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Title: Nero - Makers of History Series
Author: Abbott, Jacob, 1803-1879
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nero - Makers of History Series" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

 Makers of History





 Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand
 eight hundred and fifty-three, by


 in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern District
 of New York.


[Illustration: ENVIRONS OF ROME.]


In writing the series of historical narratives to which the present
work pertains, it has been the object of the author to furnish to
the reading community of this country an accurate and faithful
account of the lives and actions of the several personages that are
made successively the subjects of the volumes, following precisely
the story which has come down to us from ancient times. The writer
has spared no pains to gain access in all cases to the original
sources of information, and has confined himself strictly to them.
The reader may, therefore, feel assured in perusing any one of these
works, that the interest of it is in no degree indebted to the
invention of the author. No incident, however trivial, is ever added
to the original account, nor are any words even, in any case,
attributed to a speaker without express authority. Whatever of
interest, therefore, these stories may possess, is due solely to the
facts themselves which are recorded in them, and to their being
brought together in a plain, simple, and connected narrative.


 CHAPTER                                                    PAGE

    I. NERO'S MOTHER                                          13

   II. THE ASSASSINATION OF CALIGULA                          34

  III. THE ACCESSION OF CLAUDIUS                              55

   IV. THE FATE OF MESSALINA                                  77

    V. THE CHILDHOOD OF NERO                                 105

   VI. NERO AN EMPEROR                                       124

  VII. BRITANNICUS                                           148

 VIII. THE FATE OF AGRIPPINA                                 172

   IX. EXTREME DEPRAVITY                                     208

    X. PISO'S CONSPIRACY                                     228

   XI. THE FATE OF THE CONSPIRATORS                          250

  XII. THE EXPEDITION INTO GREECE                            272

 XIII. NERO'S END                                            299



 MAP--ENVIRONS OF ROME                           _Frontispiece._

 ENCAMPMENT OF A ROMAN LEGION                                 21

 CÆSONIA                                                      53

 DISCOVERY OF CLAUDIUS                                        64

 MESSALINA IN THE GARDEN                                      89

 THE POISONING OF CLAUDIUS                                   132

 THE JEWELRY                                                 156

 THE ATTEMPT OF ANICETUS                                     197

 BURNING OF ROME                                             225

 THE KNIFE                                                   244

 BRINGING EPICHARIS TO THE TORTURE                           253

 PHAON AT THE WALL                                           316




A.D. 37

Roman country seats.--Antium.--Situation of the promontory of
Antium.--Account of Nero's parentage.--Brazenbeard.--Nero's
father.--Agrippina his mother.--Agrippina's brother Caligula.--Roman
emperors.--Regulations in respect to the Roman armies.--Description
of the Roman armies.--Encampments of the legions.--Their
stations.--Useful functions of the Roman armies.--Effects
produced.--Mode of producing them.--The civil authorities.--The
progress of the military power.--Disposition of men to submit to
established power.--Great capacity of the early emperors.--Roman
armies.--Character of Caligula.--His desperate malignity.--Examples
of his cruelty.--Feeding wild beasts with men.--Branding.--Agrippina
is implicated in a conspiracy.--She is banished with her sister to

In ancient times, when the city of Rome was at the height of its
power and splendor, it was the custom, as it is in fact now with the
inhabitants of wealthy capitals, for the principal families to
possess, in addition to their city residences, rural villas for
summer retreats, which they built in picturesque situations, at a
little distance from the city, sometimes in the interior of the
country, and sometimes upon the sea-shore. There were many
attractive places of resort of this nature in the neighborhood of
Rome. Among them was Antium.

Antium was situated on the sea-coast about thirty miles south of the
Tiber. A bold promontory here projects into the sea, affording from
its declivities the most extended and magnificent views on every
side. On the north, looking from the promontory of Antium, the eye
follows the line of the coast away to the mouth of the Tiber; while,
on the south, the view is terminated, at about the same distance, by
the promontory of Circe, which is the second cape, or promontory,
that marks the shore of Italy in going southward from Rome. Toward
the interior, from Antium, there extends a broad and beautiful
plain, bounded by wooded hills toward the shore, and by ranges of
mountains in the distance beyond. On the southern side of the cape,
and sheltered by it, was a small harbor where vessels from all the
neighboring seas had been accustomed to bring in their cargoes, or
to seek shelter in storms, from time immemorial. In fact, Antium, in
point of antiquity, takes precedence, probably, even of Rome.

The beauty and the salubrity of Antium made it a very attractive
place of summer resort for the people of Rome; and in process of
time, when the city attained to an advanced stage of opulence and
luxury, the Roman noblemen built villas there, choosing situations,
in some instances, upon the natural terraces and esplanades of the
promontory, which looked off over the sea, and in others cool and
secluded retreats in the valleys, on the land. It was in one of
these villas that Nero was born.

Nero's father belonged to a family which had enjoyed for several
generations a considerable degree of distinction among the Roman
nobility, though known by a somewhat whimsical name. The family name
was Brazenbeard, or, to speak more exactly, it was Ahenobarbus,
which is the Latin equivalent for that word. It is a question
somewhat difficult to decide, whether in speaking of Nero's father
at the present time, and in the English tongue, we should make use
of the actual Latin name, or translate the word and employ the
English representative of it; that is, whether we shall call him
Ahenobarbus or Brazenbeard. The former seems to be more in harmony
with our ideas of the dignity of Roman history; while the latter,
though less elegant, conveys probably to our minds a more exact idea
of the import and expression of the name as it sounded in the ears
of the Roman community. The name certainly was not an attractive
one, though the family had contrived to dignify it some degree by
assigning to it a preternatural origin. There was a tradition that
in ancient times a prophet appeared to one of the ancestors of the
line, and after foretelling certain extraordinary events which were
to occur at some future period, stroked down the beard of his
auditor with his hand, and changed it to the color of brass, in
miraculous attestation of the divine authority of the message. The
man received the name of Brazenbeard in consequence, and he and his
descendants ever afterward retained it.

The family of the Brazenbeards was one of high rank and distinction,
though at the time of Nero's birth it was, like most of the other
prominent Roman families, extremely profligate and corrupt. Nero's
father, especially, was a very bad man. He was accused of the very
worst of crimes, and he led a life of constant remorse and terror.
His wife, Agrippina, Nero's mother, was as wicked as he; and it is
said that when the messenger came to him to announce the birth of
his child, the hero of this narrative, he uttered some exclamation
of ill-humor and contempt, and said that whatever came from him and
Agrippina could not but be fraught with ruin to Rome.

The rank and station of Agrippina in Roman society was even higher
than that of her husband. She was the sister of the emperor. The
name of the emperor, her brother, was Caligula. He was the third in
the series of Roman emperors, Augustus Cæsar, the successor of
Julius Cæsar, having been the first. The term emperor, however, had
a very different meaning in those days, from its present import. It
seems to denote now a sovereign ruler, who exercises officially a
general jurisdiction which extends over the whole government of the
state. In the days of the Romans it included, in theory at least,
only _military_ command. The word was _imperator_, which meant
_commander_; and the station which it denoted was simply that of
general-in-chief over the military forces of the republic.

In the early periods of the Roman history, every possible precaution
was taken to keep the military power in a condition of very strict
subordination to the authority of the civil magistrate and of law.
Very stringent regulations were adopted to secure this end. No
portion of the army, except such small detachments as were required
for preserving order within the walls, was allowed to approach the
city. Great commanders, in returning from their victorious
campaigns, were obliged to halt and encamp at some distance from the
gates, and there await the orders of the Roman Senate. The _Senate_
was, in theory, the great repository of political power. This Senate
was not, however, as the word might seem in modern times to denote,
a well-defined and compact body of legislators, designated
individually to the office, but rather a class of hereditary nobles,
very numerous, and deriving their power from immemorial usage, and
from that strange and unaccountable feeling of deference and awe
with which the mass of mankind always look up to an established, and
especially an ancient, aristocracy. The Senate were accustomed to
convene at stated times, in assemblages which were, sometimes,
conducted with a proper degree of formality and order, and sometimes
on the other hand, exhibited scenes of great tumult and confusion.
Their power, however, whether regularly or irregularly exercised,
was supreme. They issued edicts, they enacted laws, they allotted
provinces, they made peace, and they declared war. The armies, and
the generals who commanded them, were the _agents_ employed to do
their bidding.

The Roman armies consisted of vast bodies of men which, when not in
actual service, were established in permanent encampments in various
parts of the empire, wherever it was deemed necessary that troops
should be stationed. These great bodies of troops were the
celebrated Roman legions, and they were renowned throughout the
world for their discipline, their admirable organization, the
celerity of their movements, and for the indomitable courage and
energy of the men. Each legion constituted, in fact, a separate and
independent community. Its camp was its city. Its general was its
king. In time of war it moved, of course, from place to place, as
the exigencies of the service required; but in time of peace it
established itself with great formality in a spacious and permanent
encampment, which was laid out with great regularity, and fortified
with ramparts and fosses. Within the confines of the camp the tents
were arranged in rows, with broad spaces for streets between them;
and in a central position, before a space which served the purpose
of a public square, the rich and ornamented pavilions of the
commander and chief, and of the other generals, rose above the rest,
like the public edifices of a city. The encampment of a Roman legion
was, in fact, an extended and populous city, only that the dwellings
consisted of tents instead of being formed of solid and permanent
structures of wood or stone.


Roman legions were encamped in this way in various places throughout
the empire, wherever the Senate thought proper to station them.
There were some in Syria and the East; some in Italy; some on the
banks of the Rhine; and it was through the instrumentality of the
vast force thus organized, that the Romans held the whole European
world under their sway. The troops were satisfied to yield
submission to the orders of their commanders, since they received
through them in return, an abundant supply of food and clothing, and
lived, ordinarily, lives of ease and indulgence. In consideration of
this, they were willing to march from place to place wherever they
were ordered, and to fight any enemy when brought into the field.
The commanders obtained food and clothing for them by means of the
tribute which they exacted from conquered provinces, and from the
plunder of sacked cities, in times of actual war. These armies were
naturally interested in preserving order and maintaining in general
the authority of law, throughout the communities which they
controlled; for without law and order the industrial pursuits of men
could not go on, and of course they were well aware that if in any
country production were to cease, tribute must soon cease too. In
reading history we find, indeed, it must be confessed, that a
fearful proportion of the narrative which describes the achievements
of ancient armies, is occupied with detailing deeds of violence,
rapine, and crime; but we must not infer from this that the
influence of these vast organizations was wholly evil. Such extended
and heterogeneous masses of population as those which were spread
over Europe and Asia, in the days of the Romans, could be kept
subject to the necessary restraints of social order only by some
very powerful instrumentality. The legions organized by the Roman
Senate, and stationed here and there throughout the extended
territory, constituted this instrumentality. But still, during far
the greater portion of the time the power which a legion wielded was
power in repose. It accomplished its end by its simple presence, and
by the sentiment of awe which its presence inspired; and the nations
and tribes within the circle of its influence lived in peace, and
pursued their industrial occupations without molestation, protected
by the consciousness which everywhere pervaded the minds of men,
that the Roman power was at hand. The legion hovered, as it were,
like a dark cloud in their horizon, silent and in repose; but
containing, as they well knew, the latent elements of thunder, which
might at any time burst upon their heads. Thus, in its ordinary
operation, its influence was good. Occasionally and incidentally
periods of commotion would occur, when its action was violent,
cruel, and mercilessly evil. Unfortunately, however, for the credit
of the system in the opinion of mankind in subsequent ages, there
was in the good which it effected nothing to narrate; while every
deed of violence and crime which was perpetrated by its agency,
furnished materials for an entertaining and exciting story. The
good which was accomplished extended perhaps through a long, but
monotonous period of quiescence and repose. The evil was brief, but
was attended with a rapid succession of events, and varied by
innumerable incidents; so that the historian was accustomed to pass
lightly over the one, with a few indifferent words of cold
description, while he employed all the force of his genius in
amplifying and adorning the narratives which commemorated the other.
Thus, violent and oppressive as the military rulers were, by whom in
ancient times the world was governed, they were less essentially and
continuously violent and oppressive than the general tenor of
history makes them seem; and their crimes were, in some degree at
least, compensated for and redeemed, by the really useful function
which they generally fulfilled, of restraining and repressing all
disorder and violence except their own.

The Roman legions, in particular, were for many centuries kept in
tolerable subjection to the civil authorities of the capitol; but
they were growing stronger and stronger all the time, and becoming
more and more conscious of their strength. Every new commander who
acquired renown by his victories, added greatly to the importance
and influence of the army in its political relations. The great
Julius Cæsar, in the course of his foreign conquests, and of his
protracted and terrible wars with Pompey, and with his other rivals,
made enormous strides in this direction. Every time that he returned
to Rome at the head of his victorious legions, he overawed the
capitol more and more. Octavius Cæsar, the successor of Julius,
known generally in history by the name of Augustus, completed what
his uncle had begun. He made the military authority, though still
nominally and in form subordinate, in reality paramount and supreme.
The Senate, indeed, continued to assemble, and to exercise its usual
functions. Consuls and other civil magistrates were chosen, and
invested with the insignia of supreme command; and the customary
forms and usages of civil administration, in which the subordination
of the military to the civil power was fully recognized, were all
continued. Still, the actual authority of the civil government was
wholly overawed and overpowered; and the haughty _imperator_
dictated to the Senate, and directed the administration, just as he

It required great genius in the commanders to bring up the army to
this position of ascendency and power; but once up, it sustained
itself there, without the necessity of ability of any kind, or of
any lofty qualities whatever, in those subsequently placed at the
head. In fact, the reader of history has often occasion to be
perfectly amazed at the lengths to which human endurance will go,
when a governmental power of any kind is once established, in
tolerating imbecility and folly in the individual representatives of
it. It seems to be immaterial whether the dominant power assumes the
form of a dynasty of kings, a class of hereditary nobles, or a line
of military generals. It requires genius and statesmanship to
instate it, but, once instated, no degree of stupidity, folly or
crime in those who wield it, seems sufficient to exhaust the spirit
of submission with which man always bows to established power--a
spirit of submission which is so universal, and so patient and
enduring, and which so transcends all the bounds of expediency and
of reason, as to seem like a blind instinct implanted in the very
soul of man by the Author of his being--a constituent and essential
part of his nature as a gregarious animal. In fact, without some
such instinct, it would seem impossible that those extended
communities could be formed and sustained, without which man, if he
could exist at all, could certainly never fully develop his
capacities and powers.

However this may be in theory, it is certain in fact, that the work
of bringing up the military power of ancient Rome to its condition
of supremacy over all the civil functions of government, was the
work of men of the most exalted capacities and powers. Marius and
Sylla, Pompey and Cæsar, Antony and Augustus, evinced, in all their
deeds, a high degree of sagacity, energy, and greatness of soul.
Mankind, though they may condemn their vices and crimes, will never
cease to admire the grandeur of their ambition, and the
magnificence, comprehensiveness, and efficiency of their plans of
action. The whole known world was the theater of their contests, and
the armies which they organized and disciplined, and which they
succeeded at length in bringing under the control of one central and
consolidated command, formed the most extended and imposing
military power that the world had ever seen. It was not only vast in
extent, but permanent and self-sustaining in character. A wide and
complicated, but most effectual system was adopted for maintaining
it. Its discipline was perfect. Its organization was complete. It
was equally trained to remain quietly at home in its city-like
encampments, in time of peace, or to march, or bivouac, or fight, in
time of war. Such a system could be formed only by men possessed of
mental powers of the highest character; but, once formed, it could
afterward sustain itself; and not only so, but it was found capable
of holding up, by its own inherent power, the most imbecile and
incompetent men, as the nominal rulers of it.

Caligula, for example, the brother of Agrippina, and the reigning
emperor at the time of Nero's birth, was a man wholly unfit to
exercise any high command. He was elevated to the post by the
influence of the army, simply because he was the most prominent man
among those who had hereditary claims to the succession, and was
thus the man whom the army could most easily place in the office of
chieftain, and retain most securely there. His life, however, in the
lofty station to which accident thus raised him, was one of
continual folly, vice and crime. He lived generally at Rome, where
he expended the immense revenues that were at his command in the
most wanton and senseless extravagance. In the earlier part of his
career the object of much of his extravagance was the gratification
of the people; but after a time he began to seek only gratifications
for himself, and at length he evinced the most wanton spirit of
malignity and cruelty toward others. He seemed at last actually to
hate the whole human species, and to take pleasure in teasing and
tormenting men, whenever an occasion of any kind occurred to afford
him the opportunity. They were accustomed in those days to have
spectacles and shows in vast amphitheaters which were covered, when
the sun was hot, with awnings. Sometimes when an amphitheater was
crowded with spectators, and the heat of the sun was unusually
powerful, Caligula would order the awnings to be removed and the
doors to be kept closed so as to prevent the egress of the people;
and then he would amuse himself with the indications of discomfort
and suffering which so crowded a concourse in such an exposure would
necessarily exhibit. He kept wild animals for the combats which took
place in these amphitheaters, and when it was difficult to procure
the flesh of sheep and oxen for them, he would feed them with men,
throwing into their dens for this purpose criminals and captives.
Some persons who offended him, he ordered to be branded in the face
with hot irons, by which means they were not only subjected to cruel
torture at the time, but were frightfully disfigured for life.
Sometimes when the sons of noble or distinguished men displeased
him, or when under the influence of his caprice or malignity he
conceived some feeling of hatred toward them, he would order them to
be publicly executed, and he would require their parents to be
present and witness the scene. At one time after such an execution
he required the wretched father of his victim to come and sup with
him at his palace; and while at supper he talked with his guest all
the time, in a light, and jocular, and mirthful manner, in order to
trifle with and insult the mental anguish of the sufferer. At
another time when he had commanded a distinguished senator to be
present at the execution of his son, the senator said that he would
go, in obedience to the emperor's orders, but humbly asked
permission to shut his eyes at the moment of the execution, that he
might be spared the dreadful anguish of witnessing the dying
struggles of his son. The emperor in reply immediately condemned the
father to death for daring to make so audacious a proposal.

Of course the connection of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, with such
a sovereign as this, while it gave her a very high social position
in the Roman community, could not contribute much to her happiness.
In fact all who were connected with Caligula in any way lived in
continual terror, for so wanton and capricious was his cruelty, that
all who were liable to come under his notice at all were in constant
danger. Agrippina herself at one time incurred her brother's
displeasure, though she was fortunate enough to escape with her
life. Caligula discovered, or pretended to discover, a conspiracy
against him, and he accused Agrippina and another of his sisters
named Livilla of being implicated in it. Caligula sent a soldier to
the leader of the conspiracy to cut off his head, and then he
banished his sisters from Rome and shut them up in the island of
Pontia, telling them when they went away, to beware, for he had
swords for them as well as islands, in case of need.

At length Caligula's terrible tyranny was brought to a sudden end by
his assassination; and Agrippina, in consequence of this event was
not only released from her thraldom but raised to a still higher
eminence than she had enjoyed before. The circumstances connected
with these events will be related in the next chapter.



A.D. 40-41

Plots against Caligula.--Cassius Chærea.--Chærea's bravery.--His legion
mutinies.--Chærea escapes the mutineers.--His appearance.--His just
dealings displease the emperor.--Passwords given by Caligula to
Chærea.--Accusation of Propedius.--Quintilia's testimony.--Chærea
alarmed.--Quintilia's private signal.--Quintilia is put to the
torture in vain.--Anger of Chærea.--His determination to destroy
Caligula.--Conspiracy formed.--The confederates.--Various
opinions.--Various plans proposed for destroying Caligula.--Final
determination.--The three days festival.--Brief conversation.--The
recess.--Chærea's duty.--The plan seems likely to fail.--Chærea's
ambuscade.--Minucianus.--Adroit management of the conspirators.--The
Asiatic boys.--Chærea strikes Caligula down.--End of a despot.--General
joy in the palace.--Savage exultation of the conspirators.--Cæsonia and
her child.--They are murdered.--Supposed necessity for destroying the

The emperor Caligula came to his death in the following manner:

Of course his wanton and remorseless tyranny often awakened very
deep feelings of resentment, and very earnest desires for revenge in
the hearts of those who suffered by it; but yet so absolute and
terrible was his power, that none dared to murmur or complain. The
resentment, however, which the cruelty of the emperor awakened,
burned the more fiercely for being thus restrained and suppressed,
and many covert threats were made, and many secret plots were
formed, from time to time, against the tyrant's life.

Among others who cherished such designs, there was a man named
Cassius Chærea, an officer of the army, who, though not of high
rank, was nevertheless a man of considerable distinction. He was a
captain, or, as it was styled in those days, a centurion. His
command, therefore, was small, but it was in the prætorian cohort,
as it was called, a sort of body-guard of the commander-in-chief,
and consequently a very honorable corps. Chærea was thus a man of
considerable distinction on account of the post which he occupied,
and his duties, as captain in the life-guards, brought him very
frequently into communication with the emperor. He was a man of
great personal bravery, too, and was on this account held in high
consideration by the army. He had performed an exploit at one time,
some years before, in Germany, which had gained him great fame. It
was at the time of the death of Augustus, the first emperor. Some of
the German legions, and among them one in which Chærea was serving,
had seized upon the occasion to revolt. They alledged many and
grievous acts of oppression as the grounds of their revolt, and
demanded redress for what they had suffered, and security for the
future. One of the first measures which they resorted to in the
frenzy of the first outbreak of the rebellion, was to seize all the
centurions in the camp, and to beat them almost to death. They gave
them sixty blows each, one for each of their number, and then turned
them, bruised, wounded, and dying, out of the camp. Some they threw
into the Rhine. They revenged themselves thus on all the centurions
but one. That one was Chærea. Chærea would not suffer himself to be
taken by them, but seizing his sword he fought his way through the
midst of them, slaying some and driving others before him, and thus
made his escape from the camp. This feat gained him great renown.

One might imagine from this account that Chærea was a man of great
personal superiority in respect to size and strength, inasmuch as
extraordinary muscular power, as well as undaunted courage, would
seem to be required to enable a man to make his way against so many
enemies. But this was not the fact. Chærea was of small stature and
of a slender and delicate form. He was modest and unassuming in his
manners, too, and of a very kind and gentle spirit. He was thus not
only honored and admired for his courage, but he was generally
beloved for the amiable and excellent qualities of his heart.

The possession of such qualities, however, could not be expected to
recommend him particularly to the favor of the emperor. In fact, in
one instance it had the contrary effect. Caligula assigned to the
centurions of his guard, at one period, some duties connected with
the collection of taxes. Chærea, instead of practicing the extortion
and cruelty common on such occasions, was merciful and considerate,
and governed himself strictly by the rules of law and of justice in
his collections. The consequence necessarily was that the amount of
money received was somewhat diminished, and the emperor was
displeased. The occasion was, however, not one of sufficient
importance to awaken in the monarch's mind any very serious anger,
and so, instead of inflicting any heavy punishment upon the
offender, he contented himself with attempting to tease and torment
him with sundry vexatious indignities and annoyances.

It is the custom sometimes, in camps, and at other military
stations, for the commander to give every evening, what is called
the _parole_ or password, which consists usually of some word or
phrase that is to be communicated to all the officers, and as
occasion may require to all the soldiers, whom for any reason it may
be necessary to send to and fro about the precincts of the camp
during the night. The sentinels, also, all have the password, and
accordingly, whenever any man approaches the post of a sentinel, he
is stopped and the parole is demanded. If the stranger gives it
correctly, it is presumed that all is right, and he is allowed to
pass on,--since an enemy or a spy would have no means of knowing it.

Now, whenever it came to Chærea's turn to communicate the parole,
the emperor was accustomed to give him some ridiculous or indecent
phrase, intended not only to be offensive to the purity of Chærea's
mind, but designed, also, to exhibit him in a ridiculous light to
the subordinate officers and soldiers to whom he would have to
communicate it. Sometimes the password thus given was some word or
phrase wholly unfit to be spoken, and sometimes it was the name of
some notorious and infamous woman; but whatever it was, Chærea was
compelled by his duty as a soldier to deliver it to all the corps,
and patiently to submit to the laughter and derision which his
communication awakened among the vile and wicked soldiery.

If there was any dreadful punishment to be inflicted, or cruel deed
of any kind to be performed, Caligula took great pleasure in
assigning the duty to Chærea, knowing how abhorrent to his nature it
must be. At one time a senator of great distinction named Propedius,
was accused of treason by one of his enemies. His treason consisted,
as the accuser alledged, of having spoken injurious words against
the emperor. Propedius denied that he had ever spoken such words.
The accuser, whose name was Timidius, cited a certain Quintilia, an
actress, as his witness. Propedius was accordingly brought to trial,
and Quintilia was called upon before the judges to give her
testimony. She denied that she had ever heard Propedius utter any
such sentiment as Timidius attributed to him. Timidius then said
that Quintilia was testifying falsely: he declared that she had
heard Propedius utter such words, and demanded that she should be
put to the torture to compel her to acknowledge it. The emperor
acceded to this demand, and commanded Chærea to put the actress to
the torture.

It is, of course, always difficult to ascertain the precise truth in
respect to such transactions as those that are connected with plots
and conspiracies against tyrants, since every possible precaution
is, of course, taken by all concerned to conceal what is done. It is
probable, however, in this case, that Propedius had cherished some
hostile designs against Caligula, if he had not uttered injurious
words, and that Quintilia was in some measure in his confidence. It
is even possible that Chærea may have been connected with them in
some secret design, for it is said that when he received the orders
of Caligula to put Quintilia to the torture he was greatly agitated
and alarmed. If he should apply the torture severely, he feared that
the unhappy sufferer might be induced to make confessions or
statements at least, which would bring destruction on the men whom
he most relied upon for the overthrow of Caligula. On the other
hand, if he should attempt to spare her, the effect would be only to
provoke the anger of Caligula against himself, without at all
shielding or saving her. As, however, he was proceeding to the place
of torture, in charge of his victim, with his mind in this state of
anxiety and indecision, his fears were somewhat relieved by a
private signal given to him by Quintilia, by which she intimated to
him that he need feel no concern,--that she would be faithful and
true, and would reveal nothing, whatever might be done to her.

This assurance, while it allayed in some degree Chærea's anxieties
and fears, must have greatly increased the mental distress which he
endured at the idea of leading such a woman to the awful suffering
which awaited her. He could not, however, do otherwise than to
proceed. Having arrived at the place of execution, the wretched
Quintilia was put to the rack. She bore the agony which she endured
while her limbs were stretched on the torturing engine, and her
bones broken, with patient submission, to the end. She was then
carried, fainting, helpless, and almost dead, to Caligula, who
seemed now satisfied. He ordered the unhappy victim of the torture
to be taken away, and directed that Propedius should be acquitted
and discharged.

Of course while passing through this scene the mind of Chærea was in
a tumult of agitation and excitement,--the anguish of mind which he
must have felt in his compassion for the sufferer, mingling and
contending with the desperate indignation which burned in his bosom
against the author of all these miseries. He was wrought up, in
fact, to such a state of frenzy by this transaction, that as soon as
it was over he determined immediately to take measures to put
Caligula to death. This was a very bold and desperate resolution.
Caligula was the greatest and most powerful potentate on earth.
Chærea was only a captain of his guard, without any political
influence or power, and with no means whatever of screening himself
from the terrible consequences which might be expected to follow
from his attempt, whether it should succeed or fail.

So thoroughly, however, was he now aroused, that he determined to
brave every danger in the attainment of his end. He immediately
began to seek out among the officers of the army such men as he
supposed would be most likely to join him,--men of courage,
resolution, and faithfulness, and those who, from their general
character or from the wrongs which they had individually endured
from the government, were to be supposed specially hostile to
Caligula's dominion. From among these men he selected a few, and to
them he cautiously unfolded his designs. All approved of them. Some,
it is true, declined taking any active part in the conspiracy, but
they assured Chærea of their good wishes, and promised solemnly not
to betray him.

The number of the conspirators daily increased. There was, however,
at their meetings for consultation, some difference of opinion in
respect to the course to be pursued. Some were in favor of acting
promptly and at once. The greatest danger which was to be
apprehended, they thought, was in delay. As the conspiracy became
extended, some one would at length come to the knowledge of it, they
said, who would betray them. Others, on the other hand, were for
proceeding cautiously and slowly. What they most feared was rash and
inconsiderate action. It would be ruinous to the enterprise, as they
maintained, for them to attempt to act before their plans were fully

Chærea was of the former opinion. He was very impatient to have the
deed performed. He was ready himself, he said, to perform it, at any
time; his personal duties as an officer of the guard, gave him
frequent occasions of access to the emperor, and he was ready to
avail himself of any of them to kill the monster. The emperor went
often, he said, to the capitol, to offer sacrifices, and he could
easily kill him there. Or, if they thought that that was too public
an occasion, he could have an opportunity in the palace, at certain
religious ceremonies which the emperor was accustomed to perform
there, and at which Chærea himself was usually present. Or, he was
ready to throw him down from a tower where he was accustomed to go
sometimes for the purpose of scattering money among the populace
below. Chærea said that he could easily come up behind him on such
an occasion, and hurl him suddenly over the parapet down to the
pavement below. All these plans, however, seemed to the conspirators
too uncertain and dangerous, and Chærea's proposals were accordingly
not agreed to.

At length, the time drew near when Caligula was to leave Rome to
proceed to Alexandria in Egypt, and the conspirators perceived that
they must prepare to act, or else abandon their design altogether.
It had been arranged that there was to be a grand celebration at
Rome previous to the emperor's departure. This celebration, which
was to consist of games, and sports, and dramatic performances of
various kinds, was to continue for three days, and the conspirators
determined, after much consultation and debate, that Caligula should
be assassinated on one of those days.

After coming to this conclusion, however, in general, their hearts
seemed to fail them in fixing the precise time for the perpetration
of the deed, and two of the three days passed away accordingly
without any attempt being made. At length, on the morning of the
third day, Chærea called the chief conspirators together, and urged
them very earnestly not to let the present opportunity pass away. He
represented to them how greatly they increased the danger of their
attempts by such delays, and he seemed himself so full of
determination and courage, and addressed them with so much eloquence
and power, that he inspired them with his own resolution, and they
decided unanimously to proceed.

The emperor came to the theater that day at an unusually early hour,
and seemed to be in excellent spirits and in an excellent humor. He
was very complaisant to all around him, and very lively, affable,
and gay. After performing certain ceremonies, by which it devolved
upon him to open the festivities of the day, he proceeded to his
place, with his friends and favorites about him, and Chærea, with
the other officers that day on guard, at a little distance behind

The performances were commenced, and every thing went on as usual
until toward noon. The conspirators kept their plans profoundly
secret, except that one of them, when he had taken his seat by the
side of a distinguished senator, asked him whether he had heard any
thing new. The senator replied that he had not. "I can then tell you
something," said he, "which perhaps you have not heard, and that is,
that in the piece which is to be acted to-day, there is to be
represented the death of a tyrant." "Hush!" said the senator, and he
quoted a verse from Homer, which meant, "Be silent, lest some Greek
should overhear."

It had been the usual custom of the emperor, at such entertainments,
to take a little recess about noon, for rest and refreshments. It
devolved upon Chærea to wait upon him at this time, and to conduct
him from his place in the theater to an adjoining apartment in his
palace which was connected with the theater, where there was
provided a bath and various refreshments. When the time arrived,
and Chærea perceived, as he thought, that the emperor was about to
go, he himself went out, and stationed himself in a passage-way
leading to the bath, intending to intercept and assassinate the
emperor when he should come along. The emperor, however, delayed his
departure, having fallen into conversation with his courtiers and
friends, and finally he said that, on the whole, as it was the last
day of the festival, he would not go out to the bath, but would
remain in the theater; and then ordering refreshments to be brought
to him there, he proceeded to distribute them with great urbanity to
the officers around him.

In the mean time, Chærea was patiently waiting in the passage-way,
with his sword by his side, all ready for striking the blow the
moment that his victim should appear. Of course the conspirators who
remained behind were in a state of great suspense and anxiety, and
one of them, named Minucianus, determined to go out and inform
Chærea of the change in Caligula's plans. He accordingly attempted
to rise, but Caligula put his hand upon his robe, saying, "Sit
still, my friend. You shall go with me presently." Minucianus
accordingly dissembled his anxiety and agitation of mind still a
little longer, but presently, watching an opportunity when the
emperor's attention was otherwise engaged, he rose, and, assuming an
unconcerned and careless air, he walked out of the theater.

He found Chærea in his ambuscade in the passage-way, and he
immediately informed him that the emperor had concluded not to come
out. Chærea and Minucianus were then greatly at a loss what to do.
Some of the other conspirators, who had followed Minucianus out, now
joined them, and a brief but very earnest and solemn consultation
ensued. After a moment's hesitation, Chærea declared that they must
now go through with their work at all hazards, and he professed
himself ready, if his comrades would sustain him in it, to go back
to the theater, and stab the tyrant there in his seat, in the midst
of his friends. Minucianus and the others concurred in this design,
and it was resolved immediately to execute it.

The execution of the plan, however, in the precise form in which it
had been resolved upon was prevented by a new turn which affairs
had taken in the theater. For while Minucianus and the two or three
conspirators who had accompanied him were debating in the
passage-way, the others who remained, knowing that Chærea was
expecting Caligula to go out, conceived the idea of attempting to
persuade him to go, and thus to lead him into the snare which had
been set for him. They accordingly gathered around, and without any
appearance of concert or of eagerness, began to recommend him to go
and take his bath as usual. He seemed at length disposed to yield to
these persuasions, and rose from his seat; and then, the whole
company attending and following him, he proceeded toward the doors
which conducted to the palace. The conspirators went before him, and
under pretense of clearing the way for him they contrived to remove
to a little distance all whom they thought would be most disposed to
render him any assistance. The consultations of Chærea and those who
were with him in the inner passage-way were interrupted by the
coming of this company.

Among those who walked with the emperor at this time were his uncle
Claudius and other distinguished relatives. Caligula advanced along
the passage, walking in company with these friends, and wholly
unconscious of the fate that awaited him, but instead of going
immediately toward the bath he turned aside first into a gallery or
corridor which led into another apartment, where there were
assembled a company of boys and girls, that had been sent to him
from Asia to act and dance upon the stage, and who had just arrived.
The emperor took great interest in looking at these performers, and
seemed desirous of having them go immediately into the theater and
let him see them perform. While talking on this subject Chærea and
the other conspirators came into the apartment, determined now to
strike the blow.

