Childhood & Early Life
Germanicus was born on May 24, 15 BCE, in Rome. He was the son of Antonia Minor and Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus.His praenomen is not known but it is presumed that it must have been ‘Nero Claudius Drusus’ after his father or ‘Tiberius Claudius Nero’ after his uncle. However, in 9 BCE, he adopted his father’s agnomen, Germanicus, which was posthumously awarded to him for his campaigns against Germanic tribes.
He had two siblings. A sister, Claudia Livia Julia, commonly known by her nickname, Livilla; and a younger brother, Claudius, (regnal name was Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), who was the Roman emperor between 41CE and 54CE.
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At the age of 21, five years before the legal age, Germanicus was appointed as quaestor in 7 CE and served until 11 CE.
He was assigned to support Tiberius to quell the revolt by Pannonians and Dalmatians. By late 9 CE, he succeeded in suppressing the rebellion and returned to Rome.
In the years 11 CE and 12 CE, Germanicus checked the advancement of the German tribes across the Rhine led by Arminius. He was elected consul for the first time in 12 CE.
Augustus, in 13 CE, appointed Germanicus as proconsul of Germania Inferior, Germania Superior, and entire Gaul and he commanded eight legions of the Roman army.
As head of the legions, he led an expedition against the Marsi, a Germanic tribe on the upper Ruhr River. They also defeated other Germanic tribes, such as Bructeri, Tubantes, and Usipetes, and also plundered the villages between Ruhr and Rhine. The spoils of these wars helped Germanicus fund his military. According to Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid), the triumph of Germanicus was observed on January 1, 15 CE.
Germanicus continued his campaign against the Germanic tribes for the next two years; the Roman forces came out victorious and all enemy camps were thoroughly destroyed.
He also avenged the defeat of the Romans at the ‘Battle of Teutoburg Forest’ and was successful in retrieving two of the three legionary eagles that were lost. Due to Germanicus’ exploits in the war, he became very popular among the soldiers.
He tried to capture Arminius, who was wounded in one of the battles but failed. However, Arminius’ wife, Thusnelda, and her three-year-old son were brought to Rome as captives during Germanicus’ triumph on May 26, 17 CE.
After this victory, Germanicus was asked to reorganise the kingdoms and provinces in Asia, which were in a state of disorder. In this campaign, he was given extraordinary command (imperium maius) over the other commanders and governors of the region. On this campaign, he came in conflict with Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, who was installed as governor of Syria by Tiberius. Despite his conflicts with Peso, he managed to settle the issue of succession in Armenia, organise 'Cappadocia' and 'Commagene' into provinces, and negotiated with Artabanus III of Parthia.
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In 18 CE, Germanicus received the rights to the eastern part of the Roman Empire and took up the consulship at Nicopolis on January 18, 18 CE. The rest of the year, he traveled across Asia Minor, including Syria. Thereafter he met Piso at Rhodes for the first time.
In January 19 CE, he went to Egypt to provide relief as it was reeling under a famine. This move did not go down well with Tiberius, as Egypt was an imperial territory and was directly under the rule of the emperor. Hence, it required the monarch and the senate’s approval for a senator to visit Egypt, a law formulated by Augustus.
After he returned to Syria from Egypt in the summer of 19 CE, he found that Piso had not adhered to his orders. He ordered the recall of Piso, although it was not within his power to do so. The hostility between Germanicus and Piso grew further, and came to an end with Germanicus’ death.
Family & Personal Life
Germanicus belonged to the illustrious Julio-Claudian dynasty. His paternal grandparents were Livia Drusilla and Tiberius Claudius Nero. His grandmother, Livia, divorced Tiberius and married Roman emperor Augustus, and changed her name to Julia Augusta after her adoption into the Julian family in 14 CE.
His maternal grandparents were Mark Antony and Octavia Minor.
Tiberius adopted Germanicus in June 4 CE, as successor to the throne. After his adoption, he took up the name Julius Caesar.
He was married to Agrippina, the Elder and they had nine children - Nero Julius Caesar, Drusus Caesar, Tiberius Julius Caesar, Ignotus, Gaius, the Elder; Gaius, the Younger; Agrippina, the Younger; Julia Drusilla, and Julia Livilla. Gaius, the Younger became emperor and Agrippina, the Younger became empress later in their lives.
Tiberius and the Ignotus died during their infancy, while Gaius, the Elder died in his early childhood.
Germanicus was also a writer and authored Latin version of ‘Phainomena,’ in a style that suited the reading habits of the Romans.
Death & Legacy
Germanicus died of illness on October 10, 19 CE. It is believed that he had been poisoned by Piso, as their hostility had only grown with time.
When the people of Rome came to know about his death, they observed an ‘Iustitium’ even before public mourning was announced by the government. He was honored with a state funeral.
On July 15, 20 CE, the Roman knights took his effigy on a procession as a mark of respect. In the same year, Tiberius enacted a law to observe Germanicus’ death.
Arches were built in his memory at Rome, the frontier of Rhine, and Asia. His portraits were displayed in the Temple of Apollo in Rome.
Tacitus and Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, in their respective publications, ‘Annals’ and ‘The Twelve Caesars,’ described him as a man of excellent military acumen and administrative capabilities, who was ahead of his contemporaries, yet humble.
He was considered to be an ideal Roman. Hence, he has been depicted in various art forms. Some of them are - Germanico in Germania (1732), an Italian opera by Nicola Porporain which he was portrayed by Domenico Annibali. ; Death of Germanicus (1773–1774), a marble sculpture by British sculptor Thomas Banks; Thusnelda im Triumphzug des Germanicus (1873), a painting by German painter Karl von Piloty; I, Claudius (1934), a historical fiction novel by Robert Graves; The Caesars (1968), a television series by Philip Mackie; and I, Claudius (1976), a TV series by Jack Pulman.