The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/On Becoming Emperor

Reported by Tacitus.

4103526The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — On Becoming EmperorMarcus Otho Caesar Augustus




(69 A.D.)

Born in 32 A.D., died in 69; an associate of Nero, Who made him Governor of Lusitania (Portugal); conspired for the overthrow of Galba, and after being proclaimed Emperor, was himself overthrown by Vitellius, whereupon he committed suicide.

In what character I now address you I am unable to declare. A private man I can not call myself, for you have bestowed upon me the title of prince; nor can I style myself a prince, while another is still in possession of the sovereign power. In what description you yourselves are to be classed, is to me a matter of doubt, and must remain so, till the question is decided whether you have in your camp the emperor of Rome, or a public enemy. Hear ye how the same voice that demands vengeance on me, calls for your destruction? So evident is it that we can neither die nor live otherwise than together.

Such is the humanity of Galba, perhaps he has already pronounced our doom; since, without a request, of his own free will, he could consign to the sword so many thousand innocent soldiers. My heart recoils with horror, when I reflect on the disastrous day on which he made his public entry into the city; and on that his only victory, when, after receiving the submission of the suppliant soldiers, he ordered the whole body to be decimated in the view of the people. Under these auspices he entered the city of Rome—and what has been since the glory of his reign? Obultronius Sabinus and Cornelius Marcellus have been murdered in Spain, Betuus Chilo in Gaul, Fonteius Capito in Germany, and Clodius Macer in Africa. Add to these Cingonius Varro, butchered on his march, Turpilianus in the heart of the city, and Nymphidius in the camp. Is there a province, is there in any part of the empire a single camp, which he has not defiled with blood,—or, as he will tell you, reformed and amended? What all good men call a deed of barbarity, passes with him for a correction of abuses; while under specious names he confounds the nature of things, calls cruelty justice, avarice economy, and massacre military discipline.

Since the death of Nero not more than seven months have elapsed; and in that time, Icelus, his freedman, has amassed by plunder more enormous wealth than the Polycleti, the Vatinii, the Helii, were able to do. Even Titus Vinius, if he had seized the empire, would not have oppressed us with such rapacity, such wanton barbarity. As it is, he at once tramples upon us as his own subjects, and pours scorn upon us as tho we were another's. His house alone contains wealth sufficient to discharge the donative which is never forthcoming, and is daily cast in your teeth.

And that you might despair of improvement under the successor even of Galba, he has recalled from banishment a man, in his temper dark and gloomy, hardened in avarice, whom he judged the counterpart of himself. You remember, my fellow soldiers, the day on which that adoption was made—a day deformed with storms and tempests, when the warring elements announced the awful displeasure of the gods. The senate and the people are now of one mind. They depend upon your valor. It is your generous ardor that must give vigor to our honorable enterprise. Without your aid the best designs must prove abortive. It is not to a war, nor even to danger, that I am now to conduct you; the armies of Rome are on our side. The single cohort remaining with Galba is composed of citizens, not of soldiers; and they do not stand forth in his defense—they detain him as their prisoner. When they see you advancing in firm array, when my signal is given, the only struggle will be, who may charge my gratitude with the heaviest debt. There is no place for delay in a project which can not be applauded unless it be gone through with successfully.

  1. Delivered to his soldiers in camp in Northern Italy in 69 A.D. Reported by Tacitus. The Revised Oxford translation.