The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XXXIX. Having also sold in Gaul all the clothes, furniture, slaves, and
even freedmen belonging to his sisters, at prodigious prices, after their
condemnation, he was so much delighted with his gains, that he sent to
Rome for all the furniture of the old palace [448]; pressing for its
conveyance all the carriages let to hire in the city, with the horses and
mules belonging to the bakers, so that they often wanted bread at Rome;
and many who had suits at law in progress, lost their causes, because
they could not make their appearance in due time according to their
recognizances. In the sale of this furniture, every artifice of fraud
and imposition was employed. Sometimes he would rail at the bidders for
being niggardly, and ask them “if they were not ashamed to be richer than
he was?” at another, he would affect to be sorry that the property of
princes should be passing into the hands of private persons. He had
found out that a rich provincial had given two hundred thousand sesterces
to his chamberlains for an underhand invitation to his table, and he was
much pleased to find that honour valued at so high a rate. The day
following, as the same person was sitting at the sale, he sent him some
bauble, for which he told him he must pay two hundred thousand sesterces,
and “that he should sup with Caesar upon his own invitation.”

(280) XL. He levied new taxes, and such as were never before known, at
first by the publicans, but afterwards, because their profit was
enormous, by centurions and tribunes of the pretorian guards; no
description of property or persons being exempted from some kind of tax
or other. For all eatables brought into the city, a certain excise was
exacted: for all law-suits or trials in whatever court, the fortieth part
of the sum in dispute; and such as were convicted of compromising
litigations, were made liable to a penalty. Out of the daily wages of
the porters, he received an eighth, and from the gains of common
prostitutes, what they received for one favour granted. There was a
clause in the law, that all bawds who kept women for prostitution or
sale, should be liable to pay, and that marriage itself should not be

XLI. These taxes being imposed, but the act by which they were levied
never submitted to public inspection, great grievances were experienced
from the want of sufficient knowledge of the law. At length, on the
urgent demands of the Roman people, he published the law, but it was
written in a very small hand, and posted up in a corner, so that no one
could make a copy of it. To leave no sort of gain untried, he opened
brothels in the Palatium, with a number of cells, furnished suitably to
the dignity of the place; in which married women and free-born youths
were ready for the reception of visitors. He sent likewise his
nomenclators about the forums and courts, to invite people of all ages,
the old as well as the young, to his brothel, to come and satisfy their
lusts; and he was ready to lend his customers money upon interest; clerks
attending to take down their names in public, as persons who contributed
to the emperor’s revenue. Another method of raising money, which he
thought not below his notice, was gaming; which, by the help of lying and
perjury, he turned to considerable account. Leaving once the management
of his play to his partner in the game, he stepped into the court, and
observing two rich Roman knights passing by, he ordered them immediately
to be seized, and their estates confiscated. Then returning, in great
glee, he boasted that he had never made a better throw in his life.

XLII. After the birth of his daughter, complaining of his (281) poverty,
and the burdens to which he was subjected, not only as an emperor, but a
father, he made a general collection for her maintenance and fortune. He
likewise gave public notice, that he would receive new-year’s gifts on
the calends of January following; and accordingly stood in the vestibule
of his house, to clutch the presents which people of all ranks threw down
before him by handfuls and lapfuls. At last, being seized with an
invincible desire of feeling money, taking off his slippers, he
repeatedly walked over great heaps of gold coin spread upon the spacious
floor, and then laying himself down, rolled his whole body in gold over
and over again.

XLIII. Only once in his life did he take an active part in military
affairs, and then not from any set purpose, but during his journey to
Mevania, to see the grove and river of Clitumnus [449]. Being
recommended to recruit a body of Batavians, who attended him, he resolved
upon an expedition into Germany. Immediately he drew together several
legions, and auxiliary forces from all quarters, and made every where new
levies with the utmost rigour. Collecting supplies of all kinds, such as
never had been assembled upon the like occasion, he set forward on his
march, and pursued it sometimes with so much haste and precipitation,
that the pretorian cohorts were obliged, contrary to custom, to pack
their standards on horses or mules, and so follow him. At other times,
he would march so slow and luxuriously, that he was carried in a litter
by eight men; ordering the roads to be swept by the people of the
neighbouring towns, and sprinkled with water to lay the dust.

XLIV. On arriving at the camp, in order to show himself an active
general, and severe disciplinarian, he cashiered the lieutenants who came
up late with the auxiliary forces from different quarters. In reviewing
the army, he deprived of their companies most of the centurions of the
first rank, who had now served their legal time in the wars, and some
whose time would have expired in a few days; alleging against them their
age and infirmity; and railing at the covetous disposition (282) of the
rest of them, he reduced the bounty due to those who had served out their
time to the sum of six thousand sesterces. Though he only received the
submission of Adminius, the son of Cunobeline, a British king, who being
driven from his native country by his father, came over to him with a
small body of troops [450], yet, as if the whole island had been
surrendered to him, he dispatched magnificent letters to Rome, ordering
the bearers to proceed in their carriages directly up to the forum and
the senate-house, and not to deliver the letters but to the consuls in
the temple of Mars, and in the presence of a full assembly of the

XLV. Soon after this, there being no hostilities, he ordered a few
Germans of his guard to be carried over and placed in concealment on the
other side of the Rhine, and word to be brought him after dinner, that an
enemy was advancing with great impetuosity. This being accordingly done,
he immediately threw himself, with his friends, and a party of the
pretorian knights, into the adjoining wood, where lopping branches from
the trees, and forming trophies of them, he returned by torch-light,
upbraiding those who did not follow him, with timorousness and cowardice;
but he presented the companions, and sharers of his victory with crowns
of a new form, and under a new name, having the sun, moon, and stars
represented on them, and which he called Exploratoriae. Again, some
hostages were by his order taken from the school, and privately sent off;
upon notice of which he immediately rose from table, pursued them with
the cavalry, as if they had run away, and coming up with them, brought
them back in fetters; proceeding to an extravagant pitch of ostentation
likewise in this military comedy. Upon his again sitting down to table,
it being reported to him that the troops were all reassembled, he ordered
them to sit down as they were, in their armour, animating them in the
words of that well-known verse of Virgil:

(283) Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis.–Aen. 1.
Bear up, and save yourselves for better days.

In the mean time, he reprimanded the senate and people of Rome in a very
severe proclamation, “For revelling and frequenting the diversions of the
circus and theatre, and enjoying themselves at their villas, whilst their
emperor was fighting, and exposing himself to the greatest dangers.”

XLVI. At last, as if resolved to make war in earnest, he drew up his
army upon the shore of the ocean, with his balistae and other engines of
war, and while no one could imagine what he intended to do, on a sudden
commanded them to gather up the sea shells, and fill their helmets, and
the folds of their dress with them, calling them “the spoils of the ocean
due to the Capitol and the Palatium.” As a monument of his success, he
raised a lofty tower, upon which, as at Pharos [451], he ordered lights
to be burnt in the night-time, for the direction of ships at sea; and
then promising the soldiers a donative of a hundred denarii [452] a man,
as if he had surpassed the most eminent examples of generosity, “Go your
ways,” said he, “and be merry: go, ye are rich.”

XLVII. In making preparations for his triumph, besides the prisoners and
deserters from the barbarian armies, he picked out the men of greatest
stature in all Gaul, such as he said were fittest to grace a triumph,
with some of the chiefs, and reserved them to appear in the procession;
obliging them not only to dye their hair yellow, and let it grow long,
but to learn the German language, and assume the names commonly used in
that country. He ordered likewise the gallies in which he had entered
the ocean, to be conveyed to Rome a great part of the way by land, and
wrote to his comptrollers in the city, “to make proper preparations for a
triumph against (284) his arrival, at as small expense as possible; but
on a scale such as had never been seen before, since they had full power
over the property of every one.”

XLVIII. Before he left the province, he formed a design of the most
horrid cruelty–to massacre the legions which had mutinied upon the death
of Augustus, for seizing and detaining by force his father, Germanicus,
their commander, and himself, then an infant, in the camp. Though he was
with great difficulty dissuaded from this rash attempt, yet neither the
most urgent entreaties nor representations could prevent him from
persisting in the design of decimating these legions. Accordingly, he
ordered them to assemble unarmed, without so much as their swords; and
then surrounded them with armed horse. But finding that many of them,
suspecting that violence was intended, were making off, to arm in their
own defence, he quitted the assembly as fast as he could, and immediately
marched for Rome; bending now all his fury against the senate, whom he
publicly threatened, to divert the general attention from the clamour
excited by his disgraceful conduct. Amongst other pretexts of offence,
he complained that he was defrauded of a triumph, which was justly his
due, though he had just before forbidden, upon pain of death, any honour
to be decreed him.

