EXTRAVAGANCE OF ROMAN EMPERORS

CAESAR’S VANITY AND HIGH LIVING


Caesar

On Julius Caesar, Suetonius wrote: ““He is said to have been tall of stature, with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes; sound of health, except that towards the end he was subject to sudden fainting fits and to nightmare as well. He was twice attacked by the falling sickness [morbus comitialis, so-called because an attack was considered sufficient cause for the postponement of elections, or other public business. This is thought to have been epilepsy.] during his campaigns. He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement which troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors. Because of it he used to comb forward his scanty locks from the crown of his head, and of all the honors voted him by the senate and people there was none which he received or made use of more gladly than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times. They say, too, that he was remarkable in his dress; that he wore a senator's tunic [Latus clavus, the broad purple stripe, is also applied to a tunic with the broad stripe. All senators had the right to wear this; the peculiarity in Caesar's case consisted in the long fringed sleeve.] with fringed sleeves reaching to the wrist, and always had a girdle [While a girdle was commonly worn with the ordinary tunic, it was not usual to wear one with the latus clavus.] over it, though rather a loose one; and this, they say, was the occasion of Sulla's mot, when he often warned the nobles to keep an eye on the ill-girt boy. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

Suetonius wrote: “He lived at first in the Subura in a modest house, but after he became pontifex maximus, in the official residence on the Sacred Way. Many have written that he was very fond of elegance and luxury; that having laid the foundations of a countryhouse on his estate at Nemi and finished it at great cost, he tore it all down because it did not suit him in every particular, although at the time he was still poor and heavily in debt; and that he carried tesselated and mosaic floors about with him on his campaigns. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“They say that he was led to invade Britannia by the hope of getting pearls, and that in comparing their size he sometimes weighed them with his own hand; that he was always a most enthusiastic collector of gems, carvings, statues, and pictures by early artists; also of slaves of exceptional figure and training at enormous prices, of which he himself was so ashamed that he forbade their entry in his accounts. It is further reported that in the provinces he gave banquets constantly in two dining halls, in one of which his officers or Greek companions, in the other Roman civilians and the more distinguished of the provincials reclined at table. He was so punctilious and strict in the management of his household, in small matters as well as in those of greater importance, that he put his baker in irons for serving him with one kind of bread and his guests with another; and he inflicted capital punishment on a favorite freedman for adultery with the wife of a Roman eques, although no complaint was made against him.”

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Caesar Worship

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Some moderns do accept that Caesar in his last years encouraged the worship of himself as a god at Rome (following Dio 44.6.5-6, Appian BC 2.106); but this may be a distortion of the indisputable fact that a temple had been erected to clemency or to his clemency. Naturally, being acclaimed as a god by the people of the east (as Caesar was) was seen at Rome as matter of small import. It is true that the Senate declared Caesar to have been a god upon his death, and the popular belief was that a comet seen shortly after his assassination marked his assumption into the heavenly realm (a tale lovingly fostered by Augustus). In short, although there are some distortions, even the most ardent defenders of Caesar must admit that at the end he seems to have become drunk with power and the endless stream of honors heaped upon him by the Senate, and that he ended by making a mockery of Republican practices. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class]

Suetonius wrote: “To an insult which so plainly showed his contempt for the Senate he added an act of even greater insolence; for at the Latin Festival, as he was returning to the city, amid the extravagant and unprecedented demonstrations of the populace, someone in the press placed on his statue a laurel wreath with a white fillet tied to it [an emblem of royalty]; and when Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus, tribunes of the plebeians, gave orders that the ribbon be removed from the wreath and the man taken off to prison, Caesar sharply rebuked and deposed them, either offended that the hint at regal power had been received with so little favor, or, as he asserted, that he had been robbed of the glory of refusing it. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“But from that time on he could not rid himself of the odium of having aspired to the title of monarch, although he replied to the plebeians, when they hailed him as king, "I am Caesar and no king" [with a pun on rex ('king') as a Roman name], and at the Lupercalia, when the consul Marcus Antonius several times attempted to place a crown upon his head as he spoke from the rostra, he put it aside and at last sent it to the Capitol, to be offered to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Nay, more, the report had spread in various quarters that he intended to move to Ilium or Alexandria, taking with him the resources of the state, draining Italia by levies, and leaving the charge of the city to his friends; also that at the next meeting of the Senate Lucius Cotta would announce as the decision of the Fifteen [the quindecimviri sacris faciundis ('college of fifteen priests') in charge of the Sybilline books], that inasmuch as it was written in the books of fate that the Parthians could be conquered only by a king, Caesar should be given that title.”

Extravagance of Cleopatra and Marc Antony


Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra referred to themselves as Dionysus and Osiris and named their children Sun and Moon. They drank, gambled and fished together---according to unflattering Roman historians anyway---and amused themselves by dressing up as servants and painting the town red and, by one account, planned to start their own club "the Society of Inimitable Lovers."

A grandson of one of Antony and Cleopatra's cooks told Plutarch the couple used to have a series of banquets prepared for them so if they didn't like the first it was thrown out and they ate the second. While “white breasts showed through Chinese silk--- they ate “every delicacy, prompted not by hunger but by a mad live of ostentation...served on golden dishes," Antony reportedly rubbed Cleopatra's feet at banquets an adopted her custom of using a golden chamber pot.

Cleopatra once bet Marc Anthony she could give the world's most expensive dinner party and drink $500,000 worth for wine without leaving the table. To win the bet she crushed one of her pearl earrings and drank it in a goblet of wine. That one earring was said to worth 100,000 pounds of silver. Pearls (mostly from the Persian Gulf) were so valuable in ancient times that Roman general Vitellus paid for an entire military campaign by selling one of his mother's pearls. Pliny is the source of that tale.

While Antony and Cleopatra were enjoying themselves, Octavian was building up his army and navy and preparing for a fight.

While Captivated with Cleopatra, Antony Becomes Wasteful and Negligent

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Antony was so captivated by her that, while Fulvia his wife maintained his quarrels in Rome against Caesar by actual force of arms, and the Parthian troops, commanded by Labienus (the king's generals having made him commander-in-chief), were assembled in Mesopotamia, and ready to enter Syria, he could yet suffer himself to be carried away by her to Alexandria, there to keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyments that most costly, as Antiphon says, of all valuables, time. They had a sort of company, to which they gave a particular name, calling it that of the Inimitable Livers. The members entertained one another daily in turn, with all extravagance of expenditure beyond measure or belief. Philotas, a physician of Amphissa, who was at that time a student of medicine in Alexandria, used to tell my grandfather Lamprias that, having some acquaintance with one of the royal cooks, he was invited by him, being a young man, to come and see the sumptuous preparations for supper. So he was taken into the kitchen, where he admired the prodigious variety of all things; but particularly, seeing eight wild boars roasting whole, says he, "Surely you have a great number of guests." The cook laughed at his simplicity, and told him there were not above twelve to sup, but that every dish was to be served up just roasted to a turn, and if anything was but one minute ill-timed, it was spoiled; "And," said he, "maybe Antony will sup just now, maybe not this hour, maybe he will call for wine, or begin to talk, and will put it off. So that," he continued, "it is not one, but many suppers must be had in readiness, as it is impossible to guess at his hour." [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120): Life of Anthony (82-30 B.C.) For “Lives,” written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden MIT]

This was Philotas's story; who related besides, that he afterwards came to be one the medical attendants of Antony's eldest son by Fulvia, and used to be invited pretty often, among other companions, to his table, when he was not supping with his father. One day another physician had talked loudly, and given great disturbance to the company, whose mouth Philotas stopped with this sophistical syllogism: "In some states of fever the patient should take cold water; every one who has a fever is in some state of fever; therefore in a fever cold water should always be taken." The man was quite struck dumb, and Antony's son, very much pleased, laughed aloud, and said, "Philotas, I make you a present of all you see there," pointing to a sideboard covered with plate. Philotas thanked him much, but was far enough from ever imagining that a boy of his age could dispose of things of that value. Soon after, however, the plate was all brought to him, and he was desired to get his mark upon it; and when he put it away from him, and was afraid to accept the present. "What ails the man?" said he that brought it; "do you know that he who gives you this is Antony's son, who is free to give it, if it were all gold? but if you will be advised by me, I would counsel you to accept of the value in money from us; for there may be amongst the rest some antique or famous piece of workmanship, which Antony would be sorry to part with." These anecdotes, my grandfather told us, Philotas used frequently to relate.


Antony and Cleopatra

“To return to Cleopatra; Plato admits four sorts of flattery, but she had a thousand. Were Antony serious or disposed to mirth, she had at any moment some new delight or charm to meet his wishes; at every turn she was upon him, and let him escape her neither by day nor by night. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him; and when he exercised in arms, she was there to see. At night she would go rambling with him to disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant-woman, for Antony also went in servant's disguise, and from these expeditions he often came home very scurvily answered, and sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed who it was. However, the Alexandrians in general liked it all well enough, and joined good-humouredly and kindly in his frolic and play, saying they were much obliged to Antony for acting his tragic parts at Rome, and keeping comedy for them. It would be trifling without end to be particular in his follies, but his fishing must not be forgotten. He went out one day to angle with Cleopatra, and, being so unfortunate as to catch nothing in the presence of his mistress, he gave secret orders to the fishermen to dive under water, and put fishes that had been already taken upon his hooks; and these he drew so fast that the Egyptian perceived it. But, feigning great admiration, she told everybody how dexterous Antony was, and invited them next day to come and see him again. So, when a number of them had come on board the fishing-boats, as soon as he had let down his hook, one of her servants was beforehand with his divers and fixed upon his hook a salted fish from Pontus. Antony, feeling his line give, drew up the prey, and when, as may be imagined, great laughter ensued, "Leave," said Cleopatra, "the fishing-rod, general, to us poor sovereigns of Pharos and Canopus; your game is cities, provinces, and kingdoms."

Caligula (ruled from A.D. 37-41)

Caligula (born A.D. 12, ruled A.D. 37-41) had a great passion for women, gladiator games, chariot racing, theatrical performances, ships and violence. He liked to watch people being tortured and executed and murdered his brother along with countless others. He lasted only four years in power before he was assassinated. Some scholars dismiss accounts of Caligula's excesses as exaggerated by historians and a public that didn't like him. Other than the great ship he built there is no archaeological evidence that he spent more or was more wasteful than other emperors.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Tiberius bequeathed a great surplus to his successor, Caligula, whose enormously extravagant games and spectacles eventually emptied the imperial treasury. In matters of government, Caligula favored a monarchy of Hellenistic type and accepted elaborate honors in Rome and in the provinces. The dissemination of imperial portraiture in the provinces, in sculpture, gems, and coins, was the chief means of political propaganda in the Roman empire, and all of the Julio-Claudians subscribed to the basic imperial image established by Augustus. Even Caligula, who was obsessed with his own appearance, adhered to this formula. His reign of extravagance, oppression, and treason trials ended in his assassination in 41 A.D. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org ]

Caligula’s Outrageous Gladiator Shows

Suetonius wrote: “He gave several gladiatorial shows, some in the amphitheater of Taurus and some in the Saepta, in which he introduced pairs of African and Campanian boxers, the pick of both regions. He did not always preside at the games in person, but sometimes assigned the honor to the magistrates or to friends. He exhibited stage-plays continually, of various kinds and in many different places, sometimes even by night, lighting up the whole city. He also threw about gift-tokens of various kinds, and gave each man a basket of victuals. During the feasting he sent his share to a Roman eques opposite him, who was eating with evident relish and appetite, while to a senator for the same reason he gave a commission naming him praetor out of the regular order. He also gave many games in the Circus, lasting from early morning until evening, introducing between the races now a baiting of panthers and now the manoeuvres of the game called Troy; some, too, of special splendor, in which the Circus was strewn with red and green, while the charioteers were all men of senatorial rank. He also started some games off-hand, when a few people called for them from the neighboring balconies as he was inspecting the outfit of the Circus from the Gelotian house. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) “De Vita Caesarum: Caius Caligula” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Caius Caligula”) written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]


Caligula

Besides this, he devised a novel and unheard of kind of pageant; for he bridged the gap between Baiae and the mole at Puteoli, a distance of about thirty-six hundred paces, by bringing together merchant ships from all sides and anchoring them in a double line, after which a mound of earth was heaped upon them and fashioned in the manner of the Appian Way. Over this bridge he rode back and forth for two successive days, the first day on a caparisoned horse, himself resplendent in a crown of oak leaves, a buckler, a sword, and a cloak of cloth of gold; on the second, in the dress of a charioteer in a car drawn by a pair of famous horses, carrying before him a boy named Dareus, one of the hostages from Parthia, and attended by the entire praetorian guard and a company of his friends in Gallic chariots. I know that many have supposed that Gaius devised this kind of bridge in rivalry of Xerxes, who excited no little admiration by bridging the much narrower Hellespont; others, that it was to inspire fear in Germany and Britain, on which he had designs, by the fame of some stupendous work. But when I was a boy, I used to hear my grandfather say that the reason for the work, as revealed by the emperor's confidential courtiers, was that Thrasyllus the astrologer had declared to Tiberius, when he was worried about his suceessor and inclined towards his natural grandson, that Gaius had no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding about over the gulf of Baiae with horses.

“He also gave shows in foreign lands, Athenian games at Syracuse in Sicily, and miscellaneous games at Lugdunum in Gallia; at the latter place also a contest in Greek and Latin oratory, in which, they say, the losers gave prizes to the victors and were forced to compose eulogies upon them, while those who were least successful were ordered to erase their writings with a sponge or with their tongue unless they elected rather to be beaten with rods or thrown into the neighboring river.

“He completed the public works which had been half finished under Tiberius, namely the temple of Augustus and the theater of Pompeius. He likewise began an aqueduct in the region near Tibur and an amphitheater beside the Saepta, the former finished by his successor Claudius, while the latter was abandoned. At Syracuse he repaired the city walls, which had fallen into ruin through lapse of time, and the temples of the gods. He had planned, besides, to rebuild the palace of Polycrates at Samos, to finish the temple of Didymaean Apollo at Ephesus, to found a city high up in the Alps, but, above all, to dig a canal through the Isthmus in Greece, and he had already sent a chief centurion to survey the work.

Caligula's Insanity and Extravagances

Caligula is believed to have suffered from epilepsy as a child and later had a brain fever that made him mentally ill. He was widely regarded as insane when he was Emperor. He believed himself a god and wasted huge sums of money on senseless projects. To lead his army over the sea he constructed a five-kilometer-long bridge over the Gulf of Baiae, a part of the Bay of Naples, and conducted his soldiers over it in a triumphal procession. According to Suetonius he invited a crowd to the dedication of then bridge and then had them all pushed in the water so he could watch them drown. In spite of his extreme cruelty, Caligula was a greater lover of animals. He named his beloved horse to be consul which some have said is a like a U.S. President naming his pet to the Supreme Court." [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Caligula was perhaps the world's first major league shell collector. When he arrived with his army at the English Channel he decided he would rather look for shells on the beach than conquer the islands on the other side of the channel. He used his entire army to collect shells and he returned to Rome with what he called "the spoils of a conquered ocean." The senate was directed to deposit these spoils among the treasures of the Capitol.

On Lake Nemi, south of Rome, Caligula built a floating palace, with five keels, 140 oak frames, two decks with on an onboard temple that included fluted columns, gilded roof tiles, terra-cotta roof ornaments, marble and ivory decorations and a sculptured terra-cotta frieze with blue, green and yellow paint. In order to exceed the luxuries of Lucullus —a rich politician from the late Roman Republican era — he spent the equivalent of several million dollars on a single meal. Numerous other stories of a similar kind are told.

Suetonius wrote: “In reckless extravagance he outdid the prodigals of all times in ingenuity, inventing a new sort of baths and unnatural varieties of food and feasts; for he would bathe in hot or cold perfumed oils, drink pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar, and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold, declaring that a man ought either to be frugal or Caesar. He even scattered large sums of money among the people from the roof of the Basilica Julia for several days in succession. He also built Liburnian galleys with ten banks of oars, with sterns set with gems, parti-colored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades, and banquet-halls, and even a great variety of vines and fiuit trees; that on board of them he might recline at table from an early hour, and coast along the shores of Campania amid songs and choruses. He built villas and country houses with utter disregard of expense, caring for nothing so much as to do what men said was impossible. So he built moles out into the deep and stormy sea, tunnelled rocks of hardest flint, built up plains to the height of mountains and razed mountains to the level of the plain; all with incredible dispatch, since the penalty for delay was death. To make a long story short, vast sums of money, including the 2,700,000,000 sesterces which Tibelius Caesar had amassed, were squandered by him in less than the revolution of a year. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) “De Vita Caesarum: Caius Caligula” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Caius Caligula”) written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]


Caligula's great luxury boat


Caligula's Self-Deification

Caligula built a bridge from the Palatine hill, where he resided, to the Capitoline, that he might be “next door neighbor to Jupiter” and He threatened to set up his own image in the temple at Jerusalem and to compel the Jews to worship it.

Suetonius wrote: “Chancing to overhear some kings, who had come to Rome to pay their respects to him, disputing at dinner about the nobility of their descent, he cried: "Let there be one Lord, one King." And he came near assuming a crown at once and changing the semblance of a principate into the form of a monarchy. But on being reminded that he had risen above the elevation both of princes and kings, he began from that time on to lay claim to divine majesty; for after giving orders that such statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or their artistic merit, including that of Jupiter of Olympia, should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place, he built out a part of the Palace as far as the Forum, and making the temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped by those who presented themselves; and some hailed him as Jupiter Latiaris. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) “De Vita Caesarum: Caius Caligula” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Caius Caligula”) written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“He also set up a special temple to his own godhead, with priests and with victims of the choicest kind. In this temple was a life-sized statue of the emperor in gold, which was dressed each day in clothing such as he wore himself, The richest citizens used all their influence to secure the priesthoods of his cult and bid high for the honor. The victims were flamingoes, peacocks, black grouse, guinea-hens a and pheasants, offered day by day each after its own kind. At night he used constantly to invite the full and radiant moon to his embraces and his bed, while in the daytime he would talk confidentially with Jupiter Capitolinus, now whispering and then in turn putting his ear to the mouth of the god, now in louder and even angry language; for he was heard to make the threat: "Lift me up, or I'll lift you." But finally won by entreaties, as he reported, and even invited to live with the god, he built a bridge over the temple of the Deified Augustus, and thus joined his Palace to the Capitol. Presently, to be nearer yet, he laid the foundations of a new house in the court of the Capitol.

Caligula Pillages and Imposes Huge Taxes to Pay off His Extravagances

Suetonius wrote: “Having thus impoverished himself, from very need he turned his attention to pillage through a complicated and cunningly devised system of false accusations, auction sales, and imposts. He ruled that Roman citizenship could not lawfully be enjoyed by those whose forefathers had obtained it for themselves and their descendants, except in the case of sons, since "descendants" ought not to be understood as going beyond that degree; and when certificates of the deified Julius and Augustus were presented to him, he waved them aside as old and out of date. He also charged that those estates had been falsely returned, to which any addition had later been made from any cause whatever. If any chief centurions since the beginning of Tiberius' reign had not named that emperor or himself among their heirs, he set aside their wills on the ground of ingratitude; also the testaments of all others, as null and void, if anyone said that they had intended to make Caesar their heir when they died. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) “De Vita Caesarum: Caius Caligula” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Caius Caligula”) written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 405-497, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]


“When he had roused such fear in this way that he came to be named openly as heir by strangers among their intimates and by parents among their children, he accused them of making game of him by continuing to live after such a declaration, and to many of them he sent poisoned dainties. He used further to conduct the trial of such cases in person, naming in advance the sum which he proposed to raise at each sitting, and not rising until it was made up. Impatient of the slightest delay, he once condemned in a single sentence more than forty who were accused on different counts, boasting to Caesonia, when she woke after a nap, of the great amount of business he had done while she was taking her afternoon sleep. Appointing an auction, he put up and sold what was left from all the shows, personally soliciting bids and running them up so high, that some who were forced to buy articles at an enormous price and were thus stripped of their possessions, opened their veins. A well-known incident is that of Aponius Saturninus; he fell asleep on one of the benches, and as the auctioneer was warned by Gaius not to overlook the praetorian gentleman who kept nodding to him, the bidding was not stopped until thirteen gladiators were knocked down to the unconscious sleeper at nine million sesterces.

“When he was in Gaul and had sold at immense figures the jewels, furniture, slaves, and even the freedmen of his sisters who had been condemned to death, finding the business so profitable, he sent to the city for all the paraphernalia of the old palace, seizing for its transportation even public carriages and animals from the bakeries; with the result that bread was often scarce at Rome and many who had cases in court lost them from inability to appear and meet their bail. To get rid of this furniture, he resorted to every kind of trickery and wheedling, now railing at the bidders for avarice and because they were not ashamed to be richer than he, and now feigning regret for allowing common men to acquire the property of princes. Having learned that a rich provincial had paid those who issued the emperor's invitations two hundred thousand sesterces, to be smuggled in among the guests at one of his dinner-parties, he was not in the least displeased that the honor of dining with him was rated so high; but when next day the man appeared at his auction, he sent a messenger to hand him some trifle or other at the price of two hundred thousand sesterces and say that he should dine with Caesar on his personal invitation.

“He levied new and unheard of taxes, at first through the publicans and then, because their profit was so great, through the centurions and tribunes of the praetorian guard; and there was no class of commodities or men on which he did not impose some form of tariff. On all eatables sold in any part of the city he levied a fixed and definite charge; on lawsuits and legal processes begun anywhere, a fortieth part of the sum involved, providing a penalty in case anyone was found guilty of compromising or abandoning a suit; on the daily wages of porters, an eighth; on the earnings of prostitutes, as much as each received for one embrace; and a clause was added to this chapter of the law, providing that those who had ever been prostitutes or acted as panders should be liable to this public tax, and that even matrimony should not be exempt.

“When taxes of this kind had been proclaimed, but not published in writing, inasmuch as many offences were committed through ignorance of the letter of the law, he at last, on the urgent demand of the people, had the law posted up, but in a very narrow place and in excessively small letters, to prevent the making of a copy. To leave no kind of plunder untried, he opened a brothel in his palace, setting apart a number of rooms and furnishing them to suit the grandeur of the place, where matrons and freeborn youths should stand exposed. Then he sent his pages about the fora and basilicas, to invite young men and old to enjoy themselves, lending money on interest to those who came and having clerks openly take down their names, as contributors to Caesar's revenues. He did not even disdain to make money from play, and to increase his gains by falsehood and even by perjury. Having on one occasion given up his place to the player next him and gone into the courtyard, he spied two wealthy Roman knights passing by; he ordered them to be seized at once and their property confiscated and came back exultant, boasting that he had never played in better luck.

“But when his daughter was born, complaining of his narrow means, and no longer merely of the burdens of a ruler but of those of a father as well, he took up contributions for the girl's maintenance and dowry. He also made proclamation that he would receive New Year's gifts, and on the Kalends of January took his place in the entrance to the Palace, to clutch the coins which a throng of people of all classes showered on him by handfuls and lapfuls. Finally, seized with a mania for feeling the touch of money, he would often pour out huge piles of gold pieces in some open place, walk over them barefooted, and wallow in them for a long time with his whole body.

Nero's Buffoonery and Parties


Banquet in Nero's palace

Nero saw himself as great sportsman, musician and poet even though he lacked talent in all of his endeavors. He "soiled the imperial dignity by his buffoonery in the theater...and believed he could use his art to bring his enemies to tears and repentance," wrote Boorstin. He conducted horse races in his palace gardens and "mingled with the public as a charioteer." He even thought about giving up his emperorship and becoming a musician so, people “would adore in me what I am." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

During his monotonous lyre recitals, it was said that he locked the audience in the theater. No one was allowed out for any reason. Once a woman reportedly gave birth in the middle of a performance and Nero kept on playing as if nothing had happened. In A.D. 67, Nero won over 1,100 events. In 66 A.D. he arrived at the Olympics with a retinue of 5000. He entered several events, and with his bodyguards standing ominously close, he won them all. During the chariot race he fell off his mount and all the other contestants stopped until he got back on. He later went on to win the race even though he did not finish."

Tacitus wrote: "Nero...gave feasts in public places as if the whole city were his own home. But the most prodigal and notorious banquet was given by Tigellinus [Nero's advisor]...The entertainment took place on a raft constructed on Marcus Agrippa's lake. It was towed above other vessels, with gold and ivory fittings. Their rowers were degenerates, assorted according to age and vice.On the quays were brothels stocked with high-ranking ladies. Opposite them could be seen naked prostitutes, indecently posturing and gesturing...At nightfall the woods and houses nearby echoed with singing and blazed with lights. Nero was already corrupted by every lust, natural and unnatural."

"A few days later he went through a formal wedding ceremony with one of the perverted gang called Pythagoras. The emperor, in the presence of witnesses, put on the bridal veil. Bowery, marriage bed, wedding torches, all were there. Indeed, everything was public." Nero had three wives. One wife is said to have bathed in donkey milk scented with rose oil.

“Under Caligula, much time and revenues were devoted to extravagant games and spectacles, while under Claudius, the empire—and especially Italy and Rome itself—benefited from the emperor's administrative reforms and enthusiasm for public works programs. Imperial expansion brought about colonization, urbanization, and extension of Roman citizenship in the provinces. The succeeding emperor, Nero, was a connoisseur and patron of the arts. He also extended the frontiers of the empire, but antagonized the upper class and failed to hold the loyalty of the Roman legions. Amid rebellion and civil war, the Julio-Claudian dynasty "came to an inglorious end with Nero's suicide in 68 A.D." \^/

Nero, His Lyre and Music


Suetonius wrote: “Having gained some knowledge of music in addition to the rest of his early education, as soon as he became emperor he sent for Terpnus, the greatest master of the lyre in those days, and after listening to him sing after dinner for many successive days until late at night, he little by little began to practice himself, neglecting none of the exercises which artists of that kind are in the habit of following, to preserve or strengthen their voices. For he used to lie upon his back and hold a leaden plate on his chest, purge himself by the syringe and by vomiting, and deny himself fruits and all foods injurious to the voice. Finally, encouraged by his progress, although his voice was weak and husky, he began to long to appear on the stage, and every now and then in the presence of his intimate friends he would quote a Greek proverb meaning "Hidden music counts for nothing" [Cf., Gell. 13.31.3]. And he made his debut at Neapolis [Arkenberg: modern Naples], where he did not cease singing until he had finished the number which he had begun, even though the theater was shaken by a sudden earthquake shock [It collapsed in consequence, but not until the audience had dispersed; see Tac. Ann. 15.34]. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“In the same city he sang frequently and for several successive days. Even when he took a short time to rest his voice, he could not keep out of sight, but went to the theater after bathing, and dined in the orchestra with the people all about him, promising them in Greek that when he had wet his whistle a bit, he would ring out something good and loud. He was greatly taken, too, with the rhythmic applause of some Alexandrians, who had flocked to Neapolis from a fleet that had lately arrived, and summoned more men from Alexandria. Not content with that, he selected some young men of the order of equites and more than five thousand sturdy young plebeians, to be divided into groups and learn the Alexandrian styles of applause (they called them "the bees," "the roof-tiles," and "the bricks") [The first seems to have derived its name from the sound, which was like the humming of bees, the second and third from clapping hands rounded or hollowed, like roof-tiles, or flat, like bricks or flat tiles], and to ply them vigorously whenever he sang. These men were noticeable for their thick hair and fine apparel; their left hands were bare and without rings, and the leaders were paid four hundred thousand sesterces each.

“Considering it of great importance to appear in Rome as well, he repeated the contest of the Neronia before the appointed time, and when there was a general call for his "divine voice," he replied that if any wished to hear him, he would favor them in the gardens; but when the guard of soldiers which was then on duty seconded the entreaties of the people, he gladly agreed to appear at once. So without delay he had his name added to the list of the lyre-players who entered the contest, and casting his own lot into the urn with the rest, he came forward in his turn, attended by the Prefects of the Guard carrying his lyre, and followed by the tribunes of the soldiers and his intimate friends. Having taken his place and finished his preliminary speech [probably asking for the favorable attention of the audience; cf., Dio, 61.20], he announced through the ex-consul Cluvius Rufus that "he would sing Niobe"; and he kept at it until late in the afternoon, putting off the award of the prize for that event and postponing the rest of the contest to the next year, to have an excuse for singing oftener. But since even that seemed too long to wait, he did not cease to appear in public from time to time. He even thought of taking part in private performances among the professional actors, when one of the praetors offered him a million sesterces. He also put on the mask and sang tragedies representing gods and heroes and even heroines and goddesses, having the masks fashioned in the likeness of his own features or those of the women of whom he chanced to be enamored. Among other themes he sang "Canace in Labor," " Orestes the Matricide," "The Blinding of Oedipus" and the "Frenzy of Hercules." At the last named performance they say that a young recruit, seeing the emperor in mean attire and bound with chains, as the subject required, rushed forward to lend him aid.



Nero, the Great Charioteer

Suetonius wrote: “From his earliest years, he had a special passion for horses and talked constantly about the games in the Circus, though he was forbidden to do so [By his guardians and teachers]. Once, when he was lamenting with his fellow pupils the fate of a charioteer of the "Greens," who was dragged by his horses, and his preceptor scolded him, he told a lie and pretended that he was talking of Hector. At the beginning of his reign he used to play every day with ivory chariots on a board, and he came from the country to all the games, even the most insignificant, at first secretly, and then so openly that no one doubted that he would be in Rome on that particular day. He made no secret of his wish to have the number of prizes increased, and in consequence more races were added and the performance was continued to a late hour, while the managers of the troupes no longer thought it worthwhile to produce their drivers at all except for a full day's racing. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“He soon longed to drive a chariot himself and even to show himself frequently in public; so after a trial exhibition in his gardens before his slaves and the dregs of the populace, he gave all an opportunity of seeing him in the Circus Maximus, one of his freedmen dropping the napkin [the signal for the start] from the place usually occupied by the magistrates. Not content with showing his proficiency in these arts at Rome, he went to Achaia, as I have said, influenced especially by the following consideration. The cities in which it was the custom to hold contests in music had adopted the rule of sending all the lyric prizes to him. These he received with the greatest delight, not only giving audience before all others to the envoys who brought them, but even inviting them to his private table. When some of them begged him to sing after dinner and greeted his performance with extravagant applause, he declared that "the Greeks were the only ones who had an ear for music and that they alone were worthy of his efforts." So he took ship without delay and immediately on arriving at Cassiope made a preliminary appearance as a singer at the altar of Jupiter Cassius, and then went the round of all the contests. “To make this possible, he gave orders that even those which were widely separated in time should be brought together in a single year, so that some had even to he given twice.

On the parade Nero ordered up himself after his victories at the Olympics, Suetonius wrote: “Returning from Greece, since it was at Neapolis that he had made his first appearance, he entered that city with white horses through a part of the wall which had been thrown down, as is customary with victors in the sacred games. In like manner he entered Antium, then Albanum, and finally Rome; but at Rome he rode in the chariot which Augustus had used in his triumphs in days gone by, and wore a purple robe and a Greek cloak adorned with stars of gold, bearing on his head the Olympic crown and in his right hand the Pythian, while the rest were carried before him with inscriptions telling where he had won them and against what competitors, and giving the titles of the songs or the subject of the plays. His car was followed by his clique as by the escort of a triumphal procession, who shouted that they were the attendants of Augustus and the soldiers of his triumph. Then through the arch of the Circus Maximus, which was thrown down, he made his way across the Velabrum and the Forum to the Palatine and the temple of Apollo. All along the route victims were slain, the streets were sprinkled from time to time with perfume, while birds, ribbons, and sweetmeats were showered upon him. He placed the sacred crowns in his bed chamber around his couches, as well as statues representing him in the guise of a lyre-player; and he had a coin, too, struck with the same device. So far from neglecting or relaxing his practice of the art after this, he never addressed the soldiers except by letter or in a speech delivered by another, to save his voice; and he never did anything for amusement or in earnest without an elocutionist by his side, to warn him to spare his vocal organs and hold a handkerchief to his mouth. To many men he offered his friendship or announced his hostility, according as they had applauded him lavishly or grudgingly.”

Nero at the Olympics


Suetonius wrote: “He introduced a musical competition at Olympia also, contrary to custom. To avoid being distracted or hindered in any way while busy with these contests, he replied to his freedman Helius, who reminded him that the affairs of the city required his presence, in these words: "However much it may be your advice and your wish that I should return speedily, yet you ought rather to counsel me and to hope that I may return worthy of Nero." While he was singing no one was allowed to leave the theater even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall, since the gates at the entrance were closed, or feigned death and were carried out as if for burial. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

The trepidation and anxiety with which he took part in the contests, his keen rivalry of his opponents and his awe of the judges, can hardly be credited. As if his rivals were of quite the same station as himself, he used to show respect to them and try to gain their favor, while he slandered them behind their backs, sometimes assailed them with abuse when he met them, and even bribed those who were especially proficient. Before beginning, he would address the judges in the most deferential terms, saying that he had done all that could be done, but the issue was in the hand of Fortuna; they however, being men of wisdom and experience, ought to exclude what was fortuitous. When they bade him take heart, he withdrew with greater confidence, but not even then without anxiety, interpreting the silence and modesty of some as sullenness and ill-nature, and declaring that he had his suspicions of them.

“In competition he observed the rules most scrupulously, never daring to clear his throat and even wiping the sweat from his brow with his arm [the use of a handkerchief was not allowed; see also Tac. Ann. 16.4]. Once, indeed, during the performance of a tragedy, when he had dropped his scepter but quickly recovered it, he was terribly afraid that he might be excluded from the competition because of his slip, and his confidence was restored only when his accompanist [the "hypocrites" made the gestures and accompanied the tragic actor on the flute, as he spoke his lines] swore that it had passed unnoticed amid the delight and applause of the people. When the victory was won, he made the announcement himself; and for that reason he always took part in the contests of the heralds. To obliterate the memory of all other victors in the games and leave no trace of them, their statues and busts were all thrown down by his order, dragged off with hooks, and cast into privies. He also drove a chariot in many places, at Olympia even a ten-horse team, although in one of his own poems he had criticized Mithridates for just that thing. But after he had been thrown from the car and put back in it, he was unable to hold out and gave up before the end of the course; but he received the crown just the same. On his departure he presented the entire province with freedom [That is, with local self-government, not with actual independence], and at the same time gave the judges Roman citizenship and a large sum of money. These favors he announced in person on the day of the Isthmian Games, standing in the middle of the stadium.

Nero’s Extravagance

Suetonius wrote: “He thought that there was no other way of enjoying riches and money than by riotous extravagance, declaring that only stingy and niggardly fellows kept a correct account of what they spent, while fine and genuinely magnificent gentlemen wasted and squandered. Nothing in his uncle Gaius [Caligula] so excited his envy and admiration as the fact that he had in so short a time run through the vast wealth which Tiberius had left him. Accordingly, he made presents and wasted money without stint. On Tiridates, though it would seem hardly within belief, he spent eight hundred thousand sesterces a day, and on his departure presented him with more than a hundred millions. He gave the lyre-player Menecrates and the gladiator Spiculus properties and residences equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs. He enriched the monkey-faced usurer Panerotes with estates in the country and in the city and had him buried with almost regal splendor. He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for four hundred thousand sesterces a point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, his mules shod with silver and their drivers clad in wool of Canusium, attended by a train of Mazaces [noted horsemen of Mauretania], and couriers with bracelets and trappings. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]


“There was nothing, however, in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendor will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water.

“When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being. He also began a pool, extending from Misenum to the Lake of Avernus, roofed over and enclosed in colonnades, into which he planned to turn all the hot springs in every part of Baiae; a canal from Avernus all the way to Ostia, to enable the journey to be made by ship yet not by sea; its length was to be a hundred and sixty miles and its breadth sufficient to allow ships with five banks of oars to pass each other. For the execution of these projects he had given orders that the prisoners all over the empire should be transported to Italy, and that those who were convicted even of capital crimes should be punished in no other way than by sentence to this work. He was led to such mad extravagance, in addition to his confidence in the resources of the empire, by the hope of a vast hidden treasure, suddenly inspired by the assurance of a Roman eques, who declared positively that the enormous wealth which Queen Dido had taken with her of old in her flight from Tyre was hidden away in huge caves in Africa and could be recovered with but trifling labor.

Paying for Nero’s Extravagances

Suetonius wrote: “When this hope proved false, he resorted to false accusations and robbery, being at the end of his resources and so utterly impoverished that he was obliged to postpone and defer even the pay of the soldiers and the rewards due to the veterans. First of all he made a law, that instead of one-half, five-sixths of the property of deceased freedmen should be made over to him, if without good and sufficient reason they bore the name of any family with which he himself was connected; further, that the estates of those who were ungrateful to their emperor should belong to the privy purse, and that the advocates who had written or dictated such wills should not go unpunished. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.) : “De Vita Caesarum: Nero: ” (“The Lives of the Caesars: Nero”), written in A.D. 110, 2 Vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.87-187, modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton]

“Finally, that any word or deed on which an informer could base an action should be liable to the law against lese-majesty. He demanded the return of the rewards which he had given in recognition of the prizes conferred on him by any city in any competition. Having forbidden the use of amethystine or Tyrian purple dyes, he secretly sent a man to sell a few ounces on a market day and then closed the shops of all the dealers. It is even said that when he saw a matron in the audience at one of his recitals clad in the forbidden color he pointed her out to his agents, who dragged her out and stripped her on the spot, not only of her garment, but also of her property. He never appointed anyone to an office without saying: "You know what my needs are," and "Let us see to it that no one possess anything." At last he stripped many temples of their gifts and melted down the images of gold and silver, including those of the Penates, which however Galba soon afterwards restored.

Titus (A.D. 79-81)

Titus (ruled from A.D. 79-81) was Vespasian's son. He oversaw the rebuilding of Pompeii and inaugurated the Colosseum which was begun before his rule by Vespasian. Titus was known for his extravagant games. One bloody circus during Titus's rule lasted for 123 straight days and between 5,000 people and 11,000 were killed.

Suetonius wrote: “Having declared that he would accept the office of pontifex maximus for the purpose of keeping his hands unstained, he was true to his promise; for after that he neither caused nor connived at the death of any man, although he sometimes had no lack of reasons for taking vengeance; but he swore that he would rather be killed than kill. When two men of patrician family were found guilty of aspiring to the throne, he satisfied himself with warning them to abandon their attempt, saying that imperial power was the gift of fate, and promising that if there was anything else they desired, he himself would bestow it. Then he sent his couriers with all speed to the mother of one of them, for she was some distance off, to relieve her anxiety by reporting that her son was safe; and he not only invited the men themselves to dinner among his friends, but on the following day at a gladiatorial show he purposely placed them near him, and when the swords of the contestants were offered him [The weapons of gladiators were regularly examined by the "editor", or giver of the games, to see if they were sharp enough; cf., Dio, 68.3, who tells a similar story of the Emperor Nerva], handed them over for their inspection. It is even said that inquiring into the horoscope of each of them, he declared that danger threatened them both, but at some future time and from another, as turned out to be the case. Although his brother never ceased plotting against him, but almost openly stirred up the armies to revolt and meditated flight to them, he had not the heart to put him to death or banish him from the court, or even to hold him in less honor than before. On the contrary, as he had done from the very first day of his rule, he continued to declare that he was his partner and successor, and sometimes he privately begged him with tears and prayers to be willing at least to return his affection. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Titus,” (“Life of Titus”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.321-339]

“In the meantime he was cut off by death, to the loss of mankind rather than to his own. After finishing the public games, at the close of which he wept bitterly in the presence of the people, he went to the Sabine territory somewhat cast down because a victim had escaped as he was sacrificing and because it had thundered from a clear sky. Then at the very first stopping place he was seized with a fever, and as he was being carried on from there in a litter, it is said that he pushed back the curtains, looked up to heaven, and lamented bitterly that his life was being taken from him contrary to his deserts; for he said that there was no act of his life of which he had cause to repent, save one only. What this was he did not himself disclose at the time, nor could anyone easily divine. Some think that he recalled the intimacy which he had with his brother's wife; but Domitia swore most solemnly that this did not exist, although she would not have denied it if it had been in the least true, but on the contrary would have boasted of it, as she was most ready to do of all her scandalous actions.



Domitian’s Games and Extravagances

Suetonius wrote: “He constantly gave grand and costly entertainments, both in the amphitheatre [The Colosseum], and in the Circus, where in addition to the usual races between two-horse and four-horse chariots, he also exhibited two battles, one between forces of infantry and the other by horsemen; and he even gave a naval battle in the amphitheatre. Besides, he gave hunts of wild beasts, gladiatorial shows at night by the light of torches, and not only combats between men but between women as well. He was always present, too, at the games given by the quaestors, which he revived after they had been abandoned for some time, and invariably granted the people the privilege of calling for two pairs of gladiators from his own school, and brought them in last in all the splendor of the court. During the whole of every gladiatorial show there always stood at his feet a small boy clad in scarlet, with an abnormally small head, with whom he used to talk a great deal, and sometimes seriously. At any rate, he was overheard to ask him if he knew why he had decided at the last appointment day to make Mettius Rufus prefect of Egypt. He often gave sea-fights almost with regular fleets, having dug a pool near the Tiber and surrounded it with seats; and he continued to witness the contests amid heavy rains. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian,” (“Life of Domitian”), written c. A.D. 110, translated by J. C. Rolfe, Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), II.339-385]

“He also celebrated Secular games, reckoning the time, not according to the year when Claudius had last given them, but by the previous calculation of Augustus. In the course of these, to make it possible to finish a hundred races on the day of the contests in the Circus, he diminished the number of laps from seven to five. He also established a quinquennial contest in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays. For there were competitions in prose declamations both in Greek and in Latin; and in addition to those of the lyre-players, between choruses of such players and in the lyre alone, without singing; while in the stadium there were races even between maidens. He presided at the competitions in half-boots clad in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales [Established for the worship of the deified Flavian emperors, after the manner of the Augustales], similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well.

“He celebrated the Quinquatria too every year in honor of Minerva at his Alban villa, and established for her a college of priests, from which men were chosen by lot to act as officers and give splendid shows of wild beasts and stage plays, besides holding contests in oratory and poetry. He made a present to the people of three hundred sesterces each on three occasions, and in the course of one of his shows in celebration of the feast of the Seven Hills gave plentiful banquets, distributing large baskets of victuals to the Senate and equites, and smaller ones to the plebeians, and he himself was the first to begin to eat. On the following day, he scattered gifts of all sorts of things to be scrambled for, and since the greater part of these fell where the people sat, he had five hundred tickets thrown into each section occupied by the senatorial and equestrian orders.

“Reduced to financial straits by the cost of his buildings and shows, as well as by the additions which he had made to the pay of the soldiers, he tried to lighten the military expenses by diminishing the number of his troops; but perceiving that in this way he exposed himself to the attacks of the barbarians, and nevertheless had difficulty in easing his burdens, he had no hesitation in resorting to every sort of robbery. The property of the living and the dead was seized everywhere on any charge brought by any accuser. It was enough to allege any action or word derogatory to the majesty of the princeps. Estates of those in no way connected with him were confiscated, if but one man came forward to declare that he had heard from the deceased during his lifetime that Caesar was his heir. Besides other taxes, that on the Jews [A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Titus in return for free permission to practice their religion; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.6.6] was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people [These may have been Christians, whom the Romans commonly assumed were Jews]. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised. From his youth he was far from being of an affable disposition, but was on the contrary presumptuous and unbridled both in act and in word. When his father's concubine Caenis returned from Histria and offered to kiss him as usual, he held out his hand to her. He was vexed that his brother's son-in-law had attendants clad in white, as well as he, and uttered the words "Not good is a number of rulers" [Iliad, 2.204].

Hadrian, the Master Builder


Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli

Tom Dyckoff wrote in The Times: “And then there were his monuments: the Pantheon, that Temple of the Divine Trajan, the vast Temple of Venus and Roma, the only building for certain designed by Hadrian, his country estate at Tivoli and, to cap it all, his mausoleum – its ruins now assimilated into Rome’s Castel Sant’ Angelo. His wall in northern England was no exception, either. In the provinces, Hadrian bolstered defences, improved cities and built temples, along the way revolutionising the construction industry and securing jobs and prosperity for the plebs. Hail Hadrian, patron saint of hod-carriers. [Source: Tom Dyckoff, the Times, July 2008 ==]

“Hadrian’s architectural passions were the high point of the “Roman Architectural Revolution”, 200 years during which a genuinely Roman language of architecture emerged after several centuries of slavish copying of the Ancient Greek originals. At first the use of such novel materials as concrete and a newly rigid lime mortar was driven by the empire’s expansion, and the consequent demand for new large, practical structures – warehouses, record offices, proto-shopping arcades – easily and quickly put up by unskilled labour. But these new building types and materials also provoked experimentation – new shapes, such as the barrel vault and the arch – acquired from Rome’s expansion to the Middle East. ==

“Hadrian was, in architectural matters, both conservative and audacious. He was infamously respectful of Ancient Greece – comically so to some: he wore a Greek-style beard, and was nicknamed Graeculus. Many of the structures he put up, not least his own Temple of Venus and Roma, were faithful to the past. Yet the ruins of his estate at Tivoli, with its technical feats, its pumpkin domes, its space, curves and colour reveal a theme park of experimental structures that are still inspirational.” ==

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “In almost every city he built some building and gave public games. At Athens he exhibited in the stadium a hunt of a thousand wild beasts, but he never called away from Rome a single wild-beast-hunter or actor. In Rome, in addition to popular entertainments of unbounded extravagance, he gave spices to the people in honour of his mother-in-law, and in honour of Trajan he caused essences of balsam and saffron to be poured over the seats of the theatre. And in the theatre he presented plays of all kinds in the ancient manner and had the court-players appear before the public. In the Circus he had many wild beasts killed and often a whole hundred of lions. He often gave the people exhibitions of military Pyrrhic dances, and he frequently attended gladiatorial shows. He built public buildings in all places and without number, but he inscribed his own name on none of them except the temple of his father Trajan. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“At Rome he restored the Pantheon, the Voting-enclosure, the Basilica of Neptune, very many temples, the Forum of Augustus, the Baths of Agrippa, and dedicated all of them in the names of their original builders. Also he constructed the bridge named after himself, a tomb on the bank of the Tiber, and the temple of the Bona Dea. With the aid of the architect Decrianus he raised the Colossus and, keeping it in an upright position, moved it away from the place in which the Temple of Rome is now, though its weight was so vast that he had to furnish for the work as many as twenty-four elephants. This statue he then consecrated to the Sun, after removing the features of Nero, to whom it had previously been dedicated, and he also planned, with the assistance of the architect Apollodorus, to make a similar one for the Moon.

“Most democratic in his conversations, even with the very humble, he denounced all who, in the belief that they were thereby maintaining the imperial dignity, begrudged him the pleasure of such friendliness. In the Museum at Alexandria he propounded many questions to the teachers and answered himself what he had propounded. Marius Maximus says that he was naturally cruel and performed so many kindnesses only because he feared that he might meet the fate which had befallen Domitian.

“Though he cared nothing for inscriptions on his public works, he gave the name of Hadrianopolis to many cities, as, for example, even to Carthage and a section of Athens; and he also gave his name to aqueducts without number. He was the first to appoint a pleader for the privy-purse.

Commodus and the Film Gladiator


Commodus

Commodus (ruled A.D. 177- 192, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius from 177-180) was the vainglorious son of Marcus Aurelius who was assassinated in 192, ending the Antonine dynasty. He fancied himself as a great gladiator and battled opponents armed with lead swords that bent when they struck the emperor. Not surprisingly he ran up an impressive string of victories. Commodus finally lost on New Year's Eve, when he was strangled to death by a wrestler who had been dispatched by his rivals.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Marcus Aurelius' devotion to duty, protecting the frontiers of the empire, was in marked contrast to the behavior of his son, Commodus. In 180 A.D., Commodus abruptly abandoned the campaigns on the German frontier and returned to Rome. There, however, he alienated the Senate by resorting to government by means of favorites and identifying himself with the semidivine hero Hercules. By the time of his assassination in 192 A.D., Rome was in a chaotic state of affairs. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org \^/]

Commodus was the emperor depicted in the film Gladiator . Edward Gibbons called him a man of “monstrous vices” and “unprovoked cruelty” and wrote: “His hours were spent in a seraglio of three hundred beautiful women, and as many boys, of every rank, and of every province; and whenever the arts of seduction proved ineffectual, the brutal lover had recourse to violence."

Commodus occasionally appeared in the arena during gladiator battles. He never put his life in danger and battled gladiators; instead he liked to decapitate ostriches with crescent-headed arrows. The crowds liked the show. They cheered and roared with laughter as the ostrich continued to run around after their heads were cut off. Once Commodus chopped off the head of an ostrich, and brandished its bloodied head and told senators the same fate awaited them if they went against him. Fearing for their lives, members of Commodus's court decided he had to go. A concubine slipped some poison into his wine and then a wrestler strangled him.

In the movie Gladiator Marcus Aurelius was played by Richard Harris and Commodus was played by Joaquin Phoenix. Contrary to impression given by the movie, Aurelius did no try to restore the republic, he had no general name Maximus (the Russell Crow character) and he was not killing by his son Commodus although the historian Cassius Dion said he was killed by doctors who wanted to “do a favor” for Commodus (most historians believe he died of an illness).

Film: Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe.

Elagabulus and Ostrich-Brain Pies

After Macrinus, the imperial court was dominated by formidable women who arranged the succession of Elagabalus in A.D. 218. Under the youthful Elagabulus (ruled A.D. 218-222), regarded by some as the worst Roman Emperor, and Severus Alexander (ruled A.D. 222-235), the Roman Empire was for all intents and purposes run by their grandmother Julia Maesa and their mothers.

Elagabulus started dressing in drag shortly after he was named emperor. He enjoyed pretending he was a woman so much that he ordered the senate to address him as the "Empress of Rome." He once ordered 600 ostriches killed so his cooks could make him ostrich-brain pies. He made appointments by choosing men with the largest penises.

As a teenage emperor Elagabulus hosted a famous feast which featured camels feet; honeyed dormice; the brains of 600 ostriches; conger eels fattened on Christian slaves; and caviar from fish caught with emperor's private fishing fleet. Guest were also given a dish with a sauce made by a chef who had to eat nothing but that sauce if the emperor didn't like it.


Roses of Heliogabalus (Elagabulus)


Elagabulus reportedly came to the banquet on a chariot pulled by naked women and is said to have liked to mix gold and pearls with peas and rice. He ate and drank from bejeweled gold plates and goblets. Guests to his banquets were given free slaves and homes and live versions of the animals they had just eaten. His idea of practical jokes was to play a game and give the winner a prize of dead flies and drug guests wine and have them wake in a room filled with lions and leopards. These excesses exhausted Rome's treasury and Elagabulus met his end, assassinated in a latrine.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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