The Lives of the Twelve CaesarsThe Translation of Alexander Thomson, M.D. revised and corrected by T.Forester, Esq., A.M.
By C. Suetonius Tranquillus;
Titus Flavius Domitianus (Domitian)
I. Domitian was born upon the ninth of the calends of November [24th October] , when his father was consul elect, (being to enter upon his office the month following,) in the sixth region of the city, at the Pomegranate , in the house which he afterwards converted into a temple of the Flavian family. He is said to have spent the time of his youth in so much want and infamy, that he had not one piece of plate belonging to him; and it is well known, that Clodius Pollio, a man of pretorian rank, against whom there is a poem of Nero's extant, entitled Luscio, kept a note in his hand-writing, which he sometimes produced, in which Domitian made an assignation with him for the foulest purposes. Some, likewise, have said, that he prostituted himself to Nerva, who succeeded him. In the war with Vitellius, he fled into the Capitol with his uncle Sabinus, and a part of the troops they had in the city . But the enemy breaking in, and the temple being set on fire, he hid himself all night with the sacristan; and next morning, assuming the disguise of a worshipper of Isis, and mixing with the priests of that idle superstition, he got over the Tiber , with only one attendant, to the house of a woman who was the mother of one of his school-fellows, and lurked there so close, that, though the enemy, who were at his heels, searched very strictly after him, they could not discover him. At last, after the success of his party, appearing in public, and being unanimously saluted by the title of Caesar, he assumed the office of praetor of the City, with consular authority, but in fact had nothing but the name; for the jurisdiction he transferred to his next colleague. He used, however, his absolute (480) power so licentiously, that even then he plainly discovered what sort of prince he was likely to prove. Not to go into details, after he had made free with the wives of many men of distinction, he took Domitia Longina from her husband, Aelias Lamia, and married her; and in one day disposed of above twenty offices in the city and the provinces; upon which Vespasian said several times, "he wondered he did not send him a successor too."
II. He likewise designed an expedition into Gaul and Germany , without the least necessity for it, and contrary to the advice of all his father's friends; and this he did only with the view of equalling his brother in military achievements and glory. But for this he was severely reprimanded, and that he might the more effectually be reminded of his age and position, was made to live with his father, and his litter had to follow his father's and brother's carriage, as often as they went abroad; but he attended them in their triumph for the conquest of Judaea , mounted on a white horse. Of the six consulships which he held, only one was ordinary; and that he obtained by the cession and interest of his brother. He greatly affected a modest behaviour, and, above all, a taste for poetry; insomuch, that he rehearsed his performances in public, though it was an art he had formerly little cultivated, and which he afterwards despised and abandoned. Devoted, however, as he was at this time to poetical pursuits, yet when Vologesus, king of the Parthians, desired succours against the Alani, with one of Vespasian's sons to command them, he laboured hard to procure for himself that appointment. But the scheme proving abortive, he endeavoured by presents and promises to engage other kings of the East to make a similar request. After his father's death, he was for some time in doubt, whether he should not offer the soldiers a donative double to that of his brother, and made no scruple of saying frequently, "that he had been left his partner in the empire, but that his father's will had been fraudulently set aside." From that time forward, he was constantly engaged in plots against his brother, both publicly and privately; until, falling dangerously ill, he ordered all his attendants to (481) leave him, under pretence of his being dead, before he really was so; and, at his decease, paid him no other honour than that of enrolling him amongst the gods; and he often, both in speeches and edicts, carped at his memory by sneers and insinuations.
III. In the beginning of his reign, he used to spend daily an hour by himself in private, during which time he did nothing else but catch flies, and stick them through the body with a sharp pin. When some one therefore inquired, "whether any one was with the emperor," it was significantly answered by Vibius Crispus, "Not so much as a fly." Soon after his advancement, his wife Domitia, by whom he had a son in his second consulship, and whom the year following he complimented with the title of Augusta, being desperately in love with Paris, the actor, he put her away; but within a short time afterwards, being unable to bear the separation, he took her again, under pretence of complying with the people's importunity. During some time, there was in his administration a strange mixture of virtue and vice, until at last his virtues themselves degenerated into vices; being, as we may reasonably conjecture concerning his character, inclined to avarice through want, and to cruelty through fear.
IV. He frequently entertained the people with most magnificent and costly shows, not only in the amphitheatre, but the circus; where, besides the usual races with chariots drawn by two or four horses a-breast, he exhibited the representation of an engagement between both horse and foot, and a sea-fight in the amphitheatre. The people were also entertained with the chase of wild beasts and the combat of gladiators, even in the night-time, by torch-light. Nor did men only fight in these spectacles, but women also. He constantly attended at the games given by the quaestors, which had been disused for some time, but were revived by him; and upon those occasions, always gave the people the liberty of demanding two pair of gladiators out of his own school, who appeared last in court uniforms. Whenever he attended the shows of gladiators, there stood at his feet a little boy dressed in scarlet, with a prodigiously small head, with whom he used to talk very much, and sometimes seriously. We are assured, that he was (482) overheard asking him, "if he knew for what reason he had in the late appointment, made Metius Rufus governor of Egypt?" He presented the people with naval fights, performed by fleets almost as numerous as those usually employed in real engagements; making a vast lake near the Tiber , and building seats round it. And he witnessed them himself during a very heavy rain. He likewise celebrated the Secular games , reckoning not from the year in which they had been exhibited by Claudius, but from the time of Augustus's celebration of them. In these, upon the day of the Circensian sports, in order to have a hundred races performed, he reduced each course from seven rounds to five. He likewise instituted, in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus, a solemn contest in music to be performed every five years; besides horse-racing and gymnastic exercises, with more prizes than are at present allowed. There was also a public performance in elocution, both Greek and Latin and besides the musicians who sung to the harp, there were others who played concerted pieces or solos, without vocal accompaniment. Young girls also ran races in the Stadium, at which he presided in his sandals, dressed in a purple robe, made after the Grecian fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown bearing the effigies of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; with the flamen of Jupiter, and the college of priests sitting by his side in the same dress; excepting only that their crowns had also his own image on them. He celebrated also upon the Alban mount every year the festival of Minerva, for whom he had appointed a college of priests, out of which were chosen by lot persons to preside as governors over the college; who were obliged to entertain the people with extraordinary chases of wild-beasts, and stage-plays, besides contests for prizes in oratory and poetry. He thrice bestowed upon the people a largess of three hundred sesterces each man; and, at a public show of gladiators, a very plentiful feast. At the festival of the Seven Hills , he distributed large hampers of provisions (483) to the senatorian and equestrian orders, and small baskets to the common people, and encouraged them to eat by setting them the example. The day after, he scattered among the people a variety of cakes and other delicacies to be scrambled for; and on the greater part of them falling amidst the seats of the crowd, he ordered five hundred tickets to be thrown into each range of benches belonging to the senatorian and equestrian orders.
V. He rebuilt many noble edifices which had been destroyed by fire, and amongst them the Capitol, which had been burnt down a second time ; but all the inscriptions were in his own name, without the least mention of the original founders. He likewise erected a new temple in the Capitol to Jupiter Custos, and a forum, which is now called Nerva's , as also the temple of the Flavian family , a stadium , an odeum , and a naumachia ; out of the stone dug from which, the sides of the Circus Maximus, which had been burnt down, were rebuilt.
VI. He undertook several expeditions, some from choice, and some from necessity. That against the Catti  was unprovoked, but that against the Sarmatians was necessary; an entire legion, with its commander, having been cut off by them. He sent two expeditions against the Dacians; the first upon the defeat of Oppius Sabinus, a man of consular rank; and (484) the other, upon that of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the pretorian cohorts, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of that war. After several battles with the Catti and Daci, he celebrated a double triumph. But for his successes against the Sarmatians, he only bore in procession the laurel crown to Jupiter Capitolinus. The civil war, begun by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germany, he quelled, without being obliged to be personally present at it, with remarkable good fortune. For, at the very moment of joining battle, the Rhine suddenly thawing, the troops of the barbarians which were ready to join L. Antonius, were prevented from crossing the river. Of this victory he had notice by some presages, before the messengers who brought the news of it arrived. For upon the very day the battle was fought, a splendid eagle spread its wings round his statue at Rome, making most joyful cries. And shortly after, a rumour became common, that Antonius was slain; nay, many positively affirmed, that they saw his head brought to the city.
VII. He made many innovations in common practices. He abolished the Sportula , and revived the old practice of regular suppers. To the four former parties in the Circensian games, he added two new, who were gold and scarlet. He prohibited the players from acting in the theatre, but permitted them the practice of their art in private houses. He forbad the castration of males; and reduced the price of the eunuchs who were still left in the hands of the dealers in slaves. On the occasion of a great abundance of wine, accompanied by a scarcity of corn, supposing that the tillage of the ground was neglected for the sake of attending too much to the cultivation of vineyards, he published a proclamation forbidding the planting of any new vines in Italy, and ordering the vines in the provinces to be cut down, nowhere permitting more than one half of them to remain . But he did not persist in the execution of this project. Some of the greatest offices he conferred upon his freedmen and soldiers. He forbad two legions to be quartered in the same camp, and more than a thousand sesterces to be deposited by any soldier with the standards; because it was thought that Lucius Antonius had been encouraged in his late project by the large sum deposited in the military chest by the two legions which he had in the same winter-quarters. He made an addition to the soldiers' pay, of three gold pieces a year.
VIII. In the administration of justice he was diligent and assiduous; and frequently sat in the Forum out of course, to cancel the judgments of the court of The One Hundred, which had been procured through favour, or interest. He occasionally cautioned the judges of the court of recovery to beware of being too ready to admit claims for freedom brought before them. He set a mark of infamy upon judges who were convicted of taking bribes, as well as upon their assessors. He likewise instigated the tribunes of the people to prosecute a corrupt aedile for extortion, and to desire the senate to appoint judges for his trial. He likewise took such effectual care in punishing magistrates of the city, and governors of provinces, guilty of malversation, that they never were at any time more moderate or more just. Most of these, since his reign, we have seen prosecuted for crimes of various kinds. Having taken upon himself the reformation of the public manners, he restrained the licence of the populace in sitting promiscuously with the knights in the theatre. Scandalous libels, published to defame persons of rank, of either sex, he suppressed, and inflicted upon their authors a mark of infamy. He expelled a man of quaestorian rank from the senate, for practising mimicry and dancing. He debarred infamous women the use of litters; as also the right of receiving legacies, or inheriting estates. He struck out of the list of judges a Roman knight for taking again his wife whom he had divorced and prosecuted for adultery. He condemned several men of the senatorian and equestrian orders, upon the Scantinian law . The lewdness of the Vestal Virgins, which had been overlooked by his father and brother, he punished severely, but in different ways; viz. offences committed before his reign, with death, and those since its commencement, according to ancient custom. For to the two sisters called Ocellatae, he gave liberty to choose the mode of death which they preferred, and banished (486) their paramours. But Cornelia, the president of the Vestals, who had formerly been acquitted upon a charge of incontinence, being a long time after again prosecuted and condemned, he ordered to be buried alive; and her gallants to be whipped to death with rods in the Comitium; excepting only a man of praetorian rank, to whom, because he confessed the fact, while the case was dubious, and it was not established against him, though the witnesses had been put to the torture, he granted the favour of banishment. And to preserve pure and undefiled the reverence due to the gods, he ordered the soldiers to demolish a tomb, which one of his freedmen had erected for his son out of the stones designed for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and to sink in the sea the bones and relics buried in it.
IX. Upon his first succeeding to power, he felt such an abhorrence for the shedding of blood, that, before his father's arrival in Rome, calling to mind the verse of Virgil,
Impia quam caesis gens est epulata juvencis, 
Ere impious man, restrain'd from blood in vain,
Began to feast on flesh of bullocks slain,
he designed to have published a proclamation, "to forbid the sacrifice of oxen." Before his accession to the imperial authority, and during some time afterwards, he scarcely ever gave the least grounds for being suspected of covetousness or avarice; but, on the contrary, he often afforded proofs, not only of his justice, but his liberality. To all about him he was generous even to profusion, and recommended nothing more earnestly to them than to avoid doing anything mean. He would not accept the property left him by those who had children. He also set aside a legacy bequeathed by the will of Ruscus Caepio, who had ordered "his heir to make a present yearly to each of the senators upon their first assembling." He exonerated all those who had been under prosecution from the treasury for above five years before; and would not suffer suits to be renewed, unless it was done within a year, and on condition, that the prosecutor should be banished, if he could not make good his cause. The secretaries of the quaestors having engaged in trade, according to custom, but contrary to (487) the Clodian law , he pardoned them for what was past. Such portions of land as had been left when it was divided amongst the veteran soldiers, he granted to the ancient possessors, as belonging to then by prescription. He put a stop to false prosecutions in the exchequer, by severely punishing the prosecutors; and this saying of his was much taken notice of "that a prince who does not punish informers, encourages them."
X. But he did not long persevere in this course of clemency and justice, although he sooner fell into cruelty than into avarice. He put to death a scholar of Paris, the pantomimic , though a minor, and then sick, only because, both in person and the practice of his art, he resembled his master; as he did likewise Hermogenes of Tarsus for some oblique reflections in his History; crucifying, besides, the scribes who had copied the work. One who was master of a band of gladiators, happening to say, "that a Thrax was a match for a Marmillo , but not so for the exhibitor of the games", he ordered him to be dragged from the benches into the arena, and exposed to the dogs, with this label upon him, "A Parmularian  guilty of talking impiously." He put to death many senators, and amongst them several men of consular rank. In this number were, Civica Cerealis, when he was proconsul in Africa, Salvidienus Orfitus, and Acilius Glabrio in exile, under the pretence of their planning to revolt against him. The rest he punished upon very trivial occasions; as Aelius Lamia for some jocular expressions, which were of old date, and perfectly harmless; because, upon his commending his voice after he had taken his wife from him , he replied, "Alas! I hold my tongue." And when Titus advised him to take another wife, he answered him thus: "What! have you a mind to marry?" Salvius Cocceianus was condemned to death for keeping the birth-day of his uncle Otho, the emperor: Metius Pomposianus, because he was commonly reported to have an imperial nativity , and to carry about with (488) him a map of the world upon vellum, with the speeches of kings and generals extracted out of Titus Livius; and for giving his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, lieutenant in Britain, for suffering some lances of a new invention to be called "Lucullean;" and Junius Rusticus, for publishing a treatise in praise of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus, and calling them both "most upright men." Upon this occasion, he likewise banished all the philosophers from the city and Italy. He put to death the younger Helvidius, for writing a farce, in which, under the character of Paris and Oenone, he reflected upon his having divorced his wife; and also Flavius Sabinus, one of his cousins, because, upon his being chosen at the consular election to that office, the public crier had, by a blunder, proclaimed him to the people not consul, but emperor. Becoming still more savage after his success in the civil war, he employed the utmost industry to discover those of the adverse party who absconded: many of them he racked with a new-invented torture, inserting fire through their private parts; and from some he cut off their hands. It is certain, that only two of any note were pardoned, a tribune who wore the narrow stripe, and a centurion; who, to clear themselves from the charge of being concerned in any rebellious project, proved themselves to have been guilty of prostitution, and consequently incapable of exercising any influence either over the general or the soldiers.
XI. His cruelties were not only excessive, but subtle and unexpected. The day before he crucified a collector of his rents, he sent for him into his bed-chamber, made him sit down upon the bed by him, and sent him away well pleased, and, so far as could be inferred from his treatment, in a state of perfect security; having vouchsafed him the favour of a plate of meat from his own table. When he was on the point of condemning to death Aretinus Clemens, a man of consular rank, and one of his friends and emissaries, he retained him about his person in the same or greater favour than ever; until at last, as they were riding together in the same litter, upon seeing the man who had informed against him, he said, "Are you willing that we should hear this base slave tomorrow?" Contemptuously abusing the patience of men, he never pronounced a severe sentence without prefacing it (489) with words which gave hopes of mercy; so that, at last, there was not a more certain token of a fatal conclusion, than a mild commencement. He brought before the senate some persona accused of treason, declaring, "that he should prove that day how dear he was to the senate;" and so influenced them, that they condemned the accused to be punished according to the ancient usage . Then, as if alarmed at the extreme severity of their punishment, to lessen the odiousness of the proceeding, he interposed in these words; for it is not foreign to the purpose to give them precisely as they were delivered: "Permit me, Conscript Fathers, so far to prevail upon your affection for me, however extraordinary the request may seem, as to grant the condemned criminals the favour of dying in the manner they choose. For by so doing, ye will spare your own eyes, and the world will understand that I interceded with the senate on their behalf."
XII. Having exhausted the exchequer by the expense of his buildings and public spectacles, with the augmentation of pay lately granted to the troops, he made an attempt at the reduction of the army, in order to lessen the military charges. But reflecting, that he should, by this measure, expose himself to the insults of the barbarians, while it would not suffice to extricate him from his embarrassments, he had recourse to plundering his subjects by every mode of exaction. The estates of the living and the dead were sequestered upon any accusation, by whomsoever preferred. The unsupported allegation of any one person, relative to a word or action construed to affect the dignity of the emperor, was sufficient. Inheritances, to which he had not the slightest pretension, were confiscated, if there was found so much as one person to say, he had heard from the deceased when living, "that he had made the emperor his heir." Besides the exactions from others, the poll-tax on the Jews was levied with extreme rigour, both on those who lived after the manner of Jews in the city, without publicly professing themselves to be such , and on those who, by (490) concealing their origin, avoided paying the tribute imposed upon that people. I remember, when I was a youth, to have been present , when an old man, ninety years of age, had his person exposed to view in a very crowded court, in order that, on inspection, the procurator might satisfy himself whether he was circumcised. 
From his earliest years Domitian was any thing but courteous, of a forward, assuming disposition, and extravagant both in his words and actions. When Caenis, his father's concubine, upon her return from Istria, offered him a kiss, as she had been used to do, he presented her his hand to kiss. Being indignant, that his brother's son-in-law should be waited on by servants dressed in white , he exclaimed,
ouk agathon polykoiraniae. 
Too many princes are not good.
XIII. After he became emperor, he had the assurance to boast in the senate, "that he had bestowed the empire on his father and brother, and they had restored it to him." And upon taking his wife again, after the divorce, he declared by proclamation, "that he had recalled her to his pulvinar."  He was not a little pleased too, at hearing the acclamations of the people in the amphitheatre on a day of festival, "All happiness to our lord and lady." But when, during the celebration of the Capitoline trial of skill, the whole concourse of people entreated him with one voice to restore Palfurius Sura to his place in the senate, from which he had been long before expelled -- he having then carried away the prize of eloquence from all the orators who had contended for it, -- he did not vouchsafe to give them any answer, but only commanded silence to be proclaimed by the voice of the crier. With equal arrogance, when he dictated the form of a letter to be used by his procurators, he began it thus: "Our lord and god commands so and so;" whence it became a rule that no one should (491) style him otherwise either in writing or speaking. He suffered no statues to be erected for him in the Capitol, unless they were of gold and silver, and of a certain weight. He erected so many magnificent gates and arches, surmounted by representations of chariots drawn by four horses, and other triumphal ornaments, in different quarters of the city, that a wag inscribed on one of the arches the Greek word Axkei, "It is enough."  He filled the office of consul seventeen times, which no one had ever done before him, and for the seven middle occasions in successive years; but in scarcely any of them had he more than the title; for he never continued in office beyond the calends of May [the 1st May], and for the most part only till the ides of January [13th January]. After his two triumphs, when he assumed the cognomen of Germanicus, he called the months of September and October, Germanicus and Domitian, after his own names, because he commenced his reign in the one, and was born in the other.
XIV. Becoming by these means universally feared and odious, he was at last taken off by a conspiracy of his friends and favourite freedmen, in concert with his wife . He had long entertained a suspicion of the year and day when he should die, and even of the very hour and manner of his death; all which he had learned from the Chaldaeans, when he was a very young man. His father once at supper laughed at him for refusing to eat some mushrooms, saying, that if he knew his fate, he would rather be afraid of the sword. Being, therefore, in perpetual apprehension and anxiety, he was keenly alive to the slightest suspicions, insomuch that he is thought to have withdrawn the edict ordering the destruction of the vines, chiefly because the copies of it which were dispersed had the following lines written upon them:
Kaen me phagaes epi rizanomos epi kartophoraeso,
Osson epispeisai Kaisari thuomeno. 
Gnaw thou my root, yet shall my juice suffice
To pour on Caesar's head in sacrifice.
(492) It was from the same principle of fear, that he refused a new honour, devised and offered him by the senate, though he was greedy of all such compliments. It was this: "that as often as he held the consulship, Roman knights, chosen by lot, should walk before him, clad in the Trabea, with lances in their hands, amongst his lictors and apparitors." As the time of the danger which he apprehended drew near, he became daily more and more disturbed in mind; insomuch that he lined the walls of the porticos in which he used to walk, with the stone called Phengites , by the reflection of which he could see every object behind him. He seldom gave an audience to persons in custody, unless in private, being alone, and he himself holding their chains in his hand. To convince his domestics that the life of a master was not to be attempted upon any pretext, however plausible, he condemned to death Epaphroditus his secretary, because it was believed that he had assisted Nero, in his extremity, to kill himself.
XV. His last victim was Flavius Clemens , his cousin-german, a man below contempt for his want of energy, whose sons, then of very tender age, he had avowedly destined for his successors, and, discarding their former names, had ordered one to be called Vespasian, and the other Domitian. Nevertheless, he suddenly put him to death upon some very slight suspicion , almost before he was well out of his consulship. By this violent act he very much hastened his own destruction. During eight months together there was so much lightning at Rome, and such accounts of the phaenomenon were brought from other parts, that at last he cried out, "Let him now strike whom he will." The Capitol was struck by lightning, as well as the temple of the Flavian family, with the Palatine-house, and his own bed-chamber. The tablet also, inscribed upon the base of his triumphal statue was carried away by the violence of the storm, and fell upon a neighbouring (493) monument. The tree which just before the advancement of Vespasian had been prostrated, and rose again , suddenly fell to the ground. The goddess Fortune of Praeneste, to whom it was his custom on new year's day to commend the empire for the ensuing year, and who had always given him a favourable reply, at last returned him a melancholy answer, not without mention of blood. He dreamt that Minerva, whom he worshipped even to a superstitious excess, was withdrawing from her sanctuary, declaring she could protect him no longer, because she was disarmed by Jupiter. Nothing, however, so much affected him as an answer given by Ascletario, the astrologer, and his subsequent fate. This person had been informed against, and did not deny his having predicted some future events, of which, from the principles of his art, he confessed he had a foreknowledge. Domitian asked him, what end he thought he should come to himself? To which replying, "I shall in a short time be torn to pieces by dogs," he ordered him immediately to be slain, and, in order to demonstrate the vanity of his art, to be carefully buried. But during the preparations for executing this order, it happened that the funeral pile was blown down by a sudden storm, and the body, half-burnt, was torn to pieces by dogs; which being observed by Latinus, the comic actor, as he chanced to pass that way, he told it, amongst the other news of the day, to the emperor at supper.
XVI. The day before his death, he ordered some dates , served up at table, to be kept till the next day, adding, "If I have the luck to use them." And turning to those who were nearest him, he said, "To-morrow the moon in Aquarius will be bloody instead of watery, and an event will happen, which will be much talked of all the world over." About midnight, he was so terrified that he leaped out of bed. That morning he tried and passed sentence on a soothsayer sent from Germany, who being consulted about the lightning that had lately (494) happened, predicted from it a change of government. The blood running down his face as he scratched an ulcerous tumour on his forehead, he said, "Would this were all that is to befall me!" Then, upon his asking the time of the day, instead of five o'clock, which was the hour he dreaded, they purposely told him it was six. Overjoyed at this information; as if all danger were now passed, and hastening to the bath, Parthenius, his chamberlain, stopped him, by saying that there was a person come to wait upon him about a matter of great importance, which would admit of no delay. Upon this, ordering all persons to withdraw, he retired into his chamber, and was there slain.
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