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VI.28‑51

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals

of
Tacitus

published in Vol. IV
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1937

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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XI.16‑38

(Vol. IV) Tacitus
Annals

Book XI (beginning)1

p249 1 1 . . . For she believed that Valerius Asiaticus,2 twice a consul, had formerly been her paramour; and, as she coveted equally the gardens which Lucullus had laid down and Asiaticus was embellishing with conspicuous splendour, she unleashed Suillius to indict the pair. With him was associated Britannicus'3 tutor Sosibius; who ostensibly out of good-will, was to warn Claudius to be on his guard against a power and a purse which boded no good to emperors:— "The prime mover in the killing of Gaius Caesar, Asiaticus had not trembled to avow his complicity in a gathering of the Roman people and even to arrogate the glory of the assassination.4 Famous, in consequence, at Rome, with a p251reputation that pervaded the provinces, he was preparing an excursion to the armies of Germanicus; for the reason that, born as he was at Vienne and backed by a multitude of powerful connections, he had every facility for creating trouble among the peoples of his native land." Claudius made no further scrutiny; but, as though to quell an incipient war, despatched at full speed a body of soldiers under the praetorian prefect Crispinus, who found Asiaticus at Baiae, threw him into irons, and haled him to the capital.

2 1 Nor was access to the senate allowed: he was heard inside a bedroom, with Messalina looking on and Suillius formulating the charges: corruption of the military, who, he alleged, were bound in return for money — and worse — to every form of infamy; adultery with Poppaea; and, finally, sexual effeminacy. The last imputation was too much for the defendant's taciturnity:— "Question thy sons, Suillus, he broke out; "they will confess me man!" And entering on his defence, he moved Claudius deeply, and even elicited tears from Messalina; who, on quitting the room to wash them away, cautioned Vitellius not to let the prisoner slip through their fingers. She herself set hurriedly about the destruction of Poppaea, and suborned agents to drive her to a voluntary death by menace of the dungeon; the ignorance of the Caesar being so complete that, when her husband Scipio dined with him a few days later, he inquired why he had taken his place without his wife, and received the answer that she had gone the way of all flesh.

3 1 When, however, Claudius requested his advice as to the acquittal of Asiaticus, Vitellius p253tearfully recalled their long-standing friendship and the equal devotion they had shown to the sovereign's mother Antonia: then, running over the services of Asiaticus to the state, his recent work in the field against the Britons,5 and all else that seemed calculated to inspire compassion, he proposed that he should be allowed a free choice as to the form of his death; and a pronouncement from Claudius followed in the same spirit of clemency. When some of his friends then recommended the gradual exit by starvation, Asiaticus remarked that he was declining that boon; went through the gymnastic exercises which had become habitual with him;6 bathed; dined in good spirits; and, after observing that it would have been more respectable to perish by the subtlety of Tiberius or the onslaught of Gaius Caesar than to fall by female fraud and the lecherous tongue of Vitellius, opened his arteries; but not before he had visited his pyre7 and given orders for it to be moved to another site, so that his trees with their shady leafage might not be affected by the heat. So complete was his composure to the end!

4 1 The Fathers were then convened; and Suillius proceeded to add to the list of accused two Roman knights of the highest rank, surnamed Petra. The cause of death lay in the allegation that they had lent their house as a trysting-place for Mnester and Poppaea. It was, however, for a vision during his night's sleep that one of them was indicted, the charge being that he had seen Claudius crowned with a wheaten diadem, the ears inverted, and on the strength of his vision had predicted a shortage in the cornº-supply.8 It has been stated by some that the thing seen was a vine-wreath with p255whitening leaves; which he read as an indication of the emperor's decease at the wane of autumn. The point not disputed was that it was a dream, whatever its character, which brought ruin to himself and to his brother. A million and a half sesterces, with the decorations of the praetorship,9 were voted to Crispinus. Vitellius proposed a million more for Sosibius, for assisting Britannicus by his instructions and Claudius by his counsels. Scipio, who was also asked for his view, replied: "As I think what all think of Poppaea's offences, take me as saying what all say!" — an elegant compromise between conjugal love and senatorial obligation.

5 1 And now Suillius, steady and pitiless, continued his prosecutions, his boldness finding a multitude of imitators: for the concentration of all legal and magisterial functions in the person of the sovereign had opened a wide field to the plunderer. Nor was any public ware so frankly on sale as the treachery of advocates: so much so that Samius, a Roman knight of distinction, after paying Suillius four hundred thousand sesterces and finding him in collusion with the opponents, fell on his sword in the house of his counsel. Hence, following the lead of the consul designate, Gaius Silius, whose power and whose ruin I shall describe in their place,10 the Fathers rose in a body, demanding the Cincian law,11 with its ancient stipulation that no person shall accept either money or gift for pleading a cause.

