Caius Cornelius Tacitus.

Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II online

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country, and sacked a charming and much-frequented watering-place,[140]
which had grown during the long peace into the size and importance of
a town. Instructions were sent to the Raetian auxiliaries to attack
the Helvetii in the rear, while their attention was occupied with the

Full of spirit beforehand, the Helvetii were terrified in the face 68
of danger. At the first alarm they had chosen Claudius Severus
general, but they knew nothing of fighting or discipline and were
incapable of combined action. An engagement with the Roman veterans
would be disastrous; and the walls, dilapidated by time, could not
stand a siege. They found themselves between Caecina and his powerful
army on the one side, and on the other the Raetian auxiliaries, both
horse and foot, and the whole fighting force of Raetia as well,
trained soldiers well used to fighting.[141] Their country was given
over to plunder and massacre. Flinging away their arms, they wandered
miserably between two fires. Wounded and scattered, most of them took
refuge on the Bötzberg.[142] But some Thracian auxiliaries were
promptly sent to dislodge them. The German army, aided by the
Raetians, pursued them through the woods, and cut them to pieces in
their hiding-places. Many thousands were killed and many sold as
slaves. Having completed the work of destruction, the army advanced in
hostile array against Aventicum,[143] their capital town, and were met
by envoys offering surrender. The offer was accepted. Caecina executed
Julius Alpinus, one of their chief men, as the prime instigator of the
revolt. The rest he left to experience the clemency or cruelty of

It is hard to say whether these envoys found Vitellius or the army the
more implacable. The soldiers clamoured for the destruction of the
town,[144] and shook their fists and weapons in the envoys' faces:
even Vitellius indulged in threatening language. Ultimately, however,
Claudius Cossus, one of the envoys, a noted speaker who greatly
enhanced the effect of his eloquence by concealing his skill under a
well-timed affectation of nervousness, succeeded in softening the
hearts of the soldiers. A mob is always liable to sudden changes of
feeling, and the men were as sensible to pity as they had been
extravagant in their brutality. Thus with streams of tears and
importunate prayers for a better answer the envoys procured a free
pardon for Aventicum.[145]

Caecina halted for a few days in Helvetian territory until he 70
could get news of Vitellius' decision. Meantime, while carrying on his
preparations for crossing the Alps, he received from Italy the joyful
news that 'Silius' Horse',[146] stationed at Padua, had come over to
Vitellius. The members of this troop had served under Vitellius when
pro-consul in Africa. They had subsequently been detached under orders
from Nero to precede him to Egypt, and had then been recalled, owing
to the outbreak of the war with Vindex. They were now in Italy. Their
officers, who knew nothing of Otho and were attached to Vitellius,
extolled the strength of the approaching column and the fame of the
German army. So the troop went over to Vitellius, bringing their new
emperor a gift of the four strongest towns of the Transpadane
district, Milan, Novara, Eporedia,[147] and Vercelli. Of this they
informed Caecina themselves. But one troop of horse could not garrison
the whole of the widest part of Italy. Caecina accordingly hurried
forward the Gallic, Lusitanian, and British auxiliaries, and some
German detachments, together with 'Petra's Horse',[148] while he
himself hesitated whether he should not cross the Raetian Alps[149]
into Noricum and attack the governor, Petronius Urbicus, who, having
raised a force of irregulars and broken down the bridges, was supposed
to be a faithful adherent of Otho. However, he was afraid of losing
the auxiliaries whom he had sent on ahead, and at the same time he
considered that there was more glory in holding Italy, and that,
wherever the theatre of the war might be, Noricum was sure to be among
the spoils of victory. So he chose the Pennine route[150] and led his
legionaries and the heavy marching column across the Alps, although
they were still deep in snow.[151]


[138] In Western Switzerland. Caesar had finally subdued them
in 58 B.C.

[139] This had happened before Caecina's arrival. Vindonissa,
their head-quarters (chap. 61, note 123), was on the borders
of the Helvetii.

[140] _Aquae Helvetiorum_ or _Vicus Aquensis_, about 16 miles
NW. of Zurich.

[141] Volunteers, not conscripts.

[142] Mount Vocetius.

[143] Avenches.

[144] Avenches.

