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Chapter 27

EXPIATORY games, called Tarentine or Saecular, are celebrated at Rome to mark the beginning of each new cycle, or age of men. They take the form of a festival of three days and nights in honour of Pluto and Proserpine, the Gods of the Underworld. Historians agree that these games were first formally established as a public ritual by Publicola, a Valerian, in the two hundred and fiftieth year after the foundation of Rome – which was also the year in which the Claudians came to Rome from Sabine country; but they had been celebrated 110 years previously as a family ritual of the Valerians, in accordance with an oracle of Delphic Apollo. Publicola made a vow that they should be performed at the beginning of every new cycle thereafter so long as the City stood. Since his time there have been five celebrations, but at irregular intervals because of differences of opinion as to when each new cycle started. Sometimes the cycle has been taken as the natural cycle of 110 years, which is the ancient Etruscan method of reckoning, and sometimes as the Roman civil cycle of 100 years, and sometimes the Games have been celebrated as soon as it was clear that nobody survived who had taken part on the previous occasion.

The most recent celebration under the Republic was in the six hundred and seventh year from the foundation of the City, and the only celebration that had taken place since then was Augustus’s in the seven hundred and thirty-sixth year. The year of Augustus’s celebration could not be justified as marking the hundredth or hundred-and-tenth year from the previous celebration, nor as marking the death of the last man who had taken part in it; nor could it be understood as a date arrived at by calculation from Publicola’s time, reckoning in 100 or 110 year terms. Augustus, or rather the Board of Fifteen, his religious advisers, were reckoning from a supposed first celebration of the Games in the ninety-seventh year from the foundation of the City. I admit that in my history of his religious reforms I had accepted this date as the correct one, but only because to criticize him on this important point would have got me into serious trouble with my grandmother Livia. The fact was (not to go into the matter in detail) that his reckoning was incorrect even if the first celebration had taken place when he said it did, which was not so. I reckoned forward from Publicola’s festival in natural cycles of 110 years (for this clearly was what a cycle meant to Publicola himself) until I reached the six hundred and ninetieth year from the foundation of the City. That was when the last celebration A.D. 46 should have really taken place, and then not again until the eight hundredth year, the date which we have just reached in this story, namely, the seventh year of my own monarchy.

Now, each cycle has a certain fatal character, which is given it by the events of the inaugurating year. The first year of the previous cycle had been marked by the birth of Augustus, the death of Mithridates the Great, Pompey’s victory over the Phoenicians and his capture of Jerusalem, Catiline’s unsuccessful attempt at a popular revolution, and Caesar’s assumption of the office of High Pontiff. Is it necessary for me to point out the significance of each of these events? that for the next cycle our arms were destined to be successful abroad, and the Empire to be greatly extended, popular liberty to be suppressed, and the Caesars to be the mouthpieces of the Gods? Now it was my intention to expiate the sins and crimes of this old cycle, and inaugurate a new one with solemn sacrifices. For it was in this year that I counted on completing my work of reform. I would then hand the government of a now prosperous and well-organized nation back to the Senate and People, from whom it had so long been withheld.

I had thought the whole plan out in detail. It was clear that government by the Senate under Consuls elected annually had great disadvantages: the single-year term was not long enough. And the Army did not wish to have its Commander-in-Chief constantly changed. My plan, briefly, was to make a free gift to the nation of the Privy Purse, except so much of it as was needed to support me as a private citizen, and the Imperial lands, including Egypt, and to introduce a law providing for a change of government every fifth year. The ex-Consuls of the previous five-year period together with certain representatives of the People and of the Knights would form a cabinet to advise and assist one of their number, chosen by religious lot and known as the Consul-in-Chief, in the government of the country. Each member of the cabinet would be responsible to the Consul-in-Chief for a department corresponding with the departments that I had been building up under my freedmen, or for the government of one of the frontier provinces. The Consuls of the year would act as a link between the Consul-in-Chief and the Senate, and would perform their usual duties as appeal judges; the Protectors of the People would act as a link between the Consul-in-Chief and the People. The Consuls would be elected from the Senatorial order by popular election, and in national emergencies recourse would be had to a plebiscite. I had thought out a number of ingenious safeguards for this constitution and congratulated myself that it was a workable one: my freedmen would remain as permanent officials in charge of the clerical staff, and the new government would benefit by their advice. Thus the redeeming features of monarchical government would be retained without prejudice to republican liberty. And to keep the Army contented I would embody in the new constitution a measure providing for a bounty of money to be paid every five years, proportionate to the success of our arms abroad and to the increase of wealth at home. The governorships of home provinces would be distributed between knights who had risen to high command in the Army, and senators.

