FORTY-FOUR speeches were delivered about the punishment of Livilla. A few were prompted by anxiety, most by routine servility. But a partisan of Sejanus defended himself. ‘That Sejanus should be disgraced,’ he said, ‘and my friendship with him become shameful, did not cross my mind. Destinies are reversed! The man who called Sejanus his colleague and son-in-law1 pardons himself. Everyone else proceeds from humiliating sycophancy to outrageous abuse. Which is the more lamentable, to accuse a friend or to be accused because of him? I do not know! I shall not test whether anybody is cruel or merciful. A free man, undisturbed in conscience, I shall forestall my destruction. Remember me, please, happily, not sorrowfully. Add my name to those who have honourably withdrawn themselves from the harrowing national scene.’
He spent part of the day with his friends. If they wished to stay and talk, he let them. When they left, he bade them farewell. Then, while many still remained, gazing on his unperturbed features and not knowing the end was near, he drew a sword concealed in his clothing and fell upon it. Tiberius did not assail the dead man with the slanders and insults with which he had so savagely attacked Sejanus’ uncle, Quintus Junius Blaesus.2
Next came the cases of Publius Vitellius and Publius Pomponius Secundus. The former was charged with offering the keys of the Treasury (of which he was controller) and Military Treasury for seditious projects. Pomponius was accused by the former praetor Considius of friendship with Aelius Gallus1 who had sheltered in his garden, as the safest hiding-place, after Sejanus’ execution. The only support of Vitellius and Pomponius in this predicament was the fearlessness of their brothers, who went bail for them. But after numerous adjournments Publius Vitellius found his hopes and fears unendurable. Requesting a pen-knife (he wanted to write, he said) he put an end to his distress by a slight incision of his veins. Pomponius, however – a distinguished, high-principled intellectual – patiently endured misfortune, and outlived Tiberius.
The general rage against Sejanus was now subsiding, appeased by the executions already carried out. Yet retribution was now decreed against his remaining children. They were taken to prison. The boy understood what lay ahead of him. But the girl uncomprehendingly repeated: ‘What have I done? Where are you taking me? I will not do it again!’ She could be punished with a beating, she said, like other children. Contemporary writers report that, because capital punishment of a virgin was unprecedented, she was violated by the executioner, with the noose beside her. Then both were strangled, and their young bodies thrown on to the Gemonian Steps.
At this juncture Asia and Achaia were alarmed by a short-lived but vigorous rumour that Drusus Caesar, Germanicus’ son,2 had been seen in the Cyclades archipelago, and then on the mainland. It was really a youth of similar age whom certain of the emperor’s former slaves had seditiously pretended to recognize. Joining him, they collected an ignorant following, attracted by the great name and their Greek taste for novelties and marvels. The story was invented – and instantly believed – that he had escaped from prison and was making for his father’s armies, to invade Egypt or Syria. Surrounded by young supporters and enthusiastic crowds, he was delighted with his progress and over-optimistic. The matter was now reported to Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus, imperial governor of Macedonia and also Achaia. Determined to nip the story in the bud – whether it was true or false – he moved rapidly. Hastening past the gulfs of Torone and Thermae, the island of Euboea in the Aegean, and Piraeus in Attica, then landing on the isthmus of Corinth and crossing it, he moved into the Ionian Sea, and proceeded to the Roman colony of Actium near Nicopolis. There he learnt that skilful questioning about his identity had induced the impostor to describe himself as the son of Marcus Junius Silanus (I); and that after losing many of his adherents he had taken ship, ostensibly for Italy. Poppaeus reported this to Tiberius. But I have no further information about the incident, either in its early or its final phases.
At the end of the year, ill-feeling that had long been developing between the consuls found open expression. Lucius Fulcinius Trio, a quarrelsome lawyer, had implied criticism of Publius Memmius Regulus for slackness in suppressing Sejanus’ partisans. Regulus, an unassuming man until provoked, not only refuted his colleague but proposed his investigation for complicity in the plot. Many senators begged them to drop this feud with its calamitous prospects. But they persisted in exchanging hostile threats until they went out of office.
When next year’s consuls, Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus, had assumed their functions, Tiberius crossed the channel between Capreae and Surrentum and coasted along Campania, undecided whether to enter Rome – or determined not to, and therefore pretending that he would. He made frequent landings near the city, and visited Caesar’s Gardens on the Tiber. But then he regained his secluded sea-cliffs. For his criminal lusts shamed him. Their uncontrollable activity was worthy of an oriental tyrant. Free-born children were his victims. He was fascinated by beauty, youthful innocence, and aristocratic birth. New names for types of perversion were invented. Slaves were charged to locate and procure his requirements. They rewarded compliance, overbore reluctance with menaces, and – if resisted by parents or relations-kidnapped their victims, and violated them on their own account. It was like the sack of a captured city.
As the year began at Rome, one might have thought Livilla’s long-punished crimes newly discovered, so savage were the measures against even her statues and her memory. Sejanus’ property was to be with-drawn from the Treasury and transferred to the emperor’s personal estate – not that it made any difference. These motions were being pressed in identical or similar language by men with the grand names of Scipio, Silanus, Cassius, when suddenly Togonius Gallus inserted his undistinguished person among them. He proposed that the emperor should be urged to nominate senators from whom twenty should be chosen by lot to protect his life, armed, whenever he entered the senate-house. His speech caused laughter. Evidently he had taken literally Tiberius’ request for a consul as bodyguard when he travelled from Capreae to Rome.
Tiberius, who liked to blend seriousness and humour, thanked the senators for their kindness. ‘But who among you’, he asked, ‘are to be included in my bodyguard, and who excluded? Are they always to be the same, or will there be rotation? Will they be junior or senior officials or private persons? And what a sight they will be, putting on their swords at the senate-house door! If my life needs arms to protect it, it does not seem to me worth having.’ As regards Togonius the emperor’s reply was lenient, no request being made other than the cancellation of the proposal.
Junius Gallio, on the other hand, who had moved that ex-Guardsmen should be entitled to sit in the fourteen rows at the theatre reserved for the knights,1 was sternly reprimanded. What, wrote Tiberius – as if addressing him to his face – had Gallio to do with the soldiers? They were entitled to receive their orders and rewards from the emperor only. How clever of Gallio to discover something which the divine Augustus had neglected! Or was he an agent of Sejanus fomenting rebellion in simple hearts – seeming to offer privileges, his real aim the subversion of discipline? So the reward for Gallio’s careful sycophancy was ejection from the senate immediately, from Italy later. He chose the famous and agreeable island of Lesbos for his exile. But it was protested that life would be too pleasant for him there. So he was dragged back to Rome and lodged in private custody by officials.
Tiberius’ letter about Gallio also, to the senate’s great satisfaction, assailed the former praetor Sextius Paconianus, an evil, violent rooter-out of secrets. The revelation that Sextius had been Sejanus’ chosen participant in his plot against Gaius released pent-up hatreds, and he only escaped the death-sentence by turning informer. When he denounced Lucanius Latiaris, there was the agreeable spectacle of defendant as unpopular as his accuser. Latiaris, as I recorded, was chiefly responsible for the downfall of Titius Sabinus. He was also the first to pay for it.
