Cornelius Tacitus

The Histories

Book I: XXXI-LX Galba’s death, Otho’s reign and Vitellius’s uprising

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Book I:XXXI Galba gathers his forces

The bodyguard having dispersed, the rest of the cohort did not disdain to hear the remainder of his speech, and as happens in times of disturbance, they took up the standards spontaneously, without as yet any real design, rather than in concealment of their treachery as was later believed.

Celsus Marius was sent to the crack troops from Illyria, encamped in the Vipsanian Colonnade. The chief centurions Amullius Serenus and Domitius Sabinus were ordered to summon the German troops from the Hall of Liberty. The naval companies however were not trusted, being hostile to Galba since he had massacred their comrades on entering the city.

Cetrius Severus, Subrius Dexter and Pompeius Longinus, the tribunes, went to the praetorian camp itself, to see if mutiny was threatened but not yet afoot, in case it could be averted by wiser counsel. The soldiers threatened and opposed Subrius and Cetrius, while Longinus they forcibly restrained and disarmed, he being loyal to the Emperor not because of his rank but due to his friendship for Galba, and so being regarded with greater suspicion. The naval companies joined the praetorians unhesitatingly. The select Illyrian troops turned Celsus out at the point of their spears.

The German detachments however hesitated for a long time, still being physically below par and moreover being kindly disposed to Galba, for Nero had despatched them to Alexandria while Galba, on their return, had smothered them with care, plagued as they were by illness after the lengthy voyage.

Book I:XXXII Titus Vinius urges Galba to wait

Now the whole mass of commoners, together with the slaves, filled the Palatine, and with loud clamour cried out for Otho’s death, and the conspirators’ execution, just as they used to call for a performance in the Circus or the theatre. There was neither truth nor justice in this, since they would equally have shouted for the opposition, the very same day, but they acted in line with the time-worn tradition of supporting every prince with wild adulation and mindless zeal.

Meanwhile Galba was on the horns of a dilemma. Titus Vinius was all for defending the palace, arming the slaves, blocking the doorways, and ignoring the angry troops: let Galba give the traitors time to repent of their actions and those who were loyal time to unite; crime relied on momentum, wisdom fed on delay, and after all he would easily have the opportunity later to take another course, if that were best, while if he were to act now and repent of it, the power to alter the state of affairs would lie with others.

Book I:XXXIII Others counsel action

The rest thought he should act swiftly before the conspiracy, weak as yet and limited in extent, gathered strength, saying that Otho would waver, a man who had slipped away stealthily, had been carried off to meet those who had no knowledge of him, and only had the chance now to play the prince because of the time-wasting and delay caused by this inertia. The last thing they should do was to wait for Otho to win over the troops, invade the forum, and reach the Capitol while Galba looked on, the noble Emperor and his brave friends barring the doors and defending the threshold, as if prepared for a siege! And a crowd of servants would be a fine help, if the sentiment of the people for unity, and their initial indignation, which is always most intense, regarding the conspiracy, were allowed to diminish!

Therefore the ignoble course held the most risk: if they must die they should go to meet the crisis: bringing more honour to them and greater opprobrium to Otho.

When Vinius opposed this sentiment, Laco attacked him threateningly, spurred on by Icelus, obstinate in his personal hatred of Vinius to the detriment of the state.

Book I:XXXIV Galba decides

Galba, favouring those who offered the more plausible advice, delayed no longer. Yet Piso, who was young, of good name, and enjoyed recent popularity, was first sent to the camp. He was also inimical to Titus Vinius, either in reality, or because Vinius’ opponents wished it so and hostility is more readily credited.

Piso had barely left the palace for the camp when a rumour, initially vague and uncertain, had it that Otho had been killed there. Soon, as happens with momentous fictions, those appeared who claimed to have been present and seen it, and thus the tale gained credit with those who were overjoyed through to those who were unmoved by the news. Many though judged it had been invented and embellished by Otho’s supporters, already among the crowd, who had spread the false hope abroad in order to lure Galba from the palace.

