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Tacitus: History Book 1 [50]

50. The alarm of the capital, which trembled to see the atrocity of these recent crimes, and to think of the old character of Otho, was heightened into terror by the fresh news about Vitellius, news which had been suppressed before the murder of Galba, in order to make it appear that only the army of Upper Germany had revolted. That two men, who for shamelessness, indolence, and profligacy, were the most worthless of mortals, had been selected, it would seem, by some fatality to ruin the Empire, became the open complaint, not only of the Senate and the Knights, who had some stake and interest in the country, but even of the common people. It was no longer to the late horrors of a dreadful peace, but to the recollections of the civil wars, that men recurred, speaking of how the capital had been taken by Roman armies, how Italy had been wasted and the provinces spoiled, of Pharsalia, Philippi, Perusia, and Mutina, and all the familiar names of great public disasters. "The world," they said, "was well-nigh turned upside down when the struggle for empire was between worthy competitors, yet the Empire continued to exist after the victories of Caius Julius and Caesar Augustus; the Republic would have continued to exist under Pompey and Brutus. And is it for Otho or for Vitellius that we are now to repair to the temples? Prayers for either would be impious, vows for either a blasphemy, when from their conflict you can only learn that the conqueror must be the worse of the two." Some were speculating on Vespasian and the armies of the East. Vespasian was indeed preferable to either, yet they shuddered at the idea of another war, of other massacres. Even about Vespasian there were doubtful rumours, and he, unlike any of his predecessors, was changed for the better by power.

50. Trepidam urbem ac simul atrocitatem recentis sceleris, simul veteres Othonis mores paventem novus insuper de Vitellio nuntius exterruit, ante caedem Galbae suppressus ut tantum superioris Germaniae exercitum descivisse crederetur. tum duos omnium mortalium impudicitia ignavia luxuria deterrimos velut ad perdendum imperium fataliter electos non senatus modo et eques, quis aliqua pars et cura rei publicae, sed vulgus quoque palam maerere. nec iam recentia saevae pacis exempla sed repetita bellorum civilium memoria captam totiens suis exercitibus urbem, vastitatem Italiae, direptiones provinciarum, Pharsaliam Philippos et Perusiam ac Mutinam, nota publicarum cladium nomina, loquebantur. prope eversum orbem etiam cum de principatu inter bonos certaretur, sed mansisse G. Iulio, mansisse Caeare Augusto victore imperium; mansuram fuisse sub Pompeio Brutoque rem publicam: nunc pro Othone an pro Vitellio in templa ituros? utrasque impias preces, utraque detestanda vota inter duos, quorum bello solum id scires, deteriorem fore qui vicisset. erant qui Vespasianum et arma Orientis augurarentur, et ut potior utroque Vespasianus, ita bellum aliud atque alias cladis horrebant. et ambigua de Vespasiano fama, solusque omnium ante se principum in melius mutatus est.

51. I will now describe the origin and occasion of the revolt of Vitellius. After the destruction of Julius Vindex and his whole force, the army, flushed with the delights of plunder and glory, as men might well be who had been fortunate enough to triumph without toil or danger in a most lucrative war, began to hanker after compaigns and battles, and to prefer prize money to pay. They had long endured a service which the character of the country and of the climate and the rigours of military discipline rendered at once unprofitable and severe. But that discipline, inexorable as it is in times of peace, is relaxed by civil strife, when on both sides are found the agents of corruption, and treachery goes unpunished. They had men, arms and horses, more than enough for all purposes of utility and show, but before the war they had been acquainted only with the companies and squadrons of their own force, as the various armies were separated from each other by the limits of their respective provinces. But the legions, having been concentrated to act against Vindex, and having thus learnt to measure their own strength against the strength of Gaul, were now on the lookout for another war and for new conflicts. They called their neighbours, not "allies" as of old, but "the enemy" and "the vanquished." Nor did that part of Gaul which borders on the Rhine fail to espouse the same cause, and to the bitterest hostility in inflaming the army against the Galbianists, that being the name, which in their contempt for Vindex they had given to the party. The rage first excited against the Sequani and Aedui extended to other states in proportion to their wealth, and they revelled in imagination on the storm of cities, the plunder of estates, the sack of dwelling-houses. But, besides the rapacity and arrogance which are the special faults of superior strength, they were exasperated by the bravadoes of the Gallic people, who in a spirit of insult to the army boasted of how they had been relieved by Galba from a fourth part of their tribute, and had received grants from the State. There was also a report, ingeniously spread and recklessly believed, to the effect that the legions were being decimated, and all the most energetic centurions dismissed. From all quarters arrived the most alarming tidings. The reports from the capital were unfavourable, while the disaffection of the colony of Lugdunum, which obstinately adhered to Nero, gave rise to a multitude of rumours. But it was in the army itself, in its hatreds, its fears, and even in the security with which a review of its own strength inspired it, that there was the most abundant material for the exercise of imagination and credulity.

