« ForrigeFortsett »
the legions were ready to make an emperor of their own chief. Clodius Macer in the one, Fonteius Capito in the other, were proclaimed by the soldiers. At the same time Salvius Otho, Nero's ancient favourite, who was weary of his long oblivion on the shores of the Atlantic, declared himself a supporter of Galba, and lent him his own slaves and plate, to swell his retinue and increase his resources. The civil wars had again begun. Such was the march of disaffection, the first anticipations of which had been revealed to Helius before the end of 66, and had induced him to urge the emperor, first by letter and afterwards in person, to hasten home. Nero, as we have seen, could not be persuaded to regard them seriously, or postpone to their consideration his paltry gratifications and amusements. After his return to Rome he had again quitted it for Naples in March, 68, and it was on the 19th of that month, the anniversary of Agrippina's murder, while presiding at a gymnastic exhibition, that he received the news of the revolt of Vindex. Still he treated the announcement with contempt, and even expressed satisfaction at the prospect of new confiscations. He witnessed the contests with unabated interest, and retired from them to a banquet. Interrupted by fresh and more alarming despatches, he resented them with petulant ill-humour; for eight days he would neither issue orders nor be spoken to on the subject. Finally arrived a manifesto from Vindex himself, which moved him to send a message to the senate, requiring it to denounce the rebel as a public enemy; but he excused himself from appearing in person, alleging a cold or sore throat, which he must nurse for the conservation of his voice. Nothing so much incensed him as Vindex calling him Ahenobarbus instead of Nero, and disparaging his skill in singing. "Had they ever heard a better performer?" he asked peevishly of all around him. He now hurried trembling to Rome; but he was reassured, we are told, on the way by noticing a sculpture which represented a Gallic soldier dragged headlong by a Roman knight. Accordingly, with his usual levity, instead of consulting in full senate, or haranguing on the state of affairs in the Forum, he held a hasty conversation with a few only of his nobles, and passed the day in explaining to them a new water-organ, on which he proposed, he said, "with Vindex's good leave," to perform in public. He completed and dedicated a temple to Poppsea: once more he celebrated the games of the circus, once more he played and sang, and drove the chariot. But it was for the last time. Vindex had fallen, but Galba, it was now announced, had raised the standard of revolt. The rebel's property in Rome was immediately confiscated, to which he replied by selling under the spear the emperor's estates in Spain. The hour of retribution, long delayed, was now swiftly advancing; courier after courier was dashing through the gates, bringing news of the defection of generals and legions. The revolt of Virginius was no longer doubtful. At [68 A.D.]
this intelligence the puny tyrant fainted; coming to himself he tore his robes and smote his head, with pusillanimous wailings. To the consolations of his nurse he replied, with the cries of an infant, "never was such ill-fortune as his; other Caesars had fallen by the sword, he alone must lose the empire still living." At last he recollected himself sufficiently to summon troops from lllyricum for the defence of Italy; but these, it was found, were in correspondence with the enemy. Another resource, which served only to show to what straits he was driven, was to land sailors from the fleet at Ostia, and form them into a legion. Then he invoked the pampered populace to
arise in his behalf, and dressed up courtesans and dancers as Amazons to attend his march; next moment he exclaimed that he would take ship for Alexandria, and there earn subsistence by singing in the streets. Again he launched into invectives against the magistrates abroad, threatening to recall and disgrace them throughout his dominions; the provinces he would give up to pillage, he would slay every Gaul in the city, he would massacre the senate, he would let loose the lions on the populace, he would lay Rome in ashes. Finally, the tyrant's vein exhausted, he proposed in woman's mood to meet the rebels unarmed, trusting in his beauty, his tears, and the persuasive tones of his voice, to win them to obedience.
