Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE VII.: Of Ministers. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
DISCOURSE VII.: Of Ministers. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon’s Discourses II, History (Books 1-2) [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. 3.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The choice of Ministers how much it imports Prince and People. Of what sad consequence to both, when bad. The bad only serve themselves, not their Master.
PRINCES cannot do all themselves, and must therefore appoint such as they can trust to act for them and in their name, men who are to apprize them of what is proper for them to know, to advise them what is fit for them to do. These are their Ministers and Counsellors, and upon the rash or prudent choice of these, the credit and ease, or dishonour and danger of a Prince, as well as the safety, or ill usage of his People largely depends. As wise Princes chuse such as are like themselves, so do Princes who are weak or vicious. Nero’s Favourite was Tigellinus, Queen Elizabeth had a Walsingham, Trajan a Pliny, Henry the fourth of France a Duke de Sully.
In a free Country, a Prince has a great advantage and assistance in chusing his Ministers, for if his intentions be righteous, if he mean to maintain the Constitution of the Laws, he will of course appoint men of name and ability: And this he may do without much ability of his own: He need only attend to the unbiassed humour and opinion of the Representatives of the People, and he cannot fail of being furnished with the ablest men. Whenever you want to chuse, you are, by the general consent, directed to the person worthy to be chosen, said Galba to Piso. Not unlike this is the observation of Helvidius Priscus, when an Embassy of Senators were about to be sent to Vespasian. Helvidius proposed, that they should be nominated by the Magistrates; for that by the judgment of the Senate thus manifested, the Prince would be, as it were, advised and warned, whom to fear and shun, whom to countenance and approve. He adds, that no greater support was there of a righteous reign, than righteous Ministers about the person reigning. If indeed a Prince aim at overturning the Constitution and setting his Power above the Law, he will find out tools proper for the wicked work, creatures of mere will, of desperate fortunes or designs, dreaded or contemned, selfish, enterprizing, or fool-hardy, such as will humour him, such as must depend upon him. But a Prince who studies publick good, will like men who are public-spirited. Such as are known to love their Country and its Laws, can never be unacceptable to one who has no views but to preserve both.
Whilst Nero was guided by the counsels of Seneca and Burrus, great hopes were conceived of his Government, because they were known to be worthy and able men. The Plan of his Reign conceived by them, and by him exhibited in his first speech to the Senate, was very just and fine. “He claimed not the judgment and decision of affairs, nor would allow the shutting up those who were accused in the same house with their accusers, and by it sustain the impotent Tyranny of a few. Nothing should be saleable within his walls, nor any access there to the crooked plots and attempts of ambition. Between his Family and the Republick a just distinction should be maintained. The Senate should uphold her ancient jurisdiction. Italy and all those provinces, which depended by allotment upon the People, should apply only to the Tribunal of the Consuls, and by them procure access to the Fathers. To himself he reserved, what was especially committed to his trust, the direction of the Armies.” Tacitus adds, that these declarations of his wanted not sincerity, and by the Senate many regulations were made, agreeable to their own good liking. For some years his Government continued very good, at least very plausible, and, as far as they conducted it, was unexceptionable, nay, reckoned a pattern to the best Princes, as the rest of it cannot be exceeded by the worst.
But when Burrus and Seneca were dead, or their credit with Nero decayed, it was easily foreseen at what he aimed, and that he would break out into all the outrages of a Tyrant, especially when it was seen who held the chief sway about him. Seneca and Burrus were therefore sorely lamented, the more for that Tigellinus succeeded. As he had shewn himself unworthy of such a Ministry, he now found a Minister worthy of such a Prince, who promoted him only for his infamy and vileness. And as they had taken all care to form him to virtue and good government, it was the business and pursuit of his present director to draw him headlong into a course of abominations and cruelty. Infinite enormities he caused him to commit; many he committed of his own head, unknown to his Master. They were well matched, or rather very ill: Nero promoted him because he was a polluted and mischievous man; and he improved Nero into a most pestilent Tyrant, such a Tyrant as committed a power of tyrannizing even to his manumised slaves. Helius was one of them, and to his governance and disposal the Emperor surrendered the people of Rome and those of all Italy, with a sway so absolute and dreadful, that, without once consulting his Master, he sentenced Roman Knights, nay, Senators, to what punishments or penalties he listed, some to exile, some to death, many to consiscations. By the breath of this arbitrary and potent Slave capital doom was pronounced against one of the most illustrious Grandees of Rome, Sulpitius Camerinus, as also against his son; and both were doomed to die, for no sort of crime, or other reason, save that they used the additional name of Pythicus, a name derived to them from their ancestors. The just Judge charged this as impiety against the Emperor, who had acquired that title by his victories in the Pythian Games. If the Freedman were thus mighty, what must be the first Minister, and one in such high favour?
