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This webpage reproduces a Book of
Roman History

Cassius Dio

published in Vol. IX
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927

The text is in the public domain.

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Cassius Dio
Roman History

Thayer's Note: Before e-mailing me with questions, comments, or corrections involving the numbering of Books, chapters, and sections in this text, please read the orientation page.

Vol. IX
Epitome of Book LXXVII

11 On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his coming to power Severus presented to the entire populace that received the grain dole and to the soldiers of the pretorian guard gold pieces equal in number to the years of his reign. He prided himself especially on this largess, and, in fact, no emperor had ever before given so much to the whole population at once; the total amount spent for the purpose was two hundred million sesterces. 2 The nuptials of Antoninus, the son of Severus, and Plautilla, Plautianus' daughter, were also celebrated at this time; and Plautianus gave as much for his daughter's dowry as would have sufficed for fifty women of royal rank. We saw the gifts as they were being carried through the Forum to the palace. And we were all entertained together at a banquet, partly in royal and partly in barbaric style, receiving not only all the customary cooked viands but also uncooked meat and sundry animals still alive. 3 At this time there occurred, too, all sorts of spectacles in honour of Severus' return, the completion of his first ten years of power, and his victories. At these spectacles sixty wild boars of Plautianus fought together at a signal, and among many other wild beasts that were slain were an elephant and a corocotta. 4 This last animal is an Indian species, and was then introduced into Rome for the first time, so far as I am aware. It has the  p241 colour of a lioness and tiger combined, and the general appearance of those animals, as also of a dog and fox, curiously blended. The entire receptacle in the amphitheatre had been constructed so as to resemble a boat in shape, and was capable of receiving or discharging four hundred beasts at once; 5 and then, as it suddenly fell apart, there came rushing forth bears, lionesses, panthers, lions, ostriches, wild asses, bisons (this is a kind of cattle foreign in species and appearance), so that seven hundred beasts in all, both wild and domesticated, at one and the same time were seen running about and were slaughtered. For to correspond with the duration of the festival, which lasted seven days, the number of the animals was also seven times one hundred.

2 On Mount Vesuvius a huge fire blazed up, and there were bellowings mighty enough to be heard even in Capua, where I live whenever I am in Italy. I have selected this place for various reasons, and particularly for its quiet, in order that when I have leisure from the offices of the capital I may write this history. 2 In view, now, of what happened on Vesuvius, it seemed probable that some change in the State was about to occur; and, in fact, there was an immediate change in the fortunes of Plautianus. This man had in very truth grown great and more than great, so that even the populace in the Circus once exclaimed: "Why do you tremble? Why are you pale? You possess more than do the three." 3 They pretended, to be sure, that they were not saying this of him but in another connexion, but  p243 by "the three" they meant Severus and his two sons, Antoninus and Geta; and Plautianus was always pale and trembling because of the kind of life he lived, the hopes he entertained, and the fears he felt. And yet for a time most of this conduct of Plautianus was not noticed by Severus himself, or, if he did know of it, he pretended not to know. 4 When, however, his brother Geta on his deathbed revealed to him all the facts about Plautianus, — for Geta hated the prefect and now no longer feared him, — the emperor set up a bronze statue of his brother in the Forum and no longer held his minister in the same honour, but stripped him of most of his power. 5 Hence Plautianus became very indignant; he had even before this hated Antoninus for slighting his daughter, but now detested him more than ever as being responsible for this slight which had been put upon him, and he began to behave rather harshly toward him.

