Common section

Chapter 8

I SOON came to a decision about the sword-fighting and wild-beast hunts. First about the wild beasts. I had heard of a sport practised in Thessaly which had the double advantage of being exciting to watch and cheap to provide. So I introduced it at Rome as an alternative to the usual leopard and lion hunts. It was played with half-grown wild bulls. The Thessalians used to rouse the bull by sticking small darts into its hide as it emerged from the pen where it was imprisoned – not enough to injure it, only enough to vex it. It used to come charging out and then they used to jump nimbly out of its way. They were quite unarmed. Sometimes they used to deceive it by holding coloured cloths before their bodies: when it charged the cloths they moved them away at the last moment without shifting their own ground. The bull would always charge the moving cloth. Or, as it charged, they would leap forward and either clear it in a single bound, or step on its rump for a moment before coming to ground again. The bull would gradually weary, and they would do still more daring tricks. There was one man who could actually stand with his back to the bull, bending down with his head between his legs, and then, as it charged, turn a back-somersault in the air and land standing on the bull’s shoulders. It was a common sight to see a man ride around the ring balanced on a bull’s back. If a bull would not tire quickly, they would make it gallop around the arena by sitting it as if it were a horse, holding a horn in the left hand and twisting its tail with the right. When it was sufficiently out of breath the chief performer would wrestle with it, holding it by both horns and slowly forcing it to the ground. Sometimes he would catch the bull’s ear between his teeth to help him in his task. It was a very interesting sport to watch, and the bull often caught and killed a man who took too great liberties with it. The cheapness of the sport lay in the very reasonable demands for payment made by the Thessalians, who were simple countrymen, and in the survival of the bull for another performance. Clever bulls who learned how to avoid being tricked and dominated soon became great popular favourites. There was one called Rusty, who was almost as famous in its way as the horse Incitatus. He killed ten of his tormentors in as many festivals. The crowd came to prefer these bull-baitings to all other shows except sword-fighting.

About the sword-fighters: I decided now to recruit them principally from the slaves who in the reigns of Caligula and Tiberius had testified against their masters at treason trials and so brought about their deaths. The two crimes that I abominate most are parricide and treachery. For parricide, indeed, I have reintroduced the ancient penalty: the criminal is whipped until he bleeds and then sewed up in a sack together with a cock, a dog, and a viper, representing lust, shamelessness, and ingratitude, and finally thrown into the sea. I regard treachery of slaves towards their masters as a sort of parricide too, so I would always make them fight until one combatant was dead or severely wounded; and I never granted any man remission, but made him fight again at the next Games, and so on until he was killed or wholly disabled. Once or twice it happened that one of them pretended to be mortally injured when he had only received a slight cut, and would writhe on the sand as if unable to continue. If I found that he was shamming I always gave orders for his throat to be cut.

I believe the populace enjoyed the entertainments that I gave them far more than Caligula’s, because they saw them much more rarely. Caligula had such a passion for chariot-racing and wild-beast hunts that almost every other day was made the excuse for a holiday. This was a great waste of public time and the audience got bored long before he did. I removed 150 of Caligula’s new holidays from the calendar. Another decision that I took was to make a regulation about repetitions. It was the custom that if a mistake had been made in the ceremony of a festival, even if it was only a small one on the last day of all, the whole business had to be gone through again. In Caligula’s reign repetitions had become quite a farce. The nobles whom he had forced to celebrate games in his honour at their own cost knew that they would never escape with only a single performance: he would be sure to find some flaw in the ceremony when it was all over and force them to repeat it two, three, four, five, and even as many as ten times. So they learned to appease him as a matter of course by making an obviously intentional mistake on the last day, and so winning the favour of only repeating the show once. My edict was that if any festival had to be repeated, the repetition should not occupy more than a single day, and if a mistake were then made, that would be an end of the matter. As a result no mistakes at all were made: it was seen that I did not encourage them. I also ordered that there should be no official celebrations of my birthday and no sword-fighting displays given for my preservation. It was wrong, I said, for men’s lives to be sacrificed, even the lives of sword-fighters, in an attempt to purchase the favour of the Infernal Gods towards a living man.

