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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals


published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1931

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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(Vol. III) Tacitus

Book III (continued)

 p587  40 1 The same year saw an incipient rebellion among the heavily indebted communities of the Gallic provinces.1 The most active promoters were Julius Florus among the Treviri and Julius Sacrovir among the Aedui. Each was a man of birth, with ancestors whose services had been rewarded by Roman citizenship in years when Roman citizenship was rare and bestowed upon merit only. At secret conferences, taking into their councils every desperado or any wretch whose beggary and guilty fears made crime a necessity, they arranged that Florus should raise the Belgae and Sacrovir the less distant Gauls. And so in assemblies and conventicles they made their seditious pronouncements on the continuous tributes, the grinding rates of interest, the cruelty and pride of the governors:— "The legions were mutinous since the news of Germanicus' murder, and it was an unequalled opportunity for regaining their independence: they had only to look from their own resources to the poverty of Italy, the unwarlike city population, the feebleness of the armies except for the leavening of foreigners."

41 1 There was hardly a community in which the seeds of the movement had not fallen; but the first outbreak came from the Andecavi and Turoni.2  p589 The former were quelled by the legate Acilius Aviola, who called out a cohort on garrison duty at Lugdunum:3 the Turoni were crushed by a body of legionaries sent by Visellius Varro, the legate of Lower Germany. The commander was again Aviola, supported by several Gaulish chieftains, who brought up auxiliaries with the intention of screening their defection for the moment and unmasking it at a more favourable juncture. Sacrovir himself was there, a conspicuous figure, urging his men to strike for Rome, and bare-headed, — "to let his courage be seen," he explained. The prisoners, however, charged him with making his identity clear so as to avoid becoming a target for missiles. Tiberius, consulted on the point, rejected the information, and fostered the war by his indecision.

42 1 Meanwhile, Florus pressed on with his designs and endeavoured to induce a troop of horse, enrolled in the neighbourhood of Treves but kept in our service and under our discipline, to open hostilities by a massacre of Roman financiers. A few men were actually won over, but the greater number remained loyal. Apart from these, a rabble of debtors and dependants took up arms, and were making for the forest country known as the Ardennes,4 when they were debarred by the legions which Visellius and Gaius Silius5 had detached from their two armies, by opposite roads, to intercept their march. Julius Indus, a countryman of the insurgents, at feud with Florus and hence the more eager to be of service, was sent ahead with a body of picked men, and dispersed the still orderless multitude. Florus eluded the conquerors in unknown coverts, to fall at last by his own hand, on descrying the soldiers who had occupied every egress.

 p591  43 1 So ended the rising as far as the Treviri were concerned. Among the Aedui trouble came in the graver form to be expected from the superior wealth of the community and the remoteness of the suppressing force.6 The tribal capital, Augustodunum,7 had been seized by armed cohorts of Sacrovir, whose intention was to enlist those cadets of the great Gallic families who were receiving a liberal education at the city-schools, and to use them as pledges for the adhesion of their parents and relatives: simultaneously he distributed weapons, secretly manufactured, among the younger men. His followers amounted to forty thousand; one-fifth armed on the legionary model; the rest with boar-spears, hangers, and other implements of the hunting-field. To these he added a contingent of slaves, destined for the gladiatorial ring and encased in the continuous shell of iron usual in the country:8 the so‑called "cruppelarians" — who, if too weighty to inflict wounds, are impregnably fortified against receiving them. These forces were steadily increased: the neighbouring districts had not as yet openly committed themselves, but private enthusiasm ran high, and relations were strained between the Roman generals, then at issue over the conduct of the campaign, which was claimed by each as his own prerogative. Finally, Varro, now old and weakly, withdrew in favour of Silius, who was still in the prime of life.

44 1 At Rome, however, the tale ran that not the Treviri and Aedui only were in revolt, but the four-and-sixty tribes of Gaul: the Germans had joined the league, the Spains were wavering, and, as  p593 in all rumours, every statement was amplified and credited. The patriot, anxious for the commonwealth, grieved; but in many hatred of the existing order and a craving for change were such that they exulted even in their own perils, and lavished reproaches on Tiberius, who, in this convulsion of affairs, could centre his attention on the memoranda of the informers:— "Was Sacrovir also to stand his trial for treason before the senate? At last, men had arisen to check these murderous epistles9 by the sword! War itself was a welcome exchange for the horrors of peace." All the more resolute was his studied unconcern; he made no change of place, none of looks, but maintained his wonted behaviour through all those days, whether from deep reserve or because he had information that the disturbances were of moderate extent and slighter than reported.

45 1 In the meantime, Silius, marching with two legions, had sent forward an auxiliary troop, and was devastating the villages of the Sequani; who lay on the extreme frontier,10 adjoining the Aedui and their allies under arms. Then he moved at full speed upon Augustodunum. The march was a race between the standard-bearers, and even the private soldiers protested angrily against pausing for the usual rest or the long nightly bivouac:— "Let them only see the rebels in front, and be seen: it was enough for victory!" At the twelfth milestone11 Sacrovir and his powers came into view on an open piece of ground. He had stationed his iron-clad men in the van, his cohorts on the wings, his half-armed followers in the rear. He himself, splendidly mounted, amid a group of chieftains, rode up to his troops, reminding them of the ancient laurels of  p595 the Gauls, and the reverses they had inflicted upon the Romans; how glorious their freedom, if they conquered; how much more insufferable their bondage, should they be vanquished once again.

46 1 His words were few and to a cheerless audience: for the embattled legions were drawing on; and the undrilled townsmen, new to the trade of war, had little control over their eyes and ears. On the other side — though anticipated hope had removed the need for exhortation — Silius exclaimed that it was an insult to the conquerors of the Germanies to be led as though to meet an enemy and to be confronted with Gauls! "But recently one cohort shattered the rebel Turoni; one troop of horse, the Treviri; a few squadrons of this very army, the Sequani. The richer the Aedui, the more extravagant in their pleasures, the more unwarlike are they; put them to the rout, and have mercy on them when they flee."12 The answer was returned in a great shout: the cavalry enveloped the flanks, and the infantry attacked the van. On the wings there was no delay; in front, the iron-clad men offered a brief impediment, as their plating was proof against javelin and sword. But the legionaries caught up their axes and picks and hacked at armour and flesh as if demolishing a wall: others overturned the inert masses with poles or forks, and left them lying like the dead without an effort to rise again. Sacrovir, with his staunchest adherents, made his way first to Augustodunum; then, apprehending his surrender, to an adjacent villa. Here he fell by his own hand, the rest by mutually inflicted wounds; the bodies were burnt by the house being fired over them.

 p597  47 1 And now at last a letter from Tiberius informed the senate of the outbreak and completion of a war. He neither understated nor overstated the facts, but remarked that the fidelity and courage of his generals, and his own policy, had gained the day. At the same time, he added the reasons why neither Drusus nor himself had left for the campaign, insisting on the extent of the empire and on the loss of prestige to the sovereign if the disaffection of one or two communities could make him abandon the capital, which was the centre of government for the whole. However, now that fear was not the motive-force, he would go, view matters on the spot, and arrange a settlement. The Fathers decreed vows for his return, supplications, and other compliments: Cornelius Dolabella13 alone, intent upon distancing his competitors, carried sycophancy to the absurd point of proposing that he should enter the city from Campania with an ovation. The sequel was a missive from Caesar, who asserted, with a touch of pride, that "after subduing some of the fiercest of nations, and receiving or rejecting so many triumphs in his youth,14 he was not so bankrupt in fame as to court in his age a futile honour conferred for an excursion in the suburbs."

48 1 About the same time, he asked the senate to allow the death of Sulpicius Quirinius15 to be solemnized by a public funeral. With the old patrician family of the Sulpicii Quirinius — who sprang from the municipality of Lanuvium16 — had no connection; but as an intrepid soldier and an active  p599 servant he won a consulate under the deified Augustus, and, a little later, by capturing the Homonadensian strongholds beyond the Cilician frontier,17 earned the insignia of triumph. After his appointment, again, as adviser to Gaius Caesar during his command in Armenia, he had shown himself no less attentive to Tiberius, who was then residing in Rhodes.18 This circumstance the emperor now disclosed in the senate, coupling a panegyric on his good offices to himself with a condemnation of Marcus Lollius,19 whom he accused of instigating the cross-grained and provocative attitude of Gaius Caesar. In the rest of men, however, the memory of Quirinius awoke no enthusiasm, in view of his attempt (already noticed) to ruin Lepida, and the combination of meanness with exorbitant power which had marked his later days.

49 1 At the end of the year, Clutorius Priscus,20 a Roman knight, who had been presented by the emperor with a sum of money in return for a widely circulated poem deploring the death of Germanicus, was attacked by an informer; the charge being that during an illness of Drusus he had composed another set of verses, to be published, in the event of his death, with a yet more lucrative result. Clutorius, with foolish loquacity, had boasted of his performance in the house of Publius Petronius,21 before his host's mother-in‑law, Vitellia, and many women of rank. When the informer appeared, the rest were terrified into giving evidence; Vitellia alone insisted  p601 that she had heard nothing. However, the witnesses who supported the fatal charge were considered the more credible; and, on the motion of the consul designate, Haterius Agrippa, the last penalty was invoked against the culprit.

50 1 Opposition came from Manius Lepidus, whose speech ran thus:— "If, Conscript Fathers, we regard one point only, — the enormity of the utterance by which Clutorius Priscus has defiled his own soul and the ears of men, — neither the cell, nor the noose,22 nor even the torments reserved for slaves23 are adequate to his punishment. But if, while vice and crime are limitless, the penalties and remedies of both are tempered by the sovereign's moderation and by the example of your ancestors and yourselves; if there is a difference between fatuity and villainy, between evil-speaking and evil-doing; then there is room for a proposal which neither leaves the defendant's guilt unpunished nor gives us cause to rue either our softness or our hardness of heart. Time and again I have heard our prince express his regret when anyone by taking his own life had forestalled his clemency. Clutorius' life is still intact: he is a man whom to spare can involve no public menace; whom to slay can create no public deterrent. His occupations are as futile and erratic as they are charged with folly; nor can any grave and considerable danger be expected from a person who by betraying his own infamy insinuates himself into the favour not of men but of silly women. Expel him, however, from Rome, confiscate his property, ban him from fire and water: this is my proposal, and I make it precisely as though he were guilty under the law of treason."24

 p603  51 1 A single ex-consul, Rubellius Blandus, concurred with Lepidus: the remainder followed Agrippa's motion; and Priscus was led to the cells and immediately executed. This promptitude drew a typically ambiguous reprimand from Tiberius in the senate. He commended the loyalty of members, who avenged so sharply insults, however slight, to the head of the state, but deprecated such a hurried punishment of a verbal offence. Lepidus he praised; Agrippa he did not blame. It was therefore resolved that no senatorial decree should be entered in the Treasury before the lapse of nine full days,25 all prisoners under sentence of death to be reprieved for that period. But the senate had not liberty to repent, nor was Tiberius usually softened by the interval.

52 1 The consulate of Gaius Sulpicius26 and Decimus Haterius27 followed: a year of quiet abroad, though at home there was uneasiness against the luxury which had broken all bounds and extended to every object on which money can be squandered. But other extravagances, though actually more serious, could as a rule be kept private by concealing the prices paid: it was the apparatus of gluttony and intemperance which had become the eternal theme of gossip and had awakened anxiety lest a prince of old-world thriftiness might adopt too harsh measures. For, when the point was mooted by Gaius Bibulus, it had been maintained by his fellow-aediles also that the sumptuary law28 was a dead letter; that the prohibited prices for articles of food were rising daily; and that the advance could not be checked by moderate methods. The senate, too, when consulted, had  p605 referred the question without any discussion to the emperor. But Tiberius, after debating with himself repeatedly whether it was possible to arrest these uncurbed passions, whether such an arrest might not prove an even greater national evil, and what would be the loss of dignity should he attempt a reform which could not be enforced, or, if enforced, would demand the degradation and disgrace of his most illustrious subjects, finally composed a letter to the senate, the drift of which was as follows:—

53 1 "On other occasions, Conscript Fathers, it is perhaps preferable that, if my opinion is needed on a matter of public policy, the question should be put and answered when I am present; but in this debate it was better that my eyes should be withdrawn; otherwise, through your indicating the anxious features of members who might be charged with indecent luxury, I too might see and, so to speak, detect them. If our active aediles had taken me into their counsels beforehand, I am not sure but that I should have advised them to leave vigorous and full-blown vices alone, rather than force matters to an issue which might only inform the world with what abuses we were powerless to cope. Still, they have done their duty — and I could wish to see every other magistrate as thorough in the discharge of his office. But for myself it is neither honourable to be silent nor easy to be outspoken, because it is not the part of aedile or praetor or consul that I act. Something greater and more exalted is demanded from a prince; and, while the credit of his successes is arrogated by every man to himself, when all err it is one alone who bears the odium. For on what am I to make my first effort  p607 at prohibition and retrenchment to the ancient standard? On the infinite expanse of our villas?29 The numbers — the nations — of our slaves?30 The weight of our silver and gold? The miracles of bronze31 and canvas? The promiscuous dress of male and female32 — and the specially female extravagance by which, for the sake of jewels, our wealth is transported to alien or hostile countries?33

54 1 "I am aware that at dinner-parties and social gatherings these things are condemned, and the call is for restriction; but let any one pass a law and prescribe a penalty, and the same voices will be uplifted against 'this subversion of the state, this death-blow to all magnificence, this charge of which not a man is guiltless'! And yet even bodily ailments, if they are old and inveterate, can be checked only by severe and harsh remedies; and, corrupted alike and corrupting, a sick and fevered soul needs for its relief remedies not less sharp than the passions which inflame it. All the laws our ancestors discovered, all which the deified Augustus enacted, are now buried, those in oblivion, these — to our yet greater shame — in contempt. And this it is that has given luxury its greater boldness. For if you covet something which is not yet prohibited, there is always a fear that prohibition may come; but once you have crossed forbidden ground with impunity, you have left your tremors and blushes behind. — Then why was frugality once the rule? — Because every man controlled himself; because we  p609 were burghers of a single town; nor were there even the same temptations while our empire was confined to Italy. By victories abroad we learned to waste the substance of others; by victories at home, our own. How little a thing it is to which the aediles call attention! How trivial, if you cast your eyes around! But, Heaven knows, not a man points out in a motion that Italy depends on external supplies, and that the life of the Roman nation is tossed day after day at the uncertain mercy of wave and wind.34 And if the harvests of the provinces ever fail to come to the rescue of master and slave and farm, our parks and villas will presumably have to support us! That, Conscript Fathers, is a charge which rests upon the shoulders of the prince; that charge neglected will involve the state in utter ruin. For other ills the remedy must be within our own breasts: let improvement come to you and me from self-respect, to the poor from necessity, to the rich from satiety. Or, if there is a magistrate who can promise the requisite energy and severity, I give him my praises and confess my responsibilities lightened. But if it is the way of reformers to be zealous in denouncing corruption, and later, after reaping the credit of their denunciation, to create enmities and bequeath them to myself, then believe me, Conscript Fathers, I too am not eager to incur animosities. True, while they are serious — and often iniquitous — I face them for the sake of the state; but when they are idle, unmeaning, and unlikely to profit myself or you, I beg with justice to be excused."

55 1 When the Caesar's epistle had been read, the aediles were exempted from such a task; and spendthrift epicureanism, after being practised with extravagant  p611 prodigality throughout the century between the close of the Actian War and the struggle which placed Servius Galba on the throne,35 went gradually out of vogue. The causes of that change may well be investigated.

Formerly aristocratic families of wealth or outstanding distinction were apt to be led to their downfall by a passion for magnificence. For it was still legitimate to court or be courted by the populace, by the provincials, by dependent princes; and the more handsome the fortune, the palace, the establishment of a man, the more imposing his reputation and his clientèle. After the merciless executions,36 when greatness of fame was death, the survivors turned to wiser paths. At the same time, the self-made men, repeatedly drafted into the senate from the municipalities and the colonies, and even from the provinces, introduced the plain-living habits of their own hearths; and although by good fortune or industry very many arrived at an old age of affluence, yet their prepossessions persisted to the end. But the main promoter of the stricter code was Vespasian, himself of the old school in his person and table. Thenceforward, deference to the sovereign and the love of emulating him proved more powerful than legal sanctions and deterrents. Or should we rather say there is a kind of cycle in all things — moral as well as seasonal revolutions? Nor, indeed, were all things better in the old time before us; but our own age too has produced much in the sphere of true nobility and much in that of art which posterity well may imitate. In any case, may the honourable competition of our present with our past long remain!

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Only two of the four "Galliae" were involved: the completely romanized Gallia Narbonensis (roughly equivalent to Provence) stood aloof, and so also Aquitania in the south-west. Of the remaining two, G. Lugdunensis (between the Loire, Seine and Saône) included the Aedui, Andecavi and Turoni; G. Belgica (bounded on the west by the Seine and Saône, on the east by the Rhine from Lake Constance to the sea), was the seat of the Treviri.

2 The names survive in Anjou and Touraine.

3 Lyon.

4 At that time much more extensive than now.

5 Still legate of Upper Germany (I.32): for his fall see IV.18.

6 The legions on the Rhine.

7 Autun. — The college, founded by Augustus, long continued to flourish, and was even restored by Constantius Chlorus after the sack of the town by the Franks and Batavians in the reign of Claudius Gothicus (268‑270 A.D.).

8 Since the Gauls despised body-armour, the phrase must refer only to the conventional equipment of the "Gallus" (murmillo) — like the Samnite and Thracian, one of the national types of the arena. In spite of this passage and Ammian XXIII.6.83, the monuments are said not to support the view that the murmillones were heavily armed. Caligula (who detested them as opponents of his favourite Thracians) would seem to have thought so, since he took the precaution of reducing their accoutrement (Suet. Calig. 55).

9 To the senate, ordering the trial, and implicitly the condemnation of suspects. So far there has been little or nothing in the narrative of Tacitus to justify the phrase — apposite enough in Tiberius' later years, when nullae in eos imperatoris litterae (VI.47) became an exception worth recording.

10 They occupied roughly the Franche-Comté (Haute-Saône, Doubs, and Jura), and adjoined Upper Germany, where Silius was in command.

11 From Autun.

12 In other words, "capture them alive." There seems, however, no need to see in Silius' scornful rhetoric an allusion to the fact that his victory was per avaritiam foedata (IV.19).

13 See below, chap. 69, IV.66, XI.22; and, for his termination of the war with Tacfarinas, IV.23‑26.

14 He had received three (over the Dalmatians and Pannonians in 9 B.C., over the Germans in 7 B.C., over the Illyrian insurgents in 12 A.D.), and, according to his panegyrist Velleius Paterculus, had earned seven.

15 See II.30 and, above, chap. 22. His consulate was in 12 B.C., and as governor of Syria, apparently for the second time, he carried out the census referred to in Acts v.37 and Luke ii.2.

16 In southern Latium, close to the Appian Way.

17 . . . gens Homonadum, quorum intus oppidum Homona: cetera castella XLIV inter asperas convalles latent, Plin. H.N. V.27. They had the reputation of being ἀληπτότατοι (Strab. 569).

18 For Gaius Caesar in Armenia, see II.4; for Tiberius at Rhodes, I.4.

19 Consul in 21 B.C.; defeated by the Germans in 16 B.C. with the loss of an eagle (Lolliana clades, I.10); rector to C. Caesar in 1‑2 A.D.; abstinens Ducentis ad se cuncta pecuniae according to Horace (Carm. IV.9), but infamatus regum muneribus in toto oriente according to Pliny (H.N. IX.35); disgraced and died (by suicide?) in 2 A.D.

20 Dio gives the name as C. Lutorius Priscus, and describes him as μέγα ἐπὶ ποιήσει φρονῶν (LVII.20); Pliny (H.N. VII.39) mentions him as paying a fabulous price for one of Sejanus' eunuchs.

21 Afterwards proconsul of Asia for six years and governor of Syria for three; τὴν φύσιν εὐμενὴς καὶ ἥμερος (Philo, t. II.582 Mangey): an old friend of Claudius, and therefore ridiculed by Seneca (homo Claudiana lingua disertus, Apoc. 14).

22 Chap. 14, note.

Thayer's Note: Sic: but no note there (q.v.) seems relevant.

23 Torture and crucifixion.

24 Lepidus hints, first, that it may be doubted whether Clutorius' offence falls under the lex maiestatis; second, that, even should that be the case, the legal penalty is not death but outlawry. The editors cite Paul. Sent. rec. V.29, § 1, antea in perpetuum aqua et igni interdicebatur; nunc vero humiliores bestiis obiciuntur vel vivi exuruntur, honestiores capite puniuntur.

25 Senatorial decrees only became operative when deposited in the aerarium — the temple of Saturn on the Capitoline, close by the temple of Concord. The period of grace was afterwards extended to thirty days.

26 C. Sulpicius Galba, elder brother of the future emperor.

27 I.77; II.51; above, chap. 49; VI.4.

28 Probably the lex Iulia of 22 B.C. (D. Cass. LIV.2); its scale of expenditure for the cena may be found in Gell. II.24.

29 The subject is often touched, and usually in this strain of hyperbole. A fair example is Sen. Ep. 89:— Omnibus licet locis tecta vestra splendeant, alicubi imposita montibus . . . alicubi ex plano in altitudinem montium educta e.q.s.

30 Cf. IV.27, XIV.43 and 44. The servile population was doubtless enormous; but modern attempts to estimate it have simply demonstrated that the data are inadequate for the task.

31 "Corinthian" bronzes, the price of which had risen sharply under Tiberius (Suet. Tib. 34).

32 See II.33.

33 A good many Roman coins have been found, for instance, on the pepper-coast of Malabar. Indeed, the constant efflux of the precious metals, combined with gradual exhaustion of the mines, was one of the causes which led ultimately to the debasement of the coinage.

34 On the grain-fleet from Alexandria and the merchantmen from the province of Africa: cf. XII.43, Africam potius et Aegyptum exercemus, navibusque et casibus vita populi Romani commissa est.

35 31 B.C.‑68 A.D.

36 Under Tiberius (in his later years), Caligula, Claudius (cf. Sen. Apoc. 14), and Nero.

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