IN THE CIRCUS, AND AFTERWARDS
 ON the day that followed the events described in the
last chapter, the popular discontent was displayed at
the games in the Circus. Some pains had been taken to
make them more imposing and attractive than usual. The
wild beasts exhibited were the finest and rarest
varieties; some performing elephants were to exhibit
their choicest feats, carrying a sick comrade, for
instance, in a litter on a tight rope stretched across
the arena; some favourite gladiators were advertised as
about to contend. But all these attractions failed to
conciliate the multitude. The Emperor headed the
procession in order to give further éclat to the
show. He was received, however, with sounds
suspiciously like a hiss, and when his ministers
passed, a deafening shout of "Bread! bread! Give us
our bread!" arose on every side. The Emperor, who knew,
 was allowed to know, very little of what was going on
in Rome, was not a little frightened at the
demonstration, and for that reason all the more angry.
When he was brought to take an interest in anything
outside his dining-hall and his library—he was as great
a glutton of books as of dainties—he could show
himself both capable and energetic. His ministers were
not unprepared for the rare occasions on which their
master asserted himself. They bent before the storm,
which would soon, they knew, blow over, and leave them
to follow their usual intrigues in peace.
"What is this about bread?" cried Claudius.
Narcissus explained that wheat had risen greatly in
price, and that it had been necessary to diminish the
allowance made to the ticket-holders. The explanation
did not explain anything to the imperial mind. If
Claudius had ever felt the want of money, and it is
quite possible that he had in the days before he came
to the throne, he had forgotten all about it. His
ministers carefully kept all matters of finance from
his knowledge, and he had simply no idea of there being
any limit to what the treasury could or could not do.
"I don't understand what you mean," he cried. "My
Romans must have as much bread as they want. It is not
for the Augustus to
 chaffer about how many denarii are to be paid for this
wheat that is wanted. I suppose that I have money
"Certainly, sire," answered Narcissus, with a low bow.
"Everything shall be arranged according to your
Highness' pleasure. But meanwhile will you please to
proceed to your place and give the signal for the Games
to commence. Afterwards, if you will condescend to
listen, I will set the whole case before you, and we
shall then have the advantage of your counsel."
The Games, which it is not necessary to describe,
passed over without any untoward incident, though the
populace was obviously in a very bad humour. One or two
unsuccessful and unlucky gladiators received a death
sentence which they would probably have escaped had the
masters of their fate been better content with
themselves and the world. The comic business of the
spectacles moved very little laughter, and their
splendours very little admiration. But the whole passed
over without any positive outburst, and the authorities
felt that they had at least obtained a reprieve.
It was clear, however, that no time was to be lost, and
a council in which the situation was to be discussed,
and if possible dealt with, was to be held that very
day. The Roman hours for
busi-  ness were very early, and it was only a very great emergency
that could be held to justify so late an hour for
meeting as the time fixed, 4 p.m. The Emperor, who was
for once genuinely interested in the affairs of the
present—the affairs of the past could always attract
his attention, if they were sufficiently remote and
obscure—took the hastiest meal that he had ever had in
his life, without complaint, and presided in person.
The first business was to make a statement of the
affairs of the treasury. It was not complete, such
statements seldom are, but it was quite sufficient to
show the Emperor that the state of things was serious.
It came upon him as a surprise; he had always
entertained a belief, quite vague and unfounded, but
never questioned, that the public purse was
inexhaustible. His only idea now was to sell the gold
plate of the palace. The ministers received the
suggestion with due respect and complimented the
Emperor on his generosity and self-sacrifice.
He was a true father of his country, who was willing to
give up anything rather than that his people should
suffer. They were equally complimentary when he
suggested that he should give a public recitation,
tickets for which should be sold at five gold pieces
each. This idea was put off, for some sufficiently
plausible reason. Then
 Narcissus gave his advice, introducing it with the
usual assurance of submission to the superior wisdom
of the Emperor. The substance of what he said was, that
in his judgment the difficulty was temporary,
sufficiently serious indeed to demand prompt remedy—he
was too sagacious to minimize a matter about which
Claudius, he saw, was very anxious—but not beyond
treatment by temporary measures. There was scarcity,
but it would pass away. Meanwhile those who had wealth
ought to put a sufficient portion of it at the service
of the State for immediate uses. "I will give," he went
on, "two million sesterces."
The sum sounded imposing, but to any one who knew the
circumstances of the case, it was but a small fraction
of the wealth which, by means more or less nefarious,
the donor had stolen out of the public revenue. Still
it had a magnificent sound. Pallas, who was supposed
to be his equal, if not his superior, in wealth,
followed with the offer of a similar sum. Two other
officials who had had fewer opportunities, though equal
desire, for plunder, named smaller amounts. At this
point the Prefect of the Praetorians broke in with a
suggestion of a more radical policy. He praised the
munificence of the freedmen, though he contrived in
doing it to convey the idea which we
 know to have been perfectly in accord with the truth,
that they were but giving back a part of what they had
received or taken. "But," he went on, "their gifts will
only help us for a time; we must remove, if we can, the
cause of the evil. And what is the cause? I say that it
is the avarice and rapacity of the Jews. Rome has never
been the same since they began to settle here, and the
more of them come, the poorer she grows."
One of the freedmen ventured to say that so far as he
had an opportunity of observing them they seemed sober
"Sobriety and industry," replied the soldier, "are
admirable virtues if the man who possesses them is a
patriot. If he is not, they do but make him more
dangerous. These Jews are a turbulent, discontented
and disloyal lot. I saw something of them when I was in
command of one of the legions in the time of Caius
They got into a state of furious excitement for some
trifle or other, and there was very nearly a
"My nephew," said the Emperor, "was, I think, a little
unreasonable. He wanted to set up a statue of himself
in their chief temple, and they objected to it. I
cannot but think that they were in the right."
 "You are very kind, Sire, to say so, but for my part I
hold that the dogs should have felt honoured by the
proposal. Who are they to flout at Caesar's statue?"
"My friend," said the Emperor, with a dignity which he
sometimes knew how to assume, "you are scarcely an
authority on such matters. But what think you," he went
on, turning to Narcissus, "of these Jews?"
"Sire," said the freedman, "I do not deny that they are
temperate and hard-working; but this does not
necessarily make them good citizens or good neighbours.
The fact is that they push our people out of the best
places, and they make themselves masters. They have
always got money at command, and they lend it. I know
something about money lending; I was once in the
business myself, and I still have agents who employ
part of my capital in that way. They tell me that in
nine cases out of ten when they have an application
for a loan, they find that a Jew has got a first
mortgage on the house, or the stock-in-trade, or the
tools, or whatever it is that the man wants to borrow
on. They always take care to have the best in any
matter they meddle with."
"But are they extortionate?" asked the Emperor.
"I can't say that they are, and yet they are
 unpopular; of that I am quite certain, though it is
difficult to say why. It would certainly please the
people generally if they were banished from Rome."
"Banished from Rome!" cried Claudius. "That would be
"I am sure, Sire," said Narcissus, "there are
precedents, but your Highness is better acquainted with
these things than any of us. Was there not something
of the kind done with the Greek professors some two
hundred years ago?"
This artful appeal to the Emperor's erudition had the
effect which it was intended to have. Claudius mounted
his hobby and was fairly carried away.
"Yes," said he, "you are right. One hundred and
ninety-nine years ago, to be exact, the Greek
philosophers and teachers of rhetoric were banished by
the censors of Rome." He went on with a list of
precedents which we need not be at pains to repeat,
finishing up with a recent example. "As many living
persons remember, in the third year of Tiberius, the
astrologers were banished from Rome; I myself have more
than once contemplated doing the same thing."
By this time the Emperor had talked himself into a
complete forgetfulness of the events of the case, and
showed no hesitation in signing the
 decree, artfully made ready for the opportunity.
As the council broke up, Narcissus whispered to Pallas—
"After all, our millions may not be so badly laid out;
there will be some shipwrecks, I take it, pretty soon;
and it will be strange if there are not some valuables
to be picked up on the shore."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics