I BEGIN my work with the time when Servius Galba was consul for the second time with Titus Vinius for his colleague. Of the former period, the 820 years dating from the founding of the city, many authors have treated; and while they had to record the transactions of the Roman people, they wrote with equal eloquence and freedom. After the conflict at Actium, and when it became essential to peace, that all power should be centered in one man, these great intellects passed away. Then too the truthfulness of history was impaired in many ways; at first, through men’s ignorance of public affairs, which were now wholly strange to them, then, through their passion for flattery, or, on the other hand, their hatred of their masters. And so between the enmity of the one and the servility of the other, neither had any regard for posterity. But while we instinctively shrink from a writer’s adulation, we lend a ready ear to detraction and spite, because flattery involves the shameful imputation of servility, whereas malignity wears the false appearance of honesty. I myself knew nothing of Galba, of Otho, or of Vitellius, either from benefits or from injuries. I would not deny that my elevation was begun by Vespasian, augmented by Titus, and still further advanced by Domitian; but those who profess inviolable truthfulness must speak of all without partiality and without hatred. I have reserved as an employment for my old age, should my life be long enough, a subject at once more fruitful and less anxious in the reign of the Divine Nerva and the empire of Trajan, enjoying the rare happiness of times, when we may think what we please, and express what we think.
I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul wavered in its allegiance; Britain was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi and the Sarmatae rose in concert against us; the Dacians had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero. Now too Italy was prostrated by disasters either entirely novel, or that recurred only after a long succession of ages; cities in Campania’s richest plains were swallowed up and overwhelmed; Rome was wasted by conflagrations, its oldest temples consumed, and the Capitol itself fired by the hands of citizens. Sacred rites were profaned; there was profligacy in the highest ranks; the sea was crowded with exiles, and its rocks polluted with bloody deeds. In the capital there were yet worse horrors. Nobility, wealth, the refusal or the acceptance of office, were grounds for accusation, and virtue ensured destruction. The rewards of the informers were no less odious than their crimes; for while some seized on consulships and priestly offices, as their share of the spoil, others on procuratorships, and posts of more confidential authority, they robbed and ruined in every direction amid universal hatred and terror. Slaves were bribed to turn against their masters, and freedmen to betray their patrons; and those who had not an enemy were destroyed by friends.
Yet the age was not so barren in noble qualities, as not also to exhibit examples of virtue. Mothers accompanied the flight of their sons; wives followed their husbands into exile; there were brave kinsmen and faithful sons in law; there were slaves whose fidelity defied even torture; there were illustrious men driven to the last necessity, and enduring it with fortitude; there were closing scenes that equalled the famous deaths of antiquity. Besides the manifold vicissitudes of human affairs, there were prodigies in heaven and earth, the warning voices of the thunder, and other intimations of the future, auspicious or gloomy, doubtful or not to be mistaken. Never surely did more terrible calamities of the Roman People, or evidence more conclusive, prove that the Gods take no thought for our happiness, but only for our punishment.
I think it proper, however, before I commence my purposed work, to pass under review the condition of the capital, the temper of the armies, the attitude of the provinces, and the elements of weakness and strength which existed throughout the whole empire, that so we may become acquainted, not only with the vicissitudes and the issues of events, which are often matters of chance, but also with their relations and their causes. Welcome as the death of Nero had been in the first burst of joy, yet it had not only roused various emotions in Rome, among the Senators, the people, or the soldiery of the capital, it had also excited all the legions and their generals; for now had been divulged that secret of the empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome. The Senators enjoyed the first exercise of freedom with the less restraint, because the Emperor was new to power, and absent from the capital. The leading men of the Equestrian order sympathised most closely with the joy of the Senators. The respectable portion of the people, which was connected with the great families, as well as the dependants and freedmen of condemned and banished persons, were high in hope. The degraded populace, frequenters of the arena and the theatre, the most worthless of the slaves, and those who having wasted their property were supported by the infamous excesses of Nero, caught eagerly in their dejection at every rumour.
The soldiery of the capital, who were imbued with the spirit of an old allegiance to the Caesars, and who had been led to desert Nero by intrigues and influences from without rather than by their own feelings, were inclined for change, when they found that the donative promised in Galba’s name was withheld, and reflected that for great services and great rewards there was not the same room in peace as in war, and that the favour of an emperor created by the legions must be already preoccupied. They were further excited by the treason of Nymphidius Sabinus, their prefect, who himself aimed at the throne. Nymphidius indeed perished in the attempt, but, though the head of the mutiny was thus removed, there yet remained in many of the soldiers the consciousness of guilt. There were even men who talked in angry terms of the feebleness and avarice of Galba. The strictness once so commended, and celebrated in the praises of the army, was galling to troops who rebelled against the old discipline, and who had been accustomed by fourteen years’ service under Nero to love the vices of their emperors, as much as they had once respected their virtues. To all this was added Galba’s own expression, “I choose my soldiers, I do not buy them,” noble words for the commonwealth, but fraught with peril for himself. His other acts were not after this pattern.
Titus Vinius and Cornelius Laco, one the most worthless, the other the most spiritless of mankind, were ruining the weak old Emperor, who had to bear the odium of such crimes and the scorn felt for such cowardice. Galba’s progress had been slow and blood-stained. Cingonius Varro, consul elect, and Petronius Turpilianus, a man of consular rank, were put to death; the former as an accomplice of Nymphidius, the latter as one of Nero’s generals. Both had perished without hearing or defence, like innocent men. His entry into the capital, made after the slaughter of thousands of unarmed soldiers, was most ill-omened, and was terrible even to the executioners. As he brought into the city his Spanish legion, while that which Nero had levied from the fleet still remained, Rome was full of strange troops. There were also many detachments from Germany, Britain, and Illyria, selected by Nero, and sent on by him to the Caspian passes, for service in the expedition which he was preparing against the Albani, but afterwards recalled to crush the insurrection of Vindex. Here there were vast materials for a revolution, without indeed a decided bias towards any one man, but ready to a daring hand.
In this conjuncture it happened that tidings of the deaths of Fonteius Capito and Clodius Macer reached the capital. Macer was executed in Africa, where he was undoubtedly fomenting sedition, by Trebonius Garutianus the procurator, who acted on Galba’s authority; Capito fell in Germany, while he was making similar attempts, by the hands of Cornelius Aquinus and Fabius Valens, legates of legions, who did not wait for an order. There were however some who believed that Capito, though foully stained with avarice and profligacy, had yet abstained from all thought of revolution, that this was a treacherous accusation invented by the commanders themselves, who had urged him to take up arms, when they found themselves unable to prevail, and that Galba had approved of the deed, either from weakness of character, or to avoid investigation into the circumstances of acts which could not be altered. Both executions, however, were unfavourably regarded; indeed, when a ruler once becomes unpopular, all his acts, be they good or bad, tell against him. The freedmen in their excessive power were now putting up everything for sale; the slaves caught with greedy hands at immediate gain, and, reflecting on their master’s age, hastened to be rich. The new court had the same abuses as the old, abuses as grievous as ever, but not so readily excused. Even the age of Galba caused ridicule and disgust among those whose associations were with the youth of Nero, and who were accustomed, as is the fashion of the vulgar, to value their emperors by the beauty and grace of their persons.
Such, as far as one can speak of so vast a multitude, was the state of feeling at Rome. Among the provinces, Spain was under the government of Cluvius Rufus, an eloquent man, who had all the accomplishments of civil life, but who was without experience in war. Gaul, besides remembering Vindex, was bound to Galba by the recently conceded privileges of citizenship, and by the diminution of its future tribute. Those Gallic states, however, which were nearest to the armies of Germany, had not been treated with the same respect, and had even in some cases been deprived of their territory; and these were reckoning the gains of others and their own losses with equal indignation. The armies of Germany were at once alarmed and angry, a most dangerous temper when allied with such strength; while elated by their recent victory, they feared because they might seem to have supported an unsuccessful party. They had been slow to revolt from Nero, and Verginius had not immediately declared for Galba; it was doubtful whether he had himself wished to be emperor, but all agreed that the empire had been offered to him by the soldiery. Again, the execution of Capito was a subject of indignation, even with those who could not complain of its injustice. They had no leader, for Verginius had been withdrawn on the pretext of his friendship with the Emperor. That he was not sent back, and that he was even impeached, they regarded as an accusation against themselves.
The army of Upper Germany despised their legate, Hordeonius Flaccus, who, disabled by age and lameness, had no strength of character and no authority; even when the soldiery were quiet, he could not control them, much more in their fits of frenzy were they irritated by the very feebleness of his restraint. The legions of Lower Germany had long been without any general of consular rank, until, by the appointment of Galba, Aulus Vitellius took the command. He was son of that Vitellius who was censor and three times consul; this was thought sufficient recommendation. In the army of Britain there was no angry feeling; indeed no troops behaved more blamelessly throughout all the troubles of these civil wars, either because they were far away and separated by the ocean from the rest of the empire, or because continual warfare had taught them to concentrate their hatred on the enemy. Illyricum too was quiet, though the legions drawn from that province by Nero had, while lingering in Italy, sent deputations to Verginius. But separated as these armies were by long distances, a thing of all others the most favourable for keeping troops to their duty, they could neither communicate their vices, nor combine their strength.
In the East there was as yet no movement. Syria and its four legions were under the command of Licinius Mucianus, a man whose good and bad fortune were equally famous. In his youth he had cultivated with many intrigues the friendship of the great. His resources soon failed, and his position became precarious, and as he also suspected that Claudius had taken some offence, he withdrew into a retired part of Asia, and was as like an exile, as he was afterwards like an emperor. He was a compound of dissipation and energy, of arrogance and courtesy, of good and bad qualities. His self-indulgence was excessive, when he had leisure, yet whenever he had served, he had shown great qualities. In his public capacity he might be praised; his private life was in bad repute. Yet over subjects, friends, and colleagues, he exercised the influence of many fascinations. He was a man who would find it easier to transfer the imperial power to another, than to hold it for himself. Flavius Vespasian, a general of Nero’s appointment, was carrying on the war in Judaea with three legions, and he had no wish or feeling adverse to Galba. He had in fact sent his son Titus to acknowledge his authority and bespeak his favour, as in its proper place I shall relate. As for the hidden decrees of fate, the omens and the oracles that marked out Vespasian and his sons for imperial power, we believed in them only after his success.
Ever since the time of the Divine Augustus Roman Knights have ruled Egypt as kings, and the forces by which it has to be kept in subjection. It has been thought expedient thus to keep under home control a province so difficult of access, so productive of corn, ever distracted, excitable, and restless through the superstition and licentiousness of its inhabitants, knowing nothing of laws, and unused to civil rule. Its governor was at this time Tiberius Alexander, a native of the country. Africa and its legions, now that Clodius Macer was dead, were disposed to be content with any emperor, after having experienced the rule of a smaller tyrant. The two divisions of Mauritania, Rhaetia, Noricum and Thrace and the other provinces governed by procurators, as they were near this or that army, were driven by the presence of such powerful neighbours into friendship or hostility. The unarmed provinces with Italy at their head were exposed to any kind of slavery, and were ready to become the prize of victory. Such was the state of the Roman world, when Servius Galba, consul for the second time, with T. Vinius for his colleague, entered upon a year, which was to be the last of their lives, and which well nigh brought the commonwealth to an end.
A few days after the 1st of January, there arrived from Belgica despatches of Pompeius Propinquus, the Procurator, to this effect; that the legions of Upper Germany had broken through the obligation of their military oath, and were demanding another emperor, but conceded the power of choice to the Senate and people of Rome, in the hope that a more lenient view might be taken of their revolt. These tidings hastened the plans of Galba, who had been long debating the subject of adoption with himself and with his intimate friends. There was indeed no more frequent subject of conversation during these months, at first because men had liberty and inclination to talk of such matters, afterwards because the feebleness of Galba was notorious. Few had any discrimination or patriotism, many had foolish hopes for themselves, and spread interested reports, in which they named this or that person to whom they might be related as friend or dependant. They were also moved by hatred of T. Vinius, who grew daily more powerful, and in the same proportion more unpopular. The very easiness of Galba’s temper stimulated the greedy cupidity which great advancement had excited in his friends, because with one so weak and so credulous wrong might be done with less risk and greater gain.
