THE destruction of Messalina shook the imperial house; for a strife arose among the freedmen, who should choose a wife for Claudius, impatient as he was of a single life and submissive to the rule of wives. The ladies were fired with no less jealousy. Each insisted on her rank, beauty, and fortune, and pointed to her claims to such a marriage. But the keenest competition was between Lollia Paulina, the daughter of Marcus Lollius, an ex-consul, and Julia Agrippina, the daughter of Germanicus. Callistus favoured the first, Pallas the second. Aelia Paetina however, of the family of the Tuberones, had the support of Narcissus. The emperor, who inclined now one way, now another, as he listened to this or that adviser, summoned the disputants to a conference and bade them express their opinions and give their reasons.
Narcissus dwelt on the marriage of years gone by, on the tie of offspring, for Paetina was the mother of Antonia, and on the advantage of excluding a new element from his household, by the return of a wife to whom he was accustomed, and who would assuredly not look with a stepmother’s animosity on Britannicus and Octavia, who were next in her affections to her own children. Callistus argued that she was compromised by her long separation, and that were she to be taken back, she would be supercilious on the strength of it. It would be far better to introduce Lollia, for, as she had no children of her own, she would be free from jealousy, and would take the place of a mother towards her stepchildren.
Pallas again selected Agrippina for special commendation because she would bring with her Germanicus’s grandson, who was thoroughly worthy of imperial rank, the scion of a noble house and a link to unite the descendants of the Claudian family. He hoped that a woman who was the mother of many children and still in the freshness of youth, would not carry off the grandeur of the Caesars to some other house.
This advice prevailed, backed up as it was by Agrippina’s charms. On the pretext of her relationship, she paid frequent visits to her uncle, and so won his heart, that she was preferred to the others, and, though not yet his wife, already possessed a wife’s power. For as soon as she was sure of her marriage, she began to aim at greater things, and planned an alliance between Domitius, her son by Cneius Aenobarbus, and Octavia, the emperor’s daughter. This could not be accomplished without a crime, for the emperor had betrothed Octavia to Lucius Silanus, a young man otherwise famous, whom he had brought forward as a candidate for popular favour by the honour of triumphal distinctions and by a magnificent gladiatorial show. But no difficulty seemed to be presented by the temper of a sovereign who had neither partialities nor dislikes, but such as were suggested and dictated to him.
Vitellius accordingly, who used the name of censor to screen a slave’s trickeries, and looked forward to new despotisms, already impending, associated himself in Agrippina’s plans, with a view to her favour, and began to bring charges against Silanus, whose sister, Junia Calvina, a handsome and lively girl, had shortly before become his daughter-in-law. Here was a starting point for an accuser. Vitellius put an infamous construction on the somewhat incautious though not criminal love between the brother and sister. The emperor listened, for his affection for his daughter inclined him the more to admit suspicions against his son-in-law. Silanus meanwhile, who knew nothing of the plot, and happened that year to be praetor, was suddenly expelled from the Senate by an edict of Vitellius, though the roll of Senators had been recently reviewed and the lustrum closed. Claudius at the same time broke off the connection; Silanus was forced to resign his office, and the one remaining day of his praetorship was conferred on Eprius Marcellus.
In the year of the consulship of Caius Pompeius and Quintus Veranius, the marriage arranged between Claudius and Agrippina was confirmed both by popular rumour and by their own illicit love. Still, they did not yet dare to celebrate the nuptials in due form, for there was no precedent for the introduction of a niece into an uncle’s house. It was positively incest, and if disregarded, it would, people feared, issue in calamity to the State. These scruples ceased not till Vitellius undertook the management of the matter in his own way. He asked the emperor whether he would yield to the recommendations of the people and to the authority of the Senate. When Claudius replied that he was one among the citizens and could not resist their unanimous voice, Vitellius requested him to wait in the palace, while he himself went to the Senate. Protesting that the supreme interest of the commonwealth was at stake, he begged to be allowed to speak first, and then began to urge that the very burdensome labours of the emperor in a world-wide administration, required assistance, so that, free from domestic cares, he might consult the public welfare. How again could there be a more virtuous relief for the mind of an imperial censor than the taking of a wife to share his prosperity and his troubles, to whom he might intrust his inmost thoughts and the care of his young children, unused as he was to luxury and pleasure, and wont from his earliest youth to obey the laws.
Vitellius, having first put forward these arguments in a conciliatory speech, and met with decided acquiescence from the Senate, began afresh to point out, that, as they all recommended the emperor’s marriage, they ought to select a lady conspicuous for noble rank and purity, herself too the mother of children. “It cannot,” he said, “be long a question that Agrippina stands first in nobility of birth. She has given proof too that she is not barren, and she has suitable moral qualities. It is, again, a singular advantage to us, due to divine providence, for a widow to be united to an emperor who has limited himself to his own lawful wives. We have heard from our fathers, we have ourselves seen that married women were seized at the caprice of the Caesars. This is quite alien to the propriety of our day. Rather let a precedent be now set for the taking of a wife by an emperor. But, it will be said, marriage with a brother’s daughter is with us a novelty. True; but it is common in other countries, and there is no law to forbid it. Marriages of cousins were long unknown, but after a time they became frequent. Custom adapts itself to expediency, and this novelty will hereafter take its place among recognized usages.”
There were some who rushed out of the Senate passionately protesting that if the emperor hesitated, they would use violence. A promiscuous throng assembled, and kept exclaiming that the same too was the prayer of the Roman people. Claudius without further delay presented himself in the forum to their congratulations; then entering the Senate, he asked from them a decree which should decide that for the future marriages between uncles and brothers’ daughters should be legal. There was, however, found only one person who desired such a marriage, Alledius Severus, a Roman knight, who, as many said, was swayed by the influence of Agrippina. Then came a revolution in the State, and everything was under the control of a woman, who did not, like Messalina, insult Rome by loose manners. It was a stringent, and, so to say, masculine despotism; there was sternness and generally arrogance in public, no sort of immodesty at home, unless it conduced to power. A boundless greed of wealth was veiled under the pretext that riches were being accumulated as a prop to the throne.
On the day of the marriage Silanus committed suicide, having up to that time prolonged his hope of life, or else choosing that day to heighten the popular indignation. His sister, Calvina, was banished from Italy. Claudius further added that sacrifices after the ordinances of King Tullius, and atonements were to be offered by the pontiffs in the grove of Diana, amid general ridicule at the idea devising penalties and propitiations for incest at such a time. Agrippina, that she might not be conspicuous only by her evil deeds, procured for Annaeus Seneca a remission of his exile, and with it the praetorship. She thought this would be universally welcome, from the celebrity of his attainments, and it was her wish too for the boyhood of Domitius to be trained under so excellent an instructor, and for them to have the benefit of his counsels in their designs on the throne. For Seneca, it was believed, was devoted to Agrippina from a remembrance of her kindness, and an enemy to Claudius from a bitter sense of wrong.
It was then resolved to delay no longer. Memmius Pollio, the consul-elect, was induced by great promises to deliver a speech, praying Claudius to betroth Octavia to Domitius. The match was not unsuitable to the age of either, and was likely to develop still more important results. Pollio introduced the motion in much the same language as Vitellius had lately used. So Octavia was betrothed, and Domitius, besides his previous relationship, became now the emperor’s affianced son-in-law, and an equal of Britannicus, through the exertions of his mother and the cunning of those who had been the accusers of Messalina, and feared the vengeance of her son.
