Germania Inferior

At the border of the Roman Empire
At the border of the Roman Empire

After Caesar’s victory, Germania disappeared for a while from the Roman historians’ field of vision; during the next years, their attention was caught by the civil wars within the Empire.

Agrippa and the Ubii

Only in connection with the governorship of the Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa do we hear again about the Rhine border. Agrippa was a close companion of Octavian, Caesar’s heir, the later emperor Augustus. During his two governorships in Gaul in 39/38 BC. and in 20/18 BC. he had garrisons and army routes built. Around 16/15 BC, a Roman road went from the Roman city Augusta Treverorum (today’s Trier) to Neuss in Germania on which troops and supplies could be sent to the Rhine.

Back then, the Ubii lived on the right bank between the rivers Sieg and Main, They traded with the Romans, and Ubian men fought as auxiliary troops in the Roman army – even against other Germanics. Thus, they made enemies of their fellow Germanic neighbors and were almost wiped out when Agrippa intervened. He campaigned on the right bank of the Rhine and resettled the Ubii on the left bank, probably during his first governorship in 38 BC. From Aachen down to the Ahr Valley, Ubian settlements came into being, among them Bonn and of course the “oppidum ubiorum”, later Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, today’s Cologne.

Rome’s attack: Drusus and Tiberius

After a disastrous defeat against the Germanic Sugambri in 15 BC, Emperor Augustus prepared a large-scale attack and commanded five, perhaps even six legions to the Rhine. Besides Nijmegen (Noviomagus) and Neuss (Novaesium), the legions stood in Xanten (Vetera) where the Lippe river flows into the Rhine, in Mainz (Mogontiacum) where the Main river flows into the Rhine, in Moers/Arsberg (Asciburgium) where the Ruhr river flows into the Rhine, and also in Bonn (Bonna), founded by Drusus’ soldiers around 11 BC. At the same time, the Romans conquered much of today’s Southern Germany, and the Danube became the new border. The well-known city of Augsburg in today’s Bavaria was founded back then.

General Drusus conquered large regions between the rivers Rhine and Elbe. On the way back he fell off his horse and died from the injuries suffered. Now his brother Tiberius, the later emperor, became commander in chief at the Rhine border (8-7 BC). With a double strategy of military superiority and skillful diplomacy, he managed to pacify the Germanic tribes between the rivers Rhine and Weser. The Sugambri, still embittered enemies of Rome, were resettled on the left bank of the Rhine.

Rome assumed that it had achieved its aims. At the rivers Rhine, Lippe, Ems, Lahn and at the North Sea new bases for Roman military and administration were built, and even the civilian settlement of Waldgirmes in Hesse came into being. But already in the year 1 AD riots occurred, the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus speaks of the “Immensum bellum” in Germania. Only in the years 4-6, Tiberius and his army could crush the uprisings and get Germania between Rhine and Elbe back under Roman control. But then a rebellion in Pannonia and Dalmatia broke out and Tiberius set out to crush it. The supreme command in Germania was assigned to Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Varus Battle

Varus was determined to impose Roman law in Germania, and to turn it into a Roman province. But in September 9, Varus and three Roman legions were ambushed and massacred on their way back from the summer camp in the interior of Germany to their winter quarters at the Rhine. The revolt was led by Arminius, a Cherusci chief who had grown up in Rome and served in the Roman army, as commander of Germanic auxiliaries. In Rome, Emperor Augustus was shocked. The Roman historian Suetonius reported that he banged his head against the door, again and again, calling out, “Varus, Varus, give me my legions back!” (Vare, Vare, redde mihi legiones meas!) He never assigned the names of those legions again, but he did not change his policy towards Germania either. Shortly after, eight of altogether 25 Roman legions stood at the Rhine. Again Tiberius took over the supreme command, and again he secured the border.


When Augustus died, Tiberius ascended to the throne. The supreme command on the Rhine was assigned to another member of the Imperial family: Germanicus, son of Drusus and nephew of Tiberius. Like his father, he wanted to bring Germania under Roman rule, and he wanted revenge. In 15, Germanicus came to the site of the Varus battle and buried the dead. On the way back, a part of his army was trapped and almost annihilated. In the following year, Germanicus again marched into Cherusci territory at the Weser river. At Idistaviso, near today’s Minden, he could defeat the Germanics, and Arminius was severely wounded. Yet, it was no decisive victory. Shortly after it came to another battle at the Angrivarian Wall, again the Romans had the upper hand, but their losses were so heavy that Germanicus had to withdraw and stop the campaign.

