Cassius Dio
Roman History

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Epitome of Book LXIII

 Such was the life led by Nero and such was the way he ruled. I shall now relate how he was put down and driven from his throne.

While Nero was still in Greece, the Jews revolted openly, and he sent Vespasian against them. Also the inhabitants of Britain and of Gaul, oppressed by the taxes, were becoming more vexed and inflamed than ever.

There was a Gaul named Gaius Julius Vindex, an Aquitanian, descended from the royal race and by virtue of his father's status a Roman senator. He was powerful in body and of shrewd intelligence, was skilled in warfare and full of daring for any great enterprise; and he had a passionate love of freedom and a vast ambition. This was the man who stood at the head of the Gauls.

This Vindex called together the Gauls, who had suffered much by the numerous forced levies of money and were still suffering at Nero's hands. And ascending a tribunal he delivered a long and detailed speech against Nero, saying that they ought to revolt from the emperor and join the speaker in an attack upon him, "because," as he said, "he has despoiled the whole Roman world, because he has destroyed all the flower of the senate, because he debauched and then killed his mother, and does not preserve even the semblance of sovereignty. Many murders, robberies and outrages, it is true, have often been committed by others; but as for the other deeds committed by Nero, how could one find words fittingly to describe them? I have seen him, my friends and allies,— believe me,— I have seen that man (if man he is who has married Sporus and been given in marriage to Pythagoras), in the circle of the theatre, that is, in the orchestra, sometimes holding the lyre and dressed in loose tunic and buskins, and again wearing in general-soled shoes and mask. I have often heard him sing, play the herald, and act in tragedies. I have seen him in chains, hustled about as a miscreant, heavy with child, aye, in the travail of childbirth — in short, imitating all the situations of mythology by what he said and what was said to him, by what he submitted to and by what he did. Will anyone, then, style such a person Caesar and emperor and Augustus? Never! Let no one abuse those sacred titles. They were held by Augustus and by Claudius, whereas this fellow might most properly be termed Thyestes, Oedipus, Alcmeon, or Orestes; for these are the characters that he represents on the stage and it is these titles that he has assumed in place of the others. Therefore rise now at length against him; succour yourselves and succour the Romans; liberate the entire world!"

Such words falling from the lips of Vindex met with the approval of all. Now Vindex was not working to get the imperial office for himself but selected Servius Sulpicius Galba for that position; this man was distinguished for his upright behaviour and skill in warfare, was governor of Spain, and had a military force of no small size. And he was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers.

Rufus, the governor of Germany, set out to make war on Vindex; but when he reached Vesontio, he proceeded to besiege the city, for the alleged reason that it had not received him. But Vindex came to the aid of the city against him and encamped not far off, whereupon they sent messages back and forth to each other and finally held a conference by themselves at which no one else was present and came to a mutual agreement against Nero, as was conjectured. After this Vindex set out with his army ostensibly to occupy the town; and the soldiers of Rufus, becoming aware of their approach and thinking the force was marching straight against them, marched out in their turn, on their own initiative, and falling upon them while they were off their guard and in disarray, cut down great numbers of them. Vindex on seeing this was so overcome by grief that he slew himself.

As the revolt continued, Vindex slew himself; for he felt exceedingly grieved because of the peril of his soldiers and was vexed at Fate because he had not been able to attain his goal in an undertaking of so great magnitude, namely the overthrow of Nero and the liberation of the Romans.

This is the truth of the matter; but many afterwards inflicted wounds on his body, and so gave rise to the false impression that they themselves had killed him.

Rufus mourned his death greatly, but refused to accept the office of emperor, although his soldiers frequently urged it upon him and he might easily have obtained it. For he was an energetic man and had a large and zealous military force, and his soldiers threw down and shattered the images of Nero and called Rufus by the titles of Caesar and Augustus. When he would not heed them, one of the soldiers thereupon quickly inscribed these words on one of his standards. He erased the words, however, and after a deal of trouble brought the men to order and persuaded them to submit the question of the throne to the senate and the people. It is hard to say whether this was merely because he did not deem it right for the soldiers to bestow the supreme power upon anyone (for he declared this to be the prerogative of the senate and the people), or because he was entirely high-minded and felt no desire himself for the imperial office, to secure which others were willing to do anything and everything.

Nero was informed of the uprising of Vindex as he was viewing the gymnastic contest in Neapolis just after luncheon; but, far from showing any grief, he leaped down from his seat and vied in prowess with some athlete. Nor did he hurry back to Rome, but merely sent a letter to the senate, in which he asked them to excuse him for not coming, pleading a sore throat, implying that he would like, even at this crisis, to sing to them. And he continued to devote the same care and attention to his voice, to his songs, and to his lyre-playing, not only at that juncture but also later. Because of this he would not utter a word in a loud voice, and if he was at any time compelled by the circumstances in which he now found himself to shout out anything, yet somebody would promptly remind him that he was to sing to the lyre and would thus curb and control him.

It is stated that when Nero set a price of ten million sesterces upon the head of Vindex, the latter upon hearing it remarked: "The one who kills Nero and brings his head to me shall get mine in return." That was the sort of man Vindex was.

In general, Nero still behaved in his accustomed manner and he was pleased with the news brought him, because he was expecting in any event to overcome Vindex and thought he had now security a ground for levies of money and murders. He continued his luxurious practices; and upon the completion and adornment of the shrine of Sabina he gave it a brilliant dedication, having first inscribed upon it the statement that the women had built it to the deified Sabina, Venus. Now in this matter he told the truth, since the build had been constructed with money of which a great part had been stolen from the women; but he also had his numerous little jokes, of which I will mention only one, omitting the rest. One night he suddenly summoned in haste the foremost senators and knights, as if to make some communication to them regarding the political situation, and then said to them (I quote his exact words): "I have discovered a way by which the water-organ will produce louder and more musical tones." In such jests did he indulge even at this crisis. And little did he reck that both sets of doors, those of the mausoleum of Augustus and those of his own bedchamber, opened of their own accord on one and the same night, or that in the Alban territory it rained so much blood that rivers of it flowed over the land, or that the sea retreated a long distance from Egypt and covered a great portion of Lycia. But when he heard about Galba having been proclaimed emperor by the soldiers and about the desertion of Rufus, he fell into great fear, and not only made preparations himself at Rome, but also sent against the rebels Rubrius Gallus and some others.

On learning that Petronius, whom he had sent ahead against the rebels with the larger portion of the army, had also espoused the cause of Galba, Nero reposed no further hope in arms.

Now that he had been abandoned by everybody alike, he began forming plans to kill the senators, burn down the city, and sail to Alexandria. He dropped this hint in regard to his future course: "Even though we be driven from our empire, yet this little talent shall support us there." To such a pitch of folly, indeed, had he come as to believe that he could live for a moment as a private citizen and especially as a lyre-player.

He was on the point of putting these measures into effect when the senate withdrew the guard that surrounded him and then, entering the camp, declared him an enemy and chose Galba in his place.