6 1 Then, as the members for whom the stigma was designed began to protest, Silius, who was at p257variance with Suillius, delivered a bitter attack and appealed to the example of the old orators, who had regarded fame and the future as the only wages of eloquence:— "What would otherwise be the fairest and foremost of the liberal arts was degraded by mercenary service: even good faith could not remain unaffected, when the size of the fees was the point regarded. If lawsuits were so conducted that no one profited by them, lawsuits would be fewer: as matters stood, enmities and accusations, ill blood and injustice, were being fostered, in order that, as the prevalence of disease brought rewards to the physician, so the corruption of the courts should bring money to the advocate. Let them remember Asinius, Messala, and, of the moderns, Arruntius and Aeserninus:12 they had reached the summits of their profession without a stain upon their life or their eloquence!" With the consul designate speaking in this strain and others indicating assent, steps were taken to draft a resolution making offenders liable under the law of extortion, when Suillius, Cossutianus,13 and the rest, who saw that to them the vote implied not trial — their guilt was too manifest for that — but punishment, surrounded the emperor, imploring an amnesty for the past.

7 1 At his signal of consent, they began to state their case:— "Where was the man whose presumption was such that he could anticipate in hope an eternity of fame? It was a boon to defendants themselves that help should be made available, so that no one need be left at the mercy of the strong through the lack of an advocate. But eloquence was not a happy accident costing nothing: private p259business was neglected in proportion as a man applied himself to the affairs of others. Many supported themselves by military service; not a few by the cultivation of their estates: no man embraced any avocation, unless he had made sure that it would yield him a return. It was easy for Asinius and Messala, glutted with the prizes of the duel between Antony and Augustus, or for the heirs of wealthy houses — Aeserninus, Arruntius, and their like — to assume a pose of magnanimity: they had themselves obvious precedents in the rewards for which Publius Clodius or Gaius Curio14 were in the habit of delivering their harangues. Personally, they were senators of modest means, who, in a tranquil state, sought none but the emoluments of peace: Let him consider also the common people who won distinction by the gown! If the rewards of the art they studied were annulled, the art too would perish." — The emperor, who considered that these arguments, if less high-minded, were still not pointless, fixed ten thousand sesterces as the maximum fee to be accepted; those exceeding it to be liable on the count of extortion.

815 Nearly at the same time,16 Mithridates, whose tenure of the Armenian crown and arrest by order of Caligula I have already mentioned, followed the advice of Claudius and returned to his kingdom, in p261reliance on the powers of Pharasmanes.17 That prince, king of Iberia and also brother of Mithridates, kept announcing that the Parthians were divided among themselves — the crown was in question, minor matters unregarded. For Gotarzes, among his numerous cruelties, had procured the murder of his brother Artabanus and his wife and son, with the result that the rest took alarm and called in Vardanes. He, with his usual alacrity for great adventures, covered three thousand stadia18 in two days; drove the unsuspecting and terrified Gotarzes into flight, and without hesitation seized the nearest satrapies — Seleucia19 alone refusing to acknowledge his supremacy. Less from considerations of his immediate interest than from anger at a community which had also deserted his father, he hampered himself with the siege of a powerful city, secured by the barrier of an intervening river, fortified, and provisioned. Meanwhile, Gotarzes, strengthened by the forces of the Dahae and Hyrcanians,20 renewed hostilities; and Vardanes, compelled to abandon Seleucia, pitched his court opposite to him on the plains of Bactria.21

9 1 This juncture, when the powers of the East were divided and it was still uncertain which way the scales would fall, gave Mithridates his opportunity of seizing Armenia, thanks to the energy of the Roman troops in demolishing the hill fortresses, p263while the Iberian army overran the plains; for the natives offered no resistance after the rout of the prefect Demonax,22 who had risked a battle. Some little delay was occasioned by Cotys, the king of Lesser Armenia,23 to whom a section of the nobles had turned: then he was repressed by a despatch from the Caesar, and the current set full towards Mithridates, who showed more severity than was conducive to the stability of his new throne. — Meanwhile, as the Parthian commanders were preparing for battle, they suddenly concluded an agreement on their discovery of a national conspiracy, disclosed by Gotarzes to his brother. They met, hesitantly at first; then with right hands clasped, they pledged themselves before the altars of the gods to avenge the treachery of their enemies and each to make concessions to the other. Vardanes was considered the better fitted to retain the crown: Gotarzes, to avoid all chance of rivalry, withdrew into the depths of Hyrcania. On the return of Vardanes, Seleucia capitulated24 in the seventh year after its revolt; not without some dishonour to the Parthians, whom a single town had so long defied.