Book I:XXXV Otho believed dead

Nevertheless it was not merely the ignorant masses who celebrated with wild enthusiasm, but many knights and senators too, who incautiously laying fear aside burst open the palace doors and pushing through gathered before Galba, complaining that Otho’s death had robbed them of the chance to execute justice on the man. They were the greatest of cowards, as events proved, lacking all courage at moments of danger, bold only in words, their language full of ferocity. No one knew the facts for certain, but all claimed them as true.

Finally vanquished by the dearth of information and the collective misapprehension, Galba donned his armour, and as his age and infirmity prevented resistance to the gathering crowds, he was raised aloft in a chair. Julius Atticus, a member of the bodyguard, appeared before him flourishing his blood-stained sword, shouting that he had killed Otho. ‘Comrade, who ordered you to do so?’ Galba asked, it being a mark of his mind to check any licence by the military, unmoved as he was by threats, and uncorrupted by praise.

Book I:XXXVI Otho celebrated by the soldiers in camp

There was now no doubt of the sentiment in camp. The soldiers’ enthusiasm was such that dissatisfied with carrying Otho round on their shoulders, they set him on the platform where Galba’s gilded statue had previously stood, surrounded by the ensigns and standards. He warned the crowd of soldiers to beware of their commanders above all, and neither tribune nor centurion were allowed near him.

All was shouts, cries, tumult, mutual exhortation, beyond what is heard in a gathering of the masses, where random voices call out half-hearted praise: here they gazed at all who flocked to the cause, grasped them by the hand, embraced them, placed an arm round their shoulders, and recited the oath of allegiance, now commending the emperor to the soldiers, now the soldiers to their new emperor.

Nor did Otho fail to play his part, stretching out his hands as if to embrace the crowd, scattering kisses, playing the slave throughout in order to become their master. And when the whole legion of marines had sworn their loyalty to him, trusting in his position, and mindful that he must now rouse as a body those whom he had inspired individually, he began to address them, in this manner, from the rampart of the camp:

Book I:XXXVII Otho addresses the troops

‘I cannot as yet say what I am, comrades, since I cannot call myself a private citizen now you have named me emperor, nor emperor while another holds power. Your role too is uncertain as long as there is doubt as to whether you support an emperor or an enemy of the Roman people in your camp. Can you not hear how with one voice they shout for my death and your punishment? Thus it is clear that, as one, we must save ourselves or die; for Galba, who is so full of mercy, as one who slaughtered thousands of blameless soldiers when none required it, has doubtless already made great promises of vengeance!

Horror grips my mind when I recall his fatal entry to the city, and his one achievement, the order that those he had granted protection when they asked should be decimated before the citizens’ eyes! Such were the auspices at his entry, and what glory has he brought the empire since, unless it be the murders in Spain of Obultronius Sabinus and Cornelius Marcellus; in Gaul of Betuus Cilo; Fonteius Capito in Germany; Clodius Macer in Africa; Cingonius on the road to Rome; Turpilianus in the city, Nymphidius in camp?

What camp, what province anywhere has not been stained with blood or, as Galba has it, corrected and improved? For what others call crimes he calls remedies; names cruelty falsely as severity; avarice as frugality; the insults and punishment you suffer, discipline!

It is seven months since Nero met his end, and Icelus has already stolen more than ever those freedmen Polyclitus, Vatinus, and Aegialus wasted. Titus Vinius could have proceeded with no more greed or licence if he were emperor himself; now he holds us subject as if we were his slaves and worthless as any other. That one house alone could provide the pay that is a daily reproach, and never granted you.’

Book I:XXXVIII The soldiers arm themselves

‘And to quell any hopes you might have had in his successor, Galba summoned a man whose gloom and avarice are most like his own. You saw how the gods themselves, comrades, signalled their aversion to his ill-starred adoption with a mighty storm. The senate and the people of Rome are of one mind: they look to your bravery, in whom resides the power for honest action, without whom such action, however worthy, must fail.

I call you not to danger, nor to war, all the armed forces are with us. And that detachment in civilian dress no longer defends him, but detains him: on sight of you, once privy to my signal, your only contest will be to see to whom I’ll owe the most. There must be no hesitation to act, where the action is not praised unless performed.’

