The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

(294) The profusion of this emperor, during his short reign of three
years and ten months, is unexampled in history. In the midst of profound
peace, without any extraordinary charges either civil or military, he
expended, in less than one year, besides the current revenue of the
empire, the sum of 21,796,875 pounds sterling, which had been left by
Tiberius at his death. To supply the extravagance of future years, new
and exorbitant taxes were imposed upon the people, and those too on the
necessaries of life. There existed now amongst the Romans every motive
that could excite a general indignation against the government; yet such
was still the dread of imperial power, though vested in the hands of so
weak and despicable a sovereign, that no insurrection was attempted, nor
any extensive conspiracy formed; but the obnoxious emperor fell at last a
sacrifice to a few centurions of his own guard.

This reign was of too short duration to afford any new productions in
literature; but, had it been extended to a much longer period, the
effects would probably have been the same. Polite learning never could
flourish under an emperor who entertained a design of destroying the
writings of Virgil and Livy. It is fortunate that these, and other
valuable productions of antiquity, were too widely diffused over the
world, and too carefully preserved, to be in danger of perishing through
the frenzy of this capricious barbarian.

Retrato de JULIO CÉSAR DRUSO, llamado DRUSO EL MENOR. Siglo I d.C. Mármol. En el Museo del Prado (Madrid, España). Procedente de la Colección Real.
Retrato de JULIO CÉSAR DRUSO, llamado DRUSO EL MENOR. Siglo I d.C. Mármol. En el Museo del Prado (Madrid, España). Procedente de la Colección Real.

TIBERIUS CLAUDIUS DRUSUS CAESAR. [465] I. Livia, having married Augustus when she was pregnant, was within
three months afterwards delivered of Drusus, the father of Claudius
Caesar, who had at first the praenomen of Decimus, but afterwards that of
Nero; and it was suspected that he was begotten in adultery by his
father-in-law. The following verse, however, was immediately in every
one’s mouth:

Tois eutychousi kai primaena paidia.

Nine months for common births the fates decree;
But, for the great, reduce the term to three.

This Drusus, during the time of his being quaestor and praetor, commanded
in the Rhaetian and German wars, and was the first of all the Roman
generals who navigated the Northern Ocean [466]. He made likewise some
prodigious trenches beyond the Rhine [467], which to this day are called
by his name. He overthrew the enemy in several battles, and drove them
far back into the depths of the desert. Nor did he desist from pursuing
them, until an apparition, in the form of a barbarian woman, of more than
human size, appeared to him, and, in the Latin tongue, forbad him to
proceed any farther. For these achievements he had the honour of an
ovation, and the triumphal ornaments. After his praetorship, he
immediately entered on the office of consul, and returning again to
Germany, died of disease, in the summer encampment, which thence obtained
the name of “The Unlucky Camp.” His corpse was carried to Rome by the
principal persons of the several municipalities and colonies upon the
road, being met and received by the recorders of each place, and buried
in the Campus Martius. In honour of his (296) memory, the army erected a
monument, round which the soldiers used, annually, upon a certain day, to
march in solemn procession, and persons deputed from the several cities
of Gaul performed religious rites. The senate likewise, among various
other honours, decreed for him a triumphal arch of marble, with trophies,
in the Appian Way, and gave the cognomen of Germanicus to him and his
posterity. In him the civil and military virtues were equally displayed;
for, besides his victories, he gained from the enemy the Spolia Opima
[468], and frequently marked out the German chiefs in the midst of their
army, and encountered them in single combat, at the utmost hazard of his
life. He likewise often declared that he would, some time or other, if
possible, restore the ancient government. In this account, I suppose,
some have ventured to affirm that Augustus was jealous of him, and
recalled him; and because he made no haste to comply with the order, took
him off by poison. This I mention, that I may not be guilty of any
omission, more than because I think it either true or probable; since
Augustus loved him so much when living, that he always, in his wills,
made him joint-heir with his sons, as he once declared in the senate; and
upon his decease, extolled him in a speech to the people, to that degree,
that he prayed the gods “to make his Caesars like him, and to grant
himself as honourable an exit out of this world as they had given him.”
And not satisfied with inscribing upon his tomb an epitaph in verse
composed by himself, he wrote likewise the history of his life in prose.
He had by the younger Antonia several children, but left behind him only
three, namely, Germanicus, Livilla, and Claudius.

