Book II: XXXII-LXIV Otho’s death, Vitellius seizes power
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
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- Book II:XXXII Suetonius Paulinus gives his opinion
- Book II:XXXIII Otho is persuaded to leave the front
- Book II:XXXIV The Vitellians bridge the River Po
- Book II:XXXV Macer defeated by the Germans
- Book II:XXXVI Flavius Sabinus takes command
- Book II:XXXVII Did Paulinus have imperial ambitions?
- Book II:XXXVIII The roots of civil war
- Book II:XXXIX Othonian lack of strategy
- Book II:XL Titianus overrules his generals
- Book II:XLI The two armies fight
- Book II:XLII The Vitellians charge
- Book II:XLIII The battle beside the river
- Book II:XLIV The defeated Othonians retreat to Bedriacum
- Book II:XLV The Vitellians grant terms
- Book II:XLVI Otho is exhorted to continue the war
- Book II:XLVII He decides otherwise
- Book II:XLVIII Otho dismisses his court
- Book II:XLIX His death
- Book II:L A brief biography of Otho
- Book II:LI Otho’s troops grant allegiance to Vitellius
- Book II:LII The Senators stranded at Modena
- Book II:LIII They return to Bologna
- Book II:LIV Rumour and confusion
- Book II:LV Vitellius celebrated as emperor in Rome
- Book II:LVI The aftermath of war in Italy
- Book II:LVII Vitellius realises his success
- Book II:LVIII The situation in North Africa
- Book II:LIX Vitellius at Lyon
- Book II:LX The fate of Otho’s adherents
- Book II:LXI Mariccus the Pretender
- Book II:LXII Vitellius begins his reign
- Book II:LXIII The charges against Dolabella
- Book II:LXIV The death of Dolabella
Book II:XXXII Suetonius Paulinus gives his opinion
Now Suetonius Paulinus thought it due his reputation, none being more skilled in military affairs, to comment on the whole progress of the war, explaining that the enemy’s advantage lay in haste, their own in delay, saying that Vitellius’s whole force was there, with nothing in reserve, since the Gallic provinces were restless and there was no sense in his abandoning the banks of the Rhine with so many hostile tribes ready to cross; that the troops in Britain were constrained by the enemy and the sea, and Spain had none to spare; that Gallia Narbonensis had been shaken by the fleet’s attack and their own failure in battle; that Italy north of the River Po, bordered by the Alps and with no means of relief by sea, had been devastated by the mere transit of an army; that there was no grain for an army, and no army could be maintained without resources; and that the Germans who were the fiercest tribe among their foes would soon be physically weakened, if the war extended into the summer, unable to tolerate the change of country and climate. Many wars, he argued, great at first came to nothing through tedium and inaction.
On the other hand with themselves all was security and plenty; Pannonia, Moesia, Dalmatia and the East, their armies intact; Italy and the centre of all things, Rome, with the senate and people, powers never hidden though sometimes in shadow; public and private capital, immense wealth, more weighty than the sword as regards civil strife; soldiers inured to Italy and the heat; the obstacle of the River Po; towns defended by walls and garrisons, which would never surrender to the enemy as was learned at Piacenza. Therefore the war should be prolonged. In a few days the Fourteenth legion, of great renown, would be there, and troops from Moesia also: then deliberations could resume, and if battle was sought there would be men to add to the fight.
Book II:XXXIII Otho is persuaded to leave the front
Marius Celsus supported Paulinus’ judgement, Annius Gallus also. Though the latter had been incapacitated by a fall from his horse a few days previously, a delegation had been sent to elicit and report his opinion.
Otho was inclined to fight, and his brother Titianus with Proculus, the praetorian prefect, rash as they were through inexperience, declared that fortune, the gods, and Otho’s own powers supported his decision, and would support its enactment, taking refuge in flattery lest any dared to oppose their stance.
After choosing to fight, they questioned whether it was not better for the emperor to leave the front rather than be involved himself in the conflict. Paulinus and Celsus now offered no opposition, lest they seemed to be exposing their leader to danger, and urged him to that same inferior strategy of withdrawing to Brescello (Brixellum) where free from the vagaries of battle he might devote himself to the overall control of the empire.
This was the moment that first doomed Otho’s cause, since a strong force of praetorian infantry, cavalry and scouts departed with him, dampening the spirits of the remainder, who doubted their generals, while Otho, in whom alone the troops had confidence just as he believed in none but the troops, had left their authority in doubt.
Book II:XXXIV The Vitellians bridge the River Po
None of this escaped the Vitellians, receiving, as is usual in civil war, many deserters; while the enemy scouts seeking to know the other side’s plans failed to conceal their own. Caecina and Valens, with a quiet intent, waited to profit from their opponent’s foolishness whenever his rashness should lead to disaster, a strategy which passes for wisdom.
Not wishing their own soldiers to waste their time idling, they began bridgeworks and made a feint of crossing the River Po to attack the band of gladiators opposite. They spaced out boats at equal distances, pointing upstream, linked together by strong spars at each end, and also deployed anchors to moor them firmly, but slackening the anchor cables not tightening them too much, so that as the river rose the boats were lifted without disturbance.
They secured the bridgehead by raising a tower on the last boat, from which they could repel the enemy with artillery and catapults, while the Othonians, constructing a tower on the opposite bank, hurled stones and burning brands at them.
Book II:XXXV Macer defeated by the Germans
There was an island in the centre of the river that the gladiators were trying to reach aboard boats, the Germans anticipating them by swimming across. When many had managed the passage, Macer filled some of Otho’s Liburnian galleys with the bravest of his gladiators and attacked.
But gladiators lack the steadiness in battle shown by regulars, and could not aim accurately enough from their swaying boats to cause damage, as the Germans could with a firm footing on the shore. As the anxious men fell against one another and fighters and oarsmen were thrown into confusion, the Germans leapt into the shallows, grasped the boats, and climbed aboard or dragged them under.
All this was visible to both armies, and the more the Vitellians rejoiced the greater the acrimony the Othonians felt against Macer the moving force and creator of the disaster.
Book II:XXXVI Flavius Sabinus takes command
And indeed the skirmish ended with the gladiators fleeing after rescuing the remaining boats. They called for Macer’s death, and had already attacked him with naked swords, he having been wounded by a lance hurled at him, when he was saved by the intervention of the centurions and tribunes.
Not long afterwards, Vestricius Spurinna arrived with his auxiliaries, having been sent by Otho, leaving a small garrison behind at Piacenza. Otho then despatched Flavius Sabinus, consul designate, as commander of the forces Macer had led, the soldiers showing delight at the change of generals, the generals disliking a command so marred by endless sedition.
Book II:XXXVII Did Paulinus have imperial ambitions?
I find in certain authors the idea that the armies, due to the terrors of warfare, or their aversion to both the candidates for emperor, whose shameful vices were daily more apparent and more notorious, wondered whether to abandon the fight and select an emperor through consultation among themselves or by allowing the senate to do so, which is why the Othonian generals advised a period of delay, Paulinus having the greatest aspiration, as the senior ex-consul, and one whose distinguished service in his British campaigns had won him fame and glory.
Now while I concede that a minority silently prayed for peace in place of discord, and desired a virtuous and blameless man for leader instead of the worst and most profligate, I think Paulinus, known for his caution, would never have expected in so corrupt an age such a degree of restraint by the masses that those who had destroyed the peace through their love of conflict might then abandon conflict through a liking for peace.
Nor do I think that the soldiers, differing in speech and manners, could ever have reached such a consensus, nor that the generals and their lieutenants most of whom were only too well aware of their own excesses, wants and vices would have tolerated an emperor untainted by sin and free of obligation to them.
Book II:XXXVIII The roots of civil war
The old desire for power, innate in humankind, flared with imperial greatness and then erupted. When means were modest equality was easy to maintain, but once the known world was subjugated, rival kings and states diminished, and wealth freely coveted then the first conflicts arose between patrician and plebeian. Now it was the tribunes who caused trouble, now the consuls became too strong, and civil war stirred in the forum and throughout the city.
Later Marius, of humblest plebeian birth, and Sulla, the cruellest of nobles, turned liberty, conquered by force, to tyranny. Pompey followed, stealthier but no better than they, and from then on the only aim was power. Legions of civilians kept their weapons from Pharsalia and Philippi; nor were the armies of Vitellius and Otho likely to choose peace of their own accord. The same divine anger, the same human madness, the same roots of crime drove them to conflict. That these wars were each ended at a single blow, as it were, was simply due to the ineffectuality of leaders.