 Galba then ordered the armoury to be opened. The soldiers immediately seized weapons, without regard to rank or military custom, without distinguishing praetorian or legionary by their true insignia, donning auxiliaries’ helmets and shields regardless, without tribune or centurion, each man his own master and commander; and the principal motivator of the worst among them that which good men grieved over.

Book I:XXXIX Galba’s supporters in confusion

Piso, now terrified by the noise of the growing rebellion, and the shouts echoing through the city, joined Galba, who in the meantime had left the palace and reached the forum. By then Marius Celsus had news which was scarcely joyful, at which some of Galba’s followers urged his return to the palace, others that he try for the Capitol, many that he seize the rostra. Most simply argued against the advice of the rest, and as happens with unhelpful suggestions, those seemed best whose moment had passed.

They say that Laco, without Galba’s knowledge, thought of murdering Titus Vinius, either so that his execution might calm the soldiers’ minds; because he thought him privy to Otho’s counsels; or ultimately out of hatred. The time and place however caused his hesitation, since it is hard to end the killing once begun, and then his plans were disturbed by troubling news, and the dispersal of his close supporters, as enthusiasm was fading among those who had been eager at first to show their loyalty and courage.

Book I:XL Otho’s troops invade the forum

Galba, was driven to and fro by the varying impulse of the surging crowds who filled the courts and temples, contemplating the mournful prospect. Neither the citizens nor the masses uttered a cry, but their faces showed terror and they strained towards every sound. There was no noise, not even a subdued quiet, but such a silence as great fear and fury bring.

Yet Otho was told the masses were being armed, and ordered his supporters to move quickly and head off the danger. So the soldiers of Rome charged out as though to drive a Vologaesus, or a Pacorus from the ancient throne of the Parthian Arsacidae, not to kill their old defenceless emperor. They scattered the crowds, trampled senators, and burst, fiercely armed, at full gallop into the forum.

Neither the sight of the Capitol, nor reverence for its towering temples, nor the thought of emperors past or to come deterred them from committing a crime an imperial successor must punish, whoever he might be.

Book I:XLI Galba assassinated

The standard-bearer of Galba’s bodyguards (who was named Atilius Vergilio, they say) on seeing the armed men closing with them, tore Galba’s insignia from the standard, and threw it to the ground. That signalled the evident enthusiasm of the military towards Otho, and the populace swiftly deserted the forum, those who hesitated facing drawn swords.

Close to the Lacus Curtius, Galba was thrown from his chair by his terrified carriers, and rolled on the ground. His last words have been variously reported, according to whether he was hated or admired. Some say he begged to know what wrong he had done, and prayed for a few days longer in which to pay the soldiers’ wages: many that he freely offered his throat to his murderers, telling them to strike quickly if they thought it would benefit the state. His killers paid no attention to the words.

Nothing is really known of his assassin: some naming him as Terentius, others Laecanius; the story most repeated being that Camurius, of the Fifteenth legion, pierced his throat with a thrust of the sword. Others, as his chest was protected, badly mutilated his arms and legs, and with savage ferocity continued to inflict many wounds on the torso, even after he had been decapitated.

Book I:XLII Titus Vinius killed

Then Titus Vinius was attacked, about whose last moments there is also uncertainty, as to whether his dread of imminent death robbed him of speech, or whether he had time to cry out that they had no mandate from Otho to kill him. This latter might have been his own invention out of fear, or a confession of his complicity in the rebellion, though his life and reputation suggest that he was privy to a crime he had instigated.

He fell at the first blow, which struck him behind the knee, before the temple of the deified Caesar, Julius, and was then pierced through and through by the legionary, Julius Carus.


Book I:XLIII Piso also assassinated

Our age beheld a hero that day, in Sempronius Densus. A centurion of the praetorian cohort assigned by Galba to protect Piso, he drew his dagger against the armed men, reproached them for their crime and, though wounded, so distracted the assassins by his words and actions that Piso was granted time to escape.

