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11. NERO CLAUDIUS DRUSUS (commonly called by the moderns Drusus Senior, to distinguish him from his nephew, the son of Tiberius), had originally the praenomen Decimus, which was afterwards exchanged for Nero; and, after his death, received the honourable agnomen Germanicus, which is appended to his name on coins. Hence care should be taken not to confound him with the celebrated Germanicus, his son. His parents were Livia Drusilla (afterwards Julia Augusta) and Tiberius Claudius Nero, and through both of them he inherited the noble blood of the Claudii, who had never yet admitted an adoption into their gens. From the adoption of his maternal grandfather [No. 7] by a Livius Drusus, he became legally one of the representatives of another illustrious race. He was a younger brother of Tiberius Nero, who was afterwards emperor. Augustus, having fallen in love with his mother, procured a divorce between her and her husband, and married her himself. Drusus was born in the house of Augustus three months after this marriage, in B. C. 38, and a suspicion prevailed that Augustus was more than a step-father. Hence the satirical verse was often in men's mouths,
Τοῖς εὐτυχοῦσι καὶ τρίμηνα παιδία

Augustus took up the boy, and sent him to Nero his father, who soon after died, having appointed Augustus guardian to Tiberius and Drusus. (D. C. 48.44; Vell. 2.62; Suet. Aug. 62, Claud. 1; Prudentius, de Simulacro Liviae.

Drusus, as he grew up, was more liked by the people than was his brother. He was free from dark reserve, and in him the character of the Claudian race assumed its most attractive, as in Tiberius its most odious, type. In everything he did, there was an air of high breeding, and the noble courtesy of his manners was set off by singular beauty of person and dignity of form. He possessed in a high degree the winning quality of always exhibiting to wards his friends an even and consistent demeanour, without capricious alternations of familiarity and distance, and he seemed adapted by nature to sustain the character of a prince and statesman. (Tac. Ann. 6.51; Vell. 4.97.) It was known that he had a desire to see the commonwealth restored, and the people cherished the hope that he would live to give them back their ancient liberties. (Suet. Cl. 1; Tac. Ann. 1.33.) He wrote a letter to his brother, in which he broached the notion of compelling Augustus to resign the empire; and this letter was betrayed by Tiberius to Augustus (Suet. Tib. 50.) But notwithstanding this indication that the affection of Tiberius was either a hollow pretence, or yielded to his sense of duty to Augustus, the brothers maintained during their lives an appearance, at least, of fraternal tenderness, which, according to Valerius Maximus (5.5.3), had only one parallel--the friendship of Castor and Pollux ! In the domestic relations of life, the conduct of Drusus was exemplary. He married the beautiful and illustrious Antonia, a daughter--and, according to the preponderance of authority [ANTONIA, No. 5], the younger daughter--of M. Antonius the triumvir by Octavia, the sister of Augustus. Their mutual attachment was unusually great, and the unsullied fidelity of Drusus to the marriage-bed became a theme of popular admiration and applause in a profligate age. It is finely referred to by Pedo Albinovanus in his beautiful poem upon the death of Drusus:

Tu concessus amor, tu solus et ultimus illi,
Tu requies fesso grata laboris eras.

He must have been young when he married; for, though he died at the age of thirty, he had several children who died before him, besides the three, Germanicus, Livia, and Claudius, who survived their father.

