69 A.D: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The killing of Vitellius late on 20 December ended the war, but it did not bring peace. Tacitus remarks that Domitian emerged from hiding as soon as it was safe, was hailed “Caesar” by the victorious Flavian troops, and was escorted to his father's house. This merely underlines that what was safe for Domitian was not safe for others, whatever their rank. The magistrates were too scared even to call an emergency meeting of the senate. Flavian troops began roaming the city, hunting down the last Vitellians, killing innocent victims too, and, once they had sated their bloodlust, looting on the same grand scale as they had at Cremona. And ordinary citizens joined in, some of them—according to Dio—masquerading as Flavian soldiers in order to save their own skins. Dio's further claim that “the casualties during these days were as many as 50,000” is clearly an exaggeration, but not perhaps quite as flagrant as it looks.

The Flavian leaders did—maybe could do—little or nothing to control their men. Domitian was escorted to the palace the next day (21 December), but there he indulged in riotous parties celebrating his survival. The new, perhaps self-appointed prefect of the praetorian guard was Arrius Varus, and he was almost certainly too busy trying to reorganize the guard to have time to restore law and order outside the camp. And real power rested with Antonius, who allegedly spent his time helping himself to cash and slaves from the imperial household. The chaos began to abate only when news arrived that Lucius Vitellius was on his way back from Tarracina with his six cohorts. Unwilling to draw attention to the fact, or to the attendant irony, that here too Lucius did something to benefit Rome, Tacitus makes the Flavians' organizing themselves for battle the product of frenzied pleas from the city they were so busy terrorizing. The result was an anticlimax. Lucius surrendered without a fight, his praetorians were disarmed and led through the streets of Rome, and Lucius himself was put to death.

This did little to restore normal conditions. Yet the senate was able to persuade itself that peace was nigh: “now that the civil wars had worked their way through every province and every army from one end of the

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