Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Ubians

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2007


I was watching my DVD set of HBO's Rome with a feature activated called "The Road to Rome". This feature displays explanatory notes about references made in the character's dialog or activities that characters are engaged in or watching.

In the episode where Vorenus and Pullo are taking an advance guard to Rome to post a notice that Caesar is on his way, the auxilliary troops that are with them are dressed in furs and carrying slashing swords. The information posted about them was that they were Ubians, a tribe of Germano-Celtic people that allied with Rome and that Caesar employed as bodyguards.

Romeo Model of a Germanic Warrior (54mm) beautifully rendered by artist Sergey Popovichenko


I had not studied anything about them before so I researched them on the web. I found an interesting article about them on The History Files website.

"The Ubii tribal name is an easy one to break down. Without the '-i' plural suffix, the proto-Germanic forms of the word are 'uba' and 'ubaraz', meaning 'up, over, above'. This was retained in Old High German as 'oba', meaning 'up, over’. The tribe seemingly were above everyone. As this wasn't meant in a geographical sense by the middle of the first century BC, it was either meant as an expression of superiority or it related to their original homeland, perhaps at the top of the Jutland peninsula. Given the German habit of using place names for tribal names, this would make sense geographically." - The History Files

It points out that Caesar's foray across the Rhine was supposedly in response to a plea from the Ubians to defend them against the Suevians (also spelled Suebians).

"As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. This probably places them on the middle Rhine. They force their way into the lands of the Belgic Menapii, also attacking the Condrusi and Eburones tribes. Feigning a withdrawal to lure out the Menapii, the Tencteri and Usipetes defeat them, capture their ships and occupy many of their villages for the winter. 
Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul that he has already conquered, takes a force into the region. After much diplomatic effort and some delays, he attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania with heavy losses. Both tribes follow the east bank of the Rhine upstream and find refuge with the Sicambri. They remain settled in these lands for much of the remainder of their existence. Caesar crosses the Rhine to follow them and to show the Germans that Romans are not afraid to stage a counter-invasion. Another reason is that a portion of the cavalry of the Usipetes and Tencteri had not been present at the recent battle. Instead they had proceeded to the territories of the Sicambri to join this tribe, remaining defiant, while uniquely amongst the peoples across the Rhine, the Ubii petition Caesar for help against the oppressive Suevi who until recently have been ruled by the powerful Ariovistus. 

A model of Caesar's Rhine bridge at the Museo nazionale della civiltà romana in Rome, Italy.
Photograph by Jona Lendering cc by-nc-sa 4.0.
 Several other tribes submit to Caesar, but the Sicambri withdraw from their territories on the advice of the Usipetes and Tencteri. Caesar remains in their lands for a few days before burning down their villages and taking their corn. He moves his forces into Ubii territory to show solidarity with them against the Suevi threat before returning to Gaul.
Having left a strong guard with the Treveri following the conclusion of their revolt, Caesar again crosses the Rhine to deal with their German supporters. The Ubii reaffirm their loyalty to him while Caesar discovers that the auxiliaries that had joined the Treveri had been sent by the Suevi. They are drawing together units of infantry and cavalry from all across their vast domain and, having learned of Caesar's approach, they withdraw to the vast wood called Bacenis (a thick forest of beech trees which has been equated with the Harz), which separates the Suevi from the Cherusci. Unwilling to follow them, Caesar fortifies the bridge that connects to the Ubii and stations twelve cohorts there." - The History Files
Wikipedia also had this information:

"They [the Ubians] were transported in 39 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa to the left bank [of the Rhine]. This was apparently at their own request, as they feared the incursions of the Suevi.

A portrait bust of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa at The Louvre
in Paris, France.  Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2008

Agrippa founded the city of Cologne as their capital, whose Latin name Colonia Agrippensis is the origin of the current form. The Ubii remained loyal allies of Rome, and were instrumental in crushing the Batavian rebellion in 70. They seem to have been so thoroughly Romanized that they adopted the name Agrippenses in honour of their “founder”, and their later history is submerged in that of eastern Gaul as a whole."

The Oppidum Ubiorum was founded in the first century BC, on a site that had seen occupation since the Neolithic period, but it was Rome that turned it into the city of Cologne.  Public domain image courtesy of The History Files.
Gravestone of an Ubian bodyguard for Nero
Gravestone of an Ubian bodyguard for Nero.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
The Ubians remained loyal to Rome into the 4th century CE with many serving as personal bodyguards to the emperors.  Archaeologists have recovered a gravestone of one such body guard for the emperor Nero.

I also found this interesting legend related to the Ubians:

"The Dogs of St. Cassius

The majestic Minster of Bonn rises high above the surrounding houses. In olden times, when the tribe of the Ubians was still dwelling in that part of the country, a heathen temple stood on that very site. It had been an important place of worship for the whole Rhine valley. The Ubians offered their numerous human sacrifices there.

