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XII.41‑69

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals

of
Tacitus

published in Vol. V
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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XIII.31‑58

(Vol. V) Tacitus
Annals

Book XIII (beginning)

p3 1 1 The first death under the new principate, that of Junius Silanus, proconsul of Asia, was brought to pass, without Nero's cognizance, by treachery on the part of Agrippina. It was not that he had provoked his doom by violence of temper, lethargic as he was, and do completely disdained by former despotisms that Gaius Caesar usually styled him "the golden sheep";1 but Agrippina, who had procured the death of his brother Lucius Silanus,2 feared him as a possible avenger, since it was a generally expressed opinion of the multitude that Nero, barely emerged from boyhood and holding the empire in consequence of a crime, should take second place to a man of settled years, innocent character, and noble family, who — a point to be regarded in those days — was counted among the posterity of the Caesars: for Silanus, like Nero, was the son of a great-grandchild of Augustus.3 Such was the cause of death: the instruments were the Roman knight, Publius Celer, and the freedman Helius, who were in charge of the imperial revenues in Asia. By these poison was administered to the proconsul at a dinner, too openly to avoid detection. With no less speed, Claudius' freedman Narcissus, whose altercations with Agrippina I have already noticed,4 was forced to suicide by a rigorous confinement and by the last necessity, p5much against the will of the emperor, with whose still hidden vices his greed and prodigality were in admirable harmony.

2 1 The tendency, in fact, was towards murder, had not Afranius Burrus and Seneca intervened. Both guardians of the imperial youth, and — a rare occurrence where power is held in partnership — both in agreement, they exercised equal influence by contrasted methods; and Burrus, with his soldierly interests and austerity, and Seneca, with his lessons in eloquence and his self-respecting courtliness, aided each other to ensure that the sovereign's years of temptation should, if he were scornful of virtue, be restrained within the bounds of permissible indulgence. Each had to face the same conflict with the overbearing pride of Agrippina; who, burning with all the passions of illicit power, had the adherence of Pallas, at whose instigation Claudius had destroyed himself by an incestuous marriage and a fatal adoption. But neither was Nero's a disposition that bends to slaves, nor had Pallas, who with his sullen arrogance transcended the limits of a freedman, failed to waken his disgust. Still, in public, every compliment was heaped upon the princess; and when the tribune,5 following the military routine, applied for the password, her son gave: "The best of mothers." The senate, too, accorded her a pair of lictors and the office of priestess to Claudius, to whom was voted, in the same session, a public funeral, followed presently by deification.

3 1 On the day of the obsequies, the prince opened his panegyric of Claudius. So long as he rehearsed the antiquity of his family, the consulates and the p7triumphs of his ancestors, he was taken seriously by himself and by others. Allusions, also, to his literary attainments6 and to the freedom of his reign from reverses abroad had a favourable hearing. But when the orator addressed himself to his foresight and sagacity, no one could repress a smile; though the speech, as the composition of Seneca, exhibited the degree of polish to be expected from that famous man, whose pleasing talent was so well suited to a contemporary audience. The elderly observers, who make a pastime of comparing old days and new, remarked that Nero was the first master of the empire to stand in need of borrowed eloquence. For the dictator Caesar had rivalled the greatest orators; and Augustus had the ready and fluent diction appropriate to a monarch. Tiberius was, in addition, a master of the art of weighing words — powerful, moreover, in the expression of his views, or, if ambiguous, ambiguous by design. Even Caligula's troubled brain did not affect his power of speech; and, when Claudius had prepared his harangues, elegance was not the quality that was missed. But Nero, even in his childish years, turned his vivacious mind to other interests: he carved, painted, practised singing or driving, and occasionally in a set of verses showed that he had in him the rudiments of culture.

4 1 However, when the mockeries of sorrow had been carried to their close, he entered the curia; and, after an opening reference to the authority of the Fathers and the unanimity of the army, stated that "he had before him advice and examples pointing him to an admirable system of government. Nor had his youth been poisoned by civil war or family strife: p9he brought to his task no hatreds, no wrongs, no desire for vengeance. He then outlined the character of the coming principate, the points which had provoked recent and intense dissatisfaction being specially discountenanced:— "He would not constitute himself a judge of all cases, secluding accusers and defendants within the same four walls and allowing the influence of a few individuals to run riot. Under his roof would be no venality, no loophole for intrigue: the palace and the state would be things separate. Let the senate retain its old prerogatives! Let Italy and the public provinces take their stand before the judgement-seats of the consuls, and let the consuls grant them access to the Fathers:7 for the armies delegated to his charge8 he would himself be responsible."

