The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/To His Soldiers in Rome

Reported by Tacitus.

4103527The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — To His Soldiers in RomeMarcus Otho Caesar Augustus



(69 A.D.)

I come not now, my fellow soldiers, to excite your affection for me. In the late tumult, it was courage by exhortation; of both, to your honor be it spoken, you have enough, and to spare. But I come to request that you would moderate the impetuosity of your courage, and put limits to your affection for me. In the late tumult, it was not the love of plunder, nor ill will, that impelled yon—motives from which discord and mutiny have broken out in various armies. Nor was it the fear of danger, or so much as a wish to shrink from your duty. It was your excessive regard for me, which gave you up to the impulse of passion rather than to prudence; for where judgment does not direct, it often happens that the most honorable motives of action produce fatal results.

We are going forth to a war. And must all intelligence be communicated to the army? Must every secret be disclosed? And must councils of war be held in a public assembly of the soldiers? Does the reason of things, and the opportunity, which must be seized at once or lost forever, allow such a mode of proceeding? It is as fitting that the soldier should be ignorant of some things, as that he should know others. The authority of generals, and the strictness of discipline, are such, that even the tribunes and the centurions must often receive their orders without a reason assigned. If every subaltern may discuss the reasons of his orders, discipline is at an end, and the authority of the commander falls to the ground. And shall the soldier, even at such a juncture, seize his arms in the dead of the night? Shall one or two drunken men (in last night's frenzy I do not believe there were more) imbrue their hands in the blood of a centurion and a tribune, and rush into the pavilion of their general?

You, my fellow soldiers, have transgressed thus in your zeal for me. But amid that general hurry and confusion, and in the gloom of midnight darkness, an opportunity might have been given for an attack on me. Give Vitellius and his satellites the power of choosing, and what greater curse could they invoke? What calamity could they call down upon us, so much to be dreaded, as a turbulent and factious spirit, and all the evils of discord and sedition?—that the soldier should refuse to obey his centurion; the centurion his tribune; and that hence the cavalry and the foot soldiers, without order or distinction, should rush into destruction? It is implicit obedience rather than wrangling about orders, that gives to military operations their energy. The army that shows itself in time of peace the most quiet and orderly, is sure to be the most formidable in the day of battle. Let it be yours to arm in the cause of your country, and to face the enemy with heroic valor; and leave to me the direction and guidance of your courage. The guilt of last night extends to a few only; two only shall expiate the offense.

And you, the rest, bury in oblivion the horrors of that shameful tumult; and may no other army hear those dreadful imprecations uttered against a Roman senate. That venerable body, the head of the empire, and the ornaments of all the provinces, not even those Germans, whom, above all others, Vitellius is exciting against us, would dare to demand for punishment. And could any of the sons of Italy, and the genuine youth of Rome, demand for blood and slaughter, an order, by whose splendor and renown we dazzle the low and obscure party of Vitellius? Some states, it is true, have been induced to join his standard; he has the appearance of an army, but the senate is on our side. The commonwealth is with us; our enemies are the enemies of Rome. And when I mention Rome, do you imagine that it consists in walls, and buildings, and a pile of stones? Those mute and senseless edifices may molder away, and rise again; but the stability of empire, the peace of nations, your fate and mine, are established on the safety of the senate. Romulus, the father and founder of the city, instituted, with solemn auspices, that sacred order. From that time till the establishment of the Cæsars, it has been preserved inviolate; and as we received it from our ancestors, let us transmit it to our posterity; for as from the people at large the senate is supplied, so from the senate you derive your princes.

  1. Delivered in camp at, or near, Rome in 69 A.D., after the overthrow of Galba. Vitellius had already weakened the position of Otho and was descending from Germany with his army.