Chærea advanced to the emperor, and asked him in the usual manner
what should be the parole for that night. The emperor gave him in
reply such an one as he had often chosen before, to insult and
degrade him. Chærea instead of receiving the insult meekly and
patiently in his usual manner, uttered words of anger and defiance
in reply; and drawing his sword at the same instant he struck the
emperor across the neck and felled him to the floor. Caligula filled
the apartment with his cries of pain and terror; the other
conspirators rushed in and attacked him on all sides; his
friends,--so far as the adherents of such a man can be called
friends,--fled in dismay. As for Caligula's uncle Claudius, it was
not to have been expected that he would have rendered his nephew any
aid, for he was a man of such extraordinary mental imbecility that
he was usually considered as not possessed even of common sense; and
all the others who might have been expected to defend him, either
fled from the scene, or stood by in consternation and amazement,
leaving the conspirators to wreak their vengeance on their wretched
victim, to the full.

In fact though while a despot lives and retains his power, thousands
are ready to defend him and to execute his will, however much in
heart they may hate and detest him, yet when he is dead, or when it
is once certain that he is about to die, an instantaneous change
takes place and every one turns against him. The multitudes in and
around the theater and the palace who had an hour before trembled
before this mighty potentate, and seemed to live only to do his
bidding, were filled with joy to see him brought to the dust. The
conspirators, when the success of their plans and the death of their
oppressor was once certain, abandoned themselves to the most
extravagant joy. They cut and stabbed the fallen body again and
again, as if they could never enough wreak their vengeance upon it.
They cut off pieces of the body and bit them with their teeth in
their savage exultation and triumph. At length they left the body
where it lay, and went forth into the city where all was now of
course tumult and confusion.

The body remained where it had fallen until late at night. Then some
attendants of the palace came and conveyed it away. They were sent,
it was said, by Cæsonia, the wife of the murdered man. Cæsonia had
an infant daughter at this time, and she remained herself with the
child, in a retired apartment of the palace while these things were
transpiring. Distracted with grief and terror at the tidings that
she heard, she clung to her babe, and made the arrangements for the
interment of the body of her husband without leaving its cradle. She
imagined perhaps that there was no reason for supposing that she or
the child were in any immediate danger, and accordingly she took no
measures toward effecting an escape. If so, she did not understand
the terrible frenzy to which the conspirators had been aroused, and
for which the long series of cruelties and indignities which they
had endured from her husband had prepared them. For at midnight one
of them broke into her apartment, stabbed the mother in her chair,
and taking the innocent infant from its cradle, killed it by beating
its head against the wall.

[Illustration: CÆSONIA.]

Atrocious as this deed may seem, it was not altogether wanton and
malignant cruelty which prompted it. The conspirators intended by
the assassination of Caligula not merely to wreak their vengeance on
a single man, but to bring to an end a hated race of tyrants; and
they justified the murder of the wife and child by the plea that
stern political necessity required them to exterminate the line, in
order that no successor might subsequently arise to re-establish the
power and renew the tyranny which they had brought to an end. The
history of monarchies is continually presenting us with instances of
innocent and helpless children sacrificed to such a supposed
necessity as this.



A.D. 41-47

Ultimate design of the conspirators.--Effect produced by the tidings of
Caligula's death.--Chærea and the conspirators secrete themselves.--The
senate is convened.--Two parties formed.--Account of Claudius.--His
apparent imbecility.--Every one against him.--Mode of teasing him.--His
situation and position at court.--The wives of Claudius.--His son
strangled by a pear.--Claudius terrified.--His hiding place.--He
is discovered by a soldier.--Claudius proclaimed emperor.--His
surprise.--He is borne to the camp and proclaimed emperor.--Agrippina
recalled.--Messalina.--Messalina's intrigues.--Her hatred of
Silanus.--Plan for destroying Silanus.--Narcissus's pretended
dream.--Messalina's confirmation of it.--Claudius alarmed.--Silanus
is executed.--Unbounded influence of Messalina.--Caius
Silius.--Messalina's attachment to him.--Hesitation of Silius.--His
decision.--Claudius.--Public works at Ostia.--The obelisk.--Immense
ship.--Messalina continues her wicked career.--Silius intoxicated
with his elevation.

In the assassination of Caligula, the conspirators who combined to
perpetrate the deed, had a much deeper design than that of merely
gratifying their personal resentment and rage against an individual
tyrant. They wished to effect a permanent change in the government,
by putting down the army from the position of supreme and despotic
authority which it had assumed, and restoring the dominion to the
Roman Senate, and to the other civil authorities of the city, as it
had been exercised by them in former years. Of course, the death of
Caligula was the commencement, not the end, of the great struggle.
The whole country was immediately divided into two parties. There
was the party of the Senate, and the party of the army; and a long
and bitter conflict ensued. It was for some time doubtful which
would win the day.

In fact, immediately after Caligula was killed, and the tidings of
his death began to spread about the palace and into the streets of
the city, a considerable tumult arose, the precursor and earnest of
the dissensions that were to follow. Upon the first alarm, a body of
the emperor's guards that had been accustomed to attend upon his
person, and whom he had strongly attached to himself by his lavish
generosity in bestowing presents and rewards upon them, rushed
forward to defend him, or if it should prove too late to defend him,
to avenge his death. These soldiers ran toward the palace, and when
they found that the emperor had been killed, they were furious with
rage, and fell upon all whom they met, and actually slew several
men. Tidings came to the theater, and the word was spread from rank
to rank among the people that the emperor was slain. The people did
not, however, at first, believe the story. They supposed that the
report was a cunning contrivance of the emperor himself, intended to
entrap them into some expression of pleasure and gratification, on
their part, at his death, in order to give him an excuse for
inflicting some cruel punishment upon them. The noise and tumult in
the streets soon convinced them, however, that something
extraordinary had occurred; they learned that the news of the
emperor's death was really true, and almost immediately afterward
they found, to their consternation, that the furious guards were
thundering at the gates of the theater, and endeavoring to force
their way in, in order to wreak their vengeance on the assembly, as
if the spectators at the show were accomplices of the crime.

In the mean time Chærea and the other chief conspirators had fled to
a secret place of retreat, where they now lay concealed. As soon as
they had found that the object of their vengeance was really dead,
and when they had satisfied themselves with the pleasure of cutting
and stabbing the lifeless body, they stole away to the house of one
of their friends in the neighborhood, where they could lie for a
time secreted in safety. The life-guards sought for them everywhere,
but could not find them. The streets were filled with tumult and
confusion. Rumors of every kind, false and true, spread in all
directions, and increased the excitement. At length, however, the
consuls, who were the chief magistrates of the republic, succeeded
in organizing a force and in restoring order. They took possession
of the forum and of the capitol and posted sentinels and guards
along the streets. They compelled the emperor's guards to desist
from their violence, and retire. They sent a herald clothed in
mourning into the theater, to announce officially to the people the
event which had occurred, and to direct them to repair quietly to
their homes. Having taken these preliminary measures they
immediately called the Senate together, to deliberate on the
emergency which had occurred, and to decide what should next be
done. In the mean time the emperor's guards, having withdrawn from
the streets of the city, retired to their camp and joined their
comrades. Thus there were two vast powers organized--that of the
army in the camp, and that of the Senate in the city--each jealous
of the other, and resolute in its determination not to yield, in the
approaching conflict.

In times of sudden and violent revolution like that which attended
the death of Caligula, the course which public affairs are to take,
and the question who is to rise and who is to fall, seem often to be
decided by utter accident. It was strikingly so in this instance, in
respect to the selection, on the part of the army, of the man who
was to take the post of supreme command in the place of the murdered
emperor. The choice fell on Claudius, Agrippina's uncle. It fell
upon him, too, as it would seem, by the merest chance, in the
following very extraordinary manner.

Claudius, as has already been said, was Caligula's uncle; and as
Caligula and Agrippina were brother and sister, he was, of course,
Agrippina's uncle too. He was at this time about fifty years of age,
and he was universally ridiculed and contemned on account of his
great mental and personal inferiority. He was weak and ill-formed at
his birth, so that even his mother despised him. She called him "an
unfinished little monster," and whenever she wished to express her
contempt for any one in respect to his understanding, she used to
say, "You are as stupid as my son Claudius." In a word, Claudius was
extremely unfortunate in every respect, so far as natural endowments
are concerned. His countenance was very repulsive, his figure was
ungainly, his manners were awkward, his voice was disagreeable, and
he had an impediment in his speech. In fact, he was considered in
his youth as almost an idiot. He was not allowed to associate with
the other Roman boys of his age, but was kept apart, in some
secluded portion of the palace, with women and slaves, where he was
treated with so much cruelty and neglect that what little spirit
nature had given him was crushed and destroyed. In fact, by common
consent all seemed to take pleasure in teasing and tormenting him.
Sometimes, when he was coming to the table at an entertainment, the
other guests would combine to exclude him from the seats, in order
to enjoy his distress as he ran about from one part of the table to
another, endeavoring to find a place. If they found him asleep they
would pelt him with olives and dates, or awaken him with the blow of
a rod or a whip; and sometimes they would stealthily put his sandals
upon his hands while he was asleep, in order that when he awoke
suddenly they might amuse themselves with seeing him rub his face
and eyes with them.

After all, however, the inferiority of Claudius was not really so
great as it seemed. He was awkward and ungainly, no doubt, to the
last degree; but he possessed some considerable capacity for
intellectual pursuits and attainments, and as he was pretty
effectually driven away from society by the jests and ridicule to
which he was subjected, he devoted a great deal of time in his
retirement to study, and to other useful pursuits. He made
considerable progress in the efforts which he thus made to cultivate
his mind. He, however, failed to acquire the respect of those around
him; and as he grew up he seemed to be considered utterly incapable
of performing any useful function; and during the time when his
nephew Caligula was emperor, he remained at court, among the other
nobles, but still neglected and despised by all of them. It is said
that he probably owed the preservation of his life to his
insignificance, as Caligula would probably have found some pretext
for destroying him, if he had not thought him too spiritless and
imbecile to form any ambitious plans. In fact, Claudius said himself
afterward, when he became emperor, that a great part of his apparent
simplicity was feigned, as a measure of prudence, to protect himself
from injury. When Claudius grew up he was married several times. The
wife who was living with him at the time of Caligula's death was his
third wife; her name was Valeria Messalina. She was his cousin.
Claudius and Messalina had one child--a daughter, named Octavia.
Claudius had been extremely unhappy in his connection with the wives
preceding Messalina. He had quarreled with them and been divorced
from them both. He had had a daughter by one of these wives and a
son by the other. The son was suddenly killed by getting choked with
a small pear. He had been throwing it into the air and attempting to
catch it in his mouth as it came down, when at last it slipped down
into his throat and strangled him. As for the daughter, Claudius was
so exasperated with her mother at the time of his divorce from her,
that he determined to disown and reject the child; so he ordered the
terrified girl to be stripped naked, and to be sent and laid down in
that condition at her wretched mother's door.

Claudius, as has already been stated, was present with Caligula at
the theater, on the last day of the spectacle, and followed him into
the palace when he went to look at the Asiatic captives; so that he
was present, or at least very near, at the time of his nephew's
assassination. As might have been expected from what has been said
of his character, he was overwhelmed with consternation and terror
at the scene, and was utterly incapacitated from taking any part,
either for or against the conspirators. He stole away in great
fright and hid himself behind the hangings in a dark recess in the
palace. Here he remained for some time, listening in an agony of
anxiety and suspense to the sounds which he heard around him. He
could hear the cries and the tumult in the streets, and in the
passages of the palace. Parties of the guards, in going to and fro,
passed by the place of his retreat from time to time, alarming him
with the clangor of their weapons, and their furious exclamations
and outcries. At one time peeping stealthily out, he saw a group of
soldiers hurrying along with a bleeding head on the point of a pike.
It was the head of a prominent citizen of Rome whom the guards had
intercepted and killed, supposing him to be one of the conspirators.
This spectacle greatly increased Claudius's terror. He was wholly in
the dark in respect to the motives and the designs of the men who
had thus revolted against his nephew, and it was of course
impossible for him to know how he himself would be regarded by
either party. He did not dare, therefore, to surrender himself to
either, but remained in his concealment, suffering great anxiety,
and utterly unable to decide what to do.


At length, while he was in this situation of uncertainty and terror,
a common soldier of the guards, named Epirius, who happened to pass
that way, accidentally saw his feet beneath the hangings, and
immediately, pulling the hangings aside, dragged him out to view.
Claudius supposed now, of course, that his hour was come. He fell on
his knees in an agony of terror, and begged the soldier to spare his
life. The soldier, when he found that his prisoner was Claudius, the
uncle of Caligula, raised him from the ground and saluted him
emperor. As Caligula left no son, Epirius considered Claudius as his
nearest relative, and consequently as the heir. Epirius immediately
summoned others of the guard to the place, saying that he had found
the new emperor, and calling upon them to assist in conveying him to
the camp. The soldiers thus summoned procured a chair, and having
placed the astonished Claudius in it, they raised the chair upon
their shoulders, and began to convey it away. As they bore him thus
along the streets, the people who saw them supposed that they were
taking him to execution, and they lamented his unhappy fate.
Claudius himself knew not what to believe. He could not but hope
that his life was to be saved, but then he could not wholly dispel
his fears.

In the mean time, the soldiers went steadily forward with their
burden. When one set of bearers became fatigued, they set down the
chair, and others relieved them. No one molested them, or attempted
to intercept them in their progress, and at length they reached the
camp. Claudius was well received by the whole body of the army. The
officers held a consultation that night, and determined to make him
emperor. At first he was extremely unwilling to accept the proffered
honor, but they urged it upon him, and he was at length induced to
accept it. Thus the army was once more provided with a head, and
prepared to engage anew in its conflict with the civil authorities
of the city.

The particulars of the conflict that ensued we can not here
describe. It is sufficient to say that the army prevailed, and that
Claudius soon found himself in full possession of the power from
which his nephew had been so suddenly deposed.

One of the first measures which the new emperor adopted, was to
recall Agrippina from her banishment at Pontia, where Caligula had
confined her, and restore her to her former position in Rome. Her
husband, Brazenbeard, died about this time, and young Brazenbeard,
her son, afterward called Nero, the subject of this history, was
three years old. Octavia, the daughter of Claudius and Messalina,
was a little younger.

Messalina, the wife of Claudius, hated Agrippina, considering her,
as she did, her rival and enemy. The favor which Claudius showed to
Agrippina, in recalling her from her banishment, and treating her
with consideration and favor at Rome, only inflamed still more
Messalina's hatred. She could not, however, succeed in inducing
Claudius to withdraw his protection from his niece; for Claudius,
though almost entirely subject to the influence and control of his
wife in most things, seemed fully determined not to yield to her
wishes in this. Agrippina continued, therefore, to live at Rome, in
high favor with the court, for several years,--her little son
advancing all the time in age and in maturity, until at length he
became twelve years old. At this time, another great change took
place in his own and his mother's condition. Messalina became
herself, by her wickedness and infatuation, the means of raising her
rival into her own place as wife of the emperor. The result was
accomplished in the following manner.

Messalina had long been a very dissolute and wicked woman, having
been accustomed to give herself up to criminal indulgences and
pleasures of every kind, in company with favorites whom she selected
from time to time among the courtiers around her. For a time she
managed these intrigues with some degree of caution and secrecy, in
order to conceal her conduct from her husband. She gradually,
however, became more and more open and bold. She possessed a great
ascendency over the mind of her husband, and could easily deceive
him, or induce him to do whatever she pleased. She persuaded him to
confer honors and rewards in a very liberal manner upon those whom
she favored, and to degrade, and sometimes even to destroy, those
who displeased her. She would occasionally resort to very cunning
artifices to accomplish her ends. For example, she conceived at one
time a violent hatred against the husband of her mother. His name
was Silanus. He was not the father of Messalina, but a second
husband of Messalina's mother; and, being young and attractive in
person, Messalina at first loved him, and intended to make him one
of her favorites and companions. Silanus, however, would not accede
to her wishes, and her love for him was then changed into hatred and
thirst for revenge. She accordingly determined on his destruction;
but as she knew that it would be difficult to induce Claudius to
proceed to extremities against him, on account of his intimate
relationship to the family, she contrived a very artful plot to
accomplish her ends. It was this:

She sent word to Silanus, on a certain evening, that the emperor
wished him to come to the palace, to his private apartment, the next
morning, at a very early hour. The emperor wished to see him, the
messenger said, on business of importance.

Just before the time which had been appointed for Silanus to appear,
a certain officer of the household, named Narcissus, whom Messalina
had engaged to assist her in her plot, came into the emperor's
apartment, with an anxious countenance, and in a very hurried
manner, and said to Claudius, whom he waked out of sleep by his
coming, that he had had a very frightful dream--one which he deemed
it his duty to make known to his master without any delay. He
dreamed, he said, that a plot had been formed for assassinating the
emperor; that Silanus was the contriver of it, and that he was
coming early that morning to carry his design into effect.
Messalina, who was present with her husband at the time, listened to
this story with well-feigned anxiety and agitation, and then
declared, with a countenance of great mysteriousness and solemnity,
that she had had precisely the same dream for two or three nights in
succession, but that, not being willing to do Silanus an injury, or
to raise any unjust suspicions against him, she had thus far
forborne to speak of the subject to her husband. She was, however,
now convinced, she said, that Silanus was really entertaining some
treasonable designs, and that the dreams were tokens sent from
heaven to warn the emperor of his danger.

Claudius, who was of an extremely timid and nervous temperament, was
very much alarmed by these communications; and his terrors were
greatly increased by the appearance of a servant who announced to
him at that moment that Silanus was then coming in. The coming of
Silanus to the palace at that unseasonable hour was considered by
the emperor as full confirmation of the dreams which had been
related to him, and as proof of the guilt of the accused; and under
the impulse of the sudden passion and fear which this conviction
awakened in his mind, he ordered Silanus to be seized and led away
to immediate execution. These commands were obeyed. Silanus was
hurried away and dispatched by the swords of the soldiers, without
ever knowing what the accusation was that had been made against him.

Thus Messalina succeeded by artifice and cunning in accomplishing
her ends, in cases where she could not rely on her direct influence
upon the mind of the emperor. In one way or the other she almost
always effected whatever she undertook, and gradually came to
exercise almost supreme control. Whom she would she raised up, and
whom she would she put down. In the mean time she lived herself, a
life of the most guilty indulgence and pleasure. For a long time she
concealed her wickedness from the emperor. He was very easily
deceived, and though Messalina's character was perfectly well known
to others, he himself continued blind to her guilt. At length,
however, she began to grow more and more bold. She became satiated,
as one of her historians says of her, with the common and ordinary
forms of vice, and wished for something new and unusual to give
piquancy and life to her sensations. At length, however, she went
one step too far, and brought upon herself in consequence of it a
terrible destruction.

It was about seven years after the accession of Claudius that the
event occurred. The favorite of Messalina at this time was a young
Roman senator named Caius Silius. Silius was a very distinguished
young nobleman, and a man of handsome person and of very graceful
and accomplished manners and address. He was in fact a very general
favorite, and Messalina, when she first saw him, conceived a very
strong affection for him. He was, however, already married to a
beautiful Roman lady named Junia Silana. Silana had been, and was
still at this time, an intimate friend of Agrippina, Nero's mother;
though in subsequent times they became bitter enemies. Messalina
made no secret of her love for Silius. She visited him freely at his
house, and received his visits in return; she accompanied him to
public places, evincing everywhere her strong regard for him in the
most undisguised and open manner. At length she proposed to him to
divorce his wife, in order that she herself might enjoy his society
without any limitation or restraint. Silius hesitated for a time
about complying with these proposals. He was well aware that he must
necessarily incur great danger, either by complying or by refusing
to comply with them. To accede to the empress's proposals, would be
of course to place himself in a position of extreme peril; and the
fate of Silanus was a warning to him of what he had to fear from her
wrath, in case of a refusal. He concluded that the former danger was
on the whole the least to be apprehended, and he accordingly
divorced his wife, and gave himself up wholly to Messalina's will.

This arrangement being made, all things for a time went on smoothly
and well. Claudius himself lived a very secluded life, and paid very
little attention to his wife's pursuits or pleasures. He lived
sometimes in retirement in his palace, devoting his time to his
studies, or to the plans and measures of government. He seems to
have honestly desired to promote the welfare and prosperity of the
republic, and he made many useful regulations and laws which
promised to be conducive to this end. Sometimes he was absent for a
season from the city,--visiting fortresses and encampments, or
inspecting the public works, such as aqueducts and canals, which
were in progress of construction. He was particularly interested in
certain operations which he planned and conducted at the mouths of
the Tiber for forming a harbor there. The place was called Ostia,
that word in the Latin tongue denoting _mouths_. To form a port
there he built two long piers, extending them in a curvilinear form
into the sea, so as to inclose a large area of water between them,
where ships could lie at anchor in safety. Light-houses were built
at the extremities of these piers. It is a curious circumstance that
in forming the foundation of one of these piers, the engineers whom
Claudius employed sunk an immense ship which Caligula had formerly
caused to be built for the purpose of transporting an obelisk from
Egypt to Rome,--the obelisk which now stands in front of St. Peter's
Church, and is the admiration and wonder of all visitors to Rome. As
the obelisk was formed of a single stone, a vessel of a very large
size and of an unusual construction was necessary for the
conveyance of it; and when this ship had once delivered its
monstrous burden, it had no longer any useful function to perform on
the surface of the sea, and the engineers accordingly filled it with
stones and gravel, and sunk it at the mouth of the Tiber, to form
part of the foundation of one of Claudius's piers. As it is found
that there is no perceptible decay, even for centuries, in timber
that is kept constantly submerged in the water of the sea, it is not
impossible that the vast hulk, unless marine insects have devoured
it and carried it away, lies imbedded where Claudius placed it,

While the emperor was engaged in these and similar pursuits and
occupations, Messalina went on in her career of dissipation and
indulgence from bad to worse, growing more and more bold and open
every day. She lived in a constant round of entertainments and of
gayety--sometimes receiving companies of guests at her own palace,
and sometimes making visits with a large retinue of attendants and
friends, at the house of Silius. Of course, every one paid court to
Silius, and assumed, in their intercourse with him, every appearance
that they entertained for him the most friendly regard. It is
always so with the favorites of the great. While in heart they are
hated and despised, in form and appearance they are caressed and
applauded. Silius was intoxicated with the emotions that the giddy
elevation to which he had arrived so naturally inspired. He was not,
however, wholly at his ease. He could not but be aware that lofty as
his position was, it was the brink of a precipice that he stood
upon. Still he shut his eyes in a great measure to his danger and
went blindly on. The catastrophe, which came very suddenly at last,
will form the subject of the next chapter.



A.D. 48

Silius forms a scheme for making himself emperor.--He proposes
his plan to Messalina.--Messalina's reply.--Her motives.--Her
proposal.--Audacity of Messalina in this proposal.--The false marriage
is celebrated.--Indignation of the emperor's friends.--Plot formed
for Messalina's destruction.--Plans and arrangements of the
conspirators.--Their hesitation.--Calpurnia.--Motives addressed to
her.--Calpurnia and Cleopatra undertake their task.--Messalina's
festival in the palace gardens.--Calpurnia's interview with Claudius
at Ostia.--Claudius is exceedingly terrified.--The statement of
Narcissus.--Council called.--Measures adopted by Claudius and the
conspirators.--Messalina receives warning.--Scene in the
garden.--Silius withdraws.--Messalina's anxiety.--Messalina's
course of action.--Her two children.--She proceeds to meet the
emperor.--Her entreaties.--Claudius will not hear her.--Vibidia
repulsed.--Executions.--Claudius at supper.--Messalina's
letter.--Claudius relents.--Alarm of Narcissus.--Narcissus orders
Messalina to be slain.--Interview between Messalina and her mother
in the garden.--Indifference of Claudius in respect to Messalina's
fate.--Claudius marries Agrippina.--Adoption of her son.

As might naturally have been expected, there were two very different
emotions awakened in the mind of Silius by the situation in which he
found himself placed with Messalina,--one was ambition, and the
other was fear. Finding himself suddenly raised to the possession of
so high a degree of consideration and influence, it was natural that
he should look still higher, and begin to wish for actual and
official power. And then, on the other hand, his uneasiness at the
dangers that he was exposed to by remaining as he was, increased
every day. At length a plan occurred to him which both these
considerations urged him to adopt. The plan was to murder Claudius,
and then to marry Messalina, and make himself emperor in Claudius's
place. By the accomplishment of this design he would effect, he
thought, a double object. He would at once raise himself to a post
of real and substantial power, and also, at the same time place
himself in a position of security. He resolved to propose this
scheme to Messalina.

Accordingly, on the first favorable opportunity, he addressed the
empress on the subject, and cautiously made known his design. "I
wish to have you wholly mine," said he "and although the emperor is
growing old, we can not safely wait for his death. We are, in fact,
continually exposed to danger. We have gone quite too far to be safe
where we are, and by taking the remaining steps necessary to
accomplish fully our ends we shall only be completing what we have
begun, and by so doing, far from incurring any new penalties, we
shall be taking the only effectual method to protect ourselves from
the dangers which impend over us and threaten us now. Let us,
therefore, devise some means to remove the emperor out of our way. I
will then be proclaimed emperor in his place, and be married to you.
The power which you now enjoy will then come back to you again,
undiminished, and under such circumstances as will render it
permanently secure to you. To accomplish this will be very easy; for
the emperor, superannuated, infirm, and stupid as he is, can not
protect himself against any well-planned and vigorous attempt which
we may make to remove him; though, if we remain as we are, and any
accidental cause should arouse him from his lethargy, we may expect
to find him vindictive and furious against us to the last degree."

Messalina listened to this proposal with great attention and
interest, but so far as related to the proposed assassination of the
emperor she did not seem inclined to assent to it. Her historian
says that she was not influenced in this decision by any remaining
sentiments of conjugal affection, or by conscientious principle of
any kind, but by her distrust of Silius, and her unwillingness to
commit herself so entirely into his power. She preferred to keep him
dependent upon her, rather than to make herself dependent upon him.
She liked the plan, however, of being married to him, she said, and
would consent to that, even while the emperor remained alive. And so
if Silius would agree to it, she was ready, she added, the next time
that the emperor went to Ostia, to have the ceremony performed.

That a wife and a mother, however unprincipled and corrupt, should
make, under such circumstances, a proposal like this of
Messalina's, is certainly very extraordinary; and to those who do
not know to what extremes of recklessness and infatuation, the
irresponsible despots that have arisen from time to time to rule
mankind, have often pushed their wickedness and crime, it must seem
wholly incredible. The Roman historian who has recorded this
narrative, assures us, that it was the very audacity of this guilt
that constituted its charm in Messalina's eyes. She had become weary
of, and satiated with, all the ordinary forms of criminal indulgence
and pleasure. The work of deceiving and imposing upon her husband,
in order to secure for herself the gratifications which she sought,
was for a time sufficient to give zest and piquancy to her
pleasures. But he was so easily deceived, and she had been
accustomed to deceive him so long, that it now no longer afforded to
her mind any stimulus or excitement to do it in any common way. But
the idea of being actually married to another man while he was
absent at a short distance from the city, would be something
striking and new, which would vary, she thought, the dull monotony
of the common course of sin.

The proposed marriage was finally determined upon, and the mock
ceremony, for such a ceremony could, of course, have no legal force,
was duly performed at a time when Claudius was absent at Ostia,
inspecting the works which were in progress there. How far the
pretended marriage was open and public in the actual celebration of
it, is not very certain; but the historians say that it was
conducted with all the usual ceremonies, and was attended by the
usual witnesses. The service was performed by the _augur_, a sort of
sacerdotal officer, on whom the duty of conducting such solemnities
properly devolved. Messalina and Silius, each in their turn,
repeated the words pertaining respectively to the bridegroom and the
bride. The usual sacrifice to the gods was then made, and a nuptial
banquet followed, at which there passed between the new married pair
the caresses and endearments usual on such occasions. All things in
a word were conducted, from the beginning to the end, as in a real
and honest wedding, and whether the scene thus enacted was performed
in public as a serious transaction, or at some private entertainment
as a species of sport, it created a strong sensation among all who
witnessed it, and the news of it soon spread abroad and became very
generally known.

The more immediate friends of Claudius were very indignant at such a
proceeding. They conferred together, uttering to each other many
murmurings and complaints, and anticipating the worst results and
consequences from what had occurred. Silius, they said, was an
ambitious and dangerous man, and the audacious deed which he had
performed was the prelude, they believed, to some deep ulterior
design. They feared for the safety of Claudius; and as they knew
very well that the downfall of the emperor would involve them too in
ruin, they were naturally much alarmed. It was, however, very
difficult for them to decide what to do.

If they were to inform the emperor of Messalina's proceedings, they
considered it wholly uncertain what effect the communication would
have upon him. Like almost all weak-minded men, he was impulsive and
capricious in the extreme; and whether, on a communication being
made to him, he would receive it with indifference and unconcern,
or, in case his anger should be aroused, whether it would expend
itself upon Messalina or upon those who informed him against her, it
was wholly impossible to foresee.

At length, after various consultations and debates, a small number
of the courtiers who were most determined in their detestation of
Messalina and her practices, leagued themselves together, and
resolved upon a course of procedure by which they hoped, if
possible, to effect her destruction. The leader of this company was
Callistus, one of the officers of Claudius's household. He was one
of the men who had been engaged with Chærea in the assassination of
Caligula. Narcissus was another. This was the same Narcissus that is
mentioned in the last chapter, as the artful contriver, with
Messalina, of the death of Silanus. Pallas was the name of a third
conspirator. He was a confidential friend and favorite of Claudius,
and was very jealous, like the rest, of the influence which Silius,
through Messalina, exercised over his master. These were the
principal confederates, though there were some others joined with

The great object of the hostility of these men, seems to have been
Silius, rather than Messalina. This, in fact, would naturally be
supposed to be the case, since it was Silius rather than Messalina
who was their rival. Some of them appear to have hated Messalina on
her own account, but with the others there was apparently no wish to
harm the empress, if any other way could be found of reaching
Silius. In fact, in the consultations which were held, one plan
which was proposed was to go to Messalina, and without evincing any
feelings of unkindness or hostility toward her, to endeavor to
persuade her to break off her connection with her favorite. This
plan was, however, soon overruled. The plotters thought that it
would be extremely improbable that Messalina would listen to any
such proposition, and in case of her rejection of it, if it were
made, her anger would be aroused strongly against them for making
it: and then, even if she should not attempt to take vengeance upon
them for their presumption, she would at any rate put herself
effectually upon her guard against any thing else which they should
attempt to do. The plan of separating Messalina and Silius was,
therefore, abandoned, and the determination resolved upon to take
measures for destroying them both together.

The course which the confederates decided to pursue in order to
effect their object, was to proceed to Ostia, where Claudius still
remained, and there make known to him what Messalina and Silius had
done, and endeavor to convince him that this audacious conduct on
their part was only the prelude to open violence against the life of
the emperor. It would seem, however, that no one of them was quite
willing to take upon himself the office of making such a
communication as this, in the first instance, to such a man. They
did not know how he would receive it,--or against whom the first
weight of his resentment and rage would fall. Finally, after much
hesitation and debate, they concluded to employ a certain female for
the purpose,--a courtesan named Calpurnia. Calpurnia was a favorite
and companion of Claudius, and as such they thought she might
perhaps have an opportunity to approach him with the subject under
such circumstances as to diminish the danger. At any rate, Calpurnia
was easily led by such inducements as the conspirators laid before
her, to undertake the commission. They not only promised her
suitable rewards, but they appealed also to the jealousy and hatred
which such a woman would naturally feel toward Messalina, who,
being a wife, while Calpurnia was only a companion and favorite,
would of course be regarded as a rival and enemy. They represented
to Calpurnia how entirely changed for the better her situation would
be, if Messalina could once be put out of the way. There would then,
they said, be none to interfere with her; but her influence and
ascendency over the emperor's mind would be established on a
permanent and lasting footing.

Calpurnia was very easily led by these inducements to undertake the
commission. There was another courtesan named Cleopatra, who, it was
arranged, should be at hand when Calpurnia made her communication,
to confirm the truth of it, should any confirmation seem to be
required. The other conspirators, also, were to be near, ready to be
called in and to act as occasion might require, in case Calpurnia
and Cleopatra should find that their statement was making the right
impression. Things being all thus arranged the party proceeded to
Ostia to carry their plans into execution.

In the mean time Messalina and Silius, wholly unconscious of the
danger, gave themselves up with greater and greater boldness and
unconcern to their guilty pleasures. On the day when Callistus and
his party went to Ostia she was celebrating a festival at her palace
with great gayety and splendor. It was in the autumn of the year,
and the festival was in honor of the season. In the countries on the
Mediterranean the gathering of grapes and the pressing of the juice
for wine, is the great subject of autumnal rejoicings; and Messalina
had arranged a festival in accordance with the usual customs, in the
gardens of the palace. A wine-press had been erected, and grapes
were gathered and brought to it. The guests whom Messalina had
invited were assembled around; some were dancing about the
wine-press, some were walking in the alleys, and some were seated in
the neighboring bowers. They were dressed in fancy costumes, and
their heads were adorned with garlands of flowers. There was a group
of dancing girls who were engaged as performers on the occasion, to
dance for the amusement of the company, in honor of Bacchus, the god
of wine. These girls were dressed, so far as they were clothed at
all, in robes made of the skins of tigers, and their heads were
crowned with flowers. Messalina herself, however, was the most
conspicuous object among the gay throng. She was robed in a manner
to display most fully the graces of her person; her long hair waving
loosely in the wind. She had in her hand a symbol, or badge, called
the _thyrsus_, which was an ornamented staff, or pole, surmounted
with a carved representation of a bunch of grapes, and with other
ornaments and emblems. The thyrsus was always used in the rites and
festivities celebrated in honor of Bacchus. Silius himself, dressed
like the rest in a fantastic and theatrical costume, danced by the
side of Messalina, in the center of a ring of dancing girls which
was formed around them.


