UNDER happier auspices and in a more loyal spirit the Flavianist leaders were discussing the plans of the campaign. They had assembled at Petovio, the winter-quarters of the 13th legion. There they debated, whether they should blockade the passes of the Pannonian Alps till the whole strength of their party should be gathered in their rear, or whether it would be the more vigorous policy to close with the enemy, and to contend for the possession of Italy. Those who thought it advisable to wait for reinforcements, and to protract the campaign, dwelt on the strength and reputation of the German legions. “Vitellius,” they said, “has now joined them with the flower of the British army. Our numbers are not even equal to those of the legions whom they lately defeated; and the conquered, let them talk as fiercely as they will, lose something of their courage. But, if we occupy meanwhile the passes of the Alps, Mucianus will come up with the forces of the East. Vespasian has in addition the command of the sea, his fleets, and provinces loyal to his cause, in which he may collect the vast materials for what may be called another war. A salutary delay will bring us new forces, while we shall lose nothing of what we have.”
In answer to this, Antonius Primus, who was the most energetic promoter of the war, declared that prompt action would be advantageous to themselves, and fatal to Vitellius. “Supineness,” he said, “rather than confidence has grown upon the conquerors. They are not even kept under arms or within camps. In every town of Italy, sunk in sloth, formidable only to their entertainers, they have drunk of unaccustomed pleasures with an eagerness equal to the rudeness of their former life. They have been emasculated by the circus, the theatre, and the allurements of the capital, or they are worn out with sickness. Yet even to these men, if you give them time, their old vigour will return with the preparation for war. Germany, whence their strength is drawn, is faraway; Britain is separated only by a strait; the provinces of Gaul and Spain are near; on either side they can find troops, horses, tribute; they have Italy itself, and the resources of the capital, and, should they choose themselves to take the offensive, they have two fleets, and the Illyrian sea open to them. What good then will our mountain-passes do us? What will be the use of having protracted the war into another summer? Where are we to find in the meanwhile money and supplies? Why not rather avail ourselves of the fact that the legions of Pannonia, which were cheated rather than vanquished, are hastening to rise again for vengeance, and that the armies of Moesia have brought us their unimpaired strength? If you reckon the number of soldiers, rather than that of legions, we have greater strength, and no vices, for our very humiliation has been most helpful to our discipline. As for the cavalry, they were not vanquished even on that day; though the fortune of war was against them, they penetrated the Vitellianist lines. Two squadrons of Moesian and Pannonian cavalry then broke through the enemy; now the united standards of sixteen squadrons will bury and overwhelm with the crash and din and storm of their onset these horses and horsemen that have forgotten how to fight. Unless any one hinders me, I who suggest will execute the plan. You, whose fortune never suffered a reverse, may keep back the legions; the light cohorts will be enough for me. Before long you will hear that Italy has been opened, and the power of Vitellius shaken. You will be delighted to follow, and to tread in the footsteps of victory.”
With flashing eyes, and in the fierce tones that might be most widely heard (for the centurions and some of the common soldiers had intruded themselves into the deliberations), he poured out such a torrent of these and similar words, that he carried away even the cautious and prudent, while the general voice of the multitude extolled him as the one man, the one general in the army, and spurned the inaction of the others. He had raised this reputation for himself at the very first assembly, when, after Vespasian’s letters had been read, he had not, like many, used ambiguous language, on which he might put this or that construction as might serve his purpose. It was seen that he openly committed himself to the cause, and he had therefore greater weight with the soldiers, as being associated with them in what was either their crime or their glory.
Next to Primus in influence was Cornelius Fuscus, the procurator. He also had been accustomed to inveigh mercilessly against Vitellius, and had thus left himself no hope in the event of defeat. T. Ampius Flavianus, disposed to caution by natural temperament and advanced years, excited in the soldiers a suspicion that he still remembered his relationship to Vitellius; and as he had fled when the movement in the legions began, and had then voluntarily returned, it was believed that he had sought an opportunity for treachery. Flavianus indeed had left Pannonia, and had entered Italy, and was out of the way of danger, when his desire for revolution urged him to resume the title of Legate, and to take part in the civil strife. Cornelius Fuscus had advised him to this course, not that he needed the talents of Flavianus, but wishing that a consular name might clothe with its high prestige the very first movements of the party.
Still, that the passage into Italy might be safe and advantageous, directions were sent to Aponius Saturninus to hasten up with the armies of Moesia. That the provinces might not be exposed without defence to the barbarian tribes, the princes of the Sarmatae Iazyges, who had in their hands the government of that nation, were enrolled in the army. These chiefs also offered the service of their people, and its force of cavalry, their only effective troops; but the offer was declined, lest in the midst of civil strife they should attempt some hostile enterprise, or, influenced by higher offers from other quarters, should cast off all sense of right and duty. Sido and Italicus, kings of the Suevi, were brought over to the cause. Their loyalty to the Roman people was of long standing, and their nation was more faithful than the other to any trust reposed in them. On the flank of the army were posted some auxiliaries, for Rhaetia was hostile, Portius Septimius, the procurator, remaining incorruptibly faithful to Vitellius. Accordingly, Sextilius Felix with Aurius’ Horse, eight cohorts, and the native levies of Noricum, was sent to occupy the bank of the river Aenus, which flows between Rhaetia and Noricum. Neither hazarded an engagement, and the fate of the two parties was decided elsewhere.
Antonius, as he hurried with the veteran soldiers of the cohorts and part of the cavalry to invade Italy, was accompanied by Arrius Varus, an energetic soldier. Service under Corbulo, and successes in Armenia, had gained for him this reputation; yet it was generally said, that in secret conversations with Nero he had calumniated Corbulo’s high qualities. The favour thus infamously acquired made him a centurion of the first rank, yet the ill-gotten prosperity of the moment afterwards turned to his destruction. Primus and Varus, having occupied Aquileia, were joyfully welcomed in the neighbourhood, and in the towns of Opitergium and Altinum. At Altinum a force was left to oppose the Ravenna fleet, the defection of which from Vitellius was not yet known. They next attached to their party Patavium and Ateste. There they learnt that three cohorts, belonging to Vitellius, and the Sebonian Horse had taken up a position at the Forum Alieni, where they had thrown a bridge across the river. It was determined to seize the opportunity of attacking this force, unprepared as it was; for this fact had likewise been communicated. Coming upon them at dawn, they killed many before they could arm. Orders had been given to slay but few, and to constrain the rest by fear to transfer their allegiance. Some indeed at once surrendered, but the greater part broke down the bridge, and thus cut off the advance of the pursuing enemy.
When this success became known, two legions, the seventh (Galba’s) and the eighteenth (the Gemina), finding the campaign opening in favour of the Flavianists, repaired with alacrity to Patavium under the command of Vedius Aquila the legate. A few days were there taken for rest, and Minucius Justus, prefect of the camp in the 7th legion, who ruled with more strictness than a civil war will permit, was withdrawn from the exasperated soldiery, and sent to Vespasian. An act that had been long desired was taken by a flattering construction for more than it was worth, when Antonius gave orders that the statues of Galba, which had been thrown down during the troubles of the times, should be restored in all the towns. It would, he supposed, reflect honour on the cause, if it were thought that they had been friendly to Galba’s rule, and that his party was again rising into strength.
The next question was, what place should be selected as the seat of war. Verona seemed the most eligible, surrounded as it was with open plains, suitable for the action of cavalry, in which they were very strong. At the same time it was thought that in wresting from Vitellius a colony so rich in resources there would be both profit and glory. They secured Vicetia by simply passing through it. Though in itself a small gain, for the town is but of moderate strength, it was considered an important advantage when they reflected that in this town Caecina was born, and that the general of the enemy had lost his native place. The people of Verona were a valuable aid; they served the cause by the example of their zeal and by their wealth, and the army thus occupied a position between Rhaetia and the Julian Alps. It was to cut off all passage at this point from the armies of Germany that they had barred this route. All this was done either without the knowledge, or against the commands of Vespasian. He gave orders that the army should halt at Aquileia and there await Mucianus; and these orders he supported by the argument, that as Aegypt, which commanded the corn supplies, and the revenues of the wealthiest provinces were in his hands, the army of Vitellius would be compelled to capitulate from the want of pay and provisions. Mucianus in frequent letters advised the same policy; a victory that should cost neither blood nor tears, and other objects of the kind, were his pretexts; but in truth he was greedy of glory, and anxious to keep the whole credit of the war to himself. Owing, however, to the vast distances, the advice came only after the matter was decided.
Then Antonius by a sudden movement fell upon the outposts of the enemy, and made trial of their courage in a slight skirmish, the combatants separating on equal terms. Soon afterwards, Caecina strongly fortified a camp between Hostilia, a village belonging to Verona, and the marshes of the river Tartarus, where his position was secure, as his rear was covered by the river, and his flank by intervening marshes. Had he only been loyal, those two legions, which had not been joined by the army of Moesia, might have been crushed by the united strength of the Vitellianists, or driven back and compelled to evacuate Italy in a disgraceful retreat. Caecina, however, by various delays betrayed to the enemy the early opportunities of the campaign, assailing by letters those whom it was easy to drive out by force of arms, until by his envoys he settled the conditions of his treachery. In this interval Aponius Saturninus came up with the 7th legion (Claudius’). This legion was commanded by the tribune Vipstanus Messalla, a man of illustrious family, himself highly distinguished, the only man who had brought into that conflict an honest purpose. To this army, which was far from equalling the forces of Vitellius (it in fact consisted of three legions), Caecina despatched a letter reproaching them with rashness in again drawing the sword in a vanquished cause. At the same time he extolled the valour of the German army; of Vitellius he made but some slight and common-place mention without any abuse of Vespasian. Certainly he said nothing which could either seduce or terrify the enemy. The leaders of the Flavianist party, omitting all apology for their former fortune, at once took up a tone of high praise of Vespasian, of confidence in their cause, of security as to their army, and of hostility to Vitellius, while hopes were held out to the tribunes and centurions of retaining the privileges which Vitellius had granted them, and Caecina was himself encouraged in no ambiguous terms to change sides. These letters read to the assembled army increased their confidence; for Caecina had written in a humble strain, as if he feared to offend Vespasian, while their own generals had used contemptuous language, meant, it would seem, to insult Vitellius.
On the subsequent arrival of two legions, the third commanded by Dillius Aponianus, the eighth by Numisius Lupus, it was resolved to make a demonstration of their strength, and to surround Verona with military lines. It so happened that Galba’s legion had had their work allotted to them on that side the lines which faced the enemy, and that some of the allied cavalry appearing in the distance were taken for the enemy, and excited a groundless panic. They flew to arms, and as the rage of the soldiers at the supposed treachery fell upon T. Ampius Flavianus, not from any proof of his guilt, but because he had been long unpopular, they clamoured for his death in a very whirlwind of passion, vociferating that he was the kinsman of Vitellius, that he had betrayed Otho, that he had embezzled the donative. He could get no opportunity of defending himself, even though he stretched out his hands in entreaty, repeatedly prostrating himself on the ground, his garments torn, his breast and features convulsed with sobs. This very conduct provoked afresh these furious men, for fear so excessive seemed to argue a consciousness of guilt. Aponius was clamoured down by the shouts of the soldiers, when he attempted to address them; every one else was repulsed with noisy cries. To Antonius alone the soldiers’ ears were open; for he had eloquence, the art of soothing an angry crowd, and personal influence. As the mutiny grew fiercer, and the soldiers went on from abuse and taunts to use their hands and their weapons, he ordered that Flavianus should be put in irons. The soldiers saw what a mockery it was, and pushing aside those who were guarding the tribunal, were about to commit the most outrageous violence. Antonius threw himself in the way with his sword drawn, protesting that he would die either by the soldiers’ hands or by his own; whenever he saw any one who was known to him, or who was distinguished by any military decoration, he summoned him by name to his assistance. Then he turned to the standards, and prayed to the gods of war, that they would inspire the armies of the enemy, rather than his own, with such madness and such strife. So the mutiny began to abate, and at the close of the day the men dispersed to their tents. The same night Flavianus set out, and being met by letters from Vespasian, was relieved from his perilous position.