The real power of the Empire was divided between T. Vinius, the consul, and Cornelius Laco, prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Icelus, a freedman of Galba, was in equal favour; he had been presented with the rings of knighthood, and bore the Equestrian name of Martianus. These men, being at variance, and in smaller matters pursuing their own aims, were divided in the affair of choosing a successor, into two opposing factions. T. Vinius was for Marcus Otho, Laco and Icelus agreed, not indeed in supporting any particular individual, but in striving for some one else. Galba indeed was aware of the friendship between Vinius and Otho; the gossip of those who allow nothing to pass in silence had named them as father-in-law and son-in-law, for Vinius had a widowed daughter, and Otho was unmarried. I believe that he had also at heart some care for the commonwealth, in vain, he would think, rescued from Nero, if it was to be left with Otho. For Otho’s had been a neglected boyhood and a riotous youth, and he had made himself agreeable to Nero by emulating his profligacy. For this reason the Emperor had entrusted to him, as being the confidant of his amours, Poppaea Sabina, the imperial favourite, until he could rid himself of his wife Octavia. Soon suspecting him with regard to this same Poppaea, he sent him out of the way to the province of Lusitania, ostensibly to be its governor. Otho ruled the province with mildness, and, as he was the first to join Galba’s party, was not without energy, and, while the war lasted, was the most conspicuous of the Emperor’s followers, he was led to cherish more and more passionately every day those hopes of adoption which he had entertained from the first. Many of the soldiers favoured him, and the court was biassed in his favour, because he resembled Nero.
When Galba heard of the mutiny in Germany, though nothing was as yet known about Vitellius, he felt anxious as to the direction which the violence of the legions might take, while he could not trust even the soldiery of the capital. He therefore resorted to what he supposed to be the only remedy, and held a council for the election of an emperor. To this he summoned, besides Vinius and Laco, Marius Celsus, consul elect, and Ducennius Geminus, prefect of the city. Having first said a few words about his advanced years, he ordered Piso Licinianus to be summoned. It is uncertain whether he acted on his own free choice, or, as believed by some, under the influence of Laco, who through Rubellius Plautus had cultivated the friendship of Piso. But, cunningly enough, it was as a stranger that Laco supported him, and the high character of Piso gave weight to his advice. Piso, who was the son of M. Crassus and Scribonia, and thus of noble descent on both sides, was in look and manner a man of the old type. Rightly judged, he seemed a stern man, morose to those who estimated him less favourably. This point in his character pleased his adopted father in proportion as it raised the anxious suspicions of others.
We are told that Galba, taking hold of Piso’s hand, spoke to this effect: “If I were a private man, and were now adopting you by the Act of the Curiae before the Pontiffs, as our custom is, it would be a high honour to me to introduce into my family a descendant of Cn. Pompeius and M. Crassus; it would be a distinction to you to add to the nobility of your race the honours of the Sulpician and Lutatian houses. As it is, I, who have been called to the throne by the unanimous consent of gods and men, am moved by your splendid endowments and by my own patriotism to offer to you, a man of peace, that power, for which our ancestors fought, and which I myself obtained by war. I am following the precedent of the Divine Augustus, who placed on an eminence next to his own, first his nephew Marcellus, then his son-in-law Agrippa, afterwards his grandsons, and finally Tiberius Nero, his stepson. But Augustus looked for a successor in his own family, I look for one in the state, not because I have no relatives or companions of my campaigns, but because it was not by any private favour that I myself received the imperial power. Let the principle of my choice be shown not only by my connections which I have set aside for you, but by your own. You have a brother, noble as yourself, and older, who would be well worthy of this dignity, were you not worthier. Your age is such as to be now free from the passions of youth, and such your life that in the past you have nothing to excuse. Hitherto, you have only borne adversity; prosperity tries the heart with keener temptations; for hardships may be endured, whereas we are spoiled by success. You indeed will cling with the same constancy to honor, freedom, friendship, the best possessions of the human spirit, but others will seek to weaken them with their servility. You will be fiercely assailed by adulation, by flattery, that worst poison of the true heart, and by the selfish interests of individuals. You and I speak together to-day with perfect frankness, but others will be more ready to address us as emperors than as men. For to urge his duty upon a prince is indeed a hard matter; to flatter him, whatever his character, is a mere routine gone through without any heart.
“Could the vast frame of this empire have stood and preserved its balance without a directing spirit, I was not unworthy of inaugurating a republic. As it is, we have been long reduced to a position, in which my age confer no greater boon on the Roman people than a good successor, your youth no greater than a good emperor. Under Tuberous, Chairs, and Claudius, we were, so to speak, the inheritance of a single family. The choice which begins with us will be a substitute for freedom. Now that the family of the Julii and the Claudii has come to an end, adoption will discover the worthiest successor. To be begotten and born of a princely race is a mere accident, and is only valued as such. In adoption there is nothing that need bias the judgment, and if you wish to make a choice, an unanimous opinion points out the man. Let Nero be ever before your eyes, swollen with the pride of a long line of Caesars; it was not Vindex with his unarmed province, it was not myself with my single legion, that shook his yoke from our necks. It was his own profligacy, his own brutality, and that, though there had been before no precedent of an emperor condemned by his own people. We, who have been called to power by the issues of war, and by the deliberate judgment of others, shall incur unpopularity, however illustrious our character. Do not however be alarmed, if, after a movement which has shaken the world, two legions are not yet quiet. I did not myself succeed to a throne without anxiety; and when men shall hear of your adoption I shall no longer be thought old, and this is the only objection which is now made against me. Nero will always be regretted by the thoroughly depraved; it is for you and me to take care, that he be not regretted also by the good. To prolong such advice, suits not this occasion, and all my purpose is fulfilled if I have made a good choice in you. The most practical and the shortest method of distinguishing between good and bad measures, is to think what you yourself would or would not like under another emperor. It is not here, as it is among nations despotically ruled, that there is a distinct governing family, while all the rest are slaves. You have to reign over men who cannot bear either absolute slavery or absolute freedom.” This, with more to the same effect, was said by Galba; he spoke to Piso as if he were creating an emperor; the others addressed him as if he were an emperor already.
It is said of Piso that he betrayed no discomposure or excessive joy, either to the gaze to which he was immediately subjected, or afterwards when all eyes were turned upon him. His language to the Emperor, his father, was reverential; his language about himself was modest. He shewed no change in look or manner; he seemed like one who had the power rather than the wish to rule. It was next discussed whether the adoption should be publicly pronounced in front of the Rostra, in the Senate, or in the camp. It was thought best to go to the camp. This would be a compliment to the soldiery, and their favour, base as it was to purchase it by bribery or intrigue, was not to be despised if it could be obtained by honourable means. Meanwhile the expectant people had surrounded the palace, impatient to learn the great secret, and those who sought to stifle the ill-concealed rumour did but spread it the more.
The 10th of January was a gloomy, stormy day, unusually disturbed by thunder, lightning, and all bad omens from heaven. Though this had from ancient time been made a reason for dissolving an assembly, it did not deter Galba from proceeding to the camp; either because he despised such things as being mere matters of chance, or because the decrees of fate, though they be foreshewn, are not escaped. Addressing a crowded assembly of the soldiers he announced, with imperial brevity, that he adopted Piso, following the precedent of the Divine Augustus, and the military custom by which a soldier chooses his comrade. Fearing that to conceal the mutiny would be to make them think it greater than it really was, he spontaneously declared that the 4th and 18th legions, led by a few factious persons, had been insubordinate, but had not gone beyond certain words and cries, and that they would soon return to their duty. To this speech he added no word of flattery, no hint of a bribe. Yet the tribunes, the centurions, and such of the soldiers as stood near, made an encouraging response. A gloomy silence prevailed among the rest, who seemed to think that they had lost by war that right to a donative which they had made good even in peace. It is certain that their feelings might have been conciliated by the very smallest liberality on the part of the parsimonious old man. He was ruined by his old-fashioned inflexibility, and by an excessive sternness which we are no longer able to endure.
Then followed Galba’s speech in the Senate, which was as plain and brief as his speech to the soldiery. Piso delivered a graceful oration and was supported by the feeling of the Senate. Many who wished him well, spoke with enthusiasm; those who had opposed him, in moderate terms; the majority met him with an officious homage, having aims of their own and no thought for the state. Piso neither said nor did anything else in public in the following four days which intervened between his adoption and his death. As tidings of the mutiny in Germany were arriving with daily increasing frequency, while the country was ready to receive and to credit all intelligence that had an unfavourable character, the Senate came to a resolution to send deputies to the German armies. It was privately discussed whether Piso should go with them to give them a more imposing appearance; they, it was said, would bring with them the authority of the Senate, he the majesty of the Caesar. It was thought expedient to send with them Cornelius Laco, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, but he thwarted the design. In nominating, excusing, and changing the deputies, the Senate having entrusted the selection to Galba, the Emperor shewed a disgraceful want of firmness, yielding to individuals, who made interest to stay or to go, as their fears or their hopes prompted.
Next came the question of money. On a general inquiry it seemed the fairest course to demand restitution from those who had caused the public poverty. Nero had squandered in presents two thousand two hundred million sesterces. It was ordered that each recipient should be sued, but should be permitted to retain a tenth part of the bounty. They had however barely a tenth part left, having wasted the property of others in the same extravagances in which they had squandered their own, till the most rapacious and profligate among them had neither capital nor land remaining, nothing in fact but the appliances of their vices. Thirty Roman Knights were appointed to conduct the process of recovery, a novel office, and made burdensome by the number and intriguing practices of those with whom it had to deal. Everywhere were sales and brokers, and Rome was in an uproar with auctions. Yet great was the joy to think that the men whom Nero had enriched would be as poor as those whom he had robbed. About this time were cashiered two tribunes of the Praetorian Guard, Antonius Taurus and Antonius Naso, an officer of the City cohorts, Aemilius Pacensis, and one of the watch, Julius Fronto. This led to no amendment with the rest, but only started the apprehension, that a crafty and timid policy was getting rid of individuals, while all were suspected.
Otho, meanwhile, who had nothing to hope while the State was tranquil, and whose whole plans depended on revolution, was being roused to action by a combination of many motives, by a luxury that would have embarrassed even an emperor, by a poverty that a subject could hardly endure, by his rage against Galba, by his envy of Piso. He even pretended to fear to make himself keener in desire. “I was, said he, “too formidable to Nero, and I must not look for another Lusitania, another honourable exile. Rulers always suspect and hate the man who has been named for the succession. This has injured me with the aged Emperor, and will injure me yet more with a young man whose temper, naturally savage, has been rendered ferocious by prolonged exile. How easy to put Otho to death! I must therefore do and dare now while Galba’s authority is still unsettled, and before that of Piso is consolidated. Periods of transition suit great attempts, and delay is useless where inaction is more hurtful than temerity. Death, which nature ordains for all alike, yet admits of the distinction of being either forgotten, or remembered with honour by posterity; and, if the same lot awaits the innocent and the guilty, the man of spirit will at least deserve his fate.”
The soul of Otho was not effeminate like his person. His confidential freedmen and slaves, who enjoyed a license unknown in private families, brought the debaucheries of Nero’s court, its intrigues, its easy marriages, and the other indulgences of despotic power, before a mind passionately fond of such things, dwelt upon them as his if he dared to seize them, and reproached the inaction that would leave them to others. The astrologers also urged him to action, predicting from their observation of the heavens revolutions, and a year of glory for Otho. This is a class of men, whom the powerful cannot trust, and who deceive the aspiring, a class which will always be proscribed in this country, and yet always retained. Many of these men were attached to the secret councils of Poppaea and were the vilest tools in the employ of the imperial household. One of them, Ptolemaeus, had attended Otho in Spain, and had there foretold that his patron would survive Nero. Gaining credit by the result, and arguing from his own conjectures and from the common talk of those who compared Galba’s age with Otho’s youth, he had persuaded the latter that he would be called to the throne. Otho however received the prediction as the words of wisdom and the intimation of destiny, with that inclination so natural to the human mind readily to believe in the mysterious.
Nor did Ptolemaeus fail to play his part; he now even prompted to crime, to which from such wishes it is easy to pass. Whether indeed these thoughts of crime were suddenly conceived, is doubtful. Otho had long been courting the affections of the soldiery, either in the hope of succeeding to the throne, or in preparation for some desperate act. On the march, on parade, and in their quarters, he would address all the oldest soldiers by name, and in allusion to the progresses of Nero would call them his messmates. Some he would recognise, he would inquire after others, and would help them with his money and interest. He would often intersperse his conversation with complaints and insinuations against Galba and anything else that might excite the vulgar mind. Laborious marches, a scanty commissariat, and the rigour of military discipline, were especially distasteful, when men, accustomed to sail to the lakes of Campania and the cities of Greece, had painfully to struggle under the weight of their arms over the Pyrenees, the Alps, and vast distances of road.
