The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

VII. He made many innovations in common practices. He abolished the
Sportula [811], and revived the old practice of regular suppers. To the
four former parties in the Circensian games, he added two new, who were
gold and scarlet. He prohibited the players from acting in the theatre,
but permitted them the practice of their art in private houses. He
forbad the castration of males; and reduced the price of the eunuchs who
were still left in the hands of the dealers in slaves. On the occasion
of a great abundance of wine, accompanied by a scarcity of corn,
supposing that the tillage of the ground was neglected for the sake of
attending too much to the cultivation of vineyards, he published a
proclamation forbidding the planting of any new vines in Italy, and
ordering the vines in the provinces to be cut down, nowhere permitting
more than one half of them to remain [812]. But he did not persist in
the execution of this project. Some of the greatest offices he conferred
upon his freedmen and soldiers. He forbad two legions to be quartered in
the same camp, and more than a thousand sesterces to be deposited by any
soldier with the standards; because it was thought that Lucius Antonius
had been encouraged in his late project by the large sum deposited in the
military chest by the two legions which he had in the same winter-
quarters. He made an addition to the soldiers’ pay, of three gold pieces
a year.

VIII. In the administration of justice he was diligent and assiduous;
and frequently sat in the Forum out of course, to cancel the judgments of
the court of The One Hundred, which had been procured through favour, or
interest. He occasionally cautioned the judges of the court of recovery
to beware of being too ready to admit claims for freedom brought before
them. He set a mark of infamy upon judges who were convicted of taking
bribes, as well as upon their assessors. He likewise instigated the
tribunes of the people to prosecute a corrupt aedile for extortion, and
to desire the senate to appoint judges for his trial. He likewise took
such effectual care in punishing magistrates of the city, and governors
of provinces, guilty of malversation, that they never were at any time
more moderate or more just. Most of these, since his reign, we have seen
prosecuted for crimes of various kinds. Having taken upon himself the
reformation of the public manners, he restrained the licence of the
populace in sitting promiscuously with the knights in the theatre.
Scandalous libels, published to defame persons of rank, of either sex, he
suppressed, and inflicted upon their authors a mark of infamy. He
expelled a man of quaestorian rank from the senate, for practising
mimicry and dancing. He debarred infamous women the use of litters; as
also the right of receiving legacies, or inheriting estates. He struck
out of the list of judges a Roman knight for taking again his wife whom
he had divorced and prosecuted for adultery. He condemned several men of
the senatorian and equestrian orders, upon the Scantinian law [813]. The
lewdness of the Vestal Virgins, which had been overlooked by his father
and brother, he punished severely, but in different ways; viz. offences
committed before his reign, with death, and those since its commencement,
according to ancient custom. For to the two sisters called Ocellatae, he
gave liberty to choose the mode of death which they preferred, and
banished (486) their paramours. But Cornelia, the president of the
Vestals, who had formerly been acquitted upon a charge of incontinence,
being a long time after again prosecuted and condemned, he ordered to be
buried alive; and her gallants to be whipped to death with rods in the
Comitium; excepting only a man of praetorian rank, to whom, because he
confessed the fact, while the case was dubious, and it was not
established against him, though the witnesses had been put to the
torture, he granted the favour of banishment. And to preserve pure and
undefiled the reverence due to the gods, he ordered the soldiers to
demolish a tomb, which one of his freedmen had erected for his son out of
the stones designed for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and to sink in
the sea the bones and relics buried in it.

IX. Upon his first succeeding to power, he felt such an abhorrence for
the shedding of blood, that, before his father’s arrival in Rome, calling
to mind the verse of Virgil,

Impia quam caesis gens est epulata juvencis, [814]

