The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

This work is divided into thirty-seven books; the first of which contains
the Preface, addressed to the emperor Vespasian, probably the father, to
whom the author pays high compliments. The second book treats of the
world, the elements, and the stars. In respect to the world, or rather
the universe, the author’s opinion is the same with that of several
ancient philosophers, that it is a Deity, uncreated, infinite, and
eternal. Their notions, however, as might be expected, on a subject so
incomprehensible, are vague, confused, and imperfect. In a subsequent
chapter of the same book, where the nature of the Deity is more
particularly considered, the author’s conceptions of infinite power are
so inadequate, that, by way of consolation for the limited powers of man,
he observes that there are many things even beyond the power of the
Supreme Being; such, for instance, as the annihilation of his own
existence; to which the author adds, the power (477) of rendering mortals
eternal, and of raising the dead. It deserves to be remarked, that,
though a future state of rewards and punishments was maintained by the
most eminent among the ancient philosophers, the resurrection of the body
was a doctrine with which they were wholly unacquainted.

The author next treats of the planets, and the periods of their
respective revolutions; of the stars, comets, winds, thunder, lightning,
and other natural phenomena, concerning all which he delivers the
hypothetical notions maintained by the ancients, and mentions a variety
of extraordinary incidents which had occurred in different parts of the
world. The third book contains a general system of geography, which is
continued through the fourth, fifth, and sixth books. The seventh treats
of conception, and the generation of the human species, with a number of
miscellaneous observations, unconnected with the general subject. The
eighth treats of quadrupeds; the ninth, of aquatic animals; the tenth, of
birds; the eleventh, of insects and reptiles; the twelfth, of trees; the
thirteenth, of ointments, and of trees which grow near the sea-coast; the
fourteenth, of vines; the fifteenth, of fruit-trees; the sixteenth, of
forest-trees; the seventeenth, of the cultivation of trees; the
eighteenth, of agriculture; the nineteenth, of the nature of lint, hemp,
and similar productions; the twentieth, of the medicinal qualities of
vegetables cultivated in gardens; the twenty-first, of flowers; the
twenty-second, of the properties of herbs; the twenty-third, of the
medicines yielded by cultivated trees; the twenty-fourth, of medicines
derived from forest-trees; the twenty-fifth, of the properties of wild
herbs, and the origin of their use; the twenty-sixth, of other remedies
for diseases, and of some new diseases; the twenty-seventh, of different
kinds of herbs; the twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth, of
medicines procured from animals; the thirty-first and thirty-second, of
medicines obtained from aquatic animals, with some extraordinary facts
relative to the subject; the thirty-third, of the nature of metals; the
thirty-fourth, of brass, iron, lead, and tin; the thirty-fifth, of
pictures, and observations relative to painting; the thirty-sixth, of the
nature of stones and marbles; the thirty-seventh, of the origin of gems.
To the contents of each book, the author subjoins a list of the writers
from whom his observations have been collected.

Of Pliny’s talents as a writer, it might be deemed presumptuous to form a
decided opinion from his Natural History, which is avowedly a compilation
from various authors, and executed with greater regard to the matter of
the work, than to the elegance of composition. Making allowance,
however, for a degree of credulity, common to the human mind in the early
stage of physical (478) researches, he is far from being deficient in the
essential qualifications of a writer of Natural History. His
descriptions appear to be accurate, his observations precise, his
narrative is in general perspicuous, and he often illustrates his subject
by a vivacity of thought, as well as by a happy turn of expression. It
has been equally his endeavour to give novelty to stale disquisitions,
and authority to new observations. He has both removed the rust, and
dispelled the obscurity, which enveloped the doctrines of many ancient
naturalists; but, with all his care and industry, he has exploded fewer
errors, and sanctioned a greater number of doubtful opinions, than was
consistent with the exercise of unprejudiced and severe investigation.

Pliny was fifty-six years of age at the time of his death; the manner of
which is accurately related by his nephew, the elegant Pliny the Younger,
in a letter to Tacitus, who entertained a design of writing the life of
the naturalist.



