The History, 28.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1While the perfidy of the king was exciting these unexpected troubles in Persia, as we have related above, and while war was reviving in the east, sixteen years and rather more after the death of Nepotianus, Bellona, raging through the eternal city, destroyed everything, proceeding from trifling beginnings to the most lamentable disasters. Would that they could be buried in everlasting silence, lest perhaps similar things may some day be again attempted, which will do more harm by the general example thus set than even by the misery they occasion.

2And although after a careful consideration of different circumstances, a reasonable fear would restrain me from giving a minute account of the bloody deeds now perpetrated, yet, relying on the moderation of the present age, I will briefly touch upon the things most deserving of record, nor shall I regret giving a concise account of the fears which the events that happened at a former period caused me.

3In the first Median war, when the Persians had ravaged Asia, they laid siege to Miletus with a vast host, threatening the garrison with torture and death, and at last reduced the citizens to such straits, that they all, being overwhelmed with the magnitude of their distresses, slew their nearest relations, cast all their furniture and movables into the fire, and then threw themselves in rivalry with one another on the common funeral pile of their perishing country.

4A short time afterwards, Phrynichus made this event the subject of a tragedy which he exhibited on the stage at Athens; and after he had been for a short time listened to with complacency, when amid all its fine language the tragedy became more and more distressing, it was condemned by the indignation of the people, who thought that it was insulting to produce this as the subject of a dramatic poem, and that it had been prompted not by a wish to console, but only to remind them to their own disgrace of the sufferings which that beautiful city had endured without receiving any aid from its founder and parent. For Miletus was a colony of the Athenians, and had been established there among the other Ionian states by Neleus, the son of that Codrus who is said to have devoted himself for his country in the Dorian war.

5Let us now return to our subject. Maximinus, formerly deputy prefect of Rome, was born in a very obscure rank of life at Sopianæ, a town of Valeria; his father being only a clerk in the president’s office, descended from the posterity of those Carpi whom Diocletian removed from their ancient homes and transferred to Pannonia.

6After a slight study of the liberal sciences, and some small practice at the bar, he was promoted to be governor of Corsica, then of Sardinia, and at last of Tuscany. From hence, as his successor loitered a long while on his road, he proceeded to superintend the supplying of the eternal city with provisions, still retaining the government of the province; and three different considerations rendered him cautious on his first entrance into office, namely:—

7In the first place, because he bore in mind the prediction of his father, a man pre-eminently skilful in interpreting what was portended by birds from whom auguries were taken, or by the note of such birds as spoke. And he had warned him that though he would rise to supreme authority, he would perish by the axe of the executioner; secondly, because he had fallen in with a Sardinian (whom he himself subsequently put to death by treachery, as report generally affirmed) who was a man skilled in raising up evil spirits, and in gathering presages from ghosts; and as long as that Sardinian lived, he, fearing to be betrayed, was more tractable and mild; lastly, because while he was slowly making his way through inferior appointments, like a serpent that glides underground, he was not yet of power sufficient to perpetrate any extensive destruction or executions.

8But the origin of his arriving at more extensive power lay in the following transaction: Chilo, who had been deputy, and his wife, named Maxima, complained to Olybrius, at that time prefect of the city, asserting that their lives had been attacked by poison, and with such earnestness that the men whom they suspected were at once arrested and thrown into prison. These were Sericus, a musician, Asbolius, a wrestling master, and Campensis, a soothsayer.

9But as the affair began to cool on account of the long-continued violence of some illness with which Olybrius was attacked, the persons who had laid the complaint, becoming impatient of delay, presented a petition in which they asked to have the investigation of their charge referred to the superintendent of the corn-market; and, from a desire for a speedy decision, this request was granted.

10Now, therefore, that he had an opportunity of doing injury, Maximin displayed the innate ferocity which was implanted in his cruel heart, just as wild beasts exhibited in the amphitheatre often do when at length released from their cages. And, as this affair was represented first in various ways, as if in a kind of prelude, and some persons with their sides lacerated named certain nobles, as if by means of their clients and other low-born persons known as criminals and informers, they had employed various artifices for injuring them. This infernal delegate, carrying his investigations to an extravagant length, presented a malicious report to the emperor, in which he told him that such atrocious crimes as many people had committed at Rome could not be investigated nor punished without the severest penalties.

