IN the consulships of Gaius Asinius Pollio (II) and Gaius Antistius Vetus (I), Tiberius now began his ninth year of national stability and domestic prosperity (the latter, he felt, augmented by Germanicus’ death). But then suddenly Fortune turned disruptive. The emperor himself became tyrannical – or gave tyrannical men power. The cause and beginning of the change lay with Lucius Aelius Sejanus, commander of the Guard. I have said something of his influence, and will now describe his origins and personality – and his criminal attempt on the throne.
Sejanus was born at Vulsinii. His father, Lucius Seius Strabo, was a Roman knight. After increasing his income – it was alleged – by a liaison with a rich debauchee named Marcus Gavius Apicius, the boy joined, while still young, the suite of Augustus’ grandson Gaius Caesar. Next by various devices he obtained a complete ascendancy over Tiberius. To Sejanus alone the otherwise cryptic emperor spoke freely and unguardedly. This was hardly due to Sejanus’ cunning; in that he was outclassed by Tiberius. The cause was rather heaven’s anger against Rome – to which the triumph of Sejanus, and his downfall too, were catastrophic. Of audacious character and untiring physique, secretive about himself and ever ready to incriminate others, a blend of arrogance and servility, he concealed behind a carefully modest exterior an unbounded lust for power. Sometimes this impelled him to lavish excesses, but more often to incessant work. And that is as damaging as excess when the throne is its aim.
The command of the Guard had hitherto been of slight importance. Sejanus enhanced it by concentrating the Guard battalions, scattered about Rome, in one camp. Orders could reach them simultaneously, and their visible numbers and strength would increase their selfconfidence and intimidate the population. His pretexts were, that scattered quarters caused unruliness; that united action would be needed in an emergency; and that a camp away from the temptations of the city would improve discipline. When the camp was ready, he gradually insinuated himself into the men’s favour. He would talk with them addressing them by name. And he chose their company-and battalion-commanders himself. Senators’ ambitions, too, he tempted with offices and governorships for his dependants.
Tiberius was readily amenable, praising him in conversation – and even in the senate and Assembly – as ‘the partner of my labours’, and allowing honours to his statues in theatres, public places, and brigade headquarters. Yet Sejanus’ ambitions were impeded by the well-stocked imperial house, including a son and heir – in his prime – and grown-up grandchildren.1 Subtlety required that the crimes should be spaced out: it would be unsafe to strike at all of them simultaneously. So subtle methods prevailed. Sejanus decided to begin with Drusus, against whom he had a recent grudge. For Drusus, violent-tempered and resentful of a rival, had raised his hand against him during a fortuitous quarrel and, when Sejanus resisted, had struck him in the face.
After considering every possibility, Sejanus felt most inclined to rely on Drusus’ wife Livilla, the sister of Germanicus. Unattractive in earlier years, she had become a great beauty. Sejanus professed devotion, and seduced her. Then, this first guilty move achieved – since a woman who has parted with her virtue will refuse nothing – he incited her to hope for marriage, partnership in the empire, and the death of her husband. So the grand-niece of Augustus, daughter-in-law of Tiberius, mother of Drusus’ children, degraded herself and her ancestors and descendants with a small-town adulterer; she sacrificed her honourable, assured position for infamy and hazard. The plot was communicated to Eudemus, Livilla’s friend and doctor, who had professional pretexts for frequent interviews. Sejanus encouraged his mistress by sending away his wife Apicata, the mother of his three children. Nevertheless the magnitude of the projected crime caused misgivings, delays, and (on occasion) conflicting plans.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of the year Drusus Caesar, one of Germanicus’ children, assumed adult clothing, and the senate’s decrees in honour of his brother Nero Caesar were repeated. Tiberius spoke as well, warmly praising his own son Drusus for his fatherly affection to the sons of his ‘brother’ Germanicus. For, though lofty positions are not easily compatible with friendliness, Drusus was believed to like the young men or at least not to dislike them.
Next there was a revival of the old idea of a tour in the provinces by Tiberius. The emperor justified his proposal (the object of frequent lip-service by him) on the grounds of the numerous soldiers due for release, and the need to fill their places by conscription. There were not enough volunteers, he said, and they lacked the old bravery and discipline, since voluntary enlistment mostly attracted penniless vagrants. Then he briefly enumerated the army formations and the provinces under their protection. I now propose to do the same – in order to give an idea of the Roman armed forces and dependent monarchs at that time, when the empire was so much smaller.
Italy was guarded by two fleets, one on each sea-board, at Misenum and Ravenna; and other warships – Augustus had captured them in his victorious battle of Actium and sent them, strongly manned, to Forum Julii – defended the near coast of Gaul. But our main strength lay on the Rhine: eight brigades, for protection against Germans or Gauls. Three more occupied the recently pacified Spanish provinces, two each Africa and Egypt (Mauretania had been presented by the Roman State to King Juba II). Then the huge stretch of territory between this end of Syria and the Euphrates was controlled by four brigades, while on the frontiers Roman might also maintained certain monarchies against foreign states, the Iberian and Albanian and others. Another four brigades were on the Danube, two in Pannonia and two in Moesia: Thrace belonged to Rhoemetalces II and the children of Cotys IV. There were two reserve brigades in Dalmatia which had easy access to Italy in an emergency. However, the capital had its own troops; three battalions of city police, and nine of the Guard, mostly recruited in Etruria, or Umbria, or the old territory of Latin rights and early Roman settlements. Then, at appropriate points outside Italy, the provincials contributed naval crews, and auxiliary cavalry and infantry. Altogether these were about as numerous as the regular army. But I cannot enumerate them since, as circumstances required, they changed stations, or their numbers rose or fell.
This, the year in which Tiberius’ rule began to deteriorate, seems an appropriate moment to review the other branches of the government also, and the methods by which they had been administered since his accession. In the first place, public business – and the most important private business – was transacted in the senate. Among its chief men, there was freedom of discussion: their lapses into servility were arrested by the emperor himself. His conferments of office took into consideration birth, military distinction, and civilian eminence, and the choice manifestly fell on the worthiest men. The consuls and praetors maintained their prestige. The lesser offices, too, each exercised their proper authority. Moreover, the treason court excepted, the laws were duly enforced.
Levies of grain, indirect taxation, and the other revenues belonging to the State were managed by associations of Roman knights. But the imperial property was entrusted by the emperor to carefully selected agents – some known to him by reputation only. Once appointed, these were kept on indefinitely, often becoming old in the same jobs. The public suffered, it is true, from oppressive food prices. But that was not the emperor’s fault. Indeed, he spared neither money nor labour in combating bad harvests and stormy seas. He ensured also that the provinces were not harassed by new impositions and that old impositions were not aggravated through official acquisitiveness or brutality; beatings and confiscations did not exist. His estates in Italy were few, his slaves unobtrusive, his household limited to a few ex-slaves. Any disputes that he had with private citizens were settled in the law courts.
Tiberius, in his ungracious fashion – grim and often terrifying as he was – maintained this policy until the death of Drusus reversed it. While Drusus lived, the same methods were employed, because Sejanus in the early stages of his power wanted to gain a reputation for enlightened policy. Moreover, there was an alarming potential avenger in Drusus, who openly showed his hatred and repeatedly complained that the emperor, though he had a son, went elsewhere for his collaborator. Soon, Drusus reflected, the collaborator would be called a colleague – the first steps of an ambitious career are difficult, but once they are achieved helpers and partisans emerge. ‘Already Sejanus has secured this new camp – where the Guard are at the disposal of their commander. His statue is to be seen in Pompey’s Theatre. The grandsons of us Drususes will be his grandsons too.1 What can we do now except trust his moderation and pray he will be forbearing?’ Drusus often talked like this and many heard him. But even his confidences were betrayed by his wife – to her lover.
So Sejanus decided to act. He chose a poison with gradual effects resembling ordinary ill-health. It was administered to Drusus (as was learnt eight years later) by the eunuch Lygdus. All through his son’s illness, Tiberius attended the senate. Either he was unalarmed or he wanted to display his will-power. Even when Drusus had died and his body was awaiting burial, Tiberius continued to attend. The consuls sat on ordinary benches as a sign of mourning. But he reminded them of their dignity and rank. The senators wept. But he silenced them with a consoling oration. ‘I know’, he said, ‘that I may be criticized for appearing before the senate while my affliction is still fresh. Most mourners can hardly bear even their families’ condolences – can hardly look upon the light of day. And that need not be censured as weakness. I, however, have sought sterner solace. The arms in which I have taken refuge are those of the State.’
After referring sorrowfully to the Augusta’s great age, his grandson’s immaturity, and his own declining years, he said that the sons of Germanicus were his only consolation in his grief; and he requested that they should be brought in. The consuls went out, reassured the boys, and conducted them before Tiberius. He took them by the hand, and addressed the senate. ‘When these boys lost their father’, he said, ‘I entrusted them to their uncle Drusus, begging him – though he had children of his own – to treat them as though they were his blood, and, for posterity’s sake, to fashion them after himself. Now Drusus has gone. So my plea is addressed to you. The gods and our country are its witnesses.
‘Senators: on my behalf as well as your own, adopt and guide these youths, whose birth is so glorious – these great-grandchildren of Augustus. Nero and Drusus Caesars: these senators will take the place of your parents. For, in the station to which you are born, the good and bad in you is of national concern.’ This speech was greeted by loud weeping among the senators, followed by heartfelt prayers for the future. Indeed, if Tiberius had stopped there, he would have left his audience sorry for him and proud of their responsibility. But by reverting to empty discredited talk about restoring the Republic and handing the government to the consuls or others, he undermined belief even in what he had said sincerely and truthfully. However, Drusus was voted the same posthumous honours as Germanicus – with the additions expected of flattery’s second attempt. The funeral was noteworthy for its long procession of ancestral effigies – Aeneas, originator of the Julian line; all the kings of Alba Longa; Romulus, founder of Rome; then the Sabine nobility with Attus Clausus;1 finally the rest of the Claudian house.
