Sparta: Lycurgus Lawgiver; Beginnings

Generally speaking it is impossible to make any undisputed statement about Lycurgus the Lawgiver, since conflicting accounts have been given of his ancestry, his travels, his death, and above all his activity with respect to his laws and government; but there is least agreement about the period in which the man lived. Some claim that he was in his prime at the same time as Iphitus and was his partner in instituting the Olympic truce. [According to legend, the earliest Olympic Games ere ones in which gods took part. These lapsed, but were revive by Iphitus of Elis-in 776 B.C.E. according to the reckoning made around the year 400 B.C.E. by his fellow Elean, the sophist (or teacher) Hippias. The sacred truce, whereby all greeks were expected to suspend hostilities between each other for the duration of the games anda period both before and afterward, was an essential feature of these and other pan-hellenic games]. But others like Eratosthenes and Apollodrus, who calculate his period by the succession of kings at Sparta, make the claim that he lived a great many years before the first Olympiad. Timæus conjectures that there were two Lycurguses at Sparta at different times, and that the achievements of both were attributed to one because of his renown. The older one might have lived close to Homer’s time: there are some who think that he even met Homer in person. Xenophon, too, suggests a very early date in the passage where he states that Lycurgus lived in the time of the Heraclids. Now of course the most recent Spartan kings were in fact Heraclids by ancestry, Xenophon evidently also wanted to call the first kings Heraclids, as being closely connected with Heracles. Nonetheless, even though this is such a muddled historical topic, we shall attempt to present an account of Lycurgus by following those treatments which offer the smallest contradictions or the most distinguished authorities.
The poet Simonidas maintains that Lucurgus’ father was not Eunomus, but that Lycurgus and Eunomus were the sons of Prytanis. Nearly all other, however, trace his genealogy differently, as follows: Procles, son of Aristodemus, was the father of Soüs; Eurypon was Soüs’ son; Prytanis was Eurypon’s son, Eunomus was Prytanis’ son; Eunomus had Polydectes by is first wife, and Lycurgus was his younger son by a second wife, Dionassa. This is the account given by Dieutychidas, which puts Lycurgus in the fifth generation after Procles and in the tenth after Heracles.
Among his ancestors Soüs was particularly admired: under him the Spartiates both made slaves of the helots and won further extensive Arcadian territory which they annexed. There is a story that when Soüs was being besieged by the Cleitorians in a rugged waterless spot, he agreed to surrender to them the territory which he had gained in the fighting if he and all those with him might drink from the spring nearby. Once the agreement had been confirmed under oath he assembled his men and offered to confer the kingship of the area upon the one who refrained from drinking. Not one, however, possessed such self-restraint, but they all drank. So Soüs went down after everyone else, and with the enemy still there just splashed himself. Then he moved off, but retained control of the land because not everyone had drunk.
Yet even thought he was admired for such act, his families were termed the Eurypontids, not after him but after his son, because Eurypon by courting popularity and ingratiating himself with the masses was evidently the first to relax the excessively autocratic character of the kingship. Syuch relaxation, however, led to a bolder attitude on the part of the people. Among the succeeding kings some were detested for ruling the people by force, while others were merely tolerated because their rule was either partisan or feeble. As a result, for a long period Sparta was gripped by lawlessness and disorder. It was as a consequence of this that Lycurgus’ father, too, met his death while king. He died from being struck by a butchers cleaver in the course of putting a stop to some brawl, and left his throne to his elder son Polydectes.
When Polydectes also died not long after, everyone reckoned that Lycurgus ought to be king. And king he was , until it became obvious that his brother’s widow was pregnant. As soon as he discovered this, he declared that the kingship belonged to the child if it should turn out to be male, while for his own part he would exercise power simply as a guardian: prodikoi [Literally, defenders in legal procceedings]was the term used by the Spartans for the guardians of kings without fathers. The mother, however, in secret communications explained to him her wish to abort the baby on condition that while he remained king of Sparta he would marry her. Though he loathed he morals, he raised no actual objection to the proposal, but pretended a to approve and accept it. He said that there was no need for her to suffer physical harm and to run the risk by inducing miscarriage and taking drugs, since he would ensure that the child should be disposed of as soon as it was born. By this means he continued to mislead the woman right up until the baby was due. Than as soon as he learned that she was in labour, he sent observers to be there at her delivery, as well as guards under orders, that should the baby turn out to be a girl, to hand it over to the women, but if it should be a boy, to bring it to him personally, whatever he might happen to be doing. It so happened that he was having a meal with the magistrates when a boy was born, and the servants appeared bringing him the infant. The story goes that he took him and said to those present: “Spartiates, a king is born to you”. The he laid him in the king’s place and named him Charilaus (Peoples Joy) because everyone, impressed at high-minded and fair Lycurgus was, felt overjoyed.
He was king, them, for eight months altogether. There were other reasons, too, for the citizens to admiration. In fact those devoted to him and willing to carry out his orders promptly because of his personal excellence outnumbered those obedient to him because he was a king’s guardian and had the royal prerogative. Yet there also some jealousy, as well as an effort to obstruct his upward rise when he was young, in particular by the relations and friends of the king’s mother, who felt injured by him. On one occasion her brother Leonidas abused Lycurgus quite offensively and added that he was fully aware of Lycurgus’s intention to become king. Leonidas thus roused suspicion and by his slander laid the ground for accusing Lycurgus of a plot, should the king come to any harm. Similar sorts of remarks were put about the king’s mother too. Since these caused him distress and fear about the uncertain future, he decided to avoid suspicion by going abroad and travelling around until his nephew should come of age and have a son to succeed to his throne.


