IX

THE DOWNFALL OF SEJANUS

Tiberius had finally moved against Germanicus’s wife and eldest son. Or Sejanus had, in Tiberius’s name. Within days of Tiberius’s contretemps with the Senate, and the Senate’s backdown, mother and son were arrested by the Praetorian Guard at the palace of Germanicus on the Palatine. In the dead of night, says Suetonius, Agrippina the Elder and Nero Germanicus were hustled out of Rome in closed litters, with their hands and feet chained, before the public knew about it or could do anything to help them.¹

From Ostia, the port of Rome, the pair was shipped to Campanian prison islands off the western coast of Italy. Agrippina was sent to Pandataria, today’s Vendotene. Small, flat, and treeless, it was occupied by a single clifftop villa. The choice of Pandataria was quite deliberate: Agrippina’s mother, Julia, Tiberius’s former wife, whom he had detested, had been kept on this same island years before. Nero was sent to the nearby island of Pontia, today’s Ponza, which was just as rocky and desolate as Pandataria. On orders from Sejanus, each prisoner was to be closely watched by a Praetorian centurion and freedmen jailers. With Tiberius declaring that the detention of mother and son was a matter of state security, the public, hoping that the pair would eventually be released, and probably fired by fear promoted by agents of Sejanus that any public demonstrations might lead to the executions of Agrippina and her boy, remained quiet.

With this momentous act against the widow and the eldest son of Germanicus having been accomplished without the Palatium being stormed by the public, Tiberius and Sejanus now moved against the last remaining supporters of Agrippina. Her brother-in-law Gaius Asinius Gallus, a prime target for their attentions, now surprised many by coming to his feet in the Senate and proposing honors for Sejanus, including a state celebration of his birthday, for having forestalled the so-called threat posed by Agrippina. Gallus then had himself appointed as an envoy of the Senate to Tiberius on Capri, to congratulate him on avoiding this latest “threat” to his reign.

Cassius Dio was to speculate that Gallus did this so he could gain the emperor’s ear and warn him about Sejanus. Gallus was duly invited to Capri to meet with the emperor. Whatever passed between Gallus and Tiberius was never revealed, but Dio says the emperor warmly entertained Gallus, and the pair drank to friendship between them.² But while Gallus was away from Rome, eating and drinking with Tiberius, a letter from the emperor was read to the Senate accusing Gallus of treason. The Senate promptly condemned Gallus to death.

When Gallus unwittingly stepped foot back onto the mainland the next day after what had seemed a successful visit to Capri, he was arrested by a praetor sent by the Senate from Rome. Tiberius had not asked for Gallus’s execution. He required a different punishment for Gallus: he was locked in a single room at the Palatium at Rome, and not permitted to see or talk to anyone, not even his jailers. He was given just one meal a day, with just enough food to keep him alive. The intention was to make Gallus think every day would be his last, and day after day Tiberius delayed giving an order for Gallus’s execution. This wicked mental torture was devised as the punishment of the man who had married the woman Tiberius loved. That punishment would stretch out for months, and then for years.

On the arrest of Agrippina and Nero, Germanicus’s second son, Drusus Germanicus, would have seen the way open for him to become Tiberius’s heir, as Sejanus had promised. Young Drusus had recently been married, on the emperor’s orders, to Aemilia Lepida, daughter of Marcus Lepidus. This was the same Lepidus who had been one of the defense advocates at the Piso trial. Drusus Germanicus’s wife, Aemilia, now encouraged her new husband to talk about his ambitions for the throne. But Sejanus had seduced Drusus’s bride, and behind his back Aemilia noted down Drusus’s every word.

