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Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis by Philip Matyszak

Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis by Philip Matyszak

Author:Philip Matyszak [Matyszak, Philip]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: new
ISBN: 9781848841192
Amazon: 1848841191
Goodreads: 23103431
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Published: 2001-01-01T05:00:00+00:00

The Battle

On 8 April Valens arrived with the rest of the Vitellian army. Further reinforcements were being scraped together from the depleted Rhineland garrisons, but basically the Vitellian force was now as large as it was going to get. Though it outnumbered the opposition facing it, in time this army would be outnumbered in its turn by the forces Otho had summoned from the far reaches of the empire. It was essential for the Rhinelanders to settle things without delay.

This was clear to Paulinus, by far the canniest of the Othonian generals. He argued strongly that fighting a battle before reinforcements arrived was to be playing into the enemy’s hands. Otho’s other advisors felt that their men would not permit them to delay, and the Vitellians should be attacked before they had time to recover from their long march, just as originally planned. This dissent among their commanders further lowered the trust of the Othonian troops in their generals. But if the soldiery trusted their commanders too little, Otho trusted them too much. His decision to leave his generals to do their job weakened morale. The men fighting for Otho needed his presence. And they needed the cavalry and substantial bodyguard Otho kept with him at Brexellum.

Our sources for Otho’s pre-battle council of war are unsatisfactory. Nevertheless it is possible to reconstruct the deliberations from the army’s subsequent actions. It appears that the immediate target of the Othonians was Caecina’s bridge. This represented a partial victory for Paulinus. Destroying the bridge would keep the Vitellians north of the Po. If they were still there when the Danubian legions arrived, then the Vitellians would be severely disadvantaged. If, on the other hand, the Vitellians did get over the Po, Otho had no illusions that the Italian towns or the senate in Rome would fight to the death for him. Most simply wanted the civil war over as soon as possible. Unlike the legions, they were not deeply concerned which of the two wretched options for emperor won it.

Accordingly, the Othonian army, some 30,000 strong, set out against the Rhinelanders, who now numbered some 50,000 men. Otho’s generals probably intended to set up camp close enough to the river to make work on Caecina’s bridge impossible. Then, in a fortified camp, their smaller force could await the arrival of the Danubians. This is the only explanation of why the Othonians went out equipped for a campaign complete with camp-building materials. These would not have been needed if a decisive battle was contemplated.

Things went wrong almost as soon as the Othonians came in sight of their enemies. Firstly, they soon discovered that rumours of low morale among their opponents were false. The Vitellian cavalry attacked the Othonian column as soon as it came into sight. The attack was repulsed, but the damage was done. Seeing the Vitellian legions forming up, some Othonians attempted to deploy into line of battle. Others continued with the original plan. The muddy ground, tangled vineyards and deep ditches spoiled communications and the effective execution of either operation.


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