Ere impious man, restrain’d from blood in vain,
Began to feast on flesh of bullocks slain,

he designed to have published a proclamation, “to forbid the sacrifice of
oxen.” Before his accession to the imperial authority, and during some
time afterwards, he scarcely ever gave the least grounds for being
suspected of covetousness or avarice; but, on the contrary, he often
afforded proofs, not only of his justice, but his liberality. To all
about him he was generous even to profusion, and recommended nothing more
earnestly to them than to avoid doing anything mean. He would not accept
the property left him by those who had children. He also set aside a
legacy bequeathed by the will of Ruscus Caepio, who had ordered “his heir
to make a present yearly to each of the senators upon their first
assembling.” He exonerated all those who had been under prosecution from
the treasury for above five years before; and would not suffer suits to
be renewed, unless it was done within a year, and on condition, that the
prosecutor should be banished, if he could not make good his cause. The
secretaries of the quaestors having engaged in trade, according to
custom, but contrary to (487) the Clodian law [815], he pardoned them for
what was past. Such portions of land as had been left when it was
divided amongst the veteran soldiers, he granted to the ancient
possessors, as belonging to then by prescription. He put a stop to false
prosecutions in the exchequer, by severely punishing the prosecutors; and
this saying of his was much taken notice of “that a prince who does not
punish informers, encourages them.”

X. But he did not long persevere in this course of clemency and justice,
although he sooner fell into cruelty than into avarice. He put to death
a scholar of Paris, the pantomimic [816], though a minor, and then sick,
only because, both in person and the practice of his art, he resembled
his master; as he did likewise Hermogenes of Tarsus for some oblique
reflections in his History; crucifying, besides, the scribes who had
copied the work. One who was master of a band of gladiators, happening
to say, “that a Thrax was a match for a Marmillo [817], but not so for
the exhibitor of the games”, he ordered him to be dragged from the
benches into the arena, and exposed to the dogs, with this label upon
him, “A Parmularian [818] guilty of talking impiously.” He put to death
many senators, and amongst them several men of consular rank. In this
number were, Civica Cerealis, when he was proconsul in Africa,
Salvidienus Orfitus, and Acilius Glabrio in exile, under the pretence of
their planning to revolt against him. The rest he punished upon very
trivial occasions; as Aelius Lamia for some jocular expressions, which
were of old date, and perfectly harmless; because, upon his commending
his voice after he had taken his wife from him [819], he replied, “Alas!
I hold my tongue.” And when Titus advised him to take another wife, he
answered him thus: “What! have you a mind to marry?” Salvius Cocceianus
was condemned to death for keeping the birth-day of his uncle Otho, the
emperor: Metius Pomposianus, because he was commonly reported to have an
imperial nativity [820], and to carry about with (488) him a map of the
world upon vellum, with the speeches of kings and generals extracted out
of Titus Livius; and for giving his slaves the names of Mago and
Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, lieutenant in Britain, for suffering some
lances of a new invention to be called “Lucullean;” and Junius Rusticus,
for publishing a treatise in praise of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius
Priscus, and calling them both “most upright men.” Upon this occasion,
he likewise banished all the philosophers from the city and Italy. He
put to death the younger Helvidius, for writing a farce, in which, under
the character of Paris and Oenone, he reflected upon his having divorced
his wife; and also Flavius Sabinus, one of his cousins, because, upon his
being chosen at the consular election to that office, the public crier
had, by a blunder, proclaimed him to the people not consul, but emperor.
Becoming still more savage after his success in the civil war, he
employed the utmost industry to discover those of the adverse party who
absconded: many of them he racked with a new-invented torture, inserting
fire through their private parts; and from some he cut off their hands.
It is certain, that only two of any note were pardoned, a tribune who
wore the narrow stripe, and a centurion; who, to clear themselves from
the charge of being concerned in any rebellious project, proved
themselves to have been guilty of prostitution, and consequently
incapable of exercising any influence either over the general or the

