[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
III.26‑62

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Histories

of
Tacitus

published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
IV.1‑37

(Vol. II) Tacitus
Histories

Book III (end)

p435 63 1 Now that every possible hope from any source was destroyed, the troops of Vitellius were ready to come over to Vespasian's side; but they wished to do it with honour, and some came down into the plain below Narnia with their ensigns and standards. The Flavian troops, all equipped and ready for the battle, were drawn up in close order along the sides of the road. The Vitellians were allowed to advance between the Flavian lines; then Antonius drew his forces about them and addressed them in kindly terms. Half of them were ordered to stay at Narnia, the other half at Interamna. At p437the same time some of the victorious legions were left behind, not to oppress the Vitellians if they remained quiet, but in sufficient strength to meet any rebellious movement. During this time Antonius and Varus did not fail to send frequent messages to Vitellius offering him safety, money, and a retreat in Campania, provided he would lay down his arms and give himself and his children up to Vespasian. Mucianus also wrote to him to the same effect; and Vitellius was often inclined to trust these proposals and spoke of the number of slaves he should take with him and the place he should choose for his retreat. Such a lethargy had fallen on his spirit that, but for others remembering that he had been emperor, he would have forgotten it himself.

64 1 On the other hand, the leading citizens began secretly to urge Flavius Sabinus, the city prefect, to claim his share of victory and glory. "You have," they said, "your own military force in the city cohorts, and the cohorts of the police1 also will not fail you, nor will our slaves; in your favour are the good fortune of the Flavian party and the readiness with which all things become easy for the winning side. Do not yield in glory to Antonius and Varus. Vitellius has only a few cohorts, and those are in a panic because of the gloomy news from every quarter. The people are fickle, and if you but offer yourself as their leader, they will bestow the same flattery on Vespasian that they have bestowed on Vitellius, while Vitellius himself, unable to bear even success, is still more enfeebled by disaster. Gratitude for ending the war will belong to the man who seizes the city. It is for p439you to guard the imperial power for your brother, for Vespasian to put you before all others."

65 1 Sabinus, however, listened to such appeals without enthusiasm, for he was impaired by old age. Indeed there were some who attacked him, covertly insinuating that, prompted by ill-will and envy, he was inclined to delay his brother's success. For Sabinus was the elder, and so long as they were both private citizens, he was superior to Vespasian in influence and fortune; moreover, there was a report that once, when Vespasian's credit had been affected, Sabinus had given him some scanty assistance and taken a mortgage on his city house and farms for security. So then, in spite of the apparent cordial feeling between them, there was a fear of secret misunderstandings. A kinder explanation of his hesitation is that he was a gentle spirit who shrank from blood and slaughter, and for this reason he discussed many times with Vitellius the question of peace and of laying down his arms under terms. They had frequent private interviews; finally, as the story went, they came to an agreement in the temple of Apollo.2 Only two men, Cluvius Rufus3 and Silius Italicus,4 actually witnessed their words and statements; but those who were at a distance marked their faces and noted that Vitellius seemed downcast and humiliated, while Sabinus had a look of pity rather than triumph.

66 1 Now if Vitellius could have persuaded his followers to withdraw as easily as he brought himself to do so, Vespasian's army would have entered the city without bloodshed. But as it was, his most faithful adherents rejected peace and terms with their opponents, pointing out that in such a policy p441lay danger and disgrace, and that they had only the victor's caprice as guarantee. "Vespasian has not self-assurance enough," they said, "to endure Vitellius as a private citizen, and not even the defeated party will allow it: their pity will be a source of danger. It is true that you are an old man yourself, who has had his fill of success and adversity; but what name and position is your son Germanicus to have? At this moment they promise you money, slaves, and delightful retreats in Campania. But when Vespasian has once grasped the imperial power, neither he nor his friends nor even his army will feel that they have any security until his rival is destroyed. Fabius Valens, though a captive, reserved as a hostage for a possible crisis, has proved too great a burden for his captors. Will Primus and Fuscus or that leading representative of their party, Mucianus, have any liberty in dealing with you except the liberty of killing? Caesar did not leave Pompey unharmed or Augustus Antony.5 What hope is there now for you, unless perchance Vespasian has a loftier soul — this Vespasian, who was once a client of a Vitellius, when a Vitellius was colleague of Claudius.6 No. You must prove yourself worthy of your father's censorship, of the three consulships,7 and all the honours belonging to your famous house. In desperation at least you must gird yourself to bold action. The soldiers are loyal, the people enthusiastic in their support. Finally, nothing worse can happen than that to which we are rushing of our free will. p443We must die if conquered; die likewise if we surrender. The only question is whether we shall breathe our last breath amid mockery and insults or in valorous action."

