The New Year, A.D. 70 (38-53)
The Histories by Cornelius Tacitus

38. While this was happening, Vespasian and Titus entered office as consuls, the former for the second time. This was done 'in absentia'. Rome was depressed and distraught by a variety of man to make trouble. But shipping was held up by severe winter storms, and the city populace, who usually bought their foodstuffs from day to day and whose one and only concern for public welfare centred on the corn-supply, were afraid that the coast of Africa was closed and sailings held up. Fear bred conviction, while the story was repeated by the Vitellians, as strongly partisan as ever, and the winners themselves welcomed the rumour — even foreign campaigns could not satisfy their ambition, and no victory in civil war ever did so.

39. The meeting of the senate called by the city praetor, Julius Frontinus, for 1 January passed decrees praising and thanking commanding officers, armies and client-kings. Tettius Julianus was deprived of his praetorship, ostensibly for abandoning his legion when it rallied to Vespasian, in reality so that the vacant post could be transferred to Plotius Grypus. Hormus received the rank of knight.

Before long, Frontinus resigned office, and Caesar Domitian assumed the praetorship. It was his name that stood at the head of official letters and edicts, (2) but real power rested with Mucianus, apart from a number of measures upon which Domitian ventured at his friends' instigation or his own whim. But the men from whom Mucianus had most to fear were Antonius Primus and Arrius Varus. With their laurels fresh upon them, and owing their distinction to the fame of their achievements and the enthusiastic support of the troops, they were also the darlings of the people. This was because, once the fighting was over, they had avoided any act of violence. (3) (There was also a story that Antonius had approached Scribonianus Crassus, who derived his prominence from distinguished forebears and his brother's memory, (4) urging him to assume control of the state. Scribonianus could have relied on the support of a number of men who were in the plot, but he refused. Not an easy man to tempt, even if everything had been cut and dried, he was correspondingly nervous of a mere gamble.). So Antonius could not be publicly humiliated. Mucianus therefore heaped lavish praise upon him in the senate, and loaded him with secret offers, pointing to Nearer Spain, then vacant owing to the departure of Cluvius Rufus. He also distributed the posts of tribune and prefect on a generous scale among Antonius' friends. Then, having filled his mind with empty hope and ambition, he crippled him by removing to its winter camp(5) the formation most devoted to Antonius — the Seventh Legion. The Third, too, long associated with Arrius Varus, was returned to Syria. Part of the army was already on its way to the German provinces. All troublesome elements were thus removed, and Rome regained its normal aspect, the rule of law, and the operation of civil authority.

40. During the sitting at which he took his place in the senate, Domitian made a short and restrained speech about his father's and brother's absence and his own youthfulness. He was good-looking, and as his character was still unknown, repeated blushes were taken as proof of modesty. When the prince consulted the house on the restoration of recognition to Galba, Curtius Montanus moved that Piso's memory should be honoured as well. Both proposals were approved by the senate, but so far as Piso was concerned, the thing was never put into effect. A committee was then chosen by lot to supervise the restoration of property stolen during the fighting, and others to survey and re-affix the bronze tablets which contained the text of laws and had suffered decay with the passage of time, (6) to remove from the official calendars the flattery with which the period had disfigured them, and to impose restrictions on state expenditure. Tettius Julianus had his praetorship restored to him when it was discovered that he had taken refuge with Vespasian, (7) while Grypus retained his office. It was then decided to resume the hearing of the case between Musonius Rufus and Publius Celer. Publius was convicted, and satisfaction done to the spirit of the dead Soranus. A sitting notable for strict decisions in public matters did not fail to reflect credit on private individuals also. By bringing the action it was felt that Musonius had done his proper duty. But opinions were divided about the Cynic philosopher Demetrius, because his defence of an obviously guilty man seemed to have been prompted more by reasons of self-advertisement than honour. As for Publius himself, his hour of danger found him inert and speechless.

This was the signal for a hue and cry against the prosecutors. Junius Mauricus asked Domitian to put the imperial diaries at the disposal of the senate so that it could discover from them the identity of the victims whom various individuals had claimed the privilege of impeaching. He replied that, in matters of this sort, the emperor must be consulted.

