Cinna put in another consul named Valerius Flaccus, and invited all the Italians to enroll themselves as Roman citizens. Then Flaccus went out to the East, meaning to take away the command from Sulla, who was hunting Mithridates out of Greece, which he had seized and held for a short time. But Flaccus' own army rose against him and killed him, and Sulla, after beating Mithridates, driving him back to Pontus, and making peace with him, was now to come home.
There was great fear at Rome, among the friends of Cinna and Marius, at the prospect of Sulla's return. A fire broke out in the Capitol, and this added to their terror, for the Books of the Sybil were burnt, and all her prophecies were lost. Cinna tried to oppose Sulla's landing, but was killed by his own soldiers at Brundusium.
Sulla, with his victorious army, could not be stopped. Sertorius fled to Spain, but Marius' son tried, with the help of the Samnites, to resist, and held out Praeneste, but the Samnites were beaten in a terrible battle outside the walls, and when the people of the city saw the heads of the leaders carried on spear points, they insisted on giving up. Young Marius and a Samnite noble hid themselves in a cave, and as they had no hope, resolved to die; so they fought, hoping to kill each other, and when Marius was left alive, he caused himself to be slain by a slave.
Sulla marched on towards Rome, furious at the resistance he met with, and determined on a terrible vengeance. He could not enter the city till he was ready to dismiss his army and have his triumph, so the Senate came out to meet him in the temple of Bellona. As they took their seats, they heard dreadful shrieks and cries. "No matter," said Sulla; "it is only some wretches being punished." The wretches were the 8000 Samnite prisoners he had taken at the battle of Praeneste, and brought to be killed in the Campus Martius; and with these shocking sounds to mark that he was in earnest, the purple-faced general told the trembling Senate that if they submitted to him he would be good to them, but that he would spare none of his enemies, great or small.
And his men were already in the city and country, slaughtering not only the party of Marius, but every one against whom any one of them had a spite, or whose property he coveted. Marius' body, which had been buried and not burnt, was taken from the grave and thrown into the Tiber; and such horrible deeds were done that Sulla was asked in the Senate where the execution was to stop. He showed a list of eighty more who had yet to die; and the next day and the next he brought other lists of two hundred and thirty each. These dreadful lists were called proscriptions, and any one who tried to shelter the victims was treated in the same manner. The property of all who were slain was seized, and their children declared incapable of holding any public office.
Among those who were in danger was the nephew of Marius' wife, Caius Julius Caesar, but, as he was of a high patrician family, Sulla only required of him to divorce his wife and marry a stepdaughter of his own. Caesar refused, and fled to the Sabine hills, where pursuers were sent after him; but his life was begged for by his friends at Rome, especially by the Vestal Virgins, and Sulla spared his life, saying, however, "Beware; in that young trifler is more than one Marius." Caesar went to join the army in the East for safety, and thus broke off the idle life of pleasure he had been leading in Rome.
The country people were even more cruelly punished than the citizens: whole cities were destroyed and districts laid waste; the whole of Etruria was ravaged, the old race entirely swept away, and the towns ruined beyond revival, while the new city of Florence was built with their remains, and all we know of them is from the tombs which have of late years been opened.
Both the consuls had perished, and Sulla caused himself to be named Dictator. He had really a purpose in all the horrors he had perpetrated, namely, to clear the way for restoring the old government at Rome, which Marius and his Italians had been overthrowing. He did not see that the rule which had worked tolerably well while Rome was only a little city with a small country round it, would not serve when it was the head of numerous distant countries, where the governors, like himself and Marius, grew rich, and trained armies under them able to overpower the whole state at home. So he set to work to put matters as much as possible in the old order. So many of the Senate had been killed, that he had to make up the numbers by putting in three hundred knights; and, to supply the lack of other citizens, after the hosts who had perished, he allowed the Italians to go on coming in to be enrolled as citizens; and ten thousand slaves, who had belonged to his victims, were not only set free, but made citizens as his own clients, thus taking the name of Cornelius. He also much lessened the power of the tribunes of the people, and made a law that when a man had once been a tribune he should never be chosen for any of the higher offices of the state. By these means he sought to keep up the old patrician power, on which he believed the greatness of Rome depended; though, after all, the grand old patrician families had mostly died off, and half the Senate were only knights made noble.
After this Sulla resigned the dictatorship, for he was growing old, and had worn out his health by his riot and luxury. He spent his time in a villa near Rome, talking philosophy with his friends, and dictating the history of his own life in Greek. When he died, he bade them burn his body, contrary to the practice of the Cornelii, no doubt fearing it would be treated like that of Marius.
The most promising of the men of his party who were growing up and coming forward was Cnaeus Pompeius, a brave and worthy man, who had while quite young, gained such a victory over a Numidian prince that Sulla himself gave him the title of Magnus, or the Great. He was afterwards sent to Spain, where Sertorius held out for eight years against the Roman power with the help of the native chiefs, but at last was put to death by his own followers. Things were altogether in a bad state. There were great struggles in Rome at every election, for the officers of the state were now chiefly esteemed for the sake of the three or five years' government in the provinces to which they led. No expense was thought too great in shows of beasts and gladiators by which to win the votes of the people; for, after the year of office, the candidate meant amply to repay himself by what he could squeeze out of the unhappy province under his charge, and nobody cared for cruelty or injustice to any one but a Roman citizen.
Numbers of gladiators were kept and trained to fight in these shows; and while the Spanish war was going on, a whole school of them—seventy-eight in number—who were kept at Capua, broke out, armed themselves with the spits, hooks, and axes in a butcher's shop, and took refuge in the crater of Mount Vesuvius, which at that time showed no signs of being an active volcano. There, under their leader Spartacus, they gathered together every gladiator slave or who could run away to them, and Spartacus wanted them to march northward, force their way through Italy, climb the Alps, and reach their homes in Thrace and Gaul; but the plunder of Italy tempted them, and they would not go, till an army was sent against them under Marcus Licinius Crassus—called Dives, or the Rich, from the spoil he had gained during the proscription. Then Spartacus hoped to escape in a fleet of pirate ships from Cilicia, and to hold out in the passes of Mount Taurus; but the Cilician pirates deceived him, sailed away with his money, and left him to his fate, and he and his gladiators were all slain by Crassus and Pompeius, who had been called home from Spain.
THE CAREER OF POMPEIUS.
Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Lucius Licinius Crassus Dives were consuls together in the year 70; but Crassus, though he feasted the people at 10,000 tables, was envied and disliked, and would never have been elected but for Pompeius, who was a great favorite with the people, and so much trusted, both by them and the nobles, that it seems to have filled him with pride, for he gave himself great airs, and did not treat his fellow-consul as an equal.
When his term of office was over, the most pressing thing to be done was to put down the Cilician pirates. In the angle formed between Asia Minor and Syria, with plenty of harbors formed by the spurs of Mount Taurus, there had dwelt for ages past a horde of sea robbers, whose swift galleys darted on the merchant ships of Tyre and Alexandria; and now, after the ruin of the Syrian kingdom, they had grown so rich that their state galleys had silken sails, oars inlaid with ivory and silver, and bronze prows. They robbed the old Greek temples and the Eastern shrines, and even made descents on the Italian cities, besides stopping the ships which brought wheat from Sicily and Alexandria to feed the Romans.
To enable Pompeius to crush them, authority was given him for three years over all the Mediterranean and fifty miles inland all round, which was nearly the same thing as the whole empire. He divided the sea into thirteen commands, and sent a party to fight the pirates in each; and this was done so effectually, that in forty days they were all hunted out of the west end of the gulf, whither he pursued them with his whole force, beat them in a sea-fight, and then besieged them; but, as he was known to be a just and merciful man, they came to terms with him, and he scattered them about in small colonies in distant cities, so that they might cease to be mischievous.
In the meantime, the war with Mithridates had broken out again, and Lucius Lucullus, who had been consul after Pompeius, was fighting with him in the East; but Lucullus did not please the Romans, though he met with good success, and had pushed Mithridates so hard that there was nothing left for Pompeius but to complete the conquest, and he drove the old king beyond Caucasus, and then marched into Syria, where he overthrew the last of the Seleucian kings, Antiochus, and gave him the little kingdom of Commagene to spend the remainder of his life in, while Syria and Phoenicia were made into a great Roman province.
