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After full consideration it seemed fairest to look for money from the sources where the cause of the poverty lay. Twenty-two hundred million sesterces had been squandered by Nero in gifts. But Nero's favourites had hardly one-tenth left, for they had wasted the money of others on the same extravagances as they had their own; the most greedy and depraved had neither lands nor principal, but only what would minister to their vices.
Thirty Roman knights were appointed to collect the money. This was a new office, and a burden because of the number and intrigue of its members. Everywhere there were auctions and speculators, and the city was disturbed by lawsuits. And yet there was great joy that those who had received gifts from Nero were going to be as poor as those from whom he had taken the money.
During these same days four tribunes were dismissed, Antonius Taurus and Antonius Naso from the praetorian cohorts, from the city cohorts Aemilius Pacensis, and Julius Fronto from the police. This action was no assistance against the rest, but it did arouse their fears: individuals, they thought, were being driven from office craftily and cautiously one by one, because all were suspected. His extravagance was such as would have burdened an emperor, his poverty a private citizen could hardly have borne.
He was angry toward Galba and jealous of Piso. He invented fears also to give his greed greater scope. An Otho could be murdered; therefore he must be bold and act while Galba's authority was still weak and Piso's not yet established; this time of transition was opportune for great attempts, and a man must not delay when inactivity is more ruinous than rash action. Death nature ordains for all alike; but it differs as it brings either oblivion or glory in after ages; and if the same end awaits the guilty and the innocent, it is the duty of a man of superior vigour to deserve his death.
His intimate freedmen and slaves, who had more licence than prevails in private houses, constantly held before his eager eyes Nero's luxurious court, his adulteries, his many marriages, and other royal vices, exhibiting them as his own if he only dared to take them, but taunting him with them as the privilege of others if he did not act. Many of these astrologers, the worst possible tools for an imperial consort, had shared Poppaea's secret plans, and one them, Ptolemy, who had been with Otho in Spain, had promised him that he should survive Nero.
But Otho accepted his prophecies as if they were genuine warnings of fate disclosed by Ptolemy's skill, for human nature is especially eager to believe the mysterious. And Ptolemy did not fail to do his part; he was already urging Otho even to crime, to which from such aspirations the transition is most easily made.
On the march, at review, or in camp he addressed all the oldest soldiers by name, and, reminding them that they had attended Nero together, he called them messmates. Others he recognized, some he asked after and helped with money or influence; oftentimes he let drop words of complaint and remarks of a double meaning concerning Galba, and did other things that tended to disturb the common soldiery.
For they were grumbling seriously over the toilsome marches, the lack of supplies, and the hard discipline. The men who had been in the habit of going by ship to the lakes of Campania and the cities of Achaia found it hard to climb the Pyrenees and the Alps under arms and to cover endless marches along the high roads. This was a kind of gift from the state, but Otho added to its significance by secret gifts to individuals; and he grew so bold in his acts of corruption that when Cocceius Proculus, one of the bodyguard, 35 had a quarrel with his neighbour with regard to boundaries, Otho bought up the neighbour's whole farm with his own money and gave it to Proculus.
This was possible through the dullness of the prefect Laco, who equally failed to see what was notorious and what was secret. When Onomastus had won over Barbius Proculus, the officer of the password for the bodyguard, and Veturius, a subaltern of the same, and had learned through various conversations that they were clever and bold, he loaded them with rewards and promises, and gave them money to tamper with the loyalty of a larger number. Two common soldiers thus undertook to transfer the imperial power, and they transferred it.
Few were admitted to share the plot. By various devices they worked on the anxieties of the rest — on the soldiers of higher rank by treating them as if they were suspected because of the favours Nymphidius had shown them, on the mass of the common soldiers by stimulating their anger and disappointment that the donative had been so often deferred. And so ready were the ill-disposed for revolt and even the loyal to wink at wrong-doing, that on the fourteenth of January they planned to carry off Otho as he was returning from dinner, and would have done so if they had not been deterred by the uncertainty of night, by the dispersion of the soldiers in detachments scattered through the whole city, and by the difficulties of common action when men are in their cups.
They were not influenced by any anxiety for the state, for in their sober senses they were preparing to pollute it with the blood of their emperor; but they feared that in the darkness any man who fell in the way of the soldiers from Pannonia or Germany might be proclaimed as Otho, for the majority did not know him. There were many signs of the outbreak of the revolt, but these were repressed by the plotters. Some things reached Galba's ears, but the prefect Laco made light of them; he was unacquainted with the soldiers' spirit, and he was opposed to any plan, however excellent, which he did not himself propose, and obstinate against those who knew better than himself.
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Presently his freedman, Onomastus, announced to him that his architect and the contractors were waiting for him, this having been agreed upon as a sign that the soldiers were already gathering and that the conspiracy was ripe. When some asked Otho why he was leaving, he gave as an excuse that he was buying some properties of whose value he was doubtful because of their age, and therefore he wished to examine them first.