41. The whole senate, following the lead given by its foremost members, formulated a solemn oath which was taken by all the officials in office without exception and in competition with one another, and by the remaining senators in the order of their seniority. In this they called heaven to witness that they had committed no action tending to anyone's hurt and had got neither reward nor preferment from the downfall of fellow Romans. Senators with guilty consciences were panic-stricken, and adopted various expedients to alter the phrasing of the oath. The chamber showed its approval of those who swore honestly, and stigmatized perjurors. This species of public degradation fell with special severity upon Sariolenus Vocula, Nonius Attianus and Cestius Severus, men notorious for their frequent appearance as prosecutors under Nero. Sariolenus had in addition to face the charge that he had recently engaged in the same activity under Vitellius, and the senators continued to shake their fists at Vocula until he left the chamber. They then transferred their attention to Paccius Africanus, and proceeded to hound him out as well for prompting Nero to destroy the Scribonii, two brothers who had been famous for their wealth and their devotion to each other. (8) Africanus did not dare to confess his part in this, nor could he deny it. But he rounded on Vibius Crispus, who had been tormenting him with questions. Implicating him in charges to which he had no reply, he parried odium by producing an accomplice.

42. It was on this occasion that Vipstanus Messalla won a great name for loyalty and eloquence. Though under senatorial age, (9) he ventured to plead for his brother Aquilius Regulus. The latter had attained a detestable eminence by engineering the ruin of the house of the Crassi and that of Orfitus. (10) It seemed that as a very young man Regulus had volunteered to take upon himself their prosecution not in order to save his own skin but in the hope of gaining power. Crassus' wife Sulpicia Praetextata and their four children were poised for vengeance, longing for the senate to take up the matter. So Messalla had avoided answering the charge or defending the accused. But he had made an impression on some of his hearers by the self-sacrifice with which he had shielded his brother in an evil hour. He was confronted with a fighting speech from Curtius Montanus, who went so far as to allege that after Galba's assassination Regulus had rewarded Piso's murderer, and had taken a bite at the murdered man's head.

'That action, at least,' he said, 'was not forced on you by Nero, and no purchase of rank or safety called for such fiendish behaviour. No doubt we must put up with the excuses of those who preferred ruining others to imperilling themselves. But in your case, the exile of your father and the division of his fortune among his creditors left you nothing to worry about. You were not old enough to stand for office. You possessed nothing capable of stimulating Nero's greed or fear. When your intellectual powers were still unexplored, when they were never yet put to the proof in the defence of an accused, it was blood-lust and open-mouthed covetousness that made you dabble them in the carnage of noble men. From your country's corpse you stole the spoils of consuls. Sated with seven million sesterces and clad in the shining robes of a priest, in a career of indiscriminate destruction you trampled on innocent children, men old and distinguished, and women of high rank, blaming Nero for lack of vigour because he wore out himself and his prosecutors by attacking one family at a time. The whole senate, you cried, could be rooted out by a single sentence. Gentlemen, you must protect and preserve such a quick-witted counsellor for the instruction of each future generation. Our seniors imitate Marcellus and Crispus, so let our young folk model themselves on Regulus. Even when it fails, wickedness finds followers. What if it should flourish and wax strong? If we dare not offend one who is still of quaestor's rank, are we to bear the sight of him after he has become praetor and consul? Do you imagine that Nero will be the last of the tyrants? Those who survived Tiberius and Gaius thought likewise in their day, though a more frightful and pitiless master was to follow. We have no fear of Vespasian. Our present emperor is a man of maturity and moderation. But examples abide: rulers pass. We have lost our old vigour, gentlemen. We are no longer the senate which on Nero's death called down on his prosecutors and satellites the traditional punishment of our fathers. After an evil reign, the fairest dawn is the first.

43. Montanus' speech was listened to with such agreement that Helvidius was encouraged to hope that even Marcellus might be brought low. So he began his speech by praising Cluvius Rufus, who, he said, though just as rich and just as fine an orator as Marcellus, had never impeached a single individual in Nero's time.

Then he proceeded to tax Eprius both with his offences and with this example, amid the eager approbation of the senators. Marcellus sensed their reaction, and made as if to leave the chamber, saying

'We shall withdraw, Priscus, and hand over to you your obedient senate. You can play the king in the presence of an emperor's son.'

Vibius Crispus began to follow him. Both of them were furious, though their expressions were quite different, Marcellus looking daggers, Crispus all smiles. But their friends ran forward and pulled them back. The conflict of opinion grew more and more pronounced, and as the opposing parties-honest majority and powerful minority — fought it out with bitter determination, the day's sitting ended without agreement.

