Roman Conquest of GermaniaIn the densely forested north of Europe, there lived more people than could be nourished by the primitive agriculture techniques. It is thus understandable that the fertile farmlands and pasture grounds of the south and the west were attractive to the Barbarians: To battle for these areas was by far easier and more worthwhile than the hard work of clearing their own forests with iron axes.
Up to the 1st century B.C. the Germanic tribes had been spreading out deeper and deeper into the west and south. At the same time they displaced the Celts up to the Rhine and the Danube, which now would be the borders to Celtic Gaul (today's France) and to Celtic Rhetia (today's South Germany and Switzerland).
In 58 B.C. Julius Caesar, governor of the Roman province of Southern Gaul, conquered the remainder of Gaul, which had been free until then: Thus, for the first time, the powerful Roman Empire moved into immediate vicinity to Germania, and further expansion and colonization on part of the Germanic tribes were blocked. Caesar defeated Germanic warlord Ariovist, who had tried to conquer Gaul himself, and he pushed back the Germanic Tencterians, who had crossed the Rhine from Upper Hesse. He had a 400-meter bridge built over the Rhine in 10 days, marched to the Germanic right bank of the Rhine, showed off the power of his army, won over the Germanic Ubians as allies and forced some other tribes into peace agreements.
In 38 B.C. Augustus' general Agrippa resettled the Germanic Ubians, allied with Rome, in a new town at the left bank of the Rhine in order to protect Roman Gaul from raids by uncontrolled Germania. This was the founding of Colonia Agrippinensis, today's City of Cologne.
The wealthy country of Gaul seemed firmly and safely in the hands of the Romans. Even before the Roman conquest the Gauls had already lived in towns, and they started to get used to living under Roman rule.
But in 16 B.C. Gaul was raided by the Germanic Sugambrians, Usipians, and Tencterians. They severely defeated Roman governor Lollius and freely looted the wealthy country, then returning to their homeland with heavy booty.
Emperor Augustus had led many wars, but this was the heaviest defeat his forces had suffered so far (the defeat of Varus and his legions would follow only many years later). Though Gaul was only looted, these attacks made Rome afraid that one day it could lose Gaul, a country that by then was yielding more taxes and crop than the fabulously wealthy Egypt. In order to avoid this danger in the long run, Germania had to be conquered - though the country itself neither offered cities, nor treasures, nor a food surplus.
Augustus moved to the Rhine border and prepared the big offensive in person. First, all the territory between the Alps and the Danube was to be conquered, and then Germania was to be attacked simultaneously from the Rhine, the Danube, and from the North Sea coast with a fleet.
Already the following year, Augustus' generals Drusus and Tiberius subdued 50 Celtic tribes between the Alps and Lake Constance. Noricum (today's Switzerland) and Rhetia (today's Switzerland plus a southern part of today's Germany) became Roman provinces, and as planned the Romans had reached the Danube river. As the province capital they founded a military colony named Augusta Vindelicorum (today's Augsburg).
Now the actual conquest of Germania could begin (13 B.C.). As a starting point, the Romans established 50 legion camps along the Rhine and connected them by army routes. (Many of these camps would develop into cities over the centuries, among them Xanten, Bonn and Mainz.) Along the left bank of the Rhine, a considerable Roman fleet was being built.
Emperor Augustus appointed his adoptive son Drusus governor of Gaul and made him commander-in-chief of the Rhine troops - probably 5 to 6 legions, or about 50,000 men, expected to conquer Germania. (Alexander the Great once had subdued all peoples from Greece to India with fewer men). Tiberius was meanwhile sent east to conquer what today is Southern Hungary up to the Danube. The Emperor himself returned to Rome.
Drusus' first success was to win over the Germanic Batavians as allies: This tribe settled along the Rhine delta, near where the Rhine flows into the North Sea (today's Netherlands). They were important to secure free access to the North Sea for the Roman fleet. Drusus had his legionaries dig a huge channel through the Batavians' tribal area, from the Rhine to the Zuider lake (Ijsselsea): From there his Rhine fleet could safely reach the North Sea's Germanic coast without risking the long detour from the Rhine delta.
While the Romans were preparing the war against Germania from their province of Gaul, the Gauls were embittered over the Roman tax collection: Apparently several Gaullic tribes were ready to risk an uprising against the Roman rule. The Germanic Sugambrians, who settled along the opposite bank of the Rhine, were willing to assist and support the Gauls (12 B.C.).
But Drusus had come to know of these plans, and summoned the Gaullic chieftains - on the pretext of celebrating a festivity in honor of the divine Augustus. The Gauls didn't dare to take any action without their leaders. Soon afterwards, Drusus repelled the Germanic Sugambrians and Usipians, who were just crossing the Rhine with their joint army. Drusus himself set across the Rhine with his troops, and devastated their tribal areas. Now that these Germanic tribes along the right bank of the Rhine were defeated, the danger was averted from Gaul.
Immediately afterwards (summer 12 B.C.) Drusus set out with his fleet, reached the North Sea over his channel, and now sailed eastwards along the Germanic coast. The Germanic Frisians were so impressed by his fleet and army that they immediately asked for peace. Drusus made them pay a mild tribute (they would have to deliver a certain number of cattle skins every year), and accepted them as allies: During the rest of this campaign, a Frisian army marched along the coast, accompanying the Roman fleet, which was slowly sailing further eastwards.
Arriving at the delta of the river Ems, Drusus' plan probably was to subdue the Germanic Chaucians, who settled there. Then he might have sailed upstream towards the south, defeating the Ampsivarians, who settled along the Ems. Leaving his fleet and marching further southwards, he might have attacked the Bructerians, who settled between Ems and Rhine, and finally once more the Sugambrians along the Rhine, in whose territory he had started this campaign.
But during low tide, his fleet ran aground near the Ems delta, and was now stuck. If the Frisians hadn't rushed to assist the Romans, the onsetting high tide could have caused a catastrophe for fleet and army. But the Romans still seem to have suffered considerable casualties: For Drusus immediately retreated (it's unclear whether with the remainder of his fleet or on foot), without daring even a single battle against a single tribe. He then returned to Rome to spend the winter there.
Meanwhile, the most important inland Germanic tribes (the Sugambrians and the Suebian Tribes along the Rhine, and the Cheruscans along the Weser river) had formed a defensive alliance against the Romans - and had already contractually divided the booty they hoped for: The Cheruscans were to get the horses, the Suebians the gold and silver, and the Sugambrians the main part: the prisoners, i.e. slaves.
But the Germanic Cattans (south of the Sugambrians and Cheruscans) had refused to join this alliance. Instead, they had allied themselves with the Romans. As a reward, the Romans assigned new land to the Cattans for settling and farming - land which was probably also claimed by the Sugambrians. The Sugambrians consequently declared war on the Cattans, and invaded their territory with their entire army (spring of 11 B.C.).
Drusus had by now returned to Germania, and acted fast to make use of this opportunity: He crossed the Rhine, first attacking the Usipians again, this time defeating them completely. Immediately afterwards he moved on, crossing the undefended tribal area of the Sugambrians, and marched eastwards, against the Cheruscans along the Weser river.
Apparantly the Cheruscans managed to resist this unexpected attack until the start of winter, when Drusus was forced to retreat due to lack of provisions. On their way back, the Romans had some casualties from attacks and ambushes. They almost suffered a heavy defeat when their army was trapped and attacked within a narrow valley. But by their superior discipline and equipment, the legionaries fended off the Germanic assault.
Drusus set up a fortified army camp in the border region between the tribal areas of the Cheruscans and the Sugambrians, in order to prevent both tribes from unified action in the future. He set up a second camp in the area of the Cattans, who were allied with Rome, in order to protect them from attacks of the Sugambrians. Then he returned to Rome - where he was honored by Emperor Kaiser Augustus with a triumph.
But already the following year (10 B.C.), the Cattans decided to terminate their alliance with the Romans. It is not known why they did this - out of discontent with the Roman rule, or of discontent with their new land, or because they were unable to resist the pressure from their neighboring tribes, or simply because new politicians came to power with them. However, they left the settlement area that had been assigned to them by the Romans, returned to their former territory, and joined the tribal alliance of the Sugambrians, Cheruscans and Suebians.
Correspondingly, Drusus' work in this year (10 B.C.) consisted of waging war against the rebellious Cattans from southwest (Roman army camp near today's city of Mainz), and to devastate the Cattans' tribal territory. In bloody battles he subjugated all areas he entered - but without breaking the tribe's resistance.
In the following year (9 B.C.) Drusus once again set out from today's Mainz with a huge army, and again invaded the Cattans' tribal area. This time he seems to have won a decisive victory in a major battle.
This opened the way for also taking action against the Germanic Suebians, who settled further southeast. On this campaign, Drusus seems to have defeated the Germanic Marcomanians (and to have captured much booty from them): The Marcomanians were a sub-tribe of the Germanic Suebians, and settled around the river Main. Probably as a result of this defeat, a man named Marbod, who had been educated in Rome, became new king of the Marcomanians. Under his leadership, some time later the Marcomanians left their tribal area, moved further eastwards, and occupied the land of the Celtic Boians (Bohemia, in today's Czech Republic), where they were safe from Roman influence for the time being.
Meanwhile (still 9 B.C.), Drusus was fighting some other Suebian sub-tribes (among others the Hermundurians). Then he marched northwest, to again attack the Cheruscans, whom he had had been unable to fight for the last one-and-a-half years, due to his war against the Cattans. Here too he seems to have overcome all resistance without much effort, so that he could now march through their tribal area and cross the Weser river.
From there he advanced further eastwards, and finally reached the Elbe river. His armies marched and fought southward along the Elbe, presumably up to the river Saale, then returned to the Rhine camps in the west.
But on this return Drusus fell with his horse, broke his thigh, and died of wound-fever after one month, being only 29 years old. He had been successful, and popular with the Romans, and favored by the Emperor: It is likely he would have become Augustus' successor - instead of his uncanny brother Tiberius.