Ancient History & Civilisation

Notes

DIVUS JULIUS

1.

He lost his father… fifteen: The beginning of the life is lost; see the Introduction, section 3. In it, Suetonius would have provided information about Caesar’s family background, his full name (C. Julius Caesar), and his birth and childhood.

2.

opposing party: L. Cornelius Sulla on the optimate side and L. Cornelius Cinna on the popularis side were the two leading figures in the Roman civil conflicts of the 80s BC; Sulla was the eventual victor, and as dictator (82–79 BC) he reformed the constitution to favour the optimates.

3.

many Mariuses… Caesar: C. Marius, a great general and popularis leader, was one of the main instigators of the civil conflicts of the 80s BC; his wife was Julia, Caesar’s aunt on his father’s side.

4.

storming of Mytilene:In 79 BC; Mytilene had supported Mithridates of Pontus in his war against Rome.

5.

a revolt headed by Marcus Lepidus: M. Aemilius Lepidus, as consul in 78 BC, tried to overturn the political reforms of Sulla, and in 77 BC he led an armed revolt against the Senate; the revolt was crushed, and Lepidus died shortly thereafter.

6.

joined Sertorius: From 80 to 72 BC Q. Sertorius, a supporter of Cinna in the 80s BC, led a guerrilla war in Spain against the senatorial government.

7.

descendant of kings… the goddess Venus: The cognomen of the Marcii was the Latin word for ‘king’ (rex; plural, reges); according to tradition, Ancus Marcius was the fourth king of Rome. The Julii traced their ancestry back to the Trojan hero Aeneas through his son Ascanius or Julus, and Aeneas was according to myth the son of the godess Venus.

8.

desecration of these sacred rites: This episode took place in 62–61 BC; the ceremony was in honour of Bona Dea, the ‘Good Goddess’, from which all men were strictly prohibited. See further section 74 below.

9.

the Latin colonies… citizenship: The people living north of the Po, part of the province of Cisalpine Gaul, were given Latin rights, a sort of partial Roman citizenship, in 89 BC; after all the peoples south of the Po were given full Roman citizenship in the late 80s BC, those north of the Po began to demand the same status.

10.

cancelled the plan: Since Caesar was aedile in 65 BC, these alleged conspiracies must date to late 66 and early 65 BC (Autronius’ praenomen was in fact Publius, not Lucius). None of the writings mentioned by Suetonius survives, and the facts are very uncertain; according to Sallust (Conspiracy of Catiline 18–19), the two plots mentioned here were part of one conspiracy, masterminded by Cicero’s great enemy Catiline.

11.

the heavenly twins…‘Castor’s’: In Greek myth, Castor and Pollux were the twin sons of Zeus; although the temple in the Forum was dedicated to both of them equally, people usually referred to it simply as the Temple of Castor.

12.

deposed their king… friend of Rome: The king in question was Ptolemy XII Auletes, but Suetonius is mistaken about the events: although Crassus floated a proposal to annex Egypt at this time, Ptolemy’s recognition by the Senate and expulsion from Alexandria did not take place until 59–58 BC.

13.

proscriptions… Cornelian laws: After Sulla defeated his enemies in 82 BC, he outlawed (‘proscribed’) all those who had opposed him; the Cornelian laws are those he sponsored as dictator.

14.

the Catilinarian conspiracy: A conspiracy under the leadership of L. Sergius Catilina that aimed at a violent change to the status quo; economic and social grievances were apparently the chief concerns of the conspirators, although their exact goals are unclear. For the main ancient accounts, see Cicero, Against Catiline 1–4, and Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline.

15.

a triple pact: This is the so–called ‘First Triumvirate’, which as Suetonius makes clear was simply an informal political alliance between these three powerful and ambitious men.

16.

transferred from patrician to plebeian rank: Clodius wanted the transfer in order to stand for the office of tribune of the people, which was open only to plebeians.

17.

Semiramis… Asia: In Greek legend, Semiramis was a great Syrian queen of the distant past; the character derived from a historical Assyrian queen of the late ninth century BC, Sammuramat. The Amazons were a mythic race of female warriors, usually located deep in Asia Minor.

18.

the following results: Caesar was in Gaul from 58 to 50 BC; the seven books of his own account, The Gallic War, cover the first seven years; an eighth book by his officer A. Hirtius covers 51 BC, the last year of active campaigning. For his crossing of the Rhine (55 BC), see Gallic War 4. 16–19; invasion of Britain (55 and 54 BC), 4. 20–36 and 5. 8–23; Gergovia (52 bc), 7. 36– 53; Titurius and Aurunculeius (54 bc), 5. 24–37.

19.

offered him the hand… marry Pompey’s daughter: Pompey rejected both these proposals, which would have restored the marriage connection between the two men that had been lost with the death of Julia (54 BC).

20.

since Pompey… public treasury: Subsequent to the popular decree granting Caesar the right to stand for the consulship in his absence (see above, section 26), Pompey, as consul in 52 BC, had sponsored another law requiring all candidates to stand in person; when Caesar’s friends pointed out how damaging this law was to him, Pompey added a clause exempting Caesar, although it had no force since the law had already been passed and publicly recorded. M. Claudius Marcellus was consul in 51 BC.

21.

like Milo… armed men: T. Annius Milo’s men had killed P. Clodius Pulcher in a clash in 52 BC; Pompey had taken the unusual step of having soldiers stationed at the trial in order to prevent further disturbances.

22.

Cicero himself translated as follows: Cicero, On Duties 3.82; the lines are Euripides’ Phoenician Women 524–5. A more literal translation: ‘If the law is to be violated, then it should be violated for the sake of ruling; in other matters cultivate piety.’

23.

The die is cast: For a provincial governor to lead his troops out of his province without the authorization of the Senate was in effect an act of insurrection. Caesar himself does not mention this episode in his own account of the civil war, but later writers lay great stress on it; the story of his famous remark may go back to the history of C. Asinius Pollio, who was with him. Greek writers (Plutarch, Caesar 32.8; Appian, Civil War 2.35) quote it in a slightly different form, ‘Let the die be cast,’ which is surely correct; it is in fact a quotation from the Greek comic playwright Menander (see Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.559e).

24.

subsequent movements: For more detailed accounts of these events, see the three books of Caesar’s own Civil War, and the three anonymous works preserved in the manuscripts along with it: The Alexandrian War, The African War and The Spanish War.

25.

the first fourteen rows: Laberius performed at Caesar’s command, but in doing so he forfeited his equestrian status, since acting was a socially disreputable profession; Caesar’s gifts restored his status. The first fourteen rows of the theatre were reserved for the equestrian order.

26.

the intercalary month: In the Roman calendar of the republican period, a year consisted of 355 days; in order to keep it synchronized with the solar year, the pontifices would insert an additional (‘intercalary’) month as needed, normally after February.

27.

disqualifying the treasury tribunes: The make–up of juries had been a major political issue for much of the late republic. The treasury tribunes were originally men who managed the pay of the troops; by the late republic the term designated a formal status comparable to that of eques, but probably with a lower property requirement.

28.

purple robes: ‘Purple’ refers to a dye – produced from certain species of Mediterranean shellfish – that was very costly to manufacture (the actual colour ranged from scarlet to a deep violet); purple–dyed cloth was thus a luxury good, associated with high status.

29.

called ‘Aegisthus’: In Greek myth, Aegisthus was the lover of Clytemnestra, the wife of the great general Agamemnon.

30.

the son whom she had borne him: His official name was Ptolemy XV Caesar, but the sources usually refer to him by his nickname Caesarion, ‘Little Caesar’; he was eventually put to death by Augustus (see Aug. 17).

31.

prosecution of Dolabella… exact: For the prosecution of Dolabella, see section 4 above; for Cicero’s views, see Brutus 248–62 (the citation is from 261). Cicero’s letters to Cornelius Nepos do not survive, nor do any of Caesar’s speeches.

32.

no one knows… final book: Many modern scholars are inclined to accept Hirtius as the author of The Alexandrian War, but the authors of the other two works remain unknown.

33.

Cicero… Hirtius… Pollio… revision: The quotation from Cicero is at Brutus 262; that from Hirtius at Gallic War 8, praef. 5–6; the works of Asinius Pollio do not survive.

34.

literary remains… The Journey: None of these works survives. The Essay on Analogy was a grammatical treatise advocating the standardization of conjugations and the like; the Answers to Cato (literally, ‘Anticatos’) were a response not to Cato himself, who had committed suicide after Caesar’s victory in Africa in April 46 BC and so was dead by the time of his final victory at Munda in March 45 BC, but rather to a pamphlet that Cicero wrote in praise of Cato.

35.

victim escaped… disgraceful life: Three incidents from Caesar’s African campaign. It was considered a very bad omen if the animal at a sacrifice bolted, or if a person stumbled at the start of a venture. P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus was the great hero of the Second Punic War (see Aug. 2 with the note), who decisively defeated the Carthaginian general Hannibal at Zama in Africa in 202 BC; his adoptive grandson P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus destroyed Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC. Other writers who refer to this incident give the name of Caesar’s Scipio as ‘salutio’ instead of ‘salvito’, but the elder Pliny (Natural History 7.54) mentions a Cornelius Scipio who was nicknamed ‘salvitto’ after a performer in popular farces.

36.

Cynegirus among the Greeks: In the battle of the Athenians against the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC; the story is found in Herodotus, History 6. 114.

