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Tacitus: Annals Book 14 [20]

20. In Nero's fourth consulship with Cornelius Cossus for his colleague, a theatrical entertainment to be repeated every five years was established at Rome in imitation of the Greek festival. Like all novelties, it was variously canvassed. There were some who declared that even Cnius Pompeius was censured by the older men of the day for having set up a fixed and permanent theatre. "Formerly," they said, "the games were usually exhibited with hastily erected tiers of benches and a temporary stage, and the people stood to witness them, that they might not, by having the chance of sitting down, spend a succession of entire days in idleness. Let the ancient character of these shows be retained, whenever the praetors exhibited them, and let no citizen be under the necessity of competing. As it was, the morality of their fathers, which had by degrees been forgotten, was utterly subverted by the introduction of a lax tone, so that all which could suffer or produce corruption was to be seen at Rome, and a degeneracy bred by foreign tastes was infecting the youth who devoted themselves to athletic sports, to idle loungings and low intrigues, with the encouragement of the emperor and Senate, who not only granted licence to vice, but even applied a compulsion to drive Roman nobles into disgracing themselves on the stage, under the pretence of being orators and poets. What remained for them but to strip themselves naked, put on the boxing-glove, and practise such battles instead of the arms of legitimate warfare? Would justice be promoted, or would they serve on the knights' commissions for the honourable office of a judge, because they had listened with critical sagacity to effeminate strains of music and sweet voices? Night too was given up to infamy, so that virtue had not a moment left to her, but all the vilest of that promiscuous throng dared to do in the darkness anything they had lusted for in the day."   20. Nerone quartum Cornelio Cosso consulibus quinquennale ludicrum Romae institutum est ad morum Graeci certaminis, varia fama, ut cunta ferme nova. quippe erant qui Cn. quoque Pompeium incusatum a senioribus ferrent, quod mansuram theatri sedem posuisset. nam antea subitariis gradibus et scaena in tempus structa ludos edi solitos, vel si vetustiora repetas, stantem populum spectavisse, [ne], si consideret theatro, dies totos ignavia continuaret. [ne] spectaculorum quidem antiquitas servaretur, quotiens praetor sederet, nulla cuiquam civium necessitate certandi. ceterum abolitos paulatim patrios mores funditus everti per accitam lasciviam, ut, quod usquam corrumpi et corrumpere queat, in urbe visatur, degeneretque studiis externis iuventus, gymnasia et otia et turpes amores exercendo, principe et senatu auctoribus, qui non modo licentiam vitiis permiserint, sed vim adhibeant, [ut] proceres Romani specie orationum et carminum scaena polluantur. quid superesse, nisi ut corpora quoque nudent et caestus adsumant easque pugnas pro militia et armis meditentur? an iustitiam auctum iri et decurias equitum egregium iudicandi munus [melius] expleturos, si fractos sonos et dulcedinem vocum perite audissent? noctes quoque dedecori adiectas, ne quod tempus pudori relinquatur, sed coetu promisco, quod perditissimus quisque per diem concupiverit, per tenebras audeat.
