The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

VI. From that time he constantly acted as colleague with his father,
and, indeed, as regent of the empire. He triumphed [782] (468) with his
father, bore jointly with him the office of censor [783], and was,
besides, his colleague not only in the tribunitian authority [784], but
in seven consulships [785]. Taking upon himself the care and inspection
of all offices, he dictated letters, wrote proclamations in his father’s
name, and pronounced his speeches in the senate in place of the quaestor.
He likewise assumed the command of the pretorian guards, although no one
but a Roman knight had ever before been their prefect. In this he
conducted himself with great haughtiness and violence, taking off without
scruple or delay all those he had most reason to suspect, after he had
secretly sent his emissaries into the theatres and camp, to demand, as if
by general consent, that the suspected persons should be delivered up to
punishment. Among these, he invited to supper A. Caecina, a man of
consular rank, whom he ordered to be stabbed at his departure,
immediately after he had gone out of the room. To this act, indeed, he
was provoked by an imminent danger; for he had discovered a writing under
the hand of Caecina, containing an account of a plot hatched among the
soldiers. By these acts, though he provided for his future security, yet
for the present he so much incurred the hatred of the people, that
scarcely ever any one came to the empire with a more odious character, or
more universally disliked.

VII. Besides his cruelty, he lay under the suspicion of giving (469) way
to habits of luxury, as he often prolonged his revels till midnight with
the most riotous of his acquaintance. Nor was he unsuspected of
lewdness, on account of the swarms of catamites and eunuchs about him,
and his well-known attachment to queen Berenice [786], who received from
him, as it is reported, a promise of marriage. He was supposed, besides,
to be of a rapacious disposition; for it is certain, that, in causes
which came before his father, he used to offer his interest for sale, and
take bribes. In short, people publicly expressed an unfavourable opinion
of him, and said he would prove another Nero. This prejudice, however,
turned out in the end to his advantage, and enhanced his praises to the
highest pitch when he was found to possess no vicious propensities, but,
on the contrary, the noblest virtues. His entertainments were agreeable
rather than extravagant; and he surrounded himself with such excellent
friends, that the succeeding princes adopted them as most serviceable to
themselves and the state. He immediately sent away Berenice from the
city, much against both their inclinations. Some of his old eunuchs,
though such accomplished dancers, that they bore an uncontrollable sway
upon the stage, he was so far from treating with any extraordinary
kindness, that he would not so much as witness their performances in the
crowded theatre. He violated no private right; (470) and if ever man
refrained from injustice, he did; nay, he would not accept of the
allowable and customary offerings. Yet, in munificence, he was inferior
to none of the princes before him. Having dedicated his amphitheatre
[787], and built some warm baths [788] close by it with great expedition,
he entertained the people with most magnificent spectacles. He likewise
exhibited a naval fight in the old Naumachia, besides a combat of
gladiators; and in one day brought into the theatre five thousand wild
beasts of all kinds. [789]

(471) VIII. He was by nature extremely benevolent; for whereas all the
emperors after Tiberius, according to the example he had set them, would
not admit the grants made by former princes to be valid, unless they
received their own sanction, he confirmed them all by one general edict,
without waiting for any applications respecting them. Of all who
petitioned for any favour, he sent none away without hopes. And when his
ministers represented to him that he promised more than he could perform,
he replied, “No one ought to go away downcast from an audience with his
prince.” Once at supper, reflecting that he had done nothing for any
that day, he broke out into that memorable and justly-admired saying, “My
friends, I have lost a day.” [790] More particularly, he treated the
people on all occasions with so much courtesy, that, on his presenting
them with a show of gladiators, he declared, “He should manage it, not
according to his own fancy, but that of the spectators,” and did
accordingly. He denied them nothing, and very frankly encouraged them to
ask what they pleased. Espousing the cause of the Thracian party among
the gladiators, he frequently joined in the popular demonstrations in
their favour, but without compromising his dignity or doing injustice.
To omit no opportunity of acquiring popularity, he sometimes made use
himself of the baths he had erected, without excluding the common people.
There happened in his reign some dreadful accidents; an eruption of Mount
Vesuvius [791], in Campania, and a fire in Rome, which continued during
three days and three nights [792]; besides a plague, such as was scarcely
ever known before. Amidst these many great disasters, he not only
manifested the concern (472) which might be expected from a prince. but
even the affection of a father, for his people; one while comforting them
by his proclamations, and another while relieving them to the utmost of
his power. He chose by lot, from amongst the men of consular rank,
commissioners for repairing the losses in Campania. The estates of those
who had perished by the eruption of Vesuvius, and who had left no heirs,
he applied to the repair of the ruined cities. With regard to the public
buildings destroyed by fire in the City, he declared that nobody should
be a loser but himself. Accordingly, he applied all the ornaments of his
palaces to the decoration of the temples, and purposes of public utility,
and appointed several men of the equestrian order to superintend the
work. For the relief of the people during the plague, he employed, in
the way of sacrifice and medicine, all means both human and divine.
Amongst the calamities of the times, were informers and their agents; a
tribe of miscreants who had grown up under the licence of former reigns.
These he frequently ordered to be scourged or beaten with sticks in the
Forum, and then, after he had obliged them to pass through the
amphitheatre as a public spectacle, commanded them to be sold for slaves,
or else banished them to some rocky islands. And to discourage such
practices for the future, amongst other things, he prohibited actions to
be successively brought under different laws for the same cause, or the
state of affairs of deceased persons to be inquired into after a certain
number of years.

