The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XXXVIII. Sensible of his being subject to passion and resentment, he
excused himself in both instances by a proclamation, assuring the public
that “the former should be short and harmless, and the latter never
without good cause.” After severely reprimanding the people of Ostia for
not sending some boats to meet him upon his entering the mouth of the
Tiber, in terms which might expose them to the public resentment, he
wrote to Rome that he had been treated as a private person; yet
immediately afterwards he pardoned them, and that in a way which had the
appearance of making them (327) satisfaction, or begging pardon for some
injury he had done them. Some people who addressed him unseasonably in
public, he pushed away with his own hand. He likewise banished a person
who had been secretary to a quaestor, and even a senator who had filled
the office of praetor, without a hearing, and although they were
innocent; the former only because he had treated him with rudeness while
he was in a private station, and the other, because in his aedileship he
had fined some tenants of his, for selling cooked victuals contrary to
law, and ordered his steward, who interfered, to be whipped. On this
account, likewise, he took from the aediles the jurisdiction they had
over cooks’-shops. He did not scruple to speak of his own absurdities,
and declared in some short speeches which he published, that he had only
feigned imbecility in the reign of Caius, because otherwise it would have
been impossible for him to have escaped and arrived at the station he had
then attained. He could not, however, gain credit for this assertion;
for a short time afterwards, a book was published under the title of
Moron anastasis, “The Resurrection of Fools,” the design of which was to
show “that nobody ever counterfeited folly.”

XXXIX. Amongst other things, people admired in him his indifference and
unconcern; or, to express it in Greek, his meteoria and ablepsia.
Placing himself at table a little after Messalina’s death, he enquired,
“Why the empress did not come?” Many of those whom he had condemned to
death, he ordered the day after to be invited to his table, and to game
with him, and sent to reprimand them as sluggish fellows for not making
greater haste. When he was meditating his incestuous marriage with
Agrippina, he was perpetually calling her, “My daughter, my nursling,
born and brought up upon my lap.” And when he was going to adopt Nero,
as if there was little cause for censure in his adopting a son-in-law,
when he had a son of his own arrived at years of maturity; he continually
gave out in public, “that no one had ever been admitted by adoption into
the Claudian family.”

XL. He frequently appeared so careless in what he said, and so
inattentive to circumstances, that it was believed he never reflected who
he himself was, or amongst whom, or at (328) what time, or in what place,
he spoke. In a debate in the senate relative to the butchers and
vintners, he cried out, “I ask you, who can live without a bit of meat?”
And mentioned the great plenty of old taverns, from which he himself used
formerly to have his wine. Among other reasons for his supporting a
certain person who was candidate for the quaestorship, he gave this: “His
father,” said he, “once gave me, very seasonably, a draught of cold water
when I was sick.” Upon his bringing a woman as a witness in some cause
before the senate, he said, “This woman was my mother’s freedwoman and
dresser, but she always considered me as her master; and this I say,
because there are some still in my family that do not look upon me as
such.” The people of Ostia addressing him in open court with a petition,
he flew into a rage at them, and said, “There is no reason why I should
oblige you: if any one else is free to act as he pleases, surely I am.”
The following expressions he had in his mouth every day, and at all hours
and seasons: “What! do you take me for a Theogonius?” [541] And in Greek
lalei kai mae thingane, “Speak, but do not touch me;” besides many other
familiar sentences, below the dignity of a private person, much more of
an emperor, who was not deficient either in eloquence or learning, as
having applied himself very closely to the liberal sciences.

XLI. By the encouragement of Titus Livius [542], and with the assistance
of Sulpicius Flavus, he attempted at an early age the composition of a
history; and having called together a numerous auditory, to hear and give
their judgment upon it, he read it over with much difficulty, and
frequently interrupting himself. For after he had begun, a great laugh
was raised amongst the company, by the breaking of several benches from
the weight of a very fat man; and even when order was restored, he could
not forbear bursting out into violent fits of laughter, at the
remembrance of the accident. After he became emperor, likewise, he wrote
several things (329) which he was careful to have recited to his friends
by a reader. He commenced his history from the death of the dictator
Caesar; but afterwards he took a later period, and began at the
conclusion of the civil wars; because he found he could not speak with
freedom, and a due regard to truth, concerning the former period, having
been often taken to task both by his mother and grandmother. Of the
earlier history he left only two books, but of the latter, one and forty.
He compiled likewise the “History of his Own Life,” in eight books, full
of absurdities, but in no bad style; also, “A Defence of Cicero against
the Books of Asinius Gallus,” [543] which exhibited a considerable degree
of learning. He besides invented three new letters, and added them to
the former alphabet [544], as highly necessary. He published a book to
recommend them while he was yet only a private person; but on his
elevation to imperial power he had little difficulty in introducing them
into common use; and these letters are still extant in a variety of
books, registers, and inscriptions upon buildings.