10 1 Vardanes then visited the principal satrapies, and was burning to recover Armenia, when he was checked by a threat of war from Vibius Marsus, the legate of Syria. In the meantime, Gotarzes, repenting of his cession of the throne, and invited by the grandees, whose vassalage is always more irksome in peace, gathered an army. On the other side, a counter-advance brought Vardanes to the river Erindes. A severe struggle at the crossing ended in his complete victory, and in successful actions he reduced the intervening tribes up to the p265Sindes, which forms the boundary-line between the Dahae and Arians.25 There his triumphs came to a close, as the Parthians, though victorious, were in no mood for a distant campaign. Consequently, after raising a number of monuments recording his power and the fact that no Arsacid before him had levied tribute from those nations, he returned full of glory and therefore more arrogant and more arbitrary towards his subjects; who, by a prearranged act of treachery, assassinated him while off his guard and absorbed in his hunting, — a prince still in his earliest manhood, but in renown, had he sought the love of his people as he sought the fear of his enemies, unequalled but by a few of veteran kings.

By the murder of Vardanes Parthian affairs were thrown into confusion, as there was no unanimity with regard to his successor. Many leaned to Gotarzes; some to Phraates' descendant Meherdates,26 who had been given in hostage to ourselves. Then Gotarzes carried the day, made himself master of the palace, and by dint of cruelty and debauchery drove the Parthians to send a secret petition to the Roman emperor, pleading that Meherdates might be set free to ascend the throne of his fathers.

11 1 Under the same consulate,27 eight hundred years from the foundation of Rome, sixty-four from their presentation by Augustus, came a performance of the Secular Games. The calculations28 employed by the two princes I omit, as they have been sufficiently p267explained in the books which I have devoted to the reign of Domitian.29 For he too exhibited Secular Games, and, as the holder of a quindecimviral priesthood30 and as praetor at the time, I followed them with more than usual care: a fact which I recall not in vanity, but because from of old this responsibility has rested with the Fifteen, and because it was to magistrates in especial that the task fell of discharging the duties connected with the religious ceremonies. During the presence of Claudius at the Circensian Games, when a cavalcade of boys from the great families opened the mimic battle of Troy,31 among them being the emperor's son, Britannicus, and Lucius Domitius,32 — soon to be adopted as heir to the throne and to the designation of Nero, — the livelier applause given by the populace to Domitius was accepted as prophetic. Also there was a common tale that serpents had watched over his infancy like warders: a fable retouched to resemble foreign miracles, since Nero — certainly not given to self-depreciation — used to say that only a single snake had been noticed in his bedroom.

12 1 However, the memory of Germanicus left him with a residue of popularity as the one male offshoot left of the family; and growing pity was felt for his mother Agrippina in view of her persecution by Messalina; who, always her enemy and now more than usually excited, was only withheld from marshalling accusations and accusers by a fresh amour verging upon insanity. For her passion for Gaius Silius,33 most handsome of Roman youths, had burned so high that she drove his distinguished wife, Junia Silana, from under her husband's roof, and entered p269upon the possession of a now unfettered adulterer. Silius was blind neither to the scandal nor to the danger, but, since refusal was certain death, since there was some little hope of avoiding exposure, and since the rewards were high, he consoled himself by closing his eyes to the future and enjoying the present. Messalina, with no attempt at concealment, went incessantly to the house with a crowd of retainers; abroad, she clung to his side; wealth and honours were showered upon him; finally, as though the transference of sovereignty was complete, slaves, freedmen, and furnishings of the palace were to be seen in the house of an adulterer.

13 1 Claudius, meanwhile, ignorant of his own matrimonial fortune and engrossed by his censorial functions,34 reprimanded in austere edicts the licence shown in theatres by the populace, which had directed its ribaldry upon the consular Publius Pomponius35 (he composed pieces for the stage), and upon several of rank. He checked by legislation extortion on the part of creditors, prohibiting loans to a minor, repayable at the father's death: he brought the spring-water down from the Simbruine hills,36 and introduced it to the capital; and, after making the discovery that not even the Greek alphabet was begun and completed in the same instant, he invented and gave to the world some additional Latin characters.

