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Tacitus: Annals Book 13 [20]

20. Night was far advanced and Nero was still sitting over his cups, when Paris entered, who was generally wont at such times to heighten the emperor's enjoyments, but who now wore a gloomy expression. He went through the whole evidence in order, and so frightened his hearer as to make him resolve not only on the destruction of his mother and of Plautus, but also on the removal of Burrus from the command of the guards, as a man who had been promoted by Agrippina's interest, and was now showing his gratitude. We have it on the authority of Fabius Rusticus that a note was written to Caecina Tuscus, intrusting to him the charge of the praetorian cohorts, but that through Seneca's influence that distinguished post was retained for Burrus. According to Plinius and Cluvius, no doubt was felt about the commander's loyalty. Fabius certainly inclines to the praise of Seneca, through whose friendship he rose to honour. Proposing as I do to follow the consentient testimony of historians, I shall give the differences in their narratives under the writers' names. Nero, in his bewilderment and impatience to destroy his mother, could not be put off till Burrus answered for her death, should she be convicted of the crime, but "any one," he said, "much more a parent, must be allowed a defence. Accusers there were none forthcoming; they had before them only the word of a single person from an enemy's house, and this the night with its darkness and prolonged festivity and everything savouring of recklessness and folly, was enough to refute."

20. Provecta nox erat et Neroni per vinolentiam trahebatur, cum ingreditur Paris, solitus alioquin id temporis luxus principis intendere, sed tunc compositus ad maestitiam, expositoque indicii ordine ita audientem exterret, ut non tantum matrem Plautumque interficere, sed Burrum etiam demovere praefectura destinaret, tamquam Agrippinae gratia provectum et vicem reddentem. Fabius Rusticus auctor est scriptos esse ad Caecinam Tuscum codicillos, mandata ei praetoriarum cohortium cura, sed ope Senecae dignationem Burro retentam. Plinius et Cluvius nihil dubitatum de fide praefecti referunt. sane Fabius inclinat ad laudes Senecae, cuius amicitia floruit. nos consensum auctorum secuturi, quae diversa prodiderint, sub nominibus ipsorum trademus.     Nero trepidus et interficiendae matris avidus non prius differri potuit, quam Burrus necem eius promitteret, si facinoris coargueretur; sed cuicumque, nedum parenti defensionem tribuendam; nec accusatores adesse, sed vocem unius [et] ex inimica domo adferri: reputare[t] tenebras et vigilatam convivio noctem omniaque temeritati et inscitiae propiora.

21. Having thus allayed the prince's fears, they went at daybreak to Agrippina, that she might know the charges against her, and either rebut them or suffer the penalty. Burrus fulfilled his instructions in Seneca's presence, and some of the freedmen were present to witness the interview. Then Burrus, when he had fully explained the charges with the authors' names, assumed an air of menace. Instantly Agrippina, calling up all her high spirit, exclaimed, "I wonder not that Silana, who has never borne offspring, knows nothing of a mother's feelings. Parents do not change their children as lightly as a shameless woman does her paramours. And if Iturius and Calvisius, after having wasted their whole fortunes, are now, as their last resource, repaying an old hag for their hire by undertaking to be informers, it does not follow that I am to incur the infamy of plotting a son's murder, or that a Caesar is to have the consciousness of like guilt. As for Domitia's enmity, I should be thankful for it, were she to vie with me in goodwill towards my Nero. Now through her paramour, Atimetus, and the actor, Paris, she is, so to say, concocting a drama for the stage. She at her Baiae was increasing the magnificence of her fishponds, when I was planning in my counsels his adoption with a proconsul's powers and a consul-elect's rank and every other step to empire. Only let the man come forward who can charge me with having tampered with the praetorian cohorts in the capital, with having sapped the loyalty of the provinces, or, in a word, with having bribed slaves and freedmen into any wickedness. Could I have lived with Britannicus in the possession of power? And if Plautus or any other were to become master of the State so as to sit in judgment on me, accusers forsooth would not be forthcoming, to charge me not merely with a few incautious expressions prompted by the eagerness of affection, but with guilt from which a son alone could absolve me." There was profound excitement among those present, and they even tried to soothe her agitation, but she insisted on an interview with her son. Then, instead of pleading her innocence, as though she lacked confidence, or her claims on him by way of reproach, she obtained vengeance on her accusers and rewards for her friends.

