The Murder Of Galba (12-50)
The Histories by Cornelius Tacitus

12. A few days after 1 January, word came from Pompeius Propinquus, the imperial agent in Belgica, that the legions of Upper Germany had broken their oath of loyalty and were calling for a change of emperor, though they resigned the choice of the new ruler to the Senate and People of Rome in order to mitigate the offence. This event accelerated a measure which Galba had for some time been debating in his own mind and with his friends — the adoption of an heir. In recent months, the matter had undoubtedly been the main topic of discussion throughout the country, for in the first place, there was opportunity, as well as an unhealthy craving, for such talk, and in the second, Galba was old and failing. Few Romans had any capacity to judge or real desire for the public good. But many day-dreamers talked glibly of the chances of this candidate or that in order to curry favour with a friend or a patron, or else to vent their spite on Titus Vinius, whose daily-growing influence only rendered him daily more detested.

The fact was that Galba's courtiers had tasted success, and the emperor's indulgence merely whetted their appetite for more. So weak and credulous a ruler made wrongdoing both safer and more lucrative.

13. The power that properly belonged to the emperor was in fact shared between the consul Titus Vinius and the pretorian prefect Cornelius Laco. No less influential was Galba's freedman Icelus, who had been given the status of knight and as such was commonly called 'Marcianus'. These three were at loggerheads, and each pursued an individual policy in minor matters. But on the question of electing a successor to Galba they were divided into two factions. Vinius supported Marcus Otho, while Laco and Icelus agreed in rejecting him, though they had no one alternative candidate in mind. Galba himself was not blind to the friendship existing between Otho and Titus Vinius, while wagging tongues could not resist prophesying that, as Vinius had an unwedded daughter and Otho was single, a marriage would conveniently seal the alliance.

I believe that Galba had begun to be anxious, too, about the welfare of his country, for it was little use having seized power from Nero if this were to pass to Otho. After all, the latter had spent a thoughtless childhood and riotous youth, winning Nero's favour because he mimicked his vices. This was why the emperor, until such times as he could get rid of his wife Octavia, had planted his mistress Poppaea Sabina on Otho, who knew all about the affair. Later he suspected him of falling in love with this same Poppaea, and packed him off to the province of Lusitania in the guise of its governor. Otho administered his province with courtesy, and was the first to side with the revolt. (1) So long as the campaign lasted he showed energy, and held the leading position among those in personal attendance upon Galba. He had hoped to be adopted from the start, and now each passing day saw his ambition intensified. He had the support of a majority among the troops, and Nero's courtiers naturally fell for one who resembled him.

14. But once informed of the army revolt in Germany, Galba was anxious about the extent of the outbreak, although so far there was no certain information about Vitellius. The emperor had no confidence in the city garrison either. He therefore resorted to what he believed to be the one and only cure for the disease — an imperial election. He summoned Marius Celsus (one of the consuls-designate) and Ducenius Geminus (the city prefect) as well as Vinius and Laco, and after a few prefatory remarks about his advancing years, sent for Piso Licinianus. It is not clear whether this was his own choice, or whether, as some have believed, it was the result of pressure from Laco, who had made friends with Piso at the house of Rubellius Plautus. However, in supporting him Laco astutely pretended that he was a stranger, and Piso's reputation made the policy plausible enough. As the son of Marcus Crassus and Scribonia, Piso came of distinguished parentage on both sides. His severe expression and general appearance belonged to an earlier age and on a just estimate suggested strictness of principle, though carping critics found him too straitlaced. If this aspect of his character awoke some misgivings in the pessimists, it won the approval of his adoptive father.

15. So it seems that Galba took Piso's hand and spoke to him in terms which may be paraphrased as follows: 'If I were a private citizen adopting you in the traditional way before the pontiffs with due legislative forms, it would have been gratifying to me to have a descendant of Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Crassus entering my family, and you in your turn would have found it an honour to enhance your own distinctions with those of the Sulpicii and Lutatii. But as things are, the unanimous will of heaven and earth has called me to supreme power, and it is rather your character and patriotism which have impelled me to offer you the principate. For this power, our forefathers fought on the battle-field, and I myself won it by the sword. But I now give it to you in time of peace, following the precedent set by Emperor Augustus. He it was who promoted to a position immediately below his own his sister's son Marcellus, then his son-in-law Agrippa, later his own grandsons, and finally Tiberius Nero, his step-son. But Augustus looked for a successor within his family: I have done so in the country at large. This is not because I have no relatives or army colleagues. But it was not from selfish motives that I accepted office myself, and the nature of my present choice should be plain from the fact that, for your sake, I have passed over the claims not only of my relatives but of yours. Your brother is as nobly born as you, and older. He, too, could worthily fill the part, were you not the better man.

'You are old enough now to have escaped the waywardness of youth, and you have nothing to apologize for in your past. Until today, misfortune was all you had to bear. But success probes a man's character more keenly. Men put up with bad times, but prosperity spoils us. Loyalty, independence and friendship are the finest flowers of human character. These qualities you will of course continue to display as sturdily as ever. But others will seek to weaken them by a cringing attitude. You will have to face up to flattery, honied words and the poison most fatal to sincerity — individual self-interest. Even if you and I are today conversing with perfect frankness, the world will prefer to address us as emperors, not as ourselves. Persuading a ruler to adopt the right course is a fatiguing business, but to flatter him regardless of his character is a mechanical exercise which presupposes no real affection.