But my thoughts on the character of ancient times and modern has led me far afield, and now I must again tell of things in their correct order.
Book II:XXXIX Othonian lack of strategy
With Otho off to Brescello (Brixellum) nominal command was held by his brother Titianus while real power lay with Proculus, the prefect. As for Celsus and Paulinus, whose experience no one made use of, their roles as generals were empty titles cloaking others’ faults. The tribunes and centurions lacked direction, better men being despised and the worst valued. The soldiers were in good spirits, but chose to criticise their leaders’ orders rather than perform them.
It was decided to transfer camp to a site four miles from Bedriacum, but the move was so organised that despite the spring weather and the many nearby rivers they were distressed by lack of water. There they pondered giving battle, Otho’s despatches demanding haste, the soldiers demanding that their emperor join the fight: many calling for the troops stationed across the River Po to be summoned.
Thus it is less easy to know what the best action might be than to know, after the fact, that the worst course has been taken.
Book II:XL Titianus overrules his generals
As if setting out on campaign rather than to fight a battle, they headed for the confluence of the Adda with the River Po, sixteen miles distant (near Cremona). Celsus and Paulinus refused to expose men, fatigued by marching and weighed down with baggage, to an enemy who, free of encumbrances and having advanced barely four miles, would not hesitate to attack while they themselves were marching in irregular order, or were dispersed while fortifying their encampment. Titianus and Proculus, though defeated in argument, referred to imperial authority. Indeed a Numidian arrived post-haste with direct orders from Otho who, tired of delay and refusing to wait on expectation, rebuked his generals for their inaction, and ordered them to initiate events.
Book II:XLI The two armies fight
On the same day that Caecina was preoccupied with bridge-construction, two tribunes of the praetorian cohorts came to request an interview. He was preparing to listen and respond to their proposals when his scouts suddenly announced the arrival of the enemy. The discussion with the tribunes being interrupted, it was uncertain whether it was some deceit or betrayal they were initiating or a matter for honest debate. Caecina, dismissing the tribunes, returned to camp where he found that Fabius Valens had ordered the signal for battle, and the troops were under arms.
While the legions were still casting lots to determine their position in line, the cavalry charged, but strange to relate only the courageous action of the Italian legion prevented them from being driven back to their entrenchments by an inferior force of Othonians, and forced the beaten cavalry at sword-point to turn and renew the fight. Meanwhile the Vitellian legions formed orderly lines despite the proximity of the enemy whose weaponry was hidden by dense thickets.
The generals on Otho’s side though were anxious, the soldiers were hostile to their generals, and there was a confusion of troops, camp-followers and wagons, the road with its deep ditches on either side being too narrow for the army to make a quiet approach. While some men were grouped around their proper standard, others were out of position; and there was a confused clamour on all sides as men called out and ran to their places, rushing to the front or slipping to the rear as courage or fear prompted.
Book II:XLII The Vitellians charge
The consternation caused by sudden apprehension on Otho’s side was quelled by false cheer, at the unwarranted news that Vitellius had been deserted by his men. It is not known whether Vitellius’ scouts deliberately spread the rumour, or whether it arose on Otho’s side by chance or treachery. The Othonians lost all zeal for battle and even cheered the enemy, who received their cries with hostile murmurs, which led to fear of treachery, many of Otho’s men being unaware of any cause for celebration.
Then the Vitellians charged in force, their lines intact and superior in strength and numbers, the Othonians resisting fiercely despite their lesser numbers, fatigue and disorder. The fighting revealed more than one aspect, the field of battle being obstructed by groves and vineyards , now being hand to hand, now at a distance, meeting by detachments or in column.
On the causeway (of the Via Postumia) they closed together, shields and bodies pressed against each other, unable to raise a spear but shattering helms and breastplates with axe and sword. They recognised one another, were visible to all the rest, fighting to decide the outcome of the entire war.
Book II:XLIII The battle beside the river
Two legions chanced to be engaged on the open plain between the River Po and the road; on the Vitellian side the Twenty-first, called Rapax, of long and glorious renown, and on the Othonian side the First Adiutrix, never before engaged in battle but spirited and eager for a first success.
