The despotism of Nero caused growing dissatisfaction. The reign of Nero stuck in the consciousness of his people today as a period of exceptional decline in morality, the oppression of society, and the eccentric pranks of the emperor. From a person sensitive to beauty, poetry, theater, he became a vain lust.
In addition, there were numerous unrest within the borders of the empire. In March 68 CE in Gaul he rebelled against the emperor Windeks, governor of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, who opposed harsh fiscal policy and obeyed him. Other governors called for similar behavior, which also led to another rebellion the same month. However, the rebellion was suppressed by the Rhine legions loyal to the emperor, and Windeks murdered in May.
Overthrow of Nero
After the outbreak of the uprising in Gaul, he was encouraged, among others by Julius Vindex, Galba, governor of Hispania Citerior, he opposed Nero. Galba came from a very respected family. On April 2, 68 CE, he was proclaimed emperor by the army, but he replied with these words: “Since the homeland was in such danger, I cannot deny its experience, but I consider myself not an emperor, but only a legate of the senate and people!” (after: Krawczuk). The Senate at that time was concerned about Nero’s despotic authority. Accordingly, he decided to proclaim emperor Galba in June 68 CE and to recognize Nero as a public enemy. From that moment, every Roman citizen had the main responsibility to kill the former emperor. Abandoned even by the Praetorian guard and betrayed by his closest associates, Neron committed suicide on June 9, 68 CE, being the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Galba’s approach to Rome had been slow and bloody: the consul-elect, Cingonius Varro, and Petronius Turpilianus, an ex-consul, had been put to death, Cingonius because he had been an accomplice of Nymphidius, Petronius as one of Nero’s generals: they were killed unheard and undefended, so that men believed them innocent. Galba’s entrance into Rome was ill-omened, because so many thousands of unarmed soldiers had been massacred, and this inspired fear in the very men who had been their murderers.
– Tacitus, Histories, I 6
He got rid of uncomfortable commanders of legions stationed in other Western provinces of the Empire, including Lucius Clodius Macer, commander-in-chief of the African army, who adopted an expectant attitude and even quietly claimed the throne.
However, his joy of having full power was not long. On January 1, 69 CE the legions on the Rhine refused to take the oath of Galbie, and on January 15 Galba fell victim to a plot prepared by his current ally Otho, a pretorian prefect who the praetorian support became the new emperor. Galba was murdered in the Roman Forum, and Otho with the help of “bribed” praetorians forced the Senate to proclaim him emperor.
However, two weeks before the assassination of Otho, on January 2, legions in Germania proclaimed emperor Vitellius, who was now moving with his troops against the new emperor. Vitellius’s army consisted of several legions. Originally, Otho’s head appeared to share power between the two leaders. However, he finally decided to face the rival. Otho could count on legions from Dalmatia, Pannonia and Mysia, the Praetorian Guard and the fleet. After entering Italy, Vitellius divided his army, separating a unit under the command of Caecina who marched on Rome.
On March 14, 69 CE Otho set out from Rome, headed by 25,000 legionaries, to secure Liguria. In the meantime, at the end of March, Caecina’s troops approached Placb, where there were imperial forces commanded by Titus Vestricius Spurinna. The attacks of Caecina’s forces, which had already been carried out on the first day, crashed into a well-organized defense of the imperial forces, which inflicted heavy losses on the opponent. With the morning dawn, Vitellius’s army repeated the assault on the city, digging under the walls and trying to blow up the gates. And this time the attack was repelled, and many soldiers were buried under boulders thrown from the walls. After this defeat, Caecina decided to abandon the siege of the city, heading for Cremona.
Battle of Locus Castorum
Caecina, upon hearing about the troops of General Valens approaching him, decided to speed up his actions by defeating the army of Marcus Salvius Otho. Meanwhile, the commander-in-chief changed in Otho’s camp. The head of infantry was – known from the campaign against Budyce – Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, while the commander of the ride was Marius Celsus. At a distance of 12 kilometers from Cremona in the region of Locus Castorum, Cecyna prepared an ambush by ordering the auxiliary troops to hide in the woods, while driving provoking the enemy to march instead of hiding the troops. However, ambush plans were revealed to Paulinus and Celsus, who set up their army for battle. The battle was started by a fake attack by Cecyna, who did not lure the enemy into the ambush. Instead of pursuing the enemy, Paulinus’s army retreated, provoking Caecina’s remaining units to attack. As a result of the pursuit, these troops were surrounded by Paulinus, who did not send his infantry to completely destroy the enemy. This enabled Caecina’s troops to flee towards the forest, from where they launched another attack on the Praetorian detachment, which suffered significant losses. Then a decisive attack of Paulinus’s infantry occurred, which crashed the enemy, forcing him to flee. Fearful of introducing more of Cecyna’s troops, the victorious Paulinius ordered to stop the pursuit, thus losing the opportunity to destroy the enemy’s army. Thanks to this, Caecina’s troops could unite with the forces of general Valens, and their number increased to 60,000.
Battle of Bedriacum
After the victory at Locus Castorum, Marcus Salvius Otho decided to finally destroy the army of Alius Caecina and Fabius Walens. After consulting with his commanders, the emperor left his camp, heading back to the rear, entrusting the army command to his brother Salvius Titanis Otho. Soon in Otho’s army camp, there was a dispute between generals Paulinus and Celsius, and Licinius Proculus, who ordered to march towards Bedriacum (now Calvatone, near Cremona). At a distance of 6 kilometers from the city, Otho’s army camped. Even further because at a distance of 20 km from the Otho camp, there was the Vitellius camp.