In Rome, Emperor Tiberius realized that the campaigns demanded more and more Roman soldiers’ lives without a crucial victory being achieved. In winter 16/17, he recalled Germanicus. From now on, he sought to secure the province of Gaul by strong military presence at the Rhine border. From Bonn in the south over Cologne, Neuss, Xanten, Nijmegen and Utrecht in the Netherlands up to the North Sea, Roman military was stationed. The Rhineland was part of the military zone Germania Inferior. On the left bank, not only forts, harbors, garrisons and made up streets were built, but also civilian settlements. The soil was tilled again, and soon the Roman manors (villae rusticae) could supply the legionaries.

Stones from the Drachenfels

Although our region was part of the free Germania Magna, it remained important to the Romans, most of all for economic reasons: from 50 onwards, large quantities of stones were extracted from the Roman quarries at the Drachenfels mountain and transported northwards. In Bonn and Cologne, even in Xanten and Nijmegen trachyte from the Drachenfels was used.

Especially the legionnaires in Bonn needed many stones to build their new military camp. Further south there was a civilian settlement, the “Vicus bonnensis”. When the archaeologists searched investigated the area in 2006, they were very impressed by the finds – the Vicus was a Roman city with all comfort! Bonna even had a port, and during the reign of Emperor Claudius, the Roman road between Bonn and Mainz was completed. Many of the finds are shown at Haus der Geschichte in Bonn.

Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium

Germanicus had nine children with his wife Vipsania Agrippina, a daughter of Agrippa. One of them, Agrippina the Younger, was born in today’s Cologne, during the years of his campaigns against the Germanics. She later became the wife of Emperor Claudius, and was mother of the later emperor Nero. It is to her that Cologne owes its outstanding position as Roman colony Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. Agrippina was very conscious of her power and did not shy away from plots and murder. Eventually, she was murdered at the orders of her own son Nero.

Batavian Revolt

In the last year of Emperor Nero’s reign, the Roman Empire got into a state crisis (68/69) that involved the Rhine legions. A bloody civil war followed between Vitellius, supported by the Rhine legions, and Vespasian, supported by the eastern and also the Danube legions. When Vitellius ordered more auxiliary troops to be recruited from the Batavians in today’s Holland, they revolted against Rome, led by Iulius Civilis, a former Roman officer. Various other Germanic tribes joined them. The garrisons in Xanten and in Bonn were destroyed during the rebellion, Cologne was conquered and for a while Civilis’ headquarters. Eventually, Vespasian defeated Vitellius and ascended to the throne (69-79).

Now he had legions at his orders to crush the Batavian revolt. It must have been a serious threat to him since he sent 8 legions to Germania Inferior, while his son Titus fought the war in Judaea. In 70, the Batavians and their allies were defeated, and Rome re-established control over Germania Inferior. Vespasian could consolidate the Empire: In Germania Inferior, destroyed cities and forts were rebuilt, and Bonn got a new garrison made of stone. In 74, Vespasian established control over Agri Decumates, the land between the rivers Rhine and Danube, much of today’s Baden-Württemberg. Thus, the border became a lot shorter and easier to defend.

The Limes

Vespasians younger son Domitian (81-96) pushed across the Rhine again and defeated the Germanic Chatti in two wars (83-85). After this demonstration of Rome’s military power, he converted the so far military zones of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior into Roman provinces. The province of Germania Inferior (Lower Germania) covered parts of today’s Netherlands, Northwest Germany and Belgium, its capital was from 89 onwards Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, the later Cologne. The province Germania Superior (Upper Germania) covered parts of today’s Switzerland, France and southwest Germany, its capital was Mogontiacum, the later Mainz. To protect the wealthy provinces of Germania Superior and Raetia, the Limes was built – a border fortification that reached from Rheinbrohl in today’s Rhineland-Palatinate to Eining in today’s Bavaria. Yet the Limes was no impermeable border by which the Roman Empire walled itself off; there were quite peaceful contacts and trade with Germania in the following hundred years

Roman Citizens

Under the Severan dynasty (193-235), the provinces Germania Inferior and Germania Superior enjoyed a time of relative peace. In 212, Emperor Caracalla (211-217) granted full Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire, so inhabitants of Bonn and Cologne were Roman citizens. Caracalla also raised the legionaries’ wages. Thus, more money came into the provinces, there was building again and people were quite well. Also on the left bank of the Rhine, in the “Barbaricum”, many Roman goods were found, and the Germanic upper class, which could afford Roman goods, developed an appetite for them. Yet, most people in the free Germania were poor, and the prosperity in the Roman provinces aroused envy.

Roman Empire
At the border of the Roman Empire | Germania Inferior | New Enemies: Francs an Alamanni

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