1 1 In the consular year of Gaius Vipstanius and Gaius Fonteius, Nero postponed no further the long-contemplated crime: for a protracted term of empire had consolidated his boldness, and day by day he burned more hotly with love for Poppaea; who, hopeless of wedlock for herself and divorce for Octavia so long as Agrippina lived, plied the sovereign with frequent reproaches and occasional raillery, styling him “the ward, dependent on alien orders, who was neither the empire’s master nor his own. For why was her wedding deferred? Her face, presumably, and her grandsires with their triumphs,1 did not give satisfaction — or was the trouble her fecundity2 and truth of heart? No, it was feared that, as a wife at all events, she might disclose the wrongs of the Fathers, the anger of the nation against the pride and greed of his mother! But, if Agrippina could tolerate no daughter-in‑law but one inimical to her son, then let her be restored to her married life with Otho: she would go to any corner of earth3 where she could hear the emperor’s ignominy rather than view it and be entangled in his perils.” To these and similar attacks, pressed home by tears and adulterous art, no opposition was offered: all men yearned for the breaking of the mother’s power; none credited that the hatred of the son would go the full way to murder.
2 1 It is stated by Cluvius4 that Agrippina’s ardour to keep her influence was carried so far that at midday, an hour at which Nero was beginning to experience the warmth of wine and good cheer, she presented herself on several occasions to her half-tipsy son, coquettishly dressed and prepared for incest. Already lascivious kisses, and endearments that were the harbingers of guilt, had been observed by their intimates, when Seneca sought in a woman the antidote to female blandishments, and brought in the freedwoman Acte, who, alarmed as she was both at her own danger and at Nero’s infamy, was to report that the incest was common knowledge, since his mother boasted of it, and that the troops would not submit to the supremacy of a sacrilegious emperor. According to Fabius Rusticus, not Agrippina, but Nero, desired the union, the scheme being wrecked by the astuteness of the same freedwoman. The other authorities, however, give the same version as Cluvius, and to their side tradition leans; whether the enormity was actually conceived in the brain of Agrippina, or whether the contemplation of such a refinement in lust was merely taken as comparatively credible in a woman who, for the prospect of power, had in her girlish years yielded to the embraces of Marcus Lepidus;5 who, for a similar ambition had prostituted herself to the desires of Pallas; and who had been inured to every turpitude by her marriage with her uncle.
3 1 Nero, therefore, began to avoid private meetings with her; when she left for her gardens or the estates at Tusculum and Antium, he commended her intention of resting; finally, convinced that, wherever she might be kept, she was still an incubus,º he decided to kill her, debating only whether by poison, the dagger, or some other form of violence. The first choice fell on poison. But, if it was to be given at the imperial table, then the death could not be referred to chance, since Britannicus had already met a similar fate. At the same time, it seemed an arduous task to tamper with the domestics of a woman whose experience of crime had made her vigilant for foul play; and, besides, she had herself fortified her system by taking antidotes in advance. Cold steel and bloodshed no one could devise a method of concealing: moreover, there was the risk that the agent chosen for such an atrocity might spurn his orders. Mother wit came to the rescue in the person of Anicetus the freedman, preceptor of Nero’s boyish years, and detested by Agrippina with a vigour which was reciprocated. Accordingly, he pointed out that it was possible to construct a ship, part of which could be artificially detached, well out at sea, and throw the unsuspecting passenger overboard:— “Nowhere had accident such scope as on salt water; and, if the lady should be cut off by shipwreck, who so captious as to read murder into the delinquency of wind and wave? The sovereign, naturally, would assign the deceased a temple and the other displays of filial piety.”
4 1 This ingenuity commended itself: the date, too, was in its favour, as Nero was in the habit of celebrating the festival of Minerva6 at Baiae.7 Thither he proceeded to lure his mother, observing from time to time that outbreaks of parental anger had to be tolerated, and that he must show a forgiving spirit; his aim being to create a rumour of reconciliation, which Agrippina, with the easy faith of her sex in the agreeable, would probably accept. — In due course, she came. He went down to the beach to meet her (she was arriving from Antium), took her hand, embraced her, and escorted her to Bauli,8 the name of a villa washed by the waters of a cove between the promontory of Misenum and the lake of Baiae.9 Here, among others, stood a more handsomely appointed vessel; apparently one attention the more to his mother, as she had been accustomed to use a trireme with a crew of marines. Also, she had been invited to dinner for the occasion, so that night should be available for the concealment of the crime. It is well established that someone had played the informer, and that Agrippina, warned of the plot, hesitated whether to believe or not, but made the journey to Baiae in a litter. There her fears were relieved by the blandishments of a cordial welcome and a seat above the prince himself. At last, conversing freely, — one moment boyishly familiar, the next grave-browed as though making some serious communication, — Nero, after the banquet had been long protracted, escorted her on her way, clinging more closely than usual to her breast and kissing her eyes;10 possibly as a final touch of hypocrisy, or possibly the last look upon his doomed mother gave pause even to that brutal spirit.
5 1 A starlit night and the calm of an unruffled sea appeared to have been sent by Heaven to afford proof of guilt. The ship had made no great way,11 and two of Agrippina’s household were in attendance, Crepereius Gallus standing not far from the tiller, while Acerronia, bending over the feet of the recumbent princess, recalled exultantly the penitence of the son and the re-entry of the mother into favour. Suddenly the signal was given: the canopy above them, which had been heavily weighted with lead, dropped, and Crepereius was crushed and killed on the spot. Agrippina and Acerronia were saved by the height of the couch-sides, which, as it happened, were too solid to give way under the impact. Nor did the break-up of the vessel follow: for confusion was universal, and even the men accessory to the plot were impeded by the large numbers of the ignorant. The crew then decided to throw their weight on one side and so capsize the ship; but, even on their own part, agreement came too slowly for a sudden emergency, and a counter-effort by others allowed the victims a gentler fall into the waves. Acerronia, however, incautious enough to raise the cry that she was Agrippina, and to demand aid for the emperor’s mother, was despatched with poles, oars, and every nautical weapon that came to hand. Agrippina, silent and so not generally recognised, though she received one wound in the shoulder, swam until she was met by a few fishing-smacks, and so reached the Lucrine lake,12 whence she was carried into her own villa.13
6 1 There she reflected on the evident purpose of the treacherous letter of invitation and the exceptional honour with which she had been treated, and on the fact that, hard by the shore, a vessel, driven by no gale and striking no reef, had collapsed at the top like an artificial structure on land. She reviewed as well the killing of Acerronia, glanced simultaneously at her own wound, and realized that the one defence against treachery was to leave it undetected. Accordingly she sent the freedman Agermus to carry word to her son that, thanks to divine kindness and to his fortunate star, she had survived a grave accident; but that, however great his alarm at his mother’s danger, she begged him to defer the attention of a visit: for the moment, what she needed was rest. Meanwhile, with affected unconcern, she applied remedies to her wound and fomentations to her body: Acerronia’s will, she gave instructions was to be sought, and her effects sealed up, — the sole measure not referable to dissimulation.
7 1 Meanwhile, as Nero was waiting for the messengers who should announce the doing of the deed, there came the news that she had escaped with a wound from a light blow, after running just sufficient risk to leave no doubt as to its author. Half-dead with terror, he protested that any moment she would be here, hot for vengeance. And whether she armed her slaves or inflamed the troops, or made her way to the senate and the people, and charged him with the wreck, her wound, and the slaying of her friends, what counter-resource was at his own disposal? Unless there was hope in Seneca and Burrus! He had summoned them immediately: whether to test their feeling, or as cognizant already of the secret, is questionable. — There followed, then, a long silence on the part of both: either they were reluctant to dissuade in vain, or they believed matters to have reached a point at which Agrippina must be forestalled or Nero perish. After a time, Seneca so far took the lead as to glance at Burrus and inquire if the fatal order should be given to the military. His answer was that the guards, pledged as they were to the Caesarian house as a whole, and attached to the memory of Germanicus, would flinch from drastic measures against his issue: Anicetus must redeem his promise. He, without any hesitation, asked to be given full charge of the crime. The words brought from Nero a declaration that that day presented him with an empire, and that he had a freedman to thank for so great a boon: Anicetus must go with speed and take an escort of men distinguished for implicit obedience to orders. He himself, on hearing that Agermus had come with a message from Agrippina, anticipated it by setting the stage for a charge of treason, threw a sword at his feet while he was doing his errand, then ordered his arrest as an assassin caught in the act; his intention being to concoct a tale that his mother had practised against the imperial life and taken refuge in suicide from the shame of detection.
