Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sodalitas Militarium

By Marcus Minucius Audens

THE CAMPAIGN April, Italy 69 CE Part One

With the suicide of Nero in 68 CE the empire went through a period of anarchy known as the 'Year of the Four Emperors.' The first of the four new emperors was Servius Sulpicus Galba, the propraetor of Hither Spain who had rebelled against Nero's rule with the help of his legio the sixth. He took office with the support of the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, but ignored the person who had brought him the purple, Lucius Otho, the Governor of Lusitania province in southwest Spain. When hearing that the 72-year-old Galba was going to name a different person as his successor, Otho went to the Guard, who themselves were dissatisfied with the emperor's stinginess.

Otho promised lavish rewards to those who would get him the purple. Fifteen Praetorian Guards, so encouraged, organized a revolt in which Galba and his adopted son were killed in Janus 69, and handed the office to Otho (Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars "Life of Otho." 5, 6).

But as Tacitus noted in "The Histories": "The secret of Empire was out, Emperors could be made elsewhere than in Rome." (Tact. History I. 50) and indeed, soldiers stationed outside Rome had decided to become involved. The legions in Germania and the Rhine had once been commanded by Galba and were fond of him. When it was heard that Otho had been proclaimed Imperator after murdering their former General, the legate of lower Germany, Fabius Valens, acclaimed his general and the Governor of lower Germany Aulus Vitellius as Emperor, and the legate of higher Germany, Alienus Caecina followed suit. (Tact. I. 57.)

Vitellius accepted the commission of being Galba's avenger and he and his followers prepared to march on Rome with two legiones, 21st Rapax and 5th Alaudae, and vexillatii from six more. Tacitus tells us: "After the force from Britannia had joined him (three vexillatii from the 2nd, 9th, 20th, probably 2,000-3,000 men, eight auxilii, 4,000 men) Vitellius, who had now a prodigious force and vast resources, determined that there should be two generals and two lines of march for the contemplated war.

Fabius Valens was ordered to win over the Gauls, if possible, or, if they refused his advance, to ravage the provinces of Gaul, and to invade Italy byway of the Cottian Alps. Caecina was to take the nearer route to Italy and to march down from the Penine range. To Valens were entrusted the picked troops of the army (i.e., the vexillatii from lower Germany legiones 4th, 14th, 15th, 2nd) along with the 5th legion (minus two cohorts) and the auxiliary infantry and cavalry, (including the famous Batavi) to the number of 40,000. (This seems high unless Tacitus is including all the support personal.

By my count Valens' force should be around 18,000 fighting men.) Caecina commanded 30,000 from Upper Germany, (again this seems high, 14,000 seems more likely.) his force being one legion, the 21st, 2 vexillatii (from the 1st and the 13th) German auxiliaries, (which are later called from Gaul, Lusitania, and Rhaetia so they are not German at all [Tact. I. 70]) and from this source Vitellius was later to follow with his whole military strength." (Tact. I. 61.)

Tacitus may be inferring that Vitellius was waiting for the rest of the army to assemble before following after his two legates. The British units couldn't arrive until sailing season commenced which was sometime in March. The campaign was well under way by then. The "source" might refer to the legionary base at Cologne. It allows for easy movement up the Rhine, and troops can move into Gaul, where Vitellius would be (at Lyons) when Cremona was fought.

This is all speculation. Tacitus does not tell us. It also could be that Tacitus' numbers refer to all the troops under both legates at the end of the campaign in June.

Meanwhile Otho upon hearing that the Vitellians were coming over the Alps mobilized his own forces. He started to lose troops in Cisalpine Gaul upper Italy to the Vitellians (apparently no one likes a tyrannicide and Galba was liked) including the Silius' horse and wished to stop that rot as quickly as possible. He sent the legio composed of naval marines once stationed at Misenum, now called Adiutrix (supportive) still in the capital for Nero's aborted 68 CE campaign, and detached 5 cohorts of Praetorians. There were Italian auxiliaries as well, including2,000 Gladiators.

He had Annius Gallus, and Vestricius Spurinna in command. He ordered Spurinna to take 3 cohorts of the five guards (1500) and occupy the Padus to contest Caecina's crossing (Tact. II. 12.) He planned to join with his loyal forces from Pannonia and Dalmatia. He followed several days later with the rest of the Praetorians in Rome (2,000), the guard horse (Equites Singularies) (500) and citizens' levies (3 cohorts 1,500?) and his household. (Tact. I. 87.)

His expedition did not fair well in its beginning. Since bad luck started with the expedition the Romans felt that Otho would have a hard time in prevailing.
To quote Plutarch: "As to the prodigies and apparitions that happened about this time, there were many reported which none could answer for, or which were told in different ways; but one which everybody actually saw with, their eyes, was the statue, in the capitol, of Victory carried in her chariot with the reins dropped out of her hands, as if she were grown too weak to hold them any longer; and a second, that Gaius Caesar's statue on the island of Tiber, without earthquake or wind to account for it, turned round from west to east; and this was a most unfortunate prodigy.

But now when the news came that Caecina had possessed the Alps, the Emperor sent Dolabella, a patrician who was suspected by the soldiery of some evil purpose, for whatever reason, whether it were fear of him or of any one else, to the town of Aquinum, (base of Silius' horse) to give encouragement there, and proceeded then to choose which of the magistrates should go with him (Otho) to the war, he named amongst the rest Lucius, Vitellius brother without distinguishing him by any new marks' either of his favor or displeasure." (Plutarch Lives. Otho)

Meanwhile Caecina had accepted the defection of Silius' horse, a loyal Galbian formation. The valley of the Padus (Po) was open. (Tact. II.17) He captured 1,000 marines, and 100 horses, during his advance as well as a cohort of Pannonians near Cremona. (Tact. II. 17.)

He also found out that the 13th legio from Pannonia was near by. This was because the 13th was responding to Otho's request to come to Italy. The Armies of Pannonia and Dalmatia were all sending troops: "These comprised of 4 legiones from each (army) of which 2,000 troops had been sent on in advance. The 7th had been raised by Galba, the 11th 13th 14th were all veteran soldiers." (Tact. II. 11.) The 13th and the auxiliaries from Pannonia were in the advance, around 5,000 men. As Caecina moved deeper into the valley of the Padus he decided to advance against Placentia (It. Piacenza).

By taking this fortress city, at the junction of Po and the Trebia rivers, he could have a base of operations as well as a secure place to await Valens. He discovered the Othoians had rushed advanced forces under the command of Spurinna to Placentia. These were 3 cohorts of Praetorians, 2 cohorts of veteran citizen Auxilii (one is called the 17th Coh.) and a "handful of horse." (Tact. II. 18.)

The Vitellians under Caecina prepared to storm the place. They had already been successful in several skirmishes as they advanced across the Po valley, and their war fever was very high. Caecina attempted to get them to wait for Valens, but the impetuous army wished to attack right away.

Tacitus tells us what happened next: "The first day, however, was spent in a furious onset rather than in the skillful approaches of a veteran army. Exposed and reckless, the troops came close under the walls, stupefied by excess in food and wine.

To be continued

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