long and systematic preparation. Crossing the Erzgebirge at the head of at least one branch of the Suevians, Maroboduus expelled, or more probably subdued, the Boians, a Celtic race, who inhabited Bohemia and part of Bavaria.
The kingdom which Maroboduus established amid the woods and morasses of central Germany extended, through immediate invasion or gradual encroachments, along the north bank of the Danube, from Regensberg nearly to the borders of Hungary, and stretched far inco the interior. Its southern frontier was not more than 200 miles from Italy itself, and the half-subdued provinces of Pannonia and Noricum might either become useful allies, or at least divert the attention of the Caesars from the peaceful growth or the hostile preparations of the Marcomannic state. Its capital was Boviasmum, and Maroboduus maintained his regal dignity by a regular force of 70,000 foot and 4000 horse, armed and disciplined after the Roman manner, and while he provided for independence or aggression he carefully cultivated the arts of peace. The Romans believed, or affected to believe, that Maroboduus chose this remote seat of empire from dread of their arms.
But policy rather than fear probably directed his choice, for if Rome was to be assailed, leisure and security for many years were needful to prepare the Germans for the assault. In A. D. 7, however, his designs, or the strength of the Marcomannic kingdom aroused the jealousy of Augustus.
The existence of a free and powerful state was a dangerous spectacle for the subjects of Rome; the disunion of the Teutonic tribes was the security of the empire; and even if Maroboduus was not personally hostile, he was forming a centre of union and a model of polity for the Germanic race. Maroboduus had also touched the pride as well as the fears of Rome.
He gave refuge to its discontented subjects; his ambassadors did not always address Augustus as a superior, and if their language was respectful, their demands were frequently arrogant.
The operations against Maroboduus were on a wider scale than had hitherto been adopted against the German tribes. Tiberius was directed to cross the Danube at Carnuntum, near the modern Presburg, the eastern extremity of the Marcomannic kingdom ;. Sentius Saturninus was to lead his forces across the country of the Chatti, and, cutting his way through the Hercynian forest, to join Tiberius on the north bank of the Danube, and both were to make a combined attack within a few leagues from the Marcomannic capital Boviassmum.
A general revolt of the Cis-Danubian provinces rescued Maroboduus, and Tiberius had the address or the good fortune to persuade him to remain neutral during the Pannonian and Dalmatic war. Maroboduus did not avail himself of the distress of Rome after the disaster of Quintilius Varus, A. D. 9, and marked his friendship for Augustus on that occasion by redeeming from his murderers the head of the unfortunate general and sending it for sepulture to Rome. Eight years later (A. D. 17) the disunion which so long paralysed the Teutonic races in their struggle with Rome effected the ruin of the Marcomannic kingdom.
The policy of Maroboduus, ill-understood by his countrymen, appeared to them, or may have really degenerated into despotism. The Cheruscans under Arminius [ARMINIUS] prepared to attack; the Semnones and Longobards, Suevian clans, revolted from him.
The jealousy between Arminius and his uncle Inguiomerus [INGUIOMERUS], who embraced the Marcomannic alliance, delayed but could not avert the storm, and Maroboduus, defeated in action, sought the aid of Rome. In A. D. 19 he had again become formidable, and Drtusus prepared to invade him, when Cattualda [CATUALDA], a chief of the Gothones, whom Maroboduus had driven into exile, led a detachment through the Bohemian passes into the heart of Maroboduus's kingdom.
As his last resource the Marcomannic king became a suppliant, although a lofty and royal one in his tone, to Tiberius.
The emperor assured him of shelter, so long as he needed it, in Italy, and of a free return beyond the Alps when refuge was no longer needful. Maroboduus passed the remainder of his life, eighteen years, at Ravenna. His name was sometimes employed to keep the Suevians in awe, but Tiberius warily guarded a captive whom, before the senate, he compared to Pyrrhus and Antiochus.
By his inactivity during the Pannonian war, A. D. 7-9, Maroboduus let slip the opportunity of raising Germany against Rome, and his resignation to an obscure and protracted life in exile lost him the esteem of his own countrymen.
He died at the age of 53 years, A. D. 35. (Strab. vii. p.290
; Tac. Ann. 2.44
; Vell. 2.108
; Suet. Tib. 37