Non parva igitur est prudentiae praerogativa, si quis arte quadam, et decore, specimen sui apud alios exhibere possit: virtutes suas, merita, atque fortunam etiam (quod sine arrogantia aut fastidio fieri possit) commode ostentando; contra, vitia, defectus, infortunia et dedecora, artificiose occultando: illis immorans, easque veluti ad lumen obvertens; his subterfugia quaerens, aut apte ea interpretando eluens; et similia. itaque, de Mutiano, viro sui temporis prudentissimo, et ad res gerendas impigerrimo, Tacitus; ‘omnium quae dixerat feceratque arte quadam ostentator’ [cf. Tacitus, Hist. 2.80]. indiget certe res haec arte nonnulla, ne taedium et contemptum pariat: ita tamen, ut ostentatio quaepiam, licet usque ad vanitatis primum gradum, vitium sit potius in ethicis, quam in politicis. sicut enim dici solet de calumnia ‘audacter calumniare; semper aliquid haeret’, sic dici possit de iactantia, etsi plane deformis fuerit et ridicula: ‘audacter te vendita; semper aliquid haeret.’ Haerebit certe apud populum, licet prudentiores subrideant. Itaque existimatio parta apud plurimos paucorum fastidium abunde compensabit.
(Francis Bacon, De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum 8.2)

It is therefore no unimportant attribute of prudence in a man to be able to set forth to advantage before others, with grace and skill, his virtues, fortunes, and merits (which may be done without arrogance or breeding disgust); and again, to cover artificially his weaknesses, defects, misfortunes, and disgraces; dwelling upon the former and turning them to the light, sliding from the latter or explaining them away by apt interpretations and the like. Tacitus says of Mucianus, the wisest and most active politician of his time, ‘That he had a certain art of setting forth to advantage everything he said or did.’ And it requires indeed some art, lest it become wearisome and contemptible; but yet it is true that ostentation, though carried to the first degree of vanity, is rather a vice in morals than in policy. For as it is said of calumny, ‘Calumniate boldly, for some of it will stick,’ so it may be said of ostentation (except it be in a ridiculous degree of deformity), ‘Boldly sound your own praises, and some of them will stick.’ It will stick with the more ignorant and the populace, though men of wisdom may smile at it; and the reputation won with many will amply countervail the disdain of a few. (tr. Francis Bacon)


Giovanni Muzzioli, La vendetta di Poppea (1876)

Ac puella vicesimo aetatis anno inter centuriones et milites, praesagio malorum iam vitae exempta, nondum tamen morte acquiescebat. paucis dehinc interiectis diebus mori iubetur, cum iam viduam se et tantum sororem testaretur communesque Germanicos et postremo Agrippinae nomen cieret, qua incolumi infelix quidem matrimonium, sed sine exitio pertulisset. restringitur vinclis venaeque eius per omnes artus exsolvuntur; et quia pressus pavore sanguis tardius labebatur, praefervidi balnei vapore enecatur. additurque atrocior saevitia, quod caput amputatum latumque in urbem Poppaea vidit. dona ob haec templis decreta quem ad finem memorabimus?
(Tacitus, Ann. 14.64.1-5)

And the girl*, in the twentieth year of her age, amid centurions and soldiers, already released from life by the presentiment of evil, could nevertheless not yet rest in death. Subsequently, after an interval of a few days, she was ordered to die, although she testified that she was now a widow and no more than a sister, and she invoked the Germanici, whom they had in common, and finally the name of Agrippina, during whose lifetime she had sustained a marriage admittedly unhappy but exempt from extermination. She was restrained with bonds, and the veins in all her limbs were severed; and because her blood, staunched by panic, trickled too slowly, she was executed by means of the steam from an extra-hot bath. And there was the addition of a more frightful savagery, in that her head, amputated and carried into the City, was seen by Poppaea. Gifts were decreed to the temples for this; and for how long shall I be recalling them?

* sc. Octavia.

(tr. Anthony John Woodman)




Sequens hiems saluberrimis consiliis absumpta. namque ut homines dispersi ac rudes eoque in bella faciles quieti et otio per voluptates assuescerent, hortari privatim, adiuvare publice, ut templa fora domos exstruerent, laudando promptos, castigando segnes: ita honoris aemulatio pro necessitate erat. iam vero principum filios liberalibus artibus erudire, et ingenia Britannorum studiis Gallorum anteferre, ut qui modo linguam Romanam abnuebant, eloquentiam concupiscerent. inde etiam habitus nostri honor et frequens toga; paulatimque discessum ad delenimenta vitiorum, porticus et balinea et conviviorum elegantiam. idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset.
(Tacitus, Agr. 21)

The following winter was taken up by measures of a most beneficial kind. His intention was, in fact, that people who lived in widely dispersed and primitive settlements and hence were naturally inclined to war should become accustomed to peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. Hence he gave encouragement to individuals and assistance to communities to build temples, market-places, and town houses. He praised those that responded promptly and censured the dilatory. As a result they began to compete with one another for his approval, instead of having to be compelled. Further, he educated the sons of the leading men in the liberal arts and he rated the natural talents of the Britons above the trained skills of the Gauls. The result was that those who just lately had been rejecting the Roman tongue now conceived a desire for eloquence. Thus even our style of dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. Gradually, too, they went astray into the allurements of evil ways, colonnades and warm baths and elegant banquets. The Britons, who had had no experience of this, called it ‘civilization’, although it was a part of their enslavement. (tr. Anthony Richard Birley)


Munt Tiberius (31 nC) - Damnatio memoriae van Sejanus

Haec vulgo iactata super id, quod nullo auctore certo firmantur, prompte refutaveris. quis enim mediocri prudentia, nedum Tiberius tantis rebus exercitus, inaudito filio exitium offerret, idque sua manu et nullo ad paenitendum regressu? quin potius ministrum veneni excruciaret, auctorem exquireret, insita denique etiam in extraneos cunctatione et mora adversum unicum et nullius ante flagitii compertum uteretur? sed quia Seianus facinorum omnium repertor habebatur, ex nimia caritate in eum Caesaris et ceterorum in utrumque odio quamvis fabulosa et immania credebantur, atrociore semper fama erga dominantium exitus. ordo alioqui sceleris per Apicatam Seiani proditus, tormentis Eudemi ac Lygdi patefactus est, neque quisquam scriptor tam infensus extitit, ut Tiberio obiectaret, cum omnia alia conquirerent intenderentque. mihi tradendi arguendique rumoris causa fuit ut claro sub exemplo falsas auditiones depellerem peteremque ab iis quorum in manus cura nostra venerit, ne divulgata atque incredibilia avide accepta veris neque in miraculum corruptis antehabeant.
(Tacitus, Ann. 4.11)

This was bandied about in public, but, beyond the fact that it is affirmed in no reliable author, you can readily refute it. What man of average prudence—still less Tiberius, practiced as he was in great affairs—would have offered extermination to a son unheard, and that too with his own hand and no recourse for repentance? Would he not rather have racked the server of the poison, searched out its initiator, and finally, given the innate hesitancy and delay with which he treated even outsiders, treated his one and only, who had been discovered in no outrage, with the same? Yet, because Sejanus was considered the deviser of every act, it was owing to Caesar’s excessive affection for him and to everyone else’s hatred of them both that even the most monstrous fantasies were believed—report being always more frightful in relation to one’s departed masters. Besides, the stages of the crime were betrayed by Sejanus’ Apicata and disclosed by the torturing of Eudemus and Lygdus; nor did any writer at all prove so hostile that he cast this imputation at Tiberius, though they raked up and aimed everything else. In my case the reason for transmitting and criticizing the rumor was that on the basis of a resounding example I might dispel false hearsay and ask of those into whose hands my work comes that they should not be hungry to accept well publicized incredibilities nor prefer them to what is genuine and uncorrupted by the miraculous. (tr. Anthony John Woodman)



At Caesar dedicatis per Campaniam templis, quamquam edicto monuisset ne quis quietem eius inrumperet, concursusque oppidanorum disposito milite prohiberentur, perosus tamen municipia et colonias omniaque in continenti sita Capreas se in insulam abdidit trium milium freto ab extremis Surrentini promunturii diiunctam. solitudinem eius placuisse maxime crediderim, quoniam importuosum circa mare et vix modicis navigiis pauca subsidia; neque adpulerit quisquam nisi gnaro custode. caeli temperies hieme mitis obiectu montis quo saeva ventorum arcentur; aestas in favonium obversa et aperto circum pelago peramoena; prospectabatque pulcherrimum sinum, antequam Vesuvius mons ardescens faciem loci verteret. Graecos ea tenuisse Capreasque Telebois habitatas fama tradit. sed tum Tiberius duodecim villarum nominibus et molibus insederat, quanto intentus olim publicas ad curas tanto occultiores in luxus et malum otium resolutus. manebat quippe suspicionum et credendi temeritas quam Seianus augere etiam in urbe suetus acrius turbabat non iam occultis adversum Agrippinam et Neronem insidiis. quis additus miles nuntios, introitus, aperta secreta velut in annales referebat, ultroque struebantur qui monerent perfugere ad Germaniae exercitus vel celeberrimo fori effigiem divi Augusti amplecti populumque ac senatum auxilio vocare. eaque spreta ab illis, velut pararent, obiciebantur.
(Tacitus, Ann. 4.67)

Tiberius had in the meantime finished dedicating the temples in Campania. He had also issued an edict advising people that his peace was not to be disturbed, and crowds of townspeople were kept at bay by soldiers stationed for that purpose. Even so, his distaste for the municipal towns, colonies, and everything lying on the mainland led him to shut himself away on the island of Capreae, which is separated from the tip of the promontory of Surrentum by a strait three miles wide. I am inclined to believe that it was the solitude that pleased him most: surrounded by the sea, the island has no harbours and barely any havens even for smaller craft, and no one could put in there without a sentry knowing about it. The climate is mild during winter because of a mountain barrier by which it is protected from savage gales, and in summer the island is delightful because it is exposed to the west wind and surrounded by open sea. In addition, it enjoyed the view of a beautiful bay, until Mt. Vesuvius’ eruptions changed the landscape. Tradition has it that Greeks colonized the area, and that Capreae was inhabited by the Teleboans. At this time, however, it was Tiberius who settled there, occupying twelve villas, individual structures with their own names and, as totally as he had been engrossed with public affairs, he now similarly relaxed into private extravagances and pernicious leisure. For there still remained his excessive tendency to suspicion and credulity. This Sejanus had persistently cultivated in Rome, as well, and now he was stoking it more fiercely, his traps for Agrippina and Nero no longer kept a secret. Soldiers, assigned to the two, would take note of messages and visits they received, and all their open and private activities, as accurately as for a work of history. Men were actually given the task of advising them to seek refuge with the armies in Germany, or to embrace the statue of the deified Augustus when the Forum was particularly crowded, and call on the people and Senate for help. Such courses of action were rejected, but they were charged with intending to accept them. (tr. John C. Yardley)



Eodem anno Frisii, transrhenanus populus, pacem exuere, nostra magis avaritia quam obsequii impatientes. tributum iis Drusus iusserat modicum pro angustia rerum, ut in usus militaris coria boum penderent, non intenta cuiusquam cura quae firmitudo, quae mensura, donec Olennius e primipilaribus regendis Frisiis impositus terga urorum delegit quorum ad formam acciperentur. id aliis quoque nationibus arduum apud Germanos difficilius tolerabatur, quis ingentium beluarum feraces saltus, modica domi armenta sunt. ac primo boves ipsos, mox agros, postremo corpora coniugum aut liberorum servitio tradebant. hinc ira et questus et postquam non subveniebatur remedium ex bello. rapti qui tributo aderant milites et patibulo adfixi: Olennius infensos fuga praevenit receptus castello cui nomen Flevum; et haud spernenda illic civium sociorumque manus litora Oceani praesidebat.
(Tacitus, Ann. 4.72)

 That same year a people beyond the Rhine, the Frisians, abandoned their peace, more through our rapacity than because they were chafing at their subjection. Drusus had levied from them a modest tribute, taking account of their straitened circumstances: their payment was to be oxhides for military use. However, nobody had paid attention to the firmness or measurements of the hides until Olennius, a man of senior centurion rank who had been appointed to govern the Frisians, chose the skin of the auroch as the yardstick of acceptability. That would even have posed a problem for any other tribes, but in the case of the Germans it was particularly difficult to tolerate in that, while they have woods teeming with huge beasts, their domestic animals are quite small. At first, they were surrendering just the oxen; then it was their lands; and finally it was their wives or children delivered into slavery. From this came rage and protests; and when no relief arrived, war was the solution. The soldiers who were there to take the tribute were kidnapped and nailed to gibbets. Olennius escaped the fury of the Frisians by flight, and was taken in at a fortress called Flevum. There a unit of no mean size, comprising citizens and allies, stood watch over the Ocean coastline. (tr. John C. Yardley)



Simul Veritas pluribus modis infracta, primum inscitia rei publicae ut alienae, mox libidine adsentandi aut rursus odio adversus dominantis. Ita neutris cura posteritatis inter infensos vel obnoxios. sed ambitionem scriptoris facile averseris, obtrectatio et livor pronis auribus accipiuntur; quippe adulationi foedum crimen servitutis, malignitati falsa species libertatis inest. mihi Galba, Otho, Vitellius nec beneficio nec iniuria cogniti. dignitatem nostram a Vespasiano inchoatam, a Tito auctam, a Domitiano longius provectam non abnuerim, sed incorruptam fidem professis neque amore quisquam et sine odio dicendus est. quod si vita suppeditet, principatum divi Nervae et imperium Traiani, uberiorem securioremque materiam, senectuti seposui, rara temporum felicitate ubi sentire quae velis et quae sentias dicere licet.
(Tacitus, Hist. 1.1)

Truth, too, suffered in various ways, thanks first to an ignorance of politics, which now lay outside public control; later came a passion for flattery, or else a hatred of autocrats. Thus, among those who were hostile or subservient, neither extreme cared about posterity. However, although the reader can easily discount a historian’s flattery, there is a ready audience for detraction and spite. Adulation bears the ugly taint of subservience, but malice gives the false impression of being independent. As for myself, Galba, Otho and Vitellius were known to me neither as benefactors nor as enemies. My official career owed its beginning to Vespasian, its progress to Titus and its further advancement to Domitian. I have no wish to deny this; but writers who claim to be honest and reliable must not speak about anybody with either partiality or hatred. If I live, I propose to deal with the reign of the deified Nerva and the imperial career of Trajan. This is a more fruitful and less thorny field, and I have reserved it for my old age. Modern times are indeed happy as few others have been, for we can think as we please, and speak as we think. (tr. Kenneth Wellesley, revised by Rhiannon Ash)


Nero's Torches - Henryk Siemiradzki
Henryk Siemiradzki – Nero’s Torches

Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Chrestianos appellabat. auctor nominis eius Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis convicti sunt. et pereuntibus addita ludibria, ut ferarum tergis contecti laniatu canum interirent †aut crucibus adfixi aut flammandi† atque, ubi defecisset dies, in usum nocturni luminis urerentur. hortos suos ei spectaculo Nero obtulerat, et circense ludicrum edebat, habitu aurigae permixtus plebi vel curriculo insistens. unde quamquam adversus sontes et novissima exempla meritos miseratio oriebatur, tamquam non utilitate publica, sed in saevitiam unius absumerentur.
(Tacitus, Ann. 15.44.2-5)

But neither human resourcefulness nor the emperor’s largesse nor appeasement of the gods could stop belief in the nasty rumour that an order had been given for the fire. To dispel the gossip Nero therefore found culprits on whom he inflicted the most exotic punishments. These were people hated for their shameful offences whom the common people called Christians. The man who gave them their name, Christus, had been executed during the rule of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilatus. The pernicious superstition had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judaea, the starting point of that curse, but in Rome, as well, where all that is abominable and shameful in the world flows together and gains popularity. And so, at first, those who confessed were apprehended, and subsequently, on the disclosures they made, a huge number were found guilty—more because of their hatred of mankind than because they were arsonists. As they died they were further subjected to insult. Covered with hides of wild beasts, they perished by being torn to pieces by dogs; or they would be fastened to crosses and, when daylight had gone, burned to provide lighting at night. Nero had offered his gardens as a venue for the show, and he would also put on circus entertainments, mixing with the plebs in his charioteer’s outfit or standing up in his chariot. As a result, guilty though these people were and deserving exemplary punishment, pity for them began to well up because it was felt that they were being exterminated not for the public good, but to gratify one man’s cruelty. (tr. John C. Yardley)



Ipse quo fidem adquireret nihil usquam perinde laetum sibi, publicis locis struere convivia totaque urbe quasi domo uti. et celeberrimae luxu famaque epulae fuere, quas a Tigellino paratas ut exemplum referam, ne saepius eadem prodigentia narranda sit. igitur in stagno Agrippae fabricatus est ratem, cui superpositum convivium navium aliarum tractu moveretur. naves auro et ebore distinctae, remigesque exoleti per aetates et scientiam libidinum componebantur. volucris et feras diversis e terris et animalia maris  Oceano abusque petiverat. crepidinibus stagni lupanaria adstabant inlustribus feminis completa, et contra scorta visebantur nudis corporibus. iam gestus motusque obsceni; et postquam tenebrae incedebant, quantum iuxta nemoris et circumiecta tecta consonare cantu et luminibus clarescere.
(Tacitus, Ann. 15. 37.1-3)

He himself, to create the impression that no place gave him equal pleasure with Rome, began to serve banquets in the public places and to treat the entire city as his palace. In point of extravagance and notoriety, the most celebrated of the feasts was that arranged by Tigellinus; which I shall describe as a type, instead of narrating time and again the monotonous tale of prodigality. He constructed, then, a raft on the Pool of Agrippa, and superimposed a banquet, to be set in motion by other craft acting as tugs. The vessels were gay with gold and ivory, and the oarsmen were catamites marshalled according to their ages and their libidinous attainments. He had collected birds and wild beasts from the ends of the earth, and marine animals from the ocean itself. On the quays of the lake stood brothels, filled with women of high rank; and, opposite, naked harlots met the view. First came obscene gestures and dances; then, as darkness advanced, the whole of the neighbouring grove, together with the dwelling-houses around, began to echo with song and to glitter with lights. (tr. John Jackson)


red lake

Inter quae nulla palam causa delapsum Camuloduni simulacrum Victoriae ac retro conversum, quasi cederet hostibus. et feminae in furorem turbatae adesse exitium canebant, externosque fremitus in curia eorum auditos; consonuisse ululatibus theatrum visamque speciem in aestuario Tamesae subversae coloniae; iam Oceanus cruento adspectu, dilabente aestu humanorum corporum effigies relictae, ut Britannis ad spem, ita veteranis ad metum trahebantur.
(Tacitus, Ann. 14.32)

At this juncture, for no visible reason, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum fell down – with its back turned as though it were fleeing the enemy. Delirious women chanted of destruction at hand. They cried that in the local senate-house outlandish yells had been heard; the theatre had echoed with shrieks; at the mouth of the Thames a phantom settlement had been seen in ruins. A blood-red colour in the sea, too, and shapes like human corpses left by the ebb tide, were interpreted hopefully by the Britons – and with terror by the settlers. (tr. Michael Grant)