5 1 Nor was the pledge dishonoured, and many regulations were framed by the free decision of the senate. No advocate was to sell his services as a pleader for either fee or bounty;9 quaestors designate were to be under no obligation to produce a gladiatorial spectacle.10 The latter point, though opposed by Agrippina as a subversion of the acts of Claudius, was carried by the Fathers, whose meetings were specially convened in the Palatium,11 so that she could station herself at a newly-added door in their rear, shut off by a curtain thick enough to conceal her from view but not to debar her from hearing. In fact, when an Armenian deputation was pleading the national cause before Nero, she was preparing to ascend the emperor's tribunal and to share his presidency, had not Seneca, while others stood aghast, admonished the sovereign to step down and meet his mother: an assumption of filial piety which averted a scandal.

p11 6 1 At the close of the year, rumour brought the disturbing news that the Parthians had again broken out and were pillaging Armenia after expelling Radamistus;12 who, often master of the kingdom, then a fugitive, had now once more abandoned the struggle. It followed that in a city with such an appetite for gossip the question was asked, "how a prince who had barely passed his seventeenth birthday would be able to sustain or repel such a menace. What hope was there in a youth swayed by a woman? Were even battles, the assault of cities, the other operations of war, capable of being handled through the agency of pedagogues?" Others held, in opposition, that "fortune had been kinder than if it were Claudius, incapacitated by age and by apathy, who was now being summoned to the labours of a campaign in which he would certainly have taken his orders from his slaves. But Burrus and Seneca were well known for their great experience of affairs — and how far short of maturity was the emperor, when Pompey in his eighteenth year13 and Octavian in his nineteenth14 had been equal to the strain of civil war? In the case of the head of the state, he accomplished more through his auspices and by his counsels than with the sword and the strong arm. He would give a plain indication whether the friends around him were honourable or the reverse, if he ignored jealousies and appointed an outstanding general in preference to an intriguer commended by a long purse and court favour."

7 1 In the midst of these popular discussions, Nero gave orders that both the recruits levied in the adjacent provinces to keep the eastern legions at strength were to be moved up, and the legions p13themselves stationed closer to Armenia; while the two veteran kings, Agrippa15 and Antiochus,16 prepared their forces, so as to take the initiative by crossing the Parthian frontier: at the same time bridges were to be thrown over the Euphrates, and Lesser Armenia17 was assigned to Aristobulus, the district of Sophene18 to Sohaemus, each receiving royal insignia. Then, in the nick of time, a rival to Vologaeses appeared in the person of his son Vardanes; and the Parthians, wishing apparently to postpone hostilities, evacuated Armenia.

8 1 But in the senate the whole incident was magnified in the speeches of the members, who proposed that there should be a national thanksgiving; that on the days of that thanksgiving the emperor should wear the triumphal robe; that he should enter the capital with an ovation; and that he should be presented with a statue of the same size as that of Mars the Avenger,19 and in the same temple. Apart from the routine of sycophancy, they felt genuine pleasure at his appointment of Domitius Corbulo20 to save Armenia: a measure which seemed to have opened a career to the virtues. The forces in the East were so divided that half the auxiliaries, with two legions, remained in the province of Syria under its governor Ummidius Quadratus, Corbulo being assigned an equal number of citizen and federate troops, with the addition of the auxiliary foot and horse wintering in Cappadocia. The allied p15kings were instructed to take their orders from either, as the exigencies of the war might require: their sympathies, however, leaned to the side of Corbulo. Anxious to strengthen that personal credit which is of supreme importance at the beginning of an enterprise, Corbulo made a rapid journey, and at the Cilician town of Aegeae21 was met by Quadratus; who had advanced so far, in the fear that, should his rival once have entered Syria to take over his forces, all eyes would be turned to this gigantic and grandiloquent soldier, hardly more imposing by his experience and sagacity than by the glitter of his unessential qualities.

9 1 However, each by courier recommended King Vologaeses to choose peace in professor to war, and, by giving hostages, to continue that respectful attitude towards the Roman nation which had been the rule with his predecessors. Vologeses,º either to prepare for war at his convenience or to remove suspected rivals under the style of hostages, handed over the most distinguished members of the Arsacian family. They were received by Ummidius' envoy, the centurion Insteius, who happened to have an interview with the king in connection with some previous affair. As soon as the fact came to the knowledge of Corbulo, he ordered Arrius Varius,22 the prefect of a cohort, to set out and take over the hostages. An altercation followed between the prefect and the centurion, and, not to prolong the scene under foreign eyes, the decision was left to the hostages and the envoys escorting them. They preferred Corbulo, on the strength of his recent glory and of that half-liking which he inspired even in his enemies. The consequence was an estrangement p17between the generals; Ummidius complaining that he had been robbed of the results achieved by his policy, Corbulo protesting that the king had been converted to the course of offering hostages, only when his own appointment as commander in the field changed his hopes into alarm. Nero, to compose the quarrel, gave orders for a proclamation to the effect that, in view of the successes attained by Quadratus and Corbulo, laurels were being added to the imperial fasces.23 — These incidents I have narrated in sequence, though they ran into the following consulate.

10 1 In the same year, Nero applied to the senate for a statue to his father Gnaeus Domitius, and for consular decorations for Asconius Labeo, who had acted as his guardian. At the same time he vetoed an offer of effigies in solid gold or silver to himself; and, although a resolution had been passed by the Fathers that the new year should begin in December, the month which had given Nero to the world, he retained as the opening day of the calendar the first of January with its old religious associations. Nor were prosecutions allowed in the cases of the senator Carrinas Celer, who was accused by a slave, and of Julius Densus of the equestrian order, whose partiality for Britannicus was being turned into a criminal charge.