XLII. He applied himself with no less attention to the study of Grecian
literature, asserting upon all occasions his love of that language, and
its surpassing excellency. A stranger once holding a discourse both in
Greek and Latin, he addressed him thus; “Since you are skilled in both
our tongues.” And recommending Achaia to the favour of the senate, he
said, “I have a particular attachment to that province, on account of our
common studies.” In the senate he often made long replies to ambassadors
in that language. On the tribunal he frequently quoted the verses of
Homer. When at any time he had taken vengeance on an enemy or a
conspirator, he scarcely ever gave to the tribune on guard, who, (330)
according to custom, came for the word, any other than this.

Andr’ epamynastai, ote tis proteros chalepaenae.
‘Tis time to strike when wrong demands the blow.

To conclude, he wrote some histories likewise in Greek, namely, twenty
books on Tuscan affairs, and eight on the Carthaginian; in consequence of
which, another museum was founded at Alexandria, in addition to the old
one, and called after his name; and it was ordered, that, upon certain
days in every year, his Tuscan history should be read over in one of
these, and his Carthaginian in the other, as in a school; each history
being read through by persons who took it in turn.

XLIII. Towards the close of his life, he gave some manifest indications
that he repented of his marriage with Agrippina, and his adoption of
Nero. For some of his freedmen noticing with approbation his having
condemned, the day before, a woman accused of adultery, he remarked, “It
has been my misfortune to have wives who have been unfaithful to my bed;
but they did not escape punishment.” Often, when he happened to meet
Britannicus, he would embrace him tenderly, and express a desire “that he
might grow apace, and receive from him an account of all his actions:
“using the Greek phrase, o trosas kai iasetai, “He who has wounded will
also heal.” And intending to give him the manly habit, while he was yet
under age and a tender youth, because his stature would allow of it, he
added, “I do so, that the Roman people may at last have a real Caesar.”

XLIV. Soon afterwards he made his will, and had it signed by all the
magistrates as witnesses. But he was prevented from proceeding further
by Agrippina, accused by her own guilty conscience, as well as by
informers, of a variety of crimes. It is agreed that he was taken off by
poison; but where, and by whom administered, remains in uncertainty.
Some authors say that it was given him as he was feasting with the
priests in the Capitol, by the eunuch Halotus, his taster. Others say
(331) by Agrippina, at his own table, in mushrooms, a dish of which he
was very fond [546]. The accounts of what followed likewise differ.
Some relate that he instantly became speechless, was racked with pain
through the night, and died about day-break; others, that at first he
fell into a sound sleep, and afterwards, his food rising, he threw up the
whole; but had another dose given him; whether in water-gruel, under
pretence of refreshment after his exhaustion, or in a clyster, as if
designed to relieve his bowels, is likewise uncertain.

XLV. His death was kept secret until everything was settled relative to
his successor. Accordingly, vows were made for his recovery, and
comedians were called to amuse him, as it was pretended, by his own
desire. He died upon the third of the ides of October [13th October], in
the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola, in the sixty-
fourth year of his age, and the fourteenth of his reign [547]. His
funeral was celebrated with the customary imperial pomp, and he was
ranked amongst the gods. This honour was taken from him by Nero, but
restored by Vespasian.

XLVI. The chief presages of his death were, the appearance of a comet,
his father Drusus’s monument being struck by lightning, and the death of
most of the magistrates of all ranks that year. It appears from several
circumstances, that he was sensible of his approaching dissolution, and
made no secret of it. For when he nominated the consuls, he appointed no
one to fill the office beyond the month in which he died. At the last
assembly of the senate in which he made his appearance, he earnestly
exhorted his two sons to unity with each other, and with earnest
entreaties commended to the fathers the care of their tender years. And
in the last cause he heard from the tribunal, he repeatedly declared in
open court, “That he was now arrived at the last stage of mortal
existence;” whilst all who heard it shrunk at hearing these ominous

* * * * * *

The violent death of Caligula afforded the Romans a fresh opportunity to
have asserted the liberty of their country; but the conspirators had
concerted no plan, by which they should proceed upon the assassination of
that tyrant; and the indecision of the senate, in a debate of two days,
on so sudden an emergency, gave time to the caprice of the soldiers to
interpose in the settlement of the government. By an accident the most
fortuitous, a man devoid of all pretensions to personal merit, so weak in
understanding as to be the common sport of the emperor’s household, and
an object of contempt even to his own kindred; this man, in the hour of
military insolence, was nominated by the soldiers as successor to the
Roman throne. Not yet in possession of the public treasury, which
perhaps was exhausted, he could not immediately reward the services of
his electors with a pecuniary gratification; but he promised them a
largess of fifteen thousand sesterces a man, upwards of a hundred and
forty pounds sterling; and as we meet with no account of any subsequent
discontents in the army, we may justly conclude that the promise was soon
after fulfilled. This transaction laid the foundation of that military
despotism, which, through many succeeding ages, convulsed the Roman

Besides the interposition of the soldiers upon this occasion, it appears
that the populace of Rome were extremely clamorous for the government of
a single person, and for that of Claudius in particular. This partiality
for a monarchical government proceeded from two causes. The commonalty,
from their obscure situation, were always the least exposed to
oppression, under a tyrannical prince. They had likewise ever been
remarkably fond of stage-plays and public shows, with which, as well as
with scrambles, and donations of bread and other victuals, the preceding
emperor had frequently gratified them. They had therefore less to fear,
and more to hope, from the government of a single person than any other
class of Roman citizens. With regard to the partiality for Claudius, it
may be accounted for partly from the low habits of life to which he had
been addicted, in consequence of which many of them were familiarly
acquainted with him; and this circumstance likewise increased their hope
of deriving some advantage from his accession. Exclusive of all these
considerations, it is highly probable that the populace were instigated
in favour of Claudius by the artifices of his freedmen, persons of mean
extraction, by whom he was afterwards entirely governed, and who, upon
such an occasion, would exert their utmost efforts to procure his
appointment to the throne. From the debate in the senate having
continued during (333) two days, it was evident that there was still a
strong party for restoring the ancient form of government. That they
were in the end overawed by the clamour of the multitude, is not
surprising, when we consider that the senate was totally unprovided with
resources of every kind for asserting the independence of the nation by
arms; and the commonalty, who interrupted their deliberations, were the
only people by whose assistance they ever could effect the restitution of
public freedom. To this may be added, that the senate, by the total
reduction of their political importance, ever since the overthrow of the
republic, had lost both the influence and authority which they formerly
enjoyed. The extreme cruelty, likewise, which had been exercised during
the last two reigns, afforded a further motive for relinquishing all
attempts in favour of liberty, as they might be severely revenged upon
themselves by the subsequent emperor: and it was a degree of moderation
in Claudius, which palliates the injustice of his cause, that he began
his government with an act of amnesty respecting the public transactions
which ensued upon the death of Caligula.

Claudius, at the time of his accession, was fifty years of age; and
though he had hitherto lived apparently unambitious of public honours,
accompanied with great ostentation, yet he was now seized with a desire
to enjoy a triumph. As there existed no war, in which he might perform
some military achievement, his vanity could only be gratified by invading
a foreign country, where, contrary to the advice contained in the
testament of Augustus, he might attempt to extend still further the
limits of the empire. Either Britain, therefore, or some nation on the
continent, at a great distance from the capital, became the object of
such an enterprize; and the former was chosen, not only as more
convenient, from its vicinity to the maritime province of Gaul, but on
account of a remonstrance lately presented by the Britons to the court of
Rome, respecting the protection afforded to some persons of that nation,
who had fled thither to elude the laws of their country. Considering the
state of Britain at that time, divided as it was into a number of
principalities, amongst which there was no general confederacy for mutual
defence, and where the alarm excited by the invasion of Julius Caesar,
upwards of eighty years before, had long since been forgotten; a sudden
attempt upon the island could not fail to be attended with success.
Accordingly, an army was sent over, under the command of Aulus Plautius,
an able general, who defeated the natives in several engagements, and
penetrated a considerable way into the country. Preparations for the
emperor’s voyage now being made, Claudius set sail from Ostia, at the
mouth of (334) the Tiber; but meeting with a violent storm in the
Mediterranean, he landed at Marseilles, and proceeding thence to Boulogne
in Picardy, passed over into Britain. In what part he debarked, is
uncertain, but it seems to have been at some place on the south-east
coast of the island. He immediately received the submission of several
British states, the Cantii, Atrebates, Regni, and Trinobantes, who
inhabited those parts; and returning to Rome, after an absence of six
months, celebrated with great pomp the triumph, for which he had
undertaken the expedition.

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