a freedman of the emperor Claudius, and one of his greatest favourites.
He was originally the slave of Antonia, the mother of Claudius, and is first mentioned in A. D. 31, when Antonia entrusted to him the responsible commission of carrying a letter to the emperor Tiberius, in which she disclosed the ambitious projects of Sejanus, and in consequence of which the all-powerful minister was put to death. (J. AJ 18.7.6
The name of Pallas does not occur during the reign of Caligula, but on the accession of Claudius, whose property he had become by the death of Antonia, and who had meantime manumitted him, he played an important part in public affairs. Along with Narcissus and Callistus, two other freedmen, he administered the affairs of the empire, but Narcissus had more energy and resolution than the other two, and consequently took the leading part in the government during the early part of Claudius' reign. When they saw that the death of Messalina, the wife of the emperor, was necessary to their own security, Narcissus alone had the courage to carry it into execution [NARCISSUS] ; Pallas was afraid to take any decisive step.
The consequence was, that after the execution of the empress, the influence of Narcissus became superior to that of Callistus and Pallas, but the latter soon recovered his former power.
The question now was, whom the weak-minded emperor should marry, and each of the three freedmen had a different person to propose. Pallas was fortunate enough to advocate the claims of Agrippina, who actually admitted the freedman to her embraces in order to purchase his support; and upon the marriage of Agrippina to the emperor in A. D. 50, Pallas shared in the good fortune of his candidate.
He was now leagued with the empress in order to oppose Narcissus; and Pallas and Agrippina became the real rulers of the Roman world.
It was Pallas who persuaded Claudius to adopt the young Domitius (afterwards the emperor Nero), the son of Agrippina, and he thus paved the way for his accession to the throne.
This important service did not go unrewarded. In A. D. 52, Claudius proposed a law in the senate respecting the punishment of women who had intercourse with slaves, and mentioned the name of Pallas as the author of the law, in order that the senate might confer some mark of favour upon him.
This was done at the instigation of Agrippina, and the servile body forthwith conferred upon Pallas the insignia of a praetor, and voted him a sum of fifteen millions of sesterces. They even went so far, on the proposition of Cornelius Scipio, as to return thanks to Pallas, because he was willing to be numbered among the servants of the emperor, although descended from the kings of Arcadia!
But as Claudius said that Pallas, contented with the honours, would continue in his former state of poverty, they passed a decree, praising for his frugality a freedman who possessed a fortune of 300 millions of sesterces.
This decree of the senate was engraved on a brazen tablet, and placed near the statue of Julius Caesar, in one of the most frequented parts of the city, where it was seen in the time of the younger Pliny, who speaks of it in terms of the greatest indignation. (Tac. Ann. 12.53
; Plin. Ep. 7.29
; comp. Plin. Nat. 35.18. s. 58
As long as Claudius lived, Agrippina could not be certain of the succession of her son, and accordingly poisoned her husband, doubtless with the connivance and assistance of Pallas, in A. D. 54. Narcissus, who had remained true to the interests of Claudius and his son Britannicus, was also despatched immediately after the death of the emperor, and thus no one any longer stood in the way of Pallas. Agrippina had hoped to govern the Roman world in the name of her son, and Pallas expected to share in her power.
But both were soon doomed to a cruel disappointment. Nero speedily became tired of his mother's control, and as one step towards emancipating himself from her authority, deprived her favourite Pallas of all his public offices, and dismissed him from the palace as early as the year 56.
In the same year Pallas was accused, together with Burrus, by one Paetus, of a conspiracy to raise Cornelius Sulla to the throne, but being defended by Seneca, according to Dio Cassius (61.10), he was acquitted. From this time he was suffered to live unmolested for some years, till at length his immense wealth excited the rapacity of Nero, who had him removed by poison, in A. D. 63. His enormous wealth, which was acquired during the reign of Claudius, had become proverbial, as we see from the line in Juvenal (1.107), ego possideo plus Pallante et Licinio ;
and when the poverty of the imperial treasury was complained of on one occasion in the reign of Claudius, it was said that the emperor would possess an abundance, if he were taken into partnership by his two freedmen, Narcissus and Pallas. (Suet. Cl. 28
; comp. Plin. Nat. 33.10. s. 47
The arrogance and pride of Pallas are specially mentioned both by Tacitus and Dio Cassius, and it is related of him that he never gave any orders, even to his freedmen, by word of mouth ; and that if a nod or a sign with his hand did not suffice, he signified in writing what he wished to be done.
In this he seems to have adopted the imperial practice, which was first introduced by Augustus. (Comp. Suet. Aug. 84
; Lipsius, ad Ttc. Ann.
The brother of Pallas was Antonius or Claudius Felix, who was appointed by Claudius to the government of Judaea, where he committed such atrocities that he was accused by the Jews, and was saved only from condign punishment by the influence of Pallas. [FELIX, ANTONIUS.] (Tac. Ann. 11.29
; D. C. 61.3
; Suet. Cl. 28
2; J. AJ 20.8.9