11 1 In the consulate of Claudius Nero24 and Lucius Antistius, while the magistrates were swearing allegiance to the imperial enactments, the prince withheld his colleague Antistius from swearing to his own: a measure which the senate applauded warmly, in the hope that his youthful mind, elated by the fame attaching even to small things, would p19proceed forthwith to greater. There followed, in fact, a display of leniency towards Plautius Lateranus,25 degraded from his rank for adultery with Messalina, but now restored to the senate by the emperor, who pledged himself to clemency in a series of speeches, which Seneca, either to attest the exalted qualities of his teaching or to advertise his ingenuity, kept presenting to the public by the lips of the sovereign.26

12 1 For the rest, maternal authority had weakened little by little. For Nero had slipped into a love affair with a freedwoman by the name of Acte,27 and at the same time had taken into his confidence Marcus Otho28 and Claudius Senecio,29 two handsome youths; the former of consular family, the latter a son of one of the imperial freedmen. At first, without the knowledge of his mother, then in defiance of her opposition, they had crept securely into the prince's favour as the partners of his dissipation and of his questionable secrets; while even his older friends showed no reluctance that a girl of that standing should gratify, without injury to anyone, the cravings of the emperor: for, whether from some whim of fate or because the illicit is stronger than the licit, he abhorred his wife Octavia, in spite of her high descent and proved honour; and there was always the risk that, if he were checked in this passion, his instincts would break out at the expense of women of rank.

13 1 But Agrippina, true to her sex, vented her spleen against "her competitor the freedwoman," "her daughter-in‑law the waiting-maid," with more in the same vein. She declined to await the p21repentance, or satiety, of her son, and the fouler she made her imputations, the more she fanned the flame; till at last, conquered by the force of his infatuation, he threw off his filial obedience and put himself in the hands of Seneca, whose friend Annaeus Serenus30 had screened his adolescent desires by feigning an intrigue with the same freedwoman, and had been so liberal with his name that the gifts covertly bestowed on the girl by the emperor were, to the eye of the world, lavished upon her by Serenus. Agrippina now reversed her methods, attacked the prince with blandishments, and offered her bedroom and its privacy to conceal the indulgences claimed by his opening manhood and sovereign rank. She even confessed her mistimed harshness, and — with an exaggerated humility as marked in its turn as her late excessive severity in repressing her son — offered to transfer to him her private resources, which were not greatly less than those of the sovereign. The change did not escape the attention of Nero, and roused the alarm of his intimates, who begged him to be on his guard against the machinations of a woman, always ruthless, and now, in addition, false.

During these days, as chance would have it, the Caesar, who had been inspecting the apparel which had once glittered on wives and matrons of the imperial family, selected a dress and jewels and sent them as a gift to his mother. Parsimony in the action there was none, for he was bestowing unasked some of the most valuable and coveted articles. But Agrippina protested loudly that the present was designed less to enrich her wardrobe than to deprive her of what remained, and that her son was dividing property which he held in entirety from herself.

p23 14 1 Persons were not lacking to report her words with a more sinister turn; and Nero, exasperated against the supporters of this female arrogance, removed Pallas from the charge31 to which he had been appointed by Claudius, and in which he exercised virtual control over the monarchy. The tale went that, as he left the palace with an army of attendants, the prince remarked not unhappily that Pallas was on the way to swear himself out of office.32 He had, in fact, stipulated that there should be no retrospective inquiry into any of his actions, and that his accounts with the state should be taken as balanced. At once, Agrippina rushed headlong into a policy of terror and of threats, and the imperial ears were not spared the solemn reminder that "Britannicus was now of age — Britannicus, the genuine and deserving stock to succeed to his father's power, which an interloping heir by adoption now exercised in virtue of the iniquities of his mother. She had no objection to the whole dark history of that unhappy house being published to the world, her own marriage first of all, and her own resort to poison: one sole act of foresight lay to the credit of Heaven and herself — her stepson lived. She would go with him to the camp.33 There, let the daughter of Germanicus be heard on the one side; on the other, the cripple Burrus and the exile Seneca, claiming, forsooth, by right of a maimed hand and a professorial tongue the regency of the human race!" As she spoke, she raised a threatening arm, and, heaping him with reproaches, invoked the deified Claudius, the shades of the dead Silani,34 and all the crimes committed to no effect.

