Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK XI. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16)
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BOOK XI. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16) [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. 2.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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THE condemnation and death of Valerius Asiaticus, by the procurement of Messalina. The iniquity and venality of the public Pleaders. Their fees ascertained. Civil combustions in Parthia. Secular Plays exhibited at Rome. Claudius adds three letters to the Alphabet. A short Dissertation concerning the origin of Letters. Italus established King over the Cheruscans. Corbulo made Commander in lower Germany, his severe and excellent discipline. Curtius Rufus distinguished with the Triumphal Ornaments. The rise and story of that Roman. Of the institution of the office of Quæstor, and its variations. The Nobility of Gaul admitted to all the rights of Roman Citizens. The number of Patricians augmented. Messalina the Empress, her wild lewdness. She openly marries C. Silius: is accused to the Emperor, and her adulterers punished. Her execution how procured and effected.
****FOR, Messalina, implacable towards Valerius Asiaticus, one twice Consul, whom she believed to have been Poppæa’s adulterer, and equally panting after his fine gardens, begun by Lucullus, but by him beautified with signal magnificence, suborned Suilius to accuse both him and her. In the plot was joined Sosibius, Tutor to Britannicus, who, under the mask of zeal, was to warn Claudius, “that mighty wealth in private hands, was ever mischievous and threatening to Princes. In the assassination of Caligula, Asiaticus had been the principal director, nor feared to avow it in a public congregation of the people, nor even to claim the glory of the parricide: hence his popularity and renown in Rome; insomuch that his purpose of withdrawing and putting himself at the head of the Armies, was already a prevailing rumour through all the Provinces; for that being born at Vienne, and supported there by numerous and powerful families, all his own relations, it depended upon his pleasure to excite an insurrection of his countrymen the Gauls.” This sufficed Claudius, who, in order to seize him, instantly dispatched away Crispinus, Captain of the Prætorian guards, with a body of soldiers, as if a war had been to be crushed. He was found at Baiæ, and hurried to Rome in chains.
Neither was it indulged him to be heard by the Senate; he was privately tried in a chamber in the presence of Messalina. Suilius charged him “with corrupting the soldiery, as having by money and abominable pleasures engaged them in his interest, and prepared them for every the most flagrant iniquity; with his adulterous amours with Poppæa, and with surrendering his person to unnatural defilements.” This last article overcame his patience, and breaking in upon the accusation, “Ask thy own sons, Suilius, said he; thy sons will satisfy thee that I am a man.” As he proceeded in his defence, he forced tears even from Messalina, and in Claudius raised agitations still more powerful. But the Empress leaving the room to dry her eyes, warned Vitellius, “not to suffer the accused to escape.” She herself hastened to accomplish the doom of Poppæa, by suborning persons who urged her, through the terrors of imprisonment, to a voluntary end; a catastrophe of which the Emperor was so utterly unapprized, that a few days after, as her husband Scipio was at table with him, he continued asking why he sat down without his wife? till Scipio answered, that she was no more.
Now as Claudius was deliberating about clearing Asiaticus, the hollow Vitellius wept, and recounting their ancient friendship, with the dutiful observance which they had equally paid to Antonia, the Prince’s mother; then displaying the good services of Asiaticus to the Commonwealth, particularly his late exploits in Great-Britain, with other arguments which seemed proper to excite mercy; he at last proposed to grant him the free choice of his own death; a sort of clemency of which Claudius declared his approbation. There were some who exhorted him to die gently, by abstinence only; an indulgence which he rejected, but persisting in his wonted exercises, he bathed, and even supped chearfully. He said, he should with more credit have been sacrificed to the dark artifices of Tiberius, or to the fury of Caligula, than thus perish by the devices of a woman, and the prostitute lips of Vitellius; then opened his veins, but first viewed his funeral pile, and directed its removal into another place, lest the smoke should scorch the heads of the trees, and lessen their cool shade. Such was his firmness, even in the arms of death.
The Senate was thereafter summoned, and Suilius proceeded also to accuse the illustrious Roman Knights, sirnamed Petræ. The real cause of their bane was, that for a place of assignation, they had accommodated Valerius and Poppæa with the use of their house; but to one of them a dream was objected, as if he had beheld Claudius crowned with a chaplet of the ears of corn, their beards downwards, and thence foretold a public famine. Others have related, that the chaplet he beheld was of vine-branches with white leaves, which he construed to portend the death of the Prince at the close of autumn. Whatever he dreamt, this is undoubted, that for a dream both he and his brother were sacrificed. To Crispinus was decreed the Prætorship, and a reward of thirty-seven thousand five hundred crowns, and to Sosibius five and twenty thousand, at the motion of Vitellius, who recommended him as one that assisted Britannicus with good instructions, and Claudius with wholesome counsels. Scipio, who was also asked his opinion, said; “Seeing I entertain of Poppæa’s misdeeds the same thoughts with all others, believe me to vote as all others vote;” a delicate temperament between the affections of a husband, and the danger of provoking by his dissent her powerful enemies.
Suilius continued thenceforward an incessant and merciless accuser; and many laboured to emulate his abandoned occupation. For, the Emperors, by usurping all the authority of the Magistrates, and the arbitrary dispensation of all the Laws, had opened a field for endless cruelties and depredations; nor of all the commodities of price was aught so saleable, as the faithless spirit of the pleaders; insomuch that Samius, an illustrious Roman Knight, having given Suilius a fee of ten thousand crowns, and finding himself betrayed in the cause, fell upon his sword in the house of his traiterous advocate. A complaint of this grievance being therefore begun by Caius Silius Consul elect, whose power and overthrow I shall in its place remember, the whole Senate concurred, and demanded, that the Cincian Law might be restored to force; an old Law, which enjoined “that no man should, for pleading a cause, accept of gift or payment.”