The minds of the soldiery were already on fire, when Maevius Pudens, a near relative of Tigellinus, added, so to speak, fuel to the flames. In his endeavour to win over all who were particularly weak in character, or who wanted money and were ready to plunge into revolution, he gradually went so far as to distribute, whenever Galba dined with Otho, one hundred sesterces to each soldier of the cohort on duty, under pretext of treating them. This, which we may almost call a public bounty, Otho followed up by presents more privately bestowed on individuals; nay he bribed with such spirit, that, finding there was a dispute between Cocceius Proculus, a soldier of the bodyguard, and one of his neighbours, about some part of their boundaries, he purchased with his own money the neighbour’s entire estate, and made a present of it to the soldier. He took advantage of the lazy indifference of the Prefect, who overlooked alike notorious facts and secret practices.
He then entrusted the conduct of his meditated treason to Onomastus, one of his freedmen, who brought over to his views Barbius Proculus, officer of the watchword to the bodyguard, and Veturius, a deputy centurion in the same force. Having assured himself by various conversations with these men that they were cunning and bold, he loaded them with presents and promises, and furnished them with money with which to tempt the cupidity of others. Thus two soldiers from the ranks undertook to transfer the Empire of Rome, and actually transferred it. Only a few were admitted to be accomplices in the plot, but they worked by various devices on the wavering minds of the remainder; on the more distinguished soldiers, by hinting that the favours of Nymphidius had subjected them to suspicion; on the vulgar herd, by the anger and despair with which the repeated postponement of the donative had inspired them. Some were fired by their recollections of Nero and their longing regrets for their old license. All felt a common alarm at the idea of having to serve elsewhere.
The contagion spread to the legions and the auxiliary troops, already excited by the news of the wavering loyalty of the army of Germany. So ripe were the disaffected for mutiny and so close the secrecy preserved by the loyal, that they would actually have seized Otho on the 14th of January, as he was returning from dinner, had they not been deterred by the risks of darkness, the inconvenient dispersion of the troops over the whole city, and the difficulty of concerted action among a half-intoxicated crowd. It was no care for the state, which they deliberately meditated polluting with the blood of their Emperor; it was a fear lest in the darkness of night any one who presented himself to the soldiers of the Pannonian or German army might be fixed on instead of Otho, whom few of them knew. Many symptoms of the approaching outburst were repressed by those who were in the secret. Some hints, which had reached Galba’s ears, were turned into ridicule by Laco the prefect, who knew nothing of the temper of the soldiery, and who, inimical to all measures, however excellent, which he did not originate, obstinately thwarted men wiser than himself.
On the 15th of January, as Galba was sacrificing in front of the temple of Apollo, the Haruspex Umbricius announced to him that the entrails had a sinister aspect, that treachery threatened him, that he had an enemy at home. Otho heard, for he had taken his place close by, and interpreted it by contraries in a favourable sense, as promising success to his designs. Not long after his freedman Onomastus informed him that the architect and the contractors were waiting for him. It had been arranged thus to indicate that the soldiers were assembling, and that the preparations of the conspiracy were complete. To those who inquired the reason of his departure, Otho pretended that he was purchasing certain farm-buildings, which from their age he suspected to be unsound, and which had therefore to be first surveyed. Leaning on his freedman’s arm, he proceeded through the palace of Tiberius to the Velabrum, and thence to the golden milestone near the temple of Saturn. There three and twenty soldiers of the body-guard saluted him as Emperor, and, while he trembled at their scanty number, put him hastily into a chair, drew their swords, and hurried him onwards. About as many more soldiers joined them on their way, some because they were in the plot, many from mere surprise; some shouted and brandished their swords, others proceeded in silence, intending to let the issue determine their sentiments.
Julius Martialis was the tribune on guard in the camp. Appalled by the enormity and suddenness of the crime, or perhaps fearing that the troops were very extensively corrupted and that it would be destruction to oppose them, he made many suspect him of complicity. The rest of the tribunes and centurions preferred immediate safety to danger and duty. Such was the temper of men’s minds, that, while there were few to venture on so atrocious a treason, many wished it done, and all were ready to acquiesce.
Meanwhile the unconscious Galba, busy with his sacrifice, was importuning the gods of an empire that was now another’s. A rumour reached him, that some senator unknown was being hurried into the camp; before long it was affirmed that this senator was Otho. At the same time came messengers from all parts of the city, where they had chanced to meet the procession, some exaggerating the danger, some, who could not even then forget to flatter, representing it as less than the reality. On deliberation it was determined to sound the feeling of the cohort on guard in the palace, but not through Galba in person, whose authority was to be kept unimpaired to meet greater emergencies. They were accordingly collected before the steps of the palace, and Piso addressed them as follows:—“Comrades, this is the sixth day since I became a Caesar by adoption, not knowing what was to happen, whether this title was to be desired, or dreaded. It rests with you to determine what will be the result to my family and to the state. It is not that I dread on my own account the gloomier issue; for I have known adversity, and I am learning at this very moment that prosperity is fully as dangerous. It is the lot of my father, of the Senate, of the Empire itself, that I deplore, if we have either to fall this day, or to do what is equally abhorrent to the good, to put others to death. In the late troubles we had this consolation, a capital unstained by bloodshed, and power transferred without strife. It was thought that by my adoption provision was made against the possibility of war, even after Galba’s death. “I will lay no claim to nobleness, or moderation, for indeed, to count up virtues in comparing oneself with Otho is needless. The vices, of which alone he boasts, overthrew the Empire, even when he was but the Emperor’s friend. Shall he earn that Empire now by his manner and his gait, or by those womanish adornments? They are deceived, on whom luxury imposes by its false show of liberality; he will know how to squander, he will not know how to give. Already he is thinking of debaucheries, of revels, of tribes of mistresses. These things he holds to be the prizes of princely power, things, in which the wanton enjoyment will be for him alone, the shame and the disgrace for all. Never yet has any one exercised for good ends the power obtained by crime. The unanimous will of mankind gave to Galba the title of Caesar, and you consented when he gave it to me. Were the Senate, the Country, the People, but empty names, yet, comrades, it is your interest that the most worthless of men should not create an Emperor. We have occasionally heard of legions mutinying against their generals, but your loyalty, your character, stand unimpeached up to this time. Even with Nero, it was he that deserted you, not you that deserted him. Shall less than thirty runaways and deserters whom no one would allow to choose a tribune or centurion for themselves, assign the Empire at their pleasure? Do you tolerate the precedent? Do you by your inaction make the crime your own? This lawless spirit will pass into the provinces, and though we shall suffer from this treason, you will suffer from the wars that will follow. Again, no more is offered you for murdering your Prince, than you will have if you shun such guilt. We shall give you a donative for your loyalty, as surely as others can give it for your treason.”
The soldiers of the body-guard dispersed, but the rest of the cohort, who shewed no disrespect to the speaker, displayed their standards, acting, as often happens in a disturbance, on mere impulse and without any settled plan, rather than, as was afterwards believed, with treachery and an intention to deceive. Celsus Marius was sent to the picked troops from the army of Illyricum, then encamped in the Portico of Vipsanius. Instructions were also given to Amulius Serenus and Quintius Sabinus, centurions of the first rank, to bring up the German soldiers from the Hall of Liberty. No confidence was placed in the legion levied from the fleet, which had been enraged by the massacre of their comrades, whom Galba had slaughtered immediately on his entry into the capital. Meanwhile Cetrius Severus, Subrius Dexter, and Pompeius Longinus, all three military tribunes, proceeded to the Praetorian camp, in the hope that a sedition, which was but just commencing, and not yet fully matured, might be swayed by better counsels. Two of these tribunes, Subrius and Cetrius, the soldiers assailed with menaces; Longinus they seized and disarmed; it was not his rank as an officer, but his friendship with Galba, that bound him to that Prince, and roused a stronger suspicion in the mutineers. The legion levied from the fleet joined the Praetorians without any hesitation. The Illyrian detachments drove Celsus away with a shower of javelins. The German veterans wavered long. Their frames were still enfeebled by sickness, and their minds were favourably disposed towards Galba, who, finding them exhausted by their long return voyage from Alexandria, whither they had been sent on by Nero, had supplied their wants with a most unsparing attention.
The whole populace and the slaves with them were now crowding the palace, clamouring with discordant shouts for the death of Otho and the destruction of the conspirators, just as if they were demanding some spectacle in the circus or amphitheatre. They had not indeed any discrimination or sincerity, for on that same day they would raise with equal zeal a wholly different cry. It was their traditional custom to flatter any ruler with reckless applause and meaningless zeal. Meanwhile two suggestions were keeping Galba in doubt. T. Vinius thought that he should remain within the palace, array the slaves against the foe, secure the approaches, and not go out to the enraged soldiers. “You should,” he said, “give the disaffected time to repent, the loyal time to unite. Crimes gain by hasty action, better counsels by delay. At all events, you will still have the same facilities of going out, if need be, whereas, your retreat, should you repent of having gone, will be in the power of another.”
The rest were for speedy action, “before,” they said, “the yet feeble treason of this handful of men can gather strength. Otho himself will be alarmed, Otho, who stole away to be introduced to a few strangers, but who now, thanks to the hesitation and inaction in which we waste our time, is learning how to play the Prince. We must not wait till, having arranged matters in the camp, he bursts into the Forum, and under Galba’s very eyes makes his way to the Capitol, while our noble Emperor with his brave friends barricades the doors of his palace. We are to stand a siege forsooth, and truly we shall have an admirable resource in the slaves, if the unanimous feeling of this vast multitude, and that which can do so much, the first burst of indignation, be suffered to subside. Moreover that cannot be safe which is not honourable. If we must fall, let us go to meet the danger. This will bring more odium upon Otho, and will be more becoming to ourselves.” Vinius opposing this advice, Laco assailed him with threats, encouraged by Icelus, who persisted in his private animosities to the public ruin.
Without further delay Galba sided with these more plausible advisers. Piso was sent on into the camp, as being a young man of noble name, whose popularity was of recent date, and who was a bitter enemy to T. Vinius, that is, either he was so in reality, or these angry partisans would have it so, and belief in hatred is but too ready. Piso had hardly gone forth when there came a rumour, at first vague and wanting confirmation, that Otho had been slain in the camp; soon, as happens with these great fictions, men asserted that they had been present, and had seen the deed; and, between the delight of some and the indifference of others, the report was easily believed. Many thought the rumour had been invented and circulated by the Othonianists, who were now mingling with the crowd, and who disseminated these false tidings of success to draw Galba out of the palace.
Upon this not only did the people and the ignorant rabble break out into applause and vehement expressions of zeal, but many of the Knights and Senators, losing their caution as they laid aside their fear, burst open the doors of the palace, rushed in, and displayed themselves to Galba, complaining that their revenge had been snatched from them. The most arrant coward, the man, who, as the event proved, would dare nothing in the moment of danger, was the most voluble and fierce of speech. No one knew anything, yet all were confident in assertion, till at length Galba in the dearth of all true intelligence, and overborne by the universal delusion, assumed his cuirass, and as, from age and bodily weakness, he could not stand up against the crowd that was still rushing in, he was elevated on a chair. He was met in the palace by Julius Atticus, a soldier of the body-guard, who, displaying a bloody sword, cried “I have slain Otho.” “Comrade,” replied Galba, “who gave the order?” So singularly resolute was his spirit in curbing the license of the soldiery; threats did not dismay him, nor flatteries seduce.
