A Hero’s Send-Off To Rome’s General Drusus The Elder, First Germanicus

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The Arch of Drusus (Rabax63 /CC BY-SA 4..0)

A Hero’s Send-Off To Rome’s General Drusus The Elder, First Germanicus

When word of his younger brother’s life-threatening illness reached him, Roman General Tiberius (later Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus) who was in Pavia at the time, crossed the Alps like a man possessed. Without stopping day or night, he covered 200 Roman miles in a dangerous country. When Tiberius finally arrived, his younger brother Nero Claudius Drusus, despite being on the verge of death, ordered his men to greet Tiberius with the dignity due to a consular and an imperator.

Drusus at the River Elbe by Eduard Bendemann (1860) Berlin, Sammlung Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte (AKG Collection)

Tiberius' frantic dash across the Rhine from north-western Italy to Germany to his brother's bedside evolved into a legend. The death of Drusus alone would have been worthy of a two-act epic. The tribute for Drusus the brother would have been a beautiful first act. Told first by Livy (now lost) and retold by others, this act consists of the dying Drusus' struggle to show his brother the honors befitting a victorious general, the final brotherly kiss and embrace between the two men, and finally the ritual closing of Drusus' eyes by Tiberius. Then there is the funeral of Drusus the hero, in the second act. As a mark of respect for Drusus, the German tribes stopped fighting, allowing Tiberius to walk ahead of the procession to bring Drusus' body all the way home to Rome. The young general's body was carried by his centurions and tribunes in the first stage, through enemy territory, from the summer camp to their winter quarters. The body was then carried by the leading men of each town and city that the procession passed through.

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