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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Histories


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 IV (continued)

 p71  38 1 In the meantime Vespasian entered on his second consul­ship and Titus on his first, although absent from Rome;​1 the citizens, downcast and anxious from many fears, had added false alarms to the actual evils that threatened them, saying that Lucius Piso had plotted against the government and had led Africa to revolt. Piso, then pro-consul of Africa, was far from being a turbulent spirit; but since the grain ships for Rome were now detained by the  p73 severity of the winter, the common people at Rome, being accustomed to buy their food day by day and having no public interests save the grain supply, believed in their fear that the ports were closed and the convoys of grain held back; the partisans of Vitellius who had not yet given up their party zeal fostered the report, nor was, in fact, the rumour ungrateful even to the victorious party, whose greed, for which even foreign wars were insufficient, no civil victory could ever satisfy.2

39 1 On the first of January the senate, at a session called by the city praetor,​3 Julius Frontinus, passed votes eulogizing and thanking the generals, armies, and allied princes;​4 Tettius Julianus was deprived of his praetor­ship on the ground that he had left his legion when it went over to Vespasian's side, and the office was given to Plotius Grypus;​5 Hormus received equestrian rank.​6 Soon after, Frontinus having resigned, Caesar Domitian received the praetor­ship. His name was prefixed to epistles and edicts, but the real power was in the hands of Mucianus, except in so far as Domitian dared to perform many acts at the instigation of his friends or the promptings of his own fancy. But Mucianus chiefly feared Primus Antonius and Varus Arrius, for they had won distinction by their recent victories and were popular with the troops; even the civilians favoured them because they had never drawn the sword against any man save on the battle-field. There was too a rumour that Antonius had urged Scribonianus Crassus,​7 distinguished as he was by his illustrious ancestry and his brother's eminence, to seize the reins of government, with the prospect that there would be no lack of men to support the plot,  p75 had not Scribonianus refused the proposal, for he could not be easily corrupted even by a certain prospect of success, still less when he feared an uncertain issue. Therefore Mucianus, being unable to crush Antonius openly, lauded him to the skies in the senate and overwhelmed him with promises in secret, pointing out that the governor­ship of Hither Spain had been left vacant by the withdrawal of Claudius Rufus; at the same time he bestowed tribune­ships and prefecture­ships on the friends of Antonius. Then, when he had filled his foolish mind with hope and desire, Mucianus destroyed his strength by sending to its winter quarters the Seventh legion, which was most passionately devoted to him.​8 Furthermore, the Third legion, Arrius Varus's own force, was sent back to Syria;​9 and part of the army was started on its way to the Germanies. Thus the city, freed of turbulent elements, recovered its old appearance; the laws regained their force and the magistrates their functions.

40 1 On the day when Domitian entered the senate, he spoke briefly and in moderate terms of his father's and brother's absence and of his own youth; his bearing was becoming; and since his character was as yet unknown, the confusion that frequently covered his face was regarded as a mark of modesty. When Domitian brought up the question of restoring Galba's honours, Curtius Montanus moved that Piso's memory also should be honoured. The senate passed both motions, but the one with regard to Piso was never carried into effect. Then a commission was selected by lot to restore property stolen during the war, to determine and replace the bronze tablets of the laws that had fallen down from  p77 age, to purge the public records of the additions with which the flattery of the times had defiled them,​10 and to check public expenditures. His praetor­ship was given back to Tettius Julianus after it became known that he had fled to Vespasian for protection: Grypus retained his office. Then the senate decided to take up again the case between Musonius Rufus and Publius Celer;​11 Publius was condemned and the shades of Soranus were appeased. That day which was marked by this act of public severity was not without its private glory also. Musonius was held to have carried through an act of justice, but public opinion took a different view of Demetrius the Cynic, because he had shown more selfish interest than honourable purpose in defending Publius, who was manifestly guilty: Publius himself in the hour of danger had neither the courage nor the eloquence to meet it. Now that the signal had been given for vengeance on the informers, Junius Mauricus asked Caesar to give the senate power to examine the imperial records that they might know who the informers were that had brought each accusation. Domitian replied that on a matter of such importance he must consult the emperor.

41 1 Under the lead of its principal members the senate drew up a form of oath, wherein all the magistrates and the other senators, in the order in which they were called, eagerly invoked the gods to witness that they had supported no act by which any man's safety could be imperilled, and that they had never received reward or office for any man's misfortune. Those who were conscious of guilt repeated it timidly and changed its words in various ways. The senate approved their scruples,  p79 but disapproved their perjuries; this kind of censure fell heaviest on Sariolenus Vocula, Nonius Attianus, and Cestius Severus, who were notorious for their many delations under Nero. Sariolenus was also under the burden of recent charges, for he had tried the same course under Vitellius; nor did the senate cease threatening him with personal violence until he left the senate house. They then turned on Paccius Africanus and drove him out also, because he had suggested to Nero the ruin of the brothers Scribonii, who were eminent for their fraternal concord and their wealth.​12 Africanus did not dare to confess his crime nor could he deny it: but turning upon Vibius Crispus,​13 who was harassing him with questions, he implicated him in acts that he could not deny, and so by making Vibius a partner in his guilt he diverted the indignation of the senate.

42 1 On that day Vipstanus Messala​14 gained great reputation for his fraternal affection and his eloquence, for although he was not yet old enough to enter the senate,​15 he dared to appeal for his brother Aquilius Regulus.​16 Regulus had made himself most bitterly hated for causing the downfall of the houses of the Crassi and of Orfitus: he seemed voluntarily to have taken the accusation on himself though quite a youth, not to ward off danger from himself, but because he hoped thereby to gain power; and Sulpicia Praetextata,º the wife of Crassus, and her four children were also there to ask vengeance, if the senate took up the case. So Messala had offered no defence on the case or for the accused, but by facing himself the dangers that threatened his brother, had succeeded in moving some of the senators.  p81 But Curtius Montanus opposed him with a bitter speech, and went so far as to charge that after the murder of Galba, Regulus had given money to Piso's assassin and had torn Piso's head with his teeth. "That surely," said he, "is something which Nero did not compel you to do, and you did not buy immunity for your position or your life by that savage act. Let us, to be sure, put up with the defence of such folk as have preferred to ruin others rather than run risks themselves: in your case the exile of your father and the division of his property among his creditors left you in security; you were not yet old enough to hold office, you had nothing that Nero could covet, nothing that he could fear. Through lust for slaughter and greed for rewards you gave your talents, till then undiscovered and inexperienced in defence, their first taste for noble blood, when in the ruin of the state you seized the spoils of a consular, battened on seven million sesterces, and enjoyed the splendour of a priesthood, involving in the same ruin innocent children, eminent old men, and noble women; you reproved Nero for his lack of energy in wearying himself and his informers over single houses; you declared that the whole senate could be overthrown with a word. Keep and preserve, gentlemen of the senate, this man of such ready counsel, that every age may learn of him and that our young men may imitate Regulus, as our old men did a Marcellus, a Crispus. Wickedness, even if unlucky, finds rivals. What would be the case if it should flourish and be strong? And if we do not dare to offend this man while he is only an ex-quaestor, shall we dare to oppose him when he has been praetor and consul? Do you think that Nero  p83 was the last tyrant? That same belief was held by those who survived Tiberius and Gaius; yet meantime Nero arose more implacable and more cruel. We do not fear Vespasian, such are his years and his moderation; but examples last longer than men's characters. We are growing weak, fellow-senators, and are no longer that senate which after Nero had been cut down demanded that his informers and tools should be punished according to the custom of our forefathers. The fairest day after a bad emperor is the first."

43 1 The senate listened to Montanus with such approval that Helvidius began to hope that even Marcellus could be overthrown. So beginning with a panegyric of Cluvius Rufus, who, though equally wealthy and eminent for eloquence, had put no man in danger under Nero, by thus combining his own charge with that great example, he overwhelmed Marcellus and fired the enthusiasm of the senators. When Marcellus perceived this, he said as he apparently started to leave the senate house, "I go, Priscus, and leave you your senate: play the king in the presence of Caesar." Vibius Crispus started to follow him; they both were angry but did not have the same looks, for Marcellus's eyes were flashing threateningly, while Crispus affected to smile; but finally they were drawn back by their friends who ran up to them. As the quarrel grew, the larger number and the more honourable senators ranged themselves on one side, while on the other were a few strong men, all contending with obstinate hate; so the day was spent in discord.

44 1 At the next meeting of the senate, Caesar took the lead in recommending that the wrongs, the  p85 resentments, and the unavoidable necessities of the past be forgotten; Mucianus then spoke at great length in behalf of the informers; yet at the same time, addressing those who were now reviving indictments which they once brought and then dropped, he admonished them in mild terms and almost in a tone of appeal. The senators now that they were opposed gave up the liberty that they had begun to enjoy. Mucianus, to avoid seeming to treat lightly the senate's judgment or to grant impunity to all the misdeeds committed under Nero, sent back to their islands Octavius Sagitta and Antistius Sosianus, two men of the senatorial class, who had broken their exile. Octavius had debauched Pontia Postumina, and when she refused to marry him, in a frenzy of jealousy he had killed her; Sosianus had ruined many by his depravity. Both had been condemned and driven into exile by a severe vote of the senate; while others were allowed to return, they were kept under the same punishment. Yet the unpopularity of Mucianus was not diminished by this action: for Sosianus and Sagitta were insignificant, even if they did return; the informers' abilities, wrath, and power, which they used to evil ends, were what men feared.

45 1 The senators' discordant sentiments were reconciled for a time by an investigation which was held according to ancient custom. A senator, Manlius Patruitus, complained that he had been beaten by a mob in the colony of Sena,​17 and that too by the orders of the local magistrates; moreover, he said that the injury had not stopped there: the mob had surrounded him and before his face had wailed, lamented, and conducted a mock funeral, accompanying it with insults and outrageous expressions  p87 directed against the whole senate. The accused were summoned, and after the case had been heard, those convicted were punished, and the senate also passed a vote warning the populace of Sena to be more orderly. At the same time Antonius Flamma was condemned under the law against extortion on charges brought by the people of Cyrene, and was exiled for his cruelty.

46 1 Meanwhile a mutiny almost broke out among the troops. Those who had been dismissed by Vitellius​18 and had then banded together to support Vespasian now asked to be restored to service in the praetorian cohorts; and the legionaries selected with the same prospect demanded the pay promised them.​19 Even the Vitellians​20 could not be removed without much bloodshed; but it would cost an enormous sum to keep such a great force of men under arms. Mucianus entered the camp to examine more closely the length of each man's service; he drew up the victors with their proper insignia and arms, leaving a moderate space between the companies. Then the Vitellians who had surrendered at Bovillae, as we have said above, and all the other soldiers attached to the same cause who had been hunted out in the city and suburbs, were brought out almost without clothes or arms. Mucianus ordered them to march to one side, and directed that the soldiers from Germany and Britain and all the troops there were among them from other armies should take positions by themselves. They were paralyzed by the first sight of their situation, when they beheld opposite them what seemed to them like an enemy's line, threatening them with weapons and defensive arms, while they were themselves hemmed in,  p89 unprotected, squalid and filthy; then, when they began to be divided and marched in different directions, all were smitten with horror; the soldiers from Germany were the most terrified, for they thought that by this division they were being marked for slaughter. They began to throw themselves on the breasts of their fellow-soldiers, to hang on their necks, to beg for a farewell kiss, praying them not to desert them or allow them to suffer a different fate when their cause had been the same; they kept appealing now to Mucianus, now to the absent emperor, finally to heaven and the gods, until Mucianus stopped their needless panic by calling them all "soldiers bound by the same oath" and "soldiers of the same emperor." He was the readier to do this as the victorious troops by their cheers seconded the tears of the others. Thus this day ended. But a few days later, when Domitian addressed them, they received him with recovered confidence: they treated with scorn the offers of lands but asked for service in the army and pay. They resorted to appeals, it is true, but to appeals that admitted no denial; accordingly they were received into the praetorian camp. Then those whose age and length of service warranted it were honourably discharged;​21 others were dismissed for some fault or other, but gradually and one at a time — the safe remedy for breaking up a united mob.

47 1 However, whether the treasury was really poor or the senate wished it to appear so, the senators voted to accept a loan of sixty million sesterces from private individuals and put Pompeius Silvanus in charge of the matter. Not long after, either the necessity passed or the pretence of such  p91 necessary was dropped. Then on the motion of Domitian the consul­ships which Vitellius had conferred were cancelled; and the honours of a censor's funeral were given Flavius Sabinus — signal proof of the fickleness of fortune, ever confounding honours with humiliations.

48 1 At about the same time the proconsul Lucius Piso was put to death.​22 I shall give the most faithful account I can of his murder, after having reviewed a few earlier matters which are not unrelated to the source and causes of such crimes. The legion and the auxiliary troops employed in Africa to protect the borders of the empire were commanded by a proconsul during the reigns of the deified Augustus and of Tiberius. Afterwards Gaius Caesar, who was confused in mind and afraid of Marcus Silanus, then governor of Africa, took the legion away from the proconsul and gave it to a legate sent out for that purpose. Patronage was now equally divided between the two officials; and a source of discord was sought in the conflict of authority between the two, while this discord was increased by their unseemly strife. The power of the legates increased, owing to their long terms of office or else because in lesser posts men are more eager to play the rival, while the most distinguished of the proconsuls cared more for security than power.

49 1 At that time the legion in Africa was commanded by Valerius Festus, a young man of extravagant habits, whose ambitions were by no means moderate, and who was made uneasy by his relation­ship to Vitellius. Whether he, in their many interviews, tempted Piso to revolt or whether he resisted  p93 Piso's proposals, we do not know, for no one was present at their private conversations, and after Piso's assassination the majority tried to win favour with the murderer. There is no question that the province and the troops were unfavourably disposed toward Vespasian; moreover, some of the Vitellians who fled from Rome pointed out to Piso that the Gallic provinces were hesitating and that Germany was ready to revolt, that he was himself in danger, and that war is the safer course for a man who is suspected in time of peace. Meantime Claudius Sagitta, prefect of Petra's horse,​23 by a fortunate voyage, arrived before the centurion Papirius who had been dispatched by Mucianus; Sagitta declared that the centurion had been ordered to kill Piso, and that Galerianus, his cousin and son-in‑law, had been put to death. He urged that the only hope of safety was in some bold step, but that there were two ways open for such action: Piso might prefer war at once or he might sail to Gaul and offer himself as a leader to the Vitellian troops. Although Piso was not at all inclined to such courses, the moment that the centurion whom Mucianus sent arrived in the harbour of Carthage, he raised his voice and kept repeating prayers and vows for Piso as if he were emperor, and he urged those who met him and were amazed at this strange proceeding to utter the same acclamations. The credulous crowd, rushing into the forum, demanded Piso's presence, and raised an uproar with their joyful shouts, caring nothing for the truth and only eager to flatter. Piso, moved by Sagitta's information or prompted by his native modesty, did not appear in public or trust himself to the enthusiastic mob: and when, on questioning the centurion,  p95 he learned that this officer had sought an opportunity to bring a charge against him and to kill him, he ordered him to be put to death, moved not so much by hope of saving his own life as by anger against the assassin, for this centurion had been one of the murderers of Clodius Macer​24 and then had come with his hands dripping with the blood of the legate to kill a proconsul. Next he reproved the Carthaginians in a proclamation that betrayed his anxiety, and abandoned even his usual duties, remaining shut up in his residence that no excuse for a new outbreak might arise even by chance.

50 1 When report of the popular excitement reached Festus, as well as the news of the centurion's execution and of other matters, both true and false, with the usual exaggerations, he sent horsemen to kill Piso. They rode so rapidly that they broke into the proconsul's residence in the half-light of the early dawn with drawn swords. The majority of them were unacquainted with Piso, for Festus had selected Carthaginian auxiliaries and Moors to accomplish the murder. Not far from Piso's bedroom a slave happened to meet them. The soldiers asked him who and where Piso was. The slave answered with an heroic falsehood that he was Piso, and was at once cut down. Yet soon after Piso was murdered; for there was present a man who recognized him, Baebius Massa, one of the imperial agents in Africa — a man, even at that time, ruinous to the best citizens, and his name will reappear only too often among the causes of the evils that we later endured.​25 From Adrumetum,​26 where he had waited to watch the course of events, Festus hurried to the legion and  p97 ordered the arrest of the prefect of the camp, Caetronius Pisanus, to satisfy personal hatred, but he called him Piso's tool; and he also punished some soldiers and centurions, others he rewarded; neither course of action was prompted by merit but by his desire to appear to have crushed a war. Later he settled the differences between the people of Oea and Leptis,​27 which, though small at first, beginning among these peasants with the stealing of crops and cattle, had now increased to the point of armed contests and regular battles; for the people of Oea, being fewer than their opponents, had called in the Garamantes,​28 an ungovernable tribe and one always engaged in practising brigandage on their neighbours. This had reduced the fortunes of the Leptitani to a low ebb; their lands had been ravaged far and wide and they lay in terror within their walls, until, by the arrival of the auxiliary foot and horse, the Garamantes were routed and the entire booty was recovered except that which the robbers as they wandered through inaccessible native villages had sold to remote tribes.

51 1 But Vespasian,​29 after learning of the battle of Cremona and receiving favourable news from every quarter, now heard of the fall of Vitellius from many of every class who with equal courage and good fortune braved the wintry sea. Envoys also came from King Vologaesus with an offer of forty thousand Parthian horse.​30 It was glorious and delightful to be courted with such offers of assistance from the allies and not to need them: he thanked Vologaesus and instructed him to send his envoys to the senate and to be assured that the empire was at peace. While Vespasian was absorbed with thoughts of  p99 Italy and conditions in Rome, he heard an unfavourable report concerning Domitian, to the effect that he was transgressing the bounds set by his youth and what might be permissible in a son: accordingly he turned over to Titus the main force of his army to complete the war with the Jews.

52 1 It is said that Titus, before leaving, in a long interview with his father begged him not to be easily excited by the reports of those who calumniated Domitian, and urged him to show himself impartial and forgiving toward his son. "Neither armies nor fleets," he argued, "are so strong a defence of the imperial power as a number of children; for friends are chilled, changed, and lost by time, fortune, and sometimes by inordinate desires or by mistakes: the ties of blood cannot be severed by any man, least of all by princes, whose success others also enjoy, but whose misfortunes touch only their nearest kin. Not even brothers will always agree unless the father sets the example." Not so much reconciled toward Domitian as delighted with Titus's show of brotherly affection, Vespasian bade him be of good cheer and to magnify the state by war and arms; he would himself care for peace and his house. Then he had some of the swiftest ships laden with grain and entrusted to the sea, although it was still dangerous: for, in fact, Rome was in such a critical condition that she did not have more than ten days' supplies in her granaries when the supplies from Vespasian came to her relief.31

53 1 The charge of restoring the Capitol was given by Vespasian to Lucius Vestinus, a member of the equestrian order, but one whose influence and reputation put him on an equality with the nobility.  p101 The haruspices when assembled by him directed that the ruins of the old shrine should be carried away to the marshes and that a new temple should be erected on exactly the same site as the old: the gods were unwilling to have the old plan changed. On the twenty-first of June, under a cloudless sky, the area that was dedicated to the temple was surrounded with fillets and garlands; soldiers, who had auspicious names, entered the enclosure carrying boughs of good omen; then the Vestals, accompanied by boys and girls whose fathers and mothers were living, sprinkled the area with water drawn from fountains and streams. Next Helvidius Priscus, the praetor, guided by the pontifex Plautius Aelianus, purified the area with the sacrifice of the suovetaurilia,​32 and placed the vitals of the victims on an altar of turf; and then, after he had prayed to Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and to the gods who protect the empire to prosper this undertaking and by their divine assistance to raise again their home which man's piety had begun, he touched the fillets with which the foundation stone was wound and the ropes entwined; at the same time the rest of the magistrates, the priests, senators, knights, and a great part of the people, putting forth their strength together in one enthusiastic and joyful effort, dragged the huge stone to its place. A shower of gold and silver and of virgin ores, never smelted in any furnace, but in their natural state, was thrown everywhere into the foundations: the haruspices had warned against the profanation of the work by the use of stone or gold intended for any other purpose. The temple was given greater height than the old: this was the only change that religious scruples allowed,  p103 and the only feature that was thought wanting in the magnificence of the old structure.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 This marks the beginning of 70 A.D.

2 That is, so rapacious had men become that they cared less for power than for spoils.

3 Since both consuls were absent.

4 Cf. II.81.

5 Cf. II.85; III.52.

6 Cf. III.1228.

7 Brother of Piso, whom Galba had adopted.

8 Cf. II.86.

9 Where their headquarters were.

10 Public festivals and sacrifices had been established in honour of even the worst emperors; and in 65 A.D. the name of the month of April had been changed to Neroneus, May to Claudius, and June to Germanicus. Vid. Tac. Ann. XV.74; XVI.2. Cf. Suet. Cal. 15; Dom. 13; and Hist. Aug. Vit. Com. 11.8.

11 Described above in chap. x.

12 Rufus and Proculus Scribonius, devoted brothers, had been governors of Upper and Lower Germany respectively. During his tour of Greece in 67 A.D., Nero, wishing to seize their wealth, sent for them and basely forced them to commit suicide. See Dio Cass. LXIII.17.

13 Cf. II.10.

14 Cf. III.9.

15 That is, he was not yet twenty-five.

16 Cf. I.48.

17 The modern Siena.

18 Cf. II.67.

19 The praetorians received two denarii a day, twice the pay of the legionaries.

20 Probably those who surrendered at Narnia and Bovillae. Cf. III.63; IV.2.

21 A soldier might be discharged at the age of fifty, or after sixteen years service in the praetorian guard or twenty with the legionaries.

22 Cf. chap. xxxviii above.

23 Named from a certain Petra who had organised the troop. Cf. I.70.

24 Cf. I.7.

25 Massa became a notorious informer under Domitian, but the books of Tacitus's Histories dealing with that period are unfortunately lost.

26 To‑day Susa; south of ancient Carthage.

27 Tripoli and Lebda.

28 Living in the modern Fezzan.

Thayer's Note: The Garamantes are often dismissed as uncivilized nomads, but modern research has considerably expanded our knowledge of them: see the interesting (and illustrated) page Garamantes at Livius.

29 Still at Alexandria. Cf. II.82; III.48; IV.38.

30 Cf. II.82.

31 Cf. III.48.

32 The sacrifice of a boar, a ram, and a bull.

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