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Chapter 25

THE year after Herod died I celebrated the first annual festival in honour of my British triumph; and, remembering the complaints that I had overheard that night on the steps of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, I made a distribution of money to the needy populace – three gold pieces a head with half a gold piece extra for every child in the family who had not yet come of age [A.D. 45]. In one case I had to pay as much as twelve and a half gold pieces, but that was because there were several sets of twins to subsidize. Young Silanus and young Pompey assisted me in the distribution. When I record that I had now removed all Caligula’s extraordinary taxes and paid back the men he had robbed, and that work continued on the Ostia harbour scheme and the aqueducts and the Fucine Lake drainage scheme, and that, without defrauding anyone, I was able to pay out this bounty and still keep a substantial balance in the Public Treasury, you will admit, I think, that I had done extremely well in these four years.

The astronomer Barbillus (to whom I referred in my letter to the Alexandrians) made some abstruse mathematical calculations and informed me that there was to be an eclipse of the sun on my birthday. This caused me some alarm, because an eclipse is one of the most unlucky omens that can happen at any time, and happening on my birthday, which was also a national festival in honour of Mars, it would greatly disturb people and give anyone who wished to assassinate me every confidence of success. But I thought that if I warned the people beforehand that the eclipse was to take place they would feel very differently about it: not despondent but actually pleased that they knew what was coming and understood the mechanics of the phenomenon.

I published a proclamation:

Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Caesar Augustus Germanicus Britannicus, Emperor, Father of the Country, High Pontiff, Protector of the People for the fifth year in succession, three times Consul, to the Senate, People, and Allies of Rome, greetings.

My good friend Tiberius Claudius Barbillus of the city of Ephesus made certain astronomical calculations last year, since confirmed by a body of his fellow astronomers in the city of Alexandria, where that science flourishes, and found that an eclipse of the sun, total in some parts of Italy, partial in others, will take place on the first day of August next. Now, I do not wish you to feel any alarm on this account, though superstitious terrors have always in the past been awakened by this natural phenomenon. In the old days it was a sudden and inexplicable event and considered as a warning by the Gods themselves that happiness was to be blotted out on earth for a while, just as the sun’s life-giving rays were blotted out. But now we so well understand eclipses that we can actually prophesy, ‘On such and such a day an eclipse will take place.’ And I think everyone should feel both proud and relieved that the old terrors are laid at last by the force of intelligent human reasoning.

The following, then, is the explanation that my learned friends give. The Moon, which revolves in its orbit below the Sun, either immediately below it or perhaps with the planets Mercury and Venus intervening – this is a disputed point and does not affect the present argument – has a longitudinal motion, like the Sun, and a vertical motion, as the Sun probably has too; but it has also a latitudinal motion which the Sun never has in any circumstances. So when, because of this latitudinal motion, the Moon gets in a direct line with the Sun over our heads and passes invisibly under its blazing disk – invisibly, because the Sun is so bright that by day, as you know, the Moon becomes a mere nothing – then the rays which normally dart from the Sun to the earth are obscured by the Moon’s intervention. For some of the earth’s inhabitants this obscuration lasts for a longer time than for others, according to their geographical position, and some are not affected by it at all. The fact is that the Sun never really loses its light, as the ignorant suppose, and consequently it appears in its full splendour to all people between itself and whom the Moon does not pass.

This is the simple explanation, then, of an eclipse of the Sun – as simple a matter as if anyone of you were to shade the flame of an oil-lamp or candle with your hand and plunge a whole room into temporary darkness. (An eclipse of the Moon, by the way, is caused by the Moon running into the cone-shaped shadow thrown by the Earth when the Sun is underneath it; it only happens when the Moon passes through the mean point in its latitudinal motion.) But in the districts most affected by the eclipse, which are indicated on the adjoining map, I desire all magistrates and other responsible authorities to take every precaution against popular panic, or robbery under cover of darkness, and to discourage people from staring at the sun during its eclipse, unless through pieces of horn or glass darkened with candle smoke, because for those with weak eyes there is a danger of blindness.

