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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)

 p83  46 1 In the consulate of Lentulus Gaetulicus and Gaius Calvisius, triumphal decorations were voted to Poppaeus Sabinus,​1 for crushing the Thracian tribesmen, who, on their mountain peaks, lived uncivilized, and proportionately bold. The cause of the insurrection, apart from the temper of the insurgents, was that they refused to tolerate the military levies and to devote the whole of their able-bodied manhood to the Roman service. Their obedience, indeed, even to their kings was usually a matter of caprice, and the occasional contingents they sent were led by their own chiefs and acted only against neighbouring clans. In this case, too, a rumour was current that the clans were to be broken up and incorporated with other stocks, then dragged into distant countries. Still, before appealing to arms they sent a deputation to insist on their former friendship and loyalty. "Both," they said, "would be  p85 continued if they were not tried by fresh impositions. But if they were sentenced to slavery as a vanquished race, they had steel and young men, and souls resolute for freedom or for death." At the same time, they pointed to their strongholds perched upon the crags, and to the parents and wives placed in them for refuge, and threatened a war intricate, arduous, and bloody.

47 1 Sabinus, till he could muster his forces, returned soft answers; but when Pomponius Labeo arrived from Moesia​2 with a legion, and King Rhoemetalces​3 with a body of native auxiliaries who had not renounced their allegiance, he added his own available troops and moved against the enemy, by now concentrated in the wooded gorges. A few, more daring, showed themselves on the open hills, but were driven from them without difficulty, when the Roman commander advanced in battle-order, though cover was so near that little barbarian blood was spilt. Then, after fortifying a camp on the spot, Sabinus with a strong detachment made himself master of a narrow mountain-ridge running without a break to the nearest tribal fortress, which was held by a considerable force of armed men and irregulars. Simultaneously, he sent a picked body of archers to deal with the bolder spirits who, true to the national custom, were gambolling with songs and war-dances in front of the rampart. The bowmen, so long as they operated at long range, inflicted many wounds with impunity; on advancing closer, they were thrown into disorder by an unlooked-for sally, and fell back on the support of a Sugambrian cohort,4  p87 drawn up a short distance away by the Roman general, since the men were prompt in danger, and, as regards the din produced by their songs and weapons, not less awe-inspiring than the enemy.

48 1 The camp was then moved a stage nearer the adversary; and the Thracians, whom I mentioned as having joined us, were left in charge of the earlier lines. They had licence to ravage, burn, and plunder, so long as their depredations were limited to the daylight, and the night spent safely and wakefully behind entrenchments. At first, the rule was kept: then, turning to luxury and enriched by their booty, they began to leave their posts for some wild orgy, or lay tumbled in drunken slumber. The enemy, therefore, who had information of their laxity, arranged two columns, by one of which the raiders were to be attacked, while another band demonstrated against the Roman encampment; not with any hope of capture, but in order that, amid the shouting and the missiles, every man engrossed by his own danger might be deaf to echoes of the other conflict. Darkness, moreover, was chosen for the blow, so as to intensify the panic. The attempt on the earthworks of the legions was, however, easily repelled: the Thracian auxiliaries, a few of whom were lying along their lines, while the majority were straggling outside, lost their nerve at the sudden onset, and were cut down all the more ruthlessly because they were branded as renegades and traitors carrying arms for the enslavement of themselves and their fatherland.

49 1 On the following day, Sabinus paraded his army in the plain, in the hope that the barbarians, elated by the night's success might venture battle.  p89 As they showed no signs of descending from their stronghold or from the adjacent hills, he began their investment, with the help of the fortified posts which, opportunely enough, he was already constructing; then drew a continuous fosse and breastwork, with a circumference of four miles; and lastly, step by step, contracted and tightened his lines of circumvallation, so as to cut off the supplies of water and forage; while an embankment began to rise, from which stones, spears, and fire-brands could be showered on the no longer distant enemy. But nothing told on the defence so much as thirst, since the one spring remaining had to serve the whole great multitude of combatants and non-combatants. At the same time, horses and cattle — penned up with their owners in the barbarian style — were dying for lack of fodder; side by side with them lay the bodies of men, victims of wounds or thirst, and the whole place was an abomination of rotting blood, stench, and infection.

50 1 To the confusion was added the last calamity, discord; some proposing surrender, some to fall on each other and die; while there were those, again, who commended, not unavenged destruction, but a last sortie. Others, and not the multitude only, dissented from each of these views: one of the leaders, Dinis, now advanced in years, and familiar through long experience with the power and the clemency of Rome, urged them to lay down their arms — it was the one resource in their extremity — and took the initiative by placing himself, his wife, and his children, at the disposal of the victor. He was followed by those who laboured under the disabilities of age or sex, or who were more passionately attached  p91 to life than to glory. On the other hand, the younger fighting men were divided between Tarsa and Turesis. Both were resolute not to outlive their freedom; but Tarsa, crying out for a quick despatch, a quietus to hope and fear alike, gave the example by plunging his weapon into his breast: nor were others lacking to choose the same mode of death. Turesis and his followers waited for the night: a fact of which the Roman commander was not ignorant. The outposts, accordingly, were secured by denser masses of men. — Night was falling, with a storm of rain; and the wild shouting on the enemy's side, alternating as it did with deathly stillnesses, had begun to perplex the besiegers, when Sabinus made a tour of his lines and urged the men to be misled neither by ambiguous sound nor by simulated quiet into giving the ambuscaded foe his opening: every man should attend to his duties without budging from his post or expending javelins on an illusory mark.

51 1 Meanwhile, the barbarians, speeding down in their bands, now battered the palisade with hand-flung stones, stakes pointed in the fire, and oak-boughs hewn from the tree; now filled the moats with brushwood, hurdles, and lifeless bodies; while a few with bridges and ladders, fabricated beforehand, advanced against the turrets, clutching them, tearing them down, and struggling hand to hand with the defenders. The troops, in return, struck them down with spears, dashed them back with their shield-bosses, hurled on them siege-javelins and piles of massive stone. On each side were incentives enough to courage: on ours, hope that victory was won, and the more flagrant ignominy which  p93 would attend a defeat; on theirs, the fact that they were striking the last blow for deliverance — many with their wives and mothers close at hand and their lamentations sounding in their ears. Night, screening the audacity of some, the panic of others; blows dealt at random, wounds unforeseen; the impossibility of distinguishing friend from foe; cries echoed back from the mountain ravines, and so coming apparently from the rear — all this had produced such general confusion that the Romans abandoned some of their positions as forced. Yet actually none but a handful of the enemy made their way through; while the remainder, with their bravest either dead or disabled, were at the approach of daylight pushed back to their stronghold on the height, where surrender at last became compulsory. The districts adjourning were taken over with the concurrence of the inhabitants: the rest were saved from reduction, whether by assault or investment, by the premature and stern winter of the Haemus range.

52 1 But in Rome, the imperial house was already shaken; and now, to open the train of events leading to the destruction of Agrippina, her second cousin, Claudia Pulchra,​5 was put on trial, with Domitius Afer as accuser. Fresh from a praetor­ship, with but a modest standing in the world, and hurrying towards a reputation by way of any crime, he indicted her for unchastity, for adultery with Furnius, for practices by poison and spell against the life of the sovereign. Agrippina, fierce-tempered always and now inflamed by the danger of her kinswoman, flew to Tiberius, and, as chance would have it, found him sacrificing to his father.​6 This gave the occasion  p95 for a reproachful outburst:— "It was not," she said, "for the same man to offer victims to the deified Augustus and to persecute his posterity. Not into speechless stone had that divine spirit been transfused: she, his authentic effigy, the issue of his celestial blood, was aware of her peril and assumed the garb of mourning. It was idle to make a pretext of Pulchra, the only cause of whose destruction was that in utter folly she had chosen Agrippina as the object of her affection, forgetful of Sosia,​7 who was struck down for the same offence." Her words elicitedº one of the rare deliverances of that impenetrable breast. He seized her, and admonished her in a line of Greek​8 that she was not necessarily "A woman injured, if she lacked a throne." Pulchra and Furnius were condemned. Afer took rank with the great advocates: his genius had found publicity, and there had followed a pronouncement from the Caesar, styling him "an orator by natural right." Later, whether as conductor of the prosecution or as mainstay of the defence, he enjoyed a fame which stood higher for eloquence than for virtue. Yet even of that eloquence age took heavy toll, sapping as it did his mental power and leaving his incapacity for silence.9

53 1 Meanwhile Agrippina, obstinately nursing her anger, and attacked by physical illness, was visited by the emperor. For long her tears fell in silence; then she began with reproaches and entreaties:— "He must aid her loneliness and give her a husband; she had still the requisite youth,​10 and the virtuous had no consolation but in marriage — the state had citizens who would stoop to receive the  p97 wife of Germanicus and his children." The Caesar, however, though he saw all that was implied in the request, was reluctant to betray either fear or resentment, and therefore, in spite of her insistence, left her without an answer. — This incident, not noticed by the professed historians, I found in the memoirs of her daughter Agrippina​11 (mother of the emperor Nero), who recorded for the after-world her life and the vicissitudes of her house.

54 1 Sejanus, however, struck a deeper dismay into her harassed and improvident breast by sending agents to warn her, under the colour of friendship, that poison was ready for her: she would do well to avoid the dinners of her father-in‑law. And she, a stranger to all pretence, as she reclined next to him at table, relaxed neither her features nor her silence, and refused to touch her food; until at last, either by accident or from information received, Tiberius' attention was arrested, and, to apply a more searching test, he took some fruit as it had been set before him and with his own hand passed it to his daughter-in‑law, with a word of praise. The act increased Agrippina's suspicions, and without tasting the dish she passed it over to the slaves. Even so, no overt remark followed from Tiberius: he turned, however, to his mother, and observed that it was not strange if he had resolved on slightly rigorous measures against a lady who accused him of murder by poison. Hence a rumour that her destruction was in preparation, and that the emperor lacked courage to do the deed openly: a quiet setting for the crime was being considered.

55 1 To divert criticism, the Caesar attended the senate with frequency, and for several days listened  p99 to the deputies from Asia debating which of their communities was to erect his temple.​12 Eleven cities competed, with equal ambition but disparate resources. With no great variety each pleaded national antiquity, and zeal for the Roman cause in the wars with Perseus, Aristonicus, and other kings.​13 But Hypaepa and Tralles,​14 together with Laodicea and Magnesia, were passed over as inadequate to the task: even Ilium, though it appealed to Troy as the parent of Rome, had no significance apart from the glory of its past. Some little hesitation was caused by the statement of the Halicarnassians that for twelve hundred years no tremors of earthquake had disturbed their town, and the temple foundations would rest on the living rock. The Pergamenes were refuted by their main argument: they had already a sanctuary of Augustus, and the distinction was thought ample. The state-worship in Ephesus and Miletus was considered to be already centred on the cults of Diana and Apollo respectively: the deliberations turned, therefore, on Sardis and Smyrna. The Sardians read a decree of their "kindred country" of Etruria. "Owing to its numbers," they explained, "Tyrrhenus and Lydus, sons of King Atys, had divided the nation. Lydus had remained in the territory of his fathers, Tyrrhenus had been allotted the task of creating a new settlement; and the Asiatic and Italian branches of the people had received distinctive titles from the names of the two leaders; while a further advance in the Lydian power had come with the despatch  p101 of colonists to the peninsula which afterwards took its name from Pelops." At the same time, they recalled the letters from Roman commanders, the treaties concluded with us in the Macedonian war, their ample rivers, tempered climate, and the richness of the surrounding country.

56 1 The deputies from Smyrna, on the other hand, after retracing the antiquity of their town — whether founded by Tantalus, the seed of Jove; by Theseus, also of celestial stock; or by one of the Amazons — passed on to the arguments in which they rested most confidence: their good offices towards the Roman people, to whom they had sent their naval force to aid not merely in foreign wars​15 but in those with which we had to cope in Italy,​16 while they had also been the first to erect a temple to the City of Rome, at a period (the consulate of Marcus Porcius)​17 when the Roman fortunes stood high indeed, but had not yet mounted to their zenith, as the Punic capital was yet standing and the kings were still powerful in Asia. At the same time, Sulla was called to witness that "with his army in a most critical position through the inclement winter and scarcity of clothing, the news had only to be announced at a public meeting in Smyrna, and the whole of the bystanders stripped the garments from their bodies and sent them to our legions." The Fathers accordingly, when their opinion was taken, gave Smyrna the preference. Vibius Marsus proposed that a supernumerary legate, to take responsibility for the temple, should be assigned to Manius Lepidus, to whom the province of Asia had fallen; and since Lepidus modestly declined to make the selection himself, Valerius Naso was chosen by lot among the ex-praetors and sent out.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Maternal grandfather of Nero's mistress and wife, Poppaea: see I.80, V.10, and the obituary notice in VI.39.

2 An imperial province, corresponding more or less to the old Servia and Bulgaria.

3 II.67 n.

4 One of four or five auxiliary cohorts of the name, recruited on the Rhine bank.

5 Great-niece of Agrippina's grandfather, Augustus; formerly wife of Quintilius Varus (I.3 n.).

6 As a member of the college sodalium Augustalium (I.54).

7 See chap. 19.

8 Suetonius translates:— Si non dominaris, inquit, filiola, iniuriam te accipere existimas? (Tib. 53). The obvious retranslation — Εἰ μὴ τυραννεῖς, τέκνον, ἀδικεῖσθαι δοκεῖς; dates from the sixteenth century.

9 Vidi ego longe omnium, quos mihi cognoscere contigit, summum oratorem, Domitium Afrum, valde senem, quotidie aliquid ex each quam meruerat fama perdentem . . . quae occasio fuit dicendi malle eum deficere quam desinere (Quint. XII.11.3).

10 By Mommsen's reckoning, her age would be about forty.

11 They are mentioned only once elsewhere — by Pliny (H. N. VII.8.46), as authority for a statement with regard to the birth of Nero.

12 See chap. 15.

13 The Macedonian war with Perseus was closed by the battle of Pydna (168 B.C.); the rising of Aristonicus, a natural son of Eumenes II of Pergamum, was suppressed by M. Perpenna and M'. Aquilius (130‑129 B.C.). The "other kings" are presumably Mithridates and Pharnaces of Pontus and various Arsacidae of Parthia.

Thayer's Note: The date given by the Loeb editor is the one usually asserted in English-speaking countries, but it is by no means a given. There are very good reasons to believe that the date of the battle of Pydna was 172 B.C., as is commonly seen in non-English-speaking scholar­ly works. For details see my note on Plutarch, Aem. 17.7 and the further references there.

The date of the consulate is no proof, by the way, of the date of the battle, since the dates of the magistracies are arrived at by reference to a few fixed astronomical points, foremost among which is . . . the date of the battle of Pydna.

14 Hypaepa — a plural form — was in Lydia; Tralles, in Caria; Laodicea "ad Lycum," in Phrygia; Magnesia, not "a Sipylo" (II.47) but "ad Maeandrum" (III.62), in Lydia. — Tralles, at all events, might have alleged a Caesarian miracle in support of its claim (Caes. B. C. III.105).

15 Against Antiochus III of Syria (191‑188 B.C.).

16 In the Social War (90‑87 B.C.).

17 The elder Cato — M. Porcius Cato Censorius; consul with L. Valerius Flaccus in 195 B.C.

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