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Tacitus: History Book 3 [70]

70. At dawn of day, before either side commenced hostilities, Sabinus sent Cornelius Martialis, a centurion of the first rank, to Vitellius, with instructions to complain of the infraction of the stipulated terms. "There has evidently," he said, "been a mere show and pretence of abdicating the Empire, with the view of deceiving a number of distinguished men. If not, why, when leaving the Rostra, had he gone to the house of his brother, looking as it did over the Forum, and certain to provoke the gaze of the multitude, rather than to the Aventine, and the family house of his wife? This would have befitted a private individual anxious to shun all appearance of Imperial power. But on the contrary, Vitellius retraced his steps to the palace, the very stronghold of Empire; thence issued a band of armed men. One of the most frequented parts of the city was strewed with the corpses of innocent persons. The Capitol itself had not been spared. "I," said Sabinus, "was only a civilian and a member of the Senate, while the rivalry of Vitellius and Vespasian was being settled by conflicts between legions, by the capture of cities, by the capitulation of cohorts; with Spain, Germany, and Britain in revolt, the brother of Vespasian still remained firm to his allegiance, till actually invited to discuss terms of agreement. Peace and harmony bring advantage to the conquered, but only credit to the conqueror. If you repent of your compact, it is not against me, whom you treacherously deceived, that you must draw the sword, nor is it against the son of Vespasian, who is yet of tender age. What would be gained by the slaughter of one old man and one stripling? You should go and meet the legions, and fight there for Empire; everything else will follow the issue of that struggle." To these representations the embarrassed Vitellius answered a few words in his own exculpation, throwing all the blame upon the soldiers, with whose excessive zeal his moderation was, he said, unable to cope. He advised Martialis to depart unobserved through a concealed part of the palace, lest he should be killed by the soldiers, as the negotiator of this abhorred convention. Vitellius had not now the power either to command or to forbid. He was no longer Emperor, he was merely the cause of war.

70. Luce prima Sabinus, antequam in vicem hostilia coeptarent, Cornelium Martialem e primipilaribus ad Vitellium misit cum mandatis et questu quod pacta turbarentur: simulationem prorsus et imaginem deponendi imperii fuisse ad decipiendos tot inlustris viros. cur enim e rostris fratris domum, imminentem foro et inritandis hominum oculis, quam Aventinum et penatis uxoris petisset? ita privato et omnem principatus speciem vitanti convenisse. contra Vitellium in Palatium, in ipsam imperii arcem regressum; inde armatum agmen emissum, stratam innocentium caedibus celeberrimam urbis partem, ne Capitolio quidem abstineri. togatum nempe se et unum e senatoribus: dum inter Vespasianum ac Vitellium proeliis legionum, captivitatibus urbium, deditionibus cohortium iudicatur, iam Hispaniis Germaniisque et Britannia desciscentibus, fratrem Vespasiani mansisse in fide, donec ultro ad condiciones vocaretur. pacem et concordiam victis utilia, victoribus tantum pulchra esse. si conventionis paeniteat, non se, quem perfidia deceperit, ferro peteret, non filium Vespasiani vix puberem--quantum occisis uno sene et uno iuvene profici?--: iret obviam legionibus et de summa rerum illic certaret: cetera secundum eventum proelii cessura. trepidus ad haec Vitellius pauca purgandi sui causa respondit, culpam in militem conferens, cuius nimio ardori imparem esse modestiam suam; et monuit Martialem ut per secretam aedium partem occulte abiret, ne a militibus internuntius invisae pacis interficeretur: ipse neque iubendi neque vetandi potens non iam imperator sed tantum belli causa erat.

