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Tacitus: History Book 2 [40]

40. They started for a campaign rather than for a battle, making for the confluence of the Padus and Addua, a distance of sixteen miles from their position. Celsus and Paullinus remonstrated against exposing troops wearied with a march and encumbered with baggage to any enemy, who, being himself ready for action and having marched barely four miles, would not fail to attack them, either when they were in the confusion of an advance, or when they were dispersed and busy with the work of entrenchment. Titianus and Proculus, overcome in argument, fell back on the Imperial authority. It was true that a Numidian had arrived at full gallop with an angry message from Otho, in which the Emperor, sick of delay and impatient of suspense, sharply rebuked the inactivity of the generals, and commanded that matters should be brought to an issue.

40. Non ut ad pugnam sed ad bellandum profecti confluentis Padi et Ardae fluminum, sedecim inde milium spatio distantis, petebant. Celso et Paulino abnuentibus militem itinere fessum, sarcinis gravem obicere hosti, non omissuro quo minus expeditus et vix quattuor milia passuum progressus aut incompositos in agmine aut dispersos et vallum molientis adgrederetur, Titianus et Proculus, ubi consiliis vincerentur, ad ius imperii transibant. aderat sane citus equo Numida cum atrocibus mandatis, quibus Otho increpita ducum segnitia rem in discrimen mitti iubebat, aeger mora et spei impatiens.

41. The same day, while Caecina was engaged on the construction of a bridge, two tribunes of the Praetorian Guard came to him and begged an interview. He was on the point of hearing their proposals and sending back his own, when the scouts arrived at headlong speed with the news that the enemy were close at hand. The address of the tribunes was thus abruptly terminated. Thus it remained uncertain whether deception, or treason, or some honourable arrangement, had been in their thoughts. Caecina dismissed the tribunes and rode back to the camp. There he found that Fabius Valens had given the signal for battle, and that the troops were under arms. While the legions were casting lots for the order of march, the cavalry charged, and, strange to say, were kept only by the courage of the Italian legion from being driven back on the entrenchments by an inferior force of Othonianists. These men, at the sword's point, compelled the beaten squadron to wheel round and resume the conflict. The line of the Vitellianists was formed without hurry, for, though the enemy was close at hand, the sight of their arms was intercepted by the thick brushwood. In Otho's army the generals were full of fear, and the soldiers hated their officers; the baggage-wagons and the camp-followers were mingled with the troops; and as there were steep ditches on both sides the road, it would have been found too narrow even for an undisturbed advance. Some were gathering round their standards; others were seeking them; everywhere was heard the confused shouting of men who were joining the ranks, or calling to their comrades, and each, as he was prompted by courage or by cowardice, rushed on to the front, or slunk back to the rear.

41. Eodem die ad Caecinam operi pontis intentum duo praetoriarum cohortium tribuni, conloquium eius postulantes, venerunt: audire condiciones ac reddere parabat, cum praecipites exploratores adesse hostem nuntiavere. interruptus tribunorum sermo, eoque incertum fuit insidias an proditionem vel aliquod honestum consilium coeptaverint. Caecina dimissis tribunis revectus in castra datum iussu Fabii Valentis pugnae signum et militem in armis invenit. dum legiones de ordine agminis sortiuntur, equites prorupere; et mirum dictu, a paucioribus Othonianis quo minus in vallum inpingerentur, Italicae legionis virtute deterriti sunt: ea strictis mucronibus redire pulsos et pugnam resumere coegit. disposita Vitellianarum legionum acies sine trepidatione: etenim quamquam vicino hoste aspectus armorum densis arbustis prohibebatur. apud Othonianos pavidi duces, miles ducibus infensus, mixta vehicula et lixae, et praeruptis utrimque fossis via quieto quoque agmini angusta. circumsistere alii signa sua, quaerere alii; incertus undique clamor adcurrentium, vocantium: ut cuique audacia vel formido, in primam postremamve aciem prorumpebant aut relabebantur.

42. From the consternation of panic their feelings passed under the influence of a groundless joy into languid indifference, some persons spreading the lie that Vitellius' army had revolted. Whether this rumour was circulated by the spies of Vitellius, or originated in treachery or in accident among the partisans of Otho, has never been clearly ascertained. Forgetting their warlike ardour, the Othonianists at once greeted the foe; as they were answered by an angry murmur, they caused apprehensions of treachery in many of their own side, who did not know what the greeting meant. Then the enemy's line charged with its ranks unbroken, in strength and in numbers superior; the Othonianists, scattered and weary as they were, met the attack with spirit. The ground was so entangled with trees and vineyards that the battle assumed many forms. They met in close and in distant conflict, in line and in column. On the raised road they stood foot to foot, they pushed with their bodies and their shields, and ceasing to throw their javelins, they struck through helmets and breastplates with swords and battle-axes. Recognising each other and distinctly seen by the rest of the combatants, they were fighting to decide the whole issue of the war.