The legions had caught the infection of mutiny, and next assailed Aponius Saturnius, legate of the army of Moesia, this time the more furiously because their rage broke out, not as before, when they were wearied with labour and military toils, but at mid-day. Some letters had been published, which Saturninus was believed to have written to Vitellius. If once they had emulated each other in valour and obedience, so now there was a rivalry in insubordination and insolence, till they clamoured as violently for the execution of Aponius as they had for that of Flavianus. The legions of Moesia recalled how they had aided the vengeance of the Pannonian army, while the soldiers of Pannonia, as if they were absolved by the mutiny of others, took a delight in repeating their fault. They hastened to the gardens in which Saturninus was passing his time, and it was not the efforts of Primus Antonius, Aponianus, and Messalla, though they exerted themselves to the uttermost, that saved him, so much as the obscurity of the hiding-place in which he concealed himself, for he was hidden in the furnace of some baths that happened to be out of use. In a short time he gave up his lictors, and retired to Patavium. After the departure of the two men of consular rank, all power and authority over the two armies centred in Antonius alone, his colleagues giving way to him, and the soldiers being strongly biased in his favour. There were those who believed that both these mutinies were set on foot by the intrigues of Antonius, in order that he might engross all the prizes of the war.
Nor indeed was there less restlessness among the partisans of Vitellius, who were distracted by yet more fatal dissensions, springing, not from the suspicions of the common men, but from the treachery of the generals. Lucilius Bassus, prefect of the Ravenna fleet, finding that the troops wavered in purpose, from the fact that many were natives of Dalmatia and Pannonia, provinces held for Vespasian, had attached them to the Flavianist party. The night-time was chosen for accomplishing the treason, because then, unknown to all the rest, the ringleaders alone might assemble at head-quarters. Bassus, moved by shame, or perhaps by fear, awaited the issue in his house. The captains of the triremes rushed with a great outcry on the images of Vitellius; a few, who attempted to resist, were cut down; the great majority, with the usual love of change, were ready to join Vespasian. Then Bassus came forward and openly sanctioned the movement. The fleet appointed Cornelius Fuscus to be prefect, and he hastened to join them. Lucilius was put under honourable arrest, and conveyed as far as Adria by the Liburnian ships; there he was thrown into prison by Vivennius Rufinus, prefect of a squadron of cavalry, which was there in garrison. His chains, however, were immediately struck off on the interference of Hormus, one of the Emperor’s freedmen, for he too ranked among the generals.
On the revolt of the fleet becoming known, Caecina called together to head-quarters, which he purposely selected as being the most retired part of the camp, the chief centurions and some few soldiers, while the rest were dispersed on various military duties. Then he extolled the valour of Vespasian, and the strength of his party; he told them that the fleet had changed sides, that they were straitened for supplies, that Gaul and Spain were against them, that in the capital there was nothing on which to rely, thus making the worst of everything that concerned Vitellius. Then, the conspirators present setting the example, and the rest being paralysed by the strangeness of the proceeding, he made them swear allegiance to Vespasian. At the same time the images of Vitellius were torn down, and persons were despatched to convey the intelligence to Antonius. But when this treason became noised abroad throughout the camp, when the soldiers, hurrying back to head-quarters, saw the name of Vespasian written on the colours, and the images of Vitellius thrown upon the ground, first there was a gloomy silence, then all their rage burst out at once. “What,” they cried, “has the glory of the army of Germany fallen so low, that without a battle, even without a wound, they should yield up hands ready bound and arms resigned to surrender? What legions indeed are these against us? Only the conquered. The first and the twelfth, the sole strength of the Othonianist army, are not there, and even them we routed and crushed on these very plains, only that so many thousands of armed men, like a herd of slaves for sale, might be given as a present to the exile Antonius. Thus, forsooth, the adhesion of one fleet would be worth eight legions. So it pleases Bassus and Caecina, after robbing the Emperor of palaces, gardens, and money, to rob the soldiers of their Emperor. But we, who have seen nothing of toil and bloodshed, we, who must be contemptible even to the Flavianists, what shall we answer to those who shall ask us of our victories and our defeats?”
Joining one and all in these cries, by which each expressed his own vexation, they proceeded, following the lead of the fifth legion, to replace the images of Vitellius, and to put Caecina in irons. They elected to the command Fabius Fabullus, legate of the fifth legion, and Cassius Longus, prefect of the camp; they massacred the soldiers from three Liburnian ships, who happened to fall in their way, but who were perfectly ignorant and innocent of these proceedings; they then abandoned the camp, and, after breaking down the bridge, fell back on Hostilia, and thence on Cremona, in order to effect a junction with the two legions, the 1st Italica and the 21st Rapax, which, with a portion of the cavalry, Caecina had sent on to occupy Cremona.
On this becoming known to Antonius, he determined to attack the hostile armies, while they were still distracted in feeling and divided in strength, before the generals could recover their authority, and the soldiers their subordination along with that confidence which would spring from the junction of the legions. He concluded indeed that Fabius Valens had left the capital, and would hasten his march, on hearing of the treason of Caecina; and Fabius was loyal to Vitellius, and not without some military skill. At the same time he dreaded the approach of a vast body of Germans by way of Rhaetia. Vitellius had also summoned reinforcements from Britain, Gaul, and Spain, whose arms would have wasted like a wide-spread pestilence, had not Antonius, fearful of this very danger, hurried on an engagement, and thus secured his victory. He reached Bedriacum with his whole army in two days’ march from Verona. The next day, keeping the legions to fortify the position, he sent the auxiliary infantry into the territories of Cremona, ostensibly to collect supplies, really to imbue the soldiery with a taste for the spoils of civil war. He himself advanced with 4000 cavalry as far as the 8th milestone from Bedriacum, in order that they might plunder with greater freedom. The scouts, as usual, took a wider range.
It was almost eleven o’clock, when a horseman arrived at full speed with the news, that the enemy were approaching, that a small body was moving in front, but that the stir and noise could be heard far and wide. While Antonius was deliberating as to what was to be done, Arrius Varus, eager to do his best, charged with the bravest of the cavalry, and drove back the Vitellianists, inflicting upon them some slight loss; as more came up, the fortune of the day changed, and those who had been most eager in the pursuit found themselves last in the flight. This rash act did not originate with Antonius; he anticipated in fact what actually happened. He now urged his soldiers to enter on the battle with a good heart; he then drew off the squadrons of his cavalry to the two flanks, leaving in the midst an open space in which to receive Varus and his troopers; the legions were ordered to arm themselves, signals were made over the country that every man should leave plundering, and join the battle at the nearest point. Meanwhile the terror-stricken Varus plunged into the disordered ranks of his friends, and brought a panic with him. The fresh troops were driven back along with the wounded fugitives, confused by their own alarm and by the difficulties of the road.
In the midst of this panic Antonius omitted nothing that a self-possessed commander or a most intrepid soldier could do. He threw himself before the terrified fugitives, he held back those who were giving way, and wherever the struggle was hardest, wherever there was a gleam of hope, there he was with his ready skill, his bold hand, his encouraging voice, easily recognized by the enemy, and a conspicuous object to his own men. At last he was carried to such a pitch of excitement, that he transfixed with a lance a flying standard bearer, and then, seizing the standard, turned it towards the enemy. Touched by the reproach, a few troopers, not more than a hundred in number, made a stand. The locality favoured them, for the road was at that point particularly narrow, while the bridge over the stream which crossed it had been broken down, and the stream itself, with its varying channel and its precipitous banks, checked their flight. It was this necessity, or a happy chance, that restored the fallen fortunes of the party. Forming themselves into strong and close ranks, they received the attack of the Vitellianists, who were now imprudently scattered. These were at once overthrown. Antonius pursued those that fled, and crushed those that encountered him. Then came the rest of his troops, who, as they were severally disposed, plundered, made prisoners, or seized on weapons and horses. Roused by the shouts of triumph, those who had lately been scattered in flight over the fields hastened to share in the victory.
At the fourth milestone from Cremona glittered the standards of two legions, the Italica and the Rapax, which had been advanced as far as that point during the success achieved by the first movement of their cavalry. But when fortune changed, they would not open their ranks, nor receive the fugitives, nor advance and themselves attack an enemy now exhausted by so protracted a pursuit and conflict. Vanquished by accident, these men had never in their success valued their general as much as they now in disaster felt his absence. The victorious cavalry charged the wavering line; the tribune Vipstanus Messalla followed with the auxiliary troops from Moesia, whom, though hurriedly brought up, long service had made as good soldiers as the legionaries. The horse and foot, thus mixed together, broke through the line of the legions. The near neighbourhood of the fortifications of Cremona, while it gave more hope of escape, diminished the vigour of their resistance.
Antonius did not press forward, for he thought of the fatigue and the wounds with which a battle so hard fought, notwithstanding its successful termination, must have disabled his cavalry and their horses. As the shadows of evening deepened the whole strength of the Flavianist army came up. They advanced amid heaps of dead and the traces of recent slaughter, and, as if the war was over, demanded that they should advance to Cremona, and receive the capitulation of the vanquished party, or take the place by storm. This was the motive alleged, and it sounded well, but what every one said to himself was this: “The colony, situated as it is on level ground, may be taken by assault. If we attack under cover of darkness, we shall be at least as bold, and shall enjoy more licence in plunder. If we wait for the light, we shall be met with entreaties for peace, and in return for our toil and our wounds shall receive only the empty satisfaction of clemency and praise, but the wealth of Cremona will go into the purses of the legates and the prefects. The soldiers have the plunder of a city that is stormed, the generals of one which capitulates.” The centurions and tribunes were spurned away; that no man’s voice might be heard, the troops clashed their weapons together, ready to break through all discipline, unless they were led as they wished.
Antonius then made his way into the companies. When his presence and personal authority had restored silence, he declared, “I would not snatch their glory or their reward from those who have deserved them so well. Yet there is a division of duties between the army and its generals. Eagerness for battle becomes the soldiers, but generals serve the cause by forethought, by counsel, by delay oftener than by temerity. As I promoted your victory to the utmost of my power by my sword and by my personal exertions, so now I must help you by prudence and by counsel, the qualities which belong peculiarly to a general. What you will have to encounter is indeed perfectly plain. There will be the darkness, the strange localities of the town, the enemy inside the walls, and all possible facilities for ambuscades. Even if the gates were wide open, we ought not to enter the place, except we had first reconnoitred it, and in the day-time. Shall we set about storming the town when we have no means seeing where the ground is level, what is the height of the walls, whether the city is to be assailed by our artillery and javelins, or by siege-works and covered approaches?” He then turned to individual soldiers, asking them whether they had brought with them their axes and spades and whatever else is used when towns are to be stormed. On their admitting that they had not done so, “Can any hands,” he answered, “break through and undermine walls with swords and lances? And if it should be found necessary to throw up an embankment and to shelter ourselves under mantlets and hurdles, shall we stand baffled like a thoughtless mob, marvelling at the height of the towers and at the enemy’s defences? Shall we not rather, by delaying one night, till our artillery and engines come up, take with us a strength that must prevail?” At the same time he sent the sutlers and camp-followers with the freshest of the cavalry to Bedriacum to fetch supplies and whatever else they needed.
The soldiers, however, were impatient, and a mutiny had almost broken out, when some cavalry, who had advanced to the very walls of Cremona, seized some stragglers from the town, from whose information it was ascertained, that the six legions of Vitellius and the entire army which had been quartered at Hostilia had on that very day marched a distance of thirty miles, and having heard of the defeat of their comrades, were preparing for battle, and would soon be coming up. This alarm opened the ears that had before been deaf to their general’s advice. The 13th legion was ordered to take up its position on the raised causeway of the Via Postumia, supported on the left by the 7th (Galba’s) which was posted in the plain, next came the 7th (Claudius’), defended in front by a field-ditch, such being the character of the ground. On the right was the 8th legion, drawn up in an open space, and then the 3rd, whose ranks were divided by some thick brushwood. Such was the arrangement of the eagles and the standards. The soldiers were mingled in the darkness as accident had determined. The Praetorian colours were close to the 3rd legion; the auxiliary infantry were stationed on the wings; the cavalry covered the flanks and the rear. Sido and Italicus, the Suevian chieftains, with a picked body of their countrymen, manoeuvred in the van.
