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This webpage reproduces a Book of
Roman History

Cassius Dio

published in Vol. IX
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927

The text is in the public domain.

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Cassius Dio
Roman History

Thayer's Note: Before e-mailing me with questions, comments, or corrections involving the numbering of Books, chapters, and sections in this text, please read the orientation page.

Vol. IX
Epitome of Book LXXVI

4 1 Before Severus had recovered from his conflicts with the barbarians he was involved in civil war with Albinus, his Caesar. For Severus would no longer give him even the rank of Caesar, now that he had got Niger out of the way and had settled other matters in that part of the world to his satisfaction; whereas Albinus aspired even to the pre-eminence of emperor. 2 While, then, the entire world was disturbed by this situation, we senators remained quiet, at least as many of us as did not, by openly inclining to the one or the other, share their dangers and their hopes. The populace, however, could not restrain itself, but indulged in the most open lamentations. It was at the last horse-race before the Saturnalia, and a countless throng of people flocked to it. 3 I, too, was present at the spectacle, since the consul was a friend of mine, and I heard distinctly everything that was said, so that I was in a position to write something about it. It came about on this wise. There had assembled, as I said, an untold multitude and they had watched the chariots racing, six at a time (which had been also the practice also in Cleander's day), without applauding, as was their custom, any of the contestants at all. 4 But when these races were over and the charioteers were about to begin another  p205 event, they first enjoined silence upon one another and then suddenly all clapped their hands at the same moment and also joined in a shout, praying for good fortune for the public welfare. 5 This was what they first cried out; then, applying the terms "Queen" and "Immortal" to Rome, they shouted: "How long are we to suffer such things?" and "How long are we to be waging war?" And after making some other remarks of this kind, they finally shouted, "So much for that," and turned their attention to the horse-race. In all this they were surely moved by some divine inspiration; 6 for in no other way could so many myriads of men have begun to utter the same shouts at the same time, like a carefully trained chorus, or have spoken the words without a mistake, just as if they had practised them. This demonstration was one thing that increased our apprehensions still more; another was the sudden appearance of such a great fire in the northern sky at night that some supposed the whole city was burning, and others that the very sky was afire. 7 But what I marvelled at most was this: a fine rain resembling silver descended from a clear sky up the Forum of Augustus. I did not, it is true, see it as it was falling, but noticed it after it had fallen, and by means of it I plated some bronze coins with silver; they retained the same appearance for three days, but by the fourth day all the substance rubbed on them had disappeared.

5 1 Numerianus, a schoolmaster who taught children their letters, set out from Rome to Gaul for some reason or other, and by pretending to be a Roman senator sent by Severus to raise an army, he collected  p207 a small force at first and killed a few of Albinus' cavalry, and also performed some other daring exploits in Severus' interest. 2 Severus heard of it, and believing that he was really one of the senators, sent him a message commending him and bidding him increase his force. The man did so, and among other remarkable exhibitions of his prowess, he captured and sent to Severus seventy million sesterces. 3 After the latter's victory Numerianus came to him, concealing naught nor yet asking to be made a senator in very truth; on the contrary, though he might have been exalted to great honours and wealth, he did not choose to accept them, but spent the remainder of his life in some country place, receiving a small allowance from the emperor for his daily needs.

6 1 The struggle between Severus and Albinus near Lugdunum must now be described. There were a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers on each side, and both leaders were present in the conflict, since it was a life-and‑death struggle between them, though Severus had not previously been present at any other battle. 2 Albinus excelled in family and education, but his adversary was superior in warfare and was a skilful commander. It chanced, however, that in an earlier battle Albinus had defeated Lupus, one of Severus' generals, and had slain many of his soldiers. The present conflict showed many phases and shifts of fortune. 3 Thus, Albinus' left wing was defeated and fled back to the camp, and Severus' men, pursuing them, burst in with them and proceeded to slay them and to  p209 plunder their tents. In the meantime Albinus' troops on the right wing, having concealed trenches in front of them and pits covered over with earth on the surface, advanced as far as these pitfalls and hurled their javelins at long range; then, instead of continuing to go forward, they turned back, as if frightened, with the purpose of drawing their foes in pursuit. 4 And this is exactly what happened. For Severus' men, nettled by their brief charge and despising them for their flight after so short an advance, rushed against them in the belief that the whole intervening distance was passable; but on reaching the trenches, they met with a terrible disaster. 5 For the men in the front rank, as soon as the surface-covering was broken through, fell into the excavations, and those immediately behind them stumbled over them, slipped, and likewise fell in; the rest drew back in terror, but their retreat was so sudden that they not only lost their footing themselves, but also upset those in the rear and drove them into a deep ravine. 6 Great, indeed, was the loss of life among both these and those who had fallen into the trenches, as horses and men perished in wild confusion. And in the midst of this disorder the men between the ravine and the trenches were being annihilated by showers of missiles and arrows. Severus, seeing this, came to their aid with the Pretorians, but, far from helping them, he came very near destroying the Pretorians, too, and found his own life imperilled when he lost his horse. 7 When he saw all his men in flight, he tore off his  p211 riding cloak, and drawing his sword, rushed among the fugitives, hoping either that they would be ashamed and turn back or that he might himself perish with them. Some, indeed, did stop when they saw him in this attitude, and turned back; and brought in this way face to face with the men following them, they cut down not a few of them, supposing them to be Albinus' men, and they routed all their pursuers. 8 At this juncture the cavalry under Laetus came up from one side and completed their victory. Laetus, it appears, so long as the struggle was close, had merely looked on, hoping that both leaders would perish and that the soldiers who survived on either side would give the supreme power to him; but when he saw that Severus' side was prevailing, he also took a hand in the business.

7 1 Thus Severus conquered; but the Roman power suffered a severe blow, inasmuch as countless numbers had fallen on both sides. Many even of the victors deplored the disaster, 2 for the entire plain was seen to be covered with the bodies of men and horses; some of them lay there mutilated by many wounds, as if hacked in pieces, and others, though unwounded, were piled up in heaps, weapons were scattered about, and blood flowed in streams, even pouring into the rivers. 3 Albinus took refuge in a house that stood beside the Rhone, but when he saw the whole place surrounded, he slew himself. I am not stating, how, what Severus wrote about it, but what actually took place. The emperor, after viewing the body of Albinus and feasting his eyes  p213 upon it to the full, while giving free rein to his tongue as well, ordered all but the head to be cast away, but sent the head to Rome to be exposed on a pole. 4 As this action showed clearly that he possessed none of the qualities of a good ruler, he alarmed both us and the populace more than ever by the commands that he sent; for now that he had overcome all armed opposition, he was venting upon the unarmed all the wrath that he had stored up against them in the past. He caused us especial dismay by constantly styling himself the son of Marcus and the brother of Commodus and by bestowing divine honours upon the latter, whom but recently he had been abusing. 8 1 While reading to the senate a speech, in which he praised the severity and cruelty of Sulla, Marius and Augustus as the safer course and deprecated the mildness of Pompey and Caesar as having proved the ruin of those very men, he introduced a sort of defence of Commodus 2 and inveighed against the senate for dishonouring that emperor unjustly, in view of the fact that the majority of its members lived worse lives. "For if it was disgraceful," he said, "for him with his own hands to slay wild beasts, yet at Ostia only the other day one of your number, an old man who had been consul, was publicly sporting with a prostitute who imitated a leopard. 3 But, you will say, Commodus actually fought as a gladiator. And does none of you fight as a gladiator? If not, how and why is it that some of you have bought his shields and those famous golden helmets?" After  p215 reading this address, he released thirty-five prisoners who were charged with having sided with Albinus, 4 and behaved toward them as if they had not incurred any charge at all (they were among the foremost members of the senate), but condemned to death twenty-nine other men, among whom naturally was Sulpicianus, the father-in‑law of Pertinax.

5 All pretended to be on the side of Severus, but they were confuted as often as any sudden tidings arrived, being unable to conceal the feelings hidden in their hearts. For when off their guard they started at reports that came without warning, and in such ways, as well as by their countenances and behaviour, the feelings of every one of them became manifest. Some also by pretending overmuch were recognized all the more readily.

 LXXIV  9 5 Severus attempted in the case of those who were being punished by him . . . to employ Erucius Clarus​1 as informer against them, with the double purpose of compromising this man and of seeming to justify more completely the conviction of the accused in view of the witness's family and reputation; and he promised Clarus both his life and pardon. 6 But when Clarus chose rather to die than to make any such revelations, he turned to Julianus and persuaded him to take the part; and for this service he let him off, to the extent of not putting him to death or disfranchising him, but he rigorously verified all his statements by evidence given  p217 under torture, disregarding the rank Julianus then had.2

 LXXV  5 4 Inasmuch as the Caledonians did not abide by their promises and had made ready to aid the Meaetae, and in view of the fact that Severus at the time was devoting himself to the neighbouring war,​3 Lupus was compelled to purchase peace from the Maeatae for a large sum; and he received a few captives.

9 1 After this Severus made a campaign against the Parthians. For while he had been occupied with the civil wars they had taken advantage of their immunity and had captured Mesopotamia, whither they had made an expedition in full force. They had also come very near seizing Nisibis, and would have succeeded, had not Laetus, who was besieged there, saved the place. 2 In consequence Laetus acquired still greater renown, though he had already shown himself a most excellent man in all his relations, both private and public, whether in war or in peace. Severus, on reaching the aforesaid Nisibis, found there an enormous boar. It had charged and killed a horseman, who, trusting to his  p219 own strength, had attempted to bring it down, and it had been with difficulty caught and despatched by a large crowd of soldiers (the number taking part in the capture was thirty); then it had been brought to Severus. 3 As the Parthians did not await his arrival but retired homeward (their leader was Vologaesus, whose brother was accompanying Severus), he constructed boats on the Euphrates and proceeded forward partly by sailing and partly by marching along the river. The boats thus built were exceedingly swift and speedy and well constructed, for the forest along the Euphrates and that region in general afforded him an abundant supply of timber. Thus he soon had seized Seleucia and Babylon, both of which had been abandoned. 4 Later, upon capturing Ctesiphon, he permitted the soldiers to plunder the entire city, and he slew a vast number of people, besides taking as many as a hundred thousand captives. He did not, however, pursue Vologaesus, nor even occupy Ctesiphone, but, just as if the sole purpose of his campaign had been to plunder this place, he was off again, owing partly to lack of acquaintance with the country and partly to the dearth of provisions. 5 He returned by a different route, because the wood and fodder found on the outward march had been exhausted. Some of the soldiers made the return journey by land up the Tigris, and some in boats.

10 1 Severus now crossed Mesopotamia and made an attempt on Hatra, which was not far off, but accomplished nothing; on the contrary, his siege engines were burned, many soldiers perished, and vast numbers  p221 were wounded. He accordingly retired from there and shifted his quarters. 2 While he was engaged in this war he put to death two distinguished men. One was Julius Crispus, a tribune of the Pretorians; and the reason was that Crispus, vexed at the war's havoc, had casually quoted some verses of the poet Maro,​4 in which one of the soldiers fighting on the side of Turnus against Aeneas bewails his lot and says: "In order that Turnus may marry Lavinia, we are meanwhile perishing all unheeded." And Severus made Valerius, the soldier who accused him, tribune in his place. 3 The other man that he put to death was Laetus, for the reason that Laetus was proud and was beloved by the soldiers, who used to declare they would not go on a campaign unless Laetus led them. He tried to fasten the responsibility for this murder, for which he had no evident reason save jealousy, upon the soldiers, making it appear that they had been rash enough to commit the deed contrary to his will.

11 1 He himself made another expedition against Hatra, having first got ready a large store of food and prepared many siege engines; for he felt it was disgraceful, now that the other places had been subdued, that this one alone, lying there in their midst, should continue to resist. But he lost a vast amount of money, all his engines, except those built by Priscus, as I have stated above,​5 and many soldiers besides. 2 A good many were lost on foraging expeditions, as the barbarian cavalry (I mean that  p223 of the Arabians) kept assailing them everywhere in swift and violent attacks. The archery, too, of the Atreni was effective at very long range, since they hurled some of their missile by means of engines, 3 so that they actually struck many even of Severus' guards; for they discharged two missiles at one and the same shot and there were many hands and many bows hurling the missiles all at the same time. But they inflicted the greatest damage on their assailants when these approached the wall, and much more still after they had broken down a small portion of it; 4 for they hurled down upon them, among things, the bituminous naphtha, of which I wrote above,​6 and consumed the engines and all the soldiers on whom it fell. 12 1 Severus observed all this from a lofty tribunal. When a portion of the outer circuit had fallen in one place and all the soldiers were eager to force their way inside the remainder, Severus checked them from doing so by ordering the signal for retreat to be clearly sounded on every side. 2 For the place enjoyed great fame, containing as it did a vast number of offering to the Sun-god as well as vast sums of money; and he expected the Arabians to come to terms voluntarily, in order to avoid being forcibly captured and enslaved. 3 At any rate, he allowed one day to pass; then, when no one came to him with any overtures for peace, he commanded the soldiers to assault the wall once more, though it had been built up during the night. But the Europeans, who alone of his army had the ability to do anything, were so angry that not one of them would any longer obey him, and the others, Syrians,  p225 who were compelled to make the assault in their place, were miserably destroyed. 4 Thus Heaven, that saved the city, first caused Severus to recall the soldiers when they could have entered the placed, and in turn caused the soldiers to hinder him from capturing it when he later wished to do so. 5 Severus, in fact, found himself so embarrassed by the situation that, when one of his associates promised, if he would give him only five hundred and fifty of the European soldiers, to destroy the city within the hearing of all: "And where am I to get so many soldiers?" — referring to the soldiers' disobedience.

13 1 After conducting the siege for twenty days, he then went to Palestine, where he sacrificed to the spirit of Pompey. Thence he sailed to Upper Egypt, passing up the Nile, and viewed the whole country with some few exceptions; for instance, he was unable to pass the frontier of Ethiopia because of a pestilence. 2 He inquired into everything, including things that were very carefully hidden; for he was the kind of person to leave nothing, either human or divine, uninvestigated. Accordingly, he took away from practically all the sanctuaries all the books that he could find containing any secret lore, and he locked up the tomb of Alexander; this was in order that no one in future should either view Alexander's body or read what was written in the above-mentioned books. So much, then, for what Severus was doing.

 p227  3 I have no wish, now, to write about Egypt in general, but I do feel fully justified in mentioning what I have learned about the Nile by accurate investigation in many quarters. It clearly has its source on Mount Atlas. This is situated in Macennitis, toward the west, close to the ocean itself, and it towers far above all other mountains, for which reason the poets have called it the pillar of the sky; no one, indeed, has ever ascended its summit or seen its peaks. 4 Hence it is always covered with snow, which in summer time sends down a great volume of water. The whole region about its base is marshy at all times, but at this season becomes even more so, with the result that it swells the Nile at harvest time; for this is the river's source, as is proved by the crocodiles and other animals that are born here as well as in the Nile. 5 Let no one be surprised, now, that we have made discoveries unknown to the ancient Greeks; for the Macennitae live near Lower Mauretania and many of the soldiers who are stationed there go as far as Atlas. This is the truth of the matter.

14 1 Plautianus, who not only shared Severus' power but also had the authority of prefect, and possessed the widest and greatest influence of all men, put to death many prominent men among his peers . . . .

2 Plautianus, after killing Aemilius Saturninus,​7 took away all the most important powers of those who had been their fellow-officers8 in command of the Pretorians, in order that no one might become  p229 so presumptuous as the result of his authority over them as to lie in wait for the captaincy of the bodyguards; for already it was his ambition to be, not simply the only prefect, but permanent prefect as well. 3 He wanted everything, asked everything from everybody, and would take everything. He left no province and no city unplundered, but snatched and gathered in everything from all sides; and everybody sent a great deal more to him than to Severus. Finally, he sent centurions and stole horses with tiger-like stripes,​9 sacred to the Sun, from the islands in the Red Sea.​10 4 This one statement will suffice, I think, to make clear all his officiousness and greed; but I will add one thing more. At home he castrated a hundred Roman citizens of noble birth — though none of us knew of it until after he was dead. From this anyone may comprehend the full extent both of his lawlessness and of his power. Nor was it boys or youths alone that he castrated, but grown men as well, 5 some of whom had wives. His purpose was that Plautilla, his daughter, whom Antoninus afterwards married, should have only eunuchs as her attendants in general, and especially as her teachers in music and other branches of art. So we saw the same persons both eunuchs and men, fathers and impotent, emasculated and bearded. 6 In view of this, one might not improperly claim that Plautianus had power beyond all men, equalling  p231 even that of the emperors themselves. Among other things, his statues and images were not only far more numerous but also larger than theirs, 7 and this not alone in outside cities but in Rome itself, and they were erected not merely by individuals or communities but by the very senate. All the soldiers and the senators took oaths by his Fortune, and all publicly offered prayers for his preservation.

15 1 The one chiefly responsible for this situation was Severus himself, who yielded to Plautianus in all matters to such a degree that the latter occupied the position of emperor and he himself that of prefect. In short, the man knew absolutely everything that Severus either said or did, whereas no one was acquainted with any of Plautianus' secrets. 2 The emperor sought Plautianus' daughter on behalf of his own son, passing by many other maidens of high rank. He appointed him consul, and as good as prayed to have him as his successor in the imperial office; in fact, he once wrote in a letter: "I love the man so much that I pray to die before he does."

2a . . . so that . . . someone actually dared to write to him as to a fourth Caesar.

2b Though many decrees were passed in his honour by the senate, he accepted only a few of them, saying to the senators: "Show your affection for me in your hearts, not in your decrees."

 p233  3 The emperor submitted to seeing him lodge in better lodging-places and enjoy better and more abundant food than he himself had. Hence in Nicaea, my native city, when Severus once wanted a mullet, large specimens of which​a are found in the lake there, he sent to Plautianus to secure it. 4 Hence, even if he ever did do anything calculated to diminish the other's power, it was completely deprived of its force by acts of a contrary nature which were more important and conspicuous. Thus, on one occasion, when Severus went to visit him, when he had fallen ill at Tyana, the soldiers about Plautianus would not permit the emperor's escort to enter with him. 5 And again, when the man who arrived the cases that were to be pleaded before Severus was once ordered to bring forward some case or other, he refused, saying: I cannot do so, unless Plautianus bids me." 6 So greatly did Plautianus have the mastery in every way over the emperor, that he often treated even Julia Augusta in an outrageous manner; for he cordially detested her and was always abusing her violently to Severus. He used to conduct investigations into her conduct as well as gather evidence against her by torturing women of the nobility. 7 For this reason she began to study philosophy and passed her days in company with sophists. As for Plautianus, he became the most sensual of men; for he would gorge himself at banquets and vomit as he ate, as the mass of food and wine that he swallowed made it impossible for him to digest anything; and though he made use of lads and girls in notorious fashion, yet he  p235 would not permit his own wife to see anybody or to be seen by any person whomsoever, not even by Severus or Julia, to say nothing of any others.

16 1 There took place also during those days a gymnastic contest, at which so great a multitude of athletes assembled, under compulsion, that we wondered how the course could contain them all. And in this contest women took part, vying with one another most fiercely, with the result that jokes were made about other very distinguished women as well. Therefore it was henceforth forbidden for any woman, no matter what her origin, to fight in single combat.

2 On one occasion, when a great many images of Plautianus had been made (this incident is well worth relating) Severus was displeased at their number and caused some of them to be melted down, and in consequence a rumour spread to the cities that the prefect had been overthrown and had perished. So some of them demolished his images, an act for which they were later punished. Among these was the governor of Sardiani, Racius​11 Constans, a very famous man. 3 My especial reason, however, for mentioning the matter is this. The orator who accused Constans declared among other things that the heavens would fall before Plautianus would ever suffer any harm at the hands of Severus, and that with greater reason one might believe even that report, were any story of the sort to be circulated. 4 Now though he made this declaration, and  p237 though, moreover, Severus himself boldly confirmed it to us who were assisting him in the trial of the case, declaring, "It is impossible for Plautianus to come to any harm at my hands," nevertheless this very Plautianus did not live the year out, but was slain and all his images destroyed. 5 But before that happened, a vast sea-monster came ashore in the harbour named for Augustus and was captured; a model of him, taken into the hunting-theatre, admitted fifty bears into its interior. Moreover, a comet was seen in Rome for many days and was said to portend nothing favourable.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 C. Julius Erucius Clarus vibianus.

2 Cf. Patric.: "Severus in his desire to convict the senators who had written to Albinus against him, wished to destroy also Vibianus, an ex‑consul, who was thought to be on Albinus' side, in order that with the aid of his testimony against the senators he might make his accusation convincing. But Vibianus chose rather to be slain than to do anything inconsistent with a noble nature. Severus then discovered Julianus, persuaded him to play the part, and employed him as accuser!"

3 If the text is correct, the reference is probably to conflicts in Gaul with the surviving members of Albinus' party. Huebner would read "the Parthian war," in which case the place of this fragment would be rather uncertain.

4 Vergil, Aen. XI.371‑3.

5 In LXXIV (LXXV).11.

6 In XXXVI.1b.

7 His fellow-prefect.

8 Tribunes?

9 Probably zebras.

10 The Persian Gulf.

11 Or perhaps Raecius.

Thayer's Note:

a For large mullets, see The Roman Craze for Surmullets (CW 42:12:186‑188).

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