67 1 Vitellius's ears were deaf to all sterner counsels. His mind was overwhelmed by pity and anxiety for his wife and children, since he feared that if he made an obstinate struggle, he might leave the victor less mercifully disposed toward them. He had also his mother, who was bowed with years; but through an opportune death she anticipated by a few days the destruction of her house, having gained nothing from the elevation of her son to the principate but sorrow and good repute. On December eighteenth, when Vitellius heard of the defection of the legion and cohorts that had given themselves up at Narnia, he put on mourning and came down from his palace, surrounded by his household in tears; his little son was carried in a litter as if in a funeral procession. The voices of the people were flattering and untimely; the soldiers maintained an ominous silence.

68 1 There was no one so indifferent to human fortunes as not to be moved by the sight. Here was a Roman emperor who, but yesterday lord of all mankind, now, abandoning the seat of his high fortune, was going through the midst of his people and the heart of the city to give up his imperial power. Men had never seen or heard the like before. A sudden violent act had crushed the dictator Caesar, a secret plot the emperor Gaius; night and the obscurity of the country had concealed the flight of Nero; Piso and Galba had fallen, so p445to say, on the field of battle. But now Vitellius, in an assembly called by himself, surrounded by his own soldiers, while even women looked on, spoke briefly and in a manner befitting his present sad estate, saying that he withdrew for the sake of peace and his country; he asked the people simply to remember him and to have pity on his brother, his wife, and his innocent young children. As he spoke, he held out his young son in his arms, commending him now to one or another, again to the whole assembly; finally, when tears choked his voice, taking his dagger from his side he offered it to the consul who stood beside him, as if surrendering his power of life and death over the citizens. The consul's name was Caecilius Simplex.8 When he refused it and the assembled people cried out in protest, Vitellius left them with the intention of depositing the imperial insignia in the Temple of Concord and after that going to his brother's home. Thereupon the people with louder cries opposed his going to a private house, but called him to the palace. Every other path was blocked against him; the only road open was along the Sacred Way. Then in utter perplexity he returned to the palace.

69 1 The rumour had already spread abroad that he was abdicating, and Flavius Sabinus had written to the tribunes of the cohorts to hold the troops in check. Therefore, as if the entire state had fallen into Vespasian's arms, the leading senators, a majority of the equestrian order, and all the city guards and watchmen crowded the house of Flavius Sabinus. Word was brought there concerning the temper of the people and the threats of the German cohorts;9 but by this time Sabinus had already gone p447too far to retreat; and everyone, fearing for himself lest the Vitellian troops should attack the Flavians when scattered and therefore weak, urged the hesitating prefect to armed action. But, as generally happens in such cases, while all gave advice, few faced danger. As Sabinus and his armed retinue were coming down by the reservoir of Fundanus,10 they were met by the most eager of the supporters of Vitellius. The conflict was of trifling importance, for the encounter was unforeseen, but it was favourable to the Vitellian forces. In his uncertainty Sabinus chose the easiest course under the circumstances and occupied the citadel on the Capitoline11 with a miscellaneous body of soldiers, and with some senators and knights, whose names it is not easy to report, since after Vespasian's victory many claimed to have rendered this service to his party. Some women even faced the siege; the most prominent among them was Verulana Gratilla, who was not following children or relatives but was attracted by the fascination of war. While the Vitellians besieged Sabinus and his companions they kept only a careless watch; therefore in the depth of night Sabinus called his own sons and his nephew Domitian into the Capitol. He succeeded also in sending a messenger through his opponents' slack pickets to the Flavian generals to report that they were besieged and in a difficult situation unless help came. In fact the night was so quiet that Sabinus could have escaped himself without danger; for the soldiers of Vitellius, while ready to face dangers, had little regard for hard work and picket duty; besides a sudden downpour of winter rain rendered seeing and hearing difficult.

