Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK XV. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16)
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BOOK XV. - 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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Vologeses King of Parthia invades Armenia, but is opposed by Corbulo with great prudence and spirit. Cæsennius Pætus sent by Nero to command in Armenia. His rashness, vanity, and disgraceful concessions to the enemy. Corbulo relieves him. Poppæa bears a daughter to Nero. Deputies from Parthia to sue for holding the sovereignty of Armenia, return without success, and the conduct of that war committed to Corbulo, who again enters Armenia, terrifies the Parthians into a treaty, obliges them to lay down their arms, and Tiridates to lay his crown at the feet of Nero’s statue, never to resume it more without the Emperor’s consent. Nero sings in the public Theatre at Naples. His excesses in all pollution and cruelty. Rome consumed by fire; Nero suspected as the author of it. He falsly charges it upon the Christians, and destroys them by many wanton and merciless torments. A conspiracy formed against him; its progress, detection, and the many illustrions lives sacrificed for it, with the boundless public flattery then arising from private sufferings and sorrow.
DURING these transactions, Vologeses King of the Parthians, having learnt the exploits of Corbulo, that Tigranes, an alien born, was by him established King of Armenia, from whence his brother Tiridates had been ignominiously expulsed, was in himself bent to revenge the despite done to the Monarchy of the Arsacides; but revolving again upon the mighty power of the Romans, and awed with reverence for the constant league between the two Empires, was perplexed and divided between interfering passions. For he was a Prince by nature addicted to lingering, and then particularly, retarded by the revolt of the Hyrcanians, (a very potent nation) and by the long series of wars that followed it. In this suspence he was roused by the tydings of a fresh insult, for that Tigranes having passed the limits of Armenia, had wasted the territories of the Adiabenians, a bordering people, with more lasting and extensive spoil than by robbers was wont to be committed: An outrage which the chiefs of these nations underwent with painful regret, “that they were sunk into such abject scorn, as to be over-run, not in truth by the prowess of any Roman leader, but by the insolent arms of an hostage to Rome, one there kept for so many years amongst his fellow-slaves.” The anguish of Vologeses was inflamed by Monobazus, in whose hands lay the government of the Adiabenians, and who pressed to know “what military succours were there to secure them, and from what quarter to be sought? The fate of Armenia was already determined, the adjacent regions were about to be swallowed up; and unless they were defended by the Parthians, they themselves would soon consider, that bondage from the Romans proved always much lighter to such as submitted to mercy, than to those who staid to be subdued.” Tiridates too, who was a fugitive from his Kingdom, affected Vologeses yet more grievously, whether he beheld the silent distress of his brother, or heard his respectful complainings. For the deprived Prince was wont to alledge, “that mighty Empires were not to be sustained by sloth and inaction; the vigour of men and arms was to be exerted. In sovereign fortune, those measures were ever most righteous, which proved most successful. To those in a private station belonged the narrow domestic ambition of preserving their own; to struggle for the possessions of others, was renown truly monarchical.”
Vologeses, therefore, stimulated by all these considerations, assembled a council, and placing Tiridates next to himself, began thus; “This Prince, begotten by the same father with myself, I invested with the possession of Armenia, since to me, in regard of primogeniture, it was his lot to yield the sovereignty of Parthia; and thus he became what we account the third sovereign of our blood. For Pacorus already occupied the realm of Media. By this means, I seemed to have happily settled our family, and provided against the ancient hate and competition of brothers. This the Romans oppose, and though they never infringed the peace with any felicity to themselves, they now again openly break it, doubtless to their own bane and confusion. I am far from denying that rather by arguments than arms, would I chuse to preserve the acquisition of my ancestors. If I have been blameable in my delays, I will redouble my vigour. Your glory is unsullied, your force undiminished; to this praise you have also added that of moderation, a virtue never to be slighted by the most elevated amongst men, and is held by the Gods themselves in high estimation.” As soon as he had thus spoke, upon the head of Tiridates he set the royal diadem, to Moneses a noble Parthian he delivered a complete band of stout horse, which according to the custom of Monarchy, always attended the person of the King; to these he added a body of auxiliary Adiabenians, and commanded that General, “to force Tigranes from Armenia.” He purposed himself the while to drop his contest with the Hyrcanians, to amass all his forces in the heart of Parthia, and reserving to his own conduct the main stress of the war, to advance, and threaten a descent into the Roman provinces.
Corbulo, as soon as by certain intelligence he had learnt all these proceedings, sent two Legions to succour Tigranes, under the command of Verulanus Severus and Vettius Bolanus, with secret injunctions, “rather to study delays than to act with dispatch.” The truth was, Corbulo aimed more at keeping a war on foot, than pushing it to a conclusion; besides, he had written to Nero, “That, in order to defend Armenia, another General was necessary; for that Syria, now threatened with a terrible tempest from Vologeses, was thence exposed to more vehement danger.” In the mean while he disposed the remaining Legions along the banks of the Euphrates, suddenly raised a body of militia out of the natives of the province; at all the passes he posted guards, to obstruct the inroads of the enemy; and, because that region is scanty of water, over the several fountains forts were erected, and some springs he buried under hills of sand.
While Corbulo was thus busied in measures for securing Syria, Moneses advanced towards Armenia, with rapid marches, as by them he meant to out-run the report of his coming: but, he found Tigranes neither void of intelligence, nor in a negligent situation; for that Prince had possessed himself of Tigranocerta, a city of great strength in the multitude of its defenders, and the mightiness of its walls. Add, that the Nicephorus, a river of no small breadth, environed great part of the wall, and round the rest, where the defence of the river was not trusted, a vast trench was drawn. Within it too was a garrison of soldiers, and stores of provision before laid up. In bringing in these provisions some few soldiers, having out of greediness straggled too far, fell into the hands of the swift and unexpected foe; but by this mishap of theirs, the minds of the rest became filled with resentment, rather than with dismay. Neither have the Parthians any bravery to venture a close attack upon a place besieged: it was but a few scattering arrows that they shot, nor thence at all dismayed the besieged, but only baffled themselves. The Adiabenians when, with ladders and engines of battery, they began to approach the walls, were easily driven back, and by an immediate sally of our men, put to the slaughter.
Corbulo however, though all his proceedings prospered, judging it wisdom to moderate the career of his good fortune, dispatched embassadors to Vologeses to expostulate with him upon his hostile conduct, “That he had with violence and war fallen upon a Roman Province; that his forces besieged a King who was a friend and confederate of Rome; nay, besieged the Roman Cohorts themselves;” and to warn him, “that either he must abandon the siege, or Corbulo too would instantly march and encamp upon the territories of the enemy.” Casperius the Centurion, who was delegated to execute this embassy, reached the King at the city of Nisibis, thirty-seven miles distant from Tigranocerta, and there delivered his message with great sternness. It was, in truth, long since the politic drift of Vologeses, and thoroughly riveted in his heart, to avoid engaging with the arms of Rome; neither did his present enterprizes advance with any measure of success; fruitless and vain had been the siege of Tigranocerta; Tigranes sat secure and strong in men and provisions; they who had undertaken to storm the walls, were utterly routed; two Legions were sent to the relief of Armenia; the remaining Legions covered Syria, nay, stood ready for an offensive war, and to invade the dominions of Parthia; his whole cavalry, through scarcity of forage, were miserably enfeebled; for such an infinite flight of locusts had fallen, as utterly devoured the whole crop of the earth and every green thing. Smothering, however, his dread, and assuming a guise of moderation, he returned for answer, “That he would send Embassadors to Rome, to sue to Cæsar for a concession of the Kingdom of Armenia, and to corroborate the peace between them.” And instantly commanding Moneses to relinquish the siege of Tigranocerta, he departed himself homewards again.
These quick changes were by many extolled, as “events altogether honourable, purely atchieved by the menaces of Corbulo, and the dismay of the King.” Others explained the whole “into a secret compact between them, that the war being dropped on both sides, and Vologeses withdrawing from Armenia, Tigranes too should depart that Kingdom. Upon what motives else was the Roman army led out of Tigranocerta? Why, in a time of inaction, were those places abandoned, which during war were strenuously defended? Had the troops found, in the remotest parts of Cappadocia, more commodious winter quarters, under huts suddenly raised, than in the capital of a Kingdom just before carefully kept and protected? Without all doubt, the war was therefore suspended, that upon some other Commander than Corbulo the lot might might fall of meeting Vologeses in the field; nor would Corbulo expose to new risques that renown and glory which for so many years he had been acquiring.” For, as I have already observed, he had demanded that a General should be sent for the particular defence of Armenia, and heard that Cæsennius Pætus was approaching with that character. Cæsennius was, in truth, already arrived, and the forces so divided, that under the command of Pætus were to remain the fourth Legion and the twelfth, to which was added the fifth, lately called thither from Mœsia, as also the auxiliaries from Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia; with Corbulo were to continue the third, sixth, and tenth Legions, and what forces formerly belonged to Syria. All other particulars they were to possess in common, or to share, just as the public service required. But, as Corbulo could not bear a competitor; so Pætus, to whom it was doubtless abundant glory, if in merit he were reckoned the second, disparaged all the atchievements of Corbulo; he affirmed, “That, in all his exploits, nothing of hostile blood was spilled, nothing of spoil was taken; and all the boasted praise of mastering and assaulting cities, was merely nominal and assumed. For himself, he would impose upon the vanquished tribute and laws; and, instead of the present shadow of a King, subject them at once to the jurisdiction of Rome.”
At this very juncture, the Embassadors of Vologeses, the same, whom I have mentioned to have been sent to the Prince, returned unsuccessful. Hence the Parthians proceeded to open war, nor did Pætus decline it; but, with two Legions, the fourth and twelfth, the former then commanded by Famisulanus Vectonianus, the other by Calvisius Sabinus, he entered Armenia, and a sad presage accompanied his entrance; for, in passing over the Euphrates, which he crossed upon a bridge, the horse which carried the Consular ornaments, became frightened without any apparent cause, and starting back again, got clear away: Moreover, as they were fortifying their quarters against winter, a victim which stood by the works, before the same were above half finished, broke violently through, leaped over the pale, and fled. The javelins too of our men blazed with spontaneous fire, a prodigy which appeared the more signal, for that with javelins and such weapons missive their enemies the Parthians always fight.
But all these omens were contemned by Pætus, who, before his winter encampment was yet sufficiently fortified, without preparing any the least magazine of grain, hurried the army over the mountain Taurus, “to recover, as he said, the city of Tigranocerta, and lay waste the several regions which Corbulo had spared.” And it is true that he took certain castles, somewhat of glory too he won, and somewhat of plunder, if he had either possessed his glory with moderation, or his plunder with care. But while with long marches, he over-ran countries which could not possibly be maintained, what provisions he had pillaged, became corrupted and spoiled, and the winter was just overtaking him, so that he led back the army to their quarters. There he composed letters to Nero, in a pompous stile, as if the war had been already concluded; but as to any available performances, his letters were empty and vain.
Corbulo, the while, sat down upon the banks of the Euphrates, a station which he had never neglected; he now particularly multiplied the guards which defended it. And, that the enemy’s troops, who with great ostentation and numbers were prancing over the opposite plains, might create no obstruction to his laying a bridge over the river, he fastened together with great beams, certain vessels of vast bulk. Upon them he reared large towers, and steering this armed float to and fro upon the stream, did thence with engines of battery annoy and dissipate the Barbarians, upon whom by this means were poured volleys of stones and darts, at a greater distance than could be equalled by the flight of arrows by them returned. Thereafter, the bridge was extended quite over; the opposite hills were immediately possessed by the confederate Cohorts, and upon them the Legions next pitched their camp. All which was executed with such celerity, and such a formidable display of forces, that the Parthians intirely abandoned their dispositions for invading Syria, and turned all their hopes and efforts towards Armenia.