Under the Maccabees, Palestine had struggled into being independent of Syria, but only by the help of the Romans, who, as usual, tried to ally themselves with small states in order to make an excuse for making war on large ones. There was now a great quarrel between two brothers of the Maccabean family, and one of them, Hyrcanus, came to ask the aid of Pompeius. The Roman army marched into the Holy Land, and, after seizing the whole country, was three months besieging Jerusalem, which, after all, it only took by an attack when the Jews were resting on the Sabbath day. Pompeius insisted on forcing his way into the Holy of Holies, and was very much disappointed to find it empty and dark. He did not plunder the treasury of the Temple, but the Jews remarked that, from the time of this daring entrance, his prosperity seemed to fail him. Before he left the East, however, old Mithridates, who had taken refuge in the Crimea, had been attacked by his own favorite son, and, finding that his power was gone, had taken poison; but, as his constitution was so fortified by antidotes that it took no effect, he caused one of his slaves to kill him.
The son submitted to the Romans, and was allowed to reign on the Bosphorus; but Pompeius had extended the Roman Empire as far as the Euphrates; for though a few small kings still remained, it was only by suffrance from the Romans, who had gained thirty-nine great cities. Egypt, the Parthian kingdom on the Tigris, and Armenia in the mountains, alone remained free.
While all this was going on in the East, there was a very dangerous plot contrived at Rome by a man named Lucius Sergius Catilina, and seven other good-for-nothing nobles, for arming the mob, even the slaves and gladiators, overthrowing the government, seizing all the offices of state, and murdering all their opponents, after the example first set by Marius and Cinna.
Happily such secrets are seldom kept; one of the plotters told the woman he was in love with, and she told one of the consuls, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero was one of the wisest and best men in Rome, and the one whom we really know the best, for he left a great number of letters to his friends, which show us the real mind of the man. He was of the order of the knights, and had been bred up to be a lawyer and orator, and his speeches came to be the great models of Roman eloquence. He was a man of real conscience, and he most deeply loved Rome and her honor; and though he was both vain and timid, he could put these weaknesses aside for the public good. Before all the Senate he impeached Catilina, showing how fully he knew all that he intended. Nothing could be done to him by law till he had actually committed his crime, and Cicero wanted to show him that all was known, so as to cause him to flee and join his friends outside. Catilina tried to face it out, but all the senators began to cry out against him, and he dashed away in terror, and left the city at night. Cicero announced it the next day in a famous speech, beginning, "He is gone; he has rushed away; he has burst forth." Some of his followers in guilt were left at Rome, and just then some letters were brought to Cicero by some of a tribe of Gauls whom they had invited to help them in the ruin of the Senate. This was positive proof, and Cicero caused the nine worst to be seized, and, having proved their guilt, there was a consultation in the Senate as to their fate. Julius Caesar wanted to keep them prisoners for life, which he said was worse than death, as that, he believed, would end everything; but all the rest of the Senate were for their death, and they were all strangled, without giving them a chance of defending themselves or appealing to the people. Cicero beheld the execution himself, and then went forth to the crowd, merely saying, "They have lived."
Catilina, meantime, had collected 20,000 men in Italy, but they were not half-armed, and the newly-returned proconsul, Metellus, made head against him; while the other consul, Caius Antonius, was recalled from Macedonia with his army. As he was a friend of Catilina, he did not choose to fight with him, and gave up the command to his lieutenant, by whom the wretch was defeated and slain. His head was cut off and sent to Rome.
POMPEIUS AND CAESAR.
Pompeius was coming home for his triumph, every one had hopes from him, for things were in a very bad state. There had been a great disturbance at Julius Caesar's house. Every year there was a festival in honor of Cybele, the Bona Dea, or Good Goddess, to which none but women were admitted, and where it was sacrilege for a man to be seen. In the midst of this feast in Caesar's house, a slave girl told his mother Aurelia that there was a man among the ladies. Aurelia shut the doors, took a torch and ran through the house, looking in every one's face for the offender, who was found to be Publius Clodius, a worthless young man, who had been in Catilina's conspiracy, but had given evidence against him. He escaped, but was brought to trial, and then borrowed money enough of Crassus the rich, to bribe the judges and avoid the punishment he deserved. Caesar's wife, the sister of Pompeius was free of blame in the matter, but he divorced her, saying that Caesar's wife must be free from all suspicion; and this, of course, did not bring her brother home in a friendly spirit to Caesar.
Pompeius' triumph was the most magnificent that had ever yet been seen. It lasted two days, and the banners that were carried in the procession, bore the names of nine hundred cities and one thousand fortresses which he had conquered. All the treasures of Mithridates—statues, jewels, and splendid ornaments of gold and silver worked with precious stones—were carried along; and it was reckoned that he had brought home 20,000 talents—equal to L5,000,000—for the treasury. He was admired, too, for refusing any surname taken from his conquests, and only wearing the laurel wreath of a victor in the Senate.
Pompeius and Caesar were the great rival names at this time. Pompeius' desire was to keep the old framework, and play the part of Sulla as its protector, only without its violence and bloodshed. Caesar saw that it was impossible that things should go on as they were, and had made up his mind to take the lead and mould them afresh; but this he could not do while Pompeius was looked up to as the last great conqueror. So Caesar meant to serve his consulate, take some government where he could grow famous and form an army, and then come home and mould everything anew. After a year's service in Spain as propraetor, Caesar came back and made friends with Pompeius and Crassus, giving his daughter Julia in marriage to Pompeius, and forming what was called a triumvirate, or union of three men. Thus he easily obtained the consulship, and showed himself the friend of the people by bringing in an Agrarian Law for dividing the public lands in Campania among the poorer citizens, not forgetting Pompeius' old soldiers; also taking other measures which might make the Senate recollect that Sulla had foretold that he would be another Marius and more.
After this, he took Gaul as his province, and spent seven years in subduing it bit by bit, and in making two visits to Britain. He might pretty well trust the rotten state of Rome to be ready for his interference when he came back. Clodius had actually dared to bring Cicero to a trial for having put to death the friends of Catilina without allowing them to plead their own cause. Pompeius would not help him, and the people banished him four hundred miles from Rome, when he went to Sicily, where he was very miserable; but his exile only lasted two years, and then better counsels prevailed, and he was brought home by a general vote, and welcomed almost as if it had been a triumph.
Marcus Porcius Cato was as honest and true a man as Cicero, but very rough and stern, so that he was feared and hated; and there were often fierce quarrels in the Senate and Forum, and in one of these Pompeius' robe was sprinkled with blood. On his return home, his young wife Julia thought he had been hurt, and the shock brought on an illness of which she died; thus breaking the link between her husband and father.
Pompeius did all he could to please the Romans when he was consul together with Crassus. He had been for some time building a most splendid theatre in the Campus Martius, after the Greek fashion, open to the sky, and with tiers of galleries circling round an arena; but the Greeks had never used their theatres for the savage sports for which this was intended. When it was opened, five hundred lions, eighteen elephants, and a multitude of gladiators were provided to fight in different fashions with one another before thirty thousand spectators, the whole being crowned by a temple to Conquering Venus. After his consulate, Pompeius took Spain as his province, but did not go there, managing it by deputy; while Crassus had Syria, and there went to war with the wild Parthians on the Eastern border. In the battle of Carrhae, the army of Crassus was entirely routed by the Parthians; he was killed, his head was cut off, and his mouth filled up with molten gold in scorn of his riches. At Rome, there was such distress that no one thought much even of such a disaster. Bribes were given to secure elections, and there was nothing but tumult and uproar, in which good men like Cicero and Cato could do nothing. Clodius was killed in one of these frays, and the mob grew so furious that the Senate chose Pompeius to be sole consul to put them down; and this he did for a short time, but all fell into confusion again while he was very ill of a fever at Naples, and even when he recovered there was a feeling that Caesar was wanted. But Caesar's friends said he must not be called upon to give up his army unless Pompeius gave up his command of the army in Spain, and neither of them would resign.
Caesar advanced with all his forces as far as Ravenna, which was still part of Cisalpine Gaul, and then the consul, Marcus Marcellus, begged Pompeius to protect the commonwealth, and he took up arms. Two of Caesars great friends, Marcus Antonius and Caius Cassius, who were tribunes, forbade this; and when they were not heeded, they fled to Caesar's camp asking his protection.
