THE YEAR OF THE FOUR EMPERORS.* Mn. BERNARD HENDERSON'S study
of the "year of the four Emperors" is a good example of the admirable work produced by the younger school of Oxford historians. He calls it a "companion to the Histories of Tacitus," but in truth it is a very stringent overhauling of Tacitus from the point of view of a man who has personally visited every battlefield and is a student of military operations. Mr. Henderson is a scholar of the most modern type. He tells of Roman wars as if he were writing of Sedan or Bull Run. No traditional lodgment contents him, and he must retry everything by scientific canons. The result is a fresh, interesting, and, on the whole, convincing book. He keeps his love of paradox well in hand, and his military judgments are sober and adequate. The only fault we have to find is that at times his taste for the picturesque leads him deeper into rhetoric than is becoming in a grave historian. His gibes at Tacitus, also, are too frequent. Let it be granted that that eminent writer was but an indifferent military critic. He did not understand strategy ; his psychology of generalship was crude ; "success or apparent failure is the one criterion of judgment." He did not realise what the Othonian scheme of defence was, or the Vitellian scheme of attack. It is all true ; but some of us are old-fashioned enough to think that a great writer who has put swift drama into unforgettable words as no mortal ever did before or since deserves kindlier epithets than "a stilted pleader at a decadent Bar."
Nero, according to Mr. Henderson, was a bad man but a considerable Monarch, and there is truth in the view. His death revealed to the world the dangerous State secret that "a prince could be appointed elsewhere than in Rome," and that the appointment lay with the troops. Thereafter no man could hope to reign long vdio had not the Army at his back. In the absence of any doctrine of "divine right" or any venerated descent, an Emperor must be elected, and in Rome the election fell naturally into the hands of those who had the physical backing to enforce their choice. Marcus Aurelius zecognised this truth as much as Trajan or Vespasian. It is the ultimate fact which a thin layer of constitutionalism may obscure to-day, but cannot do away with. The total Roman Army at the time consisted of thirty legions—about a hundred and fifty thousand men—and perhaps as many auxiliaries. It was scattered up and down the Empire, and the legions were the pawns on the great chessboard with which the game of Emperor-making was played. Galba bad the first throw for the throne. He was elected Princeps by the Senate on Nero's death, and marched with one legion from Spain to Rome. In three months he had lost any little popularity which he possessed, and it was an easy task for Otho and the Praetorians to make an end of him. The fleeting Imperial shadow lives in Tacitus's great epigram,—Capaz imperil nisi itaperasset. Otho was a man of real military genius, who more than any figure of his time has something of the old Roman grandeur. His youth had been discreditable ; but as we know him he is conspicuous for courage, loyalty, and a rare merci- fulness,—which point to a certain largeness and generosity of spirit. Even as he ascended the throne the Army of Germany was proclaiming Vitellius Emperor, and soon war bad begun to decide the rivalry. Otho had the sympathy of the Army of the East—then under Vespasian, but too far away to he of actual assistance—the legions on the Danube, the Prae- torians and such troops as were then in Italy. Vitellius had the formidable German legions, who had been trained in the sternest frontier work. It was hopeless to defend the line of the Alps, so Otho decided on the line of the Po, between Placentia on the west and Hostilia on the east. The Army of the Danube was hastening to join him, and it was essential to keep. his communications open on that side. Aquileia, which was the mustering-place of the Danube Army, was therefore Otho's second base. He also sent his fleet round by Genoa to threaten the flank of the invader crossing the Alps on the Western side. Vitellins divided his forces into two, and sent one under Caecina by the direct route over the mountains through Switzerland, and another under Valens down the Rhone Valley • Nod War and Rebellion in the Roman Empire, A.D. 69-70. By Bernard W. Idendereos, MA, London Macmillan and Co. L. Q. eat.] and across the Western passes. Cascina arrived first and took Cremona. He did not conduct his campaign with much skill, and bad the Danube Army turned up must have been easily surrounded. When Valens joined him the two devised a "strategy of penetration," which involved crossing the river opposite Cremona, and cutting the Othonian force in two. Otho replied with a "strategy of envelopment," which was undoubtedly right in the circumstances, and was nearly successful. He tried to send troops to the north so as to hold the line of the river Adda west of Cremona. This march was entrusted to several generals, including Stietonins Paulinus, who quarrelled among themselves and bungled it hopelessly. The Othonians blundered straight into the enemy, and the battle of Bedriacum scattered them to the four winds. The fault lay with the divisional commanders and not with the Emperor, who, finding that all was lost, died in the old Roman way, serenely and fearlessly. He had lived only thirty-seven years, and had been but three months Emperor.
Vitellius had won through no merit of his own, and he was soon to be called to defend his throne. The Army of the East refused to acknowledge him, and elected their own general, Vespasian, Emperor; while the Army of the Danube, who had been too late to defend Otho, were burning to pull down his supplanter. The Flavian invasion of Italy is simpler than the Vitellian, and raises no points of disputed strategy ; but Mr. Henderson tells its story with all the spirit of a good romancer. It was a far cry from Syria to the Po, and long ere Mucianus, Vespasian's general, could cover the distance the legions of the Danube had decided the matter for them- selves. The hero of the campaign was that fierce legate, Antonius Primus, who hurried the troops into Italy in defiance of all strategical laws, and reaped victory from his daring or from the folly of the enemy. A good general could have annihilated Primus before he reached the Po; but Caecina did not understand that a strategy of defence may require a tactical offensive. He then proceeded to betray his master, and was put under guard by the still loyal troops. The two armies raced for Cremona, and after a skirmish the Flavians - came up with the Vitellians under its walls. Foolishly the latter attacked at nightfall while wearied by a tremendous march, and for the long autumn night there raged one of the bloodiest of all Roman battles. At dawn the Flavian Third Legion, lately come from Syria and with Syrian habits, saluted the sun, and their opponents thought that Mucianns had arrived at last. They broke in panic, and for days Cremona was given up to fire and sword. Then followed the swift march on Rome, the rising of the soldiery in the city, the murder of Vitellius, and the annihilation in the streets of the capital of the legions who had won him his short-lived rule.
The quarrels of masters are the sign for the revolt of subjects. The Batavians and Germans of the Lower Rhine and the Eastern Gauls chose the moment to fling off the yoke of Rome. The rebellion on the Rhine is the Roman counter- part of our Indian Mutiny. As in the Mutiny, the rebels thought they discerned signs of decadence in the Imperial power. The defence of Vetere, was as heroic as Cawnpore, and the garrison fell by a similar act of treachery. The death of Vocula, alone and contemptuous among the mutineers, was as heroic as that of any Mutiny soldier. It was not long before Vespasian's strong hand crushed the revolt of Classicus and Civilis ; but the rebellion had taught Rome a lesson. It had been easy to recruit auxiliaries among the Gauls and Germans to serve in their own districts,—easy, but dangerous. Thereafter the indigenous cohorts and aloe were either disbanded or sent far afield. The mutiny was the last outburst of nationalism, and for centuries after 70 A.D. the Rhine Valley was quiet, and the storm-centre of the Empire shifted to the Danube. "Rome," as Mr. Henderson says, "was victor because she knew how to use her victory well." On the whole, the "year of the four Emperors," while it fore- shadows the ultimate perils of the Empire, shows also how great were its elements of strength. The Roman legions proved to the full their magnificent fighting powers and their unflinching loyalty to the leader whom they had once accepted, while the Rhine mutiny showed that in a time of anarchy at the centre the Romans on the outskirts were still true to the Roman tradition, and that Rome could crush sedition with firmness and yet with a merciful eye to the future.