37.

He supported… father: For the context of Memmius’ attack on Caesar, see section 23 above, and section 49 for a sample of his invective; Memmius stood for the consulship in 54 BC, but was involved in an electoral scandal and condemned for bribery. Suetonius quotes from one of Calvus’ epigrams in section 49, but they are otherwise lost. The works of Calvus’ friend Catullus do survive; he refers to Mamurra by name in poems 29 and 57, and more indirectly in 41,43, 94,105, 114 and 115; poems 54 and 93 also concern Caesar.

38.

imitate this treachery: This incident took place in Spain during the first year of the civil war (49 BC); see further Caesar, Civil War 1. 73–7.

39.

a new college of Luperci, and the renaming of a month after him: There were traditionally two groups of Luperci (see ‘Lupercalia’ in the Glossary of Terms), to which a third was added in honour of Caesar. The seventh month in the Roman calendar was (for complex historical reasons) originally called Quintilis, ‘Fifth’, but was changed to Julius, whence modern ‘July’.

40.

Caesar granted his request: The man’s name was C. Caninius Rebilus; compare Nero 15.

41.

the Latin Festival… statue: The Latin Festival was an ancient festival in honour of Jupiter Latiaris (see Calig. 22 with the note), presided over by the consul, which celebrated the union of all the towns of Latium; it took place on the Alban Mount south of Rome (compare Claud. 4). A white fillet was one of the insignia of kingship.

42.

I am Caesar, not king: There is a possible pun here, since the Latin word rex, ‘king’, was also the cognomen of a noted family in Rome, of which Caesar’s paternal grandmother was a member (see above, section 6); his reply could thus be translated as ‘My name is Caesar, not King.’

43.

a purple gown: I have here retained Graves’s translation of ‘toga’ as ‘gown’ in order to preserve his verse; ‘purple’ refers to the distinctive purple stripe on the edge of senatorial togas. Gauls and other northern–European peoples wore breeches, although the people of the Mediterranean world did not; breeches were thus seen as stereotypical ‘barbarian’ garments.

44.

Brutus: According to Roman tradition, L. Junius Brutus was the man who had led the movement to expel the last king and establish the republic at the end of the sixth century BC; the Caesarian conspirator M. Brutus was considered his descendant.

45.

the Assembly Hall of Pompey: A room off the portico attached to the Theatre of Pompey; it was not the usual meeting place of the Senate.

46.

a descendant of his: The Julian family claimed descent from the Trojan hero Aeneas (see section 6 above, with the note); according to Homer (Iliad 20. 239), Capys was Aeneas’ grandfather, although Virgil, who mentions Capys as the founder of Capua (Aeneid 10. 145), describes him as one of Aeneas’ companions (Aeneid 1. 183,2. 35,9. 576). The alleged inscription apparently conflated these two figures.

47.

the pediment of their house: Pediments were normally found only on temples; the honour of placing a pediment on his house had been voted to Caesar by the Senate.

48.

You too, my son: This anecdote reflects the story found in later writers that Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son. Caesar evidently did have a long–term affair with Brutus’ mother Servilia (see above, section 50), but the story of Brutus’ paternity cannot be true: he was born probably in 85BC, when Caesar was only fifteen, and long before he began his affair with Servilia.

49.

heirs in the second degree: Those who would inherit if the heirs in the first degree were unable to accept the legacy; D. Junius Brutus had served under Caesar in Gaul as well as throughout the civil war.

50.

read in Xenophon… deathbed: See Xenophon, Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus) 8. 7.

DIVUS AUGUSTUS

1.

Second Punic War: The second of three major wars between Rome and the North African city of Carthage (218–201 BC); all three ended in Roman victories.

2.

letters survive from Cicero… allies: see Cicero, Letters to his Brother Quintus 1.1. 21 and 1. 2. 7.

3.

Augustus was born… district: In 63 BC; nothing further is known about ‘Ox Heads’.

4.

the emperor: That is, Hadrian; Suetonius’ phrasing here clearly indicates that he wrote this passage before his fall from favour.

5.

Thurinus… Gaius Caesar… Augustus… by Munatius Plancus: Augustus’ original name was C. Octavius; Thurinus must have been a personal cognomen. In Roman tradition, adopted sons assumed the name of their adoptive fathers, sometimes using an adjectival form of their original nomen as an additional cognomen. Thus C. Octavius Thurinus, as a result of his testamentary adoption by Caesar (see Jul. 83), would have become C. Julius Caesar Octavianus; in fact he seems to have called himself ‘Caesar’ and never to have used the name Octavianus, although it has become conventional among modern scholars to refer to him during this period as ‘Octavian’ as a way of distinguishing him from Caesar. He assumed the praenomen Imperator in 40 BC, and was granted the title Augustus in 27 BC; thereafter the usual form of his name was Imperator Caesar Augustus.

6.

known as ‘august’… (or gustus): The Latin adjective augustus meant ‘venerable, august’. Suetonius offers two derivations: from the participle auctus, ‘increased, augmented’, or from the phrase avium gestus or avium gustus, ‘the deeds/feedings of birds’, i. e. what augurs observed as the basis for their divination.

7.

twelve years…forty–four years: The twelve years are 43–31 BC: the triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus lasted officially from 42 to 33 BC, although Lepidus was ousted in 36 BC; despite the lapse of the triumvirate, Antony and Augustus continued to dominate the Roman world in 32 and 31 BC. The forty–four years of sole rule are 30 BC–AD 14.

8.

a patrician but not yet a senator: Candidates for the tribuneship were required to be of plebeian status, and would normally have already held the quaestorship and thus entered the Senate.

9.

honoured and then removed: The person who said this was Cicero (see his Letters to his Friends 11.20); the original Latin involves a pun, since the second of the two verbs (tollere) could mean both ‘to exalt’ and ‘to remove’.

10.

an alliance with Antony and Lepidus: That is, the triumvirate: in late 43 BC, by popular vote, Augustus, Antony and Lepidus were appointed to a five–year term as ‘the Commission of Three for Organizing the Republic’.

11.

The Sicilian war: After being defeated by Caesar at the battle of Munda in 45 BC, the elder son of Pompey the Great was killed, but the younger, Sex. Pompey, escaped and was later given command of a fleet by the Senate. From 43 BC on he used this to occupy Sicily, which he made his power base; Sicily was at this time the chief source of grain for the city of Rome. He was finally defeated and killed in 36 BC.

12.

proscribed the father of Aemilius Paulus: The father was L. Aemilius Paulus, the older brother of the triumvir Lepidus, who joined the Senate in declaring Lepidus and the other triumvirs public enemies in 43 BC; the name of the son, who was also proscribed but had by this time joined Augustus, was in fact Paulus Aemilius Lepidus.

13.

Titus Domitius: His praenomen was in fact Gnaeus; he eventually sided with Augustus, and his great–grandson was the emperor Nero (see Nero 3).

14.

he actually summoned Psylli… asp: The Psylli lived on the coast of what is now central Libya, and were reputed to be immune to poisonous snakes and to have the power of curing their bites (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.14).

15.

Nicopolis… games there every five years: ‘Nicopolis’ is Greek for ‘Victory–City’; the games were modelled on those at Olympia.

16.

leaders of the conspiracies… granddaughter: M. Aemilius Lepidus was the son of the triumvir, and allegedly planned to kill Augustus on his return from Alexandria (Velleius 2. 88). A. Terentius Varro Murena, the brother–in–law of Augustus’ friend Maecenas, apparently plotted with Fannius Caepio in 23 BC to restore the republic (Velleius 2. 91. 2, Dio 54. 3. 4–8). M. Egnatius Rufus was executed in 19 BC (Velleius 2. 91. 3; cf. Dio 53. 24. 4–6). The conspiracy of Plautius Rufus and L. Aemilius Paulus (husband of the younger Julia) is otherwise almost unknown; Dio (55. 27. 1–3) mentions a scheme of P. Rufus, perhaps the same man, in AD 6.

17.

In addition… as well as Augustus: All these episodes are otherwise unknown; the Parthini were a tribe of Illyricum; for the banishments of Julia and Agrippa Postumus, see section 65 below.

18.

while he was still in his teens: Suetonius has his dates wrong: Augustus campaigned against the Dalmatae in 35–33 BC, when he was in his late twenties, although he was in his late teens when he stayed at Apollonia in the same region (see above, section 8).

19.

the Eagles captured from Marcus Crassus and Mark Antony: The Parthians inflicted a major defeat on the Romans under M. Licinius Crassus at the battle of Carrhae in 52 BC; they won further battles against legates of Mark Antony in 40 BC and 36 BC. The recovery of the Eagles in 20 BCwas achieved through diplomacy rather than war.

20.

Lollius and Varus… to a man: In 16 BC German tribes crossed the Rhine and inflicted a defeat on M. Lollius (Dio 54. 20. 4–6); in AD 9 P. Quinctilius Varus, who was charged with reducing the newly conquered territory between the Rhine and the Elbe to a Roman province, was ambushed by a German revolt and massacred at the Teutoberg Forest (Velleius 2. 117–20, Dio 56. 18–22).

21.

the Cimbric and Marsic wars: The Cimbri were a migrating Germanic tribe poised to invade Italy in the late second century BC; they were finally defeated by C. Marius in 101 BC. The Marsic War, better known as the Social War, was fought between Rome and its Italian allies in 91–87 BC.

22.

he decimated it and fed the survivors on barley: Decimation was a traditional Roman military punishment in which every tenth (decimus) man in a unit, chosen by lot, was executed; barley was generally regarded as inferior to wheat, which was the normal ration for soldiers.

23.

The first… in force: The first was the Illyrian revolt in AD 6 (see Tib. 16); the second was the defeat of P. Quinctilius Varus in AD 9 (see above, section 23).

24.

vallar or mural garlands: These were military decorations awarded to the first soldier who crossed the palisade (vallum)or city wall (murus) of the enemy.

25.

his sons… came of age: Gaius and Lucius were by blood the sons of Agrippa and Augustus’ daughter Julia, but were adopted by Augustus in 17 BC. Augustus was consul in 43,33, 31–23,5 and 2 BC.

26.

secretly harboured his patron… proscribed: Philopoemen was a freedman of T. Vinius; the story is told in more detail by Dio (47. 7. 4–5).

27.

renamed the month of Sextilis… victories: Just as Caesar had changed the name of the seventh month from Quintilis to Julius (see Jul. 76), so now his successor changed the name of the eighth month from Sextilis to Augustus. Although later emperors similarly renamed months after themselves or their family members (see Calig. 15, Nero 55, Dom. 13), these were the only two renamings that stuck.

28.

certain obsolescent rites… flowers: The Saecular Games, held over a period of three nights, marked the transition from one era of a hundred years (saeculum) to another, and had last been held in 146 BC; a contemporary inscription recording Augustus’ celebration of them in 17 BC survives largely intact, as does the hymn (Carmen Saeculare) written by the poet Horace for the occasion. The Compitalia were traditionally celebrated in honour of the Lares Compitales, the local gods of the crossroads; in their revived form the household gods of Augustus himself were the chief focus.

29.

increased the legal term… claims: The courts were closed on public holidays, but the magistrates who oversaw the games celebrated on those occasions tended to extend them for additional days at their own expense; these unofficial holidays were the ones that Augustus made available for legal business. Caesar had limited jury service to two panels, one of senators and one of equites (see Jul. 41 with the note), to which Antony had added a third panel; ducenarii were men whose property was worth 200,000 sesterces, half that of equites.

30.

committed parricide… sack: The traditional punishment for parricide was to be sewn up in a sack with a dog, a snake, a rooster and a monkey, and then drowned.

31.

‘Orcus Men’: Orcus was the god of the underworld, and the term ‘Orcus Men’ (orcini) was traditionally applied to slaves freed in their master’s will, i. e. by a dead man; in this case it presumably refers to the claim that the papers of Julius Caesar found after his death contained instructions for these men’s enrolment in the Senate.

32.

revived the traditional privilege of elections… Scaptian: Julius Caesar had set the precedent of appointing all the consuls himself and nominating half of the other magistrates (Jul. 41), a precedent that the triumvirs took even further. Augustus belonged to the Fabian tribe as a Julius by adoption, and to the Scaptian as an Octavius by birth.

33.

Behold them… Romans: The line is a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid, 1. 282.

34.

He records… expense: Suetonius is here citing Augustus’ Res gestae 22.

35.

No women… fifth hour: Women were probably barred because the competitors in Greek athletic events were naked; the pontifical games were perhaps held to celebrate Augustus’ assumption of the office of pontifex maximus in 12 BC, but they are otherwise unattested.

36.

the gods’ platform: Chariot races were normally held as part of a festival in honour of the gods, whose images were placed on couches on a special platform in the Circus so that they could ‘watch’ the proceedings.

37.

‘Lord’: The Latin word dominus meant literally ‘master of a household’, i. e. a person with proprietary power over others, especially slaves.

38.

Aesculapius: The god of healing; see also Claud. 25.

39.

founded a city… Olympian Jupiter at Athens: Examples are the cities refounded or renamed ‘Caesarea’ by Juba II of Mauretania (modern Cherchel in Algeria), Herod of Judaea (between Tel Aviv and Haifa on the coast of Israel) and Archelaus of Cappadocia (modern Kayseri in central Turkey). Jupiter is the Latin name for Zeus; the temple was begun by the tyrant Pisistratus in the late sixth century BC;itwas finally completed by the emperor Hadrian in AD 132.

40.

According to Mark Antony… in exchange: The Getae were a Thracian tribe, often confused with the Dacians. The context is presumably Augustus’ pacification of Illyricum in 35–33 BC (see above, section 20), but whether there is any truth to the story is very uncertain: it is more likely an attempt by Antony to get back at Augustus for attacking his own relationship with Cleopatra.

41.

buying them… in a symbolic sale: Literally, ‘buying them by coin and scale’; this was an ancient procedure for adoption, in which the adopter struck a scale with a coin in the presence of the birth–father and claimed the son as his own.

42.

a curiate law: Because Tiberius was already an independent head of a household (see Tib. 15), he could be adopted only through a special procedure involving a law passed by the curiate assembly, an archaic body represented at this time by thirty lictors.

43.

Ah, never to have married… to have died: The line is a quotation from Homer’s Iliad, 3. 40.

44.

Salvidienus Rufus and Cornelius Gallus… suicide: Q. Salvidienus Rufus was one of Augustus’ earliest supporters and, along with Agrippa, one of his chief generals; in 40 BC, however, Augustus denounced him for plotting against him with Antony. C. Cornelius Gallus had erected boastful inscriptions and set up statues of himself throughout Egypt; he killed himself in 27 or 26 BC.

45.

confiding a secret to his wife Terentia… disclosed: The problem here was that Terentia was Murena’s sister, and so could have warned him that the plot had been discovered (see above, section 19).

46.

some of his freedmen… intimacy: Celadus is otherwise unknown, but Licinus served as his financial officer in Gaul, where his corruption led the provincials to request his removal (Dio 54. 21).

47.

see how this cinaedus regulates the sphere with his finger: The Latin word cinaedus denoted a man who took the passive role in intercourse with another man, an activity popularly associated with the eunuch priests of Cybele, the Mother of the Gods. The line quoted involves a complicated Latin pun: the noun orbis meant any kind of circular or spherical object, such as a round drum, but could also denote the world; the verb temperare could mean ‘to temper’ a musical tone, but also to ‘to control’.

48.

Corinthian bronzes: ‘Corinthian bronze’ was an alloy of gold, silver and copper used especially for deluxe tableware and art objects.

49.

he diced openly… scooped the lot: Gambling at dice was generally frowned upon at Rome, except during the festival of the Saturnalia in December. There were two sorts of dice: one with four faces and one with six. The game described in the letter involved four dice of the first sort, whose sides were marked with one, three, four and six dots; the side with one dot was called the ‘dog’, and a throw of all four dice with different faces was called ‘Venus’ (usually treated as a winning throw).

50.

Ajax… sword: According to Greek myth, Ajax, one of the heroes of the Trojan War, felt himself so dishonoured when Achilles’ arms were presented to Odysseus rather than to himself that he committed suicide by falling on his sword.

51.

the Greek Kalends… this Cato: In the Roman calendar, the Kalends was the date on which debts were usually due; this way of reckoning the days of the month did not exist in the Greek calendar. M. Porcius Cato ‘the elder’, a great statesman of the early second century BC, here represents a past standard that can no longer be attained.

52.

unusual synonyms… lachanizare: The sense of some of these words is no longer clear. Stultus means ‘fool’; baceolus is otherwise unattested, but may be connected with the Greek word bakêlos, a term for a eunuch priest of Cybele. Pullus means ‘dark or drab–coloured’, but pulleiaceus is unexplained. Cerritus is a colloquial word meaning ‘frenzied’ or ‘insane’; vacerrosus is an adjective formed from the noun vacerra, ‘fence post’, and so may mean something like ‘thick as a post’. Male se habere means ‘to feel poorly’; vapide is an adverb formed from the adjectivevapidus, ‘flat’ (in reference to wine that has turned bad). Languere means ‘to feel faint or unwell’; betizare is a verb formed from the noun beta, ‘beet’, just as the Greek verb lachanizare is formed from the Greek noun lachanon, ‘vegetable’, and presumably means something like ‘to veg out’.

53.

Old Comedy: The customary term for the works of the Greek comic playwrights of the fifth century BC, notably Aristophanes, characterized by obscenity, political and social satire, and wild flights of fantasy.

54.

Attic Ceres’ priests… Apis: The reference here is to the Eleusinian Mysteries; Ceres was the Roman name for Demeter. Apis was a sacred bull worshipped at Memphis.

55.

Publius Nigidius… born: P. Nigidius Figulus was a Roman scholar with particular interests in divination, later famous as an astrologer; this story is unlikely to be true, since Augustus was born on 23 September and the debates in the Senate regarding the Catilinarian conspiracy did not begin until November.

56.

Eutychus… Nicon: The two names in Greek mean ‘Good Fortune, Success’ and ‘Victorious, Conquering’; significant names encountered by chance were often taken as omens.

57.

ephebes… conservative settlement: In traditional Greek cities, young men in their eighteenth year received a year of publicly sponsored athletic and civil training; they were known as ephebes (Greek ephêboi, ‘youths’).

58.

the consuls… Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius:In AD 14.

59.

heirs in the second degree… heirs in the third degree: These inherited only if those before them were unable to.

60.

a record of his accomplishments: This document, known as the Res gestae Divi Augusti, ‘The Accomplishments of Divus Augustus’, survives in inscribed copies; see the on Further Reading section.

TIBERIUS

1.

the expulsion of the kings: Rome was originally a monarchy; according to tradition, the last king was driven out in 510 BC and the republic was then established.

2.

Claudius Regillianus… devices: His name is usually given as Ap. Claudius Crassus Inregillensis Sabinus; for a full version of the story, see Livy 3. 33–58.

3.

Mother Goddess… did so: The goddess Cybele, whose cult was officially introduced into Rome from Asia Minor in 204 BC; for a more detailed version of this story, see Ovid, Fasti 4. 291–328.

4.

sons of Appius Caecus: The founders of the two main branches of the Claudian family in the later republican period; Claudius Pulcher, whose praenomen was in fact Publius and not Appius, was the consul who threw the sacred chickens into the sea; nothing more is known of Tiberius Claudius Nero.

5.

paid to the Senones… Camillus: According to Roman tradition, in 390 BC Rome was sacked by a band of Gauls; the Romans agreed to pay a ransom of gold for their city, but at the last moment the hero Camillus appeared on the scene and forbade it to be handed over; for a full account, see Livy 5. 33–55. These Gauls were later identified with the Senones, who settled in northern Italy and were wiped out by the Romans in 283 BC; the Gaul of which the first Drusus was governor is clearly meant to be Cisalpine Gaul, but he is not otherwise attested.

6.

‘the Senate’s patron’… similar circumstances: The elder Drusus, as tribune in 122 BC, was a staunch opponent of the reformer C. Sempronius Gracchus; his son, as tribune in 91 BC, put together a package of reforms meant to diffuse unrest, but was opposed by a range of interests and finally assassinated.

7.

The elder son… Drusus: Tiberius’ full name was originally Ti. Claudius Nero, like that of his father; on his adoption by Augustus in AD 4, he became Ti. Julius Caesar; on the death of Augustus in AD 14 he acquired the name Augustus (see Aug. 101 and section 17 below); his formal name as emperor was Tiberius Caesar Augustus. The full name of his younger brother was Nero Claudius Drusus, with the cognomen of his mother’s family and his father’s cognomen as his praenomen; he was posthumously given the additional cognomen Germanicus in honour of his military exploits (see Claud. 1).

8.

the consuls as Marcus Aemilius Lepidus… Lucius Munatius Plancus:In 42 BC.

9.

one of Augustus’ political opponents: M. Gallius was the brother of Q. Gallius, who had been executed by Augustus (see Aug. 27).

10.

Caecilius Atticus: His original name was T. Pomponius Atticus, and it is under this name that he is usually known; he was later adopted by his uncle Q. Caecilius, and as a result the name of his daughter, Agrippa’s wife, was Caecilia Attica.

11.

captured from Marcus Crassus: At the battle of Carrhae in 52 BC; see further Aug. 21 with the note.

12.

ceased to act as the head of a household… peculium: According to the letter of Roman law, sons remained under paternal authority as long as their fathers lived, and could not, among other things, legally possess property of their own; the father could, however, allot them the use of a certain amount of property, which was called peculium. Tiberius had been the head of his own household since the death of his father in 38 BC, but on adoption by Augustus he reverted back to the status of a dependant.

13.

the one he would acquire after he himself had died: That is, ‘Augustus’. Invictus means ‘unconquered’; pius, ‘pious’, especially towards one’s parents.

14.

‘Alone he saved his by his cautious ways’: A quotation from the now–lost Annals of Q. Ennius, referring to the tactics of Q. Fabius Maximus, a Roman general who in the early stages of the Second Punic War avoided pitched battles with the invading Carthaginian general Hannibal and instead pursued a successful policy of attrition.

15.

‘If he came… fire’: A quotation from the Iliad, 10. 246–7, in which Diomedes chooses Odysseus as his companion for a nocturnal sortie.

16.

Lucius Scribonius Libo… Germany: Libo’s praenomen was in fact Marcus; Suetonius has mistakenly assigned him the praenomen held by his older brother, father and grandfather. For a more detailed account of this episode, see Tacitus, Annals 2.27– 32; for Clemens, ibid. 2. 39–40; for the mutinies, ibid. 1. 16–49.

17.

the Plebeian Games: A festival in honour of Jupiter; at their height they lasted from 4 to 17 November, with chariot races held on the last three days (including Tiberius’ birthday on 16 November).

18.

three consulships: In AD 18,21 and 31; at the time of the last, he had already retired to Capreae. He had previously been consul twice, in 9 and 7 BC.

19.

Biberius Caldius Mero: Biberius is a play on the verb bibere, ‘to drink’; Caldius on the adjective calidus or caldus, ‘hot’ (wine was sometimes mixed with hot water); Mero on the noun merum, ‘unmixed’ in the sense of ‘straight, neat’ (wine was normally mixed with water).

20.

‘Caprineum’: A play on the name of the island and the Latin adjective caprinus, ‘goatish’; goats were proverbial for their sexual appetite.

21.

Atalanta… Meleager: Figures from Greek myth. Atalanta was a virgin huntress who refused to marry unless a man could defeat her in a foot–race; Meleager was the hero of one of the great mythic exploits, the Calydonian boar hunt, in which Atalanta took part.

22.

Hector: The great hero on the Trojan side of the Trojan War, killed by Achilles.

23.

a letter of complaint… famine: Because of its strategic importance as the chief source of grain for Rome, Egypt was administered as an imperial possession; no senator was allowed to visit it without explicit imperial permission, which Germanicus had not obtained.

24.

Saturn’s golden age: According to Roman myth, the god Saturn ruled over Italy during the golden age, when nature provided for all human needs and people did not have to work to feed, clothe or house themselves.

25.

‘Let them hate me, so long as they approve’: An adaptation of a famous line from a tragedy by the Roman playwright Accius (170–c. 86 BC), ‘Let them hate me, so long as they fear me’; Suetonius elsewhere reports that Gaius quoted it in its original form (Calig. 30).

26.

A poet… the Romans: Agamemnon was the mythical king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War; criticism of him in a tragedy could be taken as indirect criticism of the emperor, but nothing more is known of this particular case. The name of the historian was A. Cremutius Cordus, and his trial took place in AD 25; for a more detailed account, see Tacitus, Annals 4.34–5.

27.

little girls… violating them: Suetonius is here probably generalizing from a single known instance, the execution of Sejanus’ young daughter in AD 31: see Tacitus, Annals 5.9.

28.

Priam… family: Priam, the mythical king of Troy, was killed only after all his sons had died fighting the Greeks.

29.

the Praenestine lots: The Temple of Fortuna Primigenia, the chief deity of the town of Praeneste, was the site of an ancient and well–known oracle that people consulted by means of lots.

30.

Who was Hecuba’s mother?… Sirens sing: These are the sort of recherché; questions in which grammatici specialized. Hecuba was the queen of Troy during the Trojan War, the mother of Hector and Paris; Achilles’ mother, aware that he was fated to die if he joined the Greek expedition to Troy, disguised him as a girl and hid him on the island of Scyros; the Sirens’ song lured sailors to their destruction.

31.

Minos… pipe players: According to Greek myth, Minos was king of Crete, and his son was killed in Attica. In the Roman tradition, sacrifice always involved an offering of wine and incense, while an assistant played the pipes to mask any inauspicious sounds.

32.

the consuls of the year… Gaius Pontius Nigrinus:In AD 37.

33.

statue of Apollo Temenites: This was a famous statue of Apollo erected in the temenos, or sacred precinct, of the goddesses Demeter and Kore at Syracuse.

34.

Di Manes: Gods of the underworld, identified with the spirits of the dead.

35.

‘Take him to Atella! Give him a half–burning in an amphitheatre!’: The point here is not entirely clear: Atella gave its name to Atellan farces, and a partial cremation was presumably an insult, but more than that cannot be said.

GAIUS CALIGULA

1.

Germanicus… paternal uncle: Germanicus’ name derived from the honorific cognomen awarded posthumously to his father (see Claud. 1); his original name was Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. Tiberius adopted him at the same time that he himself was adopted by Augustus (see Aug. 65, Tib. 15), whereupon Germanicus became Germanicus Julius Caesar.

2.

Piso… lynching: Tacitus provides a full account of Germanicus and Piso (Annals 2.43,53–61 and 69–83,3. 8–18); in the late 1980s an inscription was discovered that provides the full text of the Senate’s decree in the case of Piso: see the Further Reading section.

3.

the consulship shared by his father with Gaius Fonteius Capito: In AD 12. Gaius’ full name was originally C. Julius Caesar Germanicus, although Julius does not appear in any extant source; on becoming emperor, he took the name C. Caesar Augustus Germanicus. ‘Caligula’ was a nickname (see below, section 9, with the note) and is the name by which he is now generally known; Suetonius, however, normally refers to him as ‘Gaius Caesar’.

4.

puerae… pueri: The masculine noun puer meant ‘boy’, and its feminine equivalent puera meant ‘girl’; by the late republic, however, the diminutive feminine puella had effectively replaced puera, which almost disappeared, and the diminutive masculinepuellus, which had previously been fairly common, also became extremely rare. Suetonius is here evidently drawing on his earlier work On the Institution of Offices, in which, as we learn from a citation by the fifth–century AD grammarian Priscian, he made precisely the same point.

5.

his cognomen Caligula… soldier: The standard dress of soldiers included boots called caligae in Latin; ‘Caligula’ is a diminutive, and hence meant ‘Bootikin’ or ‘Little Boot’.

6.

educating a Phaethon for the whole world: In Greek myth, Phaethon was the son of the sun god Helios; he borrowed his father’s fiery chariot, but lost control of the horses so that he came too near the earth and scorched it.

7.

a mere eques… Youth Leader: Any man of wealth and high social status who had not held any of the traditional Roman magistracies (the quaestorship or higher) was technically an eques, not a senator, regardless of the status of his father or brothers. ‘Youth Leader’ (princeps iuventatis) was a semi–official title, first given by Augustus to his grandsons Gaius and Lucius on their coming of age, used to honour intended successors.

8.

spintrian perverts: See Tib. 43.

9.

Titus Labienus, Cremutius Cordus and Cassius Severus: These were orators and historians active in the reign of Augustus; for Cremutius Cordus, see Tib. 61 with the note; for Cassius Severus, see Aug. 56.

10.

the Parilia… born again: The Parilia, on 21 April, was originally an agricultural festival, but by the late republic had come to be identified as the anniversary of Rome’s foundation.

11.

Only the last two were in sequence: Suetonius makes a slip here, since Gaius was consul in AD 37,39, 40 and 41; the first was only a suffect consulship, because the ordinary consuls for the year were already in place when Tiberius died.

12.

Xerxes’ famous feat… Hellespont: The Persian king Xerxes built a bridge across the Hellespont in 480 BC in order to lead his army against the Greeks of the mainland; for the classic account of this episode, see Herodotus, Histories 7. 34–6.

13.

Optimus Maximus: Literally, ‘Best and Greatest’, a title that belonged to Jupiter in his role as patron god of Rome.

14.

‘Nay, let there be one master, and one king!’: A quotation from Homer’s Iliad, 2. 204–5, where Odysseus is rallying the Greek soldiers to support the leadership of Agamemnon; Domitian would later quote the half–line that immediately precedes this (see Dom. 13).

15.

‘Jupiter Latiaris’: The chief god of the ancient league of Latin cities, worshipped on the Alban Mount south of Rome.

16.

‘Either you throw me or I will throw you!’: Another line from Homer’s Iliad, 23. 724, where Ajax is challenging Odysseus in a wrestling match at the funeral games of Patroclus.

17.

‘Ulysses in petticoats’: Ulysses (the Roman name for Odysseus) was renowned in Greek myth for his schemes and stratagems; although in earlier sources (for example, Homer’s Odyssey)he was portrayed as an admirable figure, in later times he was regarded as deceitful, unreliable and treacherous.

18.

Aufidius Lurco… high office at Rome: Suetonius has made a mistake here, since the name of Livia’s grandfather was in fact Alfidius, and he may very well have been a town councillor in Fundi (see Tib. 5 for the family connection); the Aufidius Lurco who held high office in Rome was a different person.

19.

placed them all in turn below him: Gaius put his sisters in the place that his wife would normally take, and put his wife in the place usually given to the guest of honour.

20.

Aemilius Lepidus’ trial… kill him: Little is known of this episode. M. Aemilius Lepidus was Drusilla’s second husband, whom Gaius at one point evidently considered as a possible successor; Gaius had him tried for treason and executed in the autumn of AD39, and exiled his sisters at the same time (Seneca, Letters 4.7; Dio 59. 22. 6–8); compare Claud. 9.

21.

Lollia Paulina, wife of Gaius Memmius: She was later considered a possible wife for Claudius (Claud. 26); the praenomen of her previous husband, Memmius, who at the time commanded the armies in Moesia, Macedonia and Achaia, was not Gaius but Publius.

22.

Gallograecia: That is, the area of Galatia in what is now central Turkey, which had been settled by invading Gauls in the third century BC but had become largely Greek in culture.

23.

‘Let them hate me, so long as they fear me’: A quotation from a lost tragedy by the Roman playwright Accius (170–c. 86 BC); compare Tib. 59.

24.

the Varus massacre or the collapse of the amphitheatre… under Tiberius: For these disasters, see Aug. 23 and Tib. 40.

25.

banishing Homer from his republic: The reference is to Plato’s argument that traditional myths of the gods, such as those found in the Homeric poems, were untrue and hence had no place in an ideal society (Republic 2.377–93).

26.

their ancient family emblems… Magnus: A torc was a metal collar used as a military decoration, and the name Torquatus was sometimes assumed as a hereditary cognomen by someone who had won one (see Aug. 43); the Torquatus mentioned here was probably one of the Junii Silani, descendants of Augustus through his granddaughter Julia and hence potential rivals to Gaius: perhaps D. Junius Silanus, consul in AD 19, or his brother L. Junius Silanus. Cn. Pompeius Magnus was a descendant through his mother of Pompey the Great, whose name he adopted. L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, one of the heroes of the early republic, was traditionally said to have earned his cognomen because of his curly hair (cincinnus means ‘ringlet’); there were still Quinctii in the early empire, but they no longer used the cognomen Cincinnatus, and it is not clear whom Suetonius had in mind.

27.

a fine head of hair… brutally shaved: Gaius himself was balding (see section 50 below), hence his hostility.

28.

Colosseros: The name is a combination of the Greek words colossus, ‘giant’, and eros, ‘cupid’.

29.

King of the Grove: In Latin, rex Nemorensis; the priest of Diana at her sacred grove (nemus) near Aricias south–east of Rome. The position was held by an escaped slave, who killed his predecessor and would in turn be killed by his successor.

30.

Batavian recruits… German expedition: The Batavi were a German tribe who lived at the mouth of the Rhine; the Julio–Claudian emperors used Germans as their personal bodyguard since, as foreigners, they had no other ties to Rome and so would be loyal to the emperor alone.

31.

drive their chariots all the way… Senate House: Wheeled traffic was ordinarily prohibited during daylight hours within the city of Rome, so that Gaius’ instructions to his couriers constituted another example of his arrogance.

32.

‘Be steadfast,… happier occasions’: A paraphrase of Virgil, Aeneid 1.207, the climax of a speech in which Aeneas encourages his followers to bear up under their troubles.

33.

the Ocean: In Greek and Roman tradition, the Ocean was the body of water that encircled the world; the Romans applied the name to the seas beyond the mainland of Europe.

34.

the one at Pharos: Pharos was a small island in the harbour of Alexandria, the location of a famous lighthouse.

35.

a decimation: For this practice, see Aug. 24 with the note.

36.

the Cimbri… the Senones had done: Two barbarian tribes associated with attacks on Rome; for the Cimbri see Aug. 23 with the note, and for the Senones see Tib. 3 with the note.

37.

Jupiter’s thunderbolt… Mercury’s caduceus: The particular insignia, or attributes, associated with these gods; the thunderbolt signified Jupiter’s power over storms, the trident Neptune’s power over the sea, and the caduceus, or herald’s staff, Mercury’s role as messenger of the gods.

38.

the Green faction: The chariots that raced in the Circus competed under different colours; these defined different factions or ‘teams’, each with its own supporters. The chief factions in the early empire were the Greens and the Blues.

39.

‘Priapus’ or ‘Venus’: The god Priapus was always depicted with a large erect phallus and was in literature associated with humorous obscenity; Venus was the goddess of sexual desire.

40.

the one murdered in Cinna’s day: C. Julius Caesar Strabo, the great–uncle of Julius Caesar, who was killed in 87/86 BC after Marius and Cinna seized control in Rome.

DIVUS CLAUDIUS

1.

How fortunate… womb: The verse is in Greek, and is thought to come from a now–lost comedy of the fourth century BC.

2.

‘the Noblest Spoils’: Latin, spolia opima; a military honour awarded to a Roman commander who killed an enemy commander in single combat; only three instances from all previous Roman history are cited in our sources.

3.

Claudius was born… Julian family: Claudius was born in 10 BC, the year before his father’s death. His brother was adopted in AD 4 by Tiberius at the same time as Tiberius was adopted by Augustus (see Tib. 15 and Calig. 1), and so became a Julius; Claudius thereupon assumed the traditional Claudian cognomen Nero, which his brother lost on his adoption, and became Ti. Claudius Nero Germanicus. His official name as emperor was Ti. Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

4.

the gods’ platform… the Latin Festival: For the gods’ platform, see Aug. 45 with the note. For the Latin Festival, see Jul. 79 with the note; during the few days’ absence of the magistrates from Rome, the consul (in this case Germanicus) appointed a young man of good birth to the largely ceremonial position of prefect of the city (compare Nero 7); the reference to Germanicus as consul dates this letter to AD 12.

5.

heirs in the third degree: They inherited only if those in the first and second degree did not; compare Aug. 101 with the note.

6.

for the Saturnalia and Sigillaria: The Latin word sigillaria means in the first place small decorative items made of pottery; the word was also used for the market street in Rome where such items were typically sold, and (as here) for the final day of the Saturnalia, on which gifts of this sort were exchanged.

7.

The equites twice chose Claudius… consuls: The equites looked to Claudius as one of the few leading members of the imperial family who was not a member of the Senate; see Calig. 15 with the note.

8.

conspiracy headed by Lepidus and Gaetulicus: In the autumn of AD 39, Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, then in command of the Roman army in Upper Germany, was detected in a planned coup against Gaius (Dio 59. 22. 5); for M. Aemilius Lepidus, seeCalig. 24 with the note. This is the only reference to the two men acting together.

9.

Asinius Gallus and Statilius Corvinus… deposition: Asinius Gallus was not only the grandson of C. Asinius Pollio, but also the half–brother of Tiberius’ son Drusus: his mother was Vipsania, who after being divorced from Tiberius (see Tib. 7) had married Pollio’s son C. Asinius Gallus. On the conspiracy, see further Dio 60. 27. 5. T. Statilius Taurus Corvinus is named as a conspirator only here.

10.

Furius Camillus Scribonianus: He had been born M. Furius Camillus, but after being adopted took the name L. Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus; as governor of Dalmatia in AD 41/42, he made a short–lived attempt at a coup (see Dio 60. 15. 1–3).

11.

four more consulships: Claudius’first consulship had been with Gaius in AD 37 (above, section 7, and compare Calig. 15); he held the others in AD 42,43, 47 and 51.

12.

an unwholesome liking for jury duty: Exemption from jury duty was evidently one of the benefits granted under the Papian– Poppaean Law (see the Glossary of Terms).

13.

the classical case of Rabirius Postumus: He was defended by Cicero, whose speech on his behalf still survives.

14.

hacked to pieces before his eyes: Among the duties of the censor was the obligation to curb extravagance; as with other censorial duties, this was assumed by the emperors (see for example Tib. 34 and Nero 16).

15.

the great obelisk… lamp: Gaius had brought from Egypt an obelisk to serve as one of the turning posts in the Circus that he built in the Vatican quarter (compare section 21); it now stands in front of St Peter’s in Rome. On Pharos, see Calig. 46 with the note.

16.

Saecular Games: See Aug. 31 with the note.

17.

with his left arm extended: On formal occasions, a man’s left arm would be bound up by the fold of his toga.

18.

the Dove… catching: Well–known gladiators often had nicknames, just as some sports celebrities do today.

19.

declined senatorial rank: Senatorial status involved sometimes onerous and expensive obligations, as well as restrictions, since senators were barred from engaging in the kinds of business activity that were open to equites.

20.

banned travel… except on foot… or in a litter: This extended to the other towns of Italy the ban on vehicular traffic that already existed in Rome (see Calig. 44 with the note).

21.

at the instigation of Chrestus… from the city: It is generally thought that Suetonius has here confused the common slave name ‘Chrestus’ with ‘Christus’, and that the disturbances he mentions were the result of Christian missionizing among the Jewish population of Rome. For the expulsion of the Jews, compare Acts 18:2, where Paul’s associates Aquila and Priscilla are said to have left Rome and come to Corinth as a result of Claudius’ decree.

22.

the Fetial priests: Members of an ancient Roman priestly association, traditionally responsible for the rituals associated with declarations of war and the striking of peace treaties; it had more or less disappeared before being revived by Augustus.

23.

Aemilia Lepida’s parents offended Augustus… broken off: She was the daughter of the younger Julia and L. Aemilius Paulus; Julia was exiled in AD 8 for adultery (Aug. 65), and Paulus was executed, perhaps in the same year, for allegedly conspiring against Augustus (Aug. 19).

24.

his cousin Messala Barbatus: M. Valerius Messala Barbatus was the son of Marcella, a daughter of Augustus’ sister Octavia by her first husband, Marcellus; Claudius’ mother Antonia was the daughter of Octavia and her second husband, Mark Antony, andthus half–sister to Marcella. Messalina’s mother, Domitia Lepida, was also Claudius’ cousin, being the daughter of the elder Antonia, his mother’s full sister.

25.

afterwards called Britannicus: Claudius at first gave his son the traditional family name of Ti. Claudius Germanicus, but later marked his conquest of Britain by giving him the honorific name Britannicus.

26.

this Felix married three princesses: Felix was governor of Judaea in AD 52–60, and married Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Josephus, Jewish War 2.247–70, Jewish Antiquities 20.137–44 and 160–82); he was the governor before whom Paul defended himself (Acts 23:23–24:27).

27.

the dining room of the Salii: The Salii were members of an ancient priestly college who in spring and autumn processed through Rome carrying shields of archaic design and performing ritual war dances; they afterwards enjoyed banquets that were proverbial for their luxury.

28.

an execution in ancient style: See Nero 49.

29.

‘What? Do you take me for Telegenius?’ and ‘Talk but don’t touch’: In the first phrase, Telegenius is otherwise unknown, although the context suggests that he was a byword for a stupid or incompetent person; the second phrase was a Greek saying equivalent to the English ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’

30.

A Defence of Cicero… Asinius Gallus: C. Asinius Gallus, a prominent senator during the reign of Tiberius (and father of the Asinius Gallus who conspired against Claudius: see section 13), wrote a treatise unfavourably comparing the style of Cicero with that of his father C. Asinius Pollio. None of Claudius’ writings is extant, although a few stray quotations survive from his history.

31.

three new letters… inscriptions: The three letters were an upside–down F, used to represent the sound ‘w’; one that resembled the first half of H, apparently used to represent the sound of the Greek upsilon; and probably a backwards C, used for the combination ‘bs’. Examples of the first two letters survive in a few inscriptions, although they all quickly fell out of use after Claudius’ death.

32.

‘Let him be first… boldly’: A line found several times in the Homeric epics: Iliad 24.369, Odyssey 16. 72 and 21. 133. Graves rendered it into an English hexameter; a more literal but less metrical translation would be ‘Ward off the man who becomes angry unprovoked.’

33.

‘The hand that wounded you shall also heal’: A reference to the myth of Telephus, who was wounded by Achilles in the Trojan War and then told by an oracle that only Achilles could heal him.

34.

during the consulship of Asinius Marcellus and Acilius Aviola: In AD 54.

NERO

1.

a pair of twins… descendants: Suetonius is referring to the story that Castor and Pollux (see Jul. 10 with the note) announced the victory of the Romans over their Latin neighbours at the battle of Lake Regillus in the early fifth century BC; for a more detailed but different version, see Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 6.13; the story of Domitius and his beard is elsewhere mentioned only by Plutarch (Aemilius Paulus 25). The name Ahenobarbus derives from the Latin words aeneus (or aheneus), ‘bronze–coloured’, and barba, ‘beard’.

2.

on the staff of Augustus’ adopted son Gaius: Suetonius has made a mistake here, since Cn. Domitius was much too young to have accompanied Gaius to the east in 1 BC; he perhaps meant Germanicus, who was sent to the east in AD 17.

3.

Nero was born… on the ground: The year was AD 37. It was traditional to lay a newborn on the ground; the father then acknowledged the child by lifting him or her up.

4.

‘I give him Claudius’ name’: The point here is that Nero eventually did in fact take Claudius’ name. His original name was L. Domitius Ahenobarbus; after his adoption by Claudius, he became Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus (although there is also evidence that he used the praenomen Tiberius); his official name as emperor was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. The ritual purification to which Suetonius refers took place nine days after the birth, which was thought to bring pollution on both the mother and the child.

5.

his stepfather, Crispus Passienus: C. Sallustius Crispus Passienus was a distinguished orator who first married Domitia, Nero’s paternal aunt, and then his mother Agrippina; Suetonius included a biography of him in his section on orators in On Illustrious Men, of which an abbreviated version survives.

6.

the age of eleven: Suetonius has made a slip with Nero’s age here, since other evidence shows that he must recently have turned twelve at the time of his adoption (25 February AD 50).

7.

Domitia Lepida… the trial: According to Tacitus, Annals 12.64–5, Agrippina viewed Lepida as a rival and in AD 53 had her accused of using magic against the emperor’s wife and endangering the peace in southern Italy by not keeping the slaves on her estates under control.

8.

city prefect during the Latin Festival: See Claud. 4 with the note.

9.

Pasiphae… Icarus: The two ballets presented Greek myths associated with Crete. Minos, the king, angered the god Poseidon, who retaliated by causing his wife, Pasiphae, to develop a passion for a bull; the inventor Daedalus devised an artificial heifer in which she could hide in order for the bull to mate with her. Daedalus later escaped from Minos’ service by creating wings made of wax and feathers for himself and his son Icarus; despite Daedalus’ warnings, Icarus flew too high, so that the heat of the sun melted the wax and caused him to plunge to his death.

10.

Nero’s four consulships:In AD 55,57, 58 and 60;in AD 68 he also briefly took the position of sole consul during the revolt of Vindex and Galba (see section 43 below).

11.

Caninius Rebilus’ one–day consulship: See Jul. 76.

12.

Punishments were inflicted on the Christians: For a fuller account of this episode, see Tacitus, Annals 15.44, who says that Nero used the Christians as scapegoats for the great fire of AD 64.

13.

a canal… an expedition to the Caspian Gates: Neither of these schemes was realized: the former was a typically grandiose project allegedly contemplated by other rulers (for example, Jul. 44 and Calig. 21); the latter may have had a serious strategic purpose, but was apparently seen (by Nero or by others) as an attempt to rival the exploits of Alexander the Great.

14.

Niobe: A famous figure from Greek myth; as the mother of seven sons and seven daughters, she boasted that she was superior to the goddess Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis; in retaliation, Leto had her children kill the children of Niobe. Niobe’s subsequent lament was presumably the subject of Nero’s performance.

15.

Canace… Hercules raving: More figures from Greek myth. Canace was impregnated by her brother; when she gave birth, the affair came to light and both she and her brother committed suicide. Orestes killed his mother Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of his father Agamemnon; Oedipus blinded himself after discovering that he had unknowingly killed his father and married his mother; Hercules, driven mad by the goddess Hera, killed his wife and children. Ancient readers would no doubt have been struck that Nero’s favourite roles involved the same themes of incest and parricide that appear in his own life story (compare section 46 below).

16.

a Green charioteer… Hector: For the Circus teams of Greens and Blues, see Calig. 55 with the note. In Greek myth, after Achilles killed the Trojan hero Hector, he tied his body to the back of his chariot and dragged it through the dust (Homer, Iliad 22.395–404).

17.

The Olympian wreath… carried before him: Wreaths were the prizes at the great traditional Greek games, of which the most prestigious were the Olympian games in honour of Zeus and the Pythian games at Delphi in honour of Apollo.

18.

Augustiani and the soldiers of his triumph: According to Tacitus, Annals 14.15, ‘Augustiani’ was the name given to Nero’s professional applauders (see section 20). Nero’s ceremonial entrance into Rome after his victories in the Greek games was evidently meant to be a version of the traditional Roman triumph, with his fans in the place of the soldiers, and Apollo, the god of music, taking the place of Jupiter.

19.

the Sigillaria at Rome: A market street; see Claud. 5 with the note.

20.

Canusian wool… Mazacian horsemen: The town of Canusium was famous for the high quality of its wool; the Mazaces were a North African people noted as horsemen.

21.

‘The Golden House’: A massive complex (some 125 acres), incorporating extensive parklands as well as buildings, that extended from the Palatine to the Esquiline and Caelian hills; although largely dismantled by Vespasian, enough remains to give some sense of it.

22.

‘the food of the gods’: The joke was that Claudius was formally installed as a god (see section 9 above) after the mushrooms had caused his death (compare Claud. 44).

23.

the Furies: In Greek myth, goddesses of vengeance who tormented those guilty of crimes against family members, especially matricide.

24.

his aunt Domitia: Not Domitia Lepida, who had been put to death under Claudius (see section 7 above), but her sister.

25.

the rich old freedmen… advisers: Suetonius presumably has in mind Claudius’ freedman Pallas (see Claud. 28) and Nero’s own freedman Doryphorus, who are said by Tacitus (Annals 14. 65) to have been killed in the same year as Octavia (ad 62).

26.

the Pisonian conspiracy… Beneventum: Tacitus provides an extensive account of the conspiracy headed by C. Calpurnius Piso, which was revealed in AD 65 (Annals 15. 48–74). In contrast, there is no other literary reference to the Vinician conspiracy, which took place probably in AD 66 or 67 and was perhaps headed by a man named Annius Vinicianus.

27.

Alcmaeon, Orestes and Nero… mothers: This verse is in Greek. In Greek myth, Alcmaeon killed his mother Eriphyle, who had betrayed his father Amphiaraus after being bribed with a necklace; for Orestes, see above, section 21 with the note.

28.

Count the numerical values… Nero’s name: Also in Greek; the ancient Greeks used the letters of their alphabet to indicate numbers.

29.

Aeneas the Trojan hero… each other: The remaining passages are in Latin. This one involves a pun on the verb tollere, which mean both ‘to lift up’ and ‘to remove’; Aeneas famously carried his father out of Troy when it was being sacked by the Greeks.

30.

your song about Nauplius: In Greek myth, Nauplius was the father of Palamedes, whom Odysseus framed on a charge of treason; to avenge him, Nauplius lit false beacons to wreck the Greek fleet on its return from Troy.

31.

another throne in the east… Jerusalem: This is perhaps connected with the prophecy that a new ruler would arise in Judaea (see Vesp. 4). For the false Neros who later appeared in the east, see below, section 57, with the note.

32.

you deserve the sack: Presumably a reference to the traditional punishment for parricides (see Aug. 33 with the note).

33.

aroused even the cocks…‘Vengeance is coming!’: Both these jokes depend on Latin puns. The word galli means both ‘cocks’ and ‘Gauls’; the word vindex means ‘defender’ or ‘avenger’, so that the nocturnal pranksters could justifiably shout out the name of Vindex when pretending to threaten their slaves.

34.

Proserpine’s descent to the underworld: In Greek myth, Hades, god of the underworld, abducted Persephone (called Proserpine in Latin), the daughter of Demeter, to be his wife.

35.

‘Wife, mother, father, do my death compel!’: The idea is that the ghosts of Oedipus’ father and mother are driving him to his death as a result of his crimes against them (see section 21 above, with the note); so too the ghosts of those whom Nero killed.

36.

‘Is it so terrible a thing to die?’: Virgil, Aeneid 12.646.

37.

‘Hark to the sound I hear! It is hooves of galloping horses’: Homer, Iliad 10.535.

38.

Apollo… the Sun… Hercules… strangle it: Nero’s interest in Apollo as the god of music is noted above (section 25 with the note); the Sun was said in traditional myth to drive a fiery chariot through the sky (see the note at Calig. 11); the first of Hercules’ twelve labours was to kill a lion with his bare hands.

39.

Turnus from Virgil: The great Italian hero who opposes Aeneas in the second half of Virgil’s Aeneid.

40.

caps of liberty: Traditionally worn by ex–slaves immediately after being freed by their owners.

41.

twenty years later… claiming to be Nero: There were in fact at least two men before this who appeared in the eastern part of the empire claiming to be Nero, the first in AD 69 (Tacitus, Histories 2. 8–9) and the second in AD 79 or 80 (Dio 66. 19. 3b–c); this passage points to a third around the year AD 88, to which Tacitus, Histories 1. 2, perhaps also refers.

GALBA

1.

Pasiphae: See Nero 12 with the note.

2.

the war with Viriatus: Viriatus was one of the few survivors of Galba’s massacre in 150 BC, and by 147 BC he had become the war leader of the Lusitanians; he defeated a series of Roman commanders and maintained Lusitanian independence until 138 BC, when the Romans had him assassinated.

3.

when Marcus Valerius Messala and Gnaeus Lentulus were consuls: In 3 BC; other evidence, however, indicates a date of 5 BC for Galba’s birth. His original name was Ser. Sulpicius Galba; on his adoption by his stepmother Livia, he became L. Livius Ocella Sulpicius Galba; as emperor he seems to have used the name Ser. Galba Imperator Caesar.

4.

Quindecimviri… Sodales Augustales: The Quindecimviri were the board of fifteen men in charge of the Sibylline Books; the Sodales Titii were members of an ancient college revived by Augustus, about which little is known; the Sodales Augustales were responsible for the cult of Divus Augustus (and later Divus Claudius).

5.

Nymphidius Sabinus… Africa: C. Nymphidius Sabinus was praetorian prefect at the end of Nero’s reign, and before Galba’s arrival in Rome he tried to stage a coup by presenting himself to the praetorians; they refused to support him, and he was killed. C. Fonteius Capito was commander of the legions in Lower Germany, killed by some of his officers for reasons that are not entirely clear. L. Clodius Macer was governor of Africa; he seems to have a followed a policy similar to Galba’s but with less success, and was eventually killed on Galba’s orders.

6.

decimated them: For the practice of decimation, see Aug. 24 with the note.

7.

excessive devotion to Gnaeus Dolabella: Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (his praenomen may in fact have been Publius) was at one point proposed to Galba as a possible successor, although Galba decided against him; it was in the wake of this episode that he dismissed the German guards.

8.

the right to wear a gold ring… man of his rank: A gold ring was sign of equestrian status; by the highest office for men of this rank Suetonius presumably means that of praetorian prefect.

9.

the operations against Vindex and the Gauls: It was the army in Upper Germany, under its commander L. Verginius Rufus, that in May of AD 68 had defeated Vindex and put an end to his rebellion.

10.

warm ashes… earthenware cup: The point here is that these preparations are poor, or even contrary to normal practice, and therefore ill–omened for a person trying to expiate a fault.

11.

‘So far my vigour undiminished is’: Homer, Iliad 5.254 and Odyssey 21. 426.

OTHO

1.

Camillus’ rebellion: See Claud. 13.

2.

when Camillus Arruntius and Domitius Ahenobarbus were the consuls: In AD 32; Suetonius elsewhere (Claud. 13) calls Camillus Arruntius by his birth name, Furius Camillus.

3.

Seleucus: Suetonius appears to be wrong about this man’s name: Tacitus says that Seleucus was Vespasian’s astrologer (Histories 2. 78), while both Tacitus (Histories 1. 22) and Plutarch (Galba 23. 4) say that Otho’s astrologer was named Ptolemaeus.

4.

he even added the cognomen Nero… governors: No other evidence supports Otho’s use of the name Nero; his official title as emperor seems instead to have been Imperator Marcus Otho Caesar Augustus.

5.

‘Playing long flutes is hardly my trade’: A Greek proverbial expression used of those doing something for which they were not suited.

6.

the Salii… should not have: For the Salii, see Claud. 33 with the note; the March rituals of Cybele, the Mother of the Gods, focused on the death of her consort Attis; Dis was the god of the underworld.

VITELLIUS

1.

Quintus Elogius described… at Rome: The Quintus Elogius mentioned here is completely unknown, and the name in fact seems to result from a mistake in the transmission of Suetonius’ text. Almost none of this material can be corroborated from any other source: Faunus is an ancient but obscure figure from Italic tradition, but the goddess Vitellia and the Vitellian Way are otherwise unattested; there are a few references to a town called Vitellia in Latium, but the spelling of the name varies. The Aequiculi (or Aequi) were an Italian people who periodically threatened Rome in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The Samnite Wars were fought with the peoples of central southern Italy in the late fourth and early third centuries BC; they did involve the establishment of Roman colonies, but the reference to Nuceria here is simply an error: Nuceria was in the Bay of Naples, while the Apulian town was called Luceria.

2.

covering his head… prostrating himself: A Roman who presided over a sacrifice normally covered his head with a fold of his toga; a covered head thus became a standard visual marker of piety and respect for the gods. Vitellius seems to have adopted his other actions from the east, where they were traditional ways of showing respect to a ruler.

3.

‘May you do this very often’… Saecular Games: This was presumably a joke, since the Saecular Games were supposed to occur only once in a lifetime (compare Claud. 21), although a joke seems a little out of place in a discussion of his skill as a flatterer.

4.

his two sons… achieve the consulship in the same year: A. Vitellius, the future emperor, was regular consul in AD 48, followed by his younger brother L. Vitellius as suffect consul.

5.

while Drusus Caesar and Norbanus Flaccus were consuls: In AD 15; yet below (section 18) Suetonius gives Vitellius’ age at his death in December AD 69 as fifty–six, which implies that he was born in AD 12; various considerations suggest that the latter is correct.

6.

‘spintria’… public office: For Tiberius’ spintriae, see Tib. 43; the story cannot be true, since L. Vitellius, as consul in AD 34, must have been well along in his career by AD 27, when Tiberius went to Capreae.

7.

At the Neronia… reconsider his decision: On the Neronia, see Nero 12; for this episode, compare Nero 21.

8.

the Blues in the Circus: On the different Circus factions, see Calig. 55 with the note.

9.

the cognomen Germanicus… Caesar: Documentary evidence confirms that as emperor he called himself A. Vitellius Germanicus Imperator, later adding the name Augustus.

10.

a rooster… on his hand: Suetonius explains the significance of this curious incident in section 18 below.

11.

wearing a commander’s cloak… drawn swords: Vitellius’ entrance into Rome takes the form of a quasi–triumph, a grossly offensive way to mark a victory over fellow citizens.

12.

the anniversary of the Allia defeat: 18 July; according to tradition, it was on that day in 390 BC that the Romans were defeated by the Gauls in a battle at the Allia river, a defeat that paved the way for the Gallic sack of Rome (see further Tib. 3 with the note); the anniversary was always observed as a day of ill omen.

13.

The omen…‘rooster’s beak’: The interpretation of the event is based not only on Antonius Primus’ childhood nickname, but also the pun between gallus (‘rooster’) and Gallus (‘Gaul’); compare Nero 45 with the note.

DIVUS VESPASIAN

1.

during the consulship of Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus and Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus: In AD 9.

2.

full Roman citizenship in place of only a Latin one: The Latin citizenship to which Suetonius refers was a limited form of Roman citizenship given to improperly freed slaves; these remarks about Flavia Domitilla suggest that she either was or was said to be a freedwoman.

3.

picked up a human hand… under the table: The point behind this macabre anecdote is that manus, the Latin word for ‘hand’, also signified the power that a husband had over a wife or a father over his children and slaves (hence ‘to manumit’– literally, ‘to send out of manus’).

4.

who would then be emperor: We have Josephus’ own account of this incident: Jewish War 3.399–408.

5.

branches, garlands and bread: Symbols of kingship in Hellenistic Egypt; as Tacitus points out in his own account of this event (Histories 4. 82), the name Basilides was itself an omen (since it is related to the Greek word basileus, ‘king’).

6.

eight more consulships to the one he had already earned: Vespasian’s first consulship had been in AD 51 (see above, section 4); on becoming emperor, he held the consulship in AD 70 and thereafter for every year of his reign except AD 73 and 78.

7.

an amphitheatre in the centre of the city: This is the Flavian Amphitheatre, begun by Vespasian, dedicated by Titus (see Tit. 7), and finally completed by Domitian; it is better known today as the Colosseum, a name that it acquired in the Middle Ages after the colossal statue of Nero (see Nero 31 and section 18 below) had been moved there.

8.

immoral fellow…‘I, at least, am a man’: The Latin word impudicus, which Graves translates here as ‘immoral’, carried the specific connotation of taking the passive role in homosexual intercourse.

9.

Does the emperor really care… a million in gold?’: This was a hint at Vespasian’s greed, for which he was notorious (see section 16 below); other emperors had ensured that wealthy men were condemned simply so that they could confiscate their property (see, for example, Calig. 38 and Nero 32).

10.

Good dog!’: The Cynics were followers of a philosophical tradition that rejected all human conventions in favour of living in accordance with nature; the point of Vespasian’s comment is that the name Cynic derived from the Greek word kuôn, ‘dog’.

11.

Simply as ‘Vespasian’: Vespasian’s original name was T. Flavius Vespasianus; as emperor, however, he used the name Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.

12.

the Colossus: The huge statue of himself that Nero erected (see Nero 31); according to the elder Pliny, Vespasian had it refashioned into an image of the sun god (Natural History 34. 45).

13.

plostra…‘Flaurus’: Plaustra is the Latin word for ‘wagons’; the joke here involves not only the obvious play with the vowels, but also the allusion to the Greek word phlauros, ‘petty’.

14.

striding along with a lance… shadow’: Homer, Iliad 7.213.

15.

O, Laches… once more: A quotation from a now lost comedy of Menander, with alterations by Vespasian.

16.

Junia Calvina… one of his descendants: The daughter of Aemilia Lepida and granddaughter of the younger Julia; Junia Calvina was apparently the only one of Augustus’ direct descendants to survive the reigns of Gaius, Claudius and Nero.

17.

Look at that long hair… going to die’: Comets were called ‘long–haired stars’ in antiquity, and were thought to portend disasters such as the death of a ruler (see Nero 36); Vespasian jokes that a long–haired star must refer to the death of a longhaired ruler.

18.

when he had lived sixty–nine years, seven months and seven days: In AD 79.

DIVUS TITUS

1.

the same as his father’s: Titus’ original name was T. Flavius Vespasianus; as emperor, he was called Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.

2.

the memorable year… the Septizonium: The year is AD 41, although the age that Suetonius assigns to Titus at his death (section 11 below) suggests that he was instead born in AD 39; the latter is usually considered correct. The Septizonium is otherwise unknown.

3.

the Ides of September, and he had reigned two years, two months, and twenty days:On 13 September AD 81.

DOMITIAN

1.

Vespasian as consul–elect… the sixth district of Rome: The year is AD 51; the sixth district was on the Quirinal Hill.

2.

rode on a white horse: Vespasian and Titus rode in the triumphal chariot; Domitian’s place on a horse is like that of the young Tiberius in Augustus’ triumph (Tib. 6).

3.

six consulships… resigned in his favour: Domitian was suffect consul in AD 71,75, 76,77 and 79; he held a regular consulship in 73, but there is no other evidence that Titus was originally designated for the position.

4.

the college of the Flaviales: A board of priests who oversaw the cult of the deified Flavian emperors, Vespasian and Titus.

5.

Scantinian Law: Directed against men who had sex with freeborn boys.

6.

Before an impious people took to eating slaughtered bullocks’: Virgil, Georgics 2. 537.

7.

I’m in training’: The joke refers to the accepted wisdom that sexual activity was harmful to one’s voice.

8.

Mago and Hannibal: Hannibal was the great Carthaginian general who during the Second Punic War had invaded Italy and threatened the city of Rome; Mago was his younger brother.

9.

Paris and Oenone: In Greek myth, Oenone was a nymph loved by Paris, the prince of Troy, whom he deserted for Helen; after he had been wounded, she refused to return to him and cure him.

10.

an execution in ancient style: See Nero 49.

11.

the tax on Jews: This had been imposed by Vespasian, who after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70 had redirected the ancient Temple tax (see Exodus 30:11–16) to a special fund in the Capitol in Rome (see Josephus, Jewish War 7.218).

12.

Too many rulers are a dangerous thing’: Homer, Iliad 2.204; Gaius had earlier quoted from the same passage (see Calig. 22 with the note).

13.

our Lord and Lady: The Latin word dominus, which had connotations of ‘master’, had been firmly rejected by Augustus and Tiberius (see Aug. 53 with the note; compare Tib. 27).

14.

scribbled arci… but used Greek characters: A bilingual pun: arci is the Latin word for ‘arches’, but spelled with Greek characters it becomes the Greek verb arkei, ‘that’s enough!’

15.

seventeen consulships: Domitian held his first six consulships during the reign of his father (see section 2 above, with the note) and his seventh during that of his brother (ad 80); as emperor, he was consul every year from AD 82 to 88, and again in AD 90,92 and 95.

16.

The famous cypress tree: For this tree, see Vesp. 5.

17.

fourteen years: The year was AD 96. Suetonius is wrong about the length of Domitian’s reign, which began on 13 September AD 81 and so lasted a little more than fifteen years.

18.

Cannot you see that I too have a tall and beautiful person?’: Homer, Iliad 21.108.

19.

her husband: Julia’s husband was her cousin T. Flavius Sabinus, whom Domitian himself had executed (see section 10 above).

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