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Tacitus: History Book 3 [80]

80. By this success the zeal of the people was increased. The mob of the city armed itself. Some few had military shields, the greater part seized such arms as came to hand, and loudly demanded the signal of battle. Vitellius expressed his thanks to them, and bade them sally forth to defend the capital. Then the Senate was called together, and envoys were selected to meet the armies and urge them in the name of the Commonwealth to union and peace. The reception of these envoys was not everywhere the same. Those who fell in with Petilius Cerialis were exposed to extreme peril, for the troops disdained all offers of peace. The praetor Arulenus Rusticus was wounded. This deed seemed all the more atrocious, when, over and above the insult offered to the dignity of the envoy and praetor, men considered the private worth of the man. His companions were dispersed, and the lictor that stood next to him, venturing to push aside the crowd, was killed. Had they not been protected by an escort provided by the general, the dignity of the ambassador, respected even by foreign nations, would have been profaned with fatal violence by the madness of Roman citizens before the very walls of their Country. The envoys who met Antonious were more favourably received, not because the troops were of quieter temper, but because the general had more authority.

80. Eo successu studia populi aucta; vulgus urbanum arma cepit. paucis scuta militaria, plures raptis quod cuique obvium telis signum pugnae exposcunt. agit grates Vitellius et ad tuendam urbem prorumpere iubet. mox vocato senatu deliguntur legati ad exercitus ut praetexto rei publicae concordiam pacemque suaderent. varia legatorum sors fuit. qui Petilio Ceriali occurrerant extremum discrimen adiere, aspernante milite condiciones pacis. vulneratur praetor Arulenus Rusticus: auxit invidiam super violatum legati praetorisque nomen propria dignatio viri. pulsantur comites, occiditur proximus lictor, dimovere turbam ausus: et ni dato a duce praesidio defensi forent, sacrum etiam inter exteras gentis legatorum ius ante ipsa patriae moenia civilis rabies usque in exitium temerasset. aequioribus animis accepti sunt qui ad Antonium venerant, non quia modestior miles, sed duci plus auctoritatis.

81. One Musonius Rufus, a man of equestrian rank, strongly attached to the pursuit of philosophy and to the tenets of the Stoics, had joined the envoys. He mingled with the troops, and, enlarging on the blessings of peace and the perils of war, began to admonish the armed crowd. Many thought it ridiculous; more thought it tiresome; some were ready to throw him down and trample him under foot, had he not yielded to the warnings of the more orderly and the threats of others, and ceased to display his ill-timed wisdom. The Vestal virgins also presented themselves with a letter from Vitellius to Antonius. He asked for one day of truce before the final struggle, and said, that if they would permit some delay to intervene, everything might be more easily arranged. The sacred virgins were sent back with honour, but the answer returned to Vitellius was, that all ordinary intercourse of war had been broken off by the murder of Sabinus and the conflagration of the Capitol.

81. Miscuerat se legatis Musonius Rufus equestris ordinis, studium philosophiae et placita Stoicorum aemulatus; coeptabatque permixtus manipulis, bona pacis ac belli discrimina disserens, armatos monere. id plerisque ludibrio, pluribus taedio: nec deerant qui propellerent proculcarentque, ni admonitu modestissimi cuiusque et aliis minitantibus omisisset intempestivam sapientiam. obviae fuere et virgines Vestales cum epistulis Vitellii ad Antonium scriptis: eximi supremo certamini unum diem postulabat: si moram interiecissent, facilius omnia conventura. virgines cum honore dimissae; Vitellio rescriptum Sabini caede et incendio Capitolii dirempta belli commercia.

