Roman Empire: Antonius’ crossing the Apennines (Part 18)

The occupation of Mevania had terrified Italy with the prospect of a revival of the war, but Vitellius’ cowardly retreat sensibly strengthened the popularity of the Flavian party. The Samnites, Pelignians, and Marsians were now induced to rise. They were jealous of Campania for stealing a march on them, and the change of masters, as so often happens, made them perform all their military duties with the utmost alacrity. But in crossing the Apennines Antonius’ army suffered severely from the rough December weather. Though they met with no opposition, they found it hard enough to struggle through the snow, and realized what danger they would have had to face if Vitellius had not happened to turn back. Certainly chance helped the Flavian generals quite as often as their own strategy. Here they came across Petilius Cerialis, [A distinguished officer, who successfully crushed the rebellion on the Rhine, and became governor of Britain in 71] who had been enabled by his knowledge of the country to elude Vitellius’ outposts, disguised as a peasant. As he was a near relative of Vespasian and a distinguished soldier he was given a place on the staff. Several authorities say that Flavius Sabinus and Domitian [Vespasian’s brother and younger son were both in Rome, the former still holding the office of city prefect] were also afforded facilities for escape, and that Antonius sent messengers who contrived by various devices to get through to them, and made arrangements for an interview and safe conduct. Sabinus, however, pleaded that his health was unequal to the fatigue of such a bold step. Domitian was quite ready to venture, but although the guards to whom Vitellius had entrusted him, promised that they would share his flight, he was afraid they might be laying a trap for him. As a matter of fact, Vitellius was too anxious for the safety of his own relatives to plot any harm against Domitian.

Arrived at Carsulae [Casigliano] the Flavian generals took a few days’ rest and awaited the arrival of the main legionary force. [From Verona] The place suited them admirably for an encampment. It commanded a wide view, and with so many prosperous towns in the rear their supplies were safe. The Vitellians too, were only ten miles away, and they had hopes of negotiating treason with them. The soldiers chafed at this delay, preferring victory to peace. They did not even want to wait for their own legions, for there would be more plunder than danger to share with them. Antonius accordingly summoned a meeting of the men and explained to them that Vitellius still had troops at his command. Reflection might make them waver, despair would steel their hearts. In civil war, he told them, the first steps may be left to chance, nothing but careful strategy can win the final victory. The fleet at Misenum and the richest districts of Campania had already deserted Vitellius, and in the whole world nothing was left to him now except the country between Narnia and Tarracina. The battle of Cremona had brought them credit enough, and the destruction of the town more than enough discredit. Their desire must be not to take Rome but to save it. They would gain richer rewards and far more glory if they could show that they had saved the senate and people of Rome without shedding a drop of blood. Such considerations as these calmed their excitement, and it was not long before the legions arrived.

Alarmed at the repute of this augmented army, Vitellius’ Guards began to waver. There was no one to encourage them to fight, while many urged them to desert, being eager to hand over their companies or squadrons to the enemy and by such a gift to secure the victor’s gratitude for the future. These also let the Flavians know that the next camp at Interamna[Terni] had a garrison of four hundred cavalry. Varus was promptly sent off with a light marching force, and the few who offered resistance were killed. The majority threw away their arms and begged for quarter. Some escaped to the main camp [At Narnia] and spread universal panic by exaggerating the strength and prowess of the enemy, in order to mitigate the disgrace of losing the fort. In the Vitellian camp all offences went unpunished: desertion met with sure reward. Their loyalty soon gave way and a competition in treachery began. Tribunes and centurions deserted daily, but not the common soldiers, who had grown stubbornly faithful to Vitellius. At last, however, Priscus and Alfenus [The two prefects of the guard] abandoned the camp and returned to Vitellius, thus finally releasing all the others from any obligation to blush for their treachery.

About the same time Fabius Valens was executed in his prison at Urbinum, and his head was exhibited to Vitellius’ Guards to show them that further hope was vain. For they cherished a belief that Valens had made his way into Germany, and was there mustering his old force and fresh troops as well. This evidence of his death threw them into despair. The Flavian army was vastly inspirited by it and regarded Valens’ death as the end of the war.

Valens had been born at Anagnia of an equestrian family. He was a man of loose morality, not without intellectual gifts, who by indulging in frivolity posed as a wit. In Nero’s time he had acted in a harlequinade at the Juvenalian Games. [ Properly a festival to celebrate the first cutting of the beard. Nero forced high officials and their wives to take part in unseemly performances, and the festivities became a public scandal, culminating in Nero’s own appearance as a lyrist] At first he pleaded compulsion, but afterwards he acted voluntarily, and his performances were rather clever than respectable. Rising to the command of a legion, he supported Verginius and then defamed his character. He murdered Fonteius Capito, whose loyalty he had undermined–or perhaps because he had failed to do so. He betrayed Galba and remained faithful to Vitellius, a merit to which the treachery of others served as a foil.

Now that their hopes were crushed on all sides, the Vitellians prepared to go over to the enemy. But even at this crisis they saved their honour by marching down with their standards and colours to the plains below Narnia, where the Flavian army was drawn up in full armour ready for battle in two deep lines on either side of the road. The Vitellians marched in between and were surrounded. Antonius then spoke to them kindly and told them to remain, some at Narnia and some at Interamna. He also left behind some of the victorious legions, which were strong enough to quell any outbreak but would not molest them so long as they remained quiet.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 3) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick


Roman Empire: Antonius’ Advance; Vitellius’ Defense Measures (Part 17)

Thus a world-wide convulsion marked the passing of the imperial power into new hands. Meanwhile, after Cremona, the behavior of Antonius Primus was not so blameless as before. He had settled the war, he felt; the rest would be plain sailing. Or perhaps in such a nature as his success only brought to light his greed and arrogance and all his other dormant vices. While harrying Italy like a conquered, country, he courted the goodwill of his troops and used every word and every action to pave his way to power. He allowed his men to appoint centurions themselves in place of those who had fallen, and thus gave them a taste for insubordination; for their choice fell on the most turbulent spirits. The generals no longer commanded the men, but were dragged at the heels of their caprices. This revolutionary system, utterly fatal to good discipline, was exploited by Antonius for his own profit.[ Would-be centurions doubtless bribed him to influence the soldiers in their favour] Of Mucianus’ approach he had no fears, and thus made a mistake even more fatal than despising Vespasian.[Vespasian was too big to mind being despised; Mucianus was not, and eventually retaliated]

His advance, however, continued. As winter was at hand [November] and the Po had inundated the meadows, his column marched unencumbered by heavy baggage. The main body of the victorious legions was left behind at Verona, together with such of the soldiers as were incapacitated by wounds or old age, and many besides who were still in good condition. Having already broken the back of the campaign, Antonius felt strong enough with his auxiliary horse and foot and some picked detachments from the legions. The Eleventh [From Dalmatia] had voluntarily joined the advance. They had held back at first, but, seeing Antonius’ success, were distressed to think they had had no share in it. The column was also accompanied by a force of six thousand Dalmatian troops, which had been recently raised. The ex-consul, Pompeius Silvanus, [Governor of Dalmatia] commanded the column, but the actual control was in the hands of a general named Annius Bassus. Silvanus was quite ineffective as a general, and wasted every chance of action in talking about it.

Bassus, while showing all due respect, managed him completely, and was always ready with quiet efficiency to do anything that had to be done. Their force was further increased by enlisting the best of the marines from the Ravenna fleet, who were clamouring for service in the legions. The vacancies in the fleet were filled by Dalmatians. The army and its generals halted at Fanum Fortunae, [Fano] still hesitating what policy to adopt, for they had heard that the Guards were on the move from Rome, and supposed that the Apennines were held by troops. And they had fears of their own. Supplies were scarce in a district devastated by war. The men were mutinous and demanded ‘shoe-money’, [Apparently soldiers’ slang. Probably at some period an officer had bribed his men under the pretence of making special grants for the purchase of nails for their shoes.] as they called the donative, with alarming insistence. No provision had been made either for money or for stores. The precipitate greed of the soldiers made further difficulties, for they each looted what might have served for them all.

I find among the best authorities evidence which shows how wickedly careless were the victorious army of all considerations of right and wrong. They tell how a trooper professed that he had killed his brother in the last battle, and demanded a reward from his generals. The dictates of humanity forbade them to remunerate such a murder, but in the interests of civil war they dared not punish it. They had put him off with the plea that they could not at the moment reward his service adequately. And there the story stops. However, a similar crime had occurred in earlier civil wars. In the battle which Pompeius Strabo fought against Cinna at the Janiculum,[ 87 B.C.E.] one of his soldiers killed his own brother and then, realizing what he had done, committed suicide. This is recorded by Sisenna.[L. Cornelius Sisenna, who died 67 B.C.E. in Pompey’s war against the pirates, wrote a history of his own time, dealing in particular with Sulla’s wars.] Our ancestors, it seems, had a livelier sense than we have both of the glory of good deeds and the shame of bad.[ This or some similar incident seems to have become a respected commonplace of history and poetry] These and other such instances from past history may be appropriately cited, whenever the subject seems to demand either an example of good conduct or some consolation for a crime.

Antonius and his fellow generals decided to send the cavalry ahead to explore the whole of Umbria, and to see whether any of the Apennines were accessible by a gentler route; to summon the eagles and standards [i.e. the main body of the legions] and all the troops at Verona, and to fill the Po and the sea with provision ships. Some of the generals continually suggested obstacles. Antonius had grown too big for his place, and they had surer hopes of reward from Mucianus. He was distressed that victory had come so soon, and felt that, if he was not present when Rome was taken, he would lose his share in the war and its glory. So he kept on writing to Antonius and Varus in ambiguous terms, sometimes urging them to ‘press forward on their path’, sometimes expatiating on ‘the manifold value of delay’. He thus managed to arrange that he could disclaim responsibility in case of a reverse, or acknowledge their policy as his own if it succeeded. To Plotius Grypus, whom Vespasian had lately raised to senatorial rank and put in command of a legion, and to his other trusty friends he sent less ambiguous instructions, and they all wrote back criticizing the haste with which Antonius and Varus acted. This was just what Mucianus wanted. He forwarded the letters to Vespasian with the result that Antonius’ plans and exploits were not appreciated as highly as Antonius had hoped.

This he took very ill and threw the blame on Mucianus, whose charges he conceived had cheapened his exploits. Being little accustomed to control his tongue or to obey orders, he was most unguarded in his conversation and composed a letter to Vespasian in presumptuous language which ill befitted a subject, making various covert charges against Mucianus. ‘It was I,’ he wrote, ‘who brought the legions of Pannonia into the field: it was my stimulus which stirred up the officers in Moesia:[ i.e. Aponius, Vipstanus Messala, Dillius, and Numisius] it was by my persistence that we broke through the Alps, seized hold of Italy and cut off the German and Raetian auxiliaries. When Vitellius’ legions were all scattered and disunited, it was I who flung the cavalry on them like a whirlwind, and then pressed home the attack with the infantry all day and all night. That victory is my greatest achievement and it is entirely my own. As for the mishap at Cremona, that was the fault of the war. In old days the civil wars cost the country far more damage and involved the destruction of more than one town. It is not with couriers and dispatches that I serve my master, but with my sword in my hand. Nor can it be said that I have interfered with the glory of the men who have meanwhile settled matters in Dacia.[ i.e. Mucianus and his officers] What peace in Moesia is to them, the safety and welfare of Italy are to me. It was my encouragement which brought the provinces of Gaul and of Spain, the strongest parts of the whole world, over to Vespasian’s side. But my labours will prove useless, if the reward for the dangers I have run is to fall to the man who was not there to share them.’ All this reached the ears of Mucianus and a serious quarrel resulted. Antonius kept it up in a frank spirit of dislike, while Mucianus showed a cunning which was far more implacable.


After the crushing defeat at Cremona Vitellius stupidly suppressed the news of the disaster, thus postponing not the danger itself but only his precautions against it. Had he admitted the facts and sought advice, hope and strength were still left to him: his pretension that all went well only made matters worse. He was himself extraordinarily silent about the war, and in Rome all discussion of the subject was forbidden. This only increased the number of people who, if permitted, would have told the truth, but in the face of this prohibition spread grossly exaggerated rumours. Nor were the Flavian leaders slow to foster these rumours. Whenever they captured Vitellian spies they escorted them round the camp to show them the strength of the winning army, and sent them back again. Vitellius cross-examined each of them in private and then had them murdered. A centurion named Julius Agrestis, after many interviews, in which he endeavoured in vain to fire Vitellius’ courage, at last with heroic persistence induced the emperor to send him to inspect the enemy’s forces and discover what had really happened at Cremona. He made no attempt to deceive Antonius by concealing the object of his mission, but openly avowed the emperor’s instructions, stated his intentions and demanded to be shown everything. He was given guides, who showed him the field of battle, the ruins of Cremona and the captured legions. Back went Agrestis to Vitellius. Finding that the emperor disbelieved his report and even suggested that he had been bribed, he said, ‘You want some certain evidence and, since you have no further use for me either alive or dead, I will give you evidence that you can believe.’ And he was as good as his word. He went straight from the emperor’s presence and committed suicide. Some say he was killed by order of Vitellius, but they give the same account of his heroic devotion. [This incident was probably another historical commonplace. See the story from Plutarch which is also told by Suetonius and Dio.]

Vitellius was like a man roused from sleep. He dispatched Julius Priscus and Alfenus Varus [The prefects of the Guards] with fourteen cohorts of Guards and all his available cavalry to hold the Apennines. A legion levied from the marines [At Misenum. (Leg. II Adjutrix.) The Ravenna marines were on the Flavian side] was sent after them. This large army of picked men and horses, if there had been any general to lead it, was strong enough to have even taken the offensive. His other cohorts [i.e. the rest of the Guards (2), with the city garrison (4), and police (7)] were given to his brother, Lucius Vitellius, for the protection of the city. The emperor himself gave up none of his habitual luxuries, but, feeling nervous and depressed, he hurried on the elections and nominated consuls for several years in advance. He lavished special charters [i.e. granting them special privileges denied to other communities in the same province] on allied communities and extended Latin rights [A sort of ‘half-way house to Roman citizenship’. Full commercial rights were included but not those of intermarriage. It was possible for individual citizens in a Latin town to obtain the full rights of a Roman] to foreign towns: he remitted taxation here, granted immunities there. In fact, he took no thought for the future, and did his best to cripple the empire. However, the mob accepted these munificent grants with open mouths. Fools paid money for them, but wise men held them invalid, since they could be neither given nor received without a revolution. At last he yielded to the demands of the army and joined the camp at Mevania, [Bevagna] where they had taken up their position. A long train of senators followed him, many moved by their ambition, but most by their fears. Here he was still undecided and at the mercy of treacherous advice.

During one of his speeches a portent occurred. A cloud of ill-omened birds [Dio makes them vultures and the scene a sacrifice: they scattered the victims and nearly knocked Vitellius off his pulpit.] flew over his head and its density obscured the daylight. To this was added another omen of disaster. A bull broke from the altar, scattered the utensils for the ceremony, and escaped so far away that it had to be killed instead of being sacrificed according to the proper ritual. But the chief portent was Vitellius himself. He was ignorant of soldiering, incapable of forethought: knew nothing of drill or scouting, or how far operations should be pressed forward or protracted. He always had to ask someone else. At every fresh piece of news his expression and gait betrayed his alarm. And then he would get drunk. At last he found camp life too tedious, and on learning of a mutiny in the fleet at Misenum he returned to Rome. Every fresh blow terrified him, but of the real crisis he seemed insensible. For it was open to him to cross the Apennines and with his full strength unimpaired to attack the enemy while they were worn out with cold and hunger. But by breaking up his forces he sent his keenest soldiers, stubbornly loyal to the last, to be killed or taken prisoner. The more experienced of his centurions disapproved of this policy and would have told him the truth, if they had been consulted. But the emperor’s intimates refused them admittance. He had, indeed, formed a habit of regarding wholesome advice as unpleasant, and refusing to listen to any that was not agreeable, and in the long run fatal.

In civil war individual enterprise counts for much. The mutiny of the fleet at Misenum had been engineered by Claudius Faventinus, a centurion whom Galba had dismissed in disgrace. To obtain his object he had forged a letter from Vespasian promising rewards for treachery. The admiral, Claudius Apollinaris,[ He had succeeded Bassus] was neither a staunch loyalist nor an enthusiastic traitor. Accordingly Apinius Tiro, an ex-praetor, who happened to be at Minturnae, [Near the mouth of the Liris] offered to take the lead of the rebels. They proceeded to win over the colonies and country towns. Puteoli in particular was strong for Vespasian, while Capua remained loyal to Vitellius, for they dragged their local jealousies into the civil war. To pacify the excited troops Vitellius chose Claudius Julianus, who had lately been in command of the fleet at Misenum and had allowed lax discipline. To support him he was given one cohort of the city garrison and the force of gladiators already serving under him. The two parties encamped close to one another, and it was not long before Julianus came over to Vespasian’s side. They then joined forces and occupied Tarracina, [Horace’s ‘Anxur perched on gleaming rocks’. It lay near the Pontine marshes on the Appian way.] which owed its strength more to its walls and situation than to the character of its new garrison.