There was now no doubt about the feeling of all the troops in the camp. So great was their zeal, that, not content with surrounding Otho with their persons in close array, they elevated him to the pedestal, on which a short time before had stood the gilt statue of Galba, and there, amid the standards, encircled him with their colours. Neither tribunes nor centurions could approach. The common soldiers even insisted that all the officers should be watched. Everything was in an uproar with their tumultuous cries and their appeals to each other, which were not, like those of a popular assembly or a mob, the discordant expressions of an idle flattery; on the contrary, as soon as they caught sight of any of the soldiers who were flocking in, they seized him, gave him the military embrace, placed him close to Otho, dictated to him the oath of allegiance, commending sometimes the Emperor to his soldiers, sometimes the soldiers to their Emperor. Otho did not fail to play his part; he stretched out his arms, and bowed to the crowd, and kissed his hands, and altogether acted the slave, to make himself the master. It was when the whole legion from the fleet had taken the oath to him, that feeling confidence in his strength, and thinking that the men, on whose individual feeling he had been working, should be roused by a general appeal, he stood before the rampart of the camp, and spoke as follows:
“Comrades, I cannot say in what character I have presented myself to you; I refuse to call myself a subject, now that you have named me Prince, or Prince, while another reigns. Your title also will be equally uncertain, so long as it shall be a question, whether it is the Emperor of the Roman people, or a public enemy, whom you have in your camp. Mark you, how in one breath they cry for my punishment and for your execution. So evident it is, that we can neither perish, nor be saved, except together. Perhaps, with his usual clemency, Galba has already promised that we should die, like the man, who, though no one demanded it, massacred so many thousands of perfectly guiltless soldiers. A shudder comes over my soul, whenever I call to mind that ghastly entry, Galba’s solitary victory, when, before the eyes of the capital he gave orders to decimate the prisoners, the suppliants, whom he had admitted to surrender. These were the auspices with which he entered the city. What is the glory that he has brought to the throne? None but that he has murdered Obultronius Sabinus and Cornelius Marcellus in Spain, Betuus Chilo in Gaul, Fonteius Capito in Germany, Clodius Macer in Africa, Cingonius on the high road, Turpilianus in the city, Nymphidius in the camp. What province, what camp in the world, but is stained with blood and foul with crime, or, as he expresses it himself, purified and chastened? For what others call crimes he calls reforms, and, by similar misnomers, he speaks of strictness instead of barbarity, of economy instead of avarice, while the cruelties and affronts inflicted upon you he calls discipline. Seven months only have passed since Nero fell, and already Icelus has seized more than the Polycleti, the Vatinii, and the Elii amassed. Vinius would not have gone so far with his rapacity and lawlessness had he been Emperor himself; as it is, he has lorded it over us as if we had been his own subjects, has held us as cheap as if we had been another’s. That one house would furnish the donative, which is never given you, but with which you are daily upbraided.
“Again, that we might have nothing to hope even from his successor, Galba fetches out of exile the man in whose ill-humour and avarice he considers that he has found the best resemblance to himself. You witnessed, comrades, how by a remarkable storm even the Gods discountenanced that ill-starred adoption; and the feeling of the Senate, of the people of Rome, is the same. It is to your valour that they look, in you these better counsels find all their support, without you, noble as they may be, they are powerless. It is not to war or to danger that I invite you; the swords of all Roman soldiers are with us. At this moment Galba has but one half-armed cohort, which is detaining, not defending him. Let it once behold you, let it receive my signal, and the only strife will be, who shall oblige me most. There is no room for delay in a business which can only be approved when it is done.” He then ordered the armoury to be opened. The soldiers immediately seized the arms without regard to rule or military order, no distinction being observed between Praetorians and legionaries, both of whom again indiscriminately assumed the shields and helmets of the auxiliary troops. No tribune or centurion encouraged them, every man acted on his own impulse and guidance, and the vilest found their chief incitement in the dejection of the good.
Meanwhile, appalled by the roar of the increasing sedition and by the shouts which reached the city, Piso had overtaken Galba, who in the interval had quitted the palace, and was approaching the Forum. Already Marius Celsus had brought back discouraging tidings. And now some advised that the Emperor should return to the palace, others that he should make for the Capitol, many again that he should occupy the Rostra, though most did but oppose the opinions of others, while, as ever happens in these ill-starred counsels, plans for which the opportunity had slipped away seemed the best. It is said that Laco, without Galba’s knowledge, meditated the death of Vinius, either hoping by this execution to appease the fury of the soldiers, or believing him to be an accomplice of Otho, or, it may be, out of mere hatred. The time and the place however made him hesitate; he knew that a massacre once begun is not easily checked. His plan too was disconcerted by a succession of alarming tidings, and the desertion of immediate adherents. So languid was now the zeal of those who had at first been eager to display their fidelity and courage.
Galba was hurried to and fro with every movement of the surging crowd; the halls and temples all around were thronged with spectators of this mournful sight. Not a voice was heard from the people or even from the rabble. Everywhere were terror-stricken countenances, and ears turned to catch every sound. It was a scene neither of agitation nor of repose, but there reigned the silence of profound alarm and profound indignation. Otho however was told that they were arming the mob. He ordered his men to hurry on at full speed, and to anticipate the danger. Then did Roman soldiers rush forward like men who had to drive a Vologeses or Pacorus from the ancestral throne of the Arsacidae, not as though they were hastening to murder their aged and defenceless Emperor. In all the terror of their arms, and at the full speed of their horses, they burst into the Forum, thrusting aside the crowd and trampling on the Senate. Neither the sight of the Capitol, nor the sanctity of the overhanging temples, nor the thought of rulers past or future, could deter them from committing a crime, which any one succeeding to power must avenge.
When this armed array was seen to approach, the standard-bearer of the cohort that escorted Galba (he is said to have been one Atilius Vergilio) tore off and dashed upon the ground Galba’s effigy. At this signal the feeling of all the troops declared itself plainly for Otho. The Forum was deserted by the flying populace. Weapons were pointed against all who hesitated. Near the lake of Curtius, Galba was thrown out of his litter and fell to the ground, through the alarm of his bearers. His last words have been variously reported according as men hated or admired him. Some have said that he asked in a tone of entreaty what wrong he had done, and begged a few days for the payment of the donative. The more general account is, that he voluntarily offered his neck to the murderers, and bade them haste and strike, if it seemed to be for the good of the Commonwealth. To those who slew him mattered not what he said. About the actual murderer nothing is clearly known. Some have recorded the name of Terentius, an enrolled pensioner, others that of Lecanius; but it is the current report that one Camurius, a soldier of the 15th legion, completely severed his throat by treading his sword down upon it. The rest of the soldiers foully mutilated his arms and legs, for his breast was protected, and in their savage ferocity inflicted many wounds even on the headless trunk.
They next fell on T. Vinius; and in his case also it is not known whether the fear of instant death choked his utterance, or whether he cried out that Otho had not given orders to slay him. Either he invented this in his terror, or he thus confessed his share in the conspiracy. His life and character incline us rather to believe that he was an accomplice in the crime which he certainly caused. He fell in front of the temple of the Divine Julius, and at the first blow, which struck him on the back of the knee; immediately afterwards Julius Carus, a legionary, ran him through the body.
A noble example of manhood was on that day witnessed by our age in Sempronius Densus. He was a centurion in a cohort of the Praetorian Guard, and had been appointed by Galba to escort Piso. Rushing, dagger in hand, to meet the armed men, and upbraiding them with their crime, he drew the attention of the murderers on himself by his exclamations and gestures, and thus gave Piso, wounded as he was, an opportunity of escape. Piso made his way to the temple of Vesta, where he was admitted by the compassion of one of the public slaves, who concealed him in his chamber. There, not indeed through the sanctity of the place or its worship, but through the obscurity of his hiding-place, he obtained a respite from instant destruction, till there came, by Otho’s direction and specially eager to slay him, Sulpicius Florus, of the British auxiliary infantry, to whom Galba had lately given the citizenship, and Statius Murcus, one of the body-guard. Piso was dragged out by these men and slaughtered in the entrance of the temple.
There was, we are told, no death of which Otho heard with greater joy, no head which he surveyed with so insatiable a gaze. Perhaps it was, that his mind was then for the first time relieved from all anxiety, and so had leisure to rejoice; perhaps there was with Galba something to recall departed majesty, with Vinius some thought of old friendship, which troubled with mournful images even that ruthless heart; Piso’s death, as that of an enemy and a rival, he felt to be a right and lawful subject of rejoicing. The heads were fixed upon poles and carried about among the standards of the cohorts, close to the eagle of the legion, while those who had struck the blow, those who had been present, those who whether truly or falsely boasted of the act, as of some great and memorable achievement, vied in displaying their bloodstained hands. Vitellius afterwards found more than 120 memorials from persons who claimed a reward for some notable service on that day. All these persons he ordered to be sought out and slain, not to honour Galba, but to comply with the traditional policy of rulers, who thus provide protection for the present and vengeance for the future.
One would have thought it a different Senate, a different people. All rushed to the camp, outran those who were close to them, and struggled with those who were before, inveighed against Galba, praised the wisdom of the soldiers, covered the hand of Otho with kisses; the more insincere their demonstrations, the more they multiplied them. Nor did Otho repulse the advances of individuals, while he checked the greed and ferocity of the soldiers by word and look. They demanded that Marius Celsus, consul elect, Galba’s faithful friend to the very last moment, should be led to execution, loathing his energy and integrity as if they were vices. It was evident that they were seeking to begin massacre and plunder, and the proscription of all the most virtuous citizens, and Otho had not yet sufficient authority to prevent crime, though he could command it. He feigned anger, and ordered him to be loaded with chains, declaring that he was to suffer more signal punishment, and thus he rescued him from immediate destruction.
Every thing was then ordered according to the will of the soldiery. The Praetorians chose their own prefects. One was Plotius Firmus, who had once been in the ranks, had afterwards commanded the watch, and who, while Galba was yet alive, had embraced the cause of Otho. With him was associated Licinius Proculus, Otho’s intimate friend, and consequently suspected of having encouraged his schemes. Flavius Sabinus they appointed prefect of the city, thus adopting Nero’s choice, in whose reign he had held the same office, though many in choosing him had an eye to his brother Vespasian. A demand was then made, that the fees for furloughs usually paid to the centurions should be abolished. These the common soldiers paid as a kind of annual tribute. A fourth part of every company might be scattered on furlough, or even loiter about the camp, provided that they paid the fees to the centurions. No one cared about the amount of the tax, or the way in which it was raised. It was by robbery, plunder, or the most servile occupations that the soldiers’ holiday was purchased. The man with the fullest purse was worn out with toil and cruel usage till he bought his furlough. His means exhausted by this outlay, and his energies utterly relaxed by idleness, the once rich and vigorous soldier returned to his company a poor and spiritless man. One after another was ruined by the same poverty and license, and rushed into mutiny and dissension, and finally into civil war. Otho, however, not to alienate the affections of the centurions by an act of bounty to the ranks, promised that his own purse should pay these annual sums. It was undoubtedly a salutary reform, and was afterwards under good emperors established as a permanent rule of the service. Laco, prefect of the city, who had been ostensibly banished to an island, was assassinated by an enrolled pensioner, sent on by Otho to do the deed. Martianus Icelus, being but a freedman, was publicly executed.
A day spent in crime found its last horror in the rejoicings that concluded it. The Praetor of the city summoned the Senate; the rest of the Magistrates vied with each other in their flatteries. The Senators hastily assembled and conferred by decree upon Otho the tribunitial office, the name of Augustus, and every imperial honour. All strove to extinguish the remembrance of those taunts and invectives, which had been thrown out at random, and which no one supposed were rankling in his heart. Whether he had forgotten, or only postponed his resentment, the shortness of his reign left undecided. The Forum yet streamed with blood, when he was borne in a litter over heaps of dead to the Capitol, and thence to the palace. He suffered the bodies to be given up for burial, and to be burnt. For Piso, the last rites were performed by his wife Verania and his brother Scribonianus; for Vinius, by his daughter Crispina, their heads having been discovered and purchased from the murderers, who had reserved them for sale.
Piso, who was then completing his thirty-first year, had enjoyed more fame than good fortune. His brothers, Magnus and Crassus, had been put to death by Claudius and Nero respectively. He was himself for many years an exile, for four days a Caesar, and Galba’s hurried adoption of him only gave him this privilege over his elder brother, that he perished first. Vinius had lived to the age of fifty-seven, with many changes of character. His father was of a praetorian family, his maternal grandfather was one of the proscribed. He had disgraced himself in his first campaign when he served under the legate Calvisius Sabinus. That officer’s wife, urged by a perverse curiosity to view the camp, entered it by night in the disguise of a soldier, and after extending the insulting frolic to the watches and the general arrangements of the army, actually dared to commit the act of adultery in the head-quarters. Vinius was charged with having participated in her guilt, and by order of Caius was loaded with irons. The altered times soon restored him to liberty. He then enjoyed an uninterrupted succession of honours, first filling the praetorship, and then commanding a legion with general satisfaction, but he subsequently incurred the degrading imputation of having pilfered a gold cup at the table of Claudius, who the next day directed that he alone should be served on earthenware. Yet as proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis he administered the government with strict integrity. When forced by his friendship with Galba to a dangerous elevation, he shewed himself bold, crafty, and enterprising; and whether he applied his powers to vice or virtue, was always equally energetic. His will was made void by his vast wealth; that of Piso owed its validity to his poverty.
