MEANWHILE, the Parthian king, Vologeses, when he heard of Corbulo’s achievements and of a foreign prince, Tigranes, having been set over Armenia, though he longed at the same time to avenge the majesty of the Arsacids, which had been insulted by the expulsion of his brother Tiridates, was, on the other hand, drawn to different thoughts as he reflected on the greatness of Rome, and felt reverence for a hitherto unbroken treaty. Naturally irresolute, he was now hampered by a revolt of the Hyrcanians, a powerful tribe, and by several wars arising out of it. Suddenly, as he was wavering, fresh and further tidings of disgrace goaded him to action. Tigranes, quitting Armenia, had ravaged the Adiabeni, a people on its border, too extensively and continuously for mere plundering raids. The chief men of the tribes were indignant at having fallen into such contempt that they were victims to the inroads, not indeed of a Roman general, but of a daring hostage, who for so many years had been numbered among slaves. Their anger was inflamed by Monobazus, who ruled the Adiabeni, and repeatedly asked what protection he was to seek and from what quarter- “Already,” he said, “Armenia has been given up, and its borders are being wrested from us, and unless the Parthians help us, we shall find that subjection to Rome is lighter for those who surrender than for the conquered.” Tiridates too, exile as he was from his kingdom, by his silence or very moderate complaints made the deeper impression. “It is not,” he urged, “by weak inaction that great empires are held together; there must be the struggle of brave men in arms; might is right with those who are at the summit of power. And though it is the glory of a private house to keep its own, it is the glory of a king to fight for the possessions of others.”
Moved by these considerations Vologeses called a council, placed Tiridates by his side, and began to speak as follows: “This man before you, born from the same father as myself, having waived in my favour, on the ground of age, the highest title of all, was established by me in the possession of Armenia, which is accounted the third grade of power. As for Media, Pacorus was already in possession of it. And I thought to myself that I had duly arranged our family and home so as to guard against the old feuds and rivalries of brothers. The Romans thwart me, and though they have never with success to themselves disturbed the peace between us, they are now again breaking it to their own destruction. I will not attempt to deny one thing. It was by just dealing rather than by bloodshed, by having a good cause rather than by arms, that I had wished to retain what my ancestors had won. If I have sinned through irresolution, my valour shall make amends for it. Assuredly your strength and renown are at their height, and you have in addition the repute of obedience, which the greatest of mortals must not despise, and which the gods highly esteem.”
As he spoke, he encircled Tiridates’ brow with a diadem, and to Moneses, a noble, he entrusted a highly efficient body of cavalry, which was the king’s customary escort, giving him also some auxiliaries from the Adiabeni, and orders that Tigranes was to be driven out of Armenia. He would himself abandon his feud with the Hyrcanians, and raise his own national force in all its warlike strength by way of menace to the Roman provinces. When Corbulo had heard all this from messengers he could trust, he sent two legions under Verulanus Severus and Vettius Bolanus to the support of Tigranes, with secret instructions that they were to conduct all their operations with deliberation rather than despatch, as he would prefer to sustain rather than to make war. And indeed he had written to the emperor that a general was wanted specially for the defence of Armenia, and that Syria, threatened as it was by Vologeses, was in yet more imminent peril. Meanwhile he posted his remaining legions on the bank of the Euphrates, armed a hastily collected force of provincials, and occupied with troops the enemy’s approaches. And as the country was deficient in water, he established forts to guard the wells, and concealed some of the streams with heaps of sand. While Corbulo was thus preparing for the defence of Syria, Moneses rapidly pushed on his forces to anticipate the rumour of his advance, but he did not any the more find Tigranes unaware of or unprepared for his movement. He had, in fact, occupied Tigranocerta, a city strong from the multitude of its defenders and the vastness of its fortifications. In addition, the river Nicephorius, the breadth of which is far from contemptible, circled a portion of its walls, and a wide fosse was drawn where they distrusted the protection of the stream. There were some soldiers too, and supplies previously provided. In the conveyance of these a few men had hurried on too eagerly, and, having been surprised by a sudden attack from the enemy, had inspired their comrades with rage rather than fear. But the Parthian has not the daring in close combat needed for a successful siege. His thin showers of arrows do not alarm men within walls, and only disappoint himself. The Adiabeni, when they began to advance their scaling ladders and engines, were easily driven back, and then cut down by a sally of our men.
Corbulo, however, notwithstanding his successes thought he must use his good fortune with moderation, and sent Vologeses a message of remonstrance against the violence done to a Roman province, and the blockade of an allied and friendly king and of Roman cohorts. “He had better give up the siege, or he, Corbulo too would encamp in his territory, as on hostile ground.” Casperius, a centurion selected for this mission, had an interview with the king at the town Nisibis, thirty-seven miles distant from Tigranocerta, and with fearless spirit announced his message. With Vologeses it was an old and deep conviction that he should shun the arms of Rome. Nor was the present going smoothly with him. The seige was a failure; Tigranes was safe with his troops and supplies; those who had undertaken the storming of the place had been routed; legions had been sent into Armenia, and other legions were ready to rush to the attack on behalf of Syria, while his own cavalry was crippled by want of food. A host of locusts, suddenly appearing, had devoured every blade of grass and every leaf. And so, hiding his fear and presenting a more conciliatory attitude, he replied that he would send envoys to the Roman emperor for the possession of Armenia and the conclusion of a lasting peace. He ordered Moneses to leave Tigranocerta, while he himself retired.
Many spoke highly of these results, as due to the king’s alarm and the threats of Corbulo, and as splendid successes. Others explained them as a secret understanding that with the cessation of war on both sides and the departure of Vologeses, Tigranes also was to quit Armenia. “Why,” it was asked, “had the Roman army been withdrawn from Tigranocerta? Why had they abandoned in peace what they had defended in war? Was it better for them to have wintered on the confines of Cappadocia in hastily constructed huts, than in the capital of a kingdom lately recovered? There had been, in short, a suspension of arms, in order that Vologeses might fight some other foe than Corbulo, and that Corbulo might not further risk the glory he had earned in so many years. For, as I have related, he had asked for a general exclusively for the defence of Armenia, and it was heard that Caesennius Paetus was on his way. And indeed he had now arrived, and the army was thus divided; the fourth and twelfth legions, with the fifth which had lately been raised in Moesia and the auxiliaries from Pontus, Galatia and Cappadocia, were under the command of Paetus, while the third, sixth, and tenth legions and the old soldiery of Syria remained with Corbulo. All else they were to share or divide between them according to circumstances. But as Corbulo could not endure a rival, so Paetus, who would have been sufficiently honoured by ranking second to him, disparaged the results of the war, and said repeatedly that there had been no bloodshed or spoil, that the sieges of cities were sieges only in name, and that he would soon impose on the conquered tribute and laws and Roman administration, instead of the empty shadow of a king. About the same time the envoys of Vologeses, who had been sent, as I have related, to the emperor, returned without success, and the Parthians made open war. Nor did Paetus decline the challenge, but with two legions, the 4th and 12th, the first of which was then commanded by Funisulanus Vettonianus and the second by Calavius Sabinus, entered Armenia, with unlucky omen. In the passage of the Euphrates, which they crossed by a bridge, a horse which carried the consul’s official emblems, took fright without any apparent cause and fled to the rear. A victim, too, standing by some of the winter-tents, which were being fortified, broke its way through them, when the work was but half finished, and got clear out of the entrenchments. Then again the soldiers’ javelins gleamed with light, a prodigy the more significant because the Parthian foe fights with missiles.
Paetus, however, despising omens, before he had yet thoroughly fortified his winter-camp or provided for his corn supply, hurried his army across Mount Taurus, for the recovery, as he gave out, of Tigranocerta and the ravaging of the country which Corbulo had left untouched. Some forts too were taken, and some glory as well as plunder had been secured, if only he had enjoyed his glory modestly, and his plunder with vigilance. While he was overrunning in tedious expeditions districts which could not be held, the supplies which had been captured, were spoilt, and as winter was now at hand, he led back his army and wrote a letter to the emperor, as if the war was finished, in pompous language, but barren of facts. Meanwhile Corbulo occupied the bank of the Euphrates, which he had never neglected, with troops at closer intervals. That he might have no hindrance in throwing a bridge over it from the enemy’s cavalry, which was already scouring the adjoining plains with a formidable display, he launched on the river some vessels of remarkable size, linked together by beams, with towers rising from their decks, and with catapults and balistas he drove off the barbarians. The stones and spears penetrated their host at a range beyond the reach of the opposing volleys of arrows. The bridge was then completed, and the hills facing us were occupied by our auxiliary infantry, then, by the entrenchments of the legions, with such rapidity and such a display of force that the Parthians, giving up their preparations for the invasion of Syria, concentrated all their hopes on Armenia. Paetus, ignorant of the impending danger, was keeping the 5th legion at a distance in Pontus; the rest he had weakened by indiscriminate furloughs, till it was heard that Vologeses was approaching with a powerful force bent on war. He summoned the 12th legion, and then was discovered the numerical feebleness of the source from which he had hoped for the repute of an augmented army. Yet even thus the camp might have been held, and the Parthian foe baffled, by protracting the war, had Paetus stood firm either by his own counsels or by those of others. But though military men had put him on his guard against imminent disasters, still, not wishing to seem to need the advice of others, he would fall back on some quite different and inferior plan. So now, leaving his winter quarters, and exclaiming that not the fosse or the rampart, but the men’s bodies and weapons were given him for facing the foe, he led out his legions, as if he meant to fight a battle. Then, after losing a centurion and a few soldiers whom he had sent on in advance to reconnoitre the enemy’s forces, he returned in alarm. And, as Vologeses had not pressed his advantage with much vigour, Paetus once again, with vain confidence, posted 3000 chosen infantry on the adjacent ridge of the taurus, in order to bar the king’s passage. He also stationed some Pannonian troopers, the flower of his cavalry, in a part of the plain. His wife and son he removed to a fortress named Arsamosata, with a cohort for their defence, thus dispersing the troops which, if kept together, could easily have checked the desultory skirmishing of the enemy. He could, it is said, scarcely be driven to confess to Corbulo how the enemy was pressing him. Corbulo made no haste, that, when the dangers thickened, the glory of the rescue might be enhanced. Yet he ordered 1000 men from each of his three legions with 800 cavalry, and an equal number of infantry to be in instant readiness. Vologeses meanwhile, though he had heard that the roads were blocked by Paetus, here with infantry, there with cavalry, did not alter his plan, but drove off the latter by the menace of an attack, and crushed the legionaires, only one centurion of whom, Tarquitius Crescens, dared to defend a tower in which he was keeping guard. He had often sallied out, and cut to pieces such of the barbarians as came close up to the walls, till he was overwhelmed with volleys of firebrands. Every foot soldier still unwounded fled to remote wilds, and those who were disabled, returned to the camp, exaggerating in their terror the king’s valour, and the warlike strength of his tribes, everything in short, to the simple credulity of those who trembled with like fear. Even the general did not struggle against his reverses. He had indeed wholly abandoned all the duties of a soldier, and had again sent an entreaty to Corbulo, that he would come with speed to save the standards and eagles, and the name yet left to the unfortunate army; they meantime, he said, would hold to their fidelity while life lasted.
Corbulo, perfectly fearless, left half his army in Syria to retain the forts built on the Euphrates, and taking the nearest route, which also was not deficient in supplies, marched through the country of Commagene, then through Cappadocia, and thence into Armenia. Beside the other usual accompaniments of war, his army was followed by a great number of camels laden with corn, to keep off famine as well as the enemy. The first he met of the defeated army was Paccius, a first-rank centurion, then many of the soldiers, whom, when they pleaded various excuses for flight, he advised to return to their standards and throw themselves on the mercy of Paetus. “For himself,” he said, “he had no forgiveness but for the victorious.” As he spoke, he went up to his legions, cheering them and reminding them of their past career, and pointing the way to new glory. “It was not to villages or towns of Armenia, but to a Roman camp with two legions, a worthy recompense for their efforts, that they were bound. If each common soldier were to have bestowed on him by the emperor’s hand the special honour of a crown for a rescued citizen, how wonderfully great the glory, when the numbers would be equal of those who had brought and of those had received deliverance.” Roused by these and like words into a common enthusiasm, and some too were filled with an ardour peculiarly their own by the perils of brothers and kinsfolk, they hurried on by day and night their uninterrupted march.
All the more vigorously did Vologeses press the besieged, now attacking the legions’ entrenchments, and now again the fortress, which guarded those whose years unfitted them for war. He advanced closer than is the Parthian practice, seeking to lure the enemy to an engagement by such rashness. They, however, could hardly be dragged out of their tents, and would merely defend their lives, some held back by the general’s order, others by their own cowardice; they seemed to be awaiting Corbulo, and should they be overpowered by force, they had before them the examples of Candium and Numantia. “Neither the Samnites, Italian people as they were, nor the Carthaginians, the rivals of the Roman empire, were, it seemed, equally formidable, and even the men of old, with all their strength and glory, whenever fortune was adverse, had taken thought for safety.”
The general, although he was overcome by the despair of his army, first wrote a letter to Vologeses, not a suppliant petition, but in a tone of remonstrance against the doing of hostile acts on behalf of the Armenians, who always had been under Roman dominion, or subject to a king chosen by the emperor. Peace, he reminded him, was equally for the interest of both, and it would be well for him not to look only at the present. He indeed had advanced with the whole strength of his kingdom against two legions, while the Romans had all the rest of the world with which to sustain the war.
To this Vologeses replied nothing to the purpose, but merely that he must wait for his brothers Pacorus and Tiridates, that the place and time of their meeting had been fixed on as the occasion when they would decide about Armenia, and that heaven had granted them a further honour, well worthy of the Arsacids, the having to determine the fate of Roman legions. Messengers were then despatched by Paetus and an interview requested with the king, who ordered Vasaces, the commander of the cavalry, to go. Thereupon Paetus dwelt on the memories of the Luculli and Pompeii, and of all that the Caesars had done in the way of holding or giving away Armenia, while Vasaces declared that we had the mere shadow of possession and of bestowing, but the Parthians, the reality of power. After much arguing on both sides, Monobazus of the Adiabeni was called the next day to be a witness to the stipulations into which they had entered. It was agreed that the legions should be released from the blockade, that all the troops should quit Armenian territory, and that the forts and supplies should be surrendered to the Parthians, and when all this had been completed, Vologeses was to have full permission to send envoys to Nero.
Meanwhile Paetus threw a bridge over the river Arsanias, which flowed by the camp, apparently with the view of facilitating his march. It was the Parthians, however, who had required this, as an evidence of their victory; for the bridge was of use to them, while our men went a different way. Rumour added that the legions had been passed under the yoke, with other miserable disgraces, of which the Armenians had borrowed imitations. For they not only entered our lines before the Roman army began to retire, but also stood about the camp streets, recognizing and dragging off slaves or beasts of burden which we had previously captured. They even seized clothes and detained weapons, for the soldiers were utterly cowed and gave up everything, so that no cause for fighting might arise. Vologeses having piled up the arms and bodies of the slain in order to attest our defeat, refrained from gazing on the fugitive legions. He sought a character for moderation after he had glutted his pride. Seated himself on an elephant, he crossed the river Arsanias, while those next to his person rushed through it at the utmost speed of their horses; for a rumour had gained ground that the bridge would give way, through the trickery of its builders. But those who ventured to go on it found it to be firm and trustworthy.
As for the besieged, it appeared that they had such an abundance of corn that they fired the granaries, and Corbulo declared that the Parthians on the other hand were in want of supplies, and would have abandoned the siege from their fodder being all but exhausted, and that he was himself only three days’ march distant. He further stated that Paetus had guaranteed by an oath, before the standards, in the presence of those whom the king had sent to be witnesses, that no Roman was to enter Armenia until Nero’s reply arrived as to whether he assented to the peace. Though this may have been invented to enhance our disgrace, yet about the rest of the story there is no obscurity, that, in a single day Paetus traversed forty miles, leaving his wounded behind him everywhere, and that the consternation of the fugitives was as frightful as if they had turned their backs in battle. Corbulo, as he met them with his forces on the bank of the Euphrates, did not make such a display of his standards and arms as to shame them by the contrast. His men, in their grief and pity for the lot of their comrades, could not even refrain from tears. There was scarce any mutual salutation for weeping. The spirit of a noble rivalry and the desire of glory, emotions which stir men in success, had died away; pity alone survived, the more strongly in the inferior ranks.
Then followed a short conversation between the generals. While Corbulo complained that his efforts had been fruitless and that the war might have been ended with the flight of the Parthians, Paetus replied that for neither of them was anything lost, and urged that they should reverse the eagles, and with their united forces invade Armenia, much weakened, as it was, by the departure of Vologeses. Corbulo said that he had no such instructions from the emperor; it was the peril of the legions which had stirred him to leave his province, and, as there was uncertainty about the designs of the Parthians, he should return to Syria, and, even as it was, he must pray for fortune under her most favourable aspect in order that the infantry, wearied out with long marches, might keep pace with the enemy’s untiring cavalry, certain to outstrip him on the plains, which facilitated their movements. Paetus then went into winter quarters in Cappadocia. Vologeses, however, sent a message to Corbulo, requiring him to remove the fortresses on the further bank of the Euphrates, and to leave the river to be, as formerly, the boundary between them. Corbulo also demanded the evacuation of Armenia by the garrisons posted throughout it. At last the king yielded, all the positions fortified by Corbulo beyond the Euphrates were destroyed, and the Armenians too left without a master.
