1The race of the Caesars ended with Nero. That this would be so was shown by many portents and especially by two very significant ones. Years before, as Livia was returning to her estate near Veii, immediately after her marriage with Augustus, an eagle which flew by dropped into her lap a white hen, holding in its beak a sprig of laurel, just as the eagle had carried it off. Livia resolved to rear the fowl and plant the sprig, whereupon such a great brood of chickens was hatched that to this day the villa is called Ad Gallinas, and such a grove of laurel sprang up, that the Caesars gathered their laurels from it when they were going to celebrate triumphs. Moreover it was the habit of those who triumphed to plant other branches at once in that same place, and it was observed that just before the death of each of them the tree which he had planted withered. Now in Nero’s last year the whole grove died from the root up, as well as all the hens. Furthermore, when shortly afterwards the temple of the Caesars was struck by lightning, the heads fell from all the statues at the same time, and his sceptre, too, was dashed from the hand of Augustus.
2Nero was succeeded by Galba, who was related in no degree to the house of the Caesars, although unquestionably of noble origin and of an old and powerful family; for he always added to the inscriptions on his statues that he was the great-grandson of Quintus Catulus Capitolinus, and when he became emperor he even displayed a family tree in his hall in which he carried back his ancestry on his father’s side to Jupiter and on his mother’s to Pasiphae, the wife of Minos.
3It would be a long story to give in detail his illustrious ancestors and the honorary inscriptions of the entire race, but I shall give a brief account of his immediate family. It is uncertain why the first of the Sulpicii who bore the surname Galba assumed the name, and whence it was derived. Some think that it was because after having for a long time unsuccessfully besieged a town in Spain, he at last set fire to it by torches smeared with galbanum; others because during a long illness he made constant use of galbeum, that is to say of remedies wrapped in wool; still others, because he was a very fat man, such as the Gauls term galba, or because he was, on the contrary, as slender as the insects called galbae, which breed in oak trees.
2The family acquired distinction from Servius Galba, who became consul and was decidedly the most eloquent speaker of his time. This man, they say, was the cause of the war with Viriathus, because while governing Spain as propraetor, he treacherously massacred thirty thousand of the Lusitanians. His grandson had been one of Caesar’s lieutenants in Gaul, but angered because his commander caused his defeat for the consulship, he joined the conspiracy with Brutus and Cassius, and was consequently condemned to death by the Pedian law. 3From him were descended the grandfather and the father of the emperor Galba. The former, who was more eminent for his learning than for his rank—for he did not advance beyond the grade of praetor—published a voluminous and painstaking history. The father attained the consulship, and although he was short of stature and even hunchbacked, besides being only an indifferent speaker, was an industrious pleader at the bar. 4He married Mummia Achaica, the granddaughter of Catulus and great-granddaughter of Lucius Mummius who destroyed Corinth; and later Livia Ocellina, a very rich and beautiful woman, who however is thought to have sought marriage with him because of his high rank, and the more eagerly when, in response to her frequent advances, he took off his robe in private and showed her his deformity, so as not to seem to deceive her by concealing it. By Achaica he had two sons, Gaius and Servius. Gaius, who was the elder, left Rome after squandering the greater part of his estate, and committed suicide because Tiberius would not allow him to take part in the allotment of the provinces in his year.
4The emperor Servius Galba was born in the consulship of Marcus Valerius Messala and Gnaeus Lentulus, on the ninth day before the Kalends of January, in a country house situated on a hill near Tarracina, on the left as you go towards Fundi. Adopted by his stepmother Livia, he took her name and the surname Ocella, and also changed his forename; for he used Lucius, instead of Servius, from that time until he became emperor. It is well known that when he was still a boy and called to pay his respects to Augustus with others of his age, the emperor pinched his cheek and said in Greek: “Thou too, child, wilt have a nibble at this power of mine.” Tiberius too, when he heard that Galba was destined to be emperor, but in his old age, said: “Well, let him live then, since that does not concern me.” 2Again, when Galba’s grandfather was busy with a sacrifice for a stroke of lightning, and an eagle snatched the intestines from his hand and carried them to an oak full of acorns, the prediction was made that the highest dignity would come to the family, but late; whereupon he said with a laugh: “Very likely, when a mule has a foal.” Afterwards when Galba was beginning his revolt, nothing gave him so much encouragement as the foaling of a mule, and while the rest were horrified and looked on it as an unfavourable omen, he alone regarded it as most propitious, remembering the sacrifice and his grandfather’s saying.
3When he assumed the gown of manhood, he dreamt that Fortune said that she was tired of standing before his door, and that unless she were quickly admitted, she would fall a prey to the first comer. When he awoke, opening the door of the hall, he found close by the threshold a bronze statue of Fortune more than a cubit high. This he carried in his arms to Tusculum, where he usually spent the summer, and consecrated it in a room of his house; and from that time on he honoured it with monthly sacrifices and a yearly vigil.