While this was under way, Decimus Haterius Agrippa attacked the consuls of the previous year. Why, he asked, after assailing each other with accusations, were they now quiet? Evidently, he observed, mutual fears and bad conscience bound them to silence – but the senate, after what it had heard, could not keep silence. Publius Memmius Regulus replied that he was biding his time for retaliation, and would pursue the matter before the emperor. Lucius Fulcinius Trio suggested that this friction between colleagues, and remarks provoked by their quarrel, had best be forgotten. When Haterius persisted, an ex-consul Quintus Sanquinius Maximus urged the senate not to multiply the emperor’s worries by hunting up further troubles – when solutions were needed, the emperor was capable of providing them. This saved Regulus, and postponed Trio’s fate. Haterius, a somnolent creature (and, when awake, depraved), was all the more loathsome because, as he over-ate and debauched – too inactive for any imperial atrocity to threaten himself – he plotted the downfall of his betters.
Next, at the first opportunity, Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messallinus was accused of uttering reflections on Gaius’ manliness; of describing a priest’s banquet, which he himself had attended on the Augusta’s birthday, as a funeral feast; and, when complaining of the influence of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (IV) and Lucius Arruntius, his opponents in a money-dispute, he was said to have added: ‘The senate will back them. My sweet little Tiberius will back me!’ The charges were brought home and pressed by outstanding figures; but Cotta appealed to the emperor. Soon afterwards Tiberius wrote to the senate. In self-defence he traced back to its beginning his friendship with Cotta, whose many services he recalled, urging that words maliciously distorted, or loosely uttered at table, should not be regarded as damning evidence.
The opening of Tiberius’ letter attracted attention. ‘If I know what to write to you at this time, senators,’ he said, ‘or how to write it, or what not to write, may heaven plunge me into a worse ruin than I feel overtaking me every day!’ His crimes and wickedness had rebounded to torment himself. How truly the wisest of men used to assert that the souls of despots, if revealed, would show wounds and mutilations – weals left on the spirit, like lash-marks on a body, by cruelty, lust, and malevolence. Neither Tiberius’ autocracy nor isolation could save him from confessing the internal torments which were his retribution.
The senate was then instructed to investigate one of its members, Gaius Caesilianus, who had provided the chief evidence against Cotta. He was condemned to the same penalty as Aruseius and Sangurius, who had accused Lucius Arruntius.1 This was the climax of Cotta’s honours. Beggared (though a nobleman) by extravagance, disgraced by evil-doing, he received the compliment of a vengeance which equated him with the immaculate Lucius Arruntius.
The next defendants were Quintus Servaeus, a former praetor who had been on Germanicus’ staff, and a knight called Minucius Thermus. They attracted particular sympathy because both had been friends with Sejanus, and neither had abused the fact. But Tiberius denounced them as leading criminals. He then requested a senator, Gaius Cestius Gallus (I), who had written privately to the emperor, to communicate the contents of his letter to his colleagues. The senator duly prosecuted Servaeus and Thermus before them. It was, indeed, a horrible feature of the period that leading senators became informers even on trivial matters – some openly, many secretly. Friends and relatives were as suspect as strangers, old stories as damaging as new. In the Forum, at a dinner-party, a remark on any subject might mean prosecution. Everyone competed for priority in marking down the victim. Sometimes this was self-defence, but mostly it was a sort of contagion, like an epidemic. In this case the two condemned men turned informer, and two others, Julius Africanus of the Santones tribe in Gaul, and Seius Quadratus, were dragged into the net.
I realize that many writers omit numerous trials and condemnations, bored by repetition or afraid that catalogues they themselves have found over-long and dismal may equally depress their readers. But numerous unrecorded incidents, which have come to my attention, ought to be known. For instance at this juncture, when everyone else was untruthfully disclaiming friendship with Sejanus, a knight called Marcus Terentius bravely accepted the imputation. ‘In my position’, he observed to the senate, ‘it might do me more good to deny the accusation than to admit it. And yet, whatever the results, I will confess that I was Sejanus’ friend: I sought his friendship, and was glad to secure it. I had seen him as joint-commander of the Guard with his father. Then I saw him conducting the civil as well as the military administration. His kinsmen, his relations by marriage, gained office. Sejanus’ ill-will meant danger and pleas for mercy. I give no examples. At my own peril only, I speak for all who took no part in his final plans. For we honoured, not Sejanus of Vulsinii, but the member of the Claudian and Julian houses into which his marriage alliances had admitted him – your future son-in-law, Tiberius, your partner as consul, your representative in State affairs.
‘It is not for us to comment on the man whom you elevate above others, and on your reasons. The gods have given you supreme control – to us is left the glory of obeying! Besides, we only see what is before our eyes: the man to whom you have given wealth, power, the greatest potentialities for good and evil – and nobody will deny that Sejanus had these. Research into the emperor’s hidden thoughts and secret designs is forbidden, hazardous, and not necessarily informative. Think, senators, not of Sejanus’ last day, but of the previous sixteen years. We revered even Satrius Secundus and Pomponius.1 We thought it grand even if Sejanus’ ex-slaves and door-keepers knew us. You will ask if this defence is to be valid for all, without discrimination. Certainly not. But draw a fair dividing-line! Punish plots against the State and the emperor’s life. But, as regards friendship and its obligations, if we sever them at the same time as you do, Tiberius, that should excuse us as it excuses you.’ This courageous utterance, publicly reflecting everyone’s private thoughts, proved so effective that it earned Terentius’ accusers, with their criminal records, banishment and execution.
Tiberius next wrote denouncing an intimate friend of his brother Nero Drusus – the former praetor Sextus Vistilius, whom he had transferred to his own entourage. Vistilius was charged, rightly or wrongly, with criticizing Gaius’ morals. For this the emperor excluded him from his company. Vistilius made a senile attempt to cut his veins, then bound them up and wrote Tiberius an appeal. But the reply was unrelenting, and he opened them again.
Then five senators, including a father and son Gaius Annius Pollio and Lucius Annius Vinicianus, were bracketed in one comprehensive charge of treason. All were of leading families, some of the highest official rank. Other senators felt extremely nervous. For few of them were unrelated by marriage or friendship to such distinguished men. However, two of them, Gaius Appius Junius Silanus and Gaius Calvisius Sabinus, were rescued by the evidence of a commander of a city police battalion, Julius Celsus, who was one of the informers. Tiberius adjourned the other three cases for investigation by himself in consultation with the senate. However, his letter contained ominous allusions to one of the defendants, Mamercus Aemilius Scaurus.
Even women were in danger. They could not be charged with aiming at supreme power. So they were accused of weeping: one old lady, Vitia, was executed for lamenting the death of her son, Gaius Fufius Geminus. The senate decided this case. The emperor, however, sentenced to death two of his oldest friends, Vescularius Flaccus and Julius Marinus, his inseparable companions at Rhodes and Capreae respectively. One had been the emperor’s go-between in the plot against Marcus Scribonius Libo Drusus, the other Sejanus’ associate in ruining Curtius Atticus. So there was particular satisfaction that their practices had recoiled on themselves.