So he advanced. It was not lawful for an imperator, or general in command of an army, to come within the Roman territory with his troops except for his triumph, and the little river Rubicon was the boundary of Cisalpine Gaul. So when Caesar crossed it, he took the first step in breaking through old Roman rules, and thus the saying arose that one has passed the Rubicon when one has gone so far in a matter that there is no turning back. Though Caesar's army was but small, his fame was such that everybody seemed struck with dismay, even Pompeius himself, and instead of fighting, he carried off all the senators of his party to the South, even to the extreme point of Italy at Brundusium. Caesar marched after them thither, having met with no resistance, and having, indeed, won all Italy in sixty days. As he advanced on Brundusium, Pompeius embarked on board a ship in the harbor and sailed away, meaning, no doubt, to raise an army in the provinces and return—some feared like Sulla—to take vengeance.
Caesar was appointed Dictator, and after crushing Pompeius' friends in Spain, he pursued him into Macedonia, where Pompeius had been collecting all the friends of the old commonwealth. There was a great battle fought at Pharsalia, a battle which nearly put an end to the old government of Rome, for Caesar gained a great victory; and Pompeius fled to the coast, where he found a vessel and sailed for Egypt. He sent a message to ask shelter at Alexandria, and the advisers of the young king pretended to welcome him, but they really intended to make friends with the victor; and as Pompeius stepped ashore he was stabbed in the back, his body thrown into the surf, and his head cut off.
With Pompeius fell the hopes of those who were faithful to the old government, such as Cicero and Cato. They had only to wait and see what Caesar would do, and with the memory of Marius in their minds.
Caesar did not come at once to Rome; he had first to reduce the East to obedience. Egypt was under the last descendants of Alexander's general Ptolemy, and was an ally of Rome, that is, only remaining a kingdom by her permission. The king was a wretched weak lad; his sister Cleopatra, who was joined with him in the throne, was one of the most beautiful and winning women who ever lived. Caesar, who needed money, demanded some that was owing to the state. The young king's advisers refused, and Caesar, who had but a small force with him, was shut up in a quarter of Alexandria where he could get no fresh water but from pits which his men dug in the sand. He burnt the Egyptian fleet that it might not stop the succors that were coming from Syria, and he tried to take the Isle of Pharos, with the lighthouse on it, but his ship was sunk, and he was obliged to save himself by swimming, holding his journals in one hand above the water. However, the forces from Syria were soon brought to him, and he was able to fight a battle in which the young king was drowned; and Egypt was at his mercy. Cleopatra was determined to have an interview with him, and had herself carried into his rooms in a roll of carpet, and when there, she charmed him so much that he set her up as queen of Egypt. He remained three months longer in Egypt collecting money; and hearing that Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, had attacked the Roman settlements in Asia Minor, he sailed for Tarsus, marched against Pharnaces, routed and killed him in battle. The success was announced to the Senate in the following brief words, "Veni, vidi, vici"—"I came, I saw, I conquered."
He was a second time appointed Dictator, and came home to arrange affairs; but there were no proscriptions, though he took away the estates of those who opposed him. There was still a party of the senators and their supporters who had followed Pompeius in Africa, with Cato and Cnaeus Pompeius, the eldest son of the great leader, and Caesar had to follow them thither. He gave them a great defeat at Thapsus, and the remnant took refuge in the city of Utica, whither Caesar followed them. They would have stood a siege, but the townspeople would not consent, and Cato sent off all his party by sea, and remained alone with his son and a few of his friends, not to face the conqueror, but to die by his own sword ere he came, as the Romans had learned from Stoic philosophy to think the nobler part.
Such of the Senate as had not joined Pompeius were ready to fall down and worship Caesar when he came home. So rejoiced was Rome to fear no proscription, that temples were dedicated to Caesar's clemency, and his image was to be carried in procession with those of the gods. He was named Dictator for ten years, and was received with four triumphs—over the Gauls, over the Egyptians, over Pharnaces, and over Juba, an African king who had aided Cato. Foremost of the Gaulish prisoners was the brave Vercingetorix, and among the Egyptians, Arsinoe, the sister of Cleopatra. A banquet was given at his cost to the whole Roman people, and the shows of gladiators and beasts surpassed all that had ever been seen. The Julii were said to be descended from AEneas and to Venus, as his ancestress, Caesar dedicated a breastplate of pearls from the river mussels of Britain. Still, however, he had to go to Spain to reduce the sons of Pompeius. They were defeated in battle, the elder was killed, but Cnaeus, the younger, held out in the mountains and hid himself among the natives.
After this, Caesar returned to Rome to carry out his plans. He was dictator for ten years and consul for five, and was also imperator or commander of an army he was not made to disband, so that he nearly was as powerful as any king; and, as he saw that such an enormous domain as Rome now possessed could never be governed by two magistrates changing every year, he prepared matters for there being one ruler. The influence of the Senate, too, he weakened very much by naming a great many persons to it of no rank or distinction, till there were nine hundred members, and nobody thought much of being a senator. He also made an immense number of new citizens, and he caused a great survey to be begun by Roman officers in preparation for properly arranging the provinces, governments, and tribute; and he began to have the laws drawn up in regular order. In fact, he was one of the greatest men the world has ever produced, not only as a conqueror, but a statesman and ruler; and though his power over Rome was not according to the laws, and had been gained by a rebellion, he was using it for her good.
He was learned in all philosophy and science, and his history of his wars in Gaul has come down to our times. As a high patrician by birth, he was Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, and thus had to fix all the festival days in each year. Now the year had been supposed to be only three hundred and fifty-five days long, and the Pontifex put in another month or several days whenever he pleased, so that there was great confusion, and the feast days for the harvest and vintage came, according to the calendar, three months before there was any corn or grapes.
To set this to rights, since it was now understood that the length of the year was three hundred and sixty-five days and six hours, Caesar and the scientific men who assisted him devised the fresh arrangement that we call leap year, adding a day to the three hundred and sixty-five once in four years. He also changed the name of one of the summer months from Sextile to July, in honor of himself. Another work of his was restoring Corinth and Carthage, which had both been ruined the same year, and now were both refounded the same year.
He was busy about the glory of the state, but there was much to shock old Roman feelings in his conduct. Cleopatra had followed him to Rome, and he was thinking of putting away his wife Calphurnia to marry her. But his keeping the dictatorship was the real grievance, and the remains of the old party in the Senate could not bear that the patrician freedom of Rome should be lost. Every now and then his flatterers offered him a royal crown and hailed him as king, though he always refused it, and this title still stirred up bitter hatred. He was preparing an army, intending to march into the further East, avenge Crassus' defeat on the Parthians, and march where no one but Alexander had made his way; and if he came back victorious from thence, nothing would be able to stand against him.
The plotters then resolved to strike before he set out. Caius Cassius, a tall, lean man, who had lately been made praetor, was the chief conspirator, and with him was Marcus Junius Brutus, a descendant of him who overthrew the Tarquins, and husband to Porcia, Cato's daughter, also another Brutus named Decimus, hitherto a friend of Caesar, and newly appointed to the government of Cisalpine Gaul. These and twelve more agreed to murder Caesar on the 15th of March, called in the Roman calendar the Ides of March, when he went to the senate-house.
Rumors got abroad and warnings came to him about that special day. His wife dreamt so terrible a dream that he had almost yielded to her entreaties to stay at home, when Decimus Brutus came in and laughed him out of it. As he was carried to the senate-house in a litter, a man gave him a writing and begged him to read it instantly; but he kept it rolled in his hand without looking. As he went up the steps he said to the augur Spurius, "The Ides of March are come." "Yes, Caesar," was the answer; "but they are not passed." A few steps further on, one of the conspirators met him with a petition, and the others joined in it, clinging to his robe and his neck, till another caught his toga and pulled it over his arms, and then the first blow was struck with a dagger. Caesar struggled at first as all fifteen tried to strike at him, but, when he saw the hand uplifted of his treacherous friend Decimus, he exclaimed, "Et tu Brute"—"Thou, too, Brutus"—drew his toga over his head, and fell dead at the foot of the statue of Pompeius.
THE SECOND TRIUMVIRATE.
The murderers of Caesar had expected the Romans to hail them as deliverers from a tyrant, but his great friend Marcus Antonius, who was, together with him, consul for that year, made a speech over his body as it lay on a couch of gold and ivory in the Forum ready for the funeral. Antonius read aloud Caesar's will, and showed what benefits he had intended for his fellow-citizens, and how he loved them, so that love for him and wrath against his enemies filled every hearer. The army, of course, were furious against the murderers; the Senate was terrified, and granted everything Antonius chose to ask, provided he would protect them, whereupon he begged for a guard for himself that he might be saved from Caesar's fate, and this they gave him; while the fifteen murderers fled secretly, mostly to Cisalpine Gaul, of which Decimus Brutus was governor.
