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Tacitus: History Book 4 [1]

1. WHEN Vitellius was dead, the war had indeed come to an end, but peace had yet to begin. Sword in hand, throughout the capital, the conquerors hunted down the conquered with merciless hatred. The streets were choked with carnage, the squares and temples reeked with blood, for men were massacred everywhere as chance threw them in the way. Soon, as their license increased, they began to search for and drag forth hidden foes. Whenever they saw a man tall and young they cut him down, making no distinction between soldiers and civilians. But the ferocity, which in the first impulse of hatred could be gratified only by blood, soon passed into the greed of gain. They let nothing be kept secret, nothing be closed; Vitellianists, they pretended, might be thus concealed. Here was the first step to breaking open private houses; here, if resistance were made, a pretext for slaughter. The most needy of the populace and the most worthless of the slaves did not fail to come forward and betray their wealthy masters; others were denounced by friends. Everywhere were lamentations, and wailings, and all the miseries of a captured city, till the license of the Vitellianist and Othonianist soldiery, once so odious, was remembered with regret. The leaders of the party, so energetic in kindling civil strife, were incapable of checking the abuse of victory. In stirring up tumult and strife the worst men can do the most, but peace and quiet cannot be established without virtue.

1. Interfecto Vitellio bellum magis desierat quam pax coeperat. armati per urbem victores implacabili odio victos consectabantur: plenae caedibus viae, cruenta fora templaque, passim trucidatis, ut quemque fors obtulerat. ac mox augescente licentia scrutari ac protrahere abditos; si quem procerum habitu et iuventa conspexerant, obtruncare nullo militum aut populi discrimine. quae saevitia recentibus odiis sanguine explebatur, dein verterat in avaritiam. nihil usquam secretum aut clausum sinebant, Vitellianos occultari simulantes. initium id perfringendarum domuum, vel si resisteretur, causa caedis; nec deerat egentissimus quisque e plebe et pessimi servitiorum prodere ultro ditis dominos, alii ab amicis monstrabantur. ubique lamenta, conclamationes et fortuna captae urbis, adeo ut Othoniani Vitellianique militis invidiosa antea petulantia desideraretur. duces partium accendendo civili bello acres, temperandae victoriae impares, quippe inter turbas et discordias pessimo cuique plurima vis, pax et quies bonis artibus indigent.

2. Domitian had entered into possession of the title and residence of Caesar, but not yet applying himself to business, was playing the part of a son of the throne with debauchery and intrigue. The office of prefect of the Praetorian Guard was held by Arrius Varus, but the supreme power was in the hands of Primus Antonius, who carried off money and slaves from the establishment of the Emperor, as if they were the spoils of Cremona. The other generals, whose moderation or insignificance had shut them out from distinction in the war, had accordingly no share in its prizes. The country, terror-stricken and ready to acquiesce in servitude, urgently demanded that Lucius Vitellius with his cohorts should be intercepted on his way from Tarracina, and that the last sparks of war should be trodden out. The cavalry were sent on to Aricia, the main body of the legions halted on this side of Bovillae. Without hesitation Vitellius surrendered himself and his cohorts to the discretion of the conqueror, and the soldiers threw down their ill-starred arms in rage quite as much as in alarm. The long train of prisoners, closely guarded by armed men, passed through the capital. Not one of them wore the look of a suppliant; sullen and savage, they were unmoved by the shouts and jests of the insulting rabble. A few, who ventured to break away, were overpowered by the force that hemmed them in; the rest were thrown into prison. Not one of them uttered an unworthy word; even in disaster the honour of the soldier was preserved. After this Lucius Vitellius was executed. Equally vicious with his brother, he had yet shewn greater vigilance during that brother's reign, and may be said, not so much to have shared his elevation, as to have been dragged down by his fall.

