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Tacitus: History Book 2 [30]

30. While they were fortifying a camp at Ticinum, the news of Caecina's defeat reached them, and the mutiny nearly broke out afresh from an impression that underhand dealing and delay on the part of Valens had kept them away from the battle. They refused all rest; they would not wait for their general; they advanced in front of the standards, and hurried on the standard-bearers. After a rapid march they joined Caecina. The character of Valens did not stand well with Caecina's army. They complained that, though so much weaker in numbers, they had been exposed to the whole force of the enemy, thus at once excusing themselves, and extolling, in the implied flattery, the strength of the new arrivals, who might, they feared, despise them as beaten and spiritless soldiers. Though Valens had the stronger army, nearly double the number of legions and auxiliaries, yet the partialities of the soldiers inclined to Caecina, not only from the geniality of heart, which he was thought more ready to display, but even from his vigorous age, his commanding person, and a certain superficial attractiveness which he possessed. The result was a jealousy between the two generals. Caecina ridiculed his colleague as a man of foul and infamous character; Valens retorted with charges of emptiness and vanity. But concealing their enmity, they devoted themselves to their common interest, and in frequent letters, without any thought of pardon, heaped all manner of charges upon Otho, while the Othonianist generals, though they had the most abundant materials for invective against Vitellius, refrained from employing them.

30. Munientibus castra apud Ticinum de adversa Caecinae pugna adlatum, et prope renovata seditio tamquam fraude et cunctationibus Valentis proelio defuissent: nolle requiem, non expectare ducem, anteire signa, urgere signiferos; rapido agmine Caecinae iunguntur. improspera Valentis fama apud exercitum Caecinae erat: expositos se tanto pauciores integris hostium viribus querebantur, simul in suam excusationem et adventantium robur per adulationem attollentes, ne ut victi et ignavi despectarentur. et quamquam plus virium, prope duplicatus legionum auxiliorumque numerus erat Valenti, studia tamen militum in Caecinam inclinabant, super benignitatem animi, qua promptior habebatur, etiam vigore aetatis, proceritate corporis et quodam inani favore. hinc aemulatio ducibus: Caecina ut foedum ac maculosum, ille ut tumidum ac vanum inridebant. sed condito odio eandem utilitatem fovere, crebris epistulis sine respectu veniae probra Othoni obiectantes, cum duces partium Othonis quamvis uberrima conviciorum in Vitellium materia abstinerent.

31. In fact, before the death of these two men (and it was by his death that Otho gained high renown, as Vitellius incurred by his the foulest infamy), Vitellius with his indolent luxury was less dreaded than Otho with his ardent passions. The murder of Galba had made the one terrible and odious, while no one reckoned against the other the guilt of having begun the war. Vitellius with his sensuality and gluttony was his own enemy; Otho, with his profligacy, his cruelty, and his recklessness, was held to be more dangerous to the Commonwealth. When Caecina and Valens had united their forces, the Vitellianists had no longer any reason to delay giving battle with their whole strength. Otho deliberated as to whether protracting the war or risking an engagement were the better course. Then Suetonius Paullinus, thinking that it befitted his reputation, which was such that no one at that period was looked upon as a more skilful soldier, to give an opinion on the whole conduct of the war, contended that impatience would benefit the enemy, while delay would serve their own cause.

31. Sane ante utriusque exitum, quo egregiam Otho famam, Vitellius flagitiosissimam meruere, minus Vitellii ignavae voluptates quam Othonis flagrantissimae libidines timebantur: addiderat huic terrorem atque odium caedes Galbae, contra illi initium belli nemo imputabat. Vitellius ventre et gula sibi inhonestus, Otho luxu saevitia audacia rei publicae exitiosior ducebatur. Coniunctis Caecinae ac Valentis copiis nulla ultra penes Vitellianos mora quin totis viribus certarent: Otho consultavit trahi bellum an fortunam experiri placeret.

