Cornelius Tacitus

The Histories

Book IV: XXXII-LXV Events in Rome, conflict in Germany

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

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Contents


Book IV:XXXII Montanus sent as an envoy to Civilis

Letters from Antonius to Civilis read before the troops, written as if to an ally and seemingly hostile towards the army in Germany, roused their suspicions. When the news reached the Roman camp at Gelduba (Gellep) later, it led to similar words and actions, and Montanus was sent to Civilis with orders to him to abstain from conflict and from cloaking hostile acts with lies: saying that if Civilis had attacked them in order to assist Vespasian’s party, his efforts were quite sufficient.

Civilis showed caution at first: but later realising that Montanus was impetuous by nature, and open to rebellion, he began to complain of the twenty-five uncertain years he had spent in the camps of the Romans. ‘I have won a prize for my trials indeed,’ he said, ‘my brother’s murder, my own fetters, and the fierce calls from their army for my punishment, for all of which by the rights of nations I am called upon to seek vengeance. You Treviri, also, and the rest of you subservient spirits, what can you expect for the blood you so often shed, but unrewarding military service, the payment of endless tributes, floggings, the axe, and the other inventions of your masters? Behold how, as prefect of a single cohort, with the Canninefates and the Batavi, a mere fraction of the Gauls, I have destroyed their useless far-flung camps or am crushing them with force and famine. Be bold then, and let freedom ensue or let us be joined in defeat!’

He roused Montanus in this manner, while sending him back bearing a milder reply. Montanus returned as if his embassy had been in vain, hiding what later came to light.

Book IV:XXXIII Assault on Vocula’s camp at Gellep (Gelduba)

Civilis, retaining part of his forces, sent the veteran cohorts and the best of the Germans, led by Julius Maximus and Claudius Victor his own nephew, against Vocula and his men. On the way, they ravaged the winter quarters of the cavalry squadron at Asberg (Asciburgium), and attacked Vocula’s camp (at Gellep) so unexpectedly that he had no time to speak to the troops or form line: he was only able to warn them, amidst the confusion, to strengthen the centre with the reserves: the auxiliaries were scattered about randomly.

The Roman cavalry charged, but received by the enemy in good order fled to their own lines. Slaughter not battle followed. And the Nervian cohorts, through fear or treachery, left our flanks naked: thus our defence rested on the legions who, their standards lost, were being cut down inside the ramparts when fresh reinforcements suddenly altered the outcome of the conflict.

Cohorts of Vascones, raised in the past by Galba and summoned earlier, on nearing the camp and hearing the noise of battle had attacked the enemy, engaging them from the rear, causing wider terror than their numbers justified, some of their opponents believing that the whole force from Neuss (Novaesium), others that the troops from Mainz (Mogantiacum) had appeared.

This error on the part of the enemy inspired the Romans, and trusting in the strength of others, they regained their own. The best of the Batavians, their infantry, were cut down: their cavalry fled with the standards and captives they had seized in their initial attack. While a larger number of our men were killed that day, they were the least effective, while the Germans lost their strongest force.

Book IV:XXXIV The Batavians thwarted

The leaders on both sides, equally at fault, deserved their failure and wasted their success. If Civilis had increased the strength of his lines he would not have been outflanked by a few cohorts, but would have penetrated and destroyed the Roman camp. While Vocula, failing to detect the enemy’s approach, was beaten the moment he left camp; then lacking confidence in victory spent useless days before moving against the enemy, while if he had been quick to press on and follow the flow of events, he could have raised the siege of the legions at a blow.

In the meantime, Civilis tested the spirits of the besieged, feigning that all was lost with the Romans and victory was his, parading Roman banners and standards, and even exhibiting prisoners. One of these, with outstanding courage, called out and exposed the reality, only to be killed by the Germans, which act of theirs was the greater witness to his loyalty; while the devastation and flames of burning farms announced the approach of the victorious Roman troops.

Though in sight of camp, Vocula ordered the standards to be set in place and surrounded by a ditch and rampart, and the baggage and kit to be deposited there, so as to fight unencumbered. There was an immediate outcry against the general, demanding battle; and threatening him as they had become accustomed to do.

Without even waiting to form line, subject still to disorder and fatigue, they took up the fight; while Civilis was prepared also, trusting no less in the enemy’s failings than his own warriors’ bravery. Fortune fluctuated on the Roman side, for though the most seditious proved cowards there were those who, remembering their recent success, held fast. They struck at the enemy, encouraged each other and those nearest, and reforming their line signalled to their besieged comrades to seize the moment. The latter, watching all this from the ramparts, now launched themselves from every gate.

By chance Civilis’ horse slipped and threw him, both sides believing the news that he had been wounded or killed, inspiring immense fear in his men and firing the Romans with fresh energy. But Vocula, ignoring the fleeing enemy, proceeded to re-build the camp’s walls and turrets, as if he were still under siege, by the wasted victory being suspected rightly of preferring extended conflict.

Book IV:XXXV Further mutiny among the Romans

Nothing troubled our troops as much as the lack of provisions. The legions’ baggage-train, with those men who were unfit for service, was sent off to Neuss (Novaesium) to bring back provisions from there overland, as the enemy controlled the river. The first convoy passed without problem, since Civilis was not yet recovered.

When he heard however that those in charge of the re-provisioning, and the cohorts escorting them, sent again to Neuss, were travelling as if in peacetime, only a few soldiers with the standards, their weapons carried in carts, and all wandering about at ease, he gathered to the attack, sending men ahead to occupy the bridges and narrow stretches of road. They fought on a wide front, with uncertain outcome, until nightfall ended the conflict.

The cohorts reached Gellep (Gelduba), where the defences were still as they were, having been held by the force which had been left there. There was no doubt of the grave danger they would run if they returned with a heavily-loaded and anxiously-defended supply column, so Vocula reinforced his army with a thousand men of the Fifth and Fifteenth legions, who had been under siege at Vetera, untameable troops hostile to their leaders, and set out on the march with more men than requisitioned, who murmured openly on the way that they would no longer tolerate hunger and their officers’ underhand dealings: while those left behind complained that they were being abandoned by this withdrawal of a part of their strength.

Thus a twofold mutiny arose, some calling on Vocula, others refusing, to return to camp.

Book IV:XXXVI Flaccus killed by the mutineers

While Civilis besieged Vetera, Vocula withdrew to Gellep and then Neuss, later fighting a cavalry battle near Neuss with success. But success or failure alike fired the soldiers to the murder of their leaders; and when the arrival of the Fifth and Fifteenth reinforced the legionaries they demanded their payment, learning that Vitellius had despatched the money.

Hordeonius Flaccus granted them the gift without delay, but in Vespasian’s name, and this more than anything else fostered the mutiny. The soldiers abandoned themselves to feasting and debauchery, and renewing their anger against Flaccus in midnight meetings, the legates and tribunes not daring to oppose them, they dragged him from his bed (since the darkness removed all sense of shame) and killed him.

They were ready to deal likewise with Vocula, but dressed as a slave he escaped, unrecognised in the darkness.

Book IV:XXXVII A new oath of allegiance to Vespasian

Once this first impulse had ebbed, anxiety returned. The men sent centurions with letters to the Gallic communities asking for auxiliaries and pecuniary aid: they themselves, on the approach of Civilis snatching up their weapons and hastily dropping them again, took to flight, as a crowd without leadership is always precipitate, fearful yet disinclined to action.

Adversity bred discord, and the soldiers of Upper Germany dissociated themselves and their cause from the rest: nevertheless the images of Vitellius in the camp and in the nearby Belgian communities were reinstated, even though by this time (early 70AD) he was already dead. Then, repenting of the action, the soldiers of the First, Fourth and Twenty-second legions followed Vocula’s lead, he making them swear again their allegiance to Vespasian and then breaking the siege of Mainz.

In fact the besiegers, a mix of Chatti, Usipi and Mattiaci had already withdrawn, satisfied with their plunder, though not without some loss of life, since our soldiers attacked them while they were dispersing carelessly. The Treviri by contrast built ramparts and palisades along their borders and fought the Germans with great slaughter on both sides, until their outstanding service to the Roman cause was sullied by their subsequent rebellion.

Book IV:XXXVIII The situation in Rome in early 70AD

During this time Vespasian was again consul, with Titus who was absent from Rome. The citizens, gloomy and made anxious by their many fears, embraced illusory threats over and above the evils that afflicted them, saying that Lucius Piso rebelling had brought about a revolt in Africa. He, the pro-consul for that province, was far from being a turbulent spirit; but because the grain ships were delayed by a harsh winter, the people of Rome, used to purchasing their food supplies daily, and whose only interest in public affairs was the grain convoy, believed in their anxiety that the ports were closed and the transports halted.

Those Vitellians who had still not abandoned their factional interest, fostered the rumour, which was not unwelcome even to the victors, whose greed unsated by foreign wars no civil war could every satisfy.

Book IV:XXXIX Political rivalries

On the first of January, Julius Frontinus, the city praetor had summoned a session of the senate and votes were passed praising and thanking the legates, armies and allied princes. Tettius Julianus was deprived of his praetorship for deserting his legion when it allied itself with Vespasian, and the praetorship was therefore transferred to Plotius Grypus. Hormus was granted equestrian rank.

Thereafter, Domitian received a praetorship, Frontinus having resigned. His name introduced the letters and edicts, though the real power was with Mucianus, except in that Domitian dared many actions at his friends’ instigation or prompted by his own desires. Mucianus however mainly feared Primus Antonius and Varus Arrius, distinguished by their recent victories and popular with the troops. Even the populace favoured them, since they had never attacked anyone except in war.

There was a rumour, too, that Antonius had urged Scribonianus Crassus (brother of Piso), given his illustrious ancestors and his brother’s eminence, to seize control of public affairs, there being no lack of support, had Scribonianus not refused, he not easily being seduced by their readiness, and indeed fearful of the outcome.

Mucianus, therefore, unable to destroy Antonius openly, praised him fulsomely in the senate while overwhelming him with a weight of secret promises, pointing to the governorship of Nearer Spain vacant due to Cluvius Rufus’ withdrawal. At the same time, he showered tribune-ships and prefecture-ships on Antonius’ friends.

Once Antonius’ foolish thoughts were filled with hopes and desires, Mucianus nullified the man’s power by sending the Seventh legion, which was passionately devoted to Antonius, to winter quarters. And Arrius Varus’ personal force, the Third legion, was returned to Syria; while part of the army marched away to the German provinces.

Thus, Rome, free of turbulence, regained its old appearance, and the magistrates and law their functions.