Using Aemilia as his informant, Sejanus was able to show Tiberius documentary evidence of Drusus Germanicus’s seditious talk. Before the year was out, naive young Drusus was arrested and, on Tiberius’s orders, locked in a cellar at the Palatium. The centurion in charge of Drusus Germanicus’s imprisonment was also instructed to note down everything that was said to Drusus by his guards, and everything that Drusus said in return. Tiberius, in his gratitude to Sejanus for saving him from yet another supposed Germanicus family plot, now granted the Praetorian commander permission to marry Germanicus’s sister, Livilla, as he had previously requested. At the same time, Tiberius appointed Sejanus to serve as consul with him for the next year, A.D. 31, calling him in his official decrees at this time “Sharer of my cares” and “My Sejanus.”³ Now at the height of his powers, a delighted Sejanus prepared for a grand wedding at Rome in the new year, and in the last days of December A.D. 30 he returned to the capital from Capri to take up his long-desired consulship on New Year’s Day, with Tiberius assuring him he would follow along after him within a short time.

Before dawn on New Year’s Day, A.D. 31, a vast number of senators gathered at Sejanus’s city house to pay their respects to the new consul—so many, according to Dio, that a reception room couch collapsed beneath the weight of a number of guests in thecrush. Sejanus, his teenage son, and Germanicus’s youngest son, Caligula, had all been recently made priests by Tiberius, and after leaving his house, Sejanus went through the crowded predawn streets to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill to personally conduct the sacrifice that preceded the first session of the Senate. The omens were auspicious, and at the subsequent Senate session Sejanus was voted wide powers. It was even moved by one sycophantic senator that in the future the new consuls for the year must emulate Sejanus in their loyal and upright conduct. Sejanus and his supporters began preparations for his wedding, which would take place at Rome in front of the emperor.

But the emperor did not appear. As the days passed, Tiberius sent a succession of messages from Capri to say that he had been delayed. Sometimes he would excuse his nonappearance by saying he was ill. Before long, another message would say that he was better and preparing to travel. Days later, he was reported to be ill again. January slipped by. More months passed. Increasingly, the emperor’s messages would contradict the previous ones. Sometimes he would praise Sejanus and propose honors or appointments for his friends. At other times he would scold him, and admonish some of his supporters. No one, least of all Sejanus, could work out what was going on. Was the emperor merely a victim of his famous moodiness? Was he becoming senile? Or was there something more worrying behind the old man’s shifting attitudes? Sejanus was having to continually postpone his wedding, but he kept his famous patience. He wrote to the emperor to suggest that he might rejoin Tiberius back on Capri, but the emperor told him not to bother, as he would soon arrive at Rome. But he never came.

As the spring arrived, and then the summer, Tiberius and Sejanus gave up the consulship to suffect (replacement) consuls as was the custom. Sejanus remained at Rome, with Tiberius still on Capri and always about to set off for the capital but never leaving the island. It seems that during this period Sejanus did finally marry Livilla, Germanicus’s sister and Drusus the Younger’s widow, but the details of where and when the wedding took place are lost. Most certainly, the ceremony took place without Tiberius present. Now, too, out of the blue, Tiberius quashed a prosecution against an enemy of Sejanus. And then a friend of Sejanus who had been a governor in Spain was prosecuted on Tiberius’s orders. Association with Sejanus was no longer a guarantee of favor or success.

Sejanus, meanwhile, was beginning to have concerns about Caligula, third son of Germanicus. Since the time when Tiberius had appointed the youth to a priesthood, there had been a rumor that the emperor would soon name him his heir. Dio was to say that Sejanus began to regret that he had not instigated the removal of Caligula and the overthrow of Tiberius while he still had the consular powers. The only reason he had not done so, Dio wrote, was that the general public was extremely pleased by the compliments paid to Caligula because of their “reverence for the memory of his father, Germanicus.” The ever-patient Sejanus continued to advance his plan for the gradual eradication of the imperial family and his own assumption of power.