42. Attonitas subito terrore mentis falsum gaudium in languorem vertit, repertis qui descivisse a Vitellio exercitum ementirentur. is rumor ab exploratoribus Vitellii dispersus, an in ipsa Othonis parte seu dolo seu forte surrexerit, parum compertum. omisso pugnae ardore Othoniani ultro salutavere; et hostili murmure excepti, plerisque suorum ignaris quae causa salutandi, metum proditionis fecere. tum incubuit hostium acies, integris ordinibus, robore et numero praestantior: Othoniani, quamquam dispersi, pauciores, fessi, proelium tamen acriter sumpsere. et per locos arboribus ac vineis impeditos non una pugnae facies: comminus eminus, catervis et cuneis concurrebant. in aggere viae conlato gradu corporibus et umbonibus niti, omisso pilorum iactu gladiis et securibus galeas loricasque perrumpere: noscentes inter se, ceteris conspicui, in eventum totius belli certabant.

43. In an open plain between the Padus and the road, two legions happened to meet. On the side of Vitellius was the 21st, called the Rapax, a corps of old and distinguished renown. On that of Otho was the 1st, called Adjutrix, which had never before been brought into the field, but was high-spirited, and eager to gain its first triumph. The men of the 1st, overthrowing the foremost ranks of the 21st, carried off the eagle. The 21st, infuriated by this loss, not only repulsed the 1st, and slew the legate, Orfidius Benignus, but captured many colours and standards from the enemy. In another quarter the 13th legion was put to flight by a charge of the 5th. The 14th was surrounded by a superior force. Otho's generals had long since fled and Caecina and Valens strengthened their army with the reserves. New reinforcements were supplied by Varus Alfenius with his Batavians. They had routed the band of gladiators, which had been ferried across the river, and which had been cut to pieces by the opposing cohorts while they were actually in the water. Thus flushed with victory, they charged the flank of the enemy.

43. Forte inter Padum viamque patenti campo duae legiones congressae sunt, pro Vitellio unaetvicensima, cui cognomen Rapaci, vetere gloria insignis, e parte Othonis prima Adiutrix, non ante in aciem deducta, sed ferox et novi decoris avida. primani stratis unaetvicensimanorum principiis aquilam abstulere; quo dolore accensa legio et impulit rursus primanos, interfecto Orfidio Benigno legato, et plurima signa vexillaque ex hostibus rapuit. a parte alia propulsa quintanorum impetu tertia decima legio, circumventi plurium adcursu quartadecimani. et ducibus Othonis iam pridem profugis Caecina ac Valens subsidiis suos firmabant. accessit recens auxilium, Varus Alfenus cum Batavis, fusa gladiatorum manu, quam navibus transvectam obpositae cohortes in ipso flumine trucidaverant: ita victores latus hostium invecti.

44. The centre of their line had been penetrated, and the Othonianists fled on all sides in the direction of Bedriacum. The distance was very great, and the roads were blocked up with heaps of corpses; thus the slaughter was the greater, for captives taken in civil war can be turned to no profit. Suetonius Paullinus and Licinius Proculus, taking different roads, avoided the camp. Vedius Aquila, legate of the 13th legion, in the blindness of fear, fell in the way of the furious soldiery. Late in the day he entered the entrenchments, and found himself the centre of a mob of clamorous and mutinous fugitives. They did not refrain from abuse or actual violence; they reviled him as a deserter and traitor, not having any specific charge against him, but all, after the fashion of the mob, imputing to him their own crimes. Titianus and Celsus were favoured by the darkness. By that time the sentries had been posted, and the soldiers reduced to order. Annius Gallus had prevailed upon them by his prayers, his advice, and his personal influence, not to aggravate the disaster of their defeat by mutual slaughter. Whether the war was at an end, or whether they might choose to resume the conflict, the vanquished would find in union the sole mitigation of their lot. The spirit of the rest of the army was broken, but the Praetorians angrily complained that they had been vanquished, not by valour, but by treachery. "The Vitellianists indeed," they said, "gained no bloodless victory; their cavalry was defeated, a legion lost its eagle. We have still the troops beyond the Padus, and Otho himself. The legions of Moesia are coming; a great part of the army remained at Bedriacum; these certainly were never vanquished; and if it must be so, it is on the battlefield that we shall fall with most honour." Amid all the exasperation or terror of these thoughts, the extremity of despair yet roused them to fury rather than to fear.

