That Long But Single Year
|That Long but Single Year |
The “year of four emperors”, in omnibus, is the period from June 68 to December 69. The time between these two dates saw the rise and fall of four emperors. The first was Sulpicius Galba. Declared emperor by the senate in June of 68, he lasted until January 15, 69 when he was then assassinated by Otho. At the same time the commander of the Rhine legions, Aulus Vitellius, was declared emperor by his troops. Following a military defeat at Bedriacum, Otho committed suicide and the senate declared Vitellius emperor. In the east, the commander of the Jewish war, Flavius Vespasianus, encouraged by Mucianus, governor of Syria, placed his own bid for the throne. This culminated in a second battle at Bedriacum, which ended in favor of the Flavians, followed by the “battle for Rome”; Vitellius’ execution; and the proclamation of Vespasian as Emperor on December 21, 69.
Parallel to these events, the Danube frontier faced two invasions: one by the Sarmatians and a later one by the Dacians. The former was an easy Roman victory; the latter lead to a governor’s death before pacification. In upper Germany, a Romanized Batavian by the name of Gaius Julius Civilis instigated a revolt against Roman rule which would expand into a large insurrection aimed at the creation of a “Gallic Empire”. Lastly, in Britain, the client-state system was beginning to breakdown and Roman arms were once again needed to pacify the restless island. The revolts would cost Rome two legions on the Rhine and a number of auxiliary cohorts on the Danube. The various battles and marches for the empire would cause significant damage to the various cities around Italy and Gaul as Roman arms turned against each other for the first time in imperial history.
The events are told by various sources in various differing accounts. Each historian wishes to relate the events in the manor in which suits him best: Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives, blames the events on the “greed and licence of the soldiery”(1) , downplaying the role of the generals and usurpers. Josephus, a patron of Vespasian, in his War of the Jews, is often disregarded as Flavian propaganda, painting Vespasian as a victim of circumstance. Suetonius’ main focus is to present the character of an emperor, leaving out events which the character did not play a part in. Dio Cassius, writing his Roman history in the early 3rd century, would have been a solid source, unfortunately much of what has come down to us is not made up of his original work but rather a deeply epitomized version by later Byzantine writers. Tacitus' Histories, written during the time of Trajan, recounting the dynasty of the Flavians, remains the most popular source for the events. Most of his work is lost, however the first five books detailing the year are extant.
Fall of the Julio-Claudians
By 31 BC Octavian had defeated all of his rivals, the turbulent civil wars were over and the republic with it. The Roman state and people, exhausted of strife, were ready to admit a one man rule so long as it could bring them some peace. Octavian became Augustus and, ruling alone for forty-five years, he ushered in the Augustan age: the age of Virgil and Livy. Unfortunately for Rome, his descendants lacked the qualities which made him great.
The Julio-Claudian successors each came to the throne promising a new day for the senators; and each in turn would fail to live up to them(2). The wealthy and noble, in particular, found themselves prone to fatal suspicions of the emperor. Playing on this paranoia and fear, various figures surfaced, trying to strike rich through the prosecution of individuals who had caught the eyes of the Princep. Treason trials, first appearing under Tiberius, became the hallmark of the successor Julio-Claudians. The delatores, or private prosecutors, pointed their fingers and men disappeared, once you were accused you were unlikely to be dismissed. Suicide was often a man’s only option in order to save for his family what little property he could, a recurring theme in Tacitus' Annals. On other occasions a greedy emperor, having emptied his own treasury or wishing to enlarge it, could call upon these prosecutors to bring men down simply in order to take their wealth and property. Forgetting the emperor’s name in your will could result in an early death and its complete discounting(3).
The Senatorial class saw its power and influence fade, an illusion Augustus worked hard to maintain, however revolts and conspiracies were few. Senators were eager to secure favor and higher positions and could hardly be convinced that the risks, precautions and anxieties were worth it. The few conspiracies that did occur were composed of small circles; most of them lacking any military support: a branch of the Roman world which remained loyal to the worst emperors.
These were conditions in which the Roman aristocracy had been living under when Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus – born under the name Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus – came to the throne on October 14, 56 AD. At 17 years of age(4) he was too young to rule by himself so the empire was left largely in the hands of three regents: His mother Agrippina, Seneca, and Burrus; as well as numerous well-educated freedmen. Under the influence of Seneca the senate now went through a rise in influence not seen since the time of Augustus, however this was fleeting. As Nero aged and became more aware of his power, he asserted it more. Inspired by fear of assassination, he went on the attack against the left-over patricians. Traditionally the highest class and a revered one, they suffered heavy persecutions as they were the likeliest candidates for empire. The paranoia was aroused through a number of conspiracies in Rome, the most famous of Nero’s time being the Pisonian conspiracy(5). The plot included the name of Seneca, who was forced to commit suicide. He was added to the other close figures Nero had driven to death or killed, among them his own mother Agrippina.
In 66 Nero made a second trip to Greece. During this time another conspiracy arose involving the son of one of the most famous general of the Julio-Claudians: Corbulo. It was discovered and Corbulo was ordered to come before the emperor; then told to commit suicide(6). Nero continued his games in Greece, finally returning to Rome in 68 at the request of his freedman. Another revolt had risen against him, however he made little of the warnings. When he entered the city it was in a massive triumph, however rather then celebrating the traditional military one he celebrated peace and arts(7).
The events that ultimately lead to Nero’s collapse are unfortunately some of the darkest of this history. We lack the final two years of Nero’s reign in Tacitus' Annals. Furthermore, for one reason or another, his Histories leaves behind the Vindex revolt and starts us with Galba already as emperor(8). Suetonius becomes far too concerned with Nero’s final acts; ignoring the events around him. What we are left with then are the tidbits of info we can gather from Plutarch and the epitomized book of Dio.
According to the former, around 67/68 a Romanized Gaul by the name of Gaius Julius Vindex began sending letters to the various governors around him, urging them to free Rome from the clutches of a tyrant, to revolt against Nero(9). Most made little of it and quickly reported them to the emperor, all excluding a certain Servius Sulpicius Galba. An aged, distinguished man and one of the few nobles left, he had reason to fear that he would soon be the next target(10). However, he initially chose not to respond to the exhortations, perhaps he did not think the rebel had much hope of success. Finding himself in a do or die situation, Vindex finally decided to go through with the rebellion and organized a force of 100,000 native Gauls. This time he did not just invite Galba to revolt, but urged him to proclaim himself Emperor. Galba finally accepted the overtures and was declared emperor by an assembly in New Carthage(11), although for the time being he styled himself as a “Representative of the Senate and People of Rome” (12).
