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Tacitus: History Book 1 [20]

20. Next came the question of money. On a general inquiry it seemed the fairest course to demand restitution from those who had caused the public poverty. Nero had squandered in presents two thousand two hundred million sesterces. It was ordered that each recipient should be sued, but should be permitted to retain a tenth part of the bounty. They had however barely a tenth part left, having wasted the property of others in the same extravagances in which they had squandered their own, till the most rapacious and profligate among them had neither capital nor land remaining, nothing in fact but the appliances of their vices. Thirty Roman Knights were appointed to conduct the process of recovery, a novel office, and made burdensome by the number and intriguing practices of those with whom it had to deal. Everywhere were sales and brokers, and Rome was in an uproar with auctions. Yet great was the joy to think that the men whom Nero had enriched would be as poor as those whom he had robbed. About this time were cashiered two tribunes of the Praetorian Guard, Antonius Taurus and Antonius Naso, an officer of the City cohorts, Aemilius Pacensis, and one of the watch, Julius Fronto. This led to no amendment with the rest, but only started the apprehension, that a crafty and timid policy was getting rid of individuals, while all were suspected.

20. Proxima pecuniae cura; et cuncta scrutantibus iustissimum visum est inde repeti ubi inopiae causa erat. bis et viciens miliens sesteritum donationibus Nero effuderat: appellari singulos iussit, decima parte liberalitatis apud quemque eorum relicta. at illis vix decimae super portiones erant, isdem erga aliena sumptibus quibus sua prodegerant, cum rapacissimo cuique ac perditissimo non agri aut faenus sed sola instrumenta vitiorum manerent. exactioni triginta equites Romani praepositi, novum officii genus et ambitu ac numero onerosum: ubique hasta et sector, et inquieta urbs actionibus. ac tamen grande gaudium quod tam pauperes forent quibus donasset Nero quam quibus abstulisset. exauctorati per eos dies tribuni, e praetorio Antonius Taurus et Antonius Naso, ex urbanis cohortibus Aemilius Pacensis, e vigilibus Iulius Fronto. nec remedium in ceteros fuit, sed metus initium, tamquam per artem et formidine singuli pellerentur, omnibus suspectis.

21. Otho, meanwhile, who had nothing to hope while the State was tranquil, and whose whole plans depended on revolution, was being roused to action by a combination of many motives, by a luxury that would have embarrassed even an emperor, by a poverty that a subject could hardly endure, by his rage against Galba, by his envy of Piso. He even pretended to fear to make himself keener in desire. "I was, said he, "too formidable to Nero, and I must not look for another Lusitania, another honourable exile. Rulers always suspect and hate the man who has been named for the succession. This has injured me with the aged Emperor, and will injure me yet more with a young man whose temper, naturally savage, has been rendered ferocious by prolonged exile. How easy to put Otho to death! I must therefore do and dare now while Galba's authority is still unsettled, and before that of Piso is consolidated. Periods of transition suit great attempts, and delay is useless where inaction is more hurtful than temerity. Death, which nature ordains for all alike, yet admits of the distinction of being either forgotten, or remembered with honour by posterity; and, if the same lot awaits the innocent and the guilty, the man of spirit will at least deserve his fate."

21. Interea Othonem, cui compositis rebus nulla spes, omne in turbido consilium, multa simul extimulabant, luxuria etiam principi onerosa, inopia vix privato toleranda, in Galbam ira, in Pisonem invidia; fingebat et metum quo magis concupisceret: praegravem se Neroni fuisse, nec Lusitaniam rursus et alterius exilii honorem expectandum. suspectum semper invisumque dominanus qui proximus destinaretur. nocuisse id sibi apud senem principem, magis nociturum apud iuvenem ingenio trucem et longo exilio efferatum: occidi Othonem posse. proinde agendum audendumque, dum Galbae auctoritas fluxa, Pisonis nondum coaluisset. opportunos magnis conatibus transitus rerum, nec cunctatione opus, ubi perniciosior sit quies quam temeritas. mortem omnibus ex natura aequalem oblivione apud posteros vel gloria distingui; ac si nocentem innocentemque idem exitus maneat, acrioris viri esse merito perire.

