We live in a world today that is constantly manipulated by people who only want you to see one side of things. It is easy to get discouraged in this type of environment, but we must remember that the problem is not unique to our culture of even our time period. It is a problem that even the ancient Romans had to deal with.
This story of propaganda, violence, and compromise began in what is now known as Western Hungary and Northern Yugoslavia, then known as Pannonia. In that region were stationed, under the command of Quintus Junius Blaesus, the 8th, 9th, and 10th brigades. When the emperor Augustus Caesar died in the year 14 A.D., and was succeeded by his adopted son, Tiberius, Blaesus suspended the normal duties of the soldiers for a time of public morning. The soldiers soon grew accustomed to the relaxed life, and were not too thrilled about the idea of returning to their grueling schedules.
In addition, the men were also worried about their future. Now that there was a new emperor his plans for the army remained to be seen. It was on this base that a man named Percennius was able to take advantage of the situation. Percennius had been a professional applause leader before he became a soldier. He was experienced in manipulating crowds, and began to put his skills to use. He talked to the soldiers in the twilight or dark, after the more obedient ones had gone to bed, leaving only the other element behind.
One night Percennius gave his big finale. He pointed out the harsh discipline of the army, its low pay, the old men still stuck in the ranks, and the disappointing retirement plan. His speech struck home. The soldiers shouted that the three brigades should merge into one for a mutiny. However this idea was not to be, as each brigade wanted to keep their former name. They did, however, begin piling dirt to build a focal point for the mutiny.
At this point, Blaesus came on the scene and was horrified by what he saw. He began to run from one man to another, urging them to end this project. The platform kept increasing despite his efforts. But Blaesus never stopped his shouting and eventually convinced them to stop. Then Blaesus pleaded with them to send delegates to Rome instead of mutiny. The men insisted that Blaesus’s own son, a colonel, represent them. He was instructed to request a sixteen year maximum service, and he would receive further instructions once that was done. The colonel left for Rome, and the men became quite peaceful.
Unfortunately the story does not end here. Before the mutiny had even begun, detachments had been sent to the nearby town of Nauportus. When the soldiers there heard about the troubles in Pannonia, they tore down their colors and looted Nauportus and the surrounding villages. The company commanders who tried to stop them were mocked, abused, and beaten. The corps chief of staff, Aufidienus Rufus, who was known for reviving the strict army rules of the past, was the main victim of the anger. He was pulled out of his carriage, had baggage piled on his back, and forced to march at the head of the column, enduring frequent inquiries about his enjoyment of the experience.
Once the men from Nauportus reached camp, the mutiny was revived. The whole district was ransacked by the soldiers. In a desperate act to retain some sort of order, Blaesus ordered those who looted more than the rest to be flogged and confined to cells, for he was still obeyed by company commanders and loyal soldiers. The plan backfired. As they were being dragged off to be flogged, the guilty soldiers did everything they could to arouse sympathy. Everyone rushed to their rescue, freeing all those in the cells. This let condemned murderers out as well.
In the excitement of the moment, a private soldier named Vibulenus was hoisted on the shoulders of his comrades. As he broke into tears, he told the tragic story of his brother, sent by the soldiers in Germany to talk with the soldiers in Pannonia about their common interests. When his brother had arrived at the camp, he had been butchered by Blaesus’s guards and his body hidden. The effect of this tale was stunning. Three bands where formed, one which arrested and tortured Blaesus’s slaves, one which arrested the rest of his household, and one that went in search of the body. Blaesus himself was almost killed. Things settled down when it was discovered Vibulenus never had a brother.
The passion aroused by this speech was not by any means gone. It just lashed out at a different victim: the senior officers, who were forced to flee. Only one senior officer was killed, company commander Lucius, better known to the soldiers as “another please”. When he was disciplining a soldier, it was not uncommon for him to break a stick over the soldier’s back. He would simply ask for another stick, and if need be another, and another, and so on.
The rest of his comrades were able to find safety, except for poor Julius Clemens. He was spared death because the mutineers thought he would make an excellent spokesman for them.
The emperor Tiberius sent his son, Drusus, and two battalions of the guard to deal with this problem. Drusus received no definite instructions. He was only told ot act as events warrant.
When Drusus arrived at camp, he mounted the dais. The soldiers roared at him, but Drusus fought for silence and eventually won it. He then read a letter from Tiberius which expressed how much the emperor cared for the soldiers, so he had sent his son to deal with them. Drusus had been authorized to make any decisions Tiberius could have made, and the rest would be left up to the Senate.
After this, Julius Clemens spoke the demands of the mutineers, on which he had been briefed. He asked for a sixteen-year term of service, gratuities at completion, the pay of four sesterces a day, and no recalls after release. Drusus replied that Tiberius and the Senate must decide this, which caused an uproar among the soldiers.
The army made many menacing gestures to all of Drusus’s staff, but they were particularly bitter against Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus II, who somehow struck them as a snob. Drusus realized the danger, and decided to evacuate Lentulus to the winter camp. Ironically, as the army saw him being escorted out of the camp by Drusus, they became convinced he was leaving for Rome so he could oppose them there. They surrounded him and hurled large stones. One stone hit Lentulus and he started to seriously bleed. Fortunately, the arrival of Drusus’s main force arrived and saved him from further injury.
That night, passions were high among soldiers, and Drusus was certain that it would bring disaster. Fortunately, the moon waned that night, and the soldiers were convinced it was a sign that the moon goddess was unhappy with them. They gathered every instrument they could get their hands on, and played in hopes that their music would appease the goddess, but it had no effect. Many thought the moon goddess was disgusted by their mutiny. Drusus saw his chance and seized it. He called together Julius Clemens, and any other officers who were popular with the soldiers. They were sent to go around the camp, reasoning with the soldiers to drop the mutiny.
By morning, the attitude of the soldiers had changed. Drusus called a meeting and gave a speech, in which he promised he would do all he could to make sure they were treated with mercy if the soldiers returned to work. They agreed. The younger Blaesus was sent back to Tiberius.
While the delegation was away, a debate sprang up over how to treat the soldiers. Drusus favored severity. Vibulenus and Percennius were summoned and executed. Other chief instigators were either hunted down and killed, or given up by their units as proof of loyalty.
That winter, the rain came down unceasingly, confining soldiers to tents. The brigades were convinced it was divine punishment. The only way to be forgiven, they thought, was to leave the defiled camp and go to their winter quarters. The 8th left first, followed by the 15th. The 9th was quite vocal in its decision to wait for a reply from Tiberius, but the withdraw of its comrades left it no choice. Drusus left for Rome, without waiting for the delegation to return.
The soldiers were easily manipulated, first by Percennius, then by Vibulenus, and finally by Drusus. From this example we can learn the value of examining critically what others say. We can also learn from Drusus the value of compromise.