Fleeing to the Temple of Vesta, Piso met with the pity of one of the public slaves who hid him in his room. The obscurity of his hiding place, and not the sacredness of the site or its rites, delayed his imminent execution, but Sulpicius Florus of the British auxiliaries, recently granted citizenship by Galba, and one of the bodyguard, Statius Murcus, arrived presently, sent by Otho who was filled with desire for this Piso’s death, and they dragged him forth and killed him at the doors of the temple.

Book I:XLIV Otho rejoices

They say Otho delighted in no other murder more, nor gazed so insatiably on any other head, because his mind was now free of anxiety and open to joy, or perhaps because in Galba’s case the knowledge of his own treason, or in that of Titus Vinius a memory of friendship, stirred even his harsh mind with gloomy thoughts; while he considered it right and lawful to rejoice at the death of Piso, his rival and enemy.

The heads of the victims were fixed on poles, among the cohorts’ standards close to the eagle of the legion, while those who had done the murders, those who had been there, those who truly or falsely boasted of their part in what they saw as a fine and memorable act, vied in showing their blood-stained hands.

The Emperor Vitellius later found over a hundred and twenty petitions seeking reward for some outstanding action performed that day: he ordered that all those petitioners be hunted down and killed, not in Galba’s honour, but in accord with the custom of previous emperors as a protection for the present, and in anticipation of themselves being avenged.

Book I:XLV Celsus escapes death

You might have thought this a different senate, another populace: rushing en masse to the camp, straining to overtake those around them, and pass those in front, railing against Galba, praising the soldier’s judgement, covering Otho’s hands in kisses; the more false their actions, the greater their extravagance in performing them.

Otho rebuffed no one, while seeking to temper the eager and threatening attitudes of the soldiers by word and look. They in turn demanded the execution of Marius Celsus, the consul elect, who had been Galba’s loyal friend to the very last; hating his energetic and blameless character, as if those were evil attributes. It appeared that they were set on a trail of murder and plunder, encompassing the death of every honest citizen.

Otho had not yet the authority to forbid their crimes: yet he had power of command. So, feigning anger, he ordered Celsus’ arrest, and by proclaiming that the man would suffer more intensely, saved him from immediate execution.

Book I:XLVI The army exerts its will

From now on events were dictated by the soldiers: the praetorians themselves chose their prefects: Plotius Firmus, once a private, then chief of police, a supporter of Otho’s faction even while Galba was still alive; and in addition, Licinius Proculus whose intimate association with Otho led to suspicion he had favoured the conspiracy.

They voted for Flavius Sabinus as Prefect of the City, adhering to Nero’s choice who had selected him for the same office, while many in doing so had an eye to his brother Vespasian.

The troops also demanded that the payments usually made to centurions to grant leave be abolished, since they amounted to an annual tax on the rank and file. A quarter of each company might be on leave, or even idling about the camp itself, so long as the centurions were paid their dues, and no one cared about the burden it represented, or how a soldier raised the cash, whether he purchased his exemption through performing menial tasks, petty theft, or even highway robbery. The wealthiest of soldiers would be cruelly demoralised by hard labour until they were pleased to buy relief. Thereafter, they would return to their company, impoverished by the expense, and weakened by idleness, exchanging wealth for poverty, and effort for indolence. So ruined, one by one, by the same impoverishment and licence, they were ripe for mutiny and dissent, and ultimately for civil warfare.

Otho, in order not to alienate the centurions by his generosity to their men, promised to pay the dues for the soldiers’ annual leave from the emperor’s private purse, undoubtedly a matter of expedience, but which was later established by benevolent emperors as a fixed rule of service.

The prefect Laco, in the guise of being banished to some island, was in fact assassinated by a retired soldier, sent by Otho to commit the murder; while Marcianus Icelus, being only a freedman, was publicly executed.

Book I:XLVII Otho consolidates power

The day was spent in criminal activities, whose worst evil was the pleasure taken in them. The city praetor summoned the senate; and the other magistrates vied with each other in their subservience, while the senators hurried to take their places, voting Otho a tribune’s power, the title Augustus, and all the imperial honours.