After several days of inactivity on April 15, 69 CE. Salwius gave the order to march towards the opponent’s position. After the armies arrived at Vitellius’ camp, there was a fight with Otho’s front guards. The repeated attack of Vitellius’s ride finally crashed the opponent who had escaped. Soon Otho’s main forces arrived, which clashed with Vitellius’ infantry. The troops of Caecina and Walens hit the weaker opponent in full force. There was a fierce battle, and the scales of victory tilted once to one side, to the other. Otho’s legionaries even managed to get one of the opponent’s legion eagles, but the counterattack of more experienced Vitellius forces ended their success, and the destruction of the enemy’s triumphant soldiers too early. At that time, Walens sent his ride to the weakened enemy flank, sealing the victory of Vitellius.
Seeing the defeat of their troops, many Otho soldiers fled from the battlefield, while some returned to the camp. The battle ended after a few hours at dusk. Then Caecina and Walens gave a signal to retreat. Salvius and Otho’s generals fled south. Shaken by the defeat, Otho committed suicide, thrusting a dagger in his chest on April 25. The next day, the remains of Otho’s troops, led by General Gallus, surrendered their weapons, surrendering to the forces of Vitellius, who named himself Emperor of Rome. Vitellius in mid-July, after a slow and plundering march, solemnly entered Rome as an emperor. There, many executions were carried out on Otho centurions.
These shameful events encouraged the prefect of Egypt Tiberius Julius Alexander and Syrian governor Gaius Licinius Mucianus to put forward the candidacy of the suppression army commander in Judea – Vespasian. It was the prefect of Egypt who declared Vespasian the emperor, starting another civil war. The rulers of the surrounding countries also took the oath of Vespasian.
Second battle of Bedriacum
Syrian legions headed by Mucianus moved to the Balkans, where they were joined by the Danube legions led by Antonius Primus (commander of the VI legion from Pannonia) and Cornelius Fuscus (proconsul from Illyricum). Supporters of Vespasian decided to conquer Italy using the Danube legions in the strength of about 30,000 soldiers. Vespasian’s forces were commanded by the legate Marcus Antonius Primus. Together with reinforcements, Primus’s army numbered 50,000 people who set course for Rome. Opposite these forces, Vitellius sent troops under the command of Cecyna. Cecyna’s troops of 50,000 – 60,000 took the north course, taking a defensive position on the Po line near Cremona. At Cremona, Cecyna was replaced by Fabius Fabullus. Meanwhile, Primus took Verona and then set course for Cremona.
On October 24, 69 CE, in the Bedriacum area near Cremona, Vitellius’s army supported by reinforcements attacked Primus’ army. The unit led by Arrius Varus repelled this attack, inflicting considerable losses on opponents. In a moment, Vitellius’s army, supported by new units, repeated the attack, pushing Varus’ soldiers this time. At the same time, there was a clash in the center – here Antonius Primus successfully fought off Vitellius attacks. In the evening, more troops of Vespasian reached the battlefield. Gathering new troops, Primus took up positions along the road, awaiting an incoming enemy. The clash occurred at night, and both sides fought fiercely, inflicting enormous losses. In the battle fell, among others Arrius Varus, who fought to save the legionary eagle to the end. The fierce battle lasted several hours. In the morning, Vitellius’s forces began to weaken, eventually yielding to his opponent.
After breaking up Vitellius’ legions, Primus moved to Cremona, protected by auxiliary troops of Vitellius’s German allies. Germanic fortifications were stormed here. As a result of fierce battle, Vespasian’s soldiers broke into the shafts, destroying the enemy. The city surrendered, but the victors did not respect surrender by massacres of the inhabitants.
Thanks to the victory at Cremona, numerous troops passed to Vespasian’s side. In this situation, Vitellius agreed to surrender and surrender. However, the Praetorians did not accept the defeat. Flavius Sabinus (older brother of Vespasian). However, they failed to find Vespasian’s younger son – Domitian. Soon there were fights in Rome between Primus’ army and praetorians. Primus’s army won the battle by seizing the city. Trying to flee in disguise, Vitellius was caught and tortured at the foot of the Germanic Steps on December 21, 69 CE. After a series of tortures, Vitellius was thrown into the Tiber and died. This is how Suetonius describes his death:
[…] they bound his arms behind his back, put a noose about his neck, and dragged him with rent garments and half-naked to the Forum. All along the Sacred Way he was greeted with mockery and abuse, his head held back by the hair, as is common with criminals, and even the point of a sword placed under his chin, so that he could not look down but must let p277 his face be seen. 2 Some pelted him with dung and ordure, others called him incendiary and glutton, and some of the mob even taunted him with his bodily defects. He was in fact abnormally tall, with a face usually flushed from hard drinking, a huge belly, and one thigh crippled from being struck once upon a time by a four-horse chariot, when he was in attendance on Gaius as he was driving. At last on the Stairs of Wailingc he was tortured for a long time and then despatched and dragged off with a hook to the Tiber.
– Suetonius, Vitellius, 17
After the death of Vitellius, robberies of several days occurred in the city. Shortly after the victory, the governors of the western provinces also swore an oath to Vespasian.
Finally, after the death of Vitellius, on December 21, 69 CE, the Senate recognized Vespasian as emperor. This, however, did not reach Rome from Egypt until the summer of 70 CE. Until then, his son Domitian ruled in Rome. After a year of bloody civil war, peace reigned.
Chronology of events