The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XL. After he had gone round Campania, and dedicated the capitol at
Capua, and a temple to Augustus at Nola [341], which he made the pretext
of his journey, he retired to Capri; being (218) greatly delighted with
the island, because it was accessible only by a narrow beach, being on
all sides surrounded with rugged cliffs, of a stupendous height, and by a
deep sea. But immediately, the people of Rome being extremely clamorous
for his return, on account of a disaster at Fidenae [342], where upwards
of twenty thousand persons had been killed by the fall of the
amphitheatre, during a public spectacle of gladiators, he crossed over
again to the continent, and gave all people free access to him; so much
the more, because, at his departure from the city, he had caused it to be
proclaimed that no one should address him, and had declined admitting any
persons to his presence, on the journey.

XLI. Returning to the island, he so far abandoned all care of the
government, that he never filled up the decuriae of the knights, never
changed any military tribunes or prefects, or governors of provinces, and
kept Spain and Syria for several years without any consular lieutenants.
He likewise suffered Armenia to be seized by the Parthians, Moesia by the
Dacians and Sarmatians, and Gaul to be ravaged by the Germans; to the
great disgrace, and no less danger, of the empire.

XLII. But having now the advantage of privacy, and being remote from the
observation of the people of Rome, he abandoned himself to all the
vicious propensities which he had long but imperfectly concealed, and of
which I shall here give a particular account from the beginning. While a
young soldier in the camp, he was so remarkable for his excessive
inclination to wine, that, for Tiberius, they called him Biberius; for
Claudius, Caldius; and for Nero, Mero. And after he succeeded to the
empire, and was invested with the office of reforming the morality of the
people, he spent a whole night and two days together in feasting and
drinking with Pomponius Flaccus and Lucius Piso; to one of whom he
immediately gave the province of Syria, and to the other the prefecture
of the city; declaring them, in his letters-patent, to be “very pleasant
companions, and friends fit for all occasions.” He made an appointment
to sup with Sestius Gallus, a lewd and prodigal old fellow, who had been
disgraced by Augustus, and reprimanded by himself but a few days before
in the senate-house; upon condition that he should not recede in the
least from his usual method of entertainment, and that they should be
attended at table by naked girls. He preferred a very obscure candidate
for the quaestorship, before the most noble competitors, only for taking
off, in pledging him at table, an amphora of wine at a draught [343]. He
presented Asellius Sabinus with two hundred thousand sesterces, for
writing a dialogue, in the way of dispute, betwixt the truffle and the
fig-pecker, the oyster and the thrush. He likewise instituted a new
office to administer to his voluptuousness, to which he appointed Titus
Caesonius Priscus, a Roman knight.

XLIII. In his retreat at Capri [344], he also contrived an apartment
containing couches, and adapted to the secret practice of abominable
lewdness, where he entertained companies of girls and catamites, and
assembled from all quarters inventors of unnatural copulations, whom he
called Spintriae, who defiled one another in his presence, to inflame by
the exhibition the languid appetite. He had several chambers set round
with pictures and statues in the most lascivious attitudes, and furnished
with the books of Elephantis, that none might want a pattern for the
execution of any lewd project that was prescribed him. He likewise
contrived recesses in woods and groves for the gratification of lust,
where young persons of both sexes prostituted themselves in caves and
hollow rocks, in the disguise of little Pans and Nymphs [345]. So that
he was publicly and commonly called, by an abuse of the name of the
island, Caprineus. [346]

XLIV. But he was still more infamous, if possible, for an (220)
abomination not fit to be mentioned or heard, much less credited. [347]
——————When a picture, painted by Parrhasius, in which the
artist had represented Atalanta in the act of submitting to Meleager’s
lust in a most unnatural way, was bequeathed to him, with this proviso,
that if the subject was offensive to him, he might receive in lieu of it
a million of sesterces, he not only chose the picture, but hung it up in
his bed-chamber. It is also reported that, during a sacrifice, he was so
captivated with the form of a youth who held a censer, that, before the
religious rites were well over, he took him aside and abused him; as also
a brother of his who had been playing the flute; and soon afterwards
broke the legs of both of them, for upbraiding one another with their

