Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK XIV. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16)
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BOOK XIV. - 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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Nero hates and dreads his mother, and causes her to be murdered. He gives a false account of that murder to the Senate. What strange applause he finds there, and his encouragement from thence to every excess and enormity. He drives chariots, nay, mounts the stage. Quinquennial games instituted, with popular observations upon that institution. The brave conduct of Corbulo in Armenia; he takes Tigranocerta, and establishes Tigranes King there. A great massacre of the Romans in Britain, during the absence of Suetonius Paullinus, then employed in subduing the isle of Anglesey. Thence the province almost lost, but recovered again by the vigorous efforts of the Governor, and in one great combat. The Governor of Rome slain at home by one of his slaves; the rest punished. The law of Majesty revived. The death of Burrhus. Attempts to ruine Seneca; who is aware of them, and sues to be dismissed, but is refused. Tigellinus his mischievous credit with the Emperor; causes Plautus and Sylla to be killed. Nero dismisses his wife Octavia, and marries Poppæa. Hence a popular tumult, which hastens the murder of Octavia.
During the Consulship of Caius Vipstanus and Caius Fonteius, Nero determined to accomplish, without more delay, the parricide, which he had been long deviseing, as from the permanence of his power he was become resolute and hardened, and his passion for Poppæa waxed daily more flameing. She too, who could never hope to see Octavia divorced, nor herself espoused during the life of Agrippina, teased him with incessant reproaches, nay, sometimes jeered him by the sarcastical name of “pupil, one blindly subject to the controulment of another, so far from being suffered to sway the Empire, that he was not allowed even private liberty. For, upon what other motives could he delay to marry her? Had he any objections to her person and beauty, or to her blood and ancestors, men of renown, distinguished with triumphal honours? was he unsatisfied about the fruitfulness of her body, or the sincere affections of her soul? No; the truth was, it was dreaded, that when she was become his wife, she would be laying open the grievances of the Senate, the resentment of the people, against the pride and rapaciousness of his mother. But, after all, if Agrippina would bear for a daughter-in-law, no other than one who would prove to her son a vexatious and malevolent wife, she desired to be restored again to the conjugal embraces of Otho; for, she was ready and resolved to withdraw to any quarter of the earth, there rather to hear of the Emperor’s abasement and reproach, than stay to behold it, and expose herself to a partnership of the perils which surrounded him.” These and the like expostulations, enforced with sighs and tears, and all the soft artifices of the adulteress, pierced the soul of Nero; nor did any one check their operation, as all earnestly wished to see the authority of Agrippina crushed, and as no mortal believed, that ever the son would wax so hardened in his hate as to spill the blood of his mother.
It is recorded by Cluvius, that such was the flaming passion of Agrippina for retaining her wonted dominion, to such extravagant lengths was she transported, that often, in the face of the day, at a season when Nero was heated with wine and banquetting, she accosted him, gayly attired, and, while he was thus drunk, strove to prompt him to incest; that their obscene kisses, gestures, and other such signals and incitements to that abomination, being well observed by those who were present, Seneca, for an antidote against the enticements of one woman, had recourse to another; hence Acte was introduced, a franchised Damsel, one who being equally anxious for her own danger and the infamy of Nero, warned him, that already the incest was every where published, and his mother gloried in the publication, and that the soldiery would never bear the rule of a Prince contaminated with such unnatural pollution. Fabius Rusticus ascribes this strange appetite not to Agrippina, but to Nero, and recounts that, by the cunning of the same Acte, he was weaned and rescued. But, the detail given by Cluvius, is the same with that of the other writers, and on this side too is the testimony of popular fame; whether she really nourished in her heart an impurity so monstrous, or whether the concerting of this unheard-of prostitution appeared the more credible in her, who almost in her childhood had, from thirst of dominion, consented to be debauched by Lepidus, with the like spirit of power, abandoned herself to the lust of Pallas, and, during her incestuous marriage with her uncle Claudius, had been practised in a course of wickedness of every kind and degree.
Thenceforth Nero began to avoid all private encounters with his mother, and, upon every occasion of her retiring to any of her gardens out of Rome, or to her seats at Tusculum or Antium, used to applaud her for thus employing her leisure. At length, considering her as his dread and torment, where-ever she resided, he assumed a resolution to kill her, and was only in suspence about the means, whether by poison or the sword, or any other effectual violence. That of poison was preferred at first, but to administer the same was difficult: if it were done at the Prince’s table, its operation could never pass for accidental death, since in the like manner Britannicus had already perished; to apply to her own domestics, appeared a great risque, as she was a woman who from her own long intimacy with frauds and blood, was wary and vigilant against all snares and circumvention, and moreover always secured herself by counter-poisons against the efforts of poison. How to dispatch her with the sword, and yet cover the appearances of the execution, no one pretended to devise; it was feared too, that the orders would be rejected, to whomsoever they were given, for the perpetration of such hideous iniquity. Here Anicetus proferred his service and dexterity, a franchised slave, tutor to Nero in his infancy, but now Commander of the fleet which rode at Misenum, one virulently hated by Agrippina, and with equal virulence hating her. He therefore explained, “how a vessel might be so contrived, that by the sudden bursting of one particular quarter in the open sea, she might be overwhelmed, without the least warning or apprehension. Nothing, he said, was so fertile of disasters as the sea, and, if she were thus dispatched by shipwreck, who could be so injurious as to ascribe the malignity of wind and waves to the malice and contrivance of men? moreover, the Prince would of course bestow on his deceased mother, a temple and altars, and all other honours proper to create an oftentation of filial grief and piety.”
Nero was pleased with the device, which was also favoured by the juncture of time, the Festival of Minerva, called Quinquatrus, which he was then celebrating at Baiæ. Thither he inticed his mother; for, he was frequently declaring, “that the hasty humours of parents were to be borne withal, and, towards her it behoved him to suppress every irritation of his own spirit;” as by such declarations he meant to raise a general rumour of his own reconcilement to her, a rumour which he hoped would reach Agrippina and find credit with her, from the credulous genius of women, prone to believe whatever feeds their wishes and promises matter of joy. When she approached, he met her upon the shore, (for she came by sea from Antium) presented her his hand, and embraced her, then conducted her to Bauli, so the villa is called, which, lying between the Cape of Misenum and the gulf of Baiæ, is washed by the sea which winds round the point. Here, amongst several other vessels, there lay one more gaudy and ornamental than the rest, as if, in this particular too, he meditated fresh honour to his mother; for, she had been always wont to be carried in a galley with three banks of oars, rowed by mariners from the fleet. Moreover, the banquet to which she was invited, was so timed, that under the dark shades of night the horrid execution might be covered. It was, however, apparent, that some body had betrayed the design, and that Agrippina, upon hearing the perfidious machination, though she was doubtful whether she ought to believe it, had yet chosen to be carried by land to Baiæ in a sedan; but, upon her arrival there, the plausible behaviour of Nero asswaged her fears; for, besides placing her at table above him, treating her with all tenderness and caresses, he amused her with great variety of conversation, now breaking out into sallies of youthful frankness, then with an air composed and grave, discourseing of weighty affairs, and having thus drawn out the banquet into a great length, he attended her to the shore, there more ardently than before he kissed her eyes, kissed her bosom, and left it uncertain whether, by such passionate behaviour, he only meant to complete this scene of dissimulation, or whether the last sight of a mother just going to perish, really checked his spirit however savage.
The night proved clear, the stars shone in full lustre, the sea was smooth and calm; as if all this had been concerted by the providence of the Gods, for the more incontestable detection of the murder. Agrippina, of all her numerous domestics, was, when she embarked, attended only by two, Crepereius Gallus, who stood by the steerage, and Acerronia, who, as her Lady reposed, lay at her feet, and was recounting to her, with much joy, the remorse of her son, and the favour which by it he had regained from his mother: nor had the vessel yet made much way, when suddenly upon a signal given, the deck over that quarter was loosened, and being purposely loaded with a great quantity of lead, sunk violently down, and instantly crushed Crepereius to death. Agrippina and Acerronia were defended by the posts of the bed, which happened to be too strong to yield to the descending weight; neither did the structure of the vessel burst, for, the mariners were all embarrassed, and those of them who were not entrusted with the fraud, obstructed the measures of such as were. The next expedient concerted by the latter was, to bear her down on one side, and so sink her. But, neither amongst these accomplices was there an instant concurrence in executing a project thus hastily proposed, and there were others at the same time struggling contrariwise to preserve her; hence it proceeded that she was not swallowed up at once in the deep, but descended more leisurely. Now Acerronia, while she declared herself to be Agrippina, and called upon them passionately, to succour and save the Prince’s mother, was pursued with poles, and oars, and whatever other naval weapons came accidentally to hand, and so slain. Agrippina kept silence, and, being therefore the less known, escaped, with one wound however upon her shoulder. What with swimming, what with the assistance of some fisherboats, which rowed out to succour her, she reached the lake Lucrinus, and was thence conducted to her own villa.
Here she revolved upon her danger, that for this very end she had been inveigled by the fraudulent letters of her son, for this treated by him with such signal marks of honour, that the vessel, even under the shelter of the shore, without the agitation of winds, without concussion from rocks, had yielded in its upper part, and tumbled down, like a frail structure of earth. She considered the fate of Acerronia, mistaken for herself and designedly slain, and she beheld her own wound. From the whole however she inferred that her only resource against these black machinations was to act as if she saw them not. With this view, she dispatched Agerinus her freedman, to notify to her son, “that through the benevolence of the Gods, and the auspicious influence of his fortune, she had escaped a grievous casualty, but besought him, that, however terrified with the danger which had threatened his mother, he should yet postpone the trouble of visiting her, for, what she only needed at present was rest.” In the mean while, counterfeiting perfect security and fearlesness, she had medicines applied to her wound, and her body chafed and anointed; she called too for the last will of Acerronia, and ordered all her effects to be registered and sealed up; in which proceeding only she acted without counterfeiting.