71. Martialis had hardly returned to the Capitol, when the infuriated soldiery arrived, without any leader, every man acting on his own impulse. They hurried at quick march past the Forum and the temples which hang over it, and advanced their line up the opposite hill as far as the outer gates of the Capitol. There were formerly certain colonnades on the right side of the slope as one went up; the defenders, issuing forth on the roof of these buildings, showered tiles and stones on the Vitellianists. The assailants were not armed with anything but swords, and it seemed too tedious to send for machines and missiles. They threw lighted brands on a projecting colonnade, and following the track of the fire would have burst through the half-burnt gates of the Capitol, had not Sabinus, tearing down on all sides the statues, the glories of former generations, formed them into a barricade across the opening. They then assailed the opposite approaches to the Capitol, near the grove of the Asylum, and where the Tarpeian rock is mounted by a hundred steps. Both these attacks were unexpected; the closer and fiercer of the two threatened the Asylum. The assailants could not be checked as they mounted the continuous line of buildings, which, as was natural in a time of profound peace, had grown up to such a height as to be on a level with the soil of the Capitol. A doubt arises at this point, whether it was the assailants who threw lighted brands on to the roofs, or whether, as the more general account has it, the besieged thus sought to repel the assailants, who were now making vigorous progress. From them the fire passed to the colonnades adjoining the temples; the eagles supporting the pediment, which were of old timber, caught the flames. And so the Capitol, with its gates shut, neither defended by friends, nor spoiled by a foe, was burnt to the ground.

71. Vixdum regresso in Capitolium Martiale furens miles aderat, nullo duce, sibi quisque auctor. cito agmine forum et imminentia foro templa praetervecti erigunt aciem per adversum collem usque ad primas Capitolinae arcis fores. erant antiquitus porticus in latere clivi dextrae subeuntibus, in quarum tectum egressi saxis tegulisque Vitellianos obruebant. neque illis manus nisi gladiis armatae, et arcessere tormenta aut missilia tela longum videbatur: faces in prominentem porticum iecere et sequebantur ignem ambustasque Capitolii fores penetrassent, ni Sabinus revulsas undique statuas, decora maiorum, in ipso aditu vice muri obiecisset. tum diversos Capitolii aditus invadunt iuxta lucum asyli et qua Tarpeia rupes centum gradibus aditur. improvisa utraque vis; propior atque acrior per asylum ingruebat. nec sisti poterant scandentes per coniuncta aedificia, quae ut in multa pace in altum edita solum Capitolii aequabant. hic ambigitur, ignem tectis obpugnatores iniecerint, an obsessi, quae crebrior fama, dum nitentis ac progressos depellunt. inde lapsus ignis in porticus adpositas aedibus; mox sustinentes fastigium aquilae vetere ligno traxerunt flammam alueruntque. sic Capitolium clausis foribus indefensum et indireptum conflagravit.

72. This was the most deplorable and disgraceful event that had happened to the Commonwealth of Rome since the foundation of the city; for now, assailed by no foreign enemy, with Heaven ready to be propitious, had our vices only allowed, the seat of Jupiter Supremely Good and Great, founded by our ancestors with solemn auspices to be the pledge of Empire, the seat, which neither Porsenna, when the city was surrendered, nor the Gauls, when it was captured, had been able to violate, was destroyed by the madness of our Emperors. Once before indeed during civil war the Capitol had been consumed by fire, but then only through the crime of individuals; now it was openly besieged, and openly set on fire. And what were the motives of this conflict? what the compensation for so great a disaster? was it for our country we were fighting? King Tarquinius Priscus had vowed its erection in his war with the Sabines, and had laid the foundations on a scale which suited the hopes of future greatness rather than what the yet moderate resources of Rome could achieve. After him, Servius Tullius, heartily assisted by the allies, and Tarquinius Superbus, employing the spoils of war from the conquered Suessa Pometia, raised the superstructure. But the glory of its completion was reserved for the days of liberty. After the expulsion of the Kings, Horatius Pulvillus, in his second consulate, dedicated it, a building so magnificent, that the vast wealth afterwards acquired by the people of Rome served to embellish rather than increase it. It was rebuilt on the same site, when, after an interval of 415 years, it was burnt to the ground in the consulate of Lucius Scipio and Caius Norbanus. Sulla, after his final triumph, undertook the charge of restoring it, but did not live to dedicate it, the one thing denied to his uniform good fortune. The name of Lutatius Catulus, the dedicator, remained among all the vast erections of the Emperors, down to the days of Vitellius. This was the building that was now on fire.

