The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XIV. He returned to Rome after an absence of nearly eight years [315],
with great and confident hopes of his future elevation, which he had
entertained from his youth, in consequence of various prodigies and
predictions. For Livia, when pregnant with him, being anxious to
discover, by different modes of divination, whether her offspring would
be a son, amongst others, took an egg from a hen that was sitting, and
kept it warm with her own hands, and those of her maids, by turns, until
a fine cock-chicken, with a large comb, was hatched. Scribonius, the
astrologer, predicted great things of him when he was a mere child. “He
will come in time,” said the prophet, “to be even a king, but without the
usual badge of royal dignity;” the rule of the Caesars being as yet
unknown. When he was (203) making his first expedition, and leading his
army through Macedonia into Syria, the altars which had been formerly
consecrated at Philippi by the victorious legions, blazed suddenly with
spontaneous fires. Soon after, as he was marching to Illyricum, he
stopped to consult the oracle of Geryon, near Padua; and having drawn a
lot by which he was desired to throw golden tali into the fountain of
Aponus [316], for an answer to his inquiries, he did so, and the highest
numbers came up. And those very tali are still to be seen at the bottom
of the fountain. A few days before his leaving Rhodes, an eagle, a bird
never before seen in that island, perched on the top of his house. And
the day before he received intelligence of the permission granted him to
return, as he was changing his dress, his tunic appeared to be all on
fire. He then likewise had a remarkable proof of the skill of
Thrasyllus, the astrologer, whom, for his proficiency in philosophical
researches, he had taken into his family. For, upon sight of the ship
which brought the intelligence, he said, good news was coming whereas
every thing going wrong before, and quite contrary to his predictions,
Tiberius had intended that very moment, when they were walking together,
to throw him into the sea, as an impostor, and one to whom he had too
hastily entrusted his secrets.

XV. Upon his return to Rome, having introduced his son Drusus into the
forum, he immediately removed from Pompey’s house, in the Carinae, to the
gardens of Mecaenas, on the Esquiline [317], and resigned himself
entirely to his ease, performing only the common offices of civility in
private life, without any preferment in the government. But Caius and
Lucius being both carried off in the space of three years, he was adopted
by Augustus, along with their brother Agrippa; being obliged in the first
place to adopt Germanicus, his brother’s son. After his adoption, he
never more acted as master of a (204) family, nor exercised, in the
smallest degree, the rights which he had lost by it. For he neither
disposed of anything in the way of gift, nor manumitted a slave; nor so
much as received any estate left him by will, nor any legacy, without
reckoning it as a part of his peculium or property held under his father.
From that day forward, nothing was omitted that might contribute to the
advancement of his grandeur, and much more, when, upon Agrippa being
discarded and banished, it was evident that the hope of succession rested
upon him alone.

XVI. The tribunitian authority was again conferred upon him for five
years [318], and a commission given him to settle the affairs of Germany.
The ambassadors of the Parthians, after having had an audience of
Augustus, were ordered to apply to him likewise in his province. But on
receiving intelligence of an insurrection in Illyricum [319], he went
over to superintend the management of that new war, which proved the most
serious of all the foreign wars since the Carthaginian. This he
conducted during three years, with fifteen legions and an equal number of
auxiliary forces, under great difficulties, and an extreme scarcity of
corn. And though he was several times recalled, he nevertheless
persisted; fearing lest an enemy so powerful, and so near, should fall
upon the army in their retreat. This resolution was attended with good
success; for he at last reduced to complete subjection all Illyricum,
lying between Italy and the kingdom of Noricum, Thrace, Macedonia, the
river Danube, and the Adriatic gulf.

XVII. The glory he acquired by these successes received an increase from
the conjuncture in which they happened. For almost about that very time
[320] Quintilius Varus was cut off with three legions in Germany; and it
was generally believed that the victorious Germans would have joined the
Pannonians, had not the war of Illyricum been previously concluded. A
triumph, therefore, besides many other great honours, was decreed him.
Some proposed that the surname of “Pannonicus,” others that of
“Invincible,” and others, of “O Pius,” should be conferred on him; but
Augustus interposed, engaging for him that he would be satisfied with
that to which he would succeed at his death. He postponed his triumph,
because (205) the state was at that time under great affliction for the
disaster of Varus and his army. Nevertheless, he entered the city in a
triumphal robe, crowned with laurel, and mounting a tribunal in the
Septa, sat with Augustus between the two consuls, whilst the senate gave
their attendance standing; whence, after he had saluted the people, he
was attended by them in procession to the several temples.

XVIII. Next year he went again to Germany, where finding that the defeat
of Varus was occasioned by the rashness and negligence of the commander,
he thought proper to be guided in everything by the advice of a council
of war; whereas, at other times, he used to follow the dictates of his
own judgment, and considered himself alone as sufficiently qualified for
the direction of affairs. He likewise used more cautions than usual.
Having to pass the Rhine, he restricted the whole convoy within certain
limits, and stationing himself on the bank of the river, would not suffer
the waggons to cross the river, until he had searched them at the water-
side, to see that they carried nothing but what was allowed or necessary.
Beyond the Rhine, such was his way of living, that he took his meals
sitting on the bare ground [321], and often passed the night without a
tent; and his regular orders for the day, as well as those upon sudden
emergencies, he gave in writing, with this injunction, that in case of
any doubt as to the meaning of them, they should apply to him for
satisfaction, even at any hour of the night.

XIX. He maintained the strictest discipline amongst the troops; reviving
many old customs relative to punishing and degrading offenders; setting a
mark of disgrace even upon the commander of a legion, for sending a few
soldiers with one of his freedmen across the river for the purpose of
hunting. Though it was his desire to leave as little as possible in the
power of fortune or accident, yet he always engaged the enemy with more
confidence when, in his night-watches, the lamp failed and went out of
itself; trusting, as he said, in an omen which had never failed him and
his ancestors (206) in all their commands. But, in the midst of victory,
he was very near being assassinated by some Bructerian, who mixing with
those about him, and being discovered by his trepidation, was put to the
torture, and confessed his intended crime.

XX. After two years, he returned from Germany to the city, and
celebrated the triumph which he had deferred, attended by his
lieutenants, for whom he had procured the honour of triumphal ornaments
[322]. Before he turned to ascend the Capitol, he alighted from his
chariot, and knelt before his father, who sat by, to superintend the
solemnity. Bato, the Pannonian chief, he sent to Ravenna, loaded with
rich presents, in gratitude for his having suffered him and his army to
retire from a position in which he had so enclosed them, that they were
entirely at his mercy. He afterwards gave the people a dinner at a
thousand tables, besides thirty sesterces to each man. He likewise
dedicated the temple of Concord [323], and that of Castor and Pollux,
which had been erected out of the spoils of the war, in his own and his
brother’s name.

XXI. A law having been not long after carried by the consuls [324] for
his being appointed a colleague with Augustus in the administration of
the provinces, and in taking the census, when that was finished he went
into Illyricum [325]. But being hastily recalled during his journey, he
found Augustus alive indeed, but past all hopes of recovery, and was with
him in private a whole day. I know, it is generally believed, that upon
Tiberius’s quitting the room, after their private conference, those who
were in waiting overheard Augustus say, “Ah! unhappy Roman people, to be
ground by the jaws of such a slow devourer!” Nor am I ignorant of its
being reported by some, that Augustus so openly and undisguisedly
condemned the sourness of his temper, that sometimes, upon his coming in,
he would break off any jocular conversation in which he was engaged; and
that he was only prevailed upon by the (207) importunity of his wife to
adopt him; or actuated by the ambitious view of recommending his own
memory from a comparison with such a successor. Yet I must hold to this
opinion, that a prince so extremely circumspect and prudent as he was,
did nothing rashly, especially in an affair of so great importance; but
that, upon weighing the vices and virtues of Tiberius with each other, he
judged the latter to preponderate; and this the rather since he swore
publicly, in an assembly of the people, that “he adopted him for the
public good.” Besides, in several of his letters, he extols him as a
consummate general, and the only security of the Roman people. Of such
declarations I subjoin the following instances: “Farewell, my dear
Tiberius, and may success attend you, whilst you are warring for me and
the Muses [326]. Farewell, my most dear, and (as I hope to prosper) most
gallant man, and accomplished general.” Again. “The disposition of your
summer quarters? In truth, my dear Tiberius, I do not think, that amidst
so many difficulties, and with an army so little disposed for action, any
one could have behaved more prudently than you have done. All those
likewise who were with you, acknowledge that this verse is applicable to

Unus homo nobis _vigilando_ restituit rem. [327] One man by vigilance restored the state.

“Whenever,” he says, “anything happens that requires more than ordinary
consideration, or I am out of humour upon any occasion, I still, by
Hercules! long for my dear Tiberius; and those lines of Homer frequently
occur to my thoughts:”

Toutou d’ espomenoio kai ek pyros aithomenoio
Ampho nostaesuimen, epei peri oide noaesai. [328]

Bold from his prudence, I could ev’n aspire
To dare with him the burning rage of fire.

“When I hear and read that you are much impaired by the (208) continued
fatigues you undergo, may the gods confound me if my whole frame does not
tremble! So I beg you to spare yourself, lest, if we should hear of your
being ill, the news prove fatal both to me and your mother, and the Roman
people should be in peril for the safety of the empire. It matters
nothing whether I be well or no, if you be not well. I pray heaven
preserve you for us, and bless you with health both now and ever, if the
gods have any regard for the Roman people.”

XXII. He did not make the death of Augustus public, until he had taken
off young Agrippa. He was slain by a tribune who commanded his guard,
upon reading a written order for that purpose: respecting which order, it
was then a doubt, whether Augustus left it in his last moments, to
prevent any occasion of public disturbance after his decease, or Livia
issued it, in the name of Augustus; and whether with the knowledge of
Tiberius or not. When the tribune came to inform him that he had
executed his command, he replied, “I commanded you no such thing, and you
must answer for it to the senate;” avoiding, as it seems, the odium of
the act for that time. And the affair was soon buried in silence.

XXIII. Having summoned the senate to meet by virtue of his tribunitian
authority, and begun a mournful speech, he drew a deep sigh, as if unable
to support himself under his affliction; and wishing that not his voice
only, but his very breath of life, might fail him, gave his speech to his
son Drusus to read. Augustus’s will was then brought in, and read by a
freedman; none of the witnesses to it being admitted, but such as were of
the senatorian order, the rest owning their hand-writing without doors.
The will began thus: “Since my ill-fortune has deprived me of my two
sons, Caius and Lucius, let Tiberius Caesar be heir to two-thirds of my
estate.” These words countenanced the suspicion of those who were of
opinion, that Tiberius was appointed successor more out of necessity than
choice, since Augustus could not refrain from prefacing his will in that

XXIV. Though he made no scruple to assume and exercise immediately the
imperial authority, by giving orders that he (209) should be attended by
the guards, who were the security and badge of the supreme power; yet he
affected, by a most impudent piece of acting, to refuse it for a long
time; one while sharply reprehending his friends who entreated him to
accept it, as little knowing what a monster the government was; another
while keeping in suspense the senate, when they implored him and threw
themselves at his feet, by ambiguous answers, and a crafty kind of
dissimulation; insomuch that some were out of patience, and one cried
out, during the confusion, “Either let him accept it, or decline it at
once;” and a second told him to his face, “Others are slow to perform
what they promise, but you are slow to promise what you actually
perform.” At last, as if forced to it, and complaining of the miserable
and burdensome service imposed upon him, he accepted the government; not,
however, without giving hopes of his resigning it some time or other.
The exact words he used were these: “Until the time shall come, when ye
may think it reasonable to give some rest to my old age.”

XXV. The cause of his long demur was fear of the dangers which
threatened him on all hands; insomuch that he said, “I have got a wolf
by the ears.” For a slave of Agrippa’s, Clemens by name, had drawn
together a considerable force to revenge his master’s death; Lucius
Scribonius Libo, a senator of the first distinction, was secretly
fomenting a rebellion; and the troops both in Illyricum and Germany were
mutinous. Both armies insisted upon high demands, particularly that
their pay should be made equal to that of the pretorian guards. The army
in Germany absolutely refused to acknowledge a prince who was not their
own choice; and urged, with all possible importunity, Germanicus [329],
who commanded them, to take the government on himself, though he
obstinately refused it. It was Tiberius’s apprehension from this
quarter, which made him request the senate to assign him some part only
in the administration, such as they should judge proper, since no man
could be sufficient for the whole, without one or more to assist him. He
pretended likewise to be in a bad state of health, that Germanicus might
the more patiently wait in hopes of speedily succeeding him, or at least
of being (210) admitted to be a colleague in the government. When the
mutinies in the armies were suppressed, he got Clemens into his hands by
stratagem. That he might not begin his reign by an act of severity, he
did not call Libo to an account before the senate until his second year,
being content, in the mean time, with taking proper precautions for his
own security. For upon Libo’s attending a sacrifice amongst the high-
priests, instead of the usual knife, he ordered one of lead to be given
him; and when he desired a private conference with him, he would not
grant his request, but on condition that his son Drusus should be
present; and as they walked together, he held him fast by the right hand,
under the pretence of leaning upon him, until the conversation was over.

«- 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.