Now news reached Rome that Caligula’s elder brother Nero Germanicus had died while a prisoner on the island of Ponza, starved to death. It is unclear on whose orders this starvation occurred—Tiberius’s or Sejanus’s—but it removed one more heir from Sejanus’s path. This now left the imprisoned Drusus Germanicus as Tiberius’s heir apparent. Tiberius, in a letter to the Senate announcing the death of Nero Germanicus, merely referred to Sejanus by name, without giving him his customary titles. This suggested to many that Sejanus had fallen even further out of favor with the emperor, and some senators began to pull back from Sejanus. Some actively went out of their way not to be seen with him or even greet him in the street, instead turning and going the other way if they saw him approaching.

Up to this point, as one of Sejanus’s friends, Marcus Terentius, had said of Sejanus, “To even be known to his freedmen and hall porters was considered to be something grand.” But attitudes were changing, and Sejanus’s status was deteriorating. By the fall, Sejanus, seeing his influence and power dissolving little by little, set in motion a plan to murder Tiberius and take the throne for himself before the year was out.

From time to time, the Senate would sit in one temple or another at Rome, depending on the religious significance of the day. On October 17, the Senate was due to sit in the Temple of Apollo, which was attached to the Palatium on the Palatine Hill. That morning, before dawn, Sejanus climbed the path to the temple to take his seat on the front benches as an ex-consul. In the throng outside the temple as he arrived he spotted, to his surprise, Macro, colonel of the German Guard, who was supposed to be on Capri with the emperor. When Macro came over to Sejanus and greeted him warmly, Sejanus asked what he was doing in Rome. Macro told him he had arrived at the capital from Capri the previous evening on a mission for the emperor.

Sejanus was immediately worried because he had failed to hear anything from the emperor about this, but Macro told him not to be concerned, as he had come with a message for the Senate, on the emperor’s orders. He indicated a sealed scroll in his left hand. When Sejanus asked what the document contained, Macro took him aside and said in a low voice that the emperor was about to ask the Senate to confer the tribunician powers on Sejanus. In the days of the Republic, the ten civil tribunes, the so-called Tribunes of the Plebs, could veto any vote of the Senate. Once Augustus became emperor he had taken that power of veto for himself, and had also conferred it on Tiberius late in his reign. This meant that if awarded the tribunician power, Sejanus would have the same power of veto over the Senate as the emperor himself, ranking him above all men but the emperor.

Beaming, Sejanus thanked Macro for this great news, and hurried into the temple. There he told his closest senatorial associates that he was about to receive the tribunician power. Macro watched Sejanus disappear indoors; then, in the growing light of the new day, the German Guard prefect called over the tribune of the Praetorian Guard cohort on duty at the temple, who was subordinate to him. Prefect Macro then showed the tribune a letter from the emperor calling on all officers and men of the Roman armed forces to obey Macro’s commands. He then ordered the tribune to march his men back to the Praetorian Barracks in the city’s 4th Precinct; all Praetorian troops were to be subsequently confined to barracks until they received further orders from Macro.

The tribune looked at Macro in surprise, and hesitated to obey. The German Guard prefect then indicated that he had another letter from the emperor in which Tiberius decreed that every Praetorian soldier was to receive a large cash bonus if they followed Macro’s orders to the letter. The tribune now nodded, and ordered his thousand guardsmen to fall in. The Praetorians then marched down the hill and through the heart of the city to their barracks outside the old city walls to the northeast.

As the Praetorians marched away, cohorts of the Night Watch marched up the hill to take their place, and quickly surrounded the Temple of Apollo. The Night Watch was a unit of seven cohorts, each a thousand men strong, created by Augustus to act as police and firemen at Rome in the hours of darkness. Night Watch soldiers were all former slaves, and they didn’t have the military training, prestige, or salaries of the Praetorians, but they used similar arms and equipment. The Night Watch commander, the prefect Graecinus Laco, now greeted Macro and took up his position at the head of his troops. This replacement of the Praetorian cohort by the Night Watch had been prearranged between Macro and Prefect Laco the night before.

