51. I shall now explain the origin and causes of the movement in favour of Vitellius. The destruction of Julius Vindex and his entire force had given the Roman army a taste for loot and glory. This was only natural, for without exertion or danger it had gained the victory in a war that proved exceedingly profitable. The men now wanted campaigns and set battles, as the prizes here were more attractive than their normal pay. For long they had put up with hard and unrewarding service in an uncongenial area and climate, under strict discipline. But discipline, however inflexible in peace-time, is relaxed in civil conflicts, where agents are ready to encourage disloyalty on either side, and treachery goes unpunished.
Recruits, equipment and mounts were in ample supply, whether for use or show. Besides, before the war with Vindex, the men had only been familiar with their own company or troop, as the two armies were kept apart by the provincial boundaries. (1) But now the concentration of the legions to deal with Vindex had enabled them to take stock of themselves and of the Gallic provinces. Hence they began to look around for fresh trouble and new quarrels. No longer, as in the past, did they refer to the provincials as 'allies', but as 'the enemy' or 'the defeated side'. In this they were supported by the Gallic communities bordering the Rhine. These threw in their lot with the Roman garrisons, and now venomously incited them to attack those of their fellow countrymen whom in their contempt for Vindex they labelled 'Galba's lot'. Thus the troops came to look upon the Sequani, Aedui and a series of wealthy communities as their enemies. Their imaginations greedily lapped up the idea of a succession of sacked cities, plundered countryside and rifled homes. Greed and arrogance are always characteristic of the stronger side, and it was only logical that the Roman troops should be annoyed by the insolence of Gauls who insulted the army by boasting that Galba had excused them a quarter of the tribute and made grants of territory to their states.
These motives were reinforced by a rumour cunningly circulated and rashly credited. The legions, it was alleged, were being decimated and the most enterprising centurions cashiered. On every hand there were ill tidings. Reports from Rome boded no good. The city of Lyons was disaffected, and its persistent loyalty to Nero made it a hotbed of rumours. But it was the camps themselves that contained the richest material for imagination and credulity. Here were hatred, fear and the conviction, as they realized their power, that the risk was slight.
52. Shortly before 1 December in the previous year ( A.D. 68), Aulus Vitellius lad entered Lower Germany as its governor and made a thorough visit of inspection to the legionary headquarters. A number of centurions were given back their rank, discharged men were re-instated and sentences reduced. In general these changes reflected a desire to curry favour. But some showed judgement and constituted an honest reform of the money-grubbing methods with which Fonteius Capito had soiled his hands when promoting officers or reducing them. Whatever he did was interpreted not in the light of what is appropriate in a governor-general but as a hint of something greater. This ingratiating attitude lowered Vitellius in the eyes of strict disciplinarians. Well-wishers, however, described as 'affability' and 'good nature' the excessive and imprudent generosity with which he squandered both what was his to give and what was not. Besides, his men were eager enough for favours, and this eagerness caused them to take his very faults for virtues. Both armies contained many orderly, quiet soldiers. But there were also many disgruntled and active ones. But for boundless ambition and a notable lack of scruple two men stood out above the rest — the legionary commanders Alienus Caecina ant Fabius Valens.
Valens for his part was the bitter enemy of Galba. He felt that the emperor had been ungrateful for his services in uncovering Verginius' reluctance and crushing Capito's plots. So he proceeded to work upon Vitellius, pointing out how keen the troops were. Vitellius, he said, was well spoken of everywhere, and Hordeonius Flaccus could do little to hold things up. Britain would rally to them, and the German auxiliaries would follow their lead. There was disaffection in the provinces. The old emperor held power on sufferance, and this power would in any case soon pass to another. The wind of change was favourable. Vitellius should crowd on all canvas, and sail forward to meet success half-way. It was understandable, he added, that Verginius should have had his hesitations. He came of an equestrian family, and his father was a nobody. Such a man might well think it presumptuous to accept the principate, whereas there was safety in refusal. But in Vitellius' case his father's record as consul on three separate occasions, as censor and as the colleague of a Caesar (2) had long since imposed upon the son the qualifications proper to an emperor and robbed him of the comfortable feeling that he was safe as a subject.
Vitellius was a man of lazy temperament, but he wavered under the strong impact of these arguments. The result was an idle longing rather than real hope.
53. In Upper Germany, however, it was Caecina who had coaxed support from the troops. He was young, good-looking, tall and upstanding, as well as possessing inordinate ambition and some skill in words. As quaestor in South Spain he had eagerly joined Galba's party, and for this was rewarded at an early age with the command of a legion. But Galba later learnt that he had misappropriated public funds, and ordered him to be prosecuted for malversation. This was not to Caecina's liking. He made up his mind to cause general chaos and use his country's sufferings to disguise his own predicament. In the army, too, there was no dearth of the raw materials of disturbance. The whole force had been involved in the campaign against Vindex; it had not gone over to Galba until after Nero's death; and finally, when it did take the oath, its accession had been anticipated by the units in Lower Germany. Apart from this, the Gallic communities such as the Treviri and Lingones, at whom Galba had struck hard by means of severe edicts or loss of territory, lie in specially close contact with the legionary camps. All this gave rise to seditious talk between the two parties, a further sapping of the troops' loyalty by contact with civilians, and the likelihood that the support offered to Verginius would be a valuable tool at the disposal of any other pretender.
54. The civic authorities of the Lingones had sent the legions the traditional token of mutual hospitality - symbolic 'hands' (3). The representatives who brought them carefully assumed the guise of mourning and woe, and paraded through the headquarters building and the barrack blocks dwelling alternately upon their own sufferings and the privileges granted to their neighbours. When the story found a ready hearing among the troops, the Lingones went on to lament the dangers and humiliation to which the army itself was exposed. This agitation promised to be successful, and the troops were on the point of mutiny when Hordeonius Flaccus ordered the envoys to go, telling them to leave the camp at night in order that :heir departure should attract less attention. But this only led to a shocking rumour. It was widely held that the men had been murdered, and that, unless the troops took steps to defend themselves, their most vocal representatives, who had denounced the present state of affairs, would be put to death when it was dark and he rest know nothing. The legions bound themselves by a secret understanding to act together. This was extended to cover the auxiliary units. The latter were at first looked upon with suspicion as their cohorts and cavalry regiments had been moved up and it was believed that an attack on the legions was being planned. But in due course the auxiliaries showed themselves keener plotters than their companions. Scoundrels find it easier to agree on warlike measures than on means to achieve harmony in peacetime.
