How does a dead soldier smell

Aulus Vitellius

Dominion & Work I (The Change of power)

The mood among the legionaries on the Rhine was extremely tense because of Galba's actions. In this heated situation, Vitellius was sent to Lower Germany in December 68 as Commander-in-Chief. Immediately after his arrival he found himself in a network of intrigues against the new Emperor Galba.

Vitellius could not show any military successes that would have predestined him for this post. This is probably the main reason why Galba sent him to the Rhine. A general covered with fame could too easily have led a revolt. If so, Galba had clearly underestimated the Chosen One.

On January 1st, 69, the troops in Upper Germany refused to renew the oath against Galba. This set the ball rolling for a revolt. The news spread quickly to Lower Germany and the troops there, at the instigation of their commander Fabius Valens, declared themselves the next day for Aulus Vitellius as their candidate for emperor. The governors of Britain, Gaul, and Raetia soon followed their example. The north-western part of the empire thus stood behind Vitellius. Vitellius immediately had coins marked GERMANICVS minted. Not because he had inflicted defeat on the Teutons, but purely out of the fact that the strongest armed force in the empire supported him.

When the mutinous troops had already moved 200 km towards Italy, the enemy had already changed. Galba was dead and the new man on the throne was called Otho. Since Vitellius was not a soldier in the strict sense, he preferred to stay in Lower Germany to raise additional troops.

Aulus Caecina Alienus, next to Valens Vitellius ’second in command, marched faster and faster along the eastern border of Gaul to the south, while Valens advanced more slowly further west. However, both departments crossed the Alps in March before the snow melted and united north of the Po. When Vitellius learned that his two generals had defeated the troops of Otho, he set off for Rome. On April 19, the capital's troops also took the oath of allegiance to Vitellius.

In Lugdunum (Lyon) he took a break to present his six-year-old son Germanicus to the soldiers as his potential successor. So he could explain to them that he wanted to found a new ruling house.

This trip to Italy turned out to be one big debauchery. Intoxicating parties and the associated drinking and eating orgies were paired with the indiscipline of his entourage. His demeanor didn’t make him friends. So he noticed on the corpse-strewn battlefield of Cremona that a dead enemy gave off a sweet scent, but a dead compatriot would smell even sweeter.

Finally, at the end of June, Vitellius and his entourage entered Rome in an inappropriate victory pose. For many, the subsequent change of power turned out to be surprisingly peaceful. The number of arrests and executions was insignificant. Most officials retained their offices and even Salcius Titianus, Otho's brother, who had previously played a major role in the government, was pardoned without further ado. He felt all the more secure when the oaths of loyalty from the troops from the east came true. At this point the loyal legions of his predecessor had either returned to their ancestral quarters or were marching to distant provinces.

His own troops now consequently demanded power and influence. Vitellius therefore let Valens dissolve the Praetorian Guard and the urban cohorts and replace them with soldiers from the Rhine armies. The prefect posts were held by one member each, Valens and Caecinas.

The natural consequence was a wild mess, since a security service in Italy looked different than the guard or military service on the border. But Vitellius had to bow to the demands of his troops, since only through them he had come to the throne. Some of his decisions suggest a puppet government under the thumb of the Rhenish troops.

One more reason to devote yourself to other things. He liked to surround himself with actors and charioteers. During his reign he also resumed a turbulent relationship with Asiaticus, a freed man of the worst kind, with whom he had already had an immoral relationship in his youth. He was a lemonade seller and was knighted on the day his patron was enthroned. From then on, he not only became his lover, but also rumored to be his closest advisor.