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There were two military units with the number Legio II in Roman Britain; Legio II Augusta and Legio II Adiutrix. In fact, there were at least eleven legions whose name had the form "Second Legion (N-----)". Legio II Adiutrix was the one associated with Chester.
The spiritual center of a Roman military camp was the "Sacellum", a space consecrated to the flags of the legion in which the army standards (insignia) were stored. On special holidays, the army standards were anointed, decorated with laurel and garlands, as well as adorned with bands. One of these holidays was the "dies natalis aquilae" the "birthday" of the (legionary) eagle, that is, the day on which the soldiers celebrated the anniversary of the legion’s founding. The army standards were symbols and warrantors for religious commitment to the state as well as for military virtues and successes. Therefore, the army standards were ritually worshipped as representatives of military religion ("religio castrensis"). The Roman army standards also exerted a strong psychological influence on the soldiers, who would gather around them before a battle and during lulls. They always had the standards’ protection on their minds when following the standard bearer into battle. Thus the army standards were literally both a guiding motif and motive; a point of reference as well as a symbol of the troops’ morale. This close association with the eagle was why it was so important why none were lost in battle and why steps were taken to recover any which had been lost.
The "sacellum" in Chester can still be seen, in Hamilton Place, near the Town Hall. As well as being used for the storage of the insignia (there are replica insignia at Chester) it was also used to store the legionary pay-chests, and possibly also acted as a "bank" for the soldiers to keep their savings (if any) until they retired.
- 1 The Year of the Four Emperors
- 2 A schematic map of the war
- 3 II Augusta
- 4 II Adiutrix
- 5 Related Pages
- 6 Sources and Links
The Year of the Four Emperors
The Year of the Four Emperors, 69 AD, was a year in the history of the Roman Empire in which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian (it is five if you count Nymphidius Sabinus). The suicide of the emperor Nero in 68 was followed by a brief period of civil war, the first Roman civil war since Mark Antony's death in 30 BC. Between June of 68 and December of 69 Galba, Otho, and Vitellius successively rose and fell, the latter overlapping with the July 69 accession of Vespasian, who founded the Flavian dynasty. The social, military and political upheavals of the period had Empire-wide repercussions, which included the outbreak of the Revolt of the Batavi. Given the involvement of both Legio II and Legio XX, it is worth reviewing events, which well illustrate the back-stabbing Roman politics of the time:
- April – Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, and Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis rebel against Nero. In the words of Roman statesman and historian Cassius Dio (writing in 200–222 AD): "...the inhabitants of Britain and of Gaul, oppressed by the taxes, were becoming more vexed and inflamed than ever". Vindex intended to substitute Galba for Nero. Nero had been losing his grip on power for some time – he had neglected the legions, raised taxes to punitive levels, offended the political elite with his increasingly outrageous behaviour, created a climate of fear through his arbitrary use of the law, and had lost the trust of the people following the Great Fire of Rome (AD 64).
