Nero, meanwhile, remembering that Epicharis was in custody on the
information of Volusius Proculus, and assuming that a woman’s frame
must be unequal to the agony, ordered her to be torn on the rack.
But neither the scourge nor fire, nor the fury of the men as they
increased the torture that they might not be a woman’s scorn, overcame
her positive denial of the charge. Thus the first day’s inquiry was
futile. On the morrow, as she was being dragged back on a chair to
the same torments (for with her limbs all dislocated she could not
stand), she tied a band, which she had stript off her bosom, in a
sort of noose to the arched back of the chair, put her neck in it,
and then straining with the whole weight of her body, wrung out of
her frame its little remaining breath. All the nobler was the example
set by a freedwoman at such a crisis in screening strangers and those
whom she hardly knew, when freeborn men, Roman knights, and senators,
yet unscathed by torture, betrayed, every one, his dearest kinsfolk.
For even Lucanus and Senecio and Quintianus failed not to reveal their
accomplices indiscriminately, and Nero was more and more alarmed,
though he had fenced his person with a largely augmented guard.
Even Rome itself he put, so to say, under custody, garrisoning its
walls with companies of soldiers and occupying with troops the coast
and the river-banks. Incessantly were there flying through the public
places, through private houses, country fields, and the neighbouring
villages, horse and foot soldiers, mixed with Germans, whom the emperor
trusted as being foreigners. In long succession, troops of prisoners
in chains were dragged along and stood at the gates of his gardens.
When they entered to plead their cause, a smile of joy on any of the
conspirators, a casual conversation, a sudden meeting, or the fact
of having entered a banquet or a public show in company, was construed
into a crime, while to the savage questionings of Nero and Tigellinus
were added the violent menaces of Faenius Rufus, who had not yet been
named by the informers, but who, to get the credit of complete ignorance,
frowned fiercely on his accomplices. When Subius Flavus at his side
asked him by a sign whether he should draw his sword in the middle
of the trial and perpetrate the fatal deed, Rufus refused, and checked
the man’s impulse as he was putting his hand to his sword-hilt.
Some there were who, as soon as the conspiracy was betrayed, urged
Piso, while Milichus’ story was being heard, and Scaevinus was hesitating,
to go to the camp or mount the Rostra and test the feelings of the
soldiers and of the people. “If,” said they, “your accomplices join
your enterprise, those also who are yet undecided, will follow, and
great will be the fame of the movement once started, and this in any
new scheme is all-powerful. Against it Nero has taken no precaution.
Even brave men are dismayed by sudden perils; far less will that stageplayer,
with Tigellinus forsooth and his concubines in his train, raise arms
against you. Many things are accomplished on trial which cowards think
arduous. It is vain to expect secrecy and fidelity from the varying
tempers and bodily constitutions of such a host of accomplices. Torture
or reward can overcome everything. Men will soon come to put you also
in chains and inflict on you an ignominious death. How much more gloriously
will you die while you cling to the State and invoke aid for liberty.
Rather let the soldiers fail, the people be traitors, provided that
you, if prematurely robbed of life, justify your death to your ancestors
Unmoved by these considerations, Piso showed himself a few moments
in public, then sought the retirement of his house, and there fortified
his spirit against the worst, till a troop of soldiers arrived, raw
recruits, or men recently enlisted, whom Nero had selected, because
he was afraid of the veterans, imbued, though they were, with a liking
for him. Piso expired by having the veins in his arms severed. His
will, full of loathsome flatteries of Nero, was a concession to his
love of his wife, a base woman, with only a beautiful person to recommend
her, whom he had taken away from her husband, one of his friends.
Her name was Atria Galla; that of her former husband, Domitius Silus.
The tame spirit of the man, the profligacy of the woman, blazoned
In quick succession Nero added the murder of Plautius Lateranus, consul-elect,
so promptly that he did not allow him to embrace his children or to
have the brief choice of his own death. He was dragged off to a place
set apart for the execution of slaves, and butchered by the hand of
the tribune Statius, maintaining a resolute silence, and not reproaching
the tribune with complicity in the plot.
Then followed the destruction of Annaeus Seneca, a special joy to
the emperor, not because he had convicted him of the conspiracy, but
anxious to accomplish with the sword what poison had failed to do.
It was, in fact, Natalis alone who divulged Seneca’s name, to this
extent, that he had been sent to Seneca when ailing, to see him and
remonstrate with him for excluding Piso from his presence, when it
would have been better to have kept up their friendship by familiar
intercourse; that Seneca’s reply was that mutual conversations and
frequent interviews were to the advantage of neither, but still that
his own life depended on Piso’s safety. Gavius Silvanus, tribune of
a praetorian cohort, was ordered to report this to Seneca and to ask
him whether he acknowledged what Natalis said and his own answer.
Either by chance or purposely Seneca had returned on that day from
Campania, and had stopped at a countryhouse four miles from Rome.
Thither the tribune came next evening, surrounded the house with troops
of soldiers, and then made known the emperor’s message to Seneca as
he was at dinner with his wife, Pompeia Paulina, and two friends.
The Annals by Tacitus