TACITUS: The Histories [Book II]

Otho’s forces are defeated by those of Vitellius at Bedriacum; Otho commits suicide – The armies of Vitellius and Otho meet at Bedriacum. Otho’s generals advise inaction, believing that Vitellius’ army will eventually expend all their resources and surrender. Otho, however, is impatient and orders his generals to engage the foe while he travels to the safety of a neighboring town. Both sides fight honorably. Vitellius’ army secures victory. Upon hearing the news, members of Otho’s praetorian cohort urge him to renew the war with fresh troops that just arrived. Despite their pleas, Otho decides to commit suicide rather than risk the deaths of more Roman soldiers. Thus, with posterity, Otho gained notoriety for killing Galba and won fame for his glorious and selfless act of suicide.

Vitellius now emperor, but yet another claimant, Vespasian, is raising troops in the Orient – Vitellius and his army abandon themselves to luxuries while in Rome. Vespasian assembles an army and marches toward Rome. Vitellius learns of Vespasian’s advance, assembles his disobedient army, and marches to meet Vespasian. One of Vitellius’ commanders, Caecina, plans treachery against him.

Tacitus and Plutarch share one of the same purposes of writing – to support their morality with examples. Tacitus regards luxury, indolence, and promiscuity as vices. He emphasizes that Vitellius and his army engaged in these vicious activities, and that such vices were ultimately responsible for their ruin.


When resources were moderate, equality was easily maintained; but when the world had been subjugated and rival states or kings destroyed, so that men were free to covet wealth without anxiety, then the first quarrels between patricians and plebeians broke out.

It called for greater courage to endure adversity than to yield to it; that brave and courageous men press on even against ill fortune to attain their hopes; the timid and cowardly are quickly moved to despair by fear.

Private plans allow one to advance or retreat and permit the individual to take that measure of Fortune’s gifts that he will; but when a man aims at the imperial power, there is no mean between the heights and the abyss.

It is easier to move whole armies than to avoid individuals.

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