32. "The entire army of Vitellius," he said, "has already arrived. Nor have they much strength in their rear, since Gaul is ready to rise, and to abandon the banks of the Rhine, when such hostile tribes are ready to burst in, would not answer his purpose. A hostile people and an intervening sea keep from him the army of Britain; Spain is not over full of troops; Gallia Narbonensis has been cowed by the attack of our ships and by a defeat; Italy beyond the Padus is shut in by the Alps, cannot be relieved from the sea, and has been exhausted by the passage of his army. For that army there is no where any corn, and without supplies an army cannot be kept together. Then the Germans, the most formidable part of the enemy's forces, should the war be protracted into the summer, will sink with enfeebled frames under the change of country and climate. Many a war, formidable in its first impetuosity, has passed into nothing through the weariness of delay. We, on the other hand, have on all sides abundant resources and loyal adherents. We have Pannonia, Moesia, Dalmatia, the East with its armies yet intact, we have Italy and Rome, the capital of the Empire, the Senate, and the people, names that never lose their splendour, though they may sometimes be eclipsed. We have the wealth of the State and of private individuals. We have a vast supply of money, which in a civil war is a mightier weapon than the sword. Our soldiers are inured to the climate of Italy or to yet greater heat. We have the river Padus on our front, and cities strongly garrisoned and fortified, none of which will surrender to the enemy, as the defence of Placentia has proved. Let Otho therefore protract the war. In a few days the 14th legion, itself highly renowned, will arrive with the troops from Moesia. He may then again consider the question, and should a battle be resolved on, we shall fight with increased strength."

32. Tunc Suetonius Paulinus dignum fama sua ratus, qua nemo illa tempestate militaris rei callidior habebatur, de toto genere belli censere, festinationem hostibus, moram ipsis utilem disseruit: exercitum Vitellii universum advenisse, nec multum virium a tergo, quoniam Galliae tumeant et deserere Rheni ripam inrupturis tam infestis nationibus non conducat; Britannicum militem hoste et mari distineri: Hispanias armis non ita redundare; provinciam Narbonensem incursu classis et adverso proelio contremuisse; clausam Alpibus et nullo maris subsidio transpadanam Italiam atque ipso transitu exercitus vastam; non frumentum usquam exercitui, nec exercitum sine copiis retineri posse: iam Germanos, quod genus militum apud hostis atrocissimum sit, tracto in aestatem bello, fluxis corporibus, mutationem soli caelique haud toleraturos. multa bella impetu valida per taedia et moras evanuisse. contra ipsis omnia opulenta et fida, Pannoniam Moesiam Dalmatiam Orientem cum integris exercitibus, Italiam et caput rerum urbem senatumque et populum, numquam obscura nomina, etiam si aliquando obumbrentur; publicas privatasque opes et immensam pecuniam, inter civilis discordias ferro validiorem; corpora militum aut Italiae sueta aut aestibus; obiacere flumen Padum, tutas viris murisque urbis, e quibus nullam hosti cessuram Placentiae defensione exploratum: proinde duceret bellum. paucis diebus quartam decimam legionem, magna ipsam fama, cum Moesicis copiis adfore: tum rursus deliberaturum et, si proelium placuisset, auctis viribus certaturos.

33. Marius Celsus acquiesced in the opinion of Paullinus; and Annius Gallus, who a few days before had been seriously injured by the fall of his horse, was reported to agree by those who had been sent to ascertain his opinion. Otho was inclined to risk a decisive battle. His brother Titianus, and Proculus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, ignorant and therefore impatient, declared that fortune, the Gods, and the genius of Otho, were with their counsels, and would be with their enterprises. That no one might dare to oppose their views, they had taken refuge in flattery. It having been resolved to give battle, it became a question whether it would be better for the Emperor to be present in person, or to withdraw. Paullinus and Celsus no longer opposed, for they would not seem to put the Emperor in the way of peril, and these same men who suggested the baser policy prevailed on him to retire to Brixellum, and thus secure from the hazards of the field, to reserve himself for the administration of empire. That day first gave the death-blow to the party of Otho. Not only did a strong detachment of the Praetorian cohorts, of the bodyguard, and of the cavalry, depart with him, but the spirit of those who remained was broken, for the men suspected their generals, and Otho, who alone had the confidence of the soldiers, while he himself trusted in none but them, had left the generals' authority on a doubtful footing.

33. Accedebat sententiae Paulini Marius Celsus; idem placere Annio Gallo, paucos ante dies lapsu equi adflicto, missi qui consilium eius sciscitarentur rettulerant. Otho pronus ad decertandum; frater eius Titianus et praefectus praetorii Proculus, imperitia properantes, fortunam et deos et numen Othonis adesse consiliis, adfore conatibus testabantur, neu quis obviam ire sententiae auderet, in adulationem concesserant. postquam pugnari placitum, interesse pugnae imperatorem an seponi melius foret dubitavere. Paulino et Celso iam non adversantibus, ne principem obiectare periculis viderentur idem illi deterioris consilii auctores perpulere ut Brixellum concederet ac dubiis proeliorum exemptus summae rerum et imperii se ipsum reservaret. is primus dies Othonianas partis adflixit; namque et cum ipso praetoriarum cohortium et speculatorum equitumque valida manus discessit, et remanentium fractus animus, quando suspecti duces et Otho, cui uni apud militem fides, dum et ipse non nisi militibus credit, imperia ducum in incerto reliquerat.

34. Nothing of this escaped the Vitellianists, for, as is usual in civil wars, there were many deserters, and the spies, while busy in inquiring into the plans of the enemy, failed to conceal their own. Meanwhile Caecina and Valens remained quiet, and watched intently for the moment when the enemy in his blindness should rush upon destruction, and found the usual substitute for wisdom in waiting for the folly of others. They began to form a bridge, making a feint of crossing the Padus, in the face of an opposing force of gladiators; they wished also to keep their own soldiers from passing their unoccupied time in idleness. Boats were ranged at equal distances from each other, connected at both ends by strong beams, and with their heads turned against the current, while anchors were thrown out above to keep the bridge firm. The cables, however, instead of being taut, hung loose in the water, in order that as the stream rose the vessels might rise without their arrangement being disturbed. On the end of the bridge was placed a turret; it was built out on the last boat, and from it engines and machines might be worked to repel the enemy. The soldiers of Otho also raised a turret on the opposite bank, and hurled from it stones and flaming missiles.

34. Nihil eorum Vitellianos fallebat, crebris, ut in civili bello, transfugiis; et exploratores cura diversa sciscitandi sua non occultabant. quieti intentique Caecina ac Valens, quando hostis imprudentia rueret, quod loco sapientiae est, alienam stultitiam opperiebantur, inchoato ponte transitum Padi simulantes adversus obpositam gladiatorum manum, ac ne ipsorum miles segne otium tereret. naves pari inter se spatio, validis utrimque trabibus conexae, adversum in flumen dirigebantur, iactis super ancoris quae firmitatem pontis continerent, sed ancorarum funes non extenti fluitabant, ut augescente flumine inoffensus ordo navium attolleretur. claudebat pontem imposita turris et in extremam navem educta, unde tormentis ac machinis hostes propulsarentur. Othoniani in ripa turrim struxerant saxaque et faces iaculabantur.

35. In the middle of the river was an island. While the gladiators were making their way to it in boats, the Germans swam and outstripped them. A considerable number, as it chanced, had effected the passage, when Macer, having manned some light gallies, attacked them with the most active of his gladiators. But the gladiator has not in battle the firmness of the regular soldier, and now, as they stood on rocking vessels, they could not direct their blows like men who had a sure footing on land. As the men in their alarm made confused movements, rowers and combatants were mingled together in disorder; upon this, the Germans themselves leapt into the shallows, laid hold of the boats, climbed over the gunwales, or sank them with their hands. All this passed in the sight of both armies, and the more it delighted the Vitellianists, the more vehemently did the Othonianists curse the cause and author of the disaster.

35. Et erat insula amne medio, in quam gladiatores navibus molientes, Germani nando praelabebantur. ac forte pluris transgressos completis Liburnicis per promptissimos gladiatorum Macer adgreditur: sed neque ea constantia gladiatoribus ad proelia quae militibus, nec proinde nutantes e navibus quam stabili gradu e ripa vulnera derigebant. et cum variis trepidantium inclinationibus mixti remiges propugnatoresque turbarentur, desilire in vada ultro Germani, retentare puppis, scandere foros aut comminus mergere: quae cuncta in oculis utriusque exercitus quanto laetiora Vitellianis, tanto acrius Othoniani causam auctoremque cladis detestabantur.

36. The conflict was terminated by the flight of the vanquished, who carried off what boats were left. Then they cried out for the execution of Macer. He had been wounded by a javelin thrown from a distance, and the soldiers had made a rush upon him with drawn swords, when he was saved by the interference of the tribunes and centurions. Soon after Vestricius Spurinna, having received orders to that effect from Otho, joined with his cohorts, leaving but a moderate force in garrison at Placentia. After this Otho sent Flavius Sabinus, consul elect, to take the command of the troops which had been under Macer; the soldiers were delighted by this change of generals, while the generals were led by these continual outbreaks to regard with disgust so hateful a service.

36. Et proelium quidem, abruptis quae supererant navibus, fuga diremptum: Macer ad exitium poscebatur, iamque vulneratum eminus lancea strictis gladiis invaserant, cum intercursu tribunorum centurionumque protegitur. nec multo post Vestricius Spurinna iussu Othonis, relicto Placentiae modico praesidio, cum cohortibus subvenit. dein Flavium Sabinum consulem designatum Otho rectorem copiis misit, quibus Macer praefuerat, laeto milite ad mutationem ducum et ducibus ob crebras seditiones tam infestam militiam aspernantibus.

37. I find it stated by some authors that either the dread of or the disgust felt for both Emperors, whose wickedness and infamy were coming out every day into more open notoriety, made the two armies hesitate whether they should not cease their strife, and either themselves consult together, or allow the Senate to choose an Emperor; and that, for this reason, Otho's generals recommended a certain measure of delay, Paullinus especially entertaining hopes for himself, on the ground that he was the senior among the men of consular rank, that he was well known as a soldier, and had attained great distinction and fame by his campaigns in Britain. Though I would allow that there were some few who in their secret wishes prayed for peace in the stead of disorder, for a worthy and blameless Emperor in the room of men utterly worthless and wicked, yet I cannot suppose that Paullinus, wise as he was, could have hoped in an age thoroughly depraved to find such moderation in the common herd, as that men, who in their passion for war had trampled peace under foot, should now in their affection for peace renounce the charms of war; nor can I think that armies differing in language and in character, could have united in such an agreement; or that lieutenants and generals, who were for the most part burdened by the consciousness of profligacy, of poverty, and of crime, could have endured any Emperor who was not himself stained by vice, as well as bound by obligation to themselves.

37. Invenio apud quosdam auctores pavore belli seu fastidio utriusque principis, quorum flagitia ac dedecus apertiore in dies fama noscebantur, dubitasse exercitus num posito certamine vel ipsi in medium consultarent, vel senatui permitterent legere imperatorem, atque eo duces Othonianos spatium ac moras suasisse, praecipua spe Paulini, quod vetustissimus consularium et militia clarus gloriam nomenque Britannicis expeditionibus meruisset. ego ut concesserim apud paucos tacito voto quietem pro discordia, bonum et innocentem principem pro pessimis ac flagitiosissimis expetitum, ita neque Paulinum, qua prudentia fuit, sperasse corruptissimo saeculo tantam vulgi moderationem reor ut qui pacem belli amore turbaverant, bellum pacis caritate deponerent, neque aut exercitus linguis moribusque dissonos in hunc consensum potuisse coalescere, aut legatos ac duces magna ex parte luxus egestatis scelerum sibi conscios nisi pollutum obstrictumque meritis suis principem passuros.