16. 'If it were possible for our gigantic empire to stand erect and keep its balance in the absence of a ruler, I should be the right sort of person to hand over power to a republican form of government. But in fact we have long ago reached a point where drastic measures are necessary. Hence my declining years can make Rome no greater gift than a good successor, nor your youth any greater gift than a good emperor. Under Tiberius, Gaius and Claudius, the principate was the heirloom of a single family, so that the introduction of the principle of choice will mean liberty. The dynasty of the Julii and Claudii has come to an end, and the best man will be discovered by the process of adoption. To be born and bred of emperors is a matter of chance and is valued accordingly. But adoption implies the unfettered exercise of judgement. Moreover, if one wants guidance in this choice, public opinion points the way. Remember Nero, who prided himself on being the heir of a long line of Caesars. It was not Vindex with his undefended province, nor I with my one legion, (2) who dislodged this incubus from the shoulders of Rome. His own monstrous excesses and life of pleasure did so, though there was no precedent at that time for the condemnation of an emperor. We ourselves, who owe our promotion to armed force and critical scrutiny, are bound to be the target of envious glances, whatever our merits. However, you must not lose confidence if two legions (3) have not yet recovered their steadiness after the shock which the Roman world has suffered. My accession too was far from tranquil. Besides, once men hear of your adoption they will cease to view me as an old man — the only criticism they can level at me now. Nero will always be missed by the riffraff. It is your task and mine to see to it that he is not missed by good men as well.

'This is not the moment for further words of advice, and indeed every precaution has been taken if I did right in choosing you. The most practical and also most rapid criterion of good and bad policy is to reflect what actions you would yourself approve or disapprove of if another were emperor. Rome is not like primitive countries with their kings. Here we have no ruling caste dominating a nation of slaves. You are called to be the leader of men who can tolerate neither total slavery nor total liberty.'

Such was the tenor of Galba's remarks. They sounded as if he were still in the process of creating an emperor. But the tone the rest took towards Piso showed that they regarded the process as complete.

17. We are told that the new Caesar betrayed no indication of emotion or exultation to his immediate audience or afterwards to the general public who riveted their gaze upon him. He addressed his father and sovereign in suitably respectful language, and referred to himself modestly. His unaltered looks and manner seemed to imply that he had the ability rather than the desire to be emperor.

It was then debated whether the right place for an official proclamation of the adoption would be the rostra, the senate or the pretorian barracks. It seemed best to proceed to the barracks. This, it was felt, would be a tribute to the army, whose favour ought not to be sought by bounties and cajolery, but was not to be despised if won by honourable means. Meanwhile, the palace had been surrounded by an expectant public impatient to hear the great secret, and attempts to suppress rumours which had leaked out merely intensified them.

18. The tenth of January was an unpleasantly rainy day, abnormally disturbed by thunder, lightning and a threatening sky. From time immemorial this had been interpreted as an omen calling for the cancellation of political assemblies, but it did not frighten Galba from making his way to the barracks. He despised such things as being the blind forces of nature; or perhaps the future is predestined and inevitable whatever the premonitory signs. His proclamation, addressed to a massive parade of the troops, was marked by the brevity befitting a supreme commander. He said that in adopting Piso he was acting in accordance with the precedent of Emperor Augustus and the military practice whereby one man used to pick another (4). Furthermore, in order to stop exaggerated versions of the revolt by speaking frankly, he went out of his way to insist that the aberrations of the Fourth and Twenty-Second Legions had not exceeded mere words and slogans, and they would soon return to their duty. Nor did he round off the speech by pandering to the troops or bribing them. Despite this, the tribunes, centurions and front-ranks raised a gratifying cheer by way of response. But throughout the rest reigned gloom and silence, as if they felt that active service had lost them the bounty customarily exacted even in peace-time. There is general agreement that it would have been quite possible to win them over by a mere token act of generosity on the part of the niggardly old emperor. His old-fashioned rigidity and excessive strictness spelt ruin, for we cannot rise to these standards nowadays.

19. Then came a meeting of the senate. Its members heard from Galba some remarks as simple and brief as those he had addressed to the troops. Piso made a courteous and formal speech, which went down well. Many senators felt genuine good will, those who had opposed him spoke even more effusively, and the uncommitted majority were quick to grovel. They were too busy calculating their private prospects to worry about the public interest. In the following four days, the time which intervened between his adoption and murder, Piso made no public utterance or move.

As reports of the German revolt increased day by day in a country prepared to hear and believe all the latest news if it is bad, the senate had determined to send a mission to the army of Germany. The question of Piso's joining the embassy was ventilated in secret. This would look more impressive: the others would carry the authority of the senate, Piso the prestige of a Caesar. They decided to include Laco, the pretorian prefect; but he promptly vetoed this plan. Besides, the selection of the other commissioners, which had been entrusted by the senate to Galba, was marked by scandalous indecision. Men were nominated, and then allowed to withdraw or suggest substitutes, according as each man's fears or hopes induced him to pull strings in an endeavour to secure exemption from the mission or inclusion in it.

20. The next matter to be dealt with was finance. A comprehensive survey showed that the fairest thing would be to demand repayment from those who were responsible for the crisis. Nero had squandered 2,200 million sesterces in largesse. Galba ordered the recipients to be sent individual demand-notices, on the understanding that each was to retain one tenth of what he had received. But the people concerned had barely this amount left, for they had spent other men's money as lavishly as their own. The really greedy and unprincipled beneficiaries no longer disposed of any landed property or capital investments: only the minor trappings of depravity remained. The collection of the money was to be supervised by an equestrian committee of thirty. Their functions were without precedent, and rendered onerous by interest and numbers. The auctioneer and the dealer in confiscated property were everywhere, and Rome was distracted by lawsuits. Yet there was also intense jubilation at the thought that the recipients of Nero's bounty would henceforth be as poor as those he had robbed.