72. Id facinus post conditam urbem luctuosissimum foedissimumque rei publicae populi Romani accidit, nullo externo hoste, propitiis, si per mores nostros liceret, deis, sedem Iovis Optimi Maximi auspicato a maioribus pignus imperii conditam, quam non Porsenna dedita urbe neque Galli capta temerare potuissent, furore principum excindi. arserat et ante Capitolium civili bello, sed fraude privata: nunc palam obsessum, palam incensum, quibus armorum causis? quo tantae cladis pretio stetit? pro patria bellavimus? voverat Tarquinius Priscus rex bello Sabino, ieceratque fundamenta spe magis futurae magnitudinis quam quo modicae adhuc populi Romani res sufficerent. mox Servius Tullius sociorum studio, dein Tarquinius Superbus capta Suessa Pometia hostium spoliis extruxere. sed gloria operis libertati reservata: pulsis regibus Horatius Pulvillus iterum consul dedicavit ea magnificentia quam immensae postea populi Romani opes ornarent potius quam augerent. isdem rursus vestigiis situm est, postquam interiecto quadringentorum quindecim annorum spatio L. Scipione C. Norbano consulibus flagraverat. curam victor Sulla suscepit, neque tamen dedicavit: hoc solum felicitati eius negatum. Lutatii Catuli nomen inter tanta Caesarum opera usque ad Vitellium mansit. ea tunc aedes cremabatur.

73. The catastrophe, however, caused more panic among the besieged than among the besiegers. In fact, the troops of Vitellius lacked neither skill nor courage in the midst of peril. Opposed to them were soldiers without self-possession, and a spiritless and, so to speak, infatuated commander, who had not the use of his tongue or his ears, who would not be guided by other men's counsels, and could not carry out his own, who, hurried to and fro by the shouts of the enemy, forbade what he had just ordered, and ordered what he had just forbidden. Then, as usually happens when everything is lost, all gave orders, and no one obeyed. At last, they threw away their arms, and began to look about for ways of escape and means of concealment. The Vitellianists burst in, carrying everywhere with indiscriminate ferocity the firebrand and the sword. A few of the military men, among whom the most conspicuous were Cornelius Martialis, Aemilius Pacensis, Casperius Niger, and Didius Sceva, ventured to resist, and were cut down. Flavius Sabinus, who was unarmed, and who did not attempt to fly, was surrounded, and with him the consul Quinctius Atticus, marked out by his clinging to the shadow of office, and by his folly in having scattered among the people edicts highly eulogistic of Vespasian and insulting to Vitellius. The rest escaped by various chances, some disguised as slaves, others concealed by the fidelity of dependants, and hiding among the baggage. Some caught the watchword by which the Vitellianists recognised each other, and, themselves challenging others and giving it when challenged, found in their audacity an effectual disguise.

73. Sed plus pavoris obsessis quam obsessoribus intulit. quippe Vitellianus miles neque astu neque constantia inter dubia indigebat: ex diverso trepidi milites, dux segnis et velut captus animi non lingua, non auribus competere, neque alienis consiliis regi neque sua expedire, huc illuc clamoribus hostium circumagi, quae iusserat vetare, quae vetuerat iubere: mox, quod in perditis rebus accidit, omnes praecipere, nemo exequi; postremo abiectis armis fugam et fallendi artis circumspectabant. inrumpunt Vitelliani et cuncta sanguine ferro flammisque miscent. pauci militarium virorum, inter quos maxime insignes Cornelius Martialis, Aemilius Pacensis, Casperius Niger, Didius Scaeva, pugnam ausi obtruncantur. Flavium Sabinum inermem neque fugam coeptantem circumsistunt, et Quintium Atticum consulem, umbra honoris et suamet vanitate monstratum, quod edicta in populum pro Vespasiano magnifica, probrosa adversus Vitellium iecerat. ceteri per varios casus elapsi, quidam servili habitu, alii fide clientium contecti et inter sarcinas abditi. fuere qui excepto Vitellianorum signo, quo inter se noscebantur, ultro rogitantes respondentesve audaciam pro latebra haberent.

74. When the enemy first burst in, Domitian concealed himself in the house of a servant of the temple. At the ingenious suggestion of a freedman, he assumed a linen vestment, and passing unnoticed among a crowd of acolytes, found a refuge with Cornelius Primus, one of his father's dependants, in a house near the Velabrum. When his father mounted the throne, he pulled down the chamber of the temple-servant, and built a small chapel, dedicated to Jupiter the Preserver, with an altar on which his own adventures were represented in marble. Afterwards, on his own accession to the Imperial power, he consecrated a vast temple to Jupiter the Guardian, with an effigy of himself in the arms of the god. Sabinus and Atticus were loaded with chains, and conducted to Vitellius, who received them with anything but anger in his words and looks, amidst the murmurs of those who demanded the privilege of slaying them and their pay for the work they had done. Those who were standing near began the clamour, and the degraded rabble cried out for the execution of Sabinus, and mingled threats with their flatteries. Vitellius, who was standing before the steps of the palace, and was preparing to intercede, was induced to desist. The body of Sabinus, pierced and mutilated and with the head severed from it, was dragged to the Gemoniae.

