Roman Empire: Otho – Government / planning for war (Part 6)


Meanwhile, contrary to all expectation, Otho was no prey to idle luxury. He postponed his pleasures and disguised his extravagance, suiting all his behaviour to the dignity of his position. But people knew they had not seen the last of his vices, and his virtuous hypocrisy only increased their alarm. He gave orders to summon Marius Celsus to the Capitol. This was the consul-elect whom he had rescued from the savage clutches of the soldiers by pretending to put him in prison. Otho now wanted to earn a name for clemency by pardoning a well-known man, who had fought against his party. Celsus was firm.

Pleading guilty to the charge of fidelity to Galba, he went on to show that he had set an example which was all to Otho’s advantage. Otho treated him as if there was nothing to pardon. Calling on heaven to witness their reconciliation, he then and there admitted him to the circle of his intimate friends, and subsequently gave him an appointment as one of his generals. Celsus remained faithful to Otho too, doomed apparently to the losing side. His acquittal, which delighted the upper classes and was popular with the mass of the people, even earned the approval of the soldiers, who now admired the qualities which had previously aroused their indignation.

Equal rejoicing, though for different reasons, followed the long-looked-for downfall of Ofonius Tigellinus. Born of obscure parentage, he had grown from an immoral youth into a vicious old man. He rose to the command first of the Police, and then of the Praetorian Guards, finding that vice was a short cut to such rewards of virtue. In these and other high offices he developed the vices of maturity, first cruelty, then greed. He corrupted Nero and introduced him to every kind of depravity; then ventured on some villainies behind his back, and finally deserted and betrayed him. Thus in his case, as in no other, those who hated Nero and those who wished him back agreed, though from different motives, in calling loudly for his execution. During Galba’s reign he had been protected by the influence of Titus Vinius, on the plea that he had saved his daughter. Saved her he had, not from any feelings of pity (he had killed too many for that), but to secure a refuge for the future. For all such rascals, distrusting the present and fearing a change of fortune, always prepare for themselves a shelter against public indignation by obtaining the favour of private persons. So they rely to escape punishment not on their innocence but on a system of mutual insurance.

People were all the more incensed against Tigellinus, since the recent feeling against Vinius was added to their old hatred for him. From all quarters of Rome they flocked to the palace and the squares; and above all, in the circus and the theatre, where the mob enjoys complete licence, they assembled in crowds and broke out into riotous uproar. Eventually Tigellinus at Sinuessa Spa [A much-frequented watering-place on the borders of Latium and Campania, the hot baths were considered good for hysteria] received the news that his last hour was inevitably come. There after a cowardly delay in the foul embraces of his prostitutes he cut his throat with a razor, and blackened the infamy of his life by a hesitating and shameful death.

About the same time there arose a demand for the punishment of Calvia Crispinilla. But she was saved by various prevarications, and Otho’s connivence cost him some discredit. This woman had tutored Nero in vice, and afterwards crossed to Africa to incite Clodius Macer to civil war. While there she openly schemed to start a famine in Rome. However, she secured herself by marrying an ex-consul, and lived to enjoy a wide popularity in Rome. She escaped harm under Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, and eventually wielded a great influence due to her being both rich and childless, considerations of the first importance in any state of society.

During this time Otho wrote constantly to Vitellius, holding out various effeminate inducements, making him offers of money or an influential position, or any retreat he liked to select for a life of luxury. [Dio and Suetonius both say that Otho offered to share the empire with Vitellius, and the latter adds that he proposed for the hand of Vitellius’ daughter. Tacitus here follows Plutarch] Vitellius made similar offers. At first both wrote in the mildest tone, though the affectation on either side was stupid and inappropriate. But they soon struck a quarrelsome note, and reproached each other with immorality and crime, both with a good deal of truth. Otho recalled the commission which Galba had sent out to Germany, and, using the pretext of senatorial authority, sent fresh commissioners to both the armies in Germany, and also to the Italian legion, and the troops quartered at Lugdunum.