44. At the next meeting of the senate, the debate was opened by Domitian. He stressed the need to let bygones be bygones and forget the measures forced upon men by the previous regime, while Mucianus defended the professional prosecutors at length and also gave a warning to those who revived legal processes which they had set in action and then dropped. His language was mild, and sounded like an appeal. As for the senate, it quickly surrendered its newly-won freedom of speech as soon as it was questioned. Mucianus wished to avoid the appearance of flouting the senate's laws and condoning every crime committed under Nero. So he compelled Octavius Sagitta and Antistius Sosianus (previously of senatorial rank) to return to their original place of exile in the islands from which they had escaped. Octavius had seduced one Pontia Postuma, and when she refused to marry him, her passionate lover had murdered her. Sosianus was a wicked man who had ruined many victims. Both of these had been condemned to exile by a severely framed decree of the senate, and their sentences were now confirmed, though other offenders were allowed to return home. This however did little to modify the resentment inspired by Mucianus. After all, Sosianus and Sagitta counted for nothing, even supposing they were pardoned. The real threat lay in the cleverness of the prosecutors, their wealth, and the power which they had learned to wield with diabolical skill.

45. An investigation conducted on lines which recalled the old days restored to the senate a brief period of cohesion. A complaint had been made by Manlius Patruinus to the effect that he had been roughly handled in the town of Sena by a rowdy mob, and indeed at the bidding of the local officials. Nor, it seemed, had the outrage stopped there. He had been cornered by a throng of groaning and wailing townsfolk who celebrated a mock funeral under his nose and hurled insults and abuse at the senate as a whole. The accused were summoned to appear, and after a hearing, convicted and punished. In addition, a senatorial decree was passed warning the common people of Sena to behave. In the course of these sittings, Antonius Flamma, who had been indicted by the inhabitants of Cyrene, was condemned under the extortion law and exiled for cruelty.

46. Amid these events a mutiny nearly flared up among the troops. The pretorians who had rallied to Vespasian after being dismissed by Vitellius were asking to be enrolled in their old corps, and legionaries selected for the same promotion demanded the lucrative service which they had been promised. Even the Vitellian guards could not be got rid of without serious bloodshed. But the cost of maintaining such large numbers of men was likely to be immense. Mucianus entered the pretorian camp to form a more correct estimate of each claimant's seniority, and made the victorious Flavians parade in open order bearing their proper decorations and arms. Then the Vitellians whose surrender at Bovillac I have mentioned and the others who had been rounded up throughout the capital and its suburbs were led on to the parade ground in rags. Mucianus ordered these men to be segregated and formed up in separate parties according as they came from Germany, Britain or any other garrisons. From the first they had been dazed by the sight that greeted them. Facing them they observed what looked like an enemy front-line with a formidable display of arms and equipment, while they saw themselves encircled, naked and bedraggled. But when the process of sorting out began, fear gripped all of them, and the troops from Germany were particularly terrified as they imagined that they were being picked out for execution. They clasped their comrades to their hearts, put their arms round their necks, and kissed them farewell for ever, protesting that they should not be singled out from the rest and left to their fate, nor in a common cause suffer a different destiny. They appealed in turn to Mucianus, to the absent emperor, and finally to heaven and the gods. In the end, Mucianus addressed them all as soldiers of the same allegiance and the same emperor, and thus met their mistaken fears. Indeed, the victorious army added its shouts to their tears. This concluded events on that day. When they heard a speech from Domitian a few days later, they had already recovered their nerve. They now refused the offer of land, and pleaded for continued service and pay. This was a request — but a request which could not be gainsaid. They were therefore taken on the strength of the pretorian guard. Later, those who had reached the age limit and served their time were honourably discharged, while others were got rid of for misconduct. But the men were demobilized selectively and as individuals —the safest method of rendering a mass movement relatively harmless.

47. However, whether because of real financial stringency or to give the appearance of such, the senate resolved that a state loan of sixty million sesterces should be floated for public subscription. Responsibility for this was entrusted to Pompeius Silvanus. It was not long before the need disappeared or the pretence was abandoned. Then, a law was passed on the motion of Domitian rescinding the consulships granted by Vitellius, and Flavius Sabinus was given a state funeral — striking proofs of the nature of fortune, whose treacherous surface combines the peak and the abyss.