55. However, in Lower Germany the legions were made to take the usual New Year oath of loyalty to Galba on 1 January, though they showed considerable reluctance. Here and there individuals in the front ranks spoke up audibly, but the rest of the troops did not open heir mouths. Everybody was waiting for a bold move from his neighbour, for it is only human nature to be quick to follow a lead, however much we dislike taking it. But the various legions did not see eye to eye themselves. The men of the First and Fifth were quite out of hand — indeed some of them stoned the portraits of Galba. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth Legions, on the other hand, confined themselves to muttering threats and looked around for others to start the outbreak.
But in the upper army the Fourth and Twenty-Second Legions, who were billeted in the same cantonments, tore the portraits of Galba to pieces. This actually happened on 1 January. At first the Fourth took the initiative, while the Twenty-Second was relatively backward. Later they acted in concert. Not wanting to abandon all fealty to the empire, they introduced the now outworn formula of 'the Senate and People of Rome' into their oath of allegiance. None of the senior officers made any effort on Galba's behalf, and some of them, true to form, attracted attention by the prominent part they played in a scene of general chaos. However, no one got up and addressed the troops collectively — after all, there was as yet no emperor with whom they could ingratiate themselves.
56. Looking on at this disgraceful scene stood the governor, Hordeonius Flaccus. He made no attempt to coerce the rioters, rally waverers or encourage those who were loyal. Too frightened to lift a finger, he avoided offence by doing nothing. Four centurions of the Twenty-Second Legion — Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus and Calpurnius Repentinus — tried to protect the portraits of Galba, but the troops made a rush at them and hustled them off to a place of confinement. After that, there was no question of any man's showing loyalty or remembering his previous oath, and the mutiny followed the classical pattern of all mutinies: the view of the majority was suddenly found to be the view of everybody.
After dark on 1 January, the city of Cologne was entered by a standard-bearer from the Fourth Legion. He brought word to Vitellius, who was dining at the time, that the Fourth and Twenty-Second Legions had thrown down the portraits of Galba and sworn allegiance to the senate and people of Rome. It was felt that this oath meant nothing; they should strike while the iron was hot and offer the troops an emperor. Vitellius sent information to his legions and their commanders that the upper army had risen against Galba, and put it to them that they must either fight the rebels or else, if they preferred agreement and peace, they must nominate an emperor. He added that the prompt choice of a ruler would be safer than a prolonged search for one.
57. The nearest camp was that of the First Legion, and the quickest legionary commander off the mark was Fabius Valens. On the following day, entering the city of Cologne at the head of the cavalry component of his legion and of its auxiliaries, he greeted Vitellius as emperor. His example was followed with remarkable eagerness by the legions of the lower province, while the upper army dropped its lip-service to 'the Senate and People of Rome' and on 3 January went over to Vitellius. Whatever authority they had recognized during the preceding two days, it had obviously not been that of a republican government. No less enthusiastic than the armies were the people of Cologne, as well as the Treviri and Lingones. They offered to contribute reinforcements, horses, equipment and money in accordance with their various physical, material and moral resources. This spirit of sacrifice was not confined to the leaders in the cities and army camps, who had the means to give ready money and could look forward to handsome dividends when victory was theirs. Even ordinary privates in the companies handed over their savings or, in lieu of cash, their sword-belts, medals and silver parade equipment, under the stimulus of others' encouragement or their own initiative and greed.
58. So Vitellius, gratefully acknowledging the prompt response of his men, saw to it that court functions normally carried out by freedmen were distributed among knights, paid the centurions for their men's leave out of the imperial exchequer, confirmed on more than one occasion a number of vindictive sentences demanded by his troops, and only now and again foiled them by the pretence of awarding a term of imprisonment. Pompeius Propinquus, the imperial agent in Belgica, was immediately executed, but Vitellius managed to get away by a ruse the commander of the German Fleet, Julius Burdo. The army was violently incensed with Burdo because they thought he had engineered a false accusation against Capito and backed it up by conspiracy. Of Capito they had kindly recollections, and in their present savage mood executions could be carried out in public, but acts of mercy only by stealth. So the accused was kept in confinement, and only let out when the hour of victory had struck and the resentment of the troops had subsided. In the meantime, to propitiate them, the centurion Crispinus was handed over to the men. In a murderer whose hands had actually dripped with the blood of Capito the public clamour saw a more obvious target and the agent of retribution ( i.e. Vitellius) a victim less worth saving.
59. The next to be pardoned was Julius Civilis. He carried great weight among the Batavians, and it seemed desirable to avoid alienating a high-spirited nation by executing him. Besides, there were eight cohorts of Batavians stationed in the territory of the Lingones. These formed an auxiliary force normally attached to the Fourteenth Legion, but in this troubled period they had separated from their parent formation, and their friendship or hostility was likely to have a serious effect on the balance of power. I have already referred to the centurions Nonius, Donatius, Romilius and Calpurnius. Vitellius now ordered their execution as being guilty of loyalty — a most serious charge in the eyes of rebels. The faction of Vitellius found two new adherents in Valerius Asiaticus, governor of the province of Belgica and soon to be selected by Vitellius as son-in-law, and in Junius Blaesus, who was in charge of Central Gaul. The latter brought over the Italian Legion and the Taurian Cavalry Regiment, both stationed at Lyons. The garrison of Raetia was also prompt in its adhesion.
60. Even in Britain there was no sign of hesitation. Its governor was Trebellius Maximus, whose greed and miserliness had earned him the contempt and dislike of his army. His unpopularity was enhanced by the attitude of the commander of the Twentieth Legion, Roscius Coelius. The two men had long been on bad terms, but the convenient accident of civil war had intensified the quarrel. Trebellius accused Coelius of disloyalty and disrespect towards his superior. Coelius replied by pointing to the despoiled and impoverished state of the legions. Meanwhile, this scandalous feud between two senior officers prejudiced the discipline of the army. The situation became so bad that the auxiliaries in their turn denounced Trebellius and refused to have anything to do with him. The cohorts and cavalry regiments went over to Coelius' side, and the discomfited governor had to take refuge with Vitellius. Despite his removal, the province carried on quietly. It was administered by the legionary commanders, theoretically on an equal footing, though Coelius' lack of scruple gave him greater pull.
