Book I: LXI-XC Otho versus Vitellius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
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- Book I:LXI Vitellius’ plan of campaign
- Book I:LXII Vitellius advances
- Book I:LXIII The massacre at Metz
- Book I:LXIV Fabius Valens at Lyon
- Book I:LXV The feud between Lyon and Vienne
- Book I:LXVI Fabius Valens advances to the Alps
- Book I:LXVII Caecina attacks the Helvetii
- Book I:LXVIII Massacre of the Helvetii
- Book I:LXIX The fate of the Helvetian envoys
- Book I:LXX Caecina crosses the Alps into Italy
- Book I:LXXI Otho befriends Celsus
- Book I:LXXII Tigellinus commits suicide
- Book I:LXXIII Calvia Crispinilla escapes punishment
- Book I:LXXIV Otho and Vitellius spar with one another
- Book I:LXXV They deploy their agents
- Book I:LXXVI The provinces and armies divided
- Book I:LXXVII Temporary calm in Rome
- Book I:LXXVIII Otho woos the provinces
- Book I:LXXIX Conflict with the Sarmatians
- Book I:LXXX Mutiny in Rome
- Book I:LXXXI Otho’s banquet disrupted
- Book I:LXXXII The aftermath of the mutiny
- Book I:LXXXIII Otho addresses the troops
- Book I:LXXXIV Otho calls for order
- Book I:LXXXV Deep disquiet in Rome
- Book I:LXXXVI Signs and Omens
- Book I:LXXXVII Otho initiates a campaign in Gaul
- Book I:LXXXVIII Fear in Rome
- Book I:LXXXIX The City exposed
- Book I:XC Otho leaves for Gaul with his forces
Book I:LXI Vitellius’ plan of campaign
With the army in Britain added to his strength, Vitellius, with ample power and resources, selected two commanders and two fronts for the conflict. He ordered Fabius Valens to win over the Gallic provinces, or if they resisted to devastate their territory and enter Italy forcibly via the Cottian Alps, while Caecina was to descend via the nearer route over the Poenine range.
Valens was assigned picked troops of the Lower army, with the eagle of the Fifth legion, cohorts, and cavalry, to the number in all of forty thousand. Caecina led thirty thousand drawn from the Upper army, his real strength residing in the Twenty-first legion.
Both were also assigned German auxiliaries, from whom Vitellius too supplemented his own forces, to follow on behind with full martial strength.
Book I:LXII Vitellius advances
There was a startling contrast between the army and its leader: the soldiers were eagerly demanding battle since the Gallic provinces were still nervous and the Spanish hesitant: saying that neither winter nor the delay caused by peace-loving cowards need present an obstacle: Italy must be invaded and Rome seized, and nothing can be more beneficial than speed in civil conflict, where one must act rather than debate.
Vitellius however was torpid, anticipating the delights of imperial power by indulging in idle luxury and extravagant banquets, tipsy by midday and heavy with eating, while his soldiers still ardent and vigorous performed their duty more effectively than their general, inspiring the energetic or the lazy with hope or fear, as if their commander were present.
Drawn up in their ranks, they eagerly demanded the signal to advance. Vitellius was, there and then, granted the appellation Germanicus: later refusing that of Caesar even when he had succeeded. Fabius Valens, as he led the army to war, took it as a favourable omen that on the day they started an eagle flew slowly before them as if to guide their march, and for a long while the joyful clamour of the troops was such that the calm untroubled flight of the bird was received as a powerful omen of a successful and magnificent outcome.
Book I:LXIII The massacre at Metz
The army approached the Treviri, as secure allies, but at Dividorum (Metz), a town of the Mediomatrici, though they were welcomed in all friendship, sudden panic gripped them. The soldiers spontaneously raised their weapons to attack innocent civilians, not for plunder or a desire for gain, but wildly and furiously, for no clear reason, and therefore they were less easily constrained.
At last, quietened by their general’s appeals, they stopped short of a total destruction of the populace, though about four thousand people were massacred. Such terror swept the Gallic provinces at this, that during the troops later advance entire townships led by their magistrates met them in mass entreaty, women and children lining the roads, as everything likely to appease the enemy’s anger, though they were not at war, was offered to secure peace.
Book I:LXIV Fabius Valens at Lyon
Fabius Valens was in the territory of the Leuci when he heard the news of Galba’s death and Otho’s accession to power. The soldiers were moved neither to joy nor fear: they thought only of battle. The Gauls hesitated no longer: though Otho and Vitellius roused their hatred equally, Vitellius in addition inspired fear.