The body of Galba lay for a long time neglected, and subjected, through the license which the darkness permitted, to a thousand indignities, till Argius his steward, who had been one of his slaves, gave it a humble burial in his master’s private gardens. His head, which the sutlers and camp-followers had fixed on a pole and mangled, was found only the next day in front of the tomb of Patrobius, a freedman of Nero’s, whom Galba had executed. It was put with the body, which had by that time been reduced to ashes. Such was the end of Servius Galba, who in his seventy-three years had lived prosperously through the reigns of five Emperors, and had been more fortunate under the rule of others than he was in his own. His family could boast an ancient nobility, his wealth was great. His character was of an average kind, rather free from vices, than distinguished by virtues. He was not regardless of fame, nor yet vainly fond of it. Other men’s money he did not covet, with his own he was parsimonious, with that of the State avaricious. To his freedmen and friends he shewed a forbearance, which, when he had fallen into worthy hands, could not be blamed; when, however, these persons were worthless, he was even culpably blind. The nobility of his birth and the perils of the times made what was really indolence pass for wisdom. While in the vigour of life, he enjoyed a high military reputation in Germany; as proconsul he ruled Africa with moderation, and when advanced in years shewed the same integrity in Eastern Spain. He seemed greater than a subject while he was yet in a subject’s rank, and by common consent would have been pronounced equal to empire, had he never been emperor.
The alarm of the capital, which trembled to see the atrocity of these recent crimes, and to think of the old character of Otho, was heightened into terror by the fresh news about Vitellius, news which had been suppressed before the murder of Galba, in order to make it appear that only the army of Upper Germany had revolted. That two men, who for shamelessness, indolence, and profligacy, were the most worthless of mortals, had been selected, it would seem, by some fatality to ruin the Empire, became the open complaint, not only of the Senate and the Knights, who had some stake and interest in the country, but even of the common people. It was no longer to the late horrors of a dreadful peace, but to the recollections of the civil wars, that men recurred, speaking of how the capital had been taken by Roman armies, how Italy had been wasted and the provinces spoiled, of Pharsalia, Philippi, Perusia, and Mutina, and all the familiar names of great public disasters. “The world,” they said, “was well-nigh turned upside down when the struggle for empire was between worthy competitors, yet the Empire continued to exist after the victories of Caius Julius and Caesar Augustus; the Republic would have continued to exist under Pompey and Brutus. And is it for Otho or for Vitellius that we are now to repair to the temples? Prayers for either would be impious, vows for either a blasphemy, when from their conflict you can only learn that the conqueror must be the worse of the two.” Some were speculating on Vespasian and the armies of the East. Vespasian was indeed preferable to either, yet they shuddered at the idea of another war, of other massacres. Even about Vespasian there were doubtful rumours, and he, unlike any of his predecessors, was changed for the better by power.
I will now describe the origin and occasion of the revolt of Vitellius. After the destruction of Julius Vindex and his whole force, the army, flushed with the delights of plunder and glory, as men might well be who had been fortunate enough to triumph without toil or danger in a most lucrative war, began to hanker after compaigns and battles, and to prefer prize money to pay. They had long endured a service which the character of the country and of the climate and the rigours of military discipline rendered at once unprofitable and severe. But that discipline, inexorable as it is in times of peace, is relaxed by civil strife, when on both sides are found the agents of corruption, and treachery goes unpunished. They had men, arms and horses, more than enough for all purposes of utility and show, but before the war they had been acquainted only with the companies and squadrons of their own force, as the various armies were separated from each other by the limits of their respective provinces. But the legions, having been concentrated to act against Vindex, and having thus learnt to measure their own strength against the strength of Gaul, were now on the lookout for another war and for new conflicts. They called their neighbours, not “allies” as of old, but “the enemy” and “the vanquished.” Nor did that part of Gaul which borders on the Rhine fail to espouse the same cause, and to the bitterest hostility in inflaming the army against the Galbianists, that being the name, which in their contempt for Vindex they had given to the party. The rage first excited against the Sequani and Aedui extended to other states in proportion to their wealth, and they revelled in imagination on the storm of cities, the plunder of estates, the sack of dwelling-houses. But, besides the rapacity and arrogance which are the special faults of superior strength, they were exasperated by the bravadoes of the Gallic people, who in a spirit of insult to the army boasted of how they had been relieved by Galba from a fourth part of their tribute, and had received grants from the State. There was also a report, ingeniously spread and recklessly believed, to the effect that the legions were being decimated, and all the most energetic centurions dismissed. From all quarters arrived the most alarming tidings. The reports from the capital were unfavourable, while the disaffection of the colony of Lugdunum, which obstinately adhered to Nero, gave rise to a multitude of rumours. But it was in the army itself, in its hatreds, its fears, and even in the security with which a review of its own strength inspired it, that there was the most abundant material for the exercise of imagination and credulity.
Just before December 1 in the preceding year, Aulus Vitellius had visited Lower Germany, and had carefully inspected the winter quarters of the legions. Many had their rank restored to them, sentences of degradation were cancelled, and marks of disgrace partially removed. In most cases he did but court popularity, in some he exercised a sound discretion, making a salutary change from the meanness and rapacity which Fonteius Capito had shown in bestowing and withdrawing promotion. But he seemed a greater personage than a simple consular legate, and all his acts were invested with an unusual importance. Though sterner judges pronounced Vitellius to be a man of low tastes, those who were partial to him attributed to geniality and good nature the immoderate and indiscriminate prodigality, with which he gave away what was his own, and squandered what did not belong to him. Besides this, men themselves eager for power were ready to represent his very vices as virtues. As there were in both armies many of obedient and quiet habits, so there were many who were as unprincipled as they were energetic; but distinguished above all for boundless ambition and singular daring were the legates of the legions, Fabius Valens and Alienus Caecina. One of these men, Valens, had taken offence against Galba, under the notion that he had not shewn proper gratitude for his services in discovering to him the hesitation of Verginius and crushing the plans of Capito. He now began to urge Vitellius to action. He enlarged on the zeal of the soldiery. “You have,” he said, “everywhere a great reputation; you will find nothing to stop you in Hordeonius Flaccus; Britain will be with you; the German auxiliaries will follow your standard. All the provinces waver in their allegiance. The Empire is held on the precarious tenure of an aged life, and must shortly pass into other hands. You have only to open your arms, and to meet the advances of fortune. It was well for Verginius to hesitate, the scion of a mere Equestrian family, and son of a father unknown to fame: he would have been unequal to empire, had he accepted it, and yet been safe though he refused it. But from the honours of a father who was thrice consul, was censor and colleague of Caesar, Vitellius has long since derived an imperial rank, while he has lost the security that belongs to a subject.”
These arguments roused the indolent temper of the man, yet roused him rather to wish than to hope for the throne. Meanwhile however in Upper Germany Caecina, young and handsome, of commanding stature, and of boundless ambition, had attracted the favour of the soldiery by his skilful oratory and his dignified mien. This man had, when quaestor in Baetica, attached himself with zeal to the party of Galba, who had appointed him, young as he was, to the command of a legion, but, it being afterwards discovered that he had embezzled the public money, Galba directed that he should be prosecuted for peculation. Caecina, grievously offended, determined to throw everything into confusion, and under the disasters of his country to conceal his private dishonour. There were not wanting in the army itself the elements of civil strife. The whole of it had taken part in the war against Vindex; it had not passed over to Galba till Nero fell; even then in this transference of its allegiance it had been anticipated by the armies of Lower Germany. Besides this, the Treveri, the Lingones, and the other states which Galba had most seriously injured by his severe edicts and by the confiscation of their territory, were particularly close to the winter-quarters of the legions. Thence arose seditious conferences, a soldiery demoralized by intercourse with the inhabitants of the country, and tendencies in favour of Verginius, which could easily be to the profit of any other person.
The Lingones, following an old custom, had sent presents to the legions, right hands clasped together, an emblem of friendship. Their envoys, who had assumed a studied appearance of misery and distress, passed through the headquarters and the men’s tents, and complaining, now of their own wrongs, now of the rewards bestowed on the neighbouring states, and, when they found the soldiers’ ears open to their words, of the perils and insults to which the army itself was exposed, inflamed the passions of the troops. The legions were on the verge of mutiny, when Hordeonius Flaccus ordered the envoys to depart, and to make their departure more secret, directed them to leave the camp by night. Hence arose a frightful rumour, many asserting that the envoys had been killed, and that, unless the soldiers provided their own safety, the next thing would be, that the most energetic of their number, and those who had complained of their present condition, would be slaughtered under cover of night, when the rest of the army would know nothing of their fate. The legions then bound themselves by a secret agreement. Into this the auxiliary troops were admitted. At first objects of suspicion, from the idea that their infantry and cavalry were being concentrated in preparation for an attack on the legions, these troops soon became especially zealous in the scheme. The bad find it easier to agree for purposes of war than to live in harmony during peace.
Yet it was to Galba that the legions of Lower Germany took the oath of fidelity annually administered on the first of January. It was done, however, after long delay, and then only by a few voices from the foremost ranks, while the rest preserved an absolute silence, every one waiting for some bold demonstration from his neighbour, in obedience to that innate tendency of men, which makes them quick to follow where they are slow to lead. And even in the various legions there was a difference of feeling. The soldiers of the 1st and of the 5th were so mutinous, that some of them threw stones at the images of Galba. The 15th and 16th legions ventured on nothing beyond uproar and threatening expressions. They were on the watch for something that might lead to an outbreak. In the Upper army, however, the 4th and 13th legions, which were stationed in the same winter-quarters, proceeded on this same first of January to break in pieces the images of Galba, the 4th legion being foremost, the 18th shewing some reluctance, but soon joining with the rest. Not however to seem to throw off all their reverence for the Empire, they sought to dignify their oath with the now obsolete names of the Senate and people of Rome. Not a single legate or tribune exerted himself for Galba; some, as is usual in a tumult, were even conspicuously active in mutiny, though no one delivered anything like a formal harangue or spoke from a tribunal. Indeed there was as yet no one to be obliged by such services.
Hordeonius Flaccus, the consular legate, was present and witnessed this outrage, but he dared neither check the furious mutineers, nor keep the wavering to their duty, nor encourage the well affected. Indolent and timid, he was reserved from guilt only by his sloth. Four Centurions of the 18th legion, Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus, Calpurnius Repentinus, striving to protect the images of Galba, were swept away by a rush of the soldiers and put in irons. After this no one retained any sense of duty, any recollection of his late allegiance, but, as usually happens in mutinies, the side of the majority became the side of all. In the course of the night of the 1st of January, the standard-bearer of the 4th legion, coming to the Colonia Agrippinensis, announced to Vitellius, who was then at dinner, the news that the 4th and 18th legions had thrown down the images of Galba, and had sworn allegiance to the Senate and people of Rome. Such a form of oath appeared meaningless. It was determined to seize the doubtful fortune of the hour, and to offer an Emperor to their choice. Vitellius sent envoys to the legions and their legates, who were to say that the army of Upper Germany had revolted from Galba, that it was consequently necessary for them, either to make war on the revolters, or, if they preferred peace and harmony, to create an Emperor, and who were to suggest, that it would be less perilous to accept than to look for a chief.
The nearest winter-quarters were those of the first legion, and Fabius Valens was the most energetic of the legates. This officer in the course of the following day entered the Colonia Agrippinensis with the cavalry of the legion and of the auxiliaries, and together with them saluted Vitellius as Emperor. All the legions belonging to the same province followed his example with prodigious zeal, and the army of Upper Germany abandoned the specious names the Senate and people of Rome, and on the 3rd of January declared for Vitellius. One could be sure that during those previous two days it had not really been the army of the State. The inhabitants of Colonia Agrippinensis, the Treveri, and the Lingones, shewed as much zeal as the army, making offers of personal service, of horses, of arms and of money, according as each felt himself able to assist the cause by his own exertions, by his wealth, or by his talents. Nor was this done only by the leading men in the colonies or the camps, who had abundant means at hand, and might indulge great expectations in the event of victory, but whole companies down to the very ranks offered instead of money their rations, their belts, and the bosses, which, richly decorated with silver, adorned their arms; so strong were the promptings from without, their own enthusiasm, and even the suggestions of avarice.