However, the commissioners remained with Vitellius with a readiness which showed they were under no compulsion; and the guards who had been attached to them, ostensibly as a mark of honour, were sent back at once before they had time to mix with the legionary soldiers. Further than this, Fabius Valens sent letters in the name of the German army to the Guards and the City Garrison, extolling the strength of his own side and offering to join forces. He even went so far as to reproach them with having transferred to Otho the title which had long before [As a matter of fact, only twelve days before. It was on the 2nd or 3rd of January that the troops of Lower and Upper Germany proclaimed Vitellius. Galba fell to Otho on January 15] been conferred on Vitellius.

Thus they were assailed with threats as well as promises, and told that they were not strong enough to fight, and had nothing to lose by making peace. But, in spite of all, the fidelity of the Guards remained unchanged. However, Otho dispatched assassins to Germany, Vitellius to Rome. Neither met with success. Vitellius’ assassins were lost in the crowds of Rome, where nobody knows anybody, and thus escaped detection: Otho’s were betrayed by their strange faces, since the troops all knew each other by sight. Vitellius then composed a letter to Otho’s brother Titianus, [L. Salvius Otho Titianus, Otho’s elder brother] threatening that his life and his son’s should answer for the safety of Vitellius’ mother and children. As it happened neither household suffered. Fear was perhaps the reason in Otho’s time, but Vitellius, after his victory, could certainly claim credit for clemency.

The first news which gave Otho any degree of confidence was the announcement from Illyricum that the legions of Dalmatia and Pannonia and Moesia [There were two legions in Dalmatia, two in Pannonia, three in Moesia, and two in Spain] had sworn allegiance to him. Similar news arrived from Spain, and Cluvius Rufus was commended in a special decree, but it was found out immediately afterwards that Spain had gone over to Vitellius. Even Aquitania soon fell away, although Julius Cordus had sworn in the province for Otho. Loyalty and affection seemed dead: men changed from one side to the other under the stress of fear or compulsion. It was fear which gave Vitellius the Province of Narbonese Gaul, [This included Savoy, Dauphine, part of Provence or Languedoc] for it is easy to go over when the big battalions are so near. The distant provinces and the troops across the sea all remained at Otho’s disposal, but not from any enthusiasm for his cause; what weighed with them was the name of Rome and the title of the senate.

Besides, Otho had got the first hearing. Vespasian swore in the Jewish army [Legions V Macedonica, X Fretensis, XV Apollinaris] for Otho, and Mucianus the legions in Syria; [IV Scythica, VI Ferrata, XII Fulminata, and III Gallica] Egypt too and all the provinces towards the East were held for him. He also received the submission of Africa, where Carthage had taken the lead, without waiting for the sanction of the governor, Vipstanus Apronianus. Crescens, one of Nero’s freedmen-in evil days these creatures play a part in politics [Since Claudius the great imperial bureaux, the posts of private secretary, patronage-secretary, financial secretary, etc., had all been held by freedmen]-had given the common people of the town a gala dinner in honour of the new emperor, with the result that the inhabitants hurried into various excesses. The other African communities followed the example of Carthage.

The provinces and their armies being thus divided, Vitellius could only win the throne by fighting. Otho meanwhile was carrying on the government as if the time were one of profound peace. Sometimes he consulted the country’s dignity, though more often the exigencies of the moment forced him into unseemly haste. He held the consulship himself with his brother Titianus as colleague until the first of March. For the next two months he appointed Verginius, as a sort of sop to the army in Germany. [Otho and Titianus would naturally have held it for four months] As colleague he gave him Pompeius Vopiscus, ostensibly because he was an old friend of his own, but it was generally understood as a compliment to Vienne. [Vopiscus presumably came from Vienne, which had espoused the cause first of Vindex, then of Galba] For the rest of the year the appointments which Nero or Galba had made were allowed to stand. The brothers Caelius and Flavius Sabinus [Not to be confused with Vespasian’s brother] were consuls for June and July, Arrius Antoninus [Grandfather of the Emperor Antoninus Pius] and Marius Celsus for August and September; even Vitellius after his victory did not cancel their appointment. To the pontifical and augural colleges Otho either nominated old ex-magistrates, as the final crown of their career, or else, when young aristocrats returned from exile, he instated them by way of recompense in the pontifical posts which their fathers or grandfathers had held. He restored Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus, and “Saevinus Proculus” [Name uncertain in MS] to their seats in the senate. They had been convicted during Claudius’ and Nero’s reigns of extortion in the provinces. In pardoning them the name of their offence was changed, and their greed appeared as ‘treason’. For so unpopular was the law of treason that it sapped the force of better statutes. [i.e. to be accused of ‘treason’ was in these days to win public sympathy, even though the defendant were guilty of offences under other more useful statutes]

