Ancient History & Civilisation

CHAPTER 15
The Plot

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THE consuls for the following year were Aulus Licinius Nerva Silanus Firmus Pasidienus and Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus. As soon as they had assumed office, a conspiracy was hatched and instantly gained strength. Senators and knights, officers, even women, competed to join. They hated Nero; and they liked Gaius Calpurnius Piso. His membership of the aristocratic Calpurnian house linked him, on his father’s side, with many illustrious families. Among the masses, too, he enjoyed a great reputation for his good qualities, real or apparent. For he employed his eloquence to defend his fellow-citizens in court; he was a generous friend – and gracious and affable even to strangers; and he also possessed the accidental advantages of impressive stature and a handsome face. But his character lacked seriousness or self-control. He was superficial, ostentatious, and sometimes dissolute. But many people are fascinated by depravity and disinclined for austere morals on the throne. Such men found Piso’s qualities attractive.

However, his ambitions were not what originated the conspiracy. Who did, who initiated this enterprise which so many joined, I could not easily say. Subrius Flavus, a colonel of the Guard, and Sulpicius Asper, company-commander, were in the forefront – as their courageous deaths showed. Violent hatred was what brought in Lucan and Plautius Lateranus.1 Lucan’s animosity was personal. For Nero had the impudence to compete with Lucan as a poet, and had impeded his reputation by vetoing his publicity. Lateranus joined from no personal grievance; his motive was patriotism. Two other senators, Flavius Scaevinus and Afranius Quintianus, belied their reputations by becoming leaders in so important a project. For Scaevinus’ brain was ruined by dissipation, and he led a languid sleepy life. Quintianus was a notorious degenerate who had been insulted by Nero in an offensive poem, and desired revenge.

These men talked to each other, and to their friends, about the emperor’s crimes and his reign’s imminent close. They were joined by seven Roman knights: Claudius Senecio, Cervarius Proculus, Volcacius Araricus, Julius Augurinus, Munatius Gratus, Antonius Natalis and Marcius Festus. Senecio was Nero’s close associate, and so his position was especially perilous since they were still ostensibly friends. Natalis shared all Piso’s secrets. The rest looked to revolution for personal advancement. Nor were Flavus and Asper the only officers involved. Other accomplices were the Guard colonels Gaius Gavius Silvanus and Statius Proxumus, and company-commanders, Maximus Scaurus and Venetus Paulus, were also in the plot. But the mainstay was felt to be Faenius Rufus, commander of the Guard. His respectability and good reputation had made less impression on Nero than the cruelty and depravity of his colleague Tigellinus – who persecuted Faenius with slanders, reiterating the alarming allegation that he had been Agrippina’s lover and was intent on avenging her.

So when the conspirators were satisfied by Faenius’ own repeated assurances that he was with them, serious discussion began about the date and place of Nero’s murder. Subrius Flavus, it was said, had felt tempted to attack Nero when the emperor was singing on the stage or rushing from place to place during the night, unguarded, while his palace burned. Flavus had been attracted in the latter instance by Nero’s opportune solitude, and in the former, conversely, by the large crowds which would witness the noble deed. But what held him back was that hindrance to all mighty enterprises, the desire for survival.

The plotters hesitated, still hoping and fearing. A woman called Epicharis, who had extracted their secret – it is not known how, for she had never before interested herself in anything good – kept urging them on and assailing them. Finally, happening to be in Campania and becoming impatient with the slowness of the conspirators, she attempted to unsettle and implicate the naval officers at Misenum. She began with a rear-admiral named Volusius Proculus, who had helped Nero with his mother’s murder and felt his promotion had fallen short of so tremendous a crime. Whether their friendship was longstanding or recent is unknown. At all events Proculus told the woman of his services to Nero and their inadequate reward, and expressed not only discontent but the determination to have his own back if the chance occurred. This raised hopes that Proculus might be induced to act, and bring others in. The fleet could be extremely useful and provide valuable opportunities, since Nero enjoyed going to sea off Puteoli and Misenum.