61. The adhesion of the army of Britain raised Vitellius' resources of manpower and material to an imposing level. He now decided on two commanders and a two-fold advance. After winning over the Gallic provinces by diplomacy, or, if they refused, by devastation, Fabius Valens was to invade Italy by way of the Cottian Alps. Caecina was told to take a shorter route which would bring him down into the flat country via the Permine Range. Valens received some contingents drawn from the lower army, together with the H.Q. and main party of the Fifth Legion and a force of auxiliary cohorts and cavalry. This amounted to about 40,000 armed men in all. As for Caecina, he was given 30,000 troops from Upper Germany, the Twenty-First Legion forming the main element. Each commander was also allotted German auxiliary units, and Vitellius used the same source to provide a stiffening for his own force. He was to follow with the total war potential.
62. The army and its emperor presented a remarkable contrast. The impatient troops demanded action while the Gallic provinces were still unnerved and the Spanish ones undecided. They were not going to be held up by winter or the slow pace of unheroic peace. It was vital, they held, to invade Italy and get hold of the capital. In civil war, speed was the only safe policy, and deeds were wanted, not deliberation. Vitellius dozed away his time. Quick to take advantage of the privileges of an emperor, he gave himself up to idle pleasures and sumptuous banquets. Even at midday he was the worse for drink and over-eating. Yet, despite this, their keenness and vigour made his men carry out the duties of their commander as well as their own, just as though he were there to give them their orders and afford the active or lazy the stimulus of hope or fear. Ready and at the alert, they clamoured for the signal to start, and gave Vitellius the title 'Germanicus' on the spot, though he refused to allow them to address him as 'Caesar' even after his final victory. (4)
A happy augury was vouchsafed to Fabius Valens and the army he led off to war. On the very day they started, an eagle floated effortlessly forward in front of the advancing column, as if guiding it on its way. For many miles the neighbourhood resounded with the shouts of the exultant soldiers, and for as many the bird maintained its flight, calm and undisturbed. This was interpreted as an omen clearly presaging a great and successful enterprise.
63. Indeed, as far as the Treviri were concerned, the army felt it had nothing to worry about upon entering what it took to be allied territory. At Divodurum, the capital of the Mediomatrici, it was received with every civility. But in spite of this, a sudden panic gripped the troops, and they hastily seized their arms with the intention of spilling the blood of an inoffensive community. In this they were prompted not by rapine or a taste for plunder, but by hallucination, frenzy and motives which defy analysis. The illogicality of their attitude made it all the harder to cope with, though in the end they were mollified by their commander's appeals and refrained from utterly wiping out the population. Still, almost 4,000 people lost their lives, and after this the Gallic provincials were so alarmed that on the approach of the marching column whole cities would go out to meet it with their magistrates, armed with pleas for mercy. Women and children prostrated themselves along the highways, and every conceivable concession was made which could placate an angry foe, in order to secure peace in the absence of war.
64. News of Galba's murder and Otho's accession reached Fabius Valens when he was at the capital of the Leuci. His troops were neither pleased nor frightened. What they were interested in was war. But the Gauls bestirred themselves briskly. For Otho and Vitellius they felt equal hatred — but the latter inspired fear as well. The next community, that of the Lingones, was faithful to the Vitellian cause. The army received a cordial welcome, and tried to repay its hosts by behaving well. But the general rejoicing was cut short by the insubordination of those cohorts which, as I have already described, had cut adrift from the Fourteenth Legion, and which Fabius Valens had incorporated in his force. Initial exchanges of abuse developed into a free fight between the Batavians and the legionaries which practically assumed the proportions of a battle as the two sides were joined by their respective partisans among the troops at large. But Valens dealt with the trouble by punishing a few of the offenders in order to remind the Batavians of what they had forgotten — that they were under his command.
An attempt to pick upon the Aedui failed. Over and above the money and equipment requisitioned from them, they offered food supplies without payment. What the Aedui had done from fear, the people of Lyons did with pleasure. But the Italian Legion and the Taurian Cavalry Regiment were withdrawn from the city, though it was decided to leave the Eighteenth Cohort (5) at Lyons, where it was normally stationed in winter. The commanding officer of the Italian Legion, Manlius Valens, got no credit from Vitellius despite his services to the cause. This was because Fabius had made allegations against him behind his back. Manlius knew nothing of this, and was lulled into a false sense of security by the praises showered upon him in public.
65. For many years the cities of Lyons and Vienne had been on bad terms. Their differences were inflamed by the recent fighting. Both had given as many knocks as they had received, and incidents had occurred with a frequency and venom out of all proportion to a mere battle on behalf of Nero and Galba. Moreover, in a fit of pique, Galba had sequestrated the revenues of Lyons to the imperial treasury, while according great attention to Vienne. Hence sprang rivalry, envy and a hatred that locked together cities parted by a single river . (6) So the inhabitants of Lyons began to work upon individual soldiers and urge them to sack the rival city. They reminded them that Vienne had subjected Lyons to a siege, assisted the rebel Vindex, and in the recent past recruited legionaries to protect Galba. After these plausible excuses for hatred, they passed on to unfold the immense possibilities of loot. By this time, private approaches had been reinforced by an official appeal, which called upon the troops to rise up and destroy the stronghold of Gallic rebellion. At Vienne, it was claimed, the whole atmosphere suggested foreigners and enemies, but Lyons was a Roman city closely connected with the army. (7) It would hold fast through thick and thin, and the Vitellians must not leave it at the mercy of a resentful foe in case luck decided against them.
66. These arguments, and more of the same kind, had been effective. Indeed, even the senior officers and leading supporters of Vitellius thought that it would be impossible to cool down the heated feelings of the troops. Meanwhile, the people of Vienne were well aware of the peril in which they stood. Headed by white flags and tokens of surrender, they went out to meet the troops, who were already on the march towards them, and managed to soften their hearts by laying their hands in a gesture of entreaty upon the soldiers' weapons and by grovelling at their feet. Valens helped on the good work by giving each man a bounty of three hundred sesterces. Then — and only then — were they influenced by the fact that Vienne was a historic and imposing city, and Fabius' appeal that there should be no loss of life or damage to property was given an unprejudiced hearing. However, as a community Vienne was disarmed, and the inhabitants gave the troops all sorts of unofficial gifts. But the rumour persisted that Valens had himself been heavily bribed. Long miserably poor, he found it hard to conceal his sudden translation from shabbiness to affluence. Greedy desires had been inflamed by protracted need. These were now given full scope, and the man who had been a penniless youth became a spendthrift in middle age.
