Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VI.: The Ravages of the Accusers continued; their Credit with the Emperors; yet generally meet their Fate. The Falsehood of these Princes. The melancholy State of those Times. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
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Sect. VI.: The Ravages of the Accusers continued; their Credit with the Emperors; yet generally meet their Fate. The Falsehood of these Princes. The melancholy State of those Times. - 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 Ravages of the Accusers continued; their Credit with the Emperors; yet generally meet their Fate. The Falsehood of these Princes. The melancholy State of those Times.
THE Reigns of these following Princes, Constantius, Constans, Gallus, Valentinian, Valens, were spent in a continual war upon their people, under colour of their Majesties being violated.
Crying and tragical were the ravages committed at Rome by that bloody man Maximinus, where, under pretence of Majesty violated, poisonings, and acts of lewdness, some few real, more imputed, were used as a stale for killing, torturing, and destroying. Every man, or woman, that was obnoxious to him or the Accusers, was put to death; and to private malice or rapaciousness a sea of Roman blood was spilt. I think it was this Maximinus, who persuaded certain persons accused to confess and discover others, and in that case promised they should undergo no punishment either by sword or fire. They did so, trusting to his faith, and confessed crimes never committed; he then, for a salvo, doomed them to die under leaden hammers. He was executed himself under Gratian.
Against the defence of innocence accused, against the most evident truth and justice, and all honest information, the ears of the Emperor were eternally shut; but calumny whispered by any malighant, had equal weight with real crimes proved by authentic witnesses; says Ammianus. Falsehood and flattery, envy and rapaciousness passed for evidence; justice was converted into cruelty, and judgment into rage; the Tribunals erected for justice, and preservation of life and property, were become shambles, and what had the names of pains and penalties, was in truth robbery and assassination.
As there was never any lack of Accusers, there was none of Criminals; and the accused, the more they were destroyed, the faster they multiplied; like witches in former days, daily executed, and daily increasing. They were the food and revenue of the Accusers, who while they could speak and lie, could never want occupation or wages, as long as there were Tyrants and men. Marcellus was charged with having uttered disaffected words concerning Tiberius, and the Accuser collecting every thing which was detestable in the manners of that Prince, alledged the same as the imputations of the accused. A large field for accusations, and well cultivated by the Accusers! you could say nothing of these Emperors that was true, but what was Treason; such bloody monsters were they all! and the worst you could have said being actually true, you were easily believed to have actually said it. What a blessed lot it must have been to have lived in those Reigns, under monsters unchained, and rogues let loose; when virtue and property were proscribed, villains caressed and guarded!
The persons of Accusers came to be considered as sacred and inviolable; the more they were detested by the public, the more they were protected by the Emperor; and in proportion as they merited death and ignominy, had countenance and preferment. Their vilest forgeries, convicted and owned, against the lives and fortunes of the greatest men, drew down no doom or penalty upon them. The crimes charged upon Fonteius, late Proconsul of Asia, by Serenus, were proved to have been by him forged; yet he escaped punishment. Nay, the more the man was abhorred by all men, the more Tiberius considered and protected him. This Serenus was a villain of exalted merit; he had falsly accused his own father of Treason, an old man, and already in exile: but Tiberius owed him a spite, and the son studied to oblige Tiberius, who had been offended with the elder Serenus for once upbraiding him with some wicked service unrewarded; nor had an interval of eight years pacified the Prince. Yet it generally so happened, that their reign was but temporary; first or last most of them found the genuine wages of their fraud and iniquity, and suffered the same doom which they had made others suffer; a doom much more bitter, as it was just, accompanied also with universal hatred of their persons, and with a guilty and upbraiding conscience. This was the fate of Suilius, Cassius Severus, and others.
Now as it was the custom, to find high Treason in harmless words, impertment vanities, and even in ridiculous follies, deserving rather pity than punishment, such as were those charged upon Libo; so it was the purpose and policy of the Emperor never to prevent any guilt of this kind: on the contrary, he was glad of guilt, and when he knew it was begun, let it run on, till it was ripe, and evidence and Accusers were ready. Tiberius knew that Libo dealt with the Astrologers, with every thing done or said by him; yet at no time had he caressed Libo more, than at the time when he was meditating his destruction. He preferred him to the Prætorship; he entertained him at his table; shewed no strangeness in his countenance, no resentment in his words; so deeply had he smothered his vengeance! and when he might have restrained all the dangerous Speeches and Practices of Libo, he chose rather to permit them, in order to punish him for them. The crafty Tyrant did not only lull asleep his destined victim by these excessive civilities; but meant by them to deceive the world, as if Libo’s crimes were a surprize upon him, at a juncture when he would seem to have meant all kindness to Libo. But he was mistaken, and his dissimulation only served to heighten the opinion of his malice; for craft discovered is worse than folly, as folly never creates hatred. Cunning is only then complete, when it cannot be detected, which seldom happens. Nero caressed and flattered Seneca, while he was devising all methods to destroy him. When he meant to murder his mother, never was there such a scene of false fondness as that which he played. He was formed by nature, says Tacitus, and by habit nurtured, to hide his hate under insidious blandishments. Domitian used to treat with the utmost good humour and tenderness such as he intended to murder; nor was there any warning or interval between his caressing you and delivering you to the Executioner; nor a more certain sign that a tragical doom awaited you, than the Prince’s gentle behaviour towards you. Well might Suetonius say, that his cruelty was not only excessive, but sly, and instantaneous.
Now under such a torrent of Accusations, under Laws perverted, Informers busy, employed, protected and rewarded, when all things were crimes, and all men were feared, nay, when fear itself was a crime, (for when Caligula murdered his brother, he gave it for a reason, that the youth was afraid of being murdered) when servants and neighbours, nay, acquaintance and kindred, were all justly to be suspected; we need not admire that all offices of friendship and compassion were suspended amongst men, and compassion itself, as it were, extinguished. When Libo Drusus, so often already mentioned, upon his arraignment for Treason, went in mourning from house to house to sollicit the interposition of his relations (as all the great families in Rome were so) and to pray their aid, when his life and all was at stake; they all declined it to a man, each alledging a reason of his own, but every one in reality from the same cause, namely, their fear of the Emperor m .
People must not only shew no sorrow or sympathy for their murdered relations, but they must testify joy, unless they had a mind to be murdered themselves; as under Nero, many, whose nearest relations had been murdered by him, repaired to the Temples with thanksgiving and offerings, and when the City was filled with corps, so was the Capitol with victims. In that mighty carnage made by Tiberius of the friends and followers of Sejanus at once; when the pavements were covered with single carcasses, or filled with carcasses in piles, those of every sex and age, many that were noble, many that were mean, all cast abroad promiscuously; neither their acquaintance nor kindred were allowed to approach them, or to bewail them, or even at last to behold them. About the coarses spies were placed, to watch countenances, and the signs of sorrow: and when, after they became putrified and noisome, and were thrown into the Tiber, whether they floated in the stream, or were cast upon the banks, none would touch them, none durst bury or burn them. The force of Fear had cut off all the commerce and offices of Humanity; and the more Tyranny raged, the more human compassion was extinguished n . Even the outrageous Caligula had so well learned to hide his heart, that when by the cruelty of Tiberius, his mother and both his brothers were condemned and banished, not a word escaped him; nor a groan; though all arts were used to draw words and resentment from him. Octavia too, the wife of Nero, when her little innocent brother was murdered before her face, by the direction of the Tyrant her husband, had even then learned, young as she was, to smother all symptoms of tenderness and sorrow, and every affection of the soul; nay, Agrippina, with all her courage and high spirit, laboured to hide her surprize and dread, and every other emotion, upon that occasion.
[m ]Abnuentibus cunctis, cum diversa prœtenderent, eadem, formidine.
[n ]Interciderat sortis humanæ commercium vi metus; quantumque sævitia glisceret, miseratio arcebatur.