2. Nomen sedemque Caesaris Domitianus acceperat, nondum ad curas intentus, sed stupris et adulteriis filium principis agebat. praefectura praetorii penes Arrium Varum, summa potentiae in Primo Antonio. is pecuniam familiamque e principis domo quasi Cremonensem praedam rapere: ceteri modestia vel ignobilitate ut in bello obscuri, ita praemiorum expertes. civitas pavida et servitio parata occupari redeuntem Tarracina L. Vitellium cum cohortibus extinguique reliqua belli postulabat: praemissi Ariciam equites, agmen legionum intra Bovillas stetit. nec cunctatus est Vitellius seque et cohortis arbitrio victoris permittere, et miles infelicia arma haud minus ira quam metu abiecit. longus deditorum ordo saeptus armatis per urbem incessit, nemo supplici vultu, sed tristes et truces et adversum plausus ac lasciviam insultantis vulgi immobiles. paucos erumpere ausos circumiecti pressere; ceteri in custodiam conditi, nihil quisquam locutus indignum, et quamquam inter adversa, salva virtutis fama. dein L. Vitellius interficitur, par vitiis fratris, in principatu eius vigilantior, nec perinde prosperis socius quam adversis abstractus.

3. About the same time Lucilius Bassus was sent with some light cavalry to establish order in Campania, where the towns were still disturbed, but by mutual animosities rather than by any spirit of opposition to the new Emperor. The sight of the soldiery restored quiet, and the smaller colonies escaped unpunished. At Capua, however, the third legion was stationed to pass the winter, and the noble families suffered severely. Tarracina, on the other hand, received no relief; so much more inclined are we to requite an injury than an obligation. Gratitude is a burden, while there seems to be a profit in revenge. They were consoled by seeing the slave of Verginius Capito, whom I have mentioned as the betrayer of Tarracina, gibbeted in the very rings of knighthood, the gift of Vitellius, which they had seen him wear. At Rome the Senate, delighted and full of confident hope, decreed to Vespasian all the honours customarily bestowed on the Emperors. And indeed the civil war, which, beginning in Gaul and Spain, and afterwards drawing into the struggle first Germany and then Illyricum, had traversed Aegypt, Judaea, and Syria, every province, and every army, this war, now that the whole earth was, as it were, purged from guilt, seemed to have reached its close. Their alacrity was increased by a letter from Vespasian, written during the continuance of the war. Such indeed was its character at first sight; the writer, however, expressed himself as an Emperor, speaking modestly about himself, in admirable language about the State. There was no want of deference on the part of the Senate. On the Emperor and his son Titus the consulship was bestowed by decree; on Domitian the office of praetor with consular authority.

3. Isdem diebus Lucilius Bassus cum expedito equite ad componendam Campaniam mittitur, discordibus municipiorum animis magis inter semet quam contumacia adversus principem. viso milite quies et minoribus coloniis impunitas: Capuae legio tertia hiemandi causa locatur et domus inlustres adflictae, cum contra Tarracinenses nulla ope iuvarentur. tanto proclivius est iniuriae quam beneficio vicem exolvere, quia gratia oneri, ultio in quaestu habetur. solacio fuit servus Vergilii Capitonis, quem proditorem Tarracinensium diximus, patibulo adfixus in isdem anulis quos acceptos a Vitellio gestabat. at Romae senatus cuncta principibus solita Vespasiano decernit, laetus et spei certus, quippe sumpta per Gallias Hispaniasque civilia arma, motis ad bellum Germaniis, mox Illyrico, postquam Aegyptum Iudaeam Syriamque et omnis provincias exercitusque lustraverant, velut expiato terrarum orbe cepisse finem videbantur: addidere alacritatem Vespasiani litterae tamquam manente bello scriptae. ea prima specie forma; ceterum ut princeps loquebatur, civilia de se, et rei publicae egregia. nec senatus obsequium deerat: ipsi consulatus cum Tito filio, praetura Domitiano et consulare imperium decernuntur.

