The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Vespasianus01_pushkin_edit

T. FLAVIUS VESPASIANUS AUGUSTUS.
I. The empire, which had been long thrown into a disturbed and unsetted
state, by the rebellion and violent death of its three last rulers, was
at length restored to peace and security by the Flavian family, whose
descent was indeed obscure, and which boasted no ancestral honours; but
the public had no cause to regret its elevation; though it is
acknowledged that Domitian met with the just reward of his avarice and
cruelty. Titus Flavius Petro, a townsman of Reate [721], whether a
centurion or an evocatus [722] of Pompey’s party in the civil war, is
uncertain, fled out of the battle of Pharsalia and went home; where,
having at last obtained his pardon and discharge, he became a collector
of the money raised by public sales in the way of auction. His son,
surnamed Sabinus, was never engaged in the military service, though some
say he was a centurion of the first order, and others, that whilst he
held that rank, he was discharged on account of his bad state of health:
this Sabinus, I say, was a publican, and received the tax of the fortieth
penny in Asia. And there were remaining, at the time of the advancement
of the family, several statues, which had been erected to him by the
cities of that province, with this inscription: “To the honest Tax-
farmer.” [723] He afterwards turned usurer amongst the Helvetii, and
there died, leaving behind him his wife, Vespasia Pella, and two sons by
her; the elder of whom, Sabinus, came to be prefect of the city, and the
younger, Vespasian, to be emperor. Polla, descended of a good family, at
Nursia [724], had for her father Vespasius Pollio, thrice appointed (442)
military tribune, and at last prefect of the camp; and her brother was a
senator of praetorian dignity. There is to this day, about six miles
from Nursia, on the road to Spoletum, a place on the summit of a hill,
called Vespasiae, where are several monuments of the Vespasii, a
sufficient proof of the splendour and antiquity of the family. I will
not deny that some have pretended to say, that Petro’s father was a
native of Gallia Transpadana [725], whose employment was to hire
workpeople who used to emigrate every year from the country of the Umbria
into that of the Sabines, to assist them in their husbandry [726]; but
who settled at last in the town of Reate, and there married. But of this
I have not been able to discover the least proof, upon the strictest
inquiry.

II. Vespasian was born in the country of the Sabines, beyond Reate, in a
little country-seat called Phalacrine, upon the fifth of the calends of
December [27th November], in the evening, in the consulship of Quintus
Sulpicius Camerinus and Caius Poppaeus Sabinus, five years before the
death of Augustus [727]; and was educated under the care of Tertulla, his
grandmother by the father’s side, upon an estate belonging to the family,
at Cosa [728]. After his advancement to the empire, he used frequently
to visit the place where he had spent his infancy; and the villa was
continued in the same condition, that he might see every thing about him
just as he had been used to do. And he had so great a regard for the
memory of his grandmother, that, upon solemn occasions and festival days,
he constantly drank out of a silver cup which she had been accustomed to
use. After assuming the manly habit, he had a long time a distaste for
the senatorian toga, though his brother had obtained it; nor could he be
persuaded by any one but his mother to sue for that badge of honour. She
at length drove him to it, more by taunts and reproaches, than by her
entreaties (443) and authority, calling him now and then, by way of
reproach, his brother’s footman. He served as military tribune in
Thrace. When made quaestor, the province of Crete and Cyrene fell to him
by lot. He was candidate for the aedileship, and soon after for the
praetorship, but met with a repulse in the former case; though at last,
with much difficulty, he came in sixth on the poll-books. But the office
of praetor he carried upon his first canvass, standing amongst the
highest at the poll. Being incensed against the senate, and desirous to
gain, by all possible means, the good graces of Caius [729], he obtained
leave to exhibit extraordinary [730] games for the emperor’s victory in
Germany, and advised them to increase the punishment of the conspirators
against his life, by exposing their corpses unburied. He likewise gave
him thanks in that august assembly for the honour of being admitted to
his table.

III. Meanwhile, he married Flavia Domitilla, who had formerly been the
mistress of Statilius Capella, a Roman knight of Sabrata in Africa, who
[Domitilla] enjoyed Latin rights; and was soon after declared fully and
freely a citizen of Rome, on a trial before the court of Recovery,
brought by her father Flavius Liberalis, a native of Ferentum, but no
more than secretary to a quaestor. By her he had the following children:
Titus, Domitian, and Domitilla. He outlived his wife and daughter, and
lost them both before he became emperor. After the death of his wife, he
renewed his union [731] with his former concubine Caenis, the freedwoman
of Antonia, and also her amanuensis, and treated her, even after he was
emperor, almost as if she had been his lawful wife. [732]

