Cassius Dio
Roman History

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Epitome of Book LXVII

  Domitian was not only bold and quick to anger but also treacherous and secretive; and so, deriving from these two characteristics impulsiveness on the one hand and craftiness on the other, he would often attack people with the sudden violence of a thunderbolt and again would often injure them as the result of careful deliberation. The god that he revered most was Minerva, in consequence of which he was wont to celebrate the Panathenaea on a magnificent scale; on those occasions he held contests of poets and orators and gladiators almost every year at his Alban Villa. This estate, situated at the foot of the Alban Mount, from which it received its name, he had set apart as a kind of acropolis. There was no human being for whom he felt any genuine affection, except a few women; but he always pretended to be fond of the person whom at the moment he most desired to slay. So faithless was he even towards those who showed his some favour or helped him in his most revolting crimes, that, whenever persons provided him with large sums of money or lodged false information against large numbers of people, he was sure to destroy them, being especially careful to do so in the case of slaves who had given information against their masters. Accordingly, such persons, though they received money and honours and offices in which they were his colleagues, lived in no greater honour and security than other men. On the contrary, the very offences to which they had been urged by Domitian were commonly made the pretext for their destruction, his object being that they alone should appear to have been the authors of the wrongdoing. It was with this same purpose that, when an emperor fails to punish informers, he himself makes them informers.

Though such was his behaviour towards all throughout the course of his reign, yet he quite outdid himself in visiting disgrace and ruin upon the friends of his father and of his brother. It is true, he issued a proclamation confirming all the gifts made to any persons by them and by other emperors; but this was mere vain show. He hated them because they had not supplied all his numerous and unreasonable demands, as well as because they had been held in some honour; for he regarded as his enemy anyone who had enjoyed his father's or his brother's affection beyond the ordinary or had been particularly influential. Accordingly, though he himself entertained a passion for a eunuch named Earinus, nevertheless, since Titus also had shown a great fondness for eunuchs, in order to insult his memory, he forbade that any person in the Roman Empire should thereafter be castrated. In general, he was accustomed to say that those emperors who did not visit punishment upon many men were not good emperors, but only fortunate.

This same emperor paid no heed to the praises which men bestowed upon Titus for not having put a single senator to death, nor did he care that the senate frequently saw fit to pass decrees that it should be unlawful for the emperor to put to da any of his peers. A vast difference, indeed, did it make to them whether it was on his own responsibility or with the consent of the senate that he put out of the way one or another of his number — as if, forsooth, they could offer any opposition or refuse to condemn anybody! Some, however, would praise Titus, though not in Domitian's hearing (for to do that would have been as grave an offence as to revile the emperor in his presence and within his hearing), but they would do so among themselves, so that he hated them because he well knew that they were doing this secretly. And indeed there was something else that resembled play-acting; for Domitian pretended that he himself loved his brother and mourned him, and he delivered the eulogy over him with tears in his eyes and urged that the he be enrolled among the demigods — pretending just the opposite of what he really desired. Indeed, he abolished the horse-race that had been held on the birthday of Titus. In general, men were not safe whether they shared in his grief or in his joy; for in the one case they were bound to offend his real feelings and in the other to show up his insincerity.

He planned to put his wife, Domitia, to death on the ground of adultery, but having been dissuaded by Ursus, he divorced her, after murdering Paris, the actor, in the middle of the street because of her. And when many persons paid honour to that spot with flowers and ointments, he ordered that they, too, should be slain. After this he lived with his own niece (Julia, that is to say) as husband with wife, making little effort at concealment. Then upon the demands of the people he became reconciled with Domitia, but continued his relations with Julia none the less.

He was putting many of the foremost men out of the way on many different pretexts, some by means of murder and others by banishment.

He also removed many from Rome to other places and destroyed them; and in the case of not a few he so contrived that they died by their own hands in one way or another, so that they might be thought to have met death by their own desire and not through compulsion.

He did not spare even the Vestal Virgins, but punished them on the charge of having had intercourse with men. It is even said that, as a result of the harsh and cruel character of their examination and the great number of persons who were being accused and punished, one of the pontifices, Helvius Agrippa, could not endure it, but, horror-stricken, expired then and there in the senate-chamber.

Domitian prided himself also on the fact that he did not bury alive, as was the custom, the Vestals whom he found to have had intercourse with men, but ordered them to be put to death in some other way.

After this he set out for Gaul and plundered some of the tribes beyond the Rhine that enjoyed treaty rights — a performance which filled him with conceit as if he had achieved some great success; and he increased the soldiers' pay, perhaps on account of this victory, commanding that four hundred sesterces should be given to each man in place of the three hundred that he had been receiving. Later he thought better of it, but, instead of diminishing the amount of their pay, he reduced the number of soldiers. Both changes entailed great injury to the State; for he made its defenders too few in number and yet at the same time very expensive to maintain.

Next he made a campaign into Germany and returned without having so much as seen hostilities anywhere. But why should I go on and mention the honours bestowed upon him on this occasion for this exploit or from time to time upon the other emperors who were no better than he? For they were bestowed merely to keep such rulers from suspecting, as they would if the honours had been few and insignificant, that the people saw through them, and from becoming angry in consequence. Yet Domitian had this worst quality of all, that he desired to be flattered, and was equally displeased with both sorts of men, those who paid court to him and those who did not — with the former because they seemed to be flattering him and with the latter because they seemed to despise him. Nevertheless, he affected to take pleasure in the honours voted by the senate. But he came near putting Ursus to death because he failed to show pleasure at his sovereign's exploits; and then, at the request of Julia, he appointed him consul.

However, being still more puffed up by his folly, he was elected consul for ten years in succession and censor for life, being the first and only man, whether private citizen or emperor, to be given this latter honour; he also received the privilege of employing twenty-four lictors and of wearing the triumphal garb whenever he entered the senate-house. He changed the name of October to Domitianus because he had been born in that month. Among the charioteers he instituted two more factions, calling one the Golden and the other the Purple. To the spectators he used to make many presents by means of the little balls; and once he gave them a banquet while they remained in their seats and at night provided for them wine that flowed freely in many different places.All this naturally gave pleasure to the populace, but it was a cause of ruin to the powerful. For, as he had no funds from which to make his expenditures, he murdered many men, haling some of them before the senate, but bringing charges against others when they were not even present in Rome. He even went so far as to put some out of the way treacherously by means of drugs secretly administered.

Many of the peoples tributary to the Romans revolted when contributions of money were forcibly extorted from them; among these were the Nasamones. They massacred all the tax-collectors and so completely defeated Flaccus, the governor of Numidia, who proceeded against them, that they even plundered his camp. But having discovered the wine and other provisions there, they gorged themselves and fell asleep, and Flaccus, learning of this, attacked them and annihilated them, even destroying all the non-combatants. Domitian was elated at this success and said to the senate: "I have forbidden the Nasamones to exist."

For he even insisted upon being regarded as a god and took vast pride in being called "master" and "god." These titles were used not merely in speech but also in written documents.

At this time the Romans became involved in a very serious war with the Dacians, whose king was then Decebalus. This man was shrewd in his understanding of warfare and shrewd also in the waging of war; he judged well when to attack and chose the right moment to retreat; he was an expert in ambuscades and a master in pitched battles; and he knew not only how to follow up a victory well, but also how to manage well a defeat. Hence he showed himself a worthy antagonist of the Romans for a long time. I call the people Dacians, the names used by the natives themselves as well as by the Romans, though I am not ignorant that some Greek writers refer to them as Getae, whether that is the right form or not; for the Getae of whom I myself know are those that live beyond the Haemus range, along the Ister. Domitian, then, made an expedition against this people, but did not take an active part in the conflict. Instead, he remained in one of the cities of Moesia, indulging in riotous living, as was his wont. For he was not only indolent of body and timorous of spirit, but also most profligate and lewd towards women and boys alike. He therefore sent others to conduct the war and for the most part got the worst of it.

Decebalus, the king of the Dacians, was making overtures to Domitian, promising him peace; but Domitian sent Fuscus against him with a large force. On learning of this Decebalus sent to him an embassy anew with the insulting proposal to make peace with the emperor, on condition that every Roman should elect to pay two obols to Decebalus each year; otherwise, he declared, he would make war and inflict great ills upon the Romans.

Dio . . . Book LXVI . . . . When the soldiers who had made the campaign with Fuscus asked Domitian to lead them.

Domitian, wishing to requite the Quadi and the Marcomani because they had not assisted him against the Dacians, entered Pannonia with the intention of making war upon them; and he put to death the second group of envoys which had been sent by the enemy to propose terms of peace.

The same emperor, having been defeated, laid the blame on his commanders. For, though he claimed for himself a the successes, none of which was due to him, yet he blamed others for the reverses, nothing that they had been incurred in consequence of the orders issued by him. Indeed, he hated those who succeeded and blamed those who met with reverses.

Domitian, having been defeated by the Marcomani, took to flight, and hastily sending messages to Decebalus, king of the Dacians, induced him to make a truce, though he himself had hitherto refused to grant one in response to the frequent requests of Decebalus. And so Decebalus accepted his overtures, for he had suffered grievous hardships; yet he did not wish to hold a conference with Domitian personally, but instead sent Diegis with the men, to give him the arms and a few captives, who, he pretended, were the only ones that he had. When this had been done, Domitian placed a diadem on the head of Diegis, just as if he had truly conquered and could give the Dacians anyone he pleased to be their king. To the soldiers he granted honours and money. And, just as if he had won a victory, he sent to Rome, among other things, envoys from Decebalus and also a letter from the king, as he claimed, though rumour declared that he had forged it. He graced the festival that followed with many exhibits appropriate to a triumph, though they came from no booty that he had captured; on the contrary, the truce had cost him something besides his losses, for he had given large sums of money to Decebalus on the spot as well as artisans of every trade pertaining to both peace and war, and had promised to keep on giving large sums in the future. The exhibits which he displayed really came from the store of imperial furniture, which he at all times treated as captured spoils, inasmuch as he had enslaved even the empire itself.

So many honours were voted to him that almost the whole world (so far as it was under his dominion) was filled with his images and statues constructed of both silver and gold. He also gave a very costly spectacle, in regard to which we have noted nothing that was worthy of historic record except that maidens contended in the foot-race. After this, in the course of holding what purported to be triumphal celebrations, he arranged numerous contests. In the Circus, for example, he exhibited battles of infantry against infantry and again battles between cavalry, and in a new place he produced a naval battle. At this last event practically all the combatants and many of the spectators as well perished. For, though a heavy rain and violent storm came up suddenly, he nevertheless permitted no one to leave the spectacle; and though he himself changed his clothing to thick woollen cloaks, he would not allow the others to change their attire, so that not a few fell sick and died. By way, no doubt, of consoling the people for this, he provided for them at public expense a dinner lasting all night. Often he would conduct the games also at night, and sometimes he would pit dwarfs and women against each other.

At this time, then, he feasted the populace as described; and on another occasion he entertained the foremost men among the senators and knights in the following fashion. He prepared a room that was pitch black on every side, ceiling, walls and floor, and had made ready bare couches of the same colour resting on the uncovered floor; then he invited in his guests alone at night without their attendants. And first he set beside each of them a slab shaped like a gravestone, bearing the guest's name and also a small lamp, such as hang in tombs. Next comely naked boys, likewise painted black, entered like phantoms, and after encircling the guests in an awe-inspiring dance took up their stations at their feet. After this all the things that are commonly offered at the sacrifices to departed spirits were likewise set before the guests, all of them black and in dishes of a similar colour. Consequently, every single one of the guests feared and trembled and was kept in constant expectation of having his throat cut the next moment, the more so as on the part of everybody but Domitian there was dead silence, as if they were already in the realms of the dead, and the emperor himself conversed only upon topics relating to death and slaughter. Finally he dismissed them; but he had first removed their slaves, who had stood in the vestibule, and now gave his guests in charge of other slaves, whom they did not know, to be conveyed either in carriages or litters, and by this procedure he filled them with far greater fear. And scarcely had each guest reached his home and was beginning to get his breath again, as one might say, when word was brought him that a messenger from the Augustus had come. While they were accordingly expecting to perish this time in any case, one person brought in the slab, which was of silver, and then others in turn brought in various articles, including the dishes that had been set before them at the dinner, which were constructed of very costly material; and last of all came that particular boy who had been each guest's familiar spirit, now washed and adopted. Thus, after having passed the entire night in terror, they received the gifts.

Thus was the triumphal celebration, or, as the crowd put it, such was the funeral banquet that Domitian held for those who had died in Dacia and in Rome. Even at this time, too, he slew some of the foremost men. And in the case of a certain man who buried the body of one of the victims, he deprived him of his property because it was on his estate that the victim had died.

Other events worth recording that took place in the Dacian War are as follows. Julianus, who was appointed by the emperor to conduct the war, made many excellent regulations, one being his order that the soldiers should inscribe their own names as well as those of their centurions upon their shields, in order that those of their number who should perform any particularly good or base deed might be more readily recognized. He encountered the enemy at Tapae, and slew great numbers of them. One of them, Vezinas, who ranked next to Decebalus, finding that he could not get away alive, fell down purposely, as if dead; in this manner he escaped notice and fled during the night. Decebalus, fearing that the Romans, now that they had conquered, would proceed against his royal residence, cut down the trees that were on the site and put armour on the trunks, in order that the Romans might take them for soldiers and so be frightened and withdraw; and this actually happened.

Chariomerus, the king of the Cherusci, had been driven out of his kingdom by the Chatti on account of his friendship for the Romans. At first he gathered some companions and was successful in his attempt to return; but later he was deserted by these men when he sent hostages to the Romans, and so became the suppliant of Domitian. He did not secure any military support but received money.

A certain Antonius, who was governor of Germany at this period, revolted against Domitian; but Lucius Maximus overcame him and destroyed him. Now so far as this victory was concerned Maximus does not deserve any particular praise (for many others have won unexpected victories, and moreover his troops contributed to his success), but for his action in burning all the papers that were found in the chests of Antonius, thus esteeming his own safety as of slight importance in comparison with the preventing of their use for the purpose of blackmailing anyone, I do not see how I can praise him enough.

Domitian, however, as he had got a pretext from that source, proceeded to commit a series of murders even without the papers in question, and it would be impossible to say how many he killed.

It would be impossible to discover the total number of those who were executed by Domitian. Indeed, he condemned himself so severely for this course that, in order to prevent any remembrance of those who were put to death from surviving, he prohibited the entering of their names in the records. Furthermore, he did not even send any communication to the senate regarding those who had been put out of the way, though he sent their heads as well as that of Antonius to Rome and caused them to be exposed in the Forum.

One young man, Julius Calvaster, who had served as military tribune as a stepping-stone to the senate, was saved in a most extraordinary way. When it was being shown that he had had frequent meetings alone with Antonius, and he had no other way to free himself from the charge of conspiracy, he declared that he had met him for amorous intercourse; and in fact he was of an appearance to inspire passion. Thus he was acquitted. I will relate one more incident of this period, as follows, and then desist. Lusianus Proclus, an aged senator, who spent most of his time in the country, had set out with Domitian from Rome, feeling constrained to do so, that he might not appear to have deserted him in his peril and so be put to death. But when the news came, he said: "You have conquered, emperor, as I always prayed; restore me, therefore, to my country estate." Therefore he left him and retired to his farm; and after this, though he survived a long time, he never came near him.

During this period some persons made a business of smearing needles with poison and then pricking with them whomsoever they would. Many persons who were thus attacked died without even knowing the cause, but many of the murderers were informed against and punished. And this sort of thing happened not only in Rome but over practically the whole world.

The same portents are said to have appeared to Ulpius Trajan and to Acilius Glabrio when they entered upon the consulship at this time; to Glabrio they announced destruction, but to Trajan his assumption of the imperial office.

Many men and women alike among the wealthy were punished for adultery; some of these women had been debauched by Domitian himself. Many persons were also fined or put to death on other charges. Thus, a woman was tried and put to death because she had undressed in front of an image of Domitian, and a man for having associated with astrologers. Among the many who perished at this time was Mettius Pompusianus, whom Vespasian had failed to harm after learning from some report that he would one day be sovereign, but on the contrary had shown him honour, declaring: "He will surely remember me and will surely honour me in return." But Domitian first exiled him to Corsica and now put him to death, one of the complaints against him being that he had a map of the world painted on the walls of his bed-chamber, and another complaint being that he had excerpted and was wont to read the speeches of kings and other leaders that are recorded in Livy. Also Maternus, a sophist, was put out of the way because in a practice speech he had something against tyrants. The emperor himself used to visit those who were expecting to accuse or to give evidence of guilt and he would help to frame and compose all that required to be said. Often, too, he would talk to the prisoners alone, while holding their chains in his hands; for he would not entrust to others the knowledge of what was going to be said, and as for the accused, he feared them even in their bonds.

In Moesia the Lygians, having become involved in war with some of the Suebi, sent envoys asking Domitian for aid. And they obtained a force that was strong, not in numbers, but in dignity; for a hundred knights alone were sent to help them. The Suebi, indignant at his giving help, attached to themselves some Iazyges and were making their preparations to cross the Ister with them.

Masyus, king of the Semnones, and Ganna, a virgin who was priestess in Germany, having succeeded Veleda, came to Domitian and after being honoured by him returned home.

As censor, likewise, his behaviour was noteworthy. He expelled Caecilius Rufinus from the senate because he acted pantomimes, and rest Claudius Pacatus, though an ex-centurion, to his master, because he was proved to be a slave. But the deeds now to be related — deeds which he performed as emperor — cannot be described in similar terms. I refer to his killing of Arulenus Rusticus because he was a philosopher and because he called Thrasea holy, and to his slaying of Herennius Senecio because in his long career he had stood for no office after his quaestorship and because he had written the biography of Helvidius Priscus. Many others also perished as a result of this same charge of philosophizing, and all the philosophers that were left in Rome were banished once more. One Juventius Celsus, however, who had taken a leading part in conspiring with certain others against Domitian and had been accused of this, saved his life in a remarkable way. When he was on the point of being condemned, he begged that he might speak to the emperor in private, and thereupon did obeisance before him and after repeatedly calling him "master" and "god" (terms that were already being applied to him by others), he said: "I have done not of this sort, but if I obtain a respite, I will pry into everything and will not only bring information against many persons for you but also secure their conviction." He was released on this condition, but did not report any one; instead, by adding different excuses at different times, he lived until the death of Domitian.

At this time the road leading from Sinuessa to Puteoli was paved with stone. And the same year Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the consul, although he was a cousin and had to wife Flavia Domitilla, who was also a relative of the emperor's. The charge brought against them both was that of atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of their property. Domitilla was merely banished to Pandateria. But Glabrio, who had been Trajan's colleague in the consulship, was put to death, having been accused of the same crimes as most of the others, and, in particular, of fighting as a gladiator with wild beasts. Indeed, his prowess in the arena was the chief cause of the emperor's anger against him, an anger prompted by jealousy. For in Glabrio's consulship Domitian had summoned him to his Alban estate to attend the festival called the Juvenalia and had imposed on him the task of killing a large lion; and Glabrio not only had escaped all injury but had despatched the lion with most accurate aim.

As a consequence of his cruelty the emperor was suspicious of all mankind, and from now on ceased to repose hopes of safety in either the freedmen or yet the prefects, whom he usually caused to be brought to trail during their very term of office. He had first banished and now slew Epaphroditus, Nero's freedman, accusing him of having failed to defend Nero; for he wished by the vengeance that he took on Nero's behalf to terrify his own freedmen long in advance, so that they should venture no similar deed. Yet it availed him naught, for he became the object of a conspiracy in the following year, and perished in the consulship of Gaius Valens (who died after entering upon the consulship in his 90o year) and of Gaius Antistius.

Those who attacked him and planned the deed were Parthenius, his chamberlain, although he had been so highly honoured by the emperor as to be allowed to wear a sword, and Sigerus, who was also one of the chamberlains, together with Entellus, who was in charge of petitions, and Stephanus, a freedman. The plot was not unknown to Domitia, the emperor's wife, nor to the prefect Norbanus, nor to the latter's colleague, Petronius Secundus; at least, this is the tradition. For Domitia was ever an object of Domitian's hatred and consequently she stood in terror of her life; and the others no longer loved him, some of them because complaints had been lodged against them and others because they were expecting complaints to be lodged. For my part, I have heard also the following account — that Domitian, having become suspicious of these persons, conceived the desire to kill them all at the same time, and wrote their names on a two-leaved tablet of linden-wood, which he placed under his pillow on the couch on which he was wont to take his rest; and one of the naked "whispering" boys filched it away while the emperor was asleep in the day-time and kept it without knowing what it contained. Domitia then chanced upon it, and reading what was written, gave information of the matter to those concerned. Accordingly they hastened the plot which they already were forming; yet they did not proceed to carry it out until they had determined who was to succeed to the imperial office. They discussed the matter with various men, and when none of them would accept it (for all were afraid of them, believing that they were testing their loyalty), they betook themselves to Nerva. For he was at once of the noblest birth and of a most amiable nature, and he had furthermore been in peril of his life as the result of being denounced by astrologers who declared that he should be sovereign. It was this last circumstance that made it easier for them to persuade him to accept the imperial power. Domitian, of course, had not failed to take careful note of the days and the hours when the foremost men had been born, and in consequence was destroying in advance not a few of those who were not even hoping for the attainment of power; and he would have slain Nerva, had not one of the astrologers who was friendly to the latter declared that the man would die within a few days. And so Domitian, believing that this would really come to pass, did not wish to be guilty of this additional murder, since Nerva was to die so soon in any case.

Since no event of such magnitude happens unforeseen, various unfavourable omens occurred in the case of Domitian. Among other things he himself dreamed that Rusticus approached him with a sword, and that Minerva, whose statue he kept in his bed-chamber, had thrown away her weapons, and, mounted upon a chariot drawn by black horses, was plunging into an abyss. But the most remarkable circumstance of all was the following. Larginus Proculus, having publicly announced in the province of Germany that the emperor would die on the day when he actually did die, had been sent on to Rome by the governor, and when brought before Domitian ad again declared that it should so come to pass. He was accordingly condemned to death, but his execution was postponed in order that he might die after the emperor had escaped the danger; but in the meantime Domitian was slain, and so Proculus' life was saved and he received 400,000 sesterces from Nerva. Some one else, also, had told Domitian on a previous occasion both the time and the manner of his death, and then, upon being asked what manner of death he, the prophet, should meet, had replied that he should be devoured by dogs. Thereupon command was given that he should be burned alive, and the fire was applied to him; but just then there was a great downpour of rain, the pyre was extinguished, and later dogs found him lying upon it with his hands bound behind him and tore him to pieces.

I have one more astonishing fact to record, which I shall give after describing Domitian's end. As soon as he rose to leave the court-room and was ready to take his afternoon rest, as was his cut, first Parthenius removed the blade from the sword which always lay under his pillow, so that Domitian should not have the use of it, and then he sent in Stephanus, who was stronger than the others. Stephanus smote Domitian, and though it was not a fatal blow, the emperor was nevertheless knocked to the ground, where he lay prostrate. Then, fearing that he might escape, Parthenius rushed in, or, as some believe, he sent in Maximus, a freedman. Thus not only was Domitian murdered, but Stephanus, too, perished when those who had not shared in the conspiracy made a concerted rush upon him.

The matter of which I spoke, saying that it surprises me more than anything else, is this. A certain Apollonius of Tyana on that very day and at that very hour when Domitian was being murdered (as was afterwards accurately determined by events that happened in both places) mounted a lofty rock at Ephesus (or possibly it was somewhere else) and having called together the populace, uttered these words: "Good, Stephanus! Bravo, Stephanus! Smite the bloodthirsty wretch! You have struck, you have wounded, you have slain." This is what actually happened, though one should doubt it ten thousand times over. Domitian had lived forty-four years, ten months and twenty-six days, and had reigned fifteen years and five days. His body was stolen away and was buried by his nurse Phyllis.

End of Etext  Cassius Dio Roman History  Epitome of Book LXVII
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