The neighbouring state of the Lingones was loyal to his faction. There Fabius Valens’ men, welcomed warmly, vied with one another in their restraint. Joy was brief however, due to the intemperance of the auxiliaries who, as we said above, had separated from the Fourteenth legion and whom Fabius Valens had attached to his forces. There was first a quarrel, then a brawl between the Batavians and legionaries, then as the soldiers sided with one or the other, there was almost open warfare, until Fabius Valens by censuring a few reminded the Batavians of the authority they had flouted.
The troops also searched in vain for an excuse to fight the Aeduans, who when commanded to provide money and weapons also delivered supplies to the army free of charge. And what the Aeduans did from fear, the citizens of Lyon did from joy.
The Italic legion and Taurian cavalry were withdrawn from the city, Fabius Valens deciding to leave the Eighteenth cohort there, it being their usual winter quarters. Manlius Valens, however, commander of the Italic legion, lacked favour with Vitellius, though he had served his faction well, and Fabius Valens had defamed him in secret accusations, of which Manlius was ignorant, though he praised him openly the more easily to deceive him.
Book I:LXV The feud between Lyon and Vienne
The latest rebellion (of Vindex) had inflamed the long-standing feud between the people of Lyons and Vienne. They had inflicted severe losses on one another, too frequently and savagely to be merely fighting for Nero or Galba. Moreover Galba had shown his displeasure by appropriating the revenues of Lyon, while granting great honours to Vienne. There was therefore rivalry, envy and mutual hatred between two cities separated by a single river (the Rhône).
So the citizens of Lyon began to rouse individual soldiers, and incite them to destroy Vienne, reminding them that its inhabitants has besieged their colony, aided Vindex in his actions, and recently enrolled legions in defence of Galba. And after declaring these reasons for hatred, they pointed to the wealth of potential plunder, no longer in secret exhortation but in public appeals. The soldiers should march as avengers, and raze the seat of war in Gaul; everything there being foreign and inimical to them: while they themselves, being a Roman colony, a part of the army, friends in prosperity or adversity, must not be abandoned to irate enemies, should fortune prove adverse.
Book I:LXVI Fabius Valens advances to the Alps
With these and similar types of appeal, they had stirred the soldiers to the point where not even the leaders and commanders of the faction judged it possible to reign in the army’s discontent, when the citizens of Vienne, aware of their danger, turned the soldiers from their intent, by meeting their advance carrying veils and ribbons, and reaching out to clasp their weapons, knees and feet: Valens, in addition granted each soldier three gold pieces. The value and long-standing of the colony also counted; and a speech of Valens, in which he urged the army to ensure the the citizens of Vienne went safe and unharmed was favourably received. Moreover the citizens, their weapons confiscated en masse, supported the army with public and private resources of every kind.
But speculation has always had it that Valens himself was bought for a huge sum. He had long been poor, now suddenly rich he scarcely hid his change of fortune. His desires increased by years of poverty, he was now unrestrained, and after an impoverished youth became prodigal in his mature years.
He now led the army, at a slow pace, through the lands of the Allobroges and the Vocontii; the marching distances and the changes of camping ground being determined by Valens auctioning of them to the populace, in shameless negotiations detrimental to the landowners and civic magistrates. Indeed, he acted so menacingly, that he was on the verge of torching Lucus (which was a town belonging to the Vocontii), until he was pacified with gifts of cash. Whenever money proved lacking, he was appeased by acts of debauchery and adultery. In this manner, they reached the Alps.
Book I:LXVII Caecina attacks the Helvetii
Caecina meanwhile had extracted even more blood and gain. He had been dangerously provoked by the Helvetii, a Gallic people once illustrious for their strength in battle, now only for the memory of their notoriety. Ignorant of Galba’s murder, they refused to recognise Vitellius’ authority.
The prime source of conflict was the rashness and greed of the Twenty-first legion, who had stolen cash sent as payment to the garrison of a fort formerly defended by the Helvetians with their own troops and at their own expense. Angered, the Helvetians, intercepting letters in the name of the army in Germany being carried to the Pannonian legions, held the centurions and some of the soldiers in custody.
Caecina, always eager for action, was one to punish any fault before it was even regretted: he swiftly moved camp, laid waste the fields, and devastated a place (Baden on Limmat) that had been established in the form of a spa town during the long peace, and was much frequented for its scenery and health-giving waters.