But when he perceived that he had been deserted also by his body-guards (he happened to be sleeping in a certain garden), he undertook to flee. Accordingly, he put on shabby clothing, mounted a horse no better than his attire, and with his head covered he rode while it was yet night towards an estate of Phaon, an imperial freedman, in company with Phaon himself, Epaphroditus and Sporus. While he was on the way a terrible earthquake occurred, so that one might have thought the whole world was bursting asunder and all the spirits of those murdered by him were leaping up to assail him. Being recognized, they say, in spite of his disguise, and saluted as emperor by someone who met him, he turned aside from the road and hid himself in a place full of reeds. There he waited till daylight, lying flat on the ground so as to run the least risk of being seen. Everyone who passed he suspected had come for him; he started at every voice, thinking it to be that of someone searching for him; if a dog barked anywhere or a bird chirped, or a bush or branch was shaken by the breeze, he was greatly excited. These sounds permitted him no rest, and he dared not speak a word to any one of those that were with him for fear someone else might hear; but to himself he lamented and bewailed his fate, considering among other things how he had once prided himself on so vast a retinue and was now skulking out of sight in company with three freedmen. Such was the drama that Fate now prepared for him, so that he should no longer play the rôles of other matricides and beggars, but only his own at last, and he now repented of his past deeds of outrage, as if he could undo any of them. Such was the tragic part that Nero now played, and this verse constantly ran through his mind:
"Both spouse and father bid me cruelly die."

After a long time, as no one was seen to be searching for him, he went over into the cave, where in his hunger he ate bread such as he had never before tasted and in his thirst drank water such as he had never drunk before. This gave him such a qualm that he said: "So this is my famous cold drink!"

While he was in this plight the Roman people were offering sacrifices and going wild with delight. Some even wore liberty caps, signifying that they had now become free. And they voted to Galba the prerogatives pertaining to the imperial office.

For Nero himself they instituted a search in all directions and for some time were at a loss to know where he could have betaken himself. When they finally learned, they sent horsemen against him. He, then, perceiving that they were drawing near, commanded his companions to kill him. And when they refused, he uttered a groan and said: "I alone have neither friend nor foe." By this time the horsemen were close at hand, and so he killed himself, after uttering that oft-quoted remark: "Jupiter, what an artist perishes in me!" And as he lingered in his agony, Epaphroditus dealt him the finishing stroke.

He had lived thirty years and nine months, out of which he had ruled thirteen years and eight months. Of the descendants of Aeneas and of Augustus he was the last, as was plainly indicated by the fact that the laurels planted by Livia and the breed of white chickens perished shortly before his death.

There was no one who might not hope to lay hands on the sovereignty in a time of so great confusion.

Rufus came to Galba and could obtain from him no favour of any importance, unless one reckons it as such that a man who had frequently been hailed as emperor was allowed to live. Among the rest of mankind, however, he had acquired a great name, greater, in fact, than if he had accepted the sovereignty, for refusing to receive it.

Galba, now that Nero had been destroyed and the senate had voted him the imperial power and Rufus had joined him, plucked up courage. He did not adopt the name Caesar, however, until the senate's envoys had come to him. In fact, he had not hitherto even styled himself emperor in any communication.


Thus Galba was declared emperor, just as Tiberius had foretold when he said to him that he also should have a taste of the sovereignty. The event was likewise foretold by unmistakable omens. For it seemed to him in a vision that Fortune told him that she had now remained by him for a long time, yet no one would grant her admission into his house, and that, if she should be barred out much longer, she would take up her abode with somebody else. At about this very time, also, ships full of weapons under the guidance of no human hand came to anchor off the coast of Spain. And a mule brought forth young, an event which, as had been foretold, was to be a sign to him of the supreme power. Again, the hair of a boy who was offering sacrifice turned white, whereupon the seers declared that the sovereignty held by the younger man should be transferred to the old age of Galba.

These, then, were the signs that appeared beforehand pointing to his sovereignty. As for Galba himself, his rule was in most respects moderate and free from offence, for he considered that he had not seized the power but that it had been given to him (indeed, he was constantly making this statement), but he collected money insatiably, since he required much, and spent of it very little, sometimes giving people as presents, not denarii, but sesterces; his freedmen, however, committed many offences, the responsibility for which was laid at his door. For, whereas it is enough for ordinary citizens to abstain from wrong-doing, these, on the other hand, who hold positions of command must see to it that no one else does any mischief, either. For it makes no difference to those who are wronged at whose hands they suffer the injury. Hence it was that, though Galba was not guilty of any violence, he was nevertheless ill spoken of because he allowed these others to do wrong, or else was ignorant of what was going on. A certain Nymphidius and Capito quite lost their heads as a result of this weakness of his. Capito, for instance, when one day a man appealed a case from his jurisdiction, changed his seat to a high chair and then said: "Now plead our case before Caesar." He then passed sentence and put the man to death. For this conduct Galba punished the men I have named.