- May – The Rhine legions (led by Lucius Verginius Rufus) defeat Vindex in Gaul. Vindex killed himself shortly thereafter. Galba was at first declared a public enemy (hostis publicus) by the Senate. Aware that riots started all over the place, confused by the whole situation and incapable of any decisive reactions, Nero attempted to organize some sort of defense at least in the city of Rome, and gathered the sailors from the imperial fleet, which was stationed in Misenum at the time, trying to organize them into a legion;
- June – The Praetorian Guard prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus, as part of a plot to become emperor himself, incited his men to transfer their loyalty from Nero to Galba. Nero is declared a public enemy by the senate (8 June) - it was now every Roman citizen’s duty to kill him or do him harm - and commits suicide (9 June). After Nero's fall, the legions under Verginius Rufus hailed him emperor in preference to Servius Sulpicius Galba (Vindex' ally), but Verginius Rufus refused to accept the purple. Between the death of Nero and the arrival of Galba at Rome, Nymphidius wasted no time: he orchestrated the "resignation" of his co-prefect Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus (by suicide) and stood as sole commander of the praetorian guard. Galba, however, appointed a replacement for Tigellinus, Cornelius Laco, and took several further steps to eliminate potential rivals (e.g., the murder of Lucius Clodius Macer in Africa Province), all of which must have made Nymphidius uneasy. No longer content to help others to the throne, Nymphidius declared that he himself was a legitimate successor to Nero — a claim which he supported with the dubious assertion that he was the illegitimate son of the former emperor Caligula. He also took Nero's "wife", Sporus, as his own "wife". Sporus, who was a young freedman, had been "married" to Nero (after he had had him castrated) because he resembled emperor's second wife: Poppaea (who Nero had kicked to death). The Praetorians recognized that Galba's approach counted for more than Nymphidius' presence, and killed the would-be usurper before their new Emperor arrived at Rome. Galba met Nero's newly recruited sailors, now jobless and without a clear statute, at the Milvian bridge, just outside of Rome. The sailors asked for the legion to be properly organized, as Nero promised. Galba, a guy without any sense of humor and with a passion for senseless authority, ordered his own troops to charge the sailors: thousands died. Galba was thereafter exalted into emperorship and welcomed into the city at the head of a single legion, VII Galbiana, later known as VII Gemina. After having his imperial status confirmed in the Senate, Galba turned his attention back to the surviving sailors, and decided to organize the legion after all - Legio I Adiutrix. Once they were trained is first command was decimation. After the decimation, he ordered the execution of those considered to be the heads of the rebellion from the Milvian bridge.
- November – This turn of events did not win the hearts and minds of the German legions, who also did not get the cash reward for "loyalty" that they had expected, but rather accusations of having obstructed Galba's path to the throne. Their commander, Rufus, was immediately replaced by the new emperor with Vitellius being nominated governor of Germania Inferior. Galba did not remain popular for long. On his march to Rome, he either destroyed or imposed enormous fines on towns that did not accept him immediately. In Rome, Galba cancelled all the reforms of Nero, including benefits for many important people. Like his predecessor, Galba had a fear of conspirators and executed many senators and equites without trial. Galba did not have any involvment with Sporus - he preferred fatter, older men (his "lover" Icelus was later crucified). He had not been seen in Rome for many years and he was no longer the vigorous, robust man some remembered instead he was as bald as an egg, pencil-thin, gaunt, and weather-beaten;
- 1 January – The Rhine legions refuse to swear loyalty to Galba - the fourth and twenty-second legions of Upper Germany refused to swear loyalty to the emperor. They toppled the statues of Galba and demanded that a new emperor be chosen;
- 2 January – Vitellius acclaimed emperor by the Rhine legions and marched on Rome with his troops. Suetonius records the rumours of lurid tales of sexual perversity on the part of the earlier emperor Tiberius, including graphic depictions of child molestation: of the young Vitellius. Vitellius' forces were divided into two armies, one commanded by Aulus Caecina Alienus and the other by Fabius Valens. The Vitellian forces included legions XXI Rapax, V Alaudae and powerful vexillationes from all the other legions stationed on the Rhine, together with a strong force of Batavian auxiliaries, a force of around 70,000 men. Hearing the news of the loss of the Rhine legions, Galba panicked. He adopted a young senator, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus, as his successor (10th Jan). By doing this, he offended many, above all Marcus Salvius Otho, an influential and ambitious nobleman who desired the honor for himself. Otho bribed the Praetorian Guard, already very unhappy with the emperor, winning them to his side. When Galba heard about the coup d'état, he went to the streets in an attempt to stabilize the situation. It proved a mistake, because he could not attract any supporters.
