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Romans next to Elbe

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Elbe and the Romans | Photo: che | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

A very interesting story about the presence of the Romans on the Elbe was left to us by Velleius Paterculus, a Roman historian who lived during the reigns of Octavian Augustus and Tiberius. In 5 CE the Roman army led by the future emperor – Tiberius stood on the Elbe. What Paterculus tells us?

We were encamped on the nearer bank of the aforesaid river, while on the farther bank glittered the arms of the enemies’ troops, who showed an inclination to flee at every movement and manoeuvre of our vessels, when one of the barbarians, advanced in years, tall of stature, of high rank, to judge by his dress, embarked in a canoe, made as is usual with them of a hollowed log, and guiding this strange craft he advanced alone to the middle of the stream and asked permission to land without harm to himself on the bank occupied by our troops, and to see Caesar.

– Velleius Paterculus, Roman history, II, 107

Then the man was to say to Tiberius:

Our young men are insane, for though they worship you as divine when absent, when you are present they fear your armies instead of trusting to your protection. But I, by your kind permission, Caesar, have to‑day seen the gods of whom I merely used to hear; and in my life have never hoped for or experienced a happier day.

Velleius Paterculus, Roman history, II, 107

Then the German was allowed to touch Tiberius’ hand, got into the boat and returned to his kinsmen. As the historian points out, the man had to once again look back to see the future emperor.

The story told by Paterculus proves the importance of propaganda, even in Roman times. The story emphasizes the divinity and the delight of distant barbarian peoples with the person of the future emperor. Although Paterculus came from the aristocracy, he created a work praising the first two Roman emperors.

  • Velleius Paterculus, Roman history

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