The Roman Monarchy
THE "mask of hypocrisy" which Octavius had
assumed at the age of nineteen, and "which he never afterwards
laid aside," was now at the age of thirty-four made to tell
to the utmost in firmly establishing himself in the place of supreme
power which he had attained. Having before him the important lesson
of the fate of Caesar in the same position, when the Senate bestowed
upon him the flatteries, the titles, and the dignities which it
had before bestowed upon Caesar, he pretended to throw them all
back upon the Senate and people, and obliged the Senate to go through
the form of absolutely forcing them upon him. For he "was sensible
that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation
that the Senate and people would submit to slavery provided they
were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient
freedom." He therefore "wished to deceive the people by
an image of civil liberty, and the armies by an image of civil government."
In this way he finally merged in himself the prerogatives of all the regular officers of the State -- tribune, consul, prince of the Senate, pro-counsul, imperator, censor, Pontifex Maximus -- with all the titles and dignities which had been given by the Senate to him, as before to Caesar. In short, he himself became virtually the State; his will was absolute. Having thus drawn to himself "the functions of the Senate and the magistrate, and the framing of the laws, in which he was thwarted by no man," the title of "Father of his Country" meant much more than ever it had before. The State was "the common parent" of the people. The State being now merged in one man, when that man became the father of his country, he likewise became the father of the people. And "the system by which every citizen shared in the government being thrown aside, all men regarded the orders of the prince as the only rule of conduct and obedience." -- Tacitus.2 Nor was this so merely in civic things: it was equally so in religious affairs. In fact there was in the Roman system no such distinction know as civil and religious. The State was divine, therefore that which was civil was in itself religious. One man now having become the State, it became necessary that some title should be found which would fit this new dignity and express this new power.
The Senate had exhausted the vocabulary of flattering titles in those which it had given to Caesar. Although all these were now given to Octavius, there was none amongst them which could properly define the new dignity which he possessed. Much anxious thought was given to this great question. "At last he fixed upon the epithet 'Augustus,' a name which no man had borne before, and which, on the contrary, had been applied to things the most noble, the most venerable, and the most sacred. The rites of the gods were called august; their temples were august. The word itself was derived from the holy auguries; it was connected in meaning with the abstract term "authority," and with all that increases and flourishes upon earth. The use of this glorious title could not fail to smooth the way to the general acceptance of the divine character of the mortal who was deemed worthy to bear it. The Senate had just decreed the divinity of the defunct Caesar; the courtiers were beginning now to insinuate that his successor, while yet alive, enjoyed an effluence from deity; the poets were even suggesting that altars should be raised to him; and in the provinces, among the subjects of the State at least, temples to his divinity were actually rising, and the cult of Augustus was beginning to assume a name, a ritual, and a priesthood. -- "Encyclopedia Britannica."3
He tyrannized over the nobles by his power, and held the affections of the populace by his munificence. "In the number, variety, and magnificence of his public spectacles, he surpassed all former example. Four and twenty times, he says, he treated the people with games upon his own account, and three and twenty times for such magistrates as were either absent or not able to afford the expense. . . . He entertained the people with wrestlers in the Campus Martius, where wooden seats were erected for the purpose; and also with a naval fight, for which he excavated the ground near the Tiber." In order that the people might all go to these special shows, he stationed guards through the streets to keep the houses from being robbed while the dwellers were absent. "He displayed his munificence to all ranks of the people on various occasions. Moreover, upon his bringing the treasure belonging to the kings of Egypt into the city, in his Alexandrian triumph, he made money so plentiful that interest fell, and the price of land rose considerably. And afterwards, as often as large sums of money came into his possession by means of confiscations, he would lend it free of interest, for a fixed term, to such as could give security for the double of what was borrowed. The estate necessary to qualify a senator, instead of eight hundred thousand sesterces, the former standard, he ordered, for the future, to be twelve hundred thousand; and to those who had not so much, he made good the deficiency. He often made donations to the people, but generally of different sums; sometimes four hundred, sometimes three hundred, or two hundred and fifty sesterces: upon which occasions, he extended his bounty even to young boys, who before were not used to receive anything, until they arrived at eleven years of age. In a scarcity of corn, he would frequently let them have it at a very low price, or none at all, and doubled the number of the money tickets." -- Suetonius.4
It occurred to him that he ought to abolish the distribution of grain at public expense, as he declared that it was "working unmitigated evil, retarding the advance of agriculture, and cutting the sinews of industry." But he was afraid to do it, lest some one would take advantage of the opportunity and ascend to power by restoring it. His own words are these: "I was much inclined to abolish forever the practice of allowing the people corn at the public expense, because they trust so much to it, that they are too lazy to till their lands; but I did not persevere in my design, as I felt sure that the practice would sometime or other be revived by some one ambitious of popular favor." -- Suetonius.5
In public and political life a confirmed and constant hypocrite, in private and domestic life he was no less. He was so absolutely calculating that he actually wrote out beforehand what he wished to say to his friends, and even to his wife. He married Clodia merely for political advantage, although at that time she was scarcely of marriageable age. He soon put her away, and married Scribonia. Her, too, he soon put away, "for resenting too freely the excessive influence which one of his mistresses had gained over him" (Suetonius6) and immediately took Livia Drusilla from her wedded husband. Her he kept all the rest of his days; for, instead of resenting any of his lascivious excesses, she connived at them.
By Scribonia he had a daughter -- Julia. Her he gave first to his sister's son, who soon died; and then he gave her to her brother-in-law, Marcus Agrippa, who was already married to her cousin by whom he had children. Nevertheless Agrippa was obliged to put away his wife and children, and take Julia. Agrippa likewise soon died; then Tiberius was obliged to put away his wife, by whom he already had a son and who was soon to become a mother again, in order that he might be the step-son of the emperor by becoming Julia's third husband. By this time, however, Julia had copied so much of her father's wickedness that Tiberius could not live with her; and her daughter had copied so much of hers, that "the two Julias, his daughter and grand-daughter, abandoned themselves to such courses of lewdness and debauchery, that he banished them both" (Suetonius7), and even had thoughts of putting to death the elder Julia.
Yet Augustus, setting such an example of wickedness as this, presumed to enact laws punishing in others the same things which were habitually practiced by himself. But all these evil practices were so generally followed, that laws would have done no good by whomsoever enacted, much less would they avail when issued by such a person as he.
Augustus died at the age of seventy-six, August 19, A. D. 14, and was succeeded by --
Forty-three years of the sole authority of Augustus
had established the principle of absolutism in government, but "the
critical moment for a government is that of its founder's death."
It was now to be discovered whether that principle was firmly fixed;
but Tiberius was fifty-six years old, and had been a careful student
of Augustus, and though at his accession the new principle of government
was put to its severest test, Tiberius made Augustus his model in
all things; "continued his hypocritical moderation, and made
it, so to speak, the rule of the imperial government." -- Duruy.8
Though he immediately assumed the imperial authority, like his model, "He affected by a most impudent piece of acting to refuse it for a long time; one while sharply reprehending his friends who entreated him to accept it, as little knowing what a monster the government was; another while keeping in suspense the Senate when they implored him and threw themselves at his feet, by ambiguous answers and a crafty kind of dissimulation; in so much that some were out of patience and one cried out during the confusion, `Either let him accept it or decline it at once;' and a second told him to his face: `Others are slow to perform what they promise, but you are slow to promise what you actually perform.' At last as if forced to it, and complaining of the miserable and burdensome service imposed upon him, he accepted the government." -- Suetonius.9
The purpose of all this was, as with Augustus, to cause the Senate by fairly forcing imperial honors upon him, firmly to ally itself to the imperial authority by making itself the guardian of that power; so that when any danger should threaten the emperor, the Senate would thus stand pledged to defend him. And dangers were at this time so thick about Tiberius that he declared he had "a wolf by the ears."
The principle thing that had marked his accession was the murder of Agrippa Posthumus, the son of Agrippa the minister of Augustus; and now a slave of Agrippa's had got together a considerable force to avenge his master's death. "Lucius Scribonius Libo, a senator of the first distinction, was secretly fomenting a rebellion, and the troops both in Illyricum and Germany were mutinous. Both armies insisted upon high demands, particularly that their pay should be made equal to that of the praetorian guards. The army in Germany absolutely refused to acknowledge a prince who was not their own choice, and urged with all possible importunity Germanicus, who commanded them, to take the government on himself, though he obstinately refused it." -- Suetonius.10
All these dangers were soon passed, and Tiberius pretending to be the servant of the Senate, "assumed the sovereignty by slow degrees," and the Senate allowed nothing to check its extravagance in bestowing titles, honors, and powers, for "such was the pestilential character of those times, so contaminated with adulation, that not only the first nobles, whose obnoxious splendor found protection only in obsequiousness, but all who had been consuls, a great part of such as had been praetors, and even many of the inferior senators, strove for priority in the fulsomeness and extravagance of their votes. There is a tradition that Tiberius, as often as he went out of the Senate, was wont to cry out in Greek, 'How fitted for slavery are these men!' Yes, even Tiberius, the enemy of public liberty, nauseated the crouching tameness of his slaves." -- Tacitus.11
This course of conduct he continued through nine years, and his reign was perhaps as mild during this time as that of any other Roman would have been; but when at last he felt himself secure in the position where he was placed above all law, there was no enormity that he did not commit.
One man being now the State, and that one man being "divine," high treason -- violated majesty -- became the most common crime, and the "universal resource in accusations." In former times," If any one impaired the majesty of the Roman people by betraying an army, by exciting sedition among the Commons, in short, by any maladministration of the public affairs, the actions were matter of trial, but words were free." -- Tacitus. But now the law embraced "not words only, but a gesture, an involuntary forgetfulness, an indiscreet curiosity." -- Duruy.13 More than this, as the emperor was the embodiment of the divinity of the Roman State, this divinity was likewise supposed to be reflected in the statues and images of him. Any disrespect, any slight, any indifference, any carelessness intentional or otherwise, shown toward any such statue, or image, or picture, was considered as referring to him; was violative of his majesty; and was high treason. If any one counted as sold, a statue of the emperor with the field in which it stood, even though he had made and set up the statue himself; any one who should throw a stone at it; any one who should take away its head; any one who should melt the bronze or use for any profane purpose the stone, even of a broken or mutilated image or statue, -- all were alike guilty of high treason.