XLIX. In his march he was waited upon by deputies from the senatorian
order, entreating him to hasten his return. He replied to them, “I will
come, I will come, and this with me,” striking at the same time the hilt
of his sword. He issued likewise this proclamation: “I am coming, but
for those only who wish for me, the equestrian order and the people; for
I shall no longer treat the senate as their fellow-citizen or prince.”
He forbad any of the senators to come to meet him; and either abandoning
or deferring his triumph, he entered the city in ovation on his birth-
day. Within four months from this period he was slain, after he had
perpetrated enormous crimes, and while he was meditating the execution,
if possible, of still greater. He had entertained a design of removing
to Antium, and afterwards to Alexandria; having first cut off the flower
of the equestrian and senatorian orders. This is placed beyond all
question, by two books which were found in his cabinet (285) under
different titles; one being called the sword, and the other, the dagger.
They both contained private marks, and the names of those who were
devoted to death. There was also found a large chest, filled with a
variety of poisons which being afterwards thrown into the sea by order of
Claudius, are said to have so infected the waters, that the fish were
poisoned, and cast dead by the tide upon the neighbouring shores.

L. He was tall, of a pale complexion, ill-shaped, his neck and legs very
slender, his eyes and temples hollow, his brows broad and knit, his hair
thin, and the crown of the head bald. The other parts of his body were
much covered with hair. On this account, it was reckoned a capital crime
for any person to look down from above, as he was passing by, or so much
as to name a goat. His countenance, which was naturally hideous and
frightful, he purposely rendered more so, forming it before a mirror into
the most horrible contortions. He was crazy both in body and mind, being
subject, when a boy, to the falling sickness. When he arrived at the age
of manhood, he endured fatigue tolerably well; but still, occasionally,
he was liable to a faintness, during which he remained incapable of any
effort. He was not insensible of the disorder of his mind, and sometimes
had thoughts of retiring to clear his brain [453]. It is believed that
his wife Caesonia administered to him a love potion which threw him into
a frenzy. What most of all disordered him, was want of sleep, for he
seldom had more than three or four hours’ rest in a night; and even then
his sleep was not sound, but disturbed by strange dreams; fancying, among
other things, that a form representing the ocean spoke to him. Being
therefore often weary with lying awake so long, sometimes he sat up in
his bed, at others, walked in the longest porticos about the house, and
from time to time, invoked and looked out for the approach of day.

LI. To this crazy constitution of his mind may, I think, very justly be
ascribed two faults which he had, of a nature directly repugnant one to
the other, namely, an excessive confidence and the most abject timidity.
For he, who affected so (286) much to despise the gods, was ready to shut
his eyes, and wrap up his head in his cloak at the slightest storm of
thunder and lightning; and if it was violent, he got up and hid himself
under his bed. In his visit to Sicily, after ridiculing many strange
objects which that country affords, he ran away suddenly in the night
from Messini, terrified by the smoke and rumbling at the summit of Mount
Aetna. And though in words he was very valiant against the barbarians,
yet upon passing a narrow defile in Germany in his light car, surrounded
by a strong body of his troops, some one happening to say, “There would
be no small consternation amongst us, if an enemy were to appear,” he
immediately mounted his horse, and rode towards the bridges in great
haste; but finding them blocked up with camp-followers and baggage-
waggons, he was in such a hurry, that he caused himself to be carried in
men’s hands over the heads of the crowd. Soon afterwards, upon hearing
that the Germans were again in rebellion, he prepared to quit Rome, and
equipped a fleet; comforting himself with this consideration, that if the
enemy should prove victorious, and possess themselves of the heights of
the Alps, as the Cimbri [454] had done, or of the city, as the Senones
[455] formerly did, he should still have in reserve the transmarine
provinces [456]. Hence it was, I suppose, that it occurred to his
assassins, to invent the story intended to pacify the troops who mutinied
at his death, that he had laid violent hands upon himself, in a fit of
terror occasioned by the news brought him of the defeat of his army.

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