Who actually was – Ariovistus?
Ariovistus was the main actor in a bloody triangle relationship between our three tribes, who lived in the first half of the last century BC. He was a war lord of the Suebi, a Teutonic tribe that lived in the area east of the Rhine river and up towards the Elbe river. His date of birth is unknown, but he died in 54 BC.
During Caesar’s time, a group of Teutonic peoples that settled in the area from the Central German Uplands and towards the Baltic Sea was called the “Suebi”. Many Teutonic tribes like the Chatti, Cherusci, Marcomanni and Hermuduri were seen as Suebic people by the Romans and they were both famous and feared for their fighting skills. The sound of their name still rings in today’s name “Swabians”.
Gauls and Romans
In the first century BC, Gaul was inhabited by different tribes of Celtic origin, who fought each other for dominance. Rome had conquered the Gaul Mediterranean coastline and annexed it as the province “Gallia Narbonensis”. Rome forged alliances with the tribes north of this province to create a buffer zone.
One of these confederated tribes, the Aedui, lived north of the Roman Gaul provinces, near today’s Lyon and towards the river Saône. Bordering to the north-east was the territory of the Gaul tribes of the Sequani and the Arverni. Those two were fighting the Aedui for dominance in Gaul and control of the river Saône in particular, as the river was an important trade route, promising high customs revenue for whoever controlled it.
To resist the Aedui, the Sequani and Arverni allied themselves with the Teutonic duke Ariovistus. In 71 BC he then led an army of more than 15,000 fighters and retinue, consisting of Suebi and other tribes, across the Rhine river. In the years that followed, Sequani, Arverni and Suebi successfully fought against the Aedui and finally crushed their army in the Battle of Magetobriga in 61 BC.
The Aedui became tributary and had to submit many hostages to Ariovistus, which was supposed to ensure their good conduct in the future. The Sequani were hit even harder: Their Teutonic allies settled in their territory, expelled them from their land, sometimes by force, and got thousands of other Teutons to join them on the other side of the Rhine river.
This situation led the Aedui Diviciacus to Gaius Julius Caesar, who at the time was the governor of the Roman provinces in Gaul. As reported by the later emperor in his book “On the Gallic War”, the noble Aedui bitterly complained about the injustice and described Ariovistus as a cruel, hot-tempered and violent man. Soon all of Gaul would be occupied by the barbaric Teutons, unless Rome would confront them.
Caesar offered help and promised to negotiate with Ariovistus. After all it was allies of the Roman Empire that were repressed and abused here; Rome could not possibly let this issue slip. Even more importantly, however, a powerful enemy was about to gain a foothold on the Roman border. To defeat them would boost Caesar’s reputation at home in Rome.
Pride goes before a fall
Yet when Caesar asked Ariovistus to come to the negotiation table, the Suebi lord rejects the offer with proud words. He would have nothing to discuss with Caesar, so if Caesar had something to discuss with him, it is him, who should be making the journey.
Subsequently Caesar submitted Rome’s demands: Release all of the hostages, no further combat operations and no more Teutons should move across the Rhine river. Ariovistus proudly replied that he defeated the Gauls, so the “right of the strongest” was on his side: “If Caesar wants a fight, he should fight. He will then see what heroes the invincible Teutons really are.” Caesar accepted the challenge.
Some historians share the belief that this was Caesar’s intention from the start. His reports to the Roman senate on the situation in Gaul in “De Bello Gallico” are the main source of these events and as its writer, Caesar was able to portray the situation according to his goals. He must have been keen to describe the enemy as barbaric as possible to justify the war. At the same time, Ariovistus also needed to be portrayed as very strong, to make Caesar’s victory even more glorious.
Battle of Vosges
The decisive battle took place in the Vosges in 58 BC. Caesar brought six Roman legions, about 24,000 strong; they faced roughly 30,000 Teutons. A final negotiation attempt between Caesar and Ariovistus fell apart when a Teutonic cavalry division broke the ceasefire and engaged a group of Roman support units in a skirmish.
The battle lasted for three days and was characterized by tactical maneuvers, in which Ariovistus displayed his great talent as a war lord. The Romans were however able to swing the decisive meeting of the two armies in their favor. When the left flank of the Romans started to crumble in light of the Teutonic charge, a move unsanctioned from above turned out to be crucial. A Roman cavalry division bypassed the Teutons and stopped the attack, while at the same time disrupting the Teutonic battle formation.
Unlike the Roman legions, the Teutons had no plan B. Their tactic was focused exclusively on the attack and there were no fortified retreats to which they could withdraw. In a mad rush they fled for hours towards the Rhine river that was about 25 kilometers away. All the while the Roman cavalry was on their heels, killing them by the thousands. Ariovistus managed to escape and withdraw to Germania on the other side of the river. Many of his followers, including his two wives, were killed while fleeing.
Caesar followed the fleeing army even across the Rhine river and for this even erected a wooden bridge across the river in just ten days. The local Teutonic tribes teamed-up with the Romans so that the remaining Suebi had to withdraw into the area known today as the Black Forest. Ariovistus was never caught and reportedly died in 54 BC.
You see, when the tribes in Travian fight among each other, they do so in line with old tradition.
And even in our game allies do sometimes turn out to be the greatest enemy…
“Commentarii de Bello Gallico”.
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