Otho next tried to win over the municipalities and provincial towns by similar bribes. At the colonies of Hispalis and Emerita [Seville and Merida] he enrolled new families of settlers, granted the franchise to the whole community of the Lingones, [As the rest of this sentence refers to Spain and Portugal it has been proposed to read for “Lingones Lusones”, a Celtiberian tribe round the sources of the Tagus. The Lingones were devoted to the cause of Vitellius] and made over certain Moorish towns as a gift to the province of Baetica. Cappadocia and Africa were also granted new privileges, as showy as they were short-lived. All these grants are excused by the exigences of the moment and the impending crisis, but he even found time to remember his old amours and passed a measure through the senate restoring Poppaea’s statues. [They had been thrown down by the populace, when Nero, after divorcing Antonia, was shamed-or frightened-into taking her back] He is believed also to have thought of celebrating Nero’s memory as a means of attracting public sympathy. Some persons actually erected statues of Nero, and there were times when the populace and the soldiers, by way of enhancing his fame and dignity, saluted him as Nero Otho. However, he refused to commit himself. He was ashamed to accept the title, yet afraid to forbid its use.

While the whole of Rome was intent upon the civil war, foreign affairs were neglected. Consequently a Sarmatian tribe called the Rhoxolani,[ They lived between the Dnieper and the Don, to the north of the Sea of Azov] who had cut up two cohorts of auxiliaries in the previous winter, now formed the still more daring scheme of invading Moesia. Inspirited by success, they assembled nearly 9,000 mounted men, all more intent on plunder than on fighting. While they were riding about aimlessly without any suspicion of danger, they were suddenly attacked by the Third legion [Gallica] and its native auxiliaries.

On the Roman side everything was ready for a battle: the Sarmatians were scattered over the country; some in their greed for plunder were heavily laden, and their horses could scarcely move on the slippery roads. They were caught in a trap and cut to pieces. It is quite extraordinary how all a Sarmatian’s courage is, so to speak, outside himself. Fighting on foot, no one is more cowardly; but their cavalry charge would break almost any troops. On this occasion it was raining and the ground was greasy with thaw; their pikes and their long swords, needing both hands to wield, were useless; their horses slipped and they were encumbered by the heavy coat of mail which all their chiefs and nobles wear. Being made of iron plates and a very hard kind of leather, it is impenetrable to blows, but most inconvenient for anyone who is knocked down by a charge of the enemy and tries to get up. Besides, they sank into the deep, soft snow.

The Roman soldiers in their neat leather jerkins, armed with javelin and lance, and using, if need be, their light swords, sprang on the unarmed Sarmatians (they never carry shields) and stabbed them at close quarters. A few surviving the battle hid themselves in the marshes, and there perished miserably from the severity of the winter and their wounds. When the news of this reached Rome, Marcus Aponius, the governor of Moesia, was granted a triumphal statue, [This would depict him in full triumphal garb. But only the emperor could actually hold a triumph, since it was under his auspices that his generals fought] while the commanding officers of the legions, Fulvius Aurelius, Tettius Julianus, and Numisius Lupus, received the insignia of consular rank. Otho was delighted and took all the credit to himself, as if he had been the successful general, and had himself employed his officers and armies to enlarge the empire.