Book IV:XL Domitian active in the senate

On the day Domitian entered the senate he briefly and humbly referred to his father’s and brother’s absence and his own lack of years, while showing nobility in his bearing; and since his character was as yet unknown, the diffidence he showed in his looks was taken as a sign of genuine modesty. On his raising the matter of restoring Galba’s honours, Curtius Montanus suggested that Piso’s memory should also be celebrated. The senators assented to both proposals: though that with regard to Piso was never implemented.

Next a commission was appointed, chosen by lot, to restore property stolen during the war; document and replace the bronze tablets of laws worn out with age; purge the statutes defiled by the adulatory excesses of the times, and draw up the accounts of public expenditure. Tettius Julianus’ praetorship was renewed after it became known that he had merely fled to join Vespasian: Grypus remained in office.

Then the senate decided to re-address the case involving Musonius Rufus and Publius Celer, with Publius being condemned and the shades of Soranus appeased. The day marked by this act of public severity was not without its private merit too. Though Musonius was held to have furthered justice, a different view was taken of Demetrius the Cynic, because he showed more ambition than honour in defending the manifestly guilty Publius, who had neither courage nor eloquence adequate to meet this threat to himself.

Now that the signal had been given to take vengeance on past informers, Junius Mauricus asked Domitian to grant the senate powers to search the imperial records, in order to establish who had made each former accusation. He replied however that on so important an issue the emperor must be consulted.

Book IV:XLI The senate oath and purge

The senate drew up an oath, inspired by its leading members, whereby all the magistrates and the other senators, their names being called in order, eagerly invoked the gods to witness that no one’s safety had been threatened by any act of theirs, nor had they received gifts or honours through any citizen’s misfortunes. Those with a guilty conscience repeated it hesitantly, modifying the words in various ways. The senators approved any religious scruples shown but disapproved of any perjury.

This method of censure affected Sariolenus Vocula, Nonius Attianus, and Cestius Severus most severely, they being notorious for their many denunciations in Nero’s time. Vocula was also burdened by more recent charges for pursuing the same course under Vitellius: nor did the senators desist from threatening violence against him until he left the senate house.

They then moved against Paccius Africanus and expelled him too, because he had pointed Nero the way to eliminating the Scribonii brothers, who were noted both for their fraternal ties and their wealth. Africanus did not dare confess or deny his crime: but turning on Vibius Crispus, who was wearying him with questions, implicated him without hope of defence, as a partner in crime, thereby deflecting the senate’s anger.

Book IV:XLII Montanus attacks Aquilius Regulus

It was on that day Vipstanus Messala gained his reputation for fraternal loyalty and eloquence, daring to appeal on behalf of his brother, Aquilius Regulus, though himself not yet old enough to enter the senate. Regulus was deeply hated for undermining the houses of the Crassi and Orfitus: though a mere youth he had accepted the charge of his own accord, appearing not to shy from risk in hopes of gaining power. Crassus’ wife, Sulpicia Praetexta, and her four children attended, to demand vengeance if the senate took up the case.

Messala offered no defence for the accused or his actions, but swayed some of the senators by sharing his brother’s predicament. However Curtius Montanus spoke bitterly, going so far as to accuse Regulus of rewarding Piso’s assassin, after Galba’s murder, and of savaging Piso’s head with his teeth. ‘That is not something, surely,’ he said, ‘Nero forced you to, that savage act in no way procured your life and safety. Shall we accept the defence of those who would rather ruin others than risk themselves? Your father’s exile and the division of his estate among his creditors left you secure, not old enough to hold office and with nothing of yours Nero might covet, nothing for him to fear from you. Through lust for slaughter and hunger for reward you stained your record with his noble blood, seizing the consular spoils, fattening yourself on seventy thousand gold pieces, and with priestly splendour involving in that same ruin innocent children, eminent men and noble women.

You accused Nero himself of lack of effort, of wearying himself and his informers with attacking lone houses, when the whole senate could be overthrown with a single word. Gentlemen of the senate, let us preserve this fellow with his ready counsel, let us enlist his services, that every age may be instructed by his example, and let our youths imitate Regulus as their elders did a Marcellus or a Crispus! Wrongdoing finds its emulators, even in misfortune: what then if it should flourish and grow strong? If we do not dare touch this fellow as a mere quaestor, how will we dare do so when he is praetor, or consul? Think you that Nero will be the last tyrant? Those who outlived Tiberius and Caligula thought the same, while one more cruel, more infamous, rose to view! We do not fear Vespasian, such is his maturity, his moderation, but precedents endure longer than morals. We grow weak, fellow-senators, we are no longer that senate which on the death of Nero demanded punishment for his minions and informers, in the manner of our ancestors. The best moment to seize, after a worthless emperor’s reign, is the first.’

Book IV:XLIII Helvidius Priscus attacks Marcellus

The senate heard Montanus with such approval that Helvidius Priscus even had hopes of Marcellus himself being toppled. So, beginning by praising Cluvius Rufus, who though just as wealthy and noted for eloquence under Nero put no man in jeopardy, he pressed Marcellus with accusations and extolled Rufus’ example, firing the senators’ enthusiasm.

Marcellus, sensing this, made as if to leave the house, saying, “I go, Priscus, leaving you your senate: play then at ruling in Caesar Domitian’s presence.’ Vibius Crispus made as if to follow, both showing anger but in a different manner, Marcellus with menacing looks, Crispus seeming to smile, till they were drawn back again by a bevy of their friends.

As the discord spread, the honourable majority ranged on one side, a few strong characters on the other, they contended with one another in mutual and obstinate hatred, consuming the daylight hours in conflict.