Vitellius, after bestowing high commendation on the zeal of the soldiers, proceeded to distribute among Roman Knights the offices of the Imperial court usually held by freedmen. He paid the furlough fees to the centurions out of the Imperial treasury. While in most instances he acquiesced in the fury of the soldiers, who clamoured for numerous executions, in some few he eluded it under the pretence of imprisoning the accused. Pompeius Propinquus, procurator of Belgica, was immediately put to death. Julius Burdo, prefect of the German fleet, he contrived to withdraw from the scene of danger. The resentment of the army had been inflamed against this officer by the belief, that it was he who had invented the charges and planned the treachery which had destroyed Capito. The memory of Capito was held in high favour, and with that enraged soldiery it was possible to slaughter in open day, but to pardon only by stealth. He was kept in prison, and only set at liberty after the victory of Vitellius, when the resentment of the soldiery had subsided. Meanwhile, by way of a victim, the centurion Crispinus was given up to them; this man had actually imbued his hands in the blood of Capito. Consequently he was to those who cried for vengeance a more notorious criminal, and to him who punished a cheaper sacrifice.
Julius Civilis, a man of commanding influence among the Batavi, was next rescued from like circumstances of peril, lest that high-spirited nation should be alienated by his execution. There were indeed in the territory of the Lingones eight Batavian cohorts, which formed the auxiliary force of the 14th legion, but which had, among the many dissensions of the time, withdrawn from it; a body of troops which, to whatever side they might incline, would, whether as allies or enemies, throw a vast weight into the scale. Vitellius ordered the centurions Nonnius, Donatius, Romilius, and Calpurnius, of whom I have before spoken, to be executed. They had been convicted of the crime of fidelity, among rebels the worst of crimes. New adherents soon declared themselves in Valerius Asiaticus, legate of the Province of Belgica, whom Vitellius soon after made his son-in-law, and Junius Blaesus, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, who brought with him the Italian Legion and the Taurine Horse, which was stationed at Lugdunum. The armies of Rhaetia made no delay in at once joining Vitellius, and even in Britain there was no hesitation.
Of that province Trebellius Maximus was governor, a man whose sordid avarice made him an object of contempt and hatred to the army. His unpopularity was heightened by the efforts of Roscius Caelius, the legate of the 20th legion, who had long been on bad terms with him, and who now seized the opportunity of a civil war to break out into greater violence. Trebellius charged him with mutinous designs, and with disturbing the regularity of military discipline; Caelius retorted on Trebellius the accusation of having plundered and impoverished the legions. Meanwhile all obedience in the army was destroyed by these disgraceful quarrels between its commanders, and the feud rose to such a height that Trebellius was insulted even by the auxiliaries, and finding himself altogether isolated, as the infantry and cavalry sided with Caelius, he fled for safety to Vitellius. Yet the province still enjoyed tranquility, though its consular governor had been driven from it. It was now ruled by the legates of the legions, who were equal as to lawful authority, though the audacity of Caelius made him the more powerful.
After the army of Britain had joined him, Vitellius, who had now a prodigious force and vast resources, determined that there should be two generals and two lines of march for the contemplated war. Fabius Valens was ordered to win over, if possible, or, if they refused his overtures, to ravage the provinces of Gaul and to invade Italy by way of the Cottian Alps; Caecina to take the nearer route, and to march down from the Penine range. To Valens were entrusted the picked troops of the army of Lower Germany with the eagle of the 5th legion and the auxiliary infantry and cavalry, to the number of 40,000 armed men; Caecina commanded 30,000 from Upper Germany, the strength of his force being one legion, the 21st. Both had also some German auxiliaries, and from this source Vitellius, who was to follow with his whole military strength, completed his own forces.
Wonderful was the contrast between the army and the Emperor. The army was all eagerness; they cried out war, while Gaul yet wavered, and Spain hesitated. “The winter,” they said, “the delays of a cowardly inaction must not stop us. We must invade Italy, we must seize the capital; in civil strife, where action is more needed than deliberation, nothing is safer than haste.” Vitellius, on the contrary, was sunk in sloth, and anticipated the enjoyment of supreme power in indolent luxury and prodigal festivities. By midday he was half-intoxicated, and heavy with food; yet the ardour and vigour of the soldiers themselves discharged all the duties of a general as well as if the Emperor had been present to stimulate the energetic by hope and the indolent by fear. Ready to march and eager for action, they loudly demanded the signal for starting; the title of Germanicus was at once bestowed on Vitellius, that of Caesar he refused to accept, even after his victory. It was observed as a happy omen for Fabius Valens and the forces which he was conducting to the campaign, that on the very day on which they set out an eagle moved with a gentle flight before the army as it advanced, as if to guide it on its way. And for a long distance so loudly did the soldiers shout in their joy, so calm and unterrified was the bird, that it was taken as no doubtful omen of great and successful achievements.
The territory of the Treveri they entered with all the security naturally felt among allies. But at Divodurum, a town of the Mediomatrici, though they had been received with the most courteous hospitality, a sudden panic mastered them. In a moment they took up arms to massacre an innocent people, not for the sake of plunder, or fired by the lust of spoil, but in a wild frenzy arising from causes so vague that it was very difficult to apply a remedy. Soothed at length by the entreaties of their general, they refrained from utterly destroying the town; yet as many as four thousand human beings were slaughtered. Such an alarm was spread through Gaul, that as the army advanced, whole states, headed by their magistrates and with prayers on their lips, came forth to meet it, while the women and children lay prostrate along the roads, and all else that might appease an enemy’s fury was offered, though war there was none, to secure the boon of peace.
Valens received the tidings of the murder of Galba and the accession of Otho while he was in the country of the Leuci. The feelings of the soldiers were not seriously affected either with joy or alarm; they were intent on war. Gaul however ceased to hesitate: Otho and Vitellius it hated equally, Vitellius it also feared. The next territory was that of the Lingones who were loyal to Vitellius. The troops were kindly received, and they vied with each other in good behaviour. This happy state of things, however, was of short duration owing to the violence of the auxiliary infantry, which had detached itself, as before related, from the 14th legion, and had been incorporated by Valens with his army. First came angry words, then a brawl between the Batavi and the legionaries, which as the partialities of the soldiers espoused one or another of the parties was almost kindled into a battle, and would have been so, had not Valens by punishing a few, reminded Batavi of the authority which they had now forgotten. Against the Aedui a pretext for war was sought in vain. That people, when ordered to furnish arms and money, voluntarily added a supply of provisions. What the Aedui did from fear, the people of Lugdunum did with delight. Yet the Italian legion and the Taurine Horse were withdrawn. It was resolved that the 18th cohort should be left there, as it was their usual winter quarters. Manlius Valens, legate of the Italian legion, though he had served the party well, was held in no honour by Vitellius. Fabius Valens had defamed him by secret charges of which he knew nothing, publicly praising him all the while, that he might the less suspect the treachery.
The old feud between Lugdunum and Vienna had been kindled afresh by the late war. They had inflicted many losses on each other so continuously and so savagely that they could not have been fighting only for Nero or Galba. Galba had made his displeasure the occasion for diverting into the Imperial treasury the revenues of Lugdunum, while he had treated Vienna with marked respect. Thence came rivalry and dislike, and the two states, separated only by a river, were linked together by perpetual feud. Accordingly the people of Lugdunum began to work on the passions of individual soldiers, and to goad them into destroying Vienna, by reminding them, how that people had besieged their colony, had abetted the attempts of Vindex, and had recently raised legions for Galba. After parading these pretexts for quarrel, they pointed out how vast would be the plunder. From secret encouragement they passed to open entreaty. “Go,” they said, “to avenge us and utterly destroy this home of Gallic rebellion. There all are foreigners and enemies; we are a Roman colony, a part of the Roman army, sharers in your successes and reverses. Fortune may declare against us. Do not abandon us to an angry foe.”
By these and many similar arguments they so wrought upon the troops, that even the legates and the leaders of the party did not think it possible to check their fury; but the people of Vienna, aware of their danger, assumed the veils and chaplets of suppliants, and, as the army approached, clasped the weapons, knees and feet of the soldiers, and so turned them from their purpose. Valens also made each soldier a present of 300 sesterces. After that the antiquity and rank of the colony prevailed, and the intercession of Valens, who charged them to respect the life and welfare of the inhabitants, received a favourable hearing. They were however publicly mulcted of their arms, and furnished the soldiers with all kinds of supplies from their private means. Report, however, has uniformly asserted, that Valens himself was bought with a vast sum. Poor for many years and suddenly growing rich, he could but ill conceal the change in his fortunes, indulging without moderation the appetites which a protracted poverty had inflamed, and, after a youth of indigence, becoming prodigal in old age. The army then proceeded by slow marches through the territory of the Allobroges and Vocontii, the very length of each day’s march and the changes of encampment being made a matter of traffic by the general, who concluded disgraceful bargains to the injury of the holders of land and the magistrates of the different states, and used such menaces, that at Lucus, a municipal town of the Vocontii, he was on the point of setting fire to the place, when a present of money soothed his rage. When money was not forthcoming he was bought off by sacrifices to his lust. Thus he made his way to the Alps.
Caecina revelled more freely in plunder and bloodshed. His restless spirit had been provoked by the Helvetii, a Gallic race famous once for its warlike population, afterwards for the associations of its name. Of the murder of Galba they knew nothing, and they rejected the authority of Vitellius. The war originated in the rapacity and impatience of the 21st legion, who had seized some money sent to pay the garrison of a fortress, which the Helvetii had long held with their own troops and at their own expense. The Helvetii in their indignation intercepted some letters written in the name of the army of Germany, which were on their way to the legions of Pannonia, and detained the centurion and some of his soldiers in custody. Caecina, eager for war, hastened to punish every delinquency, as it occurred, before the offender could repent. Suddenly moving his camp he ravaged a place, which during a long period of peace had grown up into something like a town, and which was much resorted to as an agreeable watering place. Despatches were sent to the Rhaetian auxiliaries, instructing them to attack the Helvetii in the rear while the legion was engaging them in front.
Bold before the danger came and timid in the moment of peril, the Helvetii, though at the commencement of the movement they had chosen Claudius Severus for their leader, knew not how to use their arms, to keep their ranks, or to act in concert. A pitched battle with veteran troops would be destruction, a siege would be perilous with fortifications old and ruinous. On the one side was Caecina at the head of a powerful army, on the other were the auxiliary infantry and cavalry of Rhaetia and the youth of that province, inured to arms and exercised in habits of warfare. All around were slaughter and devastation. Wandering to and fro between the two armies, the Helvetii threw aside their arms, and with a large proportion of wounded and stragglers fled for refuge to Mount Vocetius. They were immediately dislodged by the attack of some Thracian infantry. Closely pursued by the Germans and Rhaetians they were cut down in their forests and even in their hiding places. Thousands were put to the sword, thousands more were sold into slavery. Every place having been completely destroyed, the army was marching in regular order on Aventicum, the capital town, when a deputation was sent to surrender the city. This surrender was accepted. Julius Alpinus, one of the principal men, was executed by Caecina, as having been the promoter of the war. All the rest he left to the mercy or severity of Vitellius.
It is hard to say whether the envoys from Helvetia found the Emperor or his army less merciful. “Exterminate the race,” was the cry of the soldiers as they brandished their weapons, or shook their fists in the faces of the envoys. Even Vitellius himself did not refrain from threatening words and gestures, till at length Claudius Cossus, one of the Helvetian envoys, a man of well-known eloquence, but who then concealed the art of the orator under an assumption of alarm, and was therefore more effective, soothed the rage of the soldiers, who, like all multitudes, were liable to sudden impulses, and were now as inclined to pity as they had been extravagant in fury. Bursting into tears and praying with increasing earnestness for a milder sentence, they procured pardon and protection for the state.
