Caius Cornelius Tacitus.

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suspicion among the Othonians, who put a bad construction on all that
their generals did. All the least courageous and most impudent of the
troops vied incessantly with each other in bringing various charges
against Annius Gallus, Suetonius Paulinus, and Marius Celsus, for the
two latter had also been placed in command by Otho.[264] The most
energetic in promoting mutiny and dissension were Galba's murderers,
who, maddened by their feelings of fear and of guilt, created endless
disorder, sometimes talking open sedition, sometimes sending anonymous
letters to Otho. As he always believed men of the meaner sort and
distrusted patriots, he now wavered nervously, being always irresolute
in success and firmer in the face of danger. He therefore sent for his
brother Titianus[265] and gave him the chief command.

Meanwhile success attended the generalship of Paulinus and 24
Celsus.[266] Caecina was tortured by his constant failure and the
waning reputation of his army. Repulsed from Placentia, he had lately
seen his auxiliaries defeated, and his patrols constantly worsted in
skirmishes more frequent than memorable. Now that Fabius Valens was
close at hand, he determined not to let all the glory of the war fall
to him, and hastened with more zeal than prudence to retrieve his
reputation. About twelve miles[267] distant from Cremona, at a place
called _Twin Brethren_,[268] he carefully concealed the bravest of his
auxiliaries in a wood overlooking the road. The cavalry were ordered
to ride forward down the road and provoke an engagement. They were
then to feign flight and lure the pursuers on in hot haste until they
fell into the ambush. This plan was betrayed to Otho's generals.
Paulinus took charge of the infantry, Celsus of the horse. A
detachment of the Thirteenth legion,[269] four auxiliary cohorts of
foot, and five hundred cavalry were stationed on the left flank. Three
cohorts of the Guards in column occupied the raised high-road.[270] On
the right flank marched the First legion, two auxiliary cohorts of
foot, and five hundred cavalry. Besides these they moved out a
thousand cavalry - Guards and auxiliaries - as a reserve to crown their
success, or assist them in difficulties.

Before they came to close quarters, the Vitellians began to 25
retire. Celsus, forewarned of the ruse, halted his men. Whereupon the
Vitellians impatiently rose from their ambush and, while Celsus slowly
retired, followed him further and further until they plunged headlong
into an ambush themselves. The auxiliaries were on their flanks; the
legions faced them in front; and the cavalry by a sudden manoeuvre had
closed in on their rear. However, Suetonius Paulinus did not
immediately give the signal for his infantry to charge. He was by
nature dilatory, and preferred cautiously reasoned measures to
accidental success. He kept on issuing orders about filling up the
ditches, clearing the fields and extending the line, convinced that it
was soon enough to play for victory when he had taken every precaution
against defeat. This delay gave the Vitellians time to take refuge in
the vineyards, where the interlaced vine-stems made it hard to follow.
Adjoining these was a little wood, from under cover of which they
ventured another sally and killed the foremost of the Guards' cavalry.
There Prince Epiphanes[271] was wounded, while making vigorous efforts
to rally Otho's forces.

At this point Otho's infantry charged, crushed the opposing line, 26
and even routed the troops who were hurrying up in support. For
Caecina had brought up his reinforcements not all at once but in
separate detachments. These, arriving in scattered units, and never in
sufficient force, only added to the confusion, since the panic of the
rout infected them as well. Mutiny, too, broke out in the camp,
because the troops were not all taken into battle. Julius Gratus, the
camp-prefect, was put in irons on a charge of plotting with his
brother, who was fighting on Otho's side. It was known that the
Othonians had arrested the brother, Julius Fronto, on the same charge.
For the rest, such was the universal panic among pursuers and pursued,
on the field and in the camp, that it was commonly said on both sides
that, if Suetonius Paulinus had not sounded the retreat, Caecina's
whole army might have been destroyed. Paulinus maintained that he
avoided any excessive strain of work or marching, for fear of exposing
his exhausted troops to a counter-attack from the Vitellians in the
camp, who were still fresh for battle: besides, he had no reserves to
fall back on in case of defeat. A few approved of the general's
strategy, but the common opinion was adverse.[272]

FOOTNOTES:

[226] See note 3.