21. Sic lenito principis metu et luce orta itur ad Agrippinam, ut nosceret obiecta dissolveretque vel poenas lueret. Burrus iis mandatis Seneca coram fungebatur; aderant et ex libertis arbitri sermonis. deinde a Burro, postquam crimina et auctores exposuit, minaciter actum. et Agrippina ferociae memor "non miror" inquit, "Silanam numquam edito partu matrum adfectus ignotos habere; neque enim proinde a parentibus liberi quam ab impudica adulteri mutantur. nec si Iturius et Calvisius adesis omnibus fortunis novissimam suscipiendae accusationis operam anui rependunt, ideo aut mihi infamia parricidii aut Caesari conscientia subeunda est. nam Domitiae inimicitiis gratias agerem, si benevolentia mecum in Neronem meum certaret: nunc per concubinum Atimetum et histrionem Paridem quasi scaenae fabulas componit. Baiarum suarum piscinas extollebat, cum meis consiliis adoptio et proconsulare ius et designatio consulatus et cetera apiscendo imperio praepararentur. aut exsistat qui cohortes in urbe temptatas, qui provinciarum fidem labefactatam, denique servos vel libertos ad scelus corruptos arguat. vivere ego Britannico potiente rerum poteram? ac si Plautus aut quis alius rem publicam iudicaturus obtinuerit, desunt scilicet mihi accusatores, qui non verba impatientia caritatis aliquando incauta, sed ea crimina obiciant, quibus nisi a filio absolvi non possim." commotis qui aderant ultroque spiritus eius mitigantibus, colloquium filii exposcit, ubi nihil pro innocentia, quasi diffideret, nec [de] beneficiis, quasi exprobraret, disseruit, sed ultionem in delatores et praemia amicis obtinuit.

22. The superintendence of the corn supply was given to Faenius Rufus, the direction of the games which the emperor was preparing, to Arruntius Stella, and the province of Egypt to Caius Balbillus. Syria was to be assigned to Publius Anteius, but he was soon put off by various artifices and finally detained at Rome. Silana was banished; Calvisius and Iturius exiled for a time; Atimetus was capitally punished, while Paris was too serviceable to the emperor's profligacy to allow of his suffering any penalty. Plautus for the present was silently passed over.

22. Praefectura annonae Faenio Rufo, cura ludorum, qui a Caesare parabantur, Arruntio Stellae, Aegyptus C[laudio] Balbillo permittuntur. Syria P. Anteio destinata; sed variis mox artibus elusus, ad postremum in urbe retentus est. at Silana in exilium acta; Calvisius quoque et Iturius relegantur; de Atimeto supplicium sumptum, validiore apud libidines principis Paride, quam ut poena adficeretur. Plautus ad praesens silentio transmissus est.

23. Next Pallas and Burrus were accused of having conspired to raise Cornelius Sulla to the throne, because of his noble birth and connection with Claudius, whose son-in-law he was by his marriage with Antonia. The promoter of the prosecution was one Paetus, who had become notorious by frequent purchases of property confiscated to the exchequer and was now convicted clearly of imposture. But the proved innocence of Pallas did Pallas did not please men so much, as his arrogance offended them. When his freedmen, his alleged accomplices, were called, he replied that at home he signified his wishes only by a nod or a gesture, or, if further explanation was required, he used writing, so as not to degrade his voice in such company. Burrus, though accused, gave his verdict as one of the judges. The prosecutor was sentenced to exile, and the account-books in which he was reviving forgotten claims of the exchequer, were burnt.

23. Deferuntur dehinc consensisse Pallas ac Burrus, ut Cornelius Sulla claritudine generis et adfinitate Claudii, cui per nuptias Antoniae gener erat, ad imperium vocaretur. eius accusationis auctor extitit Paetus quidam, exercendis apud aerarium sectionibus famosus et tum vanitatis manifestus. nec tam grata Pallantis innocentia quam gravis superbia fuit: quippe nominatis libertis eius, quos conscios haberet, respondit nihil umquam se domi nisi nutu aut manu significasse, vel, si plura demonstranda essent, scripto usum, ne vocem consociaret. Burrus quamvis reus inter iudices sententiam dixit. exiliumque accusatori inrogatum et tabulae exustae sunt, quibus oblitterata aerarii nomina retrahebat.

24. At the end of the year the cohort usually on guard during the games was withdrawn, that there might be a greater show of freedom, that the soldiery too might be less demoralised when no longer in contact with the licence of the theatre, and that it might be proved whether the populace, in the absence of a guard, would maintain their self-control. The emperor, on the advice of the augurs, purified Rome by a lustration, as the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning.

24. Fine anni statio cohortis adsidere ludis solita demovetur, quo maior species libertatis esset, utque miles theatrali licentiae non permixtus incorruptior ageret et plebes daret experimentum, an amotis custodibus modestiam retineret. urbem princeps lustravit ex responso haruspicum, quod Iovis ac Minervae aedes de caelo tactae erant.

25. In the consulship of Quintus Volusius and Publius Scipio, there was peace abroad, but a disgusting licentiousness at home on the part of Nero, who in a slave's disguise, so as to be unrecognized, would wander through the streets of Rome, to brothels and taverns, with comrades, who seized on goods exposed for sale and inflicted wounds on any whom they encountered, some of these last knowing him so little that he even received blows himself, and showed the marks of them in his face. When it was notorious that the emperor was the assailant, and the insults on men and women of distinction were multiplied, other persons too on the strength of a licence once granted under Nero's name, ventured with impunity on the same practices, and had gangs of their own, till night presented the scenes of a captured city. Julius Montanus, a senator, but one who had not yet held any office, happened to encounter the prince in the darkness, and because he fiercely repulsed his attack and then on recognizing him begged for mercy, as though this was a reproach, forced to destroy himself. Nero was for the future more timid, and surrounded himself with soldiers and a number of gladiators, who, when a fray began on a small scale and seemed a private affair, were to let it alone, but, if the injured persons resisted stoutly, they rushed in with their swords. He also turned the licence of the games and the enthusiasm for the actors into something like a battle by the impunity he allowed, and the rewards he offered, and especially by looking on himself, sometimes concealed, but often in public view, till, with the people at strife and the fear of a worse commotion, the only remedy which could be devised was the expulsion of the offending actors from Italy, and the presence once more of the soldiery in the theatre.

25. Q. Volusio P. Scipione consulibus otium foris, foeda domi lascivia, qua Nero itinera urbis et lupanaria et deverticula veste servili in dissimulationem sui compositus pererrabat, comitantibus qui raperent venditioni exposita et obviis vulnera inferrent, adversus ignaros adeo, ut ipse quoque exciperet ictus et ore praeferret. deinde ubi Caesarem esse, qui grassaretur, pernotuit augebanturque iniuriae adversus viros feminasque insignes, et quidam permissa semel licentia sub nomine Neronis inulti propriis cum globis eadem exercebant, in modum captivitatis nox agebatur; Iuliusque Montanus senatorii ordinis, sed qui nondum honorem capessisset, congressus forte per tenebras cum principe, quia vim temptantem acriter reppulerat, deinde adgnitum oraverat, quasi exprobrasset mori adactus est. Nero autem metuentior in posterum milites sibi et plerosque gladiatores circumdedit, qui rixarum initia modica et quasi privata sinerent; si a laesis validius ageretur, arma inferebant. ludicram quoque licentiam et fautores histrionum velut in proelia convertit impunitate et praemiis atque ipse occultus et plerumque coram prospectans, donec discordi populo et gravioris motus terrore non aliud remedium repertum est quam ut histriones Italia pellerentur milesque theatro rursum adsideret.

26. During the same time there was a discussion in the Senate on the misconduct of the freedmen class, and a strong demand was made that, as a check on the undeserving, patrons should have the right of revoking freedom. There were several who supported this. But the consuls did not venture to put the motion without the emperor's knowledge, though they recorded the Senate's general opinion, to see whether he would sanction the arrangement, considering that only a few were opposed to it, while some loudly complained that the irreverent spirit which freedom had fostered, had broken into such excess, that freedmen would ask their patrons' advice as to whether they should treat them with violence, or, as legally, their equals, and would actually threaten them with blows, at the same time recommending them not to punish. "What right," it was asked, "was conceded to an injured patron but that of temporarily banishing the freedman a hundred miles off to the shores of Campania? In everything else, legal proceedings were equal and the same for both. Some weapon ought to be given to the patrons which could not be despised. It would be no grievance for the enfranchised to have to keep their freedom by the same respectful behaviour which had procured it for them. But, as for notorious offenders, they deserved to be dragged back into slavery, that fear might be a restraint where kindness had had no effect."

26. Per idem tempus actum in senatu de fraudibus libertorum, efflagitatumque ut adversus male meritos revocandae libertatis patronis daretur. nec deerant qui censerent, sed consules, relationem incipere non ausi ignaro principe, perscripsere tamen consensum senatus. ille an auctor constitutionis fieret, . . . ut inter paucos et sententiae diversos, quibusdam coalitam libertate inreverentiam eo prorupisse frementibus, [ut] vine an aequo cum patronis iure agerent [sententiam eorum] consultarent ac verberibus manus ultro intenderent, impudenter vel poenam suam ipsi suadentes. quid enim aliud laeso patrono concessum, quam ut c[ent]esimum ultra lapidem in oram Campaniae libertum releget? ceteras actiones promiscas et pares esse: tribuendum aliquod telum, quod sperni nequeat. nec grave manu missis per idem obsequium retinendi libertatem, per quod adsecuti sint: at criminum manifestos merito ad servitutem retrahi, ut metu coerceantur, quos beneficia non mutavissent.

27. It was argued in reply that, though the guilt of a few ought to be the ruin of the men themselves, there should be no diminution of the rights of the entire class. "For it was," they contended, "a widely diffused body; from it, the city tribes, the various public functionaries, the establishments of the magistrates and priests were for the most part supplied, as well as the cohorts of the city-guard; very many too of the knights and several of the senators derived their origin from no other source. If freedmen were to be a separate class, the paucity of the freeborn would be conspicuously apparent. Not without good reason had our ancestors, in distinguishing the position of the different orders, thrown freedom open to all. Again, two kinds of enfranchisement had been instituted, so as to leave room for retracting the boon, or for a fresh act of grace. Those whom the patron had not emancipated with the freedom-giving rod, were still held, as it were, by the bonds of slavery. Every master should carefully consider the merits of each case, and be slow to grant what once given could not be taken away." This view prevailed, and the emperor replied to the Senate that, whenever freedmen were accused by their patrons, they were to investigate each case separately and not to annul any right to their common injury. Soon afterwards, his aunt Domitia had her freedman Paris taken from her, avowedly by civil law, much to the emperor's disgrace, by whose direction a decision that he was freeborn was obtained.

27. Disserebatur contra: paucorum culpam ipsis exitiosam esse debere, nihil universorum iuri derogandum; quippe late fusum id corpus. hinc plerumque tribus decurias, ministeria magistratibus et sacerdotibus, cohortes etiam in urbe conscriptas; et plurimis equitum, plerisque senatoribus non aliunde originem trahi: si separarentur libertini, manifestam fore penuriam ingenuorum. non frustra maiores, cum dignitatem ordinum dividerent, libertatem in communi posuisse. quin et manu mittendi duas species institutas, ut relinqueretur paenitentiae aut novo beneficio locus. quos vindicta patronus non liberaverit, velut vinclo servitutis attineri. dispiceret quisque merita tardeque concederet, quod datum non adimeretur. haec sententia valuit, scripsitque Caesar senatui, privatim expenderent causam libertorum, quotiens a patronis arguerentur; in commune nihil derog[ar]ent. nec multo post ereptus amitae libertus Paris quasi iure civili, non sine infamia principis, cuius iussu perpetratum ingenuitatis iudicium erat.

28. Still there yet remained some shadow of a free state. A contest arose between Vibullius, the praetor, and Antistius, a tribune of the people; for the tribune had ordered the release of some disorderly applauders of certain actors, whom the praetor had imprisoned. The Senate approved the imprisonment, and censured the presumption of Antistius. Tribunes were also forbidden to usurp the authority of praetors and consuls, or to summon from any part of Italy persons liable to legal proceedings. It was further proposed by Lucius Piso, consul-elect, that tribunes were not to try any case in their own houses, that a fine imposed by them was not to be entered on the public books by the officials of the exchequer, till four months had expired, and that in the meantime appeals were to be allowed, which the consuls were to decide. Restrictions were also put on the powers of the aediles and a limit fixed to the amount of bail or penalty which curule and plebeian aediles could respectively exact. On this, Helvidius Priscus, a tribune of the people, followed up a personal quarrel he had with Obultronius Sabinus, one of the officials of the exchequer, by insinuating that he stretched his right of confiscation with merciless rigour against the poor. The emperor then transferred the charge of the public accounts from these officers to the commissioners.

28. Manebat nihilo minus quaedam imago rei publicae. nam inter Vibullium praetorem et plebei tribunum Antistium ortum certamen, quod immodestos fautores histrionum et a praetore in vincla ductos tribunus omitti iussisset. comprobavere patres, incusata Antistii licentia. simul prohibiti tribuni ius praetorum et consulum praeripere aut vocare ex Italia, cum quibus lege agi posset. addidit L. Piso designatus consul, ne quid intra domum pro potestate adverterent, neve multum ab iis dictam quaestores aerarii in publicas tabulas ante quattuor mense referrent; medio temporis contra dicere liceret, deque eo consules statuerent. cohibita artius et aedilium potestas statutumque, quantum curules, quantum plebei pignoris caperent vel poenae inrogarent. et Helvidius Priscus tr[ibunus] pl[ebis] adversus Obultronium Sabinum aerarii quaestorem contentiones proprias exercuit, tamquam ius hastae adversus inopes inclementer ageret. dein princeps curam tabularum publicarum a quaestoribus ad praefectos transtulit.

29. The arrangement of this business had been variously and frequently altered. Augustus allowed the Senate to appoint commissioners; then, when corrupt practices were suspected in the voting, men were chosen by lot for the office out of the whole number of praetors. This did not last long, as the lot strayed away to unfit persons. Claudius then again appointed quaestors, and that they might not be too lax in their duties from fear of offending, he promised them promotion out of the usual course. But what they lacked was the firmness of mature age, entering, as they did, on this office as their first step, and so Nero appointed ex-praetors of approved competency.

29. Varie habita ac saepe mutata eius rei forma. nam Augustus senatui permisit deligere praefectos; deinde ambitu suffragiorum suspecto, sorte ducebantur ex numero praetorum qui praeessent. neque id diu mansit, quia sors deerrabat ad parum idoneos. tum Claudius quaestores rursum imposuit, iisque, ne metu offensionum segnius consulerent, extra ordinem honores promisit: sed deerat robur aetatis eum primum magistratum capessentibus. igitur Nero praetura perfunctos et experientia probatos delegit.

Next: Book 13 [30]