The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

VIII. Returning now to Rome, under these auspices, and with a great
reputation, after enjoying a triumph for victories over the Jews, he
added eight consulships [749] to his former one. He likewise assumed the
censorship, and made it his principal concern, during the whole of his
government, first to restore order in the state, which had been almost
ruined, and was in a tottering condition, and then to improve it. The
soldiers, one part of them emboldened by victory, and the other smarting
with the disgrace of their defeat, had abandoned themselves to every
species of licentiousness and insolence. Nay, the provinces, too, and
free cities, and some kingdoms in alliance with Rome, were all in a
disturbed state. He, therefore, disbanded many of Vitellius’s soldiers,
and punished others; and so far was he from granting any extraordinary
favours to the sharers of his success, that it was late before he paid
the gratuities due to them by law. That he might let slip no opportunity
of reforming the discipline of the army, upon a young man’s coming much
perfumed to return him thanks (452) for having appointed him to command a
squadron of horse, he turned away his head in disgust, and, giving him
this sharp reprimand, “I had rather you had smelt of garlic,” revoked his
commission. When the men belonging to the fleet, who travelled by turns
from Ostia and Puteoli to Rome, petitioned for an addition to their pay,
under the name of shoe-money, thinking that it would answer little
purpose to send them away without a reply, he ordered them for the future
to run barefooted; and so they have done ever since. He deprived of
their liberties, Achaia, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium, and Samos; and reduced
them into the form of provinces; Thrace, also, and Cilicia, as well as
Comagene, which until that time had been under the government of kings.
He stationed some legions in Cappadocia on account of the frequent
inroads of the barbarians, and, instead of a Roman knight, appointed as
governor of it a man of consular rank. The ruins of houses which had
been burnt down long before, being a great desight to the city, he gave
leave to any one who would, to take possession of the void ground and
build upon it, if the proprietors should hesitate to perform the work
themselves. He resolved upon rebuilding the Capitol, and was the
foremost to put his hand to clearing the ground of the rubbish, and
removed some of it upon his own shoulder. And he undertook, likewise, to
restore the three thousand tables of brass which had been destroyed in
the fire which consumed the Capitol; searching in all quarters for copies
of those curious and ancient records, in which were contained the decrees
of the senate, almost from the building of the city, as well as the acts
of the people, relative to alliances, treaties, and privileges granted to
any person.

IX. He likewise erected several new public buildings, namely, the temple
of Peace [750] near the Forum, that of Claudius on the (453) Coelian
mount, which had been begun by Agrippina, but almost entirely demolished
by Nero [751]; and an amphitheatre [752] in the middle of the city, upon
finding that Augustus had projected such a work. He purified the
senatorian and equestrian orders, which had been much reduced by the
havoc made amongst them at several times, and was fallen into disrepute
by neglect. Having expelled the most unworthy, he chose in their room
the most honourable persons in Italy and the provinces. And to let it be
known that those two orders differed not so much in privileges as in
dignity, he declared publicly, when some altercation passed between a
senator and a Roman knight, “that senators ought not to be treated with
scurrilous language, unless they were the aggressors, and then it was
fair and lawful to return it.”

X. The business of the courts had prodigiously accumulated, partly from
old law-suits which, on account of the interruption that had been given
to the course of justice, still remained undecided, and partly from the
accession of new suits arising out of the disorder of the times. He,
therefore, chose commissioners by lot to provide for the restitution of
what had been seized by violence during the war, and others with
extraordinary jurisdiction to decide causes belonging to the centumviri,
and reduce them to as small a number as possible, for the dispatch of
which, otherwise, the lives of the litigants could scarcely allow
sufficient time.

XI. Lust and luxury, from the licence which had long prevailed, had also
grown to an enormous height. He, therefore, obtained a decree of the
senate, that a woman who formed an union with the slave of another
person, should be considered (454) a bondwoman herself; and that usurers
should not be allowed to take proceedings at law for the recovery of
money lent to young men whilst they lived in their father’s family, not
even after their fathers were dead.

XII. In other affairs, from the beginning to the end of his government,
he conducted himself with great moderation and clemency. He was so far
from dissembling the obscurity of his extraction, that he frequently made
mention of it himself. When some affected to trace his pedigree to the
founders of Reate, and a companion of Hercules [753], whose monument is
still to be seen on the Salarian road, he laughed at them for it. And he
was so little fond of external and adventitious ornaments, that, on the
day of his triumph [754], being quite tired of the length and tediousness
of the procession, he could not forbear saying, “he was rightly served,
for having in his old age been so silly as to desire a triumph; as if it
was either due to his ancestors, or had ever been expected by himself.”
Nor would he for a long time accept of the tribunitian authority, or the
title of Father of his Country. And in regard to the custom of searching
those who came to salute him, he dropped it even in the time of the civil

XIII. He bore with great mildness the freedom used by his friends, the
satirical allusions of advocates, and the petulance of philosophers.
Licinius Mucianus, who had been guilty of notorious acts of lewdness,
but, presuming upon his great services, treated him very rudely, he
reproved only in private; and when complaining of his conduct to a common
friend of theirs, he concluded with these words, “However, I am a man.”
Salvius Liberalis, in pleading the cause of a rich man under prosecution,
presuming to say, “What is it to Caesar, if Hipparchus possesses a
hundred millions of sesterces?” he commended him for it. Demetrius, the
Cynic philosopher [755], (455) who had been sentenced to banishment,
meeting him on the road, and refusing to rise up or salute him, nay,
snarling at him in scurrilous language, he only called him a cur.

XIV. He was little disposed to keep up the memory of affronts or
quarrels, nor did he harbour any resentment on account of them. He made
a very splendid marriage for the daughter of his enemy Vitellius, and
gave her, besides, a suitable fortune and equipage. Being in a great
consternation after he was forbidden the court in the time of Nero, and
asking those about him, what he should do? or, whither he should go? one
of those whose office it was to introduce people to the emperor,
thrusting him out, bid him go to Morbonia [756]. But when this same
person came afterwards to beg his pardon, he only vented his resentment
in nearly the same words. He was so far from being influenced by
suspicion or fear to seek the destruction of any one, that, when his
friends advised him to beware of Metius Pomposianus, because it was
commonly believed, on his nativity being cast, that he was destined by
fate to the empire, he made him consul, promising for him, that he would
not forget the benefit conferred.

XV. It will scarcely be found, that so much as one innocent person
suffered in his reign, unless in his absence, and without his knowledge,
or, at least, contrary to his inclination, and when he was imposed upon.
Although Helvidius Priscus [757] was the only man who presumed to salute
him on his return from Syria by his private name of Vespasian, and, when
he came to be praetor, omitted any mark of honour to him, or even any
mention of him in his edicts, yet he was not angry, until Helvidius
proceeded to inveigh against him with the most scurrilous language.
(456) Though he did indeed banish him, and afterwards ordered him to be
put to death, yet he would gladly have saved him notwithstanding, and
accordingly dispatched messengers to fetch back the executioners; and he
would have saved him, had he not been deceived by a false account
brought, that he had already perished. He never rejoiced at the death of
any man; nay he would shed tears, and sigh, at the just punishment of the

XVI. The only thing deservedly blameable in his character was his love
of money. For not satisfied with reviving the imposts which had been
repealed in the time of Galba, he imposed new and onerous taxes,
augmented the tribute of the provinces, and doubled that of some of them.
He likewise openly engaged in a traffic, which is discreditable [758] even to a private individual, buying great quantities of goods, for the
purpose of retailing them again to advantage. Nay, he made no scruple of
selling the great offices of the state to candidates, and pardons to
persons under prosecution, whether they were innocent or guilty. It is
believed, that he advanced all the most rapacious amongst the procurators
to higher offices, with the view of squeezing them after they had
acquired great wealth. He was commonly said, “to have used them as
sponges,” because it was his practice, as we may say, to wet them when
dry, and squeeze them when wet. It is said that he was naturally
extremely covetous, and was upbraided with it by an old herdsman of his,
who, upon the emperor’s refusing to enfranchise him gratis, which on his
advancement he humbly petitioned for, cried out, “That the fox changed
his hair, but not his nature.” On the other hand, some are of opinion,
that he was urged to his rapacious proceedings by necessity, and the
extreme poverty of the treasury and exchequer, of which he took public
notice in the beginning of his reign; declaring that “no less than four
hundred thousand millions of sesterces were wanting to carry on the
government.” This is the more likely to be true, because he applied to
the best purposes what he procured by bad means.

XVII. His liberality, however, to all ranks of people, was excessive.
He made up to several senators the estate required (457) by law to
qualify them for that dignity; relieving likewise such men of consular
rank as were poor, with a yearly allowance of five hundred thousand
sesterces [759]; and rebuilt, in a better manner than before, several
cities in different parts of the empire, which had been damaged by
earthquakes or fires.

XVIII. He was a great encourager of learning and the liberal arts. He
first granted to the Latin and Greek professors of rhetoric the yearly
stipend of a hundred thousand sesterces [760] each out of the exchequer.
He also bought the freedom of superior poets and artists [761], and gave
a noble gratuity to the restorer of the Coan of Venus [762], and to
another artist who repaired the Colossus [763]. Some one offering to
convey some immense columns into the Capitol at a small expense by a
mechanical contrivance, he rewarded him very handsomely for his
invention, but would not accept his service, saying, “Suffer me to find
maintenance for the poor people.” [764]

XIX. In the games celebrated when the stage-scenery of (458) the theatre
of Marcellus [765] was repaired, he restored the old musical
entertainments. He gave Apollinaris, the tragedian, four hundred
thousand sesterces, and to Terpinus and Diodorus, the harpers, two
hundred thousand; to some a hundred thousand; and the least he gave to
any of the performers was forty thousand, besides many golden crowns. He
entertained company constantly at his table, and often in great state and
very sumptuously, in order to promote trade. As in the Saturnalia he
made presents to the men which they were to carry away with them, so did
he to the women upon the calends of March [766]; notwithstanding which,
he could not wipe off the disrepute of his former stinginess. The
Alexandrians called him constantly Cybiosactes; a name which had been
given to one of their kings who was sordidly avaricious. Nay, at his
funeral, Favo, the principal mimic, personating him, and imitating, as
actors do, both his manner of speaking and his gestures, asked aloud of
the procurators, “how much his funeral and the procession would cost?”
And being answered “ten millions of sesterces,” he cried out, “give him
but a hundred thousand sesterces, and they might throw his body into the
Tiber, if they would.”

XX. He was broad-set, strong-limbed, and his features gave the idea of a
man in the act of straining himself. In consequence, one of the city
wits, upon the emperor’s desiring him “to say something droll respecting
himself,” facetiously answered, “I will, when you have done relieving
your bowels.” [767] He enjoyed a good state of health, though he used no
other means to preserve it, than repeated friction, as much (459) as he
could bear, on his neck and other parts of his body, in the tennis-court
attached to the baths, besides fasting one day in every month.

XXI. His method of life was commonly this. After he became emperor, he
used to rise very early, often before daybreak. Having read over his
letters, and the briefs of all the departments of the government offices;
he admitted his friends; and while they were paying him their
compliments, he would put on his own shoes, and dress himself with his
own hands. Then, after the dispatch of such business as was brought
before him, he rode out, and afterwards retired to repose, lying on his
couch with one of his mistresses, of whom he kept several after the death
of Caenis [768]. Coming out of his private apartments, he passed to the
bath, and then entered the supper-room. They say that he was never more
good-humoured and indulgent than at that time: and therefore his
attendants always seized that opportunity, when they had any favour to

XXII. At supper, and, indeed, at other times, he was extremely free and
jocose. For he had humour, but of a low kind, and he would sometimes use
indecent language, such as is addressed to young girls about to be
married. Yet there are some things related of him not void of ingenious
pleasantry; amongst which are the following. Being once reminded by
Mestrius Florus, that plaustra was a more proper expression than plostra,
he the next day saluted him by the name of Flaurus [769]. A certain lady
pretending to be desperately enamoured of him, he was prevailed upon to
admit her to his bed; and after he had gratified her desires, he gave her
[770] four hundred (460) thousand sesterces. When his steward desired to
know how he would have the sum entered in his accounts, he replied, “For
Vespasian’s being seduced.”

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.