So he set out and came first to Crete. Here he studied the forms of government and associated with the men of the highest reputations. Among the laws there were those that he admired and took note of with intention of bringing them home and putting them to use, but there were others which he thought little of. By the exercise of charm and friendship he prevailed upon one of those regarded there as shrewd and statesmanlike to undertake a mission to Sparta. This man, Thales, had some reputation as a composer of lyric poetry and had made this art his cover, though in fact his activities were precisely those of the most powerful lawgivers. For his songs were arguments to evoke ready obedience and concord. The Accompanying music and rhythms had a notably regular and soothing quality, so that those who heard them would unconsciously mellow in character. In place of the mutual ill-will which at the time prevailed there, they would instead become habituated to striving communally for excellence. Thus in a sense Thales paved the way for Lycurgus’ instruction of the Spartiates.
From Crete Lycurgus sailed to Asia. We are told that his plan was to compare the frugal, tough way of life in Crete with the extravagance and luxury of Ionia, and to observe the contrast in the ways of life and government– just like a doctor who compares bodies which are fasting or diseased with healthy ones. It was apparently in Ionia that he first encountered the poems of Homer, which Creophylus [Follower or even son-law of Homer] descendants were responsible for preserving. And when he observed that besides their tendencies to unrestrained indulgence they contained political and educational elements which were no less worthy of attention, he enthusiastically had them written down and collected them in order to bring them back home. Homer’s epics had already gained a certain vague reputation among the Greeks, and few individuals had acquired certain portions thanks to chance distribution of these works here and there; but in making known Lycurgus was the first and most successful.
The Egyptians thank that Lycurgus reached them too, and that their separation of the warrior class from the others particularly impressed him–the consequence being that h carried it over to Sparta, and by differentiating labourers and craftsmen demonstrated how genuinely refined and pure his constitution was. There are certainly even some Greek historians who endorse these claims by the Egyptians. Yet so far as I am aware nobody except the Spartiate Aristocrates, the son of Hipparchus, has maintained that Lycurgus also visited Libya and Iberia, and that in his wanderings round India he talked with the Gymnosophist [Literally “naked sophists”; indian philosophers and teachers]


The Spartans missed Lycurgus though out his absence and often summoned him back. To them the kings, while accorded a title an office, were in other ways not superior to the people, whereas Lycurgus they recognized a natural leader with the ability to attract followers. In fact even the kings were not reluctant to see him back again: their hope was that with his presence they would receive less offence from the people. So when Lycurgus did return to the populace in this kind of mod, his immediate attention was to sweep away the existing order and to make a complete change of constitution, since piecemeal legislation would have no effect or value. It was like the case of someone in bodily distress from a whole range of different disorders, who will begin a different, new life only by dissolving and changing his existing make-up with drugs and purges. Once Lycurgus had formed his intention he travelled first to Delphi. And after sacrificing to the god and consulting him, he returned bringing that famous oracle in which the Pythias called him ‘ dear to the gods’ and ‘a god rather than a man’: he had asked for Good order, and she declared that the god granted this and promised that his constitution would be by far the finest of all.