- 15 January – Galba decides to confront the Praetorian Guard but on his way to their barracks he was intercepted by a unit of Otho’s cavalry but through force of personality alone he was able to persuade Otho’s troops to escort him to his destination. Too weak and decrepit to walk, Galba had to be carried on a litter but nonetheless demanded that the Praetorian Guard line up before him. Upon doing so he demanded their loyalty and ordered them to disarm. He was at first greeted with silence but soon they began to whistle and jeer. When he again tried to speak he was heckled and shouted down and they began to laugh at this pathetic specimen of manly prowess. In desperation Galba showed them his neck and said: “Strike me here if you think it would be good for Rome” They did: Galba being hacked to death in the street by scores of soldiers. On the same day, the senate recognizes Otho as emperor. One hundred and twenty people tried to claim the credit for killing Galba, expecting to be rewarded, and to this end a list was made of their names. However, when Otho was deposed by Vitellius the new emperor found the list and ordered them all executed. Sporus the "wife" of Nero and later of Nymphidius, now moved in with Otho and Lucius Calpurnius Piso Licinianus was also killed by the Praetorian Guard;
- 14 March - Otho left Rome on March 14 and marched north to meet the challenge of Vitellius, leaving his brother Titianus in charge of Rome. Vitellius, a glutton, was still marching south and had apparently bankrupted several people on the way by demanding lavish banquets. Otho made his base at Brixellum. His forces included legions I Adiutrix (the unfortunate ex-sailors), XIII Gemina, a forward detachment of XIIII Gemina, the Praetorian Guard and a force of gladiators. His general staff included generals such as Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who, as governor of Britain, had defeated Boudica eight years earlier.
- 14 April – Vitellius defeats Otho at the first Battle of Bedriacum. Suetonius was captured by Vitellius and obtained a pardon by claiming that he had deliberately lost the battle for Otho, although this was almost certainly untrue;
- 16 April – Otho commits suicide; Vitellius continued his march on Rome, where he made a triumphal entry and was recognized as emperor by the Senate. Otho's supporters, looking for another candidate to support, settled on Vespasian. Vitellius, intended to use Sporus as a victim in a public entertainment; a fatal "re-enactment" of the Rape of Proserpina at a gladiator show. Sporus avoided this public humiliation by committing suicide. After the death of Otho the soldiers again offered the throne to Verginius Rufus, but he again refused it. Verginius Rufus retreated to an estate at Alsium on the coast of Etruria northwest of Rome. There he studied, composed poems, and had a literary salon;
- 1 July – Vespasian, commander of the Roman army in Judaea, proclaimed emperor by the legions of Egypt under Tiberius Julius Alexander. Vespasian had been given a special command in Judaea by Nero in 67 with the task of putting down the Great Jewish Revolt. He gained the support of the governor of Syria, Gaius Licinius Mucianus and a strong force drawn from the Judaean and Syrian legions marched on Rome under the command of Mucianus;
- August – The Danubian legions announce support to Vespasian (in Syria) and invade Italy in September on his behalf. Three of these legions, III Gallica, VIII Augusta and VII Claudia had been on their way to support Otho when they heard of his defeat at the first battle of Bedriacum. They had been made to swear allegiance to Vitellius, but when they heard of Vespasian's bid for power they switched their support to him. During this same summer Suetonius Paulinus was at Forum Julii (modern Fréjus on the French coast);
- October – The Danubian army defeats Vitellius in the second Battle of Bedriacum and Vespasian occupies Egypt;
- 20 December – Vitellius killed by soldiers at the Gemonian stairs in Rome. Death on the stairs was considered extremely dishonourable and dreadful;
- 21 December – Vespasian recognized as emperor. The new Emperor’s first task was to put Rome’s finances in order after the profligate years of Nero’s reign and he ordered Mucianus to restore the old taxes and find new ones where possible. In this Mucianus was thorough removing Greece’s fiscal exemption and even taxing the use of public urinals. It wasn’t a popular move but then Vespasian was still out of the country at the time so didn’t get the blame;
- 7 March - Officially, Legio II Aductrix (Pia Fidelis) comes into existence;
A schematic map of the war
Legio II Augusta, ("Second Augustan Legion") may have been recruited by consul Gaius Vibius Pansa and Octavian (the later emperor Augustus) in 43 BCE and at that time called "Legio II Sabina" ("from the Sabine country"). If this is correct, it first fought against Mark Antony on the eastern plains of the Po, and later, when Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus had allied themselves in the Second Triumvirate, against the murderers of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus, in the Battle of Philippi (42 BCE). A sling stone perhaps mentioning Caesar Leg II seems to prove that the Second was present at Perugia in 41 BCE, where Octavian besieged Mark Antony's brother Lucius.
