Hitherto Nero had sought a veil for his abominations and wickedness.
He was particularly suspicious of Cornelius Sulla, whose apathetic
temper he interpreted as really the reverse, inferring that he was,
in fact, an artful dissembler. Graptus, one of the emperor’s freedmen,
whose age and experience had made him thoroughly acquainted with the
imperial household from the time of Tiberius, quickened these apprehensions
by the following falsehood. The Mulvian bridge was then a famous haunt
of nightly profligacy, and Nero used to go there that he might take
his pleasures more freely outside the city. So Graptus, taking advantage
of an idle panic into which the royal attendants had chanced to have
been thrown on their return by one of those youthful frolics which
were then everywhere practised, invented a story that a treacherous
attack had been planned on the emperor, should he go back by the Flaminian
road, and that through the favour of destiny he had escaped it, as
he went home by a different way to Sallust’s gardens. Sulla, he said,
was the author of this plot. Not one, however, of Sulla’s slaves or
clients was recognised, and his character, despicable as it was and
incapable of a daring act, was utterly at variance with the charge.
Still, just as if he had been found guilty, he was ordered to leave
his country, and confine himself within the walls of Massilia.

During the same consulship a hearing was given to two conflicting
deputations from Puteoli, sent to the Senate by the town council and
by the populace. The first spoke bitterly of the violence of the multitude;
the second, of the rapacity of the magistrates and of all the chief
citizens. That the disturbance, which had gone as far as stoning and
threats of fire, might not lead on to bloodshed and armed fighting,
Caius Cassius was appointed to apply some remedy. As they would not
endure his rigour, the charge of the affair was at his own request
transferred to the brothers Scribonii, to whom was given a praetorian
cohort, the terror of which, coupled with the execution of a few persons,
restored peace to the townspeople.

I should not mention a very trivial decree of the Senate which allowed
the city of Syracuse to exceed the prescribed number in their gladiatorial
shows, had not Paetus Thrasea spoken against it and furnished his
traducers with a ground for censuring his motion. “Why,” it was asked,
“if he thought that the public welfare required freedom of speech
in the Senate, did he pursue such trifling abuses? Why should he not
speak for or against peace and war, or on the taxes and laws and other
matters involving Roman interests? The senators, as often as they
received the privilege of stating an opinion, were at liberty to say
out what they pleased, and to claim that it should be put to the vote.
Was it the only worthy object of reform to provide that the Syracusans
should not give shows on a larger scale? Were all other matters in
every department of the empire as admirable as if Thrasea and not
Nero had the direction of them? But if the highest affairs were passed
by and ignored, how much more ought there to be no meddling with things
wholly insignificant.”

Thrasea in reply, when his friends asked an explanation, said “that
it was not in ignorance of Rome’s actual condition that he sought
to correct such decrees, but that he was giving what was due to the
honour of the senators, in making it evident that those who attended
even to the merest trifles, would not disguise their responsibility
for important affairs.”

That same year, repeated demands on the part of the people, who denounced
the excessive greed of the revenue collectors, made Nero doubt whether
he should not order the repeal of all indirect taxes, and so confer
a most splendid boon on the human race. But this sudden impulse was
checked by the senators, who, having first heartily praised the grandeur
of his conception, pointed out “that the dissolution of the empire
must ensue if the revenues which supported the State were to be diminished;
for as soon as the customs were swept away, there would follow a demand
for the abolition of the direct taxes. Many companies for the collection
of the indirect taxes had been formed by consuls and tribunes, when
the freedom of the Roman people was still in its vigour, and arrangements
were subsequently made to insure an exact correspondence between the
amount of income and the necessary disbursements. Certainly some restraint,
they admitted, must be put on the cupidity of the revenue collectors,
that they might not by new oppressions bring into odium what for so
many years had been endured without a complaint.”

Accordingly the emperor issued an edict that the regulations about
every branch of the public revenue, which had hitherto been kept secret,
should be published; that claims which had been dropped should not
be revived after a year; that the praetor at Rome, the propraetor
or proconsul in the provinces, should give judicial precedence to
all cases against the collectors; that the soldiers should retain
their immunities except when they traded for profit, with other very
equitable arrangements, which for a short time were maintained and
were subsequently disregarded. However, the repeal of the two per
cent. and two-and-a-half per cent. taxes remains in force, as well
as that of others bearing names invented by the collectors to cover
their illegal exactions. In our transmarine provinces the conveyance
of corn was rendered less costly, and it was decided that merchant
ships should not be assessed with their owner’s property, and that
no tax should be paid on them.
The Annals by Tacitus