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Part 2

This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1932

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


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Tacitus

(Vol. III) Historia Augusta

p269 The Life of Aurelian
Part 3

(For the beginning of chapter 37, see Part 2.)

(37)[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5 An incident related in history I must not fail to include, inasmuch as it has to do with Aurelian. For it is told by many that Quintillus, Claudius's brother, in command of a garrison in Italy, on hearing of Claudius' death seized the imperial power.140 6 But later, when it was known that Aurelian was emperor, he was abandoned by all his army; and when he had made a speech attacking Aurelian and the soldiers refused to listen, he severed his veins and died on the twentieth day of his rule.

7 Now whatever crimes there were, whatever guilty plans or harmful practices, and, lastly, whatever plots — all these Aurelian purged away throughout the entire world. 38Legamen ad paginam Latinam This also, I think, has to do with my theme, namely, that it was in the name of her son Vaballathus and not in that of Timolaus or Hennianus that Zenobia held the imperial power,141 which she did really hold.

2 There was also during the rule of Aurelian a revolt among the mint-workers, under the leadership of p271Felicissimus, the supervisor of the privy-purse.142 This revolt he crushed with the utmost vigour and harshness, but still seven thousand of his soldiers were slain, as is shown by a letter addressed to Ulpius Crinitus,143 thrice consul, by whom he had formerly been adopted:

3 "From Aurelian Augustus to Ulpius his father. Just as though it were ordained for me by Fate that all the wars that I wage and all commotions only become more difficult, so also a revolt within the city has stirred up for me a most grievous struggle. For under the leadership of Felicissimus, the lowest of all my slaves, to whom I had committed the care of the privy-purse, the mint-workers have shown the spirit of rebellion. 4 They have indeed been crushed, but with the loss of seven thousand men, boatmen,144 bank-troops, camp-troops145 and Dacians. Hence it is clear that the immortal gods have granted me no victory without some hardship."

39 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Tetricus, whom he had led in triumph, he created supervisor of Lucania,146 and his son he retained in the senate. 2 The Temple of the Sun147 he founded with great magnificence. He so extended the wall of the city of Rome148 that its circuit was nearly fifty p273miles long. 3 He punished with inordinate harshness both informers and false accusers. In order to increase the sense of security of the citizens in general, he gave orders that the records of debts due the State should be burned once and for all in the Forum of Trajan.149 4 Under him also an "amnesty" for offences against the State was decreed according to the example of the Athenians, which Cicero also cites in his Philippics.150 5 Thieving officials in the provinces, accused of extortion or embezzlement, he punished with more than the usual military severity,151 inflicting on them unwonted penalties and sufferings. 6 He dedicated great quantities of gold and jewels in the Temple of the Sun. 7 On seeing that Illyricum was devastated and Moesia was in a ruinous state, he abandoned the province of Trans-Danubian Dacia, which had been formed by Trajan, and led away both soldiers and provincials, giving up hope that it could be retained.152 The people whom he moved out from it he established in Moesia, and gave to this district, which now divides the two provinces of Moesia, the name of Dacia.

8 It is said, furthermore, that so great was his cruelty that he brought against many senators a false accusation of conspiracy and intention to seize the throne, merely in order that it might be easier to put them to death.153 9 Some say, besides, that it was the son of his sister, and not her daughter that he killed,154 many, however, that he slew the son as well.

p275 40 1   Legamen ad paginam Latinam How difficult it is to choose an emperor in the place of a good ruler is shown both by the dignified action of a revered senate and by the power exerted by a wise army. 2 For when this sternest of princes was slain, the army referred to the senate the business of choosing an emperor,155 for the reason that it believed that no one of those should be chosen who had slain such an excellent ruler. 3 The senate, however, thrust this selection back on the army, knowing well that the emperors whom the senate selected were no longer gladly received by the troops. 4 Finally, for the third time, the choice was referred, and so for the space of six months the Roman world was without a ruler, and all those governors whom either the senate or Aurelian had chosen remained at their posts, save only that Faltonius Probus was appointed proconsul of Asia in the place of Arellius Fuscus.156

41 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam It is not without interest to insert the letter itself which the army sent to the senate:

"From the brave and victorious troops to the senate and the people of Rome. Aurelian our emperor has been slain through the guile of one man and the blunder of good and evil alike. 2 Do you, now, our revered lords and Conscript Fathers, place Aurelian among the gods and send us as prince one of your own number, whom you deem a worthy man. For none of those who have erred or committed crime will we suffer to be our emperor."