Orders were also sent to the auxiliaries in Raetia to attack the rear of the Helvetian line that faced the Roman legion.
Book I:LXVIII Massacre of the Helvetii
The Helvetii were daring before a crisis, but filled with fear at the moment of danger. Although they had chosen a leader, Claudius Severus, at the start of the unrest, they had little knowledge of arms, no sense of order, and failed to plan ahead. Battle against veterans would be fatal, even a siege dangerous since their walls had been eroded by neglect. Here was Caecina with a redoubtable force, there the Raetian cavalry and foot soldiers, with young warriors accustomed to arms and trained in war. Slaughter and destruction were on all sides.
Caught between the two armies, the Helvetii flung away their weapons and, the majority of them wounded or struggling, fled towards Mount Vocetius (the Bözberg Pass). A Thracian cohort, dispatched against them immediately, dislodged them and, pursued by the Germans and Raetians through their forests, they were slaughtered in their very hiding places. Thousands were killed, thousands sold as slaves.
After the rout, as the Roman army sought to attack Avenches, the tribal capital, envoys were sent to offer surrender, and the surrender was accepted. Caecina punished one of their principal envoys, Julius Alpinus, as instigator of the conflict: leaving the rest to Vitellius’s anger or indulgence.
Book I:LXIX The fate of the Helvetian envoys
It is not easy to say whom the Helvetians found least readily appeased, the general or his soldiers. The latter, shaking their fists and weapons in the envoys’ faces, demanded the razing of the city. Not even Vitellius refrained from words and threats, until one envoy, Claudius Cossus, noted for his eloquence but now hiding his skill as an orator behind a needful display of agitation which increased his effectiveness, quenched the soldiers’ anger.
As usual, the crowd was prone to sudden changes of mood, as ready to show pity as the extremes of rage. With flowing tears and constant prayers for leniency, the envoys won protection and safety for their city.
Book I:LXX Caecina crosses the Alps into Italy
Caecina, delaying a few days among the Helvetii while he learnt Vitellius’ plans, and at the same time preparing for the passage of the Alps, received the good news from Italy that the Silian cavalry, operating along the River Po, had sworn allegiance to Vitellius. The cavalry had served under Vitellius when he was proconsul in Africa; later they were removed by Nero for assignment to Egypt, but had been recalled because of Vindex’s rebellion, and were hence in Italy.
Prompted by the cavalry commanders who, knowing nothing of Otho but attached to Vitellius, extolled the strength of the approaching legions and the reputation of the army in Germany, they sided with Vitellius, and as something of a gift to their new emperor they secured for him the most substantial of the towns north of the Po, namely Milan, Novara, Ivrea and Vercelli. Caecina learned this from the citizens themselves.
Since a single cavalry detachment could not hold the broadest region of Italy, he sent forward infantry cohorts of Gauls, Lusitanians and Britons, with some German troops and a squadron of Petra’s horse, he himself waiting a while to see whether he should detour over the Arlberg to Noricum to tackle Petronius Urbicus the imperial agent, who was thought loyal to Otho since he had roused the auxiliaries and demolished the bridges over the river.
However, fearing that he might lose the troops and cavalry he had sent forward, and accepting at the same time that there was not only greater glory in securing Italy but that, wherever the decisive action finally took place, the people of Noricum would be one with the other prizes of victory, he lead his reserves and the heavily armed legions over the Pass of Poeninus (the Great Saint Bernard) with the Alps still under winter snow.
Book I:LXXI Otho befriends Celsus
Meanwhile, contrary to everyone’s expectation, Otho did not descend dully into pleasure and idleness: he deferred his enjoyments, masked his profligacy, and arranged his life as became his imperial role, such that greater dread was inspired by his false show of virtue with its threat of vice to come.
The consul-elect Marius Celsus, whom he had rescued from the soldiers’ fury by feigning his imprisonment, he ordered to the Capitol; he sought credit for this clemency towards a distinguished man whom his faction hated.
Celsus pleaded guilty to his firm loyalty to Galba, further claiming it as exemplary. Otho did not behave as if granting him pardon but, rather than having to fear him later as an enemy, chose to be reconciled to him, and immediately counted him among his intimates, and elected him as one of his generals in the looming conflict.
However, Celsus, by some fatality, maintained an unbroken and unfortunate loyalty to Otho. His survival, delighting the leading statesmen and celebrated by the masses, was viewed favourably even by the soldiers, who admired the very virtue that had roused their fury.