The Second Sabine legion legion may be identical to the Legio II Gallica; if so, this is a clue to its location in the years before 30 - in Gaul. The settlement of veterans at Arausio (Orange) may confirm this. Arausio was named after the local Celtic water-god, and is "Colonia Julia Firma Secundanorum Arausio" in full. A previous Celtic settlement with that name existed in the same place, and a major battle, which is generally known as the Battle of Arausio, had been fought in 105 BC between two Roman armies and the Cimbri and Teutones tribes.
At the beginning of Augustus' rule, in 25 BC, II Augusta was relocated in Hispania, to fight in the Cantabrian Wars, which definitively established Roman power in Hispania, and later camped at an unknown location in Hispania Tarraconensis. With the annihilation of Legio XVII, XVIII and XIX in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (AD 9: see Legio XX), II Augusta moved to Germania, possibly in the area of Moguntiacum. After 17, it was at Argentoratum (modern Strasbourg) where the legion protected a strategic crossing point of the Rhine. In 21, the Second was involved in a military action against the revolt of two Gallic rebels named Julius Sacrovir and Julius Florus, which had affected large parts of Gaul. This victory was commemorated with a triumphal arch in Orange.
The legion participated in the Roman conquest of Britain in 43. Future emperor Vespasian was the legion's commander at the time, and led the campaign against the Durotriges (in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon) and their neighbours the Dumnonii (Devon and Cornwall). Although it was recorded as suffering a defeat at the hands of the Silures in 52, the II Augusta proved to be one of the best legions, even after its disgrace during the uprising of queen Boudica, when its praefectus castrorum (Poenius Postumus), who was then its acting commander (its legatus and tribunes probably being absent with the governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus), contravened Suetonius' orders to join him and so later committed suicide.
After the defeat of Boudica, the legion was dispersed over several bases; from 66 to around 74 it was stationed at Glevum (modern Gloucester), and then moved to Isca Augusta (modern Caerleon), building a stone fortress that the soldiers occupied until the end of the 3rd century. In the civil war of the year 69, a part of II Augusta sided with the emperor Vitellius. At least one subunit took part in his march on Rome, and fought in the battle at Cremona (Bedriacum) against the legions of Otho. Later, these soldiers were defeated by those of Vespasian, and returned to Britain in 70. The legion also had connections with the camp at Alchester in Oxfordshire; stamped tiles record it in the 2nd century at Portus Abonae (Sea Mills, Bristol) on the tidal shore of the Avon.
In 122, II Augusta helped to build Hadrian's Wall. In 142, II Augusta helped to build the Antonine Wall and are recorded on The Bridgeness Slab. In 196, II Augusta supported the claim for the purple of the governor of Britannia, Clodius Albinus, who was defeated by Septimius Severus. On the occasion of Severus' Scottish campaign, the Second moved to Carpow, to return to Caerleon under Alexander Severus. The legion was still there in 255.
In the fourth century, the Second legion Augusta was part of the coastal defense of Kent (at Richborough). It is possible that II Brittannica originated from a mobile unit of II Augusta. The only source for the exact name of this legion is the text known as Notitia Dignitatum, which is a catalogue of Roman magistracies and military units in the last decade of the fourth century. In other sources the Second British Legion has other names (e.g. Secundani Brittones).
The story most commonly found in the history books is that Legio II Adiutrix, ("Rescuer/Supporter Second Legion"), was a legion of the Imperial Roman army founded 7 March AD 70 by the emperor Vespasian (r. 69–79), originally composed of Roman navy marines of the classis Ravennatis. The legion's symbols were a Capricorn and Pegasus.
It does not make sense?
Ravenna had been used for ship construction and as a naval port at least since the Roman civil wars, but the permanent classis Ravennas was established by Caesar Augustus in 27 BC . It was commanded by a praefectus classis, drawn from the highest ranks of the equestrian class, those earning more than 200,000 sesterces a year, and its mission was to control the Adriatic Sea and perhaps the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The classis Ravennas recruited its crews mostly from the East, especially from Egypt. Since Rome did not face any naval threat in the Mediterranean, the bulk of the fleet's crews was idle. Some of the sailors were based in Rome itself, initially housed in the barracks of the Praetorian Guard, but later given their own barracks, the Castra Ravennatium across the Tiber. There they were used to stage mock naval battles (naumachiae), and (being familiar with sails and the like) operated the mechanism that deployed the canvas canopy of the Colosseum.
