Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II
by Caius Cornelius Tacitus
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[Transcriber's note: Footnotes have been renumbered; all references to them use the new numbers. Spellings in the original are sometimes inconsistent. They have not been changed.]







'The cause of undertaking a work of this kind was a good will in this scribling age not to do nothing, and a disproportion in the powers of my mind, nothing of mine owne invention being able to passe the censure of mine owne judgement, much less, I presumed, the judgement of others....

'If thy stomacke be so tender as thou canst not disgest Tacitus in his owne stile, thou art beholding to one who gives thee the same food, but with a pleasant and easie taste.'










Tacitus held the consulship under Nerva in the year 97. At this point he closed his public career. He had reached the goal of a politician's ambition and had become known as one of the best speakers of his time, but he seems to have realized that under the Principate politics was a dull farce, and that oratory was of little value in a time of peace and strong government. The rest of his life was to be spent in writing history. In the year of his consulship or immediately after it, he published the Agricola and Germania, short monographs in which he practised the transition from the style of the speaker to that of the writer. In the preface to the Agricola he foreshadows the larger work on which he is engaged. 'I shall find it a pleasant task to put together, though in rough and unfinished style, a memorial of our former slavery and a record of our present happiness.' His intention was to write a history of the Principate from Augustus to Trajan. He began with his own times, and wrote in twelve or fourteen books a full account of the period from Nero's death in 68 A.D. to the death of Domitian in 96 A.D. These were published, probably in successive books, between 106 and 109 A.D. Only the first four and a half books survive to us. They deal with the years 69 and 70, and are known as The Histories. The Annals, which soon followed, dealt with the Julian dynasty after the death of Augustus. Of Augustus' constitution of the principate and of Rome's 'present happiness' under Trajan, Tacitus did not live to write.

The Histories, as they survive to us, describe in a style that has made them immortal one of the most terrible and crucial moments of Roman history. The deadly struggle for the throne demonstrated finally the real nature of the Principate—based not on constitutional fictions but on armed force—and the supple inefficiency of the senatorial class. The revolt on the Rhine foreshadowed the debacle of the fifth century. Tacitus was peculiarly well qualified to write the history of this period. He had been the eye-witness of some of the most terrible scenes: he was acquainted with all the distinguished survivors: his political experience gave him a statesman's point of view, and his rhetorical training a style which mirrored both the terror of the times and his own emotion. More than any other Roman historian he desired to tell the truth and was not fatally biassed by prejudice. It is wrong to regard Tacitus as an 'embittered rhetorician', an 'enemy of the Empire', a 'detracteur de l'humanite'.[1] He was none of these. As a member of a noble, though not an ancient, family, and as one who had completed the republican cursus honorum, his sympathies were naturally senatorial. He regretted that the days were passed when oratory was a real power and the consuls were the twin towers of the world. But he never hoped to see such days again. He realized that monarchy was essential to peace, and that the price of freedom was violence and disorder. He had no illusions about the senate. Fault and misfortune had reduced them to nerveless servility, a luxury of self-abasement. Their meekness would never inherit the earth. Tacitus pours scorn on the philosophic opponents of the Principate, who while refusing to serve the emperor and pretending to hope for the restoration of the republic, could contribute nothing more useful than an ostentatious suicide. His own career, and still more the career of his father-in-law Agricola, showed that even under bad emperors a man could be great without dishonour. Tacitus was no republican in any sense of the word, but rather a monarchist malgre lui. There was nothing for it but to pray for good emperors and put up with bad ones.

Those who decry Tacitus for prejudice against the Empire forget that he is describing emperors who were indubitably bad. We have lost his account of Vespasian's reign. His praise of Augustus and of Trajan was never written. The emperors whom he depicts for us were all either tyrannical or contemptible, or both: no floods of modern biography can wash them white. They seemed to him to have degraded Roman life and left no room for virtus in the world. The verdict of Rome had gone against them. So he devotes to their portraiture the venom which the fifteen years of Domitian's reign of terror had engendered in his heart. He was inevitably a pessimist; his ideals lay in the past; yet he clearly shows that he had some hope of the future. Without sharing Pliny's faith that the millennium had dawned, he admits that Nerva and Trajan have inaugurated 'happier times' and combined monarchy with some degree of personal freedom.

There are other reasons for the 'dark shadows' in Tacitus' work. History to a Roman was opus oratorium, a work of literary art. Truth is a great but not a sufficient merit. The historian must be not only narrator but ornator rerum. He must carefully select and arrange the incidents, compose them into an effective group, and by the power of language make them memorable and alive. In these books Tacitus has little but horrors to describe: his art makes them unforgettably horrible. The same art is ready to display the beauty of courage and self-sacrifice. But these were rarer phenomena than cowardice and greed. It was not Tacitus, but the age, which showed a preference for vice. Moreover, the historian's art was not to be used solely for its own sake. All ancient history was written with a moral object; the ethical interest predominates almost to the exclusion of all others. Tacitus is never merely literary. The [Greek: semnotes] which Pliny notes as the characteristic of his oratory, never lets him sparkle to no purpose. All his pictures have a moral object 'to rescue virtue from oblivion and restrain vice by the terror of posthumous infamy'.[2] His prime interest is character: and when he has conducted some skilful piece of moral diagnosis there attaches to his verdict some of the severity of a sermon. If you want to make men better you must uncover and scarify their sins.

Few Christian moralists deal much in eulogy, and Tacitus' diatribes are the more frequent and the more fierce because his was the morality not of Christ but of Rome. 'The Poor' are as dirt to him: he can stoop to immortalize some gleam of goodness in low life, but even then his main object is by scorn of contrast to galvanize the aristocracy into better ways. Only in them can true virtus grow. Their degradation seems the death of goodness. Tacitus had little sympathy with the social revolution that was rapidly completing itself, not so much because those who rose from the masses lacked 'blood', but because they had not been trained in the right traditions. In the decay of Education he finds a prime cause of evil. And being a Roman—wherever he may have been born—he inevitably feels that the decay of Roman life must rot the world. His eyes are not really open to the Empire. He never seems to think that in the spacious provinces to which the old Roman virtues had taken flight, men were leading happy, useful lives, because the strong hand of the imperial government had come to save them from the inefficiency of aristocratic governors. This narrowness of view accounts for much of Tacitus' pessimism.

Recognition of the atmosphere in which Tacitus wrote and the objects at which his history aimed helps one to understand why it sometimes disappoints modern expectations. Particular scenes are seared on our memories: persons stand before us lit to the soul by a fierce light of psychological analysis: we learn to loath the characteristic vices of the time, and to understand the moral causes of Roman decadence. But somehow the dominance of the moral interest and the frequent interruption of the narrative by scenes of senatorial inefficiency serve to obscure the plain sequence of events. It is difficult after a first reading of the Histories to state clearly what happened in these two years. And this difficulty is vastly annoying to experts who wish to trace the course of the three campaigns. Those whose interest is not in Tacitus but in the military history of the period are recommended to study Mr. B.W. Henderson's Civil War and Rebellion in the Roman Empire, a delightful book which makes the dark places plain. But they are not recommended to share his contempt for Tacitus because his accounts of warfare are as bad as, for instance, Shakespeare's. Tacitus does not describe in detail the tactics and geography of a campaign, perhaps because he could not do so, certainly because he did not wish to. He regarded such details as dry bones, which no amount of literary skill could animate. His interest is in human character. Plans of campaign throw little light on that: so they did not interest him, or, if they did, he suppressed his interest because he knew that his public would otherwise behave as Dr. Johnson did when Fox talked to him of Catiline's conspiracy. 'He withdrew his attention and thought about Tom Thumb.'

There is no worse fault in criticism than to blame a work of art for lacking qualities to which it makes no pretension. Tacitus is not a 'bad military historian'. He is not a 'military' historian at all. Botticelli is not a botanist, nor is Shakespeare a geographer. It is this fault which leads critics to call Tacitus 'a stilted pleader at a decadent bar', and to complain that his narrative of the war with Civilis is 'made dull and unreal by speeches'—because they have not found in Tacitus what they had no right to look for. Tacitus inserts speeches for the same reason that he excludes tactical details. They add to the human interest of his work. They give scope to his great dramatic powers, to that passionate sympathy with character which finds expression in a style as nervous as itself. They enable him to display motives, to appraise actions, to reveal moral forces. It is interest in human nature rather than pride of rhetoric which makes him love a good debate.

