Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Tacitus.
and the captured legions.  Back went Agrestis to Vitellius.  Finding that the emperor disbelieved his report and even suggested that he had been bribed, he said, ’You want some certain evidence and, since you have no further use for me either alive or dead, I will give you evidence that you can believe.’  And he was as good as his word.  He went straight from the emperor’s presence and committed suicide.  Some say he was killed by order of Vitellius, but they give the same account of his heroic devotion.[145]

Vitellius was like a man roused from sleep.  He dispatched Julius 55 Priscus and Alfenus Varus[146] with fourteen cohorts of Guards and all his available cavalry to hold the Apennines.  A legion levied from the marines[147] was sent after them.  This large army of picked men and horses, if there had been any general to lead it, was strong enough to have even taken the offensive.  His other cohorts[148] were given to his brother, Lucius Vitellius, for the protection of the city.  The emperor himself gave up none of his habitual luxuries, but, feeling nervous and depressed, he hurried on the elections and nominated consuls for several years in advance.  He lavished special charters[149] on allied communities and extended Latin rights[150] to foreign towns:  he remitted taxation here, granted immunities there.  In fact, he took no thought for the future, and did his best to cripple the empire.  However, the mob accepted these munificent grants with open mouths.  Fools paid money for them, but wise men held them invalid, since they could be neither given nor received without a revolution.  At last he yielded to the demands of the army and joined the camp at Mevania,[151] where they had taken up their position.  A long train of senators followed him, many moved by their ambition, but most by their fears.  Here he was still undecided and at the mercy of treacherous advice.

During one of his speeches a portent occurred.  A cloud of 56 ill-omened birds[152] flew over his head and its density obscured the daylight.  To this was added another omen of disaster.  A bull broke from the altar, scattered the utensils for the ceremony, and escaped so far away that it had to be killed instead of being sacrificed according to the proper ritual.  But the chief portent was Vitellius himself.  He was ignorant of soldiering, incapable of forethought:  knew nothing of drill or scouting, or how far operations should be pressed forward or protracted.  He always had to ask some one else.  At every fresh piece of news his expression and gait betrayed his alarm.  And then he would get drunk.  At last he found camp life too tedious, and on learning of a mutiny in the fleet at Misenum[153] he returned to Rome.  Every fresh blow terrified him, but of the real crisis he seemed insensible.  For it was open to him to cross the Apennines and with his full strength unimpaired to attack the enemy while they were worn out with cold and hunger.  But

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Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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