With this encouragement he made approaches to the most distinguished men and invited them to join in the task with him. Initially he conferred with his friends in secret, yet ever so gradually he won over more men and organized them for action. When the moment came, he ordered his thirty foremost men to proceed underarms into the agora at dawn, so as to shock and terrify his opponents. Hermippus has recorded the twenty most distinguished among these men. Arthmiadas is generally named as the one who was particularly associated with Lycurgus in all his operations, and who collaborated with him in formulating legislation. When the disturbance began, King Charilaus took fright because he thought that the whole action was being concerted against him, and so sought sanctuary within the goddess (Athena) in her Bronze House. But once reassured by an oath he emerged, and as a man of mil temperament played a part in Lycurgus’ programe. This mildness is reflected in the story of his fellow king Archelaus, who responded to praise of the youngster by saying “How could Charilaus be a gentleman, when he isn’t hard even on scoundrels?”

The Elders

First and most significant among Lycurgus’ numerous innovations was the institution of the Elders. According to Plato, [gerontes, literally ‘old men’] it’s combination with the king, arrogant rule, and the right to an equal vote on the most important matters, produced security and at the same time sound sense. For the state was unstable, at one moment inclining towards the kings and virtual tyranny, at another towards the people and democracy. But now by placing the office of the Elders in the middle as a kind of ballast, and thus striking a balance, it found the safest arrangement and origination, with the twenty-eight Elders always siding with the kings when it came to matters resisting democracy, yet in turn reinforcing the people against the development of tyranny. According to Aristotle this number of Elders was instituted because two of Lycurgus’ thirty leading associates panicked and abandoned the enterprise. But Sphaerus claims that from the outset there were twenty-eight collaborators in the scheme. Possibly the fact that this number is reached through multiplying seven by four also has something to do with it, as well as the point that being equal to the sum of its own divisors it is the next perfect number after six. Yet in my view the main reason for fixing this number of Elders was so that the total should be thirty when the two kings were added to the twenty-eight.
Lycurgus was so enthusiastic about this council that he brought an oracle about it from Delphi, which they call a rheta. [“a saying” opposed to “a writing”]It goes as follows ‘ after dedicating a temple to Zeus Scyllanis and Athena Scyllania, forming phylai and creating obai, and instituting a Gerousia of thirty including the founder-leaders, then from season to season apellaze between Babyca and Cnacion so as to propose and withdraw. Biut to the people should be long the right to respond as well as power” In this the phrases ; forming phylai’ and ‘ creating obai,’ refer to the division and distribution of the people in to groups, the former of which he termed phylai, the later obai. The ‘founder-leaders’ means the kings, while ‘to apellaze’ means to summon the assembly, because Lycurgus related the origin and source of his constitution to Pythian Apollo. Their present names for Babyca and Cnacion…. And Oinous. Aristotle says that Cnacion is a river, while Babyca is a bridge. It was between these that they used to hold their assemblies: there were no porticoes nor any other edifice. For in his opinion there were in no way conducive to sound deliberations, but instead harmful. They made those who assemble idiotic and give them silly, mindless notions, when at their meetings they can stare at statues and pictures, or else stage theatres, (21)or the richly decorated roofs of council chambers. When the populace was assembled, Lycurgus permitted no one else except the Elders and kings to make aproposal, although the authority to decide upon what the latter put forward did belong to the people. Later, however, when the people distorted proposals and mauled them by their deletions and additions, the kings Polydorus and Theopompus supplemented the rhetra as follows: ‘ if the people should make a crooked choice, the Elders and the founder-leaders are to set it aside’—this is, not to confirm it, but to withdraw if completely and to dismiss the people because they are altering and reformulated the proposal contrary to what was best. Moreover these kings persuaded the city that the god had ordered this supplement—as Tyrtaeus seems to be recalling in the following lines: Having listen to Phoebus they brought home from Pytho, the oracles of the god and his words which were to be fulfilled: To rule in council is for the kings (who esteemed by the gods and whose care is the lovely city of Sparta), And for the aged Elders; but then it is for the common people to respond in turn with straight rhetras’
While Lycurgus had thus incorporated a blend of elements in the constitution, Spartans after his day nonetheless still saw oligarchy as the one that was undiluted and dominate—or ‘ inflated and fervent’ (as Plato puts it) ‘ so that they imposed upon it the authority of the ephors to act as a curb.’ It was apparently about 130 years after Lycurgus’ time that the first ephors were appointed, headed by Elatus, during the reign of Theopompus. [Eurypontid king in the late 8th/early 7th B.C.E. For the Ephorate–a magistracy which Putarch significantly does not attribute to Lycurgus] This is the king about whom they also relate that when his fife criticized him because the kingship he would hand on to his sons would be less than the one he inherited, he replied: ‘No, greater—since it will last longer.’ In fact by its renunciation of excessive authority and the related resentment, the Spartan kingship escaped the danger of suffering the fate which Messenians and Argives inflicted upon their kings, who refused to concede anything, or yield and of their authority to the popular element. Lycurgus’ skill and foresight in this respect are also seen with special clarity in any review of the civil strife and misgovernment among the Spartans’ own kins-men and neighbors, the Messenians and Argives peoples and kings. Initially their circumstances and those of the Spartans had been equal, and in the allocations of land [According to legend there had been a agreed allocation of territories by lot at the time of the original occupation of Messenia, the Argolid and Laconia] they may even to have seemed to gain more than they did. However they did not prosper very long, but though the insolence of their kings on one side and the non-cooperation of their masses on the other, they threw their institutions into complete turmoil—thereby demonstrating what a truly divine blessing the Spartiates enjoyed in the man wo constructed their constitution and blended it for them. Yet these developments came later.