Meanwhile the excitement among the knights and senators at the prospect of deliverance kept pace with the progress of revolt abroad. Portents were occurring at their doors. Blood rained on the Alban Mount; the gates of the Julian sepulchre burst open of their own accord. The Hundred Days of Nero were drawing rapidly to a close. He had landed in Italy about the end of February, and now at the beginning of June his cause had already become hopeless. Galba, though steadfast in his resolution, had not yet set his troops in motion; A Centurion nevertheless, Nero was no longer safe in the
city. The people, at first indifferent, were now clamouring against him; for there was a dearth of provisions, and a vessel, just arrived from Alexandria, was found, to their disgust, to bear not grain, but fine sand for the wrestlers in the amphitheatre. The prretorians had been seduced by their prefect Nymphidius, to whom the camp was abandoned by the flight of Tigellinus. Nero was left without advisers; the senators stood aloof; of Helius, lately so powerful and energetic, we hear nothing. Terrified by dreams, stung by ridicule or desertion, when his last hope of succour was announced to have deceived him the wretched tyrant started from his couch at supper, upset the tables, and dashed his choicest vessels to the ground; then taking poison from Locusta and placing it in a golden casket, he crossed from the palace to the Servilian gardens, and sent his trustiest freedmen to secure a galley at Ostia. He conjured some tribunes and centurions, with a handful of guards, to join his flight; but all refused, and one blunter than the rest exclaimed tauntingly, "Is it then so hard to die?"
NERO: LAST OF THE CESARS
223THE DEATH OF NERO At last at midnight, finding that even the sentinels had left their posts, he sent or rushed himself to assemble his attendants. Every door was closed; he knocked, but no answer came. Returning to his chamber, he found the slaves fled, the furniture pillaged, the case of poison removed. Not a guard, not a gladiator, was at hand, to pierce his throat. "I have neither friend nor foe," he exclaimed. He would have thrown himself into the Tiber, but his courage failed him. He must have time, he said, and repose to collect his spirits for suicide, and his freedman Phaon at last offered him his villa in the suburbs, four miles from the city. In undress and bare-'footed, throwing a rough cloak over his shoulders, and a kerchief across his face, he glided through the doors, mounted a horse, and, attended by Sporus and three others, passed the city gates with the dawn of the summer morning. The Nomentane road led him beneath the wall of the praetorians, whom he might hear uttering curses against him, and pledging vows to Galba; and the early travellers from the country asked him, as they met, "What news of Nero?" or remarked to one another, "These men are pursuing the tyrant." Thunder and lightning, and a shock of earthquake, added horror to the moment. Nero's horse started at a dead body on the roadside, the kerchief fell from his face, and a praetorian passing by recognised and saluted him. At the fourth milestone the party quitted the highway, alighted from their horses, and scrambled on foot through a cane-brake, laying their own cloaks to tread on, to the rear of the promised villa. Phaon now desired Nero to crouch in a sand-pit hard by, while he contrived to open the drain from the bathroom, and so admit him unperceived; but he vowed he would not go alive, as he said, underground, and remained trembling beneath the wall. Taking water from a puddle in his hand, "This," he said," is the famous Drink of Nero." At last a hole was made, through which he crept on all fours into a narrow chamber of the house, and there threw himself on a pallet. The coarse bread that was offered him he could not eat, but swallowed a little tepid water. Still he lingered, his companions urging him to seek refuge, without delay, from the insults about to be heaped on him. He ordered them to dig a grave, and lay down himself to give the measure; he desired them to collect bits of marble to decorate his sepulchre, and prepare water to cleanse and wood to burn his corpse, sighing meanwhile, and muttering, "What an artist to perish I"Presently a slave of Phaon's brought papers from Rome, which Nero snatched from him, and read that the senate had proclaimed him an enemy, and decreed his death, in the ancient fashion. He asked what that was; and was informed that the culprit was stripped, his head placed in a fork, and his body smitten with the stick till death. Terrified at this announcement, he took two daggers from his bosom, tried their edge one after the other, and again laid them down, alleging that the moment was not yet arrived. Then he called on Sporus to commence his funeral lamentations; then he implored some of the party to set him the example; once and again he reproached himself with his own timidity. "Fie! Nero,fie!" he muttered in Greek, "courage, man! come, rouse thee!" Suddenly was heard the trampling of horsemen, sent to seize the culprit alive. Then at last, with a verse of Homer hastily ejaculated, "Sound of swift-footed steeds strikes on my ears," he placed a weapon to his breast, and the slave Epaphroditus drove it home.
The blow was scarcely struck, when the centurion rushed in, and, thrusting his cloak against the wound, pretended he was come to help him. The dying wretch could only murmur, "Too late," and, "Is this your fidelity?" and expired with a horrid stare on his countenance. He had adjured his attendants to burn his body, and not let the foe bear off his head, and this was now allowed him; the corpse was consumed with haste and imperfectly, but at least without mutilation.
Nero perished on the 9th of June, 68 A.d., at the age of thirty years and six months, in the fourteenth year of his principate. The child borne him by Poppaea had died in infancy, and a subsequent marriage with Statilia Messallina had proved unfruitful. The stock of the Julii, refreshed in vain by grafts from the Octavii, the Claudii, and the Domitii, had been reduced to his single person, and with Nero the adoptive race of the great dictator was extinguished. The first of the Caesars had married four times, the second thrice, the third twice, the fourth thrice again, the fifth six times, and lastly, the sixth thrice also. Of these repeated unions, a large number had borne offspring, yet no descendants of them survived. A few had bved to old age, many reached maturity, some were cut off by early sickness, the end of others was premature and mysterious; but a large proportion were victims of domestic jealousy and politic assassination.
With Nero we bid farewell to the Caesars, at the same time we bid farewell to the state of things which the Caesars created and maintained. We turn over a page in Roman history. On the verge of a new epoch we would treat with grave respect even the monster with whom the old epoch closes; we may think it well that the corpse even of Nero was unmutilated; that he was buried decently in the Domitian gardens on the Pincian; that though the people evinced a thoughtless triumph at his death, as if it promised them a freedom which they could neither use nor understand, some unknown hands were found to strew flowers on his sepulchre, and the rival king of Parthia adjured the senate to do honour to his memory.
Undoubtedly the Romans regarded with peculiar feeling the death of the last of the Caesars. Nero was cut off in early youth; he perished in obscurity; he was entombed in a private sepulchre, with no manifestation of national concern, such as had thrown a gleam of interest over the least regretted of his predecessors. Yet these circumstances would not have sufficed to impart a deep mystery to the event, without the predisposition of the people to imagine that the dynasty which had ruled them for four generations could not suddenly pass away, finally and irrevocably. The idea that Nero still survived, and the expectation of his return to power, continued long to linger among them. More than one pretender arose to claim his empire, and twenty years later a false Nero was protected by the Partisans, among whom he had taken refuge, and only surrendered to the repeated and vehement demands of the Roman government. This popular anticipation was the foundation, perhaps, of the common persuasion of the Christians, that he should revisit the earth in the character of Antichrist; and possibly that Jerusalem itself would be the scene.«
Galba (sekvius Sulpicitjs Galba), 68-69 A.d.
The fall of Nero and the accession of Galba form an important epoch in the history of the Roman Empire; for to the misfortune of a form of government, on which everything depended on the ruler, his court, and the bodyguard and guard of the emperor, a fresh evil was now added, namely that the army became accustomed to mutiny, and obtained a decisive influence on the choice of the emperor. Certainly Galba did not accept the title of emperor, until it was legally assigned to him by a deputation of the senate; but the example of mutiny had been given, the army had in reality, and the senate, only in form, decided as to who should occupy the throne, and the fate of the empire was from henceforth made more and more dependent on the troops and their leaders. At first however it appeared fortunate, that after the weak-minded libertines, who for some time had been at the head of the states, the government should fall into the hands of a veteran warrior who possessed the love and confidence of his soldiers, and hated every kind of indulgence and excess; but any advantages which might have arisen from this were outweighed by the great age of the emperor and the weakness consequent on it. Galba's weakness was first perceived when he, who at the time of Nero's death was still in Gaul, had returned to Rome; he was awaited with real eagerness. Before the arrival of Galba, Nymphidius, who had accelerated the fall of Nero, acted as absolute ruler. He prevented Tigellinus from participating in the command of the praetorians, tried in every way to gain over the people, saw the entire senate in his antechamber, and mixed himself up with all the dealings of the latter with Galba. It then occurred to him that he might trace his descent from Caesar and thereby establish his claim to the throne. But to his terror, he heard, from a messenger whom he had sent to Galba, that Titus Vinius, one of Galba's legates, held absolute sway over the emperor, that he had named Cornelius Laco prefect of the praetorians, instead of him, and that his rule would therefore be at an end as soon as Galba entered Rome. He therefore resolved to venture to extremes and to make the praetorians proclaim him emperor; they were turned against him by one of his officers, and killed him as soon as he appeared in their camp. As soon as Galba arrived in Rome, he had all the friends of Nymphidius put to death. These and a few other executions, added to Galba's dependence on Vinius, prepossessed no one in favour of the new ruler. It was H. w. —VOL. VI. Q 225