When news of this reached Vitellius, he left part of his force at Narnia [Narni] with the prefects of the Guard, [Priscus and Varus] and sent his brother Lucius with six regiments of Guards and five hundred horse to cope with the threatened outbreak in Campania. His own nervous depression was somewhat relieved by the enthusiasm of the troops and of the populace, who clamoured loudly for arms. For he dignified this poor-spirited mob, which would never dare to do anything but shout, by the specious titles of ‘the army’ or ‘his legions’. His friends were all untrustworthy in proportion to their eminence; but on the advice of his freedmen he held a levy for conscription and swore in all who gave their names. As their numbers were too great, he gave the task of selection to the two consuls. From each of the senators he levied a fixed number of slaves and a weight of silver. The knights offered money and personal service, while even freedmen volunteered similar assistance. Indeed, protestations of loyalty prompted by fear, had gradually changed into real sympathy. People began to feel pity, not perhaps so much for Vitellius as for the throne and its misfortunes. He himself by his looks, his voice, his tears made ceaseless demands upon their compassion, promising rewards lavishly and, as men do when they are frightened, beyond all limits. He had hitherto refused the title of Caesar, but he now expressed a wish for it. He had a superstitious respect for the name, and in moments of terror one listens as much to gossip as to sound advice. However, while a rash and ill-conceived undertaking may prosper at the outset, in time it always begins to flag. Gradually the senators and knights deserted him. At first they hesitated and waited till his back was turned, but soon they ceased to care and openly showed their disrespect. At last Vitellius grew ashamed of the failure of his efforts and excused them from the services which they refused to render.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 3) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire: Vitellius, State of the Provinces (Part 16)

When Caecina had left Rome, Vitellius, after an interval of a few days, sent Fabius Valens hurrying to the front, and then proceeded to drown his cares in self-indulgence. He neither made any provision for the war, nor tried to increase the efficiency of his troops either by haranguing or by drilling them. He did not keep himself in the public eye, but retired into the pleasant shade of his gardens, regarding past, present, and future with equal indifference, like one of those listless animals which lie sluggish, and torpid so long as you supply them with food. While he thus loitered languid and indolent in the woods of Aricia, [La Riccia] he received the startling news of Lucilius Bassus’ treachery and the disaffection of the fleet at Ravenna. Soon afterwards he heard with mixed feelings of distress and satisfaction that Caecina had deserted him and had been imprisoned by the army. On his insensate nature joy had more effect than trouble.

He returned in triumph to Rome and at a crowded meeting praised the devotion of the troops in extravagant terms. He gave orders for the imprisonment of Publilius Sabinus, the prefect of the Guards, on the ground of his intimacy with Caecina, and appointed Alfenus Varus [Hitherto camp-prefect] in his place.

He next delivered a pompous and elaborate speech in the senate, where he was loaded with far-fetched compliments by the members. Lucius Vitellius rose to propose a harsh sentence against Caecina. The rest of the house inveighed with assumed indignation against the consul who had betrayed his country, the general who had betrayed his commander-in-chief, the friend who had betrayed his benefactor to whom he owed all his riches and distinction. But their protestations of sympathy with Vitellius really voiced their personal vexation. [Against Caecina for his inefficiency] None of the speeches contained any criticism of the Flavian generals. They threw the blame on the misguided and impolitic action of the armies, and with cautious circumlocution avoided all direct mention of Vespasian. Caecina’s consulship had still one day to run, and Rosius Regulus actually made humble petition for this one day’s office, Vitellius’ offer and his acceptance exciting universal derision. Thus he entered and abdicated his office on the same day, the last of October. Men who were learned in constitutional history pointed out that no one before had ever been elected to fill a vacancy without the passing of a bill or some act of deprivation, although there was precedent for the one day consulship in the case of Caninius Rebilus when Caius Caesar was dictator and the civil war necessitated prompt rewards.[ This was in 45 B.C., when Caesar was carrying on the government with a high hand and small regard for precedent. Holding an election on the last day of the year, he was told that the consul was dead: there was no one to preside. So he promptly announced that Caninius was consul till the next morning. ‘So no one,’ says Cicero, ‘breakfasted during his consulship. However, there was no crime either, and his vigilance was such that he never closed an eye during his whole term of office.’]

It was at this time that the news of the death of Junius Blaesus gave rise to much talk. I give the story as I find it. When Vitellius was lying seriously ill at his house in the Servilian Park, he noticed that a neighbouring mansion was brilliantly illuminated at night. On asking the reason, he was told that Caecina Tuscus[This man had been prefect of Egypt, and had built special baths for Nero, who was expected to visit Alexandria. But he committed the indiscretion of washing in them first, for which Nero had banished him.] was giving a large dinner-party, at which Junius Blaesus was the chief guest. He further received an exaggerated account of their extravagance and dissipation. Some of his informants even made specific charges against Tuscus and others, but especially accused Blaesus for spending his days in revelry while his emperor lay ill. There are people who keep a sharp eye on every sign of an emperor’s displeasure. They soon made sure that Vitellius was furious and that Blaesus’ ruin would be an easy task, so they cast Lucius Vitellius for the part of common informer. He had a mean and jealous dislike for Blaesus, whose spotless reputation far outshone his own, which was tainted with every kind of infamy. Bursting into the emperor’s apartment, he caught up Vitellius’ young son in his arms and fell at his feet. When asked the reason of this excitement, he said it was due to no anxiety for himself; all his suit and all his prayers were for his brother and his brother’s children. Their fears of Vespasian were idle: between him and Vitellius lay all the legions of Germany, all those brave and loyal provinces, and an immeasurable space of land and sea. ‘It is here in Rome,’ he cried, ‘in the bosom of our household that we have an enemy to fear, one who boasts the Junii and Antonii as his ancestors, one who shows himself affable and munificent to the troops, posing as a descendant of imperial stock.[Both the Junii and Antonii could claim as an ancestor Augustus’ sister Octavia; and the Junii were also connected with M. Junius Silanus, Augustus’ great-great-grandson, whom Nero had put out of the way] It is to him that Rome’s attention turns, while you, Sire, careless who is friend or foe, cherish in your bosom a rival, who sits feasting at his table and watches his emperor in pain. You must requite his unseasonable gaiety with a night of deadly sorrow, in which he may both know and feel that Vitellius lives and is his emperor, and, if anything should happen, has a son to be his heir.’

Vitellius hesitated anxiously between his criminal desires and his fear that, if he deferred Blaesus’ death, he might hasten his own ruin, or by giving official orders for it might raise a storm of indignation. He decided to proceed by poison. The suspicion against him he confirmed by going to see Blaesus and showing obvious satisfaction. Moreover, he was heard to make the savage boast that he had, to quote his own words, ‘feasted his eyes on his enemy’s deathbed.’

Blaesus, besides his distinguished origin and refined character, was steadfastly loyal. Even before the decline of Vitellius’ cause he had been canvassed by Caecina and other party leaders, who were turning against the emperor, and had met them with a persistent refusal. He was a man of quiet and blameless life, with no ambition for the principate or, indeed, for any sudden distinction, but he could not escape the danger of being considered worthy of it.

Meanwhile Fabius Valens, encumbered by a long train of harlots and eunuchs, was conducting a leisurely advance, most unlike a march to the front, when couriers arrived post-haste with the news that Lucilius Bassus had surrendered the Ravenna fleet. If he had hurried forward on his march he might have been in time to save Caecina’s faltering loyalty, or to have joined the legions before the critical engagement was fought. Many, indeed, advised him to avoid Ravenna and to make his way by obscure by-roads to Hostilia or Cremona. Others wanted him to send to Rome for the Guards and to break through the enemy’s lines with a strong force. Valens himself, with helpless indecision, let the time for action go by while he took advice; and then rejecting the advice he was offered, chose the middle course, which is always the worst in a crisis, and thus failed both in courage and in caution.

He wrote to Vitellius demanding reinforcements, and there arrived three cohorts of Guards and a regiment of cavalry from Britain, too many to slip through unobserved and too few to force a passage. But even in such a crisis as this Valens’ reputation was as unsavoury as ever. He was still believed to use violence in the pursuit of illicit pleasures, and to betray the confidence of his hosts by seducing their wives and families. He had money and authority to help him, and the feverish impatience of one whose star is on the wane. At last the arrival of the reinforcements revealed the perversity of his strategy. He had too few men to assume the offensive, even if they had been unquestionably loyal, and their loyalty was under grave suspicion. However, their sense of decency and respect for the general restrained them for a while, though such ties are soon broken when troops are disinclined for danger and indifferent to disgrace.[ They had already incurred the disgrace of betraying first Galba, then Otho] Fearing trouble, he sent the Guards forward to Ariminum [Rimini] with the cavalry to secure the rear. Valens himself, with a few companions, whose loyalty had survived misfortune, turned off into Umbria and thence to Etruria, where he learnt the result of the battle of Cremona. Thereupon he formed a plan, which was far from cowardly and might have had alarming consequences, if it had succeeded. He was to seize ships and cross to some point on the coast of Narbonnese Gaul, whence he could rouse the provinces of Gaul and the native German tribes, and thus raise forces for a fresh outbreak of war.

Valens’ departure having dispirited the troops at Ariminum, Cornelius Fuscus [Now admiral of the Ravenna fleet] advanced his force and, stationing Liburnian cruisers along the adjoining coast, invested the town by land and sea. The Flavians thus occupied the Umbrian plain and the sea-board of Picenum; and the Apennines now divided Italy between Vitellius and Vespasian.

Valens, embarking from the Bay of Pisa, was either becalmed on a slow sea or caught by an unfavourable wind and had to put in at the harbor of Hercules Monoecus.[ Monaco] Stationed in the neighbourhood was Marius Maturus, the Governor of the Maritime Alps, who had remained loyal to Vitellius, and, though surrounded by enemies, had so far been faithful to his oath of allegiance. He gave Valens a friendly welcome and strongly advised him not to venture rashly into Narbonnese Gaul. This alarmed Valens, who found also that his companions’ loyalty was yielding to their fears.

For Valerius Paulinus, the imperial agent in the province, was an energetic soldier who had been friendly with Vespasian in old days, and had lately sworn all the surrounding communities to his cause. Having summoned to his flag all the Guards discharged by Vitellius, who needed no persuasion to resume the war, he was now holding the colony of Forum Julii,[ Frejus] the key to the command of the sea. His influence carried the more weight since Forum Julii was his native town and, having once been an officer in the Guards, he was respected by the men. Besides this, the inhabitants supported their fellow citizen, and in the hope of future aggrandizement rendered enthusiastic service to the party. When the news of these efficient preparations, somewhat exaggerated by rumour, came to the ears of the Vitellians, who were already in some doubt, Fabius Valens returned to the ships with four men of the Body Guard, three of his friends and three centurions, while Maturus and the rest preferred to remain and swear allegiance to Vespasian. As for Valens, though he felt safer at sea than among the cities on the coast, he was still full of doubts for the future, since he was certain what he had to avoid but quite uncertain whom he could trust. Eventually a gale drove him upon the Stoechades, [Iles d’Hyeres] some islands belonging to Marseilles, and there he was overtaken by the cruisers which Paulinus had sent in pursuit.


With the capture of Valens the tide had now fully turned in favour of Vespasian. The movement had been begun in Spain by the First legion “Adjutrix”, [The marines] whose reverence for Otho’s memory made them hate Vitellius. They carried the Tenth and the Sixth [X Gemina, VI Victrix] with them. The provinces of Gaul soon followed suit. Britain was bound to his cause by the favour felt for one who had been sent there by Claudius in command of the Second legion, and had fought with great distinction in the war. But the adherence of the province was to some extent opposed by the other legions, in which many of the centurions and soldiers had been promoted by Vitellius.

They were used to their emperor and felt some doubt about the change. This quarrel between the legions and the constant rumours of civil war, encouraged the Britons to take heart. Their chief instigator was one Venutius. He was of a ferocious disposition and hated the name of Rome, but his strongest motive was a private quarrel with Queen Cartimandua, a member of a powerful family, who ruled the Brigantes.[They occupied a large district of the north of England, from the Trent to the Tyne] Her authority had lately increased, since she had betrayed King Caratacus into the hands of the Romans, and was thus considered to have provided Claudius Caesar with material for his triumph.[ As a matter of fact his triumph took place in 44. Caratacus was brought to Rome in 51. Perhaps Tacitus regards this in itself as a ‘triumph’, or else he makes a venial mistake] Thus she had grown rich, and with prosperity came demoralization. She threw over Venutius, who was her husband, and gave her hand and kingdom to his squire, Vellocatus. This crime soon proved the ruin of her house. The people supported her husband: she defended her lover with passionate ferocity. Venutius therefore summoned assistance and, aided by the simultaneous revolt of the Brigantes, brought Cartimandua into dire straits. She petitioned for troops from Rome. Our auxiliaries, both horse and foot, then fought several engagements with varying success, but eventually rescued the queen. Thus the kingdom was left in the hands of Venutius and the war in ours.

Almost simultaneously a disturbance broke out in Germany, where the inefficiency of the generals, the disaffection of the troops, the strength of the enemy, and the treachery of our allies all combined to bring the Roman government into serious danger. The causes and history of this protracted struggle–for such it proved–we must leave to a later chapter.[The rebellion on the Rhine] Amongst the Dacians[In Roumania] also there was trouble. They could never be trusted, and now that the army was moved from Moesia they were no longer under the restraint of fear. At first they remained quiet and awaited developments. But when they saw Italy in the flames of war, and found the whole empire divided into hostile camps, they fell upon the winter-quarters of the auxiliary infantry and cavalry and began to occupy both banks of the Danube. They were on the point of storming the Roman camp as well, when Mucianus, who knew of the victory at Cremona, sent the Sixth legion [Ferrata] against them. For the empire was in danger of a double foreign invasion, if the Dacians and the Germans had broken in from opposite directions. But here, as so often, Rome’s good fortune saved her by bringing Mucianus on the scene with the forces of the East just at the moment when we had settled matters at Cremona. Fonteius Agrippa, who had for the last year been pro-consul in Asia, was transferred to the government of Moesia. His forces were strengthened by a draft from the defeated Vitellian army, for in the interest of peace it seemed prudent to distribute these troops over the provinces and to keep their hands tied by a foreign war.

The other people’s soon made their voices heard. Pontus [This little kingdom west of Trebizond was left to Rome by Polemo II, A.D. 63. Nero made it a Roman province under the name of Pontus Polemoniacus] had suddenly risen in a general rebellion at the instigation of a foreign menial, who was in command of what had once been the royal fleet. He was one of Polemo’s freedmen, by name Anicetus, who had formerly been influential and resented the change which had converted the kingdom into a province of the Roman empire. He accordingly enlisted the maritime tribes of Pontus in Vitellius’ service, attracting all the neediest ruffians with promises of plunder. At the head of no mean force he suddenly fell upon Trapezus, [Trebizond] an ancient and famous city, founded by Greek settlers on the frontier of the Pontic kingdom. There he cut to pieces the auxiliaries, who had once formed the king’s Body Guard, and, after receiving the Roman franchise, had adopted our ensigns and equipment, while still retaining all the inefficiency and insubordination of Greek troops. Anicetus also set fire to the fleet [Mucianus had ‘ordered the fleet to move from Pontus to Byzantium’ (ii. 83). This leads some editors to change the text, and others to suppose that a few ships were left behind] and thus enjoyed complete mastery of the sea, since Mucianus had moved the pick of his cruisers and all his troops to Byzantium. The sea was overrun by natives too, who had hurriedly built themselves boats. These, which they call ‘arks’, [Literally, arched boats. Tacitus describes somewhat similar craft in “Germania”] are broad-bottomed boats with low sides, built without any brass or iron rivets. In a rough sea, as the waves rise higher and higher, the height of the sides is raised by the addition of planks which, in the end, enclose the whole boat under a sort of roof. They are thus left to toss up and down on the waves. They have bows at both ends and the paddles can be used on either side, since it is as easy and as safe to row in one direction as in the other.

This state of things attracting Vespasian’s attention, he was obliged to send out a picked force of detachments from the legions under Virdius Geminus, a soldier of tried experience. He attacked the enemy while they were dispersed in all directions in quest of plunder, and drove them back to their ships. He then had some Liburnian cruisers hurriedly constructed and ran Anicetus to ground in the mouth of the river Chobus,[ The Khopi, which flows from the Caucasus into the Euxine] where he had taken refuge with the King of the Sedochezi tribe, whose alliance he had purchased by bribes. At first, indeed, the king endeavoured to protect his petitioner by using threats of violence, but he soon saw that it was a choice between making war or being paid for his treachery. The barbarian’s sense of honour was unequal to this strain. He came to terms, surrendered Anicetus and the other fugitives, and thus put an end to ‘the slaves’ war’.

