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Tacitus: History Book 2 [70]

70. Vitellius then directed his course to Cremona, and after witnessing the spectacle exhibited by Caecina, he conceived a desire to visit the plains of Bedriacum and to survey the scene of the recent victory. It was a hideous and terrible sight. Not forty days had passed since the battle, and there lay mangled corpses, severed limbs, the putrefying forms of men and horses; the soil was saturated with gore, and, what with levelled trees and crops, horrible was the desolation. Not less revolting was that portion of the road which the people of Cremona had strewed with laurel leaves and roses, and on which they had raised altars, and sacrificed victims as if to greet some barbarous despot, festivities in which they delighted for the moment, but which were afterwards to work their ruin. Valens and Caecina were present, and pointed out the various localities of the field of battle; shewing how from one point the columns of the legions had rushed to the attack; how from another the cavalry had charged; how from a third the auxiliary troops had turned the flank of the enemy. The tribunes and prefects extolled their individual achievements, and mixed together fictions, facts, and exaggerations. The common soldiers also turned aside from the line of march with joyful shouts, and recognized the various scenes of conflict, and gazed with wonder on the piles of weapons and the heaps of slain. Some indeed there were whom all this moved to thoughts of the mutability of fortune, to pity, and to tears. Vitellius did not turn away his eyes, did not shudder to behold the unburied corpses of so many thousands of his countrymen; nay, in his exultation, in his ignorance of the doom which was so close upon himself, he actually instituted a religious ceremony in honour of the tutelary gods of the place.

70. Inde Vitellius Cremonam flexit et spectato munere Caecinae insistere Bedriacensibus campis ac vestigia recentis victoriae lustrare oculis concupivit, foedum atque atrox spectaculum. intra quadragensimum pugnae diem lacera corpora, trunci artus, putres virorum equorumque formae, infecta tabo humus, protritis arboribus ac frugibus dira vastitas. nec minus inhumana pars viae quam Cremonenses lauru rosaque constraverant, extructis altaribus caesisque victimis regium in morem; quae laeta in praesens mox perniciem ipsis fecere. aderant Valens et Caecina, monstrabantque pugnae locos: hinc inrupisse legionum agmen, hinc equites coortos, inde circumfusas auxiliorum manus: iam tribuni praefectique, sua quisque facta extollentes, falsa vera aut maiora vero miscebant. vulgus quoque militum clamore et gaudio deflectere via, spatia certaminum recognoscere, aggerem armorum, strues corporum intueri mirari; et erant quos varia sors rerum lacrimaeque et misericordia subiret. at non Vitellius flexit oculos nec tot milia insepultorum civium exhorruit: laetus ultro et tam propinquae sortis ignarus instaurabat sacrum dis loci.

71. A show of gladiators was then given by Fabius Valens at Bononia, with all the arrangements introduced from the capital. The nearer the Emperor approached to Rome, the greater was the license of his march, accompanied as it was by players and herds of eunuchs, in fact by all that had characterised the court of Nero. Indeed, Vitellius used to make a display of his admiration for Nero, and had constantly followed him when he sang, not from the compulsion to which the noblest had to yield, but because he was the slave and chattel of profligacy and gluttony. To leave some months of office open for Valens and Caecina, the consulates of others were abridged, that of Martius Macer was ignored on the ground of his having been one of Otho's generals. Valerius Maximus, who had been nominated consul by Galba, had his dignity deferred for no offence, but because he was a man of gentle temper, and could submit tamely to an affront. Pedanius Costa was passed over. The Emperor disliked him because he had risen against Nero, and roused Verginius to revolt. Other reasons, however, were alleged. Finally, after the servile fashion of the time, thanks were voted to Vitellius.

71. Exim Bononiae a Fabio Valente gladiatorum spectaculum editur, advecto ex urbe cultu. quantoque magis propinquabat, tanto corruptius iter immixtis histrionibus et spadonum gregibus et cetero Neronianae aulae ingenio; namque et Neronem ipsum Vitellius admiratione celebrabat, sectari cantantem solitus, non necessitate, qua honestissimus quisque, sed luxu et saginae mancipatus emptusque. ut Valenti et Caecinae vacuos honoris mensis aperiret, coartati aliorum consulatus, dissimulatus Marci Macri tamquam Othonianarum partium ducis; et Valerium Marinum destinatum a Galba consulem distulit, nulla offensa, sed mitem et iniuriam segniter laturum. Pedanius Costa omittitur, ingratus principi ut adversus Neronem ausus et Verginii extimulator, sed alias protulit causas; actaeque insuper Vitellio gratiae consuetudine servitii.

72. A deception, which was started with considerable vigour, lasted for a few, and but a few days. There had suddenly sprung up a man, who gave out that he was Scribonianus Camerinus; that, dreading the times of Nero, he had concealed himself in Histria, where the old family of the Crassi still had dependants, estates, and a popular name. He admitted into the secret of his imposture all the most worthless of his followers; and the credulous populace and some of the soldiers, either from not knowing the truth, or impatient for revolution, began eagerly to rally round him. When he was brought before Vitellius, and asked who he was, as his account of himself could not be trusted,, and his master recognised him as a runaway slave, by name Geta, he was executed as slaves usually are.

72. Non ultra paucos dies quamquam acribus initiis coeptum mendacium valuit. extiterat quidam Scribonianum se Camerinum ferens, Neronianorum temporum metu in Histria occultatum, quod illic clientelae et agri veterum Crassorum ac nominis favor manebat. igitur deterrimo quoque in argumentum fabulae adsumpto vulgus credulum et quidam militum, errore veri seu turbarum studio, certatim adgregabantur, cum pertractus ad Vitellium interrogatusque quisnam mortalium esset. postquam nulla dictis fides et a domino noscebatur condicione fugitivus, nomine Geta, sumptum de eo supplicium in servilem modum.

73. It would almost pass belief, were I to tell to what a degree the insolence and sloth of Vitellius grew upon him when messengers from Syria and Judaea brought the news that the provinces of the East had sworn allegiance to him. Though as yet all information was but vague and uncertain, Vespasian was the subject of much talk and rumour, and at the mention of his name Vitellius often roused himself. But now, both the Emperor and the army, as if they had no rival to fear, indulging in cruelty, lust, and rapine, plunged into all the licence of foreign manners.

73. Vix credibile memoratu est quantum superbiae socordiaeque Vitellio adoleverit, postquam speculatores e Syria Iudaeaque adactum in verba eius Orientem nuntiavere. nam etsi vagis adhuc et incertis auctoribus erat tamen in ore famaque Vespasianus ac plerumque ad nomen eius Vitellius excitabatur: tum ipse exercitusque, ut nullo aemulo, saevitia libidine raptu in externos mores proruperant.

74. Vespasian, on the other hand, was taking a general survey of the chances of a campaign and of his resources both immediate and remote. The soldiers were so entirely devoted to him, that as he dictated the oath of allegiance and prayed for all prosperity to Vitellius, they listened to him in silence. Mucianus had no dislike to Vespasian, and was strongly inclined towards Titus. Already had Alexander, the governor of Egypt, declared his adhesion. The third legion, as it had passed over from Syria to Moesia, Vespasian counted upon as devoted to himself, and it was hoped that the other legions of Illyricum would follow its example. In fact the whole army had been kindled into indignation by the insolence of the soldiers who came among them from Vitellius. Savage in appearance, and speaking a rude dialect, they ridiculed everybody else as their inferiors. But in such gigantic preparations for war there is usually delay. Vespasian was at one moment high in hope, and at another disposed to reflect on the chances of failure. What a day would that be when he should expose himself with his sixty years upon him, and the two young men, his sons, to the perils of war! In private enterprises men may advance or recede, and presume more or less upon fortune as they may choose, whereas they who aim at empire have no alternative between the highest success and utter downfall.

74. At Vespasianus bellum armaque et procul vel iuxta sitas viris circumspectabat. miles ipsi adeo paratus ut praeeuntem sacramentum et fausta Vitellio omnia precantem per silentium audierint; Muciani animus nec Vespasiano alienus et in Titum pronior; praefectus Aegypti [T.] Alexander consilia sociaverat; tertiam legionem, quod e Syria in Moesiam transisset, suam numerabat; ceterae Illyrici legiones secuturae sperabantur; namque omnis exercitus flammaverat adrogantia venientium a Vitellio militum, quod truces corpore, horridi sermone ceteros ut imparis inridebant. sed in tanta mole belli plerumque cunctatio; et Vespasianus modo in spem erectus, aliquando adversa reputabat: quis ille dies foret quo sexaginta aetatis annos et duos filios iuvenes bello permitteret? esse privatis cogitationibus progressum et, prout velint, plus minusve sumi ex fortuna: imperium cupientibus nihil medium inter summa aut praecipitia.

75. The strength of the army of Germany, with which as a military man he was well acquainted, was continually before his eyes. He reflected that his own legions were wholly without experience of a civil war, that those of Vitellius had been victorious, and that among the conquered there was more dissatisfaction than real strength. Civil strife had shaken the fidelity of the Roman soldiery, and danger was to be apprehended from individuals. What would be the use of infantry and cavalry, should one or two men seek the prize with which the enemy would be ready to reward a prompt act of treason? It was thus that Scribonianus had fallen in the days of Claudius, and his murderer, Volaginius, had been raised from the ranks to the highest military command. It was easier to move the hearts of the multitude than to avoid the single assassin.

75. Versabatur ante oculos Germanici exercitus robur, notum viro militari: suas legiones civili bello inexpertas, Vitellii victricis, et apud victos plus querimoniarum quam virium. fluxam per discordias militum fidem et periculum ex singulis: quid enim profuturas cohortis alasque, si unus alterve praesenti facinore paratum ex diverso praemium petat? sic Scribonianum sub Claudio interfectum, sic percussorem eius Volaginium e gregario ad summa militiae provectum: facilius universos impelli quam singulos vitari.

76. Though staggered by these apprehensions, he was confirmed in his purpose by others among the legates and among his own friends, and particularly by Mucianus, who, after many conversations with him in private, now publicly addressed him in the following terms: "All who enter upon schemes involving great interests, should consider whether what they are attempting be for the advantage of the State, for their own credit, easy of accomplishment, or at any rate free from serious difficulty. They must also weigh the circumstances of their adviser, must see whether he will follow up his advice by imperilling himself, and must know who, should fortune prosper the undertaking, is to have the highest honours. I invite you, Vespasian, to a dignity which will be as beneficial to the State, as it will be honourable to yourself. Under heaven this dignity lies within your reach. And do not dread what may present the semblance of flattery. To be chosen successor to Vitellius would be more of an insult than a compliment. It is not against the vigorous intellect of the Divine Augustus, it is not against the profound subtlety of the aged Tiberius, it is not even against the house of Caius, Claudius, or Nero, established by a long possession of the Empire, that we are rising in revolt. You have already yielded to the prestige even of Galba's family. To persist in inaction, and to leave the State to degradation and ruin, would look like indolence and cowardice, even supposing that servitude were as safe for you as it would be infamous. The time has gone by and passed away when you might have endured the suspicion of having coveted Imperial power. That power is now your only refuge. Have you forgotten how Corbulo was murdered? His origin, I grant, was more illustrious than ours; yet in nobility of birth Nero surpassed Vitellius. The man who is afraid sees distinction enough in any one whom he fears. That an Emperor can be created by the army, Vitellius is himself a proof, who, though he had seen no service and had no military reputation, was raised to the throne by the unpopularity of Galba. Otho, who was overcome, not indeed by skilful generalship, or by a powerful enemy, but by his own premature despair, this man has made into a great and deservedly regretted Emperor, and all the while he is disbanding his legions, disarming his auxiliaries, and sowing every day fresh seeds of civil war. All the energy and high spirit which once belonged to his army is wasted in the revelry of taverns and in aping the debaucheries of their chief. You have from Judaea, Syria, and Egypt, nine fresh legions, unexhausted by battle, uncorrupted by dissension; you have a soldiery hardened by habits of warfare and victorious over foreign foes; you have strong fleets, auxiliaries both horse and foot, kings most faithful to your cause, and an experience in which you excel all other men.

76. His pavoribus nutantem et alii legati amicique firmabant et Mucianus, post multos secretosque sermones iam et coram ita locutus: 'omnes, qui magnarum rerum consilia suscipiunt, aestimare debent an quod inchoatur rei publicae utile, ipsis gloriosum, promptum effectu aut certe non arduum sit; simul ipse qui suadet considerandus est, adiciatne consilio periculum suum, et, si fortuna coeptis adfuerit, cui summum decus adquiratur. ego te, Vespasiane, ad imperium voco, quam salutare rei publicae, quam tibi magnificum, iuxta deos in tua manu positum est. nec speciem adulantis expaveris: a contumelia quam a laude propius fuerit post Vitellium eligi. non adversus divi Augusti acerrimam mentem nec adversus cautissimam Tiberii senectutem, ne contra Gai quidem aut Claudii vel Neronis fundatam longo imperio domum exurgimus; cessisti etiam Galbae imaginibus: torpere ultra et polluendam perdendamque rem publicam relinquere sopor et ignavia videretur, etiam si tibi quam inhonesta, tam tuta servitus esset. abiit iam et transvectum est tempus quo posses videri non cupisse: confugiendum est ad imperium. an excidit trucidatus Corbulo? splendidior origine quam nos sumus, fateor, sed et Nero nobilitate natalium Vitellium anteibat. satis clarus est apud timentem quisquis timetur. et posse ab exercitu principem fieri sibi ipse Vitellius documento, nullis stipendiis, nulla militari fama, Galbae odio provectus. ne Othonem quidem ducis arte aut exercitus vi, sed praepropera ipsius desperatione victum, iam desiderabilem et magnum principem fecit, cum interim spargit legiones, exarmat cohortis, nova cotidie bello semina ministrat. si quid ardoris ac ferociae miles habuit, popinis et comissationibus et principis imitatione deteritur: tibi e Iudaea et Syria et Aegypto novem legiones integrae, nulla acie exhaustae, non discordia corruptae, sed firmatus usu miles et belli domitor externi: classium alarum cohortium robora et fidissimi reges et tua ante omnis experientia.'

77. "For myself I will claim nothing more than not to be reckoned inferior to Valens and Caecina. But do not spurn Mucianus as an associate, because you do not find in him a rival. I count myself better than Vitellius; I count you better than myself. Your house is ennobled by the glories of a triumph; it has two youthful scions, one of whom is already equal to the cares of Empire, and in the earliest years of his military career won renown with these very armies of Germany. It would be ridiculous in me not to waive my claims to Empire in favour of the man whose son I should adopt, were I myself Emperor. Between us, however, there will not be an equal distribution of the fruits of success or failure. If we are victorious. I shall have whatever honour you think fit to bestow on me; the danger and the peril we shall share alike; nay, I would rather have you, as is the better policy, direct your armies, and leave to me the conduct of the war and the hazards of battle. At this very moment a stricter discipline prevails among the conquered than among the conquerors. The conquered are fired to valour by anger, by hatred, by the desire of vengeance, while the conquerors are losing their energy in pride and insolence. War will of itself discover and lay open the hidden and rankling wounds of the victorious party. And, indeed, your vigilance, economy, and wisdom, do not inspire me with greater confidence of success than do the indolence, ignorance, and cruelty of Vitellius. Once at war, we have a better cause than we can have in peace, for those who deliberate on revolt have revolted already."

77. 'Nobis nihil ultra adrogabo quam ne post Valentem et Caecinam numeremur: ne tamen Mucianum socium spreveris, quia aemulum non experiris. me Vitellio antepono, te mihi. tuae domui triumphale nomen, duo iuvenes, capax iam imperii alter et primis militiae annis apud Germanicos quoque exercitus clarus. absurdum fuerit non cedere imperio ei cuius filium adoptaturus essem, si ipse imperarem. ceterum inter nos non idem prosperarum adversarumque rerum ordo erit: nam si vincimus, honorem quem dederis habebo: discrimen ac pericula ex aequo patiemur. immo, ut melius est, tu tuos exercitus rege, mihi bellum et proeliorum incerta trade. acriore hodie disciplina victi quam victores agunt. hos ira, odium, ultionis cupiditas ad virtutem accendit: illi per fastidium et contumacia hebescunt. aperiet et recludet contecta et tumescentia victricium partium vulnera bellum ipsum; nec mihi maior in tua vigilantia parsimonia sapientia fiducia est quam in Vitellii torpore inscitia saevitia. sed meliorem in bello causam quam in pace habemus; nam qui deliberant, desciverunt.'

78. After this speech from Mucianus, the other officers crowded round Vespasian with fresh confidence, encouraging him, and reminding him of the responses of prophets and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Nor was Vespasian proof against this superstition, for afterwards, when master of the world, he openly retained one Seleucus, an astrologer, to direct his counsels, and to foretell the future. Old omens now recurred to his thoughts. A cypress tree of remarkable height on his estate had suddenly fallen, and rising again the following day on the very same spot, had flourished with majestic beauty and even broader shade. This, as the Haruspices agreed, was an omen of brilliant success, and the highest distinction seemed prophesied to Vespasian in early youth. At first, however, the honours of a triumph, his consulate, and the glory of his victories in Judaea, appeared to have justified the truth of the omen. When he had won these distinctions, he began to believe that it portended the Imperial power. Between Judaea and Syria is Mount Carmel; this is the name both of the mountain and the Deity. They have no image of the god nor any temple; the tradition of antiquity recognises only an altar and its sacred association. While Vespasian was there offering sacrifice and pondering his secret hopes, Basilides the priest, after repeated inspections of the entrails, said to him, "Whatever be your purposes, Vespasian, whether you think of building a house, of enlarging your estate, or augmenting the number of your slaves, there is given you a vast habitation, boundless territory, a multitude of men." These obscure intimations popular rumour had at once caught up, and now began to interpret. Nothing was more talked about by the common people. In Vespasian's presence the topic was more frequently discussed, because to the aspirant himself men have more to say.

78. Post Muciani orationem ceteri audentius circumsistere, hortari, responsa vatum et siderum motus referre. nec erat intactus tali superstitione, ut qui mox rerum dominus Seleucum quendam mathematicum rectorem et praescium palam habuerit. recursabant animo vetera omina: cupressus arbor in agris eius conspicua altitudine repente prociderat ac postera die eodem vestigio resurgens procera et latior virebat. grande id prosperumque consensu haruspicum et summa claritudo iuveni admodum Vespasiano promissa, sed primo triumphalia et consulatus et Iudaicae victoriae decus implesse fidem ominis videbatur: ut haec adeptus est, portendi sibi imperium credebat. est Iudaeam inter Syriamque Carmelus: ita vocant montem deumque. nec simulacrum deo aut templum--sic tradidere maiores--: ara tantum et reverentia. illic sacrificanti Vespasiano, cum spes occultas versaret animo, Basilides sacerdos inspectis identidem extis 'quicquid est' inquit, 'Vespasiane, quod paras, seu domum extruereKGeu prolatare agros sive ampliare servitia, datur tibi magna sedes, ingentes termini, multum hominum.' has ambages et statim exceperat fama et tunc aperiebat; nec quicquam magis in ore vulgi. crebriores apud ipsum sermones, quanto sperantibus plura dicuntur. haud dubia destinatione discessere Mucianus Antiochiam, Vespasianus Caesaream: illa Syriae, hoc Iudaeae caput est.

79. With purposes no longer doubtful they parted, Mucianus for Antioch, Vespasian for Caesarea. These cities are the capitals of Syria and Judaea respectively. The initiative in transferring the Empire to Vespasian was taken at Alexandria under the prompt direction of Tiberius Alexander, who on the 1st of July made the legions swear allegiance to him. That day was ever after celebrated as the first of his reign, though the army of Judaea on July 3rd took the oath to Vespasian in person with such eager alacrity that they would not wait for the return of his son Titus, who was then on his way back from Syria, acting as the medium between Mucianus and his father for the communication of their plans. All this was done by the impulsive action of the soldiers without the preliminary of a formal harangue or any concentration of the legions.

79. Initium ferendi ad Vespasianum imperii Alexandriae coeptum, festinante Tiberio Alexandro, qui kalendis Iuliis sacramento eius legiones adegit. isque primus principatus dies in posterum celebratus, quamvis Iudaicus exercitus quinto nonas Iulias apud ipsum iurasset, eo ardore ut ne Titus quidem filius expectaretur, Syria remeans et consiliorum inter Mucianum ac patrem nuntius. cuncta impetu militum acta non parata contione, non coniunctis legionibus.

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