The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XXVII. He evinced the savage barbarity of his temper chiefly by the
following indications. When flesh was only to be had at a high price for
feeding his wild beasts reserved for the spectacles, he ordered that
criminals should be given them (271) to be devoured; and upon inspecting
them in a row, while he stood in the middle of the portico, without
troubling himself to examine their cases he ordered them to be dragged
away, from “bald-pate to bald-pate.” [428] Of one person who had made a
vow for his recovery to combat with a gladiator, he exacted its
performance; nor would he allow him to desist until he came off
conqueror, and after many entreaties. Another, who had vowed to give his
life for the same cause, having shrunk from the sacrifice, he delivered,
adorned as a victim, with garlands and fillets, to boys, who were to
drive him through the streets, calling on him to fulfil his vow, until he
was thrown headlong from the ramparts. After disfiguring many persons of
honourable rank, by branding them in the face with hot irons, he
condemned them to the mines, to work in repairing the high-ways, or to
fight with wild beasts; or tying them by the neck and heels, in the
manner of beasts carried to slaughter, would shut them up in cages, or
saw them asunder. Nor were these severities merely inflicted for crimes
of great enormity, but for making remarks on his public games, or for not
having sworn by the Genius of the emperor. He compelled parents to be
present at the execution of their sons; and to one who excused himself on
account of indisposition, he sent his own litter. Another he invited to
his table immediately after he had witnessed the spectacle, and coolly
challenged him to jest and be merry. He ordered the overseer of the
spectacles and wild beasts to be scourged in fetters, during several days
successively, in his own presence, and did not put him to death until he
was disgusted with the stench of his putrefied brain. He burned alive,
in the centre of the arena of the amphitheatre, the writer of a farce,
for some witty verse, which had a double meaning. A Roman knight, who
had been exposed to the wild beasts, crying out that he was innocent, he
called him back, and having had his tongue cut out, remanded him to the

XXVIII. Asking a certain person, whom he recalled after a long exile,
how he used to spend his time, he replied, with flattery, “I was always
praying the gods for what has happened, that Tiberius might die, and you
be emperor.” Concluding, therefore, that those he had himself banished
also (272) prayed for his death, he sent orders round the islands [429] to have them all put to death. Being very desirous to have a senator
torn to pieces, he employed some persons to call him a public enemy, fall
upon him as he entered the senate-house, stab him with their styles, and
deliver him to the rest to tear asunder. Nor was he satisfied, until he
saw the limbs and bowels of the man, after they had been dragged through
the streets, piled up in a heap before him.

XXIX. He aggravated his barbarous actions by language equally
outrageous. “There is nothing in my nature,” said he, “that I commend or
approve so much, as my adiatrepsia (inflexible rigour).” Upon his
grandmother Antonia’s giving him some advice, as if it was a small matter
to pay no regard to it, he said to her, “Remember that all things are
lawful for me.” When about to murder his brother, whom he suspected of
taking antidotes against poison, he said, “See then an antidote against
Caesar!” And when he banished his sisters, he told them in a menacing
tone, that he had not only islands at command, but likewise swords. One
of pretorian rank having sent several times from Anticyra [430], whither
he had gone for his health, to have his leave of absence prolonged, he
ordered him to be put to death; adding these words “Bleeding is necessary
for one that has taken hellebore so long, and found no benefit.” It was
his custom every tenth day to sign the lists of prisoners appointed for
execution; and this he called “clearing his accounts.” And having
condemned several Gauls and Greeks at one time, he exclaimed in triumph,
“I have conquered Gallograecia.” [431]

XXX. He generally prolonged the sufferings of his victims by causing
them to be inflicted by slight and frequently repeated strokes; this
being his well-known and constant order: (273) “Strike so that he may
feel himself die.” Having punished one person for another, by mistaking
his name, he said, “he deserved it quite as much.” He had frequently in
his mouth these words of the tragedian,

Oderint dum metuant. [432] I scorn their hatred, if they do but fear me.

He would often inveigh against all the senators without exception, as
clients of Sejanus, and informers against his mother and brothers,
producing the memorials which he had pretended to burn, and excusing the
cruelty of Tiberius as necessary, since it was impossible to question the
veracity of such a number of accusers [433]. He continually reproached
the whole equestrian order, as devoting themselves to nothing but acting
on the stage, and fighting as gladiators. Being incensed at the people’s
applauding a party at the Circensian games in opposition to him, he
exclaimed, “I wish the Roman people had but one neck.” [434] When
Tetrinius, the highwayman, was denounced, he said his persecutors too
were all Tetrinius’s. Five Retiarii [435], in tunics, fighting in a
company, yielded without a struggle to the same number of opponents; and
being ordered to be slain, one of them taking up his lance again, killed
all the conquerors. This he lamented in a proclamation as a most cruel
butchery, and cursed all those who had borne the sight of it.

XXXI. He used also to complain aloud of the state of the times, because
it was not rendered remarkable by any public (274) calamities; for, while
the reign of Augustus had been made memorable to posterity by the
disaster of Varus [436], and that of Tiberius by the fall of the theatre
at Fidenae [437], his was likely to pass into oblivion, from an
uninterrupted series of prosperity. And, at times, he wished for some
terrible slaughter of his troops, a famine, a pestilence, conflagrations,
or an earthquake.

XXXII. Even in the midst of his diversions, while gaming or feasting,
this savage ferocity, both in his language and actions, never forsook
him. Persons were often put to the torture in his presence, whilst he
was dining or carousing. A soldier, who was an adept in the art of
beheading, used at such times to take off the heads of prisoners, who
were brought in for that purpose. At Puteoli, at the dedication of the
bridge which he planned, as already mentioned [438], he invited a number
of people to come to him from the shore, and then suddenly, threw them
headlong into the sea; thrusting down with poles and oars those who, to
save themselves, had got hold of the rudders of the ships. At Rome, in a
public feast, a slave having stolen some thin plates of silver with which
the couches were inlaid, he delivered him immediately to an executioner,
with orders to cut off his hands, and lead him round the guests, with
them hanging from his neck before his breast, and a label, signifying the
cause of his punishment. A gladiator who was practising with him, and
voluntarily threw himself at his feet, he stabbed with a poniard, and
then ran about with a palm branch in his hand, after the manner of those
who are victorious in the games. When a victim was to be offered upon an
altar, he, clad in the habit of the Popae [439], and holding the axe
aloft for a while, at last, instead of the animal, slaughtered an officer
who attended to cut up the sacrifice. And at a sumptuous entertainment,
he fell suddenly into a violent fit of laughter, and upon the consuls,
who reclined next to him, respectfully asking him the occasion,
“Nothing,” replied he, “but that, upon a single nod of mine, you might
both have your throats cut.”

(275) XXXIII. Among many other jests, this was one: As he stood by the
statue of Jupiter, he asked Apelles, the tragedian, which of them he
thought was biggest? Upon his demurring about it, he lashed him most
severely, now and then commending his voice, whilst he entreated for
mercy, as being well modulated even when he was venting his grief. As
often as he kissed the neck of his wife or mistress, he would say, “So
beautiful a throat must be cut whenever I please;” and now and then he
would threaten to put his dear Caesonia to the torture, that he might
discover why he loved her so passionately.

XXXIV. In his behaviour towards men of almost all ages, he discovered a
degree of jealousy and malignity equal to that of his cruelty and pride.
He so demolished and dispersed the statues of several illustrious
persons, which had been removed by Augustus, for want of room, from the
court of the Capitol into the Campus Martius, that it was impossible to
set them up again with their inscriptions entire. And, for the future,
he forbad any statue whatever to be erected without his knowledge and
leave. He had thoughts too of suppressing Homer’s poems: “For why,” said
he, “may not I do what Plato has done before me, who excluded him from
his commonwealth?” [440] He was likewise very near banishing the
writings and the busts of Virgil and Livy from all libraries; censuring
one of them as “a man of no genius and very little learning;” and the
other as “a verbose and careless historian.” He often talked of the
lawyers as if he intended to abolish their profession. “By Hercules!”
he would say, “I shall put it out of their power to answer any questions
in law, otherwise than by referring to me!”

XXXV. He took from the noblest persons in the city the ancient marks of
distinction used by their families; as the collar from Torquatus [441];
from Cincinnatus the curl of (276) hair [442]; and from Cneius Pompey,
the surname of Great, belonging to that ancient family. Ptolemy,
mentioned before, whom he invited from his kingdom, and received with
great honours, he suddenly put to death, for no other reason, but because
he observed that upon entering the theatre, at a public exhibition, he
attracted the eyes of all the spectators, by the splendour of his purple
robe. As often as he met with handsome men, who had fine heads of hair,
he would order the back of their heads to be shaved, to make them appear
ridiculous. There was one Esius Proculus, the son of a centurion of the
first rank, who, for his great stature and fine proportions, was called
the Colossal. Him he ordered to be dragged from his seat in the arena,
and matched with a gladiator in light armour, and afterwards with another
completely armed; and upon his worsting them both, commanded him
forthwith to be bound, to be led clothed in rags up and down the streets
of the city, and, after being exhibited in that plight to the women, to
be then butchered. There was no man of so abject or mean condition,
whose excellency in any kind he did not envy. The Rex Nemorensis [443] having many years enjoyed the honour of the priesthood, he procured a
still stronger antagonist to oppose him. One Porius, who fought in a
chariot [444], having been victorious in an exhibition, and in his joy
given freedom to a slave, was applauded so vehemently, that Caligula rose
in such haste from his seat, that, treading upon the hem of his toga, he
tumbled down the steps, full of indignation, (277) and crying out, “A
people who are masters of the world, pay greater respect to a gladiator
for a trifle, than to princes admitted amongst the gods, or to my own
majesty here present amongst them.”

XXXVI. He never had the least regard either to the chastity of his own
person, or that of others. He is said to have been inflamed with an
unnatural passion for Marcus Lepidus Mnester, an actor in pantomimes, and
for certain hostages; and to have engaged with them in the practice of
mutual pollution. Valerius Catullus, a young man of a consular family,
bawled aloud in public that he had been exhausted by him in that
abominable act. Besides his incest with his sisters, and his notorious
passion for Pyrallis, the prostitute, there was hardly any lady of
distinction with whom he did not make free. He used commonly to invite
them with their husbands to supper, and as they passed by the couch on
which he reclined at table, examine them very closely, like those who
traffic in slaves; and if any one from modesty held down her face, he
raised it up with his hand. Afterwards, as often as he was in the
humour, he would quit the room, send for her he liked best, and in a
short time return with marks of recent disorder about them. He would
then commend or disparage her in the presence of the company, recounting
the charms or defects of her person and behaviour in private. To some he
sent a divorce in the name of their absent husbands, and ordered it to be
registered in the public acts.

XXXVII. In the devices of his profuse expenditure, he surpassed all the
prodigals that ever lived; inventing a new kind of bath, with strange
dishes and suppers, washing in precious unguents, both warm and cold,
drinking pearls of immense value dissolved in vinegar, and serving up for
his guests loaves and other victuals modelled in gold; often saying,
“that a man ought either to be a good economist or an emperor.” Besides,
he scattered money to a prodigious amount among the people, from the top
of the Julian Basilica [445], during several days successively. He built
two ships with ten banks of oars, after the Liburnian fashion, the poops
of which blazed with jewels, and the sails were of various parti-colours.
They were fitted up with ample baths, galleries, and saloons, and
supplied with a great variety of vines and other fruit-trees. In these
he would sail in the day-time along the coast of Campania, feasting (278)
amidst dancing and concerts of music. In building his palaces and
villas, there was nothing he desired to effect so much, in defiance of
all reason, as what was considered impossible. Accordingly, moles were
formed in the deep and adverse sea [446], rocks of the hardest stone cut
away, plains raised to the height of mountains with a vast mass of earth,
and the tops of mountains levelled by digging; and all these were to be
executed with incredible speed, for the least remissness was a capital
offence. Not to mention particulars, he spent enormous sums, and the
whole treasures which had been amassed by Tiberius Caesar, amounting to
two thousand seven hundred millions of sesterces, within less than a

XXXVIII. Having therefore quite exhausted these funds, and being in want
of money, he had recourse to plundering the people, by every mode of
false accusation, confiscation, and taxation, that could be invented. He
declared that no one had any right to the freedom of Rome, although their
ancestors had acquired it for themselves and their posterity, unless they
were sons; for that none beyond that degree ought to be considered as
posterity. When the grants of the Divine Julius and Augustus were
produced to him, he only said, that he was very sorry they were obsolete
and out of date. He also charged all those with making false returns,
who, after the taking of the census, had by any means whatever increased
their property. He annulled the wills of all who had been centurions of
the first rank, as testimonies of their base ingratitude, if from the
beginning of Tiberius’s reign they had not left either that prince or
himself their heir. He also set aside the wills of all others, if any
person only pretended to say, that they designed at their death to leave
Caesar their heir. The public becoming terrified at this proceeding, he
was now appointed joint-heir with their friends, and in the case of
parents with their children, by persons unknown to him. Those who lived
any considerable time after making such a will, he said, were only making
game of him; and accordingly he sent many of them poisoned cakes. He
used to try such causes himself; fixing previously the sum he proposed to
raise during the sitting, and, after he had secured it, quitting the
tribunal. Impatient of the least delay, he condemned by a single
sentence forty (279) persons, against whom there were different charges;
boasting to Caesonia when she awoke, “how much business he had dispatched
while she was taking her mid-day sleep.” He exposed to sale by auction,
the remains of the apparatus used in the public spectacles; and exacted
such biddings, and raised the prices so high, that some of the purchasers
were ruined, and bled themselves to death. There is a well-known story
told of Aponius Saturninus, who happening to fall asleep as he sat on a
bench at the sale, Caius called out to the auctioneer, not to overlook
the praetorian personage who nodded to him so often; and accordingly the
salesman went on, pretending to take the nods for tokens of assent, until
thirteen gladiators were knocked down to him at the sum of nine millions
of sesterces [447], he being in total ignorance of what was doing.

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