| FORUM | LIBRARY | ARCHIVE | E-BOOKS |                     | TOTAL QUIZ RESULT |


  New Posts New Posts RSS Feed - The Roman Emperor's German Guard
  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Events   Register Register  Login Login


Welcome stranger, click here to read about some of the great benefits of registering for a free account with us and joining us in our global online community.


The Roman Emperor's German Guard

 Post Reply Post Reply
Author
Salah View Drop Down
Janissary
Janissary
Avatar

Joined: 20 May 2012
Location: USA
Status: Offline
Points: 10
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Salah Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Roman Emperor's German Guard
    Posted: 30 May 2012 at 00:52
Rulers and warlords throughout history have employed foreigners as bodyguards. Egyptian pharaohs had bodyguards of Nubian warriors. The person of the Eastern Roman Emperor was guarded by the Varangian Guard, one of the most colorful and impressive guard units in history. Muslim cavalrymen served Holy Roman Emperors and Sicilian Normans as retainers, likewise some Christian knights found a warmer welcome with Moorish emirs and Fatimid khalifs than they did with their co-religionists. The tlaotani of the Aztec Empire may have had a bodyguard of Mayan holkans. The Bible has David's retinue including fearsome warriors drawn from the Hittites, Philistines, and possibly even the Greeks.

The advantages of such an exotic foreign bodyguard are obvious. Such men are far less likely to be caught up in political intrigue, or compromised by religious or social issues, than a native-born guard unit would. As such, it should not be surprising that such retainers are common in pre-modern history, nor that Imperial Rome, even in the days of the Praetorians, should also be host to such a guard unit. This was the Custodes Germanica - the German Guard.

The Germanic Guard is a elusive, almost ghostly unit to track in the historical record. It appears to have been disbanded, only to be recreated in one form or another, almost every time an emperor's reign ended violently. It can ultimately be traced back to the meager cavalry force maintained by Julius Caesar during his Gallic Wars, recruited partly from the Celtic Aedui and partly from various Germanic peoples. Caesar's cavalry, never more than a couple thousand strong, nonetheless seem to have earned a measure of dash and "eliteness" by the time of his famous victory at Pharsalus in 48 BCE (where, incidentally, they were brushed aside by Pompey's vastly superior horde of allied cavalry).

It was Augustus who formally created a bodyguard of Germanic warriors. Unlike the Praetorians (who were strictly a paramilitary organization) the German Guard was recruited from the ranks of auxiliary units and allied tribal groups; Batavians were particularly favored due to their tribe's reputation for courage and a daunting physique. Like the Praetorians, however, the German Guard was organized the same as a legionary unit. In fact, it was the same size as a legion at paper-strength, consisting of ten cohorts presumably of 480 men a piece.

Apparently the German Guard was billeted throughout central Italy, only three of its cohorts stationed in Rome at any one time. Though they served closely with the Praetorians, one senses that the German Guard's primary function in actuality was to off-set the intimidating power and influence enjoyed by the Praetorians. The Germans enjoyed a more intimate relationship with the Emperor, residing on the palace grounds (as opposed to their own fortified camp), and checking all those who entered his presence for concealed weapons.

These Germans had been brought up in a hero-worshiping warrior culture, in which loyalty unto the death to one's war-chief was his first priority. Whereas the average Praetorian saw his oath to protect and serve the emperor as a mere job, for many a German guardsman it must have been a sacred duty, in which his honor and posthumous legacy was at stake. It is little wonder that the German guards were suffocatingly protective of their liege and his family, even after his death.

Throughout the reigns of each of the Julio-Claudians the German Guard receives a tantalizingly brief mention. Under Tiberius several cohorts accompanied Drusus when he was dispatched to put down a legionary mutiny. It was Gaius who initiated the bizarre custom of appointing a veteran gladiator to command the Guard, and ironically his first choice, one Cornelius Sabinus, was a member of the plot that killed him and his young family. In the aftermath of Gaius' death the German Guard endorsed the Praetorians' choice of Claudius as the new emperor.

Upon the death of Nero and Galba's arrival in Rome, the latter took a disliking to the German Guard - apparently offended at their loafing on the palace grounds - and sent them home without their retirement bonuses. Several months later Otho reformed the unit (whether by recalling the unfortunate men who had been discharged by Galba or by forming his own, new guard is unknown), only for this unit to again be disbanded when Vitellius took the throne.

Vitellius made his own German Guard (enjoying connections with many Germanic peoples as the late governor of Germania inferior). During Vitellius' chaotic final days as emperor his Germanic Guard killed Flavius Sabinus, Vespasian's brother, and held a murderously guarded vigil around Vitellius' corpse for a week after his brutal execution. Vespasian disbanded them and we do not hear of the German Guard for over a Century.