74. Domitianus prima inruptione apud aedituum occultatus, sollertia liberti lineo amictu turbae sacricolarum immixtus ignoratusque, apud Cornelium Primum paternum clientem iuxta Velabrum delituit. ac potiente rerum patre, disiecto aeditui contubernio, modicum sacellum Iovi Conservatori aramque posuit casus suos in marmore expressam; mox imperium adeptus Iovi Custodi templum ingens seque in sinu dei sacravit. Sabinus et Atticus onerati catenis et ad Vitellium ducti nequaquam infesto sermone vultuque excipiuntur, frementibus qui ius caedis et praemia navatae operae petebant. clamore a proximis orto sordida pars plebis supplicium Sabini exposcit, minas adulationesque miscet. stantem pro gradibus Palatii Vitellium et preces parantem pervicere ut absisteret: tum confossum laceratumque et absciso capite truncum corpus Sabini in Gemonias trahunt.

75. Such was the end of a man in no wise contemptible. In five and thirty campaigns he had served the State, and had gained distinction both at home and abroad. His blamelessness and integrity no one could question. He was somewhat boastful; this was the only fault of which rumour accused him in the seven years during which he had governed Moesia, and the twelve during which he was prefect of the city. In the closing scene of his life some have seen pusillanimity, many a moderate temper, sparing of the blood of his countrymen. One thing is allowed by all, that, before the accession of Vespasian, the distinction of the family was centred in Sabinus. I have heard that his death gratified Mucianus, and many indeed asserted that the interests of peace were promoted by the removal of the rivalry between these two men, one of whom felt himself to be the brother of the Emperor, while the other thought himself his colleague. Vitellius resisted the demands of the people for the execution of the Consul; he was now pacified, and wished, it would seem, to recompense Atticus, who, when asked who had set fire to the Capitol, had confessed his own guilt, and by this confession, which may indeed have been an opportune falsehood, was thought to have taken upon himself the odium of the crime, and to have acquitted the Vitellianist party.

75. Hic exitus viri haud sane spernendi. quinque et triginta stipendia in re publica fecerat, domi militiaeque clarus. innocentiam iustitiamque eius non argueres; sermonis nimius erat: id unum septem annis quibus Moesiam, duodecim quibus praefecturam urbis obtinuit, calumniatus est rumor. in fine vitae alii segnem, multi moderatum et civium sanguinis parcum credidere. quod inter omnis constiterit, ante principatum Vespasiani decus domus penes Sabinum erat. caedem eius laetam fuisse Muciano accepimus. ferebant plerique etiam paci consultum dirempta aemulatione inter duos, quorum alter se fratrem imperatoris, alter consortem imperii cogitaret. sed Vitellius consulis supplicium poscenti populo restitit, placatus ac velut vicem reddens, quod interrogantibus quis Capitolium incendisset, se reum Atticus obtulerat eaque confessione, sive aptum tempori mendacium fuit, invidiam crimenque agnovisse et a partibus Vitellii amolitus videbatur.

76. Meanwhile Lucius Vitellius, who was encamped near Feronia, was threatening Tarracina with destruction. There were shut up in the place a few gladiators and seamen, who dared not leave the walls and risk an engagement in the plain. I have mentioned before that Julianus was in command of the gladiators, Apollinaris of the seamen, two men whose profligacy and indolence made them resemble gladiators rather than generals. They kept no watch; they did not strengthen the weak points of the fortifications; but, making each pleasant spot ring with the noise of their daily and nightly dissipation, they dispersed their soldiers on errands which were to minister to their luxury, and never spoke of war, except at their banquets. Apinius Tiro had quitted the place a few days before, and was now, by the harsh exaction of presents and contributions from the towns, adding to the unpopularity rather than to the resources of his party.