In the meantime a riot broke out in an unexpected quarter, and, though trivial at first, nearly ended in the destruction of Rome. Otho had given orders that the Seventeenth cohort [“Cohors civium Romanorum”] should be summoned from the colony of Ostia to the city, and Varius Crispinus, a tribune of the guards, was instructed to provide them with arms. Anxious to carry out his instructions undisturbed while the camp was quiet, he arranged that the arsenal was to be opened and the cohort’s wagons loaded after nightfall. The hour aroused suspicion; the motive was questioned; his choice of a quiet moment resulted in an uproar. The mere sight of swords made the drunken soldiers long to use them. They began to murmur and accuse their officers of treachery, suggesting that the senators’ slaves were going to be armed against Otho. Some of them were too fuddled to know what they were saying: the rascals saw a chance of plunder: the mass of them, as usual, were simply eager for a change: and such as were loyal could not carry out their orders in the darkness. When Crispinus tried to check them, the mutineers killed him together with the most determined of the centurions, seized their armour, bared their swords, and mounting the horses, made off at full speed for Rome and the palace.

It so happened that a large party of Roman senators and their wives was dining with Otho. In their alarm they wondered whether the soldiers’ outbreak was unpremeditated or a ruse of the emperor’s: would it be safer to fly in all directions or to stay and be arrested? At one moment they would make a show of firmness, at the next their terror betrayed them. All the time they were watching Otho’s face, and, as happens when people suspect each other, he was just as afraid himself as they were of him. But feeling no less alarm for the senators than for himself, he promptly dispatched the prefects of the Guards to appease the anger of the troops, and told all his guests to leave immediately. Then on all sides Roman officials could be seen to throw away their insignia, avoid their suite, and slink off unattended. Old gentlemen and their wives roamed the dark streets in all directions. Few went home, most of them fled to friends, or sought an obscure refuge with the humblest of their clients.

The soldiers’ onrush could not be stopped at the gates of the palace. They demanded to see Otho and invaded the banquet-hall. Julius Martialis, a tribune of the Guards, and Vitellius Saturninus, the camp-prefect [The meaning of the title “praefectus legionis” is doubtful. It seems most likely to mean the same as “praefectus castrorum”, an officer who superintended the camp and sometimes acted as second-in-command. The post was one to which senior centurions could rise. At this period they were not attached to a legion, but to a camp, where more than one legion might be quartered. That makes the phrase here used curious. The legion is that of the marines now stationed in Rome. They appear to have joined the mutinous Seventeenth cohort when they reached the city.] of the legion, were wounded while endeavouring to bar their progress. On every side they brandished swords and hurled threats, now against their officers, now against the whole senate; and since they could not select any one victim for their wrath, in a blind frenzy of panic they clamoured for a free hand against all the senators. At last Otho, sacrificing his dignity, stood up on a couch and with great difficulty restrained them by means of prayers and tears. They returned to their camp unwillingly, and with a guilty conscience.

The next day Rome was like a captured city. The houses were all shut, the streets almost deserted, and everybody looked depressed. The soldiers, too, hung their heads, though they were more sulky than sorry for what they had done. Their prefects, Licinius Proculus and Plotius Firmus, harangued them by companies, the one mildly, the other harshly, for they were men of different natures. They concluded by announcing that the men were to receive five thousand sesterces apiece. After that Otho ventured to enter the camp. The tribunes and centurions each flinging away the insignia of his rank, [The insignia of a tribunus were a tunic with a broad or narrow stripe (accordingly as they were of senatorial or equestrian rank), and a gold ring. A centurion carried a staff made of a vine-branch, for disciplinary purposes] crowded round him begging for a safe discharge. Stung by the disgrace of this, the troops soon quieted down, and even went the length of demanding that the ringleaders should be punished. In the general disturbance Otho’s position was difficult.  The soldiers were by no means unanimous. The better sort wanted him to put a stop to the prevalent insubordination, but the great bulk of them liked faction-fighting and emperors who had to court their favour, and with the prospect of rioting and plunder were ready enough for civil war. He realized, also, that one who wins a throne by violence cannot keep it by suddenly trying to enforce the rigid discipline of earlier days.

