Lucius Apronius fighting the Frisians in A.D.29

Lucius Apronius is a historical person from the early part of the First Century who had a distinguished career as a general and governor that was notable enough to be mentioned in 11 separate chapters in Tacitus’s The Annals of Ancient Rome. I chose Lucius to be the father of Marcus Apronius, the protagonist of my novel, The Epiphany of Marcus Apronius because of an event in A.D. 24 during which his son-in-law, a member of the Plautius family, threw Lucius’s daughter out of a window to her death. This historical event was a perfect catalyst for initiating a vengeful feud between two sons of the Apronius and Plautius families. Following below are the Lucius Apronius excerpts from the well-respected translation of the Annals by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (1864-1877)

Book 1:29 (A.D. 14) “At their prayer, Blaesus and Lucius Apronius, a Roman knight on Drusus’s staff, with Justus Catonius, a first-rank centurion, were again sent to Tiberias.” (Note: Some translations use the name Aponius in lieu of Apronius as that is how it is written in the original Latin. Church and Brodribb correctly changed it to Apronius as they knew there was never an L. Aponius on Drusus’s staff but there was definitely an L. Apronius on his staff. The misspelling of the Aponius name could simply be a mistake by Tacitus or maybe just the inadvertent omission of an “r” by a later copyist. The name Aponius is never again mentioned by Tacitus.) (The Blaesus mentioned is the young son of Quintus Junius Blaesus, general of the army in Pannonia.)

Book 1:56 (A.D. 15) “Having established a fort on the site of his father’s entrenchments on Mount Taunus he hurried his troops in quick marching order against the Chatti, leaving Lucius Apronius to direct works connected with roads and bridges.” (The “he” who hurried his troops was Germanicus.)

Book 1:72 (A.D. 15) “That year triumphal honors were decreed to Aulus Caecina, Lucius Apronius, Caius Silius for their achievements under Germanicus.”

Book 2:32 (A.D. 16) “Offerings were given to Jupiter, Mars, and Concord, and the 13th day of September, on which Libo had killed himself, was to be observed as a festival, on the motion of Lucius Piso, Gallus Asinius, Papius Mutilus, and Lucius Apronius.” (Libo was Marcus Scribonius Libo Drusus accused of subversion.)

Book 3:21 (A.D. 20) “On receiving this information, Lucius Apronius, successor to Camillus, alarmed more by the dishonor of his own men than by the glory of the enemy, ventured on a deed quite exceptional at that time and derived from old tradition. He flogged to death every tenth man drawn by lot from the disgraced cohort. So beneficial was this rigour that a detachment of veterans, numbering not more than five hundred, routed those same troops of Tacfarinas on their attacking a fortress named Thala. In this engagement Rufus Helvius, a common soldier, won the honour of saving a citizen’s life, and was rewarded by Apronius with a neck-chain and a spear. To these the emperor added the civic crown, complaining, but without anger, that  Apronius had not used his right as proconsul to bestow this further distinction. Tacfarinas, however, finding that the Numidians were . . . regular camp. Caesianus was despatched by his father Apronius with some cavalry and auxiliary infantry, reinforced by the most active of the legionaries, and, after a successful battle with the Numidians, drove them into the desert.” (Apronius was succeeded by Quintus Junius Blaesus, uncle of Sejanus, as Governor of Africa.  Tacfarinas was finally killed in A.D. 24 by Dolabella, successor of Blaesus.)

Book 3:64 (A.D. 22) “Lucius Apronius moved that the heralds (Fetiales) too should preside over these games.

Book 4:13 (A.D. 23) “Had not his innocence been protected by Aelius Lamia and Lucius Apronius, successive governors of Africa, the splendid fame of that ill-starred family and the downfall of his father would have dragged him to ruin.” [Refers to Caius Gracchus II, son of Caius Sempronius Gracchus who seduced Julia (married daughter of Augustus), was exiled, and finally executed.]

Book 4:22 (A.D. 24) “About the same time Plautius Silvanus, the praetor, for unknown reasons, threw his wife Apronia (The Elder) out of a window. When summoned before the emperor by Lucius Apronius, his father-in-law, he replied incoherently, representing that he was in a sound sleep and consequently knew nothing, and that his wife had chosen to destroy herself. Without a moments delay Tiberius went to the house and inspected the chamber, where were seen the marks of her struggling and of her forcible ejection. He reported this to the Senate, and as soon as judges had been appointed, Urgulania, the grandmother of Silvanus, sent her grandson a dagger. This was thought equivalent to a hint from the emperor, because of the known intimacy between Augusta and Urgulania. The accused tried the steel in vain, and then allowed his veins to be opened.” (This is the event that sparked the bitter feud that runs through my novel.)

Book 4:73 (A.D. 29) “As soon as this was known to Lucius Apronius, proprietor of Lower Germany, he summoned from the Upper province the legionary veterans, as well as some picked auxiliary infantry and cavalry. Instantly conveying both armies down the Rhine, he threw them on the Frisii, raising at once the siege of the fortress and dispersing the rebels in defence . . . in the panic of the fugitives. Apronius entrusted the rest of the auxiliaries to Cethegus Labeo, the commander of the fifth legion, but he too finding his men’s position critical and being in extreme peril, sent messages imploring the whole strength of the legions. The soldiers of the fifth sprang forward, drove back the enemy in a fierce encounter, and saved our cohorts and cavalry, who were exhausted by their wounds. But the Roman general did not attempt vengeance or even bury the dead, although many tribunes, prefects, and first-rank centurions had fallen. Soon afterwards it was ascertained from deserters that nine hundred Romans had been cut to pieces in a wood called Braduhenna’s after prolonging the fight to the next day, (The Frisians became German heroes for defeating the Romans but news of the defeat was suppressed in Rome.)

Book 6:30 (A.D. 34) “Gaetulicus at this time was in charge of the legions of Upper Germany, and had won from them singular affection, as a man of unbounded kindness, moderate in his strictness, and popular even with the neighbouring army through his father-in-law, Lucius Apronius. (Gaetulicus was married to Lucius’s daughter, Apronia the Younger.)

Book 11:19 (A.D. 47) “The Frisians, who had been hostile or disloyal since the revolt which had been begun by the defeat of Lucius Apronius, gave hostages and settled down on territories marked out by Corblo, who at the same time, gave them a senate, magistrates, and a constitution.” (Defeat of Lucius Apronius was in A.D. 29 – see above.) (Corbulo was Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo II, imperial governor of Lower Germany.)

In addition to the Lucius Apronius references in The Annals, there is also a mention in The Roman History by C. Velleius Paterculus, translation by Frederick W. Shipley, 1924. It can be found on the Lacus Curtius website

Book II:116  “In the Dalmatian war Germanicus, who . . . And Lucius Apronius, who shared in the achievements of Postumus, earned by the distinguished valour which he displayed in this campaign also, the honours which he actually won shortly afterwards.”

From the chapter extracts above, it is apparent that the career of Lucius Apronius had many vicissitudes of fortune that ranged from the award of a Triumph in A.D. 15 (a great and prestigious honor later reserved only for emperors) to a shameful defeat by the Frisians in A.D. 29. He was an imperfect man in an imperfect world who somehow managed to survive through the dangerous and turbulent imperial regimes of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.


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