Hence they, over whom the infamy was impending, raising a clamour against the motion; Silius, who entertained an animosity against Suilius, persisted with the more asperity, and quoted “the examples of the ancient Orators, who had esteemed present applause and the praises of posterity, the most illustrious recompence of their eloquence. Otherwise, an accomplishment the most dignified of all others, were debased into sordid prostitution. Nor, in truth, was the faith of pleaders to be trusted, where the greatness of gain was their end. Besides, if no man found his merchandize in defending suits, there would be fewer suits to defend; whereas, upon the present foot, enmities, accusations, mutual hate and mutual oppressions were promoted and inflamed to such a degree, that as an inundation of diseases was the market of Physicians, so the contagion of the Bar proved the revenue of the Pleaders. They might remember Caius Asinius and Marcus Messalla, and more lately Arruntius and Eserninus; men who arrived to the supreme dignities of the state by a life unblemished, and an eloquence never exposed to price.” This reasoning from the Consul elect found the concurrence of the Senate, and a decree was about to pass, to subject them to the penalties of the Law against extortion, when Suilius, Cossutianus, and the rest, who apprehended not a regulation only, but even their own punishment (for their guilt was manifest) gathered round the Prince, beseeching remission for what was passed; and after he had, by a motion of his head, signified his assent, they thus proceeded:
“Who was the man of such unbounded vanity as to presume upon an eternity of fame? The practice of pleading was intended only for the present purposes of society, a common refuge for all men, especially that none might for want of pleaders be crushed by the powerful: neither was eloquence itself acquired, or exerted without pains and expence; since they who professed it forsook their own domestic cares, to apply themselves to the business of others. Many followed the profession of war, many that of husbandry, and by both professions a livelihood was gained; and nothing was pursued by any man, but with a view to the advantages it produced. Easily might Asinius and Messalla, enriched by the event of the war between Anthony and Augustus; easily might the Esernini and Arruntii, heirs of wealthy houses, all possess a spirit above the price of pleading. But equally obvious were the examples of Publius Clodius and Caius Curio, for what immense rewards they were wont to plead. For themselves; they were mean Senators, and, as the Commonwealth enjoyed a perfect calm, only aimed at subsisting by the emoluments of peace. Nay, there were those of the commonalty, who strove to shine by the Gown and the Bar; but were the price and encouragement of studying withdrawn, the Studies themselves must perish.” Considerations these far from honourable; but to Claudius they appeared of no small force. He therefore settled the utmost measure of fees at two hundred and fifty crowns, and such as exceeded were subjected to the penalties of extortion.
During the same time Mithridates, whom I have mentioned to have reigned in Armenia, and to have been brought in bonds to the tribunal of Cæsar, returned by the direction of Claudius into his Kingdom, confiding in the power and assistance of his brother Pharasmanes King of the Iberians, who had sent him advice, “that dissentions prevailed amongst the Parthians, and that, while the fate of their own crown was in suspence, foreign conquests, as things of less moment, must be neglected.” For, the many cruelties of Gotarzes, particularly the sudden murder of his brother Artabanus, with that of his wife and son, and thence the dread of his tyranny to the rest of the nobility, prompted them to call Bardanes to the throne, a Prince of great activity and enterprize, so much that in two days he travelled three thousand furlongs, then instantly invaded, utterly terrified and surprized, and even exterminated Gotarzes. With the same expedition he seized the neighbouring provinces, all but Seleucia, which alone disowned his sway: so that, more transported with wrath against the Seleucians, as a people who had likewise revolted from his father, than consulting his present interest, he entangled himself in the siege of a city encompassed with strong walls, replenished with stores, and a river one of its bulwarks. For, Gotarzes the while, strengthened by forces from the Dahans and Hyrcanians, renewed the war; so that Bardanes being necessitated to relinquish the siege, retired to the plains of Bactria, and there encamped.
In this combustion and disunion of the powers in the East, and uncertainty how the same would terminate, an occasion of possessing Armenia was administered to Mithridates, assisted by the Roman soldiers, who demolished the strong holds, and by the Iberians, who over-ran and wasted the country. For, the Armenians made no longer resistance, after the fate of Demonax their Governor, who had ventured a battle, and was defeated; only some of the Nobles countenanced Cotys, King of Armenia the less, who thence became a short obstacle, but by letters from the Emperor was awed into acquiescence. Hence the whole devolved upon Mithridates, who fell however into measures more violent than befitted a Prince newly established. As to the Parthian competitors; in the heat of their preparations for a battle, they all on a sudden struck a league, alarmed as they were by a conspiracy of the Parthians against both, but first discovered to Gotarzes, and by him to his brother Bardanes. In the beginning of their interview, they were shy and diffident, at last ventured to join hands, then swore upon the altar of the Gods, to revenge the treason of their mutual enemies, and even to resign to each other. But, as Bardanes was held more worthy to retain the Monarchy; Gotarzes, in order to remove with himself all ground of jealousy, retired far into Hyrcania. To Bardanes, upon his return, Seleucia was surrendered in the seventh year of its siege; so long had that single city sustained its independency, and baffled the power of Parthia, to the signal disgrace of the Parthian Monarchy.
He next took possession of the most potent provinces, and had recovered Armenia, but that Vibius Marsus, Lieutenant of Syria, restrained him, by threatening him with war. In the mean time, Gotarzes, regretting his concession of the Kingdom, and again recalled by the nobility, whose bondage is ever most rigorous during peace, formed an army, and was met as far as the river Charinda by Bardanes, who, after an obstinate fight in disputeing the passage, remained conqueror, and thence, by a continued course of victories, subdued all the nations lying between that river and the Gyndes, which parts the Dahans from the Arians. There the torrent of his conquests was obstructed; for, the Parthians however victorious, refused prosecuting a war so remote from home. Structures being therefore raised, as monuments of his grandeur and conquests, and to signify, that none of the Arsacides before him had from these nations exacted tribute, he returned, mighty, in truth, in glory, but thence the more imperious and insupportable to his subjects, who therefore, by guile before concerted, slew him, while, destitute of guards or apprehensions, he was only intent upon the chace, in the flower of his youth, but possessed of such high renown as few of the oldest Kings could have claimed, had he equally studied the love of his people, as he did to awe his enemies. The assassination of Bardanes begot fresh struggles amongst the Parthians, divided as they were about filling the throne. Many adhered to Gotarzes; some proposed Meherdates, the grand-son of Phrahates, and by him given in hostage to the Romans. Gotarzes prevailed, but was no sooner established, but by an abandoned course of cruelties and luxury, he forced the Parthinas upon secret recourse to the Roman Emperor, solliciting for Meherdates to occupy the dominions of his ancestors.
Under the same Consuls were celebrated the Secular Games, eight hundred years after the founding of Rome, sixty-four since they had been exhibited by Augustus. The several purposes of these Princes in these Games I pass over here, as already largely recounted by me in my History of the Emperor Domitian; for he too presented Secular Games, at which I assisted in person, and the more assiduously, as I was invested with the Quindecemviral Priesthood, and at that time Prætor; a circumstance which from no vain-glory I insert, but because formerly the College of fifteen presided in that festival, and the Magistrates chiefly discharged the offices of the solemnity. Whilst Claudius was beholding the Games in the Circus, and the boys of quality represented on horseback the siege of Troy, amongst them particularly Britannicus the Emperor’s son, with Lucius Domitius, who was afterwards adopted into the Claudian family by the name of Nero, and succeeded to the Empire; the affections of the populace appeared more passionate for Domitius; a thing which passed then for a propitious omen, and thence furnished a common tradition, “That in his infancy two dragons, posted like guards, were seen about him;” a fable framed in imitation of the miraculous tales current in foreign nations. For, Nero himself, a Prince who never abridged his own fame, was wont to declare, that in his chamber was never beheld but one snake only.
In truth, this partiality of the people accrued from the memory of Germanicus, from whom he was the only descendent of the male kind; and the popular commiseration towards his mother Agrippina, rose in proportion to the cruel vengeance of Messalina, always her inveterate enemy, and now inflamed with fresh rage; insomuch that, if she did not just then forge crimes and suborn accusers to destroy that Lady, it was owing only to a new amour which possessed her with a passion bordering upon fury. She was so vehemently enchanted with the person of Caius Silius, the most beautiful of all the Roman youth, that she obliged him to divorce his wife Junia Silana, a Lady of high quality, in order to possess alone the embraces of the adulterer. Nor was Silius unapprized of his crime, nor of the doom which threatened him; but, it was destruction without resource, if he withstood Messalina, and glorious rewards were to be the fruits of his compliance. There were some hopes too of blinding Claudius; so that he held the pleasantest counsel the safest, to wait future and distant consequences, and to indulge present prosperity. The Empress, far from pursuing her amour by theft and privacy, frequented his house openly, with a numerous train, accompanied him incessantly abroad, loaded him with wealth, covered him with honours; and, in short, as if the fortune of the Empire had been transferred with the Emperor’s wife, at the house of her adulterer were already seen the slaves, freedmen, and equipage of the Prince.
Claudius was a stranger to the disorders of his wife, and then exerting the authority of Censor. He corrected the people by severe Edicts for some late instances of their licentiousness, as they had, at the representation of a dramatic piece composed by Publius Pomponius, reviled that Consular in the public Theatre, with several Ladies of illustrious quality. He was likewise the author of a Law to restrain the merciless iniquity of the Usurers, in lending money to young men, to be repaid with increase upon the death of their fathers. The springs that rise in the Simbruine Hills were by him brought to Rome; and to the Roman Alphabet he added new Letters, haveing learnt that even those of Greece were not at once devised and compleated.
The Ægyptians first of all others represented their sentiments by the figures of animals; and these Hieroglyphics carved upon stone, the most ancient monuments of human memory, are still to be seen. That nation boast themselves “the original inventors of Types, and that the Phœnicians having thence learnt them, they, who were mighty in commerce and the dominion of the seas, carried the same into Greece, and assumed the glory of an invention which they themselves were taught.” For, the general tradition is, “that Cadmus arriving there in the Phœnician fleet, instructed the Greeks in that art, a people as yet rude and uncultivated.” Some hold, that “Cecrops the Athenian, or Linus of Thebes, and Palamedes the Argive, who lived during the times of Troy, devised sixteen Letters; and that by others afterwards, especially by Simonides, the rest were added.” As to Italy, the Etruscans learned them of Damaratus the Corinthian, the native Latins of Evander the Arcadian; and the fashion of the Latin Types were the same with those of the ancient Greeks. But we too had few at first, till from time to time the rest were supplied; and now Claudius, by the example of others, added three more, which continued in use during his own reign, and were thenceforth abolished, but are to this day seen in the tables of brass on which are published the decrees of the people, and which hang in the Temples and great squares.
He next made a representation to the Senate concerning the College of Soothsayers; “that they would not suffer the most ancient discipline of Italy to be lost through disuse. The Commonwealth was ever wont, dureing her times of calamity, to have recourse to those of that science, in order to retrieve by their counsel the sacred ceremonies from neglect and corruptions, and to cultivate them thereafter with more strict observance. Thus the nobility of Etruria, whether from their own zeal, or by appointment of the Roman Senate, had always preserved those mysteries themselves, and conveyed the same down to their posterity; a laudable usage, but now faintly observed, through an universal indifference for all worthy arts, and more especially through the prevalence of foreign superstitions. It was true, indeed, that the Republic at present prospered, but her prosperity was purely to be referred to the benignity of the Gods; nor during prosperity ought they to abandon those solemn rites, which in seasons of difficulty had been ever zealously cultivated.” Hence the Senate decreed, “That the Pontiffs should enquire what parts in the mystery of Soothsaying ought to be retained and confirmed.”
The same year, the Cheruscan nation had recourse to Rome for a King. The rage of their own domestic wars had swept away their principal chiefs; and of the Royal stock only one remained, who resided in the City, his name Italicus, son to Flavius the brother of Arminius, and by his mother grand-son to Catumerus Prince of the Cattians. He was himself a handsome person, and in horsemanship and the exercise of arms specially trained, as well according to the manner of his own country as that of ours. The Emperor therefore furnished him with expences and guards, and exhorting him, “to assume with magnanimity his hereditary grandeur,” reminded him withal “that being born at Rome, nor held as a hostage there, but living in the full immunity of a native Citizen, he was the first who went in that character to rule over a strange people.” His accession was, indeed, at first, matter of joy to the Germans, and so much the more, for that having had no share in their civil dissensions, he acted with equal courtesy towards them all. Hence his conduct became popular and renowned, as sometimes he studied only affability and moderation, habits that could provoke none; often gave a loose to carrousels and the gratifications of wantonness, such as the Barbarians delight in. So that his name was already famous amongst the adjacent nations, and even amongst nations more remote; when they, who had borne sway in the reign of factions, taking umbrage at his prevailing power, betook themselves to the several neighbouring people, and represented to them, “That the ancient liberty of Germany was extirpated, and over the Germans the Roman yoke established. Could not, indeed, their whole country furnish one native Cheruscan worthy to sustain the Sovereignty; but at the head of their State they must set the offspring of Flavius, the offspring of a traitor and a spy for the Romans? In vain was alledged his kindred to Arminius; since even the son of Arminius were to be dreaded in the same station, if bred in a hostile soil, poisoned with foreign nurture, debased by foreign slavery, inured to foreign manners, and every thing foreign. But, for this son of Flavius, if he inherited the spirit of his father, never had man waged war with fiercer enmity against his native country and his own household Gods, than the father of this Italicus.”
By these and the like stimulations, they procured and assembled numerous forces; nor was Italicus followed by fewer, as on his behalf his followers argued, “That he had by no invasion seized the throne, but held it by their own invitation; and since in blood he excelled all others, it became them to try whether in bravery he would shew himself worthy of his grand-father Catumerus. Nor was it any ground of shame to the son, that his father had never violated that faith towards the Romans, which with the approbation of the Germans he had sworn. But shamelesly and falsly was the sound of liberty urged by those, who, degenerate in their own lives, and destructive by their practices to the public weal, placed their only hopes in rending their country by civil discord.” The King had the zeal and acclamations of the people, and in a great battle between these hosts of Barbarians, he acquired the victory. Thenceforward he became transported with his good fortune, grew imperious, and was expelled, but again restored by the forces of the Longobards; and, in these struggles he continued, as well by his successes as misfortunes, to afflict the Cheruscan state.
About the same time the Chaucians, engaged now in no domestic dissentions, and animated by the death of Sanquinius, Governor of lower Germany, made incursions into that Province, before Corbulo arrived to succeed him. For their leader they had Gannascus, of the country of the Caninefates, one who had long served the Romans amongst their auxiliaries, but deserted, and following the practice of pyracy, infested the neighbouring coasts, and above all terribly ravaged the coasts of Gaul, a nation whom he knew to be rich and unwarlike. But when Corbulo entered the province, where, in this his first military command, he laid the foundation of his eminent future glory, he dispatched with great diligence the galleys down the Rhine, and the other vessels along the lakes and canals, according to their different sizes and burden. Thus, having sunk the enemy’s wherries, and put Gannascus to flight, he took order first for settling effectually the state of the Province, and then restored the ancient discipline amongst the Legions, who were now utter strangers to military toils and application, and had been long employed in depredations only. Under Corbulo no man durst stir from his rank, none, without express orders, durst attack the foe. Accoutred with all their arms, they were forced to keep guard and stand centry; and whatever duties they performed, under all their arms they performed them. It is even reported, “That he punished a soldier with death, for digging in the trenches without his sword, and another for being there armed only with his dagger.” Instances, in truth, of severity without measure; but whether forged or aggravated, they still owed their rise to the rigid spirit of that Captain: so that it was manifest how inexorable in flagrant enormities he must be, who was thought capable of such unrelenting asperity for offences so small.
This terror, however, affected the army and the enemy different ways; by it the Romans increased in bravery, and the ferocity of the Barbarians was abated. Hence the Frizians, who after their rebellion, begun with the defeat of Lucius Apronius, had continued in hostility, or in uncertain and faithless allegiance, sent us new hostages, and settled themselves in the territory assigned them by Corbulo. Over them he instituted a Senate, Magistrates, and Laws; and, to ensure their subjection, amongst them planted a garrison. He likewise dispatched proper persons to sollicit the Chaucians to submission, and at the same time, by guile to assail Gannascus. The snare succeeded; neither did the practice of snares towards a deserter, one who had broke his faith, debase the Roman magnanimity. Yet, by his assassination, the minds of the Chaucians were enflamed, and by it Corbulo furnished them with matter of rebellion. Thus, his proceedings, though applauded by many, gave umbrage to others. “Why, they said, would he be wantonly exciting a people to arms? Upon the Commonwealth must light all the disasters of the war; but, if success attended him, then would such a signal Commander prove terrible to the quiet of the State, and, to a dastardly Prince, insupportable.” Hence Claudius became so thoroughly bent against all further irruptions into Germany, that he ordered him to lead back all the Roman forces over the Rhine.
Corbulo was already encamping in the enemy’s country, when these orders were delivered him; and though many different apprehensions at once overwhelmed his spirit, his dread of the Emperor, the scorn of the Barbarians, the derision of the Allies; yet without uttering more than, that “happy were the Roman Captains of old,” he ordered the retreat to be sounded. However, to prevent the soldiers from relapsing into a habit of idleness, he employed them in digging a Canal three and twenty miles long between the Meuse and the Rhine; by it to open a receptacle for the high tides, and prevent inundations. The Emperor nevertheless allowed him the decorations of Triumph, though he had denied him the prosecution of the war. Shortly after, the same honour was conferred on Curtius Rufus, who, in the territory of the Mattiacians had opened some silver mines, a source of small advantage, nor of long continuance; but to the Legions it created eminent labour and damage, as they were forced to cut deep sluices, and toil under the earth at works which even in open air are hard and rigorous. The soldiers therefore, overcome by these hardships, and perceiving that the same drudgeries were exacted from them in several Provinces, wrote secretly to the Emperor, and in the name of the Armies besought him, “that whomsoever he intended for the Command of the Legions, he would first reward them with the triumphal honours.”
Concerning the original of Curtius Rufus, who by some is represented as the son of a Gladiator, I should be sorry to publish a false account, and I am also tender of recounting that which is true. As soon as he was grown to a man, he followed a Roman Quæstor into Africa; and, at the City of Adrumetum, while he walked under the piazza, in the middle of the day, the vision of a woman above human size appeared before him, and accosted him with these words; “Thou, Rufus, art one who shalt hereafter come into this Province with Proconsular authority.” Inspired with hopes from this presage, he returned to Rome, where, by the largesses of his friends, and the vigour of his own spirit, he gained the Quæstorship; and standing afterwards for the office of Prætor against the several candidates of the Nobility, carried it by the interest of Tiberius, who, as a shade to the sordidness of his birth, gave him this encomium; “To me Curtius Rufus seems to be descended from himself.” After this, always a servile flatterer of those above him, arrogant to his inferiors, and perverse to his equals, he lived to a great age, arrived to the Consular power, the honours of Triumph, lastly to the Government of Africa; and, dying there, fulfilled the fatal presage.
About the same time Cneius Novius a Roman Knight, was discovered armed with a dagger in the throng of those who were paying their court to the Prince; but, upon what motives, was no wise apparent then, nor ever afterwards learnt. For though, when rent by the rack, he at last confessed his own design, his accomplices he never disclosed; whether he would not, or had none, is uncertain. Under the same Consuls it was moved by Publius Dolabella, “that a public entertainment of Gladiators should be yearly exhibited at the charge of such as obtained the office of Quæstors.” An office, which in the days of our ancestors was only the price of virtue; and indeed to every Roman, if he confided in his own qualifications, it was free to sue for every Magistracy; nor was want of years held any obstruction, but that some, even in their early youth, might become Consuls and Dictators. As to the Quæstorship, it was as ancient as our Kings, as is manifest from the Law Curiata, revived by Lucius Brutus; and the power of chusing Quæstors continued in the Consuls, till the people would assume the conferring of that honour also. So that Valerius Potitus and Æmilius Mamercus, the first popular Quæstors, were created twenty-three years after the expulsion of the Tarquins, and appointed to attend the armies; upon the multiplication of business, two more were afterwards added, to officiate at Rome. After a long interval, all Italy being now tributary, and large revenues growing from the Provinces, the number was doubled. Sylla next, in order to fill the Senate, upon which he had devolved the authority of adjudging causes, created twenty; and though the Equestrian Order had since recovered the decision of suits, yet the Quæstorship continued still to be, by the rule of merit, gratuitously granted, till by this motion of Dolabella, it was exposed, as it were, to sale by auction.
In the Consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipsanius, counsels were on foot about supplying the vacancies of the Senate; and, as the Nobility of that part of Gaul entitled Comata, had long since acquired the distinction of Confederates and Citizens of Rome, they now sued for a common participation of her offices and honours. Hence many and various were the reasonings of the public upon these their pretensions, and the Prince was beset with opposite parties and struggles. He was told, “that Italy was not fallen so low, but to her own Capital she could furnish a supply of Senators. Of old her natives only, they who were of the same blood with the Romans, sufficed for such recruits to the Roman State. Nor was there any pretence to condemn or amend the institutions of the ancient Republic, a Republic which inspired her Citizens with such noble manners, that the spirit and actions of the old Romans were still urged as venerable patterns of virtue and glory to us their posterity. Was it not sufficient that already the Venetians and Insubrians had invaded the Senate, unless a host of foreigners too be introduced, like an establishment of captivity and conquest? After this, what dignity would remain to the native Nobility? What means of preferment to any poor Senator of Latium? By these opulent Gauls all public honours would be engrossed, men whose fathers and fore-fathers were at the head of hostile nations, slaughtered our Armies, and at Alesia besieged the deified Julius; instances these of later days; but more horrible to recount were the ravages of the antient Gauls, who with impious hands demolished the great Roman Altar, and defaced the Capitol. They might, in truth, enjoy still the title of Roman Citizens; but, let not the glory of the Fathers, let not the lustre of the Magistrates be prostituted, and rendered the purehase and spoil of nations.”
The Emperor was little affected by these and the like allegations, but, having presently answered those who made them, summoned the Senate and spoke thus. “The ancestors of my family, and the oldest of them, Attus Clausus, who, though a Sabine born, was at once adopted a Roman Citizen, and enrolled in the number of Patricians, furnish me with a lesson, that with parallel measures I ought to maintain the Commonwealth, by transferring to ourselves all men of signal merit where-ever found. For, I am not ignorant, that from Alba we had the Julii, from Camerium the Corruncani, and the Porcii from Tusculum. But, to avoid the detail of ancient and single adoptions, were not the Nobles of Etruria, the Nobles of Lucania, nay, those of all Italy, called into the body of the Senate? At last our city and her privileges became bounded only by the Alps; insomuch that, besides the admission of particulars, whole States and Nations became ingrafted into the Roman name. We had then solid peace at home, and our arms and reputation flourished abroad, when the nations on the other side the Po were presented with the rights of Citizens; and when, under the guise of planting, out of the Legions, Colonies all over the earth, and by incorporating with these our Colonies the most powerful of the natives, we thence supported and renewed our own exhausted state. Do we regret that the Balbi were transplanted to us from Spain, or men equally illustrious from the Narbon Gaul; they whose descendents remain yet with us, nor yield to us in their love of this our common country? What proved the bane of the Spartans and Athenians, States so potent in arms and conquests, but that they held for aliens whomsoever they conquered? Much greater was the wisdom of Romulus, our founder, a Prince who saw several people his enemies and his citizens, in one and the same day. Even over us Romans foreigners have been Kings; and, to commit Magistracies to the children of freedmen, is no innovation, as many erroneously suppose, but a primitive practice of the old Roman people. But, it seems, we have had wars with the Gauls. What is the consequence? Have the Volscians, have the Equians never borne arms against us? It is true, our Capital has been taken by the Gauls; but by the Tuscans we have been forced to give hostages, and by the Samnites to pass under a gibbet. However, upon a review of all our wars, none will be found more quickly concluded than those with the Gauls; and ever since has ensued a peace never interrupted, and faithfully observed. They are linked with us in private manners, in civil and military accomplishments, and domestic alliances; and in this conjunction with us let them rather introduce amongst us their gold and abundance, than enjoy them without our participation. All the things, Conscript Fathers, which are now held most ancient in our State, were once new: the Plebeian Magistrates were later than the Patricians; the Latin Magistrates later than the Plebeian; those of other nations in Italy came after the Latin: the present admission of the Gauls will also wax old; and what is this day supported by examples, will itself hereafter become an example.”
By a Decree of the Fathers, which followed this speech, the Eduans first acquired the right of admission into the Senate; the reward this of their ancient confederacy with Rome, and as they only of all the Gauls are entitled the Brethren of the Roman people. About the same time, all the ancient Senators, with such whose fathers had sustained signal offices in the State, were by Claudius assumed into the class of Patricians. For, of all the families who by Romulus were named the older Nobility, or of those added by Lucius Brutus, and called the younger, there were few remaining. Even such whom Cæsar the Dictator by the Cassian Law, and such whom the Emperor Augustus by the Senian Law, had created Patricians, were now extinct. As these reformations made in the State by Claudius, in quality of Censor, were acceptable to the public, he proceeded in them with great alacrity; yet, how to degrade from the Senate those who were of infamous characters, held him some time in suspence; but, as he determined to apply rather a new and tender expedient, than to pursue the rigorous example of antiquity, he warned them, “to consult their own qualifications, and then ask leave to resign their order; a request easily to be obtained,” and then he promised, “to name them as persons removed by abdication, at the same time that he would pronounce others judicially expelled; that thus the credit of a modest and voluntary resignation, might soften and hide the infamy of expulsion by the judgment of the Censor.” For these regulations, the Consul Vipsanius proposed, “that Claudius should be called the Father of the Senate; for that, the name of Father of his Country was a common title; and his extraordinary benefits to the Commonwealth ought to be distinguished with no ordinary appellations:” but the Emperor thought the flattery extravagant, and checked the Consul. He then numbered the Citizens, who in that survey amounted to six millions, nine hundred thousand. From this time he remained no longer a stranger to his domestic reproach, but was brought to hear and punish the abominations of his wife; whence was to arise a new passion, and an incestuous marriage with his niece.
Messalina now disdaining her daily adulteries, as too easy and common, was abandoning herself to the gratifications of lust never before devised; when Silius too, by a fatal intoxication, or judging that the dangers hanging over him were only to be averted by dangerous remedies, urged to her, “that all disguises must now be cast off, for they were gone too far to venture waiting for the death of the Emperor. To none but the guiltless were unblameable counsels adapted. In glaring guilt determined intrepidity was the only resource. They had accomplices at hand, such as dreaded the same doom; and for himself, he was single, childless, ready to marry her, and to adopt Britannicus: to Messalina should still remain her present power; and certain security would abide both, if they prevented Claudius, one so easily circumvented, but so prone withal to vengeance.” These words were but coolly received by Messalina, from no love to her husband; but she feared that Silius, when he had gained the Sovereignty, would scorn his old adulteress; and the treason, which, to avoid his present peril, he now recommended, would then be considered and repaid according to its genuine value. She, however, coveted the fame of this strange matrimony, purely for the enormous measure of infamy; which to such as are abandoned to debauchery, is the last improvement of voluptuousness. Neither staid she longer than till Claudius went to Ostia, to assist at a sacrifice there, and then celebrated her new Nuptials with all the usual solemnities.
I am well aware how fabulous it will appear, that such blind security should possess any human heart, much more that a Consul elect, should, in a city informed of all things, and concealing nothing, dare to marry the Emperor’s wife, at a stated day, witnesses called to sign the contract, with a declaration inserted that by it children were intended; that the Emperor’s wife should espouse another husband in form, hear the solemn words of the Augurs, sacrifice solemnly to the Gods, celebrate with him in a great company the nuptial Feasts, and in the presence of all exchange kisses and embraces, and pass the night in the consummation of conjugal joys. Yet I frame no fiction, to excite wonder, but only relate what from the living or written testimony of our fathers I have learned.
Horror seized the Prince’s family, especially those who had the chief sway, who dreaded a Revolution; and, uttering no longer their indignation in secret, they stormed aloud, “That while the Emperor’s bed-chamber was polluted by a player, high reproach was in truth incurred, but dissolution no wise threatened the State. At present a young man of the prime Nobility, in the beauty of his person surpassing all men, of a spirit vigorous and capable, and just entering upon the Consulship, was pursuing views much higher; nor was it any riddle, what such a marriage tended to produce.” It is true, when they recollected the stupidity of Claudius, his blind attachment to his wife, and the many lives sacrificed to her fury, their own apprehensions dismayed them. But again, even the passive spirit of the Emperor revived their confidence, that, if they could first possess him with the horrid blackness of her crimes, she might be dispatched without trial; or, if she obtained to be heard, and even confessed her guilt, they might yet stop his ears, and frustrate her defence.
But first it was in agitation, whether still to dissemble her past enormities, and by secret menaces deter her from her league with Silius. This was a project proposed by the principal freedmen, by Callistus, whom in relating the assassination of Caligula, I have already mentioned, by Narcissus, who plotted the sacrifice of Appius, and by Pallas, then the reigning favourite; but a project afterwards dropped, as from alarming Messalina they apprehended their own doom. Pallas was faint-hearted, and Callistus, a courtier in the last reign also, had experienced, that power was supported more securely by wary measures, than by daring counsels. Narcissus persisted in his purpose, with this difference only, that she should be by no words of his pre-acquainted with the accusation or the accuser. Thus, watching all occasions, while the Emperor lingered at Ostia, he prevailed, by gifts and promises, with two courtezans, to undertake the accusation; since, as they were the chief mistresses of Claudius, the freedman urged to them, “That by the fall of his wife, their own authority would become predominant.”
Calpurnia therefore, (for that was her name) upon the first offer of privacy, falling at the Emperor’s feet, cried out, “That Messalina had married Silius,” and at the same time asked Cleopatra, who purposely attended to attest it, “Whether she had not found it to be true?” Claudius, upon a confirmation from Cleopatra, ordered Narcissus to be called. He, when he came, begged pardon, that he had concealed her adulteries with Vectius, and those with Plautius; “nor meant he now, he said, to urge against her any of her adulteries, nor even that the Emperor should reclaim his palace, his slaves, and the other decorations of his Imperial fortune. Let her adulterer still enjoy even these; let him only break the nuptial tables, and restore the Emperor his wife. Knowest thou, Cæsar, that thou art in a state of divorce? it is what all men know, the people, and Senate, and soldiery, and, if thou makest not dispatch, her new husband is Sovereign of Rome.
He then sent for his most trusty friends, particularly for Turranius, Superintendant of the stores, next for Lusius Geta, Captain of the Prætorian Guards, and proposed the question to them. As they vouched it to be true, all the rest contended in clamour and importunity, that he should forthwith proceed to the Camp, secure the Prætorian Cohorts, and consult his preservation before his revenge. It is certain, that Claudius was confounded with such a degree of dread, that he incessantly asked, “Whether he were yet Emperor? Whether Silius was still a private man?” As to Messalina, she never wallowed in greater voluptuousness; as it was then the middle of Autumn, in her house she exhibited a representation of the vintage. The wine-presses were plied, the wine-vats flowed, and round them danced women begirt with skins, pracrising the frantic agitations of the drunken sacrificers to Bacchus. She herself, with her hair loose and flowing, held a Thyrsus and waved it, accompanied by Silius, who was crowned with ivy, his legs in buskins, and brandishing his head; and about him revelled, in wanton postures, the chanting choir of mock Priests. It is reported, that Vectius Valens, having, in a frolic, vaulted to the top of an exceeding high tree, was asked, what he beheld, and answered, “a storm from Ostia.” Whether he in truth saw a troubled sky, or spoke at random, it proved in effect a true presage.
For, it was no longer a rumour only, but messengers were hourly arriving with tidings, “That Claudius was apprized of all, and approached, bent upon vengeance.” Messalina therefore betook herself to the Gardens of Lucullus; and Silius, to dissemble his fear, resumed the offices of the Forum. As all the rest fled different ways, the Centurions caught and bound them, some abroad, some in private places, as fast as they could discover them. Messalina, however bereft of resources under such weighty calamity, yet formed no dastardly purpose, even that of meeting her husband, and moving him by her presence, an expedient which had often proved her protection. She likewise ordered that Britannicus and Octavia should go forth and embrace their father; and besought Vibidia, the oldest Vestal, to intercede with the chief Pontiff, and implore his mercy. She herself the while wandered on foot all along the City, attended only by three persons (so suddenly had her whole train forsaken her in disgrace) and then, in a cart employed to carry dirt from the Gardens, took the road to Ostia, but found no soul to pity her, as the deformity of her abominations had prevailed over all commiseration.
The Emperor was, notwithstanding, possessed with no less affright; for, he could not intirely rely on the faith of Geta Captain of his guards, a man equally fickle to embark in designs honourable or base. Narcissus therefore, in concert with those who entertained the same fears and mistrust, assured the Emperor, “That there was no other expedient to preserve him, than the transferring the command of his guards upon one of his freedmen, for that day only,” and offered himself to undertake it. And, that Lucius Vitellius, and Publius Largus Cæcina, might not, upon the road to Rome, prevail with Claudius to relent, he desired leave to sit in the same coach, and took it.
There was afterwards a prevailing report, that, though the Emperor was agitated different ways, and wavered in his talk, now taxing the abominations of his wife, then recalling the endearments of their marriage, and the tender age of their children, Vitellius uttered nothing but, “Oh heinous! oh the iniquity!” Narcissus, in truth, laboured to drive him from his equivoques, and bring him to some express declaration, but, with all his labour, gained nothing: Vitellius still answered indirectly, in terms that would admit of any construction, and his example was followed by Largus Cæcina. Besides, Messalina was already in sight, and importunately cried, “that he would hear the mother of Octavia and Britannicus?” To drown her cries, the accuser stormed aloud against Silius, and her late marriage, and delivered at the same time to Claudius a memorial, reciting all her whoredoms, thence to divert him from beholding her. Soon after, as the Emperor was entering Rome, it was attempted to present him his children by her; but Narcissus ordered them to be taken thence; he could not, however, force away Vibidia, who insisted, with much earnestness, “That Cæsar would not surrender his wife to destruction without admitting her defence.” So that Narcissus was obliged to assure her, that the Prince would hear Messalina, who should have full opportunity of clearing herself, and advised the Vestal to retire, and attend the solemnities of her Goddess.
Wonderful, during all this, was the silence of Claudius. Vitellius affected astonishment, and the freedman controuled all things. By his command, the house of the adulterer was opened, and the Emperor carried thither, where first he shewed him, in the porch, the Statue of Silius the father, though the same had been decreed to be demolished by the Senate; and, within, all the sumptuous furniture belonging to the Neros and Drusi, now the price and monuments of his wife’s prostitution, and of his own disgrace. Having thus inflamed him, and worked him up to threats and fury, he led him streight to the camp, where the soldiers being already assembled, Claudius, prompted by Narcissus, made them a short speech; for the eruptions of his displeasure, however just, were restrained by shame. Hence instantly began a general and importunate clamour for the names and doom of the criminals, and Silius was presented before the Imperial Tribunal, where, neither offering any present defence, nor endeavouring to procrastinate, he only besought a dispatch of his doom. The like passion for sudden execution, also stimulated several illustrious Roman Knights. He therefore commanded Titius Proculus, given by Silius as a guard to Messalina, Vectius Valens, who confessed his guilt, and offered to discover others, Pompeius Urbicus and Saufellus Trogus, as accomplices, to be all dragged to execution. On Decius Calpurnianus too, Præfect of the watch, Sulpicius Rufus, Comptroller of the Sports; and Juncus Virgilianus, the Senator, the same pains were inflicted.
Mnester only created some hesitation; he tore off his garments and cried, “That the Emperor might behold upon his body the impressions of the lash; might remember his own commands, obliging him to gratify Messalina without reserve. Others had been tempted to the iniquity by great presents or mighty hopes; but his offence was only owing to compulsion, nor would any man have sooner perished had Silius gained the Sovereignty.” These considerations affected Claudius, and greatly biassed him to mercy; but his freedmen over-ruled him; “for that after so many illustrious sacrifices, he would by no means think of saveing a Player, whose crime was of that enormity, that it availed not whether through choice or force he had committed it.” As small effect had the defence of Traulus Montanus. This was a youth of signal modesty and loveliness, called by the express order of Messalina to her bed, and, after one night, cast off; with such equal wantonness was her passion surfeited and inflamed! To Suilius Cesoninus, and Plautius Lateranus, their lives were granted, to the last on account of the noble exploits of his uncle; the other was protected by his vileness, as one who, in the late abominable revel, had prostituted himself like a woman.
Messalina was the while in the Gardens of Lucullus, still striving to prolong life, and therefore composing supplications to the Prince, in a strain of some hopes, and even with sallies of resentment and wrath. Such were the swellings of her pride, though encompassed with the horrors of her approaching fate. In truth, had not Narcissus hastened her assassination, the doom which he had prepared for her, would have rebounded upon his own head. For Claudius, upon his return home, having well feasted upon the rarities of the season, and becoming jovial, as soon as he became warm with wine, ordered them “to go and acquaint the miserable woman,” (for this was the appellation which he is said to have used) “that to morrow she should attend and plead her cause.” When these words were reported, as his resentment also visibly abated, and his wonted affections were returning; besides, since the impressions of the following night, and of the conjugal chamber, were apprehended as the certain effects of delay, Narcissus ran hastily forth, and directed the Tribune and Centurions then attending upon duty, “to dispatch the execution, for such was the Emperor’s command.” With them he sent Evodus of the freedmen, as a watch upon them, to see his orders strictly fulfilled. Evodus flew in a moment to the Gardens, and found her lying along upon the earth. By her sat her mother Lepida, who, during her prosperity, had lived in no degree of unanimity with her, but, in this her deadly distress, was overcome by compassion for her, and now persuaded her, “to anticipate the executioner; the course of her life was now finally run, and she was now confined to one only pursuit, of dying with renown.” But her soul, utterly corrupted by debauchery, retained no relish of glory. She continued bewailing herself with tears and vain complaints, till the soldiers forced the doors. The Tribune stood before her, without opening his mouth, but the freedman abused her unmeasurably, with all the brutal invectives of a slave.
She was then first convinced of the fate that hung over her, and, laying hold on the steel, aimed first at her throat, then at her breast, but while an irresolute spirit and a quaking hand frustrated her aim, the Tribune ran her through. Her corps was granted to her mother. Claudius was yet pursuing his good cheer, when tidings were carried to him, “That Messalina had suffered her destiny,” but without the addition of particulars, whether by her own, or another hand; neither did he enquire; he even called for a bowl of wine, and proceeded in the usual gayeties of banquetting. Nor did he, in truth, during the following days, manifest any symptom of detestation or joy, of resentment or sadness, nor, in short, of any human affection; unmoved by beholding the accusers of his wife exulting over her death, untouched by the sight of his children bewailing the doom of their mother. The Senate helped him to forget her, by decreeing, “That from all public and private places her Name should be razed, and her Pictures and Statues removed.” To Narcissus were decreed the decorations of the Quæstorship. This, however, was but a small monument of his grandeur, seeing he had now exerted an instance of power superior to that of Pallas and Callistus, an instance just in effect, but from whence, in time, arose most pernicious consequences, as the deserved punishment of Messalina proved the source of flagrant iniquities which escaped unpunished.