The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XII. The person and appearance of Otho no way corresponded to the great
spirit he displayed on this occasion; for he is said to have been of low
stature, splay-footed, and bandy-legged. He was, however, effeminately
nice in the care of his person: the hair on his body he plucked out by
the roots; and because he was somewhat bald, he wore a kind of peruke, so
exactly fitted to his head, that nobody could have known it for such. He
used to shave every day, and rub his face with soaked bread; the use of
which he began when the down first appeared upon his chin, to prevent his
having any beard. It is said likewise that he celebrated publicly the
sacred rites of Isis [688], clad in a linen garment, such as is used by
the worshippers of that goddess. These circumstances, I imagine, caused
the world to wonder the more that his death was so little in character
with his life. Many of the soldiers who were present, kissing and
bedewing with their tears his hands and feet as he lay dead, and
celebrating him as “a most gallant man, and an incomparable emperor,”
immediately put an end to their own lives upon the spot, not far from his
funeral pile.

(426) Many of those likewise who were at a distance, upon hearing the
news of his death, in the anguish of their hearts, began fighting amongst
themselves, until they dispatched one another. To conclude: the
generality of mankind, though they hated him whilst living, yet highly
extolled him after his death; insomuch that it was the common talk and
opinion, “that Galba had been driven to destruction by his rival, not so
much for the sake of reigning himself, as of restoring Rome to its
ancient liberty.”

* * * * * *

It is remarkable, in the fortune of this emperor, that he owed both his
elevation and catastrophe to the inextricable embarrassments in which he
was involved; first, in respect of pecuniary circumstances, and next, of
political. He was not, so far as we can learn, a follower of any of the
sects of philosophers which justified, and even recommended suicide, in
particular cases: yet he perpetrated that act with extraordinary coolness
and resolution; and, what is no less remarkable, from the motive, as he
avowed, of public expediency only. It was observed of him, for many
years after his death, that “none ever died like Otho.”

Cabeza del emperador romano AULO VITELIO (15-69 d.C.), en el Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, en Madrid (España). Medidas: 0,40 x 0,27 x 0,27 m. Esculpida en mármol en torno al año 69 d.C. por un autor anónimo romano, quien copió el modelo existente en el Museo Capitolino de Roma, siguiendo la línea artística de la excelente retratística de la época de Nerón. La obra fue donada por el académico Blas Ametller (1768-1841) y entregada por sus testamentarios en 1841. Head of Roman emperor AULUS VITELLIUS (15-69 AD), at the Museum of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, in Madrid (Spain). Measurements: 0.40 x 0.27 x 0.27 metres. Sculpted in marble circa 69 AD by a Roman anonymous author, who copied the model that is at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, following the artistic style of the excellent portraits from Nero's time. The piece was donated by academician Blas Ametller (1768-1841) and given by his testamentaries in 1841.

I. Very different accounts are given of the origin of the Vitellian
family. Some describe it as ancient and noble, others as recent and
obscure, nay, extremely mean. I am inclined to think, that these several
representations have been made by the flatterers and detractors of
Vitellius, after he became emperor, unless the fortunes of the family
varied before. There is extant a memoir addressed by Quintus Eulogius to
Quintus Vitellius, quaestor to the Divine Augustus, in which it is said,
that the Vitellii were descended from Faunus, king of the aborigines, and
Vitellia [689], who was worshipped in many places as a goddess, and that
they reigned formerly over the whole of Latium: that all who were left of
the family removed out of the country of the Sabines to Rome, and were
enrolled among the patricians: that some monuments of the family
continued a long time; as the Vitellian Way, reaching from the Janiculum
to the sea, and likewise a colony of that name, which, at a very remote
period of time, they desired leave from the government to defend against
the Aequicolae [690], with a force raised by their own family only: also
that, in the time of the war with the Samnites, some of the Vitellii who
went with the troops levied for the security of Apulia, settled at
Nuceria [691], and their descendants, a long time afterwards, returned
again to Rome, and were admitted (428) into the patrician order. On the
other hand, the generality of writers say that the founder of the family
was a freedman. Cassius Severus [692] and some others relate that he was
likewise a cobbler, whose son having made a considerable fortune by
agencies and dealings in confiscated property, begot, by a common
strumpet, daughter of one Antiochus, a baker, a child, who afterwards
became a Roman knight. Of these different accounts the reader is left to
take his choice.