In the course of these days some tribunes were cashiered: Antonius Taurus and Antonius Naso of the Pretorian Guard, Aemilius Pacensis of the Urban Cohorts, and Julius Fronto of the Watch. No steps were taken against the rest. This only gave rise to the feeling that, if individual offenders were being timidly and cunningly removed, all were suspect.

21. Otho had nothing to hope for from settled conditions, and his whole policy was based on exploiting chaos. By this time he was responding to a number of irritants: dissipation such as would have imposed a strain upon an emperor's pocket, poverty which even a private individual could scarcely stand, malice towards Galba and jealousy of Piso. To stimulate his ambition, he conjured up imaginary dangers, too. He told himself that Nero had found him too much of a burden, and he could not expect a second Lusitania and appointment to another exile. Suspicion and hatred must always be the reaction of rulers towards the man talked of as the next in the succession. It was this, he reflected, that had prejudiced his chances with an elderly emperor, and it would do so even more with an ill-natured youth soured by prolonged exile. His assassination, Otho reflected, was always a possibility. So he must be up and doing, while Galba's popularity was fading and Piso's had not yet established itself. There was scope for great enterprises when power changed hands, and hesitation was misplaced where inaction could do more harm than recklessness. Death came equally to all men as a condition of their existence: it was differentiated only by oblivion or fame in after times. If guilty and innocent must await the same end, it showed more spirit in a man to die for a purpose.

22. Otho's character was not as flabby as his physical condition, and it was exploited by his confidential freedmen and slaves, who were given a freer hand than one expects in a private household. These creatures dangled alluring prospects before his greedy gaze: a court and life of pleasure like Nero's, liaisons, marriages and all the gratifications of tyranny. These could be his if he had the courage. If he did nothing, the taunters added, these prizes would go to someone else. Further pressure came from the astrologers, who asserted that their observation of the stars heralded change and a year of glory for Otho. Such men mislead the powerful and deceive the ambitious, practising a profession which in our country will always be outlawed and always maintained. The backstairs intrigues of Poppaea had employed a number of astrologers whose nefarious activities secured her marriage to the emperor. One of these, Ptolemaeus, had gone with Otho to Spain. He had promised that his patron would survive Nero, and the fulfilment of the prophecy established his reputation. Now, proceeding by guesswork and the calculations of gossips who worked out Galba's age and compared it with Otho's, he had managed to persuade the latter that he would be called to be emperor. But in accepting these predictions, Otho imagined they were based on knowledge and the voice of destiny, man's character being such that he will always prefer to believe in mysteries. Ptolemaeus pressed his advantage and proceeded to urge Otho to take the fatally easy step from evil ambition to evil deeds.

23. But whether the plot was the result of a sudden impulse may be questioned. Otho had been angling for the support of the troops for some time, in the hope of succeeding to the principate or in preparation for a coup. On the move from Spain, whether during the march or at halting places, he made it a practice to address the oldest soldiers by name (5), and talked of 'their service together' — an allusion to attendance upon Nero. He greeted some as old friends. He asked after the occasional absentee. He gave assistance in the form of money or favours, often dropping complaints and double-edged remarks about Galba and employing all the other incitements of the mob agitator. The tiring marches, short rations (6) and strict discipline were not well received by men who were used to travelling to the lake district of Campania and the cities of Greece on board ship, but who now found themselves plodding wearily over the Pyrenees and Alps and along interminable roads under the weight of their arms and equipment.

24. The smouldering discontent of the troops was fanned to a blaze by one of Tigillinus' cronies, Mevius Pudens. Getting hold of the men who were most easily led, or who were short of money and therefore ready for any desperate plunge, he worked upon them little by little and finally went so far as to hand out a tip of l00 sesterces to each and every member of the cohort on duty whenever Galba dined with Otho, ostensibly for their meal. This semi-official bounty was backed by more confidential rewards to individuals. His methods of corruption were enterprising. A member of the emperor's personal bodyguard called Cocceius Proculus happened to be in dispute with a neighbour over part of the latter's land. Otho bought up the whole of this neighbour's farm out of his own pocket, and presented it to Proculus as a free gift. Such things were only rendered possible by the inefficiency of the pretorian prefect, who was blind to everything, whether it was common knowledge or a secret.

25. Anyway, Otho now put his freedman Onomastus in charge of the plot. The latter introduced two members of the bodyguard, a corporal called Barbius Proculus and a warrant-officer, one Veturius. In the course of a discursive interview Otho found out that they were competent and unscrupulous, and doled out bribes and promises on a lavish scale. Money was given them to enable them to bid for wider support. Thus two non-commissioned officers undertook to dispose of the empire which belonged to Rome. In this they were completely successful. Only a few confederates were let into the secret. As for the rest, Proculus and Veturius employed a variety of ingenious methods to prod the hesitant, dropping hints to senior N.C.O.s that they were under acloud because Nymphidius had promoted them, and inducing in the remainder, that is the majority, a mood of anger and despair at the repeated postponement of the bounty. If a few regretted Nero and missed the slack discipline of the past, all without exception were panic-stricken at the prospect of being posted to less favoured units.

26. The rot spread to the legionaries and auxiliaries, already demoralized by the spread of news about the crumbling loyalty of the army of Germany. The mischief-makers were ready for mutiny, and even the better sort were prepared to connive at it. Indeed, on the following day ( 11 January) they were on the point of carrying Otho off to their barracks as he was returning home from a dinner, but were scared off by the uncertainties of night-time, the scattered location of the troops throughout Rome, and the difficulty of achieving co-ordination between men who were the worse for drink. It was not their country they were worried about, for they were preparing in sober earnest to desecrate it with the blood of their emperor. But there was a real fear that in the darkness any chance person who met the Pannonian or German units might be mistaken for Otho, who was not personally known to most people. There was plenty of evidence of this incipient outbreak, but those in the know hushed it up. A few hints which reached Galba's ears were sidestepped by the prefect Laco, who was quite out of touch with what his men thought, regularly opposed any plan, whatever its excellence, which he had not himself proposed, and showed a stubborn disregard for expert opinion.