4Even before he reached middle life, he persisted in keeping up an old and forgotten custom of his country, which survived only in his own household, of having his freedmen and slaves appear before him twice a day in a body, greeting him in the morning and bidding him farewell at evening, one by one.
5Among other liberal studies he applied himself to the law. He also assumed a husband’s duties, but after losing his wife Lepida and two sons whom he had by her, he remained a widower. And he could not be tempted afterwards by any match, not even with Agrippina, who no sooner lost Domitius by death than she set her cap for Galba so obviously, even before the death of his wife, that Lepida’s mother scolded her roundly before a company of matrons and went so far as to slap her.
2He showed marked respect to Livia Augusta, to whose favour he owed great influence during her lifetime and by whose last will he almost became a rich man; for he had the largest bequest among her legatees, one of fifty million sesterces. But because the sum was designated in figures and not written out in words, Tiberius, who was her heir, reduced the bequest to five hundred thousand, and Galba never received even that amount.
6He began his career of office before the legal age, and in celebrating the games of the Floralia in his praetorship he gave a new kind of exhibition, namely of elephants walking the rope. Then he governed the province of Aquitania for nearly a year and soon afterwards held a regular consulship for six months; and it chanced that in this office he succeeded Lucius Domitius, the father of Nero, and was succeeded by Salvius Otho, the father of the emperor Otho, a kind of omen of what happened later, when he became emperor between the reigns of the sons of these two men.
2Appointed governor of Upper Germany by Gaius Caesar in room of Gaetulicus, the day after he appeared before the legions he put a stop to their applause at a festival which chanced to fall at that time, by issuing a written order to keep their hands under their cloaks; and immediately this verse was bandied about the camp:
“Soldiers, learn to play the soldier; ‘tis Galba, not Gaetulicus.”
3With equal strictness he put a stop to the requests for furloughs. He got both the veterans and the new recruits into condition by plenty of hard work, speedily checked the barbarians, who had already made inroads even into Gaul, and when Gaius arrived, Galba and his army made such a good impression, that out of the great body of troops assembled from all the provinces none received greater commendation or richer rewards. Galba particularly distinguished himself, while directing the military manoeuvres shield in hand, by actually running for twenty miles close beside the emperor’s chariot.
7When the murder of Gaius was announced, although many urged Galba to take advantage of the opportunity, he preferred quiet. Hence he was in high favour with Claudius, became one of his staff of intimate friends, and was treated with such consideration that the departure of the expedition to Britain was put off because Galba was taken with a sudden illness, of no great severity. He governed Africa for two years with the rank of proconsul, being specially chosen to restore order in the province, which was disturbed both by internal strife and by a revolt of the barbarians. And he was successful, owing to his insistence on strict discipline and his observance of justice even in trifling matters. 2When provisions were very scarce during a foray and a soldier was accused of having sold for a hundred denarii a peck of wheat which was left from his rations, Galba gave orders that when the man began to lack food, he should receive aid from no one; and he starved to death. On another occasion when he was holding court and the question of the ownership of a beast of burden was laid before him, as the evidence on both sides was slight and the witnesses unreliable, so that it was difficult to get at the truth, he ruled that the beast should be led with its head muffled up to the pool where it was usually watered, that it should then be unmuffled, and should belong to the man to whom it returned of its own accord after drinking.
8His services in Africa at that time, and previously in Germany, were recognised by the triumphal regalia and three priesthoods, for he was chosen a member of the Fifteen, of the brotherhood of Titius, and of the priests of Augustus. After that he lived for the most part in retirement until about the middle of Nero’s reign, never going out even for recreation without taking a million sesterces in gold with him in a second carriage; until at last, while he was staying in the town of Fundi, Hispania Tarraconensis was offered him. 2And it fell out that as he was offering sacrifice in a public temple after his arrival in the province, the hair of a young attendant who was carrying an incense-box suddenly turned white all over his head, and there were some who did not hesitate to interpret this as a sign of a change of rulers and of the succession of an old man to a young one; that is to say, of Galba to Nero. Not long after this lightning struck a lake of Cantabria and twelve axes were found there, an unmistakable token of supreme power.
9For eight years he governed the province in a variable and inconsistent manner. At first he was vigorous and energetic and even over severe in punishing offences; for he cut off the hands of a money-lender who carried on his business dishonestly and nailed them to his counter; crucified a man for poisoning his ward, whose property he was to inherit in case of his death; and when the man invoked the law and declared that he was a Roman citizen, Galba, pretending to lighten his punishment by some consolation and honour, ordered that a cross much higher than the rest and painted white be set up, and the man transferred to it. But he gradually changed to sloth and inaction, not to give Nero any cause for jealousy, and as he used to say himself, because no one could be forced to render an account for doing nothing.
2As he was holding the assizes at New Carthage, he learned of the rebellion of the Gallic provinces through an urgent appeal for help from the governor of Aquitania; then came letters from Vindex, calling upon him to make himself the liberator and leader of mankind. So without much hesitation he accepted the proposal, led by fear as well as by hope. For he had intercepted despatches ordering his own death, which had been secretly sent by Nero to his agents. He was encouraged too, in addition to most favourable auspices and omens, by the prediction of a young girl of high birth, and the more so because the priest of Jupiter at Clunia, directed by a dream, had found in the inner shrine of his temple the very same prediction, likewise spoken by an inspired girl two hundred years before. And the purport of the verses was that one day there would come forth from Spain the ruler and lord of the world.
10Accordingly, pretending that he was going to attend to the manumitting of slaves, he mounted the tribunal, on the front of which he had set up as many images as he could find of those who had been condemned and put to death by Nero; and having by his side a boy of noble family, whom he had summoned for that very purpose from his place of exile hard by in the Balearic Isles, he deplored the state of the times; being thereupon hailed as emperor, he declared that he was their governor, representing the senate and people of Rome. 2Then proclaiming a holiday, he enrolled from the people of the province legions and auxiliaries in addition to his former force of one legion, two divisions of cavalry, and three cohorts. But from the oldest and most experienced of the nobles he chose a kind of senate, to whom he might refer matters of special importance whenever it was necessary. 3He also chose young men of the order of knights, who were to have the title of volunteers and keep guard before his bedchamber in place of the regular soldiers, without losing their right to wear the gold ring. He also sent proclamations broadcast throughout the province, urging all men individually and collectively to join the revolution and aid the common cause in every possible way.
4At about this same time, during the fortification of a town which he had chosen as the seat of war, a ring of ancient workmanship was found, containing a precious stone engraved with a Victory and a trophy. Immediately afterwards a ship from Alexandria loaded with arms arrived at Dertosa without a pilot, without a single sailor or passenger, removing all doubt in anyone’s mind that the war was just and holy and undertaken with the approval of the gods. Then suddenly and unexpectedly the whole plan was almost brought to naught. 5One of the two divisions of cavalry, repenting of its change of allegiance, attempted to desert Galba as he was approaching his camp and was with difficulty prevented. Some slaves too, whom one of Nero’s freedmen had given Galba with treachery in view, all but slew him as he was going to the bath through a narrow passage-way. In fact they would have succeeded, had they not conjured one another not to miss the opportunity and so been questioned as to what the opportunity was to which they referred; for when they were put to the torture, a confession was wrung from them.
11To these great perils was added the death of Vindex, by which he was especially panic-stricken and came near taking his own life, in the belief that all was lost. But when some messengers came from the city, reporting that Nero was dead and that all the people had sworn allegiance to him, he laid aside the title of governor and assumed that of Caesar. He then began his march to Rome in a general’s cloak with a dagger hanging from his neck in front of his breast; and he did not resume the toga until he had overthrown those who were plotting against him, Nymphidius Sabinus, prefect of the praetorian guard at Rome, in Germany and Africa the governors Fonteius Capito and Clodius Macer.
12His double reputation for cruelty and avarice had gone before him; men said that he had punished the cities of the Spanish and Gallic provinces which had hesitated about taking sides with him by heavier taxes and some even by the razing of their walls, putting to death the governors and imperial deputies along with their wives and children. Further, that he had melted down a golden crown of fifteen pounds weight, which the people of Tarraco had taken from their ancient temple of Jupiter and presented to him, with orders that the three ounces which were found lacking be exacted from them. 2This reputation was confirmed and even augmented immediately on his arrival in the city. For having compelled some marines whom Nero had made regular soldiers to return to their former position as rowers, upon their refusing and obstinately demanding an eagle and standards, he not only dispersed them by a cavalry charge, but even decimated them. He also disbanded a cohort of Germans, whom the previous Caesars had made their body-guard and had found absolutely faithful in many emergencies, and sent them back to their native country without any rewards, alleging that they were more favourably inclined towards Gnaeus Dolabella, near whose gardens they had their camp. 3The following tales too were told in mockery of him, whether truly or falsely: that when an unusually elegant dinner was set before him, he groaned aloud; that when his duly appointed steward presented his expense account, he handed him a dish of beans in return for his industry and carefulness; and that when the flute player Canus greatly pleased him, he presented him with five denarii, which he took from his own purse with his own hand.
13Accordingly his coming was not so welcome as it might have been, and this was apparent at the first performance in the theatre; for when the actors of an Atellan farce began the familiar lines
“Here comes Onesimus from his farm”
all the spectators at once finished the song in chorus and repeated it several times with appropriate gestures, beginning with that verse.