Cassius Dio.

Dio's Rome, Volume 5, Books 61-76 (A.D. 54-211) An Historical Narrative Originally Composed in Greek During The Reigns of Septimius Severus, Geta and Caracalla, Macrinus, Elagabalus and Alexander Seve online

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Online LibraryCassius DioDio's Rome, Volume 5, Books 61-76 (A.D. 54-211) An Historical Narrative Originally Composed in Greek During The Reigns of Septimius Severus, Geta and Caracalla, Macrinus, Elagabalus and Alexander Seve → online text (page 23 of 23)
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to it, and I am inclined to believe, especially considering the situation,
that Dio had in his mind while writing this the familiar proverb [Greek:
honou parakupseos], a famous response given by a careless ass-driver,
whose animal being several rods in advance of its lagging master had stuck
its head into an open doorway and thereby scattered the nucleus of a
promising aviary. The fellow was haled to court to answer to a charge of
contributory negligence and when some bystander asked him for what misdeed
he had been brought to that place, he rejoined with a great air of injured
innocence: "For an ass's peeping!"] and bewailing his fate he was
conducted out of the senate-house. When he had passed through the Forum,
he refused to advance farther, but right where he was took leave of his
children, four in number, and uttered this most affecting speech: "There
is only one thing that I am sorry for, children; it is that I must leave
you behind alive." Then he had his head cut off before Severus learned
even that he had been condemned.

Just vengeance, however, befell Pollenius Sebennus, who had preferred the
charge that caused his death. He was delivered by Sabinus to the Norici,
for whom he had shown scant consideration during his governorship of them,
and went through a most disgraceful experience. We saw him stretched on
the ground, pleading piteously, and had he not obtained mercy, thanks to
his uncle Auspex, [Footnote: _A. Pollenius Auspex_.] he would have
perished pitiably. This Auspex was the cleverest imaginable man for jokes
and chit-chat, for despising all mankind, gratifying his friends, and
making reprisals upon his enemy. Many bitter and witty epigrams of his
spoken to various people are reported, and many to Severus himself. Here
is one of the latter. When the emperor was enrolled in the family of
Marcus, Auspex said: "I congratulate you, Caesar, upon having found a
father." This implied that up to this time his obscure origin had made him
as good as fatherless.

[Sidenote: A.D. 206-7(?)] [Sidenote: - 10 - ] It was at this period that one
Bulla, an Italian, established a robber band of about six hundred men and
for two years continued to plunder Italy under the very noses of the
emperors and of so great bodies of soldiers. Pursuit was instituted by
numerous persons, and Severus emulously followed his trail, but the fellow
was never really seen when seen, never found when found, never apprehended
when caught. This was due to his great bribes and his cleverness. He got
wind of everybody that was setting out from Rome and everybody that was
putting into port at Brundusium, learning who and how many they were, and
what and how much they had with them. His general method was to take a
part of what they had and then let them go at once. Artisans, however, he
detained for a time and after making use of their skill dismissed them
with something extra as a present. Once two of his robbers had been
captured and were to be given to beasts, whereupon the chief paid a visit
to the keeper of the prison, pretending that he was the governor of his
native place (?) and needed some such men, and in this way he secured and
saved them. Again, he approached the centurion who was charged with
abolishing brigandage and in disguise accused his own self; he further
promised, if the centurion would accompany him, to deliver the robber to
him. So, pretending that he was leading him to Felix (this was another
name of the chief), he brought him to a hill-encompassed spot, suitable
for ambuscade, and easily seized him. Later he assumed the garb of a
magistrate, ascended the tribunal, and having called the centurion caused
his head to be shaved, and said: "Take this message to your masters: 'Feed
your slaves, if you want to make an end of brigandage.'" Bulla had,
indeed, a very great number of Caesarians, some who had been poorly paid
and some who had gone absolutely without pay.

Severus, informed of these events one at a time, was moved to anger to
think that while having other men win victory in warfare in Britain, he
himself in Italy had proved no match for a robber. At last he despatched a
tribune from his body-guard with many horsemen and threatened him with
terrible punishments if he should not bring the culprit alive. Then this
commander ascertained that the chief was maintaining relations of intimacy
with the wife of another, and through the agency of her husband persuaded
her on promise of immunity to cooperate with them. As a result the elusive
leader was arrested while asleep in a cave. Papinianus the prefect asked
him: "For what reason did you become a robber?" The other rejoined: "For
what reason are you a prefect?" And thereafter by solemn proclamation he
was given to beasts. His robber band broke up, for the entire strength of
the six hundred lay in him.

[Sidenote: A.D. 208 (a.u. 961)] [Sidenote: - 11 - ] Severus, seeing that his
children were departing from their accustomed modes of life and that his
legions were becoming enervated by idleness, set out on a campaign against
Britain, though he knew that he should not return. He knew this chiefly
from the stars under which he had been born, for he had them painted upon
the ceilings of the two halls in the palace where he was wont to hold
court. Thus they were visible to all, save the portion which
"regarded-the-hour" when he first saw the light (i.e., his horo-scope).
This he had not engraved in the same way in both the rooms. - He knew it
also by the report of the seers. And a thunderbolt struck a statue of his
standing near the gates through which he intended to march out and looking
off along the road leading to his destination, and it had erased three
letters from his name. For this reason, [Footnote: The significance of
this happening is explained as follows. Taking the Greek form of Severus,
namely [Greek: SEBAEROS] and erasing the first three letters you have left
[Greek: AEROS]= [Greek: AEROS]=heros, "hero." When a thunderbolt
substitutes the word "hero" for the emperor's name, the supposition
naturally arises that the ruler will soon be numbered among the heroes,
that is, that he will cease to exist as a mortal man.] as the seers
indicated, he did not come back again but departed from life two years
after this. He took with him very great sums of money.

[Sidenote: - 12 - ] There are two principal races of the Britons, - the
Caledonians and the Maeatians. The titles of the rest have all been
reduced to these two. The Maeatians live near the cross wall which cuts
the island in two, and the Caledonians are behind them. Both inhabit wild
and waterless mountains, desolate and swampy plains, holding no walls, nor
cities, nor tilled fields, but living by pasturage and hunting and a few
fruit trees. The fish, which are inexhaustible and past computing for
multitude, they do not taste. They dwell coatless and shoeless in tents,
possess their women in common, and rear all the offspring as a community.
Their form of government is mostly democratic and they are very fond of

Consequently they choose their boldest spirits as leaders. They go into
battle on chariots with small, swift horses. There are also infantry, very
quick at running and very firm in standing their ground. Their weapons are
shield and short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the
ground-spike, so that when the instrument is shaken it may clash and
inspire the enemy with terror. They also have daggers. They can endure
hunger and cold and any kind of wretchedness. They plunge into the swamps
and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in
the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots and in all
[Footnote: The reading is a little doubtful. Possibly "in such cases" (
[Greek: para tauta]). (Boissevain).] cases they have ready a kind of food
of which a piece the size of a bean when eaten prevents them from being
either hungry or thirsty. Of such a nature is the island of Britain, and
such are the inhabitants that the enemy's country has. For it is an
island, and the fact (as I have stated) [Footnote: Compare Book
Thirty-nine, chapter 50, which, in turn, refers to Book Sixty-six, chapter
20.] was clearly proved at this time. The length of it is seven thousand
one hundred and thirty-two stades. Its greatest breadth is two thousand
three hundred and ten, and its least is three hundred. [Sidenote: - 13 - ]
Of all this we hold a little less than a half. So Severus, desiring to
subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. While traversing the
territory he had untold trouble in cutting down the forests, reducing the
levels of heights, filling up the swamps, and bridging the rivers. He
fought no battle and beheld no adversary in battle array. The enemy
purposely put sheep and cattle in front of them for the soldiers to seize,
in order that the latter might be deceived for a longer time and wear
themselves out. The Romans received great damage from the streams and were
made objects of attack when they were scattered. Afterward, being unable
to walk, they were slain by their own friends to avoid capture, so that
nearly as many as fifty thousand died.

But the emperor did not desist till he had approached the extremity of the
island. Here he observed very accurately to how slight a degree the sun
declined below the horizon [Footnote: Compare Tacitus, _Agricola_,
chapter 12 (two sentences, Dierum [Lacuna] affirmant).] and the length of
days and nights both summer and winter. Thus having been conveyed through
practically the whole of the hostile region, - for he was really conveyed
in a covered chair most of the way on account of his weakness, - he
returned to [Sidenote: A.D. 210 (a.u. 963)] friendly territory, first
forcing the Britons to come to terms on condition that he should abandon a
good part of their territory.

[Sidenote: - 14 - ] Antoninus also disturbed him and involved him in vain
worry by his intemperate life, by his evident intention to murder his
brother if the chance should present itself, and finally by plotting
against his own father. Once he leaped suddenly out of his quarters,
shouting and bawling and feigning to have been wronged by Castor. This man
was the best of the Caesarians attending upon Severus, had been trusted
with his opinions, and had been assigned the duties of chamberlain.
Certain soldiers with whom previous arrangements had been made hereupon
gathered and joined the outcry; but they were checked in short order, as
Severus himself appeared on the scene and punished the more unruly among

On another occasion both were riding to meet the Caledonians for the
purpose of receiving them and holding a conference about a truce, and
Antoninus undertook to kill his father outright with his own hand. They
were going along on their horses, for Severus, although his feet were
rather shrunken [Footnote: Reading [Greek: hypotetaekos] (suggestion of
Boissevain, who does not regard Naber's emendation, Mnemosyne, XVI, p.
113, as feasible).] by an ailment, nevertheless was on horseback himself
and the rest of the army was following: the enemy's force, too, was
likewise a spectator. At this juncture, in the midst of the silence and
order, Antoninus reined up his horse and drew his sword, apparently
intending to strike his father in the back. Seeing this, the other
horsemen in the detachment raised a cry of alarm, which scared the son, so
that he did nothing further. Severus turned at their shout and saw the
sword; however, he uttered not a syllable but ascended the tribunal,
finished what he had to do, and returned to the general's tent. Then he
called his son and Papinianus and Castor, ordered a sword to be placed
within easy reach, and upbraided the youth for having dared to do such a
thing at all and especially for having been on the point of committing so
great a crime in the presence of all the allies and the enemy. Finally he
said: "Now if you desire to slay me and have done, put an end to me here.
You are strong: I am an old man and prostrate. If you have no objection to
this, but shrink from becoming my actual murderer, there stands by your
side Papinianus the prefect, whom you may order to put me out of the way.
He will certainly do anything that you command, since you are emperor."
Though he spoke in this fashion, he still did the plotter no harm, in
spite of the fact that he had often blamed Marcus for not ending the life
of Commodus and that he had himself often threatened his son with this
treatment. Such words, however, were invariably spoken in a fit of anger:
on this occasion he allowed his love of offspring to get the better of his
love of country; yet in doing so he simply betrayed his other child, for
he well knew what would happen.

[Sidenote: - 15 - ] Upon another revolt of the inhabitants of the island he
summoned the soldiers and bade them invade the rebels' country, killing
whomsoever they should encounter. He added these verses:

"Let none escape utter destruction At our hands. Yea, whatso is found in
the womb of the mother, Child unborn though it be, let it not escape
utter destruction!" [Footnote: Homer's Iliad, VI, verse 57, with a
slight change at the end.]

When this had been done and the Caledonians as well as the Maeatians
revolted, he proceeded with preparations to make war upon them in person.
While he was thus engaged his sickness carried him off on the fourth of
February. [Sidenote: A.D. 211 (a.u. 964)] Antoninus, it is said,
contributed something to the result. Before he closed his eyes he is
reputed to have spoken these words to his children (I shall use the exact
phraseology without embellishment): "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers,
scorn everybody else." After this his body arrayed in military garb was
placed upon a pyre, and as a mark of honor the soldiers and his children
ran about it. Those present who had any military gifts threw them upon it
and the sons applied the fire. Later his bones were put in a jar of purple
stone, conveyed to Rome, and deposited in the tomb of the Antonines. It is
said that Severus sent for the jar a little before his death and after
feeling it over remarked: "Thou shalt hold a man that the world could not

[Sidenote: - 16 - ] He was slow-moulded but strong, though he eventually
grew very weak from gout: mentally he was very keen and very firm. He
wished for more education than he got and for this reason he was sagacious
rather than a good talker. Toward friends not forgetful, to enemies most
oppressive, he was capable of everything that he desired to accomplish but
careless of everything said about him. Hence he gathered money from every
source (save that he killed no one to get it) [and met all necessary
expenditures quite ungrudgingly. He restored very many of the ancient
buildings and inscribed upon them his own name to signify that he had
repaired them so as to be new structures, and from his private funds. Also
he spent a great deal uselessly upon renovating and repairing other
places], erecting, for instance, to Bacchus and Hercules a temple of huge
size. Yet, though his expenses were enormous, he left behind not merely a
few myriad denarii, easily reckoned, but a great many. Again, he rebuked
such persons as were not chaste, even going to the extent of enacting
certain laws in regard to adultery, with the result that there were any
number of prosecutions for that offence. When consul I once found three
thousand entered on the docket. But inasmuch as very few persons appeared
to conduct their cases, he too ceased to trouble his head about it.
Apropos of this, a quite witty remark is reported of the wife of
Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta, when the latter after the
treaty was joking her about the free intercourse of her sex in Britain
with men. Thereupon the foreigner asserted: "We fulfill the necessities of
nature in a much better way than you Roman women. We have dealings openly
with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by
the vilest." This is what the British woman said.

[Sidenote: - 17 - ] The following is the style of life that Severus led in
time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, while it was
still night, and after this he would go to walk, telling and hearing of
the interests of the empire. Then he held court, and separately (unless
there were some great festival); and indeed, he did this very well. Those
on trial were allowed plenty of water [Footnote: The water-clock again.
Compare Book Seventy-one, chapter 6.] and he granted us, his coadjutors,
full liberty to speak. - He continued to preside till noonday. After that
he went riding as much as he could. Next he took some kind of exercise and
a bath. He then consumed a not meagre lunch, either by himself or with his
children. Next, as a rule, he enjoyed a nap. Later he rose, attended to
his remaining duties of administration, and while walking about occupied
himself with discussions of both Greek and Latin lore. Then, toward
evening, he would bathe again and dine with his attendants. Very seldom
did he have any outsider to dinner and only on days when it was quite
unavoidable did he arrange expensive banquets. - He lived sixty-five years,
nine months, and twenty-five days, for he was born on the eleventh of
April. Of this he had ruled seventeen years, eight months and three days.
In fine, he showed himself so active that even expiring he gasped: "Come,
give it to us, if we have anything to do!"

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Online LibraryCassius DioDio's Rome, Volume 5, Books 61-76 (A.D. 54-211) An Historical Narrative Originally Composed in Greek During The Reigns of Septimius Severus, Geta and Caracalla, Macrinus, Elagabalus and Alexander Seve → online text (page 23 of 23)