3 For these reasons Antoninus, in addition to being disgusted with his wife, who was a most shameless creature, felt resentment against Plautianus as well, because he kept meddling in all his undertakings and rebuking him for everything that he did; and so he conceived the desire to get rid of him in some way or other. 2 Accordingly he got Euodus, his tutor, to persuade a certain centurion, Saturninus, and two others of the same rank with him to bring him word that Plautianus had ordered ten specified centurions, these three being of the number, to kill both Severus and Antoninus; 3 and they read a certain written communication, pretending that they had received it in connexion with this very plot. Now this was all carried out suddenly at the festival held  p245 in the palace in honour of dead ancestors, after the spectacle was over and as dinner was about to be served. These circumstances in particular betrayed the fraud; 4 for Plautianus would never have dared to give such instructions either to ten centurions at once, or in Rome, or in the palace, or on that day, or at that hour, and especially not in writing. Nevertheless Severus believed the information trustworthy, inasmuch as he had dreamed the night before that Albinus was alive and plotting against him.

4 He therefore summoned Plautianus in haste, as if upon some other business. And Plautianus hurried so, or rather Heaven gave him such an intimation of his approaching destruction, that the mules that brought him dropped in the palace yard. 2 And when he entered, the porters at the latticed gates admitted him alone inside and would permit no one else to go in with him, just as he himself had once done in the case of Severus at Tyana. This caused him to suspect something, and he became alarmed; but as he had no way of withdrawing, he went in. 3 Severus talked to him in a very mild manner, and asked: "Why have you seen fit to do this? Why did you wish to kill us?" He also gave him an opportunity to speak and acted as if intending to listen to his defence. But Antoninus, as Plautianus was making denial and expressing amazement at what was said, rushed up, took away his sword, and  p247 struck him with his fist; 4 and he even wanted to kill him with his own hands, after the other had remarked, "You have forestalled me in killing." But, being prevented by his father, Antoninus ordered one of the attendants to slay Plautianus. And somebody plucked out a few hairs from his beard, carried them to Julia and Plautilla, who were together, before they had heard a word of the affair, and exclaimed, "Behold your Plautianus," thus causing grief to the one and joy to the other. 5 Thus this man, who had possessed the greatest power of all the men of my time, so that everyone regarded him with greater fear and trembling than the very emperors, and who had been led on to still greater hopes, was slain by his son-in‑law and his body thrown down from the palace into a street; for it was only afterwards that, at the command of Severus, he was taken up and buried.

5 Severus later called a meeting of the senate in the senate-house, where, however, he uttered no accusation against Plautianus, but merely deplored the weakness of human nature, which cannot endure excessive honours, 2 and blamed himself in that he had so loved and honoured this man. Then he ordered those who had informed him of Plautianus' plot to tell us everything; but first he removed from the chamber those whose presence was not necessary, so as to make it clear, through his refusal to reveal anything to them, that he did not altogether trust them. 3 Many, accordingly, found their lives in danger on account of Plautianus, and some were actually put to death. As for Coeranus, however, though he admitted (a mere pretence, no doubt,  p249 such as most men are wont to indulge in when referring to those who are favoured by Fortune) that he had been an intimate of Plautianus and that, whenever the other suspected senators were invited into his house in advance of the general throng of those who came to pay Plautianus their respects, he had accompanied them as far as the last gate, yet he denied that he had shared in Plautianus' secrets, 4 asserting that he always remained in the space midway, thus giving to Plautianus the impression that he was outside and to those outside that he was inside. Because of this he was regarded with all the greater suspicion; and there was the further reason that once, when Plautianus dreamed that fishes came up out of the Tiber and fell at his feet, Coeranus had declared that he should rule both the land and the water. 5 But this man, after being confined on an island for seven years, was later recalled, was the first Egyptian to be enrolled in the senate, and became consul, like Pompey, without having previously held any other office. 6 Caecilius Agricola, on the other hand, who was numbered among the foremost flatterers of Plautianus and was second to no man on earth in knavery and licentiousness, was sentenced to death; he accordingly went home and, after drinking his fill of chilled wine, shattered the cup, which had cost him two hundred thousand sesterces, and cutting his veins, fell dead upon the fragments. 6 As for Saturninus and Euodus, they were honoured at the time, but were later executed by Antoninus. While we were engaged in voting sundry eulogies to Euodus, Severus restrained us, saying: "It would be disgraceful for anything of that sort concerning an imperial freedman to appear  p251 in one of your decrees." 2 Nor was this the only instance of such an attitude on his part; he also refused to allow any of the other imperial freedmen, either, to act insolently or give themselves airs; and for this he was well spoken of. The senate, in fact, while chanting his praises once went so far as to shout out these words: "All do all things well since you rule well." 3 Plautilla and Plautius, the children of Plautianus, were for the time being permitted to live, being banished to Lipara, but in the reign of Antoninus they perished; and yet even while they lived they passed their lives in great fear and wretchedness and with no abundance of the necessaries of life.