The nature of Vindex revolt still remains a mystery. According the speech given to him by Dio Cassius, Vindex was aiming for the “liberation” of Rome from a tyrant more interested in dancing and singing then administrating, a man who has insulted his title, the title of Augustus, by being chained down in plays. Dio further adds that the speech was made in front of native rebels aggrieved by their forced levies and heavy taxation. Numismatics seems to back Dio’s claims since on the coinage we see such legends as “SPQR” (Senate and Roman People), “Roma Renascens” (Roman Rebirth) and “Salvus Generis Humani” (Salvation of Mankind) (13). These were the same legends later used by Galba. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that such a motive would have attracted the attention of Gallic nationals: we know what Vindex said to the Romans, but not what he said to the Gaul(14). It is very possible that tension in the province was high enough at that point considering the rapid support given to the rebellion that would come later.
Either way, owing largely to the composition of his army and his own origins, Vindex's claims failed to convince anyone and would soon find the best legions of the empire -- those of upper and lower Germany -- marching against him. However the initial response was slow, Nero’s generals procrastinated. This was due to the fact that Nero had appointed mostly nonentities to positions with military authority, fearing that qualified men would rise up against him(15). Fonteius Capito, legate of Lower Germany(all of Belgium and Luxemburg, along with north-eastern France, western Netherlands, and western Germany), was at a loss of how to act so the responsibility was given to Verginius Rufus, legate of Upper Germany( parts of French Jura and Alsace along with southern Western Germany and western Switzerland). It would be two months before Rufus would march out against Vindex. Possibly he wished to see just how Vindex would fair, but more likely he, a product of Nero’s paranoia, did not know how to respond to the surprising event.
In the meantime Vindex moved against the provincial capitol of Lugdunum (Lyons) after it closed its gates to him. Nero aided the city after a devastating fire and it was heavily comprised of veterans loyal to the emperor. At this point Verginius began his march, attacking Vesontio (Besançon), a city which had sided with the rebels. Hearing of this, Vindex left a small force to continue the siege and marched to the aid of his allies. An agreement of some sort seems to have been reached between Verginius and Vindex(16) as they marched towards each other at Vesontio. Vindex turned towards the town to occupy it, however Verginius’ men believed that the Gauls were marching against them and proceeded to attack: a slaughter ensued and amidst it Vindex took his own life. Verginius’ army then decided to proclaim him as emperor. He refused, stating that this was the prerogative of the Senate, not of the armies (17). Galba, hearing of Vindex's defeat, became disillusioned and terrified for his own fate. He sent letters to Verginius urging the victorious general to join him, but did not receive any response. Galba believed himself ruined.
Back in Rome, Nero first heard of the Gallic revolt while he was celebrating his contests in Neapolis (Napoli) (18), but until Galba came into the picture he disregarded it, paying more attention on his games as usual; while going through bouts of paranoia. According to Suetonius, he suddenly became frightened and rushed towards Rome only to be relieved by a vague omen. Thereafter he continued his affairs as usual. In one occasion he summoned the equestrians and senators urgently in the middle of the night only to show them a new type of organ. However, as reports came in and he grew more aware of the situation, Nero finally began taking some action by recruiting a new legion from the Misenum (Miseno) fleet and holding a lone consulship, following in the footsteps of Pompey a century earlier, to show that it was a time of emergency(19).
Meanwhile in Africa, the legate Clodius Macer defected from Nero and placed his “loyalty” to the SPQR, taking control of Carthage along the way and making plans for Sicily. Aided by one of Nero’s mistresses, Calvia Crispinilla, Clodius stopped grain ships for Rome, hoping to starve the city from its main source. Nero took this to his advantage, raising the price of grain in the city to the frustration of the ordinary citizen(20). Even those who were most indifferent to the emperor, the masses, now felt deep hatred for him.
What little respite he received from the reports of Vesontio were quickly countered by the news that ‘the other armies had revolted’: Rubrius Gallus, who was sent to command the army in north Italy, deserted to Galba.(21) Seeing his chance, Nymphidius Sabinus, a prefect of the Praetorian Guard, revealed Nero’s plans to abandon Rome and sail for Egypt to the Guard. In the moment of disarray, he persuaded the men to declare Galba emperor, promising them the impossible donative of 7,500 denarii a piece and 1,200 for the regular recruits(22); they took the bait. In his mind the aged Galba would not survive the trek to Italy let alone have the will to rule. With this small moment of power the senate declared Nero a public enemy and proclaimed Galba emperor.
The final moments of Nero’s life are painted vividly and sensationally by Suetonius, who devotes ten chapters to it. The overthrown emperor’s panic catches the better of him as he cannot makeup his mind on a proper course of action. He finally makes a secret entrance in a villa outside of Rome and lays there until he learning of his sentencing, where he then orders a private secretary, Epaphroditus, to kill him(23). Nero dies on June 11, 68(24). According to sources, his final words were: "Jupiter, what an artist perishes in me!".
Galba was soon lifted from his despair when his freedman Icelus came from Rome to tell him the news that Nero was dead and he was proclaimed emperor by the senate of Rome(25). Putting all business in Spain aside, Galba took up the title of Imperator and readied for his long march to claim his newly acquired throne.
The Sulpicii, Galba’s gens, was a renowned patrician family that held offices since the early days of the Republic. The Galba surname surfaced during the time of the Hannibalic War, taking over from there. From that time to his birth, they produced numerous figures: some good, some bad. Galba’s father, Gaius Sulpicius Galba, was among the pathetic. Remembered as a hunchback and a heavy drinker, he married twice: once to Mummia Achaica – granddaughter of Catalus and great-granddaughter of Lucius Mummius(26) and then to a certain Livia Ocellina through her attraction to his deformity(27). Galba was the result of the former marriage and took great pride in his lineage.
Servius Sulpicius Galba was born on December 24, 3 or 5 BC (28). He was the younger sibling to a brother who would come to be placed under the “bad” members of the family. Ten years Servius' senior, he reached the consulship under Tiberius only to squander his earning, fall out of favor with the emperor, and commit suicide. In 20 AD Galba married to Aemilia Lepida, a woman of no less equal ancestry. From this marriage he bore two children but would lose both and his wife along the way. He never remarried, if at any point he needed an heir adoption could work just the same (29). He is said to have had friendly relations with Livia, the wife of Augustus, and was designated 50,000,000 sesterces in her will. Tiberius reduced this to 50,000 and never paid even that. The entire sum was paid years later by Caligula on his accession.
