Roman Empire: Vitellius – The Rise (Part 5)


The city was in a panic. The alarm aroused by the recent atrocious crime and by Otho’s well-known proclivities was further increased by the fresh news about Vitellius. This news had been suppressed before Galba’s murder, and it was believed that only the army of Upper Germany had revolted. Now when they saw that the two men in the world who were most notorious for immorality, indolence, and extravagance had been, as it were, appointed by Providence to ruin the empire, not only the senators and knights who had some stake and interest in the country, but the masses as well, openly deplored their fate. Their talk was no longer of the horrors of the recent bloody peace: they reverted to the records of the civil wars, the taking and retaking of Rome by her own troops, the devastation of Italy, the pillage of the provinces, the battles of Pharsalia, Philippi, Perusia, and Mutina,[At Pharsalia Caesar defeated Pompey, 48 B.C.; at Mutina the consul Hirtius defeated Antony, 43 B.C.; at Philippi Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, 42 B.C.; at Perusia Octavian defeated Antony’s brother Lucius, 40 B.C.] those bywords of national disaster. ‘The world was turned upside down,’ they mused, ‘even when good men fought for the throne: yet the Roman Empire survived the victories of Julius Caesar and of Augustus, as the Republic would have survived had Pompey and Brutus been victorious. But now–are we to go and pray for Otho or for Vitellius? To pray for either would be impious. It would be wicked to offer vows for the success of either in a war of which we can only be sure that the winner will prove the worse.’ Some cherished hopes of Vespasian and the armies of the East: he was preferable to either of the others; still they shuddered at the thought of a fresh war and fresh bloodshed. Besides, Vespasian’s reputation was doubtful. He was the first emperor who ever changed for the better.

I must now explain the origin and causes of the rising of Vitellius. After the slaughter of Julius Vindex and his whole force, the troops were in high spirits at the fame and booty they had acquired. Without toil or danger they had won a most profitable victory. So they were all for marching against the enemy: plunder seemed better than pay. They had endured a long and unprofitable service, rendered the more irksome by the country and climate and by the strict discipline observed. But discipline, however stern in time of peace, is always relaxed in civil wars, when temptation stands on either hand and treachery goes unpunished. Men, armour, and horses they had in abundance for use and for show. But, whereas before the war the soldiers only knew the men of their own company or troop, and the provincial frontier [Between the provinces of Upper and Lower Germany] separated the armies, now, having once joined forces against Vindex, they had gained a knowledge of their own strength and the state of the province, and were looking for more fighting and fresh quarrels, calling the Gauls no longer allies, as before, but ‘our enemies’ or ‘the vanquished’.

They had also the support of the Gallic tribes on the banks of the Rhine, who had espoused their cause and were now the most eager to rouse them against ‘the Galbians'[In the Gallic tongue this signified ‘pot-belly’] as they now called them, despising the name of Vindex. So, cherishing hostility against the Sequani and Aedui,[The Sequani had their capital at Vesontio (Besancon), the Aedui at Augustodunum (Autun).] and against all the other communities in proportion to their wealth, they drank in dreams of sacking towns and pillaging fields and looting houses, inspired partly by the peculiar failings of the strong, greed and vanity, and partly also by a feeling of irritation at the insolence of the Gauls, who boasted, to the chagrin of the army, that Galba had remitted a quarter of their tribute and given the franchise and grants of land to their community.[The land was that taken from the Treviri] Further fuel was added by a rumour, cunningly circulated and rashly credited, that there was a project on foot to decimate the legions and discharge all the most enterprising centurions. From every side came alarming news and sinister reports from the city. The colony of Lugdunum [Lyons] was up in arms, and its stubborn attachment to Nero made it a hotbed of rumour. But in the camp itself the passions and fears of the soldiers, and, when once they had realized their strength, their feeling of security, furnished the richest material for lies and won them easy credence.