[145] Vespasian made it a Latin colony.

[146] Probably raised by C. Silius, who was Governor of Upper
Germany under Tiberius. Troops of auxiliary horse were usually
named either after the governor of the province who first
organized the troop or after the country where it had first
been stationed, or where it had won fame.

[147] Ivrea.

[148] Petra occurs as the name of two Roman knights in _Ann._
xi. 4. One of these or a relative was probably the original
leader of the troop.

[149] The Arlberg.

[150] Great St. Bernard.

[151] Early in March.


Meanwhile, contrary to all expectation, Otho was no prey to idle 71
luxury. He postponed his pleasures and disguised his extravagance,
suiting all his behaviour to the dignity of his position. But people
knew they had not seen the last of his vices, and his virtuous
hypocrisy only increased their alarm. He gave orders to summon Marius
Celsus to the Capitol. This was the consul-elect whom he had rescued
from the savage clutches of the soldiers by pretending to put him in
prison.[152] Otho now wanted to earn a name for clemency by pardoning
a well-known man, who had fought against his party. Celsus was firm.
Pleading guilty to the charge of fidelity to Galba, he went on to show
that he had set an example which was all to Otho's advantage. Otho
treated him as if there was nothing to pardon. Calling on heaven to
witness their reconciliation, he then and there admitted him to the
circle of his intimate friends, and subsequently gave him an
appointment as one of his generals. Celsus remained faithful to Otho
too, doomed apparently to the losing side. His acquittal, which
delighted the upper classes and was popular with the mass of the
people, even earned the approval of the soldiers, who now admired the
qualities which had previously aroused their indignation.

Equal rejoicing, though for different reasons, followed the 72
long-looked-for downfall of Ofonius Tigellinus. Born of obscure
parentage, he had grown from an immoral youth into a vicious old man.
He rose to the command first of the Police,[153] and then of the
Praetorian Guards, finding that vice was a short cut to such rewards
of virtue. In these and other high offices he developed the vices of
maturity, first cruelty, then greed. He corrupted Nero and introduced
him to every kind of depravity; then ventured on some villainies
behind his back, and finally deserted and betrayed him. Thus in his
case, as in no other, those who hated Nero and those who wished him
back agreed, though from different motives, in calling loudly for his
execution. During Galba's reign he had been protected by the influence
of Titus Vinius, on the plea that he had saved his daughter. Saved her
he had, not from any feelings of pity (he had killed too many for
that), but to secure a refuge for the future. For all such rascals,
distrusting the present and fearing a change of fortune, always
prepare for themselves a shelter against public indignation by
obtaining the favour of private persons. So they rely to escape
punishment not on their innocence but on a system of mutual insurance.
People were all the more incensed against Tigellinus, since the recent
feeling against Vinius was added to their old hatred for him. From all
quarters of Rome they flocked to the palace and the squares; and above
all, in the circus and the theatre, where the mob enjoys complete
licence, they assembled in crowds and broke out into riotous uproar.
Eventually Tigellinus at Sinuessa Spa[154] received the news that his
last hour was inevitably come. There after a cowardly delay in the
foul embraces of his prostitutes he cut his throat with a razor, and
blackened the infamy of his life by a hesitating and shameful death.

About the same time there arose a demand for the punishment of 73
Calvia Crispinilla. But she was saved by various prevarications, and
Otho's connivence cost him some discredit. This woman had tutored Nero
in vice, and afterwards crossed to Africa to incite Clodius Macer[155]
to civil war. While there she openly schemed to start a famine in
Rome. However, she secured herself by marrying an ex-consul, and lived
to enjoy a wide popularity in Rome. She escaped harm under Galba,
Otho, and Vitellius, and eventually wielded a great influence due to
her being both rich and childless, considerations of the first
importance in any state of society.