7 The sons of Severus, Antoninus and Geta, feeling that they had got rid of a pedagogue, as it were, in Plautianus, now went to all lengths in their conduct. They outraged women and abused boys, they embezzled money, and made gladiators and charioteers their boon companions, emulating each other in the similarity of their deeds, but full of strife in their rivalries; 2 for if the one attached himself to a certain faction, the other would be sure to choose the opposite side. And at last they were pitted against each other in some kind of contest with teams of ponies and drove with such fierce rivalry that Antoninus fell out of his two-wheeled chariot and broke his leg. 3 Severus, during his son's illness that followed this accident, did not neglect any of his duties in the least, but held court and attended all the business pertaining to his office. And for this he was praised; but he was censured for killing  p253 Quintillus Plautianus. He also put to death many other senators, some of them after they had been duly accused before him, had made their defence, and been convicted.

4 Quintillus, a man of the noblest birth and long counted among the foremost members of the senate, a man now standing at the gates of old age, living in the country, interfering in no one's business and doing aught amiss, nevertheless became the victim of informers and was put out of the way. As he was about to die, he called for his shroud, which he had made ready long before; and on perceiving that it had fallen to pieces through lapse of time, he said: "What does this mean? We are late." 5 And then, as he burnt incense, he remarked: "I make the same prayer as Servianus made for Hadrian." So he died at this time; and gladiatorial contests were held, in which, among other novelties, ten tigers were slain at once.

8 After this came the dénouement of the case of Apronianus, — an incredible affair even in the hearing. This man was accused because his nurse was reported to have dreamed once that he should be emperor and because he was believed to have employed some magic to this end; and he was condemned while absent at his post as governor of Asia. 2 Now when the evidence concerning him, taken under torture, was read to us, there appeared in it the statement that one of the persons conducting the examination had inquired who had told the dream and who had heard it, and that the man under examination had  p255 said, among other things: "I saw a certain bald-headed senator peeping in." 3 On hearing this we found ourselves in a terrible position; for although neither the man had spoken nor Severus written anyone's name, yet such was the general consternation that even those who had never visited the house of Apronianus, and not alone the bald-headed but even those who were bald on their forehead, grew afraid. 4 And although no one was very cheerful, except those who had unusually heavy hair, yet we all looked round at those who were not so fortunate, and a murmur ran about: "Its So-and‑so." "No, it's So-and‑so." I will not conceal what happened to me at the time, ridiculous as it is. I was so disconcerted that I actually felt with my hand to see whether I had any hair on my head. 5 And a good many others had the same experience. And we were very careful to direct our gaze upon those who were more or less bald, as if we should thereby divert our own danger upon them; we continued to do this until the further statement was read that the bald-head in question had worn a purple-bordered toga. 6 When this detail came out, we turned our eyes upon Baebius Marcellinus; for he had been aedile at the time and was extremely bald. So he rose, and coming forward, said: "He will of course recognize me, for he has seen me." 7 After we had commended this course, the informer was brought in while Marcellinus stood by, and for a considerable time remained silent, looking about for a man he could recognize, but finally, following the direction of an almost imperceptible nod that somebody gave, he said that Marcellinus was the man. 9 Thus was Marcellinus convicted of a bald-head's peeping, and he was led  p257 out of the senate-chamber bewailing his fate. When he had passed through the Forum, he refused to proceed farther, but just where he was took leave of his children, four in number, and spoke these most affecting words: "There is only one thing that causes me sorrow, my children, and that is that I leave you behind alive." 2 Then his head was cut off, before Severus even learned that he had been condemned. Just vengeance, however, befell Pollenius Sebennus, who had preferred the charge that caused Marcellinus' death. He was delivered up by Sabinus to the Norici, whom he had treated in anything but a decent fashion while acting as their governor, and he had to endure a most shameful experience; 3 we saw him lying on the ground and pleading piteously, and had he not obtained mercy, because of Auspex, his uncle, he would have perished miserably. This Auspex was the cleverest man imaginable for jokes and chit-chat, for despising all mankind, gratifying his friends, and taking vengeance on an enemy.a 4 Many bitter and witty sayings of his are reported, addressed to various persons, many even to Severus himself. Here is one of the latter kind. When the emperor was enrolled in the family of Marcus, Auspex said: "I congratulate you, Caesar, upon finding a father," implying that up to that time he had been fatherless by reason of his obscure birth.

10 1 At this period one Bulla, an Italian, got together a robber band of about six hundred men, and for two years continued to plunder Italy under the very  p259 noses of the emperors and of a multitude of soldiers. 2 For though he was pursued by many men, and though Severus eagerly followed his trail, he was never really seen when seen, never found when found, never caught when caught, thanks to his great bribes and cleverness. For he learned of everybody that was setting out from Rome and everybody that was putting into port at Brundisium, and knew both who and how many there were, and what and how much they had with them. 3 In the case of most persons he would take a part of what they had and let them go at once, but he detained artisans for a time and made use of their skill, then dismissed them with a present. Once, when two of his men had been captured and were about to be given to wild beasts, he paid a visit to the keeper of the prison, pretending that he was the governor of his native district and needed some men of such and such a description, and in this way he secured and saved the men. 4 And he approached the centurion who was trying to exterminate the band and accused himself, pretending to be someone else, and promised, if the centurion would accompany him, to deliver the robber to him. So on the pretext that he was leading him to Felix (this was another name by which he was called), he led him into a defile beset with thickets, and easily seized him. 5 Later, he assumed the dress of a magistrate, ascended the tribunal, and having summoned the centurion, caused part of his head to be shaved, and then said: "Carry this message to your masters: 'Feed your slaves, so that they may not turn to brigandage.' "  p261 Bulla had with him, in fact, a very large number of imperial freedmen, some of whom had been poorly paid, while others had received absolutely no pay at all. 6 Severus, informed of these various occurrences, was angry at the thought that though he was winning the wars in Britain through others, yet he himself had proved no match for a robber in Italy; and finally he sent a tribune from his body-guard with many horsemen, after threatening him with dire punishment if he should fail to bring back the robber alive. So this tribune, having learned that the brigand was intimate with another man's wife, persuaded her through her husband to assist them on promise of immunity. 7 As a result, the robber was arrested while asleep in a cave. Papinian, the prefect, asked him, "Why did you become a robber?" And he replied: "Why are you a prefect?" Later, after due proclamation, he was given to wild beasts, and his band was broken up — to such an extent did the strength of the whole six hundred lie in him.

11 1 Severus, seeing that his sons were changing their mode of life and that the legions were becoming enervated by idleness, made a campaign against Britain, though he knew that he should not return. He knew this chiefly from the stars under which he had been born, for he had caused them to be painted on the ceilings of the rooms in the palace where he was wont to hold court, so that they were visible to all, with the exception of that portion of the sky which, as astrologers express it, "observed the hour" when he first saw the light; for this portion he had not depicted in the same way in both rooms. He knew his fate also by what he had heard from the seers; 2 for a thunderbolt had struck a statue of  p263 his which stood near the gates through which he was intending to march out and looked toward the road leading to his destination, and it had erased three letters from his name. For this reason, as the seers made clear, he did not return, but died in the third year. He took along with him an immense amount of money.