76. Isdem diebus L. Vitellius positis apud Feroniam castris excidio Tarracinae imminebat, clausis illic gladiatoribus remigibusque, qui non egredi moenia neque periculum in aperto audebant. praeerat, ut supra memoravimus, Iulianus gladiatoribus, Apollinaris remigibus, lascivia socordiaque gladiatorum magis quam ducum similes. non vigilias agere, non intuta moenium firmare: noctu dieque fluxi et amoena litorum personantes, in ministerium luxus dispersis militibus, de bello tantum inter convivia loquebantur. paucos ante dies discesserat Apinius Tiro donisque ac pecuniis acerbe per municipia conquirendis plus invidiae quam virium partibus addebat.

77. Meanwhile a slave belonging to Verginius Capito deserted to L. Vitellius, and having engaged, on being furnished with a force, to put him in possession of the unoccupied citadel, proceeded at a late hour of the night to place some light-armed cohorts on the summit of a range of hills which commanded the enemy's position. From this place the troops descended to what was more a massacre than a conflict. Many whom they slew were unarmed or in the act of arming themselves, some were just awaking from sleep, amid the confusion of darkness and panic, the braying of trumpets, and the shouts of the foe. A few of the gladiators resisted, and fell not altogether unavenged. The rest made a rush for the ships, where everything was involved in a general panic, the troops being mingled with country people, whom the Vitellianists slaughtered indiscriminately. Six Liburnian ships with Apollinaris, prefect of the fleet, escaped in the first confusion. The rest were either seized upon the beach, or were swamped by the weight of the crowds that rushed on board. Julianus was brought before L. Vitellius, and, after being ignominiously scourged, was put to death in his presence. Some persons accused Triaria, the wife of L. Vitellius, of having armed herself with a soldier's sword, and of having behaved with arrogance and cruelty amid the horrors and massacres of the storm of Tarracina. Lucius himself sent to his brother a laurelled dispatch with an account of his success, and asked whether he wished him at once to return to Rome, or to complete the subjugation of Campania. This circumstance was advantageous to the State as well as to the cause of Vespasian. Had the army fresh from victory, and with all the pride of success added to its natural obstinacy, marched upon Rome, a conflict of no slight magnitude, and involving the destruction of the capital, must have ensued. Lucius Vitellius, infamous as he was, had yet some energy, but it was not through his virtues, as is the case with the good, but through his vices, that he, like the worst of villains, was formidable.

77. Interim ad L. Vitellium servus Vergilii Capitonis perfugit pollicitusque, si praesidium acciperet, vacuam arcem traditurum, multa nocte cohortis expeditas summis montium iugis super caput hostium sistit: inde miles ad caedem magis quam ad pugnam decurrit. sternunt inermos aut arma capientis et quosdam somno excitos, cum tenebris, pavore, sonitu tubarum, clamore hostili turbarentur. pauci gladiatorum resistentes neque inulti cecidere: ceteri ad navis ruebant, ubi cuncta pari formidine implicabantur, permixtis paganis, quos nullo discrimine Vitelliani trucidabant. sex Liburnicae inter primum tumultum evasere, in quis praefectus classis Apollinaris; reliquae in litore captae, aut nimio ruentium onere pressas mare hausit. Iulianus ad L. Vitellium perductus et verberibus foedatus in ore eius iugulatur. fuere qui uxorem L. Vitellii Triariam incesserent, tamquam gladio militari cincta inter luctum cladisque expugnatae Tarracinae superbe saeveque egisset. ipse lauream gestae prospere rei ad fratrem misit, percontatus statim regredi se an perdomandae Campaniae insistere iuberet. quod salutare non modo partibus Vespasiani, sed rei publicae fuit. nam si recens victoria miles et super insitam pervicaciam secundis ferox Romam contendisset, haud parva mole certatum nec sine exitio urbis foret. quippe L. Vitellio quamvis infami inerat industria, nec virtutibus, ut boni, sed quo modo pessimus quisque, vitiis valebat.

