1 1 The first death under the new principate, that of Junius Silanus, proconsul of Asia, was brought to pass, without Nero’s cognizance, by treachery on the part of Agrippina. It was not that he had provoked his doom by violence of temper, lethargic as he was, and do completely disdained by former despotisms that Gaius Caesar usually styled him “the golden sheep”;1 but Agrippina, who had procured the death of his brother Lucius Silanus,2 feared him as a possible avenger, since it was a generally expressed opinion of the multitude that Nero, barely emerged from boyhood and holding the empire in consequence of a crime, should take second place to a man of settled years, innocent character, and noble family, who — a point to be regarded in those days — was counted among the posterity of the Caesars: for Silanus, like Nero, was the son of a great-grandchild of Augustus.3Such was the cause of death: the instruments were the Roman knight, Publius Celer, and the freedman Helius, who were in charge of the imperial revenues in Asia. By these poison was administered to the proconsul at a dinner, too openly to avoid detection. With no less speed, Claudius’ freedman Narcissus, whose altercations with Agrippina I have already noticed,4 was forced to suicide by a rigorous confinement and by the last necessity, much against the will of the emperor, with whose still hidden vices his greed and prodigality were in admirable harmony.
2 1 The tendency, in fact, was towards murder, had not Afranius Burrus and Seneca intervened. Both guardians of the imperial youth, and — a rare occurrence where power is held in partnership — both in agreement, they exercised equal influence by contrasted methods; and Burrus, with his soldierly interests and austerity, and Seneca, with his lessons in eloquence and his self-respecting courtliness, aided each other to ensure that the sovereign’s years of temptation should, if he were scornful of virtue, be restrained within the bounds of permissible indulgence. Each had to face the same conflict with the overbearing pride of Agrippina; who, burning with all the passions of illicit power, had the adherence of Pallas, at whose instigation Claudius had destroyed himself by an incestuous marriage and a fatal adoption. But neither was Nero’s a disposition that bends to slaves, nor had Pallas, who with his sullen arrogance transcended the limits of a freedman, failed to waken his disgust. Still, in public, every compliment was heaped upon the princess; and when the tribune,5 following the military routine, applied for the password, her son gave: “The best of mothers.” The senate, too, accorded her a pair of lictors and the office of priestess to Claudius, to whom was voted, in the same session, a public funeral, followed presently by deification.
3 1 On the day of the obsequies, the prince opened his panegyric of Claudius. So long as he rehearsed the antiquity of his family, the consulates and the triumphs of his ancestors, he was taken seriously by himself and by others. Allusions, also, to his literary attainments6 and to the freedom of his reign from reverses abroad had a favourable hearing. But when the orator addressed himself to his foresight and sagacity, no one could repress a smile; though the speech, as the composition of Seneca, exhibited the degree of polish to be expected from that famous man, whose pleasing talent was so well suited to a contemporary audience. The elderly observers, who make a pastime of comparing old days and new, remarked that Nero was the first master of the empire to stand in need of borrowed eloquence. For the dictator Caesar had rivalled the greatest orators; and Augustus had the ready and fluent diction appropriate to a monarch. Tiberius was, in addition, a master of the art of weighing words — powerful, moreover, in the expression of his views, or, if ambiguous, ambiguous by design. Even Caligula’s troubled brain did not affect his power of speech; and, when Claudius had prepared his harangues, elegance was not the quality that was missed. But Nero, even in his childish years, turned his vivacious mind to other interests: he carved, painted, practised singing or driving, and occasionally in a set of verses showed that he had in him the rudiments of culture.
4 1 However, when the mockeries of sorrow had been carried to their close, he entered the curia; and, after an opening reference to the authority of the Fathers and the unanimity of the army, stated that “he had before him advice and examples pointing him to an admirable system of government. Nor had his youth been poisoned by civil war or family strife: he brought to his task no hatreds, no wrongs, no desire for vengeance. He then outlined the character of the coming principate, the points which had provoked recent and intense dissatisfaction being specially discountenanced:— “He would not constitute himself a judge of all cases, secluding accusers and defendants within the same four walls and allowing the influence of a few individuals to run riot. Under his roof would be no venality, no loophole for intrigue: the palace and the state would be things separate. Let the senate retain its old prerogatives! Let Italy and the public provinces take their stand before the judgement-seats of the consuls, and let the consuls grant them access to the Fathers:7 for the armies delegated to his charge8 he would himself be responsible.”
5 1 Nor was the pledge dishonoured, and many regulations were framed by the free decision of the senate. No advocate was to sell his services as a pleader for either fee or bounty;9 quaestors designate were to be under no obligation to produce a gladiatorial spectacle.10 The latter point, though opposed by Agrippina as a subversion of the acts of Claudius, was carried by the Fathers, whose meetings were specially convened in the Palatium,11 so that she could station herself at a newly-added door in their rear, shut off by a curtain thick enough to conceal her from view but not to debar her from hearing. In fact, when an Armenian deputation was pleading the national cause before Nero, she was preparing to ascend the emperor’s tribunal and to share his presidency, had not Seneca, while others stood aghast, admonished the sovereign to step down and meet his mother: an assumption of filial piety which averted a scandal.
6 1 At the close of the year, rumour brought the disturbing news that the Parthians had again broken out and were pillaging Armenia after expelling Radamistus;12 who, often master of the kingdom, then a fugitive, had now once more abandoned the struggle. It followed that in a city with such an appetite for gossip the question was asked, “how a prince who had barely passed his seventeenth birthday would be able to sustain or repel such a menace. What hope was there in a youth swayed by a woman? Were even battles, the assault of cities, the other operations of war, capable of being handled through the agency of pedagogues?” Others held, in opposition, that “fortune had been kinder than if it were Claudius, incapacitated by age and by apathy, who was now being summoned to the labours of a campaign in which he would certainly have taken his orders from his slaves. But Burrus and Seneca were well known for their great experience of affairs — and how far short of maturity was the emperor, when Pompey in his eighteenth year13 and Octavian in his nineteenth14 had been equal to the strain of civil war? In the case of the head of the state, he accomplished more through his auspices and by his counsels than with the sword and the strong arm. He would give a plain indication whether the friends around him were honourable or the reverse, if he ignored jealousies and appointed an outstanding general in preference to an intriguer commended by a long purse and court favour.”
7 1 In the midst of these popular discussions, Nero gave orders that both the recruits levied in the adjacent provinces to keep the eastern legions at strength were to be moved up, and the legions themselves stationed closer to Armenia; while the two veteran kings, Agrippa15 and Antiochus,16 prepared their forces, so as to take the initiative by crossing the Parthian frontier: at the same time bridges were to be thrown over the Euphrates, and Lesser Armenia17 was assigned to Aristobulus, the district of Sophene18to Sohaemus, each receiving royal insignia. Then, in the nick of time, a rival to Vologaeses appeared in the person of his son Vardanes; and the Parthians, wishing apparently to postpone hostilities, evacuated Armenia.
8 1 But in the senate the whole incident was magnified in the speeches of the members, who proposed that there should be a national thanksgiving; that on the days of that thanksgiving the emperor should wear the triumphal robe; that he should enter the capital with an ovation; and that he should be presented with a statue of the same size as that of Mars the Avenger,19 and in the same temple. Apart from the routine of sycophancy, they felt genuine pleasure at his appointment of Domitius Corbulo20 to save Armenia: a measure which seemed to have opened a career to the virtues. The forces in the East were so divided that half the auxiliaries, with two legions, remained in the province of Syria under its governor Ummidius Quadratus, Corbulo being assigned an equal number of citizen and federate troops, with the addition of the auxiliary foot and horse wintering in Cappadocia. The allied kings were instructed to take their orders from either, as the exigencies of the war might require: their sympathies, however, leaned to the side of Corbulo. Anxious to strengthen that personal credit which is of supreme importance at the beginning of an enterprise, Corbulo made a rapid journey, and at the Cilician town of Aegeae21 was met by Quadratus; who had advanced so far, in the fear that, should his rival once have entered Syria to take over his forces, all eyes would be turned to this gigantic and grandiloquent soldier, hardly more imposing by his experience and sagacity than by the glitter of his unessential qualities.
9 1 However, each by courier recommended King Vologaeses to choose peace in professor to war, and, by giving hostages, to continue that respectful attitude towards the Roman nation which had been the rule with his predecessors. Vologeses,º either to prepare for war at his convenience or to remove suspected rivals under the style of hostages, handed over the most distinguished members of the Arsacian family. They were received by Ummidius’ envoy, the centurion Insteius, who happened to have an interview with the king in connection with some previous affair. As soon as the fact came to the knowledge of Corbulo, he ordered Arrius Varius,22 the prefect of a cohort, to set out and take over the hostages. An altercation followed between the prefect and the centurion, and, not to prolong the scene under foreign eyes, the decision was left to the hostages and the envoys escorting them. They preferred Corbulo, on the strength of his recent glory and of that half-liking which he inspired even in his enemies. The consequence was an estrangement between the generals; Ummidius complaining that he had been robbed of the results achieved by his policy, Corbulo protesting that the king had been converted to the course of offering hostages, only when his own appointment as commander in the field changed his hopes into alarm. Nero, to compose the quarrel, gave orders for a proclamation to the effect that, in view of the successes attained by Quadratus and Corbulo, laurels were being added to the imperial fasces.23 — These incidents I have narrated in sequence, though they ran into the following consulate.
10 1 In the same year, Nero applied to the senate for a statue to his father Gnaeus Domitius, and for consular decorations for Asconius Labeo, who had acted as his guardian. At the same time he vetoed an offer of effigies in solid gold or silver to himself; and, although a resolution had been passed by the Fathers that the new year should begin in December, the month which had given Nero to the world, he retained as the opening day of the calendar the first of January with its old religious associations. Nor were prosecutions allowed in the cases of the senator Carrinas Celer, who was accused by a slave, and of Julius Densus of the equestrian order, whose partiality for Britannicus was being turned into a criminal charge.
11 1 In the consulate of Claudius Nero24 and Lucius Antistius, while the magistrates were swearing allegiance to the imperial enactments, the prince withheld his colleague Antistius from swearing to his own: a measure which the senate applauded warmly, in the hope that his youthful mind, elated by the fame attaching even to small things, would proceed forthwith to greater. There followed, in fact, a display of leniency towards Plautius Lateranus,25 degraded from his rank for adultery with Messalina, but now restored to the senate by the emperor, who pledged himself to clemency in a series of speeches, which Seneca, either to attest the exalted qualities of his teaching or to advertise his ingenuity, kept presenting to the public by the lips of the sovereign.26
12 1 For the rest, maternal authority had weakened little by little. For Nero had slipped into a love affair with a freedwoman by the name of Acte,27 and at the same time had taken into his confidence Marcus Otho28 and Claudius Senecio,29 two handsome youths; the former of consular family, the latter a son of one of the imperial freedmen. At first, without the knowledge of his mother, then in defiance of her opposition, they had crept securely into the prince’s favour as the partners of his dissipation and of his questionable secrets; while even his older friends showed no reluctance that a girl of that standing should gratify, without injury to anyone, the cravings of the emperor: for, whether from some whim of fate or because the illicit is stronger than the licit, he abhorred his wife Octavia, in spite of her high descent and proved honour; and there was always the risk that, if he were checked in this passion, his instincts would break out at the expense of women of rank.
13 1 But Agrippina, true to her sex, vented her spleen against “her competitor the freedwoman,” “her daughter-in‑law the waiting-maid,” with more in the same vein. She declined to await the repentance, or satiety, of her son, and the fouler she made her imputations, the more she fanned the flame; till at last, conquered by the force of his infatuation, he threw off his filial obedience and put himself in the hands of Seneca, whose friend Annaeus Serenus30 had screened his adolescent desires by feigning an intrigue with the same freedwoman, and had been so liberal with his name that the gifts covertly bestowed on the girl by the emperor were, to the eye of the world, lavished upon her by Serenus. Agrippina now reversed her methods, attacked the prince with blandishments, and offered her bedroom and its privacy to conceal the indulgences claimed by his opening manhood and sovereign rank. She even confessed her mistimed harshness, and — with an exaggerated humility as marked in its turn as her late excessive severity in repressing her son — offered to transfer to him her private resources, which were not greatly less than those of the sovereign. The change did not escape the attention of Nero, and roused the alarm of his intimates, who begged him to be on his guard against the machinations of a woman, always ruthless, and now, in addition, false.
During these days, as chance would have it, the Caesar, who had been inspecting the apparel which had once glittered on wives and matrons of the imperial family, selected a dress and jewels and sent them as a gift to his mother. Parsimony in the action there was none, for he was bestowing unasked some of the most valuable and coveted articles. But Agrippina protested loudly that the present was designed less to enrich her wardrobe than to deprive her of what remained, and that her son was dividing property which he held in entirety from herself.
14 1 Persons were not lacking to report her words with a more sinister turn; and Nero, exasperated against the supporters of this female arrogance, removed Pallas from the charge31 to which he had been appointed by Claudius, and in which he exercised virtual control over the monarchy. The tale went that, as he left the palace with an army of attendants, the prince remarked not unhappily that Pallas was on the way to swear himself out of office.32 He had, in fact, stipulated that there should be no retrospective inquiry into any of his actions, and that his accounts with the state should be taken as balanced. At once, Agrippina rushed headlong into a policy of terror and of threats, and the imperial ears were not spared the solemn reminder that “Britannicus was now of age — Britannicus, the genuine and deserving stock to succeed to his father’s power, which an interloping heir by adoption now exercised in virtue of the iniquities of his mother. She had no objection to the whole dark history of that unhappy house being published to the world, her own marriage first of all, and her own resort to poison: one sole act of foresight lay to the credit of Heaven and herself — her stepson lived. She would go with him to the camp.33 There, let the daughter of Germanicus be heard on the one side; on the other, the cripple Burrus and the exile Seneca, claiming, forsooth, by right of a maimed hand and a professorial tongue the regency of the human race!” As she spoke, she raised a threatening arm, and, heaping him with reproaches, invoked the deified Claudius, the shades of the dead Silani,34 and all the crimes committed to no effect.
15 1 Perturbed by her attitude, and faced with the approach of the day on which Britannicus completed his fourteenth year,35Nero began to revolve, now his mother’s proclivity to violence, now the character of his rival, — lately revealed by a test which, trivial as it was, had gained him wide sympathy. During the festivities of the Saturnalia, while his peers in age were varying their diversions by throwing dice for a king, the lot had fallen upon Nero. On the others he imposed various orders, not likely to put them to the blush: but, when he commanded Britannicus to rise, advance into the centre, and strike up a song36 — this, in the hope of turning into derision a boy who knew little of sober, much less of drunken, society — his victim firmly began a poem hinting at his expulsion from his father’s house and throne. His bearing awoke a pity the more obvious that night and revelry had banished dissimulation. Nero, once aware of the feeling aroused, redoubled his hatred; and with Agrippina’s threats becoming instant, as he had no grounds for a criminal charge against his brother and dared not openly order his execution, he tried secrecy and gave orders for poison to be prepared, his agent being Julius Pollio, tribune of a praetorian cohort, and responsible for the detention of the condemned poisoner Locusta,37 whose fame as a criminal stood high. For that no one about the person of Britannicus should regard either right or loyalty was a point long since provided for. The first dose the boy received from his own tutors, but his bowels were opened, and he passed the drug, which either lacked potency or contained a dilution to prevent immediate action. Nero, however, impatient of so much leisure in crime, threatened the tribune and ordered the execution of the poisoner, on the ground that, with their apprehensions of scandal and their preparations for defence, they were delaying his release from anxiety. They now promised that death should be as abrupt as if it were the summary work of steel; and a potion — its rapidity guaranteed by a private test of the ingredients38 — was concocted hard by the Caesar’s bedroom.