IX. Having declared that he accepted the office of Pontifex Maximus for
the purpose of preserving his hands undefiled, he faithfully adhered to
his promise. For after that time he was neither directly nor indirectly
concerned in the death of any person, though he sometimes was justly
irritated. He swore “that he would perish himself, rather than prove the
destruction of any man.” Two men of patrician rank being convicted of
aspiring to the empire, he only advised them to desist, saying, “that the
sovereign power was disposed of by fate,” and promised them, that if
there was any thing else they desired of him, he would grant it. He also
immediately sent messengers to the mother of one of them, who was at a
great distance, and in deep anxiety about her son, to assure her of his
safety. Nay, he not only invited them to sup with (473) him, but next
day, at a show of gladiators, purposely placed them close by him; and
handed to them the arms of the combatants for his inspection. It is said
likewise, that having had their nativities cast, he assured them, “that a
great calamity was impending on both of them, but from another hand, and
not from his.” Though his brother was continually plotting against him,
almost openly stirring up the armies to rebellion, and contriving to get
away, yet he could not endure to put him to death, or to banish him from
his presence; nor did he treat him with less respect than before. But
from his first accession to the empire, he constantly declared him his
partner in it, and that he should be his successor; begging of him
sometimes in private, with tears in his eyes, “to return the affection he
had for him.”

X. Amidst all these favourable circumstances, he was cut off by an
untimely death, more to the loss of mankind than himself. At the close
of the public spectacles, he wept bitterly in the presence of the people,
and then retired into the Sabine country [793], rather melancholy,
because a victim had made its escape while he was sacrificing, and loud
thunder had been heard while the atmosphere was serene. At the first
resting-place on the road, he was seized with a fever, and being carried
forward in a litter, they say that he drew back the curtains, and looked
up to heaven, complaining heavily, “that his life was taken from him,
though he had done nothing to deserve it; for there was no action of his
that he had occasion to repent of, but one.” What that was, he neither
disclosed himself, nor is it easy for us to conjecture. Some imagine
that he alluded to the connection which he had formerly had with his
brother’s wife. But Domitia solemnly denied it on oath; which she would
never have done, had there been any truth in the report; nay, she would
certainly have gloried in it, as she was forward enough to boast of all
her scandalous intrigues.

XI. He died in the same villa where his father had died (474) before
him, upon the Ides of September [the 13th of September]; two years, two
months, and twenty days after he had succeeded his father; and in the
one-and-fortieth year of his age [794]. As soon as the news of his death
was published, all people mourned for him, as for the loss of some near
relative. The senate assembled in haste, before they could be summoned
by proclamation, and locking the doors of their house at first, but
afterwards opening them, gave him such thanks, and heaped upon him such
praises, now he was dead, as they never had done whilst he was alive and
present amongst them.

* * * * * *

TITUS FLAVIUS VESPASIAN, the younger, was the first prince who succeeded
to the empire by hereditary right; and having constantly acted, after his
return from Judaea, as colleague with his father in the administration,
he seemed to be as well qualified by experience as he was by abilities,
for conducting the affairs of the empire. But with respect to his
natural disposition, and moral behaviour, the expectations entertained by
the public were not equally flattering. He was immoderately addicted to
luxury; he had betrayed a strong inclination to cruelty; and he lived in
the habitual practice of lewdness, no less unnatural than intemperate.
But, with a degree of virtuous resolution unexampled in history, he had
no sooner taken into his hands the entire reins of government, than he
renounced every vicious attachment. Instead of wallowing in luxury, as
before, he became a model of temperance; instead of cruelty, he displayed
the strongest proofs of humanity and benevolence; and in the room of
lewdness, he exhibited a transition to the most unblemished chastity and
virtue. In a word, so sudden and great a change was never known in the
character of mortal; and he had the peculiar glory to receive the
appellation of “the darling and delight of mankind.”

Under a prince of such a disposition, the government of the empire could
not but be conducted with the strictest regard to the public welfare.
The reform, which was begun in the late reign, he prosecuted with the
most ardent application; and, had he lived for a longer time, it is
probable that his authority and example would have produced the most
beneficial effects upon the manners of the Romans.

During the reign of this emperor, in the seventy-ninth year of (475) the
Christian era, happened the first eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which has
ever since been celebrated for its volcano. Before this time, Vesuvius
is spoken of, by ancient writers, as being covered with orchards and
vineyards, and of which the middle was dry and barren. The eruption was
accompanied by an earthquake, which destroyed several cities of Campania,
particularly Pompeii and Herculaneum; while the lava, pouring down the
mountain in torrents, overwhelmed, in various directions, the adjacent
plains. The burning ashes were carried not only over the neighbouring
country, but as far as the shores of Egypt, Libya, and even Syria.
Amongst those to whom this dreadful eruption proved fatal, was Pliny, the
celebrated naturalist, whose curiosity to examine the phenomenon led him
so far within the verge of danger, that he could not afterwards escape.

PLINY, surnamed the Elder, was born at Verona, of a noble family. He
distinguished himself early by his military achievements in the German
war, received the dignity of an Augur, at Rome, and was afterwards
appointed governor of Spain. In every public character, he acquitted
himself with great reputation, and enjoyed the esteem of the several
emperors under whom he lived. The assiduity with which he applied
himself to the collection of information, either curious or useful,
surpasses all example. From an early hour in the morning, until late at
night, he was almost constantly employed in discharging the duties of his
public station, in reading or hearing books read by his amanuensis, and
in extracting from them whatever seemed worthy of notice. Even during
his meals, and while travelling in his carriage upon business, he
prosecuted with unremitting zeal and diligence his taste for enquiry and
compilation. No man ever displayed so strong a persuasion of the value
of time, or availed himself so industriously of it. He considered every
moment as lost which was not employed in literary pursuits. The books
which he wrote, in consequence of this indefatigable exertion, were,
according to the account transmitted by his nephew, Pliny the younger,
numerous, and on various subjects. The catalogue of them is as follows:
a book on Equestrian Archery, which discovered much skill in the art; the
Life of Q. Pomponius Secundus; twenty books of the Wars of Germany; a
complete treatise on the Education of an Orator, in six volumes; eight
books of Doubtful Discourses, written in the latter part of the reign of
Nero, when every kind of moral discussion was attended with danger; with
a hundred and sixty volumes of remarks on the writings of the various
authors which he had perused. For the last-mentioned production only,
and before it was brought near to its accomplishment, we are told, that
he (476) was offered by Largius Licinius four hundred thousand sesterces,
amounting to upwards of three thousand two hundred pounds sterling; an
enormous sum for the copyright of a book before the invention of
printing! But the only surviving work of this voluminous author is his
Natural History, in thirty-seven books, compiled from the various writers
who had treated of that extensive and interesting subject.

If we estimate this great work either by the authenticity of the
information which it contains, or its utility in promoting the
advancement of arts and sciences, we should not consider it as an object
of any extraordinary encomiums; but when we view it as a literary
monument, which displays the whole knowledge of the ancients, relative to
Natural History, collected during a period of about seven hundred years,
from the time of Thales the Milesian, it has a just claim to the
attention of every speculative enquirer. It is not surprising, that the
progress of the human mind, which, in moral science, after the first dawn
of enquiry, was rapid both amongst the Greeks and Romans, should be slow
in the improvement of such branches of knowledge as depended entirely on
observation and facts, which were peculiarly difficult of attainment.
Natural knowledge can only be brought to perfection by the prosecution of
enquiries in different climates, and by a communication of discoveries
amongst those by whom it is cultivated. But neither could enquiries be
prosecuted, nor discoveries communicated, with success, while the greater
part of the world was involved in barbarism, while navigation was slow
and limited, and the art of printing unknown. The consideration of these
circumstances will afford sufficient apology for the imperfect state in
which natural science existed amongst the ancients. But we proceed to
give an abstract of their extent, as they appear in the compilation of
Pliny.

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