For the present I told nobody of my plans, but continued with a light heart at my work. I was convinced that as soon as I proved by a voluntary resignation of the monarchy that my intentions had never been tyrannical and that such summary executions as I had ordered had been forced on me, I would be forgiven all my lesser errors for the sake of the great work of reform that I had accomplished, and all suspicions would be put to rest. I told myself: ‘Augustus always said that he would resign and restore the Republic: but somehow he never did, because of Livia. And Tiberius always said the same, but somehow he never did, because he was afraid of the hatred that he had earned by his cruelty and tyranny. But I really am going to resign: there’s nothing to prevent me. My conscience is clear, and Messalina’s no Livia.’

These Saecular Games were celebrated not in the summer, as on previous occasions, but on the twenty-first of April, the Shepherds’ Festival, because that was the very day on which Romulus and his shepherds had founded Rome 800 years before [A.D. 47]. I followed Augustus’s example in not making the Gods of the Underworld the only deities addressed; though the Tarentum, a volcanic cleft in Mars Field, which was the traditional place for the celebration and was said to be one entrance to Hell, was converted into a temporary theatre and illuminated with coloured lights and made the centre of the Festival. I had sent heralds out some months before to summon all citizens (in the old formula) ‘to a spectacle which nobody now living has ever seen before, and which nobody now living shall ever see again’. This provoked a few sneers, because Augustus’s celebration of sixty-four years previously was remembered by a number of old men and women, some of whom had actually taken part in it. But it was the old formula, and it was justified by Augustus’s celebration not having been performed at the proper time.

On the morning of the first day the Board of Fifteen distributed to all free citizens, from the steps of Jove’s temple on the Capitoline Hill and Apollo’s on the Palatine, torches, sulphur, and bitumen, the instruments of purification; also wheat, barley, and beans, some to serve as an offering to the Fates and some to be given as pay to the actors taking part in the festival. Early morning sacrifices had been simultaneously offered in all the principal temples of Rome, to Jove, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Venus, Apollo, Mercury, Ceres, Vulcan, Mars, Diana, Vesta, Hercules, Augustus, Latona, the Fates, and to Pluto and Proserpine. But the chief event of the day was the sacrifice of a white bull to Jove and a white cow to Juno, on the Capitol, and everyone was expected to attend this. Then we went in procession to the Tarentum theatre and sang choruses in honour of Apollo and Diana. The afternoon was taken up by chariot races and wild-beast hunts and sword-fighting in the Circus and amphitheatres and scenic games in honour of Apollo in the theatre of Pompey.

At nine o’clock that night, after a great burning of sulphur and sprinkling of holy water in consecration of the whole of Mars Field, I sacrificed three male lambs to the Fates on three underground altars built by the bank of the Tiber, while a crowd of citizens with me waved their lighted torches, offered their wheat, barley, and beans, and sang a hymn of repentance for past errors. The blood of the Lambs was sprinkled on the altars and their carcasses burned. At the Tarentum theatre more hymns were then sung and the expiatory part of the festival gone through with appropriate solemnity. Then scenes from Roman legend were acted, including a ballet illustrative of the fight between the three brothers Horatius and the three brothers Curiatius which was said to have occurred close by on the day of the first celebration of the Games by the Valerian family.

The next day the noblest matrons in Rome, headed by Messalina, assembled on the Capitol and performed supplications to Juno. The Games continued as on the previous day: 300 lions and 100 bears were killed in the amphitheatre, not to mention bulls and numerous sword-fighters. That night I sacrificed a black hog and a black pig to Mother Earth. On the last day Greek and Latin hymns were sung in chorus in the sanctuary of Apollo by three times nine beautiful boys and maidens, and white oxen were sacrificed to him. Apollo was so honoured because his oracle had originally ordered the institution of the Festival. The hymns were to implore the protection of Apollo, his sister Diana, his mother Latona, and his father Jove, for all cities, towns, and magistrates in the whole Empire. One of them was Horace’s famous ode composed in honour of Apollo and Diana, which did not have to be brought up to date, as you might have supposed: in fact, one verse of the hymn was more appropriate than when it was first composed:

Moved by the solemn voice of prayer
Both deities shall make great Rome their care,
Benignly turn the direful woes
   Of famine and of weeping war
   From Rome and noble Caesar far,
And pour them on our British foes.

Horace had written that at a time when Augustus contemplated a war against Britain, but it never came off, so the British were not officially our foes, as they now were.

More sacrifices to all the Gods, more chariot races, sword-fights, wild-beast hunts, athletic contests. That night at the Tarentum I sacrificed a black ram, a black sheep, a black bull, a black cow, a black boar, and a black sow, to Pluto and Proserpine; and the Festival was over for another 110 years. It had gone through without a single error or evil omen of any sort being reported. When I asked Vitellius whether he had enjoyed the Festival, he said: ‘It was excellent and I wish you many happy returns of the day.’ I burst out laughing and he apologized for his absent-mindedness. He had unconsciously been identifying Rome’s birthday with mine, he explained, but hoped that the phrase might prove an omen of life prolonged for me to a remarkable and vigorous old age. But Vitellius could be very disingenuous: I believe now that he had thought the joke out weeks beforehand.

To me the proudest moment of the whole festival was on the afternoon of the third day, when the Troy Game was performed on Mars Field and my little Britannicus, then only just six years old, took part in the skirmish with boys twice his age and managed his pony and his weapons like a Hector or Caractacus. The people reserved their loudest cheers for him. They commented on his extraordinary likeness to my brother Germanicus, and prophesied splendid triumphs for him as soon as he was old enough to go to the wars. A grand-nephew of mine also took part in the Games, a boy of eleven, the son of my niece Agrippinilla. His name was Lucius Domitius,* and I have mentioned him before, but only in passing. The time has now come for a fuller account of him.

He was the son of that Domitius Ahenobarbus (or Brassbeard), my maternal cousin, who had the reputation of being the bloodiest-minded man in Rome. Bloody-mindedness ran in the family, like the red beard, and it was said that it was no wonder they had brass beards, to match their iron faces and leaden hearts. When a young man Domitius Ahenobarbus had served on Gaius Caesar’s staff in the East and had killed one of his own freedmen by locking him up in a room with no water to drink and nothing but salt fish and dry bread to eat, because he had refused to get properly drunk at his birthday banquet. When Gaius heard of this he told Domitius that his services were no longer needed and that he no longer counted him among his friends. Domitius returned to Rome, and on the way back, in a freak of petulance, suddenly spurred his horse along a village street on the Appian Way and deliberately ran down a child who was playing in the road with its doll. Again, once in the open Market Place, he picked a quarrel with a knight to whom he owed money, and gouged out one of his eyes with his thumb. My uncle Tiberius made a friend of Domitius in the latter years of his reign: for he deliberately cultivated the society of the cruel and base, with the object, it is supposed, of feeling somewhat virtuous by comparison. He married Domitius to his adoptive granddaughter, my niece Agrippinilla, and there was one child of the marriage, this Lucius. Congratulated by his friend on the birth of an heir, Domitius scowled: ‘Spare your congratulations, blockheads. If you had any real patriotism you’d go to the cradle and strangle the child at once. Don’t you realize that Agrippinilla and I between us command all the known vices, human and inhuman, and that he’s destined to grow up the most detestable imp that ever plagued our unfortunate country? That’s not guesswork, either: have any of you seen his horoscope? It’s enough to make you shudder.’ Domitius was arrested on the double charge of treason and incest with his sister Domitia – of course, that meant nothing in Tiberius’s time, it was a mere formality. Tiberius died opportunely and he was liberated by Caligula. Not long afterwards Domitius himself died, of the dropsy. He had named Caligula in his will as young Lucius’s co-heir, leaving him two-thirds of the estate. When Agrippinilla was banished to her island, Caligula seized the rest of the estate too, so Lucius was now practically an orphan and quite unprovided for. However, his aunt Domitia took care of him. (She must not be confused with her sister, Domitia Lepida, Messalina’s mother.) She was a woman who gave herself wholly to pleasure and only bothered about young Lucius because of a prophecy that he would one day become Emperor: she wanted to stand in well with him. It is a comment on Domitia’s character that the three tutors to whom she entrusted his education were a Syrian ex-ballet-dancer, who shared Domitia’s favours with a Tyrolese ex-sword-fighter, this same ex-sword-fighter, and her Greek hairdresser. They gave him a fine popular education.

When two years later Agrippinilla returned she felt so little maternal feeling for her son that she told Domitia that he might as well stay with her for another few years; she would pay well to have the responsibility taken off her hands. I intervened and made Agrippinilla take him home; she took the tutors too, because Lucius was unwilling to come without them, and Domitia had other lovers. Agrippinilla also took Domitia’s husband, an ex-Consul, and married him, but they soon quarrelled and separated. The next event in Lucius’s life was an attempt to assassinate him while he was taking his afternoon siesta: two men walked in at the front door unchallenged by the porter, who was also taking his siesta, went upstairs, found nobody about in the corridors, wandered along until they saw a slave sleeping in front of a bedroom door which they decided must be the one that they were looking for, went in, found Lucius asleep in his bed, drew their daggers, and tiptoed close. A moment later they came rushing out again screaming: ‘The snake, the snake!’ Though the household was alarmed by the noise no effort was made to stop them, and they escaped. What had frightened them was the sight of a cobra’s skin on Lucius’s pillow. He had been wearing it wound around his leg as a cure for scrofula, from which he suffered greatly as a child, and I suppose had been playing with it before he went to sleep. In the darkened room it looked like a live cobra. I have since supposed that the assassins were sent by Messalina, who hated Agrip-pinilla but did not, for some reason or other, dare to bring any charge against her. At any rate, the story went round that two cobras stood on guard at Lucius’s bed, and Agrippinilla encouraged it. She enclosed the snakeskin in a gold snake-shaped bracelet for him to wear and told her friends that it had indeed been found on the pillow and must have been sloughed there by a cobra. Lucius told his friends that he certainly had a cobra guard, but that it was probably an exaggeration to say that it was a double-guard: he had never seen more than a single cobra. It used to drink from his water-jug. No more attempts were made to assassinate him.

Lucius, as well as Britannicus, resembled my dear brother Germanicus, who was his grandfather, but in this case it was a hateful resemblance. The features were almost identical, but the frank, noble, generous, modest character that beamed from Germanicus’s face was supplanted here by slyness, baseness, meanness, vanity. And yet most people were blinded to this by the degenerate refinement he had made of his grandfather’s handsome looks: he had an effeminate beauty that made men warm to him as they would to a woman; and he knew the power of his beauty only too well, and took as long every morning over his toilet, especially over his hair, which he wore quite long, as his mother or his aunt. His hairdresser tutor tended his beauty as jealously as the head gardener in the Gardens of Lucullus tended the fruit on the famous peach wall or the unique white-fleshed cherry-tree which Lucullus had brought from the Black Sea. It was strange to watch Lucius on Mars Field doing military exercises with sword, shield, and spear: he handled them correctly enough, as his Tyrolese sword-fighter tutor had taught him, yet it was less a drill than a ballet-dance. When, at the same age, Germanicus was doing his exercises, one could always in imagination hear the clash of battle, trumpets, groans, and shouts, and see the gush of German blood; with Lucius one only heard the rippling applause of a theatre audience and saw roses and gold coins showered on the stage.

But enough of Lucius for the moment. A more pleasant topic is my improvement of the Roman alphabet. In my previous book I explained about the three new letters that I had suggested as necessary for modern usage: consonantal u, the vowel between i and ucorresponding with Greek upsilon, and the consonant which we have hitherto expressed by bs or ps. I had intended to introduce these after my triumph, but then postponed the matter until the new cycle should start. I announced my project in the Senate on the day following the Saecular Games, and it was favourably received. But I said that this was an innovation which personally affected everyone in the Empire and that I did not wish to force my own ideas on the Roman people against their will or in a hurry, so I proposed to put the matter to a plebiscite in a year’s time.

Meanwhile I published a circular letter explaining and justifying my scheme. I pointed out that though one was brought up to regard the alphabet as a series no less sacred and unalterable than the year of months, or the order of the numerals, or the signs of the Zodiac, this was not really so: everything in this world was subject to change and improvement. Julius Caesar had reformed the Calendar: the convention for writing numerals had been altered and extended; the names of constellations had been changed: even the stars that composed them were not immortal – since the time of Homer, for example, the seven Pleiades had become six through the disappearance of the star Sterope, or, as she was sometimes called, Electra. So with the Latin alphabet. Not only had the linear forms of the letters changed, but so also had the significance of the letters as denoting certain spoken sounds. The Latin alphabet was borrowed from the Dorian Greeks in the time of the learned King Evander, and the Greeks had originally had it from Cadmus who brought it with him when he arrived with the Phoenician fleet, and the Phoenicians had it from the Egyptians. It was the same alphabet, but only in name. The fact was that Egyptian writing began in the form of pictures of animals and other natural objects, and that these gradually became formalized into hieroglyphic letters, and that the Phoenicians borrowed and altered them, and that the Greeks borrowed and altered these alterations, and finally the Latins borrowed and altered these alterations of alterations. The primitive Greek alphabet contained only sixteen letters, but it was added to until it numbered twenty-four and in some cities twenty-seven. The first Latin alphabet contained only twenty letters, because three Greek aspirated consonants and the letter Z were found unnecessary. However, about 500 years from the foundation of Rome, G was introduced to supplement C, and more recently still the Z had returned. And still in my opinion the alphabet was not perfect. It would perhaps be a little awkward at first, if the country voted in favour of the change, to remember to use these convenient new forms instead of the old ones, but the awkwardness would soon wear off and a new generation of boys taught to read and write in the new style would not feel it at all. The awkwardness and inconvenience of the change that was made in the Calendar, not quite 100 years ago, when one year had to be extended to fifteen months, and thereafter the number of days in each month altered, and the name of one of the months changed too – now, that really was something to complain about, but had it not passed off all right? Surely nobody would wish to go back to the old style?

Well, everyone discussed the matter learnedly, but perhaps nobody cared very much about it, one way or the other, at any rate not so much as I did. When eventually the vote was taken it was overwhelmingly in favour of the new letters; but rather as a personal compliment to me, I think, than from any real understanding of the issue. So the Senate voted for their immediate introduction and they appear now in all official documents and in every sort of literature from poems, scientific treatises, and legal commentaries, to advertisements of auctions, duns, love-letters, and pornographic scrawls in chalk on the walls of buildings.

And now I shall give a brief account of various public works, reforms, laws, and decrees of mine dating from the latter part of my monarchy; I shall thus, so to speak, have the table cleared for writing the painful last chapters of my life. For I have now reached a turning-point in my story, ‘the discovery’ as tragedians call it, after which, though I continued to carry out my duties as Emperor, it was in a very different spirit from hitherto.

I finished building the aqueducts. I also built many hundreds of miles of new roads and put broken ones into good repair. I prohibited money-lenders from making loans to needy young men in expectation of their fathers’ deaths: it was a disgusting traffic – the interest was always extortionate and it happened more often than was natural that the father died soon afterwards. This measure was in protection of honest fathers against prodigal sons, but I also provided for honest sons with prodigal fathers: I exempted a son’s lawful inheritance from the sequestration of a father’s property on account of debt or felony. I also legislated on behalf of women, freeing them from the vexatious tutelage of their paternal relatives, and forbidding dowries to be pledged in surety for a husband’s debts.

On Pallas’s suggestion I brought a motion before the Senate which was adopted as a law, that any woman of free birth who married a slave without the knowledge and consent of his master became a slave herself; but that if she did so with his knowledge and consent she remained free, and only her children born of the marriage were slaves. There was an amusing sequel to my introduction of this motion. A senator, who happened to be Consul-Elect, had offended Pallas some years before, and foresaw difficulties when he came into office if he could not regain Pallas’s goodwill; I do not say that he was justified in expecting Pallas to show rancour, because Pallas is less subject to this fault than I am, but at any rate he had an uneasy conscience. So he proposed that Pallas should be awarded an honorary first-class magistracy and the sum of 150,000 gold pieces, for having performed a great service to the country by originating this law and prevailing on the Senate to pass it. Scipio, Poppaea’s widower, sprang up and spoke with an irony reminiscent of Gallus and Haterius in the reign of my uncle Tiberius: ‘I second that. And I move that public thanks should also be given this extraordinary man. For some of us amateur genealogists have recently discovered that he is directly descended from the Arcadian King Pallas, ancestor of that literary King Evander, recently mentioned by our gracious Emperor, who gave his name to the Palatine Hill. Public thanks, I say, should be given him not only for his services in the drafting of this law but for his modest magnanimity in concealing his royal descent – for putting himself at the disposal of the Senate Like a mere nobody, and for even deigning to be known as a freedman secretary of the Emperor’s.’ Nobody dared to oppose this motion, so I played the innocent and pretended to take it seriously and did not interpose my veto. It would have been unfair to Pallas if I had. But as soon as the House adjourned I sent for him and told him about the motion. He grew very red, not knowing whether to be angry at the insult or pleased that it was publicly recognized what an important part he played in public affairs. He asked me what he ought to answer, and I said to him: ‘Do you need the money?’

‘No, Caesar. I’m very well off.’

‘How well off? Come on, let’s hear how much you’re worth. Tell me the truth and I won’t be angry.’

‘About three million pieces, when I last went over my accounts.’

‘What! Silver pieces?’

‘No, gold.’

‘Good God! And all honestly come by?’

‘Every farthing. People present petitions or ask favours and I always say, “I can’t promise to do anything for you!” And then they say, “Oh, no, we never expected it. But please accept this small money-present as an acknowledgement of your kindness in receiving us.” So I put the money in the bank and smile nicely. It’s all yours, Caesar, if you want it. You know that.’

‘I know it, Pallas. But I had no idea that you were so wealthy.’

‘I never get time to spend anything, Caesar.’

And that was true. Pallas worked like a galley-slave. So I told him that I would see that the Senate did not have the laugh over him; and advised him to accept the honorary rank but refuse the money. He consented, and I then gravely assured the Senate that Pallas was quite satisfied with the honorary rank that they had kindly awarded him, and would continue to live in his former poverty.

Scipio was not to be beaten. He introduced a motion begging me to plead with Pallas to yield to the Senate’s entreaties, and accept the gift. The motion was passed. But Pallas and I held out. On my advice he refused my entreaties and the Senate’s and the farce was completed by still another motion, introduced by Scipio and passed by the House, congratulating Pallas on his primitive parsimony; these congratulations were even officially engraved on a brass tablet. I think you will agree that it was not Pallas and I who were made fools of, but Scipio and the Senate.

I limited barristers’ fees to 100 gold pieces a case. This limitation was directed against men like Suilius, Asiaticus’s prosecutor, who could sway a jury to convict or acquit as surely as a farmer drives his pigs to market. Suilius would accept any brief, however desperate, so long as he got his whole fee: which was 4,000 a case. And it was the impressiveness of the fee as much as the assurance and eloquence with which he addressed the court that influenced the jury. Occasionally, of course, even Suilius could not hope to pull a case off, because his client’s guilt was too clear to be concealed; but so as not to lose his credit with the court, which he would need in future cases where there was at least a fighting chance, he as good as directed the jury to decide against his client. There was a scandal about this; a rich knight accused of robbing the widow of one of his freedmen had paid Suilius his usual fee and had then been betrayed by him in this way. He went to Suilius and asked for a return of his 4,000 gold pieces. Suilius said that he had done his best and regretted he could not pay back the money – that would be a dangerous precedent. The knight committed suicide on Suilius’s doorstep.

By thus reducing the barristers’ fees, which in Republican Rome had been pronounced illegal, I damaged their prestige with the juries, who were thereafter more inclined to give verdicts corresponding with the facts of the case. I waged a sort of war with the barristers. Often when I was about to judge a case I used to warn the court with a smile: ‘I am an old man, and my patience is easily tried. My verdict will probably go to the side that presents its evidence in the briefest, frankest, and most lucid manner, even if it is somewhat incriminating, rather than to the side that spoils a good case by putting up an inappropriately brilliant performance.’ And I would quote Homer:

Yea, when men speak, that man I most detest
Who locks the verity within his breast.

I encouraged the appearance of a new sort of advocate, men without either eloquence or great legal expertness, but with common sense, clear voices, and a talent for reducing cases to their simplest elements. The best of these was called Agatho. I always gave him the benefit of the doubt when he pleaded a case before me in his pleasant, quick, precise way; in order to encourage others to emulate him.

The Forensic and Legal Institute of Telegonius, ‘that most learned and eloquent orator and jurist’, was closed down about three years ago. It happened as follows. Telegonius, fat, bustling, and crop-haired, appeared one day in the Court of Appeal where I was presiding, and conducted a case of his own. He had been ordered by a magistrate to pay a heavy fine, on the ground that he had incited one of his slaves to kill a valuable slave of Vitellius’s in a dispute. It appears that Telegonius’s slave, in a barber’s shop, had put on insufferable airs as a lawyer and orator. A dispute started between this fellow and Vitellius’s slave, who was waiting his turn to be shaved and was known as the best cook (except mine) in all Rome, and worth at the very least 10,000 gold pieces. Telegonius’s slave, with offensive eloquence, contrasted the artistic importance of oratory and cookery. Vitellius’s cook was not quarrelsome but made a few dispassionate statements of fact, such as that no proper comparison could be drawn between domestic practitioners of splendid arts and splendid practitioners of domestic arts; that he expected, if not deference, at least politeness from slaves of less importance than himself; and that he was worth at least a hundred times more than his opponent. The orator, enraged by the sympathy the cook got from the other customers, snatched the razor from the barber’s hand and cut the cook’s throat with it, crying: ‘I’ll teach you to argue with one of Telegonius’s men.’ Telegonius had therefore been fined the full value of the murdered cook, on the ground that his slave’s violence was due to an obsession of argumental infallibility inculcated by the Institute in all its employees. Telegonius now appealed on the ground that the slave had not been incited to murder by violence, for the very motto of the Institute was: ‘The tongue is mightier than the blade’, which constituted a direct injunction to keep to that weapon in any dispute. He also pleaded that it had been a very hot day, that the slave had been subjected to a gross insult by the suggestion that he was not worth more than a miserable 100 gold pieces – the lowest value that could be put upon his services as a trained clerk would be fifty gold pieces annually – and that therefore the only fair view could be that the cook had invited death by provocative behaviour.

Vitellius appeared as a witness. ‘Caesar,’ he said, ‘I see it this way. This Telegonius’s slave has killed my head-cook, a gentle, dignified person, and a perfect artist in his way, as you will yourself agree, having often highly praised his sauces and cakes. It will cost me at least ten thousand gold pieces to replace him, and even then, you may be sure, I’ll never get anyone half so good. His murderer used phrases, in praise of oratory and in dispraise of cookery, that have been proved to occur, word for word, in Telegonius’s own handbooks; and it has been further proved that in the same handbooks, in the sections devoted to “Liberty”, many violent passages occur which seek to justify a person in resorting to armed force when arguments and reason fail.’

Telegonius cross-examined Vitellius, and I must admit that he was scoring heavily when a chance visitor to the court sprang a surprise. It was Alexander the Alabarch, who happened to be in Rome and had strolled into court for amusement. He passed me up a note:

The person who calls himself Telegonius of Athens and Rome is a runaway slave of mine named Joannes, born at Alexandria in my own household, of a Syrian mother. I lost him twenty-five years ago. You will find the letter A, within a circle, pricked on his left hip, which is my household brand.


I stopped the case while Telegonius was taken outside by my yeomen and identified as indeed the Alabarch’s property. Imagine, he had been masquerading as a Roman citizen for nearly twenty years! His entire property should have gone to the State, except for the 10,000 gold pieces which had been awarded to Vitellius, but I let the Alabarch keep half of it. In return the Alabarch made me a present of Telegonius, whom I handed over to Narcissus for disposal: Narcissus set him to work at the useful, if humble, task of keeping court records.

This, then, was the sort of way I governed. And I widely extended the Roman citizenship, intending that no province whose inhabitants were loyal, orderly, and prosperous should long remain inferior in civic status to Rome and the rest of Italy. The first city of Northern France for which I secured the citizenship was Autun.

I then took the census of Roman citizens.

The total number of citizens, including women and children, now stood at 5,984,072, compared with the 4,937,000 given by the census of the year that Augustus died, and again with the 4,233,000 given by the census taken in the year after my father died [A. D.48]. Written briefly on a page these numbers are not impressive, but think of them in human terms. If the whole Roman citizenry were to file past me at a brisk walk, toe to heel, it would be two whole years before the last one came in sight. And these were only the true citizens. If the entire population of the Empire went past, over 70,000,000 in number, now that Britain, Morocco, and Palestine had to be reckoned in, it would take twelve times as long, namely, twenty-four years, for them to pass, and in twenty-four years an entire new generation has time to be born, so that I might sit a lifetime and the stream would still glide on,

Would glide and slide with still perpetual flow,

and never the same face appear twice. Numbers are a nightmare. To think that Romulus’s first Shepherds’ Festival was celebrated by no more than 3,300 souls. Where will it all end?

What I wish to emphasize most of all in this account of my activities as Emperor is that up to this point at least I acted, so far as I knew how, for the public good in the widest possible sense. I was no thoughtless revolutionary and no cruel tyrant and no obstinate reactionary: I tried to combine generosity with common sense wherever possible and nobody can accuse me of not having done my best.

Two Documents Illustrating Claudius’s Legislative Practice,
also his Epistolary and Oratorical Style

A.D. 46

Published at the Residence at Baiae in the year of the Consulship of Marcus Junius Silanus and of Quintus Sulpicius Camerius, on the fifteenth day of March, by order of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, High Pontiff, Protector of the People for the sixth time. Emperor, Father of the Country, Consul-Elect for the fourth time, issues the following official statement:

As regards certain ancient controversies, the settlement of which had already been left pending for some years when my uncle Tiberius was Emperor: my uncle had sent one Pinarius Apollinaris to inquire into such of these controversies as concerned the Comensians (so far as I recall) and the Bergalians, but no others; and this Pinarius had neglected his commission because of my uncle’s obstinate absence from Rome; and then when my nephew Gaius became Emperor and did not call for any report from him either, he offered none – he was no fool in the circumstances – and after that I had a report from Camurius Statutus to the effect that much of the agricultural and forest land in those parts was really under my own jurisdiction – so then, to come down to the present day, I recently sent my good friend Planta Julius there and, when he called a meeting of my governors, both the local governors and those whose districts lay some distance away, he went thoroughly into all these questions and drew his conclusions. I now approve the wording of the following edict which – first Justifying it with a lucid report – he has drawn up for my signature; though it embodies wider decisions than Pinarius was called upon to make:

‘As regards the position of the Anaumans, the Tulliassians, and the Sindunians, I understand from authoritative sources that some of these have become incorporated in the government of the Southern Tyrol, though not all. Now although I observe that the claims of men of these tribes to Roman citizenship rest on none too secure a foundation, yet, since they may be said to have come into possession of it by squatter’s right and to have mixed so closely with the Southern Tyrolese that they could not be separated from them now without serious injury being done to that distinguished body of citizens, I hereby voluntarily grant them permission to continue in the enjoyment of the rights which they have assumed. I do this all the more readily because a large number of the men whose legal status is affected are reported to be serving in the Guards Division – a few of them have risen to command companies – and some of their compatriots have been enrolled for jury-service at Rome and are carrying out their duties there.

‘This favour carries with it retrospective legal sanction for whatever actions they have performed, and whatever contracts they have entered into under the impression that they were Roman citizens, either among themselves or among the Southern Tyrolese, or in any other circumstances; and such names as they have hitherto borne, as though they were Roman citizens, I hereby permit them to retain.’

A.D. 48

I must beg you in advance, my Lords, to revise your first shocked impressions, on listening to the proposal I am about to make, that it is a most revolutionary one: such feelings, I foresee, will be the strongest obstacle which I shall encounter to-day. Perhaps the best way for me to negotiate this obstacle is to remind you how many changes have been made in our constitution in the course of Roman history, how extremely plastic, indeed, it has proved from the very beginning.

At one time Rome was ruled by kings, yet the monarchy never became hereditary. Strangers won the crown and even foreigners: such as Romulus’s successor, King Numa, who was a native of Sabinum (then still a foreign state though lying so close to Rome), and Tarquin the First, who succeeded Ancus Martius. Tarquin was of far from distinguished birth – his father was Demarathus, a Corinthian, and his mother was so poor that though she came of the noble Tarquin family she was forced to marry below her – so, being debarred from holding honourable office at Corinth, Tarquin came here and was elected king. He and his son, or perhaps his grandson – historians are unable to agree even on this point – were succeeded by Servius Tullius, who, according to Roman accounts, was the son of Ocresia, a captive woman. Etruscan records make him the faithful companion of the Etruscan Caele Vipinas and sharer in all his misfortunes: they say that when Caele had been defeated, Servius Tullius left Etruria with the remnants of Caele’s army and seized the Caelian hill yonder, which he named after their former commander. He then changed his Etruscan name – it was Macstrna – to Tullius, and won the Roman crown, and made a very good king too. Later, when Tarquin the Proud and his sons began to be loathed for their tyrannical behaviour, the Roman people, please observe, grew tired of monarchical government and we had Consuls, annually elected magistrates, instead.

Need I then remind you of the dictatorship, which our ancestors found a stronger form of government even than the consular power in difficult times of war or political discord? Or of the appointment of Protectors of the People to defend the rights of the commons against encroachment? Or of the Board of Ten which for a time took over the government from the Consuls? Or of the sharing of the consular power between several persons? Or of the irregular appointment of army colonels to the Consulship – it happened seven or eight times? Or of the granting to members of the commons not only the highest magistracies but admission to the priesthood too? However, I shall not dilate on the early struggles of our ancestors and what the outcome of it all has been; you might suspect that I was immodestly making this historical survey an excuse for boasting of our recent extension of the Empire beyond the northern seas. …

It was the will of my uncle, the Emperor Tiberius, that all leading colonies and provincial towns in Italy should have representatives sitting in this House; and representatives were indeed found with the necessary qualifications of character and wealth. ‘Yes,’ you will say, ‘but there is a great difference between an Italian senator and a senator from abroad.’ Well, when I begin justifying to you this part of my action, as Censor, in extending the full Roman citizenship to the provinces, I shall show you just how I feel about the matter. But let me say briefly that I do not think that we ought to debar provincials from a seat in this House, if they can be a credit to it, merely because they are provincials. The renowned and splendid colony of Vienne, in France, has been sending us senators for a long time now, has it not? My dear friend Lucius Vestinus comes from Vienne: he is one of the most distinguished members of the Noble Order of Knights and I employ him here to assist me in my administrative duties. (I have, by the way, a favour to ask from you for Vestinus’s children: I wish to have the highest honours of the priesthood conferred on them – I trust that later they will earn distinctions by their own merits to add to those granted them on their father’s account.) There is, however, one Frenchman whose name I shall keep out of this speech, because he was a rascally robber and I hate the very mention of him. He was a sort of wrestling-school prodigy and carried a Consulship back to his colony before the place had even been granted the Roman citizenship. I have an equally low opinion of his brother – such a miserable and unworthy wretch that he could not possibly be of any use to you as a senator.

But it is now high time, Tiberius Claudius Germanicus, for you to reveal to the House the theme of your speech: you have already reached the frontiers of the South of France. …

… This House should be no more ashamed of these noble gentlemen, now standing before me, were they raised to the quality of senators, than my distinguished friend Periscus is ashamed when he finds the French name Allobrogicus among the funeral masks of his ancestors. If you agree that all this is as I say, what more do you want of me? Do you want me to prove to you from the map, putting my finger on the very spot, that you are already getting senators from beyond the frontier of Southern France, that no shame, in fact, has been felt about introducing men into our order who were born at Lyons?* O my Lords, I protest that it is with the greatest timidity that I venture beyond the familiar home-boundaries of Southern France! However, the cause of the rest of that great country must now definitely be pleaded. I grant you that the French fought against Julius Caesar (now deified) for ten years, but in return you must grant me that for a whole century since then they have preserved a more devoted loyalty to us, in times of disorder too, than we could ever have believed possible. When my father Drusus was engaged in the conquest of Germany the entire land of France remained at peace in his rear; and that, too, at a time when he had been called away from the business of taking a census of property-holders – a new and disquieting experience for the French. Why, even to-day, as I have only too good reason to know by personal experience, this taking of the census is a most arduous task, though it now means no more than a public review of our material resources. …

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