I think that I must have been the first ruler since the Creation of the World to issue a proclamation of this sort; and it had a very good effect, though of course the country people did not understand words like ‘longitudinal’ and ‘latitudinal’. The eclipse occurred exactly as foretold and the festival took place as usual, though special sacrifices were offered to Diana as Goddess of the Moon, and Apollo as God of the Sun.

I enjoyed perfect health throughout the following year, and nobody tried to assassinate me, and the one revolution that was attempted ended in a most ignominious way for its prime mover. This was Asinius Gallus, grandson of Asinius Pollio and son of Tiberius’s first wife, Vipsania, by Gallus whom she afterwards married and whom Tiberius hated so and finally killed by slow starvation. It is curious how appropriate some people’s names are. Gallus means cock, and Asinus means donkey, and Asinius Gallus was the most utter little donkey-cock for his boastfulness and stupidity that one could find in a month’s tour of Italy. Imagine, he had not got any troops ready or collected any funds for his revolution, but believed that the strength of his personality supported by the nobility of his birth would win him immediate adherents!

He appeared one day on the Oration Platform in the Market Place and began to hold forth to a crowd which soon assembled, on the evils of tyranny, dwelling on my uncle Tiberius’s murder of his father, and saying how necessary it was to root out the Caesar family from Rome and give the monarchy to someone really worthy of it. From his mysterious hints the crowd gathered that he meant himself and began to laugh and cheer. He was a wretched orator and the ugliest man in the Senate, not more than four foot six in height, with bottle-shoulders, a great long face, reddish hair, and a tiny little bright red nose (he suffered from indigestion); yet he thought himself Hercules and Adonis rolled into one. There was not, I believe, a single person in the Market Place who took him seriously, and all sorts of jokes went flying about such as: ‘Asinus in tegulis’ and ‘Asinus ad lyr am’ and ‘Ex Gallo lac et ova.’ (A donkey on the roof-tiles is a proverbial expression for any sudden grotesque apparition, and a donkey playing on a lyre stands for any absurdly incompetent performance, and cock’s milk and cock’s eggs stand for nonsensical hopes.) However, they went on cheering every sentence to see what absurdity would come next: and sure enough, when his speech ended he tried to lead the whole mob up to the Palace to depose me. They followed him in a long column, eight abreast, up to about twenty paces from the outer Palace Gate and then suddenly halted and let him go on by himself, which he did. The sentries at the gate let him through without question, because he was a senator, and he went marching on into the Palace grounds for some distance, shouting threats against me, before he realized that he was alone. (Crowds can be very witty and very cruel sometimes, as well as very stupid and very cowardly.) He was soon arrested, and although the whole affair was so ridiculous I could hardly overlook it: I banished him, but no farther than Sicily, where he had family estates. ‘Go away and crow on your own dung-hill or bray in your own thistle-field, whichever you prefer, but don’t let me hear you,’ I told the ugly, excitable little man.

The harbour at Ostia was not nearly completed yet and had already cost 6,000,000 gold pieces. The greatest technical difficulty now lay in forming the island between the extremities of the two great moles; and you may not credit it, but I solved it myself. You remember Caligula’s great obelisk-ship which had taken the elephants and camels to Britain, and brought them safely back too? She was at Ostia again and had been used twice since for voyages to Egypt to fetch coloured marble for Venus’s temple in Sicily. But the captain told me that she was becoming unseaworthy and he would not care to risk another voyage in her. So one night, as I lay awake, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to fill her with stones and sink her as a foundation for the island. But I rejected that, because we would only be able to fill her about a quarter full of stones before the water rose over the gunwale, and when she rotted they would just fall out in a loose heap. So I thought, ‘If we only had a Gorgon’s head handy to turn her into a big solid rock!’ And that foolish fancy, the sort that often flies into my mind when I am over-tired, gave birth to a really brilliant idea: why not fill her as full as possible with cement powder, which is comparatively light, and then batten down her hatches, sink her, and let the cement set under the water?

It was about two o’clock in the morning when this idea came to me and I clapped my hands for a freedman and sent him off at once to bring my chief engineer to me. About an hour later the engineer turned up from the other side of the City in a great hurry and trembling violently; expecting to be executed, perhaps, for some negligence of other. I asked him excitedly whether my idea was practicable, and was greatly disappointed to hear that cement would not set satisfactorily in sea-water. However, I gave him ten days to find some means of making it set. ‘Ten days,’ I repeated solemnly, ‘or else…’

He thought that ‘or else’ was a threat, but if he had failed I should have explained my little joke, which was simply ‘or else we shall have to abandon the idea’. Fear improved his wits, and after eight days’ frantic experimenting he invented a cement powder that set like a rock when it came into contact with sea-water. It was a mixture of ordinary cement powder from the cement works at Cumae with a peculiar sort of dust from the hills in the neighbourhood of Puteoli, and the shape of that obelisk-ship is now eternized in the hardest stone imaginable at the mouth of Ostia harbour. We have built an island over it, using large stones and more of the same cement; and there is a tall lighthouse on the island, with a beacon fire fed with turpentine shining every night from its summit. There are polished steel reflectors in the beacon chamber which double the light of the fire and send it out in a steady stream down the estuary. The harbour took ten years to complete and cost 12,000,000 in gold; and there are still men at work improving the channel. But it is a great gift to the City, and so long as we command the seas we can never starve.

Everything seemed to be going very well for me and Rome. The country was contented and prosperous and our armies were victorious everywhere – Aulus was consolidating my conquest of Britain by a series of brilliant victories over the yet unsubdued Belgic tribes of the south and south-west; religious observances were being regularly and punctually performed; there was no distress even in the poorest quarters of the City. I had managed to get even with my law-court business and find means of keeping down the number of cases. My health was good. Messalina was lovelier in my eyes than ever. My children were growing up strong and healthy, and little Britannicus was showing the extraordinary precocity which (though, I own, it missed me out) has always run in the Claudian family The only thing that grieved me now was an invisible barrier between myself and the Senate that I could not break down. All that I could do in the way of paying respect to the Senatorial Order, especially to the Consuls in office and to the first-class magistrates, I did, but I was always met with a mixture of obsequiousness and suspicion that I found it difficult to account for and impossible to deal with. I decided to revive the ancient office of Censor which had been swallowed up in the Imperial Directorship of Morals, and in that popular capacity reform the Senate once more and get rid of all useless and obstruction-making members. I posted a notice in the House requesting every member to consider his own circumstances and decide whether he was still qualified to serve Rome well as a senator: if he decided he was not so qualified, either because he could not afford it, or because he felt himself not sufficiently gifted, he should resign. I hinted that those who failed to resign would be dishonourably expelled. And I hurried things along by sending round private notifications to those whom I proposed to expel if they didn’t resign. I thus lightened the Order of about a hundred names, and those who remained I then rewarded by conferring patrician rank on their families. This enlargement of the patrician circle had the advantage of providing more candidates for the higher orders of priesthood and of giving a wider choice of brides and bridegrooms to members of the surviving patrician families; for the four successive patrician creations of Romulus, Lucius Brutus, Julius Caesar, and Augustus had each in turn become practically extinct. One would have thought that the richer and more powerful the family, the more rapidly and vigorously it would breed, but this has never been the case at Rome.

However, even this cleansing of the Senate did not have any appreciable effect. Debates were a mere farce. Once, during my fourth Consulship, when I was introducing a measure about certain judicial reforms, the House was so listless that I was obliged to speak very plainly:

‘If you honestly approve of these proposals, my Lords, do me the kindness of saying so at once and quite simply. Or, if you do not approve of them, then suggest amendments, but do so here and now. Or if you need time to think the matter over, take time, but don’t forget that you must have your opinions ready to be delivered on the day fixed for the debate. It is not at all proper to the dignity of the Senate that the Consul-Elect should repeat the exact phrases of the Consuls as his own opinion, and that everyone else when his turn comes to speak should merely say, “I agree to that” and nothing else, and that then, when the House has adjourned, the minutes should read “A debate took place…” ’

Among other marks of respect to the Senate, I restored Greece and Macedonia to the list of Senatorial provinces: my uncle Tiberius had made Imperial provinces of them. And I gave the Senate back the right of minting copper coinage for circulation in the provinces, as in the time of Augustus. There is nothing that commands such respect for sovereignty as coins: the gold and silver currency had my head on it, because after all I was the Emperor and the man actually responsible for the greater part of the government; but the Senate’s familiar ‘S.C.’ appeared again on the copper, and copper is at once the most ancient, the most useful, and quantitatively the most important coinage.

The immediate cause of my decision to purge the Senate was the alarming case of Asiaticus. One day Messalina came to me and said: ‘Do you remember wondering last year whether there wasn’t something else at the bottom of Asiaticus’s resignation of the Consulship besides the reason he gave – that people were jealous and suspicious of him, because it was his second time as Consul?’[A.D. 46]

‘Yes, it didn’t look like the whole reason.’

‘Well, I’ll tell you something which I should have told you about long ago. Asiaticus has been violently in love for some time with Cornelius Scipio’s wife; what do you think of that?’

‘Oh, yes, Poppaea – very good-looking girl, with a straight nose and a bold way of staring at men? And what does she think of it? Asiaticus isn’t a good-looking young fellow like Scipio: he’s bald and rather fat, but of course the richest man in Rome, and what marvellous gardens he has too!’

‘Poppaea, I’m afraid, has thoroughly compromised herself with Asiaticus. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s best to be frank. Poppaea came to me some time ago – you know what good friends we are, or, rather, we used to be – and said, “Messalina, dearest, I want to ask you a great favour. You promise not to tell anyone that I’ve asked you?” Naturally I promised. She said: “I’m in love with Valerius Asiaticus and I don’t know what to do about it. My husband is fearfully jealous and if he knew I think he’d kill me. And the nuisance is that I’m married to him in the strict form and you know how difficult it is to get a divorce from a strict form of marriage if the husband chooses to be nasty. It means you lose your children, for a start. Do you think that you could possibly do something to help me? Could you ask the Emperor to speak to my husband and arrange a divorce, so that Asiaticus and I can marry?” ’

‘I hope you didn’t say that there was any chance of my consenting. Really, these women…’

‘Oh, no, dearest, on the contrary. I said that if she never mentioned the subject to me again I would try, for friendship’s sake, to forget what I’d heard, but that if so much as a whisper came to me of anything improper still going on between her and Asiaticus I’d come straight to you.’

‘Good. I’m glad you said that.’

‘It was soon afterwards that Asiaticus resigned, and do you remember, then, that he asked the Senate’s permission to visit his estates in France?’

‘Yes, and he was away a long time. Trying to forget Poppaea, I suppose. There are a lot of pretty women in the South of France.’

‘Don’t you believe it. I have been finding out things about Asiaticus. The first thing is that lately he’s been giving large money presents to the Guards captains and sergeants and standard-bearers. He does it, he says, because of his gratitude to them for their loyalty to you. Does that sound right?’

‘Well, he has more money than he knows what to do with.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody has more money than they know what to do with. Then the second thing is that he and Poppaea still meet regularly, whenever poor Scipio’s out of town, and spend the night together.’

‘Where do they meet?’

‘At the house of the Petra brothers. They’re cousins of hers. The third thing is that Sosibius told me the other day, quite on his own, that he thought it most unwise of you to have allowed Asiaticus to pay so long a visit to his estates in France. When I asked him what he meant, he showed me a letter from a friend of his in Vienne: the friend wrote that Asiaticus had actually spent very little time on his estates. He had gone round visiting the most influential people in the province and had even been for a tour along the Rhine, where he showed great generosity to the officers of the garrison. Then, of course, you must remember that Asiaticus was born at Vienne; and Sosibius says – –’

‘Call Sosibius at once.’ Sosibius was the man I had chosen as Britannicus’s tutor, so you can imagine that I had the greatest confidence in his judgement. He was an Alexandrian Greek, but had long interested himself in the study of early Latin authors and was the leading authority on the texts of Ennius: he was so much at home in the Republican period, which he knew far better than any Roman historian, including myself, that I considered that he would be a constant inspiration to my little boy. Sosibius came, and when I questioned him answered very frankly. Yes, he believed Asiaticus to be ambitious and capable of planning a revolution. Hadn’t he once offered himself as a candidate for the monarchy in opposition to me?

‘You forget, Sosibius,’ I said, ‘that those two days have been wiped off the City records by an amnesty.’

‘But Asiaticus was in the plot against your nephew, the late Emperor, and even boasted about it in the Market Place. When a man like that resigns his Consulship for no valid reason and goes off to France, where he already has great influence, and there tries to enlarge that influence by scattering money about, and no doubt saying that he was forced to resign his Consulship because of your jealousy, or because he stood up against you for the rights of his fellow Frenchmen. …’

Messalina said: ‘It’s perfectly plain. He has promised Poppaea to marry her, and the only way that he can do that is by getting rid of you and me. He’ll get leave to go to France again, and start his revolt there with the native regiments, and then bring the Rhine regiments into it too. And the Guards will be as ready to acclaim him Emperor as they were ready to acclaim you: it will mean another two hundred gold pieces a man for them.’

‘Who else do you think is in the plot?’

‘Let’s find out all about the Petra brothers. That lawyer Suilius has just been asked to undertake a case for them: and he is one of my best secret agents. If there’s anything against them besides their having accommodated Poppaea and Asiaticus with a bedroom, Suilius will find it out, you can rely on that.’

‘I don’t like spying. I don’t like Suilius, either.’

‘We have got to defend ourselves, and Suilius is the handiest weapon we have.’

So Suilius was sent for, and a week later he made his report, which confirmed Messalina’s suspicions. The Petra brothers were certainly in the plot. The elder of them had privately circulated an account of a vision which had appeared to him one early morning between sleeping and waking and which the astrologers had interpreted in an alarming fashion. The vision was of my head severed at the neck and crowned with a wreath of white vine-leaves: the interpretation was that I should die violently at the close of the autumn. The younger brother had been acting as Asiaticus’s go-between with the Guards, of which he was a colonel. Apparently associated with Asiaticus and the Petra brothers were two old friends of mine, Pedo Pompey, who used often to play dice with me in the evenings, and Assario, maternal uncle of my son-in-law, young Pompey, who also had free access to the Palace. Suilius suggested that these would naturally have been given the task of murdering me over a friendly game of dice. Then there were Assario’s two nieces, the Tristonia sisters, who had an adulterous association with the Petra brothers.

There was nothing for it, I decided, but to strike first. I sent my Guards Commander, Crispinus, with a company of Guards whose loyalty seemed beyond question, down to Assario’s house at Baiae; and there Asiaticus was arrested. He was handcuffed and fettered and brought before me at the Palace. I should, properly, have had him impeached before the Senate, but I could not be sure how far the plot extended. There might be a demonstration in his favour, and I did not wish to encourage that. I tried him in my own study, in the presence of Messalina, Vitellius, Crispinus, young Pompey, and my chief secretaries.

Suilius acted as public prosecutor, and I thought, as Asiaticus faced him, that if ever guilt was written on a man’s features it was written there. But I must admit that Crispinus had not warned him what were the charges against him – I had not even told Crispinus – and there are few men who if suddenly arrested would be able to face their judges with absolute serenity of conscience. I know how badly I once felt myself when I was arrested by Caligula’s orders on the charge of witnessing a forged will. Suilius was indeed a terrible and pitiless accuser: he had a thin, frosty face, white hair, dark eyes, and a long forefinger which probed and darted like a sword. He began with a mild rain of compliments and banter which we all recognized as a prelude to a thunderstorm of rage and invective. First he asked Asiaticus in a mock-friendly conversational tone, exactly when he proposed visiting his French estates again – was it before the vintage? and what had he thought of agricultural conditions in the neighbourhood of Vienne and how had they compared with those of the Rhine valley? ‘But don’t trouble to answer my questions,’ he said. ‘I don’t really wish to know how high the barley grows in Vienne or how loud the cocks crow there, any more than you really wished to know yourself.’ Then about his presents to the Guards: how loyal Asiaticus had shown himself! but was there not perhaps a danger of the simple-witted military misunderstanding those gifts?

Asiaticus was growing anxious, and breathing heavily. Suilius came a few steps nearer him, like a wild-beast hunter in the arena, some of whose arrows, fired from a distance, have gone home: he comes nearer, because the beast is wounded, and brandishes his hunting-spear. ‘To think that I ever called you friend, that I ever dined at your board, that I ever allowed myself to be deceived by your affable ways, your noble descent, the favour and confidence that you have falsely won from our gracious Emperor and all honest citizens. Beast that you are, filthy pathic, satyr of the stews! Bland corrupter of the loyal hearts and manly bodies of the very soldiers to whose trust the sacred person of our Caesar, the safety of the City, the welfare of the world is committed. Where were you on the night of the Emperor’s birthday that you could not attend the banquet to which you were invited? Sick, were you? Mighty sick, I have no doubt. I shall soon confront the court with a selection of your fellow invalids, young soldiers of the Guards, who caught their infection from you, you filth.’

There was a great deal more of this. Asiaticus had turned dead white now, and great drops of sweat stood on his brow. The chain clanked as he wiped them away. He was forbidden by the rules of the court to answer a word until the time came for him to make his defence, but at last he burst out in a hoarse voice: ‘Ask your own sons, Suilius! They will admit that I am a man.’ He was called to order. Suilius went on to speak of Asiaticus’s adultery with Poppaea, but put little emphasis on this, as if it was the weakest point of his case, though really it was the strongest; and so tricked Asiaticus into making a general denial of all the charges against him. If Asiaticus had been wise he would have admitted the adultery and denied the other charges. But he denied everything, so his guilt seemed proved. Suilius called his witnesses, mostly soldiers. The chief witness, a young recruit from South Italy, was asked to identify Asiaticus. I suppose that he had been coached to recognize Asiaticus by his bald head, for he picked on Pallas as the man who had so unnaturally abused him. A great burst of laughter went up: Pallas was known to share with me a real hatred of this sort of vice, and, besides, everyone knew that he had acted as guest-master throughout my birthday banquet.

I nearly dismissed the case then and there, but reflected that the witness might have a bad memory for faces – I have myself – and that the other charges were not disproved by his failure to identify Asiaticus. But it was in a milder voice that I asked Asiaticus to answer Suilius’s charges, point by point. He did so, but failed to account satisfactorily for his movements in France, and certainly perjured himself over the Poppaea business. The charge of corrupting the Guards I regarded as unproved. The soldiers testified in a formal, stilted way which suggested that they had learned the testimony off by heart beforehand, and when I questioned them merely repeated the same evidence. But then I have never heard a Guardsman testify in any other tones, they make a drill of everything.

I ordered everyone out of the room but Vitellius, young Pompey, and Pallas – Messalina had burst into tears and hurried off some minutes before – and told them that I would not sentence Asiaticus without first securing their approval. Vitellius said that, frankly, there seemed no reasonable doubt of Asiaticus’s guilt, and that he was as shocked and grieved as I was: Asiaticus was a very old friend and had been a favourite of my mother Antonia’s, who had used her interest at court to advance them both. Then he had had a most distinguished career and had never hung back where patriotic duty called: he had been one of the volunteers who came to Britain with me, and though he had not arrived in time for the battle, that was the fault of the storm, not due to any cowardice on his part. So if he had now become mad and betrayed his own past it would not be showing too much clemency to allow him to be his own executioner: of course, strictly, he deserved to be hurled from the Tarpeian Rock, and to have his corpse dishonoured by being dragged off by a hook through the mouth and thrown into the Tiber. Vitellius told me, too, that Asiaticus had practically confessed his guilt by sending him a message, as soon as he was arrested, begging him for old friendship’s sake to secure his acquittal or, if it came to the worst, permission to commit suicide. Vitellius added: ‘He knew that you would give him a fair trial: you have never failed to give anyone a fair trial. So how could my intercession be expected to help him? If he was guilty, then he would be pronounced guilty; or if he was innocent, he would be acquitted.’ Young Pompey protested that no mercy should be shown Asiaticus; but perhaps he was thinking of his own safety. Assario and the Tristonia sisters, his relations, had been mentioned as Asiaticus’s accomplices, and he wished to prove his own loyalty.

I sent a message to Asiaticus to inform him that I was adjourning the trial for twenty-four hours, and that, meanwhile, he was released from his fetters. He would surely understand that message. Meanwhile Messalina had hurried to Poppaea to tell her that Asiaticus was on the point of being condemned, and advised her to forestall her own trial and execution by immediate suicide. I knew nothing about this.

Asiaticus died courageously enough. He spent his last day winding up his affairs, eating and drinking as usual, and taking a walk in the Gardens of Lucullus (as they were still called), giving instructions to the gardeners about the trees and flowers and fish-pools. When he found that they had built his funeral pyre close to a fine avenue of hornbeams he was most indignant and fined the freedman responsible for choosing the site a quarter’s pay. ‘Didn’t you realize, idiot, that the breeze would carry the flames into the foliage of those lovely old trees and spoil the whole appearance of the Gardens?’ His last words to his family before the surgeon severed an artery in his leg and let him bleed to death in a warm bath were, ‘Good-bye, my dear friends. It would have been less ignominious to have died by the dark artifices of Tiberius or the fury of Caligula, than now to fall a sacrifice to the imbecilic credulity of Claudius, betrayed by the woman I loved and by the friend I trusted.’ For he was now convinced that Poppaea and Vitellius had arranged for the prosecution.

Two days later I asked Scipio to dine with me, and inquired after his wife’s health, as a tactful way of indicating that if he still loved Poppaea and was ready to forgive her, I would take no further action in the matter. ‘She’s dead, Caesar,’ he answered, and began sobbing with his head in his hands.

Asiaticus’s family, the Valerians, to show that they did not wish to associate themselves with his treasonable words, were then obliged to present Messalina with the Gardens of Lucullus as a peace-offering; though naturally I never suspected it at the time, they were the real cause of Asiaticus’s death. I tried the Petra brothers and executed them, and the Tristonia sisters then committed suicide. As for Assario, it seems that I signed his death-warrant: but I have no recollection of this. When I told Pallas to warn him for trial I was told that he had already been executed, and was shown the warrant, which was certainly not forged. The only explanation that I can offer is that Messalina, or possibly Polybius, who was her tool, smuggled the death-warrant in among a number of other unimportant ones that I had to sign, and that I signed it without reading it. I know now that this sort of trick was constantly played on me: that they took advantage of the strain from which my eyes were again suffering (so much that I had to stop all reading by artificial light) to read out as official reports and letters for my signature improvisations that did not correspond at all with the written documents.

About this time Vinicius died, of poison. I heard, some years later, that he had refused to sleep with Messalina and that the poison was administered by her; certainly he died on the day after he had dined at the Palace. The story is quite likely to be true. So now Vinicius, Vinicianus, and Asiaticus, the three men who had offered themselves as Emperor instead of me, were all dead, and their deaths seemed to lie at my door. Yet I had a clean conscience about them. Vinicianus and Asiaticus were clearly traitors, and Vinicius, I thought, had died as the result of an accident. But the Senate and People knew Messalina better than I did, and hated me because of her. That was the invisible barrier between them and me, and nobody had the courage to break it down.

As the result of a strong speech that I made about Asiaticus, at a session in which Sosibius and Crispinus were voted cash presents for their services, the Senate voluntarily surrendered to me the power of granting its members permission to leave Italy on any pretext.

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