He began public life early. In B. C. 19, he obtained permission, by a decree of the senate, to fill all magistracies five years before the regular time. (D. C. 54.10.) In the beginning of B. C. 16, we find him presiding with his brother at a gladiatorial show; and when Augustus, upon his departure for Gaul, took Tiberius, who was then praetor, along with him, Drusus was left in the city to discharge, in his brother's place, the important duties of that office. (D. C. 54.19.) In the following year he was made quaestor, and sent against the Rhaetians, who were accused of having committed depredations upon Roman travellers and allies of the Romans. The mountainous parts of the country were inhabited by banditti, who levied contributions from the peaceful cultivators of the plains, and plundered all who did not purchase freedom from attack by special agreement. Every chance male who fell into their hands was murdered. Drusus attacked and routed them near the Tridentine Alps, as they were about to make a foray into Italy. His victory was not decisive, but he obtained praetorian honours as his reward. The Rhaetians, after being repulsed from Italy, continued to infest the frontier of Gaul. Tiberius was then despatched to join Drusus, and the brothers jointly defeated some of the tribes of the Rhaeti and Vindelici, while others submitted without resistance. A tribute was imposed upon the country. The greater part of the population was carried off, while enough were left to till the soil without being able to rebel. (D. C. 54.22 ; Strab. iv. fin.; Florus, 4.12.) These exploits of the young step-sons of Augustus are the theme of a spirited ode of Horace. (Carm. 4.4, ib. 14.)

On the return of Augustus to Rome from Gaul, ill B. C. 13, Drusus was sent into that province, which had been driven into revolt by the exaction of the Roman governor, Licinius, who, in order to increase the amount of the monthly tribute, had divided the year into fourteen months. Drusus made a new assessment of property for the purpose of taxation, and in B. C. 12 quelled the tumults which had been occasioned by his financial measures. (Liv. Epit. cxxxvi. cxxxvii.) The Sicambri and their allies, under pretence of attending an annual festival held at Lyons at the altar of Augustus, had fomented the disaffection of the Gallic chieftains. In the tumults which ensued, their troops had crossed the Rhine. Drusus now drove them back into the Batavian island, and pursued them in their own territory, laying waste the greater part of their country. He then followed the course of the Rhine, sailed to the ocean, subdued the Frisians, laid upon them a moderate tribute of beeves-hides, and passed by shallows into the territory of the Chauci, where his vessels grounded upon the ebbing of the tide. From this danger he was rescued by the friendly assistance of the Frisians. Winter now approached. He returned to Rome, and in B. C. 11 was made praetor urbanus.

Drusus was the first Roman general who penetrated to the German ocean. It is probable that he united the military design of reconnoitering the coast with the spirit of adventure and scientific discovery. (Tac. Germ. 34.) From the migratory character of the tribes he subdued, it is not easy to fix their locality with precision; and the difficulty of geographical exactness is increased by the alterations which time and the elements have made in the face of the country. Mannert and others identify the Dollart with the place where the fleet of Drusus went ashore; but the Dollart first assumed its present form in A. D. 1277; and Wilhelm (Feldzüge der Nero Claudius Drusus im Nördlichen Teutschland) makes the Jahde, westward of the mouth of the Weser, the scene of this misadventure. It is by no means certain by what course Drusus reached the ocean, although it is the general opinion that he had already constructed a canal uniting the eastern arm of the Rhine with the Yssel, and so had opened himself a way by the Zuydersee. This opinion is confirmed by a passage in Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 2.8), where Germanicus, upon entering the Fossa Drusiana, prays for the protection of his father, who had gone the same way before him, and then sails by the Zuydersee (Lacus Flevus) to the ocean, up to the mouth of the Ems (Amisia). To this expedition of Drusus may perhaps be referred the naval battle in the Ems mentioned by Strabo (vii. init.), in which the Bructeri were defeated, and the subjugation of the islands on the coast, especially Byrchamis (Borkum). (Strab. 7.34; Plin. Nat. 4.13.) Ferdinand Wachter (Ersch und Gruber's Encyclopädie, s. v. Drusus) thinks, that the canal of Drusus must have been too great'a work to be completed at so early a period, and that Drusus could not have had time to run up the Ems. He supposes, that Drusus sailed to the ocean by one of the natural channels of the river, and that the inconvenience he experienced and the geographical knowledge he gained led him to avail himself of the capabilities afforded by the Lacus Flevus for a safer junction with the ocean; that his works on the Rhine were probably begun in this campaign, and were not finished until some years afterwards. The precise nature of those works cannot now be determined. They appear to have consisted not only of a canal (fossa), but of a dyke or mound (ayger, moles) across the Rhine. Suetonius seems to use even the word fossae in the sense of a mound, not a canal. " Trans Tiberim fossas novi et immensi operis effecit, quae nunc adhuc Drusinae vocantur." (Claud. i.) Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 13.53) says, that Paullinus Pompeius, in A. D. 58, completed the agger coercendo Rheno which had been begun by Drusus sixty-three years before; and afterwards relates that Civilis, by destroying the moles formed by Drusus, allowed the waters of the Rhine to rush down and inundate the side of Gaul. (Hist. 5.19.) The most probable opinion seems to be, that Drusus dug a canal from the Rhine near Arnheim to the Yssel, near Doesberg (which bears a trace of his name), and that he also widened the bed of the narrow outlet which at that time connected the Lacus Flevus with the ocean. These were his fossae. With regard to his agger or moles, it is supposed that he partly dammed up the south-western arm of the Rhine (the Vahalis or Waal), in order to allow more water to flow into the north-eastern arm, upon which his canal was situated. But this hypothesis as to the situation of the dyke is very doubtful. Some modern authors hold that the Yssel ran into the Rhine, and did not run into the Zuydersee, and that the chief work of Drusus consisted in connecting the Yssel with a river that ran from Zutphen into the Zuydersee.