3 To this a reply was made by decree of the senate.157 When on the third day before the Nones of February158 p277the most high senate had assembled in the Senate-house of Pompilius,159 Aurelius Gordianus, the consul, said: "We now lay before you, Conscript Fathers, the letter from our most victorious army." 4 When this letter was read, Tacitus, whose right it was to give his opinion first (it was he, moreover, who was acclaimed as emperor after Aurelian by the voice of all),160 spoke as follows: 5 "Well and wisely would the immortal gods have planned, Conscript Fathers, had they but rendered good emperors invulnerable to steel, for so they would have longer lives and those have no power against them who with most grievous intent contrive abominable murder. 6 And if it were so, our emperor Aurelian would still be alive, than whom none was ever more brave or more beneficial. 7 For after the misfortune of Valerian and the evil ways of Gallienus our commonwealth did indeed under Claudius's rule begin to breathe once more, but Aurelian it was who won victories throughout the entire world and restored it again to its former state. 8 He it was who gave us back the provinces of Gaul, he who set Italy free, he who removed from the Vindelici the yoke of barbarian enslavement. He by his victories won back Illyricum and brought again the districts of Thrace under the laws of Rome. 9 He restored to our sway the Orient, crushed down (oh, the shame of it!) beneath the yoke of a woman, he defeated and routed and destroyed the Persians, still vaunting themselves in the death of Valerian. 10 He was revered as a god, almost as though present in person, by the Saracens, the Blemmyes, the Axomitae,161 the Bactrians, the Seres, the Hiberians, the Albanians, the Armenians, and even by the peoples of India. 11 His donations, won from barbarian tribes, fill the p279Capitol; by his liberality one temple alone contains fifteen thousand pounds of gold, and with his gifts all the shrines in the city are gleaming. 12 Wherefore, Conscript Fathers, I could justly bring charges against even the very gods, who suffered such a prince to perish, were it not that perchance they preferred to have him among themselves. 13 I therefore propose divine honours, and these I believe you all will bestow. With regard to the choice of an emperor, indeed, you should refer it, I think, to this army. 14 For in a proposal of this kind, unless that which is urged be done, there is both danger for those who are chosen and odium for those who choose." 15 The proposal of Tacitus found favour; but after the matter had been referred back again and again, by decree of the senate Tacitus, as we shall relate in his Life, was chosen as emperor.

42 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Aurelian left only a daughter, whose descendants are even now in Rome. 2 For Aurelianus,162 proconsul of Cilicia, a most excellent senator in his own true right and venerated for his manner of life, who now is living in Sicily, is a grandson of hers.

3 Now what shall I say of this, that whereas so many have borne the name of Caesar, there have appeared among them so few good emperors? For the list of those who have worn the purple from Augustus to the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian is contained in the public records. 4 Among them, however, the best were Augustus himself, Flavius Vespasian, Titus Flavius, Cocceius Nerva, the Deified Trajan, the Deified Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Antoninus, Severus the African, Alexander the son of p281Mamaea, the Deified Claudius, and the Deified Aurelian. For Valerian, though a most excellent man, was by his misfortune set apart from them all. 5 Observe, I pray you, how few in number are the good emperors, so that it has well been said by a jester on the stage in the time of this very Claudius that the names and the portraits of the good emperors could be engraved on a single ring. 6 But, on the other hand, what a list of the evil! For, to say nought of a Vitellius, a Caligula, or a Nero, who could endure a Maximinus, a Philip, or the lowest dregs163 of that disorderly crew? I should, however, except the Decii, who in their lives and their deaths should be likened to the ancients.

43 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam The question, indeed, is often asked what it is that makes emperors evil; first of all, my friend, it is freedom from restraint, next, abundance of wealth, furthermore, unscrupulous friends, pernicious attendants, the greediest eunuchs, courtiers who are fools or knaves, and — it cannot be denied — ignorance of public affairs. 2 And yet I have heard from my father164 that the emperor Diocletian, while still a commoner, declared that nothing was harder than to rule well. 3 Four or five men gather together and form one plan for deceiving the emperor, and then they tell him to what he must give his approval. 4 Now the emperor, who is shut up in his palace, cannot know the truth. He is forced to know only what these men tell him, he appoints as judges those who should not be appointed, and removes from public office those whom he ought to retain. Why say more? As Diocletian himself was wont to say, the favour of even a good and wise and righteous emperor is often sold. 5 These were Diocletian's own words, and I have inserted p283them here for the very purpose that your wisdom might understand that nothing is harder than to be a good ruler.

