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(24 May 15 BCE - 10 October 19 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Bust of Germanicus – a general who gained great popularity in the Roman Empire.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

Germanicus was born on May 24, 15 BCE as Caius Iulius Caesar Germanicus. He was one of the most famous Roman chiefs. He became famous for successful campaigns carried out in Germania.

As the son of a great husband, Drusus the Elder and Antonina the Younger had a broad and brilliant political career and military. His father Germanicus inherited the nickname Germanicus, which he rightly owed for his later victories for the Rhine. He was the cousin of grandson Octavian Augustus, nephew of Tiberius, older brother Claudius, husband of Agrippina Elder and father of, among others: Agrippina the Younger(in the future she will be married to Germanic’s brother Claudius) and emperor Caligula (future tyrant).

Military career

From an early age Germanic, as a son from a good home, was educated under the watchful eye of the greatest thinkers and scientists of that period. He had outstanding talents in pronunciation and learning in Greek and Latin, and above all, he learned the art of warfare. From an early age, Germanicus took part in numerous war expeditions to Germany and Gaul. He was a very good warrior, which is why his successes were significant. He was considered an outstanding leader, and at the same time was liked by legionaries.

In the 4th year CE, Emperor Augustus, designating Tiberius as his successor, obliged him to adopt Germanicus and make him his successor. This, however, exceptionally despised the young and popular young man. German, according to his contemporaries, had outstanding physical and spiritual qualities, which ensured him recognition and love of the Romans.

In the 5th year CE, Germanicus married Agrippina the Elder. In the following years, nine children were born. Three of them died as infants. The rest are three daughters: Agrippina, Drusilla and Liwilla and three sons: Nero, Druzus and Gaius Caesar (Caligula).

The extremely busy Germanicus did not stay at home for more than a week. As a result, his wife Agrippina the Elder, who was an extremely brave woman, accompanied him on all his war expeditions, both to Germany, Gaul and the Middle East. During this time he won many victories by commanding an army of Pannonia and Dalmatia.

In 12 CE, Germanic, twenty-seven years old, became consul and received all his legions in Gaul under his command. However, he did not exercise direct command there, because his function was properly based on the work of a civil administrator. Germanic, who moved to Gaul with the whole family, mainly determined the property censuses of Gaul residents.
In 13 CE, Germanicus became the commander in chief of the Rhine legions, where he gained immense popularity as a brilliant and forgiving leader.

The unexpected death of the seventy-year-old emperor Augustus and the accession to the throne of the unpopular among the people of Tiberius caused a riot in the Germanicus army in Germany. Soldiers reluctant to rule Tiberius proclaimed Germanicus Emperor. However, he rejected the proposed title, accepting the will of August. The Germanicus man managed to silence the rebellion thanks to his personal prestige and caution, as well as various concessions to soldiers.

But when the emissaries of the Roman senate arrived, the rebellion broke out again. Germanicus’s persuasions and requests did not result. The rebellion from the camp of Germanic’s wife, Agrippina, together with his son Gajus, a favourite of soldiers, contributed to silencing the rebellion. Their departure extremely worried and angered the rebelling soldiers, especially since they were leaving the camp without escort, and under the protection of the Gauls. Then Germanicus came out to them, who, according to Tacitus, spoke to them:

Neither my wife nor my son are more expensive to me than my father and motherland; but his – his own majesty, the Roman state would defend the remaining armies; my wife and my children, whom I would willingly sacrifice for my fame, now I am away from the raging ones, that no matter what other crime threatens on your part, only my blood will erase her and that the killing of grandson Augustus, the murder of your daughter-in-law Tiberius has not made them even more guilty.

Tacitus, Annales, I

His unusually lively and dramatic speech caused many legionaries to cry and sadness. Without hesitation, they again gave in to the orders of their beloved leader. The suppression of the rebellion and the refusal to become emperor won Germanicism favouring the reigning Tiberius.

As a reward for suppressing the rebellion, Germanicus was appointed commander-in-chief of the Rhine army. The chief was moved to a new headquarters, in the city of Ubiów, where he had another daughter, Agrippina the Younger, the future wife of Emperor Claudius and mother Nero.
At the turn of 15 and 16 CE, he made two successful expeditions against the Germans under the leadership of Arminius. There he found and buried the remains of three legions remaining after the famous massacre in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE

Karl von Piloty, Thusnelda Led in Germanicus’ Triumph. Tiberius was extremely jealous of Germanicus’s successes. The young commander, after defeating Arminius on the Weser River in 16 CE, returned to Rome and received the right to triumph. Arminius’s wife, Thusneld, and their children took part in the march.

