Their system of warfare was substantially that of the Celts of this period, who no longer fought, as the Italian Celts had formerly done, bareheaded and with merely sword and dagger, but with copper helmets often richly adorned and with a peculiar missile weapon, the -materis-; the large sword was retained and the long narrow shield, along with which they probably wore also a coat of mail. They were not destitute of cavalry; but the Romans were superior to them in that arm. Their order of battle was as formerly a rude phalanx professedly drawn up with just as many ranks in depth as in breadth, the first rank of which in dangerous combats not unfrequently tied together their metallic girdles with cords. Their manners were rude. Flesh was frequently devoured raw. The bravest and, if possible, the tallest man was king of the host. Not unfrequently, after the manner of the Celts and of barbarians generally, the time and place of the combat were previously arranged with the enemy, and sometimes also, before the battle began, an individual opponent was challenged to single combat. The conflict was ushered in by their insulting the enemy with unseemly gestures, and by a horrible noise--the men raising their battle-shout, and the women and children increasing the din by drumming on the leathern covers of the waggons. The Cimbrian fought bravely--death on the bed of honour was deemed by him the only death worthy of a free man--but after the victory he indemnified himself by the most savage brutality, and sometimes promised beforehand to present to the gods of battle whatever victory should place in the power of the victor. The effects of the enemy were broken in pieces, the horses were killed, the prisoners were hanged or preserved only to be sacrificed to the gods. It was the priestesses--grey-haired women in white linen dresses and unshod--who, like Iphigenia in Scythia, offered these sacrifices, and prophesied the future from the streaming blood of the prisoner of war or the criminal who formed the victim. How much in these customs was the universal usage of the northern barbarians, how much was borrowed from the Celts, and how much was peculiar to the Germans, cannot be ascertained; but the practice of having the army accompanied and directed not by priests, but by priestesses, may be pronounced an undoubtedly Germanic custom. Thus marched the Cimbri into the unknown land--an immense multitude of various origin which had congregated round a nucleus of Germanic emigrants from the Baltic-- not without resemblance to the great bodies of emigrants, that in our own times cross the ocean similarly burdened and similarly mingled, and with aims not much less vague; carrying their lumbering waggon-castle, with the dexterity which a long migratory life imparts, over streams and mountains; dangerous to more civilized nations like the sea-wave and the hurricane, and like these capricious and unaccountable, now rapidly advancing, now suddenly pausing, turning aside, or receding. They came and struck like lightning; like lightning they vanished; and unhappily, in the dull age in which they appeared, there was no observer who deemed it worth while accurately to describe the marvellous meteor. When men afterwards began to trace the chain, of which this emigration, the first Germanic movement which touched the orbit of ancient civilization, was a link, the direct and living knowledge of it had long passed away.

Cimbrian Movements And Conflicts Defeat Of Carbo

This homeless people of the Cimbri, which hitherto had been prevented from advancing to the south by the Celts on the Danube, more especially by the Boii, broke through that barrier in consequence of the attacks directed by the Romans against the Danubian Celts; either because the latter invoked the aid of their Cimbrian antagonists against the advancing legions, or because the Roman attack prevented them from protecting as hitherto their northern frontiers. Advancing through the territory of the Scordisci into the Tauriscan country, they approached in 641 the passes of the Carnian Alps, to protect which the consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo took up a position on the heights not far from Aquileia. Here, seventy years before, Celtic tribes had attempted to settle on the south of the Alps, but at the bidding of the Romans had evacuated without resistance the ground which they had already occupied;(18) even now the dread of the Transalpine peoples at the Roman name showed itself strongly. The Cimbri did not attack; indeed, when Carbo ordered them to evacuate the territory of the Taurisci who were in relations of hospitality with Rome--an order which the treaty with the latter by no means bound him to make--they complied and followed the guides whom Carbo had assigned to them to escort them over the frontier. But these guides were in fact instructed to lure the Cimbri into an ambush, where the consul awaited them. Accordingly an engagement took place not far from Noreia in the modern Carinthia, in which the betrayed gained the victory over the betrayer and inflicted on him considerable loss; a storm, which separated the combatants, alone prevented the complete annihilation of the Roman army. The Cimbri might have immediately directed their attack towards Italy; they preferred to turn to the westward. By treaty with the Helvetii and the Sequani rather than by force of arms they made their way to the left bank of the Rhine and over the Jura, and there some years after the defeat of Carbo once more threatened the Roman territory by their immediate vicinity.

Defeat Of Silanus

With a view to cover the frontier of the Rhine and the immediately threatened territory of the Allobroges, a Roman army under Marcus Junius Silanus appeared in 645 in Southern Gaul. The Cimbri requested that land might be assigned to them where they might peacefully settle--a request which certainly could not be granted. The consul instead of replying attacked them; he was utterly defeated and the Roman camp was taken. The new levies which were occasioned by this misfortune were already attended with so much difficulty, that the senate procured the abolition of the laws--presumably proceeding from Gaius Gracchus--which limited the obligation to military service in point of time.(19) But the Cimbri, instead of following up their victory over the Romans, sent to the senate at Rome to repeat their request for the assignment of land, and meanwhile employed themselves, apparently, in the subjugation of the surrounding Celtic cantons.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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