previous next

Civi'lis, Clau'dius

was the leader of the Batavi in their revolt from Rome, A. D. 69-70. The Batavi were a people of Germanic origin, who had left the nation of the Catti, of which they were a part, and had settled in and about the island which is formed by the mouths of the Rhenus (Rhine) and Mesa (Maas). The important position which they occupied led the Romans to cultivate their friendship, and they rendered good service to Rome in the wars in Germany and Britain, under the early emperors. When Rome gave up the idea of subduing Germany, the nations west of the Rhine, especially those of Germanic origin, began to feel a hope of setting themselves free. The civil wars afforded an opportunity for the attempt, and the oppressions of the imperial legates furnished the provocation. It was out of such an act of oppression that the rebellion of Civilis sprung. 1

Julius Paulus and Claudius Civilis were brothers 2 of the Batavian royal race, and excelled all their nation in personal accomplishments. On a false charge of treason, Nero's legate, Fonteius Capito, put Julius Paulus to death, A. D. 67 or 68, and sent Civilis in chains to Nero at Rome, where he was heard and acquitted by Galba. He was afterwards prefect of a cohort, but under Vitellius he became an object of suspicion to the army, who demanded his punishment. (Compare Tac. Hist. 1.59.) He escaped the danger, but he did not forget the affront. He thought of Hannibal and Sertorius, like whom he had lost an eye; and, being endowed, says Tacitus, with greater mental power than is common among barbarians, he began the execution of his schemes of enmity to Rome under the pretence of supporting the cause of Vespasian. In order to understand the events which occurred at this period in the Germanies and Gaul, it must be remembered that the legions of Germany were Vitellius's own troops, who had called him to the purple, and who remained steadfast to his cause to the very last. The legates, on the other hand, early chose the side of Vespasian, and it was not without reason that they were accused by their soldiers of treasonable connivance at the progress of the insurrection on the Rhine. (See especially Tac. Hist. 4.27.) Thus Civilis was urged by a letter from Antonius Primus, and by a personal request from Hordeonius Flaccus, to prevent the German legions from marching into Italy to the support of Vitellius, by the appearance of a Germanic insurrection; an appearance which Civilis himself resolved to convert into a reality. His designs were aided by an edict of Vitellius, calling for a levy of the Batavians, and still more by the harshness with which the command was executed; for feeble old men were compelled to pay for exemption from service, and beautiful boys were seized for the vilest purposes. Irritated by these cruelties, and urged by Civilis and his confederates, the Batavians refused the levy; and Civilis having, according to the ancient German custom, called a solemn meeting at night in a sacred grove, easily bound the chiefs of the Batavians by an oath to revolt. Messengers were sent to secure the assistance of the Canninefates, another Germanic tribe, living on the same island, and others to try the fidelity of the Batavian cohorts, which had formerly served in Britain, and were now stationed at Magontiacum, as a part of the Roman army on the Rhine. The first of these missions was completely successful. The Canninefates chose Brinno for their chief; and he, having joined to himself the Frisii, a nation beyond the Rhine, attacked the furthest winter quarters of the Romans, and compelled them to retire from their forts. Upon this, Civilis, still dissembling, accused the prefects, because they had deserted the camp, and declared that with his single cohort he would repress the revolt of the Canninefates, while the rest of the army might betake themselves quietly to their winter quarters. His treachery was, however, seen through, and he found himself compelled openly to join the insurgents. At the head of the Canninefates, Frisii, and Batavi, he engaged the Romans on the bank of the Rhine. In the midst of the battle, a cohort of the Tungri deserted to Civilis, and decided the battle on the land; while the Roman fleet, which had been collected on the river to co-operate with the legions, was carried over to the German bank by the rowers, many of whom wore Batavians, who overpowered the pilots and centurions. Civilis followed up his victory by sending messengers through the two Germanies and the provinces of Gaul, urging the people to rebellion; and aimed at the kingdom of the Germanies and Gauls. Hordeonius Flaccus, the governor of the Germanies, who had secretly encouraged the first efforts of Civilis, now ordered his legate, Mummius Lupercus, to march against the enemy. Civilis gave him battle; and Lupercus was immediately deserted by an ala of Batavians; the rest of the auxiliaries fled; and the legionary soldiers were obliged to retreat into Vetera Castra, the great station which Augustus had formed on the left bank of the Rhine, as the head quarters for operations against Germany. About the same time some veteran cohorts of Batavians and Canninefates, who were on their march into Italy by the order of Vitellius, were induced by the emissaries of Civilis to mutiny and to march back into lower Germany, in order to join Civilis, which they were enabled to effect by the indecision of Hordeonius Flaccus; defeating, on their way, the forces of Herennius Gallus, who was stationed at Bonn, and who was forced by his soldiers to resist their march. Civilis was now at the head of a complete army; but, being still unwilling to commit himself to an open contest with the Roman power, he caused his followers to take the oath to Vespasian, and sent envoys to the two legions which, as above related, had taken refuge in Vetera Castra, to induce them to take the same oath. Enraged at their refusal, he called to arms the whole nation of the Batavi, who were joined by the Bructeri and Teucteri, while emissaries were sent into Germany to rouse the people. The Roman legates, Mummius Lupercus and Numisius Rufus, strengthened the fortifications of Vetera Castra. Civilis marched down both banks of the Rhine, having ships also on the river, and blockaded the camp, after a fruitless attempt to storm it. The operations of Hordeonius Flaccus were retarded by his weakness, his anxiety to serve Vespasian, and the mistrust of his soldiers, to whom this inclination was no secret; and he was at last compelled to give up the command to Dillius Vocula. The dissensions at this period in the Roman camp are described elsewhere. [HORDEONIUS FLACCUS; HERENNIUS GALLUS ; DILLIUS VOCULA.] Civilis, in the meantime, having been joined by large forces from all Germany, proceeded to harass the tribes of Gaul west of the Mosa, even as far as the Menapii and Morini, on the sea shore, in order to shake their fidelity to the Romans. His efforts were more especially directed against the Treviri and the Ubii. The Ubii were firm in their faith, and suffered severely in consequence. He then pressed on the siege of Vetera Castra, and, yielding to the ardour of his new allies beyond the Rhine, tried again to storm it. The effort failed, and he had recourse to attempts to tamper with the besieged soldiery.