27. On 15 January, Galba was offering sacrifice in front of the Temple of Apollo (7). The soothsayer Umbricius pronounced the entrails of the victim to be ill-omened, and predicted the imminence of a plot and the presence of a traitor within the palace. As Otho was standing next to Galba, he overheard this and gleefully interpreted it in the contrary sense as favourable to his own designs. A few minutes later, his freedman Onomastus brought him a message: the architect and builders were waiting for him. This was the pre-arranged code indicating that the troops were already assembling and the plot ripe. Some asked Otho why he was leaving. In reply, he pretended that he was buying some dilapidated property which had to be surveyed before the deal was complete. Arm-in-arm with his freedman, he made his way through the Palace of Tiberias into the Velabrum, and from there to the Golden Milestone near the Temple of Satum. Here twenty-three members of the bodyguard gave him the imperial salutation. Otho was appalled that they were so few in number, but they quickly placed him in a chair, drew their swords and hurried him off. Roughly the same number of soldiers joined the party on the way — some privy to the plot, many bewildered, a proportion shouting and flourishing their swords, others again maintaining silence, with the intention of suiting their reaction to the event.

28. The duty-officer at the barracks was the tribune Julius Martialis. It is hard to say whether he was overwhelmed by the mere idea of such an immense and wicked enterprise, or whether he feared that the rot went deeper among the men and that resistance on his part might spell death. In any case, he gave many people the impression that he was in the plot. The other tribunes, and the centurions, also preferred the advantage of the moment to the incalculable risks of honour. Their mood may be summed up thus: a shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.

29. Meanwhile, Galba was unaware of what was afoot. Preoccupied with the sacrifice, he continued to offer his importunities to the gods of an empire no longer his. Suddenly word came that some senator — it was not known who — was being hastily carried to the pretorian barracks. After a while, the man was identified as Otho. News came from every part of Rome at once, brought by whoever had met the procession. Some of these informants were panicky, and gave an exaggerated account. A few used understatement, unable even at the eleventh hour to forget the habit of flattery. A consultation was held. It was decided to test the attitude of the cohort that was on duty in the palace area, while not exposing Galba in person. The prestige of the emperor was to be reserved intact to deal with some more drastic situation. So it was Piso who addressed the parade from the steps of the palace in a speech whose substance I reproduce:

'This is the fifth day, men, since I was created a Caesar by adoption. I was ignorant of what was to come. Perhaps this name was one to covet; perhaps it was to be dreaded. What in fact this implies for my family and for the state is a matter which rests with you. Not that I have any fears of a grimmer upshot on my own account. I have experienced adversity already, and this very moment teaches me that success itself is no less dangerous. But I am indeed sorry for my father, the senate and the empire itself, if we must either suffer death today or, by a dispensation equally grievous to good men, inflict it. In the last crisis, we found comfort in the circumstance that there was no bloodshed in the capital and that the transference of power was undisputed. In this case, the fact of adoption appeared sufficient guarantee against fighting, even after Galba's reign comes to an end.
30. 'I shall make no claims for myself in point of ancestry or good character. After all, there is no need for a catalogue of virtues when the comparison is with Otho. His sole boast is a vicious life, which involved the downfall of an emperor even when Otho passed himself off as the emperor's friend. Are we to believe that he earned the principate by his mincing airs? Or by his characteristically effeminate love of finery? The public are mistaken: they are imposed upon by a prodigal wearing the mask of generosity. Otho will be skilled in squandering, but not in giving. At this moment seduction, revelry and sex are the things that engage his imagination. These he takes to be the spoils of the imperial office, whose lusts and pleasures are to be his, their shame and degradation everyone's. No one has ever made good use of power evilly gained.
'Galba was called to be a Caesar by the unanimous voice of the whole world, and I by Galba with your approval. If "constitution", "senate" and "people" are merely empty phrases, it is up to you, men, to see that the emperor is not created by the dregs of the army. We have sometimes heard stories of legionaries rising in mutiny against their commanders, but your reliability and reputation have never been in question until today. Even Nero himself deserted you; you did not desert him. We are faced with less than thirty renegades and deserters — men in whom no one would tolerate the claim to appoint a centurion or a tribune. Are they to have an empire in their gift? Are you going to concede this precedent, and make yourselves accessories to the act by doing nothing about it? These liberties will spread to the provinces, and the upshot will be death for us and warfare for you. Murdering your emperor brings no greater reward than keeping your hands clean, and from us you will get as generous a bonus for loyalty as you would from others for treason.

31. The men of the bodyguard had slipped away, but the rest of the cohort took no exception to Piso's speech. They prepared for action with heightened excitement, increased confusion and yet still with a degree of loyalty; some were in genuine ignorance of what was afoot, others (as was afterwards believed) were traitors putting on an act. Marius Celsus, too, was sent off to negotiate with the Balkan contingents quartered in the Porticus Vipsania, (8) and instructions were given to two senior warrant-officers, Amullius Serenus and Domitius Sabinus, to bring up the troops of the army of Germany from Freedom Hall. (9) Little confidence was placed in the naval legion, for the men still resented the butchery of their comrades by Galba on the very first occasion of his entering Rome. In addition to these measures, the tribune Cetrius Severus, Subrius Dexter and Pomponius Longinus went off to the pretorian barracks to see if the still incipient outbreak could be made to yield to saner counsels before it was too late. Of the tribunes, Subrius and Cetrius were given a threatening reception by the troops, while Longinus was actually manhandled, arrested and disarmed. This was because his loyalty to his emperor depended less on rank than friendship with Galba, and so rendered him particularly suspect in the eyes of the rebels. The naval legion promptly went over to the pretorians, and the drafts from the army of the Balkans drove Celsus away at the point of their pikes. The detachments from Germany wavered for some time, being still physically unfit, as well as amiably disposed. They had formed the advance-party sent on to Alexandria by Nero, and as their health had been impaired by the long return voyage, Galba had made a point of nursing them back into condition.

32. By this time, the palace area was jammed by the mob, consisting of the lower classes in full strength, with some slaves. Discordant shouts were raised demanding Otho's head and the execution of the conspirators, as if the crowd were clamouring for some sort of entertainment in the circus or theatre. There was no question of their expressing a considered or sincere opinion, for on the very same day they were to make diametrically opposed demands with equal alacrity. This was merely the accepted tradition whereby any emperor, no matter who he was, was acclaimed with extravagant applause and empty demonstration.

Meanwhile Galba was hesitating between two proposals. Titus Vinius urged staying in the palace, using the household slaves as a screen, barricading the doors, and avoiding contact while tempers ran high. Galba, he said, should give the offenders an opportunity to repent, and loyal subjects a breathing space to adopt concerted action. What made crime effective was the element of surprise. Honest counsels profited from delay. Finally, the emperor would still be in a position to venture out at will later, if this seemed policy, but if he were to do so and regret it, any return to the palace would lie at the mercy of others.

33. The remainder of the council were for speedy action to anticipate the growth of the conspiracy, which was so far a feeble business confined to a few plotters. Otho, too, was likely to be in a panic, they pointed out. He had left furtively and been carried off to men who were strangers to him. But the idle advocates of procrastination and time-wasting were at this very moment giving him a chance to learn the part of emperor. They must not wait for him to establish his hold on the barracks, invade the Forum and enter the Capitol under Galba's nose, while the doughty emperor and his heroic courtiers — doughty and heroic as far as the door, at any rate — bolted and barred the palace with the evident intention of submitting to a siege. Much help would they get from the slaves, once the united will of the great crowd and its all-important initial outburst of indignation were allowed to flag! Such a policy was as dangerous as it was degrading. Even if they were fated to die, it was best to meet danger half-way. This would win Otho the greater infamy, and themselves honour.

Vinius' opposition to this plan provoked a furious onslaught from the blustering Laco. The latter was backed by Icelus, who obstinately persisted in a private vendetta to the ruin of his country.

34. Galba for his part hesitated no longer, and gave his casting vote in favour of their plan: it looked better. However, Piso was told to go on ahead to the barracks as being a young man of great name recently promoted, and an opponent of Titus Vinius. (Whether he was such in fact, or whether malignant critics merely wanted him to be, is not clear; but a quarrel seems the more likely supposition .)

Piso had scarcely left the palace when word came that Otho had seen killed in the barracks. At first the rumour was vague and uncertain. Then, as so often is the case with brazen falsehoods, certain individuals asserted that they had been present when the deed was done and had witnessed it. The story was lapped up by a jubilant and uncritical public. Many people held that the rumour had been invented and swollen by means of Othonian agents who lad already insinuated themselves among the crowd and spread the bogus good news in order to lure Galba out of his palace.

35. This was the signal for a burst of applause and exaggerated enthusiasm, which was not confined to the populace and the ignorant lower classes. Many of the knights and senators threw fear and caution to the winds. Forcing the doors of the palace, they poured into the apartments, and presented themselves before Galba with the complaint that they had been forestalled in their revenge. The greatest cowards among them — those who, as events proved, were to lose their nerve in the moment of danger expressed themselves in violent language, and played the hero with their tongue. Ignorance and assertion went hand in hand everywhere. Finally, the absence of reliable information and the united chorus of delusion proved Galba's undoing. He buckled on his breastplate, and being too old and too infirm to resist the pressure of the crowd as it urged in, was placed in a chair and raised shoulder-high. While still in the palace area, he was confronted by one of his bodyguard called Julius Atticus, who flourished a blood-stained sword and cried out that he had killed Otho. Galba's immediate retort was: Who gave you the order, my man?' This remark shows his striking determination to check indiscipline. Indeed, threats left him unafraid, and in the face of flatterers he retained his integrity.

36. By this time all hesitation had vanished in the pretorian barracks. So great was the enthusiasm that the men were not content with escorting Otho and crowding round him. They put him, amid massed flags and standards, on a dais which had recently supported a gold statue of Galba. The tribunes and centurions were allowed no access to Otho, and in any case the other ranks warned him to be on his guard against the officers. The whole place re-echoed with shouting, tumult and mutual encouragement. It is not unusual for the civilian populace and the lower classes to voice their idle flattery by means of confused cries. But this was quite different. Whenever the troops noticed a fresh adherent coming over to them, they shook him by the hand, put their arms around his neck, placed him near Otho and administered the oath of allegiance, praising the emperor to his troops in one breath and the troops to their emperor in the next. Otho, too, played his part well. He would hold out his hands, bow to the mob and throw them kisses, in everything aping the slave in order to become the master. When the naval legion had taken the oath down to the last man, he began to feel sure of himself. Believing that individual inducement should be backed up by a general appeal, he took up a position on the wall surrounding the barracks, and addressed the pretorians as follows:

37. 'I find it hard to say in what capacity I stand before you, men. I can scarcely call myself a subject after you have nominated me as emperor. Nor can I describe myself as emperor while another rules. Your own designation will be just as ambiguous so long as it is not clear whether the man you are harbouring in your barracks is the ruler of Rome or a traitor. Do you hear them? They are calling in the same breath for my punishment and your execution. This makes it quite obvious that we stand or fall together.

Knowing Galba's clemency, one can guess that he has already undertaken to carry out the sentence. After all, he slaughtered thousands of completely inoffensive troops when no one asked him to. I shudder when I think of his grisly occupation of Rome the only victory Galba ever won — in which he gave orders that men who had surrendered, thrown themselves on his mercy and been accepted as his loyal followers, should suffer decimation before the gaze of the capital. After this auspicious entry what prestige did he confer upon the office of emperor other than that of having executed Obultronius Sabinus and Cornelius Marcellus in Spain, Betuus Cilo in Gaul, Fonteius Capito in Germany, Clodius Macer in Africa, Cingonius on the march, Turpilianus at Rome, Nymphidius in the barracks? What province is there throughout the world, what army barracks, which is not stained and polluted with blood, or, to use Galba's phrase, "reformed and straightened up"? Treatment which others call criminal he calls remedial. By a misuse of language, he describes cruelty as severity, greed as economy and the execution and insults you have suffered as a lesson in discipline.

'Barely seven months have passed since the death of Nero, and in this time Icelus has stolen more money than was ever squandered by creatures like Polyclitus, Vatinius and Aegialus. (10)

The exactions of Titus Vinius would have displayed less greed and lawlessness if he had been emperor himself. As it is, he has both kept us in subjection as if we were his chattels, and held us cheap as though we belonged to another. His mansion alone is enough to provide that bounty which is still denied, yet forms the text of daily sermons.

38. 'What is more, to make sure that we should not pin our hopes upon his successor, Galba has restored from exile the one man who in his opinion most closely resembled himself for surliness and avarice. You have observed, men, the remarkable storm by which even the gods signified their disgust at this ill-omened adoption. The same mood animates the senate. The same mood animates the Roman people. All they are waiting for is your courageous intervention, for you alone can make good policies effective, and without you the best endeavours are paralysed.

'I am not calling upon you to fight a war or risk your lives. The armed forces without exception are on our side. As for the one solitary cohort in civilian dress manning the palace, its function is not so much to protect Galba as to keep him in custody. When this unit catches sight of you, when it receives my signal, the only struggle that will take place will be a competition to see who can earn my deepest gratitude. In an enterprise that can only win praise if it is carried to a successful conclusion, there is no room for hesitation.'

Otho then ordered the arsenal to be opened. Weapons were hastily grabbed. Tradition and discipline went by the board. The troops disregarded the distinctions of equipment between pretorians and legionaries, and seized helmets and shields meant for auxiliaries. All was confusion. No encouragement came from tribunes or centurions. Each man followed his own lead and prompting, and the worst elements found their chief stimulus in the sorrow of the good.

39. By this time Piso was seriously alarmed by the mounting tumult and cries of mutiny, audible even in Rome itself. He joined Galba, who had in the interval left the palace and was approaching the Forum. Celsus, too, returned with bad news. Some of Galba's suite suggested returning to the Palatine. Others wanted to make for the Capitol. A number of them were for securing the rostra. The majority, however, confined themselves to denouncing the views of their companions, and as so often happens when things go wrong, regretted they had not done what it was now too late to do. It is said that Laco, without telling Galba, toyed with the idea of killing Titus Vinius. If so, it is hard to say whether he thought his execution would mollify the troops, or believed him Otho's confederate, or in the last resort merely hated him. The time and the place gave him pause. Once killing starts, it is difficult to draw the line. Anyway, Laco's plan was upset by the alarming news and the flight of his associates. Indeed, all those keen supporters who had ostentatiously paraded their loyalty and courage at the start now lost heart.

40. By this time, Galba was being carried hither and thither by the irregular impact of the surging multitude. Everywhere the public buildings and temples were crowded with a sea of faces, as of spectators assembled to watch a pageant. Yet not a cry came from the mass of people or the lower classes. Their faces betrayed astonishment, their ears were strained to catch every sound. There was neither disorder nor quiet, but only the hush typical of great fear or great anger.

Otho, however, was informed that the mob were being armed. He ordered his men to move in at full speed and seize the danger-points. Thus it was that Roman troops made ready to murder an old, defenceless man who was their emperor, just as if they were set on deposing a Vologaeses or Pacorus from the ancestral throne of the Arsacids. (11) Forcing their way through the crowd, trampling the senate under foot, with weapons at the ready and horses spurred to a gallop, they burst upon the Forum. Such men were not deterred by the sight of the Capitol, the sanctity of the temples that looked down upon them, nor the thought of emperors past and emperors to come. They were bent upon the commission of a crime that is inevitably avenged by the victim's successor.

41. On catching sight of the approaching party of armed men, an ensign belonging to the cohort which formed Galba's escort — Atilius Vergilio, according to the tradition — ripped from his standard the effigy of Galba and dashed it to the ground, a clear indication that all the troops supported Otho. It was also a signal for a mass exodus of the civilian populace from the Forum. Swords were drawn to deal with recalcitrants. Near the Basin of Curtius, the panic of his bearers caused Galba to be flung sprawling from his chair. His last words are variously recorded by the conflicting voices of hatred and admiration. Some say that he grovelled, and asked what he had done to deserve his fate, begging a few days' grace to pay the bounty. The majority of the historians believe that he voluntarily bared his throat to the assassins, telling them to strike and be done with it, if this was what seemed best for the country. Little did the murderers care what he said.