As he drew near the City, the guards of Nero met him and asked to be retained in the same service. At first he put them off, ostensibly to take the matter under advisement; and when they would not listen to this but kept up a disturbance, he sent the army against them. As a result about seven thousand of them perished on the spot and the survivors we later decimated. This shows that even if Galba was bowed down with age and disease, yet his mind was vigorous and he did not believe that an emperor should submit to compulsion in anything. Further proof is found in the fact that when the Praetorians demanded of him the money that Nymphidius had promised them, he would not give it, but replied: "I am accustomed to levy soldiers, not to buy them." And when the populace insistently demanded that Tigellinus and certain others who had lately been so insolent should be put to death, he did not yield, though he would probably have killed them if their enemies had not made this demand. In the case, however, of Helius, Narcissus, Patrobius, Lucusta, the sorceress, and others of the scum that had come to the surface in Nero's day, he ordered them to be led in chains throughout the whole city and then to be executed.

The slaves, likewise, who had been guilty of any act or word against their masters were handed over to these very masters for punishment.

Some disdained to receive their own slaves, wishing to be rid of rascally slaves.

Galba demanded the return of all gifts of money or property that any persons had received from Nero. Moreover, he restored all those who had been exiled by his predecessor on the charge of maiestas against the emperor, and he also transferred to the mausoleum of Augustus the bones of members of the imperial family who had been murdered, and he once more set up their images.

For these acts he was praised; on the other hand, he provoked such merriment by wearing a large sword at his side during the entire march, old and weak of sinew as he was.

I shall relate also how he met his end. The soldiers in the Germanies who had been under the command of Rufus became more and more exasperated because they could not obtain any favours from Galba. Having failed to secure the object of their desire under Rufus, they sought to obtain it under some other leader; and in this they succeeded. They placed Aulus Vitellius, governor of Lower Germany, at their head, and revolted. All that they had regard to in him was his noble birth, for they ignored the fact that he had been a favourite of Tiberius and was living a life in keeping with that licentious beginning; or perhaps they believed that on this very account he would suit their purposes all the better. Vitellius himself, for that matter, held himself as of so little account that he scoffed at the astrologers and used their prediction as evidence against them, saying: "Certainly they know nothing when they declare that even I shall become emperor." Nero, when he heard of it, also laughed and felt such contempt for the fellow that he did him no harm.

Galba, on being informed of the uprising of Vitellius, adopted Lucius Piso, a youth of good family, promising and intelligent, and appointed him Caesar. Thereupon Marcus Salvius Otho, angered because he himself had not been adopted by Galba, set on foot once more countless evils for the Romans. And yet he was always honoured by Galba, so much so, in fact, that on the very day of the latter's death he was the only one of the senators who attended him while he was sacrificing; and this circumstance was largely responsible for what happened. For when the soothsayer declared that Galba would be the victim of a plot and accordingly urged him never on any account to leave the palace, Otho heard it and hastening down immediately, as if on some other errand, was admitted into the camp by some few soldiers who were in the conspiracy with him. E he won over the rest, too, since they were displeased at Galba, or rather he bought them with many promises. Thus he received the imperial office from these at once and afterwards from the others. Galba, on learning what was taking place, sent some emissaries to the camp, thinking that he would be able to persuade the soldiers to give him their allegiance again. Meanwhile a soldier, holding aloft his bare sword covered with blood, approached him and said: "Be of good cheer, emperor; I have killed Otho, and no further danger awaits you." Galba, believing this, said to him: "And who ordered you to do that?" He then set out for the Capitol to offer sacrifice. As he reached the middle of the Roman Forum, horsemen and foot-soldiers met him and then and there cut him down, in the presence of many senators and crowds of lens, this old man, their consul, high priest, Caesar, and emperor; and after abusing his body in many ways they cut off his head and stuck it on a pole. Thus it was that Galba was struck by a javelin in the very chair in which he was being carried, and as he leaned out of it, was wounded, merely saying: "Why, what harm have I done?" Sempronius Densus, a centurion, defended him as long as he could, and finally, when he could accomplish nothing, let himself be slain over Galba's body. This is why I have recorded his name, for he is most worthy of being mentioned. Piso, also, was killed and numerous others, but not in aiding the emperor.