REFERENCE: Lives: Plutarch (Roman name: Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
SOURCE: On Sparta; Translation W/notes by: Richard J. A. Talbert


Roman Empire: After Vitellius’s Fall (Part 21)

(January-July, A.D. 70) The death of Vitellius ended the war without inaugurating peace. The victors remained under arms, and the defeated Vitellians were hunted through the city with implacable hatred, and butchered promiscuously wherever they were found. The streets were choked with corpses; squares and temples ran with blood. Soon the riot knew no restraint; they began to hunt for those who were in hiding and to drag them out. All who were tall and of youthful appearance, whether soldiers or civilians, were cut down indiscriminately. [Because they were taken for members of Vitellius’ German auxiliary cohorts] While their rage was fresh they sated their savage cravings with blood; then suddenly the instinct of greed prevailed. On the pretext of hunting for hidden enemies, they would leave no door unopened and regard no privacy. Thus they began to rifle private houses or else made resistance an excuse for murder. There were plenty of needy citizens, too, and of rascally slaves, who were perfectly ready to betray wealthy householders: others were indicated by their friends. From all sides came cries of mourning and misery. Rome was like a captured city. People even longed to have the insolent soldiery of Otho and Vitellius back again, much as they had been hated. The Flavian generals, who had fanned the flame of civil war with such energy, were incapable of using their victory temperately. In riot and disorder the worst characters take the lead; peace and quiet call for the highest qualities.

Domitian having secured the title and the official residence of a Caesar, did not as yet busy himself with serious matters, but in his character of emperor’s son devoted himself to dissolute intrigues. Arrius Varus took command of the Guards, but the supreme authority rested with Antonius Primus. He removed money and slaves from the emperor’s house as though he were plundering Cremona. The other generals, from excess of modesty or lack of spirit, shared neither the distinctions of the war nor the profits of peace.

People in Rome were now so nervous and so resigned to despotism that they demanded that Lucius Vitellius and his force of Guards should be surprised on their way back from Tarracina, and the last sparks of the war stamped out. Some cavalry were sent forward to Aricia, while the column of the legions halted short of Bovillae. [These three towns are all on the Appian Way, Bovillae ten miles from Rome, Aricia sixteen, Tarracina fifty-nine, on the coast] Vitellius, however, lost no time in surrendering himself and his Guards to the conqueror’s discretion, and the men flung away their unlucky swords more in anger than in fear. The long line of prisoners filed through the city between ranks of armed guards. None looked like begging for mercy. With sad, set faces they remained sternly indifferent to the applause or the mockery of the ribald crowd. A few tried to break away, but were surrounded and overpowered. The rest were put in prison. Not one of them gave vent to any unseemly complaint. Through all their misfortunes they preserved their reputation for courage. Lucius Vitellius was then executed. He was as weak as his brother, though during the principate he showed himself less indolent. Without sharing his brother’s success, he was carried away on the flood of his disaster.

At this time Lucilius Bassus was sent off with a force of light horse to quell the disquiet in Campania, which was caused more by the mutual jealousy of the townships than by any opposition to the emperor. The sight of the soldiers restored order. The smaller colonies were pardoned, but at Capua the Third legion [Gallica] was left in winter quarters and some of the leading families fined. [Capua had adhered to Vitellius. Tarracina had been held for Vespasian] Tarracina, on the other hand, received no relief. It is always easier to requite an injury than a service: gratitude is a burden, but revenge is found to pay. Their only consolation was that one of Vergilius Capito’s slaves, who had, as we have seen, betrayed the town, was hanged on the gallows with the very rings[The insignia of equestrian rank] on his fingers which Vitellius had given him to wear.

At Rome the senate decreed to Vespasian all the usual prerogatives of the principate. [ The chief of these were the powers of tribune, pro-consul, and censor, and the title of Augustus] They were now happy and confident. Seeing that the civil war had broken out in the provinces of Gaul and Spain, and after causing a rebellion first in Germany and then in Illyricum, had spread to Egypt, Judaea, Syria, [Vindex had risen in Gaul; Galba in Spain; Vitellius in Germany; Antonius Primus in the Danube provinces (Illyricum); Vespasian and Mucianus in Judaea, Syria, and Egypt.] and in fact to all the provinces and armies of the empire, they felt that the world had been purged as by fire and that all was now over. Their satisfaction was still further enhanced by a letter from Vespasian, which at first sight seemed to be phrased as if the war was still going on. Still his tone was that of an emperor, though he spoke of himself as a simple citizen and gave his country all the glory. The senate for its part showed no lack of deference. They decreed that Vespasian himself should be consul with Titus for his colleague, and on Domitian they conferred the praetorship with the powers of a consul. [This was necessary in the absence of Vespasian and Titus]

Mucianus had also addressed a letter to the senate which gave rise to a good deal of talk. If he were a private citizen, why adopt the official tone? He could have expressed the same opinions a few days later from his place in the House. Besides, his attack on Vitellius came too late to prove his independence, and what seemed particularly humiliating for the country and insulting to the emperor was his boast that he had held the empire in the hollow of his hand, and had given it to Vespasian. However, they concealed their ill-will and made a great show of flattery, decreeing to Mucianus in the most complimentary terms full triumphal honours, which were really given him for his success against his fellow countrymen, though they trumped up an expedition to Sarmatia as a pretext. [A triumph could, of course, be held only for victories over a foreign enemy. Here the pretext was the repulse of the Dacians] On Antonius Primus they conferred the insignia of the consulship, and those of the praetorship on Cornelius Fuscus and Arrius Varus. Then came the turn of the gods: it was decided to restore the Capitol. These proposals were all moved by the consul-designate, Valerius Asiaticus. [Vitellius’ son-in-law] The others signified assent by smiling and holding up their hands, though a few, who were particularly distinguished, or especially practised in the art of flattery, delivered set speeches. When it came to the turn of Helvidius Priscus, the praetor-designate, he expressed himself in terms which, while doing honour to a good emperor, were perfectly frank and honest. [In the text some words seem to be missing here, but the general sense is clear] The senate showed their keen approval, and it was this day which first won for him great disfavour and great distinction.

Since I have had occasion to make a second allusion to a man whom I shall often have to mention again, [If Tacitus ever told the story of his banishment and death, his version has been lost with the rest of his history of Vespasian’s reign] it may be well to give here a brief account of his character and ideals, and of his fortune in life. Helvidius Priscus came from the country town of Cluviae. [In Samnium] His father had been a senior centurion in the army. From his early youth Helvidius devoted his great intellectual powers to the higher studies, not as many people do, with the idea of using a philosopher’s reputation as a cloak for indolence, [i.e. shirking the duties of public life] but rather to fortify himself against the caprice of fortune when he entered public life. He became a follower of that school of philosophy [i.e. the Stoic] which holds that honesty is the one good thing in life and sin the only evil, while power and rank and other such external things, not being qualities of character, are neither good nor bad. He had risen no higher than the rank of quaestor when Paetus Thrasea chose him for his son-in-law, and of Thrasea’s virtues he absorbed none so much as his independence. As citizen, senator, husband, son-in-law, friend, in every sphere of life he was thoroughly consistent, always showing contempt for money, stubborn persistence in the right, and courage in the face of danger.

Some people thought him too ambitious, for even with philosophers the passion for fame is often their last rag of infirmity. After Thrasea’s fall Helvidius was banished, but he returned to Rome under Galba and proceeded to prosecute Eprius Marcellus, who had informed against his father-in-law. This attempt to secure a revenge, as bold as it was just, divided the senate into two parties, for the fall of Marcellus would involve the ruin of a whole army of similar offenders. At first the struggle was full of recrimination, as the famous speeches on either side testify; but after a while, finding that Galba’s attitude was doubtful and that many of the senators begged him to desist, Helvidius dropped the prosecution. On his action in this matter men’s comments varied with their character, some praising his moderation, others asking what had become of his tenacity.

To return to the senate: at the same meeting at which they voted powers to Vespasian they also decided to send a deputation to address him. This gave rise to a sharp dispute between Helvidius Priscus and Eprius Marcellus. The former thought the members of the deputation ought to be nominated by magistrates acting under oath; Marcellus demanded their selection by lot. The consul-designate had already spoken in favour of the latter method, but Marcellus’ motive was personal vanity, for he was afraid that if others were chosen he would seem slighted. Their exchange of views gradually grew into a formal and acrimonious debate. Helvidius inquired why it was that Marcellus was so afraid of the magistrates’ judgement, seeing that he himself had great advantages of wealth and of eloquence over many others. Could it be the memory of his misdeeds that so oppressed him? The fall of the lot could not discern character: but the whole point of submitting people to the vote and to scrutiny by the senate was to get at the truth about each man’s life and reputation. In the interest of the country, and out of respect to Vespasian, it was important that he should be met by men whom the senate considered beyond reproach, men who would give the emperor a taste for honest language. Vespasian had been a friend of Thrasea, Soranus, and Sentius, [Soranus, like Thrasea, was a Stoic who opposed the government mainly on moral grounds. The story of their end is told in the “Annals”, Book XVI. Sentius was presumably another member of their party] and even though there might be no need to punish their prosecutors, still it would be wrong to put them forward. Moreover, the senate’s selection would be a sort of hint to the emperor whom to approve and whom to avoid. ‘Good friends are the most effective instruments of good government. Marcellus ought to be content with having driven Nero to destroy so many innocent people. Let him enjoy the impunity and the profit he has won from that, and leave Vespasian to more honest advisers.’

Marcellus replied that the opinion which was being impugned was not his own. The consul-designate had already advised them to follow the established precedent, which was that deputations should be chosen by lot, so that there should be no room for intrigue or personal animosity. Nothing had happened to justify them in setting aside such an ancient system. Why turn a compliment to the emperor into a slight upon someone else? Anybody could do homage. What they had to avoid was the possibility that some people’s obstinacy might irritate the emperor at the outset of his reign, while his intentions were undecided and he was still busy watching faces and listening to what was said. ‘I have not forgotten,’ he went on, ‘the days of my youth or the constitution which our fathers and grandfathers established. [He refers to Augustus’ regularization of the principate] But while admiring a distant past, I support the existing state of things. I pray for good emperors, but I take them as they come. As for Thrasea, it was not my speech but the senate’s verdict which did for him. Nero took a savage delight in farces like that trial, and, really, the friendship of such an emperor cost me as much anxiety as banishment did to others. In fine, Helvidius may be as brave and as firm as any Brutus or Cato; I am but a senator and we are all slaves together. Besides, I advise my friend not to try and get an upper hand with our emperor or to force his tuition on a man of ripe years, [Fifty-nine] who wears the insignia of a triumph and is the father of two grown sons. Bad rulers like absolute sovereignty, and even the best of them must set some limit to their subjects’ independence.’

This heated interchange of arguments found supporters for both views. The party which wanted the deputies chosen by lot eventually prevailed, since even the moderates were anxious to observe the precedent, and all the most prominent members tended to vote with them, for fear of encountering ill-feeling if they were selected.

This dispute was followed by another. The Praetors, who in those days administered the Treasury, [The administration of this office was changed several times in the first century of the empire. Here we have a reversion to Augustus’ second plan. Trajan restored Augustus’ original plan–also adopted by Nero–of appointing special Treasury officials from the ex-praetors.] complained of the spread of poverty in the country and demanded some restriction of expenditure. The consul-designate said that, as the undertaking would be so vast and the remedy so difficult, he was in favour of leaving it for the emperor. Helvidius maintained that it ought to be settled by the senate’s decision. When the consuls began to take each senator’s opinion, Vulcacius Tertullinus, one of the tribunes, interposed his veto, on the ground that they could not decide such an important question in the emperor’s absence. Helvidius had previously moved that the Capitol should be restored at the public cost, and with the assistance of Vespasian. The moderates all passed over this suggestion in silence and soon forgot it, but there were others who took care to remember it. [His offence lay in assigning to the emperor a merely secondary position]

It was at this time that Musonius Rufus brought an action against Publius Celer on the ground that it was only by perjury that he had secured the conviction of Soranus Barea.[Described in the “Annals”,] It was felt that this trial restarted the hue and cry against professional accusers. But the defendant was a rascal of no importance who could not be sheltered, and, moreover, Barea’s memory was sacred. Celer had set up as a teacher of philosophy and then committed perjury against his pupil Barea, thus treacherously violating the very principles of friendship which he professed to teach. The case was put down for the next day’s meeting. [Celer was convicted] But now that a taste for revenge was aroused, people were all agog to see not so much Musonius and Publius as Priscus and Marcellus and the rest in court.

Thus the senate quarreled; the defeated party nursed their grievances; the winners had no power to enforce their will; law was in abeyance and the emperor absent. This state of things continued until Mucianus arrived in Rome and took everything into his own hands. This shattered the supremacy of Antonius and Varus, for, though Mucianus tried to show a friendly face towards them, he was not very successful in concealing his dislike. But the people of Rome, having acquired great skill in detecting strained relations, had already transferred their allegiance. Mucianus was now the sole object of their flattering attentions. And he lived up to them. He surrounded himself with an armed escort, and kept changing his house and gardens. His display, his public appearances, the night-watch that guarded him, all showed that he had adopted the style of an emperor while forgoing the title. The greatest alarm was aroused by his execution of Calpurnius Galerianus, a son of Caius Piso. [C. Piso had conspired against Nero, A.D. 65] He had attempted no treachery, but his distinguished name and handsome presence had made the youth a subject of common talk, and the country was full of turbulent spirits who delighted in revolutionary rumours and idly talked of his coming to the throne. Mucianus gave orders that he should be arrested by a body of soldiers, and to avoid a conspicuous execution in the heart of the city, they marched him forty miles along the Appian road, where they severed his veins and let him bleed to death. Julius Priscus, who had commanded the Guards under Vitellius, committed suicide, more from shame than of necessity. Alfenus Varus survived the disgrace of his cowardice. [They had both abandoned their camp at Narnia] Asiaticus, who was a freedman, paid for his malign influence by dying the death of a slave.[ i.e. he was crucified]


REFERENCE: The Histories (Book 4) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus: Translated w/Notation: By W. HAMILTON FYFE (1912)
CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick