IN A distant part of the world fortune was now preparing the origin and rise of a new dynasty, whose varied destinies brought happiness or misery on the State, prosperity or destruction on the Princes of its line. Titus Vespasian had been sent from Judaea by his father while Galba still lived, and alleged as a reason for his journey the homage due to the Emperor, and his age, which now qualified him to compete for office. But the vulgar, ever eager to invent, had spread the report that he was sent for to be adopted. The advanced years and childless condition of the Emperor furnished matter for such gossip, and the country never can refrain from naming many persons until one be chosen. The report gained the more credit from the genius of Titus himself, equal as it was to the most exalted fortune, from the mingled beauty and majesty of his countenance, from the prosperous fortunes of Vespasian, from the prophetic responses of oracles, and even from accidental occurrences which, in the general disposition to belief, were accepted as omens. At Corinth, the capital of Achaia, he received positive information of the death of Galba, and found men who spoke confidently of the revolt of Vitellius and of the fact of war. In the anxiety of his mind, he sent a few of his friends, and carefully surveyed his position from both points of view. He considered that if he should proceed to Rome, he should get no thanks for a civility intended for another, while his person would be a hostage in the hands either of Vitellius or of Otho; that should he turn back, the conqueror would certainly be offended, but with the issue of the struggle still doubtful, and the father joining the party, the son would be excused; on the other hand, if Vespasian should assume the direction of the state, men who had to think of war would have to forget such causes of offence.
These and like thoughts made him waver between hope and fear; but hope triumphed. Some supposed that he retraced his steps for love of Queen Berenice, nor was his young heart averse to her charms, but this affection occasioned no hindrance to action. He passed, it is true, a youth enlivened by pleasure, and practised more self-restraint in his own than in his father’s reign. So, after coasting Achaia and Asia, leaving the land on his left, he made for the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus, and then by a bolder course for Syria. Here he conceived a desire to visit and inspect the temple of the Paphian Venus, place of celebrity both among natives and foreigners. It will not be a tedious digression to record briefly the origin of the worship, the ceremonial of the temple, and the form under which the goddess is adored, a form found in no other place.
The founder of the temple, according to old tradition, was king Aerias, though some represent this as the name of the goddess herself. Later accounts tell us that the temple was consecrated by Cinyras, and that the goddess herself after her birth from the sea was wafted to this spot, but that the wisdom and craft of the diviners was a foreign importation introduced by Tamiras of Cilicia; and that it was agreed that the descendants of both families should preside over the worship. Afterwards, that the royal family might not be without some superiority over the foreign stock, the strangers relinquished the craft which they had themselves introduced. The priest of the line of Cinyras is alone consulted. The victims are such as each worshipper has vowed, but males are selected; the surest prognostics are seen in the entrails of kids. It is forbidden to pour blood on the altar; the place of sacrifice is served only with prayers and pure flame, and though it stands in the open air, it is never wet with rain. The image of the goddess does not bear the human shape; it is a rounded mass rising like a cone from a broad base to a small circumference. The meaning of this is doubtful.
Titus, after surveying the treasures, the royal presents, and the other objects which the antiquarian tendencies of the Greek arbitrarily connect with some uncertain past, first consulted the oracle about his voyage. Receiving an answer that the way was open and the sea propitious, he then, after sacrificing a number of victims, asked some questions in ambiguous phrase concerning himself. Sostratus (that was the name of the priest) seeing that the entrails presented an uniformly favourable appearance, and that the goddess signified her favour to some great enterprise, returned at the moment a brief and ordinary answer, but afterwards soliciting a private interview, disclosed the future. His spirits raised, Titus rejoined his father, and was received as a mighty pledge of success by the wavering minds of the provincials and the troops. Vespasian had all but completed the Jewish war, and only the siege of Jerusalem now remained, an operation, the difficulty and arduousness of which was due, rather to the character of its mountain citadel and the perverse obstinacy of the national superstition, than to any sufficient means of enduring extremities left to the besieged. As we have mentioned above, Vespasian himself had three legions inured to war. Mucianus had four under his command in his peaceful province. Emulation, however, and the glory won by the neighbouring army had banished all tendency to sloth, and unbroken rest and exemption from the hardships of war had given them a vigour equivalent to the hardihood which the others had gained by their perils and their toils. Each had auxiliary forces of infantry and cavalry, each had fleets and tributary kings, and each, though their renown was of a different kind, had a celebrated name.
Vespasian was an energetic soldier; he could march at the head of his army, choose the place for his camp, and bring by night and day his skill, or, if the occasion required, his personal courage to oppose the foe. His food was such as chance offered; his dress and appearance hardly distinguished him from the common soldier; in short, but for his avarice, he was equal to the generals of old. Mucianus, on the contrary, was eminent for his magnificence, for his wealth, and for a greatness that transcended in all respects the condition of a subject; readier of speech than the other, he thoroughly understood the arrangement and direction of civil business. It would have been a rare combination of princely qualities, if, with their respective faults removed, their virtues only could have been united in one man. Mucianus was governor of Syria, Vespasian of Judaea. In the administration of these neighbouring provinces jealousy had produced discord between them, but on Nero’s fall they had dropped their animosities and associated their counsels. At first they communicated through friends, till Titus, who was the great bond of union between them, by representing their common interests had terminated their mischievous feud. He was indeed a man formed both by nature and by education to attract even such a character as that of Mucianus. The tribunes, the centurions, and the common soldiers, were brought over to the cause by appeals to their energy or their love of license, to their virtues or to their vices, according to their different dispositions.
Long before the arrival of Titus, both armies had taken the oath of allegiance to Otho. The news had come, as is usual, with great speed, while there was much to delay the gigantic undertaking of a civil war, for which the East after a long period of repose was then for the first time preparing. In former times the mightiest civil conflicts had been begun in Gaul or Italy with the resources of the West. Pompey, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony, all of whom had been followed across the sea by civil war, had met with a disastrous end, and the Emperors had been oftener heard of than seen in Syria and Judaea. There had been no mutiny among the legions, nothing indeed but some demonstrations against the Parthians, attended with various success. In the last civil war, though other provinces had been disturbed, peace had been here unshaken. Then had followed a loyal adherence to Galba. But when it became notorious that Otho and Vitellius, opposed in impious strife, were ready to make a spoil of the Empire, the thought that others would engross the rewards of power, while they would have nothing left for themselves but a compulsory submission, made the soldiers murmur and take a survey of their own strength. There were close at hand seven legions; there were Syria and Judaea, with a vast number of auxiliaries. Then, without any interval of separation, there was Egypt and its two legions, and on the other side Cappadocia, Pontus, and all the garrisons along the frontier of Armenia. There was Asia Minor; there were the other provinces, not without a military population, and well furnished with money. There were all the islands of the Mediterranean. And there was the sea itself, which during the interval of preparation for war would be both a convenience and a protection.
The ardour of the troops was not unknown to their generals; but it was judged advisable to wait for the issue of the struggle which others were carrying on. The conquerors and the conquered, it was said, never unite with a genuine good faith. It matters not whether fortune make Otho or Vitellius to be the victor. Even great generals grow insolent in prosperity; these men are quarrelsome, indolent, and profligate, and their own faults will make war fatal to the one, and success to the other. They therefore postponed the war until a more fitting opportunity, and though Vespasian and Mucianus had but lately resolved on concerted action, the others had done so long before. The worthiest among them were moved by patriotism; many were wrought upon by the attractions of plunder; some by their private embarrassments. And so, good and bad, from different motives, but with equal zeal, were all eager for war.
About this time Achaia and Asia Minor were terrified by a false report that Nero was at hand. Various rumours were current about his death; and so there were many who pretended and believed that he was still alive. The adventures and enterprises of the other pretenders I shall relate in the regular course of my work. The pretender in this case was a slave from Pontus, or, according to some accounts, a freedman from Italy, a skilful harp-player and singer, accomplishments, which, added to a resemblance in the face, gave a very deceptive plausibility to his pretensions. After attaching to himself some deserters, needy vagrants whom he bribed with great offers, he put to sea. Driven by stress of weather to the island of Cythnus, he induced certain soldiers, who were on their way from the East, to join him, and ordered others, who refused, to be executed. He also robbed the traders and armed all the most able bodied of the slaves. The centurion Sisenna, who was the bearer of the clasped right hands, the usual emblems of friendship, from the armies of Syria to the Praetorians, was assailed by him with various artifices, till he left the island secretly, and, fearing actual violence, made his escape with all haste. Thence the alarm spread far and wide, and many roused themselves at the well-known name, eager for change, and detesting the present state of things. The report was daily gaining credit when an accident put an end to it.
Galba had entrusted the government of Galatia and Pamphylia to Calpurnius Asprenas. Two triremes from the fleet of Misenum were given him to pursue the adventurer: with these he reached the island of Cythnus. Persons were found to summon the captains in the name of Nero. The pretender himself, assuming a studied appearance of sorrow, and appealing to their fidelity as old soldiers of his own, besought them to land him in Egypt or Syria. The captains, perhaps wavering, perhaps intending to deceive, declared that they must address their soldiers, and that they would return when the minds of all had been prepared. Everything, however, was faithfully reported to Asprenas, and at his bidding the ship was boarded and taken, and the man, whoever he was, killed. The body, in which the eyes, the hair, and the savage countenance, were remarkable features, was conveyed to Asia, and thence to Rome.
In a state that was distracted by strife, and that from frequent changes in its rulers trembled on the verge between liberty and licence, even little matters were attended with great excitement. Vibius Crispus, whose wealth, power, and ability, made him rank among men of distinction, rather than among men of worth, demanded that Annius Faustus, of the Equestrian order, who in the days of Nero had practised the trade of the informer, should be brought to trial before the Senate. The Senators indeed had recently, during the reign of Galba, passed a resolution, that cognizance should be taken of the cases of the informers. This decree was variously carried out, and, while retained as law, was powerless or effectual, according as the person, who happened to be accused, was influential or helpless. Besides the terror of the law, Crispus had exerted his own power to the utmost to destroy the man who had informed against his brother. He had prevailed upon a great part of the Senate to demand that he should be consigned to destruction, undefended and unheard. But, on the other hand, there were some with whom nothing helped the accused person so much as the excessive power of the accuser. They gave it as their opinion, that time ought to be allowed, that the charges ought to be specified, that, odious and guilty as the man might be, he yet ought to be heard, as precedent required. At first they carried their point, and the trial was postponed for a few days, but before long Faustus was condemned, but by no means with that unanimity on the part of the people which his detestable character had deserved. Men remembered that Crispus had followed the same profession with profit; nor was it the penalty but the prosecutor that they disliked.
Meanwhile the campaign had opened favourably for Otho, at whose bidding the armies of Dalmatia and Pannonia had begun to move. These comprised four legions, from each of which two thousand troops were sent on in advance. The 7th had been raised by Galba, the 11th, 13th, and 14th were veteran soldiers, the 14th having particularly distinguished itself by quelling the revolt in Britain. Nero had added to their reputation by selecting them as his most effective troops. This had made them long faithful to Nero, and kindled their zeal for Otho. But their self-confidence induced a tardiness of movement proportionate to their strength and solidity. The auxiliary infantry and cavalry moved in advance of the main body of the legions. The capital itself contributed no contemptible force, namely five Praetorian cohorts, some troops of cavalry, and the first legion, and together with these, 2000 gladiators, a disreputable kind of auxiliaries, but employed throughout the civil wars even by strict disciplinarians. Annius Gallus was put at the head of this force, and was sent on with Vestricius Spurinna to occupy the banks of the Padus, the original plan of the campaign having fallen to the ground, now that Caecina, who they had hoped might have been kept within the limits of Gaul, had crossed the Alps. Otho himself was accompanied by some picked men of the body-guard, with whom were the rest of the Praetorian cohorts, the veteran troops from the Praetorian camp, and a vast number of the levies raised from the fleet. No indolence or riot disgraced his march. He wore a cuirass of iron, and was to be seen in front of the standards, on foot, rough and negligent in dress, and utterly unlike what common report had pictured him.
Fortune seemed to smile on his efforts. Through his fleets, which commanded the sea, he held the greater part of Italy, even as far as where the chain of the Maritime Alps begins. The task of attempting the passage of this chain, and of advancing into the Provincia Narbonensis, he had entrusted to three generals, Suedius Clemens, Antonius Novellus, and Aemilius Pacensis. Pacensis, however, was put in irons by his insubordinate troops, Antonius possessed no kind of authority, and Clemens commanded only for popularity, and was as reckless in transgressing the good order of military discipline as he was eager to fight. One would not have thought that it was Italy, the fields, and the habitations of their native country, that they were passing through. They burnt, spoiled, and plundered, as if they were among the lands of the foreigner and the cities of a hostile people, and all with the more frightful effect as nowhere had there been made any provision against the danger. The fields were full of rural wealth, the houses stood with open doors; and the owners, as with their wives and children they came forth to meet the army, found themselves surrounded, in the midst of the security of peace, with all the horrors of war. Marius Maturus was then governing as procurator the province of the Maritime Alps. Raising the population, in which is no lack of able-bodied men, he resolved to drive back the Othonianists from the borders of his province; but the mountaineers were cut down and broken by the first charge, as might be expected of men who had been hastily collected, who were not familiar with camps or with regular command, who saw no glory in victory, no infamy in flight.
Exasperated by this conflict, the troops of Otho vented their rage on the town of Albintemilium. In the field indeed they had secured no plunder; their rustic adversaries were poor, and their arms worthless; nor could they be taken prisoners, for they were swift of foot, and knew the country well. But the rapacity of the troops glutted itself in the ruin of an innocent population. The horror of these acts was aggravated by a noble display of fortitude in a Ligurian woman; she had concealed her son, and when the soldiers, who believed that some money had been hidden with him, questioned her with torture as to where she was hiding him, she pointed to her bosom, and replied, “It is here that he is concealed”; nor could any subsequent threats or even death itself make her falter in this courageous and noble answer.
Messengers now came in haste and alarm to inform Fabius Valens, how Otho’s fleet was threatening the province of Gallia Narbonensis, which had sworn allegiance to Vitellius. Envoys from the colonies were already on the spot praying for aid. He despatched two cohorts of Tungrian infantry, four squadrons of horse, and all the cavalry of the Treviri under the command of Julius Classicus. Part of these troops were retained for the defence of the colony of Forum Julii, for it was feared, that if the whole army were sent by the route through the interior, the enemy’s fleet might make a rapid movement on the unprotected coast. Twelve squadrons of cavalry and some picked infantry advanced against the enemy; they were reinforced by a cohort of Ligurians, an auxiliary local force of long standing, and five hundred Pannonians, not yet regularly enrolled. The conflict commenced without delay, the enemy’s line of battle being so arranged, that part of the levies from the fleet, who had a number of rustics among their ranks, were posted on the slope of the hills which border on the coast, the Praetorians fully occupying the level ground between the hills and the shore, while on the sea was the fleet, moored to the land and ready for action, drawn up in line so as to present a formidable front. The Vitellianists whose infantry was inferior, but who were strong in cavalry, stationed the mountaineers on the neighbouring heights, and their infantry in close ranks behind the cavalry. The squadrons of the Treveri charged the enemy incautiously, and found themselves encountered in front by the veteran troops, while on the flanks they were also annoyed by showers of stones from the rustic band, who were skilful throwers, and who, mixed up as they were among the regular soldiers, whether cowardly or brave, were all equally bold in the moment of victory. The general consternation of the Vitellianists was increased by a new alarm as the fleet attacked the rear of the combatants. By this movement they were hemmed in on all sides, and the whole force would have perished, had not the shades of night checked the advance of the victorious army, and covered the retreat of the vanquished.
The Vitellianists, however, though beaten, did not remain inactive. They brought up reinforcements and attacked the enemy, who felt themselves secure, and whose vigilance was relaxed by success. The sentinels were cut down, the camp stormed, and the panic reached the ships, till, as the alarm gradually subsided, they again assumed the offensive under the protection of some neighbouring heights which they had occupied. A terrible slaughter ensued, and the prefects of the Tungrian cohorts, after having long maintained their line unbroken, fell beneath a shower of missiles. The Othonianists, however, did not achieve a bloodless victory, as the enemy’s cavalry wheeled round, and cut off some who had imprudently prolonged the pursuit. And then, as if a sort of armistice had been concluded to provide against any sudden panic that the cavalry of the one party or the fleet of the other might cause, the Vitellianists retreated to Antipolis, a town of Gallia Narbonensis, the Othonianists to Albigaunum, in Upper Liguria.
Corsica, Sardinia, and the other islands of the neighbouring seas, were retained in the interests of Otho by the fame of these naval successes. Corsica, however, all but suffered fatal injury from the rash proceedings of Decumus Pacarius, the procurator, proceedings which in so gigantic a war could contribute nothing to the general result, and which only brought destruction upon their author. In his hatred of Otho he resolved to support Vitellius with the whole strength of Corsica, an insignificant assistance even had the design succeeded. He collected the chief men of the island, and explained his plans. Claudius Pyrrhicus, captain of the Liburnian ships stationed in the place, and Quintius Certus, a Roman knight, who ventured to offer opposition, he ordered to execution. All who were present were terrified at their death, and, with the ignorant populace, which ever blindly shares in the fears of others, took the oath of allegiance to Vitellius. But when Pacarius began to enlist troops, and to weary with military duties an undisciplined population, disgusted with the unusual toil, they began to reflect upon their own weakness. “The country which we inhabit,” they said to themselves, “is an island: Germany and its mighty legions are far from us, and we know that even countries protected by infantry and cavalry have been plundered and ravaged by the fleet.” Their feelings underwent a sudden change; they did not, however, resort to open violence, but chose an opportunity for a treacherous attack. When the persons who usually surrounded Pacarius had left him, and he was naked and helpless in the bath, they slew him. His associates were slaughtered with him. The perpetrators of the deed carried the heads of the slain to Otho, as being the heads of public enemies; but, lost among the crowd of greater criminals, in the vast confusion of events, they were neither rewarded by Otho nor punished by Vitellius.
Silius’ Horse had now, as I have already related, opened the way into Italy, and transferred the war across the borders. No one entertained any attachment to Otho, yet it was not because they preferred Vitellius: long years of peace had subdued them to any kind of servitude, had made them ready to submit to the first comer and careless about the better cause. The wealthiest district of Italy, the broad plains and cities which lie between the Padus and the Alps, was now held by the troops of Vitellius; for by this time the infantry sent on in advance by Caecina had also arrived. A cohort of Pannonians had been taken prisoners at Cremona, a hundred cavalry, and a thousand of the levies from the fleet intercepted between Placentia and Ticinum. Elated by these successes the troops of Vitellius would no longer be restrained by the boundaries of the river’s bank. The very sight of the Padus excited the men from Batavia and the Transrhenane provinces. Crossing the stream by a sudden movement, they advanced on Placentia, and seizing some reconnoiterers so terrified the rest, that, deceived by their alarm, they announced that the whole army of Caecina was at hand.
Spurinna, who now held Placentia, was sure that Caecina had not yet arrived, and that, even were he approaching, he ought to keep his men within their fortifications, and not confront a veteran army with three Praetorian cohorts, a thousand veterans, and a handful of cavalry. But the undisciplined and inexperienced soldiery seized their standards and colours, and rushed to the attack, brandishing their weapons in the face of their general when he sought to restrain them, and spurning from them the tribunes and centurions, and even crying out that Otho was betrayed and that Caecina had come by invitation. Spurinna associated himself with the rash movement which others had originated, at first acting under compulsion, but afterwards pretending to consent, in the hope that his counsels might have more influence should the mutinous spirit abate.
When the Padus was in sight and night began to fall they judged it expedient to entrench a camp. The labour, new as it was to the soldiery of the capital, broke their spirits. All the oldest among them began to inveigh against their own credulity, and to point out the difficulty and danger of their position, if on those open plains Caecina and his army were to surround their scanty forces. By this time more temperate language was heard throughout the camp, and the tribunes and centurions, mixing with the troops, suggested commendations of the prudence of their general in selecting for the rallying point and basis of his operations a colony rich in military strength and resources. Finally, Spurinna himself, not so much reproaching them with their error as exposing it by his arguments, conducted them all back to Placentia, except some scouts whom he left, in a less turbulent temper and more amenable to command. The walls were strengthened, battlements were added, and the towers were raised in height. It was not only of the implements of war that provision and preparation were made, but of the spirit of subordination and the love of obedience. This was all that was wanting to the party, for they had no reason to be dissatisfied with their courage.
Caecina, who seemed to have left his cruelty and profligacy on the other side of the Alps, advanced through Italy with his army under excellent discipline. The towns and colonies, however, found indications of a haughty spirit in the general’s dress, when they saw the cloak of various colours, and the trews, a garment of foreign fashion, clothed in which he was wont to speak to their toga-clad citizens. And they resented, as if with a sense of personal wrong, the conduct of his wife Salonina, though it injured no one that she presented a conspicuous figure as she rode through their towns on horseback in a purple habit. They were acting on the instincts of human nature, which prompt men to scrutinize with keen eyes the recent elevation of their fellows, and to demand a temperate use of prosperity from none more rigorously than from those whom they have seen on a level with themselves. Caecina, after crossing the Padus, sought to tamper with the loyalty of the Othonianists at a conference in which he held out hopes of reward, and he was himself assailed with the same arts. After the specious but meaningless names of peace and concord had been thus bandied to and fro, Caecina turned all his thoughts and plans on the capture of Placentia, making a formidable show of preparation, as he knew that according to the success of his opening operations would be the subsequent prestige of his arms.
The first day, however, was spent in a furious onset rather than in the skilful approaches of a veteran army. Exposed and reckless, the troops came close under the walls, stupefied by excess in food and wine. In this struggle the amphitheatre, a most beautiful building, situated outside the walls, was burnt to the ground, possibly set on fire by the assailants, while they showered brands, fireballs, and ignited missiles, on the besieged, possibly by the besieged themselves, while they discharged incessant volleys in return. The populace of the town, always inclined to be suspicious, believed that combustibles had been purposely introduced into the building by certain persons from the neighbouring colonies, who viewed it with envious and jealous eyes, because there was not in Italy another building so capacious. Whatever the cause of the accident, it was thought of but little moment as long as more terrible disasters were apprehended; but as soon as they again felt secure, they lamented it as though they could not have endured a heavier calamity. In the end Caecina was repulsed with great slaughter among his troops, and the night was spent in the preparation of siege-works. The Vitellianists constructed mantlets, hurdles, and sheds, for undermining the walls and screening the assailants; the Othonianists busied themselves in preparing stakes and huge masses of stone and of lead and brass, with which to break and overwhelm the hostile ranks. The shame of failure, the hope of renown, wrought on both armies; both were appealed to by different arguments; on the one side they extolled the strength of the legions and of the army of Germany; on the other, the distinctions of the soldiery of the capital and the Praetorian cohorts; the one reviled their foes as slothful and indolent soldiers, demoralized by the circus and the theatres; the others retorted with the names of foreigner and barbarian. At the same time they lauded or vituperated Otho and Vitellius, but found indeed a more fruitful source of mutual provocation in invective than in praise.
Almost before dawn of day the walls were crowded with combatants, and the plains glittered with masses of armed men. The close array of the legions, and the skirmishing parties of auxiliaries assailed with showers of arrows and stones the loftier parts of the walls, attacking them at close quarters where they were undefended, or old and decayed. The Othonianists, who could take a more deliberate and certain aim, poured down their javelins on the German cohorts as they recklessly advanced to the attack with fierce war-cries, brandishing their shields above their shoulders after the manner of their country, and leaving their bodies unprotected. The soldiers of the legions, working under cover of mantlets and hurdles, undermined the walls, threw up earth-works, and endeavoured to burst open the gates. The Praetorians opposed them by rolling down with a tremendous crash ponderous masses of rock, placed for the purpose. Beneath these many of the assailants were buried, and many, as the slaughter increased with the confusion, and the attack from the walls became fiercer, retreated wounded, fainting, and mangled, with serious damage to the prestige of the party. Caecina, ashamed of the assault on which he had so rashly ventured, and unwilling, ridiculed and baffled as he was, to remain in the same position, again crossed the Padus, and resolved on marching to Cremona. As he was going, Turullius Cerialis with a great number of the levies from the fleet, and Julius Briganticus with a few troopers, gave themselves up to him. Julius commanded a squadron of horse; he was a Batavian. Turullius was a centurion of the first rank, not unfriendly to Caecina, as he had commanded a company in Germany.
Spurinna, on discovering the enemy’s route, informed Annius Gallus by letter of the successful defence of Placentia, of what had happened, and of what Caecina intended to do. Gallus was then bringing up the first legion to the relief of Placentia; he hardly dared trust so few cohorts, fearing that they could not sustain a prolonged siege or the formidable attack of the German army. On hearing that Caecina had been repulsed, and was making his way to Cremona, though the legion could hardly be restrained, and in its eagerness for action, even went to the length of open mutiny, he halted at Bedriacum. This is a village situated between Verona and Cremona, and has now acquired an ill-omened celebrity by two great days of disaster to Rome. About the same time Martius Macer fought a successful battle not far from Cremona. Martius, who was a man of energy, conveyed his gladiators in boats across the Padus, and suddenly threw them upon the opposite bank. The Vitellianist auxiliaries on the spot were routed; those who made a stand were cut to pieces, the rest directing their flight to Cremona. But the impetuosity of the victors was checked; for it was feared that the enemy might be strengthened by reinforcements, and change the fortune of the day. This policy excited the suspicions of the Othonianists, who put a sinister construction on all the acts of their generals. Vying with each other in an insolence of language proportioned to their cowardice of heart, they assailed with various accusations Annius Gallus, Suetonius Paullinus, and Marius Celsus. The murderers of Galba were the most ardent promoters of mutiny and discord. Frenzied with fear and guilt, they sought to plunge everything into confusion, resorting, now to openly seditious language, now to secret letters to Otho; and he, ever ready to believe the meanest of men and suspicious of the good, irresolute in prosperity, but rising higher under reverses, was in perpetual alarm. The end of it was that he sent for his brother Titianus, and intrusted him with the direction of the campaign.
Meanwhile, brilliant successes were gained under the command of Celsus and Paullinus. Caecina was greatly annoyed by the fruitlessness of all his undertakings, and by the waning reputation of his army. He had been repulsed from Placentia; his auxiliaries had been recently cut up, and even when the skirmishers had met in a series of actions, frequent indeed, but not worth relating, he had been worsted; and now that Valens was coming up, fearful that all the distinctions of the campaign would centre in that general, he made a hasty attempt to retrieve his credit, but with more impetuosity than prudence. Twelve miles from Cremona (at a place called the Castors) he posted some of the bravest of his auxiliaries, concealed in the woods that there overhang the road. The cavalry were ordered to move forward, and, after provoking a battle, voluntarily to retreat, and draw on the enemy in hasty pursuit, till the ambuscade could make a simultaneous attack. The scheme was betrayed to the Othonianist generals, and Paullinus assumed the command of the infantry, Celsus of the cavalry. The veterans of the 13th legion, four cohorts of auxiliaries, and 500 cavalry, were drawn up on the left side of the road; the raised causeway was occupied by three Praetorian cohorts, ranged in deep columns; on the right front stood the first legion with two cohorts of auxiliaries and 500 cavalry. Besides these, a thousand cavalry, belonging to the Praetorian guard and to the auxiliaries, were brought up to complete a victory or to retrieve a repulse.