These events occurred towards the end of A. D. 69, before the battle of Cremona, which decided the victory of Vespasian over Vitellius. [VESPASIANUS.] When the news of that battle reached the Roman army on the Rhine, ALPINUS MONTANUS was sent to Civilis to summon him to lay down his arms, since his professed object was now accomplished. The only result of this mission was, that Civilis sowed the seeds of disaffection in the envoy's mind. Civilis now sent against Vocula his veteran cohorts and the bravest of the Germans, under the command of Julius Maximus, and Claudius Victor, his sister's son, who, having taken on their march the winter quarters of an auxiliary ala, at Asciburgium, fell suddenly upon the camp of Vocula, which was only saved by the arrival of unexpected aid. Civilis and Vocula are both blamed by Tacitus, the former for not sending a sufficient force, the latter for neglecting to follow up his victory. Civilis now attempted to gain over the legions who were besieged in Vetera Castra, by pretending that he had conquered Vocula, but one of the captives whom he paraded before the walls for this purpose, shouted out and revealed the truth, his credit, as Tacitus observes, being the more established by the fact, that he was stabbed to death by the Germans on the spot. Shortly afterwards, Vocula marched up to the relief of Vetera Castra, and defeated Civilis, but again neglected to follow up his victory, most probably from design. [VOCULA.] Civilis soon again reduced the Romans to great want of provisions, and forced them to retire to Gelduba, and thence to Novesium, while he again invested Vetera Castra, and took Gelduba. The Romans, paralyzed by new dissensions [HORDEONIUS FLACCUS; VOCULA], suffered another defeat from Civilis; but some of them, rallying under Vocula, retook Magontiacum.