The front ranks of the Twenty-First were cut down by the First and their eagle captured; the shame of which so incensed the legion that they drove the First backwards, killing their commander Orfidius Benignus and capturing many of the enemy colours and standards.
In another sector, the Othonian Fifth were routed by a charge of the Thirteenth, and the Fourth were attacked and surround by a superior force. Otho’s generals having fled long before, Caecina and Valens strengthened their troops with reserves. Fresh help arrived with Varus Alfenus and his Batavians, who had routed the gladiators in boats, meeting them with their cohorts as they crossed and slaughtering them, there and then, in the water; thus victorious they attacked the enemy flank.
Book II:XLIV The defeated Othonians retreat to Bedriacum
The Othonian centre once broken fled in disorder, making for Bedriacum. The distance was great, and piles of corpses obstructed the roads, which added to the carnage, there being no profit in captives in civil warfare.
Suetonius Paulinus and Licinius Proculus took different routes, avoiding the camp. Vedius Aquila, commander of the Thirteenth legion, was so panicked however that he foolishly entered the camp in broad daylight, encountered angry troops, and was quickly surrounded by a clamorous mob of mutinous fugitives, sparing him neither blows nor insults; calling him traitor and deserter, not because of any fault of his own but, as crowds do, imputing their own crimes to others.
Night came to the aid of Titianus and Celsus, for by then Annius Gallus had settled the troops and posted sentinels, persuading the men by a show of decisiveness, pleas, and authority, not to add to the disaster of their defeat by massacring their own leaders; arguing that whether they had ended their fight or chose to take up arms again, their only recourse having lost lay in unity.
Most were broken in spirit, but the praetorians complained they had been defeated by treachery not the enemy’s bravery, nor had the Vitellians won a bloodless victory, their cavalry having been repulsed, and the legion’s eagle captured; Otho with his force, on the far bank of the Po, remained unbeaten, the Moesian legions were on the way, and a large part of the army was still intact at Bedriacum, had certainly not been overcome, and that if it came to it, it was more honourable to die in battle.
By such comments, the furious and panic-stricken were roused more to anger than to terror.
Book II:XLV The Vitellians grant terms
But the Vitellian army took up position five miles from Bedriacum, their commanders not daring to storm the opposing troops on the same day; hoping too that they might surrender voluntarily: and while they themselves had set out ready for action and intent on battle, their victorious arms served now as their defence.
The following day, the wishes of Otho’s army being unambiguous, with even those who had been most vociferous inclined to compromise, a deputation was sent, and the Vitellian leaders did not hesitate for long before granting terms. However the deputation were detained for a time, and this created uncertainty for those who were as yet unaware whether peace had been achieved, until they returned when the gates of the camp were thrown open.
Then victors and vanquished shed tears, deploring, with a joy tinged with sadness, their involvement in civil war; and under the same canvas they tended the wounds of brothers and relations with no expectation of reward, and none so free of misfortune as not to mourn some loss, aware only of death and lamentation.
The corpse of Orfidius the legate having been found, he was cremated with the customary honours; a few others were interred by their relatives, the mass of the fallen were left on the field.
Book II:XLVI Otho is exhorted to continue the war
Calmly and with a certain resolve, Otho (at Brixellum) awaited news of the battle. First came gloomy reports, then the appearance of fugitives from the fighting announced the day was lost. The troops in their ardour would not let their emperor speak, insisting that he be of good cheer: there were yet fresh forces, and they themselves would dare and suffer all. Nor was this mere talk: afire with madness, well-nigh inspired, they burned for action to revive the fortunes of their party.
The soldiers near him clasped his knees, those further from him stretched out their hands. Plotius Firmus, prefect of the praetorian guard, was the most eager, begging Otho endlessly not to desert the most faithful of armies, the worthiest soldiers of all: saying that it was braver to endure adversity than to yield and moreover that the strong and resolute set hope against fate, it is the weak and cowardly who are soon driven to despair.
In the midst of these appeals, cheers or groans arose, according as Otho’s expression softened or hardened again. Not only the praetorians, Otho’s personal guard, but the advance troops from Moesia, reported that the contingents on their way were just as steadfast, and that the legions had entered Aquileia. So no one can doubt that the dreadful and disastrous conflict might well have been renewed, with uncertain outcome for the current victors and vanquished.
