The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

By another fire which afterwards broke out, a part of the Circus was
destroyed, with the numerous buildings on Mount Aventine. The only act
of munificence displayed by Tiberius during his reign, was upon the
occasion of those fires, when, to qualify the severity of his government,
he indemnified the most considerable sufferers for the loss they had

Through the whole of his life, Tiberius seems to have conducted himself
with a uniform repugnance to nature. Affable on a few occasions, but in
general averse to society, he indulged, from his earliest years, a
moroseness of disposition, which counterfeited the appearance of austere
virtue; and in the decline of life, when it is common to reform from
juvenile indiscretions, he launched forth into excesses, of a kind the
most unnatural and most detestable. Considering the vicious passions
which had ever brooded in his heart, it may seem surprising that he
restrained himself within the bounds of decency during so many years
after his accession; but though utterly destitute of reverence or
affection for his mother, he still felt, during her life, a filial awe
upon his mind: and after her death, he was actuated by a slavish fear of
Sejanus, until at last political necessity absolved him likewise from
this restraint. These checks being both removed, (247) he rioted without
any control, either from sentiment or authority.

Pliny relates, that the art of making glass malleable was actually
discovered under the reign of Tiberius, and that the shop and tools of
the artist were destroyed, lest, by the establishment of this invention,
gold and silver should lose their value. Dion adds, that the author of
the discovery was put to death.

The gloom which darkened the Roman capital during this melancholy period,
shed a baleful influence on the progress of science throughout the
empire, and literature languished during the present reign, in the same
proportion as it had flourished in the preceding. It is doubtful whether
such a change might not have happened in some degree, even had the
government of Tiberius been equally mild with that of his predecessor.
The prodigious fame of the writers of the Augustan age, by repressing
emulation, tended to a general diminution of the efforts of genius for
some time; while the banishment of Ovid, it is probable, and the capital
punishment of a subsequent poet, for censuring the character of
Agamemnon, operated towards the farther discouragement of poetical
exertions. There now existed no circumstance to counterbalance these
disadvantages. Genius no longer found a patron either in the emperor or
his minister; and the gates of the palace were shut against all who
cultivated the elegant pursuits of the Muses. Panders, catamites,
assassins, wretches stained with every crime, were the constant
attendants, as the only fit companions, of the tyrant who now occupied
the throne. We are informed, however, that even this emperor had a taste
for the liberal arts, and that he composed a lyric poem upon the death of
Lucius Caesar, with some Greek poems in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus,
and Parthenius. But none of these has been transmitted to posterity: and
if we should form an opinion of them upon the principle of Catullus, that
to be a good poet one ought to be a good man, there is little reason to
regret that they have perished.

We meet with no poetical production in this reign; and of prose writers
the number is inconsiderable, as will appear from the following account
of them.—-

VELLEIUS PATERCULUS was born of an equestrian family in Campania, and
served as a military tribune under Tiberius, in his expeditions in Gaul
and Germany. He composed an Epitome of the History of Greece and Rome,
with that of other nations of remote antiquity: but of this work there
only remain fragments of the history of Greece and Rome, from the
conquest of Perseus to the seventeenth year of the reign of Tiberius. It
is written in two books, addressed to Marcus Vinicius, who had (248) the
office of consul. Rapid in the narrative, and concise as well as elegant
in style, this production exhibits a pleasing epitome of ancient
transactions, enlivened occasionally with anecdotes, and an expressive
description of characters. In treating of the family of Augustus,
Paterculus is justly liable to the imputation of partiality, which he
incurs still more in the latter period of his history, by the praise
which is lavished on Tiberius and his minister Sejanus. He intimates a
design of giving a more full account of the civil war which followed the
death of Julius Caesar; but this, if he ever accomplished it, has not
been transmitted to posterity. Candid, but decided in his judgment of
motives and actions, if we except his invectives against Pompey, he shows
little propensity to censure; but in awarding praise, he is not equally
parsimonious, and, on some occasions, risks the imputation of hyperbole.
The grace, however, and the apparent sincerity with which it is bestowed,
reconcile us to the compliment. This author concludes his history with a
prayer for the prosperity of the Roman empire.—-