Presence in East

The extraordinary popularity of the young leader and his wife alarmed Tiberius, who recalled Germanicus and in 17 CE he sent him on a political mission to the East, to Syria, as consul-general (praepositus Orienti), where he was to check the negligence in the administration and control the disturbances in the Roman legions.

On the way, 34-year-old Germanicus visited Nicopolis, where he could see the site of the battle of Actium, where Octavian Augustus (his adopted grandfather) defeated the fleet of Mark Antony (his maternal grandfather) in 31 BCE. He then stopped at Olympia and won the four-horse chariot competition at the 199th Olympic Games.

After arriving in Syria, he quickly managed to gain the trust of the soldiers, at the head of which he conquered and annexed Cappadocia and Commagene to Rome in 18 CE.

While Germanicus was fighting, Emperor Tiberius recalled the current governor of Syria, Silanus, and appointed Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. His extremely violent nature and negative disposition towards Germanicus caused conflict between them. During the stay of Germanicus’ family in the Middle East, there were quarrels between their wives.

From Syria, Germanicus and his family went to Armenia. There he placed King Artaxias on the throne and met with King Artabanus of the Parthians.

Visiting Egypt and traveling on Nile

In 19 CE Germanicus went to Egypt, which was against the orders issued by Octavian Augustus, forbidding entering Egypt without permission, as a province of critical importance for Rome in terms of grain supplies. This event caused great indignation in Tiberius. According to Tacitus (Annales, 2.59), Germanicus supposedly wanted to study the ancient history of the state. To this end, he embarked on a trireme at Seleucia in Syria and, accompanied by praetorians, sailed south by ship.

In Egypt, after leaving the ship, Germanicus met with great admiration from the crowds, which proved his popularity in the state. On the spot, he was to make a public speech and finally lower the price of wheat to relieve the Egyptians suffering from hunger. This was met with criticism from Tiberius.

After his stay in Alexandria, Germanicus was to decide to travel south along the Nile to see the ancient monuments of Egypt. On the way, he was to visit Heracleum, Heliopolis, the Roman fort in present-day Cairo and reach the famous Egyptian pyramids, which were about 2600 years old during Germanicus’ lifetime. Germanicus had a chance to see e.g. the famous pyramid in Giza or Egyptian temples, where he even made sacrifices.

Germanicus’ travel in Egypt
Ancient History Magazine, 42

Then Germanicus reached the famous Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt, and visited the so-called Colossi of Memnon. It was a pair of giant statues that attracted ancient tourists visiting Egypt. The objects were created in the 14th century BCE, near the Valley of the Kings, and depicted two figures sitting on a throne; each the height of a six-story building. The Greeks and Romans especially admired one of these statues, because it was distinguished by the fact that it talked. It was considered to be the image of the mythical Memnon, the son of the goddess Dawn, who died at the hands of Achilles. Around 27 BCE the statue was damaged by an earthquake, the trunk broke and the upper part fell to the ground. From then on, every day at dawn there was a loud sound, like the cracking or breaking of strings on an instrument; so it was thought that this was how Memnon spoke to his grieving mother. This belief was encouraged by local guides, who wanted to attract as many tourists as possible.

Death of Germanicus, Nicolas Poussin

Germanicus finally reached Elephantine, an island in the Nile River, 800 km from Alexandria. Here came the end of Germanicus’s voyage, who returned to the Egyptian coast and sailed back to Syria.


After arriving in Antioch, Germanicus began to be persecuted. Intrigues against him intensified, initiated by the aforementioned Piso. Unexpectedly for everyone, Germanicus fell seriously ill. It is possible that Germanicus brought some disease with him from Egypt. Originally giving medication helped, but then the condition deteriorated. It is believed that the reason for such a sudden change in health could be poison given to him in some way by Piso and magical practices intended to bring him misfortune. The strange events that accompanied his last days of life caused Germanicus’ mental and health breakdown.

It is possible that Emperor Tiberius himself was behind the assassination attempt, concerned about the arbitrariness and popularity of the young leader.

Germanicus died unjustly and unworthily of his deeds in Antioch on October 10, 19 CE, only a month after returning from the pyramids.

Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus, Benjamin West


  • Aratea – the authorship and date of the translation of the work of Aratos (Fainomena) is discussed among scholars. Most researchers accept the authorship of Germanic. The oldest testimony of Aratea is from Lactantius and Jerome.
  • Prognostica – the work is preserved in fragments, also dealing with stars, but in a meteorological context with astrological elements. From the preserved work remained 165 verses divided into six fragments. It is not excluded that both works could form one whole.
  • Cary M., Scullard H. H., Dzieje Rzymu. Od czasów najdawniejszych do Konstantyna t. I, Warszawa 1992
  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Powell Lindsay, A Roman vip tours sights on the Nile. Germanicus in Egypt, "Ancient History Magazine", 42
  • Tacitus, Annales

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