82. Antonius, however, summoned the legions to an assembly, and endeavoured to calm them, proposing that they should encamp near the Mulvian bridge, and enter the capital on the following day. His reason for delay was the fear that the soldiers, once exasperated by conflict, would respect neither the people nor the Senate, nor even the shrines and temples of the Gods. They, however, looked with dislike on all procrastination as inimical to victory. At the same time the colours that glittered among the hills, though followed by an unwarlike population, presented the appearance of a hostile array. They advanced in three divisions, one column straight from where they had halted along the Via Flaminia, another along the bank of the Tiber, a third moved on the Colline Gate by the Via Salaria. The mob was routed by a charge of the cavalry. Then the Vitellianist troops, themselves also drawn up in three columns of defence, met the foe. Numerous engagements with various issue took place before the walls, but they generally ended in favour of the Flavianists, who had the advantage of more skilful generalship. Only that division suffered which had wound its way along narrow and slippery roads to the left quarter of the city as far as the gardens of Sallust. The Vitellianists, taking their stand on the garden-walls, kept off the assailants with stones and javelins till late in the day, when they were taken in the rear by the cavalry, which had then forced an entrance by the Colline Gate. In the Campus Martius also the hostile armies met, the Flavianists with all the prestige of fortune and repeated victory, the Vitellianists rushing on in sheer despair. Though defeated, they rallied again in the city.

82. Temptavit tamen Antonius vocatas ad contionem legiones mitigare, ut castris iuxta pontem Mulvium positis postera die urbem ingrederentur. ratio cunctandi, ne asperatus proelio miles non populo, non senatui, ne templis quidem ac delubris deorum consuleret. sed omnem prolationem ut inimicam victoriae suspectabant; simul fulgentia per collis vexilla, quamquam imbellis populus sequeretur, speciem hostilis exercitus fecerant. tripertito agmine pars, ut adstiterat, Flaminia via, pars iuxta ripam Tiberis incessit; tertium agmen per Salariam Collinae portae propinquabat. plebs invectis equitibus fusa; miles Vitellianus trinis et ipse praesidiis occurrit. proelia ante urbem multa et varia, sed Flavianis consilio ducum praestantibus saepius prospera. ii tantum conflictati sunt qui in partem sinistram urbis ad Sallustianos hortos per angusta et lubrica viarum flexerant. superstantes maceriis hortorum Vitelliani ad serum usque diem saxis pilisque subeuntis arcebant, donec ab equitibus, qui porta Collina inruperant, circumvenirentur. concurrere et in campo Martio infestae acies. pro Flavianis fortuna et parta totiens victoria: Vitelliani desperatione sola ruebant, et quamquam pulsi, rursus in urbe congregabantur.

83. The populace stood by and watched the combatants; and, as though it had been a mimic conflict, encouraged first one party and then the other by their shouts and plaudits. Whenever either side gave way, they cried out that those who concealed themselves in the shops, or took refuge in any private house, should be dragged out and butchered, and they secured the larger share of the booty; for, while the soldiers were busy with bloodshed and massacre, the spoils fell to the crowd. It was a terrible and hideous sight that presented itself throughout the city. Here raged battle and death; there the bath and the tavern were crowded. In one spot were pools of blood and heaps of corpses, and close by prostitutes and men of character as infamous; there were all the debaucheries of luxurious peace, all the horrors of a city most cruelly sacked, till one was ready to believe the Country to be mad at once with rage and lust. It was not indeed the first time that armed troops had fought within the city; they had done so twice when Sulla, once when Cinna triumphed. The bloodshed then had not been less, but now there was an unnatural recklessness, and men's pleasures were not interrupted even for a moment. As if it were a new delight added to their holidays, they exulted in and enjoyed the scene, indifferent to parties, and rejoicing over the sufferings of the Commonwealth.