44. Et media acie perrupta fugere passim Othoniani, Bedriacum petentes. immensum id spatium, obstructae strage corporum viae, quo plus caedis fuit; neque enim civilibus bellis capti in praedam vertuntur. Suetonius Paulinus et Licinius Proculus diversis itineribus castra vitavere. Vedium Aquilam tertiae decimae legionis legatum irae militum inconsultus pavor obtulit. multo adhuc die vallum ingressus clamore seditiosorum et fugacium circumstrepitur; non probris, non manibus abstinent; desertorem proditoremque increpant, nullo proprio crimine eius sed more vulgi suum quisque flagitium aliis obiectantes. Titianum et Celsum nox iuvit, dispositis iam excubiis conpressisque militibus, quos Annius Gallus consilio precibus auctoritate flexerat, ne super cladem adversae pugnae suismet ipsi caedibus saevirent: sive finis bello venisset seu resumere arma mallent, unicum victis in consensu levamentum. ceteris fractus animus: praetorianus miles non virtute se sed proditione victum fremebat: ne Vitellianis quidem incruentam fuisse victoriam, pulso equite, rapta legionis aquila; superesse cum ipso Othone militum quod trans Padum fuerit, venire Moesicas legiones, magnam exercitus partem Bedriaci remansisse: hos certe nondum victos et, si ita ferret, honestius in acie perituros. his cogitationibus truces aut pavidi extrema desperatione ad iram saepius quam in formidinem stimulabantur.

45. The army of Vitellius bivouacked at the fifth milestone from Bedriacum. The generals did not venture an assault on the enemy's camp that same day; besides, a capitulation was expected. Though they were without baggage, and had marched out only to fight, it was sufficient protection to them that they had arms, and were victorious. On the following day, as the feeling of Otho's army was evident, and those who had been most furious were inclined to repent, envoys were sent, nor did the generals of Vitellius hesitate to grant conditions of peace. The envoys indeed were detained for some little time, and this circumstance caused some doubt, as it was not known whether they had obtained their object; before long, however, they returned, and the camp was thrown open. Both victors and vanquished melted into tears, and cursed the fatality of civil strife with a melancholy joy. There in the same tents did they dress the wounds of brothers or of kinsmen. Their hopes, their rewards, were all uncertain; death and sorrow were sure. And no one had so escaped misfortune as to have no bereavement to lament. Search was made for the body of the legate Orfidius, and it was burnt with the customary honours. A few were buried by their friends; the multitude that remained were left above ground.

45. At Vitellianus exercitus ad quintum a Bedriaco lapidem consedit, non ausis ducibus eadem die obpugnationem castrorum; simul voluntaria deditio sperabatur: sed expeditis et tantum ad proelium egressis munimentum fuere arma et victoria. postera die haud ambigua Othoniani exercitus voluntate et qui ferociores fuerant ad paenitentiam inclinantibus missa legatio; nec apud duces Vitellianos dubitatum quo minus pacem concederent. legati paulisper retenti: ea res haesitationem attulit ignaris adhuc an impetrassent. mox remissa legatione patuit vallum. tum victi victoresque in lacrimas effusi, sortem civilium armorum misera laetitia detestantes; isdem tentoriis alii fratrum, alii propinquorum vulnera fovebant: spes et praemia in ambiguo, certa funera et luctus, nec quisquam adeo mali expers ut non aliquam mortem maereret. requisitum Orfidii legati corpus honore solito crematur; paucos necessarii ipsorum sepelivere, ceterum vulgus super humum relictum.