XLV. How much he was guilty of a most foul intercourse with women even
of the first quality [348], appeared very plainly by the death of one
Mallonia, who, being brought to his bed, but resolutely refusing to
comply with his lust, he gave her up to the common informers. Even when
she was upon her trial, he frequently called out to her, and asked her,
“Do you repent?” until she, quitting the court, went home, and stabbed
herself; openly upbraiding the vile old lecher for his gross obscenity
[349]. Hence there was an allusion to him in a farce, which was acted at
the next public sports, and was received with great applause, and became
a common topic of ridicule [350]: that the old goat——–

XLVI. He was so niggardly and covetous, that he never allowed to his
attendants, in his travels and expeditions, any salary, but their diet
only. Once, indeed, he treated them liberally, at the instigation of his
step-father, when, dividing them into three classes, according to their
rank, he gave the (221) first six, the second four, and the third two,
hundred thousand sesterces, which last class he called not friends, but

XLVII. During the whole time of his government, he never erected any
noble edifice; for the only things he did undertake, namely, building the
temple of Augustus, and restoring Pompey’s Theatre, he left at last,
after many years, unfinished. Nor did he ever entertain the people with
public spectacles; and he was seldom present at those which were given by
others, lest any thing of that kind should be requested of him;
especially after he was obliged to give freedom to the comedian Actius.
Having relieved the poverty of a few senators, to avoid further demands,
he declared that he should for the future assist none, but those who gave
the senate full satisfaction as to the cause of their necessity. Upon
this, most of the needy senators, from modesty and shame, declined
troubling him. Amongst these was Hortalus, grandson to the celebrated
orator Quintus Hortensius, who [marrying], by the persuasion of Augustus,
had brought up four children upon a very small estate.

XLVIII. He displayed only two instances of public munificence. One was
an offer to lend gratis, for three years, a hundred millions of sesterces
to those who wanted to borrow; and the other, when, some large houses
being burnt down upon Mount Caelius, he indemnified the owners. To the
former of these he was compelled by the clamours of the people, in a
great scarcity of money, when he had ratified a decree of the senate
obliging all money-lenders to advance two-thirds of their capital on
land, and the debtors to pay off at once the same proportion of their
debts, and it was found insufficient to remedy the grievance. The other
he did to alleviate in some degree the pressure of the times. But his
benefaction to the sufferers by fire, he estimated at so high a rate,
that he ordered the Caelian Hill to be called, in future, the Augustan.
To the soldiery, after doubling the legacy left them by Augustus, he
never gave any thing, except a thousand denarii a man to the pretorian
guards, for not joining the party of Sejanus; and some presents to the
legions in Syria, because they alone had not paid reverence to the
effigies of Sejanus among their standards. He seldom gave discharges to
the veteran soldiers, calculating (222) on their deaths from advanced
age, and on what would be saved by thus getting rid of them, in the way
of rewards or pensions. Nor did he ever relieve the provinces by any act
of generosity, excepting Asia, where some cities had been destroyed by an

XLIX. In the course of a very short time, he turned his mind to sheer
robbery. It is certain that Cneius Lentulus, the augur, a man of vast
estate, was so terrified and worried by his threats and importunities,
that he was obliged to make him his heir; and that Lepida, a lady of a
very noble family, was condemned by him, in order to gratify Quirinus, a
man of consular rank, extremely rich, and childless, who had divorced her
twenty years before, and now charged her with an old design to poison
him. Several persons, likewise, of the first distinction in Gaul, Spain,
Syria, and Greece, had their estates confiscated upon such despicably
trifling and shameless pretences, that against some of them no other
charge was preferred, than that they held large sums of ready money as
part of their property. Old immunities, the rights of mining, and of
levying tolls, were taken from several cities and private persons. And
Vonones, king of the Parthians, who had been driven out of his dominions
by his own subjects, and fled to Antioch with a vast treasure, claiming
the protection of the Roman people, his allies, was treacherously robbed
of all his money, and afterwards murdered.

L. He first manifested hatred towards his own relations in the case of
his brother Drusus, betraying him by the production of a letter to
himself, in which Drusus proposed that Augustus should be forced to
restore the public liberty. In course of time, he shewed the same
disposition with regard to the rest of his family. So far was he from
performing any office of kindness or humanity to his wife, when she was
banished, and, by her father’s order, confined to one town, that he
forbad her to stir out of the house, or converse with any men. He even
wronged her of the dowry given her by her father, and of her yearly
allowance, by a quibble of law, because Augustus had made no provision
for them on her behalf in his will. Being harassed by his mother, Livia,
who claimed an equal share in the government with him, he frequently
avoided (223) seeing her, and all long and private conferences with her,
lest it should be thought that he was governed by her counsels, which,
notwithstanding, he sometimes sought, and was in the habit of adopting.
He was much offended at the senate, when they proposed to add to his
other titles that of the Son of Livia, as well as Augustus. He,
therefore, would not suffer her to be called “the Mother of her Country,”
nor to receive any extraordinary public distinction. Nay, he frequently
admonished her “not to meddle with weighty affairs, and such as did not
suit her sex;” especially when he found her present at a fire which broke
out near the Temple of Vesta [351], and encouraging the people and
soldiers to use their utmost exertions, as she had been used to do in the
time of her husband.

LI. He afterwards proceeded to an open rupture with her, and, as is
said, upon this occasion. She having frequently urged him to place among
the judges a person who had been made free of the city, he refused her
request, unless she would allow it to be inscribed on the roll, “That the
appointment had been extorted from him by his mother.” Enraged at this,
Livia brought forth from her chapel some letters from Augustus to her,
complaining of the sourness and insolence of Tiberius’s temper, and these
she read. So much was he offended at these letters having been kept so
long, and now produced with so much bitterness against him, that some
considered this incident as one of the causes of his going into
seclusion, if not the principal reason for his so doing. In the (224)
whole years she lived during his retirement, he saw her but once, and
that for a few hours only. When she fell sick shortly afterwards, he was
quite unconcerned about visiting her in her illness; and when she died,
after promising to attend her funeral, he deferred his coming for several
days, so that the corpse was in a state of decay and putrefaction before
the interment; and he then forbad divine honours being paid to her,
pretending that he acted according to her own directions. He likewise
annulled her will, and in a short time ruined all her friends and
acquaintance; not even sparing those to whom, on her death-bed, she had
recommended the care of her funeral, but condemning one of them, a man of
equestrian rank, to the treadmill. [352]

LII. He entertained no paternal affection either for his own son Drusus,
or his adopted son Germanicus. Offended at the vices of the former, who
was of a loose disposition and led a dissolute life, he was not much
affected at his death; but, almost immediately after the funeral, resumed
his attention to business, and prevented the courts from being longer
closed. The ambassadors from the people of Ilium coming rather late to
offer their condolence, he said to them by way of banter, as if the
affair had already faded from his memory, “And I heartily condole with
you on the loss of your renowned countryman, Hector.” He so much
affected to depreciate Germanicus, that he spoke of his achievements as
utterly insignificant, and railed at his most glorious victories as
ruinous to the state; complaining of him also to the senate for going to
Alexandria without his knowledge, upon occasion of a great and sudden
famine at Rome. It was believed that he took care to have him dispatched
by Cneius Piso, his lieutenant in Syria. This person was afterwards
tried for the murder, and would, as was supposed, have produced his
orders, had they not been contained in a private and confidential
dispatch. The following words therefore were posted up in many places,
and frequently shouted in the night: “Give us back our Germanicus.” This
suspicion was afterwards confirmed by the barbarous treatment of his wife
and children.

(225) LIII. His daughter-in-law Agrippina, after the death of her
husband, complaining upon some occasion with more than ordinary freedom,
he took her by the hand, and addressed her in a Greek verse to this
effect: “My dear child, do you think yourself injured, because you are
not empress?” Nor did he ever vouchsafe to speak to her again. Upon her
refusing once at supper to taste some fruit which he presented to her, he
declined inviting her to his table, pretending that she in effect charged
him with a design to poison her; whereas the whole was a contrivance of
his own. He was to offer the fruit, and she to be privately cautioned
against eating what would infallibly cause her death. At last, having
her accused of intending to flee for refuge to the statue of Augustus, or
to the army, he banished her to the island of Pandataria [353]. Upon her
reviling him for it, he caused a centurion to beat out one of her eyes;
and when she resolved to starve herself to death, he ordered her mouth to
be forced open, and meat to be crammed down her throat. But she
persisting in her resolution, and dying soon afterwards, he persecuted
her memory with the basest aspersions, and persuaded the senate to put
her birth-day amongst the number of unlucky days in the calendar. He
likewise took credit for not having caused her to be strangled and her
body cast upon the Gemonian Steps, and suffered a decree of the senate to
pass, thanking him for his clemency, and an offering of gold to be made
to Jupiter Capitolinus on the occasion.

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