Yet, so that I should not be accused of stinting the City’s pleasures, I sometimes used to proclaim suddenly one morning that there would be games held that afternoon in the Enclosure in Mars Field. I explained that there was no particular reason for the games, except that it was a good day for them, and that since I had made no particular preparations it would be a case of taking pot-luck. I called them Sportula or Pot-luck Games. They lasted only for the single afternoon.

I mentioned just now my hatred of slaves who betrayed their masters. But I realized that unless masters had a properly paternal attitude to their slaves, slaves could not be expected to have a sense of filial duty to their masters. Slaves, after all, are human. I protected them by legislation, of which I may give an example. The rich freedman from whom Herod had once borrowed money to pay back my mother and myself had greatly enlarged his hospital for sick slaves, which was now situated on the Island of Aesculapius, in the Tiber. He advertised himself as ready to buy slaves in any condition with a view to curing them, but promised first option of repurchase to the former owner at a price not to exceed three times the original. His doctoring methods were very rigorous, not to say inhumane. He treated the sick slaves exactly like cattle. But he did a very large and profitable business because most masters could not be bothered to have sick slaves in their house, distracting the other slaves from their ordinary duties and, if they were in pain, keeping everyone awake at nights by their groans. They preferred to sell them as soon as it was clear that the illness would be a long and tedious one. In this they were, of course, following the base economical precepts of Cato the Censor. But I put a stop to the practice. I made an edict that any sick slave who had been sold to a hospital-keeper should, on recovery, be granted his liberty and not return to his master’s service, and that the master should refund the purchase money to the hospital-keeper. If a slave fell sick the master must henceforth either cure him at home or pay for his cure in the hospital. In the latter case he would become free on recovery, like the slaves already sold to the hospital-keeper, and would be expected, like them, to pay a thank-offering to the hospital, to the extent of one-half his money-earnings for the next three years. If any master chose to kill the slave rather than cure him at home or send him to the hospital, he would be guilty of murder. I then personally inspected the island hospital and gave instructions to the manager for obvious improvements in accommodation, diet, and hygiene.

Though, as I say, I removed 150 of Caligula’s holidays from the calendar, I did, I admit, create three new festivals, each lasting three days. Two were in honour of my parents. I made these fall on their birthdays, postponing to vacant dates two minor festivals which happened to coincide with them. I ordered dirges to be sung in my parents’ memories and provided funeral banquets at my own expense. My father’s victories in Germany had already been honoured with an Arch on the Appian Way and with the hereditary title Germanicus, which was the surname of which I was proudest; but I felt that his memory deserved to be refreshed in this way as well. My mother had been granted important honours by Caligula, including the title of ‘Augusta’, but when he quarrelled with her and forced her to commit suicide, he meanly took them all away again: he wrote letters to the Senate accusing her of treason to himself, impiety to the other Gods, a life of malice and avarice, and the entertainment in her house of fortune-tellers and astrologers in defiant disobedience to the laws. Before I could decently make my mother ‘Augusta’ once more I had to plead before the Senate that she was entirely guiltless of these charges: that though strong-minded she was extremely pious, and though thrifty, extremely generous, and that she never bore malice against anyone and never once consulted a fortune-teller or astrologer in all her life. I introduced the necessary witnesses. Among them was Briseis, my mother’s wardrobe-maid, who had been my property as a slave until she was given her freedom in old age. In fulfilment of a promise made a year or two before to Briseis, I presented her to the House as follows: ‘My Lords, this old woman was once a faithful slave of mine, and for her life of industry and devotion in the service of the Claudian family – as maid first of all to my grandmother Livia, and then to my mother Antonia, whose hair she used to dress – I recently rewarded her with freedom. Some persons, even members of my own household, have suggested that she was really my mother’s slave: I take this opportunity of branding any such suggestion as a mischievous lie! She was born as my father’s slave when my father was a mere child; on his death my brother inherited her: and then she came to me. She has had no other masters or mistresses. You can place the fullest reliance on her testimony.’ The senators were astonished at the warmth of my words, but cheered them, hoping to please me; and I was indeed pleased, because to old Briseis this was the most glorious moment of her life and the applause seemed intended as much for herself as for me. She began to weep, and her rambling tributes to my mother’s character were hardly audible. She died a few days later in a splendid room in the Palace and I gave her a most luxurious funeral.