So Epicharis went further. Enlarging on the emperor’s abolition of the senate’s rights and whole criminal record, she revealed the plan to avenge Rome’s destruction at Nero’s hands – only let Proculus make ready to do his part by winning over the best men, and he should be worthily rewarded. But she did not disclose the names of the conspirators. So, when Proculus proceeded – as he did – to report what he had heard to Nero, his information was useless. Epicharis was summoned and confronted with Proculus, but in the absence of witnesses easily refuted him. However, she herself was kept in custody. For Nero suspected that the story, though unproven, might not be untrue.

The conspirators were now tormented by fears of betrayal. They wanted to perform the assassination quickly – at Piso’s villa at Baiae. For Nero appreciated its charms and often came for a bathe or banquet, without guards or imperial pomp. But Piso refused, arguing that to stain the sanctity of hospitality with the blood of an emperor, however evil, would cause a bad impression. The city would be a better place, he said – that detested palace Nero had plundered his people to build; or, since their deed would be in the public interest, a public centre.

That was what Piso said aloud. But secretly he was afraid of a rival claimant to the throne – Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus (II). The illustrious birth of Torquatus, and his upbringing by Gaius Cassius Longinus, fitted him for the highest destiny. Moreover non-conspirators, who might pity Nero as the victim of a crime, would back Torquatus readily. Some thought that Piso had also wished to prevent the lively consul, Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus, from leading a Republican movement or insisting that the next emperor should be chosen by himself. For Vestinus was not one of the conspirators – though Nero used the charge to gratify his longstanding hatred of an innocent man.

They finally decided to execute their design at the Circus Games, on the day dedicated to Ceres. For though Nero rarely left the seclusion of his palace and gardens, he often attended Circus performances, and was more accessible in their festive atmosphere. The attack was planned as follows. Plautius Lateranus, ostensibly petitioning for financial assistance, was to prostrate himself before the unsuspecting emperor and then – being both resolute and muscular – bring him down and hold him. As Nero lay pinned down, the military men among the plotters, and any others sufficiently daring, would rush up and kill him. The leading role was claimed by Flavius Scaevinus, who had taken a dagger from a temple of Safety or (according to other reports) from the Shrine of Fortune at Ferentum, and wore it as the dedicated instrument of a great enterprise.

Meanwhile Piso was to wait at the temple of Ceres, from which Faenius Rufus and the rest were to fetch him to the Guards’ camp. The elder Pliny adds that, to win popular favour for Piso, Claudius’ daughter Claudia Antonia was to accompany him. True or false, I have felt that this statement ought at least to be recorded. Yet it seems absurd either that Claudia Antonia should have staked her name and life on so hopeless a project, or that Piso, famous for his devotion to his wife, could have pledged himself to another marriage – unless indeed the lust for power outblazes all other feelings combined.

The secret was astonishingly well kept, considering the differences of the conspirators in social and financial position, rank, age, and sex. But betrayal came in the end – from the house of Flavius Scaevinus. The day before the attempt, he had a long conversation with Antonius Natalis. Then Scaevinus returned home and signed his will. Taking the aforesaid dagger from its sheath, and complaining that it was blunt with age, he gave it to his freed slave Milichus to be sharpened and polished on a stone. Then came a dinner-party, more luxurious than usual, at which Scaevinus freed his favourite slaves and gave others presents of money. He maintained a desultory conversation with superficial gaiety. But he was evidently anxious and seriously preoccupied. Finally, he instructed the same Milichus to prepare bandages and styptics for wounds.

Perhaps Milichus was in the secret, and had hitherto proved trustworthy. Alternatively (and this is the usual version) he knew nothing, but his suspicions were now aroused. At all events his slave’s brain considered the rewards of treachery and conceived ideas of vast wealth and power. Then morality, his patron’s life, gratitude for his freedom, counted for nothing. His wife’s womanly, sordid advice implanted a further motive, fear. Many slaves and former slaves, she recalled, had been there and seen the same happenings – one man’s silence would be useless, and the rewards would go to the informer who spoke first.