As to Nero; while he was hourly expecting expresses, that the parricide was executed, tydings arrived, “that she had escaped only with a slight hurt, having so far felt the danger as to remain in no uncertainty who it was that sought her life.” At this he became mortally struck with dismay, and swore in passionate terms, “that, without peradventure, she would presently be at hand, bent upon taking hasty vengeance, whether by arming the slaves, or by stirring up against him the rage of the soldiery, or by flying to the Senate and people, with a tragical representation of the vessel wrecked, herself wounded, her friends murdered, and her son the author of all. And against this menaceing event, what resource, what protection had he, unless some such could be proposed by Burrhus and Seneca?” For, the instant he received the news of the disappointment, he had called for them both to consult them; neither is it certain whether, before this, they were unacquainted with the conspiracy. Upon this emergency, they both kept long silence, as they apprehended that it was in vain to persuade him to drop the design, and perhaps believed it to be already pushed so far, that unless Agrippina soon perished, Nero certainly must. At length, Seneca proved the more forward of the two; yet no further than to look at Burrhus, and ask, “whether the orders for this execution were not to be trusted to the soldiery?” Burrhus answered, that “the Prætorian guards were so zealously attached to the whole family of the Cæasrs, so fond in particular of the name and memory of Germanicus, that, against any descendent of his they could never be animated to aught that were cruel and bloody. It therefore behoved Anicetus to acquit himself of his engagement.” Neither did Anicetus pause one moment, but even demanded the office of completing the murder. Nero became revived with these words, and declaring himself to be that day presented with the Empire, owned his franchised slave for the author of the mighty present, and urged him to dispatch, leading with him for his assistance such as were most prompt to obey. The freedman however, having heard that Agerinus was arrived from Agrippina, with the news of her disaster and escape, contrived a plot to turn the treason upon her; and therefore, as the other was delivering his message, dropped a dagger between his legs, then, as if he had caught him in the terrible fact, called for irons to be instantly cast upon him. By this fable, he purposed to support another, by feigning that the destruction of the Prince had been concerted by his mother, and that being struck with confusion upon the discovery of her treason, she had desperately put an end to her own life.
During these transactions, while the danger which threatened Agrippina at sea, flew abroad (for it was understood as the effect of chance) the people flocked impatiently to the shore, each as foon as he heard it. Some climbed up the mounds which shoot out into the sea, some crowded into barks and skiffs, others entered the floods and waded as deep as their height would permit; nay, there were those who stretched out their arms, as it were to catch and receive her; so that, with lamentions for her misfortune, with vows for her deliverance, and with the indistinct clamour of a multitude, many asking different questions, or returning uncertain answers, the whole coast resounded. There ran, moreover, to the rest a great crowd with lights in their hands, and, as soon as it was confirmed that Agrippina was out of danger, they were speeding, with all zeal, to offer her their congratulations, till by the sight and menaces of an armed band, they were terrified and dispersed. Anicetus beset the villa with a guard, and, bursting open the gates, seized and secured all such of her slaves as appeared to stop him. He then advanced towards her chamber, where he found the door guarded by very few; all the rest were scared away by the terror and violence of his entrance. In her chamber was a small light, and only one of her Damsels. Agrippina too herself was more and more tossed with anxious thoughts, that no soul had yet arrived from her son, nor had even Agerinus returned; she perceived from without strange vicissitudes and an unusual scene, the desertion of her own people, and the sudden violence and tumult of strangers, with all the warnings of her last fate. Insomuch that, seeing her maid too about to depart, she said, “Thou likewise art going to abandon me;” and, that moment, spied Anicetus, accompanied with Herculeus Captain of a galley, and Oloaritus a Centurion of the navy. She told him, “If he came from the Emperor to be informed of her health, he should acquaint him she was well recovered; if upon any bloody design, she would no wise believe him commissioned by her son; her son could never give unnatural orders for parricide.” The assassins having placed themselves round her bed, the Captain was the first that wounded her, striking her upon the head with a club; for, to the Centurion, as he was drawing his sword to dispatch her, she presented her belly, and with a loud voice, “Strike thy sword into my womb,” she cried, and was instantly assassinated with a multitude of wounds.
In these particulars authors are unanimous; but, that Nero afterwards surveyed the body of his murdered mother, and magnified its symmetry and loveliness, there are those who have related, and those who deny. That very night her corps was burned with sordid obsequies, upon no other bed than such as she used to recline upon at meals. Neither, during the reign of Nero, were her relics reposited, or covered with common earth, till afterwards from the benevolence of her domestics, she received a slight and vulgar grave, upon the road to cape Misenum, adjoyning to a villa of Cæsar’s the Dictator, which from its elevated situation overlooks the coast and bays below. Mnester, a freedman of hers, as soon as her funeral fire was lighted, run himself through with a sword, whether from affection for his Lady, or from dread of his own doom, is altogether uncertain. This violent end of Agrippina was foretold her many years before, and believed, and yet set at nought by her; for, as the Chaldæans, whom she consulted concerning the fortune of Nero, answered, that “he would certainly reign, and certainly kill his mother;” “Let him kill me, said she, so he do but reign.”
The scene of this horrible iniquity being over, the Emperor became terribly struck with its crying enormity, and for the rest of the night was now dumb, motionless, with his eyes fixed, then started up, amazed, and trembling, and thus waited, in distractions of mind, the approach of day, a day from which he expected some direful doom. What first raised his assurance, was the flattery of the Tribunes and Centurions, who, at the instigation of Burrhus, grasped his hand, with congratulations, “That he had thus escaped such unforeseen peril, and the mortal snares of his mother.” Next, his friends and intimates betook themselves, with thanksgiving, to the several Temples; and the example being thus begun was followed by the adjacent towns and communities of Campania, who gave public testimonies of their joy, by sacrifices to the Gods, and embassies to the Prince. For himself; his dissimulation took a different turn from theirs. Sad and dejected was his mien, he seemed to hate a life thus saved, and bewailed with many tears, the death of his mother. However, as places cannot change their aspect, like the supple countenances of men, and as the tragical prospect of that deadly sea and coast was incessantly reproaching him, (besides there were those who believed, that from the high cliffs round about they heard the shrill sound of trumpets, and shrieks and wailings from Agrippina’s grave) he withdrew to Naples, and there sent letters to the Senate, of which these are the heads:
“That Agerinus, a freedman of Agripina’s, in intimate trust with her, had been seized, ready armed to assassinate him; whence she had undergone the pains of parricide, from the same guilty conscience that prompted her to contrive it.” To this he added a catalogue of her crimes, traced a long way backwards; how she had aimed at a co-ordinate power in the Empire, with an oath from the Prætorian bands, an oath of allegiance to a woman, nay, to the abasement of the Senate and people, had expected the like mark of subjection from them; and finding her ambition disappointed, she became enraged against the soldiery, against the fathers, and the populace, opposed a donative to the guards, and a largess to the people, and devised destruction against the illustrious chiefs of Rome. Nay, it was with great difficulty that he defeated her design of usurping a seat in the Senate, and of returning answers to the Ambassadors of foreign nations.” He even obliquely lashed the transactions under Claudius, and cast upon his mother all the acts of tyranny in that reign, ascribing her fall to the good fortune of the State; for he recounted the particulars of the shipwreck. But where lived there a soul so stupid to believe it to be the blind work of chance? or that a forlorn woman, just saved from a wreck, should employ a single assassin, to break through an armed fleet and the imperial guards, and slay the Emperor? Hence it was not now upon Nero that the popular censure fell (for Nero’s brutal barbarity surpassed all censure) but upon Seneca, for that, by such a representation to the Senate, he had in writing avowed the deed.
Wonderful, however, was the competition of the Grandees in decreeing the following solemnities; “That at all the altars public devotions should be performed; the feast of Minerva, during which the conspiracy was detected, should be celebrated with anniversary plays for ever; in the Senate-house should be placed the statue of that Goddess in gold, and close by her, that of the Emperor; and, in the list of unhallowed days, Agrippina’s anniversary should be inserted.” Thrasea Petus, who was wont either to pass over the like sallies of servility in utter silence or with a short word of assent, walked now out of the Senate, and thence awakened future vengeance against himself, and yet to the rest opened no source of liberty. There happened, moreover, at the same time frequent prodigies, from which arose many prognostics, but no consequences. One woman brought forth a serpent, another, in the embraces of her husband was struck dead with a thunder-bolt. The sun became suddenly darkened, and the fourteen quarters of the city felt the effects of lightning. All which events came to pass so apparently without any providential design in the Deities, that for many years after this, Nero continued safe in his sovereignty and enormities. Now, in order to heighten the popular hate towards his mother, and withal to magnify his own clemency, as if the same were enlarged now she was removed, he restored to their native country and inheritance, Junia and Calpurnia, Ladies of illustrious quality, with Valerius Capito and Licinius Gabolus, men of Prætorian dignity, all formerly doomed to exile by Agrippina. He likewise permitted the remains of Lollia Paullina to be brought home, and a sepulchre for them to be built. Iturius too and Calvisius, whom he had lately banished, he now pardoned and released; for Silana had already yielded to the lot of mortality at Tarentum, whither, from her remote banishment, she had returned, either because the authority of Agrippina, by whose enmity she fell, was then declining, or her wrath by that time asswaged.
While Nero lingered in the towns of Campania, full of anxiety how to conduct himself upon his return to Rome, whether he should find the Senate obsequious, or zeal in the people, his doubts were combated by all the profligates of the court (and no court upon earth abounded with more.) They argued, “That the very name of Agrippina was detested, insomuch that by her death, the affections of the people were more powerfully kindled towards him. He should therefore proceed confidently, and in person receive proofs of popular adoration.” As they demanded too, that, for trial, they might arrive somewhat before him, they found, in all respects, a more forward and officious zeal than they themselves had promised, the several tribes, in distinct bodies, coming forth to meet him, as also the Senate in their robes of state, with mighty droves of women and children, ranged in classes, according to their sex and age; and all along, where he was to pass, a successive variety of plays and shews, and scenes of public rejoycing, were prepared, with all the parade attending a triumph. Elated with such reception, and as if crowned with victory from this general servitude, he repaired to the Capitol, paid his vows and oblations, and thenceforth abandoned himself to the full bent of all his furious passions; for, though he had hitherto but poorly controuled them, yet his reverence to his mother, however weak it were, had till then checked their violence.
It was a usual diversion of his, and long allowed him, to drive a chariot drawn by four horses; nor less scandalous was his passion for singing to the harp, as he was wont when he supped, in a theatrical gesture and habit: “An employment, which he alledged to have been commonly practised by Kings and Heroes of old; that the same was celebrated in the songs of the poets, and even performed to the honour of the Gods; for, thus were music and singing sacred to Apollo, and thus represented, with the same dress and instrument, not only in the cities of Greece, but even in the Roman Temples, stood that sublime and oracular Deity.” Neither could this his bent be restrained. So that Seneca and Burrhus, lest he should have persisted in both, judged it advisable to indulge him in one. Thus, a piece of ground, in the Vatican, was enclosed with a wall, that he might there exert his dexterity in racing and the discipline of steeds, without being exposed as in a public shew, to the promiscuous crowd. But, in a short time, he even sought to be publicly seen, and invited to the sight the Roman populace, who failed not to magnify him with abundant encomiums; for the vulgar is ever longing after public diversions, and ever delighted with the same inclination in the Prince. Moreover, such open prostitution and forfeiture of all shame did not, as his ministers expected, produce in him any satiety, but contrariwise fresh eagerness. As he imagined too that, by bringing many under such debasement, he should remove his own, he introduced, as actors, into the Theatre, several who were descended from illustrious families, but through indigence become venal, men whose names (as they are now now more) I repeat not with their story; a consideration which I judge due to the dignity of their ancestors; seeing too, that upon his head the iniquities recoil, who, rather than they should not transgress, gave them money for transgressing. He likewise engaged several Roman Knights (men well known) to undertake parts in theatrical representations, by excessive rewards; unless it be thought that pay from one who has authority to command, carries with it the power of compulsion.
Nevertheless, that he might not as yet debase himself in the common Theatre, he instituted a sort of plays called Juvenales; and, for celebrating these, names were given in from all quarters. Here no man’s quality and blood, nor his age, nor the public figure and offices which any of them had borne, excused them from personating the port and buffoonry of the Greek and Roman mimics, even in the obscene gesticulation of their bodies and the effeminate cadences of their voice. Even Ladies of illustrious quality came also to devise unseemly revellings. So that, in the grove planted by Augustus round the lake where the naval combat was exhibited, tabernacles were erected and booths were built, where wine and dainties were exposed to sale, with whatever incites to sensuality and wantonness. To promote the debauch, money was given to the innocent as well as the voluptuous, to be wasted alike in riot, by the former from awe of Nero, by the latter from ostentation of vice. From this source arose a monstrous increase of all pollution and enormities; and though our manners had been long since corrupted, yet never were they more debauched and pervaded by any inundation of vice and depravity, than by this shocking sink of lewdness. Modesty is a thing hard to be secured even by the most virtuous management and restraints; much less is modesty, or chastity, or any honest endowment, to be preserved amidst scenes of impurity, where vices are engaged in a contention to outvie each other.
At length, Nero could forbear no longer, but mounted the Stage and took the harp, trying the strings with awful attention, and studying his part. About him stood his companions; a Cohort too of the guards were arrived, with many Tribunes and Centurions; as also Burrhus the Præfect, praising Nero and grieving for him. At this time likewise was first enrolled the body of Roman Knights entituled Augustani, young men distinguished by the bloom of their years, and strength of body, all professed profligates, some from the bent of nature, the rest in hopes of preferment. These attended nights and days, wholly employed in clapping the Emperor, and sounding his applauses. They extolled his person and voice by epithets peculiar to the Gods; as if only from their zeal for virtue they sought splendour and honour.
The Emperor, however, that he might not be only renowned for the accomplishments of a player, studied to excel also in Poetry, having drawn about him several who had a genius for poesy, though not yet noted for their poems. These were wont to sit down in concert with the Prince, and connect together such lines as they had severally brought, or such as they found already composed, piecing out with supplements of their own all his effusions, however lame and crude. This is apparent from the very composition of these poems, which flow with no uniformity of stile or genius, like the productions of one man. He used, besides, to bestow some time after meals upon hearing the reasonings of Philosophers; and while each maintained his own sect, and contradicted the rest, they all exposed their endless broils. Nay, some of them were fond of being seen, with their stern aspect and accent, amidst the Royal excesses and recreations of Nero.
About the same time, from a contest altogether trivial, there arose a horrid slaughter between two of our Italian Colonies, Nuceria and Pompeium, at the celebration of a combat of Gladiators exhibited by Livineius Regulus, whose expulsion from the Senate I have before recounted. Now, as they teased and rattled [Editor: illegible word?] each other with the usual gibes and petulance of citizens, they proceeded to bitterness and invectives, then to rage and vollies of stones, at length to a general encounter at arms. But to the Pompeian populace, who were the more powerful, the victory remained, as in their territory too the revel was exhibited. Hence, numbers of those of Nuceria were borne to Rome, with mangled and mutilated bodies; and many arrived there with complaints and wailings, some for the death of their sons, some for that of their fathers. The cognizance of this affair was by the Prince left to the Senate, by them to the Consuls, but returned again before the fathers, who by a decree disabled the Pompeians from meeting in any such popular concourse for ten years, and dissolved for ever the fraternities which they had instituted against the Law. Livineius and the other incendiaries of the riot were doomed to exile.
Pedius Blæsus was also punished with expulsion from the Senate, at the suit of the Cyrenians, who urged that he had robbed the treasure of Æsculapius, and in the enrolling of soldiers, had been governed by price and popularity. The same Cyrenians brought a charge against Acilius Strabo, one who had been invested with the Prætorian power, and sent as an arbitrator from the Emperor Claudius to adjust and discriminate the territories formerly held by King Apion, and by him bequeathed, together with his whole Kingdom, to the Roman people; for that the same had been usurped on every side by the borderers, who having thus enjoyed them a long while, derived a claim of right from encroachment and iniquity. Strabo, therefore, having adjudged the lands to the Romans and expulsed the invaders, much matter of popular hate against the arbitrator was thence administered to the Cyrenians. In answer to the charge the Senate said, “That to them the tenor of his commission from Claudius was unknown, and they must consult the Prince.” Nero approved the arbitration of Strabo, but wrote back, “That he would nevertheless relieve our confederates the Cyrenians, and yield them up the usurped possessions.”
Thereafter followed the deaths of these illustrious Romans, Domitius Afer and Marcus Servilius, men, who, for the sublime dignities of the state, which they had swayed, and for their own abounding eloquence, had flourished in signal credit. The first was renowned for a powerful Pleader, Servilius too for his long success at the bar, and afterwards for the History by him compiled of the Roman affairs, as also for the elegance and probity of his life, which received fresh lustre from the opposite behaviour of Afer, who in parts and genius was his equal, but far different in life and manners.
During the fourth Consulship of Nero with Cornelius Cossus for his collegue, Quinquennial Games were instituted at Rome, after the fashion of the prize-matches amongst the Greeks, and, like almost all new institutions, were variously represented. Some alledged, “That Pompey too was censured by our ancestors, for having founded a permanent Theatre: till then, the public sports were wont to be exhibited from scenes occasionally erected for the solemnity, to last no longer, and to be seen from seats suddenly reared; or, if times more remote were consulted, the people would be found to have then beheld such representations standing, lest, had they been indulged with seats, they might have consumed whole days in amusements of the theatre. In truth, the primitive rule in representing popular shews would be preserved, were the same still exhibited by the Prætors, and no Roman citizen whatever compelled to enter the public lists. But, now, the ancient usages of our country, which had been long decaying piecemeal, were utterly obliterated by the prevalence of foreign sports and gratifications. Insomuch that at Rome might be seen, from all quarters, whatever was capable of being corrupted or of propagating corruption; the Roman youth deviated into foreign studies, frequented common wrestling-schools, indulged sloth and pursued unnatural amours, since they were influenced by the example and supreme direction of Prince and Senate, who not only granted licence to a torrent of vice, but promoted it by authority and coercion. Romans of the first rank, under colour of rehearsing their poems and harangues, defiled themselves with the practice of the stage. What remained further, unless they stripped themselves naked, and commencing fencers, wielded the whirlebat, and, for military glory and arms, studied these theatrical skirmishes for pay? Would the bands of Roman Knights, would those entituled Augustani, more worthily fulfil their high office of judicature, by a nice ear in the modulations of music, and by applauding the soft shakes and thrills of Nero’s throat? Nights as well as days were bestowed upon the infamous revel, that no portion of time might remain, for skreening modesty and shame; but, in that huge assembly, blended at random, every libertine might dare to gratify by night whatever his concupiscence prompted him to by day.”
Many others were even well pleased with this dissolute pastime, but disguised it however under venerable names. “Our ancestors too, they alledged, had not abstained from the divertisement of public representations, which were exhibited in a manner suitable to the fortune and revenue of that time. Thus from Tuscany they procured players, from Thurium the diversion of racing; and after the conquest of Greece and Asia, the Roman sports were solemnized with greater elegance and accuracy. Yet, in a course of two hundred years, ever since the triumph of Lucius Mummius, who first presented the Romans with these foreign shews, no Roman of ingenuous birth had debased himself to the business of the stage. Nay, public frugality too had been consulted, by rearing a standing Theatre, much more than by erecting a great occasional edifice, at an immense expence, every year. Neither had the Magistrates occasion, henceforth, to exhaust their private fortune, nor the people to importune the Magistrates for the exhibition of the prize-combats of Greece, since by the Commonwealth all the expence was defrayed. Moreover, the prizes then gained by Poets and Orators, would prove incentives to the cultivation of genius: nor to any one of those who sat judges there, could it prove irksome to lend his ear to the rehearsal of generous productions, and to recreations altogether lawful. A few nights spent upon this solemnity once in the course of five years, were rather assigned to diversion, than to lewdness, during such a copious blaze of lights, that no sally of iniquity could possibly be concealed.” It is very true, that this revel escaped free from any signal act of dishonour; moreover, the popular contention and zeal for the several actors, was so moderate that it produced no sort of uproar. For, though the Pantomimes were again restored to the stage, they were restrained from the celebration of games which were held sacred. The prize of eloquence was borne away by none, but the victory was adjudged to Nero. The Grecian garb, worn at such solemnities by many, and generally railed at, waxed now into disuse.
During these transactions, a Comet blazed, a phenomenon which, according to the persuasion of the vulgar, always portends a change of Kings. Hence, as if Nero had been already deposed, it became the topic of general inquiry, who should be chosen to succeed him, and, by the universal voice on this occasion, the name of Rubellius Plautus was resounded, one who by his mother inherited the nobility of the Julian race. He himself observed the reverend manners of our ancestors, severe in his dress, his house virtuous, regular, and devoted to retirement. But, the more retired his apprehensions made him to be, the higher renown he acquired. The rumour was heightened by a flash of lightning, which was expounded with the like credulity and folly. For, as Nero sat at meat in a villa called Sublaqueum, upon the banks of the Simbruine Lakes, lightning darted upon the repast, scattered the dishes, and overthrew the table; and as this casualty happened in the neighbourhood of Tivoli, from whence Plautus by his father’s side originally sprang, the people believed him the man destined to Empire by the Deities. He was likewise favoured by many such whose ambition always hurrying, and for the most part deceiving them, engages them in novel pursuits fraught with ambiguity and danger. All this alarmed Nero, who therefore signified to Plautus by a letter, “That he would do well to consult the tranquillity of Rome, and withdraw himself from the reach of those who malignantly defamed him. In Asia he had ancient possessions, where he might enjoy the bloom of his life, free from all peril and the embroilments of state.” Upon this warning, he retired thither, with Antistia his wife and a few friends. In the course of these days, the inordinate propensity of Nero to unbounded voluptuousness involved him in much danger and infamy; for, as he would needs swim in the source of the aqueduct which supplies the city, and derives its name from (Ancus) Marcius, the founder, it was construed, that he had with an impure body polluted the sacred stream, and profaned the sanctity of the place; and a dangerous malady immediately ensuing, ascertained the resentment of the Deities.