Taking the arm of his freedman he walked through the palace of Tiberius to the Velabrum, and then to the golden milestone 36 hard by the temple of Saturn. There twenty-three of the bodyguard hailed him as emperor; when he was frightened because there were so few to greet him, they put him quickly into a chair and with drawn swords hurried him away. About the same number of soldiers joined them as they went, some through knowledge, more through wonder, a part with shouts and drawn swords, a part in silence, ready to take their cue from the result.
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Terrified by the enormity of the sudden crime, ignorant of the extent to which the camp was disloyal, and fearing death if he opposed, he made the majority suspect him of complicity. All the rest of the tribunes also and the centurions preferred present safety to a doubtful but honourable course. Afterwards rumour said that it was Otho; and at the same time people came from the whole city — some, who had happened to meet the procession, exaggerating the facts through terror, some making light of them, for they did not even then forget to flatter.
On consultation it was decided to try the temper of the cohort that was on guard at the palace, but not through Galba himself, whose authority was kept unimpaired for more serious measures. The fate of our house and the State depends on you. In the last uprising we were solaced by the fact that the city was unstained by blood and the government transferred without dissension: adoption seemed to provide against any occasion for war even after Galba's death.
Was it by his bearing and gait or by his womanish dress that he deserved the throne? They are deceived who are imposed upon by extravagance under the garb of generosity. He will know how to ruin, he will not know how to give.
Adulteries and revelries and gatherings of women fill his thoughts: these he considers the prerogatives of imperial power. The lust and pleasure of them will be his, the shame and disgrace of them will fall on every Roman; for imperial power gained by wicked means no man has ever used honourably. The consent of all mankind made Galba Caesar, and Galba made me so with your consent. If the State and the Senate and People are but empty names, it is your concern, comrades, that the emperor should not be made by the worst citizens.
It was Nero, too, who deserted you, not you Nero. Shall less than thirty renegades and deserters, men whom no one would allow to choose a centurion or tribune, bestow the empire? Will you allow this precedent, and by inaction make their crime yours?source
The Histories and the Annals
Such licence will spread to the provinces, and the consequence of their crimes will fall on us, the resulting wars on you. The reward given the assassins for the murder of the emperor will not be greater than that which will be bestowed on those who refrain from crime; nay, you will receive no less a gift from us for loyalty than you will from others for treason. Celsus Marius was sent to the picked troops from Illyria, who were encamped in the Vipsanian Colonnade; 37 Amullius Serenus and Domitius Sabinus, centurions of the first rank, were ordered to summon the German troops from the Hall of Liberty.
Subrius and Cetrius the soldiers attacked and threatened, Longinus they forcibly restrained and disarmed; this action was prompted by his fidelity to his emperor, which was due not to his military position, but to his friendship for Galba; therefore the mutineers regarded him with the greater suspicion.
The Histories and the Annals
The legion of marines without hesitation joined the praetorians. The picked troops from Illyria drove Celsus away at the point of their spears. There were discordant cries demanding Otho's death and the execution of the conspirators, exactly as if the people were calling for some show in the circus or the theatre; there was neither sense nor honesty in their demands, for on this very same day they would have clamoured for the opposite with equal enthusiasm; 40 but they acted according to the traditional custom of flattering the emperor, whoever he might be, with fulsome acclamations and senseless zeal.
In the meantime Galba was torn between two proposals; Titus Vinius urged the necessity of staying in the palace, arming the slaves for defence, blocking the entrances, and not going to the infuriated troops. Let Galba, he said, give time for the disloyal to repel, for the loyal to come to a common agreement; crimes gained strength by impulsive action, wise counsels through delay; and, after all, he would later have the same opportunity to go on his own motion if it should seem wise, but if he went now and regretted it, his return would depend on others. They declared that Otho would lose heart.
There must be no waiting for Otho to settle matters in the camp, invade the forum, and go to the Capitol under the very eyes of Galba, while that most noble emperor with his valiant friends barred his house and did not cross his threshold, being ready, no doubt, to endure a siege! It was a brilliant backing, too, that they would find in slaves, if the united sentiment of the whole people and their first indignation, which is the strongest, should be allowed to cool! The dishonourable, therefore, was the dangerous resolve; even if they must fall, they should go forth to meet danger; that would bring more disrepute on Otho and honour to themselves.
When Vinius opposed this view Laco attacked him with threats, goaded on by Icelus, who persisted in his personal enmity towards Vinius to the ruin of the state. Piso had hardly left the palace when a report was brought, vague and uncertain at first, that Otho had been killed in the camp. Presently, as is natural in falsehoods of great importance, some appeared who declared that they had been present and had seen the murder.
Many thought this rumour had been invented and exaggerated by Otho's partisans who were already in the crowd and spread abroad the pleasant falsehood in order to lure Galba from his palace. They laid aside all fear and became incautious, broke down the doors of the palace and burst in, presenting themselves to Galba, and complaining that they had been robbed of vengeance. They were all rank cowards, and, as the event proved, men who would show no courage in time of danger, but who now were exceedingly bold with words and savage of tongue.
No one knew; everyone affirmed.