Yet more than this, in all cases of high treason when the accused was found guilty, one fourth of his estate was by law made sure to the informer. "Thus the informers, a description of men called into existence to prey upon the vitals of society and never sufficiently restrained even by penalties, were now encouraged by rewards." -- Tacitus.14
Bearing these facts in mind, it is easy to understand the force of that political turn which the priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem took upon Pilate in their charges against Christ: "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." John xix, 12. On account of the furious jealousy of Tiberius and his readiness to welcome the reports of informers, the priests and Pharisees knew full well, and so did Pilate, that if a deputation should be sent to Rome accusing him of high treason in sanctioning the kingship of a Jew, Pilate would be called to Rome and crucified.
Thus in Tiberius the government of Rome became "a furious and crushing despotism." The emperor being above all law, forgot all restraint, and "abandoned himself to every species of cruelty, never wanting occasions of one kind or another, to serve as a pretext. He first fell upon the friends and acquaintances of his mother, then those of his grandsons and his daughter-in-law, and lastly those of Sejanus, after whose death he became cruel in the extreme."
Sejanus was his chief minister of State and his special friend and favorite -- a worthy favorite, too. Tiberius, at his particular solicitation, retired to the island of Capri, where he attempted to imitate the lascivious ways of all the gods and goddesses at once.
Sejanus, left in command of the empire, aspired to possess it in full. He had already put away his own wife, and poisoned the son of Tiberius that he might marry his widow. His scheme was discovered; he was strangled by the public executioner, and torn to pieces by the populace. Then, under the accusation of being friends of Sejanus, a great number of people were first imprisoned, and shortly afterward, without even the form of a trial, Tiberius "ordered all who were in prison under accusation of attachment to Sejanus, to be put to death. There lay the countless mass of slain -- of every sex and age -- the illustrious and the mean; some dispersed, other collected in heaps; nor was it permitted to their friends or kindred to be present, or to shed a tear over them, or any longer even to go and see them; but guards were placed around, who marked signs of sorrow in each, and attended the putrid bodies till they were dragged to the Tiber; where, floating in the stream, or driven upon the banks, none dared to burn them, none to touch them. Even the ordinary intercourse of humanity was intercepted by the violence of fear; and in proportion as cruelty prevailed, commiseration was stifled." -- Tacitus.15
After the example of Augustus, and to satisfy the clamors of the people, he loaned money without interest for three years to all who wanted to borrow. He first compelled "all money-lenders to advance two thirds of their capital on land, and the debtors to pay off at once the same proportion of their debts." This was found insufficient to meet all the demands, and he loaned from the public treasury about five millions, of dollars. In order to obtain money to meet this and other drafts on the public treasury, "he turned his mind to sheer robbery. It is certain that Cneius Lentulus, the augur, a man of vast estate, was so terrified and worried by his threats and importunities, that he was obliged to make him his heir. . . . Several persons, likewise of the first distinction in Gaul, Spain, Syria, and Greece, had their estates confiscated upon such despicably trifling and shameless pretenses, that against some of them no other charge was preferred than that they held large sums of ready money as part of their property. Old immunities, the rights of mining, and of levying tolls, were taken from several cities and private persons." -- Suetonius.16
As for anything more about "this monster of his species," we shall only say in the words of Suetonius, "It would be tedious to relate all the numerous instances of his cruelty; suffice it to give a few examples, in their different kinds. Not a day passed without the punishment of some person or other, not excepting holidays, or those appropriated to the worship of the gods. Some were tried even on New Year's Day. Of many who were condemned, their wives and children shared the same fate; and for those who were sentenced to death, the relations were forbid to put on mourning.
"Considerable rewards were voted for the prosecutors, and sometimes for the witnesses also. The information of any person, without exception, was taken, and all offenses were capital, even speaking a few words, though without any ill intention. A poet was charged with abusing Agamemnon; and a historian, for calling Brutus and Cassius `the last of the Romans.' The two authors were immediately called to account, and their writings suppressed, though they had been well received some years before, and read in the hearing of Augustus. Some who were thrown into prison, were not only denied the solace of study, but debarred from all company and conversation. Many persons, when summoned to trial, stabbed themselves at home, to avoid the distress and ignominy of a public condemnation, which they were certain would ensue. Others took poison in the Senate house. The wounds were bound up, and all who had not expired, were carried, half dead, and panting for life, to prison. Those who were put to death, were thrown down the Gemonian stairs, and then dragged into the Tiber. In one day, twenty were treated in this manner, and amongst them women and boys. Because, according to an ancient custom, it was not lawful to strangle virgins, the young girls were first deflowered by the executioner, and afterwards strangled.
"Those who were desirous to die, were forced to live. For he thought death so slight a punishment, that upon hearing that Carnulius, one of the accused, who was under prosecution, had killed himself, he exclaimed, `Carnulius has escaped me.' In calling over his prisoners, when one of them requested the favor of a speedy death, he replied, `You are not yet restored to favor.' A man of consular rank writes in his annals that at table, where he himself was present with a large company, he was suddenly asked aloud by a dwarf who stood by amongst the buffoons, why Paconius, who was under a prosecution for treason, lived so long. Tiberius immediately reprimanded him for his pertness, but wrote to the Senate a few days after, to proceed without delay to the punishment of Paconius." -- Suetonius17
Tiberius died March 16, A. D. 37, in the seventy-eighth year of his age and the twenty-third year of his reign, and was succeeded by --
Caligula was the son of Germanicus, who was the adopted
son of Tiberius. He was born and brought up in the camp. When he
grew large enough to run about, the soldiers made him a pair of
boots -- Caliga after the pattern of their own, and from that he
got his name of "Caligula," that is, Little Boots. His
real name was Caius. He was now twenty-five years old, and had been
with Tiberius for the last five years. "Closely aping Tiberius,
he put on the same dress as he did from day to day, and in his language
differed little from him. Whence the shrewd observation of Passienus
the orator, afterward so famous, `that never was a better slave
nor a worse master.'" -- Tacitus.18 He imitated Tiberius in
his savage disposition, and the exercise of his vicious propensities,
as closely as he did in his dress and language. If he were not worse
than Tiberius, it was only because it was impossible to be worse.