Galba’s first major post was under Caligula when Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus, the commander of Upper Germany, was discovered conspiring against the emperor. Galba was installed in his place. It is in this time that he most likely earned the hatred of the German legions since he became known as a strict martinet – a characteristic that was perhaps second to his frugality. At one point he forced the legion to march twenty miles next to the emperor’s chariot. This mentality might have played well to the conservative republicans but it was inconsistent with the times and with everything else about him. Afterwards he was made governor of Africa for two years. There his victories against nomad raiders earned him “triumphal ornaments”. Following this post, Galba retired to a private life after Claudius decided to marry his niece Agripinna, whom he was in a feud with. Fearing Agripinna’s influence, he left Rome and never went out "...even for recreation without taking a million sesterces in gold with him in a second carriage” in order to buy off any potential assassins(30). In 59 or 60 he took the spot as governor of Hispania Tarraconensis (northern half of Spain's Mediterranean coast, reaching across northern Spain; into the northern Atlantic coast along with a part of Portugal), this would be his post when in mid-68 he became emperor of the Roman world.
Old, noble and conservative, Galba had little respect for the up and comers that marked the later years of Julio-Claudians, the protégés of Nero. He therefore kept largely to himself, placing his trust almost exclusively on three men: Titus Vinius, Cornelius Laco, and the freedman Icelus(31). Tacitus blames much of Galba’s failures on the influence of Laco and Vinius while Plutarch makes him the victim of formers evil influence. These three men spent much of their time fighting for influence but would unite should any outside figure come to the fore.
One other man who kept close to Galba was a certain Salvius Otho. He came from an Etruscan (Tuscan) family, his grandfather was the first to reach senatorial status while his father reached consulship. He had two siblings, a sister, of whom nothing is known, and a brother, Lucius Tatianus, who became a consul and governor of Asia(western Turkey). Otho became the playmate of Nero. As the young emperor got rid of Octavia, his mistress Pappaea Sabina was handed to Otho for a pretend marriage. He ended up falling in love with the woman and would not relinquish her back to Nero’s hands, forcing the emperor to annul the marriage and banish Otho by appointing him governor of Lusitania (approximately most of Portugal)(32). There from 58 to 68, Otho proved to be a suitable administrator for the province. When he heard of the revolt against Nero he jumped the wagon and poured support for Galba by giving him all of his gold and silver for coinage, hoping to both enact revenge and leave the back-water province. Galba paid little heed to the Neronian’s flattery, however Otho stayed close by, courting the new emperor’s favor.
Galba’s travel to Rome was one marked by executions and revenge on those who had not sided with him. Betuus Cilo, governor of Aquitannia (south-western France), was killed for having requested auxiliary from Galba to use against Vindex; Trebonius Garrutianus, procurator, was ordered to kill the renegade “procurator” of Africa (Tunisia), Clodius Macer; Fonteius Capito, the legate of Lower Germany, was assassinated by Fabius Valens without an order from Galba – he was most likely killed for not conspiring against Galba, as events would later show; Petronius Turpilianus was executed for having been one of Nero’s generals; and Cingonius Varro was killed for being an accomplice of Nymphidius Sabinus, whose actions would soon bring about his own demise. Verginius Rufus was replaced with the incompetent Hordeonnius Flaccus while Aulus Vitellius was placed as governor of Lower Germany, a spot which had for long been left empty(33).
While in Gaul, Galba made the mistake of rewarding those who had sided with Vindex by confiscating the treasury of Lugdunum and conferring numerous rights on the city of Vienne, which had sided with Vindex(34). The two cities along the Rhone were for a long time locked in a bitter rivalry and this was a kick in the face to the Lugdunese: they felt they were being punished for standing against an insurgent. Subsequently they began courting the legions. His actions in the province only served in igniting further hatred which the armies already felt for him there. The men who fought under Verginius were now flushed with anger and hope for war against those they considered “Galbanians”. The supporters of Vindex were grouped together as supporters of Galba.(35)
In the interim, in Rome, Nymphidius Sabinus found his hopes of manipulating Galba shattered, the old man had no intention of giving him any significant post. He began sending letters to him, at first trying to frighten him by exaggerating the rebellious situation in the empire(36), then he demanded that he be appointed prefect of the Guard for life without a colleague; his letters went unanswered. In order to try to court the armies, Nymphidius began claiming that he was a son of Caligula since his mother was once intimate with the mad emperor. Finally, hearing that Cornelius Laco was appointed prefect of the Guard and Titus Vinius a colleague in Galba’s consulship, Nymphidius moved for the throne; his bid failed and he was assassinated by the soldiers.
Meanwhile Galba’s mistakes continued mounting. Arriving upon the Milvian Bridge he was confronted by a crowd of soldiers, the men Nero had recruited from the Misenum fleet; now they wanted their standards and proper barracks(37). Galba put them off for the moment, but when they continued to protest he dispersed them with a cavalry charge and then ordered decimation of the survivors(38). The punishment was outdated when Crassus used it during the Spartacus revolt let alone over a century later. By now the strong discipline described in the account of Polybius were gone, rarely were drastic measures used. In addition, this was no longer the time of the citizen militia, the armies of the principate were professional long standing armies. The men’s request was later granted and they formed the Legio I Adiutrix, they would nevertheless carry a deep hatred for Galba.
He also failed to pay the donatives which Nymphidius had promised. The sum was wholly unrealistic but he would not pay even a simple donative which they had received from the past emperor, claiming: “I do not buy my soldiers, I select them.” (39) Additionally, he would not execute Tigellinus, Nero’s notorious informant. Vinius owed a favor to Tigellinus for having saved his daughter in the past. However he did put to death other informants of Nero and prosecuted those who had profited from the past emperor in order to fill up the empty treasury Nero left behind. Through these actions Galba alienated both soldier and civilian. Soon afterwards he also relinquished the biggest defense he could call on, Legio VIII Galbiana, the legion he formed in Spain.