12 1 There are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and the names of the others have been merged in these two. The Maeatae live next to the cross-wall which cuts the island in half, and the Caledonians are beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits; 2 for they do not touch the fish which are there found in immense and inexhaustible quantities. They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering; consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers. 3 They go into battle in chariots, and have small, swift horses; there are also foot-soldiers, very swift in running and very firm in standing their ground. For arms they have a shield  p265 and a short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the spear-shaft, so that when it is shaken it may clash and terrify the enemy; and they also have daggers. 4 They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship; for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots, and for all emergencies they prepare a certain kind of food, the eating of a small portion of which, the size of a bean, prevents them from feeling either hunger or thirst.

5 Such is the general character of the island of Britain such are the inhabitants of at least the hostile part of it. For it is an island, and the fact, as I have stated, was clearly proved at that time. Its length is 951 miles, its greatest breadth 308, and its least 40. Of all this territory we hold a little less than one half.

13 1 Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced through the country he experienced countless hardships in cutting down the forests, levelling the heights, filling up the swamps, and bridging the rivers; 2 but he fought no battle and beheld no enemy in battle array. The enemy purposely put sheep  p267 and cattle in front of the soldiers for them to seize, in order that they might be lured on still further until they were worn out; for in fact the water caused great suffering to the Romans, and when they became scattered, they would be attacked. Then, unable to walk, they would be slain by their own men, in order to avoid capture, so that a full fifty thousand died. 3 But Severus did not desist until he approached the extremity of the island. Here he observed most accurately the variation of the sun's motion and the length of the days and the nights in summer and winter respectively. 4 Having thus been conveyed through practically the whole of the hostile country (for he actually was conveyed in a covered litter most of the way, on account of his infirmity), he returned to the friendly portion, after he had forced the Britons to come to terms, on the condition that they should abandon a large part of their territory.

14 1 Antoninus was causing him alarm and endless anxiety by his intemperate life, by his evident intention to murder his brother if the chance should offer, and, finally, by plotting against the emperor himself. Once he dashed suddenly out of his quarters, shouting and bawling out that he was being wronged by Castor. 2 This man was the best of the freedmen in attendance upon Severus, and held the offices of both secretary and chamberlain. Thereupon certain soldiers who had been got ready beforehand assembled and joined in the outcry;  p269 but they were quickly checked when Severus himself appeared among them and punished the more unruly ones. 3 On another occasion, when both were riding forward to meet the Caledonians, in order to receive their arms and discuss the details of the truce, Antoninus attempted to kill his father outright with his own hand. They were proceeding on horseback, Severus also being mounted, in spite of the fact that he had somewhat strained his feet as the result of an infirmity, and the rest of the army was following; the enemy's force were likewise spectators. 4 At this juncture, while all were proceeding in silence and in order, Antoninus reined in his horse and drew his sword, as if he were going to strike his father in the back. But the others who were riding with them, upon seeing this, cried out, and so Antoninus, in alarm, desisted from his attempt. Severus turned at their shout and saw the sword, yet he did not utter a word, but ascended the tribunal, finished what he had to do, and returned to headquarters. 5 Then he summoned his son, together with Papinian and Castor, ordered a sword to be placed within easy reach, and upbraided the youth for having dared to so such a thing at all and especially for having been on the point of committing so monstrous a crime in the sight of all, both the allies and the enemy. 6 And finally he said: "Now if you really want to slay me, put me out of the way ere; for you are strong, while I am an old man and prostrate. For, if you do not shrink from the deed, but hesitate to murder me with your own  p271 hands, there is Papinian, the prefect, standing beside you, whom you can order to slay me; for surely he will do anything that you command, since you are virtually emperor." 7 Though he spoke in this fashion, he nevertheless did Antoninus no harm, and that in spite of the fact that he had often blamed Marcus for not putting Commodus quietly out of the way and that he had himself often threatened to act thus toward his son. Such threats, however, were always uttered under the influence of anger, whereas on the present occasion he allowed his love for his offspring to outweigh his love for his country; and yet in doing so he betrayed his other son, for he well knew what would happen.

