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XII.1‑40

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.
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XIII.1‑30

(Vol. IV) Tacitus
Annals

Book XII (end)

p373 41 1 In the consulate of Tiberius Claudius, his fifth term, and of Servius Cornelius, the manly toga was prematurely1 conferred on Nero, so that he should appear qualified for a political career. The Caesar yielded with pleasure to the sycophancies of the senate, which desired Nero to assume the consulship in the twentieth year of his age,2 and in the interval, as consul designate, to hold proconsular authority outside the capital and bear the title Prince of the Youth.3 There was added a donative to the troops, with a largess to the populace, both under his name; while at the games in the Circus, exhibited to gain him the partialities of the crowd, Britannicus rode past in the juvenile white and purple, Nero in the robes of triumph. "Let the people survey the one in the insignia of supreme command, the other in his puerile garb, and anticipate conformably the destinies of the pair!" At the same time all centurions and tribunes who evinced sympathy with the lot of Britannicus were removed, some on fictitious grounds, others under cloak of promotion. Even the few freedmen of untainted loyalty were dismissed on the following pretext. At a meeting between the two boys, Nero greeted Britannicus by his name, and was himself saluted as "Domitius."4 Representing the incident as a first sign of discord, Agrippina reported it with loud complaints to her husband:— "The act of adoption p375was flouted, the decision of the Fathers and the mandate of the people abrogated on the domestic hearth! And unless they removed the mischievous influence of those who inculcated this spirit of hostility, it would break out in a public catastrophe." Perturbed by these hinted accusations, the emperor inflicted exile or death on the best of his son's preceptors, and placed him under the custody of the substitutes provided by his stepmother.

42 1 As yet, however, Agrippina lacked courage to make her supreme attempt, unless she could discharge from the command of the praetorian cohorts both Lusius Geta and Rufrius Crispinus, whom she believed faithful to the memory of Messalina and pledged to the cause of her children. Accordingly, through her assertions to her husband that the cohorts were being divided by the intriguing rivalry of the pair, and that discipline would be stricter if they were placed under a single head, the command was transferred to Afranius Burrus; who bore the highest character as a soldier but was well aware to whose pleasure he owed his appointment. The exaltation of her own dignity also occupied Agrippina: she began to enter the Capitol in a carriage;5 and that honour, reserved by antiquity for priests and holy objects, enhanced the veneration felt for a woman who to this day stands unparalleled as the daughter of an Imperator6 and the sister, the wife, and the mother of an emperor.7 Meanwhile, her principal champion, Vitellius, at the height of his influence and in the extremity of his age — so precarious are the fortunes of the mighty — was brought to trial upon an indictment laid by the senator Junius Lupus. The charges he preferred p377were treason and designs upon the empire and to these the Caesar would certainly have inclined his ear, had not the prayers, or rather the threats of Agrippina converted him to the course of formally outlawing the prosecutor: Vitellius had desired no more.

43 1 Many prodigies occurred during the year. Ominous birds took their seat on the Capitol;8 houses were overturned by repeated shocks of earthquake, and, as the panic spread, the weak were trampled underfoot in the trepidation of the crowd. A shortage of corn,º again, and the famine which resulted, were construed as a supernatural warning. Nor were the complaints always whispered. Claudius, sitting in judgement, was surrounded by a wildly clamorous mob, and, driven into the farthest corner of the Forum, was there subjected to violent pressure, until, with the help of a body of troops, he forced a way through the hostile throng. It was established that the capital had provisions for fifteen days, no more; and the crisis was relieved only by the especial grace of the gods and the mildness of the winter. And yet, Heaven knows, in the past, Italy exported supplies for the legions into remote provinces; nor is sterility the trouble now, but we cultivate Africa and Egypt by preference, and the life of the Roman nation has been staked upon cargo-boats and accidents.

44 1 In the same year, an outbreak of war between the Armenians and Iberians gave rise as well to a very serious disturbance of the relations between Parthia and Rome. The Parthian nation p379was now subject to Vologaeses, who, on the mother's side, was the offspring of a Greek concubine and had obtained the crown with the acquiescence of his brothers: Iberia was held by its old master Pharasmanes; Armenia — with our support — by his brother Mithridates.9 There was a son of Pharasmanes by the name of Radamistus, tall and handsome, remarkable for his bodily strength, versed in the national accomplishments, and in high repute with the neighbouring peoples. That the modest kingdom of Iberia was being kept from him by his father's tenacity of life, was a statement which he threw out too boldly and too frequently for his desires to remain unguessed. Pharasmanes, therefore, who had his misgivings about a youth alert for power and armed with the sympathies of the country, while his own years were already on the wane, sought to attract him to other ambitions by pointing to Armenia; which, he observed, he had, by his expulsion of the Parthians, himself bestowed on Mithridates. Force, however, must wait: some ruse, by which they could take him off his guard, was preferable. Radamistus, then, after a feigned rupture with his father, gave out that he was unable to face the hatred of his stepmother, and made his way to his uncle; was treated by him with exceptional kindness as though he had been a child of his own; and proceeded to entice the Armenian nobles to revolution, undetected, and in fact honoured, by Mithridates.