Rebellion and Adoption
During this time the situation on the Rhine continued to degrade. In Upper Germany, the soldiers felt nothing but hatred for their new commander, Hordeonius Flaccus, and deeply resented Verginius’ removal. In Lower Germany many blamed Galba for Capito’s death, though he had no relation to it. It did not matter to the soldiers that he mismanaged the province for his own greed. Both armies wished to rid Galba from the throne, fear as much as hate fueled them. When Vitellius arrived the place was ripe for mutiny and he quickly began to work towards it:
He restored many to their ranks, remitting degrading penalties, and relieved those who had suffered disgrace, acting mainly from ambitious motives, but partly also upon sound judgment. Among other things he had showed impartiality in remedying the injustices due to the mean and rapacious way in which Fonteius Capito had issued promotions and reductions. (40)
Vitellius was lead on by two figures who were to become his main associates: Fabius Valens and Alienus Caecina. The former held a grudge against Galba for not having been properly rewarded after “unmasking Verginius' hesitation and thwarting Capito’s designs..” (41), Caecina had also backed Galba but was accused of embezzlement and prosecuted on the emperor’s orders.
The legions reached their threshold when envoys from the tribes of the Treveri and Lingones paid the camp a visit near the end of the year. When the Vindex revolt broke out they sided with Verginius and now saw their lands confiscated because of it. When Flaccus tried to sneak the envoys out at night the camp came near to mutiny when they came to believe they had been executed.
On January 1, 69 the yearly renewal of oaths was distributed when the two legions (IV Macedonica and XXII Primigenia) in Mogontiacum (Mains) smashed the images of Galba and swore allegiance to the SPQR. Those of Lower Germany did renew their oaths, none of them rose since each was afraid to take the lead. The I Germenica and V Alaudae stoned the image of Galba but did not exceed this. That night an envoy entered Vitellius’ headquarter at Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne) to report the legions' break of oath to the commander. Vitellius then informed his own troops and generals and gave them two options: “… either make war on the rebels immediately, or, if they preferred peace and unity, make an emperor for themselves”(42). He reminded them that it was safer to claim an emperor. Valens followed on this advice and he and his legionary cavalry and auxiliaries proclaimed him emperor the next day. The rest followed suit on January 3(43). The legions threw away their allegiance to the SPQR and replaced it with Vitellius.
On January 9 the financial secretary of Belgian Gaul, Pompeius Propinquus, arrived in Rome and reported the mutiny to the emperor's palace (44). Galba initially made little of the rebellion, and there was little he could have done. His only legion, VII Galbania, was transferred to Pannonia; meanwhile the city was full of new recruits, unseasoned men who could in no way match the power of Rome’s greatest legions. Even if they did, Galba had no trust for them as they were products of Nero. Instead he put into motion a move he had been planning since he became emperor: he named an heir. Rumors had circled Rome for a while, Galba’s age and frailty only added impetus to them. Otho, backed by Vinius, seemed like a strong candidate. In the last few months, he had not just been courting to Galba’s favor, but also the armies. Along trek from Spain he became a favorite among the men for his leniency. When Galba sent the VII legion to Pannonia, Otho turned his attention to the Guard: giving presents and largess to individual soldiers on duty. On one occasion, when a member of the Body Guard, Cocceius Proculus, brought a claim against part of his neighbors land, Otho bought the entire property and gave it to the man(45). Through him the men also saw Nero, the memory of whom they cherished. However Galba had no intention of taking the empire away from Nero and handing it to a Neronian, he chose Piso Licinianus as heir of the Roman world(46).
The announcement was made on January 10 before the Praetorian Guard. It was a stormy day, filled with thunder and lightning, a day that warranted suspension of business as they were considered ill-omened, but Galba had little interest in petty superstition. He first summoned Titus Vinius, then the city prefect, and finally the consul designate, Marius Celsus. After commenting on his own advancing age, Galba presented Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus to the standing army. The prince’s eyes did not show any signs of elation, he spoke modestly and with respect. His was the face of a man who had suffered plenty. Under the Julio-Claudians his family was at the center of the nobility persecutions and he himself only recently returned from exile. His descent from Pompey and Crassus had been a curse rather than an honor.
If Galba’s aim in naming an heir was to put the Guard to a better mood, it failed. The old emperor made a final announcement to the effect that the adoption went according to the precedent set by Augustus when he adopted Tiberius and, to curb rumors, he mentioned that two legions in Mogontiacum had rebelled but would return to order soon enough(47). The Praetorians listened with indifference and after it was over only the centurions and tribunes nearest to Galba cheered, the rest only needed the mention of a small largess to follow, none was made.
Otho took the announcement with complete shock. He had already squandered all of his wealth buying out the favor of the army and Galba, certain that he would become heir; now he was bankrupt, deeply in debt and furious at both Galba and Piso. The next move was to takeover, it made no difference to him whether he fell against the enemy in battle or against his creditors in the forum, as he said. In his initial fit of rage he thought of taking control of the camp right away but put the idea off after realizing its impracticality. Instead he put the plans of the rebellion in the hands Onomastus, his best freedman, who in turn took Barbius Proculus, a tesserarius (corporal), and Veturius, an optio (adjutant)(48). They were joined by a number of men who had received preferment from Nymphidius and now felt uncertain of their future in the new regime. This was added to a number of others who were incensed by the fact that they still had not been given a donative.
On January 15 – five days after Piso’s adoption – Galba performed a sacrifice in accordance with his position as Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest) at the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine. He was escorted by his main associates, but Otho was there also. The seer, Umbricius, studied the entrails and proclaimed their terrible omen: there was treason underway and the plotter was inside the palace. As usual Galba sneered at superstition, Otho however was delighted by priest’s report(49). After he was given the green-light by Onomastus, Otho snuck-out from the temple and headed to the Golden Milestone(50). There he was proclaimed emperor by twenty-three men then escorted to the camp. He entered without any difficulty and very quickly won the support of all the soldiers. Otho made himself master of the cities barracks, he now controlled all the arms and armor in the city.
Galba heard of the revolt while he was still performing the sacrifices and the decision was made that Piso, rather then he, should see the cohorts guarding the palace. He seems to have had an effect on the men initially, although the cohort did join the mutineers, since he was later sent to the Praetorian camp. Numerous efforts were made to call the various standing troops in the city, they were to no avail. Most of the troops felt some resentment towards Galba while others were no more disposed to him then Otho. The only group inclined towards him were the German troops whom he had nursed. They were unused to the cities living conditions and were still weak; those who did go to Galba’s aid never made it to him. Not long after, the ex-marines that formed the legio I Adiutrix joined the Othonians in the camp.
As the events unfolded, large crowds were gathered around the imperial palace, all cheering for Galba and calling for the death of Otho and his accomplices. According to Tacitus they were not sincere since the next minute they would cheer for the other, it was their custom to flatter any emperor(51). Inside the palace Galba and his advisors debated his next course of action. Titus Vinius urged that they fortify themselves inside in order to let the momentum of the rebels die down and allow a proper defense to assemble. Everybody else voted that the emperor immediately set out from the palace and confront the rebels before it expanded. When Vinius tried to block this he was confronted by Laco and Icelus. Galba chose the former, thinking it better suited an emperor. His opening move was to send Piso to the Praetorian Camp to try and win back the soldiers. The embassy would be of no success, Piso turned tail before entering the camp.
Scarcely were the plans put to execution when rumor went flying about that Otho had been killed, it quickly passed as truth and spread among the masses. A wave of enthusiasm suddenly overtook the people; they broke into the palace and amassed before Galba. Among them was a member of the Guard, Julius Atticus, who reported that he had killed the traitor, brandishing a bloody sword as proof. Galba confronted him with the reply “who gave you the order?” as the martinet that he was(52). Finally Galba was able to get into his litter and make for the Temple of Jupiter but the crowd dragged him back and forth, some demanding that he stay in the palace; others that he should go forward. As he reached the Capitol horsemen were seen in the distance, they were Otho’s men. The crowd quickly dispersed into the temples and public buildings, gazing at what unfolded with neither tumult nor quiet, but silence marked by strong anger and emotion(53). As the ranks closed in on Galba, a Preatorian by the name of Atilius Vercilio tore the effigy of the emperor from his standard and smashed it on the ground.
At this point Galba was flung from his litter as all those around him suddenly fled. A centurion by the name of Sempronius Densus came to his defense, ordering the assassins to spare their emperor. He fought the men after they disobeyed; putting a strong defense before falling(54). Galba was slain on the Lacus Curtius (Lake of Curtius). According to Plutarch and Tacitus, he presented his neck to the assassins and said: "Do your work, if this is better for the Roman people." (55) Piso too was hunted down. He had fled to the Temple of Vesta looking for sanctuary but was eventually discovered, dragged out and killed. He died at thirty-one years of age. Titus Vinius was struck, reportedly while shouting that Otho had not given the order to murder Galba, giving suspicion that he was in on the plot(56). Laco and Icelus managed to delay their fate, though not for long. Laco was captured and initially punished with exile but was killed as he reached his destination; Icelus was openly crucified.
The heads were brought back to Otho and eventually ransomed to their respective family or close friends. Galba lived seventy-three years, seven months of which he spent as emperor. Tacitus ends his obituary of the man with the sentence: "…the universal view was that he had the qualifications to be a ruler – if only he had not ruled.” (57)
The next day, following a sacrifice on the Capitol, Otho went to the camp and brought out Marius Celsus, a partisan of Galba. After the coup the soldiery had clamored for his death, Otho had appeased this by simply imprisoning him. Now he made a speech in the camp that would exonerate the partisan: it was greeted with great approval. Afterwards he made a trip to the senate house where he was granted all the powers of empire. Otho was now officially an emperor, to the disgust of the sensible. Matters of business were next.
Appeasing popular demand, Otho ordered the execution of Ofonius Tigellinus, Nero’s infamous informant. As mentioned before, Tigellinus had secured his fate during Galba through saving Vinius’ daughter. He might have earned the favor of the Neronians, had he not betrayed his master in the end. Tigellinus spent his final hours among prostitutes and whores before he cut his throat with a razor. Cornelius Dolabella was banished due to the stigma of his famous name and the fact that he was related to Galba. However he did save Calvia Crispinilla, contrary to the protests of the people. She would outlive the civil war and become a powerful figure among Rome’s social circles(58). Next he appointed himself and his brothers as consuls for the remainder of January and made Verginius Rufus and Pompeius Vospicus consul designates for March and April(59). He pushed for the restoration of Nero’s busts and statues, the continuation of Nero’s villa and even began to style himself as ‘Otho Nero’, although he eventually dropped it due to displeasure among the senators. He also settled an issue which had been ignored for quite some time.
For a time the centurions of the army ran a system whereby the soldier was forced to pay a fee in order to receive his customary exemption. Often times the money to pay for the fee was attained through robberies or labor. Soldiers who attained, or came in, with more wealth then others were worked to exhaustion until they had to pay the exemption. The result was that on numerous occasions the men became impoverished, lethargic and frequently violent. Otho decided that rather then risk alienating any group, he would pay the fee from the imperial treasury. This would be established as a regular practice under later emperors(60).
It is during this time that Otho discovered the imperial secrets. Galba worked hard to silence rumors and knowledge of the rebellion that had developed in Gaul. With him dead, the vault of information were finally opened to Otho, he realized what he had inherited. Otho’s primary concern now was to reconnoiter his resources and manpower he had throughout the empire. He could count mainly on the Balkan legions, who promised their support. Still in early winter, Otho also relied upon the traditional Roman rule of warfare: campaigns began in the spring time. His spirits were also raised by a recent incident.
In the previous winter, the Sarmatian tribe of the Rhoxolani (Red Alans) made a daring attack across the Danube in the province of Moesia (south-east portion of Serbia and northern Bulgaria), slaughtering two cohorts of auxiliary. This year they assembled 9,000 troops and attacked the province yet again. Sarmatians were covered from the neck down by plated metal and hard leather and wielded either a two-handed sword or a lance. With such armor they were deadly on horseback but far too cumbersome on foot. This time conditions played against them as the heavy rain had thawed the ice and turned it into soft snow, making the horses slip. The heavy armor sunk them into the snow, some could not pick themselves up due to their weight, others, lacking shields, were slaughtered close-quarter by the far more mobile Roman legionary. Few of the tribesmen survived(61). Otho took great pleasure in the victory, putting much of the credit on himself, he needed a military victory to please his army. The governor of Moesia, Marcus Aponius Saturninus, was granted a triumphant statue in Rome. The commanding officers of the legions, Aurelius Fulvus, Tettius Julianus, and Numisius Lupus, received insignia of consular rank.
In Germany, Vitellius was verifying his position. He made no pretense about his status, he was not proclaimed emperor by the senate, they – the legitimate body – had declared for Galba. Even Otho convened the house to make his status official. Vitellius however did not care for shams. Contrary to Galba’s “SPQR” mints, his coinage represented reality: he was appointed to his position by the army. On them we find such legends as “Fides Exercitvvm” (Loyalty of the Armies), “Consensvs Exercitvvm” (Agreement of the Armies) and “Concordia Praetorianorvm” (Agreement of the Praetorians), although Praetorians did make a common cause it was determinedly for Otho(62). Additionally, in place of the titles “Caesar” and ”Augustus”, he called himself “Germanicus”. This lack of etiquette would be a common characteristic in Vitellius' imperial career.
Having dispensed with honors, Vitellius turned his attention to the campaign. His primary concern was a secure Britain. Laying on his rear it could force him into a war on two opposing fronts. Britain, however, would remain one of the most volatile provinces throughout the year and the momentary peace it had seen was soon to be short-lived. The island declared for Vitellius and sent him a detachment of 8,000 auxiliary which would personally escort him. Belgica, under Valerius Asiaticus, also declared it’s support, followed by the governor of Lugdunum’s division of Gaul. Lastly the province of Raetia (Central and eastern Switzerland, southern Bavaria and upper Danube, Vorarlberg, most of Tirol and part of Lombardy) entered on his side while Spain remained undecided, though it would eventually declare for him.
Next came the campaign plan. Fabius Valens was to take the V Alaudae and a number of detachments from the armies of Lower Germany – among them the famous Batavian cohorts, renowned for their ability to swim while carrying their arms. With these he would then march through Gaul and enter Italy via the Cottian Alps (just north of the French Riviera along the Italian border). At the same time Alienus Caecina was to take the body of the XXI Rapax and a number of detachments straight into Italy via the Pennine Pass (Great St. Bernard). According to Tacitus, the number of troops under the command of Valens was 40,000 while 30,000 under Caecina, the numbers cannot be taken seriously unless they account for camp-followers. Valens must have had a fighting force numbering between 20,000-23,000, while Caecina between 13,000-15,000(64). The traditional delay for the campaign season was discarded in favor of maintaining the impetus of the troops.
The day Valens column embarked on its campaign it was greeted with a good omen: an eagle flew over the men and for several miles it followed in the direction of the march, as if leading the way(65). The men marched in relatively good order until they came upon the city of Divodurum (Metz). As the allied city’s population came to greet the army, the men suddenly panicked and attacked the citizens, 4,000 were slaughtered. The news of Galba’s death came as the men marched through the Leuci (tribe around Toul) and it was treated with indifference: they were going to fight so long as the man on the throne was not Vitellius.
The troops discipline and order deteriorated from here. In the territory of the Lingones they began to quarrel with the Batavian cohorts, the legionaries resented the auxiliaries for their complicity with Galba and Vindex; the Batavians boasted about it. As the troops reached the Rhone they were urged by the citizens of Lugdunum to loot their rival city of Vienne for aiding Vindex. Valens received a gift from the Viennese and gave the troops 300 sesterces each not to plunder the city. In the area of Allobroges and Vocontii (major tribes along the western Alps), Valens received bribes in order to determine the marching speeds and camp grounds of the army, threatening to raze the cities which did not offer to pay. Meanwhile he intercepted a fleet which had been sent by Otho to the southern coast of Gaul, known as Narbonese Gaul (south-east France).
Around February Otho decided on a naval expedition against Narbonese Gaul. The exact purpose of the expedition is as vague as Tacitus' account, which is our only source. The operation seems to have been designed with the simple purpose of raiding the coastline which would cause confusion along Valens march, but nothing is clear. It was entrusted to senior centurions Antonius Novellus and Suedonius Clemens, along with the tribune Amilius Pacensis. However troubles arose when the latter of the three, Pacensis, was chained by mutinous troops and Clemens was granted full control. He then proceeded to pillage numerous unsuspecting colonies on the coastline. The governor of the Maritime Alps, Marius Maturus, gave what little resistance he could mount, but it quickly failed and was routed into the mountains, leaving the citizens at the mercy of the Othonians(66).
Couriers came to Valens beseeching him to aid a region which had declared for Vitellius. He responded by sending two cohorts of Tungri (Belgian tribesmen), four squadrons of cavalry and the entire ala Trevirorum (sixteen squadrons) against the Othonians. The force was put under the command of Julius Classicus, a name which would gain notoriety during the Civilis revolt. He then dispatched twelve cavalry squadrons and a detachment of auxiliaries aided by Ligurian cavalry and 500 Pannonian recruits. The Othonians posted their troops along the higher ground near the sea, guarding their flanks with the fleet and various mountaineer locals. The Vitellians were beaten back initially, owing to both a lack of infantry and a rash early charge by the Treviran cavalry. They then mounted a more successful second offensive after having received reinforcement, however even they were eventually defeated and received great casualties while fleeing(67).
Caecina, alternatively, found his march far smoother and quicker then Valens. As the latter was bogged down by the longer march, mutinous troops and circumstance, the former made a fast dash to the territory of the Helvetii (Swiss tribes). When Caecina came into their territory they had yet to hear of Galba’s assassination and would not allow him passage. In the meantime the XXI Rapax had seized a sum of money that was meant to pay a native garrison force. Consequently the Helvetii intercepted a Vitellian messenger headed for Pannonia. Caecina responded by looting and pillaging the country and ordered the Raetian auxiliaries to attack the Helvetii in their rear. The weak resistance of the tribesmen quickly crumbled and the German armies marched towards the provincial capitol, Aventicum (Avenches). There the Helvetii accepted surrender and one of their chieftains, Julius Alpinus, was executed for inciting the revolt. Caecina left rest to Vitellius, who would later give them clemency after his initial threats(68).
Upon arrival on the Swiss side of the Alp, Caecina waited for Vitellius orders until he received the news that ‘Silius’ cavalry, stationed along the Po, came to his side. They brought with them the strongest towns of the Cisalpine Gaul area: Mediolanum (Milan), Novaria, Eporedia (Ivrea) and Vercellae (Vercelli). The cavalry force had served under Vitellius during his term in Africa and knew little of Otho. Caecina quickly sent various detachments to support the garrisons of these towns. In the meantime he contemplated an offensive against Petronius Urbicus, governor of the legion-less province of Noricum (Austria). Urbicus destroyed all the bridges leading to his province and mobilized numerous auxiliary forces. However the move was entirely defensive; the province poor; and the forces weak, he could pose no danger from his position. Caecina was also eager to make it to Italy before his rival Valens could and steal the victory; the opportunity provided by the recent desertion could not be ignored or delayed.