Before the hostile lines engaged, the Vitellianists began to retreat, but Celsus, aware of the stratagem, kept his men back. The Vitellianists rashly left their position, and seeing Celsus gradually give way, followed too far in pursuit, and themselves fell into an ambuscade. The auxiliaries assailed them on either flank, the legions were opposed to them in front, and the cavalry, by a sudden movement, had surrounded their rear. Suetonius Paullinus did not at once give the infantry the signal to engage. He was a man naturally tardy in action, and one who preferred a cautious and scientific plan of operations to any success which was the result of accident. He ordered the trenches to be filled up, the plain to be cleared, and the line to be extended, holding that it would be time enough to begin his victory when he had provided against being vanquished. This delay gave the Vitellianists time to retreat into some vineyards, which were obstructed by the interlacing layers of the vines, and close to which was a small wood. From this place they again ventured to emerge, slaughtering the foremost of the Praetorian cavalry. King Epiphanes was wounded, while he was zealously cheering on the troops for Otho.
Then the Othonianist infantry charged. The enemy’s line was completely crushed, and the reinforcements who were coming up to their aid were also put to flight. Caecina indeed had not brought up his cohorts in a body, but one by one; as this was done during the battle, it increased the general confusion, because the troops who were thus divided, not being strong at any one point, were borne away by the panic of the fugitives. Besides this, a mutiny broke out in the camp because the whole army was not led into action. Julius Gratus, prefect of the camp, was put in irons, on a suspicion of a treacherous understanding with his brother who was serving with Otho’s army, at the very time that the Othonianists had done the same thing and on the same grounds to that brother Julius Fronto, a tribune. In fact such was the panic everywhere, among the fugitives and among the troops coming up, in the lines and in front of the entrenchments, that it was very commonly said on both sides, that Caecina and his whole army might have been destroyed, had not Suetonius Paullinus given the signal of recall. Paullinus alleged that he feared the effects of so much additional toil and so long a march, apprehending that the Vitellianists might issue fresh from their camp, and attack his wearied troops, who, once thrown into confusion, would have no reserves to fall back upon. A few approved the general’s policy, but it was unfavourably canvassed by the army at large.
The effect of this disaster on the Vitellianists was not so much to drive them to fear as to draw them to obedience. Nor was this the case only among the troops of Caecina, who indeed laid all the blame upon his soldiers, more ready, as he said, for mutiny than for battle. The forces also of Fabius Valens, who had now reached Ticinum, laid aside their contempt for the enemy, and anxious to retrieve their credit began to yield a more respectful and uniform obedience to their general. A serious mutiny, however, had raged among them, of which, as it was not convenient to interrupt the orderly narrative of Caecina’s operations, I shall take up the history at an earlier period. I have already described how the Batavian cohorts who separated from the 14th legion during the Neronian war, hearing on their way to Britain of the rising of Vitellius, joined Fabius Valens in the country of the Lingones. They behaved themselves insolently, boasting, as they visited the quarters of the several legions, that they had mastered the men of the 14th, that they had taken Italy from Nero, that the whole destiny of the war lay in their hands. Such language was insulting to the soldiers, and offensive to the general. The discipline of the army was relaxed by the brawls and quarrels which ensued. At last Valens began to suspect that insolence would end in actual treachery.
When, therefore, intelligence reached him that the cavalry of the Treveri and the Tungrian infantry had been defeated by Otho’s fleet, and that Gallia Narbonensis was blockaded, anxious at once to protect a friendly population, and, like a skilful soldier, to separate cohorts so turbulent and, while they remained united, so inconveniently strong, he directed a detachment of the Batavians to proceed to the relief of the province. This having been heard and become generally known, the allies were discontented and the legions murmured. “We are being deprived,” they said, “of the help of our bravest men. Those veteran troops victorious in so many campaigns, now that the enemy is in sight, are withdrawn, so to speak, from the very field of battle. If indeed a province be of more importance than the capital and the safety of the Empire, let us all follow them thither, but if the reality, the support, the mainstay of success, centre in Italy, you must not tear, as it were, from a body its very strongest limbs.”
In the midst of these fierce exclamations, Valens, sending his lictors into the crowd, attempted to quell the mutiny. On this they attacked the general himself, hurled stones at him, and, when he fled, pursued him. Crying out that he was concealing the spoil of Gaul, the gold of the men of Vienna, the hire of their own toils, they ransacked his baggage, and probed with javelins and lances the walls of the general’s tent and the very ground beneath. Valens, disguised in the garb of a slave, found concealment with a subaltern officer of cavalry. After this, Alfenius Varus, prefect of the camp, seeing that the mutiny was gradually subsiding, promoted the reaction by the following device. He forbade the centurions to visit the sentinels, and discontinued the trumpet calls by which the troops are summoned to their usual military duties. Thereupon all stood paralysed, and gazed at each other in amazement, panic-stricken by the very fact that there was no one to direct them. By their silence, by their submission, finally by their tears and entreaties, they craved forgiveness. But when Valens, thus unexpectedly preserved, came forward in sad plight, shedding tears, they were moved to joy, to pity, even to affection. Their revulsion to delight was just that of a mob, always extreme in either emotion. They greeted him with praises and congratulations, and surrounding him with the eagles and standards, carried him to the tribunal. With a politic prudence he refrained from demanding capital punishment in any case; yet, fearing that he might lay himself more open to suspicion by concealment of his feelings, he censured a few persons, well aware that in civil wars the soldiers have more license than the generals.
While they were fortifying a camp at Ticinum, the news of Caecina’s defeat reached them, and the mutiny nearly broke out afresh from an impression that underhand dealing and delay on the part of Valens had kept them away from the battle. They refused all rest; they would not wait for their general; they advanced in front of the standards, and hurried on the standard-bearers. After a rapid march they joined Caecina. The character of Valens did not stand well with Caecina’s army. They complained that, though so much weaker in numbers, they had been exposed to the whole force of the enemy, thus at once excusing themselves, and extolling, in the implied flattery, the strength of the new arrivals, who might, they feared, despise them as beaten and spiritless soldiers. Though Valens had the stronger army, nearly double the number of legions and auxiliaries, yet the partialities of the soldiers inclined to Caecina, not only from the geniality of heart, which he was thought more ready to display, but even from his vigorous age, his commanding person, and a certain superficial attractiveness which he possessed. The result was a jealousy between the two generals. Caecina ridiculed his colleague as a man of foul and infamous character; Valens retorted with charges of emptiness and vanity. But concealing their enmity, they devoted themselves to their common interest, and in frequent letters, without any thought of pardon, heaped all manner of charges upon Otho, while the Othonianist generals, though they had the most abundant materials for invective against Vitellius, refrained from employing them.
In fact, before the death of these two men (and it was by his death that Otho gained high renown, as Vitellius incurred by his the foulest infamy), Vitellius with his indolent luxury was less dreaded than Otho with his ardent passions. The murder of Galba had made the one terrible and odious, while no one reckoned against the other the guilt of having begun the war. Vitellius with his sensuality and gluttony was his own enemy; Otho, with his profligacy, his cruelty, and his recklessness, was held to be more dangerous to the Commonwealth. When Caecina and Valens had united their forces, the Vitellianists had no longer any reason to delay giving battle with their whole strength. Otho deliberated as to whether protracting the war or risking an engagement were the better course. Then Suetonius Paullinus, thinking that it befitted his reputation, which was such that no one at that period was looked upon as a more skilful soldier, to give an opinion on the whole conduct of the war, contended that impatience would benefit the enemy, while delay would serve their own cause.
“The entire army of Vitellius,” he said, “has already arrived. Nor have they much strength in their rear, since Gaul is ready to rise, and to abandon the banks of the Rhine, when such hostile tribes are ready to burst in, would not answer his purpose. A hostile people and an intervening sea keep from him the army of Britain; Spain is not over full of troops; Gallia Narbonensis has been cowed by the attack of our ships and by a defeat; Italy beyond the Padus is shut in by the Alps, cannot be relieved from the sea, and has been exhausted by the passage of his army. For that army there is no where any corn, and without supplies an army cannot be kept together. Then the Germans, the most formidable part of the enemy’s forces, should the war be protracted into the summer, will sink with enfeebled frames under the change of country and climate. Many a war, formidable in its first impetuosity, has passed into nothing through the weariness of delay. We, on the other hand, have on all sides abundant resources and loyal adherents. We have Pannonia, Moesia, Dalmatia, the East with its armies yet intact, we have Italy and Rome, the capital of the Empire, the Senate, and the people, names that never lose their splendour, though they may sometimes be eclipsed. We have the wealth of the State and of private individuals. We have a vast supply of money, which in a civil war is a mightier weapon than the sword. Our soldiers are inured to the climate of Italy or to yet greater heat. We have the river Padus on our front, and cities strongly garrisoned and fortified, none of which will surrender to the enemy, as the defence of Placentia has proved. Let Otho therefore protract the war. In a few days the 14th legion, itself highly renowned, will arrive with the troops from Moesia. He may then again consider the question, and should a battle be resolved on, we shall fight with increased strength.”
Marius Celsus acquiesced in the opinion of Paullinus; and Annius Gallus, who a few days before had been seriously injured by the fall of his horse, was reported to agree by those who had been sent to ascertain his opinion. Otho was inclined to risk a decisive battle. His brother Titianus, and Proculus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, ignorant and therefore impatient, declared that fortune, the Gods, and the genius of Otho, were with their counsels, and would be with their enterprises. That no one might dare to oppose their views, they had taken refuge in flattery. It having been resolved to give battle, it became a question whether it would be better for the Emperor to be present in person, or to withdraw. Paullinus and Celsus no longer opposed, for they would not seem to put the Emperor in the way of peril, and these same men who suggested the baser policy prevailed on him to retire to Brixellum, and thus secure from the hazards of the field, to reserve himself for the administration of empire. That day first gave the death-blow to the party of Otho. Not only did a strong detachment of the Praetorian cohorts, of the bodyguard, and of the cavalry, depart with him, but the spirit of those who remained was broken, for the men suspected their generals, and Otho, who alone had the confidence of the soldiers, while he himself trusted in none but them, had left the generals’ authority on a doubtful footing.
Nothing of this escaped the Vitellianists, for, as is usual in civil wars, there were many deserters, and the spies, while busy in inquiring into the plans of the enemy, failed to conceal their own. Meanwhile Caecina and Valens remained quiet, and watched intently for the moment when the enemy in his blindness should rush upon destruction, and found the usual substitute for wisdom in waiting for the folly of others. They began to form a bridge, making a feint of crossing the Padus, in the face of an opposing force of gladiators; they wished also to keep their own soldiers from passing their unoccupied time in idleness. Boats were ranged at equal distances from each other, connected at both ends by strong beams, and with their heads turned against the current, while anchors were thrown out above to keep the bridge firm. The cables, however, instead of being taut, hung loose in the water, in order that as the stream rose the vessels might rise without their arrangement being disturbed. On the end of the bridge was placed a turret; it was built out on the last boat, and from it engines and machines might be worked to repel the enemy. The soldiers of Otho also raised a turret on the opposite bank, and hurled from it stones and flaming missiles.
In the middle of the river was an island. While the gladiators were making their way to it in boats, the Germans swam and outstripped them. A considerable number, as it chanced, had effected the passage, when Macer, having manned some light gallies, attacked them with the most active of his gladiators. But the gladiator has not in battle the firmness of the regular soldier, and now, as they stood on rocking vessels, they could not direct their blows like men who had a sure footing on land. As the men in their alarm made confused movements, rowers and combatants were mingled together in disorder; upon this, the Germans themselves leapt into the shallows, laid hold of the boats, climbed over the gunwales, or sank them with their hands. All this passed in the sight of both armies, and the more it delighted the Vitellianists, the more vehemently did the Othonianists curse the cause and author of the disaster.
The conflict was terminated by the flight of the vanquished, who carried off what boats were left. Then they cried out for the execution of Macer. He had been wounded by a javelin thrown from a distance, and the soldiers had made a rush upon him with drawn swords, when he was saved by the interference of the tribunes and centurions. Soon after Vestricius Spurinna, having received orders to that effect from Otho, joined with his cohorts, leaving but a moderate force in garrison at Placentia. After this Otho sent Flavius Sabinus, consul elect, to take the command of the troops which had been under Macer; the soldiers were delighted by this change of generals, while the generals were led by these continual outbreaks to regard with disgust so hateful a service.
I find it stated by some authors that either the dread of or the disgust felt for both Emperors, whose wickedness and infamy were coming out every day into more open notoriety, made the two armies hesitate whether they should not cease their strife, and either themselves consult together, or allow the Senate to choose an Emperor; and that, for this reason, Otho’s generals recommended a certain measure of delay, Paullinus especially entertaining hopes for himself, on the ground that he was the senior among the men of consular rank, that he was well known as a soldier, and had attained great distinction and fame by his campaigns in Britain. Though I would allow that there were some few who in their secret wishes prayed for peace in the stead of disorder, for a worthy and blameless Emperor in the room of men utterly worthless and wicked, yet I cannot suppose that Paullinus, wise as he was, could have hoped in an age thoroughly depraved to find such moderation in the common herd, as that men, who in their passion for war had trampled peace under foot, should now in their affection for peace renounce the charms of war; nor can I think that armies differing in language and in character, could have united in such an agreement; or that lieutenants and generals, who were for the most part burdened by the consciousness of profligacy, of poverty, and of crime, could have endured any Emperor who was not himself stained by vice, as well as bound by obligation to themselves.
