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Tacitus: History Book 3 [20]

20. Antonius then made his way into the companies. When his presence and personal authority had restored silence, he declared, "I would not snatch their glory or their reward from those who have deserved them so well. Yet there is a division of duties between the army and its generals. Eagerness for battle becomes the soldiers, but generals serve the cause by forethought, by counsel, by delay oftener than by temerity. As I promoted your victory to the utmost of my power by my sword and by my personal exertions, so now I must help you by prudence and by counsel, the qualities which belong peculiarly to a general. What you will have to encounter is indeed perfectly plain. There will be the darkness, the strange localities of the town, the enemy inside the walls, and all possible facilities for ambuscades. Even if the gates were wide open, we ought not to enter the place, except we had first reconnoitred it, and in the day-time. Shall we set about storming the town when we have no means seeing where the ground is level, what is the height of the walls, whether the city is to be assailed by our artillery and javelins, or by siege-works and covered approaches?" He then turned to individual soldiers, asking them whether they had brought with them their axes and spades and whatever else is used when towns are to be stormed. On their admitting that they had not done so, "Can any hands," he answered, "break through and undermine walls with swords and lances? And if it should be found necessary to throw up an embankment and to shelter ourselves under mantlets and hurdles, shall we stand baffled like a thoughtless mob, marvelling at the height of the towers and at the enemy's defences? Shall we not rather, by delaying one night, till our artillery and engines come up, take with us a strength that must prevail?" At the same time he sent the sutlers and camp-followers with the freshest of the cavalry to Bedriacum to fetch supplies and whatever else they needed.

20. Tum Antonius inserens se manipulis, ubi aspectu et auctoritate silentium fecerat, non se decus neque pretium eripere tam bene meritis adfirmabat, sed divisa inter exercitum ducesque munia: militibus cupidinem pugnandi convenire, duces providendo, consultando, cunctatione saepius quam temeritate prodesse. ut pro virili portione armis ac manu victoriam iuverit, ratione et consilio, propriis ducis artibus, profuturum; neque enim ambigua esse quae occurrant, noctem et ignotae situm urbis, intus hostis et cuncta insidiis opportuna. non si pateant portae, nisi explorato, nisi die intrandum. an obpugnationem inchoaturos adempto omni prospectu, quis aequus locus, quanta altitudo moenium, tormentisne et telis an operibus et vineis adgredienda urbs foret? mox conversus ad singulos, num securis dolabrasque et cetera expugnandis urbibus secum attulissent, rogitabat. et cum abnuerent, 'gladiisne' inquit 'et pilis perfringere ac subruere muros ullae manus possunt? si aggerem struere, si pluteis cratibusve protegi necesse fuerit, ut vulgus improvidum inriti stabimus, altitudinem turrium et aliena munimenta mirantes? quin potius mora noctis unius, advectis tormentis machinisque, vim victoriamque nobiscum ferimus?' simul lixas calonesque cum recentissimis equitum Bedriacum mittit, copias ceteraque usui adlaturos.

21. The soldiers, however, were impatient, and a mutiny had almost broken out, when some cavalry, who had advanced to the very walls of Cremona, seized some stragglers from the town, from whose information it was ascertained, that the six legions of Vitellius and the entire army which had been quartered at Hostilia had on that very day marched a distance of thirty miles, and having heard of the defeat of their comrades, were preparing for battle, and would soon be coming up. This alarm opened the ears that had before been deaf to their general's advice. The 13th legion was ordered to take up its position on the raised causeway of the Via Postumia, supported on the left by the 7th (Galba's) which was posted in the plain, next came the 7th (Claudius'), defended in front by a field-ditch, such being the character of the ground. On the right was the 8th legion, drawn up in an open space, and then the 3rd, whose ranks were divided by some thick brushwood. Such was the arrangement of the eagles and the standards. The soldiers were mingled in the darkness as accident had determined. The Praetorian colours were close to the 3rd legion; the auxiliary infantry were stationed on the wings; the cavalry covered the flanks and the rear. Sido and Italicus, the Suevian chieftains, with a picked body of their countrymen, manoeuvred in the van.