Caecina while halting for a few days in the Helvetian territory, till he could learn the decision of Vitellius, and at the same time making preparations for the passage of the Alps, received from Italy the good news, that Silius’ Horse, which was quartered in the neighbourhood of Padus, had sworn allegiance to Vitellius. They had served under him when he was Proconsul in Africa, from which place Nero had soon afterwards brought them, intending to send them on before himself into Egypt, but had recalled them in consequence of the rebellion of Vindex. They were still in Italy, and now, at the instigation of their decurions, who knew nothing of Otho, but were bound to Vitellius, and who magnified the strength of the advancing legions and the fame of the German army, they joined the Vitellianists, and by way of a present to their new Prince they secured for him the strongest towns of the country north of the Padus, Mediolanum, Novaria, Eporedia, and Vercellae. This Caecina had learnt from themselves. Aware that the widest part of Italy could not be held by such a force as a single squadron of cavalry, he sent on in advance the auxiliary infantry from Gaul, Lusitania, and Rhaetia, with the veteran troops from Germany, and Petra’s Horse, while he made a brief halt to consider whether he should pass over the Rhaetian range into Noricum, to attack Petronius, the procurator, who had collected some auxiliaries, and broken down the bridges over the rivers, and was thought to be faithful to Otho. Fearing however that he might lose the infantry and cavalry which he had sent on in advance, and at the same time reflecting that more honour was to be gained by holding possession of Italy, and that, wherever the decisive conflict might take place, Noricum would be included among the other prizes of victory, he marched the reserves and the heavy infantry through the Penine passes while the Alps were still covered with the snows of winter.
Meanwhile Otho, to the surprise of all, was not sinking down into luxury and sloth. He deferred his pleasures, concealed his profligacy, and moulded his whole life to suit the dignity of empire. Men dreaded all the more virtues so false, and vices so certain to return. Marius Celsus, consul elect, whom he had rescued from the fury of the soldiers by pretending to imprison him, he now ordered to be summoned to the Capitol. He sought to acquire a reputation for clemency by sparing a distinguished man opposed to his own party. Celsus pleaded guilty to the charge of faithful adherence to Galba, and even made a merit of such an example of fidelity. Otho did not treat him as a man to be pardoned, and, unwilling to blend with the grace of reconciliation the memory of past hostility, at once admitted him to his intimate friendship, and soon afterwards appointed him to be one of his generals. By some fatality, as it seemed, Celsus maintained also to Otho a fidelity as irreproachable as it was unfortunate. The escape of Celsus gratified the leading men in the State, was generally praised by the people, and did not displease even the soldiers, who could not but admire the virtue which provoked their anger.
Then followed as great a burst of joy, though from a less worthy cause, when the destruction of Tigellinus was achieved. Sophonius Tigellinus, a man of obscure birth, steeped in infamy from his boyhood, and shamelessly profligate in his old age, finding vice to be his quickest road to such offices as the command of the watch and of the Praetorian Guard, and to other distinctions due to merit, went on to practise cruelty, rapacity, and all the crimes of maturer years. He perverted Nero to every kind of atrocity; he even ventured on some acts without the Emperor’s knowledge, and ended by deserting and betraying him. Hence there was no criminal, whose doom was from opposite motives more importunately demanded, as well by those who hated Nero, as by those who regretted him. During the reign of Galba Tigellinus had been screened by the influence of Vinius, who alleged that he had saved his daughter. And doubtless he had preserved her life, not indeed out of mercy, when he had murdered so many, but to secure for himself a refuge for the future. For all the greatest villains, distrusting the present, and dreading change, look for private friendship to shelter them from public detestation, caring not to be free from guilt, but only to ensure their turn in impunity. This enraged the people more than ever, the recent unpopularity of Vinius being superadded to their old hatred against Tigellinus. They rushed from every part of the city into the palace and forum, and bursting into the circus and theatre, where the mob enjoy a special license, broke out into seditious clamours. At length Tigellinus, having received at the springs of Sinuessa a message that his last hour was come, amid the embraces and caresses of his mistresses and other unseemly delays, cut his throat with a razor, and aggravated the disgrace of an infamous life by a tardy and ignominious death.
About the same time a demand was made for the execution of Galvia Crispinilla. Various artifices on the part of the Emperor, who incurred much obloquy by his duplicity, rescued her from the danger. She had instructed Nero in profligacy, had passed over into Africa, that she might urge Macer into rebellion, and had openly attempted to bring a famine upon Rome. Yet she afterwards gained universal popularity on the strength of her alliance with a man of consular rank, and lived unharmed through the reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. Soon she became powerful as a rich and childless woman, circumstances which have as great weight in good as in evil times.
Meanwhile frequent letters, disfigured by unmanly flatteries, were addressed by Otho to Vitellius, with offers of wealth and favour and any retreat he might select for a life of prodigal indulgence. Vitellius made similar overtures. Their tone was at first pacific; and both exhibited a foolish and undignified hypocrisy. Then they seemed to quarrel, charging each other with debaucheries and the grossest crimes, and both spoke truth. Otho, having recalled the envoys whom Galba had sent, dispatched others, nominally from the Senate, to both the armies of Germany, to the Italian legion, and to the troops quartered at Lugdunum. The envoys remained with Vitellius too readily to let it be supposed that they were detained. Some Praetorians, whom Otho had attached to the embassy, ostensibly as a mark of distinction, were sent back before they could mix with the legions. Letters were also addressed by Fabius Valens in the name of the German army to the Praetorian and city cohorts, extolling the strength of his party, and offering terms of peace. Valens even reproached them with having transferred the Imperial power to Otho, though it had so long before been entrusted to Vitellius.
Thus they were assailed by promises as well as by threats, were told that they were not strong enough for war, but would lose nothing by peace. Yet all this did not shake the loyalty of the Praetorians. Nevertheless secret emissaries were dispatched by Otho to Germany, and by Vitellius to Rome. Both failed in their object. Those of Vitellius escaped without injury, unnoticed in the vast multitude, knowing none, and themselves unknown. Those of Otho were betrayed by their strange faces in a place where all knew each other. Vitellius wrote to Titianus, Otho’s brother, threatening him and his son with death, unless the lives of his mother and his children were spared. Both families remained uninjured. This in Otho’s reign was perhaps due to fear; Vitellius was victorious, and gained all the credit of mercy.
The first encouraging tidings came to Otho from Illyricum. He heard that the legions of Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia had sworn allegiance to him. Similar intelligence was received from Spain, and Cluvius Rufus was commended in an edict. Immediately afterwards it became known that Spain had gone over to Vitellius. Even Aquitania, bound though it was by the oath of allegiance to Otho which Julius Cordus had administered, did not long remain firm. Nowhere was there any loyalty or affection; men changed from one side to the other under the pressure of fear or necessity. It was this influence of fear that drew over to Vitellius the province of Gallia Narbonensis, which turned readily to the side that was at once the nearer and the stronger. The distant provinces, and all the armies beyond the sea, still adhered to Otho, not from any attachment to his party, but because there was vast weight in the name of the capital and the prestige of the Senate, and also because the claims which they had first heard had prepossessed their minds. The army of Judaea under Vespasian, and the legions of Syria under Mucianus, swore allegiance to Otho. Egypt and the Eastern provinces were also governed in his name. Africa displayed the same obedience, Carthage taking the lead. In that city Crescens, one of Nero’s freedmen (for in evil times even this class makes itself a power in the State), without waiting for the sanction of the proconsul, Vipstanus Apronianus, had given an entertainment to the populace by way of rejoicings for the new reign, and the people, with extravagant zeal, hastened to make the usual demonstrations of joy. The example of Carthage was followed the other cities of Africa.
As the armies and provinces were thus divided, Vitellius, in order to secure the sovereign power, was compelled to fight. Otho continued to discharge his imperial duties as though it were a time of profound peace. Sometimes he consulted the dignity of the Commonwealth, but often in hasty acts, dictated by the expediency of the moment, he disregarded its honour. He was himself to be consul with his brother Titianus till the 1st of March; the two following months he assigned to Verginius as a compliment to the army of Germany. With Verginius was to be associated Pompeius Vopiscus, avowedly on the ground of their being old friends, though many regarded the appointment as meant to do honour to the people of Vienna. The other consulships still remained as Nero or Galba had arranged them. Caelius Sabinus and his brother Flavius were to be consuls till the 1st of July; Arrius Antoninus and Marius Celsus from that time to the 1st of September. Even Vitellius, after his victory, did not interfere with these appointments. On aged citizens, who had already held high office, Otho bestowed, as a crowning dignity, pontificates and augurships, while he consoled the young nobles, who had lately returned from exile, by reviving the sacerdotal offices, held by their fathers and ancestors. Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus, Saevinius Pomptinius, who in the reigns of Claudius and Nero had been convicted under indictments for extortion, were restored to their rank as Senators. Those who wished to pardon them resolved by a change of names to make, what had really been rapacity, seem to have been treason, a charge then so odious that it made even good laws a dead letter.
By similar bounty Otho sought to win the affections of the cities and provinces. He bestowed on the colonies of Hispalis and Emerita some additional families, on the entire people of the Lingones the privileges of Roman citizenship; to the province of Baetica he joined the states of Mauritania, and granted to Cappadocia and Africa new rights, more for display than for permanent utility. In the midst of these measures, which may find an excuse in the urgency of the crisis and the anxieties which pressed upon him, he still did not forget his old amours, and by a decree of the Senate restored the statues of Poppaea. It is even believed that he thought of celebrating the memory of Nero in the hope of winning the populace, and persons were found to exhibit statues of that Prince. There were days on which the people and the soldiers greeted him with shouts of Nero Otho, as if they were heaping on him new distinction and honour. Otho himself wavered in suspense, afraid to forbid or ashamed to acknowledge the title.
Men’s minds were so intent on the civil war, that foreign affairs were disregarded. This emboldened the Roxolani, a Sarmatian tribe, who had destroyed two cohorts in the previous winter, to invade Moesia with great hopes of success. They had 9000 cavalry, flushed with victory and intent on plunder rather than on fighting. They were dispersed and off their guard, when the third legion together with some auxiliaries attacked them. The Romans had everything ready for battle, the Sarmatians were scattered, and in their eagerness for plunder had encumbered themselves with heavy baggage, while the superior speed of their horses was lost on the slippery roads. Thus they were cut down as if their hands were tied. It is wonderful how entirely the courage of this people is, so to speak, external to themselves. No troops could shew so little spirit when fighting on foot; when they charge in squadrons, hardly any line can stand against them. But as on this occasion the day was damp and the ice thawed, what with the continual slipping of their horses, and the weight of their coats of mail, they could make no use of their pikes or their swords, which being of an excessive length they wield with both hands. These coats are worn as defensive armour by the princes and most distinguished persons of the tribe. They are formed of plates of iron or very tough hides, and though they are absolutely impenetrable to blows, yet they make it difficult for such as have been overthrown by the charge of the enemy to regain their feet. Besides, the Sarmatians were perpetually sinking in the deep and soft snow. The Roman soldier, moving easily in his cuirass, continued to harass them with javelins and lances, and whenever the occasion required, closed with them with his short sword, and stabbed the defenceless enemy; for it is not their custom to defend themselves with a shield. A few who survived the battle concealed themselves in the marshes. There they perished from the inclemency of the season and the severity of their wounds. When this success was known, Marcus Aponius, governor of Moesia, was rewarded with a triumphal statue, while Fulvius Aurelius, Julianus Titius, and Numisius Lupus, the legates of the legions, received the ensigns of consular rank. Otho was delighted, and claimed the glory for himself, as if it were he that commanded success in war, and that had aggrandised the State by his generals and his armies.
Meanwhile, from a trifling cause, whence nothing was apprehended, there arose a tumult, which had nearly proved fatal to the capital. Otho had ordered the 7th cohort to be brought up to Rome from Ostia, and the charge of arming it was entrusted to Varius Crispinus, one of the tribunes of the Praetorian Guard. This officer, thinking that he could carry out the order more at his leisure, when the camp was quiet, opened the armoury, and ordered the wagons of the cohort to be laden at night-fall. The time provoked suspicion, the motive challenged accusation, the elaborate attempt at quiet ended in a disturbance, and the sight of arms among a drunken crowd excited the desire to use them. The soldiers murmured, and charged the tribunes and centurions with treachery, alleging that the households of the Senators were being armed to destroy Otho; many acted in ignorance and were stupefied by wine, the worst among them were seeking an opportunity for plunder, the mass was as usual ready for any new movement, and the military obedience of the better disposed was neutralised by the darkness. The tribune, who sought to check the movement, and the strictest disciplinarians among the centurions, were cut down. The soldiers seized their arms, bared their swords, and, mounted on their horses, made for the city and the palace.
Otho was giving a crowded entertainment to the most distinguished men and women of Rome. In their alarm they doubted whether this was a casual outbreak of the soldiers, or an act of treachery in the Emperor, and whether to remain and be arrested was a more perilous alternative than to disperse and fly. At one time making a show of courage, at another betrayed by their terror, they still watched the countenance of Otho. And, as it happened, so ready were all to suspect, Otho felt as much alarm as he inspired. Terrified no less by the Senate’s critical position than by his own, he had forthwith despatched the prefects of the Praetorian Guard to allay the fury of the soldiery, and he now ordered all to leave the banquet without delay. Then on all sides officers of state cast aside the insignia of office, and shunned the retinues of their friends and domestics; aged men and women wandered in the darkness of night about the various streets of the city; few went to their homes, most sought the houses of friends, or some obscure hiding-place in the dwelling of their humblest dependents.