The problem with the origin story of Legio II Adiutrix is that there were simply not enough marines serving with the fleet. On every Roman ship the number of deck-hands, rowers and officers vastly out-numbered the marines. A ship with some 200 other crew might include 15 or so dedicated marines. This would need the marines from almost 400 ships to form a legion - possibly more ships than the entire Roman Navy. It appears that the task of the Roman Marines was not to provide a ship-borne force to fight on land, but to repel boarders and provide other low-level guard duties. They did not engage in the large-scale amphibious warfare which a modern marine fore might do today. When needed, the Roman Navy used regular infantry as the equivalent of modern marines. It simply does not make sense to suggest that a whole legion could be recruited from the small numbers of full-time marines available.
A second problem is the "Capricorn" attribution of the legionary symbol - this does not sit well with the legion having a "dies natalis aquilae" in March as the capricorn would seem to indicate a "birthday" in December/January.
A third issue arises from the "cognomen" of the legion - "Adiutrix Pia Fidelis". The last time that "Pia Fidelis" had been awarded was thirty-eight years previously when Claudius named the 7th and 11th legions as such (as "Claudia Pia Fidelis") for putting down the revolt of Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus. Later in Ad 70, Vespasian would raise new legions and use the family name "Flavia" in their titles - such as in the case of IV Flavia and XVI Flavia (these replaced legions which had been on the "wrong side" in the recent troubles) - so why was the II Adiutrix not simply the "II Flavia"? There is even evidence from coins that II Adiutrix was in existence before the 7th March AD 70.
Tacitus provides an answer?
Tacitus may provide an answer to this puzzle. He writes that legions were raised by the city of Vienna for Galba (Histories,I,65) - this is not Vienna in Austria but Vienne in southeastern France. These legions included "I Adiutrix" raised in AD 68 from local recruits and sailors as a "supporter" of I Italica. Given that their "legion" (I Adiutrix) had been removed the elders of the region would have raised a new legion, for which "II Adiutrix" would be a sensible name. The area was also the recruititing ground for II Augusta, so the "II" would fit well with tradition. Interestingly, only I Aduitrix and II Augusta used the pegasus as an emblem before II Adiutrix adopted it. This would put the origins of part of II Adiutrix in what is now southern France in January AD 69, when the situation in Rome was incredibly fluid with Galba (who had decimated I Adiutrix) running round the streets trying to get support anf finding none.
Tacitus then records that by the spring of AD 69 I Italica had been given orders to join the forces of Vitellius. On the way they passed through Vienne, where a sack of the city was avoided by a huge bribe. Recall that in March AD 69 Otho's general staff had included Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who, as governor of Britain, had defeated Boudica eight years earlier. When Otho was defeated by forces loyal to Vitellius at the first Battle of Bedriacum, Suetonius was captured and obtained a pardon by claiming that he had deliberately lost the battle for Otho. The centurions of I Aduitrix were not so lucky. As Tacitus writes:
- "Then the centurions who had been most active in supporting Otho were put to death, an action which more than anything else turned the forces in Illyricum against Vitellius; at the same time the contagion spread to the rest of the legions, who were jealous of the forces from Germany, and they began to think of war. Suetonius Paulinus and Licinius Proculus were kept in anxiety and distress by a long delay, until at last, when admitted to audience, they resorted to a defence which necessity rather than honour dictated: they actually charged themselves with treachery towards Otho, declaring that their own bad faith was responsible for the long march before the battle, for the exhaustion of his forces, for the baggage train becoming involved with the marching troops and the resulting confusion, and finally for many things which were due to mere chance. Vitellius believed in their treachery and acquitted them of the crime of loyalty towards Otho."
Suetonius then "retired" to the Côte d'Azur, at Forum Julii.
A native of Forum Julii and possibly a relative of Suetonius was Marcus Valerius Paulinus who possessed considerable estates. He was a friend of Vespasian's before his accession; and having previously served as tribune of the praetorian tribunes, he was able to collect for Vespasian many of the Vitellian troops in Narbonnese Gaul, of which province he was appointed procurator. Tacitus writes: "He collected all the troops who, having been disbanded by Vitellius, were now spontaneously taking up arms" (Tac H, III, 43) in support of Vespasian and took over Forum Julii as the first city in the west to raise the banner of Vespasian.
