The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XIII. His arrival, therefore, in town was not very agreeable to the
people; and this appeared at the next public spectacle. For when the
actors in a farce began a well-known song,

Venit, io, Simus [665] a villa:
Lo! Clodpate from his village comes;

all the spectators, with one voice, went on with the rest, repeating and
acting the first verse several times over.

XIV. He possessed himself of the imperial power with more favour and
authority than he administered it, although he gave many proofs of his
being an excellent prince: but these were not so grateful to the people,
as his misconduct was offensive. He was governed by three favourites,
who, because they lived in the palace, and were constantly about him,
obtained the name of his pedagogues. These were Titus Vinius, who had
been his lieutenant in Spain, a man of insatiable (410) avarice;
Cornelius Laco, who, from an assessor to the prince, was advanced to be
prefect of the pretorian guards, a person of intolerable arrogance, as
well as indolence; and his freedman Icelus, dignified a little before
with the privilege of wearing the gold ring, and the use of the cognomen
Martianus, who became a candidate for the highest honour within the reach
of any person of the equestrian order [666]. He resigned himself so
implicitly into the power of those three favourites, who governed in
every thing according to the capricious impulse of their vices and
tempers, and his authority was so much abused by them, that the tenor of
his conduct was not very consistent with itself. At one time, he was
more rigorous and frugal, at another, more lavish and negligent, than
became a prince who had been chosen by the people, and was so far
advanced in years. He condemned some men of the first rank in the
senatorian and equestrian orders, upon a very slight suspicion, and
without trial. He rarely granted the freedom of the city to any one; and
the privilege belonging to such as had three children, only to one or
two; and that with great difficulty, and only for a limited time. When
the judges petitioned to have a sixth decury added to their number, he
not only denied them, but abolished the vacation which had been granted
them by Claudius for the winter, and the beginning of the year.

XV. It was thought that he likewise intended to reduce the offices held
by senators and men of the equestrian order, to a term of two years’
continuance; and to bestow them only on those who were unwilling to
accept them, and had refused them. All the grants of Nero he recalled,
saving only the tenth part of them. For this purpose he gave a
commission to fifty Roman knights; with orders, that if players or
wrestlers had sold what had been formerly given them, it should be
exacted from the purchasers, since the others, having, no doubt, spent
the money, were not in a condition to pay. But on the other hand, he
suffered his attendants and freedmen to sell or give away the revenue of
the state, or immunities from taxes, and to punish the innocent, or
pardon criminals, at pleasure. Nay, when the Roman people were very
clamorous for the punishment of Halotus and Tigellinus, two of the (411)
most mischievous amongst all the emissaries of Nero, he protected them,
and even bestowed on Halotus one of the best procurations in his
disposal. And as to Tigellinus, he even reprimanded the people for their
cruelty by a proclamation.

XVI. By this conduct, he incurred the hatred of all orders of the
people, but especially of the soldiery. For their commanders having
promised them in his name a donative larger than usual, upon their taking
the oath to him before his arrival at Rome; he refused to make it good,
frequently bragging, “that it was his custom to choose his soldiers, not
buy them.” Thus the troops became exasperated against him in all
quarters. The pretorian guards he alarmed with apprehensions of danger
and unworthy treatment; disbanding many of them occasionally as
disaffected to his government, and favourers of Nymphidius. But most of
all, the army in Upper Germany was incensed against him, as being
defrauded of the rewards due to them for the service they had rendered in
the insurrection of the Gauls under Vindex. They were, therefore, the
first who ventured to break into open mutiny, refusing upon the calends
[the 1st] of January, to take any oath of allegiance, except to the
senate; and they immediately dispatched deputies to the pretorian troops,
to let them know, “they did not like the emperor who had been set up in
Spain,” and to desire that “they would make choice of another, who might
meet with the approbation of all the armies.”