This victory delighted Vespasian: everything was succeeding beyond his hopes: and to crown all the news of the battle of Cremona now reached him in Egypt. He hurried forward all the faster towards Alexandria with the object of bringing starvation[126] upon Vitellius’ defeated troops and the inhabitants of Rome, who were already feeling the pinch of diminished imports. For he was at the same time making preparations for an invasion of the adjacent province of Africa[Africa came next to Egypt in importance as a Roman granary] by land and sea. By cutting off their corn supply he hoped to reduce the enemy to famine and disunion.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 3) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire: Fate of Cremona (Part 15)

Antonius did not follow up his advantage. He realized that, although the issue had been successful, the battle had long been doubtful, and had cost the troopers and their horses many wounds and much hard fighting. As evening fell, the whole strength of the Flavian army arrived. They had marched among heaps of corpses, and the still reeking traces of slaughter, and now, feeling that the war was over, they clamoured to advance at once on Cremona and either receive its submission or take it by storm. This sounded well for public utterance, but each man in his heart was thinking, ‘We could easily rush a city on the plain. In a night-assault men are just as brave and have a better chance of plunder. If we wait for day it will be all peace and petitions, and what shall we get for our wounds and our labours? A reputation for mercy! There’s no money in that. All the wealth of Cremona will find its way into the officers’ pockets. Storm a city, and the plunder goes to the soldiers: if it surrenders, the generals get it.’ They refused to listen to their centurions and tribunes and drowned their voices in a rattle of arms, swearing they would break their orders unless they were led out.

Antonius then went round among the companies, where his authoritative bearing obtained silence. He assured them that he had no wish to rob them of the glory and the reward they so well deserved. ‘But,’ he said, ‘an army and a general have different functions. It is right that soldiers should be greedy for battle, but the general often does more good not by temerity but by foresight, deliberation and delay. I have done all I could to aid your victory with my sword: now I will serve you by the general’s proper arts of calculation and strategy. The risks that face us are obvious. It is night; we know nothing of the lie of the city; the enemy is behind the walls; everything favours an ambush. Even if the gates were open, we cannot safely enter except by day and after due reconnoitering. Are you going to begin storming the town when you cannot possibly see where the ground is level and how high the walls are? How do you know whether to assault it with engines and showers of missiles, or with penthouses and shelters?’ Then he turned to individuals, asking one after another whether they had brought hatchets and pick-axes and other implements for storming a town. When they answered no, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘could any troops possibly break through walls or undermine them with nothing but swords and javelins?

Suppose it proves necessary to construct a mound and to shelter ourselves with mantlets and fascines, are we going to stand idle like a lot of helpless idiots, gaping at the height of the enemy’s towers and ramparts? Why not rather wait one night till our siege-train arrives and then carry the victory by force?’ So saying, he sent the camp-followers and servants with the freshest of the troopers back to Bedriacum to bring up supplies and whatever else was wanted.

The soldiers indeed chafed at this and mutiny seemed imminent, when some of the mounted scouts, who had ridden right up to the walls, captured a few stragglers from Cremona, and learnt from them that six Vitellian legions and the whole Hostilia army had that very day covered thirty miles, and, hearing of their comrades’ defeat, were already arming for battle and would be on them immediately. This alarming news cured their obstinate deafness to the general’s advice. He ordered the Thirteenth legion to take up their position on the raised Postumian high-road. In touch with them on the left wing in the open country were the Seventh Galbian, beside whom stood the Seventh Claudian, so placed that their front was protected by a ditch. On the right wing were the Eighth, drawn up along an open cross-road, and next to them the Third, distributed among some thick clumps of trees. Such, at any rate, was the order of the eagles and standards. In the darkness the soldiers were confused and took their places at random. The band of Guards [i.e. the band of Otho’s old Guards whom Vitellius had disbanded and Vespasian re-enlisted] was next to the Third, and the auxiliaries on the wings, while the cavalry were disposed in support round the flanks and the rear. Sido and Italicus with their picked band of Suebi fought in the front line.

For the Vitellians the right course was to rest at Cremona and recuperate their strength with food and a night’s rest, and then on the next day to crush and rout the Flavians when they were stiff with cold and weak from hunger. But they had no general;[Caecina was under arrest, Valens still on his way from Rome] they had no plan. Though it was nearly nine at night they flung themselves upon the Flavians, who were standing steady in their places to receive them. In their fury and the darkness the Vitellian line was so disordered that one can hardly venture to describe the disposition of their troops. However, it has been stated that the Fourth Macedonian legion were on the right flank; in the centre were the Fifth and Fifteenth with the detachments of the Ninth, the Second and the Twentieth from Britain; the Sixteenth, the Twenty-second, and the First formed the left wing. The men of the Rapax and Italian legions [XXI and I.] were distributed among all the companies. [Because they had already suffered heavy losses earlier in the day] The cavalry and auxiliaries picked their own position. All night the battle raged with varying fortune, never decided, always savagely contested. Disaster threatened now one side, now the other. Courage, strength were of little use: their eyes could not even see in front of them. Both sides were armed alike; the watchwords, constantly demanded, soon became known; the standards were all in confusion, as they were captured and carried off from one band to another. The Seventh legion, raised recently by Galba, suffered most severely. Six of the senior centurions fell and several standards were lost. They nearly lost their eagle too, but it was rescued by the bravery of the senior centurion, named Atilius Verus, who after great slaughter of the enemy fell finally himself.

Antonius had meanwhile called up the Guards to reinforce his wavering line. Taking up the fight, they repulsed the enemy, only to be repulsed in their turn. For the Vitellian artillery, which had at first been scattered all along the line, and had been discharged upon the bushes without hurting the enemy was now massed upon the high-road, and swept the open space in front. One immense engine in particular which belonged to the Fifteenth, mowed down the Flavian line with huge stones. The slaughter thus caused would have been enormous, had not two of the Flavian soldiers performed a memorable exploit. Concealing their identity by snatching up shields from among the enemy’s dead, [These shields would have Vitellius’ name on them, and thus conceal their identity] they cut the ropes which suspended the weights of the engine. They fell immediately, riddled with wounds, and so their names have perished. But of their deed there is no doubt.

Fortune had favoured neither side when, as the night wore on, the moon rose and threw a deceptive glamour over the field of battle. Shining from behind the Flavians the moon was in their favour. It magnified the shadows of their men and horses so that the enemy took the shadow for the substance, and their missiles were misdirected and fell short. The Vitellians, on the other hand, had the moon shining full on them and were an easy mark for the Flavians, shooting as it were out of cover. [Dio asserts that the moon was ‘black and bloody, and gave off other fearsome hues’]

Thus being enabled to recognize his own men, and to be recognized by them, Antonius appealed to some by taunting their honour, to many by words of praise and encouragement, to all by promising hope of reward. He asked the Pannonian legions why they had drawn their swords again. Here on this field they could regain their glory and wipe out the stain of their former disgrace.[ i.e. at the first battle of Bedriacum] Then turning to the Moesian troops, who were the chief promoters of the war, he told them it was no good challenging the Vitellians with verbal threats, if they could not bear to face them and their blows. Thus he addressed each legion as he reached it. To the Third he spoke at greater length, reminding them of their victories both old and new. Had they not under Mark Antony defeated the Parthians [36 B.C.] and the Armenians under Corbulo? [A.D. 63.] Had they not but lately crushed the Sarmatians? [ i.e. the Rhoxolani] Then he turned in fury on the Guards. ‘Peasants that you are,’ he shouted, ‘have you another emperor, another camp waiting to shelter you, if you are defeated? There in the enemy’s line are your standards and your arms: defeat means death and–no, you have drained disgrace already to the dregs.’

These words roused cheers on all sides, and the Third, following the Syrian custom, [They had served recently in Syria under Corbulo] saluted the rising sun. Thus arose a casual rumour–or possibly it was suggested by the general’s ingenuity—that Mucianus had arrived, and that the two armies were cheering each other. On they pressed, feeling they had been reinforced. The Vitellian line was more ragged now, for, having no general to marshal them, their ranks now filled, now thinned, with each alternation of courage and fear. As soon as Antonius saw them waver, he kept thrusting at them in massed column. The line bent and then broke, and the inextricable confusion of wagons and siege-engines prevented their rallying. The victorious troops scattered along the cross-road in headlong pursuit.

The slaughter was marked by one peculiar horror. A son killed his father. I give the facts and names on the authority of Vipstanus Messala. [An eyewitness] One Julius Mansuetus, a Spaniard who had joined the legion Rapax, had left a young son at home. This boy subsequently grew up and enlisted in the Seventh legion, raised by Galba. [In Spain.] Chance now sent his father in his way, and he felled him to the ground. While he was ransacking the dying man, they recognized each other. Flinging his arms round the now lifeless corpse, in a piteous voice he implored his father’s spirit to be appeased and not to turn against him as a parricide. The crime was his country’s, he cried; what share had a single soldier in these civil wars? Meanwhile he lifted the body and began to dig a grave and perform the last rites for his father. Those who were nearest noticed this; then the story began to spread, till there ran through the army astonishment and many complaints and curses against this wicked war. Yet they never ceased busily killing and plundering friends and relatives and brothers; and while they talked of the crime they were committing it themselves.

When they reached Cremona a fresh task of vast difficulty awaited them. During the war with Otho [i.e. at the time of the first battle of Bedriacum in April] the German army had entrenched their camp round the walls of Cremona and then erected a rampart round the camp; and these fortifications had been further strengthened. The sight of them brought the victors to a halt, and their generals were uncertain what instructions to give. The troops had had no rest for a day and a night. To storm the town at once would be an arduous and, in the absence of reserves, a perilous task. On the other hand, a retreat to Bedriacum would involve the intolerable fatigue of a long march, and destroy the value of their victory. Again, it would be dangerous to entrench themselves so close to the lines of the enemy, who might at any minute sally forth and rout them while they were dispersed and digging trenches. The chief anxiety lay in the temper of the men, who were much more ready to face danger than delay. To them discretion was disagreeable and hazard spelt hope. Their thirst for plunder outweighed all fears of wounds and bloodshed.

Antonius also inclined to this view and gave orders for them to surround the rampart. At first they stood back and delivered volleys of arrows and stones, suffering themselves the severer loss, for a storm of missiles rained down from the walls. Antonius then told off each legion to assault a different point of the rampart or one of the gates, hoping that by thus separating them he could distinguish the cowards from the brave and inflame them with a spirit of honourable rivalry. The Third and Seventh took the position nearest the road to Bedriacum; the Eighth and Seventh Claudian assaulted the right-hand side of the rampart; the Thirteenth swept up to the Brixian Gate. [i.e. the gate giving on to the road to Brescia] A brief delay was caused while some fetched mattocks and pickaxes from the fields and others hooks and ladders. Then holding their shields above their heads in close ‘tortoise’ formation, [In this famous formation the front-rank men kept close together and covered their bodies with long, concave shields, while the others, holding flat shields over their heads and pressing them one against another, formed a protecting roof. They could thus approach the walls under cover] they advanced under the rampart. Both sides employed Roman tactics. The Vitellians rolled down huge masses of stones, and, as the sheltering cover of shields parted and wavered, they thrust at it with lances and poles, until at last the whole structure was broken up and they mowed down the torn and bleeding soldiers beneath with terrible slaughter. The men would certainly have hesitated, had not the generals, realizing that they were really too tired to respond to any other form of encouragement, pointed significantly to Cremona.

Whether this was Hormus’s idea, as Messala records, or whether we should rather follow Caius Pliny, who accuses Antonius, it is not easy to determine. This one may say, that, however abominable the crime, yet in committing it neither Antonius nor Hormus belied the reputation of their lives. After this neither wounds nor bloodshed could stay the Flavian troops. They demolished the rampart, shook the gates, climbed up on each other’s shoulders, or over the re-formed ‘tortoise’, and snatched away the enemy’s weapons or caught hold of them by the arms. Thus the wounded and unwounded, the half-dead and the dying, all came rolling down and perished together by every imaginable kind of death.

The fight raged thickest round the Third and Seventh legions, and the general, Antonius, came up with a picked band of auxiliaries to support their assault. The Vitellians, finding themselves unable to resist the attack of troops thus stubbornly vying with each other, and seeing their missiles all glide off the shelter of shields, at last sent their engine of war crashing down upon their heads. For the moment it scattered and crushed beneath it the men on whom it fell, but it dragged with it some of the battlements and the top of the rampart. At the same moment one of the towers on the rampart gave way under a shower of stones. While the men of the Seventh struggled up to the breach in close column, the Third hewed down the gate with hatchets and swords. All the authorities agree that Caius Volusius of the Third legion was the first man in. Emerging on the top of the rampart, he hurled down those who barred his path, and from this conspicuous position waved his hand and shouted that the camp was taken. The others poured through, while the Vitellians in panic flung themselves down from the rampart, and the whole space between the camp and the walls became a seething scene of carnage.

Here, again, was a new type of task for the Flavians. Here were high walls, stone battlements, iron-barred gates, and soldiers hurling javelins. The citizens of Cremona were numerous and devoted to the cause of Vitellius, and half Italy had gathered there for the Fair which fell just at that time. Their numbers were a help to the defenders, but the prospect of plundering them offered an incentive to their assailants. Antonius ordered his men to bring fire and apply it to the most beautiful of the buildings outside the walls, hoping that the loss of their property might induce the citizens to turn traitor. The houses that stood nearest to the walls and overtopped them he crowded with his bravest troops, who dislodged the defenders with showers of beams and tiles and flaming torches. Meanwhile, some of the legionaries began to advance in ‘tortoise’ formation, while others kept up a steady fire of javelins and stones.

Gradually the spirit of the Vitellians ebbed. The higher their rank, the more easily they gave way to misfortune. For they were afraid that if Cremona too [As well as the buildings outside the walls] was demolished, there would be no hope of pardon; the victors’ fury would fall not on the common poor but on the tribunes and centurions, whom it would pay to kill. The common soldiers felt safe in their obscurity, and, careless of the future, continued to offer resistance. They roamed the streets or hid themselves in houses, and though they had given up the war, refused even so to sue for peace. Meanwhile the tribunes and centurions did away with the name and portraits of Vitellius. [i.e. tore them off the standards and shields, and broke the statues at head-quarters.] They released Caecina, who was still in irons, and begged his help in pleading their cause. When he turned from them in haughty contempt they besought him with tears. It was, indeed, the last of evils that all these brave men should invoke a traitor’s aid. They then hung veils and fillets out on the walls, and when Antonius had given the order to cease firing, they carried out their standards and eagles, followed by a miserable column of disarmed soldiers, dejectedly hanging their heads. The victors had at first crowded round, heaping insults on them and threatening violence, but when they found that the vanquished had lost all their proud spirit, and turned their cheeks with servile endurance to every indignity, they gradually began to recollect that these were the men who had made such a moderate use of their victory at Bedriacum. But when the crowd parted, and Caecina advanced in his consular robes, attended by his lictors in full state, their indignation broke into flame. They charged him with insolence and cruelty, and–so hateful is crime–they even flung his treachery in his teeth.[ i.e. even though it was in their own interest] Antonius restrained them and sent Caecina under escort to Vespasian.

Meanwhile the citizens of Cremona suffered sorely from the violence of the troops, and only the entreaties of their generals could withhold them from a general massacre. Antonius summoned a mass meeting and delivered a eulogy upon his victorious army, promising mercy to the vanquished and speaking of Cremona in ambiguous terms. Besides their natural passion for plunder, there was an old grudge which urged them to sack Cremona. The town was believed to have given assistance to the Vitellian cause before this in the war with Otho; and again, when the Thirteenth had been left behind to build an amphitheatre, the populace had shown its town-bred impertinence by assailing them with insolent ridicule. Other causes increased this bad feeling: it was here that Caecina had given his show of gladiators: the town had become for a second time the theatre of the war: the citizens had conveyed food to the Vitellians during the battle: some women had been killed, whose enthusiasm for the cause had led them to take part in the fight. Besides all this, the Fair had filled the rich city with an even greater display of wealth than usual. All eyes were now centered on Antonius, whose fame and good fortune overshadowed all the other generals. It so happened that he hurried off to the baths to wash off the stains of blood. Finding fault with the temperature of the water, he received the answer, ‘It will not be long before it is hot,’ and this phrase was caught up. The attendant’s words were repeated, and brought all the odium on Antonius, who was thus believed to have given the signal to set fire to Cremona, which was already in flames.[ The words were either attributed wrongly to Antonius or were supposed to be spoken in answer to his question, ‘Are the furnaces not lit?’ In either case they were taken to apply not to the heating of the baths but to the burning of the town]

Thus forty thousand soldiers burst into the town with a yet larger crowd of servants and sutlers, even more depraved than the soldiers in their readiness for cruelty and lust. Without any respect for age or for authority they added rape to murder and murder to rape. Aged men and decrepit old women, who were worthless as booty, were hustled off to make sport for them. If some grown girl or a handsome youth fell into their clutches, they would be torn to pieces in the struggle for possession, while the plunderers were left to cut each other’s throats. Whoever carried off money or any of the solid gold offerings in the temples was liable to be cut to pieces, if he met another stronger than himself. Some, disdaining easy finds, hunted for hidden hoards, and dug out buried treasure, flogging and torturing the householders. They held torches in their hands and, having once secured their prize, would fling them wantonly into an empty house or some dismantled temple. Composed as the army was of citizens, allies, and foreign troops, differing widely in language and customs, the objects of the soldiers’ greed differed also. But while their views of what was right might vary, they all agreed in thinking nothing wrong.

Cremona lasted them four days. While all other buildings sacred and secular sank in the flames, only the temple of Mefitis outside the walls was left standing, saved either by its position or the power of the presiding deity.[ i.e. the goddess of malaria, who reigned in terror by the swampy banks of the Po.]

Such was the end of Cremona two hundred and eighty-six years after its foundation. It had been originally built in the consulship of Tiberius Sempronius and Publius Cornelius, while Hannibal was threatening to invade Italy, to serve as a bulwark against the Gauls beyond the Po, [Cremona was founded in 218 B.C. as a Latin colony, together with Placentia, to keep the Gallic tribes of North Italy in check.] and to resist any other power that might break in over the Alps. And so it grew and flourished, aided by its large number of settlers, its conveniently situated rivers, [The Po, Adda, and Oglio.] the fertility of its territory, and its connation through alliance and intermarriage with other communities. Foreign invasions had left it untouched only to become the victim of civil war. Antonius, ashamed of his crime, and realizing his growing disfavour, proclaimed that no citizen of Cremona was to be kept as a prisoner of war; and, indeed, the unanimous feeling in Italy against buying such slaves had already frustrated the soldiers’ hope of profit. So they began to kill their captives, whose relatives and friends, when this became known, covertly bought their release. After a while, the rest of the inhabitants returned, and the squares and temples were rebuilt by the munificence of the burghers and under Vespasian’s direct patronage.

However, the soil was so foully infected by the reek of blood that it was impossible for the Flavians to encamp for long on the ruins of this buried city. They advanced along the road to the third milestone, and mustered the Vitellians, still straggling and panic-stricken, each under his own standard. The defeated legions were then distributed through Illyricum, for the civil war was still in progress and their fidelity could not be relied on. They then dispatched couriers to carry the news to Britain and the Spanish provinces. To Gaul they sent an officer named Julius Calenus, to Germany Alpinius Montanus, who had commanded an auxiliary cohort. Montanus was a Treviran and Calenus an Aeduan; both had fought for Vitellius and thus served to advertise Vespasian’s victory. At the same time garrisons were sent to hold the passes of the Alps, for fear that Germany might rise in support of Vitellius.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 3) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire: Vitellius; Engagement At Cremona (Part 14)

Vitellius’ party was equally a prey to disquiet, and there the dissension was the more fatal, since it was aroused not by the men’s suspicions but by the treachery of the generals. The sailors of the fleet at Ravenna were mostly drawn from the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, which were both held for Vespasian, and while they were still wavering, the admiral, Lucilius Bassus, decided them in favour of the Flavian party. Choosing the night-time for their treason, the conspirators assembled at head-quarters without the knowledge of the other sailors. Bassus, who was either ashamed or uncertain of their success, awaited developments in his house. Amid great disturbance the ships’ captains attacked the images of Vitellius and cut down the few men who offered any resistance. The rest of the fleet were glad enough of a change, and their sympathies soon came round to Vespasian. Then Lucilius appeared and publicly claimed responsibility. The fleet appointed Cornelius Fuscus as their admiral, and he came hurrying on to the scene. Bassus was put under honourable arrest and conveyed with an escort of Liburnian cruisers to Atria, [Atri] where he was imprisoned by Vibennius Rufinus, who commanded a regiment of auxiliary horse in garrison there. However, he was soon set free on the intervention of Hormus, one of the emperor’s freedmen. For he, too, ranked as a general.

When the news that the navy had gone over became known, Caecina, carefully selecting a moment when the camp was deserted, and the men had all gone to their various duties, summoned to head-quarters the senior centurions and a few of the soldiers. He then proceeded to praise the spirit and the strength of Vespasian’s party: ‘they themselves had been deserted by the fleet; they were cramped for supplies; Spain and Gaul were against them; Rome could not be trusted.’ In every way he exaggerated the weakness of Vitellius’ position. Eventually, when some of his accomplices had given the cue and the rest were dumbfoundered by his change of front, he made them all swear allegiance to Vespasian. Immediately the portraits [i.e. the medallions on the standards] of Vitellius were torn down and messengers dispatched to Antonius.

However, when the treason got abroad in the camp, and the men returning to head-quarters saw Vespasian’s name on the standards and Vitellius’ portraits scattered on the ground, at first there was an ominous silence: then with one voice they all vented their feelings. Had the pride of the German army sunk so low that without a battle and without a blow they should let their hands be shackled and render up their arms? What had they against them? None but defeated troops. The only sound legions of Otho’s army, the First and the Fourteenth, Vespasian had not got, and even those they had routed and cut to pieces on that same field. And all for what? That these thousands of fighting men should be handed over like a drove of slaves to Antonius, the convict! ‘Eight legions, forsooth, are to follow the lead of one miserable fleet. Such is the pleasure of Bassus and Caecina. They have robbed the emperor of his home, his estate, and all his wealth, and now they want to take away his troops. We have never lost a man nor shed a drop of blood. The very Flavians will despise us. What answer can we give when they question us about our victory or our defeat?’

Thus they shouted one and all as their indignation urged them. Led by the Fifth legion, they replaced the portraits of Vitellius and put Caecina in irons. They selected Fabius Fabullus, commanding the Fifth legion, and the camp-prefect, Cassius Longus, to lead them. Some marines who arrived at this point from three Liburnian cruisers, quite innocent and unaware of what had happened, were promptly butchered. Then the men deserted their camp, broke down the bridge, and marched back to Hostilia, and thence to Cremona to join the two legions, the First Italian and Twenty-first Rapax, which Caecina had sent ahead with some of the cavalry to occupy Cremona.


When Antonius heard of this he determined to attack the enemy while they were still at variance and their forces divided. The Vitellian generals would soon recover their authority and the troops their discipline and confidence would come if the two divisions were allowed to join. He guessed also that Fabius Valens had already started from Rome and would hasten his march when he heard of Caecina’s treachery. Valens was loyal to Vitellius and an experienced soldier. There was good reason, besides, to fear an attack on the side of Raetia from an immense force of German irregulars. Vitellius had already summoned auxiliaries from Britain, Gaul, and Spain in sufficient numbers to blight their chances utterly, had not Antonius in fear of this very prospect forestalled the victory by hurriedly forcing an engagement. In two days he marched his whole force from Verona to Bedriacum.[ About thirty-three miles] On the next day[October 27.] he left his legions behind to fortify the camp, and sent out his auxiliary infantry into territory belonging to Cremona, to taste the joys of plundering their compatriots under pretext of collecting supplies. To secure greater freedom for their depredations, he himself advanced at the head of four thousand cavalry eight miles along the road from Bedriacum. The scouts, as is usual, turned their attention further afield.

About eleven in the morning a mounted scout galloped up with the news that the enemy were at hand; there was a small body in advance of the rest, but the noise of an army in movement could be heard over the country-side. While Antonius was debating what he ought to do, Arrius Varus, who was greedy to distinguish himself, galloped out with the keenest of the troopers and charged the Vitellians, inflicting only slight loss; for, on the arrival of reinforcements, the tables were turned and those who had been hottest in pursuit were now hindmost in the rout. Their haste had no sanction from Antonius, who had foreseen what would happen. Encouraging his men to engage with brave hearts, he drew off the cavalry on to each flank and left a free passage in the center to receive Varus and his troopers. Orders were sent to the legions to arm and signals were displayed to the foraging party, summoning them to cease plundering and join the battle by the quickest possible path. Meanwhile Varus came plunging in terror into the middle of their ranks, spreading confusion among them. The fresh troops were swept back along with the wounded, themselves sharing the panic and sorely embarrassed by the narrowness of the road.

In all the confusion of the rout Antonius never for a moment forgot what befitted a determined general and a brave soldier. Staying the panic-stricken, checking the fugitives, wherever the fight was thickest, wherever he saw a gleam of hope, he schemed, he fought, he shouted, always conspicuous to his own men and a mark for the enemy. At last, in the heat of his impatience, he thrust through with a lance a standard-bearer, who was in full flight, then seized the standard and turned it against the enemy. Whereupon for very shame a few of his troopers, not more than a hundred, made a stand. The nature of the ground helped them. The road there was narrower; a stream barred their way, and the bridge was broken; its depth was uncertain and the steep banks checked their flight. Thus necessity or chance restored their fallen fortunes. Forming in close order, they received the Vitellians’ reckless and disordered charge, and at once flung them into confusion. Antonius pressed hard on the fugitives and cut down all who blocked his path. The others followed each his inclination, rifling the dead, capturing prisoners, seizing arms and horses. Meanwhile, summoned by their shouts of triumph, those who had just now been in full flight across the fields came hurrying back to share the victory.

Four miles from Cremona they saw the standards of the Rapax and Italian legions gleaming in the sun. They had marched out thus far under cover of their cavalry’s original success. When fortune turned against them, they neither opened their ranks to receive the routed troops nor marched out to attack the enemy, who were wearied with fighting and their long pursuit. While all went well the Vitellians did not miss their general, but in the hour of danger they realized their loss. The victorious cavalry came charging into their wavering line, and at the same time Vipstanus Messala arrived with the Moesian auxiliaries and a good number of men from the legions, who had kept up with the pace of their forced march.[ They would be more heavily laden than the Moesian auxiliaries] These combined forces broke the opposing column, and the proximity of Cremona’s sheltering walls gave the Vitellians more hope of refuge and less stomach for resistance.


 Source: The Histories (Book 3)of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire: Antonius’ Advance (Part 13)

On the Flavian side the generals concerted their plans for the war with greater loyalty and greater success. They had met at Poetovio [Petau] at the head-quarters of the Third legion, where they debated whether they should block the passage of the Pannonian Alps and wait until their whole strength came up to reinforce them, or whether they should take a bolder line, assume the offensive, and strike for Italy. Those who were in favour of waiting for reinforcements and prolonging the war dwelt on the strength and reputation of the German legions, and pointed out that the flower of the British army had lately arrived in Rome with Vitellius; [i.e. the detachments 8,000 strong from the army in Britain] their own forces were numerically inferior and had recently suffered defeat; moreover, conquered troops, however bold their language, never show the same courage. On the other hand, if they occupied the Alps, Mucianus would soon arrive with the forces from the East. Besides, Vespasian still [i.e. still, after parting with the force which he had sent forward under Mucianus] commanded the sea, and could count on the support of the fleets [Of Pontus, Syria, and Egypt] and of the provinces, where he could still raise material for a sort of second war. A salutary delay would bring them fresh forces without in any way prejudicing their present position.

In answer to these arguments Antonius Primus, who had done more than anyone else to stir up the war, stoutly maintained that prompt action would save them and ruin Vitellius. ‘Their victory,’ he said, ‘has not served to inspirit but to enervate them. The men are not held in readiness in camp, but are loitering in towns all over Italy. No one but their hosts has any call to fear them. The more unruly and ferocious they showed themselves before, the greater the greed with which they now indulge in unwonted draughts of pleasure. The circus, the theatre, and the charms of the capital have ruined their hardness and their health. But if we give them time to train for war they will regain their energy. It is not far to Germany, whence they draw their main strength. Britain is only separated by a narrow channel. Close at hand they have Gaul and Spain, from the provinces of which they can get men, horses, and subsidies. Then again, they can rely on Italy itself and all the resources of the capital, while, if they want to take the offensive, they have two fleets [Of Misenum and Ravenna] and full command of the Illyrian Sea. [Adriatic] Besides, what good to us are the ramparts of the mountains? Why should we drag on the war into another summer? Where can we get funds and supplies in the meanwhile? No, let us seize our opportunity.

The Pannonian legions are burning to rise in revenge. They were not defeated but deceived. The Moesian army has not yet lost a man. If you count not legions but men, our forces are superior both in numbers and in character. The very shame of our defeat [At Bedriacum] makes for good discipline. And even then our cavalry was not beaten. For though we lost the day, they shattered the enemy’s line. And what was the force that broke through the Vitellians? Two regiments of cavalry from Pannonia and Moesia. What have we now? Sixteen regiments. Will not their combined forces, as they roar and thunder down upon the enemy, burying them in clouds of dust, overwhelm these horses and horsemen that have forgotten how to fight? I have given you my plan, and, unless I am stopped, I will put it in operation. Some of you have not yet burnt your boats. [i.e. not yet declared finally against Vitellius] Well, you can keep back the legions. Give me the auxiliaries in light marching order. They will be enough for me. You will soon hear that the door of Italy is open and the power of Vitellius shaken. You will be glad enough to follow in the footsteps of my victory.’

All this and much else of the same tenor Antonius poured out with flashing eyes, raising his voice so as to reach the centurions and some of the soldiers, who had gathered round to share in their deliberations. [These were usually confined to the legates, camp-prefects, tribunes, and senior centurions] His truculent tone carried away even the more cautious and far-seeing, while the rest of the crowd were filled with contempt for the cowardice of the other generals, and cheered their one and only leader to the echo. He had already established his reputation at the original meeting, when Vespasian’s letter was read. Most of the generals had then taken an ambiguous line, intending to interpret their language in the light of subsequent events. But Antonius seemed to have taken the field without any disguise, and this carried more weight with the men, who saw that he must share their disgrace or their glory.

Next to Antonius in influence stood Cornelius Fuscus, the imperial agent. [In Pannonia] He, too, always attacked Vitellius in no mild terms, and had left himself no hope in case of failure. Tampius Flavianus [Military governor of Pannonia] was a man whose disposition and advanced years inclined him to dilatory measures, and he soon began to earn the dislike and suspicion of the soldiers, who felt he had not forgotten his kinship with Vitellius.

Besides this, when the legions first rose, he had fled to Italy and subsequently returned of his own free will, which looked like meditating treachery. [i.e. they suspected that he wanted to alienate the troops from Vespasian] Having once given up his province and returned to Italy, he was out of the reach of danger, but the passion for revolution had induced him to resume his title and meddle in the civil war. It was Cornelius Fuscus who had persuaded him to this—not that he needed his assistance, but because he felt that, especially at the outset of the rising, the prestige of an ex-consul would be a valuable asset to the party.

In order to make their march across into Italy safe and effective, letters were sent to Aponius Saturninus [Military governor of Moesia] to bring the Moesian army up as quickly as possible. To prevent the exposure of the defenceless provinces to the attacks of foreign tribes, the chiefs of the Sarmatian Iazyges, [They occupied part of Hungary between the Danube and the Theiss] who formed the government of the tribe, were enlisted in the service. They also offered their tribal force, consisting entirely of cavalry, but were excused from this contribution for fear that the civil war might give opportunity for a foreign invasion, or that an offer of higher pay from the enemy might tempt them to sacrifice their duty and their honour. [They took the chiefs as a pledge of peace and kept them safely apart from their tribal force] Sido and Italicus, two princes of the Suebi, [Tiberius’ son, Drusus, had in A.D. 19 settled the Suebi north of the Danube between the rivers March and Waag] were allowed to join Vespasian’s side. They had long acknowledged Roman sovereignty, and companionship in arms [Reading “commilitio” (Meiser). The word “commissior” in the Medicean manuscript gives no sense] was likely to strengthen the loyalty of the tribe. Some auxiliaries were stationed on the flank towards Raetia, where hostilities were expected, since the imperial agent Porcius Septiminus, [This being a small province the procurator was sole governor] remained incorruptibly loyal to Vitellius. Sextilius Felix was therefore dispatched with Aurius’ Horse [A squadron of Spanish horse, called after some governor of the province where it was raised] and eight cohorts of auxiliary infantry, together with the native levies of Noricum, to hold the line of the river Aenus, [The Inn] which forms the frontier of Raetia and Noricum. Neither side provoked a battle: the fortune of the rival parties was decided elsewhere.

Meanwhile, at the head of a picked band of auxiliaries and part of the cavalry, Antonius hurried off to invade Italy. He took with him an energetic soldier named Arrius Varus, who had made his reputation while serving under Corbulo in his Armenian victories. He was supposed to have sought a private interview with Nero, at which he maligned Corbulo’s character. His infamous treachery brought him the emperor’s favour and a post as senior centurion. This ill-gotten prize delighted him now, but ultimately proved his ruin. [Probably under Domitian, who married Corbulo’s daughter]

After occupying Aquileia, Antonius and Varus found a ready welcome at Opitergium and Altinum [Oderzo and Altino] and all the other towns in the neighbourhood. At Altinum a garrison was left behind to guard their communications against the fleet at Ravenna, for the news of its desertion had not as yet arrived. Pressing forward, they won Patavium and Ateste [Este] for the party. At the latter place they learnt that three cohorts of Vitellius’ auxiliary infantry and a regiment of cavalry, known as Sebosus’ Horse, [A Gallic troop called after some unknown governor] were established at Forum Alieni, where they had constructed a bridge. [Over the Adige] The report added that they were off their guard, so this seemed a good opportunity to attack them. They accordingly rushed the position at dawn, and cut down many of the men without their weapons. Orders had been given that, after a few had been killed, the rest should be terrorized into desertion. Some surrendered at once, but the majority succeeded in destroying the bridge, and thus checked the enemy’s pursuit. The first bout had gone in the Flavians’ favour.