Valens then marched his force slowly forward through the lands of the Allobroges and Vocontii, actually auctioneering the length of the day's march and the moves from one camp to another, and striking discreditable deals with farmers and local officials. Menaces were employed, too. For instance, at Lucus, a town in the territory of the Vocontii, he threatened to set fire to the place until he got a sweetener. When money was not available, he could be bribed with women. In such fashion they made their way as far as the Alps.
67. Caecina proved more predatory and bloodthirsty. Always on the look-out for trouble, he had fallen foul of the Helvetii. This is a Gallic tribe once famous for its fighting qualities; in more recent times it has lived on its reputation. These people knew nothing of Galba's murder and refused to recognize Vitellius as emperor. Hostilities were provoked by the greedy and precipitate action of the Twenty-First Legion in stealing a sum of money sent to provide pay for the garrison of a fort(8) which the Helvetii themselves maintained with their own levies and at their own expense. The Helvetii were not prepared to put up with this. They detained some dispatches which were being delivered in the name of the army of Germany to the legions in Pannonia, and put the centurion and his small escort under arrest. Caecina was spoiling for a fight and eager to punish the first offender he could find before a change of heart took place. Suddenly moving camp, he devastated the countryside and plundered a spa which, over the long years of peace, had developed into a fair-sized town attracting a number of visitors who came to take the waters in agreeable surroundings(9). Instructions were sent to the auxiliaries in Raetia to attack the Helvetii in the rear as they turned to face the legion.
68. The natives were bold carpet-knights, but they proved cowards in the hour of danger. When the alarm was first sounded, they had put themselves under the command of one Claudius Severus. But they showed a total lack of military skill, discipline and coordination. An encounter with veteran troops was inevitably fatal, and as their forts were now crumbling and decayed, it was impossible to risk a siege. They were caught in a trap. On one side was Caecina at the head of his powerful army, on the other the cavalry and infantry auxiliaries from Raetia, supported by the local Raetian levies who were used to fighting and had been well trained. Everywhere the scene was one of devastation and slaughter. Drifting helplessly between the two enemy forces, the Helvetii threw away their arms and made for the depths of the Mons Vocetius, many of them wounded or stragglers. Thereupon a cohort of Thracians was promptly directed to the area, and the fugitives were dislodged. Then the troops from Germany and Raetia tracked them down from one end of the forest to the other, and indeed killed them in the very hiding-places in which they lurked. Many thousands fell, and as many were sold into slavery.
After the mopping-up operations were complete, a reinforced body of Roman regulars marched towards the capital, Aventicum. Thereupon a deputation was sent out to offer the surrender of the town, and this was accepted. Caecina made an example of their chief Julius Alpinus, whom he regarded as responsible for the rebellion. The rest he left to Vitellius' mercy or vindictiveness, so that the Helvetian envoys had to confront the emperor and his troops.
69. It is hard to say which they found the more implacable. The troops demanded the destruction of the town, and thrust their weapons and fists under the delegates' noses. Even Vitellius permitted himself to bluster and threaten. But one of the representatives called Claudius Cossus was a well-known speaker. An apt display of nervousness helped to conceal the artifices of oratory, and rendered them correspondingly effective. His intervention was successful in mollifying the troops. The mob was typically temperamental. Once exaggeratedly vindictive, the men were now equally ready to sympathize. Tears coursed down their cheeks, and their greater insistence on better treatment secured Aventicum pardon and survival.
70. Caecina spent a few days in Helvetian territory waiting for word of Vitellius' decision on this matter, and using the time in preparing for the passage of the Alps. It was now that he received from Italy the cheering news that a unit stationed in the Po valley had declared for Vitellius. This was the Silian cavalry regiment, which had served in the province of Africa during Vitellius' period as governor. Later mobilized by Nero as part of the advance force sent to Egypt, it had been recalled owing to the rebellion of Vindex, and at the moment was marking time in Italy. Its officers knew nothing about Otho, but felt a moral obligation to support Vitellius. They laid repeated emphasis on the strength of the legions advancing on them, and the reputation which the army of Germany enjoyed. At their instigation, the regiment went over to Vitellius and by way of making a presentation to their new emperor handed over to him the most considerable towns in the Transpadane Region Mediolanum, Novaria, Eporedia and Vercellae. Caecina was informed of this by the unit itself, and since a single cavalry regiment could not possibly defend such an extensive portion of Italy, he sent ahead cohorts of Gauls, Lusitanians and Britons as well as some German horse and the Petrian cavalry regiment. As regards his own plans, he hesitated for a time. Ought he not to make a detour over the mountains of Raetia into Noricum in order to deal with its governor, Petronius Urbicus, who had mustered his auxiliary forces, cut the bridges over the rivers and thus looked as if he proposed to be loyal to Otho? On reflection this seemed a dangerous move. He might lose the infantry and cavalry already sent on ahead. He also reflected that there was more glory to be won by consolidating his Italian gains. In any case, wherever the issue was fought out, Noricum would rank among the other prizes of victory. So he decided on the Great St Bernard route, and led his main body and the heavy legionary force across the Alps while they were still in the grip of winter.
71. Meanwhile, to everybody's surprise, Otho did not sink into a lethargic mood of hedonism and idleness. Amusements were post-poned, indulgence disguised, and his whole behaviour was adjusted to the high standards expected of a ruler. But this merely increased misgiving about virtues that were fictitious and vices that promised to return.
Marius Celsus the consul designate had been saved from the venom of the troops by a pretence of imprisonment. He was now summoned to the Capitol on Otho's orders. The emperor's intention was to acquire a reputation for clemency in his treatment of a famous man who was a political opponent. Celsus sturdily admitted the charge of keeping faith with Galba, and indeed claimed credit for setting a good example. Nor did Otho merely behave like the average man who forgives. He called heaven to witness their mutual reconciliation, and immediately treated Celsus as an intimate friend, and later as one of his war leaders. In his turn Celsus re-enacted for Otho what seemed his predestined role in life — the part of loyalty, sincere but unlucky. Greeted with jubilation by leading Romans and much discussed by the general public, Celsus' pardon was not unpopular even with the troops, who admired the very quality that irritated them.