All did their utmost to erase any memory of their former insults and opposition to Otho, nor did it seem that their occasional utterances had lodged in his mind, whether because he had genuinely forgotten them, or was merely waiting to act on them, his reign being too brief as yet to reveal.

Otho was then carried aloft through the forum, which was stained with blood, between the piles of corpses, first to the Capitol and then the Palatine, after which he allowed the bodies to be given up for cremation and entombment.

Piso was interred by Verania, his wife, and Scribonianus, his brother; Titus Vinius by his daughter Crispina; once they had located and redeemed the heads, which the assassins had seized for profit.

Book I:XLVIII Brief biographies of Piso and Titus Vinius

Piso was at the end of his thirty-first year; his reputation far greater than his good fortune. His brother Magnus had been executed by Claudius, his brother Crassus by Nero. He himself, long an exile, Caesar for a mere four days, by his hasty adoption gained this sole advantage over his remaining elder brother, that he was killed first.

Titus Vinius, a contradictory character, had lived fifty-seven years. His father was of praetorian origins, his maternal grandfather one of the proscribed. He was notorious for his first period of military service under the legate Calvisius Sabinus, when the legate’s wife driven by a shameful urge to visit the camp, entered it at night, dressed as a soldier. After she had lewdly seduced both the guard and the other men from their duty, she dared to commit adultery in the general’s headquarters. Titus Vinius was implicated in the crime, and so, loaded with chains, was imprisoned by Caligula, to be released later when times changed.

After an uninterrupted progression in office, having served as praetor, he was placed in command of a legion. Though successful he later stained his reputation with an action worthy of a slave, in stealing a gold wine-cup at a banquet given by Claudius, such that Claudius, on the following day, ordered Vinius alone among the other guests to be served with earthenware.

Yet as proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis, Vinius ruled strictly and honestly; it was later, as a friend of Galba, that he was raised to dangerous heights. Bold, clever, effective, crooked or diligent according to inclination, he was always vigorous.

Titus Vinius’ will was set aside because of the magnitude of his gains. Piso’s poverty, in contrast, ensured that his last wishes were fulfilled.

Book I:XLIX A brief biography of Galba

Galba’s body was left to the licence of darkness, and vexed with a thousand insults. Argius, his steward, a former slave, at last gave the corpse humble burial in Galba’s private garden. The head, set on a pole by camp-followers and mistreated, was ultimately discovered the next day, in front of Petrobius’ tomb (he being one of Nero’s freedmen, whom Galba had punished) and was interred with the previously cremated body.

Such was the end of Servius Galba, who had survived, blessed with good fortune, seventy-three years and five emperors, yet was happier under other’s rule than his own. His family noble of old, possessing great wealth, he was of modest ability, free from failings rather than possessing virtue. Neither indifferent to fame nor seeking it, he was not covetous of others’ property, frugal with his own, careful with the state’s. Long-suffering and indulgent with friends and freedmen alike, when he found them honest, he was blind to a fault regarding their wrongdoings. But his noble birth, and the fear those times inspired, obscured the truth, so that what was really complacency, men called wisdom.

While in his prime, he won praise for his military service in Germany. He ruled Africa with restraint, as proconsul, and already old, showed the same judgement in Nearer Spain. He seemed more than a private citizen even when he was one, and by all accounts capable of imperial office, even if he had never ruled.

Book I:L The rival generals

Fresh news regarding Vitellius now terrified a City alarmed both by the recent atrocities and fears concerning Otho’s previous character, news which had been suppressed prior to Galba’s death, such that it was thought only the army in Upper Germany had mutinied. Now the idea that these two, Otho and Vitellius, the worst of all men in their shamelessness, idleness and profligacy, had been chosen it seemed, as if by fate, to destroy the Empire, prompted open grief not only among the senators and knights who were part and parcel of the state, but even among the common citizens.

