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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Histories


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.
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(Vol. II) Tacitus

 p329  Book III (beginning)

1 1 The generals of the Flavian party were planning their campaign with better fortune and greater loyalty. They had come together at Poetovio,​1 the winter quarters of the Thirteenth legion. There they discussed whether they should guard the passes of the Pannonian Alps until the whole mass of their forces could be raised behind them, or whether it would not be a bolder stroke to engage the enemy at once and struggle with him for the possession of Italy. Those who favoured waiting for the auxiliaries and prolonging the war, emphasized the strength and reputation of the German legions and dwelt on the fact that the flower of the army in Britain had recently arrived with Vitellius;​2 they pointed out that they had on their side an inferior number of legions, and at best legions which had lately been beaten,​3 and that although the soldiers talked boldly enough, the defeated always have less courage. But while they meantime held the Alps, Mucianus, they said, would arrive with the troops from the east; Vespasian had besides full control of the sea and his fleets, and he could count on the enthusiastic support of the provinces, through whose aid he could raise the storm of almost a second war. Therefore they declared that delay would favour them, that new forces would join them, and that they would lose none of their present advantages.

 p331  2 1 In answer Antonius Primus,​4 the most enthusiastic partisan of war, argued that haste was helpful to them, ruinous to Vitellius. "The victorious side," he said, "has gained a spirit of sloth rather than confidence, for their soldiers have not been kept within the bounds of camp; they have been loafing about all the municipal towns of Italy, fearful only to their hosts; the savagery that they once displayed has been matched by the greed with which they have drunk deep of their new pleasures. They have been weakened, too, by the circus, by the theatres, and by the delights of Rome, or else exhausted by disease; but if they are given time, even they will recover their strength by preparing for war; Germany, from which they draw their strength, is not far away; Britain is separated only by a strait; the provinces of Gaul and Spain are near: from both they receive men, horses, and tribute; they hold Italy itself and the wealth of Rome; and if they wish to attack they have two fleets​5 and the Illyrian Sea is open. In that case, what will the mountain barriers avail us? What profit shall we find in prolonging the war into another summer? Where shall we meantime find money and supplies? Rather let us take advantage of the fact that the Pannonian legions, which were deceived rather than defeated,​6 are eager to rise in revenge; that the troops in Moesia have contributed their strength, which is quite unimpaired. If we reckon the number of soldiers rather than of legions, we see that we have on our side the greater force and no debauchery; the very shame of the defeat at Bedriacum has helped our discipline. Moreover, the cavalry were not beaten even then,  p333 but in spite of the disaster they broke the forces of Vitellius.​7 On that day two squadrons from Pannonia and Moesia pierced the enemy's line; now sixteen squadrons charging in a body, by the very noise they make and the cloud of dust they raise, will overwhelm and bury the horsemen and horses of our foes, for they have forgotten what a battle is. Unless someone restrains me, I who advise will also perform. Do you, whose fortune is still unblemished, hold back your legions, if you will; for me light cohorts will be enough. Presently you shall hear that the gates of Italy are open, that the power of Vitellius is overthrown. Yours will be the delight of following the victor and of treading in his footsteps."

3 1 Thus and in like strain, with flashing eyes and in fierce tones that he might be more widely heard (for the centurions and some of the common soldiers had made their way into the council) did he pour forth his words so that he moved even men of caution and foresight, while the general throng, and after them the rest, scorning the cowardly inaction of the other officers, extolled him as the one man and the one leader. This reputation Primus had won in that assembly from the moment in his harangue when, after reading out the letter of Vespasian,​8 he did not talk in equivocal terms, ready to put this or that interpretation on Vespasian's words to his own advantage, as the others had done; but he seemed to have openly joined Vespasian's cause; therefore he carried the greater weight with the soldiers, for he was now an accomplice in their fault or a partner in their glory.

4 1 After Primus the procurator Cornelius Fuscus9  p335 had the greatest influence. He also had been in the habit of assailing Vitellius violently and so had left himself no hope in case of failure. Tampius Flavianus,​10 whose nature and years had made him more hesitant, roused the suspicions of the soldiers; they thought that he still remembered the family ties that bound him to Vitellius. Furthermore, since he had fled at the first movement of the legions and then had come back of his own accord, the troops believed that he had treacherous designs.​11 There was some basis for this suspicion, since Flavianus had abandoned Pannonia and withdrawn to Italy, where he was not involved in the crisis; but later his desire for a revolution had impelled him to resume his title of governor and to bear a hand in civil war. Cornelius Fuscus urged him to take this present step, not because he needed the assistance of Flavianus, but because he wished to display a consular name to give credit and prestige to his party which was just then rising to view.

5 1 But in order to be able to enter Italy without danger and with advantage, word was sent Aponius Saturninus​12 to hurry with the army then in Moesia. To avoid exposing the provinces in their unprotected condition to barbarous nations, the ruling chiefs of the Sarmatian Iazuges​13 were called into service with the army.​14 These chiefs offered their people also and their force of cavalry, which constitutes their sole effective strength; but this offer was declined for fear that in the midst of civil troubles they might undertake some hostile enterprise, or that, if a larger reward should be offered by the other side, they might abandon all sense of right and justice. Vespasian's officers further drew to their side Sido  p337 and Italicus, princes of the Suebi, who had long been loyal to the Romans and whose people were more inclined to remain faithful to Rome than to take orders from others.​15 They protected their flank with auxiliary troops, for Raetia was hostile to Vespasian's party, its procurator Porcius Septiminus being unshaken in his loyalty to Vitellius.​16 This was the reason that Sextilius Felix with the Aurian squadron of horse and eight cohorts of infantry was dispatched to occupy the bank of the river Inn, which flows between Raetia and Noricum. Neither side wished to test the fortunes of battle, and the fate of the parties was decided elsewhere.

6 1 As Antonius​17 hurried forward some detachments from the cohorts and part of the cavalry to invade Italy, he was accompanied by Arrius Varus,​18 a vigorous fighter, whose fame had been increased by his service under Corbulo and by his successes in Armenia. This same Varus, according to common report, had in secret conference with Nero brought serious charges against Corbulo's good character; by this means he had won, as a reward of shame, the rank of chief centurion, and this ill gain, which delighted him at the time, later proved to be his ruin. However, Antonius and Varus occupied Aquileia, and then advancing through the adjacent districts were received with joy at Opitergium and Altinum.​19 A force was left at Altinum to block any attempt on the part of the fleet at Ravenna, of whose defection they had not yet heard. Next they drew Padua and Ateste​20 to their side. At Ateste they heard  p339 that three cohorts of Vitellian forces and the squadron of cavalry called Sebosian had occupied Forum Alieni​21 and built a bridge over the stream there. Primus and Varus decided that this was a good opportunity to attack the Vitellians, who were wholly off their guard; for this fact also had been reported. At daybreak they cut down many of them quite unarmed. They had been advised that if they killed a few, they could force the rest by fear to change their allegiance; and there were some who surrendered at once. The larger part, however, broke down the bridge and so, by cutting off the road, blocked their foes' advance. The opening of the campaign was favourable to Vespasian's side.

7 1 When the news of the victory was noised abroad, two legions, the Seventh Galliana and the Thirteenth​a Gemina, marched with all speed to Padua under their commander Vedius Aquila. There they rested for a few days during which Minicius Justus, prefect of the camp of the Seventh legion, whose discipline had been somewhat too strict for civil war, was withdrawn from the soldiers' resentment by being sent to Vespasian. An act long desired was now received with delight and given a flattering interpretation beyond its deserts, when Antonius gave orders that in all the towns Galba's statues, which had been thrown down in the disorders of the times, should again be honoured. His real motive was that he believed that it would dignify Vespasian's cause if this were accounted an approval of Galba's principate and a revival of his party.

8 1 Then Vespasian's commanders considered what place they should select as the seat of war.  p341 They decided on Verona because there are open plains about it suited to the operations of cavalry, in which their chief strength lay; and at the same time to take away from Vitellius so strong a colony seemed likely to contribute to their own cause and reputation. As they advanced they seized Vicetia.​22 This was no great thing in itself, for the town had but moderate resources, yet its capture had great significance in the minds of those who considered that it was Caecina's birthplace and that the enemy's general had seen his native town snatched from him. But Verona was a real gain: the example and resources of its inhabitants were helpful, and the army's position between Raetia and the Julian Alps blocked the entrance at that point of the forces from Germany.​23 All these operations were unknown to Vespasian or had been forbidden by him. He had directed that his forces should not carry their operations beyond Aquileia, but should wait there for Mucianus; and he had also given the reasons for his orders, pointing out that since they held Egypt, controlled the grain supply of Italy, and possessed the revenues of the richest provinces,​24 the army of Vitellius could be forced to surrender by lack of pay and food. Mucianus wrote frequent warnings to the same effect, giving as his reason his desire for a victory which would cost no blood or sorrow; in reality he was ambitious for personal fame and wished to keep for himself all the glory of the war. However, the distances were so great that the advice arrived after the events.

9 1 So then Antonius suddenly attacked the enemy's posts; but after testing his foe's courage in a trifling skirmish, he withdrew his troops with  p343 no advantage to either side. Presently Caecina established his camp between Hostilia,​25 a village in the district of the Veronese, and the marshes of the river Tartarus.​26 Here he was protected by the situation itself, his rear being covered by the river and his flanks by the marshes. If he had only been loyal to Vitellius, with the combined forces of the Vitellians he might have crushed the two legions at Verona, for the troops from Moesia had not yet joined them; or at least he could have driven them back and made them abandon Italy in disgraceful flight. But as it was, by various delays he betrayed to his opponents the first advantages of the campaign, spending his time in writing letters, reproving those whom he might easily have routed with his arms, until he could through messengers conclude the terms of his own treason. In the meantime Aponius Saturninus arrived with the Seventh or Claudian legion.​27 This legion was commanded​28 by the tribune Vipstanus Messala,​29 a man of eminent family and of personal distinction; indeed he was the only one who had brought with him to the war some honourable pursuits. To these forces, which were by no means a match for those of Vitellius, since thus far only three legions had concentrated at Verona, Caecina now wrote, reproving them for their rashness in taking up arms after defeat. At the same time he praised the valour of the German army, but made only slight and casual reference to Vitellius, with no derogatory mention of Vespasian; and he said nothing that was calculated to win over or frighten his opponents. The chiefs of the Flavian party in reply made no apology for their past misfortunes, but they spoke out boldly for Vespasian;  p345 displaying confidence in their cause and faith in the security of their army, they assailed Vitellius as if they were his personal enemies, and gave the tribunes and centurions reason to hope that they might keep the indulgences that Vitellius had granted them. Caecina himself they urged in no ambiguous terms to come over to their side. This correspondence the Flavian leaders read to their soldiers in assembly and thereby inspired their troops with additional confidence; for Caecina had written in humble terms, as if afraid of offending Vespasian, while their generals had written in scorn and with the evident desire to insult Vitellius.

10 1 Then two other legions arrived, the Third in command of Dillius Aponianus, the Eighth under Numisius Lupus. The Flavian party now decided to show their strength and to surround Verona with a rampart. It happened that the Galbian legion was assigned to work on that part of the lines that faced the enemy; seeing in the distance some allied cavalry, they became panic-stricken, for they thought that the enemy was coming. They seized their arms, fearing that they had been betrayed. The soldiers' wrath fell on Tampius Flavianus,​30 of whose guilt there was not the slightest proof; but the troops already hated him and now in a whirlwind of rage demanded his death. They cried out that he was a kinsman of Vitellius, that he had betrayed Otho, and had diverted the donative intended for them. Flavianus had no opportunity to defend himself, although he raised his hands in supplication, grovelled repeatedly on the ground, tore his garments, while the tears ran down his face and his breast was convulsed with sobs. These very acts  p347 increased the rage of the soldiers, for they regarded his excessive terror as proof of his guilt. When Aponius​31 began to speak, he was interrupted by the soldiers' cries; they expressed their scorn of the other commanders by groans and howls. Antonius was the only one to whom they would lend an ear, for he was eloquent, had influence, and possessed the art of quieting a mob. When he saw that the mutiny was gaining strength and the soldiers were about to pass from reproaches and insults to armed force, he ordered Flavianus to be put in chains. But the troops saw through the ruse, thrust aside those who guarded the tribunal, and prepared to use extreme violence. Antonius drew his sword and pointed it at his breast, declaring that he would die by his soldiers' hand or by his own; at the same time he called by name to his assistance every soldier in sight whom he knew or who had some military decoration. Presently he turned toward the standards and the gods of war,​32 praying them to inspire rather the enemy's force with this madness and this discord. At last the mutiny gradually spent itself, and as the day was now near its end, the soldiers slipped away, each to his quarters. The same night Flavianus set out from camp, but was met by a letter from Vespasian which saved him from danger.33

11 1 Then the legions, as if smitten with a mad contagion, assailed Aponius Saturninus, the commander of the army from Moesia. They attacked him with the greater violence, for they were not as before tired by severe labour, but their anger blazed up suddenly in the middle of the day on the publication of some letters which Saturninus was believed  p349 to have written to Vitellius. While once the soldiers had vied with one another in bravery and good discipline, they now strove to excel in insolence and audacity, for they did not wish to be less violent in the demands for the punishment of Aponius than they had been for that of Flavianus. The legions from Moesia remembered that they had supported the troops from Pannonia in the vengeance that they had taken, and the latter, as if freed from guilt by the mutiny of others, found delight in repeating their fault. They hurried to the gardens where Saturninus had his quarters; and in spite of all their efforts, it was not so much Primus and Aponius and Messala who saved Saturninus as it was the obscurity of his hiding-place. He concealed himself in the furnace of a bath that happened to be unused. Presently he dismissed his lictors and fled to Padua. Now that the ex-consuls had gone, all power and authority over both armies fell into the hands of Antonius alone, for his fellow-officers gave way to him, and the soldiers had regard only for him. There were some who believed that he had treacherously fostered both mutinies that he alone might profit by the war.

12 1 Nor on the side of Vitellius were men's minds at ease;​34 their distress, however, arose from more fatal discord, due not to the suspicions of the common soldiers, but to the treachery of the commanders. Lucilius Bassus, prefect of the fleet at Ravenna, taking advantage of the irresolution of his forces caused by the fact that most of them came from the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, which were then in Vespasian's hands, had won them to his side. Night was selected as the time to consummate  p351 the treason, in order that the accomplices might meet at headquarters alone without the knowledge of the rest. Bassus waited in his quarters, prompted by shame or by fear as to the outcome. The trierarchs with loud shouts attacked the statues of Vitellius; and after a few of those who resisted had been killed, the rest of the crowd, eager for a change, began to favour Vespasian. Then Lucilius appeared and showed himself openly as the ringleader. But the fleet chose Cornelius Fuscus​35 as their prefect, who came to Ravenna with all speed. Bassus was taken to Adria​36 with an escort of light vessels under an honourable guard. He was put in chains by the prefect of cavalry, Vibennius Rufinus, a freedman of Vespasian. Hormas also was counted among the leaders of the Flavian party.

13 1 But as soon as the revolt of the fleet was known, Caecina sent away most of his troops on various military duties, and then, taking advantage of the empty camp, called the leading centurions and a few of the common soldiers to headquarters. There he spoke in high terms of Vespasian's courage and the strength of his party. "The fleet has revolted," he said, "we are hard pressed for supplies, the Gallic and Spanish provinces are hostile, and no dependence can be put on Rome." All that he had to say concerning Vitellius was derogatory to his cause. Then while the majority of those present were still dazed by this sudden turn of affairs, he administered to them the oath of allegiance to Vespasian, those who were privy to the plan being the first to take it. At the same time they tore down the statues of  p353 Vitellius and sent a committee to inform Antonius of what they had done. But when the news of the treason spread through the whole camp, the soldiers ran to headquarters, where they saw Vespasian's name put up on the standards and the statues of Vitellius overthrown; at first there was utter silence, and then all their rage burst out. "Has the glory of the German troops sunk to this," they cried, "that without a struggle and without a wound they will offer their hands to fetters and surrender their weapons to the foe? What are these legions that are opposed to us? Those we defeated! And yet the chief strength of Otho's army, the First and Fourteenth legions, are not here; still those legions too we routed and overthrew on the same fields. Shall all these thousands of armed men be presented to that exile Antonius,​37 as if they were a herd of slaves on the block? No doubt eight legions are to go over to one poor fleet! Bassus and Caecina have now decided, after having robbed the emperor of palaces, gardens, and treasure, to take away his soldiers also. Uninjured and with no mark of blood upon us, we shall be cheap in the eyes even of the Flavian party; and what shall we say to those who ask us about our successes and defeats?"

14 1 With such cries, now separately, now in a body, as indignation moved each, the Fifth legion taking the lead, they replaced the statues of Vitellius and threw Caecina into chains. They chose as their commanders Fabius Fabullus, legate of the Fifth legion, and Cassius Longus, prefect of the camp. Happening to meet the marines from three light galleys who had no knowledge or complicity in what had happened, they slew them. Leaving their  p355 camp, they broke down the bridge and hurried back to Hostilia, and then moved toward Cremona to join the two legions that Caecina had despatched with part of the cavalry to occupy the town. These were the First Italian and the Twenty-first Rapax.38

15 1 When Antonius heard of this, he decided to attack his opponents' troops while they were still distracted in purpose and while their strength was divided, and not to give time for the leaders to recover their authority, the troops their spirit of obedience, and the legions the confidence that they would feel when once more united. For he suspected that Fabius Valens had already left Rome and would make all haste when he heard of Caecina's treachery; and in fact Fabius was both faithful to Vitellius and not ignorant of war. At the same time Antonius feared a great invasion of Germans through Raetia. Moreover, Vitellius had summoned auxiliaries from Britain, Gaul, and Spain, who would indeed have been utter ruin to the war, if Antonius, fearing this very thing, had not precipitated an engagement and gained the victory before their arrival. He now moved in two days with his entire army from Verona to Bedriacum.​39 The next day, keeping his legionaries to fortify his position, he sent his cohorts of auxiliaries into the district around Cremona to let the soldiers have a taste of the booty to be gained from civilians, although his pretext was to secure supply. Antonius himself with four thousand horse advanced eight miles beyond Bedriacum that they might pillage with greater freedom. His scouts, as usual, watched the country still further from camp.

16 1 About eleven o'clock a horseman rode up  p357 at full speed and reported that the enemy was coming; that a small number preceded the main body, but that the movement and noise of their advance could be heard over a wide area. While Antonius was considering what course to pursue, Arrius Varus, prompted by his eagerness to do something important, rushed forward with the boldest of the cavalry and drove back the Vitellians; but he inflicted only a slight loss, for when larger forces came up, the fortune of battle was reversed; and those who had been pursuing the Vitellians most vigorously now were the last to retreat.​40 Antonius had not desired this hasty attack and he expected the result to be what it actually proved. He now urged his men to engage with all courage and withdrew his squadrons to the flanks, leaving an open path in the centre for the reception of Varus and his cavalry. He directed the legions to arm, and gave the signal through the fields for his men to leave their booty and quickly form for battle, each joining the company nearest him. In the meantime Varus in a panic regained the main body of his comrades and communicated his terror to them. The uninjured and the wounded alike were forced back in the confusion caused by their own fright and the narrow roads.

17 1 In this panic Antonius failed in no duty that a determined general or a brave soldier should perform. He ran to those who were terrified, held back those who were fleeing; wherever there was the greatest danger, wherever there was some hope, there his counsel, his action, and his words of encouragement made him a mark for the enemy and conspicuous before his men. Finally, he was  p359 carried to such a pitch of excitement that he transfixed with a spear a colour-bearer who was running away, then seized the standard, and turned it towards the foe. Struck with shame some horsemen — not over one hundred in all — made a stand against the enemy. The character of the ground favoured them, the road at this point being narrower and the bridge broken down across a stream which came in the way and with its unknown depths and steep banks made flight difficult. It was such necessity or good luck that restored the fortunes of a side that was already well nigh lost. The troops reformed in firm and solid ranks and received the Vitellians, who, coming on in disorder, were thrown back in confusion. Antonius pursued those who were panic-stricken, cut down those who resisted, while the rest of his troops, each following his own nature, robbed the dead, took prisoners, or carried off arms and horses. The soldiers, who a moment before were fleeing through open fields, were attracted by the shouts of success and joined in the victory.

18 1 Four miles from Cremona the gleam of the standards of the legions Rapax and Italica was suddenly seen; for, hearing of the early success of their cavalry, they had hurried on to this point. But when fortune opposed them, they did not open out their lines, receive the fugitives, or advance and take the initiative in attacking their opponents, who were exhausted with their long advance and with fighting. Being now guided by chance, in their adversity they realized their lack of a leader as they had never missed him in success. When their line wavered, the enemy's victorious horse suddenly attacked; the tribune Vipstanus Messala also came  p361 up bringing some auxiliary troops from Moesia with whom many legionaries had kept pace in spite of their rapid advance; and so the Flavian foot and horse combined broke through the line of the two legions. The neighbouring walls of Verona, while offering hope of a refuge, gave them less courage for resistance. Still Antonius did not press on further, for he realized that his soldiers were exhausted by their efforts and by the wounds with which the struggle, so long uncertain in spite of its successful end, had afflicted both horsemen and horses.

19 1 As evening fell, the great mass of the Flavian troops arrived in a body. As they marched over the heaps of the dead where the signs of the bloody conflict were still fresh, imagining that the war was over, they demanded to go on to Cremona and receive the surrender of their defeated opponents, or else to storm the town. Thus they spoke openly — fine words indeed; but what each said to himself was that the colony situated in the plain could be carried by storm; they would have as much courage if they broke in during the dark, and they would have a greater licence to plunder. But if they waited for the light, there would be at once appeals and prayers for peace, and in return for toil and wounds the common soldiers would bear off such empty prizes as clemency and glory, while the wealth of Cremona would fill the purses of the prefects and commanders. "The booty of a city," they said, "always falls to the soldiers if it is captured, to the officers if it surrenders." They treated with scorn their centurions and tribunes, rattling their arms to avoid hearing  p363 anyone's words, and they were ready to defy their officers if not led to the assault.

20 1 Then Antonius made his way among the companies, and when by his appearance and influence he had secured silence, he addressed them to this effect: "I have no desire to take away either honour or reward from soldiers who have deserved so well, but there is a division of duties between soldiers and generals: to soldiers belongs the eager enthusiasm for battle, but generals must help by foresight, by counsel, and more often by delay than by rash action. As I have done my full part to secure victory with my arms and my personal efforts, I will now help by wise counsel, which is the quality proper to a leader. For there can be no question as to the obstacles before us — night and the situation of this strange city, the fact that the enemy is within, and that everything is favourable for an ambuscade. Even if the gates were open, we ought not to enter except after reconnaissance and by day. Or will you begin a siege when wholly cut off from seeing what ground is level, how high the walls, whether to attack with artillery and weapons or with siege works and protecting sheds?" Then turning to one and another, he asked them whether they had brought with them axes, picks, and the other implements for storming cities. When they said that they had not, he asked: "Can any troops break through walls and undermine them with swords and javelins? If we need to build a mound, or protect ourselves with mantlets and fascines, shall we stand here useless like an improvident mob, gaping with wonder at the lofty towers and fortifications of others? Shall we not rather  p365 at the expense of a single night fetch up artillery and engines, and so bring with us the force to secure victory?" At the same time he sent the sutlers, servants, and the freshest of the cavalry to Bedriacum to fetch supplies and all else they needed.

21 1 But the soldiers found inaction hard; in fact they were near a mutiny when a body of horsemen who had ridden up under the very walls of Cremona caught some stragglers from the town and learned from them that six Vitellian legions and all the force that had been stationed at Hostilia, after marching thirty miles that day, had heard of the losses that their associates had suffered, and that they were now preparing for battle — in fact would soon be there. This alarming danger opened their obstinate ears to the plans of their general. He ordered the Thirteenth legion to take its position on the actual causeway of the Postumian Road.​41 Immediately on the Thirteenth's left the Seventh Galbian stood in open country, next the Seventh Claudian, protected, as the ground ran, by a ditch. On the right was the Eighth legion on an open cross-road, and then the Third, distributed among dense thickets. This was the order of the eagles and standards; the soldiers took their places in the darkness without order, wherever chance set them. The praetorians' standard was next the Third legion; the cohorts of the auxiliaries were on the wings; and the cavalry covered their flanks and rear. The Suebian princes Sido and Italicus with picked troops from their tribes were in the front ranks.

22 1 The wise policy for the troops of Vitellius was to revive their strength by food and sleep at Cremona and then to put to flight and crush their  p367 opponents, who would be exhausted by cold and lack of food. But being without a leader, destitute of a plan, at about nine o'clock in the evening they flung themselves on the Flavian troops, who were ready and in their stations. I should not dare to state definitely the order in which they advanced, for their line was thrown into confusion by the soldiers' fury and by the darkness. Some writers, however, have said that the Fourth Macedonian legion was on their extreme right, the Fifth and Fifteenth with detachments from the Ninth, Second, and Twentieth British formed their centre, while the Sixteenth, Twenty-second, and First constituted their left. The troops of the two legions known as the Rapax and the Italica had joined companies in every part of the line; the cavalry and auxiliaries selected their own positions. The battle lasted the entire night with varied fortune, uncertain as to its outcome, savage, and fatal now to one side, now to the other. Neither courage nor arms, nor even their eyes, which might have foreseen danger, were of any avail. The weapons in both lines were the same, the watchwords for battle became known, for they were constantly asked; the standards were confused as some band or other carried off in this direction or that those they had captured from their foes. The Seventh legion, lately enrolled by Galba, was hardest pressed: it lost six centurions of the first rank; some of its standards were captured; its eagle was finally saved by Atilius Verus, a centurion of the first rank, who in his efforts killed many of the enemy, only finally to fall dying himself.

23 1 Antonius strengthened his wavering line  p369 by bringing up the praetorians. On engaging they drove back the enemy, only to be driven back themselves, for the Vitellians had concentrated their artillery on the raised road that they might have free and open ground from which to fire; their earlier shots had been scattered and had struck the trees without injuring the enemy. A ballista of enormous size belonging to the Fifteenth legion began to do great harm to the Flavians' line with the huge stones that it hurled; and it would have caused wide destruction if it had not been for the splendid bravery of two soldiers, who, taking some shields from the dead and so disguising themselves, cut the ropes and springs of the machine. They were at once run through and thus their names were lost; but there is no doubt about their deed. Fortune inclined to neither side until, as the night wore on, the rising moon illuminated the lines with its deceptive light. But this was more favourable to the Flavian forces, for the moon was behind them and so magnified the shadows of horses and men; while their opponents, deceived by the shadows, aimed at them as if they were the actual bodies, and therefore their spears fell short; but the Vitellians, having the moonlight in their faces and thus being clearly seen, unconsciously presented a mark to their enemies, who shot, so to speak, from concealment.

24 1 When Antonius could recognize his soldiers and be recognized by them, he began to urge them on, some by shame and reproaches, more by praise and encouragement, but all by hope and promises. He asked the Pannonian legions why they had taken up their arms again; he reminded them that  p371 this was the field on which they could blot out the stain of their earlier disgrace, where they could regain their former glory. Then turning to the soldiers from Moesia he appealed to them as the authors and promoters of this war. He told them that it had been useless to challenge the Vitellians with threats and words, if they could not endure their hands and looks. This he said as he came to each division; but he spoke at greater length to the troops of the Third legion, reminding them of their ancient glory as well as of their later achievements, of their victory over the Parthians when Mark Antony was their leader,​42 over the Armenians when Corbulo commanded,​43 and of their recent defeat of the Sarmatians.​44 Then he indignantly said to the praetorians: "As for you, clowns that you are, if you do not win to‑day, what other general or other camp will take you in? Yonder are your standards and your arms, and, if defeated, death; for dishonour you have exhausted." A shout arose from the entire army; and the soldiers of the Third legion, according to the Syrian custom, hailed the rising sun.

25 1 This action​45 gave rise to a vague rumour, which perhaps the general started with intention, to the effect that Mucianus had arrived and that the two armies had greeted each other. The Flavian forces then advanced as if reinforced by fresh troops; the Vitellian line was now more ragged, as was natural with troops who had no commander, but closed or opened out their ranks as courage or fear moved individuals. After Antonius saw that they were shaken, he assailed them in mass formation. Their weakened lines were broken and could not be  p373 reformed, because they were entangled among the supply-wagons and artillery. The victorious troops in their hasty pursuit were strung out along the sides of the road. The carnage was peculiarly marked by the fact that in it a son killed his own father. The story and the names I shall give on the authority of Vipstanus Messala. Julius Mansuetus of Spain, when enrolled with the legion known as Rapax, had left behind him a young son. Later, when this son had grown up, he had been conscripted into the Seventh legion by Galba. Now he happened to meet his father, whom he wounded and struck down; then, as he looked closely at the dying man, the father and son recognized each other; the son embraced his expiring father and prayed with tears in his voice that his father's spirit would forgive him and not abhor him as a patricide. "The crime," he cried, "is the State's; and what does a single soldier count for in a civil war?" At the same time he lifted up the body and began to dig a grave, performing the last duties toward a father. The soldiers near first noticed it, presently more; then through the whole line were heard cries of wonder, of pity, and of cursing against this most horrible war. Yet not one whit did they slacken their murder of relatives, kinsmen, and brothers. They called the deed a crime but did it.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Pettau on the Drave in Styria.

2 Cf. II.57. Eight thousand had come from Britain.

3 At Bedriacum. Cf. II.41‑45.

4 Commander of the Seventh legion, Galbiana. Cf. II.86.

5 The large fleets stationed at Misenum and Ravenna.

6 Cf. II.42.

7 Cf. II.41.

8 Cf. II.82.

9 Cf. II.86.

10 The governor of Pannonia.

11 i.e. against Vespasian.

12 Governor of Moesia.

13 A people living between the Danube and the Theiss.

14 They also served as hostages for the good behaviour of their people.

15 These Suebi had been established by the younger Drusus Caesar north of the Danube, between the March and the Waag, in 19 A.D.

16 Raetia lay west of Noricum and north of Italy, so that the party of Vespasian had to protect their right flank from possible attack by Septiminus.

17 Antonius Primus was commander of the Seventh legion Galbiana in Pannonia. Cf. II.86; Ann. XIV.40; Suetonius Vitellius 18.

18 Cf. Ann. XIII.9.

19 Oderzo and Altino.

20 Este.

21 Probably the present Legnago; the bridge there was over the Adige.

22 Vicenza.

23 Over the Brenner Pass.

24 Egypt, Syria, and Asia.

25 Ostiglia.

26 Tartaro.

27 From Moesia. Cf. chap. 5.

28 For the legate Tettius Julianus had fled. Cf. II.85.

29 Vipstanus Messala wrote a history of this war which Tacitus employed (III.2528); he is also one of participants in the Dialogus de Oratoribus.

30 Governor of Pannonia, III.4.

31 Aponius Saturninus, the governor of Moesia (II.85; III.5) naturally took the lead, but without avail.

32 The eagles were regarded as sacred and were kept with images of the gods in a kind of chapel at headquarters.

33 The letter from Vespasian absolved Flavianus from any disloyalty toward him.

34 Here Tacitus picks up the story from the end of second book.

35 Cf. II.86.

36 Atri.

37 Cf. II.86.

38 Cf. II.100.

39 Something over thirty miles.

40 That is, those who had been most eager in pursuit were also the most stubborn in retreat.

41 The Postumian Road, which ran from Cremona to Verona, was here carried on a raised causeway because of the marshy character of the ground.

42 In 36 B.C.

43 63 A.D.

44 Cf. I.79.

45 That is, the action of the Third legion in saluting the rising sun.

Thayer's Note:

a Thanks to alert reader Simon Turney for catching the error in the Loeb edition, which has "Tenth". That same edition's facing Latin has "tertia decima".

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Page updated: 6 Feb 24