The following year Caepio was joined with the forces of praetor Sextus Junius Brutus who began operating against guerrilla bands emulating Viriathus. The brutal movements of the Romans in Lusitania which had been escalating since the renewal of hostilities induced Viriathus to sue for peace on any terms. Viriathus sent three very close friends Audax, Ditalco, and Minurus to negotiate with Caepio. The later bribed the envoys with promises of large rewards to assassinate Viriathus.
Viriathus was always cautious and in order to be ready for any emergency, he slept lightly and in full armor. Ironically through the very nature of this caution, his closest friends were allowed to visit him at any hour. That being so, Audax and the rest of the conspirators took advantage of precedent and just as Viriathus had fallen asleep, they entered the tent under the devious pretext of urgency. There they killed Viriathus where he laid; stabbing him discretely in one of the only places not covered by armor, his throat.
They accomplished this in a manor so that the wound was concealed from any cursory glance. The murderers then fled to Caepio before anyone in the camp had realized what had been done. They petitioned the Roman commander for their due compensation but were awarded only their safety to live. Caepio gave the retort that he did not approve of the murder of a general by his own soldiers and for the collection of payment or any other demands, he referred them to Rome.
The following morning when Viriathus' death was discovered, grief and despair swept through the Lusitanian camp and there was an immense feeling of frustration because no one knew who had committed the crime.
Viriathus was buried with the highest honors and great pageantry. In the words of Appian:
"They arrayed the body of Viriathus in splendid garments and burned it on a lofty funeral pile. Many sacrifices were offered for him. Troops of horse and foot in armor marched around him singing his praises in barbarian fashion. Nor did they depart from the funeral pile until the fire had gone out. When the obsequies were ended, they had gladiatorial contests at his tomb."
Initially the death of their leader inspired the Lusitanians enough that a replacement was quickly found in a man named Tantalus and hostilities were quickly renewed. Ultimately however, this successor was no match for a Roman consular army and by the end of the year was obliged to submit to Caepio on the condition that they were given land to settle; a condition that seems to have finally been honored.
Even to this day, Viriathus is considered a mythical national hero for reasons so aptly enumerated by his primary biographer:
"So great was the longing for Viriathus after his death - a man who had the highest qualities of a commander as reckoned among barbarians, always foremost in facing danger and most exact in dividing the spoils. He never consented to take the lion's share, even when friends begged him to, but whatever he got he divided among the bravest. Thus it came about, a most difficult task and one never before achieved by any other commander so easily that in the eight years of this war, in an army composed of various tribes, there never was any sedition, the soldiers were always obedient and fearless in the presence of danger."
But the most fitting epitaph has to be the remarks found in the precious fragment of Cassius Dio in which he said:
"He was glad enough to get any food that came to hand and whatever drink fell to his lot; most of his life he lived under the open sky and was satisfied with nature's bedding. Consequently he was superior to any heat or cold, and was neither troubled by hunger nor annoyed by any other privation; for he found full satisfaction for all his needs in whatever he had at hand, as if it were the very best. And yet, possessed of such a physique, as the result both of nature and training, he excelled still more in his mental powers. He was swift to plan and accomplish whatever was needful, for he not only knew what must be done, but also understood the proper occasion for it. He was equally clever at feigning ignorance of the most obvious facts and knowledge of the most hidden secrets.
Furthermore, he was not only general but his own assistant in every undertaking. He was seen to be neither humble nor overbearing; indeed, obscurity of family and reputation for strength were so combined in him that he seemed to be neither inferior nor superior to any one. And, in fine, he carried on the war not for the sake of personal gain or power, nor through anger, but for the sake of warlike deeds in themselves; hence he was accounted at once a lover and a master of war."
Viriathus And The Lusitanian War was written by forum member Sean Higgins (Pantagathus).
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Did you know...?
Lusitania took its name from the Lusitani, an Indo-European tribe that lived in that region.