XVII. Upon receiving intelligence of this, imagining that he was
slighted not so much on account of his age, as for having no children, he
immediately singled out of a company of young persons of rank, who came
to pay their compliments to him, Piso Frugi Licinianus, a youth of noble
descent and great talents, for whom he had before contracted such a
regard, that he had appointed him in his will the heir both of his estate
and name. Him he now styled his son, and taking him to the camp, adopted
him in the presence of the assembled troops, but without making any
mention of a donative. This circumstance afforded the better opportunity
to Marcus Salvius Otho of accomplishing his object, six days after the

XVIII. Many remarkable prodigies had happened from the (412) very
beginning of his reign, which forewarned him of his approaching fate. In
every town through which he passed in his way from Spain to Rome, victims
were slain on the right and left of the roads; and one of these, which
was a bull, being maddened with the stroke of the axe, broke the rope
with which it was tied, and running straight against his chariot, with
his fore-feet elevated, bespattered him with blood. Likewise, as he was
alighting, one of the guard, being pushed forward by the crowd, had very
nearly wounded him with his lance. And upon his entering the city and,
afterwards, the palace, he was welcomed with an earthquake, and a noise
like the bellowing of cattle. These signs of ill-fortune were followed
by some that were still more apparently such. Out of all his treasures
he had selected a necklace of pearls and jewels, to adorn his statue of
Fortune at Tusculum. But it suddenly occurring to him that it deserved a
more august place, he consecrated it to the Capitoline Venus; and next
night, he dreamt that Fortune appeared to him, complaining that she had
been defrauded of the present intended her, and threatening to resume
what she had given him. Terrified at this denunciation, at break of day
he sent forward some persons to Tusculum, to make preparations for a
sacrifice which might avert the displeasure of the goddess; and when he
himself arrived at the place, he found nothing but some hot embers upon
the altar, and an old man in black standing by, holding a little incense
in a glass, and some wine in an earthern pot. It was remarked, too, that
whilst he was sacrificing upon the calends of January, the chaplet fell
from his head, and upon his consulting the pullets for omens, they flew
away. Farther, upon the day of his adopting Piso, when he was to
harangue the soldiers, the seat which he used upon those occasions,
through the neglect of his attendants, was not placed, according to
custom, upon his tribunal; and in the senate-house, his curule chair was
set with the back forward.

XIX. The day before he was slain, as he was sacrificing in the morning,
the augur warned him from time to time to be upon his guard, for that he
was in danger from assassins, and that they were near at hand. Soon
after, he was informed, that Otho was in possession of the pretorian
camp. And though most of his friends advised him to repair thither
immediately, (413) in hopes that he might quell the tumult by his
authority and presence, he resolved to do nothing more than keep close
within the palace, and secure himself by guards of the legionary
soldiers, who were quartered in different parts about the city. He put
on a linen coat of mail, however, remarking at the same time, that it
would avail him little against the points of so many swords. But being
tempted out by false reports, which the conspirators had purposely spread
to induce him to venture abroad–some few of those about him too hastily
assuring him that the tumult had ceased, the mutineers were apprehended,
and the rest coming to congratulate him, resolved to continue firm in
their obedience–he went forward to meet them with so much confidence,
that upon a soldier’s boasting that he had killed Otho, he asked him, “By
what authority?” and proceeded as far as the Forum. There the knights,
appointed to dispatch him, making their way through the crowd of
citizens, upon seeing him at a distance, halted a while; after which,
galloping up to him, now abandoned by all his attendants, they put him to

XX. Some authors relate, that upon their first approach he cried out,
“What do you mean, fellow-soldiers? I am yours, and you are mine,” and
promised them a donative: but the generality of writers relate, that he
offered his throat to them, saying, “Do your work, and strike, since you
are resolved upon it.” It is remarkable, that not one of those who were
at hand, ever made any attempt to assist the emperor; and all who were
sent for, disregarded the summons, except a troop of Germans. They, in
consideration of his late kindness in showing them particular attention
during a sickness which prevailed in the camp, flew to his aid, but came
too late; for, being not well acquainted with the town, they had taken a
circuitous route. He was slain near the Curtian Lake [667], and there
left, until a common soldier returning from the receipt of his allowance
of corn, throwing down the load which he carried, cut off his head.
There being upon it no hair, by which he might hold it, he hid it in the
bosom of his dress; but afterwards thrusting his thumb into the mouth, he
carried it in that manner to Otho, who gave it to the drudges and slaves
who attended the soldiers; and they, fixing it upon the (414) point of a
spear, carried it in derision round the camp, crying out as they went
along, “You take your fill of joy in your old age.” They were irritated
to this pitch of rude banter, by a report spread a few days before, that,
upon some one’s commending his person as still florid and vigorous, he

Eti moi menos empedoi estin. [668] My strength, as yet, has suffered no decay.

A freedman of Petrobius’s, who himself had belonged to Nero’s family,
purchased the head from them at the price of a hundred gold pieces, and
threw it into the place where, by Galba’s order, his patron had been put
to death. At last, after some time, his steward Argius buried it, with
the rest of his body, in his own gardens near the Aurelian Way.

XXI. In person he was of a good size, bald before, with blue eyes, and
an aquiline nose; and his hands and feet were so distorted with the gout,
that he could neither wear a shoe, nor turn over the leaves of a book, or
so much as hold it. He had likewise an excrescence in his right side,
which hung down to that degree, that it was with difficulty kept up by a

XXII. He is reported to have been a great eater, and usually took his
breakfast in the winter-time before day. At supper, he fed very
heartily, giving the fragments which were left, by handfuls, to be
distributed amongst the attendants. In his lust, he was more inclined to
the male sex, and such of them too as were old. It is said of him, that
in Spain, when Icelus, an old catamite of his, brought him the news of
Nero’s death, he not only kissed him lovingly before company, but begged
of him to remove all impediments, and then took him aside into a private

XXIII. He perished in the seventy-third year of his age, and the seventh
month of his reign [669]. The senate, as soon as they could with safety,
ordered a statue to be erected for him upon the naval column, in that
part of the Forum where he (415) was slain. But Vespasian cancelled the
decree, upon a suspicion that he had sent assassins from Spain into
Judaea to murder him.

* * * * * *

GALBA was, for a private man, the most wealthy of any who had ever
aspired to the imperial dignity. He valued himself upon his being
descended from the family of the Servii, but still more upon his relation
to Quintus Catulus Capitolinus, celebrated for integrity and virtue. He
was likewise distantly related to Livia, the wife of Augustus; by whose
interest he was preferred from the station which he held in the palace,
to the dignity of consul; and who left him a great legacy at her death.
His parsimonious way of living, and his aversion to all superfluity or
excess, were construed into avarice as soon as he became emperor; whence
Plutarch observes, that the pride which he took in his temperance and
economy was unseasonable. While he endeavoured to reform the profusion
in the public expenditure, which prevailed in the reign of Nero, he ran
into the opposite extreme; and it is objected to him by some historians,
that he maintained not the imperial dignity in a degree consistent even
with decency. He was not sufficiently attentive either to his own
security or the tranquillity of the state, when he refused to pay the
soldiers the donative which he had promised them. This breach of faith
seems to be the only act in his life that affects his integrity; and it
contributed more to his ruin than even the odium which he incurred by the
open venality and rapaciousness of his favourites, particularly Vinius.


I. The ancestors of Otho were originally of the town of Ferentum, of an
ancient and honourable family, and, indeed, one of the most considerable
in Etruria. His grandfather, M. Salvius Otho (whose father was a Roman
knight, but his mother of mean extraction, for it is not certain whether
she was free-born), by the favour of Livia Augusta, in whose house he had
his education, was made a senator, but never rose higher than the
praetorship. His father, Lucius Otho, was by the mother’s side nobly
descended, allied to several great families, and so dearly beloved by
Tiberius, and so much resembled him in his features, that most people
believed Tiberius was his father. He behaved with great strictness and
severity, not only in the city offices, but in the pro-consulship of
Africa, and some extraordinary commands in the army. He had the courage
to punish with death some soldiers in Illyricum, who, in the disturbance
attempted by Camillus, upon changing their minds, had put their generals
to the sword, as promoters of that insurrection against Claudius. He
ordered the execution to take place in the front of the camp [670], and
under his own eyes; though he knew they had been advanced to higher ranks
in the army by Claudius, on that very account. By this action he
acquired fame, but lessened his favour at court; which, however, he soon
recovered, by discovering to Claudius a design upon his life, carried on
by a Roman knight [671], and which he had learnt from some of his slaves.
For the senate ordered a statue of him to be erected in the palace; an
honour which had been conferred but upon very few before him. And
Claudius advanced him to the dignity of a patrician, commending him, at
the same time, in the highest terms, and concluding with these words: “A
man, than whom I don’t so (417) much as wish to have children that should
be better.” He had two sons by a very noble woman, Albia Terentia,
namely; Lucius Titianus, and a younger called Marcus, who had the same
cognomen as himself. He had also a daughter, whom he contracted to
Drusus, Germanicus’s son, before she was of marriageable age.

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