The Senate on being consulted had, without handling the matter, referred
it to the emperor. Tiberius, after long considering whether such reckless
tastes could be repressed, whether the repression of them would not
be still more hurtful to the State, also, how undignified it would
be to meddle with what he could not succeed in, or what, if effected,
would necessitate the disgrace and infamy of men of distinction, at
last addressed a letter to the Senate to the following purport:-

Perhaps in any other matter, Senators, it would be more convenient
that I should be consulted in your presence, and then state what I
think to be for the public good. In this debate it was better that
my eyes should not be on you, for while you were noting the anxious
faces of individual senators charged with shameful luxury, I too myself
might observe them and, as it were, detect them. Had those energetic
men, our aediles, first taken counsel with me, I do not know whether
I should not have advised them to let alone vices so strong and so
matured, rather than merely attain the result of publishing what are
the corruptions with which we cannot cope. They however have certainly
done their duty, as I would wish all other officials likewise to fulfil
their parts. For myself, it is neither seemly to keep silence nor
is it easy to speak my mind, as I do not hold the office of aedile,
praetor, or consul. Something greater and loftier is expected of a
prince, and while everybody takes to himself the credit of right policy,
one alone has to bear the odium of every person’s failures. For what
am I first to begin with restraining and cutting down to the old standard?
The vast dimensions of country houses? The number of slaves of every
nationality? The masses of silver and gold? The marvels in bronze
and painting? The apparel worn indiscriminately by both sexes, or
that peculiar luxury of women which, for the sake of jewels, diverts
our wealth to strange or hostile nations?

I am not unaware that people at entertainments and social gatherings
condemn all this and demand some restriction. But if a law were to
be passed and a penalty imposed, those very same persons will cry
out that the State is revolutionised, that ruin is plotted against
all our most brilliant fashion, that not a citizen is safe from incrimination.
Yet as even bodily disorders of long standing and growth can be checked
only by sharp and painful treatment, so the fever of a diseased mind,
itself polluted and a pollution to others, can be quenched only by
remedies as strong as the passions which inflame it. Of the many laws
devised by our ancestors, of the many passed by the Divine Augustus,
the first have been forgotten, while his (all the more to our disgrace)
have become obsolete through contempt, and this has made luxury bolder
than ever. The truth is, that when one craves something not yet forbidden,
there is a fear that it may be forbidden; but when people once transgress
prohibitions with impunity, there is no longer any fear or any shame.

Why then in old times was economy in the ascendant? Because every
one practised self-control; because we were all members of one city.
Nor even afterwards had we the same temptations, while our dominion
was confined to Italy. Victories over the foreigner taught us how
to waste the substance of others; victories over ourselves, how to
squander our own. What a paltry matter is this of which the aediles
are reminding us! What a mere trifle if you look at everything else!
No one represents to the Senate that Italy requires supplies from
abroad, and that the very existence of the people of Rome is daily
at the mercy of uncertain waves and storms. And unless masters, slaves,
and estates have the resources of the provinces as their mainstay,
our shrubberies, forsooth, and our country houses will have to support

Such, Senators, are the anxieties which the prince has to sustain,
and the neglect of them will be utter ruin to the State. The cure
for other evils must be sought in our own hearts. Let us be led to
amendment, the poor by constraint, the rich by satiety. Or if any
of our officials give promise of such energy and strictness as can
stem the corruption, I praise the man, and I confess that I am relieved
of a portion of my burdens. But if they wish to denounce vice, and
when they have gained credit for so doing they arouse resentments
and leave them to me, be assured, Senators, that I too am by no means
eager to incur enmities, and though for the public good I encounter
formidable and often unjust enmities, yet I have a right to decline
such as are unmeaning and purposeless and will be of use neither to
myself nor to you.

When they had heard the emperor’s letter, the aediles were excused
from so anxious a task, and that luxury of the table which from the
close of the war ended at Actium to the armed revolution in which
Servius Galba rose to empire, had been practised with profuse expenditure,
gradually went out of fashion. It is as well that I should trace the
causes of this change.
The Annals by Tacitus