It would have been the best policy for the army of Vitellius to rest at Cremona, and, with strength recruited by food and repose, to attack and crush the next day an enemy exhausted by cold and hunger; but now, wanting a leader, and having no settled plan, they came into collision about nine o’clock at night with the Flavianist troops, who stood ready, and in order of battle. Respecting the disposition of the Vitellianist army, disordered as it was by its fury and by the darkness, I would not venture to speak positively. Some, however, have related, that on the right wing was the 4th legion (the Macedonian); that the 5th and 15th, with the veterans of three British legions (the 9th, 2nd, and 20th), formed the centre, while the left wing was made up of the 1st, the 16th, and the 22nd. Men of the legions Rapax and Italica were mingled with all the companies. The cavalry and the auxiliaries chose their position themselves. Throughout the night the battle raged in many forms, indecisive and fierce, destructive, first to one side, then to the other. Courage, strength, even the eye with its keenest sight, were of no avail. Both armies fought with the same weapons; the watch-word, continually asked, became known; the colours were confused together, as parties of combatants snatched them from the enemy, and hurried them in this or that direction. The 7th legion, recently levied by Galba, was the hardest pressed. Six centurions of the first rank were killed, and some of the standards taken; but the eagle was saved by Atilius Verus, the centurion of the first company, who, after making a great slaughter among the enemy, at last fell.
The line was supported, as it began to waver, by Antonius, who brought up the Praetorians. They took up the conflict, repulsed the enemy, and were then themselves repulsed. The troops of Vitellius had collected their artillery on the raised causeway, where there was a free and open space for the discharge of the missiles, which at first had been scattered at random, and had struck against the trees without injury to the enemy. An engine of remarkable size, belonging to the 15th legion, was crushing the hostile ranks with huge stones, and would have spread destruction far and wide, had not two soldiers ventured on a deed of surpassing bravery. Disguising themselves with shields snatched from the midst of the carnage, they cut the ropes and springs of the engine. They were instantly slain, and their names have consequently been lost; but the fact is undoubted. Fortune favoured neither side, till at a late hour of the night the moon rose and showed, but showed deceptively, both armies. The light, however, shining from behind, favoured the Flavianists. With them a lengthened shadow fell from men and horses, and the enemy’s missiles, incorrectly aimed at what seemed the substance, fell short, while the Vitellianists, who had the light shining on their faces, were unconsciously exposed to an enemy who were, so to speak, concealed while they aimed.
As soon as Antonius could recognize his men and be recognized by them, he sought to kindle their courage, striving to shame some with his reproaches, stirring many with praise and encouragement, and all with hopes and promises. “Why,” he demanded of the legions of Pannonia, “have you again taken up arms? Yonder is the field where you may wipe out the stain of past disgrace, and redeem your honour.” Then turning to the troops of Moesia, he appealed to them as the authors and originators of the war. “Idly,” he said “have you challenged the Vitellianists with threatening words, if you cannot abide their attack or even their looks.” So he spoke to each as he approached them. The third legion he addressed at greater length, reminding them of old and recent achievements, how under Marcus Antonius they had defeated the Parthians, under Corbulo the Armenians, and had lately discomfited the Sarmatians. Then angrily turning to the Praetorians, “Clowns,” said he, “unless you are victorious, what other general, what other camp will receive you? There are your colours and your arms; defeat is death, for disgrace you have exhausted.” A shout was raised on all sides, and the soldiers of the third legion saluted, as is the custom in Syria, the rising sun.
A vague rumour thus arose, or was intentionally suggested by the general, that Mucianus had arrived, and that the two armies had exchanged salutations. The men then charged as confidently as if they had been strengthened by fresh reinforcements, while the enemy’s array was now less compact; for, as there was no one to command, it was now contracted, now extended, as the courage or fear of individual soldiers might prompt. Antonius, seeing that they gave way, charged them with a heavy column; the loose ranks were at once broken, and, entangled as they were among their wagons and artillery, could not be re-formed. The conquerors, in the eagerness of pursuit, dispersed themselves over the entire line of road. The slaughter that followed was made particularly memorable through the murder of a father by his son. I will record the incident with the names, on the authority of Vipstanus Messalla. Julius Mansuetus, a Spaniard, enlisting in the legion Rapax, had left at home a son of tender age. The lad grew up to manhood, and was enrolled by Galba in the 7th legion. Now chancing to meet his father, he brought him to the ground with a wound, and, as he rifled his dying foe, recognized him, and was himself recognized. Clasping the expiring man in his arms, in piteous accents he implored the spirit of his father to be propitious to him, and not to turn from him with loathing as from a parricide. “This guilt,” he said, “is shared by all; how small a part of a civil war is a single soldier!” With these words he raised the body, opened a grave, and discharged the last duties for his father. This was noticed by those who were on the spot, then by many others; astonishment and indignation ran through the whole army, and they cursed this most horrible war. Yet as eagerly as ever they stripped the bodies of slaughtered kinsfolk, connexions, and brothers. They talk of an impious act having been done, and they do it themselves.
When they reached Cremona a fresh work of vast difficulty presented itself. During the war with Otho the legions of Germany had formed their camp round the walls of the city, round this camp had drawn an entrenchment, and had again strengthened these defences. At this sight the victorious army hesitated, while the generals doubted what orders they should give. To attempt an assault with troops exhausted by the toil of a day and a night would be difficult, and with no proper reserves might be perilous. Should they return to Bedriacum, the fatigue of so long a march would be insupportable, and their victory would result in nothing. To entrench a camp with the enemy so close at hand would be dangerous, as by a sudden sortie they might cause confusion among them while dispersed and busied with the work. Above all, they were afraid of their soldiers, who were more patient of danger than delay. Cautious measures they disliked; their rashness inspired them with hope, and eagerness for plunder outweighed all the horrors of carnage, wounds, and bloodshed.
Antonius himself was this way inclined, and he ordered the entrenched camp to be invested. At first they fought from a distance with arrows and stones, the Flavianists suffering most, as the enemy’s missiles were aimed at them from a superior height. Antonius then assigned to each legion the attack on some portion of the entrenchments, and on one particular gate, seeking by this division of labour to distinguish the cowardly from the brave, and to stimulate his men by an honourable rivalry. The 3rd and 7th legions took up a position close to the road from Bedriacum; more to the right of the entrenchments were stationed the 8th and the 7th (Claudius’). The 13th were carried by the impetuosity of their attack as far as the gate looking towards Brixia. There ensued a little delay, while from the neighbouring fields some were collecting spades and pickaxes, others hooks and ladders. Then raising their shields over their heads, they advanced to the rampart in a dense “testudo.” Both used the arts of Roman warfare; the Vitellianists rolled down ponderous stones, and drove spears and long poles into the broken and tottering “testudo,” till the dense array of shields was loosened, and the ground was strewn with a vast number of lifeless and mangled bodies.
28. Some hesitation had shewn itself, when the generals, seeing that the weary troops would not listen to what seemed to them unmeaning encouragement, pointed to Cremona. Whether this was, as Messalla relates, the device of Hormus, or whether Caius Plinius be the better authority when he charges it upon Antonius, I cannot easily determine. All I can say is this, that neither in Antonius nor in Hormus would this foulest of crimes have been a degeneracy from the character of their former lives. Wounds or bloodshed no longer kept the men back from undermining the rampart and battering the gates. Supported on the shoulders of comrades, and forming a second “testudo,” they clambered up and seized the weapons and even the hands of the enemy. The unhurt and the wounded, the half-dead and the dying, were mingled together with every incident of slaughter and death in every form.
The fiercest struggle was maintained by the 3rd and 7th legions, and Antonius in person with some chosen auxiliaries concentrated his efforts on the same point. The Vitellianists, unable to resist the combined and resolute attack, and finding that their missiles glided off the “testudo,” at last threw the engine itself on the assailants; for a moment it broke and overwhelmed those on whom it fell, but it drew after it in its fall the battlements and upper part of the rampart. At the same time an adjoining tower yielded to the volleys of stones, and, while the 7th legion in wedge-like array was endeavouring to force an entrance, the 3rd broke down the gate with axes and swords. All authors are agreed that Caius Volusius, a soldier of the 3rd legion, entered first. Beating down all who opposed him, he mounted the rampart, waved his hand, and shouted aloud that the camp was taken. The rest of the legion burst in, while the troops of Vitellius were seized with panic, and threw themselves from the rampart. The entire space between the camp and the walls of Cremona was filled with slain.
Difficulties of another kind presented themselves in the lofty walls of the town, its stone towers, its iron-barred gates, in the garrison who stood brandishing their weapons, in its numerous population devoted to the interests of Vitellius, and in the vast conflux from all parts of Italy which had assembled at the fair regularly held at that time. The besieged found a source of strength in these large numbers; the assailants an incentive in the prospect of booty. Antonius gave orders that fire should instantly be set to the finest buildings without the city, to see whether the inhabitants of Cremona might not be induced by the loss of their property to transfer their allegiance. Some houses near the walls, which overtopped the fortifications, he filled with the bravest of his soldiers, who, by hurling beams, tiles, and flaming missiles, dislodged the defenders from the ramparts.
The legions now began to form themselves into a “testudo,” and the other troops to discharge volleys of stones and darts, when the courage of the Vitellianists began to flag. The higher their rank, the more readily they succumbed to fortune, fearing that when Cremona had fallen quarter could no longer be expected, and that all the fury of the conqueror would be turned, not on the penniless crowd, but on the tribunes and centurions, by whose slaughter something was to be gained. The common soldiers, careless of the future and safer in their obscurity, still held out. Roaming through the streets or concealed in the houses, they would not sue for peace even when they had abandoned the contest. The principal officers of the camp removed the name and images of Vitellius; Caecina, who was still in confinement, they released from his chains, imploring him to plead their cause. When he haughtily rejected their suit, they entreated him with tears; and it was indeed the last aggravation of misery, that many valiant men should invoke the aid of a traitor. Then they displayed from the walls the olive branches and chaplets of suppliants, and when Antonius had ordered that the discharge of missiles should cease, they brought out the eagles and standards. Then followed, with eyes bent on the ground, a dismal array of unarmed men. The conquerors had gathered round; at first they heaped reproaches on them and pointed at them their weapons; then seeing how they offered their cheeks to insulting blows, how, with all their high spirit departed, they submitted, as vanquished men, to every indignity, it suddenly occurred to their recollection, that these were the very soldiers who but shortly before had used with moderation their victory at Bedriacum. Yet, when Caecina the consul, conspicuous in his robes of state and with his train of lictors, came forward thrusting aside the crowd, the victors were fired with indignation, and reproached him with his tyranny, his cruelty, and, so hateful are such crimes, even with his treason. Antonius checked them, gave him an escort, and sent him to Vespasian.
Meanwhile the population of Cremona was roughly handled by the soldiers, who were just beginning a massacre, when their fury was mitigated by the entreaties of the generals. Antonius summoned them to an assembly, extolled the conquerors, spoke kindly to the conquered, but said nothing either way of Cremona. Over and above the innate love of plunder, there was an old feud which made the army bent on the destruction of the inhabitants. It was generally believed that in the war with Otho, as well as in the present, they had supported the cause of Vitellius. Afterwards, when the 13th legion had been left to build an amphitheatre, with the characteristic insolence of a city population, they had wantonly provoked and insulted them. The ill-feeling had been aggravated by the gladiatorial show exhibited there by Caecina, by the circumstance that their city was now for the second time the seat of war, and by the fact that they had supplied the Vitellianists with provisions in the field, and that some of their women, taken by party-zeal into the battle, had there been slain. The occurrence of the fair filled the colony, rich as it always was, with an appearance of still greater wealth. The other generals were unnoticed; Antonius from his success and high reputation was observed of all. He had hastened to the baths to wash off the blood; and when he found fault with the temperature of the water, an answer was heard, “that it would soon be warm enough. Thus the words of a slave brought on him the whole odium of having given the signal for firing the town, which was indeed already in flames.
Forty thousand armed men burst into Cremona, and with them a body of sutlers and camp-followers, yet more numerous and yet more abandoned to lust and cruelty. Neither age nor rank were any protection from indiscriminate slaughter and violation. Aged men and women past their prime, worthless as booty, were dragged about in wanton insult. Did a grown up maiden or youth of marked beauty fall in their way, they were torn in pieces by the violent hands of ravishers; and in the end the destroyers themselves were provoked into mutual slaughter. Men, as they carried off for themselves coin or temple-offerings of massive gold, were cut down by others of superior strength. Some, scorning what met the eye, searched for hidden wealth, and dug up buried treasures, applying the scourge and the torture to the owners. In their hands were flaming torches, which, as soon as they had carried out the spoil, they wantonly hurled into the gutted houses and plundered temples. In an army which included such varieties of language and character, an army comprising Roman citizens, allies, and foreigners, there was every kind of had a law of his own, and nothing was forbidden. For four days Cremona satisfied the plunderers. When all things else, sacred and profane, were settling down into the flames, the temple of Mephitis outside the walls alone remained standing, saved by its situation or by divine interposition.