Book II:XLVII He decides otherwise
Otho himself was opposed to such thoughts of battle: ‘I think it too great a price to pay for my survival to expose such spirits as yours, such courage as yours, to further danger.’ My death will be the finer the greater the hope, if only life had been my choice, that you have offered. We know each other well Fortune and I. Do not count the days: it is hard to control the success one cannot long rely on.
Vitellius began the conflict, he began our contest in arms for power: but we shall not so contend again, for I shall set the example; let posterity judge Otho by this. Let Vitellius delight in brother, wife and heirs: I ask for neither vengeance nor solace. Others may rule the empire for longer, none shall relinquish it more bravely.
Should I again let so great a portion of Rome’s youth, so many fine troops, be massacred and lost to the state? I cherish the thought that you are ready to die for me, but you must live. Let us no longer linger, I speaking of your survival, you of my decision. It is cowardly to talk at length of death. Let the strongest proof of my determination be that I make complaint of none; it is for he who chooses to live to find fault with gods or men.’
Book II:XLVIII Otho dismisses his court
So saying, he urged them all, courteously, according to their age or rank, to leave swiftly and not incite the victor to anger, compelling the young men by his authority, urging their elders by his prayers. His expression was calm, his voice firm, as he checked his followers unseemly tears.
He then ordered boats and carriages be given to those who were leaving; destroyed all letters and documents displaying marked loyalty to himself or abuse of Vitellius; and distributed funds sparingly, not as if he were about to die.
Next he lovingly consoled his brother Titianus’ young son, Salvius Cocceianus, who was anxious and mournful, praising his dutiful feelings but reproving his fears: asking if he really thought Vitellius would prove so ungentle as to deny him like gratitude for protecting Vitellius’s own family; saying that by this swift ending, which saved the state fresh misfortune, and not ultimately in desperation but with an army yet demanding battle, he would earn the victor’s clemency.
He said also that he had won fame enough, nobility enough for his scions, being the first to confer power on a new family since the Julians, the Claudians and before them the Servii, therefore, with a resolute spirit, Salvius should grasp life, never forgetting that Otho was his uncle, nor meditating on that same fact to excess.
Book II:XLIX His death
Otho now dismissed them all and rested awhile. As his thoughts turned towards his last concerns, he was disturbed by a sudden uproar, announcing consternation and mutiny among the soldiers, who were threatening all those leaving with death, most forcefully Verginius, the Consul Suffectus, whom they had besieged in his shuttered house. Rebuking the authors of this sedition, Otho returned to grant audiences to those who were departing until all had left unharmed.
As evening fell, he quenched his thirst with a draught of cold water. Then two daggers being brought to him, he tested their sharpness, and placed one beneath his pillow. Once satisfied that his friends had left, he passed a quiet night, as is affirmed, and not without sleep.
At first light he leaned heavily on the steel: hearing his dying groans his freedmen and slaves entered, along with Plotius Firmus, prefect of the praetorian guard, to discover but the single wound.
His cremation was hastily arranged, a thing he had requested earnestly, lest his severed head be made sport of later. Praetorian guards carried his body, with shouts of praise and tears, kissing his hands and his solitary wound. Soldiers killed themselves beside the pyre, not through shame or fear, but to emulate his noble end, and through affection for their emperor. And afterwards this manner of death was practised, widely, at Bedriacum, Piacenza, and in other camps.
The tomb erected for Otho was modest and enduring. Thus he took leave of life, in his thirty-seventh year.
Book II:L A brief biography of Otho
Otho was born in the municipality of Ferento (Ferentinum), his father having been consul, his grandfather praetor: his maternal ancestry of lesser note, yet still respectable. His boyhood and youth were as we have described. Through two of his actions, the one murderous, the other noble, he won as great a reputation for evil as for good among posterity.
Though I would consider it detrimental to the seriousness of this work I have undertaken if I were to search out fabulous and fictitious stories to amuse my readers, I dare not deny consistent and traditional beliefs. Thus, on the day of the battle at Bedriacum, the locals say that a bird of unknown species settled in a much-frequented grove near Reggio (Regium Lepidum), and neither the crowd of people nor the other birds circling it scared the bird away, until after Otho’s suicide when it disappeared from sight: when the interval was computed from beginning to end of this marvel it had spanned the period of Otho’s death.