Book IV:XLIV Mucianus placates the senate

When the senate next met, Domitian commenced with the need to forget the wrongs, resentments and exigencies of the past; Mucianus then spoke at length on behalf of the informers, while admonishing in mild terms and almost with a note of appeal those who were raising accusations they had previously made and dropped. Meeting opposition, the senators relinquished their newfound liberty.

Mucianus, lest he seem to be scorning the senate’s judgement or granting immunity regarding all the wrongs committed under Nero, returned two of the senatorial order who had emerged from exile, Octavius Sagitta and Antistius Sosianus, to their prison-islands. Octavius had killed Pontia Postumina in a frenzy of desire, having raped her, she refusing to marry him. Sosianus had ruined many by the depravity of his behaviour.

Both had been condemned and exiled by an overwhelming vote of the senate, and though others were permitted to return, their punishment was upheld. Yet the unpopularity of Mucianus was not lessened by this action: since even if they had been allowed to return Sagitta and Sosianus were insignificant. It was the informers’ ingenuity and resources, their power exercised to evil ends, that was so feared.

Book IV:XLV Sundry lesser charges

The senators’ partisan feelings were allayed for a time by an investigation undertaken according to ancient custom. A senator, Manlius Patruitus, complained that at the command of the local magistrates he had been beaten by a mob in the colony of Siena (Sena); nor had the injury stopped there: they had wept, and wailed, and conducted a mock funeral, accompanying it with insults and abuse aimed at the whole senate.

The accused were summoned, the case was heard and those convicted sentenced, the senate also adding a judgement that the people of Siena be warned against further disorder. At that time also Antonius Flamma was found guilty, according to the laws regarding extortion, the Cyrenians being his accusers, and was exiled for his barbaric actions.

Book IV:XLVI Mucianus quells further mutiny

Meanwhile rebellion was close to breaking out among the military. Those men who had been dismissed by Vitellius and had gathered to Vespasian sought to re-enlist in the praetorian cohorts. And the legionaries who had been selected, having that same expectation, demanded the pay promised. Even the Vitellians who had surrendered could not be expelled without much bloodshed, but it would have cost a large amount to maintain such a vast force.

Mucianus visited the camp to review each man’s service, parading the victors with their correct insignia and weapons and leaving a modest space between the separate companies. Then the Vitellians, we mentioned, whose surrender had been accepted at Bovillae, and the rest who had been hunted down throughout the city and its suburbs, were brought forward virtually unclothed. Mucianus ordered them to be led to one side, the men from Germany and Britain, and those from other armies to be positioned apart.

They were at once dumbfounded by the grim sight of what at first seemed the enemy line opposing them with weapons and armour, while they were cornered, naked, filthy and disgusting. Then, as they began to be placed apart, all became fearful, the German soldiers being the most affected, thinking themselves by this manoeuvre destined for slaughter. They threw themselves on the breasts of their erstwhile comrades, clasped their necks, sought a parting embrace, begged them not to abandon them nor, as men sharing their cause, allow them to suffer a different fate.

They appealed now to Mucianus, now to the absent emperor, and then to the heavens and the gods, until Mucianus, saying they were all bound by the same oath, soldiers of the same emperor, condemned their needless panic, while the cheers of the victors were added to the tears of the rest. So the day ended.

A few days later, when Domitian addressed them, they received him with new confidence, scorning the offer of land, praying for military service and their pay. Prayers indeed, but ones which could not be gainsaid: thus they were received into the ranks of the praetorians.

Then those whose age and length of service so justified were dismissed with honour. Others, who were at fault, were released progressively, one by one, the safest way of dispersing a large and like-minded crew.

Book IV:XLVII Flavius Sabinus honoured with a censor’s funeral

Now, whether the state was really in need of money or it was useful for it to appear so, the senate voted to accept a loan of six hundred thousand gold pieces from private sources, with Pompeius Silvanus being charged with its administration. Not long afterwards, the pretence was dropped or the need abated.

Then, on a motion tabled by Domitian, the consulships Vitellius had conferred were withdrawn, while the honours of a censor’s funeral were granted to Flavius Sabinus, a true testament to the vagaries of fortune, with its heights and depths.

Book IV:XLVIII Background to Piso’s murder

At this time, Lucius Piso, the proconsul was put to death. I will give as faithful account as I can of his murder, after speaking of a number of earlier matters relevant to the origin of, and motive for, such crimes.

The legion and auxiliaries stationed in Africa to defend the empire’s borders, were commanded, during the reigns of the deified Augustus and Tiberius, by a proconsul. Later Caligula, disturbed in mind and afraid of Marcus Silanus, took the command of the legion  from the proconsul and granted it to a legate sent there for the purpose.

Favours were granted equally by both, and grounds for discord were found in their conflicting orders, discord added to by their vile quarrels. The power of the legate’s role increased, through its length of term, or because in the lesser role there is more ambition to play the greater, while the most illustrious of the proconsuls sought safety rather than power.

Book IV:XLIX The action against Piso

Valerius Festus was then in command of the African legion, an extravagant youth of immodest ambition made uneasy by being related to Vitellius. Whether he tempted Piso, in their many conversations, to revolt or himself resisted being tempted by Piso, is uncertain, since no one was present at their private talks, and after Piso’s assassination most people were inclined to take the murderer’s side.

There is no doubt that the province and the military were hostile to Vespasian, and Vitellians who had fled Rome pointed out that the Gallic provinces were wavering, Germany was preparing, he himself was in danger, and that for a man suspected in peacetime war is safest. Meanwhile Claudius Sagitta, prefect of the Petrian Horse, after a favourable voyage arrived before Papirius, the centurion sent by Mucianus.