At about this time, Lucius Calpurnius Piso (I), member of the Pontifical Order, died a natural death – a rare end for one so distinguished. He had never initiated any sycophantic proposal; and in face of irresistible pressure he had showed wise moderation. Son of a man whose censorship I have recorded,1 he won an honorary Triumph in Thrace, and lived to eighty.
But his particular distinction was the outstanding discretion which he showed as City Prefect. This office was unpopular, and obedience to it grudging, since it had only recently become permanent. Long ago, when kings or later officials left Rome, continuity of government had been ensured by a temporary official to administer the law and meet emergencies. Thus Denter Romulius is said to have been appointed by Romulus, Numa Marcius by Tullus Hostilius, and Spurius Lucretius by Tarquinius Superbus. Subsequently consuls made similar appointments, and a relic still survives in the nomination of a man to act as consul during the Latin Festival. Then in the civil wars the future Augustus entrusted Rome and Italy to a knight, Gaius Maecenas, of the Cilnian family. Later, when Augustus became sole ruler, the size of the population and tardiness of legal remedies induced him to appoint a former consul to discipline the slaves and those other inhabitants who need threats of force to keep them in order. The first to receive these powers was Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (I); but he resigned them after a few days, alleging ignorance of their application. Then Titus Statilius Taurus (I), old though he was, had made an excellent Prefect. Finally Lucius Calpurnius Piso (I) occupied the post no less creditably for twenty years. The senate honoured him with a public funeral.
A tribune, Quinctilianus, now consulted the senate about a book of Sibylline oracles. Lucius Caninius Gallus, a member of the Board of Fifteen for Religious Ceremonies, desired the senate to vote its inclusion among the Sibyl’s prophecies. The senate agreed without discussion. But Tiberius wrote mildly criticizing the tribune for juvenile ignorance of traditional custom, and reprimanding Caninius. For Caninius’ familiarity with religious lore and ritual (the emperor said) should have warned him not to raise the matter in a poorly attended senate, and on unreliable authority; he had not awaited his Board’s decision or the usual perusal and consideration by its executive committee. Tiberius also recalled that, because of the many forgeries circulating with the prestige of the Sibyl’s name, Augustus had required their notification to the city praetor before a certain date, private retention becoming illegal. (A similar decision had been taken in an earlier generation – after the burning of the Capitol during the Social War1 – when the poems of the Sibyl, or Sibyls, were collected from Samos, Ilium, Erythrae, and even Africa, Sicily, and Greek settlements in Italy, and the priests were charged to do everything humanly possible to identify authentic examples.) So the collection of oracles recommended by Caninius was duly referred to the Board of Fifteen.
In the same year the high price of corn nearly caused riots. In the theatre, for several days, sweeping demands were shouted with a presumption rarely displayed to emperors. Upset, Tiberius reproved the officials and senate for not using their authority to restrain popular demonstrations. He enumerated the provinces from which he was importing corn – more extensively than Augustus. So the senate passed a resolution of old-fashioned strictness censuring the public. The consuls too issued an equally severe edict. Tiberius was silent. However, this was taken not for modesty as he hoped, but for arrogance.
At the end of the year three knights, Geminius, Celsus and Pompeius, succumbed to charges of conspiracy. Geminius had gained Sejanus’ friendship through his extravagance and effeminacy, but no serious offence was involved. Another defendant, the city police colonel Julius Celsus, loosened the chain with which he was bound and looping it round his own throat strained against it until he broke his neck. Rubrius Fabatus was arrested for attempting flight to the mercy of the Parthians – in despair of Rome. Intercepted at the Sicilian Strait and conducted back by a staff-officer, he could not plausibly explain his ambitious travelling plans. However, he was left alive, not pardoned but forgotten.
Tiberius had long been meditating the choice of husbands for his marriageable granddaughters, Julia Livilla and Drusilla. Next year, when the consuls were Servius Sulpicius Galba (II) and Marcus Vinicius, he selected Lucius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Vinicius. Vinicius came from the town of Cales. His father and grandfather had become consuls, the rest of the family were knights. He was mild in character, with an elaborate oratorical style. Cassius came of an ancient and respected, though plebeian, family. Although sternly brought up by his father, he was more conspicuous for pliancy than vigour. To these men, then, Tiberius gave Germanicus’ daughters; and he wrote to the senate perfunctorily complimenting the bridegrooms.
Next, after vague excuses for his absence, he turned to graver matters. Emphasizing the enmities he had incurred in the national interest, he requested that whenever he entered the senate a small escort should attend him – including the Guard commander, Quintus Naevius Cordus Sutorius Macro, colonels, and staff-officers. The senate passed a comprehensive resolution without specifying the numbers or composition of this bodyguard. Even so, Tiberius never again entered Rome, much less an official meeting. He often circled round his city by devious routes – only to recoil.
Accusers were now intensely active. Their present targets were men who enriched themselves by usury, infringing the law by which the dictator Julius Caesar had controlled loans and land-ownership in Italy. Since patriotism comes second to private profits, this law had long been ignored. Money-lending is an ancient problem in Rome, and a frequent cause of disharmony and disorder. Even in an earlier, less corrupt society steps had been taken against it. At first, interest had been determined arbitrarily by the rich, but then the Twelve Tables had fixed the maximum at 10 per cent.1 Next, a tribune’s law had halved the rate. Finally loans on compound interest were forbidden completely. Fraudulence, attacked by repeated legislation, was ingeniously revived after each successive counter-measure.
Now, however, the praetor Sempronius Gracchus (II), responsible for the investigation, was compelled by the numbers of potential defendants to refer the matter to the senate. That body – being implicated to a man – nervously entreated the emperor’s indulgence. It was granted. Eighteen months were allowed in which all private finances had to be brought into line with the law. The result was a shortage of money. For all debts were called in simultaneously; besides, the many convictions and sales of confiscated property had concentrated currency in the Treasury and its imperially controlled branches. To meet this situation the senate had instructed that creditors should invest two-thirds of their capital in Italy, and debtors immediately pay the same proportion of their debts.
However, creditors demanded payment in full, and debtors were morally bound to respond. The first results were importunate appeals to money-lenders. Next, the praetor’s court resounded with activity. The decree requiring land purchases and sales, envisaged as relief, had the opposite effect since when the capitalists received payment they hoarded it, to buy land at their convenience. These extensive transactions reduced prices. But large-scale debtors found it difficult to sell; so many of them were ejected from their properties, and lost not only their estates but their rank and reputation.
Then Tiberius came to the rescue. He distributed a hundred million sesterces among specially established banks, for interest-free three-year state loans, against security of double the value in landed property. Credit was thus restored; and gradually private lenders, too, reappeared. However, land transactions failed to adhere to the provisions of the senatorial decree. As usual, the beginning was strict, the sequel slack.
Earlier fears now revived. Considius Proculus was accused of treason. While unperturbedly celebrating his birthday, he was dragged to the senate-house, and instantly condemned and executed. His sister Sancia was outlawed. Her accuser was Quintus Pomponius, a neurotic who claimed that he undertook these and similar cases in order to gain the emperor’s favour and rescue his brother Publius Pomponius Secundus from danger. Another woman, Pompeia Macrina, was exiled. Tiberius had already ruined her husband and father-in-law, Argolicus and Laco, leading Greeks. Now her father, a distinguished knight, and her brother a former praetor, saw condemnation ahead and killed themselves. Their offence was that the latter’s Mytilenean great-grandfather Theophanes had been a close friend of Pompey and had been deified posthumously by sycophantic Greeks. Then Sextus Marius, the richest man in Spain, was thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. The charge was incest with his daughter. But the real cause of his ruin was his wealth. This became clear from Tiberius’ personal appropriation of his gold- and copper-mines – though the State was ostensibly their confiscator.
Frenzied with bloodshed, the emperor now ordered the execution of all those arrested for complicity with Sejanus. It was a massacre. Without discrimination of sex or age, eminence or obscurity, there they lay, strewn about – or in heaps. Relatives and friends were forbidden to stand by or lament them, or even gaze for long. Guards surrounded them, spying on their sorrow, and escorted the rotting bodies until, dragged into the Tiber, they floated away or grounded – with none to cremate or touch them. Terror had paralysed human sympathy. The rising surge of brutality drove compassion away.
This was about the time when Gaius, who had accompanied his grandfather to Capreae, received in marriage Junia Claudilla, a daughter of Marcus Junius Silanus (I). A deceitful discretion concealed Gaius’ horrible character. His mother’s condemnation, his brother’s destruction, elicited no word from him. He faithfully reflected Tiberius’ daily moods – almost his words. This later prompted the famous epigram by Gaius Sallustius Passienus Crispus1 that there had never been a better slave or a worse master.
Tiberius’ prophecy about the consul Servius Sulpicius Galba (II) deserves mention. After sending for Galba and sounding him in various fashions Tiberius said to him in Greek: ‘You too, Galba, shall one day have a taste of empire.’ This prophecy of Galba’s late, brief principate was based on Tiberius’ knowledge of Chaldaean astrology, taught him at Rhodes by Thrasyllus. He had tested Thrasyllus’ knowledge in this way. When seeking occult guidance Tiberius would retire to the top of his house, with a single tough, illiterate former slave as confidant. Those astrologers whose skill Tiberius had decided to test were escorted to him by this man over pathless, precipitous ground; for the house overhung a cliff. Then, on their way down, if they were suspected of unreliability or fraudulence, the ex-slave hurled them into the sea below, so that no betrayer of the secret proceedings should survive.
Thrasyllus, after reaching Tiberius by this steep route, had impressed him, when interrogated, by his intelligent forecasts of future events – including Tiberius’ accession. Tiberius then inquired if Thrasyllus had cast his own horoscope. How did it appear for the current year and day? Thrasyllus, after measuring the positions and distances of the stars, hesitated, then showed alarm. The more he looked, the greater became his astonishment and fright. Then he cried that a critical and perhaps fatal emergency was upon him. Tiberius clasped him, commending his divination of peril and promising he would escape it. Thrasyllus was admitted among his closest friends; his pronouncements were regarded as oracular.
When I hear this and similar stories I feel uncertain whether human affairs are directed by Fate’s unalterable necessity – or by chance. On this question the wisest ancient thinkers and their disciples differ. Many insist that heaven is unconcerned with our births and deaths – is unconcerned, in fact, with human beings – so that the good often suffer, and the wicked prosper. Others disagree, maintaining that although things happen according to fate, this depends not on astral movements but on the principles and logic of natural causality.
This school leaves us free to choose our lives. But once the choice is made, they warn that the future sequence of events is immutable. Yet in regard to those events they claim that the popular ideas of good and evil are mistaken: many who seem afflicted are happy, if they endure their hardships courageously; others (however wealthy) are wretched, if they employ their prosperity unwisely. Most men, however, find it natural to believe that lives are predestined from birth, that the science of prophecy is verified by remarkable testimonials, ancient and modern; and that unfulfilled predictions are due merely to ignorant impostors who discredit it. Not here – for I must not extend this digression – but in its place I will record the forecast of Nero’s reign made by Thrasyllus’ son.
In the same year it became known that Gaius Asinius Gallus1 was dead. He died of starvation – whether self-inflicted or forcible was undiscovered. Tiberius, asked if he would permit the burial of Asinius, unblushingly authorized it, adding his regrets at the circumstances which removed the defendant before investigation by himself. In three years, apparently, no time had been found to try this elderly ex-consul and father of consuls.
The next to perish was Drusus Caesar. For eight days he had staved off death on pitiable nourishment – by gnawing the stuffing of his mattress. It has been suggested that the emperor had ordered Macro, if Sejanus attempted rebellion, to free the youth from the Palatine – where he was incarcerated – and display him to the people as a leader. Later, however, because of rumours that Tiberius had relented towards Drusus Caesar and his mother Agrippina, the emperor’s lenient second thoughts were again superseded by severity.
Even when Drusus Caesar was dead, Tiberius attacked him. The charges included immorality, plots to murder his relatives, designs against the government. He also ordered reports of the prince’s daily doings and sayings to be posthumously recited. This seemed the supreme cruelty. That agents had stood by Drusus all these years noting every look and groan, even private mutterings; and that his grandfather could have heard, read, and published the whole story, was scarcely credible. Yet there were the reports of a staff-officer of the Guard and an ex-slave, named Attius and Didymus respectively, and in them the names of the slaves who had struck and intimidated Drusus Caesar whenever he tried to leave his room. The officer had even noted his own brutal language – as something creditable.
He also recorded the dying man’s words. First, feigning madness, Drusus Caesar had screamed apparently delirious maledictions upon Tiberius. Then, despairing of his life, he had uttered an elaborate and formal curse: that for deluging his family in blood, for massacring his daughter-in-law, nephew, and grandchildren, Tiberius might pay the penalty due to his house – to his ancestors and descendants. The senators interrupted, as though horrified. What really horrified them – and amazed them – was that one formerly so astute, so secretive a concealer of his crimes as Tiberius should unflinchingly snatch away the prison walls and show his grandson battered by an officer, beaten by slaves, vainly begging the bare necessities of life.
This tragedy was still fresh when news came of Agrippina’s end.1 After Sejanus’ death hope, I suppose, was what had kept her alive. But even then her cruel treatment was not mitigated. So she killed herself – unless food was denied so that her death should look like suicide. From Tiberius came an outburst of filthy slanders, accusing her of adultery with Gaius Asinius Gallus, and asserting that she had wearied of living when Asinius died. (Actually, Agrippina knew no feminine weaknesses. Intolerant of rivalry, thirsting for power, she had a man’s preoccupations.) It should be recorded, Tiberius continued, that she died on the very day of Sejanus’ execution two years earlier. He claimed credit for not having Agrippina strangled or hurled on to the Gemonian Steps. For this, he was voted thanks, and it was resolved that henceforward on every eighteenth of October, the day of both deaths, a sacrifice should be made to Jupiter.
Shortly afterwards Marcus Cocceius Nerva, the emperor’s companion, an expert in secular and religious law, decided to die – his position unthreatened, his health sound. When Tiberius heard this he sat beside Nerva, inquired his reasons, and implored him to desist, declaring that his own feelings and reputation would suffer grievously if his most intimate friend chose to die without cause. Nerva declined to speak, and persisted in refusing nourishment. Those who knew his mind asserted that his close sight of Rome’s calamities had impelled him, in indignation and terror, to seek an honourable death.
Curiously enough Agrippina’s destruction brought down Plancina, widow of Cnaeus Calpurnius Piso. Openly delighting at Germanicus’ death, she had been rescued, after Piso’s downfall, by the Augusta’s intercessions and Agrippina’s hostility. Now that her patroness and her enemy were both gone, justice prevailed. Charged with her notorious offences, Plancina met by her own hand her well-deserved, overdue end.
As the country mourned its calamities, it was a contributory grievance that Livia Julia, daughter of Drusus and widow of Nero Caesar, married into the family of Gaius Rubellius Blandus, whose grandfather was widely remembered as a mere knight from Tibur. The last days of the year witnessed the death and state funeral of Lucius Aelius Lamia, who, finally released from his fictitious imperial governorship of Syria,1 had become City Prefect. Nobly born, vigorous in old age, he had gained in prestige by not being allowed to take up his governorship. Then, on the death of Lucius Pomponius Flaccus who had succeeded Lamia in Syria, a letter was read from Tiberius complaining that every distinguished man capable of commanding an army declined the post, and that he was reduced to entreaties in order to persuade former consuls to accept a province. He forgot that Lucius Arruntius was, for the tenth successive year, being prevented from proceeding to his Spanish governorship.
The death of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (IV) also occurred in this year. I have already commended on his good sense and wisdom – and his aristocratic origin needs little description. The Aemilii have always produced good Romans. Even the family’s bad characters have shared its distinction.
Next year the consuls were Paullus Fabius Persicus and Lucius Vitellius (I). It was now, at the conclusion of an age-long cycle, that the phoenix appeared in Egypt, a remarkable event which occasioned much discussion by Egyptian and Greek authorities.2 I will indicate the facts on which there is agreement, and certain others which are doubtful but not wholly fantastic. The phoenix is sacred to the sun. Those who have depicted it agree that its head and the markings of its plumage distinguish it from other birds. Regarding the length of its life accounts vary. The commonest view favours 500 years. But some estimate that it appears every 1461 years, and that the dtreel ast seen flew to Heliopolis in the reigns of Sesosis, Amasis, and Ptolemy III (of the Macedonian dynasty) respectively,1 escorted by numerous ordinary birds astonished by its unfamiliar aspect. Its earliest appearances are unverifiable; but since between Ptolemy and Tiberius there were less than 250 years some have denied the authenticity of the Tiberian phoenix, which did not, they say, come from Arabia or perform the traditionally attested actions. For when its years are complete and death is close, it is said to make a nest in its own country and shed over it a procreative substance – from which rises a young phoenix. Its first function after growth is the burial of its father. This is habitually done as follows. After proving, by a long flight with a load of myrrh, that it is capable of the burden and the journey, it takes up its father’s body, carries it to the Altar of the Sun, and burns it. The details are disputed and embellished by myths. But that the bird sometimes appears in Egypt is unquestioned.
At Rome the massacre was continuous. Pomponius Labeo, whose imperial governorship of Moesia I have mentioned, opened his veins and bled to death, followed by his wife Paxaea. Such deaths were readily resorted to. They were due to fears of execution, and because people sentenced to death forfeited their property and were forbidden burial, whereas suicides were rewarded for this acceleration by burial and recognition of their wills. Tiberius, however, wrote to the senate recalling that Romans of earlier days, when excluding someone from their friendship, had terminated relations by forbidding him their houses. That, he said, was what he had done in this case: but Labeo, charged with misgovernment of his province and other offences, had tried to conceal his crime by maliciously implying persecution and unnecessarily alarming his wife, who – though guilty – had been in no danger.
Next came the second indictment of Mamercus Aemilius Scaurus. This aristocratic and eloquent, but dissolute, personage was ruined not by Sejanus’ friendship but by the no less lethal enmity of Macro. Stealthily imitating his predecessor, Macro had denounced the subject-matter of a tragedy written by Scaurus, citing verses alleged to reflect on Tiberius. But the ostensible charges, brought by Servilius and Cornelius, were adultery with Livilla and magic. Scaurus, worthily of the Aemilii of old, anticipated his condemnation, encouraged and joined by Sextia his wife.
And yet, when occasion arose, retribution overcame accusers too. The ill-famed destroyers of Scaurus were outlawed and banished to the islands for accepting bribes to drop a charge against Varius Ligur. Likewise an ex-aedile named Abudius Ruso was actually condemned and banned from Rome, while menacing Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus (under whom he had commanded a brigade) for having betrothed his own daughter to a son of Sejanus. At this time Gaetulicus commanded the army of Upper Germany. It loved him dearly for his generous kindness and leniency. He was also popular with the neighbouring army of Lucius Apronius, his father-in-law. It was persistently asserted that Gaetulicus had ventured to write to Tiberius. ‘My connection with Sejanus,’ he was believed to have said, ‘was not my idea, but yours. I could be deceived as easily as you. The same mistake could not be considered harmless in some, a capital offence in others. My own loyalty is undiminished and permanent – unless I am plotted against. But I should regard my supersession as a death-warning. Let us strike a bargain – that you rule everywhere else, and I keep my province.’
The story is remarkable. Yet it is corroborated by Gaetulicus’ retention – alone among Sejanus’ connections – of life and favour. Tiberius knew that he himself, old and unpopular, reigned by prestige more than by actual power.
In the next year, when the consuls were Gaius Cestius Gallus (I) and Marcus Servilius Nonianus(II), certain Parthian noblemen visited Rome, unknown to their king Artabanus III. That monarch, while he had Germanicus to fear, had been faithful to Rome and just towards his own people. But then successful warfare against neighbouring nations encouraged him – and he despised Tiberius as old and unwarlike. So Artabanus became insolent to us, and brutal to his subjects. He wanted Armenia, and on the death of its monarch Artaxias III installed his eldest son Arsaces on its throne, sending delegates with an insulting demand for the treasure the exiled King Vonones I had left in Syria and Cilicia.1 Artabanus added menacing boasts about the old frontiers of the Persian and Macedonian empires, promising to seize the lands that Cyrus and Alexander had ruled.
The secret Parthian mission to Rome was chiefly inspired by the wealthy nobleman Sinnaces, supported by Abdus, a eunuch (for among orientals that condition, far from being despised, is actually a source of power). Other leading men, too, had been consulted. They could find no one of the Parthian royal house to elevate to the throne – Artabanus had killed many of them, and the rest were minors. So they requested Prince Phraates (son of Phraates IV, a former Parthian king) from Rome. All that was needed, they said, was a name and an authorization: the name of a Parthian royalty – to show himself on the Euphrates – and the authorization of Tiberius. This was what Tiberius wanted. True to his policy of manipulating foreign affairs by astute diplomacy without warfare, he subsidized and equipped Phraates.
Meanwhile Artabanus discovered the conspiracy. Panic and passion for revenge seized him in turn. Though natives regard hesitation as servile, and expect instant action from a king, Artabanus acted prudently. Abdus, invited with ostensible friendliness to dinner, was disabled by a slow poison. Disingenuous tactics, including presents, distracted Sinnaces; and he was kept busy. Then, in Syria, Phraates, abandoning the Roman way of life – to which he had been accustomed for many years – in favour of his Parthian countrymen’s customs, could not tolerate these, fell ill, and died.