p449 70 1 At daybreak, before hostilities could begin on either side, Sabinus sent Cornelius Martialis, a centurion of the first rank, to Vitellius with orders to complain that he had broken their agreement. This was his message: "You have made simply a pretence and show of abdicating in order to deceive all these eminent men. For why did you go from the rostra to your brother's house which overlooks the Forum and invites men's eyes, rather than to the Aventine and to your wife's home there? That was the action proper to a private citizen who wished to avoid all the show that attaches to the principate. On the contrary, you went back to the palace, to the very citadel of the imperial power. From there an armed band has issued; the most crowded part of the city has been strewn with the bodies of innocent men; even the Capitol is not spared. I, Sabinus, am of course only a civilian and a single senator. So long as the question between Vespasian and Vitellius was being adjudged by battles between the legions, by the capture of cities and the surrender of cohorts, although the Spains, the Germanies, and Britain fell away, I, Vespasian's own brother, still remained faithful to you until I was invited to a conference. Peace and concord are advantageous to the defeated; to the victors they are only glorious. If you regret your agreement, you should not attack me whom your treachery has deceived, or Vespasian's son, who is as yet hardly more than a child. What is the advantage in killing one old man and one youth? You should rather go and face the legions and fight in the field for the supremacy. Everything else will follow the issue of the battle." Vitellius was disturbed by these words and made a brief reply to p451excuse himself, putting the blame on his soldiers, with whose excessive ardour, he declared, his own moderation could not cope. At the same time he advised Martialis to go away privately through a secret part of the palace, that the soldiers might not kill him as the mediator of a peace which they detested. As for himself, he was powerless to order or to forbid; he was no longer emperor, but only a cause of war.

71 1 Martialis had hardly returned to the Capitol when the soldiers arrived in fury. They had no leader; each directed his own movements. Rushing through the Forum and past the temples that rise above it, they advanced in column up the hill, as far as the first gates of the Capitoline citadel. There were then some old colonnades on the right as you go up the slopes; the defenders came out on the roofs of these and showered stones and tiles on their assailants. The latter had no arms except their swords, and they thought that it would cost too much time to send for artillery and missiles; consequently they threw firebrands on a projecting colonnade, and then followed in the path of the flames; they actually burned the gates of the Capitol and would have forced their way through, if Sabinus had not torn down all the statues, memorials to the glory of our ancestors, and piled them up across the entrance as a barricade. Then the assailants tried different approaches to the Capitol, one by the grove of the asylum12 and another by the hundred steps that lead up to the Tarpeian Rock.13 Both attacks were unexpected; but the one by the asylum was closer and more threatening. Moreover, the defenders were unable to stop those who climbed through neighbouring p453houses, which, built high in time of peace, reached the level of the Capitol. It is a question here whether it was the besiegers or the besieged who threw fire on the roofs. The more common tradition says this was done by the latter in their attempts to repel their assailants, who were climbing up or had reached the top. From the houses the fire spread to the colonnades adjoining the temple; then the "eagles" which supported the roof, being of old wood, caught and fed the flames.14 So the Capitol burned with its doors closed; none defended it, none pillaged it.