The supreme distinction of Tacitus is, of course, his style. That is lost in a translation. 'Hard' though his Latin is, it is not obscure. Careful attention can always detect his exact thought. Like Meredith he is 'hard' because he does so much with words. Neither writer leaves any doubt about his meaning. It is therefore a translator's first duty to be lucid, and not until that duty is done may he try by faint flushes of epigram to reflect something of the brilliance of Tacitus' Latin. Very faint indeed that reflection must always be: probably no audience could be found to listen to a translation of Tacitus, yet one feels that his Latin would challenge and hold the attention of any audience that was not stone-deaf. But it is because Tacitus is never a mere stylist that some of us continue in the failure to translate him. His historical deductions and his revelations of character have their value for every age. 'This form of history,' says Montaigne, 'is by much the most useful ... there are in it more precepts than stories: it is not a book to read, 'tis a book to study and learn: 'tis full of sententious opinions, right or wrong: 'tis a nursery of ethic and politic discourses, for the use and ornament of those who have any place in the government of the world.... His pen seems most proper for a troubled and sick state, as ours at present is; you would often say it is us he paints and pinches.' Sir Henry Savile, Warden of Merton and Provost of Eton, who translated the Histories into racy Elizabethan English at a time when the state was neither 'troubled' nor 'sick' is as convinced as Montaigne or the theorists of the French Revolution that Tacitus had lessons for his age. 'In Galba thou maiest learne, that a Good Prince gouerned by evill ministers is as dangerous as if he were evill himselfe. By Otho, that the fortune of a rash man is Torrenti similis, which rises at an instant, and falles in a moment. By Vitellius, that he that hath no vertue can neuer be happie: for by his own baseness he will loose all, which either fortune, or other mens labours have cast upon him. By Vespasian, that in civill tumults an advised patience, and opportunitie well taken are the onely weapons of advantage. In them all, and in the state of Rome under them thou maiest see the calamities that follow civill warres, where lawes lie asleepe, and all things are iudged by the sword. If thou mislike their warres be thankfull for thine owne peace; if thou dost abhor their tyrannies, love and reverence thine owne wise, iust and excellent Prince.' So whatever guise our age may assume, there are lessons to be drawn from Tacitus either directly or per contra, and his translators may be acquitted at a time when Latin scholarship is no longer an essential of political eminence.


[1] Napoleon's phrase.

[2] Ann. iii. 65.



A.D. 68.


9. Death of Nero.

16. Galba, Governor of Nearer Spain, declared Emperor at Clunia.

Fonteius Capito, Governor of Lower Germany, Clodius Macer, Governor of Africa, and Nymphidius Sabinus, Prefect of the Guard, murdered as possible rivals. Verginius Rufus, Governor of Upper Germany, refuses to compete.


Galba enters Rome. Massacre of Marines at Mulvian Bridge.

His government controlled by Laco, Vinius, and Icelus.

A.D. 69.


1. News of mutiny in Upper Germany, now governed by Hordeonius Flaccus.

3. The armies of Upper Germany (under Caecina) and of Lower Germany (under Valens) salute Vitellius, Governor of Lower Germany, as Emperor.

10. Galba adopts Piso Licinianus as his successor.

15. Otho declared Emperor in Rome and recognized by Praetorian Guard.

Murder of Galba, Vinius, and Piso.

Otho recognized by the Senate.


The Vitellian armies are now marching on Italy: Caecina through Switzerland and over the Great St. Bernard with Legio XXI Rapax and detachments of IV Macedonica and XXII Primigenia: Valens through Gaul and over Mount Genevre with Legio V Alaudae and detachments of I Italica, XV Primigenia, and XVI.


Caecina crosses the Alps.

Otho dispatches an advance-guard under Annius Gallus and Spurinna.

Otho starts for the Po with Suetonius Paulinus, Marius Celsus, and Proculus.

Titianus left in charge of Rome.

Otho sends fleet to Narbonese Gaul, and orders Illyric Legions[3] to concentrate at Aquileia.

Spurinna repulses Caecina from Placentia.

Otho's main army joins Gallus at Bedriacum.

Titianus summoned to take nominal command.


6. Battle of Locus Castorum. Caecina defeated.

Valens joins Caecina at Cremona.

15. Battle of Bedriacum. Othonian defeat.

17. Otho commits suicide at Brixellum.

19. Vitellius recognized by the Senate.


Vitellius greeted by his own and Otho's generals at Lyons.

24. Vitellius visits the battle-field of Bedriacum.


Vitellius moves slowly towards Rome with a huge retinue.


1. Vespasian, Governor of Judaea, proclaimed Emperor at Alexandria.

3. At Caesarea.

15. At Antioch.

The Eastern princes and the Illyric Legions[4] declare for Vespasian. His chief supporters are Mucianus; Governor of Syria, Antonius Primus commanding Leg. VII Galbiana, and Cornelius Fuscus, Procurator of Pannonia.

Mucianus moves slowly westward with Leg. VI Ferrata and detachments from the other Eastern legions.

Vespasian holds Egypt, Rome's granary.

Titus takes command in Judaea.

Antonius Primus with Arrius Varus hurries forward into Italy.


Vitellius vegetates in Rome.

Caecina marches to meet the invasion. (Valens aegrotat.) His Legions are I, IV Macedonica, XV Primigenia, XVI, V Alaudae, XXII Primigenia, I Italica, XXI Rapax, and detachments from Britain.


[3] i.e. in Pannonia Legs. VII Galbiana and XIII Gemina; in Dalmatia XI Claudia and XIV Gemina; in Moesia III Gallica, VII Claudia, VIII Augusta.

[4] See note above.


The text followed is that of C.D. Fisher (Oxford Classical Texts). Departures from it are mentioned in the notes.



[A.D. 69.] I propose to begin my narrative with the second 1 consulship of Servius Galba, in which Titus Vinius was his colleague. Many historians have dealt with the 820 years of the earlier period beginning with the foundation of Rome, and the story of the Roman Republic has been told with no less ability than truth. After the Battle of Actium, when the interests of peace were served by the centralization of all authority in the hands of one man, there followed a dearth of literary ability, and at the same time truth suffered more and more, partly from ignorance of politics, which were no longer a citizen's concern, partly from the growing taste for flattery or from hatred of the ruling house. So between malice on one side and servility on the other the interests of posterity were neglected. But historians find that a tone of flattery soon incurs the stigma of servility and earns for them the contempt of their readers, whereas people readily open their ears to the criticisms of envy, since malice makes a show of independence. Of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, I have known nothing either to my advantage or my hurt. I cannot deny that I originally owed my position to Vespasian, or that I was advanced by Titus and still further promoted by Domitian;[5] but professing, as I do, unbiassed honesty, I must speak of no man either with hatred or affection. I have reserved for my old age, if life is spared to me, the reigns of the sainted Nerva and of the Emperor Trajan, which afford a richer and withal a safer theme:[6] for it is the rare fortune of these days that a man may think what he likes and say what he thinks.

The story I now commence is rich in vicissitudes, grim with 2 warfare, torn by civil strife, a tale of horror even during times of peace. It tells of four emperors slain by the sword, three several civil wars, an even larger number of foreign wars and some that were both at once: successes in the East, disaster in the West, disturbance in Illyricum, disaffection in the provinces of Gaul, the conquest of Britain and its immediate loss, the rising of the Sarmatian and Suebic tribes. It tells how Dacia had the privilege of exchanging blows with Rome, and how a pretender claiming to be Nero almost deluded the Parthians into declaring war. Now too Italy was smitten with new disasters, or disasters it had not witnessed for a long period of years. Towns along the rich coast of Campania were submerged or buried. The city was devastated by fires, ancient temples were destroyed, and the Capitol itself was fired by Roman hands. Sacred rites were grossly profaned, and there were scandals in high places.[7] The sea swarmed with exiles and the island cliffs[8] were red with blood. Worse horrors reigned in the city. To be rich or well-born was a crime: men were prosecuted for holding or for refusing office: merit of any kind meant certain ruin. Nor were the Informers more hated for their crimes than for their prizes: some carried off a priesthood or the consulship as their spoil, others won offices and influence in the imperial household: the hatred and fear they inspired worked universal havoc. Slaves were bribed against their masters, freedmen against their patrons, and, if a man had no enemies, he was ruined by his friends.

However, the period was not so utterly barren as to yield no 3 examples of heroism. There were mothers who followed their sons, and wives their husbands into exile: one saw here a kinsman's courage and there a son-in-law's devotion: slaves obstinately faithful even on the rack: distinguished men bravely facing the utmost straits and matching in their end the famous deaths of older times. Besides these manifold disasters to mankind there were portents in the sky and on the earth, thunderbolts and other premonitions of good and of evil, some doubtful, some obvious. Indeed never has it been proved by such terrible disasters to Rome or by such clear evidence that Providence is concerned not with our peace of mind but rather with vengeance for our sin.


[5] To Vespasian Tacitus probably owed his quaestorship and a seat in the senate; to Titus his tribunate of the people; to Domitian the praetorship and a 'fellowship' of one of the great priestly colleges, whose special function was the supervision of foreign cults. This last accounts for Tacitus' interest in strange religions.

[6] This project, also foreshadowed in Agricola iii, was never completed.

[7] Referring in particular to the scandals among the Vestal Virgins and to Domitian's relations with his niece Julia.

[8] i.e. the Aegean islands, such as Seriphus, Gyarus, Amorgus, where those in disfavour were banished and often murdered.


Before I commence my task, it seems best to go back and consider 4 the state of affairs in the city, the temper of the armies, the condition of the provinces, and to determine the elements of strength and weakness in the different quarters of the Roman world. By this means we may see not only the actual course of events, which is largely governed by chance, but also why and how they occurred.

The death of Nero, after the first outburst of joy with which it was greeted, soon aroused conflicting feelings not only among the senators, the people, and the soldiers in the city, but also among the generals and their troops abroad. It had divulged a secret of state: an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome. Still the senate was satisfied. They had immediately taken advantage of their liberty and were naturally emboldened against a prince who was new to the throne and, moreover, absent. The highest class of the knights[9] seconded the senate's satisfaction. Respectable citizens, who were attached as clients or freedmen to the great families, and had seen their patrons condemned or exiled, now revived their hopes. The lowest classes, who had grown familiar with the pleasures of the theatre and the circus, the most degraded of the slaves, and Nero's favourites who had squandered their property and lived on his discreditable bounty, all showed signs of depression and an eager greed for news.