44 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Now Aurelian, indeed, is placed by many among neither the good nor the evil emperors for the reason that he lacked the quality of mercy, that foremost dowry of an emperor. 2 In fact, Verconnius Herennianus,165 Diocletian's prefect of the guard, used often to say — or so Asclepiodotus166 bears witness — that Diocletian, in finding fault with Maximian's harshness, frequently said that Aurelian ought to have been a general rather than an emperor. So displeasing to Diocletian was Aurelian's excessive ferocity.

3 This may perhaps seem a marvellous thing that was learned by Diocletian and is said to have been related by Asclepiodotus to Celsinus his counsellor, but concerning there is posterity will be the judge. 4 For he used to relate that on a certain occasion Aurelian consulted the Druid priestesses167 in Gaul and inquired of them whether the imperial power would remain with his descendants, but they replied, he related, that none would have a name more illustrious in the commonwealth than the descendants of Claudius. 5 And, in fact, Constantius is now our emperor, a man of Claudius' blood,168 whose descendants, I ween, will attain to that glory which the Druids foretold. And this I have put in the Life of Aurelian for the reason that this response was made to him when he inquired in person.

45 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Aurelian set aside for the city of Rome the revenues from Egypt, consisting of glass, paper, linen, and hemp, in fact, the products on which a perpetual p285tax was paid in kind.169 2 He planned to erect a public bath in the Transtiberine district as a winter bath since here there was no supply of fairly cold water.a He began to construct a forum, named after himself, at Ostia on the sea, in the place where, later, the public magistrates' office was built. 3 He gave wealth to his friends with wisdom and moderation, in order that they might avoid the ills of poverty and yet, because of the moderate size of their fortunes, escape the envy that riches bring. 4 Clothing made wholly of silk170 he would neither keep in his own wardrobe nor present to anyone else for his use; 5 and when his wife besought him to keep a single robe of purple silk, he replied, "God forbid that a fabric should be worth its weight in gold." For at that time a pound of silk was worth a pound of gold.171 46Legamen ad paginam Latinam He had in mind to forbid the use of gold on ceilings and tunic and leather and also the gilding of silver, but the gold was wasted by being used variously as gold-leaf, spun gold, and gold that is melted down, while the silver was kept for its proper use. 2 He had, indeed, given permission that those who wished might use golden vessels and goblets. 3 He furthermore granted permission to commoners to have coaches adorned with silver,172 whereas they had previously had only carriages ornamented with bronze or ivory. 4 He also allowed matrons to have tunics and other garments of purple, whereas they had had before only fabrics of changeable colours, or, as frequently, of a bright pink. 5 He also was the first to allow private soldiers p287to have clasps of gold, whereas formerly they had had them of silver. 6 He, too, was the first to give tunics having bands of embroidery173 to his troops, whereas previously they had received only straight-woven tunics of purple, and to some he presented tunics with one band, to others those having two bands or three bands and even up to five bands, like the tunics to‑day made of linen.

47 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam To the loaves of bread for the city of Rome he added one ounce, which he got from the revenues from Egypt,174 as he himself boasts in a certain letter addressed to the prefect of the city's supply of grain:

2 "From Aurelian Augustus to Flavius Arabianus,175 the prefect of the grain supply. Among the various ways in which, with the aid of the gods, we have benefited the Roman commonwealth, there is nothing in which I take greater pride than that by adding an ounce I have increased every kind of grain for the city. 3 And to the end that this may be lasting, I have appointed additional boatmen on the Nile in Egypt and on the river in Rome, I have built up the banks of the Tiber, I have dug out the shallow places in its rising bed, I have taken vows to the god and the Goddess of Perpetual Harvests, and I have consecrated a statue of fostering Ceres. 4 It is now your task, my dearest Arabianus, to make every effort that my arrangements may not be in vain. For nothing can be more joyous than the Roman people when sufficiently fed."

48 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam He had planned also to give free wine to the people of Rome, in order that they might be supplied with it as they were with oil and bread and pork,176 all free of cost, and he had designed to make p289this perpetual by means of the following arrangement. 2 In Etruria, all along the Aurelian Way177 as far as the Maritime Alps, there are vast tracts of land, rich and well wooded. He planned, therefore, to pay their price to the owners of these uncultivated lands, provided they wished to sell, and to settle thereon families of slaves captured in war, and then to plant the hills with vines,178 and by this means to produce wine, which was to yield no profit to the privy-purse but to be given entirely to the people of Rome. He had also made provision for the vats, the casks, the ships, and the labour. 3 Many, however, say that Aurelian was cut off before he carried this out, others that he was restrained by his prefect of the guard, who is said to have remarked: "If we give wine to the Roman people, it only remains for us to give them also chickens and geese." 4 There is, indeed, proof that Aurelian really considered this measure, or, rather, made arrangements for carrying it out and even did so to some extent; for wine belonging to the privy-purse is stored in the porticos of the Temple of the Sun,179 which the people could obtain, not free of cost but at a price. 5 It should be known, however, that he thrice distributed largess180 among them, and that he gave to the Roman people white tunics with long sleeves, brought from the various provinces, and pure linen ones from Africa and Egypt, and that he was the first to give handkerchiefs to the Roman people, to be waved in showing approval.