Such was the end of Cremona, 286 years after its foundation. It was built in the consulship of Tiberius Sempronius and Cornelius Scipio, when Hannibal was threatening Italy, as a protection against the Gauls from beyond the Padus, or against any other sudden invader from the Alps. From the number of settlers, the conveniences afforded by the rivers, the fertility of the soil, and the many connexions and intermarriages formed with neighbouring nations, it grew and flourished, unharmed by foreign enemies, though most unfortunate in civil wars. Ashamed of the atrocious deed, and aware of the detestation which it was inspiring, Antonius issued a proclamation, that no one should detain in captivity a citizen of Cremona. The spoil indeed had been rendered valueless to the soldiers by a general agreement throughout Italy, which rejected with loathing the purchase of such slaves. A massacre then began; when this was known, the prisoners were secretly ransomed by their friends and relatives. The remaining inhabitants soon returned to Cremona; the temples and squares were restored by the munificence of the burghers, and Vespasian gave his exhortations.
The soil poisoned with blood forbade the enemy to remain long by the ruins of the buried city. They advanced to the third milestone, and gathered the dispersed and panic-stricken Vitellianists round their proper standards. The vanquished legions were then scattered throughout Illyricum; for civil war was not over, and they might play a doubtful part. Messengers carrying news of the victory were then despatched to Britain and to Spain. Julius Calenus, a tribune, was sent to Gaul, and Alpinius Montanus, prefect of a cohort, to Germany; as the one was an Aeduan, the other a Trever, and both were Vitellianists, they would be a proof of the success. At the same time the passes of the Alps were occupied with troops, for it was suspected that Germany was arming itself to support Vitellius.
A few days after the departure of Caecina, Vitellius had hurried Fabius Valens to the seat of war, and was now seeking to hide his apprehensions from himself by indulgence. He made no military preparation; he did not seek to invigorate the soldiers by encouraging speeches or warlike exercises; he did not keep himself before the eyes of the people. Buried in the shades of his gardens, like those sluggish animals which, if you supply them with food, lie motionless and torpid, he had dismissed with the same forgetfulness the past, the present, and the future. While he thus lay wasting his powers in sloth among the woods of Aricia, he was startled by the treachery of Lucilius Bassus and the defection of the fleet at Ravenna. Then came the news about Caecina, and he heard with a satisfaction mingled with distress, first, that he had revolted, and then, that he had been put in irons by the army. In that dull soul joy was more powerful than apprehension. In great exultation he returned to Rome, and before a crowded assembly of the people heaped praises on the dutiful obedience of the soldiers. He ordered Publius Sabinus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, to be thrown into prison, because of his friendship with Caecina, and substituted in his place Alfenius Varus.
He then addressed the Senate in a speech of studied grandiloquence, and was extolled by the Senators with elaborate adulation. A savage resolution against Caecina was moved by Lucius Vitellius; the rest affected indignation at the idea that a consul had betrayed the State, a general his Emperor, a man loaded with wealth so vast and honours so numerous his benefactor, and seemed to deplore the wrongs of Vitellius, while they uttered their private griefs. Not a word from any one of them disparaged the Flavianist leaders; they censured the delusion and recklessness of the armies, and with a prudent circumlocution avoided the name of Vespasian. A man was found, who, while all regarded with great contempt both giver and receiver, wormed himself by flattery into the one day of office which remained to complete the consulate of Caecina. On the last day of October Rosius Regulus both assumed and resigned the office. The learned remarked that never before had a new consul been elected without a formal act of deprivation and the passing of a law. Before this indeed Caninius Rebilus had been consul for a single day during the dictatorship of Caius Caesar, when the prizes of the civil war had to be enjoyed in haste.
At this time the murder of Junius Blaesus obtained an infamous notoriety. Of this act I have heard the following account. Vitellius, who was suffering from severe illness, observed from the Servilian gardens a neighbouring turret brilliantly illuminated throughout the night. Inquiring the cause, he was told that Caecina Tuscus was entertaining a large party, of whom Junius Blaesus was the most distinguished. Other particulars were given with much exaggeration about the splendour of the banquet and the unrestrained gaiety of the guests. There were persons who charged Tuscus and his guests, and Blaesus more vindictively than any, with passing their days in merriment while the Emperor was sick. As soon as it was sufficiently clear to those who keenly watch the angry moods of princes, that Vitellius was exasperated, and that Blaesus might be destroyed, the part of the informer was intrusted to Lucius Vitellius. An unworthy jealousy made him the enemy of Blaesus, whose illustrious character raised him far above one who was stained with every infamy; he burst into the Imperial chamber, and clasping to his bosom the Emperor’s son, fell at his knees. On Vitellius enquiring the cause of his emotion: “It is not,” he replied, “from any private apprehension, or because I am anxious for myself; it is for a brother and for a brother’s children that I have come hither with my prayers and tears. It is idle to fear Vespasian, when there are so many legions of Germany, so many provinces with their valour and their loyalty, and lastly, so vast an extent of sea and land with enormous distances, to keep him from us. In the capital, in the very bosom of the empire, there is the foe of whom we must beware, a foe who boasts of Junii and Antonii among his ancestors, who, claiming an Imperial descent, displays to soldiers his condescension and his magnificence. On him all thoughts are fixed, while Vitellius, regardless alike of friends and foes, is cherishing a rival, who from his banqueting table gazes at the sufferings of his sovereign. For such ill-timed mirth let him be recompensed with a night of sorrow and of death, that he may know and feel that Vitellius still lives and reigns, and has a son, if in the course of destiny anything should happen to himself.”
Vitellius, after wavering between his guilty purpose and his fears, dreading lest to postpone the murder of Blaesus might hasten his own ruin, while openly to order it might provoke terrible odium, determined to destroy him by poison. He gave a proof of his guilt by his marked joy when he visited Blaesus. He was even heard to utter a most brutal speech, in which (I will relate the very words) he boasted that he had feasted his eyes on the spectacle of his enemy’s death. Besides his noble birth and refinement of character, Blaesus was a man of resolute loyalty. In the flourishing days of the party, when canvassed by Caecina and the leading men, who were beginning to despise Vitellius, he persevered in rejecting their solicitations. A righteous man and a lover of peace, who coveted no sudden elevation, much less the throne, he could not escape being thought to deserve it.
Meanwhile Fabius Valens, who was moving along with a vast and luxurious train of concubines and eunuchs too tardily for a general about to take the field, received speedy intelligence of the betrayal of the Ravenna fleet by Lucilius Bassus. Had he hastened the march which he had then begun, he might have come up with Caecina while still undecided, or have reached the legions previous to the decisive action. Some advised him to take a few of his most devoted soldiers, and, avoiding Ravenna, to hurry on by unfrequented paths to Hostilia or Cremona. Others thought that he should summon the Praetorian cohorts from Rome, and then force his way with a strong body of troops. But with a ruinous delay he wasted in deliberation the opportunities of action. Eventually he rejected both plans, and did what is the very worst thing in circumstances of peril, attempted a middle course, and was neither bold enough on the one hand, nor cautious enough on the other.
He wrote to Vitellius asking for aid. Three cohorts with some British cavalry arrived, a force too numerous to elude observation, too small to force its way. Even amidst such perils Valens could not keep himself clear of the infamous reputation of grasping at unlawful gratifications and polluting the houses of his hosts with intrigue and violation. He had power, he had money, and he indulged the lusts that are the last solace of desperate fortunes. At length on the arrival of the infantry and cavalry the folly of his plans became evident. With so small a force, even had it been thoroughly loyal, he could not have made his way through the enemy, and the loyalty they had brought with them was not beyond suspicion. Yet shame and respect for the presence of their general held them in check, no lasting restraint with men who loved danger and were careless of disgrace. Moved by this apprehension, Valens, while he retained a few attendants whom adversity had not changed, sent on the infantry to Ariminum and ordered the cavalry to cover his rear. He then himself made his way to Umbria, and thence to Etruria, where, having learnt the issue of the battle of Cremona, he conceived a plan not wanting in vigour, and which, had it succeeded, would have had terrible results. This was to seize some ships, to land on some part of Gallia Narbonensis, to rouse Gaul with its armies as well as the tribes of Germany, and so to kindle a fresh war.
The garrison of Ariminum were discouraged by the departure of Valens, and Cornelius Fuscus, bringing up his army and disposing his Liburnian ships at the nearest points of the shore, invested the place by sea and land. His troops occupied the plains of Umbria and that portion of the Picentine territory that is washed by the Adriatic, and now the whole of Italy was divided by the range of the Apennines between Vespasian and Vitellius. Valens, having started from the bay of Pisa, was compelled, either by a calm or a contrary wind, to put in at the port of Hercules Monoecus. Near this place was stationed Marius Maturus, procurator of the Maritime Alps, who was loyal to Vitellius, and who, though everything around him was hostile, had not yet thrown off his allegiance. While courteously receiving Valens, he deterred him by his advice from rashly invading Gallia Narbonensis. And now the fidelity of the rest of the party was weakened by their fears. In fact the procurator Valerius Paullinus, an enterprising officer, who had been a friend of Vespasian before his elevation to the throne, had made the neighbouring States swear allegiance to that Prince.
Paullinus had collected all the troops who, having been disbanded by Vitellius, were now spontaneously taking up arms, and was holding with this force the colony of Forum Julii, which commanded the sea. His influence was all the greater, because Forum Julii was his native place, and because he was respected by the Praetorians, in which force he had once been a tribune. The inhabitants themselves, favouring a fellow-townsman, and anticipating his future greatness, did their best to promote the cause. When these preparations, which were really formidable and were exaggerated by report, became known among the now distracted Vitellianists, Fabius Valens returned to his ships with four soldiers of the body-guard, three personal friends, and as many centurions, while Maturus and the rest chose to remain behind and swear allegiance to Vespasian. For Valens indeed the open sea was safer than the coast or the towns, yet, all uncertain about the future, and knowing rather what he must avoid than what he could trust, he was thrown by adverse weather on the Stoechades, islands off Massilia. There he was captured by some Liburnian ships, dispatched by Paullinus.
Valens once captured, everything turned to swell the resources of the conqueror; the lead was taken in Spain by the 1st legion (the “Adjutrix”), whose recollections of Otho made them hate Vitellius; they drew with them the 6th and 10th. Gaul did not hesitate to follow. A partiality long felt in Britain for Vespasian, who had there commanded the 2nd legion by the appointment of Claudius, and had served with distinction, attached that province to his cause, though not without some commotion among the other legions, in which were many centurions and soldiers promoted by Vitellius, who felt uneasy in exchanging for another ruler one whom they knew already.
These dissensions, and the continual rumours of civil war, raised the courage of the Britons. They were led by one Venutius, who, besides being naturally high spirited, and hating the name of Rome, was fired by his private animosity against Queen Cartismandua. Cartismandua ruled the Brigantes in virtue of her illustrious birth; and she strengthened her throne, when, by the treacherous capture of king Caractacus, she was regarded as having given its chief distinction to the triumph of Claudius Caesar. Then followed wealth and the self-indulgence of prosperity. Spurning her husband Venutius, she made Vellocatus, his armour-bearer, the partner of her bed and throne. By this enormity the power of her house was at once shaken to its base. On the side of the husband were the affections of the people, on that of the adulterer, the lust and savage temper of the Queen. Accordingly Venutius collected some auxiliaries, and, aided at the same time by a revolt of the Brigantes, brought Cartismandua into the utmost peril. She asked for some Roman troops, and our auxiliary infantry and cavalry, after fighting with various success, contrived to rescue the Queen from her peril. Venutius retained the kingdom, and we had the war on our hands.