The identity of the killer is in doubt. Some authorities speak of a veteran called Terentius. Others mention one Laecanius. The more usual version holds that a soldier of the Fifteenth Legion named Camurius thrust his sword deep into Galba's throat. The rest of them, with revolting butchery, hacked at his legs and arms, as these (un-like his body) were not protected by armour. These sadistic monsters even inflicted a number of wounds on the already truncated torso.

42. Then they turned upon Titus Vinius. Here, too, accounts differ. Was he rendered speechless by a paroxysm of fear? Or did he call out that Otho had given no instructions that he was to be murdered? Whether this remark was in fact an invention due to fear or a confession that he was in the plot, his life and reputation incline me to think that he had prior knowledge of a crime he certainly caused. In front of the Temple of Julius Caesar he was struck down by a blow on the back of the knee, followed by a thrust from a legionary, Julius Carus, which pierced him from side to side.

43. This day's work has provided modern times with the spectacle of a real act of heroism. The hero was Sempronius Densus, a centurion who belonged to one of the pretorian cohorts and had been appointed by Galba to watch over Piso's safety. With dagger drawn, he advanced to meet his fully armed enemies and denounced their mutiny. His words and actions diverted the attention of the assassins upon himself. This gave Piso a chance to escape, wounded though he was. He got away to the Temple of Vesta, where the state slave who was its guardian, taking pity on him, gave him shelter and concealment in his humble room. Thus, for a while, Piso managed to postpone the fatal moment, not thanks to the sanctity of the building or its daily ritual, but by lying low. But then came two of Otho's emissaries hot-foot upon a specific errand of murder. One of these was Sulpicius Florus of the auxiliary cohorts serving in Britain. (Only recently, he had been given Roman citizenship by Galba.) The other was the imperial body-guard Statius Murcus. These two dragged out Piso and murdered him at the door of the temple.

44. It is said that Otho was especially gratified to hear of Piso's death, and studied the victim's severed head with peculiar malevolence, as if his eyes could never drink their fill. Perhaps this was because the last weight had now been lifted from his mind and he felt free to exult. Or perhaps the reason lay in the contrast with the fate of Galba and Titus Vinius. There the thought of his treason towards the former and his friendship for the latter had cast a shadow over Otho's spirit, for all its ruthlessness. But the doom of an enemy and rival like Piso may have seemed a right and proper reason for satisfaction.

The heads of the victims were impaled and carried in procession, backed by the cohort standards and a legionary eagle. The mutineers vied with each other in displaying the blood dripping from their hands, whether they had actually done the killing or had merely witnessed it, and whether their boastful claim to what they called a fine and memorable deed was true or wise. More than 120 individuals presented petitions demanding a reward for some noteworthy service on this day. These documents later fell into the hands of Vitellius, who gave instructions that all the petitioners were to be rounded up and put to death. This was not meant as a tribute on his part to Galba: it was the traditional method by which rulers secure self-defence for the present and warn of retribution in the future.

45. A complete transformation seemed to have taken place in both senators and people. They were now a mob stampeding in the direction of the barracks, each man trying to outstrip his neighbour in the race and catch up with those who led the field. They cursed Galba, complimented the soldiers on their choice, and covered Otho's hand with kisses. These demonstrations were multiplied in proportion to their insincerity. Otho for his part welcomed even single individuals who came up to him, and restrained the greed and menaces of his men by word and look. The consul-designate Marius Celsus had shown Galba affection and loyalty to the bitter end. For this the soldiers now demanded his head, for they resented his energy and high principle as if they were faults of character. It was only too obvious that they were looking for an excuse to set about bloodshed and plunder and the annihilation of every decent Roman. But Otho was not yet in a position to prevent outrage-though he could already command it. So he pretended to be angry, and by ordering Celsus to be put in irons and undertaking that he would receive a heavier punishment later on, rescued him from immediate death.

46. After that, the troops got their way in everything. They chose their own pretorian prefects. One was Plotius Firmus. After serving in the ranks at one time, this man had been given command of the Watch and had joined the faction of Otho while Galba's position was still sound. His colleague was Licinius Proculus, whose close association with Otho suggested that he had encouraged his designs. As city prefect, the troops chose Flavius Sabinus. In this they followed Nero's lead, for Sabinus had held the same post under that emperor. In making this choice many of them had their eye on his brother, Vespasian.

There was a demand for the remission of the payments traditionally made to centurions to secure exemption from duty. This was a kind of annual tax payable by the other ranks. As much as a quarter of a company's strength would be scattered high and low on leave or loitering in the actual barracks, so long as they squared the company commander. The extent of these exactions and the methods employed to meet them were nobody's business. Highway robbery, theft or taking on jobs as servants were the means by which they paid for their time off. Besides this, the richer a soldier was, the more he was subjected to fatigues and ill-treatment until he agreed to purchase exemption. Finally, when his money had given out and he had got into an idle and unhealthy state, he would return to his unit, reduced from affluence to poverty and from vigour to sloth. This process was repeated interminably; and the same destitution and indiscipline ruined man after man, driving them herd-like down the slope that leads to mutiny, dissension and, in the last resort, civil war. However, Otho had no wish to alienate his centurions by bribing their men. So he promised that the annual leave should be paid for by the imperial exchequer. (12) There is no doubt that this was a beneficial reform, and in the course of time the practice hardened into a recognized part of the military system under the good emperors who succeeded.