Meanwhile, following the Rhoxolani victory, Otho ordered the XVII urbana cohort to move from Ostia – where it served as a fire brigade – to Rome. Varius Crispinus, a Preatorian tribune, was given the order to arm the cohort before leaving. Hoping to do this in a quiet and undisturbed atmosphere, Crispinus chose to load the cohort wagons in the middle of the night. There were numerous drunken men around the barrack at the time who saw Crispinus and interpreted his actions as treacherous, they accused him and the senate of plotting against the emperor. When Crispinus confronted them he was killed; and the men then took up arms and made for Rome (69). They arrived in the city when Otho was holding a banquet with numerous other senatorial guests.
The noise outside terrified them all, the senators thought it was a trick of Otho’s while he believed it was a coup. He told his guests to leave immediately and sent the Prefects of the Guard to pacify the men but the attempts failed. The senators fled in a panic, throwing away their insignia and hiding in the houses of their friends. The soldiers stormed into the palace, wounding a tribune and a camp prefect, demanding to see their emperor. Otho, in order to come into the men’s view, climbed on a couch(something considered below an emperor) and begged the men to come to their senses. Finally they were brought back to their camps. The next day as Otho entered the Praetorian camp he was confronted by numerous tribunes and centurions, all asking for a discharge from service. Otho promised the soldiers 5000(70) sesterces each and gave a lenient speech to calm the men.
Around the same time the Tiber flooded, causing considerable damage to the city and taking down the Pile Bridge(71). This occurred as Otho was planning his expedition, the omens looked dark. Acting as Pontifex Maximus, he ordered the proper purification rituals be held before mobilization continued.
After sending out the fleet for southern Gaul, Otho prepared for the expedition against Vitellius. In Rome he could count on the support of various German, British and Illyrian detachments standing in the city; the entire I Adiutrix; the Praetorian cohorts; and 7000 Gladiators. He also expected the arrival of 8000 troops from the four legions of Dalmatia and Pannonia (VII, XI, XIII, and XIV)(72). Possibly as a way of glamorizing his entourage, Otho gave the order that all the city's ex-consuls and magistrates should join him in his expedition. Some, taken over by delusions of grandeurs, purchased beautifully crafted armor and horses; others purchased grand dinners, the rest were openly or secretly alarmed since the senatorial and equestrian orders were unused to war. On March 14(73) Otho made a short speech extolling the senate and criticizing the Germany legions, once it was over the crowd cheerfully followed him out of the city.
Manuevers, Ad Castores, and Strategy
In north Italy Caecina secured a passage across the Po river and now made a daring attempt for the city of Placentia (Pavia). The first attack was imprudent, the soldiers marched carelessly under the city walls without proper precautions. During this time the city's amphitheater, largest in Italy, was torched down by the besieging army. The attack was repulsed and the Vitellians incurred heavy casualties. They spent the night preparing for the second attempt. The next morning the fighting was far heavier, but once again the Vitellians were repulsed with heavy losses. Seeing no hope of taking the city, Caecina withdrew from Placentia and made for Cremona, along the way attaining the surrender of Julius Briganticus, the Batavian cavalry commander, and Turullius Cerialis, a senior centurion. Vetricius Spurinna, commander of Placentia’s garrison, sent letters to Rubrius Gallus, who was leading a relief force for the besieged city. Hearing of Caecina’s failure, Gallus stopped at Bedriacum (between Verona and Cremona).
Things continued to deteriorate for Caecina when Martius Macer, commander of the Gladiators, crossed the Po with his men and mounted an attack against the auxiliaries on the other side; the Vitellians were routed. In addition, Valens approach was close at hand and he was losing the morale of his men: if Caecina did not want Valens to steal the glory, he would have to move quickly. A short distance along the Postumian way was a place called Ad Castores(74), in which the road was flanked by forest, a place well suited for an ambush . Here he concealed his best auxiliaries within the groves and trees and ordered his cavalry to provoke their opponents by feigning defeat. The move was betrayed to the Othonians by deserters.
Suetonius Paulinus took charge of the infantry while Marius Celsus that of the cavalry(75). Celsus attacked the enemy first but suddenly quit the chase and slowly retreated, knowing the enemy’s ambush. This caused the Vitellians to make a rash offensive: easily falling into the Othonian trap. However Paulinus, by nature a cautious man, held his infantry in place until the drainage ditches had been filled up. The Vitellians momentarily retreated but quickly rejoined the fighting and wounded Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes, prince of Commagene (southeastern Turkey). The Othonians retaliated with a cavalry strike that routed the Vitellian force and the scattered forces that arrived to support it.
The troubles the Vitellians faced in battle were no worse then the troubles they faced in the camp. The men were inflamed at the fact that they were not brought out en masse and believed that they were being betrayed by their camp prefect, Julius Gratus, who had a brother on the side of the Otho. The men mutinied and chained the prefect, the same had occurred in the Othonian camp.
With no possibility of knowing the troubles in his enemy’s camp, Paulinus continued with his caution. He feared that should he push his tired men too far they would be routed by the counter-force. The move possibly saved the Vitellians from annihilation.
Following the battle both camps went through a great degree of recrimination. Suetonius Paulinus had already acquired the suspicion of the men when he had arrived; now his hesitation seemed to confirm it. Otho did not believe the suspicions but nevertheless appeased the men by placing his brother Tatianus and the prefect Licinius Proculus in charge of the campaign, the latter having most of the power. This degraded the positions of Paulinus and Celsus to that of advisors(76).
Caecina blamed the defeat on the ill-discipline of the troops who, according to him, were more eager to revolt then fight the war. The defeat also caused a near-mutiny among Valens' men: they accused their general of purposely holding them back. Even though Caecina lost the battle, he was favored over his rival mainly due to his looks, charisma and youth. His men argued that they were forced to take on all of the Othonians on their own(77).
With their two Vitellian generals united, the Othonians held a council of war near Cremona to decide their next move: fight now or wait for reinforcement. The experienced generals of the army – Paulinus, Celsus, and Annius Gallus – were in favor of delay. They argued that the Vitellians could expect no more support and with summer close-by the effectiveness of the German armies would be weakened by a climate they were unaccustomed to(78). Furthermore, their army was not even at its full power as the Pannonian legions had yet to arrive. However Otho hated civil wars and wished this one to be over as soon as possible: he chose to take the offensive.(79) Following the decision, Otho retreated to Brixellum (Brescello) taking with him a considerable part of the Praetorian Guard, this made the Othonians outnumbered against the Vitellians. According to Tacitus Otho’s leave also broke the spirit of his men who distrusted the fidelity of Paulinus and Celsus and the experience of Tatianus and Proculus.
