CHAPTER X. INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
His successor was Claudius, made emperor by the Praetorians. He took Augustus for his model, was well disposed, and contributed greatly to the embellishment of the capital. But he was gluttonous and intemperate, and subject to the influence of women and favorites. He was feeble in mind and body. He was married to one of the worst women in history, and Messalina has passed into a synonym for infamy. By this woman he was influenced, and her unblushing effrontery and disgraceful intrigues made the reign unfortunate. She trafficked in the great offices of the state, and sacrificed the best blood of the class to which she belonged. Claudius was also governed by freedmen, who performed such offices as Louis XV. intrusted to his noble vassals. Claudius resembled this inglorious monarch in many respects, and his reign was as disastrous on the morals of the people. When the death of his wife was announced to him at the banquet, he called for wine, and listened to songs and music. But she was succeeded by a worse woman, Agrippina, and the marriage of the emperor with his niece, was a scandal as well as a misfortune. Pliny mentions having seen this empress in a sea-fight on the Fucine Lake, clothed in a soldier's cloak. Daughter of an imperator, sister of another, and consort of a third, she is best known as the mother of Nero, and the patroness of every thing that was shameful in the follies of the times. That an emperor should wed and be ruled by two such infamous women, indicates either weakness or depravity, and both qualities are equally fatal to the welfare of the state over which he was called to rule.
The supreme power then fell into the hands of Nero. He gave the promise of virtue and ability, and Seneca condescended to the most flattering panegyrics; but the prospects of ruling beneficently were soon clouded by the most disgraceful enormities. He destroyed all who were offensive to those who ruled him, even Seneca who had been his tutor. Lost to all dignity and decency, he indulged in the most licentious riots, disguising himself like a slave, and committing midnight assaults. He killed his mother and his aunt, and divorced his wife. He sung songs on the public stage, and was more ambitious of being a good flute-player than a public benefactor. It is even said that he fiddled when Rome was devastated by a fearful conflagration. He built a palace, which covered entirely Mount Esquiline, the vestibule of which contained a colossal statue of himself, one hundred and twenty feet high. His gardens were the scenes of barbarities, and his banqueting halls of orgies which were a reproach to humanity. He wasted the empire by enormous contributions, and even plundered the temples of his own capital. His wife, Poppaea, died of a kick which she received from this monster, because she had petulantly reproved him. Longinus, an eminent lawyer, Lucan the poet, and Petronius the satirist, alike, were victims of his hatred. This last of the Caesars, allied by blood to the imperial house of Julius, killed himself in his thirty-first year, to prevent assassination, to the universal joy of the Roman world, without having done a great deed, or evinced a single virtue. Flute-playing and chariot races were his main diversions, and every public interest was sacrificed to his pleasures, or his vengeance - a man delighting in evil for its own sake.
Nero was succeeded by Galba, who also was governed by favorites. He was a great glutton, exceedingly parsimonious, and very unpopular. In the early stages of his life, he appeared equal to the trust and dignity reposed in him; but when he gained the sovereignty, he proved deficient in those qualities requisite to wield it. Tacitus sums up his character in a sentence. "He appeared superior to his rank before he was emperor, and would have always been considered worthy of the supreme power, if he had not obtained it." He was assassinated after a brief reign.
His successor, Otho, finding himself unequal to the position to which he was elevated, ended his life by suicide. Vitellius, who wore the purple next to him, is celebrated for cruelty and gluttony, and was removed by assassination. Titus and Vespasian were honorable exceptions to the tyrants and sensualists that had reigned since Augustus, but Domitian surpassed all his predecessors in unrelenting cruelty. He banished all philosophers from Rome and Italy, and violently persecuted the Christians, and was dissolute and lewd in his private habits. He also met a violent death from the assassin's dagger, the only way that infamous monsters could be hurled from power. Yet such was the fulsome flattery to which he and all the emperors were accustomed, that Martial addressed this monster, preeminent of all in wickedness and cruelty, -
"To conquer ardent, and to triumph shy,
Fair Victory named him from the polar sky.
Fanes to the gods, to men he manners gave;
Rest to the sword, and respite to the brave;
So high could ne'er Herculean power aspire:
The god should bend his looks to the Tarpeian fire." [Footnote: Book ix. 101. ]
[The latter emperors.]