45 1 Assuming the character of a reconciled son, he returned to his father, and announced that all which it had been possible to effect by fraud was ready: what remained must be achieved by arms. Meanwhile, Pharasmanes fabricated pretexts for p381war:— "During his conflict with the king of Albania,10 his appeal for Roman help had been opposed by his brother, and he would now avenge that injury by his destruction." At the same time, he entrusted a large force to his son; who, by a sudden incursion, unnerved Mithridates, beat him out of the plains, and forced him into Gorneae, a fort protected by the nature of the ground and a garrison under the command of the prefect11 Caelius Pollio and the centurion Casperius. Nothing is so completely unknown to barbarians as the appliances and refinements of siege operations — a branch of warfare perfectly familiar to ourselves. Hence, after several attacks, fruitless or worse, upon the fortifications, Radamistus began a blockade: then, as force was ignored, he bribed the avarice of the prefect, though Casperius protested against the subversion, by guilt and gold, of an allied monarch and of Armenia, his gift from the Roman people. At last, as Pollio continued to plead the numbers of the enemy and Radamistus the orders of his father, he stipulated for a truce, and left with the intention of either deterring Pharasmanes from his campaign or acquainting the governor of Syria, Ummidius Quadratus, with the state of matters in Armenia.

46 1 With the centurion's departure, the prefect found himself rid of his warder, and he now pressed Mithridates to conclude a treaty. He enlarged upon the link of brotherhood, upon Pharasmanes' priority in age, upon the other titles of kinship, — the fact that he was married to his brother's daughter and was himself the father-in‑law of Radamistus. "The Iberians," he said, "though for the time being the stronger party, were not disinclined to peace. p383He was familiar enough already with Armenian treachery, and his only defence was a badly provisioned fort. Let him not decide for the doubtful experiment of arms in preference to a bloodless compact!" While Mithridates hesitated in spite of these arguments — the prefect's advice being suspect, as he had seduced one of the royal concubines and was considered capable of any villainy for a price — Casperius in the interval made his way to Pharasmanes and demanded that the Iberians should raise the siege. In public, the king's replies were vague and usually bland; in private, he warned Radamistus by courier to hurry on the siege by any and all means. The wage of dishonour was accordingly increased; and by secret bribery Pollio induced the troops to demand a peace under threat of abandoning the post. Mithridates had now no option; he accepted the place and day suggested for the treaty, and left the fort.

47 1 The first act of Radamistus was to throw himself into his arms with affected devotion and to address him as father-in‑law and parent. He followed with an oath that neither by steel nor by poison would he practise against his life. At the same moment, he hurried him into a neighbouring grove, where, he informed him, the apparatus of sacrifice had been provided in order that their peace might be ratified before the attesting gods. The procedure in the case of two kings meeting to conclude an alliance is to unite their right hands, tie the thumbs together, and tighten the pressure by a knot: then, when the blood has run to the extremities, a slight incision gives it outlet, and each prince licks it in turn. A mystical character is attached to the agreement p385thus sealed and counter-sealed in blood. But, on this occasion, the person who was fastening the bonds feigned to slip, and, grasping Mithridates by the knees, threw him prostrate: at the same instant, a number of men rushed up and put him in irons. He was dragged off by his shackles, to barbarians a supreme indignity; and before long the populace, which had experienced the rigour of his sway, was levelling against him its insults and its blows. There were also, on the other hand, some found to pity so complete a reversal of fortune; and his wife, who followed with their infant children, filled the place with her laments. The prisoners were stowed out of sight in separate and covered vehicles, until the orders of Pharasmanes should be ascertained. To him the desire of a crown outweighed a brother and a daughter, and his temper was prompt to crime: still he shewed consideration for his eyes by not having them killed in his presence. Radamistus, too mindful apparently of his oath, produced neither steel nor poison for the destruction of his sister and uncle, but had them tossed on the ground and smothered under a heavy pile of clothes. Mithridates' sons were also slaughtered, since they had shed tears at the murder of their parents.

48 1 Quadratus, gathering that Mithridates was betrayed and his kingdom held by the murderers, convened his council, laid the incidents before it, and asked for an opinion whether he should take punitive measures. A few showed some concern for the national honour; the majority inculcated safety:— "Alien crime in general was to be hailed with pleasure; it was well, even, to sow the seeds of hatred, precisely as on many occasions a Roman p387emperor, ostensibly as an act of munificence, had given away this same Armenia, merely to unsettle the temper of the barbarians. Let Radamistus hold his ill-gotten gains, so long as he held them at the price of detestation and of infamy: it was better for us than if he had won them with glory!" This opinion was adopted. But, to avoid the appearance of having acquiesced in the crime, when the imperial orders might be to the contrary effect, messengers were sent to Pharasmanes, requesting him to evacuate Armenian territory and withdraw his son.