Now, Corbulo judged it proper, after the demolition of Artaxata, to improve the reigning terror, and to seize Tigranocerta; for that, having once taken it, whether he were to raze it or save it, he should either infuse fresh dread into the foe, or fill them with the fame of his clemency. Thus he marched towards it, but committed no hostilities, lest he should banish all hopes of pardon, nor yet receded from his usual discipline, as he knew it to be a nation addicted to sudden changes; and, as in encountering dangers, dull and spiritless; so, in feats of perfidiousness, dexterous and vigilant. The Barbarians took various courses, according to their several humours. Some met him as supplicants; others abandoned their dwellings, and betook themselves to the recesses of the desart; several crept into caves, accompanied with whatever was dearest to them. The methods therefore taken by the Roman General were various as the occasion; to the supplicants he extended mercy; after the fugitives he ordered quick pursuits. But towards those who had hid themselves in dens, he was rigorously severe; for, with faggots and brushes he filled the mouths and issues of the caverns, and set the same on fire. Then continuing his march along the confines of the Mardians, he was insulted by the prædatory bands of that people, exercised in continual robberies, and protected by their wild mountains against reprizals and invasions. But Corbulo, by pouring in the Hiberians upon them, exposed them to devastation and sword, and took vengeance of their insolent hostilities, at the expence of the blood of foreigners.
But, though neither he, nor his army, was any wise impaired by fighting, they were both spent with continued travel and want, and reduced to combat hunger with the use of flesh alone. Add to these distresses, a scorching summer, extreme scarcity of water, mighty marches; evils which were extenuated only by the exemplary patience of the General, who underwent more hardships than any common soldier. Thence they arrived in places that were cultivated, where the ripened harvest furnished grain for bread; and, as here stood two castles whither the Armenians had flocked for sanctuary, one was taken at once by storm; the other, having repulsed the first onset, was by a siege compelled to surrender. Corbulo passed next to the country of the Taurantes, where he escaped a sudden and threatening danger; for hard by his pavilion a Barbarian, armed with a dagger, was apprehended, one of no mean degree, who, upon the rack, unfolded the order of the conspiracy, owned himself the contriver, and discovered his associates, who, being all convicted, suffered the just doom of traitors, such who under the sacred name and profession of peace and friendship, were meditating guile and blood. Not long after, the Ambassadors by him sent forward to Tigranocerta, returned with tidings, that the inhabitants were bent upon submitting to the Roman authority, and their gates stood open to receive the Roman army. At the same time they presented him from the city with a golden crown, as a token of hospitality and friendly reception; an acknowledgment which he accepted with all marks of honour, and in no one instance infringed the property or privileges of the town, that thence they might persevere in their allegiance, being left in full enjoyment of their estate.
But the Royal citadel, which was garrisoned by a band of young men of resolute valour, was not mastered without blows. They even ventured upon a sally, and joining battle without the walls, were beaten back into their fortification, whither, as our men forced an entrance after them, they were obliged at last to yield to the arms of the assailants. These enterprizes were the more easily accomplished, for that the Parthians were engaged the while in a war with the Hyrcanians, a people who had already sent an embassy to the Roman Emperor, to entreat his alliance, representing it as a pledge of their friendship to Rome, that they had thus diverted the power of Vologeses. As these Ambassadors were returning, that they might not, by crossing the Euphrates, be intercepted by the stationary guards of the enemy, Corbulo furnished them with a convoy of soldiers, who conducted them as far as the coast of the Persian gulf, from whence, without touching the bounds of Parthia, they returned in safety to their native homes.
Moreover, as Tiridates had passed through Media, and thence invaded the extreme parts of Armenia, Corbulo, having sent forward Verulanus his Lieutenant General, with the auxiliary troops, advanced himself at the head of the Legions lightly equipped, and constraining the invader to retire quite away from that Kingdom, deprived him of all hopes from pursuing the war: having likewise laid waste, with fire and slaughter, all those quarters which he had learnt were zealous for that King, and therefore disaffected to us, he had already assumed the complete possession and government of all Armenia, when Tigranes arrived, a Prince preferred by Nero to that crown. He was a Cappadocian, nobly descended, and grandson to King Archelaus; but from the former lot of his life, having passed many years at Rome in the quality of a hostage, his spirit was miserably debased, even to a degree of abjectness and servility: neither was he now received into the sovereignty with general unanimity, as amongst several there still remained a lasting affection for the family of the Arsacides. However, as there were many who abominated the pride of the Parthians, they preferred the accepting of a King from the hands of the Romans. Upon the new Monarch too was bestowed a body of guards, namely, a thousand legionary soldiers, three Cohorts detached from our confederates, and two wings of horse, to support him in maintaining his new realm. Several portions, besides, of Armenia, were subjected to the neighbouring Kings, to Pharasmanes, to Polemon, Aristobulus and Antiochus, according to the contiguity of the same to their respective dominions. Corbulo having compleated this settlement, withdrew into Syria, a province assigned to him, upon the death of Vinidius, the late Governor.
The same year, Laodicea, one of the capital cities of Asia, having been overthrown by an earthquake, rose again, by her own ability and means, into her former lustre, unassisted by any aid from us. But, in Italy, the ancient city of Puzzoli obtained from Nero the prerogative and title of a Colony. All the Veterans then dismissed were ingrafted amongst the inhabitants of Tarentum and Antium, yet cured not the defect and thinness of people there; for, many of these new-comers straggled away to their old haunts in the provinces, where, during their term of service, they had quartered: being, besides, never accustomed to engage in wedlock, or to rear children, they lived without families, and died without posterity. For, Colonies were not now established as of old, when intire Legions were transplanted thither, with their Officers, Tribunes and Centurions, and all the soldiers in their distinct classes; so as they might from ancient acquaintance and unanimity, fall naturally into the form of a Commonweal; but, a medly of men, not known to each other, now thrown together, without any ruler to manage them, without mutual affection to unite them, and all detached from different companies, like so many individuals suddenly amassed from so many different races of men, were rather a crowd than a Colony.
The election of Prætors followed, a transaction wont to be subject to the pleasure of the Senate; but as this proceeded with unusual vehemence and caballing, the Prince settled the contention, by preferring to the command of a Legion the three candidates who exceeded the stated number. He also exalted the dignity of the Fathers, by ordaining, that, “whoever should appeal from the stated judges to the Senate, should be exposed to the hazard of forfeiting the same sum of money as did those who appealed to the Emperor.” For, hitherto this was left at large and free from all penalty. At the close of the year Vibius Secundus, a Roman Knight, was, upon the accusation of the Moors, condemned for public extortion, and expelled Italy; for he escaped a severer doom by the prevailing credit and opulence of Vibius Crispus, his brother.
During the Consulship of Cæsonius Pætus and Petronius Turpilianus, we suffered a cruel slaughter in Britain. In truth, as Avitus the Governor had done no more there than (what I have already observed) just maintained our former conquests, so his successor Veranius, having only in some light incursions ravaged the territories of the Silures, was intercepted by death from any further prosecution of the war; a man indeed of high reputation during his life, for severe virtue and manners; but by the stile of his last will, his servile ambition and court to power, became notorious; for, after manifold flatteries bestowed upon Nero, he added, “that he should have completely subjected That province to his obedience, had his own life been prolonged for two years.” After him, Suetonius Paullinus obtained the government of Britain, a competitor with Corbulo, in the science of war, and in the voice of the populace, who to every man of renown are sure to create a rival. He hoped too, by subduing that fierce enemy, to reap equal glory to that which the other derived from the recovery of Armenia. He therefore prepared to fall upon the isle of Anglesey, powerful in inhabitants, and a common refuge to the revolters and fugitives. He built, for that end, boats with broad flat bottoms, the easier to approach a shore full of shallows and uncertain landings; upon these the foot were embarked; the horse followed partly by fording, partly by swimming.
On the opposite shore stood the enemy’s army, compact with men and arms: amongst them were women running franticly to and fro, resembling the wild transports of furies; dismally clad in funeral apparel, their hair disheveled, and torches in their hands. Round the host also appeared their Priests the Druids, with their hands lifted up to heaven, uttering bitter and direful imprecations; and from the strangeness of the spectacle, struck the spirit of the Roman soldiers with great dismay; insomuch that, as if all their limbs had been benumbed, they stood motionless, with their bodies exposed, like marks, to wounds and darts, till, by the repeated exhortations of the General, as well as by mutual incitements from one another, they were at last roused to shake off the scandalous terror inspired by a band of raving women, and fanatic priests; and thus advancing their ensigns, they discomfited all that resisted, and involved them in their own fires. A garrison was thereafter established over the vanquished, and the groves cut down by them dedicated to detestable superstitions; for there they sacrificed captives, and, in order to discover the will of the Gods, consulted the entrails of men; practices of cruelty by them accounted holy. While Suetonius was thus employed, tydings were brought him of the sudden revolt of the Province.
Prasutagus, the late King of the Icenians, a Prince long renowned for his opulence and grandeur, had by will left the Emperor joint heir with his own two daughters; as by such a signal instance of loyalty, he judged he should purchase a sure protection to his Kingdom and family, against all injury and violence. A scheme which produced an effect so intirely contrary, that his realm was ravaged by the Centurions, and his house by slaves; as if both his house and realm had been the just spoils of war. First of all Boudicea his wife underwent the ignominious violence of stripes, and his daughters that of constupration; and, as though the entire region had been bequeathed to the plunderers, all the principal Icenians were spoiled of their ancient possessions, and the Royal relations of the late King, were kept and treated as slaves. Enraged by all this contumelious tyranny, and dreading oppressions still more severe, since they were thus reduced into a province; they flew unanimously to arms, having animated the Trinobantes to join in the revolt, as well as all others who were not yet broken by the yoke of servitude, and had secretly conspired to recover their original liberty. Their most implacable enmity was towards the Veterans, lately translated to the Colony of Camalodunum; for, these new guests had thrust them out of their houses, exterminated them from their native lands, and treated them with the vile titles of captives and slaves. These outrages too of the Veterans, were abetted by the common soldiers, from their similitude of life and inclination, and in hopes of enjoying the same licentious situation. Moreover, the Temple built and dedicated to the deified Claudius, was by them regarded as the bulwark of a domination established over them without end. Besides that the Priests, culled out for ministring in the Temple, under the cloak of Religion, devoured their whole substance. Neither did it appear an arduous undertaking to extirpate a Colony no wise secured by fortifications; a provision little minded by our Commanders, who had consulted accommodation and pleasure antecedently to advantage and security.
During these transactions, the Statue of Victory at Camalodunum, without any visible violence, tumbled down with her face turned round; as if by it she betokened her yielding to the enemy. There were women too who, transported with oracular fury, chanted destruction to be at hand. In the place where they assembled for the business of the public, the accent and tumultuous murmurs of strangers were heard; their Theatre ecchoed with dismal howlings, and, in the lakes formed by the tides resisting the Thames, a representation was seen of a Colony overthrown. The sea too appeared all dyed with blood, and at the departure of the tide, phantoms of human bodies appeared left behind upon the strand. From which omens, as the Britons derived matter of hope and joy, so did the Veterans matter of heaviness and fear. But, because Suetonius was at a great distance, they sought succours from Catus Decianus, Procurator of the province, who yet sent them no more than two hundred men, nor these completely armed; and, in the Colony itself, was but a small handful of soldiers. The Veterans not only relied upon the shelter and strength of the Temple, but were frustrated in their measures by such as were secret accomplices in the revolt; hence they had neither secured themselves by a ditch or pallisade, nor removed their women and old men, reserving only those of youth and vigour for their defence. So that, utterly unprepared, and as void of circumspection as if full peace had reigned, they were beset and cut off by a vast host of Barbarians. In truth, every thing in the Colony yielded to instant violence, and was razed or burnt; only the Temple, whither the soldiers were retired in a body, stood a two days siege, and was then taken by storm. Moreover, Petilius Cerialis, Commander of the ninth Legion, as he advanced to relieve his friends, was met and encountered by the victorious Britons, his Legion routed, and all his infantry slain. Cerialis, with the horse, escaped to the Camp, and there defended himself in his entrenchments. Catus the Procurator, terrified with this ruin and slaughter, and with the universal hate of the province, which by his rapacious avarice he had driven into hostility, fled over into Gaul.
But Suetonius, with marvellous bravery, marched through the heart of the enemy quite to London, a city in truth not distinguished with the title of a Colony, but highly famed for the vast conflux of traders, and her abundant commerce and plenty. Here he was deliberating about settling his head quarters in this place, and chusing it for the seat and centre of the war; but, reflecting upon the thin number of his soldiers, and well warned by the temerity of Petilius so signally chastized, he resolved to abandon it, and, with the loss of one town, to save the whole province. Nor could the tears and wailings of numbers imploring his protection, divert him from ordering the signal for departure to be sounded. Into part of his forces he assumed all those who would accompany him; whoever staid behind, whether detained by the weakness of their sex, by the unweildiness of old age, or by the charms of the place, fell, without exception, by the rage of the enemy. The like slaughter befell the municipal city of Verulamium. For, the Barbarians, who were charmed with plunder, but cold and dastardly in other exploits of war, omitted to attack forts and garrisons; but, where-ever there was abundant booty, easy to be seized by the spoiler, dangerous to be defended by the owner, thither they carried their animosity and arms. In the several places which I have mentioned, it appeared that seventy thousand souls had perished, all Romans, or the confederates of Rome. For, the enemy neither made, nor sold, nor exchanged prisoners, nor observed any other law of war; but upon all exercised mortal fury, by present killing, gibbetting, burning and crucifying, with the desperate eagerness and precipitation of men, who were sure of undergoing a terrible doom, and resolved, by anticipated vengeance, to spill the blood of others before their own were spilt.
Suetonius had already an army of nigh ten thousand men; namely, the fourteenth Legion, with the Veterans of the twentieth, and auxiliaries from the quarters next adjoining; so that, relinquishing all further delay, he prepared for encountring the enemy in battle, and chose a place which stretched out before into a hollow and narrow vale, with steep sides, and was behind girt in with a wood. He was thoroughly apprized, that in the front only the whole forces of the enemy were to be expected, and that the space between was a plain bottom, where no stratagems nor ambushes were to be dreaded. He therefore drew up the Legionary soldiers into close ranks, sustained them with the soldiery lightly armed, and on each wing placed the cavalry. The British army were every where exulting and bounding in great separate bands, some of horse, some of foot, and exhibited in all a multitude so vast as hitherto was not parallelled. They were even animated by a spirit so confident and fierce, that with them they had also brought their wives, to be spectators of their victory, and stowed them in their waggons, which they had placed round the extremity of the camp.
Boudicea was carried about in a chariot, where before her sat her two daughters. Traversing the field, from nation to nation, she to all declared, “That it was, in truth, usual to the Britons to war under the conduct of women; yet, upon this occasion, she assumed not the authority of one descended from such mighty ancestors; nor aimed to revenge the loss of her Kingdom, and that of her Royal opulence basely plundered; but, she then appeared upon the same foot with one of the vulgar, and sought vengeance for the oppression of public liberty, for the stripes inflicted upon her person, for the defilement of her virgin daughters. To such height was the wild fury and concupiscence of the Romans advanced, that neither the persons of individuals, nor even old age, nor even tender maidens could escape their rage and contamination. The incensed Deities were however ready to aid the just sword of vengeance; by it a Legion, which dared to tempt an engagement, had already fallen; the rest skulked behind the entrenchments of their camp, or were devising on every side which way to fly: nor would they be able to bear even the uproar and shouts of so many thousand men, how much less their impetuous onset and vengeful arms? If the Britons would survey the number of men under arms; if they would well weigh the affecting causes of the war; they would find, that in that battle they must remain utterly victorious, or utterly perish. Such was the firm purpose of her who was a woman. The men, if they pleased, might still enjoy life and bondage.”
Neither was Suetonius silent at a juncture so perillous, and though he confided in the bravery of his men, yet failed not to join to it the force of exhortations mixed with entreaties, “to despise the savage dinn and clamour of the Barbarians, with all their impotent menaces. In that great host were to be seen more weak women than vigorous men, an unwarlike host, destitute of arms, and disposed to instant flight, as soon as they came to experience again the same victorious bravery and steel which by so many defeats they had proved. Even, in an army composed of many Legions, the glory of discomfiting the foe remained always to a few; hence it would redound to their peculiar glory, that though but a small band, they should reap all the renown which could accrue to a great and complete army. They were only to keep condensed in their ranks, and having first discharged their darts, close in, and with the navels of their shields and edge of their swords, pursue the defeat and slaughter. Of the spoil they must have no thought, since after victory, to their share of course would fall spoil, and honour, and all things.”
Every part of the General’s speech was followed by such signal ardour in his men, with such promptness had the old soldiers, men long inured to all the arts and events of battle, already assumed a proper posture for weilding and darting their javelins, that Suetonius, as certain of the issue, gave the signal for onset.
First of all, the Legion kept their ground immoveable, and still sheltered themselves, as with a bulwark, within the natural streights of the place, till the enemy had advanced within arrow shot, and exhausted all their darts. Upon this advantage, they rushed out upon them, as it were with the force and keenness of a wedge; equal was the impetuosity of the auxiliaries: The horse too, advancing with a battlement of pikes, utterly broke and overthrew whatever quarters of the foe exerted any resistance and strength; for, all the rest turned their backs, but found it difficult to escape; the inclosure made by their own carriages had obstructed their flight. Such too was the fury of the soldiers, that they spared not even the lives of women; nay, the very beasts escaped not, but were pierced with darts, and served to swell the mighty heaps of the dead. Signal was the glory that day gained, and equal to the victories of the ancient Romans; for there are authors who record, that of the Britons were slain almost eighty thousand, of our men about four hundred, with not many more wounded. Boudicea ended her life by poison. Poenius Postumus too, Camp-Marshal to the second Legion, upon tidings of the exploits and success of the fourteenth and twentieth, as he had defrauded his own of equal honour, and, contrary to the laws of military duty, disobeyed the orders of his General, ran himself through with his sword.
The whole army was thereafter drawn together, and kept the field under tents, in order to finish the remains of the war. Their forces were moreover augmented by Nero, who sent them from Germany two thousand Legionary soldiers, eight Cohorts of auxiliaries, and a thousand horse. By their arrival the ninth Legion was supplied with a Legionary recruit; the auxiliary Cohorts and wings of the cavalry were posted in new winter quarters; and thus, which ever of the several nations appeared hostile or suspicious, were subjected to the devastations of fire and sword. But famine, above all other calamities, afflicted the foe, who had neglected to cultivate the ground; and, as those of every age were bent upon the war, they had designed to appropriate our stores to their own use. Besides, that this people, by nature wonderfully stubborn, were become more backward to peace, from the behaviour of Julius Classicianus, who was come as successor to Catus, and, being at variance with Suetonius, obstructed the public good to gratify private pique. Thus he had every-where published, “That another Governor was to be expected, who, free from the wrath of an enemy, free from the arrogance of a conqueror, would by merciful measures ensure the submission of the province.” At the same time, he transmitted advice to Rome, “That unless a successor were sent to Suetonius, there never would be an end of war;” and, while he charged all the disasters of that General upon baseness of conduct, he ascribed all his conquests and success to the auspicious fortune of the Republic.
Hence Polycletus, one of the Imperial freedmen, was dispatched to inspect the condition of Britain; a project from which Nero conceived mighty hopes, that by the authority of his domestic, private amity between the Governor and Procurator would not only be effected, but the hostile spirits of the revolted Barbarians reconciled to peace. Nor was Polycletus backward to the employment, thus far at least, that having travelled through Italy and Gaul, and oppressed both with his enormous train, thence crossing the channel, he marched in such awful state, that even to our own soldiers he became a terror. But, to the enemy he proved an object of derision; for, as amongst them popular liberty even then reigned, they were hitherto utter strangers to the power of manumised bondmen. They were likewise amazed, that a General and army, who had finished so formidable a war, should themselves be subservient to slaves. The whole affair, however, was reported to the Emperor in a favourable light; so that Suetonius was continued in the government. But, after having stranded a few gallies, and lost the men who rowed them, as if this accident had been a proof that the war still subsisted, he was ordered to resign his army to Petronius Turpilianus, who had just ended his Consulship; a Commander who, as he neither offered to the foe any act of hostility, nor from them received any insult, bestowed upon such stupid inaction the worthy appellation of Peace.
This same year were perpetrated at Rome two glaring iniquities, one by a Senator, the other by the desperate hand of a slave. Domitius Balbus had sustained the dignity of Prætor, and his wealth and childlesness, added to his exceeding age, exposed him to the machinations of villainy. Hence a will was forged in his name by Valerius Fabianus his kinsman, one nominated to public offices; who took into the combination Vincius Rufinus, and Terentius Lentinus, both Roman Knights. With them were associated in the same cause Antonius Primus, and Asinius Marcellus, Antonius a man of a prompt daring spirit; Marcellus signal in his descent, as on him devolved the lustre of his great grand-father Asinius Pollio; nor passed he himself for a despicable person in his own conduct, save that he believed poverty to be of all evils the heaviest and most severe. Fabianus therefore, in confederacy with those whom I have mentioned, and others of less note, sealed and witnessed the testament. A fraud of which they were convicted before the Senate. Thus Fabianus and Antonius, with Rufinus and Terentius, were all doomed to the penalties of the Cornelian law. In behalf of Marcellus, the illustrious memory of his ancestors, with the entreaties of Nero, prevailed, and procured him an exemption rather from punishment than infamy. The same day involved Pompeius Ælianus too in his doom, a young man once invested with the dignity of Quæstor, but now charged with being privy to the vile practices of Fabianus; thus he was interdicted Italy, as also the place of his nativity Spain. Upon Valerius Ponticus was inflicted the like ignominious sentence; for that he had arraigned the delinquents at the tribunal of the Prætor, on purpose to save them from being impleaded before the Governor of Rome, and would have eluded the punishment through the false glosses of law, nay at last had meditated their escape by manifest collusion and double dealing. To the decree of penalties therefore the Senate added, “That whoever should take a price for such vile employment, or whosoever should procure it at a price, should be involved in the same penalty with one publicly condemned for calumny.”
Not long after Pedanius Secundus, Governor of Rome, was murdered by a slave of his own, either upon refusing him his liberty, for which he had bargained at a certain price, or that he was enraged by a jealous passion for a pathic, and could not bear his Lord for a rival. Now, since according to the strict institutions of antiquity, the whole family of slaves, who upon such occasion abode under the same roof, must inevitably be adjudged to the pains of death; such was the uproar and conflux of the populace, zealous to save so many innocent lives, that it proceeded even to sedition. In the Senate itself there were different opinions, some were for the popular side, against such excessive rigour; while many would admit no innovation or abatement. Of these last was Caius Cassius, who, leaving the question then under debate, reasoned in this manner:
“Many times have I assisted, Conscript Fathers, in this august assembly, when new decrees of Senate have been demanded, contrary to the laws and establishments of our fore-fathers, without setting myself to oppose such demands; not from any doubt that, in transactions of every kind, the provisions made of old were not more judicious and upright, and whenever they were changed, for the worse they were changed. But I forbore, lest I should seem, from an immoderate fondness for primitive rules, to magnify my own zeal; besides, whatever weight I may have, I judged ought not to be forfeited, by engaging in frequent oppositions, but to be reserved in full vigour against any emergent conjuncture, when the Commonwealth should stand in need of council; a conjuncture which this very day has produced. A Senator of Consular rank is murdered in his own house by the treachery of one of his own slaves; a treachery which was by none of the rest prevented, by none of them disclosed, although over their heads was hanging still in full force the decree of Senate, which denounced to the whole domestic tribe the pains of death. In the name of the Gods, ascertain by a decree the desired impunity. But then, what security will any man derive from his dignity, when even the Government of Rome secured not him who possessed it? Who will be protected by the number of his slaves, when a band of four hundred afforded no protection to Pedanius Secundus? To which of us will our domestics, upon any occasion, administer aid, when they regard not our lives, even where for their neglect capital terrors threaten theirs? or has, in truth, what some without blushing feign, the murderer only taken vengeance for injuries received? Had this slave any dispute about his paternal patrimony? or had he inherited from his progenitors the bondman his pathic? Let us even declare that his Lord was rightfully killed. Though it be strange we should hunt after arguments in an affair determined by our wiser ancestors! yet suppose the question were now first to be decided; still do you believe that a vindictive slave could desperately design to kill his Lord, yet not a menacing word fall from him? was nothing rashly uttered by him? Be it so, that he effectually hid his bloody purpose; be it so, that he prepared the bloody instrument in the midst of his fellows, all ignorant of his ends. But still, could he pass through the guard of slaves at the chamber door, open those doors, bring in a light, perpetrate the assassination, unknown to them all? Many murderous designs are prevented by our slaves; and while they make such discoveries, though we are but individuals, we can live safely amongst many, and owe our security to their care; or if at last we must perish by them, the blood of many traitors shall atone for ours. By our ancestors the spirit of their slaves was always suspected, even of such as were born in their private territories, nay, in their houses, and had with their milk sucked in a tenderness for their Lords. And since we are come to entertain in our families nations of slaves, inured to their national rites widely different from ours, and addicted to strange Religions, or observing none; it is impossible to curb such a promiscuous rabble, without the intervention of exemplary terrors. But with the guilty some innocents must perish. Yes; and so it is in an army, which, after a shameful rout, are punished with decimation, where to be bastinaded to death, is often the lot of the faultless and brave. Somewhat there is grievous and unjust in every great exertion of justice, where private sufferings are compensated by public utility.”
This judgment of Cassius, which no particular Senator durst venture to combat, was yet opposed by the dissenting murmurs of such as thus uttered their compassion for those involved in it, for their number, for the age of some, for the sex of others, for the undoubted innocence of most. It was however carried by the party who adjudged all to the pains of death. A judgment which yet it was impossible to execute; for the populace were flocked tumultuously together, and threatening to fall on with stones and firebrands. Nero therefore reprimanded the people by an edict, and with lines of soldiers secured all the way through which the condemned were led to execution. Cingonius Varro had moved, that the freedmen too, who abode under the same roof, should be for ever expelled Italy; but this was prohibited by the Prince, who urged, “That since the rigorous usage of antiquity had not been mollified by mercy, it ought not to be heightened by cruelty.”
During the same Consuls, Tarquitius Priscus was, at the suit of the Bithynians, condemned for public rapine, to the infinite gratification of the fathers, who well remembered, that by him had been accused Statilius Taurus, his own Proconsul in Africa. Moreover, a general poll was taken, and a general rate imposed, throughout both the Gauls; an employment executed by Quintus Volusius, Sextius Africanus, and Trebellius Maximus, and, in it, much contention arose between Volusius and Africanus, two men who were competitors in nobility and rank; for Trebellius, while, in this their strife, he was neglected by both, they jointly contributed to render him superior to either.
The same year, Memmius Regulus finished his days, a man for his eminent authority and firmness of mind, in signal estimation; and, as far as the lustre of a citizen is not darkened by the shade and high station of the Emperor, the distinction which he bore was splendid and sublime; insomuch that, when Nero was once under the pressure of sickness, and the flatterers about him were lamenting, “That, if the illness proved fatal, there must be an end of the Empire with that of his life;” he replied, “That to the Republic there would still remain a certain refuge.” And, as they then asked, “In whom chiefly,” he added, “Memmius Regulus.” Yet Regulus preserved his life after all this, under the protection of his own quiet spirit; besides that he derived his quality from a recent stock, and was no wise obnoxious for his wealth. This year too Nero instituted an Athletic school, and to the Knights and Senators, for their exercises there, presented anointing oil, according to the wanton usages of the revelling Greeks.
In the Consulship of Publius Marius and Lucius Asinius, the Prætor Antistius, whose arbitrary administration in the Tribuneship of the people I have remembered, framed a Poem full of invectives against the Prince, and exposed it to a numerous assembly, then banqueting in the house of Ostorius Scapula. Hence he was arraigned upon the Law of violated Majesty, by Cossutianus Capito, who, at the request of Tigellinus his father-in-law, had acquired the dignity of Senator. This Law, after long disuse, was upon this occasion first revived, though it was believed, that thence the doom of Antistius was not so much intended, as matter of renown to the Emperor; for, that, when the Senate had capitally condemned him, Cæsar meant, by interposing his Tribunitial power, to save him from the pains of death. Now, as the evidence delivered by Ostorius was, that he had heard nothing at all of the imputed crime, the contrary testimony of other witnesses was credited, and Junius Marullus Consul elect, voted that “The accused should be divested of his Prætorship, and executed, according to rigour of antiquity.” The rest too were concurring with the same vote, when Pætus Thrasea, after much honourable commendation of Nero, and many bitter reproaches upon Antistius, argued, “That whatever severity the guilt of the person accused might merit, yet an adequate measure of punishment was not what they were now to adjudge, under a Prince so excellent, and while the Senate in its decisions was under no controul. Halters and executioners were terrors long since abolished; moreover, by the laws penal sentences were already prescribed, in conformity to which, punishments might be pronounced without bringing the judges under the imputation of cruelty, or the times under that of infamy. What therefore remained, but to sentence his estate to confiscation, and him to exile in an island? whence the longer he protracted his guilty life, the greater private misery he must endure, himself, however, a singular example of public clemency.”
The freedom of Thrasea broke the bondage which hung upon the minds of others; so that after the Consul had given leave to divide by discessiona , all but a few went readily into the motion of Thrasea. Of these few was Vitellius, most abandoned to strains of flattery, one whose custom it was to be carping at every upright man, and awed into silence by every reply; a conduct usual to slavish spirits. The Consuls however not dareing to give the last sanction to the decree of Senate, wrote the Emperor an account of their unanimity; and the account affected him, insomuch that he hesitated a while, between shame and resentment; at last he returned an answer, “That Antistius, unprovoked by any injury, had uttered many grievous aspersions upon the Prince; and, for these aspersions proper vengeance had been required from the Senate. Neither would it have been more than just judgment, to have ordained a punishment suitable to the enormous measure of the iniquity. For himself; as he would have certainly opposed any rigorous doom, if such they had decreed, he would no wise frustrate their mercy and moderation. Determine therefore they might, as to them seemed best; nay, from him they had full leave to pronounce a sentence of acquittal.” By the recital of these expressions, with others in the like strain, his displeasure appeared notorious; yet neither did the Consuls vary the state of the question, nor Thrasea depart from his motion, nor any of the rest desert the measures which by their assent they had approved. Some would not, by a severer sentence, seem to expose the Prince to popular malignity; many placed their safety in their numbers: Thrasea was governed by his wonted firmness of soul, and scorned to forfeit his illustrious renown.
For an offence much like the former, Fabricius Veiento was involved in a heavy prosecution; “for that he had compiled a long train of invectives against Senators and Pontiffs, and inserted the same in the rolls to which he had given the title of Codicils, or last will.” To this charge it was added by Talius Geminus his accuser, “That he had made constant traffic of the Prince’s bounty and favours, and turned into purchase and sale the right of occupying the great offices of the state;” an argument this that determined Nero to adjudge his cause in person. Veiento being convicted, the Emperor banished him from Italy, and doomed to the flames these his writings, which were universally sought and read, while it was difficult to find them, and dangerous to keep them; afterwards, from the freedom and impunity of possessing them, they sunk into neglect and oblivion.
But while the public evils waxed every day more poignant, the supports of the public became lessened, and Burrhus yielded to his last fate; nor is it certainly known whether by poison or a disease. The latter was imagined from hence, that a swelling which began in his throat increased inwardly by degrees, till by a total stoppage of respiration he died suffocated. Many asserted, that by the order of Nero, under appearance of applying a remedy, his palate and glands were fomented with some venomous medicine, and that Burrhus having perceived the deadly fraud, when the Prince came to visit him, turned his face and eyes another way, and to all his repeated inquiries about his health, returned no other answer but this, I am well. Great and permanent at Rome was the sense of his loss, as well through the memory of his own virtue, as from the characters of his successors, one innocent and heavy, the other black with all the most flagrant iniquities and defilements For, Nero had created two captains of the Prætorian guards, Fenius Rufus, in compliment to the populace, who loved him for his disinterested administration in the super-intendency of the public stores, as also Sofonius Tigellinus, purely from partiality to the inveterate lewdness and infamy of the man; for pollution and infamy were the characteristic of Tigellinus. Hence his superior sway over the spirit of Nero, as one assumed into power from an intimacy in all the secret sallies of his lust. Rufus was distinguished in the city and soldiery with popular estimation; a character which brought him under distaste with Nero.
The death of Burrhus quite overthrew the authority of Seneca, as righteous measures had no longer the same succours now the other champion of virtue was removed; and the heart of Nero was attached to men altogether wicked and depraved. These combined to assail Seneca with criminal imputations manifold; as, “That he had already accumulated wealth incredible, far surpassing the measure of a citizen, and was still accumulating more: that from the Emperor he was labouring to withdraw the veneration of the Roman people: nay, such were the charms of his gardens, such the magnificence of his seats, as if in them he aimed even to excel the Emperor. To himself alone he arrogated the praise and perfection of eloquence; and, ever since Nero became inspired with a passion for versifying, Seneca had employed himself, with unusual assiduity, in the same study: for, to the bodily recreations of the Prince, he had declared an open enmity, and hence disparaged his vigour and skill in the managing horses, hence turned his voice into mockery, whenever he sung; all with this view, that in the whole Republic there should nothing occur signal or sublime, which was not by him introduced and devised. Surely Nero was passed the weakness of childhood, and arrived at his prime of youth: he ought now to depose his pedagogue, and trust only to the documents conveyed to him by tutors sufficiently famous, his own mighty ancestors.”
Seneca was not unapprized of the efforts of his calumniators, the same being disclosed to him by such as still retained some concern for truth and honour; but, as the Emperor manifested daily more shyness, and less affability; he besought an hour of audience, and having obtained it, began thus: “This is the fourteenth year since I was first assigned to cultivate thy promising and princely spirit, Cæsar, and the eighth since thy advancement to the Empire. During this whole series of time, so mighty and so many are the honours and riches which thou hast showered down upon me, that, to my abundant felicity, nought is wanting but some bounds and moderation. To corroborate this address, I shall quote great examples, and illustrious names, such as are adapted, not to my station and fortune, but to thine. Augustus, from whom thou art the fourth in descent, granted to Marcus Agrippa leave to retreat to Mitylene, and to Caius Mæcenas he allowed, even in Rome, a recess as complete as in any remote country he could have enjoyed; the former his companion in the war, the other long harassed at Rome with occupations manifold, both by him distinguished with such remunerations as were glorious, in truth, yet signally due to their transcendent worth and services. For myself, by what merit could I pretend to incite that boundless munificence of thine, other than mine own solitary studies, formed, if I may so speak, and nourished in obscurity? and even from them this glory is devolved upon me, that in the seasonings of literature I am thought to have initiated thy youth; a sublime reward alone for such slender service! but thou hast encompassed me about with an accumulation of Imperial benignity and grace, beyond all expression or limits, and with wealth without measure or end. Insomuch that I often reason thus with myself, Am I, (one by rank no higher than a Knight, by birth no other than a foreigner) am I numbered with the Grandees of the Imperial city? Hath my new name thus blazed forth amongst the illustrious Lords of Rome, men who justly boast a long train of hereditary honours? Where then is that Philosophic spirit, which professes to be satisfied with humble necessaries? Is Seneca that man? He who thus incloses and adorns such spacious gardens; he who thus travels in pomp from seat to seat in the neighbourhood of Rome? Is it he who wallows in wealth, in ample possessions, in copious and extensive usury? One plea only there is that occurs to my thoughts, that against thy donations it became not me to strive; but both of us have now discharged to the utmost measure this commerce of liberality and duty; whatever the bounty of a Prince could confer upon his friend, whatever a friend could accept from the bounty of his Prince, thou hast already conferred, I have already accepted. Any further addition can only prove fresh fuel to the bitterness of envy, an enemy which, like all other earthly things, lies, in truth, subdued under the weight of thy mighty grandeur, but fastens upon me with all its rage, and I stand in eminent need of succour. Thus, in the same manner, as were I weary and faint through the toil of journeying or of warfare, I should supplicate for refreshment and rest; so in this long journey of life, old as I am, and no longer equal to the easiest trust, and lightest cares, and utterly unable to sustain the load and envy of my own over-grown riches; I seek assistance and support. Order the auditors of thy revenue to undertake the direction of my fortune, and to annex it to thy own. Nor shall I by this plunge myself into indigence and poverty, but having only surrendered that immense opulence, which exposes me to so much invidious splendor, I shall redeem all the time which is at present sequestered to the care of so many seats and gardens, and apply it to the repose and cultivation of my mind. To thee remains abundant strength and support, and thy rule is, by a long course of reigning, throughly established; thou mayst now spare thy ancient friends and counsellors, and vouchsafe them a retreat to quiet and ease. To thy glory this also will redound, that to the highest estate thou hadst advanced such men as knew how to bear the lowest.”
To this speech Nero replied in this manner: “That I am able thus instantly to combat these studied reasonings of thine, is a faculty which from thy benignity and care I first derived; for thou hast taught me, not only the art of acquitting myself promptly, where matters are prepared, but even in emergencies intirely unforeseen. It is true, my ancestor Augustus granted liberty to Agrippa and Mæcenas to retreat, after a lite of many labours, to a life of ease; but at such a time of his age and establishment he granted it, that his authority was sufficient to sustain any concession which he could have made them, of what kind or importance soever: And he divested neither of them of the bounties and recompences which he had conferred upon them. In the perils of war and of civil distraction, they had meritoriously served him; for in such were the younger years of Augustus employed. Neither wouldst thou, Seneca, have failed to have assisted me with thy person and arms, if I had been engaged in war. What my different circumstances required, thou hast done. With wise rules, wholsome counsel, and useful precepts, thou hast cherished my infancy, and, since, my youth. In truth, the gifts and acquirements which I hold from thee, while my life remains, will never forsake me: whereas the acknowledgments which thou reapest from me, thy gardens, seats and rents, are all exposed to uncertainty and disasters; and however copious they may appear, there are many instances of favourites, in worthy accomplishments no wise equal to thee, yet distinguished with larger possessions. I blush to quote freedmen that are beheld more wealthy than thou. Hence too I am ashamed that thou, who in dearness to me art beyond all others, dost not yet in fortune surpass all. Thy age, moreover, still retains soundness and vigour, is still capable of managing thy revenues, and of enjoying them with pleasure. For myself, I am but yet in the dawn of Empire; unless, perhaps, thou dost account that my munificence to thee has already exceeded that of Claudius to Vitellius, a man distinguished with three Consulships; when, in truth, all my bounty towards thee, cannot equal the opulence which Volusius, by a long course of parsimony only, has acquired. I add, that, if, in any particular I deviate, through the frailty of my years, it is thou who dost check and recover me: and, as thou hast with good education embellished my youth, thou dost still manage and controul it. It is not with thy moderation, if thou returnest thy wealth, nor with thy recess, if thou forsakest thy Prince, that the tongues of men will be employed; no, the treasure returned will by the universal cry be ascribed to my rapaciousness, and thy retirement, to the dread of my cruelty. But suppose this disinterestedness of thine meet with the highest strains of popular praise; yet surely upon a wife man it will reflect no honour, that to himself he meditates glory from a proceeding which upon his friend must bring infamy.” To all this he added kisses and embracing, framed as he was by nature, and by habit nurtured, to smother his hate under hollow courtesy and blandishments. Seneca presented his thanks, which is the certain issue of every argument with one who possesses sovereignty. He changed, however, the methods and symptoms of his former power, stopped the usual conflux of such as attended to pay their court, avoided a train of attendants, and his appearance abroad was exceeding rare, as if by ill health, or the study of philosophy, he were confined at home.
After the disgrace of Seneca, to depress the authority of Fenius Rufus, became a short task, when the crime charged upon him by his enemies, was that of his adherence to Agrippina. Tigellinus too waxed daily more mighty, and as he was persuaded that his mischievous devices, in which alone his whole sufficiency lay, would prove still more agreeable and meritorious, if he could engage the Prince under the tyes of a confederacy in acts of blood, he dived curiously into his secret fears; and having discovered that Plautus and Sylla were the men principally dreaded, and thence both lately removed from Italy; the former into Asia, the other into Narbon Gaul, he urged upon Nero, “the signal quality of the men, the nearness of their abode to great armies, Plautus in the neighbourhood of that in the East, Sylla of that in Germany. For himself, he harboured not, like Burrhus, different hopes and views, but consulted purely the security of the Prince. But though his safety at Rome might be ensured, and all conspiracies there obviated by prompt and temporary measures; yet, by what measures could remote insurrections be suppressed, and revolts in the confines of the Empire? The nations of Gaul, animated by the dictatorial name of Sylla, were already upon the wing for rebellion; nor were the several people of Asia less suspected of an attachment to the other, for the illustrious memory and renown of his grandfather Drusus. Sylla was likewise indigent, an especial incitement to resoluteness and enterprize; and he feigned sloth only till he spied an opportunity for some desperate attempt. Plautus was master of mighty wealth, nor so much as pretended a fondness for quiet, but even professed to admire the lives and examples of the ancient Romans; nay, he had adopted the sect of the Stoics, with all their superciliousness and pride, a sect which prompts men to be turbulent, and to chuse a life full of action.” Without further deliberation or delay, the murder of both was doomed. Sylla was, by assassins, who in six days arrived express at Marseilles, dispatched as he sat down to meat, without previous apprehension or tidings. When his head was presented to Nero, the sight moved him to derision, “as if it were unseasonably hoary, and thence uncomely.”
The bloody sentence awarded against Plautus was not so successfully concealed, for his life was of sensible concernment to many; moreover, from the length of the way, and the passing of the sea, so much time intervened, that public fame became alarmed; and amongst the people an imagination prevailed, that he had fled for sanctuary to Corbulo, who then commanded mighty armies, a man who, if men signal in name and innocence were to be marked out for slaughter, stood in the first degree of fear and jeopardy. Nay, it was divulged with the same credulity, “That all Asia had taken arms to espouse the defence of the young nobleman; and that, as the soldiers dispatched to perpetrate the murder, were neither powerful in their number, nor prompt in their inclinations, when they could not execute their orders, they also had of themselves joined in the revolt, and espoused the new cause.” These rumours, published by the wild breath of common fame, were readily credited by all the disaffected, and, through hate and disaffection, inlarged. Moreover, to Plautus were brought the counsel and admonitions of Lucius Antistius, his father-in-law, by a freedman of his own, who, speeded by a brisk wind, had out-sailed the fatal Centurion. The advice imported, “That he should be sure to shun a dastardly death; he had yet leisure to escape, and could not fail of finding from the worthy and generous, compassion for a name so noble and distinguished. With himself he must associate the resolute and brave, nor ought he the while to slight any means of aid. If he had once repulsed the sixty soldiers (for so many were coming to the execution) he might then, while the tydings were transmitting to Nero, while another band of men were advancing so vast a way, prosecute a world of schemes, sufficient to lay the terrible foundations of a war. At worst he would either, by such measures, purchase honourable security; at least, after a brave resistance, he had nought more dreadful to suffer, than he must suffer under a stupid acquiescence.”
But these considerations moved not Plautus; whether it were that being an exile, and destitute of arms, he foresaw no certain resource, or whether he were weary of perplexity, and wavering hopes, or perhaps chiefly influenced by tenderness for his wife and children, to whom he imagined the Prince would prove the more reconcilable, when he found himself no wise incensed by any insurrection or alarms. There are those who relate, that the advices he received from his father-in-law were of a different strain, importing as if nothing sanguinary or capital threatened him. They add, “That two Philosophers, Ceranus a Greek, and Musonius a Tuscan, had exhorted him to wait his death with unshaken intrepidity, as by it he would be disburdened of a life fraught with uncertainty and fears.” Certain it is, the assassins found him in the middle of the day, naked and applying himself to the usual exercises of his body. In this situation the Centurion butchered him, in the sight of Pelago the Eunuch, who was by Nero set over the Centurion and his band, like the Royal minister of some tyrant, trusted with the command of his body-guards, and instruments of blood. The head of the slain was carried to Rome, and shewed to the Emperor. What he said when he saw it, I shall repeat in his very words. “What is it, cried he, that withstands Nero, that he may not now discard all fear, and instantly set about solemnizing his nuptials with Poppæa, a solemnity hitherto deferred because of the terrors arising from such men as this? May he not instantly divorce Octavia his wife? one easy, in truth, and modest in her conduct, but still, from the name of her Imperial father, and from the ardent zeal of the people towards her, a burden and eye-fore.” To the Senate he sent letters, but in them owned nothing of the assassination of Sylla and Plautus, yet alledged, that both were turbulent and seditious spirits, and what vehement sollicitude it cost him to preserve the peace and stability of the Commonwealth. Hence public processions and devotions were decreed to the Deities, and Sylla and Plautus degraded from the dignity of Senators. Strange mockery and insult, more provoking to the public, than its more substantial calamities!
Nero therefore having received the decree of Senate, and perceiving that all his wickedness and bloody cruelties passed for so many seats of renown, thrust Octavia forthwith from his bed, alledging, “that she was barren,” and then espoused Poppæa. This woman, who had been long the concubine of Nero, and both as her adulterer and her husband, ever ruled him implicitly, suborned a domestic of Octavia’s, to accuse her of criminal amours with a slave. For this end one Eucerus, a native of Alexandria, who excelled upon the flute, was impleaded as her gallant. Hence her maids were examined upon the rack; and, though some of them, overcome by the fury of the torture, favoured the perfidious forgery, the major part persevered to vindicate the unspotted sanctimony of their Lady. Amongst these was one, who, while Tigellinus was vehemently urging a confession, returned him for answer, “That the parts of Octavia which denoted her a woman, were purer than his mouth.” The result however was her removal from the palace and her husband, under the mock-judgment of a legal divorcement, and for her appenage, she was presented with the house of Burrhus, and with the possessions of Plautus, black and ill-boding donations. She was thereafter banished into Campania, and over her a guard of soldiers placed. From this cruel treatment there arose amongst the populace many mournful complaints, by them no wise smothered or disguised; since they are governed by a lower measure of circumspection, and, from the mediocrity of their lot, exposed to fewer perils. Whether, by these daring resentments of the people, Nero was alarmed, or moved by remorse for such black iniquity, he recalled Octavia his wife.
Hence the people in transports of joy ascended the Capitol, and now at last found occasion to accost the Deities with adoration and thanksgiving; overthrew the statues of Poppæa, but bore upon their shoulders the images of Octavia, bedecked them with fresh flowers, placed them in the great Forum, and in the several Temples. They also burst into strains of praises to the Prince, and sought to offer him in person their veneration and vows. Already they were filling the palace with their multitude and acclamations, when suddenly some bands of the guards issued out upon them, and assailing them with blows, nay, threatening them with slaughter, repulsed and utterly dispersed them. The disorders too committed during the tumult, were repaired, to Poppæa her honour publicly restored, and her statues replaced. But she, ever implacable in her hate, was now become more implacable through fear, lest either the fury of the populace should break into outrages still more terrible, or Nero be brought to change with the bent and inclination of the people. She therefore fell prostrate at his knees, and said, “Her affairs were no longer in a situation to encourage her competition for the glory of his marriage, though dearer to her than life was that glory; her life itself was in extremity of danger from the followers and slaves of Octavia, a rabble who, having assumed the name of the people, in the midst of peace, committed such violences as were scarce produced by war. Against the Prince these arms were wielded, nor was aught wanting but a leader, a want which, when commotions were once raised, was ever easy to be supplied. Octavia had no more to do, but to relinquish Campania, and advance to Rome itself, she at whose nod even in her absence insurrections could be excited. For her own particular, with what transgression was she chargeable? in what instance had she offended any individual? was she from hence obnoxious, that to the house of the Cæsars she would yield a genuine issue; when the Roman people rather affected to see the offspring of an Ægyptian minstrel heir to the Imperial dignity? in a word, if this expedient best suited with the exigency of things, he ought to call home his Lady rather through choice than compulsion, or else to consult the security of himself and the state by just vengeance. It was true, the first tumult was dissipated by small force; but, if the people came utterly to despair of seeing Octavia any longer the wife of Nero, they themselves would not fail to give a proper husband to Octavia.”
This discourse, artfully mixed and framed to produce both terror and wrath, had its effect upon Nero, and while he listened to it, at once frightened and enraged him. But little had availed the fiction of Octavia’s intrigue with her slaves, a fiction which was quite defeated by the testimony of her maids upon the rack. It was therefore agreed to procure some one who should own himself guilty with her, one against whom might be also feigned a plausible charge of meditating a revolution in the state; and such a proper instrument was judged Anicetus, who had accomplished the murder of his mother, and, as I have related, commanded the fleet at Misenum, a man held by the Emperor, just after that bloody service, in some slight favour, and thence-forth in heavier detestation; for Princes behold the ministers of their cruelties, as men whose looks reproach their guilty souls. Him therefore Nero summoned, and reminding him of his former exploit, “Thou alone, said he, didst relieve me from the conspiracies of a mother; service of no less merit at present invites thee, if thou canst but discharge me effectually of an irksome and disaffected wife; nor in this task needest thou either strength or weapon; thou art only to acknowledge that thou hast been engaged with Octavia in adultery.” Nero promised him “rewards of mighty value, though at first it was necessary they should continue private and unknown, as also, upon his mock condemnation, delectable retirements; but, in case of refusal, threatened him with present death.” Anicetus, prompted by his own frantic spirit, and by the protection and impunity which had followed all his enormities past, carried his fictions even beyond his orders, and communicated, as secrets, all his fictions to his friends: a set of men whom the Prince had placed about him, as it were to aid him by their counsels in his designs. Then, as convicted by his own confession, he was banished into Sardinia, where he underwent a sort of exile far from necessitous or miserable, and died at last by the lot of nature.
Now Nero issued an edict, “That Octavia in hopes of engaging the fleet in her conspiracy, had thence corrupted Anicetus the admiral;” and, forgetting that he had but just before accused her of barrenness, he added, “that, conscious of her secret lusts, she had always forced abortion; and that all these her crimes were by him fully detected.” Thus he commanded her to be shut up in an island, that of Pandateria.
Never exile filled the hearts of the beholders with more affecting compassion. Some still remembered to have seen Agrippina doomed to the like fate; the more recent sufferings of Julia were likewise recalled to mind, the first banished by Tiberius, the other by Claudius. But these Ladies had arrived at maturity of years, had enjoyed some seasons of felicity, tasted some share of delight, and, by reviewing their once happier fortune, their pangs, from instant cruelty, were abated. To Octavia the first day of her nuptials served for a funeral day; she was brought under a roof where all must appear dismal and sad, where her unhappy father was snatched away by poison, and instantly afterwards her brother by the same cruel means. Next, though a wife, she was subjected to the ascendancy of a slave. Then her husband espoused Poppæa, a marriage threatening nothing less than destruction to his legitimate wise. Lastly, she suffered the imputation of a crime more piercing than the most cruel death whatsoever. Add to all this, a tender girl, in the twentieth year of her age, encompassed with an host of soldiers and Centurions, already bereft of life, through the sad presages of impending evils, yet not surrendered to the quiet rest of death.
After the interval of a few days, she was formally doomed to die, though to prevent it, she descended to alledge, “That she owned herself in a state of widowhood, and claimed no other prerogative than of being only the Emperor’s sister. She pleaded their common ancestors, who bore the dear and favourite name of Germanicus:” at length she even invoked the name of Agrippina; she said, “That had Agrippina lived, she should, in truth, have endured a lot of wedlock sufficiently unhappy, but still such a one as would never have ended in a bloody doom.” Forthwith she was tied down with bonds, and the veins over all her limbs were opened; but, as her blood was chilled through fear, and issued slowly, the execution was completed by stifling her in the steam of a boiling bath. This cruelty was followed by another yet more crying and brutal; her head being cut off and carried to Rome, Poppæa chose to entertain herself with the tragical spectacle. For this execution the Senate decreed gifts and oblations to the Temples; a circumstance which I insert with design that whoever shall, from me or any other Writer, learn the events of those calamitous times, may hold it for granted, that as often as ever sentences of murder and banishment were pronounced by the Prince, so often were thanksgivings by the fathers paid to the Deities; and the very same ordinances which of old were monuments of public prosperity, served now for testimonies of public havock and ruin. And yet, I shall not fail to recount every decree of Senate, which either proved a new flight of flattery, or only the dregs of excessive tameness and servitude.
This year was fatal to Doryphorus and Pallas, two Imperial freedmen of most conspicuous note, both believed to have perished by poison, the former, for thwarting the marriage with Poppæa, and Pallas, for that by his great age he detained from the Emperor his inestimable wealth. Against Seneca, Romanus had secretly laboured a charge of being an associate with Caius Piso, but was himself encountered by Seneca with more vigour for the same crime. Hence a source of much dread to Piso; and against Nero there arose a conspiracy, mighty, indeed, and menacing, but abortive and unprosperous.
[a ]Namely, to go over to him whose vote they approved.