The troops in the city[10] had long been inured to the allegiance 5 of the Caesars, and it was more by the pressure of intrigue than of their own inclination that they came to desert Nero. They soon realized that the donation promised in Galba's name was not to be paid to them, and that peace would not, like war, offer opportunity for great services and rich rewards. Since they also saw that the new emperor's favour had been forestalled by the army which proclaimed him, they were ripe for revolution and were further instigated by their rascally Praefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who was plotting to be emperor himself. His design was as a matter of fact detected and quashed, but, though the ringleader was removed, many of the troops still felt conscious of their treason and could be heard commenting on Galba's senility and avarice. His austerity—a quality once admired and set high in soldiers' estimation—only annoyed troops whose contempt for the old methods of discipline had been fostered by fourteen years of service under Nero. They had come to love the emperors' vices as much as they once reverenced their virtues in older days. Moreover Galba had let fall a remark, which augured well for Rome, though it spelt danger to himself. 'I do not buy my soldiers,' he said, 'I select them.' And indeed, as things then stood, his words sounded incongruous.


[9] Probably those who owned one million sesterces, the property qualification for admission to the senate.

[10] This includes 'The Guards' (cohortes praetoriae) and 'The City Garrison' (cohortes urbanae), and possibly also the cohortes vigilum, who were a sort of police corps and fire brigade.


Galba was old and ill. Of his two lieutenants Titus Vinius was the 6 vilest of men and Cornelius Laco the laziest. Hated as he was for Vinius' crimes and despised for Laco's inefficiency, between them Galba soon came to ruin. His march from Spain was slow and stained with bloodshed. He executed Cingonius Varro, the consul-elect, and Petronius Turpilianus, an ex-consul, the former as an accomplice of Nymphidius, the latter as one of Nero's generals. They were both denied any opportunity of a hearing or defence—and might as well have been innocent. On his arrival at Rome the butchery of thousands of unarmed soldiers[11] gave an ill omen to his entry, and alarmed even the men who did the slaughter. The city was filled with strange troops. A legion had been brought from Spain,[12] and the regiment of marines enrolled by Nero still remained.[11] Moreover there were several detachments from Germany, Britain, and Illyricum,[13] which had been selected by Nero, dispatched to the Caspian Pass[14] for the projected war against the Albanians, and subsequently recalled to aid in crushing the revolt of Vindex.[15] These were all fine fuel for a revolution, and, although their favour centred on nobody in particular, there they were at the disposal of any one who had enterprise.

It happened by chance that the news of the death of Clodius Macer 7 and of Fonteius Capito arrived in Rome simultaneously. Macer,[16] who was undoubtedly raising a disturbance in Africa, was put to death by the imperial agent Trebonius Garutianus, acting under Galba's orders: Capito[17] had made a similar attempt in Germany and was killed by two officers, Cornelius Aquinus and Fabius Valens, without waiting for instructions. While Capito had a foul reputation for extortion and loose living, some people yet believed that he had withheld his hand from treason. His officers, they supposed, had urged him to declare war, and, when they could not persuade him, had gone on to charge him falsely with their own offence,[18] while Galba from weakness of character, or perhaps because he was afraid to inquire too far, approved what had happened for good or for ill, since it was past alteration. At any rate both executions were unpopular. Now that Galba was disliked, everything he did, whether right or wrong, made him more unpopular. His freedmen were all-powerful: money could do anything: the slaves were thirsting for an upheaval, and with so elderly an emperor were naturally expecting to see one soon. The evils of the new court were those of the old, and while equally oppressive were not so easily excused. Even Galba's age seemed comic and despicable to a populace that was used to the young Nero and compared the emperors, as such people will, in point of looks and personal attraction.


[11] i.e. the marines, whom Nero had formed into a reserve force (Legio I Adiutrix). They had met Galba at the Mulvian Bridge, probably with a petition for service in the Line.

[12] Legio VII Galbiana, sent later to Pannonia.

[13] Illyricum included all the Danube provinces.

[14] The Pass of Dariel over the centre of the Caucasus. The Albanians lay to the east of its southern end, on the south-west coast of the Caspian.

[15] Vindex, Pro-praetor in the Lyons division of Gaul, had revolted against Nero early in the year 68 and offered his support to Galba, then governor of the Tarragona division of Spain. He was defeated by Verginius Rufus, commanding the forces in Upper Germany, and committed suicide. Verginius afterwards declared for Galba, though his troops wanted to make him emperor. Cp. chap. 8.

[16] Clodius Macer commanded Legio III Augusta and governed Numidia, which Tiberius at the end of his reign had detached from the pro-consulate of Africa.

[17] Governor of Lower Germany. See chap. 58 and iii. 62.

[18] Cp. chap. 58.


Such then at Rome was the variety of feeling natural in so vast a 8 population. To turn to the provinces abroad: Spain was under the command of Cluvius Rufus, a man of great eloquence, and more skilled in the arts of peace than of war.[19] The Gallic provinces had not forgotten Vindex: moreover, they were bound to Galba by his recent grant of Roman citizenship and his rebate of their tribute for the future. The tribes, however, which lay nearest to the armies stationed in Germany had not received these honours: some even had lost part of their territory and were equally aggrieved at the magnitude of their own injuries and of their neighbours' benefits. The troops in Germany were proud of their recent victory, indignant at their treatment and perplexed by a nervous consciousness that they had supported the wrong side: a very dangerous state for so strong a force to be in. They had been slow to desert Nero, and Verginius[20] did not immediately declare for Galba. Whether he really did not want the throne is doubtful: without question his soldiers made him the offer. The death of Fonteius Capito aroused the indignation even of those who had no right to complain. However, they still lacked a leader: Galba had sent for Verginius under a pretence of friendship, and, when he was not allowed to return and was even charged with treachery, the soldiers considered his case their own.

The army of Upper Germany felt no respect for their commander, 9 Hordeonius Flaccus.[21] Weakened by age and an affection of the feet he was without resolution or authority, and could not have controlled the mildest troops. These fiery spirits were only the further inflamed when they felt such a weak hand on the reins. The legions of Lower Germany had been for some time without a commander,[22] until Aulus Vitellius appeared. He was the son of the Lucius Vitellius who had been censor and thrice consul,[23] and Galba thought this sufficient to impress the troops. The army in Britain showed no bad feeling. All through the disturbance of the civil wars no troops kept cleaner hands. This may have been because they were so far away and severed by the sea, or perhaps frequent engagements had taught them to keep their rancour for the enemy. Quiet ruled in Illyricum also, although the legions, which had been summoned by Nero,[24] while lingering in Italy had made overtures to Verginius. But the armies lay far apart, always a sound assistance to the maintenance of military discipline, since the men could neither share vices nor join forces.

The East was still untroubled. Licinius Mucianus held Syria with 10 four legions.[25] He was a man who was always famous, whether in good fortune or in bad. As a youth he was ambitious and cultivated the friendship of the great. Later he found himself in straitened circumstances and a very ambiguous position, and, suspecting Claudius' displeasure, he withdrew into the wilds of Asia, where he came as near to being an exile as afterwards to being an emperor. He was a strange mixture of good and bad, of luxury and industry, courtesy and arrogance. In leisure he was self-indulgent, but full of vigour on service. His outward behaviour was praiseworthy, though ill was spoken of his private life. However, with those who were under him or near him, and with his colleagues he gained great influence by various devices, and seems to have been the sort of man who would more readily make an emperor than be one.

The Jewish war was being conducted by Flavius Vespasianus—appointed by Nero—with three legions.[26] He had no ill-will against Galba, and nothing to hope from his fall. Indeed he had sent his son Titus to carry his compliments and offer allegiance, an incident we must reserve for its proper place.[27] It was only after Vespasian's rise that Roman society came to believe in the mysterious movings of Providence, and supposed that portents and oracles had predestined the throne for him and his family.

Of Egypt and its garrison, ever since the days of the sainted 11 Augustus, the knights of Rome have been uncrowned kings.[28] The province being difficult to reach, rich in crops, torn and tossed by fanaticism and sedition, ignorant of law, unused to bureaucratic government, it seemed wiser to keep it in the control of the Household.[29] The governor at that date was Tiberius Alexander, himself a native of Egypt.[30] Africa and its legions, now that Clodius Macer had been executed,[31] were ready to put up with any ruler after their experience of a petty master. The two Mauretanias, Raetia, Noricum, Thrace, and the other provinces governed by procurators had their sympathies determined by the neighbourhood of troops, and always caught their likes or dislikes from the strongest army. The ungarrisoned provinces, and chief amongst these Italy, were destined to be the prize of war, and lay at the mercy of any master. Such was the state of the Roman world when Servius Galba, consul for the second time, and Titus Vinius his colleague, inaugurated the year which was to be their last, and almost the last for the commonwealth of Rome.


[19] He wrote a history of his own time, which was one of Tacitus' chief authorities.

[20] See note 17.

[21] Verginius' successor.

[22] Since Capito's death, chap. 7.

[23] He died in A.D. 54. In the censorship and in two of his consulships he had been Claudius' colleague.

[24] For the war with Vindex.

[25] See note 164. The fourth legion is III Gallica, afterwards moved into Moesia.

[26] See note 163.

[27] ii. 1.

[28] Cp. Ann., ii. 59. 'Amongst other secret principles of his imperial policy, Augustus had put Egypt in a position by itself, forbidding all senators and knights of the highest class to enter that country without his permission. For Egypt holds the key, as it were, both of sea and land' (tr. Ramsay). Cp. iii. 8.