In describing Drusus’ death I have followed the most numerous and reputable authorities. But I should also record a contemporary rumour, strong enough to remain current today. According to this, Sejanus, after seducing Livilla into crime, similarly corrupted the eunuch Lygdus, whose youthful looks had endeared him to his master Drusus and raised him high in the latter’s household. Next – the story continues – when the plotters had fixed the place and time for the poisoning, Sejanus had the audacity to change his plan and warn the emperor privately that when dining with his son Tiberius must refuse the first drink offered him, since Drusus intended to poison him. The old emperor, it is alleged, believed this fiction, and at the dinner-party passed the cup he had received to Drusus, who tossed it off as a young man would – in all innocence, but this dyed suspicion deeper since it seemed that Drusus, terrified and ashamed, was inflicting on himself the fate he had designed for his father.
This was widely rumoured. But it is not backed by any reliable authority – and it can be confidently refuted. For no one even of ordinary sense, much less Tiberius with his great experience, would kill his son unheard, by his own hand, leaving no opportunity for second thoughts. Surely Tiberius would rather have tortured the server of the poison and extracted the originator’s name. Against his only son – never before convicted of wrong-doing – he would only have proceeded with the characteristic slowness and deliberation which he showed even to strangers. But Sejanus, too much loved by Tiberius and hated by everyone else, passed for the author of every crime; and rumours always proliferate around the downfalls of the great. For such reasons even the most monstrous myths found believers.
Besides, the real story of the murder was later divulged by Sejanus’ wife Apicata, and corroborated under torture by Eudemus and Lygdus; and no historian, however unfriendly to Tiberius, however tendentious an investigator of his doings, has accused him of this crime. My own motive in mentioning and refuting the rumour has been to illustrate by one conspicuous instance the falsity of hearsay gossip, and to urge those who read this book not to prefer incredible tales – however widely current and readily accepted – to the truth unblemished by marvels.
When Tiberius pronounced his son’s funeral eulogy from the platform, the attitudes and tones of mourning exhibited by the senate and public were insincere and unconvincing. Secretly they were glad that the house of Germanicus was reviving. However, this awakening popularity, and Agrippina’s ill-concealed maternal ambitions, only hastened the family’s ruin. For when Sejanus saw that Drusus’ death brought no retribution upon the murderers and no national grief, his criminal audacity grew. The succession of the children of Germanicus was now certain. So he considered how they could be removed.
To poison all three was impracticable, since their attendants were loyal – and the virtue of their mother Agrippina unassailable. Her insubordination, however, gave Sejanus a handle against Agrippina. He played on the Augusta’s longstanding animosity against her, and on Livilla’s new complicity. These ladies were to notify Tiberius that Agrippina, proud of her large family and relying on her popularity, had designs on the throne. To this end Sejanus employed skilful slanderers. Notable among them was Julius Postumus, whose adulterous liaison with Mutilia Prisca made him a close friend of the Augusta and particularly apt for Sejanus’ purposes; for Prisca had great influence over the old lady, whose jealousy she could use against Agrippina, her granddaughter not by blood like Livilla, but by marriage. Meanwhile Agrippina’s closest friends were induced to accentuate her restlessness by malevolent talk.
Tiberius derived comfort from his work. He remained fully occupied with public business – legal cases concerning citizens, and petitions from the provinces. On his initiative, the senate decreed three years’ remission of tribute to two cities ruined by earthquakes, Cibyra and Aegium. A governor of Farther Spain, Gaius Vibius Serenus (I), was convicted of violence and deported as a bad character to the island of Amorgos. Carsidius Sacerdos, accused of supplying grain to the enemy Tacfarinas, was acquitted. So was Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (II). He had been taken as a baby by his father to share his banishment on the isle of Cercina. There the son grew up among uneducated expatriates, and later made a living by small trading in Africa and Sicily. Even so, he did not escape the perils of high rank. Indeed, unless his innocence had been vouched for by two governors of Africa, Lucius Aelius Lamia and Lucius Apronius, he would have been destroyed by his famous, tragic name and his father’s downfall.
Delegations came this year from two Greek communities, Samos and Cos. They requested the confirmation of sanctuary rights for their temples of Juno and Aesculapius respectively. The Samians relied on a decree of the Amphictyonic Council, the principal arbiter of all matters in the epoch when the Greeks had founded their settlements in Asia and ruled its coast. Cos put forward considerations of equal antiquity, together with a local point. For they had sheltered Roman citizens in the temple of Aesculapius at the time when, on the orders of king Mithridates VI of Pontus, these were being massacred in every island and city in Asia.
Next, after numerous and generally unsuccessful complaints by the praetors, Tiberius addressed the senate on the ill-behaviour of ballet-dancers and their offences against public order and private morality. The emperor commented that their frivolous popular entertainment, the old Oscan farce, had become so degraded and influential that the senate’s authority was needed to repress it. The dancers were then ejected from Italy.
This year also brought the emperor further bereavement. For one of Drusus’ twins died. So did a friend. This was Lucilius Longus, Tiberius’ comrade in good and evil fortune, and the only senator who had shared his retirement to Rhodes. So, in spite of his humble origin, Lucilius received a state funeral, and a statue in the Forum of Augustus was allotted him at the national expense by the senate. The senate still handled all manner of business. Even the emperor’s agent in Asia, Lucilius Capito, had to defend himself before it when the people of the province prosecuted him. Tiberius insisted that he had only given the agent power over his personal slaves and revenues, and if Capito had assumed the governor’s authority and employed military force he was exceeding his instructions: the provincials must be heard. The case was tried, and Capito condemned.
For this act of justice, and the punishment of Gaius Junius Silanus in the previous year, the cities of Asia decreed a temple to Tiberius, his mother, and the senate. Permission was granted. Germanicus’ son Nero Caesar expressed the thanks of the cities to the senate and his grandfather – a welcome experience to his listeners, whose still fresh memories of Germanicus created the illusion that it was he whom they were seeing and hearing. And the young man’s princely looks and modest bearing were all the more attractive because Sejanus was known to hate him.
At about the same time Tiberius raised the question of replacing the lately deceased priest of Jupiter, Servius Cornelius Maluginensis, and of amending the law governing these appointments. This should be done, he said, either by senatorial decree or by legislation initiated by himself, just as Augustus had modernized other equally hoary usages. Tiberius recalled that the selection had to be made from three simultaneously nominated patricians, born from formal marriages ‘by cake and spelt’. This was the tradition, he said, but there were no longer enough candidates since the old wedding ceremony was obsolete or very rare; and he suggested various explanations of this – notably the indifference of both sexes, and their deliberate avoidance of the complicated ritual. Besides, he added, parents objected that their authority no longer applied to holders of this priesthood, or to their wives (who were in such cases transferred to their husbands’ control). Consequently, a remedy must be applied either by senatorial decree or by law, just as Augustus, too, had modernized certain heavy relics. After discussion of the religious considerations it was decided not to alter the constitution of the priesthood; but a law was carried providing that the priest’s wife, though subject to her husband in regard to her sacred functions, should in other respects have the same legal rights as other women. And so the late priest’s son was appointed in his father’s place. To increase the dignity of priestly offices – and willingness to undertake their ritual – two million sesterces were allocated to the priestess of Vesta, Cornelia, appointed to succeed Scantia. It was also decided that the Augusta, whenever she visited the theatre, should sit in the seats reserved for the Vestal priestesses.
In the next year the consuls were Servius Cornelius Cethegus and Lucius Visellius Varro. Starting with the Pontifical Order, the priestly corporations included Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar in their prayers for the safety of the emperor. Servility, rather than affection, was the cause. But in a degraded society exaggerated servility is as dangerous as none at all. Tiberius, never warm-hearted to the house of Germanicus, was now particularly irritated that these youths should be coupled with himself, at his advanced age. He sent for the priests and asked them whether they had been influenced by Agrippina’s pleas – or threats. They took the blame themselves. However, since many of them were his own relations or distinguished figures, they were only mildly rebuked. But Tiberius warned the senate that in future the young men’s susceptible characters should not be tempted to become conceited by premature distinctions. Actually his protest had been prompted by pressure from Sejanus, who declared that Rome was split asunder as though there was civil war: people were calling themselves ‘Agrippina’s party’ – the deepening disunity could only be arrested if some of the ringleaders were removed.
With this motive Sejanus attacked Gaius Silius (I) and Titius Sabinus. They both owed their ruin to Germanicus’ friendship. Silius had also been head of a great army for seven years, winner of an honorary Triumph in Germany, conqueror of Sacrovir. So his downfall would be the more spectacular and alarming. Many thought that he had aggravated his offence by imprudence. For he had boasted excessively of his own army’s unbroken loyalty when others had lapsed into mutiny. ‘If the revolt had spread to my brigades,’ he said, ‘Tiberius could not have kept the throne.’ The emperor felt that these assertions of an obligation beyond all recompense damaged his own position. For services are welcome as long as it seems possible to repay them, but when they greatly exceed that point they produce not gratitude but hatred.
The emperor also disliked Silius’ wife Sosia Galla, because she was a friend of Agrippina. So Sejanus decided that this couple should be the victims. Titius Sabinus could wait a little. The consul Lucius Visellius Varro was set in motion, and with his father’s feud against Silius as a pretext sacrificed his own honour to gratify Sejanus’ enmity. When accused, Silius requested a brief adjournment until the accuser’s consulship should end. But Tiberius opposed this, arguing that officials often proceeded against private citizens, and that there must be no limitation of the rights of the consuls, on whose watchfulness it depended ‘that the State takes no harm’. It was typical of Tiberius to use antique terms to veil new sorts of villainy.