72 1 This was the saddest and most shameful crime that the Roman state had ever suffered since its foundation. Rome had no foreign foe; the gods were ready to be propitious if our characters had allowed; and yet the home of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, founded after due auspices by our ancestors as a pledge of empire, which neither Porsenna, when the city gave itself up to him,15 nor the Gauls when they captured it,16 could violate — this was the shrine that the mad fury of emperors destroyed! The Capitol had indeed been burned before in civil war,17 but the crime was that of private individuals. Now it was openly besieged, openly burned — and what were the causes that led to arms? What was the price paid for this great disaster? This temple stood intact so long as we fought for our country. King Tarquinius Priscus had vowed it in the war with the Sabines and had laid its foundations rather to match his hope of future greatness than in accordance with what the fortunes of the Roman people, still moderate, could supply. Later the building was begun by Servius Tullius with the enthusiastic help p455of Rome's allies, and afterwards carried on by Tarquinius Superbus with the spoils taken from the enemy at the capture of Suessa Pometia. But the glory of completing the work was reserved for liberty: after the expulsion of the kings, Horatius Pulvillus in his second consulship dedicated it; and its magnificence was such that the enormous wealth of the Roman people acquired thereafter adorned rather than increased its splendour.18 The temple was built again on the same spot when after an interval of four hundred and fifteen years it had been burned in the consulship of Lucius Scipio and Gaius Norbanus.19 The victorious Sulla undertook the work, but still he did not dedicate it; that was the only thing that his good fortune was refused.20 Amid all the great works built by the Caesars the name of Lutatius Catulus21 kept its place down to Vitellius's day. This was the temple that then was burned.

73 1 However, the fire terrified the besieged more than the besiegers, for the Vitellian troops lacked neither skill nor courage in the midst of danger. But on the opposing side, the soldiers were frightened, the commander, as if stricken, could neither speak nor hear; he would not be guided by others' advice or plan for himself; swayed this way and that by the enemies' shouts, he forbade what he had just ordered, ordered what he had just forbidden. Presently, as happens in time of desperation, all gave commands, none obeyed them; finally they threw away their arms and began to look about for an opportunity to flee and a way to hide from their foes. The Vitellians broke in and wrought utter carnage with fire and sword. A few experienced p457soldiers, among whom Cornelius Martialis, Aemilius Pacensis, Casperius Niger, and Didius Scaeva were the most distinguished, dared to fight and were killed. Flavius Sabinus, who was unarmed and did not attempt to flee, the Vitellians surrounded; they likewise took Quintus Atticus, the consul.22 He was marked out by his empty title and his own folly, for he had issued proclamations to the people, in which he had spoken in eulogistic terms of Vespasian, but had insulted Vitellius. The rest of the defenders escaped in a variety of ways, some dressed as slaves, others protected by their faithful clients and hidden among the baggage; there were some who caught the password by which the Vitellians recognised one another, and then, taking the lead in asking it or giving it on demand, found a refuge in audacity.

74 1 Domitian was concealed in the lodging of a temple attendant when the assailants broke into the citadel; then through the cleverness of a freedman he was dressed in a linen robe and so was able to join a crowd of devotees23 without being recognized and to escape to the house of Cornelius Primus, one of his father's clients, near the Velabrum, where he remained in concealment. When his father came to power, Domitian tore down the lodging of the temple attendant and built a small chapel to Jupiter the Preserver with an altar on which his escape was represented in a marble relief. Later, when he had himself gained the imperial throne, he dedicated a great temple of Jupiter the Guardian, with his own effigy in the lap of the god. Sabinus and Atticus were loaded with chains and taken before Vitellius, who received them with no angry word or look, although the crowd cried out p459in rage, asking for the right to kill them and demanding rewards for accomplishing this task. Those who stood nearest were the first to raise these cries, and then the lowest plebeians with mingled flattery and threats began to demand the punishment of Sabinus. Vitellius stood on the steps of the palace and was about to appeal to them, when they forced him to withdraw. Then they ran Sabinus through, mutilated him, and cut off his head, after which they dragged his headless body to the Gemonian stairs.24