About the same time, Germany suffered from the supineness of our generals and the mutinous conduct of our legions; the assaults of enemies and the perfidy of allies all but overthrew the power of Rome. Of this war, its origin and its issue, for it lasted long, I shall hereafter speak. The Dacians also were in motion, a people which never can be trusted, and which, now that our legions were withdrawn from Moesia, had nothing to fear. They quietly watched the opening of the campaign, but when they heard that Italy was in a blaze of war, and that the whole Empire was divided against itself, they stormed the winter quarters of the auxiliary infantry and cavalry, and occupied both banks of the Danube. They were then preparing to destroy the camp of the legions, but Mucianus sent the 6th legion against them, for he knew of the victory of Cremona, and he feared this double pressure of barbarian power with Dacians and Germans invading Italy from opposite sides. We were helped, as often before, by the good fortune of the Roman people, which brought to the spot Mucianus with the armies of the East, and by the decisive settlement which in the meantime was effected at Cremona. Fonteius Agrippa was removed from Asia (which province he had governed as proconsul for a year) to Moesia, and had some troops given him from the army of Vitellius. That this army should be dispersed through the provinces and closely occupied with foreign wars, was sound policy and essential to peace.
All other nations were equally restless. A sudden outbreak had been excited in Pontus by a barbarian slave, who had before commanded the royal fleet. This was Anicetus, a freedman of Polemon, once a very powerful personage, who, when the kingdom was converted into a Roman province, ill brooked the change. Accordingly he raised in the name of Vitellius the tribes that border on Pontus, bribed a number of very needy adventurers by the hope of plunder, and, at the head of a force by no means contemptible, made a sudden attack on the old and famous city of Trapezus, founded by the Greeks on the farthest shore of the Pontus. There he destroyed a cohort, once a part of the royal contingent. They had afterwards received the privileges of citizenship, and while they carried their arms and banners in Roman fashion, they still retained the indolence and licence of the Greek. Anicetus also set fire to the fleet, and, as the sea was not guarded, escaped, for Mucianus had brought up to Byzantium the best of the Liburnian ships and all the troops. The barbarians even insolently scoured the sea in hastily constructed vessels of their own called “camarae,” built with narrow sides and broad bottoms, and joined together without fastenings of brass or iron. Whenever the water is rough they raise the bulwarks with additional planks according to the increasing height of the waves, till the vessel is covered in like a house. Thus they roll about amid the billows, and, as they have a prow at both extremities alike and a convertible arrangement of oars, they may be paddled in one direction or another indifferently and without risk.
The matter attracted the attention of Vespasian, and induced him to dispatch some veterans from the legions under Virdius Geminus, a tried soldier. Finding the enemy in disorder and dispersed in the eager pursuit of plunder, he attacked them, and drove them to their ships. Hastily fitting out a fleet of Liburnian ships he pursued Anicetus, and overtook him at the mouth of the river Cohibus, where he was protected by the king of the Sedochezi, whose alliance he had secured by a sum of money and other presents. This prince at first endeavoured to protect the suppliant by a threat of hostilities; when, however, the choice was presented to him between war and the profit to be derived from treachery, he consented, with the characteristic perfidy of barbarians, to the destruction of Anicetus, and delivered up the refugees. So ended this servile war. Amidst the joy of this success, while everything was prosperous beyond his hopes, tidings of the victory of Cremona reached Vespasian in Aegypt. This made him hasten his advance to Alexandria, for, now that the army of Vitellius was shattered, he sought to apply the pressure of famine to the capital, which is always dependent on foreign supplies. He was indeed also preparing to invade by sea and land the province of Africa, which lies on the same line of coast, intending by thus closing the supplies of corn to cause famine and dissension among the enemy.
While with this world-wide convulsion the Imperial power was changing hands, the conduct of Primus Antonius, after the fall of Cremona, was by no means as blameless as before. Either he believed that the necessities of the war had been satisfied, and that all else would follow easily, or, perhaps, success, working on such a temperament, developed his latent pride, rapacity and other vices. He swept through Italy as if it were a conquered country and caressed the legions as if they were his own; by all his words and acts he sought to pave for himself the way to power. To imbue the army with a spirit of licence, he offered to the legions the commissions of the centurions killed in the war. By their vote the most turbulent men were elected. The soldiers in fact were not under the control of the generals, but the generals were themselves constrained to follow the furious impulses of the soldiers. These mutinous proceedings, so ruinous to discipline, Antonius soon turned to his own profit, regardless of the near approach of Mucianus, a neglect more fatal than any contempt for Vespasian.
As winter was approaching, and the low country was flooded by the Padus, the army marched on without its heavy baggage. The standards and eagles of the victorious legions, the old and wounded soldiers, and even many effective men, were left at Verona. The auxiliary infantry and cavalry, with some picked troops from the legions, appeared sufficient for a war that was all but finished. They had been joined by the 11th legion, which at first had hesitated, but now in the hour of success felt alarm at having stood aloof. A recent levy of 6000 Dalmatians was attached to the legion. They were under the command of Pompeius Silvanus, a man of consular rank; the real direction of affairs was in the hands of Annius Bassus, the legate of the legion. This officer contrived, under an appearance of submission, to govern Silvanus, a leader without vigour, and apt to waste in words the opportunities of action. Bassus, with his unobtrusive energy, was ready for everything that had to be done. To these forces were added the elite of the marines of the Ravenna fleet, who demanded permission to serve in the legions. The crews were made up with Dalmatians. The army and generals halted at the Temple of Fortune, undecided as to their line of action. They had heard that the Praetorian Guard had marched out of Rome, and they supposed that the Apennines were occupied with troops. The generals, finding themselves in a country utterly impoverished by war, were terrified by the scarcity of provisions and the mutinous clamours of the soldiery, who incessantly demanded the “clavarium,” as the donative was called. They had provided neither money nor corn, and they were embarrassed by the general impatience and rapacity; for what they might have obtained was plundered.
I have the very highest authority for asserting, that there was among the conquerors such an impious disregard of right and wrong, that a private cavalry soldier declared he had slain his brother in the late battle, and claimed a reward from the generals. The common law of humanity on the one hand forbade them to reward this act of blood, the necessities of the war on the other forbade them to punish it. They put him off, on the ground that the obligation was too great to be immediately discharged. Nothing more is recorded. In the earlier civil wars indeed a similar horror had occurred. In the battle with Cinna at the Janiculum, a soldier in Pompey’s army, as Sisenna tells us, slew his own brother, and, on discovering the horrible deed he had committed, destroyed himself. So much more earnest among our ancestors was the honour paid to virtue, and the remorse that waited on crime. These and like instances, drawn from the recollections of the past, I shall mention not irrelevantly, whenever the subject and the occasion shall call for some example of goodness or some solace in the presence of evil.
Antonius and the other generals of the party judged it expedient to send forward the cavalry and explore the whole of Umbria for some point where the Apennines presented a more gentle ascent, and also to bring up the eagles and standards and all the troops at Verona, while they were to cover the Padus and the sea with convoys. Some there were among the generals who were contriving delays, for Antonius in fact was now becoming too great a man, and their hopes from Mucianus were more definite. That commander, troubled at so speedy a success, and imagining that unless he occupied Rome in person he should lose all share in the glory of the war, continued to write in ambiguous terms to Varus and Antonius, enlarging at one time on the necessity of following up their operations, at another on the advantage of delay, and with expressions so worded that he could, according to the event, repudiate a disastrous, or claim a successful policy. To Plotius Griphus, who had lately been raised by Vespasian to the senatorial rank and appointed to command a legion, as well as to all others on whom he could fully rely, he gave plainer instructions. All these men sent replies reflecting unfavourably on the precipitancy of Varus and Antonius, and suiting the wishes of Mucianus. By forwarding these letters to Vespasian he had accomplished this much, that the measures and achievements of Antonius were not valued according to his hopes.
Antonius was indignant, and blamed Mucianus, whose calumnies had depreciated his own hazardous achievements. Nor was he temperate in his expressions, for he was habitually violent in language, and was unaccustomed to obey. He wrote a letter to Vespasian in terms more arrogant than should be addressed to an Emperor, and not without implied reproach against Mucianus. “It was I,” he said, “who brought into the field the legions of Pannonia; my instigations roused the generals in Moesia; my courageous resolution forced a passage through the Alps, seized on Italy, and cut off the succours from Germany and Rhaetia. The discomfiture of the disunited and scattered legions of Vitellius by a fierce charge of cavalry, and afterwards by the steady strength of the infantry in a conflict that lasted for a day and a night, was indeed a most glorious achievement, and it was my work. For the destruction of Cremona the war must be answerable; the civil strifes of former days cost the State more terrible loss and the overthrow of many cities. Not with messages and letters, but with my arm and my sword, have I served my Emperor. I would not seek to hinder the renown of those who in the meanwhile have reduced Asia to tranquillity. They had at heart the peace of Moesia, I the safety and security of Italy. By my earnest representations Gaul and Spain, the most powerful region of the world, have been won for Vespasian. But all my efforts have been wasted, if they alone who have not shared the peril obtain its rewards.” The meaning of all this did not escape Mucianus, and there arose a deadly feud, cherished by Antonius with frankness, by Mucianus with reserve, and therefore with the greater bitterness.
Vitellius, after his power had been shattered at Cremona, endeavoured to suppress the tidings of the disaster, and by this foolish attempt at concealment he put off, not indeed his troubles, but only the application of the remedy. Had he avowed and discussed his position, he had some chance, some strength, left; whereas, on the contrary, when he pretended that all was prosperous, he aggravated his perils by falsehood. A strange silence was observed in his presence as to the war; throughout the country all discussion was prohibited, and so, many who would have told the truth had it been allowed, finding it forbidden, spread rumours exaggerating the calamity. The generals of the enemy failed not to magnify the report of their strength, for they sent back any spies of Vitellius whom they captured, after conducting them round the camp in order that they might learn the force of the victorious army. All of these persons Vitellius questioned in secret, and then ordered that they should be put to death. Singular bravery was displayed by a centurion, Julius Agrestis, who, after several interviews, in which he had in vain endeavoured to rouse Vitellius to courage, prevailed on the Emperor to send him in person to see what was the strength of the enemy’s resources, and what had happened at Cremona. He did not seek to escape the notice of Antonius by making his observations in secret, but avowed the emperor’s instructions and his own purpose, and asked leave to see everything. Persons were sent to shew him the field of battle, the remains of Cremona, and the captured legions. He then made his way back to Vitellius, and when the Emperor denied the truth of the intelligence which he brought, and even charged him with having been bribed, “Since,” he replied, “you require some decisive proof, and I can no longer serve you in any other way either by my life or death I will give you a proof which you can believe.” So he departed, and confirmed his statement by a voluntary death. Some say that he was slain by order of Vitellius, but they bear the same testimony to his loyalty and courage.
Vitellius, who seemed like a man roused from slumber ordered Julius Priscus and Alfenius Varus, with fourteen of the Praetorian cohorts and the entire force of cavalry, to occupy the Apennines. A legion of troops drafted from the fleet followed. So many thousand troops, comprising the picked men and horses of the army, had they been under the direction of a different general, would have been quite equal even to aggressive operations. The rest of the Praetorian cohorts were entrusted to Lucius Vitellius, brother of the Emperor, for the defence of the capital. Vitellius, while he abated nothing of his habitual indulgence, with a precipitancy prompted by alarm, anticipated the elections, at which he appointed consuls for several years. With a profuse liberality, he granted treaties to allies, and the rights of Latin citizenship to foreigners; some he relieved by the remission of tribute, others by exemptions; in a word, utterly careless of the future, he mutilated the resources of the Empire. But the mob was attracted by the magnificence of his bounties. The most foolish bought these favours with money; the wise held that to be invalid, which could neither be given nor received without ruin to the State. Yielding at length to the importunity of the army, which had taken up its position at Mevania, and accompanied by a numerous train of senators, into which many were brought by ambition and more by fear, he entered the camp, undecided in purpose and at the mercy of faithless counsels.
While he was haranguing his troops (marvellous to relate) such a multitude of ill-omened birds flew over him, as to obscure with a dark cloud the light of day. There occurred another terrible presage. A bull escaped from the altar, scattered the preparations for sacrifice, and was finally slain far from the spot where the victims are usually struck down. But the most portentous spectacle of all was Vitellius himself, ignorant of military matters and without forethought in his plans, even asking others about the order of march, about the business of reconnoitring, and the discretion to be used in pushing on or protracting the campaign, betraying in his countenance and gait his alarm at every fresh piece of intelligence, and finally drinking to intoxication. At last, weary of the camp, and having received tidings of the defection of the fleet at Misenum, he returned to Rome, trembling at every new disaster, but reckless of the final result. For though it was open to him to have crossed the Apennines with an army in unimpaired vigour, and to have attacked in the field an enemy suffering from cold and scant supplies, yet, by dividing his forces, he abandoned to destruction or captivity troops of the keenest courage and faithful to the last, against the judgment of the most experienced among the centurions, who, had they been consulted, would have told him the truth. They were all kept at a distance by the intimate friends of Vitellius; for the Emperor’s ears were so formed, that all profitable counsels were offensive to him, and that he would hear nothing but what would please and ruin.