He did not tarry long at Rome. On the commencement of spring he returned to Germany, subdued the Usipetes, built a bridge over the Lippe, invaded the country of the Sicambri, and passed on through the territory of the Cherusci as far as the Visurgis (Weser). This he was able to effect from meeting with no opposition from the Sicambri, who were engaged with all their forces in fighting against the Chatti. He would have gone on to cross the Weser had he not been deterred (such were the ostensible reasons) by scarcity of provisions, the approach of winter, and the evil omen of a swarm of bees which settled upon the lances in front of the tent of the praefectus castrorum. (Jul. Obsequens, 1.132.) Ptolemy (2.11) mentions the τρόπαια Δρούσου, which, to judge from the longitude and latitude he assigns to them (viz. long. 33°. 45'. lat. 52°. 45'.), were probably erected on the spot where the army reached the Weser. No doubt Drusus found it prudent to retreat. In retiring, he was often in danger from the stratagems of the enemy, and once was nearly shut up in a dangerous pass near Arbalo, and narrowly escaped perishing with his whole army. But the careless bravery of the Germans saved him. His enemies had already by anticipation divided the spoil. The Cherusci chose the horses, the Suevi the gold and silver, and the Sicambri the prisoners. Thinking that the Romans were as good as taken, after immolating twenty Roman centurions as a preparatory sacrifice, they rushed on without order, and were repulsed. It was now they, and their horses, and sheep, and neck-chains (torques), that were sold by Drusus. Henceforward they confined themselves to distant attacks. (D. C. 54.20; Florus, 4.12; Plin. Nat. 11.18.) Drusus had breathing time to build two castles, one at the confluence of the Luppia and the Aliso, and the other near the country of the Chatti on the Rhine. The latter is probably the modern Cassel over against Mayence. The former is thought by some who identify the Aliso with the Alm, to be the modern Elsen Neuhaus in the district of Paderborn; by others, who identify the Aliso with the Lise, to be Lisborn near Lippstadt in the district of Miinster. Drusus now returned to Rome with the reputation of having conquered several tribes beyond the Rhine (Liv. Epit. cxxxviii.), and received as his reward a vote of the senate granting him an ovation with the insignia of a triumph, and decreeing that at the end of his praetorship he should have proconsular authority. But Augustus would not allow him to bear the title of imperator, which had been conferred upon him by the army in the field.

