The Lives of the
|1. Julius Caesar|
I. The race of the Caesars became extinct in Nero; an event prognosticated by various signs, two of which were particularly significant. Formerly, when Livia, after her marriage with Augustus, was making a visit to her villa at Veii, an eagle flying by, let drop upon her lap a hen, with a sprig of laurel in her mouth, just as she had seized it. Livia gave orders to have the hen taken care of, and the sprig of laurel [the tree or shrub which had this distinction among the ancients, the Laurus nobilis of botany, the Daphne of the Greeks, is the bay-tree, indigenous in Italy, Greece, and the East] set; and the hen reared such a numerous brood of chickens, that the villa, to this day, is called the Villa of the Hens.
The laurel groves flourished so much, that the Caesars procured thence the boughs and crowns they bore at their triumphs. It was also their constant custom to plant others on the same spot, immediately after a triumph; and it was observed that, a little before the death of each prince, the tree which had been set by him died away. But in the last year of Nero, the whole plantation of laurels perished to the very roots, and the hens all died. About the same time, the temple of the Caesars [generally supposed to be that temple dedicated by Julius Caesar to Venus genitrix, from whom the Julian family pretended to derive their descent] being struck with lightning, the heads of all the statues in it fell off at once; and Augustus's sceptre was dashed from his hands.
II. Nero was succeeded by Galba [A.U.C. 821], who was not in the remotest degree allied to the family of the Caesars, but, without doubt, of very noble extraction, being descended from a great and ancient family; for he always used to put amongst his other titles, upon the bases of his statues, his being great-grandson to Q. Catulus Capitolinus. And when he came to be emperor, he set up the images of his ancestors in the hall [the Atrium, or Aula, was the court or hall of a house, the entrance to which was by the principal door] of the palace; according to the inscriptions on which, he carried up his pedigree on the father's side to Jupiter; and by the mother's to Pasiphae, the wife of Minos.
III. To give even a short account of the whole family, would be tedious. I shall, therefore, only slightly notice that branch of it from which he was descended. Why, or whence, the first of the Sulpicii who had the cognomen of Galba, was so called, is uncertain. Some are of opinion, that it was because he set fire to a city in Spain, after he had a long time attacked it to no purpose, with torches dipped in the gum called Galbanum: others said he was so named, because, in a lingering disease, he made use of it as a remedy, wrapped up in wool: others, on account of his being prodigiously corpulent, such a one being called, in the language of the Gauls, Galba; or, on the contrary, because he was of a slender habit of body, like those insects which breed in a sort of oak, and are called Galbae.
Sergius Galba, a person of consular rank [consul with L. Aurelius Cotta, A.U.C. 610], and the most eloquent man of his time, gave a lustre to the family. History relates, that, when he was pro-praetor of Spain, he perfidiously put to the sword thirty thousand Lusitanians, and by that means gave occasion to the war of Viriatus [A.U.C. 604]. His grandson being incensed against Julius Caesar, whose lieutenant he had been in Gaul, because he was through him disappointed of the consulship [A.U.C. 710], joined with Cassius and Brutus in the conspiracy against him, for which he was condemned by the Pedian law. From him were descended the grandfather and father of the emperor Galba. The grandfather was more celebrated for his application to study, than for any figure he made in the government. For he rose no higher than the praetorship, but published a large and not uninteresting history.
His father attained to the consulship [A.U.C 775]: he was a short man and hump-backed, but a tolerable orator, and an industrious pleader. He was twice married: the first of his wives was Mummia Achaica, daughter of Catulus, and great-grand-daughter of Lucius Mummius, who sacked Corinth [A.U.C. 608]; and the other, Livia Ocellina, a very rich and beautiful woman, by whom it is supposed he was courted for the nobleness of his descent. They say, that she was farther encouraged to persevere in her advances, by an incident which evinced the great ingenuousness of his disposition. Upon her pressing her suit, he took an opportunity, when they were alone, of stripping off his toga, and showing her the deformity of his person, that he might not be thought to impose upon her. He had by Achaica two sons, Caius and Sergius. The elder of these, Caius [Caius Sulpicius Galba, the emperor's brother, had been consul A.U.C. 774], having very much reduced his estate, retired from town, and being prohibited by Tiberius from standing for a pro-consulship in his year, put an end to his own life.
IV. The emperor Sergius Galba was born in the consulship of M. Valerius Messala, and Cn. Lentulus, upon the ninth of the calends of January [24th December] [A.U.C. 751], in a villa standing upon a hill, near Terracina, on the left-hand side of the road to Fundi [on the road to Naples]. Being adopted by his step-mother [Livia Ocellina], he assumed the name of Livius, with the cognomen of Ocella, and changed his praenomen; for he afterwards used that of Lucius, instead of Sergius, until he arrived at the imperial dignity. It is well known, that when he came once, amongst other boys of his own age, to pay his respects to Augustus, the latter, pinching his cheek, said to him, "And thou, child, too, wilt taste our imperial dignity." Tiberius, likewise, being told that he would come to be emperor, but at an advanced age, exclaimed, "Let him live, then, since that does not concern me!"
When his grandfather was offering sacrifice to avert some ill omen from lightning, the entrails of the victim were snatched out of his hand by an eagle, and carried off into an oak-tree loaded with acorns. Upon this, the soothsayers said, that the family would come to be masters of the empire, but not until many years had elapsed: at which he, smiling, said, "Ay, when a mule comes to bear a foal." When Galba first declared against Nero, nothing gave him so much confidence of success, as a mule's happening at that time to have a foal. And whilst all others were shocked at the occurrence, as a most inauspicious prodigy, he alone regarded it as a most fortunate omen, calling to mind the sacrifice and saying of his grandfather.
When he took upon him the manly habit, he dreamt that the goddess Fortune said to him, "I stand before your door weary; and unless I am speedily admitted, I shall fall into the hands of the first who comes to seize me." On his awaking, when the door of the house was opened, he found a brazen statue of the goddess, above a cubit long, close to the threshold, which he carried with him to Tusculum, where he used to pass the summer season; and having consecrated it in an apartment of his house, he ever after worshipped it with a monthly sacrifice, and an anniversary vigil. Though but a very young man, he kept up an ancient but obsolete custom, and now nowhere observed, except in his own family, which was, to have his freedmen and slaves appear in a body before him twice a day, morning and evening, to offer him their salutations.
V. Amongst other liberal studies, he applied himself to the law. He married Lepida [A.U.C. 751], by whom he had two sons; but the mother and children all dying, he continued a widower; nor could he be prevailed upon to marry again, not even Agrippina herself, at that time left a widow by the death of Domitius, who had employed all her blandishments to allure him to her embraces, while he was a married man; insomuch that Lepida's mother, when in company with several married women, rebuked her for it, and even went so far as to cuff her. Most of all, he courted the empress Livia [widow of the emperor Augustus], by whose favor, while she was living, he made a considerable figure, and narrowly missed being enriched by the will which she left at her death; in which she distinguished him from the rest of the legatees, by a legacy of fifty millions of sesterces. But because the sum was expressed in figures, and not in words at length, it was reduced by her heir, Tiberius, to five hundred thousand: and even this he never received.
VI. Filling the great offices before the age required for it by law, during his praetorship, at the celebration of games in honor of the goddess Flora, he presented the new spectacle of elephants walking upon ropes. He was then governor of the province of Aquitania for near a year, and soon afterwards took the consulship in the usual course, and held it for six months [A.U.C. 786]. It so happened that he succeeded L. Domitius, the father of Nero, and was succeeded by Salvius Otho, father to the emperor of that name; so that his holding it between the sons of these two men, looked like a presage of his future advancement to the empire. Being appointed by Caius Caesar to supersede Gaetulicus in his command, the day after his joining the legions, he put a stop to their plaudits in a public spectacle, by issuing an order, "That they should keep their hands under their cloaks." Immediately upon which, the following verse became very common in the camp:
Disce, miles, militare: Galba est, non Gaetulicus.
Learn, soldier, now in arms to use your hands,
'Tis Galba, not Gaetulicus, commands.
With equal strictness, he would allow of no petitions for leave of absence from the camp. He hardened the soldiers, both old and young, by constant exercise; and having quickly reduced within their own limits the barbarians who had made inroads into Gaul, upon Caius's coming into Germany [Caius Caesar Caligula. He gave the command of the legions in Germany to Galba], he so far recommended himself and his army to that emperor's approbation, that, amongst the innumerable troops drawn from all the provinces of the empire, none met with higher commendation, or greater rewards from him. He likewise distinguished himself by heading an escort, with a shield in his hand [scuto moderatus], and running at the side of the emperor's chariot twenty miles together.
VII. Upon the news of Caius's death, though many earnestly pressed him to lay hold of that opportunity of seizing the empire, he chose rather to be quiet. On this account, he was in great favor with Claudius, and being received into the number of his friends, stood so high in his good opinion, that the expedition to Britain [it would appear that Galba was to have accompanied Claudius in his expedition to Britain] was for some time suspended, because he was suddenly seized with a slight indisposition. He governed Africa, as pro-consul, for two years; being chosen out of the regular course to restore order in the province, which was in great disorder from civil dissensions, and the alarms of the barbarians.
His administration was distinguished by great strictness and equity, even in matters of small importance. A soldier upon some expedition being charged with selling, in a great scarcity of corn, a bushel of wheat, which was all he had left, for a hundred denarii, he forbad him to be relieved by any body, when he came to be in want himself; and accordingly he died of famine. When sitting in judgment, a cause being brought before him about some beast of burden, the ownership of which was claimed by two persons; the evidence being slight on both sides, and it being difficult to come at the truth, he ordered the beast to be led to a pond at which he had used to be watered, with his head muffled up, and the covering being there removed, that he should be the property of the person whom he followed of his own accord, after drinking.
VIII. For his achievements, both at this time in Africa, and formerly in Germany, he received the triumphal ornaments, and three sacerdotal appointments, one among The Fifteen, another in the college of Titius, and a third amongst the Augustals; and from that time to the middle of Nero's reign, he lived for the most part in retirement. He never went abroad so much as to take the air, without a carriage attending him, in which there was a million of sesterces in gold, ready at hand; until at last, at the time he was living in the town of Fundi, the province of Hispania Tarraconensis was offered him. After his arrival in the province, whilst he was sacrificing in a temple, a boy who attended with a censer, became all on a sudden grey-headed. This incident was regarded by some as a token of an approaching revolution in the government, and that an old man would succeed a young one: that is, that he would succeed Nero. And not long after, a thunderbolt falling into a lake in Cantabria [the Cantabria of the ancients is now the province of Biscay], twelve axes were found in it; a manifest sign of the supreme power.
IX. He governed the province during eight years, his administration being of an uncertain and capricious character. At first he was active, vigorous, and indeed excessively severe, in the punishment of offenders. For, a money-dealer having committed some fraud in the way of his business, he cut off his hands, and nailed them to his counter. Another, who had poisoned an orphan, to whom he was guardian, and next heir to the estate, he crucified. On this delinquent imploring the protection of the law, and crying out that he was a Roman citizen, he affected to afford him some alleviation, and to mitigate his punishment, by a mark of honor, ordered a cross, higher than usual, and painted white, to be erected for him. But by degrees he gave himself up to a life of indolence and inactivity, from the fear of giving Nero any occasion of jealousy, and because, as he used to say, "Nobody was obliged to render an account of their leisure hours."
He was holding a court of justice on the circuit at New Carthage [now Carthagena], when he received intelligence of the insurrection in Gaul [A.U.C. 821]; and while the lieutenant of Aquitania was soliciting his assistance, letters were brought from Vindex, requesting him "to assert the rights of mankind, and put himself at their head to relieve them from the tyranny of Nero." Without any long demur, he accepted the invitation, from a mixture of fear and hope. For he had discovered that private orders had been sent by Nero to his procurators in the province to get him dispatched; and he was encouraged to the enterprise, as well by several auspices and omens, as by the prophecy of a young woman of good, family. The more so, because the priest of Jupiter at Clunia [now Corunna], admonished by a dream, had discovered in the recesses of the temple some verses similar to those in which she had delivered her prophecy. These had also been uttered by a girl under divine inspiration, about two hundred years before. The import of the verses was, "That in time, Spain should give the world a lord and master."
X. Taking his seat on the tribunal, therefore, as if there was no other business than the manumitting of slaves, he had the effigies of a number of persons who had been condemned and put to death by Nero, set up before him, whilst a noble youth stood by, who had been banished, and whom he had purposely sent for from one of the neighboring Balearic isles; and lamenting the condition of the times, and being thereupon unanimously saluted by the title of Emperor, he publicly declared himself "only the lieutenant of the senate and people of Rome." Then shutting the courts, he levied legions and auxiliary troops among the provincials, besides his veteran army consisting of one legion, two wings of horse, and three cohorts. Out of the military leaders most distinguished for age and prudence, he formed a kind of senate, with whom to advise upon all matters of importance, as often as occasion should require. He likewise chose several young men of the equestrian order, who were to be allowed the privilege of wearing the gold ring, and, being called "The Reserve," should mount guard before his bed-chamber, instead of the legionary soldiers.
He likewise issued proclamations throughout the provinces of the empire, exhorting all to rise in arms unanimously, and aid the common cause, by all the ways and means in their power. About the same time, in fortifying a town, which he had pitched upon for a military post, a ring was found, of antique workmanship, in the stone of which was engraved the goddess Victory with a trophy. Presently after, a ship of Alexandria arrived at Dertosa [Tortosa, on the Ebro], loaded with arms, without any person to steer it, or so much as a single sailor or passenger on board. From this incident, nobody entertained the least doubt but the war upon which they were entering was just and honorable, and favored likewise by the gods; when all on a sudden the whole design was exposed to failure. One of the two wings of horse, repenting of the violation of their oath to Nero, attempted to desert him upon his approach to the camp, and were with some difficulty kept in their duty. And some slaves who had been presented to him by a freedman of Nero's, on purpose to murder him, had like to have killed him as he went through a narrow passage to the bath. Being overheard to encourage one another not to lose the opportunity, they were called to an account concerning it; and recourse being had to the torture, a confession was extorted from them.
XI. These dangers were followed by the death of Vindex, at which being extremely discouraged, as if fortune had quite forsaken him, he had thoughts of putting an end to his own life; but receiving advice by his messengers from Rome that Nero was slain, and that all had taken an oath to him as emperor, he laid aside the title of lieutenant, and took upon him that of Caesar. Putting himself upon his march in his general's cloak, and a dagger hanging from his neck before his breast, he did not resume the use of the toga, until Nymphidius Sabinus, prefect of the pretorian guards at Rome, with the two lieutenants, Fonteius Capito in Germany, and Claudius Macer in Africa, who opposed his advancement, were all put down.
XII. Rumors of his cruelty and avarice had reached the city before his arrival; such as that he had punished some cities of Spain and Gaul, for not joining him readily, by the imposition of heavy taxes, and some by levelling their walls; and had put to death the governors and procurators with their wives and children: likewise that a golden crown, of fifteen pounds weight, taken out of the temple of Jupiter, with which he was presented by the people of Tarracona, he had melted down, and had exacted from them three ounces which were wanting in the weight. This report of him was confirmed and increased, as soon as he entered the town. For some seamen who had been taken from the fleet, and enlisted among the troops by Nero, he obliged to return to their former condition; but they refusing to comply, and obstinately clinging to the more honorable service under their eagles and standards, he not only dispersed them by a body of horse, but likewise decimated them.
He also disbanded a cohort of Germans, which had been formed by the preceding emperors, for their body-guard, and upon many occasions found very faithful; and sent them back into their own country, without giving them any gratuity, pretending that they were more inclined to favor the advancement of Cneius Dolabella, near whose gardens they encamped, than his own. The following ridiculous stories were also related of him; but whether with or without foundation, I know not; such as, that when a more sumptuous entertainment than usual was served up, he fetched a deep groan: that when one of the stewards presented him with an account of his expenses, he reached him a dish of legumes from his table as a reward for his care and diligence; and when Canus, the piper, had played much to his satisfaction, he presented him, with his own hand, five denarii taken out of his pocket.
XIII. His arrival, therefore, in town was not very agreeable to the people; and this appeared at the next public spectacle. For when the actors in a farce began a well-known song,
Venit, io, Simus a villa:
["Simus," literally, fiat-nosed, was a cant word, used for a clown]
Lo! Clodpate from his village comes;
all the spectators, with one voice, went on with the rest, repeating and acting the first verse several times over.
XIV. He possessed himself of the imperial power with more favor and authority than he administered it, although he gave many proofs of his being an excellent prince: but these were not so grateful to the people, as his misconduct was offensive. He was governed by three favorites, who, because they lived in the palace, and were constantly about him, obtained the name of his pedagogues. These were Titus Vinius, who had been his lieutenant in Spain, a man of insatiable avarice; Cornelius Laco, who, from an assessor to the prince, was advanced to be prefect of the pretorian guards, a person of intolerable arrogance, as well as indolence; and his freedman Icelus, dignified a little before with the privilege of wearing the gold ring, and the use of the cognomen Martianus, who became a candidate for the highest honor within the reach of any person of the equestrian order [the command of the pretorian guards].
He resigned himself so implicitly into the power of those three favorites, who governed in every thing according to the capricious impulse of their vices and tempers, and his authority was so much abused by them, that the tenor of his conduct was not very consistent with itself. At one time, he was more rigorous and frugal, at another, more lavish and negligent, than became a prince who had been chosen by the people, and was so far advanced in years. He condemned some men of the first rank in the senatorian and equestrian orders, upon a very slight suspicion, and without trial. He rarely granted the freedom of the city to any one; and the privilege belonging to such as had three children, only to one or two; and that with great difficulty, and only for a limited time. When the judges petitioned to have a sixth decury added to their number, he not only denied them, but abolished the vacation which had been granted them by Claudius for the winter, and the beginning of the year.
