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woman who wished to live only for her which was responsible for her conduct;
at the to command a woman.
It soon became
mercy of a wanton. They felt that a the general opinion of all reasonable peo- small conspiracy or a revolt of the legions ple that Messalina, in the position of Livia could overthrow it from night to mornupon the Palatine, and with so weak a ing, as it had overthrown the government husband, was not only a scandal, but also of Caligula. All hearts were filled with a continual menace to the public.
suspicion, distrust, and fear, and many Nevertheless, it would now have been concluded that since Claudius had not sucno easy matter, even if the emperor had ceeded in relieving the empire of Messawished it, to convict an empress of infidel- lina, it would be well to rid the empire of ity and disobedience to one of the great Claudius. laws of Augustus. Caligula was a mad- So for seven years Messalina remained man and had been able to secure three the great weakness of a government which divorces, but a wiser emperor would have possessed signal merits and accomplished to think for a long time before rendering great things. Of all the emperors in the public the shame and scandals of his fam- family of Augustus, Claudius was cerily, especially when confronted with an tainly the one whose life was most seriaristocracy which was as eager to suspect ously threatened, for he lived in continual and calumniate as was the aristocracy of peril, especially because of his wife. Such Rome. But the problem became hopeless a situation could not endure. as soon as the emperor did not see or did It finally resolved itself into a tragic not wish to see the faults of his wife. scandal, which, if we could believe SueWould any one dare to step forward and tonius and Tacitus, would certainly have accuse the empress?
been the most monstrous extravagance to The situation gradually became grave which an imagination depraved by power and dangerous. The state, governed with could have abandoned itself. According intelligence, but without energy, with vast to these writers, Messalina, at a loss for contradictions and hesitations, was being some new form of dissipation, one fine day strengthened along certain lines and was took it into her head to marry Silius, a going to pieces along others. The power young man with whom she was very much and extortions of the freedmen were in love, who belonged to a distinguished breeding discontent on every hand. Both family, and who was the consul-designate. through what she really did, and what the According to them, for the pleasure of populace said she had done, Messalina shocking the imperial city with the sacriwas being transformed by the people into lege of a bigamous union, she actually did a legendary personage whose infamous marry him in Rome, with the most solemn deeds aroused general indignation; but all religious rites, while Claudius was at in vain. It now became evident that an Ostia! But is this credible, at least withempress was virtually invulnerable, and out admitting that Messalina had sudthat, once enthroned upon the Palatine, denly gone insane? To what end and for there was no effective means of protesting what reason would she have committed against the various ways in which she such a sacrilege, which struck at the very could abuse her lofty position unless the heart of popular sentiment? Dissolute, emperor wished to interfere.
In its exas
cruel, and avaricious Messalina certainly peration, the public finally vented upon was, but mad she was not. And even if Claudius the anger which the violence and we are willing to admit that she had gone misconduct of Viessalina had aroused. mad, is it conceivable that all those who They declared that it was his weakness would have had to lend her their services
fathomable enigma had not Suetonius by ner; for have we not recounted in this chance given us the key to its solution: present history how Livia was dowered "Nam illud omnem fidem excesserit, quod and given in marriage to Augustus by her nuptiis, quas Messalina cum adultero Silio first husband, the grandfather of Claufecerat, tabellas dotis et ipse consigna- dius? The deeding of a wife with a verit” (“For that which would pass all dowry was a part of the somewhat bizarre belief is the fact that in the marriage marriage customs of the Roman aristocwhich Messalina contracted with the adul- racy, which gradually lost ground in the terer Silius, he himself (Claudius) should first and second century of our era in prohave signed the figures for the dowry"). portion as the prestige and power of that
aristocracy declined, and in proportion as rius under the law of high treason, he had the middle classes acquired influence in the committed suicide. His mother, Sosia state and succeeded in imposing upon it Galla, had been condemned to exile on their ideas and sentiments. The passage account of her devotion to Agrippina. in Suetonius proves to us that he no longer Starting out with these considerations, and understood this matrimonial custom, and examining acutely the accounts of all the it is doubtful whether even Tacitus thor- ancient historians, Silvagni concluded that oughly understood it. Nor is it improb- behind this marriage there lay a conspiracy able that it should have seemed strange to ruin Claudius and to put Caius Silius even to many of the contemporaries of in his place. Messalina must sooner or Claudius. We could therefore explain later have felt that the situation was an how, not really understanding what had impossible one, that Claudius was not a happened, the historians of the following sufficiently strong or energetic emperor to century should have
be able to impose the believed that Messa
disorganized governlina had married
ment of himself and Silius while she was
his freedmen upon still the wife of
the empire, and that Claudius.
any day he might In short, Clau
fall a prey to a plot dius had been per
or an assassination. suaded to divorce
What would hapMessalina and to
pen, she must have marry her to Silius.
asked herself, if The passage from
Claudius, like CaligSuetonius, if care
ula, should some day fully interpreted,
be despatched by a clearly tells us this.
conspiracy? The What means were
same fate would employed to per
doubtless be waiting suade Claudius to
for her; for having consent to this new
killed him, the conmarriage we do not
spirators would cerknow. Suetonius re
tainly murder her fers to this, but he
also. Consequently is not clear. In any
she took up with the case, this point is From a photograph by Anderson of the bust
idea of ruining the less important than
emperor herself in that other question: THE PHILOSOPHER SENECA
order to contribute Why was Messa
to the elevation of lina, after seven years of empire, willing his successor, and thus to preserve at his to divorce Claudius and marry Silius? side the position which she had occupied in The problem is not an easy one, but after the court of Claudius. But once Claudius long examination I have decided to accept had been slain, there would be no other with slight modification the explanation member of the family of Augustus old given by Umberto Silvagni in his beautiful enough to govern. She therefore decided work, “The Empire and the Women of to choose him in a family famous for its the Cæsars," a book which contains many devotion to Germanicus and the more poporiginal ideas and much acute observation. ular branch of the house, thus hoping the
Silvagni, who is an excellent student of more easily to win over the legions and the Roman history, has well brought out how pretorians to the cause of the new emSilius belonged to a family of the aristoc- peror. Since the descendants of Drusus racy famous for its devotion to the party were dead, what other option remained to of Germanicus and Agrippina. His fa- her than to choose a successor in the famther, who had been a great friend of Ger- ilies of the aristocracy who had shown for manicus, had been one of the victims of them the greatest devotion and love? Sejanus, and accused in the time of Tibe- Thus, for the first time, a woman was
in the Museo Nazionale
placed at the head of a really vast political and uncertainty, but the choice finally fell conspiracy destined to wrest the supreme upon Agrippina. That choice was signipower from the family of Augustus; and ficant. Agrippina was the niece of Clauthis woman proved her sagacity by know- dius, and marriages between uncle and ing how to organize this great plot so well niece, if not exactly prohibited, were and so opportunely that the most intelli- looked upon by the Romans with a progent and influential among the freedmen found revulsion of feeling. Claudius and of Claudius debated for a long time his freedmen could not have decided to whether they would join her or throw in face this repugnance except for serious their lot with the emperor. So doubtful and important reasons. Among these the seemed the issue of this struggle between most serious was probably that after the the weak husband and the energetic, auda- experience with Messalina, it seemed best cious, and unscrupulous wife! They al- not to go outside the family. An empress lowed Messalina and Silius to enlist belonging to the family would not be so friends and partizans in every part of likely to plot against the descendants of Roman society, to come to an understand- Augustus as had been this strange woman, ing with the prefect of the guards, to ob- who belonged to one of those aristocratic tain the divorce from Claudius, even to families who deeply hated the imperial celebrate their marriage, without opening house. Agrippina, furthermore, was the the eyes of the emperor. Claudius would daughter of Germanicus.
This was probably have been destroyed if at the last powerful recommendation with the people, moment Narcissus had not decided to rush the pretorian cohorts, and the legions. In to the emperor, who was at Ostia, and, by addition, she was intelligent, cultivated, terrifying him in some unspeakable way, simple, and economical; she had grown up had not induced him to stamp out the con- in the midst of political affairs, she knew spiracy with a bold and unexpected stroke. how the empire was governed, and up to There followed one of those periods of this point she had lived a life above rejudicial murder which for more than proach. She seemed to be the woman thirty years had been costing much Roman above all others destined to make the peoblood, and in this slaughter Messalina, ple forget Messalina and to reëstablish too, was overthrown.
among the masses respect for the family of After the discovery of the conspiracy, Augustus, now seriously compromised by Claudius made a harangue to the soldiers, many scandals and dissensions. Furtherin which he told them that as he had not more, she did not seem to suffer too much been very successful in his marriages he by comparison with Livia. did not intend to take another wife. The Claudius asked the senate to authorize proposal was wise, but difficult of execu- marriages between uncles and nieces, as tion, for there were many reasons why the he did not dare to assume the responsiemperor needed to have a woman at his bility of going counter to public sentiside. We very soon find Claudius ment. And thus the daughter of Gersulting his freedmen on the choice of a manicus and the sister of Caligula became new wife. There was much discussion
an empress. (To be continued)