22. The soul of Otho was not effeminate like his person. His confidential freedmen and slaves, who enjoyed a license unknown in private families, brought the debaucheries of Nero's court, its intrigues, its easy marriages, and the other indulgences of despotic power, before a mind passionately fond of such things, dwelt upon them as his if he dared to seize them, and reproached the inaction that would leave them to others. The astrologers also urged him to action, predicting from their observation of the heavens revolutions, and a year of glory for Otho. This is a class of men, whom the powerful cannot trust, and who deceive the aspiring, a class which will always be proscribed in this country, and yet always retained. Many of these men were attached to the secret councils of Poppaea and were the vilest tools in the employ of the imperial household. One of them, Ptolemaeus, had attended Otho in Spain, and had there foretold that his patron would survive Nero. Gaining credit by the result, and arguing from his own conjectures and from the common talk of those who compared Galba's age with Otho's youth, he had persuaded the latter that he would be called to the throne. Otho however received the prediction as the words of wisdom and the intimation of destiny, with that inclination so natural to the human mind readily to believe in the mysterious.

22. Non erat Othonis mollis et corpori similis animus. et intimi libertorum servorumque, corruptius quam in privata domo habiti, aulam Neronis et luxus, adulteria, matrimonia ceterasque regnorum libidines avido talium, si auderet, ut sua ostentantes, quiescenti ut aliena exprobrabant, urgentibus etiam mathematicis, dum novos motus et clarum Othoni annum observatione siderum adfirmant, genus hominum potentibus infidum, sperantibus fallax, quod in civitate nostra et vetabitur semper et retinebitur. multos secreta Poppaeae mathematicos pessimum principalis matrimonii instrumentum, habuerant: e quibus Ptolemaeus Othoni in Hispania comes, cum superfuturum eum Neroni promisisset, postquam ex eventu fides, coniectura iam et rumore senium Galbae et iuventam Othonis computantium persuaserat fore ut in imperium adscisceretur. sed Otho tamquam peritia et monitu fatorum praedicta accipiebat, cupidine ingenii humani libentius obscura credendi. nec deerat Ptolemaeus, iam et sceleris instinctor, ad quod facillime ab eius modi voto transitur.

23. Nor did Ptolemaeus fail to play his part; he now even prompted to crime, to which from such wishes it is easy to pass. Whether indeed these thoughts of crime were suddenly conceived, is doubtful. Otho had long been courting the affections of the soldiery, either in the hope of succeeding to the throne, or in preparation for some desperate act. On the march, on parade, and in their quarters, he would address all the oldest soldiers by name, and in allusion to the progresses of Nero would call them his messmates. Some he would recognise, he would inquire after others, and would help them with his money and interest. He would often intersperse his conversation with complaints and insinuations against Galba and anything else that might excite the vulgar mind. Laborious marches, a scanty commissariat, and the rigour of military discipline, were especially distasteful, when men, accustomed to sail to the lakes of Campania and the cities of Greece, had painfully to struggle under the weight of their arms over the Pyrenees, the Alps, and vast distances of road.

23. Sed sceleris cogitatio incertum an repens: studia militum iam pridem spe successionis aut paratu facinoris adfectaverat, in itinere, in agmine, in stationibus vetustissimum quemque militum nomine vocans ac memoria Neroniani comitatus contubernalis appellando; alios agnoscere, quosdam requirere et pecunia aut gratia iuvare, inserendo saepius querelas et ambiguos de Galba sermones quaeque alia turbamenta vulgi. labores itinerum, inopia commeatuum, duritia imperii atrocius accipiebantur, cum Campaniae lacus et Achaiae urbes classibus adire soliti Pyrenaeum et Alpes et immensa viarum spatia aegre sub armis eniterentur.

24. The minds of the soldiery were already on fire, when Maevius Pudens, a near relative of Tigellinus, added, so to speak, fuel to the flames. In his endeavour to win over all who were particularly weak in character, or who wanted money and were ready to plunge into revolution, he gradually went so far as to distribute, whenever Galba dined with Otho, one hundred sesterces to each soldier of the cohort on duty, under pretext of treating them. This, which we may almost call a public bounty, Otho followed up by presents more privately bestowed on individuals; nay he bribed with such spirit, that, finding there was a dispute between Cocceius Proculus, a soldier of the bodyguard, and one of his neighbours, about some part of their boundaries, he purchased with his own money the neighbour's entire estate, and made a present of it to the soldier. He took advantage of the lazy indifference of the Prefect, who overlooked alike notorious facts and secret practices.

24. Flagrantibus iam militum animis velut faces addiderat Maevius Pudens, e proximis Tigellini. is mobilissimum quemque ingenio aut pecuniae indigum et in novas cupiditates praecipitem adliciendo eo paulatim progressus est ut per speciem convivii, quotiens Galba apud Othonem epularetur, cohorti excubias agenti viritim centenos nummos divideret; quam velut publicam largitionem Otho secretioribus apud singulos praemiis intendebat, adeo animosus corruptor ut Cocceio Proculo speculatori, de parte finium cum vicino ambigenti, universum vicini agrum sua pecunia emptum dono dederit, per socordiam praefecti, quem nota pariter et occulta fallebant.