However, the danger of the crisis both for the city and the senate seriously alarmed him, so he finally delivered himself as follows:

‘Fellow soldiers, I have not come to fan the fire of your affection for me, or to instill courage into your hearts: in both those qualities you are more than rich. No, I have come to ask you to moderate your courage and to set some bounds to your affection. These recent disturbances did not originate in those passions of greed or violence, which so often cause dissension in an army; nor was it that you feared some danger and tried to shirk it. The sole cause was your excessive loyalty, which you displayed with more ardour than judgement. For with the best of motives, indiscretion often lands men in disaster. We are preparing for war. Do you imagine that we could publish all our dispatches, and discuss our plans in the presence of the whole army, when we have to devise a systematic campaign and keep up with the rapid changes of the situation? There are things a soldier ought to know, but there is much of which he must be ignorant. It is necessary for the maintenance of strict discipline and of the general’s authority that even his tribunes and centurions should often obey blindly. If everyone is going to inquire into his motives, discipline is done for, and his authority falls to the ground. Suppose in actual warfare you are called to arms at dead of night: shall a few drunken blackguards–for I cannot believe that many lost their heads in the recent panic–go and stain their hands with their officers’ blood, and then break into the general’s tent?

‘Now I know you did it to protect me, but the riot and the darkness and the general confusion might easily have provided an opportunity to kill me. Suppose Vitellius and his satellites had their choice of the state of mind they would pray to find us in; what more could they desire than mutiny and dissension, the men insubordinate to the centurions, and the centurions to their superior officers, and the whole force, horse and foot alike, rushing in headlong confusion to their ruin? Good soldiering, my comrades, consists in obedience, not in scrutinizing the general’s orders; and the army which is most orderly in peace is most courageous on the field of battle. Yours are the swords and the courage; you must leave it to me to plan the campaign, and to direct your valour. The culprits were but few, and only two are to be punished; the rest of you must blot out all memory of that discreditable night. No army must ever hear again such words spoken against the senate. It is the brain of the empire and the glory of all the provinces. Why, in Heaven’s name, the very Germans themselves, whom Vitellius is stirring up with all his might against us, would not dare to call its members into question! Shall it be said that Italy’s own sons, the real soldiery of Rome, are clamouring to murder and massacre the very senators whose lustre it is that throws into the shade the obscure and vulgar adherents of Vitellius?

Vitellius has seized a few provinces and raised a sort of shadow of an army; but the senate is on our side. Therefore, Rome is for us; they are against her. Do you imagine that the stability of this beautiful city consists in houses and edifices built of stone upon stone? Nay, they are dumb inanimate things that may fall to pieces and be rebuilt at pleasure. The eternity of our empire, the peace of the world, your welfare and mine, all depend upon the safety of the senate. Instituted with solemn ceremony by the father and founder of Rome, the senate has come down in undying continuity from the kings to the emperors; and as we have received it from our ancestors, so let us hand it on to our posterity. From your ranks come the senators, and from the senate come the emperors of Rome.’

This speech, as being well calculated to provide a reprimand and a sedative for the soldiers and Otho’s moderation–for he only ordered the punishment of two men–were well received. He had calmed for a moment the troops he could not control. Yet peace and quiet were not restored in Rome. One could still detect the clash of arms and the lurid face of war. Refraining from organized riot, the soldiers now dispersed to private houses and lived in disguise, giving vent to their bad feeling by maligning all whom nobility of birth or wealth or any other distinction made a mark for scandal. Many, besides, believed that some of Vitellius’ soldiers had come to Rome to study the state of party feeling. Everywhere suspicion was rife, and terror invaded even the privacy of the home. But far greater was the alarm displayed in public places. With every fresh piece of news that rumour brought, men’s feelings and the expression on their faces changed. They were afraid to be found lacking in confidence when things looked doubtful or in joy when they went well for Otho. Above all, when the senate was summoned to the House, they found it extraordinarily hard always to strike the right note. Silence would argue arrogance; plain speaking would arouse suspicion; yet flattery would be detected by Otho, who had so lately been a private citizen, practicing the art himself. So they had to turn and twist their sentences. Vitellius they called enemy and traitor, the more prudent confining themselves to such vague generalities. A few ventured to fling the truth at him, but they always chose a moment of uproar when a great many people were all shouting at once, or else they talked so loud and fast as to drown their own words.