46. Otho was awaiting news of the battle free from alarm and resolved in purpose. First came gloomy tidings, and then fugitives from the field, making known that all was lost. The zeal of the soldiers did not wait for the Emperor to speak. They bade him be of good cheer, telling him that he had still fresh forces, and that they would themselves endure and dare to the last. This was no flattery; they were fired by a furious impulse to seek the battle-field, and raise again the fallen fortunes of their party. Those who stood at a distance stretched out their arms, those who were near clasped the Emperor's knees, and Plotius Firmus was the most zealous of them all. This man, who was prefect of the Praetorian Guard, repeatedly besought Otho not to desert an army so loyal and soldiers so deserving; "there was more courage in bearing trouble," he said, "than in escaping from it; the brave and the energetic cling to hope, even in spite of fortune; the cowardly and the indolent are hurried into despair by their fears." While he was thus speaking, as Otho assumed a relenting or a stern expression, the soldiers cheered or groaned. Nor was it only the Praetorians, who were peculiarly Otho's troops, that thus acted; those who had been sent on from Moesia declared that the approaching army was as firmly resolved, and that the legions had entered Aquileia. No one therefore can doubt that the war might have been renewed with its terrible disasters, and its uncertainties both for victors and vanquished.

46. Opperiebatur Otho nuntium pugnae nequaquam trepidus et consilii certus. maesta primum fama, dein profugi e proelio perditas res patefaciunt. non expectavit militum ardor vocem imperatoris; bonum haberet animum iubebant: superesse adhuc novas viris, et ipsos extrema passuros ausurosque. neque erat adulatio: ire in aciem, excitare partium fortunam furore quodam et instinctu flagrabant. qui procul adstiterant, tendere manus, et proximi prensare genua, promptissimo Plotio Firmo. is praetorii praefectus identidem orabat ne fidissimum exercitum, ne optime meritos milites desereret: maiore animo tolerari adversa quam relinqui; fortis et strenuos etiam contra fortunam insistere spei, timidos et ignavos ad desperationem formidine properare. quas inter voces ut flexerat vultum aut induraverat Otho, clamor et gemitus. nec praetoriani tantum, proprius Othonis miles, sed praemissi e Moesia eandem obstinationem adventantis exercitus, legiones Aquileiam ingressas nuntiabant, ut nemo dubitet potuisse renovari bellum atrox, lugubre, incertum victis et victoribus.

47. Otho himself was opposed to all thoughts of war. He said, "I hold that to expose such a spirit, such a courage as yours, to any further risk is to put too high a value on my life. The more hope you hold out to me, should I choose to live, the more glorious will be my death. Fortune and I now know each other; you need not reckon for how long, for it is peculiarly difficult to be moderate with that prosperity which you think you will not long enjoy. The civil war began with Vitellius; he was the first cause of our contending in arms for the throne; the example of not contending more than once shall belong to me. By this let posterity judge of Otho. Vitellius is welcome to his brother, his wife, his children. I need neither revenge nor consolation. Others may have held the throne for a longer time, but no one can have left it with such fortitude. Shall I suffer so large a portion of the youth of Rome and so many noble armies to be again laid low and to be lost to the State? Let this thought go with me, that you were willing to die for me. But live, and let us no longer delay, lest I interfere with your safety, you with my firmness. To say too much about one's end is a mark of cowardice. Take as the strongest proof of my determination the fact that I complain of no one. To accuse either gods or men is only for him who wishes to live."

47. Ipse aversus a consiliis belli 'hunc' inquit 'animum, hanc virtutem vestram ultra periculis obicere nimis grande vitae meae pretium puto. quanto plus spei ostenditis, si vivere placeret, tanto pulchrior mors erit. experti in vicem sumus ego ac fortuna. nec tempus conputaveritis: difficilius est temperare felicitati qua te non putes diu usurum. civile bellum a Vitellio coepit, et ut de principatu certaremus armis initium illic fuit: ne plus quam semel certemus penes me exemplum erit; hinc Othonem posteritas aestimet. fruetur Vitellius fratre, coniuge, liberis: mihi non ultione neque solaciis opus est. alii diutius imperium tenuerint, nemo tam fortiter reliquerit. an ego tantum Romanae pubis, tot egregios exercitus sterni rursus et rei publicae eripi patiar? eat hic mecum animus, tamquam perituri pro me fueritis, set este superstites. nec diu moremur, ego incolumitatem vestram, vos constantiam meam. plura de extremis loqui pars ignaviae est. praecipuum destinationis meae documentum habete quod de nemine queror; nam incusare deos vel homines eius est qui vivere velit.'