In the mean time, while this gay party were thus enjoying themselves
in the palace gardens at Rome, a very different scene was enacting
at Ostia. Calpurnia, in her secret interview with Claudius, seizing
upon a moment which seemed to her favorable for her purpose, kneeled
down before him and made the communication with which she had been
charged. She told him of Messalina's conduct, and informed him
particularly how she had at last crowned the dishonor of her husband
by openly marrying Silius, or at least pretending to do so. "Your
friends believe," she added, "that she and Silius entertain still
more criminal designs, and that your life will be sacrificed unless
you immediately adopt vigorous and decided measures to avert the

Claudius was very much amazed, and was also exceedingly terrified at
this communication. He trembled and turned pale, then looked wild
and excited, and began to make inquiries in an incoherent and
distracted manner. Calpurnia called in Cleopatra to confirm her
story. Cleopatra did confirm it, of course, in the fullest and most
unqualified manner. The effect which was produced upon the mind of
the emperor seemed to be exactly what the conspirators had desired.
He evinced no disposition to justify or to defend Messalina, or to
be angry with Calpurnia and Cleopatra for making such charges
against her. His mind seemed to be wholly absorbed with a sense of
the dangers of his situation, and Narcissus was accordingly sent for
to come in.

Narcissus, when appealed to, acknowledged, though with well-feigned
reluctance and hesitation, the truth of what Calpurnia had
declared, and he immediately began to apologize for his own
remissness in not having before made the case known. He spoke with
great moderation of Messalina, and also of Silius, as if his object
were to appease rather than to inflame the anger of the emperor. He
however admitted, he said, that it was absolutely necessary that
something decisive should be done. "Your wife is taken from you,"
said he, "and Silius is master of her. The next thing will be that
he will be master of the republic. He may even already have gained
the Prætorian guards over to his side, in which case all is lost. It
is absolutely necessary that some immediate and decisive action
should be taken."

Claudius, in great trepidation, immediately called together such of
his prominent councillors and friends as were at hand at Ostia, to
consult on what was to be done. Of course, it was principally the
conspirators themselves that appeared at this council. They crowded
around the emperor and urged him immediately to take the most
decisive measures to save himself from the impending danger, and
they succeeded so well in working upon his fears that he stood
before them in stupid amazement, wholly incapable of deciding what
to say or do. The conspirators urged upon the emperor the necessity
of first securing the guard. This body was commanded by an officer
named Geta, on whom Narcissus said no reliance could be placed, and
he begged that Claudius would immediately authorize him, Narcissus,
to take the command. The object of the confederates in thus wishing
to get command of the guard was, perhaps, to make sure of the prompt
and immediate execution of any sentence which they might succeed in
inducing the emperor to pronounce upon Silius or Messalina, before
he should have the opportunity of changing his mind. The emperor
turned from one adviser to another, listening to their various
suggestions and plans, but he seemed bewildered and undecided, as if
he knew not what to do. It was, however, at length, determined to
proceed immediately to Rome. The whole party accordingly mounted
into their carriages, Narcissus taking his seat by the side of the
emperor in the imperial chariot, in order that he might keep up the
excitement and agitation in his master's mind by his conversation on
the way.

In the mean time there were among those who witnessed these
proceedings at Ostia, some who were disposed to take sides with
Messalina and Silius, in the approaching struggle; and they
immediately dispatched a special messenger to Rome to warn the
empress of the impending danger. This messenger rode up along the
banks of the Tiber with all speed, and in advance of the emperor's
party. On his arrival in the city he immediately repaired to the
palace gardens and communicated his errand to Messalina and her
company in the midst of their festivities. Claudius had been
informed, he said, against her and Silius, and was almost beside
himself with resentment and anger. He was already on his way to
Rome, the messenger added, coming to wreak vengeance upon them, and
he warned them to escape for their lives. This communication was
made, of course, in the first instance, somewhat privately to the
parties principally concerned. It, however, put a sudden stop to all
the hilarity and joy, and the tidings were rapidly circulated around
the gardens. One man climbed into a tree and looked off in the
direction of Ostia. The others asked him what he saw. "I see a
great storm arising from the sea at Ostia," said he, "and coming
hither, and it is time for us to save ourselves." In a word the
bacchanalian games and sports were all soon broken up in confusion,
and the company made their escape from the scene, each by a
different way.

Silius immediately resumed his ordinary dress, and went forth into
the city, where, under an assumed appearance of indifference and
unconcern, he walked about in the forum, as if nothing unusual had
occurred. Messalina herself fled to the house of a friend, named
Lucullus, and, passing immediately through the house, sought a
hiding-place in the gardens. Here her mind began to be overwhelmed
with anguish, remorse, and terror. Her sins, now that a terrible
retribution for them seemed to be impending, rose before her in all
their enormity, and she knew not what to do. She soon reflected that
there could be no permanent safety for her where she was, for the
advanced guards of Claudius, which were even then entering the city
and commencing their arrests, would be sure soon to discover the
place of her retreat, and bring her before her exasperated husband.
She concluded that, rather than wait for this, it would be better
for her to go before him herself voluntarily; and, by throwing
herself upon his mercy, endeavor to soften and appease him. She
accordingly, in her distraction, determined to pursue this course.
She came forth from her hiding-place in Lucullus's gardens, and went
to seek her children, intending to take them with her, that the
sight of them might help to move the heart of their father. Her
children were two in number. Octavia, who has already been
mentioned, was the eldest, being now about ten or twelve years of
age. The other was a boy several years younger; his name was

In the mean time, the city was thrown quite into a state of
commotion, by the approach of Claudius, and by the tidings which had
spread rapidly through the streets, of what had occurred. The
soldiers whom Claudius had sent forward, were making arrests in the
streets, and searching the houses. In the midst of this excitement,
Messalina, with her children, attended by one of the vestal virgins,
named Vibidia, whom she had prevailed upon to accompany her and
plead her cause, came forth from her palace on foot, and proceeded
through the streets, her hair disheveled, her dress in disorder, and
her whole appearance marked by every characteristic of humiliation,
abasement, and woe. When she reached the gate of the city, she
mounted into a common cart which she found there, and in that manner
proceeded to meet her angry husband, leaving her children with
Vibidia, the vestal, to follow behind.

She had not proceeded very far, before she met the emperor's train
approaching. As soon as she came near enough to the carriage of
Claudius to be heard, she began to utter loud entreaties and
lamentations, begging her husband to hear before he condemned her.
"Hear your unhappy wife," said she, "hear the mother of Britannicus
and Octavia." Narcissus and the others who were near, interposed to
prevent her from being heard. They talked continually to the
emperor, and produced a written memorial and other papers for him to
read, which contained, they said, a full account of the whole
transaction. Claudius, taking very little notice of his wife,
pursued his way toward the city. She followed in his train. When
they drew near to the gates, they met Vibidia and the children.
Vibidia attempted to speak, but Claudius would not listen. She
complained, in a mournful tone, that for him to condemn his wife
unheard, would be unjust and cruel; but Claudius was unmoved. He
told Vibidia that Messalina would in due time have a suitable
opportunity to make her defense, and that, in the mean time, the
proper duty of a vestal virgin was to confine herself to the
functions of her sacred office. Thus he sent both her and the
children away.

As soon as the party arrived in the city Narcissus conducted the
emperor to the house of Silius, and entering it he showed to the
emperor there a great number of proofs of the guilty favoritism
which the owner of it had enjoyed with Messalina. The house was
filled with valuable presents, the tokens of Messalina's love,
consisting, many of them, of costly household treasures which had
descended to Claudius in the imperial line, and which were of such a
character that the alienation of them by Messalina, in such a way,
was calculated to fill the heart of Claudius with indignation and
anger. The emperor then proceeded to the camp. Silius and several of
his leading friends were arrested and brought together before a
sort of military tribunal summoned on the spot to try them. The
trial was of course very brief and very summary. They were all
condemned to death and were led out to instant execution.

This being done the emperor returned with his friends to the city
and repaired to his palace. His mind seemed greatly relieved. He
felt that the crisis of danger was past. He ordered supper to be
prepared, and when it was ready he seated himself at table. He
congratulated himself and his friends on the escape from the perils
that had surrounded them, which they had so happily accomplished.
Narcissus and the others began to tremble lest after all Messalina
should be spared; and they knew full well that if she should be
allowed to live, she would soon, by her artful management, regain
her ascendency over the emperor's mind, and that in that case she
would give herself no rest until she had destroyed all those who had
taken any part in effecting the destruction of Silius. They began to
be greatly alarmed therefore for their own safety. In the mean time
messages came in from Messalina, who, when the emperor entered the
city, had returned to her former place of refuge in the gardens of
Lucullus. At length a letter, or memorial, came. On reading what was
written it was found that Messalina was assuming a bolder tone. Her
letter was a remonstrance rather than a petition, as if she were
designing to try the effect of bravery and assurance, and to see if
she could not openly reassume the ascendency and control which she
had long exercised over the mind of her husband. Claudius seemed
inclined to hesitate and waver. His anger appeared to be subsiding
with his fears, and the wine which he drank freely at the table
seemed to conspire with the other influences of the occasion to
restore his wonted good-humor. He ordered that in reply to
Messalina's letter a messenger should go and inform her that she
should be admitted the next day to see him and to make her defense.

Narcissus and his confederates were greatly alarmed, and determined
immediately that this must not be. Narcissus had been placed, it
would seem, according to the wish of the conspirators at the outset,
in command of the guard; and he accordingly had power to prevent the
emperor's determination from being carried into effect, provided
that he should dare to take the responsibility of acting. It was a
moment of great anxiety and suspense. He soon, however, came
strongly to the conclusion that though it would be very dangerous
for him to act, yet that not to act would be certain destruction;
since if Messalina were allowed to live it would be absolutely
certain that they all must die. Accordingly, summoning all his
resolution he hurried out of the banqueting room, and gave orders to
the officers on duty there, in the emperor's name, to proceed to the
gardens of Lucullus and execute sentence of death on Messalina
without any delay.

Messalina was with her mother Lepida, in the gardens, awaiting her
answer from the emperor, when the band of soldiers came. Messalina
and her mother had never been agreed, and now for a long time had
had no intercourse with each other. The daughter's danger had,
however, reawakened the instinct of maternal love in the mother's
heart, and Lepida had come to see her child in this the hour of her
extremity. She came, however, not to console or comfort her child,
or to aid her in her efforts to save her life, but to provide her
with the means of putting an end to her own existence as the only
way now left to her, of escape from the greater disgrace of public

She accordingly offered a poniard to Messalina in the gardens, and
urged her to take it. "Death by your own hand," said she, "is now
your only refuge. You _must_ die; it is impossible that this tragedy
can have any other termination; and to wait quietly here for the
stroke of the executioner is base and ignoble. You _must die_;--and
all that now remains to you is the power to close the scene with
dignity and with becoming spirit."

Messalina manifested the greatest agitation and distress, but she
could not summon resolution to receive the poniard. In the midst of
this scene the band of soldiers appeared, entering the garden. The
mother pressed the poniard upon her daughter, saying, "Now is the
time." Messalina took the weapon, and pointed it toward her breast,
but had not firmness enough to strike it home. The officer
approached her at the head of his men, with his sword drawn in his
hand. Messalina, still irresolute, made a feeble and ineffectual
effort to give herself a wound, but failed of inflicting it; and
then the officer who had by this time advanced to the spot where
she was standing, put an end to her dreadful mental struggles by
cutting her down and killing her at a single blow.

When tidings were brought back to Narcissus that his commands had
been obeyed, he went again to the presence of Claudius, and reported
to him simply that Messalina was no more. He made no explanations,
and the emperor asked for none; but went on with his supper as if
nothing had occurred, and never afterward expressed any curiosity or
interest in respect to Messalina's fate.

As soon as the excitement produced by these transactions had in some
degree subsided, various plans and intrigues were commenced for
providing the emperor with another wife. There were many competitors
for the station, all of whom were eager to occupy it; for, though
Claudius was old, imbecile, and ugly, still he was the emperor; and
all those ladies of his court who thought that they had any prospect
of success, aspired to the possession of his hand, as the summit of
earthly ambition. Among the rest, Agrippina appeared. She was
Claudius's niece. This relationship was in one respect a bar to her
success, since the laws prohibited marriage within that degree of
consanguinity. In another respect, however, the relationship was
greatly in Agrippina's favor, for under the plea of it she had
constant access to the emperor, and was extremely assiduous in her
attentions to him. She succeeded, at length, in inspiring him with
some sentiment of love, and he determined to make her his wife. The
Senate were easily induced to alter the laws in order to enable him
to do this, and Claudius and Agrippina were married.

Claudius not only thus made the mother of our hero his wife, but he
adopted her son as his son and heir--changing, at the same time, the
name of the boy. In place of his former plebeian appellation of
Ahenobarbus, he gave him now the imposing title of Nero Claudius
Cæsar Drusus Germanicus. He has since generally been known in
history, however, by the simple prenomen, Nero.



A.D. 39-53

Early history of Nero.--Character of his father.--Brutal character
of Brazenbeard.--Nero neglected.--Nero reappears at
court.--Britannicus.--The secular or centennial games.--Mode of
celebrating them.--Nero and Britannicus.--Nero applauded.--The
story of the serpents.--Advancement of Nero after the death of
Messalina.--Agrippina's treatment of Britannicus.--Nero assumes the
toga.--Britannicus secluded.--Agrippina's treatment of the two
boys.--Britannicus offends Nero.--Agrippina's anger.--The Fucine
lake.--Plan for draining it.--The canal.--Grand celebration at the
opening of the canal.--Naval conflict to take place on the lake.--End
of the naval battle.--The water will not flow.--Deepening the
canal.--New celebrations.--Influences under which Nero's character
was formed.--Agrippina's plan in respect to Octavia.--Tragical end
of Silanus.--Marriage of Nero.

During the time that Agrippina had been passing through the strange
and eventful vicissitudes of her history, described in the preceding
chapters, young Nero himself, as we shall henceforth call him, had
been growing up an active and intelligent, but an indulged and
ungoverned boy. His own father died when he was about three years
old. This, however, was an advantage probably, rather than a loss to
the boy, as Brazenbeard was an extremely coarse, cruel, and
unprincipled man. He once killed one of his slaves for not drinking
as much as he ordered him. Riding one day in his chariot through a
village, he drove wantonly and purposely over a boy, and killed him
on the spot. He defrauded all who dealt with him, and was repeatedly
prosecuted for the worst of crimes. He treated his wife with great
brutality. As has already been said, he received the announcement of
the birth of his son with derision, saying that nothing but what
was detestable could come from him and Agrippina; and when they
asked him what name they should give the child, he recommended to
them to name him Claudius. This was said in contempt, for Claudius
was at that time despised by every one, as a deformed and stupid
idiot, though he was subsequently made emperor in the manner that
has been already explained. The manifestation of such a spirit, at
such a time, on the part of her husband, pained Agrippina
exceedingly,--but the more it pained her, the more Brazenbeard was
gratified and amused. The death of such a father could, of course,
be no calamity.

When Agrippina, Nero's mother, was banished from Rome by the order
of Caligula, Nero himself did not accompany her, but remained behind
under the care of his aunt Lepida, with whom he lived for a time in
comparative neglect and obscurity. Though he belonged to one of the
most aristocratic families of Rome, his mother being a descendant
and heir of the Cæsars, he spent some years in a situation of
poverty and disgrace. His education was neglected, as he received
no instruction at this time except from a dancing-master and a
barber, who were his only tutors. Of course, the formation of his
moral character was wholly neglected,--nor, in fact, considering the
character of those by whom he was surrounded, would it have been
possible that any favorable influence should have been exerted upon
him, if the attempt had been made.

At length when Caligula died and Agrippina was recalled from her
banishment by Claudius, and reinstated in her former position at
Rome, Nero emerged from his obscurity, and thenceforth lived with
his mother in luxury and splendor in the capital. Nero was a
handsome boy, and he soon became an object of great popular favor
and regard. He often appeared in public at entertainments and
celebrations, and when he did so he was always specially noticed and
caressed. His companion, and in some respects his rival and
competitor, at such times, was Britannicus, the son of Claudius and
Messalina. Britannicus was two or three years younger than Nero, and
being the son of the emperor was of course a very prominent and
conspicuous object of attention whenever he appeared. But the rank
of Nero was scarcely less high, since his mother was descended
directly from the imperial family, while in age and personal
appearance and bearing he was superior to his cousin.

One instance is specially noticed by the historians of those days,
in which young Nero was honored with an extraordinary degree of
public attention and regard. It was on the occasion of celebrating
what might be called the centennial games. These games were
generally supposed to be celebrated at each recurrence of a certain
astronomical period, of about one hundred years' duration, called an
age; but in reality it was at irregular though very distant
intervals that they were observed. Claudius instituted a celebration
of them early in his reign. There had been a celebration of them in
the reign of Augustus, not many years before,--but Claudius, wishing
to signalize his own reign by some great entertainment and display,
pretended that Augustus had made a miscalculation, and had observed
the festival at the wrong time; and he ordained, accordingly, that
the celebration should take place again.

The games and shows connected with this festival extended through
three successive days. They consisted of sacrifices and other
religious rites, dramatic spectacles, athletic games, and military
and gladiatorial shows. In the course of these diversions there was
celebrated on one of the days what was called the Trojan game, in
which young boys of leading and distinguished families appeared on
horseback in a circus or ring, where they performed certain
evolutions and feats of horsemanship, and mock conflicts, in the
midst of the tens of thousands of spectators who thronged the seats
around. Of course Britannicus and Nero were the most prominent and
conspicuous of the boys on this occasion. Nero, however, in the
estimation of the populace, bore off the palm. He was received with
the loudest acclamations by the whole assembly, while Britannicus
attracted far less attention. This triumph filled Agrippina's heart
with pride and pleasure, while it occasioned to Messalina the
greatest vexation and chagrin. It made Agrippina more than ever
before the object of Messalina's hatred and hostility, and the
empress would very probably before long have found some means of
destroying her rival had she not soon after this become involved
herself in the difficulties arising out of her connection with
Silius, which resulted so soon in her own destruction.

The people, however, were filled with admiration of Nero, and they
applauded his performance with the utmost enthusiasm. He was for a
time a subject of conversation in every circle throughout the city,
and many tales were told of his history and his doings. Among other
things which were related of him, the story was circulated that
Messalina became so excited against him in her jealousy and envy,
that she sent two assassins to murder him in his sleep; and that the
assassins, coming to him in a garden where he was lying asleep upon
a pillow, were just putting their cruel orders into execution when
they were driven away by a serpent that appeared miraculously at the
moment to defend the child--darting out at the assassins from
beneath the pillow. Others said that it was in his infancy that this
occurrence took place, and that there were two serpents instead of
one, and that they guarded the life of their charge lying with him
in his cradle. One of the historians of the time states that neither
of these stories was really true, but that they both originated in
the fact that Nero was accustomed to wear, when a boy, a bracelet
made of a serpent's skin, small and of beautiful colors,--and
fastened, as they said, around the wearer's wrist with a clasp of

However the fact may be in respect to Messalina's allowing her
jealousy of Agrippina to carry her so far as to make direct attempts
upon his life, there is no doubt that she lived in continual fear of
the influence both of Nero and of his mother, on the mind of the
emperor; and Agrippina was consequently compelled to submit to many
indignities which the position and the power of Messalina enabled
her to impose upon her enemies and rivals. At length, however, the
fall of Messalina, and the entire revolution in the situation and
prospects of Agrippina which was consequent upon it, changed
altogether the position of Nero. It might have been expected, it is
true, even after the marriage of Claudius with Agrippina, that
Britannicus would have still maintained altogether the highest place
in the emperor's regard, since Britannicus was his own son, while
Nero was only the son of his wife. But Agrippina was artful enough
to manage her indolent and stupid husband just as she pleased; and
she soon found means to displace Britannicus, and to raise Nero in
his stead, to the highest place, in precedence and honor. She
persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his own son, as was stated in
the last chapter. She obtained a decree of the Senate, approving and
confirming this act. She then removed Britannicus from the court and
shut him up in seclusion, in a nursery, under pretense of tender
regard for his health and safety. In a word, she treated Britannicus
in all respects like a little child, and kept him wholly in the
background; while she brought her own son, though he was but little
older than the other, very prominently forward, as a young man.

In those ancient days as now, there was an appropriate dress for
youth, which was changed for that of a man when the subject arrived
at maturity. The garment which was most distinctively characteristic
of adult age among the Romans was called the toga; and it was
assumed by the Roman youth, not as the dress of a man is by young
persons now, in a private and informal manner, according as the
convenience or fancy of the individual may dictate,--but publicly
and with much ceremony, and always at the time when the party
arrived at the period of legal majority; so that assuming the toga
marked always a very important era of life. This distinction
Agrippina caused to be conferred upon Nero by a special edict when
he was only fourteen years of age, which was at a very much earlier
period than usual. On the occasion of thus advancing him to the
dress and to the legal capabilities of manhood, Agrippina brought
him out in a special manner before the people of Rome at a great
public celebration, and the more effectually to call public
attention to him as a young prince of the highest distinction in the
imperial family, she induced Claudius to bestow a largess upon the
people, and a donative upon the army, that is a public distribution
of money, to the citizens and to the soldiers, in Nero's name.

All this time Britannicus was kept shut up in the private apartments
of the palace with nurses and children. The tutors and attendants
whom Messalina his mother provided for him were one by one removed,
and their places supplied by others whom Agrippina selected for the
purpose, and whom she could rely upon to second her views. When
inquired of in respect to Britannicus by those who had known him
before, during his mother's lifetime, she replied that he was a weak
and feeble child, subject to fits, and thus necessarily kept
secluded from society.

Sometimes, indeed, on great public occasions, both Nero and
Britannicus appeared together, but even in these cases the
arrangements were so made as to impress the public mind more
forcibly than ever with an idea of the vast superiority of Nero, in
respect to rank and position. On one such occasion, while
Britannicus was carried about clothed in the dress of a child, and
with attendants characteristic of the nursery, Nero rode on
horseback, richly appareled in the triumphal robes of a general
returning from a foreign campaign.

Agrippina was one day made very angry with Britannicus, for what
might seem a very trifling cause. It seems that Britannicus, though
young, was a very intelligent boy, and that he understood perfectly
the policy which his step-mother was pursuing toward him, and was
very unwilling to submit to be thus supplanted. One day, when he and
Nero were both abroad, attending some public spectacle or
celebration, they met, and Nero accosted his cousin, calling him
Britannicus. Britannicus, in returning the salutation, addressed
Nero familiarly by the name Domitius;--Domitius Ahenobarbus having
been his name before he was adopted by Claudius. Agrippina was very
indignant when she heard of this. She considered the using of this
name by Britannicus, as denoting, on his part, a refusal to
acknowledge his cousin as the adopted son of his father. She
immediately went to Claudius with earnest and angry complainings.
"Your own edict," said she, "sanctioned and confirmed by the Senate,
is disavowed and annulled, and my son is subjected to public insult
by the impertinence of this child." Agrippina farther represented to
Claudius, that Britannicus never would have thought of addressing
her son in such a manner, of his own accord. His doing it must have
arisen from the influence of some of the persons around him who were
hostile to her; and she made use of the occasion to induce Claudius
to give her authority to remove all that remained of the child's
instructors and governors, who could be suspected of a friendly
interest in his cause, and to subject him to new and more rigorous
restrictions than ever.

One of the most imposing of all the spectacles and celebrations
which Claudius instituted during his reign, was the one which
signalized the opening of the canal by which the Fucine lake was
drained. The Fucine lake was a large but shallow body of water, at
the foot of the Appenines, near the sources of the Tiber.[A] It was
subject to periodic inundations, by which the surrounding lands were
submerged. An engineer had offered to drain the lake, in
consideration of receiving for his pay the lands which would be laid
dry by the operation. But Claudius, who seemed to have quite a taste
for such undertakings, preferred to accomplish the work himself. The
canal by which the water should be conveyed away, was to be formed
in part by a deep cut, and partly by a tunnel through a mountain;
and inasmuch as in those days the power now chiefly relied upon for
making such excavations, namely, the explosive force of gunpowder,
was not known, any extensive working in solid rock was an operation
of immense labor. When the canal was finished, Claudius determined
to institute a grand celebration to signalize the opening of it for
drawing off the water; and as he could not safely rely on the
hydraulic interest of the spectacle for drawing such a concourse to
the spot as he wished to see there, he concluded to add to the
entertainment a show more suited to the taste and habits of the
times. He made arrangements accordingly for having a naval battle
fought upon the lake, for the amusement of the spectators, just
before the opening of the canal, which was to draw off the water.
Thus the battle was to be the closing scene, in which the history
and existence of the lake were to be terminated forever.

[Footnote A: See Map. Frontispiece.]

Ships were accordingly built, and an immense number of men were
designated and set apart for fighting the battle. These men
consisted of convicts and prisoners of war--men whom it was, in
those days, considered perfectly just and right to employ in killing
one another for the amusement of the emperor and his guests. A sort
of bulwark was built all around the shore, and the emperor's guards
were stationed upon it, to prevent the escape of the combatants, and
to turn them back to their duty if any of them should attempt, when
pressed hard in the battle, to escape to the land. The fleet of
galleys was divided into two antagonistic portions, and the men in
each were armed completely, as in a case of actual war. At the
appointed time, hundreds of thousands of people assembled from all
the surrounding country to see the sight. They lined the shores on
every side, and crowned all the neighboring heights. The contest, of
course, might be waged with all the fury and fatal effect of a real
battle without endangering the spectators at all, as there were in
those days no flying bullets, or other swift-winged missiles, like
those which in modern times take so wide a range beyond the limits
of the battle. The deadly effect of all that was done in an ancient
combat was confined of course to those immediately engaged. Then
there was, besides, nothing to intercept the vision. No smoke was
raised to obscure the view, but the atmosphere above and around the
combatants remained as pure and transparent at the end of the combat
as at the beginning.

A real battle was accordingly regarded by the Romans as the most
sublime and imposing of spectacles, and hundreds of thousands of
spectators flocked to witness the one which Claudius arranged for
them on the Fucine lake. He himself presided, dressed in a coat of
mail; and Agrippina sat by his side, clothed in a magnificent robe,
which the historian states was woven from threads of gold, without
the admixture of any other material. The signal was given, and the
battle was commenced. There was some difficulty experienced, as
usual in such cases, in getting the men to engage, but they became
sufficiently ferocious at last to satisfy all the spectators, and
thousands were slain. At length the emperor gave orders that the
battle should cease, and the survivors were informed that their
lives were spared.

It was fortunate, on the whole, for Claudius, that he did not rely
wholly on the simple drawing off of the water from the lake for the
amusement of the immense assemblage that he had convened, for it was
found, when, after the close of the battle, the canal was opened,
that the water would not run. The engineers had made some mistake in
their measurements or their calculations, and had left the bed of
the canal in some part of its course too high, so that the water,
when the sluices were opened, instead of flowing off into the river
to which the canal was intended to conduct it, remained quietly in
the lake as before.

The assembly dispersed, and the work on the canal was resumed with a
view of making it deeper. In the course of a year the excavation was
completed, and all was made ready for a new trial. Claudius summoned
a new assembly to witness the operation, and at this time, instead
of a naval conflict, he made provision for a great combat of
gladiators, to be fought on immense floating platforms which were
built upon the lake near the outlet which the engineers had made. In
the end, however, the second attempt to make the water flow, proved
more unfortunate than the first. The channel had been made very deep
and wide, so that the water was inclined to move, when once put in
motion, with the utmost impetuosity and force; and it so happened,
that in some way or other, the means which the engineer had relied
upon for controlling it were insufficient, and when the gates were
opened every thing suddenly gave way. The water rushed out in an
overwhelming torrent, as in an inundation--and undermined and
carried away the platforms and stagings which had been erected for
the seats of the spectators. A scene of indescribable tumult and
confusion ensued. The emperor and empress, with the guests and
spectators, fled precipitously together, and all narrowly escaped
being carried down into the canal.

It is by no means difficult to imagine what sort of a character a
boy must necessarily form, brought up under such influences and
surrounded by such scenes as those which thus prevailed at the court
of Claudius. It proved in the end that Nero experienced the full
effect of them. He became proud, vain, self-willed, cruel, and
accustomed to yield himself without restraint to all those wicked
propensities and passions which, under such circumstances, always
gain dominion over the human soul.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides Britannicus, it will be recollected that Messalina had left
another child,--a daughter named Octavia, who was two or three years
younger than her brother, and of course about five years younger
than Nero. Agrippina did not pursue the same course of opposition
and hostility toward her which she had adopted in regard to
Britannicus. She determined, at the outset, upon a very different
plan. Britannicus was necessarily a rival and competitor for Nero;
and every step in advance which he should make, could not operate
otherwise than as an impediment and obstacle to Nero's success. But
Octavia, as Agrippina thought, might be employed to further and aid
her designs, by being betrothed, and in due time married, to her

The advantages of such a scheme were very obvious,--so obvious in
fact that the design was formed by Agrippina at the very
beginning,--even before her own marriage with the emperor was fully
effected. There was one serious obstacle in the way, and that was
that Octavia was already betrothed to a very distinguished young
nobleman named Lucius Silanus. Agrippina, after having, by various
skillful manoeuvers, succeeded in enlisting the public officers
who would act as judges in his case, caused Silanus to be accused of
infamous crimes. The historians say that the evidence which was
adduced against him was of the most trivial character. Still he was
condemned. He seems to have understood the nature and the cause of
the hostility which had suddenly developed itself against him, and
to have felt at once all the hopelessness of his condition. He
killed himself in his despair on the very night of the marriage of
Claudius with Agrippina.

The empress found afterward no serious difficulty in accomplishing
her design. She obtained the emperor's consent to a betrothal of
Nero to Octavia; but as they were yet too young to be married, the
ceremony was postponed for a short time. At length in about five
years after the marriage of Agrippina herself, Nero and Octavia were
married. Nero was at that time about sixteen years of age. His bride
of course was only eleven.



A.D. 54

Claudius is sick.--Agrippina's joy.--Her schemes.--Estimation in
which Nero was held.--Agrippina considers herself in danger.--Reasons
for her fears.--Claudius and Britannicus.--She forms plans for
hastening her husband's death.--Locusta.--Agrippina determines to
consult her.--Locusta's poison is administered to Claudius.--The
poison ineffectual.--A new plan.--The feather.--Poison administered by
the physician.--Claudius dies.--Agrippina conceals her husband's
death.--Agrippina's measures.--Her disimulation.--Agrippina's plans
for proclaiming Nero.--Seneca and Burrus.--History of Seneca.--Account
of Burrus.--His military rank.--The Prætorian cohorts.--Agrippina's
plans.--Nero brought forward.--His promises to the army.--He is
proclaimed.--General acquiescence in his elevation.--Agrippina's real
designs in the elevation of her son.--The funeral solemnities.--Nero's
oration.--The panegyric.--The senate is convened.--Nero's inaugural
address.--Nero's excellent promises.--Satisfaction of the
Senate.--Agrippina assumes the real power.--Discontent of the
ministers.--An incident.--Reception of Agrippina in the hall of

About one year after Nero's marriage to Octavia the emperor Claudius
was suddenly taken sick. On learning this, Agrippina was very much
excited and very much pleased. If the sickness should result in the
emperor's death, her son she thought would immediately succeed him.
Every thing had been long since fully arranged for such a result,
and all was now ready, she imagined, for the change.

It is true that Nero was still very young, but then he was
uncommonly mature both in mind and in person, for one of his years;
and the people had been accustomed for some time to look upon him as
a man. Among other means which Agrippina had resorted to for giving
an appearance of manliness and maturity to the character of her son,
she had brought him forward in the Roman Forum as a public advocate,
and he had made orations there in several instances, with great
success. He had been well instructed in those studies which were
connected with the art of oratory, and as his person and manners
were agreeable, and his countenance intelligent and prepossessing,
and especially as the confidence which he felt in his powers gave
him an air of great self-possession and composure, the impression
which he made was very favorable. The people were in fact
predisposed to be pleased with and to applaud the efforts of a young
orator so illustrious in rank and station--and the ability which he
displayed, although he was so young, was such as to justify,
unquestionably, in some degree, the honors that they paid him.

Agrippina, therefore, supposing that her son was now far enough
advanced in public consideration to make it in some degree certain
that he would be the emperor's successor, was ready at any time for
her husband to die. His sickness therefore filled her mind with
excitement and hope. There was another motive too, besides her
ambitious desires for the advancement of her son, that made her
desirous that Claudius should not live. She had been now for several
months somewhat solicitous and anxious about her own safety. Her
influence over Claudius, which was at first so absolute and supreme,
had afterward greatly declined, and within a few months she had
begun to fear that she might be losing it entirely. In fact she had
some reason for believing that Claudius regarded her with concealed
hostility and hate, and was secretly revolving plans for deposing
both her and her son from the high ascendency to which they had
raised themselves, and for bringing back his own son to his proper
prominence, in Nero's place. Agrippina, too, in the midst of her
ambitious projects and plans, led a life of secret vice and crime,
and feeling guilty and self-condemned, every trivial indication of
danger excited her fears. Some one informed her that Claudius one
day when speaking of a woman who had been convicted of crime, said
that it had always been _his_ misfortune to have profligate wives,
but that he always brought them in the end to the punishment that
they deserved. Agrippina was greatly terrified at this report. She
considered it a warning that Claudius was meditating some fatal
proceedings in respect to her.

Agrippina observed, too, as she thought, various indications that
Claudius was beginning to repent of having adopted Nero and thus
displaced his own son from the line of inheritance; and that he was
secretly intending to restore Britannicus to his true position. He
treated the boy with greater and greater attention every day, and at
one time, after having been conversing with him and expressing an
unusual interest in his health and welfare, he ended by saying, "Go
on improving, my son, and grow up as fast as you can to be a man. I
shall be able to give a good account of all that I have done in
regard to you in due time. Trust to me, and you will find that all
will come out right in the end." At another time he told Britannicus
that pretty soon he should give him the _toga_, and bring him
forward before the people as a man,--"and then at last," said he,
"the Romans will have a prince that is _genuine_."

