Monday, June 22, 2015

General Rino Corso Fougier

Rino Corso Fougier was born on November 14, 1894 in Bastia, France. In 1912 he enlisted in the Regio Esercito (Royal Army) and showed promise. He took the reserve officer student training course and in 1914 was commissioned a second lieutenant in command of a platoon of bicycle-mounted Bersaglieri. When the Kingdom of Italy entered World War I the following year he served with the Seventh Bersaglieri Regiment and was wounded in action on June 23, 1915 by a mine explosion while carrying out a reconnaissance mission. He pushed forward and earned the Silver Medal for Military Valor for his heroism. However, his aspirations caused him to look to the skies and he began training as a combat pilot at the Battalion Airmen School of Venaria Reale in Piedmont, earning his license in 1916 and becoming a combat pilot the following year. Posted to the 113th Squadron, he saw action in numerous air battles. He earned his second Silver Medal after taking on three enemy planes on May 20, 1917 over the Austrians' Banjšice Plateau, a fight in which he was wounded again. He served in other squadrons and was promoted to the rank of captain, earning a third Silver Medal along the way. After the war he was appointed to command his own squadron.

Previously, he was still officially a Bersaglieri officer but in 1923 the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force) was officially established and in 1927 Fougier was promoted to lieutenant colonel. From 1928 to 1933 he commanded the First Wing and was singled out for praise by Air Marshal Italo Balbo. In 1930 he established the first school of aerobatics which would become a famous institution and during World War II the Italian pilots would be widely known for their aerobatic skill. In 1931 he was promoted to colonel and from 1933 to 1934 commanded the 3rd Air Brigade. Subsequently he saw colonial service as commander of the air forces in Libya until 1937. He commanded Italian air forces in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and saw action again in the Spanish Civil War in which Italian air power played a critical role. Afterwards, he was made inspector of air force training schools and had a couple of other assignments before Italian entry into World War II. Despite being pioneers in air warfare, Italy entered the conflict with some considerable disadvantages. Success in previous campaigns with older aircraft meant that innovation was not given the priority it should have and most Italian aircraft were outdated when Italy entered the war. The industrial capacity of the country was also insufficient to meet the demands of a world war.

In 1940, General Rino Corso Fougier received his most famous assignment; command of the Italian air forces operating in the Battle of Britain (see Italians in the Battle of Britain). Although they are not often remembered in histories of the Battle of Britain, the Italians actually did quite well, especially considering how outmatched their maneuverable but slow CR.42 biplanes were by the British Spitfires. The Italian pilots flew numerous missions, performed very well in air-to-air combat and inflicted about as much damage on the British as they lost themselves. Italian bombing raids on coastal installations also did considerable damage and forced the British RAF to divert resources which would have been better employed in fending off attacks by the German Luftwaffe. It was a campaign that deserves to be more widely known because the Italian pilots performed very well and were not without successes. At Felixtowne, Harwich and Ramsgate, the initial Italian air attacks went very well and the daylight raid on Ramsgate resulted in only five Italian aircraft being damaged by anti-aircraft fire. In air-to-air combat with the RAF the outmatched Italians generally gave as good as they got, inflicting as much damage as they incurred. Counting fighters and bombers, the Italian forces lost 15 aircraft in the Battle of Britain but destroyed an equal number of British aircraft in the process while dropping 54 tons of ordinance on the enemy.

