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This Week In History

The Revolt of the Batavi. August 1, 69 AD.

The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between the years 69 and 70 AD. The revolt was led by the Batavi and other tribes from Germania and by the heir apparent Julius Civilis from Gaul, an official from the auxiliary troops. The revolt took advantage of the instability that was taking place in the Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors, with the Batavi managing to defeat two Roman legions and infringed humiliating defeats to the Roman army.

The Batavi were highly skilled in war. Warriors were excellent horsemen, also were adept at swimming and boat managing (they were renowned for developing a technique of swimming in rivers while carrying all of their armour and weapons), so they became a desirable source for recruiting soldiers for the Empire. Most of Augustus´ elite personal guard was formed by men from this tribe (Germani Corpore Custodes), and were in service to subsequent emperors until the year 68.

In exchange for not paying the tributum (a special tax over land and cattle that was mandatory in all provinces), the Batavi provided an unprecedented number of recruits for the auxiliary Roman troops of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.  By the year 69, the number of Batavi auxiliary troops reached over 5000 men, which meant that during the reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, more than 50% of the male Batavi that reached the military age (16 years old) were enlisted in the auxilia. They were considered the best soldiers (fortissimivalidissimiof all the Roman army.

Julius Civilis (his adoptive name as a Roman citizen), was heir apparent of the Batavi, as well as prefect of an auxilia cohort. With more than 25 years of military service under his belt, he stood out for his performance in the Claudian invasion of Britannia in the year 43, where he and his eight Batavian cohorts had been crucial both in the invasion  and in the later conquering of the south of the island.

By 69, the Batavi, including Civilis had become disillusioned with Rome and the burdens of conscription. They had been retired from Britannia in 66, and Civilis and his brother were arrested by the Germania governor for treason. Civilis´ brother was executed, while he, having Roman citizenship, was put in chains and taken to Rome to be judged by Nero. While Civilis was imprisoned, Nero was forced to commit suicide, ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was replaced by Galba, former governor of Hispania, who dismissed Civilis and sent him home.

The Roman Empire was at this time torn by its first civil war in 100 years, caused by the collapse of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the rivalries that surfaced when Galba took power. By then, power was in the hands of any general that could hold it and maintain it. Otho carried out a coup d´état that ended with the Praetorian Guard assassinating Galba. Shortly after, two generals (Vitellius and Vespasian) marched over Rome and started a civil war, known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Vespasian ultimately succeeded in reigning the Empire, and established the Flavian dynasty.

In August 69, Civilis was the commander of the Batavian auxiliary  troops stationed at the River Rhin with the Roman legions. He was an excellent connoisseur of Roman tactics, and his first move was to create a lure, instigating a rebellion outside Batavia. Flacus, the Roman General in charge, sent out two legions, together with three auxiliary units of the Batavian section, to suffocate the rebellion. Of course, in the middle of the battle, the Batavi deserted to the rebel´s side and the Roman legions where completely crushed and forced to surrender.

After their good beginning nevertheless, it was clear that the rebels were not fighting against Vitellius or Vespasian, but against Roman authority. Vespasian, already emperor at the time, sent an army under the command of Quintus Petillius Cerialis that ended with a Roman victory. After the peace treaties, the Batavi were forced to accept quite humiliating conditions, including the permanent stationing of a legion in their territory.

 

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