The Works of Tacitus
tr. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
Tacitus: History Book 1 70. Caecina while halting for a few days in the Helvetian territory, till he could learn the decision of Vitellius, and at the same time making preparations for the passage of the Alps, received from Italy the good news, that Silius' Horse, which was quartered in the neighbourhood of Padus, had sworn allegiance to Vitellius. They had served under him when he was Proconsul in Africa, from which place Nero had soon afterwards brought them, intending to send them on before himself into Egypt, but had recalled them in consequence of the rebellion of Vindex. They were still in Italy, and now, at the instigation of their decurions, who knew nothing of Otho, but were bound to Vitellius, and who magnified the strength of the advancing legions and the fame of the German army, they joined the Vitellianists, and by way of a present to their new Prince they secured for him the strongest towns of the country north of the Padus, Mediolanum, Novaria, Eporedia, and Vercellae. This Caecina had learnt from themselves. Aware that the widest part of Italy could not be held by such a force as a single squadron of cavalry, he sent on in advance the auxiliary infantry from Gaul, Lusitania, and Rhaetia, with the veteran troops from Germany, and Petra's Horse, while he made a brief halt to consider whether he should pass over the Rhaetian range into Noricum, to attack Petronius, the procurator, who had collected some auxiliaries, and broken down the bridges over the rivers, and was thought to be faithful to Otho. Fearing however that he might lose the infantry and cavalry which he had sent on in advance, and at the same time reflecting that more honour was to be gained by holding possession of Italy, and that, wherever the decisive conflict might take place, Noricum would be included among the other prizes of victory, he marched the reserves and the heavy infantry through the Penine passes while the Alps were still covered with the snows of winter.
71. Meanwhile Otho, to the surprise of all, was not sinking down into luxury and sloth. He deferred his pleasures, concealed his profligacy, and moulded his whole life to suit the dignity of empire. Men dreaded all the more virtues so false, and vices so certain to return. Marius Celsus, consul elect, whom he had rescued from the fury of the soldiers by pretending to imprison him, he now ordered to be summoned to the Capitol. He sought to acquire a reputation for clemency by sparing a distinguished man opposed to his own party. Celsus pleaded guilty to the charge of faithful adherence to Galba, and even made a merit of such an example of fidelity. Otho did not treat him as a man to be pardoned, and, unwilling to blend with the grace of reconciliation the memory of past hostility, at once admitted him to his intimate friendship, and soon afterwards appointed him to be one of his generals. By some fatality, as it seemed, Celsus maintained also to Otho a fidelity as irreproachable as it was unfortunate. The escape of Celsus gratified the leading men in the State, was generally praised by the people, and did not displease even the soldiers, who could not but admire the virtue which provoked their anger.
72. Then followed as great a burst of joy, though from a less worthy cause, when the destruction of Tigellinus was achieved. Sophonius Tigellinus, a man of obscure birth, steeped in infamy from his boyhood, and shamelessly profligate in his old age, finding vice to be his quickest road to such offices as the command of the watch and of the Praetorian Guard, and to other distinctions due to merit, went on to practise cruelty, rapacity, and all the crimes of maturer years. He perverted Nero to every kind of atrocity; he even ventured on some acts without the Emperor's knowledge, and ended by deserting and betraying him. Hence there was no criminal, whose doom was from opposite motives more importunately demanded, as well by those who hated Nero, as by those who regretted him. During the reign of Galba Tigellinus had been screened by the influence of Vinius, who alleged that he had saved his daughter. And doubtless he had preserved her life, not indeed out of mercy, when he had murdered so many, but to secure for himself a refuge for the future. For all the greatest villains, distrusting the present, and dreading change, look for private friendship to shelter them from public detestation, caring not to be free from guilt, but only to ensure their turn in impunity. This enraged the people more than ever, the recent unpopularity of Vinius being superadded to their old hatred against Tigellinus. They rushed from every part of the city into the palace and forum, and bursting into the circus and theatre, where the mob enjoy a special license, broke out into seditious clamours. At length Tigellinus, having received at the springs of Sinuessa a message that his last hour was come, amid the embraces and caresses of his mistresses and other unseemly delays, cut his throat with a razor, and aggravated the disgrace of an infamous life by a tardy and ignominious death.