They spoke not only of the recent example of a savage peace, but also of their memories of the civil wars; the many occasions when Rome had been occupied; the devastation of Italy and the rape of the provinces; of Pharsalia, Philippi, Perusia and Mutina, names resonant with communal destruction. Even when honest men contended for power their world had been turned upside down, yet the Empire had survived when Julius Caesar was the victor, and likewise Augustus; the Republic might have survived if Pompey and Brutus had succeeded. Now must they go to the temples and pray for an Otho or a Vitellius? Prayers for either would be impious, desire for either would be execrable, where the only certainty regarding the contest was that whoever won things would be worse.

There were those who augured the coming of Vespasian and his armies of the East, and yet though Vespasian was preferable to the others they were horrified at the thought of further massacre and conflict. And Vespasian’s reputation was then mixed; he alone was destined to be altered for the better by power, unlike all the emperors before him.

Book I:LI The origins of Vitellius’ rebellion

Now I will speak of the cause and origins of Vitellius’ rebellion. Once Julius Vindex and his entire force had been destroyed, his army, proud of its glory and spoils, since it had achieved a highly profitable outcome without danger or effort, chose to continue fighting, for gain rather than mere pay. They had long tolerated a period of service that was harsh and unrewarding, due to the nature of the terrain, the climate, and the strictness of their discipline. But though rigorous in peacetime, discipline is eroded by civil conflict, since there is corruption on all sides, and treachery goes unpunished.

  There was an abundance of troops, weapons, and mounts, for use and display; and while, before the conflict, the men knew only their own centuries and squadrons, since armies were deployed within the boundaries of each province, once the legions had mobilised against Vindex they became aware of their and the Gallic provinces’ strength. They raised their weapons one more, seeking fresh discord; it was no longer a question of friends, as before, but of conquerors and conquered. Nor did that section of the army of the Gallic provinces along the Rhine fail to align itself to the same faction, or show itself a fierce adversary of the ‘Galbans’; coining that name in disdain for Vindex. Thus their spirits craved the storming of towns, ravaging of fields, and looting of houses, beginning with those of the Sequani and Aedui, followed by the other tribes in order of their wealth.

They were not driven simply by arrogance and greed, faults common to the stronger party, but also by Gallic insolence; the Gauls boasting, as an insult to the army, that Galba had remitted a quarter of their tribute monies, and rewarded them from the State coffers.

Rumours were cleverly spread, and mindlessly credited, that the legions were being decimated, and the most resolute centurions dismissed. There was dreadful news from every quarter, and troubling reports from Rome; the colony of Lyon was hostile and, persisting in its loyalty to Nero, a hotbed of rumours. But the most fertile soil for the soldiers’ imaginings and false beliefs was within the camp itself, in their own hatreds and fears or, when they regarded their own strength, their self-confidence.

Book I:LII Fabius Valens urges Vitellius to act

Around the first of December in the preceding year, Aulus Vitellius had visited Lower Germany and carried out a thorough inspection of the legions’ winter quarters. Many men had their rank restored, their disgrace expunged, and the marks against them erased. Much of this was for his own ends, some through his sense of justice, including the rightful amendment of promotions and demotions in rank which Fronteius Capito had made through meanness or avarice.

The measures he took were received by all as more significant than those merely of a consular legate. And while the strictest disciplinarians called it demeaning, his supporters called it kindness and affability when he gave away his own wealth, without bound or distinction, and squandered that of others; their desire for power at once translating his very faults into virtues.

There were many in both armies who were quiet and obedient, and many who were active and intent on wrongdoing, the commanders of the legions, Alienus Caecina and Fabius Valens, in particular being men of boundless ambition and unusual temerity, of whom Valens was hostile to Galba, since he considered Galba had displayed ingratitude at the disclosure of Verginius’ indecision, and his crushing of Capito’s plans. He urged Vitellius on, holding forth regarding the soldiers’ ardour, that Vitellius’ fame was celebrated everywhere: Flaccus Hordeonius (in Upper Germany) would be no impediment; Britain would be for him, the German auxiliaries would follow his lead: the provinces’ loyalty to their Emperor was fragile, the old man’s hour of rule precarious and destined soon to pass: let Vitellius but open wide his arms and rush to meet approaching fortune. Verginius had good reason to hesitate, he was of equestrian family but his father was low-born, and he himself, unequal to the office if granted power, was secure in refusing it. But his father’s three consulships and censorship as colleague to the Emperor Claudius, had long since granted Vitellius imperial dignity, and denied him the security of being merely a subject.