p25 15 1 Perturbed by her attitude, and faced with the approach of the day on which Britannicus completed his fourteenth year,35 Nero began to revolve, now his mother's proclivity to violence, now the character of his rival, — lately revealed by a test which, trivial as it was, had gained him wide sympathy. During the festivities of the Saturnalia, while his peers in age were varying their diversions by throwing dice for a king, the lot had fallen upon Nero. On the others he imposed various orders, not likely to put them to the blush: but, when he commanded Britannicus to rise, advance into the centre, and strike up a song36 — this, in the hope of turning into derision a boy who knew little of sober, much less of drunken, society — his victim firmly began a poem hinting at his expulsion from his father's house and throne. His bearing awoke a pity the more obvious that night and revelry had banished dissimulation. Nero, once aware of the feeling aroused, redoubled his hatred; and with Agrippina's threats becoming instant, as he had no grounds for a criminal charge against his brother and dared not openly order his execution, he tried secrecy and gave orders for poison to be prepared, his agent being Julius Pollio, tribune of a praetorian cohort, and responsible for the detention of the condemned poisoner Locusta,37 whose fame as a criminal stood high. For that no one about the person of Britannicus should regard either right or loyalty was a point long since provided for. The first dose the boy received from his own tutors, but his bowels were opened, and he passed the drug, which either lacked potency or contained a dilution to prevent immediate action. Nero, however, p27impatient of so much leisure in crime, threatened the tribune and ordered the execution of the poisoner, on the ground that, with their apprehensions of scandal and their preparations for defence, they were delaying his release from anxiety. They now promised that death should be as abrupt as if it were the summary work of steel; and a potion — its rapidity guaranteed by a private test of the ingredients38 — was concocted hard by the Caesar's bedroom.

16 1 It was the regular custom that the children of the emperors should take their meals in sight of their relatives,39 seated with other nobles of their age at a more frugal table of their own. There Britannicus dined; and, as his food, solid and liquid, was tried by a taster chosen from his attendants, the following expedient was discovered, to avoid either changing the rule or betraying the plot by killing both master and man. A drink, still harmless, very hot, and already tasted, was handed to Britannicus; then, when he declined it as too warm, cold water was poured in, and with it the poison; which ran so effectively through his whole system that he lost simultaneously both voice and breath. There was a startled movement in the company seated around, and the more obtuse began to disperse; those who could read more clearly sat motionless, their eyes riveted on Nero. He, without changing his recumbent attitude or his pose of unconsciousness, observed that this was a usual incident, due to the epilepsy with which Britannicus had been inflicted from his earliest infancy: sight and sensation would return by degrees. But from Agrippina, in spite of her control over her features, came a flash of such terror p29and mental anguish that it was obvious she had been as completely in the dark as the prince's sister Octavia. She saw, in fact, that her last hope had been taken — that the precedent for matricide had been set. Octavia, too, youth and inexperience notwithstanding, had learned to hide her griefs, her affections, her every emotion. Consequently, after a short silence, the amenities of the banquet were resumed.

17 1 The same night saw the murder of Britannicus and his pyre, the funeral apparatus — modest enough — having been provided in advance. Still, his ashes were buried in the Field of Mars,40 under such a tempest of rain that the crowd believed it to foreshadow the anger of the gods against a crime which, even among men,41 was condoned by the many who took into account the ancient instances of brotherly hatred and the fact that autocracy knows no partnership. The assertion is made by many contemporary authors that, for days before the murder, the worst of all outrages had been offered by Nero to the boyish years of Britannicus: in which case, it ceases to be possible to regard his death as either premature or cruel, though it was amid the sanctities of the table, without even a respite allowed in which to embrace his sister, and under the eyes of his enemy, that the hurried doom fell on this last scion of the Claudian house, upon whom lust had done its unclean work before the poison. The hastiness of the funeral was vindicated in an edict of the Caesar, who called to mind that "it was a national tradition to withdraw these untimely obsequies from the public gaze and not to detain it by panegyrics and processions. However, now p31that he had lost the aid of his brother, not only were his remaining hopes centred in the state, but the senate and people themselves must so much the more cherish their prince as the one survivor of a family42 born to the heights of power."

18 1 He now conferred bounties on his chief friends. Nor were accusers wanting for the men of professed austerity, who at such a moment had partitioned town and country houses like so much loot. Others believed that compulsion had been applied by the emperor, conscience-struck by his crime but hopeful of pardon, if he could lay the powerful under obligation by a display of liberality. But his mother's anger no munificence could assuage. She took Octavia to her heart; she held frequent and private interviews with her friends; while with even more than her native cupidity she appropriated money from all sources, apparently to create a fund for emergencies. Tribunes and centurions she received with suavity; and for the names and virtues of the nobility — there was a nobility still — she showed a respect which indicated that she was in quest of a leader and a faction. Nero knew it, and gave orders to withdraw the military watch, which she had received as the wife, and retained as the mother, of the sovereign, along with the Germans43 lately assigned to her as a bodyguard for the same complimentary motive. That her levées should not be frequented by a crowd of visitants, he made his own establishment separate, installed his mother in the house once belonging to Antonia,44 and, at his visits to her new quarters, came surrounded by a throng of centurions and left after a perfunctory kiss.

19 1 Nothing in the list of mortal things is so p33unstable and so fleeting as the fame attached to a power not based on its own strength. Immediately Agrippina's threshold was forsaken: condolences there were none; visits there were none, except from a few women, whether out of love or hatred is uncertain. Among them was Junia Silana, driven by Messalina from her husband Silanus, as I related above.45 Eminent equally in blood, beauty, and voluptuousness, she was long the bosom friend of Agrippina. Then came a private quarrel between the pair: for Agrippina had deterred the young noble Sextius Africanus from marriage with Silana by describing her as a woman of no morals and uncertain age; not with the intention of reserving Africanus for herself, but to keep a wealthy and childless widow from passing into the possession of a husband. With the prospect of revenge presenting itself, Silana now suborned two of her clients, Iturius and Calvisius, to undertake the accusation; her charge being not the old, oft-heard tale that Agrippina was mourning the death of Britannicus or publishing the wrongs of Octavia, but that she had determined to encourage Rubellius Plautus46 into revolution — on the maternal side he was a descendant of the deified Augustus in the same degree as Nero — and as the partner of his couch and then of his throne to make her way once more into the conduct of affairs. The charges were communicated by Iturius and Calvisius to Atimetus, a freedman of Nero's aunt Domitia.47 Overjoyed at this windfall — for competition was bitter between Agrippina and Domitia — Atimetus incited the actor Paris,º also a freedman of Domitia, to go on the instant and present the charge in the darkest colours.

p35 20 1 The night was well advanced, and Nero was protracting it over his wine, when Paris — accustomed ordinarily about this hour to add life to the imperial debauch, but now composed to melancholy — entered the room, and by exposing the indictment in detail so terrified his auditor that he decided not merely to kill his mother and Plautus but even to remove Burrus from his command, on the ground that he owed his promotion to Agrippina and was now paying his debt. According to Fabius Rusticus,48 letters patent to Caecina Tuscus, investing him with the charge of the praetorian cohorts, were actually written, but by the intervention of Seneca the post was saved for Burrus. Pliny49 and Cluvius50 refer to no suspicion of the prefect's loyalty; and Fabius certainly tends to overpraise Seneca, by whose friendship he flourished. For myself, where the authorities are unanimous, I shall follow them: if their versions disagree, I shall record them under the names of their sponsors. — Unnerved and eager for the execution of his mother, Nero was not to be delayed, until Burrus promised that, if her guilt was proved, death should follow. "But," he added, "any person whatsoever, above all a parent, would have to be allowed the opportunity of defence; and here no accusers were present; only a solitary voice, and that borne from the house of an enemy. Let him take into consideration the darkness, the wakeful night spent in conviviality, the whole of the circumstances, so conducive to rashness and unreason."

21 1 When the emperor's fears had been thus p37calmed, at break of day a visit was paid to Agrippina; who was to listen to the charges, and rebut them or pay the penalty. The commission was carried out by Burrus under the eye of Seneca: a number of freedmen also were present as witnesses to the conversation. Then, after recapitulating the charges and their authors, Burrus adopted a threatening attitude. Agrippina summoned up her pride:— "I am not astonished," she said, "that Silana, who has never known maternity, should have no knowledge of a mother's heart: for parents do not change their children as a wanton changes her adulterers. Nor, if Iturius and Calvisius, after consuming the last morsel of their estates, pay their aged mistress the last abject service of undertaking a delation, is that a reason why my own fair fame should be darkened by the blood of my son or the emperor's conscience by that of his mother? For as to Domitia — I should thank her for her enmity, if she were competing with me in benevolence to my Nero, instead of staging this comedy with the help of her bedfellow Atimetus and her mummer Paris. In the days when my counsels were preparing his adoption, his proconsular power, his consulate in prospect, and the other steps to his sovereignty, she was embellishing the fish-ponds of her beloved Baiae. — Or let a man stand forth to convict me of tampering with the guards in the capital — of shaking the allegiance of the provinces — or, finally, of seducing either slave or freedman into crime! Could I have lived with Britannicus on the throne? And if Plautus or another shall acquire the empire and sit in judgement, am I to assume there is a dearth of accusers prepared to indict me, no longer for the p39occasional hasty utterances of an ill-regulated love, but for guilt from which only a son can absolve?" The listeners were moved, but she demanded an interview with her son. There she neither spoke in support of her innocence, as though she could entertain misgivings, nor on the theme of her services, as though she would cast them in his teeth, but procured vengeance upon her accusers and recognition for her friends.

22 1 The prefectship of the cornº supply was awarded to Faenius Rufus; the supervision of the Games, now in preparation by the Caesar, to Arruntius Stella; Egypt, to Tiberius Balbillus. Syria was marked out for Publius Anteius; but later, by one subterfuge or another, his claims were eluded, and finally he was kept in Rome. Silana, on the other side, was driven into exile; Calvisius and Iturius, also, were relegated; on Atimetus the death penalty was inflicted, Paris being too powerful a figure in the debaucheries of the emperor to be liable to punishment.51 Plautus, for the moment, was passed over in silence.

23 1 Information was next laid that Pallas and Burrus had agreed to call Cornelius Sulla52 to the empire, on the strength of his distinguished race and his connection with Claudius, whose son-in‑law he had become by his marriage with Antonia. The accusation was fathered by a certain Paetus, notorious for the systematic purchase of confiscated estates from the treasury, and now plainly guilty of falsehood. But the innocence of Pallas gave less pleasure than his arrogance evoked disgust: for when the freedmen were named whose complicity he was p41alleged to have been used, he replied that, under his own roof, he had never intimated an order but by a nod or a most of the hand; or, if more explanation was needed, he had used writing, so as to avoid all interchange of speech. Burrus, though on his trial, recorded his vote among the judges.53 Sentence of banishment was passed on the prosecutor, and the account books, by help of which he was resuscitating forgotten claims of the treasury, were burned.