Tigellinus at last acted as became such a Minister to such a Prince, proved a Traitor to his master, whom he had made a traitor to his trust, brought all men to abhor him, then deserted him. What other could be expected from him? Was it likely that he who was a villain to almost all the world, could be faithful to any man in it? It was but natural that a man who had acted so many villainies for him, or in his name, should act one against him, and save his own life at the expence of his Master’s. Purely for his own sake, only directed to his own ends, had been all the efforts of his Ministry, and what Nero vainly thought to be the effects of duty and fidelity, resulted from treachery and selfish views. He meant nothing but the gratification of his own brutal spirit, and the aggrandizing of himself, purposes which could not be accomplished but by the favour and authority of Nero. He therefore did not serve Nero; he only humoured and deceived him, as does every Minister every Prince when he encourages him in evil courses, or pursues them in his name.
A sure rule for a Prince to know when he is advised faithfully. The duty of a Minister to warn Princes with freedom. The interest of Princes to hear a Minister patiently. Few will tell them truth, when telling it is offensive. A wise Prince will encourage it.
HERE therefore is a rule for a Prince to judge of the fidelity of his Ministers, by considering whether their counsel be good or evil: If it be unjust, or cruel, or unpopular, though it may be pleasing, it is certainly faithless. No Prince is advised well, who is not advised honestly, and whosoever serves him wickedly, serves him falsly; since no service is due to him, none ought to be done for him, and none will profit him, but what is righteous and honourable. All the actions of a Prince, all his pursuits should tend to glory and popularity, and from just actions alone all genuine glory arises. Agesilaus King of Sparta said well, when the necessity was urged of complying with the Great King, a title always given to the Monarch of Persia, “The Great King is not greater than I, unless he be juster.” Plutarch, who mentions this, adds, that he thus settled the true, the Royal Standard of Greatness, which is to be estimated by Justice, not by Force. What glory can follow wickedness in any shape, however disguised by art, or new named by flattery?
From the Governors of men nothing should be found but what is for the good of men; when that good is not pursued, but evil felt instead of good, the Governors are deemed infamous, because by them Government is perverted. When the sword given for protection, is turned upon the givers, and, instead of protecting, slays, he who weilds it will be accounted unworthy to hold it. This is what all wise Princes know, what such as know it not should be told, and what honest Ministers will always tell. What else is the use of Counsel and of Counsellors? It is betraying a Prince to suffer him to do evil unwarned; how much worse to lead him into it? He will certainly suffer for it at last. Danger naturally accompanies wicked actions, especially wicked actions that affect the State. One danger surely attends such actions, the danger of infamy, of all others the greatest, such as a Prince ought to dread more than death. Now what is due to men who train and sooth a Prince into the worst, the most shocking doom that can befall him, that of being odious to the present and all succeeding generations? For the infamy of Princes is ever as immortal as their glory, perhaps more, as men are apter to reproach than to praise. Thus Nero is oftener mentioned than Titus, Caligula than Trajan.