But Tiberius persevered. Another royal prince, Tiridates III, was selected to dispute Parthia with Artabanus. Simultaneously Mithri-dates, a brother of Pharasmanes the king of Iberia in the Caucasus, was reconciled with his brother and sent to recover Armenia from Artabanus’ son Arsaces. The eastern situation as a whole was entrusted to Lucius Vitellius (I). Though his reputation at Rome was admittedly bad, and much scandalous behaviour was attributed to him, his provincial government showed old-fashioned integrity. But after his recall, fear of Gaius and friendship with Claudius were to make Vitellius so deplorably servile that, to subsequent generations, he is a by-word for degraded sycophancy. His first doings are effaced by his last – his youthful distinction by his scandalous later years.
The violent and treacherous princeling Mithridates took the initiative in persuading his brother Pharasmanes to help him recover the Armenian throne. Agents were found to induce the Armenians (at a heavy price) to murder Arsaces. Simultaneously a strong Iberian force broke into Armenia and seized the capital, Artaxata. Artabanus, learning the news, appointed another son Orodes to exact retribution, gave him Parthian troops, and sent representatives to hire auxiliaries.
Pharasmanes responded by enlisting the Albani and calling on the Sarmatians, whose chiefs, as is the national custom, accepted gifts from, and enlisted on, both sides. But the Iberians controlled the strong-points and speedily rushed their Sarmatians over the Caucasian pass into Armenia. They easily blocked those of the Sarmatians who had joined the other side. For the Iberians closed every pass except one, and that one – between the outermost Albanian mountains and the sea – is impassable in summer since the seaboard is flooded by Etesian gales: in winter south winds drive back the water, and the sea’s recession drains the shallows.
Orodes, short of allies, was now challenged to fight by the heavily reinforced Pharasmanes. He refused. However, the enemy harassed Orodes, riding close to the camp, plundering his sources of forage, and often virtually blockading him with a ring of outposts. Orodes’ Parthians, unaccustomed to such insolence, pressed round him and demanded battle. Their whole strength lay in their cavalry. But Pharasmanes had useful infantry as well as cavalry, since the highland life of the Iberians and Albanians has given them exceptional toughness and endurance. They claim Thessalian origin, dating from the time when Jason, after leaving with Medea and their children, returned to the empty palace of Aeetes and the kingless Colchians. They have many stories about him, and maintain an oracle of Phrixus; and as he is said to have been carried on a ram (whether it was the animal or a ship’s figurehead), the sacrifice of rams is forbidden.
When both sides had drawn up their battle-line, Orodes addressed his men, glorifying the Parthian empire and its royal family’s grandeur, in contrast with the humble Iberians and their mercenaries. Pharasmanes, however, reminded his troops that they had never submitted to Parthia – the loftier their aspirations, he said, the greater would be the honour of victory, and the disgrace and peril of defeat. Contrasting his own formidable warriors with the enemy in their goldembroidered robes, he cried: ‘Men on one side – on the other, loot!’
Nevertheless, among the Sarmatians, their Iberian commander’s was not the only voice. This must not be a bowman’s engagement, men shouted; better to rush matters by a charge, and then fight hand-to-hand! So the battle was confused. The Parthian cavalry, expert at withdrawals as well as pursuits, opened ranks to allow themselves room to shoot. But the Sarmatian horsemen on the other side, instead of shooting back – their bows being inferior in range – charged, with pikes and swords. At one moment it was like an orthodox cavalry battle, with successive advances and retreats. Next the riders, interlocked, shoved and hewed at one another. At this juncture, the Albanian and Iberian infantry struck. Gripping hold of the Parthian riders, they tried to unsaddle them. The Parthians were caught between two fires – infantry grappling with them at close quarters, and Sarmatian horsemen attacking them from higher ground.
Pharasmanes and Orodes were conspicuous, supporting the staunchest fighters and rescuing those in trouble. Then they recognized each other and charged. Pharasmanes’ onslaught was the more violent, and he pierced the Parthian’s helmet and wounded him. But he failed to deliver a second blow, since his horse carried him past; and the wounded man’s bravest officers protected him. Still, false reports of Orodes’ death were believed; the Parthians were panic-stricken, and conceded victory.
Artabanus then mobilized his kingdom’s entire resources for retaliation. But the Iberians had the better of the fighting, since they knew the Armenian terrain. Nevertheless, the Parthians were only induced to retire because Lucius Vitellius concentrated his divisions in a feint against Mesopotamia. Artabanus could not face war against Rome, and he evacuated Armenia. Vitellius then secured his downfall by enticing his subjects to abandon him. For indeed Artabanus was as disastrously unsuccessful in war as he was savage in peace. So Sinnaces, already (as I have mentioned) the enemy of Artabanus, persuaded his own father Abdagaeses to revolt, together with other accomplices encouraged to rebel by continuous Parthian reverses. They were gradually joined by men who had supported Artabanus from fear rather than goodwill and plucked up courage now that leaders had appeared. Soon all that Artabanus had left were his foreign guards, expatriates unconcerned with right and wrong – paid instruments of crime. With these he hastily fled to the remote borders of Scythia, hoping to obtain help from marriage connections among the Hyrcanians and Carmanians of that region. Meanwhile the Parthians – always impatient of present rulers, fond of absent ones -might penitently change their minds.
However, Artabanus had fled, and his countrymen were now inclined for a new king. So Vitellius advised Tiridates III to seize his opportunity, and led the bulk of his regular and auxiliary troops to the Euphrates. There sacrifices were performed. Vitellius offered to Mars the Roman boar, ram, and bull;1 Tiridates propitiated the river with a finely harnessed horse. Though no rain had fallen, the inhabitants reported a spontaneous and remarkable rise in its waters. Moreover, its white foam seemed to form circles, like diadems, which were said to prophesy a successful crossing. Others offered a shrewder interpretation – the enterprise would prosper at first, but briefly; omens of earth or sky were more reliable, but rivers being fluid no sooner displayed a portent than they obliterated it.
A bridge of boats was constructed, and the army crossed. The first to join them was Ornospades, with a large force of cavalry. Formerly an exile, he had seen distinguished service under Tiberius in the Dalmatian war2 and received Roman citizenship, and later, restored to his king’s friendship and high favour, had become governor of Mesopotamia, the plain enclosed by the famous Tigris and Euphrates. Soon afterwards Tiridates was joined by Sinnaces and Abdagaeses. The latter, the pillar of their cause, brought the court treasure and regalia. Vitellius concluded that his display of Roman might was sufficient. Exhorting Tiridates to remember all the great qualities of his royal grandfather Phraates IV and his imperial foster-father, he urged his supporters to remain loyal to their king, respectful to Rome, and true to their own honour and good faith. Then Vitellius marched his army back to Syria.
