49. The imperial power was thus passing into new hands amid world-wide convulsions. Meanwhile, the behaviour of Antonius Primus degenerated sharply after Cremona. He felt he had broken the back of the war and the rest would be easy— or perhaps, in a character like his, it needed success to reveal the greed, pride and other vices that lurked beneath the surface. He pranced through Italy as if it were a conquered country, ingratiated himself with the legions as if they were his own, and in everything he did and said tried to build up a position of strength and influence. To give the troops a taste for licence, he accorded the legions the right of appointing centurions to replace those who had been killed. The posts were filled by a show of hands, and the most unruly candidates elected. Thus, so far from the troops being at the disposal of their officers, the latter were hurried along by the violence of their men. These were the methods of an agitator who sought to ruin discipline. But it was not long before Antonius adapted them to the task of filling his own pockets. He had no fear of the approaching Mucianus, though this was a more dangerous mistake than it would have been to slight Vespasian.
50. However, as winter approached and the Po valley became waterlogged, a light expeditionary force set off. At Verona were left the H.Q.s and main parties of the victorious legions, the wounded or those too old for action, and a number of fit soldiers as well. It was thought that the cohorts, cavalry and some picked legionaries would be enough to cope with the situation, as the war was by this time practically won. The Eleventh Legion (1) had now joined in. It had hesitated at first, and then, when things turned out well, became uneasy because of its failure to cooperate. It was accompanied by a recent levy of 6,000 Dalmatian recruits. This whole force was led by the governor, Pompeius Silvanus, though decisions were actually made by Annius Bassus, the legionary commander. Silvanus, too lazy to be a fighter, frittered away the time for action in talk, but Bassus knew how to manage him by a show of deference, and whenever there was work to be done, he was always on the spot and ready to act with quiet efficiency. These units were reinforced by the pick of the naval personnel at Ravenna, who were anxious to transfer to service in the legions. (2) Their places were taken by the Dalmatians.
The army and its leaders halted at Fanum Fortunae. They were hesitant about strategy, for they had heard that the praetorian cohorts had moved out from the capital, and imagined that the passes of the Apennines were by this time manned. What also alarmed the leaders was the lack of supplies in a region devastated by war, and the mutinous demand of the troops for a bounty called 'nail-money'. (3) The commanders had not made provision for pay or food, either. Haste and greed neutralized their efforts, for the men stole what they could have had as a gift.
51. I find that some very popular historians vouch for the truth of the following story. The victors displayed such disregard for right and wrong that a trooper claimed that he had killed his brother in the recent battle, and demanded a reward from his leaders. Common morality deterred them from honouring the murder, and the very nature of civil war from punishing it. In the end, it seems, they decided to put the man off by saying that the reward he deserved was too great to be paid on the spot. And there the story ends. However, according to Sisenna, an equally ghastly act had occurred in a previous civil war, for in the battle against Cinna on the Janiculum, (4) a soldier of Pompeius Strabo killed his brother, and then, when he realized what he had done, committed suicide. Thus in earlier generations merit evoked keener appreciation, and wicked actions keener remorse. Anyhow, it will not be inappropriate for me to cite these and similar anecdotes from ancient history when the context calls for lessons in right conduct or consolation for evil.
52. Antonius and the other Flavian leaders decided that the cavalry should be sent forward and a general reconnaissance of Umbria made in the hope of finding some way of access to the summit of the Apennines by a fairly gentle gradient. A summons was also to be sent to the H.Q.s and main parties of the legions and whatever other troops were at Verona, and the Po and the Adriatic were to be crowded with supply ships.
Certain senior officers tried to drag their feet, feeling that Antonius was now too powerful, and that it would be safer to pin their hopes on Mucianus. The latter was in fact worried at such a rapid advance, and was convinced that he would be debarred from the campaign and the distinctions it offered unless he were personally present at the entry into Rome. So the tone of his dispatches to Primus and Varus was non-committal, sometimes stressing the need for exploiting any opening, sometimes enumerating the advantages of delay. His language was carefully chosen so that in the light of events he could either disclaim responsibility for failure or take credit for success. A certain Plotius Grypus had recently been given senatorial status by Vespasian, and placed in command of a legion. (5) He, and other reliable adherents, were given clearer hints by Mucianus, and all of them sent back unfavourable reports on the excessive haste of Primus and Varus, which was just what their correspondent wanted. By forwarding these accounts to Vespasian, Mucianus soon made sure that Antonius' intentions and achievements were not valued as highly as he had hoped.
53. Antonius resented this, and in his turn blamed Mucianus, whose accusations, he said, had robbed his own desperate endeavours of their value. In general conversation, too, he expressed himself with the freedom of a man who was not disposed to mince his words or submit to control. The dispatches he sent to Vespasian had too arrogant a tone for an emperor's hearing and contained veiled attacks on Mucianus. He pointed out that it was he, Antonius, who had got the legions of Pannonia to fight, who had spurred the Moesian commanders to action, and by steady persistence forced the Alps, seized Italy, and headed off enemy reinforcements coming from Germany and Raetia. He had routed Vitellius' legions while they were disunited and separated, first by a whirlwind cavalry charge, and then by a day and a night of hard infantry fighting. This was no mean achievement, and the credit belonged to him. The sack of Cremona must be regarded as a war liability, and civil dissensions in the past had involved the country in greater loss and in the destruction not of one city but of several. His method of serving his emperor was not to send messages and write despatches, but to act and fight. What he had done did not eclipse the fame of those who, in the meantime, had established order elsewhere. These officers had been concerned for the tranquillity of Moesia, he for the rescue and relief of Italy. It was thanks to his own prompting that the various provinces of Gaul and Spain, constituting one of the most powerful areas in the world, had gone over to Vespasian. But all these endeavours would have been reduced to a hollow mockery if the rewards for facing danger were to go only to those who had not faced it.
These complaints came to the ears of Mucianus, and they caused a serious rift between the two, in which Antonius showed what he felt with greater frankness, whereas Mucianus hugged his grievances with wily, and hence more implacable, cunning.