25. He then entrusted the conduct of his meditated treason to Onomastus, one of his freedmen, who brought over to his views Barbius Proculus, officer of the watchword to the bodyguard, and Veturius, a deputy centurion in the same force. Having assured himself by various conversations with these men that they were cunning and bold, he loaded them with presents and promises, and furnished them with money with which to tempt the cupidity of others. Thus two soldiers from the ranks undertook to transfer the Empire of Rome, and actually transferred it. Only a few were admitted to be accomplices in the plot, but they worked by various devices on the wavering minds of the remainder; on the more distinguished soldiers, by hinting that the favours of Nymphidius had subjected them to suspicion; on the vulgar herd, by the anger and despair with which the repeated postponement of the donative had inspired them. Some were fired by their recollections of Nero and their longing regrets for their old license. All felt a common alarm at the idea of having to serve elsewhere.

25. Sed tum e libertis Onomastum futuro sceleri praefecit, a quo Barbium Proculum tesserarium speculatorum et Veturium optionem eorundem perductos, postquam vario sermone callidos audacisque cognovit, pretio et promissis onerat, data pecunia ad pertemptandos plurium animos. suscepere duo manipulares imperium populi Romani transferendum et transtulerunt. in conscientiam facinoris pauci adsciti: suspensos ceterorum animos diversis artibus stimulant, primores militum per beneficia Nymphidii ut suspectos, vulgus et ceteros ira et desperatione dilati totiens donativi. erant quos memoria Neronis ac desiderium prioris licentiae accenderet: in commune omnes metu mutandae militiae terrebantur.

26. The contagion spread to the legions and the auxiliary troops, already excited by the news of the wavering loyalty of the army of Germany. So ripe were the disaffected for mutiny and so close the secrecy preserved by the loyal, that they would actually have seized Otho on the 14th of January, as he was returning from dinner, had they not been deterred by the risks of darkness, the inconvenient dispersion of the troops over the whole city, and the difficulty of concerted action among a half-intoxicated crowd. It was no care for the state, which they deliberately meditated polluting with the blood of their Emperor; it was a fear lest in the darkness of night any one who presented himself to the soldiers of the Pannonian or German army might be fixed on instead of Otho, whom few of them knew. Many symptoms of the approaching outburst were repressed by those who were in the secret. Some hints, which had reached Galba's ears, were turned into ridicule by Laco the prefect, who knew nothing of the temper of the soldiery, and who, inimical to all measures, however excellent, which he did not originate, obstinately thwarted men wiser than himself.

26. Infecit ea tabes legionum quoque et auxiliorum motas iam mentis, postquam vulgatum erat labare Germanici exercitus fidem. adeoque parata apud malos seditio, etiam apud integros dissimulatio fuit, ut postero iduum die redeuntem a cena Othonem rapturi fuerint, ni incerta noctis et tota urbe sparsa militum castra nec facilem inter temulentos consensum timuissent, non rei publicae cura, quam foedare principis sui sanguine sobrii parabant, sed ne per tenebras, ut quisque Pannonici vel Germanici exercitus militibus oblatus esset, ignorantibus plerisque, pro Othone destinaretur. multa erumpentis seditionis indicia per conscios oppressa: quaedam apud Galbae auris praefectus Laco elusit, ignarus militarium animorum consiliique quamvis egregii, quod non ipse adferret, inimicus et adversus peritos pervicax.

27. On the 15th of January, as Galba was sacrificing in front of the temple of Apollo, the Haruspex Umbricius announced to him that the entrails had a sinister aspect, that treachery threatened him, that he had an enemy at home. Otho heard, for he had taken his place close by, and interpreted it by contraries in a favourable sense, as promising success to his designs. Not long after his freedman Onomastus informed him that the architect and the contractors were waiting for him. It had been arranged thus to indicate that the soldiers were assembling, and that the preparations of the conspiracy were complete. To those who inquired the reason of his departure, Otho pretended that he was purchasing certain farm-buildings, which from their age he suspected to be unsound, and which had therefore to be first surveyed. Leaning on his freedman's arm, he proceeded through the palace of Tiberius to the Velabrum, and thence to the golden milestone near the temple of Saturn. There three and twenty soldiers of the body-guard saluted him as Emperor, and, while he trembled at their scanty number, put him hastily into a chair, drew their swords, and hurried him onwards. About as many more soldiers joined them on their way, some because they were in the plot, many from mere surprise; some shouted and brandished their swords, others proceeded in silence, intending to let the issue determine their sentiments.

