The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

XXIII. He used Greek verses very wittily; speaking of a tall man, who
had enormous parts:

Makxi bibas, kradon dolichoskion enchos;
Still shaking, as he strode, his vast long spear.

And of Cerylus, a freedman, who being very rich, had begun to pass
himself off as free-born, to elude the exchequer at his decease, and
assumed the name of Laches, he said:

—-O Lachaes, Lachaes,
Epan apothanaes, authis ex archaes esae Kaerylos.

Ah, Laches, Laches! when thou art no more,
Thou’lt Cerylus be called, just as before.

He chiefly affected wit upon his own shameful means of raising money, in
order to wipe off the odium by some joke, and turn it into ridicule. One
of his ministers, who was much in his favour, requesting of him a
stewardship for some person, under pretence of his being his brother, he
deferred granting him his petition, and in the meantime sent for the
candidate, and having squeezed out of him as much money as he had agreed
to give to his friend at court, he appointed him immediately to the
office. The minister soon after renewing his application, “You must,”
said he, “find another brother; for the one you adopted is in truth
mine.”

Suspecting once, during a journey, that his mule-driver had alighted to
shoe his mules, only in order to have an opportunity for allowing a
person they met, who was engaged in a law-suit, to speak to him, he asked
him, “how much he got for shoeing his mules?” and insisted on having a
share of the profit. When his son Titus blamed him for even laying a tax
upon urine, he applied to his nose a piece of the money he received in
the first instalment, and asked him, “if it stunk?” And he replying no,
“And yet,” said he, “it is derived from urine.”

Some deputies having come to acquaint him that a large statue, which
would cost a vast sum, was ordered to be erected for him at the public
expense, he told them to pay it down immediately, (461) holding out the
hollow of his hand, and saying, “there was a base ready for the statue.”
Not even when he was under the immediate apprehension and peril of death,
could he forbear jesting. For when, among other prodigies, the mausoleum
of the Caesars suddenly flew open, and a blazing star appeared in the
heavens; one of the prodigies, he said, concerned Julia Calvina, who was
of the family of Augustus [771]; and the other, the king of the
Parthians, who wore his hair long. And when his distemper first seized
him, “I suppose,” said he, “I shall soon be a god.” [772]

XXIV. In his ninth consulship, being seized, while in Campania, with a
slight indisposition, and immediately returning to the city, he soon
afterwards went thence to Cutiliae [773], and his estates in the country
about Reate, where he used constantly to spend the summer. Here, though
his disorder much increased, and he injured his bowels by too free use of
the cold waters, he nevertheless attended to the dispatch of business,
and even gave audience to ambassadors in bed. At last, being taken ill
of a diarrhoea, to such a degree that he was ready to faint, he cried
out, “An emperor ought to die standing upright.” In endeavouring to
rise, he died in the hands of those who were helping him up, upon the
eighth of the calends of July [24th June] [774], being sixty-nine years,
one month, and seven days old.

XXV. All are agreed that he had such confidence in the calculations on
his own nativity and that of his sons, that, after several conspiracies
against him, he told the senate, that either his sons would succeed him,
or nobody. It is said likewise, that he once saw in a dream a balance in
the middle of the porch of the Palatine house exactly poised; in one
(462) scale of which stood Claudius and Nero, in the other, himself and
his sons. The event corresponded to the symbol; for the reigns of the
two parties were precisely of the same duration. [775]

* * * * * *

Neither consanguinity nor adoption, as formerly, but great influence in
the army having now become the road to the imperial throne, no person
could claim a better title to that elevation than Titus Flavius
Vespasian. He had not only served with great reputation in the wars both
in Britain and Judaea, but seemed as yet untainted with any vice which
could pervert his conduct in the civil administration of the empire. It
appears, however, that he was prompted more by the persuasion of friends,
than by his own ambition, to prosecute the attainment of the imperial
dignity. To render this enterprise more successful, recourse was had to
a new and peculiar artifice, which, while well accommodated to the
superstitious credulity of the Romans, impressed them with an idea, that
Vespasian’s destiny to the throne was confirmed by supernatural
indications. But, after his elevation, we hear no more of his miraculous
achievements.