Sagitta asserted that the centurion was under orders to murder Piso, and that Piso’s cousin and son-in-law Galerianus had already been killed; the only hope of safety was in boldness, but there were two bold courses open to him; he might choose immediate war, or sail for Gaul and offer himself as leader of the Vitellian troops. Piso was moved to neither course of action. When the centurion sent by Mucianus arrived in the port of Carthage, however, the man kept shouting out his delight as if Piso were emperor, exhorting those he met, who were amazed at this strange and sudden event, to acclaim Piso in a like manner.

The ever-credulous mob rushed to the forum, demanding Piso’s presence; all shouting with joy, indifferent to the truth, extravagant in their adulation. Piso, influenced by Sagitta’s testimony, or promoted by natural modesty, did not show himself in public, not trusting to the enthusiastic crowd. The centurion on being put to the question, Piso learned that the man had sought to accuse him and bring about his death, he ordered him to be executed, not so much out of regard for himself but anger against this man, one of the very assassins who had murdered Clodius Macer, now come, hands stained with the blood of the legate, to murder a proconsul.

Then he rebuked the Carthaginians, in an edict that betrayed his anxiety, even neglecting his usual duties, remaining indoors, lest a fresh outbreak might arise by chance or on some pretext or other.

Book IV:L Valerius Festus and the death of Piso

When news of the excited populace, of the centurion’s death, and other things both true and false, with the usual exaggerations, reached Festus, he sent horsemen to kill Piso. Riding swiftly they entered the proconsul’s house, swords drawn, in the dawn half-light. Festus having chosen Moors and Carthaginian auxiliaries to effect the murder, for the most part Piso was unknown to them. They chanced to come across a servant near Piso’s chamber, and interrogated him as to Piso’s appearance and whereabouts.

The servant, with outstanding bravery, answered with a lie: that he was Piso; and was immediately killed. Nevertheless Piso himself was murdered shortly afterwards, for Baebius Massa, one of the imperial agents in Africa, who knew him, was present, fatal even then to the best among us, his name recurring only too often amongst the instigators of the evils we later suffered.

Festus marched quickly from Soussa (Adrumetum or Susa, south of Carthage), where he had waited on events, to the legionary camp and ordered the prefect, Caetronius Pisanus, arrested, on the pretext of his being Piso’s accomplice, though actually because of a personal vendetta. He punished various centurions and soldiers, rewarding others, in neither case according to their deserts, but simply in order to be seen to crush any uprising.

He was later responsible for settling a dispute between the people of Tripoli (Oea) and Lebda (Leptis Magna) which having a modest origin among the farmers in thefts of grain and cattle, had developed into armed conflict. Now the inhabitants of Tripoli, being of lesser number, had called on the Garamantes for aid, they being an untamed tribe always ready to prey on their neighbours. Their fortunes curtailed, their fields ravaged far and wide, the inhabitants of Lebda, in fear, kept behind their walls, until with the arrival of the Roman cohorts and cavalry the Garamantes were driven off and the substance of their thefts recovered, other than that which they had sold to distant tribes in their wanderings among the remote villages.

Book IV:LI Vespasian entrusts Titus with pacifying Judaea

Now Vespasian, after the battle of Cremona, with news of his success everywhere, heard of Vitellius’ death from many men of every class who had crossed the wintry waves (to Alexandria) blessed with both courage and good fortune.

Also envoys from King Vologaesus (the First, of Parthia) arrived offering forty thousand Parthian horsemen. It was fine and pleasant to be courted with such assistance from his allies, and not require it: thanking Vologaesus, he assured him all was peaceful, and to send envoys to the senate.

While Vespasian was reflecting on the situation in Italy and Rome itself, he received unfavourable tidings of Domitian, who was transgressing the bounds set by youth, and his authority as the emperor’s son: Vespasian therefore handed command of the main body of his forces to his son Titus to resolve the remaining conflict with the Jews.

Book IV:LII Titus defends Domitian

They say that Titus, in a long conversation with his father before leaving, begged him not to be incensed by the slanderous reports regarding Domitian, and to show himself unbiased and forgiving towards his son. ‘Neither ships nor legions,’ he said, ‘are a stronger defence of the realm than your children; for friendships, through time, fate, or perhaps ambition or error, are diminished, altered, or lost; while the ties of blood are indissoluble, and most of all among princes, whose successes others also enjoy, while their misfortunes touch only those closest. Concord will not hold sway even among brothers, if their father does not set the example.’

Vespasian, not so much softened towards Domitian as delighted by Titus’ brotherly affection, ordered Titus to be of good spirit, and exalt the state by force of arms, while he himself took care of peace at home. Then he entrusted his swiftest ships laden with grain to the as yet still savage waves: for Rome was in such crisis that there was no more than ten days’ supply in the granaries when Vespasian’s convoy relieved the city.

Book IV:LIII The restoration of the Capitol

He charged Lucius Vestinus, a member of the equestrian order but by influence and reputation one who was counted among the nobility, with restoring the Capitol. The diviners, whom he brought together in conclave, advised that the remains of the former shrine be carried to the marshes, and a new temple erected on the same site as the old: the gods not wishing the former layout altered.

On the twenty-first of June, under a cloudless sky, the whole area designated for the building was surrounded with ribbons and garlands; soldiers with auspicious names entered, carrying appropriate branches; then the Vestal Virgins, accompanied by boys and girls whose parents were yet living, sprinkled water drawn from the fountains and streams.