75 1 Thus died a man who was far from being despicable. He had served the state for thirty-five years, winning distinction in both civil and military life. His upright character and justice were above criticism; but he talked too easily. This was the only thing that mischievous gossip could say against him in the seven years during which he governed Moesia or in the twelve years while he was prefect of the city. At the end of his life some thought that he lacked energy, many believed him moderate and desirous of sparing the blood of his fellow-citizens. In any case all agree that up to the time that Vespasian became emperor the reputation of the house depended on Sabinus. According to report his death gave Mucianus pleasure. Most men felt that his death was in the interests of peace also, for it disposed of the rivalry between the two men, one of whom thought of himself as the brother of the emperor, the other as a partner in the imperial power. But Vitellius resisted the people when they demanded the punishment of the consul, since he felt kindly toward Atticus, and wished, as it were, to repay him; for when people asked who had set fire p461to the Capitol, Atticus had assumed the guilt, and by this confession — or possibly it was a falsehood to meet the situation — seemed to have accepted the odium of the crime and to have freed the party of Vitellius.

76 1 During these days Lucius Vitellius, who had pitched camp at Feronia,25 threatened to destroy Tarracina, where he had shut up the gladiators and seamen, who did not dare to leave their walls or to run any risks in open ground. As I have stated above,26 Julianus commanded the gladiators, Apollinaris the crews, but the profligate habits and lazy characters of both these made them seem more like gladiators than leaders. No watch was kept; no effort made to strengthen the weak parts of the walls. Day and night they wandered about, making the pleasant parts of the shore echo with the noise of their festivals; their soldiers were scattered to seek materials for their pleasures, while the leaders talked of war only at their dinners. A few days earlier Apinius Tiro had left Tarracina, and now was gaining more unpopularity than strength for his cause by the harsh way in which he collected gifts and money in the towns.

77 1 In the meantime a slave of Verginius Capito escaped to Lucius Vitellius and promised that if he could have a force, he would hand over the citadel, which was empty. Accordingly, late at night he guided some light cohorts and got them on the heights above their foes; from this position they poured down to massacre rather than to fight. They slew their opponents, some unarmed, others just taking up their arms, and some just roused from sleep, while all were confused by the darkness, the p463terror, the sound of the trumpets, and the shouts of their enemies. A few of the gladiators resisted and fell not without vengeance on their foes. The rest rushed to the ships; but there an equal panic caused utter confusion, for the Vitellians slew without distinction the townspeople who joined the soldiers in their flight. Six Liburnian galleys escaped at the first alarm with Apollinaris the prefect of the fleet on board; the rest of the ships were captured at the shore, or else were swamped by the excessive weight of those who rushed on board. Julianus was taken before Lucius Vitellius, flogged, and slain before his eyes. Some accused Triaria,27 wife of Lucius Vitellius, with girding on a soldier's sword and behaving haughtily and cruelly in the horrible massacre that followed the capture of Tarracina. Vitellius himself sent laurels to his brother to announce his success, and at the same time asked whether he directed him to return or to press on to the conquest of Campania. The consequent delay helped not only Vespasian's party but the state, for if the troops had hurried to Rome while fresh from their victory and with their natural stubbornness confirmed by their pride over their success, the struggle which would have ensued could not have been slight, and indeed would have destroyed the city. For all his infamous nature, Lucius Vitellius possessed industry, and drew strength not like good men from their virtues, but like the basest from his vices.

78 1 While these things were happening on the side of Vitellius,28 Vespasian's forces left Narnia and quietly celebrated the Saturnalia29 at Ocriculum.30 The excuse given for such unseemly delay was that p465they were waiting for Mucianus. There were also some who suspected Antonius, alleging that a treasonable purpose made him delay, after he had secretly received letters from Vitellius offering him a consulship, the hand of his daughter, and a great dowry as rewards for treachery on his part. Others, however, regarded these tales as sheer inventions devised for the advantage of Mucianus; some held that all the leaders proposed to threaten Rome with war rather than make war on her, since the strongest cohorts had already abandoned Vitellius, and it seemed probable that if all his resources were cut off, he would give up the imperial power. "But all plans," they said, "had been spoiled first by the haste of Sabinus and then by his weakness; for he had rashly taken up arms, and later had been unable to defend against even three cohorts the citadel of the Capitoline, which, with its strong fortifications, could have resisted the attacks of even great armies." But it would not be easy to fix on any individual the fault that was common to all. Mucianus held back the victors by ambiguous letters, while Antonius, by his untimely compliance or in his efforts to shift the blame to him, rendered himself culpable, and the rest of the commanders, by assuming that the war was over, made its close notorious.31 Not even Petilius Cerialis, who had been sent on in advance with a thousand horse under orders to proceed by the roads across the Sabine country and to enter Rome by the Salarian Way, advanced with proper speed until the report that the Capitol was besieged spurred all to action at the same time.

