The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

IV. The emperor Sergius Galba was born in the consulship of M. Valerius
Messala, and Cn. Lentulus, upon the ninth of the calends of January [24th
December] [650], in a villa standing upon a hill, near Terracina, on the
left-hand side of the road to Fundi [651]. Being adopted by his step-
mother [652], he assumed the name of Livius, with the cognomen of Ocella,
and changed his praenomen; for he afterwards used that of Lucius, instead
of Sergius, until he arrived at the imperial dignity. It is well known,
that when he came once, amongst other boys of his own age, to pay his
respects to Augustus, the latter, pinching his cheek, said to him, “And
thou, child, too, wilt taste our imperial dignity.” Tiberius, likewise,
being told that he would come to be emperor, but at an advanced age,
exclaimed, “Let him live, then, since that does not concern me!” When
his grandfather was offering sacrifice to (403) avert some ill omen from
lightning, the entrails of the victim were snatched out of his hand by an
eagle, and carried off into an oak-tree loaded with acorns. Upon this,
the soothsayers said, that the family would come to be masters of the
empire, but not until many years had elapsed: at which he, smiling, said,
“Ay, when a mule comes to bear a foal.” When Galba first declared
against Nero, nothing gave him so much confidence of success, as a mule’s
happening at that time to have a foal. And whilst all others were
shocked at the occurrence, as a most inauspicious prodigy, he alone
regarded it as a most fortunate omen, calling to mind the sacrifice and
saying of his grandfather. When he took upon him the manly habit, he
dreamt that the goddess Fortune said to him, “I stand before your door
weary; and unless I am speedily admitted, I shall fall into the hands of
the first who comes to seize me.” On his awaking, when the door of the
house was opened, he found a brazen statue of the goddess, above a cubit
long, close to the threshold, which he carried with slim to Tusculum,
where he used to pass the summer season; and having consecrated it in an
apartment of his house, he ever after worshipped it with a monthly
sacrifice, and an anniversary vigil. Though but a very young man, he
kept up an ancient but obsolete custom, and now nowhere observed, except
in his own family, which was, to have his freedmen and slaves appear in a
body before him twice a day, morning and evening, to offer him their

V. Amongst other liberal studies, he applied himself to the law. He
married Lepida [653], by whom he had two sons; but the mother and
children all dying, he continued a widower; nor could he be prevailed
upon to marry again, not even Agrippina herself, at that time left a
widow by the death of Domitius, who had employed all her blandishments to
allure him to her embraces, while he was a married man; insomuch that
Lepida’s mother, when in company with several married women, rebuked her
for it, and even went so far as to cuff her. Most of all, he courted the
empress Livia [654], by whose favour, while she was living, he made a
considerable figure, and narrowly missed being enriched by the will which
she left at her death; in which she distinguished him from the rest of
the (404) legatees, by a legacy of fifty millions of sesterces. But
because the sum was expressed in figures, and not in words at length, it
was reduced by her heir, Tiberius, to five hundred thousand: and even
this he never received. [655]

VI. Filling the great offices before the age required for it by law,
during his praetorship, at the celebration of games in honour of the
goddess Flora, he presented the new spectacle of elephants walking upon
ropes. He was then governor of the province of Aquitania for near a
year, and soon afterwards took the consulship in the usual course, and
held it for six months [656]. It so happened that he succeeded L.
Domitius, the father of Nero, and was succeeded by Salvius Otho, father
to the emperor of that name; so that his holding it between the sons of
these two men, looked like a presage of his future advancement to the
empire. Being appointed by Caius Caesar to supersede Gaetulicus in his
command, the day after his joining the legions, he put a stop to their
plaudits in a public spectacle, by issuing an order, “That they should
keep their hands under their cloaks.” Immediately upon which, the
following verse became very common in the camp:

Disce, miles, militare: Galba est, non Gaetulicus.

Learn, soldier, now in arms to use your hands,
‘Tis Galba, not Gaetulicus, commands.

