January 1, 2009

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (2)

The fatal injury incurred by Claudius Drusus Nero happened after the General had already been campaigning for some time – midsummer will be a good first estimate to start working from. Whenever it was, precisely, Augustus was in North Italy “on campaign” and Tiberius was at Rome celebrating his Pannonian victory. Within the thirty days after Drusus’ injury, the news and Tiberius each had to travel a thousand miles, so the older Nero brother was able to see his wounded sibling before he died. These thirty days make our first estimate of the death date something close to August 1st, perhaps.

The funeral procession began in Germany, crossing the same thousand (or so) miles up the Rhine riverbank and over the Alps. Soldiers and townsmen carried the coffin while Tiberius led the way on foot. Since thirty miles a day is a generous estimate, the procession needed over a month to get Drusus’ body to Rome. This puts the starting point for this estimate in early to mid September. Funeral activities themselves are somewhat more difficult to measure in time. The body laid in state in the Forum, two orations were given, and the burial itself – perhaps a week, total? So if Drusus fell off his horse July 1st, he’d be buried by late September or thereabouts.

However, none of that is the point. The real question is – where was Augustus during all this time and when did he know for certain that Drusus was dead? If we can trust Tacitus (for now, despite the fact he seems to get the season wrong) Augustus waited in North Italy for the funeral cortege. None of the other evidence contradicts this, and it lines up well with Dio’s repeated comment that Augustus – apart from the funeral – avoided spending time inside Rome until January 1st. [The formal return from a campaign required celebratory rites that Augustus refused to perform under the circumstances.]

Again, if Drusus was injured midway through campaigning season, it looks like the Emperor remained away from Rome until about mid-September. Dio’s general account of the German campaign makes it impossible to calculate the date of Drusus’ injury with anything close to precision, but conquering “with difficulty” the lands of the Chatti, Suebi and Cherusci peoples, plus pillaging everything up to the Elbe River – that must have taken more than a couple of months, at least. Trusting the army absolutely didn’t start before March – we might guess the injury couldn’t happen before June 1st, suggesting a funeral no earlier than mid-August. Searching for the other extreme, we might take Suetonius’ statement that Drusus died at summer camp to put the death no later than mid-September, with a funeral as late as early November.

A final consideration may be the seemingly dismissable words of Tacitus, “In the bitterest of the winter”. Granting the sensationalism of the passage, and even that its import is of the popular grievance in 19 AD, not necessarily to be given as fact about 9 BC… Even so, we might still consider the word “winter”. That is, the summer camp may have been left up late since its commander had not yet returned. If Drusus’ body left Vetera (or Mogontiacum) as late as October 1st, it would be close to November when the cortege met Augustus at Ticinum – a reasonably practical sense for the start of “winter”, especially since Tacitus elsewhere says an early winter once fell in late September (14 AD).

At any rate, if Tacitus’ words fit the popular memory some 27 years later, this might at least suggest a funeral closer to the later end of our range than the earlier – a conclusion that also gives Drusus’ summer campaign more time to do all that Dio claims it accomplished. Finally, Dio himself says the funeral cortege passed the army’s winter quarters along its route. (Suetonius is the one who mentions Drusus’ summer camp.) Altogether, this range gives us a funeral sometime in Autumn, with a much better chance of it being closer to winter than summer.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll compare the range of dates for Drusus’ funeral with those for Syllaeus’ arrival. A couple more details from Dio and Josephus may help us fix the funeral date a bit more precisely in order to help consider the question, “Did the death of Drusus affect Caesar’s response to Herod’s invasion of Nabatea?”

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