There abode Pætus in such utter ignorance of the impending tempest, that he still kept the fifth Legion at so great a distance as Pontus, and had weakened the rest, by allowing the soldiers, without restriction, leave to be absent. In this situation he received the news, that Vologeses advanced with a mighty host, breathing terror and vengeance. Forthwith he called to him the twelfth Legion; but this very thing, from whence he hoped the reputation of having augmented his army, betrayed their thinness: Yet they still might have maintained their camp, and by protracting the war, have baffled all the efforts of the Parthians, if in the spirit of Pætus there had been any firmness, either in adhering to his own counsel, or to the counsels of others. But whenever by officers of experience he seemed fixed in his measures against such pressing dangers, presently after, that he might not seem to want the judgment of any man, he lapsed into courses which were different, and always worse. At this very juncture he wilfully departed out of the entrenchments which inclosed their winter quarters, and uttering brave words, “That, in order to repulse the foe, to him was committed neither ditch nor pale, but the bodies and arms of men;” he led forth the Legions, like one who would needs encounter the Parthians in battle. But having lost a Centurion and a few private men, whom he had sent forward to view the enemy’s forces, he returned to his camp in great haste and affright: Yet seeing Vologeses had pursued his advantage with no remarkable ardour, Pætus became once more infatuated with vain confidence, and upon the next summit of mount Taurus placed three thousand select infantry, to repulse the King from passing it. He likewise committed a particular part of the plain to the troops of Pannonia, which were the strength of his cavalry. His wife and son he shut up in a castle named Arsamosata, and for garrisoning the castle, gave them a band of five hundred men. Thus he dispersed his army, who, had they been in a body, might with more vigour have sustained the shock of a roving and inconstant enemy: Nay, it is said, that he was with great difficulty induced to transmit to Corbulo any account of the enemy’s distressing him. Neither did Corbulo make much dispatch, that the more the danger increased, the greater praise he might reap from bringing relief. He gave orders however to make ready a body of succours consisting of three thousand Legionary soldiers (one from each of the three Legions) of eight hundred horse, and an equal number of foot detached from the Cohorts.
Vologeses, though he was advised, that Pætus beset the roads on every hand, here with his infantry, there with his horse, yet no-wise varied his design or his march, but, with a violent onset, and ostentation of terrors, quite dismayed and drove awaythe Pannonian troops; the Legionary foot posted upon Taurus he utterly overthrew, and found resistance from one Centurion only, namely, Tarquitius Crescens, who had the bravery to defend a tower, in which he kept garrison? He even made frequent sallies, and such of the Barbarians who ventured to approach, he slew, till at last he was assaulted and overwhelmed by volleys of flaming matter. Such of the infantry as escaped unhurt, betook themselves to wild and remote deserts, and the wounded recovered the camp: There they published “the signal bravery of the Parthian King, the multitudes and barbarity of the several nations his followers,” and, through the impulse of their own fears, magnified excessively whatever inspired them: all which was swallowed with ready credulity by the rest, who were themselves possessed with the same terrors. Nor in truth did the General make any efforts to repel this torrent of adversity: he had already deserted all the duties of war, and again dispatched more entreaties to Corbulo, “to come with speed, and save the Roman Ensigns and Eagles; to save the name and remains of an unhappy army, who with himself would, while their lives remained, honour their deliverer with perfect faith and gratitude.”
Corbulo was no wise daunted, and, leaving part of his forces in Syria to maintain the posts which he had fortified upon the Euphrates; began the shortest route, where no hazard was incurred of lacking provisions; first through Comagena, then through Cappadocia, and thence into Armenia. There accompanied his army, besides other implements usual in war, a huge train of camels loaded with grain, thence to repel famine as well as the foe. The first that he met of those who were routed, was Pactius a Centurion of principal rank: After him came several common soldiers, who, while they strove to cover the shame of their flight, each by a different excuse, were by Corbulo admonished “to return to their colours, and try the mercy of Pætus: for his particular, he owned himself implacable to all who in battle came not off victorious.” At the same time he addressed himself to his own Legions, from rank to rank, persuading and exhorting, reminded them of their exploits and victories past, and to their present view exhibited a scene of fresh glory; “Not now the villages and cities of the Armenians were to be possessed as the recompence of their services and hardships, but the Roman Camp to be saved, and in it two Roman Legions. If every private soldier were, for saving the life of a citizen, distinguished with the lustre of a Civic Crown publicly presented by the hand of his General; how much more signal and extensive must be the renown, when the lives preserved, and they who preserve them, were thus equally numerous?” By these and the like stimulations, they became fired with alacrity for the common cause; besides, some were prompted by personal incitements, even the distresses and dangers in which their brothers, or their companions and kinsmen, were involved. So that they sped their march night and day, without intermission.
Hence the more vehemently did Vologeses press the besieged, now assaulting the entrenchment of the Legions, then the castle in which were guarded those who from the tenderness of their sex and years were unfit for the roughness and toils of war; and he pushed these his assaults much more closely than was usual to the Parthians, in hopes by such designed temerity to tempt out the enemy to a battle. But they, with all these insults, could scarce be dragged out of their tents, at most only endeavoured to maintain their works, part of them submitting to the orders and restrictions of their General, others resigned to their own cowardice, as men who stupidly waited for deliverance from Corbulo; or if the power of the assailants in the mean while prevailed, they had already provided themselves with examples to follow, namely, the behaviour of two old Roman armies overthrown, one at Caudium in Italy, the other at Numantia in Spain: “for that, neither were the Samnites (a single Italian state) nor were the Spaniards, either of them masters of forces comparable to those of the Parthians, a mighty Empire, rival with that of Rome! nay, those same ancients, so very brave and stubborn, and so much extolled, as often as fortune forsook them, were ever supple enough to consult self-preservation.” By the temper of the army, thus abandoned to despair, the General was constrained to write to Vologeses; yet, the first letter which he sent contained nothing of supplicancy or abasement, but was conceived in a strain of expostulation and complaint, “That for the Kingdom of Armenia he should thus exercise the violences of enmity and war; a country ever subject to the Roman jurisdiction, or to a King appointed by the Emperor of Rome. Peace was, in truth, alike advantageous to the Parthians and to the Romans; neither ought he to view only the present situation of things; but remember that against two Legions he was come at the head of the whole power of his Kingdom, while to the Romans remained, for the support of the war, all the rest of the globe.”
Vologeses, without entering at all into the merit of the war, in answer to the representation, wrote back, “That he must wait the coming of his brothers, Pacorus and Tiridates; as to them was reserved the appointment of a place and time for adjusting such measures concerning Armenia, as became their own high character, and the grandeur of the Arsacides; at the same time too, they would determine how to deal with the Roman Legions.” Pætus again dispatched a message, and desired a conference with the King, who, in his own stead, deputed Vasaces, his General of horse. At this interview Pætus urged examples, and represented “such Roman Captains as Lucullus and Pompey, and since some of the Cæsars, acquiring and bestowing the Realm of Armenia.” Vasaces alledged, “That indeed the name and shadow of holding and conferring it, rested in us Romans, but in the Parthians the essential power.” After much mutual contestation, Monobazus the Adiabenian was the next day joined with them, as a witness to their stipulations, and between them it was agreed, “That the Legions should be released from the leaguer, all the Roman troops utterly depart the territories of Armenia, all their fortresses and stores be delivered up to the Parthians. Then, after complete performance of these concessions, Vologeses should have free privilege to send Embassadors to Nero.”
In the mean time, Pætus laid a bridge over the river Arsanias, which flowed along his camp, under pretext of his preparing to march off that way; but it was, in reality, a work enjoined him by the Parthians, as a monument and confession of their victory, since to them only it was of use; for our men took a different rout. All this disgrace was heightened by public rumour, which added, that “the Legions had passed like captives under a gallows,” with many other disastrous circumstances, such as are wont to accompany distress. And it is true, that of such ignominious treatment some semblance was administered by the insulting behaviour of the Armenians, who, before the Roman army was yet discamped, entered their works, beset all the avenues and thoroughfares, singled out their own captive slaves, distinguished their lost beasts, and rescued both: They even stripped the Romans of their cloaths, and seized their arms, while the poor soldiers only trembled and delivered, thus to cut off all provocation and excuse of involving them in a battle. Vologeses raised a pompous heap of all the arms and bodies of the slain, by it to manifest our overthrow, but forbore beholding the scandalous flight of the Legions, from whence he aimed at acquiring the applause of moderation, when he had just before satiated his pride. He passed the river Arsanias mounted upon an elephant, as did all that were near the King in blood or favour, by the vigour of their horses. For, a report had spread that the bridge, by the fraud of the builders, would certainly sink under any considerable pressure: Though they who ventured over it, experienced it to be a strong and secure fabric.
For the rest; it was notorious that the beleagured army were to the last provided with such abundant supplies of grain, that they even set fire to their store-houses. And it was by Corbulo recounted, “That the Parthians, on the contrary, were destitute of provisions, and their forage entirely consumed, so that they were about to have forsaken the leaguer; neither was he himself above three days march distant with his forces.” He even added, “That Pætus covenanted, under the tye of an oath solemnly taken under the sacred Eagles, in the presence of those whom the King had sent to witness it, That no Roman should enter Armenia, till by the arrival of letters from Nero, it were known whether he consented to the peace.” But though such imputations were to pass only for infamy aggravated, yet the subsequent conduct of Pætus and his army is liable to no ambiguity, that in one day they travelled the space of forty miles, that the wounded were every where dropped and forsaken, and that no less infamous was the flight and dismay of those fugitives, than if they had turned their backs and run in the day of battle. Upon the banks of the Euphrates Corbulo with his forces met them, but without such a display of flying colours and glittering arms as might seem to upbraid their different and melancholy plight. Sorrowful were his several bands, and in commiseration for the heavy lot of their fellow-soldiers, could not refrain from a flood of tears; scarce were they able to exchange their salutations for weeping: All competition about superior bravery was vanished, as well as all ambition for glory; for these are the passions of happy and prosperous men! here compassion only prevailed, and the lower the men, the stronger their compassion.
Between the two leaders there followed a brief conference, Corbulo lamenting, “That so much travel had been fruitlesly bestowed, when the war might have been finished with the utter flight of the Parthians.” The other replied, “That the affairs of Armenia remained perfectly as they were. Let us, said he, turn about our Eagles, and invade it in concert, enfeebled as it is by the departure of Vologeses.” Corbulo alledged, “That from the Emperor he had no such orders: he had already passed out of his Province, from no other inducement than to deliver the distressed Legions; and as it was altogether uncertain where the next efforts of the Parthians would fall, he would retire back into Syria: Even thus they had cause to invoke the Deity of happy fortune, that the foot, which were so miserably spent with great marches, might be able to come up with the Parthian horse, which were altogether fresh and untired, and in travelling easily over those smooth plains, were sure to out-march them.” Pætus therefore withdrew to Cappadocia, and there wintered. But to Corbulo a message arrived from Vologeses, “To withdraw his several garrisons from beyond the Euphrates, and let the river remain, as formerly, the common boundary.” Corbulo too insisted, “That all the Parthian garrisons should evacuate Armenia.” And at last the King complied. Moreover, all the fortifications raised by Corbulo on the other side Euphrates, were demolished, and by both the King and Corbulo the Armenians were left to their own disposal and controulment.
But, at Rome the while, they were erecting trophies of victory over the Parthians, and raising triumphal arches upon the mount of the Capirol; solemnities decreed by the Senate while the war was yet in its height, nor even now discontinued, as popular shew was only studied, in defiance of conviction and fact. Nay, Nero, in order to disguise all sollicitude from affairs abroad, ordered the stores of grain, which from time to time was distributed amongst the populace, but now corrupted with staleness, to be thrown into the Tiber, in ostentation of the public security and plenty of provisions. It is certain, their price became nothing raised, notwithstanding that almost two hundred vessels thus loaded, were by a violent storm sunk in the very harbour, and a hundred more already arrived in the Tiber, were consumed by an accidental fire. Thereafter he committed the direction of the public revenue to three Senators of Consular dignity, Lucius Piso, Ducennius Geminus, and Pompeius Paullinus, inveighing against the Princes his ancestors, “for that, through the profuseness of their expence and disbursements, they had exceeded their annual receipts; whereas by himself the Commonwealth was yearly presented with more than a million of crowns.”