Hence it imports a Prince to be patient of counsel, to court information, and prize men who tell him truth, to hate slatterers who always conceal or disguise it, and to submit his own opinion and pursuits to be examined, canvassed, and even contradicted. If he be peevish and imperious, wedded to his own sentiments, hate free speech, and discourage such as use it, he must expect, that his servants will utterly neglect their duty, when it is thus dangerous or fruitless to do it. When it becomes safer to deceive him than to counsel him, few or none will be apt to counsel him, many will be ready to deceive him: all his measures will be extolled, the worst perhaps most of all, because they want it most, and he may be fondest of the foolishest. Many reasons will be found to support that which is most against reason, and he may go on with great ease, because free from contradiction, boldly, because blindly, and meet ruin with applause. Perhaps he will feel the blow before he knows it to be coming, and, just at the approach of death, learn that he has a disease. Too many are apt to flatter wantonly, but almost all men will flatter when they are forced to it. Few men in the world will venture a Prince’s displeasure, fewer their employments, and scarce any their lives, to tell him uncourtly truths. When Nero had thrown off all shame and restraints, was already debasing his dignity in the face of the world, and engaged in harping and in singing-matches upon the public Stage, it was no longer possible or safe to admonish him of the ruinous course which he followed. So that what his worst sycophants encouraged, his best friends seemed to approve. Even Burrus joined in applauding him whilst his heart ached for him. He proceeded in his scandalous pursuits with such ardour as to destroy whomever he found to dislike them, hoping for applause from all men, not for Reigning but for Acting: The Theatre was his scene of glory, and in theatrical diversions he was engaged when he received news of the conspiracy formed to deprive him of empire and life. He was undone before any one was found bold enough to tell him, that he was undoing himself.
Exceeding singular and hardly ever to be expected is such resolute honesty as an Emperor of China once found in his Mandarins. He had given himself over to acts of Tyranny, and was proceeding in them. His Ministers modestly but truly represented to him the enormity and evil tendency of his conduct. He immediately caused these Ministers to be executed: Others made the same representations, and had the same fate. In the next the like stiffness and integrity was still found, and against them too the like bloody sentence pronounced. Yet more remained to bear a testimony equally virtuous and daring. By this their perseverance, so sleddy and undaunted, his stubbornness was overcome, he relented, and, yielding to conviction, changed his course of reigning.
Virtue so disinterested, so heroic, is seldom seen. In the beginning of the civil wars in France, during the minority of the late King, when all things were running into confusion, a present remedy wanted, and a Council called to find one, out of seven or eight Counsellors who composed it, not one was found who spoke as he thought, for fear of offending the Queen Regent; insomuch that, as the sure way to please her, all studied to deceive her. Fear is not wont to speak truth. When perfect sincerity is expected, perfect freedom must be allowed; nor has one who is apt to be angry when he hears truth, any cause to wonder that he does not hear it. A Prince of temper and sense, one who has patience to hear, and capacity to distinguish, need seldom be deceived. Queen Elizabeth, Trajan, and Henry the fourth of France not only encouraged freedom in their Ministers, and took advice in Council, but abroad and from all men.
De Rosni, the great Confident of Henry the fourth, used to treat him with so much plainness, nay, sometimes with such roughness, as none but a very wise King, who knew his value, and the use of plain speaking, would have borne. A foolish Prince (and such are always proudest) would have banished him for ever, perhaps done worse. That great Prince found cause to consult others besides his Ministers, when enquiring how to ease his People oppressed by the Farmers of the Revenue, he learnt that some of his Privy Council were so mean to be Pensioners to these rapacious Farmers, had share of their wicked gains, and thence supported them in all their rapine and oppressions. He discovered too, that all tricks and artifices were used to keep him from knowing the state of his Revenue, and the accounts perplexed on purpose to make it impossible, at least extremely difficult and tedious.
Ministers to be narrowly observed, as well as heard. They sometimes combine to nourish corruption and blind the Prince. How nearly it concerns him that all about him be uncorrupt.
HENRY the Great took the advice of his Ministers, as also care not to be misled by their advice: When Miron, Lieutenant-civil, and Provost of the Merchants, espoused the interest of the People whose property in the rents of the Townhouse of Paris the Court was about to seize, the Courtiers pressed to have him doomed to some terrible punishment, as an Incendiary; nay, as a Blasphemer, because in his remonstrances to the King, he uttered some uncourtly truths, such as, though they touched not the King, fell heavily upon some of his Counsellors. This they called flying in the King’s face, and would have had him vindicate their honour as his own; nay, their honour at the price of his justice. He was too worthy and wise to hearken to them.
