There was a rumour that Sabrius Flavus had held a secret consultation
with the centurions, and had planned, not without Seneca’s knowledge,
that when Nero had been slain by Piso’s instrumentality, Piso also
was to be murdered, and the empire handed over to Seneca, as a man
singled out for his splendid virtues by all persons of integrity.
Even a saying of Flavus was popularly current, “that it mattered not
as to the disgrace if a harp-player were removed and a tragic actor
succeeded him.” For as Nero used to sing to the harp, so did Piso
in the dress of a tragedian.
The soldiers’ part too in the conspiracy no longer escaped discovery,
some in their rage becoming informers to betray Faenius Rufus, whom
they could not endure to be both an accomplice and a judge. Accordingly
Scaevinus, in answer to his browbeating and menaces, said with a smile
that no one knew more than he did, and actually urged him to show
gratitude to so good a prince. Faenius could not meet this with either
speech or silence. Halting in his words and visibly terror-stricken,
while the rest, especially Cervarius Proculus, a Roman knight, did
their utmost to convict him, he was, at the emperor’s bidding, seized
and bound by Cassius, a soldier, who because of his well-known strength
of limb was in attendance.
Shortly afterwards, the information of the same men proved fatal to
Subrius Flavus. At first he grounded his defence on his moral contrast
to the others, implying that an armed soldier, like himself, would
never have shared such an attempt with unarmed and effeminate associates.
Then, when he was pressed, he embraced the glory of a full confession.
Questioned by Nero as to the motives which had led him on to forget
his oath of allegiance, “I hated you,” he replied; “yet not a soldier
was more loyal to you while you deserved to be loved. I began to hate
you when you became the murderer of your mother and your wife, a charioteer,
an actor, and an incendiary.” I have given the man’s very words, because
they were not, like those of Seneca, generally published, though the
rough and vigorous sentiments of a soldier ought to be no less known.
Throughout the conspiracy nothing, it was certain, fell with more
terror on the ears of Nero, who was as unused to be told of the crimes
he perpetrated as he was eager in their perpetration. The punishment
of Flavus was intrusted to Veianius Niger, a tribune. At his direction,
a pit was dug in a neighbouring field. Flavus, on seeing it, censured
it as too shallow and confined, saying to the soldiers around him,
“Even this is not according to military rule.” When bidden to offer
his neck resolutely, “I wish,” said he, “that your stroke may be as
resolute.” The tribune trembled greatly, and having only just severed
his head at two blows, vaunted his brutality to Nero, saying that
he had slain him with a blow and a half.
Sulpicius Asper, a centurion, exhibited the next example of fortitude.
To Nero’s question why he had conspired to murder him, he briefly
replied that he could not have rendered a better service to his infamous
career. He then underwent the prescribed penalty. Nor did the remaining
centurions forget their courage in suffering their punishment. But
Faenius Rufus had not equal spirit; he even put his laments into his
Nero waited in the hope that Vestinus also, the consul, whom he thought
an impetuous and deeply disaffected man, would be involved in the
charge. None however of the conspirators had shared their counsels
with him, some from old feuds against him, most because they considered
him a reckless and dangerous associate. Nero’s hatred of him had had
its origin in intimate companionship, Vestinus seeing through and
despising the emperor’s cowardice, while Nero feared the high spirit
of his friend, who often bantered him with that rough humour which,
when it draws largely on facts, leaves a bitter memory behind it.
There was too a recent aggravation in the circumstance of Vestinus
having married Statilia Messalina, without being ignorant that the
emperor was one of her paramours.
The Annals by Tacitus