Book I:LXXII Tigellinus commits suicide
Equal delight greeted the news of Tigellinus’ death, but for different reasons. Ofonius Tigellinus, of obscure descent, was shameless as a youth, profligate in his later years. Through vice, being the quicker route, he gained command of the city watch and the praetorians, with other prizes normally awarded to virtue, and later indulged in cruelty and then greed, the sins of maturity. He also seduced Nero to every kind of wickedness, dared certain vices without Nero’s knowledge, and finally deserted and betrayed him.
Thus, for opposite reasons, by those who hated Nero and by those who regretted his death, no one’s punishment was more persistently demanded. Under Galba he had been protected by Titus Vinius’s influence, he claiming that Tigellinus had saved his daughter’s life. Though he had indeed done so, it was not out of clemency, having killed so many others, but as future insurance. The worst of men, mistrusting the present and fearful of change, seek private debts to ward off public hatred, without regard for the right, but simply for self-protection.
The masses, more hostile towards Tigellinus, as a result, their previous hatred inflamed by the recent unpopularity of Titus Vinius, poured into the Palatine and the fora from every corner of the city, filling the circus and the theatres, where they command the greatest licence, giving vent to seditious outbursts, until Tigellinus, who was taking the waters at Sinuessa, received the news that the final sacrifice was required of him. Shamefully delaying his end amongst the kisses and embraces of his mistresses, he ultimately cut his throat with a razor, further defiling an infamous life with a reluctant and ignominious death.
Book I:LXXIII Calvia Crispinilla escapes punishment
Demands were made. at that same time, for the punishment of Calvia Crispinilla. She was protected from persecution however through various dissimulations of the emperor, devices which damaged his reputation. Mistress of vice to Nero, she had then crossed to Africa, roused Clodius Macer to rebellion and brazenly attempted to visit famine on the Roman people. Afterwards gaining favour with the whole city by marrying a former consul, she remained unharmed under the rule of Galba, Otho and Vitellius, wielding influence later because of her wealth coupled with a lack of children, attributes courted in good times and bad alike.
Book I:LXXIV Otho and Vitellius spar with one another
Meanwhile Otho, in letters marred by an unmanly show of flattery, offered Vitellius money, favours and a choice of whatever secluded place he wished to pursue his profligate lifestyle. Vitellius extended a corresponding offer, in an initially pleasant exchange, both employing a foolish and unworthy pretence, but soon, as though in a brawl, charging each other in turn with vice and debauchery, falsely in neither case.
After recalling the delegation Galba had sent to Germany, Otho sent them again, in the senate’s name, to both the armies, to the Italic legion, and to the troops stationed at Lyon. These delegates remained with Vitellius too readily for anyone to think they had been detained, while the praetorians Otho had sent with them, as a display of power, were sent back before they could mingle with the legions.
Fabius Valens parried with letters from the army in Germany to the praetorian and city cohorts, boasting of the strength of their faction, and offering terms; he reproached them furthermore, for granting imperial powers to Otho which had been assigned, long before, to Vitellius.
Book I:LXXV They deploy their agents
Thus the praetorians were assailed simultaneously with threats and promises, as being no match in war yet standing to lose nothing by peace. Still they failed to break faith.
Otho sent agents to Germany, Vitellius to Rome. Both were frustrated, though Vitellius’ agents travelled with impunity, being neither known to nor knowing any in that vast multitude, while Otho’s were revealed by appearing as strangers in an army where everyone knew each other.
Vitellius also wrote to Otho’s brother, Titianus, threatening him with the death of his son if Vitellius’s own mother and children were harmed. In fact the families of both leaders remained unharmed, possibly from fear under Otho’s rule: Vitellius as ultimate victor winning credit for his clemency.
Book I:LXXVI The provinces and armies divided
Early news from Illyricum increased Otho’s confidence that the legions in Dalmatia, Pannonia and Moesia were his. The same news from Spain elicited a proclamation praising Cluvius Rufus: but it swiftly became known that Spain had defected to Vitellius. Not even Aquitania, though it had been forced by Julius Cordus to swear allegiance to Otho, remained true.
Nowhere was there either loyalty or affection. Fear and necessity drove men to and fro. That very anxiety led the province of Gallia Narbonensis to support Vitellius, it being easier to join the nearer, stronger faction. The most distant provinces and the armed forces overseas remained in Otho’s camp, not out of enthusiasm for his cause, but because the name of Rome and the authority of the senate still carried great weight, while the first-comer still held their allegiance.