51. Nunc initia causasque motus Vitelliani expediam. caeso cum omnibus copiis Iulio Vindice ferox praeda gloriaque exercitus, ut cui sine labore ac periculo ditissimi belli victoria evenisset, expeditionem et aciem, praemia quam stipendia malebat. diu infructuosam et asperam militiam toleraverant ingenio loci caelique et severitate disciplinae, quam in pace inexorabilem discordiae civium resolvunt, paratis utrimque corruptoribus et perfidia impunita. viri, arma, equi ad usum et ad decus supererant. sed ante bellum centurias tantum suas turmasque noverant; exercitus finibus provinciarum discernebantur: tum adversus Vindicem contractae legiones, seque et Gallias expertae, quaerere rursus arma novasque discordias; nec socios, ut olim, sed hostis et victos vocabant. nec deerat pars Galliarum, quae Rhenum accolit, easdem partis secuta ac tum acerrima instigatrix adversum Galbianos; hoc enim nomen fastidito Vindice indiderant. igitur Sequanis Aeduisque ac deinde, prout opulentia civitatibus erat, infensi expugnationes urbium, populationes agrorum, raptus penatium hauserunt animo, super avaritiam et adrogantiam, praecipua validiorum vitia, contumacia Gallorum inritati, qui remissam sibi a Galba quartam tributorum partem et publice donatos in ignominiam exercitus iactabant. accessit callide vulgatum, temere creditum, decimari legiones et promptissimum quemque centurionum dimitti. undique atroces nuntii, sinistra ex urbe fama; infensa Lugdunensis colonia et pertinaci pro Nerone fide fecunda rumoribus; sed plurima ad fingendum credendumque materies in ipsis castris, odio metu et, ubi viris suas respexerant, securitate.

52. Just before December 1 in the preceding year, Aulus Vitellius had visited Lower Germany, and had carefully inspected the winter quarters of the legions. Many had their rank restored to them, sentences of degradation were cancelled, and marks of disgrace partially removed. In most cases he did but court popularity, in some he exercised a sound discretion, making a salutary change from the meanness and rapacity which Fonteius Capito had shown in bestowing and withdrawing promotion. But he seemed a greater personage than a simple consular legate, and all his acts were invested with an unusual importance. Though sterner judges pronounced Vitellius to be a man of low tastes, those who were partial to him attributed to geniality and good nature the immoderate and indiscriminate prodigality, with which he gave away what was his own, and squandered what did not belong to him. Besides this, men themselves eager for power were ready to represent his very vices as virtues. As there were in both armies many of obedient and quiet habits, so there were many who were as unprincipled as they were energetic; but distinguished above all for boundless ambition and singular daring were the legates of the legions, Fabius Valens and Alienus Caecina. One of these men, Valens, had taken offence against Galba, under the notion that he had not shewn proper gratitude for his services in discovering to him the hesitation of Verginius and crushing the plans of Capito. He now began to urge Vitellius to action. He enlarged on the zeal of the soldiery. "You have," he said, "everywhere a great reputation; you will find nothing to stop you in Hordeonius Flaccus; Britain will be with you; the German auxiliaries will follow your standard. All the provinces waver in their allegiance. The Empire is held on the precarious tenure of an aged life, and must shortly pass into other hands. You have only to open your arms, and to meet the advances of fortune. It was well for Verginius to hesitate, the scion of a mere Equestrian family, and son of a father unknown to fame: he would have been unequal to empire, had he accepted it, and yet been safe though he refused it. But from the honours of a father who was thrice consul, was censor and colleague of Caesar, Vitellius has long since derived an imperial rank, while he has lost the security that belongs to a subject."

