Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Tacitus: History Book 3 [50]

50. As winter was approaching, and the low country was flooded by the Padus, the army marched on without its heavy baggage. The standards and eagles of the victorious legions, the old and wounded soldiers, and even many effective men, were left at Verona. The auxiliary infantry and cavalry, with some picked troops from the legions, appeared sufficient for a war that was all but finished. They had been joined by the 11th legion, which at first had hesitated, but now in the hour of success felt alarm at having stood aloof. A recent levy of 6000 Dalmatians was attached to the legion. They were under the command of Pompeius Silvanus, a man of consular rank; the real direction of affairs was in the hands of Annius Bassus, the legate of the legion. This officer contrived, under an appearance of submission, to govern Silvanus, a leader without vigour, and apt to waste in words the opportunities of action. Bassus, with his unobtrusive energy, was ready for everything that had to be done. To these forces were added the elite of the marines of the Ravenna fleet, who demanded permission to serve in the legions. The crews were made up with Dalmatians. The army and generals halted at the Temple of Fortune, undecided as to their line of action. They had heard that the Praetorian Guard had marched out of Rome, and they supposed that the Apennines were occupied with troops. The generals, finding themselves in a country utterly impoverished by war, were terrified by the scarcity of provisions and the mutinous clamours of the soldiery, who incessantly demanded the "clavarium," as the donative was called. They had provided neither money nor corn, and they were embarrassed by the general impatience and rapacity; for what they might have obtained was plundered.

50. Ceterum propinqua hieme et umentibus Pado campis expeditum agmen incedere. signa aquilaeque victricium legionum, milites vulneribus aut aetate graves, plerique etiam integri Veronae relicti: sufficere cohortes alaeque et e legionibus lecti profligato iam bello videbantur. undecima legio sese adiunxerat, initio cunctata, sed prosperis rebus anxia quod defuisset; sex milia Dalmatarum, recens dilectus, comitabantur; ducebat Pompeius Silvanus consularis: vis consiliorum penes Annium Bassum legionis legatum. is Silvanum socordem bello et dies rerum verbis terentem specie obsequii regebat ad omniaque quae agenda forent quieta cum industria aderat. ad has copias e classicis Ravennatibus, legionariam militiam poscentibus, optimus quisque adsciti: classem Dalmatae supplevere. exercitus ducesque ad Fanum Fortunae iter sistunt, de summa rerum cunctantes, quod motas ex urbe praetorias cohortis audierant et teneri praesidiis Appenninum rebantur; et ipsos in regione bello attrita inopia et seditiosae militum voces terrebant, clavarium (donativi nomen est) flagitantium. nec pecuniam aut frumentum providerant, et festinatio atque aviditas praepediebant, dum quae accipi poterant rapiuntur.

51. I have the very highest authority for asserting, that there was among the conquerors such an impious disregard of right and wrong, that a private cavalry soldier declared he had slain his brother in the late battle, and claimed a reward from the generals. The common law of humanity on the one hand forbade them to reward this act of blood, the necessities of the war on the other forbade them to punish it. They put him off, on the ground that the obligation was too great to be immediately discharged. Nothing more is recorded. In the earlier civil wars indeed a similar horror had occurred. In the battle with Cinna at the Janiculum, a soldier in Pompey's army, as Sisenna tells us, slew his own brother, and, on discovering the horrible deed he had committed, destroyed himself. So much more earnest among our ancestors was the honour paid to virtue, and the remorse that waited on crime. These and like instances, drawn from the recollections of the past, I shall mention not irrelevantly, whenever the subject and the occasion shall call for some example of goodness or some solace in the presence of evil.

51. Celeberrimos auctores habeo tantam victoribus adversus fas nefasque inreverentiam fuisse ut gregarius eques occisum a se proxima acie fratrem professus praemium a ducibus petierit. nec illis aut honorare eam caedem ius hominum aut ulcisci ratio belli permittebat. distulerant tamquam maiora meritum quam quae statim exolverentur; nec quidquam ultra traditur. ceterum et prioribus civium bellis par scelus inciderat. nam proelio, quo apud Ianiculum adversus Cinnam pugnatum est, Pompeianus miles fratrem suum, dein cognito facinore se ipsum interfecit, ut Sisenna memorat: tanto acrior apud maiores, sicut virtutibus gloria, ita flagitiis paenitentia fuit. sed haec aliaque ex vetere memoria petita, quotiens res locusque exempla recti aut solacia mali poscet, haud absurde memorabimus.