During this time Otho wrote constantly to Vitellius, holding out 74
various effeminate inducements, making him offers of money or an
influential position, or any retreat he liked to select for a life of
luxury.[156] Vitellius made similar offers. At first both wrote in the
mildest tone, though the affectation on either side was stupid and
inappropriate. But they soon struck a quarrelsome note, and reproached
each other with immorality and crime, both with a good deal of truth.
Otho recalled the commission which Galba had sent out to Germany,[157]
and, using the pretext of senatorial authority, sent fresh
commissioners to both the armies in Germany, and also to the Italian
legion, and the troops quartered at Lugdunum. However, the
commissioners remained with Vitellius with a readiness which showed
they were under no compulsion; and the guards who had been attached to
them, ostensibly as a mark of honour, were sent back at once before
they had time to mix with the legionary soldiers. Further than this,
Fabius Valens sent letters in the name of the German army to the
Guards and the City Garrison, extolling the strength of his own side
and offering to join forces. He even went so far as to reproach them
with having transferred to Otho the title which had long before[158]
been conferred on Vitellius. Thus they were assailed with threats 75
as well as promises, and told that they were not strong enough to
fight, and had nothing to lose by making peace. But, in spite of all,
the fidelity of the Guards remained unchanged. However, Otho
dispatched assassins to Germany, Vitellius to Rome. Neither met with
success. Vitellius' assassins were lost in the crowds of Rome, where
nobody knows anybody, and thus escaped detection: Otho's were betrayed
by their strange faces, since the troops all knew each other by sight.
Vitellius then composed a letter to Otho's brother Titianus,[159]
threatening that his life and his son's should answer for the safety
of Vitellius' mother and children. As it happened neither household
suffered. Fear was perhaps the reason in Otho's time, but Vitellius,
after his victory, could certainly claim credit for clemency.

The first news which gave Otho any degree of confidence was the 76
announcement from Illyricum that the legions of Dalmatia and Pannonia
and Moesia[160] had sworn allegiance to him. Similar news arrived from
Spain, and Cluvius Rufus[161] was commended in a special decree, but
it was found out immediately afterwards that Spain had gone over to
Vitellius. Even Aquitania soon fell away, although Julius Cordus had
sworn in the province for Otho. Loyalty and affection seemed dead: men
changed from one side to the other under the stress of fear or
compulsion. It was fear which gave Vitellius the Province of Narbonese
Gaul,[162] for it is easy to go over when the big battalions are so
near. The distant provinces and the troops across the sea all remained
at Otho's disposal, but not from any enthusiasm for his cause; what
weighed with them was the name of Rome and the title of the senate.
Besides, Otho had got the first hearing. Vespasian swore in the Jewish
army[163] for Otho, and Mucianus the legions in Syria;[164] Egypt too
and all the provinces towards the East were held for him. He also
received the submission of Africa, where Carthage had taken the lead,
without waiting for the sanction of the governor, Vipstanus
Apronianus. Crescens, one of Nero's freedmen - in evil days these
creatures play a part in politics[165] - had given the common people of
the town a gala dinner in honour of the new emperor, with the result
that the inhabitants hurried into various excesses. The other African
communities followed the example of Carthage.

The provinces and their armies being thus divided, Vitellius could 77
only win the throne by fighting. Otho meanwhile was carrying on the
government as if the time were one of profound peace. Sometimes he
consulted the country's dignity, though more often the exigencies of
the moment forced him into unseemly haste. He held the consulship
himself with his brother Titianus as colleague until the first of
March. For the next two months he appointed Verginius, as a sort of
sop to the army in Germany.[166] As colleague he gave him Pompeius
Vopiscus, ostensibly because he was an old friend of his own, but it
was generally understood as a compliment to Vienne.[167] For the rest
of the year the appointments which Nero or Galba had made were allowed
to stand. The brothers Caelius and Flavius Sabinus[168] were consuls
for June and July, Arrius Antoninus[169] and Marius Celsus for August
and September; even Vitellius after his victory did not cancel their
appointment. To the pontifical and augural colleges Otho either
nominated old ex-magistrates, as the final crown of their career, or
else, when young aristocrats returned from exile, he instated them by
way of recompense in the pontifical posts which their fathers or
grandfathers had held. He restored Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus, and
_Saevinus Proculus_[170] to their seats in the senate. They had been
convicted during Claudius' and Nero's reigns of extortion in the
provinces. In pardoning them the name of their offence was changed,
and their greed appeared as 'treason'. For so unpopular was the law of
treason that it sapped the force of better statutes.[171]