II. Claudius was born at Lyons, in the consulship of Julius Antonius,
and Fabius Africanus, upon the first of August [469], the very day upon
which an altar was first dedicated there to Augustus. He was named
Tiberius Claudius Drusus, but soon afterwards, (297) upon the adoption of
his elder brother into the Julian family, he assumed the cognomen of
Germanicus. He was left an infant by his father, and during almost the
whole of his minority, and for some time after he attained the age of
manhood, was afflicted with a variety of obstinate disorders, insomuch
that his mind and body being greatly impaired, he was, even after his
arrival at years of maturity, never thought sufficiently qualified for
any public or private employment. He was, therefore, during a long time,
and even after the expiration of his minority, under the direction of a
pedagogue, who, he complains in a certain memoir, “was a barbarous
wretch, and formerly superintendent of the mule-drivers, who was selected
for his governor, on purpose to correct him severely on every trifling
occasion.” On account of this crazy constitution of body and mind, at
the spectacle of gladiators, which he gave the people, jointly with his
brother, in honour of his father’s memory, he presided, muffled up in a
pallium–a new fashion. When he assumed the manly habit, he was carried
in a litter, at midnight, to the Capitol, without the usual ceremony.

III. He applied himself, however, from an early age, with great
assiduity to the study of the liberal sciences, and frequently published
specimens of his skill in each of them. But never, with all his
endeavours, could he attain to any public post in the government, or
afford any hope of arriving at distinction thereafter. His mother,
Antonia, frequently called him “an abortion of a man, that had been only
begun, but never finished, by nature.” And when she would upbraid any
one with dulness, she said, “He was a greater fool than her son,
Claudius.” His grandmother, Augusta, always treated him with the utmost
contempt, very rarely spoke to him, and when she did admonish him upon
any occasion, it was in writing, very briefly and severely, or by
messengers. His sister, Livilla, upon hearing that he was about to be
created emperor, openly and loudly expressed her indignation that the
Roman people should experience a fate so severe and so much below their
grandeur. To exhibit the opinion, both favourable and otherwise,
entertained concerning him by Augustus, his great-uncle, I have here
subjoined some extracts from the letters of that emperor.

IV. “I have had some conversation with Tiberius, according (298) to your
desire, my dear Livia, as to what must be done with your grandson,
Tiberius, at the games of Mars. We are both agreed in this, that, once
for all, we ought to determine what course to take with him. For if he
be really sound and, so to speak, quite right in his intellects [470],
why should we hesitate to promote him by the same steps and degrees we
did his brother? But if we find him below par, and deficient both in
body and mind, we must beware of giving occasion for him and ourselves to
be laughed at by the world, which is ready enough to make such things the
subject of mirth and derision. For we never shall be easy, if we are
always to be debating upon every occasion of this kind, without settling,
in the first instance, whether he be really capable of public offices or
not. With regard to what you consult me about at the present moment, I
am not against his superintending the feast of the priests, in the games
of Mars, if he will suffer himself to be governed by his kinsman,
Silanus’s son, that he may do nothing to make the people stare and laugh
at him. But I do not approve of his witnessing the Circensian games from
the Pulvinar. He will be there exposed to view in the very front of the
theatre. Nor do I like that he should go to the Alban Mount [471], or be
at Rome during the Latin festivals. For if he be capable of attending
his brother to the mount, why is he not made prefect of the city? Thus,
my dear Livia, you have my thoughts upon the matter. In my opinion, we
ought to (299) settle this affair once for all, that we may not be always
in suspense between hope and fear. You may, if you think proper, give
your kinsman Antonia this part of my letter to read.” In another letter,
he writes as follows: “I shall invite: the youth, Tiberius, every day
during your absence, to supper, that he may not sup alone with his
friends Sulpicius and Athenodorus. I wish the poor creature was more
cautious and attentive in the choice of some one, whose manners, air, and
gait might be proper for his imitation:

Atuchei panu en tois spoudaiois lian.
In things of consequence he sadly fails.

