1. Better luck and loyalty attended the leaders of the Flavian interest as they proceeded to form their plan of campaign. They had met at Poetovio, the winter-quarters of the Thirteenth Legion. There they debated whether to decide on closing the Pannonian Alps' until such time as their forces were massed behind them in full strength, or whether it would show more spirit to grapple with the enemy in a struggle for Italy. Those who preferred to await reinforcements and fight a long war stressed the power and reputation of the legions of Germany and the subsequent arrival of Vitellius with a picked force from the army of Britain. The Flavian legions, on the other hand, were fewer in number and had been recently driven from the field. For all their bluster, beaten troops were inevitably inferior in morale. But once the Alps were held, they could expect Mucianus to arrive with the forces of the East. Moreover Vespasian controlled the Mediterranean with its various fleets and enjoyed the support of the provinces. Thanks to these he could open a second front on a massive scale. Thus delay would be their salvation: it would mean the arrival of new forces, and no loss of the old.
2. In reply to these arguments, the keenest advocate of war, Antonius Primus, urged that speed would be helpful to themselves and fatal to Vitellius. The winning side had grown slacker, not more confident, for they were not held at short call and accommodated in barracks. Billeted in idleness in all the towns of Italy, formidable only to their hosts, they had grasped at unfamiliar pleasures with a greed that matched their previous violence. The circus, too, and the theatres and amenities of the capital had made them soft or ailing.
Given a breathing-space, however, they too would recover their toughness under training. Germany, the source of their strength, was not far off. Britain lay across the narrow waters of the Channel. The Gallic and Spanish provinces were close at hand, and from both came men, horses and money. Then there was Italy itself and the wealth of Rome. Finally, if the Vitellians wanted to take the offensive, they could rely on two fleets (1) and a defenceless Adriatic. What good would the control of the Alps be then, or the prolongation of fighting to the next summer? Where meanwhile were the Flavians to get money and supplies? Surely it would be better to profit from the very fact that the Pannonian legions (2) had been cheated of victory rather than beaten in fair fight and were eager to have their own back, while the powerful armies of Moesia would come fresh to the attack? If one counted men rather than legions, their own side was the stronger, as well as being undemoralized by pleasure. Besides, their very humiliation had helped discipline. The cavalry, furthermore, had not been beaten even at Cremona. Despite a difficult situation it had pierced Vitellius' front line.
'In that encounter,' Antonius exclaimed, 'two Pannonian and Moesian cavalry regiments cut their way through the enemy: now sixteen will mass their colours and by their impact and din, by the very clouds of dust they raise, will bury and overwhelm riders and horses that have forgotten battle. Give me a free hand and I will be responsible for both planning and performance. You, gentlemen, who have a reputation to maintain, may hold the legions in reserve: all I want are cohorts in battle order. Soon you shall hear that the gates of Italy have been unlocked and Vitellius' fortunes shattered. You will be glad enough to follow, and tread in the footsteps of the victor.'
3. These and similar remarks Antonius poured out with flashing eyes and strident voice. He wanted to be audible in the farthest corner of the council-of-war, supplemented as it was on this occasion by the centurions and some of the rank-and-file. The effect was electric. He swept even cautious and wary officers off their feet, while the ordinary soldiers and the rest of the staff were deaf to less vigorous advice, and hailed Antonius as the one real man and leader. This indeed was the reputation he had already won at the initial parade when Vespasian's letter was read out. Instead of confining his remarks, like the majority of the speakers, to ambiguities which he could later interpret to suit events, he was felt to have shown his hand openly, and to that extent he carried greater weight with the troops as their partner in crime- or glory.
4. After Antonius, the most influential officer was the imperial agent Cornelius Fuscus, whose habitual and bitter criticism of Vitellius had sealed his fate if things went wrong. Then there was Tampius Flavianus. By nature dilatory, and not less so with increasing years, he was distrusted by the troops, who suspected that he could not forget that he was a relative of Vitellius. Moreover by disappearing when the legions first grew restive and then returning of his own free will, he was believed to have tried to secure an opportunity of betraying them. After resigning command of Pannonia, Flavianus had sought refuge in Italy. But then his restless ambition had induced him to resume the title of governor and join in the civil war. He had done so at the prompting of Cornelius Fuscus— not that the latter stood in need of such vigour as Flavianus could offer: his intention was that the name of a senior officer should lend the incipient Flavian movement an air of respectability.
5. However, in order to reduce the risk and exploit the advantage of transferring operations to Italy, written instructions were sent to Aponius Saturninus to move up quickly with the army of Moesia, and in case the now defenceless provinces should be exposed to the attentions of barbarian tribes beyond the frontier, the rulers of the Sarmatian Iazyges, who hold absolute power in their community, were enrolled in the Flavian army. They also volunteered to raise a mass levy as well as a force of cavalry, their one effective arm; but the offer was rejected for fear that they might take advantage of our dissension to organize an attack on the empire, or play false if offered better terms by the other side. The Flavians secured the support of the Suebian kings, Sido and Italicus (3), who had shown long-standing compliance to Rome and whose people were more disposed to keep their given word. (4) Auxiliary forces were posted on the flank in view of the hostility of Raetia under its governor Porcius Septiminus, a staunch adherent of Vitellius. This was why Sextilius Felix, with the Aurian cavalry regiment, and some Norican levies, was sent to hold the bank of the River Inn (5), which forms the boundary between Raetia and Noricum. Neither side showed fight in this theatre, and the success of the Flavians was decided elsewhere.