When the news spread to Poetovio, the Seventh Galbian and the Thirteenth Gemina hurried in high spirits to Patavium under the command of Vedius Aquila. At Patavium they were given a few days’ rest, during which Minicius Justus, the camp-prefect of the Seventh legion, who endeavoured to enforce a standard of discipline too severe for civil war, had to be rescued from the fury of his troops and sent to Vespasian. Antonius conceived that his party would gain in prestige, if they showed approval of Galba’s government, and stood for the revival of his cause. So he gave orders that all the statues of Galba, which had been thrown down during the civil war, should be replaced for worship throughout the country towns. This was a thing that had long been desired, and in their ambitious imaginations it assumed an undue importance.

The question then arose where they should choose their seat of war. The best place seemed to be Verona. The open country round it was suited for the manoeuvres of the cavalry, in which their strength lay: and they would gain both prestige and profit by wresting from Vitellius a strongly garrisoned town. On the road they occupied Vicetia. [Vicenza] In itself this was a very small matter, since there was only a moderate force in the town, but it gained considerable importance from the reflection that it was Caecina’s birthplace: the enemy’s general had thus lost his native town. But Verona was well worthwhile. The inhabitants could aid the party with encouragement and funds: the army was thrust midway between Raetia and the Julian Alps, [The Brenner] and had thus blocked all passages by that route for the German armies.

This move had been made either without the knowledge or against the orders of Vespasian. His instructions were to suspend operations at Aquileia and wait for the arrival of Mucianus. He had further added this consideration, that so long as he held Egypt and the key to the corn-supply, [i.e. Alexandria] as well as the revenue of the richest provinces, [i.e. Egypt, Syria, Asia] he could reduce Vitellius’ army to submission from sheer lack of money and provisions. Mucianus had sent letter after letter with the same advice, pointing to the prospect of a victory without bloodshed or bereavement, and using other similar pretexts to conceal his real motive. This was ambition. He wanted to keep all the glory of the war to himself. However, the distance was so great that events outran his instructions.

Antonius accordingly made a sudden sally against the enemy’s outposts, and after a slight skirmish, in which they tested each other’s temper, both sides withdrew without advantage. Soon after, Caecina entrenched a strong position between a Veronese village called Hostilia [Ostiglia] and the marshes of the river Tartaro. Here he was safe, with the river in his rear and the marsh to guard his flanks. Had he added loyalty to his other advantages, he might have employed the full strength of the Vitellian forces to crush the enemy’s two legions, before they were reinforced by the Moesian army, or, at least, have forced them to retire in ignominious flight and abandon Italy. But Caecina used various pretexts for delay, and at the outset of the war treacherously yielded all his advantages to the enemy. While it was open to him to rout them by force of arms, he preferred to pester them with letters and to wait until his intermediaries had settled the terms of his treason. In the meantime, Aponius Saturninus arrived with the Seventh Claudian legion, [From Moesia] commanded by the tribune [The legate Tettius Julianus had fled] Vipstanus Messala, a distinguished member of a famous family, and the only man who brought any honesty to this war.[ He also wrote a history of the period, which Tacitus found useful. He is one of the characters in the “Dialogue on Oratory”, and many passages show that Tacitus admired him greatly, both for his character and his eloquence]

To these forces, still only three legions and no match for the Vitellians, Caecina addressed his letters. He criticized their rash attempt to sustain a lost cause, and at the same time praised the courage of the German army in the highest terms. His allusions to Vitellius were few and casual, and he refrained from insulting Vespasian. In fact he used no language calculated either to seduce or to terrorize the enemy. The Flavian generals made no attempt to explain away their former defeat.

They proudly championed Vespasian, showing their loyalty to the cause, their confidence in the army, and their hostile prejudice [The text here is doubtful. There seems to be no exact parallel to the absolute use of “praesumpsere”. In the Medicean MS. the whole passage, from “revirescere” at the end of chap. 7 down to “inimici” here, has been transposed to the beginning of chap. 5, where it stands between the second and third syllables of the word “Saturnino”. Thus in M. “praesumpsere” stands immediately after “partes”. It is possible that the word “partes” may belong to this passage as well as to the end of chap. 7. “Praesumpsere partes” would mean ‘they took their own cause for granted’ (cp. Quintilian xi. 1. 27). The addition of “ut inimici” would add the sense of ‘hostile prejudice’] against Vitellius. To the tribunes and centurions they held out the hope of retaining all the favours they had won from Vitellius, and they urged Caecina himself in plain terms to desert. These letters were both read before a meeting of the Flavian army, and served to increase their confidence, for while Caecina wrote mildly and seemed afraid of offending Vespasian, their own generals had answered contemptuously and scoffed at Vitellius.

When the two other legions arrived, the Third [Gallica] commanded by Dillius Aponianus, and the Eighth by Numisius Lupus, Antonius decided to entrench Verona and make a demonstration in force. It so happened that the Galbian legion, who had been told off to work in the trenches facing the enemy, catching sight of some of their allies’ cavalry in the distance, took them for the enemy, and fell into a groundless panic. Suspecting treachery, they seized their arms and visited their fury on Tampius Flavianus. They could prove no charge against him, but he had long been unpopular, and a blind impulse made them clamour for his head. He was Vitellius’ kinsman, they howled; he had betrayed Otho; he had embezzled their donative. They would listen to no defence, although he implored them with outstretched hands, groveling for the most part flat upon the ground, his clothes all torn, his face and chest shaken with sobs. This only served to inflame the soldiers’ anger. His very excess of terror seemed to prove his guilt.

Aponius [Saturninus] tried to address them, but his voice was drowned in their shouts. The others, too, were contemptuously howled down. They would give no one a hearing except Antonius, who had the power of authority as well as the arts of eloquence necessary to quiet a mob. When the riot grew worse, and they began to pass from insulting speeches to murderous violence, he gave orders that Flavianus should be put in chains. Feeling that this was a farce, the soldiers broke through the guards round the general’s quarters, prepared to resort to extremities. Whereupon Antonius, drawing his sword, bared his breast and vowed that he would die either by their hands or his own. Whenever he saw a soldier whom he knew or could recognize by his decorations, he called on him by name to come to the rescue. At last he turned towards the standards and the gods of war, [Mars, Bellona, Victoria, Pavor, etc., whose images were wrought in medallion on the shafts of the standards, which themselves too were held sacred] and prayed incessantly that they would rather inspire the enemy’s army with this mad spirit of mutiny. At last the riot died away and at nightfall they all dispersed to their tents. Flavianus left that same night, and on his way met letters from Vespasian, which delivered him from danger.

The infection seemed to spread among the legions. They next attacked Aponius Saturninus, who was in command of the Moesian army. This fresh disturbance was caused by the circulation of a letter, which Saturninus was supposed to have written to Vitellius, and it was the more alarming since it broke out not when they were tired by their labours but in the middle of the day. Once the soldiers had vied with each other in courage and discipline: now they were rivals in ribaldry and riot. They were determined that the fury with which they denounced Aponius should not fall short of their outcry against Flavianus. The Moesian legions remembered that they had helped the Pannonian army to take their revenge; while the Pannonian troops, feeling that their comrades’ mutiny acquitted them of blame, were glad enough to repeat the crime. They invaded the country house in which Saturninus was living. He escaped, however, aided not so much by the efforts of Antonius, Aponianus, and Messala, who did everything in their power to rescue him, but rather by the security of his hiding-place, for he concealed himself in the furnace of some disused baths. Eventually he gave up his lictors and retired to Patavium. The departure of both the consular governors left Antonius in supreme command of the two armies. His colleagues [i.e. Vedius, Dillius, Numisius, Vipstanus Messala] deferred to him and the men gave him enthusiastic support. It was even supposed by some that he had cunningly promoted both outbreaks, to secure for himself the full profit of the war.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 3) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Spartan Kings to 222 B.C.E. – Greek

For the sake of clarity and simplicity these list do not indicate the many controversies which surround the order and dates of the early kings in different ancient traditions. From the fifth century onwards, the dates of each king’s reign and his relationship to his predecessor are given.
Three generations were said to come between Heracles, founder of the family, and Aristodemus, Father of Eurysthenes and Procles, the first kings.


Eurysthenes; Agis I; Echestratus; Labotas; Doryssus; Agesilaus I; Archelaus (8th century B.C.E. with Charilaus/ Charillus); Teleclus (8th century); Alacamenes (8th century); Polydorus (7th Century: Contemporary with Theopompus); Eurycrates (7th century); Anaxander (7th century); Eurycratidas (7th/6th Century); Leon (6th century: Contemporary with Argasicles); Anaxandridas II (6th century); Cleomenes (Son, C. 520-491 B.C.E.); Leonaidas I (Brother, 491-480 B.C.E.); Pleistarchus (Son, 480-458 B.C.E.); Pleistoanax (son of regent Pausanias, 458-446/5 and 427/6-408 [in exile for the intervening period]); Pausanias (son, 408-395 B.C.E); Agesipolis I (Son, 395-380 B.C.E.); Cleomenes II (Brother, 370-309 B.C.E); Areus I (Grandson, 309-265 B.C.E.); Acrotatus (Son, 265-255 B.C.E.); Areus II (Son, 255-251 B,C.E.); Leonidas II(Grandson of Cleomenes II, 251-242 and 241-235 B.C.E.); Cleombrotus II ( Son-in-law 242-241B.C.E.); Cleomenes II (Son of Leonidas II, 235-222 B.C.E. (Dies 219).


Procles; Soüs; Eurypon; Prytanis; Eunomus; Polydectes ( Lycurgus was his younger, according to Plutarch); Charilaus/Charillus (8th Century B.C.E.); Nicander (8th Century); Theopompus (late 8th/ 7th century); Anaxanderidas I (7th century); Archidamus I (7th century); Anaxilaas (7th century); Leotychidas I (7th century); Hippocratidas (6th century); Agasicles (6th century); Ariston (6th Century); Demaratus (late 6th century -491 B.C.E.); Leotychidas II (Distant Cousin, 491-469 B.C.E.); Archidamus II (Grandson 469-427 B.C.E.) Agis II (Son, 427-400 B.C.E.); Agesilaus II ( Half-Brother, 400-360 B.C.E.); Archidamus III (Son, 338-331 B.C.E.); Agis III (Son, 338-331 B.C.E.); Eudamidas I (Brother, 331-unknown date); Archidamus IV (Son, Unknown date -294 B.C.E. or later); Eudamidas II ( Son, after 294-244/3 B.C.E.); Agis IV (Son, 244/3-241 B.C.E.); Eudamidas III (Son, 241-227 B.C.E.); Archidamus V ( Uncle 227 B.C.E.); Eucleidas (Agiad-brother of Cleomenes III 227-222 B. C.E.)


Reference: On Sparta: Tanslated and w/Notes
BY: Richard J.A.Talbert, Ian Scott-Kilvert,

Roman Empire: Vitellius in Rome (Part 12)

While Vespasian and his generals were showing such activity in the provinces, Vitellius grew more contemptible and indolent every day. Halting at every town or country house that offered any attractions, he made his way to Rome with a heavy marching column of sixty thousand troops, demoralized by loose discipline, and an even greater number of menials as well as those camp-followers who are more troublesome than any slaves. Besides these he had the vast retinue of his generals and friends, which not even the strictest discipline could have kept under control. This mob was further encumbered by senators and knights, who came from Rome to meet him, some from fear, some from servility; and gradually all the others followed, so as not to be left behind by themselves. There flocked in, too, a crowd of low-bred buffoons, actors and chariot-drivers, who had gained Vitellius’ acquaintance by various dishonest services. He delighted in such discreditable connexions. To furnish supplies for this host not only were the colonies and country towns laid under contribution, but the farmers as well. The crops were just ripe and the fields were ravaged like an enemy’s country.

Many murderous affrays took place among the soldiers, for after the mutiny at Ticinum there were ceaseless quarrels between the legions and the auxiliaries. They only united to harry the villagers. The worst bloodshed took place at the seventh milestone from Rome. Here Vitellius had ready-cooked food served to each of the soldiers, as is done with gladiators in training, and the common people flocked out from Rome and wandered all over the camp. Some of these visitors indulged in a cockney practical joke, [The word ‘cockney’ may perhaps be admitted here to express that which is characteristic of the metropolitan masses. Similarly Petronius speaks of a man as ‘a fountain of cockney humour’ (“urbanitatis vernaculae fontem”)] and stole some of the soldiers’ swords, quietly cutting their belts while their attention was diverted. Then they kept asking them, ‘Have you got your sword on?’ The troops were not used to being laughed at, and refused to tolerate it.

They charged the defenseless crowd. Amongst others the father of one of the soldiers was killed while in his son’s company. When it was discovered who he was, and the news spread, they shed no more innocent blood. Still there was some panic in the city as the first soldiers arrived and began to roam the streets. They mostly made for the Forum, anxious to see the spot where Galba had fallen. [They were cast for the part of Galba’s avengers] They themselves were a sufficiently alarming sight with their rough skin coats and long pikes. Unused to towns, they failed to pick their way in the crowd; or they would slip on the greasy streets, or collide with someone and tumble down, whereupon they took to abuse and before long to violence. Their officers, too, terrified the city by sweeping along the streets with their bands of armed men.

After crossing the Mulvian bridge, Vitellius himself had been riding on a conspicuous horse, wearing his sword and general’s uniform, with the senate and people trooping in front of him. However, as this looked too much like an entry into a captured city, his friends persuaded him to change into civilian dress and walk on foot. At the head of his column were carried the eagles of four legions, surrounded by the colours belonging to the detachments of four other legions. [Only detachments of these latter four were present, so they had not got their eagles] Next came the standards of twelve regiments of auxiliary horse, then the files of infantry and the cavalry behind them.Then came thirty-four cohorts of auxiliaries, arranged according to their nationality or the nature of their weapons. In front of the eagles came the camp prefects and tribunes, and the senior centurions, [Under the empire there were six tribunes to each legion, and they took command on the march and on the field, acting under the orders of the “legatus legionis”. The ten centurions of the “pilani” or front rank each commanded his cohort] all dressed in white. The other centurions marched each at the head of his company, glittering with their armour and decorations. Gaily, too, shone the soldiers’ medals and their chains of honour. It was a noble spectacle, an army worthy of a better emperor. Thus Vitellius entered the Capitol, where he embraced his mother and conferred on her the title of Augusta.

On the following day Vitellius delivered a grandiloquent eulogy on his own merits. He might have been addressing the senate and people of some other state, for he extolled his own industry and self-control, although each member of his audience had seen his infamy for himself, and the whole of Italy had witnessed during his march the shameful spectacle of his sloth and luxury. However, the thoughtless crowd could not discriminate between truth and falsehood. They had learnt the usual flatteries by heart and chimed in with loud shouts of applause. They insisted in the face of his protests that he should take the title of Augustus. But neither his refusal nor their insistence made much difference. [The end was so near]

In Rome nothing passes without comment, and it was regarded as a fatal omen that Vitellius took office as high priest, and issued his encyclical on public worship on the 18th of July, which, as the anniversary of the disasters on the Cremera and the Allia, [At Cremera, near Veii, the Fabii died like heroes, 477 B.C., and on the Allia the Gauls won their victory over Rome, 390 B.C. The day was called Alliensis, and no work was to be done on it (Livy, vi. 1)] had long been considered an unlucky day. But his ignorance of all civil and religious precedent was only equalled by the incapacity of his freedmen and friends. He seemed to live in a society of drunkards. However, at the consular elections he canvassed for his candidates like a common citizen. [At this time the emperor had in theory only the right of nominating candidates for the consulships, but it was obviously unnecessary for him to do more. The alliteration in this sentence is Tacitus’.]

In everything he courted the favour of the lowest classes, attending performances in the theatre and backing his favourite at the races. This would undoubtedly have made him popular had his motives been good, but the memory of his former life made his conduct seem cheap and discreditable. He constantly attended the senate, even when the debates were on trivial matters. It once happened that Helvidius Priscus, then praetor elect opposed Vitellius’ policy. At first the emperor showed annoyance, but was content to appeal to the tribunes of the people to come to the rescue of his slighted authority. Afterwards, when his friends, fearing that his resentment might be deep-seated, tried to smooth matters, he replied that there was nothing strange in two senators disagreeing on a question of public policy: he himself had often opposed even such a man as Thrasea. Most people laughed at the impudence of this comparison; others were gratified that he had selected Thrasea, and not some court favorite, as an example of real distinction. [Thrasea, Helvidius’ father-in-law, was an honoured member of the Stoic opposition who had been executed by Nero A.D. 66. Here Vitellius is posing as an ordinary senator. If he had opposed so distinguished a man as Thrasea, why should not Helvidius oppose him? Thrasea’s end gives the remark a slightly sinister tone]

Vitellius had given the command of the Guards to Publilius Sabinus, who had commanded an auxiliary cohort, and Julius Priscus, hitherto only a centurion. Priscus owed his rise to Valens’ support, Sabinus to that of Caecina. The rivalry between Valens and Caecina left Vitellius no authority at all. They managed the government between them. They had long felt the strain of mutual dislike. During the war they had concealed it. Lately it had been fanned by dishonest friends and by life in the city, which so easily breeds quarrels. They were constant rivals, comparing their respective popularity, the number of their retinue, the size of the crowds that came to wait upon them. Meanwhile Vitellius let his favour alternate between them, for personal influence is not to be trusted beyond a certain limit. Meanwhile, they both feared and despised the emperor himself, who thus veered between sudden brusqueness and unseasonable flattery. However, they were not in the least deterred from seizing on the houses, gardens, and funds in the emperor’s patronage, while the crowd of miserable and needy nobles, whom Galba had recalled from exile with their children, derived no assistance from the emperor’s liberality. He earned the approval both of the upper classes and of the people by granting to the restored full rights over their freedmen. [A patron apparently could claim support from his freedmen if he was in want, as these restored exiles certainly were, since their property had been confiscated and was irrecoverable. In exile they had of course lost their rights] But the freed slaves with characteristic meanness did all they could to invalidate the edict. They would hide their money with some obscure friend or in a rich patron’s safe. Some, indeed, had passed into the imperial household and become more influential than their masters.