Macro then entered the Temple of Apollo. Inside, the benches of the senators, the curile chairs, and the Senate water clocks had all been set out in preparation for a full day of Senate debate. The Senate attendants stood around the perimeter, brushing away yawns. The official stenographers were at their desks, readying pots of ink and quills and fitting scrolls of paper into wooden document holders in preparation for their note-taking. The official record of what took place here would be sent to the emperor on Capri for his perusal and then returned to Rome, to be kept in the Tabularium.

In the crowd of chattering senators inside the temple, Macro located the presiding consul, Memmius Regulus, and handed him the emperor’s sealed letter. The consul nodded, then made his way to his president’s chair. With an anticipatory smile, Sejanus eyed the document in the consul’s hand as Macro made his way outside once more. All around Sejanus, fawning senators clapped him on the back and congratulated him for the upcoming award of tribunicial powers, as the word of Sejanus’s expectations spread throughout the chamber. With Macro’s departure, the session was convened. Outside, leaving Night Watch prefect Laco in charge of the encircling of troops, Macro went down the hill and hurried across town to the Castra Praetoria, to ensure that his orders were followed to the letter and the Praetorian troops did not leave their barracks.

The consul Regulus broke the seal on the emperor’s lengthy letter and came to his feet. His fellow senators fell silent. An expectant Sejanus had seated himself in the front row, with other former consuls on either side of him. Regulus began to read aloud. The letter discussed a number of matters. The first section was of minor importance. The next contained a mild censure for Sejanus. The consul read on. There was another side issue, then another matter for which Tiberius criticized Sejanus, more acutely this time. Sensing trouble in the wind, senators sitting around Sejanus began to move away from him.

Yet the man himself seemed oblivious to either censure or the movement around him. Sejanus’s attention was glued to the consul, as he waited to hear the news he had been led to believe to expect—that he was to be granted the tribunicial powers, which equaled those of the emperor. Sejanus must have believed that these admonishments being read out by the consul were Tiberius’s way of making the award of the power of veto more acceptable to the Senate. These charges seemed minor, and easy to bat away.

Regulus read on. And then he was saying that the emperor required that two senators who were Sejanus’s close associates be punished severely. As for Sejanus, said the emperor’s letter, he was to be placed under guard. Praetors and civil tribunes moved to stand behind Sejanus, but he seemed not to comprehend what was going on, and remained in his seat. Throughout the chamber, astonished senators were talking animatedly behind hands and in hushed voices.

“Sejanus, come forward,” called the consul Regulus. When Sejanus, looking dazed, ignored him, Regulus called to him a second time, but still Sejanus failed to move. Now Regulus pointed to him, and with a raised voice said, “Sejanus, come here!”

“Me?” responded Sejanus, who wasn’t accustomed to being addressed like this. “Are you calling me?”

Slowly Sejanus came to his feet, and as he did, the prefect Laco, the Night Watch commander, appeared beside him with one hand on the hilt of the sword sheathed on his left hip. Sejanus, of course, was wearing a toga, and was unarmed, as were all senators. Regulus finished the reading of the emperor’s letter, and then hundreds of senators began yelling, shaking their fists, and venting their spleen on Sejanus. Many who had once fawned on him now competed with one another to show how much they hated him, in a frantic bid to disassociate themselves from Sejanus and his looming fate. Others, Sejanus’s secret enemies, men who had held their tongues for almost two decades, yelled with venomous joy.

The consul Regulus raised a hand, and slowly the tumult subsided. Now, instead of calling on the entire House to vote, in case Sejanus’s friends and relatives stuck by him in sufficient numbers to defeat a vote against him, the consul turned to a single senator, and asked him if he thought that Sejanus should be imprisoned, as the emperor had asked. The unidentified senator said that he did indeed believe that Sejanus should be imprisoned. Regulus ordered Sejanus taken off to jail.

Laco took Sejanus by the arm and marched him, speechless, from the chamber, with all fifteen serving praetors and the other lesser magistrates forming around the pair as a judicial escort. Sejanus would have been expecting to be able to call on the Praetorian troops outside the temple to set him free. But to his utter amazement, when the group emerged from the temple he found that his Praetorians had almost magically been replaced by Laco’s Night Watch troops. Only now, as chains were fastened around his wrists, did Sejanus realize that his downfall had been carefully planned and that he was doomed.