When the soldiers had done this, they cut off the heads of their victims, which they then carried to Otho in the camp and also into the senate-house; and the senators, though terror-stricken, affected to be glad, etc.

The senate, however, voted to Otho all the privileges pertaining to the sovereignty. He claimed, it is true, that he had acted under compulsion, that he had been taken into the camp against his will, and had there actually risked his life by opposing the soldiers. Furthermore he was kindly in his speech and affected modesty in his deportment, and he kept throwing kisses on his fingers to everybody and making many promises. But men did not fail to realize that his rule was sure to be even more licentious and harsh than Nero's. Indeed, he immediately added Nero's name to his own.

Galba had lived seventy-two years and twenty-three days, out of which he ruled nine months and thirteen days. Piso perished after him, thus paying the penalty for having been appointed Caesar.

This was the end that befell Galba. But retribution was destined shortly to overtake Otho in his turn, as he promptly learned. For as he was offering his first sacrifice, the omens were seen to be unfavourable, so that he repented of what had been done and exclaimed: "What need was there of my playing on the long flutes?" (This is a colloquial and proverbial expression applying to those who do something for which they are not fitted.) Later he was so disturbed in his sleep at night that he fell out of bed and alarmed the guards who slept at the door; so when they rushed in, they found him lying on the floor. However, once he had entered upon the imperial office, he could not retreat; and he remained in it and paid the penalty, in spite of many temperate acts intended to conciliate the people. It was not his nature to behave that way, but since he had a troublesome situation on his hands because of Vitellius, he did not wish to alienate everybody else.

At this time, however, he was endeavouring to conciliate the senate by remitting the sentences against several of its members and by granting various favours to others; he constantly frequented the theatres in his effort to please the multitude, granted citizenship to foreigners, and in general made many attractive promises. Yet he did not succeed in winning the attachment of any save a certain few who were like himself. For there were several circumstances, such as his restoration of the images of those under accusation, his life and habits, his intimacy with Sporus and his keeping in his service the rest of Nero's favourites, that alarmed everybody. They hated him most of all, however, because he had shown that the imperial office was for sale and had put the City in the power of the boldest spies; also because he held the senate and the people in slight esteem, and had convinced the soldiers of the fact that they could both kill and create a Caesar. Moreover, he brought the soldiers to such a daring and lawless state by his gifts and his excessive attentions that they once forced an entrance into the palace, just as they were, while a number of senators were dining there with Otho; and finally they rushed into the banquet-room itself, first killing those who strove to bar their progress. Indeed they would have slain everybody in the room had not the guest jumped up and hidden themselves in season. Even for this behaviour the men received money, it being assumed that their act was due to their liking for Otho. About this time also a man was caught who pretended to be Nero. His name was unknown to Dio. And at last he paid the penalty.

Otho, not succeeding by frequent invitations in persuading Vitellius to share the imperial office, was at last plunging into open war with him, and sending out troops under several different leaders,— an arrangement to which his reverses were largely due.

Valens was so eager for money and collected it so assiduously by every means that he even put to death the decurion who had concealed him and had saved his life — all because of a thousand denarii which he thought had been purloined from his baggage.