8 1 In the interval, Agrippina’s jeopardy, which was attributed to accident, had become generally known; and there was a rush to the beach, as man after man learned the news. Some swarmed up the sea-wall,14 some into the nearest fishing-boats: others were wading middle-deep into the surf, a few standing with outstretched arms. The whole shore rang with lamentations and vows and the din of conflicting questions and vague replies. A huge multitude streamed up with lights, and, when the knowledge of her safety spread, set out to offer congratulations; until, at the sight of an armed and threatening column, they were forced to scatter. Anicetus drew a cordon around the villa, and, breaking down the entrance, dragged off the slaves as they appeared, until he reached the bedroom-door. A few servants were standing by: the rest had fled in terror at the inrush of men. In the chamber was a dim light and a single waiting-maid; and Agrippina’s anxiety deepened every instant. Why no one from her son — nor even Agermus? Had matters prospered, they would have worn another aspect. Now, nothing but solitude, hoarse alarms, and the symptoms of irremediable ill! Then the maid rose to go. “Dost thou too forsake me?” she began, and saw Anicetus behind her, accompanied by Herculeius, the trierarch, and Obaritus, a centurion of marines. “If he had come to visit the sick, he might take back word that she felt refreshed. If to do murder, she would believe nothing of her son: matricide was no article of their instructions.” The executioners surrounded the couch, and the trierarch began by striking her on the head with a club. The centurion was drawing his sword to make an end, when she proffered her womb to the blow. “Strike here,” she exclaimed, and was despatched with repeated wounds.
9 1 So far the accounts concur. Whether Nero inspected the corpse of his mother and expressed approval of her figure is a statement which some affirm and some deny.15 She was cremated the same night, on a dinner-couch, and with the humblest rites; nor, so long as Nero reigned, was the earth piled over the grave or enclosed. Later, by the care of her servants, she received a modest tomb, hard by the road to Misenum and that villa of the dictator Caesar which looks from its dizzy height to the bay outspread beneath. As the pyre was kindled, one of her freedmen, by the name of Mnester, ran a sword through his body, whether from love of his mistress or from fear of his own destruction remains unknown. This was that ending to which, years before, Agrippina had given her credence, and her contempt. For to her inquiries as to the destiny of Nero the astrologers answered that he should reign, and slay his mother;16 and “Let him slay,” she had said, “so that he reign.”
10 1 But only with the completion of the crime was its magnitude realized by the Caesar. For the rest of the night, sometimes dumb and motionless, but not rarely starting in terror to his feet with a sort of delirium, he waited for the daylight which he believed would bring his end. Indeed, his first encouragement to hope came from the adulation of the centurions and tribunes, as, at the suggestion of Burrus, they grasped his hand and wished him joy of escaping his unexpected danger and the criminal enterprise of his mother. His friends in turn visited the temples; and, once the example had been given, the Campanian towns in the neighbourhood attested their joy by victims and deputations. By a contrast in hypocrisy, he himself was mournful, repining apparently at his own preservation and full of tears for the death of a parent. But because the features of a landscape change less obligingly than the looks of men, and because there was always obtruded upon his gaze the grim prospect of that sea and those shores, — and there were some who believed that he could hear a trumpet,17 calling in the hills that rose around, and lamentations at his mother’s grave, — he withdrew to Naples and forwarded to the senate a letter, the sum of which was that an assassin with his weapon upon him had been discovered in Agermus, one of the confidential freedmenº of Agrippina, and that his mistress, conscious of her guilt, had paid the penalty of meditated murder.
11 1 He appended a list of charges drawn from the remoter past:— “She had hoped for a partnership in the empire; for the praetorian cohorts to swear allegiance to a woman; for the senate and people to submit to a like ignominy. Then, her ambition foiled, she had turned against the soldiers, the Fathers and the commons; had opposed the donative and the largess, and had worked for the ruin of eminent citizens. At what cost of labour had he succeeded in preventing her from forcing the door of the senate and delivering her answers to foreign nations!” He made an indirect attack on the Claudian period also, transferring every scandal of the reign to the account of his mother, whose removal he ascribed to the fortunate star of the nation. For even the wreck was narrated: though where was the folly which could believe it accidental, or that a ship-wrecked woman had despatched a solitary man with a weapon to cut his way through the guards and navies of the emperor? The object, therefore, of popular censure was no longer Nero — whose barbarity transcended all protest — but Seneca, who in composing such a plea had penned a confession.
12 1 However, with a notable spirit of emulation among the magnates, decrees were drawn up: thanksgivings were to be held at all appropriate shrines; the festival of Minerva, on which the conspiracy had been brought to light, was to be celebrated with annual games; a golden statue of the goddess, with an effigy of the emperor by her side, was to be erected in the curia, and Agrippina’s birthday18 included among the inauspicious dates. Earlier sycophancies Thrasea Paetus had usually allowed to pass, either in silence or with a curt assent: this time he walked out of the senate, creating a source of danger for himself, but implanting no germ of independence in his colleagues. Portents, also, frequent and futile made their appearance: a woman gave birth to a serpent, another was killed by a thunderbolt in the embraces of her husband; the sun, again, was suddenly obscured,19and the fourteen regions of the capital were struck by lightning — events which so little marked the concern of the gods that Nero continued for years to come his empire and his crimes. However, to aggravate the feeling against his mother, and to furnish evidence that his own mildness had increased with her removal, he restored to their native soil two women of high rank, Junia and Calpurnia, along with the ex-praetors Valerius Capito and Licinius Gabolus20 — all of them formerly banished by Agrippina. He sanctioned the return, even, of the ashes of Lollia Paulina, and the erection of a tomb: Iturius and Calvisius, whom he had himself relegated some little while before, he now released from the penalty. As to Silana, she had died a natural death at Tarentum, to which she had retraced her way, when Agrippina, by whose enmity she had fallen, was beginning to totter or to relent.
13 1 And yet he dallied in the towns of Campania, anxious and doubtful how to make his entry into Rome. Would he find obedience in the senate? enthusiasm in the crowd? Against his timidity it was urged by every reprobate — and a court more prolific of reprobates the world has not seen — that the name of Agrippina was abhorred and that her death had won him the applause of the nation. Let him go without a qualm and experience on the spot the veneration felt for his position! At the same time, they demanded leave to precede him. They found, indeed, an alacrity which surpassed their promises: the tribes on the way to meet him; the senate in festal dress; troops of wives and of children disposed according to their sex and years, while along his route rose tiers of seats of the type used for viewing a triumph. Then, flushed with pride, victor over the national servility, he made his way to the Capitol, paid his grateful vows, and abandoned himself to all the vices, till now retarded, though scarcely repressed, by some sort of deference to his mother.
14 1 It was an old desire of his to drive a chariot and team of four, and an equally repulsive ambition to sing to the lyre in the stage manner. “Racing with horses,” he used to observe, “was a royal accomplishment, and had been practised by the commanders of antiquity: the sport had been celebrated in the praises of poets and devoted to the worship of Heaven. As to song, it was sacred to Apollo; and it was in the garb appropriate to it that, both in Greek cities and in Roman temples, that great and prescient deity was seen standing.” He could no longer be checked, when Seneca and Burrus decided to concede one of his points rather than allow him to carry both; and an enclosure was made in the Vatican valley,21 where he could manoeuvre his horses without the spectacle being public. Before long, the Roman people received an invitation in form, and began to hymn his praises, as is the way of the crowd, hungry for amusements, and delighted if the sovereign draws in the same direction. However, the publication of his shame brought with it, not the satiety expected, but a stimulus; and, in the belief that he was attenuating his disgrace by polluting others, he brought on the stage those scions of the great houses whom poverty had rendered venal. They have passed away, and I regard it as a debt due to their ancestors not to record them by name. For the disgrace, in part, is his who gave money for the reward of infamy and not for its prevention. Even well-known Roman knights he induced to promise their services in the arena by what might be called enormous bounties, were it not that gratuities from him who is able to command carry with them the compelling quality of necessity.