48. These events coincided approximately with the murder of the senatorial governor Lucius Piso. The best way in which I can do justice to this bloodthirsty story is to go back and recall briefly its antecedents. They may have some bearing upon the origin and causes of crimes such as this.

During the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, the control of the legion stationed in the province of Africa and the auxiliary troops intended to defend the imperial frontiers lay with the senatorial governor. Then Gaius Caesar's restless character and his fear of the official then in control of Africa, Marcus Silanus, induced him to remove the legion from the governor's control and entrust it to a commander sent out for the purpose. Patronage was shared equally between the two. Disagreement had been intentionally invited by the system of interlocking responsibilities, and it was further encouraged by an ugly spirit of competition. The power of the military commanders grew apace owing to their long terms of office, (11) or else because the smaller man always feels the greater urge to keep up with his rival. The senatorial governors on the other hand, being men of eminence, were more concerned for a quiet life than intrigue.

49. However, at the time of which I speak, the legion in Africa was controlled by one Valerius Festus, a young spendthrift who had ambitions and was worried by the fact that he was related to Vitellius. He was frequently closeted with Piso, but whether in these interviews Festus tempted the governor to rebel or himself resisted the other's enticement, it is difficult to say. No third person was present at their secret negotiation, and after Piso's murder the majority of those concerned were only too anxious to curry favour with the murderer. What is beyond dispute is that the province and its garrison had no use for Vespasian, and there were also certain Vitellian refugees from the capital who dangled inducements before Piso's eyes — the wavering loyalty of the Gallic provinces, the readiness of Germany for a change, his own peril, and the greater security which a governor suspect in peace could achieve by resorting to war. While all this was afoot, the commander of the Petrian cavalry regiment, Claudius Sagitta, made a quick passage across the Mediterranean, and got to Africa before Mucianus' envoy, the centurion Papirius. Sagitta asserted that the centurion had received instructions to murder Piso. The governor's cousin and son-in-law, Galerianus, had already paid the price. The only hope of survival, he suggested, lay in acting boldly. There were, however, two such courses open to him: he might prefer an immediate military revolt, or he could sail for Gaul and offer his services to the Vitellian armies as their leader. Piso did not react to this at all. As for the centurion sent by Mucianus, when he put in to the harbour at Carthage, he behaved as though Piso were emperor, and was loud in good wishes to him. People who met the centurion were amazed at this sudden and surprising development, but he called on them to echo his acclamations. The mob was gullible enough. They made a rush for the main square, and clamoured for Piso to appear. Their noisy and exultant demonstrations created pandemonium, for they cared nothing for finding out the truth and gloried in flattery. Thanks to Sagitta's information or his own natural reserve, Piso refused to appear in public or countenance the eager plaudits of the crowd. He interrogated the centurion, and finding that the man's business was to incriminate him and secure his death, he had him executed. In doing this he was actuated less by the hope of saving his own life than by the disgust he felt for a cut-throat who had also helped to assassinate Clodius Macer, and who now, while his hands still dripped with the blood of the legionary commander, had returned to the scene of his crimes to murder the governor. Then he issued an agitated edict reproving the people of Carthage, and avoided even routine engagements, locking himself in his palace so as to give no excuse, however involuntarily, for a fresh disturbance.

50. But when the rioting of the mob, the centurion's execution and all the exaggerated medley of truth and falsehood typical of rumour came to the ears of Festus, he sent horsemen to kill Piso. They rode at speed, and in the half-light of dawn were already breaking into the governor's palace with drawn swords. Many of them were personally unacquainted with Piso, for Festus had selected Punic and Moorish auxiliaries for this deadly work. Near the governor's bedroom they happened to encounter one of his slaves. They asked him who he was and inquired the whereabouts of Piso. The man's answer was a gallant lie: 'I am Piso,' said he, and was instantly struck down. Before long the governor too met his end, for there was somebody on the spot who knew him. This was one of the imperial agents in Africa, Baebius Massa, already the deadly enemy of good men, and a character destined to figure more than once in our story among the causes of the sufferings we were later to endure. (12) Festus left Hadrumetum, where he had halted to survey the situation, and hurriedly rejoining the legion, ordered the camp — commandant Caetronius Pisanus to be clapped in irons. The real reason for this was a personal feud, but he described him as Piso's accomplice. He punished some of the soldiers and centurions and rewarded others — neither according to their deserts, but to make people believe he had crushed an armed rebellion.