16 1 It was the regular custom that the children of the emperors should take their meals in sight of their relatives,39 seated with other nobles of their age at a more frugal table of their own. There Britannicus dined; and, as his food, solid and liquid, was tried by a taster chosen from his attendants, the following expedient was discovered, to avoid either changing the rule or betraying the plot by killing both master and man. A drink, still harmless, very hot, and already tasted, was handed to Britannicus; then, when he declined it as too warm, cold water was poured in, and with it the poison; which ran so effectively through his whole system that he lost simultaneously both voice and breath. There was a startled movement in the company seated around, and the more obtuse began to disperse; those who could read more clearly sat motionless, their eyes riveted on Nero. He, without changing his recumbent attitude or his pose of unconsciousness, observed that this was a usual incident, due to the epilepsy with which Britannicus had been inflicted from his earliest infancy: sight and sensation would return by degrees. But from Agrippina, in spite of her control over her features, came a flash of such terror and mental anguish that it was obvious she had been as completely in the dark as the prince’s sister Octavia. She saw, in fact, that her last hope had been taken — that the precedent for matricide had been set. Octavia, too, youth and inexperience notwithstanding, had learned to hide her griefs, her affections, her every emotion. Consequently, after a short silence, the amenities of the banquet were resumed.
17 1 The same night saw the murder of Britannicus and his pyre, the funeral apparatus — modest enough — having been provided in advance. Still, his ashes were buried in the Field of Mars,40 under such a tempest of rain that the crowd believed it to foreshadow the anger of the gods against a crime which, even among men,41 was condoned by the many who took into account the ancient instances of brotherly hatred and the fact that autocracy knows no partnership. The assertion is made by many contemporary authors that, for days before the murder, the worst of all outrages had been offered by Nero to the boyish years of Britannicus: in which case, it ceases to be possible to regard his death as either premature or cruel, though it was amid the sanctities of the table, without even a respite allowed in which to embrace his sister, and under the eyes of his enemy, that the hurried doom fell on this last scion of the Claudian house, upon whom lust had done its unclean work before the poison. The hastiness of the funeral was vindicated in an edict of the Caesar, who called to mind that “it was a national tradition to withdraw these untimely obsequies from the public gaze and not to detain it by panegyrics and processions. However, now that he had lost the aid of his brother, not only were his remaining hopes centred in the state, but the senate and people themselves must so much the more cherish their prince as the one survivor of a family42 born to the heights of power.”
18 1 He now conferred bounties on his chief friends. Nor were accusers wanting for the men of professed austerity, who at such a moment had partitioned town and country houses like so much loot. Others believed that compulsion had been applied by the emperor, conscience-struck by his crime but hopeful of pardon, if he could lay the powerful under obligation by a display of liberality. But his mother’s anger no munificence could assuage. She took Octavia to her heart; she held frequent and private interviews with her friends; while with even more than her native cupidity she appropriated money from all sources, apparently to create a fund for emergencies. Tribunes and centurions she received with suavity; and for the names and virtues of the nobility — there was a nobility still — she showed a respect which indicated that she was in quest of a leader and a faction. Nero knew it, and gave orders to withdraw the military watch, which she had received as the wife, and retained as the mother, of the sovereign, along with the Germans43 lately assigned to her as a bodyguard for the same complimentary motive. That her levées should not be frequented by a crowd of visitants, he made his own establishment separate, installed his mother in the house once belonging to Antonia,44 and, at his visits to her new quarters, came surrounded by a throng of centurions and left after a perfunctory kiss.
19 1 Nothing in the list of mortal things is so unstable and so fleeting as the fame attached to a power not based on its own strength. Immediately Agrippina’s threshold was forsaken: condolences there were none; visits there were none, except from a few women, whether out of love or hatred is uncertain. Among them was Junia Silana, driven by Messalina from her husband Silanus, as I related above.45 Eminent equally in blood, beauty, and voluptuousness, she was long the bosom friend of Agrippina. Then came a private quarrel between the pair: for Agrippina had deterred the young noble Sextius Africanus from marriage with Silana by describing her as a woman of no morals and uncertain age; not with the intention of reserving Africanus for herself, but to keep a wealthy and childless widow from passing into the possession of a husband. With the prospect of revenge presenting itself, Silana now suborned two of her clients, Iturius and Calvisius, to undertake the accusation; her charge being not the old, oft-heard tale that Agrippina was mourning the death of Britannicus or publishing the wrongs of Octavia, but that she had determined to encourage Rubellius Plautus46 into revolution — on the maternal side he was a descendant of the deified Augustus in the same degree as Nero — and as the partner of his couch and then of his throne to make her way once more into the conduct of affairs. The charges were communicated by Iturius and Calvisius to Atimetus, a freedman of Nero’s aunt Domitia.47 Overjoyed at this windfall — for competition was bitter between Agrippina and Domitia — Atimetus incited the actor Paris,º also a freedman of Domitia, to go on the instant and present the charge in the darkest colours.
20 1 The night was well advanced, and Nero was protracting it over his wine, when Paris — accustomed ordinarily about this hour to add life to the imperial debauch, but now composed to melancholy — entered the room, and by exposing the indictment in detail so terrified his auditor that he decided not merely to kill his mother and Plautus but even to remove Burrus from his command, on the ground that he owed his promotion to Agrippina and was now paying his debt. According to Fabius Rusticus,48 letters patent to Caecina Tuscus, investing him with the charge of the praetorian cohorts, were actually written, but by the intervention of Seneca the post was saved for Burrus. Pliny49 and Cluvius50 refer to no suspicion of the prefect’s loyalty; and Fabius certainly tends to overpraise Seneca, by whose friendship he flourished. For myself, where the authorities are unanimous, I shall follow them: if their versions disagree, I shall record them under the names of their sponsors. — Unnerved and eager for the execution of his mother, Nero was not to be delayed, until Burrus promised that, if her guilt was proved, death should follow. “But,” he added, “any person whatsoever, above all a parent, would have to be allowed the opportunity of defence; and here no accusers were present; only a solitary voice, and that borne from the house of an enemy. Let him take into consideration the darkness, the wakeful night spent in conviviality, the whole of the circumstances, so conducive to rashness and unreason.”
21 1 When the emperor’s fears had been thus calmed, at break of day a visit was paid to Agrippina; who was to listen to the charges, and rebut them or pay the penalty. The commission was carried out by Burrus under the eye of Seneca: a number of freedmen also were present as witnesses to the conversation. Then, after recapitulating the charges and their authors, Burrus adopted a threatening attitude. Agrippina summoned up her pride:— “I am not astonished,” she said, “that Silana, who has never known maternity, should have no knowledge of a mother’s heart: for parents do not change their children as a wanton changes her adulterers. Nor, if Iturius and Calvisius, after consuming the last morsel of their estates, pay their aged mistress the last abject service of undertaking a delation, is that a reason why my own fair fame should be darkened by the blood of my son or the emperor’s conscience by that of his mother? For as to Domitia — I should thank her for her enmity, if she were competing with me in benevolence to my Nero, instead of staging this comedy with the help of her bedfellow Atimetus and her mummer Paris. In the days when my counsels were preparing his adoption, his proconsular power, his consulate in prospect, and the other steps to his sovereignty, she was embellishing the fish-ponds of her beloved Baiae. — Or let a man stand forth to convict me of tampering with the guards in the capital — of shaking the allegiance of the provinces — or, finally, of seducing either slave or freedman into crime! Could I have lived with Britannicus on the throne? And if Plautus or another shall acquire the empire and sit in judgement, am I to assume there is a dearth of accusers prepared to indict me, no longer for the p39occasional hasty utterances of an ill-regulated love, but for guilt from which only a son can absolve?” The listeners were moved, but she demanded an interview with her son. There she neither spoke in support of her innocence, as though she could entertain misgivings, nor on the theme of her services, as though she would cast them in his teeth, but procured vengeance upon her accusers and recognition for her friends.
22 1 The prefectship of the cornº supply was awarded to Faenius Rufus; the supervision of the Games, now in preparation by the Caesar, to Arruntius Stella; Egypt, to Tiberius Balbillus. Syria was marked out for Publius Anteius; but later, by one subterfuge or another, his claims were eluded, and finally he was kept in Rome. Silana, on the other side, was driven into exile; Calvisius and Iturius, also, were relegated; on Atimetus the death penalty was inflicted, Paris being too powerful a figure in the debaucheries of the emperor to be liable to punishment.51 Plautus, for the moment, was passed over in silence.
23 1 Information was next laid that Pallas and Burrus had agreed to call Cornelius Sulla52 to the empire, on the strength of his distinguished race and his connection with Claudius, whose son-in‑law he had become by his marriage with Antonia. The accusation was fathered by a certain Paetus, notorious for the systematic purchase of confiscated estates from the treasury, and now plainly guilty of falsehood. But the innocence of Pallas gave less pleasure than his arrogance evoked disgust: for when the freedmen were named whose complicity he was alleged to have been used, he replied that, under his own roof, he had never intimated an order but by a nod or a most of the hand; or, if more explanation was needed, he had used writing, so as to avoid all interchange of speech. Burrus, though on his trial, recorded his vote among the judges.53 Sentence of banishment was passed on the prosecutor, and the account books, by help of which he was resuscitating forgotten claims of the treasury, were burned.
24 1 At the end of the year, the cohort usually present on guard at the Games was withdrawn; the objects being to give a greater appearance of liberty, to prevent the troops from being corrupted by too close contact with the licence of the theatre, and to test whether the populace would continue its orderly behaviour when its custodians were removed. A lustration of the city was carried out by the emperor at the recommendation of the soothsayers, since the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning.
25 1 The consulate of Quintus Volusius and Publius Scipio was marked by peace abroad and by disgraceful exercises at home, where Nero — his identity dissembled under the dress of a slave — ranged the streets, the brothels, and the wine-shops of the capital, with an escort whose duties were to snatch wares exhibited for sale and to assault all persons they met, the victims having so little inkling of the truth that he himself took his buffets with the rest and bore their imprints on his face. Then, it became notorious that the depredator was the Caesar; outrages on men and women of rank increased; others, availing themselves of the licence once accorded, began with impunity, under the name of Nero, to perpetrate the same excesses with their own gangs; and night passed as it might in a captured town. Julius Montanus, a member of the senatorial order, though he had not yet held office, met the emperor casually in the dark, and, because he repelled his offered violence with spirit, then recognized his antagonist and asked for pardon, was forced to suicide, the apology being construed as a reproach. Nero, however, less venturesome for the future, surrounded himself with soldiers and crowds of gladiators, who were to stand aloof from incipient affrays of modest dimensions and semi-private character: should the injured party behave with too much energy, they threw their swords into the scale. Even the licence of the players and of the theatrical claques he converted into something like pitched battles by waiving penalties, by offering prizes, and by viewing the riots himself, sometimes in secret, very often openly; until, with the populace divided against itself and still graver commotions threatened, no other cure appeared but to expel the actors from Italy and to have the soldiers again take their place in the theatre.
26 1 About the same time, the senate discussed the iniquities of freedmen, and a demand was pressed that, in dealing with an undeserving case, the former owner should be allowed the right of annulling the emancipation. The proposal did not lack supporters; but the consuls were not bold enough to put the motion without the cognizance of the emperor, though they advised him in writing of the feeling of the senate. Nero was doubtful whether to assume responsibility for the measure, as his advisers were few and their opinions conflicting.54 Some were indignant that “insolence, grown harder with liberty, had reached a point where freedmen were no longer content to be equal before the law with their patrons, but mocked their tameness and actually raised their hands to strike, without punishment — or with a punishment suggested by themselves! For what redress was allowed to an injured patron, except to relegate his freedman beyond the hundredth milestone to the beaches of Campania?55For anything else, the law-courts were open to both on equal terms; and some weapon which it would be impossible to despise ought to be put into the hands of the freeborn. It would be no great burden to a manumitted slave to keep his freedom by the same obedience which had earned it: on the other hand, notorious offenders deserved to be brought back to their bondage, so that fear might coerce those whom kindness had not reformed.”
27 1 It was urged on the other side that “the guilt of a few persons ought to be fatal only to themselves: the rights of the class at large ought to suffer no detriment. For the body in question was widely extended. From it the tribes,56 the decuries,57 the assistants of the magistrates and priests were very largely recruited; so also the cohorts58 enrolled in the capital; while the origin of most knights and of many senators was drawn from no other source. If the freed were set apart, the paucity of the free would be apparent! It was not without reason that our ancestors, when distinguishing the position of the orders, made freedom the common property of all. Again, two forms of manumission59 had been instituted, so as to leave room for a change of mind or a fresh favour. All, whose patron had not liberated them by the wand, were still, it might be said, held by the bond of servitude. The owner must look carefully into the merits of each case, and be slow in granting what, once given, could not be taken away.” This view prevailed, and the Caesar wrote to the senate that they must consider individually all cases of freedmen accused by their patrons: no general rights were to be abrogated. — Nor was it long before his aunt was robbed of her freedman Paris, outwardly by process of civil law,60 and not without discredit to the sovereign, by whose order a verdict of ingenuous birth had been procured.
28 1 There remained none the less some shadow of the republic. For a dispute arose between the praetor Vibullius and the plebeian tribune Antistius, because the tribune had ordered the release of some disorderly claqueurs thrown into prison by the praetor. The Fathers approved the arrest, and censured the liberty taken by Antistius. At the same time, the tribunes were forbidden to encroach on praetorian and consular jurisdiction or to summon litigants from Italian districts, should a civil action be possible there.61 Lucius Piso, the consul designate, added a proposal that their official powers of punishment should not be exercised under their own roofs: fines inflicted by them were not to be entered in the public accounts by the treasury-quaestors until four months had elapsed; in the interval, protests were to be allowable, the decision lying with the consuls. The powers of the aedileship were also narrowed, and statutory limits were fixed, up to which the curule or plebeian aediles, as the case might be, could distrain or fine. The tribune Helvidius Priscus62 prosecuted a private quarrel with the treasury-quaestor, Obultronius Sabinus, by alleging that he was carrying his right of sale to merciless lengths against the poor. The emperor then transferred the charge of the public accounts from the quaestors to prefects.
29 1 The organization of this department63 had been variable and often modified. Augustus left the choice of prefects to the senate; then, as illicit canvassing was apprehended, the men to occupy the post were drawn by lot from the whole body of praetors. This also was a short-lived expedient, as the lot tended to stray to the unfit. Next, Claudius reinstated the quaestors, and — lest their zeal should be blunted by the fear of making enemies — guaranteed them promotion outside the usual order.64But, as this was their first magistracy, they wanted the stability of mature years: Nero, therefore, filled the office with ex-praetors who had stood the test of experience.
30 1 In the same consulate, Vipsanius Laenas was found guilty of malversation in his province of Sardinia; Cestius Proculus was acquitted on a charge of extortion brought by the Cretans. Clodius Quirinalis, who, as commandant of the crews stationed at Ravenna, had by his debauchery and ferocity tormented Italy, as though Italy were the most abject of the nations, forestalled his sentence by poison. Caninius Rebilus, who in juristic knowledge and extent of fortune ranked with the greatest, escaped the tortures of age and sickness by letting the blood from his arteries; though, from the unmasculine vices for which he was infamous, he had been thought incapable of the firmness of committing suicide. In contrast, Lucius Volusius departed in the fullness of honour, after enjoying a term of ninety-three years of life, a noble fortune virtuously gained, and the unbroken friendship of a succession of emperors.
31 1 In the consulate of Nero, for the second time, and of Lucius Piso, little occurred that deserves remembrance, unless the chronicler is pleased to fill his rolls with panegyrics of the foundations and the beams1 on which the Caesar reared his vast amphitheatre2 in the Campus Martius; although, in accordance with the dignity of the Roman people, it has been held fitting to consign great events to the page of history and details such as these to the urban gazette. Still, the colonies of Capua and Nuceria were reinforced by a draft of veterans; the populace was given a gratuity of four hundred sesterces a head; and forty millions were paid into the treasury to keep the public credit stable. Also, the tax of four per cent on the purchase of slaves3 was remitted more in appearance than in effect: for, as payment was now required from the vendor, the buyers found the amount added as part of the price. The Caesar, too, issued an edict that no magistrate or procurator should, in the province for which he was responsible, exhibit a gladiatorial spectacle, a display of wild beasts, or any other entertainment. Previously, a subject community suffered as much from the spurious liberality as from the rapacity of its governors, screening as they did by corruption the offences they had committed in wantonness.
32 1 There was passed, also, a senatorial decree, punitive at once and precautionary, that, if a master had been assassinated by his own slaves, even those manumitted under his will, but remaining under the same roof, should suffer the penalty among the rest. The consular Lucius Varus, sentenced long before under charges of extortion, was restored to his rank. Pomponia Graecina,4 a woman of high family, married to Aulus Plautius — whose ovation after the British campaign I recorded earlier5 — and now arraigned for alien superstition,6 was left to the jurisdiction of her husband.7 Following the ancient custom, he held the inquiry, which was to determine the fate and fame of his wife, before a family council, and announced her innocent. Pomponia was a woman destined to long life and to continuous grief: for after Julia,8 the daughter of Drusus, had been done to death by the treachery of Messalina, she survived for forty years, dressed in perpetual mourning and lost in perpetual sorrow; and a constancy unpunished under the empire of Claudius became later a title to glory.
33 1 The same year saw many on their trial. Publius Celer, one of the number, indicted by the province of Asia, the Caesar could not absolve: he therefore held the case in abeyance until the defendant died of old age; for in his murder (already recorded)9 of the proconsul Silanus, Celer had to his credit a crime of sufficient magnitude to cover the rest of his delinquencies. A charge had been laid by the Cilicians against Cossutianus Capito,10 a questionable and repulsive character, who had assumed that the same chartered insolence which he had exhibited in the capital would be permitted in a province. Beaten, however, by the tenacity of the prosecution, he finally threw up his defence, and was sentenced under the law of extortion. On behalf of Eprius Marcellus,11from whom the Lycians were claiming reparation, intrigue was so effective that a number of his accusers were penalized by exile, on the ground that they had endangered an innocent man.
34 1 With Nero a third time consul, Valerius Messala entered upon office as his colleague, his great-grandfather, the orator Corvinus, being remembered now by only a few of old men as associated in the same magistracy with the deified Augustus, grandfather of Nero in the third degree. The honour, however, of a noble family received some increment in a yearly subsidy of five hundred thousand sesterces, on which Messala might support an honest poverty. An annual stipend was also assigned by the emperor to Aurelius Cotta and Haterius Antoninus, though they had dissipated their family estates in profligacy. In the beginning of the year, the war between Parthia and Rome for the possession of Armenia, feebly begun, and till now carried on in dilatory fashion, was taken up with energy. For, on the one hand, Vologeses declined to allow his brother Tiridates to be debarred from the kingdom, which he had himself presented to him, or to hold it as the gift of an alien power; and, on the other, Corbulo considered it due to the majesty of the Roman nation to recover the old conquests of Lucullus and Pompey.12 In addition, the Armenians — whose allegiance was a matter of doubt — were invoking the arms of both powers; though by geographical position and affinity of manners they stood closer to the Parthians, were connected with them by inter-marriage, and, in their ignorance of liberty, were more inclined to accept servitude in that quarter.
3513 Still, Corbulo’s main difficulty was rather to counteract the lethargy of his troops than to thwart the perfidy of his enemies. For the legions transferred from Syria showed, after the enervation of a long peace, pronounced reluctance to undergo the duties of a Roman camp. It was a well-known fact that his army included veterans who had never served on a picket or a watch, who viewed the rampart and fosse as novel and curious objects, and who owned neither helmets nor breastplates — polished and prosperous warriors, who had served their time in the towns. Accordingly, after discharging those incapacitated by age or ill-health, he applied for reinforcements. Levies were held in Galatia and Cappadocia, and a legion from Germany was added with its complement of auxiliary horse and foot. The entire army was kept under canvas,14 notwithstanding a winter of such severity that the ice-covered ground had to be dug up before it would receive tents. As a result of the bitter cold, many of the men had frost-bitten limbs, and a few died on sentinel-duty. The case was observed of a soldier, carrying a bundle of firewood, whose hands had frozen till they adhered to his load and dropped off from the stumps. Corbulo himself, lightly dressed and bare-headed, was continually among his troops, on the march or at their toils, offering his praise to the stalwart, his comfort his weak, his example to all. Then, owing to the rigours of the climate and the service, recalcitrancy and desertion grew common, and the cure was sought in severity. For, contrary to the rule in other armies, mercy did not attend first and second offences, but the man who had left the standards made immediate atonement with his life. That the treatment was salutary and an improvement on pity was proved by experience, the camp showing fewer cases of desertion than those in which pardons were the rule.
36 1 In the interval, until spring matured, Corbulo detained the legions in camp and distributed the auxiliary cohorts at suitable points, with orders not to risk a battle unattacked: the charge of these garrison-posts he entrusted to Paccius Orfitus, who had held the rank of leading centurion. Orfitus, though he had sent a written despatch that the barbarians were off their guard and an opportunity presented itself for a successful action, was ordered to keep within his lines and wait for larger forces. However, on the advent from the neighbouring forts of a few squadrons inexperienced enough to clamour for battle, he violated orders, engaged the enemy, and was routed. His reverse, in turn, so demoralized the troops which ought to have come to his rescue that they beat a hasty retreat to their various stations. The incident tried Corbulo’s temper; and, after a sharp reprimand to Paccius, he, his prefects, and his men, were ordered to bivouac outside the rampart;15 and in that humiliating position they were kept, until released at the petition of the entire army.
37 1 But Tiridates — now supported, apart from his own vassals, by help from his brother Vologeses — began to harass Armenia, no longer by stealth but in open war, ravaging the communities which he considered loyal to ourselves, or, if force was brought against him, eluding contact and, as he flew hither and thither, disseminating a terror due more to rumour than to the sword. Corbulo, therefore, frustrated in his persevering quest for battle, and forced to imitate the enemy by carrying his arms from district to district, divided his strength, so that the legates and prefects might deliver a simultaneous attack at widely separate points: at the same time, he directed King Antiochus16 to march upon the prefectures adjoining him. For Pharasmanes, who had put his son Radamistus to death as a traitor, was now prosecuting his old feud against the Armenians with a readiness meant as evidence of his fidelity to ourselves; while the Moschi,17 most loyal of tribes to the Roman alliance, were now won over for the first time, and raided the less accessible parts of Armenia. The plans of Tiridates were thus being completely reversed, and he began to send legations, demanding, in his own name and that of Parthia, “why, after his late grant of hostages, and the renewal of a friendship meant to pave the way to further kindnesses, he was being evicted from his long-standing occupancy of Armenia. The only reason why Vologeses himself had as yet made no movement was that they both preferred to proceed by argument rather than force. But, if war was persisted in, the house of Arsaces would not be found wanting in the valour and fortune which had several times already been demonstrated by a Roman disaster.” Corbulo, who had sure information that Vologeses was detained by the revolt of Hyrcania,18 rejoined by advising Tiridates to approach the emperor with a petition:— “A stable throne and a bloodless reign might fall to his lot, if he would renounce a dim and distant hope in order to pursue one which was within his grasp and preferable.”
38 1 Then, as these messages and counter-messages were achieving nothing towards a definite peace, it was decided to fix the time and place for a personal interview. A guard of a thousand horsemen, Tiridates announced, would be present with himself: as to the forces of all arms, which might attend Corbulo, he made no stipulation, so long as they came divested of cuirasses and helmets, in the guise of peace. Any man whatever — and most of all, a veteran and far-sighted leader — was bound to fathom the barbarian ruse and to reflect that the motive for specifying a restricted number on one side, while offering a larger on the other, was to prepare an act of treachery; since, if unprotected flesh and blood were to be closed to a cavalry trained in the use of the bow, numerical strength would be of no avail. Feigning, however, to understand nothing, he replied that discussions of a national importance would be more fitly conducted in presence of the whole armies; and chose a site, one half of which consisted of gently sloping hills suited for lines of infantry, while the other spread out into a plain admitting the deployment of mounted squadrons. First in the field on the appointed day, Corbulo stationed on the flanks the allied infantry and the auxiliaries furnished by the king; in the centre, the sixth legion, with which he had embodied three thousand men of the third, summoned from another camp during the night: a solitary eagle produced on the spectator the impression of a single legion. The day was already declining when Tiridates took up his position at a distance from which he was more visible than audible: the Roman commander, therefore, without conference, ordered his troops to draw off to their various camps.
39 1 The king, either suspecting a ruse from the different directions in which our men were simultaneously moving, or hoping to cut off the supplies reaching us by way of the Euxine and the town of Trapezus, left in haste.19 Not only was he powerless, however, to molest the supplies, since they were convoyed over mountains occupied by our posts, but Corbulo, to avoid a protracted and fruitless campaign, and at the same time to reduce the Armenians to the defensive, prepared to demolish their fortresses. The strongest in that satrapy was known as Volandum,20 and he reserved it for himself: minor holds he left to the legionary commander Cornelius Flaccus and the camp-prefect21 Insteius Capito. Then, after inspecting the defences and making suitable provision for the assault, he urged the troops “to force from his lair this shifting enemy, disposed neither for peace nor for battle but confessing his perfidy and his cowardice by flight, and to strike equally for glory and for spoil.” He next divided the army into four bodies. One, massed in the tortoise formation, he led to undermine the rampart, another he ordered to advance the ladders to the walls, while a strong party were to discharge brands and spears from the military engines. The slingers of each type22 were assigned a position from which to hurl their bullets at long range — the object being that, with danger threatening equally on all hands, pressure at one point should not be relieved by reinforcements from another. In the sequel, the army showed so much enthusiasm in action that before a third of the day was elapsed the walls had been cleared of defenders, the barricades in the gateways broken down, the fortifications taken by escalade, and the whole of the adult population put to the sword: all without the loss of one soldier, and with extremely few wounded. The mob of non-combatants was sold by auction; the rest of the spoils became the property of the victors. The legionary commander and the prefect enjoyed equal good fortune; and, with three forts carried by storm in one day, the rest capitulated, from panic, or, in some cases, by the voluntary act of the inhabitants. — All this inspired confidence for an attack upon the national capital of Artaxata. The legions, however, were not taken by the shortest road, since to use the bridge over the Araxes, which runs hard under the city walls, would have brought them within missile range: the crossing was effected at some distance, and by a wider ford.
40 1 But Tiridates, divided between shame and the fear that, if he acquiesced in the siege, he would give the impression of being powerless to prevent it — while, if he intervened, he might entangle himself and his mounted troops on impossible ground — determined finally to display his forces drawn up for battle; then, if a day offered, either to begin an engagement or by a simulated flight to seek the opportunity for some ruse of war. He therefore suddenly attacked the Roman column from all quarters, but without surprising our commander, who had arranged his army as much for battle as for the road. On the right flank marched the third legion, on the left the sixth, with a chosen contingent of the tenth23 in the centre: the baggage had been brought within the lines, and the rear was guarded by a thousand horse, whose instructions were to resist an attack at close quarters, but not to pursue, if it became a retreat. On the wings were the unmounted archers and the rest of the cavalry force, the left wing extending the further, along the foot of a range of hills, so that, if the enemy forced an entry, he could be met both in front and by an enveloping movement. On the other side, Tiridates launched desultory attacks, never advancing within javelin-cast, but alternately threatening action and simulating panic, in the hope of loosening the ranks and falling on them while separated. Then, as there was no rash break of cohesion, and the only result attained was that a decurion of cavalry, who advanced too boldly and was transfixed with a flight of arrows, had confirmed by his example the obedience of the rest, he drew off when darkness began to approach.
41 1 Pitching his camp on the spot, Corbulo resolved the problem whether he should leave the baggage, move straight upon Artaxata with the legions under cover of night, and invest the city, on which he presumed Tiridates to have retired. Later, when scouts came in with the news that the king’s journey was a lengthy one, and that it was difficult to say whether his destination was Media or Albania, he waited for the dawn, but sent the light-armed troops in advance to draw a cordon round the walls in the interval and begin the attack from a distance. The townsmen, however, opened the gates voluntarily, and surrendered themselves and their property to the Romans. This promptitude ensured their personal safety; Artaxata itself was fired,24demolished and razed to the ground; for in view of the extent of the walls it was impossible to hold it without a powerful garrison, and our numbers were not such that they could be divided between keeping a strong retaining force and conducting a campaign; while, if the place was to remain unscathed and unguarded, there was neither utility nor glory in the bare fact of its capture. In addition, there was a marvel, sent apparently by Heaven: up to Artaxata, the landscape glittered in the sunlight, yet suddenly the area encircled by the fortifications was so completely enveloped in a cloud of darkness and parted from the outside world by lightning flashes that the belief prevailed that it was being consigned to its doom by the hostile action of the gods.25 — for all this, Nero was hailed as Imperator,26 and in obedience to a senatorial decree, thanksgivings were held; statues and arches, and successive consulates were voted to the sovereign; and the days on which the victory was achieved, on which it was announced, on which the resolution concerning it was put, were to be included among the national festivals. There were more proposals in the same strain, so utterly extravagant that Gaius Cassius,27 who had agreed to the other honours, pointed out that, if gratitude, commensurate with the generosity of fortune, had to be shown to the gods, the whole year was too short for their thanksgivings, and for that reason a distinction ought to be made between holy days proper and working days on which men might worship Heaven without suspending the business of earth.
42 1 And now28 the hero of a chequered and stormy career, who had earned himself a multitude of hatreds, received his condemnation, though not without some detriment to the popularity of Seneca. This was Publius Suillius,29 the terrible and venal favourite of the Claudian reign, now less cast down by the change in the times than his enemies could wish, and more inclined to be counted a criminal than a suppliant. For the sake, it was believed, of crushing him, there had been revived an earlier decree of the senate,30 together with the penalties prescribed by the Cincian law against advocates who had pleaded for profit. Suillius himself spared neither complaints nor objurgations, using the freedom natural not only to his fierce temper but to his extreme age, and assailing Seneca as “the embittered enemy of the friends of Claudius, under whom he had suffered his well-earned exile.31 At the same time, since his only experience was of bookish studies and single-minded youths, he had a jaundiced eye for those who applied a living and unsophisticated eloquence to the defence of their fellow-citizens. He himself had been Germanicus’ quaestor; Seneca, the adulterer under the prince’s roof. To obtain as the voluntary gift of a litigant some reward for honourable service — was that an offence to be judged more harshly than the pollution of the couch of imperial princesses? By what branch of wisdom, by what rules of philosophy, had he acquired, within four years of royal favour, three hundred million sesterces?32 In Rome his nets were spread for the childless and their testaments: Italy and the provinces were sucked dry by his limitless usury.33 But he, Suillius, had his hard-earned and modest competence! He would suffer accusation, trial, everything, rather than stoop his old, home-made honour before this upstart success.”
43 1 There was no lack of auditors to report his remarks, word for word or with changes for the worse, to Seneca. Accusers were discovered, and they laid their charges — that the provincials had been plundered during Suillius’ government of Asia, and that there had been embezzlement of public money. Then, as the prosecution had obtained a year for inquiries, it seemed shorter to begin upon his delinquencies at home, witnesses to which were ready to hand. By these the venomous indictment which had driven Quintus Pomponius to the necessity of civil war;34 the hounding to death of Drusus’ daughter Julia, and of Poppaea Sabina; the trapping of Valerius Asiaticus, of Lusius Saturninus, and of Cornelius Lupus; finally, the conviction of an army of Roman knights, and the whole tale of Claudius’ cruelty, — were laid to the account of Suillius. In defence he urged that none of these acts had been undertaken voluntarily and that he had merely obeyed the sovereign; until the Caesar cut short his speech by stating that he had definite knowledge from his father’s papers that he had compelled no prosecution of any person. Orders from Messalina were now alleged, and the defence began to totter:— “For why had none other been chosen to put his voice at the disposal of that homicidal wanton? Punishment must be measured out to these agents of atrocity, when, after handling the wages of crime, they imputed the crime to others.” Hence, after the forfeiture of half his estate — for his son and granddaughter were allowed the other half, and a similar exemption was extended to the property they had derived from their mother’s will or their grandmother’s — he was banished to the Balearic Isles.35 Neither with his fate in the balance nor with his condemnation recorded did his spirit break; and it was asserted later that a life of luxury and abundance had made his seclusion not intolerable. When his son Nerullinus was attacked by the accusers, who relied on his father’s unpopularity and on charges of extortion, the emperor interposed his veto, on the ground that vengeance was satisfied.
44 1 Nearly at the same time, the plebeian tribune Octavius Sagitta, madly in love with a wedded woman called Pontia, purchased by immense gifts first the act of adultery, then her desertion of her husband. He promised marriage on his own part, and had secured a similar pledge on hers. Once free, however, the woman began to procrastinate, to plead the adverse wishes of her father, and, when hopes of a wealthier match presented themselves, to shuffle off her promise. Octavius, on the other side, now remonstrated, now threatened, appealing to the ruin of his reputation, to the exhaustion of his fortune, and finally placing his life, all that he could yet call his own, at her absolute disposal. As he was flouted, he asked for the consolation of one night, to allay his fever and enable him to control himself in future. The night was fixed, and Pontia entrusted the watch over her bedroom to a maid in their confidence. Octavius entered with one freedman, a dagger concealed in his dress. Love and anger now ran their usual course in upbraidings and entreaties, reproach and reparation; and a part of the night was set aside to passion; inflamed by which, as it seemed, he struck her through with his weapon, while she suspected nothing; drove off with a wound the maid who came running up, and broke out of the room. Next day, the murder was manifest, and the assassin not in doubt: for that he had been with her was demonstrated. None the less, the freedman asserted that the crime was his own; he had avenged, he said, the injuries of his patron; and so startling was this example of devotion that he had shaken the belief of some, when the maid’s recovery from her wound enabled her to disclose the truth. Octavius, after laying down his tribunate, was arraigned before the consuls by the father of the victim, and sentenced by verdict of the senate and under the law of assassination.36
45 1 A no less striking instance of immorality proved in this year the beginning of grave public calamities. There was in the capital a certain Poppaea Sabina, daughter of Titus Ollius, though she had taken the name of her maternal grandfather, Poppaeus Sabinus,37 of distinguished memory, who, with the honours of his consulate and triumphal insignia, outshone her father: for Ollius had fallen a victim to his friendship with Sejanus before holding the major offices. She was a woman possessed of all advantages but a character. For her mother,38 after eclipsing the beauties of it her day, had endowed her alike with her fame and her looks: her wealth was adequate to the distinction of her birth. Her conversation was engaging, her wit not without point; she paraded modesty, and practised wantonness. In public she rarely appeared, and then with her face half-veiled, so as not quite to satiate the beholder, — or, possibly, because it so became her. She was never sparing of her reputation, and drew no distinctions between husbands and adulterers: vulnerable neither to her own nor to alien passion, where material advantage offered, thither she transferred her desires. Thus, whilst living in the wedded state with Rufrius Crispinus,39 a Roman knight by whom she had had a son, she was seduced by Otho,40 with his youth, his voluptuousness, and his reputed position as the most favoured of Nero’s friends: nor was it long before adultery was supplemented by matrimony.41 46 1 Otho, possibly by an amorous indiscretion, began to praise the looks and the graces of his wife in presence of the emperor; or, possibly, his object was to inflame the sovereign’s desire, and, by the additional bond of joint ownership in one woman, to reinforce his own influence. His voice was often heard, declaring, as he rose from the Caesar’s table, that he at least must be returning to his wife — that to him had fallen that rank and beauty which the world desired and the fortunate enjoyed. In view of these and the like incitements, there was no tedious interval of delay; and Poppaea, admitted to the presence, proceeded to establish her ascendancy; at first, by cajolery and artifice, feigning that she was too weak to resist her passion and had been captured by Nero’s beauty; then — as the emperor’s love grew fervent — changing to haughtiness, and, if she was detained for more than a second night, insisting that she was a wife and could not renounce her married status, linked as she was to Otho by a mode of life which none could parallel:— “His was a true majesty of mind and garb; in him she contemplated the princely manner; while Nero, enchained by his menial paramour and the embraces of an Acte, had derived from that servile cohabitation no tincture of anything but the mean and the shabby.” Otho was debarred from his usual intimacy with the sovereign; then from his levées and his suite: finally, to prevent his acting as Nero’s rival in Rome, he was appointed to the province of Lusitania; where, till the outbreak of the civil war,42 he lived, not in the mode of his notorious past, but uprightly and without reproach, frivolous where his leisure was concerned, more self-controlled as regarded his official powers.
47 1 Henceforward Nero sought no veil for his debaucheries and crimes. He had a peculiar suspicion of Cornelius Sulla,43whose natural slowness of wit he totally misunderstood, reading him as an astute character with a gift for simulation. His fears were deepened by the mendacity of Graptus, a Caesarian freedman, whom experience and age had familiarized with the household of the emperors from Tiberius downward. The Mulvian Bridge44 at that period was famous for its nocturnal attractions, and Nero was in the habit of frequenting it, so as to allow his extravagances a freer rein outside the city. Graptus accordingly invented the fiction that an ambuscade had been arranged for the prince in the event of his returning by the Flaminian Way; that it had been providentially avoided, as he had come back by the other route to the Gardens of Sallust; and that the author of the plot was Sulla — the foundation of the story being that, as chance would have it, a few rioters, in one of the juvenile escapades then so generally practised, had thrown the emperor’s servants, on the road home, into a groundless panic. Neither a slave nor a client of Sulla’s had been recognised; and his contemptible nature, incapable of daring in any form, was utterly incompatible with the charge: yet, precisely as though he had been proved guilty, he received orders to leave his country and confine himself within the walls of Massilia.
48 1 Under the same consuls, audience was given to deputations from Puteoli,45 despatched separately to the senate by the decurions46 and the populace, the former inveighing against the violence of the mob, the latter against the rapacity of the magistrates and of the leading citizens in general. Lest the quarrels, which had reached the point of stone-throwing and threats of arson, should end by provoking bloodshed under arms, Gaius Cassius was chosen to apply the remedy. As the disputants refused to tolerate his severity, the commission at his own request was transferred to the brothers Scribonius;47 and these were given a praetorian cohort, the terrors of which, together with a few executions, restored the town to concord.
49 1 I should not record a commonplace decree of the senate which authorized the town of Syracuse to exceed the numbers prescribed for gladiatorial exhibitions, had not Thrasea Paetus,48 by opposing it, presented his detractors with an opportunity for censuring his vote. “Why,” it was demanded, “if he believed senatorial freedom a necessity to the state, did he fasten on such frivolities? Why not reserve his suasion or dissuasion for the themes of which war or peace, of finance and law, and for the other matters on which hinged the welfare of Rome? Every member, each time that he received the privilege of recording his opinion, was free to express what views he desired and to demand a debate. — Or was it the one desirable reform, that shows at Syracuse should not be too liberal? and were all things else in all departments of the empire as entirely admirable as if not Nero’s, but Thrasea’s hand, were at the helm? But if the highest questions were to be slurred over by ignoring their existence, how much more was it a duty not to touch irrelevances!” Thrasea, on the other side, as his friends pressed for his explanation, answered that it was not ignorance of existing conditions which made him amend decrees of this character, but he was paying members the compliment of making it clear that they would not dissemble their interest in great affairs when they could give attention even to the slightest.
50 1 In the same year, as a consequence of repeated demands from the public, which complained of the exactions of the revenue-farmers,49 Nero hesitated whether he ought not to decree the abolition of all indirect taxation and present the reform as the noblest of gifts to the human race.50 His impulse, however, after much preliminary praise of his magnanimity, was checked by his older advisers, who pointed out that the dissolution of the empire was certain if the revenues on which the state subsisted were to be curtailed:— “For, the moment the duties on imports were removed, the logical sequel would be a demand for the abrogation of the direct taxes. To a large extent, the collecting companies had been set up by consuls and plebeian tribunes while the liberty of the Roman nation was still in all its vigour: later modifications had only been introduced in order that the amount of income and the necessary expenditure should tally. At the same time, a check ought certainly to be placed on the cupidity of the collectors; otherwise a system which had been endured for years without a complaint might be brought into ill odour by new-fashioned harshnesses.”
51 1 The emperor, therefore, issued an edict that the regulations with regard to each tax, hitherto kept secret, should be posted for public inspection. Claims once allowed to lapse were not to be revived after the expiry of a year; at Rome, the praetor — in the provinces, the propraetors or proconsuls — were to waive the usual order of trial in favour of actions against collectors; the soldiers were to retain their immunities except in the case of goods which they offered for sale: and there were other extremely fair rulings, which were observed for a time and then eluded. The annulment, however, of the “fortieth,” “fiftieth,”51 and other irregular exactions, for which the publicans had invented titles, is still in force. In the provinces over sea, the transport of grain was made less expensive, and it was laid down that cargo-boats were not to be included in the assessment of a merchant’s property nor treated as taxable.
52 1 Two defendants from the province of Africa, in which they had held proconsular power, were acquitted by the Caesar: Sulpicius Camerinus and Pompeius Silvanus. The opponents of Camerinus were private persons and not numerous, while the offences alleged were acts of cruelty rather than of embezzlement: around Silvanus had gathered a swarm of accusers, who were demanding time for the production of their witnesses. The defendant insisted on presenting his case at once, and carried his point, thanks to his wealth, his childlessness, and his advanced age, which he prolonged, however, beyond the lifetime of the fortune-hunters by whose intrigues he had escaped.
53 1 Up to this period, quiet had prevailed in Germany, thanks to the temper of our commanders; who, now that triumphal emblems were staled, expected greater distinction from the maintenance of peace. The heads of the army at the time were Pompeius Paulinus and Lucius Vetus.52 Not to keep the troops inactive, however, the former finished the embankment for checking the inundations of the Rhine,53 begun sixty-three years earlier by Drusus; while Vetus prepared to connect the Moselle and the Arar54 by running a canal between the two; so that goods shipped by sea and then up the Rhone and Arar could make their way by the canal, and in due course into the ocean: a method which would remove the natural difficulties of the route and create a navigable highway between the shores of the West and North. The scheme was nullified by the jealousy of Aelius Gracilis, the governor of Belgica,55 who discouraged Vetus from introducing his legions into a province outside his competence and so courting popularity in Gaul, “a proceeding,” he said, “which would awaken the misgivings of the emperor” — the usual veto upon honourable enterprise.
54 1 However, through the continuous inaction of the armies a rumour took rise that the legates had been divested of authority to lead them against an enemy. The Frisians56 accordingly moved their population to the Rhine bank; the able-bodied men by way of the forests and swamps, those not of military age by the Lakes.57 Here they settled in the clearings reserved for the use of the troops, the instigators being Verritus and Malorix, who exercised over the tribe such kingship as exists in Germany. They had already fixed their abodes and sown the fields, and were tilling the soil as if they had been born on it, when Dubius Avitus, — who had taken over the province from Paulinus, — by threatening them with the Roman arms unless they withdrew to their old district or obtained the grant of a new site from the emperor, forced Verritus and Malorix to undertake the task of presenting the petition. They left for Rome, where, in the interval of waiting for Nero, who had other cares to occupy him, they visited the usual places shown to barbarians, and among them the theatre of Pompey, where they were to contemplate the size of the population. There, to kill time (they had not sufficient knowledge to be amused by the play), they were putting questions as to the crowd seated in the auditorium — the distinctions between the orders — which were the knights? — where was the senate? — when they noticed a few men in foreign dress on the senatorial seats.58 They inquired who they were, and, on hearing that this was a compliment paid to the envoys of nations distinguished for their courage and for friendship to Rome, exclaimed that no people in the world ranked before Germans in arms or loyalty, went down, and took their seats among the Fathers. The action was taken in good part by the onlookers, as a trait of primitive impetuosity and generous rivalry. Nero presented both with the Roman citizenship, and instructed the Frisians to leave the district. As they ignored the order, compulsion was applied by the unexpected despatch of a body of auxiliary horse, which captured or killed the more obstinate of those who resisted.
55 1 The same ground was then seized by the Ampsivarii,59 a more powerful clan, not only in numbers, but in consequence of the pity felt for them by the adjacent tribes, as they had been expelled by the Chauci, and were now a homeless people imploring an unmolested exile. They had also the advocacy of Boiocalus, as he was called, a celebrated personage among those clans, and at the same time loyal to ourselves:— “In the Cheruscan rebellion,”60 he reminded us, “he had been thrown into chains by order of Arminius; next, he had served under the leadership of Tiberius and Germanicus; and now he was crowning an obedience of fifty years by subjecting his people to our rule. Why should such an extent of clear ground lie waste, merely that on some distant day the flocks and herds of the soldiers could be brought over to it? By all means let them keep reservations for cattle in the midst of starving men, but not to the extent of choosing a desert and a solitude for neighbours in preference to friendly nations! Once on a time those fields had been held by the Chamavi; then by the Tubantes, and later by the Usipi. As heaven had been given to the gods, so had earth to the race of mortal men, and what lacked a tenant was common property.” Then, raising his eyes to the sun and invoking the rest of the heavenly host, he demanded, as if face to face with them, “if they wished to look down on an empty earth. Sooner let them flood it with the sea and arrest these ravishers of the land!”
56 1 Avitus, who had been unmoved by the appeal, replied that all men had to bow to the commands of their betters: it had been decreed by those gods whom they implored that with the Roman people should rest the decision what to give and what to take away, and that they should brook no other judges than themselves.” This was his answer to the Ampsivarii as a people: to Boiocalus he said that in memory of their friendship he would make him a grant of land. The offer was indignantly rejected by the German as the wage of treason:— “We may lack,” he added, “a land to live in, but not one to die in.” They parted, therefore, with bitterness on both sides. The Ampsivarii invited the Bructeri, the Tencteri, and still more remote tribes, to join them in war: Avitus wrote to Curtilius Mancia,61 the commander of the upper army, asking him to cross the Rhine and display his arms in the rear; he himself led his legions into the territory of the Tencteri, threatening them with annihilation unless they dissociated their cause from that of the confederates. They seceded accordingly; the same threat deterred the Bructeri; and as the rest also forsook a dangerous and alien cause, the Ampsivarian clan, thus left isolated, fell back to the Usipi and Tubantes. Expelled from their ground, they sought refuge with the Chatti, then with the Cherusci; and, after a long pilgrimage in which they were treated in turn as guests, as beggars, and as enemies, their younger men found death on a foreign soil, and those below fighting age were portioned out as booty.
57 1 In the same summer, a great battle was waged between the Hermunduri and Chatti, both attempting to appropriate by force a river which was at once a rich source for salt and the frontier line between the tribes.62 Apart from their passion for deciding all questions by the sword, they held an ingrained religious belief that this district was peculiarly close to heaven and that nowhere did the gods give more immediate audience to human prayer. Hence, by the divine favour, salt in that river and in these forests was not produced, as in other countries, by allowing water to evaporate in a pool left by the sea, but by pouring it on a blazing pile of trees, crystallization taking place throughout the union of two opposed elements, water and fire.63 The struggle, which went in favour of the Hermunduri, was the more disastrousº to the Chatti in that both sides consecrated, in the event of victory, the adverse host to Mars and Mercury;64 a vow implying the extermination of horses, men, and all objects whatsoever. The threats of the enemy thus recoiled upon himself. But the federate Ubian community65 was visited by an unlooked-for catastrophe. Fires, breaking from the ground,66 fastened on farm-houses, crops, and villages, in all quarters, and soon were sweeping towards the very walls of the recently founded67 colony. Nothing could extinguish them — neither falling rain nor running water nor moisture in any form — until a few rustics, powerless to devise a remedy and enraged by the havoc, started to throw stones from a distance. Then, as the flames became stationary, they went close up and attempted to scare them away like wild animals by striking them with clubs and thrashing them with other implements: finally, they stripped off their clothes and piled them on the fire, which they were the more likely to smother as they had been worn and soiled by common use.
58 1 In the same year, the tree in the Comitium, known as the Ruminalis,68 which eight hundred and thirty years earlier had sheltered the infancy of Remus and Romulus, through the death of its boughs and the withering of its stem, reached a stage of decrepitude which was regarded as a portent, until it renewed its verdure in fresh shoots.