Otho next tried to win over the municipalities and provincial 78
towns by similar bribes. At the colonies of Hispalis and Emerita[172]
he enrolled new families of settlers, granted the franchise to the
whole community of the Lingones,[173] and made over certain Moorish
towns as a gift to the province of Baetica. Cappadocia and Africa were
also granted new privileges, as showy as they were short-lived. All
these grants are excused by the exigences of the moment and the
impending crisis, but he even found time to remember his old amours
and passed a measure through the senate restoring Poppaea's
statues.[174] He is believed also to have thought of celebrating
Nero's memory as a means of attracting public sympathy. Some persons
actually erected statues of Nero, and there were times when the
populace and the soldiers, by way of enhancing his fame and dignity,
saluted him as Nero Otho. However, he refused to commit himself. He
was ashamed to accept the title, yet afraid to forbid its use.

While the whole of Rome was intent upon the civil war, foreign 79
affairs were neglected. Consequently a Sarmatian tribe called the
Rhoxolani,[175] who had cut up two cohorts of auxiliaries in the
previous winter, now formed the still more daring scheme of invading
Moesia. Inspirited by success, they assembled nearly 9,000 mounted
men, all more intent on plunder than on fighting. While they were
riding about aimlessly without any suspicion of danger, they were
suddenly attacked by the Third legion[176] and its native auxiliaries.
On the Roman side everything was ready for a battle: the Sarmatians
were scattered over the country; some in their greed for plunder were
heavily laden, and their horses could scarcely move on the slippery
roads. They were caught in a trap and cut to pieces. It is quite
extraordinary how all a Sarmatian's courage is, so to speak, outside
himself. Fighting on foot, no one is more cowardly; but their cavalry
charge would break almost any troops. On this occasion it was raining
and the ground was greasy with thaw; their pikes and their long
swords, needing both hands to wield, were useless; their horses
slipped and they were encumbered by the heavy coat of mail which all
their chiefs and nobles wear. Being made of iron plates and a very
hard kind of leather, it is impenetrable to blows, but most
inconvenient for any one who is knocked down by a charge of the enemy
and tries to get up. Besides, they sank into the deep, soft snow. The
Roman soldiers in their neat leather jerkins, armed with javelin and
lance, and using, if need be, their light swords, sprang on the
unarmed Sarmatians (they never carry shields) and stabbed them at
close quarters. A few, surviving the battle, hid themselves in the
marshes, and there perished miserably from the severity of the winter
and their wounds. When the news of this reached Rome, Marcus Aponius,
the governor of Moesia, was granted a triumphal statue,[177] while the
commanding officers of the legions, Fulvius Aurelius, Tettius
Julianus, and Numisius Lupus, received the insignia of consular rank.
Otho was delighted and took all the credit to himself, as if he had
been the successful general, and had himself employed his officers and
armies to enlarge the empire.

In the meantime a riot broke out in an unexpected quarter, and, 80
though trivial at first, nearly ended in the destruction of Rome. Otho
had given orders that the Seventeenth cohort[178] should be summoned
from the colony of Ostia to the city, and Varius Crispinus, a tribune
of the guards, was instructed to provide them with arms. Anxious to
carry out his instructions undisturbed while the camp was quiet, he
arranged that the arsenal was to be opened and the cohort's wagons
loaded after nightfall. The hour aroused suspicion; the motive was
questioned; his choice of a quiet moment resulted in an uproar. The
mere sight of swords made the drunken soldiers long to use them. They
began to murmur and accuse their officers of treachery, suggesting
that the senators' slaves were going to be armed against Otho. Some of
them were too fuddled to know what they were saying: the rascals saw
a chance of plunder: the mass of them, as usual, were simply eager for
a change: and such as were loyal could not carry out their orders in
the darkness. When Crispinus tried to check them, the mutineers killed
him together with the most determined of the centurions, seized their
armour, bared their swords, and mounting the horses, made off at full
speed for Rome and the palace.

It so happened that a large party of Roman senators and their 81
wives was dining with Otho. In their alarm they wondered whether the
soldiers' outbreak was unpremeditated or a ruse of the emperor's:
would it be safer to fly in all directions or to stay and be arrested?
At one moment they would make a show of firmness, at the next their
terror betrayed them. All the time they were watching Otho's face,
and, as happens when people suspect each other, he was just as afraid
himself as they were of him. But feeling no less alarm for the
senators than for himself, he promptly dispatched the prefects of the
Guards to appease the anger of the troops, and told all his guests to
leave immediately. Then on all sides Roman officials could be seen to
throw away their insignia, avoid their suite, and slink off
unattended. Old gentlemen and their wives roamed the dark streets in
all directions. Few went home, most of them fled to friends, or sought
an obscure refuge with the humblest of their clients.

The soldiers' onrush could not be stopped at the gates of the 82
palace. They demanded to see Otho and invaded the banquet-hall.
Julius Martialis, a tribune of the Guards, and Vitellius Saturninus,
the camp-prefect[179] of the legion, were wounded while endeavouring
to bar their progress. On every side they brandished swords and hurled
threats, now against their officers, now against the whole senate; and
since they could not select any one victim for their wrath, in a blind
frenzy of panic they clamoured for a free hand against all the
senators. At last Otho, sacrificing his dignity, stood up on a couch
and with great difficulty restrained them by means of prayers and
tears. They returned to their camp unwillingly, and with a guilty

The next day Rome was like a captured city. The houses were all shut,
the streets almost deserted, and everybody looked depressed. The
soldiers, too, hung their heads, though they were more sulky than
sorry for what they had done. Their prefects, Licinius Proculus and
Plotius Firmus, harangued them by companies, the one mildly, the other
harshly, for they were men of different natures. They concluded by
announcing that the men were to receive five thousand sesterces[180]
apiece. After that Otho ventured to enter the camp. The tribunes and
centurions each flinging away the insignia of his rank,[181] crowded
round him begging for a safe discharge. Stung by the disgrace of this,
the troops soon quieted down, and even went the length of demanding
that the ringleaders should be punished. In the general disturbance
Otho's position was difficult. The soldiers were by no means 83
unanimous. The better sort wanted him to put a stop to the prevalent
insubordination, but the great bulk of them liked faction-fighting and
emperors who had to court their favour, and with the prospect of
rioting and plunder were ready enough for civil war. He realized,
also, that one who wins a throne by violence cannot keep it by
suddenly trying to enforce the rigid discipline of earlier days.
However, the danger of the crisis both for the city and the senate
seriously alarmed him, so he finally delivered himself as follows: -

'Fellow soldiers, I have not come to fan the fire of your affection
for me, or to instil courage into your hearts: in both those qualities
you are more than rich. No, I have come to ask you to moderate your
courage and to set some bounds to your affection. These recent
disturbances did not originate in those passions of greed or violence,
which so often cause dissension in an army; nor was it that you
feared some danger and tried to shirk it. The sole cause was your
excessive loyalty, which you displayed with more ardour than
judgement. For with the best of motives, indiscretion often lands men
in disaster. We are preparing for war. Do you imagine that we could
publish all our dispatches, and discuss our plans in the presence of
the whole army, when we have to devise a systematic campaign and keep
up with the rapid changes of the situation? There are things a soldier
ought to know, but there is much of which he must be ignorant. It is
necessary for the maintenance of strict discipline and of the
general's authority that even his tribunes and centurions should often
obey blindly. If every one is going to inquire into his motives,
discipline is done for, and his authority falls to the ground. Suppose
in actual warfare you are called to arms at dead of night: shall a few
drunken blackguards - for I cannot believe that many lost their heads
in the recent panic - go and stain their hands with their officers'
blood, and then break into the general's tent?

'Now I know you did it to protect me, but the riot and the 84
darkness and the general confusion might easily have provided an
opportunity to kill me. Suppose Vitellius and his satellites had their
choice of the state of mind they would pray to find us in; what more
could they desire than mutiny and dissension, the men insubordinate to
the centurions, and the centurions to their superior officers, and the
whole force, horse and foot alike, rushing in headlong confusion to
their ruin? Good soldiering, my comrades, consists in obedience, not
in scrutinizing the general's orders; and the army which is most
orderly in peace is most courageous on the field of battle. Yours are
the swords and the courage; you must leave it to me to plan the

Online LibraryCaius Cornelius TacitusTacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II → online text (page 6 of 29)