(444) IV. In the reign of Claudius, by the interest of Narcissus, he was
sent to Germany, in command of a legion; whence being removed into
Britain, he engaged the enemy in thirty several battles. He reduced
under subjection to the Romans two very powerful tribes, and above twenty
great towns, with the Isle of Wight, which lies close to the coast of
Britain; partly under the command of Aulus Plautius, the consular
lieutenant, and partly under Claudius himself [733]. For this success he
received the triumphal ornaments, and in a short time after two
priesthoods, besides the consulship, which he held during the two last
months of the year [734]. The interval between that and his
proconsulship he spent in leisure and retirement, for fear of Agrippina,
who still held great sway over her son, and hated all the friends of
Narcissus, who was then dead. Afterwards he got by lot the province of
Africa, which he governed with great reputation, excepting that once, in
an insurrection at Adrumetum, he was pelted with turnips. It is certain
that he returned thence nothing richer; for his credit was so low, that
he was obliged to mortgage his whole property to his brother, and was
reduced to the necessity of dealing in mules, for the support of his
rank; for which reason he was commonly called “the Muleteer.” He is said
likewise to have been convicted of extorting from a young man of fashion
two hundred thousand sesterces for procuring him the broad-stripe,
contrary to the wishes of his father, and was severely reprimanded for
it. While in attendance upon Nero in Achaia, he frequently withdrew from
the theatre while Nero was singing, and went to sleep if he remained,
which gave so much (445) offence, that he was not only excluded from his
society, but debarred the liberty of saluting him in public. Upon this,
he retired to a small out-of-the-way town, where he lay skulking in
constant fear of his life, until a province, with an army, was offered
him.

A firm persuasion had long prevailed through all the East [735], that it
was fated for the empire of the world, at that time, to devolve on some
who should go forth from Judaea. This prediction referred to a Roman
emperor, as the event shewed; but the Jews, applying it to themselves,
broke out into rebellion, and having defeated and slain their governor
[736], routed the lieutenant of Syria [737], a man of consular rank, who
was advancing to his assistance, and took an eagle, the standard, of one
of his legions. As the suppression of this revolt appeared to require a
stronger force and an active general, who might be safely trusted in an
affair of so much importance, Vespasian was chosen in preference to all
others, both for his known activity, and on account of the obscurity of
his origin and name, being a person of whom (446) there could be not the
least jealousy. Two legions, therefore, eight squadrons of horse, and
ten cohorts, being added to the former troops in Judaea, and, taking with
him his eldest son as lieutenant, as soon as he arrived in his province,
he turned the eyes of the neighbouring provinces upon him, by reforming
immediately the discipline of the camp, and engaging the enemy once or
twice with such resolution, that, in the attack of a castle [738], he had
his knee hurt by the stroke of a stone, and received several arrows in
his shield.

V. After the deaths of Nero and Galba, whilst Otho and Vitellius were
contending for the sovereignty, he entertained hopes of obtaining the
empire, with the prospect of which he had long before flattered himself,
from the following omens. Upon an estate belonging to the Flavian
family, in the neighbourhood of Rome, there was an old oak, sacred to
Mars, which, at the three several deliveries of Vespasia, put out each
time a new branch; evident intimations of the future fortune of each
child. The first was but a slender one, which quickly withered away; and
accordingly, the girl that was born did not live long. The second became
vigorous, which portended great good fortune; but the third grew like a
tree. His father, Sabinus, encouraged by these omens, which were
confirmed by the augurs, told his mother, “that her grandson would be
emperor of Rome;” at which she laughed heartily, wondering, she said,
“that her son should be in his dotage whilst she continued still in full
possession of her faculties.”

Afterwards in his aedileship, when Caius Caesar, being enraged at his not
taking care to have the streets kept clean, ordered the soldiers to fill
the bosom of his gown with dirt, some persons at that time construed it
into a sign that the government, being trampled under foot and deserted
in some civil commotion, would fall under his protection, and as it were
into his lap. Once, while he was at dinner, a strange dog, that wandered
about the streets, brought a man’s hand [739], and laid it under the
table. And another time, while he was at supper, a plough-ox throwing
the yoke off his neck, broke into the room, and after he had frightened
away all the attendants, (447) on a sudden, as if he was tired, fell down
at his feet, as he lay still upon his couch, and hung down his neck. A
cypress-tree likewise, in a field belonging to the family, was torn up by
the roots, and laid flat upon the ground, when there was no violent wind;
but next day it rose again fresher and stronger than before.

He dreamt in Achaia that the good fortune of himself and his family would
begin when Nero had a tooth drawn; and it happened that the day after, a
surgeon coming into the hall, showed him a tooth which he had just
extracted from Nero. In Judaea, upon his consulting the oracle of the
divinity at Carmel [740], the answer was so encouraging as to assure him
of success in anything he projected, however great or important it might
be. And when Josephus [741], one of the noble prisoners, was put in
chains, he confidently affirmed that he should be released in a very
short time by the same Vespasian, but he would be emperor first [742].
Some omens were likewise mentioned in the news from Rome, and among
others, that Nero, towards the close of his days, was commanded in a
dream to carry Jupiter’s sacred chariot out of the sanctuary where it
stood, to Vespasian’s house, and conduct it thence into the circus. Also
not long afterwards, as Galba was going to the election, in which he was
created consul for the second time, a statue of the Divine Julius [743] turned towards the east. And in the field of Bedriacum [744], before the
battle began, two eagles engaged in the sight of the army; and one of
them being beaten, a third came from the east, and drove away the
conqueror.

(448) VI. He made, however, no attempt upon the sovereignty, though his
friends were very ready to support him, and even pressed him to the
enterprise, until he was encouraged to it by the fortuitous aid of
persons unknown to him and at a distance. Two thousand men, drawn out of
three legions in the Moesian army, had been sent to the assistance of
Otho. While they were upon their march, news came that he had been
defeated, and had put an end to his life; notwithstanding which they
continued their march as far as Aquileia, pretending that they gave no
credit to the report. There, tempted by the opportunity which the
disorder of the times afforded them, they ravaged and plundered the
country at discretion; until at length, fearing to be called to an
account on their return, and punished for it, they resolved upon choosing
and creating an emperor. “For they were no ways inferior,” they said,
“to the army which made Galba emperor, nor to the pretorian troops which
had set up Otho, nor the army in Germany, to whom Vitellius owed his
elevation.” The names of all the consular lieutenants, therefore, being
taken into consideration, and one objecting to one, and another to
another, for various reasons; at last some of the third legion, which a
little before Nero’s death had been removed out of Syria into Moesia,
extolled Vespasian in high terms; and all the rest assenting, his name
was immediately inscribed on their standards. The design was
nevertheless quashed for a time, the troops being brought to submit to
Vitellius a little longer.

However, the fact becoming known, Tiberius Alexander, governor of Egypt,
first obliged the legions under his command to swear obedience to
Vespasian as their emperor, on the calends [the 1st] of July, which was
observed ever after as the day of his accession to the empire; and upon
the fifth of the ides of the same month [the 28th July], the army in
Judaea, where he then was, also swore allegiance to him. What
contributed greatly to forward the affair, was a copy of a letter,
whether real or counterfeit, which was circulated, and said to have been
written by Otho before his decease to Vespasian, recommending to him in
the most urgent terms to avenge his death, and entreating him to come to
the aid of the commonwealth; as well as a report which was circulated,
that Vitellius, after his success against Otho, proposed to change the
winter quarters of the legions, and remove those in Germany to a less
(449) hazardous station and a warmer climate. Moreover, amongst the
governors of provinces, Licinius Mucianus dropping the grudge arising
from a jealousy of which he had hitherto made no secret, promised to join
him with the Syrian army, and, among the allied kings, Volugesus, king of
the Parthians, offered him a reinforcement of forty thousand archers.

VII. Having, therefore, entered on a civil war, and sent forward his
generals and forces into Italy, be himself, in the meantime, passed over
to Alexandria, to obtain possession of the key of Egypt [745]. Here
having entered alone, without attendants, the temple of Serapis, to take
the auspices respecting the establishment of his power, and having done
his utmost to propitiate the deity, upon turning round, [his freedman] Basilides [746] appeared before him, and seemed to offer him the sacred
leaves, chaplets, and cakes, according to the usage of the place,
although no one had admitted him, and he had long laboured under a
muscular debility, which would hardly have allowed him to walk into the
temple; besides which, it was certain that at the very time he was far
away. Immediately after this, arrived letters with intelligence that
Vitellius’s troops had been defeated at Cremona, and he himself slain at
Rome. Vespasian, the new emperor, having been raised unexpectedly from a
low estate, wanted something which might clothe him with divine majesty
and authority. This, likewise, was now added. A poor man who was blind,
and another who was lame, came both together before him, when he was
seated on the tribunal, imploring him to heal them [747], and saying that
they were admonished (450) in a dream by the god Serapis to seek his aid,
who assured them that he would restore sight to the one by anointing his
eyes with his spittle, and give strength to the leg of the other, if he
vouchsafed but to touch it with his heel. At first he could scarcely
believe that the thing would any how succeed, and therefore hesitated to
venture on making the experiment. At length, however, by the advice of
his friends, he made the attempt publicly, in the presence of the
assembled multitudes, and it was crowned with success in both cases
[748]. About the same time, at Tegea in Arcadia, by the direction (451)
of some soothsayers, several vessels of ancient workmanship were dug out
of a consecrated place, on which there was an effigy resembling
Vespasian.

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