Some time ago the big altar of the ancient temple was excavated, and is still preserved under the name of Ara Ubiorum. Many prisoners of war and poor slaves have been slain on this mouldering stone.

When St. Helena, mother of Constantine, came to Bonn, the old heathen temple was burnt to ashes. The pious empress destroyed many sanctuaries of the idolaters, and hewed down the gigantic oaks of the sacred forest near. She built a Christian church in the same place, and dedicated it to St. Cassius.

After some time this church was enlarged and embellished. A high tower with slender spires crowned the lofty fane, and big bells hung in the steeples. For long centuries they rang in good and evil days.

Portrait Sculpture of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine at the Capitoline Museum in
Rome, Italy.  (This 4th century CE sculpture was once thought to be Agrippina The Younger,
the mother of the Emperor Nero)  Photographed by Mary Harrsch  © 2009


In the lapse of time they saw war and peace, joy and woe passing by. They mingled their deep solemn tones with the joyful cries of the populace, when the German Emperor, Frederick the Beautiful, and Charles, Father of Bohemia, marched in splendid procession to the Minster to be crowned.

Whenever the electors of Cologne, who chose Bonn as their residence, were singing high mass in the church below, the bells joined in the Te Deum with their melodious peals.

Originally the Minster was the collegiate church of Saints Cassius and Florentius, who were Roman legionaries of the legendary all-Christian Theban Legion. The legion's garrison, according to legend, was in the Egyptian town of ThebesRoman Emperor Maximianus Herculius ordered the legion to march to Gaul and assist in subduing rebels from Burgundy. At some point during their march, the legion refused to follow the emperor's orders either to kill fellow Christians or to worship Maximianus Herculius as a god. As a result, a large number of legionaries were martyred in Agaunum, now named Saint Maurice-en-Valais after Saint Maurice. According to legend, Saints Cassius and Florentius, who were under the command of Saint Gereon, were beheaded for their religious beliefs at the present location of the Bonn Minster.  Image courtesy of  Hans Weingartz, Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0-DE

But when the French had pitched their tents in Bonn and the brave warrior Brandenburg lay outside its gates, the Minster bells rang in woeful shrill sounds, for their steeple was set on fire.

Often when a thunderstorm threatened to burst the clouds, the bells gave their clear warning, and rang loudly as if they would drown the roaring of the thunder.

At midnight a thunderstorm round the old Minster is an awful thing. The legend records that as soon as the first growling of the thunder is audible, the idolaters who had dominated the minds of the Ubians during long centuries with their grim rites rise from their ancient burial places that surround the Christian church. United with the gods of darkness, they rage with shrill howlings round the grey building, where now the remains of St. Cassius are resting. They hate the pious saint whose martyrdom converted thousands of heathens.

Busts of Saint Cassius and Saint Florentius at the Bonn Minster.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In vindictive anger they fill the air with burning brimstone, thicken the clouds, and direct lightnings towards the quiet Minster, to devour it with fire. But the saint himself watches over his tomb.

All at once the bells ring, though no human hand has touched the ropes, and sound clearly above the infernal noise below. The spirits of the heathens cry out. "Woe to us, the saint watches, the dogs of Cassius announce us. Woe to us, the dogs of Cassius are barking!"

With these cries and with terrible maledictions they vanish into the night. For a little while the thunder is still heard in the distance, but soon a deep stillness envelops the high Minster once more. Undamaged and as serene as ever, it stands pointing majestically towards heaven.

Time however, which has destroyed so many of the old customs, has hushed the dogs of Cassius into silence The bells of the Minster sound no more of their own accord at the approach of a thunderstorm at midnight.

Yet let us hope that in spite of this, the saint watches from heaven over his town, and will preserve his sanctuary for many years to come. "

A Kindle preview of an interesting look at Drusus the Elder, one of the Roman conquerors of Germania:



Other suggested reading:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Roman Military Camp Display Reopens in Slovakia

"Visitors to the renovated Roman Gerulata military camp in the Bratislava district of Rusovce experienced the atmosphere of ancient Rome on September 8.

Hundreds of visitors, mainly whole families, took advantage of the free admission to the camp. The all-day events ended with a two-hour 'Roman Freakshow' in the evening, in which Cleopatra, the Empress Minerva, Cicero, and other leading figures of the period came back to life.

The Roman Gerulata military camp is a national cultural monument administered by the Bratislava City Museum. It was built in the second half of the first century to defend the border of the Empire.

The camp was under renovation from February 1, 2006 until July 31, 2007, and it was re-opened with a special Roman Games this summer. The European Union and the Slovak government made a joint contribution of Sk4.3 million (€127,000) to finance the project, along with Sk500,000 from the City of Bratislava."