The Battle of Idistaviso

Idistaviso, the Valley of the Maidens [Idistavizo, Dolina dev]--At the battle of Idistaviso, the Roman general Germanicus, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius, defeated the German tribe of Cherusci led by Arminius. The name of Idistaviso is usually translated from Old German as "Valley of the Maidens." That the Roman turma and ala here would have been formed of local tribesmen suggests that Pilate may be of Germanic origin. There was a medieval legend to this effect Bulgakov may have known. Perhaps Pilate is related to other possible Germans in the novel?

Tacitus mentions this battle against Arminius in Annales II:16 (See Tacitus' Annales at the Internet Classics Archive)

Soon afterwards Drusus was sent into Illyricum to be familiarised with military service, and to win the goodwill of the army. Tiberius also thought that it was better for the young prince, who was being demoralised by the luxury of the capital, to serve in a camp, while he felt himself the safer with both his sons in command of legions. However, he made a pretext of the Suevi, who were imploring help against the Cherusci. For when the Romans had departed and they were free from the fear of an invader, these tribes, according to the custom of the race, and then specially as rivals in fame, had turned their arms against each other. The strength of the two nations, the valour of their chiefs were equal. But the title of king rendered Maroboduus hated among his countrymen, while Arminius was regarded with favour as the champion of freedom.

Thus it was not only the Cherusci and their allies, the old soldiers of Arminius, who took up arms, but even the Semnones and Langobardi from the kingdom of Maroboduus revolted to that chief. With this addition he must have had an overwhelming superiority, had not Inguiomerus deserted with a troop of his dependants to Maroboduus, simply for the reason that the aged uncle scorned to obey a brother's youthful son. The armies were drawn up, with equal confidence on both sides, and there were not those desultory attacks or irregular bands, formerly so common with the Germans. Prolonged warfare against us had accustomed them to keep close to their standards, to have the support of reserves, and to take the word of command from their generals. On this occasion Arminius, who reviewed the whole field on horseback, as he rode up to each band, boasted of regained freedom, of slaughtered legions, of spoils and weapons wrested from the Romans, and still in the hands of many of his men. As for Maroboduus, he called him a fugitive, who had no experience of battles, who had sheltered himself in the recesses of the Hercynian forest and then with presents and embassies sued for a treaty; a traitor to his country, a satellite of Caesar, who deserved to be driven out, with rage as furious as that with which they had slain Quintilius Varus. They should simply remember their many battles, the result of which, with the final expulsion of the Romans, sufficiently showed who could claim the crowning success in war.

Nor did Maroboduus abstain from vaunts about himself or from revilings of the foe. Clasping the hand of Inguiomerus, he protested "that in the person before them centred all the renown of the Cherusci, that to his counsels was due whatever had ended successfully. Arminius in his infatuation and ignorance was taking to himself the glory which belonged to another, for he had treacherously surprised three unofficered legions and a general who had not an idea of perfidy, to the great hurt of Germany and to his own disgrace, since his wife and his son were still enduring slavery. As for himself, he had been attacked by twelve legions led by Tiberius, and had preserved untarnished the glory of the Germans, and then on equal terms the armies had parted. He was by no means sorry that they had the matter in their own hands, whether they preferred to war with all their might against Rome, or to accept a bloodless peace."

To these words, which roused the two armies, was added the stimulus of special motives of their own. The Cherusci and Langobardi were fighting for ancient renown or newly-won freedom; the other side for the increase of their dominion. Never at any time was the shock of battle more tremendous or the issue more doubtful, as the right wings of both armies were routed. Further fighting was expected, when Maroboduus withdrew his camp to the hills. This was a sign of discomfiture. He was gradually stripped of his strength by desertions, and, having fled to the Marcomanni, he sent envoys to Tiberius with entreaties for help. The answer was that he had no right to invoke the aid of Roman arms against the Cherusci, when he had rendered no assistance to the Romans in their conflict with the same enemy. Drusus, however, was sent as I have related, to establish peace.