Annals, Book XI

1 1 . . . For she believed that Valerius Asiaticus,2 twice a consul, had formerly been her paramour; and, as she coveted equally the gardens which Lucullus had laid down and Asiaticus was embellishing with conspicuous splendour, she unleashed Suillius to indict the pair. With him was associated Britannicus’3 tutor Sosibius; who ostensibly out of good-will, was to warn Claudius to be on his guard against a power and a purse which boded no good to emperors:— “The prime mover in the killing of Gaius Caesar, Asiaticus had not trembled to avow his complicity in a gathering of the Roman people and even to arrogate the glory of the assassination.4 Famous, in consequence, at Rome, with a reputation that pervaded the provinces, he was preparing an excursion to the armies of Germanicus; for the reason that, born as he was at Vienne and backed by a multitude of powerful connections, he had every facility for creating trouble among the peoples of his native land.” Claudius made no further scrutiny; but, as though to quell an incipient war, despatched at full speed a body of soldiers under the praetorian prefect Crispinus, who found Asiaticus at Baiae, threw him into irons, and haled him to the capital.

2 1 Nor was access to the senate allowed: he was heard inside a bedroom, with Messalina looking on and Suillius formulating the charges: corruption of the military, who, he alleged, were bound in return for money — and worse — to every form of infamy; adultery with Poppaea; and, finally, sexual effeminacy. The last imputation was too much for the defendant’s taciturnity:— “Question thy sons, Suillus, he broke out; “they will confess me man!” And entering on his defence, he moved Claudius deeply, and even elicited tears from Messalina; who, on quitting the room to wash them away, cautioned Vitellius not to let the prisoner slip through their fingers. She herself set hurriedly about the destruction of Poppaea, and suborned agents to drive her to a voluntary death by menace of the dungeon; the ignorance of the Caesar being so complete that, when her husband Scipio dined with him a few days later, he inquired why he had taken his place without his wife, and received the answer that she had gone the way of all flesh.

3 1 When, however, Claudius requested his advice as to the acquittal of Asiaticus, Vitellius tearfully recalled their long-standing friendship and the equal devotion they had shown to the sovereign’s mother Antonia: then, running over the services of Asiaticus to the state, his recent work in the field against the Britons,5 and all else that seemed calculated to inspire compassion, he proposed that he should be allowed a free choice as to the form of his death; and a pronouncement from Claudius followed in the same spirit of clemency. When some of his friends then recommended the gradual exit by starvation, Asiaticus remarked that he was declining that boon; went through the gymnastic exercises which had become habitual with him;6 bathed; dined in good spirits; and, after observing that it would have been more respectable to perish by the subtlety of Tiberius or the onslaught of Gaius Caesar than to fall by female fraud and the lecherous tongue of Vitellius, opened his arteries; but not before he had visited his pyre7 and given orders for it to be moved to another site, so that his trees with their shady leafage might not be affected by the heat. So complete was his composure to the end!

4 1 The Fathers were then convened; and Suillius proceeded to add to the list of accused two Roman knights of the highest rank, surnamed Petra. The cause of death lay in the allegation that they had lent their house as a trysting-place for Mnester and Poppaea. It was, however, for a vision during his night’s sleep that one of them was indicted, the charge being that he had seen Claudius crowned with a wheaten diadem, the ears inverted, and on the strength of his vision had predicted a shortage in the cornº-supply.8 It has been stated by some that the thing seen was a vine-wreath with whitening leaves; which he read as an indication of the emperor’s decease at the wane of autumn. The point not disputed was that it was a dream, whatever its character, which brought ruin to himself and to his brother. A million and a half sesterces, with the decorations of the praetorship,9 were voted to Crispinus. Vitellius proposed a million more for Sosibius, for assisting Britannicus by his instructions and Claudius by his counsels. Scipio, who was also asked for his view, replied: “As I think what all think of Poppaea’s offences, take me as saying what all say!” — an elegant compromise between conjugal love and senatorial obligation.

5 1 And now Suillius, steady and pitiless, continued his prosecutions, his boldness finding a multitude of imitators: for the concentration of all legal and magisterial functions in the person of the sovereign had opened a wide field to the plunderer. Nor was any public ware so frankly on sale as the treachery of advocates: so much so that Samius, a Roman knight of distinction, after paying Suillius four hundred thousand sesterces and finding him in collusion with the opponents, fell on his sword in the house of his counsel. Hence, following the lead of the consul designate, Gaius Silius, whose power and whose ruin I shall describe in their place,10 the Fathers rose in a body, demanding the Cincian law,11 with its ancient stipulation that no person shall accept either money or gift for pleading a cause.

6 1 Then, as the members for whom the stigma was designed began to protest, Silius, who was at variance with Suillius, delivered a bitter attack and appealed to the example of the old orators, who had regarded fame and the future as the only wages of eloquence:— “What would otherwise be the fairest and foremost of the liberal arts was degraded by mercenary service: even good faith could not remain unaffected, when the size of the fees was the point regarded. If lawsuits were so conducted that no one profited by them, lawsuits would be fewer: as matters stood, enmities and accusations, ill blood and injustice, were being fostered, in order that, as the prevalence of disease brought rewards to the physician, so the corruption of the courts should bring money to the advocate. Let them remember Asinius, Messala, and, of the moderns, Arruntius and Aeserninus:12 they had reached the summits of their profession without a stain upon their life or their eloquence!” With the consul designate speaking in this strain and others indicating assent, steps were taken to draft a resolution making offenders liable under the law of extortion, when Suillius, Cossutianus,13 and the rest, who saw that to them the vote implied not trial — their guilt was too manifest for that — but punishment, surrounded the emperor, imploring an amnesty for the past.

7 1 At his signal of consent, they began to state their case:— “Where was the man whose presumption was such that he could anticipate in hope an eternity of fame? It was a boon to defendants themselves that help should be made available, so that no one need be left at the mercy of the strong through the lack of an advocate. But eloquence was not a happy accident costing nothing: private business was neglected in proportion as a man applied himself to the affairs of others. Many supported themselves by military service; not a few by the cultivation of their estates: no man embraced any avocation, unless he had made sure that it would yield him a return. It was easy for Asinius and Messala, glutted with the prizes of the duel between Antony and Augustus, or for the heirs of wealthy houses — Aeserninus, Arruntius, and their like — to assume a pose of magnanimity: they had themselves obvious precedents in the rewards for which Publius Clodius or Gaius Curio14 were in the habit of delivering their harangues. Personally, they were senators of modest means, who, in a tranquil state, sought none but the emoluments of peace: Let him consider also the common people who won distinction by the gown! If the rewards of the art they studied were annulled, the art too would perish.” — The emperor, who considered that these arguments, if less high-minded, were still not pointless, fixed ten thousand sesterces as the maximum fee to be accepted; those exceeding it to be liable on the count of extortion.

815 Nearly at the same time,16 Mithridates, whose tenure of the Armenian crown and arrest by order of Caligula I have already mentioned, followed the advice of Claudius and returned to his kingdom, in reliance on the powers of Pharasmanes.17 That prince, king of Iberia and also brother of Mithridates, kept announcing that the Parthians were divided among themselves — the crown was in question, minor matters unregarded. For Gotarzes, among his numerous cruelties, had procured the murder of his brother Artabanus and his wife and son, with the result that the rest took alarm and called in Vardanes. He, with his usual alacrity for great adventures, covered three thousand stadia18 in two days; drove the unsuspecting and terrified Gotarzes into flight, and without hesitation seized the nearest satrapies — Seleucia19 alone refusing to acknowledge his supremacy. Less from considerations of his immediate interest than from anger at a community which had also deserted his father, he hampered himself with the siege of a powerful city, secured by the barrier of an intervening river, fortified, and provisioned. Meanwhile, Gotarzes, strengthened by the forces of the Dahae and Hyrcanians,20 renewed hostilities; and Vardanes, compelled to abandon Seleucia, pitched his court opposite to him on the plains of Bactria.21

9 1 This juncture, when the powers of the East were divided and it was still uncertain which way the scales would fall, gave Mithridates his opportunity of seizing Armenia, thanks to the energy of the Roman troops in demolishing the hill fortresses, while the Iberian army overran the plains; for the natives offered no resistance after the rout of the prefect Demonax,22 who had risked a battle. Some little delay was occasioned by Cotys, the king of Lesser Armenia,23 to whom a section of the nobles had turned: then he was repressed by a despatch from the Caesar, and the current set full towards Mithridates, who showed more severity than was conducive to the stability of his new throne. — Meanwhile, as the Parthian commanders were preparing for battle, they suddenly concluded an agreement on their discovery of a national conspiracy, disclosed by Gotarzes to his brother. They met, hesitantly at first; then with right hands clasped, they pledged themselves before the altars of the gods to avenge the treachery of their enemies and each to make concessions to the other. Vardanes was considered the better fitted to retain the crown: Gotarzes, to avoid all chance of rivalry, withdrew into the depths of Hyrcania. On the return of Vardanes, Seleucia capitulated24 in the seventh year after its revolt; not without some dishonour to the Parthians, whom a single town had so long defied.

10 1 Vardanes then visited the principal satrapies, and was burning to recover Armenia, when he was checked by a threat of war from Vibius Marsus, the legate of Syria. In the meantime, Gotarzes, repenting of his cession of the throne, and invited by the grandees, whose vassalage is always more irksome in peace, gathered an army. On the other side, a counter-advance brought Vardanes to the river Erindes. A severe struggle at the crossing ended in his complete victory, and in successful actions he reduced the intervening tribes up to the Sindes, which forms the boundary-line between the Dahae and Arians.25 There his triumphs came to a close, as the Parthians, though victorious, were in no mood for a distant campaign. Consequently, after raising a number of monuments recording his power and the fact that no Arsacid before him had levied tribute from those nations, he returned full of glory and therefore more arrogant and more arbitrary towards his subjects; who, by a prearranged act of treachery, assassinated him while off his guard and absorbed in his hunting, — a prince still in his earliest manhood, but in renown, had he sought the love of his people as he sought the fear of his enemies, unequalled but by a few of veteran kings.

By the murder of Vardanes Parthian affairs were thrown into confusion, as there was no unanimity with regard to his successor. Many leaned to Gotarzes; some to Phraates’ descendant Meherdates,26 who had been given in hostage to ourselves. Then Gotarzes carried the day, made himself master of the palace, and by dint of cruelty and debauchery drove the Parthians to send a secret petition to the Roman emperor, pleading that Meherdates might be set free to ascend the throne of his fathers.

11 1 Under the same consulate,27 eight hundred years from the foundation of Rome, sixty-four from their presentation by Augustus, came a performance of the Secular Games. The calculations28 employed by the two princes I omit, as they have been sufficiently explained in the books which I have devoted to the reign of Domitian.29 For he too exhibited Secular Games, and, as the holder of a quindecimviral priesthood30 and as praetor at the time, I followed them with more than usual care: a fact which I recall not in vanity, but because from of old this responsibility has rested with the Fifteen, and because it was to magistrates in especial that the task fell of discharging the duties connected with the religious ceremonies. During the presence of Claudius at the Circensian Games, when a cavalcade of boys from the great families opened the mimic battle of Troy,31 among them being the emperor’s son, Britannicus, and Lucius Domitius,32 — soon to be adopted as heir to the throne and to the designation of Nero, — the livelier applause given by the populace to Domitius was accepted as prophetic. Also there was a common tale that serpents had watched over his infancy like warders: a fable retouched to resemble foreign miracles, since Nero — certainly not given to self-depreciation — used to say that only a single snake had been noticed in his bedroom.

12 1 However, the memory of Germanicus left him with a residue of popularity as the one male offshoot left of the family; and growing pity was felt for his mother Agrippina in view of her persecution by Messalina; who, always her enemy and now more than usually excited, was only withheld from marshalling accusations and accusers by a fresh amour verging upon insanity. For her passion for Gaius Silius,33 most handsome of Roman youths, had burned so high that she drove his distinguished wife, Junia Silana, from under her husband’s roof, and entered upon the possession of a now unfettered adulterer. Silius was blind neither to the scandal nor to the danger, but, since refusal was certain death, since there was some little hope of avoiding exposure, and since the rewards were high, he consoled himself by closing his eyes to the future and enjoying the present. Messalina, with no attempt at concealment, went incessantly to the house with a crowd of retainers; abroad, she clung to his side; wealth and honours were showered upon him; finally, as though the transference of sovereignty was complete, slaves, freedmen, and furnishings of the palace were to be seen in the house of an adulterer.

13 1 Claudius, meanwhile, ignorant of his own matrimonial fortune and engrossed by his censorial functions,34 reprimanded in austere edicts the licence shown in theatres by the populace, which had directed its ribaldry upon the consular Publius Pomponius35 (he composed pieces for the stage), and upon several of rank. He checked by legislation extortion on the part of creditors, prohibiting loans to a minor, repayable at the father’s death: he brought the spring-water down from the Simbruine hills,36 and introduced it to the capital; and, after making the discovery that not even the Greek alphabet was begun and completed in the same instant, he invented and gave to the world some additional Latin characters.

14 1 The Egyptians, in their animal-pictures, were the first people to represent thought by symbols: these, the earliest documents of human history, are visible to‑day, impressed upon stone. They describe themselves also as the inventors of the alphabet: from Egypt, they consider, the Phoenicians, who were predominant at sea, imported the knowledge into Greece, and gained the credit of discovering what they had borrowed. For the tradition runs that it was Cadmus, arriving with a Phoenician fleet, who taught the art to the still uncivilized Greek peoples. Others relate that Cecrops of Athens (or Linus of Thebes) and, in the Trojan era, Palamedes of Argos, invented sixteen letters, the rest being added later by different authors, particularly Simonides. In Italy the Etruscans learned the lesson from the Corinthian Demaratus, the Aborigines from Evander the Arcadian; and in form the Latin characters are identical with those of the earliest Greeks. But, in our case too, the original number was small, and additions were made subsequently: a precedent for Claudius, who appended three more letters,37 which had their vogue during his reign, then fell into desuetude, but still meet the eye on the official bronzes fixed in the forums and temples.

15 1 He next consulted the senate on the question of founding a college of diviners,38 so that “the oldest art of Italy should not become extinct through their indolence. Often, in periods of public adversity, they had called in diviners, on whose advice religious ceremonies had been renewed and, for the future, observed with greater correctness; while the Etruscan nobles, voluntarily or at the instance of the Roman senate, had kept up the art and propagated it in certain families. Now that work was done more negligently through the public indifference to all liberal accomplishments, combined with the progress of alien superstitions.39 For the moment, indeed, all was flourishing; but they must show their gratitude to the favour of Heaven by making sure that the sacred rituals observed in the time of hazard were not forgotten in the day of prosperity.” A senatorial decree was accordingly passed, instructing the pontiffs to consider what points in the discipline of the haruspices needed to be maintained or strengthened.

16 1 In the same year the tribe of the Cherusci1 applied to Rome for a king, as intestine strife had exterminated their nobility, and of the royal house there survived one member, who was kept at Rome and bore the name of Italicus. On the father’s side he sprang from Arminius’ brother Flavus,2 his mother being the daughter of the Chattan chieftain Actumerus: he himself was a handsome figure, trained to arms and horsemanship on both the German and the Roman systems. The Caesar, therefore, made him a grant of money, added an escort, and encouraged him to enter on his family honours with a high heart:— “He was the first man born at Rome, and not a hostage but a citizen, to leave for a foreign throne.” At the outset, indeed, his arrival was greeted by the Germans with enthusiasm; and, as he was imbued with no party animosities and showed himself equally anxious to oblige all men, admirers flocked round a prince who practised occasionally the inoffensive foibles of courtesy and restraint, but more frequently the drunkenness and incontinence dear to barbarians. His fame was already beginning to reach, and to transcend, the neighbouring states, when, in jealousy of his power, the men who had flourished upon faction made their way to the adjacent tribes and there took up their testimony:— “The ancient freedom of Germany was being filched away, and Roman power was mounting. Was it so indisputable that there was not a man born upon the same soil as themselves who was competent to fill the princely station, without this offspring of the scout Flavus being exalted above them all? It was idle to invoke the name of Arminius. Had a son of Arminius returned to govern them after being reared in the enemy’s country, they might well have dreaded a youth infected by foreign nurture, servitude, and dress, — in a word, by all things foreign! As for Italicus, if he had the family disposition, no man had waged a more implacable war against country and home than had his father!”

17 1 With these and similar appeals they collected a large force; nor was Italicus’ following inferior:— “He had not,” he reminded them, “taken an unwilling people by storm, but had been summoned because in nobility he stood higher than his rivals: as to his courage, let them test it and see if he proved himself worthy of his uncle Arminius, his grandsire Actumerus! Nor did he blush for his father — that he had never renounced the obligations to Rome which he contracted with German assent. The name of liberty was being used as a dishonest pretext by men who, base-born themselves and a curse to the realm, had no hope but in civil dissensions.” The crowd shouted applause, and in a battle, great as barbarian battles go, victory rested with the king. Then, flushed by success, he lapsed into arrogance, was expelled, was restored a second time by the Langobard3 arms, and in his prosperity and in his adversity remained the scourge of the Cheruscan nation.

18 1 During the same period, the Chauci,4 untroubled by domestic strife and elated by the death of Sanquinius,5 forestalled the arrival of Corbulo by raiding Lower Germany under the leadership of Gannascus, — a Canninefate6 by extraction, once an auxiliary in the Roman service, then a deserter, and now with a piratical fleet of light vessels engaged in ravaging principally the coast of Gaul, with the wealth of whose peaceful communities he was well acquainted. On his entry into the province, however, Corbulo, showing extreme care and soon acquiring that great reputation which dates from this campaign, brought up his triremes7 by the Rhine channel and the rest of his vessels, according to their draughts, by the estuaries and canals. Sinking the hostile boats, he ejected Gannascus, and, after adequately settling affairs on the spot, recalled the legions, as lethargic in their toils and duties as they were ardent in pillage, to the old code with its prohibitions against falling out on march or beginning an action without orders. Outpost and sentry work, duties of the day and the night, were carried out under arms; and it is on record that two soldiers were punished by death, one for digging soil for the rampart without side-arms, the other for doing so with none but his dagger. Exaggerated and possibly false as the tales may be, their starting-point is still the severity of the commander; and the man may safely be taken as strict and, to grave offences, inexorable, who was credited with such rigour in regard to trifles.

19 1 However, the terror he inspired had opposite effects on the soldiers and on the enemy: to us it meant a revival of courage, to the barbarians a weakening of confidence. So, the Frisian clan,8 hostile or disaffected since the rebellion inaugurated by the defeat of Lucius Apronius, gave hostages and settled in the reservation marked out by Corbulo: who also imposed on them a senate, a magistracy, and laws. To guard against neglect of his orders, he built a fortified post in the district, while despatching agents to persuade the Greater Chauci9 to surrender, and to attempt the life of Gannascus by ruse. The trap was neither ineffective nor, against a deserter and a violator of his faith, dishonourable; yet the killing of Gannascus unsettled the temper of the Chauci, and Corbulo was sowing the seeds of rebellion. Hence the news, though acceptable to many, was by some regarded as sinister:— “Why was he raising up an enemy? Any losses would fall upon the state: if success attended him, then a distinguished soldier, intolerable as such to a nervous emperor, constituted a threat to peace.” — Claudius, therefore, so firmly prohibited fresh aggression against Germany that he ordered our garrisons to be withdrawn to the west bank of the Rhine.

20 1 Corbulo was already arranging for his encampment on hostile ground, when the despatch was delivered. He was taken by surprise; but although a multitude of consequences poured upon his mind — danger from the emperor, contempt from the barbarians, ridicule on the side of the provincials — he made no remark except: “Happy the Roman generals before my time!” and gave the signal for retreat. To give the troops occupation, however, he ran a canal, twenty-three miles in length, between the Meuse and Rhine,a thus making it possible to evade the hazards of the North Sea.10 The Caesar, though refusing him a war, conceded him none the less the insignia of a triumph.

Nor was it long before the same distinction was gained by Curtius Rufus,11 who had opened a mine, in search of silver-lodes, in the district of Mattium.12 The profits were slender and short-lived, but the legions lost heavily in the work of digging out water-courses and constructing underground workings which would have been difficult enough in the open. Worn out by the strain — and also because similar hardships were being endured in a number of provinces — the men drew up a private letter in the name of the armies, begging the emperor, when he thought of entrusting an army to a general, to assign him triumphal honours in advance.13

21 1 As to the origin of Curtius Rufus, whom some have described as the son of a gladiator, I would not promulgate a falsehood and I am ashamed to investigate the truth. On reaching maturity, he joined the train of a quaestor to whom Africa had been allotted, and, in the town of Adrumetum, was loitering by himself in an arcade deserted during the mid-day heat, when a female form of superhuman size rose before him, and a voice was heard to say: “Thou, Rufus, art he that shall come into this province as proconsul.” With such an omen to raise his hopes, he left for the capital, and, thanks to the bounty of his friends backed by his own energy of character, attained the quaestorship, followed — in spite of patrician competitors — by a praetorship due to the imperial recommendation; for Tiberius had covered the disgrace of his birth by the remark: “Curtius Rufus I regard as the creation of himself.” Afterwards, long of life and sullenly cringing to his betters, arrogant to his inferiors, unaccommodating among his equals, he held consular office, the insignia of triumph, and finally Africa; and by dying there fulfilled the destiny foreshadowed.

22 1 At Rome, in the meantime, for no reason then evident or afterwards ascertained, the Roman knight Gnaeus Nonius was discovered with a sword at his side amid the throng at the emperor’s levée. Lacerated by the torturer, he admitted his own guilt, but divulged no accomplices: whether he concealed any is uncertain.

Under the same consuls, Publius Dolabella proposed that an exhibition of gladiators should be given yearly at the expense of the men who obtained a quaestorship.14 With our ancestors, office had been the prize of merit, and all citizens who had confidence in their qualities could legitimately seek a magistracy; nor was there even a distinction of age, to preclude entrance upon a consulate or dictatorship in early youth.15 The quaestorship itself was instituted while the kings still reigned, as shown by the renewal of the curiate law16 by Lucius Brutus; and the power of selection remained with the consuls, until this office, with the rest, passed into the bestowal of the people. The first election, sixty-three years after the expulsion of the Tarquins,17 was that of Valerius Potitus and Aemilius Mamercus, as finance officials attached to the army in the field. Then, as their responsibilities grew, two were added to take duty at Rome;18 and before long, with Italy now contributory and revenues accruing from the provinces, the number was again doubled.19 Later still, by a law of Sulla,20 twenty were appointed with a view to supplementing the senate, to the members of which he had transferred the jurisdiction in the criminal courts; and, even when that jurisdiction had been reassumed by the knights, the quaestorship was still granted without fee, in accordance with the dignity of the candidates or by the indulgence of the electors, until by the proposition of Dolabella it was virtually put up to auction.

23 1 In the consulate of Aulus Vitellius21 and Lucius Vipsanius, the question of completing the numbers of the senate was under consideration, and the leading citizens of Gallia Comata,22 as it is termed, who had long before obtained federate rights and Roman citizenship,23 were claiming the privilege of holding magistracies in the capital. Comments on the subject were numerous and diverse; and in the imperial council the debate was conducted with animation on both sides:— “Italy,” it was asserted, “was not yet so moribund that she was unable to supply a deliberative body to her own capital. The time had been when a Roman-born senate was enough for nations24 whose blood was akin to their own; and they were not ashamed of the old republic. Why, even to‑day men quoted the patterns of virtue and of glory which, under the old system, the Roman character had given to the world! Was it too little that Venetians and Insubrians25 had taken the curia by storm, unless they brought in an army of aliens to give it the look of a taken town? What honours would be left to the relics of their nobility or the poor senator who came from Latium? All would be submerged by those opulent persons whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers, in command of hostile tribes, had smitten our armies by steel and the strong hand, and had besieged the deified Julius at Alesia.26 But those were recent events! What if there should arise the memory of the men who essayed to pluck down the spoils, sanctified to Heaven, from the Capitol and citadel of Rome?27 Leave them by all means to enjoy the title of citizens: but the insignia of the Fathers, the glories of the magistracies, — these they must not vulgarize!”

24 1 Unconvinced by these and similar arguments, the emperor not only stated his objections there and then, but, after convening the senate, addressed it as follows:28 — “In my own ancestors, the eldest of whom, Clausus,29 a Sabine by extraction, was made simultaneously a citizen and the head of a patrician house, I find encouragement to employ the same policy in my administration, by transferring hither all true excellence, let it be found where it will. For I am not unaware that the Julii came to us from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium,30 the Porcii from Tusculum; that — not to scrutinize antiquity — members were drafted into the senate from Etruria, from Lucania, from the whole of Italy;31 and that finally Italy itself was extended to the Alps,32 in order that not individuals merely but countries and nationalities should form one body under the name of Romans. The day of stable peace at home and victory abroad came when the districts beyond the Po were admitted to citizenship, and, availing ourselves of the fact that our legions were settled throughout the globe, we added to them the stoutest of the provincials, and succoured a weary empire. Is it regretted that the Balbi crossed over from Spain and families equally distinguished from Narbonese Gaul? Their descendants remain; nor do they yield to ourselves in love for this native land of theirs. What else proved fatal to Lacedaemon and Athens, in spite of their power in arms, but their policy of holding the conquered aloof as alien-born? But the sagacity of our own founder Romulus was such that several times he fought and naturalized a people in the course of the same day! Strangers have been kings over us: the conferment of magistracies on the sons of freedmen is not the novelty which it is commonly and mistakenly thought, but a frequent practice of the old commonwealth. — ‘But we fought with the Senones.’ — Then, presumably, the Volscians and Aequians33 never drew up a line of battle against us. — ‘We were taken by the Gauls.’ — But we also gave hostages to the Tuscans34 and underwent the yoke of the Samnites.35 — And yet, if you survey the whole of our wars, not one was finished within a shorter period36 than that against the Gauls: thenceforward there has been a continuous and loyal peace. Now that customs, culture, and the ties of marriage have blended them with ourselves, let them bring among us their gold and their riches instead of retaining them beyond the pale! All, Conscript Fathers, that is now believed supremely old has been new: plebeian magistrates followed the patrician; Latin, the plebeian; magistrates from the other races of Italy, the Latin. Our innovation, too, will be parcel of the past, and what to‑day we defend by precedents will rank among precedents.”

25 1 The emperor’s speech was followed by a resolution of the Fathers, and the Aedui37 became the first to acquire senatorial rights in the capital: a concession to a long-standing treaty and to their position as the only Gallic community enjoying the title of brothers to the Roman people.

Much at the same time, the Caesar adopted into the body of patricians all senators of exceptionally long standing or of distinguished parentage: for by now few families remained of the Greater and Lesser Houses, as they were styled by Romulus and Lucius Brutus;38 and even those selected to fill the void, under the Cassian and Saenian laws, by the dictator Caesar and the emperor Augustus were exhausted. Here the censor had a popular task, and he embarked upon it with delight. How to remove members of flagrantly scandalous character, he hesitated; but adopted a lenient method, recently introduced, in preference to one in the spirit of old-world severity, advising each offender to consider his case himself and to apply for the privilege of renouncing his rank: that leave would be readily granted; and he would publish the names of the expelled and the excused together, so that the disgrace should be softened by the absence of anything to distinguish between censorial condemnation and the modesty of voluntary resignation. In return, the consul Vipstanus proposed that Claudius should be called Father of the Senate:— “The title Father of his Country he would have to share with others: new services to the state ought to be honoured by unusual phrases.” But he personally checked the consul as carrying flattery to excess. He also closed the lustrum,39 the census showing 5,984,072 citizens.40 And now came the end of his domestic blindness: before long, he was driven to note and to avenge the excesses of his wife — only to burn afterwards for an incestuous union.

26 1 By now the ease of adultery had cloyed on Messalina and she was drifting towards untried debaucheries, when Silius himself, blinded by his fate, or convinced perhaps that the antidote to impending danger was actual danger, began to press for the mask to be dropped:— “They were not reduced to waiting upon the emperor’s old age: deliberation was innocuous only to the innocent; detected guilt must borrow help from hardihood. They had associates with the same motives for fear. He himself was celibate, childless, prepared for wedlock and to adopt Britannicus.º Messalina would retain her power unaltered, with the addition of a mind at ease, could they but forestall Claudius, who, if slow to guard against treachery, was prompt to anger.” She took his phrases with a coolness due, not to any tenderness for her husband, but to a misgiving that Silius, with no heights left to scale, might spurn his paramour and come to appreciate at its just value a crime sanctioned in the hour of danger. Yet, for the sake of that transcendent infamy which constitutes the last delight of the profligate, she coveted the name of wife; and, waiting only till Claudius left for Ostia to hold a sacrifice,41 she celebrated the full solemnities of marriage.

27 1 It will seem, I am aware, fabulous that, in a city cognizant of all things and reticent of none, any human beings could have felt so much security; far more so, that on a specified day, with witnesses to seal the contract, a consul designate and the emperor’s wife should have met for the avowed purposes of legitimate marriage;42 that the woman should have listened to the words of the auspices,43 have assumed the veil, have sacrificed in the face of Heaven; that both should have dined with the guests, have kissed and embraced, and finally have spent the night in the licence of wedlock. But I have added no touch of the marvellous: all that I record shall be the oral or written evidence of my seniors.

28 1 A shudder, then, had passed through the imperial household. In particular, the holders of power44 with all to fear from a reversal of the established order, gave voice to their indignation, no longer in private colloquies, but without disguise:— “Whilst an actor45 profaned the imperial bedchamber, humiliation might have been inflicted, but destruction had still been in the far distance. Now, with his stately presence, his vigour of mind, and his impending consulate, a youthful noble was girding himself to a greater ambition — for the sequel of such a marriage was no mystery!” Fear beyond doubt came over them when they considered the hebetude of Claudius, his bondage to his wife, and the many murders perpetrated at the fiat of Messalina. Yet, again, the very pliancy of the emperor gave ground for confidence that, if they carried the day thanks to the atrocity of the charge, they might crush her by making her condemnation precede her trial. But the critical question, they realized, was whether Claudius would give a hearing to her defence, and whether they would be able to close his ears even to her confession.

29 1 At the outset, Callistus46 (whom I have already noticed in connection with the killing of Gaius Caesar), together with Narcissus,47 the contriver of the Appian murder, and Pallas,48 then in the high noon of his favour, discussed the chances of diverting Messalina from her amour with Silius by private threats, while suppressing their knowledge of all other circumstances. Then, lest failure should involve their own destruction, Pallas and Callistus desisted; Pallas, through cowardice; the other, because he had expert knowledge of the last court as well and believed power to be held more securely by cautious than by vigorous counsels. Narcissus stood firm, making only one modification of the plan: there was to be no interview to forewarn her of the accusation or of the accuser. Himself on the alert for opportunities, as the Caesar lingered long at Ostia, he induced the pair of concubines, to whose embraces Claudius was the most habituated, by gifts, promises, and demonstrations of the power which would accrue to them from the fall of the wife, to undertake the task of delation.

30 1 As the next step, Calpurnia — for so the woman was called — secured a private audience, and, falling at the Caesar’s knee, exclaimed that Messalina had wedded Silius. In the same breath, she asked Cleopatra, who was standing by ready for the question, if she had heard the news; and, on her sign of assent, requested that Narcissus should be summoned. He, entreating forgiveness for the past, in which he had kept silence to his master on the subject of Vettius, Plautius,49 and their like, said that not even now would he reproach the lady with her adulteries, far less reclaim the palace, the slaves, and other appurtenances of the imperial rank.50 No, these Silius might enjoy — but let him restore the bride and cancel the nuptial contract! “Are you aware,” he demanded, “of your divorce? For the nation, the senate, and the army, have seen the marriage of Silius; and, unless you act with speed, the new husband holds Rome!”

31 1 The Caesar now summoned his principal friends; and, in the first place, examined Turranius,51 head of the cornº-department; then the praetorian commander Lusius Geta.52 They admitted the truth; and from the rest of the circle came a din of voices:— “He must visit the camp, assure the fidelity of the guards, consult his security before his vengeance.” Claudius, the fact is certain, was so bewildered by his terror that he inquired intermittently if he was himself emperor — if Silius was a private citizen.

But Messalina had never given voluptuousness a freer rein. Autumn was at the full, and she was celebrating a mimic vintage through the grounds of the house. Presses were being trodden, vats flowed; while, beside them, skin-girt women were bounding like Bacchanals excited by sacrifice or delirium. She herself was there with dishevelled tresses and waving thyrsus; at her side, Silius with an ivy crown,53 wearing the buskins and tossing his head, while around him rose the din of a wanton chorus. The tale runs that Vettius Valens,54 in some freak of humour, clambered into a tall tree, and to the question, “What did he spy?” answered: “A frightful storm over Ostia” — whether something of the kind was actually taking shape, or a chance-dropped word developed into a prophecy.

32 1 In the meanwhile, not rumour only but messengers were hurrying in from all quarters, charged with the news that Claudius knew all and was on the way, hot for revenge. They parted therefore; Messalina to the Gardens of Lucullus; Silius — to dissemble his fear — to the duties of the forum. The rest were melting away by one road or other, when the centurions appeared and threw them into irons as discovered, some in the open, some in hiding. Messalina, though the catastrophe excluded thought, promptly decided for the course which had so often proved her salvation, to meet her husband and be seen by him: also, she sent word that Britannicus and Octavia were to go straight to their father’s arms. Further, she implored Vibidia, the senior Vestal Virgin, to gain the ear of the Supreme Pontiff55 and there plead for mercy. In the interval, with three companions in all (so complete, suddenly, was her solitude), she covered the full breadth of the city on foot, then mounted a vehicle used as a receptacle for garden refuse, and took the Ostian road, without a being to pity her, since all was outweighed by the horror of her crimes.

33 1 Quite equal agitation prevailed on the imperial side; as implicit confidence was not felt in the praetorian commandant Geta, who veered with equal levity to the good and to the evil. Narcissus, therefore, with the support of others who shared his alarms, stated formally that there was no hope of saving the emperor, unless, for that day only, the command of the troops was transferred to one of the freedmen; the responsibility he offered to take himself. Furthermore, that Claudius, while being conveyed to the city, should not be swayed to repentance by Lucius Vitellius and Caecina Largus,56 he demanded a seat in the same litter, and took his place along with them.

34 1 It was a persistent tradition later that, amid the self-contradictory remarks of the emperor, who at one moment inveighed against the profligacies of his wife, and, in the next, recurred to memories of his wedded life and to the infancy of his children, Vitellius merely ejaculated: “Ah, the crime — the villainy!”57 Narcissus, it is true, urged him to explain his enigma and favour them with the truth; but urgency was unavailing; Vitellius responded with incoherent phrases, capable of being turned to any sense required, and his example was copied by Caecina Largus.

And now Messalina was within view. She was crying to the emperor to hear the mother of Octavia and Britannicus, when the accuser’s voice rose in opposition with the history of Silius and the bridal: at the same time, to avert the Caesar’s gaze, he handed him the memoranda exposing her debaucheries. Shortly afterwards, at the entry into Rome, the children of the union were on the point of presenting themselves, when Narcissus ordered their removal. Vibidia he could not repulse, nor prevent her from demanding in indignant terms that a wife should not be give undefended to destruction. He therefore replied that the emperor would hear her and there would be opportunities for rebutting the charge: meanwhile, the Virgin would do well to go and attend to her religious duties.

35 1 Throughout the proceedings Claudius maintained a strange silence, Vitellius wore an air of unconsciousness: all things moved at the will of the freedman. He ordered the adulterer’s mansion to be thrown open and the emperor to be conducted to it. First he pointed out in the vestibule an effigy — banned by senatorial decree58 — of the elder Silius; then he demonstrated how the heirlooms of the Neros and the Drusi had been requisitioned as the price of infamy. As the emperor grew hot and broke into threats, he led him to the camp, where a mass-meeting of the troops had been prearranged. After a preliminary address by Narcissus, he spoke a few words: for, just as his resentment was, shame denied it utterance. There followed one long cry from the cohorts demanding the names and punishment of the criminals. Set before the tribunal, Silius attempted neither defence nor delay, and asked for an acceleration of death. His firmness was imitated by a number of Roman knights of the higher rank. Titius Proculus, appointed by Silius as “custodian”59 of Messalina, and now proffering evidence, was ordered for execution, together with Vettius Valens, who confessed, and their accomplices Pompeius Urbicus and Saufeius Trogus. The same penalty was inflicted also on Decrius Calpurnianus, prefect of the city-watch;60 on Sulpicius Rufus, procurator of the school of gladiators;61and on the senator Juncus Vergilianus.

36 1 Only Mnester caused some hesitation, as, tearing his garments, he called to Claudius to look at the imprints of the lash and remember the phrase by which he had placed him at the disposal of Messalina.62 “Others had sinned through a bounty of high hope; he, from need; and no man would have had to perish sooner, if Silius gained the empire.” The Caesar was affected, and leaned to mercy; but the freedmen decided him, after so many executions of the great, not to spare an actor: when the transgression was so heinous, it mattered nothing whether it was voluntary or enforced. Even the defence of the Roman knight Traulus Montanus was not admitted. A modest but remarkably handsome youth, he had within a single night received his unsought invitation and his dismissal from Messalina, who was equally capricious in her desires and her disdains. In the cases of Suillius Caesoninus63 and Plautius Lateranus,64 the death penalty was remitted. The latter was indebted to the distinguished service of his uncle: Suillius was protected by his vices, since in the proceedings of that shameful rout his part had been the reverse of masculine.

37 1 Meanwhile, in the Gardens of Lucullus, Messalina was fighting for life, and composing a petition; not without hope, and occasionally — so much of her insolence she had retained in her extremity — not without indignation. In fact, if Narcissus had not hastened her despatch, the ruin had all but fallen upon the head of the accuser. For Claudius, home again and soothed by an early dinner, grew a little heated with the wine, and gave instructions for someone to go and inform “the poor woman” — the exact phrase which he is stated to have used — that she must be in presence next day to plead her cause. The words were noted: his anger was beginning to cool, his love to return; and, if they waited longer, there was ground for anxiety in the approaching night with its memories of the marriage-chamber. Narcissus, accordingly, burst out of the room, and ordered the centurions and tribune in attendance to carry out the execution: the instructions came from the emperor. Evodus, one of the freedmen, was commissioned to guard against escape and to see that the deed was done. Hurrying to the Gardens in advance of the rest, he discovered Messalina prone on the ground, and, seated by her side, her mother Lepida;65 who, estranged from her daughter during her prime, had been conquered to pity in her last necessity, and was now advising her not to await the slayer:— “Life was over and done; and all that could be attempted was decency in death.” But honour had no place in that lust-corrupted soul, and tears and lamentations were being prolonged in vain, when the door was driven in by the onrush of the new-comers, and over her stood the tribune in silence, and the freedman upbraiding her with a stream of slavish insults.

38 1 Now for the first time she saw her situation as it was, and took hold of the steel. In her agitation, she was applying it without result to her throat and again to her breast, when the tribune ran her through. The corpse was granted to her mother; and word was carried to Claudius at the table that Messalina had perished: whether by her own or a strange hand was not specified. Nor was the question asked:66 he called for a cup and went through the routine of the banquet. Even in the days that followed, he betrayed no symptoms of hatred or of joy, of anger or of sadness, or, in fine, of any human emotion; not when he saw the accusers rejoicing, not when he saw his children mourning. His forgetfulness was assisted by the senate, which decreed that the name and statues of the empress should be removed from private and public places. The decorations of the quaestorship were voted to Narcissus: baubles to the pride of one who bore himself as the superior of Pallas and Callistus! . . . . . . Meritorious actions, it is true, but fated to produce the worst of results. . . . . .