27. Octavo decimo kalendas Februarias sacrificanti pro aede Apollinis Galbae haruspex Vmbricius tristia exta et instantis insidias ac domesticum hostem praedicit, audiente Othone (nam proximus adstiterat) idque ut laetum e contrario et suis cogitationibus prosperum interpretante. nec multo post libertus Onomastus nuntiat expectari eum ab architecto et redemptoribus, quae significatio coeuntium iam militum et paratae coniurationis convenerat. Otho, causam digressus requirentibus, cum emi sibi praedia vetustate suspecta eoque prius exploranda finxisset, innixus liberto per Tiberianam domum in Velabrum, inde ad miliarium aureum sub aedem Saturni pergit. ibi tres et viginti speculatores consalutatum imperatorem ac paucitate salutantium trepidum et sellae festinanter impositum strictis mucronibus rapiunt; totidem ferme milites in itinere adgregantur, alii conscientia, plerique miraculo, pars clamore et gladiis, pars silentio, animum ex eventu sumpturi.

28. Julius Martialis was the tribune on guard in the camp. Appalled by the enormity and suddenness of the crime, or perhaps fearing that the troops were very extensively corrupted and that it would be destruction to oppose them, he made many suspect him of complicity. The rest of the tribunes and centurions preferred immediate safety to danger and duty. Such was the temper of men's minds, that, while there were few to venture on so atrocious a treason, many wished it done, and all were ready to acquiesce.

28. Stationem in castris agebat Iulius Martialis tribunus. is magnitudine subiti sceleris, an corrupta latius castra et, si contra tenderet, exitium metuens, praebuit plerisque suspicionem conscientiae; anteposuere ceteri quoque tribuni centurionesque praesentia dubiis et honestis, isque habitus animorum fuit ut pessimum facinus auderent pauci, plures vellent, omnes paterentur.

29. Meanwhile the unconscious Galba, busy with his sacrifice, was importuning the gods of an empire that was now another's. A rumour reached him, that some senator unknown was being hurried into the camp; before long it was affirmed that this senator was Otho. At the same time came messengers from all parts of the city, where they had chanced to meet the procession, some exaggerating the danger, some, who could not even then forget to flatter, representing it as less than the reality. On deliberation it was determined to sound the feeling of the cohort on guard in the palace, but not through Galba in person, whose authority was to be kept unimpaired to meet greater emergencies. They were accordingly collected before the steps of the palace, and Piso addressed them as follows:- "Comrades, this is the sixth day since I became a Caesar by adoption, not knowing what was to happen, whether this title was to be desired, or dreaded. It rests with you to determine what will be the result to my family and to the state. It is not that I dread on my own account the gloomier issue; for I have known adversity, and I am learning at this very moment that prosperity is fully as dangerous. It is the lot of my father, of the Senate, of the Empire itself, that I deplore, if we have either to fall this day, or to do what is equally abhorrent to the good, to put others to death. In the late troubles we had this consolation, a capital unstained by bloodshed, and power transferred without strife. It was thought that by my adoption provision was made against the possibility of war, even after Galba's death.

29. Ignarus interim Galba et sacris intentus fatigabat alieni iam imperii deos, cum adfertur rumor rapi in castra incertum quem senatorem, mox Othonem esse qui raperetur, simul ex tota urbe, ut quisque obvius fuerat, alii formidine augentes, quidam minora vero, ne tum quidem obliti adulationis. igitur consultantibus placuit pertemptari animum cohortis, quae in Palatio stationem agebat, nec per ipsum Galbam, cuius integra auctoritas maioribus remediis servabatur. Piso pro gradibus domus vocatos in hunc modum adlocutus est: "sextus dies agitur, commilitones, ex quo ignarus futuri, et sive optandum hoc nomen sive timendum erat, Caesar adscitus sum. quo domus nostrae aut rei publicae fato in vestra manu positum est, non quia meo nomine tristiorem casum paveam, ut qui adversas res expertus cum maxime discam ne secundas quidem minus discriminis habere: patris et senatus et ipsius imperii vicem doleo, si nobis aut perire hodie necesse est aut, quod aeque apud bonos miserum est, occidere. solacium proximi motus habebamus incruentam urbem et res sine discordia translatas: provisum adoptione videbatur ut ne post Galbam quidem bello locus esset."

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