Where his mind does not run astray, he discovers a noble disposition.”
In a third letter, he says, “Let me die, my dear Livia, if I am not
astonished, that the declamation of your grandson, Tiberius, should
please me; for how he who talks so ill, should be able to declaim so
clearly and properly, I cannot imagine.” There is no doubt but Augustus,
after this, came to a resolution upon the subject, and, accordingly, left
him invested with no other honour than that of the Augural priesthood;
naming him amongst the heirs of the third degree, who were but distantly
allied to his family, for a sixth part of his estate only, with a legacy
of no more than eight hundred thousand sesterces.

V. Upon his requesting some office in the state, Tiberius granted him
the honorary appendages of the consulship, and when he pressed for a
legitimate appointment, the emperor wrote word back, that “he sent him
forty gold pieces for his expenses, during the festivals of the
Saturnalia and Sigillaria.” Upon this, laying aside all hope of
advancement, he resigned himself entirely to an indolent life; living in
great privacy, one while in his gardens, or a villa which he had near the
city; another while in Campania, where he passed his time in the lowest
society; by which means, besides his former character of a dull, heavy
fellow, he acquired that of a drunkard and gamester.

VI. Notwithstanding this sort of life, much respect was shown him both
in public and private. The equestrian (300) order twice made choice of
him to intercede on their behalf; once to obtain from the consuls the
favour of bearing on their shoulders the corpse of Augustus to Rome, and
a second time to congratulate him upon the death of Sejanus. When he
entered the theatre, they used to rise, and put off their cloaks. The
senate likewise decreed, that he should be added to the number of the
Augustal college of priests, who were chosen by lot; and soon afterwards,
when his house was burnt down, that it should be rebuilt at the public
charge; and that he should have the privilege of giving his vote amongst
the men of consular rank. This decree was, however, repealed; Tiberius
insisting to have him excused on account of his imbecility, and promising
to make good his loss at his own expense. But at his death, he named him
in his will, amongst his third heirs, for a third part of his estate;
leaving him besides a legacy of two millions of sesterces, and expressly
recommending him to the armies, the senate and people of Rome, amongst
his other relations.

VII. At last, Caius [473], his brother’s son, upon his advancement to
the empire, endeavouring to gain the affections of the public by all the
arts of popularity, Claudius also was admitted to public offices, and
held the consulship jointly with his nephew for two months. As he was
entering the Forum for the first time with the fasces, an eagle which was
flying that way; alighted upon his right shoulder. A second consulship
was also allotted him, to commence at the expiration of the fourth year.
He sometimes presided at the public spectacles, as the representative of
Caius; being always, on those occasions, complimented with the
acclamations of the people, wishing him all happiness, sometimes under
the title of the emperor’s uncle, and sometimes under that of
Germanicus’s brother.

VIII. Still he was subjected to many slights. If at any time he came in
late to supper, he was obliged to walk round the room some time before he
could get a place at table. When he indulged himself with sleep after
eating, which was a common practice with him, the company used to throw
olive-stones and dates at him. And the buffoons who attended would wake
him, as if it were only in jest, with a cane or a whip. Sometimes they
would put slippers upon his hands; as he lay snoring, that he might, upon
awaking, rub his face with them.

IX. He was not only exposed to contempt, but sometimes likewise to
considerable danger: first, in his consulship; for, having been too
remiss in providing and erecting the statues of Caius’s brothers, Nero
and Drusus, he was very near being deprived of his office; and afterwards
he was continually harassed with informations against him by one or
other, sometimes even by his own domestics. When the conspiracy of
Lepidus and Gaetulicus was discovered, being sent with some other
deputies into Germany [474], to congratulate the emperor upon the
occasion, he was in danger of his life; Caius being greatly enraged, and
loudly complaining, that his uncle was sent to him, as if he was a boy
who wanted a governor. Some even say, that he was thrown into a river,
in his travelling dress. From this period, he voted in the senate always
the last of the members of consular rank; being called upon after the
rest, on purpose to disgrace him. A charge for the forgery of a will was
also allowed to be prosecuted, though he had only signed it as a witness.
At last, being obliged to pay eight millions of sesterces on entering
upon a new office of priesthood, he was reduced to such straits in his
private affairs, that in order to discharge his bond to the treasury, he
was under the necessity of exposing to sale his whole estate, by an order
of the prefects.

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