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Feast of Pollio and Augustus’ intercession

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Octavian Augustus
Octavian Augustus

Publius Vedius Pollio was a Roman equestrian and friend of the first emperor, Octavian Augustus. His father was a freedman; Pollio made a huge fortune by managing the province of Asia on behalf of emperor; i.e. he owned a huge villa on the Bay of Naples, where he was breeding predatory moray eels, which he would devour disobedient or making mistakes to slaves. His brutal habits were known throughout Rome and extremely outraged the public.

Once, Pollio hosted Octavian Augustus himself at a feast in his home. At one point, one of the slaves dropped and destroyed the crystal cup, for which the host sentenced him to death by throwing him into a pool full of moray eels. The slave, however, threw himself to the emperor’s knees, asking for intercession. August asked his friend to relinquish such a drastic punishment; however, to no avail. Then the emperor asked Pollio to bring him all the precious vessels of similar value to the broken ones. When they were delivered, he had them all smashed. Pollio, being put in an uncomfortable position, gave up punishing the slave. Moreover, Seneca the Younger states that the emperor was to free the slave1.

Augustus’ behavior was commented on in antiquity. Ovid appreciated the behavior of the emperor, who thus emphasized the excessive attachment of the Romans to wealth2.

  1. Seneca the Younger, De Ira, 3.40
  2. Ovid, Fasti, 6.645-648
  • Cassius Dio, Roman history, LIV.23

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