So, with many solemn phrases, the senate was summoned as though the charges against Silius had a legal foundation – as though Varro were a real consul, or Rome a Republic! At first, the defendant said nothing. Then, attempting some sort of a defence, he made it clear whose malevolence was ruining him. The prosecution developed its case – longstanding connivance with Sacrovir and cognizance of his rebellion; victory ruined by rapacity; failure to check his wife’s criminal acts. In extortion they were undoubtedly both involved. But the case was conducted as a treason trial.
Silius anticipated imminent condemnation by suicide. But his property was dealt with unmercifully. It is true that the provincial taxpayers received nothing back (and none of them requested a refund). But gifts by Augustus were deducted, and the claims of the emperor’s personal estate enforced item by item. Never before had Tiberius gone to such pains regarding other men’s property. Gaius Asinius Gallus proposed Sosia’s banishment, moving that half of her property should be confiscated and the other half left to her children. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (IV), however, counter-proposed that a quarter should go to the accusers – as the law required – but that her children should have the rest.
I find that this Marcus Lepidus played a wise and noble part in events. He often palliated the brutalities caused by other people’s sycophancy. And he had a sense of proportion – for he enjoyed unbroken influence and favour with Tiberius. This compels me to doubt whether, like other things, the friendships and enmities of rulers depend on destiny and the luck of a man’s birth. Instead, may not our own decisions play some part, enabling us to steer a way, safe from intrigues and hazards, between perilous insubordination and degrading servility?
However, Lepidus was contradicted by Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messallinus, who was of equally noble birth but very different character. At his proposal the senate decreed that officials, however free of guilt or knowledge of guilt themselves, should be punished for their wives’ wrongdoing in the provinces as though it were their own.
Then came the case of the aristocratic and independent-minded Lucius Calpurnius Piso (II). This was the man who (as I have mentioned) had insisted to the senate that he would leave the city because of the intrigues of prosecutors, and who, defying the Augusta’s might, had dared to hale her friend Urgulania into court from the palace itself. Tiberius had taken this reasonably for the moment. However, though his original bursts of anger might die down, he would turn over resentments in his mind, and did not forget. Quintus Granius charged Piso with treasonable private conversation, adding that he had poison in his house and wore a sword entering the senate-house. The last charge was passed over as too dreadful to be true. But the others – and there was no lack of them – were made into a prosecution, which Piso only avoided by his timely death.
The senate next considered the case of the exiled Cassius Severus. A vicious man of humble origin but an effective speaker, he had earned from the senate, by his unrestrained aggressiveness, a sworn verdict of banishment to Crete. There, by continuing the same practices, he brought upon himself so many enmities, new on top of old, that he was deprived of his property, outlawed, and ended his days on the rock of Seriphos.
At about this time the praetor Plautius Silvanus, for some unknown reason, threw his wife Apronia out of a window. Haled before the emperor by his father-in-law Lucius Apronius, he answered confusedly that he had been asleep and knew nothing, and his wife must have killed herself. Tiberius instantly proceeded to the house and inspected the bedroom. There signs of violence and resistance were detectable. So Tiberius referred the case to the senate, and it was entered for trial. Then Silvanus was sent a dagger by his grandmother Urgulania. In view of her intimacy with the Augusta, this was regarded as a hint from the emperor. So the accused, after an unsuccessful attempt with the dagger, had his veins opened. Soon afterwards his first wife Numantina was acquitted of driving her husband insane by incantations and philtres.
This year at last freed Rome from the long war with the Numidian Tacfarinas. Previous generals, when they thought they had achieved enough to win honorary Triumphs (already there were three laurelled statues in the city), had let the enemy alone. Yet Tacfarinas continued to ravage Africa; and Mauretanian auxiliaries flocked to him. Their king Ptolemy,1 the son of Juba II, was too young for responsibility, and they evaded the tyrannical rule of his household’s ex-slaves by coming to fight. The king of the Garamantes acted as receiver of Tacfarinas’ plunder and joined his raids, not to the extent of heading an army, but by sending light-armed troops – on their long journey, rumour exaggerated their numbers. Moreover, from the province of Africa itself, destitute and disreputable characters flocked to Tacfarinas. This was largely because, after the achievements of Quintus Junius Blaesus, Tiberius had removed one of the garrison’s two brigades, the ninth, as though Africa were clear of enemies. The governor at the time, Publius Cornelius Dolabella (I), had not dared to detain it – fearing the emperor’s orders more than the hazards of war.
So Tacfarinas spread rumours that other peoples, too, were dismembering the empire, and so Africa was being gradually evacuated. He declared that such garrison as remained could be cut off– if all who preferred freedom to slavery made a united exertion. His army strengthened, he established an encampment and blockaded the town of Thubuscum. Dolabella, collecting all available troops, managed to raise the siege at the first onset, owing to the terror inspired by Rome -and the Numidians’ inability to face an infantry charge. The next stage was to fortify strong points, and execute rebelliously inclined Musulamian chiefs. Then, since several expeditions against Tacfarinas had proved that a single heavy-armed force could never catch so mobile an enemy, Dolabella mobilized Ptolemy and his compatriots as well. Four columns were organized, under Roman generals or colonels; and Mauretanian officers were selected to lead raiding parties. Dolabella himself attended and directed the different units in turn.
It was soon reported that the Numidians had stationed themselves by the half-ruined fort of Auzea (which they themselves had burnt earlier), and pitched their encampment there. This seemed a safe poisition, because of large woods all round. But Dolabella, without revealing a destination, dispatched quick-moving light infantry and cavalry against them. At dawn, with fierce shouts and trumpet-blasts, they fell on the sleepy Numidians, whose horses were still tied up or feeding at a distance. The Roman infantry was in close order, their cavalry troops duly spaced, everything ready for battle. The enemy were taken unawares. They had no weapons, order or plan and were dragged to death or captivity like sheep.
The Roman soldiers resented their hardships, and the enemy’s repeated refusals to fight. So they all took their fill of bloody vengeance. The word went round to make for Tacfarinas, a familiar figure after all this warfare: only the leader’s death could end the war. His bodyguard fell around him, his son was taken prisoner, and he himself, as the Romans hemmed him in, rushed on to their spear-points and escaped capture by his death. It had cost the Romans dearly.
But Dolabella’s request for an honorary Triumph was rejected by Tiberius out of consideration for Sejanus – to avoid diminishing the glory of the latter’s uncle, the former governor Quintus Junius Blaesus. This did not help Blaesus’ reputation; but the rebuff increased that of Dolabella, who (with a smaller army) had to his credit important prisoners, the enemy commander’s death, and the termination of the war. Accompanying him was a delegation of the Garamantes – an unfamiliar spectacle. Disturbed by Tacfarinas’ death but regarding themselves as innocent, the tribe had sent the mission to make amends to Rome. Then, in recognition of the loyal conduct of King Ptolemy of Mauretania during the hostilities, an ancient compliment was revived and a senator dispatched to award him an ivory sceptre and embroidered triumphal robe, and greet him as king, ally, and friend.
In the same summer an incipient slave-war in Italy was only averted by an accident. The instigator was Titus Curtisius, a former Guardsman. By secret meetings at Brundusium and neighbouring towns, followed by openly published declarations, he started inciting the ferocious backwoods slaves to break free. Providentially three patrol ships for the protection of traders in those waters put into harbour. Also in that area was a quaestor, Cutius Lupus, occupying the traditional control-post of the pasture-land.1Organizing the crews into a force, he suppressed the rising in its initial stages. A colonel of the Guard called Staius, hastily sent by Tiberius with a strong force, took the ringleader and his most formidable helpers to Rome. There alarm had developed – owing to its vastly increased slave population, in contrast to the continual diminution of free-born inhabitants.
This year also witnessed a terrible instance of tragic heartlessness. Before the senate appeared two men called Vibius Serenus – a son prosecuting his father. The father, dragged back from exile, dirty and shabby and now manacled, had to face the charges of his elegant, brisk young son. Informer and witness in one, he accused his father of plotting against the emperor. Subversive agents, he explained, had been sent to the Gallic rebellion from Spain; funds had been provided by an ex-praetor, Marcus Caecilius Cornutus. Cornutus, finding the anxiety unbearable and regarding prosecution as equivalent to ruin, speedily committed suicide. But the defendant, undaunted, shook his manacles in his son’s face and called on the gods of vengeance. ‘Give me back my exile,’ he prayed them, ‘where such fashions were far away! And one day punish my son!’
The elder Serenus insisted that Cornutus was innocent – his panic was caused by a lying charge – if that was not so, let them produce the names of other accomplices besides himself: for surely he had not planned the emperor’s murder and revolution with only one associate! The prosecutor, however, then cited Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus (II) and Lucius Seius Tubero. This greatly embarrassed the emperor, whose close friends – one extremely old and the other sick – were thus charged with rebellious disturbance of the peace. Both were immediately exonerated.
Subsequent examinations of the elder Serenus’ slaves went against the prosecution. Thereupon the accuser, demented with guilt and terrified by clamorous threats of imprisonment, the Tarpeian rock and a parricide’s death, fled from Rome. But he was fetched back from Ravenna and forced to continue the prosecution. For the emperor made no secret of his own longstanding malevolence against the exile. After the condemnation of Marcus Scribonius Libo Drusus, the elder Serenus had written to Tiberius protesting that his efforts alone had gone unrewarded, and adding comments too insolent for safe address to that haughty, easily offended ear. Now, eight years later, although the stubbornness of the slaves had made their torture disappointing, Tiberius revived the matter, finding additional complaints from the intervening years.
Senators proposed the ancient punishment1 for the elder Serenus, but the emperor, to mollify ill-feeling, vetoed it. He also rejected Gaius Asinius Gallus’ counter-proposal of confinement on Gyaros or Donusa, observing that both islands were waterless and if a man were granted his life he must be allowed the means to live. So Serenus was returned to Amorgos.