72. Then came a similar gratification, though for different reasons. Otho was persuaded to put Ofonius Tigillinus to death. A man of humble birth, vicious childhood and dissolute maturity, he had achieved among other things the command of the Watch and of the Pretorian Guard. These are normally the rewards of virtue, but Tigellinus found it quicker to win them by vice. In due course he took to less effeminate forms of immorality, such as cruelty and greed. While tempting Nero to every form of wickedness, he ventured on some crimes without his knowledge, and finally deserted and betrayed him. Hence the exceptional insistence with which his punishment was called for, for the demand sprang from two opposite moods — hatred of Nero and regret that he was no more. During Galba's reign, he was sheltered by the influential Titus Vinius, whose excuse was that Tigellinus had saved his daughter's life. No doubt he had done so, though the act cannot have been prompted by mercy in view of Tigellinus' record of murder: the intention was to provide an escape-route for the future, for a criminal distrusts the present and is led by his fear of changed circumstances in the future to lay in a stock of private gratitude as a protection against the detestation of the public. This is why there can be no question of Tigellinus' having wished to keep his hands clean: he merely hoped for a similar immunity in exchange. This only made the public more bitter. To their old hatred for Tigellinus was added the recent unpopularity of Titus Vinius. All Rome gathered to the Palace and the squares, and overflowing into the circus and theatres, where the mob can demonstrate with the greater impunity, raised a seditious clamour. In the end, Tigellinus received the order to commit suicide while he was taking the waters at Sinuessa Spa. In an atmosphere of lechery, kissing and nauseous hesitations, he finally slit his throat with a razor and crowned a disreputable life with new infamy by quitting it too late and with dishonour.
73. An emphatic public demand was voiced at this time for the execution of Calvia Crispinilla. But she was saved from this fate by various manoeuvres on the part of Otho, whose lack of sincerity evoked hostile comment. This woman had been Nero's tutor in vice before going over to the province of Africa to instigate Clodius Macer to revolt. Her plan was quite obvious a blockade of Rome. Later she became a popular figure throughout the country as a whole, securing her position by marriage to a senior statesman, and the successive regimes of Galba, Otho and Vitellius brought her no harm. In after days she enjoyed great influence as a wealthy woman who had no heirs — for, whether times are good or bad, such qualities retain their power.
74. Meanwhile Otho kept up a lively correspondence with Vitellius. His letters were disfigured by alluring and unmanly bribes — money, influence and a quiet spot to be selected at will for a life of indulgence. Similar baits were held out by Vitellius, with some degree of restraint at first, so long as the rivals still maintained a foolish and degrading hypocrisy. Then, like men quarrelling, they accused each other of debauchery and wickedness. Here at least both were in the right.
Otho recalled the mission sent by Galba and dispatched a fresh deputation, chosen ostensibly from the senate, to approach both armies in Germany, the Italian Legion and the forces at Lyons. With an alacrity which belied any notion of compulsion, these envoys threw in their lot with Vitellius. But the pretorian escort provided by Otho as a guard of honour was hurriedly returned to Rome (10) before it could come into contact with the legionaries. Fabius backed this move up by giving them a letter addressed in the name of the army of Germany to the pretorian and urban cohorts. In this he boasted of the strength of the Vitellian side and offered an understanding. But he also quite unnecessarily criticized them for conveying the office of emperor to Otho long after it had been entrusted to Vitellius.
75. In this way both promises and threats were brought to bear on the city garrison: outclassed in a military sense, it was not likely to-lose anything by making peace. Despite this, the pretorians remained inflexibly loyal.
But that was not all. Assassins were sent by Otho to Germany, and by Vitellius to the capital. Both parties failed to achieve anything, Vitellius' agents going undetected and unpunished because they were lost amid the vast population of Rome, all strangers to one another. But the Othonians were fresh faces in a community where each man knew his comrades personally. and their identity was thus betrayed. Vitellius framed a letter to Otho's brother Titianus in which he threatened to put the latter and his son to death in the event of any harm befalling his own mother and children. In fact, both families survived, thanks perhaps to menaces so long as Otho was emperor: when Vitellius won, he was credited with clemency.
76. The first event to give Otho confidence was the news from the Balkans that the legions of Dalmatia, Pannonia and Moesia had acknowledged him as emperor. Identical reports came from Spain, and a proclamation was issued praising Cluvius Rufus. Yet in no time at all it was discovered that Spain had gone over to Vitellius. Even Aquitania soon shifted its ground, despite the oath of loyalty to Otho imposed by Julius Cordus. Nowhere could one rely on loyalty or affection: fear and compulsion were the pressures that swayed them this way and that. The same sort of panic impelled the Narbonese province to rally to Vitellius: it took the easy step of joining neighbours stronger than itself The distant provinces and such forces as lay overseas remained true to Otho, less from enthusiasm for his cause than because of the considerable prestige exercised by the mere name of Rome and the imposing facade of senatorial support. In any case, Otho had already established his position psychologically, for he had been heard of before Vitellius was. The army of Judaea had the oath of allegiance to Otho administered to it by Vespasian, the legions of Syria by Mucianus. At the same time, the authorities in Egypt and all the eastern provinces expressed nominal support. Africa was no less complaisant. Here the initiative came from Carthage, which did not wait for a lead from the governor, Vipstanus Apronianus. One of Nero's freedmen, Crescens- for even these creatures claim to be part of the body politic when times are bad — had offered the public a feast in celebration of the recent accession, and the reckless populace committed itself in a number of ways with immoderate haste. The example of Carthage was followed by the remaining cities in the province.