6. Antonius began his lightning invasion of Italy with the help of detachments from the cohorts and a part of the cavalry. (6) He was accompanied by Arrius Varus, an officer who had gained a reputation for vigour, thanks to service under Corbulo and the successes in Armenia. But there was a rumour that he had criticized Corbulo's ability in the course of private conversations with Nero, and though he ingratiated himself with the emperor by this discreditable behaviour and so obtained promotion to senior centurion, the immediate advantage was later to prove his undoing.
However, Primus and Varus occupied Aquileia, and in the neighbouring towns, and at Opitergium and Altinum, they were warmly welcomed. Altinum was garrisoned against a possible threat from the Ravenna fleet, whose defection had not yet been heard of. They then received the adhesion of Patavium and Ateste. At the latter place it was learnt that three Vitellian cohorts and a regiment of cavalry (the Sebosian) were encamped by a bridge which they had built at Forum Alieni. This seemed a good chance to strike at an unwary foe, for such they were said to be. At first light the Flavians fell upon the enemy while they were still mostly unarmed. Instructions had been given that only a few should be killed and the rest frightened into changing sides; and in fact some surrendered immediately, though more succeeded in halting their opponents' advance by cutting the bridge.
7. When this success became public knowledge and the first engagement in the war was seen to have been decided in favour of the Flavians, the Seventh (Galbian) and Thirteenth (Twin) Legions, with the latter's commander Vedius Aquila, moved briskly to Patavium. There a few days were passed resting, and Minicius Justus, the camp commandant of the Seventh, a disciplinarian who kept the troops on too tight a rein for civil war, was relieved of his appointment to save him from the fury of the men, and sent to Vespasian. A step was then taken which was considered long overdue, and indeed the comment it aroused lent it a prestige which was out of all proportion to the occasion. In every town, the portraits of Galba, which had been taken down owing to the troubles, were restored to honour on the instructions of Antonius, who believed that it would be creditable to the cause if the public thought that Galba's reign was approved and that his followers were regaining influence.
8. The next problem was the selection of a base. Verona seemed preferable because the extensive plains in the vicinity lent themselves to cavalry operations, in which the Flavians excelled. Moreover, to deprive Vitellius of a rich city seemed to be good policy and good propaganda. Vicetia was occupied by the advancing troops without a blow being struck. This was a small incident in view of the modest resources of the town, but significant in the eyes of observers who reflected that Caecina was born there and that the enemy commander had thus lost control of his native place. Verona was a real prize. Its populace helped the Flavian cause by their example and material support: and the army had at one swoop seized a central strategic position that closed the door upon Raetia and the Julian Alps, and denied the armies of Germany transit through them.
These steps were taken without the knowledge of Vespasian or else against his instructions, for his orders at this time were that the advance was to be halted at Aquileia to allow Mucianus to catch up. They were reinforced by an explanation of his strategy. Now that he commanded both Egypt, with its control of the corn supply, and the revenues of the richest provinces of the empire (7) the army of Vitellius could be forced to its knees merely by lack of pay and supplies. The same advice was conveyed in repeated dispatches from Mucianus, who, while ostensibly advocating a bloodless victory, the need for keeping casualties down and so on, was in fact greedy of glory and anxious to monopolize any distinction the campaign afforded. However, the great distances involved meant that official instructions arrived when events had already taken place.
9. (8).. so Antonius overran the enemy outposts by a sudden assault, and the fighting spirit of the combatants was tested in a brush from which neither side emerged victorious. After this, Caecina planted a strongly entrenched camp between Hostilia (a village in the territory of Verona) and the marshes of the River Tartaro, choosing a site protected in the rear by a river (9) and on the flanks by a barrier of marshland. Had he possessed loyalty as well, there were two possibilities: either the concentrated Vitellian forces would have been in a position to inflict a crushing blow on two solitary legions (10) not yet reinforced by the army of Moesia; or else the Flavians would have been driven back and ignominiously compelled to evacuate Italy. But Caecina allowed the enemy to gain the initiative in the opening phases of the campaign by procrastinating in various ways and denouncing in official messages an army which he could readily have routed by force of arms. His aim was to conclude a traitorous deal with the enemy by means of his emissaries. During this lull, Aponius Saturninus arrived on the scene. With him came the Seventh (Claudian) Legion commanded by Vipstanus Messalla, a distinguished member of a famous family, and the only man to contribute an element of integrity to this campaign. This then was the force— far inferior to the Vitellian and still only numbering three legions— to which Caecina sent his letters. In these he criticized the folly of fighting for lost causes and in the same breath lavishly praised the high morale of the army of Germany, with only a slight and perfunctory reference to Vitellius and an absence of all abuse of Vespasian. In this there was absolutely nothing which was calculated either to entice or to frighten the enemy. In their reply, the Flavian commanders made no attempt to apologize for failure in the past. They spoke up for Vespasian with pride and for their cause with assurance, confident in their army and displaying undisguised hostility towards Vitellius, though they offered tribunes and centurions the hope of retaining any concessions made by him. As for Caecina, he was openly urged to desert. The public reading of this correspondence in the parade-ground raised Flavian morale, since it was clear that Caecina's tone was cringing, as if he were afraid to offend Vespasian, whereas their own officers had not minced their words, and gave the impression of offering Vitellius a direct insult.
10. When in due course two more Flavian legions appeared— the Third, led by Dillius Aponianus, and the Eighth, led by Numisius Lupus— the decision was taken to make a show of strength and provide Verona with an outer rampart (11). It so happened that the task of building this rampart on the side facing the enemy was allotted to the Seventh (Galbian) Legion, and when some allied cavalry were sighted in the distance and taken for the enemy, a false alarm was raised. Fearful of treachery, the legionaries seized their arms and turned the full weight of their anger on Tampius Flavianus. There were no solid grounds for such an accusation, but he had long been unpopular, and they now raised a frenzied clamour for his head. Shouts were heard denouncing him as a relative of Vitellius, a traitor to Otho, and a man who had pocketed the bounty meant for themselves. He was given no opportunity to defend-himself, though he appealed for mercy with outstretched hands, almost prostrate on the ground, his clothes torn, his chest heaving and his lips quivering with inarticulate sobs. This in itself incited the men to even greater hostility, for in their eyes his complete loss of nerve was the sign of a guilty conscience. Aponius tried to speak to them, but was unable to make himself heard amid the yelling men. Other officers were rebuffed with jeers and shouts; and Antonius alone managed to get a hearing, for he not only had eloquence and the trick of quietening a mob, but inspired respect as a leader. When the mutiny began to get out of hand and the troops passed from abuse and insult to arms and action, he ordered Flavianus to be put in irons. The soldiers saw through the farce, and thrusting aside the guards around the officers' platform prepared to resort to lynch law. Antonius pushed forward to meet them with drawn sword, assuring them that he would die by the hand of the troops or by his own. Whenever his eye fell upon a soldier known to him personally and wearing some decoration for valour, he appealed to him by name for help. Then, turning to the standards and the gods of war, (12) he prayed that they might deflect such discord and infatuation upon the armies of the enemy. Gradually the mutiny began to peter out, and with the gathering dusk the men separated to their several tents. Flavianus left the same night and was rescued from danger by a dispatch from Vespasian, whose bearer he encountered on the way. (13)
11. The rot was infectious, for the legionaries now advanced upon Aponius Saturninus, commanding the forces from Moesia. Their violence was accentuated by the fact that tempers had flared up at midday— not, as previously, in the evening, when they were exhausted by the physical labour of digging. The cause was the publication of some correspondence which Saturninus was supposed to have had with Vitellius. Once Roman soldiers had competed in courage and discipline. Now their rivalry was one of insolence and insubordination— they must be sure to clamour for Aponius' death as violently as they had done for Flavianus'. The Moesian legionaries remembered that they had assisted the men of Pannonia to settle scores, and the Pannonians felt that the mutiny of others excused their own. Hence it was only natural that they were both ready to commit a second offence. They made for the mansion in which Saturninus was staying. Primus, Aponianus and Messalla did their best, but it was not so much their efforts that saved Saturninus as the dark hiding-place in which he was skulking— he had concealed himself in the furnace-house in a villa that happened to be untenanted. Afterwards, he got rid of his lictors and made his escape to Patavium. Thanks to the departure of the two senior governors, Antonius now had effective control of both armies, for his brother-officers took second place and the troops backed him with enthusiasm. But there were some critics who held that Antonius had incited both these mutinies in order to have a free hand in the campaign.
12. On the Vitellian side, too, there were restless spirits. Here the turmoil and dissension were even more fatal, since they sprang less from the suspicions of the men than from the treachery of their leaders. The Ravenna fleet was commanded by Lucilius Bassus. His men were luke-warm in their allegiance, for many came from Dalmatia and Pannonia and these provinces were now held in Vespasian's name. So the admiral had brought them over to the Flavian cause. The act of treachery was to be performed after dark, so that the conspirators could hold a meeting in the headquarters building without the presence or knowledge of others. Bassus himself was ashamed of what was afoot or afraid of how it would turn out. So he awaited the upshot in his house. The captains staged a wild onslaught upon the portraits of Vitellius, and when the few who offered resistance had been cut down, the men at large, who wanted a change, came over to Vespasian. At this point Lucilius appeared and publicly put himself at the head of the movement. But the sailors offered the command of the fleet to Cornelius Fuscus, who speedily hurried to the base. (14) As for Bassus, he was taken in a fast flotilla under open arrest as far as Atria. Here he was closely confined by Memmius Rufinus, who commanded a regiment of horse in the town. But his fetters were promptly struck off by the intervention of the imperial freedman Hormus: he, too, passed for one of the leaders.