Cornutus having committed suicide, it was proposed that the accusers should forfeit their rewards whenever a man prosecuted for treason killed himself before the trial was finished. This proposal was practically carried when Tiberius, quite sharply and with unaccustomed frankness, backed the accusers, protesting that such a measure would invalidate the laws and endanger the nation. ‘Better cancel the laws’, he said, ‘than remove their guardians!’ So that breed created for the country’s ruin and never sufficiently penalized, the informers, kept their incentives.
These tragedies were interrupted by a comparatively agreeable event. Gaius Cominius, a Roman knight convicted of a poem slandering the emperor, was spared by Tiberius as a concession to the pleas of Cominius’ brother, a member of the senate. This made it all the more surprising that Tiberius, who was no stranger to better things and understood that mercy was popular, should generally prefer grimmer courses. And his failures were not because he was unobservant: it is not difficult, when emperors’ doings are concerned, to tell whether applause is genuine or insincere. Moreover he himself, usually by no means a fluent speaker – his words seemed to struggle for delivery -spoke more readily and easily when he urged mercy.
However, when Publius Suillius Rufus, formerly assistant of Germanicus overseas, was convicted of judicial corruption and banned from Italy, Tiberius proposed his relegation to an island, feeling strongly enough to declare on oath that the national interest so required. This was badly received at the time. But later, when Suillius returned, it was favourably regarded. For the next generation was to know him as exceedingly powerful and corrupt, exploiting long and ably – but never beneficially – the friendship of Claudius. The same penalty was imposed on the junior senator Firmius Catus for falsely accusing his sister of treason. It was he, as I have recorded, who trapped Marcus Scribonius Libo Drusus and then produced evidence to destroy him. Recalling this service, but alleging other reasons, Tiberius excused Catus from banishment, not objecting, however, to his expulsion from the senate.
I am aware that much of what I have described, and shall describe, may seem unimportant and trivial. But my chronicle is quite a different matter from histories of early Rome. Their subjects were great wars, cities stormed, kings routed and captured. Or, if home affairs were their choice, they could turn freely to conflicts of consuls with tribunes, to land- and corn-laws, feuds of conservatives and commons. Mine, on the other hand, is a circumscribed, inglorious field. Peace was scarcely broken – if at all. Rome was plunged in gloom, the ruler uninterested in expanding the empire.
Yet even apparently insignificant events such as these are worth examination. For they often cause major historical developments. This is so whether a country (or city) is a democracy, an oligarchy, or an autocracy. For it is always one or the other – a mixture of the three is easier to applaud than to achieve, and besides, even when achieved, it cannot last long. When there was democracy, it was necessary to understand the character of the masses and how to control them. When the senate was in power, those who best knew its mind – the mind of the oligarchs – were considered the wisest experts on contemporary events. Similarly, now that Rome has virtually been transformed into an autocracy, the investigation and record of these details concerning the autocrat may prove useful. Indeed, it is from such studies – from the experience of others – that most men learn to distinguish right and wrong, advantage and disadvantage. Few can tell them apart instinctively.
So these accounts have their uses. But they are distasteful. What interests and stimulates readers is a geographical description, the changing fortune of a battle, the glorious death of a commander. My themes on the other hand concern cruel orders, unremitting accusations, treacherous friendships, innocent men ruined – a conspicuously monotonous glut of downfalls and their monotonous causes. Besides, whereas the ancient historian has few critics – nobody minds if he over-praises the Carthaginian (or Roman) army – the men punished or disgraced under Tiberius have numerous descendants living today. And even when the families are extinct, some will think, if their own habits are similar, that the mention of another’s crimes is directed against them. Even glory and merit make enemies – by showing their opposites in too sharp and critical relief.
But I must return to my subject. In the following year the consuls were Cossus Cornelius Lentulus (I) and Marcus Asinius Agrippa. The year began with the prosecution of Aulus Cremutius Cordus on a new and previously unheard-of charge: praise of Brutus in his History, and the description of Cassius as ‘the last of the Romans’. The prosecutors were Satrius Secundus and Pinarius Natta, dependants of Sejanus; that was fatal to the accused man. So was the grimness of Tiberius’ face as he listened to the defence. This is how Cremutius, resigned to death, conducted it:
‘Senators, my words are blamed. My actions are not blameworthy. Nor were these words of mine aimed against the emperor or his parent, whom the law of treason protects. I am charged with praising Brutus and Cassius. Yet many have written of their deeds – always with respect. Livy, outstanding for objectivity as well as eloquence, praised Pompey so warmly that Augustus called him “the Pompeian”. But their friendship did not suffer. And Livy never called Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, Lucius Afranius,1and this same pair, bandits and parricides – their fashionable designations today. He described them in language appropriate to distinguished men.
‘Gaius Asinius Pollio (I) gave a highly complimentary account of them. Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (I)2 called Cassius “my commander”. Both lived out wealthy and honoured lives. When Cicero praised Cato to the skies, the dictator Julius Caesar reacted by writing a speech against him – as in a lawsuit. Antony’s letters, Brutus’ speeches, contain scathing slanders against Augustus. The poems of Marcus Furius Bibaculus and Catullus – still read – are crammed with insults against the Caesars. Yet the divine Julius, the divine Augustus endured them and let them be. This could well be interpreted as wise policy, and not merely forbearance. For things unnoticed are forgotten; resentment confers status upon them.
‘I am not speaking of the Greeks. For they left licence unpunished as well as freedom – or, at most, words were countered by words. But among us, too, there has always been complete, uncensored liberty to speak about those whom death has placed beyond hatred or partiality. Cassius and Brutus are not in arms at Philippi now. I am not on the platform inciting the people to civil war. They died seventy years ago! They are known by their statues – even the conqueror did not remove them. And they have their place in the historian’s pages. Posterity gives everyone his due honour. If I am condemned, people will remember me as well as Cassius and Brutus.’
Cremutius walked out of the senate, and starved himself to death. The senate ordered his books to be burnt by the aediles. But they survived, first hidden and later republished. This makes one deride the stupidity of people who believe that today’s authority can destroy tomorrow’s memories. On the contrary, repressions of genius increase its prestige. All that tyrannical conquerors, and imitators of their brutalities, achieve is their own disrepute and their victims’ renown.
So continuous was the succession of prosecutions this year that even at the Latin Festival Drusus, as he mounted the platform to be inducted as honorary mayor, was approached with a charge – Calpurnius Salvianus lodged an accusation against Sextus Marius. However, Calpurnius was publicly reprimanded by Tiberius and banished.
Next the community of Cyzicus was accused of neglecting the worship of the divine Augustus and of using violence against Roman citizens. It lost the freedom it had earned during the war against Mithridates VI of Pontus when its bravery (as much as the help of Lucius Licinius Lucullus) beat off the king’s besieging force. However Gaius Fonteius Capito (I), former governor of Asia, was acquitted, charges laid by the younger Vibius Serenus being demonstrated as fictitious. But this did not hurt Serenus. Widespread detestation actually protected him. For the really aggressive prosecutors became almost impregnable – reprisals only fell upon the insignificant and unknown.
This was the time when Farther Spain sent a delegation to the senate, applying to follow Asia’s example and build a shrine to Tiberius and his mother. Disdainful of compliment, Tiberius saw an opportunity to refute rumours of his increasing self-importance. ‘I am aware, senators,’ he said, ‘that my present opposition has been widely regarded as inconsistent with my acquiescence in a similar proposal by the cities of Asia. So I will justify both my silence on that occasion and my intentions from now onwards.
‘The divine Augustus did not refuse a temple at Pergamum to himself and the City of Rome. So I, who regard his every action and word as law, followed the precedent thus established – the more readily since the senate was to be worshipped together with myself. One such acceptance may be pardonable. But to have my statue worshipped among the gods in every province would be presumptuous and arrogant. Besides, the honour to Augustus will be meaningless if it is debased by indiscriminate flattery. As for myself, senators, I emphasize to you that I am human, performing human tasks, and content to occupy the first place among men.
‘That is what I want later generations to remember. They will do more than justice to my memory if they judge me worthy of my ancestors, careful of your interests, steadfast in danger and fearless of animosities incurred in the public service. Those are my temples in your hearts, those my finest and most lasting images. Marble monuments, if the verdict of posterity is unfriendly, are mere neglected sepulchres. So my requests to provincials and Roman citizens, and heaven, are these. To heaven – grant me, until I die, a peaceful mind and an understanding of what is due to gods and men. To mortals –when I am dead, remember my actions and my name kindly and favourably.’
Later, too, even in private conversation, he persisted in rejecting such veneration. Some attributed this to modesty, but most people thought it was uneasiness. It was also ascribed to degeneracy, on the grounds that the best men aimed highest – that was how Romulus, like Hercules and Liber (Bacchus) among the Greeks, had been admitted to the gods. ‘Augustus had done better than Tiberius’, it was said, ‘by hoping. Rulers receive instantly everything else they want. One thing only needs to be untiringly worked for – a fair name for the future. Contempt for fame means contempt for goodness.’
Sejanus’ judgement now became affected by too great success; and feminine ambition hustled him, since Livilla was demanding her promised marriage. He wrote a memorandum to the emperor. (It was customary at that time to address him in writing even when he was at Rome.) This is what Sejanus said:
‘The kindness of your father Augustus, and your own numerous marks of favour, have accustomed me to bringing my hopes and desires to the imperial ear as readily as to the gods. I have never asked for brilliant office. I would rather watch and work, like any soldier, for the emperor’s safety. Yet I have gained the greatest privilege – to be thought worthy of a marriage-link with your house. That inspired me to hope: besides, I have heard that Augustus, when marrying his daughter, had not regarded even knights as beneath his consideration. So please bear in mind, if you should seek a husband for Livilla, your friend who would gain nothing but prestige from the relationship. For I am content with the duties I have to perform; satisfied – for my children’s sake – if my family is safeguarded against the unfounded malevolence of Agrippina. For myself, to live my appointed span under so great an emperor is all the life I desire.’
In reply Tiberius praised Sejanus’ loyalty, touched lightly on his own favours to him, and asked for time, ostensibly for unbiased reflection. Finally, he answered. ‘Other men’s decisions’, he wrote, ‘may be based on their own interests, but rulers are situated differently, since in important matters they need to consider public opinion. So I do not resort to the easy answer, that Livilla can decide for herself whether she should fill Drusus’ place by remarrying, or stay in the same home. Nor shall I reply that she has a mother and grandmother who are her more intimate advisers than myself. I shall be more frank. In the first place Agrippina’s ill-feelings will be greatly intensified if Livilla marries: this would virtually split the imperial house in two. Even now, the women’s rivalry is irrepressible, and my grandsons are torn between them. What if the proposed marriage accentuated the feud?
‘You are mistaken, Sejanus, if you think that Livilla, once married to Gaius Caesar and then to Drusus, would be content to grow old as the wife of a knight – or that you could retain your present status. Even if I allowed it, do you think it would be tolerated by those who have seen her brother and father, and our ancestors, holding the great offices of state? You do not want to rise above your present rank. But the officials and distinguished men who force their way in upon you and consult you on all matters maintain openly that you have long ago eclipsed all other knights and risen above any friend of my father’s. Moreover, envying you, they criticize me.
‘Augustus, you say, considered marrying his daughter to a knight. But he foresaw that the man set apart by such an alliance would be enormously elevated; and is it surprising, therefore, that those he had in mind were men like Gaius Proculeius,1 noted for their retiring abstention from public affairs? Besides, if we are noting Augustus’ delay in making up his mind, the decisive consideration is that the sons-in-law whom he actually chose were Marcus Agrippa and then, in due course, myself. I have spoken openly, as your friend. However, what you and Livilla decide, I shall not oppose. Of certain projects of my own, and additional ties by which I plan to link you with, me, I shall not speak now. This only shall I say: for your merits and your devotion to me, no elevation would be too high. When the time comes to speak before the senate and public, I shall not be silent.’
Sejanus was alarmed, not just for his marriage but on graver grounds. He replied urging Tiberius to eschew suspicion and ignore rumour and malignant envy. Then, unwilling either to shut out his stream of visitors – which would mean loss of influence – or by receiving them to give his critics a handle, he turned his attention to persuading Tiberius to settle in some attractive place far from Rome. He foresaw many advantages in this. He himself would control access to the emperor – as well as most of his correspondence, since it would be transmitted by Guardsmen. Besides, the ageing monarch, slackening in retirement, would soon be readier to delegate governmental functions. Meanwhile Sejanus himself would become less unpopular when his large receptions ceased – by eliminating inessentials, he would strengthen his real power. So he increasingly denounced to Tiberius the drudgeries of Rome, its crowds and innumerable visitors, and spoke warmly of peace and solitude, far from vexation and friction: where first things could come first.
Tiberius wavered. At this moment, a trial happened to take place which made him anxious to avoid the senate’s meetings. For the evidence included offensive (and often accurate) remarks about himself, repeated to his face. For while the able and well-known Votienus Montanus was being tried for abusing the emperor, a soldier called Aemilius who was one of the witnesses, eager to prove the case, perseveringly spared no detail. Despite loud protests, Tiberius had to hear the insults to which, in private, he was subject. Greatly upset, he cried that he must clear his reputation immediately, or at least before the case ended. He was only calmed with difficulty by his friends’ entreaties and a chorus of flattery. Votienus paid the penalty of treason. Imputations of his excessive severity to defendants only made Tiberius severer still. He exiled a lady named Aquilia for adultery – though one of the consuls-designate, Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, had only requested condemnation under the Julian law – and struck a senator called Apidius Merula off the roll for not swearing obedience to the acts of the divine Augustus.
Deputations from Sparta and Messene were now heard concerning the ownership of the temple of Diana Limnatis. The Spartan assertion, backed by historical records and poems, was that whereas their ancestors had consecrated it on their own territory, it had been forcibly taken from them by Philip II of Macedon during their war against him; and afterwards they had received it back by rulings of Julius Caesar and Antony. The Messenians, on the other hand, cited the ancient partition of the Peloponnese among the descendants of Hercules, by which the Denthaliate area – in which the shrine stands – had been allotted to their king. This, they added, was confirmed by ancient bronze and stone records; if appeal was to be made to poets and historians, the more numerous and reliable authorities were on their side; and Philip’s judgement had not been arbitrary but objective – King Antigonus III Doson1 and the Roman commander Lucius Mummius had decided similarly, and the same verdict had been reached by the city of Miletus, officially appointed as arbitrator, and again by Atidius Geminus governor of Achaia. The Messenians won their case.
Segesta appealed for the reconstruction of its temple of Venus on Mount Eryx. When the well-known story of this antique ruin was repeated, Tiberius was pleased and on grounds of kinship gladly undertook the task. Next, a petition from Massilia was considered. Volcacius Moschus, an exile at that city, had become naturalized and left his property to it as his own country. His bequest was confirmed in view of the precedent of an earlier exile, Publius Rutilius Rufus, who had become a citizen of Smyrna.
This year witnessed the deaths of two noblemen, Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus(II) and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus(I). Lentulus, in addition to his consulship and honorary Triumph won against the Getae, was honoured for poverty patiently endured, followed by great wealth respectably acquired and modestly employed. Domitius derived prestige from his father’s sea-power during the civil war: subsequently he had joined first Antony and then the future Augustus. His grandfather had fallen on the aristocratic side at Pharsalus.2 He himself had been chosen as husband for Augustus’ niece, Octavia’s daughter, Antonia (I). Later he had won an honorary Triumph by conducting an army across the Elbe and penetrating deeper into Germany than anyone before him.
Another death was that of Lucius Antonius, of famous but ill-starred family. Only a boy when his father Iullus Antonius was executed for adultery with Augustus’ daughter Julia (III), that emperor (his great-uncle) had dismissed him to Massilia, where study could be a cloak for exile. However, he was given an honourable funeral, and by the senate’s decree his remains were placed in the tomb of the Octavii.
In the same year a savage crime was committed in Nearer Spain. As Lucius Calpurnius Piso (III), imperial governor of the province, was travelling – unguarded, since conditions were peaceful – he was suddenly attacked by a peasant from Termes, and killed with one blow. His assailant escaped to wooded country on a swift horse, which he there turned loose, evading pursuit in steep pathless country. But not for long. The horse was found and taken round the neighbouring villages, until its master was identified. Arrested, and tortured to reveal his associates, he shouted in his native tongue that investigation was useless – his partners could safely stand by and watch; no amount of pain would make him confess. Next day while he was being dragged back for further torture, he tore himself away from his guards and dashed his head against a rock, dying immediately. Nevertheless, Piso’s death is attributed to conspirators from Termes. For public funds had been stolen, and he was recovering them with a strictness which seemed intolerable to natives.
Next year the consuls were Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus and Gaius Calvisius Sabinus. The year began with the award of an honorary Triumph to Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus for suppressing Thracian mountain tribesmen. The causes of the rebellion were their uncivilized and intractable temperaments, and their refusal of the conscription system which drafted their best men into our forces. Their loyalty even to their own kings was capricious – such contingents as they sent the kings were under their own chieftains and only employed against neighbours. It was now rumoured that the tribes were to be broken up, mixed with other peoples, and transported to far countries.
However, before opening hostilities the Thracians sent envoys to stress their friendship and obedience, which would remain intact, they said, if no new burdens were imposed. But if, they added, they were enslaved like conquered men, they had the weapons, warriors, and determination to be free or to die. They pointed to their fortresses on hilltops, where their parents and wives were lodged; and they threatened a difficult, arduous, bloody war.
Sabinus gave conciliatory replies until his forces were collected. But when a brigade under Pomponius Labeo reached him from Moesia and King Rhoemetalces II added loyal native auxiliaries, he led them and his own troops against the enemy. These had collected in wooded ravines. A few ventured to show themselves on open hillsides, but Sabinus attacked and easily routed them – inflicting little loss, however, since cover was near. Next Sabinus made his headquarters into a fortified camp. Then, taking a considerable force, he seized a narrow mountain-ridge which stretched, even and unbroken, to the nearest enemy fortress. This was defended by numerous armed Thracians, including irregulars. Against the fiercest of them, as they capered and chanted in front of their lines according to national custom, he detached picked archers. At long range these archers scored many hits without loss. But at closer quarters an unexpected sortie routed them. They were rescued by a battalion of Sugambri stationed by Sabinus nearby owing to its effectiveness in emergencies; it was as savage as the enemy in its chanting and clashing of arms.
Then the camp was moved closer to the enemy. The Thracian auxiliaries who, as I mentioned, had joined our side were left in the previous camp, and allowed to ravage, burn, and loot, provided that their plundering was restricted to the daylight and that they spent the night safe and watchful in the camp. At first this proviso was observed. But later, loaded with booty, they became self-indulgent and abandoned sentry duty in favour of dissipation, or lay drunkenly sleeping. The enemy learnt of their slackness and organized two detachments, one to attack the Thracian plunderers while the other assaulted the Roman camp. They did not expect to capture it but hoped that amid the shouting and clash of weapons every soldier would be too intent on his own peril to hear the other battle. To intensify the alarm the attack was to be by night. However, the attempt on the Roman fortifications was easily driven off. But the Thracian auxiliaries, lying along the earthworks, or in most cases drifting about outside, were terrified by the sudden raid, and slaughtered – with particular savagery, since they were condemned as traitorous deserters fighting to enslave themselves and their country.
On the next day Sabinus paraded his force on the plain. He hoped that the natives might be tempted by the night’s success to risk battle. But they would not leave the fortress and its surrounding hills. So he proceeded to hem them in by strong-points, which – conveniently enough – he had already begun to construct. Linking these by a ditch and breastwork four miles in circumference, he gradually narrowed and tightened the loop, to cut off the defenders’ water and fodder. He also began work on a mound from which boulders, spears, and torches could reach the now adjacent enemy. But their worst hardship was thirst, since there was now only one spring for a great crowd of warriors and non-combatants. Meanwhile, their horses and cattle, shut in with them in accordance with native custom, were dying of starvation. Beside them lay corpses, victims of wounds and thirst. The whole place stank with putrefaction and infection.
The troubles of the Thracians were intensified by the supreme misfortune of dissension. One party favoured surrender, another death at each other’s hands, while a further section, insisting that a price should be paid for their deaths, demanded a sortie. Opposing views were not limited to the ranks, but came from a chieftain the aged Dinis, whose long experience of Roman power and mercy led him to urge that the only solution to their plight was surrender. He took the initiative by giving himself up to the victors with his wife and children. The old and young and the women, and those who preferred life to glory, followed him.
The younger men, however, were split between Tarsa and Turesis. Both were determined to die rather than lose their freedom. Tarsa cried out for a quick end, an end of fears as well as hopes, and set the example by plunging his sword into his breast. Others followed his lead. But Turesis and his supporters waited for darkness. The Roman commander, aware of their plan, reinforced his outposts. Night fell stormily. On the enemy’s side savage cries alternated with complete stillness. The besiegers were perplexed. But Sabinus went round warning them not to let mysterious noises or pretended inactivity make them vulnerable to surprise – every man must stand firmly at his post and not throw weapons at non-existent targets.
Then the Thracians, in groups, charged down the slope. Some hurled boulders, fire-hardened stakes, and boughs hacked from trees at the palisade. Another party filled the ditch with branches, hurdles, and corpses. A small detachment brought ready-made gangways and ladders up to the turrets, which they grasped and overturned in hand-to-hand fighting. The Romans pushed them back with spears and shields, and hurled siege-javelins and showers of stones. Our men felt confident that the battle was won – and knew the disgrace (more conspicuous on our side) that defeat would bring upon them. As for the enemy, this was their supreme crisis. Moreover, many of them were spurred on by the wailing of their mothers and wives nearby.
Night gave the Thracians fresh heart. But it terrified the Romans. Striking out aimlessly, struck unpredictably, they could not tell friend and enemy apart. Shouts echoing back from the mountain clefts seemed to come from the rear; and they abandoned some of their defences, believing them overrun. However, only very few Thracians broke through. The remainder, their best men dead or wounded, were pushed back at dawn to their hill-fortress. There they were finally forced to surrender. The surrounding population submitted voluntarily. The remaining rebels were saved from successful assault or blockade by the severe, untimely winter of the Balkan mountains.
In Rome, convulsions shook the imperial house. The chain of events leading to Agrippina’s end was initiated by the trial of her second cousin Claudia Pulchra. The prosecutor was Cnaeus Domitius Aferan undistinguished recent praetor, ready to commit any crime for advancement. The charges were immorality (adultery with Furnius), attempted poisoning of the emperor, and magic spells against him. Agrippina, always violent, was upset by her relative’s predicament, and hastened to Tiberius. She found him sacrificing to his adoptive father, and used this as the text of her reproaches. ‘The man who offers victims to the deified Augustus’, she said, ‘ought not to persecute his descendants. It is not in mute statues that Augustus’ divine spirit has lodged – I, born of his sacred blood, am its incarnation! I see my danger; and I wear mourning. Claudia Pulchra is an idle pretext. Her downfall, poor fool, is because she chooses Agrippina as friend! She forgot Sosia Galla – who suffered for just that.’
These words goaded the secretive Tiberius to one of his infrequent pronouncements. Grasping her, he quoted a Greek line: it was not an injury that she did not reign. Pulchra and Furnius were condemned. Afer became a leading advocate. His talents had been seen; and Tiberius had commented that he was a born speaker. Subsequently, in prosecution and defence alike, Afer’s speeches greatly deteriorated in old age. It lessened his powers, but not his inability to remain silent.
Agrippina, resentful as ever, became physically ill. When Tiberius visited her, at first she wept long and silently. Then she broke into embittered appeals. ‘I am lonely’, she said. ‘Help me and give me a husband! I am still young enough,1 and marriage is the only respectable consolation. Rome contains men who would welcome Germanicus’ wife and children.’ Tiberius recognized the political implications of this – but did not want to show either anger or fear. So her persistence remained unanswered. This incident, ignored by the historians, I found in the memoirs of Agrippina’s daughter (mother of the emperor Nero), in which she recorded for posterity her life and her family’s fortunes.
Distressed and impetuous, Agrippina was further upset by Sejanus. His agents now warned her – ostensibly as friends – against schemes to poison her: she must avoid dining with her father-in-law Tiberius. Agrippina was bad at pretending. Next to the emperor at table, she remained silent and expressionless, her food untouched, until he happened to notice (or perhaps he was told). When fruit was placed before him, the emperor – requiring a more conclusive test – praised it and himself offered it to her. This accentuated her suspicions and she passed it to her slaves uneaten. Tiberius said nothing publicly. But he turned to his mother and asked if it was surprising that he envisaged somewhat stern measures against a woman who alleged he was poisoning her. It was accordingly rumoured that the emperor planned Agrippina’s death, but – not daring to murder her openly – was trying to find a secret method.
To distract gossip, Tiberius attended the senate regularly. He spent several days hearing deputations from Asia arguing about which community should erect his temple. Eleven cities, of varying importance, competed with uniform keenness for this privilege. Their pleas all dwelt on ancient origins and services to Rome in the wars against Perseus, Aristonicus1 and other foreign princes. Four, Hypaepa, Tralles, Laodicea on the Lycus, and Magnesia on the Maeander, were passed over as too unimportant. Even Ilium, boasting Troy as Rome’s mother-city, was insignificant apart from its glorious antiquity. The assertion of Halicarnassus that it had stood firm, undisturbed by earthquakes, for twelve hundred years, and that the foundations of its temple would rest on natural rock, attracted attention briefly. The delegates from Pergamum cited their temple of Augustus; but this was thought distinction enough. Ephesus and Miletus were adjudged fully occupied with their state-cults of Diana and Apollo respectively.
So the choice rested between Sardis and Smyrna. The Sardians claimed kinship with the Etruscans, quoting a decree of the latter. They explained that the original nation, owing to its size, had been divided between the sons of King Atys – Tyrrhenus, who had been dispatched to create new homes, and Lydus, who had stayed in his fatherland – the two countries, in Italy and Asia, taking the names of their rulers; while the Lydians had extended their power by planting settlements in that part of Greece later called the Peloponnese after Pelops. The Sardians went on to quote Roman commanders’ letters and treaties made with Rome during the Macedonian war; and they stressed their rich rivers, temperate climate, and fertile surrounding territory.
The deputation from Smyrna traced back their origins – whether Jupiter’s son Tantalus, or Theseus (also of divine birth), or an Amazon was their founder – and then passed to their most confident arguments: their services to Rome, including the dispatch of naval forces2 for wars abroad and even in Italy; and their initiative in founding a Temple of Rome, in the consulship of Marcus Porcius Cato the Censor,3 at a time when our power although already considerable had not reached its height, since Carthage still existed and Asia still had powerful kings. They also cited Sulla’s acknowledgement that, when his army was suffering critically from inadequate clothing in a bitter winter, a public announcement of this fact at Smyrna caused the whole audience to strip off its clothes and send them to our soldiers.1
The senate voted in favour of Smyrna. It was proposed by Gaius Vibius Marsus that the governor of Asia, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (IV), should be allotted a supernumerary official in charge of the new temple. As the governor modestly declined to make the choice himself, lots were cast and a former praetor, Valerius Naso, was appointed.
Now, after long consideration and frequent postponements, Tiberius at last left for Campania. His ostensible purpose was the dedication of temples to Jupiter and Augustus at Capua and Nola respectively. But he had decided to live away from Rome. Like most historians, I attribute his withdrawal to Sejanus’ intrigues. Yet, since he maintained this seclusion for six years after Sejanus’ execution, I often wonder whether it was not really caused by a desire to hide the cruelty and immorality which his actions made all too conspicuous. It was also said that in old age he became sensitive about his appearance. Tall and abnormally thin, bent and bald, he had a face covered with sores and often plaster. His retirement at Rhodes had accustomed him to unsociability and secretive pleasures.
According to another theory he was driven away by his mother’s bullying: to share control with her seemed intolerable, to dislodge her impracticable – since that control had been given him by her. For Augustus had considered awarding the empire to his universally loved grand-nephew Germanicus. But his wife had induced him to adopt Tiberius instead (though Tiberius was made to adopt Germanicus). The Augusta harped accusingly on this obligation – and exacted repayment.
Tiberius left with only a few companions: one senator and exconsul, Marcus Cocceius Nerva the jurist, one distinguished knight, Curtius Atticus – and Sejanus. The rest were literary men, mostly Greeks whose conversation diverted him. The astrologers asserted that the conjunction of heavenly bodies under which he had left Rome precluded his return. This proved fatal to many who deduced, and proclaimed, that his end was near. For they did not foresee the unbelievable fact that his voluntary self-exile would last eleven years. Time was to show how narrow is the dividing-line between authentic prediction and imposture: truth is surrounded by mystery. For the first assertion proved authentic – though he came to adjacent points of the countryside or coast, and often approached the city’s very walls. But the prophets’ foreknowledge was limited, for he lived to a great age.
A dangerous accident to Tiberius at this time stimulated idle gossip, and gave him reason for increased confidence in Sejanus’ friendship and loyalty. While they were dining at a villa called The Cave, in a natural cavern between the sea at Amyclae and the hills of Fundi, there was a fall of rock at the cave-mouth. Several servants were crushed, and amid the general panic the diners fled. But Sejanus, braced on hands and knees, face to face, warded the falling boulders off Tiberius. That is how the soldiers who rescued them found him. The incident increased Sejanus’ power. Tiberius believed him disinterested and listened trustingly to his advice, however disastrous.
Towards Germanicus’ family Sejanus adopted the role of judge. Agents suborned as accusers were to direct their main onslaught against Nero Caesar, heir to the throne, who though youthfully unpretentious often forgot the care which the circumstances demanded. His ex-slaves and dependants, impatient for power, urged him to show vigour and confidence. Rome and the armies wanted it, they said, and no counter-stroke would be risked by Sejanus, whose targets were juvenile ineffectiveness and senile passivity.
Nero Caesar listened. His intentions were harmless. But he sometimes made thoughtless, disrespectful remarks. Spies noted, reported, and exaggerated these, and he was given no opportunity to explain. People began to show disquiet in various ways. They avoided him, or turned away after greeting him, or, very often, broke off conversations abruptly. Sejanus’ partisans stood and watched, sneering. Tiberius treated Nero Caesar grimly, or smiled insincerely – the young man seemed equally guilty whether he spoke or remained silent. Even night-time was not safe. For whether he slept, or lay awake, or sighed, his wife Livia Julia told her mother Livilla, and she told Sejanus. Sejanus even made an accomplice of the young man’s brother Drusus Caesar – tempting him with supreme power if only he could eliminate his already undermined elder brother. Drusus Caesar’s degraded character was animated by power-lust, and the usual hatred between brothers – also jealousy, because his mother Agrippina preferred Nero Caesar. But Sejanus’ cultivation of Drusus Caesar did not exclude plans to begin his destruction too, since the youth, as he knew, was hot-headed and could be trapped.
The end of the year witnessed the deaths of Marcus Asinius Agrippa, who had lived worthily of his distinguished (though not ancient) house, and Quintus Haterius, of senatorial family. His oratory impressed his contemporaries, though surviving examples are less esteemed today. Indeed, his success was due to vigour rather than pains. Other men’s careful, laborious work attains posthumous repute. Conversely, Haterius’ resonant fluency died with him.
In the following year the consuls were Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi and Lucius Calpurnius Piso (IV). A sudden disaster which now occurred was as destructive as a major war. It began and ended in a moment. An ex-slave called Atilius started building an amphitheatre at Fidenae for a gladiatorial show. But he neither rested its foundations on solid ground nor fastened the wooden superstructure securely. He had undertaken the project not because of great wealth or municipal ambition but for sordid profits. Lovers of such displays, starved of amusements under Tiberius, flocked in – men and women of all ages. Their numbers, swollen by the town’s proximity, intensified the tragedy. The packed structure collapsed, subsiding both inwards and outwards and precipitating or overwhelming a huge crowd of spectators and bystanders.
Those killed at the outset of the catastrophe at least escaped torture, as far as their violent deaths permitted. More pitiable were those, mangled but not yet dead, who knew their wives and children lay there too. In daytime they could see them, and at night they heard their screams and moans. The news attracted crowds, lamenting kinsmen, brothers, and fathers. Even those whose friends and relations had gone away on other business were alarmed, for while the casualties remained unidentified uncertainty gave free range for anxieties. When the ruins began to be cleared, people rushed to embrace and kiss the corpses – and even quarrelled over them, when features were unrecognizable but similarities of physique or age had caused wrong identifications.
Fifty thousand people were mutilated or crushed to death in the disaster. The senate decreed that in future no one with a capital of less than four hundred thousand sesterces should exhibit a gladiatorial show, and no amphitheatre should be constructed except on ground of proved solidity. Atilius was banished. Immediately after the catastrophe, leading Romans threw open their homes, providing medical attention and supplies all round. In those days Rome, for all its miseries, recalled the practice of our ancestors, who after great battles had lavished gifts and attentions on the wounded.
This calamity had not been forgotten when Rome suffered an exceptionally destructive fire, which gutted the Caelian Hill. This was a fatal year, people said. Fastening on a scapegoat for chance happenings (as the public does), they detected an evil omen in the emperor’s decision to leave Rome. Tiberius disarmed criticism by distributing money in proportion to losses incurred. This earned him votes of thanks in the senate by eminent members, and, as the news got round, a feeling of gratitude among the general public, because the donations were made without respecting persons or favouring relatives’ petitions: sometimes the beneficiaries were unknown victims applying in response to the emperor’s invitation. It was proposed that the Caelian should in future be called the Augustan Hill, since while flames roared on all sides the one thing unharmed was a statue of Tiberius in the house of a senator named Junius. The same thing, it was remarked, had once happened to Claudia Quinta, whose image, twice spared by conflagrations, our ancestors had dedicated in the temple of the Mother of the Gods: the Claudian house was holy and honoured by heaven, and the place where the gods had so conspicuously favoured the emperor should be accorded increased veneration.
It may be appropriate to record here that the hill was originally called Oak Hill because of its dense growth of oak trees, and was later named ‘Caelian’ after Caeles Vibenna, an Etruscan chief who, for helping Rome, had been granted the hill as a residence by Tarquinius Priscus – or another king; here writers disagree. But there is no doubt about the extensive Etruscan settlement, which also comprised the flat ground near the Forum; it was after these immigrants that the Tuscan Street was given its name.
Accidents, then, were alleviated by leading men’s public spirit and the emperor’s generosity. But there was no alleviation of the accusers, who became more formidable and vicious every day. Quinctilius Varus, a wealthy relation of Tiberius, was accused by Cnaeus Domitius Afer who had secured his mother Claudia Pulchra’s condemnation. After long poverty Afer had made money and misused it, and it surprised no one that he now had further infamous designs. But it was remarkable that his partner in the prosecution was Publius Cornelius Dolabella (I), an aristocrat and Varus’ relative – setting out to ruin his own class and blood. However, the senate sought their only temporary escape from tragedy by opposing action pending the emperor’s return.
Tiberius was dedicating the temples in Campania. He issued an edict forbidding the disturbance of his privacy, and troops were posted in the towns to prevent crowds. He detested these towns, and indeed the whole mainland. So he took refuge on the island of Capreae, separated from the tip of the Surrentum promontory by three miles of sea. Presumably what attracted him was the isolation of Capreae. Harbourless, it has few roadsteads even for small vessels; sentries can control all landings. In winter the climate is mild, since hills on the mainland keep off gales. In summer the island is delightful, since it faces west and has open sea all round. The bay it overlooks was exceptionally lovely, until Vesuvius’ eruption transformed the landscape. This was an area of Greek colonization, and tradition records that Capreae had been occupied by the Teleboi.1
On this island then, in twelve spacious, separately named villas, Tiberius took up residence. His former absorption in State affairs ended. Instead he spent the time in secret orgies, or idle malevolent thoughts. But his abnormally credulous suspicions were unabated. Sejanus, who had encouraged them even at Rome, whipped them up, and now openly disclosed his designs against Agrippina and Nero Caesar. Soldiers attached to them reported with a historian’s precision their correspondence, visitors, and doings private and public. Agents incited them to flee to the German armies, or – in the Forum at its peak hour – to grasp the divine Augustus’ statue, and appeal to senate and public. They dismissed such projects: but were accused of them.
The next year, in which the consuls were Gaius Appius Junius Silanus and Publius Silius Nerva, began deplorably. A distinguished knight called Titius Sabinus was dragged to gaol because he had been Germanicus’ friend. Sabinus had maintained every attention to Germanicus’ widow and children, visiting their home, escorting them in public – of their crowds of followers he was the only survivor. Decent men respected this, but spiteful people hated him. His downfall was planned by four ex-praetors ambitious for the consulship, Lucanius Latiaris, Marcus Porcius Cato, Petilius Rufus and Marcus Opsius. For the only access to this lay through Sejanus; and only crimes secured Sejanus’ goodwill.
The four arranged that, with the others present as witnesses, one of them, Lucanius Latiaris (who knew Sabinus slightly), should trap him with a view to prosecution. So Latiaris after some casual remarks complimented Sabinus on his unshaken adherence, in its misfortunes, to the family he had supported in its prosperty – and he commented respecfully about Germanicus, sympathetically about Agrippina. Sabinus burst into tearful complaints; for misery is demoralizing. Latiaris then openly attacked Sejanus as cruel, domineering, and ambitious – and did not even spare Tiberius. These exchanges of forbidden confidences seemed to cement a close friendship. So now Sabinus sought out Latiaris’ company, frequenting his house and unburdening his sorrows to this outwardly reliable companion.
The four partners next considered how to make these conversations available to a larger audience. The meeting-place had to appear private. Even if they stood behind the doors, they risked being seen or heard or detected by some suspicious whim. So in between roof and ceiling they crammed three Roman senators. In this hiding-place – as undignified as the trick was despicable – they applied their ears to chinks and holes. Meanwhile Latiaris had found Sabinus out of doors and, pretending to have fresh news to report, escorted him home to Sabinus’ bedroom. There Latiaris dwelt on the unfailing subject of past and present distresses, introducing some fresh terrors too. Sabinus embroidered at greater length on the same theme: once grievances find expression, there is no silencing them. Acting rapidly, the accusers wrote to Tiberius and disclosed the history of the trap and their own deplorable role. At Rome there was unprecedented agitation and terror. People behaved secretively even to their intimates, avoiding encounters and conversation, shunning the ears both of friends and strangers. Even voiceless, inanimate objects – ceilings and walls – were scanned suspiciously.
In a letter read in the senate on January 1st Tiberius, after the customary New Year formalities, rounded upon Sabinus, alleging that he had tampered with certain of the emperor’s ex-slaves and plotted against his life. The letter unequivocally demanded retribution. This was hastily decreed. The condemned man was dragged away, crying (as loudly as the cloak muffling his mouth and the noose round his neck allowed) that this was a fine New Year ceremony – this year’s sacrifice was to Sejanus! But wherever his eye rested or his words carried, there was a stampede: all roads and public places were evacuated and deserted. Some, however, reappeared and showed themselves again – alarmed because they had displayed alarm. For it seemed that no day would be free of convictions when, at a season in which custom forbade even an ominous word, sacrifices and prayers were attended by manacles and nooses. Tiberius had incurred this indignation deliberately, people said- it was a purposeful, premeditated action to show that the newly elected officials who opened the religious year could also open the death-cells.
The emperor wrote again, thanking the senate for punishing a public danger, and adding that he had grave anxieties and reasons to suspect disaffected persons of plotting. He mentioned no names. But Nero Caesar and Agrippina were undoubtedly meant. If I did not propose to record each event under its own year, I should have liked to anticipate and recount immediately the fates of the four criminal plotters against Sabinus – partly in the reign of Gaius, and partly also under Tiberius. For Tiberius, unwilling though he was for others to destroy his villainous agents, frequently wearied of them and, when new recruits became available, eliminated their distasteful predecessors. However, this punishment of guilty men, and other similar cases, I shall describe at the proper time.
Gaius Asinius Gallus, of whose children Agrippina was aunt,1 now proposed that the emperor should indicate his fears to the senate, and permit their removal. Now of all his self-ascribed virtues Tiberius cherished none more dearly than dissimulation. So he greatly disliked disclosing what he had suppressed. However Sejanus calmed him, not from affection for Gallus, but to let the emperor’s hesitations take their course. For, as Sejanus knew, Tiberius reached decisions slowly, but once the outburst occurred there was a rapid transition from grim words to terrible action.
This was about the time when Julia (IV) died. Convicted of adultery, she had been condemned by her grandfather Augustus to banishment on the island of Trimerum off the Apulian coast. There she had endured exile for twenty years. The Augusta had helped her: after secretly ruining her step-daughter’s family when they prospered, she openly showed pity for them in their ruin.
In this year, across the Rhine, the Frisian tribe broke the peace. The cause was Roman rapacity rather than Frisian insubordination. Bearing their povety in mind, Nero Drusus had assessed their taxation leniently: ox-hides were requested, for military purposes. No one had stipulated their dimensions or quality until Olennius, a senior staff-officer who was in charge of them, interpreted the requirements as buffalo-hides. This demand, severe enough for any community, was particularly oppressive in Germany where, though the forests abound in huge beasts, domestic animals are small. So first the Frisians lost their cattle, next their lands, and finally their wives and children went into slavery. Distressful complaints produced no relief. So they resorted to war. Soldiers collecting the tax were gibbeted. Olennius anticipated the Frisians’ angry intentions by taking refuge in a fort called Flevum, where a considerable concentration of Roman and auxiliary troops guarded the North Sea coast.
When Lucius Apronius, imperial governor of Lower Germany, heard the news, he summoned detachments from Roman brigades in Upper Germany, together with picked auxiliary horse and foot, and brought the combined force down the Rhine against the Frisians. Finding the siege of Flevum raised, and the rebels gone to defend their own property, he constructed causeways and bridges across the adjacent coastal marshes for the transportation of his heavy columns. A ford was discovered; and German cavalry belonging to the tribe of the Canninefates, together with such of their auxiliary infantry as was serving with us, were ordered to take the enemy in the rear. The Frisians however, in battle-formation, repulsed our cavalry – and also regular cavalry dispatched in support.1 Then Apronius sent in three of the infantry battalions from Germany, followed by two more, and finally (after an interval) the main auxiliary cavalry. If they had attacked simultaneously, this would have been sufficient strength. But, arriving piecemeal, they failed to rally the disorganized horsemen. Indeed, the reinforcements themselves became involved in the panic-stricken retreat.
Then Apronius put the remaining auxiliaries under Cethegus Labeo, commander of the fifth division. Labeo, seriously endangered by his men’s plight, sent messengers urgently requesting extensive regular reinforcements. But his men rushed forward ahead of the rest, drove back the enemy after a vigorous fight, and rescued the wounded and exhausted cavalry and infantry. The Roman general did not attempt retaliation, or bury his dead, although many regular and auxiliary colonels and senior company-commanders were killed. Later deserters reported that nine hundred Romans who had prolonged the battle till next day had been slaughtered in the Baduhenna wood, while another body four hundred strong had occupied the villa of an ex-soldier of ours named Cruptorix, but fearing treachery had killed each other. Germany glorified the Frisians for these doings. However, rather than appoint a commander for the war, Tiberius suppressed the losses.
The senate, too, had more pressing concerns than a frontier setback. Metropolitan terrors were what preoccupied them. From these they sought relief in flattery. Though assembled to consider some unrelated business, they voted the erection of altars to Mercy and Friendship – the latter to be flanked by statues of Tiberius and Sejanus. The senate also repeatedly begged them to vouchsafe a view of themselves. But neither came into Rome, or near it. They thought it sufficient to leave their island and show themselves on the Campanian coast opposite. There flocked senators and knights and large crowds of ordinary people – anxiously regarding Sejanus.
Access to him was harder now. It was only procurable by intrigue and complicity. His arrogance obviously battened on the sight of this blatant subservience. At Rome people circulate, and the city’s size conceals the purposes of their errands. But there in Campania, huddled indiscriminately on land and shore, men endured, day and night, the patronage and self-importance of his door-keepers. Finally they were denied even that, and returned to Rome. Anxiety gnawed those whom he had not deigned to address or see. Others were elated. But they were misguided, for their ill-omened friendship was soon to end disastrously.
Tiberius had personally entrusted his grandchild Agrippina (II), daughter of Germanicus, to Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. Now the emperor ordered the marriage to be celebrated in the capital. His choice, Domitius, was a man of ancient family and a blood-relation of the Caesars; for his grandmother was Octavia, and Augustus his great-uncle.
In the following year, when Gaius Fufius Geminus and Lucius Rubellius Geminus were consuls, the aged Augusta died. By her own Claudian family, and her adoption into the Livii and Julii, she was of the highest nobility. Her first husband, and the father of her children, had been Tiberius Claudius Nero, who, after emigrating in the Perusian war, returned to Rome when peace was concluded between Sextus Pompeius (I) and the Triumvirate.1 The future Augustus, fascinated by her beauty, removed her from him – with or without her encouragement – and hastily conducted her to his own home even before the baby she was expecting (the future Nero Drusus) was born. That was her last child. But her connection with Augustus through the marriage of her grandson Germanicus to his granddaughter Agrippina gave them great-grandchildren in common. Her private life was of traditional strictness. But her graciousness exceeded old-fashioned standards. She was a compliant wife, but an overbearing mother. Neither her husband’s diplomacy nor her son’s insincerity could outmanoeuvre her.
The implementation of her will was long delayed. At her modest funeral, the obituary speech was pronounced by her great-grandson Gaius, soon to be emperor. Tiberius did not interrupt his own self-indulgences for his mother’s last rites, but wrote excusing himself and pleading important business. Moreover, when the senate decreed extensive honours to her memory, he curtailed them in the name of moderation, conceding only a few. Tiberius added that she was not to be deified2 – she herself had not wished it.
The same letter contained strictures on ‘female friendships’. This was an implied criticism of the consul Gaius Fufius Geminus, whom the Augusta’s patronage had elevated. Fufius could attract women. Moreover, his sharp tongue had often ridiculed Tiberius with sarcastic jokes such as autocrats long remember.
Now began a time of sheer crushing tyranny. While the Augusta lived there was still a moderating influence, for Tiberius had retained a deep-rooted deference for his mother. Sejanus, too, had not ventured to outbid her parental authority. Now, however, the reins were thrown off, and they pressed ahead. A letter was sent to Rome denouncing Agrippina and Nero Caesar. It was read so soon after the Augusta’s death that people believed it had arrived earlier and been suppressed by her.
Its wording was deliberately harsh. However, the youth was accused not of actual or intended rebellion but of homosexual indecency. Against his daughter-in-law Tiberius dared not invent similar charges, but attacked her insubordinate language and disobedient spirit. The senate listened in terrified silence. But opportunists can always turn national disasters to advantage, and finally a few men to whom integrity offered no incentives demanded that the question should be put. Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messallinus was ready enough with a savage proposal. Other leading men, especially officials, felt anxiety. For Tiberius, despite his savage strictures, left his intentions obscure.
One member of the senate, Junius Rusticus, had been chosen by Tiberius to keep its minutes1 and was believed to understand his secret thoughts. Rusticus had never shown courage before. But fate now impelled him. Or perhaps, in his anxiety about future uncertainties, misplaced cunning blinded him to immediate peril. For Rusticus, joining the hesitant senators, advised the consuls not to put the question. Vital issues depend on a touch, he said – the aged emperor might one day regret the elimination of Germanicus’ family. Meanwhile, crowds with statues of Agrippina and Nero Caesar pressed round the senate-house. Cheering Tiberius, they cried that the letter was a fabrication – the emperor could not favour plots to destroy his family!
So on that day there were no tragic developments. Forged attacks on Sejanus circulated, their alleged authors ex-consuls – anonymity lent impudence to many imaginations. This infuriated Sejanus and gave him fresh material for his charges. The senate, he said, had scorned the emperor’s distress, and the populace had been disloyal. Rebellious speeches and senatorial decrees were being heard and read. Next they would be seizing arms and hailing as leaders and commanders those whose statues they had followed like standards.
Tiberius again denounced his grandson and daughter-in-law. Then he reprimanded the Roman populace by edict. To the senate he expressed regrets that a single member’s duplicity should have resulted in a public affront to the imperial majesty. However, he reserved the entire matter for his own decision. Without further discussion the senate proceeded, not to death sentences (these had been forbidden them), but to protestations that only the emperor’s command was restraining their eagerness for vengeance.
[There is now a gap of two years in our manuscript of Tacitus. First Agrippina, Nero Caesar, and Drusus Caesar are exiled; and Nero Caesar dies. Then Tiberius, believing Sejanus himself (now consul) guilty of conspiracy, has him arrested in the senate and executed. Sejanus’ divorced wife Apicata now reveals to Tiberius that his own son Drusus had been poisoned by Sejanus and Livilla; and Livilla too is killed or kills herself.]