That old passion for power which has been ever innate in man increased and broke out as the Empire grew in greatness. In a state of moderate dimensions equality was easily preserved; but when the world had been subdued, when all rival kings and cities had been destroyed, and men had leisure to covet wealth which they might enjoy in security, the early conflicts between the patricians and the people were kindled into flame. At one time the tribunes were factious, at another the consuls had unconstitutional power; it was in the capital and the forum that we first essayed civil wars. Then rose C. Marius, sprung from the very dregs of the populace, and L. Sulla, the most ruthless of the patricians, who perverted into absolute dominion the liberty which had yielded to their arms. After them came Cn. Pompeius, with a character more disguised but no way better. Henceforth men’s sole object was supreme power. Legions formed of Roman citizens did not lay down their arms at Pharsalia and Philippi, much less were the armies of Otho and Vitellius likely of their own accord to abandon their strife. They were driven into civil war by the same wrath from heaven, the same madness among men, the same incentives to crime. That these wars were terminated by what we may call single blows, was owing to want of energy in the chiefs. But these reflections on the character of ancient and modern times have carried me too far from my subject. I now return to the course of events.
Otho having started for Brixellum, the honours of supreme command devolved on his brother Titianus, while the real power and control were in the hands of the prefect Proculus. Celsus and Paullinus, as no one made any use of their skill, did but screen with their idle title of general the blunders of others. The tribunes and centurions were perplexed to see that better men were despised, and that the most worthless carried the day. The common soldiers were full of eagerness, but liked to criticise rather than to obey the orders of their officers. It was resolved to move the camp forward to the fourth milestone from Bedriacum, but it was done so unskilfully, that though it was spring, and there were so many rivers in the neighbourhood, the troops were distressed for want of water. Then the subject of giving battle was discussed, Otho in his despatches ever urging them to make haste, and the soldiers demanding that the Emperor should be present at the conflict; many begged that the troops quartered beyond the Padus should be brought up. It is not so easy to determine what was best to be done, as it is to be sure that what was done was the very worst.
They started for a campaign rather than for a battle, making for the confluence of the Padus and Addua, a distance of sixteen miles from their position. Celsus and Paullinus remonstrated against exposing troops wearied with a march and encumbered with baggage to any enemy, who, being himself ready for action and having marched barely four miles, would not fail to attack them, either when they were in the confusion of an advance, or when they were dispersed and busy with the work of entrenchment. Titianus and Proculus, overcome in argument, fell back on the Imperial authority. It was true that a Numidian had arrived at full gallop with an angry message from Otho, in which the Emperor, sick of delay and impatient of suspense, sharply rebuked the inactivity of the generals, and commanded that matters should be brought to an issue.
The same day, while Caecina was engaged on the construction of a bridge, two tribunes of the Praetorian Guard came to him and begged an interview. He was on the point of hearing their proposals and sending back his own, when the scouts arrived at headlong speed with the news that the enemy were close at hand. The address of the tribunes was thus abruptly terminated. Thus it remained uncertain whether deception, or treason, or some honourable arrangement, had been in their thoughts. Caecina dismissed the tribunes and rode back to the camp. There he found that Fabius Valens had given the signal for battle, and that the troops were under arms. While the legions were casting lots for the order of march, the cavalry charged, and, strange to say, were kept only by the courage of the Italian legion from being driven back on the entrenchments by an inferior force of Othonianists. These men, at the sword’s point, compelled the beaten squadron to wheel round and resume the conflict. The line of the Vitellianists was formed without hurry, for, though the enemy was close at hand, the sight of their arms was intercepted by the thick brushwood. In Otho’s army the generals were full of fear, and the soldiers hated their officers; the baggage-wagons and the camp-followers were mingled with the troops; and as there were steep ditches on both sides the road, it would have been found too narrow even for an undisturbed advance. Some were gathering round their standards; others were seeking them; everywhere was heard the confused shouting of men who were joining the ranks, or calling to their comrades, and each, as he was prompted by courage or by cowardice, rushed on to the front, or slunk back to the rear.
From the consternation of panic their feelings passed under the influence of a groundless joy into languid indifference, some persons spreading the lie that Vitellius’ army had revolted. Whether this rumour was circulated by the spies of Vitellius, or originated in treachery or in accident among the partisans of Otho, has never been clearly ascertained. Forgetting their warlike ardour, the Othonianists at once greeted the foe; as they were answered by an angry murmur, they caused apprehensions of treachery in many of their own side, who did not know what the greeting meant. Then the enemy’s line charged with its ranks unbroken, in strength and in numbers superior; the Othonianists, scattered and weary as they were, met the attack with spirit. The ground was so entangled with trees and vineyards that the battle assumed many forms. They met in close and in distant conflict, in line and in column. On the raised road they stood foot to foot, they pushed with their bodies and their shields, and ceasing to throw their javelins, they struck through helmets and breastplates with swords and battle-axes. Recognising each other and distinctly seen by the rest of the combatants, they were fighting to decide the whole issue of the war.
In an open plain between the Padus and the road, two legions happened to meet. On the side of Vitellius was the 21st, called the Rapax, a corps of old and distinguished renown. On that of Otho was the 1st, called Adjutrix, which had never before been brought into the field, but was high-spirited, and eager to gain its first triumph. The men of the 1st, overthrowing the foremost ranks of the 21st, carried off the eagle. The 21st, infuriated by this loss, not only repulsed the 1st, and slew the legate, Orfidius Benignus, but captured many colours and standards from the enemy. In another quarter the 13th legion was put to flight by a charge of the 5th. The 14th was surrounded by a superior force. Otho’s generals had long since fled and Caecina and Valens strengthened their army with the reserves. New reinforcements were supplied by Varus Alfenius with his Batavians. They had routed the band of gladiators, which had been ferried across the river, and which had been cut to pieces by the opposing cohorts while they were actually in the water. Thus flushed with victory, they charged the flank of the enemy.
The centre of their line had been penetrated, and the Othonianists fled on all sides in the direction of Bedriacum. The distance was very great, and the roads were blocked up with heaps of corpses; thus the slaughter was the greater, for captives taken in civil war can be turned to no profit. Suetonius Paullinus and Licinius Proculus, taking different roads, avoided the camp. Vedius Aquila, legate of the 13th legion, in the blindness of fear, fell in the way of the furious soldiery. Late in the day he entered the entrenchments, and found himself the centre of a mob of clamorous and mutinous fugitives. They did not refrain from abuse or actual violence; they reviled him as a deserter and traitor, not having any specific charge against him, but all, after the fashion of the mob, imputing to him their own crimes. Titianus and Celsus were favoured by the darkness. By that time the sentries had been posted, and the soldiers reduced to order. Annius Gallus had prevailed upon them by his prayers, his advice, and his personal influence, not to aggravate the disaster of their defeat by mutual slaughter. Whether the war was at an end, or whether they might choose to resume the conflict, the vanquished would find in union the sole mitigation of their lot. The spirit of the rest of the army was broken, but the Praetorians angrily complained that they had been vanquished, not by valour, but by treachery. “The Vitellianists indeed,” they said, “gained no bloodless victory; their cavalry was defeated, a legion lost its eagle. We have still the troops beyond the Padus, and Otho himself. The legions of Moesia are coming; a great part of the army remained at Bedriacum; these certainly were never vanquished; and if it must be so, it is on the battlefield that we shall fall with most honour.” Amid all the exasperation or terror of these thoughts, the extremity of despair yet roused them to fury rather than to fear.
The army of Vitellius bivouacked at the fifth milestone from Bedriacum. The generals did not venture an assault on the enemy’s camp that same day; besides, a capitulation was expected. Though they were without baggage, and had marched out only to fight, it was sufficient protection to them that they had arms, and were victorious. On the following day, as the feeling of Otho’s army was evident, and those who had been most furious were inclined to repent, envoys were sent, nor did the generals of Vitellius hesitate to grant conditions of peace. The envoys indeed were detained for some little time, and this circumstance caused some doubt, as it was not known whether they had obtained their object; before long, however, they returned, and the camp was thrown open. Both victors and vanquished melted into tears, and cursed the fatality of civil strife with a melancholy joy. There in the same tents did they dress the wounds of brothers or of kinsmen. Their hopes, their rewards, were all uncertain; death and sorrow were sure. And no one had so escaped misfortune as to have no bereavement to lament. Search was made for the body of the legate Orfidius, and it was burnt with the customary honours. A few were buried by their friends; the multitude that remained were left above ground.
Otho was awaiting news of the battle free from alarm and resolved in purpose. First came gloomy tidings, and then fugitives from the field, making known that all was lost. The zeal of the soldiers did not wait for the Emperor to speak. They bade him be of good cheer, telling him that he had still fresh forces, and that they would themselves endure and dare to the last. This was no flattery; they were fired by a furious impulse to seek the battle-field, and raise again the fallen fortunes of their party. Those who stood at a distance stretched out their arms, those who were near clasped the Emperor’s knees, and Plotius Firmus was the most zealous of them all. This man, who was prefect of the Praetorian Guard, repeatedly besought Otho not to desert an army so loyal and soldiers so deserving; “there was more courage in bearing trouble,” he said, “than in escaping from it; the brave and the energetic cling to hope, even in spite of fortune; the cowardly and the indolent are hurried into despair by their fears.” While he was thus speaking, as Otho assumed a relenting or a stern expression, the soldiers cheered or groaned. Nor was it only the Praetorians, who were peculiarly Otho’s troops, that thus acted; those who had been sent on from Moesia declared that the approaching army was as firmly resolved, and that the legions had entered Aquileia. No one therefore can doubt that the war might have been renewed with its terrible disasters, and its uncertainties both for victors and vanquished.
Otho himself was opposed to all thoughts of war. He said, “I hold that to expose such a spirit, such a courage as yours, to any further risk is to put too high a value on my life. The more hope you hold out to me, should I choose to live, the more glorious will be my death. Fortune and I now know each other; you need not reckon for how long, for it is peculiarly difficult to be moderate with that prosperity which you think you will not long enjoy. The civil war began with Vitellius; he was the first cause of our contending in arms for the throne; the example of not contending more than once shall belong to me. By this let posterity judge of Otho. Vitellius is welcome to his brother, his wife, his children. I need neither revenge nor consolation. Others may have held the throne for a longer time, but no one can have left it with such fortitude. Shall I suffer so large a portion of the youth of Rome and so many noble armies to be again laid low and to be lost to the State? Let this thought go with me, that you were willing to die for me. But live, and let us no longer delay, lest I interfere with your safety, you with my firmness. To say too much about one’s end is a mark of cowardice. Take as the strongest proof of my determination the fact that I complain of no one. To accuse either gods or men is only for him who wishes to live.”
After having thus spoken, he courteously entreated all in terms befitting their age and rank to go at once, and not exasperate the anger of the conqueror by staying. With the young he used his authority, with the old his prayers, and still his look was calm, his speech collected, as he checked the unseasonable tears of his friends. He gave orders that those who were departing should be furnished with boats and carriages; he destroyed all memorials and letters remarkable for their expressions of zeal for himself or their abuse of Vitellius. He distributed some gratuities, but sparingly, and not like a man who was soon to die. Then he even administered consolation to Salvius Cocceianus, his brother’s son, a very young man, who was anxious and sorrowful, praising his affection while he rebuked his fear. “Do you think,” he said, “that Vitellius will shew so ruthless a temper that he will not make even this return for the preservation of his whole family? By hastening my end I earn the clemency of the conqueror. It is not in the extremity of despair, but while my army yet cries for battle, that I have sacrificed to the State my last chance. I have obtained enough reputation for myself, enough nobility for my family. Successor to the Julii, the Claudii, the Servii, have been the first to bring the Imperial dignity into a new family. Enter then on life with a brave heart, and never entirely forget, or remember too vividly, that Otho was your uncle.”
After this he dismissed every one, and took some repose. He was now pondering in his heart the last cares of life, when his attention was distracted by a sudden tumult and he was told of the confusion and outrageous conduct of the soldiers. They were threatening with death all who attempted to depart, and were extreme in their violence against Verginius, whose house they had blockaded and were besieging. After rebuking the ringleaders of the tumult, he returned and employed himself in granting interviews to those who were departing, till all had left in safety. Towards evening he quenched his thirst with a draught of cold water. Two daggers were brought to him; he tried the edge of each, and then put one under his head. After satisfying himself that his friends had set out, he passed a tranquil night, and it is even said that he slept. At dawn he fell with his breast upon the steel. Hearing a groan from the dying man, his freedmen and slaves, and Plotius Firmus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, came in. They found but one wound. His funeral was hastily performed. He had made this the subject of earnest entreaties, anxious that his head might not be cut off and subjected to indignities. The Praetorian cohorts carried his body with praises and tears, covering his wound and his hands with kisses. Some of the soldiers killed themselves near the funeral pile, not moved by remorse or by fear, but by the desire to emulate his glory, and by love of their Prince. Afterwards this kind of death became a common practice among all ranks at Bedriacum, at Placentia, and in the other camps. Over Otho was built a tomb unpretending and therefore likely to stand.