Desertions between the armies meant that both knew of each others plans. Previously the Othonians gained the advantage of it by learning of Caecina’s ambush at Ad Castores, now they gained the distadvantages. The Vitellians heard of the Othonian arrangements and chose to stay on the defensive, waiting to receive the enemy. To keep the men active they began constructioning a bridge across Po in order to feign plans for a march across. The Othonians countered by firing stones and torches at the Vitellians. While this was going on Macer sent his group of Gladiators ahead on boats to grab an island midstream. Opposing them were the fearsome Batavian cohorts. Unlike the gladiators they were going downstream and unlike the gladiators they swam to the island with their weapons in-hand, grabbing it first. The gladiators attempts at dislodging them by arrow fire failed since the sway of the boats shattered their aim. The Batavians then took the offensive: jumping in the water and sinking the ships with their own hands, to the humiliation of their opponents.
The defeat nearly cost Macer his life. Wounded, while being brought back from the shore, he found the Othonians soldiers clamoring for his death. Swords drawn they gathered around Macer and would have finished him at once had it not been for the intervention of several centurions and tribunes. Otho then ordered Spurinna to bring reinforcements in order to makeup for the losses while Flavius Sabinus – the brother of Vespasian – replaced Macer(80). The Othonians then decided to move four miles down by Bedriacum, but in a moment of indecisiveness moved yet again down by confluence of the Po and Addua. Celsus and Paulinus criticized the move, saying that it was very likely that their men could be ambushed while marching. The men continued once a Numidian emissary of Otho’s arrived attacking their hesitation and in-action.
The First Bedriacum
Caecina heard of the march while in a conference with two Othonian tribunes who defected to him; he immediately rode to his camp to find that Valens had already given the order to assemble. While the Vitellian infantry went into place the cavalry, supported by the I Italica, rode out against Othonians. The Vitellian infantry managed to organize with little difficulty since the thick plantations of the area blocked the incoming Othonians, preventing panic. They placed the V Alaudae on the left wing, the I Italica in the center and the XXI Rapax along with a group of Batavians on the right, the rest were held in reserve. Conversely, the Othonians were hindered not only by pack-animals and camp-followers but also by ditches and roads that mark northern Italy. This disorder was met with panic among the men who could not find their proper standards or formations. Their formation was: XIII Gemina – the only Balkan legion to have arrived full force – on the right supported by a detachment of the XIV, the I Adiutrix on the left and five Praetorian cohorts in the center(81).
As the two armies neared each other the Othonians heard of a rumor that their opposing armies had betrayed their emperor. This caused great elation among the Praetorians while their own comrades believed they were the ones betrayed. It is not known whether the rumor was passed by the Vitellians or if it was a simple accident, but the Vitellian soldiery responded with angry mutters(82).
Tacitus and Plutarch describe the battle as a set of separate encounters since the nature of the ground broke the centralization of the armies. The Vitellians had the advantage of both greater cohesion and numbers however the Othonians offered great resistance. The only group which fought on even ground were the XXI Rapax and I Adiutrix. The latter’s inexperience did not stop it from delivering the XXI a heavy blow by stealing its eagle. They in turn responded by killing their rivals commander and stealing various colors and standards. Meanwhile the gladiators once again faced Batavians; and once again were routed by them. On the other side the V routed the XIII then surrounded the XIV. According to Plutarch(83) the Praetorians fought worst of all: they were routed before even engaging the enemy.
In the aftermath Otho’s legions managed to break through the enemy and return to their camp. Suetonius and Proculus fled and did not return to the army, fearing the rage of the men. Gallus, Celsus, and Tatianus returned, as well as the commander of the XIII, Vedius Aquila, who was harassed by his men(84). After calming the mens nerves they planned on a proper course of action. Initially the men still roared for battle but, according to Plutarch, Celsus changed their minds after a winning speech. However Tacitus makes a split in the mind of the army, the change of their attitude does not need the persuasion of the officers, the men come to their senses(85). Celsus and Gallus were sent as envoys to the Vitellian camp.
While the Othonians politicized the Vitellians bivouacked five miles from Bedriacum, they saw little chance in storming the Vitellian camp and waited for their enemy's next move. The next day Celsus was intercepted by a group of Vitellian horsemen, the men immediately recognized the victor at Ad Castores. He would have been cut to pieces had it not been for the intervention of the Vitellian centurions and tribunes. When Caecina heard of commotion he quickly came to the aid of Celsus and brought him to Bedriacum. The envoy was held for a while, making the Othonian’s suspicious; Tatianus began to regret sending it out and ordered the men to defend the walls. The consternation melted away once Caecina approached the camp, soldiers came out to mingle with their once-enemies and the feeling among the men became amiable.
Otho waited patiently in Brixellum for any news of the battle, it came slowly. The initial wave was made up of rumors followed after by refugees from the battle, they confirmed it all. The Praetorians quickly came to his support:
…the soldiers in their zeal did not wait to hear their Emperor speak. ‘Keep a good heart,’ they said, ‘you still have fresh forces left, and, as for us, we are ready to risk everything and suffer everything.’ Nor was this flattery. In a wild passion of enthusiasm they burned to march to the field and restore the fortunes of their party. Those who were near him clasped his knees, while those who stood further off stretched out their arms to him.(86)
Deputies came from the armies of the Balkans saying that the armies were now in Aquilea and their hearts were steady. Plutarch tells us of a soldier who, caught in a moment of great passion, suddenly slew himself before Otho. Before he did it held the sword up and told his emperor “Know, O Caesar, that all of us stand in this fashion at thy side,”(87). Plotius Firmus, the Prefect of the Guard, reminds Otho that: “…it showed more courage to bear misfortune then to desert it, that men of vigour and courage cling to their hopes in the face of disaster…”(88)
Otho would have none of it. Bedriacum was the last and only battle that would be fought; defeated, he resolved to take his own life, the war clamed enough lives. First he exonerated himself from further war in a speech to the men. Afterwards he organized their transport, destroyed all letters and petitions that might incriminate anyone in the next regime, distributed his wealth with care, and lastly spoke to his nephew Salvius Cocceianus, reminding him to take care in the next regime: remember his uncle but not too well(89). After cutting all loose-ends he retired for a final rest before the suicide but was disturbed following a mutiny that occurred outside. The men besieged Verginius Rufus’ house and were threatening all senators who left. He rebuked the leaders and then returned to his room, quenched his thirst with some water, put two daggers under his bed and slept through the night. He awoke the next morning, took a dagger and drove it in his chest.
Otho died on April 16,69 A.D, two days after the battle of Bedriacum. He lived thirty-seven years(90); ninety-