With equal strictness, he would allow of no petitions for leave of
absence from the camp. He hardened the soldiers, both old and young, by
constant exercise; and having quickly reduced within their own limits the
barbarians who had made inroads into Gaul, upon Caius’s coming into
Germany, he so far recommended himself and his army to that emperor’s
approbation, that, amongst the innumerable troops drawn from all the
provinces of the empire, none met with higher commendation, or greater
rewards from him. He likewise distinguished himself by heading an
escort, with a shield in his hand [658], and running at the side of the
emperor’s chariot twenty miles together.

VII. Upon the news of Caius’s death, though many earnestly pressed him
to lay hold of that opportunity of seizing the empire, he chose rather to
be quiet. On this account, he was in great favour with Claudius, and
being received into the number of his friends, stood so high in his good
opinion, that the expedition to Britain [659] was for some time
suspended, because he was suddenly seized with a slight indisposition.
He governed Africa, as pro-consul, for two years; being chosen out of the
regular course to restore order in the province, which was in great
disorder from civil dissensions, and the alarms of the barbarians. His
administration was distinguished by great strictness and equity, even in
matters of small importance. A soldier upon some expedition being
charged with selling, in a great scarcity of corn, a bushel of wheat,
which was all he had left, for a hundred denarii, he forbad him to be
relieved by any body, when he came to be in want himself; and accordingly
he died of famine. When sitting in judgment, a cause being brought
before him about some beast of burden, the ownership of which was claimed
by two persons; the evidence being slight on both sides, and it being
difficult to come at the truth, he ordered the beast to be led to a pond
at which he had used to be watered, with his head muffled up, and the
covering being there removed, that he should be the property of the
person whom he followed of his own accord, after drinking.

VIII. For his achievements, both at this time in Africa, and formerly in
Germany, he received the triumphal ornaments, and three sacerdotal
appointments, one among The Fifteen, another in the college of Titius,
and a third amongst the Augustals; and from that time to the middle of
Nero’s reign, he lived for the most part in retirement. He never went
abroad (405) so much as to take the air, without a carriage attending
him, in which there was a million of sesterces in gold, ready at hand;
until at last, at the time he was living in the town of Fundi, the
province of Hispania Tarraconensis was offered him. After his arrival in
the province, whilst he was sacrificing in a temple, a boy who attended
with a censer, became all on a sudden grey-headed. This incident was
regarded by some as a token of an approaching revolution in the
government, and that an old man would succeed a young one: that is, that
he would succeed Nero. And not long after, a thunderbolt falling into a
lake in Cantabria [660], twelve axes were found in it; a manifest sign of
the supreme power.

IX. He governed the province during eight years, his administration
being of an uncertain and capricious character. At first he was active,
vigorous, and indeed excessively severe, in the punishment of offenders.
For, a money-dealer having committed some fraud in the way of his
business, he cut off his hands, and nailed them to his counter. Another,
who had poisoned an orphan, to whom he was guardian, and next heir to the
estate, he crucified. On this delinquent imploring the protection of the
law, and crying out that he was a Roman citizen, he affected to afford
him some alleviation, and to mitigate his punishment, by a mark of
honour, ordered a cross, higher than usual, and painted white, to be
erected for him. But by degrees he gave himself up to a life of
indolence and inactivity, from the fear of giving Nero any occasion of
jealousy, and because, as he used to say, “Nobody was obliged to render
an account of their leisure hours.” He was holding a court of justice on
the circuit at New Carthage [661], when he received intelligence of the
insurrection in Gaul [662]; and while the lieutenant of Aquitania was
soliciting his assistance, letters were brought from Vindex, requesting
him “to assert the rights of mankind, and put himself at their head to
relieve them from the tyranny of Nero.” Without any long demur, he
accepted the invitation, from a mixture of fear and hope. For he had
discovered that private orders had been sent by Nero to his procurators
in the province to get (407) him dispatched; and he was encouraged to the
enterprise, as well by several auspices and omens, as by the prophecy of
a young woman of good, family. The more so, because the priest of
Jupiter at Clunia [663], admonished by a dream, had discovered in the
recesses of the temple some verses similar to those in which she had
delivered her prophecy. These had also been uttered by a girl under
divine inspiration, about two hundred years before. The import of the
verses was, “That in time, Spain should give the world a lord and

