The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

II. The emperor Otho was born upon the fourth of the calends of May
[28th April], in the consulship of Camillus Aruntius and Domitius
Aenobarbus [672]. He was from his earliest youth so riotous and wild,
that he was often severely scourged by his father. He was said to run
about in the night-time, and seize upon any one he met, who was either
drunk or too feeble to make resistance, and toss him in a blanket [673].
After his father’s death, to make his court the more effectually to a
freedwoman about the palace, who was in great favour, he pretended to be
in love with her, though she was old, and almost decrepit. Having by her
means got into Nero’s good graces, he soon became one of the principal
favourites, by the congeniality of his disposition to that of the emperor
or, as some say, by the reciprocal practice of mutual pollution. He had
so great a sway at court, that when a man of consular rank was condemned
for bribery, having tampered with him for a large sum of money, to
procure his pardon; before he had quite effected it, he scrupled not to
introduce him into the senate, to return his thanks.

III. Having, by means of this woman, insinuated himself into all the
emperor’s secrets, he, upon the day designed for the murder of his
mother, entertained them both at a very splendid feast, to prevent
suspicion. Poppaea Sabina, for whom Nero entertained such a violent
passion that he had taken her from her husband [674] and entrusted her to
him, he received, and went through the form of marrying her. And not
satisfied with obtaining her favours, he loved her so extravagantly, that
he could not with patience bear Nero for his rival. It is certainly
believed that he not only refused admittance to those who were sent by
Nero to fetch her, but that, on one (418) occasion, he shut him out, and
kept him standing before the door, mixing prayers and menaces in vain,
and demanding back again what was entrusted to his keeping. His
pretended marriage, therefore, being dissolved, he was sent lieutenant
into Lusitania. This treatment of him was thought sufficiently severe,
because harsher proceedings might have brought the whole farce to light,
which, notwithstanding, at last came out, and was published to the world
in the following distich:–

Cur Otho mentitus sit, quaeritis, exul honore?
Uxoris moechus caeperat esse suae.

You ask why Otho’s banish’d? Know, the cause
Comes not within the verge of vulgar laws.
Against all rules of fashionable life,
The rogue had dared to sleep with his own wife.

He governed the province in quality of quaestor for ten years, with
singular moderation and justice.

IV. As soon as an opportunity of revenge offered, he readily joined in
Galba’s enterprises, and at the same time conceived hopes of obtaining
the imperial dignity for himself. To this he was much encouraged by the
state of the times, but still more by the assurances given him by
Seleucus, the astrologer, who, having formerly told him that he would
certainly out-live Nero, came to him at that juncture unexpectedly,
promising him again that he should succeed to the empire, and that in a
very short time. He, therefore, let slip no opportunity of making his
court to every one about him by all manner of civilities. As often as he
entertained Galba at supper, he distributed to every man of the cohort
which attended the emperor on guard, a gold piece; endeavouring likewise
to oblige the rest of the soldiers in one way or another. Being chosen
an arbitrator by one who had a dispute with his neighbour about a piece
of land, he bought it, and gave it him; so that now almost every body
thought and said, that he was the only man worthy of succeeding to the

V. He entertained hopes of being adopted by Galba, and expected it every
day. But finding himself disappointed, by Piso’s being preferred before
him, he turned his thoughts to obtaining his purpose by the use of
violence; and to this he was instigated, as well by the greatness of his
debts, as by resentment (419) at Galba’s conduct towards him. For he did
not conceal his conviction, “that he could not stand his ground unless he
became emperor, and that it signified nothing whether he fell by the
hands of his enemies in the field, or of his creditors in the Forum.” He
had a few days before squeezed out of one of the emperor’s slaves a
million of sesterces for procuring him a stewardship; and this was the
whole fund he had for carrying on so great an enterprise. At first the
design was entrusted to only five of the guard, but afterwards to ten
others, each of the five naming two. They had every one ten thousand
sesterces paid down, and were promised fifty thousand more. By these,
others were drawn in, but not many; from a confident assurance, that when
the matter came to the crisis, they should have enough to join them.