Thus Otho ended his life in the 37th year of his age. He came from the municipal town of Ferentinum. His father was of consular, his grandfather of praetorian rank. His family on the mother’s side was of less distinction, but yet respectable. What his boyhood and his youth had been, we have already shewn. By two daring acts, one most atrocious, the other singularly noble, he earned in the eyes of posterity about an equal share of infamy and of glory. I should think it unbecoming the dignity of the task which I have undertaken, to collect fabulous marvels, and to amuse with fiction the tastes of my readers; at the same time I would not venture to impugn the credit of common report and tradition. The natives of these parts relate that on the day when the battle was being fought at Bedriacum, a bird of unfamiliar appearance settled in a much frequented grove near Regium Lepidum, and was not frightened or driven away by the concourse of people, or by the multitude of birds that flocked round it, until Otho killed himself; then it vanished. When they came to compute the time, it was found that the commencement and the end of this strange occurrence tallied with the last scenes of Otho’s life.
At the funeral the mutinous spirit of the soldiers was kindled afresh by their sorrow and regret, and there was no one to check them. They turned to Verginius, and in threatening language, at one time besought him to accept the Imperial dignity, at another, to act as envoy to Caecina and Valens. Verginius secretly departed by a back way from his house, and thus managed to elude them when they burst in. Rubrius Gallus was charged with the petition of the cohorts which had been quartered at Brixellum. An amnesty was immediately granted to them, while at the same time the forces which had been commanded by Flavius Sabinus signified through him their submission to the conqueror.
Hostilities had ceased everywhere, but a considerable number of the Senate, who had accompanied Otho from Rome, and had been afterwards left at Mutina, encountered the utmost peril. News of the defeat was brought to this place. The soldiers, however, rejected it as a false report; and judging the Senate to be hostile to Otho, watched their language, and put an unfavourable construction on their looks and manner. Proceeding at last to abuse and insults, they sought a pretext for beginning a massacre, while a different anxiety also weighed upon the Senators, who, knowing that the party of Vitellius was in the ascendant, feared that they might seem to have been tardy in welcoming the conqueror. Thus they met in great alarm and distracted by a twofold apprehension; no one was ready with any advice of his own, but looked for safety in sharing any mistake with many others. The anxieties of the terrified assembly were aggravated when the Senate of Mutina made them an offer of arms and money, and, with an ill-timed compliment, styled them “Conscript Fathers.”
There then ensued a notable quarrel, Licinius Caecina inveighing against Marcellus Eprius, for using ambiguous language. The rest indeed did not express their opinions, but the name of Marcellus, exposed as it was to odium from the hateful recollection of his career as an informer, had roused in Caecina, who was an unknown man, and had lately been made a Senator, the hope of distinguishing himself by making great enemies. The moderation of wiser men put an end to the dispute. They all returned to Bononia, intending there to deliberate again, and also expecting further news in the meantime. At Bononia they posted men on the different roads to make enquiries of every newcomer; one of Otho’s freedmen, on being questioned as to the cause of his departure, replied that he was entrusted with his master’s last commands; Otho was still alive, he said, when he left him, but his only thoughts were for posterity, and he had torn himself from all the fascinations of life. They were struck with admiration, and were ashamed to put any more questions, and then the hearts of all turned to Vitellius.
Lucius Vitellius, the brother of the Emperor, was present at their deliberations, and was preparing to receive their flatteries, when of a sudden Coenus, a freedman of Nero, threw them all into consternation by an outrageous falsehood. He asserted that, by the arrival of the 14th legion, joined to the forces from Brixellum, the victorious army had been routed and the fortunes of the party changed. The object of this fabrication was that the passports of Otho, which were beginning to be disregarded, might through more favourable news recover their validity. Coenus was conveyed with rapidity to the capital, but a few days after suffered the penalty of his crime by the order of Vitellius. The peril of the Senators was increased by the soldiers of Otho’s army believing that the intelligence thus brought was authentic. Their alarm was heightened by the fact that their departure from Mutina and their desertion of the party had the appearance of a public resolution. They did not meet again for general deliberation, but every man consulted his own safety, till letters arrived from Fabius Valens which removed their fear. Besides, the very glory of Otho’s death made the news travel more quickly.
At Rome, however, there was no alarm; the games of Ceres were attended as usual. When trustworthy messengers brought into the theatre the news that Otho was dead, and that all the troops in the capital had taken the oath to Vitellius under the direction of Flavius Sabinus, prefect of the city, the spectators greeted the name of Vitellius with applause. The people carried round the temples images of Galba, ornamented with laurel leaves and flowers, and piled chaplets in the form of a sepulchral mound near the lake of Curtius, on the very spot which had been stained with the blood of the dying man. In the Senate all the customary honours, which had been devised during the long reigns of other Emperors, were forthwith decreed. Public acknowledgments and thanks were also given to the armies of Germany, and envoys were sent charged with congratulations. There was read a letter from Fabius Valens to the consuls, which was written in a not unbecoming style, but they liked better the modesty of Caecina in not writing at all.
Italy, however, was prostrated under sufferings heavier and more terrible than the evils of war. The soldiers of Vitellius, dispersed through the municipal towns and colonies, were robbing and plundering and polluting every place with violence and lust. Everything, lawful or unlawful, they were ready to seize or to sell, sparing nothing, sacred or profane. Some persons under the soldiers’ garb murdered their private enemies. The soldiers themselves, who knew the country well, marked out rich estates and wealthy owners for plunder, or for death in case of resistance; their commanders were in their power and dared not check them. Caecina indeed was not so rapacious as he was fond of popularity; Valens was so notorious for his dishonest gains and peculations that he was disposed to conceal the crimes of others. The resources of Italy had long been impaired, and the presence of so vast a force of infantry and cavalry, with the outrages, the losses, and the wrongs they inflicted, was more than it could well endure.
Meanwhile Vitellius, as yet unaware of his victory, was bringing up the remaining strength of the army of Germany just as if the campaign had yet to be fought. A few of the old soldiers were left in the winter quarters, and the conscription throughout Gaul was hastily proceeded with, in order that the muster rolls of the legions which remained behind might be filled up. The defence of the bank of the Rhine was entrusted to Hordeonius Flaccus. Vitellius himself added to his own army 8000 men of the British conscription. He had proceeded a few days’ march, when he received intelligence of the victory at Bedriacum, and of the termination of the war through Otho’s death. He called an assembly, and heaped praises on the valour of the soldiers. When the army demanded that he should confer equestrian rank on Asiaticus his freedman, he checked the disgraceful flattery. Then, with his characteristic fickleness, in the privacy of a banquet he granted the very distinction which he had publicly refused; and honoured with the ring of Knighthood this same Asiaticus, a slave of infamous character, ever seeking power by unprincipled intrigues.
About the same time news came to Vitellius that the procurator Albinus had fallen, and that both the provinces of Mauritania had declared for him. Lucceius Albinus, whom Nero had appointed to the government of Mauritania Caesariensis, to which Galba had subsequently added the charge of the province of Tingitana, had the disposal of no contemptible force. He had with him 19 cohorts of infantry, 5 squadrons of cavalry, and a vast number of Moors, a force trained to war by robbery and plunder. When Galba had fallen, he was strongly disposed in favour of Otho. He even looked beyond Africa and threatened Spain, which is separated from it only by a narrow strait. This alarmed Cluvius Rufus, who ordered the 10th legion to approach the coast, as if he intended to send them across. Some of the centurions were sent on before to gain for Vitellius the good-will of the Moors. This was no difficult task, as the fame of the German army was great in the provinces. Besides this, a report was circulated that Albinus, scorning the title of procurator, was assuming the insignia of royalty and the name of Juba.
The tide of feeling turned, and Asinius Pollio, one of the stanchest friends of Albinus, prefect of one of the squadrons of cavalry, with Festus and Scipio, prefects of two infantry cohorts, were killed. Albinus himself, who was sailing from the province Tingitana to Mauritania Caesariensis, was murdered as he reached the shore. His wife threw herself in the way of the murderers and was killed with him. Vitellius made no inquiries into what was going on. He dismissed matters of even the greatest importance with brief hearing, and was quite unequal to any serious business. He directed the army to proceed by land, but sailed himself down the river Arar. His progress had nothing of imperial state about it, but was marked by the poverty of his former condition, till Junius Blaesus, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, a man of noble birth, whose munificence was equal to his wealth, furnished him with suitable attendance, and escorted him with a splendid retinue; a service which was of itself displeasing, though Vitellius masked his dislike under servile compliments. At Lugdunum the generals of the two parties, the conquerors and the conquered, were waiting for him. Valens and Caecina he put by his own chair of state, after celebrating their praises before a general assembly. He then ordered the whole army to come and greet his infant son; he brought him out, wrapped in a military cloak, and holding him in his arms, gave him the title of Germanicus and surrounded him with all the insignia of the imperial rank. It was an extravagant distinction for a day of prosperity, but it served as a consolation in adversity.
Then the bravest centurions among the Othonianists were put to death. This, more than anything else, alienated from Vitellius the armies of Illyricum. At the same time the other legions, influenced by the contagion of example, and by their dislike of the German troops, were meditating war. Vitellius detained Suetonius Paullinus and Licinus Proculus in all the wretchedness of an odious imprisonment; when they were heard, they resorted to a defence, necessary rather than honourable. They actually claimed the merit of having been traitors, attributing to their own dishonest counsels the long march before the battle, the fatigue of Otho’s troops, the entanglement of the line with the baggage-wagons, and many circumstances which were really accidental. Vitellius gave them credit for perfidy, and acquitted them of the crime of loyalty. Salvius Titianus, the brother of Otho, was never in any peril, for his brotherly affection and his apathetic character screened him from danger. Marius Celsus had his consulship confirmed to him. It was commonly believed, however, and was afterwards made a matter of accusation in the Senate against Caecilius Simplex, that he had sought to purchase this honour, and with it the destruction of Celsus. Vitellius refused, and afterwards bestowed on Simplex a consulship that had not to be bought with crime or with money. Trachalus was protected against his accusers by Galeria the wife of Vitellius.
Amid the adventures of these illustrious men, one is ashamed to relate how a certain Mariccus, a Boian of the lowest origin, pretending to divine inspiration, ventured to thrust himself into fortune’s game, and to challenge the arms of Rome. Calling himself the champion of Gaul, and a God (for he had assumed this title), he had now collected 8000 men, and was taking possession of the neighbouring villages of the Aedui, when that most formidable state attacked him with a picked force of its native youth, to which Vitellius attached some cohorts, and dispersed the crowd of fanatics. Mariccus was captured in the engagement, and was soon after exposed to wild beasts, but not having been torn by them was believed by the senseless multitude to be invulnerable, till he was put to death in the presence of Vitellius.
No further severities were exercised on the persons of the opposite faction, or with property in any case; the wills of those who had fallen fighting for Otho were held to be valid, and with those who died intestate, the law was carried out. Assuredly, could Vitellius have bridled his luxurious tastes, no one need have dreaded his rapacity. He had a scandalous and insatiable passion for feasts; the provocatives of gluttony were conveyed to him from the capital and from Italy, till the roads from both seas resounded with traffic; the leading men of the various states were ruined by having to furnish his entertainments, and the states themselves reduced to beggary; the soldiers fast degenerated from their old activity and valour, through habitual indulgence and contempt of their leader. He sent on before him to the capital an edict, by which he postponed his acceptance of the title of Augustus and refused that of Caesar, though he relinquished nothing of his actual power. The astrologers were banished from Italy. The Roman Knights were forbidden, under severe penalties, to degrade themselves by appearing in public entertainments, or in the arena. Former Emperors had encouraged the practice by bribes, or more frequently enforced it by compulsion; and many of the towns and colonies had vied with each other in attracting by large pay the most profligate of the youth.
Vitellius, however, when his brother joined him, and when those who are skilled in the arts of despotism began to creep into his confidence, grew more arrogant and cruel. He ordered the execution of Dolabella, whose banishment by Otho to the Colonia Aquinas I have before mentioned. Dolabella, on hearing of the death of Otho, had entered the capital. Plancius Varus, who had filled the office of praetor, and had been one of Dolabella’s intimate friends, founded on this a charge, which he laid before Flavius Sabinus, prefect of the city, implying that Dolabella had escaped from custody, and had offered to put himself at the head of the vanquished party; and he also alleged that the cohort stationed at Ostia had been tampered with. Of these grave accusations he brought no proof whatever, and then repenting, sought, when the crime had been consummated, a pardon which could be of no avail. Flavius Sabinus hesitating to act in a matter of such importance, Triaria, the wife of Lucius Vitellius, with unfeminine ferocity, warned him not to seek a reputation for clemency by imperilling the Emperor. Sabinus was naturally of a mild disposition, but under the pressure of fear was easily swayed; here, the danger of another made him tremble for himself, and, lest he might seem to have helped the accused, he precipitated his fall.
Upon this, Vitellius, who, besides fearing Dolabella, hated him, because he had married Petronia, his former wife, summoned him by letter, and at the same time gave orders that, without passing along the much frequented thoroughfare of the Flaminian road, he should turn aside to Interamna, and there be put to death. This seemed too tedious to the executioner, who in a road-side tavern struck down his prisoner, and cut his throat. The act brought great odium upon the new reign, and was noted as the first indication of its character. Triaria’s recklessness was rendered more intolerable by an immediate contrast with the exemplary virtue of Galeria, the Emperor’s wife, who took no part in these horrors, and with Sextilia, the mother of the two Vitellii, a woman equally blameless, and of the old type of character. She indeed is said to have exclaimed on receiving the first letter from her son, “I am the mother, not of Germanicus, but of Vitellius.” And in after days no seductions of fortune, no flattery from the State, could move her to exultation; it was only the misfortunes of her family that she felt.
