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5. L. Vitellius was father of the emperor and of the emperor's brother Lucius. Lucius, the father was a consummate flatterer, and by his arts he gained promotion. He set the example of adoring Caesar Caligula as a god, but this was done mainly to save his life. After being consul in A. D. 34, he had been appointed governor of Syria, and he had induced Artabanus, the king of the Parthians, not only to come to a conference with him, but also to make his obeisance to the signa of the legions, which were apparently marked with the Roman emperor's effigy, or were accompanied by it. (Dio Cassius, 59.27.) Vitellius had got favourable terms of peace from Artabanus. But all this only excited Caligula's jealousy, and he sent for Vitellius to put him to death. The governor saved himself by his abject humiliation and the gross flattery, which pleased and softened the savage tyrant. A story is told so extravagant as hardly to be credible, if anything were not credible of a madman like Caligula. The emperor on one occasion said that he had commerce with the moon, and asked Vitellius if he had ever seen their embraces. Vitellius, affecting profound veneration, with his eyes on the ground, and in a faint tremulous voice replied, " To you gods alone, my master, is it permitted to see one another." Nobody ever beat this, and Vitellius reigned the king of flatterers. He paid the like attention to Claudius and to Messalina. He was rewarded by being twice consul with Claudius, and censor. He and Messalina are accused of being the chief cause of the death of Valerius Asiaticus. (Tacit. Annal. 11.1-3.) After the execution of Messalina, he artfully removed the difficulty which Claudius had about celebrating his marriage with his niece Agrippina. by making it appear that the Senate and the people wished for the marriage. The Senate carried their adulation and hypocrisy so far as to say that they would compel the emperor to the marriage, if he hesitated. (Tac. Ann. 12.5, &c.) When Claudius was celebrating the Secular Games, the compliment of this outrageous flatterer was, " Saepe facias ;" which is as much as to say, " O king, live for ever." Vitellius, though one of the strong partizans of Agrippina, was accused (A. D. 52) of majestas by Junius Lupus, a senator; but the accusation only ruined the accuser. (Tac. Ann. 12.42.) Lucius died of paralysis soon after he was attacked. He saw his two sons by Sextilia consuls before he died, and indeed both of them were consuls in the same year, A. D. 48, in which the emperor Claudius and Lucius Vitellius were censors. The Senate honoured the man with a public funeral and a statue in front of the Rostra, bearing the inscription " Pietatis immobilis erga Principem." " As to L. Vitellius," says Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 6.32), " I am not ignorant that he had a bad name in Rome, and that many scandalous things were said of him, but in the administration of the provinces he showed the virtues of a former age."

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.42
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.5
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.32
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