79 1 Antonius, advancing along the Flaminian Road, reached Rubra Saxa32 late at night; but the p467assistance he brought was not in time. At Rubra Saxa he heard only the sad news that Sabinus had been killed, the Capitol burned, that the city was in a panic; it was further reported that the common people even and the slaves were arming to support Vitellius. Moreover, the horsemen of Petilius Cerialis had been worsted in an engagement, for when he advanced carelessly and in haste, as if he were proceeding against a defeated foe, the Vitellians met him with a force in which foot and horse were ranged together. The battle took place not far from the city among buildings and gardens and winding streets, which were familiar to the Vitellians but strange to their opponents, who were consequently frightened. Moreover, not all of Cerialis's horsemen had the same sentiments, for some had been assigned to his troop who had lately surrendered at Narnia and who consequently were watching the fortunes of the two parties. Julius Flavianus, prefect of a squadron, was captured; all the rest fled in shameful flight, but the victors did not pursue them beyond Fidenae.

80 1 This success increased the enthusiasm of the people. The populace at Rome took up arms. A few had shields; the majority hastily seized whatever weapons came to hand and demanded the signal for battle. Vitellius thanked them and ordered them to sally forth to defend the city. Later the senate was convened and selected representatives to go to the armies and to persuade them in the interests of the state to agree on peace. The fortunes of these envoys varied. Those who met Petilius Cerialis ran the greatest dangers, for his soldiers scorned all terms of peace. They p469actually wounded the praetor Arulenus Rusticus.33 His high personal character increased the indignation naturally felt at this violence done to an envoy and this insult inflicted on a praetor. His attendants were driven off; the lictor nearest him was killed when he dared to try to make a way through the crowd; and in fact if Cerialis had not given the envoys a guard to protect them, the persons of ambassadors, whose sanctity is respected even among foreign nations, would have been violated in the madness of civil strife, and the envoys killed before the very walls of their native city. A fairer hearing was given the delegates who went to Antonius, not because the soldiers were less violent, but because the general had more authority.

81 1 Musonius Rufus34 had joined these delegates. He was a member of the equestrian order, a man devoted to the study of philosophy and in particular to the Stoic doctrine. Making his way among the companies, he began to warn those in arms, discoursing on the blessings of peace and the dangers of war. Many were moved to ridicule by his words, more were bored; and there were some ready to jostle him about and to trample on him, if he had not listened to the warnings of the quieter soldiers and the threats of others and give up his untimely moralizing. The troops were also met by Vestals who brought letters from Vitellius to Antonius. Vitellius asked that the decisive conflict be put off for one day only, and urged that if they only delayed, they could come more easily to a complete agreement. The Vestals were sent back with honour; the reply to Vitellius was that by killing Sabinus and burning the Capitol he had p471made all communication between the two sides impossible.