Vespasian swore the army in Judaea to Otho’s side, Mucianus the legions in Syria. Egypt and all the Eastern provinces were also secured in Otho’s name. Africa complied in the same way, led by Carthage without waiting on the authority of Vipstanius Apronianus, the proconsul. One of Nero’s freedmen, Crescens, brought forward celebrations for the populace to honour the imperial accession (since in troubled times even freedmen take part in public affairs) and the citizens rushed to these as usual, without restraint. The other cities followed Carthage’s example.
Book I:LXXVII Temporary calm in Rome
With the provinces and armies so divided, Vitellius needed to seize the imperial power for himself through warfare, while Otho continued to perform the duties of empire as if in a profound state of peace, sometimes with the dignity of public office but often in a peremptory way due to the demands of present need.
Otho was himself consul, with his brother Titianus, until the first of March; the following months being allocated to Verginius as a gesture to the army in Germany, Pompeius Vopiscus being appointed with him under the pretext of his former friendship with Otho, though most people interpreted it as a tribute to the citizens of Vienne.
The remaining consulships for the year were as Nero or Galba had decided: Caelius Sabinus with Flavius Sabinus until July; Arrius Antoninus with Marius Celsus till September; nor were their appointments vetoed by Vitellius when he succeeded. But Otho handed out pontificates and augurships as a crowning honour to old men already dignified by office, or to solace young noblemen newly returned from exile with priesthoods their fathers and grandfathers had once held.
Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus and Saevinus P… were restored to senatorial rank, which they had lost under Claudius and Nero due to charges of bribery: altered by their pardoners to charges of apparent treason rather than greed, treason being now a term so lacking in weight that even decent laws were rendered null and void.
Book I:LXXVIII Otho woos the provinces
With an equal largesse, Otho addressed the provinces and cities, adding colonists to Seville and Merida, granting universal Roman citizenship to the Lingones, towns in Mauritania to the province of Baetica, and new constitutions to Africa and Cappadocia, more for show than lasting value. Even amongst the tasks justified by the necessities of his situation, and the pressing nature of his responsibilities, he did not forget the objects of his affections, reinstalling the statues of Poppaea by agreement with the senate and, or so it was believed, raising the question of marking Nero’s reign, hoping to win over the masses. And there were indeed individuals who set up statues of Nero: and the soldiers and populace on certain days even acclaimed him as Otho Neroni, as if adding to his nobility and worth, though he himself forbore to do so, fearing to deny or embarrassed to acknowledge the title.
Book I:LXXIX Conflict with the Sarmatians
With minds turned to civil war, external affairs were ignored. As a consequence, a Sarmatian tribe, the Rhoxolani, who had massacred two cohorts the previous winter, invaded Moesia anticipating significant gain. Numbering nine thousand horsemen, their temperament and easy success made them more intent on plunder than war.
While they were thus scattered and inattentive, the third legion with added auxiliaries suddenly attacked. On the Roman side, all was disposed for battle. The Sarmatian forces were either dispersed, or since in their desire for plunder they were weighed under heavy burdens and the treacherous paths robbed their horses of speed, were cut down as easily as if they were fettered and chained. For strange to say, all the Sarmatians’ courage seems due to external factors. No nation is so cowardly fighting on foot, whereas when they attack on horseback scarcely any force can resist them. But the day being wet and the snow melting, they could use neither the lance, nor the longsword that they wield with both hands, for the horses slid about and their coats of mail weighed them down.
This armour, which the princes and nobility wear, is constructed of iron plates or tough hide and though impenetrable to blows prevents them rising once the enemy’s charge topples them; and they were simultaneously sinking in the soft, deep snow. Meanwhile the Roman soldiers, in their breastplates, moved easily, hurling javelins or attacking with the lance or, as required, wielding the short sword and felling the Sarmatians at close quarters (they not being accustomed to using shields to defend themselves), those few of the enemy who escaped the battlefield hiding themselves in the marshes.
When news of this reached Rome, the governor of Moesia, Marcus Aponius, was awarded a triumphal statue, while the commanders of the legions, Fulvius Aurelius, Julianus Tettius, and Numisius Lupus, were granted consular decorations, Otho meanwhile being delighted and claiming glory for himself, as both fortunate in war and in strengthening the state by use of his generals and armed forces.