In the next year, B. C. 10, Drusus was again at his post. The Chatti left the territory which had been assigned to them by the Romans. After having long refused to become allies of the Sicambri, they now consented to join that powerful people; but their united forces were not a match for Drusus. Some of the Chatti he subdued; others he could do no more than harass and annoy. He attacked the Nervii, who were headed by Senectius and Anectius (Liv. Epit. cxxxix); and it was probably in this campaign that he built a castle upon the Taunus. (Tac. Ann. 1.56.) He then returned to Rome with Augustus and Tiberius, who had been in Lugdunensian Gaul, watching the result of the war in Germany, and upon his arrival he was elected to the consulship, which was to commence on the Kalends of January, B. C. 9. Drusus could not rest in peace at Rome. To worry and subjugate the Germans appeared to be the main object of his life. Without waiting for the actual commencement of his consulship (Pedo Albin. 1. 139) he returned to the scene of battle, undeterred by evil forebodings, of which there was no lack. There had been horrible storms and inundations in the winter months, and the lightning had struck three temples at Rome. (Ib. 1. 401; Dio Cass. lv.) He attacked the Chatti, won a hard-fought battle, penetrated to the country of the Suevi, gave the Marcomanni (who were a portion of the Suevi) a signal defeat, and with the arms taken as spoil erected a mound as a trophy. It was now perhaps that he gave the Suevi Vannius as their king. (Tac. Ann. 12.29.) He then turned his forces against the Cherusci, crossed the Weser (?), and carried all before him to the Elbe. (Messalla Corvin. de Aug. Prog. 39; Ped. Albin. 50.17, 113; Aur. Vict. Epit. i.; Orosius, 4.21.) The course that Drusus took on his way to the Elbe cannot be determined. Florus (4.12) speaks of his making roads through (patefecit) the Hercynian forest, and Wilhelm (Feldzüge, &c. p. 50) thinks that he advanced through Thuringia. Drusus endeavoured in vain to cross the Elbe. (Dio Cass. iv. init.; Eutrop. 4.12.) A miraculous event occurred : a woman of dimensions greater than human appeared to him, and said to him, in the Latin tongue, " Whither goest thou, insatiable Drusus ? The Fates forbid thee to advance. Away ! The end of thy deeds and thy life is nigh. " Dio Cassius cannot help believing the fact of the apparition, seeing that the prophetic warning was so soon fulfilled ! Thus deterred by the guardian Genius of the land, Drusus hastened back to the Rhine, after erecting trophies on the banks of the Elbe. Suetonius (Suet. Cl. 1) varies from Dio Cassius in the particulars of this legend, and some of the moderns endeavour to explain it by referring the denunciation to a German prophetess or Wala. On his retreat, wolves howled round the camp, two strange youths appeared on horseback among the intrenchments, the screams of women were heard, and the stars raced about in the sky. (Ped. Albin. 1. 405.) Such were the superstitious fears which oppressed the minds of the Romans, who would rather flatter themselves that they were submitting to supernatural forces than avoiding the human might of dangerous enemies. Between the Elbe and the Sala (probably the Thuringian Saal), death overtook Drusus. According to the Epitoniser of Livy (cxl.) (whose last books contained a full account of these transactions), the horse of Drusus fell upon his leg, and Drusus died of the fracture on the thirtieth day after the accident. Of the numerous writers who mention the death of Drusus, no one besides alludes to the broken leg. Suetonius, whose history is a rich receptacle of scandal, mentions the incredible report that Drusus was poisoned by Augustus, after having disobeyed an order of the emperor for his recall. It is indeed probable enough that the emperor thought he had advanced far enough, and that it would be unwise to exasperate into hostility the inoffensive tribes beyond the Elbe. Tiberius, Augustus, and Livia were in Pavia (Ticinum) when the tidings of the dangerous illness of Drusus reached them. Tiberius with extraordinary speed crossed the Alps, performing a journey of 200 Roman miles through a difficult and dangerous country, without stopping day or night, and arrived in time to close the eyes of his brother. (Plin. Nat. 12.20; V. Max. 5.5; Ped. Albin. 1. 89; Senec. Consol. ad Polyb. 34.) Drusus, though at the point of death, had yet presence of mind enough to command, that Tiberius should be received with all the distinction due to a consular and an imperator.