Next Helvidius Priscus, the praetor, guided by Plautius Aelianus, the pontifex, purified the area by the sacrifice of a boar, ram and bull (the suovetaurilia) setting the entrails of the victims on a turf altar. After praying that Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, and the other gods who protect the empire, might favour the undertaking, and raise again by divine aid their home which men’s devotion had begun, he touched the ribbons, wound about the foundation stone and entwined with its ropes, while at the same time the other magistrates, the priests, senators, knights and the majority of the population, joined in joyful and enthusiastic effort, hauled the huge stone into place.

Lumps of gold and silver, and other metallic ores never smelted in a furnace but in the same crude state as they were mined, were thrown at random into the foundation trenches: the diviners had warned against the profanation of the work by stone or gold intended for another purpose.

The temple was made taller than before: this was the sole change allowed by religious scruple, and the only thing thought to have detracted from the former temple’s magnificence.

Book IV:LIV Conflict in the German and Gallic provinces continues

Meanwhile news of Vitellius’ death spreading through the Gallic and German provinces had initiated further conflict. For Civilis, ending all pretence, now attacked the Romans, with the Vitellian legions preferring foreign service to Vespasian’s rule.

The Gauls’ spirits rose, on rumours that our winter quarters in Moesia and Pannonia were under siege from the Sarmatians and Dacians, in the fond belief that all our armies were in the same dire state; similar stories emerged from Britain.

But nothing drove them to believe that our rule was nearing its end more than the burning of the Capitol. ‘Long ago,’ chanted the Druids, in vain superstition, ‘we, the Gauls, captured Rome, but with Jupiter’s temple unharmed Rome’s authority survived: now this fire marks the sign of divine anger, and portends a transfer to us, the Transalpine peoples, of control over human affairs.’

Moreover, report was rife that the Gallic chieftains sent against Vitellius by Otho, had sworn before leaving not to fail the cause of liberty should a continuous series of civil wars, and their internal ills, sap the strength of the Roman people.

Book IV:LV The meeting at Cologne

Prior to the murder of Hordeonius Flaccus, nothing had emerged to reveal the conspiracy: but after his death messages passed between Civilis and the prefect of Treviran cavalry, Classicus. Superior in birth and wealth, Classicus was of the royal line, his ancestors illustrious in peace and war, and he himself boasted that more of them had been enemies of the Romans than allies.

Julius Tutor and Julius Sabinus also joined the conspiracy, the former a member of the Treviri, the latter of the Lingones. Vitellius had appointed Tutor prefect of the Rhine shore; Sabinus was driven by innate vanity and pride in a fiction concerning his descent: claiming that when the deified Julius Caesar had campaigned in Gaul his great-grandmother had pleased him by her beauty and complaisance.

These three, in private conversation, sounded out the views of the rest. Having stirred the consciences of those whose thoughts echoed their own, they met at Cologne in private, since publicly the tribes shrank from such action, though representatives of the Ubii and Tungri were there. Regardless of that, the Treviri and the Lingones, who held the greater authority, allowed no prevarication in the matter.

They emulated each other in proclaiming that the Romans were in wild disarray, the legions decimated, Italy laid waste, Rome on the point of capture, all the Roman forces engaged in separate battles of their own, and that if they strengthened their positions in the Alpine passes, the Gallic territories, joined in liberty, could set what limits they wished to their power.

Book IV:LVI Vocula counters the conspiracy

These things were no sooner said than agreed: but there was debate concerning the survivors of Vitellius’s army. The majority voted that being troublesome, treacherous, and stained with their officers’ blood, they be put to death: the proposal that they be spared was however successful, lest robbing them of all hope of mercy might incite resistance, when they might rather be won over to their side. By killing only their commanders, the bulk of the troops, conscious of guilt and hopeful of amnesty, might easily be converted.

This was the outcome of their first meeting, and they sent messengers to incite war among the Gauls, their ringleaders pretending deference to Vocula the more easily to catch him off guard. Though he suffered from no lack of information regarding the insurrection, Vocula had insufficient forces to quell it, the legions being undermanned and untrustworthy. With suspect legions and hidden enemies, he thought it best for the present to dissemble in turn, and seeking to proceed in a similar manner, descended on Cologne.

Claudius Labeo, of whose capture and exile among the Frisians I have spoken, having bribed his guards, had fled there. He now promised that, given sufficient men, he would go to the Batavians and return the majority of the tribe to their alliance with Rome. Having received command of a small infantry and cavalry force, while not daring anything with regard to the Batavians he did draw some of the Nervii and Baetasii into the conflict, and more by stealth than open warfare harried the Canninefates and Marsaci.

Book IV:LVII Vocula withdraws to Neuss (Novaesium)

Vocula, mislead by Gallic cunning, marched against the enemy. He was not far from Vetera when Classicus and Tutor, who had preceded the main force on the pretext of reconnoitring,  concluded their pact with the German chieftains. They then parted company with the legions, for the first time, fortifying their own camp with a rampart.

Vocula called his men to witness that as yet the Roman state was not so ruined by civil conflict that even the Treviri and Lingones might despise it. ‘Loyal provinces and victorious forces remain’, he said, ‘our imperial good fortune and the avenging gods. So, once, Julius Sacrovir and his Aeduans, and later Vindex and warriors from all of the Gallic provinces, were destroyed in a single battle. Those who break treaties will face the same power, and meet the same fate.