Like his pattern, he began his reign with such an appearance of gentleness and genuine ability, that there was universal rejoicing among the people out of grateful remembrance of Germanicus, and among the soldiers and provincials who had known him in his childhood. As he followed the corpse of Tiberius to its burning. "He had to walk amidst altars, victims, and lighted torches, with prodigious crowds of people everywhere attending him, in transports of joy, and calling him, besides other auspicious names, by those of `their star,' `their chick,' 'their pretty puppet,' and 'bantling.' . . . Caligula himself inflamed this devotion, by practising all the arts of popularity." -- Suetonius.19 This appearance of propriety he kept up for eight months, and then, having become giddy with the height at which he stood, and drunken with the possession of absolute power, he ran wildly and greedily into all manner of excesses.
He gave himself the titles of "Dutiful," "The Pious," "The Child of the Camp, the Father of the Armies," "The Greatest and Best Caesar." -- Suetonius.20 He caused himself to be worshiped, not only in his images, but in his own person. Among the gods, Castor and Pollux were twin brothers representing the sun, and were the sons of Jupiter. Caligula would place himself between the statues of the twin brothers there to be worshiped by all votaries. And they worshiped him, too; some saluting him as Jupiter Latialis that is, the Roman Jupiter, the guardian of the Roman people. He caused all the images of the gods that were famous either for beauty or popularity, to be brought from Greece, and their heads taken off and his put on instead, and then sent them back to be worshiped. He set up a temple, and established a priesthood in honor of his own divinity; and in the temple he set up a statue of gold the exact image of himself, which he caused to be dressed every day exactly as he was. The sacrifices which were to be offered in the temple, were flamingos, peacocks, bustards, guineas, turkeys, and pheasants, each kind offered on successive days. "The most opulent persons in the city offered themselves as candidates for the honor of being his priests, and purchased it successively at an immense price." -- Suetonius.21
Castor and Pollux had a sister who corresponded to the moon. Caligula therefore on nights when the moon was full, would invite her to come and stay with him. This Jupiter Latialis placed himself on full and familiar equality with Jupiter Capitolinus. He would walk up to the other Jupiter and whisper in his ear, and then turn his own ear, as if listening for a reply. Not only had Augustus and Romulus taken other men's wives, but Castor and Pollux, in the myth, had gone to a double wedding, and after the marriage had carried off both the brides with them. Caligula did the same thing. He went to the wedding of Caius Piso, and from the wedding supper carried off the bride with himself, and the next day issued a proclamation "that he had got a wife as Romulus and Augustus had done;" but in a few days he put her away, and two years afterward he banished her.
Lollia Paulina was the wife of a proconsul. She was with her husband in one of the provinces where he was in command of an army. Caligula heard somebody say that her grandmother had been a very beautiful woman. He immediately sent and had Lollia Paulina brought from her husband, and made her his wife; and her also soon afterwards he put away. But he found a perfect wanton, by the name of Caesonia, who was neither handsome nor young, and her he kept constantly. He lived in incest with all three of his sisters, but one of them, Drusilla, was a special favorite. Her he took from her husband, a man of consular rank, and made her his wife and kept her so as long as she lived, and when she died, he ordered a public mourning for her, during which time he made it a capital offense for anybody to laugh, or bathe, or eat with his parents or his own family; and ever afterwards his most solemn oath was to sware by the divinity of Drusilla.
He was so prodigal that in less then a year, besides the regular revenue of the empire, he spent the sum of about one hundred millions of dollars. He built a bridge of boats across the Gulf of Balae, from Balae to Puteoli, a distance of three and a half miles. He twice distributed to the people nearly fifteen dollars apiece, and often gave splendid feasts to the Senate and to the knights with their families, at which he presented official garments to the men, and purple scarfs to the women and children. He exhibited a large number of games continuing all day. Sometimes he would throw large sums of money and other valuables to the crowd to be scrambled for. He likewise made public feasts at which, to every man, he would give a basket of bread with other victuals. He would exhibit stage plays in different parts of the city at night time, and cause the whole city to be illuminated; he exhibited these games and public plays not only in Rome, but in Sicily, Syracuse, and Gaul.
As for himself, in his feasts he exerted himself to set the grandest suppers and the strangest dishes, at which he would drink pearls of immense value, dissolved in vinegar, and serve up loaves of bread and other victuals modeled in gold. He built two ships each of ten banks of oars, the poops of which were made to blaze with jewels, with sails of various parti-colors, with baths, galleries, and saloons; in which he would sail along the coast feasting and reveling, with the accompaniments of dancing and concerts of music. At one of these revels he made a present of nearly one hundred thousand dollars to a favorite charioteer. His favorite horse he called Incitatus, -- go ahead, -- and on the day before the celebration of the games of the circus, he would set a guard of soldiers to keep perfect quiet in the neighborhood, that the repose of Go-ahead might not be disturbed. This horse he arrayed in purple and jewels, and built for him a marble stable with an ivory manger. He would occasionally have the horse eat at the imperial table, and at such times would feed him on gilded grain in a golden basin of the finest workmanship. He proposed at last to make the horse consul of the empire.
Having spent all the money, though an enormous sum, that had been laid up by Tiberius, it became necessary to raise funds sufficient for his extravagance, and to raise it he employed "every mode of false accusation, confiscation, and taxation that could be invented." He commanded that the people should make their wills in his favor. He even caused this rule to date back as far as the beginning of the reign of Tiberius, and from that time forward any centurion of the first rank who had not made Tiberius or Caligula his heir, his will was annulled, and all his property confiscated. The wills of all others were set aside if any person would say that the maker had intended to make the emperor his heir. This caused those who were yet living to make him joint heir with their friends or with their children. If he found that such wills had been made and the maker did not die soon, he declared that they were only making game of him, and sent them poisoned cakes.
The remains of the paraphernalia of his spectacles, the furniture of the palace occupied by Augustus and Tiberius, and all the clothes, slaves, and even freedmen belonging to his sisters whom he banished, were put up at auction, and the prices were run up so high as to ruin the purchasers. At one of these sales a certain Aponius Saturninus, sitting on a bench, became sleepy and fell to nodding; the emperor noticed it, and told the auctioneer not to overlook the bids of the man who was nodding so often. Every nod was taken as a new bid, and when the sale was over, the dozing bidder found himself in possession of thirteen gladiatorial slaves, for which he was in debt nearly half a million dollars. If the bidding was not prompt enough nor high enough to suit him, he would rail at the bidders for being stingy, and demand if they were not ashamed to be richer than he was.
He levied taxes of every kind that he could invent, and no kind of property or person was exempt from some sort of taxation. Much complaint was made that the law for imposing this taxation had never been published, and that much grievance was caused from want of sufficient knowledge of the law. He then published the law, but had it written in very small characters and posted up in a corner so that nobody could obtain a copy of it. His wife Caesonia gave birth to a daughter, upon which Caligula complained of his poverty, caused by the burdens to which he was subjected, not only as an emperor but as a father, and therefore made a general collection for the support of the child, and gave public notice that he would receive New Year's gifts the first of the following January. At the appointed time he took his station in the vestibule of his palace, and the people of all ranks came and threw to him their presents "by the handfuls and lapfuls. At last, being seized with an invincible desire of feeling money, taking off his slippers he repeatedly walked over great heaps of gold coin spread upon the spacious floor, and then laying himself down, rolled his whole body in gold over and over again." -- Suetonius.22
His cruelty was as deadly as his lust and prodigality were extravagant. At the dedication of that bridge of boats which he built he spent two days reveling and parading over the bridge. Before his departure, he invited a number of people to come to him on the bridge, all of whom without distinction of age, or sex, or rank, or character, he caused to be thrown headlong into the sea, "thrusting down with poles and oars those who, to save themselves, had got hold of the rudders of the ship." At one time when meat had risen to very high prices, he commanded that the wild beasts that were kept for the arena, should be fed on criminals, who, without distinction as to degrees of crime, were given to be devoured.
During his revels he would cause criminals, and even innocent persons, to be racked and beheaded. He seemed to gloat over the thought that the lives of mankind were in his hands, and that at a word he could do what he would. Once at a grand entertainment, at which both the consuls were seated next to him, he suddenly burst out into violent laughter, and when the consuls asked him what he was laughing about, he replied, "Nothing, but that upon a single word of mine you might both have your throats cut." Often, as he kissed or fondled the neck of his wife or mistress, he would exclaim, "So beautiful a throat must be cut whenever I please."
All these are but parts of his ways, but the rest are either too indecent or too horrible to relate. At last, after indulging more than three years of his savage rage, he was killed by a company of conspirators, with the tribune of the praetorian guards at their head, having reigned three years, ten months, and eight days, and lived twenty-nine years. He was succeeded by --
The soldiers not only killed an emperor, but they
made another one. There was at that time, living in the palace,
an uncle to Caligula, named Claudius, now fifty years old. Though
he seems to have had as much sense as any of them, he was slighted
and counted as a fool by those around him. Even his mother, when
she would remark upon any one's dullness, would use the comparison,
"He is a greater fool than my son Claudius." About the
palace he was made the butt of the jests and practical jokes of
the courtiers and even of the buffoons. At supper he would cram
himself full of victuals, and drink till he was drunk; and then
go to sleep at the table. At this, the company would pelt him with
olive stones or scraps of victuals; and the buffoons would prod
him with a cane, or snip him with to wake him. And when he had gone
to sleep, while he lay snoring, they would put slippers on his hands,
that when he should wake and attempt to rub his eyes open, he would
rub his face with the slippers.
The night that Caligula was killed, Claudius, fearing for his own life, crept into a balcony, and hid himself behind the curtains of the door. The soldiers, rushing through the palace, happened to see his feet sticking out, and one of them grabbed him by the heels and demanding to know who owned them, dragged forth Caludius; and when he discovered who he was, exclaimed, "Why, this is Germanicus; let's make him emperor!" The other soldiers in the band immediately adopted the idea, saluted him as emperor, set him on a litter, and carried him on their shoulders to the camp of the praetorian guards. The next day while the Senate deliberated, the people cried out that they would have one master, and that he should be Claudius. The soldiers assembled under arms, and took the oath of allegiance to him; upon which he promised them about seven hundred dollars apiece.