My mother’s stolen titles were restored to her and in the great Circensian Games her coach was included in the sacred procession, like the coach of my poor sister-in-law Agrippina. The third festival that I created was in honour of my grandfather Mark Antony. He had been one of our most brilliant Roman generals and won many remarkable victories in the East. His sole mistake had been to fall out with Augustus after a long partnership with him and to lose the battle of Actium. I did not see why my grand-uncle Augustus’s victory should continue to be celebrated at my grandfather’s expense. I did not go so far as to deify my grandfather, whose many failings disqualified him for Olympus, but the festival was a tribute to his qualities as a soldier and gratified the descendants of those Roman soldiers who had been unlucky enough to choose the losing side at Actium.

Nor did I forget my brother Germanicus. I instituted no festival in his honour, for I felt somehow that his ghost would not approve. He was the most modest and self-effacing man of his rank and ability that I have ever known. But I did something that I felt sure would please him. There was a festival held at Naples, which is a Greek colony, and at the competition held there every five years for the best Greek comedy I submitted one that Germanicus had written, which I found among his papers after his death. It was called The Ambassadors and was written with considerable grace and wit somewhat in the style of Aristophanes. The plot was that two Greek brothers, one of whom was commander of his city’s forces in the war against Persia, and the other a mercenary in the Persian service, happened to arrive at the same time as ambassadors to the court of a neutral kingdom, each asking the king for his military co-operation. I recognized comic reminiscences of the recriminations that had once passed between the two Cheruscan chieftains, Flavius and Hermann, brothers who fought on opposite sides in the German war which followed Augustus’s death. The comic ending to the play was that the foolish king was convinced by both brothers. He sent his infantry to help the Persians and his cavalry to help the Greeks. This comedy won the prize, by the unanimous vote of the judges. It may be suggested that a certain favouritism was shown here, not only on account of Germanicus’s extraordinary popularity during his lifetime among all who came in contact with him, but because it was known that it was I, the Emperor, who was submitting the entry. But there could be no doubt that it was incomparably the best work that was offered for the prize, and it was much applauded during its performance. Recalling that Germanicus on his visit to Athens, Alexandria, and other famous Greek cities had worn Greek dress, I did the same at the Naples festival. I wore a cloak and high boots at the musical and dramatic performances, and a purple mantle and golden crown at the gymnastic contests. Germanicus’s prize was a bronze tripod: the judge wanted to vote him a golden one as a peculiar honour; but I refused that on the grounds of extravagance. Bronze was the customary metal for the prize tripod. I dedicated it in his name at the local temple of Apollo.

It only remained for me now to keep the promise I had made to my grandmother Livia. I was bound by my word of honour, which I had given her, to use all the influence that I could command to obtain the Senate’s consent to her deification. I had not changed my opinion of the ruthlessness and unscrupulousness of the methods that she had used for gaining control over the Empire and keeping it in her hands for some sixty-five years; but, as I remarked a little way back, my admiration for her organizing abilities increased every day. There was no opposition in the Senate to my request except from Vinicianus, Vinicius’s cousin, who played the same sort of part as Gallus had played twenty-seven years before when Tiberius proposed the deification of Augustus. Vinicianus rose to ask on precisely what grounds I made this unprecedented request and what sign had been given from Heaven to indicate that Livia Augusta would be welcomed by the Immortals as their permanent associate. I was ready with my answer. I told him that not long before her death my grandmother, prompted no doubt by divine inspiration, had called separately first on my nephew Caligula and then on myself and had secretly informed each of us in turn that we would one day become Emperor. In return for this assurance she made us swear that we would do all that lay in our power to deify her when we succeeded to the monarchy; pointing out that she had played as important a part as Augustus in the great work of reform that they had under-taken together after the Civil wars, and that it was most unjust that Augustus should enjoy perpetual bliss in the Heavenly mansions while she went below to the gloomy halls of Hell, to be judged by Aeacus and thereafter to be lost for ever among the countless hosts of insignificant and mouthless shades. Caligula, I told them, was only a lad at the time he made this promise, and had two elder brothers living, so it was remarkable that Livia knew that he and not they would become Emperor; for she extracted no such promise from them. Caligula, at all events, had made this promise, but had broken it when he became Emperor; and if Vinicianus needed a sure sign of the feelings of the Gods in this matter, he was at liberty to find it in the bloody circumstances of Caligula’s death.

I then turned to address the House as a whole. ‘My Lords,’ I said, ‘it is not for me to decide whether my grandmother Livia Augusta is worthy of national deification by your votes or whether she is not. I can only repeat that I swore to her by my own head that if ever I became Emperor – an event which, I admit, seemed both improbable and absurd, though she herself was positive that it would come to pass – I would do my best to persuade you to raise her to Heaven, where she might stand once more at the side of her faithful husband, who is now, next to Capitoline Jove, the most venerated of all our deities. If you refuse my request to-day I shall renew it every year at this same season, until you grant it: so long as my life is spared and so long as I am still privileged to address you from this chair.’

That was the end of the little speech that I had prepared but I found myself launched on a further, extempore, appeal, ‘And I really think, my Lords, that you should consider Augustus’s feelings in this matter. For more than fifty years he and Livia worked hand in hand together, all day and every day. There were few things that he did without her knowledge and advice, and if ever he did act on his own initiative, it cannot be said that he always acted wisely or that he met with any great success in these undertakings. Yes, whenever he was faced by a problem which taxed his own powers of judgement, he would always call for Livia. I would not go so far as to say that my grandmother was without the faults that are complementary to the extraordinary qualities with which she was endowed: I am probably more cognizant of them than anybody here. To begin with, she was entirely heartless. Heartlessness is a grave human fault and is unforgivable when combined with profligacy, greed, sloth, and disorderliness; but when combined with boundless energy and a rigid sense of order and public decency, heartlessness takes on a different character altogether. It becomes a divine attribute. Many Gods do not indeed possess it in nearly so full a measure as my grandmother did. Then again, she had a will that was positively Olympian in its inflexibility, and though she never spared any member of her own household who failed to show the devotion to duty that she expected of him, or who created a public scandal by his loose living, neither, we must remember, did she spare herself. How she worked! By going at it night and day she enlarged those sixty-five years of rule to one hundred and thirty. She soon came to identify her own will with that of Rome, and anyone who withstood it was a traitor in her eyes, even Augustus. And Augustus, with occasional lapses into self-will, saw the justice of this identification; and though, in an official way of speaking, she was merely his unofficial adviser, yet in his private letters to her he made a thousand acknowledgements of his entire dependence on her divine wisdom. Yes, he used the word “divine”, Vinicianus: I call that conclusive. And you are old enough to remember that whenever he happened to be temporarily parted from her, Augustus was not at all the man that he was in her company; and it may be argued that his present task in Heaven of watching over the fortunes of the Roman people has been made very difficult by the absence of his former helpmeet. Certainly Rome has not flourished since his death nearly so prosperously as during his lifetime, except for the years that my grandmother Livia ruled through her son, the Emperor Tiberius. And has it occurred to you, my Lords, that Augustus is almost the only male deity in Heaven without a consort? When Hercules was raised to heaven, he was given a bride at once, the Goddess Hebe.’

‘What about Apollo?’ interrupted Vinicianus. ‘I never heard that Apollo was married. That seems to me a very lame argument.’

The Consul called Vinicianus to order. It was clear that the word ‘lame’ was intended offensively. But I was accustomed to insults and answered quietly: ‘I have always understood that the God Apollo remains a bachelor either because he is unable to choose between the Nine Muses, or because he cannot afford to offend eight of them by choosing the other as his bride. And he is immortally young, and so are they, and it is quite safe for him to postpone his choice indefinitely; for they are all in love with him, as the poet What’s-his-name says. But perhaps Augustus will eventually persuade him to do his duty by Olympus, by taking one of the Nine in honourable wedlock, and raising a large family – “as quick as boiled asparagus”.’

Vinicianus was silenced in the burst of laughter that followed, for ‘as quick as boiled asparagus’ was one of Augustus’s favourite expressions. He had several others: ‘As easily as a dog squats’ and ‘There are more ways than one of killing a cat’ and ‘You mind your own business, I’ll mind mine’ and ‘I’ll see that it gets done on the Greek Kalends’ (which, of course, means never) and ‘The knee is nearer than the shin’ (which means that one’s first concern is with matters that affect one personally). And if anyone tried to contradict him on a point of literary scholarship, he used to say: ‘A radish may know no Greek, but I do’. And whenever he was encouraging anyone to bear an unpleasant condition patiently he always used to say: ‘Let us content ourselves with this Cato’. From what I have told you about Cato, that virtuous man, you will easily understand what he meant. I now found myself often using these phrases of Augustus’s: I suppose that this was because I had consented to adopt his name and position. The handiest was the one he used when he was making a speech and had lost his way in a sentence – a thing that constantly happens to me, because I am inclined, when I make an extempore speech, and in historical writing too when I am not watching myself, to get involved in long, ambitious sentences – and now I am doing it again, you notice. However, the point is that Augustus, whenever he got into a tangle, used to cut the Gordian knot, like Alexander, saying: ‘Words fail me, my Lords. Nothing that I might utter could possibly match the depth of my feelings in this matter.’ And I learned this phrase off by heart and constantly made it my salvation. I used to throw up my hands, shut my eyes, and declaim: ‘Words fail me, my Lords. Nothing that I might utter could possibly match the depth of my feelings in this matter.’ Then I would pause for a few seconds and recover the thread of my argument.

We deified Livia without further delay and voted her a statue to be placed alongside that of Augustus in his Temple. At the deification ceremony cadets of noble families gave a performance of the sham-fight on horseback which we call the Troy Game. We also voted her a chariot to be drawn by elephants in the procession during the Circensian Games, an honour which she shared only with Augustus. The Vestal Virgins were instructed to offer sacrifices to her in the Temple; and just as in taking legal oaths all Romans now used the name of Augustus, so henceforth all Roman women were to use my grandmother’s name. Well, I had kept my promise.

All was fairly quiet in Rome now. Money was coming in plentifully and I was able to abolish more taxes. My secretaries were managing their departments to my satisfaction; Messalina was busy reviewing the roll of Roman citizens. She found that a number of freedmen were describing themselves as Roman citizens and claiming privileges to which they were not entitled. We decided to punish all such pretenders with the greatest rigour, confiscating their property and making them slaves again, to work as City scavengers or road-menders. I trusted Messalina so completely that I allowed her to use a duplicate seal for all letters and decisions made by her on my behalf in these matters. To make Rome still more quiet I disbanded the Clubs. The night-watchmen had been unable to cope with the numerous bands of young rowdies that had recently been formed on the model of Caligula’s ‘Scouts’ and which used to keep honest citizens awake at night by their scandalous goings-on. There had, as a matter of fact, been such clubs in Rome for the last 100 years or more – an introduction from Greece. At Athens, Corinth, and other Greek cities the clubmen had all been young men of family, and it was the same in Rome until Caligula’s reign, when he set the fashion of admitting actors, professional sword-fighters, chariot-drivers, musicians, and such-like to membership. The result was increased rowdiness and shamelessness, great damage to property – the fellows sometimes even set fire to houses – and many injuries to inoffensive people who happened to be out late at night, perhaps in search of a doctor or midwife, or on some such emergency errand. I published an order disbanding the Clubs, but knowing that this by itself would not be enough to put an end to the nuisance, I took the only effective step possible: I prohibited the use of any building as a clubhouse, under penalty of a ruinous fine, and made illegal the sale of cooked meat and other ready-dressed food for consumption on the premises where it was prepared. I extended this order to the sale of drink. After sundown no drink must be consumed in the bar-room of any tavern. For it was principally the fact of meeting in a clubroom to eat and drink that encouraged the young fellows, when they began feeling merry, to go out in the cool night air to sing ribald songs, molest passers-by, and challenge the watchmen to tussles and running fights. If they were forced to dine at home, this sort of thing would be unlikely to occur.

My prohibition proved effective and pleased the great mass of the people; whenever I went out now I was always greeted enthusiastically. The citizens had never greeted Tiberius so cordially as this, nor Caligula, except in the first few months of his reign when he was all generosity and affability. But I did not realize how beloved I was and how seemingly important to Rome the preservation of my life had become until one day a rumour ran through the City that I had been ambushed on my way to Ostia by a party of senators and their slaves and murdered. The whole City began lamenting in the most dismal fashion, wringing their hands and mopping their eyes and sitting groaning on their doorsteps; but those whose indignation prevailed over their grief ran to the Market Place, crying out that the Guards were traitors and the Senate a parcel of parricides. There were loud threats of vengeance and even talk of burning down the Senate House. The rumour had not the slightest foundation except that I was indeed on my way to the Ostia docks that afternoon to inspect the facilities for unloading corn. (I had been informed that in bad weather a great deal of corn was always lost between ship and land, and wanted to see whether this could be avoided. Few great cities were cursed with so awkward a harbour as Rome with Ostia: when the wind blew strongly from the west and heavy tides swept up the estuary the corn-ships had to ride at anchor for weeks on end, unable to discharge their cargoes.) The rumour had been put about, I suspect, by the bankers, though I could get no proof of this: it was a trick to create a sudden demand for cash. It was common talk that if I happened to die civil commotions would immediately ensue, with bloody combats in the streets between the partisans of rival candidates for the monarchy. The bankers, aware of this nervousness, foresaw that property-holders who did not wish to be involved in such disorders would naturally hurry out of Rome as soon as a report of my death was started: and there would be a rush to the banks to offer land and house property in exchange for immediate gold at a price far below its real value. This is what actually happened. But once more Herod saved the situation. He went to Messalina and insisted on her publishing an immediate order in my name for the closing of the banks until further notice. This was done. But the panic was not checked until I had received news at Ostia of what was happening in the City and had sent four or five of my staff – honest men, whose word the citizens would trust – at full speed back to the Market Place, to appear on the Oration Platform as witnesses that the whole story was a fabrication, put about by some enemy of the State for his own crooked ends.

The facilities for discharging corn at Ostia I found most inadequate. Indeed, the whole corn supply question was a very difficult one. Caligula had left the public granaries as empty as the Public Treasury. It was only by persuading the corn-factors to endanger the vessels that they owned by running cargoes even in bad weather, that I succeeded in tiding over the season. I had, of course, to compensate them heavily for their losses in vessels, crews, and corn. I determined to solve the matter once and for all by making Ostia a safe port even in the worst weather and sent for engineers to survey the place and draw up a scheme.

My first real trouble abroad started in Egypt. Caligula had given the Alexandrian Greeks tacit permission to chastise the Alexandrian Jews, as they thought fit, for their refusal to worship his Divine Person. The Greeks were not allowed to bear arms in the streets – that was a Roman prerogative – but they performed countless acts of physical violence nevertheless. The Jews, many of whom were tax-farmers and therefore unpopular with the poorer and more improvident sort of Greek citizens, were exposed to daily humiliations and dangers. Being less numerous than the Greeks, they could not offer adequate resistance, and their leaders were in prison. But they sent word to their kinsmen in Palestine, Syria, and even Parthia, acquainting them of their plight, and begging them to send secret help in men, money, and munitions of war. An armed uprising was their only hope. Help came in abundance, and the Jewish revolt was planned for the day of Caligula’s arrival in Egypt, when the Greek population would be crowding in holiday dress to greet him at the docks, and the whole Roman garrison would be there as a guard of honour, leaving the city unprotected. The news of Caligula’s death had the effect of setting the rebellion off before its proper time in an ineffectual and half-hearted manner. But the Governor of Egypt was alarmed and sent me an immediate appeal for reinforcements: there were few troops in Alexandria itself. However, the next day he received a letter that I had written him a fortnight before in which I announced my elevation to the monarchy and ordered the release of the Alabarch, with the other Jewish elders, as also the suspension of Caligula’s religious decrees and his order penalizing the Jews, until such time as I should be able to inform the Governor of their complete abrogation. The Jews were jubilant, and even those who had hitherto taken no part in the rising now felt that they enjoyed my Imperial favour and could get their own back on the Greeks with impunity. They killed quite a large number of the most persistent Jew-baiters. Meanwhile I replied to the Governor of Egypt, ordering him to put an end to the disturbances, by armed force if necessary; but saying that in view of the letter which by now he must have received from me, and the sedative effects that I hoped from it, I did not consider it necessary to send reinforcements. I told him that it was possible that the Jews had acted under great provocation, and hoped that, being men of sense, they would not continue hostilities, now that they knew that their wrongs were in process of being redressed.

This had the effect of ending the disturbances; and a few days later, after consulting the Senate, I definitely cancelled Caligula’s decrees and restored to the Jews all the privileges that they had held under Augustus. But many of the younger Jews were still smarting under the sense of injustice and went marching through the streets of Alexandria carrying banners which read: ‘Now Our Persecutors Must Lose Their Civic Rights’, which was absurd, and ‘Equal Rights For All Jews Throughout The Empire’, which was not so absurd. I published an edict which ran as follows:

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, High Pontiff, Protector of the People, Consul-Elect for the second time, issues the following decree:

I hereby very willingly comply with the petitions of King Agrippa, and his brother King Herod, personages whom I hold in the highest esteem, that I should grant to the Jews throughout the Roman Empire the same rights and privileges as I have granted, or rather restored, to the Jews of Alexandria. I do these other Jews this favour not only for the gratification of the aforesaid royal petitioners, but because I consider them worthy of these rights and privileges: they have always shown themselves faithful friends of the Roman people. I should not consider it just, however, that any Greek city should (as has been suggested) be deprived of any rights and privileges which were granted it by the Emperor Augustus (now the God Augustus), any more than that the Jewish colony in Alexandria should have been deprived of its rights and privileges by my predecessor. What is justice for Jews is justice for Greeks; and contrariwise. I have therefore decided to permit all Jews throughout my Empire to keep their ancient customs – in so far as these do not conflict with the conduct of Imperial business – without hindrance from anyone. At the same time I charge them not to presume upon the favour that I am hereby granting them, by showing contempt for the religious beliefs or practices of other races: let them content themselves with keeping their own Law. It is my pleasure that this decision of mine shall forthwith be engraved on stone tablets at the instance of the governors of all kingdoms, cities, colonies, and municipalities, both in Italy and abroad, whether Roman officials or Allied Potentates, and that these tablets shall be posted for public reading, during a full month, in some prominent public place and at a height from which the words will be plainly legible from the ground.

Talking privately to Herod-one night I said: ‘The fact is that the Greek mind and the Jewish mind work in quite different ways and are bound to come in conflict. The Jews are too serious and proud, the Greeks too vain and laughter-loving; the Jews hold too fast to the old, the Greeks are too restless in always seeking for something new; the Jews are too self-sufficient, the Greeks too accommodating. But though I might claim that we Romans understand the Greeks – we know their limitations and potentialities and can make them very useful servants – I should never claim that we understand the Jews. We have conquered them by our superior military strength but we have never felt ourselves their masters. We recognize that they retain the ancient virtues of their race, which goes back much farther in history than ours, and that we have lost our own ancient virtues; and the result is that we feel rather ashamed before them.’

Herod asked: ‘Do you know the Jewish version of Deucalion’s Flood? The Jewish Deucalion was called Noah, and he had three married sons who, when the Flood subsided, repeopled the earth. The eldest was Shem, the middle one was Ham, and the youngest was Japhet. Ham was punished for laughing at his father when he accidentally got drunk and threw off all his clothes, by being fated to serve the other two, who behaved with greater decency. Ham is the ancestor of all the African peoples. Japhet is the ancestor of the Greeks and Italians, and Shem the ancestor of the Jews, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabians, Edomites, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and the like. There is an ancient prophetic saying that if Shem and Japhet ever live under the same roof there will be endless bickering at the fireside, at the table, and in the bed-chamber. That has always proved true. Alexandria is a neat example. And if the whole of Palestine were cleared of Greeks, who don’t belong there, it would be far easier to govern. The same with Syria.’

‘Not for a Roman governor,’ I smiled. ‘The Romans are not of the family of Shem and they count on Greek support. You’d have to get rid of us Romans too. But I agree with you so far as to wish that Rome had never conquered the East at all. She would have been much wiser if she had limited herself to ruling a federation of the descendants of Japhet. Alexander and Pompey have much to answer for. Both won the title “The Great” for their Eastern conquests, but I cannot see that either of them conferred a real benefit on his country.’

‘It will all settle itself one day, Caesar,’ said Herod thoughtfully, ‘if we have patience.’

Then I began telling Herod that I was about to betroth my daughter Antonia, who was now nearly old enough to marry, to young Pompey, a descendant of Pompey the Great. Caligula had taken away young Pompey’s title, saying that it was too magnificent a one for a boy of his age to bear, and that in any case there was only one ‘Great’ in the world now. I had just restored the title, and all the other titles that Caligula had taken from noble Roman houses, together with such commemorative badges as the Torquatan Torque and the Cincinnatan Lock. Herod did not volunteer any more of his views on the subject. I did not realize that the future political relations of Shem and Japhet was the problem that had recently come to occupy his mind to the exclusion of all others.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!