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Of the three prefects of the City, Symmachus, Lampadius, and Iuventius; 1 and of the contest under the last-named of Damasus and Ursinus for the Bishopric of Rome.

At this time or a little earlier 2 a new form of portent appeared in Annonarian Tuscany, 3 and how it would turn out even those who were skilled in interpreting prodigies were wholly at a loss to know. For in the town of Pistoria, 4 at about the third hour of the day, in the sight of many persons, an ass mounted the tribunal and was heard to bray persistently, to the amazement both of all who were present and of those who heard of it from the reports of others; and no one could guess what was to come, until later the portended event came to pass. [2] For one Terentius, born in that city, a fellow of low origin and a baker by trade, by way of reward because he had brought Orfitus, an ex-prefect, into court on the charge of embezzlement, held the position of governor in that province. Emboldened 5 by this, he proceeded to stir up many disturbances, and being convicted of cheating in a matter of business with some ship-captains, 6 as was reported, [p. 15] he met death at the hands of the executioner when Claudius was city-prefect. 7

[3] However, long before this happened, Apronianus was succeeded by Symmachus, 8 a man worthy to be classed among the conspicuous examples of learning and moderation, through whose efforts the sacred city enjoyed an unusual period of quiet and prosperity, and prides itself on a handsome bridge, 9 which Symmachus himself, by the decision of our mighty emperors, dedicated, and to the great joy of the citizens, who proved ungrateful, as the result most clearly showed. [4] For after some years had passed, they set fire to Symmachus' beautiful house in the Transtiberine district, spurred on by the fact that a common fellow among the plebeians had alleged, without any informant or witness, that the prefect had said that he would rather use his own wine for quenching lime-kilns 10 than sell it at the price which the people hoped for.

[5] Symmachus was succeeded as prefect of the city by Lampadius, 11 a former praetorian prefect, a man who took it very ill if even his manner of spitting was not praised, on the ground that he did that also with greater skill than anyone else; but yet he was sometimes strict and honest. [6] When this man, in his praetorship, gave magnificent games and made very rich largesses, being unable to endure [p. 17] the blustering of the commons, who often urged that many things should be given to those who were unworthy of them, 12 in order to show his generosity and his contempt of the mob, he summoned some beggars from the Vatican 13 and presented them with valuable gifts. [7] But of his vanity, not to digress too far, it will suffice to give this single instance, insignificant indeed, but something to be shunned by high officials. For through all quarters of the city which had been adorned at the expenses of various emperors, he had his own name inscribed, not as the restorer of old buildings, but as their founder. From this fault the emperor Trajan also is said to have suffered, and for that reason he was jestingly called “wall-wort.” 14

[8] As prefect, Lampadius was disturbed by frequent outbreaks, the greatest of all being when a mob, composed of the dregs of the populace, by throwing fire-brands and fire-darts upon his house near the Baths of Constantine would have burned it, had not his friends and neighbours quickly rushed to the spot and driven them off by pelting them with stones and tiles from the house-tops. [9] He himself, terrified by such violence in the first stages of a growing tumult, fled to the Mulvian bridge 15 — which the elder Scaurus 16 is said to have built—as though to wait there for the cessation of the tumult, [p. 19] which a serious cause had aroused. [10] For when preparing to erect new buildings or restoring old ones, he did not order materials to be obtained from the usual taxes, 17 but if there was need of iron, lead, bronze, or anything of the kind, attendants were set on, in order that they might, under pretence of buying the various articles, seize them without paying anything. In consequence, he was barely able by swift flight to avoid the anger of the incensed poor, who had repeated losses to lament.

[11] As his successor came Viventius, a former 18 court-chancellor, a just and prudent man of Pannonia, whose administration was quiet and mild, and rich in an abundance of everything. But he, too, was alarmed by sanguinary outbreaks of the factions of the people, which were caused by the following affair. [12] Damasus and Ursinus, burning with a superhuman desire of seizing the bishopric, engaged in bitter strife because of their opposing interests; and the supporters of both parties went even so far as conflicts ending in bloodshed and death. Since Viventius was able neither to end nor to diminish this strife, he was compelled to yield to its great violence, and retired to the suburbs. [13] And in the struggle Damasus was victorious through the efforts of the party which favoured him. It is a well-known fact that in the basilica of Sicininus, 19 where the assembly of the Christian sect is held, in a single day a hundred and thirty-seven corpses of the slain were found, and that it was only with difficulty that the [p. 21] long-continued frenzy of the people was afterwards quieted.

[14] Bearing in mind the ostentation in city life, I do not deny that those who are desirous of such a thing ought to struggle with the exercise of all their strength to gain what they seek; for when they attain it, they will be so free from care that they are enriched from the offerings of matrons, ride seated in carriages, wearing clothing chosen with care, and serve banquets so lavish that their entertainments outdo the tables of kings. [15] These men might be truly happy, if they would disregard the greatness of the city behind which they hide their faults, and live after the manner of some provincial bishops, whose moderation in food and drink, plain apparel also, and gaze fixed upon the earth, commend them to the Eternal Deity and to his true servants as pure and reverent men. But this will be a sufficient digression; let me now return to the course of events.

1 See crit. note 1.

2 360–363.

3 Tuscia, or Etruria, was divided into Tuscia Annonaria (“grain-bearing”) and Tuscia Urbicaria or Suburbicaria (“near the city,” i.e. Rome).

4 Modern Pistoia.

5 374 A.D.

6 The navicularii brought grain from abroad.

7 A.D. 374. The omen seems to have been that of an unfit person making trouble in a high position; there is perhaps a connection with the asses used to turn the mills in a bakery.

8 City-prefect in 364 and 365, father of the Symmachus from whom we have a collection of letters.

9 The Pons Aurelius, later called Pons Antoninus, now the Ponte Sisto (see Top. Diet. Anc. Rome, s.v. Pons Aurelius). It was restored by Valentinian in 365–6 and bore his name for a time. It was not built (condidit) by Symmachus (see crit. note), but he dedicated it by the emperors' orders after his prefecture. See Dessau, Inscr. 769; C.I.L., vi. 31402.

10 Cf. Pliny, N.H. xxxvi. 181.

11 In 365.

12 Such as mimes, actors, and charioteers; cf. xiv. 6, 14.

13 The Vatican hill, where there was an Apostles' Church before whose doors the people begged for alms.

14 Pseud.-Aurel. Victor, Epit. 41, 13, says that Constantine gave this name to Trajan, because he had his name put on many buildings (ob titulos multis aedibus inscriptos).

15 See Livy, xxvii. 51, 2, for the first reference to this bridge (207 B. C.).

16 So also Pseud.-Aur. Vict., De Viris III. 72, 8. This is M. Aemilius Scaurus, censor in 110 B.C., but the Pons Mulvius (Ponte Molle) must have been built as early as 220 B.C., to carry the Via Flaminia across the Tiber, and Scaurus restored it. Mulvius is unknown.

17 I.e., a fund set aside for such purposes; see Exc. 67. For tituli see xxx. 5, 6.

18 366–7 A.D.

19 In the Fifth Region, also called Basilica Liberii (see Val. in Wagner-Erfurdt); now Santa Maria Maggiore.

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load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ETRU´RIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ROMA
    • Smith's Bio, Da'masus
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