The Lives of the Twelve Caesars


Text to Speech

X. Having spent the greater part of his life under these and the like
circumstances, he came at last to the empire in the fiftieth year of his
age [475], by a very surprising turn of fortune. Being, as well as the
rest, prevented from approaching Caius by the conspirators, who dispersed
the crowd, under the pretext of his desiring to be private, he retired
into an apartment called the Hermaeum [476]; and soon afterwards,
terrified by the report of Caius being slain, he crept into an adjoining
balcony, where he hid himself behind the hangings of (302) the door. A
common soldier, who happened to pass that way, spying his feet, and
desirous to discover who he was, pulled him out; when immediately
recognizing him, he threw himself in a great fright at his feet, and
saluted him by the title of emperor. He then conducted him to his
fellow-soldiers, who were all in a great rage, and irresolute what they
should do. They put him into a litter, and as the slaves of the palace
had all fled, took their turns in carrying him on their shoulders, and
brought him into the camp, sad and trembling; the people who met him
lamenting his situation, as if the poor innocent was being carried to
execution. Being received within the ramparts [477], he continued all
night with the sentries on guard, recovered somewhat from his fright, but
in no great hopes of the succession. For the consuls, with the senate
and civic troops, had possessed themselves of the Forum and Capitol, with
the determination to assert the public liberty; and he being sent for
likewise, by a tribune of the people, to the senate-house, to give his
advice upon the present juncture of affairs, returned answer, "I am under
constraint, and cannot possibly come." The day afterwards, the senate
being dilatory in their proceedings, and worn out by divisions amongst
themselves, while the people who surrounded the senate-house shouted that
they would have one master, naming Claudius, he suffered the soldiers
assembled under arms to swear allegiance to him, promising them fifteen
thousand sesterces a man; he being the first of the Caesars who purchased
the submission of the soldiers with money. [478]

XI. Having thus established himself in power, his first object was to
abolish all remembrance of the two preceding days, in which a revolution
in the state had been canvassed. Accordingly, he passed an act of
perpetual oblivion and pardon for every thing said or done during that
time; and this he faithfully observed, with the exception only of putting
to death a few tribunes and centurions concerned in the conspiracy
against Caius, both as an example, and because he understood that they
had also planned his own death. He now turned (303) his thoughts towards
paying respect to the memory of his relations. His most solemn and usual
oath was, "By Augustus." He prevailed upon the senate to decree divine
honours to his grandmother Livia, with a chariot in the Circensian
procession drawn by elephants, as had been appointed for Augustus [479];
and public offerings to the shades of his parents. Besides which, he
instituted Circensian games for his father, to be celebrated every year,
upon his birth-day, and, for his mother, a chariot to be drawn through
the circus; with the title of Augusta, which had been refused by his
grandmother [480]. To the memory of his brother [481], to which, upon
all occasions, he showed a great regard, he gave a Greek comedy, to be
exhibited in the public diversions at Naples [482], and awarded the crown
for it, according to the sentence of the judges in that solemnity. Nor
did he omit to make honourable and grateful mention of Mark Antony;
declaring by a proclamation, "That he the more earnestly insisted upon
the observation of his father Drusus's birth-day, because it was likewise
that of his grandfather Antony." He completed the marble arch near
Pompey's theatre, which had formerly been decreed by the senate in honour
of Tiberius, but which had been neglected [483]. And though he cancelled
all the acts of Caius, yet he forbad the day of his assassination,
notwithstanding it was that of his own accession to the empire, to be
reckoned amongst the festivals.

XII. But with regard to his own aggrandisement, he was sparing and
modest, declining the title of emperor, and refusing all excessive
honours. He celebrated the marriage of his daughter and the birth-day of
a grandson with great privacy, at home. He recalled none of those who
had been banished, without a decree of the senate: and requested of them
permission for the prefect of the military tribunes and pretorian guards
to attend him in the senate-house [484]; and (304) also that they would
be pleased to bestow upon his procurators judicial authority in the
provinces [485]. He asked of the consuls likewise the privilege of
holding fairs upon his private estate. He frequently assisted the
magistrates in the trial of causes, as one of their assessors. And when
they gave public spectacles, he would rise up with the rest of the
spectators, and salute them both by words and gestures. When the
tribunes of the people came to him while he was on the tribunal, he
excused himself, because, on account of the crowd, he could not hear them
unless they stood. In a short time, by this conduct, he wrought himself
so much into the favour and affection of the public, that when, upon his
going to Ostia, a report was spread in the city that he had been way-laid
and slain, the people never ceased cursing the soldiers for traitors, and
the senate as parricides, until one or two persons, and presently after
several others, were brought by the magistrates upon the rostra, who
assured them that he was alive, and not far from the city, on his way
home.

XIII. Conspiracies, however, were formed against him, not only by
individuals separately, but by a faction; and at last his government was
disturbed with a civil war. A low fellow was found with a poniard about
him, near his chamber, at midnight. Two men of the equestrian order were
discovered waiting for him in the streets, armed with a tuck and a
huntsman's dagger; one of them intending to attack him as he came out of
the theatre, and the other as he was sacrificing in the temple of Mars.
Gallus Asinius and Statilius Corvinus, grandsons of the two orators,
Pollio and Messala [486], formed a conspiracy against him, in which they
engaged many of his freedmen and slaves. Furius Camillus Scribonianus,
his lieutenant in Dalmatia, broke into rebellion, but was reduced in
(305) the space of five days; the legions which he had seduced from their
oath of fidelity relinquishing their purpose, upon an alarm occasioned by
ill omens. For when orders were given them to march, to meet their new
emperor, the eagles could not be decorated, nor the standards pulled out
of the ground, whether it was by accident, or a divine interposition.

XIV. Besides his former consulship, he held the office afterwards four
times; the first two successively [487], but the following, after an
interval of four years each [488]; the last for six months, the others
for two; and the third, upon his being chosen in the room of a consul who
died; which had never been done by any of the emperors before him.
Whether he was consul or out of office, he constantly attended the courts
for the administration of justice, even upon such days as were solemnly
observed as days of rejoicing in his family, or by his friends; and
sometimes upon the public festivals of ancient institution. Nor did he
always adhere strictly to the letter of the laws, but overruled the
rigour or lenity of many of their enactments, according to his sentiments
of justice and equity. For where persons lost their suits by insisting
upon more than appeared to be their due, before the judges of private
causes, he granted them the indulgence of a second trial. And with
regard to such as were convicted of any great delinquency, he even
exceeded the punishment appointed by law, and condemned them to be
exposed to wild beasts. [489]

XV. But in hearing and determining causes, he exhibited a strange
inconsistency of temper, being at one time circumspect and sagacious, at
another inconsiderate and rash, and sometimes frivolous, and like one out
of his mind. In correcting the roll of judges, he struck off the name of
one who, concealing the privilege his children gave him to be excused
from serving, had answered to his name, as too eager for the office.
Another who was summoned before him in a cause of his own, but alleged
that the affair did not properly come under the (306) emperor's
cognizance, but that of the ordinary judges, he ordered to plead the
cause himself immediately before him, and show in a case of his own, how
equitable a judge he would prove in that of other persons. A woman
refusing to acknowledge her own son, and there being no clear proof on
either side, he obliged her to confess the truth, by ordering her to
marry the young man [490]. He was much inclined to determine causes in
favour of the parties who appeared, against those who did not, without
inquiring whether their absence was occasioned by their own fault, or by
real necessity. On proclamation of a man's being convicted of forgery,
and that he ought to have his hand cut off, he insisted that an
executioner should be immediately sent for, with a Spanish sword and a
block. A person being prosecuted for falsely assuming the freedom of
Rome, and a frivolous dispute arising between the advocates in the cause,
whether he ought to make his appearance in the Roman or Grecian dress, to
show his impartiality, he commanded him to change his clothes several
times according to the character he assumed in the accusation or defence.
An anecdote is related of him, and believed to be true, that, in a
particular cause, he delivered his sentence in writing thus: "I am in
favour of those who have spoken the truth." [491] By this he so much
forfeited the good opinion of the world, that he was everywhere and
openly despised. A person making an excuse for the non-appearance of a
witness whom he had sent for from the provinces, declared it was
impossible for him to appear, concealing the reason for some time: at
last, after several interrogatories were put to him on the subject, he
answered, "The man is dead;" to which Claudius replied, "I think that is
a sufficient excuse." Another thanking him for suffering a person who
was prosecuted to make his defence by counsel, added, "And yet it is no
more than what is usual." I have likewise heard some old men say [492],
that the advocates used to abuse his patience so grossly, that they would
not only (307) call him back, as he was quitting the tribunal, but would
seize him by the lap of his coat, and sometimes catch him by the heels,
to make him stay. That such behaviour, however strange, is not
incredible, will appear from this anecdote. Some obscure Greek, who was
a litigant, had an altercation with him, in which he called out, "You are
an old fool." [493] It is certain that a Roman knight, who was
prosecuted by an impotent device of his enemies on a false charge of
abominable obscenity with women, observing that common strumpets were
summoned against him and allowed to give evidence, upbraided Claudius in
very harsh and severe terms with his folly and cruelty, and threw his
style, and some books which he had in his hands, in his face, with such
violence as to wound him severely in the cheek.