Book I:LXXX Mutiny in Rome
Meanwhile, from small and unthreatening beginnings, a mutiny began which almost destroyed Rome. Otho had ordered the Seventeenth cohort to the city, from the colony at Ostia. One of the praetorian tribunes, Varius Crispinus, had been given the task of equipping these troops. So as to be free to execute his orders when the camp was quiet, he had the armoury opened and the cohorts’ wagons loaded at nightfall. The hour raising suspicions, the motive suggesting deceit, the attempt to act quietly ended in uproar, while to drunken men the sight of weapons stirred a desire to use them.
The soldiers muttered and accused the centurions and tribunes of treachery, saying the senators’ slaves were being armed in order to eliminate Otho. Some were heavy with wine and hardly aware; the worst saw an opportunity for plunder; the mass, as ever, were ready for anything novel, and the discipline of the better part was nullified by the darkness.
When a tribune tried to end the sedition, they killed him, along with the most authoritarian of the centurions, then seized weapons, mounted their horses, and headed for Rome and the palace.
Book I:LXXXI Otho’s banquet disrupted
Otho was giving a banquet for the leading men and women of the city; who, terrified as to whether there might be random violence by the military, or some treachery on the part of the Emperor, and unsure whether it was riskier to stay and be trapped or depart and scatter, now pretended courage and now were unmasked by fear, according as they interpreted Otho’s expression; and as generally happens in minds tuned to suspicion, were fearful whenever he seemed afraid.
Yet he was as terrified by the threat to the senate as to himself, and immediately despatched the prefects of the praetorian guard to calm the soldiers’ mood, while telling everyone to leave the banquet quickly. Then, indeed, the magistrates who were present fled in every direction, casting off their badges of office, shunning the attention of their friends and servants, women and old men threading diverse routes through the darkness, mostly not to their own homes, but seeking their friends’ houses, and the obscurest hiding places of their humblest followers.
Book I:LXXXII The aftermath of the mutiny
Not even the solid doors of the palace prevented the soldiers’ onrush interrupting the banquet. They insisted Otho be shown to them, wounding the tribune Julius Martalius and the prefect of the legion Vitellius Saturninus, who opposed their entry. Weapons and threats were directed from every side now at the centurions and tribunes, now at the senators en masse, whose minds were filled with blind panic; and unable to fix on any one target for their anger, they claimed the right to act against all, until Otho, sacrificing his imperial dignity by standing on his couch, managed to restrain them by means of his prayers and tears, and they guiltily and unwillingly returned to camp.
The next day private houses were locked and bolted, as if the city were occupied, few people navigated the streets, and all were gloomy; the soldiers faces were downcast more in sorrow than in penitence. The prefects Licinius Proculus and Plotius Firmus addressed their companies, one mildly the other severely according to their natures. They ended their speeches by saying that fifty gold pieces would be paid to each soldier: only then did Otho dare to enter the camp.
He was surrounded by tribunes and centurions, who tore away their military insignia, demanding their discharge and his protection. The soldiers felt the displeasure, and returned to duty, further requesting that the leaders of the mutiny be punished.
Book I:LXXXIII Otho addresses the troops
Otho realised, despite the turmoil and the differing attitudes of the soldiers (since the best of them demanded a check to the present licence, while the greater mass of troops, easily roused to civil war by riots and disturbance, delighted in mutiny and the dependence of the powerful on winning their support) that leadership won through force is not retained by immediate moderation or a show of dignity as before, yet, anxious as to the danger facing the city, and the risk to the senate, he finally spoke to them in this manner: ‘My fellow soldiers, I have not come to swell your affections for me, or exhort you to courage (since you show both qualities in boundless excess) but to ask that you restrain your boldness, and limit your enthusiasm for my person.
The recent turmoil owed its origin not to greed or hatred, which are what drive most armies to rebellion, nor to any dereliction of duty, or fear of danger: it was your outstanding loyalty that roused you to action more violent than is wise: for unless one employs judgement, honourable motives often produce fatal results.
We are destined for war. Now, does the nature of our situation or the speed of events lend itself to the broadcasting of every item of news openly, or the making of plans with every man present? It is as vital for soldiers not to know certain things, as to know others: a leader’s authority requires such strict discipline to be maintained that often even centurions and tribunes must simply obey orders. If every individual is allowed to query their orders, with discipline gone power itself is ended.
Suppose you have to take up arms in the dead of night? Shall one or two reckless and drunken men (since I cannot believe the recent madness due to more than mere disorder) stain their hands with a centurion’s or a tribune’s blood, or burst into their general’s tent?’
