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CHOOSING A VESTAL BY LOT, IN THE HOUSE OF THE VESTAL VIRGINS, FROM TWENTY
FROM THE PAINTING BY HECTOR LE ROUX
lific, less virtuous, and more fiercely divided among themselves by irreconcilable hatreds. This latter was a most serious difficulty; for by marrying into one of these lines, the emperor ran the risk of antagonizing all those other families which were its enemies. The empress, furthermore, must be the model of all the virtues: fruitful, in order to obey the lex de maritandis ordinibus; religious, chaste, and virtuous, that she might not violate the lex de adulteriis; simple and modest, in deference lex sumptuaria. She must be able to rule wisely over the vast household of the emperor, full of his slaves and freedmen, and she must aid her husband in the fulfilment of all those social duties -receptions, dinners, and entertainments which, though serious concerns for every Roman nobleman, were even more serious for the emperor. That she should be stupid or ignorant was of course out of the question. In fact, from this time to the downfall of
to one of the great Roman families, but about whom we have no definite information. We cannot say, therefore, whether or not at the side of a second Augustus she might have become a new Livia. In any case, it is certain that Caligula was not a second Augustus. not a second Augustus. He was probably not so frenzied a lunatic as ancient writers have pictured him, but his was certainly
an extravagant, unbalanced mind, given to excesses, and unhinged by the delirium of greatness, which his coming to the throne had increased the more because it had been conferred upon him at a time when
he was too young and before he had been sufficiently prepared. For many years Caligula had never even hoped to succeed Tiberius; he had continually feared that the fate of his mother and his two brothers was likewise waiting for him. Far from having dreamed that he would be raised to the imperial purple, he had merely desired that he might not have to end his days as an exile on some desert island in the Mediterranean. So much good fortune after the long persecution's of his family profoundly disturbed his mental faculties, which had not originally been well balanced, and it fomented in him that delirium of grandeur which violently directed his desires toward distant Egypt, in the customs of which, rather than in those of Rome, he, in the exaltation of power, sought satisfaction for his imperial vanity. From his earliest youth Caligula had shown a great inclination for the products and the men of that far country, then greatly
Nero the difficulties of the imperial family and its authority arise not so much from the emperors as from their wives; so that it may truly be said that it was the women who unwittingly dragged down to its ruin the great Julio-Claudian house.
But if the difficulty was serious, there never was a man so little fitted and so ill prepared to face it as this young man of twenty-seven who had been exalted to the imperial dignity after the death of Tiberius. Four years before his election as emperor, he had married a certain Julia Claudilla, a lady who doubtless belonged
admired and greatly feared by the Romans. For instance, we know that all his servants were Egyptians, and that Helicon, his most faithful and influential freedman, was an Alexandrian. But shortly after his elevation this admiration for the land of the Ptolemies and the Pharaohs broke forth into a furor of Egyptian exoticism, which impelled him to an attempt to bring his own reign into connection with the policies of his greatgrandfather Mark Antony. He sought to introduce into Rome the ideas, the customs, the sumptuousness, and the institutions of the Pharaoh-Ptolemaic monarchy; to make of his palace a court similar to that of Alexandria, and of himself a divine king, adored in flesh and blood, as sovereigns were adored on the banks of the Nile.
Caligula was undoubtedly mad, but his madness would have seemed less chaotic and incomprehensible, and a thread of sense would have been discovered even in his excesses and in the ravings of his unsettled mind, if it had been understood that many of his most famous freaks were moved and inspired by this Egyptian idea and tendency. In the madness of Caligula, as in the story of Antony and the tragedy of Tiberius, there is forever recurring, under a new form, the great struggle between Italy and the East, between Rome and Alexandria, which can never be divorced from the history of the last century of the republic and the first century of the empire. Whoever carefully sifts out, the separate actions in the disordered conduct of the third Roman emperor will easily rediscover the thread of this idea and the trace of this latent conflict. For instance, we see the new emperor scarcely elected before he introduced the worship of Isis among the official cults of the Roman state, and assigned in the calendar a public festival to Isis. short, he was favoring those Egyptian cults which Tiberius, with his "oldRoman" sympathies, had fiercely combatted. Furthermore, we see Caligula prohibiting the festival in commemoration of the battle of Actium, which had been celebrated every year for more than half a century. At first sight the idea seems absurd, though it must not be considered a caprice; for with this act Caligula was intending to initiate the historical rehabilitation of Mark Antony, the man who had
tried to shift the center of Roman politics from Rome to Alexandria. The emperor meant to make plain to Rome that she was no longer to boast of having humiliated Alexandria with arms, since Alexandria would henceforth be taken as a model in all things.