Vitellius was roused to ambition by this, more than to expectation.

Book I:LIII The situation in Upper Germany

Meanwhile in Upper Germany, Caecina, a handsome young man, of good stature, but extravagant disposition, had roused the soldiers’ partisanship, through clever speeches combined with his upright presence. Galba had set him in command of a legion, since he had been swift to join Galba’s cause while a quaestor in Baetica, but had ordered him to be prosecuted later for embezzlement, after finding that he had diverted public funds. Caecina was unhappy with this, and decided to make matters more involved by cloaking his private hurt with the state’s misfortune.

Nor were the seeds of conflict lacking in an army that had fully engaged in the fight against Vindex, had not adhered to Galba until Nero’s assassination, and had been anticipated in its oath of allegiance to Galba by detachments from Lower Germany. Moreover, the Treviri and the Lingones, as well as other tribes punished by Galba with harsh edicts or loss of land, mingled freely with the overwintering legions, such that there were seditious murmurings, the soldiers were demoralized by mixing with the locals, and the support they had given Verginius was liable in future to be granted to another.

Book I:LIV Unrest among the troops

The Lingones, according to ancient custom, sent gifts depicting clasped hands, as a sign of friendship, to the legions. Their envoys, assuming the guise of distressed poverty, and complaining at headquarters and in the messes of the common soldiers, whenever anyone was ready to listen, now about their own ills, now about the grants won by neighbouring tribes, inflamed the minds of the troops with the dangers and insults the army had endured. They were not far from mutiny when Hordeonius Flaccus ordered the envoys to leave the camp, and by night so their exit might be less obvious.

A troubling rumour arose, many asserting the envoys had been killed and that, if the soldiers did not consult their own interests, the most active of those complaining about the present state of affairs would be executed under cover of darkness and without the rest knowing.

So the legions bound themselves by a secret oath, joined by the auxiliaries who at first had been suspected of an intent to attack the legions, since their infantry and cavalry surrounded the camp, but soon showed themselves more eager in the same cause, for there is a greater consensus among the ill-disposed in favour of war, than there is for peace and harmony.

Book I:LV Attitudes of the various legions

After a considerable delay, the legions of Lower Germany had sworn the oath of allegiance to Galba on the first of January, a few in the front ranks giving voice, the rest silently waiting on their neighbours’ courage, it being human nature to follow swiftly where one hesitates to begin.

But there was a diversity of views among the various legions of Upper Germany. The First and Fifth were so rebellious that some stoned the depictions of Galba. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth, daring to do no more than grumble and threaten, sought an excuse for mutiny.

Meanwhile the Fourth and Twenty-Second legions, who were over-wintering in the same camp (at Mainz) tore down Galba’s portraits, the Fourth taking the lead, the Twenty-Second hesitating, but soon joining them. So as not to seem lacking in respect for the Empire, they swore their oath on the now neglected names of the senate and people of Rome.

None of the tribunes or legates made any effort on Galba’s behalf, some, as if in rebellion, were notable in stirring trouble. Yet no one spoke in public, or from the rostrum, nor was there anyone as yet to call on.

Book I:LVI Vitellius makes his bid for power

Hordeonius Flaccus, the consular legate, was a mere bystander, a spectator at this shameful scene, not daring to check the headlong rush, restrain the doubters, or even rouse the loyal, but hesitant through timidity, and apathetic in his powerlessness.

Four centurions of the Twenty-Second, Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus and Calpurnius Repentinus, seeking to protect the portraits of Galba, were swept aside by the onrush of soldiers and thrown into chains.

None of the rest showed any loyalty, or remembered their former oath, but as happens in a rebellion, where the majority go all follow.

On the night following the first of January, an eagle-bearer of the Fourth legion in Cologne reported to Vitellius at table that the Fourth and Twenty-Second legions had both thrown down the images of Galba, and sworn allegiance to the senate and people of Rome. The oath seemed empty: Vitellius resolved to set fortune in the balance and present them with an emperor.