4. Mucianus had also forwarded to the Senate certain letters which furnished matter for talk. It was said, "Why, if he is a private citizen, does he speak like a public man? In a few days' time he might have said the very same words in his place as a Senator. And even the invective against Vitellius comes too late, and is ungenerous; while certainly it is arrogance to the State and an insult to the Emperor to boast that he had the Imperial power in his hands, and made a present of it to Vespasian." Their dislike, however, was concealed; their adulation was open enough. In most flattering language they voted a triumph to Mucianus, a triumph for a civil war, though the expedition against the Sarmatae was the pretext. On Antonius Primus were bestowed the insignia of consular rank, on Arrius Varus and Cornelius Fuscus praetorian honours. Then they remembered the Gods. It was determined that the Capitol should be restored. All these motions Valerius Asiaticus, consul elect, proposed. Most of the Senators signified their assent by their looks, or by raising the hand; but a few, who either held a distinguished rank, or had a practised talent for flattery, declared their acquiescence in studied speeches. When it came to the turn of Helvidius Priscus, praetor elect, to vote, he delivered an opinion, full of respect indeed to a worthy Emperor, and yet wholly free from insincerity; and he was strongly supported by the sympathies of the Senate. To Priscus indeed this day was in an especial manner the beginning of a great quarrel and a great renown.

4. Miserat et Mucianus epistulas ad senatum, quae materiam sermonibus praebuere. si privatus esset, cur publice loqueretur? potuisse eadem paucos post dies loco sententiae dici. ipsa quoque insectatio in Vitellium sera et sine libertate: id vero erga rem publicam superbum, erga principem contumeliosum, quod in manu sua fuisse imperium donatumque Vespasiano iactabat. ceterum invidia in occulto, adulatio in aperto erant: multo cum honore verborum Muciano triumphalia de bello civium data, sed in Sarmatas expeditio fingebatur. adduntur Primo Antonio consularia, Cornelio Fusco et Arrio Varo praetoria insignia. mox deos respexere; restitui Capitolium placuit. eaque omnia Valerius Asiaticus consul designatus censuit: ceteri vultu manuque, pauci, quibus conspicua dignitas aut ingenium adulatione exercitum, compositis orationibus adsentiebantur. ubi ad Helvidium Priscum praetorem designatum ventum, prompsit sententiam ut honorificam in bonum principem, * * * falsa aberant, et studiis senatus attollebatur. isque praecipuus illi dies magnae offensae initium et magnae gloriae fuit.

5. As I have again happened to mention a man of whom I shall often have to speak, the subject seems to demand that I should give a brief account of his life and pursuits, and of his fortunes. Helvidius Priscus was a native of the town of Carecina in Italy, and was the son of one Cluvius, who had been a centurion of the first rank. In early youth he devoted his distinguished talents to the loftiest pursuits, not wishing, as do many, to cloak under an imposing name a life of indolence, but to be able to enter upon public life with a spirit fortified against the chances of fortune. He followed those teachers of philosophy who hold nothing to be good but what is honourable, nothing evil but what is base, and who refuse to count either among things good or evil, power, rank, or indeed any thing not belonging to the mind. While still holding the quaestorship, he was selected by Paetus Thrasea to be his son-in-law, and from the example of his father-in-law imbibed with peculiar eagerness a love of liberty. As a citizen and as a Senator, as a husband, as a son-in-law, as a friend, and in all the relations of life, he was ever the same, despising wealth, steadily tenacious of right, and undaunted by danger.

5. Res poscere videtur, quoniam iterum in mentionem incidimus viri saepius memorandi, ut vitam studiaque eius, et quali fortuna sit usus, paucis repetam. Helvidius Priscus [regione Italiae Carecina] e municipio Cluviis, patre, qui ordinem primi pili duxisset, ingenium inlustre altioribus studiis iuvenis admodum dedit, non, ut plerique, ut nomine magnifico segne otium velaret, sed quo firmior adversus fortuita rem publicam capesseret. doctores sapientiae secutus est, qui sola bona quae honesta, mala tantum quae turpia, potentiam nobilitatem ceteraque extra animum neque bonis neque malis adnumerant. quaestorius adhuc a Paeto Thrasea gener delectus e moribus soceri nihil aeque ac libertatem hausit, civis, senator, maritus, gener, amicus, cunctis vitae officiis aequabilis, opum contemptor, recti pervicax, constans adversus metus.