The deified Julius and Augustus had a deeper understanding of their nature: Galba and his lack of enforcement of the tribute have filled them with animosity. Now their servitude is lighter, they are hostile; when we have plundered and despoiled them they will be more amenable.’

Following this fierce speech, and seeing that Classicus and Tutor persisted in their treachery, Vocula changed course and retreated to Neuss (Novaesium), while the Gauls took up position two miles away. There, the centurions and soldiers often passed to and fro, and were won over to the idea of a Roman army (in an unprecedented act) swearing loyalty to foreigners, and pledging themselves to that evil course by killing or imprisoning their officers.

  Though many advised Vocula to flee, he boldly summoned an assembly, and spoke in this manner:

Book IV:LVIII Vocula’s speech to the troops

‘I have never spoken to you with greater concern for you, or less for myself. I am happy to hear that my death is intended, and I await it, given my present ills, as putting an end to my suffering. You it is that I feel shame and pity for: you, against whom no battle-lines are drawn. They would signify only the laws of conflict and the rights of enemies. But it is with your arms that Classicus hopes to wage war on the Roman people, and it is a Gallic oath and a Gallic empire he offers you.

Have we forgotten then, though fortune and courage fail us now, how often the Roman legions have chosen death rather than retreat? How often our allies endured the ruin of their townships, burned to death with their wives and children, though death’s sole reward was the triumph of loyalty? Just as the legions in Vetera are enduring siege and famine, unmoved by threats or promises.

We have not only arms and men, and the brave defences of our camp, but food and supplies equal to any stretch of warfare. We even had money enough lately for your gratuity, a gift from a Roman emperor no matter whether you choose to view it as Vespasian’s or Vitellius’s. If you, the victors in so many wars, who have so often routed the enemy, at Gelduba, at Vetera, feared open battle, though that would be unworthy of you yet you have walls and ramparts too, and delaying tactics, while troops rush to your aid from the neighbouring provinces.

What matter if I displease you: you have other officers, tribunes, or even some centurion or soldier to save this dread news filling the whole empire, that you will follow Civilis and Classicus in invading Italy. When Germans and Gauls have led you to the gates of Rome, will you raise arms against your native land? My mind rebels at the thought of such a crime. Will you mount guard for Tutor, for one of the Treviri? Will some Batavian give the sign for battle? Will you fill your ranks with a crowd of Germans? What will be the end of such a crime, when Roman legions have ranged themselves against you? Deserters from desertion, betrayers of betrayal, will you waver between new oath and old, loathed by the gods?

To you, Jupiter both great and good, whom we have honoured with so many triumphs through a span of eight hundred and twenty years, and to you, Quirinus father of Rome, I devoutly pray, that even if it has not pleased you to keep this camp pure and inviolate under my leadership, let it at least not be polluted and defiled by a Tutor or a Classicus: grant the soldiers of Rome, if not innocence, a prompt and peaceable repentance.’

Book IV:LIX The legions defect, Vocula is murdered

His speech had been variously received, with hope, fear, or shame. Vocula had left them and was deliberating on his final moments, his freedmen and slaves preventing him from voluntarily anticipating the worst of deaths. But Classicus sent Aemilius Longinus, a deserter from the First legion, who hastened his end. Classicus, satisfied with merely placing Herennius and Numisius, the legates, in chains, then assumed the insignia of a Roman general and entered the camp.

Hardened as he was by every sort of crime, he spoke not a word beyond reciting the oath: those present swearing allegiance to ‘the empire of the Gauls’. He promoted Vocula’s assassin to high rank, granting rewards to the rest according to the crimes they had committed.

Tutor and Classicus now divided the leadership between them. Tutor laid siege to Cologne with a large force, compelling its citizens and the soldiers on the upper Rhine to take the self-same oath. He killed the tribunes and expelled the prefect from the camp at Mainz when they refused. Classicus ordered those who had been easiest to sway among the men who had surrendered to go to those besieged (at Vetera) and offer them pardon if they would follow in person: otherwise hope was lost, and they would endure famine, the sword, and death. Those who were sent cited their own actions as precedent.

Book IV:LX The end of the siege at Vetera

Here starvation, there loyalty, left the besieged torn between honour and disgrace. While they wavered, both regular and irregular supplies failed them, since necessity had forced them to consume their packhorses, chargers, and other animals however foul and unsanctioned. In the end, they tore up shrubs, plucked out roots, and gathered grass growing in the rocky crevices, evidence of their wretchedness and their powers of endurance, until finally they sadly marred what might have been a fine reputation by sending envoys to Civilis begging for their lives. He would not accept their appeals, until they had sworn allegiance to the Gauls: then he appropriated the camp’s remaining assets, sending guards to secure the money, baggage and camp-followers, and escort the soldiers as they left empty-handed.

After they had marched five miles, the German cohorts suddenly attacked their unsuspecting ranks. The bravest were killed where they stood, many were cut down as they scattered, the rest fled back to the camp. Civilis, it is true, condemned the Germans’ action and their shameful breach of faith, but it is unclear whether this was a pretence on his part or whether he was indeed powerless to reign in their savagery.

His troops stripped the camp and set it on fire, the blaze devouring whoever had survived the battle.

Book IV:LXI Veleda

At the time he first took up arms against the Romans, Civilis, following the barbarian custom, had dyed his hair red, and grown it long, until now with the legions destroyed he trimmed it. And they even say he presented his little son with various captives as targets for the child’s darts and arrows. Furthermore neither he nor any of his Batavians swore allegiance to Gaul, trusting in German resources and, if it came to a question of contesting things with the Gauls, his solid reputation and power.

