Meanwhile the citizens of Cremona suffered sorely from the 32 violence of the troops, and only the entreaties of their generals could withhold them from a general massacre. Antonius summoned a mass meeting and delivered a eulogy upon his victorious army, promising mercy to the vanquished and speaking of Cremona in ambiguous terms. Besides their natural passion for plunder, there was an old grudge which urged them to sack Cremona. The town was believed to have given assistance to the Vitellian cause before this in the war with Otho; and again, when the Thirteenth had been left behind to build an amphitheatre, the populace had shown its town-bred impertinence by assailing them with insolent ridicule. Other causes increased this bad feeling: it was here that Caecina had given his show of gladiators: the town had become for a second time the theatre of the war: the citizens had conveyed food to the Vitellians during the battle: some women had been killed, whose enthusiasm for the cause had led them to take part in the fight. Besides all this, the Fair had filled the rich city with an even greater display of wealth than usual. All eyes were now centred on Antonius, whose fame and good fortune overshadowed all the other generals. It so happened that he hurried off to the baths to wash off the stains of blood. Finding fault with the temperature of the water, he received the answer, ‘It will not be long before it is hot,’ and this phrase was caught up. The attendant’s words were repeated, and brought all the odium on Antonius, who was thus believed to have given the signal to set fire to Cremona, which was already in flames.
Thus forty thousand soldiers burst into the town with a yet larger 33 crowd of servants and sutlers, even more depraved than the soldiers in their readiness for cruelty and lust. Without any respect for age or for authority they added rape to murder and murder to rape. Aged men and decrepit old women, who were worthless as booty, were hustled off to make sport for them. If some grown girl or a handsome youth fell into their clutches, they would be torn to pieces in the struggle for possession, while the plunderers were left to cut each other’s throats. Whoever carried off money or any of the solid gold offerings in the temples was liable to be cut to pieces, if he met another stronger than himself. Some, disdaining easy finds, hunted for hidden hoards, and dug out buried treasure, flogging and torturing the householders. They held torches in their hands and, having once secured their prize, would fling them wantonly into an empty house or some dismantled temple. Composed as the army was of citizens, allies, and foreign troops, differing widely in language and customs, the objects of the soldiers’ greed differed also. But while their views of what was right might vary, they all agreed in thinking nothing wrong.
Cremona lasted them four days. While all other buildings sacred and secular sank in the flames, only the temple of Mefitis outside the walls was left standing, saved either by its position or the power of the presiding deity.