6. There were some who thought him too eager for fame, and indeed the desire of glory is the last infirmity cast off even by the wise. The fall of his father-in-law drove him into exile, but he returned when Galba mounted the throne, and proceeded to impeach Marcellus Eprius, who had been the informer against Thrasea. This retribution, as great as it was just, had divided the Senate into two parties; for, if Marcellus fell, a whole army of fellow culprits was struck down. At first there was a fierce struggle, as is proved by the great speeches delivered by both men. But afterwards, as the feelings of Galba were doubtful, and many Senators interceded, Priscus dropped the charge, amidst comments varying with the tempers of men, some praising his moderation, and others deploring a lack of courage. On the day, however, that the Senate was voting about the Imperial dignities of Vespasian, it had been resolved that envoys should be sent to the new Emperor. Hence arose a sharp altercation between Helvidius and Eprius. Priscus proposed that they should be chosen by name by the magistrates on oath, Marcellus demanded the ballot; and this had been the opinion expressed by the Consul elect.

6. Erant quibus adpetentior famae videretur, quando etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. ruina soceri in exilium pulsus, ut Galbae principatu rediit, Marcellum Eprium, delatorem Thraseae, accusare adgreditur. ea ultio, incertum maior an iustior, senatum in studia diduxerat: nam si caderet Marcellus, agmen reorum sternebatur. primo minax certamen et egregiis utriusque orationibus testatum; mox dubia voluntate Galbae, multis senatorum deprecantibus, omisit Priscus, variis, ut sunt hominum ingenia, sermonibus moderationem laudantium aut constantiam requirentium. Ceterum eo senatus die quo de imperio Vespasiani censebant, placuerat mitti ad principem legatos. hinc inter Helvidium et Eprium acre iurgium: Priscus eligi nominatim a magistratibus iuratis, Marcellus urnam postulabat, quae consulis designati sententia fuerat.

7. It was the dread of personal humiliation that made Marcellus so earnest, for he feared that, if others were chosen, he should himself appear slighted. From an angry conversation they passed by degrees to long and bitter speeches. Helvidius asked, "Why should Marcellus be so afraid of the judgment of the magistrates? He has wealth and eloquence, which might make him superior to many, were he not oppressed by the consciousness of guilt. The chances of the ballot do not discriminate men's characters; the voting and the judgment of the Senate were devised to reach the lives and reputations of individuals. It concerns the interests of the Commonwealth, it concerns the honour due to Vespasian, that he should be met by those whom the Senate counts to be peculiarly blameless, and who may fill the Emperor's ear with honourable counsels. Vespasian was the friend of Thrasea, Soranus, and Sextius; and the accusers of these men, though it may not be expedient to punish them, ought not to be paraded before him. By this selection on the part of the Senate the Emperor will, so to speak, be advised whom he should mark with approval, and from whom he should shrink. There can be no more effectual instrument of good government than good friends. Let Marcellus be satisfied with having urged Nero to destroy so many innocent victims; let him enjoy the wages of his crimes and his impunity, but let him leave Vespasian to worthier advisers."

7. Sed Marcelli studium proprius rubor excitabat ne aliis electis posthabitus crederetur. paulatimque per altercationem ad continuas et infestas orationes provecti sunt, quaerente Helvidio quid ita Marcellus iudicium magistratuum pavesceret: esse illi pecuniam et eloquentiam, quis multos anteiret, ni memoria flagitiorum urgeretur. sorte et urna mores non discerni: suffragia et existimationem senatus reperta ut in cuiusque vitam famamque penetrarent. pertinere ad utilitatem rei publicae, pertinere ad Vespasiani honorem, occurrere illi quos innocentissimos senatus habeat, qui honestis sermonibus auris imperatoris imbuant. fuisse Vespasiano amicitiam cum Thrasea, Sorano, Sentio; quorum accusatores etiam si puniri non oporteat, ostentari non debere. hoc senatus iudicio velut admoneri principem quos probet, quos reformidet. nullum maius boni imperii instrumentum quam bonos amicos esse. satis Marcello quod Neronem in exitium tot innocentium impulerit: frueretur praemiis et impunitate, Vespasianum melioribus relinqueret.