15 1 Reluctant, however, as yet to expose his dishonour on a public stage, he instituted the so‑called Juvenile Games,22 for which a crowd of volunteers enrolled themselves. Neither rank, nor age, nor an official career debarred a man from practising the art of a Greek or a Latin mummer, down to attitudes and melodies never meant for the male sex. Even women of distinction studied indecent parts; and in the grove with which Augustus fringed his Naval Lagoon,23 little trysting-places and drinking-dens sprang up, and every incentive to voluptuousness was exposed for sale. Distributions of coin, too, were made, for the respectable man to expend under compulsion and the prodigal from vainglory. Hence debauchery and scandal throve; nor to our morals, corrupted long before, has anything contributed more of uncleanness than that herd of reprobates. Even in the decent walks of life, purity is hard to keep: far less could chastity or modesty or any vestige of integrity survive in that competition of the vices. — Last of all to tread the stage was the sovereign himself, scrupulously testing his lyre and striking a few preliminary notes to the trainers at his side. A cohort of the guards had been added to the audience — centurions and tribunes; Burrus, also, with his sigh and his word of praise. Now, too, for the first time was enrolled the company of Roman knights known as the Augustiani;24conspicuously youthful and robust; wanton in some cases by nature; in others, through dreams of power. Days and nights they thundered applause, bestowed the epithets reserved for deity25 upon the imperial form and voice, and lived in a repute and honour, which might have been earned by virtue.
16 1 And yet, lest it should be only the histrionic skill of the emperor which won publicity, he affected also a zeal for poetry and gathered a group of associates with some faculty for versification but not such as to have yet attracted remark. These, after dining, sat with him, devising a connection for the lines they had brought from home or invented on the spot, and eking out the phrases suggested, for better or worse, by their master; the method being obvious even from the general cast of the poems,26which run without energy or inspiration and lack unity of style. Even to the teachers of philosophy he accorded a little time — but after dinner, and in order to amuse himself by the wrangling which attended the exposition of their conflicting dogmas. Nor was there any dearth of gloomy-browed and sad-eyed sages eager to figure among the diversions of majesty.
17 1 About the same date, a trivial incident led to a serious affray between the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria27 and Pompeii, at a gladiatorial show presented by Livineius Regulus, whose removal from the senate has been noticed.28 During an exchange of raillery, typical of the petulance of country towns, they resorted to abuse, then to stones, and finally to steel; the superiority lying with the populace of Pompeii, where the show was being exhibited. As a result, many of the Nucerians were carried maimed and wounded to the capital, while a very large number mourned the deaths of children or of parents. The trial of the affair was delegated by the emperor to the senate; by the senate to the consuls. On the case being again laid before the members, the Pompeians as a community were debarred from holding any similar assembly for ten years, and the associations which they had formed illegally were dissolved. Livineius and the other fomenters of the outbreak were punished with exile.
18 1 Pedius Blaesus also was removed from the senate: he was charged by the Cyrenaeans29 with profaning the treasury of Aesculapius and falsifying the military levy by venality and favouritism. An indictment was brought, again by Cyrene, against Acilius Strabo, who had held praetorian office and been sent by Claudius to adjudicate on the estates, once the patrimony of King Apion,30 which he had bequeathed along with his kingdom to the Roman nation. They had been annexed by the neighbouring proprietors, who relied on their long-licensed usurpation as a legal and fair title. Hence, when the adjudication went against them, there was an outbreak of ill-will against the adjudicator; and the senate could only answer that it was ignorant of Claudius’ instructions and the emperor would have to be consulted. Nero, while upholding Strabo’s verdict, wrote that none the less he supported the provincials and made over to them the property occupied.
19 1 There followed the death of two famous men, Domitius Afer31 and Marcus Servilius;32 both of whom had been distinguished as great officials and eloquent orators. Afer’s celebrity, however, was due to his practice as an advocate; that of Servilius, primarily to his long activity in the courts, then to his work as a Roman historian, and, again, to a refinement of life made more noticeable by the fact that, while equal in genius to his rival, he was a complete contrast to him in character.
20 1 In the consulate of Nero — his fourth term — and of Cornelius Cossus, a quinquennial competition33 on the stage, in the style of a Greek contest, was introduced at Rome. Like almost all innovations34 it was variously canvassed. Some insisted that “even Pompey had been censured by his elders for establishing the theatre in a permanent home.35 Before, the games had usually been exhibited with the help of improvised tiers of benches and a stage thrown up for the occasion; or, to go further into the past, the people stood to watch: seats in the theatre, it was feared, might tempt them to pass whole days in indolence. By all means let the spectacles be retained in their old form, whenever the praetor presided,36 and so long as no citizen lay under any obligation to compete. But the national morality, which had gradually fallen into oblivion, was being overthrown from the foundations by this imported licentiousness; the aim of which was that every production of every land, capable of either undergoing or engendering corruption, should be on view in the capital, and that our youth, under the influence of foreign tastes, should degenerate into votaries of the gymnasia, of indolence, and of dishonourable amours, — and this at the instigation of the emperor and senate, who, not content with conferring immunity upon vice, were applying compulsion, in order that Roman nobles should pollute themselves on the stage under pretext of delivering an oration or a poem.37 What remained but to strip to the skin as well, put on the gloves, and practise that mode of conflict instead of the profession of arms? Would justice be promoted, would the equestrian decuries better fulfil their great judicial functions, if they had lent an expert ear to emasculated music and dulcet voices? Even night had been requisitioned for scandal, so that virtue should not be left with a breathing-space, but that amid a promiscuous crowd every vilest profligate might venture in the dark the act for which he had lusted in the light.”
21 1 It was this very prospect of licence which attracted the majority; and yet their pretexts were decently phrased:— “Even our ancestors had not p141been averse from amusing themselves with spectacles in keeping with the standard of wealth in their day; and that was the reason why actors had been imported from Etruria38 and horse-races from Thurii.39 Since the annexation of Achaia and Asia,40 games had been exhibited in a more ambitious style; and yet, at Rome, no one born in a respectable rank of life had condescended to the stage as a profession, though it was now two hundred years since the triumph of Lucius Mummius,41 who first gave an exhibition of the kind in the capital. But, more than this, it had been a measure of economy when the theatre was housed in a permanent building instead of being reared and razed, year after year, at enormous expense. Again, the magistrates would not have the same drain upon their private resources, nor the populace the same excuse for demanding contests in the Greek style from the magistrates, when the cost was defrayed by the state. The victories of orators and poets would apply a spur to genius; nor need it lie heavy on the conscience of any judge, if he had not turned a deaf ear to reputable arts and to legitimate pleasures. It was to gaiety, rather than to wantonness, that a few nights were being given out of five whole years — nights in which, owing to the blaze of illuminations, nothing illicit could be concealed.” The display in question, it must be granted, passed over without any glaring scandal; and there was no outbreak, even slight, of popular partisanship, since the pantomimic actors, though restored to the stage, were debarred from the sacred contests.42 The first prize for eloquence was not awarded, but an announcement was made that the Caesar had proved victorious.43 The Greek dress, in which a great number of spectators had figured during the festival, immediately went out of vogue.
22 1 Meanwhile, a comet blazed into view — in the opinion of the crowd, an apparition boding change to monarchies. Hence, as though Nero were already dethroned, men began to inquire on whom the next choice should fall; and the name in all mouths was that of Rubellius Plautus,44 who, on the mother’s side, drew his nobility from the Julian house. Personally, he cherished the views of an older generation: his bearing was austere, his domestic life being pure and secluded; and the retirement which his fears led him to seek had only brought him an accession of fame. The rumours gained strength from the interpretation — suggested by equal credulity — which was placed upon a flash of light. Because, while Nero dined by the Simbruine lakes45 in the villa known as the Sublaqueum, the banquet had been struck and the table shivered; and because the accident had occurred on the confines of Tibur, the town from which Plautus derived his origin on the father’s side,46 a belief spread that he was the candidate marked out by the will of deity; and he found numerous supporters in the class of men who nurse the eager and generally delusive ambition to be the earliest parasites of a new and precarious power. Nero, therefore, perturbed by the reports, drew up a letter to Plautus, advising him “to consult the peace of the capital and extricate himself from the scandal-mongers: he had family estates in Asia, where he could enjoy his youth in safety and quiet.” To Asia, accordingly, he retired with his wife Antistia47 and a few of his intimate friends.
About the same date, Nero’s passion for extravagance brought him some disrepute and danger: he had entered and swum in the sources of the stream which Quintus Marcius conveyed to Rome;48 and it was considered that by bathing there he had profaned the sacred waters and the holiness of the site. The divine anger was confirmed by a grave illness which followed.