The prosecution of the war in Britain, which had been suspended for some
years, was resumed by Vespasian; and he sent thither Petilius Cerealis,
who by his bravery extended the limits of the Roman province. Under
Julius Frontinus, successor to that general, the invaders continued to
make farther progress in the reduction of the island: but the commander
who finally established the dominion of the Romans in Britain, was Julius
Agricola, not less distinguished for his military achievements, than for
his prudent regard to the civil administration of the country. He began
his operations with the conquest of North Wales, whence passing over into
the island of Anglesey, which had revolted since the time of Suetonius
Paulinus, he again reduced it to subjection. Then proceeding northwards
with his victorious army, he defeated the Britons in every engagement,
took possession of all the territories in the southern parts of the
island, and driving before him all who refused to submit to the Roman
arms, penetrated even into the forests and mountains of Caledonia. He
defeated the natives under Galgacus, their leader, in a decisive battle;
and fixing a line of garrisons between the friths of Clyde and Forth, he
secured the Roman province from the incursions of the people who occupied
the parts of the island (463) beyond that boundary. Wherever he
established the Roman power, he introduced laws and civilization amongst
the inhabitants, and employed every means of conciliating their
affection, as well as of securing their obedience.

The war in Judaea, which had been commenced under the former reign, was
continued in that of Vespasian; but he left the siege of Jerusalem to be
conducted by his son Titus, who displayed great valour and military
talents in the prosecution of the enterprise. After an obstinate defence
by the Jews, that city, so much celebrated in the sacred writings, was
finally demolished, and the glorious temple itself, the admiration of the
world, reduced to ashes; contrary, however, to the will of Titus, who
exerted his utmost efforts to extinguish the flames.

The manners of the Romans had now attained to an enormous pitch of
depravity, through the unbounded licentiousness of the tines; and, to the
honour of Vespasian, he discovered great zeal in his endeavours to effect
a national reformation. Vigilant, active, and persevering, he was
indefatigable in the management of public affairs, and rose in the winter
before day-break, to give audience to his officers of state. But if we
give credit to the whimsical imposition of a tax upon urine, we cannot
entertain any high opinion, either of his talents as a financier, or of
the resources of the Roman empire. By his encouragement of science, he
displayed a liberality, of which there occurs no example under all the
preceding emperors, since the time of Augustus. Pliny the elder was now
in the height of reputation, as well as in great favour with Vespasian;
and it was probably owing not a little to the advice of that minister,
that the emperor showed himself so much the patron of literary men. A
writer mentioned frequently by Pliny, and who lived in this reign, was
Licinius Mucianus, a Roman knight: he treated of the history and
geography of the eastern countries. Juvenal, who had begun his Satires
several years before, continued to inveigh against the flagrant vices of
the times; but the only author whose writings we have to notice in the
present reign, is a poet of a different class.

C. VALERIUS FLACCUS wrote a poem in eight books, on the Expedition of the
Argonauts; a subject which, next to the wars of Thebes and Troy, was in
ancient times the most celebrated. Of the life of this author,
biographers have transmitted no particulars; but we may place his birth
in the reign of Tiberius, before all the writers who flourished in the
Augustan age were extinct. He enjoyed the rays of the setting sun which
had illumined that glorious period, and he discovers the efforts of an
ambition to recall its meridian splendour. As the poem was left (464)
incomplete by the death of the author, we can only judge imperfectly of
the conduct and general consistency of the fable: but the most difficult
part having been executed, without any room for the censure of candid
criticism, we may presume that the sequel would have been finished with
an equal claim to indulgence, if not to applause. The traditional
anecdotes relative to the Argonautic expedition are introduced with
propriety, and embellished with the graces of poetical fiction. In
describing scenes of tenderness, this author is happily pathetic, and in
the heat of combat, proportionably animated. His similes present the
imagination with beautiful imagery, and not only illustrate, but give
additional force to the subject. We find in Flaccus a few expressions
not countenanced by the authority of the most celebrated Latin writers.
His language, however, in general, is pure; but his words are perhaps not
always the best that might have been chosen. The versification is
elevated, though not uniformly harmonious; and there pervades the whole
poem an epic dignity, which renders it superior to the production
ascribed to Orpheus, or to that of Apollonius, on the same subject.

(465)

vespasian-portrait-1

TITUS FLAVIUS VESPASIANUS AUGUSTUS.
I. Titus, who had the same cognomen with his father, was the darling and
delight of mankind; so much did the natural genius, address, or good
fortune he possessed tend to conciliate the favour of all. This was,
indeed, extremely difficult, after he became emperor, as before that
time, and even during the reign of his father, he lay under public odium
and censure. He was born upon the third of the calends of January, [30th
Dec.] in the year remarkable for the death of Caius [776], near the
Septizonium [777], in a mean house, and a very small and dark room, which
still exists, and is shown to the curious.

II. He was educated in the palace with Britannicus, and instructed in
the same branches of learning, and under the same masters. During this
time, they say, that a physiognomist being introduced by Narcissus, the
freedman of Claudius, to examine the features of Britannicus [778],
positively affirmed that he would never become emperor, but that Titus,
who stood by, would. They were so familiar, that Titus being next him at
table, is thought to have tasted of the fatal potion which put an end to
Britannicus’s life, and to have contracted from it a distemper which hung
about him a long time. In remembrance of all these circumstances, he
afterwards erected a golden statue of him in the Palatium, and dedicated
to him an equestrian statue of ivory; attending it in the Circensian
procession, in which it is still carried to this day.

(466) III. While yet a boy, he was remarkable for his noble endowments
both of body and mind; and as he advanced in years, they became still
more conspicuous. He had a fine person, combining an equal mixture of
majesty and grace; was very strong, though not tall, and somewhat
corpulent. Gifted with an excellent memory, and a capacity for all the
arts of peace and war; he was a perfect master of the use of arms and
riding; very ready in the Latin and Greek tongues, both in verse and
prose; and such was the facility he possessed in both, that he would
harangue and versify extempore. Nor was he unacquainted with music, but
could both sing and play upon the harp sweetly and scientifically. I
have likewise been informed by many persons, that he was remarkably quick
in writing short-hand, would in merriment and jest engage with his
secretaries in the imitation of any hand-writing he saw, and often say,
“that he was admirably qualified for forgery.”

IV. He filled with distinction the rank of a military tribune both in
Germany and Britain, in which he conducted himself with the utmost
activity, and no less modesty and reputation; as appears evident from the
great number of statues, with honourable inscriptions, erected to him in
various parts of both those provinces. After serving in the wars, he
frequented the courts of law, but with less assiduity than applause.
About the same time, he married Arricidia, the daughter of Tertullus, who
was only a knight, but had formerly been prefect of the pretorian guards.
After her decease, he married Marcia Furnilla, of a very noble family,
but afterwards divorced her, taking from her the daughter he had by her.
Upon the expiration of his quaestorship, he was raised to the rank of
commander of a legion [779], and took the two strong cities of Tarichaea
and Gamala, in Judaea; and having his horse killed under him in a battle,
he mounted another, whose rider he had encountered and slain.

V. Soon afterwards, when Galba came to be emperor, he was sent to
congratulate him, and turned the eyes of all people upon himself,
wherever he came; it being the general opinion amongst them, that the
emperor had sent for him with a design to adopt him for his son. But
finding all things again in confusion, he turned back upon the road; and
going to consult (467) the oracle of Venus at Paphos about his voyage, he
received assurances of obtaining the empire for himself. These hopes
were speedily strengthened, and being left to finish the reduction of
Judaea, in the final assault of Jerusalem, he slew seven of its
defenders, with the like number of arrows, and took it upon his
daughter’s birth-day [780]. So great was the joy and attachment of the
soldiers, that, in their congratulations, they unanimously saluted him by
the title of Emperor [781]; and, upon his quitting the province soon
afterwards, would needs have detained him, earnestly begging him, and
that not without threats, “either to stay, or take them all with him.”
This occurrence gave rise to the suspicion of his being engaged in a
design to rebel against his father, and claim for himself the government
of the East; and the suspicion increased, when, on his way to Alexandria,
he wore a diadem at the consecration of the ox Apis at Memphis; and,
though he did it only in compliance with an ancient religious usage of
the country, yet there was some who put a bad construction upon it.
Making, therefore, what haste he could into Italy, he arrived first at
Rhegium, and sailing thence in a merchant ship to Puteoli, went to Rome
with all possible expedition. Presenting himself unexpectedly to his
father, he said, by way of contradicting the strange reports raised
concerning him, “I am come, father, I am come.”

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