78. While these successes were being achieved on the side of Vitellius, the army of Vespasian had left Narnia, and was passing the holiday of the Saturnalia in idleness at Ocriculum. The reason alleged for so injurious a delay was that they might wait for Mucianus. Some persons indeed there were who assailed Antonius with insinuations, that he lingered with treacherous intent, after receiving private letters from Vitellius, which conveyed to him the offer of the consulship and of the Emperor's daughter in marriage with a vast dowry, as the price of treason. Others asserted that this was all a fiction, invented to please Mucianus. Some again alleged that the policy agreed upon by all the generals was to threaten rather than actually to attack the capital, as Vitellius' strongest cohorts had revolted from him, and it seemed likely that, deprived of all support, he would abdicate the throne, but that the whole plan was ruined by the impatience and subsequent cowardice of Sabinus, who, after rashly taking up arms, had not been able to defend against three cohorts the great stronghold of the Capitol, which might have defied even the mightiest armies. One cannot, however, easily fix upon one man the blame which belongs to all. Mucianus did in fact delay the conquerors by ambiguously-worded dispatches; Antonius, by a perverse acquiescence, or by an attempt to throw the odium upon another, laid himself open to blame; the other generals, by imagining that the war was over, contrived a distinction for its closing scene. Even Petilius Cerialis, though he had been sent on with a thousand cavalry by crossroads through the Sabine district so as to enter Rome by the Via Salaria, had not been sufficiently prompt in his movements, when the report of the siege of the Capitol put all alike on the alert.

78. Dum haec in partibus Vitellii geruntur, digressus Narnia Vespasiani exercitus festos Saturni dies Ocriculi per otium agitabat. causa tam pravae morae ut Mucianum opperirentur. nec defuere qui Antonium suspicionibus arguerent tamquam dolo cunctantem post secretas Vitellii epistulas, quibus consulatum et nubilem filiam et dotalis opes pretium proditionis offerebat. alii ficta haec et in gratiam Muciani composita; quidam omnium id ducum consilium fuisse, ostentare potius urbi bellum quam inferre, quando validissimae cohortes a Vitellio descivissent, et abscisis omnibus praesidiis cessurus imperio videbatur: sed cuncta festinatione, deinde ignavia Sabini corrupta, qui sumptis temere armis munitissimam Capitolii arcem et ne magnis quidem exercitibus expugnabilem adversus tris cohortis tueri nequivisset. haud facile quis uni adsignaverit culpam quae omnium fuit. nam et Mucianus ambiguis epistulis victores morabatur, et Antonius praepostero obsequio, vel dum regerit invidiam, crimen meruit; ceterique duces dum peractum bellum putant, finem eius insignivere. ne Petilius quidem Cerialis, cum mille equitibus praemissus, ut transversis itineribus per agrum Sabinum Salaria via urbem introiret, satis maturaverat, donec obsessi Capitolii fama cunctos simul exciret.

79. Antonius marched by the Via Flaminia, and arrived at Saxa Rubra, when the night was far spent, too late to give any help. There he received nothing but gloomy intelligence, that Sabinus was dead, that the Capitol had been burnt to the ground, that Rome was in consternation, and also that the populace and the slaves were arming themselves for Vitellius. And Petilius Cerialis had been defeated in a cavalry skirmish. While he was hurrying on without caution, as against a vanquished enemy, the Vitellianists, who had disposed some infantry among their cavalry, met him. The conflict took place not far from the city among buildings, gardens, and winding lanes, which were well known to the Vitellianists, but disconcerting to their opponents, to whom they were strange. Nor indeed were all the cavalry one in heart, for there were with them some who had lately capitulated at Narnia, and who were anxiously watching the fortunes of the rival parties. Tullius Flavianus, commanding a squadron, was taken prisoner; the rest fled in disgraceful confusion, but the victors did not continue the pursuit beyond Fidenae.

79. Antonius per Flaminiam ad Saxa rubra multo iam noctis serum auxilium venit. illic interfectum Sabinum, conflagrasse Capitolium, tremere urbem, maesta omnia accepit; plebem quoque et servitia pro Vitellio armari nuntiabatur. et Petilio Ceriali equestre proelium adversum fuerat; namque incautum et tamquam ad victos ruentem Vitelliani, interiectus equiti pedes, excepere. pugnatum haud procul urbe inter aedificia hortosque et anfractus viarum, quae gnara Vitellianis, incomperta hostibus metum fecerant. neque omnis eques concors, adiunctis quibusdam, qui nuper apud Narniam dediti fortunam partium speculabantur. capitur praefectus alae Iulius Flavianus; ceteri foeda fuga consternantur, non ultra Fidenas secutis victoribus.

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