Another cause of alarm was the various portents vouched for by many witnesses. In the Capitoline Square, it was said, the figure of Victory had let the reins of her chariot slip from her hands: a ghost of superhuman size had suddenly burst out of the chapel of Juno: [One of the three chapels in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline] a statue of the sainted Julius on the island in the Tiber had, on a fine, still day, turned round from the west and faced the east: an ox had spoken in Etruria: animals had given birth to strange monsters.

Many were the stories of these occurrences, which in primitive ages are observed even in time of peace, though now we only hear of them in time of panic. But the greatest damage at the moment, and the greatest alarm for the future, was caused by a sudden rising of the Tiber. Immensely swollen, it carried away the bridge on piles, [The pons Sublicius which led from the Velabrum to Janiculum. It was the bridge which Horatius Cocles defended, and a certain sanctity attached to it] and, its current being stemmed by the heavy ruins, it flooded not only the flat, low-lying portions of the city, but also districts that seemed safe from inundation. Many people were swept away in the streets, still more were overtaken by the flood in shops or in their beds at home. The result was a famine, since food was scarce, [Plutarch mentions that the quarter which suffered most was that which contained the retail provision-shops] and the poor were deprived of their means of livelihood. Blocks of flats, the foundations of which had rotted in the standing water, collapsed when the river sank. No sooner had the panic caused by the flood subsided than it was found that, whereas Otho was preparing an expedition, its route over the Martian Plain and up the Flaminian Road was blocked.Though probably caused by chance, or the course of Nature, this mishap was turned into a miraculous omen of impending disaster.


Otho had held a purification of the city [He would lead the victim, before sacrificing it, round the ancient boundary of the city, and thus avert the disasters threatened by the alarming omens detailed in the last chapter] and meditated his plans for the war. Recognizing that the Pennine and Cottian Alps and all the other passes into Gaul were held by Vitellius, he decided to invade Narbonese Gaul by sea. His fleet was now a strong and reliable arm, devoted to his cause. For he had formed the full strength of a legion out of the survivors of the Mulvian Bridge massacre, whom Galba’s cruelty had kept in prison, and to all the marines he had held out hopes of honourable service.[i.e. of becoming eventually a legion or praetorian cohort] To the fleet he attached the cohorts of the City Garrison and a large force of Guards. These were the flower of the army and its chief strength, well able to advise their own generals and to take good care of them. The command of the expedition was entrusted to Antonius Novellus and Suedius Clemens, both senior centurions, and to Aemilius Pacensis, to whom Otho had restored his commission, [The command of a cohort in the City Garrison] of which Galba had deprived him. In charge of the fleet he still retained the freedman Moschus [He had held this post under Nero and Galba. His functions were those of steward and spy combined] to keep an eye on his betters. In command of the cavalry and infantry he placed Suetonius Paulinus, Marius Celsus, and Annius Gallus, but the man in whom he put most faith was the Prefect of the Guards, Licinius Proculus. This officer had shown himself efficient in garrison service, but was without any experience of warfare. He maligned the characteristic virtues of his colleagues, Paulinus’ power of influence, Celsus’ energy, Gallus’ ripe judgement, and being a knave and no fool, he easily got the better of men who were both honest and loyal.

It was about this time that Cornelius Dolabella [He had been a rival candidate for adoption by Galba. Vitellius had him killed] was banished to the colony of Aquinum, [Aquino] though not kept in close or dishonorable confinement. There was no charge against him: the stigma upon him was his ancient name and kinship [It is not known what this was] to Galba. Otho issued orders that several of the magistrates and a large number of ex-consuls were to join the expedition, not to take part in the campaign or to assist in any way, but simply as a friendly escort.

