The Batavian rebellion took place in the province of Germania Inferior between 69 and 70 AD. The rebels lead by Civilis managed to destroy four legions and caused humiliating defeats of the Roman army. After a few original successes, a massive Roman army led by Cerealis eventually defeated them. After peace talks, the situation was normalized, but Batavia had to cope with humiliating conditions and a permanent legion within her lands.

Table of contents
1 Prologue
2 The beginning
3 Xanten
4 The rebellion continues
5 The Empire strikes back


The Batavians were a relatively small tribe, allied to the Empire and romanized, living in modern Netherlands, between the rivers Rhine and Waal. It was a poor country that had little to offer Rome the apart from their men. Batavians fought in several units and composed, until their dishonored dismissal by Galba, the personal bodyguard of the Emperor. Galba also orders the arrest of two romanized Batavian princes: Gaius Julius Civilis and his brother Claudius Paulus. The accusations are unknown, but possibly are related to the loyalty shown to Emperor Nero by the province of Germania (see Year of the four emperors). Civilis is released and returns to the north, but Paulus is executed in September 68 AD.

When the rebellion of Vespasian threatened Vitellius' power, the emperor demanded yet another levy. Despite the refusal of Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus, commander of the Rhine armies, in attend the request, sources report the unlawful actions of recruiting sergeants who took the opportunity to earn some bribes. In the year 69 AD the Batavians were thus seriously displeased with the state of the affairs. A conspiracy starts to arise with Civilis as a leader.

The beginning

In the summer of 69 AD, Civilis was commander of the Batavian auxiliary troops allocated in the Rhine legions. He was aware of Rome military tactics and gave him educated ideas on how to defeat them. The first action was to set a decoy. Civilis induced a rebellion, but somewhere else.

The tribe of the Cananefates were living in lands between the Batavians and the North Sea. The motives used by Civilis to instigate rebellion are not known, but the Cananefates, led by their chief Brinno, attacked several roman forts. Among them was Traiectum, modern Utrecht. With most of the troops in Italy fighting in the civil war (Year of the four emperors), the Romans were caught off guard. Flaccus, commander of the Rhine legions, sends auxiliary troops to control the situation. The result is again disaster to the Roman side. Civilis, now assumed master-mind of the rebellion, defeats the Romans near modern Arnhem.

It was time to deal with the rebels with a firm hand. Flaccus orders the V Alaudae and the XV Primigenia legions to deal with the problem. Accompanying them were three auxiliary units, including a Batavian cavalry squadron, commanded by Claudius Labeo a known enemy of Civilis. The battle took place near modern Nijmegen. The Batavian regiment deserted to their countrymen lines, giving a blow in the already feeble morale of the Romans. The result was disastrous: a Roman army was beaten and the legions forced to retreat to their base camp of Xanten.

By this time, the Batavians were independent and had everything on their side. Even Vespasian, who was fighting Vitellius for the imperial throne, saluted the rebellion that kept his enemy from calling the Rhine legions to Italy. The Batavians were promised independence and Civilis was on his way to become king.


But for unknown reasons, this was not enough for the Batavians. Civilis chose to pursuit vengeance and swore to destroy the two Roman legions. The timing was well chosen: with the civil war of the Year of the four emperors at its peak, it would take some time until Rome could produce an effective counter-attack. Moreover, the eight Batavian auxiliary units of Vitellius army were on their way home and could be easily persuaded to join the rebellion for an independent Batavia. This was an important reinforcement. Apart from being veteran troops, their numbers were greater that the combined Roman troops stationed in Mainz (Moguntiacum) and Bonn (Bonna).

In September 69, Civilis launches the siege of Xanten (Roman name Vetera), the camp of the 5000 legionaries of the V Alaudae and XV Primigenia legions. The camp was very modern, filled with supplies and well defended, with walls of mud brick and wood, towers and a double ditch. After some failed attempts to take the camp by force, Civilis decided to starve the troops to surrender.

Meanwhile, Flaccus decided to wait for the result of the war in Italy. Not a long time ago, the Rhine legions had been punished by Galba for their actions against the rebel Vindex of Gallia Lugdunensis. Vespasian was winning the war and Civilis was helping him to become emperor, preventing at least the two legions besieged in Xanten, loyal to Vitellius, to come to his rescue. Flaccus and his commanders did not risk a second military gaffe and decided to wait for instructions.

But the news of Vitellius defeat arrived and Civilis still continued the siege. He was not fighting for Vespasian he was fighting for Batavia. Flaccus started to prepare a counter attack in rescue of the besieged legions. Civilis was not going to wait until they were fully prepared and launched a surprise attack. In the evening of December 1 his best eight cavalry regiments attacked the Romans in Krefeld. The Roman army won the battle and destroyed the Batavian cavalry. But their own losses were enormous.

Knowing that the Romans would come to Xanten, Civilis abandoned the siege and threatened to attack Mainz. Romans were misled and rushed to the rescue of their main base in Germania Inferior. In Mainz they received the news of Vespasian accession to the throne. Flaccus decided to celebrate the event by distributing a sum of money to the legions. But these legions were historically loyal to Vitellius, their former commader, and this act of generosity was interpreted as an offense. Flaccus was murdered and his second in command ran away, leaving the Roman army in the state of confusion.

Civilis saw his chance and before they knew what was happening, once more his troops besieged Xanten.

The rebellion continues

The year 70 AD starts with the odds on the rebels. Two legions were still besieged at Xanten and the rest of the Roman army was not enough to cope with the revolt. Apart from their own rebellion, the Trevirans and Lingones had declared the independence of the Gallic Empire. Julius Sabinus the rebel emperor managed to persuade the I Germanica and XVI Gallica to his side. At Xanten, the situation was nearly desperate. Food supplies had run out and now the besieged legions were eating horses and mules to survive. With no prospect of a relief, the commander of the troops, Munius Lupercus, decided for surrender.

The legions were promised safe conduct if they left the camp to be sacked by the rebels. All weapons, artillery material and gold was left to plunder. The V Alaudae and XV Primigenia legions marched out of the camp but only a few kilometers further were ambushed by Germanic troops and destroyed. The commander and principal officers were made slaves and given as a present to Veleda, the prophetess that predicted the rise of the Batavians.

After this success, Civilis went to Cologne and set camp there. In the next months, he invested his time to convince other tribes from northern Gaul and Germania to join the rebellion.

The Empire strikes back

The rebellion in Germania was now a real threat to the Empire. Two legions had been lost, two other (I Germanica and XVI Gallica) were controlled by the rebels. This could not be allowed for much longer. As soon as Vespasian had the Empire on his hand, and situation in Italy controlled, he decided for some action. He nominated Quintus Petillius Cerealis, a close relative and experienced general, commander of the avenging force. Not wanting to risk a defeat, an enormous army was summoned. The legions VIII Augusta, XI Claudia, XIII Gemina, XXI Rapax and the recently levied II Adiutrix were immediately sent to Germania. Additionally, the legions I Adiutrix and VI Victrix were summoned from Hispania and XIV Gemina from Britannia. Most part of these legions were deployed to pacify other parts of Gaul and Germania Superior and secure the Rhine frontier. Still, Cerealis army was a massive one and did not promise an easy life to the rebels.

On the news of the approaching army, Julius Tutor, one of Civilis allies surrendered. The "imprisoned" legions, I Germanica and XVI Gallica, capitulated. They were disgraced and no longer had confidence from Rome. The I Germanica is disbanded and the rest of its legionaries added to the Legio VII Gemina in Pannonia. XVI Gallica was reconstituted with the name of Legio XVI Flavia Firma. Pushing down from all directions, Cerealis forced the rebels and they (now scarce) allies to retreat to the North. The rebellion was now confined to Germania Inferior.

From his homeland of Batavia, Civilis tried for sometime attack the Roman army in a series of raids by land and with help of his fleet in the rivers Waal and Rhine. In one of these raids, Civilis managed to capture the flagship of the Roman fleet. This was an humiliation that demanded repair. Cerealis decided to wait no longer and invaded Batavia.

The timing, however, was not perfect. The rains had started, triggering the annual flooding of the Rhine and Waal lowlands. The Roman army was caught by the storms and Cerealis found himself in a difficult position. Civilis chose not to take advantage of the opportunity and surrendered to Cerealis in September.

Peace talks followed. Despite the general agreements are unknown, the Batavians were forced to renew alliance with the Roman Empire and to levy another eight auxiliary cavalry units. The Batavian capital of Nijmegen was destroyed and its inhabitants ordered to rebuilt it a few kilometers downstream, in a defenseless position. Moreover, Legio X Gemina would be station close, to secure peace.

The fate of Civilis is unknown. Probably he was murdered by allies, like Arminius, or killed by the Romans themselves.