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Tacitus: History Book 2 [20]

20. Caecina, who seemed to have left his cruelty and profligacy on the other side of the Alps, advanced through Italy with his army under excellent discipline. The towns and colonies, however, found indications of a haughty spirit in the general's dress, when they saw the cloak of various colours, and the trews, a garment of foreign fashion, clothed in which he was wont to speak to their toga-clad citizens. And they resented, as if with a sense of personal wrong, the conduct of his wife Salonina, though it injured no one that she presented a conspicuous figure as she rode through their towns on horseback in a purple habit. They were acting on the instincts of human nature, which prompt men to scrutinize with keen eyes the recent elevation of their fellows, and to demand a temperate use of prosperity from none more rigorously than from those whom they have seen on a level with themselves. Caecina, after crossing the Padus, sought to tamper with the loyalty of the Othonianists at a conference in which he held out hopes of reward, and he was himself assailed with the same arts. After the specious but meaningless names of peace and concord had been thus bandied to and fro, Caecina turned all his thoughts and plans on the capture of Placentia, making a formidable show of preparation, as he knew that according to the success of his opening operations would be the subsequent prestige of his arms.

20. At Caecina, velut relicta post Alpis saevitia ac licentia, modesto agmine per Italiam incessit. ornatum ipsius municipia et coloniae in superbiam trahebant, quod versicolori sagulo, bracas [barbarum tecgmen] indutus togatos adloqueretur. uxorem quoque eius Saloninam, quamquam in nullius iniuriam insignis equo ostroque veheretur, tamquam laesi gravabantur, insita mortalibus natura recentem aliorum felicitatem acribus oculis introspicere modumque fortunae a nullis magis exigere quam quos in aequo viderunt. Caecina Padum transgressus, temptata Othonianorum fide per conloquium et promissa, isdem petitus, postquam pax et concordia speciosis et inritis nominibus iactata sunt, consilia curasque in obpugnationem Placentiae magno terrore vertit, gnarus ut initia belli provenissent famam in cetera fore.

21. The first day, however, was spent in a furious onset rather than in the skilful approaches of a veteran army. Exposed and reckless, the troops came close under the walls, stupefied by excess in food and wine. In this struggle the amphitheatre, a most beautiful building, situated outside the walls, was burnt to the ground, possibly set on fire by the assailants, while they showered brands, fireballs, and ignited missiles, on the besieged, possibly by the besieged themselves, while they discharged incessant volleys in return. The populace of the town, always inclined to be suspicious, believed that combustibles had been purposely introduced into the building by certain persons from the neighbouring colonies, who viewed it with envious and jealous eyes, because there was not in Italy another building so capacious. Whatever the cause of the accident, it was thought of but little moment as long as more terrible disasters were apprehended; but as soon as they again felt secure, they lamented it as though they could not have endured a heavier calamity. In the end Caecina was repulsed with great slaughter among his troops, and the night was spent in the preparation of siege-works. The Vitellianists constructed mantlets, hurdles, and sheds, for undermining the walls and screening the assailants; the Othonianists busied themselves in preparing stakes and huge masses of stone and of lead and brass, with which to break and overwhelm the hostile ranks. The shame of failure, the hope of renown, wrought on both armies; both were appealed to by different arguments; on the one side they extolled the strength of the legions and of the army of Germany; on the other, the distinctions of the soldiery of the capital and the Praetorian cohorts; the one reviled their foes as slothful and indolent soldiers, demoralized by the circus and the theatres; the others retorted with the names of foreigner and barbarian. At the same time they lauded or vituperated Otho and Vitellius, but found indeed a more fruitful source of mutual provocation in invective than in praise.

21. Sed primus dies impetu magis quam veterani exercitus artibus transactus: aperti incautique muros subiere, cibo vinoque praegraves. in eo certamine pulcherrimum amphitheatri opus, situm extra muros, conflagravit, sive ab obpugnatoribus incensum, dum faces et glandis et missilem ignem in obsessos iaculantur, sive ab obsessis, dum regerunt. municipale vulgus, pronum ad suspiciones, fraude inlata ignis alimenta credidit a quibusdam ex vicinis coloniis invidia et aemulatione, quod nulla in Italia moles tam capax foret. quocumque casu accidit, dum atrociora metuebantur, in levi habitum, reddita securitate, tamquam nihil gravius pati potuissent, maerebant. ceterum multo suorum cruore pulsus Caecina, et nox parandis operibus absumpta. Vitelliani pluteos cratisque et vineas subfodiendis muris protegendisque obpugnatoribus, Othoniani sudis et immensas lapidum ac plumbi aerisque molis perfringendis obruendisque hostibus expediunt. utrimque pudor, utrimque gloria et diversae exhortationes hinc legionum et Germanici exercitus robur, inde urbanae militiae et praetoriarum cohortium decus attollentium; illi ut segnem et desidem et circo ac theatris corruptum militem, hi peregrinum et externum increpabant. simul Othonem ac Vitellium celebrantes culpantesve uberioribus inter se probris quam laudibus stimulabantur.

22. Almost before dawn of day the walls were crowded with combatants, and the plains glittered with masses of armed men. The close array of the legions, and the skirmishing parties of auxiliaries assailed with showers of arrows and stones the loftier parts of the walls, attacking them at close quarters where they were undefended, or old and decayed. The Othonianists, who could take a more deliberate and certain aim, poured down their javelins on the German cohorts as they recklessly advanced to the attack with fierce war-cries, brandishing their shields above their shoulders after the manner of their country, and leaving their bodies unprotected. The soldiers of the legions, working under cover of mantlets and hurdles, undermined the walls, threw up earth-works, and endeavoured to burst open the gates. The Praetorians opposed them by rolling down with a tremendous crash ponderous masses of rock, placed for the purpose. Beneath these many of the assailants were buried, and many, as the slaughter increased with the confusion, and the attack from the walls became fiercer, retreated wounded, fainting, and mangled, with serious damage to the prestige of the party. Caecina, ashamed of the assault on which he had so rashly ventured, and unwilling, ridiculed and baffled as he was, to remain in the same position, again crossed the Padus, and resolved on marching to Cremona. As he was going, Turullius Cerialis with a great number of the levies from the fleet, and Julius Briganticus with a few troopers, gave themselves up to him. Julius commanded a squadron of horse; he was a Batavian. Turullius was a centurion of the first rank, not unfriendly to Caecina, as he had commanded a company in Germany.

22. Vixdum orto die plena propugnatoribus moenia, fulgentes armis virisque campi: densum legionum agmen, sparsa auxiliorum manus altiora murorum sagittis aut saxis incessere, neglecta aut aevo fluxa comminus adgredi. ingerunt desuper Othoniani pila librato magis et certo ictu adversus temere subeuntis cohortis Germanorum, cantu truci et more patrio nudis corporibus super umeros scuta quatientium. legionarius pluteis et cratibus tectus subruit muros, instruit aggerem, molitur portas: contra praetoriani dispositos ad id ipsum molaris ingenti pondere ac fragore provolvunt. pars subeuntium obruti, pars confixi et exangues aut laceri: cum augeret stragem trepidatio eoque acrius e moenibus vulnerarentur, rediere infracta partium fama. et Caecina pudore coeptae temere obpugnationis, ne inrisus ac vanus isdem castris adsideret, traiecto rursus Pado Cremonam petere intendit. tradidere sese abeunti Turullius Cerialis cum compluribus classicis et Iulius Briganticus cum paucis equitum, hic praefectus alae in Batavis genitus, ille primipilaris et Caecinae haud alienus, quod ordines in Germania duxerat.

23. Spurinna, on discovering the enemy's route, informed Annius Gallus by letter of the successful defence of Placentia, of what had happened, and of what Caecina intended to do. Gallus was then bringing up the first legion to the relief of Placentia; he hardly dared trust so few cohorts, fearing that they could not sustain a prolonged siege or the formidable attack of the German army. On hearing that Caecina had been repulsed, and was making his way to Cremona, though the legion could hardly be restrained, and in its eagerness for action, even went to the length of open mutiny, he halted at Bedriacum. This is a village situated between Verona and Cremona, and has now acquired an ill-omened celebrity by two great days of disaster to Rome. About the same time Martius Macer fought a successful battle not far from Cremona. Martius, who was a man of energy, conveyed his gladiators in boats across the Padus, and suddenly threw them upon the opposite bank. The Vitellianist auxiliaries on the spot were routed; those who made a stand were cut to pieces, the rest directing their flight to Cremona. But the impetuosity of the victors was checked; for it was feared that the enemy might be strengthened by reinforcements, and change the fortune of the day. This policy excited the suspicions of the Othonianists, who put a sinister construction on all the acts of their generals. Vying with each other in an insolence of language proportioned to their cowardice of heart, they assailed with various accusations Annius Gallus, Suetonius Paullinus, and Marius Celsus. The murderers of Galba were the most ardent promoters of mutiny and discord. Frenzied with fear and guilt, they sought to plunge everything into confusion, resorting, now to openly seditious language, now to secret letters to Otho; and he, ever ready to believe the meanest of men and suspicious of the good, irresolute in prosperity, but rising higher under reverses, was in perpetual alarm. The end of it was that he sent for his brother Titianus, and intrusted him with the direction of the campaign.

23. Spurinna comperto itinere hostium defensam Placentiam, quaeque acta et quid Caecina pararet, Annium Gallum per litteras docet. Gallus legionem primam in auxilium Placentiae ducebat, diffisus paucitati cohortium, ne longius obsidium et vim Germanici exercitus parum tolerarent. ubi pulsum Caecinam pergere Cremonam accepit, aegre coercitam legionem et pugnandi ardore usque ad seditionem progressam Bedriaci sistit. inter Veronam Cremonamque situs est vicus, duabus iam Romanis cladibus notus infaustusque. Isdem diebus a Martio Macro haud procul Cremona prospere pugnatum; namque promptus animi Martius transvectos navibus gladiatores in adversam Padi ripam repente effudit. turbata ibi Vitellianorum auxilia, et ceteris Cremonam fugientibus caesi qui restiterant: sed repressus vincentium impetus ne novis subsidiis firmati hostes fortunam proelii mutarent. suspectum id Othonianis fuit, omnia ducum facta prave aestimantibus. certatim, ut quisque animo ignavus, procax ore, Annium Gallum et Suetonium Paulinum et Marium Celsum--nam eos quoque Otho praefecerat--variis criminibus incessebant. acerrima seditionum ac discordiae incitamenta, interfectores Galbae scelere et metu vaecordes miscere cuncta, modo palam turbidis vocibus, modo occultis ad Othonem litteris; qui humillimo cuique credulus, bonos metuens trepidabat, rebus prosperis incertus et inter adversa melior. igitur Titianum fratrem accitum bello praeposuit.

24. Meanwhile, brilliant successes were gained under the command of Celsus and Paullinus. Caecina was greatly annoyed by the fruitlessness of all his undertakings, and by the waning reputation of his army. He had been repulsed from Placentia; his auxiliaries had been recently cut up, and even when the skirmishers had met in a series of actions, frequent indeed, but not worth relating, he had been worsted; and now that Valens was coming up, fearful that all the distinctions of the campaign would centre in that general, he made a hasty attempt to retrieve his credit, but with more impetuosity than prudence. Twelve miles from Cremona (at a place called the Castors) he posted some of the bravest of his auxiliaries, concealed in the woods that there overhang the road. The cavalry were ordered to move forward, and, after provoking a battle, voluntarily to retreat, and draw on the enemy in hasty pursuit, till the ambuscade could make a simultaneous attack. The scheme was betrayed to the Othonianist generals, and Paullinus assumed the command of the infantry, Celsus of the cavalry. The veterans of the 13th legion, four cohorts of auxiliaries, and 500 cavalry, were drawn up on the left side of the road; the raised causeway was occupied by three Praetorian cohorts, ranged in deep columns; on the right front stood the first legion with two cohorts of auxiliaries and 500 cavalry. Besides these, a thousand cavalry, belonging to the Praetorian guard and to the auxiliaries, were brought up to complete a victory or to retrieve a repulse.

24. Interea Paulini et Celsi ductu res egregie gestae. angebant Caecinam nequiquam omnia coepta et senescens exercitus sui fama. pulsus Placentia, caesis nuper auxiliis, etiam per concursum exploratorum, crebra magis quam digna memoratu proelia, inferior, propinquante Fabio Valente, ne omne belli decus illuc concederet, reciperare gloriam avidius quam consultius properabat. ad duodecimum a Cremona (locus Castorum vocatur) ferocissimos auxiliarium imminentibus viae lucis occultos componit: equites procedere longius iussi et inritato proelio sponte refugi festinationem sequentium elicere, donec insidiae coorerentur. proditum id Othonianis ducibus, et curam peditum Paulinus, equitum Celsus sumpsere. tertiae decimae legionis vexillum, quattuor auxiliorum cohortes et quingenti equites in sinistro locantur; aggerem viae tres praetoriae cohortes altis ordinibus obtinuere; dextra fronte prima legio incessit cum duabus auxiliaribus cohortibus et quingentis equitibus: super hos ex praetorio auxiliisque mille equites, cumulus prosperis aut subsidium laborantibus, ducebantur.

25. Before the hostile lines engaged, the Vitellianists began to retreat, but Celsus, aware of the stratagem, kept his men back. The Vitellianists rashly left their position, and seeing Celsus gradually give way, followed too far in pursuit, and themselves fell into an ambuscade. The auxiliaries assailed them on either flank, the legions were opposed to them in front, and the cavalry, by a sudden movement, had surrounded their rear. Suetonius Paullinus did not at once give the infantry the signal to engage. He was a man naturally tardy in action, and one who preferred a cautious and scientific plan of operations to any success which was the result of accident. He ordered the trenches to be filled up, the plain to be cleared, and the line to be extended, holding that it would be time enough to begin his victory when he had provided against being vanquished. This delay gave the Vitellianists time to retreat into some vineyards, which were obstructed by the interlacing layers of the vines, and close to which was a small wood. From this place they again ventured to emerge, slaughtering the foremost of the Praetorian cavalry. King Epiphanes was wounded, while he was zealously cheering on the troops for Otho.

25. Antequam miscerentur acies, terga vertentibus Vitellianis, Celsus doli prudens repressit suos: Vitelliani temere exurgentes cedente sensim Celso longius secuti ultro in insidias praecipitantur; nam a lateribus cohortes, legionum adversa frons, et subito discursu terga cinxerant equites. signum pugnae non statim a Suetonio Paulino pediti datum: cunctator natura et cui cauta potius consilia cum ratione quam prospera ex casu placerent, compleri fossas, aperiri campum, pandi aciem iubebat, satis cito incipi victoriam ratus ubi provisum foret ne vincerentur. ea cunctatione spatium Vitellianis datum in vineas nexu traducum impeditas refugiendi; et modica silva adhaerebat, unde rursus ausi promptissimos praetorianorum equitum interfecere. vulneratur rex Epiphanes, impigre pro Othone pugnam ciens.

26. Then the Othonianist infantry charged. The enemy's line was completely crushed, and the reinforcements who were coming up to their aid were also put to flight. Caecina indeed had not brought up his cohorts in a body, but one by one; as this was done during the battle, it increased the general confusion, because the troops who were thus divided, not being strong at any one point, were borne away by the panic of the fugitives. Besides this, a mutiny broke out in the camp because the whole army was not led into action. Julius Gratus, prefect of the camp, was put in irons, on a suspicion of a treacherous understanding with his brother who was serving with Otho's army, at the very time that the Othonianists had done the same thing and on the same grounds to that brother Julius Fronto, a tribune. In fact such was the panic everywhere, among the fugitives and among the troops coming up, in the lines and in front of the entrenchments, that it was very commonly said on both sides, that Caecina and his whole army might have been destroyed, had not Suetonius Paullinus given the signal of recall. Paullinus alleged that he feared the effects of so much additional toil and so long a march, apprehending that the Vitellianists might issue fresh from their camp, and attack his wearied troops, who, once thrown into confusion, would have no reserves to fall back upon. A few approved the general's policy, but it was unfavourably canvassed by the army at large.

26. Tum Othonianus pedes erupit; protrita hostium acie versi in fugam etiam qui subveniebant; nam Caecina non simul cohortis sed singulas acciverat, quae res in proelio trepidationem auxit, cum dispersos nec usquam validos pavor fugientium abriperet. orta et in castris seditio quod non universi ducerentur: vinctus praefectus castrorum Iulius Gratus, tamquam fratri apud Othonem militanti proditionem ageret, cum fratrem eius, Iulium Frontonem tribunum, Othoniani sub eodem crimine vinxissent. ceterum ea ubique formido fuit apud fugientis occursantis, in acie pro vallo, ut deleri cum universo exercitu Caecinam potuisse, ni Suetonius Paulinus receptui cecinisset, utrisque in partibus percrebruerit. timuisse se Paulinus ferebat tantum insuper laboris atque itineris, ne Vitellianus miles recens e castris fessos adgrederetur et perculsis nullum retro subsidium foret. apud paucos ea ducis ratio probata, in vulgus adverso rumore fuit.

27. The effect of this disaster on the Vitellianists was not so much to drive them to fear as to draw them to obedience. Nor was this the case only among the troops of Caecina, who indeed laid all the blame upon his soldiers, more ready, as he said, for mutiny than for battle. The forces also of Fabius Valens, who had now reached Ticinum, laid aside their contempt for the enemy, and anxious to retrieve their credit began to yield a more respectful and uniform obedience to their general. A serious mutiny, however, had raged among them, of which, as it was not convenient to interrupt the orderly narrative of Caecina's operations, I shall take up the history at an earlier period. I have already described how the Batavian cohorts who separated from the 14th legion during the Neronian war, hearing on their way to Britain of the rising of Vitellius, joined Fabius Valens in the country of the Lingones. They behaved themselves insolently, boasting, as they visited the quarters of the several legions, that they had mastered the men of the 14th, that they had taken Italy from Nero, that the whole destiny of the war lay in their hands. Such language was insulting to the soldiers, and offensive to the general. The discipline of the army was relaxed by the brawls and quarrels which ensued. At last Valens began to suspect that insolence would end in actual treachery.

27. Haud proinde id damnum Vitellianos in metum compulit quam ad modestiam composuit: nec solum apud Caecinam, qui culpam in militem conferebat seditioni magis quam proelio paratum: Fabii quoque Valentis copiae (iam enim Ticinum venerat) posito hostium contemptu et reciperandi decoris cupidine reverentius et aequalius duci parebant. gravis alioquin seditio exarserat, quam altiore initio (neque enim rerum a Caecina gestarum ordinem interrumpi oportuerat) repetam. cohortes Batavorum, quas bello Neronis a quarta decima legione digressas, cum Britanniam peterent, audito Vitellii motu in civitate Lingonum Fabio Valenti adiunctas rettulimus, superbe agebant, ut cuiusque legionis tentoria accessissent, coercitos a se quartadecimanos, ablatam Neroni Italiam atque omnem belli fortunam in ipsorum manu sitam iactantes. contumeliosum id militibus, acerbum duci; corrupta iurgiis aut rixis disciplina; ad postremum Valens e petulantia etiam perfidiam suspectabat.

28. When, therefore, intelligence reached him that the cavalry of the Treveri and the Tungrian infantry had been defeated by Otho's fleet, and that Gallia Narbonensis was blockaded, anxious at once to protect a friendly population, and, like a skilful soldier, to separate cohorts so turbulent and, while they remained united, so inconveniently strong, he directed a detachment of the Batavians to proceed to the relief of the province. This having been heard and become generally known, the allies were discontented and the legions murmured. "We are being deprived," they said, "of the help of our bravest men. Those veteran troops victorious in so many campaigns, now that the enemy is in sight, are withdrawn, so to speak, from the very field of battle. If indeed a province be of more importance than the capital and the safety of the Empire, let us all follow them thither, but if the reality, the support, the mainstay of success, centre in Italy, you must not tear, as it were, from a body its very strongest limbs."

28. Igitur nuntio adlato pulsam Trevirorum alam Tungrosque a classe Othonis et Narbonensem Galliam circumiri, simul cura socios tuendi et militari astu cohortis turbidas ac, si una forent, praevalidas dispergendi, partem Batavorum ire in subsidium iubet. quod ubi auditum vulgatumque, maerere socii, fremere legiones. orbari se fortissimorum virorum auxilio; veteres illos et tot bellorum victores, postquam in conspectu sit hostis, velut ex acie abduci. si provincia urbe et salute imperii potior sit, omnes illuc sequerentur; sin victoriae [sanitas sustentaculum] columen in Italia verteretur, non abrumpendos ut corpori validissimos artus.

29. In the midst of these fierce exclamations, Valens, sending his lictors into the crowd, attempted to quell the mutiny. On this they attacked the general himself, hurled stones at him, and, when he fled, pursued him. Crying out that he was concealing the spoil of Gaul, the gold of the men of Vienna, the hire of their own toils, they ransacked his baggage, and probed with javelins and lances the walls of the general's tent and the very ground beneath. Valens, disguised in the garb of a slave, found concealment with a subaltern officer of cavalry. After this, Alfenius Varus, prefect of the camp, seeing that the mutiny was gradually subsiding, promoted the reaction by the following device. He forbade the centurions to visit the sentinels, and discontinued the trumpet calls by which the troops are summoned to their usual military duties. Thereupon all stood paralysed, and gazed at each other in amazement, panic-stricken by the very fact that there was no one to direct them. By their silence, by their submission, finally by their tears and entreaties, they craved forgiveness. But when Valens, thus unexpectedly preserved, came forward in sad plight, shedding tears, they were moved to joy, to pity, even to affection. Their revulsion to delight was just that of a mob, always extreme in either emotion. They greeted him with praises and congratulations, and surrounding him with the eagles and standards, carried him to the tribunal. With a politic prudence he refrained from demanding capital punishment in any case; yet, fearing that he might lay himself more open to suspicion by concealment of his feelings, he censured a few persons, well aware that in civil wars the soldiers have more license than the generals.

29. Haec ferociter iactando, postquam immissis lictoribus Valens coercere seditionem coeptabat, ipsum invadunt, saxa iaciunt, fugientem sequuntur. spolia Galliarum et Viennensium aurum, pretia laborum suorum, occultare clamitantes, direptis sarcinis tabernacula ducis ipsamque humum pilis et lanceis rimabantur; nam Valens servili veste apud decurionem equitum tegebatur. tum Alfenus Varus praefectus castrorum, deflagrante paulatim seditione, addit consilium, vetitis obire vigilias centurionibus, omisso tubae sono, quo miles ad belli munia cietur. igitur torpere cuncti, circumspectare inter se attoniti et id ipsum quod nemo regeret paventes; silentio, patientia, postremo precibus ac lacrimis veniam quaerebant. ut vero deformis et flens et praeter spem incolumis Valens processit, gaudium miseratio favor: versi in laetitiam, ut est vulgus utroque immodicum, laudantes gratantesque circumdatum aquilis signisque in tribunal ferunt. ille utili moderatione non supplicium cuiusquam poposcit, ac ne dissimulans suspectior foret, paucos incusavit, gnarus civilibus bellis plus militibus quam ducibus licere.

Next: Book 2 [30]