So at daybreak Milichus left for the Servilian Gardens. At first he was kept out. Finally, however, after insisting on the dreadful gravity of his news, he was taken by the doorkeepers to Nero’s freed slave Epaphroditus – who conducted him to Nero. Milichus then revealed the resolute determination of the senators, the danger to Nero’s life, and everything else he had heard or guessed. Exhibiting the dagger destined for Nero’s murder, Milichus urged that the accused man be fetched. Scaevinus was arrested by soldiers. But he denied his guilt.

‘The weapon concerned in the charge’, he said, ‘is a venerated heirloom kept in my bedroom. This ex-slave Milichus has stolen it. As to my will, I have often signed new clauses without particularly noting the date. I have given slaves their freedom and money-gifts before. This time the scale was larger because, with reduced means and pressing creditors, I feared my will would be rejected. My table has always been generous, my life comfortable – too comfortable for austere critics. Bandages for wounds I did not order. But the man’s allegations of patent untruths are so unconvincing that he has added this charge merely because it rests wholly on his own evidence.’

Scaevinus spiritedly reinforced this defence by assailing the ex-slave as an infamous rascal. His self-possessed tones and features would have annihilated the accusation if Milichus’ wife had not reminded her husband that Scaevinus had spoken privately and at length with Antonius Natalis, and that both of them were associates of Gaius Calpurnius Piso. So Natalis was summoned, and he and Scaevinus were interrogated separately about their conversation and its subject. The discrepancy between their replies aroused suspicion, and they were put in chains.

At the threat and sight of torture they broke down – Natalis first With his more intimate knowledge of the whole conspiracy (and greater cunning as an accuser), he began by denouncing Piso – then Seneca. Either Natalis had really acted as intermediary between Seneca and Piso or he hoped to conciliate Nero, who loathed Seneca and sought every means to destroy him. Scaevinus was equally un­heroic – or he may have thought that since all was known silence held no advantages. At all events, when told of Natalis’ confession, he named the remaining conspirators. Of these, Lucan, Afranius Quintianus, and Claudius Senecio long refused to incriminate themselves. But finally, tempted by a bribe of impunity, they confessed. What they said explained their hesitation, for Lucan denounced his own mother Acilia, and his two partners implicated their closest friends, Glitius Gallus and Annius Pollio.

Nero now remembered the information of Volusius Proculus and consequent arrest of Epicharis. Thinking no female body could stand the pain, he ordered her to be tortured. But lashes did not weaken her denials, nor did branding – nor the fury of the torturers at being defied by a woman. So the first day’s examination was frustrated. Next day her racked limbs could not support her, so she was taken for further torments in a chair. But on the way she tore off her breast-band, fastened it in a noose to the chair’s canopy, and placed her neck inside it. Then, straining with all her weight, she throttled the little life that was still in her. So, shielding in direst agony men unconnected with her and almost strangers, this former slavewoman set an example which particularly shone when fiee men, Roman knights and senators, were betraying, before anybody had laid a hand on them, their nearest and dearest. For Lucan and Senecio and Quintianus gave away their fellow-conspirators wholesale.

Nero became increasingly frightened. His guard had been redoubled. Indeed, the whole of Rome was virtually put in custody – troops manned the walls, and blockaded the city by sea and river. Roman public squares and homes, and even neighbouring towns and country districts, were invaded by infantry and cavalry. Among them were Germans; being foreigners, the emperor trusted them particularly.

Line after line of chained men were dragged to their destination at the gates of Nero’s Gardens. When they were brought in to be interrogated, guilt was deduced from affability to a conspirator, or a chance conversation or meeting, or entrance to a party or a show together. Fierce interrogation by Nero and Tigellinus was supplemented by savage attacks from Faenius Rufus. No informer had denounced him yet; so, to establish his independence of his fellow-conspirators, he bullied them. When Subrius Flavius, who was standing by, inquired by a sign – in the middle of an actual trial – if he should draw his sword and assassinate Nero, Faenius Rufus shook his head and checked Subrius’ impulse as his hand was already moving to the hilt.

After the betrayal of the plot, while Milichus was talking and Scaevinus hesitating, Piso was urged to go to the Guards’ camp and test the attitude of the troops, or mount the platform in the Forum and try the civilians. ‘If your fellow-conspirators rally round you’, it was argued, ‘outsiders will follow. Once a move is made the publicity will be immense – a vitally important point in revolutions. Nero has taken no precautions against this. Unforeseen developments intimidate even courageous men, so how could forcible counter-measures be feared from this actor – with Tigellinus and Tigellinus’ mistresses as his escort! Many things that look hard to timid people can be done by trying.

‘It is useless to expect loyal silence when so many accomplices are involved, body and soul. Tortures and rewards find a way anywhere. You too will be visited and put in chains – and ultimately to a degrading death. How much finer to die for the good of your country, calling for men to defend its freedom! The army may fail you, the people abandon you. But you yourself – if you must die early – die in a way of which your ancestors and posterity could approve!’

But Piso was unimpressed. After a brief public appearance, he shut himself in his house and summoned up courage for his end, waiting for the Guardsmen. Nero, suspicious of old soldiers as likely supporters of Piso, had selected new or recent recruits as his assassins. But Piso died by opening the veins in his arms. He loaded his will with repulsive flattery of Nero. This was done because Piso loved his own wife Satria Galla, though she was low-born and her beauty her only asset. He had stolen her from her former husband, a friend of his called Domitius Silus, whose complaisance – like her misconduct – had increased Piso’s notoriety.

The next to be killed by Nero was the consul-designate Plautius Lateranus. His removal was so hasty that he was not allowed to embrace his children or given the customary short respite to choose his own death. Hurried off to the place reserved for slaves’ executions, Lateranus was dispatched by a Guard colonel, Statius Proxumus. He died in resolute silence – without denouncing the officer’s equal guilt.

Seneca’s death followed. It delighted the emperor. Nero had no proof of Seneca’s complicity but was glad to use arms against him when poison had failed. The only evidence was a statement of Antonius Natalis that he had been sent to visit the ailing Seneca and complain because Seneca had refused to receive Piso. Natalis had conveyed the message that friends ought to have friendly meetings; and Seneca had answered that frequent meetings and conversations would benefit neither: but that his own welfare depended on Piso’s.

A colonel of the Guard, Gavius Silvanus, was ordered to convey this report to Seneca and ask whether he admitted that those were the words of Natalis and himself. Fortuitously or intentionally, Seneca had returned that day from Campania and halted at a villa four miles from Rome. Towards evening the officer arrived. Surrounding the villa with pickets, he delivered the emperor’s message to Seneca as he dined with his wife Pompeia Paulina and two friends. Seneca replied as follows: ‘Natalis was sent to me to protest, on Piso’s behalf, because I would not let him visit me. I answered excusing myself on grounds of health and love of quiet. I could have had no reason to value any private person’s welfare above my own. Nor am I a flatterer. Nero knows this exceptionally well. He has had more frankness than servility from Seneca!’

The officer reported this to Nero in the presence of Poppaea and Tigellinus, intimate counsellors of the emperor’s brutalities. Nero asked if Seneca was preparing for suicide. Gavius Silvanus replied that he had noticed no signs of fear or sadness in his words or features. So Silvanus was ordered to go back and notify the death-sentence. According to Fabius Rusticus, he did not return by the way he had come but made a detour to visit the commander of the Guard, Faenius Rufus; he showed Faenius the emperor’s orders, asking if he should obey them; and Faenius, with that ineluctable weakness which they all revealed, told him to obey. For Silvanus was himself one of the conspirators – and now he was adding to the crimes which he had conspired to avenge. But he shirked communicating or witnessing the atrocity. Instead he sent in one of his staff-officers to tell Seneca he must die.

Unperturbed, Seneca asked for his will. But the officer refused. Then Seneca turned to his friends. ‘Being forbidden’, he said, ‘to show gratitude for your services, I leave you my one remaining pos­session, and my best: the pattern of my life. If you remember it, your devoted friendship will be rewarded by a name for virtuous accomplishments.’ As he talked – and sometimes in sterner and more imperative terms – he checked their tears and sought to revive their courage. Where had their philosophy gone, he asked, and that resolution against impending misfortunes which they had devised over so many years? ‘Surely nobody was unaware that Nero was cruel!’ he added. ‘After murdering his mother and brother, it only remained for him to kill his teacher and tutor.’

These words were evidently intended for public hearing. Then Seneca embraced his wife and, with a tenderness very different from his philosophical imperturbability, entreated her to moderate and set a term to her grief, and take just consolation, in her bereavement, from contemplating his well-spent life. Nevertheless, she insisted on dying with him, and demanded the executioner’s stroke. Seneca did not oppose her brave decision. Indeed, loving her wholeheartedly, he was reluctant to leave her behind to be persecuted. ‘Solace in life was what I commended to you,’ he said. ‘But you prefer death and glory. I will not grudge your setting so fine an example. We can die with equal fortitude. But yours will be the nobler end.’

Then, each with one incision of the blade, he and his wife cut their arms. But Seneca’s aged body, lean from austere living, released the blood too slowly. So he also severed the veins in his ankles and behind his knees. Exhausted by severe pain, he was afraid of weakening his wife’s endurance by betraying his agony – or of losing his own self-possession at the sight of her sufferings. So he asked her to go into another bedroom. But even in his last moments his eloquence remained. Summoning secretaries, he dictated a dissertation. (It has been published in his own words, so I shall refrain from paraphrasing it.)

Nero did not dislike Paulina personally. In order, therefore, to avoid increasing his ill-repute for cruelty, he ordered her suicide to be averted. So, on instructions from the soldiers, slaves and ex-slaves bandaged her arms and stopped the bleeding. She may have been unconscious. But discreditable versions are always popular, and some took a different view – that as long as she feared there was no appeasing Nero, she coveted the distinction of dying with her husband, but when better prospects appeared life’s attractions got the better of her. She lived on for a few years, honourably loyal to her husband’s memory, with pallid features and limbs which showed how much vital blood she had lost.

Meanwhile Seneca’s death was slow and lingering. Poison, such as was formerly used to execute State criminals at Athens,1 had long been prepared; and Seneca now entreated his experienced doctor Annaeus Statius, who was also an old friend, to supply it. But when it came, Seneca drank it without effect. For his limbs were already cold and numbed against the poison’s action. Finally he was placed in a bath of warm water. He sprinkled a little of it on the attendant slaves, commenting that this was his libation to Jupiter. Then he was carried into a vapour-bath, where he suffocated. His cremation was without ceremony, in accordance with his own instructions about his death – written at the height of his wealth and power.

It was rumoured that Subrius Flavus and certain company-commanders of the Guard had secretly plotted, with Seneca’s knowledge, that when Nero had been killed by Piso’s agency Piso too should be murdered, and the throne given to Seneca: it would look as though men uninvolved in the plot had chosen Seneca for his moral qualities. Flavus was widely quoted as saying that, in point of disgrace, it made little difference to remove a lyre-player and replace him by a performer in tragedies. For Nero’s singing to the lyre was paralleled by Piso’s singing of tragic parts.

But the respite of the army conspirators was at an end. Finding Faenius Rufus’ dual role as plotter and inquisitor intolerable, those who had turned informers longed to betray him. So while he pressed and threatened Scaevinus the latter retorted sneeringly that no one was better informed than Faenius himself – he should demonstrate his gratitude voluntarily to his excellent emperor. Words failed Faenius in reply. So did silence; a stammering utterance betrayed his terror. The remaining conspirators, especially the knight Cervarius Proculus, pressed for his conviction. The emperor ordered a soldier named Cassius, who was in attendance because of his great physical strength, to seize Faenius and bind him.

The evidence of the same fellow-conspirators next destroyed the Guard colonel Subrius Flavus. His first line of defence was difference of character: a soldier like him would never have shared such an enterprise with these effeminate civilians. But, when pressed, Flavus admitted his guilt, and gloried in it. Asked by Nero why he had forgotten his military oath, he replied: ‘Because I detested you! I was as loyal as any of your soldiers as long as you deserved affection. I began detesting you when you murdered your mother and wife and became charioteer, actor, and incendiary!’ I have given his actual words because they did not obtain the publicity of Seneca’s; yet the soldier’s blunt, forceful utterance was equally worth recording. Nothing in this conspiracy fell more shockingly on Nero’s ears. For although ready enough to commit crimes, he was unaccustomed to be told about them.

A fellow-colonel, Veianius Niger, was detailed to execute Flavus. But when he ordered a grave to be dug in a field nearby, Flavus objected it was too shallow and narrow. ‘More bad discipline,’ he remarked to the soldiers in attendance. Then, bidden to offer his neck firmly, he replied: ‘You strike equally firmly!’ But the executioner, trembling violently, only just severed the head with two blows. However he boasted of his ferocity to Nero, saying he had killed Flavus with ‘a stroke and a half!’

Another officer of the Guard, the company-commander Sulpicius Asper, was the next to show exemplary courage. For when Nero asked why he had plotted to kill him, Asper replied that it was the only way to rescue Nero from evil ways. He was convicted and executed. His equals likewise died without disgracing themselves. But Faenius Rufus was less brave – and could not keep lamentations even out of his will.

Nero was also expecting the incrimination of the consul Marcus Julius Vestinus Atticus, whom he regarded as revolutionary and disaffected. But none of the conspirators had confided in Vestinus. Some had longstanding feuds with him; others thought him impetuous and independent. Nero hated him as a result of their intimate association. For Vestinus knew and despised the emperor’s worthlessness, while Nero feared this outspoken friend, who made him the butt of crude jokes; when they are based on truth, they rankle. Besides, Vestinus had added a further motive by marrying Statilia Messalina, although he knew her to be one of Nero’s mistresses. Yet no accuser came forward, and there was no charge.

So Nero could not assume the judge’s role. Accordingly, he behaved like an autocrat instead, and sent a battalion of the Guard. Its commander, Gerellanus, was ordered to forestall the consul’s designs, seize his ‘citadel’, and overpower his picked young followers. For the house where Vestinus lived overlooked the Forum, and he kept handsome slaves, all young. Vestinus had finished his consular duties for the day and was giving a dinner-party – unsuspecting, or pretending to be – when the soldiers entered and said the commander wanted him. He instantly rose and rapidly initiated all his arrangements. Shutting himself in his bedroom, he called his doctor and had his veins cut. Before the effects were felt, he was carried to a vapour-bath, and plunged into hot water. No word of self-pity escaped him. Meanwhile his dinner-companions were surrounded by Guardsmen and not released until late at night. It amused Nero to picture their expectation of death after dinner. But finally he ruled that they had been punished enough for their consular party.

Then he ordered Lucan to die. When he felt loss of blood numbing his feet and hands, and life gradually leaving his extremities (though his heart was still warm, and his brain clear), Lucan remembered verses he had written about a wounded soldier who had died a similar death. His last words were a recitation of this passage. Claudius Senecio, Afranius Quintianus, and Flavius Scaevinus were the next to die. Their deaths belied their effeminate lives. Then, without memorable words or actions, the remaining conspirators perished.

Executions now abounded in the city, and thank-offerings on the Capitol. Men who had lost their sons, or brothers, or other kinsmen, or friends, thanked the gods and decorated their houses with laurel, and fell before Nero, kissing his hand incessantly. Interpreting this as joy, he pardoned Antonius Natalis and Cervarius Proculus for their prompt information. Milichus was richly compensated, and adopted the Greek word for ‘Saviour’ as his name. One colonel of the Guard, Gavius Silvanus, was acquitted but killed himself, and another, Statius Proxumus, frustrated the imperial pardon by a melodramatic suicide. Four more, Pompeius, Cornelius Martialis, Flavius Nepos, and Statius Domitius, were deprived of their rank. They did not hate the emperor: but it was believed that they did.

Three unimplicated men, Decimus Novius Priscus, Glitius Gallus and Annius Pollio, were disgraced and exiled – the first of them because he was Seneca’s friend. Priscus and Gallus were accompanied by their wives, Artoria Flaccilla and Egnatia Maximilla respectively. Egnatia’s departure was to her credit, because her wealth was not confiscated – and its later confiscation did her credit too. Rufrius Crispinus was banished. The ostensible reason was conspiracy, but it was really because Nero hated him as Poppaea’s ex-husband. Two more, Verginius Flavus and Gaius Musonius Rufus, went because of their distinction as professors of rhetoric and philosophy. The massive list continues with five more: Cluvidienus Quietus, Julius Agrippa, Blitius Catulinus, Petronius Priscus, and Julius Altinus. They were permitted to live in the Aegean islands. Caesennius Maximus and Caedicia, the wife of Scaevinus, only learnt of their trial when they received their sentence: exclusion from Italy. Lucan’s mother, Acilia, was ignored – unacquitted, but unpunished.

When this was all done, Nero addressed the Guard and presented each man with two thousand sesterces and free corn (they had hitherto paid the market price). Then, as though to announce a military victory, he summoned the senate and awarded honorary Triumphs to the former consul Publius Petronius Turpilianus, the praetor-designate Marcus Cocceius Nerva,1 and the commander of the Guard Tigellinus. The two last were also awarded statues in the Palace, as well as triumphal effigies in the Forum. An honorary consulship was bestowed on Nymphidius Sabinus.2 This is his first appearance, so I must dwell on him for a moment – for he was to be deeply involved in Rome’s imminent calamities. His mother was an attractive ex-slave who had hawked her charms among the slaves and freed slaves of emperors. His father, he claimed, was Gaius. For Nymphidius happened to be tall and grim-faced. And it was certainly possible that his mother had taken part in the amusements of Gaius, whose tastes ran to prostitutes.

After his speech in the senate, Nero published an edict appending the statements of the informers and confessions of the convicted. For widespread popular attacks charged him with murdering even innocent men from jealousy or fear. However, the initiation, development, and suppression of the conspiracy are fully documented in reliable contemporary writings; and exiles who returned to Rome after Nero’s death told the same story.

In the senate, there was abundant congratulation – especially from those with most to lament. Its manifestations included attacks on Lucius Annaeus Junius Gallio. 1 Terrified by his brother Seneca’s death and appealing for his life, Gallio was denounced as a public enemy and parricide. But the prosecutor, Salienus Clemens, had to bow to the senate’s unanimous refusal to let him utilize – as it seemed – national misfortunes for private animosities by reviving brutal measures concerning matters settled or dismissed by the clemency of the emperor.

Then thank-offerings were decreed to the gods for miraculously uncovering the conspiracy: and particularly to the Sun – who has an ancient temple in the Circus Maximus (where the crime was planned). The Circus Games of Ceres were to be enlarged by additional horseraces. The month of April was to take Nero’s name. A Temple of Welfare was to be constructed, also a memorial in the temple from which Scaevinus had taken the dagger. Nero himself dedicated that weapon on the Capitol, to Jupiter ‘Vindex’ the Avenger. At the time this went unnoticed. But after the revolt of Gaius Julius Vindex2 it was interpreted as a sign portending future retribution.

I find in the senate’s minutes that the consul-designate Gaius Anicius Cerealis proposed that a temple should be erected, as a matter of urgency, to the Divine Nero. The proposer meant to indicate that the emperor had transcended humanity and earned its worship. But Nero himself vetoed this in case the malevolent twisted it into an omen of his death. For divine honours are paid to emperors only when they are no longer among men.

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