There prevailed in those days a pestilent abuse, practised by men aspiring and childless, who, whenever the election of Magistrates, or the allotment of Provinces, was at hand, provided themselves with sons by fraudulent adoptions; then when in common with real fathers they had obtained Prætorships and provincial Governments, they instantly dismissed such as they had occasionally adopted. Hence those who were genuine fathers, betook themselves with mighty indignation to the Senate: There they represented their own “inherent right from nature, their many toils and paternal cares bestowed in education and rearing, in opposition to the fraud, selfish devices, and facility of these adoptions hastily made, and suddenly dissolved. To such as were childless, it was abundant compensation, that with much security, and exempt from all anxiety and charge, they could arrive at public distinction, and honours, and find every advantage in the state easy and open to their wishes. For themselves, the preference ensured to them by the law, and by them tediously expected, vanished in mockery, while every man had it in his option to become a parent without parental tenderness and sollicitude, and fatherless again without the lamentation and anguish of a parent, and by the collusive ceremony of a moment, arrived at equal emoluments with natural fathers, by them so long pursued.” This produced a decree of Senate, “That in the pursuit of any public employment whatsoever, no feigned adoptions should have influence, nor yet avail in claiming estates by will.”
What followed was the accusation and trial of Claudius Timarchus of Crete, who, besides other excesses common to the Grandees of all provinces, elated with over-grown wealth, and thence wantonly prompted to domineer over their inferiors, had uttered an expression, which imported great scandal and contumely upon the Senate; as he had often declared, that “it lay in his power, whether the Proconsuls who had obtained the government of Crete, should receive for their administration the public thanks;” an occasion which Pætus Thrasea sought to improve to the benefit of the public; so that, after he had delivered his vote, namely, “That the accused should be banished from Crete,” he added the following speech. “It is a truth confirmed by experience, Conscript Fathers, that renowned laws and wholsome precedents are by upright patriots derived from the transgressions and delinquency of others: Thus was the Cincian law produced by the licentious behaviour of the Orators, the Julian ordinances by the caballings and efforts of the candidates for public preferments, and the institutions of Calpurnius the Tribune, by the rapaciousness of the Magistrates. For guilt is ever antecedent to punishment, and later than the offence comes the correction. To quell therefore this fresh insolence of the Provincials, let us take measures worthy of the good faith, worthy of the magnanimity of the Romans, such as may no wise infringe the protection due to our confederates, nor yet leave room for any Roman to depend for his estimation upon other judgment than that of his fellow-citizens. Of old, indeed, not Prætors and Consuls only, and men in office, were sent into the Provinces; but private persons invested with no magistracy, were also sent, to inspect the state of those Provinces in general, and to report what they judged meet concerning the civil observance of every particular; and by the judgment of single inspectors nations were awed. But now we court foreigners, and flatter them; and as at the beck of some one of them thanks are decreed to our Magistrates, from the same motive too, but with more facility, is their accusation decreed: Nay, let such accusations be still decreed; to the Provincials let there always continue a privilege of making, in such instances, an oftentation of their power; but let their false and groundless applause, their commendations extorted by importunity and prayers, be restrained with the same rigour as the efforts of malice, as the ravages of cruelty. Into heavier defaults we often fall, while we labour to oblige, than when we are not afraid to offend. There are even certain virtues subject to popular hate, such as a severity never to be shaken, and a soul impregnable against all insinuation and courtship. Hence the administration of our Magistrates abroad, is generally best at the beginning, but relaxes in the close, while in the submissive manner of candidates for honours at home, we sollicit favourable suffrages from the Provincials. Now if this depraved custom be effectually suppressed, the Provinces will be ruled with more impartiality, with greater firmness and resolution: For, as by the terror of the law against extortion and rapine, the force of avarice in the governors is broken, so by abolishing the usage of giving them public thanks, the court by them paid to the Provinces is to be restrained.
Great was the applause and universal the assent, that accompanied this proposition from Thrasea, which yet could not be reduced into a decree, since the Consuls insisted that the same was foreign from the question first moved. But afterwards, at the motion of the Prince, it was ordained, “That to the general council of the Provinces no man should have leave to propose a deputation to the Senate for public thanks to any Prætorian or Proconsular Governor whatsoever; and that no man should be allowed to execute such a deputation.” During the same Consuls, the Athletic Academy was by a blast of lightning burnt to ruins, and in it the brazen statue of Nero melted to a shapeless mass. In Campania too, the noble city which from Pompey takes its name, was in a great measure overturned by an earthquake; and this year died Lælia the Vestal virgin, into whose place was assumed Cornelia, of the Cossian family.
In the Consulship of Memmius Regulus and Verginius Rufus, a daughter was by Poppæa born to Nero, and filled him with more than mortal joy, insomuch, that he named her Augusta, and upon Poppæa conferred the same title. The place of her birth was the Colony of Antium, where he himself was born. The Senate had before solemnly recommended to the Gods the pregnant womb of Poppæa, and, for her delivery, undertaken public vows: Now many more were added, and the whole amply fulfilled. Days of devotion, and processions were also subjoined; a Temple was decreed to “Fecundity, with Athletic sports in imitation of those which were peculiar to Antium; moreover, that in the throne of Jupiter Capitolinus should be placed golden images of the Fortunes; and that at Antium, in honour to the Claudian and Domitian families, Circensian games should be celebrated, as at the suburbs Bovillæ they were in distinction to the Julian race.” But all these proved fleeting memorials; for within four months the infant expired: From whence arose fresh sallies of flattery; since deification was voted to her, with “divine worship, a tabernacle, chapel, and priest.” For the Emperor, as he had rejoiced, so he sorrowed, beyond all measure. It was a particular universally observed, that when just upon the delivery of Poppæa, the Senate in a body flocked with congratulations to Antium, Thrasea was by Nero restrained from accompanying them; a contumely which, though it foreboded his impending destruction, he yet received with a spirit perfectly undismayed. It was reported that Nero afterwards vaunted to Seneca his own clemency and reconciliation to Thrasea, and that to Nero in return Seneca expressed his gladness and thanks. Hence fresh glory accrued to these illustrious patriots, and by it higher obnoxiousness and danger.
During these transactions, there arrived in the beginning of spring, Embassadors from the Parthians; charged with overtures from Vologeses their King, and with letters in the same strain, that he now voluntarily relinquished “all his former measures so often contested, about the enjoyment of Armenia, since the Gods, though they were the sovereign arbitrator between potent states, and had yielded the possession of it to the Parthians, yet so yielded it, that thence ignominy devolved upon the Romans. He had lately held Tigranes blocked up in a siege, then Pætus and the Legions; and when it was in his power to have destroyed them, it was his choice to dismiss them unhurt. He had sufficiently displayed his forces and might, and exhibited too a glaring proof of his moderation. Neither would his brother Tiridates refuse coming to Rome, there to receive the Armenian diadem; but that as he was a Magian, the character of his Priesthood with-held him: He was ready, however, to address himself to the Roman Ensigns, and to the Images of Cæsar, and there, in presence of the Legions, receive the solemn investiture of the Kingdom.”
When these letters of Vologeses were read, so opposite to the account transmitted by Pætus, as if things remained entirely in the same situation; the Centurion, who had arrived with the Embassadors, was asked, “In what condition stood the Kingdom of Armenia?” he answered, that “all the Romans were to a man withdrawn from thence;” and as hence was understood the scorn offered by the Barbarians, thus suing for a country which they had already seized, Nero held a consultation with the principal Grandees, whether to engage in a perilous war, or prefer an infamous peace; nor was there any hesitation in resolving upon war; and to Corbulo, who by the experience of so many years, knew both the soldiery and the enemy, the supreme command was committed, lest through the temerity and unskilfulness of any other, more faults and disgrace might be incurred; for, of Pætus and his conduct they were sorely ashamed. The Embassadors were therefore dismissed unsuccessful, but distinguished with presents, thence to raise hopes that, were Tiridates to bring his own supplications, he would not supplicate in vain. To Sestius was given the administration of Syria, and to Corbulo were granted all the military forces there, which were also increased by the addition of the fifteenth Legion, led by Marius Celsus, from Pannonia. Directions were likewise written to the Kings and Tetrarchs in the East, to the Deputies and Superintendents, and to the several Proprætors who ruled the neighbouring Provinces, “to pay entire obedience to the orders of Corbulo,” who was thus trusted with much the same extensive authority, which the Roman people had conferred upon Pompey in his expedition against the Pirates. Upon the return of Pætus to Rome, while he was dreading a more rigorous treatment, Nero deemed it sufficient to lash him with railleries in this manner; “I pardon you, said he, instantly, lest, with that strange propensity to fear, you might pine away, were your anxiety ever so little protracted.”
Now when Corbulo had removed into Syria the fourth and twelfth Legions, which, from the loss of all their bravest men, and the consternation of the rest, were judged little qualified for feats of war; he drew from that Province the sixth Legion and the third, a body of men fresh and undiminished, hardened by variety of military toils, and accustomed to prosperous exploits, and led them to Armenia. To them he added the fifth, which being quartered in Pontus had escaped the late defeat. Moreover, the soldiers of the fifteenth Legion lately arrived, and some chosen bands from Illyrium and Ægypt, with all the auxiliary troops of horse and companies of foot, as also the succours from the confederate Kings, were drawn together at Melitene, as from thence he had concerted their passing the Euphrates. He then purified the army by the usual solemnity of Lustration, and in a stated assembly animated them with a speech: In it he made a glorious display “of the auspicious sway and invincible fortune of Cæsar; of the signal exploits by himself atchieved;” and upon the simple conduct of Pætus he cast “whatever contumelies or disasters had been sustained.” These things he delivered with great spirit and authority, which, in a military man like him, carried all the force of eloquence.
He took next the same rout which of old was passed by Lucullus, having removed whatever impediments, in so long a course of years, had closed up the way: Neither did he discountenance the Embassadors, who where approaching from Tiridates and Vologeses, with overtures of peace; but, to confer with them, appointed certain Centurions, whom he furnished with instructions no wise harsh; namely, “That as yet the contest was not risen to such height as that nothing could determine it, but the decision of the sword. The Roman arms had in many instances been prosperous, in some the Parthian; whence a lesson might be drawn against arrogance and presumption in either. It moreover concerned the interest of Tiridates to possess a Kingdom untouched by the ravages of war, by accepting it as the gift of the Romans: more substantially too would Vologeses study the advantage of the people of Parthia by an alliance with the Romans, than by involving both in mutual damages and mischief. It was well known what terrible revolts were then rending the bowels of his Monarchy, as also what fierce and unruly nations he governed. To the Roman Emperor, on the contrary, there continued in all his dominions a steady peace, and only the weight of that single war.” To enforce his reasoning, he immediately subjoined the terrors of the sword, drove from their seats the Grandees of Armenia, who were the first revolters from us, razed their castles, and filled with equal dismay the inhabitants of the mountains and those of the vales, the warriors, and the unwarlike.
The name of Corbulo was held in no distaste, much less in hostile hate, even amongst the Barbarians; hence they believed his counsel worthy to be trusted. Vologeses, therefore, who was never violent for a general war with the Romans, now sought a truce for certain of his Governments. Tiridates demanded a day and place for a conference; and a time near at hand was appointed: For the place, as the Barbarians chose that where they had lately besieged Pætus and the Legions, from a fond remembrance of their more propitious atchievements there, the same was not declined by Corbulo, that from the different face of his own fortune, his glory might be augmented. Yet neither suffered he the disgrace of Pætus there to be blackened with any fresh reproach; a tenderness chiefly manifest from hence, that he ordered the son of Pætus, one of his own Tribunes, to march at the head of some companies and commit to sepulchres the ghostly remains of that unfortunate field. Upon the day stipulated, Tiberius Alexander an illustrious Roman Knight, one sent with Corbulo as an assistant and inspector, in the measures of the war, and with him, Vivianus Annius, son-in-law to Corbulo, one under the age of a Senator, but set over the fifth Legion in the room of its own Commander, entered together into the camp of Tiridates, as a compliment of honour, and that, possessed of such hostages, he might fear no guile. Then the King and the General took each twenty horse and proceeded to the interview. At the sight of Corbulo, the King leaped first from his horse, nor was Corbulo slow to return the courtesy, and both, on foot, interchanged their right hands.
Thence the Roman Captain proceeded to applaud the young Prince, “that, renouncing all desperate measures, he had adopted such as were wholsome and secure.” Tiridates, after a long display “of the splendor of his race,” pursued the rest of his discourse with sufficient modesty and condescension; “That he would travel to Rome and present a new subject of glory to Cæsar, a Prince of the Arsacides his supplicant, at a season when no public distress impaired the affairs of Parthia.” It was then agreed that before the image of Cæsar he should resign the Royal Diadem, never to resume it more except from the hand of Nero; thus ended the conference with a mutual kiss. Then after an interval of a few days, the two armies met with mighty pomp and ostentation on both sides. There stood the Parthian horse, ranged into troops, and distinguished by the standards of their several nations; here were posted the battalions of the Legions, their Eagles glittering, their Ensigns displayed, with the figures of the deified Emperors exhibited like Deities in a Temple. In the center was placed a tribunal, which supported a chair of state, as did the chair a statue of Nero: To this Tiridates approached, and having, according to form, slain certain victims, pulled the Diadem from his head and laid it at the feet of the Statue. Great upon this occasion were the emotions in the minds of all men; and the greater as they had still before their eyes the late overthrow, at least the late siege of the Roman armies: “But now, intirely inverted were the operations of fortune; Tiridates was departing for Rome, exposed as a spectacle to the nations, under a character how little below that of a captive?”
Corbulo, to all his glory, added actions of complaisance and a sumptuous banquet; during which the King, as often as any usage of ours, new to him, occurred, was assiduous to know what the same might mean; why a Centurion advertised the General, when the watch was first set? why, when meals were ended the trumpet sounded? why the fuel upon the altar reared before the Augural port, was kindled with a torch? all which Corbulo explained, and heightening all beyond just bounds, struck him with admiration of the ancient institutions of the Romans. The next day, Tiridates besought “so much time, before he undertook so long a journey, as might suffice to visit his brothers and his mother;” and, for an hostage, delivered up his daughter, and writ a supplicant letter to Nero.
Thus he departed, and found Pacorus in Media, and at Ecbatana Vologeses, who, in truth, was far from neglecting the concerns of this his brother: For, by a special embassy he had desired of Corbulo, “That Tiridates might bear no visible semblance of slavery; nor be obliged to surrender his sword, nor be debarred from the distinction of embracing the Governors of Provinces; nor stand waiting at their gates for admittance; and, that in Rome, the same honour should be paid him as to the Consuls was paid.” In truth, that Prince, inured to the pride which prevails among foreigners, was a stranger to the maxims of us Romans, who study the energy of Empire, and overlook the shadows and empty forms.
The same year, Cæsar conferred upon those nations of the Alps who inhabit the sea coast, the rights and immunities of Latium: To the Roman Knights he assigned places in the Circus before the seats of the populace; for, till that time they sat there without discrimination, as the sanctions of the Roscian law were only confined to the fourteen rows in the Theatre. On this year too was exhibited a combat of Gladiators equally magnificent with the former; but many Ladies of illustrious quality, and many Senators, by entering the lists, infamously stained themselves.
In the Consulship of Caius Lecanius and Marcus Licinius, Nero became every day more transported with a passion for mounting the public stage, and entertaining the promiscuous multitude: For hitherto he had only sung in the assemblies entituled Juvenalia, which were restrained to particular houses and gardens; places which he despised, as not sufficiently celebrated, and too confined for a voice so signal as his. At Rome, however, he dared not to begin, but chose Naples, the same being a Greek city, “where having made his first essay, he would pass thence over to Greece, and there having, by victory in song, gained the prize-crowns, ever so highly renowned and held sacred of old, he could not fail of attracting, with heightened applause, the hearts of the Roman citizens.” To this entertainment crowded all the rabble of Neapolitans, with numbers from the neighbouring cities and colonies, excited by the rumour and curiosity of the spectacle; besides such as followed the Emperor, either in compliment to him, or about private affairs of their own: Nay, with these entered several bands of soldiers, and all together thronged the Theatre; where an accident befel, which, in the opinion of many, was sad and presaging; but with Nero it passed for a providential event, and betokened the tutelage of his guardian Deities: The Theatre, when the audience who filled it were retired, tumbled to the ground, but as not a soul was in it, none were hurt by its ruins. For this deliverance Nero celebrated the benignity of the Gods in songs of thanksgiving purposely composed, as also the story and description of the recent contingency. Then in his rout to pass the Adriatic, he rested a while at Beneventum, where by Vatinius was presented a splendid shew of Gladiators. This Vatinius was one of the many baleful monsters that haunted the court, and one of the foremost, originally bred in a shoemaker’s stall, in his person hideous and distorted, addicted to sneering and drollery, and at first admitted merely as a buffoon; thence, by lying accusations against every worthy man, he had arrived to such high consideration, that in favour, in opulence, and in power to injure and destroy, he even surpassed the other implements of mischief.
Nero, during the course of this solemnity, though he attended it assiduously, forbore not however, even in the midst of his diversion and pleasures, to pursue feats of blood; since, in those very days of festivity, Torquatus Silanus was forced to die, for that, besides the ancient splendor of the Junian family, he was great grandson to the deified Augustus. Against him the accusers had orders to object, “his great prodigality and bounties; and that other resource and views he had none remaining, save only in a public revolution. Nay, already he kept about him men with the stile of principal Secretaries, of Chancellors, of Treasurers, names and offices of Imperial grandeur, which he thus aspired to, and even personated.” Immediately, all his freedmen, in any degree of intimacy with their master, were cast into bonds, and hurried to the dungeon. Torquatus, seeing his impending condemnation, opened the veins of both his arms, and expired; an event which was followed, according to custom, with a speech from Nero; “That however guilty the criminal had been, how justly soever he had despaired of acquitting himself by any defence, his life had still been spared, had he staid for the clemency of his Judge.”
Nero, having deferred his voyage to Greece, for reasons which were not known, soon after re-visited Rome, his head busied with many imaginations, all smothered at first, about shewing himself to the Provinces in the East, especially to Ægypt: At last this project became the subject of a public edict. In it he declared, that “his absence would not be of long continuance, and the Commonwealth, in all its parts, would continue the while in the same perfect quiet and prosperity;” then for the success of that journey, he betook himself in devotion to the Capitol. While he was there, paying his oblations to the several Deities, as he entered amongst others, into the Temple of Vesta, he became seized with a sudden and prevailing horror, which shook him in every joint; whether the awe of the Goddess struck him with dismay; or whether, from the remembrance of his foulness and crimes, he was ever haunted by terrors, it is certain that he dropped his project, making many asseverations, “That lighter with him were all his pursuits than his passion for his Country: He had seen the sorrowful looks of the Roman citizens, he still heard their secret complainings, that he would venture upon such mighty travels, when, in truth, they could never bear even his shortest excursions from Rome; as they were accustomed to be revived under all disasters, by the joyful sight of the Prince. Hence it was that, as in private consanguinities and friendship, dearest in affection were the nearest in blood, so over himself above all considerations availed that of the Roman people; and when they would thus retain him, it behoved him to obey.” These and the like declarations of his were well pleasing to the populace, from their propensity to the revels and diversions, and from another motive ever the most prevalent of all, the scarcity of provisions apprehended in his absence. The Senate and Grandees were in suspence whether he were to be esteemed a more raging tyrant at Rome, or remote from Rome; and thence, according to the genius of all great and affecting fears, they believed what happened, to be the worst that could happen.
Nero himself, in order to gain a reputation of delighting, above all places, in Rome, banquetted frequently in the public places and great squares, and used the whole city as his own house. But, as particularly signal for luxury and popular observation, was the feast prepared by Tigellinus; I shall here, for an example, recount its order and state, that henceforth I may not be obliged to a frequent recital of the like enormous prodigalities. For this purpose, he built, in the lake of Agrippa, a large vessel which contained the banquet, and was itself drawn by other vessels with oars: The vessels were embellished with diversified ornaments of gold and ivory, and rowed by bands of Pathics, ranged according to their seniority, and pre-eminence in the science of unnatural prostitutions. From divers regions he had procured variety of wild-fowl, and wild beasts for venison, with sea-fish as far as the Ocean. Upon the borders and angles of the lake stood brothels filled with Ladies of illustrious rank: Over-against them professed harlots were exposed, completely naked. Now every-where, were beheld obscene postures and agitations; and as soon as darkness spread, all the neighbouring groves and circumjacent dwellings, resounded to each other with the joyful symphony of music and songs, and appeared all illuminated with a blaze of lights. For Nero’s part, he wallowed in all sorts of defilements, natural and unnatural. He, in truth, had then left no kind of abomination untried, which could serve to finish his vileness, had he not, in a few days after, personated a woman, and been given in marriage, with all the forms and solemnity of genuine nuptials, to one of this contaminated herd, a Pathic named Pythagoras: Over the Roman Emperor, as over a bride, was cast the sacred nuptial veil; the Augurs were seen in form solemnizing the espousals, the portion of the bride was openly paid, the bridal bed displayed, the nuptial torches kindled, and, in fine, to view was exposed whatever, even in natural commerce with women, is buried under the shades of night.
There followed a dreadful calamity, but whether merely fortuitous, or by the execrable contrivance of the Prince, is not determined; for both are by authors asserted: But of all the evils which ever befel this city by the rage of fire, this was the most destructive and tragical. It arose in that part of the Circus, which is contiguous to mount Palatine and mount Cœlius, where beginning amongst shops, in which were kept such goods as are proper to feed the fury of fire, it grew instantly outragious; and being also aided by fresh force from the wind, it devoured the whole extent of the Circus. For, neither were particular houses secured by any enclosures, nor the Temples by their walls, and it had nothing to encounter capable of obstructing its violence; but the flame spreading every way, with terrible impetuosity, invaded first the flat regions of the city, then mounted to the higher, and again ravaging the lower, such was its amazing velocity as to frustrate all relief, and its havock was felt before any measures to oppose it could be tried. Besides, the city was obnoxious to conflagrations from the disposition of its building, with long narrow allies, winding like labyrinths to and fro, and streets void of all regularity, as was the fashion of old Rome. Add to all this, the shrieks and wailings of women under woe and dismay, the helpless condition of the young and tender, that of the aged and infirm, with the confusion of such as strove only to provide for themselves, interfering with those who laboured to assist others, these dragging the weak and unweildy, those waiting for the like help; some running, others lingering. From all which various efforts there arose only mutual interruption, and universal embarrassment; and while they chiefly regarded the danger that pursued them behind, they often found themselves suddenly beset before, and on every side; or if they had first escaped into the quarters adjoyning, these too were already seized by the devouring flames; even the parts which they believed quite remote and exempt, were discovered to be under the same affecting calamity. At last, utterly perplexed what they had best shun, or where to seek sanctuary, they filled with their multitude the streets and ways, and lay along in the open fields. Some there were who, in despair for the loss of their whole substance, and even bereft of daily sustenance, others who through tenderness for their relations, whom they had not been able to snatch from the flames, suffered themselves to perish in them, though they had full scope and opportunity to escape. Neither durst any man offer to marr the progress of the fire: Such were the repeated menaces of many who openly forbid all attempts to extinguish it; and, as there were others who, in the face of the public, heightened it by volleys of lighted fire-brands, with loud declarations, “that they had one to authorize them;” whether it were a device for the more licentious exercise of plunder, or whether in reality they had such orders.
Nero was at that juncture sojourning at Antium, but never offered to return to the city, till he heard that the fire was advancing to that quarter of his house which filled the space between the Palace and the Gardens of Mæcenas: Nor, even upon his arrival, could its rage be staid, but, in spight of opposition, it devoured houses and palace, and every thing round about. For the relief, however, of the forlorn people, thus vagabond and bereft of their dwellings, he laid open the field of Mars and all the great edifices erected by Agrippa, and called his monuments; he even presented them the use of his own Gardens. He likewise reared hasty tabernacles, for the reception of the destitute multitude: from Ostia too and the neighbouring cities, by his orders, were brought all sorts of houshold implements and necessaries; and the price of grain reduced to three sesterces the measure. All which bounties of his, however popular, were bestowed in vain, without any gratitude returned; because a rumour had flown abroad, “That, during the very time when Rome was under the fury of consuming flames, he entered his domestic Theatre, and chanted the destruction of Troy, likening the present desolation to the tragical calamities of antiquity.”