There are alternative explanations: the emblems of II Augusta are a capricorn and a pegasus, both frequently found in connection with legions associated with Augustus (who was actually a libra but made much of the fact that he was concieved under capricorn). Even I Adiutrix used a capricorn and that was formed under Galba (who was himself a capricorn), in AD 68 but before December.
Somewhere in these utterly confusing times Legio II Adiutrix ends up on the side of Vespasian, whose armies (in late December 69) fight into Rome.
The first "official" assignment of II Adiutrix was in Germania Inferior, where the Batavian rebellion was at its peak. The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between AD 69 and 70. It was an uprising against the Roman Empire started by the Batavi, a small but militarily powerful Germanic tribe that inhabited Batavia, on the delta of the river Rhine. They were soon joined by the Celtic tribes from Gallia Belgica and some Germanic tribes. Under the leadership of their hereditary prince Gaius Julius Civilis, an auxiliary officer in the Imperial Roman army, the Batavi and their allies managed to inflict a series of humiliating defeats on the Roman army, including the destruction (or conversion to their cause) of two legions under Mummius Lupercus (Legio I Germanica and XVI Gallica). The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the Roman Empire. After these initial successes, a massive Roman army led by the Roman general Quintus Petillius Cerialis eventually defeated the rebels. Following peace talks, the Batavi submitted again to Roman rule, but were forced to accept humiliating terms and a legion stationed permanently on their territory, at Noviomagus (modern day Nijmegen, The Netherlands).
After the defeat of the Batavian rebels, II Adiutrix followed general Quintus Petillius Cerialis to Britain to deal with another rebellion led by Venutius. During the next years, the legion was to stay in the British Islands to subdue the rebel tribes of Scotland and Wales. Inscriptions prove that the legion was stationed at Deva (Chester) and Lindum (Lincoln), but we can not establish which town served as the unit's first and second base, although it is usually assumed that the legion's oldest home was Lincoln. with a secondary base camp at Chester.
The precise date at which the Romans began construction at Chester has been the subject of much debate. According to one version, sometime around 74 CE, the then governor of Roman Britain, Sextus Julius Frontinus constructed an "auxiliary fort" at Deva Victrix (Chester). The placement of this fort (at the lowest ford of the Dee) appears to have been a strategic move by Frontinus with the intent of both blocking the route of any routed British trying to escape to the north, and to guard against help arriving from the Brigantes and other northern tribes. Frontinus was a noted engineer as well as being a governor, and author of De aquis urbis Romae, a history and description of the water supply of Rome. It is not known whether he was involved in providing Chester's Water Supply from the springs at Boughton to the Roman fort, but is is known that at this time lead (such as is used for plumbing) was traded with the Deceangli of north Wales. The lead was probably mined at Pentre.
When Gnaeus Julius Agricola was governor of Britain (77-83), the Second was probably moved to Chester. The legion fought against the tribe of the Ordovices and occupied the Isle of Mona (modern Anglesey). During the next years, Agricola tried to subdue Scotland and II Adiutrix seems to have served as strategic reserve in Wales and England.
In AD 86/87, and certainly by 92, the legion was recalled to the continent to participate in the Dacian wars of emperor Domitian. Between 94 and 95, still in Dacia, later emperor Hadrian served as military tribune in the II Adiutrix. In the summer of 106 the legion took part to the siege of the Dacian Capital Sarmisegetusa. After Trajan's Dacian Wars of 101–106, the legion was located in Aquincum (modern Budapest), which would be its base camp for the years to come. In 193, II Adiutrix supported emperor Septimius Severus during his struggle for the purple.
Sources and Links
- Legionary Eagle and Army Standards;
- Legions of Rome: claims to be "The definitive history of every Roman legion" (but contains many errors);
- Legions and Veterans: Roman Army Papers 1971-2000;
- Tacitus: Histories, Book III;
- Plutarch: The Life of Galba;
- Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars;