The Celtic Literature Collective

Cassius Dio's Roman History

Book LXXVIII: Antonius' Impieties
15. ...But to Antoninus no one even of the gods gave any response that conduced to healing either his body or his mind, although he paid homage to all the more prominent ones. This showed most clearly that they regarded, not his votive offerings or his sacrifices, but only his purposes and his deeds. He received no help from Apollo Grannus, nor yet from Aesculapius or Serapis, in spite of his many supplications and his unwearying persistence. For even while abroad he sent to them prayers, sacrifices and votive offerings, and many couriers ran hither and thither every day carrying something of this kind; and he also went to them himself, hoping to prevail by appearing in person, and did all that devotees are wont to do; but he obtained nothing that contributed to health.

Book LXXVI: Caledonians
Inasmuch as the Caledonians did not abide by their promises and had made ready to aid the Meaetae, and in view of the fact that Severus at the time was devoting himself to the neighbouring war, Lupus was compelled to purchase peace from the Maeatae for a large sum; and he received a few captives.

Book LXXVII: War in Britain
12. There are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and the names of the others have been merged in these two. The Maeatae live next to the cross-wall which cuts the island in half, and the Caledonians are beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits; for they do not touch the fish which are there found in immense and inexhaustible quantities. They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering; consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers. They go into battle in chariots, and have small, swift horses; there are also foot-soldiers, very swift in running and very firm in standing their ground. For arms they have a shield and a short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the spear-shaft, so that when it is shaken it may clash and terrify the enemy; and they also have dagger. They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship; for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots, and for all emergencies they prepare a certain kind of food, the eating of a small portion of which, the size of a bean, prevents them from feeling either hunger or thirst.

Such is the general character of the island of Britain such are the inhabitants of at least the hostile part of it. For it is an island, and the fact, as I have stated, was clearly proved at that time. Its length is 951 miles, its greatest breadth 308, and its least 40. Of all this territory we hold a little less than one half.

13. Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced through the country he experienced countless hardships in cutting down the forests, levelling the heights, filling up the swamps, and bridging the rivers; but he fought no battle and beheld no enemy in battle array. The enemy purposely put sheep p267and cattle in front of the soldiers for them to seize, in order that they might be lured on still further until they were worn out; for in fact the water caused great suffering to the Romans, and when they became scattered, they would be attacked. Then, unable to walk, they would be slain by their own men, in order to avoid capture, so that a full fifty thousand died. But Severus did not desist until he approached the extremity of the island. Here he observed most accurately the variation of the sun's motion and the length of the days and the nights in summer and winter respectively. Having thus been conveyed through practically the whole of the hostile country (for he actually was conveyed in a covered litter most of the way, on account of his infirmity), he returned to the friendly portion, after he had forced the Britons to come to terms, on the condition that they should abandon a large part of their territory.

14. Antoninus was causing him alarm and endless anxiety by his intemperate life, by his evident intention to murder his brother if the chance should offer, and, finally, by plotting against the emperor himself. Once he dashed suddenly out of his quarters, shouting and bawling out that he was being wronged by Castor. 2This man was the best of the freedmen in attendance upon Severus, and held the offices of both secretary and chamberlain. Thereupon certain soldiers who had been got ready beforehand assembled and joined in the outcry; but they were quickly checked when Severus himself appeared among them and punished the more unruly ones. On another occasion, when both were riding forward to meet the Caledonians, in order to receive their arms and discuss the details of the truce, Antoninus attempted to kill his father outright with his own hand. They were proceeding on horseback, Severus also being mounted, in spite of the fact that he had somewhat strained his feet as the result of an infirmity, and the rest of the army was following; the enemy's force were likewise spectators. At this juncture, while all were proceeding in silence and in order, Antoninus reined in his horse and drew his sword, as if he were going to strike his father in the back. But the others who were riding with them, upon seeing this, cried out, and so Antoninus, in alarm, desisted from his attempt. Severus turned at their shout and saw the sword, yet he did not utter a word, but ascended the tribunal, finished what he had to do, and returned to headquarters. Then he summoned his son, together with Papinian and Castor, ordered a sword to be placed within easy reach, and upbraided the youth for having dared to so such a thing at all and especially for having been on the point of committing so monstrous a crime in the sight of all, both the allies and the enemy. And finally he said: "Now if you really want to slay me, put me out of the way ere; for you are strong, while I am an old man and prostrate. For, if you do not shrink from the deed, but hesitate to murder me with your own hands, there is Papinian, the prefect, standing beside you, whom you can order to slay me; for surely he will do anything that you command, since you are virtually emperor." Though he spoke in this fashion, he nevertheless did Antoninus no harm, and that in spite of the fact that he had often blamed Marcus for not putting Commodus quietly out of the way and that he had himself often threatened to act thus toward his son. Such threats, however, were always uttered under the influence of anger, whereas on the present occasion he allowed his love for his offspring to outweigh his love for his country; and yet in doing so he betrayed his other son, for he well knew what would happen.

15. When the inhabitants of the island again revolted, he summoned the soldiers and ordered them to invade the rebels' country, killing everybody they met; and he quoted these words:

"Let no one escape sheer destruction,
No one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother,
If it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction."

When this had been done, and the Caledonians had joined the revolt of the Maeatae, he began preparing to make war upon them in person. While he was thus engaged, his sickness carried him off on the fourth of February, not without some help, they say, from Antoninus. At all events, before Severus died, he is reported to have spoken thus to his sons (I give his exact words without embellishment): "Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men." After this his body, arrayed in military garb, was placed upon a pyre, and as a mark of honour the soldiers and his sons ran about it; and as for the soldiers' gifts, those who had things at hand to offer as gifts threw them upon it, and his sons applied the fire. Afterwards his bones were put in an urn of purple stone, carried to Rome, and deposited in the tomb of the Antonines. It is said that Severus sent for the urn shortly before his death, and after feeling of it, remarked: "Thou shalt hold a man that the world could not hold."

16. Severus was small of stature but powerful, though he eventually grew very weak from gout; mentally he was very keen and very vigorous. As for education, he was eager for more than he obtained, and for this reason was a man of few words, though of many ideas. Toward friends not forgetful, to enemies most oppressive, he was careful of everything that he desired to accomplish, but careless of what was said about him. Hence he raised money from every source, except that he killed no one to get it, and he met all necessary expenditures quite ungrudgingly. He restored a very large number of the ancient buildings and inscribed on them his own name, just as if he had erected them in the first place from his own private funds. He also spent a great deal uselessly in repairing other buildings and in constructing new ones; for instance, he built a temple of huge size to Bacchus and Hercules. Yet, though his expenditures were enormous, he nevertheless left behind, not some few easily-counted tens of thousands, but very many tens of thousands. Again, he rebuked such persons as were not chaste, even going so far as to enact some laws in regard to adultery. In consequence, there were ever so many indictments for that offence (for example, when consul, I found three thousand entered on the docket); but, inasmuch as very few persons prosecuted these cases, he, too, ceased to trouble himself about them. In this connexion, a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta. When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: "We fulfil the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest." Such was the retort of the British woman.

17. The following is the manner of life that Severus followed in time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, and afterwards he would take a walk, telling and hearing of the interests of the empire. Then he would hold court, unless there were some great festival. Moreover, he used to do this most excellently; for he allowed the litigants plenty of time and he gave us, his advisers, full liberty to speak. He used to hear cases until noon; then he would ride, so far as his strength permitted, and afterward take some kind of gymnastic exercise and a bath. He then ate a plentiful luncheon, either by himself or with his sons. Next, he generally took a nap. Then he rose, attended to his remaining duties, and afterwards, when walking about, engaged in discussion in both Greek and Latin. Then, toward evening, he would bathe again and dine with his associates; for he very rarely invited any guest to dinner, and only on days when it was quite unavoidable did he arrange expensive banquets. He lived sixty-five years, nine months, and twenty-five days, for he was born on the eleventh of April. Of this period he had ruled for seventeen years, eight months, and three days. In fine, he showed himself so active that even when expiring he gasped: "Come, give it here, if we have anything to do."

Cassius Dio. Roman History. Vol. IX, of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927. Lacus Curtius:*.html