Book I:LXXXIV Otho calls for order
‘It is true that you did so for my sake: but in times of confusion, in the darkness and general uproar, it might have given the opportunity for an attack on me also. If Vitellius and his followers could choose the attitude and feelings by which we are possessed, would they not elect for discord and sedition? No soldier to obey his centurion, nor centurion his tribune, so that infantry and cavalry both might hurtle to their ruin? It is in obedience, my fellow soldiers, rather than in questioning the leaders’ orders that success in war resides, and the strongest army in a crisis is that which is the most disciplined prior to it.
Let yours be the weapons and the courage: leave me to plan and direct our forces. A few were at fault, and two in particular of them must pay: let the rest of you erase the memory of a dreadful night. And may no army ever again hear such outcries against the senate. They are the mind of empire, and the glory of the provinces. By Hercules, not even the Germans, whom Vitellius is now rousing against us, would dare to harm them! Shall any scion of Italy, any true Roman warrior, call for the blood, the very destruction, of that order by means of whose splendour and worth we outshine the base obscurity of Vitellius’ party?
Vitellius has won to himself certain tribes, it is true, but the senate is ours: so is the state therefore, while its very enemies support him. What? Do you think the finest city is built of houses, roof-tiles, heaps of stone? Such mute, inanimate things can perish, yet readily be replaced: our continuity of power, the peace of the world, my security and yours, depend on the stability of the senate. Let us leave to posterity this senate, founded by the father and creator of our city, succeeding in unbroken line from the age of kings to that of the emperors, as we received it from our fathers; for as senators rise from your ranks, so emperors rise from the ranks of senators.’
Book I:LXXXV Deep disquiet in Rome
This speech, designed to censure yet calm the soldiers, and his measured approach (since he had only ordered two of the mutineers punished) were gratefully acknowledged, and those whom force would not have restrained were quiet for the present. Yet the city was still disquieted: it betrayed the murmur of weapons, and the aspect of war, for the troops while not involved in wide disturbance were scattered in disguise among the houses, and kept a questioning eye on those whom birth, wealth, or high distinction made the object of gossip.
Most people thought that Vitellius’ soldiers too were in Rome to test support for the various parties, such that suspicion was everywhere and not even the privacy of the home was free from fear. But the greatest disquiet was in public, where men altered their views and expressions according to the news spread by rumour, so as not to seem downcast at unfavourable nor joyful at favourable news.
Indeed, when the senate assembled, it was hard to strike a balance, between avoiding sullen silence and exercising a suspicious licence, Otho soon perceiving flattery, he who had recently been a private citizen, and using the very terms himself. Thus the senators twisted and turned this way and that in their statements, while naming Vitellius an enemy and a traitor to the homeland, the most prescient making only a generalised protest, though some indeed hurled real abuse, yet only amidst the uproar and the mass of voices, or hiding their meaning in the tumult of their own words.
Book I:LXXXVI Signs and Omens
Strange events, reported by various sources, added to the fears: that the chariot reins had fallen from the goddess Victory’s hands, where her statue stood, at the entrance to the Capitol; that a more than human form had rushed from Juno’s chapel; that a statue of the deified Julius on an island in the Tiber had turned from west to east on a clear calm day; that an ox in Etruria had spoken, animals had produced weird offspring, and other events occurred that in more primitive ages it seems were observed even in peacetime but now are only heard of in times of anxiety.
Yet the greatest concern, a present problem and future danger, was the sudden overflow of the Tiber. Risen to a great height the river shattered the Pons Sublicius and, its current dammed by the bridge’s remnants, inundated not merely the low-lying areas of the city, but also those usually free of such problems. Many people in the streets were swept away, while more were trapped in their bedrooms or above shops. Famine overtook the masses denied work, food being scarce. The foundations of apartment blocks were undermined by the standing water, and collapsed when the flood ebbed.
And the fact that, at the very moment when people’s minds were freed from this danger, Otho’s route through the Campus Martius and the Flaminian Way was blocked, as he was preparing a military expedition, that too was interpreted not as simply unfortunate and due to natural causes but as a sign and an omen.
Book I:LXXXVII Otho initiates a campaign in Gaul
Otho had the city cleansed and pondered his plan of campaign. As the Poenine and Cottian Alps and the other routes into Gaul were held by Vitellius’ forces, he decided to attack Gallia Narbonensis with his loyal and formidable navy, whose sailors had hopes of a more desirable role in future, Otho having accorded full legionary status to the men who had survived the massacre at the Mulvian Bridge and been cruelly detained by Galba. He added the city cohorts and many praetorians to this navy, to give the force strength and solidity, and as advisors to, and guardians of, the commanders themselves.