A wise Prince will profit as well by watching his servants, as by consulting them. Henry the Great saw in how many channels they had caused corruption to flow, nor could he with all his vigour and understanding stop all, nor even cleanse the seats of Justice. Of old the order taken in that Kingdom for supplying the Tribunals worthily, was very good, by directing a Register to be kept of all the able Advocates and Lawyers. Out of these, upon a vacancy, three were presented to the King, for him to chuse one. But the Courtiers had advised the King to slight all such representations, as restraints upon Royalty, and to chuse one of his own mere will and finding. Thus it fell into the hands of the Courtiers to recommend, and they always recommended him that gave most. Hence base fellows filled the Courts, ignorance possessed and polluted the sacred seats of Justice, and these scandalous dealers, who had found money more regarded than virtue and sufficiency, were seen to value Law and Righteousness less than Money. Of this venality of places Thuanus justly complains, in the dedication of his excellent History to that King. Yet this evil, this establishment of corruption has been found scarce capable of a cure even by such Princes and Ministers as had the cure of it at heart.
Indeed all corruptions creep easily in, but are with great difficulty removed. In time they even grow fashionable, and then no man is ashamed of being in the mode; so that the greatest infamy upon earth ceases to be infamous when grown common, as every iniquity countenanced at Court will grow. When the shame of being vicious is banished, vice becomes established; nay, virtue will then be thought singularity and sourness, and be treated with coldness and contempt. So much it imports a Country, so much it imports a Prince who values common honesty, his own reputation, and the interest of his Country, that all about him have clean hands. It is not enough that his Ministers and great Officers be untainted and above the mean traffic of selling places: None that are near him, or approach his person should be suffered to dabble in that vile commerce. The disgrace and the danger will at last reach him, and when places are basely filled, when honours are unworthily bestowed, he will bear, at least, share of the blame. He should consider such infamous traders as Vulturs, that prey upon the very vitals of Sovereignty, the credit of the Sovereign, as creatures obscene that contaminate his Court, injure and provoke his People, alienate their affections, and dishonour his reign. When such venality prevails, it will certainly be known, as certainly create disgusts, soon spread to general murmuring. Some will be provoked because it immediately hurts them, others will resent it as it affects the Public, and all will dislike it as it is base. It may indeed happen that the man who has favour for money, may deserve it without money, and then it is hard upon him to pay for what he merits: But generally speaking, the worst men rise when money is the way of rising. However that be, the thing itself is dishonourable and unpopular: and what hath a Prince more to fear than unpopularity and dishonour?
Let a Prince, the ablest Prince, take what care he pleases, he will still be in danger to be misled, if those in his confidence have an interest to mislead him. Vespasian, who at first intended no oppression, was by evil counsel brought to commit many. Queen Elizabeth confessed to her Parliament with regret, that she had been overreached, her power abused, and enormities committed under her name. Edward the third suffered his reign, one of the most glorious that history can shew, to be stained by the Ministry of a Mistress, a rapacious Woman, who had a shameful sway over him and his affairs. The Prerogative, which in the hands of a good Prince is a rod of Gold, when exerted by evil instruments under him, becomes a rod of Iron; as I have seen it somewhere observed.
What selfish ends the Counsellors of Princes sometimes pursue, yet pretend public good. They gratify private passion to the ruin of the State. What a reproach to a Prince the corruption of his Servants.
HENRY the Great, after gaining the Battle of Ivry, might, according to the general opinion, have had the City of Paris surrendered to him, had he immediately advanced thither. That he did not, was ascribed to the artifices of his Ministers agreeing to dissuade him from it upon different motives of their own. The Marshal de Biron was thought to dread Peace, for that by it his own great importance would have heen lost or lessened. Monsieur D’O, Superintendent of the Finances, was believed to aim at the sacking of Paris, that thence the King’s treasures might be filled, and his debts cancelled. Others imagined that the Hugonot Ministers retarded him, from a jealousy of an accommodation with the Catholics of Paris about matters of Religion. The several conjectures are reasonable, that, particularly, concerning the Marshal de Biron, who was so fond of continuing the war, that he would not suffer his son to seize the General of the League, when he proposed it and had it in his power. “How, says the Marshal, wouldst thou send us back to plant cabbages at Biron?”
