Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Eager for Glory: The Untold Story of Drussus The Elder, Conqueror of Germania

Military biographies tend to be written by the same historic figures over and over again. There are dozens of books devoted to men like Julius Caesar, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, etc. There is a popular interest in such famous personalities, and there are ample resources on which a biographer can base his research. In Eager for Glory Lindsay Powell chronicles the life of an important Roman leader who has been unfairly neglected by history.

Before his accidental death, Drusus the Elder was successfully conquering western Germany. He was stepson of Emperor Augustus, the brother of Emperor Tiberius, father of Emperor Claudius, grandfather of Emperor Caligula, and great-grandfather of Emperor Nero. Had he not died so young, his exploits and family connections would have commanded a prominent place in Roman and world history.

Eager for Glory gathers the scattered evidence of Drusus' life and presents as near a complete story as can be told. The last person to write a biography of Drusus was the Emperor Augustus himself. Sadly, that text was lost to history. There is no surviving autobiography as Caesar has left us, nor are there full accounts written by ancient historians such as Plutarch or Tacitus. Yet, there are some short references to Drusus among ancient writings. Powell pieced these with his deep knowledge of the the Roman military, recent archaeology, and the general history surrounding Drusus' life. The gaps are filled with Powell's own intriguing theories.

The text begins with a discussion of Drusus' early life in the imperial family. As a young adult he enters politics. At age 22 Augustus puts him in command of the Roman operation to conquer the Alps. This was the Bellum Alpinum (aka Bellum Noricum) against the Raeti. I have seen this war briefly mentioned in other Roman military books, so I was very interested to read Powell's detailed account. Those readers unfamiliar with the Roman, Celtic, and German ways of war are supplied with backgrounds on the respective armor, weapons, equipment, tactics, etc. Speaking of armor, Roman history buffs will be interested to see how Powell ties the introduction of segmented armor to Drusus' own legions. After the conquest of the Raetians, Drusus is rewarded with a governorship of Gaul.

Although technically provinces of Rome, the three Gauls are still a fertile land for rebellion. Through clever diplomacy, Drusus diffuses a potential revolt. He then responds militarily to violent incursions from German neighbors. The unstable border encourages Augustus to subdue and assimilate the people East of the Rhine. Powell narrates the daring exploration and long-distance combat of Drusus' Bellum Germanicum. At the book's end we learn of Rome's reaction to Drusus' unexpected death, his (until recently) fading legacy, and an assessment of the man. Eager for Glory is an engaging story of a worthy, yet forgotten Roman commander.

P.S. Other reviewers have grumbled that the figure numbers in the text don't match the photos. This really isn't much of a problem as it is easy to figure out which image his writing refers to.

P.P.S. Powell wrote a related article: "Bella Germaniae: The German Wars of Drusus the Elder and Tiberius" in Ancient Warfare, Special 1, 2009, pp. 10-16.

P.P.P.S. By the end of this year we can expect Powell's next book, a biography of Germanicus. Agrippa comes after that. It's looking to be a nice series of accomplished and overlooked Roman generals.


Phil Broeders said...

Thanks for that - I'd heard of Drusus but never knew his importance.

Sean said...

Yes,thanks. I'll be looking for this book. I know of Drusus only through his mention as the father of Claudius.