Among these was Lucius Vitellius, whom he treated neither as an emperor’s brother nor as the brother of an enemy, but just like anybody else. Much anxiety was aroused for the safety of the city, where all classes feared danger. The leading members of the senate were old and infirm, and enervated by a long period of peace: the aristocracy were inefficient and had forgotten how to fight: the knights knew nothing of military service. The more they all tried to conceal their alarm, the more obvious it became. Some of them, on the other hand, went in for senseless display, and purchased beautiful armour and fine horses: others procured as provisions of war elaborate dinner-services or some other contrivance to stimulate a jaded taste. Prudent men were concerned for the country’s peace: the frivolous, without a thought for the future, were inflated by empty hopes: a good many, whose loss of credit made peace unwelcome, were delighted at the general unrest, feeling safer among uncertainties.

Though the cares of state were too vast to arouse any interest in the masses, yet as the price of food rose, and the whole revenue was devoted to military purposes, the common people gradually began to realize the evils of war. During the revolt of Vindex they had not suffered so much. Being carried on in the provinces between the legionaries and the natives of Gaul it was to all intents a foreign war, and the city had not been affected. For from the time when the sainted Augustus organized the rule of the Caesars the wars of the Roman people had been fought in distant countries: all the anxiety and all the glory fell to the emperor alone. Under Tiberius and Caligula the country only suffered from the evils of peace. [Mainly connected with the elaborate system of espionage] Scribonianus’ rising against Claudius was no sooner heard of than crushed. [Furius Camillus Scribonianus, governor of Dalmatia, rebelled against Claudius, A.D. 42, and was crushed within five days] Nero had been dethroned more by rumours and dispatches than by force of arms. But now not only the legions and the fleet, but, as had seldom happened before, the Guards and the City Garrison were called out for the campaign. Behind them were the East and the West and all the forces of the empire, material for a long war under any other generals. An attempt was made to delay Otho’s departure by pointing out the impiety of his not having replaced the sacred shields in the temple of Mars. [They would be taken out on the 1st of March to be used in the sacred dances of the Salii (the ‘Dancing Priests’). Their festival lasted the whole month, and Otho started on the 14th] But delay had ruined Nero: Otho would have none of it. And the knowledge that Caecina had already crossed the Alps acted as a further stimulus.

Accordingly, on the fourteenth of March he commended the government of the country to the senate, and granted to the restored exiles all the rest of the property confiscated by Nero which had not yet been sold for the imperial treasury. The gift was a just one, and made a very good impression, but as a matter of fact it was nullified by the haste with which the work of collecting the money had been conducted. [Nero had put the confiscated property of political exiles up to auction. His treasury officials had been so prompt in selling it all off and getting the money in, that there was very little left for Otho to restore, since he could only give back those lots which had not been paid for] He then summoned a public meeting, and, after extolling the majesty of Rome and praising the wholehearted adherence of the senate and people to his cause, he used very moderate language against the Vitellian party, criticizing the legions more for folly than treason, and making no mention of Vitellius himself. This may have been due to his own moderation, or it may be that the writer of the speech felt some qualms for his own safety, and therefore refrained from insulting Vitellius. For it was generally believed that as in strategy he took the advice of Suetonius Paulinus and Marius Celsus, so too in political matters he employed the talents of Galerius Trachalus. [Quintilian alludes several times to the extreme beauty of his voice and his commanding delivery-better, he thinks, than that of any tragedian he had ever seen. To read, his speeches were less effective.] Some people even thought they could recognize Trachalus’ style of oratory, fluent and sonorous, well adapted to tickle the ears of the crowd: and as he was a popular pleader his style was well known. The crowd’s loud shouts of applause were in the best style of flattery, excessive and insincere. Men vied with each other in their enthusiasm and prayers for his success, much as though they were sending off the dictator Caesar or the emperor Augustus. Their motive was neither fear nor affection, but a sheer passion for servility. One can see the same in households of slaves, where each obeys his own interest and the common welfare counts for nothing. On his departure Otho entrusted the peace of the city and the interests of the empire to his brother Salvius Titianus.

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


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