Eventually, however, Mussolini determined that Italy's resources had to be focused on the Mediterranean (though there was the diversion of forces to Russia) and so the Italian Air Corps in Belgian operating against England was withdrawn. After the dismissal of General Francesco Pricolo, General Rino Corso Fougier was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Regia Aeronautica and Secretary of State. In 1942 he was promoted to General of the Army (Aviation) but his military career came to an end the following year with the downfall of the Fascist state and the armistice with the Allies. Because the Regia Aeronautica had been born in the Fascist era there were those who harbored suspicions about the whole organization and General Rino Corso Fougier was stripped of his post and left the military to retire to civilian life. Nonetheless, he had finished a remarkable career of service to his King and his nation. He died in Rome on April 24, 1963.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Case for Italian Unification

Some time ago it was brought to my attention that I had never set down my exact thoughts on Italian unification. It has certainly been covered here, the facts are there for all to see, the sequence of events, etc. I would think most regular readers would be aware that I favored it, even if the way it came about is not what I would consider ideal. However, my overall thoughts on the subject have been lacking and since this is something which tends to divide monarchists (one of oh-so-many things), I thought I might as well put forward my opinions and make a case in defense of the unification of Italy since not a few (non-Italian) monarchists tend to take an extremely hostile view to the very existence of a united Italy. I will try to refute the most common arguments against unification that I have encountered and try to explain why I think it was a positive development and could have been even more positive had it been done sooner.

First of all, I think it is a mistake to consider opposition to Italian unification to be something reactionary. Yet, this tends to be how support or opposition to unification is framed; the revolutionaries were for it, the reactionaries were against it. However, Italian nationalists were not trying to establish something new at least in terms of having a united Italy under one government. Long before there was a Grand Duchy of Tuscany, a Papal States, a Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies or a Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, there had been a united Italy ruled by one government in Rome. It was the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic with a history stretching back to traceless antiquity. It had also lasted quite a long time. In wishing to have all of the Italian peninsula united together under one government in Rome, the nationalists were aiming to restore something that had already existed rather than construct something totally new. Of course, the government itself would be new but the idea of unification itself was not. The history of Imperial Rome loomed large in the collective memory of all Italians as it was bound to. When a good chunk of your historical timeline consists of a period when you ruled practically the entire known world, that is something that casts a very long shadow.

All throughout the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages and the rise of the city-states and especially the color, chaos and culture of the Renaissance the legacy of Imperial Rome was ever-present. It spoke clearly to every Italian that they had been and were capable of being so much more than a patchwork collection of feuding city-states and a battleground for foreign powers. This is also proven by the fact that Italian unification was a dream for a great many people long before the Nineteenth Century. During the Renaissance, it was often the Popes who took the lead in trying to reestablish a united Italy under their control. It was the French and the Germans that the “Warrior Pope” Julius II referred to when he fought his wars to drive the “barbarians” out of Italy. Ultimately, he got much farther in realizing his goal than anyone would have thought possible. Later on, Pope Clement VII tried the same thing but with much less success. Even back in the Middle Ages there had been a foreshadowing of these struggles when Pope Alexander III called for Italian unity and formed the Lombard League to thwart the invasion of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

The primary point here though is that Italian unification was not, in itself, a “revolutionary” idea. It was a concept with more history and tradition behind it than in any other European nation-state. The difference, of course, was in what sort of form a united, or re-united, Italy would take. Many of those who object to the existence of the united Italy, formerly the Kingdom of Italy, base their position on their dislike of the sort of state that existed in Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy and what is sometimes seen as a Savoyard conquest of Italy rather than a unification such as was seen in other countries. However, things were not so neat and clean in those other countries either and Italy always seems to be held to a different standard in this regard. There is no comparable objection, after all, to united nation-states in France, Britain, Spain or Germany; why is Italy different? Why are the Italian people considered singularly unworthy of something so many others take for granted?

After all, no one would claim that France or Spain or Germany absolutely cannot be unified and must be ruled by outsiders. Are the dialects of Turin, Florence and Naples more alien to each other than Catalan and Castilian, English and Cornish, Welsh or Gaelic, High and Low German? Are the divisions imposed on Italy by foreign invaders more legitimate than the divisions that resulted from the foreign invasion of Spain? There seems to be no equivalent. Most seem to agree that the French were understandably opposed to a large portion of their country being ruled by England and that the Spanish were understandably indignant at being ruled by Moors and yet some seem to think that Italians should have been content to see their homeland being ruled by Spanish, French and German authorities. The divisions in Italy were very old, it is true but the regimes that existed at the time of the Italian Wars for Independence were not so deep-rooted as some seem to think. Certainly none could match the history of the venerable House of Savoy which had been ruling some patch of ground, be it great or small, for many, many centuries longer than most of the other royal houses represented on the Italian peninsula had existed even in their own homelands much less on Italian soil.