Book II:LI Otho’s troops grant allegiance to Vitellius
The tears and lamentations at Otho’s funeral drove the soldiers to fresh mutiny, with none to check it. The troops turned to Verginius, requesting in a threatening manner now that he accept imperial powers, now that he act as their ambassador to Caecina and Valens. Verginius however slipped away through the back door of his house in secret, and escaped as they broke in.
It was Rubrius Gallus who carried the appeals of the cohorts stationed at Brescello (Brixellum), and their immunity was swiftly granted, the troops Flavius Sabinus had commanded signalling through him their support for the victor.
Book II:LII The Senators stranded at Modena
Though the fighting had ceased everywhere, a large group of senators who had set out from Rome with Otho and remained at Modena (Mutina) met with extreme danger. There news that the war was over arrived, only to be scorned by the soldiers as a false rumour, and judging the senators hostile to Otho they monitored their conversations, interpreting their looks and bearing adversely. Resorting, in the end, to insults and abuse, they then looked for reasons to kill them, while another further threat oppressed the senators, that if Vitellius’ cause was in the ascendant they might be seen as slow in accepting his victory.
Thus the senators gathered together, anxious and fearful on both accounts, none ready with a plan, but each more secure from accusation in the larger group. The rank and file of Modena added their weight of cares to the frightened men by offering them money and weapons, and addressing them with the unfortunate title of Patricians Elect.
Book II:LIII They return to Bologna
A notable quarrel ensued when Licinius Caecina attacked Marcellus Eprius for propounding ambiguities. None of the others had ventured an opinion, but the name of Marcellus, who was known to have been an informer, being hateful to them and open to ill-comment, had provoked Caecina, a newcomer recently appointed to the senate, into seeking fame by making an enemy of the great. The wiser and more moderate senators parted them.
They all then returned to Bologna (Bononia) to continue their discussions, hoping for further news in the meantime. There, they posted men on the various roads to question newcomers, until one of Otho’s freedmen arrived, and on being asked why he was there, replied that he brought Otho’s last commands; that Otho had still been alive when he left, the emperor’s sole care being for posterity having renounced the blandishments of life.
At this, in admiration and ashamed to question further, all their support shifted to Vitellius.
Book II:LIV Rumour and confusion
His brother, Lucius Vitellius, now involved in their discussions, was already offering himself to their adulation, when one of Nero’s freedmen, Coenus, suddenly unnerved them all, by means of a downright lie, claiming that the victors had been crushed by the Fourteenth legion arriving to join the forces from Brescello, and that the fortunes of the armies had been reversed.
His reason for this invention was to renew by this joyful news the force of Otho’s letters of authority which were being treated as null and void. In fact, Coenus, hurriedly conveyed to Rome a few days later on Vitellius’s orders, paid the penalty for his deceit, but it had placed the senators in grave danger from the soldiers who had believed the news to be true.
That their departure from Modena and their desertion from Otho’s cause had the appearance of a formal decision only added to their alarm. They no longer gathered together, each thinking only of himself, until despatches from Fabius Valens banished their fears. And the laudable nature of Otho’s death spread the news of it all the quicker.
Book II:LV Vitellius celebrated as emperor in Rome
But there was no alarm in Rome; and the festival of Ceres (April 12-19) was celebrated in the usual way. When it was announced in the theatre on good authority that Otho was dead, and that Flavius Sabinus, the city prefect, had administered the oath of allegiance to Vitellius involving all the soldiers in the city, Vitellius was applauded; and people carried images of Galba, laurels, and flowers from temple to temple; piling wreaths, as if to form a burial mound, beside the Lacus Curtius, which the dying Galba had stained with his blood.
In the Senate, all that had been decreed by a long line of emperors was conferred on Vitellius; praise and gratitude towards the troops from Germany was added, and a legation sent to deliver this expression of joy. Letters from Fabius Valens to the consuls were read out, modestly written: though there was appreciation for Caecina’s greater modesty in not writing at all.
Book II:LVI The aftermath of war in Italy
Elsewhere Italy’s distress was harsher and more painful than that inflicted by the war. Dispersed throughout the municipalities and colonies, the Vitellian troops despoiled, pillaged, and defiled all with their violence and debauchery: in everything, whether sacred or profane, their greed and venality proved indifferent to right or wrong.
There were men who, in the guise of soldiers, murdered their personal enemies; and the soldiers themselves, knowing the country round about, marked out the best land, the richest owners for plunder or, should they resist, for slaughter; the generals, being beholden to the troops, not daring to stop them. Valens, notorious for his greed and acquisitiveness, was the more indifferent to the crimes of others, while Caecina though showing less avarice revealed his desire for popularity.
Italy, its wealth long since exhausted, could scarcely endure the violence, damage and injury caused by all this mass of horsemen and infantry.
Book II:LVII Vitellius realises his success
Meanwhile, Vitellius, unaware of victory, was leading his remaining forces from Germany as if to an uncertain outcome. Leaving only a few veterans in the winter quarters he was raising levies throughout the Gallic provinces to fill the ranks of the legions left behind.
He assigned the guardianship of the Rhine to Hordeonius Flaccus; while he himself added eight thousand select troops from the army of Britain to his own forces. A few days into his advance he learned of the success at Bedriacum and that with Otho’s death the civil war was over. Calling his men together, he heaped praise on his brave troops. When the army demanded he grant equestrian status to his freedman Asiaticus, a vile and servile creature, popular only with imperial greatness because of his dark arts, Vitellius checked their ignoble adulation; but later, at a private banquet, out of the fickleness of his nature, he honoured Asiaticus with the gold ring, which he had refused to do openly.
Book II:LVIII The situation in North Africa
At this time, news arrived that after the killing of the procurator, Lucceius Albinus, the two Mauretanian provinces had joined the Vitellian cause. Albinus, whom Nero had appointed governor of Mauretania Caesariensis (to the east), Galba then adding the administration of Tingitana (to the west), had controlled a sizeable body of men. It comprised nineteen infantry cohorts, five cavalry squadrons, and a large number of Mauri, apt for warfare being thieves and brigands.
Following Galba’s assassination, favouring Otho and not content with ruling North Africa, Albinus set his sights on Spain, over the narrow strait. This troubled Cluvius Rufus, and he ordered the Tenth legion to the coast as if to effect a crossing of their own, and sent centurions ahead to win the Mauri to the Vitellian cause. This was not difficult as the army of Germany had an outstanding reputation in the provinces, moreover rumour had it that Albinus, scorning the name procurator, had usurped Juba’s royal insignia and title.
Book II:LIX Vitellius at Lyon
Upon this reversal of sentiment, Asinius Pollio, prefect of cavalry and one of those most loyal to Albinus, was assassinated, along with Festus and Scipio, the cohort commanders. Albinus himself was killed as he landed, while trying to reach Caesariensis from Tingitana by sea, his wife choosing to die with him at the hands of the assassins. Vitellius made no enquiry into these events; unequal to such serious matters, he dismissed them, however grave, after a brief hearing.
Ordering his army to proceed by an inland route, he himself sailed down the Saône, without imperial magnificence, but rather displaying his old poverty, until the governor of Gallia Lugudunensis, Junius Blaesus, of illustrious ancestry, generous spirit and matching wealth, surrounded him with an imperial retinue, liberally staffed, earning himself resentment, though Vitellius cloaked his antipathy in clever blandishments.
At Lyon, the generals on both sides, the conquerors and the conquered, were present. In a public speech he praised Valens and Caecina, placed on either side of his official chair. Then he ordered the whole army to parade before his infant son, who wrapped in a general’s cloak he held in his arms, calling him Germanicus, and surrounding him with all the insignia of imperial power. The granting of these excessive honours in prosperity remained a solace in misfortune.
Book II:LX The fate of Otho’s adherents
Then the centurions who had supported Otho most readily were executed, which was a primary factor in turning the army in Illyricum against Vitellius. The other legions were likewise affected and being ill-disposed to the army of Germany began to think of war.
Suetonius Paulinus and Licinius Proculus were held in squalid conditions, anxiously awaiting an audience, during which they subsequently employed a defence born of necessity rather than honour. Charging themselves with treachery against Otho, they blamed themselves for the long march before the battle and the weariness of Otho’s troops, for the entanglement with the baggage train, and a host of other misfortunes. And Vitellius, crediting them with treachery, dismissed the charge of loyalty laid against them.
