The Lives of the Twelve Caesars


Text to Speech

VII. When he was yet a mere boy, before he arrived at the age of
puberty, during the celebration of the Circensian games [564], he
performed his part in the Trojan play with a degree of firmness which
gained him great applause. In the eleventh year of his age, he was
adopted by Claudius, and placed under the tuition of Annaeus Seneca
[565], who had been made a senator. It is said, that Seneca dreamt the
night after, that he was giving a lesson to Caius Caesar [566]. Nero
soon verified his dream, betraying the cruelty of his disposition in
every way he could. For he attempted to persuade his father that his
brother, Britannicus, was nothing but a changeling, because the latter
had (342) saluted him, notwithstanding his adoption, by the name of
Aenobarbus, as usual. When his aunt, Lepida, was brought to trial, he
appeared in court as a witness against her, to gratify his mother, who
persecuted the accused. On his introduction into the Forum, at the age
of manhood, he gave a largess to the people and a donative to the
soldiers: for the pretorian cohorts, he appointed a solemn procession
under arms, and marched at the head of them with a shield in his hand;
after which he went to return thanks to his father in the senate. Before
Claudius, likewise, at the time he was consul, he made a speech for the
Bolognese, in Latin, and for the Rhodians and people of Ilium, in Greek.
He had the jurisdiction of praefect of the city, for the first time,
during the Latin festival; during which the most celebrated advocates
brought before him, not short and trifling causes, as is usual in that
case, but trials of importance, notwithstanding they had instructions
from Claudius himself to the contrary. Soon afterwards, he married
Octavia, and exhibited the Circensian games, and hunting of wild beasts,
in honour of Claudius.

VIII. He was seventeen years of age at the death of that prince [567],
and as soon as that event was made public, he went out to the cohort on
guard between the hours of six and seven; for the omens were so
disastrous, that no earlier time of the day was judged proper. On the
steps before the palace gate, he was unanimously saluted by the soldiers
as their emperor, and then carried in a litter to the camp; thence, after
making a short speech to the troops, into the senate-house, where he
continued until the evening; of all the immense honours which were heaped
upon him, refusing none but the title of FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY, on
account of his youth,

IX. He began his reign with an ostentation of dutiful regard to the
memory of Claudius, whom he buried with the utmost pomp and magnificence,
pronouncing the funeral oration himself, and then had him enrolled
amongst the gods. He paid likewise the highest honours to the memory of
his father Domitius. He left the management of affairs, both public and
private, to his mother. The word which he gave the first day of his
reign to the tribune on guard, was, "The (343) Best of Mothers," and
afterwards he frequently appeared with her in the streets of Rome in her
litter. He settled a colony at Antium, in which he placed the veteran
soldiers belonging to the guards; and obliged several of the richest
centurions of the first rank to transfer their residence to that place;
where he likewise made a noble harbour at a prodigious expense. [568]

X. To establish still further his character, he declared, "that he
designed to govern according to the model of Augustus;" and omitted no
opportunity of showing his generosity, clemency, and complaisance. The
more burthensome taxes he either entirely took off, or diminished. The
rewards appointed for informers by the Papian law, he reduced to a fourth
part, and distributed to the people four hundred sesterces a man. To the
noblest of the senators who were much reduced in their circumstances, he
granted annual allowances, in some cases as much as five hundred thousand
sesterces; and to the pretorian cohorts a monthly allowance of corn
gratis. When called upon to subscribe the sentence, according to custom,
of a criminal condemned to die, "I wish," said he, "I had never learnt to
read and write." He continually saluted people of the several orders by
name, without a prompter. When the senate returned him their thanks for
his good government, he replied to them, "It will be time enough to do so
when I shall have deserved it." He admitted the common people to see him
perform his exercises in the Campus Martius. He frequently declaimed in
public, and recited verses of his own composing, not only at home, but in
the theatre; so much to the joy of all the people, that public prayers
were appointed to be put up to the gods upon that account; and the verses
which had been publicly read, were, after being written in gold letters,
consecrated to Jupiter Capitolinus.

(344) XI. He presented the people with a great number and variety of
spectacles, as the Juvenal and Circensian games, stage-plays, and an
exhibition of gladiators. In the Juvenal, he even admitted senators and
aged matrons to perform parts. In the Circensian games, he assigned the
equestrian order seats apart from the rest of the people, and had races
performed by chariots drawn each by four camels. In the games which he
instituted for the eternal duration of the empire, and therefore ordered
to be called Maximi, many of the senatorian and equestrian order, of both
sexes, performed. A distinguished Roman knight descended on the stage by
a rope, mounted on an elephant. A Roman play, likewise, composed by
Afranius, was brought upon the stage. It was entitled, "The Fire;" and
in it the performers were allowed to carry off, and to keep to
themselves, the furniture of the house, which, as the plot of the play
required, was burnt down in the theatre. Every day during the solemnity,
many thousand articles of all descriptions were thrown amongst the people
to scramble for; such as fowls of different kinds, tickets for corn,
clothes, gold, silver, gems, pearls, pictures, slaves, beasts of burden,
wild beasts that had been tamed; at last, ships, lots of houses, and
lands, were offered as prizes in a lottery.

XII. These games he beheld from the front of the proscenium. In the
show of gladiators, which he exhibited in a wooden amphitheatre, built
within a year in the district of the Campus Martius [569], he ordered
that none should be slain, not even the condemned criminals employed in
the combats. He secured four hundred senators, and six hundred Roman
knights, amongst whom were some of unbroken fortunes and unblemished
reputation, to act as gladiators. From the same orders, he engaged
persons to encounter wild beasts, and for various other services in the
theatre. He presented the public with the representation of a naval
fight, upon sea-water, with huge fishes swimming in it; as also with the
Pyrrhic dance, performed by certain youths, to each of whom, after the
performance was over, he granted the freedom of Rome. During this
diversion, a bull covered Pasiphae, concealed within a wooden statue of a
cow, as many of the spectators believed. Icarus, upon his first attempt
to fly, fell on the stage close to (345) the emperor's pavilion, and
bespattered him with blood. For he very seldom presided in the games,
but used to view them reclining on a couch, at first through some narrow
apertures, but afterwards with the Podium [570] quite open. He was the
first who instituted [571], in imitation of the Greeks, a trial of skill
in the three several exercises of music, wrestling, and horse-racing, to
be performed at Rome every five years, and which he called Neronia. Upon
the dedication of his bath [572] and gymnasium, he furnished the senate
and the equestrian order with oil. He appointed as judges of the trial
men of consular rank, chosen by lot, who sat with the praetors. At this
time he went down into the orchestra amongst the senators, and received
the crown for the best performance in Latin prose and verse, for which
several persons of the greatest merit contended, but they unanimously
yielded to him. The crown for the best performer on the harp, being
likewise awarded to him by the judges, he devoutly saluted it, and
ordered it to be carried to the statue of Augustus. In the gymnastic
exercises, which he presented in the Septa, while they were preparing the
great sacrifice of an ox, he shaved his beard for the first time [573],
and putting it up in a casket of gold studded with pearls of great price,
consecrated it to Jupiter Capitolinus. He invited the Vestal Virgins to
see the (346) wrestlers perform, because, at Olympia, the priestesses of
Ceres are allowed the privilege of witnessing that exhibition.

XIII. Amongst the spectacles presented by him, the solemn entrance of
Tiridates [574] into the city deserves to be mentioned. This personage,
who was king of Armenia, he invited to Rome by very liberal promises.
But being prevented by unfavourable weather from showing him to the
people upon the day fixed by proclamation, he took the first opportunity
which occurred; several cohorts being drawn up under arms, about the
temples in the forum, while he was seated on a curule chair on the
rostra, in a triumphal dress, amidst the military standards and ensigns.
Upon Tiridates advancing towards him, on a stage made shelving for the
purpose, he permitted him to throw himself at his feet, but quickly
raised him with his right hand, and kissed him. The emperor then, at the
king's request, took the turban from his head, and replaced it by a
crown, whilst a person of pretorian rank proclaimed in Latin the words in
which the prince addressed the emperor as a suppliant. After this
ceremony, the king was conducted to the theatre, where, after renewing
his obeisance, Nero seated him on his right hand. Being then greeted by
universal acclamation with the title of Emperor, and sending his laurel
crown to the Capitol, Nero shut the temple of the two-faced Janus, as
though there now existed no war throughout the Roman empire.

XIV. He filled the consulship four times [575]: the first for two
months, the second and last for six, and the third for four; the two
intermediate ones he held successively, but the others after an interval
of some years between them.

XV. In the administration of justice, he scarcely ever gave his decision
on the pleadings before the next day, and then in writing. His manner of
hearing causes was not to allow any adjournment, but to dispatch them in
order as they stood. When he withdrew to consult his assessors, he did
not debate the matter openly with them; but silently and privately
reading over their opinions, which they gave separately in writing, (347)
he pronounced sentence from the tribunal according to his own view of the
case, as if it was the opinion of the majority. For a long time he would
not admit the sons of freedmen into the senate; and those who had been
admitted by former princes, he excluded from all public offices. To
supernumerary candidates he gave command in the legions, to comfort them
under the delay of their hopes. The consulship he commonly conferred for
six months; and one of the two consuls dying a little before the first of
January, he substituted no one in his place; disliking what had been
formerly done for Caninius Rebilus on such an occasion, who was consul
for one day only. He allowed the triumphal honours only to those who
were of quaestorian rank, and to some of the equestrian order; and
bestowed them without regard to military service. And instead of the
quaestors, whose office it properly was, he frequently ordered that the
addresses, which he sent to the senate on certain occasions, should be
read by the consuls.

XVI. He devised a new style of building in the city, ordering piazzas to
be erected before all houses, both in the streets and detached, to give
facilities from their terraces, in case of fire, for preventing it from
spreading; and these he built at his own expense. He likewise designed
to extend the city walls as far as Ostia, and bring the sea from thence
by a canal into the old city. Many severe regulations and new orders
were made in his time. A sumptuary law was enacted. Public suppers were
limited to the Sportulae [576]; and victualling-houses restrained from
selling any dressed victuals, except pulse and herbs, whereas before they
sold all kinds of meat. He likewise inflicted punishments on the
Christians, a sort of people who held a new and impious [577] superstition.

(348) He forbad the revels of the charioteers, who had long assumed a
licence to stroll about, and established for themselves a kind of
prescriptive right to cheat and thieve, making a jest of it. The
partisans of the rival theatrical performers were banished, as well as
the actors themselves.

XVII. To prevent forgery, a method was then first invented, of having
writings bored, run through three times with a thread, and then sealed.
It was likewise provided that in wills, the two first pages, with only
the testator's name upon them, should be presented blank to those who
were to sign them as witnesses; and that no one who wrote a will for
another, should insert any legacy for himself. It was likewise ordained
that clients should pay their advocates a certain reasonable fee, but
nothing for the court, which was to be gratuitous, the charges for it
being paid out of the public treasury; that causes, the cognizance of
which before belonged to the judges of the exchequer, should be
transferred to the forum, and the ordinary tribunals; and that all
appeals from the judges should be made to the senate.

XVIII. He never entertained the least ambition or hope of augmenting and
extending the frontiers of the empire. On the contrary, he had thoughts
of withdrawing the troops from Britain, and was only restrained from so
doing by the fear of appearing to detract from the glory of his father
[578]. All (349) that he did was to reduce the kingdom of Pontus, which
was ceded to him by Polemon, and also the Alps [579], upon the death of
Cottius, into the form of a province.

XIX. Twice only he undertook any foreign expeditions, one to Alexandria,
and the other to Achaia; but he abandoned the prosecution of the former
on the very day fixed for his departure, by being deterred both by ill
omens, and the hazard of the voyage. For while he was making the circuit
of the temples, having seated himself in that of Vesta, when he attempted
to rise, the skirt of his robe stuck fast; and he was instantly seized
with such a dimness in his eyes, that he could not see a yard before him.
In Achaia, he attempted to make a cut through the Isthmus [580]; and,
having made a speech encouraging his pretorians to set about the work, on
a signal given by sound of trumpet, he first broke ground with a spade,
and carried off a basket full of earth upon his shoulders. He made
preparations for an expedition to the Pass of the Caspian mountains
[581]; forming a new legion out of his late levies in Italy, of men all
six feet high, which he called the phalanx of Alexander the Great. These
transactions, in part unexceptionable, and in part highly commendable, I
have brought into one view, in order to separate them from the scandalous
and criminal part of his conduct, of which I shall now give an account.

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