One of the trends of the later Roman Empire was the influence of foreigners, especially Germans, in the army and government. The first Emperor Augustus had employed them as his own personal bodyguards to offset the power and influence of the Praetorian Guard. Succeeding emperors increased their employment, not only as guards but as regular soldiers. Flavius Josephus was one of the earliest sources to indicate the beginning of the Germanization of the Roman army.
The German Guards' Response to the Death of Caligula, ca. 41 A.D.
[Excerpted from Josephus, The Jewish Antiquities, bk. 19, ch. 15, 17, 18, from "The Early Germans," in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Arthur C. Howland, ed., vol. 4 (Philadelphia: Department of history of the university of Pennsylvania, 1902), pp. 27-30]
15. The Germans were the first to hear of Gaius' assassination. These were the Emperor's body guard, who took their name from the people from whom they were recruited, and were known as the Celtic legion. It is their nature to yield without restraint to the passion of the moment, a trait that they share in common with other barbarians, who take little thought of what they are about to do. Of great strength and wild courage, they do not hesitate to begin an attack on their enemies, and wherever they make their onslaught they perform mighty deeds. Now when these heard of Gaius' murder they were filled with grief, since they did not judge him according to his merits but by the benefits they had received; for he had purchased great favor in their eyes by his frequent largesses. So drawing their swords, they rushed through the palace searching for the murderers of the Caesar under the leadership of their tribune Sabinus, a man who had. attained that position not through his own or his ancestors' merits (for he had been a gladiator), but because of his great bodily strength. The first man they met was Asprenas, on whose garments, as I have said above, the blood of the sacrificial offering had spurted, and so marked him out as one about to meet misfortune. Him they cut to pieces. The next they came upon was Norbanus, one of the most distinguished of the citizens, a man who numbered many generals among his ancestors. Since his rank won him no consideration, he made use of his great strength. Springing at the man who first attacked him, be wrenched the sword from him, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible. Finally he was surrounded by the maddened throng and fell pierced with many wounds. The third man was the senator Anteius, who fell in with the Germans, not by chance as the others had done, but led there by the desire of feasting his eyes on the lifeless corpse of Gaius in order to show his hatred. For the Emperor had driven the father of Anteius, who bore the same name, into exile, and not content with. that had sent out soldiers to put him to death. For this reason Anteius had now come to enjoy the spectacle. Since, however, the palace was in such turmoil, he thought to conceal himself in a dark recess; but he did not escape the Germans, who searched every place carefully and slew with equal savageness the guilty add the innocent. Thus perished these men......
17. But when the German Guard surrounded the theatre with drawn swords, the spectators all feared for their lives, and at the entrance of any one, whoever he might be, they began to tremble as though at that very instant they felt the blade at their throats. They were in great doubt what to do, Dot daring to go out and yet believing it very dangerous to remain longer in the theatre. So when the Germans finally broke into the place, the air was filled with their cries. They begged the soldiers for their lives, protesting that they were ignorant of all that had transpired, that they knew nothing of the plans that had been laid for starting an insurrection, if indeed there was an insurrection, that they were ignorant of all that had happened. The soldiers should, therefore, spare them, nor inflict the penalty of other people's crimes on those who were free from all guilt. They should allow inquiry to be made as to who had done the deed, whatever that deed might be. This and much more to the same effect the crowd uttered, crying out and beating their breasts, weeping slid calling on the gods as their imminent danger urged. They spoke as one does who is engaged in a last struggle for life. On hearing these outcries the fury of the soldiers was appeased and they repented of what they had in mind to do to the spectators; for it was a ghastly sight, and so seemed even to them in their wild rage, when the heads of Asprenas and those who had perished with him were placed on the altar. . . .
18. There was a certain man called Arruntius, a crier of goods and therefore of loud, sonorous voice, who in his wealth equalled the richest of the Romans, and who in whatever he wished had very great influence in the city both at. that time and afterwards. This mall having composed his countenance to grief as much as he was able (for, though he was the most hostile of all toward Gaius, he hid his feelings in order to do what fear and cunning suggested as necessary to his safety), assumed the garments of mourning as is customary on the death of a beloved friend, and proceeded to the theatre. Here be announced the death of Gaius, not suffering the crowd to remain longer in ignorance of what had happened. Then Arruntius made the round of the arena, addressing the. soldiers, while their tribunes who were accompanying him ordered them to sheathe their swords and confirmed the news of Gaius' death. This rescued from danger those who were assembled there in the theatre as well as all who had by any chance fallen into the hands of the Germans. For while they still cherished the hope that Gaius might yet be alive, no violence was too great for them to commit. So great ,as their devotion to him that they would have been content even to give up their lives if only they might have protected him from plots and treachery and shielded him from so grave a calamity. When they had been convinced, however, of Gaius' death, they immediately stilled their wild outbreak, not only because their devotion and eagerness were no longer of any profit to them since he was now dead who would have rewarded them, but also because they feared that if they continued to do injury to those about them they would fall under the censure of the Senate in case the administration of affairs fell to that body. And so at length, though with difficulty, was the madness that had fallen upon the Germans at the news of Gaius' murder brought to an end.
1. Germans were being recruited as personal guards of Emperors as early as the reign of Augustus. This offset the influence of the Praetorian Guard. As years passed the number of Germans in the Roman Army increased until they dominated it by the fifth century A.D.