Just as the dynasty of the Ptolemies had been surrounded by a semi-religious veneration, Caligula, inspired as he was by Egyptian and Ptolemaic conceptions, sought to have this same veneration bestowed upon his entire family-that family which under Tiberius had been persecuted and defamed by suits and decimated by suicides made necessary through the envy of the aristocracy, which was forever unwilling to forgive its too great prestige. Caligula not only hastened to set out in person to gather up the bones of Agrippina, his mother, and of his brother, in order to bring them to Rome and deposit them piously in the tomb of Augustus, that was a natural duty of filial piety, but he also prohibited any one to name among his ancestors the great Agrippa, the builder of the Pantheon, because his very obscure origin seemed a blot upon the semi-divine purity of his race. He had the title of Augusta and all the privileges of the vestal virgins bestowed upon his grandmother Antonia, the daughter of Mark Antony and the faithful friend of Tiberius; he had these same vestal privileges bestowed upon his three sisters, Agrippina, Drusilla, and Livilla; he had assigned to them a privileged position equal to his own at the games in the circus; he even had it decreed that their names should be included in the vows which the magistrates and pontiffs offered every year for the prosperity of the prince and of his people, and that in the prayers for the conservation of his power there should also be included a prayer for their felicity. As if in reaction against the persecutions and the humiliations which the imperial family had suffered under Tiberius, even the sisters of the emperor acquired a sacred character and a privileged position in the state.
At Rome this was an innovation contrary to the republican spirit and traditions, and was inspired by the conceptions and sentiments of Oriental monarchies. It cannot be denied that the transition from atrocious persecutions to divine hon
ors was somewhat sudden, but this is merely a further proof that Caligula was endowed with a violent, impulsive, and irreflective temperament. In any case, there was neither scandal nor protest at the time. No one was sorry that all the purveyors of voluptuousness-mimes, singers, actors, dancers of both sexes, cooks, and puppets-should with noisy joy break into the imperial palace, which had been official, severe, and cold under Tiberius, and bring back pleasure, luxury, and festivals. The economical and joyless government of Tiberius had wearied all, and in the first months of his reign Caligula was therefore popular.
ity, and praise quickly aroused all that was warped and excessive in his nature, and very soon, as he showed at the end of the year 37, he took up with an idea which must have seemed to the Romans a horrible impiety. His wife had died soon after he became emperor. Another marriage seemed obligatory, and he decided that he would marry his sister Drusilla.
Historians have represented this intention as the perverse delirium of an unbridled sensuality. It was certainly the gross act of a madman, but there was perhaps more politics in his madness than perversity; for it was an attempt to introduce into Rome the dynastic marriages between
A BRONZE SESTERTIUS (SLIGHTLY ENLARGED) SHOWING THE SISTERS OF
In truth, if he, still harking back to Egyptian ideas and customs, had been content with surrounding his family, especially its women, with a respect which would have protected them against the infamous accusations and iniquitous persecutions to which many had fallen victims, he might have had credit for an action which was good, just, and useful to the state. That strange condition of affairs which had been growing up under Tiberius was both absurd and dangerous to the country: the emperor was honored with extraordinary powers and made the object of a semi-religious veneration; but his family, and especially its women, were, as a sort of retribution, set outside the laws and fiercely assailed in a thousand insidious ways. But the lunatic Caligula was not the man to keep even a wise proposal within reasonable limits. Power, popular
brothers and sisters which had been the constant tradition of the Ptolemies and the Pharaohs of Egypt. This Oriental custom certainly seems a horrible aberration to us, who have been educated according to the strict and austere doctrines of Christianity, which, inheriting in these matters the fine flower of Greco-Latin ideas, has purified and rendered them more rigorous. But for centuries and centuries in Egypt,that is, in the most ancient of the Mediterranean civilizations,-this horrible aberration was looked upon as a sovereign privilege which brought the royal dynasty into relationship with the gods. By means of it, this family preserved the semi-divine purity of its blood; and perchance this custom, which had survived up to the fall of the Ptolemies, was only the projection of ideas and customs which in most ancient times had had a much wider diffusion in
the Mediterranean world, for traces of it can be found even in Greek mythology. For were not Jupiter and Juno, who constituted the august Olympian couple, at the same time also brother and sister? Gradually restricted through the spreading of Greek civilization, this custom was finally eradicated on the shores of the Mediterranean by Rome after the destruction of the kingdom of the Ptolemies.
The lunatic Caligula now suddenly took it into his head to transplant this custom to Rome-to transplant it with all the religious pomp of the Egyptian monarchy, and thus transform the family of Augustus, which up to the present had been merely the most eminent family of the Roman aristocracy, into a dynasty of gods and demigods, whose members were to be united by marriage among themselves in order not to pollute the celestial purity of their blood. A fraternal and divine pair were to rule at Rome, like another Arsinoë and Ptolemy, whom the Alexandrian throngs had worshiped on the banks of the Nile. The idea had already matured in his mind at the end of the year 37, and among his three sisters he had already chosen Drusilla to be his wife. This is proved by a will made at the time of an illness which he contracted in the autumn of the first year of his rule. In this will he appointed Drusilla heir not only of his goods, but also of the empire, a wild folly from the point of view of Roman ideas, which did not admit women to the government; but it proves that Caligula already thought and acted like an Egyptian king.
It is easy to understand why the peace and harmony which had been reëstablished for a moment in the troubled imperial family by the advent of Caligula should have been of brief duration. His grandmother and his sisters were Romans, educated in Roman ideals, and this exotic madness of his could inspire in them only an irresistible horror. This brought confusion into the imperial family, and after having suffered the persecutions of Sejanus and his party, the unhappy daughters of Germanicus found themselves in the toils of the exacting caprices of their brother. In fact, in 38, Caligula had already broken with his grandmother Antonia, whom the year before he had had proclaimed Augusta; and between the years 38 and
39, catastrophes followed one another in the family with frightful rapidity. His sister Drusilla, whom, as Suetonius tells us, he already treated as a lawful wife, died suddenly of some unknown malady while still very young. It is not improbable that her health may have been ruined by the horror of the wild adventure, which was neither human nor Roman, into which her brother sought to drag her by marriage. Caligula suddenly declared her a goddess, to whom all the cities must pay honors. He had a temple built for her, and appointed a body of twenty priests, ten men and ten women, to celebrate her worship; he decreed that her birthday should be a holiday, and he wished the statue of Venus on the Forum to be carved in her likeness.
But in proportion as Caligula became more and more fervid in this adoration of his dead sister, the disagreement between himself and his other two sisters became more embittered. Julia Livilla was exiled in 38; Agrippina, the wife of Domitius Enobarbus, in 39, and about this same time the venerable Antonia died. It was noised about that Caligula had forced her to commit suicide, and that Agrippina and Livilla had taken part in a conspiracy against the life of the emperor. How much truth there may be in these reports it is difficult to say, but the reason for all these catastrophes may be affirmed with certainty. Life in the imperial palace was no longer possible, especially for women, with this madman who was transforming Rome into Alexandria and who wished to marry a sister. Even Tiberius, the son of Drusus and co-heir to the empire with Caligula, was defeated at about this time in some obscure suit, and disappeared.
Caligula therefore remained alone at Rome to represent in the imperial palace the family which only ironically can be considered as the most fortunate in Rome. Of three generations, upon whom fate seemed to have showered all the gifts of life, there remained at his side only Claudius, the clownish old man, the plaything of slaves and freedmen, whom no one molested because all could make game of him. A madman and an imbecile,—or at least one who was reputed such by everybody, --this was all that remained of the family of Augustus seventy years after the battle of Actium.