M. Cluvius Rufus, who had left his government in Spain, came up with Vitellius after his departure from Lugdunum. He wore a look of joy and congratulation, but he was anxious at heart, for he knew that he was the object of accusations. Hilarius, the Emperor’s freedman, had indeed brought this charge against him, that on hearing of the contest for the throne between Vitellius and Otho, he had made an attempt to secure power for himself, and to obtain possession of Spain, and that with this view he had not headed his passports with the name of any Emperor. Some extracts from the speeches of Rufus he represented as insulting to Vitellius, and intended to win popularity for himself. So strong, however, was the influence of Cluvius, that Vitellius actually ordered the freedman to be punished. Cluvius was attached to the Emperor’s retinue; Spain however was not taken from him; he still governed the province though not resident, as L. Arruntius had done before him, whom Tiberius Caesar detained at home, because he feared him; it was not from any apprehension that Vitellius kept Cluvius with him. The same compliment was not paid to Trebellius Maximus. He had fled from Britain because of the exasperation of the soldiery. Vettius Bolanus, who was then accompanying the Emperor, was sent to succeed him.
Vitellius was troubled by the spirit of the vanquished legions, which was anything but broken. Scattered through all parts of Italy, and mingled with the conquerors, they spoke the language of enemies. The soldiers of the 14th legion were peculiarly furious. They said that they had not been vanquished; that at the battle of Bedriacum only the veterans had been beaten, and that the strength of the legion had been absent. It was resolved that these troops should be sent back to Britain, from which province Nero had summoned them, and that the Batavian cohorts should in the meantime be quartered with them, because there was an old feud between them and the 14th. In the presence of such animosities between these armed masses, harmony did not last long. At Augusta of the Taurini it happened that a Batavian soldier fiercely charged some artisan with having cheated him, and that a soldier of the legion took the part of his host. Each man’s comrades gathered round him; from words they came to blows, and a fierce battle would have broken out, had not two Praetorian cohorts taken the side of the 14th, and given confidence to them, while they intimidated the Batavians. Vitellius then ordered that these latter troops should be attached to his own force, in consideration of their loyalty, and that the legion should pass over the Graian Alps, and then take that line of road, by which they would avoid passing Vienna, for the inhabitants of that place were also suspected. On the night of the departure of the legion, a part of the Colonia Taurina was destroyed by the fires which were left in every direction. This loss, like many of the evils of war, was forgotten in the greater disasters which happened to other cities. When the 14th had made the descent on the other side of the Alps, the most mutinous among them were for carrying the standards to Vienna. They were checked, however, by the united efforts of the better disposed, and the legion was transported into Britain.
Vitellius found his next cause of apprehension in the Praetorian cohorts. They were first divided, and then ordered, though with the gratifying compliment of an honourable discharge, to give up their arms to their tribunes. But as the arms Vespasian gathered strength, they returned to their old service, and constituted the mainstay of the Flavianist party. The first legion from the fleet was sent into Spain, that in the peaceful repose of that province their excitement might subside; the 7th and 11th were sent back to their winter quarters; the, 13th were ordered to erect amphitheatres, for both Caecina at Cremona, and Valens at Bononia, were preparing to exhibit shows of gladiators. Vitellius indeed was never so intent on the cares of Empire as to forget his pleasures.
Though he had thus quietly divided the conquered party, there arose a disturbance among the conquerors. It began in sport, but the number of those who fell aggravated the horrors of the war. Vitellius had sat down to a banquet at Ticinum, and had invited Verginius to be his guest. The legates and tribunes always follow the character of the Emperor, and either imitate his strictness, or indulge in early conviviality. And the soldiers in like manner are either diligent or lax in their duty. About Vitellius all was disorder and drunkenness, more like a nocturnal feast and revel than a properly disciplined camp. Thus it happened that two soldiers, one of whom belonged to the 5th legion, while the other was one of the Gallic auxiliaries, challenged each other in sport to a wrestling match. The legionary was thrown, and the Gaul taunted him. The soldiers who had assembled to witness the contest took different sides, till the legionaries made a sudden and murderous attack on the auxiliary troops, and destroyed two cohorts. The first disturbance was checked only by a second. A cloud of dust and the glitter of arms were seen at a distance. A sudden cry was raised that the 14th legion had retraced its steps, and was advancing to the attack. It was in fact the rearguard of the army, and their recognition removed the cause of alarm. Meanwhile a slave of Verginius happened to come in their way. He was charged with having designed the assassination of Vitellius. The soldiers rushed to the scene of the banquet, and loudly demanded the death of Verginius. Even Vitellius, tremblingly alive as he was to all suspicions, had no doubt of his innocence. Yet he could hardly check the troops when they clamoured for the death of a man of consular rank, formerly their own general. Indeed there was no one who was more frequently the object of all kinds of outbreaks than Verginius; the man still was admired, still retained his high reputation, but they hated him with the hatred of those who are despised.
The next day Vitellius, after giving audience to the envoys from the Senate whom he had ordered to wait for him there, proceeded to the camp, and actually bestowed high praise on the loyalty of the soldiers. The auxiliary troops loudly complained that such complete impunity, such privileged arrogance, was accorded to the legions. The Batavian cohorts were sent back to Germany, lest they should venture on further violence. Destiny was thus simultaneously preparing the occasions of civil and of foreign war. The Gallic auxiliaries were sent back to their respective states, a vast body of men, which in the very earliest stage of the revolt had been employed to make an idle show of strength. Besides this, in order to eke out the Imperial resources, which had been impaired by a series of bounties, directions were given that the battalions of the legions and the auxiliary forces should be reduced, all recruiting being forbidden. Discharges were offered without distinction. This measure was disastrous to the State, and distasteful to the soldier, who found that the same duty was distributed among a smaller number, and that his toils and risks came round in a more frequent succession. Their vigour too was undermined by luxury, a luxury that transgressed our ancient discipline and the customs of our ancestors, in whose days the power of Rome found a surer foundation in valour than in wealth.
Vitellius then directed his course to Cremona, and after witnessing the spectacle exhibited by Caecina, he conceived a desire to visit the plains of Bedriacum and to survey the scene of the recent victory. It was a hideous and terrible sight. Not forty days had passed since the battle, and there lay mangled corpses, severed limbs, the putrefying forms of men and horses; the soil was saturated with gore, and, what with levelled trees and crops, horrible was the desolation. Not less revolting was that portion of the road which the people of Cremona had strewed with laurel leaves and roses, and on which they had raised altars, and sacrificed victims as if to greet some barbarous despot, festivities in which they delighted for the moment, but which were afterwards to work their ruin. Valens and Caecina were present, and pointed out the various localities of the field of battle; shewing how from one point the columns of the legions had rushed to the attack; how from another the cavalry had charged; how from a third the auxiliary troops had turned the flank of the enemy. The tribunes and prefects extolled their individual achievements, and mixed together fictions, facts, and exaggerations. The common soldiers also turned aside from the line of march with joyful shouts, and recognized the various scenes of conflict, and gazed with wonder on the piles of weapons and the heaps of slain. Some indeed there were whom all this moved to thoughts of the mutability of fortune, to pity, and to tears. Vitellius did not turn away his eyes, did not shudder to behold the unburied corpses of so many thousands of his countrymen; nay, in his exultation, in his ignorance of the doom which was so close upon himself, he actually instituted a religious ceremony in honour of the tutelary gods of the place.
A show of gladiators was then given by Fabius Valens at Bononia, with all the arrangements introduced from the capital. The nearer the Emperor approached to Rome, the greater was the license of his march, accompanied as it was by players and herds of eunuchs, in fact by all that had characterised the court of Nero. Indeed, Vitellius used to make a display of his admiration for Nero, and had constantly followed him when he sang, not from the compulsion to which the noblest had to yield, but because he was the slave and chattel of profligacy and gluttony. To leave some months of office open for Valens and Caecina, the consulates of others were abridged, that of Martius Macer was ignored on the ground of his having been one of Otho’s generals. Valerius Maximus, who had been nominated consul by Galba, had his dignity deferred for no offence, but because he was a man of gentle temper, and could submit tamely to an affront. Pedanius Costa was passed over. The Emperor disliked him because he had risen against Nero, and roused Verginius to revolt. Other reasons, however, were alleged. Finally, after the servile fashion of the time, thanks were voted to Vitellius.
A deception, which was started with considerable vigour, lasted for a few, and but a few days. There had suddenly sprung up a man, who gave out that he was Scribonianus Camerinus; that, dreading the times of Nero, he had concealed himself in Histria, where the old family of the Crassi still had dependants, estates, and a popular name. He admitted into the secret of his imposture all the most worthless of his followers; and the credulous populace and some of the soldiers, either from not knowing the truth, or impatient for revolution, began eagerly to rally round him. When he was brought before Vitellius, and asked who he was, as his account of himself could not be trusted,, and his master recognised him as a runaway slave, by name Geta, he was executed as slaves usually are.
It would almost pass belief, were I to tell to what a degree the insolence and sloth of Vitellius grew upon him when messengers from Syria and Judaea brought the news that the provinces of the East had sworn allegiance to him. Though as yet all information was but vague and uncertain, Vespasian was the subject of much talk and rumour, and at the mention of his name Vitellius often roused himself. But now, both the Emperor and the army, as if they had no rival to fear, indulging in cruelty, lust, and rapine, plunged into all the licence of foreign manners.
Vespasian, on the other hand, was taking a general survey of the chances of a campaign and of his resources both immediate and remote. The soldiers were so entirely devoted to him, that as he dictated the oath of allegiance and prayed for all prosperity to Vitellius, they listened to him in silence. Mucianus had no dislike to Vespasian, and was strongly inclined towards Titus. Already had Alexander, the governor of Egypt, declared his adhesion. The third legion, as it had passed over from Syria to Moesia, Vespasian counted upon as devoted to himself, and it was hoped that the other legions of Illyricum would follow its example. In fact the whole army had been kindled into indignation by the insolence of the soldiers who came among them from Vitellius. Savage in appearance, and speaking a rude dialect, they ridiculed everybody else as their inferiors. But in such gigantic preparations for war there is usually delay. Vespasian was at one moment high in hope, and at another disposed to reflect on the chances of failure. What a day would that be when he should expose himself with his sixty years upon him, and the two young men, his sons, to the perils of war! In private enterprises men may advance or recede, and presume more or less upon fortune as they may choose, whereas they who aim at empire have no alternative between the highest success and utter downfall.
The strength of the army of Germany, with which as a military man he was well acquainted, was continually before his eyes. He reflected that his own legions were wholly without experience of a civil war, that those of Vitellius had been victorious, and that among the conquered there was more dissatisfaction than real strength. Civil strife had shaken the fidelity of the Roman soldiery, and danger was to be apprehended from individuals. What would be the use of infantry and cavalry, should one or two men seek the prize with which the enemy would be ready to reward a prompt act of treason? It was thus that Scribonianus had fallen in the days of Claudius, and his murderer, Volaginius, had been raised from the ranks to the highest military command. It was easier to move the hearts of the multitude than to avoid the single assassin.
Though staggered by these apprehensions, he was confirmed in his purpose by others among the legates and among his own friends, and particularly by Mucianus, who, after many conversations with him in private, now publicly addressed him in the following terms: “All who enter upon schemes involving great interests, should consider whether what they are attempting be for the advantage of the State, for their own credit, easy of accomplishment, or at any rate free from serious difficulty. They must also weigh the circumstances of their adviser, must see whether he will follow up his advice by imperilling himself, and must know who, should fortune prosper the undertaking, is to have the highest honours. I invite you, Vespasian, to a dignity which will be as beneficial to the State, as it will be honourable to yourself. Under heaven this dignity lies within your reach. And do not dread what may present the semblance of flattery. To be chosen successor to Vitellius would be more of an insult than a compliment. It is not against the vigorous intellect of the Divine Augustus, it is not against the profound subtlety of the aged Tiberius, it is not even against the house of Caius, Claudius, or Nero, established by a long possession of the Empire, that we are rising in revolt. You have already yielded to the prestige even of Galba’s family. To persist in inaction, and to leave the State to degradation and ruin, would look like indolence and cowardice, even supposing that servitude were as safe for you as it would be infamous. The time has gone by and passed away when you might have endured the suspicion of having coveted Imperial power. That power is now your only refuge. Have you forgotten how Corbulo was murdered? His origin, I grant, was more illustrious than ours; yet in nobility of birth Nero surpassed Vitellius. The man who is afraid sees distinction enough in any one whom he fears. That an Emperor can be created by the army, Vitellius is himself a proof, who, though he had seen no service and had no military reputation, was raised to the throne by the unpopularity of Galba. Otho, who was overcome, not indeed by skilful generalship, or by a powerful enemy, but by his own premature despair, this man has made into a great and deservedly regretted Emperor, and all the while he is disbanding his legions, disarming his auxiliaries, and sowing every day fresh seeds of civil war. All the energy and high spirit which once belonged to his army is wasted in the revelry of taverns and in aping the debaucheries of their chief. You have from Judaea, Syria, and Egypt, nine fresh legions, unexhausted by battle, uncorrupted by dissension; you have a soldiery hardened by habits of warfare and victorious over foreign foes; you have strong fleets, auxiliaries both horse and foot, kings most faithful to your cause, and an experience in which you excel all other men.