15 1 When the inhabitants of the island again revolted, he summoned the soldiers and ordered them to invade the rebels' country, killing everybody they met; and he quoted these words:

"Let no one escape sheer destruction,
No one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother,
If it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction."

2 When this had been done, and the Caledonians had joined the revolt of the Maeatae, he began preparing to make war upon them in person. While he was thus engaged, his sickness carried him off on the fourth of February, not without some help, they say, from Antoninus. At all events, before Severus died, he is reported to have spoken thus to his sons (I give his exact words without embellishment): "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers,  p273 and scorn all other men." 3 After this his body, arrayed in military garb, was placed upon a pyre, and as a mark of honour the soldiers and his sons ran about it; and as for the soldiers' gifts, those who had things at hand to offer as gifts threw them upon it, and his sons applied the fire. 4 Afterwards his bones were put in an urn of purple stone, carried to Rome, and deposited in the tomb of the Antonines. It is said that Severus sent for the urn shortly before his death, and after feeling of it, remarked: "Thou shalt hold a man that the world could not hold."

16 1 Severus was small of stature but powerful, though he eventually grew very weak from gout; mentally he was very keen and very vigorous. As for education, he was eager for more than he obtained, and for this reason was a man of few words, though of many ideas. Toward friends not forgetful, to enemies most oppressive, he was careful of everything that he desired to accomplish, but careless of what was said about him. Hence he raised money from every source, except that he killed no one to get it, 3 and he met all necessary expenditures quite ungrudgingly. He restored a very large number of the ancient buildings and inscribed on them his own name, just as if he had erected them in the first place from his own private funds. He also spent a great deal uselessly in repairing other buildings and in constructing new ones; for instance, he built a temple of huge size to Bacchus and Hercules. 4 Yet, though his expenditures were enormous, he nevertheless  p275 left behind, not some few easily-counted tens of thousands, but very many tens of thousands. Again, he rebuked such persons as were not chaste, even going so far as to enact some laws in regard to adultery. In consequence, there were ever so many indictments for that offence (for example, when consul, I found three thousand entered on the docket); but, inasmuch as very few persons prosecuted these cases, he, too, ceased to trouble himself about them. 5 In this connexion, a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta. When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: "We fulfil the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest." Such was the retort of the British woman.

17 1 The following is the manner of life that Severus followed in time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, and afterwards he would take a walk, telling and hearing of the interests of the empire. Then he would hold court, unless there were some great festival. Moreover, he used to do this most excellently; for he allowed the litigants plenty of time and he gave us, his advisers, full liberty to speak. He used to hear cases until noon; 2 then he would ride, so far as his strength permitted, and afterward take some kind of gymnastic exercise and a bath. He then ate a  p277 plentiful luncheon, either by himself or with his sons. Next, he generally took a nap. Then he rose, attended to his remaining duties, and afterwards, when walking about, engaged in discussion in both Greek and Latin. 3 Then, toward evening, he would bathe again and dine with his associates; for he very rarely invited any guest to dinner, and only on days when it was quite unavoidable did he arrange expensive banquets. 4 He lived sixty-five years, nine months, and twenty-five days, for he was born on the eleventh of April. Of this period he had ruled for seventeen years, eight months, and three days. In fine, he showed himself so active that even when expiring he gasped: "Come, give it here, if we have anything to do."

Thayer's Note:

a The use to which this phrase was put by the great 17c antiquarian Raffaelle Fabretti is just too good not to share:

[image ALT: An engraving of a porcupine in a rocky landscape.]

From the title page of the first edition of his De Aquis et Aquaeductibus Veteris Romae Dissertationes Tres (Rome, 1680):

φίλοις χαρίσασθαι, ἐχθρὸν ἀμύνασθαι.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 29 Apr 17