The rule of the Spanish Bourbons over Parma came as recently as 1847. Their rule over Sicily came in 1735 prior to which more than ten different dynasties in their turn had reigned over the island before them. Hapsburg rule over Modena dated only since 1814 with time for only two to reign. Likewise, the Austrian Hapsburgs had ruled over Lombardy-Venetia only since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and which they had gained, not by inheritance or marriage but by negotiation with the First French Republic, later confirmed by the Congress of Vienna. All of these were fresh-faced newcomers compared to the royals of the House of Savoy who had ruled over their own homeland since at least 1003 and over Sardinia since 1720. No power on the Italian peninsula had a deeper tradition and a longer history in the region than their own save for one, which was, of course, the Papal States. The Papal States are probably the easiest thing to point to in an effort to explain why Italy is treated differently from other countries in regards to unification. Politics and conflicting nationalities can be trouble enough but add religion to the mix and you get a very volatile cocktail indeed.

First of all, as should be obvious at this point, the total opposition of pontiffs such as Gregory XVI and (belatedly) Pius IX to Italian unification was the innovation. In the past, it was the popes who had often most longed and worked for Italian unification such as with Alexander III and the Lombard League or Clement VII and the League of Cognac along with others. Of course, in those days, while the Papal States may not have had considerably more political power than in the time of Pius IX, the Pope certainly had more prestige and would naturally have been the leader of any sort of Italian confederation. By the 19th Century the political strength of the Catholic Church had been all but eliminated, partly because of the enemies of the Church but also partly by papal policies themselves. On the international stage, even many devoutly Catholic countries had come to view the papacy as being unreliable and all but incapable of impartiality. One of the primary reasons for this was the lack of Italian unification itself. Looking back, it put the political power of the Pope at odds with the power and prestige of the Catholic Church as a whole even if few could look past their own interests to see it that way.

Pope Alexander III giving a blessed sword
the Doge of Venice
Consider the course of history: Once the popes gained political control of Rome and central Italy their primary goal in foreign policy was to maintain and expand that control. However, because the Papal States could never be powerful enough to withstand the major powers of the time, the pontiffs adopted a policy of playing one against the other, usually France and Germany/Austria. The Spanish were involved as well but eventually as a subsidiary of either the French or Germans. The pattern is replayed over and over throughout the centuries. One pope supports the Germans against the French, then when the Germans become too powerful, another pope supports the French against the Germans. Of course, the popes were not the only cause of this as the French, Germans and Spanish were also always eager on their own to fight over territories in an attempt to dominate Italy. There were so many of these conflicts that a number of them have simply been grouped together by historians and named “The Italian Wars”. Naturally, all the energy, lives and treasure poured into these conflicts by the Catholic monarchies could have, from a Catholic point of view, been better spent fighting the Turks or later the Protestants. Lutheranism might have been crushed in its infancy had not the German Emperor Charles V devoted so much of his forces to fighting the Pope and his French ally. The Turks, likewise, might have been defeated had not the French allied with them in order to thwart the Germans.

This was a common theme for practically the whole of history from the time of the fall of the Roman Empire until the reunification of the Italian peninsula, since before the time that Charlemagne clashed with King Desiderius of the Lombards until the Battle of Solferino between Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph and French Emperor Napoleon III the Italians have seen their country serve as the battleground, fought over by those great Catholic powers to dominate them with the Pope usually in the middle of it, supporting one side or the other. There had also been Italian states and rulers that fostered the division, supporting whichever side seemed strongest at the time and which would offer the most to them for their allegiance. Many popes complained about this habit of their countrymen, not that they were not above behaving in a similar fashion but because the small states tended to support whichever side was stronger (often the German Emperor) while the Pope tended to oppose that same side as it would pose the greatest threat to his continued rule over Rome. When Catholics think about this long and ugly succession of wars, the “Investiture Dispute”, the “Italian Wars”, the “Sack of Rome” there must surely be some, even among the most partisan, who can at least understand the wish that Italy had simply been left to the Italians and had all the Catholic powers concentrate on their common enemies rather than fighting each other endlessly for control of the Italian peninsula.

Opposites who agreed Mazzini would be a disaster
Even to the very end, when Catholic France and Austria were both about to be surpassed by Protestant Prussia they still found themselves drawn into conflict over Italy because each side feared that their loss would be the other’s gain. Likewise, as the Italians themselves tired of this cycle, opposition to at least the political power of the Church if not the Church itself began to grow in Italy as people came to see the Church as being on the side of their oppressors. Why did women have to be flogged in Milan by Austrians so that the Pope could continue to rule in Rome? Past papal support for unification abruptly turned into adamant opposition, partly because of an understandable level of paranoia that persisted after the French Revolution. However, Italians had finally had enough and if the Pope would not be with them, they would be against him. This gave rise to the dangerous movement of Giuseppe Mazzini and his radical republicans. However, the Italians were not alone in this unfortunate move to the left. It happened in other countries as the Pope stood opposed to any disorder even if it meant Catholics being ruled by non-Catholic foreigners in countries from Ireland to Poland. The difference was that in Ireland and Poland the Pope could be more easily ignored than in Italy where he ruled.

By the time that Pius IX came to the papal throne Italian unification was probably inevitable. It was going to happen, the only question was which form would it take; a radical republic or a constitutional monarchy? In regards to the Church, there was, early on, also a choice between a secular republic or a monarchy/confederation of monarchies in which the Pope would have a leadership role. This was an idea supported by a fair number of people but which the Pope ultimately opposed, even placing the book which suggested it on the “Index of Forbidden Works”. Papal foreign policy also worked to create an impossible position for the Papal States. Pope Pius IX, a devout and saintly man without question, had an extremely erratic foreign policy that caused Italians who had revered him to come to view him as being under the power of others or else extremely unreliable while at the same time alienating his strongest supporters so that, ultimately, his political power rested solely on the armed force of a regime which staunch Catholic monarchists regarded as illegitimate. So erratic were his policies that it can leave one wondering at times if even he knew which “side” he was ultimately on.

The "Honest King"
For example, when considering why the Savoy monarchy prevailed in Italy when all others ultimately failed, one factor was King Victor Emmanuel II as the “honest king”. Does this mean he was more truthful and sincere in all his dealings than other monarchs in Italy? Certainly not, as even his most ardent admirers would have to admit. However, that reputation stems mostly from the fact that the Savoy monarchy was the only monarchy in Italy to grant a constitution and stick to it (the constitution being one which ultimately reserved considerable authority to the monarch and was vague enough to be interpreted in a number of ways). Everyone else, from Tuscany to the Two Sicilies to the Papal States themselves granted constitutions and then revoked them. This gave them all the public perception of being false and untrustworthy compared to the Savoy at the time. As stated, Pius IX was no exception. One could argue that he simply made a mistake in trying to make the Papal States a constitutional monarchy when trying to compartmentalize the papal offices of political ruler and spiritual ruler was extremely difficult to say the least. He also gave every indication of siding with the nationalists, and not necessarily the reluctant monarchist nationalists but the revolutionaries.

When he condemned Austria for violating papal territory in Ferrara, issuing a sharp rebuke that forced them to withdraw, he acted in defense of his own political power, which went hand-in-hand with the sovereignty of his estates. To the public, however, it was the patriotic Italian Pope driving away the German “barbarians”. Even the anti-clerical Mazzini was praising him as the most powerful man in Europe. When he granted a constitution to the Papal States it was based on that of the July Monarchy of the “Citizen-King” Louis Philippe in France. His chief ministers were revolutionaries, many of whom had been exiled or imprisoned by his predecessor but which Pius IX had set at liberty and appointed to high office. What was your average layman to think of all this? His most famous prime minister, the murdered Rossi, had supported Napoleon’s general Murat against the Austrians. When Murat was overthrown he went to France and was a supporter of the July Monarchy and came to serve the Pope after the downfall of Louis-Philippe. An earlier prime minister, of the Rovere family, had been exiled for rebellion against Gregory XVI as a revolutionary and who had not returned to Italy even when Pius IX granted an amnesty at his accession because he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Pope. He later worked in the Cavour government in Piedmont-Sardinia for Italian unification under the monarchy. To replace him, Pius IX appointed Count Edoardo Fabbri, another former revolutionary who had been exiled and imprisoned by Gregory XVI.

The "Angelic Pope"
Since granting a constitutional government, Pius IX had appointed to leadership four men in succession who had each been punished as revolutionaries by his predecessor. Again, what message did this send to the public other than that the Pope supported the movement for Italian unity and independence which all of these men had in the past been punished as revolutionaries for fighting for? When the First War of Italian Independence broke out, Pius IX finally lost the love of the nationalist movement when he sent a papal army to the frontier, commanded by a Piedmontese general from the Savoy monarchy who was a passionate supporter of Italian unity and independence, only to then send orders after them that they were not to cross the frontier and not to engage the Austrians. To say the public was confused by this would be an understatement. They would have been even more confused to have read the message Pope Pius IX sent to the Austrian Emperor the following month in which he said:
…in Our Allocution of the 29th of last month, We asserted that to declare war would revolt Our paternal heart; and announced Our ardent desire to contribute towards the restoration of peace. Let it not be therefore displeasing to your Majesty that we should address an appeal to your piety and religion, and exhort you with paternal affection to withdraw your arms from a war which can never reconquer for your empire the minds of the Lombards and Venetians; and can only bring with it the fatal series of calamities that always accompany war, and are certainly both repulsive and detestable to yourself.
   “…We are confident that the German nation itself, being honestly proud of its own nationality, will not engage its honor in an attempt to shed the blood of this Italian nation; but will rather engage it in nobly recognizing her as a sister - for both are Our daughters and very dear to Us; let each of them be content to live within her own borders by honorable agreement and beneath the blessing of the Lord.”
So, here again was Pope Pius IX speaking of an Italian nation and asking Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph to withdraw his forces from Italy so that Italian-speaking and German-speaking Catholics might live peacefully in their own countries. They are words which illustrate the holiness and goodwill of the Pope as well as his inability to grasp the reality of power politics. The idea that the Austrian Emperor would have ever simply ordered his troops to leave Italian soil and march home, shaking the dust from their boots at the border, out of goodwill and Christian brotherhood is simply absurd. Yet, this same pontiff would later reverse all of that, encouraging Austria to send more troops to occupy even more of Italy (though they did not) and punishing as much as was in his power to punish anyone who backed the idea of an Italian nation. Is it any wonder that at some point many people simply stopped listening?

As stated above, past popes had been ardent supporters of Italian unification and removing all French or German presence from Italy. Yet, when events came together to make that a reality, the pope of the day reversed course and opposed it. Was it out of fear of losing his territory and what was, at that time, his primary source of income? For someone like Pius IX that hardly seems likely. Most likely it was due to his opposition to the policies of a “free Church in a free state” championed by Cavour and his fear of being dependent on the Italian government (and thus a future pontiff could become their instrument). However, if the Pope had at least tried to negotiate with the Piedmontese it is at least possible that the policies he disapproved of could have been amended or abolished. To have the papal blessing on the new Kingdom of Italy would have been hugely beneficial and the King at least showed a willingness to do almost anything to obtain his consent. However, by refusing to deal at all with the idea and later the fact of a unified Italy, the Pope left himself entirely at the mercy of his political enemies, not just the Italian nationalists in general but his very enemies of the radical, anti-clerical faction of the Turin government, which is exactly what his defiance was supposed to prevent.

That is one of the major problems, as I see it, that presents itself to those who say that the opposition of the Pope was necessary in order to maintain the independence of the Church. For one thing, the existence of the Papal States had not proven such a guarantee in the past. This was why popes shifted in their foreign policy constantly between favoring the French and the Germans in turn. It has certainly not been the case since the Lateran agreements. The Papal States have never nor is Vatican City today capable of using force to prevent it being conquered by a foreign power and the Pope today receives income from the Italian state. It was not the state of affairs that existed at the establishment of the Church in Rome or the earliest centuries of the existence of the papal position. Popes were then part of the Roman Empire and all depended on their own moral fortitude to not be the puppets of the Emperor and so most were not, many early popes accepting martyrdom rather than submit to un-Christian or anti-Christian policies. They did the right thing not because they had territory, taxes or an army at their command but because they chose to even if it meant their death if they did not. Of course, Pius IX nor any of his successors had to face such a choice. What they did face was the choice of which state to depend on for their security and freedom. There were not many offers but Pius IX chose to depend on Napoleon III of France. When the French army was withdrawn and Italian troops occupied Rome it was only by the grace of King Victor Emmanuel II that the Pope was left untouched in the Vatican, it having been proven by that time that no other power was able or willing to make war on his behalf. Would there not have been just as much risk of future corruption if the Pope had continued to depend solely on the French rather than the Italians? Given the subsequent course of French history, he may in fact have been much worse off.

In any event, trying to play a strictly legitimist game in this regard ultimately goes nowhere. The states of Italy were parceled out and shifted ownership from one monarch or state to another over the centuries based on force or mutual agreement. In the case of the Papal States one could go all the way back to the Dark Ages and the agreements between the Pope and the Frankish monarch in which each granted the other titles they themselves had no strictly legitimist right to bestow. One could go back farther and see the Pope submitting to the authority of the earliest King of Italy, Flavius Odoacer, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire while still being, in strictly legitimist terms, the subject of the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople with no thought being given then of any claim to independent sovereignty. At some point you have to accept the facts as they exist and go from there as best you can. In the case of Italy in the Nineteenth Century, the fact on the ground was that unification was going to happen, whether under a republican radical like Mazzini or Catholic monarch like King Victor Emmanuel II. I prefer the King.

As stated before, putting aside all of the details, I also see no reason why Italy should be denied what other peoples have not; to unite together and aspire to greatness. Unlike many others, the Italians have their Roman ancestors to look back to and it seems just as natural to me for them to do so as it would be for any people to look back to their period of greatest power and prestige and wish to emulate it as much as possible. The Germans tried to emulate the Roman example particularly and I can hardly see expecting the Italians to desist from doing the same considering it was their own ancestors that were being looked to. I have also been fortunate to speak to a number of praiseworthy Italian monarchists over the years who are carrying on a most difficult struggle and it pains me that they should be attacked from within as well as without.

If the royal houses involved as well as the Pope can be reconciled to the Italian nation, it seems hardly unreasonable to expect monarchists to do the same. National identity is something that is under attack these days, in Europe particularly by the internationalists of the European Union. There have been efforts to divide Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom and I have opposed them all. Italy has not been untouched by these efforts but, thankfully, there is still a strong sense of patriotism in Italy and I would hate to see monarchists make themselves the enemies of it. I would hate it both because it would be a betrayal of the valiant Italian monarchists and because I fear it would be yet another self-defeating position. Choosing to be a monarchist is difficult enough in this day and age, I would hate to see Italians who are inclined toward monarchy to be told that they must choose between their country and the cause of kings to be accepted by the monarchist community. The unification may not have come about in an ideal way but that is something rare in history. It did happen and I thank God it resulted in a Kingdom of Italy with a Catholic Royal Family rather than in a secular, Mazzinian republic. To see Italy restored as a strongly Catholic monarchy, based on Italian culture and traditions, is my sincerest wish. I hope that more monarchists outside of Italy would share it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Emperor Otho

Between the fall of the original Julio-Claudian dynasty and the rise of the Flavian dynasty there was a year of turmoil in the Roman Empire. 69 AD would be remembered as the “Year of the Four Emperors”. Following the downfall and death of the Emperor Nero in 68 AD the first to achieve power was Galba, a military commander in Spain put forward by a rebel governor in Gallia. One of his supporters was General Marcus Salvius Otho who had thought to succeed Galba when the old man passed away. Otho was born in Ferentium (today Ferento) in southern Eturia on April 28, 32 AD. He came from an old Etruscan family, high born but which had fallen on hard times over the generations and lost their aristocratic status. However, by faithful service to the empire their fortunes began to revive. Otho’s grandfather became a senator and his father became a consul of Rome. In his youth, Otho was a boyhood companion of the young Emperor Nero and, not surprisingly given that, was known for his lavish lifestyle. However, Otho and Nero had a falling out due to their competition for the attentions of the lovely Poppaea Sabina. Otho married her but a jealous Nero forced them to divorce and she became the second wife and Empress of Emperor Nero while Otho was sent away to be governor of Lusitanian (Portugal).

Naturally, Otho had rather mixed feelings about the downfall of Emperor Nero, last of the original Julio-Claudian Roman emperors, recalling their close friendship but then also their bitter parting. Ten years after taking up his post in Lusitania, he threw his support behind the old general Galba. As Emperor Galba had no natural heirs (his two sons having predeceased him), Otho expected to be his successor. When Galba instead adopted Piso, a young aristocrat, as his heir, Otho felt betrayed. An opportunity to seize power for himself was also clearly coming about as Galba had won few supporters with his reputation for greed and cruelty. He was certainly a harsh character but he was not so much greedy as he was foolishly parsimonious. Fiscal conservatism was needed after the extravegance of Nero but Galba was frugal beyond the point of common sense such as when he refused to pay the Praetorian Guard their expected bonus on the announcement of his adoption of Piso. Keeping the Praetorians well paid and happy was something most emperors recognized as an absolute necessity. Many Roman elites were also unimpressed with Piso as a future ruler, knowing very little about him. Otho saw his chance and seized it.

Otho was able to easily win the Praetorian Guard to his side and on the morning of January 15, 69 when Galba went to worship at the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, Otho slipped away, carried in a closed litter, to the Praetorian camp where the troops proclaimed him Emperor of Rome. Bravely or foolishly, Galba chose to go out personally to confront the rebels and he was killed by a soldier of the XV Legion in the Forum. Piso fled to the Temple of Vesta but was dragged out by Otho’s partisans and killed as well. It was a bloody but short business and the nasty spectacle rather put the senate off from the newly proclaimed Emperor Otho but, nonetheless, they confirmed his status and voted him the traditional powers and offices of the Emperor of Rome. As a ruler, he showed great ability but many seemed unwilling to give him a chance, having a negative opinion of him fixed in his mind, whether from the way he seized power, his former friendship with Nero or his reputation for being vain and extravagant as a young man. His rule was not unchallenged and would not last long, yet, it is rather unfair that he is so often overlooked and he showed considerable talent and ability as monarch.

However, those who had already made up their mind to dislike Otho were able to find fault in almost anything. He had thinning hair and so wore a wig, kept his body hairless and was always clean shaven, so many predisposed to dislike him accused him of being excessively vain. He restored the statues of Emperor Nero and appointed some of his officials to high office again, which critics took as a dark sign of a return to days best forgotten. His offer to share power with his chief rival were also portrayed as a sign of weakness. In fact, his outreach to the memory and former officials of Nero were simply an effort to maintain a sense of continuity and to win over loyalists of the late emperor (despite his current reputation, there were quite a few who fervently supported Nero). His offer to share power was likewise not a sign of weakness but a genuine effort to avoid a damaging civil war. That rival was Aulus Vitellius, a general who had been proclaimed emperor by his troops on the Rhine frontier. Most of the empire submitted to Otho but Hispania and Gallia (Spain and France) gave their loyalty to Vitellius.

In another effort to avert war, Emperor Otho proposed to marry the daughter of Vitellius but the general refused the match and with his legions marching south, Otho had to look to the defense of Italy. The problem was that the bulk of his army, the Danube legions, could not reach Italy before Vitellius did. So, Emperor Otho sent his advance guard north to try to hold the rebel legions at the Po River while dispatching another force by sea to land in southern France as a diversion. His plan was to delay Vitellius long enough for the Danube legions to arrive and then fight a hopefully victorious battle that would secure his throne. Emperor Otho left Rome on March 14 to take personal command of his forces, establishing himself at Bedriacum, about 20 miles east of Cremona. Rebel troops under Caecina entered Italian soil first and camped outside Cremona. The other rebel division under Valens arrived later and together they outnumbered the forces of Emperor Otho almost 2-to-1. His advisors urged him not to give battle until the Danube legions arrived but the rebel troops began building a bridge across the Po and Emperor Otho could not wait and do nothing while it was completed, allowing Vitellius to march directly on Rome.

On April 14, Emperor Otho sent his troops forward into the first Battle of Cremona and, not surprisingly, outmatched and greatly outnumbered, they were soundly beaten. Emperor Otho was not on the scene but at Brixellum where he received word of the defeat the following day. He was beaten and knew it. He had nothing left to resist Vitellius, the Danube legions would be too late and if he fled, Italy would be ruined by war. He decided there was no other choice, for the good of Rome, but to do the honorable thing and take his own life. That evening he called together his family and friends, told them to look to their own safety and then went to bed. He awoke the next morning, April 16, and stabbed himself to death at dawn. The three-month reign of Emperor Otho had come to an end. The nature of his death surprised many people, particularly those who had always thought of him as the self-indulgent youth he had once been. They were impressed by his sacrifice and, looking back, even critics of the monarchy in general, as Tacitus tended to be, could not but be impressed by how he had ruled and how he met his end. The famous historian wrote, “Otho, contrary to everyone’s expectation, made no dull surrender to luxury or ease; he put off his pleasures, concealed his profligacy, and ordered his whole life as befitted the imperial position”.

The loyal soldiers of Emperor Otho were very moved by how he had fallen on his own sword in order to spare Italy the horrors of civil war and when his funeral fire was lit a number threw themselves upon the flames to die alongside their emperor. It is a shame that he is not better remembered. Although not surprising, given the brevity of his reign, Emperor Otho was the victim of prejudice. He came to the purple in a violent way that was certainly out of order but does anyone truly doubt that Galba’s troops would not have killed Nero had he not done the job himself after being taken? He had brought down an unpopular emperor who had himself come to power by doing the same. Unlike his predecessor, Emperor Otho, during his brief term, ruled with considerable fairness and wisdom. When he knew the end had come, he gave up his own life rather than see others killed in a hopeless battle. In the ranks of the “lesser” Roman emperors, he deserves to be remembered as one of the good ones. His successor, Emperor Vitellius, also did not last long on the throne and made a bad impression from the start. He lasted longer than Otho did but before the year was out was defeated by the Flavian revolt, dragged out of hiding, tortured, executed and thrown in the Tiber. Emperor Otho had certainly exited in a more noble way.