By the mildness and correctness of his administration, he soon secured the favor and affection of the whole people. Having once gone a short distance out of the city, a report was spread that he had been waylaid and killed. "The people never ceased cursing the soldiers for traitors, and the Senate as parricides, until or two persons, and presently after several others, were brought by the magistrates upon the rostra, who assured them that he was alive, and not far from the city, on his way home." -- Suetonius.23
As he sat to judge causes, the lawyers would openly reprove him and make fun of him. One of these one day, making excuses why a witness did not appear, stated that it was impossible for him to appear, but did not tell why. Claudius insisted upon knowing, and after several questions had been evaded, the statement was brought forth that the man was dead, upon which Claudius replied, "I think that is a sufficient excuse." When he would start away from the tribunal, they would call him back. If he insisted upon going, they would seize hold of his dress or take him by the heels, and make him stay until they were ready for him to go. A Greek once having a case before him, got into a dispute with him, and called out loud, "You are an old fool;" and a Roman knight once being prosecuted upon a false charge, being provoked at the character of the witnesses brought against him, upbraided Claudius with folly and cruelty, and threw some books and a writing pencil in his face. He pleased the populace with distributions of grain and money, and displays of magnificent games and spectacles.
This is the Claudius mentioned in Acts xviii, 2, who commanded all Jews to depart from Rome. This he did, says Suetonius, because they "were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus." These disturbances arose from contentions of the Jews against the Christians about Christ. As the Christians were not yet distinguished from the Jews, the decree of banishment likewise made no distinction, and when he commanded all Jews to depart from Rome, Christians were among them. One of his principal favorites was that Felix, governor of Judea, mentioned in Acts xxiii, 24, before whom Paul pleaded, and who trembled as the apostle "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come."
Claudius was not as bad as either Tiberius or Caligula, but what he himself lacked in this respect was amply made up by his wives. "In his marriage, as in all else, Claudius had been pre-eminent in misfortune. He lived in an age of which the most frightful sign of depravity was that its women were, if possible, a shade worse than its men, and it was the misery of Claudius, as it finally proved his ruin, to have been united by marriage to the very worst among them all. Princesses like the Bernice, and the Drusilla, and the Salome, and the Herodias of the sacred historians, were in this age a familiar spectacle; but none of them were so wicked as two at least of Claudius's wives. He was betrothed or married no less than five times. The lady first destined for his bride had been repudiated because her parents had offended Augustus; the next died on the very day intended for her nuptials. By his first actual wife, Urgulania whom he had married in early youth, he had two children, Drusus and Claudia; Drusus was accidentally choked in boyhood while trying to swallow a pear which had been thrown up into the air. Very shortly after the birth of Claudia, discovering the unfaithfulness of Urgulania, Claudius divorced her, and ordered the child to be stripped naked and exposed to die. His second wife, AElia Petina, seems to have been an unsuitable person, and her also he divorced. His third and fourth wives lived to earn a colossal infamy -- Valeria Messalina for her shameless character, Agrippina the younger for her unscrupulous ambition.
"Messalina, when she married, could scarcely have been fifteen years old, yet she at once assumed a dominant position, and secured it by means of the most unblushing wickedness. But she did not reign so absolutely undisturbed as to be without her own jealousies and apprehensions; and these were mainly kindled by Julia and Agrippina, the two nieces of the emperor. They were, no less than herself, beautiful, brilliant, and evil-hearted women, quite ready to make their own coteries, and to dispute, as far as they dared, the supremacy of a bold but reckless rival. They, too, used their arts, their wealth, their rank, their political influence, their personal fascinations, to secure for themselves a band of adherents, ready, when the proper moment arrived, for any conspiracy. . . .
"The life of this beautiful princess, short as it was, -- for she died at a very early age, -- enough to make her name a proverb of everlasting infamy. For a time she appeared irresistible. Her personal fascination had won for her an unlimited sway over the facile mind of Claudius, and she had either won over by her intrigues, or terrified by her pitiless severity, the noblest of the Romans and the most powerful of the freedmen." -- Farrar.24
She became "so vehemently enamored of Caius Silius, the handsomest of the Roman youth, that she obliged him to divorce his wife, Julia Silana, a lady of high quality," that she might have him to herself. "Nor was Silius blind to the danger and malignity of his crime; but, as it was certain destruction to decline her suit, and there were some hopes of beguiling Claudius, while great rewards were held out to him, he was content to take the chance of what might happen thereafter, and enjoy the present advantages. The empress proceeded not stealthily, but went to his house frequently, with a numerous train, accompanied him incessantly abroad, loaded him with presents and honors; and at last, as if the fortune of the empire had been transferred with the emperor's wife, at the house of her adulterer were now seen the slaves, freedmen, and equipage of the prince." -- Tacitus.25
Claudius made a journey to Ostia, and while he was gone, Messalina publicly celebrated her marriage with Silius, with royal ceremony. "I am aware that it will appear fabulous that any human beings should have exhibited such recklessness of consequences; and that, in a city where everything was known and talked of, any one, much more a consul elect, should have met the emperor's wife, on a stated day, in the presence of persons called in, to seal the deeds, as for the purpose of procreation, and that she should have heard the words of the augurs, entered the house of the husband, sacrificed to the gods, sat down among the guests at the nuptial banquet, exchanged kisses and embraces, and in fine passed the night in unrestrained conjugal intercourse. But I would not dress up my narrative with fictions to give it an air of marvel, rather than relate what has been stated to me or written by my seniors." -- Tacitus.
The report of all this was carried to Claudius, which so terrified him that but for his favorites, he would undoubtedly have surrendered the empire to Silius. Several of these, however, rallied him with the assurance that they would stand by him and help him through, and they persuaded him to start for Rome; but fearing that even then, if Messalina should meet him, she would persuade him to pardon her, they took him in the same carriage with themselves, and all the way as they went, one of them kept continually exclaiming, "O the villainy, O the treason!" As for Messalina, "she never wallowed in greater voluptuousness; it was then the middle of autumn, and in her house she exhibited a representation of the vintage: the winepresses were plied, the wine vats flowed, and round them danced women begirt with skins like Bacchanalians at their sacrifices, or under the maddening inspiration of their deity: she herself, with her hair loose and flowing, waved a thyrsus; by her side Silius, crowned with ivy, and wearing buskins, tossed his head about; while around them danced the wanton choir in obstreperous revelry. It is reported that Vectius Valens, having in a frolic climbed to an exceeding high tree, when asked what he saw, answered, `a terrible storm from Ostia.'" -- Tacitus.27
That storm was coming swiftly, and when it came, Messalina was given the privilege of killing herself. She plied the dagger twice but failed, and then a tribune ran her through with his sword. Word was carried to Claudius while he was sitting at a feast, that Messalina was no more, to which he made neither reply nor inquiry, "but called for a cup of wine and proceeded in the usual ceremonies of the feast, nor did he, indeed, during the following days, manifest any symptom of disgust or joy, of resentment or sorrow, nor, in short, of any human affection; not when he beheld the accusers of his wife exulting at her death; not when he looked upon her mourning children." -- Tacitus.28
Messalina was dead; but bad as she had been, a worse woman took her place. This was Agrippina, sister of Caligula, niece of Claudius, and the mother of Nero. "Whatever there was of possible affection in the tigress nature of Agrippina was now absorbed in the person of her child. For that child, from its cradle to her own death by his means, she toiled and sinned. The fury of her own ambition, inextricably linked with the uncontrollable fierceness of her love for this only son, henceforth directed every action of her life. Destiny had made her the sister of one emperor; intrigue elevated her into the wife of another: her own crimes made her the mother of a third. And at first sight her career might have seemed unusually successful; for while still in the prime of life she was wielding, first in the name of her husband, and then in that of her son, no mean share in the absolute government of the Roman world. But meanwhile that same unerring retribution, whose stealthy footsteps in the rear of the triumphant criminal we can track through page after page of history, was stealing nearer and nearer to her with uplifted hand. When she had reached the dizzy pinnacle of gratified love and pride to which she had waded through so many a deed of sin and blood, she was struck down into terrible ruin and violent, shameful death by the hand of that very son for whose sake she had so often violated the laws of virtue and integrity, and spurned so often the pure and tender obligation which even the heathen had been taught by the voice of God within their conscience to recognize and to adore.
"Intending that her son should marry Octavia, the daughter of Claudius, her first step was to drive to death Silanus, a young nobleman to whom Octavia had already been betrothed. Her next care was to get rid of all rivals possible or actual. Among the former were the beautiful Calpurnia and her own sister-in-law, Domitia Lepida. Among the latter was the wealthy Lollia Paulina, against whom she trumped up an accusation of sorcery and treason, upon which her wealth was confiscated, but her life spared by the emperor, who banished her from Italy. This half vengeance was not enough for the mother of Nero. Like the daughter of Herodias in sacred history, she dispatched a tribune with orders to bring her the head of her enemy; and when it was brought to her, and she found a difficulty in recognizing those withered and ghastly features of a once celebrated beauty, she is said with her own hand to have lifted one of the lips, and to have satisfied herself that this was indeed the head of Lollia. . . . Well may Adolf Stahr observe that Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and husband-murdering Gertrude are mere children by the side of this awful giant-shape of steely feminine cruelty." -- Farrar. 29
By the horrible crimes and fearful sinning of Agrippina, Nero became emperor of Rome, A. D. 57, at the age of seventeen. As in the account already given, there is enough to show what the Roman monarchy really was; and as that is the purpose of this chapter, it is not necessary any further to portray the frightful enormities of individual emperors. It is sufficient to say of Nero, that, in degrading vices, shameful licentiousness, and horrid cruelty, he transcended all who had been before him.
It is evident that for the production of such men as Antony and Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula, Claudius and Nero, with such women as their mothers and wives -- to say nothing of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Domitian, who quickly followed -- in direct succession and in so short a time, there must of necessity have been a condition of society in general which corresponded to the nature of the product. Such was in fact the case.
"An evil day is approaching when it becomes recognized in a community that the only standard of social distinction is wealth. That day was soon followed in Rome by its unavoidable consequence, a government founded upon two domestic elements, corruption and terrorism. No language can describe the state of that capital after the civil wars. The accumulation of power and wealth gave rise to a universal depravity. Law ceased to be of any value. A suitor must deposit a bribe before a trial could be had. The social fabric was a festering mass of rottenness. The people had become a populace; the aristocracy was demoniac; the city was a hell. No crime that the annals of human wickedness can show was left unperpetrated; -- remorseless murders; the betrayal of parents, husbands, wives, friends; poisoning reduced to a system; adultery degenerating into incests and crimes that cannot be written.
"Women of the higher class were so lascivious, depraved, and dangerous, that men could not be compelled to contract matrimony with them; marriage was displaced by concubinage; even virgins were guilty of inconceivable immodesties; great officers of state and ladies of the court, of promiscuous bathings and naked exhibitions. In the time of Caesar it had become necessary for the government to interfere and actually put a premium on marriage. He gave rewards to women who had many children; prohibited those who were under forty-five years of age, and who had no children, from wearing jewels and riding in litters, hoping by such social disabilities to correct the evil. It went on from bad to worse, so that Augustus, in view of the general avoidance of legal marriage and resort to concubinage with slaves, was compelled to impose penalties on the unmarried -- to enact that they should not inherit by will except from relations. Not that the Roman women refrained from the gratification of their desires; their depravity impelled them to such wicked practices as cannot be named in a modern book. They actually reckoned the years, not by the consuls, but by the men they had lived with. To be childless and therefore without the natural restraint of a family, was looked upon as a singular felicity. Plutarch correctly touched the point when he said that the Romans married to be heirs and not to have heirs.
"Of offenses that do not rise to the dignity of atrocity, but which excite our loathing, such as gluttony and the most debauched luxury, the annals of the times furnish disgusting proofs. It was said, `They eat that they may vomit, and vomit that they may eat.' At the taking of Perusium, three hundred of the most distinguished citizens were solemnly sacrificed at the altar of Divius Julius by Octavian. Are these the deeds of civilized men, or the riotings of cannibals drunk with blood?
"The higher classes on all sides exhibited a total extinction of moral principle; the lower were practical atheists. Who can peruse the annals of the emperors without being shocked at the manner in which men died, meeting their fate with the obtuse tranquillity that characterizes beasts? A centurion with a private mandate appears, and forthwith the victim opens his veins, and dies in a warm bath. At the best, all that was done was to strike at the tyrant. Men despairingly acknowledged that the system itself was utterly past cure.
"That in these statements I do not exaggerate, hear what Tacitus says: `The holy ceremonies of religion were violated; adultery reigning without control; the adjacent islands filled with exiles; rocks and desert places stained with clandestine murders, and Rome itself a theater of horrors, where nobility of descent and splendor of fortune marked men out for destruction; where the vigor of mind that aimed at civil dignities, and the modesty that declined them, were offenses without distinction; where virtue was a crime that led to certain ruin; where the guilt of informers and the wages of their iniquity were alike detestable; where the sacerdotal order, the consular dignity, the government of provinces, and even the cabinet of the prince, were seized by that execrable race as their lawful prey; where nothing was sacred, nothing safe from the hand of rapacity; where slaves were suborned, or by their own malevolence excited against their masters; where freemen betrayed their patrons, and he who had lived without an enemy died by the treachery of a friend.'" -- Draper. 30
To complete this dreadful picture requires but the touch of Inspiration. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools; and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections. For even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death; not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."31
When this scripture was read by the Christians in Rome, they knew from daily observation that it was but a faithful description of Roman society as it was. And Roman society as it was, was but the resultant of pagan civilization, and the logic, in its last analysis, of the pagan religion. Roman society as it was, was ULTIMATE PAGANISM.
1 [Page 81] "Decline and Fall," chap. iii, par. 17, 18.
2 [Page 82] "Annals," book 1, chap. 4.
3 [Page 83] Article "Augustus."
4 [Page 84] "Lives of the Caesars," chap. xii.
5 [Page 84] Id., chap. xiii. Merivale, "Romans Under the Empire," chap. xxii, par. 4.
6 [Page 84] Id., chap. lxix.
7 [Page 85] "Lives of the Caesars," Augustus, chap. lxv.
8 [Page 85] "History of Rome," lxxii, sec. i, par. 9.
9 [Page 86] "Lives of the Caesars," Tiberius, chap. xxiv.
10 [Page 86] Id., chap. xxv.
11 [Page 87] "Annals," book iii, chap. lxv.
12 [Page 87] Id., book i, chap. lxxii.
13 [Page 87] "History of Rome" chap. lxxiii, par. 2.
14 [Page 88] "Annals," book iv, chap. xxx.
15 [Page 89] Id., book vi, chap. 19.
16 [Page 90] "Lives of the Caesars," Tiberius, chaps. xlviii, xlix.
17 [Page 91] "Lives of the Caesars," Tiberius, chaps. lxi, lxii.
18 [Page 92] "Annals," book vi, chap. xx.
19 [Page 92] "Lives of the Caesars," Caligula, chaps. xiii, xv.
20 [Page 92] Id., chap. xxii.
21 [Page 93] Id.
22 [Page 96] Id., chap. xiii.
23 [Page 99] "Lives of the Caesars," Claudius, chap. xii.
24 [Page 101] "Seekers after God," chap. vi, par. 10-12; and chap. ix, par. 2.
25 [Page 101] "Annals," book xi, chap. xii.
26 [Page 102] Id., chap. xxvii.
27 [Page 102] Id., chap. xxxi.
28 [Page 103] Id., chap. xxxviii.
29 [Page 104] "Seekers after God," chap. x, par. 5.
30 [Page 107] "Intellectual Development of Europe," chap. viii, par. 22-24.
31 [Page 108] Rom. i, 22-32.