At length, on the sixth day, the conflagration was stayed, at the foot of mount Esquiline, by levelling with the ground an infinite number of buildings, and making a mighty void; so that the raging devastation hitherto uninterrupted, might find nothing to encounter but open fields and empty air. Scarce had the late consternation ceased, when a new and no trivial alarm recurred; for the fire broke out with fresh outrage, but in places more wide and spacious; hence fewer lives were destroyed: But, more Temples were here overthrown, and more sumptuous Porticos, such as were appropriated to public diversion and festivity. This conflagration too was subject to the greater measure of infamy, for that it rose in the possessions of Tigellinus, in the Amylian fields; whence it was conjectured, that Nero was thus aiming at the glory of building a new city, and calling it by his name. For, of the fourteen quarters into which Rome is divided, four were still standing entire, three lay in utter ruins; and, in the seven others, there remained only here and there a few shadows of houses, miserably shattered and half consumed.
Easy it were not to recount the number of the houses, squares, palaces, and temples which were lost: But foremost in antiquity and primitive rites, were the following edifices, that dedicated by Servius Tullius to the Moon; the Temple and great Altar consecrated by Evander the Arcadian to Hercules then a living Deity, and present in person; the Chapel vowed by Romulus to Jupiter the Stayer; the Court of Numa, with the Temple of Vesta, and in it the tutelar Gods peculiar to the Romans; all now consumed to ruins. In the same fate were involved the treasures acquired and accumulated by so many victories; the beautiful productions of Greek artists, ancient writings of celebrated Authors, and till then preserved perfectly intire, which, though many of them were still remembered by aged men, yet even upon the restoration of the city with such mighty lustre and embellishments, could never be retrieved nor supplied. There were those who observed, that on the eighteenth of July the fire began, the same day on which the Gauls, called Senones, having taken and spoiled the city, burnt it to the ground: Others were so curious in their calculation, as to reckon the just number of years, months and days between the two conflagrations.*
For the rest; Nero appropriated to himself the ruins of his native country, and upon them founded a palace, one where profusion of gold and precious stones, raised not the chief admiration; since these were stale and usual ornaments, such as from diffusive luxury were become long common: But the principal surprize arose from the spacious glades, and large artificial lakes. In imitation of vast wildernesses, here stood thick woods and shades; there lay ample lawns, avenues, and open views. The projectors and comptrollers of this plan, were Severus and Celer, two men of such temerity and enterprizing talents, as to attempt to remove by art the everlasting obstacles of nature, and to baffle, in vain experiments, all the Emperor’s power. For they had undertaken to sink a navigable canal from the lake Avernus to the mouth of the Tiber, over a dry and desert shore, or through steep intervening mountains. Yet in all that way, they could not have encountered any source of moisture for supplying water, save only the marsh Pomptina: The rest was every where a succession of rocks, or a soil perched and untractable: Or, had it even been possible to have broke through all obstruction, intolerable had been the toil, and the end incompetent. Nero however, zealous for atchieving feats which were deemed incredible, exerted all his might to perforate the mountains adjoining to Avernus; and to this day remain the traces of his romantic and abortive ambition.
The remainder of the old foundations, which his own court covered not, was assigned for houses; nor were these placed, as after it was burnt by the Gauls, at random and stragling; but the streets were delineated regularly, spacious and streight; the height of the buildings was restrained to a certain standard; the courts were widened; and, to all the great houses which stood by themselves, for securing their fronts, large Porticos were added. These Porticos Nero engaged to rear at his own expence, and then to deliver to each proprietor the squares about them, discharged of all rubbish. He moreover assigned donatives proportioned to every man’s rank and substance; and set a day for payment, on condition that against that day their several houses or palaces were finished. He appointed the marshes of Ostia for a receptacle of the ruins, and that with these the vessels, which had conveyed grain up the Tiber, should return laden back; that the new buildings should be raised to a certain height from the foundation, without rafters or boards; that they should be arched and partitioned with stone from the quarries of Gabii or Alba, the same being proof against the violence of fire: That over the common springs, which were licentiously diverted and wasted by private hands, overseers should be placed, to provide for their flowing in greater abundance into the public cisterns, and for supplying a greater number of places: That every housekeeper should furnish his yard with some machine proper to extinguish fire; neither should there be any more a common intermediate wall between house and house, but within its own independent walls every house should be enclosed. These regulations, which importing the general benefit of the citizens, were popularly received, derived also much beauty and decoration upon the new city. Yet, some there were who believed the ancient form and structure more conducing to health; as from the narrowness of the streets, and the height of the building, the rays of the sun were hardly felt or admitted; whereas now, so spacious was the breadth of the streets, and so utterly destitute of all shade, that the heat scorched with unabated rage.
Thus far the provisions made, were the result of counsels purely human. The Gods are next accosted with expiations, and recourse had to the Sibyll’s Books. By admonition from them, to Vulcan, Ceres and Proserpina, supplicatory sacrifices were made, and Juno atoned by the devotion of Matrons, first solemnized in the Capitol, then upon the next shore, where by water drawn from the sea the Temple and Image of the Goddess were besprinkled, and her feast and wake were celebrated by Ladies who had husbands. But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the Prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the Gods, availed to acquit Nero from the hideous charge, which was still universally believed, that by him the conflagration was authorized. Hence to suppress the prevailing rumour, he transferred the guilt upon fictitious criminals, and subjected to most exquisite tortures, and doomed to executions singularly cruel those people who, for their detestable crimes were already in truth universally abhorred, and known to the vulgar by the name of Christians. The founder of this name was Christ, one who in the reign of Tiberius suffered death as a criminal, under Pontius Pilate Imperial Procurator of Judæa, and, for a while, the pestilent superstition was quelled, but revived again and spread, not only over Judæa, where this evil was first broached, but even through Rome, the great gulph into which, from every quarter of the earth, there are torrents for ever flowing of all that is hideous and abominable amongst men: Nay, in it the filthy glut of iniquity never fails to find popular reverence and distinction. First therefore were seized such as freely owned their sect, then, a vast multitude by them discovered; and all were convicted, not so much for the imputed crime of burning Rome, as for their hate and enmity to human kind. To their death and torture were added the aggravations of cruel derision and sport; for, either they were disguised in the skins of savage beasts, and exposed to expire by the teeth of devouring dogs; or they were hoisted up alive, and nailed to crosses; or wrapt in combustible vestments, and set up as torches, that, when the day set, they might be kindled to illuminate the night. For presenting this tragical spectacle, Nero had lent his own gardens, and exhibited at the same time the public diversion of the Circus, sometimes driving a chariot in person, and, at intervals, standing as a spectator amongst the vulgar, in the habit of a charioteer. Hence it proceeded, that towards the miserable sufferers, however guilty and justly deserving the most exemplary death, popular commiseration arose, as for people who, with no view to the utility of the State, but only to gratify the bloody spirit of one man, were doomed to perish.
In the mean time, in order to supply his prodigality with money, all Italy was pillaged, the Provinces were squeezed and desolated; so were the several nations our confederates, and all those cities which have the title of free. In this general spoil, even the Gods were involved, their Temples in the City plundered, and from thence all the treasures of gold conveyed, which the Roman people, in every age of their state, either as monuments of triumphs celebrated, or of vows fulfilled, had solemnly consecrated, both in their times of prosperity, and in seasons of public peril. Through Greece, and Asia, in truth, the Deities were not only despoiled of their gifts and oblations, but even of their Statues and Images; for, into these Provinces, and with this commission, had been sent Acratus his freedman, and Secundus Carinas, the former a prompt instrument to execute any iniquity, however black and flagrant; the other a man practised in the Greek learning, which however sunk no deeper than his lips, and with virtuous acquirements he had never formed his soul. Of Seneca it was reported, “That to avert from himself the odium and imputation of this sacrilege, he had besought Nero for leave to retire to a seat of his own, remote from Rome, but was refused, and thence feigning an indisposition in his nerves, confined himself to his chamber.” It is by some authors recorded, That a freedman of his, named Cleonicus, had, by the command of Nero, prepared poison for his master, who escaped it, either from the discovery made by the freedman, or from the caution inspired by his own incessant apprehensions; while with a diet exceeding simple he supported an abstemious life, satisfying the call of hunger by wild fruit from the woods, and of thirst by a draught from the brook.”
About the same time a body of Gladiators, who were kept at the city of Præneste, laboured an escape and revolt; and though by the diligence of the soldiers who guarded them they were mastered and suppressed, the people were already in busy murmurs reviving the terror of Spartacus and the public miseries of old; fond as they ever are of agitations and novelty, yet ever frightened by them. Nor was it long after this that a fatal disaster befel the fleet, from no encounter in war; for scarce ever was known a time of such profound peace: But Nero had ordered the gallies to return to the coast of Campania at a limited day, without any allowance made for the changes and casualties of the deep. So that the Pilots, even while the sea raged, steered from the port of Formia, and, by a violent tempest from the South, while they struggled to double the Cape of Misenum, were driven upon the shore of Cuma, where many gallies of three banks of oars, and a number of smaller vessels, were wrecked.
In the close of the year, the heads and mouths of the people were filled with a long rote of prodigies, as so many heralds of impending calamities. At no time had thunder roared, or lightning shot with such fierceness and frequency, besides the appearance of a Comet, an omen ever expiated by Nero with the effusion of illustrious blood. In the streets and roads were found exposed several monstrous births with double heads, some of the human species, some of brutes; as also from the bellies of victims some such were taken, when for the sacrifice custom required beasts that are pregnant: And in the territory of Placentia, by the side of the public way, was brought forth a calf with its head growing upon its leg, a prodigy which, according to the interpretation returned by the Soothsayers, boded, “That for human kind another head was preparing, but one which would never arrive at strength, or remain concealed; for that this which presaged it, had lain repressed in the womb, and then issued into the world close by the public road.”
Silius Nerva and Atticus Vestinus commenced Consuls, during the progress of a conspiracy so vigorous that to the same moment it owed its beginning and advancement. In it Senators, Knights, soldiers, and even women, had engaged with a spirit of eagerness and competition; such was their detestation of Nero, and equally strong their zeal for Caius Piso. This Patrician, a descendent of the Calpurnian house, and by the nobleness of his paternal blood, allied to many illustrious families, was, for his own virtue, or for qualities that resembled virtues, held amongst the populace in signal applause: for, as he was a master of eloquence, he employed it in the patronage and defence of his fellow citizens; he was generous to his friends and acquaintance; and even toward such as were unknown to him, complaisant in his language and address. He possessed, with these advantages, others that were fortuitous, tallness of person and a graceful countenance: But strictness of life and manners he never practised, nor observed restraints in his pleasures; the ways of delicacy he ever indulged, as also those of magnificence, sometimes the excesses of luxury. Many too there were who approved this his conduct, such who, in a general prevalence of debauchery, would not have the supreme head confined in his morals, nor strictly severe.
It was from no ambition or pursuit of his that the birth of the conspiracy sprung; and yet I could not easily recount who he was that first concerted it, nor who animated a design which was by such a number espoused. That Subrius Flavius Tribune of a Prætorian Cohort, and Sulpicius Asper the Centurion, were the keenest champions in it, the spirit and constancy with which they encountered death, do abundantly evince. Lucan the Poet, and Plautius Lateranus, Consul elect, concurred from ardent animosity and hate, the former stimulated by personal provocations, for that Nero had obstructed the fame of his Poems, and, from a ridiculous emulation, forbid their publication. Lateranus was piqued by no injury done to himself, but, from sincere affection to the Republic, became an accomplice. But there were two men, Flavius Scevinus and Afranius Quinctianus, both Senators, who, by engaging in an enterprize so great and daring, and even claiming to be foremost in the execution, departed from the constant character of their lives; for, Scevinus had a soul drowned in sensuality, and thence led a stupid life devoted to sleep and sloth: Quinctianus was infamous for unnatural prostitution; and, having been by Nero exposed in a virulent Satire, to revenge the indignity he conspired.
Now as all these, as well in conferences with one another, as amongst their friends, were ever displaying “the inhuman cruelties of the Prince, the condition of the Empire, threatened with instant dissolution, and the necessity of substituting in his place some one capable of relieving the afflicted state;” they drew into the combination Tullius Senecio, Cervarius Proculus, Vulcatus Araricus, Julius Tugurinus, Munatius Gratus, Antonius Natalis, and Martius Festus, all Roman Knights. Of these Senecio, who had lived in singular intimacy with Nero, and preserved even then the face of favour, was thence the more encompassed with dread and danger. To Natalis all the secret purposes in the heart of Piso were open without reserve: secret views governed the rest, and they sought their own interest in a change. Of the men of the sword, besides Subrius and Sulpicius, the officers already mentioned, there were assumed as accomplices, Granius Silvanus and Statius Proximus, Tribunes of the Prætorian bands, with the Centurions Maximus Scaurus, and Venetus Paullus. But, as their main strength and dependence, they considered Fenius Rufus, Captain of the Imperial Guards, a man for life and estimation, in signal credit and popularity, one who exposed himself to daily perils from the hate and persecution of Tigellinus, his collegue, who, by the recommendations of a cruel spirit, and manners altogether impure, had gained a superior ascendancy in the heart of the Prince, and, labouring to destroy him by forged crimes, had often well nigh effected his destruction, by alarming Nero with the views and discontents of Rufus, “as one who had been engaged in a criminal commerce with Agrippina, and, in anguish and resentment for her untimely end, was bent upon vengeance.” As soon therefore as the conspirators had, from the frequent discourse of the Captain, received full conviction that he too had embraced their party, they proceeded more resolutely to debate about the time and place of the assassination. It was reported, “That Subrius Flavius had undertaken to make the first onset, and assail Nero, either while he was chanting in the Theatre, or scouring from place to place, in his drunken revels by night, unattended by his guards.” In the latter project an incitement from solitude; in the former, even the great conflux of people, all witnesses of an exploit so glorious, had roused his soul, to a purpose so full of nobleness and merit, had not a sollicitude to execute it with impunity, restrained him; a consideration which, in all grand enterprizes, is ever unseasonable and fatal.
In the mean time, while they were hesitating and protracting the issue of their hopes and fears, a certain woman, named Epicharis, applied herself to rouse the conspirators; though it was a perfect mystery by what means she came at all apprized of the conspiracy (for till then she had never shewn any regard to aught that was worthy or honourable) at last, she became impatient of their slowness, and retireing to Campania, employed all her industry and skill to alienate the hearts of the chief officers in the fleet riding at Misenum; and, to engage them in the design, she began in the following manner. In that fleet Volusius Proculus had the command of a thousand marines, one of the ministers of blood employed to dispatch the mother of Nero, and, in his own opinion, not distinguished with promotion equal to the mighty and meritorious murder. As this officer, whether from old acquaintance with Epicharis, or a friendship newly contracted, recounted to her “his signal services to Nero, and how fruitless they had been bestowed,” and as he subjoined “bitter complaints, with a settled resolution of taking vengeance whenever opportunity arose,” she conceived hopes that he might be engaged himself in the design, and to it conciliate many others. Nor of small moment was the aid and concurrence of the fleet, and frequent were the opportunities of exerting it, as Nero took singular delight in sailing often about the coasts of Misenum and Puzzoli. Epicharis therefore, in answer to Proculus, urged many reasonings, with a detail of all the crying cruelties committed by the Prince. She added, “That to the Senate nothing remained to be done towards accomplishing his fall; only it was already determined to what pains the tyrant must be doomed for destroying the Roman state, What therefore was to be expected from Proculus, but that he should assume the task with zeal, associate in the cause all the bravest soldiers; and then depend upon a recompence worthy of such sublime service.” From him, however, she concealed the names of the conspirators: hence it was that even when he had betrayed to Nero her whole discourse, his discovery availed nothing. For, when Epicharis was summoned, and confronted with the informer, as his charge against her was supported by no witnesses, she found it easy to refute and baffle him. After all, she was detained in prison, because Nero vehemently suspected, that these matters were not the more false for not being proved to be true.
Notwithstanding the silence of Epicharis, the conspirators, who were thoroughly alarmed with the dread of a discovery, came to a result to hasten the assassination, and to do it at Baiæ in a villa belonging to Piso, whither the Emperor often resorted, charmed with the loveliness of the place, and there wont to bath and banquet, remote from his guards and the other incumbrances of Imperial state. But in this, Piso would by no means concur: he alledged “the general abhorrence which must ensue, were the inviolable rites of the table, were the Gods of hospitality, defiled by the blood of a Prince, however vile he were: hence it were more adviseable to dispatch him at Rome, in that same detested house which with the spoils of the unhappy citizens he had reared; or, rather they ought, in the face of the public, to execute a deed, which for the benefit of the public they had undertaken.” Thus he reasoned openly amongst the conspirators, but, his heart, was influenced by secret jealousy, as he dreaded Lucius Silanus a man of transcendent quality, and, by the tuition of Caius Cassius, by whom he was bred, ennobled with accomplishments proper for every the most resplendent dignity; lest Silanus might seize the vacant sovereignty for himself, as he would be sure of instant assistance from all such as were clear of the conspiracy, and from all those who should prove affected with compassion for Nero, as for one traiterously slain. There were many who believed, that “Piso likewise distrusted the lively and turbulent spirit of the Consul Vestinus, whether he might not be prompted to restore liberty and the ancient government, or else, procuring some other than Piso to be chosen Emperor, turn the Republic into a gift of his own bestowing.” For in the conspiracy he had no share, though Nero afterwards, under the imputation of this very crime, doomed him an innocent sacrifice to satiate his own inveterate rancour.
At length they agreed to perpetrate their designs upon the anniversary sacred to Ceres, and always solemnized with the Circensian games; for that, the Emperor who otherwise came seldom abroad, but remained shut up in his apartments or gardens, was yet wont to frequent the diversions of the Circus, where, during the gayety and pleasures of the sports, access to him was more readily obtained. The scheme of their plot they contrived on this wise: “Lateranus, in the posture of a supplicant, and feigning to implore relief in his domestic affairs, was to fall at the Prince’s feet, and, while he apprehended no such attempt, throw him down, and, as Lateranus was of a daring spirit and huge in stature, hold him fixt to the place. While he lay thus pressed and entangled, the Tribunes, Centurions, and all the rest, according as they felt themselves prompted by present impulse and magnanimity, were instantly to rush in and slay him. That Scevinus should be the foremost to strike,” was a task by himself earnestly claimed; for, from the Temple of Health in Etruria, or, as others have recorded, from that of Fortune in the city of Ferentum, he had brought away a dagger, and carried it constantly about him, as a weapon consecrated to the perpetration of a deed of mighty moment. It was moreover concluded, “That Piso should wait the event in the Temple of Ceres, and be thence brought forth by Fenius, Captain of the Guards, and the other conspirators, and conducted to the camp; moreover, in order to attract the affections of the populace, Antonia, daughter of the late emperor Claudius, was to accompany him.” A particular recorded by Caius Plinius; for myself, I was determined to suppress no circumstance in what way soever delivered; however marvellous and inconsistent it may seem, that either Antonia should contribute her name, and risque her life, to promote a scheme, to herself altogether fruitless and vain; or, that Piso, a man universally known to have been passionately fond of his wife, should engage to marry another; were it not that, of all the passions which actuate the heart of man, the lust of reigning is the most vehement and flaming.
But, wonderful it was, in a combination so numerous, so variously framed, amongst those of every condition, different in rank, in quality, sex, and age, many wealthy, many poor, all things should be buried in such faithful secrecy, till from the family of Scevinus the traiterous discovery first arose. The day before that of the designed assassination, he had been engaged in a long conference with Antonius Natalis, and immediately, upon returning home, sealed his will; then unsheathing the dagger mentioned above, he complained that it had lain so long neglected till it was become blunt, ordered it to be grinded into an edge, and the point to be accurately sharpened. The charge of this he committed to Milichus, one of his freedmen, and next betook himself to a repast more gaudy and profuse than ordinary. His favourite slaves he presented with their liberty, others with sums of money; upon his countenance too there hung clouds and melancholy; and it was apparent, that his mind laboured with some grand design, though he counterfeited cheerfulness by many starts of discourse upon as many subjects. At last, he directed the same Milichus to prepare bandages for wounds, and applications for stopping blood; whether the freedman were in truth already privy to the conspiracy, and had hitherto persevered in fidelity, or whether he were utterly in the dark, and then first, as several authors have written, gathered from consequences his sudden suspicion. For, when the freedman, still acted by the base spirit of a slave, revolved with himself the recompence to be expected from proveing a traitor to his master, and at the same time beheld, as already his own, immense wealth and potent sway; he renounced at once every tie of faith, all tenderness for his Lord, and all remembrance of liberty by him generously bestowed. In truth, besides his own mercenary motives, he had taken counsel of his wife, a woman’s counsel and the worst; for she was ever urging him with the dreadful peril of hiding treason, “That many freedmen, many slaves, had beheld, as well as he, the same things, and of no availment would prove the silence of one; and yet only by one, whoever he were who first discovered, would all the rewards be reaped.”
Milichus, therefore, at the first dawn of day, went straight to the Gardens of Servilius, where Nero then abode, and, being refused admittance, declared that he brought “mighty and horrible discoveries,” with such earnestness, that he was conducted by the porters to Epaphroditus, a freedman of Nero’s, and by him forthwith to Nero himself. To him he represented, “what formidable conspiracies were concerted, what mortal danger was just impending,” with all the circumstances which he had heard, with whatever from his own observation he conjectured, and even shewing the dagger destined to destroy him, desired the criminal to be instantly produced. Scevinus was by the soldiers haled hastily thither, and proceeding to his defence, answered, “That for the dagger with which he was charged, it was a relique left him by his forefathers, ever held sacred in their family, by himself always kept in his chamber, and from thence traiterously conveyed away by his freedman. New wills he had often made, and sealed them, without observing any distinction of days. Frequently before this, he had bestowed upon his slaves liberty and largesses, lately with the greater liberality, for that, his fortune being reduced, and his creditors importunate, he distrusled his power of gratifying his domestics by legacies. A generous table he had ever kept, and ever indulged himself in a life of ease and pleasure, such as by the rigid censurers of manners, was but little approved. Dresses for wounds, he had ordered none; but, as all the other imputations objected by his freedman, were manifestly impotent and vain, he had invented and added a charge of treason, such as might enable him to be at once witness and accuser.” His words he enforced with an undaunted spirit; he even charged the accuser, as “a fellow altogether pestilent and traiterous, and his testimony incompetent,” with a voice and countenance so intrepid, that the informer must have been baffled, but for his wife. She advertised him, that “with Scevinus, Antonius Natalis had held a long conversation and exceeding secret, and that both were close confidents of Caius Piso.”
Natalis therefore was called, and both were examined, but apart, concerning “the particulars, and the subject of that conversation.” As their answers varied, cause of suspicion arose, and they were thrown into irons; but the sight of the rack, and the menaces of torture, neither could bear. Natalis however was foremost to confess, as better acquainted with the whole order and progress of the conspiracy, and withal more expert in impeaching. First, he discovered how far Piso was concerned, afterwards to him he added Seneca; whether he had indeed acted as an inter-agent between him and Piso, or whether he only did it to purchase the favour of Nero, who, in ardent hate to Seneca, was daily hunting after all sorts of devices to destroy him. Now Scevinus, having learnt that by Natalis a confession was made, yielded to the same imbecility of spirit; or, perhaps, he believed that already the confederacy was, in every particular, disclosed, and from his own silence no emolument to be expected. Hence he declared all the other accomplices. Of these Lucan and Quinctianus, and Senecio, persisted long in denying the charge; but at length, by a promise of their exemption from punishment, they suffered themselves to be corrupted; then, to atone for their late slowness, they named their dearest friends. Lucan informed against Attilla, his own mother, Quinctianus against Glicius Gallus, and Senecio against Annius Pollio.
Nero, the while recollected that, upon the evidence of Volusius Proculus, Epicharis was holden in custody, and, supposing that the tender body of a woman could never endure the rage of the rack, ordered her to be crushed and mangled with variety of torments. But neither the fury of stripes, nor of fire, nor of the torturers, who tore her with the more vehemence, lest, with all their dexterity and efforts in cruelty, they should be at last scorned and baffled by a woman, could at all vanquish her. She still utterly denied every particular objected; this was the issue of the torture the first day, and by her its violence was despised. The day following, as she was returning to suffer a repetition of the same outrageous torments, and reconducted in a chair (for, all her members being rent and disjointed, she could not support herself) with the girdle that bound her breasts, she framed a noose for her neck, and tying it to the canopy of the chair, hung upon it with all the weight of her body, and thence dislodged the slender remains of life. Behind her she left an example the more signal and heroic, for that a woman who was once a slave, should, upon an occasion so trying and important, undergo torture and death, to protect such to whom she had no tye of kindred or friendship, nay, such as she scarce knew; when men, men born free, when Roman Knights, and Senators of Rome, without once feeling the torture, betrayed, without exception, every one the dearest pledges which he had in friendship and blood. For, Lucan too and Senecio, and Quinctianus, never ceased making discoveries, and were still naming more accomplices; a detail which was incessantly adding to the affright and dismay of Nero; though he had, with guards redoubled, fenced himself in. Nay, as if he meant to have imprisoned Rome itself; upon the walls, all round, bands of soldiers were posted: even the sea and the Tiber were garrisoned. Moreover, parties of foot and horse were perpetually ranging every-where, in the public squares, in private houses, even through the circumjacent territory, and neighbouring municipal towns. But, with both horse and foot, there were Germans intermixt; for, in them, as they were foreigners, the Prince chiefly confided. Thenceforth, the accused were haled in whole droves, numbers after numbers, without intermission, towards his tribunal, and lay in miserable expectation, at the gates of his Garden. When they had entered, in order to be successively heard, if it appeared, “that they had ever been seen gay or smiling with any of the conspirators, or happened to speak to them, though fortuitously, or to meet them, however unexpectedly, or to have been common guests at the same table, or sat together at some public shew;” all this, or any part of it, was imputed as guilt and treason. Besides the cruel scrutiny made by Nero and Tigellinus, violent were the questions and imputations urged by Fenius Rufus, who had as yet escaped all information, and, to beget a persuasion, that he had been an utter stranger to the plot, manifested himself now stern and outrageous against his own associates. Nay, it was he that frustrated the bold purpose of Subrius Flavius, who, while he attended, and demanded by signs, whether he should draw his sabre, and, even in the heat of the inquest, perpetrate the assassination, was by contrary signs from Rufus forbid, and his ardour checked, when already his hand grasped the hilt.
There were those who, when the conspiracy was first betrayed, while Milichus was yet under examination, while Scevinus wavered, exhorted Piso, “to proceed directly to the Camp, or mount the Rostrum, and try the affections of the people and soldiery; for, if once his accomplices were openly assembled to maintain his efforts, those too who were not engaged, would certainly follow; and, when the commotion was once begun, mighty would be the public noise and alarm; an incident which, in all new attempts, is of infinite availment. Neither was Nero provided to resist the shock. With terrors that come sudden and unforeseen, even brave men were daunted; how little then was it to be apprehended that, that Comedian, guarded forsooth by Tigellinus with his host of harlots, would dare to risque a conflict of arms? Many designs there were, which, though to dastardly spirits they appeared arduous and impossible, were yet accomplished by trying to accomplish them. In such a mixt multitude, engaged in the plot, or privy to it, it was vain to expect constant faith and secrecy; or, that the minds of all would be proof against temptation, and their bodies against pain. To the force of recompences and tortures nothing was impenetrable; nay, there would soon arrive men, who would commit to bonds Piso himself, and at length subject him to a contumelious death. But with how much more glory and renown, would he fall, while he espoused the Commonwealth, bravely invoking aid, and rousing champions for public Liberty; while, even though the soldiers failed him, though the people forsook him, he still persisted, and, by losing his life, approved his death worthy of his ancestors, glorious to his posterity?” But, upon Piso these reasonings had no influence. After he had appeared for a small space abroad, he retired to privacy at home, and was preparing his mind to encounter a deliberate death, when at his house arrived a band of soldiers, all young men, either in years or service, purposely culled by Nero, who dreaded the old soldiers, as tinctured with partiality for the conspirators. Then it was, that causing the veins in both his arms to be broached, he expired. He left a will full of noisome flattery to Nero, thus framed in tenderness to his wife, a woman of vitious conduct, void of every recommendation save the beauty of her person, one whom he had ravished from her husband, a friend of his own, his name Domitius Silius, and hers Arria Galla; and both concurred, he by his passiveness, she by her wantonness, to blaze the dishonour of Piso.
The next death added by Nero to this, was that of Plautius Lateranus, Consul elect, and inflicted with such precipitation, that he would not allow him to pay the last embraces to his children, nor that short interval wont to be indulged to the condemned, for chusing their own death. Instantly he was dragged to the place allotted for the execution of slaves, and there, by the hand of Statius the Tribune, slaughtered. He died full of exemplary firmness and invincible silence, nor once upbraiding the Tribune with an equal participation in the conspiracy. The bloody doom of Seneca followed, to the infinite joy of the Prince, from no proof that he had of his engagement in the plot, but to satiate his own cruelty, that the raging sword might perpetrate what had been by poison unsuccessfully attempted. For, Natalis only had named him; but concerning him could discover no more than thus much, “That he had been by Piso sent to visit Seneca, then indisposed, to complain in his name, that he himself was refused admittance; and withal to represent, that it would be better if they maintained their friendship in free and familiar intercourse; that to this Seneca replied, That the maintaining of frequent conversations and interviews by themselves, was conducing to the service of neither, but upon the safety of Piso his own security rested.” Granius Silvanus, Tribune of a Prætorian Cohort, was ordered to represent all this to Seneca, and to demand of him, whether he owned the words of Natalis, and his own answers. Seneca had that very day, either from chance or foresight, returned from Campania, and rested at a villa of his, four miles from Rome. Thither arrived the Tribune in the evening, beset the villa with his men, and to him, as he sat at table with Paullina his wife, and two friends, delivered his orders from the Emperor.
Seneca replied, “That Natalis had, in truth, been sent to him, and in the name of Piso complained, that the latter was debarred from visiting him; a complaint which he had answered by excuses taken from his bodily disorder and desire of quiet; but still he never had any motive to declare, that to his own security he preferred the safety of a private man. A genius addicted to flatter, he never had, as no man better knew than Nero, who from Seneca had felt more frequent proofs of freedom than servility.” When this his answer was by the Tribune reported to Nero, in presence of Poppæa and Tigellinus, who were assistants to the rageing tyrant, and composed his cabinet council, he asked, whether Seneca were determined upon a voluntary death? The Tribune averred, “That he had manifested no one symptom of fear, and neither in his words nor looks was aught of anguish to be discovered.” Hence, he was commanded to return directly, and carry him the denunciation of death. Fabius Rusticus writes, “That the Tribune took not now the same road which he came, but wheeling aside to Fenius, Captain of the guards, and disclosing the Emperor’s orders, demanded whether he should obey him, and was by him admonished to pursue them.” Such was the fatal spiritlessness and timidity of all the conspirators! Silvanus too was one, and yet contributing to multiply the same bloody iniquities which he had conspired to avenge. He avoided, however, seeing Seneca, and delivering in person the sad message, but sent in a Centurion to apprize him of “his final doom.”
The denunciation no wise dismayed Seneca, who called calmly for his will, and, as this was prohibited by the Centurion, turning to his friends, he told them, “That since he was disabled from a grateful requital of their benefits, he bequeathed them that which alone was now left him, yet something more glorious and amiable than all the rest, the pattern of his life; if they retained the impressions and resemblance of this, they would thence reap the applause of virtuous manners, as well as that of persevering in their friendship.” He withal repressed their tears, sometimes with gentle reasoning, sometimes in the stile of authority and correction, and strove to recover them to resolution and constancy. “Where, he often asked, where were now all the documents of philosophy? Where, that philosophical principle, for so many years premeditated, against the sudden encounter of calamities? For, to whom was unknown the bloody nature of Nero? Nor, after the butchering of his mother, and the murdering of his brother, did aught remain, to consummate his cruelty, but to add to theirs the slaughter of his nursing-father and instructor.”
Having uttered these and the like reasonings, directed to the company in general, he embraced his wife; an affecting object, which somewhat abated his firmness, and softened him into anxiety for her future lot; he pressed and besought her, to moderate her sorrow, to “beware of perpetuating such a dismal passion; but to bear the death of her husband by contemplating his life spent in a steady course of virtue, and to support his loss by all worthy consolations.” Paullina, on the contrary, urged her purpose to die with him, and called for the aid of a minister of death. Upon this declaration, Seneca would not bereave her of so much glory; such besides was his fondness for her, that he was loth to leave one by himself beloved above all things, exposed to insults and injuries: “I had laid before thee, said he, the delights and solacements of living; thou preferrest the renown of dying; I shall not envy thee the honour of the example. Between us let us equally share the fortitude of an end so brave, but greater will be the splendour of thy particular fall.” Presently after this conversation, both had the veins of their arms opened, at the same instant. Seneca was aged, his body cold, and extenuated by feeble diet, so that the issues of his blood were exceeding slow; hence he caused to be cut the veins also of his legs and those about the joints of his knees. As he was succumbing under many grievous agonies, he persuaded her to retire into another chamber, lest his own sufferings might vanquish the resolution of his wife, or he himself, by beholding her pangs, lapse into weakness and impatience; and, his eloquence flowing even to the last moment of his life, he called for his scribes, and to them dictated many things, which being already published in his own words, and common, I forbear to rehearse in any words of mine.
Towards Paullina, Nero bore no personal hate, and, to avoid feeding the public abhorrence of his cruelty, ordered her death to be prevented. Hence, at the persuasion of the soldiers, her domestic slaves and freedmen bound up her arms, and staid the blood; but, whether with her own concurrence, is uncertain. For, as the populace in their censure are rather prone to malignancy, there were some who believed, “that while she feared the wrath of Nero as implacable, she aimed at the applause of dying with her husband; but, as soon as gentler hopes occurred, she became vanquished with the sweetness and allurements of life:” to which it is certain, she added but a small portion of years, ever retaining for the memory of her husband a reverence worthy of all praise; her face too, and all her limbs, were still covered with such deadly paleness, that it was notorious the principles of life had been in a great measure exhausted. Seneca, the while, afflicted with the tedious protraction of life, and the slow advances of death, besought Statius Annæus, one long proved by him for faith in friendship and skill in medicine, to bring him a draught of the poison, which a great while ago he had laid up in store, the same sort which is used at Athens, to dispatch such as are by the public judgment condemned. This he swallowed, but in vain; for already all his limbs were chilled, all his juices stagnated and impenetrable to the rapidity of poison. He therefore had recourse to a hot bath, from whence he besprinkled such of his slaves as stood nearest, adding, that “of this liquor he made a libation to Jupiter the deliverer.” From thence he was conveyed into a stove, and suffocated with the steam. His corps was burnt without any funeral solemnity; for thus in his will he had enjoined, even then when, in the plenitude of his opulence and authority, he had provided for his decease and obsequies.
A rumour there was, that Subrius Flavius, in a secret consultation with the Centurions, and even with the privacy of Seneca, had determined, that, as soon as by the aid of Piso, Nero was slain, Piso too should be dispatched, and the Empire transferred to Seneca, as one exempt from all reproach, and only “for the fame and resplendency of his virtues, preferred to the supreme dignity.” Nay, even the words said to have been by Flavius then uttered, became current, “That it would nothing avail towards abolishing the public contumely, to depose a Minstrel, if to the vacant purple a Tragedian succeeded.” For, as Nero was wont to sing to the harp, so was Piso to chant in the accent and dress of tragedy.
Now neither could the share of the soldiers in the conspiracy be kept longer a mystery; such was the temptation and eagerness of the discoverers to betray Fenius Rufus, whom they could not bear both for an accomplice and inquisitor. Hence it was, that in the examination of Scevinus, while Rufus urged him to a full confession, with much vehemence and many menaces; the other smiled, and told him, “That in all the particulars of the plot, no man was more knowing than himself;” he even exhorted him, “to make suitable returns of gratitude to so good a Prince.” To refute the charge, Fenius had not a syllable to utter, nor yet would acquiesce in silence, but faultring and perplexed in his speech, exposed notoriously his inward dismay. At the same time the rest, chiefly Cervarius Proculus, a Roman Knight, combining with all their might to convict him, one Cassius a soldier, who, for his signal strength of body, was appointed to attend the trials, laid hold upon him, by the Emperor’s order, and cast him into bonds.
In the detection made by the same men, Subrius Flavius, the Tribune, was next fatally involved. At first he aimed at a defence, and pleaded “the diversity of his profession and manners from those of the conspirators: for that, never for the execution of an attempt so great and daring, would he, who was a man of arms, have leagued with such as were resigned to effeminacy, and never bore any.” But, at last, finding himself pushed with questions and circumstances, he aspired to the glory of confession; and, in answer to Nero, who asked him from what provocations he had slighted the obligation of his oath; “I abhorred thee, said he, though, amongst all thy soldiery, none was more faithful and affectionate than I, as long as thou didst merit affection. With thy own detestable crimes my abhorrence of thee began, after thou hadst become the murderer of thy mother, the murderer of thy wife, a Charioteer, a Comedian, and the Incendiary that set fire to Rome.” I have repeated his very words; for they were not divulged abroad, like those of Seneca: nor less worthy to be known were the sentiments of a man of the sword, which, however artless and unpolite, are vigorous and brave. It was apparent, that this whole conspiracy had afforded nothing, which proved more bitter and pungent than this to the ears of Nero, who was abandoned to every black iniquity, but unaccustomed and too imperious to be upbraided afterwards with his flagitious doings. The execution of Flavius was committed to the Tribune Veianus Niger, and in the next field, by his direction, was digged a funeral trench, which Flavius derided, “as too streight and shallow;” and, applying to the guard of soldiers, “This, says he, is not so much as according to the laws of discipline.” Being admonished by the Tribune, to extend his neck valiantly, “I wish, replied he, thou mayst strike with equal valour.” In truth, Niger was totally overcome by a violent trembling, and hardly at two blows beheaded him; hence, to magnify his own cruelty, he boasted to Nero, that in putting him to death, he designedly employed more strokes than one.
The next example of constancy and fortitude was administered by Sulpicius Asper, the Centurion, who, in answer to the question urged by Nero, why he had conspired to kill him, said in few words, “Other relief there was none against thy numberless and raging enormities;” and immediately underwent his prescribed doom. Nor did the other Centurions deviate in bravery and spirit, but gallantly faced death, and suffered its pains. In Fenius Rufus equal magnanimity was not found; nay, such and so permanent were his unmanly lamentations and anguish, that even in his last will, he bewailed himself. Great was the expectation which Nero was fostering, that Vestinus the Consul, would prove likewise involved in the treason, as he esteemed him a man of a violent spirit, and prompted by virulent hate and disaffection. But, to Vestinus the conspirators had imparted none of their counsels, some influenced by stale personal distastes, many because they believed him a man altogether precipitate and untractable. But, that which begot in Nero his enmity to Vestinus, was an intimate fellowship between them. From thence the latter throughly knew and scorned the vile cowardly heart of the Prince, and the Prince dreaded the haughty and vehement temper of his friend, by whom he had been frequently insulted with poignant and disdainful sarcasms, which, whenever they are seasoned with much truth, never fail to leave behind them a bitter and vengeful remembrance. A recent provocation had likewise occurred, Vestinus had taken to wife Statilia Messalina, though he was aware that amongst her other gallants, Cæsar too was one.
When therefore there appeared no accuser to charge him, no crime to be charged, Nero, since he could not satiate his rancour, under the title and guise of a Judge, flew to the violence of a Tyrant. Against him he dispatched Gerelanus the Tribune, at the head of five hundred men, with orders, “To obviate the attempts and machinations of the Consul, to take possession of his house so much resembling a citadel, and to subdue his domestic band of chosen youths:” for, the dwelling of Vestinus overlooked the great Forum, and he always kept a number of beautiful slaves, all of an age. He had that day discharged all the functions of Consul; he was afterwards celebrating a banquet at home, void of all fear, or, perhaps, by the gayety of feasting, seeking to hide his fears, when the soldiers entered. They told him, the Tribune had sent them to bring him; nor delayed he a jot, but rose from table, and in one and the same moment the hasty tragedy was begun and finished: he was shut up in a chamber, the physician attended, his veins were cut, and, while yet full of life, and his strength unabated, he was conveyed into a baghio and smothered with hot water; nor, under all this deadly denunciation and process, did a syllable escape him, importing the least regret or self-commiseration. In the mean time, the whole company who supped with him, were enclosed with a Guard, nor released till the night was far spent. Nero, after he had represented to himself the consternation of men, who from the joy of a feast, were waiting for their mortal doom, and had even made himself sport with their fears, declared at last, “That they had undergone penalty sufficient for their Consular supper.”
The next bloody sentence he pronounced, was against Lucan the Poet. He, while his blood issued in streams, perceiving his feet and hands to grow cold and stiffen, and life to retire by little and little from the extremities, while his heart was still beating with vital warmth, and his faculties no wise impaired, recollected some lines of his own, which described a wounded soldier expiring in a manner that resembled this. The lines themselves he rehearsed, and they were the last words he ever uttered. Thereafter Senecio, and Quinctianus, and Scevinus, suffered the violence of their fate, but with a spirit far different from the former effeminacy and voluptuousness of their lives. Anon too were executed the restdue of the conspirators, without aught memorable done or expressed by them.
Now, when Rome was filled with deaths, and coarses, and funerals, so was the Capitol with victims. One man had lost a son, one a brother, this a friend, that a kinsman; all fallen by the fury of the sword; and every man paid his public thanksgiving to the Gods, adorned his house with laurel, fell prostrate at the Emperor’s feet, embraced his knees, and worried his right hand with kisses. He, who believed all this to be a sincere manifestation of joy, rewarded Antonius Natalis and Cervarius Proculus with pardon, for their early confession and discovery. Upon Milichus was accumulated abundant wealth and recompence, and he assumed a Greek name, signifying Protector.Granius Silvanus, one of the conspiring Tribunes, though he was acquitted, fell by his own hand. Statius Proximus, another, frustrated the Prince’s pardon, by vainly engaging afterwards in another offence, and dying for it. Of their commands next were bereft the following Tribunes, Pompeius, Cornelius Martialis, Flavius Nepos, and Statius Domitius, for no charge as if towards the Emperor they bore any malevolence, but only that they were dreaded by him. To Nonius Priscus, to Glitius Gallus, and Annius Pollio, all obnoxious from their friendship to Seneca, and rather calumniated than convicted, banishment was adjudged. Antonia Flacilla accompanied Priscus her exiled husband; and Gallus too was attended by his wife Egnatia Maximilla, a couple at first possessed of wealth mighty and unimpaired, afterwards dispossessed of all, and, from both these different fortunes, their glory was augmented. Into banishment too was driven Rufius Crispinus, a punishment for which the conspiracy furnished a pretence; but the real cause was the antipathy of Nero, and his crime, to have been once the husband of Poppæa. Upon Virginius and Musonius Rufus, their own signal renown drew the severity of expulsion. They had both engaged the affections of the Roman youth, Virginius by lectures of Eloquence, Musonius by reasonings upon the precepts of Philosophy. Cluvidienus Quietus, Julius Agrippa, Blitius Catulinus, Petronius Priscus, and Julius Altinus, as if a host had been formed of criminals convict, and their doom and numbers displayed, were all at once condemned to be transported into the Islands of the Ægean sea. Cæsonius Maximus, and Cadicia the wife of Scevinus, were exterminated Italy, and, only by suffering the punishment of crimes, learnt that ever they had been charged as criminals. The information against Atilla, the mother of Lucan, was dissembled, and, without being cleared, she escaped unpunished.
Nero having accomplished all these matters, assembled the soldiery, entertained them with a speech, distributed amongst them a largess of fifty crowns a man; and whereas hitherto they had been supplied with grain at the established rate, he allowed it them thenceforth without payment. Then, as if he had been about to recount to the Senate the feats and events of a war, he ordered the fathers to assemble. Upon Petronius Turpilianus, the Consular, upon Cocceius Nerva, Prætor elect, and upon Tigellinus, Captain of the Prætorian Guards, he conferred the ornaments and distinction of triumph. Nay, to such notable eminence did he raise Tigellinus and Nerva, that, besides their triumphal Statues erected in the Forum, he would needs have their images placed likewise in the palace. To Nymphidius he granted the Consular decorations, a man concerning whom, since his name now first occurs, I shall here recite a few particulars. For, he too will have his share in the bloody calamities and vicislitudes of Rome. He was born of a manumised slave, who having a comely person, had prostituted the same to the domestics of the Emperors, bond and free without distinction; hence he boasted himself the son of Caligula, seeing, like him, he happened to be tall of stature, and of a countenance stern and terrible. Or, perhaps, it is likely that Caligula, who was addicted to the embraces of harlots, had also descended to gallantries with the mother of Nymphidius.
Nero having thus assembled the fathers, and delivered a discourse concerning the late transactions, addressed an edict to the people upon the same subject, and published from records the several evidences against the condemned conspirators, as also their own confessions. He was, indeed, forely reproached by a rumour current amongst the populace, “That merely to satiate his malice, or out of base fear, he had sacrificed guiltless and illustrious men.” Yet, that there was a real conspiracy, concerted and grown to maturity, and at last detected and crushed, was no matter of doubt to such as were then curious to be truly informed, and even acknowledged by those of the conspirators, who, after the fall of Nero, returned from banishment to Rome. Now in the Senate, where every particular, the more sensibly he was pierced with anguish, the more fawnings and congratulations he expressed, Salienus Clemens fell upon Junius Gallio, already terrified with the death of Seneca his brother, and then a supplicant for his own life, charging Gallio with the character of “a parricide and a public enemy,” till the fathers unanimously awed and restrained him. They advised him, “That he would not seem to take an advantage of the public calamities, to gratify his own personal animosity; and since, through the clemency of the Prince, all matters were composed, or all faults cancelled, he would not revive staid proceedings, nor open a new source of cruelty.”
And now it was decreed that “public thanksgivings and oblations should be paid to all the Deities, and peculiar honours to the Sun, the God, who possessing an ancient Chappel in the Circus, the place intended for the perpetration of the parricide, had exposed to light the dark contrivances of the conspirators; that the Circensian Games, exhibited to Ceres, should be solemnized with an extraordinary accession of horses and chariots; that the month of April, should thenceforth bear the name of Nero, and to the Goddess Salus a Temple be erected in the place whence Scevinus had brought the dagger.” The dagger it self was by Nero dedicated in the Capitol, and inscribed, To Jove the avenger (Jupiter Vindex) words which at that time were not minded. But, upon the revolt of Julius Vindex, which afterwards happened, from them was then drawn a happy augury and presage of approaching vengeance. In the Journals of the Senate, I find that Cerialis Anicius, Consul elect, when it came to his vote, proposed, “That a Temple should, with all speed, be raised, at the charge of the state, and consecrated to the deified Nero;” a motion which he really meant in compliment, as to one who soared above the highest lot of mortality, and was entitled to celestial worship from men; but from whence too was inferred an omen of his hastening fate, since to Princes, divine honours are never paid till they have finally forsaken all commerce with men.
[* ]I doubt the text here is taulty. Perhaps it ought to be read, as it is in one of the Manuscripts, “Between the foundation of the city, and both conflagrations. Inter conditam urbem & utraque incendia.”