I have merged the events of two summers, to allow some respite from Roman miseries. Three years had passed since Sejanus’ execution. But influences which soften other hearts – time, entreaties, satiety – did not dissuade Tiberius from punishing disputable, outdated offences as though they were fresh and terrible. Lucius Fulcinius Trio, alarmed, escaped imminent prosecution by killing himself. He left a will savagely criticizing Naevius Sutorius Macro and Tiberius’ leading ex-slaves, and attacking the emperor himself as a dotard who, by reason of his long absence, was virtually an exile. Fulcinius’ heirs wanted this suppressed. But Tiberius had it read to show his toleration of free speech – and indifference to his own reputation. Or perhaps, warned by his long unawareness of Sejanus’ crimes, he now favoured publicity for every kind of assertion, so that abuse – failing other methods – should reveal the truth which servility hides.
Further senators now fell. One, Granius Marcianus, accused by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (II) of treason, committed suicide. A former praetor called Tarius Gratianus was sentenced to death for the same offence. Two others, Titus Trebellenus Rufus and Sextius Paconianus, met similar ends, one killing himself, the other strangled in gaol for verses he had composed there criticizing the emperor. When Tiberius heard of these events he was not, as hitherto, across the sea, receiving messengers from afar, but near the city where he could answer the consuls’ letters on the same day – or after a single night – and could almost gaze at the homes deluged in blood, and the executioners at work.
The last days of the year witnessed the death of Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus. Humbly born, he had owed his consulship and honorary Triumph to the friendship of emperors. He had been retained as imperial governor of important provinces for twenty-four years – not for any outstanding talent, but because he was competent and no more.
The following year the consuls were Quintus Plautius and Sextus Papinius Allenius. Tragedies had now become so frequent that the executions of Lucius Aruseius1 and others caused little shock. Yet it was alarming when the knight Vibulenus Agrippa, after the completion of a hearing against him, drew poison from his clothing, swallowed it in the senate-house itself, collapsed, and was rapidly taken by attendants to prison. There the noose was tightened round his neck – though he was already dead. Not even ex-king Tigranes IV of Armenia was saved by his royal rank from prosecution and the fate common to Roman citizens. The former consul Gaius Sulpicius Galba and the two sons of Quintus Junius Blaesus1 died by suicide. Galba had received an ominous letter from Tiberius excluding him from the ballot for governorships. As for the Blaesi, priesthoods destined for them while their family prospered, and deferred when the crash came, had now been treated by Tiberius as vacant and given to others. They saw that this meant death, and acted accordingly. Aemilia Lepida (III), whose marriage with Drusus Caesar I have recorded,2 had showered slanders on her husband and lived, execrable but unpunished, while her father Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (IV) survived. Now accusers prosecuted her for adultery with a slave. Since her guilt was beyond question, she did not defend herself but committed suicide.
At this period the Cietae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian prince Archelaus the younger, resisted compulsion to supply property-returns and taxes in Roman fashion by withdrawing to the heights of the Taurus mountains where, aided by the nature of the country, they held out against the prince’s unwarlike troops. But the divisional commander Marcus Trebellius, sent by Lucius Vitellius (imperial governor of Syria) with 4,000 regulars and picked auxiliary forces, constructed earthworks round two hills held by the natives (the smaller called Cadra, the larger Davara). After killing some who attempted to break out, Trebellius forced the rest to surrender.
Meanwhile with Parthian approval Tiridates III occupied Mesopotamian towns, including Macedonian foundations (Nicephorium, Anthemusias, and others with Greek names) and some places of Parthian origin (Halus and Artemita). This caused satisfaction among those who loathed the cruelty of the Scythia-bred Artabanus III and hoped Tiridates had been civilized by Roman culture. The supreme sycophancy came from Seleucia on the Tigris, a powerful walled city which, remembering its founder Seleucus, had not decayed into barbarism. Its senate numbers three hundred men, selected for their wealth or intelligence. The public, too, have prerogatives of their own. When senate and public agree, Seleucia despises Parthia. When they disagree, each calls in help against the other, and one side’s external helper overwhelms both sides alike. That had recently happened during the reign of Artabanus III. He had sacrificed the public to their leaders; this was in his interests, since democracy approximates to freedom, whereas arbitrary absolutism feels closer to oligarchy.
So the Seleucian people welcomed Tiridates with royal honours, ancient and modern. They abused Artabanus as low-born, being royal on his mother’s side only. Tiridates established democratic government at Seleucia. Then however, as he was considering which day to select for his formal accession to the throne, he received letters from two of the most powerful governors, Phraates and Hiero, requesting a brief postponement. It was decided to move to the capital Ctesiphon and there to await these important personages. One deferment followed another, but finally the hereditary commander-in-chief (or Surenas) with traditional ritual, before a large and enthusiastic crowd, crowned Tiridates with the royal diadem.
If he had immediately proceeded to the other peoples in the interior, all waverers’ doubts would have vanished and the Parthian empire would have been his. Instead he besieged the fortress in which Artabanus had lodged his treasury and harem. This allowed time for agreements to be broken; and Phraates and Hiero, with others who had not participated in the coronation, went over to Artabanus – some because they feared him, others through jealousy of Abdagaeses (now Court Minister) and Tiridates. Artabanus was discovered in Hyrcania, a grimy figure, eating what his bow procured him. At first, in alarm, he suspected a trap. Convinced, finally, that the aim of their visit was his restoration, he recovered confidence and inquired the cause of this sudden change. Hiero criticized Tiridates as a mere boy, and complained that the power was not in the hands of the royal family: Tiridates had the empty title, but foreign luxury had made him effeminate – and Abdagaeses’ family was supreme.
Artabanus’ experience of rulership told him that, however spurious their affection, their hatreds were genuine. Waiting only to collect Scythian allies, he took the field – too quickly to allow enemy intrigues, or second thoughts by friends. To enlist popular sympathy, he retained his filthy appearance. Using every means – appeals and menaces alike – to attract waverers and encourage supporters, he approached Seleucia with a large force.
Unnerved by news of his approach, and by his arrival very soon afterwards, Tiridates hesitated. Should he engage Artabanus, or aim at a war of attrition? Those favouring battle and a speedy decision argued that the enemy troops, dispersed and weary after their long march, were not even psychologically united in loyalty to Artabanus – they backed him now, but recently they had betrayed and opposed him. Abdagaeses, however, counselled retreat to Mesopotamia, where, protected by the Tigris, they could first raise the Armenians and other outlying peoples such as the Elymaei, and then, with allied and Roman support, put matters to the test. This advice prevailed. For Abdagaeses was all-powerful – and Tiridates had no taste for danger. But the retirement virtually became a flight. First the Arabians, then the rest, left for their homes – and for Artabanus’ camp. Finally Tiridates relieved them from the dishonour of desertion by returning, with a few followers, to Syria.
In the same year there was a serious fire at Rome. The Aventine and adjacent parts of the Circus Maximus were devastated. Tiberius acquired prestige from the calamity by defraying the value of the houses and apartment-blocks destroyed. This generosity cost him one hundred million sesterces. It was all the more popular because his own building activities were slight. His only two public works were the Temple of Augustus and a new stage for Pompey’s Theatre – and even these he was too contemptuous of his reputation to dedicate, or too old. To estimate individual losses in the fire, he appointed a commission comprising the husbands of his four granddaughters, Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, Lucius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Vinicius, and Gaius Rubellius Blandus, with one additional member, Publius Petronius, nominated by the consuls. The emperor was voted every compliment that senators’ ingenuity could devise. But his reactions, favourable or negative, were never known. For his end was near.