VI. His first intention was, immediately after the departure of Piso, to
seize the camp, and fall upon Galba, whilst he was at supper in the
palace; but he was restrained by a regard for the cohort at that time on
duty, lest he should bring too great an odium upon it; because it
happened that the same cohort was on guard before, both when Caius was
slain, and Nero deserted. For some time afterwards, he was restrained
also by scruples about the omens, and by the advice of Seleucus. Upon
the day fixed at last for the enterprise, having given his accomplices
notice to wait for him in the Forum near the temple of Saturn, at the
gilded mile-stone [675], he went in the morning to pay his respects to
Galba; and being received with a kiss as usual, he attended him at
sacrifice, and heard the predictions of the augur [676]. A freedman of
his, then bringing (420) him word that the architects were come, which
was the signal agreed upon, he withdrew, as if it were with a design to
view a house upon sale, and went out by a back-door of the palace to the
place appointed. Some say he pretended to be seized with an ague fit,
and ordered those about him to make that excuse for him, if he was
inquired after. Being then quickly concealed in a woman’s litter, he
made the best of his way for the camp. But the bearers growing tired, he
got out, and began to run. His shoe becoming loose, he stopped again,
but being immediately raised by his attendants upon their shoulders, and
unanimously saluted by the title of EMPEROR, he came amidst auspicious
acclamations and drawn swords into the Principia [677] in the camp; all
who met him joining in the cavalcade, as if they had been privy to the
design. Upon this, sending some soldiers to dispatch Galba and Piso, he
said nothing else in his address to the soldiery, to secure their
affections, than these few words: “I shall be content with whatever ye
think fit to leave me.”

VII. Towards the close of the day, he entered the senate, and after he
had made a short speech to them, pretending that he had been seized in
the streets, and compelled by violence to assume the imperial authority,
which he designed to exercise in conjunction with them, he retired to the
palace. Besides other compliments which he received from those who
flocked about him to congratulate and flatter him, he was called Nero by
the mob, and manifested no intention of declining that cognomen. Nay,
some authors relate, that he used it in his official acts, and the first
letters he sent to the (421) governors of provinces. He suffered all his
images and statues to be replaced, and restored his procurators and
freedmen to their former posts. And the first writing which he signed as
emperor, was a promise of fifty millions of sesterces to finish the
Golden-house [678]. He is said to have been greatly frightened that
night in his sleep, and to have groaned heavily; and being found, by
those who came running in to see what the matter was, lying upon the
floor before his bed, he endeavoured by every kind of atonement to
appease the ghost of Galba, by which he had found himself violently
tumbled out of bed. The next day, as he was taking the omens, a great
storm arising, and sustaining a grievous fall, he muttered to himself
from time to time:

Ti gar moi kai makrois aulois; [679] What business have I the loud trumpets to sound!

VIII. About the same time, the armies in Germany took an oath to
Vitellius as emperor. Upon receiving this intelligence, he advised the
senate to send thither deputies, to inform them, that a prince had been
already chosen; and to persuade them to peace and a good understanding.
By letters and messages, however, he offered Vitellius to make him his
colleague in the empire, and his son-in-law. But a war being now
unavoidable, and the generals and troops sent forward by Vitellius,
advancing, he had a proof of the attachment and fidelity of the pretorian
guards, which had nearly proved fatal to the senatorian order. It had
been judged proper that some arms should be given out of the stores, and
conveyed to the fleet by the marine troops. While they were employed in
fetching these from the camp in the night, some of the guards suspecting
treachery, excited a tumult; and suddenly the whole body, without any of
their officers at their head, ran to the palace, demanding that the
entire senate should be put to the sword; and having repulsed some of the
(422) tribunes who endeavoured to stop them, and slain others, they
broke, all bloody as they were, into the banquetting room, inquiring for
the emperor; nor would they quit the place until they had seen him. He
now entered upon his expedition against Vitellius with great alacrity,
but too much precipitation, and without any regard to the ominous
circumstances which attended it. For the Ancilia [680] had been taken
out of the temple of Mars, for the usual procession, but were not yet
replaced; during which interval it had of old been looked upon as very
unfortunate to engage in any enterprise. He likewise set forward upon
the day when the worshippers of the Mother of the gods [681] begin their
lamentations and wailing. Besides these, other unlucky omens attended
him. For, in a victim offered to Father Dis [682], he found the signs
such as upon all other occasions are regarded as favourable; whereas, in
that sacrifice, the contrary intimations are judged the most propitious.
At his first setting forward, he was stopped by inundations of the Tiber;
and at twenty miles’ distance from the city, found the road blocked up by
the fall of houses.

IX. Though it was the general opinion that it would be proper to
protract the war, as the enemy were distressed by (423) famine and the
straitness of their quarters, yet he resolved with equal rashness to
force them to an engagement as soon as possible; whether from impatience
of prolonged anxiety, and in the hope of bringing matters to an issue
before the arrival of Vitellius, or because he could not resist the
ardour of the troops, who were all clamorous for battle. He was not,
however, present at any of those which ensued, but stayed behind at
Brixellum [683]. He had the advantage in three slight engagements, near
the Alps, about Placentia, and a place called Castor’s [684]; but was, by
a fraudulent stratagem of the enemy, defeated in the last and greatest
battle, at Bedriacum [685]. For, some hopes of a conference being given,
and the soldiers being drawn up to hear the conditions of peace declared,
very unexpectedly, and amidst their mutual salutations, they were obliged
to stand to their arms. Immediately upon this he determined to put an
end to his life, more, as many think, and not without reason, out of
shame, at persisting in a struggle for the empire to the hazard of the
public interest and so many lives, than from despair, or distrust of his
troops. For he had still in reserve, and in full force, those whom he
had kept about him for a second trial of his fortune, and others were
coming up from Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia; nor were the troops lately
defeated so far discouraged as not to be ready, even of themselves, to
run all risks in order to wipe off their recent disgrace.

X. My father, Suetonius Lenis [686], was in this battle, being at (424)
that time an angusticlavian tribune in the thirteenth legion. He used
frequently to say, that Otho, before his advancement to the empire, had
such an abhorrence of civil war, that once, upon hearing an account given
at table of the death of Cassius and Brutus, he fell into a trembling,
and that he never would have interfered with Galba, but that he was
confident of succeeding in his enterprise without a war. Moreover, that
he was then encouraged to despise life by the example of a common
soldier, who bringing news of the defeat of the army, and finding that he
met with no credit, but was railed at for a liar and a coward, as if he
had run away from the field of battle, fell upon his sword at the
emperor’s feet; upon the sight of which, my father said that Otho cried
out, “that he would expose to no farther danger such brave men, who had
deserved so well at his hands.” Advising therefore his brother, his
brother’s son, and the rest of his friends, to provide for their security
in the best manner they could, after he had embraced and kissed them, he
sent them away; and then withdrawing into a private room by himself, he
wrote a letter of consolation to his sister, containing two sheets. He
likewise sent another to Messalina, Nero’s widow, whom he had intended to
marry, committing to her the care of his relics and memory. He then
burnt all the letters which he had by him, to prevent the danger and
mischief that might otherwise befall the writers from the conqueror.
What ready money he had, he distributed among his domestics.

XI. And now being prepared, and just upon the point of dispatching
himself, he was induced to suspend the execution of his purpose by a
great tumult which had broken out in the camp. Finding that some of the
soldiers who were making off had been seized and detained as deserters,
“Let us add,” said he, “this night to our life.” These were his very

He then gave orders that no violence should be offered to any one; and
keeping his chamber-door open until late at night, he allowed all who
pleased the liberty to come and see him. At last, after quenching his
thirst with a draught of cold water, he took up two poniards, and having
examined the points of both, put one of them under his pillow, and
shutting his chamber-door, slept very soundly, until, awaking about break
of day, he stabbed himself under the left pap. Some persons bursting
into the room upon his first groan, he at one time covered, and at
another exposed his wound to the view of the bystanders, and thus life
soon ebbed away. His funeral was hastily performed, according to his own
order, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, and ninety-fifth day of his
reign. [687]

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.