September 7, 2007

Year-by-Year: 8 AD

Tiberius & Germanicus pacify the North Illyrians, while Varus stirs up hostile tribes in Germany.

In January of 8 AD, Jesus the Messiah was 13 years and 7 months old.
We don’t know what he did this year[1], but he grew! And he got to know his Father better, as a man.

Now, here’s what else was going on in 8 AD.


In 8 AD, Augustus Caesar was increasing his power over everything.

In early January, the Emperor cancelled the annual elections in the Senate. Then he appointed all the officers & Governors himself. Augustus did this to end some major fight among the Senators. But we don’t know what the Senators were fighting about.

We do know Rome was still hearing talk of rebellion, right up to the end of last year. But Augustus put a stop to that once and for all when he banished his granddaughter, Julia the younger.[2] With no one left to rally around, the noise about rebellion died down.[3] Besides, the famine was finally over, so there was one less factor fueling the people’s anger.
Early in the year, Augustus held chariot races and gladiator fights to celebrate their good food supply. Caesar even brought in a Rhinoceros to fight an Elephant, which nobody had seen before! (Somehow, the Elephant won.) So everyone in Rome had bread and something to talk about. Rebellion was gone from the city.

So was the last of Augustus’ blood kin.

Sometime this year, a giant archway went up in North Italy. A carving of the Imperial Family was put into the Arch. Augustus, Livia, Tiberius & Germanicus were on it.[4] Even the Emperor’s two dead grandsons, Gaius & Lucius, were carved into the arch. But their brother, sister and mother were not included. Augustus’ daughter Julia, her son Posthumous, and her daughter Julia the younger, were all in permanent exile.[5]

Augustus had a new family to protect, now. So he turned his attention to them.

Tiberius Caesar & Germanicus Caesar (the Emperor’s adopted son & grandson) were still fighting the Rebellion in Northern Illyricum. But the war was now entering its third year! And Augustus was upset because he thought Tiberius was taking too long. So, while it was still early in 8 AD, the Emperor decided to take a more direct hand in the fighting.

Now that Rome was secure[6], Augustus went into North Italy. From Ariminum on the coast, Caesar sent for his son, Tiberius.

So the General came and gave a full report to his Emperor.


Things were going well in Illyricum. Or, to put that another way, absolutely nothing was happening!

Tiberius had been sitting at Siscia all winter, with a hundred thousand troops camped all over West Pannonia. The General knew the Rebels were running out of food, and he felt like the best plan was to keep waiting them out.

Meanwhile, on Mount Alma in East Pannonia, the Illyrian Army was struggling, shrinking and starving! All thru winter, they’d had nothing to eat but strange roots and herbs. The rebels were fighting disease. Some tribes had left. And their Leaders – the two Bato’s – still weren’t getting along.

Finally, the Northern Bato (the Breucian) decided to give up. He turned in his co-ruler of the Northern tribes (a Pannonian named Pinnes). In return, the Romans let him go free, as long as he went back and led the united Illyrian tribes to end their rebellion. But when Bato the Breucian came back to Mount Alma, he started acting like Rome’s appointed dictator of Illyricum.

The Southern Bato was furious! He seized the Breucian and executed him as a traitor in front of the whole Illyrian Army. But Bato-from-the-South couldn’t control his namesake’s northern tribes at all! The Pannonian Tribesmen started attacking Romans again, but wildly.

Bato could see it was over in Pannonia. He moved his Southern Tribesmen back down to Dalmatia. Bato knew his dream of a united Illyrian nation was dead. His new goal was a united Dalmatia.

By the way, in all this time, Rome’s Legions didn’t do a single thing! Augustus kept calling Tiberius to Ariminum, and the General kept saying it was still best to wait. But the Emperor was losing patience.

After Bato’s Dalmatians left, Rome’s Legions finally got to attack. Without Bato, the Pannonians were easy to defeat. Rome won quickly. The Northern Army surrendered in August, but Tiberius knew the Southern Army was going to be much harder to defeat.

The wise old General (almost 49 years old, now) was even more cautious than usual, and sent his Legions to winter camps in early Autumn! But that was too much caution for Augustus!

Caesar called Tiberius back to North Italy one last time. There at Ariminum, Augustus told his heir what to do. Tiberius could stay in Illyricum for the winter, live with his Legions, and plan out their strategy for next year’s attacks in Dalmatia… but the Emperor wanted him back in Rome by Spring’s thaw.

Augustus went back south before winter, and Tiberius went back to his men. The Emperor-to-be liked army life better than politics.

But the old General wondered if this was his last war…


A new war was brewing in Germany this year, but no one knew it!