The Marquis de Louvois, Minister to the late French King, acted from the same principle, and by it influenced his Master. He was eternally contriving to keep the King and his Kingdom involved in wars, because he himself was Secretary at War, and during war found that he was of most consideration. As further proofs of the power and prevalence of private spirit in public concerns, in the minority of that King, the Dutchess de Longueville instigated the civil war with all her might, purely to avoid living with her husband the Duke, whom she had provoked with her conduct. The Duke de Nemours did what he could to promote it, on purpose to separate the Prince of Conde from the Dutchess of Chatillon, a Lady whom they both loved. The Queen Regent studied not to prevent a civil war, since it might bring back her dear fugitive Cardinal. Katherine de Medicis was continually stirring up commotions, conspiracies, and even civil wars, even against her own son Henry the third, with design to secure power to herself. She succeeded too well: She exhausted that noble Country, oppressed the Subjects, destroyed Liberty and Laws, to promote desolation, licentiousness and the consuming sword. Was this Wretch, this Pest of Society, the Parent of her Country? As the most comprehensive calamity that could befall a Nation, she kept it always divided, always engaged in war and blood. When the People, wearied and weakened with long strife and slaughter, had procured peace and a breathing-time, she never ceased her wicked machinations, until she had broke it again, and, in spight of Treaties and public misery, set their blood a running. Moreover, to drive all virtue out of a country, from which she had already driven all security and concord, she carefully promoted all sorts of debauchery, and amidst the pangs and calamities of the State, encouraged every excess of voluptuousness and revelling. Nay, to gain and corrupt the Grandees with the fairest and most bewitching baits, she kept her Court replenished with fair Ladies well trained and fit to cajole Malecontents, and to soften Heroes. Those whom nothing else could influence, this did. By what name can we call these politics, this trade of hers?
Many public designs, however admired and interesting, are sacrificed to private ends and personal piques. The Duke de Mayenne, that zealous Catholic, General of the League, the mortal enemy to Heresy and Henry the fourth, postponed all his zeal for Religion, all regard for the League, all his hate of Heretics, to the sole fear that his nephew the Duke of Guise would be declared King and set above him. Upon this apprehension he made a truce with Henry the fourth.
It is happy for Princes when their interest and that of their Ministers are the same; happy for the Public when both combine to promote the common good. But when such as conduct the Administration are drawn away by low pursuits and gains of their own, the Prince’s reputation will be blotted, the public interest at best neglected, often marred or ruined. There are instances where a general war has been risked, rather than a few Courtiers would part with some private bribes and gettings, even from scandalous Villains and Banditti.
The Uscoques, who were a nest of fugitives settled at Segna upon the Frontiers of Hungary, and there protected by the House of Austria, as a band of desperate fellows proper to repulse the encroachments and insults of the bordering Turks, became themselves Freebooters upon all Nations, and thence caused universal complaints from the neighbouring States, especially from that of Venice; and repeated applications were made to the Imperial Court for redress. This course of rapine, and consequently these complaints and expostulations, went on for many years. The Uscoques still robbed, the foreign Ministers still complained, no effectual redress was obtained, and therefore a War was threatened. Behold the true reason of all this. When the Merchants and Traders, despoiled by this band of Thieves, went to the Imperial Court to represent their losses, and to beg relief, they saw their Jewels and Brocades upon the Wives of the Imperial Ministers.
This was a hopeful confederacy and commerce between great Ministers of State and a Den of Robbers. It was thus they were protected in robbing: They, indeed, paid so high for this protection, that though they had made infinite spoil, and acquired great wealth, they were still beggars, for they were suffered to keep none. One old Uscoque had in his time acquired by plunder to the value of eighty thousand Crowns, yet perished for want. The Robbers at Court seem to have been the more rigorous sort of the two, for they left nothing: Surely they were the most infamous.
What a scandal upon the Imperial Court, to be thus bribed by a nest of Rogues and Outlaws, to suffer such depredations upon the innocent, to have such vile spirits at the helm of the State, and, for the sordid lucre of particulars, to venture a war in Europe. Much more honourable were the grounds which engaged Alonso the ninth, King of Leon, in a war against another Prince, his kinsman, for that the latter owed him ten thousand Maravedis, about seven pounds ten shillings of our money. Upon the payment of that sum Don Alonso promised to make peace.
I think it is boasted of the Austrian Family, as a proof of their innate generosity and clemency, that in the space of three hundred years, they never punished any of their Ministers, their worst Ministers, with death or confiscation. So safe were those who maintained this honourable alliance with the Uscoques. This character of that August House, reminds me of what was said of Charilaus, a King of Sparta, remarkable for extreme gentleness, “that he was so gracious as to be very good to the very worst of men.”
Under a Prince subject to be blindly managed, a change of Ministers rarely mends the Administration He often hates his Ministers, yet still employs them. Ministers most in danger where the Prince has most Power.
IT is a heavy misfortune to a country, when a Prince is subject to the management and designs of whomsoever he happens to have about him; for then the change of persons rarely mends the condition of his country or his own condition. Lewis the fourteenth was weary of the imperious humour of Madam de Montespan, and apprized that many of her demands were unreasonable and insolent; yet could refuse her nothing when face to face. So manageable was that great Monarch by those who had once got possession of him, Ministers or Mistresses, that even Mademoiselle Fontange, a stupid idiot, but very handsome, domineered over him. He generally hated his Ministers, and almost always feared them, wanted to get rid of them, but was afraid to discharge them. In order to remove Fouquet, Superintendent of the Finances, he used the most remote pretences, disguised his intentions, made seints, took a long journey, drew an army together, and made such mighty movements, as if some great war had been on foot. Yet Fouquet was at all times in his power, nor does there appear any other cause for so many precautions, and such a grand apparatus, but his own extreme timidity and causeless fear. He could not abide Louvois his first Minister, who had long managed him: The like aversion he bore to Seignelay and la Feuillade, two other of his Ministers: Insomuch that when he had taken Mons, he reckoned it amongst the other felicities of the year, that he was relieved for ever from these three great Officers. He had been weakly subject to them, then as weakly afraid of them. Had it not been for the King’s dread or hatred, or that of some superior Favourite, it was thought that Louvois might have lived to have been an older man.
What signifies the change of Ministers, without changing measures? What, when they who succeed are permitted to be as bad as their predecessors? Let a Prince hate a Minister ever so much, or dread him, or destroy him; all this avails neither him nor the State, if the Administration be not mended. Without this any alteration or punishment is folly or mockery. It is the grimace of Justice, like that in Turkey, where the Grand Seignior frequently cuts off a wicked and rapacious Bashaw, but never returns any of his rapine. He ought to correct or prevent foul dealings, to discountenance such of his servants as commit them, and to protect and encourage such as commit none against all clamour and malevolence; for clamours and malevolence there will be against Ministers the most virtuous and irreproachable, as long as there are Ministers or Men.
Ministers are only safe there, where the standing fence of impartial Laws will be able to protect their innocence, when in spight of innocence the People think them guilty, and the Prince through pique or policy would punish them as such. The People may be misinformed, and often are, and passion may misguide the Prince. But the Laws are never angry, at least with the guiltless, and judge not but according to truth and evidence. There, as they cannot act by the mere command of the Prince, so neither can they suffer by his mere will. In arbitrary countries the Prince must sometimes destroy good Ministers, because it is known that he can; and to an enraged populace or soldiery he has no room to plead his inability. His overgrown power is a curse upon himself as well as upon his servants, and by having too much he has none, or worse than none, none to protect and save, which is the office of a Governor and a Father; but only to kill and destroy, which is the work of an enemy and an executioner. Such a power is but the worst part of bondage, bondage to him, bondage to them, to be doomed to act, not to chuse it, doomed to the most terrible of all slavery, that of destroying, or being destroyed. This has been often the situation of the greatest Monarchs upon earth. It was that of Otho. In Otho, says Tacitus, authority sufficient was not found to prohibit acts of violence; it was hitherto only in his power to ordain them to be done. It was that of Vitellius. To him, says the same Author, no power remained either to command or to forbid; nor was he any longer Emperor, but only the cause of war. And it was that of many of their successors. In Turkey it is common. Who can securely serve such Princes? They can put you to death if you do not obey their commands, however unjust they be, and cannot defend you when you do, nor save you, however innocent you are.
Ministers trusted without controul, sometimes threatening and perillous to a Prince. How fatal this often to themselves, and to the State.
EVEN Princes of parts, and naturally jealous, are sometimes subject to a fondness for Favourites, even to folly and their own danger, apt to heap so much grandeur upon them as to have none left for themselves; and when nothing of Sovereignty remains but the name, that too will soon follow, unless some chance or stratagem intervene to secure it, and redeem the whole. Tiberius, the darkest and most suspicious Prince upon earth, was yet open to Sejanus without reserve, trusted him without bounds. To this Idol every thing was made to bend, all knees to bow, and many noble lives sacrificed. By his power and artifices he destroyed most of the Imperial Family; nay, effected the same by the co-operation of Tiberius, whose passions he guided and enflamed. In all public honours done to Tiberius, Sejanus was included, and shared in them with the Emperor at the Emperor’s desire, at Rome, in the Senate, over the Provinces. In the City he had more Statues erected than the Year has Days. Men every where swore by the Fortune of Sejanus, with the same solemnity as by that of the Prince, nor was the name of the Prince found oftener in the last Wills of the Romans than the name of Sejanus. To him, in his absence, Embassadors were sent with the same form as to the Prince, Embassadors from the People of Rome, Embassadors from the Equestrian Order; nay, Embassadors from the Roman Senate. His birthday was celebrated publicly, by a decree of Senate, as well as that of the Prince. For his health public vows were paid every return of the new year, as for the health of the Emperor.
What else was all this, but to invest Sejanus with Sovereignty, by paying him all the honours due to a Sovereign? Though all discerning men saw the consequence, saw his pursuits, and whither they tended, no man durst inform or warn the Emperor, because by it he must have exposed his own life; so capricious was the Prince, so powerful his Minion. No wonder his intelligence was late, and that his information and despair came together. Sejanus swayed the State at the head of the soldiery, who were Masters of the State, and had in their hands the making and unmaking of Emperors: So that no more remained to be done to accomplish a revolution, but just to change names, Sejanus for Tiberius, the latter long since imprisoned in an Island, the former already governing the Empire, and adored by the Army. Nothing but the form seemed wanting, and that too was concerted, and the conspiracy settled. Tiberius, at last, illuminated, by wonderful wiles and dissimulation, and by the bold management and lies of Macro, escaped this peril. Yet it was nine months ere he could accomplish the fall of this mighty Traitor, whose doom proved as destructive to the Roman State as had his flourishing Fortune.
No Tyranny was ever more signal than that of Tiberius both in raising that pestilent Favourite, and in pulling him down. Whomsoever Sejanus disliked, Tiberius destroyed, and by his favour or frowns all men prospered or perished. The Roman World seemed the Patrimony of Sejanus. The Roman People were his vassals, the Grandees of Rome his dependents or victims, the Army his guards, the Emperor his shadow. But whatever mischief he had done whilst he lived, he did rather more when dead. As before, all who were obnoxious to him, had been murdered, or beggared, or banished; so now all who had espoused him, and adhered to him, all who depended upon him, all who had favoured his fortune, or were suspected to have favoured it, were doomed to the like inexorable cruelty, to dungeons, to halters and the bloody knife. Nay, progressive murders were too slow for the inhuman rage of Tiberiusa . Men, Women and Children must be butchered in the lump, lie dead in heaps, and barbarity be exercised on their carcasses.
This general carnage is affectingly described in the sixth Book of the Annals. “His cruelty being but inflamed by incessant executions, all those kept in prison under accusation of any attachment to Sejanus, were by his command put to the slaughter. Exposed to the Sun lay the sad monuments of the mighty butchery; those of every, sex, of every age; the illustrious and the mean; their carcasses ignominiously thrown, apart or on heaps. Neither was it permitted to their surviving friends or kindred, to approach them, to bewail them, nor even any longer to behold them. Round the dead guards were placed, who watched faces and marked the signs of sorrow; and as the bodies putrified, saw them dragged to the Tyber, where they floated in the stream, or were driven upon the banks, no man daring to burn them, none to touch them. The force of fear had cut off the intercourses of humanity: and in proportion to the growth of Tyranny, every symptom of commiseration was banished.” It was in court to Tiberius that most men courted Sejanus: For this, Tiberius destroyed them, as he had before those who did it not. If the crime was so great, the old Tyrant should in justice have destroyed himself as the greatest Criminal.
The great mischief of exalting Favourites beyond measure, especially such as command great Armies.
MUCH the like sway had Plautianus under Severus, and much the like fate. He had enjoyed the same post, committed the same oppressions and excesses, and was put to death for having had the same treasonable designs. No man’s fortune escaped his claws, and by trick or violence he shared in the estates of all men: Many of the most considerable he put to death. No Nation escaped his extortions, no City was unpillaged. The Presents made to him were larger and more frequent than those to the Emperor, and he could boast more Statues erected to him, in Rome, in other Cities, by private men, by public societies, and even by the Senate. The Senators and Soldiers swore by his Fortune, and for him made solemn vows. He commanded the guards, governed all things, did what he listed. Indeed so giddy and wanton his boundless power had made him, that having invited to his house an hundred Romans of good Families, he caused them all to be castrated. Nor were they boys only whom he thus abused, but men grown, some of them married men; and all for no other cause than to increase the number of his daughter’s Ennuchs. Dion Cassius says, that he had seen some of these men, so suddenly made Eunuchs, Eunuchs who had children, wives and beards. To this daughter, whom he married to the Emperor’s son, he gave a fortune large enough for the daughters of fifty Kings.
All this power was too mighty to last in the same shape; nor did it. He must either cease his greatness, to be greater, or perish. Rather than do the first, he ventured the last in order to the second. He attempted to cut off the Emperor, and was himself cut off. Fortune saved Severus, as it had Tiberius, and they kept their Diadem, when they had nigh lost it. So near sometimes is Treason to a Throne, and sometimes ascends it. Plautianus, in the midst of his hopes and grandeur, he who was first Minister to the Emperor, Father-in-law to the Emperor’s son, and aiming himself at the Empire, was executed like a common malefactor, by the command of his daughter’s husband, and his body thrown into the street. So strangely are the views of the greatest men baffled! This great match for his child, whence he hoped an accession of credit and might, hastened his tragical fall, and made it more tragical. With him too fell his family: His son, born, as once seemed, to wealth more than Royal, his daughter more than royally portioned and married, were banished to an island, where having for some time led a miserable life, destitute of common necessaries, struggling with many miseries, apprehending yet more and heavier, they were relieved by the hand of an executioner in the following reign.
Neither does it appear that Severus had in the least foreseen such a reverse in the Fortune of his great Favourite, and for want of such foresight, caused it. It was but the natural consequence of such a blind and unbounded trust. The temptation was too great, and what was at first ambition in Plautianus, grew at last to be necessity. This Severus himself afterwards owned, lamented the weakness of human nature, which in elevated fortune knows no moderation, and blamed himself for haveing raised him so high that he grew giddy. By the ruin too of Plautianus many were endangered, several suffered a bloody doom.
Where-ever there are greatstanding Armies, Revolutions are suddenly brought about, and therefore will be often attempted; for whoever has the Army, has or may have the State. Hence the danger of Tiberius, hence that of Severus, and hence the danger and sudden fate of many Princes in almost all ages, as well as encouragement to ambitious men to set up themselves by corrupting the soldiery, a task not over difficult. It was the fate of most of the Roman Emperors, as to be made by their Armies, so to be destroyed by their Armies.
[a ]Non jam per intervalla ac spiramenta temporum, sed continuo et velut uno ictu Rempublica exhausit.