As for the soldiers, the Guards’ barracks were crowded, and the overflow spread through the city, finding shelter in colonnades and temples. They ceased to recognize any head-quarters, to go on guard, or to keep themselves in training, but fell victims to the attractions of city life and its unmentionable vices, until they deteriorated both physically and morally through idleness and debauchery. A number of them even imperilled their lives by settling in the pestilent Vatican quarter, thus increasing the rate of mortality. They were close to the Tiber, and the Germans and Gauls, who were peculiarly liable to disease and could ill stand the heat, ruined their constitutions by their immoderate use of the river. [This probably includes bathing as well as drinking] Moreover, the generals, either for bribes or to earn popularity, tampered with the rules of the service, enrolling sixteen regiments of Guards [Since Tiberius there had been only nine, and Vespasian restored that number] and four for the city garrison, each composed of a thousand men. In enlisting these troops Valens put himself forward as superior to Caecina, whose life he claimed to have saved. It is true, indeed, that his arrival had consolidated the party, and by his successful engagement he had silenced the current criticism of their slow marching. Besides which the whole of the army of Lower Germany was attached to Valens, and this is said to be the reason why Caecina’s loyalty first wavered.

Whatever indulgence Vitellius showed to his generals, he allowed still more license to the troops. Each man chose his service. However unfit, he might enlist in the Guards, if he preferred it. On the other hand, good soldiers were allowed, if they wished, to remain in the legions or the auxiliary cavalry. Many wished to do this that suffered from ill health and complained of the climate. However, the best soldiers were thus withdrawn from the legions and from the cavalry; and the Guards were robbed of their prestige when twenty thousand men were thus not so much selected for service with them as drafted at random from the whole army.

While Vitellius was addressing the troops, they demanded the execution of three Gallic chieftains, Asiaticus, Flavus, and Rufinus, on the ground that they had fought for Vindex. Vitellius never checked these outcries. For, apart from the innate cowardice of his nature, he knew that his donation to the soldiers was nearly due, and that he had no money for it; so he freely granted all their other demands. The imperial freedmen were forced to contribute a sort of tax, proportionate to the number of their slaves. Meanwhile, his one serious occupation was extravagance. He built stables for chariot-drivers, filled the arena with gorgeous shows of gladiators and wild beasts, and fooled away his money as though he had more than he wanted.

Moreover, Valens and Caecina celebrated Vitellius’ birthday [Probably September 24. He was 54] by holding gladiatorial shows in every quarter of Rome on a scale of magnificence hitherto unknown. Vitellius then gratified the rabble and scandalized all decent people by building altars in the Martian Plain, and holding a funeral service in honour of Nero. Victims were killed and burnt in public: the torch was applied by the Augustales, members of the college which Tiberius Caesar had founded in honour of the Julian family, just as Romulus similarly commemorated King Tatius.

It was not yet four months since Vitellius’ victory, and yet his freedman Asiaticus was as bad as a Polyclitus or a Patrobius, or any of the favourites whose names were hated in earlier days. At this court no one strove to rise by honesty or capacity. There was only one road to power. By lavish banquets, costly profusion, and feats of gastronomy, you had to try and satisfy Vitellius’ insatiable gluttony. He himself, without thought for the morrow, was well content to enjoy the present. It is believed that he squandered nine hundred million sesterces in these brief months. Truly it shows Rome’s greatness and misfortune, that she endured Otho and Vitellius both in the same year, and suffered humiliation of every kind at the hands of men like Vinius and Fabius, [Valens] Icelus and Asiaticus, until at last they gave way to Mucianus and Marcellus–a change of men but not of manners.

The first news of rebellion which reached Vitellius came from Aponius Saturninus, [Governor of Moesia] who, before himself going over to Vespasian’s side, wrote to announce the desertion of the Third legion. But a sudden crisis makes a man nervous: Aponius did not tell the whole story. So the emperor’s flattering friends began to explain it all away: what was the defection of a single legion, while the loyalty of the other armies remained unshaken? Vitellius himself used the same language to the soldiers. He accused the men, who had been recently discharged from the Guards, of spreading false rumours, and kept assuring them there was no fear of civil war. All mention of Vespasian was suppressed, and soldiers were sent round the city to frighten people into silence, which, of course, did more than anything else to make them talk.

Vitellius, nevertheless, sent for reinforcements from Germany, Britain, and the Spanish provinces, though with a lack of urgency which was intended to conceal his straits. The provinces and their governors showed the same want of enthusiasm. Hordeonius Flaccus, [He had been left to guard the Rhine] who had suspicions of the Batavi, was distracted with a war of his own, [He had been left to guard the Rhine] while Vettius Bolanus never had Britain under complete control: nor was the loyally of either beyond doubt. The Spanish provinces, where there was at the time no consular governor, [Cluvius Rufus was governing the Tarragona division from Rome. Lusitania was under a praetorian legate. Baetica was a senatorial province with no troops] were equally slow. The three officers in command of the legions held an equal authority, and if Vitellius’ cause had prospered, would have each outbid the other for his favour: but they all shared the resolve to leave his misfortunes alone. In Africa the legion and auxiliaries enlisted by Clodius Macer, and subsequently disbanded by Galba, took service again at Vitellius’ orders, and at the same time all the young men of the province eagerly enlisted. Vitellius had been an honest and popular pro-consul in Africa, while Vespasian had been distrusted and disliked. The provincials took this as an earnest of their reigns; but experience proved them wrong.

The military legate Valerius Festus [He had succeeded Clodius Macer in command of the Third Augusta, and in virtue of that command governed Numidia] at first loyally seconded the enthusiasm of the province. After a while he began to waver. In his official letters and edicts he still acknowledged Vitellius, while in secret communication with Vespasian and ready to support whichever party proved successful. In Raetia and the Gallic provinces some centurions and men carrying letters and edicts from Vespasian were taken prisoners and sent to Vitellius, who had them executed. But most of these envoys escaped capture either by their own ingenuity or the loyal help of friends. Thus, while Vitellius’ plans were known, Vespasian’s were for the most part still a secret. This was partly due to Vitellius’ negligence, but also to the fact that the garrisons on the Pannonian Alps stopped all messengers. By sea, too, the Etesian [These ‘annual’ winds blew steadily and gently from July 20 for a month] winds from the north-west favoured ships sailing eastward, but hindered the voyage from the East.

Terrified at last by the imminence of invasion and the alarming news that reached him from all quarters, Vitellius instructed Caecina and Valens to prepare for war. Caecina was sent on ahead, Valens, who was just recovering from a serious illness, being delayed by his weak state of health. Great, indeed, was the change in the appearance of the German army as it marched out of Rome. There was neither energy in their muscles nor fire in their hearts. Slowly the column straggled on, their horses spiritless, their arms neglected. The men grumbled at the sun, the dust, the weather, and were as ready to quarrel as they were unwilling to work. To these disadvantages were added Caecina’s inveterate self-seeking and his newly-acquired indolence. An overdose of success had made him slack and self-indulgent, or, if he was plotting treachery, this may have been one of his devices for demoralizing the army. It has often been believed that it was Flavius Sabinus [Vespasian’s brother] who, using Rubrius Gallus as his agent, tampered with Caecina’s loyalty by promising that, if he came over, Vespasian would ratify any conditions. It may have occurred also to Caecina to remember his quarrels and rivalry with Valens, and to consider that, as he did not stand first with Vitellius, he had better acquire credit and influence with the new emperor.

After taking an affectionate and respectful farewell of Vitellius, Caecina dispatched a body of cavalry to occupy Cremona. He soon followed with the detachments of the First, Fourth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth legions in the van. The center was composed of the Fifth and Twenty-second, and in the rear of the column came the Twenty-first Rapax and the First Italian legion, with detachments from the three legions of Britain and a select force of auxiliaries. When Caecina had started, Valens wrote instructions to the legions belonging to his old command [In Lower Germany] to await him on the march, saying that he and Caecina had arranged this. Caecina, however, took advantage of being on the spot, and pretended that this plan had been altered so as to enable them to meet the first outbreak of the war with their full strength. So some legions were hurried forward to Cremona [Only two legions went to Cremona] and part of the force was directed upon Hostilia. [Ostiglia] Caecina himself turned aside to Ravenna on the pretext of giving instructions to the fleet. Thence he proceeded to Patavium [Padua] to secure secrecy for his treacherous designs. For Lucilius Bassus, whom Vitellius, from a prefect of auxiliary cavalry had raised to the supreme command of the two fleets at Ravenna and Misenum, felt aggrieved at not being immediately given the praefecture of the Guards, and sought in dastardly treachery the remedy for his unjustifiable annoyance. It can never be known whether he influenced Caecina or whether one was as dishonest as the other.

There is seldom much to choose between rascals. The historians [e.g. Cluvius Rufus the elder Pliny and Vipstanus Messala] who compiled the records of this war in the days of the Flavian dynasty were led by flattery into adducing as the causes of the rebellion patriotism and the interests of peace. We cannot think them right. Apart from the innate disloyalty of the rebels and the loss of character after Galba’s betrayal, they seem to have been led by jealousy and rivalry into sacrificing Vitellius himself for fear that they might lose the first place in his favour. Thus when Caecina joined his army, [i.e. at Hostilia, coming back from Padua] he used every device to undermine the staunch fidelity of the centurions and soldiers to Vitellius. Bassus found the same task less difficult, for the fleet remembered that they had lately been in Otho’s service, and were therefore already on the brink of rebellion.


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 2) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire: Revolt of Vespasian (Part 11)


When once his couriers brought news from Syria and Judaea that the East had sworn allegiance to him, Vitellius’ vanity and indolence reached a pitch which is almost incredible. For already, though the rumours were still vague and unreliable, Vespasian’s name was in everybody’s mouth, and the mention of him often roused Vitellius to alarm. Still, he and his army seemed to suspect of no rival: they at once broke out into the unbridled cruelty, debauchery and oppression of some outlandish court.

Vespasian, on the other hand, was meditating war and reckoning all his forces both distant and near at hand. He had so much attached his troops to himself, that when he dictated to them the oath of allegiance and prayed that ‘all might be well’ with Vitellius, they listened in silence. Mucianus’ feelings were not hostile to him, and were strongly sympathetic to Titus. Tiberius Alexander, the Governor of Egypt, had made common cause with him. The Third legion, since it had crossed from Syria into Moesia, he could reckon as his own, and there was good hope that the other legions of Illyria would follow its lead. [This hope was fulfilled] The whole army, indeed, was incensed at the arrogance of Vitellius’ soldiers: truculent in appearance and rough of tongue, they scoffed at all the other troops as their inferiors. But a war of such magnitude demands delay. High as were his hopes, Vespasian often calculated his risks. He realized that it would be a critical day for him when he committed his sixty summers and his two young sons to the chances of war. In his private ambitions a man may feel his way and take less or more from fortune’s hands according as he feels inclined, but when one covets a throne there is no alternative between the zenith of success and headlong ruin.

Moreover, he always kept in view the strength of the German army, which, as a soldier, he realized. His own legions, he knew, had no experience of civil war, while Vitellius’ troops were fresh from victory: and the defeated party were richer in grievances than in troops. Civil strife had undermined the loyalty of the troops: there was danger in each single man. What would be the good of all his horse and foot, if one or two traitors should seek the reward the enemy offered and assassinate him then and there? It was thus that Scribonianus had been killed in Claudius’ reign, and his murderer, Volaginius, raised from a common soldier to the highest rank. It is easier to move men in the mass than to take precautions against them singly.

These anxieties made Vespasian hesitate. Meanwhile the other generals and his friends continued to encourage him. At last Mucianus after several private interviews went so far as to address him in public. ‘Everybody,’ he said, ‘who plans some great exploit is bound to consider whether his enterprise serves both the public interest and his own reputation, and whether it is easily practicable or, at any rate, not impossible. He must also weigh the advice which he gets. Are those who offer it ready to run the risk themselves? And, if fortune favours, who gains the glory? I myself, Vespasian, call you to the throne. How much that may benefit the country and make you famous it lies with you-under Providence-to decide. You need not be afraid that I may seem to flatter you. It is more of an insult than a compliment to be chosen to succeed Vitellius.

It is not against the powerful intellect of the sainted Augustus that we are in revolt; not against the cautious prudence of the old Tiberius; nor even against a long-established imperial family like that of Caligula, Claudius or Nero. You even gave way to Galba’s ancient lineage. To remain inactive any longer, to leave your country to ruin and disgrace, that would be sheer sloth and cowardice, even if such slavery were as safe for you as it would be dishonourable. The time is long past when you could be merely “suspected” of ambition: the throne is now your only refuge. Have you forgotten Corbulo’s murder? [Under Nero, after brilliant service in Armenia and Parthia. Nero was jealous and afraid of him. So is Vitellius jealous of Vespasian] He was a man of better family than we, I admit, but so was Nero more nobly born than Vitellius. A man who is feared always seems illustrious enough to those who fear him.

That an army can make an emperor Vitellius himself has proved. He had neither experience nor military reputation, but merely rose on Galba’s unpopularity. Even Otho fell not by the strategy or strength of his opponent, but by his own precipitate despair. And to-day he seems a great and desirable emperor, when Vitellius is disbanding his legions, disarming his Guards, and daily sowing fresh seeds of civil war. Why, any spirit or enthusiasm which his army had is being dissipated in drunken debauches: for they imitate their master. But you, in Judaea, in Syria, in Egypt, you have nine fresh legions. War has not weakened nor mutiny demoralized them. The men are trained to discipline and have already won a foreign war. [Against the Jews] Besides these, you can rely on the strength of your fleet, [From the Pontus] and of your auxiliaries both horse and foot, on the faithful allegiance of foreign princes, and on your own unparalleled experience.

‘For us I make but one claim. Let us not rank below Valens and Caecina. Nor must you despise my help because you do not encounter my rivalry. I prefer myself to Vitellius and you to myself. Your house has received the insignia of a triumph. [For his victories in Britain under the auspices of Claudius, who nominally shared with him the command of the expedition, A.D. 43] You have two young sons, one of whom is already old enough to fill the throne, and in his first years of service made a name for himself in the German army. [Titus, who was now thirty, had served as “Tribunus militum” under his father in Germany and in Britain] It would be absurd for me not to give way to one whose son I should adopt, were I emperor myself. Apart from this, we shall stand on a different footing in success and in failure, for if we succeed I shall have such honour as you grant me: of the risk and the dangers we shall share the burden equally. Or rather, do what is better still. Dispose your armies yourself and leave me the conduct of the war, and the uncertainties of battle.

‘At this moment the defeated are far more strictly disciplined than their conquerors. Indignation, hatred, the passion for revenge, all serve to steel our courage. Theirs is dulled by pride and mutiny. The course of the war will soon bring to light the hidden weakness of their party, and reopen all its festering sores. I rely on your vigilance, your economy, your wisdom, and still more on the indolence, ignorance, and cruelty of Vitellius. Above all, our cause is far safer in war than in peace, for those who plan rebellion have rebelled already.’

At the end of Mucianus’ speech the others all pressed round with new confidence, offering their encouragement and quoting the answers of soothsayers and the movements of the stars. Nor was Vespasian uninfluenced by superstition. In later days, when he was master of the world, he made no secret of keeping a soothsayer called Seleucus to help him by his advice and prophecy. Early omens began to recur to his memory. A tall and conspicuous cypress on his estate had once suddenly collapsed: on the next day it had risen again on the same spot to grow taller and broader than ever. The soothsayers had agreed that this was an omen of great success, and augured the height of fame for the still youthful Vespasian. At first his triumphal honours, his consulship, and the name he won by his Jewish victory seemed to have fulfilled the promise of this omen. But having achieved all this, he began to believe that it portended his rise to the throne.

On the frontier of Judaea and Syria [More exactly of Galilee and Phoenicia] lies a hill called Carmel. A god of the same name is there worshipped according to ancient ritual. There is no image or temple: only an altar where they reverently worship. Once when Vespasian was sacrificing on this altar, brooding on his secret ambition, the priest, Basilides, after a minute inspection of the omens said to him: ‘Whatever it is which you have in mind, Vespasian, whether it is to build a house or to enlarge your estate, or to increase the number of your slaves, there is granted to you a great habitation, vast acres, and a multitude of men.’ Rumour had immediately seized on this riddle and now began to solve it. Nothing was more talked of, especially in Vespasian’s presence: such conversation is the food of hope. Having come to a definite decision they departed, Mucianus to Antioch, Vespasian to Caesarea. The former is the capital of Syria, the latter of Judaea. [This is of course from the Roman point of view. Caesarea was the seat of the procurator. That Jerusalem was the national capital Tacitus recognizes in Book V]

The first offer of the throne to Vespasian was made at Alexandria, where Tiberius Alexander with great promptitude administered the oath of allegiance to his troops on the first of July. This was usually celebrated as his day of accession, although it was not until the third that the Jewish army took the oath in his presence. So eager was their enthusiasm that they would not even wait for the arrival of Titus, who was on his way back from Syria, where he had been conducting the negotiations between his father and Mucianus.

What happened was all due to the impulse of the soldiers: there was no set speech, no formal assembly of the troops. They were still discussing the time and the place, and trying to decide the hardest point of all, who should speak first, and while their minds were still busy with hopes and fears, reasons and chances, Vespasian happened to come out of his quarters. A few of the soldiers, forming up in the usual way to salute their general, saluted him as emperor. The others promptly rushed up calling him Caesar and Augustus, and heaping on him all the imperial titles. Their fears at once gave way to confidence.

Vespasian himself, unchanged by the change of fortune, showed no sign of vanity or arrogance. As soon as he had recovered from the dazzling shock of his sudden elevation, he addressed them in simple soldier fashion, and received a shower of congratulations from every quarter.

Mucianus, who had been waiting for this, administered the oath of allegiance to his eager troops, and then entered the theatre at Antioch, where the Greeks ordinarily hold their debates. There, as the fawning crowd came flocking in, he addressed them in their own tongue. For he could speak elegant Greek, and had the art of making the most of all he said or did. What most served to inflame the excitement of the province and of the army, was his statement that Vitellius had determined to transfer the German legions to peaceful service in the rich province of Syria, and to send the Syrian legions to endure the toil and rigours of a winter in Germany. The provincials were accustomed to the soldiers’ company and liked to have them quartered there, and many were bound to them by ties of intimacy and kinship, while the soldiers in their long term of service had come to know and love their old camp like a home.

Before the 15th of July the whole of Syria had sworn allegiance. The party also gained the support of Sohaemus, with all the resources of his kingdom and a considerable force, and of Antiochus, the richest of the subject princes, who owed his importance to his ancestral treasures. Before long Agrippa, too, received a secret summons from his friends at home, and leaving Rome [He had started for Rome with Titus, and continued his journey when Titus turned back] without the knowledge of Vitellius, sailed as fast as he could to join Vespasian. His sister Berenice showed equal enthusiasm for the cause. She was then in the flower of her youth and beauty, and her munificent gifts to Vespasian quite won the old man’s heart. Indeed, every province on the seaboard as far as Asia and Achaia, and inland to Pontus and Armenia swore allegiance to Vespasian, but their governors were without troops, for as yet no legions had been assigned to Cappadocia. [Cappadocia was under a procurator of equestrian rank until Vespasian some years later was forced to send out troops and a military governor]

A meeting was held at Berytus [Beyrut] to discuss the general situation. To this came Mucianus with all his officers and the most distinguished of his centurions and soldiers, besides the elite of the Jewish army in full uniform. All these cavalry and infantry, and the pageant of the subject princes, vying with each other in splendour, gave the meeting an air of imperial grandeur.

The first step was to levy new troops and to recall the veterans to the standards. Some of the strongest towns were told off to manufacture arms. New gold and silver were coined at Antioch. All these works were promptly carried out, each in the proper place, by competent officials. Vespasian came and inspected them himself, encouraging good work by his praises and rousing the inefficient rather by example than compulsion, always more ready to see the merits than the faults of his friends. Many were rewarded by receiving commands in the auxiliary forces or posts as imperial agents. [“Procuratio” covers the governorship of an imperial province such as Judaea, the post of financial agent in an imperial province where there was a military governor (“legatus Caesaris”), and the position of collector of imperial taxes in a senatorial province. “Praefectura”, may mean either a command in the auxiliary infantry or the governorship of certain imperial provinces. Here the former seems the more probable sense]

Still more were raised to senatorial rank. They were mostly men of distinction who soon rose high, and with others success atoned for any lack of merit. A donation for the troops had been mentioned by Mucianus in his first speech, but in very guarded terms. Even Vespasian offered for the civil war a lower figure than others gave in time of peace, for he had set his face with admirable firmness against largess to the soldiers, and his army was none the worse for it.

Envoys were dispatched to Parthia and Armenia to secure that the legions, while engaged in the civil war, should not be exposed to attack in the rear. [They would treat with Vologaeses, king of Parthia, and Tiridates of Armenia, and keep an eye on them. This they did with such success that Vologaeses offered Vespasian 40,000 cavalry] It was arranged that Titus should carry on the war in Judaea, while Vespasian held the keys of Egypt.[Alexandria and Pelusium] Against Vitellius it seemed sufficient to send a part of their forces under the command of Mucianus. He would have Vespasian’s name behind him and the irresistible force of destiny. Letters were written to all the armies and their generals with instructions that they should try to win over those of the Guards who were hostile to Vitellius by promising them renewal of service.

Meanwhile, Mucianus, who acted the part more of a partner than a subordinate, moved forward without the encumbrance of baggage, neither marching so slowly as to look like holding back, nor so rapidly as not to allow time for rumours to spread. He realized that his force was small, and that the less people saw the more they would believe of it. However, he had a solid column following in support, composed of the Sixth legion and some picked detachments numbering 13,000 men. [i.e. besides the Sixth Ferrata he had detachments from the other two legions in Syria, and from the three in Judaea] He had ordered the fleet to move from Pontus to Byzantium, for he was half-minded to leave Moesia and with his whole force to hold Dyrrachium, at the same time using his fleet to dominate the Italian sea. He would thus secure Greece and Asia in his rear, which would otherwise be at the mercy of Vitellius, unless furnished with troops. Vitellius also would himself be in doubt what points of the Italian coast to defend, if Mucianus with his ships threatened both Brundisium and Tarentum and the whole coastline of Calabria and Lucania.

Thus the provinces rang from end to end with the preparations for ships, soldiers and arms. But the heaviest burden was the raising of money. ‘Funds,’ said Mucianus, ‘are the sinews of war,'[Borrowing this platitude from Cicero, who got it from the Greek] and in his investigations he cared for neither justice nor equity, but solely for the amount of the sum. Informers abounded, and pounced on every rich man as their prey. This intolerable oppression, excused by the necessities of war, was allowed to continue even in peace. It was not so much that Vespasian at the beginning of his reign had made up his mind to maintain unjust decisions, but fortune spoilt him; he had learnt in a bad school and made a bold use of his lessons. Mucianus also contributed from his private means, of which he was generous, as he hoped to get a high rate of interest out of the country. Others followed his example, but very few had his opportunity of recovering their money.

In the meantime Vespasian’s progress was accelerated by the enthusiasm with which the Illyrian army [i.e. the legions in Moesia, Pannonia, and Dalmatia] espoused his cause. The Third set the example to the other legions of Moesia, the Eighth and the Seventh Claudian, both strongly attached to Otho, although they had not been present at the battle. On their arrival at Aquileia they had mobbed the couriers who brought the news of Otho’s fall, and torn to pieces the standards bearing Vitellius’ name, finally looting the camp-chest and dividing the money among them-selves. These were hostile acts. Alarmed at what they had done they began to reflect that, while their conduct needed excuse before Vitellius, they could make a merit of it with Vespasian. Accordingly, the three Moesian legions addressed letters to the Pannonian army, [XIII Gemina and VII Galbiana] inviting their co-operation, and meanwhile prepared to meet refusal with force.

Aponius Saturninus, the Governor of Moesia, took this opportunity to attempt an abominable crime. He sent a centurion to murder Tettius Julianus, who commanded the Seventh legion, alleging the interests of his party as a cloak for a personal quarrel. Julianus heard of his danger and, taking some guides who knew the country, escaped into the wilds of Moesia and got as far as Mount Haemus. [The Balkan range] After that he meddled no more in civil war. Starting to join Vespasian, he prolonged his journey by various expedients, retarding or hastening his pace according to the nature of the news he received.

In Pannonia the Thirteenth legion and the Seventh Galbian had not forgotten their feelings after the battle of Bedriacum. They lost no time in joining Vespasian’s cause, being chiefly instigated by Antonius Primus. This man was a criminal who had been convicted of fraud [He was concerned in the forgery of a will: see “Ann.” xiv. 40, where he is called ‘a man of ready daring’] during Nero’s reign. Among the many evils of the war was his recovery of senatorial rank. Galba gave him command of the Seventh legion, and he was believed to have written repeatedly to Otho offering his services as general to the party. But, as Otho took no notice of him, he was without employment in the war. When Vitellius’ cause began to decline, he joined Vespasian and proved an acquisition.

He was a man of great physical energy and a ready tongue; an artist in calumny, invaluable in riots and sedition. Light-fingered and free-handed, he was intolerable in peace, but by no means contemptible in war. The union of the Moesian and Pannonian armies soon attracted the troops in Dalmatia to the cause. Tampius Flavianus and Pompeius Silvanus, the two ex-consuls who governed respectively Pannonia and
Dalmatia, [These were imperial provinces, each governed by a “legatus Caesaris” and a “procurator”, the former a military, the latter a financial officer] were wealthy old gentlemen who had no thought of rising. But the imperial agent in Pannonia, Cornelius Fuscus, was a vigorous young man of good family. In his early youth a desire to make money [Reading “quaestus cupidine” (Grotius). The reading of the Medicean manuscript is “quietis cupidine”. But Fuscus, as the sequel shows, had little taste for a quiet life. It is more likely that his motives were mercenary, since both law and custom still imposed some restrictions upon a senator’s participation in ‘business’. In the “Annals” (xvi. 17) Tacitus says that Annaeus Mela abstained from seeking public office, because he ‘hoped to find a shorter road to wealth’ by entering, as Fuscus did, the imperial civil service. The statement that Fuscus loved danger better than money does not imply any rooted antipathy to the latter] had led him to resign his senatorial rank. He had headed the townsmen of his colony in declaring for Galba, and his services had won him a position as imperial agent. [ i.e. in Pannonia] Then he joined Vespasian’s party, giving a keen stimulus to the war; for, being attracted more by danger itself than by its prizes, he always disliked what was certain and long established, preferring everything that was new and dangerous and doubtful. So the Vespasian party used all their efforts to fan every spark of discontent throughout the empire. Letters were sent to the Fourteenth in Britain and to the First in Spain, since both these legions had stood for Otho against Vitellius. In Gaul, too, letters were scattered broadcast. All in an instant the war was in full flame. The armies of Illyricum openly revolted, and all the others were ready to follow the first sign of success.
REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 2) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Roman Empire:Vitellius’ Principate (Part 10)


Now that the war was everywhere ended, a large number of senators, who had quitted Rome with Otho and been left behind at Mutina, [Modena] found themselves in a critical position. When the news of the defeat reached Mutina, the soldiers paid no heed to what they took for a baseless rumour, and, believing the senators to be hostile to Otho, they treasured up their conversation and put the worst interpretation on their looks and behaviour. In time they broke into abusive reproaches, seeking a pretext for starting a general massacre, while the senators suffered at the same time from another source of alarm, for they were afraid of seeming to be slow in welcoming the victory of the now predominant Vitellian party. Terrified at their double danger, they held a meeting. For no one dared to form any policy for himself; each felt safer in sharing his guilt with others. The town-council of Mutina, too, kept adding to their anxiety by offering them arms and money, styling them with ill-timed respect ‘Conscript Fathers’.

A remarkable quarrel arose at this meeting. Licinius Caecina attacked Eprius Marcellus [A famous orator and informer, who from small beginnings acquired great wealth and influence under Nero. Best known as the prosecutor of Thrasea. He eventually conspired against Vespasian and was forced to commit suicide] for the ambiguity of his language. Not that the others disclosed their sentiments, but Caecina, who was still a nobody, recently raised to the senate, sought to distinguish himself by quarrelling with some one of importance, and selected Marcellus, because the memory of his career as an informer made him an object of loathing. They were parted by the prudent intervention of their betters, and all then retired to Bononia, [Bologna] intending to continue the discussion there, and hoping for more news in the meantime. At Bononia they dispatched men along the roads in every direction to question all new-comers. From one of Otho’s freedmen they inquired why he had come away, and were told he was carrying his master’s last instructions: the man said that when he had left, Otho was still indeed alive, but had renounced the pleasures of life and was devoting all his thoughts to posterity. This filled them with admiration. They felt ashamed to ask any more questions–and declared unanimously for Vitellius.

Vitellius’ brother Lucius was present at their discussion, and now displayed his willingness to receive their flattery, but one of Nero’s freedmen, called Coenus, suddenly startled them all by inventing the atrocious falsehood that the Fourteenth legion had joined forces with the troops at Brixellum, and that their sudden arrival had turned the fortune of the day: the victorious army had been cut to pieces. He hoped by inventing this good news to regain some authority for Otho’s passports, [They would entitle him to the use of post-horses, etc., as for public business] which were beginning to be disregarded. He did, indeed, thus insure for himself a quick journey to Rome, but was executed by order of Vitellius a few days later. However, the senate’s danger was augmented because the soldiers believed the news. Their fears were the more acute, because it looked as if their departure from Mutina was an official move of the Council of State, which thus seemed to have deserted the party. So they refrained from holding any more meetings, and each shifted for himself, until a letter arrived from Fabius Valens which quieted their fears. Besides, the news of Otho’s death travelled all the more quickly because it excited admiration.

At Rome, however, there was no sign of panic. The festival of Ceres [April 12-19] was celebrated by the usual crowds. When it was reported in the theatre on reliable authority that Otho had renounced his claim, [From this phrase it is not clear whether the actual news of his suicide had arrived. It took place on April 17] and that Flavius Sabinus, [Vespasian’s brother] the City Prefect, had made all the troops in Rome swear allegiance to Vitellius, the audience cheered Vitellius. The populace decked all the busts of Galba with laurel-leaves and flowers, and carried them round from temple to temple. The garlands were eventually piled up into a sort of tomb near Lake Curtius, on the spot which Galba had stained with his life-blood. In the senate the distinctions devised during the long reigns of other emperors were all conferred on Vitellius at once. To these was added a vote of thanks and congratulation to the German army, and a deputation was dispatched to express the senate’s satisfaction. Letters were read which Fabius Valens had addressed to the consuls in very moderate terms. But Caecina’s moderation was still more gratifying: he had not written at all. [By this time no one except the emperor was expected to address official letters referring to the general political situation to the consuls or the senate. Valens’ action was therefore presumptuou]

However, Italy found peace a more ghastly burden than the war. Vitellius’ soldiers scattered through all the boroughs and colonial towns, indulging in plunder, violence, and rape. Impelled by their greed or the promise of payment, they cared nothing for right and wrong: kept their hands off nothing sacred or profane. Even civilians put on uniform and seized the opportunity to murder their enemies. The soldiers themselves, knowing the countryside well, marked down the richest fields and wealthiest houses for plunder, determined to murder anyone who offered resistance. Their generals were too much in their debt to venture any opposition. Of the two Caecina showed less greed and more ambition. Valens had earned a bad name by his own ill-gotten gains, and was therefore bound to shut his eyes to others’ shortcomings. [The meaning seems to be that Caecina indulged the men in order to win popularity, Valens in order to obtain license for his own dishonesty] The resources of Italy had long been exhausted; all these thousands of infantry and cavalry, all this violence and damage and outrage was almost more than the country could bear.

Meanwhile Vitellius knew nothing of his victory. With the remainder of his German army he continued to advance as though the war had just begun. A few of the veterans were left in winter quarters, and troops were hurriedly enlisted in the Gallic provinces, to fill up the vacancies in what were now mere skeleton legions. [He had depleted them by sending detachments forward with Valens and Caecina] Leaving Hordeonius Flaccus to guard the line of the Rhine, Vitellius advanced with a picked detachment from the army in Britain, eight thousand strong. After a few days’ march he received news of the victory of Bedriacum and the collapse of the war on the death of Otho. He summoned a meeting and heaped praise on the courage of the troops. When the army demanded that he should confer equestrian rank on his freedman Asiaticus, he checked their shameful flattery. Then with characteristic instability he granted at a private banquet what he had refused in public. This Asiaticus, who was thus decorated with the gold ring, was an infamous menial who rose by his vices. [One of the vilest and most hated of imperial menials. The gold ring was a token of equestrian rank]

During these same days news arrived that Albinus, the Governor of Mauretania, had been murdered, and both provinces [Caesariensis (Fez) and Tingitana (Morocco). They had been imperial provinces since A.D. 40] had declared for Vitellius. Appointed by Nero to the province of Mauretania Caesariensis, Lucceius Albinus had further received from Galba the governorship of Tingitana, and thus commanded a very considerable force, consisting of nineteen cohorts of infantry, five regiments of horse, and an immense horde of Moors, well trained for war by their practice in plunder. After Galba’s murder he inclined to Otho’s side and, not contented with the province of Africa, began to threaten Spain on the other side of the narrow strait. Cluvius Rufus, alarmed at this, moved the Tenth legion [Gemina] down to the coast as though for transport. He also sent some centurions ahead to gain the sympathies of the Moors for Vitellius. The great reputation of the German army throughout the provinces facilitated this task, and they also spread a rumour that Albinus was not contented with the title of ‘Governor’, and wanted to adopt a regal style under the name of Juba. So the sympathies of the army shifted.

Asinius Pollio, who commanded the local cavalry, one of Albinus’ loyal friends, was assassinated. The same fate befell Festus and Scipio, who were in command of the infantry. [The military titles here used have a technical meaning which translation cannot convey. A senior centurion could rise to the command of an auxiliary cohort, like the Festus and Scipio here mentioned (“praefecti cohortium”). The next step would be to “tribunus legionis”, and from that again to “praefectus alae”. This was Pollio’s position, the highest open to any but soldiers of senatorial rank] Albinus himself embarked from Tingitana for Caesariensis, and was murdered as he landed. His wife confronted the assassins and was murdered too. How all this happened Vitellius never inquired? He passed by events of the highest importance after a few moments’ attention, being quite unable to cope with serious matters.

On reaching the Arar, [Saone] Vitellius ordered his army to march overland while he sailed down the river. Travelling with no imperial state, he had nothing but his original poverty [He was so poor, says Suetonius, that he had no money to take him out to Germany, when appointed to that province. He had to let his house and hire a garret for his wife and family, and to pawn one of his mother’s pearl ear-rings] to make him conspicuous, until Junius Blaesus, Governor of the Lyons division of Gaul, a member of an eminent family, whose liberality matched his wealth, provided the emperor with a staff and escorted him in person with great courtesy, an attention which proved most unwelcome to Vitellius, although he concealed his annoyance under the grossest flattery. At Lugdunum he found the generals of both parties awaiting him. Valens and Caecina were openly commended at a public meeting, and given places on either side of the emperor’s throne. He then sent the whole army to fetch his infant son, [Aged 6] and when they brought him wearing a general’s uniform, Vitellius took him up in his arms and named him Germanicus, at the same time decorating him with all the insignia of his imperial position. The exaggerated honours of these days proved the child’s only consolation for the evil times which followed. [He was executed by Mucianus]

The most energetic of Otho’s centurions were now executed, which did more than anything else to alienate the armies of Illyricum. The other legions also caught the infection, and their dislike of the German troops made them harbour thoughts of war. Suetonius Paulinus and Licinius Proculus were kept in mourning [He postponed the hearing of their case, and thus, as accused persons, they had by custom to wear mourning] and suspense, disheartened by delay. When at last their case was heard, their pleas savoured more of necessity than honour. They positively claimed credit for treachery, alleging that the long march before the battle, the fatigue of their troops, and the confusion created by the wagons in their lines were all due not to chance, but to their own treachery. Vitellius believed their protestations of treason, and acquitted them of all suspicion of loyalty.

Otho’s brother, Salvius Titianus, was in no danger. His affection for his brother and his personal inefficiency excused him. Marius Celsus was allowed to hold his consulship. But rumour gave rise to a belief which led to an attack being made in the senate against Caecilius Simplex, who was charged with trying to purchase the consulship and to secure Celsus’ destruction. [He postponed the hearing of their case, and thus, as accused persons, they had by custom to wear mourning] Vitellius, however, refused this, and afterwards allowed Simplex to hold the consulship without detriment to his conscience or his purse. Trachalus was protected against his accusers by Galeria, Vitellius’ wife. [As Trachalus’ gentile name was Galerius, she was presumably a relative]

With so many of the great in danger of their lives, an obscure creature called Mariccus, of the tribe of the Boii [Between the Loire and the Allier]-it is a sordid incident [Mariccus being a provincial ‘of no family’, Tacitus hardly likes to mention him]-endeavoured to thrust himself into greatness and to challenge the armies of Rome, pretending to be a minister of Heaven. This divine champion of the Gauls, as he had entitled himself, had already gathered a force of eight thousand men, and began making overtures [The word “trahebat” may here mean ‘began to plunder’, but this seems less likely] to the neighbouring Aeduan villages. But the chief community of the Aedui wisely sent out a picked force, with some Vitellian troops in support, and scattered the mob of fanatics.
Mariccus was captured in the engagement, and later thrown to wild beasts. [This punishment seems to have been reserved, appropriately enough, for those who stirred up popular sedition] As they refused to devour him, the common people stupidly believed him invulnerable, until he was executed in the presence of Vitellius.

No further measures were taken against the life or property of the rebels. [From Vitellius’ point of view the Othonians were rebels, since he had been declared emperor before Otho: or else as rebels against Galba] The estates of those who had fallen fighting for Otho were allowed to devolve by will or else by the law of intestate succession. Indeed, if Vitellius had set limits to his luxury, there was no need to fear his greed for money. It was his foul and insatiable gluttony. Rome and Italy were scoured for dainties to tickle his palate: from shore to shore the high roads rang with the traffic. The leading provincials were ruined by having to provide for his table. The very towns were impoverished. Meanwhile the soldiers were acquiring luxurious habits, learning to despise their general, and gradually losing their former efficiency and courage.

Vitellius sent a manifesto on to Rome in which he declined the title of Caesar, and postponed calling himself Augustus without giving up any portion of his power. All astrologers were exiled from Italy, and rigorous provision was made to restrain Roman knights from the disgrace of appearing at the games in the arena. [ i.e. as gladiators. Juvenal says this is what the spendthrifts come to: and also that they would do it for money, without any Nero to compel them. On the whole the bankrupt rich preferred ‘knock-about comedy’ to the very real dangers of a combat] Former emperors had paid, or more often compelled them to do this, and many of the provincial towns vied together in hiring the most profligate young aristocrats.

The arrival of his brother and the growing influence of his tutors in tyranny made Vitellius daily more haughty and cruel. He gave orders for the execution of Dolabella, whom Otho, as we have seen, had relegated to the colonial town of Aquinum. On hearing of Otho’s death, he had ventured back to Rome. Whereupon an ex-praetor, named Plancius Varus, one of Dolabella’s closest friends, laid information before the city prefect, Flavius Sabinus, maintaining that he had broken from custody to put himself at the head of the defeated party. He added that Dolabella had tried to tamper with the cohort stationed at Ostia. Having no proof of these very serious charges, he repented and begged for his friend’s forgiveness. But it was too late. The crime was committed. While Flavius Sabinus was hesitating what to do in such a serious matter, Lucius Vitellius’ wife, Triaria, whose cruelty was altogether unwomanly, terrified him by suggesting that he was trying to get a reputation for mercy at the expense of his emperor’s safety. Sabinus was naturally of a kindly disposition, but easily changed under the influence of fear. Though it was not he who was in danger, he was full of alarms, and hastened Dolabella’s impending ruin for fear of being supposed to have helped him.
Vitellius, accordingly, from motives both of suspicion and of hatred (Dolabella had married his divorced wife Petronia), summoned Dolabella by letter to avoid the crowded thoroughfare of the Flaminian road and to turn off to Interamnium, [Terni] where he gave orders for his murder. The assassin found the journey tedious; discovered his victim sleeping on the floor at a wayside inn, and cut his throat. This gave the new government a very bad name. People took it as a specimen of what to expect. Triaria’s shameless behaviour was further emphasized by the exemplary behaviour of her relative Galeria, the emperor’s wife, who kept clear of these dreadful doings. Equally admirable was the character of his mother, Sextilia, a woman of the old school. It was even on record that when her son’s first letters were read to her, she said, ‘It was no Germanicus, but a Vitellius that I brought into the world.’ From that time neither the attractions of her high station nor the unanimous flattery of Rome could win her over to complacence. She only shared the sorrows of her house.

When Vitellius left Lugdunum, Cluvius Rufus relinquished his Spanish province and followed him. He knew that serious charges had been made against him, and his smiling congratulations hid an anxious heart. A freedman of the imperial court, [i.e. the property, not of Vitellius personally, but of the imperial household] Hilarus by name, had given evidence against him, alleging that, when Cluvius heard of the rival claims of Otho and Vitellius, he had endeavoured to set up an independent authority of his own in Spain, and to this end had issued passports with no emperor’s name at the head. [He would entertain some natural doubt as to who “was” emperor. The incriminating suggestion is that he meant to insert his own name] Certain phrases in his speeches were also construed as damaging to Vitellius and as a bid for his own popularity. However, Cluvius’ influence carried the day, and Vitellius even had his own freedman punished. Cluvius was given a place at court, while still retaining Spain, of which he was absentee governor, following the precedent of Lucius Arruntius. In his case, however, Tiberius’ motive had been suspicion, whereas Vitellius detained Cluvius without any such qualms. [In the “Annals” Tacitus mentions Tiberius’ habit of appointing provincial governors without any intention of allowing them to leave Rome. See “Ann.” i. 80, vi. 27] Trebellius Maximus was not allowed the same privilege. He had fled from Britain to escape the fury of his troops. Vettius Bolanus, who was then about the court, was sent out to take his place.

The soldiers of the defeated legions still gave Vitellius a good deal of anxiety. Their spirit was by no means broken. They distributed themselves all over Italy, mingling with the victors and talking treason. The most uncompromising of all were the Fourteenth, who refused to acknowledge their defeat. At Bedriacum, they argued, it was only a detachment that had been beaten; the main strength of the legion was not present. It was decided to send them back to Britain, whence Nero had summoned them, and meanwhile they were to share their quarters with the Batavian irregulars, because of the long-standing feud between them. Quartered as they were under arms, their mutual hatred soon broke out into disorder.

At Turin [“Augusta Taurinorum”] one of the Batavians was cursing a workman for having cheated him, when a legionary, who lodged with the workman, took his part. Each quickly gathered his fellow soldiers round him, and from abuse they came to bloodshed. Indeed, a fierce battle would have broken out, unless two regiments of Guards had sided with the Fourteenth, thus giving them confidence and frightening the Batavians.

Vitellius gave orders that the Batavians should be drafted into his army, while the legion was to be marched over the Graian Alps [Little St. Bernard] by a detour which would avoid Vienne. [The legions there might make common cause with them] Its inhabitants were another cause for alarm. [They had suffered once already] On the night on which the legion started they left fires burning all over Turin, and part of the town was burnt down. This disaster, like so many others in the civil war, has been obliterated by the greater calamities which befell other cities. No sooner were the Fourteenth across the Alps than the most mutinous spirits started off to march for Vienne, but they were stopped by the unanimous interference of the better men, and the legion was shipped across to Britain.

Vitellius’ next cause of anxiety was the Guards. At first they were quartered apart, and then, appeased by an honourable discharge, [This meant about 200 to every man who had done sixteen years’ service] they gave up their arms to their officers. But when the news went round of the war with Vespasian, they enlisted again and formed the main strength of the Flavian party.

The First legion of marines was sent to Spain to cultivate docility in peace and quiet. The Eleventh and the Seventh were sent back to their winter quarters. [i.e. the Eleventh to Dalmatia, the Seventh to Pannonia] The Thirteenth were set to work to build amphitheaters. For Caecina at Cremona and Valens at Bononia was each preparing to give a gladiatorial show. Vitellius never let his anxieties interfere with his pleasures.

The losing party being thus dispersed by peaceful means, disorder broke out in the victorious camp. It originated in sport, but the number of deaths increased the feeling against Vitellius. He had invited Verginius to dine with him at Ticinum, and they had just sat down to table. The conduct of officers is always determined by the behaviour of their generals; it depends on that whether they adopt the simple life or indulge their taste for riotous living; [Literally, enjoy dinner-parties beginning at an early hour, i.e. before two o’clock. This was considered ‘fast’] this again determines whether the troops are smart or disorderly. In Vitellius’ army disorder and drunkenness were universal: it was more like a midnight orgy [The word here used by Tacitus, “pervigilia”, properly denotes all-night religious festivals. But-like Irish wakes-such festivals tended to deteriorate, and the word acquired a sinister sense] than a properly disciplined camp. So it happened that two of the soldiers, one belonging to the Fifth legion, the other to the Gallic auxiliaries, in a drunken frolic challenged each other to wrestle. The legionary fell; and when the Gaul began to exult over him, the soldiers who had gathered round took sides, and the legionaries, breaking out against the auxiliaries with murderous intent, actually cut to pieces a couple of cohorts. This commotion was only cured by another. A cloud of dust and the glitter of arms appeared on the horizon. Suddenly a cry arose that the Fourteenth had turned back and were marching on them. However, it was their own rear-guard bringing up the stragglers. This discovery quieted their alarm. Meanwhile, coming across one of Verginius’ slaves, they charged him with intending to assassinate Vitellius, and rushed off to the banquet clamouring for Verginius’ head. No one really doubted his innocence, not even Vitellius, who always quailed at a breath of suspicion. Yet, though it was the death of an ex-consul, their own former general, which they demanded, it was with difficulty that they were quieted. No one was a target for these outbreaks so often as Verginius. He still retained the admiration and esteem of the men, but they hated him for disdaining their offer.

On the next day Vitellius granted an audience to the deputation of the senate, which he had told to await him at Ticinum. He then entered the camp and spontaneously complimented the troops on their devotion to him. [Because they had seized one of Verginius’ slaves, as described in the last chapter] This made the auxiliaries grumble at the growing licence and impunity allowed to the legions. So the Batavians, for fear of some desperate outbreak, were sent back to Germany, where Fortune was contriving for us a war that was at once both civil and foreign. [The revolt of Civilis described in Book IV. His force included Roman legionaries as well as Batavians, Gauls, and Germans] The Gallic auxiliaries were also sent home. Their numbers were very large, and had been used at the first outbreak of the rebellion for an empty parade of force. Indeed, the imperial finances were already embarrassed by the distribution of largess, to meet the expenses of which Vitellius gave orders for depleting the strength of the legions and auxiliaries. Recruiting was forbidden, and discharges offered without restriction. This policy was disastrous for the country and unpopular among the soldiers, who found that their turn for work and danger came round all the more frequently, now that there were so few to share the duties. Besides, their efficiency was demoralized by luxury. Nothing was left of the old-fashioned discipline and the good rules of our ancestors, who preferred to base the security of Rome on character and not on money.

Leaving Ticinum Vitellius turned off to Cremona. There he witnessed Caecina’s games and conceived a wish to stand upon the field of Bedriacum, and to see the traces of the recent victory with his own eyes. Within six weeks of the battle, it was a disgusting and horrible sight; mangled bodies, mutilated limbs, rotting carcasses of men and horses, the ground foul with clotted blood. Trees and crops all trampled down: the country-side a miserable waste. No less revolting to all human feeling was the stretch of road which the people of Cremona had strewn with laurel-leaves and roses, erecting altars and sacrificing victims as if in honour of an Oriental despot. [The word ‘rex’ had still an ‘unroman’ sound] The rejoicings of the moment soon turned to their destruction. [Cremona was sacked and burnt in the following October] Valens and Caecina were in attendance and showed Vitellius over the battle-field: this was where their legions had charged: the cavalry took the field from here: this was where the auxiliaries were outflanked. The various officers [Literally, the tribunes of the legions and the prefects of the auxiliaries] each praised their own exploits, adding a few false or, at any rate, exaggerated touches. The common soldiers, too, turned gaily shouting from the high road to inspect the scene of their great struggle, gazing with wonder at the huge pile of arms and heaps of bodies.[ A friend told Plutarch that he had seen on this battle-field a pile of corpses so high that they reached the pediment of an ancient temple which stood there] There were a few who reflected with tears of pity on the shifting chances of life. But Vitellius never took his eyes off the field: never shuddered at the sight of all these thousands of Roman citizens lying unburied. [Suetonius attributes to him the remark, ‘A dead enemy smells good, a dead Roman better.’] On the contrary, he was very well pleased, and, unconscious of his own impending doom, he offered a sacrifice to the local deities.

They next came to Bononia, where Fabius Valens gave a gladiatorial show, for which he had all the apparatus brought from Rome. The nearer they drew to the city, the greater became the disorder of the march, which was now joined by troops of actors, eunuchs and the like, all in the true spirit of Nero’s court. For Vitellius always had a great personal admiration for Nero. He used to follow him about to hear him sing, not under compulsion–many a decent man suffered that fate—but because he was the slave of his stomach, and had sold himself to luxury.

To secure a few months of office for Valens and Caecina, the other consuls of the year had their terms shortened, while Martius Macer’s claim was ignored as belonging to Otho’s party. Valerius Marinus who had been nominated by Galba; had his term postponed not for any offence, but because he was a mild creature and too lazy to resent an injury. The name of Pedanius Costa was omitted altogether. Vitellius had never forgiven him for rising against Nero and instigating Verginius. However, he alleged other reasons. They all had to observe the servile custom of the time, and offer their thanks to Vitellius.

An imposture, received at first with great excitement, failed to last more than a few days. A man had appeared who gave out that he was Scribonianus Camerinus, [Dio tells us that he and his father were murdered by Nero’s slave Helios. He was probably related to M. Licinius Crassus Frugi, who was convicted of treason against Nero, and to Piso, Galba’s adopted successor] and that during Nero’s reign he had taken refuge in Histria, where the Crassi still had their old connation’s and estates, and their name was much respected. He accordingly took all the rascals he could find and cast them for parts. The credulous mob and some of the soldiers; who were either victims of the imposture or anxious for a riot; eagerly flocked to join him. However, he was taken before Vitellius and his identity examined. When it was found that there was no truth in his pretensions, and that his master recognized him as a runaway called Geta, he suffered the execution of a slave.

REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 2) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick