William Hogarth, Decimation

Fuit igitur superbus et sanguinarius et volens militariter imperare, incusans quin etiam superiorum temporum disciplinam ac solum Severum prae ceteris laudans. nam et in crucem milites tulit et servilibus suppliciis semper adfecit et, cum seditiones militares pateretur, milites saepius decimavit, aliquando etiam centesimavit, quod verbum proprium ipsius est, cum se clementem diceret, quando eos centesimaret qui digni essent decimatione atque vicensimatione. longum est eius crudelitates omnes aperire, attamen unam ostendam non magnam, ut ipse credebat, sed omnibus tyrannicis inmanitatibus tristiorem. cum quidam milites ancillam hospitis iam diu pravi pudoris adfectassent, idque per quendam frumentarium ille didicisset, adduci eos iussit interrogavitque utrum esset factum. quod cum constitisset, duos boves mirae magnitudinis vivos subito aperiri iussit atque his singulos milites inseri capitibus, ut secum conloqui possent, exsertis; itaque poena hos adfecit, cum ne adulteris quidem talia apud maiores vel sui temporis essent constituta supplicia.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Opelli Macrini 12.1-5)

Macrinus, then, was arrogant and bloodthirsty and desirous of ruling in military fashion. He found fault even with the discipline of former times and lauded Severus alone above all others. For he even crucified soldiers and always used the punishments meted out to slaves, and when he had to deal with a mutiny among the troops, he usually decimated the soldiers—but sometimes he only centimated them. This last was an expression of his own, for he used to say that he was merciful in putting to death only one in a hundred, whereas they deserved to have one in ten or one in twenty put to death. It would be too long to relate all his acts of brutality, but nevertheless I will describe one, no great one in his belief, yet one which was more distressing than all his tyrannical cruelties. There were some soldiers who had had intercourse with their host’s maid-servant, who for some time had led a life of ill-repute. Learning of their offence through one of his spies, he commanded them to be brought before him and questioned them as to whether it were really true. When their guilt was proved, he gave orders that two oxen of extraordinary size should be cut open rapidly while still alive, and that the soldiers should be thrust one into each, with their heads protruding so that they could talk to each other. In this way he inflicted punishment on them, though neither our ancestors nor the men of his own time ever ordained any such penalty, even for those guilty of adultery. (tr. David Magie)



Aiunt quidam, quod et veri simile videtur, Commodum Antoninum, successorem illius ac filium, non esse de eo natum sed de adulterio,ac talem fabellam vulgari sermone contexunt: Faustinam quondam, Pii filiam, Marci uxorem, cum gladiatores transire vidisset, unius ex his amore succensam, cum longa aegritudine laboraret, viro de amore confessam. quod cum ad Chaldaeos Marcus rettulisset, illorum fuisse consilium, ut occiso gladiatore sanguine illius sese Faustina sublavaret atque ita cum viro concumberet. quod cum esset factum, solutum quidem amorem, natum vero Commodum gladiatorem esse, non principem, qui mille prope pugnas publice populo inspectante gladiatorias imperator exhibuit, ut in vita eius docebitur. quod quidem veri simile ex eo habetur quod tam sancti principis filius iis moribus fuit quibus nullus lanista, nullus scaenicus, nullus arenarius, nullus postremo ex omnium dedecorum ac scelerum colluvione concretus. multi autem ferunt Commodum omnino ex adulterio natum, si quidem Faustinam satis constet apud Caietam condiciones sibi et nauticas et gladiatorias elegisse. de qua cum diceretur Antonino Marco, ut eam repudiaret, si non occideret, dixisse fertur “si uxorem dimittimus, reddamus et dotem”. dos autem quid habebatur? imperium, quod ille ab socero volente Hadriano adoptatus acceperat. tantum sane valet boni principis vita sanctitas tranquillitas pietas ut eius famam nullius proximi decoloret invidia. denique Antonino, cum suos mores semper teneret neque alicuius insusurratione mutaretur, non obfuit gladiator filius, uxor infamis; deusque etiam nunc habetur, ut vobis ipsis, sacratissime imperator Diocletiane, et semper visum est et videtur, qui eum inter numina vestra non ut ceteros sed specialiter veneramini ac saepe dicitis, vos vita et clementia tales esse cupere qualis fuit Marcus, etiamsi philosophia nec Plato esse possit, si revertatur in vitam. et quidem haec breviter et congeste.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Marci Aureli Antonini 19)

Some say, and it seems plausible, that Commodus Antoninus, his son and successor, was not begotten by him, but in adultery; they embroider this assertion, moreover, with a story current among the people. On a certain occasion, it was said, Faustina, the daughter of Pius and wife of Marcus, saw some gladiators pass by, and was inflamed for love of one of them; and afterwards, when suffering from a long illness, she confessed the passion to her husband. And when Marcus reported this to the Chaldeans, it was their advice that Faustina should bathe in his blood and thus couch with her husband. 4 When this was done, the passion was indeed allayed, but their son Commodus was born a gladiator, not really a prince; for afterwards as emperor he fought almost a thousand gladiatorial bouts before the eyes of the people, as shall be related in his life. This story is considered plausible, as a matter of fact, for the reason that the son of so virtuous a prince had habits worse than any trainer of gladiators, any play-actor, any fighter in the arena, anything brought into existence from the offscourings of all dishonour and crime. Many writers, however, state that Commodus was really begotten in adultery, since it is generally known that Faustina, while at Caieta, used to choose out lovers from among the sailors and gladiators. When Marcus Antoninus was told about this, that he might divorce, if not kill her, he is reported to have said “If we send our wife away, we must also return her dowry”. And what was her dowry? The Empire, which, after he had been adopted at the wish of Hadrian, he had inherited from his father-in-law Pius. But truly such is the power of the life, the holiness, the serenity, and the righteousness of a good emperor that not even the scorn felt for his kin can sully his own good name. For since Antoninus held ever to his moral code and was moved by no man’s whispered machinations, men thought no less of him because his son was a gladiator, his wife infamous. Even now he is called a god, which ever has seemed and even now seems right to you, most venerable Emperor Diocletian, who worship him among your divinities, not as you worship the others, but as one apart, and who often say that you desire, in life and gentleness, to be such a one as Marcus, even though, as far as philosophy is concerned, Plato himself, were he to return to life, could not be such a philosopher. So much, then, for these matters, told briefly and concisely. (tr. David Magie)



“Claudius Broccho. delevimus trecenta viginti milia Gothorum, duo milia navium mersimus. tecta sunt flumina scutis, spathis et lanceolis omnia litora operiuntur. campi ossibus latent tecti, nullum iter purum est, ingens carrago deserta est. tantum mulierum cepimus ut binas et ternas mulieres victor sibi miles possit adiungere. et utinam Gallienum non esset passa res publica! utinam sescentos tyrannos non pertulisset! salvis militibus, quos varia proelia sustulerunt, salvis legionibus quas Gallienus male victor occidit, quantum esset additum rei publicae! si quidem nunc membra naufragii publici colligit nostra diligentia ad Romanae rei publicae salutem.”
(Historia Augusta, Vita Claudii Gothici 8.4-9.2)

“From Claudius to Brocchus. We have destroyed three hundred and twenty thousand Goths, we have sunk two thousand ships. The rivers are covered over with their shields, all the banks are buried under their swords and their spears. The fields are hidden beneath their bones, no road is clear, their mighty waggon-train has been abandoned. We have captured so many women that the victorious soldiers can take for themselves two or three apiece. And would that the commonwealth had not had to endure Gallienus! Would that it had not had to bear six hundred pretenders! Had but those soldiers been saved who fell in divers battles, those legions saved which Gallienus destroyed, disastrously victorious, how much strength would the state have gained! Now, indeed, my diligence has but gathered together for the preservation of the Roman commonwealth the scattered remains of the shipwrecked state.” (tr. David Magie)



Iocabatur sane ita cum servis ut eos iuberet millena pondo sibi aranearum deferre proposito praemio, collegisseque dicitur decem milia pondo aranearum, dicens et hinc intellegendum quam magna esset Roma.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Heliogabali 26.6)

He used, too, to play jokes on his slaves, even ordering them to bring him a thousand pounds of spider-webs and offering them a prize; and he collected, it is said, ten thousand pounds, and then remarked that one could realize from that how great a city was Rome. (tr. David Magie)



Nomen eius, id est Antonini, erasum est senatu iubente remansitque Varii Heliogabali, si quidem illud adfectato retinuerat, cum vult videri filius Antonini. appellatus est post mortem Tiberinus et Tractaticius et Impurus et multa, si quando ea erant designanda quae sub eo facta videbantur. solusque omnium principum et tractus est et in cloacam missus et in Tiberim praecipitatus. quod odio communi omnium contigit, a quo speciatim cavere debent imperatores, si quidem nec sepulchra mereantur qui amorem senatus populi ac militum non merentur.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Heliogabali 17.4-7)

His name, that is to say the name Antoninus, was erased from the public records by order of the senate – though the name Varius Elagabalus was left -, for he had used the name Antoninus without valid claim, wishing to be thought the son of Antoninus. After his death he was dubbed the Tiberine, the Dragged, the Filthy, and many other such names, all of which were to signify what seemed to have been done during his rule. And he was the only one of all the emperors whose body was dragged through the streets, thrust into a sewer, and hurled into the Tiber. This befell him as the result of the general hatred of all, against which particularly emperors must be on their guard, since those who do not win the love of the senate, the people, and the soldiers do not win the right of burial. (tr. David Magie)



Addit etiam illud, quod vinctum fasciola Aurelianum aquila innoxie de cunis levaverit et in aram posuerit, quae iuxta sacellum forte sine ignibus erat. idem auctor est vitulum matri eius natum mirae magnitudinis, candidum sed purpurantibus maculis, ita ut haberet in latere uno “ave” et in alio coronam.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Aureliani 4.6-7)

This, too, is related, that Aurelian, while wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, was lifted out of his cradel by an eagle, but without suffering harm, and was laid on an altar in a neighbouring shrine which happened to have no fire upon it. The same writer asserts that on his mother’s land a calf was born of marvellous size, white but with purple spots, which formed on one side the word “hail,” on the other side a crown. (tr. David Magie)