About the same time an embassy from the Parthians, which had been sent, as I have stated, to solicit the return of Meherdates, was introduced into the Senate, and delivered a message to the following effect:—“They were not,” they said, “unaware of the treaty of alliance, nor did their coming imply any revolt from the family of the Arsacids; indeed, even the son of Vonones, Phraates’s grandson, was with them in their resistance to the despotism of Gotarzes, which was alike intolerable to the nobility and to the people. Already brothers, relatives, and distant kin had been swept off by murder after murder; wives actually pregnant, and tender children were added to Gotarzes’ victims, while, slothful at home and unsuccessful in war, he made cruelty a screen for his feebleness. Between the Parthians and ourselves there was an ancient friendship, founded on a state alliance, and we ought to support allies who were our rivals in strength, and yet yielded to us out of respect. Kings’ sons were given as hostages, in order that when Parthia was tired of home rule, it might fall back on the emperor and the Senate, and receive from them a better sovereign, familiar with Roman habits.”
In answer to these and like arguments Claudius began to speak of the grandeur of Rome and the submissive attitude of the Parthians. He compared himself to the Divine Augustus, from whom, he reminded them, they had sought a king, but omitted to mention Tiberius, though he too had sent them sovereigns. He added some advice for Meherdates, who was present, and told him not to be thinking of a despot and his slaves, but rather of a ruler among fellow citizens, and to practise clemency and justice which barbarians would like the more for being unused to them. Then he turned to the envoys and bestowed high praise on the young foster-son of Rome, as one whose self-control had hitherto been exemplary. “Still,” he said, “they must bear with the caprices of kings, and frequent revolutions were bad. Rome, sated with her glory, had reached such a height that, she wished even foreign nations to enjoy repose.” Upon this Caius Cassius, governor of Syria, was commissioned to escort the young prince to the bank of the Euphrates.
Cassius was at that time pre-eminent for legal learning. The profession of the soldier is forgotten in a quiet period, and peace reduces the enterprising and indolent to an equality. But Cassius, as far as it was possible without war, revived ancient discipline, kept exercising the legions, in short, used as much diligence and precaution as if an enemy were threatening him. This conduct he counted worthy of his ancestors and of the Cassian family which had won renown even in those countries.
He then summoned those at whose suggestion a king had been sought from Rome, and having encamped at Zeugma where the river was most easily fordable and awaited the arrival of the chief men of Parthia and of Acbarus, king of the Arabs, he reminded Meherdates that the impulsive enthusiasm of barbarians soon flags from delay or even changes into treachery, and that therefore he should urge on his enterprise. The advice was disregarded through the perfidy Acbarus, by whom the foolish young prince, who thought that the highest position merely meant self-indulgence, was detained for several days in the town of Edessa. Although a certain Carenes pressed them to come and promised easy success if they hastened their arrival, they did not make for Mesopotamia, which was close to them, but, by a long detour, for Armenia, then ill-suited to their movements, as winter was beginning.
As they approached the plains, wearied with the snows and mountains, they were joined by the forces of Carenes, and having crossed the river Tigris they traversed the country of the Adiabeni, whose king Izates had avowedly embraced the alliance of Meherdates, though secretly and in better faith he inclined to Gotarzes. In their march they captured the city of Ninos, the most ancient capital of Assyria, and a fortress, historically famous, as the spot where the last battle between Darius and Alexander the power of Persia fell. Gotarzes meantime was offering vows to the local divinities on a mountain called Sambulos, with special worship of Hercules, who at a stated time bids the priests in a dream equip horses for the chase and place them near his temple. When the horses have been laden with quivers full of arrows, they scour the forest and at length return at night with empty quivers, panting violently. Again the god in a vision of the night reveals to them the track along which he roamed through the woods, and everywhere slaughtered beasts are found.
Gotarzes, his army not being yet in sufficient force, made the river Corma a line of defence, and though he was challenged to an engagement by taunting messages, he contrived delays, shifted his positions and sent emissaries to corrupt the enemy and bribe them to throw off their allegiance. Izates of the Adiabeni and then Acbarus of the Arabs deserted with their troops, with their countrymen’s characteristic fickleness, confirming previous experience, that barbarians prefer to seek a king from Rome than to keep him. Meherdates, stript of his powerful auxiliaries and suspecting treachery in the rest, resolved, as his last resource, to risk everything and try the issue of a battle. Nor did Gotarzes, who was emboldened by the enemy’s diminished strength, refuse the challenge. They fought with terrible courage and doubtful result, till Carenes, who having beaten down all resistance had advanced too far, was surprised by a fresh detachment in his rear. Then Meherdates in despair yielded to promises from Parrhaces, one of his father’s adherents, and was by his treachery delivered in chains to the conqueror. Gotarzes taunted him with being no kinsman of his or of the Arsacids, but a foreigner and a Roman, and having cut off his ears, bade him live, a memorial of his own clemency, and a disgrace to us. After this Gotarzes fell ill and died, and Vonones, who then ruled the Medes, was summoned to the throne. He was memorable neither for his good nor bad fortune; he completed a short and inglorious reign, and then the empire of Parthia passed to his son Vologeses.
Mithridates of Bosporus, meanwhile, who had lost his power and was a mere outcast, on learning that the Roman general, Didius, and the main strength of his army had retired, and that Cotys, a young prince without experience, was left in his new kingdom with a few cohorts under Julius Aquila, a Roman knight, disdaining both, roused the neighbouring tribes, and drew deserters to his standard. At last he collected an army, drove out the king of the Dandaridae, and possessed himself of his dominions. When this was known, and the invasion of Bosporus was every moment expected, Aquila and Cotys, seeing that hostilities had been also resumed by Zorsines, king of the Siraci, distrusted their own strength, and themselves too sought the friendship of the foreigner by sending envoys to Eunones, who was then chief of the Adorsi. There was no difficulty about alliance, when they pointed to the power of Rome in contrast with the rebel Mithridates. It was accordingly stipulated that Eunones should engage the enemy with his cavalry, and the Romans undertake the siege of towns.
Then the army advanced in regular formation, the Adorsi in the van and the rear, while the centre was strengthened by the cohorts, and native troops of Bosporus with Roman arms. Thus the enemy was defeated, and they reached Soza, a town in Dandarica, which Mithridates had abandoned, where it was thought expedient to leave a garrison, as the temper of the people was uncertain. Next they marched on the Siraci, and after crossing the river Panda besieged the city of Uspe, which stood on high ground, and had the defence of wall and fosses; only the walls, not being of stone, but of hurdles and wicker-work with earth between, were too weak to resist an assault. Towers were raised to a greater height as a means of annoying the besieged with brands and darts. Had not night stopped the conflict, the siege would have been begun and finished within one day.
Next day they sent an embassy asking mercy for the freeborn, and offering ten thousand slaves. As it would have been inhuman to slay the prisoners, and very difficult to keep them under guard, the conquerors rejected the offer, preferring that they should perish by the just doom of war. The signal for massacre was therefore given to the soldiers, who had mounted the walls by scaling ladders. The destruction of Uspe struck terror into the rest of the people, who thought safety impossible when they saw how armies and ramparts, heights and difficult positions, rivers and cities, alike yielded to their foe. And so Zorsines, having long considered whether he should still have regard to the fallen fortunes of Mithridates or to the kingdom of his fathers, and having at last preferred his country’s interests, gave hostages and prostrated himself before the emperor’s image, to the great glory of the Roman army, which all men knew to have come after a bloodless victory within three days’ march of the river Tanais. In their return however fortune was not equally favourable; some of their vessels, as they were sailing back, were driven on the shores of the Tauri and cut off by the barbarians, who slew the commander of a cohort and several centurions.
Meanwhile Mithridates, finding arms an unavailing resource, considered on whose mercy he was to throw himself. He feared his brother Cotys, who had once been a traitor, then become his open enemy. No Roman was on the spot of authority sufficient to make his promises highly valued. So he turned to Eunones, who had no personal animosity against him, and had been lately strengthened by his alliance with us. Adapting his dress and expression of countenance as much as possible to his present condition, he entered the palace, and throwing himself at the feet of Eunones he exclaimed, “Mithridates, whom the Romans have sought so many years by land and sea, stands before you by his own choice. Deal as you please with the descendant of the great Achaemenes, the only glory of which enemies have not robbed me.”
The great name of Mithridates, his reverse, his prayer, full of dignity, deeply affected Eunones. He raised the suppliant, and commended him for having chosen the nation of the Adorsi and his own good faith in suing for mercy. He sent at the same time envoys to Caesar with a letter to this effect, that friendship between emperors of Rome and sovereigns of powerful peoples was primarily based on a similarity of fortune, and that between himself and Claudius there was the tie of a common victory. Wars had glorious endings, whenever matters were settled by an amnesty. The conquered Zorsines had on this principle been deprived of nothing. For Mithridates, as he deserved heavier punishment, he asked neither power nor dominions, only that he might not be led in triumph, and pay the penalty of death.
Claudius, though merciful to foreign princes, was yet in doubt whether it were better to receive the captive with a promise of safety or to claim his surrender by the sword. To this last he was urged by resentment at his wrongs, and by thirst for vengeance. On the other hand it was argued that it would be undertaking a war in a country without roads, on a harbourless sea, against warlike kings and wandering tribes, on a barren soil; that a weary disgust would come of tardy movements, and perils of precipitancy; that the glory of victory would be small, while much disgrace would ensue on defeat. Why should not the emperor seize the offer and spare the exile, whose punishment would be the greater, the longer he lived in poverty?
Moved by these considerations, Claudius wrote to Eunones that Mithridates had certainly merited an extreme and exemplary penalty, which he was not wanting in power to inflict, but it had been the principle of his ancestors to show as much forbearance to a suppliant as they showed persistence against a foe. As for triumphs, they were won over nations and kings hitherto unconquered.
After this, Mithridates was given up and brought to Rome by Junius Cilo, the procurator of Pontus. There in the emperor’s presence he was said to have spoken too proudly for his position, and words uttered by him to the following effect became the popular talk: “I have not been sent, but have come back to you; if you do not believe me, let me go and pursue me.” He stood too with fearless countenance when he was exposed to the people’s gaze near the Rostra, under military guard. To Cilo and Aquila were voted, respectively, the consular and praetorian decorations.
In the same consulship, Agrippina, who was terrible in her hatred and detested Lollia, for having competed with her for the emperor’s hand, planned an accusation, through an informer who was to tax her with having consulted astrologers and magicians and the image of the Clarian Apollo, about the imperial marriage. Upon this, Claudius, without hearing the accused, first reminded the Senate of her illustrious rank, that the sister of Lucius Volusius was her mother, Cotta Messalinus her granduncle, Memmius Regulus formerly her husband (for of her marriage to Caius Caesar he purposely said nothing), and then added that she had mischievous designs on the State, and must have the means of crime taken from her. Consequently, her property should be confiscated, and she herself banished from Italy. Thus out of immense wealth only five million sesterces were left to the exile. Calpurnia too, a lady of high rank, was ruined, simply because the emperor had praised her beauty in a casual remark, without any passion for her. And so Agrippina’s resentment stopped short of extreme vengeance. A tribune was despatched to Lollia, who was to force her to suicide. Next on the prosecution of the Bithynians, Cadius Rufus, was condemned under the law against extortion.
Narbon Gaul, for its special reverence of the Senate, received a privilege. Senators belonging to the province, without seeking the emperor’s approval, were to be allowed to visit their estates, a right enjoyed by Sicily. Ituraea and Judaea, on the death of their kings, Sohaemus and Agrippa, were annexed to the province of Syria.
It was also decided that the augury of the public safety, which for twenty-five years had been neglected, should be revived and henceforth observed. The emperor likewise widened the sacred precincts of the capital, in conformity with the ancient usage, according to which, those who had enlarged the empire were permitted also to extend the boundaries of Rome. But Roman generals, even after the conquest of great nations, had never exercised this right, except Lucius Sulla and the Divine Augustus.
There are various popular accounts of the ambitious and vainglorious efforts of our kings in this matter. Still, I think, it is interesting to know accurately the original plan of the precinct, as it was fixed by Romulus. From the ox market, where we see the brazen statue of a bull, because that animal is yoked to the plough, a furrow was drawn to mark out the town, so as to embrace the great altar of Hercules; then, at regular intervals, stones were placed along the foot of the Palatine hill to the altar of Consus, soon afterwards, to the old Courts, and then to the chapel of Larunda. The Roman forum and the Capitol were not, it was supposed, added to the city by Romulus, but by Titus Tatius. In time, the precinct was enlarged with the growth of Rome’s fortunes. The boundaries now fixed by Claudius may be easily recognized, as they are specified in the public records.
In the consulship of Caius Antistius and Marcus Suilius, the adoption of Domitius was hastened on by the influence of Pallas. Bound to Agrippina, first as the promoter of her marriage, then as her paramour, he still urged Claudius to think of the interests of the State, and to provide some support for the tender years of Britannicus. “So,” he said, “it had been with the Divine Augustus, whose stepsons, though he had grandsons to be his stay, had been promoted; Tiberius too, though he had offspring of his own, had adopted Germanicus. Claudius also would do well to strengthen himself with a young prince who could share his cares with him.”
Overcome by these arguments, the emperor preferred Domitius to his own son, though he was but two years older, and made a speech in the senate, the same in substance as the representations of his freedman. It was noted by learned men, that no previous example of adoption into the patrician family of the Claudii was to be found; and that from Attus Clausus there had been one unbroken line.
However, the emperor received formal thanks, and still more elaborate flattery was paid to Domitius. A law was passed, adopting him into the Claudian family with the name of Nero. Agrippina too was honoured with the title of Augusta. When this had been done, there was not a person so void of pity as not to feel keen sorrow at the position of Britannicus. Gradually forsaken by the very slaves who waited on him, he turned into ridicule the ill-timed attentions of his stepmother, perceiving their insincerity. For he is said to have had by no means a dull understanding; and this is either a fact, or perhaps his perils won him sympathy, and so he possessed the credit of it, without actual evidence.
Agrippina, to show her power even to the allied nations, procured the despatch of a colony of veterans to the chief town of the Ubii, where she was born. The place was named after her. Agrippa, her grandfather, had, as it happened, received this tribe, when they crossed the Rhine, under our protection.
During the same time, there was a panic in Upper Germany through an irruption of plundering bands of Chatti. Thereupon Lucius Pomponius, who was in command, directed the Vangiones and Nemetes, with the allied cavalry, to anticipate the raid, and suddenly to fall upon them from every quarter while they were dispersed. The general’s plan was backed up by the energy of the troops. These were divided into two columns; and those who marched to the left cut off the plunderers, just on their return, after a riotous enjoyment of their spoil, when they were heavy with sleep. It added to the men’s joy that they had rescued from slavery after forty years some survivors of the defeat of Varus.
The column which took the right-hand and the shorter route, inflicted greater loss on the enemy who met them, and ventured on a battle. With much spoil and glory they returned to Mount Taunus, where Pomponius was waiting with the legions, to see whether the Chatti, in their eagerness for vengeance, would give him a chance of fighting. They however fearing to be hemmed in on one side by the Romans, on the other by the Cherusci, with whom they are perpetually at feud, sent envoys and hostages to Rome. To Pomponius was decreed the honour of a triumph; a mere fraction of his renown with the next generation, with whom his poems constitute his chief glory.