21. Many people liked this very licence, but they screened it under respectable names. "Our ancestors," they said, "were not averse to the attractions of shows on a scale suited to the wealth of their day, and so they introduced actors from the Etruscans and horse-races from Thurii. When we had possessed ourselves of Achaia and Asia, games were exhibited with greater elaboration, and yet no one at Rome of good family had stooped to the theatrical profession during the 200 years following the triumph of Lucius Mummius, who first displayed this kind of show in the capital. Besides, even economy had been consulted, when a permanent edifice was erected for a theatre, in preference to a structure raised and fitted up yearly at vast expense. Nor would the magistrates, as hitherto, exhaust their substance, or would the populace have the same motive for demanding of them the Greek contests, when once the State undertakes the expenditure. The victories won by orators and poets would furnish a stimulus to genius, and it could not be a burden for any judge to bestow his attention on graceful pursuits or on legitimate recreations. It was to mirth rather than to profligacy that a few nights every five years were devoted, and in these amid such a blaze of illumination no lawless conduct could be concealed." This entertainment, it is true, passed off without any notorious scandal. The enthusiasm too of the populace was not even slightly kindled, for the pantomimic actors, though permitted to return to the stage, were excluded from the sacred contests. No one gained the first prize for eloquence, but it was publicly announced that the emperor was victorious. Greek dresses, in which most people showed themselves during this festival, had then gone out of fashion.   21. Pluribus ipsa licentia placebat, ac tamen honesta nomina praetendebant. maiores quoque non abhorruisse spectaculorum oblectamentis pro fortuna, quae tu[m] erat, eoque a Tuscis accitos histriones, a Thuriis equorum certamina; et possessa Achaia Asiaque ludos curatius editos, nec quemquam Romae honesto loco ortum ad theatrales artes degeneravisse, ducentis iam annis a L. Mummi triumpho, qui primus id genus spectaculi in urbe praebuerit. sed et consultum parsimoniae, quod perpetua sedes theatro locata sit potius, quam immenso sumptu singulos per annos consurgeret ac [de]strueretur. nec perinde magistratus rem familiarem exhausturos aut populo efflagitandi Graeca certamina [a] magistratibus causam fore, cum eo sumptu res publica fungatur. oratorum ac vatum victorias incitamentum ingeniis adlaturas; nec cuiquam iudici grave aures studiis honestis et voluptatibus concessis impertire. laetitiae magis quam lasciviae dari paucas totius quinquennii noctes, quibus tanta luce ignium nihil inlicitum occultari queat. sane nullo insigni dehonestamento id spectaculum transi[i]t. ac ne modica quidem studia plebis exarsere, quid redditi quamquam scaenae pantomimi certaminibus sacris prohibebantur. eloquentiae primas nemo tulit, sed victorem esse Caesarem pronuntiatum. Graeci amictus, quis per eos dies plerique incesserant, tum exoleverunt.
22. A comet meantime blazed in the sky, which in popular opinion always portends revolution to kingdoms. So people began to ask, as if Nero was already dethroned, who was to be elected. In every one's mouth was the name of Rubellius Blandus, who inherited through his mother the high nobility of the Julian family. He was himself attached to the ideas of our ancestors; his manners were austere, his home was one of purity and seclusion, and the more he lived in retirement from fear, the more fame did he acquire. Popular talk was confirmed by an interpretation put with similar credulity on a flash of lightning. While Nero was reclining at dinner in his house named Sublaqueum on the Simbruine lake, the table with the banquet was struck and shattered, and as this happened close to Tibur, from which town Plautus derived his origin on his father's side, people believed him to be the man marked out by divine providence; and he was encouraged by that numerous class, whose eager and often mistaken ambition it is to attach themselves prematurely to some new and hazardous cause. This alarmed Nero, and he wrote a letter to Plautus, bidding "him consider the tranquillity of Rome and withdraw himself from mischievous gossip. He had ancestral possessions in Asia, where he might enjoy his youth safely and quietly." And so thither Plautus retired with his wife Antistia and a few intimate friends. About the same time an excessive love of luxurious gratification involved Nero in disgrace and danger. He had plunged for a swim into the source of the stream which Quintus Marcius conveyed to Rome, and it was thought that, by thus immersing his person in it, he had polluted the sacred waters and the sanctity of the spot. A fit of illness which followed, convinced people of the divine displeasure.   22. Inter quae sidus cometes effulsit, de quo vulgi opinio est, tamquam mutationem regis portendat. igitur, quasi iam depulso Nerone, quisnam deligeretur anquirebant. et omnium ore Rubellius Plautus celebra[ba]tur, cui nobilitas per matrem ex Iulia familia. ipse placita maiorum colebat, habitu severo, casta et secreta domo, quantoque metu occultior, tanto plus famae adeptus. auxit rumorem pari vanitate orta interpretatio fulguris. nam quia discumbentis Neronis apud Simbruina stagna [in villa], cui Sublaqueum nomen est, ictae dapes mensaque disiecta erat, idque finibus Tiburtum acciderat, unde paterna Plauto origo, hunc illum numine deum destinari credebant, fovebantque multi, quibus nova et ancipitia praecolere avida et plerumque fallax ambitio est. ergo permotus his Nero componit ad Plautum litteras, consuleret quieti urbis seque prava diffamantibus subtraheret: esse illi per Asiam avitos agros, in quibus tuta et inturbida iuventa frueretur. ita illuc cum coniuge Antistia et paucis familiarium concessit.] Isdem diebus nimia luxus cupido infamiam et periculum Neroni tulit, quia fontem aquae Marciae ad urbem deductae nando incesserat; videbaturque potus sacros et caerimoniam loci corpore loto polluisse. secutaque anceps valitudo iram deum adfirmavit.
23. Corbulo meanwhile having demolished Artaxata thought that he ought to avail himself of the recent panic by possessing himself of Tigranocerta, and either, by destroying it, increase the enemy's terror, or, by sparing it, win a name for mercy. Thither he marched his army, with no hostile demonstrations, lest might cut off all hope of quarter, but still without relaxing his vigilance, knowing, as he did, the fickle temper of the people, who are as treacherous, when they have an opportunity, as they are slow to meet danger. The barbarians, following their individual inclinations, either came to him with entreaties, or quitted their villages and dispersed into their deserts. Some there were who hid themselves in caverns with all that they held dearest. The Roman general accordingly dealt variously with them; he was merciful to suppliants, swift in pursuit of fugitives, pitiless towards those who had crept into hiding-places, burning them out after filling up the entrances and exits with brushwood and bushes. As he was on his march along the frontier of the Mardi, he was incessantly attacked by that tribe which is trained to guerilla warfare, and defended by mountains against an invader. Corbulo threw the Iberians on them, ravaged their country and punished the enemy's daring at the cost of the blood of the foreigner.   23. At Corbulo post deleta Artaxata utendum recenti terrore ratus ad occupanda Tigranocerta, quibus excisis metum hostium intenderet vel, si pepercisset, clementiae famam adipisceretur, illuc pergit, non infenso exercitu, ne spem veniae auferret, neque tamen remissa cura, gnarus facilem mutatu gentem, ut segnem ad pericula, ita infidam ad occasiones. barbari, pro ingenio quisque, alii preces offerre, quidam deserere vicos in avia digredi; ac fuere qui se speluncis et carissima secum abderent. igitur dux Romanus diversis artibus, misericordia adversum supplices, celeritate adversus profugos, immitis iis, qui latebras insederant, ora et exitus specuum sarmentis virgultisque completos igni exurit. atque illum fines suos praegredientem incursavere Mardi, latrociniis exerciti contraque inrumpentem montibus defensi; quos Corbulo immissis Hiberis vastavit hostilemque audaciam externo sanguine ultus est.
24. Both Corbulo and his army, though suffering no losses in battle, were becoming exhausted by short supplies and hardships, compelled as they were to stave off hunger solely by the flesh of cattle. Added to this was scarcity of water, a burning summer and long marches, all of which were alleviated only by the general's patient endurance. He bore indeed the same or even more burdens than the common soldier. Subsequently, they reached lands under cultivation, and reaped the crops, and of two fortresses in which the Armenians had fled for refuge, one was taken by storm; the other, which repulsed the first attack, was reduced by blockade. Thence the general crossed into the country of the Tauraunites, where he escaped an unforeseen peril. Near his tent, a barbarian of no mean rank was discovered with a dagger, who divulged under torture the whole method of the plot, its contrivance by himself, and his associates. The men who under a show of friendship planned the treachery, were convicted and punished. Soon afterwards, Corbulo's envoys whom he had sent to Tigranocerta, reported that the city walls were open, and the inhabitants awaiting orders. They also handed him a gift denoting friendship, a golden crown, which he acknowledged in complimentary language. Nothing was done to humiliate the city, that remaining uninjured it might continue to yield a more cheerful obedience.   24. Ipse exercitusque ut nullis ex proelio damnis, ita per inopiam et labores fatiscebant, carne pecudum propulsare famem adacti. ad hoc penuria aquae, fervida aetas, longinqua itinera sola ducis patientia mitigabantur, eadem pluraque gregario milite toleranti[s]. ventum dehinc in locos cultos demessaeque segetes, et ex duobus castellis, in quae confugerant Armenii, alterum impetu captum; qui primam vim depulerant, obsidione coguntur. unde in regionem Tauraunitium transgressus improvisum periculum vitavit. nam haud procul tentorio eius non ignobilis barbarus cum telo repertus ordinem insidiarum seque auctorem et socios per tormenta edidit, convictique et puniti sunt qui specie amicitiae dolum parabant. nec multo post legati Tigranocerta missi patere moenia adferunt, intentos populares ad iussa; simul hospitale donum, coronam auream, tradebant. accepitque cum honore, ne quicquam urbi detractum, quo promptius obsequium integri retinerent.
25. The citadel, however, which had been closed by an intrepid band of youths, was not stormed without a struggle. They even ventured on an engagement under the walls, but were driven back within their fortifications and succumbed at last only to our siege-works and to the swords of furious assailants. The success was the easier, as the Parthians were distracted by a war with the Hyrcanians, who had sent to the Roman emperor, imploring alliance, and pointing to the fact that they were detaining Vologeses as a pledge of amity. When these envoys were on their way home, Corbulo, to save them from being intercepted by the enemy's picquets after their passage of the Euphrates, gave them an escort, and conducted them to the shores of the Red Sea, whence, avoiding Parthian territory, they returned to their native possessions.   25. At praesidium Leger[d]a, quod ferox iuventus clauserat, non sine certamine expugnatum est; nam et proelium pro muris ausi erant et pulsi intra munimenta aggeri demum et inrumpentium armis cessere. quae facilius proveniebant, qui Parthi Hyrcano bello distinebantur. miserantque Hyrcani ad principem Romanum societatem oratum, attineri a se Vologaesen pro pignore amicitiae ostentante[s]. eos regredientes Corbulo, ne Euphraten transgressi hostium custodiis circumvenirentur, dato praesidio ad litora maris Rubri deduxit, unde vitatis Parthorum finibus patrias in sedes remeavere.
26. Corbulo too, as Tiridates was entering the Armenian frontier through Media, sent on Verulanus, his lieutenant-general with the auxiliaries, while he himself followed with the legions by forced marches, and compelled him to retreat to a distance and abandon the idea of war. Having harried with fire and sword all whom he had ascertained to be against us, he began to take possession of Armenia, when Tigranes arrived, whom Nero had selected to assume the sovereignty. Though a Cappadocian noble and grandson of king Archelaus, yet, from having long been a hostage at Rome, he had sunk into servile submissiveness. Nor was he unanimously welcomed, as some still cherished a liking for the Arsacids. Most, however, in their hatred of Parthian arrogance preferred a king given them by Rome. He was supported too with a force of a thousand legionaries, three allied cohorts and two squadrons of cavalry, that he might the more easily secure his new kingdom. Parts of Armenia, according to their respective proximities, were put under the subjection of Pharasmanes, Polemo, Aristobulus, and Antiochus. Corbulo retired into Syria, which province, as being vacant by the death of its governor Ummidius, was intrusted to him.   26. Quin et Tiridaten per Medos extrema Armeniae intrantem praemisso cum auxiliis Verulano legato atque ipse legionibus citis abire procul ac spem belli omittere subegit; quosque nobis aversos animis cognoverat, caedibus et incendiis perpopulatus possessionem Armeniae usurpabat, cum advenit Tigranes a Nerone ad capessendum imperium delectus, Cappadocum e nobilitate, regis Archelai nepos, sed quod diu obses apud urbem fuerat, usque ad servilem patientiam demissus. ne[c] consensu acceptus, durante apud quosdam favore Arsacidarum: at plerique superbiam Parthorum perosi datum a Romanis regem malebant. additum et praesidium, mille legionarii, tres sociorum cohortes duaeque equitum alae; et quo facilius novum regnum tueretur, pars Armeniae, ut cuique finitima, P[h]ar[a]s[ma]ni Pol[emon]ique et Aristobulo atque Antiocho parere iussae sunt. Corbulo in Syriam abscessit, morte Ummidii legati vacuam ac sibi permissam.
27. One of the famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was that same year overthrown by an earthquake, and, without any relief from us, recovered itself by its own resources. In Italy meanwhile the old town of Puteoli obtained from Nero the privileges of a colony with an additional name. A further enrolment of veterans in Tarentum and Antium did but little for those thinly peopled places; for most scattered themselves in the provinces where they had completed their military service. Not being accustomed to tie themselves by marriage and rear children, they left behind them homes without families. For whole legions were no longer transplanted, as in former days, with tribunes and centurions and soldiers of every grade, so as to form a state by their unity and mutual attachment, but strangers to one another from different companies, without a head or any community of sentiment, were suddenly gathered together, as it might be out of any other class of human beings, and became a mere crowd rather than a colony.   27. Eodem anno ex inlustribus Asia urbibus Laodicea tremore terrae prolapsa nullo [a] nobis remedio propriis opibus revaluit. at in Italia vetus oppidum Puteoli ius coloniae et cognomentum a Nerone apiscuntur. veterani Tarentum et Antium adscripti non tamen infrequentiae locorum subvenere, dilapsis pluribus in provincias, in quibus stipendia expleverant; neque coniugiis suscipiendis neque alendis liberis sueti orbas sine posteris domos relinquebant. non enim, ut olim, universae legiones deducebantur cum tribunis et centurionibus et sui cuiusque ordinis militibus, ut consensu et caritate rem publicam efficerent, sed ignoti inter se, diversis manipulis, sine rectore, sine adfectibus mutuis, quasi ex alio genere mortalium repente in unum collecti, numerus magis quam colonia.
28. As at the elections for praetors, now generally under the Senate's control there was the excitement of a particularly keen competition, the emperor quieted matters by promoting the three supernumerary candidates to legionary commands. He also raised the dignity of the Senate, by deciding that all who appealed from private judges to its house, were to incur the same pecuniary risk as those who referred their cause to the emperor. Hitherto such an appeal had been perfectly open, and free from penalty. At the close of the year Vibius Secundus, a Roman knight, on the accusation of the Moors, was convicted of extortion, and banished from Italy, contriving through the influence of his brother Vibius Crispus to escape heavier punishment.   28. Comitia praetorum arbitrio senatus haberi solita, quo[d] acriore ambitu exarserant, princeps composuit, tres, qui supra numerum petebant, legioni praeficiendo. auxitque patrum honorem statuendo ut, qui a privatis iudicibus ad senatum provocavissent, eiusdem pecuniae periculum facerent, cuius si qui imperatorem appellare[nt]; nam antea vacuum id solutumque poena fuerat. fine anni Vibius Secundus eques Romanus accusantibus Mauris repetundarum damnatur atque Italia exigitur, ne graviore poena adficeretur, Vibii Crispi fratris opibus enisus.
29. In the consulship of Caesonius Paetus and Petronius Turpilianus, a serious disaster was sustained in Britain, where Aulius Didius, the emperor's legate, had merely retained our existing possessions, and his successor Veranius, after having ravaged the Silures in some trifling raids, was prevented by death from extending the war. While he lived, he had a great name for manly independence, though, in his will's final words, he betrayed a flatterer's weakness; for, after heaping adulation on Nero, he added that he should have conquered the province for him, had he lived for the next two years. Now, however, Britain was in the hands of Suetonius Paulinus, who in military knowledge and in popular favour, which allows no one to be without a rival, vied with Corbulo, and aspired to equal the glory of the recovery of Armenia by the subjugation of Rome's enemies. He therefore prepared to attack the island of Mona which had a powerful population and was a refuge for fugitives. He built flat-bottomed vessels to cope with the shallows, and uncertain depths of the sea. Thus the infantry crossed, while the cavalry followed by fording, or, where the water was deep, swam by the side of their horses.   29. Caesen[n]io Paeto et Petronio Turpiliano consulibus gravis clades in Britannia accepta; in qua neque A. Didius legatus, ut memoravi, nisi parta retinuerat, at successor Veranius, modicis excursibus Silu[r]as populatus, quin ultra bellum proferret, morte prohibitus est, magna, dum vixit, severitatis fama, supremis testamenti verbis ambitionis manifestus: quippe multa in Neronem adulatione addidit subiecturum ei provinciam fuisse, si biennio proximo vixisset. sed tum Paulinus Suetonius obtinebat Britannos, scientia militiae et rumore populi, qui neminem sine aemulo sinit, Corbulonis concertator, receptaeque Armeniae decus aequare domitis perduellibus cupiens. igitur Monam insulam, incolis validam et receptaculum perfugarum, adgredi parat, navesque fabricatur plano alveo adversus breve et incertum. sic pedes; equites vado secuti aut altiores inter undas adnantes equis tramisere.

Next: Book 14 [30]