[29] i.e. to govern it by the emperor's private agents. The province was regarded as part of the emperor's estate (patrimonium). This post was the highest in the imperial service.

[30] A member of a Jewish family settled in Alexandria and thus entitled to Roman citizenship. He was a nephew of the historian Philo; had been Procurator of Judaea and chief of Corbulo's staff in Armenia.

[31] See chap. 7.


A few days after the first of January a dispatch arrived from 12 Belgica, in which Pompeius Propinquus,[32] the imperial agent, announced that the legions of Upper Germany had broken their oath of allegiance and were clamouring for a new emperor, but that by way of tempering their treason they referred the final choice to the Senate and People of Rome. Galba had already been deliberating and seeking advice as to the adoption of a successor, and this occurrence hastened his plans. During all these months this question formed the current subject of gossip throughout the country; Galba was far spent in years and the general propensity for such a topic knew no check. Few people showed sound judgement or any spirit of patriotism. Many were influenced by foolish hopes and spread self-interested rumours pointing to some friend or patron, thereby also gratifying their hatred for Titus Vinius,[33] whose unpopularity waxed daily with his power. Galba's affability only served to strengthen the gaping ambition of his newly powerful friends, for his weakness and credulity halved the risk and doubled the reward of treason.

The real power of the throne was divided between the consul, Titus 13 Vinius, and Cornelius Laco, the prefect of the Guards; and an influence as great was enjoyed by Icelus, one of Galba's freedmen, who had been given the gold ring[34] and was now greeted by the name of Marcianus. These three ordinarily disagreed, and followed each his own interest in smaller matters: on the question of the succession they fell into two camps. Vinius was for Marcus Otho. Laco and Icelus were agreed not so much on any one as on any other. Galba was aware of the friendship between Otho and Vinius. Otho was a bachelor and Vinius had an unmarried daughter: so gossip, never reticent, pointed to them as father and son-in-law. Galba, one may suppose, felt some concern for his country, too. Why take the throne from Nero, if it was to be left to Otho? Otho had led a careless boyhood and a dissolute youth, and endeared himself to Nero by aping his vices. Thus it was to Otho, as being already in the secret, that Nero entrusted his favourite mistress, Poppaea Sabina,[35] until he could get rid of Octavia. Later he grew jealous and removed Otho to the province of Lusitania under cover of a governorship. Otho had been popular in his administration of the province, and was one of the first to join Galba's party. Being a man of action and one of the most distinguished of Galba's officers in the war, when once he had conceived the hope of succeeding him, he eagerly indulged it. Most of the soldiers were on his side and the Court supported him as Nero's double.

After receiving the news of the German revolt, although Galba knew 14 nothing for certain of Vitellius' plans, he was fearful to what lengths the outbreak of the troops might go; so, being unable to trust the troops in the city,[36] he had recourse to what seemed his sole remedy and held an Imperial Election. Besides Vinius and Laco he summoned Marius Celsus, consul-elect and the City-Prefect Ducenius Geminus.[37] After prefacing a few words about his own advanced age he ordered Piso Licinianus[38] to be sent for, either on his own initiative, or, as some believed, at the instance of Laco. Laco had met Piso at Rubellius Plautus' house and they had formed a friendship, but he cunningly pretended that he was supporting a stranger, and Piso's good repute gave colour to this policy. Piso was a noble on both sides, being the son of Marcus Crassus and Scribonia. There was an old-world austerity in his face and bearing, and just critics spoke of his strict morality: people who took a less favourable view thought him soured. But while those who disliked this side of his character carped at it, it was a recommendation in the eyes of the emperor who intended to adopt him.

Galba is said to have taken Piso's hand and addressed him as 15 follows: 'Were I a private citizen, and were I to adopt you in the presence of the Priests by the usual formality of a curial statute,[39] it would be an honour for me to introduce into my family a descendant of Cnaeus Pompeius and of Marcus Crassus, and for you it would be a distinction to add to your noble ancestry the glories of the Sulpician and Lutatian houses.[40] As it is, I have been called by the consent of gods and men to be an emperor. Your distinguished qualities and your patriotism have persuaded me to offer to you peacefully and quietly the throne for which our ancestors fought on the field of battle,[41] and which I too won by war. In so doing I am following the precedent set by the sainted Augustus, who raised to the rank next himself first his nephew Marcellus, then his son-in-law Agrippa, then his daughter's sons,[42] and finally his stepson Tiberius Nero. However, while Augustus looked for a successor in his own family, I have searched throughout the country. Not that I lack either kinsmen or supporters, but it was by no favour of birth that I myself came to the throne, and, to prove my policy in this matter, consider how I have passed over not only my own relatives but yours. You have an elder brother,[43] as noble as yourself. He would have been worthy of this position, but you are worthier. You are old enough to have outlived youthful passions. Your life has been such that you have nothing in your past to excuse. So far you have only experienced misfortune. Prosperity probes the heart with a keener touch; misery only calls for patience, but there is corruption in success. Honesty, candour, and affection are the best of human qualities, and doubtless you yourself have enough character to retain them. But the complaisance of others will weaken your character. Flattery and servile compliments will break down its defences and self-interest too, the bane of all sincerity. What though you and I can talk plainly with each other to-day? Others will address themselves not to us but to our fortunes. To persuade an emperor what he ought to do is a laborious task: any one can flatter him without a spark of sincerity.

'If the vast bulk of this empire could stand and keep its balance 16 without a guiding hand, the Republic might well have dated its birth from me. As it is, things have long ago come to such a pass that neither I in my old age can give the Roman people any better gift than a good successor, nor you in your prime anything better than a good emperor. Under Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius, Rome was the heirloom of a single family. There is a kind of liberty in the free choice we have begun to exercise. Now that the Julian and Claudian houses are extinct, by the plan of adoption the best man will always be discovered. Royal birth is the gift of fortune, and is but valued as such. In adoption we can use a free judgement, and if we wish to choose well, the voice of the country points the way. Think of Nero, swollen with the pride of his long line of royal ancestry. It was not Vindex with a powerless province at his back, nor I with a single legion that freed Rome's shoulders of that burden: it was his own cruelty and profligacy. And that was before there was any precedent for the conviction of an emperor.

'We have been called to the throne by the swords of those who thought us worthy. Our high state will not escape the eye of envy. You may be sure of that. But there is no reason for you to feel alarm because in this world-wide upheaval a couple of legions have not yet settled down. I myself did not succeed to a safe and peaceful throne, and, when once the news of your adoption is spread, I shall cease to be charged with my advanced age, which is now the only fault they find in me. The rascals will always miss Nero: you and I have got to see that good citizens do not miss him too.

'A longer sermon would ill befit the time and I have fulfilled my purpose, if I have done right in choosing you. The soundest and easiest criterion of right and wrong policy is to consider what you would have approved or condemned in another emperor. For Rome is not like the nations which are ruled by kings, where one house is supreme and the rest are slaves. Your future subjects are men who cannot endure the extremes either of bondage or of freedom.'

Galba spoke these words and more to the same effect in the tone of one creating an emperor: the rest addressed Piso as though he were emperor already. He is said to have betrayed no sign of amazement or 17 elation either before those who were then present, or later when everybody's eyes centred upon him. His language to his emperor and adoptive father was deeply respectful and he spoke modestly of himself. He made no change in his expression or bearing, showing himself more able than anxious to rule. A discussion then took place whether the adoption should be announced before the people or in the senate, or in the guards' camp. They decided in favour of the camp, on the ground that it would be a compliment to the troops, whose goodwill was hard to win by flattery or bribes, but was by no means to be despised, if it could be won by good means. Meanwhile the curiosity of the populace, impatient of any important secret, had brought together crowds all round the Palace, and when once the rumour began to leak out an attempt at suppression only resulted in spreading it.

The tenth of January was a dreary wet day, and an extraordinary 18 storm of thunder and lightning showed the displeasure of Providence. Such phenomena were regarded in old days as a sign for the suspension of public business, but they did not deter Galba from proceeding to the camp. Either he disregarded such things as the result of pure chance or else he felt that the blows of fate may be foretold but not forestalled. He addressed a crowded assembly of the soldiers with true imperial brevity, stating simply that in adopting Piso he was following the example of the sainted Augustus, and the old military custom whereby each man chose another.[44] He was afraid that by suppressing the news of the German rebellion he might only seem to exaggerate the danger, so he voluntarily declared that the Fourth and Twenty-second legions had been led by a few traitors into seditious murmurings but no further, and would soon return to their allegiance. He made no attempt to enhance his words either by eloquence or largess. However, the tribunes and centurions and those of the soldiers who stood nearest to him gave well-sounding answers. The rest were sorry and silent, for the war seemed to have lost them the largess that had always been usual even in peace. Everybody agrees that they could have been won over had the parsimonious old emperor made the least display of generosity. He was ruined by his strict old-fashioned inflexibility, which seems too rigorous for these degenerate days.

From the camp they proceeded to the senate, and Galba's speech to 19 its members was no fuller or finer than to the soldiers. Piso spoke graciously, and there was no lack of support in the senate. Many wished him well. Those who did not were the more effusive. The majority were indifferent, but displayed a ready affability, intent on their private speculations without thought of the country's good. No other public action is reported of Piso during the four days which intervened between his adoption and assassination.


[32] i.e. the emperor's finance agent in the province of Belgica.