I. Domitian was born upon the ninth of the calends of November [24th
October] [795], when his father was consul elect, (being to enter upon
his office the month following,) in the sixth region of the city, at the
Pomegranate [796], in the house which he afterwards converted into a
temple of the Flavian family. He is said to have spent the time of his
youth in so much want and infamy, that he had not one piece of plate
belonging to him; and it is well known, that Clodius Pollio, a man of
pretorian rank, against whom there is a poem of Nero’s extant, entitled
Luscio, kept a note in his hand-writing, which he sometimes produced, in
which Domitian made an assignation with him for the foulest purposes.
Some, likewise, have said, that he prostituted himself to Nerva, who
succeeded him. In the war with Vitellius, he fled into the Capitol with
his uncle Sabinus, and a part of the troops they had in the city [797].
But the enemy breaking in, and the temple being set on fire, he hid
himself all night with the sacristan; and next morning, assuming the
disguise of a worshipper of Isis, and mixing with the priests of that
idle superstition, he got over the Tiber [798], with only one attendant,
to the house of a woman who was the mother of one of his school-fellows,
and lurked there so close, that, though the enemy, who were at his heels,
searched very strictly after him, they could not discover him. At last,
after the success of his party, appearing in public, and being
unanimously saluted by the title of Caesar, he assumed the office of
praetor of the City, with consular authority, but in fact had nothing but
the name; for the jurisdiction he transferred to his next colleague. He
used, however, his absolute (480) power so licentiously, that even then
he plainly discovered what sort of prince he was likely to prove. Not to
go into details, after he had made free with the wives of many men of
distinction, he took Domitia Longina from her husband, Aelias Lamia, and
married her; and in one day disposed of above twenty offices in the city
and the provinces; upon which Vespasian said several times, “he wondered
he did not send him a successor too.”

II. He likewise designed an expedition into Gaul and Germany [799],
without the least necessity for it, and contrary to the advice of all his
father’s friends; and this he did only with the view of equalling his
brother in military achievements and glory. But for this he was severely
reprimanded, and that he might the more effectually be reminded of his
age and position, was made to live with his father, and his litter had to
follow his father’s and brother’s carriage, as often as they went abroad;
but he attended them in their triumph for the conquest of Judaea [800],
mounted on a white horse. Of the six consulships which he held, only one
was ordinary; and that he obtained by the cession and interest of his
brother. He greatly affected a modest behaviour, and, above all, a taste
for poetry; insomuch, that he rehearsed his performances in public,
though it was an art he had formerly little cultivated, and which he
afterwards despised and abandoned. Devoted, however, as he was at this
time to poetical pursuits, yet when Vologesus, king of the Parthians,
desired succours against the Alani, with one of Vespasian’s sons to
command them, he laboured hard to procure for himself that appointment.
But the scheme proving abortive, he endeavoured by presents and promises
to engage other kings of the East to make a similar request. After his
father’s death, he was for some time in doubt, whether he should not
offer the soldiers a donative double to that of his brother, and made no
scruple of saying frequently, “that he had been left his partner in the
empire, but that his father’s will had been fraudulently set aside.”
From that time forward, he was constantly engaged in plots against his
brother, both publicly and privately; until, falling dangerously ill, he
ordered all his attendants to (481) leave him, under pretence of his
being dead, before he really was so; and, at his decease, paid him no
other honour than that of enrolling him amongst the gods; and he often,
both in speeches and edicts, carped at his memory by sneers and

III. In the beginning of his reign, he used to spend daily an hour by
himself in private, during which time he did nothing else but catch
flies, and stick them through the body with a sharp pin. When some one
therefore inquired, “whether any one was with the emperor,” it was
significantly answered by Vibius Crispus, “Not so much as a fly.” Soon
after his advancement, his wife Domitia, by whom he had a son in his
second consulship, and whom the year following he complimented with the
title of Augusta, being desperately in love with Paris, the actor, he put
her away; but within a short time afterwards, being unable to bear the
separation, he took her again, under pretence of complying with the
people’s importunity. During some time, there was in his administration
a strange mixture of virtue and vice, until at last his virtues
themselves degenerated into vices; being, as we may reasonably conjecture
concerning his character, inclined to avarice through want, and to
cruelty through fear.

IV. He frequently entertained the people with most magnificent and
costly shows, not only in the amphitheatre, but the circus; where,
besides the usual races with chariots drawn by two or four horses
a-breast, he exhibited the representation of an engagement between both
horse and foot, and a sea-fight in the amphitheatre. The people were
also entertained with the chase of wild beasts and the combat of
gladiators, even in the night-time, by torch-light. Nor did men only
fight in these spectacles, but women also. He constantly attended at the
games given by the quaestors, which had been disused for some time, but
were revived by him; and upon those occasions, always gave the people the
liberty of demanding two pair of gladiators out of his own school, who
appeared last in court uniforms. Whenever he attended the shows of
gladiators, there stood at his feet a little boy dressed in scarlet, with
a prodigiously small head, with whom he used to talk very much, and
sometimes seriously. We are assured, that he was (482) overheard asking
him, “if he knew for what reason he had in the late appointment, made
Metius Rufus governor of Egypt?” He presented the people with naval
fights, performed by fleets almost as numerous as those usually employed
in real engagements; making a vast lake near the Tiber [801], and
building seats round it. And he witnessed them himself during a very
heavy rain. He likewise celebrated the Secular games [802], reckoning
not from the year in which they had been exhibited by Claudius, but from
the time of Augustus’s celebration of them. In these, upon the day of
the Circensian sports, in order to have a hundred races performed, he
reduced each course from seven rounds to five. He likewise instituted,
in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus, a solemn contest in music to be
performed every five years; besides horse-racing and gymnastic exercises,
with more prizes than are at present allowed. There was also a public
performance in elocution, both Greek and Latin and besides the musicians
who sung to the harp, there were others who played concerted pieces or
solos, without vocal accompaniment. Young girls also ran races in the
Stadium, at which he presided in his sandals, dressed in a purple robe,
made after the Grecian fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown
bearing the effigies of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; with the flamen of
Jupiter, and the college of priests sitting by his side in the same
dress; excepting only that their crowns had also his own image on them.
He celebrated also upon the Alban mount every year the festival of
Minerva, for whom he had appointed a college of priests, out of which
were chosen by lot persons to preside as governors over the college; who
were obliged to entertain the people with extraordinary chases of wild-
beasts, and stage-plays, besides contests for prizes in oratory and
poetry. He thrice bestowed upon the people a largess of three hundred
sesterces each man; and, at a public show of gladiators, a very plentiful
feast. At the festival of the Seven Hills [803], he distributed large
hampers of provisions (483) to the senatorian and equestrian orders, and
small baskets to the common people, and encouraged them to eat by setting
them the example. The day after, he scattered among the people a variety
of cakes and other delicacies to be scrambled for; and on the greater
part of them falling amidst the seats of the crowd, he ordered five
hundred tickets to be thrown into each range of benches belonging to the
senatorian and equestrian orders.

V. He rebuilt many noble edifices which had been destroyed by fire, and
amongst them the Capitol, which had been burnt down a second time [804];
but all the inscriptions were in his own name, without the least mention
of the original founders. He likewise erected a new temple in the
Capitol to Jupiter Custos, and a forum, which is now called Nerva’s
[805], as also the temple of the Flavian family [806], a stadium [807],
an odeum [808], and a naumachia [809]; out of the stone dug from which,
the sides of the Circus Maximus, which had been burnt down, were rebuilt.

VI. He undertook several expeditions, some from choice, and some from
necessity. That against the Catti [810] was unprovoked, but that against
the Sarmatians was necessary; an entire legion, with its commander,
having been cut off by them. He sent two expeditions against the
Dacians; the first upon the defeat of Oppius Sabinus, a man of consular
rank; and (484) the other, upon that of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the
pretorian cohorts, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of that war.
After several battles with the Catti and Daci, he celebrated a double
triumph. But for his successes against the Sarmatians, he only bore in
procession the laurel crown to Jupiter Capitolinus. The civil war, begun
by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germany, he quelled, without being
obliged to be personally present at it, with remarkable good fortune.
For, at the very moment of joining battle, the Rhine suddenly thawing,
the troops of the barbarians which were ready to join L. Antonius, were
prevented from crossing the river. Of this victory he had notice by some
presages, before the messengers who brought the news of it arrived. For
upon the very day the battle was fought, a splendid eagle spread its
wings round his statue at Rome, making most joyful cries. And shortly
after, a rumour became common, that Antonius was slain; nay, many
positively affirmed, that they saw his head brought to the city.

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