13. To return to Caecina: when the defection of the fleet became common knowledge, he called a meeting of the senior centurions and a few of the rank-and-file at his headquarters, choosing a time when the camp was quiet and the rest of the troops were scattered on their various duties. (15) He there spoke highly of Vespasian's qualities and the strength of his following. The fleet, he pointed out, had changed sides, supplies were short, the Gallic and Spanish provinces hostile, and the capital thoroughly disaffected. All his allusions to Vitellius, too, were uncomplimentary. Then those of his hearers who were in the plot took the lead in swearing allegiance to Vespasian, and before the rest had recovered from their surprise, Caecina made them do so too. In the same instant, Vitellius' portraits were torn down and the news sent to Antonius. However, the treasonable act became the talk of the entire camp, and as the men rushed back to the headquarters building, they saw that Vespasian's name had been written up and Vitellius' portraits thrown down. At first, there was a great and dreadful hush, then one great explosion of protest. Had the credit of the army of Germany sunk so low, they cried, that they were tamely to put their hands into fetters and surrender their weapons to the captors without striking a blow? After all, what sort of legions could the other side boast of? Were they not beaten ones? Besides, the only good formations in Otho's army, the First and Fourteenth, were not there, though even these they had routed and cut to pieces on those very plains. Were many thousands of armed men to be handed over as a gift to the outlaw Antonius, like a gang of slaves bought and sold in the market? It seemed that eight legions were to be bargained away as a make-weight to one miserable fleet! This, then, was the deliberate policy both of Bassus and of Caecina— after stealing palaces, villas and fortunes from Vitellius, they were now bent on robbing the troops of their emperor, and the emperor of his troops! Unscathed and unscarred, cheap even in the eyes of the Flavians, what would they say to those who legitimately demanded to see the balance sheet of victory or defeat?
14. Such were the cries of indignation that sprang from one and all. Following the lead given by the Fifth Legion, they restored the portraits of Vitellius to their place, put Caecina under arrest, elected as their leaders Fabius Fabullus, commanding officer of the Fifth, and the camp-commandant, Cassius Longus, and massacred the crews of three galleys who chanced to cross their path, ignorant and innocent of what had happened. Then, striking camp and cutting the bridge (16), they marched back to Hostilia and thence to Cremona to join the First (Italian) and Twenty-First (Hurricane) Legions, which Caecina had sent ahead with part of the cavalry to hold Cremona.
15. When news of this reached Antonius, he decided to close with the enemy while their two forces were separated and their purpose disunited. He could not wait until their leaders recovered their hold and the troops their discipline, or until a rendezvous restored confidence. He guessed that Fabius Valens had left Rome, and would increase his pace on learning of Caecina's betrayal. The fidelity of Fabius to Vitellius, his skill as a general, and the possible advance of large masses of Germans through Raetia were frightening thoughts. As a matter of fact, Vitellius had indeed called for reinforcements from Britain, Gaul and Spain. A war of boundless havoc seemed imminent. But Antonius, anticipating this, snatched a timely victory by forcing an engagement. A two days' march from Verona (17) brought him to Bedriacum with the whole of his army. On the following morning (18), keeping his legions back to entrench camp, he sent his auxiliary cohorts into the territory of Cremona, ostensibly to forage, actually to acquire a taste for plundering Roman civilians. He himself, with 4,000 cavalry, moved forward to a point (19) eight miles from Bedriacum to give the spoilers greater scope. Reconnaissance parties made the usual sorties farther afield.
16. It was approximately 11 a.m. when a rider galloped up with the news: the enemy were approaching, headed by a small advance party, and movement and tumult could be heard over a wide area. While Antonius was still debating a plan of action with his staff, Arrius Varus, who was impatient for results, dashed out with a spearhead of cavalry and threw the Vitellians back. But he inflicted only slight losses. For as greater numbers hastened to the scene, the tables were turned, and the most eager of the pursuers now found themselves at the rear of the retreat. Such haste had not been Antonius' wish, and he had all along been expecting what had in fact happened. Telling his men to engage the enemy with stout hearts, he moved his troops of horse to the flanks and left a free passage in the middle for Varus and his unit. The legions were told to arm. (20) A trumpet call was sounded throughout the area to indicate that the various parties of foragers should drop their hunt for spoil and make for the fighting at the nearest point. Meanwhile, in some disorder, the frightened Varus linked up with the main body of cavalry, infecting it with his own panic. Wounded and whole, they all fled, jostling each other because of their loss of nerve and the narrowness of the roads.
17. In this chaos Antonius did whatever a steadfast officer or brave soldier could do, confronting the panic-stricken and restraining the fugitive. Where most effort was required, or there was any opening, however slight, his words, deeds and presence of mind made him a marked man in the eyes of friend and foe alike. Finally he was so carried away that he thrust a spear through a retreating ensign, then caught up the flag and turned it to face the enemy. Some troopers numbering no more than a hundred were shamed by this incident into standing their ground. The place helped them, owing to the narrowing of the road at that point and the demolition of a bridge over a stream (21) which flowed between the two armies and by its slippery bed and steep banks rendered escape difficult. This circumstance— whether we call it necessity or luck— gave fresh heart to a side which seemed already beaten. They formed up, closed ranks, and presented a solid front to the rash and scattered charges of the Vitellians. It was now the enemy's turn to suffer disaster. Antonius was quick to press his advantage home and ride down resistance, while his troops, following their bent, plundered the fallen, took prisoner the survivors, and deprived the enemy of arms and mounts. Indeed, their exulting cries alerted those who, only minutes before, had been scattering over the countryside for their lives, and they too now joined in the victorious action.
18. Four miles from Cremona, the glint of standards marked the approach of the Hurricane and Italian Legions, which had marched out as far as this during the initial success of their cavalry. But when luck turned against them, they did nothing. They did not form open order. They failed to give shelter to their disorganized comrades. They did not advance to take the initiative against an enemy exhausted by marching and fighting over a distance of so many miles (ten). Had they done so, they would have had a fair chance of victory. When things went well, they had not seriously felt their lack of a commander: now, in the hour of defeat, they realized it to the full. The front ranks wavered, and the victorious cavalry charged into them, closely followed by the tribune Vipstanus Messalla leading the auxiliaries from Moesia, whose rapid pace was matched by many of the legionaries. Thus a mixed force of infantry and cavalry broke through the Vitellian legions. The nearby walls of Cremona, too, gave them greater hope of escape and correspondingly lessened their will to resist. Nor did Antonius press home his advantage, thinking of the exhaustion and wounds inflicted on riders and mounts by a fight in which, despite final success, the chances had been so evenly balanced.
19. As the light faded, the Flavian army arrived in full strength. Once they began to march over the heaps of dead and the fresh traces of bloodshed, they thought that the fighting was over and clamoured to press on towards Cremona to receive, or enforce, the surrender of the beaten enemy. This at any rate was what they said openly, and it sounded well. But what each man thought in his heart was something different. A city on flat ground could be rushed, and an army which forced an entry during the hours of darkness would have just as much dash, and enjoy greater licence to plunder. But if they waited for the dawn, it would be too late: there would be peace terms and appeals for mercy. In that case, the only recompense for their wounds and exertions would be the empty credit of clemency, while the riches of Cremona would be pocketed by the auxiliary and legionary commanders. When a city was stormed, its booty fell to the troops; when surrendered, to the commanders. With these reflections, they brushed aside centurions and tribunes, and drowned any protests by clashing their arms as a sign of their intention to mutiny if they were not ordered to march on.
20. Then Antonius pushed his way into the thick of the companies. When his appearance and prestige had secured silence, he assured his hearers that he had no intention of robbing such deserving troops of credit or reward. But commanders and men had different functions to perform. A fighting spirit was excellent in soldiers, but commanders more often rendered service by deliberation and caution than by recklessness. In the past he had made his contribution to victory, and had done so sword in hand. In the future he would serve them by calculation and planning, which were the proper attributes of a leader. There were no two questions about the dangers confronting them— darkness, an unfamiliar city, and, within it, an enemy enjoying every facility for surprise. Even if the gates were wide open, it would be wrong to enter except after a reconnaissance, and by day. Or did they propose to begin the attack blindfold, without knowing the favourable approaches or the height of the walls, or whether the assault upon the city called for guns and missiles or siege-works and mantlets? Antonius then tried an individual approach. He asked one man after another whether he had brought with him axes and picks and all the other equipment necessary for storming cities. When they shook their heads, he retorted:
'Can brute strength breach and undermine walls with swords and javelins? Suppose it proves necessary to build a mound, suppose we must shelter behind screens and hurdles: are we going to stand about helplessly like an improvident mob, admiring the height of the towers and our opponents' defences? Why not wait just for one night, bring up the guns and engines, and then sweep forward carrying terror and triumph with us?'
And so, without more ado, Antonius sent the sutlers and batmen with the freshest part of the cavalry back to Bedriacum to bring up supplies and anything else likely to be of use.
21. This indeed was almost too much for the men. They were on the verge of mutiny when the cavalry, riding right up to the walls of Cremona, captured some stray townsfolk from whom they got word that six Vitellian legions, comprising the whole army previously stationed at Hostilia, had covered thirty miles (22) that very day, and on hearing of the defeat of their comrades were now arming for battle and would turn up at any moment. It was this threat that opened the deaf ears of the troops and made them ready to listen to their commander's advice. He ordered the Thirteenth Legion to take up a position (23) astride the actual embankment of the Postumian Way. In contact on its left stood the Seventh (Galbian) on open ground, then the Seventh (Claudian), its front protected by one of the drainage ditches characteristic of the area. (24) On the right were the Eighth, deployed along a side-road without cover, and after that the Third, interspersed among a dense plantation of trees used as vine-props. (This at least was the order in which the eagles and standards were placed; the troops themselves were mixed up haphazardly in the darkness.) The contingent of pretorians lay next to the Third, the auxiliary cohorts held the extremities of the line, and the cavalry protected the flanks and rear. The Suebians, Sido and Italicus, patrolled the front line with a picked force of their countrymen.
22. As for the Vitellian army, reason dictated that it should rest at Cremona. After some food and sleep to recover its strength, it could have attacked the shivering and hungry enemy on the next morning with dire and devastating effect. But it had no leader and no plan of action. At about 8.30 p.m., by which time the Flavians were ready and in position, the Vitellians hurled themselves violently on their foe. I should hesitate to be dogmatic about the Vitellian order of battle because fury and darkness confused it, although others (25) have recorded that their right front was held by the Fourth (Macedonian), their centre by the Fifth and Fifteenth supported by detachments of the Ninth, Second and Twentieth Legions from Britain, and their left front by the men of the Sixteenth, Twenty-Second and First Legions. Elements of the Hurricane and Italian Legions had attached themselves to all the companies, while the cavalry and auxiliaries chose their own posts.
Throughout the night, the fighting was varied, indecisive and bitter, inflicting destruction on either side in turn. Clear heads and strong arms availed nothing, and even eyes were helpless in the dark. On both sides weapons and uniform were identical, frequent challenges and replies disclosed the watchword, and flags were inextricably confused as they were captured by this group or that and carried hither and thither. The formation under heaviest pressure was the Seventh Legion recently raised by Galba. Six centurions of the leading companies were killed, and a few standards lost. Even the eagle was only saved by Atilius Varus' desperate execution upon the enemy and at the cost, finally, of his own life.
23. Antonius stiffened the wavering line by bringing up the pretorians. After relieving the Seventh, they drove the enemy back, only to be driven back themselves. The reason for this was that the Vitellians had concentrated their artillery (26) upon the highway so as to command an unobstructed field of fire over the open ground. Their shooting had at first been sporadic, and the shots had struck the vine-props without hurting the enemy. The Sixteenth Legion had an enormous field-piece which hurled massive stones. These were now mowing down the opposing front-line, and would have inflicted extensive havoc but for an act of heroism on the part of two soldiers. They concealed their identity by catching up shields from the fallen, and severed the tackle by which the engine was operated. They were killed immediately and so their names have perished, but that the deed was done is beyond question.
Neither side had had the advantage until, in the middle of the night (27), the moon rose, displaying— and deceiving— the combatants. But the light favoured the Flavians, being behind them; on their side the shadows of horses and men were exaggerated, and the enemy fire fell short though the gunlayers imagined that they were on target. But the Vitellians were brilliantly illuminated by the light shining full in their faces, and so without realizing it provided an easy mark for an enemy aiming from what were virtually concealed positions.
24. Antonius and his men could now recognize each other. So he seized the chance of spurring them on, some by taunts and appeals to their pride, many by praise and encouragement, all by hope and promises. Why, he asked the Pannonian legions, had they taken up arms in their resentment? These were the very battlefields which offered them a chance to wash away the stain of past humiliation and regain their credit in men's eyes. Then, turning to the troops from Moesia, he called on them as the leaders and authors of the campaign: they had challenged the Vitellians by threats and words, but this meant nothing if they were not going to endure their deeds and looks. Such were his arguments to the successive contingents as he reached them; but he spoke at greater length to the soldiers of the Third, reminding them of their early and recent history, how under Mark Antony they had routed the Parthians, under Corbulo the Armenians, and, in the immediate past, the Sarmatians. (28) Then he spoke with greater sharpness to the praetorian guards.
'As for you,' he said, 'you are finished as soldiers unless you beat the enemy. What other emperor and what other camp is there to which you can transfer? There, among the foe, are the standards and equipment which are really yours, and for the beaten the sentence is death. Dishonour you have drunk to the dregs.' (29)
Everywhere there were cries of enthusiasm, and as the sun rose, the Third greeted it with cheers in accordance with Syrian custom. (30)
25. This led to a vague rumour (perhaps intentionally spread by the Flavian commander) that Mucianus had arrived and that the cries were greetings exchanged by the two armies. The men moved forward under the impression that they had been reinforced by fresh troops, the Vitellian line being now thinner than before, as one might expect of a force which in the absence of all leadership bunched and spread according to individual impulse or panic. When Antonius sensed that the enemy were reeling, he proceeded to throw them into confusion by the use of massed columns of troops. The loosely-knit ranks broke, and could not be closed again owing to the obstacles presented by vehicles and guns. Down the long straight road, drawing away from each other in the fervour of pursuit, charged the victors.
An event which made the slaughter more dreadful was the death of a father at the hands of his son. I record the incident and the names on the authority of Vipstanus Messalla. A recruit to the Hurricane Legion, one Julius Mansuetus from Spain, had left a young lad at home. Soon after, the boy came of age, and having been called up by Galba for service in the Seventh, chanced to encounter his father in this battle and wounded him seriously. As he was searching the prostrate and semi-conscious figure, father and son recognized each other. Embracing the dying man, the son prayed in words choked by sobs that his father's spirit would be appeased and not bear him ill-will as a parricide: the act was not a personal one, and one single soldier was merely an infinitesimal fraction of the forces engaged in the civil war. With these words, he took up the body, dug a grave, and discharged the last duty to his father. Some nearby troops noticed this, then more and more; and so throughout the lines ran a current of wonder and complaint, and men cursed this cruellest of all wars. However, this did not stop them killing and robbing relatives, kinsmen and brothers: they said to each other that a crime had been done - and in the same breath did it themselves.
26. A new and formidable task confronted the Flavians when they reached Cremona. During the campaign with Otho, the troops from Germany had built a camp near the walls of Cremona and a rampart round the camp; (31) and since then, they had strengthened these defences still further. This sight gave the victors pause. Their officers were uncertain what orders to issue. To begin the assault with an army exhausted by a long day and night seemed difficult, and, if no reserves were standing by, dangerous. If, on the other hand, they were to go all the way back to Bedriacum, the march would be intolerably fatiguing and involved throwing away their victory. Even entrenching camp was a perilous business in such close proximity to the enemy, for there was the threat that scattered parties of men engaged in digging would be thrown into disorder by a sudden sortie. But above and beyond all these factors, the generals were frightened of their own troops, who preferred risk to waiting. Playing safe was dull, taking a chance offered possibilities. Whatever the cost in death and wounds and bloodshed, it counted for nothing when weighed against their appetite for spoil.
27. Antonius was inclined to agree, and ordered a ring of troops to be thrown around the fortified camp. The first phase of the battle was a distant exchange of arrows and stones, resulting in greater damage to the Flavians, who were exposed to the full force of the plunging fire. But then Antonius assigned the various sectors of the rampart and gates to different legions so that a division of labour might distinguish the brave from the cowardly, and the men find stimulus in the mere competition for honour. The area nearest to the road to Bedriacum was allotted to the men of the Third and Seventh Legions, and the wall further to the right to the Eighth and Seventh (Claudian); the companies of the Thirteenth advanced impetuously as far as the Brixia gate. (32) A slight pause followed, while some of the legionaries collected axes in the adjacent country-side, and others scythes and ladders. Then, lifting their shields above their heads, they moved up in a tight 'tortoise'. (33) Both sides displayed the fighting skill of Rome. The Vitellians rolled down heavy stones on their opponents, and then, when the 'tortoise' was split and wavering, probed it with lances and poles until the compact structure of shields fell to pieces and they could flatten their bleeding or maimed opponents with deadly effect. The Flavian attack began to slacken. Their commanders, finding the men worn out and deaf to exhortations they believed useless, pointed to Cremona as the prize of victory.
28. (Whether this ingenious suggestion came from Hormus, as Messalla tells us, or whether we should attach greater weight to the authority of Gaius Plinius, who accuses Antonius, (34) I find difficult to decide. One can only say that, whichever of the two it was, he did not belie his reputation and way of life by this appalling crime.) Henceforward bloodshed and wounds could not check the troops' determination to undermine the rampart and shatter the gates. Climbing on one another's shoulders and mounting on top of the re-formed 'tortoise', they clutched at the enemy's weapons and shoulders. Locked together in a fatal embrace, the whole with the wounded, the maimed with the stricken, they rolled down in a shifting kaleidoscope of death and destruction.
29. The hardest fighting fell to the Third and Seventh Legions, and the commander Antonius at the head of a picked auxiliary force pressed the attack in this sector. Their grim rivalry in the offensive was too much for the Vitellians, while the missiles hurled down on the 'tortoise' glanced harmlessly off. So in the end the defenders tipped over the great gun itself upon the enemy beneath. For the moment this made a gap, as it crushed the men on whom it fell. But it also took with it in its fall the merlons and the upper part of the wall, and in the same instant an adjacent tower succumbed to a hail of stones. Here, while the men of the Seventh pressed the attack in close formation, those of the Third managed to break a way through the gate with their axes and swords. According to the unanimous testimony of our authorities, the first to penetrate the camp was Gaius Volusius, a private of the Third Legion. He climbed up to the wall, threw down any men still attempting resistance, and waving and yelling to attract attention, cried out 'The camp is ours'. His comrades, now that the Vitellians were on the run and were jumping down from the wall, surged through to join him. Heavy losses were inflicted on the enemy throughout the open space between the camp and the fortifications of Cremona. (35)
30. And now for the second time their eyes fell upon a battle setting entirely new to them: lofty town-walls, towers of masonry, gates with iron portcullises, a garrison flourishing its weapons and Cremona's teeming populace, which was deeply attached to the Vitellian cause— to say nothing of the large number of visitors from the rest of Italy who had flocked to the fair regularly held at that time of year, their numbers a help to the defence and their wealth an allurement to the assailants. Antonius ordered torches to be produced and applied to the most attractive suburban houses. The idea was that the loss of their property might induce the Cremonese to change sides. Such buildings as stood close to the walls and over-topped them he manned with his best troops, who dislodged the first line of the defence with joists, tiles and firebrands.