Caesar had no child but the Julia who had been wife to Pompeius, and his heir was his young cousin Caius Octavius, who changed his name to Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and, coming to Rome, demanded his inheritance, which Antonius had seized, declaring that it was public money; but Octavianus, though only eighteen, showed so much prudence and fairness that many of the Senate were drawn towards him rather than Antonius, who had always been known as a bad, untrustworthy man; but the first thing to be done was to put down the murderers—Decimus Brutus was in Gaul, Marcus Brutus and Cassius in Macedonia, and Sextus Pompeius had also raised an army in Spain.
Good men in the Senate dreaded no one so much as Antonius, and put their hope in young Octavianus. Cicero made a set of speeches against Antonius, which are called Philippics, because they denounce him as Demosthenes used to denounce Philip of Macedon, and like them, too, they were the last flashes of spirit in a sinking state; and Cicero, in those days, was the foremost and best man who was trying at his own risk to save the old institutions of his country. But it was all in vain; they were too rotten to last, and there were not enough of honest men to make a stand against a violent unscrupulous schemer like Antonius, above all now that the clever young Octavianus saw it was for his interest to make common cause with him, and with a third friend of Caesar, rich but dull, named Marcus AEmilius Lepidus. They called on Decimus Brutus to surrender his forces to them, and marched against him. Then his troops deserted him, and he tried to escape into the Alps, but was delivered up to Antonius and put to death.
Soon after, Antonius, Lepidus, and Octavianus all met on a little island in the river Rhenus and agreed to form a triumvirate for five years for setting things to rights once more, all three enjoying consular power together; and, as they had the command of all the armies, there was no one to stop them. Lepidus was to stay and govern Rome, while the other two hunted down the murderers of Caesar in the East. But first, there was a deadly vengeance to be taken in the city upon all who could be supposed to have favored the murder of Caesar, or who could be enemies to their schemes. So these three sat down with a list of the citizens before them to make a proscription, each letting a kinsman or friend of his own be marked for death, provided he might slay one related to another of the three. The dreadful list was set up in the Forum, and a price paid for the heads of the people in it, so that soldiers, ruffians, and slaves brought them in; but it does not seem that—as in the other two proscriptions—there was random murder, and many bribed their assassins and escaped from Italy. Octavianus had marked the fewest and tried to save Cicero, but Antonius insisted on his death. On hearing that he was in the fatal roll, Cicero had left Rome with his brother, and slowly travelled towards the coast from one country house to another till he came to Antium, whence he meant to sail for Greece; but there he was overtaken. His brother was killed at once, but he was put into a boat by his slaves, and went down the coast to Formiae, where he landed again, and, going to a house near, said he would rather die in his own country which he had so often saved. However, when the pursuers knocked at the gate, his slaves placed him in a litter and hurried him out at another door. He was, however, again overtaken, and he forbade his slaves to fight for him, but stretched out his throat for the sword, with his eyes full upon it. His head was carried to Antonius, whose wife Fulvia actually pierced the tongue with her bodkin in revenge for the speeches it had made against her husband.
After this dreadful work, Antonius and Octavianus went across to Greece, where Marcus Brutus had collected the remains of the army that had fought under Pompeius. He had been made much of at Athens, where his statue had been set up beside that of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the slayers of Pisistratus. Cassius had plundered Asia Minor, and the two met at Sardis. It is said that the night before they were to pass into Macedonia, Brutus was sitting alone in his tent, when he saw the figure of a man before him. "Who art thou?" he asked, and the answer was, "I am thine evil genius, Brutus; I will meet thee again at Philippi."
And it was at Philippi that Brutus and Cassius found themselves face to face with Antonius and Octavianus. Each army was divided into two, and Brutus, who fought against Octavianus, put his army to flight, but Cassius was driven back by Antonius; and seeing a troop of horsemen coming towards him, he thought all was lost, and threw himself upon a sword. Brutus gathered the troops together, and after twenty days renewed the fight, when he was routed, fled, and hid himself, but after some hours put himself to death, as did his wife Porcia when she heard of his end.
After this, Octavianus went back to Italy, while Antonius stayed to pacify the East. When he was at Tarsus, the lovely queen of Egypt came, resolved to win him over. She sailed up the Cydnus in a beautiful galley, carved, gilded, and inlaid with ivory, with sails of purple silk and silvered oars, moving to the sound of flutes, while she lay on the deck under a star-spangled canopy arrayed as Venus, with her ladies as nymphs, and little boys as Cupids fanning her. Antonius was perfectly fascinated, and she took him back to Alexandria with her, heeding nothing but her and the delights with which she entertained him, though his wife Fulvia and his brother were struggling to keep up his power at Rome. He did come home, but only to make a fresh agreement with Octavianus, by which Fulvia was given up and he married Octavia, the widow of Marcellus and sister of Octavianus. But he could not bear to stay long away from Cleopatra, and, deserting Octavia, he returned to Egypt, where the most wonderful revelries were kept up. Stories are told of eight wild boars being roasted in one day, each being begun a little later than the last, that one might be in perfection when Antonius should call for his dinner. Cleopatra vowed once that she would drink the most costly of draughts, and, taking off an earring of inestimable price, dissolved it in vinegar and swallowed it.
In the meantime, Octavianus and Lepidus together had put down Decimus, and Lepidus had then tried to overcome Octavianus, but was himself conquered and banished; for Octavianus, was a kindly man, who never shed blood if he could help it, and, now that he was alone at Rome, won every one's heart by his gracious ways, while Antonius' riots in Egypt were a scandal to all who loved virtue and nobleness. So far was the Roman fallen that he even promised Cleopatra to conquer Italy and make Alexandria the capital of the world. Octavia tried to win him back, but she was a grave, virtuous Roman matron, and coarse, dissipated Antonius did not care for her compared with the enticing Egyptian queen. It was needful at last for Octavianus to destroy this dangerous power, and he mustered a fleet and army, while Antonius and Cleopatra sailed out of Alexandria with their ships and gave battle off the Cape of Actium. In the midst, either fright or treachery made Cleopatra sail away, and all the Egyptian ships with her, so that Antonius turned at once and fled with her. They tried to raise the East in their favor, but all their allies deserted them, and their soldiers went over to Alexandria, where Octavianus followed them. Then Cleopatra betrayed her lover, and put into the hands of Octavianus the ships in which he might have fled. He killed himself, and Cleopatra surrendered, hoping to charm young Octavianus as she had done Julius and Antonius, but when she saw him grave and unmoved, and found he meant to exhibit her in his triumph, she went to the tomb of Antonius and crowned it with flowers. The next day she was found on her couch, in her royal robes, dead, and her two maids dying too. "Is this well?" asked the man who found her. "It is well for the daughter of kings," said her maid with her last breath. Cleopatra had long made experiments on easy ways of death, and it was believed that an asp was brought to her in a basket of figs as the means of her death.
B.C. 33—A.D. 14.
The death of Antonius ended the fierce struggles which had torn Rome so long. Octavianus was left alone; all the men who had striven for the old government were dead, and those who were left were worn out and only longed for rest. They had found that he was kind and friendly, and trusted to him thankfully, nay, were ready to treat him as a kind of god. The old frame of constitution went on as usual; there was still a Senate, still consuls, and all the other magistrates, but Caesar Octavianus had the power belonging to each gathered in one. He was prince of the Senate, which gave him rule in the city; praetor, which made him judge, and gave him a special guard of soldiers called the Praetorian Guard to execute justice; and tribune of the people, which made him their voice; and even after his triumph he was still imperator, or general of the army. This word becomes in English, emperor, but it meant at this time merely commander-in-chief. He was also Pontifex Maximus, as Julius Caesar had been; and there was a general feeling that he was something sacred and set apart as the ruler and peace-maker; and, as he shared this feeling himself, he took the name of Augustus, which is the one by which he is always known.
He did not, however, take to himself any great show or state. He lived in his family abode, and dressed and walked about the streets like any other Roman gentleman of consular rank, and no special respect was paid to him in speech, for, warned by the fate of Julius, he was determined to prevent the Romans from being put in mind of kings and crowns. He was a wise and deep-thinking man, and he tried to carry out the plans of Julius for the benefit of the nation and of the whole Roman world. He had the survey finished of all the countries of the empire, which now formed a complete border round the Mediterranean Sea, reaching as far north as the British Channel, the Alps, and the Black Sea; as far south as the African desert, as far west as the Atlantic, and east as the borders of the Euphrates; and he also had a universal census made of the whole of the inhabitants. It was the first time such a thing had been possible, for all the world was at last at peace, so that the Temple of Janus was closed for the third and last time in Roman history. There was a feeling all over the world that a great Deliverer and peaceful Prince was to be expected at this time. One of the Sybils was believed to have so sung, and the Romans, in their relief at the good rule of Augustus, thought he was the promised one; but they little knew why God had brought about this great stillness from all wars, or why He moved the heart of Augustus to make the decree that all the world should be taxed—namely, that the true Prince of Peace, the real Deliverer, might be born in the home of His forefathers, Bethlehem, the city of David.
The purpose of Augustus' taxing was to make a regular division of the empire into provinces for the proconsuls to govern, with lesser divisions for the propraetors, while many cities, especially Greek ones, were allowed their own magistrates, and some small tributary kingdoms still remained till the old royal family should either die out or offend the Romans. In these lands the people were governed by their own laws, unless they were made Roman citizens; and this freedom was more and more granted, and saved them from paying the tribute all the rest had to pay, and which went to support the armies and other public institutions at Rome, and to provide the corn which was regularly distributed to such citizens as claimed it at Rome. A Roman colony was a settlement, generally of old soldiers who had had lands granted to them, and kept their citizenship; and it was like another little Rome managing its own affairs, though subject to the mother city. There were many of these colonies, especially in Gaul on the north coast, to defend it from the Germans. Cologne was one, and still keeps its name. The tribute was carefully fixed, and Augustus did his best to prevent the governors from preying on the people.
He tried to bring back better ways to Rome, which was in a sad state, full of vice and riot, and with little of the old, noble, hardy ways of the former times. The educated men had studied Greek philosophy till they had no faith in their own gods, and, indeed, had so mixed up their mythology with the Greek that they really did not know who their own were, and could not tell who were the greater gods whom Decius Mus invoked before he rushed on the enemy; and yet they kept up their worship, because their feasts were so connected with the State that everything depended on them; but they made them no real judges or helpers. The best men of the time were those who had taken up the Stoic philosophy, which held that virtue was above all things, whether it was rewarded or not; the worst were often the Epicureans, who held that we had better enjoy all we can in this life, being sure of nothing else.
Learning was much esteemed in the time of Augustus. He and his two great friends, Caius Cilnius Maecenas and Vipsanius Agrippa, both had a great esteem for scholarship and poetry, and in especial the house of Maecenas was always open to literary men. The two chief poets of Rome, Publius Virgilius Maro and Quintus Horatius Flaccus, were warm friends of his. Virgil wrote poems on husbandry, and short dialogue poems called eclogues, in one of which he spoke of the time of Augustus in words that would almost serve as a prophecy of the kingdom of Him who was just born at Bethlehem. By desire of Augustus, he also wrote the AEneid, a poem on the war-doings of AEneas and his settlement in Italy.
Horace wrote odes and letters in verse and satires, which show the habits and ways of thinking of his time in a very curious manner; and there were many other writers whose works have not come down to us; but the Latin of this time is the model of the language, and an Augustan age has ever since been a term for one in which literature flourishes.
All the early part of Augustus' reign was prosperous, but he had no son, only a daughter named Julia. He meant to marry her to Marcellus, the son of his sister Antonia, but Marcellus died young, and was lamented in Virgil's AEneid; so Julia was given to Agrippa's son. Augustus' second wife was Livia, who had been married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, and had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus, whom Augustus adopted as his own and intended for his heirs; and when Julia lost her husband Agrippa and her two young sons, he forced Tiberius to divorce the young wife he really loved to marry her. It was a great grief to Tiberius, and seems to have quite changed his character into being grave, silent, and morose. Julia, though carefully brought up, was one of the most wicked and depraved of women, and almost broke her father's heart. He banished her to an island near Rhegium, and when she died there, would allow no funeral honors to be paid to her.
The peace was beginning to be broken by wars with the Germans; and young Drusus was commanding the army against them, and gaining such honor that he was called Germanicus, when he fell from his horse and died of his injuries, leaving one young son. He was buried at Rome, and his brother Tiberius walked all the way beside the bier, with his long flaxen hair flowing on his shoulders. Tiberius then went back to command the armies on the Rhine. Some half-conquered country lay beyond, and the Germans in the forests were at this time under a brave leader called Arminius. They were attacked by the proconsul Quinctilius Varus, and near the river Ems, in the Herycimian forest, Arminius turned on him and routed him completely, cutting off the whole army, so that only a few fled back to Tiberius to tell the tale, and he had to fall back and defend the Rhine.
The news of this disaster was a terrible shock to the Emperor. He sat grieving over it, and at times he dashed his head against the wall, crying, "Varus, Varus! give me back my legions." His friends were dead, he was an old man now, and sadness was around him. He was soon, however, grave and composed again; and, as his health began to fail, he sent for Tiberius and put his affairs into his hands. When his dying day came, he met it calmly. He asked if there was any fear of a tumult on his death, and was told there was none; then he called for a mirror, and saw that his grey hair and beard were in order, and, asking his friends whether he had played his part well, he uttered a verse from a play bidding them applaud his exit, bade Livia remember him, and so died in his seventy-seventh year, having ruled fifty-eight years—ten as a triumvir, forty-eight alone.
TIBERIUS AND CALIGULA.
No difficulty was made about giving all the powers Augustus had held to his stepson, Tiberius Claudius Nero, who had also a right to the names of Julius Caesar Augustus, and was in his own time generally called Caesar. The Senate had grown too helpless to think for themselves, and all the choice they ever made of the consuls was that the Emperor gave out four names, among which they chose two.
Tiberius had been a grave, morose man ever since he was deprived of the wife he loved, and had lost his brother; and he greatly despised the mean, cringing ways round him, and kept to himself; but his nephew, called Germanicus, after his father, was the person whom every one loved and trusted. He had married Agrippina, Julia's daughter, who was also a very good and noble person; and when he was sent against the Germans, she went with him, and her little boys ran about among the soldiers, and were petted by them. One of them, Caius, was called by the soldiers Caligula, or the Little Shoe, because he wore a caliga or shoe like theirs; and he never lost the nickname.
Germanicus earned his surname over again by driving Arminius back; but he was more enterprising than would have been approved by Augustus, who thought it wiser to guard what he had than to make wider conquests; and Tiberius was not only one of the same mind, but was jealous of the great love that all the army were showing for his nephew, and this distrust was increased when the soldiers in the East begged for Germanicus to lead them against the Parthians. He set out, visiting all the famous places in Greece by the way, and going to see the wonders of Egypt, but while in Syria he fell ill of a wasting sickness and died, so that many suspected the spy, Cnaeus Piso, whom Tiberius had sent with him, of having poisoned him. When his wife Agrippina came home, bringing his corpse to be burnt and his ashes placed in the burying-place of the Caesars, there was universal love and pity for her. Piso seized on all the offices that Germanicus had held, but was called back to Rome, and was just going to be put upon his trial when he cut his own throat.
All this tended to make Tiberius more gloomy and distrustful, and when his mother Livia died he had no one to keep him in check, but fell under the influence of a man named Sejanus, who managed all his affairs for him, while he lived in a villa in the island of Capreae in the Bay of Naples, seeing hardly any but a few intimates, given up to all sorts of evil luxuries and self-indulgences, and hating and dreading every one. Agrippina was so much loved and respected that he dreaded and disliked her beyond all others; and Sejanus contrived to get up an accusation of plotting against the state, upon which she and her eldest son were banished to two small rocky isles in the Mediterranean Sea. The other two sons, Drusus and Caius, were kept by Tiberius at Capreae, till Tiberius grew suspicious of Drusus and threw him into prison. Sejanus, who had encouraged all his dislike to his own kinsmen, and was managing all Rome, then began to hope to gain the full power; but his plans were guessed by Tiberius, and he caused his former favorite to be set upon in the senate-house and put to death.
It is strange to remember that, while such dark deeds were being done at Rome, came the three years when the true Light was shining in the darkness. It was in the time of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilatus was propraetor of Palestine, that our Lord Jesus Christ spent three years in teaching and working miracles; then was crucified and slain by wicked hands, that the sin of mankind might be redeemed. Then He rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, leaving His Apostles to make known what he had done in all the world.
To the East, where our Lord dwelt, nay, to all the rest of the empire, the reign of Tiberius was a quiet time, with the good government arranged by Augustus working on. It was only his own family, and the senators and people of rank at Rome, who had much to fear from his strange, harsh, and jealous temper. The Claudian family had in all times been shy, proud, and stern, and to have such power as belonged to Augustus Caesar was more than their heads could bear. Tiberius hated and suspected everybody, and yet he did not like putting people to death, so he let Drusus be starved to death in his prison, and Agrippina chose the same way of dying in her island, while some of the chief senators received such messages that they put themselves to death. He led a wretched life, watching for treason and fearing everybody, and trying to drown the thought of danger in the banquets of Capreae, where the remains of his villa may still be seen. Once he set out, intending to visit Rome, but no sooner had he landed in Campania than the sight of hundreds of country people shouting welcome so disturbed him that he hastened on board ship again, and thus entered the Tiber; but at the very sight of the hills of Rome his terror returned, and he had his galley turned about and went back to his island, which he never again quitted.
Only two males of his family were left now—a great-nephew and a nephew, Caius, that son of the second Germanicus who had been nicknamed Caligula, a youth of a strange, exciteable, feverish nature, but who from his fright at Tiberius had managed to keep the peace with him, and had only once been for a short time in disgrace; and his uncle, the youngest son of the first Germanicus, commonly called Claudius, a very dull, heavy man, fond of books, but so slow and shy that he was considered to be wanting in brains, and thus had never fallen under suspicion.
At length Tiberius fell ill, and when he was known to be dying, he was smothered with pillows as he began to recover from a fainting fit, lest he should take vengeance on those who had for a moment thought him dead. He died A.D.. 37, and the power went to Caligula, properly called Caius, who was only twenty-five, and who began in a kindly, generous spirit, which pleased the people and gave them hope; but to have so much power was too much for his brain, and he can only be thought of as mad, especially after he had a severe illness, which made the people so anxious that he was puffed up with the notion of his own importance.
He put to death all who offended him, and, inheriting some of Tiberius' distrust and hatred of the people, he cried out, when they did not admire one of his shows as much as he expected, "Would that the people of Rome had but one neck, so that I might behead them all at once." He planned great public buildings, but had not steadiness to carry them out; and he became so greedy of the fame which, poor wretch, he could not earn, that he was jealous even of the dead. He burned the books of Livy and Virgil out of the libraries, and deprived the statues of the great men of old of the marks by which they were known—Cincinnatus of his curls, and Torquatus of his collar, and he forbade the last of the Pompeii to be called Magnus.
He made an expedition into Gaul, and talked of conquering Britain, but he got no further than the shore of the channel, where, instead of setting sail, he bade the soldiers gather up shells, which he sent home to the Senate to be placed among the treasures of the Capitol, calling them the spoils of the conquered ocean. Then he collected the German slaves and the tallest Gauls he could find, commanded the latter to dye their hair and beards to a light color, and brought them home to walk in his triumph. The Senate, however, were slow to understand that he could really expect a triumph, and this affronted him so much that, when they offered him one, he would not have it, and went on insulting them. He made his horse a consul, though only for a day, and showed it with golden oats before it in a golden manger. Once, when the two consuls were sitting by him, he burst out laughing, to think, he said, how with one word he could make both their heads roll on the floor.
The provinces were not so ill off, but the state of Rome was unbearable. Everybody was in danger, and at last a plot was formed for his death; and as he was on his way from his house to the circus, and stopped to look at some singers who were going to perform, a party of men set upon him and killed him with many wounds, after he had reigned only five years, and when he was but thirty years old.
CLAUDIUS AND NERO.
Poor dull Claudius heard an uproar and hid himself, thinking he was going to be murdered like his nephew, but still worse was going to befall him. They were looking for him to make him Emperor, for he was the last of his family. He was clumsy in figure, though his face was good, and he was a kind-hearted man, who made large promises, and tried to do well; but he was slow and timid, and let himself be led by wicked men and women, so that his rule ended no better than that of the former Caesars.
He began in a spirited way, by sending troops who conquered the southern part of Britain, and making an expedition thither himself. His wife chose to share his triumph, which was not, as usual, a drive in a chariot, but a sitting in armor on their thrones, with the eagles and standards over their heads, and the prisoners led up before them. Among them came the great British chief Caractacus, who is said to have declared that he could not think why those who had such palaces as there were at Rome should want the huts of the Britons.
Claudius was kind to the people in the distant provinces. He gave the Jews a king again, Herod Agrippa, the grandson of the first Herod, who was much loved by them, but died suddenly after a few years at Caesarea, after the meeting with the Tyrians, when he let them greet him as a god. There were a great many Jews living at Rome, but those from Jerusalem quarrelled with those from Alexandria; and one year, when there was a great scarcity of corn, Claudius banished them all from Rome.
Claudius was very unhappy in his wives. Two he divorced, and then married a third named Messalina, who was given up to all kinds of wickedness which he never guessed at, while she used all manner of arts to keep up her beauty and to deceive him. At last she actually married a young man while Claudius was absent from Rome; but when this came to his knowledge, he had her put to death. His last wife was, however, the worst of all. She was the daughter of the good Germanicus, and bore her mother's name of Agrippina. She had been previously married to Lucius Domitius AEnobarbus, by whom she had a son, whom Claudius adopted when he married her, though he had a child of his own called Britannicus, son to Messalina. Romans had never married their nieces before, but the power of the Emperors was leading them to trample down all law and custom, and it was for the misfortune of Claudius that he did so in this case, for Agrippina's purpose was to put every one out of the way of her own son, who, taking all the Claudian and Julian names in addition to his own, is commonly known as Nero. She married him to Claudius' daughter Octavia, and then, after much tormenting the Emperor, she poisoned him with a dish of mushrooms, and bribed his physician to take care that he did not recover. He died A.D. 54, and, honest and true-hearted as he had been, the Romans were glad to be rid of him, and told mocking stories of him. Indeed, they were very bad in all ways themselves, and many of the ladies were poisoners like Agrippina, so that the city almost deserved the tyrant who came after Claudius. Nero, the son of Agrippina by her first marriage, and Britannicus, the son of Claudius and Messalina, were to reign together; but Nero was the elder, and as soon as his poor young cousin came to manhood, Agrippina had a dose of poison ready for him.
Nero, however, began well. He had been well brought up by Seneca, an excellent student of the Stoic philosophy, who, with Burrhus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, guided the young Emperor with good advice through the first five years of his reign; and though his wicked mother called herself Augusta, and had equal honors paid her with her son, not much harm was done to the government till Nero fell in love with a wicked woman, Poppaea Sabina, who was a proverb for vanity, and was said to keep five hundred she-asses that she might bathe in their milk to preserve her complexion. Nero wanted to marry this lady, and as his mother befriended his neglected wife Octavia, he ordered that when she went to her favorite villa at Baiae her galley should be wrecked, and if she was not drowned, she should be stabbed. Octavia was divorced, sent to an island, and put to death there; and after Nero married Poppaea, he quickly grew more violent and savage.
Burrhus died about the same time, and Seneca alone could not restrain the Emperor from his foolish vanity. He would descend into the arena of the great amphitheatre and sing to the lyre his own compositions; and he showed off his charioteering in the circus before the whole assembled city, letting no one go away till the performance was over. It very much shocked the patricians, but the mob were delighted, and he chiefly cared for their praises. He was building a huge palace, called the Golden House because of its splendid decorations; and, needing money, he caused accusations to be got up against all the richer men that he might have their hoards.
A terrible fire broke out in Rome, which raged for six days, and entirely destroyed fourteen quarters of the city. While it was burning, Nero, full of excitement, stood watching it, and sang to his lyre the description of the burning of Troy. A report therefore arose that he had actually caused the fire for the amusement of watching it; and to put this out of men's minds he accused the Christians. The Christian faith had begun to be known in Rome during the last reign, and it was to Nero, as Caesar, that St. Paul had appealed. He had spent two years in a hired house of his own at Rome, and thus had been in the guard-room of the Praetorians, but he was released after being tried at "Caesar's judgment-seat," and remained at large until this sudden outburst which caused the first persecution. Then he was taken at Nicopolis, and St. Peter at Rome, and they were thrown into the Mamertine dungeon. Rome counts St. Peter as her first bishop. On the 29th of June, A.D. 66, both suffered; St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, being beheaded with the sword; St. Peter crucified, with his head, by his own desire, downwards. Many others suffered at the same time, some being thrown to the beasts, while others were wrapped in cloths covered with pitch, and slowly burnt to light the games in the Emperor's gardens. At last the people were shocked, and cried out for these horrors to end. And Nero, who cared for the people, turned his hatred and cruelty against men of higher class whose fate they heeded less. So common was it to have a message advising a man to put himself to death rather than be sentenced, that every one had studied easy ways of dying. Nero's old tutor, Seneca, felt his tyranny unbearable, and had joined in a plot for overthrowing him, but it was found out, and Seneca had to die by his own hand. The way he chose, and his wife too for his sake, was to open their veins, get into a warm bath, and bleed to death.
Nero made a journey to Greece, and showed off at Olympus and the Isthmus, at the same time robbing the Greek cities of numbers of their best statues and reliefs to adorn his Golden House; for the Romans had no original art—they could only imitate the Greeks and employ Greek artists. But danger was closing in on Nero. Such an Emperor could be endured no longer, and the generals of the armies in the provinces began to threaten him, they not being smitten dumb and helpless as every one at Rome seemed to be.
The Spanish army, under an officer named Galba, who was seventy-two years old, but to whom Augustus had said when he was a little boy, "You too shall share my taste of empire," began to move homewards to attack the tyrant, and the army from Gaul advanced to join it. Nero went nearly wild with fright, sometimes raging, sometimes tearing his hair and clothes; and the people began to turn against him in anger at a dearth of corn, saying he spent everything on his own pleasures. As Galba came nearer, the nobles and knights hoped for deliverance, and the Praetorian Guard showed that they meant to join their fellow-soldiers, and would not fight for him. The wretched Emperor found himself alone, and vainly called for some one to kill him, for he had not nerve to do it himself. He fled to a villa in the country, and wandered in the woods till he heard that, if he was caught, he would be put to death in the "ancient fashion," which he was told was being fixed with his neck in a forked stick and beaten to death. Then, hearing the hoofs of the horses of his pursuers, he set a sword against his breast and made a slave drive it home, and was groaning his last when the horsemen came up. He was but 30 years old, and was the last Emperor who could trace any connection, even by adoption, with Augustus. He perished A.D. 68.
THE FLAVIAN FAMILY.
The ablest of all Nero's officers was Titus Flavius Vespasianus, a stern, rigid old soldier, who, with his son of the same name, was in the East, preparing to put down a great rising of the Jews. He waited to see what was going to happen, and in a very few weeks old Galba had offended the soldiers by his saving ways; there was a rising against him, and another soldier named Otho became Emperor; but the legions from Gaul marched up under Vitellius to dethrone him, and he killed himself to prevent other bloodshed.
When the Eastern army heard of these changes, they declared they would make an Emperor like the soldiers of the West, and hailed Vespasian as Emperor. He left his son Titus to subdue Judea, and set out himself for Italy, where Vitellius had given himself up to riot and feasting. There was a terrible fight and fire in the streets of Rome itself, and the Gauls, who chiefly made up Vitellius' army, did even more mischief than the Gauls of old under Brennus; but at last Vespasian triumphed. Vitellius was taken, and, after being goaded along with the point of a lance, was put to death. There had been eighteen months of confusion, and Vespasian began his reign in the year 70.
It was just then that his son Titus, having taken all the strongholds in Galilee, though they were desperately defended by the Jews, had advanced to besiege Jerusalem. All the Christians had heeded the warning that our blessed Lord had left them, and were safe at a city in the hills called Pella; but the Jews who were left within were fiercely quarrelling among themselves, and fought with one another as savagely as they fought with the enemy. Titus threw trenches round and blockaded the city; and the famine within grew to be most horrible. Some died in their houses, but the fierce lawless zealots rushed up and down the streets, breaking into the houses where they thought food was to be found. When they smelt roasting in one grand dwelling belonging to a lady, they rushed in and asked for the meat, but even they turned away in horror when she uncovered the remains of her own little child, whom she had been eating. At last the Roman engines broke down the walls of the lower city, and with desperate struggling the Romans entered, and found every house full of dead women and children. Still they had the Temple to take, and the Jews had gathered there, fancying that, at the worst, the Messiah would appear and save them. Alas! they had rejected Him long ago, and this was the time of judgment. The Romans fought their way in, up the marble steps, slippery with blood and choked with dead bodies; and fire raged round them. Titus would have saved the Holy Place as a wonder of the world, but a soldier threw a torch through a golden latticed window, and the flame spread rapidly. Titus had just time to look round on all the rich gilding and marbles before it sank into ruins. He took a terrible vengeance on the Jews. Great numbers were crucified, and the rest were either taken to the amphitheatres all over the empire to fight with wild beasts, or were sold as slaves, in such numbers that, cheap as they were, no one would buy them. And yet this wonderful nation has lived on in its dispersion ever since. The city was utterly overthrown and sown with salt, and such treasures as could be saved from the fire were carried in the triumph of Titus—namely, the shew-bread table, the seven-branched candlestick, and the silver trumpets—and laid up as usual among the spoils dedicated to Jupiter. Their figures are to be seen sculptured on the triumphal arch built in honor of Titus, which still stands at Rome.
These Flavian Caesars were great builders. Much had to be restored at Rome after the two great fires, and they built a new Capitol and new Forum, besides pulling down Nero's Golden House, and setting up on part of the site the magnificent baths known as the Baths of Titus. Going to the bath, to be steamed, rubbed, anointed, and perfumed by the slaves, was the great amusement of an idle Roman's day, for in the waiting-rooms he met all his friends and heard the news; and these rooms were splendid halls, inlaid with marble, and adorned with the statues and pictures Nero had brought from Greece. On part of the gardens was begun what was then called the Flavian Amphitheatre, but is now known as the Colosseum, from the colossal statue that stood at its door—a wonderful place, with a succession of galleries on stone vaults round the area, on which every rank and station, from the Emperor and Vestal Virgins down to the slaves, had their places, whence to see gladiators and beasts struggle and perish, on sands mixed with scarlet grains to hide the stain, and perfumed showers to overcome the scent of blood, and under silken embroidered awnings to keep off the sun.
Vespasian was an upright man, and though he was stern and unrelenting, his reign was a great relief after the capricious tyranny of the last Claudii. He and his eldest son Titus were plain and simple in their habits, and tried to put down the horrid riot and excess that were ruining the Romans, and they were feared and loved. They had great successes too. Britain was subdued and settled as far as the northern hills, and a great rising in Eastern Gaul subdued. Vespasian was accused of being avaricious, but Nero had left the treasury in such a state that he could hardly have governed without being careful. He died in the year 79, at seventy years old. When he found himself almost gone, he desired to be lifted to his feet, saying that an Emperor should die standing.
He left two sons, Titus and Domitian. Titus was more of a scholar than his father, and was gentle and kindly in manner, so that he was much beloved. He used to say, "I have lost a day," when one went by without his finding some kind act to do. He was called the delight of mankind, and his reign would have been happy but for another great fire in Rome, which burnt what Nero's fire had left. In his time, too, Mount Vesuvius suddenly woke from its rest, and by a dreadful eruption destroyed the two cities at its foot, Herculaneum and Pompeii. The philosopher Plinius, who wrote on geography and natural history, was stifled by the sulphurous air while fleeing from the showers of stones and ashes cast up by the mountain. His nephew, called Pliny the younger, has left a full account of the disaster, and the cloud like a pine tree that hung over the mountain, the noises, the earthquake, and the fall at last of the ashes and lava. Drusilla, the wife of Felix, the governor before whom St. Paul pleaded, also perished. Herculaneum was covered with solid lava, so that very little could be recovered from it; but Pompeii, being overwhelmed with dust or ashes, was only choked, and in modern days has been discovered, showing perfectly what an old Roman town was like—amphitheatre, shops, bake-houses, and all. Some skeletons have been found: a man with his keys in a cellar full of treasure, a priest crushed by a statue of Isis, a family crowded into a vault, a sentry at his post; and in other cases the ashes perfectly moulded the impression of the figure they stifled, and on pouring plaster into them the forms of the victims have been recovered, especially two women, elder and younger, just as they fell at the gate, the girl with her head hidden in her mother's robe.
Titus died the next year, and his son-in-law Tacitus, who wrote the history of those reigns, laid the blame on his brother Domitian, who was as cruel and savage a tyrant as Nero. He does seem to have been shocked at the wickedness of the Romans. Even the Vestal Virgins had grown shameless, and there was hardly a girl of the patrician families in Rome well brought up enough to become one. The blame was laid on forsaking the old religion, and what the Romans called "Judaising," which meant Christianity, was persecuted again. Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperor, was thus accused and put to death; and probably it was this which led to St. John, the last of the Apostles, being brought to Rome and placed in a cauldron of boiling oil by the Lateran Gate; but a miracle was wrought in his behalf, and the oil did him no hurt, upon which he was banished to the Isle of Patmos.
The Colosseum was opened in Domitian's time, and the shows of gladiators, fights with beasts, and even sea-fights, when the arena was flooded, exceeded all that had gone before. There were fights between women and women, dwarfs and cranes. There is an inscription at Rome which has made some believe that the architect of the Colosseum was one Gandentius, who afterwards perished there as a Christian.
Domitian affronted the Romans by wearing a gold crown with little figures of the gods on it. He did strange things. Once he called together all his council in the middle of the night on urgent business, and while they expected to hear of some foreign enemy on the borders, a monstrous turbot was brought in, and they were consulted whether it was to be cut in pieces or have a dish made on purpose for it. Another time he invited a number of guests, and they found themselves in a black marble hall, with funeral couches, each man's name graven on a column like a tomb, a feast laid as at a funeral, and black boys to wait on them! This time it was only a joke; but Domitian did put so many people to death that he grew frightened lest vengeance should fall on him, and he had his halls lined with polished marble, that he might see as in a glass if any one approached him from behind. But this did not save him. His wife found that he meant to put her to death, and contrived that a party of servants should murder him, A.D. 96.
THE AGE OF THE ANTONINES.
Domitian is called the last of the twelve Caesars, though all who came after him called themselves Caesar. He had no son, and a highly esteemed old senator named Cocceius Nerva became Emperor. He was an upright man, who tried to restore the old Roman spirit; and as he thought Christianity was only a superstition which spoiled the ancient temper, he enacted that all should die who would not offer incense to the gods, and among these died St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who had been bred up among the Apostles. He was taken to Rome, saw his friend St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, on the way, and wrote him one of a set of letters which remain to this day. He was then thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.
It seems strange that the good Emperors were often worse persecutors than the bad ones, but the fact was that the bad ones let the people do as they pleased, as long as they did not offend them; while the good ones were trying to bring back what they read of in Livy's history, of plain living and high thinking, and shut their ears to knowing more of the Christians than that they were people who did not worship the gods. Moreover, Julius Trajanus, whom Nerva adopted, and who began to reign after him in 98, did not persecute actively, but there were laws in force against the Christians. When Pliny the younger was propraetor of the province of Pontica in Asia Minor, he wrote to ask the Emperor what to do about the Christians, telling him what he had been able to find out about them from two slave girls who had been tortured; namely, that they were wont to meet together at night or early morning, to sing together, and eat what he called a harmless social meal. Trajan answered that he need not try to hunt them out, but that, if they were brought before him, the law must take its course. In Rome, the chief refuge of the Christians was in the Catacombs, or quarries of tufa, from which the city was chiefly built, and which were hollowed out in long galleries. Slaves and convicts worked them, and they were thus made known to the Christians, who buried their dead in places hollowed at the sides, used the galleries for their churches, and often hid there when there was search made for them.
Trajan was so good a ruler that he bears the title of Optimus, the Best, as no one else has ever done. He was a great captain too, and conquered Dacia, the country between the rivers Danube, Theiss, and Pruth, and the Carpathian Hills; and he also defeated the Parthians, and said if he had been a younger man he would have gone as far as Alexander. As it was, the empire was at its very largest in his reign, and he was a very great builder and improver, so that one of his successors called him a wall-flower, because his name was everywhere to be seen on walls and bridges and roads—some of which still remain, as does his tall column at Rome, with a spiral line of his conquests engraven round it from top to bottom. He was on his way back from the East when, in 117, he died at Cilicia, leaving the empire to another brave warrior, Publius AEtius Hadrianus, who took the command with great vigor, but found he could not keep Dacia, and broke down the bridge over the Danube. He came to Britain, where the Roman settlements were tormented by the Picts. There he built the famous Roman wall from sea to sea to keep them out. He was wonderfully active, and hastened from one end of the empire to the other wherever his presence was needed. There was a revolt of the Jews in the far East, under a man who pretended to be the Messiah, and called himself the Son of a Star. This was put down most severely, and no Jew was allowed to come near Jerusalem, over which a new city was built, and called after the Emperor's second name, AElia Capitolina; and, to drive the Jews further away, a temple to Jupiter was built where the Temple had been, and one to Venus on Mount Calvary.
But Hadrian did not persecute, and listened kindly to an explanation of the faith which was shown him at Athens by Quadratus, a Christian philosopher. Hadrian built himself a grand towerlike monument, surrounded by stages of columns and arches, which was to be called the Mole of Hadrian, and still stands, though stripped of its ornaments. Before his death, in 138, he had chosen his successor, Titus Aurelius Antoninus, a good upright man, a philosopher, and 52 years old; for it had been found that youths who became Emperors had their heads turned by such unbounded power, while elder men cared for the work and duty. Antoninus was so earnest for his people's welfare that they called him Pius. He avoided wars, only defended the empire; but he was a great builder, for he raised another rampart in Britain, much further north, and set up another column at Rome, and in Gaul built a great amphitheatre at Nismes, and raised the wonderful aqueduct which is still standing, and is called the Pont du Gard.
His son-in-law, whom he adopted and who succeeded him, is commonly called Marcus Aurelius, as a choice among his many names. He was a deep student and Stoic philosopher, with an earnest longing for truth and virtue, though he knew not how to seek them where alone they could be found; and when earthquake, pestilence and war fell on his empire, and the people thought the gods were offended, he let them persecute the Christians, whose faith he despised, because the hope of Resurrection and of Heaven seemed weak and foolish to him beside his stern, proud, hopeless Stoicism. So the aged Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, the last pupil of the Apostles themselves, was sentenced to be burnt in the theatre of his own city, though, as the fire curled round him in a curtain of flame without touching him, he was actually slain with the sword. And in Gaul, especially at Vienne, there was a fearful persecution which fell on women of all ranks, and where Blandina the slave, under the most unspeakable torments, was specially noted for her brave patience.
Aurelius was fighting hard with the German tribes on the Danube, who gave him no rest, and threatened to break into the empire. While pursuing them, he and his army were shut into a strong place where they could get no water, and were perishing with thirst, when a whole legion, all Christian soldiers, knelt down and prayed. A cloud came up, a welcome shower of rain descended, and was the saving of the thirsty host. It was said that the name of the Thundering Legion was given to this division in consequence, though on the column reared by Aurelius it is Jupiter who is shown sending rain on the thirsty host, who are catching it in their shields. After this there was less persecution, but every sort of trouble—plague, earthquake, famine, and war—beset the empire on all sides, and the Emperor toiled in vain against these troubles, writing, meantime, meditations that show how sad and sick at heart he was, and how little comfort philosophy gave him, while his eyes were blind to the truth. He died of a fever in his camp, while still in the prime of life, in the year 180, and with him ended the period of good Emperors, which the Romans call the age of the Antonines. Aurelius was indeed succeeded by his son Commodus, but he was a foolish good-for-nothing youth, who would not bear the fatigues and toils of real war, though he had no shame in showing off in the arena, and is said to have fought there seven hundred and fifty times, besides killing wild beasts. He boasted of having slain one hundred lions with one hundred arrows, and a whole row of ostriches with half-moon shaped arrows which cut off their heads, the poor things being fastened where he could not miss them, and the Romans applauding as if for some noble deed. They let him reign sixteen years before he was murdered, and then a good old soldier named Pertinax began to reign; but the Praetorian Guard had in those sixteen years grown disorderly, and the moment they felt the pressure of a firm hand they attacked the palace, killed the Emperor, cut off his head, and ran with it to the senate-house, asking who would be Emperor. An old senator was foolish enough to offer them a large sum if they would choose him, and this put it into their heads to rush out to the ramparts and proclaim that they would sell the empire to the highest bidder.