XVI. He likewise assumed the censorship [494], which had been
discontinued since the time that Paulus and Plancus had jointly held it.
But this also he administered very unequally, and with a strange variety
of humour and conduct. In his review of the knights, he passed over,
without any mark of disgrace, a profligate young man, only because his
father spoke of him in the highest terms; "for," said he, "his father is
his proper censor." Another, who was infamous for debauching youths and
for adultery, he only admonished "to indulge his youthful inclinations
more sparingly, or at least more cautiously;" [495] adding, "why must I
know what mistress you keep?" When, at the request of his friends, he
had taken off a mark of infamy which he had set upon one knight's name,
he said, "Let the blot, however, remain." He not only struck out of the
list of judges, but likewise deprived of the freedom of Rome, an
illustrious man of the highest provincial rank in Greece, only because he
was ignorant of the Latin language. Nor in this review did he suffer any
one to give an account of his conduct by an advocate, but obliged each
man to speak for himself in the best way he could. He disgraced many,
and some that little expected it, and for a reason entirely new, namely,
for going out of Italy without his license; (308) and one likewise, for
having in his province been the familiar companion of a king; observing,
that, in former times, Rabirius Posthumus had been prosecuted for
treason, although he only went after Ptolemy to Alexandria for the
purpose of securing payment of a debt [496]. Having tried to brand with
disgrace several others, he, to his own greater shame, found them
generally innocent, through the negligence of the persons employed to
inquire into their characters; those whom he charged with living in
celibacy, with want of children, or estate, proving themselves to be
husbands, parents, and in affluent circumstances. One of the knights who
was charged with stabbing himself, laid his bosom bare, to show that
there was not the least mark of violence upon his body. The following
incidents were remarkable in his censorship. He ordered a car, plated
with silver, and of very sumptuous workmanship, which was exposed for
sale in the Sigillaria [497], to be purchased, and broken in pieces
before his eyes. He published twenty proclamations in one day, in one of
which he advised the people, "Since the vintage was very plentiful, to
have their casks well secured at the bung with pitch:" and in another, he
told them, "that nothing would sooner cure the bite of a viper, than the
sap of the yew-tree."

XVII. He undertook only one expedition, and that was of short duration.
The triumphal ornaments decreed him by the senate, he considered as
beneath the imperial dignity, and was therefore resolved to have the
honour of a real triumph. For this purpose, he selected Britain, which
had never been attempted by any one since Julius Caesar [498], and was
then chafing (309) with rage, because the Romans would not give up some
deserters. Accordingly, he set sail from Ostia, but was twice very near
being wrecked by the boisterous wind called Circius [499], upon the coast
of Liguria, and near the islands called Stoechades [500]. Having marched
by land from Marseilles to Gessoriacum [501], he thence passed over to
Britain, and part of the island submitting to him, within a few days
after his arrival, without battle or bloodshed, he returned to Rome in
less than six months from the time of his departure, and triumphed in the
most solemn manner [502]; to witness which, he not only (310) gave leave
to governors of provinces to come to Rome, but even to some of the
exiles. Among the spoils taken from the enemy, he fixed upon the
pediment of his house in the Palatium, a naval crown, in token of his
having passed, and, as it were, conquered the Ocean, and had it suspended
near the civic crown which was there before. Messalina, his wife,
followed his chariot in a covered litter [503]. Those who had attained
the honour of triumphal ornaments in the same war, rode behind; the rest
followed on foot, wearing the robe with the broad stripes. Crassus Frugi
was mounted upon a horse richly caparisoned, in a robe embroidered with
palm leaves, because this was the second time of his obtaining that
honour.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.