Otho withdrew from the battle, declaring that he could not witness a battle between kindred — just as if he had become emperor in some legitimate fashion and had not murdered the consuls and the Caesar and the emperor in Rome itself.

There fell in the battles which took place near Cremona 40,000 men on each side. Here, they say, various omens appeared before the battle, most noteworthy being an unusual bird, such as men had never before beheld, that was seen for a number of days.

After the forces of Otho had been worsted, a horseman brought word of the disaster to Otho. When the bystanders refused to credit his report — it chanced that there were many gathered there — and some were calling him a renegade and others an enemy, he exclaimed: "Would that this news were false, Caesar; for most gladly would I have died hadst thou been victor. As it is, I shall perish in any case, that no one may think that I fled hither to secure my own safety; but as for thee, consider what must be done, since the enemy will be here before long." With these words, he slew himself. This act caused all to believe him, and they were ready to renew the conflict. For not only were the troops which were already there numerous, but others in considerable numbers had arrived from Pannonia; and — what is most important in such situations — they loved Otho and were quite devoted to him, not in words only, but in their hearts as well. When, however, they besought him not to abandon either himself or them, he waited until the rest had come running up at the news, and then, after muttering some words to himself, he harangued the soldiers at length, saying among things:

"Enough, quite enough, has already happened. I hate civil war, even though I conquer; and I love all Romans, even though they do not side with me. Let Vitellius be victor, since this has pleased the gods; and let the lives of his soldiers also be spared, since this pleases me. Surely it is far better and far more just that one should perish for all than many for one, and that I should refuse on account of one man alone to embroil the Roman people in civil war and cause so great a multitude of human beings to perish. For I certainly should prefer to be a Mucius, a Decius, a Curtius, a Regulus, rather than a Marius, a Cinna, or a Sulla — not to mention other names. Therefore do not force me to become one of these men that I have, nor grudge me the privilege of imitating one of those that I commend. But as for you, be off to the victor and pay court to him; as for me, I shall free myself, that all mean may learn from the event that you chose for our emperor one who would not give you up to save himself, but rather himself to save you."

Such were the words of Otho. The soldiers, when they heard them, felt both admiration for the man and pity for what might befall him; and they shed tears of sorrow and grief, calling him father and terming him dearer than children and parents. "Upon thee our lives depend," they said, "and for thee we will all die." And thus they continued to argue for most of the day, Otho begging to be allowed to die and the soldiers refusing to permit him to carry out his wish. Finally, he reduced them to silence and said: "Surely I cannot show myself inferior to this soldier, whom you have seen kill himself for the single reason that he had borne news of defeat to his emperor. I shall certainly follow in his footsteps, that I may never see or hear any such thing again. And as for you, if you really love me, let me die as I desire, and do not compel me to live against my will, but be off to the victor and curry favour with him."

At the close of this speech he retired to his apartment, and after sending some messages to his intimate friends and also to Vitellius in their behalf, he burned all the letters that anybody had written to him expressing hostility to Vitellius, not wishing them to serve as damaging evidence against anybody. Then calling those who were present one by one, he embraced them, and gave them money. Meantime there was a disturbance made by the soldiers, so that he was obliged to go out and quiet them, and he did not come back until he had sent them to places of safety, some here, some there. So then, when quiet had been completely restored, he seized a dagger and killed himself. The grief-stricken soldiers took up his body and buried it, and some slew themselves upon his grave. This was the end that befell Otho, after he had lived thirty-seven years, lacking eleven days, and had reigned ninety days; and his death threw into the shadow the impiousness and wickedness of his life. Thus after living most disgracefully of all men, he died most nobly; and though he had seized the empire by a most villainous deed, his taking leave of it was most honourable.

The soldiers immediately fell to rioting and many perished at one another's hands, but afterwards they reached an agreement and set out to meet the victors.

End of Etext Cassius Dio Roman History  Epitome of Book LXIII

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