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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals


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

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. IV) Tacitus

Book IV (continued)

p41 23 1 This year at last freed the Roman nation from the long-drawn war with the Numidian Tacfarinas. For earlier commanders, once they considered p43their exploits sufficient for a grant of triumphal decorations, usually left the enemy in peace; and already three laurelled statues1 adorned the capital, while Tacfarinas was still harrying Africa, reinforced by contingents of Moors, who, during the heedless youth of Juba's son Ptolemy,2 had sought in war a change from royal freedmen and servile despotism. The Garamantian king3 acted as the receiver of his booty and the partner of his forays, not to the extent of taking the field with an army, but by despatching light-armed troops, whose numbers report magnified in proportion to the distance; and from the province itself every man of broken fortunes or turbulent character rushed to his standard with an alacrity all the greater because, after the successes of Blaesus, the Caesar, as though no enemies were left in Africa, had ordered the ninth legion back,4 nor had Publius Dolabella, proconsul for the year and more apprehensive of the emperor's orders than of the chances of war, ventured to detain it.

24 1 Accordingly, after launching a report that other nations as well were engaged on the dismemberment of the Roman Empire, which on that account was step by step evacuating Africa, while the garrison remaining might be cut off by the combined onslaught of all who preferred liberty to bondage, Tacfarinas increased his strength, established a camp, and invested the town of Thubuscum.5 Dolabella, on the other hand, mustered every available man, and, through the terrors of the Roman name and the inability of the Numidians to face embattled infantry, raised the siege at his first advance and fortified the various strategic points: p45at the same time he brought to the block the Musulamian6 chieftains who were contemplating rebellion. Then, as several expeditions against Tacfarinas had shown that a nomadic enemy was not to be brought to bay by a single incursion carried out by heavy-armed troops, he summoned King Ptolemy with his countrymen, and arranged four columns under the command of legates or tribunes; companies of raiders were led by picked Moors; he himself was present as adviser to all the divisions.

25 1 Before long, word came in that the Numidians had pitched their tents and were lying close by a half-ruined fort called Auzea,7 to which they had themselves set fire some time ago: they felt confident of their ground, as it was encircled by enormous woods. On this, the light cohorts and mounted squadrons, without being informed of their destination, were hurried off at full speed. Day was just breaking when with a fierce yell and a blast of trumpets they came on the half-awakened barbarians, while the Numidian horses were still shackled or straying through distant pasture-grounds. On the Roman side, the infantry were in massed formation, the cavalry disposed in troops, every provision made for battle: the enemy, in contrast, were aware of nothing, without weapons, without order, without a plan, dragged to slaughter or to captivity like cattle. The soldiers, embittered by the memory of hardships undergone and of battle so often hoped for against this elusive foe, took every man his fill of revenge and blood. Word was passed round the maniples that all were to make for Tacfarinas, a familiar figure after so many engagements: there would be no rest from war till the arch-rebel p47was slain. He, with his guards cut down around him, his son already in chains, and Romans streaming up on all hands, rushed on the spears and escaped captivity by a death which was not unavenged. This marked the close of hostilities.

26 1 The request of Dolabella for triumphal distinctions was rejected by Tiberius: a tribute to Sejanus, whose uncle Blaesus might otherwise have found his glories growing dim. But the step brought no added fame to Blaesus, and the denial of the honour heightened the reputation of Dolabella, who, with a weaker army, had credited himself with prisoners of note, a general slain, and a war concluded. He was attended also — a rare spectacle in the capital — by a number of Garamantian deputies, whom the tribesmen, awed by the fate of Tacfarinas and conscious of their delinquencies, had sent to offer satisfaction to the Roman people. Then, as the campaign had demonstrated Ptolemy's good-will, an old-fashioned distinction was revived, and a member of the senate was despatched to present him with the traditional bounty of the Fathers, an ivory sceptre with the embroidered robe,8 and to greet him by the style of king, ally, and friend.

27 1 During the same summer, the seeds of a slave war, which had begun to stir in Italy, were rendered harmless by an accident. The instigator of revolt was Titus Curtisius, a former private in a praetorian cohort. First at clandestine meetings in the neighbourhood of Brundisium and the adjacent towns, then by openly posted manifestoes, he kept p49summoning the fierce country slaves9 of the outlying ranches to strike for freedom, when almost providentially three biremes for the protection of sea-borne traffic put in to port. As in addition the quaestor Cutius Lupus, who in accordance with an old custom had been assigned the "grazing-tracks" for his province,10 happened to be in the district, he drew up a force of marines and shattered the conspiracy at the very outset. The tribune Staius, hurriedly sent by the Caesar with a strong force, dragged the leader and the bolder of his subordinates to Rome, where tremors were already felt at the size of the slave-establishments, which were assuming huge dimensions while the free-born populace dwindled day by day.

28 1 In the same consulate, as an appalling example of the miseries and heartlessness of the age, there appeared before the senate a father as defendant and a son as prosecutor, each bearing the name of Vibius Serenus.11 The father, haled back from exile, a mass of filth and rags, and now in irons, stood pitted against the invective of his son: the youth, a highly elegant figure with a cheerful countenance, informer at once and witness, told his tale of treason plotted against the sovereign and missionaries of rebellion sent over to Gaul;12 adding that the funds had been supplied by the ex-praetor, Caecilius p51Cornutus. Cornutus, as he was weary of his anxieties and risk was considered tantamount to ruin, lost no time in making away with himself. The prisoner on the other hand, with a spirit totally unbroken, faced his son, clanked his chains, and called upon the avenging gods:— "For himself, let them give him back his exile, where he could live remote from these fashions; as for his son, let retribution attend him in its own time!" He insisted that Cornutus was guiltless, the victim of an unfounded panic, and that the fact would be patent if other names were divulged: for certainly he himself had not contemplated murder of the emperor and revolution with a solitary ally!

29 1 The accuser then named Gnaeus Lentulus13 and Seius Tubero,14 greatly to the discomfiture of the Caesar, who found two most prominent nobles, close friends of his own, the former far advanced in years, the latter in failing health, charged with armed rebellion and conspiracy against the peace of the realm. These, however, were at once exempted: against the father resort was had to examination of his slaves under torture — an examination which proved adverse to the prosecutor; who, maddened by his crime and terrified also by the comments of the multitude, threatening him with the dungeon15 and the rock16 or the penalties of parricide,17 left Rome. He was dragged back from Ravenna and forced to proceed with his accusation, Tiberius making no effort to disguise his old rancour against the exile. For, after the condemnation of Libo, Serenus had written to the emperor, complaining that his zeal alone had gone without reward, and concluding with certain expressions too defiant to be safely addressed p53to that proud and lightly offended ear. To this grievance the Caesar harked back after eight years; finding in the interval materials for a variety of charges, even though, through the obduracy of the slaves, the torture had disappointed expectations.

30 1 When members then expressed the view that Serenus should be punished according to ancestral custom,18 he sought to mitigate the odium by interposing his veto. A motion of Asinius Gallus, that the prisoner should be confined in Gyarus19 or Donusa, he also negatived: both islands, he reminded him, were waterless, and, if you granted a man his life, you must also allow him the means of living. Serenus was, therefore, shipped back to Amorgus. And since Cornutus had fallen by his own hand, a proposal was discussed that the accuser's reward should be forfeited whenever the defendant in a charge of treason had resorted to suicide before the completion of the trial. The resolution was on the point of being adopted, when the Caesar, with considerable asperity and unusual frankness, took the side of the accusers, complaining that the laws would be inoperative, the country on the edge of an abyss: they had better demolish the constitution than remove its custodians. Thus the informers, a breed invented for the national ruin and never adequately curbed even by penalties, were now lured into the field with rewards.

31 1 The round of tragedies was broken by a relatively cheerful interlude when the emperor spared Gaius Cominius, a Roman knight convicted of a poetical lampoon upon himself, as a concession to the prayers of his brother, a member of the senate. The fact heightened the general wonder that, p55cognizant as he was of better things and of the fame that attended mercy, he should still prefer the darker road. For neither did he err by thoughtlessness; nor, indeed, is it difficult to divine when the acts of emperors are applauded with sincerity and when with feigned enthusiasm. Moreover, he himself, otherwise an artificial speaker whose every word had apparently to struggle for utterance, spoke out with more fluency and promptness whenever he spoke in charity. On the other hand, when Publius Suillius,20 an old quaestor of Germanicus, was about to escape with banishment from Italy after being convicted of judicial corruption, he moved for his deportation to an island, with so much earnestness as to make a declaration on oath that the change was demanded by national interests. His intervention, severely criticized at the time, redounded before long to his credit: for Suillius returned, and the succeeding generation viewed him in the plenitude of power, the venal favourite of Claudius, exploiting the imperial friendship long profitably, never well. The same penalty was invoked upon Firmius Catus, a member of the senate, for laying a false charge of treason against his sister. Catus, as I have said,21 had laid the trap for Libo and afterwards destroyed him by his evidence. In the recollection of that service, Tiberius, though producing other reasons, now procured a remission of his banishment: to his ejection from the senate he raised no hindrance.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Those of Furius Camillus (II.52), Lucius Apronius (III.21), and Junius Blaesus (III.72).

2 He appears to have succeeded his father a year previously, and reigned till 40 A.D., when he was summoned to Rome and executed by his cousin Caligula (Suet. Calig. 26).

3 In Fezzan (III.74).

Thayer's Note: See the interesting (and illustrated) page Garamantes at Livius.

4 To Pannonia (III.9; IV.5 n.).

5 Identified with Thubusuctu (Tiklat) near Saldae (Bougie) on the Mauretanian frontier.

6 II.52 n.

7 Aumale.

Thayer's Note: Aumale was the French colonial name for the Algerian town of Sour-al-Ghozian.

8 The triumphal toga with golden stars on a purple ground. The ivory sceptre figures on the reverse of a coin of Ptolemy's, together with a curule chair, which must also have been a part of the gift (cf. e.g. Liv. XXX.15; XLII.14).

9 "The reference is to the troops of armed and mounted herdsmen (pastores) maintained by the great properties on their extensive ranches (saltus) in Apulia and Calabria. These pastores had been notorious as early as the days of Catiline (63 B.C., Sall. Cat. 46). Under Tiberius a quaestor was stationed in S. Italy to check their excesses, especially when moving along the tracks (calles) leading from the lowland to the highland grazing-grounds" (Pelham, on XII.65).

Thayer's Note: This is just one opinion, repeated. What the callium provincia was is unknown. See The So‑Called Callium Provincia (AJP 36:323‑331) for a discussion of the possibilities, concluding in a different opinion.

10 For the obscure quaestorian 'provinces' in Italy, the reader may be referred to Nipperdey or Furneaux. With Lipsius' emendation, the sense of the passage is unchanged, but it is assumed that Cales (Calvi), the first Latin colony in Campania, had originally been important enough to be taken as the headquarters of a quaestorian district running from coast to coast of the peninsula and so including the Calabrian town of Brundisium.

Thayer's Note: For a thorough investigation of the "callium provincia" for which this passage is one of only two apparent authorities, see J. C. Rolfe, "The So‑Called Callium Provincia" (AJP 36:323‑331).

11 For the father, see chap. 13 above; for the son, chap. 36 below.

12 From Baetica — his father's province — at the time of the rising of Sacrovir.

13 I.27 n.

14 The legate of Germanicus (II.20).

15 The Tullianum, described by Sallust (Cat. 55), and still in existence.

Thayer's Note: See the article Carcer in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, with a photo.

16 The Tarpeian Rock: cf. II.32; VI.19.

17 The so‑called poena cullei — the parricide being sewn into a sack in company with a dog, a cock, a viper, and an ape, then flung into the sea: see, for instance, Juv. VIII.214 (Mayor) and Cic. Rosc. Am. § 70 (Landgraf).

18 By decapitation after flogging — the penalties symbolized by the fasces and secures.

19 III.68 n. — Donusa, if rightly identified with Stenosa, lay E. of Naxos.

20 Publius Suillius Rufus, half-brother of Corbulo; married to a daughter of Ovid's third wife (nam tibi quae coniunx, eadem mihi filia paene est: Et quae te generum, me vocat illa virum, ex P. IV.8); a conspicuous accuser — continuus ac saevus accusandis reis — under Claudius (XI.5); banished by the agency of Seneca to the Balearic Isles in 58 A.D. (XIII.42 sq.).

21 II.27.

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Page updated: 24 May 09