At Rome meanwhile trophies for the Parthian war, and arches were erected in the centre of the Capitoline hill; these had been decreed by the Senate, while the war was yet undecided, and even now they were not given up, appearances being consulted, in disregard of known facts. And to hide his anxious fears about foreign affairs, Nero threw the people’s corn, which was so old as to be spoilt, into the Tiber, with the view of keeping up a sense of security about the supplies. There was no addition to the price, although about two hundred ships were destroyed in the very harbour by a violent storm, and one hundred more, which had sailed up the Tiber, by an accidental fire. Nero next appointed three ex-consuls, Lucius Piso, Ducennius Geminus, and Pompeius Paulinus, to the management of the public revenues, and inveighed at the same time against former emperors whose heavy expenditure had exceeded their legitimate income. He himself, he said, made the state an annual present of sixty million sesterces. A very demoralizing custom had at this time become rife, of fictitious adoptions of children, on the eve of the elections or of the assignment of the provinces, by a number of childless persons, who, after obtaining along with real fathers praetorships and provinces, forthwith dismissed from paternal control the sons whom they had adopted. An appeal was made to the Senate under a keen sense of wrong. Parents pleaded natural rights and the anxieties of nurture against fraudulent evasions and the brief ceremony of adoption. “It was,” they argued, “sufficient reward for the childless to have influence and distinction, everything, in short, easy and open to them, without a care and without a burden. For themselves, they found that the promises held out by the laws, for which they had long waited, were turned into mockery, when one who knew nothing of a parent’s solicitude or of the sorrows of bereavement could rise in a moment to the level of a father’s long deferred hopes.”
On this, a decree of the Senate was passed that a fictitious adoption should be of no avail in any department of the public service, or even hold good for acquiring an inheritance. Next came the prosecution of Claudius Timarchus of Crete, on such charges as often fall on very influential provincials, whom immense wealth has emboldened to the oppression of the weak. But one speech of his had gone to the extremity of a gross insult to the Senate; for he had repeatedly declared that it was in his power to decide whether the proconsuls who had governed Crete should receive the thanks of the province. Paetus Thrasea, turning the occasion to public advantage, after having stated his opinion that the accused ought to be expelled from Crete, further spoke as follows:-“It is found by experience, Senators, that admirable laws and right precedents among the good have their origin in the misdeeds of others. Thus the license of advocates resulted in the Cincian bill; the corrupt practices of candidates, in the Julian laws; the rapacity of magistrates, in the Calpurnian enactments. For, in point of time, guilt comes before punishment, and correction follows after delinquency. And therefore, to meet the new insolence of provincials, let us adopt a measure worthy of Roman good faith and resolution, whereby our allies may lose nothing of our protection, while public opinion may cease to say of us, that the estimate of a man’s character is to found anywhere rather than in the judgment of our citizens.
“Formerly, it was not only a praetor or a consul, but private persons also, who were sent to inspect the provinces, and to report what they thought about each man’s loyalty. And nations were timidly sensitive to the opinion of individuals. But now we court foreigners and flatter them, and just as there is a vote of thanks at any one’s pleasure, so even more eagerly is a prosecution decided on. Well; let it be decided on, and let the provincials retain the right of showing their power in this fashion, but as for false praise which has been extorted by entreaties, let it be as much checked as fraud or tyranny. More faults are often committed, while we are trying to oblige than while we are giving offence. Nay, some virtues are actually hated; inflexible strictness, for example, and a temper proof against partiality. Consequently, our magistrates’ early career is generally better than its close, which deteriorates, when we are anxiously seeking votes, like candidates. If such practices are stopped, our provinces will be ruled more equitably and more steadily. For as the dread of a charge of extortion has been a check to rapacity, so, by prohibiting the vote of thanks, will the pursuit of popularity be restrained.”
This opinion was hailed with great unanimity, but the Senate’s resolution could not be finally passed, as the consuls decided that there had been no formal motion on the subject. Then, at the emperor’s suggestion, they decreed that no one was to propose to any council of our allies that a vote of thanks ought to be given in the Senate to propraetors or proconsuls, and that no one was to discharge such a mission.
During the same consulship a gymnasium was wholly consumed by a stroke of lightning, and a statue of Nero within it was melted down to a shapeless mass of bronze. An earthquake too demolished a large part of Pompeii, a populous town in Campania. And one of the vestal virgins, Laelia, died, and in her place was chosen Cornelia, of the family of the Cossi.
During the consulship of Memmius Regulus and Verginius Rufus, Nero welcomed with something more than mortal joy the birth of a daughter by Poppaea, whom he called Augusta, the same title having also been given to Poppaea. The place of her confinement was the colony of Antium, where the emperor himself was born. Already had the Senate commended Poppaea’s safety to the gods, and had made vows in the State’s name, which were repeated again and again and duly discharged. To these was added a public thanksgiving, and a temple was decreed to the goddess of fecundity, as well as games and contests after the type of the ceremonies commemorative of Actium, and golden images of the two Fortunes were to be set up on the throne of Jupiter of the Capitol. Shows too of the circus were to be exhibited in honour of the Claudian and Domitian families at Antium, like those at Bovillae in commemoration of the Julii. Transient distinctions all of them, as within four months the infant died. Again there was an outburst of flattery, men voting the honours of deification, of a shrine, a temple, and a priest.
The emperor, too, was as excessive in his grief as he had been in his joy. It was observed that when all the Senate rushed out to Antium to honour the recent birth, Thrasea was forbidden to go, and received with fearless spirit an affront which foreboded his doom. Then followed, as rumour says, an expression from the emperor, in which he boasted to Seneca of his reconciliation with Thrasea, on which Seneca congratulated him. And now henceforth the glory and the peril of these illustrious men grew greater.
Meanwhile, in the beginning of spring, Parthian envoys brought a message from king Vologeses, with a letter to the same effect. “He did not,” it was said, “repeat his former and frequent claims to the holding of Armenia, since the gods who ruled the destinies of the most powerful nations, had handed over its possession to the Parthians, not without disgrace to Rome. Only lately, he had besieged Tigranes; afterwards, he let Paetus and his legions depart in safety when he could have destroyed them. He had tried force with a satisfactory result; he had also given clemency a trial. Nor would Tiridates refuse a journey to Rome to receive the crown, were he not detained at home by the duties of a sacred office. He was ready to go to the emperor’s image in the Roman headquarters, and there in the presence of the legions inaugurate his reign.”
As Paetus’s despatch contradicted this letter from Vologeses and implied that matters were unchanged, the centurion who had arrived with the envoys was questioned as to the state of Armenia. He replied that all the Romans had quitted it. Then was perceived the mockery of the barbarians in petitioning for what they had wrested from us, and Nero consulted with the chief men of the State whether they should accept a dangerous war or a disgraceful peace. There was no hesitation about war. Corbulo, who had known our soldiers and the enemy for so many years, was appointed to conduct it, that there might be no more blunders through any other officer’s incapacity; for people were utterly disgusted with Paetus.
So the envoys were sent back without an answer, but with some presents, in order to inspire a hope that Tiridates would not make the same request in vain, if only he presented his petition in person. The administration of Syria was intrusted to Caius Itius, and the military forces to Corbulo, to which was added the fifteenth legion, under the leadership of Marius Celsus, from Pannonia. Written orders were sent to the tetrarchs, the tributaries, kings, prefects and procurators, and all the praetors who governed the neighbouring provinces, to obey Corbulo’s commands, as his powers were enlarged on much the same scale as that which the Roman people had granted to Cneius Pompeius on the eve of his war against the Pirates. When Paetus returned and dreaded something worse, the emperor thought it enough to reproach him with a jest, to the effect that he pardoned him at once, lest one so ready to take fright might sink under prolonged suspense.
Corbulo meantime transferred to Syria the fourth and twelfth legions, which, from the loss of their bravest men and the panic of the remainder, seemed quite unfit for battle, and led thence into Armenia the third and sixth legions, troops in thorough efficiency, and trained by frequent and successful service. And he added to his army the fifth legion, which, having been quartered in Pontus, had known nothing of disaster, with men of the fifteenth, lately brought up, and picked veterans from Illyricum and Egypt, and all the allied cavalry and infantry, and the auxiliaries of the tributary princes, which had been concentrated at Melitene, where he was preparing to cross the Euphrates. Then, after the due lustration of his army, he called them together for an harangue, and began with grand allusions to the imperial auspices, and to his own achievements, while he attributed their disasters to the incapacity of Paetus. He spoke with much impressiveness, which in him, as a military man, was as good as eloquence.
He then pursued the route opened up in former days by Lucius Lucullus, clearing away the obstructions of long years. Envoys who came to him from Tiridates and Vologeses about peace, he did not repulse, but sent back with them some centurions with a message anything but harsh. “Matters,” he said, “have not yet gone so far as to require the extremity of war. Many successes have fallen to the lot of Rome, some to that of Parthia, as a warning against pride. Therefore, it is to the advantage of Tiridates to accept as a gift a kingdom yet unhurt by the ravages of war, and Vologeses will better consult the welfare of the Parthian people by an alliance with Rome than by mutual injuries. I know how much there is of internal discord, and over what untamably fierce tribes he reigns. My emperor, on the other hand, has undisturbed peace all around him, and this is his only war.”
In an instant Corbulo backed up his advice by a menacing attitude. He drove from their possessions the nobles of Armenia, who had been the first to revolt from us, destroyed their fortresses, and spread equal panic throughout the plain and the hill country, among the strong and among the weak.
Against the name of Corbulo no rage, nothing of the hatred of an enemy, was felt by the barbarians, and they therefore thought his advice trustworthy. Consequently Vologeses was not implacable to the uttermost, and he even asked a truce for some divisions of his kingdom. Tiridates demanded a place and a day for an interview. The time was to be soon, the place that in which Paetus and his legions had been lately besieged, for this was chosen by the barbarians in remembrance for their more prosperous fortune. Corbulo did not refuse, resolved that a widely different issue should enhance his renown. Nor did the disgrace of Paetus trouble him, as was clearly proved by the fact that he commanded Paetus’ son, who was a tribune, to take some companies with him and cover up the relics of that ill-starred battle-field. On the day appointed, Tiberius Alexander, a distinguished Roman knight, sent to assist in the campaign, and Vinianus Annius, Corbulo’s son-in-law, who, though not yet of a senator’s age, had the command of the fifth legion as “legatus,” entered the camp of Tiridates, by way of compliment to him, and to reassure him against treachery by so valuable a pledge. Each then took with him twenty horsemen. The king, seeing Corbulo, was the first to dismount, and Corbulo hesitated not a moment, but both on foot joined their right hands.
Then the Roman commended the young prince for abandoning rash courses, and adopting a safe and expedient policy. Tiridates first dwelt much on the nobility of his race, but went on to speak in a tone of moderation. He would go to Rome, and bring the emperor a new glory, a suppliant Arsacid, while Parthia was prosperous. It was then agreed that Tiridates should lay down his royal crown before Caesar’s image, and resume it only from the hand of Nero. The interview then ended with a kiss. After an interval of a few days there was a grand display on both sides; on the one, cavalry ranged in squadrons with their national ensigns; on the other, stood the columns of our legions with glittering eagles and standards and images of deities, after the appearance of a temple. In the midst, on a tribunal, was a chair of state, and on the chair a statue of Nero. To this Tiridates advanced, and having slain the customary victims, he removed the crown from his head, and set it at the foot of the statue; whereupon all felt a deep thrill of emotion, rendered the more intense by the sight which yet lingered before their eyes, of the slaughter or siege of Roman armies. “But now,” they thought, “the calamity is reversed; Tiridates is about to go, a spectacle to the world, little better than a prisoner.”
To military glory Corbulo added courtesy and hospitality. When the king continually asked the reason of whatever he noticed which was new to him, the announcements, for example, by a centurion of the beginnings of each watch, the dismissal of the guests by the sound of a trumpet, and the lighting by a torch from beneath of an altar in front of the headquarters, Corbulo, by exaggerating everything, filled him with admiration of our ancient system. Next day Tiridates begged for time which, as he was about to enter on so long a journey, might suffice for a previous visit to his brothers and his mother. Meanwhile he gave up his daughter as a hostage, and prepared a suppliant letter to Nero.
He then departed, and found Pacorus in Media, and Vologeses at Ecbatana, who was by no means unconcerned for his brother. In fact, Vologeses had entreated Corbulo by special messengers, that Tiridates might not have to endure any badge of slavery, or have to deliver up his sword, or be debarred the honour of embracing the governors of the provinces, or have to present himself at their doors, and that he might be treated at Rome with as much respect as the consuls. Accustomed, forsooth, to foreign arrogance, he had no knowledge of us, who value the reality of empire and disregard its empty show.
That same year the emperor put into possession of the Latin franchise the tribes of the maritime Alps. To the Roman knights he assigned places in the circus in front of the seats of the people, for up to that time they used to enter in a promiscuous throng, as the Roscian law extended only to fourteen rows in the theatre. The same year witnessed shows of gladiators as magnificent as those of the past. Many ladies of distinction, however, and senators, disgraced themselves by appearing in the amphitheatre. In the year of the consulship of Caius Laecanius and Marcus Licinius a yet keener impulse urged Nero to show himself frequently on the public stage. Hitherto he had sung in private houses or gardens, during the juvenile games, but these he now despised, as being but little frequented, and on too small a scale for so fine a voice. As, however, he did not venture to make a beginning at Rome, he chose Neapolis, because it was a Greek city. From this as his starting-point he might cross into Achaia, and there, winning the well-known and sacred garlands of antiquity, evoke, with increased fame, the enthusiasm of the citizens. Accordingly, a rabble of the townsfolk was brought together, with those whom the excitement of such an event had attracted from the neighbouring towns and colonies, and such as followed in the emperor’s train to pay him honour or for various objects. All these, with some companies of soldiers, filled the theatre at Neapolis.
There an incident occurred, which many thought unlucky, though to the emperor it seemed due to the providence of auspicious deities. The people who had been present, had quitted the theatre, and the empty building then fell in without harm to anyone. Thereupon Nero in an elaborate ode thanked the gods, celebrating the good luck which attended the late downfall, and as he was on his way to cross the sea of Hadria, he rested awhile at Beneventum, where a crowded gladiatorial show was being exhibited by Vatinius. The man was one of the most conspicuously infamous sights in the imperial court, bred, as he had been, in a shoemaker’s shop, of a deformed person and vulgar wit, originally introduced as a butt. After a time he grew so powerful by accusing all the best men, that in influence, wealth, and ability to injure, he was pre-eminent even in that bad company. While Nero was frequently visiting the show, even amid his pleasures there was no cessation to his crimes. For during the very same period Torquatus Silanus was forced to die, because over and above his illustrious rank as one of the Junian family he claimed to be the great-grandson of Augustus. Accusers were ordered to charge him with prodigality in lavishing gifts, and with having no hope but in revolution. They said further that he had nobles about him for his letters, books, and accounts, titles all and rehearsals of supreme power. Then the most intimate of his freedmen were put in chains and torn from him, till, knowing the doom which impended, Torquatus divided the arteries in his arms. A speech from Nero followed, as usual, which stated that though he was guilty and with good reason distrusted his defence, he would yet have lived, had he awaited the clemency of the judge.
Soon afterwards, giving up Achaia for the present (his reasons were not certainly known), he returned to Rome, there dwelling in his secret imaginations on the provinces of the east, especially Egypt. Then having declared in a public proclamation that his absence would not be long and that all things in the State would remain unchanged and prosperous, he visited the temple of the Capitol for advice about his departure. There he adored the gods; then he entered also the temple of Vesta, and there feeling a sudden trembling throughout his limbs, either from terror inspired by the deity or because, from the remembrance of his crimes, he was never free from fear, he relinquished his purpose, repeatedly saying that all his plans were of less account than his love of his country. “He had seen the sad countenances of the citizens, he heard their secret complainings at the prospect of his entering on so long a journey, when they could not bear so much as his brief excursions, accustomed as they were to cheer themselves under mischances by the sight of the emperor. Hence, as in private relationships the closest ties were the strongest, so the people of Rome had the most powerful claims and must be obeyed in their wish to retain him.” These and the like sentiments suited the people, who craved amusement, and feared, always their chief anxiety, scarcity of corn, should he be absent. The Senate and leading citizens were in doubt whether to regard him as more terrible at a distance or among them. After a while, as is the way with great terrors, they thought what happened the worst alternative.
Nero, to win credit for himself of enjoying nothing so much as the capital, prepared banquets in the public places, and used the whole city, so to say, as his private house. Of these entertainments the most famous for their notorious profligacy were those furnished by Tigellinus, which I will describe as an illustration, that I may not have again and again to narrate similar extravagance. He had a raft constructed on Agrippa’s lake, put the guests on board and set it in motion by other vessels towing it. These vessels glittered with gold and ivory; the crews were arranged according to age and experience in vice. Birds and beasts had been procured from remote countries, and sea monsters from the ocean. On the margin of the lake were set up brothels crowded with noble ladies, and on the opposite bank were seen naked prostitutes with obscene gestures and movements. As darkness approached, all the adjacent grove and surrounding buildings resounded with song, and shone brilliantly with lights. Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides.
A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire. It had its beginning in that part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where, amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay. The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and so completely at its mercy the city, with those narrow winding passages and irregular streets, which characterised old Rome. Added to this were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age, the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them, and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that, even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them. And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames, because again others openly hurled brands, and kept shouting that there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more freely, or obeying orders. Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However, to relieve the people, driven out homeless as they were, he threw open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia and the neighbouring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect, since a rumour had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity. At last, after five days, an end was put to the conflagration at the foot of the Esquiline hill, by the destruction of all buildings on a vast space, so that the violence of the fire was met by clear ground and an open sky. But before people had laid aside their fears, the flames returned, with no less fury this second time, and especially in the spacious districts of the city. Consequently, though there was less loss of life, the temples of the gods, and the porticoes which were devoted to enjoyment, fell in a yet more widespread ruin. And to this conflagration there attached the greater infamy because it broke out on the Aemilian property of Tigellinus, and it seemed that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name. Rome, indeed, is divided into fourteen districts, four of which remained uninjured, three were levelled to the ground, while in the other seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt relics of houses.
It would not be easy to enter into a computation of the private mansions, the blocks of tenements, and of the temples, which were lost. Those with the oldest ceremonial, as that dedicated by Servius Tullius to Luna, the great altar and shrine raised by the Arcadian Evander to the visibly appearing Hercules, the temple of Jupiter the Stayer, which was vowed by Romulus, Numa’s royal palace, and the sanctuary of Vesta, with the tutelary deities of the Roman people, were burnt. So too were the riches acquired by our many victories, various beauties of Greek art, then again the ancient and genuine historical monuments of men of genius, and, notwithstanding the striking splendour of the restored city, old men will remember many things which could not be replaced. Some persons observed that the beginning of this conflagration was on the 19th of July, the day on which the Senones captured and fired Rome. Others have pushed a curious inquiry so far as to reduce the interval between these two conflagrations into equal numbers of years, months, and days. Nero meanwhile availed himself of his country’s desolation, and erected a mansion in which the jewels and gold, long familiar objects, quite vulgarised by our extravagance, were not so marvellous as the fields and lakes, with woods on one side to resemble a wilderness, and, on the other, open spaces and extensive views. The directors and contrivers of the work were Severus and Celer, who had the genius and the audacity to attempt by art even what nature had refused, and to fool away an emperor’s resources. They had actually undertaken to sink a navigable canal from the lake Avernus to the mouths of the Tiber along a barren shore or through the face of hills, where one meets with no moisture which could supply water, except the Pomptine marshes. The rest of the country is broken rock and perfectly dry. Even if it could be cut through, the labour would be intolerable, and there would be no adequate result. Nero, however, with his love of the impossible, endeavoured to dig through the nearest hills to Avernus, and there still remain the traces of his disappointed hope.
Of Rome meanwhile, so much as was left unoccupied by his mansion, was not built up, as it had been after its burning by the Gauls, without any regularity or in any fashion, but with rows of streets according to measurement, with broad thoroughfares, with a restriction on the height of houses, with open spaces, and the further addition of colonnades, as a protection to the frontage of the blocks of tenements. These colonnades Nero promised to erect at his own expense, and to hand over the open spaces, when cleared of the debris, to the ground landlords. He also offered rewards proportioned to each person’s position and property, and prescribed a period within which they were to obtain them on the completion of so many houses or blocks of building. He fixed on the marshes of Ostia for the reception of the rubbish, and arranged that the ships which had brought up corn by the Tiber, should sail down the river with cargoes of this rubbish. The buildings themselves, to a certain height, were to be solidly constructed, without wooden beams, of stone from Gabii or Alba, that material being impervious to fire. And to provide that the water which individual license had illegally appropriated, might flow in greater abundance in several places for the public use, officers were appointed, and everyone was to have in the open court the means of stopping a fire. Every building, too, was to be enclosed by its own proper wall, not by one common to others. These changes which were liked for their utility, also added beauty to the new city. Some, however, thought that its old arrangement had been more conducive to health, inasmuch as the narrow streets with the elevation of the roofs were not equally penetrated by the sun’s heat, while now the open space, unsheltered by any shade, was scorched by a fiercer glow. Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed. Meanwhile Italy was thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money, the provinces were ruined, as also the allied nations and the free states, as they were called. Even the gods fell victims to the plunder; for the temples in Rome were despoiled and the gold carried off, which, for a triumph or a vow, the Roman people in every age had consecrated in their prosperity or their alarm. Throughout Asia and Achaia not only votive gifts, but the images of deities were seized, Acratus and Secundus Carinas having been sent into those provinces. The first was a freedman ready for any wickedness; the latter, as far as speech went, was thoroughly trained in Greek learning, but he had not imbued his heart with sound principles. Seneca, it was said, to avert from himself the obloquy of sacrilege, begged for the seclusion of a remote rural retreat, and, when it was refused, feigning ill health, as though he had a nervous ailment, would not quit his chamber. According to some writers, poison was prepared for him at Nero’s command by his own freedman, whose name was Cleonicus. This Seneca avoided through the freedman’s disclosure, or his own apprehension, while he used to support life on the very simple diet of wild fruits, with water from a running stream when thirst prompted.
During the same time some gladiators in the town of Praeneste, who attempted to break loose, were put down by a military guard stationed on the spot to watch them, and the people, ever desirous and yet fearful of change, began at once to talk of Spartacus, and of bygone calamities. Soon afterwards, tidings of a naval disaster was received, but not from war, for never had there been so profound a peace. Nero, however, had ordered the fleet to return to Campania on a fixed day, without making any allowance for the dangers of the sea. Consequently the pilots, in spite of the fury of the waves, started from Formiae, and while they were struggling to double the promontory of Misenum, they were dashed by a violent south-west wind on the shores of Cumae, and lost, in all directions, a number of their triremes with some smaller vessels.
At the close of the year people talked much about prodigies, presaging impending evils. Never were lightning flashes more frequent, and a comet too appeared, for which Nero always made propitiation with noble blood. Human and other births with two heads were exposed to public view, or were discovered in those sacrifices in which it is usual to immolate victims in a pregnant condition. And in the district of Placentia, close to the road, a calf was born with its head attached to its leg. Then followed an explanation of the diviners, that another head was preparing for the world, which however would be neither mighty nor hidden, as its growth had been checked in the womb, and it had been born by the wayside.
Silius Nerva and Atticus Vestinus then entered on the consulship, and now a conspiracy was planned, and at once became formidable, for which senators, knights, soldiers, even women, had given their names with eager rivalry, out of hatred of Nero as well as a liking for Caius Piso. A descendant of the Calpurnian house, and embracing in his connections through his father’s noble rank many illustrious families, Piso had a splendid reputation with the people from his virtue or semblance of virtue. His eloquence he exercised in the defence of fellow-citizens, his generosity towards friends, while even for strangers he had a courteous address and demeanour. He had, too, the fortuitous advantages of tall stature and a handsome face. But solidity of character and moderation in pleasure were wholly alien to him. He indulged in laxity, in display, and occasionally in excess. This suited the taste of that numerous class who, when the attractions of vice are so powerful, do not wish for strictness or special severity on the throne.
The origin of the conspiracy was not in Piso’s personal ambition. But I could not easily narrate who first planned it, or whose prompting inspired a scheme into which so many entered. That the leading spirits were Subrius Flavus, tribune of a praetorian cohort, and Sulpicius Asper, a centurion, was proved by the fearlessness of their death. Lucanus Annaeus, too, and Plautius Lateranus, imported into it an intensely keen resentment. Lucanus had the stimulus of personal motives, for Nero tried to disparage the fame of his poems and, with the foolish vanity of a rival, had forbidden him to publish them. As for Lateranus, a consul-elect, it was no wrong, but love of the State which linked him with the others. Flavius Scaevinus and Afranius Quintianus, on the other hand, both of senatorian rank, contrary to what was expected of them, undertook the beginning of this daring crime. Scaevinus, indeed, had enfeebled his mind by excess, and his life, accordingly, was one of sleepy languor. Quintianus, infamous for his effeminate vice, had been satirised by Nero in a lampoon, and was bent on avenging the insult. So, while they dropped hints among themselves or among their friends about the emperor’s crimes, the approaching end of empire, and the importance of choosing some one to rescue the State in its distress, they associated with them Tullius Senecio, Cervarius Proculus, Vulcatius Araricus, Julius Augurinus, Munatius Gratus, Antonius Natalis, and Marcius Festus, all Roman knights. Of these Senecio, one of those who was specially intimate with Nero, still kept up a show of friendship, and had consequently to struggle with all the more dangers. Natalis shared with Piso all his secret plans. The rest built their hopes on revolution. Besides Subrius and Sulpicius, whom I have already mentioned, they invited the aid of military strength, of Gavius Silvanus and Statius Proximus, tribunes of praetorian cohorts, and of two centurions, Maximus Scaurus and Venetus Paulus. But their mainstay, it was thought, was Faenius Rufus, the commander of the guard, a man of esteemed life and character, to whom Tigellinus with his brutality and shamelessness was superior in the emperor’s regard. He harassed him with calumnies, and had often put him in terror by hinting that he had been Agrippina’s paramour, and from sorrow at her loss was intent on vengeance. And so, when the conspirators were assured by his own repeated language that the commander of the praetorian guard had come over to their side, they once more eagerly discussed the time and place of the fatal deed. It was said that Subrius Flavus had formed a sudden resolution to attack Nero when singing on the stage, or when his house was in flames and he was running hither and thither, unattended, in the darkness. In the one case was the opportunity of solitude; in the other, the very crowd which would witness so glorious a deed, had roused a singularly noble soul; it was only the desire of escape, that foe to all great enterprises, which held him back.
Meanwhile, as they hesitated in prolonged suspense between hope and fear, a certain Epicharis (how she informed herself is uncertain, as she had never before had a thought of anything noble) began to stir and upbraid the conspirators. Wearied at last of their long delay, she endeavoured, when staying in Campania, to shake the loyalty of the officers of the fleet at Misenum, and to entangle them in a guilty complicity. She began thus. There was a captain in the fleet, Volusius Proculus, who had been one of Nero’s instruments in his mother’s murder, and had not, as he thought, been promoted in proportion to the greatness of his crime. Either, as an old acquaintance of the woman, or on the strength of a recent intimacy, he divulged to her his services to Nero and their barren result to himself, adding complaints, and his determination to have vengeance, should the chance arise. He thus inspired the hope that he could be persuaded, and could secure many others. No small help was to be found in the fleet, and there would be numerous opportunities, as Nero delighted in frequent enjoyment of the sea off Puteoli and Misenum. Epicharis accordingly said more, and began the history of all the emperor’s crimes. “The Senate,” she affirmed, “had no power left it; yet means had been provided whereby he might pay the penalty of having destroyed the State. Only let Proculus gird himself to do his part and bring over to their side his bravest soldiers, and then look for an adequate recompense.” The conspirators’ names, however, she withheld. Consequently the information of Proculus was useless, even though he reported what he had heard to Nero. For Epicharis being summoned and confronted with the informer easily silenced him, unsupported as he was by a single witness. But she was herself detained in custody, for Nero suspected that even what was not proved to be true, was not wholly false.
The conspirators, however, alarmed by the fear of disclosure, resolved to hurry on the assassination at Baiae, in Piso’s villa, whither the emperor, charmed by its loveliness, often went, and where, unguarded and without the cumbrous grandeur of his rank, he would enjoy the bath and the banquet. But Piso refused, alleging the odium of an act which would stain with an emperor’s blood, however bad he might be, the sanctity of the hospitable board and the deities who preside over it. “Better,” he said, “in the capital, in that hateful mansion which was piled up with the plunder of the citizens, or in public, to accomplish what on the State’s behalf they had undertaken.” So he said openly, with however a secret apprehension that Lucius Silanus might, on the strength of his distinguished rank and the teachings of Caius Cassius, under whom he had been trained, aspire to any greatness and seize an empire, which would be promptly offered him by all who had no part in the conspiracy, and who would pity Nero as the victim of a crime. Many thought that Piso shunned also the enterprising spirit of Vestinus, the consul, who might, he feared, rise up in the cause of freedom, or, by choosing another emperor, make the State his own gift. Vestinus, indeed, had no share in the conspiracy, though Nero on that charge gratified an old resentment against an innocent man.
At last they decided to carry out their design on that day of the circus games, which is celebrated in honour of Ceres, as the emperor, who seldom went out, and shut himself up in his house or gardens, used to go to the entertainments of the circus, and access to him was the easier from his keen enjoyment of the spectacle. They had so arranged the order of the plot, that Lateranus was to throw himself at the prince’s knees in earnest entreaty, apparently craving relief for his private necessities, and, being a man of strong nerve and huge frame, hurl him to the ground and hold him down. When he was prostrate and powerless, the tribunes and centurions and all the others who had sufficient daring were to rush up and do the murder, the first blow being claimed by Scaevinus, who had taken a dagger from the Temple of Safety, or, according to another account, from that of Fortune, in the town of Ferentum, and used to wear the weapon as though dedicated to some noble deed. Piso, meanwhile, was wait in the sanctuary of Ceres, whence he was to be summoned by Faenius, the commander of the guard, and by the others, and then conveyed into the camp, accompanied by Antonia, the daughter of Claudius Caesar, with a view to evoke the people’s enthusiasm. So it is related by Caius Pliny. Handed down from whatever source, I had no intention of suppressing it, however absurd it may seem, either that Antonia should have lent her name at her life’s peril to a hopeless project, or that Piso, with his well-known affection for his wife, should have pledged himself to another marriage, but for the fact that the lust of dominion inflames the heart more than any other passion.
It was however wonderful how among people of different class, rank, age, sex, among rich and poor, everything was kept in secrecy till betrayal began from the house of Scaevinus. The day before the treacherous attempt, after a long conversation with Antonius Natalis, Scaevinus returned home, sealed his will, and, drawing from its sheath the dagger of which I have already spoken, and complaining that it was blunted from long disuse, he ordered it to be sharpened on a stone to a keen and bright point. This task he assigned to his freedman Milichus. At the same time sat down to a more than usually sumptuous banquet, and gave his favourite slaves their freedom, and money to others. He was himself depressed, and evidently in profound thought, though he affected gaiety in desultory conversation. Last of all, he directed ligatures for wounds and the means of stanching blood to be prepared by the same Milichus, who either knew of the conspiracy and was faithful up to this point, or was in complete ignorance and then first caught suspicions, as most authors have inferred from what followed. For when his servile imagination dwelt on the rewards of perfidy, and he saw before him at the same moment boundless wealth and power, conscience and care for his patron’s life, together with the remembrance of the freedom he had received, fled from him. From his wife, too, he had adopted a womanly and yet baser suggestion; for she even held over him a dreadful thought, that many had been present, both freedmen and slaves, who had seen what he had; that one man’s silence would be useless, whereas the rewards would be for him alone who was first with the information.
Accordingly at daybreak Milichus went to the Servilian gardens, and, finding the doors shut against him, said again and again that he was the bearer of important and alarming news. Upon this he was conducted by the gatekeepers to one of Nero’s freedmen, Epaphroditus, and by him to Nero, whom he informed of the urgent danger, of the formidable conspiracy, and of all else which he had heard or inferred. He showed him too the weapon prepared for his destruction, and bade him summon the accused. Scaevinus on being arrested by the soldiers began his defence with the reply that the dagger about which he was accused, had of old been regarded with a religious sentiment by his ancestors, that it had been kept in his chamber, and been stolen by a trick of his freedman. He had often, he said, signed his will without heeding the observance of particular days, and had previously given presents of money as well as freedom to some of his slaves, only on this occasion he gave more freely, because, as his means were now impoverished and his creditors were pressing him, he distrusted the validity of his will. Certainly his table had always been profusely furnished, and his life luxurious, such as rigid censors would hardly approve. As to the bandages for wounds, none had been prepared at his order, but as all the man’s other charges were absurd, he added an accusation in which he might make himself alike informer and witness.
He backed up his words by an air of resolution. Turning on his accuser, he denounced him as an infamous and depraved wretch, with so fearless a voice and look that the information was beginning to collapse, when Milichus was reminded by his wife that Antonious Natalis had had a long secret conversation with Scaevinus, and that both were Piso’s intimate friends.
Natalis was therefore summoned, and they were separately asked what the conversation was, and what was its subject. Then a suspicion arose because their answers did not agree, and they were both put in irons. They could not endure the sight and the threat of torture. Natalis however, taking the initiative, knowing as he did more of the whole conspiracy, and being also more practised in accusing, first confessed about Piso, next added the name of Annaeus Seneca, either as having been a messenger between him and Piso, or to win the favour of Nero, who hated Seneca and sought every means for his ruin. Then Scaevinus too, when he knew the disclosure of Natalis, with like pusillanimity, or under the impression that everything now divulged, and that there could be no advantage in silence, revealed the other conspirators. Of these, Lucanus, Quintianus, and Senecio long persisted in denial; after a time, when bribed by the promise of impunity, anxious to excuse their reluctance, Lucanus named his mother Atilla, Quintianus and Senecio, their chief friends, respectively, Glitius Gallus and Annius Pollio. Nero, meanwhile, remembering that Epicharis was in custody on the information of Volusius Proculus, and assuming that a woman’s frame must be unequal to the agony, ordered her to be torn on the rack. But neither the scourge nor fire, nor the fury of the men as they increased the torture that they might not be a woman’s scorn, overcame her positive denial of the charge. Thus the first day’s inquiry was futile. On the morrow, as she was being dragged back on a chair to the same torments (for with her limbs all dislocated she could not stand), she tied a band, which she had stript off her bosom, in a sort of noose to the arched back of the chair, put her neck in it, and then straining with the whole weight of her body, wrung out of her frame its little remaining breath. All the nobler was the example set by a freedwoman at such a crisis in screening strangers and those whom she hardly knew, when freeborn men, Roman knights, and senators, yet unscathed by torture, betrayed, every one, his dearest kinsfolk. For even Lucanus and Senecio and Quintianus failed not to reveal their accomplices indiscriminately, and Nero was more and more alarmed, though he had fenced his person with a largely augmented guard. Even Rome itself he put, so to say, under custody, garrisoning its walls with companies of soldiers and occupying with troops the coast and the river-banks. Incessantly were there flying through the public places, through private houses, country fields, and the neighbouring villages, horse and foot soldiers, mixed with Germans, whom the emperor trusted as being foreigners. In long succession, troops of prisoners in chains were dragged along and stood at the gates of his gardens. When they entered to plead their cause, a smile of joy on any of the conspirators, a casual conversation, a sudden meeting, or the fact of having entered a banquet or a public show in company, was construed into a crime, while to the savage questionings of Nero and Tigellinus were added the violent menaces of Faenius Rufus, who had not yet been named by the informers, but who, to get the credit of complete ignorance, frowned fiercely on his accomplices. When Subius Flavus at his side asked him by a sign whether he should draw his sword in the middle of the trial and perpetrate the fatal deed, Rufus refused, and checked the man’s impulse as he was putting his hand to his sword-hilt. Some there were who, as soon as the conspiracy was betrayed, urged Piso, while Milichus’ story was being heard, and Scaevinus was hesitating, to go to the camp or mount the Rostra and test the feelings of the soldiers and of the people. “If,” said they, “your accomplices join your enterprise, those also who are yet undecided, will follow, and great will be the fame of the movement once started, and this in any new scheme is all-powerful. Against it Nero has taken no precaution. Even brave men are dismayed by sudden perils; far less will that stageplayer, with Tigellinus forsooth and his concubines in his train, raise arms against you. Many things are accomplished on trial which cowards think arduous. It is vain to expect secrecy and fidelity from the varying tempers and bodily constitutions of such a host of accomplices. Torture or reward can overcome everything. Men will soon come to put you also in chains and inflict on you an ignominious death. How much more gloriously will you die while you cling to the State and invoke aid for liberty. Rather let the soldiers fail, the people be traitors, provided that you, if prematurely robbed of life, justify your death to your ancestors and descendants.”
Unmoved by these considerations, Piso showed himself a few moments in public, then sought the retirement of his house, and there fortified his spirit against the worst, till a troop of soldiers arrived, raw recruits, or men recently enlisted, whom Nero had selected, because he was afraid of the veterans, imbued, though they were, with a liking for him. Piso expired by having the veins in his arms severed. His will, full of loathsome flatteries of Nero, was a concession to his love of his wife, a base woman, with only a beautiful person to recommend her, whom he had taken away from her husband, one of his friends. Her name was Atria Galla; that of her former husband, Domitius Silus. The tame spirit of the man, the profligacy of the woman, blazoned Piso’s infamy. In quick succession Nero added the murder of Plautius Lateranus, consul-elect, so promptly that he did not allow him to embrace his children or to have the brief choice of his own death. He was dragged off to a place set apart for the execution of slaves, and butchered by the hand of the tribune Statius, maintaining a resolute silence, and not reproaching the tribune with complicity in the plot. Then followed the destruction of Annaeus Seneca, a special joy to the emperor, not because he had convicted him of the conspiracy, but anxious to accomplish with the sword what poison had failed to do. It was, in fact, Natalis alone who divulged Seneca’s name, to this extent, that he had been sent to Seneca when ailing, to see him and remonstrate with him for excluding Piso from his presence, when it would have been better to have kept up their friendship by familiar intercourse; that Seneca’s reply was that mutual conversations and frequent interviews were to the advantage of neither, but still that his own life depended on Piso’s safety. Gavius Silvanus, tribune of a praetorian cohort, was ordered to report this to Seneca and to ask him whether he acknowledged what Natalis said and his own answer. Either by chance or purposely Seneca had returned on that day from Campania, and had stopped at a countryhouse four miles from Rome. Thither the tribune came next evening, surrounded the house with troops of soldiers, and then made known the emperor’s message to Seneca as he was at dinner with his wife, Pompeia Paulina, and two friends.
Seneca replied that Natalis had been sent to him and had complained to him in Piso’s name because of his refusal to see Piso, upon which he excused himself on the ground of failing health and the desire of rest. “He had no reason,” he said, for “preferring the interest of any private citizen to his own safety, and he had no natural aptitude for flattery. No one knew this better than Nero, who had oftener experienced Seneca’s freespokenness than his servility.” When the tribune reported this answer in the presence of Poppaea and Tigellinus, the emperor’s most confidential advisers in his moments of rage, he asked whether Seneca was meditating suicide. Upon this the tribune asserted that he saw no signs of fear, and perceived no sadness in his words or in his looks. He was accordingly ordered to go back and to announce sentence of death. Fabius Rusticus tells us that he did not return the way he came, but went out of his course to Faenius, the commander of the guard, and having explained to him the emperor’s orders, and asked whether he was to obey them, was by him admonished to carry them out, for a fatal spell of cowardice was on them all. For this very Silvanus was one of the conspirators, and he was now abetting the crimes which he had united with them to avenge. But he spared himself the anguish of a word or of a look, and merely sent in to Seneca one of his centurions, who was to announce to him his last doom.
Seneca, quite unmoved, asked for tablets on which to inscribe his will, and, on the centurion’s refusal, turned to his friends, protesting that as he was forbidden to requite them, he bequeathed to them the only, but still the noblest possession yet remaining to him, the pattern of his life, which, if they remembered, they would win a name for moral worth and steadfast friendship. At the same time he called them back from their tears to manly resolution, now with friendly talk, and now with the sterner language of rebuke. “Where,” he asked again and again, “are your maxims of philosophy, or the preparation of so many years’ study against evils to come? Who knew not Nero’s cruelty? After a mother’s and a brother’s murder, nothing remains but to add the destruction of a guardian and a tutor.”
Having spoken these and like words, meant, so to say, for all, he embraced his wife; then softening awhile from the stern resolution of the hour, he begged and implored her to spare herself the burden of perpetual sorrow, and, in the contemplation of a life virtuously spent, to endure a husband’s loss with honourable consolations. She declared, in answer, that she too had decided to die, and claimed for herself the blow of the executioner. There upon Seneca, not to thwart her noble ambition, from an affection too which would not leave behind him for insult one whom he dearly loved, replied: “I have shown you ways of smoothing life; you prefer the glory of dying. I will not grudge you such a noble example. Let the fortitude of so courageous an end be alike in both of us, but let there be more in your decease to win fame.”
Then by one and the same stroke they sundered with a dagger the arteries of their arms. Seneca, as his aged frame, attenuated by frugal diet, allowed the blood to escape but slowly, severed also the veins of his legs and knees. Worn out by cruel anguish, afraid too that his sufferings might break his wife’s spirit, and that, as he looked on her tortures, he might himself sink into irresolution, he persuaded her to retire into another chamber. Even at the last moment his eloquence failed him not; he summoned his secretaries, and dictated much to them which, as it has been published for all readers in his own words, I forbear to paraphrase. Nero meanwhile, having no personal hatred against Paulina and not wishing to heighten the odium of his cruelty, forbade her death. At the soldiers’ prompting, her slaves and freedmen bound up her arms, and stanched the bleeding, whether with her knowledge is doubtful. For as the vulgar are ever ready to think the worst, there were persons who believed that, as long as she dreaded Nero’s relentlessness, she sought the glory of sharing her husband’s death, but that after a time, when a more soothing prospect presented itself, she yielded to the charms of life. To this she added a few subsequent years, with a most praise worthy remembrance of her husband, and with a countenance and frame white to a degree of pallor which denoted a loss of much vital energy.
Seneca meantime, as the tedious process of death still lingered on, begged Statius Annaeus, whom he had long esteemed for his faithful friendship and medical skill, to produce a poison with which he had some time before provided himself, same drug which extinguished the life of those who were condemned by a public sentence of the people of Athens. It was brought to him and he drank it in vain, chilled as he was throughout his limbs, and his frame closed against the efficacy of the poison. At last he entered a pool of heated water, from which he sprinkled the nearest of his slaves, adding the exclamation, “I offer this liquid as a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer.” He was then carried into a bath, with the steam of which he was suffocated, and he was burnt without any of the usual funeral rites. So he had directed in a codicil of his will, when even in the height of his wealth and power he was thinking of his life’s close.
There was a rumour that Sabrius Flavus had held a secret consultation with the centurions, and had planned, not without Seneca’s knowledge, that when Nero had been slain by Piso’s instrumentality, Piso also was to be murdered, and the empire handed over to Seneca, as a man singled out for his splendid virtues by all persons of integrity. Even a saying of Flavus was popularly current, “that it mattered not as to the disgrace if a harp-player were removed and a tragic actor succeeded him.” For as Nero used to sing to the harp, so did Piso in the dress of a tragedian.
The soldiers’ part too in the conspiracy no longer escaped discovery, some in their rage becoming informers to betray Faenius Rufus, whom they could not endure to be both an accomplice and a judge. Accordingly Scaevinus, in answer to his browbeating and menaces, said with a smile that no one knew more than he did, and actually urged him to show gratitude to so good a prince. Faenius could not meet this with either speech or silence. Halting in his words and visibly terror-stricken, while the rest, especially Cervarius Proculus, a Roman knight, did their utmost to convict him, he was, at the emperor’s bidding, seized and bound by Cassius, a soldier, who because of his well-known strength of limb was in attendance.
Shortly afterwards, the information of the same men proved fatal to Subrius Flavus. At first he grounded his defence on his moral contrast to the others, implying that an armed soldier, like himself, would never have shared such an attempt with unarmed and effeminate associates. Then, when he was pressed, he embraced the glory of a full confession. Questioned by Nero as to the motives which had led him on to forget his oath of allegiance, “I hated you,” he replied; “yet not a soldier was more loyal to you while you deserved to be loved. I began to hate you when you became the murderer of your mother and your wife, a charioteer, an actor, and an incendiary.” I have given the man’s very words, because they were not, like those of Seneca, generally published, though the rough and vigorous sentiments of a soldier ought to be no less known. Throughout the conspiracy nothing, it was certain, fell with more terror on the ears of Nero, who was as unused to be told of the crimes he perpetrated as he was eager in their perpetration. The punishment of Flavus was intrusted to Veianius Niger, a tribune. At his direction, a pit was dug in a neighbouring field. Flavus, on seeing it, censured it as too shallow and confined, saying to the soldiers around him, “Even this is not according to military rule.” When bidden to offer his neck resolutely, “I wish,” said he, “that your stroke may be as resolute.” The tribune trembled greatly, and having only just severed his head at two blows, vaunted his brutality to Nero, saying that he had slain him with a blow and a half.
Sulpicius Asper, a centurion, exhibited the next example of fortitude. To Nero’s question why he had conspired to murder him, he briefly replied that he could not have rendered a better service to his infamous career. He then underwent the prescribed penalty. Nor did the remaining centurions forget their courage in suffering their punishment. But Faenius Rufus had not equal spirit; he even put his laments into his will.
Nero waited in the hope that Vestinus also, the consul, whom he thought an impetuous and deeply disaffected man, would be involved in the charge. None however of the conspirators had shared their counsels with him, some from old feuds against him, most because they considered him a reckless and dangerous associate. Nero’s hatred of him had had its origin in intimate companionship, Vestinus seeing through and despising the emperor’s cowardice, while Nero feared the high spirit of his friend, who often bantered him with that rough humour which, when it draws largely on facts, leaves a bitter memory behind it. There was too a recent aggravation in the circumstance of Vestinus having married Statilia Messalina, without being ignorant that the emperor was one of her paramours. As neither crime nor accuser appeared, Nero, being thus unable to assume the semblance of a judge, had recourse to the sheer might of despotism, and despatched Gerellanus, a tribune, with a cohort of soldiers, and with orders to forestall the designs of the consul, to seize what he might call his fortress, and crush his train of chosen youths. For Vestinus had a house towering over the Forum, and a host of handsome slaves of the same age. On that day he had performed all his duties as consul, and was entertaining some guests, fearless of danger, or perhaps by way of hiding his fears, when the soldiers entered and announced to him the tribune’s summons. He rose without a moment’s delay, and every preparation was at once made. He shut himself into his chamber; a physician was at his side; his veins were opened; with life still strong in him, he was carried into a bath, and plunged into warm water, without uttering a word of pity for himself. Meanwhile the guards surrounded those who had sat at his table, and it was only at a late hour of the night that they were dismissed, when Nero, having pictured to himself and laughed over their terror at the expectation of a fatal end to their banquet, said that they had suffered enough punishment for the consul’s entertainment.
Next he ordered the destruction of Marcus Annaeus Lucanus. As the blood flowed freely from him, and he felt a chill creeping through his feet and hands, and the life gradually ebbing from his extremities, though the heart was still warm and he retained his mental power, Lucanus recalled some poetry he had composed in which he had told the story of a wounded soldier dying a similar kind of death, and he recited the very lines. These were his last words. After him, Senecio, Quintianus, and Scaevinus perished, not in the manner expected from the past effeminacy of their life, and then the remaining conspirators, without deed or word deserving record. Rome all this time was thronged with funerals, the Capitol with sacrificial victims. One after another, on the destruction of a brother, a kinsman, or a friend, would return thanks to the gods, deck his house with laurels, prostrate himself at the knees of the emperor, and weary his hand with kisses. He, in the belief that this was rejoicing, rewarded with impunity the prompt informations of Antonius Natalis and Cervarius Proculus. Milichus was enriched with gifts and assumed in its Greek equivalent the name of Saviour. Of the tribunes, Gavius Silvanus, though acquitted, perished by his own hand; Statius Proximus threw away the benefit of the pardon he had accepted from the emperor by the folly of his end. Cornelius Martialis, Flavius Nepos, Statius Domitius were then deprived of the tribuneship, on the ground, not of actually hating the emperor, but of having the credit of it. Novius Priscus, as Seneca’s friend, Glitius Gallus, and Annius Pollio, as men disgraced rather than convicted, escaped with sentences of banishment. Priscus and Gallus were accompanied respectively by their wives, Artoria Flaccilla and Egnatia Maximilla. The latter possessed at first a great fortune, still unimpaired, and was subsequently deprived of it, both which circumstances enhanced her fame.
Rufius Crispinus too was banished, on the opportune pretext of the conspiracy, but he was in fact hated by Nero, because he had once been Poppaea’s husband. It was the splendour of their name which drove Verginius Flavus and Musonius Rufus into exile. Verginius encouraged the studies of our youth by his eloquence; Rufus by the teachings of philosophy. Cluvidienus Quietus, Julius Agrippa, Blitius Catulinus, Petronius Priscus, Julius Altinus, mere rank and file, so to say, had islands in the Aegean Sea assigned to them. Caedicia, the wife of Scaevinus, and Caesonius Maximus were forbidden to live in Italy, their penalty being the only proof they had of having been accused. Atilla, the mother of Annaeus Lucanus, without either acquittal or punishment, was simply ignored.
All this having been completed, Nero assembled the troops and distributed two thousand sesterces to every common soldier, with an addition of as much corn without payment, as they had previously the use of at the market price. Then, as if he was going to describe successes in war, he summoned the Senate, and awarded triumphal honours to Petronius Turpilianus, an ex-consul, to Cocceius Nerva, praetor-elect, and to Tigellinus, commander of the praetorians. Tigellinus and Nerva he so distinguished as to place busts of them in the palace in addition to triumphal statues in the Forum. He granted a consul’s decorations to Nymphidius, on whose origin, as he now appears for the first time, I will briefly touch. For he too will be a part of Rome’s calamities.
The son of a freedwoman, who had prostituted a handsome person among the slaves and freedmen of the emperors, he gave out that he was the offspring of Caius Caesar, for he happened to be of tall stature and to have a fierce look, or possibly Caius Caesar, who liked even harlots, had also amused himself with the man’s mother. Nero meanwhile summoned the Senate, addressed them in a speech, and further added a proclamation to the people, with the evidence which had been entered on records, and the confessions of the condemned. He was indeed perpetually under the lash of popular talk, which said that he had destroyed men perfectly innocent out of jealousy or fear. However, that a conspiracy was begun, matured, and conclusively proved was not doubted at the time by those who took pains to ascertain the truth, and is admitted by those who after Nero’s death returned to the capital. When every one in the Senate, those especially who had most cause to mourn, abased himself in flattery, Salienus Clemens denounced Junius Gallio, who was terror-stricken at his brother Seneca’s death was pleading for his life. He called him an enemy and traitor to the State, till the unanimous voice of the senators deterred him from perverting public miseries into an occasion for a personal resentment, and thus importing fresh bitterness into what by the prince’s clemency had been hushed up or forgotten.
Then offerings and thanksgivings to the gods were decreed, with special honours to the Sun, who has an ancient temple in the circus where the crime was planned, as having revealed by his power the secrets of the conspiracy. The games too of Ceres in the circus were to be celebrated with more horse-races, and the month of April was to be called after the name of Nero. A temple also was to be erected to Safety, on the spot whence Scaevinus had taken his dagger. The emperor himself dedicated the weapon in the temple of the capital, and inscribed on it, “To Jupiter the Avenger.” This passed without notice at the moment, but after the war of Julius Vindex it was construed as an omen and presage of impending vengeance. I find in the registers of the Senate that Cerialis Anicius, consul-elect, proposed a motion that a temple should as soon as possible be built at the public expense to the Divine Nero. He implied indeed by this proposal that the prince had transcended all mortal grandeur and deserved the adoration of mankind. Some however interpreted it as an omen of his death, seeing that divine honours are not paid to an emperor till he has ceased to live among men.
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