X. Taking his seat on the tribunal, therefore, as if there was no other
business than the manumitting of slaves, he had the effigies of a number
of persons who had been condemned and put to death by Nero, set up before
him, whilst a noble youth stood by, who had been banished, and whom he
had purposely sent for from one of the neighbouring Balearic isles; and
lamenting the condition of the times, and being thereupon unanimously
saluted by the title of Emperor, he publicly declared himself “only the
lieutenant of the senate and people of Rome.” Then shutting the courts,
he levied legions and auxiliary troops among the provincials, besides his
veteran army consisting of one legion, two wings of horse, and three
cohorts. Out of the military leaders most distinguished for age and
prudence, he formed a kind of senate, with whom to advise upon all
matters of importance, as often as occasion should require. He likewise
chose several young men of the equestrian order, who were to be allowed
the privilege of wearing the gold ring, and, being called “The Reserve,”
should mount guard before his bed-chamber, instead of the legionary
soldiers. He likewise issued proclamations throughout the provinces of
the empire, exhorting all to rise in arms unanimously, and aid the common
cause, by all the ways and means in their power. About the same time, in
fortifying a town, which he had pitched upon for a military post, a ring
was found, of antique workmanship, in the stone of which was engraved the
goddess Victory with a trophy. Presently after, a ship of Alexandria
arrived at Dertosa [664], loaded with arms, without any person to steer
it, or so much as a single sailor or passenger (408) on board. From this
incident, nobody entertained the least doubt but the war upon which they
were entering was just and honourable, and favoured likewise by the gods;
when all on a sudden the whole design was exposed to failure. One of the
two wings of horse, repenting of the violation of their oath to Nero,
attempted to desert him upon his approach to the camp, and were with some
difficulty kept in their duty. And some slaves who had been presented to
him by a freedman of Nero’s, on purpose to murder him, had like to have
killed him as he went through a narrow passage to the bath. Being
overheard to encourage one another not to lose the opportunity, they were
called to an account concerning it; and recourse being had to the
torture, a confession was extorted from them.

XI. These dangers were followed by the death of Vindex, at which being
extremely discouraged, as if fortune had quite forsaken him, he had
thoughts of putting an end to his own life; but receiving advice by his
messengers from Rome that Nero was slain, and that all had taken an oath
to him as emperor, he laid aside the title of lieutenant, and took upon
him that of Caesar. Putting himself upon his march in his general’s
cloak, and a dagger hanging from his neck before his breast, he did not
resume the use of the toga, until Nymphidius Sabinus, prefect of the
pretorian guards at Rome, with the two lieutenants, Fonteius Capito in
Germany, and Claudius Macer in Africa, who opposed his advancement, were
all put down.

XII. Rumours of his cruelty and avarice had reached the city before his
arrival; such as that he had punished some cities of Spain and Gaul, for
not joining him readily, by the imposition of heavy taxes, and some by
levelling their walls; and had put to death the governors and procurators
with their wives and children: likewise that a golden crown, of fifteen
pounds weight, taken out of the temple of Jupiter, with which he was
presented by the people of Tarracona, he had melted down, and had exacted
from them three ounces which were wanting in the weight. This report of
him was confirmed and increased, as soon as he entered the town. For
some seamen who had been taken from the fleet, and enlisted (409) among
the troops by Nero, he obliged to return to their former condition; but
they refusing to comply, and obstinately clinging to the more honourable
service under their eagles and standards, he not only dispersed them by a
body of horse, but likewise decimated them. He also disbanded a cohort
of Germans, which had been formed by the preceding emperors, for their
body-guard, and upon many occasions found very faithful; and sent them
back into their own country, without giving them any gratuity, pretending
that they were more inclined to favour the advancement of Cneius
Dolabella, near whose gardens they encamped, than his own. The following
ridiculous stories were also related of him; but whether with or without
foundation, I know not; such as, that when a more sumptuous entertainment
than usual was served up, he fetched a deep groan: that when one of the
stewards presented him with an account of his expenses, he reached him a
dish of legumes from his table as a reward for his care and diligence;
and when Canus, the piper, had played much to his satisfaction, he
presented him, with his own hand, five denarii taken out of his pocket.

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