The Lives of the Four Tyrants


Historia Augusta


1

1

The minor pretenders, I am well aware, have either been wholly omitted by most of the writers or else passed over briefly. For Suetonius Tranquillus, a most accurate and truthful author, has said nothing of Antonius or Vindex, content with having touched on them in passing, and Marius Maximus treated of Avidius in the time of Marcus and of Albinus and Niger under Severus in no special books of their own but merely joined them to the lives of others.

2

Now in regard to Suetonius we feel no wonder, for he was naturally a lover of brevity. But what of Marius Maximus, the wordiest man of all, who involved himself in pseudo-historical works? Did he descend to such accuracy of detail?

3

But, on the other hand, Trebellius Pollio, in writing of the emperors, both good and bad, showed such industry and care that he also included, though briefly and in a single book, the thirty pretenders of the time of Valerian and Gallienus and the emperors who lived shortly before or after them.

4

Wherefore we also, even though we may show no such diligence as his, will yet make it by no means our smallest care, after telling of Aurelian, Tacitus and Florian, and Probus, too, that great and peerless prince, and having further to tell of Carus, Carinus and Numerian, to see to it that Saturninus and Bonosus and Proculus and Firmus, who revolted under Aurelian, be not passed over in silence.


2

1

For you know, my dear Bassus, how great an argument we had but recently with Marcus Fonteius, that lover of history, when he asserted that Firmus, who had seized Egypt in the time of Aurelian, was not an emperor but merely a brigand, while I, and together with me Rufius Celsus and Ceionius Julianus and Fabius Sossianus, argued against him, maintaining that Firmus had both worn the purple and called himself Augustus on the coins that he struck, and Archontius Severus even brought out certain coins of his and proved, moreover, from Greek and Egyptian books that in his edicts he had called himself emperor.

2

Fonteius, on the other hand, in his contention against us, had only the argument that Aurelian wrote in one of his edicts, not that he had slain a pretender, but that he had rid the state of a brigand — just as though a prince of such renown could properly have called so obscure a fellow by the name of pretender, or as though mighty emperors did not always use the term of brigand in speaking of those whom they slew when attempting to seize the purple!

3

I myself, indeed, in my Life of Aurelian, before I learned the whole story of Firmus, thought of him, not as one who had worn the purple, but only as a sort of brigand; and this I have stated here that no one may think that I am inconsistent.

4

Lest I add too much, however, to a book which I promised to make very short, we shall now proceed to Firmus.


3

1

Now Firmus was a native of Seleucia, though many of the Greeks write otherwise, not knowing that at that same time there were three men called Firmus, one of them prefect of Egypt, another commander of the African frontier and also proconsul, and the third this friend and ally of Zenobia's, who, incited by the madness of the Egyptians, seized Alexandria and was crushed by Aurelian with the good fortune that was wont to attend his valour.

2

Concerning the wealth of this last-named Firmus much is related. For example, it is said that he fitted his house with square panes of glass set in with pitch and other such substances and that he owned so many books that he used often to say in public that he could support an army on the paper and glue.

3

He kept up, moreover, the closest relations with the Blemmyae and Saracens, and he often sent merchant-vessels to the Indians also.

4

He even owned, it is said, two elephant-tusks, ten feet in length, to which Aurelian planned to add two more and make of them a throne on which he would place a statue of Jupiter, made of gold and decked with jewels and clad in a sort of bordered p393toga, to be set up in the Temple of the Sun; and, after asking advice of the oracle in the Apennines, he purposed to call him Jupiter the Consul or the Consulting.

5

These tusks, however, were later presented by Carinus to a certain woman, who is said to have made them into a couch; her name, both because it is known now and because future generations will have no profit from knowing it, I will leave unmentioned.

6

So under a most evil prince the gift of the Indians, consecrated to Jupiter Best and Greatest, seems to have become both the instrument and the reward of lust.


4

1

But as for Firmus himself, he was of huge size, his eyes very prominent, his hair curly, his brow scarred, his face rather swarthy, while the rest of his body was white, though rough and covered with hair, so that many called him a Cyclops.

2

He would eat great amounts of meat and he even, so it is said, consumed an ostrich in a single day. He drank little wine but very much water. He was most resolute in spirit, and in sinews most strong, so that he surpassed even Tritannus, of whom Varro makes mention.

