Puslapio vaizdai

career because he had been unable to make him acquire even that exterior bearing which confers the necessary dignity upon him who exercises great power, to say nothing of the firmness, precision, and force of will required in governing men. Credulous, timorous, impressionable, and at the same time obstinate, gluttonous, and sensual, this erudite, overgrown boy had become in the imperial palace a kind of plaything for everybody, especially for his slaves, who, knowing his defects and his weaknesses, did with him what they wished.

He did not lack the intellectual qualities necessary for governing well, but of the moral qualities he had only one: he was intelligent, and he looked stupid. He was able to consider the great questions of politics, war, and finance with breadth of view, with original and acute intelligence, but he never succeeded in having himself taken seriously by the persons who surrounded him. He dared undertake great projects, like the conquest of Britain, and he lost his head at the wildest fable about conspiracy which one of his intimates told him; he had mind sufficient to govern the empire as well as Augustus and Tiberius. had done, but he could not succeed in getting obedience from four or five slaves or from his own wife.

Such a man was destined to turn out a rather odd emperor, at once great and ridiculous. He made important laws, undertook gigantic public works and conquests of great moment; but in his own house he was a weak husband, incapable of exercising any sort of authority over his wife. With these conjugal weaknesses he seriously compromised the imperial authority, while at the same time he was consolidating it and rendering it illustrious with beautiful and wise achievements, especially in the first seven years of his rule, while he lived with Valeria Messalina.

We must admit in his justification that in this matter he had not been particularly fortunate; for fate had given him to wife a lady who, notwithstanding her illustrious ancestors,—she belonged to one of the greatest families of Rome, related to the family of Augustus,-was not exactly suited to be his companion in the imperial dignity. Every one knows that the name of Valeria Messalina has become in history

synonymous with all the faults and all the vices of which a woman can be guilty. This, as usual, is the result of the envy and malevolence which never offered truce to the family of Augustus as long as any of its members lived. But many of the infamies which are attributed to her are evidently fables, complacently repeated by Tacitus and Suetonius, and easily believed by posterity. But it is certain that if Messalina was not a monster, she was a beautiful woman, capricious, gay, powerful, reckless, avid of luxury and of money, who had never scrupled to abuse the weakness of her husband in any way either by deceiving him or by obliging him to follow her will and her caprice in everything. She was a woman, in short, neither very virtuous nor serious. There are such women at all times and in all social classes, and they are generally considered by the majority not as monsters, but as a pleasing, though dangerous, variety of the feminine sex. Under normal conditions, nevertheless, when the husband exercises a certain energy and sagacity, even the danger which may result from them is relatively slight.

But chance had made of Messalina an empress, and Messalina was not a sufficiently intelligent or serious woman to understand that if she had been able to abuse the weakness of Claudius with impunity while he had been the most obscure member of the imperial family, it was a much more difficult matter to continue to abuse it after he had become the head of the state. It was from this error that all their difficulties arose. Elated by her new position, Messalina more than ever took advantage of her husband's infirmity. She began by starting new dissensions in the imperial family. Claudius had recalled to Rome the two victims of Caligula's Egyptian caprices, Agrippina and Julia Livilla; but if the latter no longer found a brother in Rome to persecute them, they did find their aunt, and they had gained but little by the exchange. Messalina soon took umbrage at the influence which the two sisters acquired over the mind of their weak-willed uncle, and it was not long before Julia Livilla was accused under the lex de adulteriis, and exiled with Seneca, the famous philosopher, whom they wished rightly or wrongly to pass off as her lover. Agrippina, like her mother, was a virtu



ous woman, as is proved by the fact that she could not be attacked with such weapons and was enabled to remain in Rome, though she had to live prudently and beware of her enemy, and much the more as she had only recently become a widow and could therefore not even count upon the protection of a husband. Though Agrippina remained at Rome, she was isolated and reduced to a position of helplessness.

Messalina alone, together with four or five intelligent and unscrupulous freedmen, hedged Claudius about, and there began the period of their common government-a government of incredible waste and extortion. Among these freedmen there were, to be sure, men like Narcissus and Pallas, intelligent and sagacious, who did not aim merely at putting money into their purses, but who helped Claudius to govern the empire properly. Messalina, on the other hand, thought only of acquiring wealth, that she might dissipate it in luxury and pleasures. The wife of the emperor had been seen selling her influence to the sovereign allies and vassals, to all the rich personages of the empire who desired to obtain any sort of favor from the imperial authority; she had been seen bartering with the contractors for public works, mingling in the financial affairs of the state every time that there was any occasion to make money. And with the money

thus amassed she was seen to make ostentatious displays which violated all the prohibitions of the lex sumptuaria, leading a life of unseemly pleasures, in which it is easy to imagine what sort of example of all the finer feminine virtues she set. Claudius either knew nothing of all this or else submitted without protest.

Such an empress, however, could hardly please the public. If those who profited by her dissipations greatly admired Messalina, a lively movement of protest was soon started among the people. Faithful to the great Latin traditions, Rome and Italy wished to see at their emperor's side a lady adorned with all the fairer virtues of the ancient matron-with those virtues, in short, which Livia had personified with such dignity. How could they tolerate this sort of dissipated Bacchante, who should have been condemned to infamy and exile with the many other Roman women who had been faithless to their husbands; who with the effrontery of her unpunished crimes dishonored and rendered ridiculous the imperial authority? To the middle classes the emperor was a semisacred magistrate, charged with maintaining by law and example the purity of the family, fidelity in marital relations, and simplicity of customs.

Now, to their amazement, they saw in the person of the empress all the dissipations, corruptions, and perversions of the


woman who wished to live only for her pleasure, to enjoy her beauty, and to have others enjoy it, enthroned, to the scandal of all honest minds, in the palace of the emperor. Furthermore, it seemed to every one a scandal that one who was an emperor should at the same time be a weak husband; for the simple good sense of the Latins would not admit that a man who could govern an empire should not be able to command a woman. It soon became the general opinion of all reasonable people that Messalina, in the position of Livia upon the Palatine, and with so weak a husband, was not only a scandal, but also a continual menace to the public.

Nevertheless, it would now have been no easy matter, even if the emperor had wished it, to convict an empress of infidelity and disobedience to one of the great laws of Augustus. Caligula was a madman and had been able to secure three divorces, but a wiser emperor would have to think for a long time before rendering public the shame and scandals of his family, especially when confronted with an aristocracy which was as eager to suspect and calumniate as was the aristocracy of Rome. But the problem became hopeless as soon as the emperor did not see or did not wish to see the faults of his wife. Would any one dare to step forward and accuse the empress?

The situation gradually became grave and dangerous. The state, governed with intelligence, but without energy, with vast contradictions and hesitations, was being strengthened along certain lines and was going to pieces along others. The power and extortions of the freedmen were breeding discontent on every hand. Both through what she really did, and what the populace said she had done, Messalina was being transformed by the people into a legendary personage whose infamous deeds aroused general indignation; but all in vain. It now became evident that an empress was virtually invulnerable, and that, once enthroned upon the Palatine, there was no effective means of protesting against the various ways in which she could abuse her lofty position unless the emperor wished to interfere. In its exasperation, the public finally vented upon Claudius the anger which the violence and misconduct of Messalina had aroused. They declared that it was his weakness

which was responsible for her conduct; cies, and attempts at civil war became, as and intrigues, deeds of violence, conspiraSuetonius says, every-day occurrences at Rome.

spreading throughout the state as a result A sense of insecurity and doubt was of the indecision of the emperor, and all began to ask themselves how long a government could last which was small conspiracy or a revolt of the legions mercy of a wanton. They felt that a at the could overthrow it from night to mornof Caligula. All hearts were filled with ing, as it had overthrown the government concluded that since Claudius had not sucsuspicion, distrust, and fear, and many ceeded in relieving the empire of Messalina, it would be well to rid the empire of Claudius.

So for seven years Messalina remained possessed signal merits and accomplished the great weakness of a government which family of Augustus, Claudius was cergreat things. Of all the emperors in the ously threatened, for he lived in continual tainly the one whose life was most seriperil, especially because of his wife. Such a situation could not endure.

scandal, which, if we could believe SueIt finally resolved itself into a tragic tonius and Tacitus, would certainly have which an imagination depraved by power been the most monstrous extravagance to could have abandoned itself. According to these writers, Messalina, at a loss for some new form of dissipation, one fine day took it into her head to marry Silius, a young man with whom she was very much family, and who was the consul-designate. in love, who belonged to a distinguished According to them, for the pleasure of shocking the imperial city with the sacrilege of a bigamous union, she actually did marry him in Rome, with the most solemn religious rites, while Claudius was at Ostia! But is this credible, at least without admitting that Messalina had suddenly gone insane? To what end and for what reason would she have committed heart of popular sentiment? Dissolute, such a sacrilege, which struck at the very cruel, and avaricious Messalina certainly was, but mad she was not. And even if mad, is it conceivable that all those who we are willing to admit that she had gone would have had to lend her their services

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aristocracy declined, and in proportion as the middle classes acquired influence in the state and succeeded in imposing upon it their ideas and sentiments. The passage in Suetonius proves to us that he no longer understood this matrimonial custom, and it is doubtful whether even Tacitus thoroughly understood it. Nor is it improbable that it should have seemed strange even to many of the contemporaries of Claudius. We could therefore explain how, not really understanding what had happened, the historians of the following century should have believed that Messalina had married Silius while she was still the wife of Claudius.

In short, Claudius had been persuaded to divorce Messalina and to marry her to Silius. The passage from Suetonius, if carefully interpreted, clearly tells us this. What means were employed to persuade Claudius to consent to this new marriage we do not know. Suetonius refers to this, but he is not clear. In any case, this point is less important than that other question: Why was Messa

rius under the law of high treason, he had committed suicide. His mother, Sosia Galla, had been condemned to exile on account of her devotion to Agrippina. Starting out with these considerations, and examining acutely the accounts of all the ancient historians, Silvagni concluded that behind this marriage there lay a conspiracy to ruin Claudius and to put Caius Silius in his place. Messalina must sooner or later have felt that the situation was an impossible one, that Claudius was not a sufficiently strong or energetic emperor to

be able to impose the disorganized government of himself and his freedmen upon the empire, and that any day he might fall a prey to a plot or an assassination. What would happen, she must have asked herself, if Claudius, like Caligula, should some day be despatched by a conspiracy? The same fate would doubtless be waiting for her; for having killed him, the conspirators would certainly murder her also. Consequently she took up with the idea of ruining the emperor herself in order to contribute to the elevation of his successor, and thus to preserve at his side the position which she had occupied in the court of Claudius. But once Claudius had been slain, there would be no other member of the family of Augustus old enough to govern. She therefore decided to choose him in a family famous for its devotion to Germanicus and the more popular branch of the house, thus hoping the more easily to win over the legions and the pretorians to the cause of the new emperor. Since the descendants of Drusus were dead, what other option remained to her than to choose a successor in the families of the aristocracy who had shown for them the greatest devotion and love?


From a photograph by Anderson of the bust in the Museo Nazionale


lina, after seven years of empire, willing to divorce Claudius and marry Silius? The problem is not an easy one, but after long examination I have decided to accept with slight modification the explanation given by Umberto Silvagni in his beautiful work, "The Empire and the Women of the Cæsars," a book which contains many original ideas and much acute observation.

Silvagni, who is an excellent student of Roman history, has well brought out how Silius belonged to a family of the aristocracy famous for its devotion to the party of Germanicus and Agrippina. His father, who had been a great friend of Germanicus, had been one of the victims of Sejanus, and accused in the time of Tibe

Thus, for the first time, a woman was

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