VALERIUS MAXIMUS was descended of a Patrician family; but we learn
nothing more concerning him, than that for some time he followed a
military life under Sextus Pompey. He afterwards betook himself to
writing, and has left an account, in nine books, of the memorable
apophthegms and actions of eminent persons; first of the Romans, and
afterwards of foreign nations. The subjects are of various kinds,
political, moral, and natural, ranged into distinct classes. His
transitions from one subject to another are often performed with
gracefulness; and where he offers any remarks, they generally show the
author to be a man of judgment and observation. Valerius Maximus is
chargeable with no affectation of style, but is sometimes deficient in
that purity of language which might be expected in the age of Tiberius,
to whom the work is addressed. What inducement the author had to this
dedication, we know not; but as it is evident from a passage in the ninth
book, that the compliment was paid after the death of Sejanus, and
consequently in the most shameful period of Tiberius’s reign, we cannot
entertain any high opinion of the independent spirit of Valerius Maximus,
who could submit to flatter a tyrant, in the zenith of infamy and
detestation. But we cannot ascribe the cause to any delicate artifice,
of conveying to Tiberius, indirectly, an admonition to reform his
conduct. Such an expedient would have only provoked the severest
resentment from his jealousy.—-

PHAEDRUS was a native of Thrace, and was brought to Rome as a slave. He
had the good fortune to come into the service of Augustus, where,
improving his talents by reading, he obtained (249) the favour of the
emperor, and was made one of his freedmen. In the reign of Tiberius, he
translated into Iambic verse the Fables of Aesop. They are divided into
five books, and are not less conspicuous for precision and simplicity of
thought, than for purity and elegance of style; conveying moral
sentiments with unaffected ease and impressive energy. Phaedrus
underwent, for some time, a persecution from Sejanus, who, conscious of
his own delinquency, suspected that he was obliquely satirised in the
commendations bestowed on virtue by the poet. The work of Phaedrus is
one of the latest which have been brought to light since the revival of
learning. It remained in obscurity until two hundred years ago, when it
was discovered in a library at Rheims.—-

HYGINUS is said to have been a native of Alexandria, or, according to
others, a Spaniard. He was, like Phaedrus, a freedman of Augustus; but,
though industrious, he seems not to have improved himself so much as his
companion, in the art of composition. He wrote, however, a mythological
history, under the title of Fables, a work called Poeticon Astronomicon,
with a treatise on agriculture, commentaries on Virgil, the lives of
eminent men, and some other productions now lost. His remaining works
are much mutilated, and, if genuine, afford an unfavourable specimen of
his elegance and correctness as a writer.

CELSUS was a physician in the time of Tiberius, and has written eight
books, De Medicina, in which he has collected and digested into order all
that is valuable on the subject, in the Greek and Roman authors. The
professors of Medicine were at that time divided into three sects, viz.,
the Dogmatists, Empirics, and Methodists; the first of whom deviated less
than the others from the plan of Hippocrates; but they were in general
irreconcilable to each other, in respect both of their opinions and
practice. Celsus, with great judgment, has occasionally adopted
particular doctrines from each of them; and whatever he admits into his
system, he not only establishes by the most rational observations, but
confirms by its practical utility. In justness of remark, in force of
argument, in precision and perspicuity, as well as in elegance of
expression, he deservedly occupies the most distinguished rank amongst
the medical writers of antiquity. It appears that Celsus likewise wrote
on agriculture, rhetoric, and military affairs; but of those several
treatises no fragments now remain.

To the writers of this reign we must add APICIUS COELIUS, who has left a
book De Re Coquinaria [of Cookery]. There were three Romans of the name
of Apicius, all remarkable for their (250) gluttony. The first lived in
the time of the Republic, the last in that of Trajan, and the
intermediate Apicius under the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. This man,
as Seneca informs us, wasted on luxurious living, sexcenties sestertium,
a sum equal to 484,375 pounds sterling. Upon examining the state of his
affairs, he found that there remained no more of his estate than centies
sestertium, 80,729l. 3s. 4d., which seeming to him too small to live
upon, he ended his days by poison.

I. Germanicus, the father of Caius Caesar, and son of Drusus and the
younger Antonia, was, after his adoption by Tiberius, his uncle,
preferred to the quaestorship [377] five years before he had attained the
legal age, and immediately upon the expiration of that office, to the
consulship [378]. Having been sent to the army in Germany, he restored
order among the legions, who, upon the news of Augustus’s death,
obstinately refused to acknowledge Tiberius as emperor [379], and offered
to place him at the head of the state. In which affair it is difficult
to say, whether his regard to filial duty, or the firmness of his
resolution, was most conspicuous. Soon afterwards he defeated the enemy,
and obtained the honours of a triumph. Being then made consul for the
second time [380], before he could enter upon his office he was obliged
to set out suddenly for the east, where, after he had conquered the king
of Armenia, and reduced Cappadocia into the form of a province, he died
at Antioch, of a lingering distemper, in the thirty-fourth year of his
age [381], not without the suspicion of being poisoned. For besides the
livid spots which appeared all over his body, and a foaming at the mouth;
when his corpse was burnt, the heart was found entire among the bones;
its nature being such, as it is supposed, that when tainted by poison, it
is indestructible by fire. [382]

II. It was a prevailing opinion, that he was taken off by the
contrivance of Tiberius, and through the means of Cneius Piso. This
person, who was about the same time prefect of Syria, and made no secret
of his position being such, that (252) he must either offend the father
or the son, loaded Germanicus, even during his sickness, with the most
unbounded and scurrilous abuse, both by word and deed; for which, upon
his return to Rome, he narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the
people, and was condemned to death by the senate.

III. It is generally agreed, that Germanicus possessed all the noblest
endowments of body and mind in a higher degree than had ever before
fallen to the lot of any man; a handsome person, extraordinary courage,
great proficiency in eloquence and other branches of learning, both Greek
and Roman; besides a singular humanity, and a behaviour so engaging, as
to captivate the affections of all about him. The slenderness of his
legs did not correspond with the symmetry and beauty of his person in
other respects; but this defect was at length corrected by his habit of
riding after meals. In battle, he often engaged and slew an enemy in
single combat. He pleaded causes, even after he had the honour of a
triumph. Among other fruits of his studies, he left behind him some
Greek comedies. Both at home and abroad he always conducted himself in a
manner the most unassuming. On entering any free and confederate town,
he never would be attended by his lictors. Whenever he heard, in his
travels, of the tombs of illustrious men, he made offerings over them to
the infernal deities. He gave a common grave, under a mound of earth, to
the scattered relics of the legionaries slain under Varus, and was the
first to put his hand to the work of collecting and bringing them to the
place of burial. He was so extremely mild and gentle to his enemies,
whoever they were, or on what account soever they bore him enmity, that,
although Piso rescinded his decrees, and for a long time severely
harassed his dependents, he never showed the smallest resentment, until
he found himself attacked by magical charms and imprecations; and even
then the only steps he took was to renounce all friendship with him,
according to ancient custom, and to exhort his servants to avenge his
death, if any thing untoward should befall him.

IV. He reaped the fruit of his noble qualities in abundance, being so
much esteemed and beloved by his friends, that Augustus (to say nothing
of his other relations) being a long time in doubt, whether he should not
appoint him his successor, at last ordered Tiberius to adopt him. He was
so extremely popular, that many authors tell us, the crowds of those who
went to meet him upon his coming to any place, or to attend him at his
departure, were so prodigious, that he was sometimes in danger of his
life; and that upon his return from Germany, after he had quelled the
mutiny in the army there, all the cohorts of the pretorian guards marched
out to meet him, notwithstanding the order that only two should go; and
that all the people of Rome, both men and women, of every age, sex, and
rank, flocked as far as the twentieth milestone to attend his entrance.

V. At the time of his death, however, and afterwards, they displayed
still greater and stronger proofs of their extraordinary attachment to
him. The day on which he died, stones were thrown at the temples, the
altars of the gods demolished, the household gods, in some cases, thrown
into the streets, and new-born infants exposed. It is even said that
barbarous nations, both those engaged in intestine wars, and those in
hostilities against us, all agreed to a cessation of arms, as if they had
been mourning for some very near and common friend; that some petty kings
shaved their beards and their wives’ heads, in token of their extreme
sorrow; and that the king of kings [383] forbore his exercise of hunting
and feasting with his nobles, which, amongst the Parthians, is equivalent
to a cessation of all business in a time of public mourning with us.

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