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XIII.31‑58

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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XIV.29‑39

(Vol. V) Tacitus
Annals

Book XIV (beginning)

p107 1 1 In the consular year of Gaius Vipstanius and Gaius Fonteius, Nero postponed no further the long-contemplated crime: for a protracted term of empire had consolidated his boldness, and day by day he burned more hotly with love for Poppaea; who, hopeless of wedlock for herself and divorce for Octavia so long as Agrippina lived, plied the sovereign with frequent reproaches and occasional raillery, styling him "the ward, dependent on alien orders, who was neither the empire's master nor his own. For why was her wedding deferred? Her face, presumably, and her grandsires with their triumphs,1 did not give satisfaction — or was the trouble her fecundity2 and truth of heart? No, it was feared that, as a wife at all events, she might disclose the wrongs of the Fathers, the anger of the nation against the pride and greed of his mother! But, if Agrippina could tolerate no daughter-in‑law but one inimical to her son, then let her be restored to her married life with Otho: she would go to any corner of earth3 where she could hear the emperor's ignominy rather than view it and be entangled in his perils." To these and similar attacks, pressed home by tears and adulterous art, no opposition was offered: all men yearned for the breaking of the mother's power; none credited that the hatred of the son would go the full way to murder.

p109 2 1 It is stated by Cluvius4 that Agrippina's ardour to keep her influence was carried so far that at midday, an hour at which Nero was beginning to experience the warmth of wine and good cheer, she presented herself on several occasions to her half-tipsy son, coquettishly dressed and prepared for incest. Already lascivious kisses, and endearments that were the harbingers of guilt, had been observed by their intimates, when Seneca sought in a woman the antidote to female blandishments, and brought in the freedwoman Acte, who, alarmed as she was both at her own danger and at Nero's infamy, was to report that the incest was common knowledge, since his mother boasted of it, and that the troops would not submit to the supremacy of a sacrilegious emperor. According to Fabius Rusticus, not Agrippina, but Nero, desired the union, the scheme being wrecked by the astuteness of the same freedwoman. The other authorities, however, give the same version as Cluvius, and to their side tradition leans; whether the enormity was actually conceived in the brain of Agrippina, or whether the contemplation of such a refinement in lust was merely taken as comparatively credible in a woman who, for the prospect of power, had in her girlish years yielded to the embraces of Marcus Lepidus;5 who, for a similar ambition had prostituted herself to the desires of Pallas; and who had been inured to every turpitude by her marriage with her uncle.

3 1 Nero, therefore, began to avoid private meetings with her; when she left for her gardens or the estates at Tusculum and Antium, he commended her intention of resting; finally, convinced that, wherever she might be kept, she was still an incubus,º p111he decided to kill her, debating only whether by poison, the dagger, or some other form of violence. The first choice fell on poison. But, if it was to be given at the imperial table, then the death could not be referred to chance, since Britannicus had already met a similar fate. At the same time, it seemed an arduous task to tamper with the domestics of a woman whose experience of crime had made her vigilant for foul play; and, besides, she had herself fortified her system by taking antidotes in advance. Cold steel and bloodshed no one could devise a method of concealing: moreover, there was the risk that the agent chosen for such an atrocity might spurn his orders. Mother wit came to the rescue in the person of Anicetus the freedman, preceptor of Nero's boyish years, and detested by Agrippina with a vigour which was reciprocated. Accordingly, he pointed out that it was possible to construct a ship, part of which could be artificially detached, well out at sea, and throw the unsuspecting passenger overboard:— "Nowhere had accident such scope as on salt water; and, if the lady should be cut off by shipwreck, who so captious as to read murder into the delinquency of wind and wave? The sovereign, naturally, would assign the deceased a temple and the other displays of filial piety."

4 1 This ingenuity commended itself: the date, too, was in its favour, as Nero was in the habit of celebrating the festival of Minerva6 at Baiae.7 Thither he proceeded to lure his mother, observing from time to time that outbreaks of parental anger had to be tolerated, and that he must show a forgiving spirit; his aim being to create a rumour of reconciliation, which Agrippina, with the easy faith of her sex in p113 the agreeable, would probably accept. — In due course, she came. He went down to the beach to meet her (she was arriving from Antium), took her hand, embraced her, and escorted her to Bauli,8 the name of a villa washed by the waters of a cove between the promontory of Misenum and the lake of Baiae.9 Here, among others, stood a more handsomely appointed vessel; apparently one attention the more to his mother, as she had been accustomed to use a trireme with a crew of marines. Also, she had been invited to dinner for the occasion, so that night should be available for the concealment of the crime. It is well established that someone had played the informer, and that Agrippina, warned of the plot, hesitated whether to believe or not, but made the journey to Baiae in a litter. There her fears were relieved by the blandishments of a cordial welcome and a seat above the prince himself. At last, conversing freely, — one moment boyishly familiar, the next grave-browed as though making some serious communication, — Nero, after the banquet had been long protracted, escorted her on her way, clinging more closely than usual to her breast and kissing her eyes;10 possibly as a final touch of hypocrisy, or possibly the last look upon his doomed mother gave pause even to that brutal spirit.

5 1 A starlit night and the calm of an unruffled sea appeared to have been sent by Heaven to afford proof of guilt. The ship had made no great way,11 and two of Agrippina's household were in attendance, Crepereius Gallus standing not far from the tiller, while Acerronia, bending over the feet of the recumbent princess, recalled exultantly the penitence of the son and the re-entry of the mother into favour. p115Suddenly the signal was given: the canopy above them, which had been heavily weighted with lead, dropped, and Crepereius was crushed and killed on the spot. Agrippina and Acerronia were saved by the height of the couch-sides, which, as it happened, were too solid to give way under the impact. Nor did the break-up of the vessel follow: for confusion was universal, and even the men accessory to the plot were impeded by the large numbers of the ignorant. The crew then decided to throw their weight on one side and so capsize the ship; but, even on their own part, agreement came too slowly for a sudden emergency, and a counter-effort by others allowed the victims a gentler fall into the waves. Acerronia, however, incautious enough to raise the cry that she was Agrippina, and to demand aid for the emperor's mother, was despatched with poles, oars, and every nautical weapon that came to hand. Agrippina, silent and so not generally recognised, though she received one wound in the shoulder, swam until she was met by a few fishing-smacks, and so reached the Lucrine lake,12 whence she was carried into her own villa.13

6 1 There she reflected on the evident purpose of the treacherous letter of invitation and the exceptional honour with which she had been treated, and on the fact that, hard by the shore, a vessel, driven by no gale and striking no reef, had collapsed at the top p117 like an artificial structure on land. She reviewed as well the killing of Acerronia, glanced simultaneously at her own wound, and realized that the one defence against treachery was to leave it undetected. Accordingly she sent the freedman Agermus to carry word to her son that, thanks to divine kindness and to his fortunate star, she had survived a grave accident; but that, however great his alarm at his mother's danger, she begged him to defer the attention of a visit: for the moment, what she needed was rest. Meanwhile, with affected unconcern, she applied remedies to her wound and fomentations to her body: Acerronia's will, she gave instructions was to be sought, and her effects sealed up, — the sole measure not referable to dissimulation.

7 1 Meanwhile, as Nero was waiting for the messengers who should announce the doing of the deed, there came the news that she had escaped with a wound from a light blow, after running just sufficient risk to leave no doubt as to its author. Half-dead with terror, he protested that any moment she would be here, hot for vengeance. And whether she armed her slaves or inflamed the troops, or made her way to the senate and the people, and charged him with the wreck, her wound, and the slaying of her friends, what counter-resource was at his own disposal? Unless there was hope in Seneca and Burrus! He had summoned them immediately: whether to test their feeling, or as cognizant already of the secret, is questionable. — There followed, then, a long silence on the part of both: either they were reluctant to dissuade in vain, or they believed matters to have reached a point at which Agrippina must be forestalled or Nero perish. After a time, p119Seneca so far took the lead as to glance at Burrus and inquire if the fatal order should be given to the military. His answer was that the guards, pledged as they were to the Caesarian house as a whole, and attached to the memory of Germanicus, would flinch from drastic measures against his issue: Anicetus must redeem his promise. He, without any hesitation, asked to be given full charge of the crime. The words brought from Nero a declaration that that day presented him with an empire, and that he had a freedman to thank for so great a boon: Anicetus must go with speed and take an escort of men distinguished for implicit obedience to orders. He himself, on hearing that Agermus had come with a message from Agrippina, anticipated it by setting the stage for a charge of treason, threw a sword at his feet while he was doing his errand, then ordered his arrest as an assassin caught in the act; his intention being to concoct a tale that his mother had practised against the imperial life and taken refuge in suicide from the shame of detection.

8 1 In the interval, Agrippina's jeopardy, which was attributed to accident, had become generally known; and there was a rush to the beach, as man after man learned the news. Some swarmed up the sea-wall,14 some into the nearest fishing-boats: others were wading middle-deep into the surf, a few standing with outstretched arms. The whole shore rang with lamentations and vows and the din of conflicting questions and vague replies. A huge multitude streamed up with lights, and, when the knowledge of her safety spread, set out to offer congratulations; until, at the sight of an armed and threatening column, they were forced to scatter. p121Anicetus drew a cordon around the villa, and, breaking down the entrance, dragged off the slaves as they appeared, until he reached the bedroom-door. A few servants were standing by: the rest had fled in terror at the inrush of men. In the chamber was a dim light and a single waiting-maid; and Agrippina's anxiety deepened every instant. Why no one from her son — nor even Agermus? Had matters prospered, they would have worn another aspect. Now, nothing but solitude, hoarse alarms, and the symptoms of irremediable ill! Then the maid rose to go. "Dost thou too forsake me?" she began, and saw Anicetus behind her, accompanied by Herculeius, the trierarch, and Obaritus, a centurion of marines. "If he had come to visit the sick, he might take back word that she felt refreshed. If to do murder, she would believe nothing of her son: matricide was no article of their instructions." The executioners surrounded the couch, and the trierarch began by striking her on the head with a club. The centurion was drawing his sword to make an end, when she proffered her womb to the blow. "Strike here," she exclaimed, and was despatched with repeated wounds.

9 1 So far the accounts concur. Whether Nero inspected the corpse of his mother and expressed approval of her figure is a statement which some affirm and some deny.15 She was cremated the same night, on a dinner-couch, and with the humblest rites; nor, so long as Nero reigned, was the earth piled over the grave or enclosed. Later, by the care of her servants, she received a modest tomb, hard by the road to Misenum and that villa of the dictator Caesar which looks from its dizzy height to the p123 bay outspread beneath. As the pyre was kindled, one of her freedmen, by the name of Mnester, ran a sword through his body, whether from love of his mistress or from fear of his own destruction remains unknown. This was that ending to which, years before, Agrippina had given her credence, and her contempt. For to her inquiries as to the destiny of Nero the astrologers answered that he should reign, and slay his mother;16 and "Let him slay," she had said, "so that he reign."

10 1 But only with the completion of the crime was its magnitude realized by the Caesar. For the rest of the night, sometimes dumb and motionless, but not rarely starting in terror to his feet with a sort of delirium, he waited for the daylight which he believed would bring his end. Indeed, his first encouragement to hope came from the adulation of the centurions and tribunes, as, at the suggestion of Burrus, they grasped his hand and wished him joy of escaping his unexpected danger and the criminal enterprise of his mother. His friends in turn visited the temples; and, once the example had been given, the Campanian towns in the neighbourhood attested their joy by victims and deputations. By a contrast in hypocrisy, he himself was mournful, repining apparently at his own preservation and full of tears for the death of a parent. But because the features of a landscape change less obligingly than the looks of men, and because there was always obtruded upon his gaze the grim prospect of that sea and those shores, — and there were some who believed that he could hear a trumpet,17 calling in the hills that rose around, and lamentations at his mother's grave, — he withdrew to Naples and forwarded to the senate p125 a letter, the sum of which was that an assassin with his weapon upon him had been discovered in Agermus, one of the confidential freedmenº of Agrippina, and that his mistress, conscious of her guilt, had paid the penalty of meditated murder.

11 1 He appended a list of charges drawn from the remoter past:— "She had hoped for a partnership in the empire; for the praetorian cohorts to swear allegiance to a woman; for the senate and people to submit to a like ignominy. Then, her ambition foiled, she had turned against the soldiers, the Fathers and the commons; had opposed the donative and the largess, and had worked for the ruin of eminent citizens. At what cost of labour had he succeeded in preventing her from forcing the door of the senate and delivering her answers to foreign nations!" He made an indirect attack on the Claudian period also, transferring every scandal of the reign to the account of his mother, whose removal he ascribed to the fortunate star of the nation. For even the wreck was narrated: though where was the folly which could believe it accidental, or that a ship-wrecked woman had despatched a solitary man with a weapon to cut his way through the guards and navies of the emperor? The object, therefore, of popular censure was no longer Nero — whose barbarity transcended all protest — but Seneca, who in composing such a plea had penned a confession.

12 1 However, with a notable spirit of emulation among the magnates, decrees were drawn up: thanksgivings were to be held at all appropriate shrines; the festival of Minerva, on which the conspiracy had been brought to light, was to be celebrated with annual games; a golden statue of p127the goddess, with an effigy of the emperor by her side, was to be erected in the curia, and Agrippina's birthday18 included among the inauspicious dates. Earlier sycophancies Thrasea Paetus had usually allowed to pass, either in silence or with a curt assent: this time he walked out of the senate, creating a source of danger for himself, but implanting no germ of independence in his colleagues. Portents, also, frequent and futile made their appearance: a woman gave birth to a serpent, another was killed by a thunderbolt in the embraces of her husband; the sun, again, was suddenly obscured,19 and the fourteen regions of the capital were struck by lightning — events which so little marked the concern of the gods that Nero continued for years to come his empire and his crimes. However, to aggravate the feeling against his mother, and to furnish evidence that his own mildness had increased with her removal, he restored to their native soil two women of high rank, Junia and Calpurnia, along with the ex-praetors Valerius Capito and Licinius Gabolus20 — all of them formerly banished by Agrippina. He sanctioned the return, even, of the ashes of Lollia Paulina, and the erection of a tomb: Iturius and Calvisius, whom he had himself relegated some little while before, he now released from the penalty. As to Silana, she had died a natural death at Tarentum, to which she had retraced her way, when Agrippina, by whose enmity she had fallen, was beginning to totter or to relent.

13 1 And yet he dallied in the towns of Campania, anxious and doubtful how to make his entry into Rome. Would he find obedience in the senate? enthusiasm in the crowd? Against his timidity it p129was urged by every reprobate — and a court more prolific of reprobates the world has not seen — that the name of Agrippina was abhorred and that her death had won him the applause of the nation. Let him go without a qualm and experience on the spot the veneration felt for his position! At the same time, they demanded leave to precede him. They found, indeed, an alacrity which surpassed their promises: the tribes on the way to meet him; the senate in festal dress; troops of wives and of children disposed according to their sex and years, while along his route rose tiers of seats of the type used for viewing a triumph. Then, flushed with pride, victor over the national servility, he made his way to the Capitol, paid his grateful vows, and abandoned himself to all the vices, till now retarded, though scarcely repressed, by some sort of deference to his mother.

14 1 It was an old desire of his to drive a chariot and team of four, and an equally repulsive ambition to sing to the lyre in the stage manner. "Racing with horses," he used to observe, "was a royal accomplishment, and had been practised by the commanders of antiquity: the sport had been celebrated in the praises of poets and devoted to the worship of Heaven. As to song, it was sacred to Apollo; and it was in the garb appropriate to it that, both in Greek cities and in Roman temples, that great and prescient deity was seen standing." He could no longer be checked, when Seneca and Burrus decided to concede one of his points rather than allow him to carry both; and an enclosure was made in the Vatican valley,21 where he could manoeuvre his horses without the spectacle being public. Before long, the Roman people received an invitation p131 in form, and began to hymn his praises, as is the way of the crowd, hungry for amusements, and delighted if the sovereign draws in the same direction. However, the publication of his shame brought with it, not the satiety expected, but a stimulus; and, in the belief that he was attenuating his disgrace by polluting others, he brought on the stage those scions of the great houses whom poverty had rendered venal. They have passed away, and I regard it as a debt due to their ancestors not to record them by name. For the disgrace, in part, is his who gave money for the reward of infamy and not for its prevention. Even well-known Roman knights he induced to promise their services in the arena by what might be called enormous bounties, were it not that gratuities from him who is able to command carry with them the compelling quality of necessity.

15 1 Reluctant, however, as yet to expose his dishonour on a public stage, he instituted the so‑called Juvenile Games,22 for which a crowd of volunteers enrolled themselves. Neither rank, nor age, nor an official career debarred a man from practising the art of a Greek or a Latin mummer, down to attitudes and melodies never meant for the male sex. Even women of distinction studied indecent parts; and in the grove with which Augustus fringed his Naval Lagoon,23 little trysting-places and drinking-dens sprang up, and every incentive to voluptuousness was exposed for sale. Distributions of coin, too, were made, for the respectable man to expend under compulsion and the prodigal from vainglory. Hence debauchery and scandal throve; nor to our morals, corrupted long before, has anything contributed more of uncleanness than that herd of reprobates. p133 Even in the decent walks of life, purity is hard to keep: far less could chastity or modesty or any vestige of integrity survive in that competition of the vices. — Last of all to tread the stage was the sovereign himself, scrupulously testing his lyre and striking a few preliminary notes to the trainers at his side. A cohort of the guards had been added to the audience — centurions and tribunes; Burrus, also, with his sigh and his word of praise. Now, too, for the first time was enrolled the company of Roman knights known as the Augustiani;24 conspicuously youthful and robust; wanton in some cases by nature; in others, through dreams of power. Days and nights they thundered applause, bestowed the epithets reserved for deity25 upon the imperial form and voice, and lived in a repute and honour, which might have been earned by virtue.

16 1 And yet, lest it should be only the histrionic skill of the emperor which won publicity, he affected also a zeal for poetry and gathered a group of associates with some faculty for versification but not such as to have yet attracted remark. These, after dining, sat with him, devising a connection for the lines they had brought from home or invented on the spot, and eking out the phrases suggested, for better or worse, by their master; the method being obvious even from the general cast of the poems,26 which run without energy or inspiration and lack unity of style. Even to the teachers of philosophy he accorded a little time — but after dinner, and in order to amuse himself by the wrangling which attended the exposition p135 of their conflicting dogmas. Nor was there any dearth of gloomy-browed and sad-eyed sages eager to figure among the diversions of majesty.

17 1 About the same date, a trivial incident led to a serious affray between the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria27 and Pompeii, at a gladiatorial show presented by Livineius Regulus, whose removal from the senate has been noticed.28 During an exchange of raillery, typical of the petulance of country towns, they resorted to abuse, then to stones, and finally to steel; the superiority lying with the populace of Pompeii, where the show was being exhibited. As a result, many of the Nucerians were carried maimed and wounded to the capital, while a very large number mourned the deaths of children or of parents. The trial of the affair was delegated by the emperor to the senate; by the senate to the consuls. On the case being again laid before the members, the Pompeians as a community were debarred from holding any similar assembly for ten years, and the associations which they had formed illegally were dissolved. Livineius and the other fomenters of the outbreak were punished with exile.

18 1 Pedius Blaesus also was removed from the senate: he was charged by the Cyrenaeans29 with profaning the treasury of Aesculapius and falsifying the military levy by venality and favouritism. An indictment was brought, again by Cyrene, against Acilius Strabo, who had held praetorian office and been sent by Claudius to adjudicate on the estates, once the patrimony of King Apion,30 which he had bequeathed along with his kingdom to the Roman p137nation. They had been annexed by the neighbouring proprietors, who relied on their long-licensed usurpation as a legal and fair title. Hence, when the adjudication went against them, there was an outbreak of ill-will against the adjudicator; and the senate could only answer that it was ignorant of Claudius' instructions and the emperor would have to be consulted. Nero, while upholding Strabo's verdict, wrote that none the less he supported the provincials and made over to them the property occupied.

19 1 There followed the death of two famous men, Domitius Afer31 and Marcus Servilius;32 both of whom had been distinguished as great officials and eloquent orators. Afer's celebrity, however, was due to his practice as an advocate; that of Servilius, primarily to his long activity in the courts, then to his work as a Roman historian, and, again, to a refinement of life made more noticeable by the fact that, while equal in genius to his rival, he was a complete contrast to him in character.