The fleet at Misenum, so much can be done in times of civil discord by the daring of even a single man, was drawn into revolt by Claudius Faventinus, a centurion cashiered by Galba, who forged letters in the name of Vespasian offering a reward for treachery. The fleet was under the command of Claudius Apollinaris, a man neither firm in his loyalty, nor energetic in his treason. Apinius Tiro, who had filled the office of praetor, and who then happened to be at Minturnae, offered to head the revolt. By these men the colonies and municipal towns were drawn into the movement, and as Puteoli was particularly zealous for Vespasian, while Capua on the other hand remained loyal to Vitellius, they introduced their municipal jealousy into the civil war. Claudius Julianus, who had lately exercised an indulgent rule over the fleet at Misenum, was selected by Vitellius to soothe the irritation of the soldiery. He was supported by a city cohort and a troop of gladiators whose chief officer he was. As soon as the two camps were pitched, Julianus, without much hesitation, went over to the side of Vespasian, and they then occupied Tarracina, which was protected by its fortifications and position rather than by any ability of theirs.
Vitellius, when informed of these events, left a portion of his army at Narnia under the command of the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, and deputed his brother Lucius with six cohorts of infantry and 500 cavalry to encounter the danger that now threatened him on the side of Campania. Sick at heart, he found relief in the zeal of the soldiers and in the shouts with which the people clamoured for arms, while he gave the delusive name of an army and of Roman legions to a cowardly mob, that would not venture on any thing beyond words. At the instance of his freedmen (for his friends were the less faithful the more distinguished their rank) he ordered the tribes to be convoked, and to those who gave in their names administered the oath of service. As the numbers were excessive, he divided the business of enrolment between the consuls. He required the Senators to furnish a prescribed number of slaves and a certain weight of silver. The Roman Knights offered their services and money, and even the freedmen voluntarily sought the privilege of doing the same. This pretence of loyalty, dictated at first by fear, passed into enthusiasm, and many expressed compassion, not so much for Vitellius, as for the fallen condition of the Imperial power. Vitellius himself failed not to draw out their sympathies by his pitiable looks, his voice, and his tears; he was liberal in his promises and even extravagant, as men in their alarm naturally are. He even expressed a wish to be saluted as Caesar, a title which he had formerly rejected. But now he had a superstitious feeling about the name; and it is a fact that in the moment of terror the counsels of the wise and the voice of the rabble are listened to with equal respect. But as all movements that originate in thoughtless impulse, however vigorous in their beginnings, become feeble after a time, the throng of Senators and Knights gradually melted away, dispersing at first tardily and during the absence of the Emperor, but before long with a contemptuous indifference to his presence, till, ashamed of the failure of his efforts, Vitellius waived his claims to services which were not offered.
As the occupation of Mevania, and the apparent revival of the war with new vigour, had struck terror into Italy, so now did the timorous retreat of Vitellius give an unequivocal bias in favour of the Flavianists. The Samnites, the Peligni, and the Marsi, roused themselves, jealous at having been anticipated by Campania, and, as men who serve a new master, were energetic in all the duties of war. The army, however, was much distressed by bad weather in its passage over the Apennines, and since they could hardly struggle through the snow, though their march was unmolested, they perceived what danger they would have had to encounter, had not Vitellius been made to turn back by that good fortune, which, not less often than the wisdom of their counsels, helped the Flavianist generals. Here they fell in with Petilius Cerialis, who had escaped the sentries of Vitellius by a rustic disguise and by his knowledge of the country. There was a near relationship between Cerialis and Vespasian, and he was not without reputation as a soldier. He was therefore admitted to rank among the generals. It has been said by many that the means of escape were likewise open to Flavius Sabinus and to Domitian, and indeed messengers, dispatched by Antonius, contrived under various disguises to make their way to them, offering them a place of refuge and a protecting force. Sabinus pleaded his ill health, unsuited to toil and adventure. Domitian did not want the courage, but he feared that the guards whom Vitellius had set over him, though they offered to accompany him in his flight, had treacherous designs. And Vitellius himself, out of a regard for his own connexions, did not meditate any cruelty against Domitian.
The Flavianist generals on their arrival at Carsulae took a few days for repose, while the eagles and standards of the legions were coming up. Carsulae appeared a good position for an encampment, for it commanded an extensive prospect, provisions could be safely brought up, and there were in its rear several very wealthy towns. They also calculated on interviews with the Vitellianists, who were only ten miles distant, and on the chances of defection. The soldiers were dissatisfied with this prospect, and wished for victory rather than for peace. They would not even await the arrival of their own legions, whom they looked upon as sharers in the spoil rather than in the dangers of the campaign. Antonius summoned them to an assembly, and explained to them that Vitellius had still forces, which would waver in their loyalty if they had time to reflect, but would be fierce foes if driven to despair. “The opening of a civil war must,” he said, “be left to chance; the final triumph is perfected by wise counsels and skill. The fleet of Misenum and the fairest portion of Campania have already revolted, and out of the whole world Vitellius has nothing left but the country between Tarracina and Narnia. From our victory at Cremona sufficient glory has accrued to us, and from the destruction of that city only too much disgrace. Let us not be eager to capture rather than to preserve the capital. Greater will be our reward, far higher our reputation, if we secure without bloodshed the safety of the Senate and of the people of Rome.” By this and similar language their impatience was allayed.
Soon after, the legions arrived. Alarmed by the report of this increase to the army, the Vitellianist cohorts began to waver; no one urged them to fight, many urged them to change sides, each more eager than the other to hand over his company or troop, a present to the conqueror, and a source of future advantage to himself. From these men it was ascertained that Interamna, situated in the adjoining plain, was occupied by a garrison of 400 cavalry. Varus was at once dispatched with a lightly equipped force, and cut to pieces a few who attempted to resist; the greater number threw down their arms, and begged for quarter. Some fled back into the camp, and spread panic everywhere by exaggerated reports of the courage and strength of the enemy, seeking thus to mitigate the disgrace of having lost the position. Among the Vitellianists treason went unpunished; all loyalty was subverted by the rewards of desertion, and nothing was left but emulation in perfidy. There were numerous desertions among the tribunes and centurions; the common soldiers remained obstinately faithful to Vitellius, till Priscus and Alfenius, deserting the camp and returning to Vitellius, relieved all from any shame they might feel at being traitors.
About the same time Fabius Valens was put to death while in confinement at Urbinum. His head was displayed to the Vitellianist cohort, that they might not cherish any further hope, for they generally believed that Valens had made his way into Germany, and was there bringing into the field veteran as well as newly levied armies. The bloody spectacle reduced them to despair, and it was amazing how the army of Vespasian welcomed in their hearts the destruction of Valens as the termination of the war. Valens was a native of Anagnia, and belonged to an Equestrian family; he was a man of loose character, but of no small ability, who sought to gain by profligacy a reputation for elegance. In the theatricals performed by young men during the reign of Nero, at first apparently from compulsion, afterwards of his own free choice, he repeatedly acted in the farces, with more cleverness than propriety. While legate of a legion, he first supported, then slandered, Verginius. Fonteius Capito he murdered, either after he had corrupted him, or because he had failed to do so. Though a traitor to Galba he was loyal to Vitellius, and gained a lustre from the perfidy of others.
Finding all their hopes cut off, the troops of Vitellius, intending to pass over to the side of the conqueror, but to do so with honour, marched down with their standards and colours into the plains beneath Narnia. The army of Vespasian, prepared and equipped as if for action, was drawn up in dense array on both sides of the road. The Vitellianists were received between the two columns; when they were thus surrounded, Antonius addressed them kindly. One division was ordered to remain at Narnia, another at Interamna; with them were left some of the victorious legions, which would not be formidable to them if they remained quiet, but were strong enough to crush all turbulence. At the same time Primus and Varus did not neglect to forward continual messages to Vitellius, offering him personal safety, the enjoyment of wealth, and a quiet retreat in Campania, provided he would lay down his arms and surrender himself and his children to Vespasian. Mucianus also wrote to him to the same effect, and Vitellius was often disposed to trust these overtures, and even discussed the number of his household and the choice of a residence on the coast. Such a lethargy had come over his spirit, that, had not others remembered he had been an Emperor, he would have himself forgotten it.
The leading men in the State had secret conferences with Flavius Sabinus, prefect of the city, urging him to secure a share in the credit of the victory. “You have,” they said, “a force of your own in the city cohorts; the cohorts of the watch will not fail you, and there are also our own slaves, there is the prestige of the party, there is the fact that to the victorious everything is easy. You should not yield the glory of the war to Antonius and Varus. Vitellius has but a few cohorts, and they are alarmed by gloomy tidings from every quarter. The feelings of the people are easily swayed, and, if you put yourself at their head, there will soon be the same flatteries ready for Vespasian. Vitellius even in prosperity was unequal to his position, and he is proportionately unnerved by disaster. The merit of having finished the war will belong to him who may have possessed himself of the capital. It would well become Sabinus to keep the Empire for his brother, and Vespasian equally well, to count his other adherents inferior to Sabinus.”
Old and infirm as he was, it was with anything but eagerness that he listened to these suggestions. Some indeed assailed him with dark insinuations, implying that from motives of envy and rivalry he was seeking to retard the elevation of his brother. It was true, that while both were in a private station, Flavius Sabinus, who was the elder, was the superior of Vespasian in influence and in wealth. He was believed indeed to have sustained the failing credit of his brother, while taking a mortgage of his house and lands; and hence, though the outward appearance of harmony was preserved, some secret grudge was feared. It is more charitable to suppose that the mild temper of the man shrank from bloodshed and slaughter, and that for this reason he had held frequent conferences with Vitellius to discuss the question of peace and the cessation of hostilities upon certain conditions. After many private interviews, they finally, so report said, ratified an agreement in the temple of Apollo. The words of their conversation had two witnesses in Cluvius Rufus and Silius Italicus. Their looks were noted by the more distant spectators; the expression of Vitellius was abject and mean, that of Sabinus not triumphant, but rather akin to pity.
Could Vitellius have swayed the feelings of his partisans as easily as he had himself yielded, the army of Vespasian might have entered the capital without bloodshed. But the more loyal his adherents, the more did they protest against peace and negotiation. They pointed out the danger and disgrace of a submission in which the caprice of the conqueror would be their sole guarantee. “And Vespasian,” they said, “is not so arrogant as to tolerate such a subject as Vitellius. Even the vanquished would not endure it. Their pity would be dangerous to him. You certainly are an old man, and have had enough both of prosperity and of adversity, but think what a name, what a position, you will leave to your son Germanicus. Now indeed they promise you wealth, and a large establishment, and a luxurious retreat in Campania; but when Vespasian has once seized the throne, neither he, nor his friends, nor even his armies, will feel themselves secure till all rivalry has been extinguished. Fabius Valens, captive as he was, and reserved against the chance of disaster, was yet too formidable to them; and certainly Primus, Fuscus, and Mucianus, who exhibits the temper of his party, will not be allowed power over Vitellius except to put him to death. Caesar did not leave Pompey, Augustus did not leave Antony in safety, though, perhaps, Vespasian may show a more lofty spirit, Vespasian, who was a dependant of Vitellius, when Vitellius was the colleague of Claudius. If you would act as becomes the censorship, the thrice-repeated consulate of your father, and all the honours of your illustrious house, let despair at any rate arm you to courageous action. The troops are still firm, and among the people there is abundant zeal. Lastly, nothing can happen to us more terrible than that upon which we are voluntarily rushing. If we are conquered, we must die; we must die, if we capitulate. All that concerns us is this; shall we draw our last breath amidst scorn and insult, or in a valiant struggle?”