[227] The legion brought from Spain, mentioned in i. 6.

[228] The revolt of Boadicea crushed by Suetonius Paulinus;
described by Tacitus in his life of Agricola and in Book XIV
of the _Annals_.

[229] i.e. for his projected war against the Albanians (cp. i.
6). Probably they stopped in Dalmatia on hearing of Nero's
fall.

[230] The quondam marines (cp. i. 6, 9, &c.).

[231] They were commanded by Martius Macer (see chaps. 23, 35. &c.).

[232] The defender of Placentia. He earned further laurels
under Trajan in Germany. He was a friend of Tacitus and the
younger Pliny, and is suspected of writing some bad verse.

[233] Early in March (cp. i. 70).

[234] Not regularly formed into a legion: those to whom 'he
held out hopes of honourable service' (cp. i. 87).

[235] Cp. i. 87.

[236] The mountainous district north of the Italian frontier
on the Var.

[237] Ventimiglia, the modern frontier town between France and
Italy on the Riviera.

[238] A Gallic tribe living round Tongres and Spa.

[239] Living round Trier.

[240] Afterwards one of the leaders in the rebellion on the
Rhine (cp. iv. 55).

[241] Fréjus.

[242] i.e. either the VII Galbian or XIII Gemina, both of
which were on Otho's side.

[243] i.e. the Ligurian cohort, mentioned above.

[244] Antibes.

[245] Albenga.

[246] Sardinia and Corsica were an imperial province A.D.
6-67. Then Nero gave it back to the senate to compensate for
his declaration of the independence of Achaia. Vespasian once
more transferred it to imperial government. If _procurator_ is
correct here, Pacarius must have been a subordinate imperial
functionary in a senatorial province. As the province changed
hands so often and was so soon after this placed under
imperial control, it is possible that Tacitus made a mistake
and that Pacarius was an ex-praetor. Those who feel that
Tacitus is unlikely to have made this error, and that Pacarius
can hardly have been anything but governor, adopt the
suggestion that Corsica did not share the fate of Sardinia in
A.D. 67, but remained under the control of an imperial
procurator. There is no clear evidence of this, but under
Diocletian Corsica was certainly separate.

[247] These cruisers were of a peculiarly light build, called
after the Liburni, an Illyrian tribe, who fought for Octavian
in the battle of Actium. He introduced similar craft into the
Roman navy. They were very fast, and worked with a triangular,
instead of the usual square sail.

[248] i.e. his Corsican and Roman clients.

[249] i. 70.

[250] Piacenza and Pavia.

[251] i.e. one of the two detachments sent forward by the
armies of Dalmatia and Pannonia (cp. chap. 11).

[252] Otho's Praetorian Guards were the weakest point in his army.

[253] Cp. i. 36 note 61.

[254] i.e. that Spurinna was in league with Caecina, and meant
to hand them over to him.

[255] He was making 'a reconnaissance in force westwards along
the river bank to discover, if he could, the strength and
intentions of the enemy' (B.W. Henderson, _Civil War_, &c.).
But Mr. E.G. Hardy points out that, as he had only 4,000 men
and Caecina's 30,000 were in the immediate neighbourhood, this
would have been foolish. It seems better to believe Tacitus'
suggestion that his insubordinate troops forced Spurinna to
march out.

[256] Considered Gallic and effeminate.

[257] Mr. Henderson (_Civil War_, &c.) argues that it was
imperative for Caecina to take the fortress at Placentia,
since it threatened his sole line of communication with
Valens' column. Tacitus, as usual, gives a practical rather
than a strategic motive. His interests are purely human.

[258] Familiar devices for sheltering troops against missiles
from a town wall. They were generally made of hurdles covered
with raw hides. The _vinea_ was a shelter on poles, so named
from its resemblance to a pergola of vines.

[259] In i. 61 only legion XXI is mentioned. But Caecina may
have formed the detachments into another legion.

[260] Civilis' nephew and bitter enemy. See iv. 70, v. 21.

[261] Spurinna's colleague in the command of the advanced
guard from Rome. He was now probably at Mantua.

[262] At the meeting of two high roads leading to Cremona, the
one from Hostilia and the other from Mantua. It was near here
that Vitellius defeated Otho, and here that his power fell
before Vespasian (cp. iii. 15 f.).