14 1 The Egyptians, in their animal-pictures, were the first people to represent thought by symbols: these, the earliest documents of human history, are visible to‑day, impressed upon stone. They describe themselves also as the inventors of the alphabet: from Egypt, they consider, the p271Phoenicians, who were predominant at sea, imported the knowledge into Greece, and gained the credit of discovering what they had borrowed. For the tradition runs that it was Cadmus, arriving with a Phoenician fleet, who taught the art to the still uncivilized Greek peoples. Others relate that Cecrops of Athens (or Linus of Thebes) and, in the Trojan era, Palamedes of Argos, invented sixteen letters, the rest being added later by different authors, particularly Simonides. In Italy the Etruscans learned the lesson from the Corinthian Demaratus, the Aborigines from Evander the Arcadian; and in form the Latin characters are identical with those of the earliest Greeks. But, in our case too, the original number was small, and additions were made subsequently: a precedent for Claudius, who appended three more letters,37 which had their vogue during his reign, then fell into desuetude, but still meet the eye on the official bronzes fixed in the forums and temples.

15 1 He next consulted the senate on the question of founding a college of diviners,38 so that "the oldest art of Italy should not become extinct through their indolence. Often, in periods of public adversity, they had called in diviners, on whose advice religious ceremonies had been renewed and, for the future, observed with greater correctness; while the Etruscan nobles, voluntarily or at the instance of the Roman senate, had kept up the art and propagated it in certain families. Now that work was p273done more negligently through the public indifference to all liberal accomplishments, combined with the progress of alien superstitions.39 For the moment, indeed, all was flourishing; but they must show their gratitude to the favour of Heaven by making sure that the sacred rituals observed in the time of hazard were not forgotten in the day of prosperity." A senatorial decree was accordingly passed, instructing the pontiffs to consider what points in the discipline of the haruspices needed to be maintained or strengthened.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For the rest of the Annals, as for the whole of the Histories, the only independent authority is the eleventh-century Langobardic manuscript, Med<iceus II> (Laurentianus, plut. 68, 2), which offers a tradition distinctly inferior to that of the first Medicean in Books IVI. The events dealt with in the lost books (VIIX, together with the first half of XI) are summarized in the Chronological Table (pp419‑22). The narrative reopens midway in the seventh year of Claudius (47 A.D.).

2 The dramatis personae are:— 1. Valeria Messalina, the too famous cousin and third wife of Claudius: 2. Poppaea Sabina, daughter of Tiberius' "competent but not over-competent" friend and lieutenant (VI.39); the ruling beauty of the period, and mother, by Titus Ollius, of Nero's Poppaea (XIII.45); now married to Publius Scipio (III.74?): 3. Mnester, the leading pantomimist of the day; freedman of Tiberius, minion of Caligula (Suet. Cal. 36, 55, 57), and lover of Messalina, by whom he is suspected of an intrigue with Poppaea: 4. Valerius Asiaticus, a wealthy consular from Vienne; selected by Messalina in place of Mnester, as the putative adulterer to be struck down along with Poppaea: 5. P. Suillius Rufus, now returned from his exile (IV.31 n.), and chosen to conduct the accusation: 6. L. Vitellius (VI.32 n.), at the zenith of his influence with Claudius; colleague with him in the consulate and censorship this year, and present as assessor at Asiaticus' trial before the private court of the emperor.

3 Ti. Claudius Britannicus, son of Claudius and Messalina; now five years old. Sosibius — executed later by Agrippina on a charge of conspiracy (D. Cass. LX.32) — was doubtless a Greek freedman.

4 The tale goes that at a stormy meeting of the people (Jos. A. J. XIX.1), or the praetorians (D. Cass. LIX.30), he answered the shouted question, "Who was the slayer?" with the words, Utinam ego (εἴθε γὰρ ἔγωγε). Of his actual complicity there is no evidence.

5 Presumably in the expedition of 43 A.D.

6 Claudius describes him as a 'palaestric prodigy' (Or. Claud. II.14).

7 In his Lucullan Gardens on the Pincian Hill (Collis Hortulorum).

8 A point upon which Claudius — whose accession had coincided with a threatened famine — remained peculiarly sensitive.

9 The external distinctions of the office without the office itself; which, in this case, was not even accessible to Crispinus, since, as praetorian prefect, he was necessarily a knight.

10 See chaps. 12 and 35.

11 The lex Cincia de donis atque muneribus (204 B.C.), revived by Augustus in 17 B.C. Suillius' second collision with it had graver results (XIII.42 sq.).

12 For Asinius Pollio (insigne maestis praesidium reis, Hor. Carm. II.1) and Messala Corvinus, see IV.34 n., III.34 n.; for L. Arruntius, VI.5 n.; and for M. Claudius Marcellus Aeserninus, grandson of Pollio, III.11.

13 Cossutianus Capito, one of the most active accusers of the period. Banished for extortion in Cilicia (XIII.33), he was restored to the senate by the intervention of his father-in‑law Tigellinus (XIV.48), was a prime mover in the prosecution of Thrasea (XVI.21 sqq.), and then disappears from the stage.

14 Two questionable sponsors, the former being the notorious enemy of Cicero, killed in the affray with Milo; the latter, the equally notorious tribune purchased by Caesar.

15 The last extant notices of eastern affairs (VI.31‑37, 41‑45) closed with the Roman nominee, Mithridates on the throne of Armenia, and the veteran Artabanus III of Parthia repossessed of his kingdom. On the accession of Caligula, even the half-success achieved by Tiberius was cancelled: Mithridates was summoned to Rome and placed under arrest, and Armenia allowed to relapse under Parthian influence or suzerainty. The situation, however, was altered again by the death of Artabanus III (40 A.D.) and the outbreak of civil war between his sons Gotarzes and Vardanes, a third brother (Artabanus IV) having been summarily despatched. — It should be borne in mind that these chapters (8‑10) contain, not the events of 47 A.D., but an epitome of the events from 42 or 43 A.D. to 48 A.D. The narrative is then resumed in XII.10.

16 In reality, about five years earlier.

17 VI.32 etc.

18 About 350 miles — an impossible distance for any considerable body of men, even Parthians. If Vardanes travelled with a few attendants — the question of fresh horses would present no difficulty — the speed still approximates to, or surpasses, that of the most famous journeys of Roman couriers over good roads, with the resources of the cursus publicus behind them.

19 VI.42 n.

20 VI.36 n.

21 E. of Parthia proper (Khorasân), on the upper reaches of the Amu-darya and Syr-darya, with the Hindu Kush to the south, the capital being Bactra (Balkh). It had formerly been the seat of a Graeco-Indian kingdom.

Thayer's Note: For fuller information see the Bactria page at Livius.

22 Head of one of the 120 praefecturae (στρατηγίαι) into which Armenia was divided (Plin. H.N. VI.9.27).

23 W. of Armenia proper.

24 43 A.D.

25 The scene of the campaign is indeterminable, as the Erindes and Sindes are equally unknown, while the Arii (SW of Bactria) were far removed from the Dahae.

26 He was son of Vonones and grandson of Phraates IV (VI.31 n.).

27 That of Claudius and Vitellius (47 A.D.).

28 Details may be found in the commentaries. Roughly speaking the games were instituted in 249 B.C. as centennial, were celebrated again — three years late — in 146 B.C., and omitted in 46 B.C. Augustus, by availing himself of a Sibylline saeculum of 110 years and the traditions of the quindecimviral college, contrived to celebrate them in 17 B.C., one year too soon according to his own data. Claudius reverted to the saeculum of 100 years, but treated the festival as the eighth centenary of Rome (753 + 47 = 800). Domitian followed Augustus, but held his ludi six years before the date (88 A.D.).

29 The closing books, now lost, of the Histories.

30 III.64 n.

31 The sham fight of patrician youths on horseback, best known from the description in the Aeneid (V.545 sqq.).

32 The future emperor Nero, son of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus and Germanicus' daughter Agrippina (IV.75 n.).

33 The consul designate of chap. 5; son of the conqueror of Sacrovir (I.31; III.42; IV.18).

34 The office, in abeyance since 23 B.C., was resuscitated by Claudius and held by himself and Vitellius after resignation of their joint consulate in this year.

35 V.8 n.

36 Two supplies, the aqua Claudia (from the little lakes formed by the Anio on the hills above Subiaco) and the Anio novus (taken off from the river itself); though they entered the city on the same arches.

Thayer's Note: Inscriptions found in the area indicate that the water supply came from springs rather than lakes: see the articles Aqua Claudia and Aqua Marcia of Platner's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

37 An inverted digamma, A Claudian letter, for the consonantal u (A Claudian letterVLGVSVVLGVS); 2. an "antistigma," , equivalent to the Greek Ψ; 3. the Greek sign for the spiritus asperA Claudian letter, to express the y‑sound, between u and i, heard in such words as maximus (maxumus) (= MAXA Claudian letterMVS).º Many instances of (1) survive, some of (3), none — or possibly one — of (2).

Thayer's Note: For fuller information, with citations, see Suetonius, Claudius, 41.3 n.

38 Soothsayers — of far lower standing than the augurs — practising, inter alia, the Etruscan art of divination by inspection of entrails (extispicium).

39 Principally Judaism and the Egyptian cults of Isis and Serapis, through Christianity and Mithraism were on the way.


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