“For myself I will claim nothing more than not to be reckoned inferior to Valens and Caecina. But do not spurn Mucianus as an associate, because you do not find in him a rival. I count myself better than Vitellius; I count you better than myself. Your house is ennobled by the glories of a triumph; it has two youthful scions, one of whom is already equal to the cares of Empire, and in the earliest years of his military career won renown with these very armies of Germany. It would be ridiculous in me not to waive my claims to Empire in favour of the man whose son I should adopt, were I myself Emperor. Between us, however, there will not be an equal distribution of the fruits of success or failure. If we are victorious. I shall have whatever honour you think fit to bestow on me; the danger and the peril we shall share alike; nay, I would rather have you, as is the better policy, direct your armies, and leave to me the conduct of the war and the hazards of battle. At this very moment a stricter discipline prevails among the conquered than among the conquerors. The conquered are fired to valour by anger, by hatred, by the desire of vengeance, while the conquerors are losing their energy in pride and insolence. War will of itself discover and lay open the hidden and rankling wounds of the victorious party. And, indeed, your vigilance, economy, and wisdom, do not inspire me with greater confidence of success than do the indolence, ignorance, and cruelty of Vitellius. Once at war, we have a better cause than we can have in peace, for those who deliberate on revolt have revolted already.”
After this speech from Mucianus, the other officers crowded round Vespasian with fresh confidence, encouraging him, and reminding him of the responses of prophets and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Nor was Vespasian proof against this superstition, for afterwards, when master of the world, he openly retained one Seleucus, an astrologer, to direct his counsels, and to foretell the future. Old omens now recurred to his thoughts. A cypress tree of remarkable height on his estate had suddenly fallen, and rising again the following day on the very same spot, had flourished with majestic beauty and even broader shade. This, as the Haruspices agreed, was an omen of brilliant success, and the highest distinction seemed prophesied to Vespasian in early youth. At first, however, the honours of a triumph, his consulate, and the glory of his victories in Judaea, appeared to have justified the truth of the omen. When he had won these distinctions, he began to believe that it portended the Imperial power. Between Judaea and Syria is Mount Carmel; this is the name both of the mountain and the Deity. They have no image of the god nor any temple; the tradition of antiquity recognises only an altar and its sacred association. While Vespasian was there offering sacrifice and pondering his secret hopes, Basilides the priest, after repeated inspections of the entrails, said to him, “Whatever be your purposes, Vespasian, whether you think of building a house, of enlarging your estate, or augmenting the number of your slaves, there is given you a vast habitation, boundless territory, a multitude of men.” These obscure intimations popular rumour had at once caught up, and now began to interpret. Nothing was more talked about by the common people. In Vespasian’s presence the topic was more frequently discussed, because to the aspirant himself men have more to say.
With purposes no longer doubtful they parted, Mucianus for Antioch, Vespasian for Caesarea. These cities are the capitals of Syria and Judaea respectively. The initiative in transferring the Empire to Vespasian was taken at Alexandria under the prompt direction of Tiberius Alexander, who on the 1st of July made the legions swear allegiance to him. That day was ever after celebrated as the first of his reign, though the army of Judaea on July 3rd took the oath to Vespasian in person with such eager alacrity that they would not wait for the return of his son Titus, who was then on his way back from Syria, acting as the medium between Mucianus and his father for the communication of their plans. All this was done by the impulsive action of the soldiers without the preliminary of a formal harangue or any concentration of the legions.
While they were seeking a suitable time and place, and for that which in such an affair is the great difficulty, the first man to speak, while hope, fear, the chances of success or of disaster, were present to their minds, one day, on Vespasian quitting his chamber, a few soldiers who stood near, in the usual form in which they would salute their legate, suddenly saluted him as Emperor. Then all the rest hurried up, called him Caesar and Augustus, and heaped on him all the titles of Imperial rank. Their minds had passed from apprehension to confidence of success. In Vespasian there appeared no sign of elation or arrogance, or of any change arising from his changed fortunes. As soon as he had dispelled the mist with which so astonishing a vicissitude had clouded his vision, he addressed the troops in a soldier-like style, and listened to the joyful intelligence that came pouring in from all quarters. This was the very opportunity for which Mucianus had been waiting. He now at once administered to the eager soldiers the oath of allegiance to Vespasian. Then he entered the theatre at Antioch, where it is customary for the citizens to hold their public deliberations, and as they crowded together with profuse expressions of flattery, he addressed them. He could speak Greek with considerable grace, and in all that he did and said he had the art of displaying himself to advantage. Nothing excited the provincials and the army so much as the assertion of Mucianus that Vitellius had determined to remove the legions of Germany to Syria, to an easy and lucrative service, while the armies of Syria were to have given them in exchange the encampments of Germany with their inclement climate and their harassing toils. On the one hand, the provincials from long use felt a pleasure in the companionship of the soldiers, with whom many of them were connected by friendship or relationship; on the other, the soldiers from the long duration of their service loved the well-known and familiar camp as a home.
Before the 15th of July the whole of Syria had adopted the same alliance. There joined him, each with his entire kingdom, Sohemus, who had no contemptible army, and Antiochus, who possessed vast ancestral wealth, and was the richest of all the subject-kings. Before long Agrippa, who had been summoned from the capital by secret despatches from his friends, while as yet Vitellius knew nothing, was crossing the sea with all speed. Queen Berenice too, who was then in the prime of youth and beauty, and who had charmed even the old Vespasian by the splendour of her presents, promoted his cause with equal zeal. All the provinces washed by the sea, as far as Asia and Achaia, and the whole expanse of country inland towards Pontus and Armenia, took the oath of allegiance. The legates, however, of these provinces were without troops, Cappadocia as yet having had no legions assigned to it. A council was held at Berytus to deliberate on the general conduct of the war. Thither came Mucianus with the legates and tribunes and all the most distinguished centurions and soldiers, and thither also the picked troops of the army of Judaea. Such a vast assemblage of cavalry and infantry, and the pomp of the kings that strove to rival each other in magnificence, presented an appearance of Imperial splendour.
The first business of the campaign was to levy troops and recall the veterans to service. The strong cities were set apart for the manufacture of arms; at Antioch gold and silver money was coined, everything being vigorously carried on in its appointed place by properly qualified agents. Vespasian himself went everywhere, urged to exertion, encouraged the industrious by praise, and with the indolent used the stimulus of example rather than of compulsion, and chose to be blind to the faults rather than to the merits of his friends. Many among them he distinguished with prefectures and governments, and several with the honours of senatorial rank; all these were men of eminence who soon reached the highest positions. In some cases good fortune served instead of merit. Of a donative to the troops Mucianus in his first speech had held out only moderate hopes, and even Vespasian offered no more in the civil war than others had done in times of peace, thus making a noble stand against all bribery of the soldiery, and possessing in consequence a better army. Envoys were sent to Parthia and Armenia, and precautions were taken that, when the legions were engaged in the civil war, the country in their rear might not be exposed to attack. It was arranged that Titus should pursue the war in Judaea, while Vespasian should secure the passes into Egypt. To cope with Vitellius, a portion of the army, the generalship of Mucianus, the prestige of Vespasian’s name, and the destiny before which all difficulties vanish, seemed sufficient. To all the armies and legates letters were despatched, and instructions were given to them that they were to attach the Praetorians, who hated Vitellius, by the inducement of renewed military service.
Mucianus, who acted more as a colleague than as a servant of the Emperor, moved on with some light-armed troops, not indeed at a tardy pace so as to give the appearance of delay, yet not with extraordinary speed. Thus he allowed rumour to gather fresh strength by distance, well aware that his force was but small, and that exaggerated notions are formed about what is not seen. Behind him, however, came in a vast body the 6th legion and 13,000 veterans. He had given directions that the fleet from the Pontus should be brought up to Byzantium, not having yet made up his mind, whether, avoiding Moesia, he should move on Dyrrachium with his infantry and cavalry, and at the same time blockade the sea on the side of Italy with his ships of war, thus leaving Asia and Achaia safe in his rear, which, being bare of troops, would be left at the mercy of Vitellius, unless they were occupied with proper garrisons. And thus too Vitellius himself, finding Brundisium, Tarentum, and the shores of Calabria and Lucania menaced by hostile fleets, would be in utter perplexity as to which part of Italy he should protect.
Thus the provinces echoed with the bustle of preparing fleets, armies, and the implements of war. Nothing, however, was so vexatious as the raising of money. Mucianus, with the perpetual assertion that money was the sinews of war, looked in all questions, not to right or truth, but only to the extent of a man’s fortune. Informations abounded, and all the richest men were fastened on for plunder. These intolerable oppressions, which yet found some excuse in the necessities of war, were continued even in peace. Vespasian himself indeed at the beginning of his reign was not so bent on enforcing these iniquitous measures, till, spoilt by prosperity and evil counsellors, he learnt this policy and ventured to use it. Mucianus contributed to the war even from his own purse, liberal with his private means because he helped himself without scruple from the wealth of the State. The rest followed his example in contributing their money; very few enjoyed the same licence in reimbursing themselves.
Meanwhile the operations of Vespasian were hastened by the zeal of the army of Illyricum, which had come over to his side. The third legion set the example to the other legions of Moesia. These were the eighth and seventh (Claudius’), who were possessed with a strong liking for Otho, though they had not been present at the battle of Bedriacum. They had advanced to Aquileia, and by roughly repulsing the messengers who brought the tidings of Otho’s defeat, by tearing the colours which displayed the name of Vitellius, by finally seizing on the military chest and dividing it among themselves, had assumed a hostile attitude. Then they began to fear; fear suggested a new thought, that acts might be made a merit of with Vespasian, which would have to be excused to Vitellius. Accordingly, the three legions of Moesia sought by letter to win over the army of Pannonia, and prepared to use force if they refused. During this commotion, Aponius Saturnius, governor of Moesia, ventured on a most atrocious act. He despatched a centurion to murder Tettius Julianus, the legate of the 7th legion, to gratify a private pique, which he concealed beneath the appearance of party zeal. Julianus, having discovered his danger, and procured some guides, who were acquainted with the country, fled through the pathless wastes of Moesia beyond Mount Haemus, nor did he afterwards take any part in the civil war. He set out to join Vespasian, but contrived to protract his journey by various pretexts, lingering or hastening on his way, according to the intelligence he received.
In Pannonia, however, the 13th legion and the 7th (Galba’s), which still retained their vexation and rage at the defeat of Bedriacum, joined Vespasian without hesitation, mainly under the influence of Primus Antonius. This man, though an offender against the law, and convicted of fraud in the reign of Nero, had, among the other calamities of war, recovered his rank as a Senator. Having been appointed by Galba to command the 7th legion, he was commonly believed to have often written to Otho, offering the party his services as a general. Being slighted, however, by that Prince, he found no employment during the war. When the fortunes of Vitellius began to totter, he attached himself to Vespasian, and brought a vast accession of strength to his party. He was brave in battle, ready of speech, dexterous in bringing odium upon other men, powerful amidst civil strife and rebellion, rapacious, prodigal, the worst of citizens in peace, but in war no contemptible ally. United by these means, the armies of Moesia and Pannonia drew with them the soldiery of Dalmatia, though the consular legates took no part in the movement. Titus Ampius Flavianus was the governor of Pannonia, Poppaeus Silvanus of Dalmatia. They were both rich and advanced in years. The Imperial procurator, however, was Cornelius Fuscus, a man in the prime of life and of illustrious birth. Though in early youth the desire of repose had led him to resign his senatorial rank, he afterwards put himself at the head of his colony in fighting for Galba, and by this service he obtained his procuratorship. Subsequently embracing the cause of Vespasian, he lent the movement the stimulus of a fiery zeal. Finding his pleasure not so much in the rewards of peril as in peril itself, to assured and long acquired possession he preferred novelty, uncertainty, and risk. Accordingly, both he and Antonius strove to agitate and disturb wherever there was any weak point. Despatches were sent to the 14th legion in Britain and to the 1st in Spain, for both these legions had been on the side of Otho against Vitellius. Letters too were scattered through every part of Gaul, and in a moment a mighty war burst into flame, for the armies of Illyricum were already in open revolt, and the rest were waiting only the signal of success.
While Vespasian and the generals of his party were thus occupied in the provinces, Vitellius was daily becoming more contemptible and indolent, halting to enjoy the pleasures of every town and villa in his way, as with his cumbrous host he advanced towards the capital. He was followed by 60,000 armed soldiers demoralized by licence. Still larger was the number of camp-followers; and of all slaves, the slaves of soldiers are the most unruly. So numerous a retinue of officers and personal friends would have been difficult to keep under restraint, even if controlled by the strictest discipline. The crowd was made more unwieldy by Senators and Knights who came to meet him from the capital, some moved by fear, many by a spirit of adulation, others, and by degrees all, that they might not be left behind while the rest were going. From the dregs of the people there thronged buffoons, players, and charioteers, known to Vitellius from their infamous compliance with his vices; for in such disgraceful friendships he felt a strange pleasure. And now not only were the colonies and towns exhausted by having to furnish supplies, but the very cultivator of the soil and his lands, on which the harvests were now ripe, were plundered like an enemy’s territory.