The ears of Vitellius were deaf to manly counsels. His whole soul was overwhelmed by a tender anxiety, lest by an obstinate resistance he might leave the conqueror less mercifully disposed to his wife and children. He had also a mother old and feeble, but she, expiring a few days before, escaped by her opportune death the ruin of her house, having gained from the Imperial dignity of her son nothing but sorrow and a good name. On the 18th of December, after hearing of the defection of the legion and the auxiliary infantry which had surrendered at Narnia, he left the palace, clad in mourning robes, and surrounded by his weeping household. With him went his little son, carried in a litter, as though in a funeral procession. The greetings of the people were flattering, but ill-suited to the time; the soldiers preserved an ominous silence.
There could hardly be a man so careless of human interests as not to be affected by this spectacle. There was the Roman Emperor, lord but a few days before of the whole human race, leaving the seat of his power, and passing through the midst of his people and his capital, to abdicate his throne. Men had never before seen or heard of such an event. Caesar, the Dictator, had fallen by sudden violence, Caligula by secret treason. The shades of night and the obscurity of a rural hiding-place had veiled the flight of Nero. Piso and Galba had, it might be said, fallen in battle. In an assembly of his own people, and in the midst of his own soldiers, with the very women of his family looking on, Vitellius stood and spoke a few words suitable to the sad conjuncture. “He gave way,” he said, “for the sake of peace, for the sake of his country; let them only remember him, and think with compassion of his brother, of his wife, of his young and innocent children.” At the same time he held out his son, commending him first to individual bystanders, then to the whole assembly. At last, unable to speak for weeping, he unfastened the dagger from his side, and offered it to the Consul, Caecilius Simplex, who was standing by him, as if to indicate that he surrendered the power of life and death over the citizens. The Consul rejecting it, and those who were standing by in the assembly shouting remontrance, he departed, as if with the intention of laying aside the emblems of Imperial power in the Temple of Concord, and of betaking himself to his brother’s house. Louder shouts here met him from the crowd, which hindered him from entering a private house, and invited him to return to the palace. Every other route was closed, and the only one open was one which led into the Via Sacra. Then in utter perplexity he returned to the palace. The rumour that he had renounced the Imperial dignity had preceded him thither, and Flavius Sabinus had sent written orders to the tribunes of the cohorts to keep their soldiers under restraint.
Then, as if the whole State had passed into the hands of Vespasian, the leading men of the Senate, many of the Equestrian order, with all the city soldiery and the watch, thronged the dwelling of Sabinus. Intelligence was there brought to him of the enthusiasm of the populace and of the threatening attitude of the German cohorts. He had now gone too far to be able to retreat, and every one, fearing for himself, should the Vitellianists come upon them while they were scattered and comparatively weak, urged him, in spite of his reluctance, to hostilities. As usually happens, however, in such cases, all gave the advice, but few shared the risk. The armed retinue which was escorting Sabinus was met, as it was coming down by the Lake Fundanus, by some of the most determined of the Vitellianists. From this unforeseen collision resulted an encounter slight indeed, but terminating favourably for the Vitellianists. In the hurry of the moment Sabinus adopted the safest course open to him, and occupied the Capitol with a miscellaneous body of soldiery, and some Senators and Knights. It is not easy to give the names of these persons, since after the triumph of Vespasian many pretended to have rendered this service to his party. There were even women who braved the dangers of the siege; the most conspicuous among them being Verulana Gratilla, who was taken thither, not by the love of children or kindred, but by the fascination of war. The Vitellianists kept but a careless watch over the besieged, and thus at the dead of night Sabinus was able to bring into the Capitol his own children and Domitian his brother’s son, and to send by an unguarded route a messenger to the generals of the Flavianist party, with information that they were besieged, and that, unless succour arrived, they must be reduced to distress. The night passed so quietly that he might have quitted the place without loss; for, brave as were the soldiers of Vitellius in encountering danger, they were far from attentive to the laborious duties of watching. Besides this, the sudden fall of a winter storm baffled both sight and hearing.
At dawn of day, before either side commenced hostilities, Sabinus sent Cornelius Martialis, a centurion of the first rank, to Vitellius, with instructions to complain of the infraction of the stipulated terms. “There has evidently,” he said, “been a mere show and pretence of abdicating the Empire, with the view of deceiving a number of distinguished men. If not, why, when leaving the Rostra, had he gone to the house of his brother, looking as it did over the Forum, and certain to provoke the gaze of the multitude, rather than to the Aventine, and the family house of his wife? This would have befitted a private individual anxious to shun all appearance of Imperial power. But on the contrary, Vitellius retraced his steps to the palace, the very stronghold of Empire; thence issued a band of armed men. One of the most frequented parts of the city was strewed with the corpses of innocent persons. The Capitol itself had not been spared. “I,” said Sabinus, “was only a civilian and a member of the Senate, while the rivalry of Vitellius and Vespasian was being settled by conflicts between legions, by the capture of cities, by the capitulation of cohorts; with Spain, Germany, and Britain in revolt, the brother of Vespasian still remained firm to his allegiance, till actually invited to discuss terms of agreement. Peace and harmony bring advantage to the conquered, but only credit to the conqueror. If you repent of your compact, it is not against me, whom you treacherously deceived, that you must draw the sword, nor is it against the son of Vespasian, who is yet of tender age. What would be gained by the slaughter of one old man and one stripling? You should go and meet the legions, and fight there for Empire; everything else will follow the issue of that struggle.” To these representations the embarrassed Vitellius answered a few words in his own exculpation, throwing all the blame upon the soldiers, with whose excessive zeal his moderation was, he said, unable to cope. He advised Martialis to depart unobserved through a concealed part of the palace, lest he should be killed by the soldiers, as the negotiator of this abhorred convention. Vitellius had not now the power either to command or to forbid. He was no longer Emperor, he was merely the cause of war.
Martialis had hardly returned to the Capitol, when the infuriated soldiery arrived, without any leader, every man acting on his own impulse. They hurried at quick march past the Forum and the temples which hang over it, and advanced their line up the opposite hill as far as the outer gates of the Capitol. There were formerly certain colonnades on the right side of the slope as one went up; the defenders, issuing forth on the roof of these buildings, showered tiles and stones on the Vitellianists. The assailants were not armed with anything but swords, and it seemed too tedious to send for machines and missiles. They threw lighted brands on a projecting colonnade, and following the track of the fire would have burst through the half-burnt gates of the Capitol, had not Sabinus, tearing down on all sides the statues, the glories of former generations, formed them into a barricade across the opening. They then assailed the opposite approaches to the Capitol, near the grove of the Asylum, and where the Tarpeian rock is mounted by a hundred steps. Both these attacks were unexpected; the closer and fiercer of the two threatened the Asylum. The assailants could not be checked as they mounted the continuous line of buildings, which, as was natural in a time of profound peace, had grown up to such a height as to be on a level with the soil of the Capitol. A doubt arises at this point, whether it was the assailants who threw lighted brands on to the roofs, or whether, as the more general account has it, the besieged thus sought to repel the assailants, who were now making vigorous progress. From them the fire passed to the colonnades adjoining the temples; the eagles supporting the pediment, which were of old timber, caught the flames. And so the Capitol, with its gates shut, neither defended by friends, nor spoiled by a foe, was burnt to the ground.
This was the most deplorable and disgraceful event that had happened to the Commonwealth of Rome since the foundation of the city; for now, assailed by no foreign enemy, with Heaven ready to be propitious, had our vices only allowed, the seat of Jupiter Supremely Good and Great, founded by our ancestors with solemn auspices to be the pledge of Empire, the seat, which neither Porsenna, when the city was surrendered, nor the Gauls, when it was captured, had been able to violate, was destroyed by the madness of our Emperors. Once before indeed during civil war the Capitol had been consumed by fire, but then only through the crime of individuals; now it was openly besieged, and openly set on fire. And what were the motives of this conflict? what the compensation for so great a disaster? was it for our country we were fighting? King Tarquinius Priscus had vowed its erection in his war with the Sabines, and had laid the foundations on a scale which suited the hopes of future greatness rather than what the yet moderate resources of Rome could achieve. After him, Servius Tullius, heartily assisted by the allies, and Tarquinius Superbus, employing the spoils of war from the conquered Suessa Pometia, raised the superstructure. But the glory of its completion was reserved for the days of liberty. After the expulsion of the Kings, Horatius Pulvillus, in his second consulate, dedicated it, a building so magnificent, that the vast wealth afterwards acquired by the people of Rome served to embellish rather than increase it. It was rebuilt on the same site, when, after an interval of 415 years, it was burnt to the ground in the consulate of Lucius Scipio and Caius Norbanus. Sulla, after his final triumph, undertook the charge of restoring it, but did not live to dedicate it, the one thing denied to his uniform good fortune. The name of Lutatius Catulus, the dedicator, remained among all the vast erections of the Emperors, down to the days of Vitellius. This was the building that was now on fire.
The catastrophe, however, caused more panic among the besieged than among the besiegers. In fact, the troops of Vitellius lacked neither skill nor courage in the midst of peril. Opposed to them were soldiers without self-possession, and a spiritless and, so to speak, infatuated commander, who had not the use of his tongue or his ears, who would not be guided by other men’s counsels, and could not carry out his own, who, hurried to and fro by the shouts of the enemy, forbade what he had just ordered, and ordered what he had just forbidden. Then, as usually happens when everything is lost, all gave orders, and no one obeyed. At last, they threw away their arms, and began to look about for ways of escape and means of concealment. The Vitellianists burst in, carrying everywhere with indiscriminate ferocity the firebrand and the sword. A few of the military men, among whom the most conspicuous were Cornelius Martialis, Aemilius Pacensis, Casperius Niger, and Didius Sceva, ventured to resist, and were cut down. Flavius Sabinus, who was unarmed, and who did not attempt to fly, was surrounded, and with him the consul Quinctius Atticus, marked out by his clinging to the shadow of office, and by his folly in having scattered among the people edicts highly eulogistic of Vespasian and insulting to Vitellius. The rest escaped by various chances, some disguised as slaves, others concealed by the fidelity of dependants, and hiding among the baggage. Some caught the watchword by which the Vitellianists recognised each other, and, themselves challenging others and giving it when challenged, found in their audacity an effectual disguise.
When the enemy first burst in, Domitian concealed himself in the house of a servant of the temple. At the ingenious suggestion of a freedman, he assumed a linen vestment, and passing unnoticed among a crowd of acolytes, found a refuge with Cornelius Primus, one of his father’s dependants, in a house near the Velabrum. When his father mounted the throne, he pulled down the chamber of the temple-servant, and built a small chapel, dedicated to Jupiter the Preserver, with an altar on which his own adventures were represented in marble. Afterwards, on his own accession to the Imperial power, he consecrated a vast temple to Jupiter the Guardian, with an effigy of himself in the arms of the god. Sabinus and Atticus were loaded with chains, and conducted to Vitellius, who received them with anything but anger in his words and looks, amidst the murmurs of those who demanded the privilege of slaying them and their pay for the work they had done. Those who were standing near began the clamour, and the degraded rabble cried out for the execution of Sabinus, and mingled threats with their flatteries. Vitellius, who was standing before the steps of the palace, and was preparing to intercede, was induced to desist. The body of Sabinus, pierced and mutilated and with the head severed from it, was dragged to the Gemoniae.
Such was the end of a man in no wise contemptible. In five and thirty campaigns he had served the State, and had gained distinction both at home and abroad. His blamelessness and integrity no one could question. He was somewhat boastful; this was the only fault of which rumour accused him in the seven years during which he had governed Moesia, and the twelve during which he was prefect of the city. In the closing scene of his life some have seen pusillanimity, many a moderate temper, sparing of the blood of his countrymen. One thing is allowed by all, that, before the accession of Vespasian, the distinction of the family was centred in Sabinus. I have heard that his death gratified Mucianus, and many indeed asserted that the interests of peace were promoted by the removal of the rivalry between these two men, one of whom felt himself to be the brother of the Emperor, while the other thought himself his colleague. Vitellius resisted the demands of the people for the execution of the Consul; he was now pacified, and wished, it would seem, to recompense Atticus, who, when asked who had set fire to the Capitol, had confessed his own guilt, and by this confession, which may indeed have been an opportune falsehood, was thought to have taken upon himself the odium of the crime, and to have acquitted the Vitellianist party.