Shortly afterwards, the last consuls of his reign, Cnaeus Acerronius Proculus and Gaius Petronius Pontius Nigrinus, entered office.
Macro had become excessively powerful. Never neglectful of Gaius’ favour, now Macro cultivated him more strenuously every day. After the death of Junia Claudilla – whose wedding with Gaius I recorded elsewhere – Macro induced his own wife Ennia to pretend she loved the prince and entice him into a promise of marriage. Gaius had no objection if it helped him towards the throne. Temperamental though he was, intimacy with his grandfather had taught him dissimulation.
The emperor knew this – and hesitated about the succession. First, there were his grandsons. Drusus’ son Tiberius Gemellus was nearer to him in blood, and dearer. But he was still a boy. Gaius was in the prime of early manhood. He was also popular, being Germanicus’ son. So his grandfather hated him. Claudius too was considered. He was middle-aged and well-meaning, but his weakmindedness was an objection. Tiberius feared that to nominate a successor outside the imperial house might bring contempt and humiliation upon Augustus’ memory and the name of the Caesars. He cared more for posthumous appreciation than for immediate popularity.
Soon, irresolute and physically exhausted, Tiberius left the decision to fate. It was beyond him. Yet, by certain comments, he showed understanding of the future. When he reproached Macro for abandoning the setting for the rising sun, his meaning was clear. And when Gaius, in casual discussion, slighted the memory of Sulla, Tiberius foretold that Gaius would have all Sulla’s faults and none of his virtues. Then, weeping bitterly and clasping his grandson Tiberius Gemellus, he said to the frowning Gaius: ‘You will kill him! And someone else will kill you!’ However, despite failing health, Tiberius did not ration his sensualities. He was making a show of vigour to conceal his illness; and he kept up his habitual jokes against the medical profession, declaring that no man over thirty ought to need advice about what was good or bad for him.
At Rome, meanwhile, were sown the seeds of bloodshed in later reigns. Acutia, the former wife of Publius Vitellius, was charged with treason by Decimus Laelius Balbus. But after her conviction, the proposal to reward her accuser was vetoed by a tribune, Junius Otho – whose downfall the feud thus created ultimately brought about. Then Albucilla, earlier married to Satrius Secundus, who had divulged Sejanus’ conspiracy,1 was denounced for disloyalty to the emperor. She was notorious for her many lovers, and Cnaeus Domitius Aheno-barbus, Gaius Vibius Marsus, and Lucius Arruntius were cited for complicity and adultery with her. Of Ahenobarbus’ lineage I have spoken. Marsus too could claim ancient family, as well as literary distinction. Memoranda submitted to the senate indicated that the interrogation of witnesses and torture of the slaves had been supervised by Macro. But there was reason to suspect that Macro, known to hate Arruntius, had forged much of the evidence.
Perhaps the invalid emperor did not know this. For no instructions came from him. So Ahenobarbus and Marsus were able to stay alive – the former preparing his defence, the latter ostensibly starving himself to death. Arruntius’ friends urged him, too, to procrastinate. But his answer was that different things suited different people. ‘I have lived long enough’, he said. ‘My only regret is that insults and perils have made my old age unhappy. Sejanus long hated me; and Macro does now. There is always some powerful figure against me. It is not my fault; it is because I dislike criminality.
‘Certainly I might survive the few days until Tiberius dies. But in that case, how can I avoid the young emperor ahead? If Tiberius, in spite of all his experience, has been transformed and deranged by absolute power, will Gaius do better? Almost a boy, wholly ignorant, with a criminal upbringing, guided by Macro – the man chosen to suppress Sejanus, though Macro is the worse man of the two and responsible for more terrible crimes and national suffering. I foresee even grimmer slavery ahead. So from evils past, and evils to come, I am escaping.’
With these prophetic words he opened his veins. What followed showed the wisdom of his death. Albucilla, after unsuccessfully wounding herself, was consigned to prison by the senate. One of her lovers, a former praetor named Carsidius Sacerdos, was deported to an island, another, Pontius Fregellanus, deprived of senatorial rank. But so was her prosecutor Decimus Laelius Balbus – to the general satisfaction, since he was noted for his malignant eloquence, readily utilized against innocent men.
At this time, too, Sextus Papinius – son of a man who had been consul – hurled himself headlong to a sudden and undignified death. The blame fell on his mother. Long divorced, she had indulged his extravagances to a point at which death was his only escape. Charged in the senate, she prostrated herself before the senators and made a long and piteous appeal, pleading especially the anguish which anybody, particularly a weak woman, must feel at a bereavement such as hers. However, she was banned from Rome for ten years, until her younger son had passed the dangerous years of youth.
Tiberius’ health and strength were now failing. But his stern will and vigorous speech and expression remained. So did his powers of dissimulation. To conceal his obvious decline, he assumed an affable manner. After numerous moves he settled in a villa on Cape Misenum which had belonged to Lucius Licinius Lucullus. There his end was discovered to be approaching. For an eminent doctor called Charicles, though not employed to treat the emperor’s illnesses, had made himself available for consultation. Ostensibly taking his leave to attend to private affairs, he grasped the emperor’s hand – and under cover of this respectful gesture felt his pulse. Tiberius noticed, ordered the dinner to be prolonged, and stayed up later than usual. This was allegedly in honour of his departing friend. But he may well have been annoyed, and so taken special pains to conceal his annoyance.
However, Charicles assured Macro that Tiberius was sinking and would not last more than two days. There were conferences, and dispatches to imperial governors and generals, hurriedly making all arrangements. On March 16th the emperor ceased to breathe, and was believed to be dead. Gaius, surrounded by a congratulatory crowd, issued forth to begin his reign. But then it was suddenly reported that Tiberius had recovered his speech and sight, and was asking for food to strengthen him after his fainting-fit. There was a general panic-stricken dispersal. Every face was composed to show grief – or un-awareness. Only Gaius stood in stupefied silence, his soaring hopes dashed, expecting the worst. Marco, unperturbed, ordered the old man to be smothered with a heap of bed-clothes and left alone.
So Tiberius died, in his seventy-eighth year. The son of Tiberius Claudius Nero, he was a Claudian on both sides (his mother was successively adopted into the Livian and the Julian families). From birth he experienced contrasts of fortune. After following his proscribed father into exile, he entered Augustus’ family as his stepson – only to suffer from many competitors, while they lived: first Marcellus and Agrippa, then Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar. His own brother Nero Drusus was more of a popular favourite. But Tiberius’ position became most delicate of all after his marriage to Augustus’ daughter Julia (III). For he had to choose between enduring her unfaithfubess or escaping it. He went to Rhodes. When he returned, he was undisputed heir in the emperor’s home for twelve years. Then he ruled the Roman world for nearly twenty-three.
His character, too, had its different stages. While he was a private citizen or holding commands under Augustus, his life was blameless; and so was his reputation. While Germanicus and Drusus still lived, he concealed his real self, cunningly affecting virtuous qualities. However, until his mother died there was good in Tiberius as well as evil. Again, as long as he favoured (or feared) Sejanus, the cruelty of Tiberius was detested, but his perversions unrevealed. Then fear vanished, and with it shame. Thereafter he expressed only his own personality-by unrestrained crime and infamy.