XV. It was thought that he likewise intended to reduce the offices held by senators and men of the equestrian order, to a term of two years' continuance; and to bestow them only on those who were unwilling to accept them, and had refused them. All the grants of Nero he recalled, saving only the tenth part of them. For this purpose he gave a commission to fifty Roman knights; with orders, that if players or wrestlers had sold what had been formerly given them, it should be exacted from the purchasers, since the others, having, no doubt, spent the money, were not in a condition to pay. But on the other hand, he suffered his attendants and freedmen to sell or give away the revenue of the state, or immunities from taxes, and to punish the innocent, or pardon criminals, at pleasure. Nay, when the Roman people were very clamorous for the punishment of Halotus and Tigellinus, two of the most mischievous amongst all the emissaries of Nero, he protected them, and even bestowed on Halotus one of the best procurations in his disposal. And as to Tigellinus, he even reprimanded the people for their cruelty by a proclamation.
XVI. By this conduct, he incurred the hatred of all orders of the people, but especially of the soldiery. For their commanders having promised them in his name a donative larger than usual, upon their taking the oath to him before his arrival at Rome; he refused to make it good, frequently bragging, "that it was his custom to choose his soldiers, not buy them." Thus the troops became exasperated against him in all quarters. The pretorian guards he alarmed with apprehensions of danger and unworthy treatment; disbanding many of them occasionally as disaffected to his government, and favorers of Nymphidius.
But most of all, the army in Upper Germany was incensed against him, as being defrauded of the rewards due to them for the service they had rendered in the insurrection of the Gauls under Vindex. They were, therefore, the first who ventured to break into open mutiny, refusing upon the calends [the 1st] of January, to take any oath of allegiance, except to the senate; and they immediately dispatched deputies to the pretorian troops, to let them know, "they did not like the emperor who had been set up in Spain," and to desire that "they would make choice of another, who might meet with the approbation of all the armies."
XVII. Upon receiving intelligence of this, imagining that he was slighted not so much on account of his age, as for having no children, he immediately singled out of a company of young persons of rank, who came to pay their compliments to him, Piso Frugi Licinianus, a youth of noble descent and great talents, for whom he had before contracted such a regard, that he had appointed him in his will the heir both of his estate and name. Him he now styled his son, and taking him to the camp, adopted him in the presence of the assembled troops, but without making any mention of a donative. This circumstance afforded the better opportunity to Marcus Salvius Otho of accomplishing his object, six days after the adoption.
XVIII. Many remarkable prodigies had happened from the very beginning of his reign, which forewarned him of his approaching fate. In every town through which he passed in his way from Spain to Rome, victims were slain on the right and left of the roads; and one of these, which was a bull, being maddened with the stroke of the axe, broke the rope with which it was tied, and running straight against his chariot, with his fore-feet elevated, bespattered him with blood. Likewise, as he was alighting, one of the guard, being pushed forward by the crowd, had very nearly wounded him with his lance. And upon his entering the city and, afterwards, the palace, he was welcomed with an earthquake, and a noise like the bellowing of cattle.
These signs of ill-fortune were followed by some that were still more apparently such. Out of all his treasures he had selected a necklace of pearls and jewels, to adorn his statue of Fortune at Tusculum. But it suddenly occurring to him that it deserved a more august place, he consecrated it to the Capitoline Venus; and next night, he dreamt that Fortune appeared to him, complaining that she had been defrauded of the present intended her, and threatening to resume what she had given him. Terrified at this denunciation, at break of day he sent forward some persons to Tusculum, to make preparations for a sacrifice which might avert the displeasure of the goddess; and when he himself arrived at the place, he found nothing but some hot embers upon the altar, and an old man in black standing by, holding a little incense in a glass, and some wine in an earthern pot. It was remarked, too, that whilst he was sacrificing upon the calends of January, the chaplet fell from his head, and upon his consulting the pullets for omens, they flew away. Farther, upon the day of his adopting Piso, when he was to harangue the soldiers, the seat which he used upon those occasions, through the neglect of his attendants, was not placed, according to custom, upon his tribunal; and in the senate-house, his curule chair was set with the back forward.
XIX. The day before he was slain, as he was sacrificing in the morning, the augur warned him from time to time to be upon his guard, for that he was in danger from assassins, and that they were near at hand. Soon after, he was informed, that Otho was in possession of the pretorian camp. And though most of his friends advised him to repair thither immediately, in hopes that he might quell the tumult by his authority and presence, he resolved to do nothing more than keep close within the palace, and secure himself by guards of the legionary soldiers, who were quartered in different parts about the city. He put on a linen coat of mail, however, remarking at the same time, that it would avail him little against the points of so many swords.
But being tempted out by false reports, which the conspirators had purposely spread to induce him to venture abroad—some few of those about him too hastily assuring him that the tumult had ceased, the mutineers were apprehended, and the rest coming to congratulate him, resolved to continue firm in their obedience—he went forward to meet them with so much confidence, that upon a soldier's boasting that he had killed Otho, he asked him, "By what authority?" and proceeded as far as the Forum. There the knights, appointed to dispatch him, making their way through the crowd of citizens, upon seeing him at a distance, halted a while; after which, galloping up to him, now abandoned by all his attendants, they put him to death.
XX. Some authors relate, that upon their first approach he cried out, "What do you mean, fellow-soldiers? I am yours, and you are mine," and promised them a donative: but the generality of writers relate, that he offered his throat to them, saying, "Do your work, and strike, since you are resolved upon it." It is remarkable, that not one of those who were at hand, ever made any attempt to assist the emperor; and all who were sent for, disregarded the summons, except a troop of Germans. They, in consideration of his late kindness in showing them particular attention during a sickness which prevailed in the camp, flew to his aid, but came too late; for, being not well acquainted with the town, they had taken a circuitous route.
He was slain near the Curtian Lake [in the Forum], and there left, until a common soldier returning from the receipt of his allowance of corn, throwing down the load which he carried, cut off his head. There being upon it no hair, by which he might hold it, he hid it in the bosom of his dress; but afterwards thrusting his thumb into the mouth, he carried it in that manner to Otho, who gave it to the drudges and slaves who attended the soldiers; and they, fixing it upon the point of a spear, carried it in derision round the camp, crying out as they went along, "You take your fill of joy in your old age." They were irritated to this pitch of rude banter, by a report spread a few days before, that, upon some one's commending his person as still florid and vigorous, he replied,
Eti moi menos empedoi estin. [II. v. 254]
My strength, as yet, has suffered no decay.
A freedman of Petrobius's, who himself had belonged to Nero's family, purchased the head from them at the price of a hundred gold pieces, and threw it into the place where, by Galba's order, his patron had been put to death. At last, after some time, his steward Argius buried it, with the rest of his body, in his own gardens near the Aurelian Way.
XXI. In person he was of a good size, bald before, with blue eyes, and an aquiline nose; and his hands and feet were so distorted with the gout, that he could neither wear a shoe, nor turn over the leaves of a book, or so much as hold it. He had likewise an excrescence in his right side, which hung down to that degree, that it was with difficulty kept up by a bandage.
XXII. He is reported to have been a great eater, and usually took his breakfast in the winter-time before day. At supper, he fed very heartily, giving the fragments which were left, by handfuls, to be distributed amongst the attendants. In his lust, he was more inclined to the male sex, and such of them too as were old. It is said of him, that in Spain, when Icelus, an old catamite of his, brought him the news of Nero's death, he not only kissed him lovingly before company, but begged of him to remove all impediments, and then took him aside into a private apartment.
XXIII. He perished in the seventy-third year of his age, and the seventh month of his reign [A.U.C. 822]. The senate, as soon as they could with safety, ordered a statue to be erected for him upon the naval column, in that part of the Forum where he was slain. But Vespasian cancelled the decree, upon a suspicion that he had sent assassins from Spain into Judaea to murder him.
I. The ancestors of Otho were originally of the town of Ferentum, of an ancient and honorable family, and, indeed, one of the most considerable in Etruria. His grandfather, M. Salvius Otho (whose father was a Roman knight, but his mother of mean extraction, for it is not certain whether she was free-born), by the favor of Livia Augusta, in whose house he had his education, was made a senator, but never rose higher than the praetorship. His father, Lucius Otho, was by the mother's side nobly descended, allied to several great families, and so dearly beloved by Tiberius, and so much resembled him in his features, that most people believed Tiberius was his father. He behaved with great strictness and severity, not only in the city offices, but in the pro-consulship of Africa, and some extraordinary commands in the army.
He had the courage to punish with death some soldiers in Illyricum, who, in the disturbance attempted by Camillus, upon changing their minds, had put their generals to the sword, as promoters of that insurrection against Claudius. He ordered the execution to take place in the front of the camp [on the esplanade, where the standards, objects of religious reverence, were planted], and under his own eyes; though he knew they had been advanced to higher ranks in the army by Claudius, on that very account. By this action he acquired fame, but lessened his favor at court; which, however, he soon recovered, by discovering to Claudius a design upon his life, carried on by a Roman knight, and which he had learnt from some of his slaves.
For the senate ordered a statue of him to be erected in the palace; an honor which had been conferred but upon very few before him. And Claudius advanced him to the dignity of a patrician, commending him, at the same time, in the highest terms, and concluding with these words: "A man, than whom I don't so much as wish to have children that should be better." He had two sons by a very noble woman, Albia Terentia, namely; Lucius Titianus, and a younger called Marcus, who had the same cognomen as himself. He had also a daughter, whom he contracted to Drusus, Germanicus's son, before she was of marriageable age.
II. The emperor Otho was born upon the fourth of the calends of May [28th April], in the consulship of Camillus Aruntius and Domitius Aenobarbus [A.U.C. 784 or 785]. He was from his earliest youth so riotous and wild, that he was often severely scourged by his father. He was said to run about in the night-time, and seize upon any one he met, who was either drunk or too feeble to make resistance, and toss him in a blanket [distento sago impositum in sublime jactare]. After his father's death, to make his court the more effectually to a freedwoman about the palace, who was in great favor, he pretended to be in love with her, though she was old, and almost decrepit. Having by her means got into Nero's good graces, he soon became one of the principal favorites, by the congeniality of his disposition to that of the emperor or, as some say, by the reciprocal practice of mutual pollution. He had so great a sway at court, that when a man of consular rank was condemned for bribery, having tampered with him for a large sum of money, to procure his pardon; before he had quite effected it, he scrupled not to introduce him into the senate, to return his thanks.
III. Having, by means of this woman, insinuated himself into all the emperor's secrets, he, upon the day designed for the murder of his mother, entertained them both at a very splendid feast, to prevent suspicion. Poppaea Sabina, for whom Nero entertained such a violent passion that he had taken her from her husband and entrusted her to him, he received, and went through the form of marrying her. And not satisfied with obtaining her favors, he loved her so extravagantly, that he could not with patience bear Nero for his rival. It is certainly believed that he not only refused admittance to those who were sent by Nero to fetch her, but that, on one occasion, he shut him out, and kept him standing before the door, mixing prayers and menaces in vain, and demanding back again what was entrusted to his keeping. His pretended marriage, therefore, being dissolved, he was sent lieutenant into Lusitania. This treatment of him was thought sufficiently severe, because harsher proceedings might have brought the whole farce to light, which, notwithstanding, at last came out, and was published to the world in the following distich:—
Cur Otho mentitus sit, quaeritis, exul honore?
Uxoris moechus caeperat esse suae.
You ask why Otho's banished? Know, the cause
Comes not within the verge of vulgar laws.
Against all rules of fashionable life,
The rogue had dared to sleep with his own wife.
He governed the province in quality of quaestor for ten years, with singular moderation and justice.
IV. As soon as an opportunity of revenge offered, he readily joined in Galba's enterprises, and at the same time conceived hopes of obtaining the imperial dignity for himself. To this he was much encouraged by the state of the times, but still more by the assurances given him by Seleucus, the astrologer, who, having formerly told him that he would certainly out-live Nero, came to him at that juncture unexpectedly, promising him again that he should succeed to the empire, and that in a very short time. He, therefore, let slip no opportunity of making his court to every one about him by all manner of civilities. As often as he entertained Galba at supper, he distributed to every man of the cohort which attended the emperor on guard, a gold piece; endeavoring likewise to oblige the rest of the soldiers in one way or another. Being chosen an arbitrator by one who had a dispute with his neighbor about a piece of land, he bought it, and gave it him; so that now almost every body thought and said, that he was the only man worthy of succeeding to the empire.
V. He entertained hopes of being adopted by Galba, and expected it every day. But finding himself disappointed, by Piso's being preferred before him, he turned his thoughts to obtaining his purpose by the use of violence; and to this he was instigated, as well by the greatness of his debts, as by resentment at Galba's conduct towards him. For he did not conceal his conviction, "that he could not stand his ground unless he became emperor, and that it signified nothing whether he fell by the hands of his enemies in the field, or of his creditors in the Forum." He had a few days before squeezed out of one of the emperor's slaves a million of sesterces for procuring him a stewardship; and this was the whole fund he had for carrying on so great an enterprise. At first the design was entrusted to only five of the guard, but afterwards to ten others, each of the five naming two. They had every one ten thousand sesterces paid down, and were promised fifty thousand more. By these, others were drawn in, but not many; from a confident assurance, that when the matter came to the crisis, they should have enough to join them.
VI. His first intention was, immediately after the departure of Piso, to seize the camp, and fall upon Galba, whilst he was at supper in the palace; but he was restrained by a regard for the cohort at that time on duty, lest he should bring too great an odium upon it; because it happened that the same cohort was on guard before, both when Caius was slain, and Nero deserted. For some time afterwards, he was restrained also by scruples about the omens, and by the advice of Seleucus. Upon the day fixed at last for the enterprise, having given his accomplices notice to wait for him in the Forum near the temple of Saturn, at the gilded mile-stone [the Milliare Aureum was a pillar of stone set up at the top of the Forum], he went in the morning to pay his respects to Galba; and being received with a kiss as usual, he attended him at sacrifice, and heard the predictions of the augur [Haruspex, Auspex, or Augur, denoted any person who foretold futurity, or interpreted omens]. A freedman of his, then bringing him word that the architects were come, which was the signal agreed upon, he withdrew, as if it were with a design to view a house upon sale, and went out by a back-door of the palace to the place appointed.
Some say he pretended to be seized with an ague fit, and ordered those about him to make that excuse for him, if he was inquired after. Being then quickly concealed in a woman's litter, he made the best of his way for the camp. But the bearers growing tired, he got out, and began to run. His shoe becoming loose, he stopped again, but being immediately raised by his attendants upon their shoulders, and unanimously saluted by the title of EMPEROR, he came amidst auspicious acclamations and drawn swords into the Principia [the Principia was a broad open space, which separated the lower part of the Roman camp from the upper, and extended the whole breadth of the camp. In this place was erected the tribunal of the general, when he either administered justice or harangued the army] in the camp; all who met him joining in the cavalcade, as if they had been privy to the design. Upon this, sending some soldiers to dispatch Galba and Piso, he said nothing else in his address to the soldiery, to secure their affections, than these few words: "I shall be content with whatever ye think fit to leave me."
VII. Towards the close of the day, he entered the senate, and after he had made a short speech to them, pretending that he had been seized in the streets, and compelled by violence to assume the imperial authority, which he designed to exercise in conjunction with them, he retired to the palace. Besides other compliments which he received from those who flocked about him to congratulate and flatter him, he was called Nero by the mob, and manifested no intention of declining that cognomen.
Nay, some authors relate, that he used it in his official acts, and the first letters he sent to the governors of provinces. He suffered all his images and statues to be replaced, and restored his procurators and freedmen to their former posts. And the first writing which he signed as emperor, was a promise of fifty millions of sesterces to finish the Golden-house. He is said to have been greatly frightened that night in his sleep, and to have groaned heavily; and being found, by those who came running in to see what the matter was, lying upon the floor before his bed, he endeavored by every kind of atonement to appease the ghost of Galba, by which he had found himself violently tumbled out of bed. The next day, as he was taking the omens, a great storm arising, and sustaining a grievous fall, he muttered to himself from time to time:
Ti gar moi kai makrois aulois; [The two last words, literally translated, mean "long trumpets;" such as were used at sacrifices. The sense is, therefore, "What have I to do, my hands stained with blood, with performing religious ceremonies!"]
What business have I the loud trumpets to sound!
VIII. About the same time, the armies in Germany took an oath to Vitellius as emperor. Upon receiving this intelligence, he advised the senate to send thither deputies, to inform them, that a prince had been already chosen; and to persuade them to peace and a good understanding. By letters and messages, however, he offered Vitellius to make him his colleague in the empire, and his son-in-law. But a war being now unavoidable, and the generals and troops sent forward by Vitellius, advancing, he had a proof of the attachment and fidelity of the pretorian guards, which had nearly proved fatal to the senatorian order. It had been judged proper that some arms should be given out of the stores, and conveyed to the fleet by the marine troops. While they were employed in fetching these from the camp in the night, some of the guards suspecting treachery, excited a tumult; and suddenly the whole body, without any of their officers at their head, ran to the palace, demanding that the entire senate should be put to the sword; and having repulsed some of the tribunes who endeavored to stop them, and slain others, they broke, all bloody as they were, into the banquetting room, inquiring for the emperor; nor would they quit the place until they had seen him.
He now entered upon his expedition against Vitellius with great alacrity, but too much precipitation, and without any regard to the ominous circumstances which attended it. For the Ancilia [a round shield, said to have fallen from heaven in the reign of Numa, and supposed to be the shield of Mars] had been taken out of the temple of Mars, for the usual procession, but were not yet replaced; during which interval it had of old been looked upon as very unfortunate to engage in any enterprise. He likewise set forward upon the day when the worshippers of the Mother of the gods [the goddess Cybele, the wife of Saturn, called also Rhea, Ops, Vesta, Magna, Mater, etc. She was painted as a matron, crowned with towers, sitting in a chariot drawn by lions] begin their lamentations and wailing. Besides these, other unlucky omens attended him. For, in a victim offered to Father Dis [otherwise called Orcus, Pluto, Jupiter Infernus, and Stygnis. He was the brother of Jupiter, and king of the infernal regions. His wife was Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres], he found the signs such as upon all other occasions are regarded as favorable; whereas, in that sacrifice, the contrary intimations are judged the most propitious. At his first setting forward, he was stopped by inundations of the Tiber; and at twenty miles' distance from the city, found the road blocked up by the fall of houses.
IX. Though it was the general opinion that it would be proper to protract the war, as the enemy were distressed by famine and the straitness of their quarters, yet he resolved with equal rashness to force them to an engagement as soon as possible; whether from impatience of prolonged anxiety, and in the hope of bringing matters to an issue before the arrival of Vitellius, or because he could not resist the ardor of the troops, who were all clamorous for battle. He was not, however, present at any of those which ensued, but stayed behind at Brixellum [a town between Mantua and Cremona]. He had the advantage in three slight engagements, near the Alps, about Placentia, and a place called Castor's [the temple of Castor. It stood about twelve miles from Cremona]; but was, by a fraudulent stratagem of the enemy, defeated in the last and greatest battle, at Bedriacum [between Cremona and Verona].
For, some hopes of a conference being given, and the soldiers being drawn up to hear the conditions of peace declared, very unexpectedly, and amidst their mutual salutations, they were obliged to stand to their arms. Immediately upon this he determined to put an end to his life, more, as many think, and not without reason, out of shame, at persisting in a struggle for the empire to the hazard of the public interest and so many lives, than from despair, or distrust of his troops. For he had still in reserve, and in full force, those whom he had kept about him for a second trial of his fortune, and others were coming up from Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia; nor were the troops lately defeated so far discouraged as not to be ready, even of themselves, to run all risks in order to wipe off their recent disgrace.
X. My father, Suetonius Lenis [Lenis was a name of similar signification with that of Tranquillus, borne by his son, the author of the present work], was in this battle, being at that time an angusticlavian tribune in the thirteenth legion. He used frequently to say, that Otho, before his advancement to the empire, had such an abhorrence of civil war, that once, upon hearing an account given at table of the death of Cassius and Brutus, he fell into a trembling, and that he never would have interfered with Galba, but that he was confident of succeeding in his enterprise without a war.
Moreover, that he was then encouraged to despise life by the example of a common soldier, who bringing news of the defeat of the army, and finding that he met with no credit, but was railed at for a liar and a coward, as if he had run away from the field of battle, fell upon his sword at the emperor's feet; upon the sight of which, my father said that Otho cried out, "that he would expose to no farther danger such brave men, who had deserved so well at his hands." Advising therefore his brother, his brother's son, and the rest of his friends, to provide for their security in the best manner they could, after he had embraced and kissed them, he sent them away; and then withdrawing into a private room by himself, he wrote a letter of consolation to his sister, containing two sheets. He likewise sent another to Messalina, Nero's widow, whom he had intended to marry, committing to her the care of his relics and memory. He then burnt all the letters which he had by him, to prevent the danger and mischief that might otherwise befall the writers from the conqueror. What ready money he had, he distributed among his domestics.
XI. And now being prepared, and just upon the point of dispatching himself, he was induced to suspend the execution of his purpose by a great tumult which had broken out in the camp. Finding that some of the soldiers who were making off had been seized and detained as deserters, "Let us add," said he, "this night to our life." These were his very words.
He then gave orders that no violence should be offered to any one; and keeping his chamber-door open until late at night, he allowed all who pleased the liberty to come and see him. At last, after quenching his thirst with a draught of cold water, he took up two poniards, and having examined the points of both, put one of them under his pillow, and shutting his chamber-door, slept very soundly, until, awaking about break of day, he stabbed himself under the left pap. Some persons bursting into the room upon his first groan, he at one time covered, and at another exposed his wound to the view of the bystanders, and thus life soon ebbed away. His funeral was hastily performed, according to his own order, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, and ninety-fifth day of his reign [A.U.C. 823].
XII. The person and appearance of Otho no way corresponded to the great spirit he displayed on this occasion; for he is said to have been of low stature, splay-footed, and bandy-legged. He was, however, effeminately nice in the care of his person: the hair on his body he plucked out by the roots; and because he was somewhat bald, he wore a kind of peruke, so exactly fitted to his head, that nobody could have known it for such. He used to shave every day, and rub his face with soaked bread; the use of which he began when the down first appeared upon his chin, to prevent his having any beard. It is said likewise that he celebrated publicly the sacred rites of Isis [Jupiter, to prevent the discovery of his amour with Io, the daughter of the river Inachus, transformed her into a heifer, in which metamorphosis she was placed by Juno under the watchful inspection of Argus; but flying into Egypt, and her keeper being killed by Mercury, she recovered her human shape, and was married to Osiris. Her husband afterwards became a god of the Egyptians, and she a goddess, under the name of Isis], clad in a linen garment, such as is used by the worshippers of that goddess. These circumstances, I imagine, caused the world to wonder the more that his death was so little in character with his life. Many of the soldiers who were present, kissing and bedewing with their tears his hands and feet as he lay dead, and celebrating him as "a most gallant man, and an incomparable emperor," immediately put an end to their own lives upon the spot, not far from his funeral pile.
Many of those likewise who were at a distance, upon hearing the news of his death, in the anguish of their hearts, began fighting amongst themselves, until they dispatched one another. To conclude: the generality of mankind, though they hated him whilst living, yet highly extolled him after his death; insomuch that it was the common talk and opinion, "that Galba had been driven to destruction by his rival, not so much for the sake of reigning himself, as of restoring Rome to its ancient liberty."
I. Very different accounts are given of the origin of the Vitellian family. Some describe it as ancient and noble, others as recent and obscure, nay, extremely mean. I am inclined to think, that these several representations have been made by the flatterers and detractors of Vitellius, after he became emperor, unless the fortunes of the family varied before. There is extant a memoir addressed by Quintus Eulogius to Quintus Vitellius, quaestor to the Divine Augustus, in which it is said, that the Vitellii were descended from Faunus, king of the aborigines, and Vitellia [Faunus was supposed to be the third king who reigned over the original inhabitants of the central parts of Italy, Saturn being the first], who was worshipped in many places as a goddess, and that they reigned formerly over the whole of Latium: that all who were left of the family removed out of the country of the Sabines to Rome, and were enrolled among the patricians: that some monuments of the family continued a long time; as the Vitellian Way, reaching from the Janiculum to the sea, and likewise a colony of that name, which, at a very remote period of time, they desired leave from the government to defend against the Aequicolae [probably a tribe inhabiting the heights in the neighborhood of Rome. Virgil describes them, Aen. vii. 746], with a force raised by their own family only: also that, in the time of the war with the Samnites, some of the Vitellii who went with the troops levied for the security of Apulia, settled at Nuceria, and their descendants, a long time afterwards, returned again to Rome, and were admitted into the patrician order.
On the other hand, the generality of writers say that the founder of the family was a freedman. Cassius Severus and some others relate that he was likewise a cobbler, whose son having made a considerable fortune by agencies and dealings in confiscated property, begot, by a common strumpet, daughter of one Antiochus, a baker, a child, who afterwards became a Roman knight. Of these different accounts the reader is left to take his choice.
II. It is certain, however, that Publius Vitellius, of Nuceria, whether of an ancient family, or of low extraction, was a Roman knight, and a procurator to Augustus. He left behind him four sons, all men of very high station, who had the same cognomen, but the different praenomina of Aulus, Quintus, Publius, and Lucius. Aulus died in the enjoyment of the consulship [A.U.C. 785], which office he bore jointly with Domitius, the father of Nero Caesar. He was elegant to excess in his manner of living, and notorious for the vast expense of his entertainments. Quintus was deprived of his rank of senator, when, upon a motion made by Tiberius, a resolution passed to purge the senate of those who were in any respect not duly qualified for that honor. Publius, an intimate friend and companion of Germanicus, prosecuted his enemy and murderer, Cneius Piso, and procured sentence against him.
After he had been made proctor, being arrested among the accomplices of Sejanus, and delivered into the hands of his brother to be confined in his house, he opened a vein with a penknife, intending to bleed himself to death. He suffered, however, the wound to be bound up and cured, not so much from repenting the resolution he had formed, as to comply with the importunity of his relations. He died afterwards a natural death during his confinement. Lucius, after his consulship [A.U.C. 787], was made governor of Syria [he is frequently commended by Josephus for his kindness to the Jews. See, particularly, Antiq. VI. xviii], and by his politic management not only brought Artabanus, king of the Parthians, to give him an interview, but to worship the standards of the Roman legions. He afterwards filled two ordinary consulships [A.U.C. 796, 800], and also the censorship [A.U.C. 801] jointly with the emperor Claudius. Whilst that prince was absent upon his expedition into Britain [A.U.C. 797], the care of the empire was committed to him, being a man of great integrity and industry. But he lessened his character not a little, by his passionate fondness for an abandoned freedwoman, with whose spittle, mixed with honey, he used to anoint his throat and jaws, by way of remedy for some complaint, not privately nor seldom, but daily and publicly.
Being extravagantly prone to flattery, it was he who gave rise to the worship of Caius Caesar as a god, when, upon his return from Syria, he would not presume to accost him any otherwise than with his head covered, turning himself round, and then prostrating himself upon the earth. And to leave no artifice untried to secure the favor of Claudius, who was entirely governed by his wives and freedmen, he requested as the greatest favor from Messalina, that she would be pleased to let him take off her shoes; which, when he had done, he took her right shoe, and wore it constantly betwixt his toga and his tunic, and from time to time covered it with kisses. He likewise worshipped golden images of Narcissus and Pallas among his household gods. It was he, too, who, when Claudius exhibited the secular games, in his compliments to him upon that occasion, used this expression, "May you often do the same."
III. He died of palsy, the day after his seizure with it, leaving behind him two sons, whom he had by a most excellent and respectable wife, Sextilia. He had lived to see them both consuls, the same year and during the whole year also; the younger succeeding the elder for the last six months [A.U.C. 801]. The senate honored him after his decease with a funeral at the public expense, and with a statue in the Rostra, which had this inscription upon the base: "One who was steadfast in his loyalty to his prince."
The emperor Aulus Vitellius, the son of this Lucius, was born upon the eighth of the calends of October [24th September], or, as some say, upon the seventh of the ides of September [7th September], in the consulship of Drusus Caesar and Norbanus Flaccus [A.U.C. 767; being the year after the death of the emperor Augustus; from whence it appears that Vitellius was seventeen years older than Otho, both being at an advanced age when they were raised to the imperial dignity]. His parents were so terrified with the predictions of astrologers upon the calculation of his nativity, that his father used his utmost endeavors to prevent his being sent governor into any of the provinces, whilst he was alive. His mother, upon his being sent to the legions [he was sent to Germany by Galba], and also upon his being proclaimed emperor, immediately lamented him as utterly ruined. He spent his youth amongst the catamites of Tiberius at Capri, was himself constantly stigmatized with the name of Spintria, and as supposed to have been the occasion of his father's advancement, by consenting to gratify the emperor's unnatural lust.
IV. In the subsequent part of his life, being still most scandalously vicious, he rose to great favor at court; being upon a very intimate footing with Caius [Caligula], because of his fondness for chariot-driving, and with Claudius for his love of gaming. But he was in a still higher degree acceptable to Nero, as well on the same accounts, as for a particular service which he rendered him. When Nero presided in the games instituted by himself, though he was extremely desirous to perform amongst the harpers, yet his modesty would not permit him, notwithstanding the people entreated much for it. Upon his quitting the theatre, Vitellius fetched him back again, pretending to represent the determined wishes of the people, and so afforded him the opportunity of yielding to their in treaties.
V. By the favor of these three princes, he was not only advanced to the great offices of state, but to the highest dignities of the sacred order; after which he held the proconsulship of Africa, and had the superintendence of the public works, in which appointment his conduct, and, consequently, his reputation, were very different. For he governed the province with singular integrity during two years, in the latter of which he acted as deputy to his brother, who succeeded him. But in his office in the city, he was said to pillage the temples of their gifts and ornaments, and to have exchanged brass and tin for gold and silver. [Julius Caesar, also, was said to have exchanged brass for gold in the Capitol. The tin which we here find in use at Rome, was probably brought from the Cassiterides, now the Scilly islands, whence it had been an article of commerce by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians from a very early period.]
VI. He took to wife Petronia, the daughter of a man of consular rank, and had by her a son named Petronius, who was blind of an eye. The mother being willing to appoint this youth her heir, upon condition that he should be released from his father's authority, the latter discharged him accordingly; but shortly after, as was believed, murdered him, charging him with a design upon his life, and pretending that he had, from consciousness of his guilt, drank the poison he had prepared for his father. Soon afterwards, he married Galeria Fundana, the daughter of a man of pretorian rank, and had by her both sons and daughters. Among the former was one who had such a stammering in his speech, that he was little better than if he had been dumb.
VII. He was sent by Galba into Lower Germany [A.U.C. 821], contrary to his expectation. It is supposed that he was assisted in procuring this appointment by the interest of Titus Junius, a man of great influence at that time; whose friendship he had long before gained by favoring the same set of charioteers with him in the Circensian games. But Galba openly declared that none were less to be feared than those who only cared for their bellies, and that even his enormous appetite must be satisfied with the plenty of that province; so that it is evident he was selected for that government more out of contempt than kindness. It is certain, that when he was to set out, he had not money for the expenses of his journey; he being at that time so much straitened in his circumstances, that he was obliged to put his wife and children, whom he left at Rome, into a poor lodging which he hired for them, in order that he might let his own house for the remainder of the year; and he pawned a pearl taken from his mother's ear-ring, to defray his expenses on the road.
A crowd of creditors who were waiting to stop him, and amongst them the people of Sineussa and Formia, whose taxes he had converted to his own use, he eluded, by alarming them with the apprehension of false accusation. He had, however, sued a certain freedman, who was clamorous in demanding a debt of him, under pretence that he had kicked him; which action he would not withdraw, until he had wrung from the freedman fifty thousand sesterces. Upon his arrival in the province, the army, which was disaffected to Galba, and ripe for insurrection, received him with open arms, as if he had been sent them from heaven. It was no small recommendation to their favor, that he was the son of a man who had been thrice consul, was in the prime of life, and of an easy, prodigal disposition. This opinion, which had been long entertained of him, Vitellius confirmed by some late practices; having kissed all the common soldiers whom he met with upon the road, and been excessively complaisant in the inns and stables to the muleteers and travellers; asking them in a morning, if they had got their breakfasts, and letting them see, by belching, that he had eaten his.
VIII. After he had reached the camp, he denied no man any thing he asked for, and pardoned all who lay under sentence for disgraceful conduct or disorderly habits. Before a month, therefore, had passed, without regard to the day or season, he was hurried by the soldiers out of his bed-chamber, although it was evening, and he in an undress, and unanimously saluted by the title of EMPEROR [A.U.C. 822]. He was then carried round the most considerable towns in the neighborhood, with the sword of the Divine Julius in his hand; which had been taken by some person out of the temple of Mars, and presented to him when he was first saluted. Nor did he return to the pretorium, until his dining-room was in flames from the chimney's taking fire. Upon this accident, all being in consternation, and considering it as an unlucky omen, he cried out, "Courage, boys! it shines brightly upon us." And this was all he said to the soldiers. The army of the Upper Province likewise, which had before declared against Galba for the senate, joining in the proceedings, he very eagerly accepted the cognomen of Germanicus, offered him by the unanimous consent of both armies, but deferred assuming that of Augustus, and refused for ever that of Caesar.
IX. Intelligence of Galba's death arriving soon after, when he had settled his affairs in Germany he divided his troops into two bodies, intending to send one of them before him against Otho, and to follow with the other himself. The army he sent forward had a lucky omen; for, suddenly, an eagle came flying up to them on the right, and having hovered round the standards, flew gently before them on their road. But, on the other hand, when he began his own march, all the equestrian statues, which were erected for him in several places, fell suddenly down with their legs broken; and the laurel crown, which he had put on as emblematical of auspicious fortune, fell off his head into a river. Soon afterwards, at Vienne [a very ancient city of the province of Narbonne], as he was upon the tribunal administering justice, a cock perched upon his shoulder, and afterwards upon his head. The issue corresponded to these omens; for he was not able to keep the empire which had been secured for him by his lieutenants.
X. He heard of the victory at Bedriacum, and the death of Otho, whilst he was yet in Gaul, and without the least hesitation, by a single proclamation, disbanded all the pretorian cohorts, as having, by their repeated treasons, set a dangerous example to the rest of the army; commanding them to deliver up their arms to his tribunes. A hundred and twenty of them, under whose hands he had found petitions presented to Otho, for rewards of their service in the murder of Galba, he besides ordered to be sought out and punished. So far his conduct deserved approbation, and was such as to afford hope of his becoming an excellent prince, had he not managed his other affairs in a way more corresponding with his own disposition, and his former manner of life, than to the imperial dignity. For, having begun his march, he rode through every city in his route in a triumphal procession; and sailed down the rivers in ships, fitted out with the greatest elegance, and decorated with various kinds of crowns, amidst the most extravagant entertainments.
Such was the want of discipline, and the licentiousness both in his family and army, that, not satisfied with the provision every where made for them at the public expense, they committed every kind of robbery and insult upon the inhabitants, setting slaves at liberty as they pleased; and if any dared to make resistance, they dealt blows and abuse, frequently wounds, and sometimes slaughter amongst them. When he reached the plains on which the battles were fought, some of those around him being offended at the smell of the carcasses which lay rotting upon the ground, he had the audacity to encourage them by a most detestable remark, "That a dead enemy smelt not amiss, especially if he were a fellow-citizen." To qualify, however, the offensiveness of the stench, he quaffed in public a goblet of wine, and with equal vanity and insolence distributed a large quantity of it among his troops. On his observing a stone with an inscription upon it to the memory of Otho, he said, "It was a mausoleum good enough for such a prince." He also sent the poniard, with which Otho killed himself, to the colony of Agrippina [Agrippina, the wife of Nero and mother of Germanicus, founded a colony on the Rhine at the place of her birth. Tacit. Annal. b. xii. It became a flourishing city, and its origin may be traced in its modern name, Cologne], to be dedicated to Mars. Upon the Appenine hills he celebrated a Bacchanalian feast.
XI. At last he entered the City with trumpets sounding, in his general's cloak, and girded with his sword, amidst a display of standards and banners; his attendants being all in the military habit, and the arms of the soldiers unsheathed. Acting more and more in open violation of all laws, both divine and human, he assumed the office of Pontifex Maximus, upon the day of the defeat at the Allia [a dies non fastus, an unlucky day in the Roman calendar, being the anniversary of their great defeat by the Gauls on the river Allia, which joins the Tiber about five miles from Rome. This disaster happened on the 16th of the calends of August (17th July)]; ordered the magistrates to be elected for ten years of office; and made himself consul for life. To put it out of all doubt what model he intended to follow in his government of the empire, he made his offerings to the shade of Nero in the midst of the Campus Martius, and with a full assembly of the public priests attending him. And at a solemn entertainment, he desired a harper who pleased the company much, to sing something in praise of Domitius; and upon his beginning some songs of Nero's, he started up in presence of the whole assembly, and could not refrain from applauding him, by clapping his hands.
XII. After such a commencement of his career, he conducted his affairs, during the greater part of his reign, entirely by the advice and direction of the vilest amongst the players and charioteers, and especially his freedman Asiaticus. This fellow had, when young, been engaged with him in a course of mutual and unnatural pollution, but, being at last quite tired of the occupation, ran away. His master, some time after, caught him at Puteoli, selling a liquor called Posca [sour wine or vinegar mixed with water, which was used by the Roman soldiery as their common drink], and put him in chains, but soon released him, and retained him in his former capacity. Growing weary, however, of his rough and stubborn temper, he sold him to a strolling fencing-master; after which, when the fellow was to have been brought up to play his part at the conclusion of an entertainment of gladiators, he suddenly carried him off, and at length, upon his being advanced to the government of a province, gave him his freedom. The first day of his reign, he presented him with the gold rings at supper, though in the morning, when all about him requested that favor in his behalf, he expressed the utmost abhorrence of putting so great a stain upon the equestrian order.
XIII. He was chiefly addicted to the vices of luxury and cruelty. He always made three meals a day, sometimes four: breakfast, dinner, and supper, and a drunken revel after all. This load of victuals he could well enough bear, from a custom to which he had inured himself, of frequently vomiting. For these several meals he would make different appointments at the houses of his friends on the same day. None ever entertained him at less expense than four hundred thousand sesterces. The most famous was a set entertainment given him by his brother, at which, it is said, there were served up no less than two thousand choice fishes, and seven thousand birds.
Yet even this supper he himself outdid, at a feast which he gave upon the first use of a dish which had been made for him, and which, for its extraordinary size, he called "The Shield of Minerva." In this dish there were tossed up together the livers of char-fish, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, with the tongues of flamingos, and the entrails of lampreys, which had been brought in ships of war as far as from the Carpathian Sea, and the Spanish Straits. He was not only a man of an insatiable appetite, but would gratify it likewise at unseasonable times, and with any garbage that came in his way; so that, at a sacrifice, he would snatch from the fire flesh and cakes, and eat them upon the spot. When he travelled, he did the same at the inns upon the road, whether the meat was fresh dressed and hot, or what had been left the day before, and was half-eaten.
XIV. He delighted in the infliction of punishments, and even those which were capital, without any distinction of persons or occasions. Several noblemen, his school-fellows and companions, invited by him to court, he treated with such flattering caresses, as seemed to indicate an affection short only of admitting them to share the honors of the imperial dignity; yet he put them all to death by some base means or other. To one he gave poison with his own hand, in a cup of cold water which he called for in a fever. He scarcely spared one of all the usurers, notaries, and publicans, who had ever demanded a debt of him at Rome, or any toll or custom upon the road. One of these, while in the very act of saluting him, he ordered for execution, but immediately sent for him back; upon which all about him applauding his clemency, he commanded him to be slain in his own presence, saying, "I have a mind to feed my eyes." Two sons who interceded for their father, he ordered to be executed with him.
A Roman knight, upon his being dragged away for execution, and crying out to him, "You are my heir," he desired to produce his will: and finding that he had made his freedman joint heir with him, he commanded that both he and the freedman should have their throats cut. He put to death some of the common people for cursing aloud the blue party in the Circensian games; supposing it to be done in contempt of himself, and the expectation of a revolution in the government.
There were no persons he was more severe against than jugglers and astrologers; end as soon as any one of them was informed against, he put him to death without the formality of a trial. He was enraged against them, because, after his proclamation by which he commanded all astrologers to quit home, and Italy also, before the calends [the first] of October, a bill was immediately posted about the city, with the following words:—"TAKE NOTICE: [in imitation of the form of the public edicts, which began with the words, BONUM FACTUM] The Chaldaeans also decree that Vitellius Germanicus shall be no more, by the day of the said calends." He was even suspected of being accessary to his mother's death, by forbidding sustenance to be given her when she was unwell; a German witch [Catta muliere: The Catti were a German tribe who inhabited the present countries of Hesse or Baden. Tacitus, De Mor. Germ., informs us that the Germans placed great confidence in the prophetical inspirations which they attributed to their women], whom he held to be oracular, having told him, "That he would long reign in security if he survived his mother." But others say, that being quite weary of the state of affairs, and apprehensive of the future, she obtained without difficulty a dose of poison from her son.
XV. In the eighth month of his reign, the troops both in Moesia and Pannonia revolted from him; as did likewise, of the armies beyond sea, those in Judaea and Syria, some of which swore allegiance to Vespasian as emperor in his own presence, and others in his absence. In order, therefore, to secure the favor and affection of the people, Vitellius lavished on all around whatever he had it in his power to bestow, both publicly and privately, in the most extravagant manner. He also levied soldiers in the city, and promised all who enlisted as volunteers, not only their discharge after the victory was gained, but all the rewards due to veterans who had served their full time in the wars. The enemy now pressing forward both by sea and land, on one hand he opposed against them his brother with a fleet, the new levies, and a body of gladiators, and in another quarter the troops and generals who were engaged at Bedriacum.
But being beaten or betrayed in every direction, he agreed with Flavius Sabinus, Vespasian's brother, to abdicate, on condition of having his life spared, and a hundred millions of sesterces granted him; and he immediately, upon the palace-steps, publicly declared to a large body of soldiers there assembled, "that he resigned the government, which he had accepted reluctantly;" but they all remonstrating against it, he deferred the conclusion of the treaty. Next day, early in the morning, he came down to the Forum in a very mean habit, and with many tears repeated the declaration from a writing which he held in his hand; but the soldiers and people again interposing, and encouraging him not to give way, but to rely on their zealous support, he recovered his courage, and forced Sabinus, with the rest of the Flavian party, who now thought themselves secure, to retreat into the Capitol, where he destroyed them all by setting fire to the temple of Jupiter, whilst he beheld the contest and the fire from Tiberius's house [The banquetting-room here mentioned would easily command a view of the Capitol, across the narrow intervening valley. Flavius Sabinus, Vespasian's brother, was prefect of the city], where he was feasting.
Not long after, repenting of what he had done, and throwing the blame of it upon others, he called a meeting, and swore "that nothing was dearer to him than the public peace;" which oath he also obliged the rest to take. Then drawing a dagger from his side, he presented it first to the consul, and, upon his refusing it, to the magistrates, and then to every one of the senators; but none of them being willing to accept it, he went away, as if he meant to lay it up in the temple of Concord; but some crying out to him, "You are Concord," he came back again, and said that he would not only keep his weapon, but for the future use the cognomen of Concord.
XVI. He advised the senate to send deputies, accompanied by the Vestal Virgins, to desire peace, or, at least, time for consultation. The day after, while he was waiting for an answer, he received intelligence by a scout, that the enemy was advancing. Immediately, therefore, throwing himself into a small litter, borne by hand, with only two attendants, a baker and a cook, he privately withdrew to his father's house, on the Aventine hill, intending to escape thence into Campania. But a groundless report being circulated, that the enemy was willing to come to terms, he suffered himself to be carried back to the palace. Finding, however, nobody there, and those who were with him stealing away, he girded round his waist a belt full of gold pieces, and then ran into the porter's lodge, tying the dog before the door, and piling up against it the bed and bedding.
XVII. By this time the forerunners of the enemy's army had broken into the palace, and meeting with nobody, searched, as was natural, every corner. Being dragged by them out of his cell, and asked "who he was?" (for they did not recognize him), "and if he knew where Vitellius was?" he deceived them by a falsehood. But at last being discovered, he begged hard to be detained in custody, even were it in a prison; pretending to have something to say which concerned Vespasian's security.
Nevertheless, he was dragged half-naked into the Forum, with his hands tied behind him, a rope about his neck, and his clothes torn, amidst the most contemptuous abuse, both by word and deed, along the Via Sacra; his head being held back by the hair, in the manner of condemned criminals, and the point of a sword put under his chin, that he might hold up his face to public view; some of the mob, meanwhile, pelting him with dung and mud, whilst others called him "an incendiary and glutton." They also upbraided him with the defects of his person, for he was monstrously tall, and had a face usually very red with hard-drinking, a large belly, and one thigh weak, occasioned by a chariot running against him, as he was attending upon Caius [Caligula], while he was driving. At length, upon the Scalae Gemoniae, he was tormented and put to death in lingering tortures, and then dragged by a hook into the Tiber.
XVIII. He perished with his brother and son [Lucius
and Germanicus, the brother and son of Vitellius,
were slain near Terracina; the former was marching to his brother's relief], in the fifty-seventh year of his age [A.U.C. 822], and verified the prediction of those who, from the omen which happened to him at Vienne, as before related, foretold that he would be made prisoner by some man of Gaul. For he was seized by Antoninus Primus, a general of the adverse party, who was born at Toulouse, and, when a boy, had the cognomen of Becco [this distinguished provincial, under his Latin name of Antoninus Primus, commanded the seventh legion in Gaul], which signifies a cock's beak.
I. The empire, which had been long thrown into a disturbed and unsetted state, by the rebellion and violent death of its three last rulers, was at length restored to peace and security by the Flavian family, whose descent was indeed obscure, and which boasted no ancestral honors; but the public had no cause to regret its elevation; though it is acknowledged that Domitian met with the just reward of his avarice and cruelty. Titus Flavius Petro, a townsman of Reate [the original seat of the Flavian family, a city of the Sabines], whether a centurion or an evocatus of Pompey's party in the civil war, is uncertain, fled out of the battle of Pharsalia and went home; where, having at last obtained his pardon and discharge, he became a collector of the money raised by public sales in the way of auction. His son, surnamed Sabinus, was never engaged in the military service, though some say he was a centurion of the first order, and others, that whilst he held that rank, he was discharged on account of his bad state of health: this Sabinus, I say, was a publican, and received the tax of the fortieth penny in Asia. And there were remaining, at the time of the advancement of the family, several statues, which had been erected to him by the cities of that province, with this inscription: "To the honest Tax-farmer." [The inscription was in Greek, kalos telothaesanti.]
He afterwards turned usurer amongst the Helvetii, and
there died, leaving behind him his wife, Vespasia Pella, and two sons by
her; the elder of whom, Sabinus, came to be prefect of the city, and the
younger, Vespasian, to be emperor. Polla, descended of a good family, at
Nursia [in the ancient Umbria, afterwards the duchy
of Spoleto], had for her father Vespasius Pollio, thrice appointed
military tribune, and at last prefect of the camp; and her brother was a
senator of praetorian dignity. There is to this day, about six miles
from Nursia, on the road to Spoletum, a place on the summit of a hill,
called Vespasiae, where are several monuments of the Vespasii, a
sufficient proof of the splendor and antiquity of the family. I will
not deny that some have pretended to say, that Petro's father was a
native of Gallia Transpadana [Gaul beyond, north of
the Po, now Lombardy], whose employment was to hire
workpeople who used to emigrate every year from the country of the
Umbria into that of the Sabines, to assist them in their husbandry
[we find the annual migration of labourers in husbandry a
very common practice in ancient as well as in modern times]; but who settled at last in the town of Reate, and there married. But of this I have not been able to discover the least proof, upon the strictest inquiry.
II. Vespasian was born in the country of the Sabines, beyond Reate, in a little country-seat called Phalacrine, upon the fifth of the calends of December [27th November], in the evening, in the consulship of Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus and Caius Poppaeus Sabinus, five years before the death of Augustus [A.U.C. 762, A.D. 10]; and was educated under the care of Tertulla, his grandmother by the father's side, upon an estate belonging to the family, at Cosa [a place in the Volscian territory; of which Anagni was probably the chief town]. After his advancement to the empire, he used frequently to visit the place where he had spent his infancy; and the villa was continued in the same condition, that he might see every thing about him just as he had been used to do. And he had so great a regard for the memory of his grandmother, that, upon solemn occasions and festival days, he constantly drank out of a silver cup which she had been accustomed to use.
After assuming the manly habit, he had a long time a distaste for the senatorian toga, though his brother had obtained it; nor could he be persuaded by any one but his mother to sue for that badge of honor. She at length drove him to it, more by taunts and reproaches, than by her entreaties and authority, calling him now and then, by way of reproach, his brother's footman. He served as military tribune in Thrace. When made quaestor, the province of Crete and Cyrene fell to him by lot. He was candidate for the aedileship, and soon after for the praetorship, but met with a repulse in the former case; though at last, with much difficulty, he came in sixth on the poll-books. But the office of praetor he carried upon his first canvass, standing amongst the highest at the poll. Being incensed against the senate, and desirous to gain, by all possible means, the good graces of Caius [Caligula], he obtained leave to exhibit extraordinary [these games were extraordinary, as being out of the usual course of those given by praetors] games for the emperor's victory in Germany, and advised them to increase the punishment of the conspirators against his life, by exposing their corpses unburied. He likewise gave him thanks in that august assembly for the honor of being admitted to his table.
III. Meanwhile, he married Flavia Domitilla, who had formerly been the
mistress of Statilius Capella, a Roman knight of Sabrata in Africa, who
[Domitilla] enjoyed Latin rights; and was soon after declared fully and
freely a citizen of Rome, on a trial before the court of Recovery,
brought by her father Flavius Liberalis, a native of Ferentum, but no
more than secretary to a quaestor. By her he had the following children:
Titus, Domitian, and Domitilla. He outlived his wife and daughter, and
lost them both before he became emperor. After the death of his wife, he
renewed his union ["revocavit
Contubernium: a word which, in a military sense, the Romans
applied to the intimate fellowship between comrades in war who messed
together, and lived in close fellowship in the same tent. Thence they
transferred it to a union with one woman who was in a higher position than a concubine, but, for some reason, could not acquire the legal rights of a wife, as in the case of slaves of either sex. A man of rank, also, could not marry a slave or a freedwoman, however much he might be attached to her] with his former concubine Caenis, the freedwoman of Antonia, and also her amanuensis, and treated her, even after he was emperor, almost as if she had been his lawful wife. [Nearly the same phrases are applied by Suetonius to Drusilla, and to Marcella, the concubine of Commodus, by Herodian, I. xvi. 9., where he says that she had all the honors of an empress, except that the incense was not offered to her.]
IV. In the reign of Claudius, by the interest of Narcissus, he was sent to Germany, in command of a legion; whence being removed into Britain, he engaged the enemy in thirty several battles. He reduced under subjection to the Romans two very powerful tribes, and above twenty great towns, with the Isle of Wight, which lies close to the coast of Britain; partly under the command of Aulus Plautius, the consular lieutenant, and partly under Claudius himself [Valerius Flaccus, i. 8, and Silius Italicus, iii. 598, celebrate the triumphs of Vespasian in Britain. In representing him, however, as carrying his arms among the Caledonian tribes, their flattery transferred to the emperor the glory of the victories gained by his lieutenant, Agricola]. For this success he received the triumphal ornaments, and in a short time after two priesthoods, besides the consulship, which he held during the two last months of the year [A.U.C. 804]. The interval between that and his proconsulship he spent in leisure and retirement, for fear of Agrippina, who still held great sway over her son, and hated all the friends of Narcissus, who was then dead.
Afterwards he got by lot the province of Africa, which he governed with great reputation, excepting that once, in an insurrection at Adrumetum, he was pelted with turnips. It is certain that he returned thence nothing richer; for his credit was so low, that he was obliged to mortgage his whole property to his brother, and was reduced to the necessity of dealing in mules, for the support of his rank; for which reason he was commonly called "the Muleteer." He is said likewise to have been convicted of extorting from a young man of fashion two hundred thousand sesterces for procuring him the broad-stripe, contrary to the wishes of his father, and was severely reprimanded for it. While in attendance upon Nero in Achaia, he frequently withdrew from the theatre while Nero was singing, and went to sleep if he remained, which gave so much offence, that he was not only excluded from his society, but debarred the liberty of saluting him in public. Upon this, he retired to a small out-of-the-way town, where he lay skulking in constant fear of his life, until a province, with an army, was offered him.
A firm persuasion had long prevailed through all the East [Tacitus, Hist. V. xiii. 3., mentions this ancient prediction, and its currency through the East, in nearly the same terms as Suetonius. The coming power is in both instances described in the plural number, profecti; "those shall come forth;" and Tacitus applies it to Titus as well as Vespasian. The prophecy is commonly supposed to have reference to a passage in Micah, v. 2, "Out of thee (Bethlehem-Ephrata) shall He come forth, to be ruler in Israel."], that it was fated for the empire of the world, at that time, to devolve on some who should go forth from Judaea. This prediction referred to a Roman emperor, as the event showed; but the Jews, applying it to themselves, broke out into rebellion, and having defeated and slain their governor [Gessius Florus was at that time governor of Judaea, with the title and rank of prepositus, it not being a proconsular province, as the native princes still held some parts of it, under the protection and with the alliance of the Romans. Gessius succeeded Florus Albinus, the successor of Felix], routed the lieutenant of Syria [Cestius Gallus was consular lieutenant in Syria], a man of consular rank, who was advancing to his assistance, and took an eagle, the standard, of one of his legions. As the suppression of this revolt appeared to require a stronger force and an active general, who might be safely trusted in an affair of so much importance, Vespasian was chosen in preference to all others, both for his known activity, and on account of the obscurity of his origin and name, being a person of whom there could be not the least jealousy.
Two legions, therefore, eight squadrons of horse, and ten cohorts, being added to the former troops in Judaea, and, taking with him his eldest son as lieutenant, as soon as he arrived in his province, he turned the eyes of the neighboring provinces upon him, by reforming immediately the discipline of the camp, and engaging the enemy once or twice with such resolution, that, in the attack of a castle, he had his knee hurt by the stroke of a stone, and received several arrows in his shield.
V. After the deaths of Nero and Galba, whilst Otho and Vitellius were contending for the sovereignty, he entertained hopes of obtaining the empire, with the prospect of which he had long before flattered himself, from the following omens. Upon an estate belonging to the Flavian family, in the neighborhood of Rome, there was an old oak, sacred to Mars, which, at the three several deliveries of Vespasia, put out each time a new branch; evident intimations of the future fortune of each child. The first was but a slender one, which quickly withered away; and accordingly, the girl that was born did not live long. The second became vigorous, which portended great good fortune; but the third grew like a tree. His father, Sabinus, encouraged by these omens, which were confirmed by the augurs, told his mother, "that her grandson would be emperor of Rome;" at which she laughed heartily, wondering, she said, "that her son should be in his dotage whilst she continued still in full possession of her faculties."
Afterwards in his aedileship, when Caius Caesar, being enraged at his not taking care to have the streets kept clean, ordered the soldiers to fill the bosom of his gown with dirt, some persons at that time construed it into a sign that the government, being trampled under foot and deserted in some civil commotion, would fall under his protection, and as it were into his lap. Once, while he was at dinner, a strange dog, that wandered about the streets, brought a man's hand [a right hand was the sign of sovereign power, and, borne upon a staff among the standards of the armies], and laid it under the table. And another time, while he was at supper, a plow-ox throwing the yoke off his neck, broke into the room, and after he had frightened away all the attendants, on a sudden, as if he was tired, fell down at his feet, as he lay still upon his couch, and hung down his neck. A cypress-tree likewise, in a field belonging to the family, was torn up by the roots, and laid flat upon the ground, when there was no violent wind; but next day it rose again fresher and stronger than before.
He dreamt in Achaia that the good fortune of himself and his family would begin when Nero had a tooth drawn; and it happened that the day after, a surgeon coming into the hall, showed him a tooth which he had just extracted from Nero. In Judaea, upon his consulting the oracle of the divinity at Carmel [Tacitus says, "Carmel is the name both of a god and a mountain; but there is neither image nor temple of the god; such are the ancient traditions; we find there only an altar and religious awe."--Hist. xi. 78, 4. It also appears, from his account, that Vespasian offered sacrifice on Mount Carmel, where Basilides, mentioned hereafter, c. vii., predicted his success from an inspection of the entrails], the answer was so encouraging as to assure him of success in anything he projected, however great or important it might be. And when Josephus [Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, who was engaged in these wars, having been taken prisoner, was confined in the dungeon at Jotapata, before which Vespasian was wounded.--De Bell. cxi. 14], one of the noble prisoners, was put in chains, he confidently affirmed that he should be released in a very short time by the same Vespasian, but he would be emperor first [the prediction of Josephus was founded on the Jewish prophecies which he, like others, applied to Vespasian].
Some omens were likewise mentioned in the news from Rome, and among others, that Nero, towards the close of his days, was commanded in a dream to carry Jupiter's sacred chariot out of the sanctuary where it stood, to Vespasian's house, and conduct it thence into the circus. Also not long afterwards, as Galba was going to the election, in which he was created consul for the second time, a statue of the Divine Julius [Julius Caesar is always called by our author after his apotheosis, Divus Julius] turned towards the east. And in the field of Bedriacum [the battle at Bedriacum secured the Empire for Vitellius], before the battle began, two eagles engaged in the sight of the army; and one of them being beaten, a third came from the east, and drove away the conqueror.
VI. He made, however, no attempt upon the sovereignty, though his friends were very ready to support him, and even pressed him to the enterprise, until he was encouraged to it by the fortuitous aid of persons unknown to him and at a distance. Two thousand men, drawn out of three legions in the Moesian army, had been sent to the assistance of Otho. While they were upon their march, news came that he had been defeated, and had put an end to his life; notwithstanding which they continued their march as far as Aquileia, pretending that they gave no credit to the report. There, tempted by the opportunity which the disorder of the times afforded them, they ravaged and plundered the country at discretion; until at length, fearing to be called to an account on their return, and punished for it, they resolved upon choosing and creating an emperor.
"For they were no ways inferior," they said, "to the army which made Galba emperor, nor to the pretorian troops which had set up Otho, nor the army in Germany, to whom Vitellius owed his elevation." The names of all the consular lieutenants, therefore, being taken into consideration, and one objecting to one, and another to another, for various reasons; at last some of the third legion, which a little before Nero's death had been removed out of Syria into Moesia, extolled Vespasian in high terms; and all the rest assenting, his name was immediately inscribed on their standards. The design was nevertheless quashed for a time, the troops being brought to submit to Vitellius a little longer.
However, the fact becoming known, Tiberius Alexander, governor of Egypt, first obliged the legions under his command to swear obedience to Vespasian as their emperor, on the calends [the 1st] of July, which was observed ever after as the day of his accession to the empire; and upon the fifth of the ides of the same month [the 28th July], the army in Judaea, where he then was, also swore allegiance to him. What contributed greatly to forward the affair, was a copy of a letter, whether real or counterfeit, which was circulated, and said to have been written by Otho before his decease to Vespasian, recommending to him in the most urgent terms to avenge his death, and entreating him to come to the aid of the commonwealth; as well as a report which was circulated, that Vitellius, after his success against Otho, proposed to change the winter quarters of the legions, and remove those in Germany to a less hazardous station and a warmer climate. Moreover, amongst the governors of provinces, Licinius Mucianus dropping the grudge arising from a jealousy of which he had hitherto made no secret, promised to join him with the Syrian army, and, among the allied kings, Volugesus, king of the Parthians, offered him a reinforcement of forty thousand archers.
VII. Having, therefore, entered on a civil war, and sent forward his generals and forces into Italy, he himself, in the meantime, passed over to Alexandria, to obtain possession of the key of Egypt [Alexandria may well be called the key, claustra, of Egypt, which was the granary of Rome. It was of the first importance that Vespasian should secure it at this juncture]. Here having entered alone, without attendants, the temple of Serapis, to take the auspices respecting the establishment of his power, and having done his utmost to propitiate the deity, upon turning round, [his freedman] Basilides [Tacitus describes Basilides as a man of rank among the Egyptians, and he appears also to have been a priest, as we find him officiating at Mount Carmel, c. v] appeared before him, and seemed to offer him the sacred leaves, chaplets, and cakes, according to the usage of the place, although no one had admitted him, and he had long labored under a muscular debility, which would hardly have allowed him to walk into the temple; besides which, it was certain that at the very time he was far away. Immediately after this, arrived letters with intelligence that Vitellius's troops had been defeated at Cremona, and he himself slain at Rome.
Vespasian, the new emperor, having been raised unexpectedly from a low estate, wanted something which might clothe him with divine majesty and authority. This, likewise, was now added. A poor man who was blind, and another who was lame, came both together before him, when he was seated on the tribunal, imploring him to heal them [Tacitus informs us that Vespasian himself believed Basilides to have been at this time not only in an infirm state of health, but at the distance of several days' journey from Alexandria. But (for his greater satisfaction) he strictly examined the priests whether Basilides had entered the temple on that day: he made inquiries of all he met, whether he had been seen in the city; nay, further, he dispatched messengers on horseback, who ascertained that at the time specified, Basilides was more than eighty miles from Alexandria. Then Vespasian comprehended that the appearance of Basilides, and the answer to his prayers given through him, were by divine interposition. Tacit. Hist. iv. 82. 2], and saying that they were admonished in a dream by the god Serapis to seek his aid, who assured them that he would restore sight to the one by anointing his eyes with his spittle, and give strength to the leg of the other, if he vouchsafed but to touch it with his heel. At first he could scarcely believe that the thing would any how succeed, and therefore hesitated to venture on making the experiment. At length, however, by the advice of his friends, he made the attempt publicly, in the presence of the assembled multitudes, and it was crowned with success in both cases [the account given by Tacitus of the miracles of Vespasian is fuller than that of Suetonius, but does not materially vary in the details, except that, in his version of the story, he describes the impotent man to be lame in the hand, instead of the leg or the knee, and adds an important circumstance in the case of the blind man, that he was "notus tabe occulorum," notorious for the disease in his eyes. He also winds up the narrative with the following statement: "They who were present, relate both these cures, even at this time, when there is nothing to be gained by lying"]. About the same time, at Tegea in Arcadia, by the direction of some soothsayers, several vessels of ancient workmanship were dug out of a consecrated place, on which there was an effigy resembling Vespasian.
VIII. Returning now to Rome, under these auspices, and with a great reputation, after enjoying a triumph for victories over the Jews, he added eight consulships [A.U.C. 823-833, excepting 826 and 831] to his former one. He likewise assumed the censorship, and made it his principal concern, during the whole of his government, first to restore order in the state, which had been almost ruined, and was in a tottering condition, and then to improve it. The soldiers, one part of them emboldened by victory, and the other smarting with the disgrace of their defeat, had abandoned themselves to every species of licentiousness and insolence. Nay, the provinces, too, and free cities, and some kingdoms in alliance with Rome, were all in a disturbed state. He, therefore, disbanded many of Vitellius's soldiers, and punished others; and so far was he from granting any extraordinary favors to the sharers of his success, that it was late before he paid the gratuities due to them by law.
That he might let slip no opportunity of reforming the discipline of the army, upon a young man's coming much perfumed to return him thanks for having appointed him to command a squadron of horse, he turned away his head in disgust, and, giving him this sharp reprimand, "I had rather you had smelt of garlic," revoked his commission. When the men belonging to the fleet, who travelled by turns from Ostia and Puteoli to Rome, petitioned for an addition to their pay, under the name of shoe-money, thinking that it would answer little purpose to send them away without a reply, he ordered them for the future to run barefooted; and so they have done ever since.
He deprived of their liberties, Achaia, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium, and Samos; and reduced them into the form of provinces; Thrace, also, and Cilicia, as well as Comagene, which until that time had been under the government of kings. He stationed some legions in Cappadocia on account of the frequent inroads of the barbarians, and, instead of a Roman knight, appointed as governor of it a man of consular rank. The ruins of houses which had been burnt down long before, being a great eye-sore to the city, he gave leave to any one who would, to take possession of the void ground and build upon it, if the proprietors should hesitate to perform the work themselves. He resolved upon rebuilding the Capitol, and was the foremost to put his hand to clearing the ground of the rubbish, and removed some of it upon his own shoulder. And he undertook, likewise, to restore the three thousand tables of brass which had been destroyed in the fire which consumed the Capitol; searching in all quarters for copies of those curious and ancient records, in which were contained the decrees of the senate, almost from the building of the city, as well as the acts of the people, relative to alliances, treaties, and privileges granted to any person.
IX. He likewise erected several new public buildings, namely, the temple of Peace [erected A.D. 71, on the conclusion of the wars with the Germans and the Jews; it was the largest temple in Rome. Vespasian and Titus deposited in it the sacred vessels and other spoils which were carried in their triumph after the conquest of Jerusalem. They were consumed, and the temple much damaged, if not destroyed, by fire, towards the end of the reign of Commodus, in the year 191] near the Forum, that of Claudius on the Coelian mount, which had been begun by Agrippina, but almost entirely demolished by Nero [this temple, converted into a Christian church by pope Simplicius, who flourished, A.D. 464-483, preserves much of its ancient character]; and an amphitheatre [the famous Colosseum begun by Trajan, and finished by Titus] in the middle of the city, upon finding that Augustus had projected such a work. He purified the senatorian and equestrian orders, which had been much reduced by the havoc made amongst them at several times, and was fallen into disrepute by neglect. Having expelled the most unworthy, he chose in their room the most honorable persons in Italy and the provinces. And to let it be known that those two orders differed not so much in privileges as in dignity, he declared publicly, when some altercation passed between a senator and a Roman knight, "that senators ought not to be treated with scurrilous language, unless they were the aggressors, and then it was fair and lawful to return it."
X. The business of the courts had prodigiously accumulated, partly from old law-suits which, on account of the interruption that had been given to the course of justice, still remained undecided, and partly from the accession of new suits arising out of the disorder of the times. He, therefore, chose commissioners by lot to provide for the restitution of what had been seized by violence during the war, and others with extraordinary jurisdiction to decide causes belonging to the centumviri, and reduce them to as small a number as possible, for the dispatch of which, otherwise, the lives of the litigants could scarcely allow sufficient time.
XI. Lust and luxury, from the license which had long prevailed, had also grown to an enormous height. He, therefore, obtained a decree of the senate, that a woman who formed an union with the slave of another person, should be considered a bondwoman herself; and that usurers should not be allowed to take proceedings at law for the recovery of money lent to young men whilst they lived in their father's family, not even after their fathers were dead.
XII. In other affairs, from the beginning to the end of his government, he conducted himself with great moderation and clemency. He was so far from dissembling the obscurity of his extraction, that he frequently made mention of it himself. When some affected to trace his pedigree to the founders of Reate, and a companion of Hercules [Hercules is said, after conquering Geryon in Spain, to have come into this part of Italy], whose monument is still to be seen on the Salarian road, he laughed at them for it. And he was so little fond of external and adventitious ornaments, that, on the day of his triumph [Vespasian and his son Titus had a joint triumph for the conquest of Judaea, which is described at length by Josephus, De Bell. Jud. vii. 16. Coins of Vespasian exhibit the captive Judaea (Judaea capta)], being quite tired of the length and tediousness of the procession, he could not forbear saying, "he was rightly served, for having in his old age been so silly as to desire a triumph; as if it was either due to his ancestors, or had ever been expected by himself." Nor would he for a long time accept of the tribunitian authority, or the title of Father of his Country. And in regard to the custom of searching those who came to salute him, he dropped it even in the time of the civil war.
XIII. He bore with great mildness the freedom used by his friends, the satirical allusions of advocates, and the petulance of philosophers. Licinius Mucianus, who had been guilty of notorious acts of lewdness, but, presuming upon his great services, treated him very rudely, he reproved only in private; and when complaining of his conduct to a common friend of theirs, he concluded with these words, "However, I am a man." Salvius Liberalis, in pleading the cause of a rich man under prosecution, presuming to say, "What is it to Caesar, if Hipparchus possesses a hundred millions of sesterces?" he commended him for it. Demetrius, the Cynic philosopher [Demetrius, who was born at Corinth, seems to have been a close imitator of Diogenes, the founder of the sect. Having come to Rome to study under Apollonius, he was banished to the islands, with other philosophers, by Vespasian], who had been sentenced to banishment, meeting him on the road, and refusing to rise up or salute him, nay, snarling at him in scurrilous language, he only called him a cur.
XIV. He was little disposed to keep up the memory of affronts or quarrels, nor did he harbor any resentment on account of them. He made a very splendid marriage for the daughter of his enemy Vitellius, and gave her, besides, a suitable fortune and equipage. Being in a great consternation after he was forbidden the court in the time of Nero, and asking those about him, what he should do? or, whither he should go? one of those whose office it was to introduce people to the emperor, thrusting him out, bid him go to Morbonia [there being no such place as Morbonia, some critics have supposed that Anticyra, the asylum of the incurables, is meant]. But when this same person came afterwards to beg his pardon, he only vented his resentment in nearly the same words. He was so far from being influenced by suspicion or fear to seek the destruction of any one, that, when his friends advised him to beware of Metius Pomposianus, because it was commonly believed, on his nativity being cast, that he was destined by fate to the empire, he made him consul, promising for him, that he would not forget the benefit conferred.
XV. It will scarcely be found, that so much as one innocent person suffered in his reign, unless in his absence, and without his knowledge, or, at least, contrary to his inclination, and when he was imposed upon. Although Helvidius Priscus [a person of some celebrity as a philosopher and public man, is mentioned by Tacitus, Xiphilinus, and Arrian] was the only man who presumed to salute him on his return from Syria by his private name of Vespasian, and, when he came to be praetor, omitted any mark of honor to him, or even any mention of him in his edicts, yet he was not angry, until Helvidius proceeded to inveigh against him with the most scurrilous language. Though he did indeed banish him, and afterwards ordered him to be put to death, yet he would gladly have saved him notwithstanding, and accordingly dispatched messengers to fetch back the executioners; and he would have saved him, had he not been deceived by a false account brought, that he had already perished. He never rejoiced at the death of any man; nay he would shed tears, and sigh, at the just punishment of the guilty.
XVI. The only thing deservedly blameable in his character was his love of money. For not satisfied with reviving the imposts which had been repealed in the time of Galba, he imposed new and onerous taxes, augmented the tribute of the provinces, and doubled that of some of them. He likewise openly engaged in a traffic, which is discreditable [Cicero speaks in strong terms of the sordidness of retail trade--Off. i. 24] even to a private individual, buying great quantities of goods, for the purpose of retailing them again to advantage. Nay, he made no scruple of selling the great offices of the state to candidates, and pardons to persons under prosecution, whether they were innocent or guilty. It is believed, that he advanced all the most rapacious amongst the procurators to higher offices, with the view of squeezing them after they had acquired great wealth.
He was commonly said, "to have used them as sponges," because it was his practice, as we may say, to wet them when dry, and squeeze them when wet. It is said that he was naturally extremely covetous, and was upbraided with it by an old herdsman of his, who, upon the emperor's refusing to enfranchise him gratis, which on his advancement he humbly petitioned for, cried out, "That the fox changed his hair, but not his nature." On the other hand, some are of opinion, that he was urged to his rapacious proceedings by necessity, and the extreme poverty of the treasury and exchequer, of which he took public notice in the beginning of his reign; declaring that "no less than four hundred thousand millions of sesterces were wanting to carry on the government." This is the more likely to be true, because he applied to the best purposes what he procured by bad means.
XVII. His liberality, however, to all ranks of people, was excessive. He made up to several senators the estate required by law to qualify them for that dignity; relieving likewise such men of consular rank as were poor, with a yearly allowance of five hundred thousand sesterces; and rebuilt, in a better manner than before, several cities in different parts of the empire, which had been damaged by earthquakes or fires.
XVIII. He was a great encourager of learning and the liberal arts. He first granted to the Latin and Greek professors of rhetoric the yearly stipend of a hundred thousand sesterces each out of the exchequer. He also bought the freedom of superior poets and artists [many eminent writers among the Romans were originally slaves, such as Terence and Phaedrus; and, still more, artists, physicians and artificers], and gave a noble gratuity to the restorer of the Coan of Venus [the chef-d'oeuvre of Apelles, a native of the island of Cos, in the Archipelago, who flourished in the time of Alexander the Great], and to another artist who repaired the Colossus [probably the colossal statue of Nero, afterwards placed in Vespasian's amphitheatre]. Some one offering to convey some immense columns into the Capitol at a small expense by a mechanical contrivance, he rewarded him very handsomely for his invention, but would not accept his service, saying, "Suffer me to find maintenance for the poor people" [the usual argument in all times against the introduction of machinery].
XIX. In the games celebrated when the stage-scenery of the theatre of Marcellus was repaired, he restored the old musical entertainments. He gave Apollinaris, the tragedian, four hundred thousand sesterces, and to Terpinus and Diodorus, the harpers, two hundred thousand; to some a hundred thousand; and the least he gave to any of the performers was forty thousand, besides many golden crowns. He entertained company constantly at his table, and often in great state and very sumptuously, in order to promote trade.
As in the Saturnalia he made presents to the men which they were to carry away with them, so did he to the women upon the calends of March [at the men's Saturnalia, a feast held in December attended with much revelling, the masters waited upon their slaves; and at the women's Saturnalia, held on the first of March, the women served their female attendants, by whom also they sent presents to their friends]; notwithstanding which, he could not wipe off the disrepute of his former stinginess. The Alexandrians called him constantly Cybiosactes; a name which had been given to one of their kings who was sordidly avaricious. Nay, at his funeral, Favo, the principal mimic, personating him, and imitating, as actors do, both his manner of speaking and his gestures, asked aloud of the procurators, "how much his funeral and the procession would cost?" And being answered "ten millions of sesterces," he cried out, "give him but a hundred thousand sesterces, and they might throw his body into the Tiber, if they would."
XX. He was broad-set, strong-limbed, and his features gave the idea of a man in the act of straining himself. In consequence, one of the city wits, upon the emperor's desiring him "to say something droll respecting himself," facetiously answered, "I will, when you have done relieving your bowels." [Notwithstanding the splendor, and even, in many respects, the refinement of the imperial court, the language as well as the habits of the highest classes in Rome seem to have been but too commonly of the grossest description, and every scholar knows that many of their writers are not very delicate in their allusions.] He enjoyed a good state of health, though he used no other means to preserve it, than repeated friction, as much as he could bear, on his neck and other parts of his body, in the tennis-court attached to the baths, besides fasting one day in every month.
XXI. His method of life was commonly this. After he became emperor, he used to rise very early, often before daybreak. Having read over his letters, and the briefs of all the departments of the government offices; he admitted his friends; and while they were paying him their compliments, he would put on his own shoes, and dress himself with his own hands. Then, after the dispatch of such business as was brought before him, he rode out, and afterwards retired to repose, lying on his couch with one of his mistresses, of whom he kept several after the death of Caenis. Coming out of his private apartments, he passed to the bath, and then entered the supper-room. They say that he was never more good-humored and indulgent than at that time: and therefore his attendants always seized that opportunity, when they had any favor to ask.
XXII. At supper, and, indeed, at other times, he was extremely free and jocose. For he had humor, but of a low kind, and he would sometimes use indecent language, such as is addressed to young girls about to be married. Yet there are some things related of him not void of ingenious pleasantry; amongst which are the following. Being once reminded by Mestrius Florus, that plaustra was a more proper expression than plostra, he the next day saluted him by the name of Flaurus. A certain lady pretending to be desperately enamored of him, he was prevailed upon to admit her to his bed; and after he had gratified her desires, he gave her four hundred thousand sesterces. When his steward desired to know how he would have the sum entered in his accounts, he replied, "For Vespasian's being seduced."
XXIII. He used Greek verses very wittily; speaking of a tall man, who had enormous parts:
Makxi bibas, kradon dolichoskion enchos;
Still shaking, as he strode, his vast long spear.
And of Cerylus, a freedman, who being very rich, had begun to pass himself off as free-born, to elude the exchequer at his decease, and assumed the name of Laches, he said:
----O Lachaes, Lachaes,
Epan apothanaes, authis ex archaes esae Kaerylos.
Ah, Laches, Laches! when thou art no more,
Thou'lt Cerylus be called, just as before.
He chiefly affected wit upon his own shameful means of raising money, in order to wipe off the odium by some joke, and turn it into ridicule. One of his ministers, who was much in his favor, requesting of him a stewardship for some person, under pretence of his being his brother, he deferred granting him his petition, and in the meantime sent for the candidate, and having squeezed out of him as much money as he had agreed to give to his friend at court, he appointed him immediately to the office. The minister soon after renewing his application, "You must," said he, "find another brother; for the one you adopted is in truth mine."
Suspecting once, during a journey, that his mule-driver had alighted to shoe his mules, only in order to have an opportunity for allowing a person they met, who was engaged in a law-suit, to speak to him, he asked him, "how much he got for shoeing his mules?" and insisted on having a share of the profit. When his son Titus blamed him for even laying a tax upon urine, he applied to his nose a piece of the money he received in the first installment, and asked him, "if it stunk?" And he replying no, "And yet," said he, "it is derived from urine."
Some deputies having come to acquaint him that a large statue, which would cost a vast sum, was ordered to be erected for him at the public expense, he told them to pay it down immediately, holding out the hollow of his hand, and saying, "there was a base ready for the statue." Not even when he was under the immediate apprehension and peril of death, could he forbear jesting. For when, among other prodigies, the mausoleum of the Caesars suddenly flew open, and a blazing star appeared in the heavens; one of the prodigies, he said, concerned Julia Calvina, who was of the family of Augustus [the Flavian family had their own tomb]; and the other, the king of the Parthians, who wore his hair long. And when his distemper first seized him, "I suppose," said he, "I shall soon be a god" [alluding to the apotheosis of the emperors].
XXIV. In his ninth consulship, being seized, while in Campania, with a slight indisposition, and immediately returning to the city, he soon afterwards went thence to Cutiliae [a small lake, about three-quarters of a mile from Reate. It was very deep, and being fed from springs in the neighboring hills, the water was exceedingly clear and cold, so that it was frequented by invalids, who required invigorating], and his estates in the country about Reate, where he used constantly to spend the summer. Here, though his disorder much increased, and he injured his bowels by too free use of the cold waters, he nevertheless attended to the dispatch of business, and even gave audience to ambassadors in bed. At last, being taken ill of a diarrhoea, to such a degree that he was ready to faint, he cried out, "An emperor ought to die standing upright." In endeavoring to rise, he died in the hands of those who were helping him up, upon the eighth of the calends of July [24th June] [A.U.C. 832], being sixty-nine years, one month, and seven days old.
XXV. All are agreed that he had such confidence in the calculations on his own nativity and that of his sons, that, after several conspiracies against him, he told the senate, that either his sons would succeed him, or nobody. It is said likewise, that he once saw in a dream a balance in the middle of the porch of the Palatine house exactly poised; in one scale of which stood Claudius and Nero, in the other, himself and his sons. The event corresponded to the symbol; for the reigns of the two parties were precisely of the same duration. [Each dynasty lasted twenty-eight years. Claudius and Nero both reigning fourteen; and, of the Flavius family, Vespasian reigned ten, Titus three, and Domitian fifteen.]
I. Titus, who had the same cognomen with his father, was the darling and delight of mankind; so much did the natural genius, address, or good fortune he possessed tend to conciliate the favor of all. This was, indeed, extremely difficult, after he became emperor, as before that time, and even during the reign of his father, he lay under public odium and censure. He was born upon the third of the calends of January, [30th Dec.] in the year remarkable for the death of Caius [Caligula. Titus was born A.U.C. 794; about A.D. 49], near the Septizonium [a circular building of seven stories], in a mean house, and a very small and dark room, which still exists, and is shown to the curious.
II. He was educated in the palace with Britannicus, and instructed in the same branches of learning, and under the same masters. During this time, they say, that a physiognomist being introduced by Narcissus, the freedman of Claudius, to examine the features of Britannicus [the son of Claudius and Messalina], positively affirmed that he would never become emperor, but that Titus, who stood by, would. They were so familiar, that Titus being next him at table, is thought to have tasted of the fatal potion which put an end to Britannicus's life, and to have contracted from it a distemper which hung about him a long time. In remembrance of all these circumstances, he afterwards erected a golden statue of him in the Palatium, and dedicated to him an equestrian statue of ivory; attending it in the Circensian procession, in which it is still carried to this day.
III. While yet a boy, he was remarkable for his noble endowments both of body and mind; and as he advanced in years, they became still more conspicuous. He had a fine person, combining an equal mixture of majesty and grace; was very strong, though not tall, and somewhat corpulent. Gifted with an excellent memory, and a capacity for all the arts of peace and war; he was a perfect master of the use of arms and riding; very ready in the Latin and Greek tongues, both in verse and prose; and such was the facility he possessed in both, that he would harangue and versify extempore. Nor was he unacquainted with music, but could both sing and play upon the harp sweetly and scientifically. I have likewise been informed by many persons, that he was remarkably quick in writing short-hand, would in merriment and jest engage with his secretaries in the imitation of any hand-writing he saw, and often say, "that he was admirably qualified for forgery."
IV. He filled with distinction the rank of a military tribune both in Germany and Britain, in which he conducted himself with the utmost activity, and no less modesty and reputation; as appears evident from the great number of statues, with honorable inscriptions, erected to him in various parts of both those provinces. After serving in the wars, he frequented the courts of law, but with less assiduity than applause. About the same time, he married Arricidia, the daughter of Tertullus, who was only a knight, but had formerly been prefect of the pretorian guards. After her decease, he married Marcia Furnilla, of a very noble family, but afterwards divorced her, taking from her the daughter he had by her. Upon the expiration of his quaestorship, he was raised to the rank of commander of a legion [A.U.C. 820], and took the two strong cities of Tarichaea and Gamala, in Judaea; and having his horse killed under him in a battle, he mounted another, whose rider he had encountered and slain.
V. Soon afterwards, when Galba came to be emperor, he was sent to congratulate him, and turned the eyes of all people upon himself, wherever he came; it being the general opinion amongst them, that the emperor had sent for him with a design to adopt him for his son. But finding all things again in confusion, he turned back upon the road; and going to consult the oracle of Venus at Paphos about his voyage, he received assurances of obtaining the empire for himself. These hopes were speedily strengthened, and being left to finish the reduction of Judaea, in the final assault of Jerusalem, he slew seven of its defenders, with the like number of arrows, and took it upon his daughter's birth-day [Jerusalem was taken, sacked, and burnt, by Titus, after a two years' siege, on the 8th September, A.U.C. 821, A.D. 69; it being the Sabbath].
So great was the joy and attachment of the soldiers, that, in their congratulations, they unanimously saluted him by the title of Emperor; and, upon his quitting the province soon afterwards, would needs have detained him, earnestly begging him, and that not without threats, "either to stay, or take them all with him." This occurrence gave rise to the suspicion of his being engaged in a design to rebel against his father, and claim for himself the government of the East; and the suspicion increased, when, on his way to Alexandria, he wore a diadem at the consecration of the ox Apis at Memphis; and, though he did it only in compliance with an ancient religious usage of the country, yet there was some who put a bad construction upon it. Making, therefore, what haste he could into Italy, he arrived first at Rhegium, and sailing thence in a merchant ship to Puteoli, went to Rome with all possible expedition. Presenting himself unexpectedly to his father, he said, by way of contradicting the strange reports raised concerning him, "I am come, father, I am come."
VI. From that time he constantly acted as colleague with his father, and, indeed, as regent of the empire. He triumphed [the joint triumph of Vespasian and Titus, which was celebrated A.U.C. 824, is fully described by Josephus, De Bell. Jud. vii. 24. It is commemorated by the triumphal monument called the Arch of Titus, erected by the senate and people of Rome after his death, and still standing at the foot of the Palatine Hill, on the road leading from the Colosseum to the Forum. Some of the bas-reliefs, still in good preservation, represent the table of the shew-bread, the seven-branched golden candlestick, the vessel of incense, and the silver trumpets, which were taken by Titus from the Temple at Jerusalem, and, with the book of the law, the veil of the temple, and other spoils, were carried in the triumph. Josephus says, that the veil and books of the law were deposited in the Palatium, and the rest of the spoils in the Temple of Peace] with his father, bore jointly with him the office of censor [A.U.C. 825], and was, besides, his colleague not only in the tribunitian authority [A.U.C. 824], but in seven consulships [A.U.C. 823, 825, 827-830, 832]. Taking upon himself the care and inspection of all offices, he dictated letters, wrote proclamations in his father's name, and pronounced his speeches in the senate in place of the quaestor. He likewise assumed the command of the pretorian guards, although no one but a Roman knight had ever before been their prefect.
In this he conducted himself with great haughtiness and violence, taking off without scruple or delay all those he had most reason to suspect, after he had secretly sent his emissaries into the theatres and camp, to demand, as if by general consent, that the suspected persons should be delivered up to punishment. Among these, he invited to supper A. Caecina, a man of consular rank, whom he ordered to be stabbed at his departure, immediately after he had gone out of the room. To this act, indeed, he was provoked by an imminent danger; for he had discovered a writing under the hand of Caecina, containing an account of a plot hatched among the soldiers. By these acts, though he provided for his future security, yet for the present he so much incurred the hatred of the people, that scarcely ever any one came to the empire with a more odious character, or more universally disliked.
VII. Besides his cruelty, he lay under the suspicion of giving way to habits of luxury, as he often prolonged his revels till midnight with the most riotous of his acquaintance. Nor was he unsuspected of lewdness, on account of the swarms of catamites and eunuchs about him, and his well-known attachment to queen Berenice [daughter of Agrippa the Great, who was by Aristobulus, grandson of Herod the Great. Having been contracted to Mark, son of Alexander Lysimachus, he died before their union, and Agrippa married her to Herod, Mark's brother, for whom he had obtained from the emperor Claudius the kingdom of Chalcis. Herod also dying, Berenice, then a widow, lived with her brother, Agrippa, and was suspected of an incestuous intercourse with him. It was at this time that, on their way to the imperial court at Rome, they paid a visit to Festus, at Caesarea, and were present when St. Paul answered his accusers so eloquently before the tribunal of the governor. Her fascinations were so great, that, to shield herself from the charge of incest, she prevailed on Polemon, king of Cilicia, to submit to be circumcised, become a Jew, and marry her. That union also proving unfortunate, she appears to have returned to Jerusalem, and having attracted Vespasian by magnificent gifts, and the young Titus by her extraordinary beauty, she followed them to Rome, after the termination of the Jewish war, and had apartments in the palace, where she lived with Titus, "to all appearance, as his wife," as Xiphilinus informs us; and there seems no doubt that he would have married her, but for the strong prejudices of the Romans against foreign alliances], who received from him, as it is reported, a promise of marriage. He was supposed, besides, to be of a rapacious disposition; for it is certain, that, in causes which came before his father, he used to offer his interest for sale, and take bribes. In short, people publicly expressed an unfavorable opinion of him, and said he would prove another Nero. This prejudice, however, turned out in the end to his advantage, and enhanced his praises to the highest pitch when he was found to possess no vicious propensities, but, on the contrary, the noblest virtues.
His entertainments were agreeable rather than extravagant; and he surrounded himself with such excellent friends, that the succeeding princes adopted them as most serviceable to themselves and the state. He immediately sent away Berenice from the city, much against both their inclinations. Some of his old eunuchs, though such accomplished dancers, that they bore an uncontrollable sway upon the stage, he was so far from treating with any extraordinary kindness, that he would not so much as witness their performances in the crowded theatre. He violated no private right; and if ever man refrained from injustice, he did; nay, he would not accept of the allowable and customary offerings.
Yet, in munificence, he was inferior to none of the princes before him. Having dedicated his amphitheatre [the Colosseum: it had been four years in building], and built some warm baths [the Baths of Titus stood on the Esquiline Hill] close by it with great expedition, he entertained the people with most magnificent spectacles. He likewise exhibited a naval fight in the old Naumachia, besides a combat of gladiators; and in one day brought into the theatre five thousand wild beasts of all kinds [the exhibition of Titus, at the dedication of the Colosseum, seems to have been the largest ever made; Xiphilinus even adds to the number, and says, that including wild-boars, cranes, and other animals, no less than nine thousand were killed].
VIII. He was by nature extremely benevolent; for whereas all the emperors after Tiberius, according to the example he had set them, would not admit the grants made by former princes to be valid, unless they received their own sanction, he confirmed them all by one general edict, without waiting for any applications respecting them. Of all who petitioned for any favor, he sent none away without hopes. And when his ministers represented to him that he promised more than he could perform, he replied, "No one ought to go away downcast from an audience with his prince."
Once at supper, reflecting that he had done nothing for any that day, he broke out into that memorable and justly-admired saying, "My friends, I have lost a day." ["Diem perdidi."] More particularly, he treated the people on all occasions with so much courtesy, that, on his presenting them with a show of gladiators, he declared, "He should manage it, not according to his own fancy, but that of the spectators," and did accordingly. He denied them nothing, and very frankly encouraged them to ask what they pleased. Espousing the cause of the Thracian party among the gladiators, he frequently joined in the popular demonstrations in their favor, but without compromising his dignity or doing injustice. To omit no opportunity of acquiring popularity, he sometimes made use himself of the baths he had erected, without excluding the common people.
There happened in his reign some dreadful accidents; an eruption of Mount Vesuvius [A.U.C. 832, A.D. 79], in Campania, and a fire in Rome, which continued during three days and three nights [the great fire at Rome happened in the second year of the reign of Titus. It consumed a large portion of the city, and among the public buildings destroyed were the temples of Serapis and Isis, that of Neptune, the baths of Agrippa, the Septa, the theatres of Balbus and Pompey, the buildings and library of Augustus on the Palatine, and the temple of Jupiter in the Capitol]; besides a plague, such as was scarcely ever known before. Amidst these many great disasters, he not only manifested the concern which might be expected from a prince but even the affection of a father, for his people; one while comforting them by his proclamations, and another while relieving them to the utmost of his power. He chose by lot, from amongst the men of consular rank, commissioners for repairing the losses in Campania. The estates of those who had perished by the eruption of Vesuvius, and who had left no heirs, he applied to the repair of the ruined cities. With regard to the public buildings destroyed by fire in the City, he declared that nobody should be a loser but himself. Accordingly, he applied all the ornaments of his palaces to the decoration of the temples, and purposes of public utility, and appointed several men of the equestrian order to superintend the work. For the relief of the people during the plague, he employed, in the way of sacrifice and medicine, all means both human and divine.
Amongst the calamities of the times, were informers and their agents; a tribe of miscreants who had grown up under the license of former reigns. These he frequently ordered to be scourged or beaten with sticks in the Forum, and then, after he had obliged them to pass through the amphitheatre as a public spectacle, commanded them to be sold for slaves, or else banished them to some rocky islands. And to discourage such practices for the future, amongst other things, he prohibited actions to be successively brought under different laws for the same cause, or the state of affairs of deceased persons to be inquired into after a certain number of years.
IX. Having declared that he accepted the office of Pontifex Maximus for the purpose of preserving his hands undefiled, he faithfully adhered to his promise. For after that time he was neither directly nor indirectly concerned in the death of any person, though he sometimes was justly irritated. He swore "that he would perish himself, rather than prove the destruction of any man." Two men of patrician rank being convicted of aspiring to the empire, he only advised them to desist, saying, "that the sovereign power was disposed of by fate," and promised them, that if there was any thing else they desired of him, he would grant it. He also immediately sent messengers to the mother of one of them, who was at a great distance, and in deep anxiety about her son, to assure her of his safety. Nay, he not only invited them to sup with him, but next day, at a show of gladiators, purposely placed them close by him; and handed to them the arms of the combatants for his inspection.
It is said likewise, that having had their nativities cast, he assured them, "that a great calamity was impending on both of them, but from another hand, and not from his." Though his brother was continually plotting against him, almost openly stirring up the armies to rebellion, and contriving to get away, yet he could not endure to put him to death, or to banish him from his presence; nor did he treat him with less respect than before. But from his first accession to the empire, he constantly declared him his partner in it, and that he should be his successor; begging of him sometimes in private, with tears in his eyes, "to return the affection he had for him."
X. Amidst all these favorable circumstances, he was cut off by an untimely death, more to the loss of mankind than himself. At the close of the public spectacles, he wept bitterly in the presence of the people, and then retired into the Sabine country, rather melancholy, because a victim had made its escape while he was sacrificing, and loud thunder had been heard while the atmosphere was serene.
At the first resting-place on the road, he was seized with a fever, and being carried forward in a litter, they say that he drew back the curtains, and looked up to heaven, complaining heavily, "that his life was taken from him, though he had done nothing to deserve it; for there was no action of his that he had occasion to repent of, but one." What that was, he neither disclosed himself, nor is it easy for us to conjecture. Some imagine that he alluded to the connection which he had formerly had with his brother's wife. But Domitia solemnly denied it on oath; which she would never have done, had there been any truth in the report; nay, she would certainly have gloried in it, as she was forward enough to boast of all her scandalous intrigues.
XI. He died in the same villa where his father had died before him, upon the Ides of September [the 13th of September]; two years, two months, and twenty days after he had succeeded his father; and in the one-and-fortieth year of his age [A.U.C. 834, A.D. 82]. As soon as the news of his death was published, all people mourned for him, as for the loss of some near relative. The senate assembled in haste, before they could be summoned by proclamation, and locking the doors of their house at first, but afterwards opening them, gave him such thanks, and heaped upon him such praises, now he was dead, as they never had done whilst he was alive and present amongst them.
I. Domitian was born upon the ninth of the calends of November [24th October] [A.U.C. 804], when his father was consul elect, (being to enter upon his office the month following,) in the sixth region of the city, at the Pomegranate [a street, in the sixth region of Rome], in the house which he afterwards converted into a temple of the Flavian family. He is said to have spent the time of his youth in so much want and infamy, that he had not one piece of plate belonging to him; and it is well known, that Clodius Pollio, a man of pretorian rank, against whom there is a poem of Nero's extant, entitled Luscio, kept a note in his hand-writing, which he sometimes produced, in which Domitian made an assignation with him for the foulest purposes. Some, likewise, have said, that he prostituted himself to Nerva, who succeeded him.
In the war with Vitellius, he fled into the Capitol with his uncle Sabinus, and a part of the troops they had in the city. But the enemy breaking in, and the temple being set on fire, he hid himself all night with the sacristan; and next morning, assuming the disguise of a worshipper of Isis, and mixing with the priests of that idle superstition, he got over the Tiber [Tacitus (Hist. iii.) differs from Suetonius, saying that Domitian took refuge with a client of his father's near the Velabrum], with only one attendant, to the house of a woman who was the mother of one of his school-fellows, and lurked there so close, that, though the enemy, who were at his heels, searched very strictly after him, they could not discover him. At last, after the success of his party, appearing in public, and being unanimously saluted by the title of Caesar, he assumed the office of praetor of the City, with consular authority, but in fact had nothing but the name; for the jurisdiction he transferred to his next colleague.
He used, however, his absolute power so licentiously, that even then he plainly discovered what sort of prince he was likely to prove. Not to go into details, after he had made free with the wives of many men of distinction, he took Domitia Longina from her husband, Aelias Lamia, and married her; and in one day disposed of above twenty offices in the city and the provinces; upon which Vespasian said several times, "he wondered he did not send him a successor too."
II. He likewise designed an expedition into Gaul and Germany [one of Domitian's coins bears on the reverse a captive female and soldier, with GERMANIA DEVICTA], without the least necessity for it, and contrary to the advice of all his father's friends; and this he did only with the view of equalling his brother in military achievements and glory. But for this he was severely reprimanded, and that he might the more effectually be reminded of his age and position, was made to live with his father, and his litter had to follow his father's and brother's carriage, as often as they went abroad; but he attended them in their triumph for the conquest of Judaea, mounted on a white horse. Of the six consulships which he held, only one was ordinary; and that he obtained by the cession and interest of his brother.
He greatly affected a modest behavior, and, above all, a taste for poetry; insomuch, that he rehearsed his performances in public, though it was an art he had formerly little cultivated, and which he afterwards despised and abandoned. Devoted, however, as he was at this time to poetical pursuits, yet when Vologesus, king of the Parthians, desired succors against the Alani, with one of Vespasian's sons to command them, he labored hard to procure for himself that appointment. But the scheme proving abortive, he endeavored by presents and promises to engage other kings of the East to make a similar request.
After his father's death, he was for some time in doubt, whether he should not offer the soldiers a donative double to that of his brother, and made no scruple of saying frequently, "that he had been left his partner in the empire, but that his father's will had been fraudulently set aside." From that time forward, he was constantly engaged in plots against his brother, both publicly and privately; until, falling dangerously ill, he ordered all his attendants to leave him, under pretence of his being dead, before he really was so; and, at his decease, paid him no other honour than that of enrolling him amongst the gods; and he often, both in speeches and edicts, carped at his memory by sneers and insinuations.
III. In the beginning of his reign, he used to spend daily an hour by himself in private, during which time he did nothing else but catch flies, and stick them through the body with a sharp pin. When some one therefore inquired, "whether any one was with the emperor," it was significantly answered by Vibius Crispus, "Not so much as a fly." Soon after his advancement, his wife Domitia, by whom he had a son in his second consulship, and whom the year following he complimented with the title of Augusta, being desperately in love with Paris, the actor, he put her away; but within a short time afterwards, being unable to bear the separation, he took her again, under pretence of complying with the people's importunity. During some time, there was in his administration a strange mixture of virtue and vice, until at last his virtues themselves degenerated into vices; being, as we may reasonably conjecture concerning his character, inclined to avarice through want, and to cruelty through fear.
IV. He frequently entertained the people with most magnificent and costly shows, not only in the amphitheatre, but the circus; where, besides the usual races with chariots drawn by two or four horses a-breast, he exhibited the representation of an engagement between both horse and foot, and a sea-fight in the amphitheatre. The people were also entertained with the chase of wild beasts and the combat of gladiators, even in the night-time, by torch-light. Nor did men only fight in these spectacles, but women also. He constantly attended at the games given by the quaestors, which had been disused for some time, but were revived by him; and upon those occasions, always gave the people the liberty of demanding two pair of gladiators out of his own school, who appeared last in court uniforms. Whenever he attended the shows of gladiators, there stood at his feet a little boy dressed in scarlet, with a prodigiously small head, with whom he used to talk very much, and sometimes seriously. We are assured, that he was overheard asking him, "if he knew for what reason he had in the late appointment, made Metius Rufus governor of Egypt?"
He presented the people with naval fights, performed by fleets almost as numerous as those usually employed in real engagements; making a vast lake near the Tiber [such excavations had been made by Julius and by Augustus, and the seats for the spectators fitted up with timber in a rude way. That was on the other side of the Tiber], and building seats round it. And he witnessed them himself during a very heavy rain. He likewise celebrated the Secular games [A.U.C. 841], reckoning not from the year in which they had been exhibited by Claudius, but from the time of Augustus's celebration of them. In these, upon the day of the Circensian sports, in order to have a hundred races performed, he reduced each course from seven rounds to five. He likewise instituted, in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus, a solemn contest in music to be performed every five years; besides horse-racing and gymnastic exercises, with more prizes than are at present allowed. There was also a public performance in elocution, both Greek and Latin and besides the musicians who sung to the harp, there were others who played concerted pieces or solos, without vocal accompaniment.
Young girls also ran races in the Stadium, at which he presided in his sandals, dressed in a purple robe, made after the Grecian fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown bearing the effigies of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; with the flamen of Jupiter, and the college of priests sitting by his side in the same dress; excepting only that their crowns had also his own image on them. He celebrated also upon the Alban mount every year the festival of Minerva, for whom he had appointed a college of priests, out of which were chosen by lot persons to preside as governors over the college; who were obliged to entertain the people with extraordinary chases of wild-beasts, and stage-plays, besides contests for prizes in oratory and poetry.
He thrice bestowed upon the people a largess of three hundred sesterces each man; and, at a public show of gladiators, a very plentiful feast. At the festival of the Seven Hills [in December], he distributed large hampers of provisions to the senatorian and equestrian orders, and small baskets to the common people, and encouraged them to eat by setting them the example. The day after, he scattered among the people a variety of cakes and other delicacies to be scrambled for; and on the greater part of them falling amidst the seats of the crowd, he ordered five hundred tickets to be thrown into each range of benches belonging to the senatorian and equestrian orders.
V. He rebuilt many noble edifices which had been destroyed by fire, and amongst them the Capitol, which had been burnt down a second time [the first fire happened in the Marian war, after which it was rebuilt by Pompey, the second in the reign of Vitellius, the third, Titus]; but all the inscriptions were in his own name, without the least mention of the original founders. He likewise erected a new temple in the Capitol to Jupiter Custos, and a forum, which is now called Nerva's [this forum, commenced by Domitian and completed by Nerva, adjoined the Roman Forum and that of Augustus], as also the temple of the Flavian family [the residence of the Flavian family was converted into a temple], a stadium [the Stadium was in the shape of a circus, and used for races both of men and horses], an odeum [a building intended for musical performances. There were four of them at Rome], and a naumachia; out of the stone dug from which, the sides of the Circus Maximus, which had been burnt down, were rebuilt.
VI. He undertook several expeditions, some from choice, and some from necessity. That against the Catti was unprovoked, but that against the Sarmatians was necessary; an entire legion, with its commander, having been cut off by them. He sent two expeditions against the Dacians; the first upon the defeat of Oppius Sabinus, a man of consular rank; and the other, upon that of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the pretorian cohorts, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of that war. After several battles with the Catti and Daci, he celebrated a double triumph. But for his successes against the Sarmatians, he only bore in procession the laurel crown to Jupiter Capitolinus.
The civil war, begun by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germany, he quelled, without being obliged to be personally present at it, with remarkable good fortune. For, at the very moment of joining battle, the Rhine suddenly thawing, the troops of the barbarians which were ready to join L. Antonius, were prevented from crossing the river. Of this victory he had notice by some presages, before the messengers who brought the news of it arrived. For upon the very day the battle was fought, a splendid eagle spread its wings round his statue at Rome, making most joyful cries. And shortly after, a rumor became common, that Antonius was slain; nay, many positively affirmed, that they saw his head brought to the city.
VII. He made many innovations in common practices. He abolished the Sportula, and revived the old practice of regular suppers. To the four former parties in the Circensian games, he added two new, who were gold and scarlet. He prohibited the players from acting in the theatre, but permitted them the practice of their art in private houses. He forbade the castration of males; and reduced the price of the eunuchs who were still left in the hands of the dealers in slaves. On the occasion of a great abundance of wine, accompanied by a scarcity of corn, supposing that the tillage of the ground was neglected for the sake of attending too much to the cultivation of vineyards, he published a proclamation forbidding the planting of any new vines in Italy, and ordering the vines in the provinces to be cut down, nowhere permitting more than one half of them to remain [this absurd edict was speedily revoked]. But he did not persist in the execution of this project.
Some of the greatest offices he conferred upon his freedmen and soldiers. He forbad two legions to be quartered in the same camp, and more than a thousand sesterces to be deposited by any soldier with the standards; because it was thought that Lucius Antonius had been encouraged in his late project by the large sum deposited in the military chest by the two legions which he had in the same winter-quarters. He made an addition to the soldiers' pay, of three gold pieces a year.
VIII. In the administration of justice he was diligent and assiduous; and frequently sat in the Forum out of course, to cancel the judgments of the court of The One Hundred, which had been procured through favor, or interest. He occasionally cautioned the judges of the court of recovery to beware of being too ready to admit claims for freedom brought before them. He set a mark of infamy upon judges who were convicted of taking bribes, as well as upon their assessors. He likewise instigated the tribunes of the people to prosecute a corrupt aedile for extortion, and to desire the senate to appoint judges for his trial. He likewise took such effectual care in punishing magistrates of the city, and governors of provinces, guilty of malversation, that they never were at any time more moderate or more just. Most of these, since his reign, we have seen prosecuted for crimes of various kinds.
Having taken upon himself the reformation of the public manners, he restrained the license of the populace in sitting promiscuously with the knights in the theatre. Scandalous libels, published to defame persons of rank, of either sex, he suppressed, and inflicted upon their authors a mark of infamy. He expelled a man of quaestorian rank from the senate, for practicing mimicry and dancing. He debarred infamous women the use of litters; as also the right of receiving legacies, or inheriting estates. He struck out of the list of judges a Roman knight for taking again his wife whom he had divorced and prosecuted for adultery. He condemned several men of the senatorian and equestrian orders, upon the Scantinian law [an ancient law levelled against adultery and other pollutions, named from its author Caius Scatinius, a tribune of the people].
The lewdness of the Vestal Virgins, which had been overlooked by his father and brother, he punished severely, but in different ways; viz. offenses committed before his reign, with death, and those since its commencement, according to ancient custom. For to the two sisters called Ocellatae, he gave liberty to choose the mode of death which they preferred, and banished their paramours. But Cornelia, the president of the Vestals, who had formerly been acquitted upon a charge of incontinence, being a long time after again prosecuted and condemned, he ordered to be buried alive; and her gallants to be whipped to death with rods in the Comitium; excepting only a man of praetorian rank, to whom, because he confessed the fact, while the case was dubious, and it was not established against him, though the witnesses had been put to the torture, he granted the favor of banishment. And to preserve pure and undefiled the reverence due to the gods, he ordered the soldiers to demolish a tomb, which one of his freedmen had erected for his son out of the stones designed for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and to sink in the sea the bones and relics buried in it.
IX. Upon his first succeeding to power, he felt such an abhorrence for the shedding of blood, that, before his father's arrival in Rome, calling to mind the verse of Virgil,
Impia quam caesis gens est epulata juvencis, [Geor. xi. 537]
Ere impious man, restrained from blood in vain, Began to feast on flesh of bullocks slain,
he designed to have published a proclamation, "to forbid the sacrifice of oxen." Before his accession to the imperial authority, and during some time afterwards, he scarcely ever gave the least grounds for being suspected of covetousness or avarice; but, on the contrary, he often afforded proofs, not only of his justice, but his liberality. To all about him he was generous even to profusion, and recommended nothing more earnestly to them than to avoid doing anything mean. He would not accept the property left him by those who had children. He also set aside a legacy bequeathed by the will of Ruscus Caepio, who had ordered "his heir to make a present yearly to each of the senators upon their first assembling."
He exonerated all those who had been under prosecution from the treasury for above five years before; and would not suffer suits to be renewed, unless it was done within a year, and on condition, that the prosecutor should be banished, if he could not make good his cause. The secretaries of the quaestors having engaged in trade, according to custom, but contrary to the Clodian law [see Livy, xxi. 63, and Cicero against Verres, v. 18], he pardoned them for what was past. Such portions of land as had been left when it was divided amongst the veteran soldiers, he granted to the ancient possessors, as belonging to then by prescription. He put a stop to false prosecutions in the exchequer, by severely punishing the prosecutors; and this saying of his was much taken notice of "that a prince who does not punish informers, encourages them."
X. But he did not long persevere in this course of clemency and justice, although he sooner fell into cruelty than into avarice. He put to death a scholar of Paris, the pantomimic, though a minor, and then sick, only because, both in person and the practice of his art, he resembled his master; as he did likewise Hermogenes of Tarsus for some oblique reflections in his History; crucifying, besides, the scribes who had copied the work. One who was master of a band of gladiators, happening to say, "that a Thrax was a match for a Marmillo [cant names for gladiators], but not so for the exhibitor of the games", he ordered him to be dragged from the benches into the arena, and exposed to the dogs, with this label upon him, "A Parmularian [the faction which favored the "Thrax" party] guilty of talking impiously."
He put to death many senators, and amongst them several men of consular rank. In this number were, Civica Cerealis, when he was proconsul in Africa, Salvidienus Orfitus, and Acilius Glabrio in exile, under the pretence of their planning to revolt against him. The rest he punished upon very trivial occasions; as Aelius Lamia for some jocular expressions, which were of old date, and perfectly harmless; because, upon his commending his voice after he had taken his wife from him, he replied, "Alas! I hold my tongue." And when Titus advised him to take another wife, he answered him thus: "What! have you a mind to marry?" Salvius Cocceianus was condemned to death for keeping the birth-day of his uncle Otho, the emperor: Metius Pomposianus, because he was commonly reported to have an imperial nativity, and to carry about with him a map of the world upon vellum, with the speeches of kings and generals extracted out of Titus Livius; and for giving his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, lieutenant in Britain, for suffering some lances of a new invention to be called "Lucullean;" and Junius Rusticus, for publishing a treatise in praise of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus, and calling them both "most upright men."
Upon this occasion, he likewise banished all the philosophers from the city and Italy. He put to death the younger Helvidius, for writing a farce, in which, under the character of Paris and Oenone, he reflected upon his having divorced his wife; and also Flavius Sabinus, one of his cousins, because, upon his being chosen at the consular election to that office, the public crier had, by a blunder, proclaimed him to the people not consul, but emperor. Becoming still more savage after his success in the civil war, he employed the utmost industry to discover those of the adverse party who absconded: many of them he racked with a new-invented torture, inserting fire through their private parts; and from some he cut off their hands. It is certain, that only two of any note were pardoned, a tribune who wore the narrow stripe, and a centurion; who, to clear themselves from the charge of being concerned in any rebellious project, proved themselves to have been guilty of prostitution, and consequently incapable of exercising any influence either over the general or the soldiers.
XI. His cruelties were not only excessive, but subtle and unexpected. The day before he crucified a collector of his rents, he sent for him into his bed-chamber, made him sit down upon the bed by him, and sent him away well pleased, and, so far as could be inferred from his treatment, in a state of perfect security; having vouchsafed him the favour of a plate of meat from his own table. When he was on the point of condemning to death Aretinus Clemens, a man of consular rank, and one of his friends and emissaries, he retained him about his person in the same or greater favor than ever; until at last, as they were riding together in the same litter, upon seeing the man who had informed against him, he said, "Are you willing that we should hear this base slave tomorrow?"
Contemptuously abusing the patience of men, he never pronounced a severe sentence without prefacing it with words which gave hopes of mercy; so that, at last, there was not a more certain token of a fatal conclusion, than a mild commencement. He brought before the senate some persons accused of treason, declaring, "that he should prove that day how dear he was to the senate;" and so influenced them, that they condemned the accused to be punished according to the ancient usage. Then, as if alarmed at the extreme severity of their punishment, to lessen the odiousness of the proceeding, he interposed in these words; for it is not foreign to the purpose to give them precisely as they were delivered: "Permit me, Conscript Fathers, so far to prevail upon your affection for me, however extraordinary the request may seem, as to grant the condemned criminals the favor of dying in the manner they choose. For by so doing, ye will spare your own eyes, and the world will understand that I interceded with the senate on their behalf."
XII. Having exhausted the exchequer by the expense of his buildings and public spectacles, with the augmentation of pay lately granted to the troops, he made an attempt at the reduction of the army, in order to lessen the military charges. But reflecting, that he should, by this measure, expose himself to the insults of the barbarians, while it would not suffice to extricate him from his embarrassments, he had recourse to plundering his subjects by every mode of exaction. The estates of the living and the dead were sequestered upon any accusation, by whomsoever preferred. The unsupported allegation of any one person, relative to a word or action construed to affect the dignity of the emperor, was sufficient. Inheritances, to which he had not the slightest pretension, were confiscated, if there was found so much as one person to say, he had heard from the deceased when living, "that he had made the emperor his heir."
Besides the exactions from others, the poll-tax on the Jews was levied with extreme rigor, both on those who lived after the manner of Jews in the city, without publicly professing themselves to be such [Gentiles who were proselytes to the Jewish religion; or, perhaps, members of the Christian sect, who were confounded with them. The tax levied on the Jews was two drachmas per head. It was general throughout the empire], and on those who, by concealing their origin, avoided paying the tribute imposed upon that people. I remember, when I was a youth, to have been present, when an old man, ninety years of age, had his person exposed to view in a very crowded court, in order that, on inspection, the procurator might satisfy himself whether he was circumcised. [This is what Martial calls, "Mentula tributis damnata."]
From his earliest years Domitian was any thing but courteous, of a forward, assuming disposition, and extravagant both in his words and actions. When Caenis, his father's concubine, upon her return from Istria, offered him a kiss, as she had been used to do, he presented her his hand to kiss. Being indignant, that his brother's son-in-law should be waited on by servants dressed in white [the imperial liveries were white and gold], he exclaimed,
ouk agathon polykoiraniae.
Too many princes are not good.
XIII. After he became emperor, he had the assurance to boast in the senate, "that he had bestowed the empire on his father and brother, and they had restored it to him." And upon taking his wife again, after the divorce, he declared by proclamation, "that he had recalled her to his pulvinar" [an assumption of divinity, as the pulvinar was the consecrated bed, on which the images of the gods reposed]. He was not a little pleased too, at hearing the acclamations of the people in the amphitheatre on a day of festival, "All happiness to our lord and lady." But when, during the celebration of the Capitoline trial of skill, the whole concourse of people entreated him with one voice to restore Palfurius Sura to his place in the senate, from which he had been long before expelled—he having then carried away the prize of eloquence from all the orators who had contended for it,—he did not vouchsafe to give them any answer, but only commanded silence to be proclaimed by the voice of the crier.
With equal arrogance, when he dictated the form of a letter to be used by his procurators, he began it thus: "Our lord and god commands so and so;" whence it became a rule that no one should style him otherwise either in writing or speaking. He suffered no statues to be erected for him in the Capitol, unless they were of gold and silver, and of a certain weight. He erected so many magnificent gates and arches, surmounted by representations of chariots drawn by four horses, and other triumphal ornaments, in different quarters of the city, that a wag inscribed on one of the arches the Greek word Axkei, "It is enough." [the pun turns on the similar sound of the Greek word for "enough," and the Latin word for "an arch."] He filled the office of consul seventeen times, which no one had ever done before him, and for the seven middle occasions in successive years; but in scarcely any of them had he more than the title; for he never continued in office beyond the calends of May [the 1st May], and for the most part only till the ides of January [13th January]. After his two triumphs, when he assumed the cognomen of Germanicus, he called the months of September and October, Germanicus and Domitian, after his own names, because he commenced his reign in the one, and was born in the other.
XIV. Becoming by these means universally feared and odious, he was at last taken off by a conspiracy of his friends and favourite freedmen, in concert with his wife [Domitia, who had been repudiated for an intrigue with Paris, the actor, and afterwards taken back]. He had long entertained a suspicion of the year and day when he should die, and even of the very hour and manner of his death; all which he had learned from the Chaldaeans, when he was a very young man. His father once at supper laughed at him for refusing to eat some mushrooms, saying, that if he knew his fate, he would rather be afraid of the sword. Being, therefore, in perpetual apprehension and anxiety, he was keenly alive to the slightest suspicions, insomuch that he is thought to have withdrawn the edict ordering the destruction of the vines, chiefly because the copies of it which were dispersed had the following lines written upon them:
Kaen me phagaes epi rizanomos epi kartophoraeso,
Osson epispeisai Kaisari thuomeno.
Gnaw thou my root, yet shall my juice suffice
To pour on Caesar's head in sacrifice.
[The lines, with a slight accommodation, are borrowed from
the poet Evenus, Anthol. i. vi. i., who applies them to a goat, the great
enemy of vineyards. Ovid, Fasti, i. 357, thus paraphrases them:
Rode caper vitem, tamen hinc, cum staris ad aram,
In tua quod spargi cornua possit erit.]
It was from the same principle of fear, that he refused a new honor, devised and offered him by the senate, though he was greedy of all such compliments. It was this: "that as often as he held the consulship, Roman knights, chosen by lot, should walk before him, clad in the Trabea, with lances in their hands, amongst his lictors and apparitors."
As the time of the danger which he apprehended drew near, he became daily more and more disturbed in mind; insomuch that he lined the walls of the porticos in which he used to walk, with the stone called Phengites [Pliny describes this stone as being brought from Cappadocia, and says that it was as hard as marble, white and translucent, cxxiv. c. 22], by the reflection of which he could see every object behind him. He seldom gave an audience to persons in custody, unless in private, being alone, and he himself holding their chains in his hand. To convince his domestics that the life of a master was not to be attempted upon any pretext, however plausible, he condemned to death Epaphroditus his secretary, because it was believed that he had assisted Nero, in his extremity, to kill himself.
XV. His last victim was Flavius Clemens, his cousin-german, a man below contempt for his want of energy, whose sons, then of very tender age, he had avowedly destined for his successors, and, discarding their former names, had ordered one to be called Vespasian, and the other Domitian. Nevertheless, he suddenly put him to death upon some very slight suspicion [the guilt imputed to them was atheism and Jewish (Christian?) manners. Dion, lxvii. 1112], almost before he was well out of his consulship. By this violent act he very much hastened his own destruction. During eight months together there was so much lightning at Rome, and such accounts of the phenomenon were brought from other parts, that at last he cried out, "Let him now strike whom he will." The Capitol was struck by lightning, as well as the temple of the Flavian family, with the Palatine-house, and his own bed-chamber. The tablet also, inscribed upon the base of his triumphal statue was carried away by the violence of the storm, and fell upon a neighboring monument.
The tree which just before the advancement of Vespasian had been prostrated, and rose again, suddenly fell to the ground. The goddess Fortune of Praeneste, to whom it was his custom on new year's day to commend the empire for the ensuing year, and who had always given him a favorable reply, at last returned him a melancholy answer, not without mention of blood. He dreamt that Minerva, whom he worshipped even to a superstitious excess, was withdrawing from her sanctuary, declaring she could protect him no longer, because she was disarmed by Jupiter.
Nothing, however, so much affected him as an answer given by Ascletario, the astrologer, and his subsequent fate. This person had been informed against, and did not deny his having predicted some future events, of which, from the principles of his art, he confessed he had a foreknowledge. Domitian asked him, what end he thought he should come to himself? To which replying, "I shall in a short time be torn to pieces by dogs," he ordered him immediately to be slain, and, in order to demonstrate the vanity of his art, to be carefully buried. But during the preparations for executing this order, it happened that the funeral pile was blown down by a sudden storm, and the body, half-burnt, was torn to pieces by dogs; which being observed by Latinus, the comic actor, as he chanced to pass that way, he told it, amongst the other news of the day, to the emperor at supper.
XVI. The day before his death, he ordered some dates [Columella (R. R. xi. 2.) enumerates dates among the foreign fruits cultivated in Italy, cherries, dates, apricots, and almonds], served up at table, to be kept till the next day, adding, "If I have the luck to use them." And turning to those who were nearest him, he said, "To-morrow the moon in Aquarius will be bloody instead of watery, and an event will happen, which will be much talked of all the world over." About midnight, he was so terrified that he leaped out of bed. That morning he tried and passed sentence on a soothsayer sent from Germany, who being consulted about the lightning that had lately happened, predicted from it a change of government.
The blood running down his face as he scratched an ulcerous tumor on his forehead, he said, "Would this were all that is to befall me!" Then, upon his asking the time of the day, instead of five o'clock, which was the hour he dreaded, they purposely told him it was six. Overjoyed at this information; as if all danger were now passed, and hastening to the bath, Parthenius, his chamberlain, stopped him, by saying that there was a person come to wait upon him about a matter of great importance, which would admit of no delay. Upon this, ordering all persons to withdraw, he retired into his chamber, and was there slain.
XVII. Concerning the contrivance and mode of his death, the common account is this. The conspirators being in some doubt when and where they should attack him, whether while he was in the bath, or at supper, Stephanus, a steward of Domitilla's [some suppose that Domitilla was the wife of Flavius Clemens, both of whom were condemned by Domitian for their "impiety," by which it is probably meant that they were suspected of favoring Christianity], then under prosecution for defrauding his mistress, offered them his advice and assistance; and wrapping up his left arm, as if it was hurt, in wool and bandages for some days, to prevent suspicion, at the hour appointed, he secreted a dagger in them. Pretending then to make a discovery of a conspiracy, and being for that reason admitted, he presented to the emperor a memorial, and while he was reading it in great astonishment, stabbed him in the groin.
But Domitian, though wounded, making resistance, Clodianus, one of his guards, Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius's, Saturius, his principal chamberlain, with some gladiators, fell upon him, and stabbed him in seven places. A boy who had the charge of the Lares in his bed-chamber, and was then in attendance as usual, gave these further particulars: that he was ordered by Domitian, upon receiving his first wound, to reach him a dagger which lay under his pillow, and call in his domestics; but that he found nothing at the head of the bed, excepting the hilt of a poniard, and that all the doors were fastened: that the emperor in the mean time got hold of Stephanus, and throwing him upon the ground, struggled a long time with him; one while endeavoring to wrench the dagger from him, another while, though his fingers were miserably mangled, to tear out his eyes.
He was slain upon the fourteenth of the calends of October [18th Sept.], in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the fifteenth of his reign [A.U.C. 849]. His corpse was carried out upon a common bier by the public bearers, and buried by his nurse Phyllis, at his suburban villa on the Latin Way. But she afterwards privately conveyed his remains to the temple of the Flavian family, and mingled them with the ashes of Julia, the daughter of Titus, whom she had also nursed.
XVIII. He was tall in stature, his face modest, and very ruddy; he had large eyes, but was dim-sighted; naturally graceful in his person, particularly in his youth, excepting only that his toes were bent somewhat inward, he was at last disfigured by baldness, corpulence, and the slenderness of his legs, which were reduced by a long illness. He was so sensible how much the modesty of his countenance recommended him, that he once made this boast to the senate, "Thus far you have approved both of my disposition and my countenance." His baldness so much annoyed him, that he considered it an affront to himself, if any other person was reproached with it, either in jest or in earnest; though in a small tract he published, addressed to a friend, "concerning the preservation of the hair," he uses for their mutual consolation the words following:
Ouch oraas oios kago kalos te megas te;
Seest thou my graceful mien, my stately form?
"and yet the fate of my hair awaits me; however, I bear with fortitude this loss of my hair while I am still young. Remember that nothing is more fascinating than beauty, but nothing of shorter duration."
XIX. He so shrunk from undergoing fatigue, that he scarcely ever walked through the city on foot. In his expeditions and on a march, he seldom rode on horse-back; but was generally carried in a litter. He had no inclination for the exercise of arms, but was very expert in the use of the bow. Many persons have seen him often kill a hundred wild animals, of various kinds, at his Alban retreat, and fix his arrows in their heads with such dexterity, that he could, in two shots, plant them, like a pair of horns, in each. He would sometimes direct his arrows against the hand of a boy standing at a distance, and expanded as a mark, with such precision, that they all passed between the boy's fingers, without hurting him.
XX. In the beginning of his reign, he gave up the study of the liberal sciences, though he took care to restore, at a vast expense, the libraries which had been burnt down; collecting manuscripts from all parts, and sending scribes to Alexandria [the famous library of Alexandria collected by Ptolemy Philadelphus had been burnt by accident in the wars], either to copy or correct them. Yet he never gave himself the trouble of reading history or poetry, or of employing his pen even for his private purposes. He perused nothing but the Commentaries and Acts of Tiberius Caesar. His letters, speeches, and edicts, were all drawn up for him by others; though he could converse with elegance, and sometimes expressed himself in memorable sentiments. "I could wish," said he once, "that I was but as handsome as Metius fancies himself to be." And of the head of some one whose hair was partly reddish, and partly grey, he said, "that it was snow sprinkled with mead."
XXI. "The lot of princes," he remarked, "was very miserable, for no one believed them when they discovered a conspiracy, until they were murdered." When he had leisure, he amused himself with dice, even on days that were not festivals, and in the morning. He went to the bath early, and made a plentiful dinner, insomuch that he seldom ate more at supper than a Matian apple [this favorite apple, mentioned by Columella and Pliny, took its name from C. Matius, a Roman knight, and friend of Augustus, who first introduced it], to which he added a draught of wine, out of a small flask. He gave frequent and splendid entertainments, but they were soon over, for he never prolonged them after sun-set, and indulged in no revel after. For, till bed-time, he did nothing else but walk by himself in private.
XXII. He was insatiable in his lusts, calling frequent commerce with women, as if it was a sort of exercise, klinopalaen, bed-wrestling; and it was reported that he plucked the hair from his concubines, and swam about in company with the lowest prostitutes. His brother's daughter [Julia, the daughter of Titus] was offered him in marriage when she was a virgin; but being at that time enamored of Domitia, he obstinately refused her. Yet not long afterwards, when she was given to another, he was ready enough to debauch her, and that even while Titus was living. But after she had lost both her father and her husband, he loved her most passionately, and without disguise; insomuch that he was the occasion of her death, by obliging her to procure a miscarriage when she was with child by him.
XXIII. The people showed little concern at his death, but the soldiers were roused by it to great indignation, and immediately endeavored to have him ranked among the gods. They were also ready to revenge his loss, if there had been any to take the lead. However, they soon after effected it, by resolutely demanding the punishment of all those who had been concerned in his assassination. On the other hand, the senate was so overjoyed, that they met in all haste, and in a full assembly reviled his memory in the most bitter terms; ordering ladders to be brought in, and his shields and images to be pulled down before their eyes, and dashed in pieces upon the floor of the senate-house passing at the same time a decree to obliterate his titles every where, and abolish all memory of him. A few months before he was slain, a raven on the Capitol uttered these words: "All will be well." Some person gave the following interpretation of this prodigy:
Nuper Tarpeio quae sedit culmine cornix.
"Est bene," non potuit dicere; dixit, "Erit."
Late croaked a raven from Tarpeia's height,
"All is not yet, but shall be, right."
They say likewise that Domitian dreamed that a golden hump grew out of the back of his neck, which he considered as a certain sign of happy days for the empire after him. Such an auspicious change indeed shortly afterwards took place, through the justice and moderation of the succeeding emperors.