[263] See note 231.

[264] This was stated in i. 87. The reminder is inserted
because they were not mentioned with Gallus in ii. 11 - unless,
indeed, Mr. Onions is right in suggesting that _quoque_ is an
error for _duces_.

[265] He had left him in charge of Rome. See i. 90.

[266] We learn in chap. 33 that Gallus was disabled and took
no part in this engagement: hence the omission of his name.

[267] About 10½ English miles.

[268] Locus Castorum.

[269] See chap. 11.

[270] The Via Postumia, built up on a causeway high above the
fields on either side.

[271] Son of Antiochus, king of Commagene (see note 216). He
was in Rome probably as a hostage, and accompanied Otho.

[272] An eminent critic has called Tacitus' account of this
battle an 'historical nightmare', but those who do not suffer
from a surfeit of military knowledge may find that it lies
easy upon them. It is written for the plain man with an eye
for situations and an ear for phrases.


THE DECISIVE STRUGGLE

This reverse reduced the Vitellians not to despair but to 27
discipline. Not only was this the case in Caecina's camp, who blamed
his men as being readier for mutiny than for battle, but the troops
under Fabius Valens, who had now reached Ticinum,[273] lost their
contempt for the enemy, conceived a desire to retrieve their glory,
and offered their general a more respectful and steady obedience.
There had, indeed, been a serious outbreak of mutiny, the account of
which I may now resume from an earlier chapter,[274] where it seemed
wrong to break the narrative of Caecina's operations. The Batavian
auxiliaries, who had left the Fourteenth legion during the war against
Vindex, heard of Vitellius' rising while on their way to Britain, and,
as I have already described,[275] joined Fabius Valens in the country
of the Lingones. There they grew insolent. Whenever they passed the
tents of the Roman soldiers, they boasted loudly that they had coerced
the Fourteenth, had deprived Nero of Italy, and held the whole issue
of the war in the hollow of their hand. This insulted the soldiers and
annoyed the general; brawls and quarrels ruined good discipline.
Ultimately Valens began to suspect that their insubordination meant
treachery. Accordingly, on receiving the news that Otho's fleet 28
had defeated the Treviran cavalry[276] and the Tungri, and was now
blockading Narbonese Gaul, he determined at the same time to assist
his allies, and by a stroke of generalship to separate contingents
that were so insubordinate and, if united, so strong. He therefore
ordered the Batavians to march to the support of Narbo. Immediately
this order became generally known, the auxiliaries began to complain
and the legionaries to chafe. 'They were being deprived of their
strongest support: here were these invincible veterans promptly
withdrawn directly the enemy came in sight: if the province was more
important than the safety of Rome and the empire, why not all go
there? but if Italy was the corner-stone of their success, he ought
not as it were to amputate their strongest limb.'[277] In answer 29
to this presumptuous criticism, Valens loosed his lictors upon them
and set to work to check the mutiny. They attacked their general,
stoned him, and chased him out of the camp, shouting that he was
concealing the spoils of Gaul and the gold from Vienne,[278] the due
reward of their labours. They looted the baggage, ransacked the
general's quarters, and even rummaged in the ground with javelins and
lances. Valens, in slave's dress, took refuge with a cavalry officer.
Gradually the disorder began to die down. Alfenus Varus, the
camp-prefect, then hit upon the plan of forbidding the centurions to
go the rounds or to have the bugle sounded to summon the men to their
duties. No one had anything to do: they eyed each other in
astonishment, dismayed above all at having no one to command them. At
first by silent submission, at last with tearful prayers, they sought
pardon. Valens appeared, haggard and in tears, but above all
expectation safe and sound, - joy, sympathy, cheers! With a wild
revulsion of feeling - mobs are always extravagant - they made a ring
round him with the eagles and standards, and carried him to the
Tribunal with loud praises and congratulations. With wise moderation
he demanded no punishment, but, to disarm suspicion of his good
faith, he criticized one or two of them severely.[279] He was well
aware that in civil war the men are allowed more licence than their
officers.