In the preceding year, [A.D. 68] shortly after the beginning of December, Aulus Vitellius had entered the province of Lower Germany and held a careful inspection of the winter quarters of the legions. He restored many to their rank, remitted degrading penalties, and relieved those who had suffered disgrace, acting mainly from ambitious motives, but partly also upon sound judgement. Amongst other things he showed impartiality in remedying the injustices due to the mean and dishonest way in which Fonteius Capito had issued promotions and reductions. The soldiers did not judge Vitellius’ actions as those of a mere ex-consul: they took him for something more, and, while serious critics found him undignified, [According to Suetonius he used to kiss the soldiers he met in the road; make friends with hostlers and travelers at wayside inns; and go about in the morning asking everybody ‘Have you had breakfast yet?’ demonstrating by his hic-coughs that he had done so himself] his supporters spoke of his affability and beneficence, because he showed neither moderation nor judgement in making presents out of his own money and squandering other people’s. Besides, they were so greedy for power that they took even his vices for virtues. In both armies there were plenty of quiet, law-abiding men as well as many who were unprincipled and disorderly.

But for sheer reckless cupidity none could match two of the legionary legates, Alienus Caecina and Fabius Valens. [Caecina was in Upper Germany, Valens in Lower] Valens was hostile to Galba, because, after unmasking Verginius’s hesitation and thwarting Capito’s designs, he considered that he had been treated with ingratitude: so he incited Vitellius by pointing out to him the enthusiasm of the troops. ‘You,’ he would say to him, ‘are famous everywhere, and you need find no obstacle in Hordeonius Flaccus. [He commanded the army of the Upper Province] Britain will join and the German auxiliaries will flock to your standard. Galba cannot trust the provinces; the poor old man holds the empire on sufferance; the transfer can be soon effected, if only you will clap on full sail and meet your good fortune half-way. Verginius was quite right to hesitate. He came of a family of knights, and his father was a nobody. He would have failed, had he accepted the empire: his refusal saved him. Your father was thrice consul, and he was censor with an emperor for his colleague. [He was Claudius’ colleague twice in the consulship, and once in the censorship.] That gives you imperial dignity to start with, and makes it unsafe for you to remain a private citizen. ‘These promptings stirred Vitellius’ sluggish nature to form desires, but hardly hopes.

Caecina, on the other hand, in Upper Germany, was a handsome youth, whose big build, imperious spirit, clever tongue, and upright carriage had completely won the hearts of the soldiers. While quaestor in Baetica [Andalusia and Granada] he had promptly joined Galba’s party, and in spite of his youth had been given command of a legion. Later he was convicted of misappropriating public funds, and, on Galba’s orders, prosecuted for peculation. Highly indignant, Caecina determined to embroil the world and bury his own disgrace in the ruins of his country. Nor were the seeds of dissension lacking in the army. The entire force had taken part in the war against Vindex, nor was it until after Nero’s death that they joined Galba’s side, and even then they had been forestalled in swearing allegiance by the detachments of Lower Germany. Then again the Treviri and Lingones [The Treviri have given their name to Trier (Treves), the Lingones to Langres] and the other communities which Galba had punished by issuing harsh edicts and confiscating part of their territory, were in close communication with the winter quarters of the legions. They began to talk treason: the soldiers degenerated in civilian society: it only wanted someone to avail himself of the offer they had made to Verginius.

Following an ancient custom, the tribe of the Lingones had made a present of a pair of silver hands [i.e. two right hands locked in friendship] to the legions as a symbol of hospitality. Assuming an appearance of squalid misery, their envoys made the round of the officers’ quarters and the soldiers’ tents complaining of their own wrongs and of the rewards lavished on neighbouring tribes. Finding the soldiers ready to listen, they made inflammatory allusions to the army itself, its dangers and humiliation. Mutiny was almost ripe, when Hordeonius Flaccus ordered the envoys to withdraw, and, in order to secure the secrecy of their departure, gave instructions to them to leave the camp by night. This gave rise to an alarming rumour. Many declared that the envoys had been killed, and that, if they did not look out for themselves, the leading spirits among the soldiers, who had complained of the present state of things, would be murdered in the dark, while their comrades knew nothing about it. So the legions formed a secret compact. The auxiliaries were also taken into the plot, although at first they had been distrusted, because their infantry and cavalry had been posted in camp all-round the legion’s quarters as though an attack on them were meditated. However, they soon showed themselves the keener conspirators. Disloyalty is a better bond for war than it ever proves in peace.

In Lower Germany, however, the legions on the first of January swore the usual oath of allegiance to Galba, though with much hesitation. Few voices were heard even in the front ranks; the rest were silent, each waiting for his neighbour to take some bold step. Human nature is always ready to follow where it hates to lead. However, the feelings of the legions varied. The First and Fifth [At Bonn and at Vetera] were already mutinous enough to throw a few stones at Galba’s statue. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth [At Vetera and at Neuss] dared not venture beyond muttered threats, but they were watching to see the outbreak begin. In Upper Germany, on the other hand, on the very same day, the Fourth and the Twenty-second legions, who were quartered together,[At Mainz] smashed their statues of Galba to atoms. The Fourth took the lead, the Twenty-second at first holding back, but eventually making common cause with them. They did not want it to be thought that they were shaking off their allegiance to the empire, so in taking the oath they invoked the long obsolete names of the Senate and People of Rome. None of the officers made any movement for Galba, and indeed some of them, as happens in such outbreaks, headed the rebellion. However, nobody made any kind of set speech or mounted the platform, for there was no one as yet with whom to curry favour.

The ex-consul Hordeonius Flaccus stood by and watched their treachery. He had not the courage to check the storm or even to rally the waverers and encourage the faithful. Sluggish and cowardly, it was mere indolence that kept him loyal. Four centurions of the Twenty-second legion, Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus, and Calpurnius Repentinus, who tried to protect Galba’s statues, were swept away by the rush of the soldiers and put under arrest. No one retained any respect for their former oath of allegiance, or even remembered it; and, as happens in mutinies, they were all on the side of the majority.

On the night of the first of January a standard-bearer of the Fourth legion came to Cologne, [The Ubii had been allowed by Agrippa to move their chief town from the right to the left bank of the Rhine. Ten or twelve years later (A.D. 50) a colony of Roman veterans was planted there and called “Colonia Claudia Augusta Agrippinensium”, because Agrippina, the mother of Nero, had been born there] and brought the news to Vitellius at his dinner that the Fourth and Twenty-second legions had broken down Galba’s statues and sworn allegiance to the Senate and People of Rome. As this oath was meaningless, it seemed best to seize the critical moment and offer them an emperor. Vitellius dispatched messengers to inform his own troops and generals that the army of the Upper Province had revolted from Galba; so they must either make war on the rebels immediately, or, if they preferred peace and unity, make an emperor for themselves; and there was less danger, he reminded them, in choosing an emperor than in looking for one.

The quarters of the First legion were nearest at hand, and Fabius Valens was the most enterprising of the generals. On the following day he entered Cologne with the cavalry of his legion and auxiliaries, and saluted Vitellius as emperor. The other legions of the province followed suit, vying with each other in enthusiasm; and the army of the Upper Province, dropping the fine-sounding titles of the Senate and People of Rome, joined Vitellius on the third of January, which clearly showed that on the two previous days they were not really at the disposal of a republican government. The inhabitants of Cologne and the Treviri and Lingones, rivalling the zeal of the troops, made offers of assistance, or of horses or arms or money, each according to the measure of their strength, wealth, or enterprise. And these offers came not only from the civil and military authorities, men who had plenty of money to spare and much to hope from victory, but whole companies or individual soldiers handed over their savings, or, instead of money, their belts, or the silver ornaments [These were thin bosses of silver, gold, or bronze, chased in relief, and worn as medals are] on their uniforms, some carried away by a wave of enthusiasm, some acting from motives of self-interest.