Meanwhile Lucius Vitellius, who was encamped near Feronia, was threatening Tarracina with destruction. There were shut up in the place a few gladiators and seamen, who dared not leave the walls and risk an engagement in the plain. I have mentioned before that Julianus was in command of the gladiators, Apollinaris of the seamen, two men whose profligacy and indolence made them resemble gladiators rather than generals. They kept no watch; they did not strengthen the weak points of the fortifications; but, making each pleasant spot ring with the noise of their daily and nightly dissipation, they dispersed their soldiers on errands which were to minister to their luxury, and never spoke of war, except at their banquets. Apinius Tiro had quitted the place a few days before, and was now, by the harsh exaction of presents and contributions from the towns, adding to the unpopularity rather than to the resources of his party.
Meanwhile a slave belonging to Verginius Capito deserted to L. Vitellius, and having engaged, on being furnished with a force, to put him in possession of the unoccupied citadel, proceeded at a late hour of the night to place some light-armed cohorts on the summit of a range of hills which commanded the enemy’s position. From this place the troops descended to what was more a massacre than a conflict. Many whom they slew were unarmed or in the act of arming themselves, some were just awaking from sleep, amid the confusion of darkness and panic, the braying of trumpets, and the shouts of the foe. A few of the gladiators resisted, and fell not altogether unavenged. The rest made a rush for the ships, where everything was involved in a general panic, the troops being mingled with country people, whom the Vitellianists slaughtered indiscriminately. Six Liburnian ships with Apollinaris, prefect of the fleet, escaped in the first confusion. The rest were either seized upon the beach, or were swamped by the weight of the crowds that rushed on board. Julianus was brought before L. Vitellius, and, after being ignominiously scourged, was put to death in his presence. Some persons accused Triaria, the wife of L. Vitellius, of having armed herself with a soldier’s sword, and of having behaved with arrogance and cruelty amid the horrors and massacres of the storm of Tarracina. Lucius himself sent to his brother a laurelled dispatch with an account of his success, and asked whether he wished him at once to return to Rome, or to complete the subjugation of Campania. This circumstance was advantageous to the State as well as to the cause of Vespasian. Had the army fresh from victory, and with all the pride of success added to its natural obstinacy, marched upon Rome, a conflict of no slight magnitude, and involving the destruction of the capital, must have ensued. Lucius Vitellius, infamous as he was, had yet some energy, but it was not through his virtues, as is the case with the good, but through his vices, that he, like the worst of villains, was formidable.
While these successes were being achieved on the side of Vitellius, the army of Vespasian had left Narnia, and was passing the holiday of the Saturnalia in idleness at Ocriculum. The reason alleged for so injurious a delay was that they might wait for Mucianus. Some persons indeed there were who assailed Antonius with insinuations, that he lingered with treacherous intent, after receiving private letters from Vitellius, which conveyed to him the offer of the consulship and of the Emperor’s daughter in marriage with a vast dowry, as the price of treason. Others asserted that this was all a fiction, invented to please Mucianus. Some again alleged that the policy agreed upon by all the generals was to threaten rather than actually to attack the capital, as Vitellius’ strongest cohorts had revolted from him, and it seemed likely that, deprived of all support, he would abdicate the throne, but that the whole plan was ruined by the impatience and subsequent cowardice of Sabinus, who, after rashly taking up arms, had not been able to defend against three cohorts the great stronghold of the Capitol, which might have defied even the mightiest armies. One cannot, however, easily fix upon one man the blame which belongs to all. Mucianus did in fact delay the conquerors by ambiguously-worded dispatches; Antonius, by a perverse acquiescence, or by an attempt to throw the odium upon another, laid himself open to blame; the other generals, by imagining that the war was over, contrived a distinction for its closing scene. Even Petilius Cerialis, though he had been sent on with a thousand cavalry by crossroads through the Sabine district so as to enter Rome by the Via Salaria, had not been sufficiently prompt in his movements, when the report of the siege of the Capitol put all alike on the alert.
Antonius marched by the Via Flaminia, and arrived at Saxa Rubra, when the night was far spent, too late to give any help. There he received nothing but gloomy intelligence, that Sabinus was dead, that the Capitol had been burnt to the ground, that Rome was in consternation, and also that the populace and the slaves were arming themselves for Vitellius. And Petilius Cerialis had been defeated in a cavalry skirmish. While he was hurrying on without caution, as against a vanquished enemy, the Vitellianists, who had disposed some infantry among their cavalry, met him. The conflict took place not far from the city among buildings, gardens, and winding lanes, which were well known to the Vitellianists, but disconcerting to their opponents, to whom they were strange. Nor indeed were all the cavalry one in heart, for there were with them some who had lately capitulated at Narnia, and who were anxiously watching the fortunes of the rival parties. Tullius Flavianus, commanding a squadron, was taken prisoner; the rest fled in disgraceful confusion, but the victors did not continue the pursuit beyond Fidenae.
By this success the zeal of the people was increased. The mob of the city armed itself. Some few had military shields, the greater part seized such arms as came to hand, and loudly demanded the signal of battle. Vitellius expressed his thanks to them, and bade them sally forth to defend the capital. Then the Senate was called together, and envoys were selected to meet the armies and urge them in the name of the Commonwealth to union and peace. The reception of these envoys was not everywhere the same. Those who fell in with Petilius Cerialis were exposed to extreme peril, for the troops disdained all offers of peace. The praetor Arulenus Rusticus was wounded. This deed seemed all the more atrocious, when, over and above the insult offered to the dignity of the envoy and praetor, men considered the private worth of the man. His companions were dispersed, and the lictor that stood next to him, venturing to push aside the crowd, was killed. Had they not been protected by an escort provided by the general, the dignity of the ambassador, respected even by foreign nations, would have been profaned with fatal violence by the madness of Roman citizens before the very walls of their Country. The envoys who met Antonious were more favourably received, not because the troops were of quieter temper, but because the general had more authority.
One Musonius Rufus, a man of equestrian rank, strongly attached to the pursuit of philosophy and to the tenets of the Stoics, had joined the envoys. He mingled with the troops, and, enlarging on the blessings of peace and the perils of war, began to admonish the armed crowd. Many thought it ridiculous; more thought it tiresome; some were ready to throw him down and trample him under foot, had he not yielded to the warnings of the more orderly and the threats of others, and ceased to display his ill-timed wisdom. The Vestal virgins also presented themselves with a letter from Vitellius to Antonius. He asked for one day of truce before the final struggle, and said, that if they would permit some delay to intervene, everything might be more easily arranged. The sacred virgins were sent back with honour, but the answer returned to Vitellius was, that all ordinary intercourse of war had been broken off by the murder of Sabinus and the conflagration of the Capitol.
Antonius, however, summoned the legions to an assembly, and endeavoured to calm them, proposing that they should encamp near the Mulvian bridge, and enter the capital on the following day. His reason for delay was the fear that the soldiers, once exasperated by conflict, would respect neither the people nor the Senate, nor even the shrines and temples of the Gods. They, however, looked with dislike on all procrastination as inimical to victory. At the same time the colours that glittered among the hills, though followed by an unwarlike population, presented the appearance of a hostile array. They advanced in three divisions, one column straight from where they had halted along the Via Flaminia, another along the bank of the Tiber, a third moved on the Colline Gate by the Via Salaria. The mob was routed by a charge of the cavalry. Then the Vitellianist troops, themselves also drawn up in three columns of defence, met the foe. Numerous engagements with various issue took place before the walls, but they generally ended in favour of the Flavianists, who had the advantage of more skilful generalship. Only that division suffered which had wound its way along narrow and slippery roads to the left quarter of the city as far as the gardens of Sallust. The Vitellianists, taking their stand on the garden-walls, kept off the assailants with stones and javelins till late in the day, when they were taken in the rear by the cavalry, which had then forced an entrance by the Colline Gate. In the Campus Martius also the hostile armies met, the Flavianists with all the prestige of fortune and repeated victory, the Vitellianists rushing on in sheer despair. Though defeated, they rallied again in the city.
The populace stood by and watched the combatants; and, as though it had been a mimic conflict, encouraged first one party and then the other by their shouts and plaudits. Whenever either side gave way, they cried out that those who concealed themselves in the shops, or took refuge in any private house, should be dragged out and butchered, and they secured the larger share of the booty; for, while the soldiers were busy with bloodshed and massacre, the spoils fell to the crowd. It was a terrible and hideous sight that presented itself throughout the city. Here raged battle and death; there the bath and the tavern were crowded. In one spot were pools of blood and heaps of corpses, and close by prostitutes and men of character as infamous; there were all the debaucheries of luxurious peace, all the horrors of a city most cruelly sacked, till one was ready to believe the Country to be mad at once with rage and lust. It was not indeed the first time that armed troops had fought within the city; they had done so twice when Sulla, once when Cinna triumphed. The bloodshed then had not been less, but now there was an unnatural recklessness, and men’s pleasures were not interrupted even for a moment. As if it were a new delight added to their holidays, they exulted in and enjoyed the scene, indifferent to parties, and rejoicing over the sufferings of the Commonwealth.
The most arduous struggle was the storming of the camp, which the bravest of the enemy still held as a last hope. It was, therefore, with peculiar energy that the conquerors, among whom the veteran cohorts were especially forward, brought to bear upon it at once all the appliances which have been discovered in reducing the strongest cities, the testudo, the catapult, the earth-work, and the firebrand. They repeatedly shouted “that all the toil and danger they had endured in so many conflicts would be crowned by this achievement. The capital has been restored to the Senate and people of Rome, and their temples to the Gods; but the soldier’s peculiar distinction is in the camp; this is his country, and this his home; unless this be recovered forthwith, the night must be passed under arms.” On the other hand the Vitellianists, though unequal in numbers and doomed to defeat, could yet disturb the victory, delay the conclusion of peace, and pollute both hearth and altar with blood; and they clung to these last consolations of the vanquished. Many, desperately wounded, breathed their last on the towers and ramparts. When the gates were torn down, the survivors threw themselves in a body on the conquerors, and fell to a man, with their wounds in front and their faces turned towards the foe, so anxious were they even in their last hours to die with honour. When the city had been taken, Vitellius caused himself to be carried in a litter through the back of the palace to the Aventine, to his wife’s dwelling, intending, if by any concealment he could escape for that day, to make his way to his brother’s cohorts at Tarracina. Then, with characteristic weakness, and following the instincts of fear, which, dreading everything, shrinks most from what is immediately before it, he retraced his steps to the desolate and forsaken palace, whence even the meanest slaves had fled, or where they avoided his presence. The solitude and silence of the place scared him; he tried the closed doors, he shuddered in the empty chambers, till, wearied out with his miserable wanderings, he concealed himself in an unseemly hiding-place, from which he was dragged out by the tribune Julius Placidus. His hands were bound behind his back, and he was led along with tattered robes, a revolting spectacle, amidst the invectives of many, the tears of none. The degradation of his end had extinguished all pity. One of the German soldiers met the party, and aimed a deadly blow at Vitellius, perhaps in anger, perhaps wishing to release him the sooner from insult. Possibly the blow was meant for the tribune. He struck off that officer’s ear, and was immediately dispatched.
Vitellius, compelled by threatening swords, first to raise his face and offer it to insulting blows, then to behold his own statues falling round him, and more than once to look at the Rostra and the spot where Galba was slain, was then driven along till they reached the Gemoniae, the place where the corpse of Flavius Sabinus had lain. One speech was heard from him shewing a spirit not utterly degraded, when to the insults of a tribune he answered, “Yet I was your Emperor.” Then he fell under a shower of blows, and the mob reviled the dead man with the same heartlessness with which they had flattered him when he was alive.
Luceria was his native place. He had nearly completed his 57th year. His consulate, his priesthood, his high reputation, his place among the first men of the State, he owed, not to any energy of his own, but to the renown of his father. The throne was offered him by men who did not know him. Seldom have the affections of the army attached themselves to any man who sought to gain them by his virtues as firmly as they did to him from the indolence of his character. Yet he had a certain frankness and generosity, qualities indeed which turn to a man’s ruin, unless tempered with discretion. Believing that friendship may be retained by munificent gifts rather than by consistency of character, he deserved more of it than he secured. Doubtless it was good for the State that Vitellius should be overthrown, but they who betrayed Vitellius to Vespasian cannot make a merit of their treachery, since they had themselves revolted from Galba. The day was now fast drawing to a close, and the Senate could not be convened, owing to the panic of the magistrates and Senators, who had stolen out of the city, or were concealing themselves in the houses of dependants. When nothing more was to be feared from the enemy, Domitian came forward to meet the leaders of the party; he was universally saluted by the title of Caesar, and the troops, in great numbers, armed as they were, conducted him to his father’s house.
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