52. Antonius and the other generals of the party judged it expedient to send forward the cavalry and explore the whole of Umbria for some point where the Apennines presented a more gentle ascent, and also to bring up the eagles and standards and all the troops at Verona, while they were to cover the Padus and the sea with convoys. Some there were among the generals who were contriving delays, for Antonius in fact was now becoming too great a man, and their hopes from Mucianus were more definite. That commander, troubled at so speedy a success, and imagining that unless he occupied Rome in person he should lose all share in the glory of the war, continued to write in ambiguous terms to Varus and Antonius, enlarging at one time on the necessity of following up their operations, at another on the advantage of delay, and with expressions so worded that he could, according to the event, repudiate a disastrous, or claim a successful policy. To Plotius Griphus, who had lately been raised by Vespasian to the senatorial rank and appointed to command a legion, as well as to all others on whom he could fully rely, he gave plainer instructions. All these men sent replies reflecting unfavourably on the precipitancy of Varus and Antonius, and suiting the wishes of Mucianus. By forwarding these letters to Vespasian he had accomplished this much, that the measures and achievements of Antonius were not valued according to his hopes.

52. Antonio ducibusque partium praemitti equites omnemque Vmbriam explorari placuit, si qua Appennini iuga clementius adirentur: acciri aquilas signaque et quidquid Veronae militum foret, Padumque et mare commeatibus compleri. erant inter duces qui necterent moras: quippe nimius iam Antonius, et certiora ex Muciano sperabantur. namque Mucianus tam celeri victoria anxius et, ni praesens urbe potiretur, expertem se belli gloriaeque ratus, ad Primum et Varum media scriptitabat, instandum coeptis aut rursus cunctandi utilitates disserens atque ita compositus ut ex eventu rerum adversa abnueret vel prospera agnosceret. Plotium Grypum, nuper a Vespasiano in senatorium ordinem adscitum ac legioni praepositum, ceterosque sibi fidos apertius monuit, hique omnes de festinatione Primi ac Vari sinistre et Muciano volentia rescripsere. quibus epistulis Vespasiano missis effecerat ut non pro spe Antonii consilia factaque eius aestimarentur.

53. Antonius was indignant, and blamed Mucianus, whose calumnies had depreciated his own hazardous achievements. Nor was he temperate in his expressions, for he was habitually violent in language, and was unaccustomed to obey. He wrote a letter to Vespasian in terms more arrogant than should be addressed to an Emperor, and not without implied reproach against Mucianus. "It was I," he said, "who brought into the field the legions of Pannonia; my instigations roused the generals in Moesia; my courageous resolution forced a passage through the Alps, seized on Italy, and cut off the succours from Germany and Rhaetia. The discomfiture of the disunited and scattered legions of Vitellius by a fierce charge of cavalry, and afterwards by the steady strength of the infantry in a conflict that lasted for a day and a night, was indeed a most glorious achievement, and it was my work. For the destruction of Cremona the war must be answerable; the civil strifes of former days cost the State more terrible loss and the overthrow of many cities. Not with messages and letters, but with my arm and my sword, have I served my Emperor. I would not seek to hinder the renown of those who in the meanwhile have reduced Asia to tranquillity. They had at heart the peace of Moesia, I the safety and security of Italy. By my earnest representations Gaul and Spain, the most powerful region of the world, have been won for Vespasian. But all my efforts have been wasted, if they alone who have not shared the peril obtain its rewards." The meaning of all this did not escape Mucianus, and there arose a deadly feud, cherished by Antonius with frankness, by Mucianus with reserve, and therefore with the greater bitterness.

53. Aegre id pati Antonius et culpam in Mucianum conferre, cuius criminationibus eviluissent pericula sua; nec sermonibus temperabat, immodicus lingua et obsequii insolens. litteras ad Vespasianum composuit iactantius quam ad principem, nec sine occulta in Mucianum insectatione: se Pannonicas legiones in arma egisse; suis stimulis excitos Moesiae duces, sua constantia perruptas Alpis, occupatam Italiam, intersepta Germanorum Raetorumque auxilia. quod discordis dispersasque Vitellii legiones equestri procella, mox peditum vi per diem noctemque fudisset, id pulcherrimum et sui operis. casum Cremonae bello imputandum: maiore damno, plurium urbium excidiis veteres civium discordias rei publicae stetisse. non se nuntiis neque epistulis, sed manu et armis imperatori suo militare; neque officere gloriae eorum qui Daciam interim composuerint: illis Moesiae pacem, sibi salutem securitatemque Italiae cordi fuisse; suis exhortationibus Gallias Hispaniasque, validissimam terrarum partem, ad Vespasianum conversas. sed cecidisse in inritum labores si praemia periculorum soli adsequantur qui periculis non adfuerint. nec fefellere ea Mucianum; inde graves simultates, quas Antonius simplicius, Mucianus callide eoque implacabilius nutriebat.

54. Vitellius, after his power had been shattered at Cremona, endeavoured to suppress the tidings of the disaster, and by this foolish attempt at concealment he put off, not indeed his troubles, but only the application of the remedy. Had he avowed and discussed his position, he had some chance, some strength, left; whereas, on the contrary, when he pretended that all was prosperous, he aggravated his perils by falsehood. A strange silence was observed in his presence as to the war; throughout the country all discussion was prohibited, and so, many who would have told the truth had it been allowed, finding it forbidden, spread rumours exaggerating the calamity. The generals of the enemy failed not to magnify the report of their strength, for they sent back any spies of Vitellius whom they captured, after conducting them round the camp in order that they might learn the force of the victorious army. All of these persons Vitellius questioned in secret, and then ordered that they should be put to death. Singular bravery was displayed by a centurion, Julius Agrestis, who, after several interviews, in which he had in vain endeavoured to rouse Vitellius to courage, prevailed on the Emperor to send him in person to see what was the strength of the enemy's resources, and what had happened at Cremona. He did not seek to escape the notice of Antonius by making his observations in secret, but avowed the emperor's instructions and his own purpose, and asked leave to see everything. Persons were sent to shew him the field of battle, the remains of Cremona, and the captured legions. He then made his way back to Vitellius, and when the Emperor denied the truth of the intelligence which he brought, and even charged him with having been bribed, "Since," he replied, "you require some decisive proof, and I can no longer serve you in any other way either by my life or death I will give you a proof which you can believe." So he departed, and confirmed his statement by a voluntary death. Some say that he was slain by order of Vitellius, but they bear the same testimony to his loyalty and courage.

54. At Vitellius fractis apud Cremonam rebus nuntios cladis occultans stulta dissimulatione remedia potius malorum quam mala differebat. quippe confitenti consultantique supererant spes viresque: cum e contrario laeta omnia fingeret, falsis ingravescebat. mirum apud ipsum de bello silentium; prohibiti per civitatem sermones, eoque plures ac, si liceret, vere narraturi, quia vetabantur, atrociora vulgaverant. nec duces hostium augendae famae deerant, captos Vitellii exploratores circumductosque, ut robora victoris exercitus noscerent, remittendo; quos omnis Vitellius secreto percontatus interfici iussit. notabili constantia centurio Iulius Agrestis post multos sermones, quibus Vitellium ad virtutem frustra accendebat, perpulit ut ad viris hostium spectandas quaeque apud Cremonam acta forent ipse mitteretur. nec exploratione occulta fallere Antonium temptavit, sed mandata imperatoris suumque animum professus, ut cuncta viseret postulat. missi qui locum proelii, Cremonae vestigia, captas legiones ostenderent. Agrestis ad Vitellium remeavit abnuentique vera esse quae adferret, atque ultro corruptum arguenti 'quando quidem' inquit 'magno documento opus est, nec alius iam tibi aut vitae aut mortis meae usus, dabo cui credas.' atque ita digressus voluntaria morte dicta firmavit. quidam iussu Vitellii interfectum, de fide constantiaque eadem tradidere.