3

For he would hold out resolutely when an anvil was placed on his chest and men struck it, while he, leaning backward face up, supporting his weight on his hands, seemed to be suspended rather than to be lying down. In drinking, moreover, he would compete with Aurelian's generals whenever they wished to test him.

4

For example, when a certain fellow named Burburus, one of the standard-bearers and a notable drinker, challenged him to a contest in drinking, he drained two buckets full of wine and yet remained sober throughout the whole banquet; and when Burburus asked, "Why did you not drink up the dregs?" he replied, "You fool, one does not drink earth." But we are narrating mere trifles when we should be telling what is of greater importance.


5

1

He, then, seized the imperial power in opposition to Aurelian with the purpose of defending the remainder of Zenobia's party. Aurelian, however, returning from Thrace defeated him.

2

Many relate that he put an end to his life by strangling, but Aurelian himself in his proclamations says otherwise; for when he had conquered him he gave orders to issue the following proclamation in Rome:

3

"From Aurelian Augustus to his most devoted Roman people, greeting. We have established peace everywhere throughout the whole world in its widest extent, and also Firmus, that brigand in Egypt, who rose in revolt with barbarians and gathered together the remaining adherents of a shameless woman — not to speak at too great length — we have routed and seized and tortured and slain.

4

There is nothing now, fellow-citizens, sons of Romulus, which you need fear. The grain-supply from Egypt, which has been interrupted by that evil brigand, will now arrive undiminished.

5

Do you only maintain harmony with the senate, friendship with the equestrian order, and good will toward the praetorian guard. I will see to it that there is no anxiety in Rome. Do you devote your leisure to games and to races in the circus.

6

Let me be concerned with the needs of the state, and do you busy yourselves with your pleasures. Wherefore, most revered fellow-citizens," and so forth.


6

1

This is what you should know that we have found out concerning Firmus, all, however, that is worthy of mention.

2

For as to what Aurelius Festivus, Aurelian's freedman, has reported about him in detail, if you wish to learn it, you should read him yourself, most of all the passage which tells how this same Firmus went swimming among the crocodiles when rubbed with crocodiles' fat, how he drove an elephant and mounted a hippopotamus and rode about sitting upon huge ostriches, so that he seemed to be flying.

3

But what avails it to know all this, especially as both Livy and Sallust are silent in regard to trivial matters concerning those men on whose biographies they have laid hold?

4

For instance, we do not know of what breed were the mules of Clodius or the she-mules of Titus Annius Milo, or whether the horse that Catiline rode was a Tuscan or a Sardinian, or what kind of purple Pompey used for his cloak.

5

Therefore we will make an end of Firmus and pass on to Saturninus, who seized the imperial power in the regions of the East in opposition to Probus.


7

1

Saturninus was a Gaul by birth, one of a nation that is ever most restless and always desirous of creating either an emperor or an empire.

2

To this man, above all the other generals, because it seemed certain that he was truly the greatest, Aurelian had given the command of the Eastern frontier, wisely charging him never to visit Egypt.

3

For, as we see, this far-sighted man was well acquainted with the Gallic character and feared that if Saturninus visited this turbulent land he might be drawn by association with the inhabitants to a course toward which he was by nature inclined.

4

For the Egyptians, as you know well enough, are puffed up, madmen, boastful, doers of injury, and, in fact, liars and without restraint, always craving something new, even in their popular songs, writers of verse, makers of epigrams, astrologers, soothsayers, quacksalvers.

5

Among them, indeed, are Christians and Samaritans and those who are always ill-pleased by the present, though enjoying unbounded liberty.

6

But, lest any Egyptian be angry with me, thinking that what I have set forth in writing is solely my own, I will cite one of Hadrian's letters, taken from the works of his freedman Phlegon, which fully reveals the character of the Egyptians.


8

1

From Hadrian Augustus to Servianus the consul, greeting. The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour.

2

There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis.

3

There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer.

4

Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ.

5

They are a folk most seditious, most deceitful, most given to injury; but their city is prosperous, rich, and fruitful, and in it no one is idle.

6

Some are blowers of glass, others makers of paper, all are at least weavers of linen or seem to belong to one craft or another; the lame have their occupations, the eunuchs have theirs, the blind have theirs, and not even those whose hands are crippled are idle.

7

Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore. And would that this city had a better character, for indeed it is worthy by reason of its richness and by reason of its size to hold the chief place in the whole of Egypt.

8

I granted it every favour, I restored to it all its ancient rights and bestowed on it new ones besides, so that the people gave thanks to me while I was present among them. Then, no sooner had I departed thence than they said many things against my son Verus, and what they said about Antinous I believe you have learned.

9

I can only wish for them that they may live on their own chickens, which they breed in a fashion I am ashamed to describe.

10

I am sending you over some cups, changing colour and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days. Take good care, however, that our dear Africanus does not use them too freely."

9

1

So then, holding such an opinion about the Egyptians Aurelian forbade Saturninus to visit Egypt, showing a wisdom that was truly divine. For as soon as the Egyptians saw that one of high rank had arrived among them, they straightway shouted aloud,

2

"Saturninus Augustus, may the gods keep you!" But he, like a prudent man, as one cannot deny, fled at once from the city of Alexandria and returned to Palestine.

3

There, however, when he had begun to reflect that it would not be safe for him to remain a commoner, he took down a purple robe from a statue of Venus and, with the soldiers standing about, he arrayed himself in a woman's mantle and then received their adoration.

4

I have often heard my grandfather tell that he was present when Saturninus thus received adoration;

5

"He began to weep," he would tell us, "and to say, 'The commonwealth has lost an indispensable man, if I may say so without undue pride. I have certainly restored the provinces of Gaul, I have recovered Africa, seize by the Moors, I have brought peace to the provinces of Spain. But what does it all avail? For all these services go for nothing when once I have claimed imperial honours.' "


10

1

Then, when those who had clothed him with the purple began to hearten him, some to defend his life and others his power, he delivered the following speech:

2

"My friends, you do not know what an evil thing it is to rule. A sword suspended by a hair hangs over your head, on all sides there are spears, on all sides arrows. You fear your very guards, you dread your very attendants. Your food brings you no pleasure, your journeys no honour, your wars do not meet with approval, your arms call forth no enthusiasm.

3

Remember, moreover, that they find fault with a man of any age as ruler. Is he an old man? He is deemed incapable. Is he young? They go on to say that he is mad as well. Why should I now tell you that Probus is beloved by all? In wishing me to be a rival of his, to whom I would gladly yield place and whose general I desire to be, you do but force me to an unavoidable death. One solace I have for my death: I shall not be able to die alone."

4

This speech, according to Marcus Salvidienus, was really his own, and, in fact, he was not unlettered, for he had even studied under a rhetorician in Africa and attended the schools of the teachers at Rome.


11

1

Now, not to proceed at too great length, I must say one thing which particularly concerns this man, namely, that many wrongly believe that he was the Saturninus who seized the imperial power in the time of Gallienus, whereas, in fact, he was altogether a different man, for he was put to death under Probus who did not desire his punishment.

2

It is said, moreover, that Probus often sent him a letter offering him mercy and promised him pardon, but the soldiers who were with him refused to believe it.

3

So at last he was seized in a certain stronghold and stabbed by those whom Probus had sent, though it was not at Probus' desire.

4

It would be too long to include every trivial thing and tiresome to tell of his stature, his person, and his comeliness, or how much he could eat and drink. Let others describe these things, which have almost no value as an example, and let us return to what we should tell.


12

1

Proculus was a native of Albingauni, situated in the Maritime Alps. He was a nobleman in his native place, but his ancestors had been brigands, and thus he was very rich in cattle and slaves and all that they had carried away.

2

In fact, it is said that at the time when he seized the imperial power he armed two thousand slaves of his own.

3

His wife, who drove him to this act of madness, was a masculine woman called Samso — though this name was given her in her later years, for originally she was called Vituriga.

4

His son was Herennianus, whom also he would have dedicated to the imperial office — for that was his way of speaking — had he but completed his fifth year.

5

The man himself, it cannot be denied, was . . . and at the same time most valiant; though accustomed also to brigandage, he yet lived his whole life in arms, for he commanded many legions as tribune and did courageous deeds.

6

And now, since all the most trivial things are interesting and bring some pleasure when they are read, I must not fail to mention an incident of which he himself boasts in one of his letters, deeming it better to quote the letter itself rather than to speak about it at length.

7

"From Proculus to his kinsman Maecianus, greeting. I have taken one hundred maidens from Sarmatia. Of these I mated with ten in a single night; all of them, however, I made into women, as far as was in my power, in the space of fifteen days."

8

He boasts, as you see, of a foolish and very licentious deed, thinking that he would be held a brave man if he grew callous through repeated acts of crime.


13

1

And yet this man, who, even after his military honours conducted himself with depravity and lustfulness but, nevertheless, with courage, at the bidding of the people of Lugdunum, who seemed to have been harshly put down by Aurelian and were in the greatest fear of Probus, was called to take the imperial power. This came about through what was almost a game and a jest, as Onesimus tells, though I know that I have not found it in any other writer.

2

For when once at a banquet they were playing a game of "Brigands" and Proculus had ten times come out as "King," a certain well-known wit cried out, "Hail, Augustus," and bringing in a garment of purple wool he clasped it about Proculus' shoulders and then bowed in adoration. Then fear fell upon all who had had a part in the deed, and so an attempt was then made to gain both the army and the imperial power.

3

He was, nevertheless, of some benefit to the Gauls, for he crushed the Alamanni — who then were still called Germans — and not without illustrious glory, though he never fought save in brigand-fashion.

4

He was forced by Probus, however, to flee to distant lands, and when he attempted to bring aid to the Franks, from whom he said he derived his origin, Probus conquered and slew him; for the Franks themselves betrayed him, whose custom it is to break faith with a laugh.

5

His descendants still live at Albingauni, and they are wont to say in jest that they do not desire to be either princes or brigands.

6

This is all that I remember having learned about Proculus that is worthy of mention. Let us now pass on to Bonosus, concerning whom I have written much less.


14

1

Bonosus was a Spaniard by birth, but in descent a Briton, though he had a Gallic mother. His father, so he himself used to say, was a rhetorician, but I have learned from others that he was only a teacher of letters. He lost his father when a child, and being reared by mother, a very brave woman, he learned nothing of literature.

2

He served in the beginning as a legionary centurion, and next in the cavalry; he commanded in the ranks, he held tribuneships, he was general in charge of the Raetian frontier, and he drank as no man had ever drunk.

3

In fact, Aurelian used often to say of him, "He was born, not to live, but to drink," and yet, because of his prowess in war, he long held him in honour.

4

Indeed, whenever the envoys of barbarian nations came from any place, they were plied with wine in order that he might make them drunken, and when they were in wine learn from them all their secrets. But however much he drank himself, he always remained calm and sober, and, as Onesimus, the author of a Life of Probus, says, when in wine he was all the wiser.

5

He possessed, furthermore, a marvellous quality, namely, that he could always discharge all he had drunk, so that neither his stomach nor his abdomen nor his bladder ever felt any discomfort.


15

1

He, then, at the time when the Roman galleys on the Rhine were burned by the Germans, fearing that he might have to suffer punishment, seized the imperial power. This he held longer than he deserved,

2

for he was finally defeated by Probus only after a lengthy and difficult struggle, and he put an end to his life by the noose, which gave rise to the jest that it was not a man that was being hanged but a wine-jug.

3

He left two sons, both of whom were spared by Probus, and his wife, too, was treated with honour and given an allowance as long as she lived.

4

She was in fact, as my grandfather also used to declare, a woman of unequalled excellence and also of noble family, though by race a Goth; for Aurelian had given her to him as wife in order that through his help he might learn all the plans of the Goths, for she was a maiden of royal blood.

5

There is still in existence a letter addressed to the governor of Thrace concerning this marriage and the gifts which Aurelian wished Bonosus to receive on the occasion of his wedding, and this letter I have inserted:

6

"From Aurelian Augustus to Gallonius Avitus, greeting. In a previous letter I wrote you to establish the Gothic noblewomen at Perinthus, and I assigned them rations, which they were not to receive singly, but seven of them together sharing one meal. For when they receive them singly, they get too little and the state loses too much.

7

Now, however, since it is our wish that Bonosus take Hunila to wife, you will give her all we have ordered in the subjoined list, and you will celebrate the marriage at the expense of the state."

8

The list of gifts was as follows: "Violet tunics of part-silk provided with hoods, one tunic of part-silk with a golden stripe, to weigh a pound, two double-striped under-tunics, and all the other things that are befitting a matron. To Bonosus himself you will give one hundred Philips of gold, one thousand silver Antonines, and ten thousand bronze sesterces."

9

This is what I remember having read about Bonosus. I might, indeed, have omitted the lives of these men, concerning whom no one has ever inquired, but, in order that there may be no lack of accuracy, I have taken care to make known what I have learned about these also.

10

There still remain for me Carus, Carinus and Numerian; for Diocletian and those who came after him must be described in a grander style.