77. This split in the armies and provinces meant that Vitellius was compelled to fight for the position of emperor. Otho, however, went on with his imperial duties as if there were not a cloud in the sky. He sometimes displayed a proper sense of statesmanship, more often an unseemly haste based on a policy of quick returns. With his brother Titianus he took over the consulship until 1 March, making some attempt to mollify the army of Germany by allotting the succeeding months to Verginius, whose colleague was to be Pompeius Vopiscus, allegedly because he was an old friend, though many took this as a compliment to Vienne. So far as the remaining consulships were concerned, no alteration was made in the scheme as drawn up by Nero or Galba. Thus Caelius Sabinus and Flavius Sabinus were to hold office until 1 July, and Arrius Antoninus and Marius Celsus until 1 September. Even Vitellius refrained from vetoing these arrangements after his victory. Otho also made appointments to the colleges of pontiffs and augurs as a crowning distinction for men with a long career of public service behind them, or afforded young men of rank recently back from exile the solace and satisfaction of occupying priesthoods held by their fathers and grandfathers. Membership of the senate was restored to Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus and Scaevinus Propinquus, who had been condemned for extortion under Claudius and Nero. In pardoning them, the senators decided to find a new name for 'rapacity' (for that is what their conduct had been in plain language) and to regard it as 'treason', a charge then so hated for its misuse that even salutary laws became a dead letter.
78. The same lavishness marked Otho's approaches to civic communities and provinces. At Hispalis and Emerita additional families of settlers were incorporated, the Lingones received a block grant of Roman citizenship, and the province of Baetica was assigned some Moorish communities. New constitutions devised for both Cappadocia and Africa looked well but were fated to be short-lived. Amid all these proposals, for which the nature of his immediate predicament and imminent worries offered some extenuation, Otho still remembered his amours. He secured by senatorial decree the restoration of the statues of Poppaea. It was believed that he even contemplated some ceremony in memory of Nero, in order to entice the mob. Indeed, some Romans did exhibit portraits of Nero, and on certain occasions the populace and the troops actually saluted the emperor as 'Nero Otho' as if this represented an additional ennoblement. Otho left the matter in the air, for he was afraid of saying 'no' or else ashamed to acknowledge the title.
79. Preoccupation with civil war led to some slackness in the face of danger from abroad. The Rhoxolani, a Sarmatian tribe, had cut to pieces two auxiliary cohorts in the previous winter, and they were now encouraged to stage an ambitious invasion of Moesia. Their forces numbered some 9,000 wild and exulting horsemen, keener on booty than battle. These unwary rovers were suddenly set upon by the Third Legion, with its auxiliaries. On the Roman side all was set for the encounter. Not so the Sarmatians. Dispersed for plunder, laden with heavy spoils, and unable to profit by their horses' pace because the tracks were slippery, they were delivered as sheep to the slaughter. It is indeed curious to observe how completely the formidable Sarmatians depend on extraneous aids. An engagement on foot finds them utterly ineffective, but when they appear on horseback, there is scarcely a line of battle that can stand up to them. But this particular day was wet, and a thaw had set in. Neither their lances nor their enormous two-handed swords were of any use, because the horses lost their footing and the dismounted warriors were weighed down by their body-armour. This protective clothing is worn by the chiefs and notables and consists of iron-plating or toughened leather. Proof against blows, it is cumbersome when a man tries to get up after being unhorsed by an enemy charge. Moreover, the Sarmatians were time and time again swallowed up in the deep, soft snow. The Roman troops on the other hand wore breastplates allowing easy movement. They moved up, throwing their javelins or using their lances and, as occasion required, their light-weight swords to close in and wound the unprotected Sarmatians, who do not normally carry shields. Finally, the few survivors took refuge in swampy country, where they succumbed to the severity of the weather or their wounds.
When news of this reached Rome, Marcus Aponius, the governor of Moesia, was granted a triumphal statue, (11) and the legionary commanders Aurelius Fulvus, Tettius Julianus and Numisius Lupus received consular decorations. (12) Otho was delighted, and plumed himself on the victory as if he had won it himself and exalted his country by means of commanders and armies that were his.
80. Meanwhile a mutiny occurred which had almost fatal consequences for the capital, though it arose out of a trifling incident where no danger was anticipated. Otho had ordered the Seventeenth Cohorts to move to Rome from the city of Ostia, and a pretorian tribune named Varius Crispinus was charged with the task of issuing arms to it. Anxious to carry out his orders with greater freedom from distraction while the pretorian barracks were quiet, he had the armoury opened and the cohort's transport loaded up at nightfall. (13) The hour aroused suspicion, the motive was misconstrued, and the bid for peace and quiet led to uproar. Seeing the arms, some drunken pretorians felt an urge to get hold of them. The troops raised a clamour and accused the tribunes and centurions of a treasonable plot to arm the household servants of the senators and murder Otho. Some of the pretorians were ignorant of the real circumstances and befuddled with drink, the riff-raff seized the chance of loot, and the mass of the men were, as usual, ready for any kind of excitement. Besides, the willingness of the better men to obey orders had been neutralized by the darkness. The tribune and the strictest disciplinarians among the centurions offered resistance, but were struck down. The men helped themselves to the arms, drew their swords and rode off to Rome and the palace.
81. Otho was entertaining a large dinner party of society men and women. The guests were at their wits' end. Was this a meaningless outbreak on the part of the troops or trickery on the part of Otho? Would it be more dangerous to stay and be caught, or escape and scatter? At one moment, they assumed a nonchalance they were far from feeling. At the next, their fears betrayed them. They eyed Otho's expression. As is the way with suspicious minds, although Otho felt alarm, he also inspired it. However, in his concern — as much for the senators as for himself — he had promptly sent off the pretorian prefects to calm down their angry men. He also told all his guests to hurry away from the banqueting room. This was the signal for a general stampede. Magistrates threw away their badges of office, and eluded the masses of retainers and servants who were waiting upon them. With the womenfolk and old gentlemen they vanished down the darkened streets of the capital in every direction. One or two made for their mansions, the vast majority for the homes of their friends and humblest dependants, where they could lie low without anyone being the wiser.
82. Even the doors of the palace could not stop the troops surging irresistibly into the banqueting-hall with a demand that Otho should show himself to them. A tribune, Julius Martialis, and a legionary prefect, Vitellius Satuminus, were wounded in their attempt to stem the rush. The whole building was a hubbub of weapons and threats. In one breath the men denounced the centurions and tribunes, in the next the senate at large. Their blind and panic-stricken frenzy, finding no single target for its anger, clamoured for a clean sweep of everybody. Finally Otho threw imperial dignity to the winds, clambered up on a couch, and with some difficulty restrained the mutineers by means of tears and entreaties. So they returned to barracks, but grudgingly and with bad consciences. Rome resembled a captured city on the next day. The great houses were shuttered, the streets almost empty, the populace in mourning. The downcast glances of the troops displayed sullenness rather than regret. Company by company, they were addressed by their prefects, Licinius Proculus and Plotius Firmus, with the differing degrees of severity that reflected the characters of the two men. The upshot of their remarks was that each soldier was to be paid 5,000 sesterces. Only then did Otho venture into the barracks. He was immediately surrounded by the tribunes and centurions, who stripped off their uniform, and asked to be retired from the forces and granted their lives. The troops were sensitive to this reflection upon themselves. They returned to their duty in an orderly way and, without prompting, demanded the execution of the ringleaders in the mutiny.
