Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. I.: The pestilent Employment of these Men, their Treachery and Encouragement. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
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Sect. I.: The pestilent Employment of these Men, their Treachery and Encouragement. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon’s Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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The pestilent Employment of these Men, their Treachery and Encouragement.
FROM Law thus perverted there arose encouragement more than enough for Informers and Accusers, and a plentiful harvest: a sort of men, says Tacitus, born for the destruction of mankind, and by no terrors or penalties ever sufficiently restrained; yet by the Emperor such sons of perdition were sought out and invited by great rewards. Tiberius had the front to tell the Senate, that these insects, enemies to Law and Liberty, were the Guardians and Defenders of the Laws. They were his Defenders, if he pleased; the Champions of Imperial Violence and Lust; but the Pests of the Public; dogs of Prey thirsting after the blood and fortunes of every worthy and every wealthy man. That Prince who does not punish Informers, encourages them, said Domitian; but this he said in the beginning of his Reign while he yet retained the appearances of benevolence and humanity; afterwards when the disguise was taken off, and he followed the bent of his brutal nature, it was enough to ruin, any man, if he were but charged to have done some deed, or spoke some word, no matter what, against the Majesty of the Prince. Men were then capitally arraigned, and the estates were seized of both the living and the dead, for any fault whatsoever, upon the credit of any Accuser whatsoever; and inheritances, to which he could have no possible title or pretence upon earth, were usurped by him, if there was but one Person, one Informer, who could say, that he heard the deceased declare Cæsar to be his heir. The same pretence served Caligula; nay, when people had out of fear named him amongst their heirs, he wondered at their impudence to keep him out of his share by living afterwards, and for that offence poisoned many such. In short the chief and most frequent incidents in the Reigns of almost all the Cæsars, were but the bloody efforts and success of the Accusers; and the groundwork and support of all accusations, was the perverted Law of violated Majesty, which came to signify every thing which the Accusers averred and the Emperors disliked.
In the beginning of Tiberius’s Reign, L. Piso, one of the boldest men then surviving, owned himself so much intimidated by the merciless pursuits of the Impleaders, who breathed nothing but terror and accusations, that he threatned in open Senate to relinquish Rome and retire into some distant corner of the earth. He had reason for his complaint and fears, he was afterwards marked out as a victim and prey by one of the tribe, and arraigned for certain words secretly dropped against the Majesty of the Prince. These accusations were no other or better than the cruel Proscription continued; by the latter, Senators and Knights, Patriots obnoxious to the Usurpers, were butchered in the lump; afterwards, under the process of the Accusers, they perished piece-meal, but were incessantly perishing a , often a great many at a time. Every Law of the old free State, and every man who loved his Country and her Laws, were repugnant to the reigning Tyranny; hence as the Republic was swallowed up in the Sovereignty of the Cæsars, all her laws were made to center in that of Majesty, and all men who adhered or were suspected to adhere to the ancient Constitution, were either destroyed by this new Law (rather an old Law turned into a new snare) or at the mercy of its Guardians and Accusers. And all this new violence was committed under old names and constitutions b ; so that the Commonwealth was made to cut her own throat; just as cruel and ambitious men justify Persecution and Oppression by the authority of the Gospel, which abhors it. The Church of Rome calls every thing that displeases her, Heresy and Blasphemy; this is the Lex Majestatis of some Churchmen, and by cruelties committed under that name they have more than vied with the Nero’s and Domitian’s. Thus, after a solemn murder committed by the Senate, to gratify Tiberius, he sent them a Letter of thanks, for punishing a person who was an enemy to the Commonwealth; as if the Republic had been then subsisting and vindicating her own wrongs.
The Accusers were the agents and tools of Tyranny, and by the Tyrants upheld and animated with open countenance and high rewards; their business was to hunt down and destroy every man signal for blood, or wealth, or dignity, or virtue; because all such men were obnoxious to imperial Jealousy and Displeasure. Had a noble Roman sustained public Offices? he was a dangerous man; had another refused to bear them? he was equally dangerous; and for public Offices either exercised or declined, he was sure to be attacked as a criminal of State; and if he were conspicuous for any notable ability or virtue, his doom was inevitable c . Valerius Asiaticus perished because he had delightful Gardens, which tempted the avidity of Messalina; as did Statilius Taurus, for the same reason, by the avarice and subornation of Agrippina; so did Sextus Marius for his immense Wealth and gold Mines, under Tiberius. This gives one an idea of the terrible spirit of the Emperors as well as of the Accusers; how much the former feared and hated, and how fast they destroyed every thing that was noble, good, or amiable amongst men; and what a pestilent employment was that of an Accuser! Was it any wonder that to carry on so detestable a trade, they were to be tempted with lucrative earnings? In truth, their recompences were so public and ample, that they were detested not more for their Iniquities than for the Wages of their Iniquities.
These Pests of Rome were, for being so, frequently raised to the highest Offices in the Roman State; and that Imperial City, the Mistress of the Earth, saw her public Dignities, those of the Pontificate, and of the Consulship, bestowed as spoils upon Parricides for spilling her best blood, and tearing her vitals. With the Prince their credit was high, as their merit was infamous; some were preferred to be Governors of the Provinces, others taken to be his chief Confidents and Counsellors in the Palace. And thus, vested with credit and sway, exerting all their terrors, and pursuing their hate, they controuled and confounded all things d . After the tragical Death of Libo Drusus, procured by execrable Artifices, Falshoods, Horrors and wrested Laws, all the substance of that noble Patrician was divided amongst his Accusers; and such of them as were Senators were created Prætors, even without the regular method of election. The four Senators who ensnared Titius Sabinus, by trapanning, lurkking, feigned friendship, and by a series of treachery the most infamous and cruel that could be practised amongst men, and afterwards accused him, engaged in all this meritorious villainy purely to gain the Consulship, to which there was no possible access but through Sejanus, nor without villainy was the favour of Sejanus to be sought or purchased.
But besides rewarding of the Accusers out of the fortune of the Accused, (for where they had not all, they still went shares with his children) they had frequently excessive sums out of the public Treasury; Capito Cossutianus had near a hundred and thirty thousand Crowns, for accusing Thrasea Petus; Eprius Marcellus had as much, for the same good service; for Nero, after he had long wallowed in the blood of eminent men, and butchered them without number, was in hopes by the murder of Thrasea and Soranus, to extirpate Virtue, name and essence, from the face of the earth. Ostorius Sabinus, the Accuser of Soranus, had indeed a less reward in money, that of thirty thousand Crowns; but the reward was enhanced by the ornaments of the Quæstorship presented with it. “These Incendiaries were animated, and such crying calamities to the public were excited by the Minions of the Court, who, as it were, sounded the Trumpet to Arraignments and Confiscations; on purpose, that out of the fortunes of the condemned they might raise or increase their own;” says Am. Marcellinus. Aquilius Regulus, an upstart and a mischievous Accuser under Nero, was distinguished with two Consulships, and the dignity of Pontiff; and had premiums in money to the value of more than two hundred thousand Crowns; as if he had been burying the Commonwealth, and for this merit had afterwards gathered her spoils, says Tacitus.
[a ]Quem diem vacuum pœna ubi inter sacra & vota, vincla & laqueus inducantur.
[b ]Proprium id Tiberio fuit, scelera nuper reperta priscis verbis obtegere.
[c ]Nobilitas, opes, omissi gestique honores, pro crimine; & ob virtutes certissimum exitium.
[d ]Agerent, verterent cuncta, odio & terrore.