At the beginning of the new year (A. D. 70), the war assumed a fresh and more formidable character. The news of the death of Vitellius exasperated the Roman soldiers, encouraged the insurgents, and shook the fidelity of the Gauls; while a rumour was moreover circulated that the winter quarters of the Moesian and Pannonian legions were besieged by the Dacians and Sarmatians; and above all the burning of the Capitol was esteemed an omen of the approaching end of the Roman empire. Civilis, whose last remnant of dissimulation was necessarily torn away by the death of Vitellius, gave his undivided energies to the war, and was joined by Classicus and Julius Tutor, who at length gained over the army of Vocula. [CLASSICUS; TUTOR; SABINUS.] The besieged legions at Vetera Castra could now hold out no longer; they capitulated to Civilis, and took the oath to the empire of the Gauls (in verba Galliarum), but as they marched away, they were all put to death by the Germans, probably not without the connivance of Civilis. That chieftain, having at length performed his vow of enmity to the Romans, now cut off his hair which, according to the custom of the Germans, he had suffered to grow since the beginning of his enterprise. (Tac. Germ. 31.) Neither Civilis nor any others of the Batavians took the oath in verbs Galliarum, which was the watchword of Classicus and Tutor, for they trusted that, after having disposed of the Romans, they should be able to overpower their Gallic allies. Civilis and Classicus now destroyed all the Roman winter camps, except those at Magontiacum and Vindonissa. The Germans demanded the destruction of Colonia Agrippinensis, but it was at length spared, chiefly through the gratitude of Civilis, whose son had been kept in safety there since the beginning of the war. Civilis now gained over several neighbouring states. He was opposed by his old enemy CLAUDIUS LABEO, at the head of an irregular force of Betasii, Tungri, and Nervii; and, by a daring act of courage, he not only decided the victory, but gained the alliance of the Tungri and the other tribes. The attempt, however, to unite all Gaul in the revolt completely failed, the Treviri and the Lingones being the only people who joined the insurgents. [SABINUS.]

The reports of these events which were carried to Rome had at length roused Mucianus, who now sent an immense army to the Rhine, under Petilius Cerealis and Annius Gallus [CEREALIS; GALLUS, ANNIUS.] The insurgents were divided among themselves, Civilis was busy among the Belgae, trying to crush Claudius Labeo; Classicus was quietly enjoying his new empire; while Tutor neglected the important duty, which had been assigned to him, of guarding the Upper Rhine and the passes of the Alps. Cerealis had therefore little difficulty in overcoming the Treviri and regaining their capital. [TUTOR; VALENTINUS.] While he was stationed there he received a letter from Civilis and Classicus, informing him that Vespasian was dead, and offering him the empire of the Gauls. Civilis now wished to wait for succours from beyond the Rhine, but the opinion of Tutor and Classicus prevailed, and a battle was fought on the Mosella in which the Romans, though at first almost beaten, gained a complete victory, and destroyed the enemy's camp. Colonia Agrippinensis now came over to the Romans; but Civilis and Classicus still made a brave stand. The Canninefates destroyed the greater part of a Roman fleet, and defeated a body of the Nervii, who, after submitting to Fabius Priscus, the Roman legate, had of their own accord attacked their former allies. Having renewed his army from Germany, Civilis encamped at Vetera Castra, whither Cerealis also marched with increased forces, both leaders being eager for a decisive battle. It was soon fought, and Cerealis gained the victory by the treachery of a Batavian; but, as the Romans had no fleet, the Germans escaped across the Rhine. Here Civilis was joined by reinforcements from the Chauci; and, after making, with Verax, Classicus, and Tutor, one more effort which was partially successful, to hold his ground in the island of the Batavi, he was again defeated by Cerealis, and driven back across the Rhine. Emissaries were sent by Cerealis to make private offers of peace to the Batavians, and of pardon to Civilis, who found that he had no alternative but to surrender. He obtained an interview with Cerealis on a bridge of the river Vahalis. The History of Tacitus breaks off suddenly just after the commencement of his speech. (Tac. Hist. 4.12-37, 54-79, 5.14-26. Joseph. Bell. Jud. 7.4.2; D. C. 66.3.)


1 * In the following narrative it is necessary to bear in mind the distinction between Germany, properly so called, and the two Gallic provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, which, from their population being chiefly of Germanic origin, were called the Germanies (Germania Inferior, and Germania Superior). The scene of the war with Civilis was on the left bank of the Rhine, and chiefly in Germania Inferior.

2 † Tacitus (Tac. Hist. 1.59) also calls Civilis Julius, and so do other writers. (Plut. Erot. 25, p. 770: where, however, Julius Tutor is possibly meant, Frontin. Strat. 4.3.14.)

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
70 AD (2)
69 AD (1)
67 AD (1)
hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.59
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.12
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 5.14
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 5.26
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.27
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.37
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.54
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.79
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.59
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: