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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)

p55 32 1 I am not unaware that very many of the events I have described, and shall describe, may perhaps seem little things, trifles too slight for record; but no parallel can be drawn between these chronicles of mine and the work of the men who composed the p57ancient history of the Roman people. Gigantic wars, cities stormed, routed and captive kings, or, when they turned by choice to domestic affairs, the feuds of consul and tribune, land-laws and cornº-laws, the duel of nobles and commons — such were the themes on which they dwelt, or digressed, at will. Mine is an inglorious labour in a narrow field: for this was an age of peace unbroken or half-heartedly challenged, of tragedy in the capital, of a prince careless to extend the empire. Yet it may be not unprofitable to look beneath the surface of those incidents, trivial at the first inspection, which so often set in motion the great events of history.

33 1 For every nation or city is governed by the people, or by the nobility, or by individuals: a constitution selected and blended from these types is easier to commend than to create; or, if created, its tenure of life is brief. Accordingly, as in the period of alternate plebeian dominance and patrician ascendancy it was imperative, in one case, to study the character of the masses and the methods of controlling them; while, in the other, those who had acquired the most exact knowledge of the temper of the senate and the aristocracy were accounted shrewd in their generation and wise; so to‑day, when the situation has been transformed and the Roman world is little else than a monarchy, the collection and the chronicling of these details may yet serve an end: for few men distinguish right and wrong, the expedient and the disastrous, by native intelligence; the majority are schooled by the experience of others. But while my themes have their utility, they offer the minimum of pleasure. Descriptions of countries, the vicissitudes of battles, commanders p59dying on the field of honour, such are the episodes that arrest and renew the interest of the reader: for myself, I present a series of savage mandates, of perpetual accusations, of traitorous friendships, of ruined innocents, of various causes and identical results — everywhere monotony of subject, and satiety. Again, the ancient author has few detractors, and it matters to none whether you praise the Carthaginian or the Roman arms with the livelier enthusiasm. But of many, who underwent either the legal penalty or a form of degradation in the principate of Tiberius, the descendants remain; and, assuming the actual families to be now extinct, you will still find those who, from a likeness of character, read the ill deeds of others as an innuendo against themselves. Even glory and virtue create their enemies — they arraign their opposites by too close a contrast. But I return to my subject.

34 1 The consulate of Cornelius Cossus and Asinius Agrippa opened with the prosecution of Cremutius Cordus1 upon the novel and till then2 unheard-of charge of publishing a history, eulogizing Brutus, and styling Cassius the last of the Romans.3 The accusers were Satrius Secundus and Pinarius Natta, clients of Sejanus. That circumstance sealed the defendant's fate — that and the lowering brows of the Caesar,4 as he bent his attention to the defence; which Cremutius, resolved to take his leave of life, began as follows:— "Conscript Fathers, my words are brought to judgement — so guiltless am I of deeds! Nor are they even words against the sole persons p61embraced by the law of treason, the sovereign or the parent of the sovereign: I am said to have praised Brutus and Cassius, whose acts so many pens have recorded, whom not one has mentioned save with honour. Livy, with a fame for eloquence and candour second to none, lavished such eulogies on Pompey that Augustus styled him 'the Pompeian': yet it was without prejudice to their friendship. Scipio, Afranius,5 this very Cassius, this Brutus — not once does he describe them by the now fashionable titles of brigand and parricide,a but time and again in such terms as he might apply to any distinguished patriots. The works of Asinius Pollio6 transmit their character in noble colours; Messalla Corvinus7 gloried to have served under Cassius: and Pollio and Corvinus lived and died in the fulness of wealth and honour! When Cicero's book8 praised Cato to the skies, what did it elicit from the dictator Caesar but a written oration as though at the bar of public opinion? The letters of Antony, the speeches of Brutus, contain invectives against Augustus, false undoubtedly yet bitter in the extreme; the poems — still read — of Bibaculus9 and Catullus10 are packed with scurrilities upon the Caesars: yet even the deified Julius, the divine Augustus himself, tolerated them and left them in peace; and I hesitate whether p63to ascribe their action to forbearance or to wisdom. For things contemned are soon things forgotten: anger is read as recognition.

35 1 "I leave untouched the Greeks; with them not liberty only but licence itself went unchastised, or, if a man retaliated, he avenged words by words. But what above all else was absolutely free and immune from censure was the expression of an opinion on those whom death had removed beyond the range of rancour or of partiality. Are Brutus and Cassius under arms on the plains of Philippi, and I upon the platform, firing the nation to civil war? Or is it the case that, seventy years since their taking-off, as they are known by their effigies which the conqueror himself did not abolish, so a portion of their memory is enshrined likewise in history? — To every man posterity renders his wage of honour; nor will there lack, if my condemnation is at hand, those who shall remember, not Brutus and Cassius alone, but me also!" He then left the senate, and closed his life by self-starvation. The Fathers ordered his books to be burned by the aediles; but copies remained, hidden and afterwards published:11 a fact which moves us the more to deride the folly of those who believe that by an act of despotism in the present there can be extinguished also the memory of a succeeding age. On the contrary, genius chastised grows in authority; nor have alien kings or the imitators of their cruelty effected more than to crown themselves with ignominy and their victims with renown.

36 1 For the rest, the year was so continuous a chain of impeachments that in the days of the Latin Festival, when Drusus,12 as urban prefect, p65mounted the tribunal to inaugurate his office, he was approached by Calpurnius Salvianus with a suit against Sextus Marius:13 an action which drew a public reprimand from the Caesar and occasioned the banishment of Salvianus. The community of Cyzicus14 were charged with neglecting the cult of the deified Augustus; allegations were added of violence to Roman citizens; and they forfeited the freedom earned during the Mithridatic War, when the town was invested and they beat off the king as much by their own firmness as by the protection of Lucullus. On the other hand, Fonteius Capito, who had administered Asia as proconsul, was acquitted upon proof that the accusations against him were the invention of Vibius Serenus. The reverse, however, did no harm to Serenus, who was rendered doubly secure by the public hatred.15 For the informer whose weapon never rested became quasi-sacrosanct: it was on the insignificant and unknown that punishments descended.

37 1 About the same time, Further Spain sent a deputation to the senate, asking leave to follow the example of Asia16 by erecting a shrine to Tiberius and his mother. On this occasion, the Caesar, sturdily disdainful of compliments at any time, and now convinced that an answer was due to the gossip charging him with a declension into vanity, began his speech in the following vein:— "I know, Conscript Fathers, that many deplored by want of consistency because, when a little while ago the cities of Asia made this identical request, I offered no opposition. I shall therefore state both the case for my previous silence and the rule I have settled upon for the future. Since the deified Augustus had not forbidden p67the construction of a temple at Pergamum17 to himself and the City of Rome, observing as I do his every action and word as law, I followed the precedent already sealed by his approval, with all the more readiness that with worship of myself was associated veneration of the senate. But, though once to have accepted may be pardonable, yet to be consecrated in the image of deity through all the provinces would be vanity and arrogance, and the honour paid to Augustus will soon be a mockery, if it is vulgarized by promiscuous experiments in flattery.

38 1 "As for myself, Conscript Fathers, that I am mortal, that my functions are the functions of men, and that I hold it enough if I fill the foremost place among them — this I call upon you to witness, and I desire those who shall follow us to bear it in mind. For they will do justice, and more, to my memory, if they pronounce me worthy of my ancestry, provident of your interests, firm in dangers, not fearful of offences in the cause of the national welfare. These are my temples in your breasts, these my fairest and abiding effigies: for those that are reared of stone, should the judgement of the future turn to hatred, are scorned as sepulchres!18 And so my prayer to allies and citizens and to Heaven itself is this: to Heaven, that to the end of my life it may endow me with a quiet mind, gifted with understanding of law human and divine; and to my fellow-men, that, whenever I shall depart, their praise and kindly thoughts may still attend my deeds and the memories attached to my name." And, in fact, from now onward, even in his private conversations, p69he persisted19 in a contemptuous rejection of these divine honours to himself: an attitude by some interpreted as modesty, by many as self-distrust, by a few as degeneracy of soul:— "The best of men," they argued, "desired the greatest heights: so Hercules and Liber among the Greeks, and among ourselves Quirinus, had been added to the number of the gods. The better way had been that of Augustus — who hoped! To princes all other gratifications came instantly: for one they must toil and never know satiety — the favourable opinion of the future. For in the scorn of fame was implied the scorn of virtue!"

39 1 Meanwhile Sejanus, blinded by over-great good fortune and fired to action by feminine passion as well — Livia was demanding the promised marriage — drafted a memorial to the Caesar: it was a convention of the period to address him in writing even when he was in the capital. The gist of the document was that "owing to the benevolence of the prince's father Augustus, followed by so many expressions of approval from Tiberius, he had formed the habit of carrying his hopes and his vows to the imperial ears as readily as to the gods. He had never asked for the baubles of office: he would rather stand sentry and work like the humblest soldier for the security of the emperor. And yet he had reached the supreme goal — he had been counted worthy of an alliance with the Caesar.20 This had taught him to hope; and since he had heard that Augustus, when settling his daughter,21 had to some extent considered the claims even of Roman knights, so, if a husband should be required for Livia, he begged that Tiberius would bear in mind a friend p71who would derive nothing from the connection but its glory. For he did not seek to divest himself of the duties laid on him: it was enough, in his estimation, if his family was strengthened against the unfounded animosities of Agrippina; and that simply for the sake of his children. As to himself, whatever the term of years he might complete under such a sovereign, it would be life enough and to spare!"

40 1 In reply, Tiberius praised Sejanus' devotion, touched not too heavily on his own services to him, and asked for time, in order, he said, to consider the matter fully and freely. Then he wrote again:— "With other men, the standpoint for their decisions was what was in their own interests: the lot of princes was very different, as their weightiest affairs had to be regulated with an eye upon public opinion. Therefore he did not take refuge in the answer which came most readily to the pen — that Livia could determine for herself whether she ought to marry after Drusus or rest content with her old home, and that she had a mother and grandmother who were more natural advisers. He would deal more openly: and first with regard to Agrippina's enmity, which would blaze out far more fiercely if Livia's marriage divided, as it were, the Caesarian house into two camps. Even as matters stood, there were outbreaks of feminine jealousy, and the feud was unsettling his grandchildren. What then if the strife was accentuated by the proposed union?" — "For, Sejanus," he continued, "you delude yourself, if you imagine that you can keep your present rank, or that the Livia who has been wedded successively to Gaius Caesar and to Drusus will be complaisant enough to grow old at the side of a Roman knight. p73Assuming that I myself consent, do you suppose the position will be tolerated by those who have seen her brother, her father, and our ancestors, in the supreme offices of state? You wish, for your own part, to stop short of the station you hold: but those magistrates and men of distinction who take you by storm and consult you on any and every subject make no secret of their opinion that you have long since transcended the heights of the equestrian order and left the friendships22 of my father far behind; and in their envy of you they censure myself as well. — You make the point that Augustus considered the possibility of bestowing his daughter on a Roman knight. Astonishing, certainly, that, tugged at by every sort of anxiety, and foreseeing an immense accession of dignity to the man whom he should have raised above his peers by such an alliance, his conversation ran on Gaius Proculeius23 and a few others, remarkable for their quietude of life and implicated in none of the business of the state! But, if we are to be moved by the hesitancy of Augustus, how much more cogent the fact that he affianced her to Marcus Agrippa and later to myself! — I have spoken openly, as was due to our friendship; but I shall oppose neither your decisions nor those of Livia. Of the result of my own reflections, and the further ties by which I propose to cement our union, I shall at present forbear to speak. One point only I shall make clear: no station, however exalted, would be unearned by your qualities and your devotion to myself; and when the occasion comes, either in the senate or before the public, I shall not be silent."

41 1 In rejoinder, Sejanus — now alarmed not for his marriage but on deeper grounds — urged him to p75disregard the voice of suspicion, the babble of the multitude, the attacks of his maligners. At the same time, unwilling either to enfeeble his influence by prohibiting the throngs which besieged his doors or to give a handle to his detractors by receiving them, he turned to the idea of inducing Tiberius to spend his days in some pleasant retreat at a distance from Rome. The advantages, he foresaw, were numerous. Interviews would lie in his own bestowal; letters he could largely supervise, as they were transmitted by soldiers:24 before long, the Caesar, who was already in the decline of life and would be rendered laxer by seclusion, would be readier to transfer the functions of sovereignty; while his own unpopularity would diminish with the abolition of great levées, and the realities of his power be increased by the removal of its vanities. Little by little, therefore, he began to denounce the drudgeries of the capital, its jostling crowds, the endless stream of suitors, and to give his eulogies to quiet and solitude, where tedium and bickering were unknown and a man's chief attention could be centred on affairs of first importance.

42 1 As chance would have it, the trial at this juncture of the popular and talented Votienus Montanus25 forced Tiberius (who was already wavering) to the conviction that he must avoid the meetings of the senate and the remarks, often equally true and mordant, which were there repeated to his face. For, during the indictment of Votienus for the use of language offensive to the emperor, the witness Aemilius, a military man, in his anxiety to prove the case, reported the expressions in full, and, disregarding the cries of protest, struggled on with his tale p77with great earnestness. Tiberius thus heard the scurrilities with which he was attacked in private; and such was the shock that he kept crying out he would refute them, either on the spot or in charge of the trial his equanimity being restored with difficulty by the entreaties of his friends and the adulation of all. Votienus himself suffered the penalties of treason. The Caesar, as he had been reproached with recklessness to defendants, adhered to his methods with all the more tenacity; punishing Aquilia by exile on the charge of adultery with Varius Ligus, though Lentulus Gaetulicus,26 the consul designate, had pressed only for conviction under the Julian Law;27 and expunging Apidius Merula from the senatorial register because he had not sworn allegiance to the acts of the deified Augustus.28

43 1 A hearing was now given to embassies from Lacedaemon and Messene upon the legal ownership of the temple of Diana Limnatis.29 That it had been consecrated by their own ancestors, and on their own ground, the Lacedaemonians sought to establish by the records of history and the hymns of the poets: it had been wrested from them, however, by the Macedonian arms during their war with Philip,30 and had been returned later by the decision of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. In reply, the Messenians brought forward the old partition of the Peloponnese between the descendants of Hercules:— "The Denthaliate district, in which the shrine stood, had been assigned to their king, and memorials of the fact, engraved on rock and ancient bronze, were still extant. But if they were challenged to p79adduce the evidences of poetry and history, the more numerous and competent witnesses were on their side, nor had Philip decided by arbitrary power, but on the merits of the case: the same had been the judgement of King Antigonus31 and the Roman commander Mummius; and a similar verdict was pronounced both by Miletus,32 when that state was commissioned to arbitrate, and, last of all, by Atidius Geminus, the governor of Achaia." The point was accordingly decided in favour of Messene.

The Segestans also demanded the restoration of the age-worn temple of Venus on Mount Eryx, and told the familiar tale of its foundation: much to the pleasure of Tiberius, who as a relative willingly undertook the task.33

At this time, a petition from Massilia was considered, and sanction was given to the precedent set by Publius Rutilius.34 For, after his banishment by form of law, Rutilius had been presented with the citizenship of Smyrna; on the strength of which, the exile Vulcacius Moschus had naturalized himself at Massilia and bequeathed his estate to the community, as his fatherland.

44 1 This year saw the end of the great nobles, Gnaeus Lentulus35 and Lucius Domitius.36 Lentulus, over and above his consulate and the triumphal distinctions he had won against the Getae, could claim the glories, first of honest poverty gallantly carried, then of a great fortune innocently acquired and temperately employed. Domitius derived distinction p81from a father who had held the command of the sea during the Civil War, until he attached himself to the cause of Antony, and, later, to that of the Caesar:37 his grandfather had fallen on the aristocratic side upon the field of Pharsalia. Himself chosen to receive the hand of Octavia's daughter, the younger Antonia,38 he crossed the Elbe with an army, penetrating deeper into Germany than any of his predecessors, and was rewarded for his exploit by the emblems of triumph. Lucius Antonius also passed away, the bearer of a great but luckless name: for, little more than a boy when his father Iullus39 paid the extreme penalty for his adultery with Julia,40 he had been relegated by Augustus to the city of Massilia, where the name of exile could be veiled under the pretext of study.41 His funeral, however, was celebrated with honour, and by a senatorial decree his bones were laid in the family tomb of the Octavii.

45 1 Under the same consuls, an audacious crime was committed in Hither Spain42 by a rustic of the Termestine tribe. Making a surprise attack on the governor of the province, Lucius Piso, who was travelling with a carelessness due to the peaceful conditions, he struck him dead with one blow. Carried clear by the speed of his horse, he turned it loose on reaching wooded country, and eluded the hue and cry in the rugged and trackless wilds. But p83detection was not long deferred: the horse was caught and led round the villages in the neighbourhood till the ownership was ascertained. After discovery, when the torture was applied in order to force him to disclose his confederates, he cried aloud in his native tongue that "questions were useless: his partners might stand by and watch — for pain would have no terrors capable of extracting the truth." Next day, as he was being dragged again to the torture, he threw himself clear of the warders and dashed his head against a rock, with such an exertion of strength that he expired on the spot. It is believed nevertheless, that Piso fell a victim to a Termestine conspiracy: for public monies had gone astray, and he was exacting restitution with a vigour too much for barbarian patience.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Author of a history of Augustus, ἥν αὐτὸς ἐκεῖνος ἀνεγνώκει (D. Cass. LVII.24). Seneca's Consolatio ad Marciam (on the death of a son) is addressed to his daughter.

2 There were to be parallels later under Domitian: cf. e.g. Agr. 2, Suet. Dom. 10 Iunium Rusticum (sc. interemit), quod Paeti Thraseae et Helvidii Prisci laudes edidisset appellassetque eos sanctissimos viros.

3 In Plutarch it is Brutus himself who calls the dead Cassius ἔσχατον ἄνδρα Ῥωμαίων (Brut. 44 init.).

4 The trial takes place before the senate, with the emperor presiding.

5 Scipio and Afranius — Pompey's father-in‑law and lieutenant respectively. Both perished, the former by suicide, the latter after pursuit and capture, after the disaster of Thapsus in 46 B.C.

6 The famous man of letters and affairs of the Augustan period (70 B.C.‑4 A.D.). His history — the periculosae plenum opus aleae of Hor. Carm. II.1 opened with the first triumvirate (60 B.C.).

7 See III.34 n. He had followed successively Cassius, Antony, and Augustus.

8 A lost panegyric of Cato Uticensis (Laus Catonis, A. Gell. XIII.20),º answered by Caesar in two books of Anticatones (Suet. Caes. 56).

9 M. Furius ('Bibaculus erat et vocabatur,' Plin. H.N. praef. 24). The scanty fragments, chiefly from Suetonius, may be found in Baehrens F. P. R. 317 sq.; the references of Horace, at Hor. Sat. II.5.41 and I.10.36.

10 Valerium Catullum, a quo sibi versiculis de Mamurra (Cat. 57) perpetua stigmata imposita non dissimulaverat, eodem die adhibuit cenae (Suet. Caes. 73).

11 But in an expurgated edition — circumcisis quae dixisse ei nocuerat (Quint. X.1.104). A fragment survives in the elder Seneca (Suas. 6.19) to confute the prophecy of his son that the work would be unforgotten quamdiu fuerit in pretio Romana cognosci (Cons. ad Marc. 1).

12 The son of Germanicus. For the urban prefectship see VI.11, with the note.

13 See VI.19. One or two shreds of evidence indicate that Salvianus was also of Spanish extraction.

14 In Lesser Phrygia. The siege, ended by a crushing defeat of Mithridates, was in 74‑73 B.C. (Plut. Lucull., 9‑11).

15 See above, chap. 28 sq.

16 See chap. 15.

17 III.63 n. The temple dates from 29 B.C., and is instanced by Tiberius as marking the definite inauguration of emperor worship in the provinces: see Suet. Aug. 52; D. Cass. LI.20; Boissier, Religion romaine8 I.129 sqq.

18 Since the only immortality, according to Tiberius, is the kindly memory of mankind, a temple to a hated prince is not the shrine of a living god, but the tomb of a dead man. Compare Amm. Marc. XXII.11.7 flexis ad aedem ipsam (a Christian church) luminibus, 'Quam diu,' inquit, 'sepulchrum hoc stabit?'

19 But not quite inflexibly, as one or two inscriptions show.

20 III.29 n.

21 Julia (I.53 n.).

22 With members of the equestrian order — Maecenas, Sallustius Crispus (III.30), and their like.

23 An intimate friend of Augustus, and his emissary to Antony and Cleopatra after Actium (Plut. Ant. 77‑79); coupled with Maecenas by Juvenal (VII.94), and with Sallustius Crispus by Horace (Hor. Carm. II.2).

24 Despatches would be carried from Rome by the speculatores, a special mounted corps of the praetorian guard, and, as such, directly under the influence of Sejanus.

25 A Narbonese orator and declaimer; described by the elder Seneca as homo rarissimi, etiamsi non emendatissimi ingenii (Contr. 28.15), and by Mamercus Scaurus as inter oratores Ovidius (ib. 17).

26 Younger brother of Cornelius Cossus, consul in this year; epigrammatist (sic scribit Catullus, sic Marsus, sic Pedo, sic Gaetulicus, sic quicumque perlegitur, Mart. I praef.), and probably historian (Suet. Cal. 8); in command later of the legions of Upper Germany (VI.30); executed for conspiracy under Caligula (D. Cass. LIX.22; Suet. Claud. 9).

27 For the penalties under this law, see II.50 with the notes. 'Exile' involved the confiscation of the delinquent's estate and the forfeiture of his civic rights.

28 I.72 n.

29 A border shrine on the upper course of the Nedon; according to tradition, the scene of the affray which led to the first Messenian War.

30 In the invasion of Laconia after Chaeronea (337 B.C.).

31 Antigonus Doson of Macedonia (229‑220 B.C.). The decision would be posterior to his defeat of Cleomenes III of Sparta at Sellasia (222 B.C.).

32 By a majority of 584 to 16: The terms of the award (135 B.C.) survive.

33 For the connection of Segesta and Eryx, in N.W. Sicily, with Troy, Aeneas, and the Julii, see, for instance, Thuc. VI.2.3; Virg. Aen. V.718, 759. The actual restoration seems to have been carried out by Claudius ex aerario populi Romani (Suet. Claud. 25).

34 P. Rutilius, vir summae inopiae, quoniam legatus Q. Mucii proconsulis a publicanorum iniuriis Asiam defenderat, invisus equestri ordini, penes quem iudicia erant, repetundarum damnatus in exilium missus est (93 or 92 B.C., Liv. Epit. 70). The case is mentioned also at III.66.

35 See I.27 n. and chap. 29 above.

36 L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, grandfather of the emperor Nero.

37 Octavian.

38 The two sisters Antonia were daughters of the triumvir Antony and Augustus' sister Octavia: it is practically certain, however, that, both here and at XII.64, Tacitus' statement is erroneous, and that the elder married L. Domitius; the younger, Tiberius' brother Drusus.

39 Son of Antony and Fulvia; brought up at Rome by his stepmother Octavia; condemned to death in 2 B.C.

40 I.53 n.

41 As Autun (III.43 n.) was a Latin university for the north, so Marseilles was a Greek university for the south, with a fame rivalling that of Athens (Strab. IV.1.4; Cic. Flacc. 26 etc.). It was the sedes ac magistra studiorum of Agricola (Agr. 4).

42 The east and north of the peninsula (Hispania Tarraconensis). — The Termestine capital, Termes, is identified with Tiermes, near the sources of the Duero in the Sierra de Urbión.

Thayer's Note:

a One is inevitably struck by similar historical revisionism in our own time — for example the currently fashionable denigration of Christopher Columbus.

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