54. As for Vitellius, after the disaster to his cause at Cremona, he foolishly tried to hush up the news of defeat. In so doing, he was postponing the remedy for the disease rather than the disease itself. The fact is that he still had some prospects and resources if only he had confessed the truth and taken advice. But by pretending that all was well, which was the exact opposite of the facts, he merely aggravated his condition by falsehood. In the emperor's presence, there was an uncanny conspiracy of silence about the war, while throughout the country rumour was prohibited, and therefore multiplied. Men who would have told the truth, if this had been permitted, immediately set about circulating more sensational accounts to spite the censorship. The Flavian commanders, too, did their bit to increase gossip. Their method was to take captured Vitellian spies on conducted tours of the victorious army to give them an insight into its strength, and then send them back to Rome. Vitellius interrogated all these men in secret, and had them put to death. A remarkable example of inflexible courage is provided by the story of the centurion Julius Agrestis. Despite many conferences with Vitellius, he had failed to get him to act like a man. But at last the emperor was prevailed upon to allow Agrestis to be sent in person to reconnoitre the enemy strength and see what had happened at Cremona. The centurion made no attempt to hide his commission from Antonius, but revealed the emperor's instructions and his own attitude, and asked permission to have a look at everything. Officers were detailed to show him the site of the battle, the ruins of Cremona, and the legions who had capitulated. Agrestis then made his way back to Vitellius. When the emperor refused to admit the truth of his story and actually alleged that he had been bribed, the centurion replied: 'Well, since you need overwhelming proof and have no further use for me whether alive or dead, I will supply you with evidence you must believe.' With these words, he left the emperor, and confirmed the truth of his report by committing suicide. Some authorities have stated that he was put to death on the orders of Vitellius, but all tell the same story of his fidelity and unwavering resolution.
55. Vitellius was like a sleeper awakened. He ordered Julius Priscus and Alfenus Varus to hold the Apennines with fourteen pretorian cohorts and all the available cavalry units. In their wake followed the legion (6) recruited from the sailors of the fleet. Under different leadership, a force of so many thousands- picked men and picked horses— was quite strong enough to launch an offensive, to say nothing of defending Rome. The remaining cohorts were allotted to the emperor's brother Lucius for the protection of the capital. Vitellius himself continued to lead his usual life of dissipation, and his very lack of confidence led to hasty decisions. He held hurried elections, appointing consuls in advance for a number of years. He lavished treaty status on the provincials, and Latin rights on foreigners. (7)
Some were excused payment of tribute, others assisted by various exemptions. In short, with total unconcern for the future, he hacked the empire to pieces. But the lower classes gaped open-mouthed at such lavish bounty. Fools purchased his favours with money, but wise men regarded as null and void concessions which could neither be offered nor accepted without ruining the country. Finally, he yielded to the demand of the army, which had by now taken up its position at Mevania. Assembling a great retinue of senators, many of whom wanted to curry favour, while still more were induced by fear, he travelled with them to army headquarters, where his indecision put him at the mercy of unreliable advisers.
56. During a speech of his to the assembled troops, an incident occurred which was spoken of as a prodigy: a flock of birds of ill omen (8) flew overhead in such numbers that they seemed like a dark cloud blotting out the daylight. Then, too, there was the sinister escape from the altar of an ox that scattered the implements of sacrifice and was felled some distance away in a manner contrary to the ritual prescribed for the killing of victims. But the chief portent was Vitellius himself. He knew nothing about active service, and had formed no plans for the future. He was perpetually asking others about the proper march-order, the arrangement for reconnaissance, and the extent to which a military decision should be forced or postponed. Whenever a dispatch arrived, his very looks and movements betrayed panic; and, to crown all, he drank. Finally, bored with camp life, and learning of the defection of the fleet at Misenum, he returned to Rome, frightened by each new blow he suffered but blind to the supreme danger. It was perfectly open to him to cross the Apennines with his army intact and fall upon an enemy exhausted by wintry conditions and lack of supplies. But by dissipating his resources, he consigned to slaughter and captivity a devoted army that was ready to face any odds. His most experienced centurions disagreed with him, and would have told the truth if consulted. But they were refused access to the emperor by his courtiers, and his own character was such that he listened to sound advice with an ill humour and lent a ready ear only to what was agreeable- and fatal.
57. The influence which can be exerted in times of civil strife by a single, unscrupulous individual is illustrated by the story of the Misenum fleet. A centurion who had been cashiered by Galba, one Claudius Faventinus, induced the sailors to rebel. He did this by dangling before their eyes the offer of a reward for treachery contained in a forged letter purporting to come from Vespasian. The fleet was commanded by Claudius Apollinaris, an officer who was neither steadfast in loyalty nor enterprising as a rebel. An ex-praetor, too, Apinius Tiro, happened to be at Minturnae at the time, and put himself at the head of the renegades. Incited by these two, the Italian communities in the area contributed their local rivalries to the confusion of civil war. Of these, Puteoli was particu-larly attached to Vespasian, while Capua remained faithful to Vitellius. The latter now chose Claudius Julianus, who had recently commanded the fleet at Misenum without much insistence on discipline, for the task of smoothing the sailors' ruffled feelings, and for this purpose gave him one urban cohort and some gladiators. When the two forces encamped within striking distance of each other, Julianus lost little time in going over to Vespasian. The rebels thereupon occupied Tarracina, a town whose walls and situation protected it more effectually than the temper of its garrison.
