three pairs of lovers with space

ON THE CAESARS BY AURELIUS VICTOR

 

Sextus Aurelius Victor was a Roman historian whose history of the Roman Emperors, De Caesaribus, was finished and published in 361. Regarding Greek love, it adds a little to our knowledge of Augustus, but is only important as a source for the deeds of the much later emperors Philip and Constans, of whom the latter was about Victor’s age.

The translation is by H. W. Bird, Liber de Caesaribus of Sextus Aurelius Victor, Liverpool, 1994, with two amendments explained in footnotes.

 

2. Claudius Tiberius Nero

Describing Tiberius, who reigned AD 14-37:

After a good beginning he subsequently became pernicious, given to the most unnatural lusts for persons of practically every age and sex[1] and punishing all too cruelly the innocent and the guilty, his own relatives and strangers alike. Moreover in the period when he detested cities and assemblies he sought out the isle of Capri as a cover for his shameful activities. [i] bonis initiis deinde perniciosus, quaesitissimis in omnem fere aetatem sexumque libidinibus, atque atrocius puniens insontes noxios, suos pariter externosque. [ii] Adhuc dum urbes et conventus exsecratur, Capreas insulam quaesiverat flagitiis obtentui. 
Villa Jovis, Tiberius's home on Capri

 

5. L. Domitius Nero

Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, having brought his army to overthrow Nero in AD 68:

But at his approach Nero was deserted on all sides except by a eunuch, whom he had once tried to make into a woman by surgery,[2] and he stabbed himself since, although for a long time he begged for someone to kill him, he had not deserved anyone's assistance even to die. [xvi] Verum eius adventu desertus undique nisi ab spadone, quem quondam exsectum formare in mulierem tentaverat, semet ictu transegit, cum implorans percussorem diu ne ad mortem quidem meruisset cuiusquam officium.


14. Aelius Hadrian

Describing the reign of Hadrian, 117-138:

Then, as is normal in peaceful circumstances, he retired somewhat negligently to his country retreat at Tivoli, leaving the city to Lucius Aelius Caesar.

He himself, as is the custom with the fortunate rich, built palaces and devoted himself to dinner parties, statuary and paintings, and finally took sufficient pains to procure every luxury and plaything.

From this sprang the malicious rumours that he had debauched pubescent boys[3] and that he burned with passion for the scandalous attentions of Antinous[4] and that for no other reason he had founded a city named after him or had erected statues to the youth.

Some, to be sure, maintain that these were acts of piety and religious scruple because when Hadrian wanted to prolong his life and magicians had demanded a volunteer in his place, they report that although everyone else refused, Antinous offered himself and for this reason the honours mentioned above were accorded him.

We shall leave the matter unresolved, although with someone of a self-indulgent nature we are suspicious of a relationship between those[5] far apart in age.

Aureus of Hadrian

[v] Deinde, uti solet tranquillis rebus, remissior rus proprium Tibur secessit permissa urbe Lucio Aelio Caesari.

[vi] Ipse, uti beatis locupletibus mos, palatia exstruere, curare epulas signa tabulas pictas; postremo omnia satis anxie prospicere, quae luxus lasciviaeque essent.

[vii] Hinc orti rumores mali iniecisse stupra puberibus atque Antinoi flagravisse famoso ministerio neque alia de causa urbem conditam eius nomine aut locasse ephebo statuas.

[viii] Quae quidem alii pia volunt religiosaque: quippe Hadriano cupiente fatum producere, cum voluntarium ad vicem magi poposcissent, cunctis retractantibus Antinoum obiecisse se referunt, hincque in eum officia supra dicta.

[ix] Nos rem in medio relinquemus quamquam in remisso ingenio suspectam aestimantes societatem aevi longe imparilis.

Medallion of Antinous, Mantineia 131-2

 

23. Marcus Antoninus … called Heliogabalus

Describing “Heliogabalus”, who reigned 218-222:

Not even shameless and wanton women were more depraved than he; in fact he searched the whole world for the lewdest men so that he might watch them or participate in their practice of filthy obscenities.[6]

Since these were multiplying day by day and love for Alexander, whom the nobility had proclaimed Caesar after learning of Opilius' death, was increasing more and more, he (Heliogabalus) was overthrown in the praetorian camp in the thirtieth month of his reign.

[ii] Hoc impurius ne improbae quidem aut petulantes mulieres fuere: quippe orbe toto obscoenissimos perquirebat visendis tractandisve artibus †libidinum ferendarum.

[iii] Haec cum augerentur in dies ac magis magisque Alexandri, quem comperta Opilii nece Caesarem nobilitas nuncupaverat, amor cumularetur, in castris praetoriis tricesimo regni mense oppressus est.


28. Marcus Julius Philippus

Describing one of the portents which, at the time the thousandth anniversary of Rome’s foundation was celebrated in April 248, announced the coming decline in her importance as a city:

Antoninianus of Philip "the Arab" minted in 248 to commemorate Rome's millenium, the lion on the reverse being one of the animals in the accompanying Games

For when some victims were being sacrificed according to pontifical law, female genitals appeared on a hog's abdomen.

This the soothsayers interpreted to predict the decadence of later generations and the aggravation of vices.

The emperor Philip, because he thought that this would prove false and then again because he had caught sight of a young boy prostitute resembling his son[7] as he happened to walk past him, took very honourable measures to abolish the practice of male prostitution.[8]

Nevertheless it still survives, for if circumstances are altered it is practised even more outrageously as long as men seek more avidly whatever is dangerous and forbidden.[9]

Bust of the emperor Philip "the Arab" from Castel Porziano

[iv] Nam cum pontificum lege hostiae mactarentur, suis utero maris feminarum genitalia apparuere.

[v] Id haruspices solutionem posterorum portendere vitiaque fore potiora interpretati.

[vi] Quod frustratum iri aestimans imperator Philippus, tum quia forte praeteriens filii similem pro meritorio ephebum conspexerat, usum virilis scorti removendum honestissime consultavit.

[vii] Verumtamen manet: quippe condicione loci mutata peioribus flagitiis agitatur, dum avidius periculosa quibusque prohibentur mortales petunt.

Bust of Philip, son and co-emperor of Philip "the Arab"

 

41. Constantine [I]

Describing Constans, the youngest of the three sons of Constantine I (who jointly succeeded their father in 337), murdered in 350 on the orders of Magnentius, a usurper of Frankish origin:

[…] in the tenth year after his triumph he was overthrown by Magnentius' criminal act, although he had certainly suppressed the uprisings of foreign tribes.[10] Because he had treated too attentively the hostages taken from them, rather attractive boys whom he had sought out and paid for, it was justifiably believed that he burned with a passion of this kind.[11] Yet would that these vices had continued! For everything was so devastated by the awful, savage character of Magnentius, as is natural with a barbarian, and simultaneously by what happened afterwards, that people not without reason longed for the previous reign.  [xxiii …] anno post triumphum decimo Magnentii scelere circumventus est externarum sane gentium compressis motibus. [xxiv] Quarum obsides pretio quaesitos pueros venustiores quod cultius habuerat, libidine huiuscemodi arsisse pro certo habetur. [xxv] Quae tamen vitia utinam mansissent! Namque Magnentii, utpote gentis barbarae, diro atrocique ingenio, simul his, quae post accidere, adeo exstincta omnia sunt, ut illud imperium haud iniuria desideraretur;
Solidus of Constans ca. 340, the reverse showing him standing with a seated barbarian captive on either side

 

[1] The most detailed account of Tiberius’s sexual antics is (on this website) in Suetonius’s  The Twelve Caesars 43-4, much of it corroborated by Tacitus’s Annals VI 1, but neither they nor anyone else mention sex except with boys and females (mostly boys).  If Victor can here be held to be  implying Tiberius had sex with men too, he is surely exaggerating.

[2] His freed slave-boy Sporus, his love affair with whom was described more fully by Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars 28 xix-xx, 46 ii, 48 I and 49 iii, all on this website.

[3] The Latin word here is “puberibus” the dative plural of pubes which means people (implicitly male) having reached puberty”, not “men” as Bird has here translated it.

[4] See the page “Hadrian and Antinous”on this website, where will be found all the ancient writings on this highest profile Greek love affair known to history.

[5] Instead of “those”, Bird has here interpolated a noun “men” which does not exist in the Latin.

[6] “Heliogabalus” was aged about 14 to 18 as emperor, so a boy. His sexual antics with men were described at length in Cassius Dio’s Roman History LXXX and Aelius Lampridius’s biography (Augustan History XVII), the relevant passages of both of which are on this website. While his taking the passive sexual role was normal for a boy in Greek love, his enthusiasm for it was, to Roman thinking, absolutely outrageous for any freeborn Roman, never mind the emperor.

[7] Philip’s son, also his co-emperor, was twelve at his death in late 249, and therefore ten or eleven at this time.

[8] Apart from a brief allusion to it in the Augustan History XVIII 24 iv (qv. on this website), Victor is here the only surviving source for this prohibition by the emperor Philip, However unsuccessful, it is of immense importance as the first Roman restriction on men having sex with boys who were not freeborn Romans, and thus a foreshadowing of the permanent dark age that was to descend on Greek love in Europe and the Near East in the following century.

[9] Even though Philip supposedly banned male prostitution, it apparently still flourished under Constantius II despite Constantine's severe legislation in 326 on sexual offences: vid. Lib. Or. 38.8 ff.; 39.5 ff.; 53.6 ff. For Victor's strict views on sexual morality vid. H. W. Bird, Sextus Aurelius Victor: A Historiographical Study (Liverpool, 1984) 116-121. [Translator’s note]

[10] The tribes he had defeated were the Franks, a Germanic people, on the Rhine in 341-2 (when he was only about 19 himself) and the Sarmatians on the middle Danube in the winter of 342/3, though he also checked the Alamanni, another German tribe.

[11] Thus, while 17 of the first 23 emperors (27 BC – AD 217) were recorded as having sex with boys, Constans was the only one so recorded thereafter, and the first to do so in conflict with being a Christian. The translator’s footnote says “Victor was almost certainly at Rome at this period and these comments may stem from common knowledge. Eutropius, less of a moralist than Victor, avoids mention of Constans' homosexuality and describes his faults in general terms (gravia vitia).” Zosimus in his  New History XI 42 i-ii is the only other ancient to be clear about it.