82 1 None the less, Antonius assembled his legions and tried to calm and persuade them to camp by the Mulvian bridge and enter the city the next day. He desired this delay, for he feared that his troops, exasperated by battle, might have no regard for the people, the senate, or even for the temples and shrines of the gods. But his men suspected every delay as inimical to their victory; at the same time the standards which gleamed among the hills, although followed by an unarmed crowd, had presented the appearance of a hostile army. The Flavian forces advanced in three columns: part continued in their course along the Flaminian Way, part along the bank of the Tiber; the third column approached the Colline gate by the Salarian Way. The mass of civilians was dispersed by a cavalry charge; but the troops of Vitellius also advanced in three columns to defend the city. There were many engagements before the walls with varied results, yet the Flavian forces, being more ably led, were more often successful. The only troops that met with serious trouble were those who had moved through narrow and slippery streets toward the left quarter of the city and the gardens of Sallust.35 The Vitellian forces, climbing on top of the walls that surrounded the gardens, blocked their opponents' approach with a shower of stones and javelins until late in the day, when they were finally surrounded by the cavalry that had broken in through the Colline gate.36 The hostile forces met also in the Campus Martius. The Flavians had good fortune and many victories on their side; the p473Vitellians rushed forward, prompted only by despair, and even though beaten, they kept forming again within the city.

83 1 The populace stood by watching the combatants, as if they were games in the circus; by their shouts and applause they encouraged first one party and then the other. If one side gave way and the soldiers hid in shops or sought refuge in some private house, the onlookers demanded that they be dragged out and killed; for so they gained a larger share of booty, since the troops were wholly absorbed in their bloody work of slaughter, while the spoils fell to the rabble. Horrible and hideous sights were to be seen everywhere in the city: here battles and wounds, there open baths and drinking shops; blood and piles of corpses, side by side with harlots and the compeers of harlots. There were all the debauchery and passion that obtain in a dissolute peace, every crime that can be committed in the most savage conquest, so that men might well have believed that the city was at once mad with rage and drunk with pleasure. It is true that armed forces had fought before this in the city, twice when Lucius Sulla gained his victories and once when Cinna won.37 There was no less cruelty then than now; but now men showed inhuman indifference and never relaxed their pleasures for a single moment. As if this were a new delight added to their holidays, they gave way to exultation and joy, wholly indifferent to either side, finding pleasure in public misfortune.

84 1 The greatest difficulty was met in taking the Praetorian Camp, which the bravest soldiers defended as their last hope. The resistance p475made the victors only the more eager, the old praetorian cohorts being especially determined. They employed at the same time every device that had ever been invented for the destruction of the strongest cities — the "tortoise,"38 artillery, earthworks, and firebrands — shouting that all the labour and danger that they had suffered in all their battles would be crowned by this achievement. "We have given back the city to the senate and the Roman people," they cried; "we have restored the temples to the gods. The soldier's glory is in his camp: that is his native city, that his penates. If the camp is not at once recovered, we must spend the night under arms." On their side the Vitellians, unequal though they were in numbers and in fortune, by striving to spoil the victory, to delay peace, and to defile the houses and altars of the city with blood, embraced the last solace left to the conquered. Many, mortally wounded, breathed their last on the towers and battlements; when the gates were broken down, the survivors in a solid mass opposed the victors and to a man fell giving blow for blow, dying with faces to the foe; so anxious were they, even at the moment of death, to secure a glorious end.

On the capture of the city Vitellius was carried on a chair through the rear of the palace to his wife's house on the Aventine, so that, in case he succeeded in remaining undiscovered during the day, he might escape to his brother and the cohorts at Tarracina. But his fickle mind and the very nature of terror, which makes the present situation always seem the worst to one who is fearful of everything, drew him back to the palace. This he p477found empty and deserted, for even the meanest of his slaves had slipped away or else avoided meeting him. The solitude and the silent spaces filled him with fright: he tried the rooms that were closed and shuddered to find them empty. Exhausted by wandering forlornly about, he concealed himself in an unseemly hiding-place; but Julius Placidus, tribune of a cohort, dragged him to the light. With his arms bound behind his back, his garments torn, he presented a grievous sight as he was led away. Many cried out against him, not one shed a tear; the ugliness of the last scene had banished pity. One of the soldiers from Germany met him and struck at him in rage, or else his purpose was to remove him the quicker from insult, or he may have been aiming at the tribune — no one could tell. He cut off the tribune's ear and was at once run through.