Vitellius accordingly commended the zeal of the troops. He distributed among Roman knights the court-offices which had been usually held by freedmen, [This important innovation was established as the rule by Hadrian. These officials–nominally the private servants of the emperor, and hitherto imperial freedmen–formed an important branch of the civil service] paid the centurions their furlough-fees out of the imperial purse, and for the most part conceded the soldiers’ savage demands for one execution after another, though he occasionally cheated them by pretending to imprison their victims. Thus Pompeius Propinquus, the imperial agent in Belgica, was promptly executed, while Julius Burdo, who commanded the fleet on the Rhine, was adroitly rescued. The indignation of the army had broken out against him, because he was supposed to have intrigued against Fonteius Capito, and to have accused him falsely. Capito’s memory was dear to the army, and when violence reigns murder may show its face, but pardon must be stealthy. So Burdo was kept in confinement and only released after victory had allayed the soldiers’ rancour. Meanwhile a centurion, named Crispinus, was offered as a scape-goat. He had actually stained his hands with Capito’s blood, so his guilt seemed more obvious to those who clamoured for his punishment, and Vitellius felt he was a cheaper sacrifice.

Julius Civilis [The leader of the great revolt on the Rhine, described in Book IV] was the next to be rescued from danger. He was all-powerful among the Batavi, [The ancestors of the Dutch who lived on the island formed by the Lek and the Waal between Arnhem and Rotterdam; its eastern part is still called Betuwe] and Vitellius did not want to alienate so spirited a people by punishing him. Besides, eight cohorts of Batavian troops were stationed among the Lingones. They had been an auxiliary force attached to the Fourteenth, and in the general disturbance had deserted the legion. Their decision for one side or the other would be of the first importance. Nonius, Donatius, Romilius, and Calpurnius, the centurions mentioned above, were executed by order of Vitellius. They had been convicted of loyalty, a heinous offence among deserters. His party soon gained the accession of Valerius Asiaticus, governor of Belgica, who subsequently married Vitellius’ daughter, and of Junius Blaesus, [His supposed murder by Vitellius is described, iii. 38, 39] governor of the Lyons division of Gaul, who brought with him the Italian legion[Legio Prima Italica, formed by Nero] and a regiment of cavalry known as ‘Taurus’ Horse’,[Called such after Statilius Taurus, who first enlisted it. He was Pro-consul of Africa under Nero] which had been quartered at Lugdunum. The forces in Raetia lost no time in joining his standard, and even the troops in Britain showed no hesitation. Trebellius Maximus, the governor of Britain, had earned by his meanness and cupidity the contempt and hatred of the army, [Their mutiny in A.D. 69 is described by Tacitus, “Agr.” 16] which was further inflamed by the action of his old enemy Roscius Coelius, who commanded the Twentieth legion, and they now seized the opportunity of the civil war to break out into a fierce quarrel.

Trebellius blamed Coelius for the mutinous temper and insubordination of the army: Coelius complained that Trebellius had robbed his men and impaired their efficiency. Meanwhile their unseemly quarrel ruined the discipline of the forces, whose insubordination soon came to a head. The auxiliary horse and foot joined in the attacks on the governor, and rallied round Coelius. Trebellius, thus hunted out and abandoned, took refuge with Vitellius. The province remained quiet, despite the removal of the ex-consul. The government was carried on by the commanding officers of the legions, who were equal in authority, though Coelius’ audacity gave him an advantage over the rest.