Later on Festus settled a dispute between Oea and Lepcis. Its origin had been petty — the stealing of crops and herds by the peasants of the two states. But by this time it involved full-scale hostilities and set battles. The reason was that the men of Oea, being outnumbered, had called out the Garamantes, a wild tribe much given to plundering its neighbours. Thus the people of Lepcis had been reduced to sore straits. Their lands had been extensively ravaged, and they were now cowering behind the walls of their capital. But the intervention of the Roman auxiliary horse and foot resulted in the utter defeat of the Garamantes and the recovery of all the loot, apart from that which the nomads had sold to the people of the interior as they wandered from one inaccessible encampment to another.

51. Vespasian had already heard about the Battle of Cremona. The news was good everywhere. Now came word of the death of Vitellius, brought to him by the many members of the two orders (13) who had gambled successfully on the risks of a winter passage across the Mediterranean. Vespasian was attended by representatives of King Vologaeses, (14) who offered him 40,000 Parthian cavalry. It was a flattering symbol of prestige and success to have such a considerable force of allies at one's disposal and yet be able to do without them. Vologaeses was thanked, and told to send envoys to the senate and conclude a formal peace-treaty. Vespasian, whose mind was set on Italy and events in the capital, now heard ugly stories about Domitian, who was said to be exceeding both the limits appropriate to his years and the privileges of a son. For these reasons the emperor handed over the main portion of his army to Titus for the winding-up of the campaign in Judaea.

52. There is a story that, before leaving his father, Titus appealed to him at some length not to be incensed by a too ready acceptance of the allegations against Domitian, but to adopt an unprejudiced and conciliatory attitude towards his son. Neither legions nor fleets, he said, were such a sure defence to a ruler as a numerous family. Friends were not the same thing: time, chance, sometimes ambition or error cooled their affection, transferred it to others, or caused it to evaporate. But a man's family was inseparable, and this was above all true of emperors, for while their successes profited a wider circle, their misfortunes affected above all those nearest and dearest to them. Even brothers were unlikely to see eye to eye for ever unless their father set them an example.

Though Vespasian was not entirely mollified in his attitude to Domitian, he was certainly delighted by Titus' loyalty. He told him to be of good heart, and exalt his country by war and arms: peace and domestic matters would be his own concern. Then he loaded his fastest ships with corn and consigned them to the still stormy seas. (15) The reason was that the capital was in such dire straits that not more than ten days' supply was left in the granaries when Vespasian's shipments came to the rescue.

53. Responsibility for the reconstruction of the Capitol was delegated by the emperor to Lucius Vestinus. Though he belonged to the equestrian order, Vestinus' prestige and reputation had secured him a place among the leading men of Rome. (16) He summoned the diviners, who advised that the rubble of the earlier shrine should be dumped in the marshes (17) and the temple rebuilt on the same foundations, so far as these remained: it was the will of the gods that the ancient plan should be preserved unaltered. The whole area which was to be dedicated as the site of the temple was marked off by a continuous line of fillets and garlands, and on 21 June, under a tranquil sky, it was entered by a procession of soldiers with auspicious names, (18) bearing boughs of olive and laurel and followed by the Vestal Virgins with boy and girl attendants who had both parents alive. All these carefully sprinkled the site with water drawn from springs and rivers. Then the praetor Helvidius Priscus, guided in the ritual by the pontifex Plautius Aelianus, purified the area by the sacrifice of pig, sheep and ox, and offered up the entrails upon a turf altar, praying to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, as the deities that fouled the empire, that they would vouchsafe to prosper the labours now begun, and for as much as the building of their holy house had been undertaken by the devotion of men, to exalt the same by their divine assistance. Then the praetor laid his hand upon the fillets around the Stone, to which ropes were secured. (19) In the same instant, the other officials, the priests, senate, knights and a large proportion of the populace eagerly and gladly took the strain and mauled the enormous block into place. Everywhere they cast into the foundations offerings of gold and silver — nuggets of unrefined metal in the natural state. The diviners' instructions were that the building should not be desecrated by the use of stone or gold intended for any other purpose. Some addition was made to its height. This, it was felt, was the only change that religious feeling permitted, and the only respect in which the earlier temple had been wanting in splendour.