“The men who slew Julius Caesar were under oath to him,” he remarked. “Most solemn oaths they swore, then turned on one another like a pack of wolves! Octavian and Anthony were under oath; and how long did that last? My first claim to renown was based on having rewon the allegiance of our troops in Britain, who had broken the most solemn oath a man can take—of loyalty to Rome. An oath binds nobody. It simply is an emphasis of what a man intends that minute. It expresses an emotion. I believe the gods smile when they hear men pledge themselves. I personally, who am far less than a god and far less capable of reading men’s minds, never trust a man unless I like him, or unless he gives me pledges that make doubt impossible.”
“Then you don’t like me?” asked Livius.
“I would like you better if I knew that I could trust you.”
“You shall, Pertinax! Bring witnesses! I will commit myself before your witnesses to do my part in—”
His restless eyes glanced right and left. Then he lowered his voice.
“—in bringing about the political change you contemplate.”
“Let us go to the sweating room,” Pertinax answered. “Keep near me. I will think this matter over. If I see you holding speech not audible to me, with any one—”
“I am already pledged. You may depend on me,” said Livius. “I trust you more because you use caution. Come.”
VI. THE EMPEROR COMMODUS
The imperial palace was a maze of splendor such as Babylon had never seen. It had its own great aqueducts to carry water for its fountains, for the gardens and for the imperial baths that were as magnificent, if not so large, as the Thermae of Titus. Palace after palace had been wrecked, remodeled and included in the whole, under the succeeding emperors, until the imperial quarters on the Palatine had grown into a city within a city.
There were barracks for the praetorian guard that lacked not much of being a fortress. Rooms and stairways for the countless slaves were like honeycomb cells in the dark foundations. There were underground passages, some of them secret, some notorious, connecting wing with wing; and there was one, for the emperor’s private use, that led to the great arena where the games were held, so that he might come and go with less risk of assassination.
Even temples had been taken over and included within the surrounding wall to make room for the ever-multiplying suites of state apartments, as each Caesar strove to outdo the magnificence of his predecessor. Oriental marble, gold-leaf, exotic trees, silk awnings, fountains, the majestic figures of the guards, the bronze doors and the huge height of the buildings, awed even the Romans who were used to them.