I claudius c 1, p.15

I, Claudius c-1, page 15

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series


I, Claudius c-1

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  "Well, the immediate question is what to do about him at these Games. I would have no objection to his being put in charge of the priests' mess-room, but on the strict understanding that he leaves everything to his brother-in-law, young Plautius Silvanus, and merely does what he is told.

  He could learn a good deal in this way and there is no reason for him to disgrace himself if he learns his lesson well.

  But of course it is out of the question for him to sit with me in the President's Box, along with the sacred Statue, for everybody in the theatre will constantly be looking in that direction and any oddities in his behaviour will be commented upon.

  "Another problem is what to do with him at the Latin Festival. Germanicus is going to the Alban Hill with the Consuls to take part in the sacrifice and Claudius wishes, I understand, to go with him. But there again I am not sure whether he can be trusted not to make a fool of himself: Germanicus will be busy with his duties and unable to look after him all the time. And if he does go people will want to know what he's doing there in any case; they will ask why we have not appointed him to act as City Warden at Rome for the duration of the festival, in the absence of the magistrates--an honour which, you will recall, we have granted in turn to Gaius, Lucius, Germanicus, young Tiberius and Postumus, as soon as they came of age, as their first taste of office. The best way out of the difficulty is to report him sick because, of course, the City Wardenship is out of the question for him.

  "If you care to show Antonia this letter I have no objection: assure her that we shall soon decide one way or the other about her son. It is an incongruous position for her to be legally under his guardianship.


  Except that it was my first public duty there is nothing remarkable to record about my management of the priests' mess. Plautius, a vain, natty little cock-sparrow of a man, did all the work for me and did not even trouble to explain the catering system and the rules of priestly precedence; even refused to answer my questions about such matters.

  All he did was to drill me in certain formal gestures and phrases which I was to use on welcoming the priests, and at various stages of the meal; and forbade me to say another word. This was extremely uncomfortable for me because frequently I could have taken a useful part in the conversation, and my dumbness and subservience to Plautius gave a bad impression. The games themselves I did not see.

  You will have noticed Livia's disparaging remarks about Postumus. From this time on they grow more and more frequent in her letters and Augustus, though at first he tries to stand up for his grandson, gradually admits disappointment in him. I think that Livia must have told Augustus a good deal more than appears in their correspondence, for Postumus to have forfeited his favour so easily; but certain definite things appear. First, Tiberius is reported by Livia as complaining of an impudent reference by Postumus to the University of Rhodes. Then Cato is reported by her as complaining of Postumus' bad influence on the younger scholars in defying his discipline; then Livia produces Cato's confidential reports, saying that she has held them back so long in hope of a change. Next come worried references to his moroseness and sullenness--this was the time of Postumus' disappointment over Livilla and his grief for the death of his brother Gaius. Then there is a recommendation, when he comes of age, that the whole of his inheritance from his father Agrippa shall not be made over to him for a few years, because that "might give him opportunities for even greater profligacy than he now indulges in." When he is enrolled among the young men of military age he is posted to the Guards as a simple stafflieutenant and given none of the extraordinary honours awarded to Gaius and Lucius. Augustus himself is of opinion that this is the safest course to take, for Postumus is ambitious: the same sort of uncomfortable situation must not arise as when the young nobles supported Marcellus against Agrippa or Gaius against Tiberius. Soon we read that Postumus takes this ill, telling Augustus that he does not want the honours on their own account but that their being withheld has been misinterpreted by his friends, who believe him under a cloud at the Palace.

  Then follow more serious notes. Postumus has lost his temper with Plautius--but neither of the two will tell Livia later what the circumstances of their quarrel were--and has picked him up and thrown him into a fountain, in the presence of several men of rank and their lackeys. He is then called to account by Augustus, and shows no contrition, insisting that Plautius deserved his ducking for speaking in an insulting way to me; at the same time he complains to Augustus that his inheritance is being unjustly withheld. Soon he is reprimanded by Livia for his changed manner and for his surliness towards her. "What's poisoned you?" she asks. He replies, grinning, "Maybe you've been putting something in my soup."

  When she demands an explanation of this extraordinary joke he replies, grinning still more vulgarly: "Putting things in soup is an old trick among stepmothers."

  Augustus soon after this has a complaint from Postumus' general that he does not mix with the other young officers but spends all his leisure time at the sea, fishing.

  He has earned the nickname "Neptune" for this.

  My duties as priest of Mars were not arduous and Plautius, who was a priest of the same college, was detailed to watch me whenever there was a ceremony. I was coming to hate Plautius. The insulting remark for which Postumus had thrown him into the fountain was one of many. He had called me a Lemur and said that it was only loyalty to Augustus and Livia that prevented him from spitting at me every time I asked him foolish and superfluous questions.


  THE YEAR BEFORE I CAME OF AGE AND MARRIED HAD BEEN a bad year for Rome. There was a series of earthquakes in the South of Italy which destroyed several cities. Little rain fell in the Spring and the crops looked miserable all over the country: then just before harvest time there were torrential storms which beat down [A.D. 5 and spoilt what little corn had come to ear. The downpour was so violent that the Tiber carried away the bridge and made the lower part of the City navigable by boat for seven days. A famine seemed threatening and Augustus sent commissioners to Egypt and other parts to buy huge quantities of corn. The public granaries had been depleted because of a bad harvest the year before--though not so bad as this. The commissioners succeeded in buying a certain amount of corn, but at a high price and not really enough. There was great distress'that winter, the more so because Rome was overcrowded--its population had doubled in the last twenty years; and Ostia, the port, was unsafe for shipping in the winter, so that grain-convoys from the East were unable to discharge their cargoes for weeks on end. Augustus did what he could to limit the famine.

  He temporarily banished all but householders and their families to country districts not nearer than a hundred miles from the City, appointed a rationing-board composed of ex-Consuls, and prohibited public banquets, even on his own birthday. Much of the grain he imported at his own expense and distributed free to the needy. As usual, famine brought rioting, and rioting brought arson: whole streets of shops were set on fire at night by half-starved looters from the workers'

  quarters. Augustus organised a brigade of night-watchmen, in seven divisions, to prevent this sort of thing: this brigade proved so useful that it has never since been disbanded. But enormous damage had been done by the rioters. A new tax was imposed about this time to provide money for the German wars, and what with the famine, the fires, and the taxes, the commons began to get restless and openly discuss revolution. Threatening manifestos were pinned at night on the doors of public buildings. A huge conspiracy was said to be on foot. The Senate offered a reward for all information which would lead to the arrest of a ringleader and many men came forward to win it, informing against their neighbours; but this only made the confusion worse. Apparently no real conspiracy existed, only hopeful talk of conspiracies. Eventually corn began to come in from Egypt, where the harvest is much earlier than ours, and the tension relaxed.

  Among the people removed from Rome during the famine were the swordfighters. They were not numerous, but Aug
ustus thought that if there were any civil disturbances they would be likely to play a dangerous part in them. For they were a desperate crew, some of them being men of rank who had been sold as slaves for debt--to purchasers who had agreed to let them earn the price of their freedom by sword-fighting. If a young gentleman ran into debt, as sometimes happened, through no fault of his own or from youthful thoughtlessness, his distant relations would save him from slavery, or Augustus himself would intervene. So these gentlemen sword-fighters were men whom nobody had regarded as worth saving from their fate, and who, becoming the natural leaders of the Gladiatorial Guild, were just the sort to head an armed rebellion.

  When things improved they were recalled and it was decided to put everybody in a good humour by exhibiting a big public sword-fight and wild-beast hunt in the names of Germanicus and myself, in memory of our father. Livia wished to remind Rome of his great exploits with a view to calling attention to Germanicus, who resembled him so closely and who would soon, it was expected, be sent to Germany to help his uncle Tiberius, another famous soldier, win fresh conquests there. My mother and Livia contributed to the expenses of the show, the main burden of which, however, fell on Germanicus and me. It was considered, however, that Germanicus in his position needed more money than I did, so my mother explained to me that it would be only right for me to contribute twice as

  ["9> much as he did. I was only too glad to do what I could for Germanicus. But when I found out when it was all over what had been spent I was staggered; the show was planned regardless of cost, and besides the usual expenses of a swordfight and wild-beast hunt we threw showers of silver to the populace.

  In the procession to the amphitheatre Germanicus and I rode, by special decree of the Senate, in our father's old war-chariot. We had just offered a sacrifice to his memory, at the great tomb which Augustus had built for himself when he should come to die--and where he had interred our father's ashes, alongside those of Marcellus. We went down the Appian Way and under our father's memorial arch, with the colossal equestrian figure of him on it, which had been decorated with laurel in honour of the occasion. There was a north-east wind blowing and the doctors would not allow me to come without a cloak, so with one exception I was the only person present at the sword-fight--where I sat next to Germanicus as joint-president with him--who was wearing one. The exception was Augustus himself, who was sitting on the other side of Germanicus.

  He felt extremes of heat and cold severely and in winter wore no less than four coats besides a very thick gown and a long waistcoat. There were some present who saw an omen in this similarity between my dress and Augustus', further remarking that I had been bom on the first day of the month named after him, and at Lyons, too, on the very day that he had dedicated an altar there to himself.

  Or, at any rate, that was what they said they had said, many years after.

  Livia was in the Box too--a peculiar honour paid her as my father's mother.

  Normally she sat with the Vestal Virgins. The rule was for women and men to sit apart.

  It was the first sword-fight I had been permitted to attend, and to find myself in the President's Box was all the more embarrassing for me on this account. Germanicus did all the work, though pretending to consult me when a decision had to be made, and carried it through with great assurance and dignity. It was my luck that this fight was the best that had ever been exhibited at the amphitheatre.

  As it was my first, however, I could not appreciate its excellence, having no background of previous displays to use for purposes of comparison. But certainly I have never seen a better since and I must have seen nearly a thousand important ones. Livia wanted Germanicus to gain popularity as his father's son and had spared no expense in hiring the best performers in Rome to fight, all out. Usually professional sword-fighters were very careful about hurting themselves and each other and spent most of their energy on feints and parries and blows which looked and sounded Homeric but which were really quite harmless, like the thwacks that slaves give each other with stage-clubs in low-comedy. It was only occasionally, when they lost their temper with each other or had an old score to settle, that they were worth watching. This time Livia had got the heads of the Gladiatorial Guild together and told them that she wanted her money's worth. Unless every bout was a real one she would have the guild broken up: there had been too many managed fights in the previous summer. So the fighters were warned by the guild-masters that this time they were not to play kiss-in-the-ring or they would be dismissed from the guild.

  In the first six combats one man was killed, one so seriously wounded that he died the same day, and a third had his shield-arm lopped off close to the shoulder, which caused roars of laughter. In each of the other three combats one of the men disarmed the other, but not before he had given such a good account of himself that Germanicus and I, when appealed to, were able to confirm the approval of the audience by raising our thumbs in token that his life should be spared. One of the victors had been a very rich knight a year or two before. In all these combats the rule was that the antagonists should not fight with the same sort of weapon. It was sword against spear, or sword against battle-axe, or spear against mace. The seventh combat was between a man armed with a regulation army sword and an old-fashioned round brass-bound shield and a man armed with a three-pronged trout-spear and a short net. The sword-man or "chaser" was a soldier of the Guards who had recently been condemned to death for getting drunk and striking his captain. His sentence had been commuted to a fight against this net and trident man--a professional [^] from Thessaly, very highly paid, who had killed more than twenty opponents in the previous five years, so Germanicus told me.

  My sympathies were with the soldier, who came into the arena looking very white and shaky--he had been in prison for some days and the strong light bothered him. But his entire company, who it appears sympathised very much with him, for the captain was a bully and a beast, shouted in unison for him to pull himself together and defend the company's honour. He straightened up and shouted, "I'll do my best, lads!” His camp nickname, as it happened, was "Roach", and this was enough to put the greater part of the audience on his side, though the Guards were pretty unpopular in the City. If a roach were to kill a fisherman that would be a good joke. To have the amphitheatre on one's side is half the battle to a man fighting for his life.

  The Thessalian, a wiry, long-armed, long-legged fellow, came swaggering in close behind him, dressed only in a leather tunic and a hard round leather cap.

  He was in a good humour, cracking jokes with the front-benches, for his opponent was an amateur, and Livia was paying him a thousand gold pieces for the afternoon and five hundred more if he killed his man after a good fight. They came together in front of the Box and saluted first Augustus and Livia and then Germanicus and me as joint-presidents, with the usual formula: "Greetings, Sirs.

  We salute you in Death's shadow!" We returned the greetings with a formal gesture, but Genrmanicus said to Augustus: "Why, sir, that chaser's one of my father's veterans. I know him well. He won a crown in Germany for being the first man over an enemy stockade." Augustus was interested. "Good," he said, "this should be a good fight, then. But in that case the net-man must be ten years younger, and years count in this game." Then Genrmanicus signalled for the trumpets to sound and the fight began.

  Roach stood his ground, while the Thessalian danced around him. Roach was not such a fool as to waste his strength running after his lightly armed opponent or yet to be paralysed into immobility. The Thessalian tried to make him lose his temper by taunting him, but Roach was not to be drawn. Only once when the Thessalian came almost within lunging distance did he show any readiness to take the offensive, and the quickness of his thrust drew a roar of delight from the benches. But the Thessalian was away in time. Soon the fight grew more lively; the Thessalian made stabs, high and low, with his long trident, which Roach parried easily, but with one eye on the net, weighted with small lead pellets, which the Thessalian managed
with his left hand.

  "Beautiful work!" I heard Livia say to Augustus. "The best net-man in Rome. He's playing with the soldier. Did you see that? He could have entangled him and got his stroke in then if he had wished. But he's spinning out the fight."

  "Yes," said Augustus. "I'm afraid the soldier is done for.

  He should have kept off drink."

  Augustus had hardly spoken when Roach knocked up the trident and jumped forward, ripping the Thessalian's leather tunic between arm and body. The Thessalian was away in a flash and as he ran he swung the net across Roach's face.

  By ill-luck a pellet struck Roach in the eye, momentarily blinding him. He checked his pace and the Thessalian, seeing his advantage, turned and knocked the sword spinning out of his hand. Roach sprang to retrieve it but the Thessalian got there first, ran with it to the barrier and tossed it across to a rich patron sitting in the front rank of the seats reserved for the Knights. Then he returned to the pleasant task of goading and dispatching an unarmed man. The net whistled round Roach's head and the trident jabbed here and there; but Roach was still undismayed, and once made a snatch at the trident and nearly got possession of it.

  The Thessalian had now worked him towards our Box to make a spectacular killing.

  "That's enough!" said Livia in a matter-of-fact voice, "he's done enough playing about. He ought to finish him now." The Thessalian needed no prompting.

  He made a simultaneous sweep of his net around Roach's head and a stab at his belly with the trident. And then what a roar went up! Roach had caught the net with his right hand and, flinging his body back, kicked with all his strength at the shaft of the trident a foot or two from his enemy's hand. The weapon flew up over the Thessalian's head, [153] turned in the air and stuck quivering into the wooden barrier. The Thessalian stood astonished for a moment, then left the net in Roach's hands and dashed past him to recover the trident. Roach threw himself forward and sideways and caught him in the ribs, as he ran, with the spiked boss of his shield. The Thessalian fell, gasping, on all fours.


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