At this same time, Vannius, whom Drusus Caesar had made king of the Suevi, was driven from his kingdom. In the commencement of his reign he was renowned and popular with his countrymen; but subsequently, with long possession, he became a tyrant, and the enmity of neighbours, joined to intestine strife, was his ruin. Vibillius, king of the Hermunduri, and Vangio and Sido, sons of a sister of Vannius, led the movement. Claudius, though often entreated, declined to interpose by arms in the conflict of the barbarians, and simply promised Vannius a safe refuge in the event of his expulsion. He wrote instructions to Publius Atellius Hister, governor of Pannonia, that he was to have his legions, with some picked auxiliaries from the province itself, encamped on the riverbank, as a support to the conquered and a terror to the conqueror, who might otherwise, in the elation of success, disturb also the peace of our empire. For an immense host of Ligii, with other tribes, was advancing, attracted by the fame of the opulent realm which Vannius had enriched during thirty years of plunder and of tribute. Vannius’s own native force was infantry, and his cavalry was from the Iazyges of Sarmatia; an army which was no match for his numerous enemy. Consequently, he determined to maintain himself in fortified positions, and protract the war.
But the Iazyges, who could not endure a siege, dispersed themselves throughout the surrounding country and rendered an engagement inevitable, as the Ligii and Hermunduri had there rushed to the attack. So Vannius came down out of his fortresses, and though he was defeated in battle, notwithstanding his reverse, he won some credit by having fought with his own hand, and received wounds on his breast. He then fled to the fleet which was awaiting him on the Danube, and was soon followed by his adherents, who received grants of land and were settled in Pannonia. Vangio and Sido divided his kingdom between them; they were admirably loyal to us, and among their subjects, whether the cause was in themselves or in the nature of despotism, much loved, while seeking to acquire power, and yet more hated when they had acquired it.
Meanwhile, in Britain, Publius Ostorius, the propraetor, found himself confronted by disturbance. The enemy had burst into the territories of our allies with all the more fury, as they imagined that a new general would not march against them with winter beginning and with an army of which he knew nothing. Ostorius, well aware that first events are those which produce alarm or confidence, by a rapid movement of his light cohorts, cut down all who opposed him, pursued those who fled, and lest they should rally, and so an unquiet and treacherous peace might allow no rest to the general and his troops, he prepared to disarm all whom he suspected, and to occupy with encampments the whole country to the Avon and Severn. The Iceni, a powerful tribe, which war had not weakened, as they had voluntarily joined our alliance, were the first to resist. At their instigation the surrounding nations chose as a battlefield a spot walled in by a rude barrier, with a narrow approach, impenetrable to cavalry. Through these defences the Roman general, though he had with him only the allied troops, without the strength of the legions, attempted to break, and having assigned their positions to his cohorts, he equipped even his cavalry for the work of infantry. Then at a given signal they forced the barrier, routing the enemy who were entangled in their own defences. The rebels, conscious of their guilt, and finding escape barred, performed many noble feats. In this battle, Marius Ostorius, the general’s son, won the reward for saving a citizen’s life.
The defeat of the Iceni quieted those who were hesitating between war and peace. Then the army was marched against the Cangi; their territory was ravaged, spoil taken everywhere without the enemy venturing on an engagement, or if they attempted to harass our march by stealthy attacks, their cunning was always punished. And now Ostorius had advanced within a little distance of the sea, facing the island Hibernia, when feuds broke out among the Brigantes and compelled the general’s return, for it was his fixed purpose not to undertake any fresh enterprise till he had consolidated his previous successes. The Brigantes indeed, when a few who were beginning hostilities had been slain and the rest pardoned, settled down quietly; but on the Silures neither terror nor mercy had the least effect; they persisted in war and could be quelled only by legions encamped in their country. That this might be the more promptly effected, a colony of a strong body of veterans was established at Camulodunum on the conquered lands, as a defence against the rebels, and as a means of imbuing the allies with respect for our laws.
The army then marched against the Silures, a naturally fierce people and now full of confidence in the might of Caractacus, who by many an indecisive and many a successful battle had raised himself far above all the other generals of the Britons. Inferior in military strength, but deriving an advantage from the deceptiveness of the country, he at once shifted the war by a stratagem into the territory of the Ordovices, where, joined by all who dreaded peace with us, he resolved on a final struggle. He selected a position for the engagement in which advance and retreat alike would be difficult for our men and comparatively easy for his own, and then on some lofty hills, wherever their sides could be approached by a gentle slope, he piled up stones to serve as a rampart. A river too of varying depth was in his front, and his armed bands were drawn up before his defences.
Then too the chieftains of the several tribes went from rank to rank, encouraging and confirming the spirit of their men by making light of their fears, kindling their hopes, and by every other warlike incitement. As for Caractacus, he flew hither and thither, protesting that that day and that battle would be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom, or of everlasting bondage. He appealed, by name, to their forefathers who had driven back the dictator Caesar, by whose valour they were free from the Roman axe and tribute, and still preserved inviolate the persons of their wives and of their children. While he was thus speaking, the host shouted applause; every warrior bound himself by his national oath not to shrink from weapons or wounds.
Such enthusiasm confounded the Roman general. The river too in his face, the rampart they had added to it, the frowning hilltops, the stern resistance and masses of fighting men everywhere apparent, daunted him. But his soldiers insisted on battle, exclaiming that valour could overcome all things; and the prefects and tribunes, with similar language, stimulated the ardour of the troops. Ostorius having ascertained by a survey the inaccessible and the assailable points of the position, led on his furious men, and crossed the river without difficulty. When he reached the barrier, as long as it was a fight with missiles, the wounds and the slaughter fell chiefly on our soldiers; but when he had formed the military testudo, and the rude, ill-compacted fence of stones was torn down, and it was an equal hand-to-hand engagement, the barbarians retired to the heights. Yet even there, both light and heavy-armed soldiers rushed to the attack; the first harassed the foe with missiles, while the latter closed with them, and the opposing ranks of the Britons were broken, destitute as they were of the defence of breast-plates or helmets. When they faced the auxiliaries, they were felled by the swords and javelins of our legionaries; if they wheeled round, they were again met by the sabres and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caractacus were captured, and his brothers too were admitted to surrender.
There is seldom safety for the unfortunate, and Caractacus, seeking the protection of Cartismandua, queen of the Brigantes, was put in chains and delivered up to the conquerors, nine years after the beginning of the war in Britain. His fame had spread thence, and travelled to the neighbouring islands and provinces, and was actually celebrated in Italy. All were eager to see the great man, who for so many years had defied our power. Even at Rome the name of Caractacus was no obscure one; and the emperor, while he exalted his own glory, enhanced the renown of the vanquished. The people were summoned as to a grand spectacle; the praetorian cohorts were drawn up under arms in the plain in front of their camp; then came a procession of the royal vassals, and the ornaments and neck-chains and the spoils which the king had won in wars with other tribes, were displayed. Next were to be seen his brothers, his wife and daughter; last of all, Caractacus himself. All the rest stooped in their fear to abject supplication; not so the king, who neither by humble look nor speech sought compassion.
When he was set before the emperor’s tribunal, he spoke as follows: “Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency.”
Upon this the emperor granted pardon to Caractacus, to his wife, and to his brothers. Released from their bonds, they did homage also to Agrippina who sat near, conspicuous on another throne, in the same language of praise and gratitude. It was indeed a novelty, quite alien to ancient manners, for a woman to sit in front of Roman standards. In fact, Agrippina boasted that she was herself a partner in the empire which her ancestors had won.
The Senate was then assembled, and speeches were delivered full of pompous eulogy on the capture of Caractacus. It was as glorious, they said, as the display of Syphax by Scipio, or of Perses by Lucius Paulus, or indeed of any captive prince by any of our generals to the people of Rome. Triumphal distinctions were voted to Ostorius, who thus far had been successful, but soon afterwards met with reverses; either because, when Caractacus was out of the way, our discipline was relaxed under an impression that the war was ended, or because the enemy, out of compassion for so great a king, was more ardent in his thirst for vengeance. Instantly they rushed from all parts on the camp-prefect, and legionary cohorts left to establish fortified positions among the Silures, and had not speedy succour arrived from towns and fortresses in the neighbourhood, our forces would then have been totally destroyed. Even as it was, the camp-prefect, with eight centurions, and the bravest of the soldiers, were slain; and shortly afterwards, a foraging party of our men, with some cavalry squadrons sent to their support, was utterly routed.
Ostorius then deployed his light cohorts, but even thus he did not stop the flight, till our legions sustained the brunt of the battle. Their strength equalized the conflict, which after a while was in our favour. The enemy fled with trifling loss, as the day was on the decline. Now began a series of skirmishes, for the most part like raids, in woods and morasses, with encounters due to chance or to courage, to mere heedlessness or to calculation, to fury or to lust of plunder, under directions from the officers, or sometimes even without their knowledge. Conspicuous above all in stubborn resistance were the Silures, whose rage was fired by words rumoured to have been spoken by the Roman general, to the effect, that as the Sugambri had been formerly destroyed or transplanted into Gaul, so the name of the Silures ought to be blotted out. Accordingly they cut off two of our auxiliary cohorts, the rapacity of whose officers let them make incautious forays; and by liberal gifts of spoil and prisoners to the other tribes, they were luring them too into revolt, when Ostorius, worn out by the burden of his anxieties, died, to the joy of the enemy, who thought that a campaign at least, though not a single battle, had proved fatal to general whom none could despise.
The emperor on hearing of the death of his representative appointed Aulus Didius in his place, that the province might not be left without a governor. Didius, though he quickly arrived, found matters far from prosperous, for the legion under the command of Manlius Valens had meanwhile been defeated, and the disaster had been exaggerated by the enemy to alarm the new general, while he again magnified it, that he might win the more glory by quelling the movement or have a fairer excuse if it lasted. This loss too had been inflicted on us by the Silures, and they were scouring the country far and wide, till Didius hurried up and dispersed them. After the capture of Caractacus, Venutius of the Brigantes, as I have already mentioned, was pre-eminent in military skill; he had long been loyal to Rome and had been defended by our arms while he was united in marriage to the queen Cartismandua. Subsequently a quarrel broke out between them, followed instantly by war, and he then assumed a hostile attitude also towards us. At first, however, they simply fought against each other, and Cartismandua by cunning stratagems captured the brothers and kinsfolk of Venutius. This enraged the enemy, who were stung with shame at the prospect of falling under the dominion of a woman. The flower of their youth, picked out for war, invaded her kingdom. This we had foreseen; some cohorts were sent to her aid and a sharp contest followed, which was at first doubtful but had a satisfactory termination.
The legion under the command of Caesius Nasica fought with a similar result. For Didius, burdened with years and covered with honours, was content with acting through his officers and merely holding back the enemy. These transactions, though occurring under two propraetors, and occupying several years, I have closely connected, lest, if related separately, they might be less easily remembered. I now return to the chronological order.
In the fifth consulship of Tiberius Claudius with Sextius Cornelius Orfitus for his colleague, Nero was prematurely invested with the dress of manhood, that he might be thought qualified for political life. The emperor willingly complied with the flatteries of the Senate who wished Nero to enter on the consulship in his twentieth year, and meanwhile, as consul-elect, to have pro-consular authority beyond the limits of the capital with the title of “prince of the youth of Rome.” A donative was also given to the soldiery in Nero’s name, and presents to the city populace. At the games too of the circus which were then being celebrated to win for him popular favour, Britannicus wore the dress of boyhood, Nero the triumphal robe, as they rode in the procession. The people would thus behold the one with the decorations of a general, the other in a boy’s habit, and would accordingly anticipate their respective destinies. At the same time those of the centurions and tribunes who pitied the lot of Britannicus were removed, some on false pretexts, others by way of a seeming compliment. Even of the freedmen, all who were of incorruptible fidelity were discarded on the following provocation. Once when they met, Nero greeted Britannicus by that name and was greeted in return as Domitius. Agrippina reported this to her husband, with bitter complaint, as the beginning of a quarrel, as implying, in fact, contempt of Nero’s adoption and a cancelling at home of the Senate’s decree and the people’s vote. She said, too, that, if the perversity of such malignant suggestions were not checked, it would issue in the ruin of the State. Claudius, enraged by what he took as a grave charge, punished with banishment or death all his son’s best instructors, and set persons appointed by his stepmother to have the care of him.
Still Agrippina did not yet dare to attempt her greatest scheme, unless Lusius Geta and Rufius Crispinus were removed from the command of the praetorian cohorts; for she thought that they cherished Messalina’s memory and were devoted to her children. Accordingly, as the emperor’s wife persistently affirmed that faction was rife among these cohorts through the rivalry of the two officers, and that there would be stricter discipline under one commander, the appointment was transferred to Burrus Afranius, who had a brilliant reputation as a soldier, but knew well to whose wish he owed his promotion. Agrippina, too, continued to exalt her own dignity; she would enter the Capitol in a chariot, a practice, which being allowed of old only to the priests and sacred images, increased the popular reverence for a woman who up to this time was the only recorded instance of one who, an emperor’s daughter, was sister, wife, and mother of a sovereign. Meanwhile her foremost champion, Vitellius, in the full tide of his power and in extreme age (so uncertain are the fortunes of the great) was attacked by an accusation of which Junius Lupus, a senator, was the author. He was charged with treason and designs on the throne. The emperor would have lent a ready ear, had not Agrippina, by threats rather than entreaties, induced him to sentence the accuser to outlawry. This was all that Vitellius desired.
Several prodigies occurred in that year. Birds of evil omen perched on the Capitol; houses were thrown down by frequent shocks of earthquake, and as the panic spread, all the weak were trodden down in the hurry and confusion of the crowd. Scanty crops too, and consequent famine were regarded as a token of calamity. Nor were there merely whispered complaints; while Claudius was administering justice, the populace crowded round him with a boisterous clamour and drove him to a corner of the forum, where they violently pressed on him till he broke through the furious mob with a body of soldiers. It was ascertained that Rome had provisions for no more than fifteen days, and it was through the signal bounty of heaven and the mildness of the winter that its desperate plight was relieved. And yet in past days Italy used to send supplies for the legions into distant provinces, and even now it is not a barren soil which causes distress. But we prefer to cultivate Africa and Egypt, and trust the life of the Roman people to ships and all their risks.
In the same year war broke out between the Armenians and Iberians, and was the cause of very serious disturbances between Parthia and Rome. Vologeses was king of the Parthians; on the mother’s side, he was the offspring of a Greek concubine, and he obtained the throne by the retirement of his brothers. Pharasmanes had been long in possession of Iberia, and his brother, Mithridates, ruled Armenia with our powerful support. There was a son of Pharasmanes named Rhadamistus, tall and handsome, of singular bodily strength, trained in all the accomplishments of his countrymen and highly renowned among his neighbours. He boasted so arrogantly and persistently that his father’s prolonged old age kept back from him the little kingdom of Iberia as to make no concealment of his ambition. Pharasmanes accordingly seeing the young prince had power in his grasp and was strong in the attachment of his people, fearing too his own declining years, tempted him with other prospects and pointed to Armenia, which, as he reminded him, he had given to Mithridates after driving out the Parthians. But open violence, he said, must be deferred; artful measures, which might crush him unawares, were better. So Rhadamistus pretended to be at feud with his father as though his stepmother’s hatred was too strong for him, and went to his uncle. While he was treated by him like a son, with excessive kindness, he lured the nobles of Armenia into revolutionary schemes, without the knowledge of Mithridates, who was actually loading him with honours.
He then assumed a show of reconciliation with his father, to whom he returned, telling him all that could be accomplished by treachery was now ready and that he must complete the affair by the sword. Meanwhile Pharasmanes invented pretexts for war; when he was fighting with the king of the Albanians and appealing to the Romans for aid, his brother, he said, had opposed him, and he would now avenge that wrong by his destruction. At the same time he gave a large army to his son, who by a sudden invasion drove Mithridates in terror from the open country and forced him into the fortress of Gorneas, which was strongly situated and garrisoned by some soldiers under the command of Caelius Pollio, a camp-prefect, and Casperius, a centurion.
There is nothing of which barbarians are so ignorant as military engines and the skilful management of sieges, while that is a branch of military science which we especially understand. And so Rhadamistus having attempted the fortified walls in vain or with loss, began a blockade, and, finding that his assaults were despised, tried to bribe the rapacity of the camp-prefect. Casperius protested earnestly against the overthrow of an allied king and of Armenia, the gift of the Roman people, through iniquity and greed of gain. At last, as Pollio pleaded the overpowering numbers of the enemy and Rhadamistus the orders of his father, the centurion stipulated for a truce and retired, intending, if he could not deter Pharasmanes from further hostilities, to inform Ummidius Quadratus, the governor of Syria, of the state of Armenia.
By the centurion’s departure the camp prefect was released, so to say, from surveillance; and he now urged Mithridates to conclude a treaty. He reminded him of the tie of brotherhood, of the seniority in age of Pharasmanes, and of their other bonds of kindred, how he was united by marriage to his brother’s daughter, and was himself the father-in-law of Rhadamistus. “The Iberians,” he said, “were not against peace, though for the moment they were the stronger; the perfidy of the Armenians was notorious, and he had nothing to fall back on but a fortress without stores; so he must not hesitate to prefer a bloodless negotiation to arms.” As Mithridates wavered, and suspected the intentions of the camp-prefect, because he had seduced one of the king’s concubines and was reputed a man who could be bribed into any wickedness, Casperius meantime went to Pharasmanes, and required of him that the Iberians should raise the blockade. Pharasmanes, to his face, replied vaguely and often in a conciliatory tone, while by secret messages he recommended Rhadamistus to hurry on the siege by all possible means. Then the price of infamy was raised, and Pollio by secret corruption induced the soldiers to demand peace and to threaten that they would abandon the garrison. Under this compulsion, Mithridates agreed to a day and a place for negotiation and quitted the fortress.
Rhadamistus at first threw himself into his embraces, feigning respect and calling him father-in-law and parent. He swore an oath too that he would do him no violence either by the sword or by poison. At the same time he drew him into a neighbouring grove, where he assured him that the appointed sacrifice was prepared for the confirmation of peace in the presence of the gods. It is a custom of these princes, whenever they join alliance, to unite their right hands and bind together the thumbs in a tight knot; then, when the blood has flowed into the extremities, they let it escape by a slight puncture and suck it in turn. Such a treaty is thought to have a mysterious sanctity, as being sealed with the blood of both parties. On this occasion he who was applying the knot pretended that it had fallen off, and suddenly seizing the knees of Mithridates flung him to the ground. At the same moment a rush was made by a number of persons, and chains were thrown round him. Then he was dragged along by a fetter, an extreme degradation to a barbarian; and soon the common people, whom he had held under a harsh sway, heaped insults on him with menacing gestures, though some, on the contrary, pitied such a reverse of fortune. His wife followed him with his little children, and filled every place with her wailings. They were hidden away in different covered carriages till the orders of Pharasmanes were distinctly ascertained. The lust of rule was more to him than his brother and his daughter, and his heart was steeled to any wickedness. Still he spared his eyes the seeing them slain before his face. Rhadamistus too, seemingly mindful of his oath, neither unsheathed the sword nor used poison against his sister and uncle, but had them thrown on the ground and then smothered them under a mass of heavy clothes. Even the sons of Mithridates were butchered for having shed tears over their parent’s murder.
Quadratus, learning that Mithridates had been betrayed and that his kingdom was in the hands of his murderers, summoned a council, and, having informed them of what had occurred, consulted them whether he should take vengeance. Few cared for the honour of the State; most argued in favour of a safe course, saying “that any crime in a foreign country was to be welcomed with joy, and that the seeds of strife ought to be actually sown, on the very principle on which Roman emperors had often under a show of generosity given away this same kingdom of Armenia to excite the minds of the barbarians. Rhadamistus might retain his ill-gotten gains, as long as he was hated and infamous; for this was more to Rome’s interest than for him to have succeeded with glory.” To this view they assented, but that they might not be thought to have approved the crime and receive contrary orders from the emperor, envoys were sent to Pharasmanes, requiring him to withdraw from Armenian territory and remove his son.
Julius Pelignus was then procurator of Cappadocia, a man despised alike for his feebleness of mind and his grotesque personal appearance. He was however very intimate with Claudius, who, when in private life, used to beguile the dullness of his leisure with the society of jesters. This Pelignus collected some provincial auxiliaries, apparently with the design of recovering Armenia, but, while he plundered allies instead of enemies, finding himself, through the desertion of his men and the raids of the barbarians, utterly defenceless, he went to Rhadamistus, whose gifts so completely overcame him that he positively encouraged him to assume the ensigns of royalty, and himself assisted at the ceremony, authorizing and abetting. When the disgraceful news had spread far and wide, lest the world might judge of other governors by Pelignus, Helvidius Priscus was sent in command of a legion to regulate, according to circumstances, the disordered state of affairs. He quickly crossed Mount Taurus, and had restored order to a great extent more by moderation than by force, when he was ordered to return to Syria, that nothing might arise to provoke a war with Parthia.
For Vologeses, thinking that an opportunity presented itself of invading Armenia, which, though the possession of his ancestors, was now through a monstrous crime held by a foreign prince, raised an army and prepared to establish Tiridates on the throne, so that not a member of his house might be without kingly power. On the advance of the Parthians, the Iberians dispersed without a battle, and the Armenian cities, Artaxata and Tigranocerta, submitted to the yoke. Then a frightful winter or deficient supplies, with pestilence arising from both causes, forced Vologeses to abandon his present plans. Armenia was thus again without a king, and was invaded by Rhadamistus, who was now fiercer than ever, looking on the people as disloyal and sure to rebel on the first opportunity. They however, though accustomed to be slaves, suddenly threw off their tameness and gathered round the palace in arms.
Rhadamistus had no means of escape but in the swiftness of the horses which bore him and his wife away. Pregnant as she was, she endured, somehow or other, out of fear of the enemy and love of her husband, the first part of the flight, but after a while, when she felt herself shaken by its continuous speed, she implored to be rescued by an honourable death from the shame of captivity. He at first embraced, cheered, and encouraged her, now admiring her heroism, now filled with a sickening apprehension at the idea of her being left to any man’s mercy. Finally, urged by the intensity of his love and familiarity with dreadful deeds, he unsheathed his scymitar, and having stabbed her, dragged her to the bank of the Araxes and committed her to the stream, so that her very body might be swept away. Then in headlong flight he hurried to Iberia, his ancestral kingdom. Zenobia meanwhile (this was her name), as she yet breathed and showed signs of life on the calm water at the river’s edge, was perceived by some shepherds, who inferring from her noble appearance that she was no base-born woman, bound up her wound and applied to it their rustic remedies. As soon as they knew her name and her adventure, they conveyed her to the city of Artaxata, whence she was conducted at the public charge to Tiridates, who received her kindly and treated her as a royal person.
In the consulship of Faustus Sulla and Salvius Otho, Furius Scribonianus was banished on the ground that he was consulting the astrologers about the emperor’s death. His mother, Junia, was included in the accusation, as one who still resented the misfortune of exile which she had suffered in the past. His father, Camillus, had raised an armed insurrection in Dalmatia, and the emperor in again sparing a hostile family sought the credit of clemency. But the exile did not live long after this; whether he was cut off by a natural death, or by poison, was matter of conflicting rumours, according to people’s belief.
A decree of the Senate was then passed for the expulsion of the astrologers from Italy, stringent but ineffectual. Next the emperor, in a speech, commended all who, from their limited means, voluntarily retired from the Senatorian order, while those were degraded from it who, by retaining their seats, added effrontery to poverty.
During these proceedings he proposed to the Senate a penalty on women who united themselves in marriage to slaves, and it was decided that those who had thus demeaned themselves, without the knowledge of the slave’s master, should be reduced to slavery; if with his consent, should be ranked as freedwomen. To Pallas, who, as the emperor declared, was the author of this proposal, were offered on the motion of Barea Soranus, consul-elect, the decorations of the praetorship and fifteen million sesterces. Cornelius Scipio added that he deserved public thanks for thinking less of his ancient nobility as a descendant from the kings of Arcadia, than of the welfare of the State, and allowing himself to be numbered among the emperor’s ministers. Claudius assured them that Pallas was content with the honour, and that he limited himself to his former poverty. A decree of the Senate was publicly inscribed on a bronze tablet, heaping the praises of primitive frugality on a freedman, the possessor of three hundred million sesterces.
Not equally moderate was his brother, surnamed Felix, who had for some time been governor of Judaea, and thought that he could do any evil act with impunity, backed up as he was by such power. It is true that the Jews had shown symptoms of commotion in a seditious outbreak, and when they had heard of the assassination of Caius, there was no hearty submission, as a fear still lingered that any of the emperors might impose the same orders. Felix meanwhile, by ill-timed remedies, stimulated disloyal acts; while he had, as a rival in the worst wickedness, Ventidius Cumanus, who held a part of the province, which was so divided that Galilea was governed by Cumanus, Samaria by Felix. The two peoples had long been at feud, and now less than ever restrained their enmity, from contempt of their rulers. And accordingly they plundered each other, letting loose bands of robbers, forming ambuscades, and occasionally fighting battles, and carrying the spoil and booty to the two procurators, who at first rejoiced at all this, but, as the mischief grew, they interposed with an armed force, which was cut to pieces. The flame of war would have spread through the province, but it was saved by Quadratus, governor of Syria. In dealing with the Jews, who had been daring enough to slay our soldiers, there was little hesitation about their being capitally punished. Some delay indeed was occasioned by Cumanus and Felix; for Claudius on hearing the causes of the rebellion had given authority for deciding also the case of these procurators. Quadratus, however, exhibited Felix as one of the judges, admitting him to the bench with the view of cowing the ardour of the prosecutors. And so Cumanus was condemned for the crimes which the two had committed, and tranquillity was restored to the province.
Not long afterwards some tribes of the wild population of Cilicia, known as the Clitae, which had often been in commotion, established a camp, under a leader Troxobor, on their rocky mountains, whence rushing down on the coast, and on the towns, they dared to do violence to the farmers and townsfolk, frequently even to the merchants and shipowners. They besieged the city Anemurium, and routed some troopers sent from Syria to its rescue under the command of Curtius Severus; for the rough country in the neighbourhood, suited as it is for the fighting of infantry, did not allow of cavalry operations. After a time, Antiochus, king of that coast, having broken the unity of the barbarian forces, by cajolery of the people and treachery to their leader, slew Troxobor and a few chiefs, and pacified the rest by gentle measures.
About the same time, the mountain between Lake Fucinus and the river Liris was bored through, and that this grand work might be seen by a multitude of visitors, preparations were made for a naval battle on the lake, just as formerly Augustus exhibited such a spectacle, in a basin he had made this side the Tiber, though with light vessels, and on a smaller scale. Claudius equipped galleys with three and four banks of oars, and nineteen thousand men; he lined the circumference of the lake with rafts, that there might be no means of escape at various points, but he still left full space for the strength of the crews, the skill of the pilots, the impact of the vessels, and the usual operations of a seafight. On the raft stood companies of the praetorian cohorts and cavalry, with a breastwork in front of them, from which catapults and balistas might be worked. The rest of the lake was occupied by marines on decked vessels. An immense multitude from the neighbouring towns, others from Rome itself, eager to see the sight or to show respect to the emperor, crowded the banks, the hills, and mountain tops, which thus resembled a theatre. The emperor, with Agrippina seated near him, presided; he wore a splendid military cloak, she, a mantle of cloth of gold. A battle was fought with all the courage of brave men, though it was between condemned criminals. After much bloodshed they were released from the necessity of mutual slaughter.
When the sight was over, the outlet of the water was opened. The careless execution of the work was apparent, the tunnel not having been bored down so low as the bottom, or middle of the lake. Consequently after an interval the excavations were deepened, and to attract a crowd once more, a show of gladiators was exhibited, with floating pontoons for an infantry engagement. A banquet too was prepared close to the outflow of the lake, and it was the means of greatly alarming the whole company, for the water, in the violence of its outburst, swept away the adjoining parts, shook the more remote, and spread terror with the tremendous crash. At the same time, Agrippina availed herself of the emperor’s fright to charge Narcissus, who had been the agent of the work, with avarice and peculation. He too was not silent, but inveighed against the domineering temper of her sex, and her extravagant ambition.
In the consulship of Didius Junius and Quintus Haterius, Nero, now sixteen years of age, married Octavia, the emperor’s daughter. Anxious to distinguish himself by noble pursuits, and the reputation of an orator, he advocated the cause of the people of Ilium, and having eloquently recounted how Rome was the offspring of Troy, and Aeneas the founder of the Julian line, with other old traditions akin to myths, he gained for his clients exemption from all public burdens. His pleading too procured for the colony of Bononia, which had been ruined by a fire, a subvention of ten million sesterces. The Rhodians also had their freedom restored to them, which had often been taken away, or confirmed, according to their services to us in our foreign wars, or their seditious misdeeds at home. Apamea, too, which had been shaken by an earthquake, had its tribute remitted for five years.
Claudius, on the other hand, was being prompted to exhibit the worst cruelty by the artifices of the same Agrippina. On the accusation of Tarquitius Priscus, she ruined Statilius Taurus, who was famous for his wealth, and at whose gardens she cast a greedy eye. Priscus had served under Taurus in his proconsular government of Africa, and after their return charged him with a few acts of extortion, but particularly with magical and superstitious practices. Taurus, no longer able to endure a false accusation and an undeserved humiliation, put a violent end to his life before the Senate’s decision was pronounced. Tarquitius was however expelled from the Senate, a point which the senators carried, out of hatred for the accuser, notwithstanding the intrigues of Agrippina.
That same year the emperor was often heard to say that the legal decisions of the commissioners of the imperial treasury ought to have the same force as if pronounced by himself. Lest it might be supposed that he had stumbled inadvertently into this opinion, its principle was also secured by a decree of the Senate on a more complete and ample scale than before. It had indeed already been arranged by the Divine Augustus that the Roman knights who governed Egypt should hear causes, and that their decisions were to be as binding as those of Roman magistrates, and after a time most of the cases formerly tried by the praetors were submitted to the knights. Claudius handed over to them the whole administration of justice for which there had been by sedition or war so many struggles; the Sempronian laws vesting judicial power in the equestrian order, and those of Servilius restoring it to the Senate, while it was for this above everything else that Marius and Sulla fought of old. But those were days of political conflict between classes, and the results of victory were binding on the State. Caius Oppius and Cornelius Balbus were the first who were able, with Caesar’s support, to settle conditions of peace and terms of war. To mention after them the Matii, Vedii, and other too influential names of Roman knights would be superfluous, when Claudius, we know, raised freedmen whom he had set over his household to equality with himself and with the laws.
Next the emperor proposed to grant immunity from taxation to the people of Cos, and he dwelt much on their antiquity. “The Argives or Coeus, the father of Latona, were the earliest inhabitants of the island; soon afterwards, by the arrival of Aesculapius, the art of the physician was introduced and was practised with much fame by his descendants.” Claudius named them one by one, with the periods in which they had respectively flourished. He said too that Xenophon, of whose medical skill he availed himself, was one of the same family, and that they ought to grant his request and let the people of Cos dwell free from all tribute in their sacred island, as a place devoted to the sole service of their god. It was also certain that many obligations under which they had laid Rome and joint victories with her might have been recounted. Claudius however did not seek to veil under any external considerations a concession he had made, with his usual good nature, to an individual.
Envoys from Byzantium having received audience, in complaining to the Senate of their heavy burdens, recapitulated their whole history. Beginning with the treaty which they concluded with us when we fought against that king of Macedonia whose supposed spurious birth acquired for him the name of the Pseudo Philip, they reminded us of the forces which they had afterwards sent against Antiochus, Perses and Aristonicus, of the aid they had given Antonius in the pirate-war, of their offers to Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompeius, and then of their late services to the Caesars, when they were in occupation of a district peculiarly convenient for the land or sea passage of generals and armies, as well as for the conveyance of supplies.
It was indeed on that very narrow strait which parts Europe from Asia, at Europe’s furthest extremity, that the Greeks built Byzantium. When they consulted the Pythian Apollo as to where they should found a city, the oracle replied that they were to seek a home opposite to the blind men’s country. This obscure hint pointed to the people of Chalcedon, who, though they arrived there first and saw before others the advantageous position, chose the worse. For Byzantium has a fruitful soil and productive seas, as immense shoals of fish pour out of the Pontus and are driven by the sloping surface of the rocks under water to quit the windings of the Asiatic shore and take refuge in these harbours. Consequently the inhabitants were at first money-making and wealthy traders, but afterwards, under the pressure of excessive burdens, they petitioned for immunity or at least relief, and were supported by the emperor, who argued to the Senate that, exhausted as they were by the late wars in Thrace and Bosporus, they deserved help. So their tribute was remitted for five years.
In the year of the consulship of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius it was seen to be portended by a succession of prodigies that there were to be political changes for the worse. The soldiers’ standards and tents were set in a blaze by lightning. A swarm of bees settled on the summit of the Capitol; births of monsters, half man, half beast, and of a pig with a hawk’s talons, were reported. It was accounted a portent that every order of magistrates had had its number reduced, a quaestor, an aedile, a tribune, a praetor and consul having died within a few months. But Agrippina’s terror was the most conspicuous. Alarmed by some words dropped by Claudius when half intoxicated, that it was his destiny to have to endure his wives’ infamy and at last punish it, she determined to act without a moment’s delay. First she destroyed Lepida from motives of feminine jealousy. Lepida indeed as the daughter of the younger Antonia, as the grandniece of Augustus, the cousin of Agrippina, and sister of her husband Cneius, thought herself of equally high rank. In beauty, youth, and wealth they differed but slightly. Both were shameless, infamous, and intractable, and were rivals in vice as much as in the advantages they had derived from fortune. It was indeed a desperate contest whether the aunt or the mother should have most power over Nero. Lepida tried to win the young prince’s heart by flattery and lavish liberality, while Agrippina on the other hand, who could give her son empire but could not endure that he should be emperor, was fierce and full of menace.
It was charged on Lepida that she had made attempts on the Emperor’s consort by magical incantations, and was disturbing the peace of Italy by an imperfect control of her troops of slaves in Calabria. She was for this sentenced to death, notwithstanding the vehement opposition of Narcissus, who, as he more and more suspected Agrippina, was said to have plainly told his intimate friends that “his destruction was certain, whether Britannicus or Nero were to be emperor, but that he was under such obligations to Claudius that he would sacrifice life to his welfare. Messalina and Silius had been convicted, and now again there were similar grounds for accusation. If Nero were to rule, or Britannicus succeed to the throne, he would himself have no claim on the then reigning sovereign. Meanwhile, a stepmother’s treacherous schemes were convulsing the whole imperial house, with far greater disgrace than would have resulted from his concealment of the profligacy of the emperor’s former wife. Even as it was, there was shamelessness enough, seeing that Pallas was her paramour, so that no one could doubt that she held honour, modesty and her very person, everything, in short, cheaper than sovereignty.”
This, and the like, he was always saying, and he would embrace Britannicus, expressing earnest wishes for his speedy arrival at a mature age, and would raise his hand, now to heaven, now to the young prince, with entreaty that as he grew up, he would drive out his father’s enemies and also take vengeance on the murderers of his mother.
Under this great burden of anxiety, he had an attack of illness, and went to Sinuessa to recruit his strength with its balmy climate and salubrious waters. Thereupon, Agrippina, who had long decided on the crime and eagerly grasped at the opportunity thus offered, and did not lack instruments, deliberated on the nature of the poison to be used. The deed would be betrayed by one that was sudden and instantaneous, while if she chose a slow and lingering poison, there was a fear that Claudius, when near his end, might, on detecting the treachery, return to his love for his son. She decided on some rare compound which might derange his mind and delay death. A person skilled in such matters was selected, Locusta by name, who had lately been condemned for poisoning, and had long been retained as one of the tools of despotism. By this woman’s art the poison was prepared, and it was to be administered by an eunuch, Halotus, who was accustomed to bring in and taste the dishes.
All the circumstances were subsequently so well known, that writers of the time have declared that the poison was infused into some mushrooms, a favourite delicacy, and its effect not at the instant perceived, from the emperor’s lethargic, or intoxicated condition. His bowels too were relieved, and this seemed to have saved him. Agrippina was thoroughly dismayed. Fearing the worst, and defying the immediate obloquy of the deed, she availed herself of the complicity of Xenophon, the physician, which she had already secured. Under pretence of helping the emperor’s efforts to vomit, this man, it is supposed, introduced into his throat a feather smeared with some rapid poison; for he knew that the greatest crimes are perilous in their inception, but well rewarded after their consummation.
Meanwhile the Senate was summoned, and prayers rehearsed by the consuls and priests for the emperor’s recovery, though the lifeless body was being wrapped in blankets with warm applications, while all was being arranged to establish Nero on the throne. At first Agrippina, seemingly overwhelmed by grief and seeking comfort, clasped Britannicus in her embraces, called him the very image of his father, and hindered him by every possible device from leaving the chamber. She also detained his sisters, Antonia and Octavia, closed every approach to the palace with a military guard, and repeatedly gave out that the emperor’s health was better, so that the soldiers might be encouraged to hope, and that the fortunate moment foretold by the astrologers might arrive.
At last, at noon on the 13th of October, the gates of the palace were suddenly thrown open, and Nero, accompanied by Burrus, went forth to the cohort which was on guard after military custom. There, at the suggestion of the commanding officer, he was hailed with joyful shouts, and set on a litter. Some, it is said, hesitated, and looked round and asked where Britannicus was; then, when there was no one to lead a resistance, they yielded to what was offered them. Nero was conveyed into the camp, and having first spoken suitably to the occasion and promised a donative after the example of his father’s bounty, he was unanimously greeted as emperor. The decrees of the Senate followed the voice of the soldiers, and there was no hesitation in the provinces. Divine honours were decreed to Claudius, and his funeral rites were solemnized on the same scale as those of Augustus; for Agrippina strove to emulate the magnificence of her great-grandmother, Livia. But his will was not publicly read, as the preference of the stepson to the son might provoke a sense of wrong and angry feeling in the popular mind.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01