While they were entrenching themselves at Ticinum they heard the 30
news of Caecina's defeat, and the mutiny nearly broke out afresh:
Valens, they thought, had treacherously delayed in order to keep them
out of the battle. They refused rest, would not wait for the general,
marched on in front of the standards, hurrying on the bearers, and by
a forced march joined Caecina. Valens had a bad name with Caecina's
army. They complained that despite their greatly inferior numbers he
had exposed them to the full force of the enemy. At the same time, for
fear of being despised as defeated cowards, they excused themselves by
exaggerating the strength of the new arrivals. In fact, though Valens'
numbers were larger, and he had almost twice as many legionaries and
auxiliaries as Caecina,[280] yet it was Caecina who enjoyed the
confidence of the men. Apart from his kindness, in which he seemed
much readier than Valens, they admired him for his youthful vigour and
commanding stature,[281] and liked him too without exactly knowing
why. So there was rivalry between the generals. Caecina mocked at
Valens for his dirty and dishonest ways:[282] Valens at Caecina's
pompous vanity. But they smothered their dislike and worked together
for a common end, writing frequent letters in which they sacrificed
all hope of pardon and heaped abuse on Otho. Otho's generals refrained
from retaliating upon Vitellius, though his character offered richer
scope. In death Otho earned a noble name and Vitellius infamy, yet 31
at this time people were more afraid of Otho's burning passions than
of Vitellius' listless luxury. The murder of Galba had made Otho
feared and hated, while no one attributed to Vitellius the outbreak of
the war. It was felt that Vitellius' gluttony was a personal disgrace:
Otho's excesses, his cruelty and his daring, spelt more danger to the
country.

Now that Caecina and Valens had joined forces, the Vitellians had no
longer any reason to avoid a decisive battle. Otho accordingly held a
council to decide whether they should prolong the war or put their
fortune to the test. Suetonius Paulinus, who was considered the 32
most experienced general of his day,[283] now felt it was due to his
reputation to deliver his views on the general conduct of the war. His
contention was that the enemy's interests were best served by haste,
Otho's by delay. He argued thus: 'The whole of Vitellius' force has
now arrived and he has few reinforcements in his rear, for the Gallic
provinces are in a ferment, and it would be fatal to abandon the Rhine
with all those hostile tribes ready to swarm across it. The troops in
Britain are busy with their own foes and cut off by the sea: the
Spanish provinces can scarcely spare any troops: the Narbonese are
seriously alarmed by their recent reverse and the inroads of our
fleet. The country across the Po is shut in by the Alps and denied all
supplies by sea,[284] and, besides, its resources have been already
exhausted by the passage of their army. Nowhere can they get supplies,
and without commissariat no army can be kept together. The German
troops are their strongest fighting arm, but their constitutions will
not be strong enough to stand the change of weather, if we protract
the war into the summer. It has often happened that a force, which
seemed irresistible at first, has dwindled to nothing through the
tedium of forced inaction.

'On the other hand, our resources are rich and reliable. We have on
our side Pannonia, Moesia, Dalmatia, and the East; the armies there
are fresh and strong; we have Italy and Rome, the Queen of the World,
and the Roman Senate and People: those titles always mean something,
though their glory may sometimes be obscured. We have large public and
private resources, and in civil war a vast quantity of money is
stronger than the sword. Our soldiers are inured to the Italian
climate or, at any rate, to heat. We are entrenched behind the
Po:[285] its cities are protected by strong walls and willing hands,
and the defence of Placentia has shown that none of them will yield to
the enemy.' Therefore Otho must remain on the defensive. In a few days
the Fourteenth legion would arrive: its fame alone was great, and the
Moesian forces[286] would be with it. He should, at any rate, postpone
his deliberations until then, and fight, if fight he must, with
augmented strength.

