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"I Have a List!"

In April of AD 68, amidst widespread unrest over Nero’s increasingly erratic and depraved rule, and having learned of the Emperor’s plans to have him killed, the governor of the province of Hispania Tarraconensis, Servius Sulpicius Galba (3 BC-AD 69), proclaimed himself champion of the “Senate and People of Rome” (SPQR), began raising troops, and set out for the capital.  By June, branded an outlaw by the Senate and deserted by all, including the Praetorian Guard, Nero committed suicide.  Now openly proclaiming himself Emperor, Galba reached Rome in October.

Although a man of impeccable ancestry and considerable ability, as emperor Galba didn’t work out very well.   He instituted an austerity program, which alienated many. But what did him in was his stinginess with rewards for the troops and the Praetorians, which made them restive.  Then, early in January of 69, having no sons of his own, Galba adopted Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus (AD 38-69), a younger man also of impeccable ancestry (no less than a kinsman-by-marriage to the late Great Caesar himself).  This seriously irked Marcus Salvius Otho (AD 32-69), who had been among Galba’s earliest supporters, and had expected to be the one adopted.

On January 15, 69, Otho suborned the Praetorians, who promptly slew Galba and his adoptive son. The old man’s dying words were reportedly "Strike, if it be for the good of the Romans!"  Assuming the purple, Otho wisely decided to reward the guardsman who had struck the fatal blow against Galba.  Alas, he found that a great many Praetorians were claiming to have done the deed.  So Otho had a list drawn up, in order to help investigate each man’s claim, which turned out to have no fewer than 120 names on it.

Meanwhile, on January 1, 69, even before Otho had arranged to bump off Galba, the legions in the Rhineland had proclaimed an emperor of their own, Aulus Vitellius (AD 15-69), governor of Lower Germany, who soon began his own march on Rome.  Naturally, when Otho heard the news, he headed north with an army to fight the “usurper”.  After some initial successes, on April 14th  Otho’s troops were soundly defeated in the First Battle of Bedriacum, near Cremona in the Po Valley.  Although his supporters urged Otho to fall back and regroup, on April 16th, the 95th day of his reign, he committed suicide, reportedly saying that he was “offering up my life to secure peace and concord, and to prevent Italy from beholding such a day again," referring to the carnage at Bedriacum.

Vitellius himself didn’t last long either.  In July the legions in Egypt put forward Titus Flavius Vespasianus (AD 9-79) for the imperial dignity, and were soon joined by Vespasian’s own troops in Palestine, and then those in Syria and on the Danube.  There followed a Second Battle of Bedriacum on October 24th, which resulted in a resounding defeat for Vitellius.  Surprisingly, Vitellius negotiated a deal with Vespasian’s field commander, Marcus Antonius Primus, agreeing to resign the imperium and go into retirement.  This deal might have worked, but for the Praetorians.

Remember Otho’s little list?  Well, at the time of his suicide, Otho had not yet been able to determine who among the 120 men on it had actually slain Galba.  The list fell into the hands of Vitellius, who, in an early demonstration of “spin”, proclaimed himself Galba’s avenger.   Rather than try to figure out which Praetorian had killed Galba, Vitellius had all ten dozen guardsmen executed.

So on December 22nd, having learned of Vespasian’s deal with Vitellius, the Praetorians hunted down the erstwhile emperor, dragged him through the streets of Rome, and beheaded him.  Reportedly Vitellius’ dying words were, "Yet I was once your emperor".

As for Vespasian, he ruled until 79, passing the imperium to his son.

FootNote: “The Eighteen Months of the Five Emperors”.   Traditionally, AD 69 is called “The Year of the Four Emperors,” counting Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.  But between April of 68 and December of 69 there were actually five men recognized as emperor at Rome, these four plus Nero.  There were also several other guys who might be considered “emperors-wannabe”.  Lucius Claudius Macer, governor of Africa, began acting imperially for a time in 68 until bumped off Galba’s agents, while Lucius Verginius Rufus who, having defeated some Gallic rebels about the time Galba made his bid for the purple, was offered but refused the purple by his troops.  At about that time one Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus put in a bid for the empire at Rome by claiming to be the illegitimate son of the late Caligula (r. 39-47), but was knocked off by the Praetorians just before Galba arrived.  Finally, Romanized Batavian Gaius Julius Civilisled an uprising among Gallic and German tribes in the Rhine provinces, seeking to establish a “Gallic Empire.” He even suborned the legions stationed there, only to be crushed by loyal troops sent by Vespasian.  So perhaps we should actually refer to “The Eighteen Months of the Nine Emperors”.

BookNotes:  Several good – if monotonously titled – books deal with the events of “The Year of the Four Emperors”, among them Gwyn Morgan’s 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors , Kenneth Wellesley’s Year of the Four Emperors , and Peter Greenhalgh’s Year of the Four Emperors .

 

The French Royal Army in the Waterloo Campaign

When Napoleon landed in southern France on March 1, 1815 after escaping from Elba, King Louis XVIII promptly dispatched troops to arrest him.  But the troops went over to the Emperor, as did others sent to intercept him as he marched on Paris.  On March 19th, with the “Corsican Ogre” approaching the capital, Louis fled to the Netherlands with a small escort.  Upon reaching Ghent, Louis had only about 450 troops, mostly men of the Maison militaire du Roi (Royal Military Household) and some volunteers.  The king gave command of this host to his nephew the Duc de Berri, with orders to raise an army.  Berri promptly laid plans to organize an all-arms force of 10,000 men, placed orders for arms and equipment in Britain, established a training camp at Alost, near Ghent, and began trying to raise troops.

Recruiting proceeded rather slowly.  On April 22nd there were only about 820 men under arms, and by June 1st, when a "grand review" of the army was held for the king, only some 2,100 men were in uniform, organized into four battalions of infantry, five squadrons of cavalry, and a half-battery of artillery:

Garde du Corps   one squadron, of 40 men
Grenadiers á Cheval   two squadrons, each of 40 men
Chasseurs á Cheval de le Roi   two squadrons, each of 40 men
Regiment de la Courunne   two battalions, each of c. 450 men
Regiment du Nord   two battalions, each of c. 450 men
Artillery   three cannon and c. 75 men

At about the same time, as it was becoming obvious that Napoleon was planning an offensive, King Louis attempted to get the Duke of Wellington to make use of Louis’ "army" in the coming campaign, seeing its participation as useful to the royalist cause. But Wellington does not appear to have regarded its military prowess very highly: when someone asked if he was going to employ Berri’s troops, the Duke replied, "I wish to have no association with those people."

 


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