Agrippina was not present, it is true, when these things were said
and done, but every thing was minutely reported to her, and she was
filled with anxiety and alarm. She began to be afraid that unless
something should speedily occur to enable her to realize her hopes
and expectations, they would end in nothing but bitter and cruel
disappointment after all.

Such being the state of things, Agrippina was greatly pleased at the
news, when she heard that her husband was sick. She most earnestly
hoped that he would die, and immediately began to consider what she
could do to insure or to hasten such a result. She thought of
poison, and began to debate the question in her mind whether she
should dare to administer it. Then if she were to decide to give her
husband poison, it was a very serious question what kind of poison
she should employ. If she were to administer one that was sudden and
violent in its operation, the effect which it would produce might
attract attention, and her crime be discovered. On the other hand,
if she were to choose one that was more moderate and gradual in its
power, so as to produce a slow and lingering death, time would be
allowed for Claudius to carry into effect any secret designs that he
might be forming for disavowing Nero as his son, and fixing the
succession upon Britannicus; and Agrippina well knew that if
Claudius were to die, leaving things in such a state that
Britannicus should succeed him, the downfall and ruin both of
herself and her son would immediately and inevitably follow.

There was at that time in Rome a celebrated mistress of the art of
poisoning, named Locusta. She was in prison, having been condemned
to death for her crimes. Though condemned she had been kept back
from execution by the influence of Agrippina, on account of the
skill which she possessed in her art, and which Agrippina thought it
possible that she might have occasion at some time to make use of.
This Locusta she now determined to consult. She accordingly went to
her, and asked her if she did not know of any poison which would
immediately take effect upon the brain and mind, so as to
incapacitate the patient at once from all mental action, while yet
it should be gradual and slow in its operations on the vital
functions of the body. Locusta answered in the affirmative. Such
characters were always prepared to furnish any species of
medicaments that their customers might call for. She compounded a
potion which she said possessed the properties which Agrippina
required, and Agrippina, receiving it from her hands, went away.

Agrippina then went to Halotus, the servant who waited upon the
emperor and gave him his food,--and contrived some means to induce
him to administer the dose. Halotus was the emperor's "taster," as
it was termed:--that is, it was his duty to taste first, himself,
every article of food or drink which he offered to his master, for
the express purpose of making it sure that nothing was poisoned. It
is obvious, however, that many ways might be devised for evading
such a precaution as this, and Halotus and Agrippina arranged it,
that the poison, in this case, should be put upon a dish of
mushrooms, and served to the emperor at his supper. The taster was
to avoid, by means of some dextrous management, the taking of any
portion of the fatal ingredients himself. The plan thus arranged was
put into execution. The emperor ate the mushrooms, and Agrippina
tremblingly awaited the result.

She was, however, disappointed in the effect that was produced.
Whether the mixture that Locusta had prepared was not sufficiently
powerful, or whether Halotus in his extreme anxiety not to get any
of the poisonous ingredients himself failed to administer them
effectually to his intended victim, the emperor seemed to continue
afterward much as he had been before,--still sick, but without any
new or more dangerous symptoms. Of course, Agrippina was in a state
of great solicitude and apprehension. Having incurred the terrible
guilt and danger necessarily involved in an attempt to poison her
husband, she could not draw back. The work that was begun must be
carried through now, she thought, at all hazards, to its
termination; and she immediately set herself at work to devise some
means of reaching her victim with poison, which would avoid the
taster altogether, and thus not be liable to any interference on his
part, dictated either by his fidelity to his master or his fears for
himself. She went, accordingly, to the emperor's physician and found
means to enlist him in her cause; and a plan was formed between them
which proved effectual in accomplishing her designs. The manner in
which they contrived it was this. The physician, at a time when the
emperor was lying sick and in distress upon his couch, came to him
and proposed that he should open his mouth and allow the physician
to touch his throat with the tip of a feather, to promote vomiting,
which he said he thought would relieve him. The emperor yielded to
this treatment, and the feather was applied. It had previously been
dipped in a very virulent and fatal poison. The poison thus
administered took effect, and Claudius, after passing the night in
agony, died early in the morning.


Of course, Agrippina, when her husband's dying struggles were over,
and she was satisfied that life was extinct, experienced for the
moment a feeling of gratification and relief. It might have been
expected, however, that the pangs of remorse, after the deed was
perpetrated, would have followed very hard upon the termination of
her suspense and anxiety. But it was not so. Much still remained to
be done, and Agrippina was fully prepared to meet all the
responsibilities of the crisis. The death of her husband took place
very early in the morning, the poisoning operations having been
performed in the night, and having accomplished their final effect
about the break of day. Agrippina immediately perceived that the
most effectual means of accomplishing the end which she had in view,
was not to allow of any interval to elapse between the announcement
of the emperor's death and the bringing forward of her son for
induction into office as his successor; since during such an
interval, if one were allowed, the Roman people would, of course,
discuss the question, whether Britannicus or Nero should succeed to
power, and a strong party might possibly organize itself to enforce
the claims of the former. She determined, therefore, to conceal the
death of her husband until noon, the hour most favorable for
publicly proclaiming any great event, and then to announce the
death of the father and the accession of the adopted son together.

She accordingly took prompt and decisive measures to prevent its
being known that the emperor was dead. The immediate attendants
at his bedside could not indeed be easily deceived, but they were
required to be silent in respect to what had occurred, and to go on
with all their services and ministrations just as if their patient
were still alive. Visitors were excluded from the room, and
messengers were kept coming to and fro with baths, medicaments, and
other appliances, such as a desperate crisis in a sick chamber might
be supposed to require. The Senate was convened, too, in the course
of the morning, and Agrippina, as if in great distress, sent a
message to them, informing them of her husband's dangerous
condition, and entreating them to join with the chief civil
and religious functionaries of the city, in offering vows,
supplications, and sacrifices for his recovery. She herself, in the
mean time, went from room to room about the palace, overwhelmed to
all appearance, with anxiety and grief. She kept Britannicus and his
sisters all the time with her, folding the boy in her arms with an
appearance of the fondest affection, and telling him how
heart-broken she was at the dangerous condition of his father. She
kept Britannicus thus constantly near to her, in order to prevent
the possibility of his being seized and carried away to the camp by
any party that might be disposed to make him emperor rather than
Nero, when it should be known that Claudius had ceased to reign. As
an additional defense against this danger, Agrippina brought up a
cohort of the life-guards around the palace, and caused them to be
stationed in such a manner that every avenue of approach to the
edifice was completely secured. The cohort which she selected was
one that she thought she could most safely rely upon, not only
for guarding the palace while she remained within it, but for
proclaiming Nero as emperor when she should at last be ready to come
forth and announce the death of her husband.

At length, about noon, she deemed that the hour had arrived, and
after placing Britannicus and his sisters in some safe custody
within the palace, she ordered the gates to be thrown open, and
prepared to come forth to announce the death of Claudius, and to
present Nero to the army and to the people of Rome, as his rightful
successor. She was aided and supported in these preparations by a
number of officers and attendants, among whom were the two whom she
had determined upon as the two principal ministers of her son's
government. These were Seneca and Burrus. Seneca was to be minister
of state, and Burrus the chief military commander.

Both these men had long been in the service of Agrippina and of
Nero. Seneca was now over fifty years of age. He was very highly
distinguished as a scholar and rhetorician while he lived, and his
numerous writings have given him great celebrity since, in every
age. He commenced his career in Rome as a public advocate in the
Forum, during the reign of Caligula. After Caligula's death he
incurred the displeasure of Claudius in the first year of that
emperor's reign, and he was banished to the island of Corsica, where
he remained in neglect and obscurity for about eight years. When at
length Messalina was put to death, and the emperor married
Agrippina, Seneca was pardoned and recalled through Agrippina's
influence, and after that he devoted himself very faithfully to the
service of the empress and of her son. Agrippina appointed him
Nero's preceptor, and gave him the direction of all the studies
which her son pursued in qualifying himself for the duties of a
public orator; and now that she was about attempting to advance her
son to the supreme command, she intended to make the philosopher his
principal secretary and minister of state.

Burrus was the commander of the life-guards, or as the office was
called in those days, prefect of the prætorium. The life-guards, or
body-guards, whose duty consisted exclusively in attending upon,
escorting and protecting the emperor, consisted of ten cohorts, each
containing about a thousand men. The soldiers designated for this
service were of course selected from the whole army, and as no
expense was spared in providing them with arms, accoutrements and
other appointments, they formed the finest body of troops in the
world. They received double pay, and enjoyed special privileges; and
every arrangement was made to secure their entire subserviency to
the will, and attachment to the person, of the reigning emperor. Of
course such a corps would be regarded by all the other divisions of
the army as entirely superior in rank and consideration, to the
ordinary service; and the general who commanded them would take
precedence of every other military commander, being second only
to the emperor himself. Agrippina had contrived to raise Burrus
to this post through her influence with Claudius. He was a friend
to her interests before, and he became still more devoted to
her after receiving such an appointment through her
instrumentality,--Agrippina now depended upon Burrus to carry
the Prætorian cohorts in favor of her son.

Accordingly at noon of the day on which Claudius died, when all
things were ready, the palace gates were thrown open and Agrippina
came forth with her son, accompanied by Burrus and by other
attendants. The cohort on duty was drawn up under arms at the palace
gates. Burrus presented Nero to them as the successor of Claudius,
and at a signal from him they all responded with shouts and
acclamations. Some few of the soldiers did not join in this
cheering, but looked on in silence, and then inquired of one
another what had become of Britannicus. But there were none to
answer this question, and as no one appeared to proclaim Britannicus
or to speak in his name, the whole cohort finally acquiesced in the
decision to which the majority, at the instigation of Burrus, seemed
inclined. A sort of chair or open palanquin was provided, and Nero
was mounted upon it. He was borne in this way by the soldiers
through the streets of the city, escorted by the cohort on the way,
till he reached the camp. As the procession moved along, the air was
filled with the shouts and acclamations of the soldiers and of the

When the party arrived at the camp Nero was presented to the army,
and the officers and soldiers being drawn up before him he delivered
a brief speech which Seneca had prepared for the occasion. The
principal point in this speech, and the one on which its effect was
expected to depend, was a promise of a large distribution of money.
The soldiers always expected such a donative on the accession of any
new emperor,--but Nero, in order to suppress any latent opposition
which might be felt against his claims, made his proposed
distribution unusually large. The soldiers readily yielded to the
influence of this promise, and with one accord proclaimed Nero
emperor. The Senate was soon afterward convened, and partly through
the influence of certain prominent members whom Agrippina had taken
measures to secure in her interest, and partly through the general
conviction that as things were the claims of Britannicus could not
be successfully maintained, the choice of the army was confirmed.
And as the tidings of what had taken place at the capital gradually
spread through Italy and to the remoter portions of the empire, the
provinces, and the various legions at their encampments, one after
another acquiesced in the result, both because on the one hand they
had no strong motive for dissenting, and on the other, they had
individually no power to make any effectual resistance. Thus Nero,
at the age of seventeen became emperor of Rome, and as such the
almost absolute monarch of nearly half the world.

It was, however, by no means the design of Agrippina that her son
should actually wield, himself, all this power. Her motive, in all
her manoeuvers for bringing Nero to this lofty position, was a
personal, not a maternal ambition. She was herself to reign, not he;
and she had brought him forward as the nominal sovereign only, in
order that she might herself exercise the power by acting in his
name. Her plan was to secure her own ascendency, by so arranging and
directing the course of affairs that the young emperor himself
should have as little as possible to do with the duties of his
office; and that instead of direct action on his part, all the
functions of the government should be fulfilled by officers of
various grades, whom she was herself to appoint and to sustain, and
who, since they would know that they were dependent on Agrippina's
influence for their elevation, would naturally be subservient to her
will. Nero being so young, she thought that he could easily be led
to acquiesce in such management as this, especially if he were
indulged in the full enjoyment of the luxuries and pleasures,
innocent or otherwise, which his high station would enable him to
command, and which are usually so tempting to one of his character
and years.

The first of Agrippina's measures was to make arrangement for a most
imposing and magnificent funeral, as the testimonial of the deep
conjugal affection which she entertained for her husband, and the
profound grief with which she was affected by his death! The most
extensive preparations were made for this funeral; and the pomp and
parade which were displayed in Rome on the day of the ceremony, had
never been surpassed, it was said, by any similar spectacle on any
former occasion. In the course of the services that were performed,
a funeral oration was delivered by Nero to the immense concourse of
people that were convened. The oration was written by Seneca. It was
a high panegyric upon the virtues and the renown of the deceased,
and it represented in the brightest colors, and with great
magnificence of diction, his illustrious birth, the high offices to
which he had attained, his taste for the liberal arts, and the peace
and tranquillity which had prevailed throughout the empire during
his reign. To write a panegyric upon such a man as Claudius had
been, must surely have proved a somewhat difficult task; but Seneca
accomplished it very adroitly, and the people, aided by the
solemnity of the occasion, listened with proper gravity, until at
length the orator began to speak of the judgment and the political
wisdom of Claudius, and then the listeners found that they could
preserve their decorum no longer. The audience looked at each other,
and there was a general laugh. The young orator, though for the
moment somewhat disconcerted at this interruption, soon recovered
himself, and went on to the end of his discourse.

After these funeral ceremonies had been performed, the Senate was
convened, and Nero appeared before them to make his inaugural
address. This address also, was of course prepared for him by
Seneca, under directions from Agrippina, who, after revolving the
subject fully in her mind, had determined what it would be most
politic to say. She knew very well that until the power of her son
became consolidated and settled, it became him to be modest in his
pretensions and claims, and to profess great deference and respect
for the powers and prerogatives of the Senate. In the speech,
therefore, which Nero delivered in the senate-chamber, he said that
in assuming the imperial dignity, which he had consented to do in
obedience to the will of his father the late emperor, to the general
voice of the army, and the universal suffrages of the people, he
did not intend to usurp the civil powers of the state, but to leave
to the Senate, and to the various civil functionaries of the city,
their rightful and proper jurisdiction. He considered himself as
merely the commander-in-chief of the armies of the commonwealth, and
as such, his duty would be simply to execute the national will. He
promised, moreover, a great variety of reforms in the
administration, all tending to diminish the authority of the prince,
and to protect the people from danger of oppression by military
power. In a word, it was his settled purpose, he said, to restore
the government to its pristine simplicity and purity, and to
administer it in strict accordance with the true principles of the
Roman Constitution, as originally established by the founders of the
commonwealth. The professions and promises which Nero thus made to
the Senate, or rather which he recited to them at the dictation of
his mother and of Seneca, gave great satisfaction to all who heard
them. All opposition to the claims which he advanced, disappeared,
and the heart of Agrippina was filled with gladness and joy at
finding that all her plans had been so fully and successfully

The official authority of Nero being thus generally acknowledged,
Agrippina began immediately to pursue a system of policy designed to
secure the possession of all real power for herself, leaving only
the name and semblance of it to her son. She appeared in all public
places with him, sharing with him the pomp, and parade, and insignia
of office, as if she were associated with him in official power. She
received and opened the dispatches and sent answers to them. She
considered and decided questions of state, and issued her orders.
She caused several influential persons whom she supposed likely to
take part with Britannicus, or at least secretly to favor his
claims, to be put to death, either by violence or by poison; and she
would have caused the death of many others in this way, if Burrus
and Seneca had not interposed their influence to prevent it. She did
all these things in a somewhat covert and cautious manner, acting
generally in Nero's name, so as not to attract too much attention at
first to her measures. There was danger, she knew, of awakening
resistance and opposition, as public sentiment among the Romans had
always been entirely averse to the idea of the submission of men, in
any form, to the government of women. Agrippina accordingly did not
attempt openly to preside in the senate-chamber, but she made
arrangements for having the meetings of the Senate sometimes held in
an apartment of the palace where she could attend, during the
sitting, in an adjoining cabinet, concealed from view by a screen or
arras, and thus listen to the debate. Even this, however, was
strongly objected to by some of the senators. They considered this
arrangement of Agrippina's to be present at their debates as
intended to intimidate them into the support of such measures as she
might recommend, or be supposed to favor, and thus as seriously
interfering with the freedom of their discussions. On one occasion
Agrippina made a bolder experiment still, by coming into the hall
where a company of foreign embassadors were to have audience, as if
it were a part of her official duty to join in receiving them. Her
son, the emperor, and the government officers around him, were
confounded when they saw her coming, and at first did not know what
to do. Seneca however, with great presence of mind, said to Nero,
"Your mother is entering, go and receive her." Hereupon, Nero left
his chair of state, and accompanied by his ministers, went to meet
his mother, and received her with great deference and respect; and
the attention of all present was wholly devoted to Agrippina while
she remained, as to a very distinguished and highly honored
guest,--the business which had called them together being suspended
on her account until she withdrew.

Notwithstanding some occasional difficulties and embarrassments of
this kind, every thing went on for a time very prosperously, in
accordance with Agrippina's wishes and plans. Nero was very young,
and little disposed at first to thwart or to resist his mother's
measures. He was, however, all the time growing older, and he soon
began to grow restive under the domination which Agrippina exercised
over him, and to form plans and determinations of his own. There
followed, as might have been expected, a terrible conflict for the
possession of power between him and his mother. The history and the
termination of this struggle will form the subject of the two
following chapters.



A.D. 54-55

Britannicus and Acte.--Indignation of Agrippina.--Otho and
Senecio.--Perplexity of Nero's ministers.--They determine to connive
at Nero's new connection.--Agrippina is greatly enraged.--Her furious
invectives.--She becomes calm again.--Agrippina changes her
policy.--Nero rejects his mother's advances.--His treatment of
her.--He makes her a present of jewelry.--Agrippina is enraged.--Nero
resolves to subdue his mother.--His plan.--Pallas dismissed.--His
withdrawal.--Agrippina's bitter reproaches.--Her threats.--She declares
that she will cause Nero to be deposed.--Probable character and meaning
of these threats.--The game of "who shall be king?"--Nero's orders
to Britannicus.--The song which Britannicus sung.--Nero resolves to
resort to poison.--Pollio and Locusta.--The plan at first fails.--A
second attempt.--A second preparation.--Mode of administering the
poison.--Britannicus dies.--Agrippina's agitation and distress.--Effect
produced by the poison.--Remedy.--The interment of Britannicus.--The
storm.--Nero's proclamation.

The occasion which led to the first open outbreak between Agrippina
and her son was the discovery on her part of a secret and guilty
attachment which had been formed between Nero and a young girl of
the palace whose name was Acte. Acte was originally a slave from
Asia Minor, having been purchased there and sent to Rome, very
probably on account of her personal beauty. She had been
subsequently enfranchised, but she remained still in the palace,
forming a part of the household of Agrippina. Nero had never felt
any strong attachment for Octavia. His marriage he had always
regarded as merely one of his mother's political manoeuvers, and
he did not consider himself as really bound to his wife by any tie.
He was, besides, still but a boy, though unusually precocious and
mature; and he had always been accustomed to the most unlimited
indulgence of the propensities and passions of youth.

The young prince, as is usual in such cases, was led on and
encouraged in the vicious course of life that he was now beginning
to pursue, by certain dissolute companions whose society he fell
into about this time. There were two young men in particular whose
influence over him was of the worst character. Their names were Otho
and Senecio. Otho was descended from a very distinguished family,
and his rank and social position in Roman society were very high.
Senecio, on the other hand, was of a very humble extraction--his
father being an emancipated slave. The three young men were,
however, nearly of the same age, and being equally unprincipled and
dissolute, they banded themselves together in the pursuit and
enjoyment of vicious indulgences. Nero made Otho and Senecio his
confidants in his connection with Acte, and it was in a great
measure through their assistance and co-operation that he
accomplished his ends.

When Seneca and Burrus were informed of Nero's attachment to Acte,
and of the connection which had been established between them, they
were at first much perplexed to know what to do. They were men of
strict moral principle themselves, and as Nero had been their
pupil, and was still, while they continued his ministers, in some
sense under their charge, they thought it might be their duty to
remonstrate with him on the course which he was pursuing, and
endeavor to separate him from his vicious companions, and bring him
back, if possible, to his duty to Octavia. But then, on the other
hand, they said to each other that any attempt on their part really
to control the ungovernable and lawless propensities of such a soul
as Nero's must be utterly unavailing, and since he must necessarily,
as they thought, be expected to addict himself to vicious
indulgences in some form, the connection with Acte might perhaps be
as little to be dreaded as any. On the whole, they concluded not to

Not so, however, with Agrippina. When she came to learn of this new
attachment which her son had formed, she was very much disturbed and
alarmed. Her distress, however, did not arise from any of those
feelings of solicitude which, as a mother, she might have been
expected to feel for the moral purity of her boy, but from fears
that, through the influence and ascendency which such a favorite as
Acte might acquire, she should lose her own power. She knew very
well how absolute and complete the domination of such a favorite
sometimes became, and she trembled at the danger which threatened
her of being supplanted by Acte, and thus losing her control.

Agrippina was very violent and imperious in her temper, and had long
been accustomed to rule those around her with a very high hand; and
now, without properly considering that Nero had passed beyond the
age in which he could be treated as a mere boy, she attacked him at
once with the bitterest reproaches and invectives, and insisted that
his connection with Acte should be immediately abandoned. Nero
resisted her, and stoutly refused to comply with her demands.
Agrippina was fired with indignation and rage. She filled the palace
with her complaints and criminations. She accused Nero of the basest
ingratitude toward her, in repaying the long-continued and faithful
exertions and sacrifices which she had made to promote his
interests, by thus displacing her from his confidence and regard, to
make room for this wretched favorite, and of falseness and
faithlessness to Octavia, in abandoning her, his lawful wife, for
the society of an enfranchised slave. Agrippina was extremely
violent in these denunciations. She scolded, she stormed, she
raved--acting manifestly under the impulse of blind and
uncontrollable passion. Her passion was obviously blind, for the
course to which it impelled her was plainly very far from tending to
accomplish any object which she could be supposed to have in view.

At length, when the first fury of her vexation and anger had spent
itself, she began to reflect, as people generally do when recovering
from a passion, that she was spending her strength in working
mischief to her own cause. This reflection helped to promote the
subsiding of her anger. Her loud denunciations gradually died away,
and were succeeded by mutterings and murmurings. At length she
became silent altogether, and after an interval of reflection, she
concluded no longer to give way to her clamorous and useless anger,
but calmly to consider what it was best to _do_.

She soon determined that the wisest and most politic plan after all,
would be for her to acquiesce in the fancy of her son, and endeavor
to retain her ascendency over him by aiding and countenancing him in
his pleasures. She accordingly changed by degrees the tone which she
had assumed toward him, and began to address him in words of favor
and indulgence. She said that it was natural, after all, at his time
of life, to love, and that his superior rank and station entitled
him to some degree of immunity from the restrictions imposed upon
ordinary men. Acte was indeed a beautiful girl, and she was not
surprised, she said, that he had conceived an affection for her. The
indulgence of his love was indeed attended with difficulty and
danger, but, if he would submit the affair to her care and
management, she could take such precautions that all would be well.
She apologized for the warmth with which she had at first spoken,
and attributed it to the jealous and watchful interest which a
mother must always feel in all that relates to the prosperity and
happiness of her son. She said, moreover, that she was now ready and
willing to enter into and promote his views, and she offered him the
use of certain private apartments of her own in the palace, to meet
Acte in, saying that, by such an arrangement, and with the
precautions that she could use, he could enjoy the society of his
favorite whenever he pleased, without interruption and without

Nero very naturally reported all this to his companions. They of
course advised him not to believe any thing that his mother said,
nor to trust to her in any way. "It is all," said they, "an artful
device on her part to get you into her power; and no young man of
pride and spirit will submit to the disgrace of being under his
mother's management and control." The young profligate listened to
the counsels of his associates, and rejected the overtures which his
mother had made him. He continued his attachment to Acte, but kept
as much as possible aloof from Agrippina.

He desired, however, if possible, to avoid an open quarrel with his
mother, and so he made some effort to treat her with attention and
respect, in his general bearing toward her, while he persisted in
refusing to admit her to his confidence in respect to Acte. These
general attentions were, however, by no means sufficient to satisfy
Agrippina. The influence of Acte was what she feared, and she well
knew that her own power was in imminent danger of being undermined
and overthrown, unless she could find some means of bringing her
son's connection with his favorite under her own control. Thus the
calm that seemed for a short time to reign between Nero and his
mother was an armistice rather than a peace, and this armistice was
brought at length to a sudden termination by an act of Nero's which
he intended as an act of conciliation and kindness, but which proved
to be in effect the means of awakening his mother's anger anew, and
of exciting her even to a more violent exasperation than she had
felt before.

It seems that among the other treasures of the imperial palace at
Rome there was an extensive wardrobe of very costly female dresses
and decorations, which was appropriated to the use of the wives and
mothers of the emperors. Nero conceived the idea of making a present
to his mother, from this collection. He accordingly selected a
magnificent dress, and a considerable quantity of jewelry, and sent
them to Agrippina. Instead of being gratified with this gift,
however, Agrippina received it as an affront. She had been so long
accustomed to consider herself as the first personage in the
imperial household, that she regarded all such things as rightfully
her own; and she consequently looked upon the act of Nero in
formally presenting her with a small portion of these treasures, as
a simple impertinence, and as intended to notify her that he
considered all that remained of the collection as his property, and
thenceforth as such subject to his exclusive control. Instead
therefore of being appeased by Nero's offering she was greatly
enraged by it. The angry invectives which she uttered were duly
reported to the emperor, and his indignation and resentment were
aroused by them anew, and thus the breach between the mother and the
son became wider than ever.

[Illustration: THE JEWELRY.]

In fact Nero began to perceive very clearly that if he intended to
secure for himself any thing more than the empty semblance of power,
he must at once do something effectual to curb the domineering and
ambitious spirit of his mother. After revolving this subject in his
mind, he finally concluded that the measure which promised to be
most decisive was to dismiss a certain public officer named Pallas,
who had been brought forward into public life many years before by
Agrippina, and was now the chief instrument of her political power.
Pallas was the public treasurer, and he had amassed such enormous
wealth by his management of the public finances, that at one time
when Claudius was complaining of the impoverished condition of his
exchequer, some one replied that he would soon be rich enough if he
could but induce his treasurer to receive him into partnership.

Pallas, as has already been said, had been originally brought
forward into public life by the influence of Agrippina, and he had
always been Agrippina's chief reliance in all her political schemes.
He had aided very effectually in promoting her marriage with
Claudius; and had co-operated with her in all her subsequent
measures; and Nero considered him now as his mother's chief
supporter and ally. Nero resolved, accordingly, to dismiss him from
office; and in order to induce him to retire peaceably, it was
agreed that no inquiry or investigation should be made into the
state of his accounts, but every thing should be considered as
balanced and settled. Pallas acceded to this proposal. During the
whole course of his official career, he had lived in great
magnificence and splendor, and now in laying down his office, he
withdrew from the imperial palaces, at the head of a long train of
attendants, and with a degree of pomp and parade which attracted
universal attention. The event was regarded by the public as a
declaration on the part of Nero, that thenceforth he himself and not
his mother was to rule; and Agrippina, of course, fell at once,
many degrees, from the high position which she had held in the
public estimation.

She was, of course, greatly enraged, and though utterly helpless in
respect to resistance, she stormed about the palace, uttering the
loudest and most violent expressions of resentment and anger.

During the continuance of this paroxysm Agrippina bitterly
reproached her son for what she termed his cruel ingratitude. It was
altogether to her, she said, that he owed his elevation. For a long
course of years she had been making ceaseless exertions, had
submitted to the greatest sacrifices, and had even committed the
most atrocious crimes, to raise him to the high position to which he
had attained; and now, so soon as he had attained it, and had made
himself sure, as he fancied, of his foothold, his first act was to
turn basely and ungratefully against the hand that had raised him.
But notwithstanding his fancied security, she would teach him, she
said, that her power was still to be feared. Britannicus was still
alive, and he was after all the rightful heir, and since her son had
proved himself so unworthy of the efforts and sacrifices that she
had made for him, she would forthwith take measures to restore to
Britannicus what she had so unjustly taken from him. She would
immediately divulge all the dreadful secrets which were connected
with Nero's elevation. She would make known the arts by means of
which her marriage with Claudius had been effected, and the adoption
of Nero as Claudius's son and heir had been secured. She would
confess the murder of Claudius, and the usurpation on her part of
the imperial power for Nero her son. Nero would, in consequence, be
deposed, and Britannicus would succeed him, and thus the base
ingratitude and treachery toward his mother which Nero had displayed
would be avenged. This plan, she declared, she would immediately
carry into effect. She would take Britannicus to the camp, and
appeal to the army in his name. Both Burrus and Seneca would join
her, and her undutiful and treacherous son would be stripped
forthwith of his ill-gotten power.

These words of Agrippina were not, however, the expressions of sober
purpose, really and honestly entertained. They were the wild and
unthinking threats and denunciations which are prompted in such
cases by the frenzy of helpless and impotent rage. It is not at all
probable that she had any serious intention of attempting such
desperate measures as she threatened; for if she had really
entertained such a design, she would have carefully kept it secret
while making her arrangements for carrying it into execution.

Still these threats and denunciations, though they were obviously
prompted by a blind and temporary rage, which it might be reasonably
supposed would soon subside, made a deep impression upon Nero's
mind. In the first place, he was angry with his mother for daring to
utter them. Then there was at least a possibility that she might
really undertake to put them in execution, as no one could foresee
what her desperate frenzy might lead her to do. Then besides, even
if Agrippina's resentment were to subside, and she should seem
entirely to abandon all idea of ever executing her threats, Nero was
extremely unwilling to remain thus in his mother's power--exposed
continually to fresh outbreaks of her hostility, whenever her anger
or her caprice might arouse her again. The threats which his mother
uttered made him, therefore, extremely restless and uneasy.

A circumstance occurred about this time which, though very trifling
in itself, had the effect greatly to increase the jealousy and fear
in respect to Britannicus, which Nero was inclined to feel. It seems
that among the other amusements with which the company were
accustomed to entertain themselves in the social gatherings that
took place, from time to time, in the imperial palace, there was a
certain game which they used to play, called, "WHO SHALL BE KING?"
The game consisted of choosing one of the party by lot to be king,
and then of requiring all the others to obey the commands, whatever
they might be, which the king so chosen might issue. Of course, the
success of the game depended upon the art and ingenuity of the king
in prescribing such things to be done by his various subjects, as
would most entertain and amuse the company. What the forfeit or
penalty was, that the rules of the game required, in case of
disobedience, is not stated; but every one was considered bound to
obey the commands that were laid upon him,--provided, of course,
that the thing required was within his power.

Nero himself, it appears, was accustomed to join in these sports,
and one evening, when a party were all playing it together in his
palace, it fell to _his_ lot to be king. When it came to be the turn
of Britannicus to receive orders, Nero directed him to go out into
the middle of the room, and sing a song to the company. This was a
very severe requirement for one so young as Britannicus, and so
little accustomed to take an active part in the festivities of so
gay a company; and the motive of Nero in making it, was supposed to
be a feeling of ill-will, and a desire to tease his brother, by
placing him in an awkward and embarrassing situation--one in which
he would be compelled either to interrupt the game by refusing to
obey the orders of the king, or to expose himself to ridicule by
making a fruitless attempt to sing a song.

To the surprise of all, however, Britannicus rose from his seat
without any apparent hesitation or embarrassment, walked out upon
the floor, and took his position. The attention of the whole company
was fixed upon him. All sounds were hushed.

He began to sing. The song was a lament, describing in plaintive
words and in mournful music, the situation and the sorrows of a
young prince, excluded wrongfully from the throne of his
ancestors.[B] The whole company listened with profound attention,
charmed at first by the artless simplicity of the music, and the
grace and beauty of the boy. As Britannicus proceeded in his song,
and the meaning of it, in its application to his own case, began to
be perceived, a universal sympathy for him was felt, by the whole
assembly, and when he concluded and resumed his seat, the apartment
was filled with suppressed murmurs of applause. The effect of this
scene upon the mind of Nero, was of course only to awaken feelings
of vexation and anger. He looked on in moody silence, uttering
mentally the fiercest threats and denunciations against the object
of his jealousy, whom he was now compelled to look upon, more than
ever before, as a dangerous and formidable rival. He determined, in
fact, that Britannicus should die.

[Footnote B: By some it has been thought that the song which
Britannicus sung on this occasion was one which he had learned
before--one perhaps which he had accidentally seen or heard, and
which had attracted his attention on account of its adaptedness to
his own case; and there is a song of Ennius, an ancient writer,
which is sometimes cited as the one he sang on this occasion. Others
say that the performance was original and extemporaneous; that the
young prince, excited by his wrongs, and by the peculiar
circumstances of the occasion, gave utterance to his own feelings in
words which suggested themselves to him on the spot. To do this
would require, of course great intellectual readiness and
ability,--but the difficulty of such a performance would be somewhat
diminished by the fact, that the ancient poetry was wholly different
from that of modern times, being marked only by a measured cadence,
unconnected with rhyme.]

In considering by what means he should undertake to effect his
purpose, it seemed to Nero most prudent to employ poison. There was
no pretext whatever for any criminal charge against the young
prince, and Nero did not dare to resort to open violence. He
determined, therefore, to resort to poison, and to employ Locusta to
prepare it.

Locusta, the reader will remember, was the woman whom Agrippina had
employed for the murder of her husband, Claudius. She was still in
custody as a convict, being under sentence of death for her crimes.
She was in the charge of a certain captain named Pollio, an officer
of the Prætorian guard. Nero sent for Pollio, and directed him to
procure from his prisoner a poisonous potion suitable for the
purpose intended. The potion was prepared, and soon afterward it
was administered. At least it was given to certain attendants that
were employed about the person of Britannicus, with orders that they
should administer it. The expected effect, however, was not
produced. Whether it was because the potion which Locusta had
prepared was too weak, or because it was not really administered by
those who received it in charge, no result followed, and Nero was
greatly enraged. He sent for Pollio, and assailed him with
reproaches and threats, and as for Locusta, he declared that she
should be immediately put to death. They were both miserable
cowards, he said, who had not the firmness to do their duty. Pollio,
in reply, made the most earnest protestations of his readiness to do
whatever his master should command. He assured Nero that the failure
of their attempt was owing entirely to some accidental cause, and
that if he would give Locusta one more opportunity to make the
trial, he would guarantee that she would prepare a mixture that
would kill Britannicus as quick as a dagger would do it.

Nero ordered that this should immediately be done. Locusta was sent
for, and was shut up with Pollio in an apartment adjoining that of
the emperor, with directions to make the mixture there, and then to
administer it forthwith. Their lives were to depend upon the result.
The poison was soon prepared. There was, however, a serious
difficulty in the way of administering it, since a potion so sudden
and violent in its character as this was intended to be, might be
expected to take immediate effect upon the taster, and so produce an
alarm which would prevent Britannicus from receiving it. To obviate
this difficulty, Pollio and Locusta cunningly contrived the
following plan.

They mixed the poison when it was prepared, with cold water, and put
it in the pitcher in which cold water was customarily kept in the
apartment where Britannicus was to take his supper. When the time
arrived Nero himself came in and took his place upon a couch which
was standing in the room, with a view of watching the proceedings.
Some broth was brought in for the prince's supper. The attendant
whose duty it was, tasted it as usual, and then passed it into the
prince's hand. Britannicus tasted it, and found it too hot. It had
been purposely made so. He gave it back to the attendant to be
cooled. The attendant took it to the pitcher, and cooled it with the
poisoned water, and then gave it back again to Britannicus without
asking the taster to taste it again. Britannicus drank the broth. In
a few minutes the fatal consequences ensued. The unhappy victim sank
suddenly down in a fainting fit. His eyes became fixed, his limbs
were paralyzed, his breathing was short and convulsive. The
attendants rushed toward him to render him assistance, but his life
was fast ebbing away, and before they could recover from the shock
which his sudden illness occasioned them, they found that he had
ceased to breathe.

The event produced, of course, great excitement and commotion
throughout the palace. Agrippina was immediately summoned, and as
she stood over the dying child she was overwhelmed with terror and
distress. Nero, on the other hand, appeared wholly unmoved. "It is
only one of his epileptic fits," said he. "Britannicus has been
accustomed to them from infancy. He will soon recover."

As soon, however, as there was no longer any room to question that
Britannicus was dead, Nero began immediately to make preparations
for the burial of the body. The remorse which, notwithstanding his
depravity, he could not but feel at having perpetrated such a crime,
made him impatient to remove all traces and memorials of it from his
sight; and, besides, he was afraid to wait the usual period and then
to make arrangements for a public funeral, lest the truth in respect
to the death of Britannicus might be suspected by the Romans, and a
party be formed to revenge his wrongs. Any tendency of this kind
which might exist would be greatly favored, he knew, by the
excitement of a public funeral. He determined, therefore, that the
body should be immediately buried.

There was another reason still for this dispatch. It seems that one
of the effects of the species of poison which Locusta had
administered was that the body of the victim was turned black by it
soon after death. This discoloration, in fact, began to appear in
the face of the corpse of Britannicus before the time for the
interment arrived; and Nero, in order to guard against the exposure
which this phenomenon threatened, ordered the face to be painted of
the natural color, by means of cosmetics, such as the ladies of the
court were accustomed to use in those days. By doing this the
countenance of the dead was restored to its proper color, and
afterward underwent no further change. Still the emperor was
naturally impatient to have the body interred.

The preparations were accordingly made that same evening, and in the
middle of the night the body of Britannicus was buried in the Field
of Mars, a vast parade-ground in the precincts of the city. In
addition to the darkness of the night, a violent storm arose, and
the rain fell in torrents while the interment proceeded. Very few,
therefore, of the people of the city knew what had occurred until
the following day. The violence of the storm, however, which
promoted in one respect the accomplishment of Nero's designs by
favoring the secrecy of the interment, in another respect operated
strongly against him, for the face of the corpse became so wet with
the fallen rain, that the cosmetic was washed away and the blackened
skin was brought to view. The attendants who had the body in charge
learned thus that the boy had been poisoned.

On the morning after the funeral the emperor issued a proclamation
announcing the death and burial of his brother, and calling upon the
Roman Senate and the Roman people for their sympathy and support in
the bereavement which he had sustained.

At the time of his death Britannicus was fourteen years old.



A.D. 55-60

Situation of Agrippina.--Her state of mind.--Nero's views in respect
to his mother.--Plans and measures adopted by Agrippina.--Nero
establishes his mother as a private lady.--Agrippina finds herself
forsaken and friendless.--A plot discovered.--Statement of Paris.--Nero
is greatly alarmed.--A council called.--Burrus defends
Agrippina.--Agrippina's indignant answer to the charge.--Return of
the commissioners to Nero.--Nero is convinced of his mother's
innocence.--Nero's course of life.--Riots in the street.--Agrippina
lives in seclusion.--Poppæa.--Her influence over Nero.--Her taunts
and reproaches.--Effect of them on Nero's mind.--Nero begins to
desire the death of his mother.--Great naval celebration at
Misenum.--Anicetus.--Proposal of Anicetus.--Nero is pleased with
it.--Arrangements for carrying it into effect.--Agrippina goes
to Baiæ.--Preparations for destroying Agrippina.--Nero bids his
mother an affectionate farewell.--Agrippina and her attendant
on board the barge.--The result of the attempt.--Narrow escape
of Agrippina.--Agrippina and Aceronia in the sea.--Agrippina
escapes.--Her message to Nero.--Nero's alarm on bearing of his
mother's escape.--Consultation with Seneca and Burrus.--Anicetus
undertakes to finish his work.--Anicetus goes to Agrippina's
villa.--Conversation.--Agrippina is murdered.--Nero is overwhelmed with
remorse and horror.--He becomes more calm.--The dead body.--Burning
of the body of Agrippina.

However it may have been with others, Agrippina herself was not
deceived by the false pretenses which Nero offered in explanation
of his brother's death. She understood the case too well, and the
event filled her mind with a tumult of conflicting emotions.
Notwithstanding the terrible quarrels which had disturbed her
intercourse with the emperor, he was still her son,--her first-born
son,--and she loved him as such, even in the midst of the resentment
and hostility which her disappointed ambition from time to time
awakened in her mind. Her ambition was now more bitterly
disappointed than ever. In the death of Britannicus the last link of
her power over Nero seemed to be forever sundered. The hand by which
he had fallen was still that of her son,--a son to whom she could
not but cling with maternal affection, while she felt deeply wounded
at what she considered his cruel ingratitude toward her, and vexed
and maddened at finding herself so hopelessly circumvented in all
her schemes.

As for Nero himself, he had no longer any hope or expectation of
being on good terms with his mother again. He saw clearly that her
schemes and plans were wholly incompatible with his, and that in
order to secure the prosperous accomplishment of his own designs he
must now finish the work that he had begun, and curtail and restrict
his mother's influence by every means in his power. Other persons he
attempted to conciliate. He made splendid presents to the leading
men of Rome, as bribes to prevent their instituting inquiries in
respect to the death of Britannicus. To some he gave landed estates,
to others sums of money, and others still he advanced to high
offices of civil or military command. Those whom he most feared he
removed from Rome, by giving them honorable and lucrative
appointments in distant provinces.

In the mean time Agrippina herself was not idle. As soon as she
recovered from the first shock which the death of Britannicus had
occasioned her, she began to think of revenge. Within the limits
and restrictions which the suspicion and vigilance of Nero imposed
upon her, she formed a small circle of friends and adherents, and
sought out, diligently, though secretly, all whom she supposed to be
disaffected to the government of Nero. She attached herself
particularly to Octavia, who, being the daughter of Claudius,
succeeded now, on the death of Britannicus, to whatever hereditary
rights had been vested in him. She collected money, so far as she
had power to do so, from all the resources which remained to her,
and she availed herself of every opportunity to cultivate the
acquaintance, and court the favor, of all such officers of the army
as were accessible to her influence. In a word, she seemed to be
meditating some secret scheme for retrieving her fallen
fortunes,--and Nero, who watched all her motions with a jealous and
suspicious eye, began to be alarmed, not knowing to what desperate
extremes her resentment and ambition might urge her.

Up to this time Agrippina had lived in the imperial palace with
Nero, forming, with her retinue, a part of his household, and
sharing of course, in some sense, the official honors paid to him.
Nero now concluded, however, that he would remove her from this
position and give her a separate establishment of her own,--making
it correspond in its appointments with the secondary and subordinate
station to which he intended thenceforth to confine her. He
accordingly assigned to her a certain mansion in the city which had
formerly been occupied by some branch of the imperial family, and
removed her to it, with all her attendants. He dismissed, however,
from her service, under various pretexts, such officers and
adherents as he supposed were most devoted to her interests and most
disposed to join with her in plots and conspiracies against him. The
places of those whom he thus superseded were supplied by men on whom
he could rely for subserviency to him. He diminished too the number
of Agrippina's attendants and guards; he withdrew the sentinels that
had been accustomed to guard the gates of her apartments, and
dismissed a certain corps of German soldiers that had hitherto
served under her command, as a sort of life-guard. In a word he
removed her from the scenes of imperial pomp and splendor in which
she had been accustomed to move, and established her instead in the
position of a private Roman lady.

The unhappy Agrippina soon found that this change in her position
made a great change in respect to the degree of consideration and
regard which was bestowed upon her by the public. The circle of her
adherents and friends was gradually diminished. Her visitors were
few. The emperor himself went sometimes to see his mother, but he
came always attended with a retinue, and after a brief and formal
interview, he retired as ceremoniously as he came,--thus giving to
his visit the character simply of a duty of state etiquette. In a
word, Agrippina found herself forsaken and friendless, and her mind
gradually sank into a condition of hopeless despondency, vexation
and chagrin.

Things continued in this state for some time until at length one
night when Nero had been drinking and carousing at a banquet in his
palace, a well-known courtier named Paris, one of the principal of
Nero's companions and favorites, came into the apartment and
informed the emperor with a countenance expressive of great concern,
that he had tidings of the most serious moment to communicate to
him. Nero withdrew from the scene of festivity to receive the
communication, and was informed by Paris, that a discovery had been
made of a deep-laid and dangerous plot, which Agrippina and certain
accomplices of hers had formed. The object of the conspirators, as
Paris alledged, was to depose Nero, and raise a certain descendant
of Augustus Cæsar, named Plautus, to the supreme command, in his
stead. This revolution being effected, Agrippina was to marry the
new emperor, and thus be restored to her former power.

The statement which Paris made was very full in all its details. The
names of the chief conspirators were given, and all the plans
explained. The chief witness on whose authority the charge was made,
was a celebrated woman of the court, an intimate acquaintance and
visitor of Agrippina, named Silana. Silana and Agrippina had been
very warm friends, but a terrible quarrel had recently broken out
between them, in consequence of some interference on the part of
Agrippina, to prevent a marriage, which had been partially arranged
between Silana and a distinguished Roman citizen, from being carried
into effect. Silana had been exasperated by this ill office, and
the revelation which she had made had been the result. Whether such
a conspiracy had really been formed, and Silana had been induced to
betray the secret in consequence of the injury which Agrippina had
inflicted upon her in preventing her marriage, or whether she wholly
invented the story under the impulse of a desperate revenge, was
never fully known. The historians of the time incline to the latter

However this may be, Nero was greatly alarmed at the communication
which Paris made to him. He immediately abandoned his festivities
and carousals, dismissed his guests, and called a council of his
most confidential advisers, to consider what was to be done. He
stated the case to this council, and announced it as his
determination immediately to pronounce sentence of death upon his
mother and upon Plautus, and to send officers at once to execute the
decree, as the first step to be taken. Burrus, however, strongly
dissuaded him from so rash a proceeding. "These are only charges,"
said he, "at present. We have yet no proofs. An informer has come
to you at dead of night with this wild and improbable story, and if
we take it for granted at once that it is true, and allow ourselves
to act under the influence of excitement and alarm, we should
afterward regret our rashness when the consequences could not be
retrieved. Besides, Agrippina is your mother; and as it is the right
of the humblest person in the commonwealth, when accused of crime,
to be heard in answer to the accusation, it would be an atrocious
crime to deprive the mother of the emperor of that privilege.
Postpone, therefore, pronouncing judgment in this case until we can
learn the facts more certainly. I pledge myself to execute sentence
of death on Agrippina, if after a fair hearing, this charge is
proved against her."

By such arguments and remonstrances as these Nero was in some degree
appeased, and it was determined to postpone taking any decisive
action in the emergency until the morning. As soon as it was day,
Burrus and Seneca, accompanied by several attendants, who were to
act as witnesses of the interview, were dispatched to the house of
Agrippina to lay the charge before her and to hear what she had to

Agrippina was at first somewhat astonished at being summoned at so
early an hour to give audience to so formidable a commission; but
her proud spirit had become so fierce and desperate under the
treatment which she had received from her son, that she was very
slightly sensible to fear. She listened, therefore, to the heavy
charge which Burrus brought against her, undismayed; and when he
paused to hear her reply, instead of excusing and defending herself,
and deprecating the emperor's displeasure, she commenced the most
severe and angry invectives against her son, for listening for a
moment to calumnies against her so wild and improbable. That Silana,
who was, as she said, a dissolute and unprincipled woman, and who,
consequently, could have no idea of the strength and the fidelity of
maternal affection, should think it possible that a mother could
form plots and conspiracies against an only son, was not strange;
but that Nero himself, for whom she had made such exertions and
incurred such dangers, and to whose interests she had surrendered
and sacrificed every thing that could be dear to the heart of a
woman--could believe such tales, and actually conceive the design
of murdering his mother on the faith of them, was not to be endured.
"Does not he know well," said she, in a voice almost inarticulate
with excitement and indignation, "that, if by any means,
Britannicus, or Plautus, or any other man were to be raised to
power, my life would be immediately forfeited in consequence of what
I have already done for him? Can he imagine, after the deep and
desperate crimes which I have committed for his sake, in order that
I might raise him to his present power, that I could seal my own
destruction by bringing forward any one of his rivals and enemies to
his place? Go back and tell him this, and say, moreover, that I
demand an audience of him. I am his mother; and I have a right to
expect that he shall see me himself, and hear what I have to say."

The commissioners whom Nero had sent with the accusations, were
somewhat astonished at receiving these angry denunciations and
invectives in reply, instead of the meek and faltering defense which
they had expected. They were overawed, too, by the lofty and
passionate energy with which Agrippina had spoken. They answered her
with soothing and conciliatory words, and then went back to Nero,
and reported the result of their interview.

Nero consented to see his mother. In his presence she assumed the
same tone of proud and injured innocence, that had characterized her
interview with the messengers. She scorned to enter into any
vindication of herself; but _assumed_ that she was innocent, and
demanded that her accusers should be punished as persons guilty of
the most atrocious calumny. Nero was convinced of her innocence, and
yielded to her demands. Silana and two others of her accusers, were
banished from Rome. Another still was punished with death.

Thus a sort of temporary and imperfect peace was once more
established between Nero and his mother.

This state of things continued for about the space of three years.
During this time, the public affairs of the empire, as conducted by
the ministers of state and the military generals, to whom Nero
intrusted them, went on with tolerable prosperity and success, while
in every thing that related to personal conduct and character, the
condition of the emperor was becoming every day more and more
deplorable. He spent his days in sloth and sensual stupor, and his
nights in the wildest riot and debauchery. He used to disguise
himself as a slave, and sally forth at midnight with a party of his
companions similarly attired, into the streets of the city,
disturbing the night with riot and noise. Sometimes they would go
out at an earlier hour,--while the people were in the streets and
the shops were open,--and amuse themselves with seizing the goods
and merchandise that they found offered for sale, and assaulting all
that came in their way. In these frolics, the emperor and his party
were met sometimes by other parties; and in the brawls which ensued
Nero was frequently handled very roughly--his opponents not knowing
who he was. At one time he was knocked down and very seriously
wounded; and in consequence of this adventure, his face was for a
long time disfigured with a scar.

Although in these orgies Nero went generally in disguise, yet as he
and his companions were accustomed afterward to boast of their
exploits, it soon became generally known to the people of the city
that their young emperor was in the habit of mingling in these
midnight brawls. Of course every wild and dissolute young man in
Rome was fired with an ambition to imitate the example set him by so
exalted an authority. Midnight riots became the fashion. As the
parties grew larger, the brawls which occurred in the streets became
more and more serious, until at last Nero was accustomed to take
with him a gang of soldiers and gladiators in disguise, who were
instructed to follow him within call, so as to be ready to come up
instantly to his aid whenever he should require their assistance.

Year after year passed away in this manner, Nero abandoning himself
all the time to the grossest sensual pleasures, and growing more and
more reckless and desperate every day. His mother lived during this
period in comparative seclusion. She attempted to exercise some
little restraint over her son, but without success. She attached
herself strongly to Octavia, the wife of Nero, and would have
defended her, if she could, from the injuries and wrongs which the
conduct of Nero as a husband heaped upon her.

At length the young emperor, in following his round of vicious
indulgence, formed an intimacy with a certain lady of the court
named Poppæa, the wife of Otho, one of Nero's companions in
pleasure. Nero sent Otho away on some distant appointment, in order
that he might enjoy the society of Poppæa without restraint. At
length Poppæa gained so great an ascendency over the mind of the
emperor as to seduce him entirely away from his duty to his wife,
and she proposed that they should both be divorced and then marry
one another. Nero was inclined to accede to this proposal, but
Agrippina strongly opposed it. For a time Nero hesitated between the
influence of Agrippina and the sentiment of duty, on the one hand,
and the enticements of Poppæa on the other. In addition to the
influence of her blandishments and smiles, she attempted to act upon
Nero's boyish pride by taunting him with what she called his
degrading and unmanly subjection to his mother. How long, she asked,
was he to remain like a child under maternal tutelage? She wondered
how he could endure so ignoble a bondage. He was in name and
position, she said, a mighty monarch, reigning absolutely over half
the world,--but in actual fact he was a mere nursery boy, who could
do nothing without his mother's leave. She was ashamed, she said, to
see him in so humiliating a condition; and unless he would take some
vigorous measures to free himself from his chains, she declared that
she would leave him forever, and go with her husband to some distant
quarter of the world where she could no longer be a witness of his

The effect of these taunts upon the mind of Nero was very much
heightened by the proud and imperious spirit which his mother
manifested toward him, and which seemed to become more and more
stern and severe, through the growing desperation which the conduct
of her son and her own hopeless condition seemed to awaken in her
mind. The quarrel, in a word, between the emperor and his mother
grew more and more inveterate and hopeless every day. At length he
shunned her entirely, and finally, every remaining spark of filial
duty having become extinguished, he began to meditate some secret
plan of removing her out of his way.

He revolved various projects for accomplishing this purpose, in his
mind. He did not dare to employ open violence, as he had no charge
against his mother to justify a criminal sentence against her; and
he dreaded the effect upon the public mind which would be produced
by the spectacle of so unnatural a deed as the execution of a mother
by command of her son. He could not trust to poison. Agrippina was
perfectly familiar with every thing relating to the poisoning art,
and would doubtless be fully on her guard against any attempt of
that kind that he might make. Besides, he supposed, that by means of
certain antidotes which she was accustomed to use, her system was
permanently fortified against the action of every species of poison.

While Nero was revolving these things in his mind, the occasion
occurred for a great naval celebration at Baiæ, a beautiful bay
south of Rome, near what is now the bay of Naples. Baiæ was
celebrated in ancient times, as it is in fact now, for the beauty of
its situation, and it was a place of great resort for the Roman
nobility. There was a small, but well-built town at the head of the
bay, and the hills and valleys in the vicinity, as well as every
headland and promontory along the shore, were ornamented with villas
and country-seats, which were occupied as summer residences by the
wealthy people of the city. Baiæ was also a great naval station, and
there was at this time a fleet stationed there,--or rather at the
promontory of Misenum, a few miles beyond,--under the command of one
of Nero's confidential servants, named Anicetus. The naval
celebration was to take place in connection with this fleet. It was
an annual festival, and was to continue five days.

Anicetus had been a personal attendant upon Nero in his infancy, and
had lived always in habits of great intimacy with him. For some
reason or other, too, he was a great enemy to Agrippina, having been
always accustomed, when Nero was a child, to take his part in the
little contests which had arisen, from time to time, between him and
his mother. Anicetus was of course prepared to sympathize very
readily with Nero in the hatred which he now cherished toward
Agrippina, and when he learned that Nero was desirous of devising
some means of accomplishing her death, he formed a plan which he
said would effect the purpose very safely. He proposed to invite
Agrippina to Baiæ, and then, in the course of the ceremonies and
manoeuvers connected with the naval spectacle, to take her out
upon the bay in a barge or galley. He would have the barge so
constructed, he said, that it should go to pieces at sea, making
arrangements beforehand for saving the lives of the others, but
leaving Agrippina to be drowned.

Nero was greatly pleased with this device, and determined at once to
adopt the plan. In order to open the way for carrying it into
effect, he pretended, when the time for the festival drew nigh, that
he desired to be reconciled to his mother, and that he was ready now
to fall in with her wishes and plans. He begged her to forget all
his past unkindness to her, and assuring her that his feelings
toward her were now wholly changed, he lavished upon her expressions
of the tenderest regard. A mother is always very easily deceived by
such protestations on the part of a wayward son, and Agrippina
believed all that Nero said to her. In a word, the reconciliation
seemed to be complete.

At length, when the time for the naval festival drew nigh, Nero, who
was then at Baiæ, sent an invitation to his mother to come and join
him in witnessing the spectacle. Agrippina readily consented to
accept the invitation. She was at this time at Antium, the place,
it will be recollected, where Nero was born. She accordingly set
sail from this place in her own galley, and proceeded to the
southward. She landed at one of the villas in the neighborhood of
Baiæ. Nero was ready upon the shore to meet her. He received her
with every demonstration of respect and affection. He had provided
quarters for her at Baiæ, and there was a splendid barge ready to
convey her thither; the plan being that she should embark on board
this barge, and leave her own galley,--that is the one by which she
had come in from sea,--at anchor at the villa where she landed. The
barge in which Agrippina was thus invited to embark, was the
treacherous trap that Anicetus had contrived for her destruction. It
was, however, to all appearance, a very splendid vessel, being very
richly and beautifully decorated, as if expressly intended to do
honor to the distinguished passenger whom it was designed to convey.

Agrippina, however, did not seem inclined to go in the barge. She
preferred proceeding to Baiæ by land. Perhaps, notwithstanding
Nero's apparent friendliness she felt still some misgivings, and
was afraid to trust herself entirely to his power,--or perhaps she
preferred to finish her journey by land only because, in making the
passage from Antium, she had become tired of the sea. However this
may have been, Nero acquiesced at once in her decision, and provided
a sort of sedan for conveying her to Baiæ by land. In this sedan she
was carried accordingly, by bearers to Baiæ, and there lodged in the
apartments provided for her.

No favorable opportunity occurred for taking Agrippina out upon the
water until the time arrived for her return to Antium. During the
time of her stay at Baiæ, Nero devoted himself to her with the most
assiduous attention. He prepared magnificent banquets for her, and
entertained her with a great variety of amusements and diversions.
In his conversation he sometimes addressed her with a familiar
playfulness and gayety, and at other times he sought occasions to
discourse with her seriously on public affairs, in a private and
confidential manner. Agrippina was completely deceived by these
indications, and her heart was filled with pride and joy at the
thought that she had regained the affection and confidence of her

Nero and Anicetus determined finally to put their plan into
execution by inducing Agrippina to embark on board their barge in
returning to Antium, when the time should arrive, instead of going
back in her own vessel. Their other attempts to induce her to go out
upon the water had failed, and this was the only opportunity that
now remained. It was desirable that this embarkation should take
place in the night, as the deed which they were contemplating could
be more effectually accomplished under the cover of the darkness.
Accordingly, on the afternoon of the day on which Agrippina was to
return, Nero prepared a banquet for her, and he protracted the
festivities and entertainments which attended it until late in the
evening, so that it was wholly dark before his mother could take her
leave. Anicetus then contrived to have one of the vessels of his
fleet run against the galley in which Agrippina had come from
Antium, as it lay at anchor near the shore at the place where she
had landed. The galley was broken down and disabled by the
collision. Anicetus came to Agrippina to report the accident, with
a countenance expressive of much concern; but added that the barge
which the emperor had prepared for her was at her service, and
proposed to substitute that in the place of the one which had been
injured. There seemed to be no other alternative, and Agrippina,
after taking a very affectionate leave of her son, went gayly, and
wholly unconscious of danger, on board the beautiful but treacherous

It was observed that Nero exhibited an extreme degree of tender
regard for his mother in bidding her farewell on this occasion. He
hung upon her neck a long time, and kissed her again and again,
detaining her by these endearments on the shore, as if reluctant to
let her go. After Agrippina's death this scene was remembered by
those who witnessed it, but in reflecting upon it they could not
decide whether these tokens of affection were all assumed, as
belonging to the part which he was so hypocritically acting, or
whether he really felt at the last moment some filial relentings,
which led him to detain his mother for a time on the brink of the
pit which he had been preparing for her destruction. From all,
however, that we now know in respect to the personal character which
Nero had formed at this period, it is probable that the former is
the correct supposition.

The plot, dextrous as the contrivance of it had been, was not
destined to succeed. The vessel moved gently from the shore, rowed
by the mariners. It was a clear starlight night. The sea was smooth,
and the air was calm. Agrippina took her place upon a couch which
had been arranged for her, under a sort of canopy or awning, the
frame-work of which, above, had been secretly loaded with lead. She
was attended here by one of her ladies named Aceronia Polla, who lay
at her mistress's feet, and entertained her with conversation as the
boat glided along on its way. They talked of Nero--of the kind
attentions which he had been paying to Agrippina, and of the various
advantages which were to follow from the reconciliation which had
been so happily effected. In this manner the hours passed away, and
the barge went on until it reached the place which had been
determined upon for breaking it down and casting Agrippina into the
sea. The spot which had been chosen was so near the land as to allow
of the escape of the mariners by swimming, but yet remote enough,
as was supposed, to make Agrippina's destruction sure. A few of the
mariners were in the secret, and were in some degree prepared for
what was to come. Others knew nothing, and were expected to save
themselves as they best could, when they should find themselves cast
into the sea.

At a given signal the fastenings of the canopy were loosened, and
the loaded structure came down suddenly with a heavy crash, carrying
away with it other parts of the vessel. One man was crushed under
the weight of the falling ruins, and instantly killed. Agrippina and
the lady in waiting upon her were saved by the posts of the bed or
couch on which Agrippina was reclining, which happened to be in such
a position that they held up the impending mass sufficiently to
allow the ladies to creep out from beneath it. The breaking down,
too, of the deck and bulwarks of the barge was less extensive than
had been intended, so that Agrippina not only escaped being crushed
by the ruins but she also saved herself at first from being thrown
into the sea. The men then who were in the secret of the plot
immediately raised a great cry and confusion, and attempted to
upset the barge by climbing up upon one side of it--while the
others, who did not understand the case, did all they could to save
it. In the mean time the noise of the outcries reached the shore,
and fishermen's boats began to put off with a view of coming to the
rescue of the distressed vessel. Before they arrived, however, the
boat had been overturned, Agrippina and Aceronia had been thrown
into the sea, and the men who were in the secret of the plot, taking
advantage of the darkness and confusion, were endeavoring to seal
the fate of their victims, by beating them down with poles and oars
as they struggled in the water.


These efforts succeeded in the case of Aceronia, for she uttered
loud and continual outcries in her terror, and thus drew upon
herself the blows of the assassins. Agrippina, on the other hand,
had the presence of mind to keep silence. She received one heavy
blow upon the shoulder, which inflicted a serious wound. In other
respects she escaped uninjured, and succeeded, partly through the
buoyancy of her dress, and partly by the efforts that she made to
swim, in keeping herself afloat until she was taken up by the
fishermen and conveyed to the shore. She was taken to a villa
belonging to her, which was situated not far from the place where
the disaster had occurred.

As soon as Agrippina had recovered a little from the terror and
excitement of this scene, and had time to reflect upon the
circumstances of it, she was convinced that what had occurred was no
accident, but the result of a deep-laid design to destroy her life.
She, however, thought it most prudent to dissemble her opinion for a
time. As soon therefore as she had safely reached her villa, and her
wound had been dressed, she dispatched a messenger to Baiæ to inform
Nero of what had occurred. The vessel in which she had embarked had
been wrecked at sea, she said, and she had narrowly escaped
destruction. She had received a severe hurt, by some falling spar,
but had at length safely reached her home at Antium. She begged,
however, that her son would not come to see her, as what she needed
most was repose. She had sent the messenger, she said, to inform him
of what had occurred only that he might rejoice with her in the
signal interposition of divine providence by which she had been
rescued from so imminent a danger.

In the mean time Nero was waiting impatiently and anxiously in his
palace at Baiæ, for the arrival of a messenger from Anicetus to
inform him that his plot had been successful, and that his mother
was drowned. Instead of this a rumor of her escape reached him some
time before Agrippina's messenger arrived, and threw him into
consternation. People came from the coast and informed him that the
barge in which his mother had sailed had been wrecked, and that
Agrippina had narrowly escaped with her life. The particulars were
not fully given to him, but he presumed that Agrippina must have
learned that the occurrence was the result of a deliberate attempt
to destroy her, and he was consequently very much alarmed. He
dreaded the desperate spirit of resentment and revenge which he
presumed had been aroused in his mother's mind.

He forthwith sent for Burrus and Seneca, and revealed to them all
the circumstances of the case. He made the most bitter accusations
against his mother, in justification of his attempt to destroy her.
He had long been convinced, he said, that there could be no peace
or safety for him as long as she lived, and now, at all events,
since he had undertaken the work of destroying her and made the
attempt, no alternative was left to him but to go on and finish what
he had begun. "She must die now," said he, "or she will most
assuredly contrive some means to destroy me."

Seneca and Burrus were silent. They knew not what to say. They saw
very clearly that a crisis had arrived, the end of which would be,
that one or the other must perish, and consequently the only
question for them to decide was, whether the victim should be the
mother or the son. At length, after a long and solemn pause, Seneca
looked to Burrus, and inquired whether the soldiers under his
command could be relied upon to execute death upon Agrippina. Burrus
shook his head. The soldiers, he said, felt such a veneration for
the family of Germanicus, which was the family from which Agrippina
had sprung, that they would perform no such bloody work upon any
representative of it. "Besides," said he, "Anicetus has undertaken
this duty. It devolves on him to finish what he has begun."

Anicetus readily undertook the task. He had, in fact, a personal
interest in it, for, after what had passed, he knew well that there
could be no safety for him while Agrippina lived. Nero seemed
overjoyed at finding Anicetus so ready to meet his wishes. "Be
prompt," said he, "in doing what you have to do. Take with you whom
you please to assist you. If you accomplish the work, I shall
consider that I owe my empire to your fidelity."

Anicetus, having thus received his commission, ordered a small
detachment from the fleet to accompany him, and proceeded to the
villa where Agrippina had taken refuge. He found a crowd of country
people assembled around the gates of the villa. They had been drawn
thither by the tidings of the disaster which had happened to
Agrippina, curious to learn all the particulars of the occurrence,
or desirous, perhaps, to congratulate Agrippina on her escape. When
these peasantry saw the armed band of Anicetus approaching, they
know not what it meant, but were greatly alarmed, and fled in all

The guards at the gates of Agrippina's villa made some resistance
to the entrance of the soldiers, but they were soon knocked down and
overpowered; the gates were burst open, and Anicetus entered at the
head of his party of marines. Agrippina, who was upon her bed in an
inner chamber at the time, heard the noise and tumult, and was
greatly alarmed. A number of friends who were with her, hearing the
footsteps of the armed men on the stairs, fled from the chamber in
dismay, by a private door, leaving Agrippina alone with her maid.
The maid, after a moment's pause, fled too, Agrippina saying to her
as she disappeared, "Are you, too, going to forsake me?" At the same
moment, Anicetus forced open the door of entrance, and came in
accompanied by two of his officers. The three armed men, with an
expression of fierce and relentless determination upon their
countenances, advanced to Agrippina's bedside.

Agrippina was greatly terrified, but she preserved some degree of
outward composure, and raising herself in her bed, she looked
steadily upon her assassins.

"Do you come from my son?" said she.

They did not answer.

"If you came to inquire how I am," said she, "tell him that I am
better, and shall soon be entirely well. I can not believe that he
can possibly have sent you to do me any violence or harm."

At this instant one of the assassins struck at the wretched mother
with his club. The arm, however, of the most hardened and
unrelenting monster, usually falters somewhat at the beginning, in
doing such work as this, and the blow gave Agrippina only an
inconsiderable wound. She saw at once, however, that all was
lost--that the bitter moment of death had come,--but instead of
yielding to the emotions of terror and despair which might have been
expected to overwhelm the heart of a woman in such a scene, her
fierce and indomitable spirit aroused itself to new life and vigor
in the terrible emergency. As the assassins approached her with
their swords brandished in the air, preparing to strike her, she
threw the bed-clothes off, so as to uncover her person, and called
upon her murderers to strike her in the womb. "It is there," said
she, "that the stab should be given when a mother is to be murdered
by her son." She was instantly thrust through with a multitude of
wounds in every part of her body, and died weltering in the blood
that flowed out upon the couch on which she lay.

Anicetus and his comrades, when the deed was done, gazed for a
moment on the lifeless body, and then gathering together again the
soldiers that they had left at the gates, they went back to Baiæ
with the tidings. The first emotion which Nero experienced, on
hearing that all was over, was that of relief. He soon found,
however, that monster as he was, his conscience was not yet so
stupefied, that he could perpetrate such a deed as this without
bringing out her scourge. As soon as he began to reflect upon what
he had done, his soul was overwhelmed with remorse and horror. He
passed the remainder of the night in dreadful agony, sometimes
sitting silent and motionless--gazing into vacancy, as if his
faculties were bewildered and lost, and then suddenly starting up,
amazed and trembling, and staring wildly about, as if seized with a
sudden frenzy. His wild and ghastly looks, his convulsive
gesticulations, and his incoherent ravings and groans, indicated the
horror that he endured, and were so frightful that his officers and
attendants shrunk away from his presence, and knew not what to do.

At length they sent in one after another to attempt to calm and
console him. Their efforts, however, were attended with little
success. When the morning came, it brought with it some degree of
composure; but the dreadful burden of guilt which pressed upon
Nero's mind made him still unutterably wretched. He said that he
could not endure any longer to remain on the spot, as every thing
that he saw, the villas, the ships, the sea, the shore, and all the
other objects around him, were so associated in his mind with the
thought of his mother, and with the remembrance of his dreadful
crime, that he could not endure them.

In the mean time, as soon as the servants and attendants at
Agrippina's villa found that Anicetus and his troop had gone, they
returned to the chamber of their mistress and gazed upon the
spectacle which awaited them there, with inexpressible horror.
Anicetus had left some of his men behind to attend to the disposal
of the body, as it was important that it should be removed from
sight without delay, since it might be expected that all who should
look upon it would be excited to a high pitch of indignation against
the perpetrators of such a crime. The countenance, in the condition
of repose which it assumed after death, appeared extremely
beautiful, and seemed to address a mute but touching appeal to the
commiseration of every beholder. It was necessary, therefore, to
hurry it away. Besides, the soldiers themselves were impatient. They
wished to get through with their horrid work and be gone.

They accordingly built a funeral pile in the garden of the
villa,--using such materials for the purpose as came most readily to
hand--and then took up the body of Agrippina on the bed upon which
it lay, and placed all together upon the pile. The fires were
lighted. The soldiers watched by the side of it until the pile was
nearly consumed, and then went away, leaving the heart-broken
domestics of Agrippina around the smoldering embers.



A.D. 62-64

The atrocity of Nero's crime in murdering Agrippina.--Nero's messages
to the senate.--Action of the senate.--Nero divorces Octavia and
marries Poppæa.--Octavia banished from Rome.--Anicetus.--Octavia's
unhappy destiny.--Charges against her.--She is put to death.--Extreme
depravity.--Nero recovers from his remorse.--His various
crimes.--Public affairs neglected.--His performances on the
stage.--Musical training.--Nero's success.--His trained
applauders.--Rules and regulations at the theater.--Races and
games.--Nero generally the victor.--His private conduct and
character.--His midnight brawls.--Rioting and excess.--His great
feasts.--The artificial lake.--Immense sums of money expended by
Nero.--His favorites.--His excursions to Ostia.--The burning of
Rome.--Nero accused of being the incendiary.--His probable
motives.--He comes to see the fire.--He celebrates the occasion by a

There was nothing in the attendant circumstances that were connected
with the act of Nero in murdering his mother, which could palliate
or extenuate the deed in the slightest degree. It was not an act of
self-defense. Agrippina was not doing him, or intending to do him
any injury. It was not an act of hasty violence, prompted by sudden
passion. It was not required by any political necessity as a means
for accomplishing some great and desirable public end. It was a
cool, deliberate, and well-considered crime, performed solely for
the purpose of removing from the path of the perpetrator of it an
obstacle to the commission of another crime. Nero murdered his
mother in cool blood, simply because she was in the way of his plans
for divorcing his innocent wife, and marrying adulterously another

For some time after the commission of this great crime, the mind of
Nero was haunted by dreadful fears, and he suffered continually, by
day and by night, all the pangs of remorse and horror. He did not
dare to return to Rome, not knowing to what height the popular
indignation, that would be naturally excited by so atrocious a deed,
might rise; or what might be the consequences to him if he were to
appear in the city. He accordingly remained for a time on the coast
at Neapolis, the town to which he had retired from Baiæ. From this
place he sent various communications to the Roman Senate, explaining
and justifying what he called the execution of his mother. He
pretended that he had found her guilty of treasonable conspiracies
against him and against the state, and that her death had been
imperiously demanded, as the only means of securing the public
safety. The senators hated Nero and abhorred his crimes; but they
were overawed by the terrible power which he exercised over them
through the army, which they knew was entirely subservient to his
will, and by their dread of his ruthless and desperate character.
They passed resolves approving of what he had done. His officers and
favorites at Rome sent him word that the memory of Agrippina was
abhorred at the capital, and that in destroying her, he was
considered as having rendered a great service to the state. These
representations in some measure reassured his mind, and at length he
returned to the city.

In due time he divorced Octavia, and married Poppæa. Octavia,
however, still remained at Rome, residing in apartments assigned her
in one of the imperial palaces. Her high birth and distinguished
position, and, more than all, the sympathy that was felt for her in
her misfortunes, made her an object of great attention. The people
put garlands upon her statues in the public places in the city, and
pulled down those which were placed at Nero's command upon those of
Poppæa. These and other indications of the popular feeling, inflamed
Poppæa's hatred and jealousy to such a degree, that she suborned one
of Octavia's domestics to accuse her mistress of an ignominious
crime. When thus accused, other women in Octavia's service were put
to the rack to compel them to testify against her. They, however,
persevered, in the midst of their tortures, in asserting her
innocence. Poppæa, nevertheless, insisted that she should be
condemned, and at last, by way of compromising the case, Nero
consented to banish her from the city.

She was sent to a villa on the sea-coast, in the neighborhood of the
place where Anicetus was stationed with his fleet. But Poppæa would
not allow her to live in peace even as an exile. She soon brought a
charge against her of having formed a conspiracy against the
government of Nero, and of having corrupted Anicetus, with a view of
obtaining the co-operation of the fleet in the execution of
treasonable designs. Anicetus himself testified to the truth of this
charge. He said that Octavia had formed such a plan, and that she
had given herself up, in person, wholly to him, in order to induce
him to join in it. Octavia was accordingly condemned to die.

Notwithstanding the testimony of Anicetus, Octavia was not at the
time generally believed to be guilty of the charge on which she was
condemned. It was supposed that Anicetus was induced, by promises
and bribes from Nero and Poppæa, to fabricate the story, in order
that they might have a pretext for putting Octavia to death. However
this may be, the unhappy princess was condemned, and the sentence
pronounced upon her was, that she must die.

The life of Octavia, lofty as her position was in respect to earthly
grandeur, had been one of uninterrupted suffering and sorrow. She
had been married to Nero when a mere child, and during the whole
period of her connection with her husband he had treated her with
continual unkindness and neglect. She had at length been cruelly
divorced from him, and banished from her native city on charges of
the most ignominious nature, though wholly false--and before this
last accusation was made against her there seemed to be nothing
before her but the prospect of spending the remainder of her days in
a miserable and hopeless exile. Still she clung to life, and when
the messengers of Nero came to tell her that she must die, she was
overwhelmed with agitation and terror.

She begged and implored them with tears and agony, to spare her
life. She would never, she said, give the emperor any trouble, or
interfere in any way with any of his plans. She gave up willingly
all claims to being his wife, and would always consider herself as
only his sister. She would live in retirement and seclusion in any
place where Nero might appoint her abode, and would never occasion
him the slightest uneasiness whatever. The executioners cut short
these entreaties by seizing the unhappy princess in the midst of
them, binding her limbs with thongs, and opening her veins. She
fainted, however, under this treatment, and when the veins were
opened the wretched victim lay passive and insensible in the hands
of her executioners, and the blood would not flow. So they carried
her to a steam-bath which happened to be in readiness near at hand,
and shutting her up in it, left her to be suffocated by the vapor.

Thus the great crowning crime of Nero's life,--for the murder of
Agrippina, the adulterous marriage with Poppæa, and the subsequent
murder of Octavia, are to be regarded as constituting one single
though complicated crime,--was consummate and complete. It was a
crime of the highest possible atrocity. To open the way to an
adulterous marriage by the deliberate and cruel murder of a mother,
and then to seal and secure it by murdering an innocent
wife,--blackening her memory at the same time with an ignominy
wholly undeserved, constitute a crime which for unnatural and
monstrous enormity must be considered as standing at the head of all
that human depravity has ever achieved.

Nero gradually recovered from the remorse and horror with which the
commission of these atrocities at first overwhelmed him; and in
order to hasten his relief he plunged recklessly into every species
of riot and excess, and in the end hardened himself so completely in
crime, that during the remainder of his life he perpetrated the most
abominable deeds without any apparent compunction whatever. He
killed Poppæa herself at last with a kick, which he gave her in a
fit of passion at a time when circumstances were such with her that
the violence brought on a premature and unnatural sickness. He
afterward ordered her son to be drowned in the sea, by his slaves,
when he was a-fishing, because he understood that the boy, in
playing with the other children, often acted the part of an emperor.
His general Burrus he poisoned. He sent him the poison under
pretense that it was a medical remedy for a swelling of the throat
under which Burrus was suffering. Burrus drank the draught under
that impression and died. He destroyed by similar means in the
course of his life great numbers of his relatives and officers of
state, so that there was scarcely a person who was brought into any
degree of intimate connection with him that did not sooner or later
come to a violent end.

During his whole reign Nero neglected the public affairs of the
empire almost altogether,--apparently regarding the vast power, and
the immense resources that were at his command, as only means for
the more complete gratification of his own personal propensities and
passions. The only ambition which ever appeared to animate him was a
desire for fame as a singer and actor on the stage.

At the time when he commenced his career it was considered wholly
beneath the dignity of any Roman of rank to appear in any public
performance of that nature; but Nero, having conceived in his youth
a high idea of his merit as a singer, devoted himself with great
assiduity to the cultivation of his voice, and, as he was encouraged
in what he did by the flatterers that of course were always around
him, his interest in the musical art became at length an extravagant
passion. He submitted with the greatest patience to the rigorous
training customary in those times for the development and
improvement of the voice; such as lying for long periods upon his
back, with a weight of lead upon his breast, in order to force the
muscles of the chest to extraordinary exertion, for the purpose of
strengthening them--and taking medicines of various kinds to clear
the voice and reduce the system. He was so much pleased with the
success of these efforts, that he began to feel a great desire to
perform in public upon the stage. He accordingly began to make
arrangements for doing this. He first appeared in private
exhibitions, in the imperial palaces and gardens, where only the
nobility of Rome and invited guests were present. He, however,
gradually extended his audiences, and at length came out upon the
public stage,--first, however, in order to prepare the public mind
for what they would have otherwise considered a great degradation,
inducing the sons of some of the principal nobility to come forward
in similar entertainments. He was so pleased with the success which
he imagined that he met with in this career that he devoted a large
part of his time during his whole life to such performances. Of
course, his love of applause in his theatrical career, increased
much too fast to be satisfied with the natural and ordinary means of
gratifying it, and he accordingly made arrangements, most absurdly,
to create for his performances a fictitious and counterfeit
celebrity. At one time he had a corps of five thousand men under pay
to applaud him, in the immense circuses and amphitheaters where he
performed. These men were regularly trained to the work of
applauding, as if it were an art to be acquired by study and
instruction. It _was_ an art, in fact, as they practiced
it,--different modes of applause being designated for different
species of merit, and the utmost precision being required on the
part of the performers, in the concert of their action, and in their
obedience to the signals. He used also to require on the days when
he was to perform, that the doors of the theater should be closed
when the audience had assembled, and no egress allowed on any
pretext whatever. Such regulations of course excited great
complaint, and much ridicule; especially as the sessions at these
spectacles were sometimes protracted and tiresome to the last
degree. Even sudden sickness was not a sufficient reason for
allowing a spectator to depart, and so it was said that the people
used sometimes to feign death, in order to be carried out to their
burial. In some cases, it was said, births took place in the
theaters, the mothers having come incautiously with the crowd to
witness the spectacles, without properly considering what might be
the effect of the excitement, and then afterward not being permitted
to retire.

Besides singing and acting on the stage, Nero took part in every
other species of public amusement. He entered as a competitor for
the prize in races and games of every kind. Of course he always came
off victor. This end was accomplished sometimes by the secret
connivance of the other competitors, and sometimes by open bribery
of the judges. Nero's ridiculous vanity and self-conceit seemed to
be fully gratified by receiving the prize, without any regard
whatever to the question of deserving it. He used to come back
sometimes from journeys to foreign cities, where he had been
performing on the stage at great public festivals, and enter Rome in
triumph, with the garlands, and crowns, and other decorations which
he had won, paraded before him in the procession, in the manner in
which distinguished commanders had been accustomed to display the
trophies of their military victories, when returning from foreign

In fact it was only in the perpetration of such miserable follies as
these that Nero appeared before the public at all, and in his
private conduct and character he sank very rapidly, after he came
into power, to the very lowest degree of profligacy and vice. After
having spent the evening in drinking and debauchery, he would sally
forth into the streets at midnight, as has already been stated, to
mingle there with the vilest men and women of the town in brawls and
riots. On these excursions he would attack such peaceable parties as
he chanced to meet in the streets, and if they made resistance, he
and his companions would beat them down and throw them into canals
or open sewers. Sometimes in these combats he was beaten himself,
and on one occasion he came very near losing his life, having been
almost killed by the blows dealt upon him by a certain Roman
senator, whose wife he insulted as she was walking with her husband
in the street. The senator, of course, did not know him. He used to
go to the theater in disguise, in company with a gang of companions
of similar character to himself, and watch for opportunities to
excite or encourage riots or tumults there. Whenever he could
succeed in urging these tumults on to actual violence he would
mingle in the fray, and throw stones and fragments of broken benches
and furniture among the people.

After a while, when he had grown more bold and desperate in his
wickedness, he began to lay aside all disguise, and at last he
actually seemed to take a pride and pleasure in exhibiting the
scenes of riot and excess in which he engaged, in the most impudent
manner before the public gaze. He used to celebrate great feasts in
the public amphitheaters, and on the arena of the circus, and
carouse there in company with the most dissolute men and women of
the city--a spectacle to the whole population. There was a large
artificial lake or reservoir in one part of the city, built for the
purpose of exhibiting mimic representations of the manoeuvers of
fleets, and naval battles, for the amusement of the people at great
public celebrations. There were, of course, numerous ranges of seats
around the margin of this lake for the accommodation of the
spectators. Nero took possession of this structure for some of his
carousals, in order to obtain greater scope for ostentation and
display. The water was drawn off on such occasions and the gates
shut, and then the bottom of the reservoir was floored over to make
space for the tables.

The sums of money which Nero spent in the pursuit of sensual
pleasures were incalculable. In fact there were no bounds to his
extravagance and profusion. He had command, of course, of all the
treasure of the empire, and he procured immense sums besides, by
fines, confiscations, and despotic exactions of various kinds; and
as he undertook no public enterprises--being seldom engaged in
foreign wars, and seldom attempting any useful constructions in the
city--the vast resources at his command were wholly devoted to the
purposes of ostentatious personal display, and sensual
gratifications. The pomp and splendor of his feasts, his
processions, his journeys of pleasure, and the sums that he is said
to have lavished sometimes in money and jewels, and sometimes in
villas, gardens, and equipages, upon his favorites, both male and
female, are almost incredible. On some of the pleasure excursions
which he took to the mouth of the Tiber, he would have the banks of
the river lined with booths and costly tents all the way from the
river to the sea. These tents were provided with sumptuous
entertainments, and with beds and couches for repose; and they were
all attended by beautiful girls who stood at the doors of them
inviting Nero and his party to land, as they passed along the river
in their barges. He used to fish with a golden net, which was drawn
by silken cords of a rich scarlet color. Occasionally he made grand
excursions of pleasure through Italy or into Greece, in the style of
royal progresses. In these expeditions he sometimes had no less than
a thousand carts to convey his baggage--the mules that drew them
being all shod with silver, and their drivers dressed in scarlet
clothes of the most costly character. He was attended, also, on
these excursions, by a numerous train of footmen, and of African
servants, who wore rich bracelets upon their arms, and were mounted
on horses splendidly caparisoned.

One of the most remarkable of the events which occurred during
Nero's reign was what was called the burning of Rome,--a great
conflagration, by which a large part of the city was destroyed. It
was very generally believed at the time that this destruction was
the work of Nero himself,--the fruit of his reckless and willful
depravity. There is, it is true, no very positive proof that the
fire was set by Nero's orders, though one of the historians of the
time states that confidential servants belonging to Nero's household
were seen, when the fire commenced, going from house to house with
combustibles and torches, spreading the flames. He was himself at
Antium at the time, and did not come to Rome until the fire had been
raging for many days. If it is true that the fire was Nero's work,
it is not supposed that he designed to cause so extensive a
conflagration. He intended, perhaps, only to destroy a few buildings
that covered ground which he wished to occupy for the enlargement of
his palaces; though it was said by some writers that he really
designed to destroy a great part of the city, with a view to
immortalize his name by rebuilding it in a new and more splendid
form. With these motives, if these indeed were his motives, there
was doubtless mingled a feeling of malicious gratification at any
thing that would terrify and torment the miserable subjects of his
power. When he came to Rome from Antium at the time that the
conflagration was at its height, he found the whole city a scene of
indescribable terror and distress. Thousands of the people had been
burned to death or crushed beneath the ruins of the fallen houses.
The streets were filled with piles of goods and furniture burnt and
broken. Multitudes of men, though nearly exhausted with fatigue,
were desperately toiling on, in hopeless endeavors to extinguish the
flames, or to save some small remnant of their property,--and
distracted mothers, wild and haggard from terror and despair, were
roaming to and fro, seeking their children,--some moaning in
anguish, and some piercing the air with loud and frantic outcries.
Nero was entertained by the scene as if it had been a great dramatic
spectacle. He went to one of the theaters, and taking his place upon
the stage he amused himself there with singing and playing a
celebrated composition on the subject of the burning of Troy. At
least it was said and generally believed in the city that he did so,
and the minds of the people were excited against the inhuman monster
to the highest pitch of indignation. In fact, Nero seems to have
thought at last that he had gone too far, and he began to make
efforts in earnest to relieve the people from some portion of their
distress. He caused great numbers of tents to be erected in the
parade-ground for temporary shelter, and brought fresh supplies of
corn into the city to save the people from famine. These measures of
mercy, however, came too late to retrieve his character. The people
attributed the miseries of this dreadful calamity to his desperate
maliciousness, and he became the object of universal execration.

[Illustration: BURNING OF ROME.]



A.D. 65

Origin and nature of Piso's conspiracy.--Lucan, the Latin poet.--His
quarrel with Nero.--Lateranus.--Celebrity of his name.--The church
of St. John Lateran.--Fenius Rufus.--A woman in the secret.--Plans
and arrangements of the conspirators.--Bold proposals of Flavius.--The
palace to be set on fire.--Epicharis impatient.--She goes to the
fleet.--She communicates with Proculus at Misenum.--Proculus reveals
the plot to Nero.--Nero perplexed.--Epicharis imprisoned.--A new
plan.--Piso's objections.--Reasons.--Final arrangements agreed
upon.--Nero to be slain in the theatre.--The several parts
assigned.--Scevinus.--Excitement of Scevinus.--His knife.--He gives
his knife to Milichus to be ground.--Milichus confers with his
wife.--Their suspicions.--Revelations made by Milichus.--Scevinus's
defense.--He denies the allegations of his accuser.--Nero
perplexed.--The truth at last discovered.--Scevinus and Natalis make
a full confession.

Although the people of Rome were generally so overawed by the terror
of Nero's power, that for a long period no one dared to make any
open resistance to his will, still his excesses and cruelties
excited in the minds of men a great many secret feelings of
resentment and detestation. At one period in the course of his reign
a very desperate conspiracy was formed by some of the leading men of
the state, to dethrone and destroy the tyrant. This plot was a very
extensive and a very formidable one. It was, however, accidentally
discovered before it was fully mature, and thus was unsuccessful. It
is known in history as Piso's Conspiracy--deriving its name from
that of the principal leader of it, Caius Calpurnius Piso.

It is not supposed, however, that Piso was absolutely the originator
of the conspiracy, nor is it known, in fact, who the originator of
it was. A great number of prominent men were involved in the
plot--men who, possessing very different characters, and occupying
very different stations in life, were probably induced by various
motives to take part in the conspiracy. A conspiracy, however, of
this kind, against so merciless a tyrant as Nero, is an enterprise
of such frightful danger, and is attended, if unsuccessful, with
such awful consequences to all concerned in it, that men will seldom
engage in such a scheme until goaded to desperation, and almost
maddened, by the wrongs which they have endured.

And yet the exasperation which these conspirators felt against Nero,
seems to have been produced, in some instances at least, by what we
should now consider rather inadequate causes. For example, one of
the men most active in this secret league, was the celebrated Latin
poet Lucan. In the early part of his life, Lucan had been one of
Nero's principal flatterers, having written hymns and sonnets in his
praise. At length, as it was said, some public occasion occurred in
which verses were to be recited in public, for a prize. Nero, who
imagined himself to excel in every human art or attainment, offered
some of his own verses in the competition. The prize, however, was
adjudged to Lucan. Nero's mind was accordingly filled with envy and
hate toward his rival, and he soon found some pretext for forbidding
Lucan ever to recite any verses in public again. This of course
exasperated Lucan in his turn, and was the cause of his joining in
the conspiracy.

Another of the conspirators was a certain Roman nobleman, whose
family name has since become very widely known in all parts of the
civilized world, through an estate in the city with which it was
associated,--which estate, and certain buildings erected upon it,
became subsequently greatly celebrated in the ecclesiastical history
of Rome. The name of this nobleman was Plautius Lateranus. When
Lateranus was put to death at the detection of the conspiracy, in
the manner to be presently described, his estate was confiscated.
The palace and grounds thus became the property of the Roman
emperors. In process of time, the emperor Constantine gave the place
to the pope, and from that period it continued to be the residence
of the successive pontiffs for a thousand years. A church was built
upon the ground, called the Basilica of St. John of Lateran, where
many ancient councils were held, known in ecclesiastical history as
the councils of the Lateran. This church is still used for some of
the ceremonies connected with the inauguration of the pope, but the
palace is now uninhabited. It presents, however, in its ruins, a
vast and imposing, though desolate aspect.

Lateranus was an unprincipled and dissolute man, and in consequence
of certain crimes which he committed in connection with Messalina,
during the reign of Claudius, he had been condemned to death. The
sentence of death was not executed, though Lateranus was deprived of
his rank, and doomed to live in retirement and disgrace. At the
death of Claudius, and the accession of Nero, Lateranus was fully
pardoned and restored to his former rank and position, through
Nero's instrumentality. It might have been supposed that gratitude
for these favors would have prevented Lateranus from joining such a
conspiracy as this against his benefactor, but gratitude has very
little place in the hearts of those who dwell in the courts and
palaces of such tyrants as Nero.

The man on whom the conspirators relied most for efficient military
aid, so far as such aid should be needed in their enterprise, was a
certain Fenius Rufus, a captain of the imperial guards. He was a man
of very resolute and decided character, and was very highly esteemed
by the people of Rome. He was not one of the originators of the
plot, but joined it at a later period; and when the news of his
accession to it was communicated to the rest, it gave them great
encouragement, as they attached great importance to the adhesion of
such a man to their cause. They now immediately began to take
measures for executing their plans.

There was a woman in the secret of this conspiracy, though how she
obtained a knowledge of it no one seemed to know. Her name was
Epicharis. While the execution of the plans of the confederates was
delayed, Epicharis came to the principal conspirators privately,
first to one and then to another, and urged them to action. None of
the members of the plot would admit that they had given her any
information on the subject, and how she obtained her information no
one could tell. She was a woman of bad character, and as such women
often are, she was violent and implacable in her hatred. She hated
Nero, and was so impatient at the delay of the conspirators that
she made repeated and earnest efforts to urge them on.

The conspirators in the mean time held various secret meetings to
mature their plans, and to complete the preparation for the
execution of them. They designed to destroy Nero by some violent
means, and then to cause Piso to be proclaimed emperor in his place.
Piso was a man well suited for their purpose in this respect. He was
tall and graceful in form, and his personal appearance was in every
respect prepossessing. His rank was very high, and he was held in
great estimation by all the people of the city for the many generous
and noble qualities that he possessed. He was allied, too, to the
most illustrious families of Rome, and he occupied in all respects
so conspicuous a position, and was so much an object of popular
favor, that the conspirators believed that his elevation to the
empire could easily be effected, if Nero himself could once be put
out of the way. To effect the assassination of Nero, therefore, was
the first step.

After much debate, and many consultations in respect to the best
course to be pursued, it was decided to accept the offer of a
certain Subrius Flavius, who undertook to kill the emperor in the
streets, at night, at some time when he was roaming about in his
carousals. Flavius, in fact, was very daring and resolute in his
proposals, though wanting, as it proved in the end, in the
fulfillment of them. He offered to stab Nero in the theater, when he
was singing on the stage, in the midst of all the thousands of
spectators convened there. This the conspirators thought, it seems,
an unnecessarily bold and desperate mode of accomplishing the end in
view, and the plan was accordingly overruled. Flavius then proposed
to set the palace on fire some night when Nero was out in the city,
and then, in the confusion that would ensue, and while the attention
of the guards who had accompanied Nero should be drawn toward the
fire, to assassinate the emperor in the streets. This plan was
acceded to by the conspirators, and it was left to Flavius to select
a favorable time for the execution of it.

Time passed on, however, and nothing was done. The favorable time
which Flavius looked for did not appear. In the meanwhile Epicharis
became more and more impatient of the delay. She urged the
conspirators to do their work, and chided in the strongest terms
their irresolution and pusillanimity. At length finding that her
invectives and reproaches were of no avail, she determined to leave
them, and to see what she could do herself toward the attainment of
the end.

She accordingly left Rome and proceeded southwardly along the coast
till she came to Misenum, which, as has already been said, was the
great naval station of the empire at this time. Epicharis went to
some of the officers of the fleet, many of whom she knew,--and in a
very secret and cautious manner made known to them the nature of the
plot which had been formed at Rome for the destruction of Nero and
the elevation of Piso to the empire in his stead. Before, however,
communicating intelligence of the conspiracy to any persons
whatever, Epicharis would converse with them secretly and
confidentially to learn how they were affected toward Nero and his
government. If she found them well disposed she said nothing. If on
the other hand any one appeared discontented with the government, or
hostile to it in any way, she would cautiously make known to him
the plans which were concocting at Rome for the overthrow of it. She
took care, however, in these conversations to have never more than
one person present with her at a time, and she revealed none of the
names of the conspirators.

Among the other officers of the fleet was a certain Proculus, who
was one of the first with whom Epicharis communicated. Proculus was
one of the men who had been employed by Nero in his attempts to
assassinate Agrippina his mother, and for his services on that
occasion had been promoted to the command of a certain number of
ships, a number containing in all one thousand men. This promotion,
however, as Epicharis found when she came to converse with him,
Proculus did not consider as great a reward as his services had
deserved. The perpetration of so horrible a crime as the murder of
the emperor's mother, merited, in his opinion, as he said to
Epicharis, a much higher recompense than the command of a thousand
men. Epicharis thought so too. She talked with Proculus about his
wrongs, and the injuries which he suffered from Nero's ingratitude
and neglect, until she fancied that he was in a state of mind which
would prepare him to join in the plans of the conspirators, and then
she cautiously unfolded them to him.

Proculus listened with great apparent interest to Epicharis's
communication, and pretended to enter very cordially into the plan
of the conspiracy; but as soon as the interview was ended he
immediately left Misenum, and proceeded immediately to Rome, where
he divulged the whole design to Nero.

Nero was exceedingly alarmed, and sent officers off at once to seize
Epicharis and bring her before him. Epicharis, when questioned and
confronted with Proculus, resolutely denied that she had ever held
any such conversation with Proculus as he alledged, and feigned the
utmost astonishment at what she termed the impudence of his
accusation. She called for witnesses and proofs. Proculus of course
could produce none, for Epicharis had taken care that there should
be no third person present at their interviews. Proculus could not
even give the names of any of the conspirators at Rome. He could
only persist in his declaration that Epicharis had really disclosed
to him the existence of the conspiracy, and had proposed to him to
join in it; while she on the contrary as strenuously and positively
denied it. Nero was perplexed. He found it impossible to determine
what to believe. He finally dismissed Proculus, and sent Epicharis
to prison, intending that she should remain there until he could
make a more full examination into the case, and determine what to

In the mean time the conspirators became considerably alarmed when
they heard of the arrest of Epicharis, and though they knew that
thus far she had revealed nothing, they could not tell how soon her
fidelity and firmness might yield under the tortures to which she
was every day liable to be subjected; and as there appeared to be
now no prospect that Flavius would ever undertake to execute his
plan, they began to devise some other means of attaining the end.

It seems that Piso possessed at this time a villa and country-seat
at Baiæ, on the coast south of Rome, and near to Misenum, and that
Nero was accustomed sometimes to visit Piso here. It was now
proposed by some of the conspirators that Piso should invite Nero to
visit him at this villa, as if to witness some spectacles or shows
which should be arranged for his entertainment there, and that then
persons employed for the purpose should suddenly assassinate him,
when off his guard, in the midst of some scene of convivial
pleasure. Piso, however, objected to this plan. He conceived, he
said, that it would be dishonorable in him to commit an act of
violence upon a guest whom he had invited under his roof, as his
friend. He was willing to take his full share of the responsibility
of destroying the tyrant in any fair and manly way, but he would not
violate the sacred rites of hospitality to accomplish the end.

So this plan was abandoned. It was supposed, however, that Piso had
another and a deeper reason for his unwillingness that Nero should
be assassinated at Baiæ than his regard for his honor as a host. He
thought, it was said, that it would not be safe for him to be away
from Rome when the death of Nero should be proclaimed in the
capitol, lest some other Roman nobleman or great officer of state
should suddenly arise in the emergency and assume the empire. There
were, in fact, one or two men in Rome of great power and influence,
of whom Piso was specially jealous and he was naturally very much
disposed to be on his guard against opening any door of opportunity
for them to rise to power. To commit a great crime in order to
secure his own aggrandizement, and yet to manage the commission of
it in such a way as not only to shut himself off from the expected
benefit, but to secure that benefit to a hated rival, would have
been a very fatal misstep. So the plan of destroying Nero at Baiæ
was overruled.

At length one more, and as it proved a final scheme, was formed for
accomplishing the purpose of the conspiracy. It was determined to
execute Nero in Rome, at a great public celebration which was then
about to take place. It seems that it was sometimes customary in
ancient times for persons who had any request or petition to make to
an emperor or king, to avail themselves of the occasion of such
celebrations to present them. Accordingly it was determined that
Lateranus should approach Nero at a certain time during the
celebration of the games, as if to offer a petition,--the other
conspirators being close at hand, and ready to act at a moment's
warning. Lateranus, as soon as he was near enough, was to kneel down
and suddenly draw the emperor's robes about his feet, and then
clasp the feet thus enveloped, in his arms, so as to render Nero
helpless. The other conspirators were then to rush forward and kill
their victim with their daggers. In the mean time while Lateranus
and his associates were perpetrating this deed in the circus where
the games were to be exhibited, Piso was to station himself in a
certain temple not far distant, to await the result; while Fenius,
the officer of the guard, who has already been mentioned as the
chief military reliance of the conspirators, was to be posted in
another part of the city, with a military cavalcade in array, ready
to proceed through the streets and bring Piso forth to be proclaimed
emperor as soon as he should receive the tidings that Nero had been
slain. It is said that in order to give additional éclat and
popularity to the proceeding, it was arranged that Octavia, a
daughter of Claudius, the former emperor, was to be brought forward
with Piso in the cavalcade, as if to combine the influence of her
hereditary claims, whatever they might be, with the personal
popularity of Piso in favor of the new government about to be

Thus every thing was arranged. To each conspirator, his own
particular duty was assigned, and, as the day approached for the
execution of the scheme, every thing seemed to promise success. It
is obvious, however, that, as the affair had been arranged, all
would depend upon the resolution and fidelity of those who had been
designated to stab the emperor with their daggers, when Lateranus
should have grasped his feet. The slightest faltering or fear at
this point, would be fatal to the whole scheme. The man on whom the
conspirators chiefly relied for this part of their work, was a
certain desperate profligate, named Scevinus, who had been one of
the earliest originators of the conspiracy, and one of the most
dauntless and determined of the promoters of it, so far as words and
professions could go. He particularly desired that the privilege of
plunging the first dagger into Nero's heart should be granted to
him. He had a knife, he said, which he had found in a certain temple
a long time before, and which he had preserved and carried about his
person constantly ever since, for some such deed. So it was arranged
that Scevinus should strike the fatal blow.

As the time drew nigh, Scevinus seemed to grow more and more excited
with the thoughts of what was before him. He attracted the attention
of the domestics at his house, by his strange and mysterious
demeanor. He held a long and secret consultation with Natalis,
another conspirator, on the day before the one appointed for the
execution of the plot, under such circumstances as to increase still
more the wonder and curiosity of his servants. He formally executed
his will, as if he were approaching some dangerous crisis. He made
presents to his servants, and actually emancipated one or two of his
favorite slaves. He talked with all he met, in a rapid and
incoherent manner, on various subjects, and with an air of gayety
and cheerfulness which it was obvious to those who observed him was
all assumed; for, in the intervals of these conversations, and at
every pause, he relapsed into a thoughtful and absent mood, as if he
were meditating some deep and dangerous design.

That night, too, he took out his knife from its sheath, and gave it
to one of his servants, named Milichus, to be ground. He directed
Milichus to be particularly attentive to the sharpening of the
point. Before Milichus brought back the knife, Scevinus directed him
to prepare bandages such as would be suitable for binding up wounds
to stop the effusion of blood. Milichus observed all these
directions, and, having made all the preparations required,
according to the orders which Scevinus had given him--keeping the
knife, however, still in his possession--he went to report the whole
case to his wife, in order to consult with her in respect to the
meaning of all these mysterious indications.

[Illustration: THE KNIFE.]

The wife of Milichus soon came to the conclusion, that these strange
proceedings could denote nothing less than a plot against the life
of the emperor; and she urged her husband to go early the next
morning, and make known his discovery. She told him that it was
impossible that such a conspiracy should succeed, for it must be
known to a great many persons, some one of whom would be sure to
divulge it in hope of a reward. "If you divulge it," she added, "you
will secure the reward for yourself; and if you do not, you will be
supposed to be privy to it, when it is made known by others, and so
will be sacrificed with the rest to Nero's anger."

Milichus was convinced by his wife's reasonings, and on the
following morning, as soon as the day dawned, he rose and repaired
to the palace. At first he was refused admittance, but on sending
word to the officer of the household, that he had intelligence of
the most urgent importance to communicate to Nero, they allowed him
to come in. When brought into Nero's presence, he told his story,
describing particularly all the circumstances that he had observed,
which had led him to suppose that a conspiracy was formed. He spoke
of the long and mysterious consultation which Scevinus and Natalis
had held together on the preceding day; he described the singular
conduct and demeanor which Scevinus had subsequently manifested, the
execution of his will, his wild and incoherent conversation, his
directions in respect to the sharpening of the knife and the
preparation of the bandages; and, to crown his proofs, he produced
the knife itself, which he had kept for this purpose, and which thus
furnished, in some sense, an ocular demonstration of the truth of
what he had declared.

Officers were immediately sent to seize Scevinus, and to bring him
into the presence of the emperor. Scevinus knew, of course, that the
only possible hope for him was in a bold and resolute denial of the
charge made against him. He accordingly denied, in the most solemn
manner, that there was any plot or conspiracy whatever, and he
attempted to explain all the circumstances which had awakened his
servant's suspicions. The knife or dagger which Milichus had
produced, was an ancient family relic, he said,--one which he had
kept for a long time in his chamber, and which his servant had
obtained surreptitiously, for the purpose of sustaining his false
and malicious charge against his master. As to his will, he often
made and signed a will anew, he said, as many other persons were
accustomed to do, and no just inference against him could be drawn
from the circumstance that he had done this on the preceding day;
and in respect to the bandages and other preparation for the
dressing of wounds which Milichus alledged that he had ordered, he
denied the statement altogether. He had not given any such orders.
The whole story was the fabrication of a vile slave, attempting, by
these infamous means, to compass his master's destruction. Scevinus
said all this with so bold and intrepid a tone of voice, and with
such an air of injured innocence, that Nero and his friends were
half disposed to believe that he was unjustly accused, and to
dismiss him from custody. This might very probably have been the
result, and Milichus himself might have been punished for making a
false and malicious accusation, had not the sagacity of his wife,
who was all the time watching these proceedings with the most
anxious interest, furnished a clew which, in the end, brought the
whole truth to light.

She called attention to the long conference which Scevinus had held
with Natalis on the preceding day. Scevinus was accordingly
questioned concerning it. He declared that his interview was nothing
but an innocent consultation about his own private affairs. He was
questioned then about the particulars of the conversation. Of course
he was compelled to fabricate a statement in reply. Natalis himself
was then sent for, and examined, apart from Scevinus, in regard to
the conversation they had held together. Natalis, of course,
fabricated a story too,--but, as usual with such fabrications, the
two accounts having been invented independently, were inconsistent
with each other. Nero was immediately convinced that the men were
guilty, and that some sort of plot or conspiracy had been formed. He
ordered that they should both be put to the torture in order to
compel them to confess their crime, and disclose the names of their
accomplices. In the mean time they were sent to prison, and loaded
with irons, to be kept in that condition until the instruments of
torture could be prepared.

When at length they were brought to the rack, the sight of the
horrid machinery unmanned them. They begged to be spared, and
promised to reveal the whole. They acknowledged that a conspiracy
had been formed, and gave the names of all who had participated in
it. They explained fully, too, the plans which had been devised, and
as in this case, though they were examined separately, their
statements agreed, Nero and his friends were convinced of the truth
of their declarations, and thus at last the plot was fully brought
to light. Nero himself was struck with consternation and terror at
discovering the formidable danger to which he had been exposed.



A.D. 65

Epicharis denies all knowledge of the conspiracy.--Seizures and
executions.--General panic.--Death of Piso.--The conspirators
discouraged.--Epicharis at the torture.--Her death.--The conspirators
tried before Nero.--Flavius.--Demeanor of Rufus in the garden.--He is
accused.--Rufus begs for his life.--His execution.--Flavius is
accused.--His desperation.--The execution of Flavius.--The executioner's
fears.--Seneca.--His character and public position.--Evidence against
Seneca.--His journey to Rome.--Seneca arrested.--His defence.--The
officer's report.--Nero decides that Seneca must die.--The death of
Seneca.--Grief and despair of Paulina.--They save Paulina's life.--The
consul Vestinus.--Large force sent to arrest Vestinus.--Vestinus
arrested.--His extraordinary fate.--Nero is pleased.--The guests at
Vestinus's supper.--Appearances of public rejoicing.--Nero grants gifts
to the army.--Nature of despotic government.--Secret of their
power.--Doubt in respect to Piso's conspiracy.

As soon as Nero had obtained all the information which he and his
officers could draw from Scevinus and Natalis, and had sent to all
parts of the city to arrest those whom the forced disclosures of
these witnesses accused, he thought of Epicharis, who, it will be
recollected, had been sent to prison, and who was still in
confinement there. He ordered Epicharis to be told that concealment
was no longer possible,--that Scevinus and Natalis had divulged the
plot in full, and that her only hope lay in amply confessing all
that she knew.

This announcement had no effect upon Epicharis. She refused to admit
that she knew any thing of any conspiracy.

Nero then ordered that she should be put to the torture. The engines
were prepared and she was brought before them. The sight of them
produced no change. She was then placed upon the wheel, and her
frail and delicate limbs were stretched, dislocated, and broken,
until she had endured every form of agony which such engines could
produce. Her constancy remained unshaken to the end. At length, when
she was so much exhausted by her sufferings that she could no longer
feel the pain, she was taken away to be restored by medicaments,
cordials, and rest, in order that she might recover strength to
endure new tortures on the following day.

In the mean time, panic and excitement reigned throughout the city.
Nero doubled his guards; he garrisoned his palace; he brought out
bodies of armed men, and stationed them on the walls of the city and
in the public squares, or marched them to and fro about the streets.
As fast as men were accused they were put to the question, and as
each one saw that the only hope for safety to himself was in freely
denouncing others, the names of supposed confederates were revealed
in great numbers, and as fast as these names were obtained the men
were seized and imprisoned or executed--the innocent and the guilty

On the very first announcement that the plot had been discovered,
those of the conspirators who were still at large made all haste to
the house of Piso. They found him prostrate in consternation and
despair. They urged him immediately to come forth, and to put
himself at the head of an armed force, and fight for his life.
Desperate as such an undertaking might be, no other alternative,
they said, was now left to him. But all was of no avail. The
conspirators could not arouse him to action. They were obliged to
retire and leave him to his fate. He opened the veins in his arm,
and bled to death while the soldiers whom Nero had sent were
breaking into his house to arrest him.

Being thus deprived of their leader, the conspirators gave up all
hope of effecting the revolution, and thought only of the means of
screening themselves from Nero's vengeance.

In the mean time, Epicharis had so far recovered during the night,
that on the following morning it was determined to bring her again
to the torture. She was utterly helpless,--her limbs having been
broken by the execution of the day before. The officers accordingly
put her into a sort of sedan chair, or covered litter, in order that
she might be carried by bearers to the place of torture. She was
borne in this way to the spot, but when the executioners opened the
door of the chair to take her out, they beheld a shocking spectacle.
Their wretched victim had escaped from their power. She was hanging
by the neck, dead. She had contrived to make a noose in one end of
the cincture with which she was girded, and fastening the other end
to some part of the chair within, she had succeeded in bringing the
weight of her body upon the noose around her neck, and had died
without disturbing her bearers as they walked along.


In the mean time the various parties that were accused were seized
in great numbers, and were brought in for trial before a sort of
court-martial which Nero himself, with some of his principal
officers, held for this purpose in the gardens of the palace. The
number of those accused was so large that the avenues to the garden
were blocked up with them, and with the parties of soldiers that
conducted them, and multitudes were detained together at the gates,
in a state, of course, of awful suspense and agitation, waiting
their turns. It happened singularly enough that among those whom
Nero summoned to serve on the tribunal for the trial of the
prisoners were two of the principal conspirators, who had not yet
been accused. These were Subrius Flavius and Fenius Rufus, whom the
reader will perhaps recollect as prominent members of the plot.
Flavius was the man who had once undertaken to kill the emperor in
the streets, and while standing near him at the tribunal, he made
signs to the other conspirators that he was ready to stab him to the
heart now, if they would but say the word. But Rufus restrained
him, anxiously signifying to him that he was by no means to attempt
it. Rufus in fact seems to have been as weak-minded and irresolute
as Flavius was desperate and bold.

In fact although Rufus, when summoned to attend in the garden, for
the trial of the conspirators, did not dare to disobey, he yet found
it very difficult to summon resolution to face the appalling dangers
of his position. He took his place at last among the others, and
with a forced external composure which ill concealed the desperate
agitation and anxiety which reigned in his soul, he gave himself to
the work of trying and condemning his confederates and companions.
For a time no one of them betrayed him. But at length during the
examination of Scevinus, in his solicitude to appear zealous in
Nero's cause he overacted his part, so far as to press Scevinus too
earnestly with his inquiries, until at length Scevinus turned
indignantly toward him saying--

"Why do _you_ ask these questions? No person in Rome knows more
about this conspiracy than you, and if you feel so devoted to this
humane and virtuous prince of yours, show your gratitude by telling
him, yourself, the whole story."

Rufus was perfectly overwhelmed at this sudden charge, and could not
say a word. He attempted to speak, but he faltered and stammered,
and then sank down into his seat, pale and trembling, and covered
with confusion. Nero and the other members of the tribunal were
convinced of his guilt. He was seized and put in irons, and after
the same summary trial to which the rest were subjected, condemned
to die. He begged for his life with the most earnest and piteous
lamentations, but Nero was relentless, and he was immediately

The conspirator Flavius displayed a very different temper. When he
came to be accused, at first he denied the charge, and he appealed
to his whole past character and course of life as proof of his
innocence. Those who had informed against him, however, soon
furnished incontestable evidence of his guilt, and then changing his
ground, he openly acknowledged his share in the conspiracy and
gloried in it even in the presence of Nero himself. When Nero asked
him how he could so violate his oath of allegiance and fidelity as
to conspire against the life of his sovereign, he turned to him with
looks of open and angry defiance and said--

"It was because I hated and detested you, unnatural monster as you
are. There was a time when there was not a soldier in your service
who was more devoted to you than I. But that time has passed. You
have drawn upon yourself the detestation and abhorrence of all
mankind by your cruelties and your crimes. You have murdered your
mother. You have murdered your wife. You are an incendiary. And not
content with perpetrating these enormous atrocities, you have
degraded yourself in the eyes of all Rome to the level of the lowest
mountebank and buffoon, so as to make yourself the object of
contempt as well as abhorrence. I hate and defy you."

Nero was of course astonished and almost confounded at hearing such
words. He had never listened to language like this before. His
astonishment was succeeded by violent rage, and he ordered Flavius
to be led out to immediate execution.

The centurion to whom the execution was committed conducted Flavius
without the city to a field, and then set the soldiers at work to
dig the grave, as was customary at military executions, while he
made the other necessary preparations. The soldiers, in their haste,
shaped the excavation rudely and imperfectly. Flavius ridiculed
their work, asking them, in a tone of contempt, if they considered
that the proper way to dig a military grave. And when at length,
after all the preparations had been made, and the fatal moment had
arrived, the tribune who was in command called upon him to uncover
his neck and stand forth courageously to meet his fate--he replied
by exhorting the officer himself to be resolute and firm. "See,"
said he, "if you can show as much nerve in striking the blow,
as I can in meeting it." To cut down such a man, under such
circumstances, was of course a very dreadful duty, even for a Roman
soldier, and the executioner faltered greatly in the performance of
it. The decapitation should have been effected by a single blow; but
the officer found his strength failing him when he came to strike,
so that a second blow was necessary to complete the severance of the
head from the body. The tribune was afraid that this, when
represented to Nero, might bring him under suspicion, as if it
indicated some shrinking on his part from a prompt and vigorous
action in putting down the conspiracy; and so on his return to Nero
he boasted of his performance as if it had been just as he intended.
"I made the traitor die twice," said he, "by taking two blows to
dispatch him."

But perhaps the most melancholy of all the results of this most
unfortunate conspiracy, was the fate of Seneca. Seneca, it will be
remembered, had been Nero's instructor and guardian in former years,
and subsequently one of his chief ministers of state. He was now
almost seventy years of age, and besides the veneration in which he
was held on this account, and the respect that was paid to the
exalted position which he had occupied for so long a period, he was
very highly esteemed for his intellectual endowments and for his
private character. His numerous writings, in fact, had acquired for
him an extensive literary fame.

But Nero hated him. He had long wished him out of the way. It was
currently reported, and generally believed, that he had attempted to
poison him. However this may be, he certainly desired to find some
occasion of proceeding against him, and such an occasion was
furnished by the developments connected with this conspiracy.

Natalis, in the course of his testimony, said that he supposed that
Seneca was concerned in the plot, for he recollected that he was
once sent to him, while he was confined to his house by illness,
with a message from Piso. The message was, that Piso had repeatedly
called at his, that is, Seneca's house, but had been unable to
obtain admittance. The answer which Seneca had returned was, that
the reason why he had not received visitors was, that the state of
his health was very infirm, but that he entertained none but
friendly feelings toward Piso, and wished him prosperity and

Nero determined to consider this as proof that Seneca was privy to
the conspiracy, and that he secretly abetted it. At least he
determined, for a first step, to send an officer with a band of
armed men to arrest him, and to lay the crime to his charge. Seneca
was not in the city at this time. He had been absent in Campania,
which was a beautiful rural region, south of Rome, back from
Misenum. He was, however, that very day on his return to Rome, and
Silvanus, the officer whom Nero sent to him, met him on the way, at
a villa which he possessed a few miles from Rome. The name of this
villa was Nomentanum.[C] Seneca had stopped at the villa to spend
the night, and was seated at the table with Paulina his wife, when
Silvanus and his troop arrived.

[Footnote C: See map. Frontispiece.]

The soldiers surrounded the house, so as to prevent all possibility
of escape, and posted sentinels at the doors. Silvanus and some of
his associates then went in, and entering the hall where Seneca was
at supper, they informed him for what purpose they were come.
Silvanus repeated what Natalis had testified in respect to the
messages which had passed between Seneca and Piso. Seneca admitted
that the statement was true, but he declared that the word which he
had sent to Piso was only an ordinary message of civility and
friendliness; it meant nothing more. Finding that no farther
explanation could be obtained, Silvanus left Seneca in his villa,
with a strong guard posted around the house, and returned to Rome to
report to Nero.

When Nero had heard the report, he asked Silvanus whether Seneca
appeared sufficiently terrified by the accusation to make it
probable that he would destroy himself that night.[D] Silvanus
answered no. "He displayed," said he, "no marks of fear. There was
no agitation, no sign of regret, no token of sorrow. His words and
looks bespoke a mind calm, confident and firm."

[Footnote D: It seems to have been considered by public men in those
days, that to resolve on self-destruction was a much more honorable
course to pursue in an extreme emergency like this, than to wait to
be condemned and executed by the officers of the law. The attempt to
frighten a man into the act of killing himself was accordingly _one_
of the various modes which a tyrant might resort to, to remove those
who were obnoxious to him.]

"Go to him," rejoined Nero, "and tell him that he must make up his
mind to die."

Silvanus was thunderstruck at receiving this order. He could not
believe it possible that Nero would really put to death a man so
venerable in years and wisdom, who had been to him all his life, in
the place of a father. Instead of proceeding directly to Seneca's
house he went to consult with the captain of the guard, who, though
really one of the conspirators, had not yet been accused, and was
still at liberty, though trembling with apprehension at the
imminence of his danger. The captain, after hearing the case, said
that nothing was to be done but to deliver the message. Silvanus
then went to Seneca's villa, but not being able to endure the
thought of being himself the bearer of such tidings, sent in a
centurion with the message.

Seneca received it with calm composure, and immediately made
preparations for terminating his life. His wife Paulina insisted on
sharing his fate. He gathered his friends around him to give them
his parting counsels and bid them farewell, and ordered his servants
to make the necessary preparations for opening his veins. Then
ensued one of those sad and awful scenes of mourning and death, with
which the page of ancient history is so often darkened--forming
pictures, as they do, too shocking to be exhibited in full detail.
The calm composure of Seneca, was contrasted on the one hand with
the bitter anguish and loud lamentations of his domestics and
friends, and on the other with Paulina's mute despair. When the
veins were opened, the blood at first would not flow, and various
artificial means were resorted to, to accelerate the extinction of
life; at last, however, Seneca ceased to breathe. The domestics of
the family then begged and entreated the soldiers with many tears,
that they might be allowed to save Paulina if it were not too late.
The soldiers consented; so the women bound up her wounds, as she lay
insensible and helpless before them, and thus stopping the farther
effusion of blood, they watched over her with assiduous care, in
hopes to restore her. They succeeded. They brought her back to life,
or rather to a semblance of life; for she never really recovered so
as to be herself again, during the few lonely and desolate years
through which she afterward lingered.

There was another Roman citizen of the highest rank who fell an
innocent victim to the angry passions which the discovery of this
plot awakened in Nero's mind. It was the consul Vestinus. Vestinus
was a man of great loftiness of character, and had never evinced
that pliancy of temper, and that submissiveness to the imperial
will, which Nero required. His position, too, as consul, which was
the highest civil office in the commonwealth, gave him a vast
influence over the people of Rome, so that Nero feared as well as
hated him. In fact, so great was his independence of character, and
his intractability, as it was sometimes called, that the
conspirators, after mature deliberation, had concluded not to
propose to him to engage in the plot. But, though he was thus
innocent, Nero did not certainly know the fact, and, at any rate,
such an opportunity to effect the destruction of a hated rival, was
too good to be lost. Very soon, therefore, after the disclosure of
the conspiracy had been made, Nero sent a tribune, at the head of
five hundred men, to arrest the consul.

This large force was designated for the service, partly because,--on
account of the high rank and office of the accused,--Nero did not
know what means of resistance the consul might be able to command,
and partly because his house, which was situated in the most public
part of the city, overlooking the Forum, was in itself a sort of
citadel, of which the various officers of Vestinus's household, and
his numerous retainers, constituted a sort of garrison. It happened
that, at the time when Nero sent his troop to make the arrest,
Vestinus was entertaining a large party of friends at supper. The
festivities were suddenly interrupted, and the whole company were
thrown into a state of the most frightful excitement and confusion,
by the sudden onset of this large body of armed men, who besieged
the doors, blocked up all the avenues of approach, and, surrounding
and guarding the house on every side, shut all the inmates in, as if
they were investing the castle of an enemy. Certain soldiers of the
guard were then sent in to Vestinus in the banqueting-room, to
inform him that the tribune wished to speak with him on important

The consul knew the character of Nero, and the feelings which the
tyrant entertained toward him too well, and saw too clearly the
advantage which the discovery of the conspiracy gave to Nero, not to
perceive at once that his fate was sealed; and the action which he
took in this frightful emergency comported well with his
insubmissive and intractable character. Instead of obeying the
summons of the tribune, he repaired immediately to a private
apartment, summoned his physician, directed a bath to be prepared,
ordered the physician to open his veins, lay down in the bath to
promote the flowing of the blood, and in a few minutes ceased to

The announcement of the consul's death, when it came to be reported
to Nero, of course gave him great satisfaction. He continued the
guards, however, still about the house, keeping the guests
imprisoned in the banqueting-room for many hours. Of course, during
all this time, the minds of these guests were in a state of extreme
distress and apprehension, inasmuch as every one of them must
necessarily have felt in immediate danger. When the anxiety and
agitation which they felt, was reported to Nero, he was greatly
entertained by it, and said that they were paying for their consular
supper. He kept them in this state of suspense until nearly morning,
and then ordered the guards to be withdrawn.

The number of victims who were sacrificed to Nero's resentment in
consequence of this conspiracy, was very large; so that the streets
were filled with executions and with funeral processions for many
days. Universal grief and panic prevailed, and yet no one dared to
manifest the slightest indications of sorrow or of fear. The people
supposed that pity for the sufferers, or anxiety for themselves,
would be interpreted as proofs that they had been concerned in the
conspiracy; for multitudes of those who had been put to death, were
condemned on pretexts and pretended proofs of the most frivolous
character. Every one, therefore, even of those whose nearest and
dearest friends had been killed, was compelled to assume all the
appearances of extravagant joy that so wicked a plot against the
life of so wise and excellent a prince, had been exposed, and the
guilty devisers of it brought to punishment. Parents whose sons had
been slain, and wives and children who had lost their husbands and
fathers, were thus compelled to unite in the congratulations and
expressions of joy which were everywhere addressed to the emperor.
Processions were formed, addresses were made, sacrifices were
offered, games, spectacles, and illuminations without number were
celebrated, to testify to the general rejoicing; and thus the city
presented all the outward appearances of universal gladness and joy,
while, in truth, the hearts of men were everywhere overwhelmed with
anxiety, grief, and fear.

When at length a sufficient number of the citizens of Rome had been
destroyed, Nero assembled the army, and after making an address to
the troops on the subject of the conspiracy, and on his happy escape
from the danger, he divided an immense sum of money from the public
treasury among the soldiers, so as to give a very considerable
largess to each man. He also distributed among them a vast amount of
provisions from the public granaries. This act, and the connection
between Nero and the troops which it illustrates, explain what would
otherwise seem an inscrutable mystery, namely, how it can be
possible for one man to bring the immense population of such an
empire as that of ancient Rome so entirely under his power, that any
number of the most prominent and influential of the citizens shall
be seized and beheaded, or thrust through the heart with swords and
daggers at a word or a nod from him. The explanation is, _the army_.
Give to the single tyrant one or two hundred thousand desperadoes,
well banded together, and completely armed, under a compact between
them by which he says, "Help me to control, to domineer over, and to
plunder the industrial classes of society, and I will give you a
large share of the spoil," and the work is very easy. The
governments that have existed in the world have generally been
formed on this plan. They have been simply vast armies authorized to
collect their own pay by the systematic plunder of the millions
whose peaceful industry feeds and clothes the world. The remedy
which mankind is now beginning to discover and apply is equally
simple. The millions who do the work are learning to keep the arms
in their own hands, and to forbid the banding together of masses of
troops for the purpose of exalting pride and cruelty to a position
of absolute and irresponsible power.

In Nero's case, so great was the awe which the terrible power of the
Roman legions inspired, that even the Senate bowed humbly before it,
and joined in the general adulation of the hated tyrant. They
decreed oblations and public thanksgivings; they erected new temples
to express their gratitude to the gods for so signal a deliverance;
they instituted new games and festivities to express the general
joy, and erected statues and monuments in honor of those who had
contributed to the discovery of the plot. The knife or dagger which
Milichus had produced as the one by which Nero was to have been
slain, was preserved as a sacred relic. A suitable inscription was
placed upon it, and it was deposited, with all solemnity, in one of
the temples of the city, there to remain a memorial of the event for
all future generations. In a word, the tyrant's escape from death
called forth all the outward manifestations of joy which could have
been deserved by the greatest public benefactor.

And yet, notwithstanding all this, such was the estimate which
public sentiment really entertained of the true character of Nero,
that it was considered extremely doubtful at the time, and has, in
fact, been so considered ever since, whether there ever was any
conspiracy at all. It was very extensively believed that the whole
pretended discovery of the plot was an ingenious device on the part
of Nero, to furnish him with plausible pretexts for destroying a
great number of men who were personally obnoxious to him. And were
it not almost impossible to believe that such monstrous wickedness
and tyranny as that of Nero could riot so long over Romans without
arousing them to some desperate attempts to destroy him, we might
ourselves adopt this view, and suppose that this celebrated plot was
wholly a fabrication.



A.D. 65

Nero becomes more depraved and abandoned than ever.--Nero appears on
the public stage.--Estimation in which players were held.--Action of
the Senate.--Theatrical excitements.--Humiliating demeanor of the
emperor.--Rewards and honors conferred upon Nero.--The Olympic
games.--The plain.--Rules.--Preliminary arrangements of the Olympic
games.--Various contests and spectacles at the Olympic games.--Nero
sets out for Greece.--His retinue.--Nero's progress through
Greece.--Crowds of auditors.--Nero is received with great
applause.--The crown of olive leaves.--Ceremonies.--Sacrifices and
festivities.--Nero at Olympia.--His chariot race.--Nero receives the
prizes.--Nero sends despatches to Rome.--His plan for cutting through
the Isthmus of Corinth.--Breaking ground.--The golden pick-axe.--Helius
calls upon Nero to return to Rome.--Nero returns.--His train.--His
prizes.--His voyage.--Danger of shipwreck.--Journey to Rome.--His
triumphal entry into Rome.--His proceedings.--He continues the training
of his voice.--The _Phonascus_.--Public performances.--Pecuniary
embarassments.--Bessus's story.--Nero sends to Egypt for the
treasure.--His disappointment.--The dream.

As the excitement which had been produced by the discovery, real or
pretended, of Piso's conspiracy, and by the innumerable executions
which were attendant upon it, passed away, Nero returned to his
usual mode of life, and in fact abandoned himself to the indulgence
of his brutal propensities and passions more recklessly than ever.
He spent his days in sloth, and his nights in rioting and carousals,
and was rapidly becoming an object of general contempt and
detestation. The only ambition which seemed to animate him was to
excel, or rather to have the credit of excelling, as a player and
singer on the public stage.

Not long after the period of the conspiracy described in the last
two chapters, and when the excitement connected with it had in some
measure subsided, the attention of the public began to be turned
toward a great festival, the time for which was then approaching.
This festival was celebrated with spectacles and games of various
kinds, which were called the quinquennial games, from the
circumstance that the period for the celebration of them recurred
once in five years. A principal part of the performances on these
occasions consisted of contests for prizes, which were offered for
those who chose to compete for them. Some of these prizes were for
those who excelled in athletic exercises, and in feats of strength
and dexterity, while others were for singers and dancers, and other
performers on the public stage. Nero could not resist the temptation
to avail himself of this grand occasion for the display of his
powers, and he prepared to appear among the other actors and
mountebanks as a competitor for the theatrical prizes.

Performers on the public stage were regarded in ancient days much as
they are now. They were applauded, flattered, caressed, and most
extravagantly paid; but after all they formed a social class
distinct from all others, and of a very low grade. Just as now great
public singers are rewarded sometimes with the most princely
revenues,--not twice or three times, but _ten_ times perhaps the
amount ever paid to the highest ministers of state,--and receive the
most flattering attentions from the highest classes of society, and
are followed by crowds in the public streets, and enter cities
escorted by grand processions, while yet there is scarce a
respectable citizen of the better class who would not feel himself
demeaned at seeing his son or his daughter on the stage by their

In the same manner public sentiment was such in the city of Rome, in
Nero's day, that to see the chief military magistrate of the
commonwealth publicly performing on the stage, and entering into an
eager competition with the singing men and women, the low comedians,
the dancers, the buffoons, and other such characters, that figured
there, was a very humiliating spectacle. In fact, when the time for
the quinquennial celebration approached, the government attempted to
prevent the necessity of the emperor's actual appearing upon the
stage, by passing in the Senate, among other decrees relating to the
celebrations, certain votes awarding honorary crowns and prizes to
Nero, by anticipation,--thus acknowledging him to be the first
without requiring the test of actual competition. But this did not
satisfy Nero. In fact, the honor of being publicly proclaimed victor
was not probably the chief allurement which attracted him. He wished
to enjoy the excitement and the pleasure of the contest,--to see the
vast audience assembled before him, and held in charmed and
enraptured attention by his performance; and to listen to and enjoy
the triumphant grandeur of the applause which rolled and
reverberated in the great Roman amphitheaters on such occasions with
the sound of thunder. In a word it was the vanity of personal
display, rather than ambition for an honorable distinction, that
constituted the motive which actuated him.

He consequently disregarded the honorary awards which the Senate had
decreed him, and insisted on actually appearing on the stage. His
first performance was the reciting of a poem which he had composed.
The poem was received, of course, with unbounded applause. Afterward
he appeared on the stage in competition with the harpers and other
musical performers. The populace applauded his efforts with the
greatest enthusiasm, while the more respectable citizens were
silent, or spoke to each other in secret murmurs of discontent and
disapproval. There were a great many rules and restrictions which
the candidates in these contests were required to observe; and
though they were all proper enough for the class of men for whom
they were intended, were yet such that the emperor, in subjecting
himself to them, placed himself in a very low and degraded position,
so as to become an object of ridicule and contempt. For example,
after coming to the end of a performance on the harp, he would
advance to the front of the stage, and there, after the manner
customary among the players of that day, would kneel down in an
imploring attitude, with his hands raised, as if humbly soliciting a
favorable sentence from the audience, as his judges, and tremblingly
waiting their decision. This, considering that the suppliant
performer was the greatest potentate on earth, officially
responsible for the government of half the world, and the audience
before whom he was kneeling was mainly composed of the lowest rabble
of the city, seemed to every respectable Roman, absurd and
ridiculous to the last degree.

Nevertheless, the fame of these exploits performed by Nero as a
public actor, spread gradually throughout the empire, and the
subject attracted special attention in the cities of Greece, where
games and public spectacles of every kind were celebrated with the
greatest pomp and splendor. Several of these cities sent deputations
to Rome, with crowns and garlands for the emperor, which they had
decreed to him in honor of the skill and superiority which he had
displayed in the histrionic art. Nero was extremely gratified at
having such honors conferred upon him. He received the deputations
which brought these tokens, with great pomp and parade, as if they
had been embassadors from sovereign princes or states, sent to
transact business of the most momentous concern. He gave them
audience, in fact, before all others, and entertained them with
feasts and spectacles, and conferred upon them every other mark of
public consideration and honor. On one occasion, at a feast to which
he had invited such a company of embassadors, one of them asked him
to favor them with a song. The emperor at once complied, and sang a
song for the entertainment of the company at the table. He was
rapturously applauded, and was so delighted with the enthusiasm
which his performance awakened, as to exclaim that the Greeks were,
after all, the only people that really had a taste for music; none
but they, he said, could understand or appreciate a good song.

The most renowned of all the celebrations of the ancient Greeks were
the Olympic games. These games constituted a grand national
festival, which was held once in four years on a plain in the
western part of the Peloponnesus, called the Olympian Plain. This
plain was but little more than a mile in extent, and was bordered on
one side by rocky hills, and on the other by the waters of a river.
Here suitable structures were erected for the exhibition of the
spectacles and games, and for the accommodation of the spectators,
and when the period for the celebrations arrived, immense multitudes
assembled from every part of Greece to witness the solemnities. The
spectators, however, were all men; for with the exception of a few
priestesses who had certain official duties to perform, no females
were allowed to be present. The punishment for an attempt to evade
this law was death; for if any woman attempted to witness the scene
in disguise, the law was that she was to be seized, if detected,
and hurled down a neighboring precipice, to be killed by the fall.
It is said, however, that only one case of such detection ever
occurred, and in that case the woman was pardoned in consideration
of the fact that her father, her brothers, and her son had all been
victors in the games.

The games continued for five days. The general arrangements were
made, and the umpires were appointed, by the government of Elis,
which was the state in which the Olympian plain was situated. There
was a gymnasium in the vicinity, where those who intended to enter
the lists as competitors were accustomed to put themselves in
training. This training occupied nearly a year, and for thirty days
previous to the public exhibition the exercises were conducted at
this gymnasium in the same manner and form as at the games
themselves. There was a large and regularly organized police
provided to preserve order, and umpires appointed with great
formality, to decide the contests and make the awards. These umpires
were inducted into office by the most solemn oaths. They bound
themselves by these oaths to give just and true decisions without
fear or favor.

The festival was opened, when the time arrived, in the evening, by
the offering of sacrifices,--the services being conducted in the
most imposing and solemn manner. On the following morning at
daybreak the games and contests began. These consisted of races--in
chariots, on horseback, and on foot,--the runners being in the
latter case sometimes dressed lightly, and sometimes loaded with
heavy armor;--of matches in leaping, wrestling, boxing, and throwing
the discus;--and finally, of musical and poetical performances of
various kinds. To obtain the prize in any of these contests was
considered throughout the whole Grecian world as an honor of the
highest degree.

The period for the celebration of these games began to draw nigh, as
it happened, not long after the time when the deputations from
Greece came to Nero with the compliments and crowns decreed to him
in token of their admiration of his public performances at
Rome,--and it is not at all surprising that his attention and
interest were strongly awakened by the approach of so renowned a
festival. In short he resolved to go to Greece, and display his
powers before the immense and distinguished audiences that were to
assemble on the Olympic plains.

He accordingly organized a very large retinue of attendants and
followers, and prepared to set out on his journey. This retinue was
in numbers quite an army; but in character it was a mere troop of
actors, musicians and buffoons. It was made up almost wholly of
people connected in various ways with the stage, so that the baggage
which followed in its train, instead of being formed of arms and
munitions of war, as was usual when a great Roman commander had
occasion to pass out of Italy, consisted of harps, fiddles, masks,
buskins, and such other stage property as was in use in those
times,--while the company itself was formed almost entirely of
comedians, singers, dancers, and wrestlers, with an immense retinue
of gay and dissipated men and women, who exemplified every possible
stage of moral debasement and degradation. With this company Nero
crossed to the eastern shore of Italy, and there, embarking on board
the vessels which had been prepared for the voyage, he sailed over
the Adriatic sea to the shores of Greece.

He landed at Cassiope, a town in the northern part of the island of
Corcyra. Here there was a temple to Jupiter, and the first of Nero's
exploits was to go there and sing, being impatient, it would seem,
to give the people of Greece a specimen of his powers immediately on
landing. After this he passed over to the continent, and thence
advanced into the heart of Greece, playing, singing, and acting in
all the cities through which he passed. As there were yet some
months to elapse before the period for celebrating the Olympic
games, Nero had ample time for making this tour. He was of course
everywhere received with the most unbounded applause, for of course
those only, in general, who were most pleased with such amusements,
and were most inclined to approve of Nero's exhibiting himself as a
performer, came together in the assemblies which convened to hear
him. Thus it happened that the virtuous, the cultivated, and the
refined, remained at their homes; while all the idle, reckless,
and dissolute spirits of the land flocked in crowds to the
entertainments which their imperial visitor offered them. These men,
of course, considered it quite a triumph for them that so
distinguished a potentate should take an active part in ministering
to their pleasures; and thus wherever Nero went he was sure to be
attended by crowds, and his performances, whether skillful or not,
could not fail of being extravagantly extolled in conversation, and
of eliciting in the theaters thunders of applause. The consequence
was that Nero was delighted with the enthusiasm which his
performances seemed everywhere to awaken. To be thus received and
thus applauded in the cities of Greece, seemed to satisfy his
highest ambition.

It has always been considered a very extraordinary proof of mental
and moral degradation on the part of Nero, that he could thus
descend from the exalted sphere of responsibility and duty to which
his high official station properly consigned him, in order to mingle
in such scenes and engage in such contests as were exhibited in the
ordinary theaters and circuses in Greece. It is however not so
surprising that he should have been willing to appear as a
competitor at the Olympic games: so prominent were these games above
all the other athletic and military celebrations of that age, and so
great was the value attached to the honor of a victory obtained in
them. There was, it is true, no value in the prize itself, that was
bestowed upon the victors. There was no silver cup, or golden crown,
or sum of money staked upon the issue. The only direct award was a
crown of olive leaves, which, at the close of the contest, was
placed upon the head of the victor. Everything pertaining to this
crown was connected with the most imposing and peculiar ceremonies.
The leaves from which the garland was made were obtained from a
certain sacred olive-tree, which grew in a consecrated grove in
Olympia. The tree itself had been originally brought, it was said,
from the country of the Hyperboreans, by Hercules, and planted in
Olympia, where it was sacredly preserved to furnish garlands for the
victors in the games. The leaves were cut from the tree by a boy
chosen for the purpose. He gathered the leaves by means of a golden
sickle, which was set apart expressly to this use. When the time
arrived for the crowning of the victor, the candidate was brought
forward in presence of a vast concourse of spectators, and placed
upon a tripod, which was originally formed of bronze, but in
subsequent ages was wrought in ivory and gold. Branches of
palm-trees, the usual symbols of victory, were placed in his hands.
His name and that of his father and of the country whence he came,
were proclaimed with great ceremony by the heralds. The crown was
then placed upon his head, and the festival ended with processions
and sacrifices and a public banquet given in honor of the occasion.
On his return to his own country, the victor entered the capital by
a triumphal procession, and was usually rewarded there by immunities
and privileges of the most important character.

At length the time arrived for the celebration of the Olympic games,
and Nero repaired to the spot, following the vast throngs that were
proceeding thither from every part of Greece, and there entered into
competition with all the common singers and players of the time. The
prize for excellence in music was awarded to him. It was, however,
generally understood that the judges were bribed to decide in his
favor. Nero entered as a competitor, too, in the chariot race; and
here he was successful in winning the prize; though in this case it
was decreed to him in plain and open violation of all rule. He
undertook to drive ten horses in this race; but he found the team
too much for him to control. The horses became unmanageable; Nero
was thrown out of his carriage and was so much hurt that he could
not finish the race at all. He, however, insisted that accidents and
casualties were not to be taken into the account, and that inasmuch
as he should certainly have outran his competitors if he had not
been prevented by misfortune, he claimed that the judges should
award him the prize. Greatly to his delight the judges did so. It is
true they were bound by the most solemn oaths to make just and true
decisions; but it has been seldom found in the history of the world
that official oaths constitute any serious barrier against the
demands or encroachments of emperors or kings.

When the games were ended Nero conferred very rich rewards upon all
the judges.

These successes at the Olympic games, nominal and empty as they
really were, seemed to have inflamed the emperor's vanity and
ambition more than ever. Instead of returning to Rome he commenced
another tour through the heart of Greece, singing and playing in all
the cities where he went, and challenging all the most distinguished
actors and performers to meet him and contend with him for prizes.

Of course the prizes were always awarded to Nero on this tour, as
they had been at the Olympic games. Nero sent home regular
despatches after each of his performances, to inform the Roman
Senate of his victories, just as former emperors had been accustomed
to send military bulletins to announce the progress of their armies,
and the conquests which they had gained in battle; and with a degree
of vanity and folly which seems almost incredible, he called upon
the Senate to institute religious celebrations and sacrifices in
Rome, and great public processions, in order to signalize and
commemorate these great successes, and to express the gratitude of
the people to the gods for having vouchsafed them. Not satisfied
with expecting this parade of public rejoicing in Rome, he called
upon the Senate to ordain that similar services should be held in
all the cities and towns throughout the empire.

During the visit of Nero to Greece, he engaged in one undertaking
which might be denominated a useful enterprise, though he managed it
with such characteristic imbecility and folly, that it ended, as
might have been foreseen, in a miserable failure. The plan which he
conceived, was to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth, so as to open
a ship communication between the Ionian and the Ægean seas. Such a
canal, he thought, would save for many vessels the long and
dangerous voyage around the Peloponnesus, and thus prevent many of
the wrecks which then annually took place on the shores of the
Peninsula, and which were often attended with the destruction of
much property and of many lives.

The plan might thus have been a very good one, had any proper and
efficient means been adopted for carrying it into execution; but in
all that he did in this respect, Nero seems to have looked no
farther than to the performance of pompous and empty ceremonies in
commencing the work. He convened a great public assembly on the
ground. He entertained this assembly with spectacles and shows. He
then placed himself at the head of his life-guards, and, after a
speech of great promise and pretension, he advanced at the head of a
procession, singing and dancing by the way, to the place where the
first ground was to be broken. Here he made three strokes with a
golden pick-axe, which had been provided for the occasion, and
putting the earth which he had loosened into a basket, he carried it
away to a short distance, and threw it out upon the ground. This
ceremony was meant for the commencement of the canal; and when it
was over, the company dispersed, and Nero was escorted by his guards
back to the city of Corinth, which lay at a few miles' distance from
the scene.

Nothing more was ever done. Nero issued orders, it is true, that all
the criminals, convicts, and prisoners in Greece, should be
transported to the Isthmus, and set to work upon this canal; and
some Jewish captives were actually employed there for a time; but,
for some reason or other, nothing was done. The actual work was
never seriously undertaken.

In the mean time, Nero had left the government at Rome in the hands
of a certain ignoble favorite, named Helius, who, being placed in
command of the army during his master's absence, held the lives and
fortunes of all the inhabitants at his supreme disposal, and, as
might have been expected, he pursued such a career of cruelty and
oppression, in his attempts to overawe and subject those who were
under his power, that a universal feeling of hostility and hatred
was awakened against him. Things at last assumed so alarming an
attitude, that Helius was terrified in his turn, and at length he
began to send for Nero to come home. Nero at first paid no attention
to these requests. The danger, however, increased; the crisis became
extremely imminent, so that a general insurrection was anticipated.
Helius sent messengers after messengers to Nero, imploring him to
return, if he wished to save himself from ruin;--but all the answer
that he could obtain from Nero was, that, if Helius truly loved him,
he would not envy him the glory that he was acquiring in Greece;
but, instead of hastening his return, would rather wish that he
should come back worthy of himself, after having fully accomplished
his victories. At last Helius, growing desperate in view of the
impending danger, left Rome, and, traveling with all possible
dispatch, night and day, came to Nero in Greece, and there made such
statements and disclosures in respect to the condition of things at
Rome, that Nero at length reluctantly concluded to return.

He accordingly set out in grand state on his journey westward,
escorted by his body-guard, and with his motley and innumerable
horde of singers, dancers, poets, actors, and mountebanks in his
train. He brought with him the prizes which he had won in the
various cities of Greece. The number of these prizes, it was said,
was more than eighteen hundred. On his way through Greece, when
about to return to Rome, he went to Delphi, to consult the sacred
oracle there, in respect to his future fortunes. The reply of the
Pythoness was, "_Beware of seventy-three._" This answer gave Nero
great satisfaction and pleasure. It meant, he had no doubt, that he
had no danger to fear until he should have attained to the age of
seventy-three; and as he was yet not quite thirty, the response of
the oracle seemed to put so far away the evil day, that he thought
he might dismiss it from his mind altogether. So he repaid the
oracle for the flattering prediction with most magnificent presents,
and pursued his journey toward Rome with a mind quite at ease.

The ships in which he embarked to cross the Adriatic on his return
to Italy encountered a terrible storm, by which they were dispersed,
and many of them were destroyed. Nero himself had a very narrow
escape, as the ship which he was in came very near being lost. To
see him in this danger seems greatly to have pleased some of his
attendants, for so imperious and cruel was his temper, that he was
generally hated by all who came under his power. These men hated him
so intensely that they were willing, as it would appear, to perish
themselves, for the pleasure of witnessing his destruction; and in
the extreme moments of danger they openly manifested this feeling.
The vessel, however, was saved, and Nero, as soon as he landed,
ordered these persons all to be slain.

On landing he gathered together the scattered remnants of his
company, and organizing a new escort, he advanced toward Rome, in a
grand triumphal march, displaying his prizes and crowns in all the
great cities through which he passed, and claiming universal homage.
When he arrived at the gates of Rome, he made preparations for a
grand triumphal entry to the city, in the manner of great military
conquerors. A breach was made in the walls for the admission of the
procession. Nero rode in the triumphal chariot of Augustus, with a
distinguished Greek harpist by his side, who wore an Olympic crown
upon his head, and carried another crown in his hand. Before this
chariot marched a company of eighteen hundred men, each of them
carrying one of the crowns which Nero had won, with an inscription
for the spectators to read, signifying where the crown had been won,
the name of the emperor's competitor, the title of the song which he
had sung, and other similar particulars. In this way he traversed
the principal streets, exhibiting himself and his trophies to the
populace, and finally when he arrived at his house, he entered it
with great pomp and parade, and caused the crowns to be hung up upon
the innumerable statues of himself which had been erected in the
courts and halls of the building. Those which he valued most highly
he placed conspicuously around his bed in his bedchamber, in order
that they might be the last objects for his eyes to rest upon at
night, and the first to greet his view in the morning.

As soon as he became established in Rome again, he began to form new
plans for developing his powers and capacities as a musician, in the
hope of gaining still higher triumphs than those to which he had
already attained. Far from giving his time and attention to the
public business of the empire, he devoted himself with new zeal and
enthusiasm to the cultivation of his art. In doing this it was
necessary, according to the customs and usages in respect to the
training of musicians that prevailed in those days, that he should
submit to rules and exercises most absurd and degrading to one
holding such a station as his; and as accounts of his mode of life
circulated among the community, he became an object of general
ridicule and contempt. In order to strengthen his lungs and improve
his voice he used to lie on his back with a plate of lead upon his
chest, that the lungs, working under such a burden, might acquire
strength by the effort. He took powerful medicines, such as were
supposed in those days to act upon the system in such a manner as to
produce clearness and resonance in the tones of the voice. He
subjected himself to the most rigid rules of diet,--and gave up the
practice of addressing the senate and the army, which the Roman
emperors often had occasion to do, for fear that speaking so loud
might strain his voice and injure the sweetness of its tones. He had
a special officer in his household, called his _Phonascus_, meaning
his voice-keeper. This officer was to watch him at all times,
caution him against speaking too loud or too fast,--prescribe for
him, and in every way take care that his voice received no
detriment. During all this time Nero was continually performing in
public, and though his performances were protracted and tedious to
the last degree, all the Roman nobility were compelled always to
attend them, under pain of his horrible displeasure.

As Nero went on thus in the career which he had chosen,--neglecting
altogether the affairs of government, and giving himself up more and
more every year to the most expensive dissipation, his finances
became at length greatly involved, and he was compelled to resort to
every possible form of extortion, in order to raise the money that
he required. His pecuniary embarrassments became, at length, very
perplexing, and they were finally very much increased by the
extraordinary folly which he displayed in giving credence to the
dreams and promises of a certain adventurer who came to him from
Africa. The name of this man was Bessus. He was a native of
Carthage. He came, at one time, to Rome, and having contrived, by
means of presents and bribes which he offered to the officers of
Nero's household, to obtain an audience of the emperor, he informed
him that he had intelligence of the highest importance to
communicate, which was, that on his estate in Africa, there was a
large cavern, in which was stored an immense treasure. This treasure
consisted, he said, of vast heaps of golden ingots, rude and
shapeless in form, but composed of pure and precious metal. The
cavern, he said, which contained these stores, was very spacious,
and the gold lay piled in it in heaps, and sometimes in solid
columns, towering to a prodigious height. These treasures had been
deposited there, he said, by Dido, the ancient Carthaginian queen,
and they had remained there so long, that all knowledge of them had
been lost. They had been reserved, in a word, for Nero, and were all
now at his disposal, ready to be brought out and employed in
promoting the glory and magnificence of his reign.

Nero readily gave credit to this story, and inasmuch as in the
exuberance of his exultation he made known this wonderful discovery
to those around him, the tidings of it soon spread throughout the
city, and produced the most intense excitement among all classes.
Nero immediately began to fit out an expedition to proceed to
Africa, and bring the treasure home. Galleys were equipped to convey
it, and a body of troops was designated to escort it, and suitable
officers appointed to proceed with Bessus to Carthage, and
superintend the transportation of the metal. These preparations
necessarily required some time, and during the interval Bessus was
of course the object at Rome of universal attention and regard. Nero
himself, finding that he was about to enter upon the possession of
such inexhaustible treasures, dismissed all concern in respect to
his finances, and launched out into wilder extravagance than ever.
He raised money for the present moment, by assigning shares in the
treasure at exorbitant rates of discount, and thus borrowed and
expended with the most unbounded profusion.

At length the expedition sailed for Carthage, taking Bessus with
them,--but all search for the cavern, when they arrived, was
unavailing. It proved that all the evidence which Bessus had of the
existence of the cave, and of the heaps of gold contained in it, was
derived from certain remarkable dreams which he had had,--and though
Nero's commissioners dug into the ground most faithfully in every
place on the estate which the dreams had indicated, no treasure, and
not even the cavern, could ever be found.



A.D. 66.

Galba.--His history.--His province.--Revolt of Vindex.--Embassadors
sent to Galba.--Debates in the council.--Galba joins Vindex.--News of
the rebellion meets Nero at Naples.--The proclamation of Vindex.--Nero's
ire.--Nero plans new performances.--The new instruments.--Galba joins
the insurrection.--Nero appalled.--His plans for vengeance.--He is
restrained.--He attempts to raise an army.--Slaves.--Nero's hopeless
condition.--His plans for escape.--The arrival of the cargoes of sand
from Egypt.--His distraction and terror.--Nero proposes to fly to
Egypt.--He sinks into hopeless despair.--The night.--He is deserted by
his guards.--He calls for a gladiator.--Phaon proposes a place of
retreat.--Nero's flight from the city.--Incidents.--He refuses to be
buried before he is dead.--He gets through the wall.--He is
concealed.--Phaon counsels Nero to kill himself.--Nero is condemned by
the Senate.--The daggers.--Armed men come to arrest Nero at Phaon's
home.--The soldiers attempt to save Nero.--He dies.--Galba's march to

The successor of Nero in the line of Roman emperors, was Galba.
Galba, though a son of one of the most illustrious Roman families,
was born in Spain, and he was about forty years older than Nero,
being now over seventy, while Nero was yet but thirty years of age.

During the whole course of his life, Galba had been a very
distinguished commander, and had risen from one post of influence
and honor to another, until he became one of the most considerable
personages in the state. Nero at length appointed him to the command
of a very large and important province in Spain. At this station
Galba remained some years, and he was here, attending regularly to
the duties of his government, at the time when Nero returned from
his expedition into Greece. Galba himself, and all the other
governors around him, felt the same indignation at Nero's cruelties
and crimes, and the same contempt for his low and degrading vanity
and folly, that prevailed so generally at Rome. In fact, feelings of
exasperation and hatred against the tyrant, began to extend
universally throughout the empire. The people in every quarter, in
fact, seemed ripe for insurrection.

While things were in this state, a messenger arrived one day at
Galba's court, from a certain chieftain of the Gauls, named Julius
Vindex. This messenger came to announce to Galba that Vindex had
revolted against the Roman government in Gaul. He declared, however,
that it was only _Nero's_ power that Vindex intended to resist, and
promised that if Galba would himself assume the supreme command,
Vindex would acknowledge allegiance to him, and would do all in his
power to promote his cause. He said, moreover, that such was the
detestation in which Nero was universally held, that there was no
doubt that the whole empire would sustain Galba in effecting such a
revolution, if he would once raise his standard. At the same time
that this messenger came from Vindex, another came from the Roman
governor of the province of Gaul, where Vindex resided, to inform
Galba of the revolt, and asking for a detachment of troops to
assist him in putting it down. Galba called a council, and laid the
subject before them.

After some debate one of the councillors rose and said that there
was no more danger in openly joining Vindex in his rebellion, than
there was in debating, in such a council, what they should do. "It
is just as treasonable," said he, "to doubt and hesitate whether to
send troops to put down the revolt, as it would be openly to rebel;
and Nero will so regard it. My counsel therefore is that, unless you
choose to be considered as aiding the revolution, you should
instantly send off troops to put it down."

Galba was much impressed with the wisdom of this advice. He felt
strongly inclined to favor the cause of Vindex and the rebels, and
on further reflection he secretly determined to join them, and to
take measures for raising a general insurrection. He did not,
however, make known his determination to any one, but dismissed the
council without declaring what he had concluded to do. Soon
afterward he sent out to all parts of the province, and ordered a
general mustering of the forces under his command, and of all that
could be raised throughout the province, requiring them to meet at a
certain appointed rendezvous. The army, though not openly informed
of it, suspected what the object of this movement was to be, and
came forward to the work, with the utmost alacrity and joy.

In the mean time the tidings of Vindex's revolt traveled rapidly to
Rome, and thence to Naples, where Nero was at this time performing
on the public stage. Nero seemed to be very much delighted to hear
the news. He supposed that the rebellion would of course be very
easily suppressed, and that when it was suppressed he could make it
an excuse for subjecting the province in which it had occurred to
fines and confiscations that would greatly enrich his treasury. He
was extremely pleased therefore at the tidings of the revolt, and
abandoned himself to the theatrical pursuits and pleasures in which
he was engaged, more absolutely and recklessly than ever.

In the mean time fresh messengers arrived at short intervals from
Rome, to inform Nero of the progress of the rebellion. The news was
that Vindex was gaining strength every day, and was issuing
proclamations to the people calling upon them everywhere to rise and
throw off the ignoble yoke of oppression which they were enduring.
In these proclamations the emperor was called Brazenbeard, and
designated as a "wretched fiddler." These taunts excited Nero's ire.
He wrote to the Senate at Rome calling upon them to adopt some
measures for putting down this insolent rebel, and having dispatched
this letter, he seemed to dismiss the subject from his mind, and
turned his attention anew to his dancing and acting.

His mind was, however, soon disturbed again, for fresh messengers
continued to come, each bringing reports more alarming than those of
his predecessor. The rebellion was evidently gaining ground. Nero
was convinced that something must be done. He accordingly broke
away, though with great reluctance, from his amusements at Naples,
and proceeded to Rome. On his arrival at the capital he called a
council of some of his principal ministers of state, and after a
short consultation on the subject of the rebellion--in which,
however, nothing was determined upon--he proceeded to produce some
newly-invented musical instruments which he had brought with him
from Naples, and in which he was greatly interested. After showing
and explaining these instruments to the councilors, he promised them
that he would give them the pleasure before long of hearing a
performance upon them, on the stage,--"provided," he added jocosely,
"that this Vindex will give me leave."

The councilors at length withdrew, and Nero remained in his
apartment. On retiring to rest, however, he found that he could not
sleep. His thoughts were running on the musical instruments which he
had been showing, and on the pleasure which he anticipated in a
public performance with them. At length, at a very late hour, he
sent for his councilors to come again to his apartment. They came,
full of excitement and wonder, supposing that they were thus
suddenly summoned on account of some new and very momentous tidings
which had been received from Gaul. They found, however, that Nero
only wished to give some further account of the instruments which he
had shown them, and to ask their opinions of certain improvements
which had occurred to him since they went away.

Nero did not, however, remain very long in this state of insane and
stupid unconcern; for on the evening of the following day a courier
arrived from the north with the appalling intelligence that Vindex
had made himself master of Gaul, and that Galba, the most powerful
general in the Roman army, had joined the insurrection with all the
legions under his command, and that he was now advancing toward Rome
at the head of his armies with the avowed purpose of deposing Nero,
and making himself emperor in his stead.

Nero was at first absolutely stupefied at hearing these tidings. He
remained for some time silent and motionless, as if made completely
senseless with consternation. When at length he came to himself
again, he fell into a perfect frenzy of rage and terror. He
overturned the supper table, tore his garments, threw down two
valuable cups to the floor and broke them to pieces, and then began
to dash his head against the wall, as if he were perfectly insane.
He said he was undone. No man had ever been so wretched. His
dominions were to be seized from him while he yet lived, and held
by an usurper; he was utterly ruined and undone.

After a little time had elapsed the agitation and excitement of his
mind took another direction, that of furious anger against the
generals and officers of his army,--not only those who had actually
rebelled, but all others, for he was jealous and suspicious of all,
and said that he believed that the whole army was engaged in the
conspiracy. He was going to send out orders to the various provinces
and encampments, for the assassination of great numbers of the
officers,--such as he imagined might be inclined to turn against
him,--and he would probably have done so if he had not been
restrained by the influence of his ministers of state. He also
proposed to seize and kill all the Gauls then in Rome, as a mode of
taking vengeance on their countrymen for joining Vindex in his
rebellion, and could scarcely be prevented from doing this by the
urgent remonstrances of all his friends.

After a time Nero so far recovered his self-possession that he began
to make preparations for organizing an army, with the design of
marching against the rebels. He accordingly ordered troops to be
enlisted and arms and ammunition to be provided,--assessing at the
same time heavy taxes upon the people of Rome to defray the expense.
All these arrangements, however, only increased the general
discontent. The people saw that the preparations which the emperor
was making were wholly inadequate to the crisis, and that no
efficient military operations could ever come from them. In the
first place, he could obtain no troops, for no men fit for soldiers
were willing to enlist,--and so he undertook to supply the
deficiency by requiring every master of slaves to send him a certain
number of his bondmen, and these bondmen he freed and then enrolled
them in his army, in lieu of soldiers. Moreover, in making provision
for the wants of his army, instead of devoting his chief attention
to securing a sufficiency of arms, ammunition, military stores, and
other such supplies as were required in preparing for an efficient
campaign, he seemed only interested in getting together actors,
dancers, musical instruments, and dresses for performers on the
public stage. In excuse for this course of procedure, Nero said
frankly that he did not expect that his expedition would lead to
any important military operations. As soon as he reached the rebel
armies his intention was, he said, to throw himself upon their sense
of justice and their loyalty. He would acknowledge whatever had been
wrong in his past government, and promise solemnly that his sway in
future should be more mild and beneficent; and he had no doubt that
thus the whole disturbance would be quelled. The revolted troops
would at once return to their duty, and the musical and theatrical
preparations which he was making were intended for a series of grand
festivities to celebrate the reconciliation.

Of course such insane and hopeless folly as this awakened a
sentiment of universal contempt and indignation among the people of
Rome. The greatest excitement and confusion prevailed throughout the
city; and, as is usual in times of public panic, money and
provisions were hid away by those who possessed them, in secret
hoards; and this soon occasioned a great scarcity of food. The
city, in fact, was threatened with famine. In the midst of the
alarm and anxiety which this state of things occasioned, two ships
arrived from Egypt, at Ostia, and the news produced a general
rejoicing,--it being supposed, of course, that the ships were laden
with corn. It proved, however, that there was no corn on board.
Instead of food for the metropolis, the cargo consisted of _sand_,
intended to form the _arena_ of some of the emperor's amphitheaters,
for the gladiators and wrestlers to stand upon, in contending. This
incident seemed to fill the cup of public indignation to the brim;
and, as news arrived just at this time that the rebellion had
extended into Germany, and that all the legions in the German
provinces had gone over to Galba, Nero's power began to be
considered at an end. Tumults prevailed everywhere throughout the
city, and assemblies were held, threatening open defiance to the
authority of the emperor, and declaring the readiness of the people
to acknowledge Galba so soon as he should arrive.

Nero was now more terrified than ever. He knew not what to do. He
fled from his palace, and sought a retreat in certain gardens
near--acting in this, however, under the influence of a blind and
instinctive fear, rather than from any rational hope of securing his
safety by seeking such a place of refuge.

In fact, he was now perfectly distracted with terror. He procured
some poison before he left his palace, and carried it in a small
golden box with him to the gardens; but he had not strength or
resolution to take it. He then conceived of the plan of flying from
Rome altogether. He would go at once to Ostia, he said, and there
embark on board a ship and sail for Egypt, where, it might be
supposed, he would be out of the reach of his enemies. He asked his
officers and attendants if they would accompany him in this flight.
But they refused to go.

Then he began to talk of another plan. He would go and meet Galba as
a suppliant, and, falling upon his knees before the conqueror, would
implore him to spare his life. Or he would go into the Roman Forum,
and make a humble and supplicatory address to the people there,
imploring their forgiveness for his cruelties and crimes, and
solemnly promising never to be guilty of such excesses again, if
they would pardon and protect him. The by-standers told him that
such a proceeding was wholly out of the question; for if he were to
go forth for such a purpose from his retreat, the people were in
such a frenzy of excitement against him, that they would tear him
to pieces before he could reach the Rostra. In a word, the
distracted thoughts of the wretched criminal turned this way and
that, in the wild agitation with which remorse and terror filled his
mind, vainly seeking some way of escape from the awful dangers which
were circling and narrowing so rapidly around him. There was, in
fact, no hope now left for him--no refuge, no protection, no
possibility of escape; and so, after suddenly seizing, and as
suddenly abandoning, one impracticable scheme after another, his
mind became wholly bewildered, and he sank down, at length, into a
condition of blank and hopeless despair.

Although the insurrection had become very general in the provinces,
the troops in the city, consisting chiefly of the emperor's guards,
yet remained faithful; and now as the night was coming on, they were
stationed as usual at their respective posts in various parts of the
city and at the palace gates. Nero retired to rest. He found,
however, that he could not sleep. At midnight he rose, and came
forth from his apartment. He was surprised to find that there was no
sentinel at the door. On farther examination he found to his
amazement that the palace guards had been wholly withdrawn. He was
thunderstruck at making this discovery. He returned into the palace
and aroused some of the domestics, and then went forth with them to
the residences of some of his chief ministers, who resided near, to
ask for help. He could, however, nowhere gain admission. He found
the houses all closely shut up, and by all his knocking at the doors
he could get no answer from any persons within. He then came back in
great distress and alarm to his own apartment. He found that it had
been broken into during the short time that he had been gone, and
rifled of every thing valuable that it contained. Even his golden
box of poison had been carried away. In a word the great sovereign
of half the world found that he had been abandoned by all his
adherents, and left in a condition of utter and absolute exposure.
The guards had concluded to declare for Galba, and had accordingly
gone away, leaving the fallen tyrant to his fate.

Nero called desperately to his servants to send for a gladiator to
thrust him through with a sword, but no one would go. "Alas!" he
exclaimed, "has it come to this? Am I so utterly abandoned that I
have not even enemies left who are willing to kill me?"

After a little time he began to be a little more composed, and
expressed a wish that he knew of some place in the environs of the
city where he could go and conceal himself for a little time until
he could determine what to do. One of the servants of his household
named Phaon, told him that he had a country-house near the city,
where, perhaps, Nero might hide. Nero immediately resolved to go
there. The better to conceal his flight he disguised himself in mean
apparel, and tied a handkerchief about his face; and then, mounting
on horseback in company with two or three attendants, he proceeded
out of the city. As he went, it thundered and lightened from time to
time, and Nero was greatly terrified. He supposed that the commotion
of the elements was occasioned by the spirits of those whom he had
murdered coming now to persecute and torment him in the hour of his

He passed, during his ride, a station of the guard which happened to
be on his way, and heard the soldiers cursing him as he went by,
and expressing joy at his downfall. Soon after this he overheard a
passenger whom his party met on the road, say to his companion, when
he saw Nero and his attendants riding by, "These men no doubt are
going in pursuit of the emperor." Another man whom they met on the
way stopped them to ask what news there was in town about the
emperor. In these occurrences, though they of course tended to
increase the agitation and excitement of Nero's mind, there was
nothing particularly alarming; but at length an incident happened
which frightened the fugitive extremely. He was passing a place
where a carcass lay by the side of the road. Some soldiers of the
guard were standing near. The horse that Nero rode was startled at
the sight of the carcass, and springing suddenly shook down the
handkerchief from Nero's face. One of the soldiers by this means
obtained a view of his countenance, and exclaimed that that was the
emperor. Nero was so much alarmed at this that he hastened on, and
as soon as he was out of the view of the men who had seen him, he
leaped from his horse, and calling upon his attendants to dismount
too and follow him, he ran into an adjoining thicket, among bushes
and briers, and thence the whole party made their way circuitously
round to the rear of Phaon's grounds. Here they stopped and hid
themselves till they could contrive some way to get through or over
the wall.

There was a pit near by, which had been made by digging for sand.
Phaon proposed that Nero should hide in this pit until an opening
could be made in the wall. But Nero refused to do this, saying that
he would not be buried before he was dead. So he remained hid in the
thickets while Phaon went to work to make an opening in the wall.

The wall was not of a very substantial character; if it had been, it
would not have been possible for Phaon, with the means at his
command, to have effected a passage. As it was, he succeeded, though
with difficulty, in loosening some of the stones, so as gradually to
make an opening.

Nero was engaged, while this work was going on, in pulling the
briers out of his clothes and flesh, and being thirsty, he went down
to a ditch that was near, and drank, taking up the water in his
hands. As he drank, he groaned out, "Oh, can it be that I have come
to this!"

[Illustration: PHAON AT THE WALL.]

In the mean time, Phaon went on with his work, and soon succeeded in
making a hole in the wall sufficient for his purpose, and then the
men dragged Nero through. They brought him into the house, and shut
him up in a small and secret apartment there.

Nero now felt relieved from the extreme terror which he had suffered
during his flight; but the feelings of terror subsided in his mind,
only to give place to the still more dreadful pangs of remorse and
horror. He moaned continually in his anguish, and incessantly
repeated the words, "My father, my mother, and my wife doom me to
destruction." These were indeed the words of one of the tragedies
which he had been accustomed to act upon the stage, but they
expressed the remorse and anguish of his mind so truly, that they
recurred continually to his lips. Phaon and the men who had brought
him to the house, finding it impossible to calm him, and seeing no
hope of his final escape from death, and perhaps, moreover, wishing
to relieve themselves of what was now fast becoming a serious
burthen to them, recommended to him to kill himself,--and thus, as
they said, since he must die, die like a man. Finally, Nero seemed
to yield to their urgings. He said that he would kill himself as
they desired. They might go out and dig a grave for him, and prepare
wood and water for washing the body. While giving these orders he
moaned and groaned continually, as if in a state of delirium.

In the mean time the morning had come, and at Rome all was
excitement and commotion. The Senate came together and proclaimed
Galba emperor. They also passed a decree pronouncing Nero an enemy
to the state, and sentencing him to be punished as such in the
ancient manner. When this news transpired, a friend of Phaon wrote a
letter to him, giving an account of what the Senate had done, and
sent it off with the utmost haste by a trusty messenger. The
messenger arrived at Phaon's house, and brought the letter in. Nero
seized it from Phaon's hands, and read it. "What is the ancient
manner?" he asked, in a tone of great anxiety and terror. They told
him that it was to be stripped naked, and then to be secured by
having his head fastened in a pillory, and in that position to be
whipped to death. At hearing this, Nero broke forth in fresh groans
and lamentations. He could not endure such a death as that, he said,
and he would kill himself, therefore, at once, if they would give
him a dagger.

There were daggers at hand. Nero took them, examined the points of
them with a trembling touch, seemed undecided, and finally put them
away again, saying that his hour was not yet quite come. Presently
he took one of the daggers again, and made a new attempt to awaken
in himself sufficient resolution to strike the blow, but his courage
failed him. He moaned and raved all this time in the most incoherent
and distracted manner. He even begged that one of the attendants who
were with him would take the dagger and kill himself first, in order
to encourage Nero by letting him see that it was not after all so
dreadful a thing to die. But no one of the attendants seemed
sufficiently devoted to his master to be willing to render him such
a service as this.

In the midst of this perplexity and delay a noise was heard as of
horsemen riding up to the door. Nero was terrified anew at the
sound. They were coming, he said, to seize him. He immediately drew
one of the daggers, and putting it to his throat, attempted
desperately to nerve himself to the work of driving it home. But he
could not do it. The noise at the door in the mean time increased.
Nero then gave the dagger to one of the men standing by, and begged
that he would kill him. The man took the dagger with great
reluctance, but presently gave the fatal stab, and Nero sank down
upon the ground mortally wounded.

At this moment the door was suddenly opened, and the soldiers that
had just arrived came in. They had been sent by the Senate to search
for the fugitive and bring him back to Rome. The centurion who
commanded these men, advanced into the room, and looked at the
fallen emperor, as he lay upon the floor, weltering in his blood. He
had been commanded to bring the prisoner to the city, if possible,
alive; and he accordingly ordered the soldiers to come to the dying
man and endeavor to stanch his wounds and save him. But it was too
late. Nero stared at them as they advanced to take hold of him, with
a wild and frightful expression of countenance, which shocked all
who saw him, and in the midst of this agony of terror, he sank down
and died.

The news of the tyrant's death spread with the utmost rapidity in
all directions. A courier immediately set off for the north to carry
tidings of the event to Galba. People flocked from all quarters to
the house of Phaon to gaze on the lifeless body, and to exult in the
monster's death. The people of the city gave themselves up to the
wildest and most extravagant joy. They put on caps such as were worn
by manumitted slaves when first obtaining their freedom, and roamed
about the city expressing in every possible way the exultation they
felt at their deliverance, and breaking down and destroying the
statues of Nero wherever they could find them.

In the mean time Galba was steadily advancing on the way to Rome. In
due time he made his entry into the city, and embassadors came to
him there from all parts of the Roman world to acknowledge him as
the reigning emperor. At this time he was seventy-three years old.
So that the number seventy-three of which the oracle had warned Nero
to beware, denoted the age of his rival and enemy,--not his own.

                         THE END.


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