History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Teutons and Romans

Besides the Teutons we hear also in ancient times of the Cimbri, another wild tribe of the same Germanic family. These blue-eyed savages hated peace too. They were for ever wandering forth, clamorous for new lands, so again and again they came into conflict with the Romans. And even the world-conquerors could not stand against them. Many battles these Germans won, and for twelve years the Romans trembled before the "Cimbric Terror." Thrice the way to Rome lay open to the plundering hordes, but each time, why or wherefore we know not, they turned aside to Spain or Belgium, and Rome was saved. For the moment, it may be, they desired not conquest south of the Alps, but a home north of them.

At length, however, the German hordes decided to attack Rome, to waste all Italy, and lay the capital in ruins. An enormous host gathered. It was not merely an army of warriors, it was a whole people on the march. They came with their tents and their household goods, their wives and children, their slaves and servants, their cattle and dogs.

Slowly this enormous host wound southward, divided into two great bands, the Teutons under their King Teutobod and the Cimbri under their King Boiorix. The two hosts marched upon Italy by different routes, and it was the Teutons who first met the Roman army arrayed against them. For the Roman leader Marius resolved not to wait for Italy to be attacked, but crossed the Alps and marched to meet the foe.

It was at the mouth of the Rhone valley that the two armies met. Here Marius fortified his camp well, and dug a deep trench about it. Then he awaited the enemy. It was not long before the Teutons appeared upon the plain in numbers beyond all imaginings. On and on they came, hungering for battle. Soon their terrible war-song resounded, rising and falling in harsh roars. It was very awful to hear, for each man held his shield in front of his mouth, so that it acted like a sounding-board, and gave to his voice a strange unearthly tone.

Urged on by this wild music the warriors advanced. But Marius and his men lay still within their strong encampment. They refused to fight. For three days the barbarians raged around the camp in vain. From every attempt to storm it they were beaten back with great loss.

But if the barbarians raged without, the Roman soldiers raged within the camp. They were eager to sally forth, give battle to the foe or scatter them in flight, and they were made to sit still, or allowed at best only to throw a few arrows from the walls. "What does Marius take us for," they grumbled, "that he thus locks us up and will not let us fight? Is building walls and digging trenches worthy labour for a soldier? Are we not here to fight for our country?"

Marius was not ill-pleased to find his soldiers so eager for battle. He soothed them gently and bade them wait.

At length, weary of the useless attack, the Teutons resolved to march past the Roman army and reach Italy without further delay.

Marius allowed them to go. Growing bolder and ever bolder, they passed close to the camp, flinging taunts at the Romans. "Have you any messages for your wives and families?" they asked, "for we shall soon see them."

For six days the mighty host filed onward, horse and foot, men, women, and children, with numberless wagon-loads of baggage. Marius watched them calmly and did nothing. Then, as soon as the Teutons had passed, he left his camp and followed. And as they marched onward each night he encamped near to them in some strong, well-guarded position.

At length they came to a place named Aquae SextiŠ or SextiliŠ Waters, and here Marius resolved to give battle. He chose a strong position for his camp, but it lacked water. This was pointed out to him. Thereupon Marius pointed to a stream which flowed close by the camp of the enemy. "There," he said, "you can get water if you buy it with your blood."

"Why, then," asked a soldier wrathfully, "do you not lead us to it ere our blood is dried up in us?"

At that Marius smiled, well pleased, for he had only trained his men so that they might fight all the better when the right time came.

"Wait," he said quietly, "let us first fortify our camp"; and the soldiers were fain to obey.

Three days later the battle was fought.

Marius drew up his soldiers upon the summit of a little hill. Up this the barbarians rushed, and the fight began. It was long and bitter. For hours the Teutons fought with fierce, untamed bravery. When the foremost fell those behind took their place. But at length the wild northern savages, unused to the blaze of a southern sun, began to weary. Bit by bit the Romans drove them down the hill, and at length scattered them in flight.

The slaughter was awful, and so many thousands fell upon the field that it is said the people of Marseilles for many years after fenced their vineyards about with the bones of the slain Teutons. But the men did not fight alone. The women too joined, and when all hope of victory had fled, rather than fall into the hands of the conquerors, they slew themselves and their children. The Teuton host was thus utterly wiped out. Few escaped; those who were not slain were taken prisoner, the king among them.

Cimbri and Teutons


Meanwhile the Cimbri had crossed the Alps into Italy. The snow and the cold of the high passes did not appal them. Almost naked as they were, they strode carelessly through the snowdrifts, and sitting on their shields they slid down the icy slopes with shouts of triumph. Thus, like an avalanche, they poured into the plain of Italy.

As the Cimbri advanced, plundering and wasting on every side, the Romans fled before them. Their leader was in despair when Marius, already victorious over the Teutons, came to help him.

The Cimbri, who knew nothing of the battle of AquŠ SextiŠ, wondered why the Teutons were so long in coming. Full of their triumphs, they now sent to Marius, and demanded land and towns for themselves and their brethren, so that they might make their home in the fair realm of Italy.

"Who are your brethren?" asked Marius.

"The Teutons," was the reply.

Then Marius laughed. "Do not trouble yourselves for your brethren," he said, "for we have already given them all the land they need, and which they shall possess for ever."

Soon the Cimbri learned that Marius mocked at them, and that the land their brethren had was but a soldier's grave. Then were they angry. "You will pay for this jest," they cried, and at once made ready for battle. It was a terrible fight, both fierce and long. But the discipline of Rome overcame at length the wild bravery the barbarians. The men fell in thousands, many of them slaying themselves rather than be taken prisoners. The women too fought. Clad in black robes, with wild eyes, and streaming hair, they seemed avenging furies as they defended the encampment. They fought the enemy, they slew the cowards who fled, they put their own children to death, and last of all slew themselves. So at length when night came there was no living thing upon the ghastly field, save only the faithful dogs, who howled dismally through the darkness over their dead masters' bodies.

Thus were the Cimbri wiped out. Seeking a home they found a grave in the sunny land beyond the Alps.