58. On hearing of this, Vitellius left part of his forces at Narnia with the pretorian prefects, and sent off his brother Lucius with six cohorts and 500 cavalry to deal with the offensive which was being mounted throughout Campania. The emperor himself was depressed, but found some encouragement in the enthusiasm of his troops and the clamour of the populace for arms, giving the specious name of 'army' and 'legions' to a cowardly mob unlikely to translate its boasts into action. At the instance of his freedmen— for at Vitellius' court loyalty stood in inverse proportion to rank - he caused the people to be mustered by wards, and had volunteers sworn in. The response was overwhelming, so he shared the responsibility for the levy between the two consuls. He imposed upon the senators specific contributions of slaves and money. The equestrian order offered its services and wealth, and freedmen too actually asked to shoulder the same burden. Thus a pretended devotion born of fear had turned into real attachment, and it was not so much the man Vitellius as the disastrous position of the emperor that aroused men's pity. Besides, Vitellius did his best to angle for sympathy by looks, words and tears, for he was lavish with his promises and displayed the emotional extravagances of panic. Indeed, he consented to be addressed as 'Caesar', a title which he had previously refused. Now the magic of the name appealed to his superstition, and in moments of fear the voice of wisdom and the gossip of the mob are listened to with equal alacrity. But mere emotional impulses, however strong originally, always grow weaker in the long run. So senators and knights gradually melted away, at first reluctantly and in his absence, later without respect or distinction. In the end, Vitellius grew ashamed of his fruitless endeavours and ceased to demand what no one offered.
59. Though Italy had been shocked by the occupation of Mevania and by the impression that fighting was starting all over again, yet the panic-stricken departure of Vitellius caused a clear swing of public opinion in favour of the Flavian cause. The Samnites, Paeligni and Marsi, furious that Campania had stolen a march upon them, were naturally eager to emphasize their new-found loyalty by performing every kind of military service. But the severe winter gave the army a rough time throughout the passage of the Apennines, and the difficulty it experienced in forcing a way through the snow, even when unmolested, showed the extent of the danger which it would have had to face but for Vitellius' retreat. This was one more example of the good fortune that helped the Flavian leaders no less often than cool calculation. In the mountains they were met by Petilius Cerialis, (9) who had eluded the Vitellian guards by disguising himself as a peasant and making use of his personal knowledge of the area. Cerialis was closely related to Vespasian, and a distinguished soldier in his own right. For these reasons he was co-opted as one of the leaders. According to many accounts, Flavius Sabinus and Domitian had a chance to escape too, and by means of various subterfuges messengers from Antonius repeatedly found their way in with information of a rendezvous where an escort would be waiting. Sabinus pleaded that he was a sick man and not fit enough to undertake such an exhausting and desperate venture. Domitian had the will to act, but Vitellius had put him in custody and, though his gaolers promised to join him in the escape, it was feared that this was a trap. What is more, Vitellius himself avoided any ill-treatment of Domitian out of consideration for his own relatives.
60. On reaching Carsulae, the Flavian leaders took a few days' rest, and waited for the main parties of the legions to catch up. The site of the camp appealed to them, too, for it commanded a wide and distant prospect and the presence of some very prosperous towns in the rear assured a flow of supplies. Furthermore, there was a chance of conversations with the Vitellians ten miles away which might lead to their surrender. This was not much to the taste of the Flavian rank-and-file, who preferred to win a victory rather than negotiate a peace. They were not prepared to wait even for their own legions, feeling that these would share the prize rather than the peril. Antonius had his men paraded, and pointed out that Vitellius still disposed of considerable forces, which might well prove to be of doubtful loyalty if they were given time to think things over, but would offer desperate resistance if hope were denied them. The opening moves of a civil war, he claimed, must be left to chance, but final victory came with planning and calculation. The fleet at Misenum and the finest part of the coast of Campania had already fallen away, and nothing was left to Vitellius of a world-wide empire but the strip of territory between Tarracina and Narnia. (10) The glory gained by the battle of Cremona was enough, and more than enough the dishonour earned by Cremona's ruin. Their dearest wish should be to save Rome, not capture it. Greater rewards and-supreme glory would be theirs if they tried to secure the preservation of the senate and people of Rome without bloodshed.
These and similar arguments succeeded in mollifying their feelings.
61. Soon after, the legions arrived. Then, as the alarming news of this increase in strength spread, the Vitellian cohorts began to waver. No one encouraged them to fight, but many urged them to go over to the Flavians. Their officers competed with one another in surrendering their companies and squadrons to the victor as a free gift that would earn them his gratitude in the future. Thanks to them, it was learnt that Interamna, in the flat country nearby, was garrisoned by a force of 400 cavalry. Varus was instantly sent off with a battle group. He killed the few who resisted, and the majority threw down their arms and asked for quarter. A few found their way back to the Vitellian camp, spreading demoralization everywhere and telling exaggerated tales of the fighting spirit and numbers of the enemy in order to excuse the scandal of losing the place they were supposed to defend. In any case, on the Vitellian side unsoldierly conduct went unpunished, and the rewards earned by defection killed loyalty. All that remained was a competition in perfidy. There were constant desertions, at any rate on the part of tribunes and centurions. The rank-and-file, on the other hand, stubbornly adhered to Vitellius until Priscus and Alfenus, by leaving the camp and going back to him, freed everyone (11) from the need to be ashamed of giving up.
62. It was during this period (12) that Fabius Valens was put to death at Urvinum, where he had been confined. His head was displayed to the Vitellian cohorts to prevent their indulging any further hopes, for they imagined that Valens had got through to the German provinces and was mobilizing existing and newly recruited armies there. The gory sight effectually disillusioned them. The Flavian army for its part triumphantly greeted the death of Valens as marking the end of the war.
Valens was born at Anagnia of an equestrian family. Undisciplined in character but not without talent, he had tried to pass himself off as a man of fashion by behaving extravagantly. During Nero's reign, he appeared on the music-hall stage at the emperor's coming-of-age party, ostensibly at the imperial command, then voluntarily. In this he displayed some skill, but little sense of decorum. As the commander of a legion (13), he both supported Verginius and blackened his name. It was thanks to him that Fonteius Capito met his end, after Valens had lured his victim into treachery or perhaps because his allurements had failed. False to Galba, he displayed towards Vitellius a loyalty which contrasted favourably with the perfidy of others. (14)
63. The position was now hopeless everywhere, and the Vitellian troops decided to go over to the enemy. Even this act was not to be performed without a certain dignity. They marched down to the flat land beneath Narnia with banners flying and standards borne aloft. The Flavian army, ready and armed as if for battle, had formed up in closed ranks on either side of the main road. The Vitellians marched forward until they were enveloped by them, and were then addressed by Antonius in a conciliatory tone. Some were told to stand fast at Narnia, others at Interamna. One or two of the victorious legions were also left behind with them to provide a force which would be inoffensive if the ex-enemy troops behaved, yet strong enough to quell any insubordination.