11When the emperor learnt this he was exasperated beyond measure, being rather a furious than a rigorous enemy to vice; and accordingly, by one single edict applying to causes of this kind, which in his arrogance he treated as if they partook of treason, he commanded that all those whom the equity of the ancient law and the judgment of the gods had exempted from examination by torture, should, if the case seemed to require it, be put to the rack.

12And in order that the authority to be established, by being doubled and raised to greater distinction, might be able to heap up greater calamities, he appointed Maximin pro-prefect at Rome, and gave him as colleague in the prosecution of these inquiries, which were being prepared for the ruin of many persons, a secretary named Leo, who was afterwards master of the ceremonies. He was by birth a Pannonian, and by occupation originally a brigand, as savage as a wild beast, and insatiable of human blood.

13The accession of a colleague so much like himself, inflamed the cruel and malignant disposition of Maximin, which was further encouraged by the commission which conferred this dignity on them; so that, flinging himself about in his exultation, he seemed rather to dance than to walk, while he studied to imitate the Brachmans who, according to some accounts, move in the air amid the altars.

14And now the trumpets of intestine discords sounded, while all men stood amazed at the atrocity of the things which were done. Among which, besides many other cruel and inhuman actions so various and so numerous that it is impossible for me to relate them all, the death of Marinus, the celebrated advocate, was especially remarkable. He was condemned to death on a charge which was not even attempted to be supported by evidence, of having endeavoured by wicked acts to compass a marriage with Hispanilla.

15And since I think that perhaps some persons may read this history who, after careful investigation, will object to it that such and such a thing was done before another; or again that this or that circumstance has been omitted, I consider that I have inserted enough, because it is not every event which has been brought about by base people that is worth recording; nor, if it were necessary to relate them all, would there be materials for such an account, not even if the public records themselves were examined, when so many atrocious deeds were common, and when this new frenzy was throwing everything into confusion without the slightest restraint; and when what was feared was evidently not a judicial trial but a total cessation of all justice.

16At this time, Cethegus, a senator, who was accused of adultery, was beheaded, and a young man of noble birth, named Alypius, who had been banished for some trivial misconduct, with some other persons of low descent, were all publicly executed; while every one appeared in their sufferings to see a representation of what they themselves might expect, and dreamt of nothing but tortures, prisons, and dark dungeons.

17At the same time also, the affair of Hymetius, a man of very eminent character, took place, of which the circumstances were as follows. When he was governing Africa as proconsul, and the Carthaginians were in extreme distress for want of food, he supplied them with corn out of the granaries destined for the Roman people; and shortly afterwards, when there was a fine harvest, he without delay fully replaced what he had thus consumed.

18But as at the time of the scarcity ten bushels had been sold to those who were in want for a piece of gold, while he now bought thirty for the same sum, he sent the profit derived from the difference in price to the emperor’s treasury. Therefore, Valentinian, suspecting that there was not as much sent as there ought to have been as the proceeds of this traffic, confiscated a portion of his property.

19And to aggravate the severity of this infliction, another circumstance happened about the same time which equally tended to his ruin. Amantius was a soothsayer of pre-eminent celebrity at that period, and having been accused by some secret informer of being employed by this same Hymetius to offer a sacrifice for some evil purpose, he was brought before a court of justice and put to the rack; but in spite of all his tortures, he denied the charge with steadfast resolution.

20And as he denied it, some secret papers were brought from his house, among which was found a letter in the handwriting of Hymetius, in which he asked Amantius to propitiate the gods by some solemn sacrifices to engage them to make the disposition of the emperor favourable to him; and at the end of the letter were found some reproachful terms applied to the emperor as avaricious and cruel.

21Valentinian learnt these facts from the report of some informers, who exaggerated the offence given, and with very unnecessary vigour ordered an inquiry to be made into the affair; and because Frontinus, the assessor of Hymetius, was accused of having been the instrument of drawing up this letter, he was scourged with rods till he confessed, and then he was condemned to exile in Britain. But Amantius was subsequently convicted of some capital crimes and was executed.

22After these transactions, Hymetius was conducted to the town of Otricoli, to be examined by Ampelius, the prefect of the city, and deputy of Maximin; and when he was on the point of being condemned, as was manifest to every one, he judiciously seized an opportunity that was afforded to him of appealing to the protection of the emperor, and being protected by his name, he came off for the time in safety.

23The emperor, however, when he was consulted on the matter, remitted it to the senate, who examined into the whole affair with justice, and banished him to Boæ, a village in Dalmatia, for which they were visited with the wrath of the emperor, who was exceedingly enraged when he heard that a man whom in his own mind he had condemned to death had been let off with a milder punishment.

24These and similar transactions led every one to fear that the treatment thus experienced by a few was intended for all: and that these evils should not, by being concealed, grow greater and greater till they reached an intolerable height, the nobles sent a deputation consisting of Prætextatus, formerly a prefect of the city, Venustus, formerly deputy, and Minervius, who had been a consular governor, to entreat the emperor not to allow the punishments to exceed the offences, and not to permit any senator to be exposed to the torture in an unprecedented and unlawful manner.

25But when these envoys were admitted into the council chamber, Valentinian denied that he had ever given such orders, and insisted that the charges made against him were calumnies. He was, however, refuted with great moderation by the prætor Eupraxius; and in consequence of this freedom, the cruel injunction that had been issued, and which had surpassed all previous examples of cruelty, was amended.

26About the same time, Lollianus, a youth of tender age, the son of Lampadius, who had been prefect, being accused before Maximin, who investigated his case with great care, and being convicted of having copied out a book on the subject of the unlawful acts (though, as his age made it likely, without any definite plan of using it), was, it seemed, on the point of being sentenced to banishment, when, at the suggestion of his father, he appealed to the emperor; and being by his order brought to court, it appeared that he had, as the proverb has it, gone from the frying-pan into the fire, as he was now handed over to Phalangius, the consular governor of Bætica, and put to death by the hand of the executioner.

27There were also Tarratius Bassus, who afterwards became prefect of the city, his brother Camenius, a man of the name of Marcian, and Eusapius, all men of great eminence, who were prosecuted on the ground of having protected the charioteer Auchenius, and being his accomplices in the act of poisoning. The evidence was very doubtful, and they were acquitted by the decision of Victorinus, as general report asserted; Victorinus being a most intimate friend of Maximin.

28Women too were equally exposed to similar treatment. For many of this sex also, and of noble birth, were put to death on being convicted of adultery or unchastity. The most notorious cases were those of Claritas and Flaviana; the first of whom, when conducted to death, was stripped of the clothes which she wore, not even being permitted to retain enough to cover her with bare decency; and for this the executioner also was convicted of having committed a great crime, and burnt to death.

29Paphius and Cornelius, both senators, confessed that they had polluted themselves by the wicked practice of poisoning, and were put to death by the sentence of Maximin; and by a similar sentence the master of the mint was executed. He also condemned Sericus and Asbolius, who have been mentioned before; and because while exhorting them to name any others who occurred to them, he had promised them with an oath that they should not themselves be punished either by fire or sword, he had them slain by violent blows from balls of lead. After this he also burnt alive Campensis the soothsayer, not having in his case bound himself by any oath or promise.

30Here it is in my opinion convenient to explain the cause which brought Aginatius headlong to destruction, a man ennobled by a long race of ancestors, as unvarying tradition affirms, though no proof of his ancestral renown was ever substantiated.

31Maximin, full of pride and arrogance, and being then also prefect of the corn-market, and having many encouragements to audacity, proceeded so far as to show his contempt for Probus, the most illustrious of all the nobles, and who was governing the provinces with the authority of prefect of the prætorium.

32Aginatius, being indignant at this, and feeling it a hardship that in the trial of causes Olybrius had preferred Maximin to himself, while he was actually deputy at Rome, secretly informed Probus in private letters that the arrogant and foolish man who had thus set himself against his lofty merits, might easily be put down if he thought fit.

33These letters, as some affirm, Probus sent to Maximin, hardened as he was in wickedness, because he feared his influence with the emperor; letting none but the bearer know the business. And when he had read them, the cruel Maximin became furious, and henceforth set all his engines at work to destroy Aginatius, like a serpent that had been bruised by some one whom it knew.

34There was another still more powerful cause for intriguing against him, which ultimately became his destruction. For he charged Victorinus, who was dead, and from whom he had received a very considerable legacy, with having while alive made money of the decrees of Maximin; and with similar maliciousness he had also threatened his wife Anepsia with a lawsuit.

35Anepsia, alarmed at this, and to support herself by the aid of Maximin, pretended that her husband in a will which he had recently made, had left him three thousand pounds weight of silver. He, full of covetousness, for this too was one of his vices, demanded half the inheritance, and afterwards, not being contented with that, as if it were hardly sufficient, he contrived another device which he looked upon as both honourable and safe; and not to lose his hold of the handle thus put in his way for obtaining a large estate, he demanded the daughter of Anepsia, who was the stepdaughter of Victorinus, as a wife for his son; and this marriage was quickly arranged with the consent of the woman.

36Through these and other atrocities equally lamentable, which threw a gloom over the whole of the eternal city, this man, never to be named without a groan, grew by the ruin of numerous other persons, and began to stretch out his hands beyond the limits of lawsuits and trials: for it is said that he had a small cord always suspended from a remote window of the prætorium, the end of which had a loop which was easily drawn tight, by means of which he received secret informations supported by no evidence or testimony, but capable of being used to the ruin of many innocent persons. And he used often to send his officers, Mucianus and Barbarus, men fit for any deceit or treachery, secretly out of his house.

37Who then, as if bewailing some hardship which as they pretended had fallen upon them, and exaggerating the cruelty of the judge, with constant repetition assured those who really lay under execution that there was no remedy by which they could save themselves except that of advancing heavy accusation against men of high rank; because if such men were involved in such accusations, they themselves would easily procure an acquittal.

38In this way, Maximin’s implacable temper overwhelmed those yet in his power; numbers were thrown into prison, and persons of the highest rank were seen with anxious faces and in mourning attire. Nor ought any one of them to be blamed for bowing down to the ground in saluting this monster, when they heard him vociferating with the tone of a wild beast, that no one could ever be acquitted unless he choose.

39For sayings like that, when instantly followed by their natural result, would have terrified even men like Numa, Pompilius, or Cato. In fact things went on in such a way that some persons never had their eyes dried of the tears caused by the misfortunes of others, as often happens in such unsettled and dangerous times.

40And the iron-hearted judge, continually disregarding all law and justice, had but one thing about him which made him endurable; for sometimes he was prevailed upon by entreaties to spare some one, though this too is affirmed to be nearly a vice in the following passage of Cicero. “If anger be implacable, it is the extreme of severity; if it yield to entreaties, it is the extreme of levity; though in times of misfortune even levity is to be preferred to cruelty.”

41After these events, Leo arrived, and was received as his successor, and Maximin was summoned to the emperor’s court and promoted to the office of prefect of the prætorium, where he was as cruel as ever, having indeed greater power of inflicting injury, like a basilisk serpent.

42Just at this time, or not long before, the brooms with which the senate-house of the nobles was swept out were seen to flower, and this portended that some persons of the very lowest class would be raised to high rank and power.

43Though it is now time to return to the course of our regular history, yet without neglecting the proper order of time, we must dwell on a few incidents, which through the iniquity of the deputy prefects of the city, were done most unjustly, being in fact done at the word and will of Maximin by those same officers, who seemed to look on themselves as the mere servants of his pleasure.

44After him came Ursicinus, a man of a more merciful disposition, who, wishing to act cautiously and in conformity to the constitution, confronted a man named Esaias with some others who were in prison on a charge of adultery with Rufina; who had attempted to establish a charge of treason against Marcellus her husband, formerly in a situation of high trust. But this act led to his being despised as a dawdler, and a person little fit to carry out such designs with proper resolution, and so he was removed from his place of deputy.

45He was succeeded by Simplicius of Emona, who had been a schoolmaster, but was now the assessor of Maximin. After receiving this appointment, he did not grow more proud or arrogant, but assumed a supercilious look, which gave a repulsive expression to his countenance. His language was studiously moderate, while he meditated the most rigorous proceedings against many persons. And first of all he put Rufina to death with all the partners of her adultery, and all who were privy to it, concerning whom Ursicinus, as we have related, had already made a report. Then he put numbers of others to death, without any distinction between the innocent and the guilty.

46Running a race of bloodshed with Maximin, as if he had, as it were, been his leader, he sought to surpass him in destroying the noblest families, imitating Busiris and Antæus of old, and Phalaris, so that he seemed to want nothing but the bull of Agrigentum.

47After these and other similar transactions had taken place, a certain matron named Hesychia, who was accused of having attempted some crime, becoming greatly alarmed, and being of a fierce and resolute disposition, killed herself in the house of the officer to whom she was given in custody, by muffling her face in a bed of feathers, and stopping up her nostrils and so becoming suffocated.

48To all these calamities another of no less severity was added. For Eumenius and Abienus, two men of the highest class, having been accused, during Maximin’s term of office, of adultery with Fausiana, a woman of rank, after the death of Victorinus, under whose protection they were safe, being alarmed at the arrival of Simplicius, who was as full of audacity and threats as Maximin, withdrew to some secret hiding place.

49But after Fausiana had been condemned they were recorded among the accused, and were summoned by public edict to appear, but they only hid themselves the more carefully. And Abrenus was for a very long time concealed in the house of Anepsia. But as it continually happens that unexpected accidents come to aggravate the distresses of those who are already miserable, a slave of Anepsia named Apaudulus, being angry because his wife had been flogged, went by night to Simplicius, and gave information of the whole affair, and officers were sent to drag them both from their place of concealment.

50The charge against Abrenus was strengthened by another charge which was brought against him, of having seduced Anepsia, and he was condemned to death. But Anepsia herself, to get some hope of saving her life by at least procuring the delay of her execution, affirmed that she had been assailed by unlawful arts, and had been ravished in the house of Aginatius.

51Simplicius with loud indignation reported to the emperor all that had taken place, and as Maximin, who was now at court, hated Aginatius for the reason which we have already explained, and having his rage increased against him at the same time that his power was augmented, entreated with great urgency that he might be sentenced to death; and such a favour was readily granted to this furious and influential exciter of the emperor’s severity.

52Then fearing the exceeding unpopularity which would fall upon him if a man of patrician family should perish by the sentence of Simplicius, who was his new assessor and friend, he kept the imperial edict for the execution by him for a short time, wavering and doubting whom to pitch upon as a trusty and efficient perpetrator of so atrocious a deed.

53At length, as like usually finds like, a certain Gaul of the name of Doryphorianus was discovered, a man daring even to madness; and as he promised to accomplish the matter in a short time, he obtained for him the post of deputy, and gave him the emperor’s letter with an additional rescript; instructing the man, who though savage had no experience in such matters, how, if he used sufficient speed, he would meet with no obstacle to his slaying Aginatius; though, if there were any delay, he would be very likely to escape.

54Doryphorianus, as he was commanded, hastened to Rome by rapid journeys; and while beginning to discharge the duties of his new office, he exerted great industry to discover how he could put a senator of eminent family to death without any assistance. And when he learnt that he had been some time before found in his own house where he was still kept in custody, he determined to have him brought before him as the chief of all the criminals, with Anepsia, in the middle of the night; an hour at which men’s minds are especially apt to be bewildered by terror; as, among many other instances, the Ajax of Homer shows us, when he expresses a wish rather to die by daylight, than to suffer the additional terrors of the night.

55And as the judge, I should rather call him the infamous robber, intent only on the service he had promised to perform, carried everything to excess, having ordered Aginatius to be brought in, he also commanded the introduction of a troop of executioners; and while the chains rattled with a mournful sound, he tortured the slaves who were already exhausted by their long confinement, till they died, in order to extract from them matter affecting the life of their master; a proceeding which in a trial for adultery our merciful laws expressly forbids.

56At last, when the tortures which were all but mortal had wrung some hints from the maid-servant, without any careful examination of the truth of her words, Aginatius was at once sentenced to be led to execution, and without being allowed to say a word in his defence, though with loud outcries he appealed to and invoked the names of the emperors, he was carried off and put to death, and Anepsia was executed by a similar sentence. The eternal city was filled with mourning for these executions which were perpetrated either by Maximin himself when he was present in the city, or by his emissaries when he was at a distance.

57But the avenging Furies of those who had been murdered were preparing retribution. For, as I will afterwards relate at the proper season, this same Maximin giving way to his intolerable pride when Gratian was emperor, was put to death by the sword of the executioner; and Simplicius also was beheaded in Illyricum. Doryphorianus too was condemned to death, and thrown into the Tullian prison, but was taken from thence by the emperor at his mother’s suggestion, and when he was brought back to his own country was put to death with terrible torments. Let us now return to the point at which we left our history. Such, however, was the state of affairs in the city of Rome.

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