Page 0927

927

ROME-THE FIRST CAESARS.

marriage with Silius publicly celebrated, which had made even the sin-

toughened ears of Rome burn with shame, was kept from him who was the chief

victim of the intrigue; but when at last the intelligence was forced into

his sluggish mind, he promptly ordered Messalina and her confederate to be

put to death. It is, narrated that a few days after the execution, Claudius

had forgotten the event and made inquiry why his wife did not appear at the

table. (1)

The Emperor, not yet satisfied with his matrimonial experience, chose for

his fourth consort, his niece Agrippina, widow of Cneius Domitius

Ahenobarbus and also of Crispus Passienus. By her first husband she was the

mother of the boy Domitius, whom, on her marriage with Claudius, she

induced the Emperor to adopt into the imperial family with the cognomen of

Nero. To make the succession sure the youth was married to Octavia, the

daughter of Claudius and sister of Britannicus, the rightful heir to the

throne. To displace this heir, and, indeed, all other rivals who might

stand between her son and the light became the purpose of Agrippina, and

she pursued her schemes with a conscienceless audacity almost unequaled in

the annals of crime. One of the first victims of her envy was Lollia, the

divorced wife of Caligula, who sought a marriage with Claudius. Her

jealousy was next directed against many Roman noblemen, whom she induced

her husband to persecute and destroy. Claudius was already well advanced in

years, and weakened by ill health and the distractions of his office.

Falling sick, but presently recovering a measure of strength, he resolved

to leave Rome and seek rest on the coast of Campania; but Agrippina had

resolved that his rest should be eternal.

Poisoning had now become one of the fine arts in Rome. The business had its

connoisseurs and professors. One of the most famous of these criminal

gentry was named Locusta, whose services were at the command of any who

could pay an adequate price for his skill. Him Agrippina now took into her

service and directed to prepare a suitable potion for her lord. He drank it

and found that rest which his affectionate spouse had contrived as a remedy

for his sorrows.

Nero was now in his sixteenth year. He had been carefully educated by the

philosopher Seneca, and on his accession to power showed that the

restraints of the salutary instruction which he had received were laid upon

his administration. He was also under the influence of the virtuous

Burrus, the master of the praetorians. The reign began in A. D. 54, and was

characterized by much lenity and moderation. The young Caesar, however, was

soon ruined by the domestic vices with which the Roman court was reeking.

After reducing the taxes and increasing the authority of the Senate, Nero

suddenly turned profligate and butcher. All the ferocity of his nature was

aroused by the conduct of his mother. Not satisfied that her son should be

emperor of Rome, she became ambitious to reign herself, and to this end

conspired for the overthrow of Nero. She circulated the report that

Britannicus was the true Caesar, and favored his assumption of Imperial

power. All the jealousy and passion of Nero were turned against

Britannicus, and that unfortunate prince was put to death. The Emperor next

fell under the influence of Poppaea Sabina, the beautiful wife of Salvius

Otho, and ____________________________________ 1 There are some reasons for

believing that the accredited but incredible story of Messalina is

apocryphal in its leading features. It appears that a soothsayer had told

Claudius that the husband of Messalina was doomed to a speedy death. He

thereupon privately divorced her, and himself contrived her marriage with

Silius, to the end that the bolt of fate might fall on another than

himself, and a reason be furnished ex post facto for the divorce.