55. Vitellius, who seemed like a man roused from slumber ordered Julius Priscus and Alfenius Varus, with fourteen of the Praetorian cohorts and the entire force of cavalry, to occupy the Apennines. A legion of troops drafted from the fleet followed. So many thousand troops, comprising the picked men and horses of the army, had they been under the direction of a different general, would have been quite equal even to aggressive operations. The rest of the Praetorian cohorts were entrusted to Lucius Vitellius, brother of the Emperor, for the defence of the capital. Vitellius, while he abated nothing of his habitual indulgence, with a precipitancy prompted by alarm, anticipated the elections, at which he appointed consuls for several years. With a profuse liberality, he granted treaties to allies, and the rights of Latin citizenship to foreigners; some he relieved by the remission of tribute, others by exemptions; in a word, utterly careless of the future, he mutilated the resources of the Empire. But the mob was attracted by the magnificence of his bounties. The most foolish bought these favours with money; the wise held that to be invalid, which could neither be given nor received without ruin to the State. Yielding at length to the importunity of the army, which had taken up its position at Mevania, and accompanied by a numerous train of senators, into which many were brought by ambition and more by fear, he entered the camp, undecided in purpose and at the mercy of faithless counsels.

55. Vitellius ut e somno excitus Iulium Priscum et Alfenum Varum cum quattuordecim praetoriis cohortibus et omnibus equitum alis obsidere Appenninum iubet; secuta e classicis legio. tot milia armatorum, lecta equis virisque, si dux alius foret, inferendo quoque bello satis pollebant. ceterae cohortes ad tuendam urbem L. Vitellio fratri datae: ipse nihil e solito luxu remittens et diffidentia properus festinare comitia, quibus consules in multos annos destinabat; foedera sociis, Latium externis dilargiri; his tributa dimittere, alios immunitatibus iuvare; denique nulla in posterum cura lacerare imperium. sed vulgus ad magnitudinem beneficiorum hiabat, stultissimus quisque pecuniis mercabatur, apud sapientis cassa habebantur quae neque dari neque accipi salva re publica poterant. tandem flagitante exercitu, qui Mevaniam insederat, magno senatorum agmine, quorum multos ambitione, pluris formidine trahebat, in castra venit, incertus animi et infidis consiliis obnoxius.

56. While he was haranguing his troops (marvellous to relate) such a multitude of ill-omened birds flew over him, as to obscure with a dark cloud the light of day. There occurred another terrible presage. A bull escaped from the altar, scattered the preparations for sacrifice, and was finally slain far from the spot where the victims are usually struck down. But the most portentous spectacle of all was Vitellius himself, ignorant of military matters and without forethought in his plans, even asking others about the order of march, about the business of reconnoitring, and the discretion to be used in pushing on or protracting the campaign, betraying in his countenance and gait his alarm at every fresh piece of intelligence, and finally drinking to intoxication. At last, weary of the camp, and having received tidings of the defection of the fleet at Misenum, he returned to Rome, trembling at every new disaster, but reckless of the final result. For though it was open to him to have crossed the Apennines with an army in unimpaired vigour, and to have attacked in the field an enemy suffering from cold and scant supplies, yet, by dividing his forces, he abandoned to destruction or captivity troops of the keenest courage and faithful to the last, against the judgment of the most experienced among the centurions, who, had they been consulted, would have told him the truth. They were all kept at a distance by the intimate friends of Vitellius; for the Emperor's ears were so formed, that all profitable counsels were offensive to him, and that he would hear nothing but what would please and ruin.

56. Contionanti--prodigiosum dictu--tantum foedarum volucrum supervolitavit ut nube atra diem obtenderent. accessit dirum omen, profugus altaribus taurus disiecto sacrificii apparatu, longe, nec ut feriri hostias mos est, confossus. sed praecipuum ipse Vitellius ostentum erat, ignarus militiae, improvidus consilii, quis ordo agminis, quae cura explorandi, quantus urgendo trahendove bello modus, alios rogitans et ad omnis nuntios vultu quoque et incessu trepidus, dein temulentus. postremo taedio castrorum et audita defectione Misenensis classis Romam revertit, recentissimum quodque vulnus pavens, summi discriminis incuriosus. nam cum transgredi Appenninum integro exercitus sui robore et fessos hieme atque inopia hostis adgredi in aperto foret, dum dispergit viris, acerrimum militem et usque in extrema obstinatum trucidandum capiendumque tradidit, peritissimis centurionum dissentientibus et, si consulerentur, vera dicturis. arcuere eos intimi amicorum Vitellii, ita formatis principis auribus ut aspera quae utilia, nec quidquam nisi iucundum et laesurum acciperet.

