Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Tacitus.

Before they came to close quarters, the Vitellians began to 25 retire.  Celsus, forewarned of the ruse, halted his men.  Whereupon the Vitellians impatiently rose from their ambush and, while Celsus slowly retired, followed him further and further until they plunged headlong into an ambush themselves.  The auxiliaries were on their flanks; the legions faced them in front; and the cavalry by a sudden manoeuvre had closed in on their rear.  However, Suetonius Paulinus did not immediately give the signal for his infantry to charge.  He was by nature dilatory, and preferred cautiously reasoned measures to accidental success.  He kept on issuing orders about filling up the ditches, clearing the fields and extending the line, convinced that it was soon enough to play for victory when he had taken every precaution against defeat.  This delay gave the Vitellians time to take refuge in the vineyards, where the interlaced vine-stems made it hard to follow.  Adjoining these was a little wood, from under cover of which they ventured another sally and killed the foremost of the Guards’ cavalry.  There Prince Epiphanes[271] was wounded, while making vigorous efforts to rally Otho’s forces.

At this point Otho’s infantry charged, crushed the opposing line, 26 and even routed the troops who were hurrying up in support.  For Caecina had brought up his reinforcements not all at once but in separate detachments.  These, arriving in scattered units, and never in sufficient force, only added to the confusion, since the panic of the rout infected them as well.  Mutiny, too, broke out in the camp, because the troops were not all taken into battle.  Julius Gratus, the camp-prefect, was put in irons on a charge of plotting with his brother, who was fighting on Otho’s side.  It was known that the Othonians had arrested the brother, Julius Fronto, on the same charge.  For the rest, such was the universal panic among pursuers and pursued, on the field and in the camp, that it was commonly said on both sides that, if Suetonius Paulinus had not sounded the retreat, Caecina’s whole army might have been destroyed.  Paulinus maintained that he avoided any excessive strain of work or marching, for fear of exposing his exhausted troops to a counter-attack from the Vitellians in the camp, who were still fresh for battle:  besides, he had no reserves to fall back on in case of defeat.  A few approved of the general’s strategy, but the common opinion was adverse.[272]


    [226] See note 3.

    [227] The legion brought from Spain, mentioned in i. 6.

    [228] The revolt of Boadicea crushed by Suetonius Paulinus;
          described by Tacitus in his life of Agricola and in Book XIV
          of the Annals.

    [229] i.e. for his projected war against the Albanians (cp. i.
          6).  Probably they stopped in Dalmatia on hearing of Nero’s

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