Thursday, January 5, 2012

Answer: Who found the lost Roman eagles?

The short answers to our questions from yesterday:

1. Who found the three lost eagles?  This is a bit of trick question.

Bust of Germanicus
Two of the eagles were found by Germanicus in 15/16 AD.  (aka Germanicus Julius Caesar who lived from May 24, 15 BC until October, 19 AD) and the third eagle was found by Publius Gabinius in 42 AD, more than 50 years after it was lost.  

2. Someone gave one of the eagles’ finders a posthumous honor in September.  What was the honor and who bestowed it?

The emperor Caligula did many things to honor Germanicus (who was, after all, his father), but the only honor that was " September" was to rename the month of September to Germanicus.  Obviously, the change didn't stick long term, but it WAS a September honor!  (And it's worth knowing that changing the names of months to honor someone was fairly common in Ancient Rome; September was changed to Germanicus twice by different emperors!)  

Extra credit: 
Who was the eagle finder’s wife?  Answer:  Germanicus' wife was Julia Vipsania Agrippina (aka Agrippina the Elder, who was also a cousin on his mother's side).  She was the second granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, sister-in-law, stepdaughter and daughter-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, mother of the Emperor Caligula, maternal second cousin and sister-in-law of the Emperor Claudius and the maternal grandmother of the Emperor Nero.  Roman family trees are complicated, but Agrippina was about as well-connected as they come.  

Now... how did we find these?  

I, like most of the people who wrote comments, found that Germanicus recovered two of the eagles.  That was a pretty easy find if you do a search like three roman legions lost eagles ].  That pretty quickly takes to you articles about the "Battle of the Teutoburg Forest" or the "Varian Disaster."  (Note that was did the search with the word "three" rather than the numeral "3"--it's more likely that authors would write "three" rather than "3" -- especially in the context of "three lost eagles.") 

And once you've found this, most articles also comment that TWO of the eagles were recovered later by Germanicus.  (And if you're not reading carefully, you might think you're done! But no, there's a third eagle to find.)  

I then did [three legions' eagles lost in 9 CE] (here I DID use the numeral, since I'm looking for a date) which led me to an article about Roman military history with an important contrast between the different stories about the eagles' recovery.  That article told me something useful: the names of several classical historians, including the name of Cassius Dio.  

Now that I knew this, a search for [ Cassius Dio eagles ] led me to Book LX of his his text, "Roman History."  In his writings I did a Control-F for "eagle" and got this this bit of prose:  “…Publius Gabinius conquered the Cauchia and as a crowning achievement recovered a military eagle, the only one that still remained in the hands of the enemy from Varus' disaster.”  

Like many of you, I also got swept up into the story of the Varian Disaster and Germanicus' attempt to recover the eagles.  It was a remarkable time, filled with remarkable people.

For the extra credit step, it was important to keep all of the various people named "Germanicus" (there are at least 3 important ones), the various people named "Tiberius" or "Nero" or "Livilla" and "Agrippina."  It doesn't help that they keep changing their names during the course of their lives!  

This wasn't a hard search so much as one requiring attention to detail.  Note that Germanicus (who found the eagles) was "Germanicus Julius Caesar" and that his wife was "Agrippina the Elder" (Julia Vipsania Agrippina) not to be confused with Agrippina the Younger (her daughter), or Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (her father).  

Search Lesson:  There are a couple of things to take away here:

1. Be sure your question doesn't presuppose your answer.  When I asked for the "finder of the eagles," don't assume that there was only ONE person who found them.  (Several readers found that Germanicus had found the eagles, but didn't notice that he didn't find them all.)

2. When dealing with complex family trees, be sure you've got the right person.  Roman genealogy and history is notoriously tricky.  What we say about "always getting a second source" is especially true here.  Whenever possible, use the original form of the name (e.g., "Agrippina Major") rather than the transliterated equivalent.  (Why?  Because the transliterated form can be done in various ways:  Is "Agrippina the Elder" the same as "Julia" the same as "Old Agrippina"?)

3.  When dealing with history, be aware that there can be multiple answers.  This is always true (see, for instance, our story about "Who found the first oil in California?"), but it's REALLY true for Roman history.  Not only are there variant versions of the history, but there are a fair number of them.  The Romans loved to write, and everyone has an axe to grind or a patron to flatter.  

4. When searching for dates, using numerals (e.g., [ 9 AD ]) works well.  When searching for quantities (e.g., [ three eagles ] ) you typically want to use the written-out form of the number, since that's the way most authors will write it.

For the most part, people seemed to get the answer!  Great job.  Next week will be a bit tougher!  Stay tuned.  

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. Two interesting synchronicities here Daniel, I'm also called Daniel Russell and I love to (re)search. Your challenge also reminds me of a puzzle I successfully worked through with my daughter - to use internet resources to accurately identify an "unknown" roman coin being sold on ebay before the auction ended. We had three hours to do it and it was a great excuse for bonding. It was an exercise in picture matching with no prior knowledge and while we did it we learned alot about many similarly named late roman emperors, happy days.