The rush of the soldiers was not even checked by the doors of the palace. They burst in upon the banquet with loud demands that Otho should shew himself. They wounded the tribune, Julius Martialis, and the prefect, Vitellius Saturninus, who sought to stem the torrent. On every they brandished their swords, and menaced the centurions and tribunes at one moment, the whole Senate at another. Their minds were maddened by a blind panic, and, unable to single out any one object for their fury, they sought for indiscriminate vengeance. At last Otho, regardless of his imperial dignity, stood up on a couch, and by dint of prayers and tears contrived to restrain them. Reluctant and guilty, they returned to the camp. The next day the houses were closed as they might be in a captured city. Few of the citizens could be seen in the streets, the populace were dejected, the soldiers walked with downcast looks, and seemed gloomy rather than penitent. Licinius Proculus and Plotius Firmus, the prefects, addressed the companies in the gentler or harsher terms that suited their respective characters. The end of these harangues was that 5000 sesterces were paid to each soldier. Then did Otho venture to enter the camp; the tribunes and centurions surrounded him. They had thrown aside the insignia of their rank, and they demanded release from the toils and perils of service. The soldiers felt the reproach; returning to their duty, they even demanded the execution of the ringleaders in the riot.
Otho was aware how disturbed was the country, and how conflicting the feelings of the soldiery, the most respectable of whom cried out for some remedy for the existing licence, while the great mass delighted in riot and in an empire resting on popularity, and could be most easily urged to civil war by indulgence in tumult and rapine. At the same time he reflected that power acquired by crime could not be retained by a sudden assumption of the moderation and of the dignity of former times, yet he was alarmed by the critical position of the capital and by the perils of the Senate. Finally, he addressed the troops in these terms: “Comrades, I am not come that I may move your hearts to love me, or that I may rouse your courage; love and courage you have in superfluous abundance. I am come to pray you to put some restraint on your valour, some check on your affection for me. The origin of the late tumult is to be traced not to rapacity or disaffection, feelings which have driven many armies into civil strife, much less to any shrinking from, or fear of danger. It was your excessive affection for me that roused you to act with more zeal than discretion. For even honourable motives of action, unless directed by judgment, are followed by disastrous results. We are now starting for a campaign. Does the nature of things, does the rapid flight of opportunities, admit of all intelligence being publicly announced, of every plan being discussed in the presence of all? It is as needful that the soldiers should be ignorant of some things as that they should know others. The general’s authority, the stern laws of discipline, require that in many matters even the centurions and tribunes shall only receive orders. If, whenever orders are given, individuals may ask questions, obedience ceases, and all command is at an end. Will you in the field too snatch up your arms in the dead of night? Shall one or two worthless and drunken fellows, for I cannot believe that more were carried away by the frenzy of the late outbreak, imbrue their hands in the blood of centurions and tribunes, and burst into the tent of their Emperor?
“You indeed did this to serve me, but in the tumult, the darkness, and the general confusion, an opportunity may well occur that may be used against me. If Vitellius and his satellites were allowed to choose, what would be the temper and what the thoughts with which they would curse us? What would they wish for us but mutiny and strife, that the private should not obey the centurion, nor the centurion the tribune, that thus we should rush, horse and foot together, on our own destruction? Comrades, it is by obeying, not by questioning the orders of commanders, that military power is kept together. And that army is the most courageous in the moment of peril, which is the most orderly before the peril comes. Keep you your arms and your courage, leave it to me to plan, and to guide your valour. A few were in fault, two will be punished. Let all the rest blot out the remembrance of that night of infamy. Never let any army hear those cries against the Senate. To clamour for the destruction of what is the head of the Empire, and contains all that is distinguished in the provinces, good God! it is a thing which not even those Germans, whom Vitellius at this very moment is rousing against us, would dare to do. Shall any sons of Italy, the true youth of Rome, cry out for the massacre of an order, by whose splendid distinctions we throw into the shade the mean and obscure faction of Vitellius? Vitellius is the master of a few tribes, and has some semblance of an army. We have the Senate. The country is with us; with them, the country’s enemies. What! do you imagine that this fairest of cities is made up of dwellings and edifices and piles of stones? These dumb and inanimate things may be indifferently destroyed and rebuilt. The eternal duration of empire, the peace of nations, my safety and yours, rest on the security of the Senate. This order which was instituted under due auspices by the Father and Founder of the city, and which has lasted without interruption and without decay from the Kings down to the Emperors, we will bequeath to our descendants, as we have inherited it from our ancestors. For you give the state its Senators, and the Senate gives it its Princes.”
This speech, which was meant to touch and to calm the feelings of the soldiers, and the moderate amount of severity exercised (for Otho had ordered two and no more to be punished), met with a grateful acceptance, and for the moment reduced to order men who could not be coerced. Yet tranquillity was not restored to the capital; there was still the din of arms and all the sights of war, and the soldiers, though they made no concerted disturbance, had dispersed themselves in disguise about private houses, and exercised a malignant surveillance over all whom exalted rank, or distinction of any kind, exposed to injurious reports. Many too believed that some of the soldiers of Vitellius had come to the capital to learn the feelings of the different parties. Hence everything was rife with suspicion, and even the privacy of the family was hardly exempt from fear. It was however in public that most alarm was felt; with every piece of intelligence that rumour brought, men changed their looks and spirits, anxious not to appear discouraged by unfavourable omens, or too little delighted by success. When the Senate was summoned to the Chamber, it was hard for them to maintain in all things a safe moderation. Silence might seem contumacious, and frankness might provoke suspicion, and Otho, who had lately been a subject, and had used the same language, was familiar with flattery. Accordingly, they discussed various motions on which they had put many constructions. Vitellius they called a public enemy and a traitor to his country, the more prudent contenting themselves with hackneyed terms of abuse, though some threw out reproaches founded in truth, yet only did so in the midst of clamour, and when many voices were heard at once, drowning their own speech in a tumult of words.
Prodigies which were now noised abroad from various sources increased men’s terror. It was said that in the porch of the Capitol the reins of the chariot, on which stood the goddess of Victory, had dropped from her hand, that from the chapel of Juno there had rushed forth a form greater than the form of man, that the statue of the Divine Julius, which stands on the island in the Tiber, had turned from the West to the East on a calm and tranquil day, that an ox had spoken aloud in Etruria, that strange births of animals had taken place, besides many other things, such as in barbarous ages are observed even during seasons of peace, but are now heard of only in times of terror. But an alarm greater than all, because it connected immediate loss with fears for the future, arose from a sudden inundation of the Tiber. The river became vastly swollen, broke down the wooden bridge, was checked by the heap of ruins across the current, and overflowed not only the low and level districts of the capital, but also much that had been thought safe from such casualties. Many were swept away in the streets, many more were cut off in their shops and chambers. The want of employment and the scarcity of provisions caused a famine among the populace. The poorer class of houses had their foundations sapped by the stagnant waters, and fell when the river returned to its channel. When men’s minds were no longer occupied by their fears, the fact, that while Otho was preparing for his campaign, the Campus Martius and the Via Flaminia, his route to the war, were obstructed by causes either fortuitous or natural, was regarded as a prodigy and an omen of impending disasters.
Otho, after publicly purifying the city and weighing various plans for the campaign, determined to march upon Gallia Narbonensis, as the passes of the Penine and Cottian Alps and all the other approaches to Gaul were held by the armies of Vitellius. His fleet was strong and loyal to his cause, for he had enrolled in the ranks of the legion the survivors of the slaughter at the Milvian bridge, whom the stern policy of Galba had retained in custody, while to the rest he had held out hopes of a more honourable service for the future. To the fleet he had added some city cohorts, and many of the Praetorians, the stay and strength of his army, who might at once advise and watch the generals. The command of the expedition was entrusted to Antonius Novellus and Suedius Clemens, centurions of the first rank, and Aemilius Pacensis, to whom Otho had restored the rank of tribune, taken from him by Galba. Oscus, a freedman, retained the charge of the fleet, and went to watch the fidelity of men more honourable than himself. Suetonius Paullinus, Marius Celsus, and Annius Gallus, were appointed to command the infantry and cavalry. The Emperor, however, placed most confidence in Licinius Proculus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard; an active officer at home, without experience in war, he founded perpetual accusations on the high influence of Paullinus, on the energy of Celsus, on the mature judgment of Gallus, in fact, on each man’s special excellence, a thing most easy to do; and thus the unscrupulous and the cunning were preferred before the modest and the good.
About this time Cornelius Dolabella was banished to the Colonia Aquinas, but he was not kept in strict or secret custody; it was not for any crime that he suffered; he was marked out for suspicion by his ancient name and by his relationship to Galba. Many of the officers of state and a large proportion of the men of consular rank Otho ordered to accompany him to the field, not indeed to share or serve in the campaign, but to form a retinue. Among them was Lucius Vitellius, whom Otho treated as he treated the rest, and not as though he were the brother either of an Emperor, or of an enemy. This roused the anxieties of the capital; no rank was free from apprehension or peril. The leading men of the Senate either suffered from the infirmities of age, or were enervated by a prolonged peace; the nobility were indolent and had forgotten how to fight; the Equestrian order knew nothing of service; and the more they endeavoured to hide and repress their alarm the more evident was their terror. On the other hand, there were some who with senseless ostentation purchased splendid arms and magnificent horses, and some who procured by way of equipments for the war the luxurious furniture of the banquet and other incentives to profligacy. The wise looked to the interests of peace and of the Commonwealth, while the giddy and those who were thoughtless of the future were inflated with idle hopes. Many whose credit had been shaken in the years of peace regained their spirits amidst the confusions of the time, and found their best safety in revolution.
The mob and the people generally, whose vast numbers cut them off from all interest in the state, began by degrees to feel the evils of war, now that all the currency had been diverted to the purposes of the army, and the prices of provisions were raised. These evils had not equally distressed the common people during the insurrection of Vindex; the capital was safe, and the war was in the provinces, and, fought as it was between the legions and Gaul, it seemed but a foreign campaign. Indeed from the time that the Divine Augustus consolidated the power of the Caesars, the wars of the Roman people had been in remote places, and had caused anxiety or brought honour to but one man. Under Tiberius and Caius men dreaded for the Commonwealth only the miseries of peace. The rising of Scribonianus against Claudius was crushed as soon as heard of. Nero was driven from power by evil tidings and rumours rather than by the sword. Now the legions and the fleets were brought into action, and with them a force used but on few other occasions, the Praetorian and city soldiery. In their rear were the provinces of the East and of the West with all their forces; had they fought under other generals there was all the material for a protracted war. Many suggested to Otho, as he was setting out, a religious obstacle in the fact that the sacred shields had not been restored to their place. He spurned all delay, as having been Nero’s fatal mistake; and the fact that Caecina had now crossed the Alps urged him to action.
On the 14th of March, after commending the State to the care of the Senate, he presented to those who had been recalled from exile what was left of the Neronian confiscations, or had not yet been paid into the Imperial treasury, a most equitable and apparently most splendid piece of liberality, but practically worthless, as the property had been hastily realized long before. Soon afterwards he summoned an assembly, and enlarged on the dignity of the capital and the unanimity of the Senate and people in his favour. Of the party of Vitellius he spoke with moderation, charging the legions with ignorance rather than with crime, and making no mention of Vitellius himself. This moderation was either his own, or was due to the writer of the speech, who, fearing for himself, abstained from invectives against Vitellius. For Otho was believed to avail himself of the abilities of Galerius Trachalus in civil matters, just as he employed those of Celsus and Paullinus in war. There were some who recognized the very style of speaking, which was well known from his constant pleading at the bar, and which sought to fill the popular ear with a copious and sonorous diction. The acclamations and cries which habitual flattery prompted in the people were at once extravagant and false. As if they were applauding a Dictator like Caesar, or an Emperor like Augustus, they vied with each other in their zeal and good wishes. They acted not from fear or affection, but from the mere love of servitude; as it might be in some private household, each had his own motives, and the public honour now went for nothing. Otho set out, leaving the peace of the city and the cares of empire in the charge of his brother Salvius Titianus.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01