He therefore sent men to the legions and the legates declaring that the army of Upper Germany had mutinied against Galba, so war must be waged on the rebels or, if they wished for peace and concord, they must adopt an emperor: and there was less danger in accepting than in seeking one.

Book I:LVII Upper Germany claims Vitellius as Emperor

The nearest winter quarters were those of the First legion, and the most resolute of the commanders was Fabius Valens. He entered Cologne, on the next day, with the cavalry from the legion and the auxiliaries, and hailed Vitellius as Emperor.

The legions of that province, in intense rivalry, followed suit; and the army of Upper Germany, forsaking their temporary allegiance to the senate and people of Rome, aligned themselves with Vitellius on the third of January, so it was clear they had not been under state control during the previous two days.

The people of Cologne, and the tribes of the Treviri and Lingones, matched the army in enthusiasm, offering aid, money, weapons, or horses according to their bodily strength, wealth or abilities. Not only the leaders of the colonies or camps, who had current riches and hoped for more in the event of victory, but groups or whole companies of common soldiers driven by passion, impulse, or ambition, contributed their own savings, or instead of cash their belts, trappings and the silver insignia from their armour.

Book I:LVIII The executions of Pompeius Propinquus and Crispinus

So, having praised the soldiers’ ready support, Vitellius assigned the imperial offices, usually held by freedmen, to Roman knights; and paid the centurions their fees for leave of absence, from his own purse.

In most cases he approved the soldiers’ ferocity in demanding that many be punished, occasionally evading it by a show of imprisonment. Pompeius Propinquus, for example, the imperial agent in Belgian Gaul, was immediately executed, while Julius Burdo, admiral of the German fleet, was cleverly removed from danger.

The army was ablaze with anger at Burdo because he had framed charges, and later plotted, against Fonteius Capito. It had fond memories of Capito, and though Vitellius, faced with that anger, might command executions openly, he could only pardon men through deceit.

Burdo was therefore held in custody, and only released after Vitellius’ victory, when the soldiers’ anger had faded. Crispinus, the centurion, meanwhile, was offered as scapegoat. He was stained by Capito’s blood, and he offered Vitellius both a more obvious means of meeting their demands, and a less costly sacrifice.

Book I:LIX Vitellius gathers support

Julius Civilis was the next to be rescued from danger, Vitellius not wishing to alienate the Batavians, a savage tribe among whom he had great influence, by punishing him. There were, moreover, eight cohorts of Batavians in the territory of the Lingones, auxiliaries to the Fourteenth legion, who owing to the discord at that time had separated from the legion. and would carry great weight as friends or enemies, depending on their inclination.

On the other hand, Vitellius ordered the execution of the centurions Nonius, Donatius, Romilius and Calpurnius, mentioned above, who were guilty only of the charge of loyalty to the wrong cause, which is the most serious of all among rebels.

He then won Valerius Asiaticus to his side, the governor of the Belgic province, whom he later received as his son-in-law; and likewise Junius Blaesus, commander in Gallia Lugdunensis, along with the legion prima Italica and the Taurian cavalry based at Lyon.

The forces in Raetia joined him no less immediately; nor was there any hesitation from Britain.

Book I:LX The situation in Britain

The governor there was Trebellius Maximus, loathed and despised by his soldiers for his meanness and avarice. Their hatred of him was inflamed by Roscius Coelius, commander of the Twentieth legion, long involved in a mutual conflict with him which, on the occasion of civil war, erupted violently.

Trebellius charged Coelus with sedition and indiscipline in the ranks, while Coelus reproached Trebellius for despoiling and impoverishing the legions. Meanwhile, the soldiers’ restraint was eroded by this shameful quarrel, the discord reaching a point where Trebellius, showered with insults not merely by the legions but by the auxiliaries, who deserted men and cavalry to join Coelus, fled to Vitellius for protection.

Though the consular governor had vanished, the province remained quiet: the commanders of the legions were in charge, with equal authority, though Coelius was the more powerful because of his daring.

End of the Histories Book I:XXXI-LX