There were many sanguinary encounters between the soldiers; for ever since the mutiny which broke out at Ticinum there had lingered a spirit of dissension between the legions and the auxiliary troops, though they could unite whenever they had to fight with the rustic population. The most terrible massacre took place at the 7th milestone from Rome. Vitellius was distributing to each soldier provisions ready dressed on the same abundant scale as the gladiators’ rations, and the populace had poured forth, and spread themselves throughout the entire camp. Some with the frolicsome humour of slaves robbed the careless soldiers by slily cutting their belts, and then asked them whether they were armed. Unused to insult, the spirit of the soldiers resented the jest. Sword in hand they fell upon the unarmed people. Among the slain was the father of a soldier, who was with his son. He was afterwards recognised, and his murder becoming generally known, they spared the innocent crowd. Yet there was a panic at Rome, as the soldiers pressed on in all directions. It was to the forum that they chiefly directed their steps, anxious to behold the spot where Galba had fallen. Nor were the men themselves a less frightful spectacle, bristling as they were with the skins of wild beasts, and armed with huge lances, while in their strangeness to the place they were embarrassed by the crowds of people, or tumbling down in the slippery streets or from the shock of some casual encounter, they fell to quarrelling, and then had recourse to blows and the use of their swords. Besides, the tribunes and prefects were hurrying to and fro with formidable bodies of armed men.
Vitellius himself, mounted on a splendid charger, with military cloak and sword, advanced from the Mulvian bridge, driving the Senate and people before him; but deterred by the advice of his friends from marching into Rome as if it were a captured city, he assumed a civil garb, and proceeded with his army in orderly array. The eagles of four legions were borne in front, and an equal number of colours from other legions on either side, then came the standards of twelve auxiliary squadrons, and the cavalry behind the ranks of the infantry. Next came thirty-four auxiliary cohorts, distinguished according to the names or various equipments of the nations. Before each eagle were the prefects of the camp, the tribunes, and the centurions of highest rank, in white robes, and the other officers by the side of their respective companies, glittering with arms and decorations. The ornaments and chains of the soldiers presented a brilliant appearance. It was a glorious sight, and the army was worthy of a better Emperor than Vitellius. Thus he entered the capital, and he there embraced his mother and honoured her with the title of Augusta.
The next day, as if he were addressing the Senate and people of another State, he pronounced a high panegyric on himself, extolling his own energy and moderation, though his enormities were known to the very persons who were present and to the whole of Italy, his progress through which had been disgraced by sloth and profligacy. Yet the mob, who had no patriotic anxieties, and who, without distinguishing between truth and falsehood, had learnt the lesson of habitual flattery, applauded him with shouts and acclamations, and, reluctant as he was to assume the name of Augustus, extorted from him a compliance as idle as his previous refusal.
The country, ready to find a meaning in every circumstance, regarded it as an omen of gloomy import that Vitellius, on obtaining the office of supreme Pontiff, should have issued a proclamation concerning the public religious ceremonial on the 18th of July, a day which from old times the disasters of Cremera and Allia had marked as unlucky. Thus utterly regardless of all law human and divine, with freedmen and friends as reckless as himself, he lived as if he were among a set of drunkards. Still at the consular elections he was present in company with the candidates like an ordinary citizen, and by shewing himself as a spectator in the theatre, as a partisan in the circus, he courted every breath of applause from the lowest rabble. Agreeable and popular as this conduct would have been, had it been prompted by noble qualities, it was looked upon as undignified and contemptible from the remembrance of his past life. He habitually appeared in the Senate even when unimportant matters were under discussion; and it once happened that Priscus Helvidius, the praetor elect, had spoken against his wishes. Though at the moment provoked, he only called on the tribunes of the people to support his insulted authority, and then, when his friends, who feared his resentment was deeper than it appeared, sought to appease him, he replied that it was nothing strange that two senators in a Commonwealth should disagree: he had himself been in the habit of opposing Thrasea. Most of them laughed at the effrontery of such a comparison, though some were pleased at the very circumstance of his having selected, not one of the most influential men of the time, but Thrasea, as his model of true glory.
He had advanced to the command of the Praetorian Guard Publius Sabinus, a prefect of the cohort, and Julius Priscus, then only a centurion. It was through the influence of Caecina and Valens that they respectively rose to power. Though always at variance, these two men left no authority to Vitellius. The functions of Empire were discharged by Caecina and Valens. They had long before been led to suspect each other by animosities scarcely concealed amid the cares of the campaign and the camp, and aggravated by unprincipled friends and a state of society calculated to produce such feuds. In their struggles for popularity, in their long retinues, and in the vast crowds at their levees, they vied with each other and challenged comparison, while the favour of Vitellius inclined first to one, and then to the other. There can never be complete confidence in a power which is excessive. Vitellius himself, who was ever varying between sudden irritation and unseasonable fondness, they at once despised and feared. Still this had not made them less keen to seize on palaces and gardens and all the wealth of the Empire, while a sad and needy throng of nobles, whom with their children Galba had restored to their country, received no relief from the compassion of the Emperor. By an edict which gratified the leading men of the State, while it approved itself even to the populace, Vitellius gave back to the returned exiles their rights over their freedmen, although servile ingenuity sought in every way to neutralise the boon, concealing money in quarters which either obscurity or rank rendered secure. Some freedmen had made their way into the palace of the Emperor, and thus became more powerful even than their patrons.
Meanwhile the soldiers, as their numbers overflowed the crowded camp, dispersed throughout the porticoes, the temples, and the whole capital, did not know their own headquarters, kept no watch, and ceased to brace themselves by toil. Amidst the allurements of the city and all shameful excesses, they wasted their strength in idleness, and their energies in riot. At last, reckless even of health, a large portion of them quartered themselves in the notoriously pestilential neighbourhood of the Vatican; hence ensued a great mortality in the ranks. The Tiber was close at hand, and their extreme eagerness for the water and their impatience of the heat weakened the constitutions of the Germans and Gauls, always liable to disease. To make matters worse, the organisation of the service was deranged by unprincipled intrigue and favour. Sixteen Praetorian and four city cohorts were being raised, each to consist of a thousand men. In this levy Valens ventured to do more than his rival on the pretence of his having rescued Caecina himself from peril. Doubtless his arrival had restored the fortunes of the party, and his victory had reversed the unfavourable rumours occasioned by his tardy advance. The entire army too of Lower Germany was attached to him; this circumstance, it is thought, first made the allegiance of Caecina waver.
Much however as Vitellius indulged his generals, his soldiers enjoyed yet greater licence. Every one chose his own service. However unfit, he might, if he preferred it, be enrolled among the soldiers of the capital. Soldiers again of good character were allowed, if they so wished, to remain with the legions, or in the cavalry; and this was the choice of many who were worn out with disease, or who shrank from the unhealthiness of the climate. But the main strength of the legions and cavalry was drafted from them, while the old glory of the Praetorian camp was destroyed by these 20,000 men indiscriminately taken rather than chosen out of the whole army. While Vitellius was haranguing the troops, the men called out for the execution of Asiaticus, and of Flavius and Rufinus, the Gallic chieftains, because they had fought for Vindex. He never checked these cries; for to say nothing of the cowardice natural to that feeble soul, he was aware that the distribution of a donative was imminent, and, having no money, he lavished everything else on the soldiers. A contribution in the form of a tax was exacted from the freedmen of former Emperors in proportion to the number of their slaves. Vitellius himself, thinking only how to squander, was building a stable for his charioteers, was filling the circus with shows of gladiators and wild beasts, and fooling away his money as if he had the most abundant supplies.
Moreover Caecina and Valens celebrated the birthday of Vitellius by exhibiting in every quarter of the city shows of gladiators on a vast and hitherto unparalleled scale. He pleased the most infamous characters, but utterly disgusted all the respectable citizens, by building altars in the Campus Martius, and performing funeral rites to Nero. Victims were slaughtered and burnt in the name of the State; the pile was kindled by the Augustales, an order of the priesthood dedicated by the Emperor Tiberius to the Julian family, just as Romulus had dedicated one to king Tatius. Within four months from the victory of Bedriacum, Asiaticus, the Emperor’s freedman, was rivalling the Polycleti, the Patrobii, and all the old hateful names. No one sought promotion in that court by integrity or diligence; the sole road to power was to glut the insatiable appetites of Vitellius by prodigal entertainments, extravagance, and riot. The Emperor himself, thinking it enough to enjoy the present, and without a thought for the future, is believed to have squandered nine hundred million sesterces in a very few months. Rome, as miserable as she was great, afflicted in one year by an Otho and a Vitellius, what with the Vinii, the Fabii, the Iceli, and the Asiatici, passed through all vicissitudes of infamy, till there came Mucianus and Marcellus, and different men rather than a different morality.
The first revolt of which Vitellius received tidings was that of the 3rd legion, despatches having been sent by Aponius Saturninus before he too attached himself to the party of Vespasian. Aponius, however, agitated by the unexpected occurrence, had not written all the particulars, and flattering friends softened down its import. “It was,” they said, “a mutiny of only a single legion; the loyalty of the other armies was unshaken.” Vitellius in addressing the soldiers spoke to the same effect. He inveighed against the lately disbanded Praetorians, and asserted that false rumours were circulated by them, and that there was no fear of a civil war. The name of Vespasian he suppressed, and soldiers were dispersed through the city to check the popular gossip. This more than anything else kept these rumours alive.
Nevertheless Vitellius summoned auxiliary troops from Germany, Britain, and Spain, tardily, however, and with an attempt to conceal his necessities. The legates and the provinces were equally slow. Hordeonius Flaccus, who was beginning to suspect the Batavians, feared that he should have a war on his own hands, and Vettius Bolanus had in Britain a province never very quiet; and both these officers were wavering in their allegiance. Spain too, which then was without a governor of consular rank, showed no alacrity. The legates of the three legions, equal in authority, and ready, while Vitellius was prosperous, to vie in obedience, stood aloof with one consent from his falling fortunes. In Africa, the legion, and the auxiliary infantry levied by Clodius Macer and soon after disbanded by Galba, again entered the service at the order of Vitellius, while all the rest of the youth promptly gave in their names. Vitellius had ruled that province as proconsul with integrity and popularity; Vespasian’s government had been infamous and odious. The allies formed conjectures accordingly as to the manner in which each would reign, but the result contradicted them.
At first Valerius Festus, the legate, loyally seconded the zeal of the provincials. Soon he began to waver, supporting Vitellius in his public dispatches and edicts, Vespasian in his secret correspondence, and intending to hold by the one or the other according as they might succeed. Some soldiers and centurions, coming through Rhaetia and Gaul, were seized with letters and edicts from Vespasian, and on being sent to Vitellius were put to death. More, however, eluded discovery, escaping either through the faithful protection of friends or by their own tact. Thus the preparations of Vitellius became known, while the plans of Vespasian were for the most part kept secret. At first the supineness of Vitellius was in fault; afterwards the occupation of the Pannonian Alps with troops stopped all intelligence. And on the sea the prevalent Etesian winds favoured an eastward voyage, but hindered all return.
At length Vitellius, appalled by the irruption of the enemy and by the menacing intelligence from every quarter, ordered Caecina and Valens to take the field. Caecina was sent on in advance; Valens, who was just recovering from a severe illness, was delayed by weakness. Far different was the appearance of the German army as it marched out of the capital. All strength had departed from their bodies, all energy from their spirits. Slowly, and with thin ranks, the column moved along, their weapons feebly grasped, their horses spiritless. The soldiers, impatient of the heat, the dust, and the weather, in proportion as they were less capable of enduring toil, were more ready for mutiny. All this was aggravated by the old vanity of Caecina, and by the indolence that had of late crept over him; presuming on the excessive favour of fortune, he had abandoned himself to luxury. Perhaps he meditated perfidy, and it was part of his policy to enervate the courage of the army. Many believe that his fidelity had been shaken by the suggestions of Flavius Sabinus, who employed Rubrius Gallus as the bearer of communications intimating that the conditions of desertion would be held binding by Vespasian. At the same time he was reminded of his hatred and jealousy of Fabius Valens. Being inferior to his rival in influence with Vitellius, he should seek to secure favour and power with the new Emperor.
Caecina, having embraced Vitellius and received tokens of high distinction, left him, and sent a detachment of cavalry to occupy Cremona. It was followed by the veteran troops of the 4th, 10th, and 16th legions, by the 5th and 22nd legions, and the rear was brought up by the 21st (the Rapax) and the first Italian legion with the veteran troops of three British legions, and a chosen body of auxiliaries. After the departure of Caecina, Valens sent a despatch to the army which had been under his own command with directions that it should wait for him on the road; such, he said, was his arrangement with Caecina. Caecina, however, being with the army in person, and consequently having greater influence, pretended that this plan had been changed, so that the gathering forces of the enemy might be met with their whole strength. Orders were therefore given to the legions to advance with all speed upon Cremona, while a portion of the force was to proceed to Hostilia. Caecina himself turned aside to Ravenna, on the pretext that he wished to address the fleet. Soon, however, he sought the retirement of Patavium, there to concert his treachery. Lucilius Bassus, who had been promoted by Vitellius from the command of a squadron of cavalry to be admiral of the fleets at Ravenna and Misenum, failing immediately to obtain the command of the Praetorian Guard sought to gratify his unreasonable resentment by an atrocious act of perfidy. It cannot be certainly known whether he carried Caecina with him, or whether (as is often the case with bad men, that they are like each other) both were actuated by the same evil motives.
The historians of the period, who during the ascendancy of the Flavian family composed the chronicles of this war, have in the distorted representations of flattery assigned as the motives of these men a regard for peace and a love of their country. For my own part I believe that, to say nothing of a natural fickleness and an honour which they must have held cheap after the betrayal of Galba, feelings of rivalry, and jealousy lest others should outstrip them in the favour of Vitellius, made them accomplish his ruin. Caecina, having overtaken the legions, strove by every species of artifice to undermine the fidelity of the centurions and soldiers, who were devoted to Vitellius. Bassus, in making the same attempt, experienced less difficulty, for the fleet, remembering how recently it had served in the cause of Otho, was ready to change its allegiance.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01