57. The fleet at Misenum, so much can be done in times of civil discord by the daring of even a single man, was drawn into revolt by Claudius Faventinus, a centurion cashiered by Galba, who forged letters in the name of Vespasian offering a reward for treachery. The fleet was under the command of Claudius Apollinaris, a man neither firm in his loyalty, nor energetic in his treason. Apinius Tiro, who had filled the office of praetor, and who then happened to be at Minturnae, offered to head the revolt. By these men the colonies and municipal towns were drawn into the movement, and as Puteoli was particularly zealous for Vespasian, while Capua on the other hand remained loyal to Vitellius, they introduced their municipal jealousy into the civil war. Claudius Julianus, who had lately exercised an indulgent rule over the fleet at Misenum, was selected by Vitellius to soothe the irritation of the soldiery. He was supported by a city cohort and a troop of gladiators whose chief officer he was. As soon as the two camps were pitched, Julianus, without much hesitation, went over to the side of Vespasian, and they then occupied Tarracina, which was protected by its fortifications and position rather than by any ability of theirs.

57. Sed classem Misenensem (tantum civilibus discordiis etiam singulorum audacia valet) Claudius Faventinus centurio per ignominiam a Galba dimissus ad defectionem traxit, fictis Vespasiani epistulis pretium proditionis ostentans. praeerat classi Claudius Apollinaris, neque fidei constans neque strenuus in perfidia; et Apinius Tiro praetura functus ac tum forte Minturnis agens ducem se defectoribus obtulit. a quibus municipia coloniaeque impulsae, praecipuo Puteolanorum in Vespasianum studio, contra Capua Vitellio fida, municipalem aemulationem bellis civilibus miscebant. Vitellius Claudium Iulianum (is nuper classem Misenensem molli imperio rexerat) permulcendis militum animis delegit; data in auxilium urbana cohors et gladiatores, quibus Iulianus praeerat. ut conlata utrimque castra, haud magna cunctatione Iuliano in partis Vespasiani transgresso, Tarracinam occupavere, moenibus situque magis quam ipsorum ingenio tutam.

58. Vitellius, when informed of these events, left a portion of his army at Narnia under the command of the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, and deputed his brother Lucius with six cohorts of infantry and 500 cavalry to encounter the danger that now threatened him on the side of Campania. Sick at heart, he found relief in the zeal of the soldiers and in the shouts with which the people clamoured for arms, while he gave the delusive name of an army and of Roman legions to a cowardly mob, that would not venture on any thing beyond words. At the instance of his freedmen (for his friends were the less faithful the more distinguished their rank) he ordered the tribes to be convoked, and to those who gave in their names administered the oath of service. As the numbers were excessive, he divided the business of enrolment between the consuls. He required the Senators to furnish a prescribed number of slaves and a certain weight of silver. The Roman Knights offered their services and money, and even the freedmen voluntarily sought the privilege of doing the same. This pretence of loyalty, dictated at first by fear, passed into enthusiasm, and many expressed compassion, not so much for Vitellius, as for the fallen condition of the Imperial power. Vitellius himself failed not to draw out their sympathies by his pitiable looks, his voice, and his tears; he was liberal in his promises and even extravagant, as men in their alarm naturally are. He even expressed a wish to be saluted as Caesar, a title which he had formerly rejected. But now he had a superstitious feeling about the name; and it is a fact that in the moment of terror the counsels of the wise and the voice of the rabble are listened to with equal respect. But as all movements that originate in thoughtless impulse, however vigorous in their beginnings, become feeble after a time, the throng of Senators and Knights gradually melted away, dispersing at first tardily and during the absence of the Emperor, but before long with a contemptuous indifference to his presence, till, ashamed of the failure of his efforts, Vitellius waived his claims to services which were not offered.