83. Otho felt that he must do something about this breach of the peace. Opinion among the troops was divided. The best of them wanted the present wave of indiscipline effectively dealt with. The average man, that is, the majority of them, delighted in mutiny and in a leadership that worked by bribery. A career of riot and looting was just the thing to acclimatize them to the idea of civil war. But Otho also reflected that a usurper whose hands are none too clean cannot maintain control by sudden doses of discipline and old fashioned strictness. On the other hand, he was worried at the insecurity to which Rome was exposed and the threat to the senate's existence. In the end he made a speech to the troops on these lines:
'I have not come, men, to fire your hearts with affection for me or spur your spirit to heroism. You have both these qualities already to a marked degree. On the contrary, I have come to ask you to keep your valour under control and to retrain your friendly feelings for me. Yesterday's riot was not prompted by the cupidity or bad blood that have encouraged disorder in many armies. Nor was it prompted by a cowardly refusal to face danger. Your excessive devotion provided a stimulus that was keen but misguided. If honest intentions are not backed up by sound judgement, the consequences are often fatal.
'You and I are setting out on a campaign. Do you imagine that every intelligence report can be read in public and every plan studied in a council-of-war embracing the whole army? The need for carefully weighing up the situation and arriving at a quick decision when the hour strikes makes such a thing impossible. In some respects, ignorance is no less desirable in the ordinary soldier than knowledge. The nature of a general's authority and of the strict observance of discipline requires that even centurions and tribunes should frequently obey without question. If every single individual is to have the right to ask the why and the wherefore of his orders, then the habit of obedience is sapped, and with it the whole principle of command. Are we still going to have men rushing to arms in the middle of the night when we are in the field? Suppose there are a couple of drunken louts — for I feel sure that those who went mad in last night's affair were no more in number: are a few such men to stain their hands with the blood of a centurion and a tribune? Are they to force their way into their general's tent?
84. 'Of course you aimed at my protection by your action. But commotion, darkness and general confusion may also provide an opening for my assassination. If Vitellius and his gang could put upon us any sort of spell they chose, surely the very attitude of mind they would pray for would be mutiny and dissension, that the private should disobey his centurion and the centurion his tribune, that in an inextricable chaos of infantry and cavalry we should rush blindly to our destruction. Successful fighting, men, depends on obedience, not on questioning orders, and the bravest army in the hour of danger is the one that is best behaved before that hour strikes. Arms and courage should be your business: the job of planning policy and guiding your gallantry must be left to me.
'A few individuals only were to blame: two only shall suffer. It is up to the rest of you to wipe out the memory of an awful night.
'I only hope that no army in the world hears the dreadful words you uttered against the senate! To call for violent measures against the supreme council of state, which is recruited from men of distinction in every province of the empire, is a type of behaviour which even the Germans whom Vitellius is mustering against us at this very moment would surely not permit themselves. Can any son of Italy, any true Roman warrior, cry out for the butchery of an order whose radiance and glory enable us to blind the obscure and shabby following of Vitellius? True, he has got hold of a few native tribes. He has some poor apology for an army. But on our side is the senate. So the state takes its stand here: there, over against us, are the enemies of that state. Do you really imagine that the splendour of the capital stands or falls with mansions, buildings and piles of masonry? These are dumb, lifeless things — their collapse or restoration means nothing. But the survival of our empire, peace between the nations, and your life as well as mine find a firm support in the continued preservation of the senate. The senatorial order was solemnly instituted by the patriarch and founder of our city ( Romulu). From the regal period up to the principate it has survived in unbroken continuity. We received it from our fathers. Let us as surely transmit it to our sons. you are the source of new blood for the senate, and the senate in its turn supplies our emperors.'
85. This speech, nicely calculated to reprimand the troops and calm their feelings, and also Otho's moderate display of severity — no more than two men were to be punished — were well received. For the moment some degree of order had been achieved among troops who could not be dealt with firmly. However, peace and quiet had not returned to the capital, which clattered with arms and bore the look of war. The soldiers caused no concerted disorder. But they had insinuated themselves into all the great houses disguised as civilians, and kept a jealous eye upon all whose station, wealth or some other uncommon distinction exposed them to gossip. It was commonly believed too, that Vitellian soldiers had entered Rome to explore the degree of support for their cause. The whole atmosphere was heavy with suspicion. Even the privacy of the home was hardly secure. But in public, anxiety reached a climax. Men had constantly to attune their attitudes and expressions to the latest rumour: it would not do to appear too upset by bad tidings and insufficiently gratified by good. But it was above all when the senate was assembled in the chamber that the task of steering a course between Scylla and Charybdis presented a continual hazard. Here silence might seem rebellious and free speech suspect. Otho had recently been an ordinary senator and had used the same language as his peers. So he knew all about flattery. In making their speeches, therefore, the senators tacked and veered and trimmed their sails to suit the moment. They denounced Vitellius as a traitor to the country that had bred him. But wary politicians with an eye to the future confined themselves to perfunctory abuse. Certain others did not mince matters, yet took care to time their denunciations for moments of uproar when everyone was on his feet, or else blurted them out in an incoherent torrent of words which nobody could quite catch.