Otho’s brother, Salvius Titianus, was never in danger, forgiven on the grounds of duty to his brother, and his own ineffectiveness. Marius Celsus kept his consulship: but a widely accepted tale later led to the charge in the Senate against Caecilius Simplex that he had been prepared to buy the consulship if only Celsus were executed. Vitellius though had refrained, and afterwards gave Simplex a consulship involving neither cost nor ill-intent. Trachalus was protected from his accusers by Vitellius’s wife, Galeria.
Book II:LXI Mariccus the Pretender
While the great were in danger, it is shameful to say, a certain Mariccus, a commoner from the tribe of the Boii, pretending divine authority, dared to chance his fortune and challenge the Roman forces. This self-styled god and liberator of the Gallic provinces, gathering eight thousand men, was already plundering the Aeduan cantons nearby, when the finest youth of that vital state, with cohorts assigned by Vitellius, scattered that fanatical host. Mariccus was captured during the battle. The foolish rabble continued to think him inviolable, because he was not torn apart when exposed to wild beasts, until he met death in Vitellius’s sight.
Book II:LXII Vitellius begins his reign
No further severity was shown concerning the defeated or their assets. Wills, and the law regarding intestacy, were upheld. Indeed fear of Vitellius’s avarice might have been quelled, if he had tempered his desire for pleasure. His love of feasting was insatiable and shameful. Gourmet items to tempt his palate were ferried from Rome and wider Italy, the roads from the coasts alive with traffic; the banquet preparations ruined whole communities along with their leading citizens; and the soldiers shirked all duty and effort, accustomed now to indulging their pleasures and despising their leader.
Vitellius issued an edict in Rome, ahead of his arrival, declining the title Augustus and the name of Caesar, though rejecting none of the imperial powers. Astrologers were banished from Italy; strict measures were enacted barring knights from degrading involvement in gladiatorial schools or the arena. Past emperors had driven such men to participate, by bribery or more often force, and most municipalities and colonies seduced the most immoral of their youths with prize-money, in emulation.
Book II:LXIII The charges against Dolabella
But Vitellius, on his brother’s arrival and at the prompting of his instructors in tyranny, growing in arrogance and savagery, ordered Dolabella’s execution. Dolabella, whose banishment by Otho to the colony of Aquino we previously related, had returned to Rome after hearing of Otho’s death: he was charged on this account by an ex-praetor, Plancius Varus, who had been one of Dolabella’s closest intimates, before the city prefect, Flavius Sabinus. To the charge of absconding from custody and offering himself as leader to the defeated party, Varus added that of trying to win over the cohort stationed at Ostia, but being unable to provide proof of such criminality and repenting of his actions he sought pardon for Dolabella, too late and after the fact.
While Flavius Sabinus hesitated over so serious a matter, Triaria, Vitellius’s sister-in-law, ferocious beyond her gender, warned Sabinus not to seek a reputation for clemency at the emperor’s expense. Sabinus, gentle by disposition, wavered all too readily when gripped by fear and, frightened for himself when danger threatened another, not to be seen to be aiding him precipitated Dolabella’s ruin.
Book II:LXIV The death of Dolabella
Vitellius, who feared and hated Dolabella because the latter had married Vitellius’s ex-wife, Petronia, therefore summoned him by letter telling him to avoid the busy Flaminian Road and stop at Terni (Interamnium), where he had secretly ordered Dolabella killed. His assassin, thinking the journey too long, reaching a roadside inn, threw Dolabella to the ground and slit his throat, an action causing great ill-will to be felt towards to the new emperor, it being regarded as a first indication of his disposition.
Triaria’s excess was weighed against the examples of moderation from within her close circle, since the Emperor’s wife, Galeria, never involved herself in such horrors, while Sextilla, his mother, was of equal probity, upholding the morality of former days. Indeed, it is said, that on receiving the first letter signed by her son as Emperor she commented that she had borne a Vitellius, but no Germanicus. She never afterwards evinced joy at fortune’s glitter or popular support, feeling only the great misfortunes of her house.
End of the Histories Book II:XXXII-LXIV