When the city was taken, Vitellius left the Palace by a back way and was carried in a litter to his wife’s house on the Aventine. If he could lie hid during the day, he hoped to make his escape to his brother and the Guards at Tarracina. But it is in the very nature of terror that, while any course looks dangerous, the present state of things seems worst of all. His fickle determination soon changed and he returned to the vast, deserted Palace, whence even the lowest of his menials had fled, or at least avoided meeting him. Shuddering at the solitude and hushed silence of the place, he wandered about, trying closed doors, terrified to find the rooms empty; until at last, wearied with his miserable search, he crept into some shameful hiding-place. There Julius Placidus, an officer of the Guards, found him and dragged him out. His hands were tied behind his back, his clothes were torn, and thus he was led forth—a loathly spectacle at which many hurled insults and no one shed a single tear of pity. The ignominy of his end killed all compassion. On the way a soldier of the German army either aimed an angry blow at him, or tried to put him out of his shame, or meant, perhaps, to strike the officer in command; at any rate, he cut off the officer’s ear and was immediately stabbed. With the points of their swords they made Vitellius hold up his 85 head and face their insults, forcing him again and again to watch his own statues hurtling down, or to look at the Rostra and the spot where Galba had been killed. At last he was dragged along to the Ladder of Sighs, where the body of Flavius Sabinus had lain. One saying of his which was recorded had a ring of true nobility. When some officer flung reproaches at him, he answered, ’And yet I was once your emperor.’ After that he fell under a shower of wounds, and when he was dead the mob abused him as loudly as they had flattered him in his lifetime—and with as little reason.
Vitellius’ home was at Luceria. He was in his fifty-seventh 86 year, and had won the consulship, priesthoods, and a name and position among Rome’s greatest men, all of which he owed to no efforts of his own, but solely to his father’s eminence. Those who offered him the throne had not yet learnt to know him; and yet his slothful cowardice won from his soldiers an enthusiasm which the best of generals have rarely evoked. Still he had the qualities of candour and generosity, which without moderation are liable to prove disastrous. He had few friends, though he bought many, thinking to keep them, not by showing moral stamina, but by giving liberal presents. It was indubitably good for the country that Vitellius should be beaten. But those who betrayed him to Vespasian can hardly make a merit of their perfidy, for they were the very men who had deserted Galba for Vitellius.
The day was already sinking into evening. The magistrates and senators had fled in terror from the city, or were still in hiding at dependants’ houses: it was therefore impossible to call a meeting of the senate. When all fear of violence was at an end, Domitian came out and presented himself to the generals of his party. The crowds of soldiers at once hailed him as Caesar, and marched off, still in full armour, to escort him to his father’s house.