Among other gifts, Munius Lupercus, the legion commander, was sent to Veleda. This young girl of the Bructeri held wide authority, according to the ancient German custom, there being many seers among their women who, their worship increasing, are considered divine. At this time Veleda’s influence was growing as she had prophesied victory for the Germans and the destruction of the legions. However, Lupercus was killed on the way.

A few centurions and tribunes of Gallic birth were held as a pledge of alliance. The winter quarters of the legionaries, cavalry and auxiliaries were demolished and burned, excepting those at Mainz and Vindonissa (Windisch, Switzerland).

Book IV:LXII The captive Romans are marched to Trier

The Sixteenth legion and the auxiliaries, who had jointly surrendered, were ordered to transfer from Neuss to the colony of the Treviri (Trier), and the day was fixed before which they were to leave camp. The intervening time involved much anxiety for them, the more cowardly fearing the precedent of those killed at Vetera, the more robust the shame and disgrace: ‘what march is this? Who will lead it? All will be at the mercy of those we have made masters of life and death.’

Others shamelessly stowed their money and dearest possessions about them, while some readied armour and weapons as if preparing for battle. Thus occupied, the hour of departure arrived, sadder than its anticipation, since within the ramparts their humiliation had been less apparent, while daylight and open ground revealed their ignominy. Images of the emperor had been torn down, the standards were naked, while on this side and that gleamed the Gallic banners. Led by Claudius Sanctus, fearful to look at having lost an eye, and more crippled still in mind, their ranks were silent as if in a long funeral procession.

Their shame was re-doubled when another legion, which had fled the camp at Bonn, joined them. And now the news of the legions’ surrender was common knowledge, all who trembled at the name of Rome before ran from their fields and houses, and gathering from every side delighted, beyond everything, in this unprecedented spectacle.

The Picentine cavalry squadron could not bear the joy of this abusive crowd, and ignoring Sanctus’ threats and promises rode for Mainz. By chance they came across Vocula’s assassin, Longinus, showering him with missiles to commence the future expiation of their guilt. The legions, however, without change of course, pitched camp before the walls of Trier.

Book IV:LXIII Civilis and Classicus discuss the fate of Cologne

Civilis and Classicus, elated by their successful campaign, discussed whether to allow their men to ravage Cologne. While their native savagery, and desire for plunder, inclined towards destruction of the city, their military strategy was opposed to it, as was the benefit to be gained by a reputation for clemency in founding their new empire. Civilis was also influenced by the memory of the favour done him when his son, having been arrested in Cologne at the start of the rebellion, was treated with honour while in custody.

Nevertheless, the tribes across the Rhine hated the city for its opulence and rate of growth, and believed there was no alternative if the war were to end but to render it open to all Germans without discrimination, or destroy it and let the Ubii be dispersed also.

Book IV:LXIV The Tencteri demand Cologne return to the fold

Thus the tribe of the Tencteri, on the opposite bank of the Rhine, sent envoys with orders to present their demands to an assembly of Cologne’s citizens, as set out by the most forceful of the legation in the following manner: ‘For your return to the body of the German people, and the German name, we thank those gods we both worship, Mars above all, and we congratulate you for attaining freedom at last, and being among the free. Until today, the Romans have made the river, land and almost the very air itself impassable to prevent us meeting and speaking together, or, with still greater insult to a warrior, have made us meet unarmed and virtually naked, under guard and paying for the privilege.

So that our friendship and alliance hold good forever, we demand you dismantle your colony’s walls, the instruments of your servitude (since even the creatures of the wild lose their courage when imprisoned), and kill all Romans within your borders (freedom and tyranny are not easily combined). The property of those killed is to be held in common, so none can hide anything or pursue their own interest. Let you and us inhabit both banks of the Rhine, as our ancestors did.

As Nature has granted the light of day to all, so all lands lie open to the brave. Renew the institutions and customs of your forefathers, forgoing those luxuries which more than their weapons give the Romans power over their subjects. Sound and whole, forgetting your servitude, be an equal among peoples, or choose to hold rule over others.’

Book IV:LXV Cologne asserts its independence

The citizens spent some time consulting among themselves, but since they could neither submit to the terms, for fear of the future consequences, nor reject them openly due to their present situation, they replied as follows: ‘We seized the first chance of freedom offered, and with more eagerness than caution, to join you, and the other Germans, who share our ancestry. Yet with the Roman forces gathering rapidly, it is wiser to add to our defences rather than destroy them.

All those foreigners from Italy or the provinces within our borders were killed by the war or have fled to their own lands. Of those who once settled here and are now allied to us by marriage, this for the future is their native city: nor can we think you so unjust as to desire we kill our own parents, brothers, children!

We abolish all taxes and burdens on trade: let there be free commerce between us, only in daylight and with no weapons present, until we are used to the new and unfamiliar situation. Let Civilis and Veleda arbitrate between us, before them let us ratify our agreements.’

Thus they mollified the Tencteri, sending a delegation to Civilis and Veleda, with gifts that brought all that the people of Cologne desired. But they were denied access to or speech with Veleda directly: being prevented from seeing her in order to inspire them with more respect. She herself lived on high, in a tower: one of those close to her being chosen to relay their questions and her answers, as would a messenger of the gods.

End of the Histories Book IV:XXXII-LXV