73. About the same time a demand was made for the execution of Galvia Crispinilla. Various artifices on the part of the Emperor, who incurred much obloquy by his duplicity, rescued her from the danger. She had instructed Nero in profligacy, had passed over into Africa, that she might urge Macer into rebellion, and had openly attempted to bring a famine upon Rome. Yet she afterwards gained universal popularity on the strength of her alliance with a man of consular rank, and lived unharmed through the reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. Soon she became powerful as a rich and childless woman, circumstances which have as great weight in good as in evil times.
74. Meanwhile frequent letters, disfigured by unmanly flatteries, were addressed by Otho to Vitellius, with offers of wealth and favour and any retreat he might select for a life of prodigal indulgence. Vitellius made similar overtures. Their tone was at first pacific; and both exhibited a foolish and undignified hypocrisy. Then they seemed to quarrel, charging each other with debaucheries and the grossest crimes, and both spoke truth. Otho, having recalled the envoys whom Galba had sent, dispatched others, nominally from the Senate, to both the armies of Germany, to the Italian legion, and to the troops quartered at Lugdunum. The envoys remained with Vitellius too readily to let it be supposed that they were detained. Some Praetorians, whom Otho had attached to the embassy, ostensibly as a mark of distinction, were sent back before they could mix with the legions. Letters were also addressed by Fabius Valens in the name of the German army to the Praetorian and city cohorts, extolling the strength of his party, and offering terms of peace. Valens even reproached them with having transferred the Imperial power to Otho, though it had so long before been entrusted to Vitellius.
75. Thus they were assailed by promises as well as by threats, were told that they were not strong enough for war, but would lose nothing by peace. Yet all this did not shake the loyalty of the Praetorians. Nevertheless secret emissaries were dispatched by Otho to Germany, and by Vitellius to Rome. Both failed in their object. Those of Vitellius escaped without injury, unnoticed in the vast multitude, knowing none, and themselves unknown. Those of Otho were betrayed by their strange faces in a place where all knew each other. Vitellius wrote to Titianus, Otho's brother, threatening him and his son with death, unless the lives of his mother and his children were spared. Both families remained uninjured. This in Otho's reign was perhaps due to fear; Vitellius was victorious, and gained all the credit of mercy.
76. The first encouraging tidings came to Otho from Illyricum. He heard that the legions of Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia had sworn allegiance to him. Similar intelligence was received from Spain, and Cluvius Rufus was commended in an edict. Immediately afterwards it became known that Spain had gone over to Vitellius. Even Aquitania, bound though it was by the oath of allegiance to Otho which Julius Cordus had administered, did not long remain firm. Nowhere was there any loyalty or affection; men changed from one side to the other under the pressure of fear or necessity. It was this influence of fear that drew over to Vitellius the province of Gallia Narbonensis, which turned readily to the side that was at once the nearer and the stronger. The distant provinces, and all the armies beyond the sea, still adhered to Otho, not from any attachment to his party, but because there was vast weight in the name of the capital and the prestige of the Senate, and also because the claims which they had first heard had prepossessed their minds. The army of Judaea under Vespasian, and the legions of Syria under Mucianus, swore allegiance to Otho. Egypt and the Eastern provinces were also governed in his name. Africa displayed the same obedience, Carthage taking the lead. In that city Crescens, one of Nero's freedmen (for in evil times even this class makes itself a power in the State), without waiting for the sanction of the proconsul, Vipstanus Apronianus, had given an entertainment to the populace by way of rejoicings for the new reign, and the people, with extravagant zeal, hastened to make the usual demonstrations of joy. The example of Carthage was followed the other cities of Africa.