52. Sub ipsas superioris anni kalendas Decembris Aulus Vitellius inferiorem Germaniam ingressus hiberna legionum cum cura adierat: redditi plerisque ordines, remissa ignominia, adlevatae notae; plura ambitione, quaedam iudicio, in quibus sordis et avaritiam Fontei Capitonis adimendis adsignandisve militiae ordinibus integre mutaverat. nec consularis legati mensura sed in maius omnia accipiebantur. et [ut] Vitellius apud severos humilis, ita comitatem bonitatemque faventes vocabant, quod sine modo, sine iudicio donaret sua, largiretur aliena; simul aviditate imperitandi ipsa vitia pro virtutibus interpretabantur. multi in utroque exercitu sicut modesti quietique ita mali et strenui. sed profusa cupidine et insigni temeritate legati legionum Alienus Caecina et Fabius Valens; e quibus Valens infensus Galbae, tamquam detectam a se Verginii cunctationem, oppressa Capitonis consilia ingrate tulisset, instigare Vitellium, ardorem militum ostentans: ipsum celebri ubique fama, nullam in Flacco Hordeonio moram; adfore Britanniam, secutura Germanorum auxilia: male fidas provincias, precarium seni imperium et brevi transiturum: panderet modo sinum et venienti Fortunae occurreret. merito dubitasse Verginium equestri familia, ignoto patre, imparem si recepisset imperium, tutum si recusasset: Vitellio tris patris consulatus, censuram, collegium Caesaris et imponere iam pridem imperatoris dignationem et auferre privati securitatem. quatiebatur his segne ingenium ut concupisceret magis quam ut speraret.

53. These arguments roused the indolent temper of the man, yet roused him rather to wish than to hope for the throne. Meanwhile however in Upper Germany Caecina, young and handsome, of commanding stature, and of boundless ambition, had attracted the favour of the soldiery by his skilful oratory and his dignified mien. This man had, when quaestor in Baetica, attached himself with zeal to the party of Galba, who had appointed him, young as he was, to the command of a legion, but, it being afterwards discovered that he had embezzled the public money, Galba directed that he should be prosecuted for peculation. Caecina, grievously offended, determined to throw everything into confusion, and under the disasters of his country to conceal his private dishonour. There were not wanting in the army itself the elements of civil strife. The whole of it had taken part in the war against Vindex; it had not passed over to Galba till Nero fell; even then in this transference of its allegiance it had been anticipated by the armies of Lower Germany. Besides this, the Treveri, the Lingones, and the other states which Galba had most seriously injured by his severe edicts and by the confiscation of their territory, were particularly close to the winter-quarters of the legions. Thence arose seditious conferences, a soldiery demoralized by intercourse with the inhabitants of the country, and tendencies in favour of Verginius, which could easily be to the profit of any other person.

53. At in superiore Germania Caecina, decorus iuventa, corpore ingens, animi immodicus, scito sermone, erecto incessu, studia militum inlexerat. hunc iuvenem Galba, quaestorem in Baetica impigre in partis suas transgressum, legioni praeposuit: mox compertum publicam pecuniam avertisse ut peculatorem flagitari iussit. Caecina aegre passus miscere cuncta et privata vulnera rei publicae malis operire statuit. nec deerant in exercitu semina discordiae, quod et bello adversus Vindicem universus adfuerat, nec nisi occiso Nerone translatus in Galbam atque in eo ipso sacramento vexillis inferioris Germaniae praeventus erat. et Treviri ac Lingones, quasque alias civitates atrocibus edictis aut damno finium Galba perculerat, hibernis legionum propius miscentur: unde seditiosa colloquia et inter paganos corruptior miles; et in Verginium favor cuicumque alii profuturus.

54. The Lingones, following an old custom, had sent presents to the legions, right hands clasped together, an emblem of friendship. Their envoys, who had assumed a studied appearance of misery and distress, passed through the headquarters and the men's tents, and complaining, now of their own wrongs, now of the rewards bestowed on the neighbouring states, and, when they found the soldiers' ears open to their words, of the perils and insults to which the army itself was exposed, inflamed the passions of the troops. The legions were on the verge of mutiny, when Hordeonius Flaccus ordered the envoys to depart, and to make their departure more secret, directed them to leave the camp by night. Hence arose a frightful rumour, many asserting that the envoys had been killed, and that, unless the soldiers provided their own safety, the next thing would be, that the most energetic of their number, and those who had complained of their present condition, would be slaughtered under cover of night, when the rest of the army would know nothing of their fate. The legions then bound themselves by a secret agreement. Into this the auxiliary troops were admitted. At first objects of suspicion, from the idea that their infantry and cavalry were being concentrated in preparation for an attack on the legions, these troops soon became especially zealous in the scheme. The bad find it easier to agree for purposes of war than to live in harmony during peace.

54. Miserat civitas Lingonum vetere instituto dona legionibus dextras, hospitii insigne. legati eorum in squalorem maestitiamque compositi per principia per contubernia modo suas iniurias, modo vicinarum civitatium praemia, et ubi pronis militum auribus accipiebantur, ipsius exercitus pericula et contumelias conquerentes accendebant animos. nec procul seditione aberant cum Hordeonius Flaccus abire legatos, utque occultior digressus esset, nocte castris excedere iubet. inde atrox rumor, adfirmantibus plerisque interfectos, ac ni sibi ipsi consulerent, fore ut acerrimi militum et praesentia conquesti per tenebras et inscitiam ceterorum occiderentur. obstringuntur in ter se tacito foedere legiones, adsciscitur auxiliorum miles, primo suspectus tamquam circumdatis cohortibus alisque impetus in legiones pararetur, mox eadem acrius volvens, faciliore inter malos consensu ad bellum quam in pace ad concordiam.

55. Yet it was to Galba that the legions of Lower Germany took the oath of fidelity annually administered on the first of January. It was done, however, after long delay, and then only by a few voices from the foremost ranks, while the rest preserved an absolute silence, every one waiting for some bold demonstration from his neighbour, in obedience to that innate tendency of men, which makes them quick to follow where they are slow to lead. And even in the various legions there was a difference of feeling. The soldiers of the 1st and of the 5th were so mutinous, that some of them threw stones at the images of Galba. The 15th and 16th legions ventured on nothing beyond uproar and threatening expressions. They were on the watch for something that might lead to an outbreak. In the Upper army, however, the 4th and 13th legions, which were stationed in the same winter-quarters, proceeded on this same first of January to break in pieces the images of Galba, the 4th legion being foremost, the 18th shewing some reluctance, but soon joining with the rest. Not however to seem to throw off all their reverence for the Empire, they sought to dignify their oath with the now obsolete names of the Senate and people of Rome. Not a single legate or tribune exerted himself for Galba; some, as is usual in a tumult, were even conspicuously active in mutiny, though no one delivered anything like a formal harangue or spoke from a tribunal. Indeed there was as yet no one to be obliged by such services.

55. Inferioris tamen Germaniae legiones sollemni kalendarum Ianuariarum sacramento pro Galba adactae, multa cunctatione et raris primorum ordinum vocibus, ceteri silentio proximi cuiusque audaciam expectantes, insita mortalibus natura, propere sequi quae piget inchoare. sed ipsis legionibus inerat diversitas animorum: primani quintanique turbidi adeo ut quidam saxa in Galbae imagines iecerint: quinta decima ac sexta decima legiones nihil ultra fremitum et minas ausae initium erumpendi circumspectabant. at in superiore exercitu quarta ac duetvicensima legiones, isdem hibernis tendentes, ipso kalendarum Ianuariarum die dirumpunt imagines Galbae, quarta legio promptius, duetvicensima cunctanter, mox consensu. ac ne reverentiam imperii exuere viderentur, senatus populique Romani oblitterata iam nomina sacramento advocabant, nullo legatorum tribunorumve pro Galba nitente, quibusdam, ut in tumultu, notabilius turbantibus. non tamen quisquam in modum contionis aut suggestu locutus; neque enim erat adhuc cui imputaretur.

56. Hordeonius Flaccus, the consular legate, was present and witnessed this outrage, but he dared neither check the furious mutineers, nor keep the wavering to their duty, nor encourage the well affected. Indolent and timid, he was reserved from guilt only by his sloth. Four Centurions of the 18th legion, Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus, Calpurnius Repentinus, striving to protect the images of Galba, were swept away by a rush of the soldiers and put in irons. After this no one retained any sense of duty, any recollection of his late allegiance, but, as usually happens in mutinies, the side of the majority became the side of all. In the course of the night of the 1st of January, the standard-bearer of the 4th legion, coming to the Colonia Agrippinensis, announced to Vitellius, who was then at dinner, the news that the 4th and 18th legions had thrown down the images of Galba, and had sworn allegiance to the Senate and people of Rome. Such a form of oath appeared meaningless. It was determined to seize the doubtful fortune of the hour, and to offer an Emperor to their choice. Vitellius sent envoys to the legions and their legates, who were to say that the army of Upper Germany had revolted from Galba, that it was consequently necessary for them, either to make war on the revolters, or, if they preferred peace and harmony, to create an Emperor, and who were to suggest, that it would be less perilous to accept than to look for a chief.

56. Spectator flagitii Hordeonius Flaccus consularis legatus aderat, non compescere ruentis, non retinere dubios, non cohortari bonos ausus, sed segnis pavidus et socordia innocens. quattuor centuriones duetvicensimae legionis, Nonius Receptus, Donatius Valens, Romilius Marcellus, Calpurnius Repentinus, cum protegerent Galbae imagines, impetu militum abrepti vinctique. nec cuiquam ultra fides aut memoria prioris sacramenti, sed quod in seditionibus accidit, unde plures erant omnes fuere. Nocte quae kalendas Ianuarias secuta est in coloniam Agrippinensem aquilifer quartae legionis epulanti Vitellio nuntiat quartam et duetvicensimam legiones proiectis Galbae imaginibus in senatus ac populi Romani verba iurasse. id sacramentum inane visum: occupari nutantem fortunam et offerri principem placuit. missi a Vitellio ad legiones legatosque qui descivisse a Galba superiorem exercitum nuntiarent: proinde aut bellandum adversus desciscentis aut, si concordia et pax placeat, faciendum imperatorem: et minore discrimine sumi principem quam quaeri.

57. The nearest winter-quarters were those of the first legion, and Fabius Valens was the most energetic of the legates. This officer in the course of the following day entered the Colonia Agrippinensis with the cavalry of the legion and of the auxiliaries, and together with them saluted Vitellius as Emperor. All the legions belonging to the same province followed his example with prodigious zeal, and the army of Upper Germany abandoned the specious names the Senate and people of Rome, and on the 3rd of January declared for Vitellius. One could be sure that during those previous two days it had not really been the army of the State. The inhabitants of Colonia Agrippinensis, the Treveri, and the Lingones, shewed as much zeal as the army, making offers of personal service, of horses, of arms and of money, according as each felt himself able to assist the cause by his own exertions, by his wealth, or by his talents. Nor was this done only by the leading men in the colonies or the camps, who had abundant means at hand, and might indulge great expectations in the event of victory, but whole companies down to the very ranks offered instead of money their rations, their belts, and the bosses, which, richly decorated with silver, adorned their arms; so strong were the promptings from without, their own enthusiasm, and even the suggestions of avarice.

57. Proxima legionis primae hiberna erant et promptissimus et legatis Fabius Valens. is die postero coloniam Agrippinensem cum equitibus legionis auxiliariorumque ingressus imperatorem Vitellium consalutavit. secutae ingenti certamine eiusdem provinciae legiones; et superior exercitus, speciosis senatus populique Romani nominibus relictis, tertium nonas Ianuarias Vitellio accessit: scires illum priore biduo non penes rem publicam fuisse. ardorem exercituum Agrippinenses, Treviri, Lingones aequabant, auxilia equos, arma pecuniam offerentes, ut quisque corpore opibus ingenio validus. nec principes modo coloniarum aut castrorum, quibus praesentia ex affluenti et parta victoria magnae spes, sed manipuli quoque et gregarius miles viatica sua et balteos phalerasque, insignia armorum argento decora, loco pecuniae tradebant, instinctu et impetu et avaritia.

58. Vitellius, after bestowing high commendation on the zeal of the soldiers, proceeded to distribute among Roman Knights the offices of the Imperial court usually held by freedmen. He paid the furlough fees to the centurions out of the Imperial treasury. While in most instances he acquiesced in the fury of the soldiers, who clamoured for numerous executions, in some few he eluded it under the pretence of imprisoning the accused. Pompeius Propinquus, procurator of Belgica, was immediately put to death. Julius Burdo, prefect of the German fleet, he contrived to withdraw from the scene of danger. The resentment of the army had been inflamed against this officer by the belief, that it was he who had invented the charges and planned the treachery which had destroyed Capito. The memory of Capito was held in high favour, and with that enraged soldiery it was possible to slaughter in open day, but to pardon only by stealth. He was kept in prison, and only set at liberty after the victory of Vitellius, when the resentment of the soldiery had subsided. Meanwhile, by way of a victim, the centurion Crispinus was given up to them; this man had actually imbued his hands in the blood of Capito. Consequently he was to those who cried for vengeance a more notorious criminal, and to him who punished a cheaper sacrifice.

58. Igitur laudata militum alacritate Vitellius ministeria principatus per libertos agi solita in equites Romanos disponit, vacationes centurionibus ex fisco numerat, saevitiam militum plerosque ad poenam exposcentium saepius adprobat, raro simulatione vinculorum frustratur. Pompeius Propinquus procurator Belgicae statim interfectus; Iulium Burdonem Germanicae classis praefectum astu subtraxit. exarserat in eum iracundia exercitus tamquam crimen ac mox insidias Fonteio Capitoni struxisset. grata erat memoria Capitonis, et apud saevientis occidere palam, ignoscere non nisi fallendo licebat: ita in custodia habitus et post victoriam demum, stratis iam militum odiis, dimissus est. interim ut piaculum obicitur centurio Crispinus. sanguine Capitonis [se] cruentaverat eoque et postulantibus manifestior et punienti vilior fuit.

59. Julius Civilis, a man of commanding influence among the Batavi, was next rescued from like circumstances of peril, lest that high-spirited nation should be alienated by his execution. There were indeed in the territory of the Lingones eight Batavian cohorts, which formed the auxiliary force of the 14th legion, but which had, among the many dissensions of the time, withdrawn from it; a body of troops which, to whatever side they might incline, would, whether as allies or enemies, throw a vast weight into the scale. Vitellius ordered the centurions Nonnius, Donatius, Romilius, and Calpurnius, of whom I have before spoken, to be executed. They had been convicted of the crime of fidelity, among rebels the worst of crimes. New adherents soon declared themselves in Valerius Asiaticus, legate of the Province of Belgica, whom Vitellius soon after made his son-in-law, and Junius Blaesus, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, who brought with him the Italian Legion and the Taurine Horse, which was stationed at Lugdunum. The armies of Rhaetia made no delay in at once joining Vitellius, and even in Britain there was no hesitation.

59. Iulius deinde Civilis periculo exemptus, praepotens inter Batavos, ne supplicio eius erox gens alienaretur. et erant in civitate Lingonum octo Batavorum cohortes, quartae decimae legionis auxilia, tum discordia temporum a legione digressae, prout inclinassent, grande momentum sociae aut adversae. Nonium, Donatium, Romilium, Calpurnium centuriones, de quibus supra rettulimus, occidi iussit, damnatos fidei crimine, gravissimo inter desciscentis. accessere partibus Valerius Asiaticus, Belgicae provinciae legatus, quem mox Vitellius generum adscivit, et Iunius Blaesus, Lugdunensis Galliae rector, cum Italica legione e ala Tauriana Lugduni tendentibus. nec in Raeticis copiis mora quo minus statim adiungerentur: ne in Britannia quidem dubitatum.

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