58. Quae ubi Vitellio cognita, parte copiarum Narniae cum praefectis praetorii relicta L. Vitellium fratrem cum sex cohortibus et quingentis equitibus ingruenti per Campaniam bello opposuit. ipse aeger animi studiis militum et clamoribus populi arma poscentis refovebatur, dum vulgus ignavum et nihil ultra verba ausurum falsa specie exercitum et legiones appellat. hortantibus libertis (nam amicorum eius quanto quis clarior, minus fidus) vocari tribus iubet, dantis nomina sacramento adigit. superfluente multitudine curam dilectus in consules partitur; servorum numerum et pondus argenti senatoribus indicit. equites Romani obtulere operam pecuniasque, etiam libertinis idem munus ultro flagitantibus. ea simulatio officii a metu profecta verterat in favorem; ac plerique haud proinde Vitellium quam casum locumque principatus miserabantur. nec deerat ipse vultu voce lacrimis misericordiam elicere, largus promissis, et quae natura trepidantium est, immodicus. quin et Caesarem se dici voluit, aspernatus antea, sed tunc superstitione nominis, et quia in metu consilia prudentium et vulgi rumor iuxta audiuntur. ceterum ut omnia inconsulti impetus coepta initiis valida spatio languescunt, dilabi paulatim senatores equitesque, primo cunctanter et ubi ipse non aderat, mox contemptim et sine discrimine donec Vitellius pudore inriti conatus quae non dabantur remisit.

59. As the occupation of Mevania, and the apparent revival of the war with new vigour, had struck terror into Italy, so now did the timorous retreat of Vitellius give an unequivocal bias in favour of the Flavianists. The Samnites, the Peligni, and the Marsi, roused themselves, jealous at having been anticipated by Campania, and, as men who serve a new master, were energetic in all the duties of war. The army, however, was much distressed by bad weather in its passage over the Apennines, and since they could hardly struggle through the snow, though their march was unmolested, they perceived what danger they would have had to encounter, had not Vitellius been made to turn back by that good fortune, which, not less often than the wisdom of their counsels, helped the Flavianist generals. Here they fell in with Petilius Cerialis, who had escaped the sentries of Vitellius by a rustic disguise and by his knowledge of the country. There was a near relationship between Cerialis and Vespasian, and he was not without reputation as a soldier. He was therefore admitted to rank among the generals. It has been said by many that the means of escape were likewise open to Flavius Sabinus and to Domitian, and indeed messengers, dispatched by Antonius, contrived under various disguises to make their way to them, offering them a place of refuge and a protecting force. Sabinus pleaded his ill health, unsuited to toil and adventure. Domitian did not want the courage, but he feared that the guards whom Vitellius had set over him, though they offered to accompany him in his flight, had treacherous designs. And Vitellius himself, out of a regard for his own connexions, did not meditate any cruelty against Domitian.

59. Vt terrorem Italiae possessa Mevania ac velut renatum ex integro bellum intulerat, ita haud dubium erga Flavianas partis studium tam pavidus Vitellii discessus addidit. erectus Samnis Paelignusque et Marsi aemulatione quod Campania praevenisset, ut in novo obsequio, ad cuncta belli munia acres erant. sed foeda hieme per transitum Appennini conflictatus exercitus, et vix quieto agmine nives eluctantibus patuit quantum discriminis adeundum foret, ni Vitellium retro fortuna vertisset, quae Flavianis ducibus non minus saepe quam ratio adfuit. obvium illic Petilium Cerialem habuere, agresti cultu et notitia locorum custodias Vitellii elapsum. propinqua adfinitas Ceriali cum Vespasiano, nec ipse inglorius militiae, eoque inter duces adsumptus est. Flavio quoque Sabino ac Domitiano patuisse effugium multi tradidere; et missi ab Antonio nuntii per varias fallendi artis penetrabant, locum ac praesidium monstrantes. Sabinus inhabilem labori et audaciae valetudinem causabatur: Domitiano aderat animus, sed custodes a Vitellio additi, quamquam se socios fugae promitterent, tamquam insidiantes timebantur. atque ipse Vitellius respectu suarum necessitudinum nihil in Domitianum atrox parabat.

Next: Book 3 [60]