24 1 At the end of the year, the cohort usually present on guard at the Games was withdrawn; the objects being to give a greater appearance of liberty, to prevent the troops from being corrupted by too close contact with the licence of the theatre, and to test whether the populace would continue its orderly behaviour when its custodians were removed. A lustration of the city was carried out by the emperor at the recommendation of the soothsayers, since the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning.

25 1 The consulate of Quintus Volusius and Publius Scipio was marked by peace abroad and by disgraceful exercises at home, where Nero — his identity dissembled under the dress of a slave — ranged the streets, the brothels, and the wine-shops of the capital, with an escort whose duties were to snatch wares exhibited for sale and to assault all persons they met, the victims having so little inkling of the truth that he himself took his buffets with the rest and bore their imprints on his face. Then, it became notorious that the depredator was the Caesar; outrages on men and women of rank increased; others, availing themselves of the licence once accorded, began with impunity, under the p43name of Nero, to perpetrate the same excesses with their own gangs; and night passed as it might in a captured town. Julius Montanus, a member of the senatorial order, though he had not yet held office, met the emperor casually in the dark, and, because he repelled his offered violence with spirit, then recognized his antagonist and asked for pardon, was forced to suicide, the apology being construed as a reproach. Nero, however, less venturesome for the future, surrounded himself with soldiers and crowds of gladiators, who were to stand aloof from incipient affrays of modest dimensions and semi-private character: should the injured party behave with too much energy, they threw their swords into the scale. Even the licence of the players and of the theatrical claques he converted into something like pitched battles by waiving penalties, by offering prizes, and by viewing the riots himself, sometimes in secret, very often openly; until, with the populace divided against itself and still graver commotions threatened, no other cure appeared but to expel the actors from Italy and to have the soldiers again take their place in the theatre.

26 1 About the same time, the senate discussed the iniquities of freedmen, and a demand was pressed that, in dealing with an undeserving case, the former owner should be allowed the right of annulling the emancipation. The proposal did not lack supporters; but the consuls were not bold enough to put the motion without the cognizance of the emperor, though they advised him in writing of the feeling of the senate. Nero was doubtful whether to assume responsibility for the measure, as his advisers were few and their opinions conflicting.54 Some were p45indignant that "insolence, grown harder with liberty, had reached a point where freedmen were no longer content to be equal before the law with their patrons, but mocked their tameness and actually raised their hands to strike, without punishment — or with a punishment suggested by themselves! For what redress was allowed to an injured patron, except to relegate his freedman beyond the hundredth milestone to the beaches of Campania?55 For anything else, the law-courts were open to both on equal terms; and some weapon which it would be impossible to despise ought to be put into the hands of the freeborn. It would be no great burden to a manumitted slave to keep his freedom by the same obedience which had earned it: on the other hand, notorious offenders deserved to be brought back to their bondage, so that fear might coerce those whom kindness had not reformed."

27 1 It was urged on the other side that "the guilt of a few persons ought to be fatal only to themselves: the rights of the class at large ought to suffer no detriment. For the body in question was widely extended. From it the tribes,56 the decuries,57 the assistants of the magistrates and priests were very largely recruited; so also the cohorts58 enrolled in the capital; while the origin of most knights and of many senators was drawn from no other source. If the freed were set apart, the paucity of the free would be apparent! It was not without reason that p47our ancestors, when distinguishing the position of the orders, made freedom the common property of all. Again, two forms of manumission59 had been instituted, so as to leave room for a change of mind or a fresh favour. All, whose patron had not liberated them by the wand, were still, it might be said, held by the bond of servitude. The owner must look carefully into the merits of each case, and be slow in granting what, once given, could not be taken away." This view prevailed, and the Caesar wrote to the senate that they must consider individually all cases of freedmen accused by their patrons: no general rights were to be abrogated. — Nor was it long before his aunt was robbed of her freedman Paris, outwardly by process of civil law,60 and not without discredit to the sovereign, by whose order a verdict of ingenuous birth had been procured.

28 1 There remained none the less some shadow of the republic. For a dispute arose between the praetor Vibullius and the plebeian tribune Antistius, because the tribune had ordered the release of some disorderly claqueurs thrown into prison by the praetor. The Fathers approved the arrest, and censured the liberty taken by Antistius. At the same time, the tribunes were forbidden to encroach on praetorian and consular jurisdiction or to summon litigants from Italian districts, should a civil action be possible there.61 Lucius Piso, the consul designate, added a proposal that their official powers of punishment should not be exercised under their own roofs: fines inflicted by them were not to p49be entered in the public accounts by the treasury-quaestors until four months had elapsed; in the interval, protests were to be allowable, the decision lying with the consuls. The powers of the aedileship were also narrowed, and statutory limits were fixed, up to which the curule or plebeian aediles, as the case might be, could distrain or fine. The tribune Helvidius Priscus62 prosecuted a private quarrel with the treasury-quaestor, Obultronius Sabinus, by alleging that he was carrying his right of sale to merciless lengths against the poor. The emperor then transferred the charge of the public accounts from the quaestors to prefects.

29 1 The organization of this department63 had been variable and often modified. Augustus left the choice of prefects to the senate; then, as illicit canvassing was apprehended, the men to occupy the post were drawn by lot from the whole body of praetors. This also was a short-lived expedient, as the lot tended to stray to the unfit. Next, Claudius reinstated the quaestors, and — lest their zeal should be blunted by the fear of making enemies — guaranteed them promotion outside the usual order.64 But, as this was their first magistracy, they wanted the stability of mature years: Nero, therefore, filled the office with ex-praetors who had stood the test of experience.

30 1 In the same consulate, Vipsanius Laenas was found guilty of malversation in his province of Sardinia; Cestius Proculus was acquitted on a p51charge of extortion brought by the Cretans. Clodius Quirinalis, who, as commandant of the crews stationed at Ravenna, had by his debauchery and ferocity tormented Italy, as though Italy were the most abject of the nations, forestalled his sentence by poison. Caninius Rebilus, who in juristic knowledge and extent of fortune ranked with the greatest, escaped the tortures of age and sickness by letting the blood from his arteries; though, from the unmasculine vices for which he was infamous, he had been thought incapable of the firmness of committing suicide. In contrast, Lucius Volusius departed in the fullness of honour, after enjoying a term of ninety-three years of life, a noble fortune virtuously gained, and the unbroken friendship of a succession of emperors.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 So Diogenes τὸν ἀμαθῆ πλούσιον πρόβατον εἶπε χρυσόμαλλον (D. Laert. VI.2.47).

2 Once the affianced husband of Octavia: see XII.3 sqq.

3 Their grandmothers, Julia and the elder Agrippina, had been sisters: see vol. IIIº p240.

Thayer's Note: The item referred to is the Loeb edition's genealogical table of the Julio-Claudian house. There are clearer and better ones already online, for example at De imperatoribus Romanis.

4 See XII.5765.

5 In command of the praetorian cohort on guard at the palace.

6 An impressive catalogue of his literary labours, Greek and Latin, is given by Suetonius (Claud. 41 sq.). The most regrettableº loss is, no doubt, that of the eight rolls of an autobiography, composed magis inepte quam ineleganter.

7 Deputations from Italy or the public — i.e. senatorial — provinces, wishing to approach the senate, were in the first place to secure the authorization of the consuls. For the traditional procedure, see Liv. XXIX.16.

8 Stationed in the imperial provinces.

9 See XI.7‑8. The exact terms of the present decree are unknown.

10 See XI.22.

11 II.37 n.

12 XII.44‑47, 50‑51.

13 Actually, in 84 B.C., at the age of twenty-three (Plut. Pomp. 6). Tacitus follows the erroneous reckoning, censured by Velleius Paterculus (II.53), which deducted five years from the age of Pompey.

14 In 44 B.C.

15 Herod Agrippa II — the Agrippa of Acts xxv sq. — son of Herod Agrippa I (XII.23 n.).

16 Antiochus Epiphanes IV king of Commagene (II.42 n.) and part of Cilicia; servientium regum ditissimus (Hist. II.81). Like Agrippa and Sohaemus, he supported Vespasian in the Civil War, and sided with Rome against the Jews.

17 XI.9 n.

18 A strip of territory along the south-western frontier of Armenia.

19 See II.64 n. and III.18.

20 Cn. Domitius Corbulo, half-brother of the accuser P. Suillius Rufus and of Caligula's wife Caesonia; consul (suffectus) in 39 A.D.; legatus of Lower Germany in 47 A.D. (XI.18 sqq.); proconsul of Asia shortly after 50 A.D. His eastern campaigns are related in this and the two following books. In 67 A.D., he was summoned to Greece by Nero and forestalled his execution by suicide.

21 Now Ayás, on the northern shore of the Gulf of Alexandretta.

22 Distinguished later as a partisan of Vespasian (Hist. III.6, 16, 52 etc.).

23 The twelve, logically assigned by the senate to Augustus on his acceptance of a life-consulate in 19 B.C., and retained by his successors.

24 The emperor. For his colleague, see chap. 53, with XIV.58 and XVI.10.

25 XI.36.

26 His De Clementia was written about this time, when Nero was duodevicesimum egressus annum (I.9).

27 She was a native of Asia Minor, and appears to have been genuinely attached to Nero, whose funeral she arranged in conjunction with his two old nurses (Suet. Ner. 50). For the unfounded theory that she was a Christian, see Lightfoot, Philippians, p21.

28 The future emperor.

29 XV.50, 56, 5870.

30 Haec tibi scribo, is qui Annaeum Serenum, carissimum mihi, tam immodice flevi ut (quod minime velim) inter exempla sim eorum quos dolor vicit, Sen. Ep. 63. — Much younger than Seneca, he was praefectus vigilum, and died, with some of his tribunes and centurions, through eating poisonous fungi at a diner (Plin. H.N. XXII.23.96).º

31 His position as libertus a rationibus (XI.29 n.).

32 A high magistrate, on laying down his office, took a formal oath se nihil contra leges fecisse (Plin., Pan. 65), and was attended on the occasion by a retinue of friends. Here the consul or praetor is replaced by an ex-slave, the friends by a regiment of satellites, the oath by the far-sighted stipulation mentioned in the next sentence.