XI. His cruelties were not only excessive, but subtle and unexpected.
The day before he crucified a collector of his rents, he sent for him
into his bed-chamber, made him sit down upon the bed by him, and sent him
away well pleased, and, so far as could be inferred from his treatment,
in a state of perfect security; having vouchsafed him the favour of a
plate of meat from his own table. When he was on the point of condemning
to death Aretinus Clemens, a man of consular rank, and one of his friends
and emissaries, he retained him about his person in the same or greater
favour than ever; until at last, as they were riding together in the same
litter, upon seeing the man who had informed against him, he said, “Are
you willing that we should hear this base slave tomorrow?”
Contemptuously abusing the patience of men, he never pronounced a severe
sentence without prefacing it (489) with words which gave hopes of mercy;
so that, at last, there was not a more certain token of a fatal
conclusion, than a mild commencement. He brought before the senate some
persona accused of treason, declaring, “that he should prove that day how
dear he was to the senate;” and so influenced them, that they condemned
the accused to be punished according to the ancient usage [821]. Then,
as if alarmed at the extreme severity of their punishment, to lessen the
odiousness of the proceeding, he interposed in these words; for it is not
foreign to the purpose to give them precisely as they were delivered:
“Permit me, Conscript Fathers, so far to prevail upon your affection for
me, however extraordinary the request may seem, as to grant the condemned
criminals the favour of dying in the manner they choose. For by so
doing, ye will spare your own eyes, and the world will understand that I
interceded with the senate on their behalf.”

XII. Having exhausted the exchequer by the expense of his buildings and
public spectacles, with the augmentation of pay lately granted to the
troops, he made an attempt at the reduction of the army, in order to
lessen the military charges. But reflecting, that he should, by this
measure, expose himself to the insults of the barbarians, while it would
not suffice to extricate him from his embarrassments, he had recourse to
plundering his subjects by every mode of exaction. The estates of the
living and the dead were sequestered upon any accusation, by whomsoever
preferred. The unsupported allegation of any one person, relative to a
word or action construed to affect the dignity of the emperor, was
sufficient. Inheritances, to which he had not the slightest pretension,
were confiscated, if there was found so much as one person to say, he had
heard from the deceased when living, “that he had made the emperor his
heir.” Besides the exactions from others, the poll-tax on the Jews was
levied with extreme rigour, both on those who lived after the manner of
Jews in the city, without publicly professing themselves to be such
[822], and on those who, by (490) concealing their origin, avoided paying
the tribute imposed upon that people. I remember, when I was a youth, to
have been present [823], when an old man, ninety years of age, had his
person exposed to view in a very crowded court, in order that, on
inspection, the procurator might satisfy himself whether he was
circumcised. [824]

From his earliest years Domitian was any thing but courteous, of a
forward, assuming disposition, and extravagant both in his words and
actions. When Caenis, his father’s concubine, upon her return from
Istria, offered him a kiss, as she had been used to do, he presented her
his hand to kiss. Being indignant, that his brother’s son-in-law should
be waited on by servants dressed in white [825], he exclaimed,

ouk agathon polykoiraniae. [826] Too many princes are not good.

XIII. After he became emperor, he had the assurance to boast in the
senate, “that he had bestowed the empire on his father and brother, and
they had restored it to him.” And upon taking his wife again, after the
divorce, he declared by proclamation, “that he had recalled her to his
pulvinar.” [827] He was not a little pleased too, at hearing the
acclamations of the people in the amphitheatre on a day of festival, “All
happiness to our lord and lady.” But when, during the celebration of the
Capitoline trial of skill, the whole concourse of people entreated him
with one voice to restore Palfurius Sura to his place in the senate, from
which he had been long before expelled–he having then carried away the
prize of eloquence from all the orators who had contended for it,–he did
not vouchsafe to give them any answer, but only commanded silence to be
proclaimed by the voice of the crier. With equal arrogance, when he
dictated the form of a letter to be used by his procurators, he began it
thus: “Our lord and god commands so and so;” whence it became a rule that
no one should (491) style him otherwise either in writing or speaking.
He suffered no statues to be erected for him in the Capitol, unless they
were of gold and silver, and of a certain weight. He erected so many
magnificent gates and arches, surmounted by representations of chariots
drawn by four horses, and other triumphal ornaments, in different
quarters of the city, that a wag inscribed on one of the arches the Greek
word Axkei, “It is enough.” [828] He filled the office of consul
seventeen times, which no one had ever done before him, and for the seven
middle occasions in successive years; but in scarcely any of them had he
more than the title; for he never continued in office beyond the calends
of May [the 1st May], and for the most part only till the ides of January
[13th January]. After his two triumphs, when he assumed the cognomen of
Germanicus, he called the months of September and October, Germanicus and
Domitian, after his own names, because he commenced his reign in the one,
and was born in the other.

«- 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.