The Life of Augustus, 57–67

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

« Suet. Aug. 46–56 | Suet. Aug. 57–67 | Suet. Aug. 68–78 | About This Work »

57It may readily be imagined how much he was beloved because of this admirable conduct. I say nothing of decrees of the senate, which might seem to have been dictated by necessity or by awe. The Roman knights celebrated his birthday of their own accord by common consent, and always for two successive days. All sorts and conditions of men, in fulfillment of a vow for his welfare, each year threw a small coin into the Lacus Curtius, and also brought a New Year’s gift to the Capitol on the Kalends of January, even when he was away from Rome. With this sum he bought and dedicated in each of the city wards costly statues of the gods, such as Apollo Sandaliarius, Jupiter Tragoedus, and others. 2To rebuild his house on the Palatine, which had been destroyed by fire, the veterans, the guilds, the tribes, and even individuals of other conditions gladly contributed money, each according to his means; but he merely took a little from each pile as a matter of form, not more than a denarius from any of them. On his return from a province they received him not only with prayers and good wishes, but with songs. It was the rule, too, that whenever he entered the city, no one should suffer punishment.

58The whole body of citizens with a sudden unanimous impulse proffered him the title of Father of his Country: first the commons, by a deputation sent to Antium, and then, because he declined it, again at Rome as he entered the theatre, which they attended in throngs, all wearing laurel wreaths; the senate afterwards in the House, not by a decree or by acclamation, but through Valerius Messala. 2He, speaking for the whole body, said: “Good fortune and divine favour attend thee and thy house, Caesar Augustus; for thus we feel that we are praying for lasting prosperity for our country and happiness for our city. The senate in accord with the people of Rome hails thee Father of thy Country.” Then Augustus with tears in his eyes replied as follows (and I have given his exact words, as I did those of Messala): “Having attained my highest hopes, Fathers of the Senate, what more have I to ask of the immortal gods than that I may retain this same unanimous approval of yours to the very end of my life.”

59In honour of his physician, Antonius Musa, through whose care he had recovered from a dangerous illness, a sum of money was raised and Musa’s statue set up beside that of Aesculapius. Some householders provided in their wills that their heirs should drive victims to the Capitol and pay a thank-offering in their behalf, because Augustus had survived them, and that a placard to this effect should be carried before them. Some of the Italian cities made the day on which he first visited them the beginning of their year. Many of the provinces, in addition to temples and altars, established quinquennial games in his honour in almost every one of their towns.

60His friends and allies among the kings each in his own realm founded a city called Caesarea, and all joined in a plan to contribute the funds for finishing the temple of Jupiter Olympius, which was begun at Athens in ancient days, and to dedicate it to his Genius; and they would often leave their kingdoms and show him the attentions usual in dependents, clad in the toga and without the emblems of royalty, not only at Rome, but even when he was travelling through the provinces.

61Now that I have shown how he conducted himself in civil and military positions, and in ruling the State in all parts of the world in peace and in war, I shall next give an account of his private and domestic life, describing his character and his fortune at home and in his household from his youth until the last day of his life.

2He lost his mother during his first consulship and his sister Octavia in his fifty-fourth year. To both he showed marked devotion during their lifetime, and also paid them the highest honours after their death.

62In his youth he was betrothed to the daughter of Publius Servilius Isauricus, but when he became reconciled with Antony after their first quarrel, and their troops begged that the rivals be further united by some tie of kinship, he took to wife Antony’s stepdaughter Claudia, daughter of Fulvia by Publius Clodius, although she was barely of marriageable age; but because of a falling out with his mother-in-law Fulvia, he divorced her before they had begun to live together. 2Shortly after that he married Scribonia, who had been wedded before to two ex-consuls, and was a mother by one of them. He divorced her also, “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition,” as he himself writes, and at once took Livia Drusilla from her husband Tiberius Nero, although she was with child at the time; and he loved and esteemed her to the end without a rival.

63By Scribonia he had a daughter Julia, by Livia no children at all, although he earnestly desired issue. One baby was conceived, but was prematurely born. He gave Julia in marriage first to Marcellus, son of his sister Octavia and hardly more than a boy, and then after his death to Marcus Agrippa, prevailing upon his sister to yield her son-in-law to him; for at that time Agrippa had to wife one of the Marcellas and children from her. 2When Agrippa also died, Augustus, after considering various alliances for a long time, even in the equestrian order, finally chose his stepson Tiberius, obliging him to divorce his wife, who was with child and by whom he was already a father. Mark Antony writes that Augustus first betrothed his daughter to his son Antonius and then to Cotiso, king of the Getae, at the same time asking for the hand of the king’s daughter for himself in turn.

64From Agrippa and Julia he had three grandsons, Gaius, Lucius, and Agrippa, and two granddaughters, Julia and Agrippina. He married Julia to Lucius Paulus, the censor’s son, and Agrippina to Germanicus his sister’s grandson. Gaius and Lucius he adopted at home, privately buying them from their father by a symbolic sale, and initiated them into administrative life when they were still young, sending them to the provinces and the armies as consuls elect. 2In bringing up his daughter and his granddaughters he even had them taught spinning and weaving, and he forbade them to say or do anything except openly and such as might be recorded in the household diary. He was most strict in keeping them from meeting strangers, once writing to Lucius Vinicius, a young man of good position and character: “You have acted presumptuously in coming to Baiae to call on my daughter.” 3He taught his grandsons reading, swimming, and the other elements of education, for the most part himself, taking special pains to train them to imitate his own handwriting; and he never dined in their company unless they sat beside him on the lowest couch, or made a journey unless they preceded his carriage or rode close by it on either side.

65But at the height of his happiness and his confidence in his family and its training, Fortune proved fickle. He found the two Julias, his daughter and granddaughter, guilty of every form of vice, and banished them. He lost Gaius and Lucius within the span of eighteen months, for the former died in Lycia and the latter at Massilia. He then publicly adopted his third grandson Agrippa and at the same time his stepson Tiberius by a bill passed in the assembly of the curiae; but he soon disowned Agrippa because of his low tastes and violent temper, and sent him off to Surrentum.

2He bore the death of his kin with far more resignation than their misconduct. For he was not greatly broken by the fate of Gaius and Lucius, but he informed the senate of his daughter’s fall through a letter read in his absence by a quaestor, and for very shame would meet no one for a long time, and even thought of putting her to death. At all events, when one of her confidantes, a freedwoman called Phoebe, hanged herself at about that same time, he said: “I would rather have been Phoebe’s father.” 3After Julia was banished, he denied her the use of wine and every form of luxury, and would not allow any man, bond or free, to come near her without his permission, and then not without being informed of his stature, complexion, and even of any marks or scars upon his body. It was not until five years later that he moved her from the island to the mainland and treated her with somewhat less rigour. But he could not by any means be prevailed on to recall her altogether, and when the Roman people several times interceded for her and urgently pressed their suit, he in open assembly called upon the gods to curse them with like daughters and like wives. 4He would not allow the child born to his granddaughter Julia after her sentence to be recognized or reared. As Agrippa grew no more manageable, but on the contrary became madder from day to day, he transferred him to an island and set a guard of soldiers over him besides. He also provided by a decree of the senate that he should be confined there for all time, and at every mention of him and of the Julias he would sigh deeply and even cry out:

“Would that I ne’er had wedded and would I had died without offspring”;
and he never alluded to them except as his three boils and his three ulcers.

66He did not readily make friends, but he clung to them with the utmost constancy, not only suitably rewarding their virtues and deserts but even condoning their faults, provided they were not too great. In fact one cannot readily name any of his numerous friends who fell into disgrace, except Salvidienus Rufus, whom he had advanced to a consul’s rank, and Cornelius Gallus, whom he had raised to the prefecture of Egypt, both from the lowest estate. 2The former he handed over to the senate that it might condemn him to death, because he was plotting revolution; the latter he forbade his house and the privilege of residence in the imperial provinces, because of his ungrateful and envious spirit. But when Gallus too died by his own hand, driven to it by the menaces of his accusers and the decrees of the senate, though commending their loyalty and their indignation on his account, Augustus yet shed tears and bewailed his lot, because he alone could not set what limits he chose to his anger with his friends. 3All the rest continued to enjoy power and wealth to the end of their lives, each holding a leading place in his own class, although sometimes differences arose. Not to mention the others, he occasionally found Agrippa lacking in patience and Maecenas in the gift of silence; for the former because of a slight suspicion of coolness and of a preference shown for Marcellus, threw up everything and went off to Mytilene, while the latter betrayed to his wife Terentia the secret of the discovery of the conspiracy of Murena.

4In return he demanded of his friends affection on their part, both in life and after death. For though he was in no sense a legacy-hunter, and in fact could never bring himself to accept anything from the will of a stranger, yet he was highly sensitive in weighing the death-bed utterances of his friends, concealing neither his chagrin if he was left a niggardly bequest or one unaccompanied with compliments, nor his satisfaction, if he was praised in terms of gratitude and affection. Whenever legacies or shares in inheritances were left him by men of any station who had offspring, he either turned them over to the children at once, or if the latter were in their minority, paid the money back with interest on the day when they assumed the gown of manhood or married.

67As patron and master he was no less strict than gracious and merciful, while he held many of his freedmen in high honour and close intimacy, such as Licinus, Celadus, and others. His slave Cosmus, who spoke of him most insultingly, he merely put in irons. When he was walking with his steward Diomedes, and the latter in a panic got behind him when they were suddenly charged by a wild boar, he preferred to tax the man with timorousness rather than with anything more serious, and turned a matter of grave danger into a jest, because after all there was no evil intent. 2But he forced Polus, a favourite freedman of his, to take his own life, because he was convicted of adultery with Roman matrons, and broke the legs of his secretary Thallus for taking five hundred denarii to betray the contents of a letter. Because the tutor and attendants of his son Gaius took advantage of their master’s illness and death to commit acts of arrogance and greed in his province, he had them thrown into a river with heavy weights about their necks.

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