33 That of the praetorians.

34 XII.8; XIII.1.

35 The point was of importance, as he would then assume the toga virilis.

36 Ἐν Σατορναλίοις λέλογχε βασιλεύς· ἔδοξε γὰρ παῖξαι ταύτην τὴν παιδίαν. προστάσσει "σὺ πίε, σὺ κέρασον, σὺ ᾆσον, σὺ ἄπελθε, σὺ ἐλθέ" (Epict. Diss. I.25.8).

37 XII.66 n.

38 First on a kid, which lived five hours; then, after improvements, on a young pig, which was statim exanimatus (Suet. Ner. 33).

39 Their elders reclined. The custom was observed at the courts both of Augustus and of Claudius — under Tiberius and Caligula the case did not arise — and Suetonius' memory fails him when he notices a "belief" that Titus, iuxta cubans, also tasted the poisoned wine and narrowly escaped the consequences.

40 In the Mausoleum of Augustus (I.8 n.).

41 Whose ethical code might be expected to be more rigid, since they lack the true Olympian impartiality erga bona malaque noted at XVI.33. But the text does not inspire complete confidence.

42 The Claudian house, of which he was a member by adoption and on the mother's side by descent.

43 See XV.58 n.

44 Claudius' mother — the grandmother of Agrippina.

45 XI.12.

46 Son of Rubellius Blandus and Drusus' daughter Julia (VI.27); therefore great-grandson of Tiberius, and great-great-grandson of Tiberius' adoptive father Augustus, to whom Nero stood in the same relationship by direct descent on the mother's side. — See XIV.22; 57 sqq.

47 Sister of Messalina's mother. Her husband Crispus Passienus (VI.20 n.) had divorced her in order to marry Agrippina, whence, no doubt, the feud.

48 "The most eloquent of the moderns, as Livy of the ancients" (Agr. 10); generally identified with the vir saeculorum memoria dignus of Quint. X.1.104; apparently a legatee, along with Tacitus and the younger Pliny, under the will of Dasumius (CIL VI p1350).

49 See the note on XII.43.

50 M. Cluvius Rufus, consul (suffectus) under Caligula, and present at his murder (Jos. A. J. XIX.1.13); accompanied Nero to Greece, acting (in succession to Gallio) as his herald (D. Cass. LXIII.14); legatus of Hispania Tarraconensis under Galba (Hist. I.8) afterwards a prominent Vitellian; regarded by Mommsen, in opposition to Nissen, as Tacitus' principal source in the Histories.

51 He was, however, executed later (67 A.D.) by Nero as a professional rival (Suet. Ner. 54; D. Cass. LXIII.18). His only connection with the more famous Paris of the Flavian period is the name, which was common on the stage.

52 Chap. 47 n.

53 Since he was a knight, the trial must have been held, not in the Senate, but in the private court of the emperor.

54 The text is past restoration, but the discussion takes place at a private council in the palace.

55 The gayest and, to the delinquent, most desirable part of Italy, beginning conveniently at the hundred and seventh milestone. The penalty was therefore as Gilbertian as Trimalchio's "relegation" of his hall-porter from Cumae to Baiae (Petr. Sat. 53).

56 Their only importance now was that they qualified for the corn-dole.

57 Guilds of magistrates' assistants — scribes, lictors, etc. The ministeria include those not organized in decuries — orderlies (accensi), criers (calatores), etc.

58 Not the "urban cohorts" (IV.5 n.), but the night-watch and fire-brigade (vigiles): see XI.35 n.

59 I. Formal and complete emancipation, effected (a) "by the wand" (vindicta), the name coming from the wand laid on the slave's head during the ceremony; (b) by causing the slave to be enrolled as a citizen by the Censor (censu); (c) by will (testamento). II. Informal and incomplete emancipation, effected (a) by a verbal declaration in the presence of witnesses (inter amicos); (b) by a written and countersigned declaration (per epistulam); (c) by inviting the slave to his master's table (convivio).

60 Paris had paid Domitia 10,000 sesterces for his freedom, and reclaimed the sum on the ground that he was of ingenuous birth: in view of his influence with the emperor, only one verdict was possible (Dig. XII.4.3.5).

61 The sentence has not been satisfactorily elucidated.

62 See XII.49 n. Which of the brothers (?) is meant, it is impossible to say: there are difficulties in the way of both identifications.

63 The senatorial treasury — administered under the republic by quaestors, in the early years of Augustus, by prefects; then, from 23 B.C. to 44 A.D., by praetors. Claudius restored the quaestors, who were now (56 A.D.) permanently replaced by prefects.

64 Their term of office was three years, instead of one as previously, and at its expiry they passed immediately to the praetorship, without a preliminary tribunate or aedileship.


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