Marius Celsus supported Paulinus. Annius Gallus had been hurt a 33
few days before by a fall from his horse, but messengers were sent to
inquire his views, and they reported that he too agreed. Otho inclined
to a decisive engagement. His brother Titianus and Proculus, the
prefect of the Guard, with all the impatience of inexperience, stoutly
maintained that fortune and Providence, and Otho's own good genius
inspired his policy, and would inspire its performance. They had
descended to flattery by way of checking opposition. When it was
decided to take the offensive, the question arose whether Otho in
person should take part in the battle or hold himself in reserve. His
evil counsellors again carried their point. Otho was to retire to
Brixellum,[287] and, by withdrawing from the hazards of the field,
reserve himself for the supreme control of the campaign and of the
empire. To this Paulinus and Celsus offered no further opposition, for
fear of seeming to endanger the person of their prince. From this day
dates the decline of Otho's party. Not only did he take with him a
considerable force of the Guards, Body Guard, and cavalry, but the
spirit of the troops who remained behind was broken. The men trusted
no one but Otho, and Otho no one but the men. His generals were under
suspicion and their authority left in doubt.[288]

None of these arrangements failed to reach the ears of the 34
Vitellians. Desertions were frequent, as they always are in civil war,
and the scouts in their eagerness to discover the enemy's plans always
failed to conceal their own. Caecina and Valens, counting on the fatal
impatience of the enemy, remained quietly on their guard to see what
they would do: for it is always wisdom to profit by another's folly.
Feigning an intention of crossing the Po, they began to construct a
bridge, partly as a demonstration against the gladiators[289] on the
opposite bank, partly to find something for their idle troops to do.
Boats were placed at equal intervals with their heads up stream and
fastened together by strong wooden planks. They also cast anchors from
them to ensure the solidity of the bridge, but they allowed the
hawsers to drift slack, so that when the river rose the boats might
all rise with it without the line being broken. To guard the bridge a
high tower was built out on the end boat, from which they could
repulse the enemy with various artillery. Meanwhile the Othonians had
built a tower on the bank and kept up a steady shower of stones and
torches.

In midstream there was an island, to which the gladiators tried to 35
make their way in boats, but the Germans swam over and got there
first. When a good number of them had swam across, Macer manned some
Liburnian cruisers[290] and attacked them with the bravest of his
gladiators. But they fought with less courage than soldiers, and from
their unsteady boats they could not shoot so well as the others, who
had a firm footing on the bank. Swaying this way and that in their
alarm, the sailors and the marines were beginning to get in each
other's way, when the Germans actually leapt into the shallows, caught
hold of the boats by the stern, and either clambered up by the
gangways or sunk them bodily with their own hands. All this took place
before the eyes of both armies[291], and the higher rose the spirits
of the Vitellians, the greater became the indignation of the Othonians
against Macer, the author and cause of their disaster. The 36
remainder of the boats were eventually dragged off,[292] and the
battle ended in flight. The army demanded Macer's execution. He had
been actually wounded by a lance that had been flung at him, and the
soldiers were rushing on him with drawn swords when some tribunes and
centurions intervened and rescued him.

Soon after this, Vestricius Spurinna, on Otho's orders, brought up a
reinforcement of the Guards, leaving behind a small garrison at
Placentia, and before long, Otho sent the consul-elect, Flavius
Sabinus,[293] to take command of Macer's force. This change pleased
the soldiers, but the frequent mutinies made the generals unwilling to
assume such a perilous command.

In some of my authorities[294] I find a statement that either a 37
growing fear of war or dislike of the two emperors, whose
discreditable misconduct grew daily more notorious, led the armies to
hesitate whether they should not give up the struggle and either
themselves combine to choose an emperor or refer the choice to the
senate. This, it is suggested, was the motive of Otho's generals in
advising delay, and Paulinus in particular had high hopes, since he
was the senior ex-consul, and a distinguished general who had earned
a brilliant reputation by his operations in Britain. For my own part,
while I am ready to admit that a few people may have tacitly wished
for peace instead of civil war, or for a good and virtuous emperor
instead of two who were the worst of criminals, yet I imagine that
Paulinus was much too wise to hope that in a time of universal
corruption the people would show such moderation. Those who had
sacrificed peace in a passion for war were not likely to stop the war
from any affection for peace. Nor was it possible that armies whose
language and characteristics differed so widely should ever come to
such an agreement. As for the officers; nearly all of them were
extravagant, bankrupt, and guilty of some crime: they had not a good
enough conscience to put up with any emperor who was not as vicious as
themselves and under an obligation for their services.

The old ingrained human passion for power matured and burst into 38
prominence with the growth of the empire. With straiter resources
equality was easily preserved. But when once we had brought the world



Online LibraryCaius Cornelius TacitusTacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II → online text (page 9 of 29)