Thus reinforced by the army from Britain, [i.e. by detachments from it] Vitellius, who now had an immense force and vast resources at his disposal, decided on an invasion by two routes under two separate generals. Fabius Valens was to lure the Gauls to his standard, or, if they refused, to devastate their country, and then invade Italy by way of the Cottian Alps. [Mt. Cenis.] Caecina was to follow the shorter route and descend into Italy over the Pennine Pass.[Great St. Bernard’s] Valens’ column comprised the Fifth legion with its ‘eagle’,[ i.e. he had the main body of the Legion V, known as ‘The Larks’, and only detachments from the other legions] and some picked detachments from the army of Lower Germany, together with auxiliary horse and foot, amounting in all to 40,000 men. Caecina’s troops from Upper Germany numbered 30,000, their main strength consisting in the Twenty-first legion. [Known as ‘Rapax’, and stationed at Windisch (Vindonissa), east of the point where the Rhine turns to flow north.] Both columns were reinforced by German auxiliaries, whom Vitellius also recruited to fill up his own army, intending to follow with the main force of the attack.

Strange was the contrast between Vitellius and his army. The soldiers were all  agerness, clamouring for battle at once, while Gaul was still frightened and Spain still undecided. Winter was no obstacle to them; peace and delay were for cowards: they must invade Italy and seize Rome: haste was the safest course in civil war, where action is better than deliberation. Vitellius was dully apathetic, anticipating his high station by indulging in idle luxury and lavish entertainments. At midday he would be drunk and drowsy with over-eating. However, such was the zeal of the soldiers that they even did the general’s duties, and behaved exactly as if he had been present to encourage the alert and threaten the laggards. They promptly fell in and began to clamour for the signal to start. The title of Germanicus was then and there conferred on Vitellius: Caesar he would never be called, even after his victory.


On the very day of departure a happy omen greeted Fabius Valens and the army under his command. As the column advanced, an eagle flew steadily ahead and seemed to lead the way. Loudly though the soldiers cheered, hour after hour the bird flew undismayed, and was taken for a sure omen of success.

They passed peaceably through the country of the Treviri, who were allies. At Divodurum, [Metz] the chief town of the Mediomatrici, although they were welcomed with all courtesy, the troops fell into a sudden panic. Hastily seizing their arms, they began to massacre the innocent citizens. Their object was not plundering. They were seized by a mad frenzy, which was the harder to allay as its cause was a mystery.

Eventually the general’s entreaties prevailed, and they refrained from destroying the town. However, nearly 4,000 men had already been killed. This spread such alarm throughout Gaul that, as the army approached, whole towns flocked out with their magistrates at their head and prayers for mercy in their mouths. Women and boys prostrated themselves along the roads, and they resorted to every possible means by which an enemy’s anger may be appeased, [They would wear veils and fillets, as suppliants] petitioning for peace, though for war there was none.

It was in the country of the Leuci [Living round Toul between the Marne and the Moselle] that Valens heard the news of Galba’s murder and Otho’s elevation. The soldiers showed no emotion, neither joy nor fear: their thoughts were all for war. The Gauls’ doubts were now decided. They hated Otho and Vitellius equally, but Vitellius they also feared. They next reached the Lingones, faithful adherents of their party. There the courtesy of the citizens was only equalled by the good behaviour of the troops. But this did not last for long, thanks to the disorderly conduct of the Batavian auxiliaries, who, as narrated above, had detached themselves from the Fourteenth legion and been drafted into Valens’ column. A quarrel between some Batavians and legionaries led to blows: the other soldiers quickly took sides, and a fierce battle would have ensued, had not Valens punished a few of the Batavians to remind them of the discipline they seemed to have forgotten.

Coming to the Aedui, they in vain sought an excuse for fighting. For when the natives were ordered to contribute money and arms, they brought a gratuitous present of provisions as well. Lugdunum did gladly what the Aedui had done from fear. But the town was deprived of the Italian legion and Taurus’ Horse. Valens decided to leave the Eighteenth cohort [This was probably one of the “cohortes civium Romanorum”, volunteer corps raised in Italy on lighter terms of service than prevailed in the legions] there in its old winter quarters as a garrison. Manlius Valens, who was in command of the Italian legion, never received any distinction from Vitellius, although he deserved well of the party, the reason being that Fabius slandered him behind his back, while to avert his suspicions he praised him to his face.

The recent war [With Vindex] had served to inflame the long-standing quarrel between Lugdunum and Vienne. [The chief town of the Allobroges, and the capital of Narbonese Gaul] Much damage was done on both sides, and the frequency and animosity of their conflicts proved that they were not merely fighting for Nero and Galba. Galba had made his displeasure an excuse for confiscating to the Treasury the revenues of Lugdunum, while on Vienne he had conferred various distinctions. The result was a bitter rivalry between the towns, and the Rhone between them only formed a bond of hatred. Consequently the inhabitants of Lugdunum began to work on the feelings of individual Roman soldiers, and to urge them to crush Vienne. They reminded them how the Viennese had laid siege to Lugdunum, a Roman colony, had assisted the efforts of Vindex, and had lately raised troops to defend Galba. Having supplied a pretext for bad feeling, they went on to point out the rich opportunity for plunder. Not content with private persuasion, they presented a formal petition that the army would march to avenge them, and destroy the head-quarters of the Gallic war. Vienne, they urged, was thoroughly un-Roman and hostile, while Lugdunum was a Roman colony, [So was Vienne; but the status had been conferred on the Gauls of this town as lately as Caligula’s reign, whereas Lugdunum had been colonized in B.C. 43 by Roman citizens expelled from Vienne] contributing men to the army and sharing in its victories and reverses. They besought them in the event of adverse fortune not to leave their city to the fury of its enemies.

By these arguments and others of the same nature they brought matters to such a pass, that even the generals and party leaders despaired of cooling the army’s indignation. However, the Viennese realized their danger. Arrayed in veils and fillets, they met the approaching column and, seizing their hands and knees and the soles of their feet in supplication, succeeded in appeasing the troops. Valens made each of the soldiers a present of three hundred sesterces. They were thus persuaded to respect the antiquity and high standing of the colony, and to listen with patience to their general’s speech, in which he commended to them the lives and property of the Viennese.

However, the town was disarmed, and private individuals had to assist the army with various kinds of provisions. There was, however, a persistent rumour that Valens himself had been bought with a heavy bribe. He had long been in mean circumstances and ill-concealed his sudden accession of wealth. Prolonged poverty had whetted his inordinate desires, and the needy youth grew into an extravagant old man.

He next led the army by slow stages through the country of the Allobroges and Vocontii, [Part of Dauphine and Provence, with a capital town at Vaison] bribes to the general determining the length of each day’s march and the choice of a camp. For Valens struck disgraceful bargains with the landowners and municipal authorities, often applying violent threats, as, for instance, at Lucus, [Luc-en-Diois] a township of the Vocontii, which he threatened to burn, until he was appeased with money. Where it was impossible to get money, he was mollified by appeals to his lust. And so it went on until the Alps were reached.


There was even more looting and bloodshed on Caecina’s march. The Helvetii, a Gallic tribe [In Western Switzerland, Julius Caesar had finally subdued them in 58 B.C.] once famous as fighting men and still distinguished by the memory of their past, having heard nothing of Galba’s murder, refused to acknowledge the authority of Vitellius.

This exasperated Caecina’s headstrong nature. Hostilities broke out owing to the greed and impatience of the Twenty-first legion, who had seized a sum of money which was being sent to pay the garrison of a fort in which the Helvetii used to keep native troops at their own expense. [This had happened before Caecina’s arrival. Vindonissa, their head-quarters was on the borders of the Helvetii] The Helvetii, highly indignant at this, intercepted a dispatch from the German army to the Pannonian legions, and kept a centurion and some men in custody. Greedy for battle, Caecina hastened to take immediate vengeance without giving them time for second thoughts. Promptly breaking up his camp, he proceeded to harry the country, and sacked a charming and much-frequented watering-place, [“Aquae Helvetiorum” or “Vicus Aquensis”, about 16 miles NW. of Zurich] which had grown during the long peace into the size and importance of a town. Instructions were sent to the Raetian auxiliaries to attack the Helvetii in the rear, while their attention was occupied with the legion.

Full of spirit beforehand, the Helvetii were terrified in the face of danger. At the first alarm they had chosen Claudius Severus general, but they knew nothing of fighting or discipline and were incapable of combined action. An engagement with the Roman veterans would be disastrous; and the walls, dilapidated by time, could not stand a siege. They found themselves between Caecina and his powerful army on the one side, and on the other the Raetian auxiliaries, both horse and foot, and the whole fighting force of Raetia as well, trained soldiers well used to fighting.[Volunteers, not conscripts] Their country was given over to plunder and massacre. Flinging away their arms, they wandered miserably between two fires. Wounded and scattered, most of them took refuge on the Boetzberg. [Mount Vocetius] But some Thracian auxiliaries were promptly sent to dislodge them. The German army, aided by the Raetians, pursued them through the woods, and cut them to pieces in their hiding-places. Many thousands were killed and many sold as slaves. Having completed the work of destruction, the army advanced in hostile array against Aventicum, [Avenches] their capital town, and were met by envoys offering surrender. The offer was accepted. Caecina executed Julius Alpinus, one of their chief men, as the prime instigator of the revolt. The rest he left to experience the clemency or cruelty of Vitellius.

It is hard to say whether these envoys found Vitellius or the army the more implacable. The soldiers clamoured for the destruction of the town, [Avenches] and shook their fists and weapons in the envoys’ faces: even Vitellius indulged in threatening language. Ultimately, however, Claudius Cossus, one of the envoys, a noted speaker who greatly enhanced the effect of his eloquence by concealing his skill under a well-timed affectation of nervousness, succeeded in softening the hearts of the soldiers. A mob is always liable to sudden changes of feeling, and the men were as sensible to pity as they had been extravagant in their brutality. Thus with streams of tears and importunate prayers for a better answer the envoys procured a free pardon for Aventicum. [Vespasian made it a Latin colony]

Caecina halted for a few days in Helvetian territory until he could get news of Vitellius’ decision. Meantime, while carrying on his preparations for crossing the Alps, he received from Italy the joyful news that ‘Silius’ Horse’, [Probably raised by C. Silius, who was Governor of Upper Germany under Tiberius. Troops of auxiliary horse were usually named either after the governor of the province who first organized the troop or after the country where it had first been stationed, or where it had won fame] stationed at Padua, had come over to Vitellius. The members of this troop had served under Vitellius when pro-consul in Africa. They had subsequently been detached under orders from Nero to precede him to Egypt, and had then been recalled, owing to the outbreak of the war with Vindex. They were now in Italy. Their officers, who knew nothing of Otho and were attached to Vitellius, extolled the strength of the approaching column and the fame of the German army. So the troop went over to Vitellius, bringing their new emperor a gift of the four strongest towns of the Transpadane district, Milan, Novara, Eporedia, [Ivrea] and Vercelli. Of this they informed Caecina themselves. But one troop of horse could not garrison the whole of the widest part of Italy. Caecina accordingly hurried forward the Gallic, Lusitanian, and British auxiliaries, and some German detachments, together with ‘Petra’s Horse’, [Petra occurs as the name of two Roman knights in “Ann.” xi. 4. One of these or a relative was probably the original leader of the troop] while he himself hesitated whether he should not cross the Raetian Alps[The Arlberg] into Noricum and attack the governor, Petronius Urbicus, who, having raised a force of irregulars and broken down the bridges, was supposed to be a faithful adherent of Otho. However, he was afraid of losing the auxiliaries whom he had sent on ahead, and at the same time he considered that there was more glory in holding Italy, and that, wherever the theatre of the war might be, Noricum was sure to be among the spoils of victory. So he chose the Pennine route [Great St. Bernard] and led his legionaries and the heavy marching column across the Alps, although they were still deep in snow. [Early in March]

REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 1) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick


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