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Marcus Salvius Otho

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Roman emperor, successor, after Galba, of Nero, b. in Rome, of an ancient Etruscan family settled at Ferentinum, 28 April, A.D. 32; d. at Brixellum on the Po, 15 April, 69. He led a profligate life at the court of Nero. As husband of the courtesan Poppæa Sabina he was sent for appearance's sake to Lusitania as governor. When Sulpicius Galba was proclaimed emperor, Otho returned to Rome with him. In contrast to the miserly Galba, he sought to win the affection of the troops by generosity. On 15 January, 69, five days after Galba had appointed Lucius Calpurnius Piso co-emperor and successor, twenty-three soldiers proclaimed Otho emperor upon the open street. As Galba hurried to take measures against this procedure, he and his escort encountered his opponents at the Forum; there was a struggle, and Galba was murdered. Otho was now sole ruler; the senate confirmed his authority. The statues of Nero were again set up by Otho who also set aside an immense sum of money for the completion of Nero's Golden House ( Aurea Domus ). Meantime Aulus Vitellius, legate under Galba to southern Germany, was proclaimed emperor at Cologne. Alienus Cæcina, who had been punished by Galba for his outrageous extortion, persuaded the legions of northern Germany to agree to this choice; their example was followed by the troops in Britain. In a short time a third of the standing army had renounced the emperor at Rome. In the winter of 69 these troops advanced into the plain of the River Po, stimulated by anticipation of the wealth of Italy and Rome, and strengthened by the presence of German and Belgian auxiliaries. On the march they learned that Galba was dead and Otho was his successor. At first Vitellius entered into negotiations with the new ruler at Rome. Compromise failing, both made ready for the decisive struggle. Otho vainly sought to force the citizens of Rome to take energetic measures for security. To expiate any wrong done he recalled the innocent persons who had been banished by Nero's reign, and caused Nero's evil adviser, Sophonius Tigellinus, to be put to death. Finally he placed the republic in the care of the Senate and started for upper Italy on 14 March, with the main part of his guard, that had been collected in Rome, and two legions of soldiers belonging to the navy, while seven legions were advancing from Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Mœsia. A fleet near Narbonensis was to check the hostile troops from Gaul, that would advance from the south. After some favourable preliminary skirmishes near Placentia and Cremona Otho gave the command for a pitched battle before a junction had been effected with the legions from Mœsia. While the emperor himself remained far from the struggle at Brixellum on the right bank of the Po, his soldiers were defeated in battle near Cremona, and large numbers of them killed (14 April). The next day the remnant of his army was obliged to surrender. On receiving news of the defeat, Otho killed himself. His body was burned, as he had directed, on the spot where he had so ingloriously ended. Vitellus was recognized as emperor by the Senate.

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