|"Germanicus, who had torn off his helmet, ordered his men to kill and kill. No prisoners were wanted. Only the total destruction of the tribe would end the war. Finally, late in the day, he withdrew one brigade from the battle to make camp. Apart from the cavalry, whose battle was indecisive, the rest sated themselves with enemy blood until nightfall."|
- Tacitus, Annals
Nowadays he's faded into obscurity amongst those lucky people who haven't wasted countless hours studying the most intimate and meangingless details of ancient history, but during the height of the Roman Empire the mighty head-cleaving war hero Germanicus was almost universally recognized by the citizens of that bloodthirsty city as the single most hardcore warrior the Empire had ever produced – a ferocious, merciless-yet-honorable classical age torture-implement of skull-hacking brutality whose name and legacy are so synonymous with wreaking Rome's vengeful destruction on the Germans that we don't even know this motherfucker's actual birth name – he's simply Germanicus, a Latin honorific term meaning essentially "He who kicked ass in Germany and then came home with an epic list of Teutonic-sounding names".
The man known solely as Germanicus (he's kind of like the 1st century AD version of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, which of course is only bonus points to his badass cred) was born in the year 15 BC, into basically what at this point amounted to the Roman Royal Family. For starters, was directly related to two-thirds of the Second Triumvirate – his dad's stepfather was the Emperor Augustus (who, by the time of Germanicus' birth, was already pretty much being referred to as a living god) and his grandfather on his mom's side was Marc Antony, a war hero who banged Cleopatra and then stabbed himself to death shortly thereafter. If that's not enough, Germancius' brother was the future Emperor Claudius, his sister was the wife of the Emperor Tiberius, and he ended up marrying Augustus' granddaughter and knocking her up nine times in 14 years, which is kind of impressive considering that most of his life was spent knee-deep in dead enemies on the battlefield.
As a young man, Germanicus was known for being obscenely intelligent, writing a bunch of crazy shit like poems about astronomy, and giving pump-up speeches so righteous that even guys like Cicero and Suetonius had brain-boners for him. He also had a stainless personal record, never once bringing dishonor on his family through a personal indiscretion, and he was such a fucking ultimate paragon of virtue that Augustus actually thought long and hard about making this guy the next Roman Emperor (though at his wife's insisting, Augustus ended up passing the purple mantle on to Germanicus' uncle Tiberius). Germanicus' and general awesomeness in all aspects of his life got him elected to the badass-sounding office of Quaestor in 7 AD, then Praetor, then finally Consul, making him one of the two most powerful non-Emperor men in Rome.
But politics wasn't this guy's bag – Germanicus was a born-and-bred killer, and this limb-severing engine of Germanicidal destruction was never more comfortable than at the head of a horde of Roman Legions wreaking the Emperor's havoc upon the barbarian tribes of Europe. In 6 AD, Augustus dispatched the 20 year-old Germanicus to lead an army to quell the Pannonian Revolt – a particularly nasty showdown in which those pesky Balkan tribes got a little uppity and started butchering Roman officials with axes and clubs, so Germanicus had to go down there and lay the smackdown by ramming his gladius up everyone's collective shitholes and then used their impaled corpses as cocktail umbrellas at a fancy dinner party celebrating his full-court domination of the enemy.
Things were going great for our boy Germanicus re: killing everyone in the Balkans, until one fateful day in 9 AD in which a gigantic fucking horde of pissed-off German warriors ambushed and epically beat the living fuckass out of three full legions of Roman troops deep in Germany's Teutoberg Forest. The handful of Roman survivors who crawled back to Rome on a river of blood told bone-chilling stories of insane slaughter – over 20,000 Romans brutally butchered on the battlefield, ambushed by an endless sea of German warriors armed with gigantic fucking axes and hellacious beards. Those Legionnaries unlucky enough to be taken alive were thrown down and hacked apart on stone altars as offerings to the pagan gods or thrown in spike pits. Even worse than this, it turned out that three of the Legionary Eagles (the ultimate symbol of the Legion's power) had fallen into German hands. It was one of the most humiliating and crushing defeats Imperial Rome would ever suffer.
Germanicus wasn't in a position to fight back at this point, but he also wasn't about to let that shit stand. When news came down, he quietly seethed in manly rage.
In 14 AD, the Emperor Augustus finally went to that Big Roman Orgy in the Sky, leaving the throne to the deliciously-evil and diabolical Tiberius. Germanicus getting jobbed on the succession seriously pissed off the soldiers fighting in Germany, who all loved and respected the mighty war hero, and when word came down about this bullshit with Tiberius nearly every legion in the frontier immediately rebelled and tried to convince Germanicus to lead them, march on Rome, and declare the throne for himself (like a boss). When Germanicus heard about this he hauled ass out there as fast as he could, called the men together, and collectively pimp-slapped them all in their faces for their disloyalty. This faithful, devoted Roman commander reminded the assembled soldiers that they'd just recently had the holy living shitfuck kicked out of them by a horde of unruly, undisciplined German warriors, and that the legions' collective failure to seek any sort of bloody revenge had utterly disgraced the name of the Roman army and the Roman people as a whole. Germanicus informed them that these chumps weren't in any position to be making demands of the Emperor – especially when there was unfinished business to attend to – and no, Germanicus wasn't going to lead these motherfuckers to march on Rome. He was going to lead them to vengeance.
Germanicus then assembled the men, got them into fighting shape, had his centurions kick the shit out of the soldiers who had incited the rebellion, and then marched eight fucking badass Roman Legions into the uncharted wilderness of Germany on a three-year vengeance campaign aimed at three things – First, to find the site of the massacred and bury the bodies of the fallen Romans. Second, to recover the captured Eagles, and Third, to kill as many of the enemy as was humanly possible, until all that remained of the tribes of Germany were a gigantic lake of blood stretching from Gaul to Scythia.
The army's first moves took Germanicus into the lands of the Marsi tribe. He routed them on the battlefield, chased them back to their cities, then burned down their cities and massacred every man, woman, and child he could find. Then he attacked the Chatti, and did pretty much the same thing, burning every settlement in the entire region and then laughing his ass off while overlooking the charred remains. After that he marched his forces against the Cherusci – the people of Arminius, the mastermind behind the massacre at the Teutoberg Forest. After a fierce battle, Germanicus drove Arminius from the field, captured his homeland, and took Arminius' wife as a prisoner. When the troops asked if he was going to have her brutally executed and/or do other sorts of terrible things to her, Germanicus responded like a badass. He said to treat her and her people with honor because, "They are women that must be respected, for they will be citizens of Rome soon."
Shortly after driving off Arminius and taking down a half dozen Germanic tribes with using only his own unquenchable blood-rage and a gigantic set of siege artillery, Germanicus finally came up on the ruined battlefield of the Teutoberg Forest, which had, for the most part, been left exactly as it looked in 9 AD. The first thing Germanicus noticed when he got there though, was a little special present the Germans had left for him – 20,000 human skulls nailed to the tree trunks throughout the forest.
This is fucked. And also kind of awesome.
Germanicus took down the skulls, collected the bones of the dead (which were strewn about for a couple miles), performed the last rites on the bodies, and buried the Romans with full military honors.
Then he got pissed.
Germanicus marched to the Rhine, built a fleet out of logs he chopped down with his dick, sailed them down and across the North Sea, and braved a terrible storm that he only managed to survive by cutting down his men's clothes and using them as sails after every oar, mast, and sail in the fleet had been destroyed (this is the downside of trying to build large things with your penis). The storm and destruction was so terrible that the Germans thought the Romans had been completely obliterated, so naturally when the assembled German warbands saw eight Roman legions marching out of the fog on the coast they figured Germanicus was some kind of immortal demon who could not be killed by conventional weapons. They may have been right.
Arminius rode out to battle the Romans once again, and this time Germanicus led his battle-hardened, pissed-as-hell troops (some of whom had been veterans of the slaughter at the Teutoberg Forest) into battle, crushing the Germans in a huge onslaught of Roman face-smashing that was so ferocious the enemy allegedly went so far as to climb trees to escape the onslaught (Germanicus naturally ordered his arches to either shoot the men down or fell the tree with axes). The Germans regrouped for a last stand, but charging uphill under a hail of ballistae spears, arrows, and slings, the Romans smashed the enemy earthworks, broke through, and routed them. Once the smoke cleared on the blood-soaked battlefield, Germanicus built a giant pile of weapons taken off of dead Germans and dedicated it to Mars, the God of War. He had conquered every tribe from the Rhine to the Elbe, and this would be the deepest Rome would ever penetrate into German lands. Arminius' power was shattered, and Germanicus returned home to a triumphal parade, carrying two of the three Legionary Eagles that had been stole by the Germans. It would be the last Triumph ever awarded to a man who was not the current sitting Emperor of Rome.
If everybody didn't love Germanicus before this, they were all willing to have his babies afterwards. Statues and monuments were built declaring his military victories. Hero Cults were set up to worship him as a living god. A huge section of the Coliseum was named after him. It was when the Praetorian Guard offered to depose Tiberius and install Germanicus as emperor that Tiberius really started to worry, so the aging Emperor went out and had Germanicus poisoned (probably). The hero of Rome died in 19 AD, at the age of 34. When news of his death reached Rome the entire city shut down for three days. He was added to the Salian hymn, an epic song detailing the greatest heroes of Rome, and the three Roman Emperors who succeeded Tiberius would all take the cognomen Germanicus as a way of capitalizing on this guy's immense fame.
But despite getting jobbed to death by a cowardly Emperor Palpatine-style double-cross, it was Germanicus Fucking Julius Caesar who would have the last laugh – when he went down he made damn sure the rest of the fucking Empire literally went down in flames around him. For starters, it would be Germanicus' son who would succeed Tiberius as Emperor of Rome. That kid's name was Caligula. After Caligula was assassinated for being totally fucking insane and bankrupting Rome so he could finance orgies and other ridiculous things, his successor (Claudius) married Germanicus' daughter Julia Agrippina, an insanely tough woman I talk about in my book BADASS who spent most of her tenure pretty much ruling Rome as an Empress and surviving dozens of assassination attempts. After that, the grandson of Germanicus assumed the throne. That guy's name was Nero, and I think we pretty much all know how that story ends.
Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Trans. Thomson, Alexander, and Forrester, Thomas. G. Bell and Sons, 1911.
Tacitus. The Annals of Imperial Rome. Trans. Grant, Michael. Penguin, 1956.
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