20 1 In the consulate of Nero — his fourth term — and of Cornelius Cossus, a quinquennial competition33 on the stage, in the style of a Greek contest, was introduced at Rome. Like almost all innovations34 it was variously canvassed. Some insisted that "even Pompey had been censured by his elders for establishing the theatre in a permanent home.35 Before, the games had usually been exhibited with the help of improvised tiers of benches and a stage thrown up for the occasion; or, to go further into the past, the people stood to watch: seats in the theatre, it was feared, might tempt them to pass whole days in p139 indolence. By all means let the spectacles be retained in their old form, whenever the praetor presided,36 and so long as no citizen lay under any obligation to compete. But the national morality, which had gradually fallen into oblivion, was being overthrown from the foundations by this imported licentiousness; the aim of which was that every production of every land, capable of either undergoing or engendering corruption, should be on view in the capital, and that our youth, under the influence of foreign tastes, should degenerate into votaries of the gymnasia, of indolence, and of dishonourable amours, — and this at the instigation of the emperor and senate, who, not content with conferring immunity upon vice, were applying compulsion, in order that Roman nobles should pollute themselves on the stage under pretext of delivering an oration or a poem.37 What remained but to strip to the skin as well, put on the gloves, and practise that mode of conflict instead of the profession of arms? Would justice be promoted, would the equestrian decuries better fulfil their great judicial functions, if they had lent an expert ear to emasculated music and dulcet voices? Even night had been requisitioned for scandal, so that virtue should not be left with a breathing-space, but that amid a promiscuous crowd every vilest profligate might venture in the dark the act for which he had lusted in the light."

21 1 It was this very prospect of licence which attracted the majority; and yet their pretexts were decently phrased:— "Even our ancestors had not p141been averse from amusing themselves with spectacles in keeping with the standard of wealth in their day; and that was the reason why actors had been imported from Etruria38 and horse-races from Thurii.39 Since the annexation of Achaia and Asia,40 games had been exhibited in a more ambitious style; and yet, at Rome, no one born in a respectable rank of life had condescended to the stage as a profession, though it was now two hundred years since the triumph of Lucius Mummius,41 who first gave an exhibition of the kind in the capital. But, more than this, it had been a measure of economy when the theatre was housed in a permanent building instead of being reared and razed, year after year, at enormous expense. Again, the magistrates would not have the same drain upon their private resources, nor the populace the same excuse for demanding contests in the Greek style from the magistrates, when the cost was defrayed by the state. The victories of orators and poets would apply a spur to genius; nor need it lie heavy on the conscience of any judge, if he had not turned a deaf ear to reputable arts and to legitimate pleasures. It was to gaiety, rather than to wantonness, that a few nights were being given out of five whole years — nights in which, owing to the blaze of illuminations, nothing illicit could be concealed." The display in question, it must be granted, passed over without any glaring scandal; and there was no outbreak, even slight, of popular partisanship, since the pantomimic actors, though restored to the stage, were debarred from the sacred contests.42 The first prize for eloquence was not awarded, but an announcement was made that the p143 Caesar had proved victorious.43 The Greek dress, in which a great number of spectators had figured during the festival, immediately went out of vogue.

22 1 Meanwhile, a comet blazed into view — in the opinion of the crowd, an apparition boding change to monarchies. Hence, as though Nero were already dethroned, men began to inquire on whom the next choice should fall; and the name in all mouths was that of Rubellius Plautus,44 who, on the mother's side, drew his nobility from the Julian house. Personally, he cherished the views of an older generation: his bearing was austere, his domestic life being pure and secluded; and the retirement which his fears led him to seek had only brought him an accession of fame. The rumours gained strength from the interpretation — suggested by equal credulity — which was placed upon a flash of light. Because, while Nero dined by the Simbruine lakes45 in the villa known as the Sublaqueum, the banquet had been struck and the table shivered; and because the accident had occurred on the confines of Tibur, the town from which Plautus derived his origin on the father's side,46 a belief spread that he was the candidate marked out by the will of deity; and he found numerous supporters in the class of men who nurse the eager and generally delusive ambition to be the earliest parasites of a new and precarious power. Nero, therefore, perturbed by the reports, drew up a letter to Plautus, advising him "to consult the peace of the capital and extricate himself from the scandal-mongers: he had family estates in Asia, where he could enjoy his youth in safety and quiet." To Asia, accordingly, he retired with his wife Antistia47 and a few of his intimate friends.

p145 About the same date, Nero's passion for extravagance brought him some disrepute and danger: he had entered and swum in the sources of the stream which Quintus Marcius conveyed to Rome;48 and it was considered that by bathing there he had profaned the sacred waters and the holiness of the site. The divine anger was confirmed by a grave illness which followed.

23 1 Meanwhile, after razing Artaxata,49 Corbulo resolved to profit by the first impression of terror in order to seize Tigranocerta, which he could either destroy, and deepen the fears of the enemy, or spare, and earn a reputation for clemency. He marched on the town,50 then, avoiding offensive operations, so as not to dispel the hope of an amnesty, but at the same time relaxing nothing of his vigilance; for he knew the facile inconstancy of a race which, if slow to confront danger, was quick to embrace an opportunity of treason. The barbarians, according to their moods, either met him with prayers or abandoned their hamlets and dispersed to the wilds: others, again, concealed themselves, together with their most treasured belongings, in caverns. The Roman general, therefore, varied his methods; in the case of the suppliants, he employed pardon; in that of the fugitives, pursuit; to those lurking in covert he was merciless, firing the entrances and p147 exits of their dens, after filling them with lopped branches and bushes. The Mardi,51 experienced freebooters with a mountain-barrier to secure them against invasion, harassed his march along their frontier: Corbulo threw the Iberians into the country, ravaged it, and chastised the enemy's boldness at the price of purely foreign blood.

24 1 He himself and his army, though they had sustained no casualties in battle, were yet beginning to feel the strain of short rations and hardship — they had been reduced to keeping starvation at bay by a flesh-diet.52 Added to this were a shortage of water, a blazing summer, and long marches; the one mitigating circumstance being the patience of the general, who bore the same privations as the common soldier, and even more. In time they reached an agricultural district, cut down the crops, and, out of the two forts in which the Armenians had taken refuge, carried one by storm: the other beat back the first assault and was reduced by blockade. Hence he crossed into the Tauronite district,53 where he escaped an unexpected danger. A barbarian of some note, who had been found with a weapon not far from Corbulo's tent, disclosed under torture the whole sequence of the plot, his own responsibility for it, and his accomplices. There followed the conviction and punishment of the traitors who, under the cloak of friendship, were designing murder. Nor was it long before envoys from Tigranocerta brought news that the city-gates were open and their countrymen awaiting his orders: at the same time, they handed over a gold crown, presented as a p149 token of welcome. He accepted it with a complimentary speech, and left the city intact, hoping that a population which had lost nothing would retain its loyalty with greater readiness.

25 1 On the other hand, the military post of Legerda,54 which had been shut against the invader by a body of resolute youths, was carried only with a struggle, as the defenders not merely risked an engagement outside the walls, but, when driven within the ramparts, yielded only to a siege-mound and the arms of a storming-party. These successes were gained with the more ease that the Parthians were fully occupied with the Hyrcanian war. The Hyrcanians, in fact, had sent to the Roman emperor, soliciting an alliance and pointing, as a pledge of friendliness, to their detention of Vologeses. On the return of the deputies, who by crossing the Euphrates might have been intercepted by the enemy's outposts, Corbulo assigned them a guard and escorted them to the shores of their own sea,55 from which they were able to regain their country, while avoiding Parthian territory.

2656 Moreover, as Tiridates was attempting to penetrate the extreme Armenian frontier by way of Media, he sent the legate Verulanus in advance with the auxiliaries, and by his own appearance with p151the legions after a forced march compelled the prince to retire to a distance and abandon the thought of war. After devastating with fire and sword the districts he had found hostile to ourselves, he remained master of Armenia, when Tigranes, who had been chosen by Nero to assume the crown, arrived on the scene — a member of the Cappadocian royal house and a great-grandson of King Archelaus,57 but by his long residence as a hostage in the capital reduced to a slave-like docility. Nor was his reception unanimous, since in some quarters the popularity of the Arsacidae still persisted: the majority, however, revolted by Parthian arrogance, preferred a king assigned by Rome. He was allowed, further, a garrison of one thousand legionaries, three allied cohorts, and two squadrons of cavalry; while, to make his new kingdom more easily tenable, any district of Armenia adjoining the frontier of Pharasmanes or Polemo,58 or Aristobulus or Antiochus, was ordered to obey that prince. Corbulo withdrew to Syria, deprived of its governor by the death of Ummidius, and since then left to its own devices.59

27 1 In the same year, Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake, but recovered by its own resources, without assistance from ourselves. In Italy, the old town of Puteoli acquired the rights and title of a colony from Nero. Veterans were drafted into Tarentum and Antium, but failed to arrest the depopulation of the districts, the majority slipping away into the provinces where they had completed their years of service; while, as they lacked the habit of marrying wives and rearing families, the homes they left behind them were childless and without heirs. For p153the days had passed when entire legions — with tribunes, centurions, privates in their proper centuries — were so transplanted as to create, by their unanimity and their comradeship, a little commonwealth. The settlers now were strangers among strangers; men from totally distinct maniples; leaderless; mutually indifferent; suddenly, as if they were anything in the world except soldiers, massed in one place to compose an aggregate rather than a colony.

28 1 Since the praetorian elections, regularly left to the discretion of the senate, had been disturbed by an unusually heated struggle for votes, the emperor restored calm by appointing the three candidates over the required number to legionary commands.60 He also added to the dignity of the Fathers by ruling that litigants appealing from civil tribunals to the senate must risk the same deposit61 as those who invoked the sovereign: previously, appeal had been unrestricted and immune from penalty. — At the close of the year, the Roman knight, Vibius Secundus, was condemned on a charge of extortion, brought by the Mauretanians, and banished from Italy: that he contrived to escape the infliction of a heavier sentence was due to the resources of his brother Vibius Crispus.62


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Poppaeus Sabinus (XIII.45).

2 She had a son by Rufrius Crispinus (XIII.45).

3 Lusitania (XIII.46).

4 For Cluvius and Fabius Rusticus, see the notes on XIII.20.

5 M. Aemilius Lepidus, son of L. Aemilius Paulus and Augustus' granddaughter Julia; a minion of Agrippina's brother Caligula, and married to their sister Drusilla; executed in 39 A.D. as an accomplice in the conspiracy of Lentulus Gaetulicus.

6 On March 19‑23.

7 The fashionable Campanian watering-place on the western side of the Golfo di Pozzuoli (sinus Baianus). Its long term of popularity was ended by malaria, with help from the Saracens in the ninth century and from Louis XII in the beginning of the sixteenth.

8 The villa — once owned by the orator Hortensius, then by the emperors, and some three centuries later by Symmachus — lay a little south of Baiae.

9 Apparently the furthest recess of the bay, between Baiae on the west and Puteoli on the east.

10 Πρὸς τὸ στέρνον προσαγαγὼν καὶ φιλήσας καὶ τὰ ὄμματα καὶ τὰς χεῖρας, D. Cass. LXI.13.

11 On the eastern journey to Bauli.

12 The lake, which virtually ceased to exist with the elevation of the Monte Nuovo in the sixteenth century, had by Agrippa and Octavian been converted into a naval base and training centre for the operations against Sextus Pompeius, the method being to connect it by a channel with the neighbouring Lake Avernus and to pierce and reinforce the sand dune separating it from the Gulf of Baiae. The portus Iulius so formed had been useless for years, but the outer passage was still practicable for craft such as the oyster-fisher's boat which had picked up Agrippina (Strab. 245).

13 This must have been either Bauli or a villa of her own on the Lucrine. If it was Bauli — the supposition which squares most easily with the account of her cremation and the subsequent burial in chap. 9, — then the reader is left to infer that, after landing, she procured a litter to carry her there. On the other hand, the presence of suae, the prefix in infertur, the unlikelihood that a half-drowned woman would be able — or, if able, inclined — to make a fairly considerable journey, long after midnight (D. Cass. LXI.13), past Baiae, and therefore almost under the eyes of her son, to a villa in which the personnel consisted of his slaves and freedmen, and to which the ship so narrowly escaped was ostensibly bound, are points which tell forcibly on the other side. See, too, chap. 8 init.

14 If the villa is on the Lucrine, the molium obiectus are evidently the half natural, half artificial barrier — "eight furlongs in length and as broad as a wide carriage-road (Strab. 245) — which separated the lake from the sea." If it is Bauli, the embankments are still explicable by such passages as Hor. Carm. II.18, 19:— struis domos Marisque Baiis obstrepentis urges Summovere litora.

15 There is more, "on trustworthy authority," in Suetonius (Ner. 34): Dio adds the remark, which is at least in character:— Οὐκ ᾔδειν ὅτι οὕτω καλὴν μητέρα εἶχον.

16 Possibly, but not more than possibly, the promised prediction of Thrasyllus' son (VI.22 n.).

17 Obviously, in spite of Dio (ὑπὸ σαλπίγγων δή τινων, πολεμικόν τι καὶ θορυβῶδες . . . ἠχουσῶνº ἐδειματοῦτο, LXI.14), a funeral trumpet (Pers. III.103 etc.).

18 Nov. 6.

19 See XIII.41 n.

20 For Junia, see XII.4 and 8; for Calpurnia and Lollia Paulina, XII.22; for Silana, Iturius, and Calvisius, XIII.19 sqq. Capito and Gabolus are unknown.

21 In his gardens on the east of the Vatican, St. Peter's now occupying part of the site.

For the valley, and other terrain features called "Vatican", a more specific idea of where the valley might have been, and how they fit together, see the article Vaticanus in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

22 To celebrate the first shaving of his beard (D. Cass. LXI.10: compare the anecdote, ib. 17 and Suet. Ner. 34).

23 Navalis proeli spectaclum populo dedi trans Tiberim in quo loco nunc nemus est Caesarum, Mon. Anc. IV.43.

24 Some four years later, the corps is said to have included, besides the knights, four thousand sturdy plebeians (soldiers, according to Dio), with fixed salaries for the leaders, a standardized system of applause, and distinctive points of appearance — pomaded hair, ringless left hands, etc. (Suet. Ner. 20; D. Cass. LXI.20).

25 Examples may be seen in Dio (LXI.20).

26 Suetonius dissents strongly:— Venere in manus meas pugillares libellique cum quibusdam notissimis versibus ipsius chirographo scriptis; ut facile appareret non translatos, aut dictante aliquo exceptos, sed plane quasi a cogitante atque generante exaratos (Ner. 52).

27 Now Nocera — to the east of Pompeii.

28 The notice is lost. — Two or three graffiti at Pompeii are inspired by this feud.

29 In conjunction with Crete, Cyrene formed a minor senatorial province.

30 Ptolemy Apion, a natural son of Ptolemy VII ("Physcon") of Egypt. By the discovery, seven years ago, of an unexecuted will of Physcon it was shown that Apion's legacy of the Cyrenaica to Rome (96 B.C.) was merely the realization of a project formed by his father.

31 IV.52 n., 66 n.

32 M. Servilius Nonianus, consul in 35 A.D. He was writing history under Claudius, who attended one of his readings (Plin. Ep. I.13); is coupled by Tacitus with Aufidius Bassus, in contrast to Sisenna and Varro, as a type of modern eloquence (Dial. 23; cf. Quint. X.1.102); and has been conjectured to be the consular historian who related as an eye-witness an incident at Tiberius' dinner-table (Suet. Tib. 61 fin.).

33 The Neronia: see XVI.4.

34 Greek games, though not exactly common, had been fairly often presented. The Neronia, however, would seem to have been the first instance at Rome of a tripartite contest (Suet. Ner. 12), the usual athletes and horses being supplemented by a contest of music (including poetry and rhetoric): a feature retained in the better known and longer-lived agon Capitolinus of Domitian.

35 IV.7 n.

36 Responsibility for the public games had been transferred by Augustus from the aediles to the praetors; but, in the present case, Nero magistros toti certamini praeposuit consularis sorte, sede praetorum (Suet. Ner. 12) — a passage which, in conjunction with XI.11 (sedente Claudio) and Juv. XI.192 (praeda caballorum praetor sedet) seems a perfectly adequate defence of the manuscript reading as against Lipsius' plausible emendation.

37 Among them was Lucan with a panegyric of Nero (Suet. vit. Luc. init.).

38 Liv. VII.2.

39 This tradition is not otherwise known.

40 In 146 and 133 B.C. respectively.

41 In 145 B.C.

42 The Neronia were ranked, like the great Greek festivals, among the ἱεροὶ ἀγῶνες (ὧν τὰ ἄθλα ἐν στεφάνῳ μονῷ, according to the definition of Pollux, III.153).

43 He had not himself competed for the crown orationis carminisque Latini, but it was voluntarily resigned to him by those who had (honestissimus quisque, according to Suet. Ner. 12). On the other hand, the citharae corona fell to him by a regular award of the judges.

44 XIII.19 n.

45 XI.13 n.

46 See VI.27 n.

47 Antistia Pollitta, daughter of L. Antistius Vetus, whose fate she was to share.

48 The aqua Marcia (the modern Acqua Pia), brought to Rome, under commission of the senate, by Q. Marcius Rex in his praetorship. Eulogies of the water as the clearest, coldest and most wholesome in Rome — or the world — are frequent (e.g. Stat. Silv. I.5.25; Plut. Cor. 1; Strab. V.3.13 fin.; Plin. H.N. XXXI § 24, etc.). — For the tabu upon swimming in certain streams, Lipsius cited Plin. Ep. VIII.8 (Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.[Link to a page in English]) (the reference is to the Clitumnus):— Pons terminus sacri profanique: in superiore parte navigare tantum, infra etiam natare concessum.

49 The account of Corbulo's operations is resumed from XIII.41, and opens with the march on Tigranocerta, the date being 59 or 60 A.D. (XIII.35 n.).

50 The distance is put at 275 miles as the crow flies: the route can hardly be determined from the data. That the first stage would be from Artaxata to the plain of Bayazid, the last through the pass of Bitlis to Tigranocerta, appears probable: whether the long and difficult march intervening was to the north or south of Lake Van is a matter of conjecture.

51 A Kurdish race with the national proclivities — μετανάσται καὶ λῃστρικοί, Strab. 523 — and branches in both Persia and Armenia. They were far too widely diffused for their mention to do anything towards solving the problem of Corbulo's march.

52 The legionary's diet was mainly farinaceous, the cornº-ration — unground — being a bushel a month. For the objection to too much flesh, compare Caes. B. G. VII.17. Barley — quadrupedum fere cibus, Plin. H.N. XVIII § 74, ἀλεκτορίδων τροφή, Ath. 214F — was an equally unpopular alternative (Caes. B. G. III.47, etc.).

53 Not identified with any approach to certainty.

54 Μεταξὺ τοῦ Εὐφράτου καὶ τῶν τοῦ Τίγριδος πηγῶν (Ptol. V.13, 18‑19).

55 The mare Hyrcanum, an alternative name for the Caspian — the only sea which could enter the thoughts of rational men confronted with the problem of reaching Hyrcania from the upper Euphrates. The escort would consist of a nucleus of legionaries with a detachment of Pharasmanes' Iberians, and the route must have been to the north of Armenia. All else is uncertain, except that the traditional maris rubri, with the implied excursion into space, commencing at the Persian Gulf and ending felicitously at the south-eastern extremity of the Caspian, must for half a dozen cogent reasons be dismissed as fantastic.

56 From the description, in chap. 24, of the conditions during the march on Tigranocerta, it is a fair inference that the town could not have been occupied till the autumn. In that case, the remnant of the year cannot accommodate the events crowded into the present chapter — the repulse, for instance, of Tiridates' incursion through Media Atropatene in the far east must have needed the greater part of a summer — and it becomes impossible to acquiesce in Mommsen's ascription of everything in chaps. 23‑26 to 60 A.D.

57 And, on the father's side, of Herod the Great.

58 The last king of Pontus. For Aristobulus and Antiochus, see XIII.7.

59 See XIII.22.

60 There were fifteen candidates for twelve vacancies (I.14 sq.).

61 A third of the amount at issue in the suit.

62 Q. Vibius Crispus, born of humble stock (Dial. 8), but famous as an orator and accuser, and high in favour under the Flavian emperors. Pecunia, potentia, ingenio inter claros magis quam bonos is the verdict of Tacitus at Hist. II.10; Juvenal, in some admirable lines (IV.81‑93), is much more indulgent.


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