83. Aderat pugnantibus spectator populus, utque in ludicro certamine, hos, rursus illos clamore et plausu fovebat. quotiens pars altera inclinasset, abditos in tabernis aut si quam in domum perfugerant, erui iugularique expostulantes parte maiore praedae potiebantur: nam milite ad sanguinem et caedis obverso spolia in vulgus cedebant. saeva ac deformis urbe tota facies: alibi proelia et vulnera, alibi balineae popinaeque; simul cruor et strues corporum, iuxta scorta et scortis similes; quantum in luxurioso otio libidinum, quidquid in acerbissima captivitate scelerum, prorsus ut eandem civitatem et furere crederes et lascivire. conflixerant <et> ante armati exercitus in urbe, bis Lucio Sulla, semel Cinna victoribus, nec tunc minus crudelitatis: nunc inhumana securitas et ne minimo quidem temporis voluptates intermissae: velut festis diebus id quoque gaudium accederet, exultabant, fruebantur, nulla partium cura, malis publicis laeti.

84. The most arduous struggle was the storming of the camp, which the bravest of the enemy still held as a last hope. It was, therefore, with peculiar energy that the conquerors, among whom the veteran cohorts were especially forward, brought to bear upon it at once all the appliances which have been discovered in reducing the strongest cities, the testudo, the catapult, the earth-work, and the firebrand. They repeatedly shouted "that all the toil and danger they had endured in so many conflicts would be crowned by this achievement. The capital has been restored to the Senate and people of Rome, and their temples to the Gods; but the soldier's peculiar distinction is in the camp; this is his country, and this his home; unless this be recovered forthwith, the night must be passed under arms." On the other hand the Vitellianists, though unequal in numbers and doomed to defeat, could yet disturb the victory, delay the conclusion of peace, and pollute both hearth and altar with blood; and they clung to these last consolations of the vanquished. Many, desperately wounded, breathed their last on the towers and ramparts. When the gates were torn down, the survivors threw themselves in a body on the conquerors, and fell to a man, with their wounds in front and their faces turned towards the foe, so anxious were they even in their last hours to die with honour. When the city had been taken, Vitellius caused himself to be carried in a litter through the back of the palace to the Aventine, to his wife's dwelling, intending, if by any concealment he could escape for that day, to make his way to his brother's cohorts at Tarracina. Then, with characteristic weakness, and following the instincts of fear, which, dreading everything, shrinks most from what is immediately before it, he retraced his steps to the desolate and forsaken palace, whence even the meanest slaves had fled, or where they avoided his presence. The solitude and silence of the place scared him; he tried the closed doors, he shuddered in the empty chambers, till, wearied out with his miserable wanderings, he concealed himself in an unseemly hiding-place, from which he was dragged out by the tribune Julius Placidus. His hands were bound behind his back, and he was led along with tattered robes, a revolting spectacle, amidst the invectives of many, the tears of none. The degradation of his end had extinguished all pity. One of the German soldiers met the party, and aimed a deadly blow at Vitellius, perhaps in anger, perhaps wishing to release him the sooner from insult. Possibly the blow was meant for the tribune. He struck off that officer's ear, and was immediately dispatched.

84. Plurimum molis in obpugnatione castrorum fuit, quae acerrimus quisque ut novissimam spem retinebant. eo intentius victores, praecipuo veterum cohortium studio, cuncta validissimarum urbium excidiis reperta simul admovent, testudinem tormenta aggeres facesque, quidquid tot proeliis laboris ac periculi hausissent, opere illo consummari clamitantes. urbem senatui ac populo Romano, templa dis reddita: proprium esse militis decus in castris: illam patriam, illos penatis. ni statim recipiantur, noctem in armis agendam. contra Vitelliani, quamquam numero fatoque dispares, inquietare victoriam, morari pacem, domos arasque cruore foedare suprema victis solacia amplectebantur. multi semianimes super turris et propugnacula moenium expiravere: convulsis portis reliquus globus obtulit se victoribus, et cecidere omnes contrariis vulneribus, versi in hostem: ea cura etiam morientibus decori exitus fuit. Vitellius capta urbe per aversam Palatii partem Aventinum in domum uxoris sellula defertur, ut si diem latebra vitavisset, Tarracinam ad cohortis fratremque perfugeret. dein mobilitate ingenii et, quae natura pavoris est, cum omnia metuenti praesentia maxime displicerent, in Palatium regreditur vastum desertumque, dilapsis etiam infimis servitiorum aut occursum eius declinantibus. terret solitudo et tacentes loci; temptat clausa, inhorrescit vacuis; fessusque misero errore et pudenda latebra semet occultans ab Iulio Placido tribuno cohortis protrahitur. vinctae pone tergum manus; laniata veste, foedum spectaculum, ducebatur, multis increpantibus, nullo inlacrimante: deformitas exitus misericordiam abstulerat. obvius e Germanicis militibus Vitellium infesto ictu per iram, vel quo maturius ludibrio eximeret, an tribunum adpetierit, in incerto fuit: aurem tribuni amputavit ac statim confossus est.

85. Vitellius, compelled by threatening swords, first to raise his face and offer it to insulting blows, then to behold his own statues falling round him, and more than once to look at the Rostra and the spot where Galba was slain, was then driven along till they reached the Gemoniae, the place where the corpse of Flavius Sabinus had lain. One speech was heard from him shewing a spirit not utterly degraded, when to the insults of a tribune he answered, "Yet I was your Emperor." Then he fell under a shower of blows, and the mob reviled the dead man with the same heartlessness with which they had flattered him when he was alive.

85. Vitellium infestis mucronibus coactum modo erigere os et offerre contumeliis, nunc cadentis statuas suas, plerumque rostra aut Galbae occisi locum contueri, postremo ad Gemonias, ubi corpus Flavii Sabini iacuerat, propulere. una vox non degeneris animi excepta, cum tribuno insultanti se tamen imperatorem eius fuisse respondit; ac deinde ingestis vulneribus concidit. et vulgus eadem pravitate insectabatur interfectum qua foverat viventem.

86. Luceria was his native place. He had nearly completed his 57th year. His consulate, his priesthood, his high reputation, his place among the first men of the State, he owed, not to any energy of his own, but to the renown of his father. The throne was offered him by men who did not know him. Seldom have the affections of the army attached themselves to any man who sought to gain them by his virtues as firmly as they did to him from the indolence of his character. Yet he had a certain frankness and generosity, qualities indeed which turn to a man's ruin, unless tempered with discretion. Believing that friendship may be retained by munificent gifts rather than by consistency of character, he deserved more of it than he secured. Doubtless it was good for the State that Vitellius should be overthrown, but they who betrayed Vitellius to Vespasian cannot make a merit of their treachery, since they had themselves revolted from Galba. The day was now fast drawing to a close, and the Senate could not be convened, owing to the panic of the magistrates and Senators, who had stolen out of the city, or were concealing themselves in the houses of dependants. When nothing more was to be feared from the enemy, Domitian came forward to meet the leaders of the party; he was universally saluted by the title of Caesar, and the troops, in great numbers, armed as they were, conducted him to his father's house. 86. Patrem illi . . . Luceriam. septimum et quinquagensimum aetatis annum explebat, consulatum, sacerdotia, nomen locumque inter primores nulla sua industria, sed cuncta patris claritudine adeptus. principatum ei detulere qui ipsum non noverant: studia exercitus raro cuiquam bonis artibus quaesita perinde adfuere quam huic per ignaviam. inerat tamen simplicitas ac liberalitas, quae, ni adsit modus, in exitium vertuntur. amicitias dum magnitudine munerum, non constantia morum contineri putat, meruit magis quam habuit. rei publicae haud dubie intererat Vitellium vinci, sed imputare perfidiam non possunt qui Vitellium Vespasiano prodidere, cum a Galba descivissent. Praecipiti in occasum die ob pavorem magistratuum senatorumque, qui dilapsi ex urbe aut per domos clientium semet occultabant, vocari senatus non potuit. Domitianum, postquam nihil hostile metuebatur, ad duces partium progressum et Caesarem consalutatum miles frequens utque erat in armis in paternos penatis deduxit.

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