Both Suetonius and Cassius Dio would express the belief that Tiberius had planned Sejanus’s overthrow when he appointed him his joint consul for A.D. 31, late the previous year. Yet that overthrow did not take place for ten months after Sejanus became a consul, and indeed after he had ceased to be a consul. It seems that in reality the decision to terminate Sejanus’s career came only shortly before the act itself, sometime in the first half of October A.D. 31.

The consensus among historians of the period was that Tiberius’s decision to destroy Sejanus was sponsored by Tiberius’s sister-in-law Antonia, the mother of Germanicus. Antonia had continued to live at her son’s Palatine palace, where, after the arrest of Agrippina, she had raised Germanicus’s children Caligula, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Julia. A strong woman, Antonia “was greatly esteemed by Tiberius in all matters,” according to the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus, who was born five years after the fall of Sejanus, would write that Antonia came to learn of Sejanus’s plot to overthrow Tiberius, a plot that involved senators, freedmen, and soldiers.¹ Someone deeply involved with that plot must have gone to Antonia and told her all about it.

Antonia put the details of the plot in a letter, which she dictated to one of her servants, the young freedwoman Caenis—later mistress of the emperor Vespasian. Using a stylus, the Roman penknife, Caenis wrote the letter on wax tablets, from which she would transcribe it to papyrus with pen and ink. These wax tablets were commonly allowed to dry out and kept as a record of outgoing correspondence, but Dio says that to ensure that there was no record of this letter, Antonia ordered Caenis to erase the writing on the wax as soon as the papyrus version was completed and dispatched.¹¹ Antonia then sent Pallas, her most trusted freedman, hurrying from Rome to the isle of Capri with the letter. At this time Sejanus was living at the Palatium at Rome and so was not on Capri and in a position to intercept Pallas. According to Josephus, Tiberius, because he trusted his sister-in-law, agreed to see Pallas when he arrived at his Capri villa. Pallas was able to then hand over the letter from his mistress.¹²

We do not know the contents of the letter, but the details of Sejanus’s plot described by Antonia must have been comprehensive, convincing, and above all terrifying, to motivate the elderly Tiberius to act so swiftly and so decisively against a man he had trusted implicitly and relied on for so many years. It appears that Antonia’s warning must have also implicated the two senators named by Tiberius in his letter to the Senate. Once the decision was made to move against Sejanus, Macro was given the task of masterminding the arrest of the Praetorian commander at Rome, in a way that prevented the Praetorian Guard from intervening on his behalf.

Macro had deliberately arrived at Rome in darkness on the night of October 16 so he could prepare for the coup against Sejanus the next day without his presence being known or his movements observed. He first went to Night Watch commander Laco at his quarters, and then to the consul Regulus at his home, bringing them both into the plan for the overthrow of Sejanus the next morning. Regulus was chosen because he was loyal to Tiberius. His fellow consul at this time, Fulcinius Trio—the same Trio who had frittered away part of the prosecution time at the Germanicus murder trial eleven years earlier—had long been warm to Sejanus and could be expected to warn him, so Trio was excluded from the small circle of senior men who needed to know what was going to occur the next morning.

Meanwhile, back on Capri, Tiberius waited anxiously at the Jovean Villa for news that the arrest of Sejanus had gone as planned. In case the arrest went awry and the Praetorian Guard rose up in support of Sejanus, the warships of the Tyrrhenian Fleet at Misenum near Naples had been ordered to lay off Capri in readiness to take the emperor to safety among the legions in the East. In addition, if Tiberius were to be killed in a pro-Sejanus revolt, says Suetonius, Macro had orders to release Germanicus’s son Drusus Germanicus from imprisonment in the Palatium basement and then take him to the troops and declare him the new emperor.¹³

Bonfires had been prepared on the Italian mainland opposite Capri. If the fires were lit in a certain way, it was a warning to Tiberius that the arrest plan had backfired, that Macro had failed to secure Sejanus, and that the emperor must flee. If the fires burned in a different pattern, it meant that all had gone to plan, that Sejanus was in custody and Macro was in control at Rome. Suetonius says that Tiberius stood on a clifftop at Capri all through October 17 until he saw the bonfire signal that informed him that the counterrevolution had been a complete success and Sejanus was in custody.¹

Sejanus was dragged to the City Prison guarded like a runaway slave, says Dio.¹ On the way there, roughly hauled along by Night Watch soldiers, Sejanus was so humiliated by his fall from grace that he attempted to cover his head with his purple-bordered toga so that the people he passed along the way wouldn’t see his face and recognize him. But his escort quickly uncovered his head so that his shame would be all the worse. Several soldiers even slapped his face for attempting to hide his identity. All along his route, as ordinary people saw who it was the soldiers and magistrates had in chains, crowds gathered to throw insults at the man they had come to loathe and fear during his years in office. This was a man universally considered a monster, who had taken the lives of many good men and women. When the soldiers told the people that their prisoner had been arrested for planning to overthrow the emperor, members of the public jeered him as he passed. Throngs of people rushed to where Sejanus’s statues had been erected around the city. They dragged them down, then kicked and bashed his images as if they were beating the man himself.

That afternoon, the Senate met again, this time in the Temple of Concord, close to the prison where Sejanus languished. This was a traditional meeting place for the Senate after Rome had been saved from one calamity or another. Seeing the general popularity of Sejanus’s arrest, and noting that the Praetorian Guard had remained in its barracks and had not attempted to free its commander, a motion was proposed for Sejanus’s immediate execution as a traitor, knowing the emperor would not oppose it. The motion was overwhelmingly carried. Instructions were sent to the prison for the execution of Sejanus at once. The Night Watch was ordered to also arrest Sejanus’s eldest son and deliver him to the prison to share his father’s fate.

Sejanus was garroted before the sun went down on October 17. His naked body was then cast down the Gemonian Stairs, and the public were permitted to do what they pleased to the cadaver for three days, before a hook was passed through his rotting corpse, which was hauled away. The mutilated corpse of Sejanus was tossed into the Tiber. His son was executed in the same manner.

A purge of Sejanus’s followers now followed. It would go on for months and years, with accusations interminably cast about the Senate about this one and that one being a secret friend of Sejanus, and with many a conviction following. Sejanus’s uncle, the general Junius Blaesus, apparently one of the two senators and close associates of Sejanus condemned in Tiberius’s letter, immediately committed suicide. Some blatant friends of Sejanus tried to flee. Others stood their ground and faced the charges in the Senate.

Publius Vitellius, a former close friend of Germanicus and one of the three prosecutors in the Piso trial, had earned promotion to praetor under Sejanus and then appointment as the ex-praetor in charge of the military treasury. It was now alleged that Vitellius had handed the treasury keys to Sejanus to fund his planned rebellion against Tiberius. Vitellius patiently sat through several Senate sessions as colleagues assailed him with accusatory speeches, then calmly borrowed a stylus, Using the penknife, Vitellius, uncle of future emperor Aulus Vitellius, slit his wrists, and died to satisfy the current emperor’s lust for revenge.

As scores of senators and knights were accused of and condemned for being satellites of Sejanus, the lust for venegeance knew no bounds. Sejanus’s eldest son, a young man, had been executed, but now the Senate decided it was necessary to also punish his two younger children, a boy and a girl. Both were dragged from the arms of their mother, Apicata, Sejanus’s former wife, and taken to the City Prison. Neither was yet a teenager. The boy, says Tacitus, was aware of his impending doom, but the little girl kept asking what she had done wrong. She promised that whatever it was, she would be a good girl in the future, if only she received a spanking. The boy was garroted. But the executioner was reminded that under Roman law a virgin could not be executed. He came up with a gruesome solution, raping the child before strangling her.¹

The children’s mother, Apicata, had waited, in tears, outside the prison, begging for their release. Now she was told to go to the Gemonian Stairs, where she found their little bodies. Prevented from even taking away her dead infants for cremation, she went home and wrote Tiberius a bitter letter. In it, she told the emperor how her ex-husband, Sejanus, and the emperor’s niece Livilla, sister of Germanicus, Sejanus’s second wife, had planned and carried out the poisoning of Tiberius’s son and heir, Drusus the Younger, even naming the doctor Eudemus and Drusus’s eunuch Lygdus as chief players in the murder plot. After sealing the letter and sending it to Tiberius, Apicata took her own life.

Shocked by Apicata’s letter, Tiberius immediately had Eudemus and Lygdus arrested. Under torture, the pair admitted their part in the murder and gave details implicating Livilla and Sejanus in the poisoning of Drusus. Some later historians would question these confessions. Apicata’s accusations had been born out of spite, they would say, while confessions gained through torture could not necessarily be taken at face value, because most prisoners undergoing torture would say and admit to anything just to end their pain. Yet no one could deny that Livilla had been Sejanus’s lover for years and had subsequently married him once her first husband, Drusus the Younger, had conveniently died. In light of Sejanus’s later progressive and systematic removal of the family of Germanicus, the probability is high that he and Livilla had conspired to murder Drusus in just the way that Apicata, Eudemus, and Lygdus described.

Tiberius certainly believed the confessions. On the strength of the letter from Apicata and the admissions of Eudemus and Lygdus, he ordered the arrest of Livilla. She, like her sister-in-law Agrippina, was now held in seclusion. Tiberius could not bring himself to order Livilla’s execution, because she was the daughter of Antonia. His sister-in-law had, after all, been “the greatest benefactress to Tiberius”¹ through her warning to him about the Sejanus plot. Antonia herself was not as charitable; she also believed the accusations against Livilla, and was disgusted with her daughter. “I have heard,” Dio was to write, “that of her own accord Antonia killed her daughter by starving her.”¹

Tiberius rewarded Macro with Sejanus’s job as prefect of the Praetorian Guard. The Senate attempted to add rewards of their own—for Macro, the rank of an ex-praetor, and for Night Watch commander Laco, the rank of an ex-quaestor, giving them both entry into the Senate, along with large cash donations and various other privileges. But Macro and Laco were both wise enough to politely decline the sort of Senate honors that a Sejanus would have welcomed, to show the emperor that they had acted only out of loyalty to him, not for rewards.

The persecution of associates of Sejanus continued. Latiaris, leader of the scheme that had trapped Germanicus’s friend Sabinus into saying things he shouldn’t have while colleagues had listened in the ceiling above, was condemned by the Senate and paid with his life. His three companions in that plot also received various punishments. Another of the Piso prosecutors, Germanicus’s friend Quintus Servaeus, paid for his links with Sejanus, discreet as they had been; he was one of a number convicted in the thinning Senate for association with Sejanus. Bodies continued to cascade down the Gemonian Stairs.

Few members of Rome’s upper classes were free from the fear of being embroiled in the purge of followers of Sejanus. One of the minority of men who had absolutely nothing to fear was Lucius Anneaus Seneca, son of Seneca, the renowned Spanish teacher of rhetoric, and nephew of Gaius Galerius, the prefect of Egypt. Destined to become famous as one of Rome’s greatest philosphers, thirty-four-year-old Seneca arrived at Rome with his aunt Marcia in A.D. 31 shortly after the fall of Sejanus, having spent the past fifteen years in Egypt, well away from the malestrom of Roman politics. For more than a decade after he had met Germanicus in the East, Seneca had continued to live at Alexandria, working in the provincial administration of his uncle and in his spare time demonstrating a vast capacity for learning, among other things studying the geography and ethnology of both Egypt and India. Now, having brought under control the ill health that had sent him to Egypt, and with his uncle no longer governor of the province, Seneca arrived at Rome ambitious to make up for lost years and to make his name as a writer, lawyer, and politician.

While Seneca himself was not tainted by a connection with Sejanus, one of his brothers who lived at Rome did have a link to the disgraced Praetorian prefect. A year or two older than Seneca, the brother’s original name had been Lucius Annaeus Novatus, but at Rome he had been adopted by a wealthy patron, Lucius Junius Gallio. Adoption of adult Romans was a common practice when rich men had no male children; otherwise, if they were to die without a son and heir, their estates went to the emperor. When a Roman was adopted in this way, he took the name of his adoptive father. So Seneca’s elder brother had become Lucius Junius Gallio Jr. Lucius Junius Gallio Sr. was a known satellite of Sejanus,¹ and was suffering for it. In an attempt to win Tiberius’s favor following Sejanus’s destruction, Gallio Sr. had proposed in the Senate that the men of the Praetorian Guard receive special privileges in the theater. When he heard this, Tiberius exploded, declaring that Gallio was interfering with military affairs, the exclusive province of the emperor. Gallio found himself banished from the Senate, then from Italy. When he chose to take his exile on the pleasant Greek island of Lesbos, Tiberius ordered him confined in the houses of various leading citizens in Rome instead.

Fortunately for Seneca, he had a well-connected contact of his own, in the family of Germanicus. We are not told precisely how that connection was established, but the indications are that his aunt Marcia was a friend of Antonia, the mother of Germanicus, who was now very much in favor with Tiberius. Since she had exposed Sejanus, Antonia had become Tiberius’s most trusted ally, and she had great influence with her brother-in-law. As an example of how great that influence became, Marcus Julius Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great and the future King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, twice sought and received Antonia’s help when he visited Italy and fell afoul of Tiberius. First she gave Agrippa a loan of 300,000 sesterces after Tiberius banned him from his court until his debts in Rome were paid. Then, after Agrippa was overheard by a servant making incautious remarks to Caligula about Tiberius and was arrested on the emperor’s orders, Antonia convinced her brother-in-law to turn Agrippa’s imprisonment into house arrest. Josephus says that through Antonia’s intervention the centurion in charge of Agrippa’s guard was even under orders to sit down to dine with him each day.²

It seems that Seneca’s aunt Marcia took Seneca to the palace of Germanicus for an interview with Antonia, and there he met Antonia’s grandson Caligula and her granddaughters, sixteen-year-old Agrippina the Younger, fifteen-year-old Drusilla, and fourteen-year-old Julia. Seneca would have been able to tell the girls how he had been acquainted with their father and mother in the East, and probably spoke of bouncing baby Julia on his knee on a visit to Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder at Daphne. This introduction quickly bore fruit— apparently on the recommendation of Antonia, Seneca was promptly made a quaestor by Tiberius, to serve on the staff of one of the consuls for the new year, A.D. 32. One of those two consuls was Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, husband of Agrippina the Younger, and it is probable that Seneca joined his staff via the Germanicus family connection.

Seneca’s sudden, smooth elevation into a much-sought-after quaestor’s position, which would give him automatic entry into the Senate once he had served his short term as quaestor, as well as acceptance into the imperial court, was in stark contrast to the bloody purge of pro-Sejanus freedmen, knights, and senators still taking place around him. As it turned out, Seneca’s wilderness years in the East, which seemingly would have been a frustrating barrier to his launching a career at Rome, had insulated him from the mayhem of the Sejanus years and had given his career a launching pad free of the taint of association with the fallen Praetorian commander. Now, with Sejanus no longer around to persecute anyone connected with Agrippina and her children, and with Germanicus’s mother in such strong favor with Tiberius, Seneca hitched his fortunes to those of the family of Germanicus. Time would tell whether it was a wise choice, for more members of Germanicus’s family were destined to meet gruesome deaths before much more time had passed.

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