1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vitellius, Aulus

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9486111911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28 — Vitellius, Aulus

VITELLIUS, AULUS, Roman emperor from the 2nd of January to the 22nd of December A.D. 69, was born on the 24th of September A.D. 15. He was the son of Lucius Vitellius, who had been consul and governor of Syria under Tiberius. Aulus was consul in 48, and (perhaps in 60–61) proconsul of Africa, in which capacity he said to have acquitted himself with credit. Under Galba, to the general astonishment, at the end of 68 he was chosen to command the army of Lower Germany, and here he made himself popular with his subalterns and with his soldiers by outrageous prodigality and excessive good nature, which soon proved fatal to order and discipline. Far from being ambitious or scheming, he was lazy and self-indulgent, fond of eating and drinking, and owed his elevation to the throne to Caecina and Valens, commanders of two legions on the Rhine. Through these two men a military revolution was speedily accomplished, and early in 69 Vitellius was proclaimed emperor at Colonia Agrippinensis (Cologne), or, more accurately, emperor of the armies of Upper and Lower Germany. In fact, he was never acknowledged as emperor by the entire Roman world, though at Rome the senate accepted him and decreed to him the usual imperial honours. He advanced into Italy at the head of a licentious and ruffianly soldierly, and Rome became the scene of riot and massacre, gladiatorial shows and extravagant feasting. As soon as it was known that the armies of the East, Dalmatia and Illyricum had declared for Vespasian, Vitellius, deserted by many of his adherents, would have resigned the title of emperor. It was said that the terms of resignation had actually been agreed upon with Primus, one of Vespasian's chief supporters, but the praetorians refused to allow him to carry out the agreement, and forced him to return to the palace, when he was on his way to deposit the insignia of empire in the temple of Concord. On the entrance of Vespasian's troops into Rome he was dragged out of some miserable hiding-place, driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, and there struck down. “Yet I was once your emperor,” were the last and, as far as we know, the noblest words of Vitellius. During his brief administration Vitellius showed indications of a desire to govern wisely, but he was completely under the control of Valens and Caecina, who for their own ends encouraged him in a course of vicious excesses which threw his better qualities into the background.

See Tacitus, Histories; Suetonius, Vitellius; Dio Cassius lxv.; Merivale, Hist. of the Romans under the Empire, chs. 56, 57; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit, i. pt. 1; W. A. Spooner's ed. of the Histories of Tacitus (introduction); B. W. Henderson, Civil War and Rebellion in the Roman Empire, A.D. 69–70 (1908).