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Tacitus: Annals Book 12 [60]

60. That same year the emperor was often heard to say that the legal decisions of the commissioners of the imperial treasury ought to have the same force as if pronounced by himself. Lest it might be supposed that he had stumbled inadvertently into this opinion, its principle was also secured by a decree of the Senate on a more complete and ample scale than before. It had indeed already been arranged by the Divine Augustus that the Roman knights who governed Egypt should hear causes, and that their decisions were to be as binding as those of Roman magistrates, and after a time most of the cases formerly tried by the praetors were submitted to the knights. Claudius handed over to them the whole administration of justice for which there had been by sedition or war so many struggles; the Sempronian laws vesting judicial power in the equestrian order, and those of Servilius restoring it to the Senate, while it was for this above everything else that Marius and Sulla fought of old. But those were days of political conflict between classes, and the results of victory were binding on the State. Caius Oppius and Cornelius Balbus were the first who were able, with Caesar's support, to settle conditions of peace and terms of war. To mention after them the Matii, Vedii, and other too influential names of Roman knights would be superfluous, when Claudius, we know, raised freedmen whom he had set over his household to equality with himself and with the laws.

60. Eodem anno saepius audita vox principis, parem vim rerum habendam a procuratoribus suis iudicatarum ac si ipse statuisset. ac ne fortuito prolapsus videretur, senatus quoque consulto cautum plenius quam antea et uberius. nam divus Augustus apud equestris qui Aegypto praesiderent lege agi decretaque eorum proinde haberi iusserat ac si magistratus Romani constituissent; mox alias per provincias et in urbe pleraque concessa sunt quae olim a praetoribus noscebantur: Claudius omne ius tradidit, de quo toties seditione aut armis certatum, cum Semproniis rogationibus equester ordo in possessione iudiciorum locaretur, aut rursum Serviliae leges senatui iudicia redderent, Mariusque et Sulla olim de eo vel praecipue bellarent. sed tunc ordinum diversa studia, et quae vicerant publice valebant. C. Oppius et Cornelius Balbus primi Caesaris opibus potuere condiciones pacis et arbitria belli tractare. Matios posthac et Vedios et cetera equitum Romanorum praevalida nomina referre nihil attinuerit, cum Claudius libertos quos rei familiari praefecerat sibique et legibus adaequaverit.

61. Next the emperor proposed to grant immunity from taxation to the people of Cos, and he dwelt much on their antiquity. "The Argives or Coeus, the father of Latona, were the earliest inhabitants of the island; soon afterwards, by the arrival of Aesculapius, the art of the physician was introduced and was practised with much fame by his descendants." Claudius named them one by one, with the periods in which they had respectively flourished. He said too that Xenophon, of whose medical skill he availed himself, was one of the same family, and that they ought to grant his request and let the people of Cos dwell free from all tribute in their sacred island, as a place devoted to the sole service of their god. It was also certain that many obligations under which they had laid Rome and joint victories with her might have been recounted. Claudius however did not seek to veil under any external considerations a concession he had made, with his usual good nature, to an individual.

61. Rettulit dein de immunitate Cois tribuenda multaque super antiquitate eorum memoravit: Argivos vel Coeum Latonae parentem vetustissimos insulae cultores; mox adventu Aesculapii artem medendi inlatam maximeque inter posteros eius celebrem fuisse, nomina singulorum referens et quibus quisque aetatibus viguissent. quin etiam dixit Xenophontem, cuius scientia ipse uteretur, eadem familia ortum, precibusque eius dandum ut omni tributo vacui in posterum Coi sacram et tantum dei ministram insulam colerent. neque dubium habetur multa eorundem in populum Romanum merita sociasque victorias potuisse tradi: sed Claudius facilitate solita quod uni concesserat nullis extrinsecus adiumentis velavit.

62. Envoys from Byzantium having received audience, in complaining to the Senate of their heavy burdens, recapitulated their whole history. Beginning with the treaty which they concluded with us when we fought against that king of Macedonia whose supposed spurious birth acquired for him the name of the Pseudo Philip, they reminded us of the forces which they had afterwards sent against Antiochus, Perses and Aristonicus, of the aid they had given Antonius in the pirate-war, of their offers to Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompeius, and then of their late services to the Caesars, when they were in occupation of a district peculiarly convenient for the land or sea passage of generals and armies, as well as for the conveyance of supplies.

62. At Byzantii data dicendi copia, cum magnitudinem onerum apud senatum deprecarentur, cuncta repetivere. orsi a foedere, quod nobiscum icerant, qua tempestate bellavimus adversus regem Macedonum, cui ut degeneri Pseudophilippi vocabulum impositum, missas posthac copias in Antiochum Persen Aristonicum et piratico bello adiutum Antonium memorabant, quaeque Sullae aut Lucullo aut Pompeio obtulissent, mox recentia in Caesares merita, quando ea loca insiderent quae transmeantibus terra marique ducibus exercitibusque, simul vehendo commeatu opportuna forent.

63. It was indeed on that very narrow strait which parts Europe from Asia, at Europe's furthest extremity, that the Greeks built Byzantium. When they consulted the Pythian Apollo as to where they should found a city, the oracle replied that they were to seek a home opposite to the blind men's country. This obscure hint pointed to the people of Chalcedon, who, though they arrived there first and saw before others the advantageous position, chose the worse. For Byzantium has a fruitful soil and productive seas, as immense shoals of fish pour out of the Pontus and are driven by the sloping surface of the rocks under water to quit the windings of the Asiatic shore and take refuge in these harbours. Consequently the inhabitants were at first money-making and wealthy traders, but afterwards, under the pressure of excessive burdens, they petitioned for immunity or at least relief, and were supported by the emperor, who argued to the Senate that, exhausted as they were by the late wars in Thrace and Bosporus, they deserved help. So their tribute was remitted for five years.

63. Namque artissimo inter Europam Asiamque divortio Byzantium in extrema Europa posuere Graeci, quibus Pythium Apollinem consulentibus, ubi conderent urbem, redditum oraculum est, quaererent sedem caecorum terris adversam. ea ambage Chalcedonii monstrabantur, quod priores illuc advecti, praevisa locorum utilitate, peiora legissent. quippe Byzantium fertili solo, fecundo mari, quia vis piscium immensa Pontum erumpens et obliquis subter undas saxis exterrita omisso alterius litoris flexu hos ad portus defertur. unde primo quaestuosi et opulenti; post magnitudine onerum urgente finem aut modum orabant, adnitente principe, qui Thraecio Bosporanoque bello recens fessos iuvandosque rettulit. ita tributa in quinquennium remissa.

64. In the year of the consulship of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius it was seen to be portended by a succession of prodigies that there were to be political changes for the worse. The soldiers' standards and tents were set in a blaze by lightning. A swarm of bees settled on the summit of the Capitol; births of monsters, half man, half beast, and of a pig with a hawk's talons, were reported. It was accounted a portent that every order of magistrates had had its number reduced, a quaestor, an aedile, a tribune, a praetor and consul having died within a few months. But Agrippina's terror was the most conspicuous. Alarmed by some words dropped by Claudius when half intoxicated, that it was his destiny to have to endure his wives' infamy and at last punish it, she determined to act without a moment's delay. First she destroyed Lepida from motives of feminine jealousy. Lepida indeed as the daughter of the younger Antonia, as the grandniece of Augustus, the cousin of Agrippina, and sister of her husband Cneius, thought herself of equally high rank. In beauty, youth, and wealth they differed but slightly. Both were shameless, infamous, and intractable, and were rivals in vice as much as in the advantages they had derived from fortune. It was indeed a desperate contest whether the aunt or the mother should have most power over Nero. Lepida tried to win the young prince's heart by flattery and lavish liberality, while Agrippina on the other hand, who could give her son empire but could not endure that he should be emperor, was fierce and full of menace.

64. M. Asinio M'. Acilio consulibus mutationem rerum in deterius portendi cognitum est crebris prodigiis. signa ac tentoria militum igne caelesti arsere; fastigio Capitolii examen apium insedit; biformis hominum partus et suis fetum editum cui accipitrum ungues inessent. numerabatur inter ostenta deminutus omnium magistratuum numerus, quaestore, aedili, tribuno ac praetore et consule paucos intra mensis defunctis. sed in praecipuo pavore Agrippina, vocem Claudii, quam temulentus iecerat, fatale sibi ut coniugum flagitia ferret, dein puniret, metuens, agere et celerare statuit, perdita prius Domitia Lepida muliebribus causis, quia Lepida minore Antonia genita, avunculo Augusto, Agrippinae sobrina prior ac Gnaei mariti eius soror, parem sibi claritudinem credebat. nec forma aetas opes multum distabant; et utraque impudica, infamis, violenta, haud minus vitiis aemulabantur quam si qua ex fortuna prospera acceperant. enimvero certamen acerrimum, amita potius an mater apud Neronem praevaleret: nam Lepida blandimentis ac largitionibus iuvenilem animum devinciebat, truci contra ac minaci Agrippina, quae filio dare imperium, tolerare imperitantem nequibat.

65. It was charged on Lepida that she had made attempts on the Emperor's consort by magical incantations, and was disturbing the peace of Italy by an imperfect control of her troops of slaves in Calabria. She was for this sentenced to death, notwithstanding the vehement opposition of Narcissus, who, as he more and more suspected Agrippina, was said to have plainly told his intimate friends that "his destruction was certain, whether Britannicus or Nero were to be emperor, but that he was under such obligations to Claudius that he would sacrifice life to his welfare. Messalina and Silius had been convicted, and now again there were similar grounds for accusation. If Nero were to rule, or Britannicus succeed to the throne, he would himself have no claim on the then reigning sovereign. Meanwhile, a stepmother's treacherous schemes were convulsing the whole imperial house, with far greater disgrace than would have resulted from his concealment of the profligacy of the emperor's former wife. Even as it was, there was shamelessness enough, seeing that Pallas was her paramour, so that no one could doubt that she held honour, modesty and her very person, everything, in short, cheaper than sovereignty." This, and the like, he was always saying, and he would embrace Britannicus, expressing earnest wishes for his speedy arrival at a mature age, and would raise his hand, now to heaven, now to the young prince, with entreaty that as he grew up, he would drive out his father's enemies and also take vengeance on the murderers of his mother.

65. Ceterum obiecta sunt quod coniugem principis devotionibus petivisset quodque parum coercitis per Calabriam servorum agminibus pacem Italiae turbaret. ob haec mors indicta, multum adversante Narcisso, qui Agrippinam magis magisque suspectans prompsisse inter proximos ferebatur certam sibi perniciem, seu Britannicus rerum seu Nero poteretur; verum ita de se meritum Caesarem, ut vitam usui eius impenderet. convictam Messalinam et Silium; pares iterum accusandi causas esse, si Nero imperitaret; Britannico successore nullum principi metum: at novercae insidiis domum omnem convelli, maiore flagitio quam si impudicitiam prioris coniugis reticuisset. quamquam ne impudicitiam quidem nunc abesse Pallante adultero, ne quis ambigat decus pudorem corpus, cuncta regno viliora habere. haec atque talia dictitans amplecti Britannicum, robur aetatis quam maturrimum precari, modo ad deos, modo ad ipsum tendere manus, adolesceret, patris inimicos depelleret, matris etiam interfectores ulcisceretur.

66. Under this great burden of anxiety, he had an attack of illness, and went to Sinuessa to recruit his strength with its balmy climate and salubrious waters. Thereupon, Agrippina, who had long decided on the crime and eagerly grasped at the opportunity thus offered, and did not lack instruments, deliberated on the nature of the poison to be used. The deed would be betrayed by one that was sudden and instantaneous, while if she chose a slow and lingering poison, there was a fear that Claudius, when near his end, might, on detecting the treachery, return to his love for his son. She decided on some rare compound which might derange his mind and delay death. A person skilled in such matters was selected, Locusta by name, who had lately been condemned for poisoning, and had long been retained as one of the tools of despotism. By this woman's art the poison was prepared, and it was to be administered by an eunuch, Halotus, who was accustomed to bring in and taste the dishes.

66. In tanta mole curarum valetudine adversa corripitur, refovendisque viribus mollitia caeli et salubritate aquarum Sinuessam pergit. tum Agrippina, sceleris olim certa et oblatae occasionis propera nec ministrorum egens, de genere veneni consultavit, ne repentino et praecipiti facinus proderetur; si lentum et tabidum delegisset, ne admotus supremis Claudius et dolo intellecto ad amorem filii rediret. exquisitum aliquid placebat, quod turbaret mentem et mortem differret. deligitur artifex talium vocabulo Locusta, nuper veneficii damnata et diu inter instrumenta regni habita. eius mulieris ingenio paratum virus, cuius minister e spadonibus fuit Halotus, inferre epulas et explorare gustu solitus.

67. All the circumstances were subsequently so well known, that writers of the time have declared that the poison was infused into some mushrooms, a favourite delicacy, and its effect not at the instant perceived, from the emperor's lethargic, or intoxicated condition. His bowels too were relieved, and this seemed to have saved him. Agrippina was thoroughly dismayed. Fearing the worst, and defying the immediate obloquy of the deed, she availed herself of the complicity of Xenophon, the physician, which she had already secured. Under pretence of helping the emperor's efforts to vomit, this man, it is supposed, introduced into his throat a feather smeared with some rapid poison; for he knew that the greatest crimes are perilous in their inception, but well rewarded after their consummation.

67. Adeoque cuncta mox pernotuere ut temporum illorum scriptores prodiderint infusum delectabili boleto venenum, nec vim medicaminis statim intellectam, socordiane an Claudii vinolentia; simul soluta alvus subvenisse videbatur. igitur exterrita Agrippina et, quando ultima timebantur, spreta praesentium invidia provisam iam sibi Xenophontis medici conscientiam adhibet. ille tamquam nisus evomentis adiuvaret, pinnam rapido veneno inlitam faucibus eius demisisse creditur, haud ignarus summa scelera incipi cum periculo, peragi cum praemio.

68. Meanwhile the Senate was summoned, and prayers rehearsed by the consuls and priests for the emperor's recovery, though the lifeless body was being wrapped in blankets with warm applications, while all was being arranged to establish Nero on the throne. At first Agrippina, seemingly overwhelmed by grief and seeking comfort, clasped Britannicus in her embraces, called him the very image of his father, and hindered him by every possible device from leaving the chamber. She also detained his sisters, Antonia and Octavia, closed every approach to the palace with a military guard, and repeatedly gave out that the emperor's health was better, so that the soldiers might be encouraged to hope, and that the fortunate moment foretold by the astrologers might arrive.

68. Vocabatur interim senatus votaque pro incolumitate principis consules et sacerdotes nuncupabant, cum iam exanimis vestibus et fomentis obtegeretur, dum quae res forent firmando Neronis imperio componuntur. iam primum Agrippina, velut dolore victa et solacia conquirens, tenere amplexu Britannicum, veram paterni oris effigiem appellare ac variis artibus demorari ne cubiculo egrederetur. Antoniam quoque et Octaviam sorores eius attinuit, et cunctos aditus custodiis clauserat, crebroque vulgabat ire in melius valetudinem principis, quo miles bona in spe ageret tempusque prosperum ex monitis Chaldaeorum adventaret.

69. At last, at noon on the 13th of October, the gates of the palace were suddenly thrown open, and Nero, accompanied by Burrus, went forth to the cohort which was on guard after military custom. There, at the suggestion of the commanding officer, he was hailed with joyful shouts, and set on a litter. Some, it is said, hesitated, and looked round and asked where Britannicus was; then, when there was no one to lead a resistance, they yielded to what was offered them. Nero was conveyed into the camp, and having first spoken suitably to the occasion and promised a donative after the example of his father's bounty, he was unanimously greeted as emperor. The decrees of the Senate followed the voice of the soldiers, and there was no hesitation in the provinces. Divine honours were decreed to Claudius, and his funeral rites were solemnized on the same scale as those of Augustus; for Agrippina strove to emulate the magnificence of her great-grandmother, Livia. But his will was not publicly read, as the preference of the stepson to the son might provoke a sense of wrong and angry feeling in the popular mind. 69. Tunc medio diei tertium ante Idus Octobris, fortibus palatii repente diductis, comitante Burro Nero egreditur ad cohortem, quae more militiae excubiis adest. ibi monente praefecto faustis vocibus exceptus inditur lecticae. dubitavisse quosdam ferunt, respectantis rogitantisque ubi Britannicus esset: mox nullo in diversum auctore quae offerebantur secuti sunt. inlatusque castris Nero et congruentia tempori praefatus, promisso donativo ad exemplum paternae largitionis, imperator consalutatur. sententiam militum secuta patrum consulta, nec dubitatum est apud provincias. caelestesque honores Claudio decernuntur et funeris sollemne perinde ac divo Augusto celebratur, aemulante Agrippina proaviae Liviae magnificentiam. testamentum tamen haud recitatum, ne antepositus filio privignus iniuria et invidia animos vulgi turbaret.

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