He appointed two centurions of highest rank, Antonius Novellus and Suedius Clemens, to head the expedition, with Aemilius Pacensis, to whom he had restored the tribunate removed from him by Galba. Moschus, his freedman, retained command of the fleet, with his previous rank, in order to monitor the loyalty of the higher ranking officers. He further designated Suetonius Paulinus, Marius Celsus, and Annius Gallus to lead the infantry and cavalry, while placing greatest trust in Licinius Proculus, prefect of the praetorian guard.
Proculus, active in the city militia, but inexperienced in warfare, made Paulinus’ natural authority, Celsus’ energy, and Gallus’ mature ability, the traits which each respectively displayed, reasons for complaint, and with perverse cunning outmanoeuvred the virtuous and the unassuming.
Book I:LXXXVIII Fear in Rome
It was about this time that Cornelius Dolabella was banished to the colony of Aquinum, not secretly or under close watch, and not as a criminal, but due to his prominence, he being of ancient lineage and close to Galba.
Otho also commanded many of the magistrates and a large number of ex-consuls to join the expedition, not to participate or serve during the war but as a kind of retinue, and among them Lucius Vitellius, whom he treated not as an enemy due to his brother’s pretensions to rule, but in exactly the same manner as all the rest.
There was then anxiety in Rome; and no class was safe from fear and danger. The leading senators were old and weak, inactive after the long period of peace, while the idle nobility had forgotten the arts of war, and the knights were unused to military service. The more they all tried to hide or banish their misgivings, the more obvious these appeared.
Yet, in contrast, there were some foolish attention-seekers who bought fine armour and pedigree horses, others the trappings for luxurious banquets and the means to satisfy their desires, as provisions against time of war.
The wise cared for peace and the state; the light-minded, ignoring what was to come, were filled with idle hopes; for many of questionable loyalty in peacetime were eager for turbulent times, and felt more secure despite the instability.
Book I:LXXXIX The City exposed
But increasingly the great mass of the people, playing no part in the offices of state, began to feel the evils of conflict, since the finances were diverted to military use, and the price of food rose, something which had barely affected the populace during Vindex’s rebellion, since the city was secure and the fighting, considered an external conflict between the legions and the Gauls, was in the provinces,
Indeed, since the time when the now-deified Augustus had established the rule of the Caesars the Roman people had waged war abroad, bringing concern or glory to the Emperor alone; only under Tiberius and Caligula had peacetime disturbances affected the state; for Scribonianus’s rebellion against Claudius had been suppressed as soon as it was reported, while Nero was driven from power by rumour and report rather than by arms. But now the ships and legions, and, in a rare act, the praetorians and urban militia had been led away to war, and both East and West, with whatever forces they might have behind them, held the means for extended conflict had there been other generals intent on trouble.
Some called for a halt on religious grounds, the sacred shields not having been returned yet to their sanctuary, but Otho refused a delay such as had caused Nero’s ruin; and he was roused to action now Caecina had crossed the Alps.
Book I:XC Otho leaves for Gaul with his forces
On the fourteenth of March, entrusting the care of the state to the senate, Otho returned to those recalled from exile the residue of any property confiscated by Nero but not yet paid to the treasury; a just and seemingly generous award, though of scant benefit since the bulk of its value had been quickly realised long before.
He then called an assembly and extolled the greatness of Rome and the solidarity on his behalf shown by the senate and people, speaking with moderation against Vitellius’ supporters and blaming the legionaries for not being fully informed rather than for their audacity, while making no mention of Vitellius personally.
This may show restraint on his part or that his speechwriter, fearing for himself, may have omitted all disparagement of Vitellius, since it was thought that Otho employed Galerius Trachalus’s skills in such matters, as he did those of Suetonius Paulinus and Marius Celsus in military affairs, and there were those who recognised Trachalus’s style of oratory, known from his many court appearances, which was full and sonorous enough to fill the ears of the populace.
The customary clamour and cries of adulation from the crowd were markedly insincere: as though they were applauding the dictator Caesar, or the Emperor Augustus, contending in their enthusiasm and prayers not out of love or fear but from a passion for servitude. As in household slaves, each was driven by a private motive, while the good of the state seemed of no account.
As he set out, Otho entrusted the tranquillity of the city and the cares of the empire to his brother, Salvius Titianus.
End of the Histories Book I:LXI-XC