[33] Cp. chap. 6.

[34] A gold signet-ring was the sign of a free-born Roman knight. Its grant to freedmen was an innovation of which Tacitus disapproved.

[35] Tacitus here follows the story told by Suetonius in his life of Otho. In the Annals, xiii. 45, 46, Tacitus gives in detail a more probable version. It is more likely that Poppaea used Otho as a stepping-stone to Nero's favour than that Otho, as Suetonius quotes, 'committed adultery with his own wife.'

[36] See chap. 5, note 10.

[37] One of the three Commissioners of Public Revenue appointed by Nero in A.D. 62 (Ann., xv. 18).

[38] Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus was the son of M. Licinius Crassus Frugi, and adopted son of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi. His mother, Scribonia, was a descendant of Pompey.

[39] Adoption from one family into another needed in old days the sanction of the Comitia Curiata. When that assembly became obsolete, the priests summoned a formal meeting of thirty lictors, and their sanction of an act of adoption was still called lex curiata. Galba was now Pontifex maximus.

[40] Galba belonged to the Gens Sulpicia, and was connected through his mother, Mummia, with Q. Lutatius Catulus, who had led the senatorial party in the first half of the last century.

[41] i.e. Galba's great-grandfather had fought for Caesar against Piso's ancestor, Pompey.

[42] The children of Julia and Agrippa.

[43] Crassus Scribonianus, cp. chap. 47, and iv. 39.

[44] i.e. co-optation, employed in former days to raise a special contingent for emergencies.


Reports of the German rebellion grew daily more insistent and the public was always ready to believe any news, provided it was bad. Accordingly the senate decided that a commission must be sent to the army in Germany. It was discussed in private whether Piso should go himself to add dignity to the commission, since he could carry the authority of the emperor, while the others represented the senate. It was also proposed to send Laco, the prefect of the Guards, but he objected. The senate had allowed Galba to nominate the commissioners and he showed the most miserable indecision, now nominating members, now excusing them, now making exchanges, yielding always to pressure from people who wanted to go or to stay at home according as they were determined by their hopes or their fears. The next question was 20 one of finance. After investigating all possible sources it seemed most reasonable to recover the revenue from those quarters where the cause of the deficit lay. Nero had squandered in lavish presents two thousand two hundred million sesterces.[45] Galba gave instructions that these monies should be recovered from the individual recipients, leaving each a tithe of their original gift. However, in each case there was scarcely a tenth part left, for these worthless spendthrifts had run through Nero's money as freely as they had squandered their own: they had no real property or capital left, nothing but the apparatus of their luxury. Thirty of the knights were entrusted with the duty of recovering the money. This commission, for which there was no precedent, proved vastly unpopular owing to the scope of its authority, and the large number of the victims. Every quarter seemed beset with sales and brokers and lawsuits. And yet lively satisfaction was caused by the discovery that the beneficiaries of Nero's bounty were as poor as the victims of his greed.

At this time several officers were cashiered, Antonius Taurus and Antonius Naso of the Guards, Aemilius Pacensis of the City Garrison, and Julius Fronto of the Police.[46] However, this proved no remedy. The others only began to feel alarmed, thinking that Galba's craft and timidity had sacrificed a few, while his suspicions rested on them all.


[45] About twenty-three million sterling of our money.

[46] i.e. of the cohorts which formed the police and fire-brigade of the city. See chap. 5, note 10.


Meanwhile Otho had nothing to hope from a peaceful settlement: all 21 his plans demanded a disturbance. Many motives spurred him on: his extravagance would have ruined a prince, and his poverty have perplexed a private person: he was angry with Galba and jealous of Piso. He also alleged fears for his safety, by way of whetting his ambition. 'I proved a nuisance to Nero,' he would say, 'and can scarcely expect the compliment of a second exile to Lusitania.[47] Besides, monarchs always hate and suspect the man who is mentioned as "next to the throne". This was what did me harm with the old emperor, and it will weigh still more with the youthful Piso, who is naturally savage and has been exasperated by a long period of exile. It would be easy to kill me. I must do and dare while Galba's authority is on the wane and Piso's not yet established. These times of change suit big enterprises; inaction is more deadly than daring; there is no call for delay. Death is the natural end for all alike, and the only difference is between fame and oblivion afterwards. Seeing that the same end awaits the innocent and the guilty, a man of spirit should at least deserve his fate.'

Otho's character was by no means so effeminate as his person. His 22 intimate freedmen and slaves, who were allowed a licence unusual in private households, dangled before him the baits for which he was greedy: the luxuries of Nero's Court, the marriages he could make, the adulteries he could commit, and all the other imperial pleasures. They were his, they pointed out, if he would bestir himself; it was shameful to lie quiet and leave them to others. He was also incited by the astrologers, who declared that their study of the stars pointed to great changes and a year of glory for Otho. Creatures of this class always deceive the ambitious, though those in power distrust them. Probably we shall go on for ever proscribing them and keeping them by us.[48] Poppaea[49] had always had her boudoir full of these astrologers, the worst kind of outfit for a royal menage. One of them, called Ptolemy, had gone with Otho to Spain[50] and foretold that he would outlive Nero. This came true and Otho believed in him. He now based his vague conjectures on the computations of Galba's age and Otho's youth, and persuaded him that he would ascend the throne. But, though the man had no real skill, Otho accepted the prophecy as if it was the finger of fate. Human nature always likes to believe what it cannot understand.

Nor was Ptolemy himself slow to incite his master to crime, to 23 which it is only a short step from such ambitions. But whether his criminal designs were deliberate or suddenly conceived, it is impossible to say. He had long been courting the goodwill of the soldiers either in the hope of being adopted by Galba or to prepare the way for treason. On the road from Spain, while the men were marching or on outpost duty, he would address the veterans by name, reminding them how he and they had served together under Nero, and calling them his comrades. He renewed acquaintance with some, asked after others and helped them with money or influence, frequently letting fall complaints and ambiguous remarks about Galba, using all the arts which work upon uneducated minds. The soldiers grumbled bitterly at the exertions of the march, the shortage of provisions, and the strict discipline. What they were used to was a journey to the Campanian Lakes or Greek seaports on board ship;[51] they found it hard to struggle over the Pyrenees and Alps, and march immense distances under arms.

While the soldiers were thus already fired with discontent, 24 Maevius Pudens, one of Tigellinus'[52] intimates, added fuel to their feelings by luring on all who were naturally unstable or in need of money, or rashly eager for a change. Eventually, whenever Galba dined with him, Otho went the length of presenting a hundred sesterces to each of the soldiers on guard, on the pretext that this was instead of entertaining them.[53] This system of public largess Otho extended by making presents in confidence to individuals, and such spirit did he show in bribery that when a member of the Body Guard, Cocceius Proculus, brought an action to claim part of his neighbour's farm, Otho bought the whole property out of his own pocket and gave it to him. He was enabled to do this by the inefficiency of the Prefect Laco, who was no less blind to notorious than to secret scandals.

Otho then put Onomastus, one of his freedmen, in charge of the 25 projected crime, and Onomastus took into his confidence Barbius Proculus, an aide-de-camp, and a subaltern named Veturius, both in the Body Guard.[54] Having assured himself by many interviews that they were both bold and cunning, Otho proceeded to load them with bribes and promises, providing them with funds to enable them to test the feelings of the others. And so a couple of common soldiers took it upon them to transfer the Roman Empire: and they did it. A very few were admitted as accomplices. These, by various devices, worked on the indecision of the others. The non-commissioned officers who had been promoted by Nymphidius felt themselves under suspicion; the private soldiers were indignant and in despair at the constant postponement of Galba's largess; some few were fired by the recollection of Nero's regime and longed for the days of licence; all in common shared the fear of being drafted out of the Praetorian Guards.

The infection of treason soon spread to the legions and 26 auxiliaries, whose excitement had been aroused as soon as they heard that the armies of Germany were wavering in their allegiance. So, as the disloyal were ready for treason and the loyal shut their eyes, they at first determined to acclaim Otho as he was returning from dinner on the night of the fourteenth. However, they hesitated: the darkness spelt uncertainty, the troops were scattered all over the town, and unanimity could scarcely be expected from drunken men. They were not deterred by any affection for their country's honour, which they were deliberately preparing to stain with its emperor's blood, but they were afraid that, as Otho was unknown to the majority, some one else might by mistake be offered to the Pannonian or German legions and proclaimed emperor. Some evidence of the brewing plot leaked out, but it was suppressed by the conspirators. Rumours even reached Galba's ears, but Laco made light of them, being totally ignorant of soldiers' characters, hostile to any suggestion, however wise, that was not his own, and extremely obstinate with men who knew more than he did.

On January 15, as Galba was sacrificing in front of the temple of 27 Apollo, the priest Umbricius declared the omens unfavourable: treason was impending, and an enemy within the walls. Otho, who was standing beside Galba, overheard and construed the omen as being from his own point of view a good one, favourable to his plans. In a few moments his freedman, Onomastus, announced that the architect and contractors were waiting to see him. This had been agreed upon as the signal that the troops were assembling and the conspiracy was ripe. On being asked where he was going, Otho pretended that he was buying an old property, but suspected its condition and so had to inspect it first. Thus, leaning on his freedman's shoulder, he passed through Tiberius' house into the Velabrum and thence to the Golden Milestone at the foot of the Temple of Saturn.[55] There thirty-three soldiers of the Body Guard saluted him as emperor. When he showed alarm at the smallness of their number they put him hastily into a litter, and, drawing their swords, hurried him away. About the same number of soldiers joined them on the way, some accomplices, others merely curious. Some marched along shouting and flourishing swords; others kept silent, intending to take their cue from subsequent events.

Julius Martialis was the tribune on duty in the camp. He was so 28 overcome by the magnitude of this unexpected crime and so afraid that the treason was widespread in the camp, and that he might be killed if he offered any opposition, that he led most people to suppose he was in the plot. So, too, the other tribunes and centurions all preferred present safety to a risky loyalty. In fact the general attitude was this: few dared to undertake so foul a crime, many wished to see it done, and everybody was ready to condone it.


[47] Cp. chap. 13.

[48] Decrees excluding astrologers from Italy had been passed in B.C. 33, A.D. 16, and again in A.D. 52. Vitellius passed another. See ii. 62.

[49] Nero's wife. Cp. chap. 13.

[50] i.e. to Lusitania. See chap. 13.

[51] They were 'Guards' who had escorted Nero on his singing tours through Greece. Perhaps some of them came to meet Galba on his way from Spain. Otherwise they could not have shared the toils of this march.

[52] See chap. 72.

[53] The public dinner given in older days by patrons to their clients had long ago been commuted for a 'tip' (sportula). Pudens, instead of providing dinner for Galba's guard, sought their favour by giving them about 17s. apiece.

[54] The English terms do not of course represent the exact position of these soldiers. The former was one of the emperor's personal body-guard (speculatores), who received the watchword (tessera) and passed it round: the latter was one to whom a centurion had delegated some part of his work.

[55] Plutarch explains this. 'He passed through Tiberius' house, as it is called, and walked down to the Forum, where stands the golden pillar to which all the high-roads of Italy lead.' The Velabrum lies between the Forum, the Tiber, and the Aventine.


Meanwhile Galba in total ignorance and intent upon his sacrifices 29 continued to importune the gods of an empire that had already ceased to be his. First there came a rumour that some one or other of the senators was being hurried to the camp, then that it was Otho. Immediately people who had met Otho came flocking in from all quarters of Rome; some in their terror exaggerated the truth, some minimized it, remembering even then to flatter. After discussion it was decided that the temper of the cohort on guard in the palace should be tested, but not by Galba himself. His authority was held in reserve for more heroic remedies. The troops were summoned. Piso, standing out on the steps of the palace, addressed them as follows:

'Fellow soldiers, it is now five days since I was made a Caesar. I knew nothing of the future nor whether the name was more to be desired or feared. It now lies with you to decide whether or no my adoption is to prove a calamity for my house and for my country. In saying this, I do not dread disaster on my own account. I have known misfortune, and I am now discovering to the full that prosperity is just as dangerous. But for the sake of my adoptive father, of the senate, and of the whole empire, I deplore the thought that we may have to-day either to die or—what for good men is as wretched—to kill. In the recent revolution our comfort was that Rome was spared the sight of blood, and the transfer was effected without disturbance. We thought that my adoption would be a safeguard against an outbreak of civil war even after Galba's death.

'I will make no claims to rank or respectability. To compare 30 myself with Otho, I need not recite my virtues. His vices are all he has to be proud of. They ruined the empire, even when he was only playing the part of an emperor's friend. Why should he deserve to be emperor? For his swaggering demeanour? For his effeminate costume? Extravagance imposes on some people. They take it for liberality. They are wrong. He will know how to squander money, but not how to give it away. His mind is full of lechery and debauchery and intrigues with women. These are in his eyes the prerogatives of the throne. And the pleasure of his vices would be all his, the blushes of shame would be ours. No man has ever ruled well who won the throne by bad means.

'The whole Roman world agreed to give Galba the title of Caesar. Galba with your approval gave that title to me. Even if the "country", the "senate", the "people", are empty terms, it is to your interest, my fellow soldiers, to see that it is not the rascals who create an emperor. From time to time one hears of the legionaries being in mutiny against their generals. But your good faith and your good name have stood to this day unimpaired. It was not you who deserted Nero: he deserted you. Are you going to allow less than thirty deserters and renegades to bestow the crown? Why! no one would tolerate their choosing so much as a centurion or a tribune for themselves. Are you going to allow this precedent, and by your acquiescence make their crime your own? You will soon see this lawless spirit spreading to the troops abroad, and in time the treason will recoil on us and the war on you. Besides, innocence wins you as much as the murder of your emperor: you will get from us as large a bounty for your loyalty as you would from others for your crime.'

The members of the Body Guard dispersed. The rest of the cohort 31 paid some heed to his speech. Aimlessly, as happens in moments of confusion, they seized their standards, without as yet any fixed plan, and not, as was afterwards believed, to cloak their treachery. Marius Celsus had been dispatched to the picked detachments of the Illyrian army, which were quartered in the Vipsanian arcade,[56] while instructions had been given to two senior centurions,[57] Amullius Serenus and Domitius Sabinus, to summon the German troops from the Hall of Liberty. They distrusted the legion of marines, who had been alienated by Galba's butchery of their comrades on his entry into Rome.[58] Three officers of the guards, Cetrius Severus, Subrius Dexter, and Pompeius Longinus, also hurried to the camp in the hope that the mutiny was still in its early stages and might be averted by good advice before it came to a head. The soldiers attacked Subrius and Cetrius with threats and forcibly seizing Longinus disarmed him, because he had not come in virtue of his military rank, but simply as one of Galba's private friends; and for his loyalty to his master the rebels disliked him all the more. The marines without any hesitation joined the guards. The Illyrian draft[59] drove Celsus away at the point of their javelins. The German detachments[59] wavered for some time. They were still in poor condition physically, and inclined to be passive. Nero had dispatched them as an advance-guard to Alexandria;[60] the long voyage back again had damaged their health, and Galba had spared no expense in looking after them.

The whole populace of Rome was now crowding into the palace 32 together with a good sprinkling of slaves. With discordant shouts they demanded the death of Otho and the doom of the conspirators. They might have been in the circus or the theatre, clamouring for entertainment. There was neither sense nor sincerity in their behaviour. They were quite ready on the same day to clamour for the opposite with equal zeal. But it is an established custom to flatter any emperor with unbridled cheering and meaningless enthusiasm. Meanwhile Galba was torn between two opinions. Titus Vinius maintained that they ought to remain within the palace, employ the slaves to offer resistance and block up all the doors, instead of going out to face the angry troops. 'This will give time,' he urged, 'for the disloyal to repent and the loyal to unite their forces. Crimes demand haste, good counsels profit by delay. Besides, if need be, we shall have the same chance of leaving the palace later: if we leave and repent of it, it will not be in our power to return.'

All the others voted for immediate action before the conspiracy 33 gathered strength and numbers. 'Otho,' they argued, 'will soon lose heart. He crept away by stealth and was introduced in a litter to a parcel of strangers, and now because we dally and waste time he has leisure to rehearse his part of emperor. What is the good of waiting until Otho sets his camp in order and approaches the Capitol, while Galba peeps out of a window? Are this famous general and his gallant friends to shut the doors and not to stir a foot over the threshold, as if they were anxious to endure a siege? Much help may we hope from slaves, when once the unwieldy crowd loses its unity and their first indignation, which counts for so much, begins to cool. No, cowardice is too risky. Or if we must fall, let us meet the danger half-way, and cover Otho with disgrace, ourselves with honour.'

When Vinius resisted this proposal, Laco, prompted by Icelus, assailed him with threats, persisting in his private quarrel to the ruin of his country. Galba without further delay supported those 34 whose plan would look best. However, Piso was first dispatched to the camp. The young man had a great name, his popularity was still fresh, and moreover, he disliked Titus Vinius, or, if he did not, Vinius' enemies hoped he did: it is so easy to believe in hatred. Scarcely had Piso departed, when there arrived a rumour that Otho had been killed in the camp. At first it was vague and uncertain, but eventually, as so often happens with daring lies, people began to assert that they had been present and seen the deed. Some were glad and some indifferent, so the news gained easy credence. Many, however, thought that the report had been concocted and disseminated by friends of Otho, who now mingled in the crowd and tried to lure Galba out by spreading this agreeable falsehood. At this point not only the 35 populace and the inexperienced mob but many of the knights and senators as well broke out into applause and unbridled enthusiasm. With their fear they had lost their caution. Breaking open the palace gates they rushed in and presented themselves before Galba, complaining that they had been forestalled in the task of revenge. All the cowards who, as events proved, could show no pluck in action, indulged in excessive heroics and lip-courage. Nobody knew, everybody talked. At last, for lack of the truth, Galba yielded to the consensus of error. When he had put on his breastplate he was lifted into a chair, for he was too old and infirm to stand against the crowds that kept flocking in. In the palace he was met by Julius Atticus, of the Body Guard, who displayed a dripping sword and shouted out that he had killed Otho. 'Comrade,' said Galba, 'who bade you?' Galba had a remarkable power of curbing soldiers' presumption, for he was not afraid of threats nor moved by flattery.