77. As the armies and provinces were thus divided, Vitellius, in order to secure the sovereign power, was compelled to fight. Otho continued to discharge his imperial duties as though it were a time of profound peace. Sometimes he consulted the dignity of the Commonwealth, but often in hasty acts, dictated by the expediency of the moment, he disregarded its honour. He was himself to be consul with his brother Titianus till the 1st of March; the two following months he assigned to Verginius as a compliment to the army of Germany. With Verginius was to be associated Pompeius Vopiscus, avowedly on the ground of their being old friends, though many regarded the appointment as meant to do honour to the people of Vienna. The other consulships still remained as Nero or Galba had arranged them. Caelius Sabinus and his brother Flavius were to be consuls till the 1st of July; Arrius Antoninus and Marius Celsus from that time to the 1st of September. Even Vitellius, after his victory, did not interfere with these appointments. On aged citizens, who had already held high office, Otho bestowed, as a crowning dignity, pontificates and augurships, while he consoled the young nobles, who had lately returned from exile, by reviving the sacerdotal offices, held by their fathers and ancestors. Cadius Rufus, Pedius Blaesus, Saevinius Pomptinius, who in the reigns of Claudius and Nero had been convicted under indictments for extortion, were restored to their rank as Senators. Those who wished to pardon them resolved by a change of names to make, what had really been rapacity, seem to have been treason, a charge then so odious that it made even good laws a dead letter.
78. By similar bounty Otho sought to win the affections of the cities and provinces. He bestowed on the colonies of Hispalis and Emerita some additional families, on the entire people of the Lingones the privileges of Roman citizenship; to the province of Baetica he joined the states of Mauritania, and granted to Cappadocia and Africa new rights, more for display than for permanent utility. In the midst of these measures, which may find an excuse in the urgency of the crisis and the anxieties which pressed upon him, he still did not forget his old amours, and by a decree of the Senate restored the statues of Poppaea. It is even believed that he thought of celebrating the memory of Nero in the hope of winning the populace, and persons were found to exhibit statues of that Prince. There were days on which the people and the soldiers greeted him with shouts of Nero Otho, as if they were heaping on him new distinction and honour. Otho himself wavered in suspense, afraid to forbid or ashamed to acknowledge the title.
79. Men's minds were so intent on the civil war, that foreign affairs were disregarded. This emboldened the Roxolani, a Sarmatian tribe, who had destroyed two cohorts in the previous winter, to invade Moesia with great hopes of success. They had 9000 cavalry, flushed with victory and intent on plunder rather than on fighting. They were dispersed and off their guard, when the third legion together with some auxiliaries attacked them. The Romans had everything ready for battle, the Sarmatians were scattered, and in their eagerness for plunder had encumbered themselves with heavy baggage, while the superior speed of their horses was lost on the slippery roads. Thus they were cut down as if their hands were tied. It is wonderful how entirely the courage of this people is, so to speak, external to themselves. No troops could shew so little spirit when fighting on foot; when they charge in squadrons, hardly any line can stand against them. But as on this occasion the day was damp and the ice thawed, what with the continual slipping of their horses, and the weight of their coats of mail, they could make no use of their pikes or their swords, which being of an excessive length they wield with both hands. These coats are worn as defensive armour by the princes and most distinguished persons of the tribe. They are formed of plates of iron or very tough hides, and though they are absolutely impenetrable to blows, yet they make it difficult for such as have been overthrown by the charge of the enemy to regain their feet. Besides, the Sarmatians were perpetually sinking in the deep and soft snow. The Roman soldier, moving easily in his cuirass, continued to harass them with javelins and lances, and whenever the occasion required, closed with them with his short sword, and stabbed the defenceless enemy; for it is not their custom to defend themselves with a shield. A few who survived the battle concealed themselves in the marshes. There they perished from the inclemency of the season and the severity of their wounds. When this success was known, Marcus Aponius, governor of Moesia, was rewarded with a triumphal statue, while Fulvius Aurelius, Julianus Titius, and Numisius Lupus, the legates of the legions, received the ensigns of consular rank. Otho was delighted, and claimed the glory for himself, as if it were he that commanded success in war, and that had aggrandised the State by his generals and his armies.
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