86. There were alarming prodigies, too. News of these flowed from a number of independent sources. At the entrance to the Capitol, it was said, the reins of the chariot in which Victory rides had slipped from her grasp; an apparition of superhuman size had suddenly emerged from the Chapel of Juno; on a sunny, windless day the statue of Julius Caesar on the Tiber Island had turned round so as to face east instead of west; an ox had spoken in Etruria; there had been monstrous animal births and numerous other signs and wonders of the kind that in primitive centuries were noted even in peacetime, but are now only heard of when men are afraid. But the most serious panic was caused by a disaster which combined immediate destruction with the threat of trouble in the future. This was the flooding of the Tiber. A tremendous rise in its level caused the collapse of the Pile Bridge. Its ruins obstructed the flow of the river, which inundated not only the flat and low-lying parts of the capital, but also areas held to be immune from disasters of this kind. A number of Romans were swept away in the streets, and even more were cut off without warning in their shops and beds. Unemployment and food shortages caused famine in the poorer classes, and the standing flood water sapped the foundations of large tenement blocks, which collapsed as the river retreated. No sooner had the public recovered from this shock than it was faced by another. As Otho got together his expeditionary force, it was found that the Campus Martius and the Flaminian Way were blocked. This was the route to the front, and though the obstruction sprang from chance or natural causes, the mere fact of its occurrence was interpreted as a sign from heaven and an omen of imminent disaster.
87. Otho held a service of purification throughout the city, and sized up his plans of campaign. As the Pennine and Cottian Alps and all the other landward approaches to the Gallic provinces were closed (14) to Vitellius' armies, he decided to invade Narbonese Gaul with the help of his powerful navy. This was loyal, because the survivors of the Milvian Bridge massacre, imprisoned by the spiteful Galba, had been placed by Otho on the nominal roll of a legion, while the rest of the navy men received a promise of promotion to the senior service in due course. Otho reinforced his fleet with urban cohorts and a sizeable contingent of pretorians. These were to form the spearhead, and give the generals the benefit of their advice and protection. The expedition was commanded by Antonius Novellus and Suedius Clemens, who were senior centurions, and by Aemilius Pacensis, to whom Otho had restored the tribune's rank of which Galba had deprived him. The naval side continued to be the responsibility of the freedman Moschus, who was appointed as a sort of commissar to spy upon the loyalty of his superiors.
Suetonius Paulinus, Marius Celsus and Annius Gallus were ear-marked to lead the main force of infantry and cavalry. But the real position of trust was occupied by Licinius Proculus, the pretorian prefect. The latter had been active during his period of service in the capital, but possessed no experience in the field. However, by criticising Paulinus, Celsus and Gallus despite their respective qualifications — reputation, energy and seasoned judgement - this evil and designing man had little difficulty in getting the upper hand of his restrained and honest colleagues.
88. These events coincided with the banishment of Cornelius Dolabella to the city of Aquinum. He was not subjected to close or humiliating custody, and no charge was brought against him. But critics had pointed to his ancient lineage and close connections with Galba.
Otho now gave instructions that many of the magistrates and a large proportion of the senior statesmen were to prepare themselves to accompany him, ostensibly as his suite, not as active participants or aides in the campaign. Even Lucius Vitellius was included in their number, for he was treated no differently from the rest and not as the brother of an emperor or of a traitor.
All this caused a wave of anxiety in the capital, where none of the upper classes of society was exempt from fear or danger. The leading senators were incapacitated by age or enervated by a long peace, the nobility lazy and unwarlike, the knights without experience of active service. The more these people strove to hide and conceal their fear, the more obvious it became. On the other hand there were fools who tried to cut a dash by purchasing showy arms and equipment, fine horses and even, in some cases, canteens of lavish tableware and the means to titillate the appetites, as if these were weapons of war. Sensible men were worried about peace and the state of the country, the irresponsible and the improvident were puffed up with idle hopes, and many bankrupts, at their wits' end in peace, drew new vigour from confusion, and found their greatest safeguard in insecurity.
89. Political issues are usually above the heads of the lower classes and the man in the street owing to their complexity. But now the masses gradually began to be sensible of the hardships of war. Owing to the channelling of all available money into the war effort, there was a rise in the cost of food. This was a burden whose effects on ordinary people had been much less crushing during the revolt of Vindex, for at that time there had been no direct threat to Rome. The fighting had been restricted to the provinces, and was tantamount to a foreign war, as it only involved the legions and Gaul. Indeed, ever since the Augustan settlement, the Caesars alone had reaped the worry and glory of Rome's distant wars. Under Tiberius and Gaius the only disasters that affected the public were those of peace. The plot of Scribonianus (15) against Claudius was no sooner reported than crushed, and Nero was driven to abdication by messages and rumours rather than by force of arms. But now legions and fleets were taken into the front-line. So indeed were the pretorian and urban troops, whose employment on active service is almost unparalleled. Behind them were arrayed the East and the West with all their respective forces. If further commanders were to enter the lists, there was the making of a long war.
Some advisers pressed upon Otho the need for postponing his departure on religious grounds, for the ceremony of Laying up the Shields (16) had not yet been completed. But Otho was impatient to be off at all costs, for he felt that it was delay of this kind that had been Nero's undoing. The fact that Caecina had by now crossed the Alps was another strong argument for speed.
90. On 14 March, Otho formally handed over the civil administration to the senate, and as a gratuity to those recalled from exile gave them the residue of the proceeds from the sale of Nero's donations, in so far as they had not been paid into the treasury. This concession was perfectly fair, and it looked generous, though in fact it yielded little as the confiscations had been pushed on for some time at top speed.
Otho then summoned a meeting of the whole populace, in which he stressed the prestige of the capital and the united support of senate and people as factors which told in his favour. His references to the Vitellian faction were restrained. He blamed the legions for ignorance rather than presumption. No allusion was made to Vitellius himself. This may have been self-control on Otho's part, or possibly the man who wrote his speech for him was led to refrain from abuse of Vitellius by fear for his own skin. The latter explanation may well be true, for just as Otho relied upon Suetonius-Paulinus and Marius Celsus in military matters, so he was thought to employ Galerius Trachalus to advise him on affairs at Rome. Indeed, some hearers professed to detect the authorship of the speech on the mere strength of its style, for it was familiar from Trachalus' frequent appearance in the courts, and his ample and sonorous Latin was admirably designed to satisfy popular taste.
The cheers and cries of the crowd followed the usual pattern of flattery in being overdone and insincere. Everyone tried to outbid his neighbour in enthusiasm and good wishes, as if they were seeing off Julius Caesar or Emperor Augustus. Neither fear nor affection was involved. The passion for self-abasement operated as it does among domestic slaves, for each individual was prompted by selfishness, and the decencies of public life now meant nothing. On leaving Rome, Otho resigned the policing of the capital (17) and the day-to-day responsibilities of an emperor to his brother Salvius Titianus.