85 1 Vitellius was forced at the point of the sword now to lift his face and offer it to his captors' insults, now to see his own statues falling, and to look again and again on the rostra or the place where Galba had been killed. Finally, the soldiers drove him to the Gemonian stairs where the body of Flavius Sabinus had recently been lying. His only utterance marked his spirit as not ignoble, for when the tribune insulted him, he replied, "Yet I was your Emperor." Then he fell under a shower of blows; and the people attacked his body after he was dead with the same base spirit with which they had fawned on him while he lived.39

86 1 His native city was Luceria. He had nearly completed the fifty-seventh year of his age. The consulate, priesthoods, a name and place p479among the first men of his day, he acquired by no merit of his own but wholly through his father's eminence. The men who gave him the principate did not know him. Seldom has the support of the army been gained by any man through honourable means to the degree that he won it through his worthlessness. Yet his nature was marked by simplicity and liberality — qualities which, if unchecked, prove the ruin of their possessor. Thinking, as he did, that friendships are cemented by greater gifts rather than by high character, he bought more friends than he kept. Undoubtedly it was to the advantage of the state that Vitellius should fall, but those who betrayed him to Vespasian cannot make a virtue of their own treachery, for they had already deserted Galba.

The day hurried to its close. It was impossible to summon the senate because the senators had stolen away from the city or were hiding in their clients' houses. Now that he had no enemies to fear, Domitian presented himself to the leaders of his father's party, and was greeted by them as Caesar; then crowds of soldiers, still in arms, escorted him to his ancestral hearth.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The vigiles acted both as city police and as firemen.

2 Built by Augustus on the Palatine.

3 Governor of Spain. Cf. I.8; II.5865.

4 The author of the extant epic Punica.

5 Neither statement is true.

6 Possibly Vespasian owed something to the influence of L. Vitellius, the father of Vitellius, who had been a colleague of Claudius in the consulship 43 A.D. and in the censorship 47‑51.

7 L. Vitellius was consul in 43 and 47 A.D. according to Suet. Vitell. 2; the date of the third consulship is unknown. Cf. I.52.

8 Cf. II.60.

9 That is, three cohorts made up of soldiers from the German army. Cf. II.93 ff.

10 On the Quirinal.

11 The south-western height on the Capitoline is here meant, on which stood the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

12 In the saddle between the two peaks of the Capitoline hill, where, according to tradition, Romulus had established a refuge. It is to‑day the Piazza del Campidoglio.

13 At the south-western point of the hill.

14 Apparently supports, shaped in the form of eagles.

15 507 B.C.

16 387 B.C.

17 During the struggle between Marius and Sulla, 83 B.C.

18 On the history of the Capitol, see Livy, Book I.38, 5355.

19 Actually 425 years.

20 As Sulla himself said. Plin. N.H. VII.138.

21 Who dedicated the new temple in 69 B.C. Although Augustus spent great sums on the decoration of the Capitol, he did not displace the inscription containing the name of Catulus.

22 One of the consuls for November and December.

23 There was a shrine of the Egyptian goddess Isis on the Capitol.

24 A flight of steps leading from the Capitol to the Forum, on which the bodies of executed criminals were exposed.

25 Three miles from Tarracina.

26 Cf. chap. 67.

27 Cf. chaps. 63 and 64 above.

28 Tacitus here resumes from chap. 63.

29 Dec. 17‑23.

30 Otricoli.

31 Apparently Tacitus here refers to the sad results of the inaction on the part of the Flavian leaders — the burning of the Capitol, the murder of Sabinus, etc.

32 About six miles north of Rome.

33 A prominent Stoic who was put to death by Domitian in 94 A.D.

34 The teacher of Epictetus. His complete works have been lost, but large parts exist in quotations by other writers.

35 The Ludovisi quarter, in the north part of the city.

36 Over the Salarian Way.

37 In 88, 87, and 82 B.C.

38 Cf. the note on chap. 27 above.

39 The date was either Dec. 20 or 21, 69 A.D.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 21 Dec 08