31. Some of the legionaries were already forming up for the 'tortoise' and others discharging missiles and stones, when the morale of the Vitellians gradually began to crack. The higher the rank, the less the will to resist the inevitable. They feared that if Cremona too were taken by storm, there would be no further question of quarter and the conqueror's anger would fall entirely upon the tribunes and centurions who were worth killing rather than upon the multitude who had nothing to lose. But the ordinary soldier stood firm, for he cared nothing for the future and thought himself relatively safe, because unknown. Roaming through the streets or hidden in houses, these men refused to ask for peace even when they had ceased to wage war. The camp commandants took down the portraits of Vitellius and the indications of his name. Caecina, who was still in confinement, was released from his shackles and requested to plead for the Vitellians. He stood on his dignity and refused, but they wore down his resistance with tearful entreaties, presenting the degrading phenomenon of many fine soldiers invoking the aid of a single traitor. Soon after, the white flag was displayed prominently from the walls. Antonius signalled the cease-fire, and the Vitellians brought out the standards and eagles. These were followed by a dejected column of disarmed men with downcast eyes. The victors had formed up to receive them, and at first jeered and thrust at them with their weapons. But after a while, when the beaten men faced their insults without flinching and impassively endured everything, their tormentors remembered that this was the army which, not long previously, had refrained from pressing home its victory at Bedriacum. But when Caecina, distinguished by bordered toga and lictors, thrust aside the throng and made his way forward in his capacity as consul, the victors were in an uproar. They taunted him with conceit and malevolence, never attractive vices, and treachery as well. Antonius intervened, and giving him an escort sent him off to Vespasian. (36)
32. Meanwhile scuffles were developing between the Cremonese populace and the armed troops, and it was only when a massacre was imminent that the appeals of their leaders succeeded in pacifying their men. Moreover, Antonius held a parade, addressing the victors proudly, and the vanquished with clemency, without referring to Cremona either way. Quite apart from its natural taste for plunder, the army had old scores to settle, and was bent on wiping out the Cremonese. It was held that they had once before supported the Vitellian side, in the war against Otho; and later the men of the Thirteenth, left there to build an amphitheatre, had been the target of their mockery and insults, this behaviour being typical of the impudent attitude of city mobs. The feeling against them was aggravated by a gladiatorial show Caecina had given at Cremona, its renewed employment as a base, and the way in which they offered the Vitellians food in the fighting line. (37) This had involved the death of certain women whose enthusiasm for the cause was such that they made their way out to the scene of battle. Moreover, it was the season of the fair, and this filled a city which was in any case opulent with an even greater display of wealth. The other generals were shadowy figures, but Antonius' success and status had placed him full in the public gaze. He hurried off to the baths to wash away the stains of battle, and there, as he criticized the temperature, he was overheard to say: 'Luke-warm! We'll be in hot water soon, though.' This cheap witticism fastened on him the whole odium of the affair, for people thought that he had given the word to fire Cremona, which was in fact already burning.
33. Forty thousand armed men forced their way into the city, with batmen and sutlers in greater numbers and even more viciously addicted to lust and violence. Neither rank nor years saved the victims from an indiscriminate orgy in which rape alternated with murder and murder with rape. Greybeards and frail old women, who had no value as loot, were dragged off to raise a laugh. But any full-grown girl or good-looking lad who crossed their path was pulled this way and that in a violent tug-of-war between the would-be captors, and finally drove them to destroy each other. A single looter trailing a hoard of money or temple-offerings of massive gold was often cut to pieces by others who were stronger. Some few turned up their noses at the obvious finds, and inflicted flogging and torture on the owners in order to rummage after hidden valuables and dig for buried treasure. In their hands they held firebrands, which, once they had got their spoil away, they wantonly flung into the empty houses and rifled temples. It is not surprising that, in an army of varied tongues and conventions, including Romans, allies and foreigners there was a diversity of wild desires, differing conceptions of what was lawful, and nothing barred. Cremona lasted them four days. While all its buildings, sacred and secular, collapsed in flames, only the temple of Mefitis (38) outside the walls remained standing, defended by its position or the power of the divinity.
34. This, then, was the fate of Cremona, 286 years after its foundation. It had been planted in the consulship of Tiberius Sempronius and Publius Cornelius at the time when Hannibal was menacing Italy ( 218 B.C.), to serve as a bulwark against the Gauls living north of the Po or any other violent irruption by way of the Alps. As it turned out, the abundance of settlers, the convenient presence of rivers, and the fertility of its territory, as well as kinship and intermarriage with the local tribes, conspired to favour the growth and prosperity of a city immune from foreign invasion and unlucky only in civil wars.
Antonius, thoroughly ashamed of the dreadful deed and worried by the mounting scandal which it caused, issued a proclamation that no one should keep prisoner a citizen of Cremona. Indeed, the troops had already found their booty useless to them owing to a concerted refusal throughout Italy to buy slaves of this sort, and they began to murder them. When this leaked out, the unfortunate men were stealthily ransomed by those who were their relatives by blood or marriage. In due course, the surviving inhabitants returned to Cremona. The squares and temples were restored thanks to the generosity of other Italian towns; and Vespasian gave the work his blessing. (39)
35. However, it was impossible to encamp for long by the ruins of the dead city owing to the infected ground. They moved out three miles, and formed up the frightened and straggling Vitellians in their respective units. To prevent any suspicious behaviour on the part of the defeated legions while the civil war was still raging, they were dispersed throughout the Balkans. Next, messengers were sent with the news to Britain and the Spanish provinces. Julius Calenus, a tribune, was dispatched to Gaul, and Alpinius Montanus, a cohort commander, to Germany. The intention was to impress public opinion, for the latter came from Trier, Calenus was an Aeduan, and both had been supporters of Vitellius. At the same time, the Alpine passes were manned in view of the threat that Germany would prepare to come to the rescue of the defeated emperor.
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