8. Marcellus declared, "It is not my opinion that is assailed; the Consul elect has made a motion in accordance with old precedents, which directed the use of the ballot in the appointment of envoys, in order that there might be no room for intrigue or private animosities. Nothing has happened why customs of long standing should fall into disuse, or why the honour due to the Emperor should be turned into an insult to any man. All Senators are competent to pay their homage. What we have rather to avoid is this, that a mind unsettled by the novelty of power, and which will keenly watch the very looks and language of all, should be irritated by the obstinacy of certain persons. I do not forget the times in which I have been born, or the form of government which our fathers and grandfathers established. I may regard with admiration an earlier period, but I acquiesce in the present, and, while I pray for good Emperors, I can endure whomsoever we may have. It was not through my speech any more than it was through the judgment of the Senate that Thrasea fell. The savage temper of Nero amused itself under these forms, and I found the friendship of such a Prince as harassing as others found their exile. Finally, Helvidius may rival the Catos and the Bruti of old in constancy and courage; I am but one of the Senate which bows to the same yoke. Besides, I would advise Priscus not to climb higher than the throne, or to impose his counsels on Vespasian, an old man, who has won the honours of a triumph, and has two sons grown to manhood. For as the worst Emperors love an unlimited despotism, so the noblest like some check on liberty." These speeches, which were delivered with much vehemence on both sides, were heard with much diversity of feeling. That party prevailed which preferred that the envoys should be taken by lot, as even the neutral section in the Senate exerted themselves to retain the old practice, while the more conspicuous members inclined to the same view, dreading jealousy, should the choice fall on themselves.

8. Marcellus non suam sententiam impugnari, sed consulem designatum censuisse dicebat, secundum vetera exempla quae sortem legationibus posuissent, ne ambitioni aut inimicitiis locus foret. nihil evenisse cur antiquitus instituta exolescerent aut principis honor in cuiusquam contumeliam verteretur; sufficere omnis obsequio. id magis vitandum ne pervicacia quorundam inritaretur animus novo principatu suspensus et vultus quoque ac sermones omnium circumspectans. se meminisse temporum quibus natus sit, quam civitatis formam patres avique instituerint; ulteriora mirari, praesentia sequi; bonos imperatores voto expetere, qualiscumque tolerare. non magis sua oratione Thraseam quam iudicio senatus adflictum; saevitiam Neronis per eius modi imagines inlusisse, nec minus sibi anxiam talem amicitiam quam aliis exilium. denique constantia fortitudine Catonibus et Brutis aequaretur Helvidius: se unum esse ex illo senatu, qui simul servierit. suadere etiam Prisco ne supra principem scanderet, ne Vespasianum senem triumphalem, iuvenum liberorum patrem, praeceptis coerceret. quo modo pessimis imperatoribus sine fine dominationem, ita quamvis egregiis modum libertatis placere. haec magnis utrimque contentionibus iactata diversis studiis accipiebantur. vicit pars quae sortiri legatos malebat, etiam mediis patrum adnitentibus retinere morem; et splendidissimus quisque eodem inclinabat metu invidiae, si ipsi eligerentur.

9. Another struggle ensued. The praetors of the Treasury (the Treasury was at this time managed by praetors) complained of the poverty of the State, and demanded a retrenchment of expenditure. The Consul elect, considering how great was the evil and how difficult the remedy, was for reserving the matter for the Emperor. Helvidius gave it as his opinion that measures should be taken at the discretion of the Senate. When the Consuls came to take the votes, Vulcatius Tertullinus, tribune of the people, put his veto on any resolution being adopted in so important a matter in the absence of the Emperor. Helvidius had moved that the Capitol should be restored at the public expense, and that Vespasian should give his aid. All the more moderate of the Senators let this opinion pass in silence, and in time forgot it; but there were some who remembered it.

9. Secutum aliud certamen. praetores aerarii (nam tum a praetoribus tractabatur aerarium) publicam paupertatem questi modum impensis postulaverant. eam curam consul designatus ob magnitudinem oneris et remedii difficultatem principi reservabat: Helvidius arbitrio senatus agendum censuit. cum perrogarent sententias consules, Vulcacius Tertullinus tribunus plebis intercessit ne quid super tanta re principe absente statueretur. censuerat Helvidius ut Capitolium publice restitueretur, adiuvaret Vespasianus. eam sententiam modestissimus quisque silentio, deinde oblivio transmisit: fuere qui et meminissent.

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