The Siege Of Vetera
The Roman Counter-Attack
The Gallic empire
batavian index

The Fall Of Vetera

The Fall of Vetera

As we have seen in the preceding article, the murder of the Roman general Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus gave new courage to the rebels. The Treviran and Lingonian auxiliary units revolted and Julius Civilis renewed the siege of Vetera. The demoralized legions I Germanica and XVI Gallica surrendered to the Gallic empire of the Trevirans and Lingones. After the disintegration of the Roman army north of Mainz, the two besieged legions at Vetera, V Alaudae and XV Primigenia, were lost. In March 70, their commander Munius Lupercus capitulated.

The besieged were torn between heroism and degradation by the conflicting claims of loyalty and hunger. While they hesitated, all normal and emergency rations gave out. They had by now consumed the mules, horses and other animals which a desperate plight compels men to use as food, however unclean and revolting. Finally they were reduced to tearing up shrubs, roots and the blades of grass growing between the stones - a striking lesson in the meaning of privation and endurance.
But at long last they spoiled their splendid record by a dishonorable conclusion, sending envoys to Civilis to plead for life - not that the request was entertained until they had taken an oath of allegiance to the Gallic empire. Then Civilis, after stipulating that he should dispose of the camp as plunder, appointed overseers to see that the money, sutlers and baggage were left behind, and to marshal the departing garrison as it marched out, destitute. About 8 kilometers from Vetera, the Germans ambushed the unsuspecting column of men. The toughest fighters fell in their tracks, and many others in scattered flight, while the rest made good their retreat to the camp.
It is true that Civilis protested, and loudly blamed the Germans for what he described as a criminal breach of faith. But our sources do not make it clear whether this was mere hypocrisy or whether Civilis was really incapable of restraining his ferocious allies. After plundering the camp, they tossed firebrands into it, and all those who had survived the battle perished in the flames.
After his first military action against the Romans, Civilis had sworn an oath, like the primitive savage he was, to dye his hair red and let it grow until such time as he had annihilated the legions. Now that the vow was fulfilled, he shaved off his long beard. He was also alleged to have handed some of the prisoners over to his small son to serve as targets for the child's arrows and spears.
The legionary commander Munius Lupercus was sent along with other presents to Veleda, an unmarried woman who enjoyed wide influence over the tribe of the Bructeri. The Germans traditionally regard many of the female sex as prophetic, and indeed, by an excess of superstition, as divine. This was a case in point. Veleda's prestige stood high, for she had foretold the German successes and the extermination of the legions. But Lupercus was put to death before he reached her.

After this success, Julius Civilis and his Treviran ally Julius Classicus moved to Cologne, which lay now unguarded. The city was not plundered, because Civilis owed something to Cologne: his son had been kept alive by its inhabitants when the Romans had demanded his execution. Instead, it became Civilis' headquarters.
By now, the Batavians were the most important tribe in the northwest of Europe, especially since the emperor of the Gallic empire had disappeared. In the next months, they would try to subdue the romanized tribes of northern Gaul. Several German tribes from across the Rhine were invited to take a share in the fighting, and gladly responded to the invitation to join the looting of Gallia Belgica.