The Proconsul Publius Quinctillius Varus was still Governor of Germany. Varus was ruling Caesar’s new lands over the Rhine[7] with an iron fist. Actually, he was treating Rome’s new subjects like slaves. And the German tribes were getting madder and madder… But not careless!

The Germans had a plan. Two of their chiefs (Armenius & Segimerus) told their people to play along for now. The chiefs said that if Germany obeyed Varus perfectly, he would relax. And it worked! Armenius & Segimerus did everything they could to treat Varus with dignity and respect. And the new Governor became so impressed with himself, he let his guard down.

Varus even began taking the German Chiefs’ advice! After a while, Armenius & Segimerus became official advisors to the Roman Proconsul! Everything they told Varus worked out, and the Governor thought they were being truly loyal. After a while, Varus’ Roman advisors got suspected a trap, and warned the Governor. But Varus rebuked them!

That’s when the Germans knew they had him. By winter of 8 AD, Armenius & Segimerus started planning the final part of their trap.

Next year, in 9 AD, the Proconsul Varus is going to follow their final advice right to his own doom. But not just his own…

Get ready for the biggest disaster in the reign of Augustus.

Next Year Book: 9 AD!

[1] Did Jesus go back to Jerusalem between 7 AD and 29 AD? We don’t know. Now, some Christians believe Jesus had to fulfill the whole Jewish Law, right down to the letter, which included attending three festivals a year in Jerusalem! But that Jewish Law also included honoring Joseph & Mary, and Luke specifically tells us that Jesus was obedient to his earthly parents as long as he lived in Nazareth. So the answer rests with them. Joseph & Mary probably didn’t want Jesus causing another stir (yet) so they might have left him in Nazareth after 7 AD. But then again, they may have taken him along each year and just reminded him to keep a low profile. Either way, Jesus would still have fulfilled the Old Testament Law, so we can’t say for sure whether he went to the festivals again until spring of 29 AD.

By the way, after 7 AD, it’s true to say that EVERYTHING Jesus did, he did in perfect obedience to his Father. Much more than the Law, Jesus knew and obeyed the Author of the Law, whatever he did.

[2] Apparently it was a two-stage banishment, like that of Julia’s brother Posthumous, but the final exile came in 8 AD. (Adultery was involved at first, but Julia’s final crime is unknown.) Julia’s husband, Lucius Paulus, had been executed recently for plotting to kill Augustus (probably in 6 or 7 AD), but Julia herself was never implicated. It’s possible that Paulus & Julia were partly behind the rebellion posters of 6 AD. And their activities in 6 & 7 must have been tied to Agrippa’s two-stage banishment in those years. But no ancient source fills in those blanks for us. Somehow, though, all this was connected, including whatever the senators were fighting about when Augustus seized their elections! (For more, see the next footnote.)

[3] It’s interesting that the elder Julia had come back into Italy (but not Rome) in 4 AD – and now in four short years both her living children had been exiled from the homeland. It’s likely that Augustus either learned about a plot or he was paranoid enough to suspect a plot, because Julia did have her supporters in Rome (and there had been rumors of treason & revolt the past two years, but no arrests). Either way, the banishment of Julia the younger (early this year) was the final blow to any supporters of her mother who even might have been hoping for a new government under Julia & her son Posthumous. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter what Caesar’s grandchildren were (or weren’t) guilty of. Basically, the Emperor exiled them to be perfectly sure that his chosen heir(s) could take over without conflict.

[4] Tiberius’ natural son, Drusus (20 this year), was also in the carving. So was Germanicus’ brother Claudius (17 this year) and Germanicus’ two little boys, Nero Germanicus & Drusus Germanicus. (Nero Germanicus is NOT the same as the future Emperor Nero.)

[5] Augustus also banished the famous poet Ovid this year. Ovid’s banishment was partly for an unknown crime (the Poet himself called it a “mistake”) and partly just for publishing poems Augustus didn’t like. We can’t say whether Ovid’s banishment was related to the political dramas, but we do know all about the poetry.

Ovid’s book of "love" poems (published in 1 BC) had grown more popular in the 8 years since release. And we know Augustus was growing more concerned about a decrease in marriage and fatherhood among Rome’s young noblemen. So maybe Caesar was just cleaning house a little, by his own moral code, ahead of next year, when (we will note) Caesar begins making moral demands of the young noblemen. What we do see, for sure, is Augustus seizing control more and more, in yet another way.

[6] The banishing was over. Also, Augustus chose three proconsuls to handle his business while he was away.

[7] Remember, Tiberius reconquered Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe in 4 & 5 AD.

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