II. It is certain, however, that Publius Vitellius, of Nuceria, whether
of an ancient family, or of low extraction, was a Roman knight, and a
procurator to Augustus. He left behind him four sons, all men of very
high station, who had the same cognomen, but the different praenomina of
Aulus, Quintus, Publius, and Lucius. Aulus died in the enjoyment of the
consulship [693], which office he bore jointly with Domitius, the father
of Nero Caesar. He was elegant to excess in his manner of living, and
notorious for the vast expense of his entertainments. Quintus was
deprived of his rank of senator, when, upon a motion made by Tiberius, a
resolution passed to purge the senate of those who were in any respect
not duly qualified for that honour. Publius, an intimate friend and
companion of Germanicus, prosecuted his enemy and murderer, Cneius Piso,
and procured sentence against him. After he had been made proctor, being
arrested among the accomplices of Sejanus, and delivered into the hands
of his brother to be confined in his house, he opened a vein with a
penknife, intending to bleed himself to death. He suffered, however, the
wound to be bound up and cured, not so much from repenting the resolution
he had formed, as to comply with the importunity of his relations. He
died afterwards a natural death during his confinement. Lucius, after
his consulship [694], was made governor of Syria [695], and by his
politic management not only brought Artabanus, king of the Parthians, to
give him an interview, but to worship the standards of the Roman legions.
He afterwards filled two ordinary consulships [696], and also the
censorship [697] jointly with the emperor Claudius. Whilst that (429)
prince was absent upon his expedition into Britain [698], the care of the
empire was committed to him, being a man of great integrity and industry.
But he lessened his character not a little, by his passionate fondness
for an abandoned freedwoman, with whose spittle, mixed with honey, he
used to anoint his throat and jaws, by way of remedy for some complaint,
not privately nor seldom, but daily and publicly. Being extravagantly
prone to flattery, it was he who gave rise to the worship of Caius Caesar
as a god, when, upon his return from Syria, he would not presume to
accost him any otherwise than with his head covered, turning himself
round, and then prostrating himself upon the earth. And to leave no
artifice untried to secure the favour of Claudius, who was entirely
governed by his wives and freedmen, he requested as the greatest favour
from Messalina, that she would be pleased to let him take off her shoes;
which, when he had done, he took her right shoe, and wore it constantly
betwixt his toga and his tunic, and from time to time covered it with
kisses. He likewise worshipped golden images of Narcissus and Pallas
among his household gods. It was he, too, who, when Claudius exhibited
the secular games, in his compliments to him upon that occasion, used
this expression, “May you often do the same.”

III. He died of palsy, the day after his seizure with it, leaving behind
him two sons, whom he had by a most excellent and respectable wife,
Sextilia. He had lived to see them both consuls, the same year and
during the whole year also; the younger succeeding the elder for the last
six months [699]. The senate honoured him after his decease with a
funeral at the public expense, and with a statue in the Rostra, which had
this inscription upon the base: “One who was steadfast in his loyalty to
his prince “The emperor Aulus Vitellius, the son of this Lucius, was born
upon the eighth of the calends of October [24th September], or, as some
say, upon the seventh of the ides of September [7th September], in the
consulship of Drusus Caesar and Norbanus Flaccus [700]. His parents were
so (430) terrified with the predictions of astrologers upon the
calculation of his nativity, that his father used his utmost endeavours
to prevent his being sent governor into any of the provinces, whilst he
was alive. His mother, upon his being sent to the legions [701], and
also upon his being proclaimed emperor, immediately lamented him as
utterly ruined. He spent his youth amongst the catamites of Tiberius at
Capri, was himself constantly stigmatized with the name of Spintria
[702], and was supposed to have been the occasion of his father’s
advancement, by consenting to gratify the emperor’s unnatural lust.

IV. In the subsequent part of his life, being still most scandalously
vicious, he rose to great favour at court; being upon a very intimate
footing with Caius [Caligula], because of his fondness for chariot-
driving, and with Claudius for his love of gaming. But he was in a still
higher degree acceptable to Nero, as well on the same accounts, as for a
particular service which he rendered him. When Nero presided in the
games instituted by himself, though he was extremely desirous to perform
amongst the harpers, yet his modesty would not permit him,
notwithstanding the people entreated much for it. Upon his quitting the
theatre, Vitellius fetched him back again, pretending to represent the
determined wishes of the people, and so afforded him the opportunity of
yielding to their in treaties.

V. By the favour of these three princes, he was not only advanced to the
great offices of state, but to the highest dignities of the sacred order;
after which he held the proconsulship of Africa, and had the
superintendence of the public works, in which appointment his conduct,
and, consequently, his reputation, were very different. For he governed
the province with singular integrity during two years, in the latter of
which he acted as deputy to his brother, who succeeded him. But in his
office in the city, he was said to pillage the temples of their gifts and
ornaments, and to have exchanged brass and tin for gold and silver. [703]

VI. He took to wife Petronia, the daughter of a man of consular rank,
and had by her a son named Petronius, who was blind of an eye. The
mother being willing to appoint this youth her heir, upon condition that
he should be released from his father’s authority, the latter discharged
him accordingly; but shortly after, as was believed, murdered him,
charging him with a design upon his life, and pretending that he had,
from consciousness of his guilt, drank the poison he had prepared for his
father. Soon afterwards, he married Galeria Fundana, the daughter of a
man of pretorian rank, and had by her both sons and daughters. Among the
former was one who had such a stammering in his speech, that he was
little better than if he had been dumb.

VII. He was sent by Galba into Lower Germany [704], contrary to his
expectation. It is supposed that he was assisted in procuring this
appointment by the interest of Titus Junius, a man of great influence at
that time; whose friendship he had long before gained by favouring the
same set of charioteers with him in the Circensian games. But Galba
openly declared that none were less to be feared than those who only
cared for their bellies, and that even his enormous appetite must be
satisfied with the plenty of that province; so that it is evident he was
selected for that government more out of contempt than kindness. It is
certain, that when he was to set out, he had not money for the expenses
of his journey; he being at that time so much straitened in his
circumstances, that he was obliged to put his wife and children, whom he
left at Rome, into a poor lodging which he hired for them, in order that
he might let his own house for the remainder of the year; and he pawned a
pearl taken from his mother’s ear-ring, to defray his expenses on the
road. A crowd of creditors who were waiting to stop him, and amongst
them the people of Sineussa and Formia, whose taxes he had converted to
his own use, he eluded, by alarming them with the apprehension of false
accusation. He had, however, sued a certain freedman, who was clamorous
in demanding a debt of him, under pretence that he had kicked him; which
action he would not withdraw, until he had wrung from the freedman fifty
thousand sesterces. Upon his arrival in the province, the army, (432)
which was disaffected to Galba, and ripe for insurrection, received him
with open arms, as if he had been sent them from heaven. It was no small
recommendation to their favour, that he was the son of a man who had been
thrice consul, was in the prime of life, and of an easy, prodigal
disposition. This opinion, which had been long entertained of him,
Vitellius confirmed by some late practices; having kissed all the common
soldiers whom he met with upon the road, and been excessively complaisant
in the inns and stables to the muleteers and travellers; asking them in a
morning, if they had got their breakfasts, and letting them see, by
belching, that he had eaten his.

VIII. After he had reached the camp, he denied no man any thing he asked
for, and pardoned all who lay under sentence for disgraceful conduct or
disorderly habits. Before a month, therefore, had passed, without regard
to the day or season, he was hurried by the soldiers out of his bed-
chamber, although it was evening, and he in an undress, and unanimously
saluted by the title of EMPEROR [705]. He was then carried round the
most considerable towns in the neighbourhood, with the sword of the
Divine Julius in his hand; which had been taken by some person out of the
temple of Mars, and presented to him when he was first saluted. Nor did
he return to the pretorium, until his dining-room was in flames from the
chimney’s taking fire. Upon this accident, all being in consternation,
and considering it as an unlucky omen, he cried out, “Courage, boys! it
shines brightly upon us.” And this was all he said to the soldiers. The
army of the Upper Province likewise, which had before declared against
Galba for the senate, joining in the proceedings, he very eagerly
accepted the cognomen of Germanicus, offered him by the unanimous consent
of both armies, but deferred assuming that of Augustus, and refused for
ever that of Caesar.

IX. Intelligence of Galba’s death arriving soon after, when he had
settled his affairs in Germany he divided his troops into two bodies,
intending to send one of them before him against Otho, and to follow with
the other himself. The army he sent forward had a lucky omen; for,
suddenly, an eagle cams flying up to them on the right, and having
hovered (433) round the standards, flew gently before them on their road.
But, on the other hand, when he began his own march, all the equestrian
statues, which were erected for him in several places, fell suddenly down
with their legs broken; and the laurel crown, which he had put on as
emblematical of auspicious fortune, fell off his head into a river. Soon
afterwards, at Vienne [706], as he was upon the tribunal administering
justice, a cock perched upon his shoulder, and afterwards upon his head.
The issue corresponded to these omens; for he was not able to keep the
empire which had been secured for him by his lieutenants.

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