The prefect Laco was given the impression that he was being exiled to an island. In fact, he was struck down by a veteran whom Otho had already sent ahead to murder him. Marcianus Icelus was a freedman, and, as such, he was publicly executed.

47. The long day of villainy drew to its end. There remained the last horror — a mood of jubilation. The senate was summoned by the urban praetor, the other magistrates surpassed each other in feats of flattery, and the senators hurried hot-foot to the meeting. A decree was passed giving Otho the tribunician power, the title 'Augustus' and all the imperial prerogatives. Everybody made a desperate effort to obliterate the taunts and insults which had been freely bandied about; no one was actually made to feel that they rankled in Otho's mind, and whether in fact he had renounced revenge or merely postponed it was a question which remained unanswered owing to the shortness of his reign.

The forum was still bloodstained and littered with bodies when Otho was carried through it to the Capitol, and from there to the palace. He allowed the remains to be handed over for burial and to be cremated. Piso was laid to rest by his wife Verania and his brother Scribonianus, Titus Vinius by his daughter Crispina. They had to search for the heads and pay a ransom for them, as the assassins had kept them in order to do a deal.

48. At the time of his death, Piso was nearing his thirty-first birthday. He was a man whose reputation was better than his luck. Two of his brothers had been executed: Magnus by Claudius and Crassus by Nero. He himself was for long an exile, and for five days a Caesar. His hurried adoption gave him one advantage, and one only, over the elder brother to whom he was preferred: he was the first to be murdered.

As for Titus Vinius, during a lifetime lasting forty-seven years he played many parts, both good and evil. His father came of a family which had produced praetors, and his grandfather on his mother's (13) side was a victim of the proscriptions. (14) His first tour of military service won him notoriety. The wife of his commanding officer Calvisius Sabinus had an unfortunate passion for inspecting the camp-site. One night, she entered it disguised as a soldier, and with no less effrontery forced herself upon the pickets and other military activities. Finally, she had the shamelessness to commit adultery, in the headquarters building of all places. The man involved was proved to be Titus Vinius. So he was put under close arrest by order of Gaius Caesar (15), but when times changed soon afterwards, he was given his freedom, rising smoothly in the public service as praetor, and then as a legionary commander who proved his worth. His reputation was later sullied by a scandal unworthy of a gentle-man. He was alleged to have stolen a gold cup at a banquet given by Claudius. Indeed, on the day after, the emperor gave orders that Vinius alone of all his guests was to be served on earthenware. Still, he proved a strict and honest proconsul of Narbonese Gaul, and after that his friendship with Galba carried him irresistibly into the abyss. Unscrupulous, cunning and quick-witted, when and as he made up his mind he could be either vicious or hard-working, with equal effectiveness.

While Titus Vinius enormous wealth caused his will to be set side, Piso's last wishes were respected because he was poor.

49. The body of Galba lay disregarded for many hours, and under cover of night marauders offered it repeated outrage. Finally his steward Argius, an old retainer of his, buried it in a humble grave in the grounds of Galba's private villa. The head fell into the hands of army sutlers and servants, who were responsible for impaling and mutilating it. It was only on the following day that it was found in front of the tomb of Patrobius, a freedman of Nero who had been sentenced by Galba. It was then laid with the ashes of the body, which had already been cremated.

Such was the fate of Servius Galba. In the course of seventy-three years he had lived a successful life spanning the reigns of five emperors — reigns which proved luckier for him than his own. He came of a family that could boast ancient nobility and great wealth. His own personality was something of a compromise: he had good qualities and in equal measure bad. Having won a reputation, he neither despised nor exploited it. He harboured no designs upon other people's property, was thrifty with his own, and where the state was involved showed himself a positive miser. A tolerant attitude towards courtiers and officials attracted no censure when they happened to be honest; but his lack of perception if they were not was quite inexcusable. However, distinguished birth and the alarms of the time disguised his lack of enterprise and caused it to be described as wisdom. In the prime of life he attained military distinction in the Rhineland; as proconsul, he administered Africa with moderation, and his control of Nearer Spain in his latter years showed a similar sense of fair-play. Indeed, so long as he was a subject, he seemed too great a man to be one, and by common consent possessed the makings of a ruler — had he never ruled.

50. In Rome, public opinion was nervous. Men were not merely aghast at the grisly crimes which had just been committed; they also feared Otho's character, which they knew from the past. An additional source of anxiety was the fresh news about Vitellius. This had been hushed up before Galba's assassination, so that the mutiny was thought to be confined to the army of Upper Germany. Here then were the two most despicable men in the whole world by reason of their unclean, idle and pleasure-loving lives, apparently appointed by fate for the task of destroying the empire. It was the realization of this that now evoked unconcealed regret not only from the senate and knights, who had some stake and interest in the country, but from the man in the street as well. Conversation no longer centred on recent episodes which illustrated the brutality of peace. Minds went back to the civil wars, and they spoke of the many times Rome had been captured by its own armies, of the devastation of Italy, of the sack of provinces, of Pharsalia, Philippi and famous names associated with national disasters. The whole world, they reflected, had been practically turned upside down when the duel for power involved honourable rivals. But the empire had survived the victory of Julius Caesar and that of Augustus. The republic would have done the same under Pompey and Brutus. But were they now to visit the temples and pray for Otho? Or rather for Vitellius? Intercession for either would be equally impious, and vows equally blasphemous. In any struggle between the pair, the only certainty was that the winner would turn out the worse. Some observers pointed to the possibility of intervention by Vespasian and the forces of the east, and though Vespasian was better than either Otho or Vitellius, yet they were terrified of fresh hostilities and fresh disasters. There were in fact conflicting stories about Vespasian, and he alone — unlike all the emperors before him changed for the better.