21. Id vero aegre tolerante milite prope seditionem ventum, cum progressi equites sub ipsa moenia vagos e Cremonensibus corripiunt, quorum indicio noscitur sex Vitellianas legiones omnemque exercitum, qui Hostiliae egerat, eo ipso die triginta milia passuum emensum, comperta suorum clade in proelium accingi ac iam adfore. is terror obstructas mentis consiliis ducis aperuit. sistere tertiam decimam legionem in ipso viae Postumiae aggere iubet, cui iuncta a laevo septima Galbiana patenti campo stetit, dein septima Claudiana, agresti fossa (ita locus erat) praemunita; dextro octava per apertum limitem, mox tertia densis arbustis intersepta. hic aquilarum signorumque ordo: milites mixti per tenebras, ut fors tulerat; praetorianum vexillum proximum tertianis, cohortes auxiliorum in cornibus, latera ac terga equite circumdata; Sido atque Italicus Suebi cum delectis popularium primori in acie versabantur.

22. It would have been the best policy for the army of Vitellius to rest at Cremona, and, with strength recruited by food and repose, to attack and crush the next day an enemy exhausted by cold and hunger; but now, wanting a leader, and having no settled plan, they came into collision about nine o'clock at night with the Flavianist troops, who stood ready, and in order of battle. Respecting the disposition of the Vitellianist army, disordered as it was by its fury and by the darkness, I would not venture to speak positively. Some, however, have related, that on the right wing was the 4th legion (the Macedonian); that the 5th and 15th, with the veterans of three British legions (the 9th, 2nd, and 20th), formed the centre, while the left wing was made up of the 1st, the 16th, and the 22nd. Men of the legions Rapax and Italica were mingled with all the companies. The cavalry and the auxiliaries chose their position themselves. Throughout the night the battle raged in many forms, indecisive and fierce, destructive, first to one side, then to the other. Courage, strength, even the eye with its keenest sight, were of no avail. Both armies fought with the same weapons; the watch-word, continually asked, became known; the colours were confused together, as parties of combatants snatched them from the enemy, and hurried them in this or that direction. The 7th legion, recently levied by Galba, was the hardest pressed. Six centurions of the first rank were killed, and some of the standards taken; but the eagle was saved by Atilius Verus, the centurion of the first company, who, after making a great slaughter among the enemy, at last fell.

22. At Vitellianus exercitus, cui adquiescere Cremonae et reciperatis cibo somnoque viribus confectum algore atque inedia hostem postera die profligare ac proruere ratio fuit, indigus rectoris, inops consilii, tertia ferme noctis hora paratis iam dispositisque Flavianis impingitur. ordinem agminis disiecti per iram ac tenebras adseverare non ausim, quamquam alii tradiderint quartam Macedonicam dextrum suorum cornu, quintam et quintam decimam cum vexillis nonae secundaeque et vicensimae Britannicarum legionum mediam aciem, sextadecimanos duoetvicensimanosque et primanos laevum cornu complesse. Rapaces atque Italici omnibus se manipulis miscuerant; eques auxiliaque sibi ipsi locum legere. proelium tota nocte varium, anceps, atrox, his, rursus illis exitiabile. nihil animus aut manus, ne oculi quidem provisu iuvabant. eadem utraque acie arma, crebris interrogationibus notum pugnae signum, permixta vexilla, ut quisque globus capta ex hostibus huc vel illuc raptabat. urgebatur maxime septima legio, nuper a Galba conscripta. occisi sex primorum ordinum centuriones, abrepta quaedam signa: ipsam aquilam Atilius Verus primi pili centurio multa cum hostium strage et ad extremum moriens servaverat.

23. The line was supported, as it began to waver, by Antonius, who brought up the Praetorians. They took up the conflict, repulsed the enemy, and were then themselves repulsed. The troops of Vitellius had collected their artillery on the raised causeway, where there was a free and open space for the discharge of the missiles, which at first had been scattered at random, and had struck against the trees without injury to the enemy. An engine of remarkable size, belonging to the 15th legion, was crushing the hostile ranks with huge stones, and would have spread destruction far and wide, had not two soldiers ventured on a deed of surpassing bravery. Disguising themselves with shields snatched from the midst of the carnage, they cut the ropes and springs of the engine. They were instantly slain, and their names have consequently been lost; but the fact is undoubted. Fortune favoured neither side, till at a late hour of the night the moon rose and showed, but showed deceptively, both armies. The light, however, shining from behind, favoured the Flavianists. With them a lengthened shadow fell from men and horses, and the enemy's missiles, incorrectly aimed at what seemed the substance, fell short, while the Vitellianists, who had the light shining on their faces, were unconsciously exposed to an enemy who were, so to speak, concealed while they aimed.

23. Sustinuit labentem aciem Antonius accitis praetorianis. qui ubi excepere pugnam, pellunt hostem, dein pelluntur. namque Vitelliani tormenta in aggerem viae contulerant ut tela vacuo atque aperto excuterentur, dispersa primo et arbustis sine hostium noxa inlisa. magnitudine eximia quintae decimae legionis ballista ingentibus saxis hostilem aciem proruebat. lateque cladem intulisset ni duo milites praeclarum facinus ausi, arreptis e strage scutis ignorati, vincla ac libramenta tormentorum abscidissent. statim confossi sunt eoque intercidere nomina: de facto haud ambigitur. neutro inclinaverat fortuna donec adulta nocte luna surgens ostenderet acies falleretque. sed Flavianis aequior a tergo; hinc maiores equorum virorumque umbrae, et falso, ut in corpora, ictu tela hostium citra cadebant: Vitelliani adverso lumine conlucentes velut ex occulto iaculantibus incauti offerebantur.

24. As soon as Antonius could recognize his men and be recognized by them, he sought to kindle their courage, striving to shame some with his reproaches, stirring many with praise and encouragement, and all with hopes and promises. "Why," he demanded of the legions of Pannonia, "have you again taken up arms? Yonder is the field where you may wipe out the stain of past disgrace, and redeem your honour." Then turning to the troops of Moesia, he appealed to them as the authors and originators of the war. "Idly," he said "have you challenged the Vitellianists with threatening words, if you cannot abide their attack or even their looks." So he spoke to each as he approached them. The third legion he addressed at greater length, reminding them of old and recent achievements, how under Marcus Antonius they had defeated the Parthians, under Corbulo the Armenians, and had lately discomfited the Sarmatians. Then angrily turning to the Praetorians, "Clowns," said he, "unless you are victorious, what other general, what other camp will receive you? There are your colours and your arms; defeat is death, for disgrace you have exhausted." A shout was raised on all sides, and the soldiers of the third legion saluted, as is the custom in Syria, the rising sun.

24. Igitur Antonius, ubi noscere suos noscique poterat, alios pudore et probris, multos laude et hortatu, omnis spe promissisque accendens, cur resumpsissent arma, Pannonicas legiones interrogabat: illos esse campos, in quibus abolere labem prioris ignominiae, ubi reciperare gloriam possent. tum ad Moesicos conversus principes auctoresque belli ciebat: frustra minis et verbis provocatos Vitellianos, si manus eorum oculosque non tolerent. haec, ut quosque accesserat; plura ad tertianos, veterum recentiumque admonens, ut sub M. Antonio Parthos, sub Corbulone Armenios, nuper Sarmatas pepulissent. mox infensus praetorianis 'vos' inquit, 'nisi vincitis, pagani, quis alius imperator, quae castra alia excipient? illic signa armaque vestra sunt, et mors victis; nam ignominiam consumpsistis.' undique clamor, et orientem solem (ita in Syria mos est) tertiani salutavere.

25. A vague rumour thus arose, or was intentionally suggested by the general, that Mucianus had arrived, and that the two armies had exchanged salutations. The men then charged as confidently as if they had been strengthened by fresh reinforcements, while the enemy's array was now less compact; for, as there was no one to command, it was now contracted, now extended, as the courage or fear of individual soldiers might prompt. Antonius, seeing that they gave way, charged them with a heavy column; the loose ranks were at once broken, and, entangled as they were among their wagons and artillery, could not be re-formed. The conquerors, in the eagerness of pursuit, dispersed themselves over the entire line of road. The slaughter that followed was made particularly memorable through the murder of a father by his son. I will record the incident with the names, on the authority of Vipstanus Messalla. Julius Mansuetus, a Spaniard, enlisting in the legion Rapax, had left at home a son of tender age. The lad grew up to manhood, and was enrolled by Galba in the 7th legion. Now chancing to meet his father, he brought him to the ground with a wound, and, as he rifled his dying foe, recognized him, and was himself recognized. Clasping the expiring man in his arms, in piteous accents he implored the spirit of his father to be propitious to him, and not to turn from him with loathing as from a parricide. "This guilt," he said, "is shared by all; how small a part of a civil war is a single soldier!" With these words he raised the body, opened a grave, and discharged the last duties for his father. This was noticed by those who were on the spot, then by many others; astonishment and indignation ran through the whole army, and they cursed this most horrible war. Yet as eagerly as ever they stripped the bodies of slaughtered kinsfolk, connexions, and brothers. They talk of an impious act having been done, and they do it themselves.

25. Vagus inde an consilio ducis subditus rumor, advenisse Mucianum, exercitus in vicem salutasse. gradum inferunt quasi recentibus auxiliis aucti, rariore iam Vitellianorum acie, ut quos nullo rectore suus quemque impetus vel pavor contraheret diduceretve. postquam impulsos sensit Antonius, denso agmine obturbabat. laxati ordines abrumpuntur, nec restitui quivere impedientibus vehiculis tormentisque. per limitem viae sparguntur festinatione consectandi victores. eo notabilior caedes fuit, quia filius patrem interfecit. rem nominaque auctore Vipstano Messala tradam. Iulius Mansuetus ex Hispania, Rapaci legioni additus, impubem filium domi liquerat. is mox adultus, inter septimanos a Galba conscriptus, oblatum forte patrem et vulnere stratum dum semianimem scrutatur, agnitus agnoscensque et exanguem amplexus, voce flebili precabatur placatos patris manis, neve se ut parricidam aversarentur: publicum id facinus; et unum militem quotam civilium armorum partem? simul attollere corpus, aperire humum, supremo erga parentem officio fungi. advertere proximi, deinde plures: hinc per omnem aciem miraculum et questus et saevissimi belli execratio. nec eo segnius propinquos adfinis fratres trucidant spoliant: factum esse scelus loquuntur faciuntque.

26. When they reached Cremona a fresh work of vast difficulty presented itself. During the war with Otho the legions of Germany had formed their camp round the walls of the city, round this camp had drawn an entrenchment, and had again strengthened these defences. At this sight the victorious army hesitated, while the generals doubted what orders they should give. To attempt an assault with troops exhausted by the toil of a day and a night would be difficult, and with no proper reserves might be perilous. Should they return to Bedriacum, the fatigue of so long a march would be insupportable, and their victory would result in nothing. To entrench a camp with the enemy so close at hand would be dangerous, as by a sudden sortie they might cause confusion among them while dispersed and busied with the work. Above all, they were afraid of their soldiers, who were more patient of danger than delay. Cautious measures they disliked; their rashness inspired them with hope, and eagerness for plunder outweighed all the horrors of carnage, wounds, and bloodshed.

26. Vt Cremonam venere, novum immensumque opus occurrit. Othoniano bello Germanicus miles moenibus Cremonensium castra sua, castris vallum circumiecerat eaque munimenta rursus auxerat. quorum aspectu haesere victores, incertis ducibus quid iuberent. incipere obpugnationem fesso per diem noctemque exercitu arduum et nullo iuxta subsidio anceps: sin Bedriacum redirent, intolerandus tam longi itineris labor, et victoria ad inritum revolvebatur: munire castra, id quoque propinquis hostibus formidolosum, ne dispersos et opus molientis subita eruptione turbarent. quae super cuncta terrebat ipsorum miles periculi quam morae patientior: quippe ingrata quae tuta, ex temeritate spes; omnisque caedes et vulnera et sanguis aviditate praedae pensabantur.

27. Antonius himself was this way inclined, and he ordered the entrenched camp to be invested. At first they fought from a distance with arrows and stones, the Flavianists suffering most, as the enemy's missiles were aimed at them from a superior height. Antonius then assigned to each legion the attack on some portion of the entrenchments, and on one particular gate, seeking by this division of labour to distinguish the cowardly from the brave, and to stimulate his men by an honourable rivalry. The 3rd and 7th legions took up a position close to the road from Bedriacum; more to the right of the entrenchments were stationed the 8th and the 7th (Claudius'). The 13th were carried by the impetuosity of their attack as far as the gate looking towards Brixia. There ensued a little delay, while from the neighbouring fields some were collecting spades and pickaxes, others hooks and ladders. Then raising their shields over their heads, they advanced to the rampart in a dense "testudo." Both used the arts of Roman warfare; the Vitellianists rolled down ponderous stones, and drove spears and long poles into the broken and tottering "testudo," till the dense array of shields was loosened, and the ground was strewn with a vast number of lifeless and mangled bodies.

27. Huc inclinavit Antonius cingique vallum corona iussit. primo sagittis saxisque eminus certabant, maiore Flavianorum pernicie, in quos tela desuper librabantur; mox vallum portasque legionibus attribuit, ut discretus labor fortis ignavosque distingueret atque ipsa contentione decoris accenderentur. proxima Bedriacensi viae tertiani septimanique sumpsere, dexteriora valli octava ac septima Claudiana; tertiadecimanos ad Brixianam portam impetus tulit. paulum inde morae, dum ex proximis agris ligones dolabras et alii falcis scalasque convectant: tum elatis super capita scutis densa testudine succedunt. Romanae utrimque artes: pondera saxorum Vitelliani provolvunt, disiectam fluitantemque testudinem lanceis contisque scrutantur, donec soluta compage scutorum exanguis aut laceros prosternerent multa cum strage. incesserat cunctatio, ni duces fesso militi et velut inritas exhortationes abnuenti Cremonam monstrassent.

28. Some hesitation had shewn itself, when the generals, seeing that the weary troops would not listen to what seemed to them unmeaning encouragement, pointed to Cremona. Whether this was, as Messalla relates, the device of Hormus, or whether Caius Plinius be the better authority when he charges it upon Antonius, I cannot easily determine. All I can say is this, that neither in Antonius nor in Hormus would this foulest of crimes have been a degeneracy from the character of their former lives. Wounds or bloodshed no longer kept the men back from undermining the rampart and battering the gates. Supported on the shoulders of comrades, and forming a second "testudo," they clambered up and seized the weapons and even the hands of the enemy. The unhurt and the wounded, the half-dead and the dying, were mingled together with every incident of slaughter and death in every form.

28. Hormine id ingenium, ut Messala tradit, an potior auctor sit C. Plinius, qui Antonium incusat, haud facile discreverim, nisi quod neque Antonius neque Hormus a fama vitaque sua quamvis pessimo flagitio degeneravere. non iam sanguis neque vulnera morabantur quin subruerent vallum quaterentque portas, innixi umeris et super iteratam testudinem scandentes prensarent hostium tela brachiaque. integri cum sauciis, semineces cum expirantibus volvuntur, varia pereuntium forma et omni imagine mortium.

29. The fiercest struggle was maintained by the 3rd and 7th legions, and Antonius in person with some chosen auxiliaries concentrated his efforts on the same point. The Vitellianists, unable to resist the combined and resolute attack, and finding that their missiles glided off the "testudo," at last threw the engine itself on the assailants; for a moment it broke and overwhelmed those on whom it fell, but it drew after it in its fall the battlements and upper part of the rampart. At the same time an adjoining tower yielded to the volleys of stones, and, while the 7th legion in wedge-like array was endeavouring to force an entrance, the 3rd broke down the gate with axes and swords. All authors are agreed that Caius Volusius, a soldier of the 3rd legion, entered first. Beating down all who opposed him, he mounted the rampart, waved his hand, and shouted aloud that the camp was taken. The rest of the legion burst in, while the troops of Vitellius were seized with panic, and threw themselves from the rampart. The entire space between the camp and the walls of Cremona was filled with slain.

29. Acerrimum tertiae septimaeque legionum certamen; et dux Antonius cum delectis auxiliaribus eodem incubuerat. obstinatos inter se cum sustinere Vitelliani nequirent et superiacta tela testudine laberentur, ipsam postremo ballistam in subeuntis propulere, quae ut ad praesens disiecit obruitque quos inciderat, ita pinnas ac summa valli ruina sua traxit; simul iuncta turris ictibus saxorum cessit, qua septimani dum nituntur cuneis, tertianus securibus gladiisque portam perfregit. primum inrupisse C. Volusium tertiae legionis militem inter omnis auctores constat. is in vallum egressus, deturbatis qui restiterant, conspicuus manu ac voce capta castra conclamavit; ceteri trepidis iam Vitellianis seque e vallo praecipitantibus perrupere. completur caede quantum inter castra murosque vacui fuit.

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