38. That old passion for power which has been ever innate in man increased and broke out as the Empire grew in greatness. In a state of moderate dimensions equality was easily preserved; but when the world had been subdued, when all rival kings and cities had been destroyed, and men had leisure to covet wealth which they might enjoy in security, the early conflicts between the patricians and the people were kindled into flame. At one time the tribunes were factious, at another the consuls had unconstitutional power; it was in the capital and the forum that we first essayed civil wars. Then rose C. Marius, sprung from the very dregs of the populace, and L. Sulla, the most ruthless of the patricians, who perverted into absolute dominion the liberty which had yielded to their arms. After them came Cn. Pompeius, with a character more disguised but no way better. Henceforth men's sole object was supreme power. Legions formed of Roman citizens did not lay down their arms at Pharsalia and Philippi, much less were the armies of Otho and Vitellius likely of their own accord to abandon their strife. They were driven into civil war by the same wrath from heaven, the same madness among men, the same incentives to crime. That these wars were terminated by what we may call single blows, was owing to want of energy in the chiefs. But these reflections on the character of ancient and modern times have carried me too far from my subject. I now return to the course of events.

38. Vetus ac iam pridem insita mortalibus potentiae cupido cum imperii magnitudine adolevit erupitque; nam rebus modicis aequalitas facile habebatur. sed ubi subacto orbe et aemulis urbibus regibusve excisis securas opes concupiscere vacuum fuit, prima inter patres plebemque certamina exarsere. modo turbulenti tribuni, modo consules praevalidi, et in urbe ac foro temptamenta civilium bellorum; mox e plebe infima C. Marius et nobilium saevissimus L. Sulla victam armis libertatem in dominationem verterunt. post quos Cn. Pompeius occultior non melior, et numquam postea nisi de principatu quaesitum. non discessere ab armis in Pharsalia ac Philippis civium legiones, nedum Othonis ac Vitellii exercitus sponte posituri bellum fuerint: eadem illos deum ira, eadem hominum rabies, eaedem scelerum causae in discordiam egere. quod singulis velut ictibus transacta sunt bella, ignavia principum factum est. sed me veterum novorumque morum reputatio longius tulit: nunc ad rerum ordinem venio.

39. Otho having started for Brixellum, the honours of supreme command devolved on his brother Titianus, while the real power and control were in the hands of the prefect Proculus. Celsus and Paullinus, as no one made any use of their skill, did but screen with their idle title of general the blunders of others. The tribunes and centurions were perplexed to see that better men were despised, and that the most worthless carried the day. The common soldiers were full of eagerness, but liked to criticise rather than to obey the orders of their officers. It was resolved to move the camp forward to the fourth milestone from Bedriacum, but it was done so unskilfully, that though it was spring, and there were so many rivers in the neighbourhood, the troops were distressed for want of water. Then the subject of giving battle was discussed, Otho in his despatches ever urging them to make haste, and the soldiers demanding that the Emperor should be present at the conflict; many begged that the troops quartered beyond the Padus should be brought up. It is not so easy to determine what was best to be done, as it is to be sure that what was done was the very worst.

39. Profecto Brixellum Othone honor imperii penes Titianum fratrem, vis ac potestas penes Proculum praefectum; Celsus et Paulinus, cum prudentia eorum nemo uteretur, inani nomine ducum alienae culpae praetendebantur; tribuni centurionesque ambigui quod spretis melioribus deterrimi valebant; miles alacer, qui tamen iussa ducum interpretari quam exequi mallet. promoveri ad quartum a Bedriaco castra placuit, adeo imperite ut quamquam verno tempore anni et tot circum amnibus penuria aquae fatigarentur. ibi de proelio dubitatum, Othone per litteras flagitante ut maturarent, militibus ut imperator pugnae adesset poscentibus: plerique copias trans Padum agentis acciri postulabant. nec proinde diiudicari potest quid optimum factu fuerit, quam pessimum fuisse quod factum est.

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