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Overview on the Gallic Wars

Gallic Wars - The Batavian uprising

Date: 69 C.E.

Overview:  (Source: "Historiae" by Tacitus, 1st century C.E.)
After the death of the Roman emperor Nero (68 C.E.) the Roman empire was very unstable. August 69 C.E. the legions near the Rhine (The "Limes") proclaimed their leader Vitellius as the new emperor. And so did the legions in the eastern part of the empire with Vespasian. Then they went to Rome to support their candidate. By doing so, they must surely had Caesar in mind who crossed the river Rubicon near Rome and therefore violating an important rule, never to cross that river with legions.

The Limes, home of the Batavians, was left behind with only a minimal occupation force. The one-eyed Gaius Julius Civilis (called Claudius Civilis in the oldest Tacitus-handwriting, and who was of royal family) therefore saw an opportunity. He hated the Romans for personal reasons. The Romans, under Vitellius, had just before crimped new soldiers from his tribe and taken young Batavians as their slaves. 

Civilis started an uprising that should return freedom to the Batavians. But Civilis also had opponents within his own tribe: the Batavian nobleman Claudius Labeo and his nephew Julius Briganticus. The tribal related Caninefatae joined him under their leader Brinno, and in turn they convinced the Frisii to join them. They started to burn down 40 Roman castellae near the Rhine and gained the support of the Chaucii, the Frisii, Bructerii and the Tencterii.

Civilis conquered the Betuwe and neighboring villages. Other tribes joined him, followed by the Batavian and Caninefatae auxiliaries from the legions of Vitellius. They had heard the rumours of the uprising and then returned to their homelands, defeating a Roman army near Bonn.

Civilis ordered his army to swear loyalty to Vespasian. He laid siege before the Roman camp near Xanten (Castra Vetera). In the spring of 70 C.E. Gallic tribes also joined him, especially the mighty Treviri (with their home base near Trier) under Julius Classicus en Julius Tutor.

The Roman leader Vocula was killed by his own revolting troops. The "rebels" (in the words of Tacitus) or freedom fighters as they probably called themselves

De opstandelingen namen daarop het kamp in en stootten door naar Keulen (Colonia Agrippina) en Mainz (Moguntiacum). Germaanse stammen in de buurt werden gedwongen met de opstand mee te doen.

In the mean time, Vespasian had defeated his opponent Vitellius. The Batavians fought in the name of Vespasian so they could have stopped their uprising. But the Treviri had their own plans. Classicus made his troops swear on a free Gaul. Civilis forbid his troops to do the same. Maybe he wanted to have a Teutonic kingdom for himself. Tacitus suggests that he expected a battle with Classicus and Tutor. 

April 70 C.E. Vespasian sent out various legions for a campaign against the uprising.

The leader was Petilius Quintus Cerialis. After he took Trier, the Treviri decided for a counter-strike, which failed. So now Cologne became Roman again. 

Haunted by Cerialis Civilis fled towards Xanten and inundated its surroundings. The Batavians had an advance on inundated terrain, but by treason they lost again.

Civilis then burned his capital Nijmegen and withdraw into the Batavian island between the Maas and the Waal; the Betuwe. Some strikes on Roman castellae - Arenacum (Rindern), Batavodurum (Nijmegen), Grinnes (Rossum?), Valda (near Tiel?) - failed. They did, however, succeed in conquering the flag-ship of Cerialis, who by accident wasn't present: he spent the night with a girlfriend. But they couldn't hold ground in the Betuwe either. The batavians cleared the area, which was then destroyed by Cerialis. The Batavians wanted to stop their battle and Civilis decided to surrender.

Unfortunately, just at the moment he starts the negotiations about his terms of surrendering, Tacitus' report ends.

Translation into Dutch: (Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen)

But another report continues:

Near a destroyed bridge the negotiations ran smoothly. If the Batavians recognised the Roman supremacy, they would be done no harm. As a sign of reconciliation they built a temple in Elst. Near this temple a cow, a sheep and a pig were sacrificed. This is a Roman habit to ritually purify the soil.

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