49 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam He disliked, when at Rome, to reside in the Palace, and preferred to live in the Gardens of p291Sallust181 or the Gardens of Domitia.182 2 In fact, he built a portico in the Gardens of Sallust one thousand feet long, in which he would exercise daily both himself and his horses, even though he were not in good health. 3 His slaves and attendants who were guilty of crime he would order to be slain in his own presence, for the purpose, some say, of keeping up discipline, or, according to others, through sheer love of cruelty. 4 One of his maid-servants, who had committed adultery with a fellow-slave, he punished with death, 5 and many slaves from his own household, who had committed offences, he delivered over to public courts to be heard according to law.

6 He had planned to restore to the matrons their senate, or rather senaculum,183 with the provision that those should rank first therein who had attained to priesthoods with the senate's approval. 7 He forbade men to wear boots of purple or wax-colour or white or the colour of ivy, but allowed them to women. He permitted the senators to have runners dressed like his own. 8 He forbade the keeping of free-born women as concubines, and limited the possession of eunuchs to those who had a senator's rating, for the reason that they had reached inordinate prices. 9 His silver vessels never went beyond thirty pounds in weight, and his banquets consisted mostly of roasted meats. He took most pleasure in red wine. 50Legamen ad paginam Latinam When ill he never summoned a physician, but always cured himself, chiefly by abstaining from food. 2 He held a yearly celebration of the Sigillaria184 for his wife and daughter, like any private citizen. 3 To his slaves he gave when emperor the same kind of clothing that he had given them when a commoner, save p293for two old men, Antistius and Gillo, who received many privileges from him, just as though they were freedmen, and who after his death were set free by vote of the senate. 4 His amusements, indeed, were few, but he took marvellous pleasure in actors and had the greatest delight in a gourmand,185 who could eat vast amounts to such an extent that in one single day he devoured, in front of Aurelian's own table, an entire wild boar, one hundred loaves of bread, a sheep and a pig, and, putting a funnel to his mouth, drank more than a caskful.

5 Except for certain internal riotings his reign was most prosperous. The Roman people loved him, while the senate held him in fear.


The Editor's Notes:

140 See c. xvii.5 and Claud. xii.3‑5 and notes.

141 See c. xxii.2 and Tyr. Trig. xxx.1 and notes.

142 This revolt is described also in Aur. Victor, Caes. 35.6; Epit. 35.2, and Eutropius, IX.14. According to these authors, the mint-workers, who, with the connivance of Felicissimus, had adulterated the metal appropriated for the coinage, fearing punishment, broke out into open war. It would appear that they had been keeping a part of the silver that was to have been used for the billon (i.e., adulterated) coins. Though the number of soldiers said to have fallen is, of course, greatly exaggerated, a battle seems to have been fought on the Caelian Hill, near the mint, which was on the Via Labicana. The date is uncertain; it may have been on the occasion of the German invasion of 270‑271 (see c. xxi.5) or in 274, just prior to the reform of the currency (see note to c. xxxv.3).

143 See c. x.2 and note.

144 i.e., from the fleets on the Danube.

145 Terms applied in the fourth century to troops stationed in permanent garrisons along the bank of the Danube or in the castra on the frontier.

146 See Tyr. Trig. xxiv.5 and note.

147 See c. xxxv.3 and note.

148 Begun in 271 after the war against the Marcomanni (see c. xxi.9) and finished by Probus (Zosimus, I.49). Most of it, though frequently restored and increased in height, still remains, encircling the ancient city. Its actual length is about twelve miles; but perhaps the "50 milia" means 50,000 feet.

149 In imitation of Hadrian; see Hadr. vii.6 and note.

150 Cicero, PhilippicsI.1; Cicero is speaking of the decree of the senate on 17 March, 44 B.C., granting amnesty to all those implicated in the murder of Caesar.

151 See note to c. xxxvi.4.

152 The various Gothic invasions had shown that the districts north of the Danube could no longer be held without constant fighting, and this led to their evacuation, probably in 271. The new province was formed out of portions of the two Moesias, Thrace and Dardani, with its capital at Serdica (mod. (p273)Sofia). In order to avoid any loss of prestige, Aurelian assumed the title Dacicus Maximus and issued coins with the legend Dacia Felix; see Matt.‑Syd. V p277, no. 108.

153 See note to c. xxi.5.

154 The daughter, according to c. xxxvi.3; the son, according to Eutropius, IX.14; Epit. 35.9.

155 On this incident, see Tac. ii‑vi.

156 Perhaps the consularis of this name in Tyr. Trig. xxi.3. Faltonius Probus is unknown.

157 On such "senatus consulta" see note to Val. v.3.

158 This date is certainly incorrect, for Aurelian was probably killed in October or November; see note to c. xxxvii.4. The (p275)consul Aurelius Gordianus is perhaps intended to be the same as Velius Cornificius in Tac. iii.2, but both are equally unknown.

159 This name is applied to the Curia Julia only here and in Tac. iii.2. It may be due to an attempt to attribute the foundation of the earliest senate-house to Numa Pompilius instead of Tullus Hostilius, but it is more probable that it is an invention of the author's.

160 See Tac. vii.1.

161 See notes to c. xxxiii.4.

162 Otherwise unknown; see note to Tyr. Trig. xiv.3. A proconsul of Cilicia is mentioned also in Car. iv.6, but no such office had existed since the time of the Republic. During the first three centuries of the Empire this province was governed by an imperial legatus, after Diocletian by a proconsularis. Hence the title seems to be an invention of the author's due to his desire to introduce antiquarian details. Moreover, it is improbable that a great-grandson of Aurelian's (p279)was a mature man in 306, when this vita purports to have been written.

163 i.e., Gallienus; see note to Gall. i.1.

164 See note to Tyr. Trig. xxv.3.

165 See Prob. xxii.3.

166 See note to Prob. xxii.3. Nothing is known of any history written by him. Celsinus is unknown.

167 Other prophecies by Druid women are given in Alex. lx.6, and Car. xiv.3 f.

168 See Claud. xiii.2.

169 The anabolicum, mentioned frequently in papyri, seems to have been a tax in kind on products (especially those enumerated here), in the manufacture of which the State had a monopoly. On the distribution of food in Rome, see c. xxxv.1‑2 and note.

170 See Heliog. xxvi.1 and note.

171 According to the Edict of Diocletian a pound of blatta serica (μεταξαβλάττη, raw silk dyed purple) was worth 150,000 (p285)denarii (approximately $940); according to his system of coinage, 1 lb. of gold = 50,000 denarii.

Thayer's Note: Setting aside the currency equivalences, which after all are not mentioned in our text — as of writing (2012), gold was worth about $1600 an ounce, or $26,000 a pound; a pound of light silk (8‑momme), about 15 square yards, or 12 running yards from a standard 45″‑wide bolt, runs in the neighborhood of $100. Relative to gold, then, silk was about 800 times (according to the Edict of Diocletian) or about 260 times (according to our biography) as expensive as it is today.

172 See Alex. xliii.1, and Heliog. xxix.1 and note.

173 See note to Claud. xvii.6.

174 See c. xlv.1 and note.

175 Otherwise unknown.

176 See c. xxxv.1‑2 and note.

177 The Via Aurelia ran along the coast of Etruria to Pisa and was continued thence to Genoa by the Via Aemilii Scauri.

178 This attempt to revive viticulture in Italy was made on a wider scale in the provinces by Probus; see Prob. xviii.8.

179 See c. xxxv.3.

180 According to the "Chronographer of 354," there was only one distribution, 500 denarii to each person. There was an (p289)issue of coins with the legend Liberalitas Aug.; see Matt.‑Syd. V p290, no. 229.

181 On the northern slope of the Quirinal Hill, extending northward as far as Aurelian's wall, and bounded on the east by the Via Salaria Vetus (Via di Porta Salaria). Laid out by Sallust the historian, they became imperial property, probably under Tiberius. Only scanty ruins of the buildings in them are extant.

Thayer's Note: For fuller details, see the article Horti Sallustiani in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

182 On the right bank of the Tiber, containing the Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel S. Angelo); see Pius v.1.

Thayer's Note: For fuller details, see the article Horti Domitiae in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

183 See Heliog. iv.3 and note.

184 See Hadr. xvii.3.

185 i.e.φαγών, "an eater."


Thayer's Note:

a If the translation sounds fuzzy, that's because the original Latin is none too well expressed either; and in consequence, a lot of people have got into, um, hot water. What the writer means to say is that year-round baths couldn't be built because in the summer you have to have good cold water, and there just wasn't any cold enough; therefore the baths Aurelian built were seasonal, for wintertime only, when after all, warm water is fine. For a panoply of scholarly opinions, as refuted by Platner, see CP 12:195‑196.


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