The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

LIV. He had by Germanicus three grandsons, Nero, Drusus, and Caius; and
by his son Drusus one, named Tiberius. Of these, after the loss of his
sons, he commended Nero and Drusus, the two eldest sons of Germanicus, to
the senate; and at their being solemnly introduced into the forum,
distributed money among the people. But when he found that on entering
upon the new year they were included in the public vows for his own
welfare, he told the senate, “that such honours ought not to be conferred
but upon those who had been proved, and were of more advanced years.” By
thus betraying his private feelings towards them, he exposed them to all
sorts of accusations; and after practising many artifices to provoke
(226) them to rail at and abuse him, that he might be furnished with a
pretence to destroy them, he charged them with it in a letter to the
senate; at the same time accusing them, in the bitterest terms, of the
most scandalous vices. Upon their being declared enemies by the senate,
he starved them to death; Nero in the island of Ponza, and Drusus in the
vaults of the Palatium. It is thought by some, that Nero was driven to a
voluntary death by the executioner’s shewing him some halters and hooks,
as if he had been sent to him by order of the senate. Drusus, it is
said, was so rabid with hunger, that he attempted to eat the chaff with
which his mattress was stuffed. The relics of both were so scattered,
that it was with difficulty they were collected.

LV. Besides his old friends and intimate acquaintance, he required the
assistance of twenty of the most eminent persons in the city, as
counsellors in the administration of public affairs. Out of all this
number, scarcely two or three escaped the fury of his savage disposition.
All the rest he destroyed upon one pretence or another; and among them
Aelius Sejanus, whose fall was attended with the ruin of many others. He
had advanced this minister to the highest pitch of grandeur, not so much
from any real regard for him, as that by his base and sinister
contrivances he might ruin the children of Germanicus, and thereby secure
the succession to his own grandson by Drusus.

LVI. He treated with no greater leniency the Greeks in his family, even
those with whom he was most pleased. Having asked one Zeno, upon his
using some far-fetched phrases, “What uncouth dialect is that?” he
replied, “The Doric.” For this answer he banished him to Cinara [354],
suspecting that he taunted him with his former residence at Rhodes, where
the Doric dialect is spoken. It being his custom to start questions at
supper, arising out of what he had been reading in the day, and finding
that Seleucus, the grammarian, used to inquire of his attendants what
authors he was then studying, and so came prepared for his enquiries–he
first turned him out of his family, and then drove him to the extremity
of laying violent hands upon himself.

(227) LVII. His cruel and sullen temper appeared when he was still a
boy; which Theodorus of Gadara [355], his master in rhetoric, first
discovered, and expressed by a very apposite simile, calling him
sometimes, when he chid him, “Mud mixed with blood.” But his disposition
shewed itself still more clearly on his attaining the imperial power, and
even in the beginning of his administration, when he was endeavouring to
gain the popular favour, by affecting moderation. Upon a funeral passing
by, a wag called out to the dead man, “Tell Augustus, that the legacies
he bequeathed to the people are not yet paid.” The man being brought
before him, he ordered that he should receive what was due to him, and
then be led to execution, that he might deliver the message to his father
himself. Not long afterwards, when one Pompey, a Roman knight, persisted
in his opposition to something he proposed in the senate, he threatened
to put him in prison, and told him, “Of a Pompey I shall make a Pompeian
of you;” by a bitter kind of pun playing upon the man’s name, and the
ill-fortune of his party.

LVIII. About the same time, when the praetor consulted him, whether it
was his pleasure that the tribunals should take cognizance of accusations
of treason, he replied, “The laws ought to be put in execution;” and he
did put them in execution most severely. Some person had taken off the
head of Augustus from one of his statues, and replaced it by another
[356]. The matter was brought before the senate, and because the case
was not clear, the witnesses were put to the torture. The party accused
being found guilty, and condemned, this kind of proceeding was carried so
far, that it became capital for a man to beat his slave, or change his
clothes, near the statue of Augustus; to carry his head stamped upon the
coin, or cut in the stone of a ring, into a necessary house, or the
stews; or to reflect upon anything that had been either said or done by
him. In fine, a person was condemned to death, for suffering some
honours to be decreed to him in the colony where he lived, upon the same
day on which they had formerly been decreed to Augustus.

(228) LIX. He was besides guilty of many barbarous actions, under the
pretence of strictness and reformation of manners, but more to gratify
his own savage disposition. Some verses were published, which displayed
the present calamities of his reign, and anticipated the future. [357]

Asper et immitis, breviter vis omnia dicam?
Dispeream si te mater amare potest.
Non es eques, quare? non sunt tibi millia centum?
Omnia si quaeras, et Rhodos exsilium est.
Aurea mutasti Saturni saecula, Caesar:
Incolumi nam te, ferrea semper erunt.
Fastidit vinum, quia jam sit it iste cruorem:
Tam bibit hunc avide, quam bibit ante merum.
Adspice felicem sibi, non tibi, Romule, Sullam:
Et Marium, si vis, adspice, sed reducem.
Nec non Antoni civilia bella moventis
Nec semel infectas adspice caeda manus.
Et dic, Roma perit: regnabit sanguine multo,
Ad regnum quisquis venit ab exsilio.

Obdurate wretch! too fierce, too fell to move
The least kind yearnings of a mother’s love!
No knight thou art, as having no estate;
Long suffered’st thou in Rhodes an exile’s fate,
No more the happy Golden Age we see;
The Iron’s come, and sure to last with thee.
Instead of wine he thirsted for before,
He wallows now in floods of human gore.
Reflect, ye Romans, on the dreadful times,
Made such by Marius, and by Sylla’s crimes.
Reflect how Antony’s ambitious rage
Twice scar’d with horror a distracted age,
And say, Alas! Rome’s blood in streams will flow,
When banish’d miscreants rule this world below.

At first he would have it understood, that these satirical verses were
drawn forth by the resentment of those who were impatient under the
discipline of reformation, rather than that they spoke their real
sentiments; and he would frequently say, “Let them hate me, so long as
they do but approve my conduct.” [358] At length, however, his behaviour
showed that he was sensible they were too well founded.

(229) LX. A few days after his arrival at Capri, a fisherman coming up
to him unexpectedly, when he was desirous of privacy, and presenting him
with a large mullet, he ordered the man’s face to be scrubbed with the
fish; being terrified at the thought of his having been able to creep
upon him from the back of the island, over such rugged and steep rocks.
The man, while undergoing the punishment, expressing his joy that he had
not likewise offered him a large crab which he had also taken, he ordered
his face to be farther lacerated with its claws. He put to death one of
the pretorian guards, for having stolen a peacock out of his orchard. In
one of his journeys, his litter being obstructed by some bushes, he
ordered the officer whose duty it was to ride on and examine the road, a
centurion of the first cohorts, to be laid on his face upon the ground,
and scourged almost to death.

LXI. Soon afterwards, he abandoned himself to every species of cruelty,
never wanting occasions of one kind or another, to serve as a pretext.
He first fell upon the friends and acquaintance of his mother, then those
of his grandsons, and his daughter-in-law, and lastly those of Sejanus;
after whose death he became cruel in the extreme. From this it appeared,
that he had not been so much instigated by Sejanus, as supplied with
occasions of gratifying his savage temper, when he wanted them. Though
in a short memoir which he composed of his own life, he had the
effrontery to write, “I have punished Sejanus, because I found him bent
upon the destruction of the children of my son Germanicus,” one of these
he put to death, when he began to suspect Sejanus; and another, after he
was taken off. It would be tedious to relate all the numerous instances
of his cruelty: suffice it to give a few examples, in their different
kinds. Not a day passed without the punishment of some person or other,
not excepting holidays, or those appropriated to the worship of the gods.
Some were tried even on New-Year’s-Day. Of many who were condemned,
their wives and children shared the same fate; and for those who were
sentenced to death, the relations were forbid to put on mourning.
Considerable rewards were voted for the prosecutors, and sometimes for
the witnesses also. The information of any person, without exception,
was taken; and all offences were capital, even speaking (230) a few
words, though without any ill intention. A poet was charged with abusing
Agamemnon; and a historian [359], for calling Brutus and Cassius “the
last of the Romans.” The two authors were immediately called to account,
and their writings suppressed; though they had been well received some
years before, and read in the hearing of Augustus. Some, who were thrown
into prison, were not only denied the solace of study, but debarred from
all company and conversation. Many persons, when summoned to trial,
stabbed themselves at home, to avoid the distress and ignominy of a
public condemnation, which they were certain would ensue. Others took
poison in the senate house. The wounds were bound up, and all who had
not expired, were carried, half-dead, and panting for life, to prison.
Those who were put to death, were thrown down the Gemonian stairs, and
then dragged into the Tiber. In one day, twenty were treated in this
manner; and amongst them women and boys. Because, according to an
ancient custom, it was not lawful to strangle virgins, the young girls
were first deflowered by the executioner, and afterwards strangled.
Those who were desirous to die, were forced to live. For he thought
death so slight a punishment, that upon hearing that Carnulius, one of
the accused, who was under prosecution, had killed himself, he exclaimed,
“Carnulius has escaped me.” In calling over his prisoners, when one of
them requested the favour of a speedy death, he replied, “You are not yet
restored to favour.” A man of consular rank writes in his annals, that
at table, where he himself was present with a large company, he was
suddenly asked aloud by a dwarf who stood by amongst the buffoons, why
Paconius, who was under a prosecution for treason, lived so long.
Tiberius immediately reprimanded him for his pertness; but wrote to the
senate a few days after, to proceed without delay to the punishment of

LXII. Exasperated by information he received respecting the death of his
son Drusus, he carried his cruelty still farther. He imagined that he
had died of a disease occasioned (231) by his intemperance; but finding
that he had been poisoned by the contrivance of his wife Livilla [360] and Sejanus, he spared no one from torture and death. He was so entirely
occupied with the examination of this affair, for whole days together,
that, upon being informed that the person in whose house he had lodged at
Rhodes, and whom he had by a friendly letter invited to Rome, was
arrived, he ordered him immediately to be put to the torture, as a party
concerned in the enquiry. Upon finding his mistake, he commanded him to
be put to death, that he might not publish the injury done him. The
place of execution is still shown at Capri, where he ordered those who
were condemned to die, after long and exquisite tortures, to be thrown,
before his eyes, from a precipice into the sea. There a party of
soldiers belonging to the fleet waited for them, and broke their bones
with poles and oars, lest they should have any life left in them. Among
various kinds of torture invented by him, one was, to induce people to
drink a large quantity of wine, and then to tie up their members with
harp-strings, thus tormenting them at once by the tightness of the
ligature, and the stoppage of their urine. Had not death prevented him,
and Thrasyllus, designedly, as some say, prevailed with him to defer some
of his cruelties, in hopes of longer life, it is believed that he would
have destroyed many more: and not have spared even the rest of his
grandchildren: for he was jealous of Caius, and hated Tiberius as having
been conceived in adultery. This conjecture is indeed highly probable;
for he used often to say, “Happy Priam, who survived all his children!”

LXIII. Amidst these enormities, in how much fear and apprehension, as
well as odium and detestation, he lived, is evident from many
indications. He forbade the soothsayers to be consulted in private, and
without some witnesses being present. He attempted to suppress the
oracles in the neighbourhood of the city; but being terrified by the
divine authority of the (232) Praenestine Lots [362], he abandoned the
design. For though they were sealed up in a box, and carried to home,
yet they were not to be found in it, until it was returned to the temple.
More than one person of consular rank, appointed governors of provinces,
he never ventured to dismiss to their respective destinations, but kept
them until several years after, when he nominated their successors, while
they still remained present with him. In the meantime, they bore the
title of their office; and he frequently gave them orders, which they
took care to have executed by their deputies and assistants.

LXIV. He never removed his daughter-in-law, or grandsons [363], after
their condemnation, to any place, but in fetters and in a covered litter,
with a guard to hinder all who met them on the road, and travellers, from
stopping to gaze at them.

LXV. After Sejanus had plotted against him, though he saw that his
birth-day was solemnly kept by the public, and divine honours paid to
golden images of him in every quarter, yet it was with difficulty at
last, and more by artifice than his imperial power, that he accomplished
his death. In the first place, to remove him from about his person,
under the pretext of doing him honour, he made him his colleague in his
fifth consulship; which, although then absent from the city, he took upon
him for that purpose, long after his preceding consulship. Then, having
flattered him with the hope of an alliance by marriage with one of his
own kindred, and the prospect of the tribunitian authority, he suddenly,
while Sejanus little expected it, charged him with treason, in an abject
and pitiful address to the senate; in which, among other things, he
begged them “to send one of the consuls, to conduct himself, a poor
solitary old man, with a guard of soldiers, into their presence.” Still
distrustful, however, and apprehensive of an insurrection, he ordered his
grandson, Drusus, whom he still kept in confinement at Rome, to be set at
liberty, and if occasion required, to head the troops. He had likewise
ships in readiness to transport him to any of the legions to which he
might consider it expedient to make his escape. Meanwhile, he was upon
the (233) watch, from the summit of a lofty cliff, for the signals which
he had ordered to be made if any thing occurred, lest the messengers
should be tardy. Even when he had quite foiled the conspiracy of
Sejanus, he was still haunted as much as ever with fears and
apprehensions, insomuch that he never once stirred out of the Villa Jovis
for nine months after.

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