Trajan created an alternative to a German Guard called the Equites Singulares Augusti (the Emperor's Special Horsemen), who served as his most personal bodyguards especially when on campaign; this unit would exist at least as late as the Severan epoch a century later.

Antoninus "Caracalla" (211-217 CE) seems to have created a German Guard of sorts known as the Leones (Lions). Drawn from the most elite Germanic and Sarmatian warriors, the Leones nonetheless neither prevented Caracalla's murder, nor did they (as a distinct guard unit) long survive it. A brief reference in Cassius Dio would suggest that there was another German Guard created not long afterwards, perhaps either by Maximinus Thrax or the senatorial emperors Pupienus and Balbinus.

German warriors would continue to find their way into the service of Roman rulers for centuries to come - the Varangoi of the Eastern Roman Empire were the final and most spectacular rendition of the Custodes Germanica. That said, the legion-sized bodyguard of Rhineland warriors that was created by Augustus seems to have had a short, tumultuous, and rather ungainly career as a bodyguard unit for the world's most powerful ruler.

The image of a grizzled veteran of the Guard gathering around the hearth with a gaggle of admiring grandchildren, telling them tall tales about Caligula and Nero and their great city (Miklagard in its earliest form) is not only cozy, but perfectly feasible.
Insert witty quote here
Back to Top
Sponsored Links


Back to Top
Panther View Drop Down
Moderator
Moderator
Avatar
Editorial Staff

Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Location: Texas
Status: Offline
Points: 4402
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2012 at 03:21
Hi Salah. Smile

Wasn't this also another way for Rome to also seduce the Germanic tribes within it's border into adopting Roman governance and culture, by right of recognition in making their assimilation into the Roman world more attractive to them and a securing northern border for Rome? A quid pro quo, so to speak.

Edited by Panther - 30 May 2012 at 03:22
Back to Top
calvo View Drop Down
Chieftain
Chieftain


Joined: 20 May 2007
Status: Offline
Points: 1357
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2012 at 08:00
This is not surprising as the Romans had always had "foreigners" serving in their army as "auxilaries". Although most of them came from "native peoples" from within the borders of the empire, Germanic tribesmen from the other side of the Rhine had also volunteered to serve as mercenaries.
Nevertheless, the situation didn't become widespread until the late empire, when the Roman Army had serious problems finding suitable recruits from among its citizens.
Back to Top
Constantine XI View Drop Down
Moderator
Moderator
Avatar

Joined: 01 May 2005
Location: Melbourne, Aus
Status: Offline
Points: 7775
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 May 2012 at 00:29
Romans in the early days made fine soldiers. Early Germans made fine warriors, with many in their society training their whole lives for combat in a world beyond the Rhine and Danube which saw frequent clashes between the various Germanic tribes. Loss of a war to another tribe was sometimes an all or nothing affair, it was not uncommon for all the men to be killed and the women taken as captive - thereby ensuring the extermination of that tribe.

But the Germans were a loyal bunch, generally. Battle skill is good, loyalty to the person of the emperor even better. So they were less susceptible to bribery or treachery.

In the late Empire the Germans made up large segments of the regular army as foederati, being citizens of the empire who were more skilled and had greater fighting spirit than Roman citizens who were not recent arrivals. In Ostrogothic Italy, administration, farming and trade were left to the Italians while the Goths held a monopoly on military service. Local Italians were simply considered too untrustworthy and unready for the rigours of battle.
Nullius in verba
Back to Top
calvo View Drop Down
Chieftain
Chieftain


Joined: 20 May 2007
Status: Offline
Points: 1357
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 May 2012 at 07:28
One of the historic phenomenons that has intrigued me for a long time was the so-called "recruitment crisis" of the Roman army in the late empire.
Throughout the principate up until the Severan dynasty, the legions never seemed to have problems finding recruits, although the recruitment ground shifted over the centuries from Italy to the provinces, and then from the pronvinces to the areas near the military bases.

Yes, the population had decreased in the 4th century and the army was larger than during the principate, but among a population of 40 million, raising an army of 400,000 shouldn't be so difficult. Considering that the empire had been in civil war throughout the 3rd century, the Romans should have been more than accostumed to war.

The origins of the mass-recruitment of Germans was because of most of the "Roman" soldiers in the 4th and 5th centuries had been recruited either by conscription or by hereditary enlistment, whose quality was questionable, while at the same time thousands of Germans on the other side of the frontier turned up as volunteers.
Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply
  Share Topic   

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down



This page was generated in 0.328 seconds.