During this period, Primus and Varus made a point of sending Vitellius a stream of messages offering him his life, a competence, and retirement in Campania, if he would lay down his arms and throw himself and his children on the mercy of Vespasian. This was also the general tenor of Mucianus' letters to him. On the whole, Vitellius took the offer seriously, and talked of the number of servants to be allotted him and the best seaside resort to choose. Indeed, his whole attitude was so spineless that, if his courtiers had not remembered that he was an emperor, he would have forgotten it himself.
64. The leading political figures however were engaged in secret conversations with the city prefect, Flavius Sabinus, urging him to claim his share of victory and renown. They pointed out that he had his own military force in the urban cohorts, and could rely upon the cohorts of the city watch, their own slaves, the luck of the Flavians, and the fact that nothing succeeds like success. He should not allow himself to be elbowed out of the limelight by Antonius and Varus. Vitellius' cohorts were few in number (15) and upset by bad news from every quarter. The populace was easily swayed, and, given a lead, would be quick to transfer its flattery to Vespasian. As for Vitellius, he had been unable to cope with success, and was now inevitably prostrated by disaster. Credit for bringing the war to an end would go to the one who was the first to gain control of Rome. It was incumbent on Sabinus to stake a claim to the imperial power on behalf of his brother, and not less incumbent on Vespasian that others should take second place in his esteem to Sabinus.
65. His response to these remarks was luke-warm, for age had enfeebled him. But some critics made him the target for their secret suspicion that it was envy and jealousy that prompted him to stand in the way of his brother's rise. It is a fact that, when both were subjects, Flavius Sabinus had the greater standing and wealth of the two, as being the elder. There was also a story that he had once demanded a mortgage upon Vespasian's house and land as a condition of saving him from bankruptcy; hence, although they were outwardly friendly, it was feared that there was secret ill-feeling. A more charitable interpretation was that his gentle character made him hate bloodshed and killing, and that this was why he took part in repeated interviews with Vitellius to discuss peace and an armistice upon agreed terms. They often met in private, and finally made a solemn compact, it was said, in the Temple of Apollo. Only two men, Cluvius Rufus (16) and Silius Italicus (17), were technically witnesses and could vouch for the actual terms of the agreement and the words exchanged between them, but observers at a distance marked their looks— Vitellius hangdog and degenerate, Sabinus with an expression suggesting sympathy rather than a desire to humiliate.
66. If Vitellius had found it as easy to convert his followers as to give way himself, the army of Vespasian would have entered the capital without bloodshed. As it was, the greater their fidelity to Vitellius, the more vigorously they opposed the notion of peace terms, pointing out the danger and discredit of a pact whose faithful observance depended on the whim of the conqueror. Vespasian, they said, was not so conceited as to tolerate Vitellius in the role of subject, and even the beaten side would not accept such a situation. So there was no safety in the mercy of the conqueror. No doubt Vitellius himself was no longer young, and had had his fill of success and failure. But what name and status would his son Germanicus inherit? For the moment, there was an offer of money, servants and the delightful bays of Campania. But when Vespasian had consolidated his power, neither he nor his court, nor indeed his armies, would regain their peace of mind unless the rival emperor were destroyed. After being taken prisoner and kept for a few days, Fabius Valens had proved too great a burden for them. It was clear therefore that Primus, Varus, and that typical Flavian Mucianus would have no alternative but to kill Vitellius. Caesar had not spared the life of Pompey, nor Augustus that of Antony. (18). What hope was there then that Vespasian would be above such things when he had been the dependant of a Vitellius when that Vitellius was a colleague of Claudius? (19) Indeed, even if he had no thought for his father's position as censor and three times consul, or for the many other high offices filled by his distinguished family, despair at least should arm him for a desperate bid. The troops stood firm, and there was still support for him among the people. In any case, the upshot could be no more dreadful than the fate to which they were hurrying of their own accord. If they were beaten, they must die. If they surrendered, they must die. What alone mattered was whether they were to breathe their last amid mockery and insult, or on the field of honour.
67. But Vitellius had no ears for bold policies. He was overwhelmed by pity for his family and by concern lest, by fighting to the bitter end, he might leave his widow and children to face a victor less disposed to mercy. He also had an elderly mother in poor health, but happily she died a few days before the ruin of her family, having gained nothing by her son's reign but grief and men's esteem.
On 18 December, after learning of the defection of the legion and cohorts which had surrendered at Narnia, he walked down from the palace dressed in black and surrounded by his sorrowing servants. His little son was borne in a tiny litter, as if to his funeral. The greetings of the public were ingratiating and ill-timed. The troops maintained a sullen silence.
68. No one, however heartless and inhuman, could have failed to be deeply touched by the scene. An emperor of Rome, until recently the acknowledged master of the world, was leaving the imperial palace which had been his and passing through the people and city of Rome on the way to abdication. This was something they had never seen, never heard of. Julius Caesar had been the victim of sudden assassination, Gaius of a secret plot. Night and a solitary countryside had hidden the flight of Nero. Piso and Galba met their deaths in circumstances which recalled a field of battle. The abdication of Vitellius, however, took place at a public meeting summoned by himself, amid his own troops, before an audience which included women. He made a short speech suited to the melancholy occasion, saying that he was abdicating in the interests of peace and of his country. He merely urged them to remember him and deal mercifully with his brother, his wife and his innocent children. As he spoke, he held up his son and appealed to them, sometimes as individuals, sometimes collectively, to look after the child. In the end, his tears prevented further speech. Drawing from his belt the dagger which symbolized the power of life and death over his subjects, he offered it to the consul standing by him, Caecilius Simplex. The latter refused to take it, and the nearer members of the crowd protested indignantly. He then moved away with the intention of giving up the insignia of empire in the Temple of Concord and of making for his brother's house. At this, the cries increased. They barred his access to a mere private house, and called upon him to go back to the palace. Every other road was blocked except that which took him along the Sacred Way. (20) Thereupon, not knowing what to do, he returned to the palace.
69. A rumour of Vitellius' intended abdication had already leaked out, and Flavius Sabinus had issued written orders to the tribunes of the cohorts (21) to confine their men to barracks. Assuming, therefore, that there had been a complete transfer of sovereignty to Vespasian, the leading senators, a number of knights, and representatives of all the urban troops and of the watch crowded the house of Flavius Sabinus. While they were there, news came of the pro-Vitellian sympathies of the populace, and of the threatening attitude of the cohorts from Germany. But by this time Sabinus had gone too far to allow of retreat, and every one of his supporters was selfishly afraid that the Vitellians might hunt them down while they were separated and consequently weaker. So they urged the reluctant Sabinus to use force. It is typical of a situation of this sort that everybody offered advice, but only a few took the initiative and faced the danger.
Near the Basin of Fundanus, as the armed escort of Sabinus came down the hill, it was confronted by the most active of Vitellius' supporters. The fracas was unexpected, and there was not much fighting, though it told in favour of the Vitellians. Sabinus took the safest course open to him in the emergency: he occupied the Capitoline Hill with a mixed force and a number of senators and knights. (It is not easy to establish their identity without much research, because after Vespasian's victory many people pretended to have served his cause in this way.) There were even some women among the besieged, notably Verulana Gratilla, who followed the call to action and not the claims of her children and relatives.
The cordon which the Vitellian troops threw round the besieged was a loose one and that is why, late at night, Sabinus was able to get his children (22) and his nephew Domitian to join him on the Capitol. He also managed to send a messenger through a carelessly guarded sector in the enemy lines to give the Flavian leaders news of the siege and say how desperate his plight would be unless help were forthcoming. The night was so quiet that Sabinus could have got away without loss, for Vitellius' men, though full of dash in a tight corner, were pretty slack when it came to fatigues and guard-duties, and a sudden wintry rainstorm made seeing and hearing difficult.
70. At first light, before either side could begin hostilities, Sabinus sent a senior centurion, one Cornelius Martialis, to protest to Vitellius against this breach of the agreement. The act of abdication, he complained, appeared to have been no more than a pretence, an empty show, designed to deceive many persons of quality. Why, otherwise, on leaving the rostra, had Vitellius made for his brother's house which stood in the public eye provocatively close to the Forum, rather than the Aventine and his wife's home? The latter course of action would have been correct for one who was a subject trying to avoid any appearance of still being emperor. Far from doing this, Vitellius had returned to the very stronghold of empire, the palace. From this an armed column had been sent out, a crowded area of the city had been strewn with the bodies of innocent victims, and not even the Capitol was to be spared. After all, he, Sabinus, was merely a civilian, an ordinary senator. While the issue between Vespasian and Vitellius was being- settled by the clash of legions, the capture of cities and the surrender of cohorts, and even when the Spanish and German provinces and Britain were already renouncing their allegiance, he, Vespasian's brother, had remained a loyal subject until Vitellius took the initiative and invited him to negotiate. Peace and agreement were essentials for the beaten. On the victors they merely reflected credit. If Vitellius regretted the pact, he had no business to launch an armed attack on Sabinus, whom he had perfidiously tricked, or on the son of Vespasian, who was little more than a child. (23)
What was to be gained by murdering one old man and one youth? Vitellius should go and face the legions, and fight it out there. The result of such a battle would determine everything else.
Vitellius was upset by these reproaches and made a short speech of apology, throwing the blame on the troops, whose impetuosity had, he said, overborne his own restraint. He also warned Martialis to slip away by a remote area of the palace to avoid being murdered by the soldiers as the intermediary of a pact that they detested. Vitellius himself was in no position either to command or to prohibit. Emperor no longer, he was merely the cause of the fighting.
71. Martialis had scarcely regained the Capitol when the infuriated troops appeared. They had no leader, and each man followed his own devices. At a rapid pace, the column galloped past the forum and the temples abutting on it, and charged up the slope opposite as far as the outer gate of the Capitoline Hill. (24) At that time, there was a row of porticoes on the right-hand side of the Clivus Capitolinus as you go up. The defenders got on to the roof of the colonnade and assailed the Vitellians with stones and tiles. The enemy for their part were armed only with swords, and thought it would take too long to bring up artillery or missiles. So they hurled firebrands at a projecting portico, followed the flames as they spread uphill, and would have forced the charred gates of the Capitol, had not Sabinus uprooted the statues with which past generations had adorned the whole area, and so formed an improvised barricade at the actual entrance. Then the Vitellians attacked at two opposite approaches to the Capitol, next to the Grove of Refuge and where access is gained to the Tarpeian Rock by the Hundred Steps. Both onslaughts were unforeseen, but that delivered by way of Refuge was closer and more violent. Nor could the enemy be prevented from climbing up through the adjoining buildings which, naturally enough in a time of profound peace, had been allowed to attain a considerable height, on a level with the surface of the Capitol. At this point it is a matter of controversy whether it was the attacking force that set fire to the houses or whether— and this is the more common version— it was the besieged who did so in an attempt to dislodge their enemies, who were forcing their way up and had made some progress. From the houses the fire spread to the porticoes adjoining the temple. Then the rafters made of well-seasoned timber caught alight and fed the flames. Thus the Capitoline temple, its doors locked, was burned to the ground undefended and unplundered.
72. This was the most lamentable and appalling disaster in the whole history of the Roman commonwealth. Though no foreign enemy threatened, though we enjoyed the favour of heaven as far as our failings permitted, the sanctuary of Jupiter Best and Greatest solemnly founded by our fathers as a symbol of our imperial destiny— a temple which neither Porsenna on the capitulation of the city nor the Gauls on its capture (25) had been able to desecrate— was now, thanks to the infatuation of our leaders, suffering utter destruction. It had already been burnt down in a previous civil war, (26) but by an individual and mysterious act of arson. But on this occasion it was besieged in the broad light of day, and in the broad light of day fired. One might well ask, for what military reasons? What advantage could compensate Rome for this heavy sacrifice? So long as we fought in the defence of our country and not against it, the Capitoline temple stood four-square.
It owed its origin to a vow made by Tarquin the Elder in the Sabine War, and the scale upon which he had laid its foundations was prompted rather by a hope of coming greatness than by the then modest resources of Rome. The construction of the building was carried further by Servius Tullius, thanks to the support of our allies, and later by Tarquin the Proud with spoils taken from the enemy at the capture of Suessa Pometia. But the distinction of completing the structure was reserved for the free republic. On the expulsion of the kings, it was dedicated by Horatius Pulvillus in his second consulship. (27) Such was its magnificence that the enormous increase in Rome's wealth in later days served rather to adorn than to enlarge it. Four hundred and twenty-five years later, in the consulship of Lucius Scipio and Gaius Norbanus, it was burnt down, to be rebuilt on the same site. Sulla undertook this responsibility after his victory, but he did not live to perform the dedication. This was the only instance in which his proverbial good luck deserted him. The inscription recording the name of Lutatius Catulus (28) survived amid all the great works of the Caesars until the reign of Vitellius. Such, then, was the temple which was now being reduced to ashes.
73. But the fire caused more terror among the besieged than the besiegers. The fact was that in this crisis the Vitellian soldiers showed both cunning and determination, whereas on the opposing side were panicky troops and a leader who was slow to act and seemed mentally paralysed. Incapable of using either tongue or ears, he neither listened to the views of others nor made clear his own. Turning now this way, now that in answer to each enemy shout, he countermanded what he had ordered, and ordered what he had countermanded. Soon the typical signs of collapse appeared: every-body gave instructions and no one carried them out. Finally, throwing down their arms, they started looking around them for an escape route and methods of concealment. The Vitellians forced their way in, creating a confused turmoil of blood, iron and flames. A few of the professional soldiers— the most notable being Cornelius Martialis, Aemilius Pacensis, Casperius Niger and Didius Scaeva—ventured to resist, and were struck down. Flavius Sabinus was unarmed and made no attempt to run. He was surrounded together with the consul Quintius Atticus, who had attracted notice by the pretentious way in which he had showered edicts upon the people, glorifying Vespasian and insulting Vitellius. The rest got away by various hazardous means, some dressed as slaves, others hidden by loyal dependants and secreted amid the lumber of their store-rooms. Some few, again, overheard the Vitellian watchword and by actually challenging the enemy or giving the correct answer found concealment in daring.
74. As soon as the defences were breached, Domitian had hidden himself in the house of the caretaker of the temple. Then, prompted by an ingenious freedman, he put on a linen mantle, eluded recognition by joining a throng of priests and lay low near the Velabrum at the home of one of his father's dependants, Cornelius Primus. This is why, during Vespasian's reign, he demolished the caretaker's lodge and put up a small chapel to Jupiter the Preserver and a marble altar carved with a representation of his own adventure. Later, on becoming emperor in his turn, he built a large temple dedicated to Jupiter the Guardian, with an effigy of himself under the protecting arm of the god.
Sabinus and Atticus were heavily chained and taken to Vitellius, who received them with words and looks that showed little hostility, though there was a noisy clamour from those who insisted upon the right to execute them, and demanded a reward for services rendered. The cries, which were first raised among the bystanders, were taken up by the dregs of the city mob, who howled for Sabinus' execution with a mixture of menace and flattery. Vitellius was standing at the top of the palace steps preparing to appeal to their better feelings, but they forced him to give up the attempt. Then Sabinus was stabbed and hacked to death, his head cut off and the decapitated body dragged to the Gemonian Steps.
75. Such was the end of a man of undeniable importance. He had served his country for five-and-thirty years, winning distinction in the civilian and military spheres. His honesty and fair-mindedness are beyond question. He talked too much: but this was the one and only charge levelled against him by gossip during the seven years in which he governed Moesia and his twelve-year tenure of the city prefecture. (29) At the end of his life, he seemed to some unenterprising, to many a man of moderation who sought to spare Roman lives. All observers agree that before Vespasian's accession Sabinus was the most distinguished representative of his house. We are told that his murder gave pleasure to Mucianus. A widely held theory was that peace actually gained from the cessation of rivalry between two men, of whom one might well have reflected that he was the emperor's brother, and the other that he was his colleague.
Vitellius resisted a popular demand for the execution of the consul, however. He was mollified by Atticus' attitude, and this seems to have been a way of showing his thanks. For when asked who had set fire to the Capitol, Atticus had accepted responsibility. By this admission (unless it was a lie devised to suit the occasion) he had, so it appeared, shouldered the odium and guilt himself, thus exonerating Vitellius and his followers.
76. By this time, Lucius Vitellius had encamped at Feronia (30) and was threatening Tarracina. The gladiators and seamen were confined to the town, and did not venture to expose themselves in the open outside the walls. As I have already mentioned, the gladiators were commanded by Julianus and the seamen by Apollinaris. These two were so dissolute and idle that they resembled brigands more than officers. There was no question of keeping watch or reinforcing weak points in the walls. Night and day, the pleasant beaches (31) rang with cries of revelry. The men were scattered everywhere on errands of pleasure, and fighting was merely a subject discussed at the banqueting-table. Apinius Tiro had gone off a few days earlier and by his merciless exaction of gifts and money throughout the towns of the area earned the cause more unpopularity than support.
77. Meanwhile, a slave belonging to Vergilius Capito (32) deserted to Lucius Vitellius. Promising to betray the undefended citadel (33) of Tarracina if given men, he took some cohorts in battle order along the top of the hills late at night and planted them on a height immediately overlooking the enemy. From this point, they rushed down to inflict a massacre rather than fight a battle. The defenders were struck down while still unarmed or feeling for their weapons. Some indeed had only just been roused from sleep, and were dazed by the darkness, panic, trumpet-calls and enemy cries. A few of the gladiators offered resistance and inflicted some losses before they fell. But the rest of them made a rush for the ships. Here the scene was one of general panic and confusion, in which civilians were mixed up with troops and shared their fate at the hands of the Vitellians. Six galleys got away at the first alarm, with the admiral Apollinaris on board. The rest were captured on the beach, or were overloaded by the mad press of fugitives and went to the bottom. Julianus was taken before Lucius Vitellius, and suffered the indignity of flogging before being strangled under the victor's eyes. Some criticized Triaria, Lucius' wife, for wearing a soldier's sword and behaving with arrogance and cruelty amid the grief and suffering of captured Tarracina. Lucius himself sent a laurelled dispatch to his brother announcing his victory and asking whether he wanted him to return immediately or to complete the subjugation of Campania. The delay involved was providential for Vespasian's followers, and indeed for the whole state. For the Vitellian troops, naturally stubborn, were now flushed by success as well, and if they had made for Rome immediately after the battle, there would have been a desperate struggle entailing the destruction of the capital. For Lucius Vitellius, despite his shady reputation, did get things done, and as good men derive their effectiveness from their virtues, so he, like all who are really evil, derived his from his vices.
78. While these events were in progress on Vitellius' side, the army of Vespasian, which had left Narnia, was celebrating the festival of the Saturnalia in idleness at Ocriculum. (34) This fatal delay was caused by the desire to wait for Mucianus. There have been some who have suspected Antonius of wilfully and maliciously wasting time after the receipt of a secret communication from Vitellius. This did in fact offer to reward him with a consulship, the hand of Vitellius' daughter (now of marriageable age) and a rich dowry, provided he would change sides. Others have held that this account of the delay was a fiction invented to please Mucianus. In the view of certain writers, all the generals were agreed that, as the most powerful cohorts had deserted from Vitellius, it was policy to confront Rome with the threat rather than the reality of armed occupation. Vitellius' abdication seemed imminent, now that he was deprived of all his defences. But, according to this view, everything was spoilt by the haste and subsequent weakness of Sabinus, who had rashly resorted to arms and then proved unable to defend the strongly-fortified Capitoline Hill, impregnable even to large armies, against no more than three cohorts. It is difficult to blame any one leader for what was the responsibility of them all. Mucianus persistently held up the victors by his ambiguously-phrased letters, while Antonius' misplaced deference earned him condemnation in the very act of forestalling criticism. As for the other leaders, their belief that the war was over served to mark its final stages with tragedy. Even Petilius Cerialis, who had been sent on with a force of l,000 cavalry to cut across country through the land of the Sabini and enter the city by the Salarian Way, had failed to make sufficient haste. Finally, the news that the Capitol was beleaguered shocked all the Flavian commanders alike into action.
79. The night (35) was far advanced before Antonius, marching to the rescue down the Flaminian Way, reached Saxa Rubra. It was too late. There he heard the news of the execution of Sabinus, the burning of the Capitol, the panic in Rome— a story of unrelieved disaster. There were also tidings of the arming of the lower classes and slaves in defence of Vitellius. Furthermore, Petilius Cerialis' cavalry engagement had resulted in defeat. (36) Hurling himself recklessly on an enemy he believed beaten, he had run into a mixed Vitellian force of infantry and cavalry. The encounter took place in the suburbs, amid buildings, gardens and winding lanes familiar to the Vitellians but formidable to the enemy, who were strangers to-the area. Nor did the Flavian cavalry cooperate well, owing to the presence among them of some who had just surrendered at Narnia and were watching to see which side was the lucky one. The commander of a cavalry regiment, Julius Flavianus, was captured. The rest suffered ignominious rout, though the victors did not keep up the pursuit beyond Fidenae.
80. This success made the people more enthusiastic than ever. The city mob armed. Only a few had proper shields; the majority caught up whatever weapons they could find and insisted upon the order to advance. Expressing his thanks, Vitellius told them to throw a screen out in front of the city. Then the senate was summoned and a delegation chosen to meet the Flavian armies and urge a peace settlement, ostensibly in the interests of the country.
The envoys had a mixed reception. Those who had approached Petilius Cerialis faced an extremely hazardous situation, for the troops flatly refused terms. The praetor Arulenus Rusticus was wounded. What made this particularly scandalous was his high personal reputation, quite apart from the violation of his status as an ambassador and praetor. His fellow negotiators were roughly handled, and his senior lictor was killed when he ventured to clear a way through the press. Indeed, if they had not been protected by an escort provided by the commander, (37) in the mad passion of civil strife the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by ambassadors even among foreign nations would have been infringed with fatal consequences outside the very walls of Rome. A calmer attitude marked the reception of the envoys to Antonius, not because the troops were more restrained but because their general had more hold over them.
81. Among these envoys was Musonius Rufus, a knight and a keen student of philosophy and Stoicism. Mixing with the troops in their companies, he now proceeded to lecture armed men on the blessings of peace and the dangers of war. Many of them laughed in his face, more still found him tedious, and a few were even ready to knock him down and stamp on him. But luckily the warnings of the best-behaved men and the threatening attitude of the rest induced him to abandon his untimely moralizing. The Flavians also received a deputation of Vestal Virgins carrying a letter from Vitellius addressed to Antonius. In this, he asked for one day's grace before the final conflict, suggesting that the hold-up would make it easier for them to negotiate a general settlement. The Vestals were sent away with due courtesy, and Vitellius was informed in the reply that with the murder of Sabinus and the firing of the Capitol all exchanges normal in war were at an end.
82. However, Antonius did assemble the legions and try to modify their resentment, urging them to camp for the night by the Milvian Bridge and enter Rome the next day. (38) His motive for waiting was the fear that, once exasperated by resistance, the troops would have no regard for the people and senators or even for the temples and shrines of the gods. But the men were suspicious of any postponement, thinking it would prejudice victory. Besides, the glint of banners displayed along the high ground, (39) though in fact only untrained civilians were massed behind them, gave the impression that the enemy had a sizeable army.
The Flavians advanced in three columns. One went down the Flaminian Way on which they had been marshalled, a second advanced along the bank of the Tiber, and a third approached the Colline Gate by the Salarian Way. The militiamen were routed by a cavalry charge, but the Vitellian regulars moved up to face the attack, also in three battle-groups. There was a good deal of fighting outside the city boundaries, the upshot being varied but mostly favourable to the Flavians, who were helped by better leadership. However, stiff resistance was encountered by those who turned off towards the eastern areas of the city and the Sallustian Park, using narrow and slippery tracks. The Vitellians, standing on the park walls, hurled back the attackers below them with stones and javelins until the evening. Finally the cavalry forced the Colline Gate and enveloped the position. There was fierce fighting in the Campus Martius, too. Here their good luck and tradition of victory helped the Flavians, while it was despair alone that drove the Vitellians wildly forward, and, though routed, they reformed repeatedly inside the city.
83. Close by the fighting stood the people of Rome like the audience at a show, cheering and clapping this side or that in turns as if this were a mock battle in the arena. Whenever one side gave way, men would hide in shops or take refuge in some great house. They were then dragged out and killed at the instance of the mob, who gained most of the loot, for the soldiers were bent on bloodshed and massacre, and the booty fell to the crowd.
The whole city presented a frightful caricature of its normal self: fighting and casualties at one point, baths and restaurants at another, here the spilling of blood and the litter of dead bodies, close by prostitutes and their like— all the vice associated with a life of idleness and pleasure, all the dreadful deeds typical of a pitiless sack. These were so intimately linked that an observer would have thought Rome in the grip of a simultaneous orgy of violence and dissipation. There had indeed been times in the past when armies had fought inside the city, twice when Lucius Sulla gained control, and once under Cinna. (40) No less cruelty had been displayed then, but now there was a brutish indifference, and not even a momentary interruption in the pursuit of pleasure. As if this were one more entertainment in the festive season, (41) they gloated over horrors and-profited by them, careless which side won and glorying in the calamities of the state.
84. The heaviest fighting took place in the attack on the pretorian barracks, which the most determined Vitellians still held as their last hope. This spurred the victors, and particularly the ex-pretorians, to redouble their efforts. They applied to the task every invention ever designed to storm the most powerful cities— the penthouse and artillery, the mound and firebrands— and repeatedly exclaimed that this operation was the climax of all the toil and danger they had endured in many a battle. Rome, they cried, had been handed back to senate and people, their temples to the gods. But the special glory of the soldier lay in his barracks, for this was his country and this his home. If they were not immediately recovered, the night would have to be spent under arms. On the opposing side, the Vitellians, outnumbered and doomed, set themselves to trouble victory, delay peace, and desecrate homes and altars with blood, grasping at the last consolation granted to the beaten. Many of them lost consciousness and breathed their last while hanging from the towers and crenellations, and when the gates were torn from their sockets, the survivors formed a compact body and charged the victors. They all fell with their wounds in front, facing the enemy— the measure of their anxiety, even at the moment of extinction, to die an honourable death.
As for Vitellius, on the capture of the city he was taken in a chair through the back of the palace to his wife's house. (42) His intention, provided he could lie low during the remaining hours of daylight, was to get away to his cohorts and his brother at Tarracina. (43) Then with characteristic fickleness of purpose, and- true to the psychology of panic— amid all his fears least happy about what he was doing at the moment, he returned to the palace. The building was forlorn and deserted, for even the humblest of his menials had slipped away, or avoided encountering him. The solitude and silence of the place were frightening. He tried locked doors, and shuddered to find rooms empty. Exhausted by miserable wanderings and hidden in an ignominious refuge, (44) he was hauled from his hiding-place by a cohort tribune named Julius Placidus. His hands were tied behind his back. Presenting a revolting spectacle with his clothes in ribbons, he was led away amid curses from many and tears from none. The squalor of his end had robbed it of pity. On the way, one of the men from the army of Germany met him. It was not clear at the time whether he was aiming a blow at Vitellius either in fury or else in order to spare him further humiliation or attacking the tribune. In any event, he cut off the tribune's ear, and was immediately run through.
85. At the point of the sword, Vitellius was at one moment forced to look up and face the jeering, at the next to fix his eyes not only on the statues of himself as they were pulled down but wholly degenerate spirit. When a tribune mocked him, he retorted 'Whatever you may say, I was your emperor.' Thereupon he fell lifeless beneath a rain of blows. And still the mob reviled him in death as viciously as they had flattered him while he lived.
86. His father, as I have already recorded, was that Lucius Vitellius who was censor and three times consul. His home town was Luceria. At the time of his death, he was fifty-seven years old, having won the consulship, various priesthoods and a name and place among the leading figures of Rome, all thanks to his father's eminence and without the slightest effort on his own part. The post of emperor was offered to Vitellius by men who did not know him personally. Few commanders have made themselves so popular with the army by good actions as—he did by doing nothing. However, he displayed frankness and generosity, though these are qualities which can prove disastrous if exaggerated. Imagining that friendship is secured not by steadiness of character but by lavish presents, he deserved rather than achieved it. There is no doubt that Rome gained by Vitellius' defeat, but credit for betraying him cannot be claimed by those who sacrificed Vitellius to Vespasian after proving false to Galba. (45)
It was now almost dusk, and owing to the panic of the magistrates and senators, who had slipped out of the city or were taking cover in the houses of their various dependants, it was impossible to call a meeting of the senate. As for Domitian, when there was nothing more to fear from the enemy, he presented himself to the Flavian leaders and was greeted with the title 'Caesar'. The troops crowded round and just as they were, still armed, escorted him to his father's home.
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