49 1 The procurator of Cappadocia was Julius Paelignus, a person made doubly contemptible by hebetude of mind and grotesqueness of body, yet on terms of the greatest intimacy with Claudius during the years of retirement when he amused his sluggish leisure with the society of buffoons. The Paelignus had mustered the provincial militia, with the avowed intention of recovering Armenia; but, while he was plundering our subjects in preference to the enemy, the secession of his troops left him defenceless against the barbarian incursions, and he made his way to Radamistus, by whose liberality he was so overpowered that he voluntarily advised him to assume the kingly emblem, and assisted at its assumption in the quality of sponsor and satellite. Ugly reports of the incident spread; and, to make it clear that not all Romans were to be judged by the standard of Paelignus, the legate Helvidius Priscus12 was sent with a legion to deal with the disturbed situation as the circumstances might require. Accordingly, after crossing Mount Taurus in haste, he had settled more points by moderation than by force, when he was ordered back to Syria, lest he should give occasion for a Parthian war.

p389 50 1 For Vologaeses, convinced that the chance was come for an attack on Armenia, once the property of his ancestors,13 now usurped by a foreign monarch in virtue of a crime, collected a force, and prepared to settle his brother Tiridates on the throne; so that no branch of his family should lack its kingdom.14 The Parthian invasion forced back the Iberians without a formal battle, and the Armenian towns of Artaxata15 and Tigranocerta16 accepted the yoke. Then a severe winter, the inadequate provision of supplies, and an epidemic due to both of these causes, forced Vologaeses to abandon the scene of action; and Armenia, masterless once again, was occupied by Radamistus, more truculent than ever towards a nation of traitors whom he regarded as certain to rebel when opportunity offered. They were a people inured to bondage; but patience broke, and they surrounded the palace in arms.

51 1 The one salvation for Radamistus lay in the speed of the horses which swept himself and his wife away. His wife, however, was pregnant; and though fear of the enemy and love of her husband sustained her more or less in the first stages of the flight, yet before long, with the continuous gallop jarring her womb and vibrating through her system, she began to beg for an honourable death to save her from the degradations of captivity. At first, he embraced her, supported her, animated her, one moment wondering at her courage, the next sick with fear at the thought of abandoning her to the possession of another. At last, overmastered by his love, and no stranger to deeds of violence, he drew his sabre, dragged her bleeding to the bank of the Araxes,17 and, bent on removing even p391her corpse, consigned her to the current: he himself rode headlong through to his native kingdom of Iberia. Meanwhile, Zenobia (to give his wife her name) was noticed by a few shepherds in a quiet backwater, still breathing and showing signs of life. Arguing her high birth from the distinction of her appearance, they bound up her wound, applied their country remedies, and, on discovering her name and misfortune, carried her to the town of Artaxata; from which, by the good offices of the community, she was escorted to Tiridates, and, after a kind reception, was treated with royal honours.

52 1 In the consulate of Faustus Sulla18 and Salvius Otho,19 Furius Scribonianus was driven into exile, on a charge of inquiring into the end of the sovereign by the agency of astrologers: his mother Vibidia was included in the arraignment, on the ground that she had not acquiesced in her former misadventure — she had been sentenced to relegation. Camillus,20 the father of Scribonianus, had taken arms in Dalmatia: a point placed by the emperor to the credit of his clemency, since he was sparing this hostile stock for a second time. The exile, however, did not long survive: the question whether he died by a natural death or from poison was answered by the gossips according to their various beliefs. The expulsion of the astrologers from Italy was ordered by a drastic and impotent decree of the senate. Then followed a speech by the emperor, commending all who voluntarily renounced senatorial rank owing to straitened circumstances: those who, by remaining, added impudence to poverty were removed.

53 1 At the same time, he submitted a motion to the Fathers, penalizing women who married p393slaves; and it was resolved that anyone falling so far without the knowledge of the slave's owner should rank as in a state of servitude; while, if he had given sanction, she was to be classed as a freedwoman. That Pallas, whom the Caesar had specified as the inventor of his proposal, should receive the praetorian insignia and fifteen million sesterces, was the motion of the consul designate, Barea Soranus.21 It was added by Cornelius Scipio that he should be accorded the national thanks, because, descendant though he was of the kings of Arcadia,22 he postponed his old nobility to the public good, and permitted himself to be regarded as one of the servants of the emperor. Claudius passed his word that Pallas, contented with the honour,23 declined to outstep his former honest poverty. And there was engraved on official brass24 a senatorial decree lavishing the praises of old-world frugality upon a freedman, the proprietor of three hundred million sesterces.

54 1 The like moderation, however, was not shewn by his brother, surnamed Felix;25 who for a while past had held the governorship of Judaea, and considered that with such influences behind him all malefactions would be venial. The Jews, it is true, had given signs of disaffection in the rioting prompted <by the demand of Gaius Caesar for an effigy of himself in the Temple; and though> the news of his murder had made complicity needless, the fear remained p395that some emperor might issue an identical mandate. In the interval, Felix was fostering crime by misconceived remedies, his worst efforts being emulated by Ventidius Comanus, his colleague in the other half of the province — which was so divided that the natives of Galilee were subject to Ventidius, Samaria to Felix. The districts had long been at variance, and their animosities were now under the less restraint, as they could despise their regents. Accordingly, they harried each other, unleashed their troops of bandits, fought an occasional field, and carried their trophies and their thefts to the procurators. At first, the pair rejoiced; then, when the growth of the mischief forced them to interpose the arms of their troops, the troops were beaten, and the province would have been ablaze with war but for the intervention of Quadratus, the governor of Syria. With regard to the Jews, who had gone so far as to shed the blood of regular soldiers, there were no protracted doubts as to the infliction of the death penalty: Cumanus and Felix were answerable for more embarrassment, as Claudius, on learning the motives of the revolt, had authorized Quadratus to deal with the case of the procurators themselves. Quadratus, however, displayed Felix among the judges, his admission to the tribunal being intended to cool the zeal of his accusers: Cumanus was sentenced for the delinquencies of the two, and quietude returned to the province.

55 1 Shortly afterwards, the tribes of wild Cilicians, known under the name of Cietae,26 who had already broken the peace on many occasions, now formed a camp, under the leadership of Troxobor, on their precipitous hills; and, descending to the coast or the p397cities, ventured to attack the peasants and townspeople, and, very frequently, the merchants and shipmasters. The city of Anemurium was invested; and a troop of horse sent to its relief from Syria under the prefect Curtius Severus was put to flight, as the rough ground in the vicinity, though suited to an infantry engagement, did not admit of cavalry fighting. Eventually, Antiochus27 — in whose kingdom that part of the coast was included — by cajolery dissolved the union of the barbarian forces, and, after executing Troxobor and a few chiefs, quieted the remainder by clemency.

56 1 Nearly at this date, the tunnelling of the mountain between Lake Fucinus28 and the river Liris had been achieved; and, in order that the impressive character of the work29 might be viewed by a larger number of visitants, a naval battle was arranged upon the lake itself, on the model of an earlier spectacle given by Augustus — though with light vessels and a smaller force30 — in his artificial lagoon adjoining the Tiber. Claudius equipped triremes, quadriremes, and nineteen thousand combatants: the lists he surrounded with rafts, so as to leave no unauthorized points of escape, but reserved space enough in the centre to display the vigour of the rowing, the arts of the helmsmen, the impetus of the galleys, and the usual incidents of an engagement. On the rafts were stationed companies and squadrons of the praetorian cohorts, covered by a p399breastwork from which to operate their catapults and ballistae: the rest of the lake was occupied by marines with decked vessels. The shores, the hills, the mountain-crests, formed a kind of theatre, soon filled by an untold multitude, attracted from the neighbouring towns, and in part from the capital itself, by curiosity or by respect for the sovereign. He and Agrippina presided, the one in a gorgeous military cloak, the other — not far distant — in a Greek mantle of cloth of gold. The battle, though one of criminals, was contested with the spirit and courage of freemen; and, after much blood had flowed, the combatants were exempted from destruction.

57 1 On the conclusion of the spectacle, however, the passage was opened for the waters. Carelessness was at once evident in the construction of the tunnel, which had not been sunk to the maximum or even the mean depth of the lake. An interval of time was therefore allowed for the channel to be cleared to a lower level;31 and, with a view to collecting a second multitude, a gladiatorial exhibition was given on pontoons laid for an infantry battle. A banquet, even, had been served near the efflux of the lake; only to result, however, in a general panic, as the outrushing volume of water carried away the adjoining portions of the work, while those at a greater distance experienced either the actual shock or the terror produced by the crash and reverberation. At the same moment, Agrippina profited by the emperor's agitation to charge Narcissus, as director of the scheme, with cupidity and embezzlement.32 He was not to be silenced, and retorted with an attack on her feminine imperiousness and the extravagance of her ambitions.

p401 58 1 In the consulate of Decimus Junius33 and Quintus Haterius, Nero, at the age of sixteen, received in marriage the emperor's daughter Octavia. Desirous to shine by his liberal accomplishments and by a character for eloquence, he took up the cause of Ilium, enlarged with grace on the Trojan descent of the Roman nation; on Aeneas, the progenitor of the Julian line; on other traditions not too far removed from fable; and secured the release of the community from all public obligations. By his advocacy, again, the colony of Bononia,34 which had been destroyed by fire, was assisted with a grant of ten million sesterces; the Rhodians recovered their liberties, so often forfeited or confirmed as the balance varied between their military services abroad or their seditious offences at home; and Apamea,35 which had suffered from an earthquake shock, was relieved from its tribute for the next five years.

59 1 Claudius, in contrast, was being forced to a display of sheer cruelty, still by the machinations of Agrippina. Statilius Taurus, whose wealth was famous, and whose gardens aroused her cupidity, she ruined with an accusation brought by Tarquitius Priscus. He had been the legate of Taurus when he was governing Africaº with proconsular powers, and now on their return charged him with a few acts of malversation, but more seriously with addiction to magical superstitions. Without tolerating longer a lying accuser and an unworthy humiliation, Taurus took his own life before the verdict of the senate. Tarquitius, none the less, was expelled from the curia — a point which the Fathers, in their detestation of the informer, carried in the teeth of Agrippina's intrigues.

p403 60 1 Several times in this year, the emperor was heard to remark that judgments given by his procurators36 ought to have as much validity as if the ruling had come from himself. In order that the opinion should not be taken as a chance indiscretion, provision — more extensive and fuller than previously — was made to that effect by a senatorial decree as well. For an order of the deified Augustus had conferred judicial powers on members of the equestrian order, holding the government of Egypt;37 their decisions to rank as though they had been formulated by the national magistrates. Later, both in other provinces and in Rome, a large number of cases till then falling under the cognizance of the praetors38 were similarly transferred; and now Claudius handed over in full the judicial power so often disputed by sedition or by arms — when, for instance, the Sempronian rogations39 placed the equestrian order in possession of the courts; or the Servilian laws retroceded those courts to the senate; or when, in the days of Marius and Sulla, the question actually became a main ground of hostilities. But the competition was then between class and class, and the results of victory were universally valid.40 Gaius p405Oppius and Cornelius Balbus41 were the first individuals who, supported by the might of Caesar, were able to take for their province the conditions of a peace or the determination of a war. It would serve no purpose to mention their successors, a Matius42 or a Vedius or the other all too powerful names of Roman knights, when the freedmen whom he had placed in charge of his personal fortune were now by Claudius raised to an equality with himself and with the law.

61 1 He next proposed to grant immunity to the inhabitants of Cos. Of their ancient history he had much to tell:— "The earliest occupants of the island had," he said, "been Argives — or, possibly, Coeus, the father of Latona. Then the arrival of Aesculapius had introduced the art of healing, which attained the highest celebrity among his descendants"43 — here he gave the names of the descendants and the epochs at which they had all flourished. "Xenophon,"44 he observed again, "to whose knowledge he himself had recourse, derived his origin from the same family; and, as a concession to his prayers, the Coans ought to have be exempted from all forms of tribute for the future and allowed to tenant their island as a sanctified place subservient only to its god." There can be no doubt that a large number of services rendered by the islanders to Rome, and of victories in which they had borne their part, could have been cited; but Claudius declined to disguise by external aids a favour which, with his wonted complaisance, he had accorded to an individual.

p407 62 1 On the other hand, the Byzantians, who had been granted an audience and were protesting in the senate against the oppressiveness of their burdens, reviewed their entire history. Starting from the treaty concluded with ourselves at the date of our war against the king of Macedonia whose doubtful birth earned him the name of pseudo-Philip,45 they mentioned the forces they had sent against Antiochus, Perseus and Aristonicus;46 their assistance to Antonius47 in the Pirate War; their offers of help at various times to Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey; then their recent services to the Caesars — services possible because they occupied a district conveniently placed for the transit of generals and armies by land or sea, and equally so for the conveyance of supplies.

63 1 For it was upon the extreme verge of Europe, at the narrowest part of the waters which divorce the continent from Asia, that Byzantium was planted by the Greeks; who, on consulting the Pythian Apollo where to found a city, were advised by the oracle to "seek a home opposite the country of the blind." That enigma pointed to the inhabitants of Chalcedon;48 who had arrived at the place before them, had surveyed in advance the opportunities of the site, and had decided for a worse. For Byzantium is favoured with a fertile soil and with a prolific sea, since huge shoals of fish49 — alarmed, as they emerge from the Euxine, by shelving rocks under the surface — make from the winding Asiatic coast, and find their way to the harbours opposite.50 A thriving and wealthy community had thus arisen; p409but now, under the stress of their financial burdens, they applied for exemption or an abatement, and were supported by the emperor; who pointed out to the senate that they had been recently exhausted by the Thracian51 and Bosporan wars and were entitled to relief. Their tribute was therefore remitted for the next five years.

64 1 In the consulate of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius, it was made apparent by a sequence of prodigies that a change of conditions for the worse was foreshadowed. Fire from heaven played round the standards and tents of the soldiers; a swarm of bees settled on the pediment of the Capitol; it was stated that hermaphrodites had been born, and that a pig had been produced with the talons of a hawk. It was counted among the portents that each of the magistracies found its numbers diminished, since a quaestor, an aedile, and a tribune, together with a praetor and a consul, had died within a few months. But especial terror was felt by Agrippina. Disquieted by a remark let fall by Claudius in his cups, that it was his destiny first to suffer and finally to punish the infamy of his wives, she determined to act — and speedily. First, however, she destroyed Domitia Lepida52 on a feminine quarrel. For, as the daughter of the younger Antonia, the grand-niece of Augustus, the first cousin once removed of Agrippina, and also the sister of her former husband Gnaeus Domitius, Lepida regarded her family distinctions as equal to those of the princess. In looks, age, and fortune there was little between the pair; and since each was as unchaste, as disreputable, and as violent as the other, their competition in the vices was not less keen than in such advantages as they had received p411from the kindness of fortune. But the fiercest struggle was on the question whether the dominant influence with Nero was to be his aunt or his mother: for Lepida was endeavouring to captivate his youthful mind by a smooth tongue and an open hand, while on the other side Agrippina stood grim and menacing, capable of presenting her son with an empire but not of tolerating him as emperor.

65 1 However, the charges preferred were that Lepida had practised by magic53 against the life of the emperor's consort, and, by her neglect to coerce her regiments of slaves in Calabria,54 was threatening the peace of Italy. On these grounds the death-sentence was pronounced, in spite of the determined opposition of Narcissus; who, with his ever-deepening suspicions of Agrippina, was said to have observed among his intimates that "whether Britannicus or Nero came to the throne, his own doom was sure; but the Caesar's kindness to him had been such that he would sacrifice life to his interests. Messalina and Silius had received their condemnation — and there was again similar material for a similar charge. With the succession vested in Britannicus, the emperor's person was safe; but the stepmother's plot aimed at overthrowing the whole imperial house — a darker scandal than would have resulted, if he had held his peace about the infidelities of her predecessor. Though, even now, infidelity was not far to seek, when she had committed adultery with Pallas, in order to leave no doubt that she held her dignity, her modesty, her body, her all, cheaper than a throne!" This and the like he repeated frequently, while he embraced Britannicus, prayed for his speedy maturity, and, extending his cases now to heaven p413and now to the prince, implored that "he would hasten to man's estate, cast out the enemies of his father — and even take vengeance on the slayers of his mother!"

66 1 Under the weight of anxiety, his health broke down, and he left for Sinuessa,55 to renovate his strength by the gentle climate and the medicinal springs. At once, Agrippina — long resolved on murder, eager to seize the proffered occasion, and at no lack for assistants — sought advice upon the type of poison. With a rapid and drastic drug, the crime, she feared, would be obvious: if she decided for a slow and wasting preparation, Claudius, face to face with his end and aware of her treachery, might experience a return of affection for his son. What commended itself was something recondite, which would derange his faculties while postponing his dissolution. An artist in this domain was selected — a woman by the name of Locusta, lately sentenced on a poisoning charge, and long retained as part of the stock-in-trade of absolutism.56 Her ingenuity supplied a potion, administered by the eunuch Halotus, whose regular duty was to bring in and taste the dishes.

67 1 So notorious, later, were the whole proceedings that authors of the period have recorded that the poison was sprinkled on an exceptionally fine mushroom; though, as a result of his natural p415sluggishness or intoxication, the effects of the drug were not immediately felt by Claudius.57 At the same time, a motion of his bowels appeared to have removed the danger. Agrippina was in consternation: as the last consequences were to be apprehended, immediate infamy would have to be braved; and she fell back on the complicity — which she had already assured — of the doctor Xenophon. He, it is believed, under cover of assisting the emperor's struggles to vomit, plunged a feather, dipped in a quick poison, down his throat: for he was well aware that crimes of the first magnitude are begun with peril and consummated with profit.58

68 1 Meanwhile, the senate was convened, and consuls and priests formulated their vows for the imperial safety, at a moment when the now lifeless body was being swathed in blankets and warming bandages, while the requisite measures were arranged for securing the accession of Nero. In the first place, Agrippina, heart-broken apparently and seeking to be comforted, held Britannicus to her breast, styled him the authentic portrait of his father, and, by this or the other device, precluded him from leaving his room. His sisters, Antonia and Octavia, p417she similarly detained. She had barred all avenues of approach with pickets, and ever and anon she issued notices that the emperor's indisposition was turning favourably: all to keep the troops in good hope, and to allow time for the advent of the auspicious moment insisted upon by the astrologers.

69 1 At last, at midday, on the thirteenth of October, the palace gates swung suddenly open, and Nero, with Burrus in attendance, passed out to the cohort, always on guard in conformity with the rules of the service. There, at a hint from the prefect, he was greeted with cheers and placed in a litter. Some of the men are said to have hesitated, looking back and inquiring:— "Where was Britannicus?" Then, as no lead to the contrary was forthcoming, they acquiesced in the choice presented to them: Nero was carried into the camp; and, after a few introductory words suited to the time, promised a donative on the same generous scale as that of his father,59 and was saluted as Imperator. The verdict of the troops was followed by the senatorial decrees; nor was any hesitation evinced in the provinces. Divine honours were voted to Claudius, and his funeral solemnities were celebrated precisely as those of the deified Augustus, Agrippina emulating the magnificence of her great-grandmother Livia. His will, however, was not read, lest the preference of the stepson to the son should leave a disquieting impression of injustice and invidiousness upon the mind of the common people.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Nero was thirteen on Dec. 15 of the preceding year, and the minimum age for the assumption of the toga virilis was fourteen.

2 Thirty-three appears to have been the age fixed by Augustus.

3 The title conferred by Augustus on his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar (I.3). Like the proconsular imperium and the rest of the honours, it was a method of indicating the emperor's choice of a successor — he had, in theory at least, no precise power to nominate him.

4 The offence lay in ignoring the fact that, since the adoption, there was no longer a "L. Domitius Ahenobarbus," but merely a "Ti. Claudius Nero Caesar."

5 A two-wheeled vehicle with an ornate cover. Its use had already been permitted by the senate to Messalina (D. Cass. LX.21), as it was later to the wife and daughter of Vespasian, and to others.

Thayer's Note: For the specific vehicle mentioned in Tacitus's Latin, see the (illustrated) article Carpentum in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

6 Germanicus had received the title from Tiberius (I.58 fin.).

7 She was, of course, sister of Caligula, as well as wife of Claudius and mother of Nero.

8 Cf.  Suet. Dom. 23:— Ante paucos quam occideretur Mensis, cornix in Capitolio elocuta est, Ἔσται πάντα καλῶς. Only in the last five books of the Annals are such prodigies mentioned; a fact from which the natural inference is drawn that Tacitus has begun to utilize another source — possibly the history of his own times by the elder Pliny, who opened a fine Aufidi Bassi (probably in the reign of Claudius) and would indisputably have found space for the phenomena: see his own references in H.N. II §§ 199 and 232.

9 For Pharasmanes and Mithridates, see VI.32 sqq., XI.8 sq.

10 VI.33 n.

11 Of an auxiliary cohort. — Casperius reappears at XV.5 and possibly at Hist. III.73.

12 Not the son-in‑law of Thrasea (XVI.28 n.), leader of the Stoic opposition under Vespasian, but conceivably, as Nipperdey suggested, an elder brother.

13 The reference is probably to the Arsacian dynasty of Armenia in the second and first centuries B.C.

14 The other brother, Pacorus, had been established in Media Atropatene (Azerbeidjân), which was in practice, as Armenia was in theory, an appanage of the Arsacidae.

15 II.56 n.

16 The second city of Armenia, lying in the extreme south, though the site is disputed (XV.5 n.).

17 The Arâs, on which Artaxata stood.

18 Son-in‑law of Claudius; killed at Marseilles by order of Nero (XIV.57).

19 Brother of the future emperor.

20 Consul in 32 A.D. His rising, ten years later, broke down within five days (Suet. Claud. 13 fin.).

21 The Stoic martyr (XVI.21 n., IV. 23, 30 sqq.).

22 He made the freedman descend from Evander's ancestor Pallas (VIII.51 sqq.). Whatever may be thought of the genealogy, his brother Felix was husband of three queens.

23 The phrase, stereotyped in this connection, was read half a century later by the younger Pliny on Pallas' tomb (Ep. VII.29):— Huic senatus ob fidem pietatemque erga patronos ornamenta praetoria decrevit et sestertium centies quinquagies, cuius honore contentus fuit.

24 Fixed side by side with a statue of the Dictator Julius in armour. Pliny consulted the decree itself, and found it tam copiosum et effusum ut ille superbissimus titulus (on the tomb) modicus atque etiam demissus videretur (Ep. VIII.6).

25 The procurator of Acts xxiv; like his brother, a freedman of Claudius' mother Antonia, and therefore bearing the name Antonius Felix. The account which follows of the Judaeo-Samaritan disturbances cannot be reconciled with that of Josephus (A. J. XX.5‑6, 7 init.).

26 VI.41 n.

27 Of Commagene: see XIII.7 n.

28 The Lago di Celano (Fucino); lying among the Apennines, E. of Rome, in the Marsian country. As it had no visible outlet and its level varied enormously with the stoppage or opening of the subterranean channel, it was decided to carry out a project of Julius Caesar, and to drain it into the Liris (Garigliano) by driving a tunnel through the intervening height (Monte Salviano).

29 A brick-lined tunnel, 3 metres high and 1·80 wide, was driven in eleven years, by 30,000 workmen a distance of 5,595 metres, hammer and chisel having to be employed for half the way on solid limestone.

30 Thirty triremes or biremes, according to the Monumentum Ancyranum, with smaller vessels and a total of about 3,000 combatants, as distinct from rowers. Suetonius gives an impossibly low number for Claudius' fleet: Dio puts it at fifty vessels a side (LX.33).

31 The passage, according to Pliny, was deliberately neglected by Nero (destitutum successoris odio), and, though re-opened by Hadrian (Spart. Vit. Hadr. 22), was useless in the time of Dio (LX.11). The lake was finally drained in 1874.

32 Modern investigations point, in fact, to fraud on the part of the contractors.

33 D. Junius Silanus Torquatus, brother of M. and L. Silanus (XII.3; XIII.1), and a great-grandson of Augustus. For his death, see XV.35.

34 Bologna.

35 Ἀπάμεια Κιβωτός on the Maeander.

36 Those principally affected were the procuratores rei privatae — financial agents of equestrian rank, responsible throughout the empire for the management and supervision of imperial property. Till now they had possessed no judicial powers (cf. IV.615), and their claims had been prosecuted in ordinary courts ἐξ ἴσου τοῖς ἰδιώταις (D. Cass. LVII.23).

37 See II.59, with the note.

38 The terms includes not only praetors in the ordinary sense of the word, but provincial governors. — What follows is scarcely relevant. For "the privilege at issue in the contests of knights and senators under the republic was that of furnishing the jurors in the criminal quaestiones perpetuae; the question now dealt with is that of the jurisdiction of an individual procurator, usually of equestrian rank, without jurors, in civil actions between the princeps and individuals" (Furneaux).

39 The lex Sempronia Iudiciaria of C. Gracchus, 122 B.C. — The first lex Servilia (of Q. Servilius Caepio, 106 B.C.) restored the Iudicia in some measure to the senate; the second (of C. Servilius Glaucia, a few years later) returned them to the knights. Other stages of the controversy are left unnoticed by Tacitus, nor is the statement justified that it was a main issue between Marius and Sulla.

40 Whereas, in the present case, not the powers of the equestrian order as a whole, but those of certain members of that order, holding certain positions, were being extended.

41 Both intimate friends of Caesar.

42 C. Matius, a friend first of Caesar, then of Augustus. The author of a frank and admirable letter to Cicero, preserved at ad Fam. XI.28, he appears to be most unfairly coupled with Vedius Pollio, for whom see I.10 n.

43 The caste of Asclepiadae, its most famous member being Hippocrates, who claimed descent from the god at eighteen removes.

44 C. Stertinius Xenophon, who was suspected later of administering the coup de grâce to his patron. He is known from inscriptions to have served with credit in the army and to have been in high honour in his native island.

45 The pretender Andriscus (Liv. Epit. 49).

46 IV.55 n.

47 The father of the triumvir.

48 The Megarian colony opposite, near the modern Scutari. The story is first told by Herodotus (IV.144), who makes the epigrammatist, not Apollo, but Megabazus.

49 Pelamydes, a variety of tunny. The ancient theory was that they were native to the Atlantic, made their way along the French and Spanish coasts to the Mediterranean and thence to the Sea of Azov, returning in vast shoals after the breeding-season.

50 In the sixteenth century, women and children still caught them in the Golden Horn by the simple expedient of lowering a basket into the water.

51 The hostilities resulting, in 46 A.D., in the conversion of Thrace into a province. They must have been noticed in the lost part of Book XI.

52 Messalina's mother.

53 See II.69 n.

54 IV.27 n.

55 At the southern extremity of the Latian coast.

56 She survived till the reign of Galba, who executed her along with others τῶν ἐπὶ Νέρωνος ἐπιπολασάντων (D. Cass. LXIV.3). In the interval, she had removed Britannicus (XIII.15): the drug she concocted for Nero in his last hours was stolen by his slaves (Suet. Ner. 47).

57 His constitutional lethargy made him an unpromising subject at best for a drug intended to produce delirium: its effectiveness, moreover, would, by ancient ideas, be lessened by his condition at the time (impletae cibis vinoque venae minus efficacem in maturanda morte vim veneni fecerunt, Liv. XXVI.14). — The tradition is: — socordiane an Claudii vi.º an vinolentia, which implies for its origin a dittography of the first four letters of an vinolentia and a superscribed Claudii

("socordiane Claudii
an vi
an vinolentia").

The choice, therefore, lies between Rhenanus' socordiane Claudii an vinolentia and the excision of Claudii as in the text. Intellectum then bears the common meaning suggested for it by Merivale (cf. Ov. Met. IX.456, nullos intellegit ignis, and the like). The usual course is to read socordiane an Claudii vinolentia, and to refer the stupidity to the observers. But, apart from technical objections, socordia is the last quality to be attributed to Agrippina at the crisis of her fate, and the first to be attributed — at least by his countrymen and contemporaries — Claudius: cf. e.g. Sidon. Apoll. Ep. Vfin.º Tiberius callidior, Claudius socordior, Nero impurior.

58 His belief would appear to have been justified, as he and his brother, Q. Stertinius, left between them 30,000,000 sesterces (Plin. H.N. XXIX.1.8). Halotus, too, went so far in the world as to be coupled in the public detestation with Tigellinus and to be rewarded with an amplissima procuratio by Galba (Suet. Galb. 15).

59 Claudius on his accession set the disastrous precedent of presenting the praetorians with 15,000 sesterces a man.


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