Found in Translation
In 98 C.E., Cornelius Tacitus, a young Roman patrician who would mature into the archetypal stylish historian, wrote a prolonged essay entitled Germania. It sought to describe the lives and virtues of a congeries of barbarian tribes, out of the Roman orbit, on the far side of the Rhine. Those whom Julius Caesar had failed to subdue the great conqueror lumped under the generic name Germani. In fact, they never called themselves by that title, nor was there a single country whose citizens knew it as Germania.
For the Romans, those sunless regions remained terra incognita, full of somber menace. The only serious attempt to enroll them into the Roman Empire came in 9 c.e., during the reign of the emperor Augustus. His legate, Quinctilius Varus, advanced with three legions into the Teutoburg forest. Gulled by the promise of a friendly welcome, he was ambushed by the native leader Hermann, whom Tacitus called Arminius. The Roman expeditionary force was annihilated. Augustus decreed that there should never be another attempt to recruit the Germans into the civilized world. During the following centuries, there was copious trade with the beery, bellicose inhabitants of the far side of the Rhine, but they remained fractious with each other, united only in being alien to Rome. Tacitus never went near them.
About the Author
Frederic Raphael, the novelist and screenwriter, is working on a study of Josephus.