23 1 Meanwhile, after razing Artaxata,49 Corbulo resolved to profit by the first impression of terror in order to seize Tigranocerta, which he could either destroy, and deepen the fears of the enemy, or spare, and earn a reputation for clemency. He marched on the town,50 then, avoiding offensive operations, so as not to dispel the hope of an amnesty, but at the same time relaxing nothing of his vigilance; for he knew the facile inconstancy of a race which, if slow to confront danger, was quick to embrace an opportunity of treason. The barbarians, according to their moods, either met him with prayers or abandoned their hamlets and dispersed to the wilds: others, again, concealed themselves, together with their most treasured belongings, in caverns. The Roman general, therefore, varied his methods; in the case of the suppliants, he employed pardon; in that of the fugitives, pursuit; to those lurking in covert he was merciless, firing the entrances and exits of their dens, after filling them with lopped branches and bushes. The Mardi,51 experienced freebooters with a mountain-barrier to secure them against invasion, harassed his march along their frontier: Corbulo threw the Iberians into the country, ravaged it, and chastised the enemy’s boldness at the price of purely foreign blood.
24 1 He himself and his army, though they had sustained no casualties in battle, were yet beginning to feel the strain of short rations and hardship — they had been reduced to keeping starvation at bay by a flesh-diet.52 Added to this were a shortage of water, a blazing summer, and long marches; the one mitigating circumstance being the patience of the general, who bore the same privations as the common soldier, and even more. In time they reached an agricultural district, cut down the crops, and, out of the two forts in which the Armenians had taken refuge, carried one by storm: the other beat back the first assault and was reduced by blockade. Hence he crossed into the Tauronite district,53 where he escaped an unexpected danger. A barbarian of some note, who had been found with a weapon not far from Corbulo’s tent, disclosed under torture the whole sequence of the plot, his own responsibility for it, and his accomplices. There followed the conviction and punishment of the traitors who, under the cloak of friendship, were designing murder. Nor was it long before envoys from Tigranocerta brought news that the city-gates were open and their countrymen awaiting his orders: at the same time, they handed over a gold crown, presented as a token of welcome. He accepted it with a complimentary speech, and left the city intact, hoping that a population which had lost nothing would retain its loyalty with greater readiness.
25 1 On the other hand, the military post of Legerda,54 which had been shut against the invader by a body of resolute youths, was carried only with a struggle, as the defenders not merely risked an engagement outside the walls, but, when driven within the ramparts, yielded only to a siege-mound and the arms of a storming-party. These successes were gained with the more ease that the Parthians were fully occupied with the Hyrcanian war. The Hyrcanians, in fact, had sent to the Roman emperor, soliciting an alliance and pointing, as a pledge of friendliness, to their detention of Vologeses. On the return of the deputies, who by crossing the Euphrates might have been intercepted by the enemy’s outposts, Corbulo assigned them a guard and escorted them to the shores of their own sea,55 from which they were able to regain their country, while avoiding Parthian territory.
2656 Moreover, as Tiridates was attempting to penetrate the extreme Armenian frontier by way of Media, he sent the legate Verulanus in advance with the auxiliaries, and by his own appearance with the legions after a forced march compelled the prince to retire to a distance and abandon the thought of war. After devastating with fire and sword the districts he had found hostile to ourselves, he remained master of Armenia, when Tigranes, who had been chosen by Nero to assume the crown, arrived on the scene — a member of the Cappadocian royal house and a great-grandson of King Archelaus,57 but by his long residence as a hostage in the capital reduced to a slave-like docility. Nor was his reception unanimous, since in some quarters the popularity of the Arsacidae still persisted: the majority, however, revolted by Parthian arrogance, preferred a king assigned by Rome. He was allowed, further, a garrison of one thousand legionaries, three allied cohorts, and two squadrons of cavalry; while, to make his new kingdom more easily tenable, any district of Armenia adjoining the frontier of Pharasmanes or Polemo,58 or Aristobulus or Antiochus, was ordered to obey that prince. Corbulo withdrew to Syria, deprived of its governor by the death of Ummidius, and since then left to its own devices.59
27 1 In the same year, Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake, but recovered by its own resources, without assistance from ourselves. In Italy, the old town of Puteoli acquired the rights and title of a colony from Nero. Veterans were drafted into Tarentum and Antium, but failed to arrest the depopulation of the districts, the majority slipping away into the provinces where they had completed their years of service; while, as they lacked the habit of marrying wives and rearing families, the homes they left behind them were childless and without heirs. For the days had passed when entire legions — with tribunes, centurions, privates in their proper centuries — were so transplanted as to create, by their unanimity and their comradeship, a little commonwealth. The settlers now were strangers among strangers; men from totally distinct maniples; leaderless; mutually indifferent; suddenly, as if they were anything in the world except soldiers, massed in one place to compose an aggregate rather than a colony.
28 1 Since the praetorian elections, regularly left to the discretion of the senate, had been disturbed by an unusually heated struggle for votes, the emperor restored calm by appointing the three candidates over the required number to legionary commands.60 He also added to the dignity of the Fathers by ruling that litigants appealing from civil tribunals to the senate must risk the same deposit61 as those who invoked the sovereign: previously, appeal had been unrestricted and immune from penalty. — At the close of the year, the Roman knight, Vibius Secundus, was condemned on a charge of extortion, brought by the Mauretanians, and banished from Italy: that he contrived to escape the infliction of a heavier sentence was due to the resources of his brother Vibius Crispus.62
29 1 In the consulate of Caesennius Paetus1 and Petronius Turpilianus,2 a grave reverse was sustained in Britain; where, as I have mentioned,3 the legate, Aulus Didius, had done nothing but retain the ground already won, while his successor Veranius,4 after harrying the Silurians in a few raids of no great significance, was prevented by death from carrying his arms further. Famous, during life, for uncompromising independence, in the closing words of his testament he revealed the courtier; for amid a mass of flattery to Nero he added that, could he have lived for the next two years, he would have laid the province at his feet. For the present, however, Britain was in the charge of Suetonius Paulinus, in military skill5 and in popular report — which allows no man to lack his rival — a formidable competitor to Corbulo, and anxious to equal the laurels of the recovery of Armenia by crushing a national enemy. He prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona,6 which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refugees; and, in view of the shallow and variable channel, constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses.
30 1 On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames. The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a duty to consult their deities by means of human entrails. — While he was thus occupied, the sudden revolt of the province7 was announced to Suetonius.
31 1 The Icenian8 king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters; an act of deference which he thought would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary — so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves; as though they had been prizes of war. As a beginning, his wife Boudicca9 was subjected to the lash and his daughters violated: all the chief men of the Icenians were stripped of their family estates, and the relatives of the king were treated as slaves. Impelled by this outrage and the dread of worse to come — for they had now been reduced to the status of a province — they flew to arms, and incited to rebellion the Trinobantes10 and others, who, not yet broken by servitude, had entered into a secret and treasonable compact to resume their independence. The bitterest animosity was felt against the veterans; who, fresh from their settlement in the colony of Camulodunum, were acting as though they had received a free gift of the entire country, driving the natives from their homes, ejecting them from their lands, — they styled them “captives” and “slaves,” — and abetted in their fury by the troops, with their similar mode of life and their hopes of equal indulgence. More than this, the temple raised to the deified Claudius11 continually met the view, like the citadel of an eternal tyranny; while the priests, chosen for its service, were bound under the pretext of religion to pour out their fortunes like water. Nor did there seem any great difficulty in the demolition of a colony unprotected by fortifications — a point too little regarded by our commanders, whose thoughts had run more on the agreeable than on the useful.
32 1 Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, the statue of Victory12 at Camulodunum fell, with its back turned as if in retreat from the enemy. Women, converted into maniacs by excitement, cried that destruction was at hand and that alien cries had been heard in the invaders’ senate-house: the theatre had rung with shrieks, and in the estuary of the Thames had been seen a vision of the ruined colony. Again, that the Ocean had appeared blood-red and that the ebbing tide had left behind it what looked to be human corpses, were indications read by the Britons with hope and by the veterans with corresponding alarm. However, as Suetonius was far away, they applied for help to the procurator Catus Decianus. He sent not more than two hundred men, without their proper weapons: in addition, there was a small body of troops in the town. Relying on the protection of the temple, and hampered also by covert adherents of the rebellion who interfered with their plans, they neither secured their position by fosse or rampart nor took steps, by removing the women and the aged, to leave only able-bodied men in the place. They were as carelessly guarded as if the world was at peace, when they were enveloped by a great barbarian host. All else was pillaged or fired in the first onrush: only the temple, in which the troops had massed themselves, stood a two days’ siege, and was then carried by storm. Turning to meet Petilius Cerialis,13 commander of the ninth legion, who was arriving to the rescue,14 the victorious Britons routed the legion and slaughtered the infantry to a man: Cerialis with the cavalry escaped to the camp, and found shelter behind its fortifications. Unnerved by the disaster and the hatred of the province which his rapacity had goaded into war,15 the procurator Catus crossed to Gaul.
33 1 Suetonius, on the other hand, with remarkable firmness, marched straight through the midst of the enemy upon London;16which, though not distinguished by the title of colony, was none the less a busy centre, chiefly through its crowd of merchants and stores. Once there, he felt some doubt whether to choose it as a base of operations; but, on considering the fewness of his troops and the sufficiently severe lesson which had been read to the rashness of Petilius, he determined to save the country as a whole at the cost of one town. The laments and tears of the inhabitants, as they implored his protection, found him inflexible: he gave the signal for departure, and embodied in the column those capable of accompanying the march: all who had been detained by the disabilities of sex, by the lassitude of age, or by local attachment, fell into the hands of the enemy. A similar catastrophe was reserved for the municipality of Verulamium;17 as the natives, with their delight in plunder and their distaste for exertion, left the forts and garrison-posts on one side, and made for the point which offered the richest material for the pillager and was unsafe for a defending force. It is established that close upon seventy thousand18 Roman citizens and allies fell in the places mentioned. For the enemy neither took captive nor sold into captivity; there was none of the other commerce of war; he was hasty with slaughter and the gibbet, with arson and the cross,19 as though his day of reckoning must come, but only after he had snatched his revenge in the interval.
34 1 Suetonius had already the fourteenth legion, with a detachment of the twentieth and auxiliaries from the nearest stations, altogether some ten thousand armed men, when he prepared to abandon delay and contest a pitched battle. He chose a position approached by a narrow defile and secured in the rear by a wood, first satisfying himself that there was no trace of an enemy except in his front, and that the plain there was devoid of cover and allowed no suspicion of an ambuscade. The legionaries were posted in serried ranks, the light-armed troops on either side, and the cavalry massed on the extreme wings. The British forces, on the other hand, disposed in bands of foot and horse were moving jubilantly in every direction. They were in unprecedented numbers, and confidence ran so high that they brought even their wives to witness the victory and installed them in waggons, which they had stationed just over the extreme fringe of the plain.
35 1 Boudicca, mounted in a chariot with her daughters before her, rode up to clan after clan and delivered her protest:— “It was customary, she knew, with Britons to fight under female captaincy; but now she was avenging, not, as a queen of glorious ancestry, her ravished realm and power, but, as a woman of the people, her liberty lost, her body tortured by the lash, the tarnished honour of her daughters. Roman cupidity had progressed so far that not their very persons, not age itself, nor maidenhood, were left unpolluted. Yet Heaven was on the side of their just revenge: one legion, which ventured battle, had perished; the rest were skulking in their camps, or looking around them for a way of escape. They would never face even the din and roar of those many thousands, far less their onslaught and their swords! — If they considered in their own hearts the forces under arms and the motives of the war, on that field they must conquer or fall. Such was the settled purpose of a woman — the men might live and be slaves!”
36 1 Even Suetonius, in this critical moment, broke silence. In spite of his reliance on the courage of the men, he still blended exhortations and entreaty: “They must treat with contempt the noise and empty menaces of the barbarians: in the ranks opposite, more women than soldiers meet the eye. Unwarlike and unarmed, they would break immediately, when, taught by so many defeats, they recognized once more the steel and the valour of their conquerors. Even in a number of legions, it was but a few men who decided the fate of battles; and it would be an additional glory that they, a handful of troops, were gathering the laurels of an entire army. Only, keeping their order close, and, when their javelins were discharged, employing shield-boss and sword, let them steadily pile up the dead and forget the thought of plunder: once the victory was gained, all would be their own.” Such was the ardour following the general’s words — with such alacrity had his veteran troops, with the long experience of battle, prepared themselves in a moment to hurl the •pilum — that Suetonius, without a doubt of the issue, gave the signal to engage.
37 1 At first, the legionaries stood motionless, keeping to the defile as a natural protection: then, when the closer advance of the enemy had enabled them to exhaust their missiles with certitude of aim, they dashed forward in a wedge-like formation. The auxiliaries charged in the same style; and the cavalry, with lances extended, broke a way through any parties of resolute men whom they encountered. The remainder took to flight, although escape was difficult, as the cordon of waggons had blocked the outlets. The troops gave no quarter even to the women: the baggage animals themselves had been speared and added to the pile of bodies. The glory won in the course of the day was remarkable, and equal to that of our older victories: for, by some accounts, little less than eighty thousand Britons fell, at a cost of some four hundred Romans killed20 and a not much greater number of wounded. Boudicca ended her days by poison; while Poenius Postumus, camp-prefect of the second legion, informed of the exploits of the men of the fourteenth and twentieth, and conscious that he had cheated his own corps of a share in the honours and had violated the rules of the service by ignoring the orders of his commander, ran his sword through his body.
38 1 The whole army was now concentrated and kept under canvas, with a view to finishing what was left of the campaign. Its strength was increased by the Caesar, who sent over from Germany two thousand legionaries, eight cohorts of auxiliaries, and a thousand cavalry. Their advent allowed the gaps in the ninth legion to be filled with regular troops; the allied foot and horse were stationed in new winter quarters; and the tribes which had shown themselves dubious or disaffected were harried with fire and sword. Nothing, however, pressed so hard as famine on an enemy who, careless about the sowing of his crops, had diverted all ages of the population to military purposes, while marking out our supplies for his own property. <Still, hatred of Rome was persistent>; and the fierce-tempered clans inclined the more slowly to peace because Julius Classicianus, who had been sent in succession to Catus and was not on good terms with Suetonius, was hampering the public welfare by his private animosities, and had circulated a report that it would be well to wait for a new legate; who, lacking the bitterness of an enemy and the arrogance of a conqueror, would show consideration to those who surrendered. At the same time, he reported to Rome that no cessation of fighting need be expected until the supersession of Suetonius, the failures of whom he referred to his own perversity, his successes to the kindness of fortune.
39 1 Accordingly Polyclitus,21 one of the freedmen, was sent to inspect the state of Britain, Nero cherishing high hopes that, through his influence, not only might a reconciliation be effected between the legate and the procurator, but the rebellious temper of the natives be brought to acquiesce in peace. Polyclitus, in fact, whose immense train had been an incubus to Italy and Gaul, did not fail, when once he had crossed the seas, to render his march a terror even to Roman soldiers. To the enemy, on the other hand, he was a subject of derision: with them, the fire of freedom was not yet quenched; they had still to make acquaintance with the power of freedmen; and they wondered that a general and an army who had accounted for such a war should obey a troop of slaves. None the less, everything was reported to the emperor in a more favourable light. Suetonius was retained at the head of affairs; but, when later on he lost a few ships on the beach, and the crews with them, he was ordered, under pretence that the war was still in being, to transfer his army to Petronius Turpilianus, who by now had laid down his consulate. The new-comer abstained from provoking the enemy, was not challenged himself, and conferred on this spiritless inaction the honourable name of peace.22
40 1 In the same year, two remarkable crimes, one due to a senator, one to the audacity of a slave, were perpetrated at Rome. There was an ex-praetor, Domitius Balbus, who, alike by his great age and by his childlessness and wealth, was exposed to conspiracy. Valerius Fabianus, a relative of his, who was destined for the official career, drew up a false will in his name, in concert with the Roman knights, Vinicius Rufinus and Terentius Lentinus. These, again, had taken Antonius Primus1 and Asinius Marcellus into the confederacy. Antonius was a ready and daring spirit: Marcellus had the distinction of being the great-grandson of Asinius Pollio, and passed for a man of tolerable character, except for the fact that he regarded poverty as the supreme evil. Fabianus, then, sealed the document, attested by the accomplices I have mentioned and by some others of less note. The fraud was brought home to them in the senate, and Fabianus and Antonius, with Rufinus and Terentius, were sentenced under the Cornelian Law.2 Marcellus was redeemed from punishment rather than from infamy by the memory of his ancestors and the intercession of the Caesar.
41 1 The same day brought also the fall of a youthful ex-quaestor, Pompeius Aelianus, charged with complicity in the villainies of Fabianus: he was outlawed from Italy and also from Spain, the country of his origin. The same humiliation was inflicted on Valerius Ponticus, because, to save the accused from prosecution before the city prefect,3 with the intention of defeating for the moment by a legal subterfuge, and in the long run by collusion. A clause was added to the senatorial decree,4 providing that any person buying or selling this form of connivance was to be liable to the same penalty as if convicted of calumny5 in a criminal trial.
42 1 Shortly afterwards, the city prefect, Pedanius Secundus, was murdered by one of his own slaves; either because he had been refused emancipation after Pedanius had agreed to the price, or because he had contracted a passion for a catamite, and declined to tolerate the rivalry of his owner. Be that as it may, when the whole of the domestics who had been resident under the same roof ought, in accordance with the old custom,6 to have been led to execution, the rapid assembly of the populace, bent on protecting so many innocent lives, brought matters to the point of sedition, and the senate house was besieged. Even within its walls there was a party which protested against excessive harshness, though most members held that no change was advisable. Gaius Cassius,7 one of the majority, when his turn to speak arrived, argued in the following strain:—
43 1 “I have frequently, Conscript Fathers, made one of this body, when demands were being presented for new senatorial decrees in contravention of the principles and the legislation of our fathers. And from me there came no opposition — not because I doubted that, whatever the issue, the provision made for it in the past was the better conceived and the more correct, and that, where revision took place, the alteration was for the worse; but because I had no wish to seem to be exalting my own branch of study by an overstrained affection for ancient usage. At the same time, I considered that what little influence I may possess ought not to be frittered away in perpetual expressions of dissent: I preferred it to remain intact for an hour when the state had need of advice. And that hour is come to‑day, when an ex-consul has been done to death in his own home by the treason of a slave — treason which none hindered or revealed, though as yet no attacks had shaken the senatorial decree8 which threatened the entire household with execution. By all means vote impunity! But whom shall his rank defend, when rank has not availed the prefect of Rome? Whom shall the number of his slaves protect, when four hundred could not shield Pedanius Secundus? Who shall find help in his domestics, when even fear for themselves cannot make them note our dangers? Or — as some can feign without a blush — did the killer avenge his personal wrongs because the contract touched his patrimony, or because he was losing a slave from his family establishment?9 Let us go the full way and pronounce the owner justly slain!10
44 1 “Is it your pleasure to muster arguments upon a point which has been considered by wiser minds than ours? But even if we had now for the first time to frame a decision, do you believe that a slave took the resolution of killing his master without an ominous phrase escaping him, without one word uttered in rashness? Assume, however, that he kept his counsel, that he procured his weapon in an unsuspecting household. Could he pass the watch, carry in his light, and perpetrate his murder without the knowledge of a soul? A crime has many antecedent symptoms. So long as our slaves disclose them, we may live solitary amid their numbers, secure amid their anxieties, and finally — if die we must — certain of our vengeance amid the guilty crowd. To our ancestors the temper of their slaves was always suspect, even when they were born on the same estate or under the same roof, and drew in affection for their owners with their earliest breath. But now that our households comprise nations — with customs the reverse of our own, with foreign cults or with none, you will never coerce such a medley of humanity except by terror. — ‘But some innocent lives will be lost!’ — Even so; for when every tenth man of the routed army drops beneath the club,11 the lot falls on the brave as well. All great examples carry with them something of injustice — injustice compensated, as against individual suffering, by the advantage of the community.”
45 1 While no one member ventured to controvert the opinion of Cassius, he was answered by a din of voices, expressing pity for the numbers, the age, or the sex of the victims, and for the undoubted innocence of the majority. In spite of all, the party advocating execution prevailed; but the decision could not be complied with, as a dense crowd gathered and threatened to resort to stones and firebrands. The Caesar then reprimanded the populace by edict, and lined the whole length of road, by which the condemned were being marched to punishment, with detachments of soldiers. Cingonius Varro12 had moved that even the freedmen, who had been present under the same roof, should be deported from Italy. The measure was vetoed by the emperor, lest gratuitous cruelty should aggravate a primitive custom which mercy had failed to temper.
46 1 Under the same consulate, Tarquitius Priscus was found guilty of extortion, at the suit of the Bithynians, much to the joy of the senate, which remembered his accusation of Statilius Taurus,13 his own proconsul. In the Gallic provinces, an assessment14was held by Quintus Volusius, Sextius Africanus, and Trebellius Maximus. Between Volusius and Africanus there subsisted a rivalry due to their rank: for Trebellius they entertained a common contempt, which enabled him to surpass them both.15
47 1 The year saw the end of Memmius Regulus,16 whose authority, firmness, and character had earned him the maximum of glory possible in the shadows cast by imperial greatness. So true was this that Nero, indisposed and surrounded by sycophants predicting the dissolution of the empire, should he go the way of fate, answered that the nation had a resource. To the further inquiry, where that resource was specially to be found, he subjoined: “In Memmius Regulus.” Yet Regulus survived: he was shielded by his quietude of life; he sprang from a recently ennobled family; and his modest fortune aroused no envy. — In the course of the year, Nero consecrated a gymnasium,17 oil being supplied to the equestrian and senatorial orders — a Greek form of liberality.
48 1 In the consulate of Publius Marius and Lucius Afinius, the praetor Antistius, whose licence of conduct in his plebeian tribuneship I have already mentioned,18 composed a number of scandalous verses on the sovereign, and gave them to the public at the crowded table of Ostorius Scapula,19 with whom he was dining. He was thereupon accused of treason by Cossutianus Capito,20 who, by the intercession of his father-in‑law Tigellinus,21 had lately recovered his senatorial rank. This was the first revival of the statute;22 and it was believed that the object sought was not so much the destruction of Antistius as the glorification of the emperor, whose tribunician veto was to snatch him from death when already condemned by the senate. Although Ostorius had stated in evidence that he had heard nothing, the witnesses on the other side were credited; and the consul designate, Junius Marullus, moved for the accused to be stripped of his praetorship and executed in the primitive manner.23 The other members were expressing assent, when Thrasea Paetus, after a large encomium upon the Caesar and a most vigorous attack on Antistius, took up the argument:— “It did not follow that the full penalty which a guilty prisoner deserved to undergo was the one that ought to be decided upon, under an excellent emperor and by a senate not fettered by any sort of compulsion. The executioner and the noose were forgotten things;24 and there were punishments established by various laws under which it was possible to inflict a sentence branding neither the judges with brutality nor the age with infamy. In fact, on an island, with his property confiscated, the longer he dragged out his criminal existence, the deeper would be his personal misery, and he would also furnish a number example of public clemency.”
49 1 The independence of Thrasea broke through the servility of others, and, on the consul authorizing a division, he was followed in the voting by all but a few dissentients — the most active sycophant in their number being Aulus Vitellius,25 who levelled his abuse at all men of decency, and, as is the wont of cowardly natures, lapsed into silence when the reply came. The consuls, however, not venturing to complete the senatorial decree in form, wrote to the emperor and stated the opinion of the meeting. He, after some vacillation between shame and anger, finally wrote back that “Antistius, unprovoked by any injury, had given utterance to the most intolerable insults upon the sovereign. For those insults retribution had been demanded from the Fathers; and its would have been reasonable to fix a penalty proportioned to the gravity of the offence. Still, as he had proposed to check undue severity in their sentence, he would not interfere with their moderation; they must decide as they pleased — they had been given liberty even to acquit.” These observations, and the like, were read aloud, and the imperial displeasure was evident. The consuls, however, did not change the motion on that account; Thrasea did not waive his proposal; nor did the remaining members desert the cause they had approved; one section, lest it should seem to have placed the emperor in an invidious position; a majority, because there was safety in their numbers; Thrasea, through his usual firmness of temper, and a desire not to let slip the credit he had earned.
50 1 Fabricius Veiento26 succumbed to the not dissimilar charge of composing a series of libels on the senate and priests in the books to which he had given the title of his Will.27 The accuser, Tullius Geminus, also maintained that he had consistently sold the imperial bounty and the right to official promotion. This last count decided Nero to take the case into his own hands. He convicted Veiento, relegated him from Italy, and ordered his books to be burned. These, while they were only to be procured at a risk were anxiously sought and widely read: oblivion came when it was permissible to own them.
51 1 But, while the evils of the state were growing daily more serious, the resources of the state were dwindling, and Burrus took his leave of life; whether by sickness or by poison may be doubted. Sickness was conjectured from the fact that he ceased to breathe as the result of a gradual swelling of the interior of the throat, and the consequent obstruction of the windpipe. It was more generally asserted that, by Nero’s instructions, his palate was smeared with a poisonous drug, ostensibly as a remedial measure, and that Burrus, who had penetrated the crime, on receiving a visit from the emperor, averted his eyes from him, and answered his inquiries with the bare words: “I am well.”28 He was regretted deeply and permanently by a country mindful of his virtue, and of his successors — one of them tamely innocent, the other flagrantly criminal. For the Caesar had appointed two commanders to the praetorian cohorts: Faenius Rufus, commended by the favour of the crowd, as he superintended the provisioning of the capital29 without profit to himself; and Sofonius Tigellinus, in whose case the attractions were the licentiousness of his past and his infamy. Neither belied his known habits: Tigellinus took the firmer hold over the mind of the prince and was made free of his most intimate debauches; Rufus enjoyed an excellent character with the people and the troops, and laboured under that disadvantage in his relations with Nero.
52 1 The death of Burrus shook the position of Seneca: for not only had the cause of decency lost in power by the removal of one of its two champions, but Nero was inclining to worse counsellors. These brought a variety of charges to the assault on Seneca, “who was still augmenting that enormous wealth which had transcended the limits of a private fortune; who was perverting the affection of his countrymen to himself; who even in the charm of his pleasure-grounds and the splendour of his villas appeared bent on surpassing the sovereign. The honours of eloquence,” so the count proceeded, “he arrogated to himself alone; and he was writing verse more frequently, now that Nero had developed an affection for the art. For of the emperor’s amusements in general he was an openly captious critic, disparaging his powers when he drove his horses and deriding his notes when he sang! How long was nothing to be counted brilliant in Rome, unless it was believed the invention of Seneca? Beyond a doubt, Nero’s boyhood was finished, and the full vigour of youth had arrived: let him discharge his pedagogue — he had a sufficiently distinguished staff of teachers in his own ancestors.”
53 1 Seneca was aware of his maligners: they were revealed from the quarters where there was some little regard for honour, and the Caesar’s avoidance of his intimacy was becoming marked. He therefore asked to have a time fixed for an interview; it was granted, and he began as follows:— “It is the fourteenth year, Caesar, since I was associated with your hopeful youth, the eighth that you have held the empire: in the time between, you have heaped upon me so much of honour and of wealth that all that is lacking to complete my happiness is discretion in its use. I shall appeal to great precedents, and I shall draw them not from my rank but from yours. Augustus, the grandfather of your grandfather, conceded to Marcus Agrippa the privacy of Mytilene, and to Gaius Maecenas, within the capital itself, something tantamount to retirement abroad.30 One had been the partner of his wars, the other had been harassed by more numerous labours at Rome, and each had received his reward — a magnificent reward, it is true, but proportioned to immense deserts. For myself, what incentive to your generosity have I been able to apply except some bookish acquirements, cultivated, I might say, in the shadows of the cloister? Acquirements to which fame has come because I am thought to have lent a helping hand in your own first youthful efforts — a wage that overpays the service! But you have invested me with measureless influence, with countless riches; so that often I put the question to myself:— ‘Is it I, born in the station of a simple knight and a provincial,31 who am numbered with the magnates of the realm? Among these nobles, wearing their long-descended glories, has my novel name swum into ken? Where is that spirit which found contentment in mediocrity? Building these terraced gardens? — Pacing these suburban mansions? — Luxuriating in these broad acres, these world-wide investments?’ — A single defence suggests itself — that I had not the right to obstruct your bounty.
54 1 “But we have both filled up the measure: you, of what a prince may give to his friend; and I, of what a friend may take from his prince. All beyond breeds envy! True, envy, like everything mortal, lies far beneath your greatness; but by me the burden is felt — to me a relief is necessary. As I should pray for support in warfare, or when wearied by the road, so in this journey of life, an old man and unequal to the lightest of cares, I ask for succour: for I can bear my riches no further. Order my estates to be administered by your procurators, to be embodied in your fortune. Not that by my own action I shall reduce myself to poverty: rather, I shall resign the glitter of wealth which dazzles me, and recall to the service of the mind those hours which are now set apart to the care of my gardens or my villas. You have vigour to spare; you have watched for years the methods by which supreme power is wielded: we, your older friends, may demand our rest. This, too, shall redound to your glory — that you raised to the highest places men who could also accept the lowly.”
55 1 Nero’s reply, in effect, was this:— “If I am able to meet your studied eloquence with an immediate answer, that is the first part of my debt to you, who have taught me how to express my thought not merely after premeditation but on the spur of the moment. Augustus, the grandfather of my grandfather, allowed Agrippa and Maecenas to rest after their labours, but had himself reached an age, the authority of which could justify whatever boon, and of whatever character, he had bestowed upon them. And even so he stripped neither of the rewards conferred by himself. It was in battle and jeopardy they had earned them, for such were the scenes in which the youth of Augustus moved; and, had my own days been spent in arms, your weapons and your hand would not have failed me; but you did what the actual case demanded, and fostered first my boyhood, then my youth, with reason, advice, and precept. And your gifts to me will be imperishable, so long as life may last; but mine to you — gardens, capital, and villas — are vulnerable to accident. They may appear many; but numbers of men, not comparable to you in character have held more. Shame forbids me to mention the freedmen who flaunt a wealth greater than yours! And hence I even blush that you, who have the first place in my love, do not as yet excel all in fortune. Or is it, by chance, the case that you deem either Seneca lower than Vitellius,32 who held his three consulates, or Nero lower than Claudius, and that the wealth which years of parsimony won for Volusius33 is incapable of being attained by my own generosity to you?
56 1 “On the contrary, not only is yours a vigorous age, adequate to affairs and to their rewards, but I myself am but entering the first stages of my sovereignty. Why not recall the uncertain steps of my youth, if here and there they slip, and even more zealously guide and support the manhood which owes its pride to you. Not your moderation, if you give back your riches; not your retirement, if you abandon your prince; by my avarice, and the terrors of my cruelty, will be upon all men’s lips. And, however much your abnegation may be praised, it will still be unworthy of a sage to derive credit from an act which sullies the fair fame of a friend.” He followed his words with an embrace and kisses — nature had fashioned him and use had trained him to veil his hatred under insidious caresses. Seneca — such is the end of all dialogues with an autocrat — expressed his gratitude:34 but he changed the established routine of his former power, banished the crowds from his antechambers, shunned his attendants, and appeared in the city with a rareness ascribed to his detention at home by adverse health or philosophic studies.
57 1 With Seneca brought low, it was a simple matter to undermine Faenius Rufus, the charge in his case being friendship with Agrippina. Tigellinus, too, growing stronger with every day, and convinced that the mischievous arts, which were his one source of power, would be all the more acceptable, could he bind the emperor to himself by a partnership in crime, probed his fears, and, discovering the main objects of his alarm to be Plautus and Sulla — both lately removed, the former to Asia, the latter to Narbonese Gaul — began to draw attention to their distinguished lineage and their nearness, respectively, to the armies of the East and of Germany. “Unlike Burrus,” he said, “he had not in view two irreconcilable hopes, but purely the safety of Nero. In the capital, where he could work on the spot, the imperial security was more or less provided for; but how were outbreaks at a distance to be stifled? Gaul was alert at the sound of the Dictator’s name; and equally the peoples of Asia were unbalanced by the glory of such a grandsire as Drusus.35 Sulla was indigent, therefore greatly daring, and wore the mask of lethargy only till he could find an occasion for temerity. Plautus, with his great fortune, did not even affect a desire for peace, but, not content to parade his mimicries of the ancient Romans, had taken upon himself the Stoic arrogance and the mantle of a sect which inculcated sedition and an appetite for politics.”36 There was no further delay. On the sixth day following, the slayers had made the crossing to Massilia, and Sulla, who had taken his place at the dinner-table, was despatched before a whisper of alarm had reached him. The head was carried back to Rome, where the premature grey hairs disfiguring it provoked the merriment of Nero.
58 1 That the murder of Plautus was being arranged was a secret less excellently kept; for the number of persons interested in his safety was larger; while the length of the journey by land and sea, and the interval of time, had set report at work. It was a general story that he had made his way to Corbulo, then at the head of large armies, and should there be a killing of the famous and the innocent, especially exposed to danger.º More than this, Asia had taken arms in sympathy with the youth, and the soldiers sent on the criminal errand, not too strong in numbers and not too enthusiastic at heart, after proving unable to carry out their orders, had passed over to the cause of revolution. These figments, in the manner of all rumours, were amplified by indolent credulity; in reality, a freedman of Plautus, with the hope of quick winds, outstripped the centurion, and carried his patron instructions from his father-in‑law, Lucius Antistius:37 — “He was to escape a coward’s death, while a refuge was still open. Compassion for his great name would win him the support of the good, the alliance of the bold; in the meantime, no resource should be disdained. If he repelled sixty soldiers” (the number arriving), “then in the interval — while the news was travelling back to Nero — while another force was moving to the scene — there would be a train of events which might develop into war. In fine, either he saved his life by this course or hardihood would cost him no dearer than timidity.”
59 1 All this, however, left Plautus unmoved. Either, exiled and unarmed, he foresaw no help; or he had wearied of hope and its incertitudes; or possibly the cause was affection for his wife and children, to whom he supposed the emperor would prove more placable if no alarms had disturbed his equanimity. There are those who state that fresh couriers had arrived from his father-in‑law with news that no drastic measures were pending, while his teachers of philosophy — Coeranus38 and Musonius,39Greek and Tuscan respectively by origin — had advised him to have the courage to await death, in preference to an uncertain and harassed life. At all events, he was found in the early afternoon, stripped for bodily exercise. In that condition he was cut down by the centurion, under the eyes of the eunuch Pelago, placed by Nero in charge of the centurion and his detachment like a king’s minion over his satellites. The head of the victim was carried back to Rome; and at sight of it the prince exclaimed (I shall give the imperial words exactly):— “Nero, <why did you fear a man with such a nose?>“40 And laying aside his anxieties, he prepared to accelerate the marriage with Poppaea — till then postponed through suchlike terrors — and also to remove his wife Octavia; who, unassuming as her behaviour might be, was intolerable as the daughter of her father and the favourite of the people. Yet he sent a letter to the Senate, not confessing the execution of Sulla and Plautus, but observing that both were turbulent spirits and that he was watching with extreme care over the safety of the commonwealth. On that grand, a national thanksgiving was voted, together with the expulsion of Sulla and Plautus from the senate — an insulting mockery now more deadly than the evils inflicted on them.
60 1 On the reception, therefore, of the senatorial decree, since it was evident that his crimes each and all passed muster as eminent virtues, he ejected Octavia on the pretext of sterility, then consummated his union with Poppaea. Long the paramour of Nero, and dominating him first as an adulterer, then as a husband, she incited one of the domestics of Octavia to accuse her of a love affair with a slave: the part of defendant was assigned to a person named Eucaerus; a native of Alexandria,41 and an expert performer on the flute. Her waiting-maids, in pursuance of the scheme, were examined under torture; and, although a few were forced by their agony into making groundless admissions, the greater number steadfastly maintained the honour of their mistress, one of them retorting under pressure from Tigellinus that Octavia’s body was chaster than his own mouth. She was removed, however, first under colour of a civil divorce, and received — two ominous gifts — the mansion of Burrus and the estates of Plautus. A little later, she was banished to Campania and put under military supervision. The measure led to general and undisguised protests from the common people, endowed with less discretion than their superiors, and — thanks to their humble station — faced by fewer perils. Then came a rumour that Nero had repented of his outrage and recalled Octavia to his side.
61 1 At once exulting crowds scaled the Capitol, and Heaven at last found itself blessed. They hurled down the effigies of Poppaea, they carried the statues of Octavia shoulder-high, strewed them with flowers, upraised them in the forum and the temples. Even the emperor’s praises were essayed with vociferous loyalty. Already they were filling the Palace itself with their numbers and their cheers, when bands of soldiers emerged and scattered them in disorder with whipcuts and levelled weapons. All the changes effected by the outbreak were rectified, and the honours of Poppaea were reinstated. She herself, always cruel in her hatreds, and now rendered more so by her fear that either the violence of the multitude might break out in a fiercer storm or Nero follow the trend of popular feeling, threw herself at his knees:— “Her affairs,” she said, “were not in a position in which she could fight for her marriage, though it was dearer to her than life: that life itself had been brought to the verge of destruction by those retainers and slaves of Octavia who had conferred on themselves the name of the people and dared in peace what would scarcely happen in war. Those arms had been lifted against the sovereign; only a leader had been lacking, and, once the movement had begun, a leader was easily come by, — the one thing necessary was an excursion from Campania, a personal visit to the capital by her whose distant nod evoked the storm! And apart from this, what was Poppaea’s transgression? in what had she offended anyone? Or was the reason that she was on the point of giving an authentic heir to the hearth of the Caesars? Did the Roman nation prefer the progeny of an Egyptian flute-player to be introduced to the imperial throne? — In brief, if policy so demanded, then as an act of grace, but not of compulsion, let him send for the lady who owned him — or else take thought for his security! A deserved castigation and lenient remedies had allayed the first commotion; but let the mob once lose hope of seeing Octavia Nero’s wife and they would soon provide her with a husband!”
62 1 Her varied arguments, with their calculated appeal to fear and to anger, at once terrified and incensed the listener. But suspicion resting on a slave had little force; and it had been nullified by the examinations of the waiting-women. It was therefore decided to procure a confession from some person to whom there could also be imputed a false charge of contemplated revolution. Anicetus, perpetrator of the matricide, was thought suitable. Prefect, as I have mentioned,42 of the squadron at Misenum, he had, after the commission of his murder, experienced some trivial favour, afterwards replaced by a more serious dislike, since the instruments of crime are counted a visible reproach. He was summoned accordingly, and the Caesar reminded him of his earlier service:— “Singly he had ensured the emperor’s safety in opposition to a treacherous mother. The opportunity for a not less grateful action was at hand, if he could remove a malignant wife. Not even force or cold steel was necessary: he had simply to commit adultery with Octavia.” He promised him a reward, secret, it might be, at the outset, but large; also, a pleasant place of retirement: should he refuse he held out the threat of death. Anicetus, with inbred perversity and an ease communicated by former crimes, invented and confessed more than had been ordered, in the presence of friends convened by the emperor to play the part of a privy council. He was then banished to Sardinia,43 where he supported a not impecunious exile, and died by a natural death.
63 1 Nero, for his part, announced by edict that Octavia had seduced the prefect in the hope of gaining the co-operation of his squadron; that, conscious of her infidelities, she had procured abortion, — he failed to remember his recent charge of sterility! — and that these were facts ascertained by himself. He then confined her in the island of Pandateria.44 No woman in exile ever presented a more pitiful spectacle to the eye of the beholder. There were yet some who recollected the banishment of Agrippina45 by Tiberius; the more recent memory of Julia’s46 expulsion by Claudius still dwelt in the minds of men. But to these the maturity of life had come;47 they had seen some little happiness, and could soften the cruelty of the present by recalling the brighter fortunes of the past. To Octavia, first of all, her day of marriage had been tantamount to a day of burial, entering as she did a house where mourning alone awaited her — where her father was snatched away by poison, to be followed at once by her brother. Then had come the maid, more potent than her mistress, and Poppaea turning bride only to destroy a wife; last of all, an accusation more bitter than any doom.
64 1 And so this girl, in the twentieth year of her age,48 surrounded by centurions and soldiers, cut off already from life by foreknowledge of her fate, still lacked the peace of death. There followed an interval of a few days; then she was ordered to die — though she protested she was husbandless now, a sister49 and nothing more, evoking the Germanici50 whose blood they shared, and, in the last resort, the name of Agrippina, in whose lifetime she had supported a wifehood, unhappy enough but still not fatal. She was tied fast with cords, and the veins were opened in each limb: then, as the blood, arrested by terror, ebbed too slowly, she was suffocated in the bath heated to an extreme temperature. As a further and more hideous cruelty, the head was amputated and carried to Rome, where it was viewed by Poppaea. For all these things offerings were decreed to the temples — how often must those words be said? Let all who make their acquaintance with the history of that period in my narrative or that of others take so much for granted: as often as the emperor ordered an exile or a murder, so often was a thanksgiving addressed to Heaven; and what formerly betokened prosperity was now a symbol of public calamity. Nevertheless, where a senatorial decree achieved a novelty in adulation or a last word in self-abasement, I shall not pass it by in silence.
65 1 In the same year, he was credited with the poisoning of two of his principal freedmen: Doryphorus,51 as an opponent of the marriage with Poppaea; Pallas, because he kept his vast riches to himself by a too protracted old age. — Romanus52 had attacked Seneca, in private informations, as the associate of Gnaeus Piso, but was himself more surely struck down by Seneca on the same charge. The result was the alarm of Piso and the birth of an elaborate and luckless conspiracy against Nero.