48. After having thus spoken, he courteously entreated all in terms befitting their age and rank to go at once, and not exasperate the anger of the conqueror by staying. With the young he used his authority, with the old his prayers, and still his look was calm, his speech collected, as he checked the unseasonable tears of his friends. He gave orders that those who were departing should be furnished with boats and carriages; he destroyed all memorials and letters remarkable for their expressions of zeal for himself or their abuse of Vitellius. He distributed some gratuities, but sparingly, and not like a man who was soon to die. Then he even administered consolation to Salvius Cocceianus, his brother's son, a very young man, who was anxious and sorrowful, praising his affection while he rebuked his fear. "Do you think," he said, "that Vitellius will shew so ruthless a temper that he will not make even this return for the preservation of his whole family? By hastening my end I earn the clemency of the conqueror. It is not in the extremity of despair, but while my army yet cries for battle, that I have sacrificed to the State my last chance. I have obtained enough reputation for myself, enough nobility for my family. Successor to the Julii, the Claudii, the Servii, have been the first to bring the Imperial dignity into a new family. Enter then on life with a brave heart, and never entirely forget, or remember too vividly, that Otho was your uncle."

48. Talia locutus, ut cuique aetas aut dignitas, comiter appellatos, irent propere neu remanendo iram victoris asperarent, iuvenes auctoritate, senes precibus movebat, placidus ore, intrepidus verbis, intempestivas suorum lacrimas coercens. dari navis ac vehicula abeuntibus iubet; libellos epistulasque studio erga se aut in Vitellium contumeliis insignis abolet; pecunias distribuit parce nec ut periturus. mox Salvium Cocceianum, fratris filium, prima iuventa, trepidum et maerentem ultro solatus est, laudando pietatem eius, castigando formidinem: an Vitellium tam inmitis animi fore ut pro incolumi tota domo ne hanc quidem sibi gratiam redderet? mereri se festinato exitu clementiam victoris; non enim ultima desperatione sed poscente proelium exercitu remisisse rei publicae novissimum casum. satis sibi nominis, satis posteris suis nobilitatis quaesitum. post Iulios Claudios Servios se primum in familiam novam imperium intulisse: proinde erecto animo capesseret vitam, neu patruum sibi Othonem fuisse aut oblivisceretur umquam aut nimium meminisset.

49. After this he dismissed every one, and took some repose. He was now pondering in his heart the last cares of life, when his attention was distracted by a sudden tumult and he was told of the confusion and outrageous conduct of the soldiers. They were threatening with death all who attempted to depart, and were extreme in their violence against Verginius, whose house they had blockaded and were besieging. After rebuking the ringleaders of the tumult, he returned and employed himself in granting interviews to those who were departing, till all had left in safety. Towards evening he quenched his thirst with a draught of cold water. Two daggers were brought to him; he tried the edge of each, and then put one under his head. After satisfying himself that his friends had set out, he passed a tranquil night, and it is even said that he slept. At dawn he fell with his breast upon the steel. Hearing a groan from the dying man, his freedmen and slaves, and Plotius Firmus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, came in. They found but one wound. His funeral was hastily performed. He had made this the subject of earnest entreaties, anxious that his head might not be cut off and subjected to indignities. The Praetorian cohorts carried his body with praises and tears, covering his wound and his hands with kisses. Some of the soldiers killed themselves near the funeral pile, not moved by remorse or by fear, but by the desire to emulate his glory, and by love of their Prince. Afterwards this kind of death became a common practice among all ranks at Bedriacum, at Placentia, and in the other camps. Over Otho was built a tomb unpretending and therefore likely to stand.

49. Post quae dimotis omnibus paulum requievit. atque illum supremas iam curas animo volutantem repens tumultus avertit, nuntiata consternatione ac licentia militum; namque abeuntibus exitium minitabantur, atrocissima in Verginium vi, quem clausa domo obsidebant. increpitis seditionis auctoribus regressus vacavit abeuntium adloquiis, donec omnes inviolati digrederentur. vesperascente die sitim haustu gelidae aquae sedavit. tum adlatis pugionibus duobus, cum utrumque pertemptasset, alterum capiti subdidit. et explorato iam profectos amicos, noctem quietam, utque adfirmatur, non insomnem egit: luce prima in ferrum pectore incubuit. ad gemitum morientis ingressi liberti servique et Plotius Firmus praetorii praefectus unum vulnus invenere. funus maturatum; ambitiosis id precibus petierat ne amputaretur caput ludibrio futurum. tulere corpus praetoriae cohortes cum laudibus et lacrimis, vulnus manusque eius exosculantes. quidam militum iuxta rogum interfecere se, non noxa neque ob metum, sed aemulatione decoris et caritate principis. ac postea promisce Bedriaci, Placentiae aliisque in castris celebratum id genus mortis. Othoni sepulchrum extructum est modicum et mansurum. hunc vitae finem habuit septimo et tricensimo aetatis anno.

Next: Book 2 [50]