The summer camp where Drusus died was called Scelerata, the Accursed. The corpse was carried in a marching military procession to the winterquarters of the army at Moguntiacum (Mayence) upon the Rhine, Tiberius walking all the way as chief mourner. The troops wished the funeral to be celebrated there, but Tiberius brought the body to Italy. It was burnt in the field of Mars, and the ashes deposited in the tomb of Augustus, who composed the verses that were inscribed upon his sepulchral monument, and wrote in prose a memorial of his life. In a funeral oration held bv Augustus in the Flaminian Circus, he exclaimed, " I pray the gods to make my adopted sons Caius and Lucius like Drusus, and to vouchsafe to me as honourable a death as his."

Among the honours paid to Drusus the cognomen Germanicus was decreed to him and his posterity. A marble arch with trophies was erected to his memory on the Appian Way, and the representation of this arch may be seen upon extant coins, as for example, in the coin annexed, which was struck by order of Augustus. He had a cenotaph on the Rhine, an altar near the Lippe (Tac. Ann. 2.7), and Eusebius (Chronicon ad A. D. 43) speaks of a Drusus, the nephew of the emperor Claudius, who had a monument at Mayence; but here Drusus Senior seems to be meant, and there is probably a confusion between the son and the father of Gernanicus. It is to the latter that the antiquaries of Mayence refer the Eichelstein and the Drusiloch. Besides the coins of Drusus, several ancient signet-rings with his effigy have been preserved (Lippert, Dactyliothek, i. No. 610-12, ii. No. 241 and No. 255); and among the bronzes found at Herculaneum there is one which is supposed to contain a full-length likeness of Drusus.

In the preceding narrative the dates have been collected from Dio Cassius and the Epitomiser of Livy. In assigning the precise date of events not mentioned by those writers, it is often necessary to have recourse to uncertain conjecture.

The misery that Drusus must have occasioned among the German tribes was undoubtedly excessive. Some antiquaries have imagined that the German imprecation " Das dich der Drus hole" may be traced to the traditional dread of this terrible conqueror. The country was widely devastated, and immense multitudes were carried away from their homes and transplanted to the Gallic bank of the Rhine. Such was the horror occasioned by the advance of the Romans, that the German women often dashed their babes against the ground, and then flung their mangled bodies in the faces of the soldiers. (Oros. 6.21.) Drusus himself possessed great animal courage. In battle he endeavoured to engage in personal combat with the chieftains of the enemy, in order to earn the glory of the spolia opima. He had no contemptible foe to contend against, and though he did not escape unscathed--though, as Varus soon had occasion to feel, the Germanic spirit was not quelled--he certainly accomplished an important work in subjugating the tribes between the Rhine and the Weser, and erecting fortresses to preserve his conquests. According to Florus, he erected upwards of fifty fortresses along the banks of the Rhine, besides building two bridges across that river, and establishing garrisons and guards on the Meuse, the Weser, and the Elbe. He impressed the Germans not less by the opinion of his intellect and character than by the terror of his arms. They who resisted had to dread his unflinching firmness and severity, but they who submitted might rely on his good faith. He did not, like his successor Varus, rouse and inflame opposition by tyrannous insolence or wanton cruelty to the conquered. Whether, educated as he was in scenes of bloodshed, he would have fulfilled the expectations of the people, had he lived to attain the empire, it is impossible to pronounce. He was undoubtedly, in his kind, one of the great men of his day. To require that a Roman general, in the heat of conquest, should shew mercy to people who, according to Roman ideas, were ferocious and dangerous barbarians, or should pause to balance the cost against the glory of success, would be to ask more than could be expected of any ordinary mortal in a similar position. It is not fair to view the characters of one age by the light of another; for he who has lived, says Schiller, so as to satisfy the best of his own time, has lived for all times.

(Bayle, Dict. s. v.; Ferd. Wachter, in Ersch una Gruber's Encyclopädie, s. v.; Wilhelm, die Feldzüge des Nero Claudius Drusus in dem Nördl. Deuschland, Halle, 1826.)

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hide References (15 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (15):
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 50
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.29
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.53
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.56
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.7
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.33
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.8
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.51
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 62
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 11.18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 12.20
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.11
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 5.5
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