Saturday, January 10, 2009

Germanicus at Antioch

The fate of Germanicus has been oft aired elsewhere, most famously in the I, Claudius series from the BBC. However, he remains one of the most famous Romans to have expired in the city.

Germanicus Julius Caesar Claudianus (24 May 16 BC or 15 BC–October 10, 19) was born in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyon) and was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. At birth he was named either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle and received the agnomen Germanicus, by which he is principally known, in 9 BC, when it was awarded to his father in honour of his victories in Germania. He was the father of the Caligula, brother of Claudius and the maternal grandfather of Nero.

He had an illustrious military career, particularly in subduing rebellious tribes in Germania. Germanicus was then sent to Asia, where in A.D .18 he defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene, turning them into Roman provinces. During a sightseeing trip to Egypt (not a regular province, but the personal property of the Emperor) he seems to have unwittingly usurped several imperial prerogatives. The following year he found that the governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had cancelled the provincial arrangements that he had made. Germanicus in turn ordered Piso's recall to Rome, although this action was probably beyond his authority. However, it was generally thought to be more than sour grapes on Piso's part but a clandestine action by Tiberius to rid himself of a rival held in much higher esteem by the populace, and more importantly the army.

Tacitus relates on the demise of Germanicus:

"Meanwhile Germanicus, returning from Egypt, found that all his dispositions, whether civil or military, had been cancelled or reversed. For this he severely rebuked Piso; Piso retorted with equal acrimony. Piso then resolved to quit the province; but Germanicus taking ill, he waited on. News came that Germanicus had recovered : whereupon, as the people of Antioch were paying the vows offered for his restoration to health, Piso made his lictors drive away the victims, break up the sacrificial preparations, and disperse the mob in the midst of its rejoicings.

He then went down to Seleucia to await the issue of the malady, which had come on once more, and was aggravated by a conviction in the mind of suspicious Germanicus that he had been poisoned by Piso. Remains of disinterred human bodies had been found beneath the floor and in the walls of the house, together with spells and magical formulae; leaden tablets with the name of Germanicus inscribed upon them; charred and blood-stained human ashes, and other baneful substances by which people believe that souls may be devoted to the Gods below.

Piso was accused also of sending messengers to spy out unfavourable symptoms in the case. This roused the fears, not less than the indignation of Germanicus. If his threshold were to be beset; if he had to draw his last breath under the eyes of his enemies: - what would become of his unhappy wife and his infant children? Poisoning, it would seem, was too slow a process; Piso was in hot haste to be in sole command of the Province and the legions. But Germanicus had not yet sunk so low; nor would the murderer reap the recompense of his crime.

With that he wrote a letter renouncing Piso's friendship; many add that he ordered him out of the province. Piso set sail without further delay; but he proceeded slowly, that he might have the less distance to return in case the death of Germanicus should open up Syria to him.

For a moment Germanicus rallied, and hope revived; but his strength again failed, and as his end drew nigh, he thus addressed the friends who stood beside him :— If I were paying my debt to Nature, I might deem that I had a grievance even against the Gods for snatching me thus, so young, and before my time, from my parents, my children and my country ; but now that my days have been cut short by the guilty hands of Piso and Plancina, I leave my last prayers with you. Tell my father and my brother what cruel wrongs I have endured, by what artifices I have been beset: how I have ended a miserable life by a most unhappy death. Those who have shared my hopes those who are near to me in blood nay, even those who have envied me in life will weep that one who had known such high fortunes, and had come safe through so many wars, should have perished by the treachery of a woman. It will be for you to lay complaint before the Senate, and invoke the law: for it is the first duty of a friend, not to follow the dead with idle lamentations to the grave, but to remember what he desired, to execute what he enjoined. Men who knew not Germanicus will lament him; but if it was himself, rather than his fortunes, that you loved, you will avenge him. Sheiv to the people of Rome my wife, grand-daughter of the Divine Augustus; count over to them our six children. Men's pity will be with the accusers; and, if the accused plead that they were bidden to do the foul deed, none will believe, or, if they believe, forgive.

The friends swore, as they touched the dying man's right hand, that they would give up life sooner than revenge. Germanicus then turned to his wife. He implored and last her by the love she bore him, and for their children's his wife, sake, to tame her high spirit, to bow beneath the stroke of fortune, and when she returned to Rome, not to anger those more powerful than herself by entering into rivalry with them. This he said openly ; he kept more for her private ear, bidding her beware, it was supposed, of Tiberius. Soon after that, he breathed his last, amid the profound sorrow of the Province and the surrounding peoples. Foreign nations also, and their kings, bewailed him ; so genial was he to friends, so courteous to foes. His looks and his speech alike commanded respect; his manners had no arrogance, and provoked no ill-will; yet they had all the dignity and distinction which befitted his high estate.

No procession of images graced his funeral; but it was signalised by encomiums on his virtues. Some character compared him to Alexander the Great, because of his beauty, the age at which he died, the manner, nay, even the place, of his death, near to that where Alexander died. Both were handsome and high-born ; both died soon after attaining the age of thirty, by the treachery of their own people, and in a foreign land. But Germanicus was kindly to his friends, and moderate in his enjoyments; he had lived with but one wife, and had none but lawful children. And he was as great a warrior as Alexander, without his rashness: although he had been debarred, after striking down Germany by his victories, from completing the subjection of that country. Had he been the sole arbiter of events, had he held the powers and the title of King, he would have outstripped Alexander in military fame as far as he surpassed him in gentleness, in self-command, and in all other noble qualities.

The body, before being buried, was exposed to view in the Forum of Antioch, the place appointed for the sepulture; but whether it exhibited signs of poisoning or not, is uncertain. For according as men were inclined towards Germanicus by compassion and preconceived suspicion, or towards Piso by friendship, they arrived at opposite conclusions".

A correction is needed first that he was not buried at Antioch, he was cremated in the Forum and then his ashes carried off to Rome by his widow.

The interesting thing about Germanicus' demise was the reappearance of that recurrent Antiochene theme of the curse tablets and the dark magic arts, for which the city had a particularly strong reputation. Poison was not a local specialty, but clearly the collaborators of Piso were no slouches at those concotions either.

Tacitus also notes further along that:

"A sepulchre was raised at Antioch, where he had been burned, and a tribunal at Epidaphna, where he died".

"cum inscriptione rerum gestarum ac mortem ob rem publicam obisse, sepulchrum Antiochiae, ubi crematus, tribunal Epidaphnae, quo in loco vitam finierat".

What does this latter statement imply? Was there a significant monument to Germanicus in the city? Presumably this was more than a mere statue for no Roman city lacked those and it would scarcely be meritorious of mention. Was this in the Forum where the burning had taken place? Interestingly, the second comment on the tribunal (a rostra?) would suggest that Germanicus was dwelling at Daphne or thereabouts and not in one of the city palaces when he expired.

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