Meanwhile in Otho's camp there was no longer any doubt of the 36 soldiers' unanimity. Such was their enthusiasm that they were not content with carrying Otho shoulder-high in procession; they placed him among the standards on the platform, where shortly before a gilt statue of Galba had stood, and made a ring round him with their colours.[61] Tribunes and centurions were allowed no approach: the common soldiers even called out, 'Beware of the officers.' The whole camp resounded with confused shouts of mutual encouragement. It was quite unlike the wavering and spiritless flattery of a civil mob. As new adherents streamed in, directly a soldier caught sight of one of them, he grasped him by the hand, flung his arms round him, kept him at his side, and dictated the oath of allegiance. Some commended their general to his soldiers, and some the soldiers to their general. Otho, for his part, was not slow to greet the crowd with outstretched hand and throw kisses to them. In every way he played the slave to gain a throne. When the whole legion of the marines had sworn allegiance, he gained confidence in his strength, and, considering that those whom he had incited individually needed a few words of general encouragement, he stood out on the rampart and began as follows:—'In what guise 37 I come forward to address you, Fellow Soldiers, I cannot tell. Dubbed emperor by you, I dare not call myself a private citizen: yet "emperor" I cannot say with another on the throne. And what am I to call you? That too will remain in doubt until it is decided whether you have here in your camp an enemy or an emperor of Rome. You hear how they clamour at once for my death and your punishment. So clear is it that we must fall or stand together. Doubtless Galba—such is his clemency—has already promised our destruction. Is he not the man who without the least excuse butchered thousands of utterly innocent soldiers?[62] I shudder whenever I recall his ghastly entry into the city, when before the face of Rome he ordered the decimation of the troops whom at their humble petition he had taken under his protection. That is Galba's only "victory". These were the auspices under which he made his entry; and what glory has he brought to the throne he occupies, save the murder of Obultronius Sabinus and Cornelius Marcellus in Spain, of Betuus Cilo in Gaul, of Fonteius Capito in Germany, of Clodius Macer in Africa, of Cingonius on his march to Rome, of Turpilianus in the city, and of Nymphidius in the camp? What province is there in the empire that has not been polluted with massacre? He calls it "salutary correction". For his "remedies" are what other people call crimes: his cruelty is disguised as "austerity", his avarice as "economy", while by "discipline" he means punishing and insulting you. It is but seven months since Nero's death, and already Icelus alone has embezzled more than all the depredations of Polyclitus and Vatinius and Aegialus[63] put together. Why, Vinius would have been less greedy and lawless had he been emperor himself. As it is, he treats us as his own subjects and despises us as Galba's. His own fortune alone could provide the largess which they daily cast in your teeth but never pay into your pocket.

'Nor in Galba's successor either is there any hope for you. Galba 38 has seen to that. He has recalled from exile the man whose avarice and sour temper he judged most like his own. You witnessed for yourselves, my comrades, the extraordinary storm which signified Heaven's abhorrence at that ill-starred adoption. The Senate and People of Rome feel the same. They are counting on your courage. You alone can give strength to the right policy: it is powerless without you, however good it be. It is not to war and danger that I call you. All the troops are with us. That single plain-clothes cohort[64] is no longer a defence to Galba, but a hindrance. When once they have caught sight of you, when once they come to take their orders from me, the only quarrel between you will be who can do most to put me in their debt. There is no room for delay in plans which cannot be commended until they are put into action.'

Otho then gave orders to open the arsenal. The soldiers immediately seized their arms in such haste that all the ordinary distinctions of the service were neglected: neither Guards nor Legionaries carried their own arms:[65] in the confusion they took the helmets and shields of the auxiliaries. There were no tribunes or centurions to encourage them: each man followed his own lead, and the rascals found their chief incentive in the consternation of the loyal. As the riot 39 increased, Piso, alarmed by the din of their shouts, which could be heard even in the city, had overtaken Galba, who had meanwhile left the palace and was approaching the Forum. Marius Celsus had also brought back no good news. Some were for returning to the palace, others for seeking the shelter of the Capitol, many for seizing the Rostra. The majority merely disagreed with other people's proposals, and, as so often happens in these disasters, the best course always seemed the one for which it was now too late. It is said that Laco, without Galba's knowledge, proposed the assassination of Titus Vinius, either with the idea that his execution would be a sop to the soldiers, or because he believed him Otho's accomplice, or, as a last alternative, hatred may have been his motive. However, the time and the place both bred scruples; when killing once begins it is difficult to set a limit: besides, their plans were upset by the arrival of terrified messengers, by the continual desertion of their supporters, and by a general waning of enthusiasm even among those who at first had been the keenest to display their loyalty and courage.

Galba was driven hither and thither by the tide of the surging 40 mob. The temples and public buildings[66] were crowded with spectators, who viewed a sorry scene. No shouts came from the crowd: astonishment was on their faces, and their ears open to every sound. There was neither uproar nor quiet, but the silence of strong emotion and alarm. However, a report reached Otho that the populace was arming. He bade his men fly headlong to forestall the danger. Off went the Roman soldiers as if they were going to drag Vologaesus or Pacorus from the ancestral throne of the Arsacids[67]—and not to butcher their own emperor, a helpless old man. Armed to the teeth, they broke at a full gallop into the Forum, scattering the populace and trampling senators under foot. Neither the sight of the Capitol nor the sanctity of the temples towering above them, nor the thought of Roman emperors past and to come, could avail to deter them from committing that crime which the next successor always avenges.

Seeing the armed ranks now close at hand, the standard-bearer of 41 the cohort on guard over Galba[68]—tradition says his name was Atilius Vergilio—tore off the medallion of Galba[69] and flung it to the ground. This signal clearly showed that all the troops were for Otho: the people fled from the deserted Forum and swords were drawn against any who lingered. Near 'Lake Curtius'[70] Galba was precipitated from his chair by the panic-stricken haste of the bearers and flung to the ground. The accounts of his last words vary according as they are prompted by hatred or admiration. Some say that he whined and asked what harm he had deserved, begging for a few days' respite to pay the troops their largess. The majority say that he offered his neck to the blow and bade them, 'Come, strike, if it serves the country's need.' Whatever he said mattered little to his assassins. As to the actual murderer there is a difference of opinion. Some say it was Terentius, a reservist,[71] others that his name was Laecanius. The most common account is that a soldier of the Fifteenth legion, by name Camurius, pierced his throat with a sword-thrust. The others foully mangled his arms and legs (his breast was covered) and with bestial savagery continued to stab the headless corpse. Then they made for Titus Vinius. Here, too, there is a doubt whether the fear of 42 imminent death strangled his voice, or whether he called out that they had no mandate from Otho to kill him. He may have invented this in his terror, or it may have been a confession of his complicity in the plot. His whole life and reputation give reason to suppose that he was an accomplice in the crime of which he was the cause. He was brought to the ground in front of the temple of Julius by a blow on the knee, and afterwards a common soldier named Julius Carus ran him through with a sword.

However, Rome found one hero that day. This was Sempronius Densus, 43 a centurion of the Guards, who had been told off by Galba to protect Piso. Drawing his dagger he faced the armed assassins, flinging their treason in their teeth, and by his shouts and gestures turned their attention upon himself, thus enabling Piso to escape despite his wounds. Piso, reaching the temple of Vesta, was mercifully sheltered by the verger, who hid him in his lodging. There, no reverence for this sanctuary but merely his concealment postponed his immediate death. Eventually, Otho, who was burning to have him killed,[72] dispatched as special agents, Sulpicius Florus of the British cohorts, a man whom Galba had recently enfranchised, and Statius Murcus of the Body Guard. They dragged Piso forth and butchered him on the threshold of the temple.


[56] These troops, having no head-quarters in Rome, were put up in a piazza built by M. Vipsanius Agrippa, and decorated with paintings of Neptune and of the Argonauts. Cp. ii. 93, where troops are quartered in collonades or temples.

[57] The term primipilaris denotes one who had been the centurion commanding the first maniple (pilani) of the first cohort of a legion. He was an officer of great importance, highly paid, and often admitted to the general's council. Otho's expedition to Narbonese Gaul (chap. 87) was commanded by two such 'senior centurions'.

[58] See chap. 6, note 11.

[59] See chap. 6.

[60] Nero was meditating an Ethiopian campaign when the revolt of Vindex broke out. Cp. chap. 6.

[61] Probably the colours of the different maniples as distinct from the standards of the cohorts.

[62] Cp. chap. 6.

[63] Freedmen who had curried favour with Nero. Polyclitus was sent to inquire into Suetonius Paulinus' administration of Britain after the revolt of Boadicea in A.D. 61. Vatinius was a deformed cobbler from Beneventum who became a sort of court buffoon, and acquired great wealth and bad influence.

[64] The cohort on guard seem to have been in mufti, without helmets and shields or their military cloaks, but armed with swords and javelins.

[65] The legionaries armed themselves with lances (hastae), and the auxiliaries with javelins (pila).

[66] The word basilica refers to the buildings round the Forum, used for legal, financial, and commercial purposes. Most of them had cloisters.

[67] The Parthian royal family: Vologaesus was king of Parthia, and his brother Pacorus viceroy of Media Atropatene.

[68] Cp. chap. 29.

[69] Attached to the pole of the standard.

[70] An enclosed pond in the middle of the Forum, supposed to be the spot where Curtius leapt on horseback into the chasm, or by others the spot where a Sabine chieftain was engulfed in the days of Romulus.

[71] The word here used usually means a veteran re-enlisted in a special corps after his term had expired. It was also applied at this time in a special sense to a corps of young knights, who, without losing their status, acted as Galba's special body-guard in the imperial palace. One of these may have been the murderer.


None of his murders pleased Otho so much as this. On Piso's head, 44 as on no other, they say, he gazed with insatiable eyes. This was possibly the first moment at which he felt relieved of all anxiety, and free to indulge his glee; or perhaps, in the case of Galba and of Vinius, the recollection of his treason to the one and of his former friendship with the other troubled even his unfeeling heart with gloomy thoughts, whereas, Piso being an enemy and a rival, he considered it a pious duty to gloat over his murder. Their heads were fixed on poles and carried along with the standards of the cohorts side by side with the eagle of the legion.[73] Those who had done the deed and those who had witnessed it vied with each other in displaying their bloody hands, all boasting of their share—some falsely, some truly—as if it were a fine and memorable exploit. Vitellius subsequently discovered more than 120 petitions demanding rewards for distinguished services rendered on that day. He gave orders to search out all the petitioners and put them to death. This was from no respect for Galba: he merely followed the traditional custom by which princes secure their present safety and posthumous vengeance.

The senate and people seemed different men. There was a general 45 rush for the camp, every one shouldering his neighbour and trying to overtake those in front. They heaped insults on Galba, praised the prudence of the troops, and covered Otho's hand with kisses, their extravagance varying inversely with their sincerity. Otho rebuffed no one, and succeeded by his words and looks in moderating the menace of the soldiers' greed for vengeance. They loudly demanded the execution of Marius Celsus, the consul-elect, who had remained Galba's faithful friend to the last. They were as much offended at his efficiency and honesty as if these had been criminal qualities. What they wanted was obviously to find a first excuse for plunder and murder and the destruction of all decent citizens. But Otho had as yet no influence to prevent crimes: he could only order them. So he simulated anger, giving instructions for Celsus' arrest, and by promising that he should meet with a worse penalty, thus rescued him from immediate death.

The will of the soldiers was now henceforward supreme. The 46 Praetorian Guards chose their own prefects, Plotius Firmus, a man who had risen from the ranks to the post of Chief of Police,[74] and joined Otho's side before Galba's fall, and Licinius Proculus, an intimate friend of Otho, and therefore suspected of furthering his plans. They made Flavius Sabinus[75] prefect of the city, therein following Nero's choice, under whom Sabinus had held that post; besides, most of them had an eye to the fact that he was Vespasian's brother. An urgent demand arose that the customary fees to centurions for granting furlough should be abolished, for they constituted a sort of annual tax upon the common soldier. The result had been that a quarter of each company could go off on leave or lounge idly about the barracks, so long as they paid the centurion his fee, nor was there any one to control either the amount of this impost or the means by which the soldiers raised the money: highway robbery or menial service was the usual resort whereby they purchased leisure. Then, again, a soldier who had money was savagely burdened with work until he should buy exemption. Thus he soon became impoverished and enervated by idleness, and returned to his company no longer a man of means and energy but penniless and lazy. So the process went on. One after another they became deteriorated by poverty and lax discipline, rushing blindly into quarrels and mutiny, and, as a last resource, into civil war. Otho was afraid of alienating the centurions by his concessions to the rank and file, and promised to pay the annual furlough-fees out of his private purse. This was indubitably a sound reform, which good emperors have since established as a regular custom in the army. The prefect Laco he pretended to banish to an island, but on his arrival he was stabbed by a reservist[76] whom Otho had previously dispatched for that purpose. Marcianus Icelus, as being one of his own freedmen,[77] he sentenced to public execution.

Thus the day was spent in crimes, and worst of all was the joy 47 they caused. The senate was summoned by the urban praetor.[78] The other magistrates all vied in flattery. The senators arrived post-haste. They decreed to Otho the powers of the tribunate, the title of Augustus, and all the imperial prerogatives. Their unanimous object was to blot out all recollection of former insults; but, as these had been hurled equally from all sides, they did not, as far as any one could see, stick in his memory. Whether he had forgotten them or only postponed punishment, his reign was too short to show. He was then carried through the still reeking Forum among the piles of dead bodies to the Capitol, and thence to the palace. He granted permission to burn and bury the bodies of his victims. Piso's wife Verania and his brother Scribonianus laid out his body, and this was done for Vinius by his daughter Crispina. They had to search for the heads and buy them back from the murderers, who had preserved them for sale.


[72] According to Plutarch, when they brought Otho Galba's head, he said, 'That's nothing: show me Piso's.'

[73] i.e. the legion of marines—Prima Adiutrix. Cp. chap. 6, &c.

[74] i.e. in command of the cohortes vigilum. Cp. chap. 5, note 10.

[75] Vespasian's elder brother. He continued to hold the office under Vitellius (ii. 63).

[76] See chap. 42, note 71.

[77] As a libertus Caesaris he passed into Otho's hands with the rest of the palace furniture.

[78] The consuls Galba and Vinius (chap. 1), were both dead.


Piso was in his thirty-first year. His reputation was better than 48 his fortune. His brothers had been executed, Magnus by Claudius, Crassus by Nero.[79] He himself after being long in exile was a Caesar for four days. Hastily adopted in preference to his elder brother,[80] the only advantage he reaped was to be killed first.

Titus Vinius in his fifty-seven years had displayed strange contrasts of character. His father belonged to a family of praetorian rank; his mother's father was one of the proscribed.[81] A scandal marked his first military service under the general Calvisius Sabinus.[82] The general's wife suffered from a suspicious desire to inspect the arrangements of the camp, which she entered by night disguised in soldier's uniform. There she brazenly interfered with the guard and the soldiers on duty, and eventually had the effrontery to commit adultery in the general's own quarters. The man convicted of implication in this scandal was Titus Vinius. He was therefore put in irons by order of Caligula.[83] However, the fortunes of the time soon changed and he was set at liberty. After mounting the ladder of office without check, he was as an ex-praetor given the command of a legion, and proved successful. But soon again he soiled his reputation, and laid himself under the charge of having been mean enough to steal a gold cup from Claudius' dinner-table. Claudius gave orders that on the next day Vinius alone of all his guests should be served on earthenware. However, as pro-consul, Vinius' government of Narbonese Gaul was strict and honest. Subsequently his friendship with Galba brought him into danger. He was bold, cunning, and efficient, with great power for good or for evil, according to his mood. Vinius' will was annulled because of his great wealth. Piso was poor, so his last wishes were respected.

Galba's body lay long neglected, and under cover of darkness was 49 subjected to various insults. Eventually his steward Argius, one of his former slaves, gave it a humble burial in his private garden. His head, which the camp-followers and servants had mangled and carried on a pole, was found next day in front of the tomb of Patrobius (one of Nero's freedmen whom Galba had executed) and buried with the body which had already been cremated. Such was the end of Servius Galba, who for seventy-three years had enjoyed prosperity under five different emperors, happier in their reign than his own. He came of an old and noble family and possessed great wealth. His own character was mediocre, rather free from vices than rich in virtues. Though not indifferent to fame, he did not court it by advertisement. Not greedy of other people's money, he was careful of his own, and a miser with public funds. His attitude towards friends and freedmen, if they were honest, was one of kindly complaisance; when they were not, he was culpably blind. But his distinguished origin and the peculiar perils of the time disguised his apathy, which passed as prudence.[84] In the flower of his youth he served with distinction in Germany. As pro-consul he governed Africa wisely, and in later years showed the same equity in Nearer Spain.[85] When he was a commoner he seemed too big for his station, and had he never been emperor, no one would have doubted his ability to reign.


[79] Cn. Pompeius Magnus was Claudius' son-in-law, and executed by him 'on a vague charge'. M. Licinius Crassus Frugi was accused of treason to Nero by Aquilius Regulus, an informer, whom one of Pliny's friends calls 'the vilest of bipeds'. Regulus' brother was Vipstanus Messala. Cp. iv. 42.

[80] Scribonianus. Cp. chap. 15

[81] Under the second triumvirate.

[82] He was governor of Pannonia under Caligula.

[83] Sabinus and his wife were prosecuted, and both committed suicide.

[84] Under Nero, says Tacitus in his Life of Agricola, 'the wisest man was he who did least.'

[85] He had governed the upper province of Germany under Caligula; Africa under Claudius; the Tarragona division of Spain under Nero. In Germany he defeated the Chatti A.D. 41.


The city was in a panic. The alarm aroused by the recent atrocious 50 crime and by Otho's well-known proclivities was further increased by the fresh news about Vitellius.[86] This news had been suppressed before Galba's murder, and it was believed that only the army of Upper Germany had revolted. Now when they saw that the two men in the world who were most notorious for immorality, indolence, and extravagance had been, as it were, appointed by Providence to ruin the empire, not only the senators and knights who had some stake and interest in the country, but the masses as well, openly deplored their fate. Their talk was no longer of the horrors of the recent bloody peace: they reverted to the records of the civil wars, the taking and retaking of Rome by her own troops, the devastation of Italy, the pillage of the provinces, the battles of Pharsalia, Philippi, Perusia, and Mutina,[87] those bywords of national disaster. 'The world was turned upside down,' they mused, 'even when good men fought for the throne: yet the Roman Empire survived the victories of Julius Caesar and of Augustus, as the Republic would have survived had Pompey and Brutus been victorious. But now—are we to go and pray for Otho or for Vitellius? To pray for either would be impious. It would be wicked to offer vows for the success of either in a war of which we can only be sure that the winner will prove the worse.' Some cherished hopes of Vespasian and the armies of the East: he was preferable to either of the others; still they shuddered at the thought of a fresh war and fresh bloodshed. Besides, Vespasian's reputation was doubtful. He was the first emperor who ever changed for the better.

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