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Tacitus: Annals: Book 1 [70]

The Works of Tacitus

tr. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

[1864-1877]


Tacitus: Annals Book 1 [70]

70. Of the legions which he had conveyed by ship, Germanicus gave the second and fourteenth to Publius Vitellius, to be marched by land, so that the fleet might sail more easily over a sea full of shoals, or take the ground more lightly at the ebb-tide. Vitellius at first pursued his route without interruption, having a dry shore, or the waves coming in gently. After a while, through the force of the north wind and the equinoctial season, when the sea swells to its highest, his army was driven and tossed hither and thither. The country too was flooded; sea, shore, fields presented one aspect, nor could the treacherous quicksands be distinguished from solid ground or shallows from deep water. Men were swept away by the waves or sucked under by eddies; beasts of burden, baggage, lifeless bodies floated about and blocked their way. The companies were mingled in confusion, now with the breast, now with the head only above water, sometimes losing their footing and parted from their comrades or drowned. The voice of mutual encouragement availed not against the adverse force of the waves. There was nothing to distinguish the brave from the coward, the prudent from the careless, forethought from chance; the same strong power swept everything before it. At last Vitellius struggled out to higher ground and led his men up to it. There they passed the night, without necessary food, without fire, many of them with bare or bruised limbs, in a plight as pitiable as that of men besieged by an enemy. For such, at least, have the opportunity of a glorious death, while here was destruction without honour. Daylight restored land to their sight, and they pushed their way to the river Visurgis, where Caesar had arrived with the fleet. The legions then embarked, while a rumour was flying about that they were drowned. Nor was there a belief in their safety till they saw Caesar and the army returned.

Next: Book 1 [80]

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