Key to Umbria

Tacitus (ca. 55-117 AD )

Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, the author of the ‘Histories’ (105-9 AD) and the “Annals” (113 AD), was close to the Emperor Vespasian and the later Flavian emperors.  The city of Terni claim that he was born there, although there is no proof of that.

Tacitus on the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD)

The extract below from Book III of the “Histories”, describes the closing stages of Vespasian’s campaign for the imperial title, which took place in Umbria.   The events up to this point can be briefly summarised: two emperors had already died during the civil war of that year, and now a third, Vitellius, faced attack by Vespasian, whose army first defeated that of Vitellius at the second Battle of Bedriacum, near Cremona (October). 

  1. “Finally Vitellius listened to the demands of his [retreating] army, which had stopped at Mevania.  [He duly] left Rome, accompanied by a long line of senators, many of whom were drawn in his train by their desire to secure his favour, most however by fear.  So he came to camp with no clear purpose in mind, an easy prey to treacherous advice.  [While a series of bad omens were observed], the most outstanding portent was Vitellius himself; unskilled in war ... he was constantly questioning others; at the arrival of every messenger his face and gait betrayed his anxiety; and then he would drink heavily.  Finally, weary of the camp ... he returned to Rome, panic-stricken as ever ...” (55-6).

  2. After further setbacks, “Vitellius stationed part of his army at Narnia with the prefects of the praetorian guard ...  He ... was sick at heart, but the enthusiasm of the soldiers and the shouts of the people demanding arms gave him fresh spirit ... he ordered the people to assemble in tribes, and administered the oath to the members as they enrolled” (58).

  3. “While Vitellius’  occupation of Mevania had terrified Italy and had seemed to start a new war, it was also true that the timid retreat of Vitellius had increased the favourable feeling towards [Vespasian]” (59). 

  4. “On arriving at Carsulae, the leaders of [Vespasian’s army] rested a few days and waited for the eagles and standards of the legions to come up.  They also regarded with favour the actual situation of their camp, which had a wide outlook, and secured their supply of stores, because of the prosperous towns behind them; and at the same time, since the troops of Vitellius were only 10 miles away, they hoped to... bring them over. ... Antonius assembled his troops and, [as part of a rousing address, encouraged them by saying that] Vitellius ... now has nothing left out of the whole world but the land that lies between Tarracina and Narnia” (60).

  5. “Not much later, [Vespasian’s] legions arrived at Carsulae.  The terrifying report that the Flavian army had been reinforced caused the cohorts of Vitellius to waver [and many deserted].  From them the Flavians learned that Interamna in the neighbouring plain was defended by 400 horse.  Varus [an officer in Vespasian’s army] was despatched at once [and Vitellius’ demoralised troops there surrendered]” (61).

  6. “During these same days Fabius Valens [Vitellius’ general] was killed at Urbinum, where he was under guard.  His head was exhibited to the cohorts of Vitellius [at Narnia] to keep them from cherishing any further hope ... it was [also] extraordinary with what an enormous increase of courage the execution of Valens inspired [Vespasian’s] troops, who regarded it as the end of the war ...” (62).

  7. “Now that every possible hope from any source was destroyed, the troops of Vitellius were ready to come over to Vespasian's side; but they wished to do it with honour, and some came down into the plain below Narnia with their ensigns and standards.  The Flavian troops ... were drawn up in close order along the sides of the road. The Vitellians were allowed to advance between the Flavian lines; then Antonius [Vespasian’s general] drew his forces about them and addressed them in kindly terms.  Half of them were ordered to stay at Narnia, the other half at Interamna.  At the same time some of the victorious legions were left behind, not to oppress the Vitellians if they remained quiet, but in sufficient strength to meet any rebellious movement” (63).

  8. “Vespasian's forces left Narnia and quietly celebrated the Saturnalia at Ocriculum.  The excuse given for such unseemly delay was that they were waiting for [reinforcements].  There were also some who suspected Antonius, alleging that a treasonable purpose made him delay .. [Meanwhile, in Rome,] Sabinus [another of Vespasian’s generals]... had rashly taken up arms, and later had been unable to defend ... the citadel of the Capitoline ...” (78).

  9. “Antonius, advancing along the Flaminian Road, reached Rubra Saxa [just to the north of Rome]...; but the assistance he brought was not in time.  At Rubra Saxa, he heard only the sad news that Sabinus had been killed, the Capitol burned, that the city was in a panic ...” (79).

After this setback, Antonius managed to regroup and take Rome.  Vitellius tried to flee but was caught by Vespasian’s solders and executed.  The Senate then proclaimed Vespasian as Emperor.

Year of the Four EmperorsMain Page    Literary Sources

Return to the History Index


Four Emperors (68-9 AD)

Literary Source  

Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact

Year of the Four EmperorsMain Page    Literary Sources